Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Welcome to Spring 2018

It's the first full day of SPRING!

Just overlook the 8 inches of fresh powder covering everything. And the fact that it's 24 degrees and the precipitation is supposed to last all day.

Forget all that.


(and get out your snow shovel)

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sunday Walkabout 3-18

Nothing much went according to plan this week.

It was one of those weeks where I began to appreciate the advice “expect the unexpected”. Although when you think about it, that is just silly. If you’re expecting something, it can no longer be considered “the unexpected”, right? (I know, I give far too much thought to the odd and random)

But, back to the week…

Every evening, after supper, I head out to do another round of chores. I let the puppy out for a quick run, check the plants in the greenhouses, closing the windows and turning on the heaters. Lately, the sheep have needed a little bit more hay. And, since they’re eating a lot of dry matter, they drink a lot of water. Add topping off the stocktank to my checklist.

One of the reasons Karma is still in her little pen is because she still fits through some of the fencing with relative ease. “Puppy-jail” is more for her safety than anything else. Particularly, since she thinks it’s great sport to eat Gus’ food…and Gus doesn’t share food!

But, she’s growing like Clifford the Big Red Dog, and her fuzziness is misleading. So, at first I thought it was funny when she poked her fluffy head through the fence behind the stocktank to drink the water flowing out of the spigot.  But, when she couldn’t get it back out again, she howled in terror. I turned the water off and figured I could get her out with relative ease. Nope. Stuck tight. I tried again and she screamed. I tried to let go to go get bolt cutters to make the hole in the fence bigger but when I let her go, her face went down in the tank, her breath bubbling under the water. Yikes! That won’t do.
I didn't realize the danger of the situation

She was going to drown if I didn’t do something. If I held her up, she wouldn’t drown. But, if I held her up, I couldn’t get anything to solve the situation. I was totally unprepared, no phone, no tools.

So, I did the only thing I could think of.

I screamed.

Surely, the Boss would come to our rescue.

There were a few problems with this scenario. First and foremost, I am not the loudest person (okay, family…stop laughing!)  The barn is about 70 feet from the house. The house was closed up tight because it is winter. The Boss was inside the closed-up house. I was almost certain he was watching television. And, whether he wants to admit it or not, his hearing isn’t the greatest. So, it was a longshot at best, but I didn’t have any other ideas.

With the first scream, Gus came lumbering up. His helpful solution was to smell my hair and then romp around. I suppose he thought I was playing a new game. Karma yelped and wiggled, wanting to play as well. But, I couldn’t let her go. As long as I held her above the water, she was safe. Unhappy, but safe.

I screamed again.

And again. And again. It sounded so loud to me, I was surprised the neighbors didn’t come running.

When I was just about to give up hope, the kitchen door opened. “did you call me?”

My hero!

With a couple snips from the proper tool, Karma was free and none the worse for wear. And, there is now a doggie-access panel on the back side the stocktank (although she hasn’t gone near it since)

So, I am under strict orders to remember to carry my phone…

                …in case of the unexpected. (in other words---all the time!)

 And, stop screaming…it scares the Boss to death.

on Monday
after the time change
Can you say UGH!?
As you may recall, we were expecting some wintry weather in last week’s post. When it arrived, it dumped a rather unexpected 8 (?) inches of fluffy snow on us. It was beautiful, even though I will be the first to admit, I’m not a big fan of the white stuff. The dogs loved it, romping around like crazed polar bears until Karma was completely exhausted.

Pyrs LOVE snow!

Karma got on everybody's nerves

catching snowflakes

SO MUCH fun!

romping in the snow

hens do NOT like snow!

And, I don't think this ewe is too impressed, either.

Pretty snow

this went on for hours

all tuckered out
(I think she needs a bigger bed!)

The following morning, there seemed to be more chaos than usual as the sheep milled around the barnlot waiting for their breakfast. At first I thought it was just a bad case of cabin-fever after the snow. Or in the case of the sheep, I guess that would be barn-fever.

As my brain sorted out the noises, it was obvious that one lamb was screaming with regularity. And, that could only mean one thing. He, or she, was stuck somewhere. I focused on the sound and found the culprit, caught by her woolly little hams in the creep feeder. It was a quick and easy fix and I hurried to get the rest of them fed as the cacophony was overwhelming.
Help, I'm STUCK!

But, as I poured the feed in the feeders, I became aware of something else. What was that? I knew the sound, but it was unexpected.


I hear babies!

Sure enough, there in the middle of the barnlot was a newborn lamb, wandering along behind its mother, bleating piteously. What?

The last old ewe wasn’t due to lamb for a week. Maybe I had miscalculated?  My mathematic prowess didn’t matter at the moment, that was definitely a new lamb standing there. And, wait a minute. I think I hear another one calling from inside the barn!

I hurriedly finished dumping the feed. The hungry horde swarmed the feeders in the usual crazed stampede. Mama-sheep was torn between the newborn and her postpartum hunger. As she gave in to the hunger, I grabbed the lamb and headed into the barn. There I found another baby, all dried off but screaming for her mother.  After a few hurried bites, Mama-sheep ran back to her lambs. I stuck the new family in a jug, got mama some food and water and went back to chores.
last lambs of '18

Despite the unexpected start to my day, the lambs were healthy, and everyone settled down after eating. And, I can now say that we are “officially” done with lambing for 2018. We’ve got 24 lambs, 12 rams and 12 ewes. We had a very respectable 175+% lambing rate. They’re all thriving and I only assisted in ONE birth. All in all, not bad.

Then it was time to work all those lambs (except the newborns). All the sheep needed de-worming. All the lambs needed their booster vaccination. And, the ram lambs needed banding. (our preferred method of castration)  A bit of team effort and we could mark that job DONE.
ready to get started

getting everyone situated

end of a productive day

With time marching ever onward and Opening Day of the Market fast approaching, there is plenty more to do. Although, I must admit, most of the jobs don’t make for good photo ops.Although, we did complete our last sales delivery for the “off season”, make a dump run and emptied one freezer.

growing fast
won't be long 'til fresh chicken!

The broilers are growing well and will be ready for processing in FOUR weeks. Good thing, batch #2 arrives this week! The tomato seeds have been planted and the transplants in the greenhouse are finally getting some size to them. And, the radishes in the hoophouse FINALLY germinated. The weather has not been our friend this winter.

dark greenhouse
(snow covers the roof)

tomato seeds

garden in March

Another “winter” storm is in the offing and your guess is as good as mine when it comes to what we should expect. Personally, I am hoping for a MISS this time. We got an email that our strawberry and asparagus plants are headed this direction and the guy at the produce company is supposed to have our seed potatoes ready for pick-up. And, then there are those broiler chicks…

Because…ready or not, it’s time to get busy on the Spring planting season! 

the "robin snow" is supposed to be the last one for the season

I do wonder what unexpected challenges we will encounter this year. Only time will tell.

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 

flowers are popping
after the snow

Thanks for stopping by. Come back and “visit” again real soon!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Look, A Willow Tree!

Once upon a time, there was no Homestead Hill Farm. There was nothing to indicate that there might be. There were just a couple willows beside a bold stream and nice, new perimeter fence.

When we first laid eyes on this place twenty-one years ago today, we had no idea that we were in for the adventure of a lifetime. We were just looking for a place to call home.

Here's the story of that day from a chapter in the memoir tentatively titled..."Subject to Change".

The seeming interminable search for our spot in the Promised Land was coming to a precipitous end.

After daily dogged effort, we had reduced the realtor’s printout to one final entry. One. We had traveled near and far, checking out listings. We had searched high and low and considered things we never would have thought of in the past. Not unlike Goldilocks, we had found that none were to our liking. They were either too old or too far away.  Too pricey or too decrepit. Although our price-range was a severely limiting factor, the offerings ran the gamut. This project was certainly teaching us a lot about real estate, county geography, and our own determination. But, very much like Goldilocks, we needed to find something that was “just right”.

We had long given up the dream that we would set out and find the perfect homestead and put the pain and distress of the past behind us and realize our dreams.  Every day we would pile into the truck and head out toward parts unknown. And, every day we would head back, tired, frustrated and discouraged. The whole thing was getting old. What had once been a dream come true had turned into a nightmare with no way to escape.

In addition to the more memorable moments already chronicled, there was the “perfect” homestead that was far out of our price range…and right along the railroad tracks.  There was another great sounding place…but, there was an enormous dog barking and slamming himself against the front door. (the owner didn’t control him, but couldn’t understand why we were reluctant to view the house) There were a number of houses deep in the woods…very deep in the woods…like you would never see the sun, deep in the woods.  Those wouldn’t do since we were trying to be at least somewhat self-sufficient and a garden was an abolute necessity. Other houses in our price range were just barely standing, or located so far out that it would take an hour just to reach civilization. To say things looked grim would have been an understatement.

Our search took place in the days before GPS and cellphones, so we were relying on someone else’s directions and my somewhat challenged navigational skills…in a place we had never been. These rides through the countryside may have seemed adventurous if there hadn’t been so much at stake.

On this particular day, we were in search of that final entry…that “12.03 acres with perimeter fence, a new septic field and a bold stream that never ran dry”. And there was some mention of willow trees by said stream.  That was it. Now, if you’ve read any number of real estate listings, you understand that every attempt is made to paint the property in the most positive light. You would never list a “falling down hovel infested by rats”…no, you would probably say something like, “old-fashioned homestead in need of TLC, complete with pets”.  (okay, I exaggerate) But, the fact that nothing was said about the property may have been telling. On the other hand, it didn’t really matter. We needed something. Anything. Less is more sometimes. This entry was filled with possibility, leaving everything to our imagination.

Did I mention this was the final entry? We had no idea what we would do once the last property was viewed. The realtor had been somewhat apologetic when he informed us that offerings in our price range were few and far between, meaning the chance of any new listings was slim at best. Things were getting dire. I could feel the panic rising when I allowed myself to think over the possibilities.

Why had we thought any of this would be a good idea? Why hadn’t we just stayed put? Our old home was a distant memory I couldn’t visit without wishing for a return. My mind was on an endless loop of recrimination. I felt responsible somehow. It was MY father who had changed our lives…without exaggeration…our entire world…that grey February day. My heart still hurt from the painful experience. Tom and I were trying to keep a positive front for the children, but the house-hunting adventure was wearing on us all and tempers would flare over little insignificant things. The cramped quarters were stifling, fast food was no longer a luxury, but a necessity. And, when that orange drink spilled all over everything in the backseat (even someone’s shoes) he finally lost it. We desperately needed some sort of stability. We needed a place to call HOME.


But, where WAS it?

We drove slowly down the road, looking for some indication. Four sets of eyes scoured the landscape. I could sense the furrow in Tom’s brow growing deeper. The road wasn’t a long one and my chest felt tighter with every revolution of the tires. Yet supposedly somewhere along this brief stretch of blacktop was the final entry on our quest.


Maybe we misread the description. Maybe my navigation skills were really that bad.

A tense silence filled the truck cab.

There on a hillside was a FOR SALE sign.

Wait a minute. That couldn’t be it. Perched precariously above the sign, tucked among some scrubby trees was an older dwelling with absolutely no “curb appeal”. Please, god, don’t let this be it.

No, wrong real estate company. Besides, our listing said nothing about housing. No. that wasn’t it.

Should we consider that one? No. no. I was at my breaking point and didn’t have the strength to be tactful. The property met none of our requirements…and…it’s just ugly and in need of obvious work….well, just…NO.

We turned back toward the task at hand.

Where was this property?

Maybe it was already sold.

Maybe it didn’t exist.

The end of the road was approaching. I could see the stop sign at the corner and the tiny town just beyond. It seemed the property have vanished.

Now what were we going to do?

I could feel the bile rising. I was certain I had reached the end of my rope. I had no idea how I was going to go on…

“LOOK….a WILLOW tree! I see WILLOW trees!” a small voice came shrieking from the back seat.
“Mama…look! WILLOW TREES!”

Lo and behold, there it was.

On the opposite side of the road from where I had been looking in vain, beyond a rather unkempt fenceline we saw willow trees along a bold stream…

Further investigation revealed a FOR SALE sign tucked among the weeds where nobody would have ever seen it.

As we drove up the steep lane, Tom pointed out the perimeter fence. “you know that alone is worth something” he declared. “whoever put that in did a good job, that could save us a lot!”

I suddenly heard snatches of conversation from the backseat about “the woods” on the property. Small groves of white pines were scattered here and there, remnants of an attempt at a long-forgotten Christmas tree farm. Our little girls’ imaginations were suddenly working overtime.

When we reached the top of the hill, the panorama was spectacular. I wondered why the real estate listing hadn’t read “views, views, views”. You could see the entire tiny village of Middlebrook and off in the opposite direction the ridgeline of the Alleghanies stood in stark contrast to the pale March sky. I felt a small flicker of positivity for the first time in weeks.

You could see the entire property from the locked gate. Not that there was much to see. The landscape was still dull and monochromatic as winter had not yet released her chilly grasp.  This was it. 12.03 acres of pasture land. It was a good spot for grazing and had never been used for anything else. A steep hillside rose up from the bold stream and then leveled out somewhat before rolling gently toward a row of white pines at the back of the property.

The thrill of successfully finding our query gave way to the reality. This was pastureland. Nothing more. It wasn’t large, there were no buildings. Nothing. This would require a great deal of creative thinking and hard work. We were no strangers to either, but this project was going far beyond the scope of anything we had ever attempted in the past. I wondered if we had it in us.

But, the wheels were turning in Tom’s mind. When I glanced his direction to get his opinion of the place, I could almost see his visions of possibility. It was obvious we weren’t seeing the same stark landscape. I think he saw a real homestead as he gazed around the property. The girls were still imagining themselves playing in the creek and swinging in the trees, their little voices sounded excited as they planned.

“This isn’t bad…  You know, you could put a house here,” he indicated a point in the field. “And, this would do for a barn.  Over here you could…” his voice was sure.

It was easy to catch his enthusiasm. Maybe we could make this work.

Despite the heartache and pain, the detour through the wilderness, the totally unpredicted “change in plans” , it seemed that perhaps we had found our HOME…our place in the Promised Land…there above the bold stream and the willow trees…

…but then again…everything is subject to change…

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sunday Walkabout 3-11

Suddenly, the winter that never was has become the winter that will not end.

March is known for its capricious weather, exquisite Spring-days give way to blustery snow flurries that cover the early spring blossoms. This year is no exception and we are under a winter storm warning from tonight at 8pm to tomorrow afternoon at 2pm. While the arrival time of said storm will greatly impact snowfall totals, chances are we will indeed see some of the white stuff.

This year is different in that this will be just the second time we have had measurable snowfall all winter. That’s right. Two snows with any sort of accumulation. Well under a foot in total snowfall. That can’t possibly be good. And, I don’t mean just for those who run the snowplow businesses. (for them it is potentially devastating) The lack of snowfall impacts the water table and will ultimately affect the growing season. That means yet another worry for the farming community.

As it stands, the weather models can’t seem to come into agreement, so we will just have to wait and see what happens. One good thing about March snows, while they come down fast and furious and often pile up the accumulations, the angle of the sun is such that the white stuff doesn’t hang around too long.

And, that’s a good thing! It’s just about time to get serious about the Spring planting season. All the farm stores have seeds and supplies piled high in preparation. Just about everyone I know has something started. And, the countdown to Market season has begun. Yikes!

It’s hard to believe that it’s less than FOUR weeks to Opening Day of the Staunton Farmers’ Market’s 25th anniversary season. Personally, it’s our 20th anniversary, and in many ways I feel less prepared than I did that first season. Although, that’s pretty much par for the course around here in March…check out these posts from the past.

At least we’re not just starting out like we were in 1998 or reeling from a scary diagnosis and facing major surgery. (like last year)

Every year has a new set of challenges. This year’s remain to be seen. All we can do is work hard, hold on and hope for the best.  …and try not to worry.

To that end, our week was filled with the regular, ordinary stuff of life on the hill. We hauled the last load of hay for the sheep. The Boss had a new crew to help this time.
Later, I found a mouse...
I guess she missed one!
Tess checked the load for any intruders, while Karma did her best to get right under foot all the time.
we might as well have been "Siamese-twins"

Karma is "helping"
Gus is "supervising" (see him under the wagon?) 

all done with the last load

it will be quite some time before we haul another hay wagon

My work in the greenhouse also included a little “assistance” from Karma.

While I thinned the broccoli seedlings...

she chewed up the flats

when I took those away
she started in on plant tags and stakes

Speaking of Karma, she has become fascinated with the sheep. So much so that she will climb through the fence to go in with the flock. At first this was cute and funny, then it got a little worrisome. If she can wiggle through the gates, she can go anywhere (un-supervised). She could even get out and get lost or hurt.

But, it is funny to see her stand on her back feet, clamber up the gate and catapult her fat, fuzzy self through to the other side.  The lambs and ewes don’t seem to mind. And, a couple of them go willing to have her pull the hay off their backs and lick the insides of their ears.
I thought she was just going to stand there...
but, she wiggled through the gate

she's our first Pyr to show an affinity for the sheep at such an early age

cleaning a ewe's neck

cleaning lamb ears

 The Boss has spent a fair amount of time attempting to “puppy-proof” things, only to find that something else needs his attention.
this is not some weird macrame
it's an attempt to contain Karma
except, the lambs keep chewing on it!

She’s requiring some close, constant supervision. And, quite honestly, Gus is growing weary of the job. I keep trying to assure him that she won’t be a puppy forever!

come out of the garden, Karma
(see? she fits through the fence)

I think his feet are getting sore from all the puppy bites

playing at sunrise

carrying a big stick

"pul-leeeeaase play with me, Gus!"

Gus: "seriously? this kid..."

And, that, my friends, is that. Another week in the history books here on the hill.

morning light
Hope you remembered to SPRING ahead!

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 

Thanks for stopping by. Come “visit” again real soon!

 The Boss has been posting old photos from the Market's long history. Enjoy this blast from the past!
           Click here.