Wednesday, October 16, 2019

I Love You All - Goodbye



For weeks now I’ve been trying to write this piece. And, for weeks now I’ve failed. It’s one of those projects where I honestly wish I still did all my writing with pen and paper so I could crumple up all those sad attempts and make a wild pitch at the trash can. Although that might simply serve as one more frustration, the only thing more elusive than finding the words for this post is my ability to make a neat hook-shot into the wastebasket.

In my attempts to figure out how to approach this writing, somebody suggested that I simply say, “I love you all, good-bye.”

 Oh…ewww….no, no, no…that’s just too flat, too sad, too final…too well, suicidal. Oh gosh, I don’t want anyone to get the idea we’re ending it all. Even though I am going to tell you about an end. Truth be told, I think there was a “thank you” somewhere in the original suggestion, but my heart heard only the finality, making the writing far more difficult. I really don't do well with change, with finality, with any sort of end. 

I am supposed to come up with some words…words to tell our customers that we’re “retiring”, that we’re not going to do the Market anymore, that we’re not going to have any produce or eggs or meat for them during the winter or next spring, or ever…and I don’t know how to do it.

Okay. That sounds silly.

Surely, I know how to write some words to convey a thought. (I mean, I want to write a book for goodness' sake!)

But…

This is different. This is a big deal. It’s like writing a eulogy, although we don’t have the finality of death. And, it’s not just a letter of resignation, because we aren’t moving onto some adventure, I’m not even sure how this next part of our lives will look. It sounds vague and random and not at all well-thought out.

I certainly cannot just say “I’m tired and don’t want to do this anymore, grow your own damn food.” Not only is that rude, but it isn’t really true.  And I can’t honestly say that we’re “retiring” because that conjures thoughts of a move to a house at the seaside, a grand trip of a lifetime or at the very least a cruise (and quite honestly, none of those are appealing and that's pretty much how I envision hell…but, that’s another story) and, I don’t want anyone to imagine that we’re planning on sitting around watching Netflix, (while I might) or going on great adventures (which I know we will not), or any of the other things that “old people” are supposed to do.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe I am afraid to face the fact that I am old? Maybe. But, what do I do with that? Even the possibility that I have something else to sort through is definitely NOT helping this project. 

So, back to the keyboard…

More than twenty years ago, we found ourselves starting life anew, struggling to put ourselves back together after what was, without a doubt, the most horrifying and hurtful experience of our lives. The Market offered a chance to put that all behind us, to re-invent ourselves and provide for our family. But, that first Saturday morning was a scary thing, offering our paltry wares to an unknown crowd. Talk about feeling vulnerable! Who knew what that so many successful Saturday Markets would follow? Who would have thought that we would find our niche? Many of you know the story so I won’t re-visit it here. (besides, I don’t want to totally give away my book project)

Joining the farmers’ market seemed the best solution for our family at the time. It required little cash for start-up and the possibilities for return on our investment seemed limitless. It was an opportunity of a lifetime offering both potential income and creative outlet. (and some seriously delicious food) We were certain we could eke a living from our small acreage if we all pulled together.

And, we did, we have…we do. 

The Farmers’ Market quickly became the central force in our lives. Actually, it became our lives…taking over every waking moment at times. We took that opportunity and ran with it, proving that you can indeed make a living as Farmers’ Market vendors.

There are no words to describe what the Market has come to mean to us. Or at least I haven’t found them…and Lord knows I’ve tried. (ever read the farm blog? There are LOTS of words there! www.homesteadhillfarm.com )

But time moves on. Things change.

And, it’s time for us to change as well. While I know the time has come, we’re not just moving on, in some ways we are giving up our identity.  Who are we without this definition? Oddly, despite the fact that I (we) never intended to become Market vendors, it certainly wasn’t a lifelong dream to grow food and personally, I never thought I was in the least well-suited to the job, this has not been an easy decision to make. Our very identities are being revised and re-invented. No easy task, I can assure you.

But, after 22 years at the Saturday Staunton Farmers’ Market and 10 years of our special Winter sales, we are DONE. Finished. Letting go. Moving on. Ready to bid this chapter of Life a fond farewell…

With that final Market day of the 2019 season, it will be time to find out who we are without the Market as a backdrop. Re-invent ourselves on our own terms. Forge our new identity.

And, while it would be poetic (and perhaps expected) to say that we are riding into the sunset or heading for the islands…we’re just not that exciting. And, the hill remains our home.

Tom will be managing the market for one more year while he hopes to train someone else to take over (anybody want a thankless job that doesn’t pay very well?) and, I’m going to devote my time to writing that book I’ve been talking about for far too long (and quite possibly working on my hook-shot with all the ill-fated attempts) And, there is a lambchop crop for 2020 in the works…so, it’s not like we’ll be doing a lot of frontporch sittin’ any time soon…

We want to take this opportunity to THANK YOU, our market customer-friends, from the bottom of our hearts…

You made this all possible…and in the process y'all taught us more than anyone could imagine, tickled our funnybones when we truly needed a smile, and so doing touched our very souls.


I---WE---love you all, good-bye.

P.S. Keep in touch.




Sunday, August 25, 2019

Sunday Walkabout - August 2019



August is nearly over!

I must say, I’m more than a little happy to note that development. August can be a real challenge. It’s hot, stressful, and in a word, just “August-y” (I know, not really a word, but work with me here). However, for all the heat and pressure, there are good things about August, too. So, read this blast from the past.  Click here.

This year, the first of August brought us a hailstorm. I was going to call it “the mother of all hailstorms” until I saw a report about grapefruit-sized hail outside of Denver, CO earlier this month. YIKES That made our quarter-sized precipitation sound fairly puny by comparison. However, hail (of any size) isn’t a good thing. Particularly on a farm.

After the storm, we went out to survey the damage, which seemed surprisingly light. The animals were fine. The vehicles had escaped damage. And, at first glance there was just leaf damage in the gardens. We heaved a sigh of relief and went on to other things.

Later, we would find that the hail had damaged every single zucchini. It looked like a pack of rabid beavers had been through and taken huge chunks out of all the fruit. I picked a least 50 pounds of teeny, tiny damaged fruits off the battered plants. Then, it took about two weeks to see recovery. The green beans weren’t as damaged, but the plants were terribly stunted. And, many of the tomatoes were scarred beyond use. Oddly, the storm was incredibly localized. No one else we spoke with had any sort of damage.


I left a few to see if they would grow out of the damage
they didn't

everything was damaged

some of the tomatoes got damaged too


looks like someone chewed on this one
but it's hail damage



Storm damage or no, we had other things to do. Other things included processing a batch of broilers, hauling a (huge) load of hay, and something else…maybe a dump run…all in one week. And, then doing the Market. In the sweltering heat. I gotta say…we rock! Sometimes I am slightly amazed at the number of things two old broken-down folks can accomplish in a week.
that looked like a big load of hay
and it was HOT
Look at the view from the top of the wagon!

it was my job to toss the bales off


taking a well-deserved water break
(Karma thinks he should share)


Karma is glad we are done!

There was a run over the mountain to get yet another follow-up scan. That is always stressful. And, while the news was “still the same” (and that’s good…really good), the uncertainty of everything after that diagnosis in 2016 continues to haunt us. But, we’ll take the good news for now and move on.

Otis on "Happy Ram Day"
If you’ve followed the farm page for any time at all, you know that August includes  "Happy Ram Day". That’s when we turn the ram in with the ewes to start working on the lambchop crop for the following year. With a young ram, this can be a tricky proposition. You just never know how he will react or if he can (or will) do the job.  I am happy to report Otis got outfitted with his marker and went right to work. I mean that quite literally. Within the first three days, he had marked all but two of the ewes. The Boss questions the reality of these marks and puts them down to over-enthusiasm. Since we changed the marker to green the day before yesterday, we will have to wait and see. if you’re wondering about rams and marks and all that. you can read these old posts that give some insight on sheep breeding 101. 


In any case, we should be looking for lambs around the first of 2020!
getting ready for the green marker

We get a break from the sameness and hot of mid-august with MrB’s birthday party. It’s always fun to watch the little kids having a blast splashing in the water. Number 2 grandson is now 4 years old. Can’t believe our little guys are growing up so fast!







Back on the hill, we’re still doing a little re-configuring and down-sizing.

It's been super-hot

foggy morning

they say that for every foggy morning in August
there will be a storm in Winter

We have had numerous foggy mornings,
so the upcoming winter might just be a doozy!

When we bought the reefer 8 years ago, I never thought that we would ever consider getting rid of it. Finding it and getting it here was a real ordeal. Did you read that saga?
It proved to be an ongoing project. https://homesteadhillfarm.blogspot.com/2011/09/rollin-rollin-on-reefer.html  We got it up and running just in time.  https://homesteadhillfarm.blogspot.com/2011/09/perfect-timing.html And, it has been a great asset to our productivity.

But, things change and life moves on. The reefer wasn’t being used anymore and really needed to find a new home. Ever tried re-locating a reefer? It seemed like it was going to be yet another headache.

Our friends out at  Malcolm's Market Garden were interested in having more storage space for their growing operation and purchased the reefer. (yay) And, we just happen to have a son-in-law who is an expert commercial driver. (another yay)

He and the Boss made the loading look easy. And, the trip “over the river and through the woods” was amazingly smooth and simple.


getting in position

hooking it up

loaded and nearly ready to go

a few adjustments

cinch it down

warn the public 

...and away we go


had to stop and push up the power line across the lane

through Mbrk

down the interstate

up the driveway into  the woods

and the reefer is almost home!






Just like that, the reefer has a brand-new home. I hope it serves the Malcolms for a good, long time! And, I gotta say, Tyler kinda rocks, too. 

Other than that…there isn’t much news to report from here on the hill. August continues to be just plain “august-y”…

It seems to be the summer of butterflies and humming birds!
painted lady butterfly

red admiral butterfly

female black swallowtail

male black swallowtail

tiger swallowtail in flight


hummingbird out back


hummingbird at creek

hummingbird at coleus

The Market has been amazingly busy this summer and set an all-time record last week! That’s good for everyone, vendors, customers AND the City. You can check out the Boss’ images here. https://www.facebook.com/stauntonfarmersmkt or https://www.flickr.com/photos/stauntonaugustafarmersmarket

But, I’ve very nearly missed the Market more than once this season…
...one week there was a deer in the orchard.  The next there was a 'possum stuck in a rat trap in the barn. The ensuing "duet" between the angry 'possum and the dog was nearly deafening. 

the 'possum was growling
the dog was howling
(and it was 5:30 in the morning!)

And, then the following week...

When I was loading up the car, I saw something at the end of the driveway.

Image may contain: tree, sky, cloud, plant, outdoor and nature 
Before I could even investigate, the dogs were off and barking furiously…at the four steers who had strolled across the lane to eat the tender grass by the gate. (since TEN calves live in the field across the lane, and I could only account for 4, the morning had the potential to get REAL interesting) There was no way to drive through the gate without dogs escaping or cattle stampeding. And, I could just envision them running through Mbrk at 6 o’clock on a Saturday morning, startling every dog into a barking cacophony. Not a good idea, by any stretch of the imagination. I must say, I had absolutely NO desire to chase cattle or dogs. But, whatcha gonna do?

he did look rather nice there in the sunlight

I called the Boss to apprise him of the situation (since I was already running late) and he called Neighbor. Since, herding calves is all about angles and I knew that if I was calm enough (and the dogs didn’t get crazy) it could be done with relative ease. Three of them reacted just like I hoped and headed for home. But, the fourth one started down the lane and I had a little momentary panic. Fortunately, I got him turned back up the drive just as Neighbor came out to run them all back into the field.

All’s well that ends well! It gave me a good story for Market…and I can claim that I have herded cattle every summer for at least 20 years. (still not sure if that’s a good thing)

I don’t know what it says about a person when the height of excitement is chasing calves before the Market…

So, I guess on that note, I’ll wish you a

Happy Sunday! 

Thanks for stopping by! Hope you’ll come “visit” again.

 
Have an OUTSTANDING week!



Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sunday Walkabout July 2019




July…

The midway point of the year. The halfway point of the Market season. And, the arrival of back-to-school sales that means it can’t be long before we are hurtling headlong toward what has become “hallow-thank-mas”, with one holiday observance flowing right into the next.

July…

When the to-do list seems to grow exponentially overnight. When the abundant harvests can be overwhelming. And, the kitchen table has suddenly sprouted a crock of pickles, a box of pears and a bowl of tomatoes. Not to mention the zucchini that are multiplying as I write.

Yep, it is definitely July!
cicada shell on fence post
My grandmother used to call them "hot weather bugs"

It’s been hot. 
apparently Sissie melted from the heat
Oh, so very hot. And, we won’t even get into the humidity. A friend said she felt “like a damp, used washrag” and I though that was a pretty apt analogy. That would also describe my energy levels most days.
garden dilemma
yellow zucchini?
green zucchini?
do you see a face on this?
  have I been out in the heat too long?


But, hot or not, energized or not, there’s work to do. 

freezer inventory
We’ve hauled lambs and picked up lamb chops. (sold ALL the lamb chops and had a personal best Market, too!) There are more lambchops waiting at the processors. 
We’ve picked and planted and re-arranged. 
In the past week, I picked well over 100# of zucchini. Better start digging out all those recipes! 
The fall crops have been started, and the late crop of potatoes is already coming up. The old ewes will be heading to the stockyard this week and it’s almost time for Otis to “meet the ladies”.


...and the hay guy called...


the first heirloom tomato

July is also when anticipation for the big stars of summer---sweet corn (not to be confused with field corn) and tomatoes---reaches a fever pitch. While the tomatoes are starting to trickle in, the corn here on the hill won’t make its appearance for another couple of weeks. Presently it tempts and teases as first the tassels appear, then the tiny ears with their oh so delicate silks. As the silks grow into what looks like wild, glorious hair, the pollen forms on the tassels, its unique scent filling the morning air. (the smell of corn pollen is both sweet and sultry---it would make an amazing perfume) Once the pollen falls onto the silks, the tiny kernels within the ear are pollinated, begin to swell and in two short weeks the corn is ready. I read somewhere that the cornfield is all about sex, but, I probably shouldn’t tell you that since it just makes the conversation all weird and awkward. Honestly, farm life…all of agriculture...revolves around, depends upon, the “facts of life” and “the birds and the bees”. However, we’d all feel better if I just leave that one right there and move on to safer subjects.

unfurling corn tassel



corn silk
isn't that pretty?


corn tassels in sunlight
look close
you can see the corn pollen flying in the sunlight

pollinated cornsilk


more corn pollen

dewdrop on corn leaf

So…ahem…moving right along…

(but, you must see... pollination is happening everywhere!)
cucumber beetle on cucumber blossom

bumblebee cucumber blossom

honeybees in squash blossom

okra blossom
unknown pollinator

hummingbird moth in butterfly bush


While I suppose farm work could become the entire focus of our lives, I actually think it’s important to do other things…like EAT some of this good stuff we’re spending so much time growing.

To that end, we were enjoying some awesome tomato sandwiches the other day when a great commotion broke out in the backyard. Gus and Karma were sounding an alarm about something. Since it was getting more insistent, and enjoying a quiet lunch was out of the question, I went to investigate.

Their barks have different meanings. There’s the “oh my god, something woke me up…better sound an alarm and look like I know what's going on” (this often happens when we can hear the reverse indicator on the firetruck down in M’brook) Then there is the “get out of the yard, you intruder!”  (this one happens about 2am when deer, foxes or rabbits pass through the vicinity) Then there is the “I hear you varmint…and I am a big, big dog! Go away.” (this is for the coyotes that yip along the ridges on clear winter nights---it is accompanied by a low rumbling growl---and it is intimidating stuff) Then, you have the all-purpose bark. This covers anyone driving on the lane, in the driveway or a half mile down the road if they need an engine tune-up or new tires. The UPS driver gets a special bark. There’s the squirrel bark and the daytime deer bark, the “we found a ‘possum and don’t know what to do now” bark. I swear there is a “butterfly bark” and an “I dunno, just felt like making some noise” and “mama, where ARE you?” bark.

But, this didn’t seem to fit any of those. It was kind of a hybrid ‘possum, varmint, mama bark.

Outside, both dogs were staring at the cellar door. The cellar is only accessible by this little door that is down in a hole at the back of the house. It might behoove me to mention here that we never use the cellar (or the door). At all. I should probably tell you that story, but it will interrupt THIS story, so…some other time.

Gus on one side

Karma on the other

Anyway, down by the door to the cellar is a groundhog. A fairly good-sized groundhog. I suppose he/she fell in the hole in an attempt to flee the giant dog attack. It is too deep for the dogs to get down to reach the groundhog and too high for the groundhog to jump out. Thus, the chaotic barking.

Groundhog dispatched and crisis resolved thanks to the Boss and his sharpshooter skills. Karma apparently wanted groundhog for her lunch, so she carried it away. Later, we realized she simply wanted to torment Gus, and we (the Boss) disposed of the mess. 

Now, before you feel sorry for the “poor woodchuck”, groundhogs are nuisance animals and relocating them in Virginia is illegal. So, good riddance. Oddly, Facebook reminded me that Gus and Karma ran a groundhog up the tree in the backyard exactly one year ago. (how weird is that?)



It’s been an interesting month for animal sightings. There was a deer in the back field with the lambs. I could have sworn that one had antlers and snorted like a buck. Then, there was a big doe in the orchard on the Fourth of July. We had never had one so close to the house because generally the dogs keep them at bay. However, the dogs were cowering under the shed since we had the double-whammy of fireworks and a thunderstorm in a single evening. (they finally emerged just before daylight…to bark at something else)

Then, I was outside processing veggies after supper and the hens started making some weird noises. Now, quiet life in the country is a misnomer, there is always something going on. The hens keep up a near constant “conversation” but this was far more insistent. When I went to check, I found a little red fox looking at me from the other side of the fence. (thankfully OUTSIDE the hen yard) He or she must have had a hankering for a chicken dinner. With no weapon or even my phone, my only option was to scream like a crazy person at this small, wet fox. It turned tail and disappeared. I set up a trap (baited with a piece of fried chicken), but never caught anything, or saw the fox again. It has probably retreated to its den, so highly traumatized that it will never return (constantly recounting to the other foxes the story of its horrifying encounter with a human who behaved like a lunatic) or even attempt to eat chicken.

Last Saturday, when I was putting stuff in the car for Market, I noticed something in the orchard…this time it was a smaller deer. I didn’t think Karma was going to notice her, but when she did…! That deer took one look at the big white thing coming at her and …whee…she sailed through the air… over the fence…through the field…over another fence… she was long gone…before Karma even got to the trees.
just a deer eating fruit on a Saturday morning

Karma doesn't stand a chance


But, with the deer pressure increasing, we are doubly glad we’ve cut down on the garden spaces.

I just realized this post has absolutely no rhyme or reason. No purpose or theme. And, I can’t do a thing about it. (I suppose I could start over…but, ain’t nobody got time for that)

So. Here are some equally random shots from around the farm for your viewing pleasure.
misty morning
Mr. Hummingbird

Mrs. Hummingbird

getting a drink

morning glory
common checkered skipper
this one is so cute!

dewdrops on a spiderweb


another hot day begins


early morning queen anne's lace

indigo bunting
(he really is that brilliantly colored!)

butterflies feasting on the remains of an apple

monarch and bumblebees
(I know, they're pollinating a noxious weed
check out the pics below)



Goldfinches LOVE thistle seeds!

they eat the seed and let the down fly away
limenitis arthemis on the fence

bumblebee

swallowtail
on the way to Market

apples after the rain






Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 







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