Saturday, November 20, 2010

ah, the end of the Market....

I think I responded to the question/statement "bet you're gonna enjoy the TIME OFF" at least 50 times today...maybe many more!

To revisit the issue...yes, it is the end of the Market, and NO, I hope I won't get up at 4:15AM next Saturday. But, it's not the end 'til Spring...not by a LONG shot!

You know that garlic you savor? It's in the ground growing as you read this. It will be growing all winter and into the early summer. During that time, it is monitored, weeded, fertilized and watered. In late June or early July, it is harvested. That involves digging it, hauling it to a drying shed and spreading it on racks where fans blow 24/7 to dry it. It is then trimmed and readied for sale. A lengthy process by any definition.

The lamb that everyone thinks is "delicious, wonderful, simply superb..." takes approximately a year to get from the planning stage to the table. A ewe's gestation is 5 months, it takes another 4-6 for the lambs to get big enough to "harvest".

The tomatoes of August are started in March and babied for months in the greenhouse before heading to the garden. They have to be trellised and weeded and worried over. ...and that, my friend, is just the tip of the iceberg...lettuce! ;)

Our growing year never really ends... November 20 was the last Market day of 2010. We will head to the butcher's this week to pick up the last lamb chops of the year, before celebrating what may be the THANKSGIVING of a lifetime with our daughters and sons-in-law. Despite the "holiday season" the seed catalogs beckon. The hoophouses need our attention...and yes, oh YES! the ewes are beginning to "show". There's end of the year book work, plants and seeds to order, research on new crops and products to offer. The cycle of life and farm work continues.

Our "winter sales" start with a newsletter on December 1. This entails surveying the products for sale, emailing "the group", and following up and delivering. The winter "down-time" has become a productive and profitable time for us as well as summer.

I once read an article about the "homesteader's BLT". In it, the author told how much planning and waiting goes into a simple sandwich. There's the time to grow the wheat, the hog, the tomato and lettuce. Then there's the processing of the grain into flour and then bread. The hog must be processed as well. (from personal experience...that it a BIG job!)

Once the entire process is known, the food we take so much for granted is far more appreciated. And (shameless plug here) those who produce it are a special group of folks! This is what we do, who we are, and we wouldn't have it any other way.

No, we're not headed to the Bahamas, or any distant, exotic shore. We're off to the barn, the garden, or possibly the feed store. The routine continues. But, hmm, maybe, just maybe we'll get to sleep in next weekend!

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Rhythm of the Seasons

As I was waiting for Shirley, the "post office lady" to scan the box of layer chicks that had just arrived at the Post Office, I got to thinking about the sameness of things...

It's October...and around here that means: planting garlic, getting layer chicks for the following year, cleaning up the gardens, harvesting all but the most hardy of crops, cleaning out the chimney, taking the ram out of the ewe pen, planting the winter crops in the hoophouses, and taking the first steps to "get ready for winter", among other things.

These tasks are a given every year. Each month can be identified by the jobs going on around the farm. I have pictures from several years, and except for some minor differences, it's the same job, the same time of year. That can be comforting, or it can become monotonous. I choose comforting.

The past six months the farm has not been the focus of my life that it generally is. Helping our daughter through the recovery process following a potentially life-ending wreck at another's hand was far more important. But, now that my focus has been able to somewhat return to normal, it is reassuring to see that for all the differences...things are still "sorta" the same. The predictability provides comfort despite world events, personal trauma, and other issues. I find that so reassuring.

On to November...and the comforting tasks that it brings.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Opening Day 2010

Opening Day of the Market....eagerly anticipated, and anxiously awaited.

With the opening of an open-air Market the first weekend in April, the weather is always a major factor. In the many years of the Staunton/Augusta Farmers' Market, we have had freezing temperatures, rain and even SNOW! The beautiful spring days are a rarity.

The 2010 opening day was unbelievable. The weather was beautiful....un-seasonably warm and sunny. The customers arrived in droves. There were a lot of vendors, and a lot of variety for sale. If a perfect opening could have been planned, this would have been it.

There is a big construction project going on in downtown Staunton. Projected completion: October 2010. It started at the Wharf and will continue through town. The Market committee and all the downtown shopkeepers have been concerned about the effect on business. It didn't matter a bit this particular Saturday!

Every week at the Market is an adventure. The weather plays a HUGE factor. If it's nice, the customers come....if it's nasty, the Market can be a rather lonely place. Here's to beautiful weekends!

Spring is Springing!

Nothing says "SPRING is here!" quite like the first time the animals go out on grass. After this past winter when they spent more than two months in a very limited area surrounded by snow, we knew the sheep would be anxious for the green grass of Spring.

I did not anticipate how "happy" they would be to have the open space and relative freedom of the paddock. At first the lambs weren't interested in the grass....they were FREE! The leaping and running continued until they were all quite winded and panting heavily.

Now, if we could feel the same joy about all the spring work around the farm....

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Difference between a Country Place and a Farmhouse

Isn't a farmhouse just a house on a farm? or for that matter a house in the country?

Looking around our home the other day, it occurred to me that there is a big difference between a farmhouse and any other type of house.

Country places are well-groomed, nicely decorated and picturesque. While we have our great views, well-worked gardens, we also have chore boots in our utility room, along with the essential coveralls, hats and coats that are permanently perfumed by the barn. But the deciding factor was this......

A farmhouse just isn't a farmhouse without milk replacer in the kitchen!!!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

MUD Season

What happens when ALL that snow (over six feet this season!) starts to melt? We start "MUD Season". Sticky, squishy, slippery MUD!

I don't mind mud. The moisture is SO welcome, after a number of "dry" winters. But, I don't particularly like the slipping and sliding when feeding the animals.

I can't decide which is worse....feeding the chickens or the sheep. Tom says the chickens, as they are his responsibility. It is like mud soup in their pen. It almost sucks your boots off your feet. But, chickens are little and flighty.

The sheep are around 150 to 200 pounds, and totally convinced that this well may be their very last meal, so they all crowd in to eat. Oh, and did I mention that they're woolly and cling to my legs like velcro? MY vote for worst mud feeding detail is definitely the sheep! So far, I have not fallen in the muck. I suppose then I would complain about the mud.

But, MUD season is a vital part of the year. We have to have the moisture to get the water table to the proper level. Otherwise, all the old-timers start worrying about the "d" word (drought) come summer. Believe me, slopping around in the mud is MUCH more desirable than surviving a drought in an agricultural community!

I just need a pair of boots that doesn't leak!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

"Pet" Lambs

The term "pet lamb" conjures mental images of little Bo-Peep walking her pet through the park on a string. So, when one of the old-timers told me that his family always had "pet lambs", I must admit I did a doubletake.

Old Mr. H was talking about farming, country living and a number of other things when he remarked "oh, we will always have a few pet lambs". hmmm, I didn't want to appear truly ignorant, so I nodded and let him continue, desperately hoping I could figure out from context WHAT he was talking about! Later, his daughter made it clear as she began filling the baby bottles for the orphan lambs in the barn. I should have known, I walked past bags of milk replacer on the way in the house.

It seems that "in the old days", the bottle lambs were a project for the children. There are always one or two lambs that need some type of supplementation. Either they're orphaned, or the mother can't feed them all (as in the case of triplets). I am certain since the children were involved, the lambs did become some type of pet.

With our daughters grown, we no longer have the "pet lamb feeders". So, I end up with at least one lamb a year that thinks I am its mother. This year it is one of triplets. She was born on a cold, cold day....and was possibly the tiniest lamb I ever saw. A tougher person may have put her down. But she was a fighter from the moment she hit the air, so I felt she needed a chance.

She came to the house inside my jacket, and was tucked in next to the woodstove. At about 4 pounds, she didn't have the body mass to stay warm for any amount of time alone. She learned to drink a bottle and is becoming quite demanding.

Watching her grow, having her depend on my care, it is quite easy to see how she could become a "pet lamb". Fact is, she's a farm animal...she has a place and a purpose in life. A piece of life advice from Dad from years gone by and something to remember!

A lot can be learned from "pet lambs". They are a lesson in responsibility, care, dependence and perhaps empathy. An acceptance of the monotonous and mundane without constant complain would be another lesson to learn. Yes, all good lessons for children. Maybe I needed a refresher course this cold and snowy February.

There are more than a few lessons to learn in the sheep shed!

Now, off to feed the baby....

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Jed and Ellie Mae - Farm Dogs

I have never thought of myself as a "dog person". I don't like the dog smell, the panting, the hair, the doggie footprints. So, WHAT am I doing with TWO of the smelliest, "doggiest" creatures around? I have no idea!

Several years ago, when checking for lambs in the cold, February night, I could hear the distant sound of coyotes. Several folks we knew had losses due to the coyotes, and Augusta County actually started paying a bounty for their removal. Our little sheep flock was in no imminent danger, but we began to think of guard animals.

After a failed llama attempt, we began considering the various breeds of guard dogs. We settled on the Great Pyrennees. Their non-aggressive nature toward people was the deciding factor. There weren't any available locally, but there was a breeder out in Highland County. Several weeks later, we found ourselves in possession of the cutest little ball of fur. This was Jed, and he was 12 weeks old. He grew and grew, rather like "Clifford the big, red dog". He topped out at a little over 100 pounds. With the exception of a very willful "personality" and drooling that threatened to flood the county, he is SO cool. After a couple of years, he began to develop some hip issues, and our daughter took her dog to live at her house. I thought Jed needed some company.

Enter Ellie Mae. Ellie is a different type of Pyr....she's short and stocky to Jed's majestic ranginess. We got her in trade from a friend when she was almost 7 months old. She was born on a goat farm, so the adjustment to sheep wasn't too difficult. She's been here three weeks, and fits right in. Her biggest fear is the charcoal grill. It has been suggested that perhaps she heard "hot dogs" and thought that SHE would be cooked. :)

I can honestly say that since we've had dogs, I have never seen a coyote. Of course, I had not seen one before we had dogs, either! The dogs add to the atmosphere of the farm. I find I like the companionship when I am working outside. They also add to the work of the farm....Ellie has a propensity for chewing up flower pots (not helpful at all!) Mostly, they lie around and wait for something to happen. Around here, that means they lie around a LOT!

Unlike true pets, farm dogs don't like travel. The only trips they take are to the vet, and that's never fun. We took Ellie for her shot yesterday, and she instantly became 75 pounds of dead weight. The DR took the front end, and I the rear....just to get a weight on her! Tom and I repeated the process to get her back in the vehichle. She seemed quite happy to get home to Jed and frolicking in the snow!

No, never thought I'd even THINK of being a "dog person"....but that was before I ever met a farm dog...........

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Waiting Game - 2010 Begins

With the dawn of the New Year, it occurred to me that not much new was happening around the farm. To qualify that, not much was happening that I could SEE.

There are new lambs....well, they're coming. The ewes are waiting patiently and eating everything in sight while they do. Two weeks and the barn will be an exciting place!

There are things growing....well, they're still covered in snow. I wonder what is still growing under there. Have to wait and see! A couple of months and the garden will be a busy place.

The greens and lettuce in the hoophouses are even in a slow growth mode. But,time spent in the hoophouse, out of the wind and chill, is like an island vacation. Ok, for that one, you REALLY have to use your imagination! However, the relative warmth and the scent of damp earth keeps me hopeful of the things to come. I am waiting for a "warm-ish" day to plant some more young plants.

So, we wait...and look forward. The lambs' arrival will be rather like Christmas. I like the excitement of finding out what/who is now in the barn. The planting of the gardens is always a time of anticipation. I eagerly await the arrival of each new crop on the supper table.

But, the waiting is so hard.....