Tuesday, August 30, 2011

We must be NUTS!

Yesterday we bought a 26-foot “reefer” body. WHAT were we thinking? That’s huge! Surely there was a better solution for storing crops. 26 feet?!?! Are we NUTS?!? Yes, buyer’s remorse hit with gusto. But, the deal was done, now to get the thing here.

You don’t just hook a "reefer" body on the back of the truck and tool on down the interstate. Nope! We only bought the box, no chassis or wheels. You must hire a professional towing company.

A phone call to Bobby’s Towing and we were in business. For a price, they would go to H’burg, load up the reefer on a trailer, haul it here, and put it in place. Or, at least that was the plan.

Tom had been worrying over this part of the venture since last night. At some point he realized that the neutral wire that hangs from pole to pole across the lane might just be too low for this monstrosity to fit under. As a former “vepcovian” (VA Power electrician) all sorts of safety issues pray on his mind that never occur to the rest of us mortals. He measured, he got out his bodendick stick (a special device for moving electrical wires), and he went to wait for the truck.

Since I knew this would be blog-worthy, I set up out front to take pictures. Soon, I could hear a big truck jake-braking down M’brook Road. Hmmm, that must be them. Hmmm, that sounds REALLY big. From my vantage point I could see them turn on Mish Barn Road, the rig, the trailer…finally I could see the box. Oh my! The rig was ginormous! I began to wonder if it could make the turn to come up the lane. Would it clear the wire? Would the bridge hold up? Could they make the turn into the driveway? Wow…so close….

I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when Tom and the driver began to walk up the lane.

But, they cleared the wire…
the bridge held out…

then they decided to back into the driveway. Easy does it fellas! Impressive drivin’!

Well, humph! Now what? The rig was too big to pull down to set the reefer body off where we really wanted it placed.
They got it off the trailer, and thought it could be pulled with our Dodge. The helper-dude said we needed a FORD! They hooked their chains to Tom’s truck…it pulled a little way…and started spinning.
The helper-dude said we REALLY needed a FORD! After several attempts, Tom settled up with them and sent them on their way. At $95.00 an hour, this was getting expensive! Surely, we could think of something.

What to do? He said we could use the truck AND the tractor…then we could get it done. I said I needed LUNCH because I was almost “done”. He continued to think out loud…we do have friends with BIG tractors…maybe a backhoe….we could put poles under it…
Maybe we get used to it in the middle of the driveway?

After lunch, he went it on his own. And, the following photos prove that Dodge is indeed RAM tough! Sorry, T-bone.

With a little further manipulation, Tom pushing with the tractor, me driving the truck to pull, we got it in place! Yippee!

A little cleaning, a little leveling, the usual 49 trips to Lowe’s and then Tom will be able to put the cooling unit and partition in it and we will be good to go…just in time to harvest all them ‘taters!

Buyer’s remorse behind us, anticipation of better management ahead of us, we know we are NOT nuts after all. (not this time)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Our Ongoing Quest for COOL-ness

This year’s bumper crop of onions brought us face-to-face with an issue we’ve known about for a long time. We need MORE cooler space. LOTS more cooler space!

In order to store vegetables for any amount of time, they must be kept cool. With the amount of vegetables we need to keep cool, a fridge won’t do. Several refrigerators won’t do. One walk-in cooler won’t do. We need ROOM!

Ok, no problem. We have a very well insulated room in the shop/garage.
A good-sized window air conditioner and a “cool-bot” and we’re in business. Right?

(Explanation of “cool-bot”…it is an electronic device that overrides the thermostat in the air conditioner and allows it to get far colder than originally intended.
This allows a window unit to act as a refrigeration unit for a small-sized cool room. While it won’t get quite as cold as a regular walk-in cooler, it would definitely get the temperature where we need it. Add a bigger a/c unit and make a bigger cooler.)

The unit worked fine. The problem was the condensation on the walls.
As everyone knows, wood (as in the studs) and water don’t mix well. We won’t even get into what would happen to the insulation!

Back to the drawing board, so to speak. Calculations were made for a major insulation purchase. But, the more Tom spoke with the “cool-bot” folks, the more he realized that we just didn’t want to take the chance with the wood in the building, no matter how much insulation we could buy. Now, what?

Walk-in coolers have REALLY increased in price since we put ours in seven years ago. That option seemed far too expensive. While this is a necessity, we do have a budget.

We have a friend that works in truck sales. He checked around. They had an old milk/icecream truck we could get for $400.00. Whee! We could cut the box off the truck and use the cooler space. Since it sounded almost too good to be true, we went to have a look. A note for the future: when you go to a place that is essentially a truck graveyard and they tell you that you need to go “out back….way out back”, be afraid, be very afraid. The truck was far older than Tom, needed a WHOLE lot of work, and wasn’t very big. But, yes, guys….I know…it was only $400! I know, ...what did I expect? *sigh* back to the drawing board again.

You would think this would be easy, right? There must be a place that sells used “reefer” trucks (that’s refrigerator trucks), right? They’re out there, but, did I mention we have a budget? Did I mention that we didn’t want to travel to New Jersey, Missouri, or Washington state? Did I mention time is getting short? …soon ALL the potatoes will need to be harvested.

An all out search began, Ebay, Craigslist, the Bulletin Board, everyone we knew…nothin’. Nothing suitable, that is. Too much, too small, poor condition, it seemed like the search might take forever!
Finally, we remembered a truck place along I-81. Let’s give them a call.

Long story short, today we bought a 26-foot “reefer” body. I know….it’s HUGE!
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!

While it is far bigger than we need for cool storage...you can never have enough regular storage on a farm. With a little work, we'll be "chillin' big time" real soon. If that doesn’t make us COOL…I don’t know what will!

It will be delivered tomorrow. That, I am almost certain, will be an experience to remember. (and most definitely worthy of its own blog entry!)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Why You Should Shop EARLY at the Market

This is our stand at 7am opening time.

The baskets are fully stocked. We have coolers full of eggs, and the freezer is filled with an assortment of lamb and chicken. We will be replenishing the baskets as they empty from our stash in the trailer.

This is our stand at 8am, only one hour after the opening bell. Sorry, you'll have to use your imagination. I would take a picture of the crowds of people waiting to make purchases, but I don’t have time.

This is our stand at 9am…
if it’s not in the basket…we don’t have any more. Please don’t think we didn’t bring much, we did. Here are the numbers for one average week in August. The numbers indicate bags of lettuce/greens and pounds of everything else.
(The list does not include meat and eggs) That’s a lotta lettuce!

I feel bad that you’re disappointed that the eggs and lettuce are gone, but there’s always next week. We’ll be here every Saturday ‘til Thanksgiving.

Here is our stand at 10am.
Real slim pickin’s… From this point until closing time, we’re answering a lot of questions, promoting our products, and doing some visiting.

We are trying to take the advice from long ago “make/grow more stuff!” We grow more, sell more, and need more. Plans are being made for next growing season. How many beans should we grow? MORE! How many potatoes? MORE! How much okra? MORE! Squash? MORE! Lettuce and Spinach? MORE! MORE! MORE! You get the idea.

There’s not much left by the time closing comes at NOON. It’s time to pack it in, go home and eat lunch.

A short break on Sunday and we’re back at it bright and early Monday morning. We work all week to produce good food for your table…and ours.

The Market opens at 7…unless you have called, emailed, or texted me, you better be there…or someone else will beat you to the GOOD STUFF. …and that, my friends, is why you should get to the Market early…THE GOOD STUFF!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Takin' a Break

There are those who would have you to think that REAL FARMERS jump right into their work boots at first light and work hard (in those boots) until well past dark. At which point, they collapse, still wearing those boots. Somehow, they are able to do this day in and day out.

Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble….but that just ain’t happenin’ here on the hill. And I will take on anyone who would even suggest that we are not REAL farmers!

While we do our fair share of hard work, with or without our workboots, that level of labor just isn’t sustainable in our world. We begin our workday before light many days, and often are still working after supper. Sometimes, there are jobs that keep us going far longer than we might have planned.
We get dirty….REALLY dirty.

We get sweaty…REALLY sweaty.

But, we also know that we have to pace ourselves.

As it is our plan to farm this land until the Good Lord calls us home at a “ripe old age”, we want to find a level of labor that we will be able to maintain for the duration. It is also our desire to enjoy what we do for a living…never finding it a constant source of drudgery and irritation.

Sometimes, that means we take a break. Sometimes, we sit down on the porch, enjoying the peaceful view. Sometimes we knock off early and take off our boots. Sometimes, we do something truly out of the ordinary (for us).

Today, it meant we went out to lunch!
Since our very necessary trip to the dump took us in the general direction of W’boro…and I was truly in need of a peach milkshake (they are only available for a very limited time...and they are SO DELICIOUS!) Tom decided we needed a lunch trip to Chik-fil-a. Now, that’s a good boss!

We weren’t “off the clock” all that long. We discussed farm stuff while we ate. When we got home, he returned to mowing and I went back to the greenhouse to start more seeds. Perhaps most importantly, the pile of mess in front of the barn was taken away to the dump!

To take a little break was fun. Lunch was good, and it was nice not to have to eat leftovers. We feel renewed and ready to go back to work.

…and the memory of the peach milkshake will keep me motivated for a long time.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Missed an Historic Event...

The very fact that I didn’t feel the biggest earthquake in recent Virginia history gives some credence to my father’s oft repeated commentary on me … “no sense…no feeling”.

Tuesday afternoon started out in a normal fashion. After lunch, Tom went his way for his afternoon jobs. He was focused on getting the broccoli plantings weed-free. They look great!

After completing a few odds and ends, I headed out to pick the grapes on the fence along the lane. The dogs accompanied me to the gate where they would wait patiently (read, fall asleep) until I finished.

As the grapes are quite nice and very prolific this year, it seemed prudent to pick before any rainy weather came in. It was a gorgeous afternoon, bright blue sky, big puffy clouds, and a little cooler than it had been. I popped my earbuds in, turned on the music and began to pick.

Suddenly, Ellie began to bark. Unlike Jed, Ellie generally has a reason for barking, so I looked around. As I scanned the farm, I heard a deep rumble. Figuring it was a large group of motorcycles or a log truck going through town, I looked over toward M’brook road. M’brook Road is very, very curvy on the south end of “town” causing for a lot of downshifting and braking. When I didn’t see anything on the road, and the rumble continued, I looked around some more. No airplanes in sight and I knew the weather conditions were wrong to hear a train running through Buffalo Gap. I did have a passing wonder as to what was going on.But, I never saw anything, then the rumble stopped. I kept picking the grapes.

Moments later, I was surprised as Tom came up the drive, waving me down. I pulled the earbuds to hear him say…”We just had an earthquake! Did ya feel it?” Okay, my first reaction was EARTHQUAKE? In VA? Seriously?…. Maybe that’s just because I didn’t feel it. He said the tractor shook, the broccoli plants shook. He went inside to check on-line to see if he was right. It was an exciting moment, or so he said.

Since it didn’t seem like there was any imminent danger or concern, I replaced my earbuds and went back to the grapes. I must admit, I gave no thought to apocalypse, end of the world or alien invasion.

Later he told me that the epicenter had been in Mineral, VA and it had been a 6. I started paying a little more attention then. We know some folks that live in Mineral…I wondered how they had fared. (they were fine, just shaken) But, there is also a power plant in Mineral. YIKES! That was my second thought. VA Power (now it’s called Dominion) was Tom’s employer for nearly 20 years. In our “other life” we kept our boat at Lake Anna, so we are both quite aware of the power plant. It seems all was well there, too.

So, back to the grapes…

…and that is how I missed the earthquake.
It may just be that I am just a little too single-minded!

But, then again...
What’s that you say?….maybe I should turn the music down? WHAT?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Keeping an Eye on Hurricane Irene

There are a lot of things I could write about. I could chronicle the feel of fall in the air, our quest for a new cooler, various and sundry animal antics, or take a tour of the gardens. But, I can’t think of anything but Hurricane Irene. I find myself checking the track whenever NOAA updates the forecast.

While we are MUCH too far inland to worry about a direct hit from a hurricane, the Shenandoah Valley has seen its fair share of drama from storm remnants over the years. Does anyone remember Camille of 1969? Fran 1996? Isabel 2003? (to name a few) Winds, flooding, mudslides, and power outages followed tremendous amounts of rain. Human beings, homes and livestock were lost in a number of cases.

They said that Isabel was still a category one as it ripped over the Valley. I remember sitting in the living room with Tom and the girls…the total darkness broken by a few flickering candles and a flashlight…watching the walls of the house shake. I do not even want to imagine what it felt like along the coast. We lost power, had more rain than the rain gauge could measure, and lost some shingles. It was the only time during our Market baking days that we did NOT have bread.

Each check of Irene shows a slight variance in the track, and evidence of an ever growing storm. While the west side of a hurricane doesn’t generally get the most wind, that is also the side that gets the most rain. Presently, we are to get rain some time Saturday, although there are no current forecasts as to amounts.

While rain is good, necessary, and we find ourselves praying for more of it quite often, all the other issues surrounding the remnants of a hurricane cause us a great deal of concern. From past experience, we know we need to make some sort of preparations. We will track the expected arrival time for stormy weather in our area. That may, or may not, affect our Market plans for the day. While we would never consider missing the Market due to inclement weather, Tom does have a “rain mode” set up plan. Stormy weather will definitely limit the number of other vendors and customers who will venture out.

Copious amounts of rain will also affect the gardens. Tomatoes will split open with too much rain. Potatoes are difficult, at best, to dig out of mud. If rain is combined with wind, all our work may end up a flattened mess. The hoophouses cause concern any time wind is in the forecast. Then, there are the animals. We must consider their safety as well.

Last, and definitely not least, I think of those folks that will face the direct landfall of the hurricane. Our concerns for our farm pale in comparison to the worries of coastal dwellers.

Time to check the weather forecast again…the weekend promises to be “interesting” if nothing else!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Matter of Economy

It costs $85.00 to turn a lamb into lambchops.

That’s just the processing fee. There are other incidental costs: the delivery AND pick-up trip, the packaging and labeling. Then, there is the feed bill…do you have any idea how much a lamb will eat?

In order to make money in this venture, the lambs have to grow well and grow large. Generally, the lambs weigh over one hundred pounds when we take them to the butcher at six months of age. This rapid growth is not forced or in any way unnatural, it is just expected of the healthy, hearty breed. Never forget...this is a money-making venture (hopefully) and these animals are NOT pets.

There were a couple lambs that were just not growing out well. Unfortunately, this always happens. The late lamb, the bottle lamb, the odd and random small at birth lamb, all seem to lag behind the others. Most of the time, they are more susceptible to parasites and do not thrive. No matter how much effort might be put into them, they never develop like the others. Thankfully, there are far less of the “un-thrifty” ones than there used to be. We have become good shepherds.

Rather than feed the “loser lambs” out for the duration and HOPE that they someday grew bigger and we could finally get something out of them, we took a little trip to the stockyard. While this generally isn’t our first choice, because prices are less than stellar, this time it seemed the best option.

So, it was a very pleasant surprise when Friday’s mail included the stockyard check for far more than either of us predicted. What could have been an ongoing and costly frustration turned into a profitable venture.

An incoming check is always better than an outgoing one!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Thinkin' Ahead to Winter

When you’re wearing shorts and flip flops, it’s almost hard to remember winter, let alone plan ahead for it.

But, in order to have food during the winter, action must be taken in the summer. That’s a big part of our work around here. Berries, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Beans, and Peaches are all packed in the freezer, ready for wintertime eating.

The corn finally ripened last week. The best ears were taken to the Market. We spent a lot of time explaining that if you don’t want SPRAY…you will get BUGS. While most folks are okay with this, there were a few that decided “all natural” wasn’t for them. After the struggle to keep it standing, we then began a battle with the grasshoppers, caterpillars and beetles. In some ways, it’s been a difficult corn year.

But, there was still a fair amount of corn that could be picked and processed.

We have frozen corn for our own use for years. Last year, we decided to offer it for sale as well. Our winter sales customers loved it.

So, on Tuesday afternoon, we processed corn for winter.

After picking the corn, we shucked it, cleaned it,

blanched it,
cut it,

and then packaged it in plastic bags.

Now, there are bags and bags….and bags of corn in the freezer.

It is a great comfort to know that our work will provide nourishment all winter.

On to the tomatoes!