Monday, September 26, 2011

A Multitude of Mushrooms

As I returned home the other day, I glanced up the hill toward the house as I turned in the lane. I have made it a habit to check things out as I approach the old homestead….never know what odd and/or random thing may be happening.

Wait! What is that under the pine trees?

I headed out to check it out. Of course, since the sheep are in that paddock, they went along to “help”. That always keeps things interesting.

The pine trees grow in several large groups out front. In the history of this piece of land, at one point someone wanted to start a Christmas tree farm. The next owner thought this was a completely stupid idea, and attempted to bush hog everything. The land is hilly and lumpy and a fair number of trees escaped the bush hog. That was about 20 years ago, so the trees are quite large now.

As I rounded the first group of trees, I could finally identify the “stuff” I had seen from the lane.

It was MUSHROOMS! Bunches and bunches (and bunches!) of mushrooms.

Mushrooms kinda freak me out. I immediately assume that they’re all highly poisonous. (I think this is baggage from reading Babar the elephant as a small child.) There were all kinds of mushrooms: yellow, red, white, puffballs, some slimy mushrooms and some that defied description. Yikes!

The sheep were in this paddock. Had they eaten the mushrooms? Would the mushrooms hurt them? There were lots of damaged mushrooms. I couldn’t tell if they had been eaten, or just walked on. I know nothing about mushroom identification. Sure wish “papaw” hadn’t sworn off the “ ‘puter”! I could have emailed him some pics and he could have identified them. As that wasn’t an option, I put the helpful sheep in another paddock for safe measure, and did some internet research.

My internet research revealed that I don’t have anything to worry about. It doesn’t appear that they are highly toxic. And, as the Boss pointed out, the sheep probably won’t eat them anyway with all the grass available. Although, I am fairly certain that a couple of the "characters" had to at least taste one.

It would appear that weather conditions were just perfect for great mushroom growth for the first time in our history with this piece of property. It is just part of the growth habit of this particular species to grow around coniferous trees.

Well, that’s one for the books! We’re supposed to get some real cold weather later this week, so that will spell the end for the mushrooms.

I do wonder….what’s next?

Thursday, September 22, 2011


When we said “I DO” that hot September day back in 1984, our plans for the future never included: starting our lives anew from the ground up (LITERALLY), meeting the vet at the barn at 2am, beating snow off the hoophouses in the middle of a blizzard, hauling hay in hundred degree weather, performing a successful post-mortem caesarean on a ewe, working far harder than we ever thought we could, worrying and praying our way through countless farming scenarios. (the list could go on and on) Our plans for our future together were pretty tame…just the “Mr. and Mrs.” somewhere in quasi-suburbia. Farming was never an option, we thought we had our lives all figured out.

If we had only known…

We never planned to move to the Valley, become farmers…and love this life we live. I don’t think we had heard of a Farmers’ Market. Growing vegetables was a hobby...we never expected it to become our life and livelihood! They say that life is what happens while you’re planning other things. That is exactly what happened to us! While it has been a bumpy ride to the point at which we find ourselves…we arrived together…intact.

We have always worked well as a team. Always. We’ve had a number of mishaps and “adventures” along the way, but it’s always been together. When we faced the challenge of a totally new and different life here in the Valley, we pitched in TOGETHER and worked through it.

We each acknowledge our own weaknesses and rely on the other’s strengths. Each of us has an area of expertise, and we help each other whenever we can. The Boss can make almost anything a reality. He keeps everything running and does the muscle work. I get the nurturing jobs…and try to keep track of the little details. The farm runs somewhat smoothly because we’re generally on the same page, although we see things from slightly different perspectives. It’s become second nature to anticipate the other’s needs.

Looking back on those vows made years ago, we can actually say “…been there…done that!” to for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Despite a few scares along the way, we’re hoping that “ ‘til death do you part” is a long, long way in the future. There’s a still lot to do around here.

Here’s to another 27!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

American Lamb

We are frequently asked...WHAT makes American Lamb different? My snappy comeback is… “about 10,000 miles!” This always gets a chuckle, but doesn’t really address the issue.

The American Lamb logo, the nice recipe cards and pretty literature are all part of a campaign by the American Lamb Board to emphasize the meat grown in this country. Each time a sheep is sold through a stockyard in the US, a small amount goes to the lamb check-off and that is used to promote lamb consumption and offer education to farmers.

By stressing AMERICAN, it becomes obvious that other lamb is imported. While there are Country of Original Origin Label laws in place, it is not always simple to find out where food originated. Most of the lamb consumed in the world is from Australia and New Zealand. You can also find Icelandic lamb. More and more, consumers are looking for the American label for their food. This means that your food has not travelled halfway around the world before arriving in the grocery. This fact alone should guarantee fresher flavor.

There are a multitude of shepherds and sheep farmers around our nation. For the record, there is a real difference between a shepherd and a sheep farmer. A shepherd knows his/her sheep and they know him/her. There is a bond between animal and human that affects the quality of care and ultimately the final product. A sheep farmer, on the other hand, is not as intimately involved with the entire operation. But, all these folks work hard to provide lamb meat and wool products for the rest of society.

From personal experience, we can tell you there is a big difference in taste among the breeds of sheep. The breed we raise has been chosen for its flavor as well as it healthy vigor. These animals are an integral part of our farm and our lives. When you buy lamb in the grocery, it is from numerous farms, with various breeds and farming practices. All of these directly affect taste.

When you buy lamb from Homestead Hill Farm, we can tell you how the lamb was raised, what it ate, when the meat was processed, and if you really need to know…who its parents were, among other things. We can assure you that the sheep here on the farm are treated humanely, fed only natural feed and grass, and medicated only when absolutely necessary. Nothing artificial is done to enhance breeding or growth.

It is said that the average American eats less than a pound of lamb per year. This is in stark contrast to beef and chicken consumption. Beef and chicken account for most of the protein eaten in this country. Statistics show that on average, about 200 pounds total is consumed by each of us. While I will contest the huge amount of protein eaten, the difference seems about right. Many folks are certain they won’t like lamb, or they have had an unpleasant experience in the past. We also have to confront and overcome the “cute” factor…the mental image that springs to mind when the word LAMB is used. It is the hope of the American Lamb Board (and us!) that by educating the public, we can change that. Lamb is consumed in great quantities by folks in other countries around the world.

Lamb is low in calories and cholesterol. It’s high in protein and vitamins...and when prepared properly, is amazingly delicious! The clean, fresh taste is enhanced by grilling. When it’s ground or made into sausage, it makes a very versatile, quick entrĂ©e. (Just do NOT cook it as long as you would pork; it will become tough).

But, the shanks…oh, my goodness…they are the “primo” part of the lamb! Slow cooked in gravy with potatoes, carrots and onions…there is nothing finer on a cold winter day.
Nope, nothing!

While I don’t want to say anything derogatory about our Australian counterparts (or any other shepherds for that matter), I can personally attest to the “delicious-ness” of our own American lamb. I can also assure you, it has never been anywhere that I haven’t been. (well, …except perhaps the freezer…long-term)

It’s delicious, nutritious, local and incredibly fresh.

…and I just made myself incredibly hungry!

Monday, September 19, 2011

On the Flip Side

Once the number of animals in the “ewe flock” surpasses the number of animals in the “lamb flock”, we flip the farm. Well, sorta…

By the time the ewes outnumber the lambs, it is generally mid- August and time to get serious about breeding for the following season. While breeding, it is a good idea to give those animals the best environment possible.

Our “house/barn/gardens complex” sits about in the middle of the farm. So, we have the “front” and the “back” groups of paddocks. The front paddocks are large, north facing and have a number of trees. In the fall of the year, the grass stays lush out there. (relatively speaking) The back paddocks are smaller, have fewer trees, but are quite secure. The grass gets a little sparse when the heat and drought of summer prevails.

The rotation varies, but this year the lambs were out front most of the summer. As their numbers dwindled, (we are systematically taking them to a “cooler climate”) they were unable to keep up with the grass out front.

When it’s time to pull the old “switcheroo”, it’s always a questionable proposition. Sometimes it’s easy to get all of one group in the barn while we run the other group from their old area, through the barnyard, into their new home. Sometimes it causes a whole lot of fussin’ and cussin’!

This year went without a hitch. HOORAY!

It was my job to get all the lambs in the barn. All the creatures around here follow me willingly anywhere….I am “food lady”!

While in the barn, everyone seemed to have a job.

Squeakie was the supervisor.

Jed checked hearing.

Ellie checked respiratory issues.

The wether lambs worked on male dominance.

Jessie took the opportunity to do a pedicure.

Ginny practiced her modeling poses.

The Boss changed all the gates around to funnel the ewes and Waylon out front. I called “SHEEP!” banged my bucket, and got out of the way. Here they come!

There they go!

Then we took the lambs out back. This was slightly more difficult, as they are lambs and have the brain power of rocks at times.

Finally, everyone was shifted around. Then the rains came and the lambs have lovely lush grass, and all is right with the world once more.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Perfect Timing

The reefer is finally finished!

The Boss actually got it finished on Thursday.

After letting it run to cool down, we carted all of the onions out of the walk-in and put them on the newly installed shelves. We figure there are about a thousand pounds of onions in there.

That made the walk-in MUCH easier to use. There was actually shelf space to spare when getting ready for Market. Now that we are starting to harvest an abundance of fall greens, this is especially nice.

A number of checks on the temperature; we are assured that it is staying cold and not running constantly. That’s good…I was worried that the next electric bill might be frightening.

It’s a wonderful thing that the reefer got finished Thursday. We had a frost overnight…
and woke to see ice crystals on Friday morning. The first frost means an end to the growing season for a number of things, like tomatoes and peppers and maybe the squash. It also means that it’s time to get serious, real serious about getting those potatoes out of the ground. The completed reefer means we will have a place to store them.

Thankfully, that was the only COLD night, and we could put the potato harvest off until next week. That will be job #1…no, Job #2 for next week. Job #1 will be the sweet potatoes. They don’t need refrigeration, but more about them another time.

Next week, the reefer/cooler will be full of taters and onions. With a reefer/cooler of taters and onions…we’ll be ready for winter!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Home Away from Home

As I pulled into the Lowe’s parking lot for the FOURTH time in a week on Wednesday morning, I had to chuckle to myself. Yes, I know it’s only the third day of the workweek…I made 2 trips on Monday. I truly think that if I started one of our vehicles, pulled it through the gate, and waited…it would probably just drive itself straight to LOWE’S!

We have been to Lowe’s so often over the years that once we were asked if we were a husband/wife construction team. Well, we are….just not for profit. I have been the Boss’ helper for years. We are a team. I guess it looks like we’re serious when we go for lumber and have our own gloves in our back pockets. The daily trips help maintain the image, too…I reckon. Seriously, we don’t go every day…it just seems that way.

Today, I was the runner for the Boss’s big project. There are some things I don’t know how to do, but I can drive to town and buy stuff. As I was walking around the store, shopping the list, I heard a familiar voice say, “hey, I see you made it back! Hahaha” I looked up to see one of the cashiers we’ve known for years laughing at the fact I was in the store as often as he was as a paid employee!

I suppose it says something about me that I can find most anything I’m sent for…if I am in Lowe’s. However, I wander around blindly when I go to one of the local department stores. I don’t even want to think about how much money we have spent there over the years. Just consider it a contribution to the local economy!

There is also a social aspect to going to Lowe’s. It is an odd trip if we don’t see at least one friend, customer, neighbor or family member while shopping. That may be the best part of the extra trips.

But, now the big project “du jour” is finished. No Lowe’s trips are planned until sometime next week. I sure hope I don’t suffer some type of withdrawal over the weekend!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rollin', Rollin' on the REEFER

There is a change in the light around the first of September. Some mornings there is a little chill in the air. Acknowledging the seasonal changes and anticipating the impending harvest of potatoes, last week The Boss was heard to say …”I gotta get rollin’ on the reefer!” One thing about our long shared history, we often get a chuckle when we least expect it.

So, with apologies to Credence Clearwater Revival, here’s what’s happening in the reefer remodel project.

After a slow-down in momentum (Home Depot did not have the special insulation necessary…we had to make a return trip), the action began in earnest this week.

As the entire reefer is not going to be used as a cooler (yet), it was necessary to put in a door.

Since the door was only primered, I got to paint.

A hole had to be cut for the a/c unit. The original hole for the refrigeration unit had to be filled in.

The electrical work will be happening today. That will complete the cooling portion of the reefer. Then, we’ll be chillin’ big time.

A big project completed with only SEVEN trips to Lowe’s. That may be a new record!

I only wish I could think of some appropriate song lyrics...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Sign of the Times

Despite the weeks of oppressive heat, summer is the time to think about winter time warmth. That is, if you heat with wood.

We’ve heated with wood for years and years. We love the zonal warmth you get with a woodstove and the atmosphere the first creates. Our current woodstove also has a flat top for cooking amazing beans and chili…and soups, too. Oh, I’ve got myself looking forward to winter!

“Back in the day”, The Boss would source the wood, cut the wood, haul the wood, split the wood, and then he and the girls would stack the wood. Our move to the Valley changed a lot of that. Then our wood-stackers moved on as well.

Still committed to wood heat, now we have it delivered. It is said that wood provides heat many times…in the chopping, splitting, and then the burning. Despite the fact that we miss out on some of the steps these days, we still get more than one warming from our load of wood.

While that big mess of firewood is another item on the “to-do” list, it is also a sign of the times.

Winter is comin’…and we’re gonna be ready!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Magnificent Creature

As a giant dog breed, the sheer size of a Great Pyrenees is astounding. A well-groomed Pyr can be an awesome sight.

Our neighbor is a lover of the giant dog breeds. As a past president of the local chapter of the SPCA, a former dog breeder and owner of 3 or 4 Great Danes, he is most definitely a “dog person”.

When we first got Jed, Neighbor made friends with him, bringing him cookies and talking nicely to him. Once Jed reached maturity, Neighbor referred to him as “oh, you magnificent creature” repeatedly. It may have gone to Jed’s head.

Between the excessive heat and the recurrent thunderstorms of late, Jed has felt it necessary to dig himself a bunker next to the house. The reason for the location of the bunker remains a mystery to us. Tucked between the compressor and the storage shed, he’s out of the wind and rain and can hide from the thunder.

The bunker has grown quite large of late, and the fine, fine dust that makes up the inner part of the hole looks like it might offer some level of comfort. Although the combination of the dust and Jed’s wet, wet fur have caused a new issue.

He’s not looking so magnificent these days!

Oh, dear….dog bath blog…here we come.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Beep, beeeep, beeeeeep! Something was disturbing my sleep….

BEEP, beeeeep, beeeeeep! Huh? What is it?

BEEP, BEEEEEEP, BEEEEEEP! What is that? “It’s the computer.”The Boss’ voice came out of the darkness.

Huh? I didn’t realize I had spoken my thought aloud. As I started to get up, it seemed I must not have opened my eyes.

It was DARK! No, my eyes were definitely opened. What happened to the alarm clock? Oh no, we have no power!

“The power’s out.”

”Yeah, I know”, he said, “That’s why the computer is beeping.” Oh…duh! He found a flashlight, crawled under the desk and ended the obnoxious sound. What a relief! I was getting a headache.

Okay, it is four-fifteen…the power’s out…and we’re suddenly wide awake.

Now, what? We never think about how dependent we are on the electricity until it goes out. Then we (I) begin to worry big time. The vast bank of freezers full of meat and vegetables immediately spring to mind. Just how long until things start to thaw? We also have week old chicks in the brooder, without the warmth of the heat lamp; they will go the way of the deceased chicks of last week. Hmmm…

Sipping sweet tea by candlelight, wishing the outage had happened AFTER the coffee had brewed, we contemplated our next move. The generator could be fired up, but it’s a hassle to get running and it’s loud, the gas supply was questionable. If the outage was a short one, it would be a waste of time and energy. A call to the power company indicated it shouldn’t be too long.

Still groaning about the lack of coffee, we headed out for chores. Once it was light enough to see the animals, we could feed them all with little difficulty. The overnight rain precluded watering them. Chores were actually kind of easy.
Another check on the power indicated that the outage would be longer. We needed extra gas for the generator, so we headed out for our weekly feed/town trip earlier than normal, hoping to find a cup of coffee somewhere. We hurried through our errands, praying the power was back on when we returned.

Yay! It was back on, the freezers were still frozen,
the chicks were not chilled and all was right with the farm once more.

This morning proved something to us. We are far too dependent on our morning routine of coffee and weather page updates and emails. Candlelight is not romantic when one is worried and caffeine-deprived. …and flashlights...
you can NEVER have too many flashlights!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Let's Get this Thing in Perspective

As I headed out to the Post Office to pick up the last batch of broiler chicks, things were looking pretty good. We had accomplished a great deal the day before, and we were on track to keep on schedule again.

The box of chicks seemed rather “subdued” on the ride up the hill. Ordinarily, the chicks are peeping loudly, very loudly, announcing their need for food and water and freedom. This batch was making noise, but not at the level I have come to expect.

Upon opening the box, we discovered that a proportionally large number of them were dead, several were dying, and even more didn’t look too good. Ugh! Not a good way to start a project. It looked like they must have gotten too cold in transit, as all the dead ones were in the same compartment. An email was dispatched to the hatchery, and we went off to our various projects for the day. The dead chicks were a real bummer.

Somehow that seemed to color our thinking about everything. The weeds were suddenly bigger, the bugs suddenly more destructive, the weather hotter, the job list longer. (you get the idea) Things that seemed just “part of the deal” suddenly seemed insurmountable.

Then I remembered a story I had read about earlier in the day. In all the flooding from Irene last weekend, Vermont took some of the most significant agricultural damage. I had been keeping up with a story about the Brattleboro Farmers Market. This led me to the story of Evening Star Farm. While they were not the only ones to incur damage, the small farm similarites caught my attention.

Evening Star Farm is a CSA farm in Cuttingville, VT. (check them out on Facebook, look up their website) These young farmers were enjoying a successful first year on their farm. Then the floods came through.
In a single event, hoophouses, gardens, tools, their dreams and aspirations were all washed away. While the community has come together in an amazing way to help them re-build, the enormity of the task may be insurmountable.

That made me realize that I was just feeling sorry for myself, letting a small problem affect my day when it shouldn’t have even been a “blip on the radar”. The hatchery will refund the money for the lost chicks, we can weed a little more, battle the bugs a little aggressively, and so on.

While the work remains, so do the possibilities for next year. We didn’t see our lives wash downstream like the folks in Vermont.

By comparison, we should have no complaints…no worries…at all...ever!