Monday, October 31, 2011

Sometimes, Ya Just GOTTA Laugh!

First thing Monday morning, I head out to town. The first stop is generally the feedstore, followed by the bank, the groceries, the gas station…well, you get the picture.

I really enjoy going to the feedstore. There are some great storytellers that always have a story to share. It’s one of the most interesting stops on my very busy day.

This morning was no exception. The historic weekend snowstorm had caused a power outage which had somehow affected the computer system, there were big deliveries to make, the phone was ringing off the hook…it was BUSY!

“Mrjim” and I exchanged pleasantries as he loaded the feed in the back of the pick-up. I thanked him and headed out to finish my errands. For some reason, every stop seemed to take longer than expected. I didn’t get home until sometime after noon.

The Boss had been busy all morning doing farm work, so we ate lunch before we began unloading the truck. When we began to unload, we noticed what looked like sand in the bed of the truck. “What’s that?” …hmm, looked like a feed bag broke. No big deal, we’ll just use that one first….wait a minute! WHAT is that stuff?

Closer examination revealed that some of the bags were NOT what they were supposed to be. Not only that, but one was broken and spilling its contents all over the back of the truck. While this was a nuisance, and required a trip back to town, it wasn’t a real big deal. But, if I didn’t go, the chicks were going to get hungry real soon.

I hopped back in the truck, drove back to town, amusing myself on the way by counting the number of neighboring farmers who were returning to work after lunching at the Meating Place. (Yes, that IS really the name!) I know I counted at least five! It was a pretty day, the songs on the radio were good ones; I really didn’t mind the trip.

I explained the mix-up at the feedstore office. No problem, just go tell “Mrjim”. “Mrjim” saw me before I saw him, and he was hurrying out to get me the right bags. It was an honest mistake, the storage bays are right next to one another. He apologized profusely; I laughingly told him it really wasn’t a problem. We exchanged pleasantries again, and I headed back out.

The Boss and I are heading to the processor’s in the morning with the last batch of lambs. I figured I’d fill the gas tank so we didn’t have to go to the gas station with lambs in the back of the truck. Unless you have ever gone to a gas station with lambs in the back of a pick-up, you really can’t imagine the weird looks, odd remarks, and general chaos that this can cause. …and that’s just from the human population!

While I was pumping the gas, the feedsacks in the back of the truck shifted around. As I looked at them, I realized one of the ones I had just picked up had a green tag. This may not seem like a big deal, but the feedstore color codes their feed bag labels. While I am not certain of the system, I know that Sheep feed is green, chicken feed is tan, and grains are white. I took a closer look at the green tag…it had a RABBIT on it! Yep, somehow, this time I got rabbit pellets.

Since I was about 2 minutes from the feedstore, I drove back. When I arrived, no one was in sight. I looked around, and as I headed back to the truck…here comes “Mrjim”.

As soon as he saw me, he started shaking his head. “What did I do this time?”

I couldn’t control the laughter. “It’s rabbit pellets!”

HUH?? He jumped up in the back of the truck. “Well, I’ll be danged!” he said. “What in the world is goin’ on? Those guys must be messin’ with me! Your husband is gonna skin me alive when he finds out about all this!”

He got out the forklift, pulled down the whole pallet and we couldn’t find any more rabbit pellets in the stack. Once he satisfied himself that we actually had the right thing on the truck, he said “waaaalll, girl….as much as I like talkin’ to ya…don’t come back too soon!” A shared hearty laugh and I headed out for the old homestead once again.

I must admit, I had a very wicked urge to turn around at the stockyard, run up to the mill and say…”….hey, Mrjim…..” But, that would have been mean.

Instead, I laughed all the way home!

Sunday, October 30, 2011


After my very visceral reaction to “I’d get a real job…” last week, this week’s weather forecast had me second-guessing myself. An October snow is odd enough, but an October snow on a Saturday during the Market season could be disastrous.

I know I’ve said this before, but… when you make your living in agriculture, the weather is a big factor. When you make your living in agriculture AND direct-marketing during a five-hour open-air Market, the weather becomes a HUGE factor.

As the Boss and I watched the weather forecast get snowier and snowier as the week progressed, we had a lot of discussions as to how to address the weather situation. Our attendance at the Market is a given, no discussion there. The Boss is the Market Manager, he HAS to attend. We make our living this way; we HAVE to sell the products that we grow here on the hill. However, it’s always a balancing act as to how much to take. If we take too much, we can’t put it back and wait until next week. Cut lettuce and other greens just don’t keep that well. If we take too little, we miss the opportunity to make sales, and obviously that’s not wise. We eventually came up with a plan, worked the plan and then waited for the snow to start.

When we went to bed Friday night, the flakes were coming down heavily. All we could do was wait to see what the morning held. The weather forecasters had us expecting a “big one”. The last time this area saw snow of this magnitude was 1979. The Boss remembers that all too well. He was working for the power company and worked for 40 hours straight. The combination of heavy snow and leaves on the trees made a nightmare for power company employees.

4:15am always comes too early on Saturday, but this particular day I was eager to look out the window to see what had transpired in the night. The floodlight revealed that the snow had indeed fallen in the night, but didn’t seem as deep as anticipated. It was no longer snowing; sleet and freezing rain were falling. We headed out to do chores together. We had decided that it made more sense for me to go into town with the Boss rather than have both vehicles out on what might be treacherous roads.

As we drove into town in the darkness, we laughed a little about how crazy it seemed. We wondered if any customers would venture out in the wintry mess. We rejoiced that the roads were only wet, and the temperature wasn’t quite as cold as predicted.

Our arrival at the Market revealed that other vendors had indeed come out despite the wintry weather. Out of the 26 reserved vendors, only 11 showed up for the Market. No one was too eager to set up in the cold, swirling snow, but everyone got ready for their day of sales. In some ways, it was a better turn out than we expected.

It was still very dark when the first customer came through. There weren’t a lot of customers…then there were none. It looked as if it would be a cold, wet day and sales would be dismal.
I must admit, I wasn’t feeling too optimistic.

Eventually, the residents of Staunton rallied. Folks came out and bought. Some came out and bought a lot. (It’s that time of year when some customers begin to stock up for winter.) The weather cleared a little. Families with young children came to go trick-or-treating at the businesses downtown.

All in all, it turned out to be a profitable day. It seemed like our balancing act worked, there were very few greens left. (I know what our menu will include this week.) We were happy with the total sales for the day.

Then, we can say we were part of history in Staunton. I think I can safely say that everyone hopes it will be another 30 plus years until the next October snowfall!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Keep an Ear out for the Weather

Some years ago, I crossed paths with “Papaw” while I was over in Draft running errands. There was a prediction for a big winter storm coming, so I asked his opinion. (Papaw is one of the few folks around who can read the signs in the woods and weather with great accuracy.)

“Hmmm”…”well, I saw a bunch of sundogs this week,” he said. Sundogs are those little prism-y things that you sometimes see in the sky. The old timers point out that they indicate precipitation coming. It has something to do with the humidity and ice crystals at the upper levels of the atmosphere. Yes, there is scientific evidence for this one.

“…and the clouds….look at ‘em” as we stood squinting up at the sky, discussing clouds and the possibility of precipitation, I was startled to hear the train coming. Startled because we were more than a mile from the closest crossing and it sounded as if it was coming through the parking lot where we were standing. “Uh oh,” he said, “ya know where that train is…right? When you can hear the train that clear this far away, it means we’re in for snow (or rain) in the next 24 to 48 hours. That’s what my daddy always said. You can tell by the train whistle…just listen!” When I asked why, he admitted he didn’t really know. He thought it had something to do with the atmosphere and the humidity. After we parted ways, I thought over our conversation.

When I found myself shoveling a couple days later, I began to pay attention to my surroundings just a little more. I’ve known for years that you can feel imminent snow fall, you can even smell it…but, I never thought about listening for it!

The train doesn’t run through M’brook. That’s one of the reasons M’brook faded from Augusta County history years ago. However, the train runs on the other side of the mountains and comes through Buffalo Gap and Swoope. Most days we can only hear the whistle in the distance as it warns the public that the train is crossing the roads. When the weather is right, we can hear the low rumble as it makes its way along the base of the mountains on its way to the coalfields of WVA. That’s when you know that we better get out the raincoats and galoshes or the snow shovel.

This morning when I saw the weather page with its prediction of snow and a considerable accumulation, I immediately thought of Papaw’s weather advice.
When I walked outside, the sky LOOKED like it might snow.

The air FELT like it might snow.

It even seemed to SMELL like snow.

I kept listening for the train. Did I hear it?

Late this afternoon, I heard the rumble of the train. Then, and only then did I begin to look for the snowflakes.

Shortly after supper, I looked out the back door…and there they were. Lots and LOTS of snowflakes! This is going to make for an “interesting” (to say the least) Farmers’ Market in the morning.
I just wish the train had let me know how much snow to expect. Next time, maybe I should listen a little more closely.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hey Y'all...Watch 'is!

Yes, I realize those are the infamous last words of rednecks everywhere. However, I wanted you to see what happens when I call the sheep.

When I call the sheep, I holler “SHEEP!” and wait….

It doesn’t matter if it’s pitch-black outside or if they’re far away and cannot see me…. Occasionally I get impatient and have to bang the bucket…then they REALLY run!

This time they were down in the lower front paddock, out of sight, and nearly out of earshot. They generally “answer” so I know they are on the way.

But, when I call the lambs it is a different story. Here I yelled, “Kitty, kitties!”

This was not a one-time occurrence; I discovered the phenomenon when one of the barn kitties went missing. They've come running when I've called the Boss or one of the dogs as well.

I’m fairly certain I could call anything and they would still come. It has something to do with the tone…not the words. Years ago we had a flock of lambs that came EVERY time the fire siren went off at the VFD down in M’brook. EVERY TIME!

I hope you will note that this post proves a few things.

Sheep know their shepherd’s voice (or at least tonal quality).

Lambs have absolutely NO vocabulary skills.

My “little camera” shoots some pretty good video. Although, I need some work as a videographer.

I am not exaggerating about the wind around here. The rushing noise is actually wind!

And, last but not least….

It would appear that I have way too much free time.

But, I DO love my job!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Hoophouse #1 is one of the older structures here on the hill. It became part of the landscape in late 1997. We owe a debt of gratitude to Buzz and CJ for helping “skin” it that first time. You guys will always have a special place in our hearts (and that’s just one of the reasons).

We built it to use as winter housing for the 300 Rhode Island Reds that would spend the rest of the year as pastured egg layers.

It was our intention from the start to use part of this structure as a greenhouse, or plant starting area.
We didn’t intend for it to become a year-round growing venture. But, the chickens were only in it for a short period every year, and real estate is at a premium around here. During the summers we tried corn, tomatoes, and melons among other things. We finally found that broccoli planted in March provided the best return. When we got out of the wholesale egg business, the hoophouse could be used for growing year-round. This makes it possible to have salads when there is snow on the ground.

I need to take a minute to explain our “hoophouses”. Known by a number of names: poly tunnels, hoophouses, high tunnels, and even cold-houses/frames, the idea is the same. They have a metal hoop structure to provide stability, are covered with some type of plastic coating, and are un-heated growing spaces. This is completely different than a greenhouse which has some source of constant heat, making it possible to grow warm weather crops year round. While daytime temperatures will get incredibly warm, even during the winter months, freezing temperatures at night are commonplace during the winter. The crops chosen for use in the hoophouse must be able to withstand these temperature fluctuations.

Since the hoophouses are just covered with a thin “skin” of plastic, from time to time this must be repaired or replaced. Generally, we get about 4 or 5 years from a “skin”. This time, we really needed to get more ventilation in the structure. Then, someone (who apparently did not know her own strength) poked a hole in the very top while removing snow. Since the “skin” was compromised, we solved the ventilation issue with a utility knife on the side. This course of action prompted us to “re-skin” a little sooner than normal.

Tuesday was chosen to be “the day”. It is imperative that the “skinning” day be slightly warm, this makes the plastic stretch nicely so it won’t flop around later. It also needs to be a calm day. This is in fact a very relative term, as the air is never still here on the hill. Thankfully, it was just slightly breezy so the Boss and I didn’t go sailing over the rooftops of M’brook. Wind is the number one concern in using hoop structures in our particular location.

Years ago, we did have a “blow-out” during an incredible windstorm. I looked out the upstairs window to see the entire side of the hoophouse waving at me in the wind. YIKES! Amazingly, we incurred very little actual damage that time. Thankfully, we have never had a collapse, even when the snow drifted nearly to the top during the blizzard of ’09.

We spent the afternoon stretching and attaching the plastic to the structure.
With the “wiggle wire” that locks into a special poly-lock channel, this job goes fairly quickly. That would be quickly compared to our old way of rolling the extra plastic over boards and screwing them to the band board at the bottom of the house. That was an all day family event sometimes.

Now that the new “skin” is on, we can roll up both sides on hot days to get cross ventilation going for the lettuce. Combined with the shade cloth, we hope that will make summer time growing even more successful than in the past. However, we won’t be trying any of this until sometime next year.

Next week, we’ll plant the last of the seedlings to take us into the winter harvest season. Then, we will look forward to picking all winter. To be in the hoophouse on a sunny, winter day can be a delight.

It looks like we got that plastic on just in time. The “S” word is in the forecast for the weekend!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

...a REAL Job...

Recently, I was more than a little surprised to hear someone say “if I was you…I’d get a REAL job.” I was at a complete loss for a comeback. I have wondered if other folks, particularly some far-flung family and casual acquaintances, have wondered about what we do …and perhaps why we do it. No one had ever actually said those particular words before, although they had been implied. It was a jarring statement to say the least.

…a REAL job…

Hmmm, is that to say that my current occupation is fake? Or that I really don’t work? Or that somehow other occupations are possibly more important or meaningful than what I do? Is a “real job” one that offers maximum benefits for minimum effort?

…a REAL job…

Guess I should look up the definition. “REAL -adj. - existing or happening as or in fact; actual; true; not merely seeming; authentic; genuine. JOB-n.-anything one has to do; task; chore; duty; a position of employment; work.” Gee, that seems like a pretty close definition.

For the record, here is a bit of background…I chose my current occupation. I DID have other options. No one has forced me into my present lifestyle. …and we didn’t come to farming because we couldn’t do anything else.

If I had followed the path laid out years ago, taken advantage of job opportunities along the way, I am fairly certain I wouldn’t be living in the Valley of the Shenandoah. No, I know if I had taken advantage of a long ago offer and I’d be upper management with a corner office in a high-rise office building in some big city somewhere. I chose not to follow that path…

Yes, I have “education”. Yes, I’ve had “opportunities”. Yes, I have ambition, drive and direction for my life. I just didn’t choose the path that may have been expected of me. And for that, I make absolutely NO apologies. I was looking for the intangibles that a high-powered, high-paying position would not have been able to provide.

I have always wanted to have a family and spend time with them. In addition, I have always had a keen sense of a “draw to the land”. While an exact definition may escape me…I’ve just got farmin’ “in my blood” I reckon. The sense of accomplishment, the pride in a job well-done, and the feeling of self-sufficiency, they all spoke to something deep within me. There is a feeling I get at the end of a day of hard physical farm work that I never got in corporate America…and I value that feeling, I value it deeply!

When we found ourselves in the Valley, we could have done a lot of other things. The Boss could have returned to the power company; I could have returned to the workforce. For a myriad of reasons, we took a chance and a huge leap of faith and started the farm. We CHOSE this life we currently enjoy. It has not been easy, it has not always been lucrative, but it has been rewarding and fulfilling.

It truly aggravates me when folks say, “well, I guess I could always farm” as if it is a last ditch effort. To say ANYONE can farm is truly false. Folks who farm, and farm well, are artisans and true professionals. They are intelligent, caring, hardworking people who often get overlooked and under-appreciated by the rest of society. While this is potentially hurtful, it doesn’t matter to these farmers because they are getting their satisfaction and fulfillment from a job well done.

…a REAL job…

*makes money – yep, we do that! There are those who would be amazed at the amount of money that can be made through a combination of creativity, hard work and determination on a very small plot of land.

*requires effort – oh, boy…

*provides some type of return on time invested – we eat well, sleep well, have learned immensely over the years…to say nothing of the sense of satisfaction we get with a job well done.

*gives back to the community or provides goods and services – we grow food; there are folks who depend on us. The overabundance grants us the opportunity to help the “less fortunate”.

While my current occupation doesn’t pay well and provides no “real” healthcare or retirement…it does do this…

*We set our own hours and are able to enjoy the sunrise or sunset together…stress-free.

*We eat the freshest, most nutritious food available…whenever we choose.

*We work in a beautiful setting, and see the fruits of our labors…literally.

*We get positive feedback…almost instantly.

*We have some awesome daughters! (ain’t nuthin’ like the farmer’s daughters...there's even a song about that one)

*We get to have the best co-worker relationship possible.

*We have a true appreciation of the life and death struggles that make this life possible. It may be that our joys are greater to balance out the fact that our losses are felt more keenly.

*We enjoy good health as a result of hard work and good food. We just don’t count the sore muscles as a bad thing.

*We have opportunity to see miracles every day. Not at day goes by that I don’t get to see and appreciate the handiwork of God. That alone is awesome and worth far more than any paycheck.

So, I may not work for a Fortune 500 company. Maybe that would be a “real job”. However, there is something, if not everything, to be said for job satisfaction. I definitely have that!

This is a hard life: the hours are long, the work strenuous, and the uncertainty at times demands a great deal of faith…but, the rewards are beyond any 401-k or health benefits…far beyond.


IS a REAL job!

…and I defy anyone to prove differently.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rollin', Rollin' Rollin'...

Last winter I started “Operation Farmhouse Facelift”.

As an empty-nester, I did what many empty-nesters do…I painted. However, my painting got a little out of hand. I intended to paint only the upstairs bath. By the time lambing season started, I had painted both bathrooms, the guestroom (A’s old room), the laundry room, and our bedroom. I left the painting frenzy for the frenzy of the lamb barn, then the garden, the Market, and so on.

I knew the rest of the painting would have to wait until fall. All the newly painted surfaces only served to make painfully obvious the need to soldier on in the project. Then the paint samples at Lowe’s continued to tempt me with their siren’s song. My stack of colors to consider got larger and larger.

Now that things have reached some level of relative “calm”, I’ve got a paintbrush in my hand again. I never realized how obsessive I am until I began painting. The Boss and the girls have pointed out this trait numerous times throughout the years, but I thought they were exaggerating.

I just love painting! Those boring off-white walls are boring no more. But, I just want to keep on painting. Forget meals, chores, the Market, bookwork, the laundry, picking, planting, or seeding…I just wanna paint! I am fairly certain that this gives the Boss yet another reason to be happy we have a very small house.

I am presently painting the living room. This has to be finished prior to the onset of “wood-stove season”, since the woodstove is in the center of the room. The blustery wind today only served to remind me that this is a priority job.

While it really doesn’t affect the working of the farm, it does REALLY affect my outlook on things. The freshly painted, newly organized rooms grant a fresh perspective on things.

So, despite the multitude of other things I could be doing, the farm events I could be chronicling, I’m painting the living room with the music cranking.

Rollin, rollin, rollin, keep that paintbrush rollin’…..oh, wait…that’s not the way those lyrics go!

Just let me get it out of my system. I'll be back to focusing on farm work soon!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Food Safety 101

Salmonella, Listeriosis, E. Coli…

Every time another food-borne illness makes the news; a few more people get concerned about the safety of their own food sources. In some ways, this works to the small farmer’s advantage. In some ways, it makes direct marketing slightly more intense.

The historically huge egg recall of 2010 left a lot of folks concerned with eggs from the grocery. Egg sales at the Market have been high ever since. Over the years there have been numerous recalls on ground beef, tomatoes, spinach, green onions and lettuce, among other things. The latest scare with listeriosis in melons has people talking about food safety once again.

With each scare, the nation gets slightly closer to very restrictive regulation. I think at some point folks will ask for more regulation to allay their fear of illness and personal harm. As producers, we need to be aware of this and take some type of proactive measures. As small-scale farmers selling directly to the public, we are on the frontlines. We should all be conversant in the current health concerns. We cannot hope by ignoring the “issues” that they will go away. The public wants reassurance, and as producers with hands-on connection to the food source, we are in the prime position to offer this along with some much needed education.

First, we should educate ourselves and our customers. What is food borne illness? Where does it originate? The obvious answer here is food…but, how do the various types of bacteria enter our food? Are there measures that can be taken to assure safety? For the record, YES, there are!

Next, we would take action on this education. Changes could, and should, be made at the farm level to assure a nutritious product that is safe and fresh. Consumers should care for their food products properly once they have made their purchase and prior to consumption.

To assure that we (as producers) were educated, last winter I enrolled in the GAP’s Program offered online by Cornell University. The FAO of the UN is leaning toward some type of audit/certification program to assure food safety. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture petitioned the USDA to design a course of education. Cornell offered the first such program to educate producers. The Good Agricultural Practices course offered the framework for producers to write a plan of action and granted a certificate of achievement at the end. If nothing else, this certificate looks somewhat impressive hanging on the wall in the farm office.

The whole idea behind the GAPs program is to make producers aware of the consequences of their actions, to get them to maintain some level of accountability, and to enforce this among their workers. Many of the areas of concern seemed to be matters of common sense and good hygiene to me. However, farm practices and personal hygiene vary greatly from operation to operation. Maintaining set standards can be difficult when there are numerous locations, employees with diverse backgrounds, and huge amounts of product.

But, the bottom line of food safety can to be summed up like this….CLEAN water, CLEAN hands, CLEAN food. Simple, huh?

The source of water for irrigation, as well as cleaning, should be clean and potable. The workers’ hands should be clean, or gloves worn in every harvesting/processing situation. These two simple steps go a LONG way in providing safe food for the consumer. Although, this is not to say that any concerns are unnecessary.

If anyone should be concerned about food safety from Homestead Hill Farm…I can assure you that our water supply is tested by VDACS (Virginia Department of Agriculture Consumer Services) on a regular basis.

…and we do wash our hands!

**Disclaimer: Consumers should always follow safe food handling procedures at home. Wash your hands and your veggies! Keep food that needs chilling in the refrigerator.**

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Doesn't It Just Figure?

I have been trying to work out the logistics of getting the barn kitties to the vet for their shots since we got the reminder card back in August.

Trying to round up three barn cats, arrange an appointment around our farm schedule and the vet’s schedule is proving to be a task beyond the scope of my ability.

There are several days during the week that I cannot schedule a trip to the veterinarian’s office for there are far too many farm jobs to do. The vet won’t let you just “pop” in for shots anymore; the office is far too busy. I need to call ahead. They are not opened on the weekends. Then there is the cat round up…

That should have been the easy part. Ordinarily, all the barn cats, the dogs and the sheep are milling about the barn in the early morning looking for something to eat. Recently, Booooyyyy has decided that he is some mighty hunter and has been roaming the neighborhood. (All our kitties are “fixed” so procreation is not a worry) Sometimes he’s here…sometimes not. After a few days of freaking out and calling the neighbors, I have adjusted to his new wildly independent behavior.

Last week, I decided it was time to get to the vet’s office. I found and corralled the two girls with little incident. I figured Booooyyyy would show up shortly. After two and a half hours of the girls yowling away in the cat cage, and no sign of Booooyyyy, I let them out. The noise was more than I (or the dogs) could take. He came wandering in a couple of hours later, complaining that HE hadn’t been fed. I decided to bail on the vet trip for the week. In my frustration, I left the cat cage in the barn.

However, it was slightly ironic and majorly annoying when I found Booooyyyy taking his Saturday afternoon nap INSIDE the cat cage.

Sunday afternoon, Sissie decided to take HER nap inside the cat cage.

If I could only convince them ALL to sleep in the cat cage…say, Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday night…I might just get them to the vet this week.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sad Days

As soon as I saw her, I knew something was wrong. Before too long, she made her way to our Market table and spoke my name. I embraced her while she composed herself…keeping back the tears that were so close to the surface. She told me the news. I hugged her again, told her to call if she needed anything and watched her walk away. Her fragility struck me anew. This dear, sweet little woman is about to lose her soul-mate of approximately 70 years. Surrounded by his family, he was happy…but, his passing imminent. Oh, it was so sad…so very sad.

These folks aren’t “just customers”, they are friends. They’ve visited us, watched our children grow, hugged us during bad times, and shared life stories along the way. He grew up in the Midwest grain country, and we’d talk farming and tomatoes, he loved sweet onions and barbershop singing. He had a gentle soul that will be missed at the Market.

Earlier this year, another customer lost her long battle with cancer. Each week, I see her husband come to buy flowers for her grave. That is heartbreaking. She was kind and gracious to me when I truly needed someone to care. I miss her as well.

We’ve done the Market for a long time. That means we’ve seen a lot of changes over the years. Some vendors have passed on, as well as customer-friends… and, to this day those folks are missed. Lots of new babies have been born, so the cycle continues. The fabric of the Market is constantly changing. We count many of these folks among our friends so the loss is felt on a very personal level.

In the past couple weeks, a number of folks connected to the Market have lost loved ones. Three vendors have lost a parent. There have been a number of losses among the customer base as well. While death is a natural occurrence, those left behind are struggling to deal with the new reality. That is hard.

Toby Keith wrote this song after losing his dear friend Wayman Tisdale. It seems touchingly appropriate.
As for those who have recently passed on…you WILL be missed! …and to those doing the missing, the adjusting, the mourning, my heart goes out to YOU!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Garden Experiment...FAIL

Lest anyone think I only note our successes…lest anyone think I only see the positive…lest anyone think EVERYTHING always works just right around here… read the following.

Last year we had a bumper crop of butternut squash. It was great!

We had them for sale (we sold them whole, as well as bags of peeled chunks)
and for all the recipes we could find. A customer-friend shared this grilling idea with us. YUM!

There were so many that some of them ended up moldering away in storage. (ugh)

This year, we decided that we should grow some other types of winter squash. Perhaps, we thought, if we had a number of different kinds, we wouldn’t have any left to molder away at the end of the season. Turns out we were right.

The seeds germinated well. The plants looked great when we planted them in the garden. We followed our usual method of irrigation, planting and mulching in a single day. We took some pride in our job well done.

Then we noticed something odd. A number of the plants died. No problem, I start extras for that situation.

The plants began to grow. Then more plants died. No extra plants now, so we would just have a smaller crop.

More plants died. We checked the irrigation.

More plants died. We checked for bugs and disease.

Long story short…here’s the crop for 2011.

What? Didn’t see a picture? That’s because there is NO crop for 2011. Nope, not a single squash.

Neither of us is quite sure what happened. We had a similar problem when we tried great variety in the past. I have no idea how variety could be the problem, but we will return to what gave us success in the past. Guess the future will see us planting butternut…just butternut…squash.

One constant in farming… “there’s always NEXT year!”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Garden Experiment...a Success Story

Along about mid-July, The Boss and I looked at one another and said “Green Beans! We need another succession planting of GREEN beans!” Yes, the conversations around here are indeed that odd and random.

We checked the calendar and did the math. Ooo, that would be cutting it close, real close. However, if we caught a break in the weather…we might be able to have late season beans. He decided to “go for it” and seeded in some beans.

When you do succession planting, it is necessary to count ahead on the calendar to see when the crop will mature. Actually, this should be done in every planting situation. That way you have some idea of your harvest window.

Late season planting always carries a risk. If the planting doesn’t have enough time to mature before the frost and cold arrive, time and energy have been wasted.

We took a risk with those beans. But, they grew beautifully. They were loaded with tiny beans and a multitude of blossoms. It looked like they would be ready for Market sales toward the end of September. If we had planted them when the nights were staying warmer, they would have matured earlier.

Then, it happened. When we walked outside to do chores the morning of September 15, there was frost! Beans do NOT like frost. We had not covered the beans the night before because the weather was not predicted to be so cold. Covering the beans, or any crop, with row cover (a spun poly fabric) will protect from cold to some degree. It is a great solution, with a down-side. Row cover does not like wind…and here on the hill, we get a LOT of wind.

Upon further investigation, we found the frost was quite patchy. It seemed to miss the bean patch entirely. Hooray!

Later that week, I began picking. I picked and picked and picked. Wow! Despite the cool nights, copious amounts of rain, and cloudy days, this bean patch has REALLY produced.

I keep telling Market customers that “this is probably the last week for beans….you know the weather…” and then there are still beans to pick. So far, that little bean patch thrown in at the last minute has produced well over one hundred pounds of beans. Just yesterday, we picked more.

Now, that’s a success story!

But, I really DO think this is the last week for beans…