Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ah, Fickle Spring!

Last week the temperature flirted with the 80* mark.  Some places in the Valley actually set some records.  It was so hot and the rays of the sun so strong that we took the time to put the shadecloth on the hoophouses in order to save the tender lettuce crop.  After the Boss and I spent Friday afternoon weeding/fertilizing the garlic, I really (really) wished I had not dressed for summer while we worked.  Sunburn is never pleasant…but totally unexpected in MARCH! The upside was we DID get the job done prior to the big rain.

The whole time we were “enjoying” the warmth, we discussed the fact that this was out of the ordinary, that this kind of weather just couldn’t continue. We live in the Valley of VA, after all…at around 2000 feet.  Spring never comes to stay this early, global warming or not. The folks who were getting excited about summer activities…planting beans and tomatoes…they were in for a rude awakening!

Sunday afternoon, I got a weather alert on my phone.  Yeah, I know…multiple weather applications make me somewhat of an oddity (it’s okay, I’ve known that for a while) The Boss did question the exact location that I must have input .  No, for real…our county was under a freeze watch.  Later it was updated to a WARNING.  Winter was back.

There are only so many precautions you can take.  It would be great to blanket the whole farm and turn on the heat when cold weather is forecast.  However, that is definitely NOT feasible.  So, we do what we can…and ATTEMPT to rely on faith for the rest of it.

We don’t generally plant out anything considered TENDER until much later in the season.  We have had personal experience with sub-freezing temperatures at the end of MAY!  Years ago, we planted out the tomatoes, only to find that the temperatures were going to plummet overnight.  We were out there in the middle of the night, digging up tomato plants by flashlight.  The neighbor was working the nightshift at the time and drove up the lane while we were mid-dig…wonder what HE thought?  Later, we re-planted the tomatoes, and YES, had a good crop that year.  But, we learned our lesson…Do NOT ( I repeat…DO NOT) get over-zealous!  All in good time.

Monday night, we shut the hoophouses down, put covers on what we could, turned on some heat in the greenhouses, and waited.  There was very little we could do for the peach blossoms, the pea shoots, and the few potatoes and asparagus that had already popped up. 
frosty potato

Morning revealed that the temperature had gone down to 29*.  In the relatively low lying areas of the farm, I am certain it went lower…there was ice in the ram’s water tub.
The frost was quite heavy, although it was very pretty.
The blooming tulips were frozen solid.  There were ice crystals on the plants in the hoophouses.  Yes, it was cold!

frozen/thawed potato plant
The temperatures rebounded with the bright sunlight.  The blossoms thawed and the ice melted.  Most everything recovered. The asparagus and potatoes did not.  Whether the peach, plum, pear and apple blossoms survived remains to be seen.

It looks like the temperatures have returned to “normal”, and freezing temperatures will not be making another appearance.

Don’t get too excited…anything can happen…it’s Spring in the Valley!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Seize the Day

During morning chores, we often see beautiful sunrises…snowfalls…rainbows…birds in flight or any of a number of wondrous sights. That is one of the benefits of a job that requires such early hours. The other morning was no exception, as the clouds had an opalescent appearance and the sky was a pale pink. The Boss and I commented on the beautiful sky and went about our chores.

I promptly forgot all about the loveliness, as I hassled with the sheep, fed the dogs and checked on the hoophouses. Everywhere I went I saw another job I had not gotten to, and another item (or ten) that should be added to the “to-do” list. Then, I started thinking about breakfast, hmmmm…..what to have? That made me remember that I needed to get something out for supper, which led me to look in the freezer (that STILL needs cleaning). The day was off and running, with or without me.

Later, when the Boss and I were in the office, catching up on correspondence and farm records, he said that one of his friends had really liked the photo he posted. Photo? What photo? Apparently, as his chores led back to the house, he took the opportunity to take a picture of the morning. When he posted it, his photography friends were very impressed. …and, so was I.

Yes, this is where we live, where we work, where we spend the vast majority of our time. Isn’t it beautiful? We are very blessed.

This photo has been copied and will hang in the livingroom. It’s going there not just because it is so gorgeous (it is)…but, to remind me to take a minute and really look…and really appreciate what we have. Far too often, I get caught up and then bogged down by the little things. The minutiae will always be there…the moments of sheer beauty are fleeting at best.

I’m sure glad the Boss captured this one!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

This Week on the Hill 3-25

Spring arrived this week!
   The peach blossoms stole the show, set off against the bright blue sky.
The Plum blossoms were pretty, too!

The warm weather brought the grass growth on early, so the sheep were turned out to greener pastures.

The crops in the hoophouses are looking beautiful!
D'avignon Radishes
green onions
Spring Lettuce

The peas are beginning to come up!  We planted more potatoes...
We got all the garlic weeded and fertilized...just in time for the weekend rains.  This will allow it to grow well and be ready for Market sometime in June.

With a rainy Sunday to give us a chance to re-charge for the coming week...we should be ready to tackle all the planting, seeding, shepherding jobs we have planned.

 Although, it does not appear that Sissy is going to be at all helpful.  Looks like she's settling in for a week-long nap.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

It Ain't about Easy

It ain't about easy
It’s about tough
It’s about leavin the house 'fore the sun comes up

The kickin, the cussin, the fussin, the fight
Stayin in love when the money gets tight…

-montgomery gentry

15 years ago today, we were sitting in a lawyer’s office, signing a bunch of papers, and handing over a very BIG check.

15 years ago today, this little piece of the Valley became ours. ALL ours. But, it was an empty piece of land…NOTHING came with the little piece of the Valley except perimeter fence and a septic system. (…and believe me, we were very thankful for the septic system!) Eventually, the value of the perimeter fence would make itself evident as well.

15 years ago, we met our builder at the property, laid out the house site and began a whole new way of life. That is when the reality of the situation began to set in…

If someone had told us what the next 15 years would hold, we may very well have taken that check back, refused to sign even one of those papers….and run far, far away. At the time we felt we had no choice other than to take that step…of faith…into the unknown…

To say it’s been an adventure would be an understatement. To say it has been easy would be a lie. To say that this life has not been without its rewards would be an injustice. The past 15 years, while being the most difficult of our lives, have also been the most amazing and blessed.

In retrospect, I can’t believe we made the leap of faith.
Looking back, it seemed like such a gamble, a complete improbability. But, we stuck it out, worked TOGETHER, and can look back with fond memories.

…and I can honestly say that we have lived the first part of this song… By the time the house was built, and that last check to the builder issued, we had $5 in our savings account. Yep…a whole FIVE dollars! …and it stayed that way for quite a while. Scary? Oh yeah! Faith building? Most Definitely! Ever want to do it again? NO….NO WAY!

We have worked harder than I thought humanly possible sometimes. We have faced calamities that I thought might actually be the end. Uncertainty has been a daily companion at times.
But, fact is, that’s just LIFE…the hard work and uncertainty. Tenacity and faith…that’s what gets anybody through it.

…welcome to life son and you ain't alive, if you ain’t breakin a sweat…

Sweat-equity is a term used to refer to the amount of effort a home owner puts into a project. This takes on a whole new meaning when you’re shaping a new farm and an entirely different lifestyle. Did I mention we were raising children, too? Oh, and homeschooling them…

15 years ago, I could never have predicted that we’d be at this point…kids grown and married (and making it on their own), and the farm a thriving entity. We would have never thought that we would be growing on this scale, selling year-round and counting ourselves long-time, successful Market vendors. This year marks year #15 as vendors in spots 15/16 at the Market. We just completed our fourth year of Winter Sales, providing fresh farm products to our Winter Customers throughout the “off-season” when the Market is closed.

Back then, I hadn’t given any thought to this stage of our lives or the viability of the farm. I was just getting through the struggle a day at a time. Sometimes I wondered why….why we tried so hard…why we kept on…why we wanted to…

But, the end of this song says it for me…

…just remember the highs are higher than the lows are low!

That’s what keeps us looking forward to the next 15 years…

…and beyond.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


It’s almost THAT time of year again. I heard the little ticking start with the start of daylight savings time. (no…don’t get me started on that one) It’s getting louder and louder and LOUDER. I’m really surprised that no one else can hear it. Even the Boss says he can’t hear it. I guess he doesn’t have to…I keep telling him all about it.

I’ve written about the sense of urgency that the countdown to the Market creates in my mind. You can read about it

Oddly enough, despite years of experience, I always face the Opening Day with more than a little consternation. I know the folks will come out, I know we will have things to sell, I know that we will sell the things to the folks who came…but,…I still find myself worrying and making lists and scurrying around doing “last minute” things. At least this keeps the Boss amused…

Looking back over last year’s notes, I find that in some ways we are far ahead of last year. We’ve already purchased the potatoes…and even planted some. But, all my “off-season” cleaning and organizing still needs doing. Ugh! The freezers still need de-frosting and the cooler needs a good going over.

We have one more week of “winter sales” before I can clean out the trailer, re-stock supplies and call that job DONE. We’ve had a great “off-season”…and our customers are AWESOME!

The crops in the hoophouse are ahead of last year. That’s a definite plus.
 The lettuce is looking gorgeous!

The freezer still has a fair amount of lamb chops, roasts and sausage waiting for Opening day.
This is great! …and we should have broilers for week #4 of the Market!

Thrown into this year’s mix is the new downtown Wednesday morning Market at the Wharf. Since the Boss is managing this Market (as well as Saturday) we aren’t real sure how this will affect the logistics of the farm. For now, he’s going to concentrate on managing the Market…and I’ll keep things rolling here on the farm. I’ll be doing chores, tending the greenhouses/hoophouses, weeding and possibly harvesting some crops…

Oh, wow… I need to make more lists!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ya Just Gotta Know Where to Look

As I headed out to pick the spinach for Winter Sales last week, the Boss said rather dubiously, “ya sure you’ll have enough?” I glibly assured him that “OF COURSE! I know what I’m doing….I been doin’ this a long time, ya know.”

When I got to the hoophouse, I began to have second thoughts.

Good night! Look at the weeds! Where WAS the spinach?

Oh dear! …and I promised ALL those customers…

The ongoing battle with the chickweed seemed to be a lost cause in a couple of the spinach beds, so I was on a salvage mission. After getting what I could, I would pull the rest of the plants, and the chickens would have a feast.

Then the Boss would come through and torch the remaining plants in hopes of killing the nasty weeds.

After everything was dead, he would till and I could replant.
At least that was the plan. But, first...I had orders to fill…

At first glance, it appeared that the chickweed had indeed won the battle.

However, …ya just gotta know where to look!…and I do “know what I am doing, have been doing it a long time” Oh, boy…why do I say these things?(it’s okay, you can laugh now….really!)

After a fair amount of time, and several buckets of weeds to the chickens, I was able to fill all the orders with some very nice spinach.
Ya just gotta know where to look…....and be willing to pull a lot of weeds!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

This Week on the Hill 3-18

Wow, what a change from last week! This week was warm and beautiful and it felt so good to work outside. But, even the weeds are pretty!

We got some of the potatoes planted. We have two more plantings planned for the Spring crop.

The broccoli/cauliflower and cabbage are waiting their turn to go in the garden.

The lettuce is looking absolutely gorgeous! …and it tastes SO good!

The broilers have finally reached the “eating machine” stage. Not quite 3 weeks old…but, growing fast!

The lambs are incredibly anxious for grass. That’s job #1 this week.

The peach trees are blooming.

Hmmm, this could be a problem …but, we’ll just hope for a frost-free Spring!

The countdown to the Opening day of the Market has begun in earnest. It is less than 3 weeks now.
…and the upcoming week is the official start of SPRING!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

An Unexpected Harvest

Part of my afternoon chore routine is completely predictable. The ram and the hens, neither known for their great brain power, can predict my actions with uncanny accuracy. That fact alone, should alert everyone to the complete predictability of the routine. All my actions have come to be expected.

First, I walk out back to feed the ram. He is pacing and calling as I walk through the garden gate.

On the way back, I stop in the hoophouse to turn off the water. If it’s cold, I need to close the hoophouses. If it’s warm, I simply need to check that while the water was running, it was only irrigating and not flooding. So, I walk through #1, up through # 2, toss the chickens some sort of little treat, and walk on to the barn.

The hens were congregating by the fence in anticipation.
The “little treats” were becoming somewhat sparse. Most of the plants are gone from the gardens and the Boss has done a wonderful job getting all the weeds out of the hoophouse. So, I veered of the usual path to find some goodies for the hens.

Hey, there are some gnarly old cabbage plants. After the cabbage is cut, a bunch of little leaves will form on the “stump”. These will never form more cabbages, but the chickens enjoy the tender little leaves. Wait a minute…this one’s not so gnarly after all! Further investigation revealed that despite the somewhat ugly outer appearance, there were actually a good number of viable cabbages left in the garden. Sorry, chickens.

I pulled a few spent plants for the hens, and took a couple of nice cabbages to the house, returning later to harvest the rest. Not a huge harvest…but, not bad for being totally unexpected. Sometimes there is a positive outcome to those jobs that somehow never got completed …and just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, too. I dunno…cabbage and Saint Paddy’s…yeah, they just go together.

We will enjoy some Colcannon potatoes for sure…
and maybe use a couple for coleslaw or fried cabbage. …and guess what we will have to offer for the last week of Winter Sales!

Guess there’s something to be said for the unexpected, the break with routine. You never know what you might find.
Perhaps this will lead me to be just a little less predictable. (oh never mind…the hens and ram wouldn’t know what to do!)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spring is Spreadin'

I got a picture text the other evening that made me laugh out loud.

“Chillin’ in the tractor…waitin’ for my load of poop to be loaded.”

Yes, that’s the kind of texts I get…you mean you don’t?

As I texted back and forth, I found out that she and the hubs were getting a load of “fertilizer” for the garden and hauling it to their home with the tractor. I just assumed she was at her in-laws…they have turkey houses and run a cow-calf operation in the north end of the county…and a lot of tractors. There are few things finer to my country daughter than driving (or even riding) a big tractor through the countryside.

It’s that time of year here in the Valley. With the first warm stretch and the promise of more to come, field work begins in earnest. That includes the hauling and spreading of the “fertilizer” that the cows, chickens and turkeys have been producing throughout the winter.

It’s also the time of year when those who “aren’t from around here” start to complain about the stench. I must say, eau du cologne it ain’t…but, that’s the smell of money, that’s the smell of successful crops…and, my friend, the smell of an integral part of the food supply.

The look on her face, the smilies in her texts were indicative of the deep love she has for the country life…smells and all. It seemed too coincidental, too ironic, not to mention the story I had been thinking about when I saw the first of many spreader trucks roll down M’brook Road that morning.

Years ago, when the girls were tiny, we were visiting in the north end of the county. (the exact same area from which she sent the text) There are LOTS of poultry houses down that way. R’ham County is the biggest producer of poultry in the state. There are poultry houses on almost every farm in that area of the world. The place we were visiting was surrounded by fields, and spreading was in full swing. One of my daughters, in a fit of true “girliness” walked outside and complained “phew, it’s stinky! What’s that? Ooo, it’s stinky!”

A little neighbor boy, whose dad worked for the neighboring turkey/cattle farm, said in an important tone, “Aw, that ain’t nothin’…it’s just turkey s**t, y’all!” In true little boy fashion, he repeated it over and over and over, trying to get that prissy little girl to understand that this was just part of everyday life. He only let up when someone finally said “Okay, Junior, okay….let’s talk about something else!” When the initial shock of his statement wore off, I tried not to giggle. The inappropriateness of the comment, combined with the complete truth of it was laughable. I can only assume he heard his dad say it. Around here, you say it like it is….and well, that’s what it is.

The irony of the story is that…yes, you guessed it, THAT daughter is the one haulin’ the “fertilizer”! That just cracks me up every time I think about it!

The fact that every spring about this time the spreader trucks start rolling is just one bit of evidence of farmers know and appreciate the cycle that is necessary to continue to produce food in an efficient, affordable way. I would hope that the newcomers to the area would come to know and appreciate the hardworking, creative folks who make their living farming and provide everyone with their basic needs. Everybody should admire those men (and possibly women) who drive the spreader trucks!

Animal waste products are the best source for fertilization. By using these natural products, synthetic fertilizers are not necessary to keep healthy plants growing. This keeps things “green” in more ways than one. Without healthy plants and animals, we would all be cold, naked and hungry. It takes large amounts of everything to produce shelter, clothing and food for the masses. Any time a natural farm byproduct can be put to good use, and create a better growing situation, it is better for the environment…and better for all of us.

When poultry litter is spread on a hay field, the crop is bigger and better than if no fertilization is applied. That in turn means a bigger, better cattle (or lamb) crop. When the dairy slurry is applied to grain fields, it means those crops are bigger and better, too. This directly affects the feed supply for the next poultry crop…and the cycle continues.

If it’s Spring….someone’s spreadin’! The farmers are doing their best to provide a healthy hay, corn, grain, grass, bean, and vegetable crop for the 2012 season.

When you think about it…you just gotta love that smell!