Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thankful Thursday - Co-workers

Inter-personal relationships in the workplace can either make you or break you.  It doesn’t matter how great the work opportunity may be, if you can’t get along with your co-workers, the mere thought of a day “at the office” can be miserable. I’ve done that one, and to say it’s not fun is a gross understatement!

Now, I may just have the perfect work environment. Beautiful setting, productive and satisfying work and I really like my co-worker.  A lot! J

Last week, the Boss and I marked 28 years as a married couple. For the past 15, we have worked together…  and I am here to tell you that is a good thing.  I can’t imagine trying to do this kind of work with anyone else. For the record, yes…it did take some adjustment.

We have always worked well together as a team.  He provides stability, balance and muscle…and I…hmm, not sure about that one…a helping hand and a hot meal at the end of the day…?   Here’s a bit about teamwork. He is always encouraging and supportive of my random ideas.  In exchange, I don’t flip out when he wants to buy new toys. J

It’s been five seasons since we were ALL here on the hill, working as a family unit.  Jobs and fellas and life adventures of their own beckoned to the girls.  (and that is as it should be) The adjustment to being empty-nesters meant that we honed our team skills and sharpened our focus.  We are a more efficient and effective team than ever before.  …and we even manage to have our fair share of FUN. (click on have's just TOO funny!)

I can’t imagine trying to manage this place alone or without the camaraderie and shared vision.  It would be difficult at best.

Today, I am thankful for the Boss! My co-worker and partner through thick and thin...good times and bad...for richer or poorer...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Just in Time

If a picture is truly worth a thousand words…

Then, I don’t have to tell you how the Boss and I spent the better part of the past two days on our knees...working.

Nor, do I need to tell you that those jeans will NEVER, ever be truly clean again…but, I digress.

We have been meaning to harvest the potato crop of 2012 for some time, but…well, you know how it goes…
With the first  frost of the fall season Sunday night, and the forecast calling for rain, rain and MORE rain, it was time to pull out the stops and get those ‘taters out of the ground and into the reefer in order to have them for sale far into the Winter.

We started the project Monday, in hopes of getting done in time for supper.  However, there were far more potatoes in the main “potato garden” than we anticipated and we ended up harvesting ‘taters again Tuesday. We were both quite glad that I bought a whole bunch of extra storage hoppers while I was in town! (we needed them all…and then some)

I have covered my love of the potato numerous times. Like this...  and  This one has a video of potato harvesting. The tasty tuber is crucial to our survival and we enjoy it in a myriad of ways.  Please don’t let anyone make you think that potatoes are unhealthy.  Far from it!  High in nutrients, low in fat…potatoes are an excellent source of vitamins and un-refined carbohydrates. If anything is bad for you, it is all the toppings that smother the potatoes prior to serving.

Here on the old homestead, potato harvest is done the old-fashioned way, mostly by hand. With the exception of the potato plow, there is no specialized equipment for the small producer.  If we were bigger, we could implement some real cool tools that would take a lot of the hand work out of this job.  But, bigger operation means bigger operational budget…and we’re doing quite well with our present model…thank you very much!

The Boss runs the potato plow down the row, tossing tubers to both sides.  I follow along, collecting the errant ones and putting everything off to the last open furrow.  When he finishes the tractor run down the row, we work toward each other, putting the potatoes out of the way of the next run with the tractor and plow.  …and so it goes, until the patch is completely unearthed.

The tubers are left to dry slightly in the sun before we come back to collect the bounty and place everything in cold storage until such a time that it is offered for sale. That generally means we come back after lunch, sorting and picking until all the potatoes are hauled off to the reefer.   If kept at a constant temperature in the reefer or walk-in, these potatoes could, in theory, be eaten sometime next Spring. Our customer demand will probably keep that from happening.

The potatoes we planted in July will be the most vibrantly colored and will ultimately last the longest, but those few left over from the Spring planting are big, robust potatoes just waiting to be baked, mashed, soufflĂ©-d and enjoyed immensely in any number of recipes as well. There are red potatoes, white potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes.  The very small ones have been sorted out to sell as “tiny taters”. Nothing adds to a menu like a potato!

Filthy jeans, broken fingernails and woefully sore muscles are the price we pay for the assurance that the TATER CROP of 2012 is safely in the reefer and just waiting to fill our customers’ (and our own) needs.
That seems a small price to pay, if you ask me! Just glad to finally check that one off the “to-do” list.

…and just ahead of the rain!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Change of Seasons - Thankful Thursday

There has been a subtle change in the light lately.  

The change that indicates that fall is fast approaching always sneaks up on me, surprising me with its beauty.    While you might think that produce growers would wish for summer’s bounteous harvest to continue on endlessly, we welcome the change.

It's nice to "shift gears" and concentrate on something new and different.  The seasonal shift keeps us from getting overworked or bored by any one crop or activity.  There is always something new to look forward to and other things to remember with fondness. Or, in the case of parts of this past summer, a sense of accomplishment and survival.
Tuesday’s big rain ushered in some cooler temperatures, clearer skies and gave me a chance to get caught up on all that paperwork collecting on my desk.  After a big rain, we always have a stretch of glorious days when the world seems brand-new.

 Coupled with the sense of an upcoming change in the seasons, yesterday was particularly beautiful.

The change of seasons makes for a change in our workload, our diet and our outlook.    The hoophouse crops are being tucked into the ground for what we hope is a productive winter harvest season.   

While tomato sandwiches are great on hot summer days, we are beginning to look forward to soups and stews and comfort food made from the upcoming potato harvest.The other fall harvested crops will allow for great color, texture and taste on our supper table…and at the Market.
The views that just a few days ago seemed worn and tired are beginning to show little highlights of color, indicating that the fall foliage may be amazing this year.

The indication of the upcoming change of seasons makes me appreciative of the summer’s abundance and keeps me looking forward to the challenges that will come with cooler weather.

     (…and it means lambing season is that much closer J)

Now, that's something to be thankful for on this Thursday!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Nary A Blue Butt in Sight!

Conversations here on the hill might confuse the uninformed, shock the prudish and/or embarrass us if overheard by the “wrong” folks.

      …and there is not a thing we can do about it.

It’s an occupational hazard.

We are in the business of breeding livestock.  This means we talk about S-E-X and anatomical correctness…a LOT.  We are in the business of raising livestock.  This means we talk about animal physiology, digestion, parasites and other “not-so-polite” subjects…a LOT.  We are also in the business of “harvesting” livestock.  That means we talk about cuts of meat, blood and guts…a LOT.

Quite often these conversations come up at mealtime.  I mean, everyone talks about what they did that day over supper, don’t they?  We do try to curtail our more descriptive discussions when we have company, but I know that I have surprised both of our sons-in-law on more than one occasion.  Sorry guys!

Ohhhh...and that might just explain why we NEVER get invited to supper at fancy restaurants! J

Our most recent project to cause some weird and random comments was breeding the ewes.  Actually, this was Waylon’s project.  We’re just keeping score, marking the calendar and projecting dates.

When we turned him in on August 1, we put a yellow marker in the harness.  He wore this for a little over 2 weeks.  Several ewes were marked during this time and the information duly noted in my calendar book.

When we changed markers, we used ORANGE.  There was one re-mark of the “yellow” girls. (since she is just a yearling, that was okay) Within a week, all the other ewes were marked.  Most of them occurred within a two day period. (oh, wow…lambing season is going to be one big explosion this year! …I can’t wait!)

At the end of that cycle, we switched to BLUE.  This color system allows us to easily note any re-marks.  The color cycle isn’t always the same, but it does always go from light to dark.

We generally only go three cycles.  Otherwise lambing season stretches out f-o-r-e-v-e-r. We’ve done that one and it is NOT fun.  I don’t do too well without regular sleep, so things get more than a little stressful if lambing goes on too long. All that nightly checking... (be sure to click for a chuckle)

Many days have passed since the last ORANGE mark.  (far beyond any ewe’s normal estrus cycle)

                             NO blue marks at all.

That means…or should mean…that all the ewes are bred!  WOOT!

I guess that means I can stop telling the Boss every morning at breakfast (and again at supper) that there’s nary a BLUE butt in sight! J 

Which leaves me to wonder….

                                                    what in the world are we gonna talk about now?

Monday, September 17, 2012

The New, Tools

If there is ever a down-side to being the small producer, it is…well…being the SMALL producer.

Sometimes, it seems like no one takes you seriously. Our operation has often been referred to in a disparaging way...The Boss' tractor deemed "cute" on more than one occasion.

On the other hand, the ginormous debt-load and subsequent worry are not an issue around here. SMALL producer has an up-side as well. J

When the “big guys” buy a new piece of equipment, a lot of folks take notice. Heck, I take notice.  New tractors get everybody’s attention!

I just checked prices of new John Deere equipment. …and no, I didn’t check any other brands…tractors are just supposed to be GREEN!  J  A new JD tractor with all the bells and whistles can cost anywhere from around $40,000 to $400,000. Harvesters and other equipment can be even more costly.  While they look awesome sitting out there…and do some amazing and truly necessary work, the thought of that kind of payment gives me major nightmares. But, they sure look good!

Back to the real world…

(For the record, those big tractors would be useless around here…they are just TOO big.)

This has been the year of the replacements around here.  We’ve been doing this long enough that I guess we’re just due… But, honestly, it seems like EVERYTHING needs fixing or replacing.  No, take that back…the tractor is okay. That is only because it had to spend some quality time in the shop LAST year.  We do need to get the tractor bucket fixed, but I am trying not to think about that right now.

First Troy up and quit on us. The Boss finally gave up on the whole repair deal with that one and sold it part and parcel, new engine included, to Mechanic SiL “T-bone”.  He was thrilled and got it running. It has developed further “issues”. But, it’s gone from the Hill…

We replaced the garden tiller with a BCS that we picked up in H’burg on the way home from our trip that delivered the first lambs to the processor.  Yeah, when we buy “equipment” it fits in the back of the pick-up.

 And NO, that really doesn't do a whole lot for our “real farmer” image.   But, it fills our needs and we were able to pay CA$H.

Once the Boss got this new tiller into the garden, he began to wonder WHY he ever bought and used the other brand.  The soil is so amazingly fine (in texture) after using the BCS.  We are converts!

Okay, solved that issue!  …but then…

The tiny tiller, used for hoophouse cultivation, has been ever so slowly driving the Boss to distraction.  I cannot tell you how many times we have had to replace the primer bulb alone.  Okay, we have replaced it so many times that the guy at the hardware store knew what I needed before I told him. It’s a small town…but, that was just too hilarious!  Rather than have the Boss completely lose his mind, it was time to replace THAT too.

That EQUIPMENT purchase was done on-line, and FedEx dropped it at the top of the lane.  Does it say something about your operation when your newest “equipment “acquisition fits in a box smaller than the dog? …and the wife can carry it back down the driveway?   Oh, yeah…you’re a SMALL producer!

The next day, it was assembled and immediately put to work.  Wow!  We should have done this YEARS ago.  It works incredibly well and doesn’t cause the choking smoke of the other brand. So much for brand loyalty.

Our machine shed may look like a toy box to some folks.  But, these new toys, I mean…TOOLS…make work much easier and have a very real positive effect on our bottom line.


Nothing like the perfect tool for the job to allow us to to an excellent job growing vegetables for Market.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thankful Thursdays

Just today, I noticed that a good number of the blogs I read on a regular basis have a “Thankful Thursday” post.

At first it seemed a little corny, maybe a little hokey (although in this part of the world that is a good thing…seems like everyone is somehow connected to VATech and its hokie bird mascot), but, maybe it was something worth thinking about.  Hmmm, I dunno…some of the worst things that have ever happened in my life occurred on a Thursday. Honestly.  But, it’s kinda silly to have “issues” with a day of the week, isn’t it?

As I was mulling over the thought of thankful Thursdays, I absent-mindedly switched on my MP3 player.   Of all the 1306 songs that could have been playing…THIS is what I got.

It’s called “Be Grateful” by The FARM

The chorus got me thinking…

Every time you think you got it bad
you can find someone who's got it worse.
All the things you take for granted now;
they started out as blessings first.
If you got someone who loves you
and a steady job that puts food on the table
If you're strong and able…
Man, be grateful!
                                              The FARM, Inc.

Yeah, we have SO much for which to be grateful…thankful…whatever you want to call it. We live in a beautiful place, do work as we choose to do it, and get to enjoy the fruits of our labors.

                                                We got it good. J

It seems like when you start looking for something to be thankful for…your attitude toward everything changes. That can be a very good thing.

So, I guess I’ll jump on this bandwagon and try to be particularly thankful on Thursdays…


                       …and every other day, too.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

It's the Thought that Counts

Living on a farm, with three cats and two dogs as part of the “home team”, you really begin to wonder sometimes…

All those “offerings” on the porches, in the barn, by the vehicles…are they really tokens of great affection?  Or did “someone” lose interest once the thrill of the chase was over and forget to clean up after him/herself?

Lately, I have gotten a lot of surprise “gifts”.  Dead mice, shrews, voles, a rat (I think), a partial rabbit (don’t ask…that one was GROSS).  Yesterday, I got a groundhog.  Yep…a whole stinkin’ groundhog. (quite literally) …and to think I almost missed seeing this one!

The Boss was headed to a Market meeting, so I rode down to the mailbox with him.  It is really helpful to have a passenger to get the gate at the top of the lane when you have to drive somewhere.  The gate is not to indicate that we are anti-social, it is a pre-emptive measure protecting us from the errant calf, horse, sheep and/or dog that may be wandering up or down the lane. I know for a fact that each of these species has been stopped by the gate.  I think it may deter deer as well…maybe even foxes and coyotes (but, that may be wishful thinking).

I walked up the hill from the mailbox, enjoying the lovely evening. When I came back in the gate,the dogs were there to greet me in their usual fashion and I noticed blood on Ellie Mae’s face.  There were just little splatters that indicated it was not her blood.  I checked Jed, but couldn’t find anything. While I wondered what happened, I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought. I was thinking ahead to my next project.

They were both agitated and drew my attention to something in the orchard. They were doing their "happy dog" thing that they do when they seem to think I will be pleased with their antics.  At first I thought it was Boooyyyy taking a nap in the grass.  Closer examination indicated that it was a groundhog…a very dead groundhog.

                                                                                   That led me to post the following:

An etiquette question for all my Facebook friends...
When being presented with a DEAD GROUNDHOG as a gift, should one:
a) shriek and recoil in terror
b) do some sort of "omg, this is so gross!" dance
c) accept graciously, offering gratitude to the giver
d) try to keep from "losing one's cookies" (oh, the smell...)
e) try to pawn it off on someone else (or should I say, re-gift?)
f) wait until no one is looking and dispose of said "treasure"
g) some form of all of the above

I must say...there are times when I wish I was NOT quite so loved. LOL 
Farm life....Nuthin' like it!

I admit it…I did EVERYTHING on the list.  Ewww, blech!  I really don’t like dead stuff.  However, SOMEBODY had to do it…so I took care of it, leaving my next project for some other time.

Yes, I praised the dogs. (I think it was Ellie and NOT Jed…but, they both got cookies)

I texted the Boss in hopes that he would “volunteer” to take care of it.  That didn’t work.

Then, I cleaned it up with absolutely NO thought of taking my friend’s advice to EAT the thing.  Yuck! 

When I was young, Dad got his final revenge on the blasted groundhog that was eating his corn, melons and the rest of the garden by shooting it and yes…convincing my Mother to cook it.  I fail to find words to describe the potpie that she made with it.  While my mother was never an award-winning cook, this time the ingredients failed her miserably.  Suffice it to say…been there, done that. …and NEVER again!

My FB list did indeed miss one item. 

I should have thoroughly rejoiced that at least ONE of the blasted groundhogs that attempt to eat EVERYTHING in the garden/hoophouse is finally gone.

Score one for the "home team"!  Go, Dogs!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pokeberry Days

Long before the seasonal change of light, or the first falling leaf, the Phytolacca Americana is growing vigorously and by late summer is covered with an abundance of tiny white flowers and berries in various stages of development.  By the time the berries are hanging in purple masses, the nights are chilly and other indicators are saying AUTUMN is here!

Growing in the areas of the farm that don’t get much attention, the pokeberry plants can reach enormous heights.  We have a specimen behind the barn that prior to last night’s wind must have been in excess of eight feet high.  Despite the wind damage, it is remains noteworthy. It does seem a shame that all that beautiful growth is just weedy waste.

The animals won’t eat this particular species of plant.  The jury is out on whether humans should either.  There are those who swear by its healing properties and yet others insist the entire thing is poisonous and should be treated with care.

In Appalachia and other parts of the rural South, in the springtime the young plant is boiled and eaten and referred to as “poke salet”. I understand that wine and jelly can be made from the berries (if they are handled "just right").  I remember eating the greens in the springtime at least once as a little girl.  They tasted a lot like spinach, and I did live to tell the tale.  However, just like any other wild food, there is a time and technique to preparation, and I would never recommend its consumption to the uninformed.  Some old timers suggest eating a dried berry or two a day for the pain of arthritis. This has led to a renewed interest in the plant for possible medical use for many ailments.

The berries are a beautiful color. They start out a pale chartreuse and eventually turn a deep purple. When popped, they make a pretty pink stain.  Historically, it was used for ink and dye. It is said that the Constitution is written in pokeberry ink.  Legend also has it that many letters written to the home folks during the War Between the States were written using the purple berries. Native Americans marked their animals with it, too.  Back in our early homeschooling days, the girls mashed some for a project in writing and drawing.   Using dowels sharpened with a pencil sharpener, their fingers and a couple dozen q-tips for paintbrushes, they enjoyed pretending they were back in the “olden days”.

About the time the pokeberries are evident, the summer garden grinds to a screeching halt.  The tomato vines that just a week or so ago were producing abundantly are brown and withered, their fruit small and misshapen.  The cucumber plants have succumbed to blight and are no longer producing.  The same can be said for the squash plants.  The garden is a weedy, messy, discouraging sight.

                          That is, until you turn the other direction.

By facing away from the rotting tomatoes and the dying cucumbers, you see kale and turnips growing in a luxurious green carpet.  Beyond them, the fall broccoli plants are just beginning to form small heads inside their sturdy leaves. The same can be said for the cabbage and cauliflower plants.  There are potatoes and sweet potatoes just under the surface of the garden, waiting to be harvested and stored for winter.

The okra is still going strong and when the yellow flowers open in the late afternoon, it is a beautiful sight. There are younger, healthier plantings of squash, cucumbers and beans that have the potential to keep the supply of those crops going until the frost settles…so, harvest time is long from finished.

But, the pokeberries are like an early warning system…hey, there…pay attention…things are going to change…and change SOON!

A Pokeberry Wave - 1994

Because, this, my friends, seems like it was only yesterday! J