Friday, March 29, 2013

A Trip Out Cherry Grove

 There are no real reasons to share these pictures.

As a matter of fact, there were no real reasons to even TAKE the pictures…

But, on our trip to the dump, we took a different route.  When we looked back toward M’brook…THIS was the view! (the farm is off to the far right in the shot below)

The weather is still definitely March-like.  It’s cold, windy and dazzlingly bright and beautiful.  It’s far too wet to get any real gardening done. Fieldwork must be postponed.  It will be a while before the grass is ready for grazing.  But, that amazingly bright green rye field revealed by the melting snow lets us know that the season is indeed progressing.

Spring will arrive in our part of the world…someday.

For now, we will just enjoy the view.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thankful Thursday - Faith

Every time I plant a seed, I am reminded that we need to have FAITH. 

 Although sometimes I would like to avoid the challenges and struggles...I can honestly say that those difficult experiences build our faith, making it stronger, deeper and more resilient.

Today, I am thankful for each and every reminder as we begin the busy-ness that is Spring planting season. 

                                   Faith…keeps us going, trying, and moving on with our lives.

and, yes, I am hoping that the little tomato seedling above and all the others like it will bring forth an abundance of tomatoes come July and August!


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Difference a Year Makes

Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, is talking about the weather. 

That in itself isn’t all that unusual.  Part of the greeting in the country tends to be “hot (cold) enough for ya?”  Everyone has an opinion on the moisture situation.  When anything seems the least bit abnormal, the old-timers start telling dire stories of yester-year. I must admit, I do that myself.

But, this year the winter has seemed interminable.  It isn’t often that we have big snows in March, let alone THREE of epic proportion.  Everyone is more than a little weary of the white stuff, of the cold, of the dark and dreary days.

I began to wonder WHY everyone (including me) was struggling so. Winter is always long and dark and cold.  So what’s the big deal? 

Then I remembered.  Last year was unusually, unseasonably, and blissfully warm in March.  The trees and flowers burst forth into blossom.  The grass was green and lush, making the animals (and the farmers) very happy. Early grass means less feed and hay and a smaller feed bill.

ice crystals on the potato plants
Although the warmth felt wonderful, it was very short-lived. Much too soon there was a rude return to early Spring in the Valley…everything was frozen solid.  That spelled the end for our fruit crop, stunted the growth on
Potatoes are tropical plants and don't handle cold well at all!

the early potatoes and we lost a fair amount of asparagus as well.  A second cold snap in April meant that the onions and brassicas didn’t do as well as we had planned. A lot of our early season work had to be repeated.

That will not be the case this year.
In March of 2013, the only crop growing outside is the garlic.  It’s been growing since October, and although it looks good…it is nothing like last year. The rest of the area used for gardening looks like an arctic wasteland.  In addition to waiting for the snow to melt and the garden plots to dry, we are facing some repair work as well.  The weight of the snow caused the trees branches out back to break and took down fencelines as well.  At present, Waylon is roaming the garden area. Believe me, we don't need 300 pounds of ram "helping" in the garden.  Fence repair will take priority over potato planting.

I knew that last year’s warmth was unusual, but wondered if we had ever seen snow this late.  A little scrounging in my photo files revealed that this is NOT unheard of…no indeed.  (there are some definite benefits to being a bit of a hoarder) We’ve had snow this late before…check this out.  March 2006.
But, a week later things were green and warm.  Look…grazing sheep! (wow, that’s when we had the llama…I’ll have to tell that tale someday)

A few weeks later and things were incredibly lush and green.

There is a cycle you can count on from year to year, but the exact timing is never the same twice.  We’ve done this long enough to know you can’t get too anxious…and our plans are always subject to change because of the weather.

Last year was wonderful in some ways and awful in others.  This year will be great in its own way…we just have to wait and see what that will be.

In the meantime, I’m trying to follow Jed’s lead and RELAX...

...or just make the most of it like the lambs.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Here on the Hill

According to the calendar...SPRING arrived this week!

Icicles on the grape arbor at dawn

But, it doesn't feel real Spring-y right now.  As a matter of fact, it is snowing as I type.

It seems that everything is just waiting, waiting for the warm weather to finally arrive.

the fields are beginning to green, but there is still snow along the ridge

The sheep are eating every speck of hay and grain they are given and endlessly grazing the winter paddock in hopes of something fresh and green. That is part of what lead to this funny picture that proved to be incredibly popular on Facebook. This is one hungry lamb!

The broilers are growing fatter by the day...they truly need to get outside...but, not in a snow storm!

Look how big this chick has gotten in just FOUR weeks!

little girls mark the corners of the planned house
Today marks the sixteenth year that we have called this little piece of paradise ours.  You can read about that here....and here. We've been through a whole lot of changes here on the hill in that seemingly short period of time.

the house today...many years and memories later

Yesterday, the Boss tilled the spot where the broccoli will be planted. As he plowed, he un-earthed some potatoes that were forgotten during the fall harvest.  Most of them had been buried deep enough not to freeze.  What a treat!  New potatoes for supper in March! That made our day.

Happy Sunday!

Friday, March 22, 2013

"Ain't Seen Me Crazy Yet"

If one more marketing/mainstream media person uses one more of those food related “buzzwords” incorrectly…one more time….

…I might not be responsible for my actions.

 To borrow a line from a Miranda Lambert song..." ain't seen me crazy yet!"  

I feel a rant coming on, so bear with me!

For the record…

ALL living beings are made of CHEMICALS!

        Without HORMONES there would be no living beings.

…and certified organic does NOT mean pure, unadulterated,  Garden of Eden.                                            
Lately, it seems that nearly everything I read or hear about food in the mainstream media has some level of mis-information in it.  …and NOBODY is going to question it.  It would appear that no one understands about food production and that the crazy rumor mill is working overtime. These three subjects are just the tip of the iceberg.  

“Chemical-laden” food is anathema among those are focusing on LOCAL food, those wanting to get FRESH to the masses.  This is used to indicate the bad stuff…the stuff we shouldn’t feed our children or ourselves. But, consider this…

 In chemistry, a chemical substance is a form of matter that has constant  chemical composition and characteristic properties.  It cannot be separated into components by physical separation methods, i.e. without breaking chemical bonds. It can be solid, liquid or gas.

A common example of a chemical substance is pure water; it has the same properties and the same  ratio of  hydrogen to oxygen whether it is isolated from a river or made in a  laboratory. 

Well, hmmm….where would we be without the horrible “chemical” water?

Did you know your very own body is made up of CHEMICALS?  Something like FOUR dollars and 50cents worth. Check this out.  You could go with the 45 MILLION dollar calculation if you like. 

Chemicals are not bad...they are not harmful…and they are certainly not the evil spawn of Monsanto. (and all those things you may have heard about Monsanto aren't right either, but that's another story...)

  Chemicals are simply building blocks that make up hosts of other things.

                                                 So, chill out everybody…


A hormone (from Greek ὁρμή, "impetus") is a chemical released by a cell or a gland in one part of the body that sends out messages that affect cells in other parts of the organism.  In essence, it is a chemical messenger that transports a signal from one cell to another.  All multi-cellular organisms produce hormones.

Without hormones, there would be no growth, no reproduction…no LIFE!

Well, hmmm, that kinda makes ya re-think all those “hormone-free” labels, doesn’t it? While I understand that those labels are to indicate that there are no ADDED hormones...but, they are mis-leading to say the least.  As for adding hormones, much of the information spouted by the media is just plain WRONG! 

I know I’ve already done the whole ORGANIC thing, so you can just read one of my old rants if you need to know where I stand on that one. I will say this…"O" does NOT mean chemical-free and/or pesticide-free. ...nor does that USDA Organic label mean that every ingredient in the product is indeed organic. I'm not dismissing true Organic growing methods or farmers, no way!  But, the word is being mis-used repeatedly. And, for the record, the USDA has very strict regulations regarding using the word "organic".

While I realize that some might say it’s just a “matter of semantics” and that I am just being “technical” or “picky” when it comes to word usage…I would beg to disagree.

Folks are SO disconnected from food production that they are getting worried about things that they don’t even understand and making demands that cannot possibly be met by producers.  It is time that someone stepped up and began the arduous re-education and re-connection process. I would like to point out that there are those who would capitalize on consumer concerns just to make a buck.

I fully understand that there are substances and practices that sound scary…that sound like they are bad for my kids, my home, the world.  But, you must understand that sometimes it only sounds scary because you have no working knowledge of the subject. 

Consumers, please don't fall victim to scare tactics used by one faction of food production to keep you from buying from the other faction.  It is in everyone's best interest to become an educated consumer...armed with the knowledge to make sensible decisions based on fact and not the latest mis-information.

...and marketing and media people...please use the proper terminology and/or explanations.

Because, you really don't want to see me crazy!
                (just ask the Boss!)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

You Mean You Have to Work EVERY Day?

I was actually a little cleaner than this

It was a Monday…one of THOSE Mondays…

…I was commiserating with the bank teller over that fact when she said,

“Oh….I wish it was still the weekend!  I had such a great weekend.  I wish it had never ended.  What did YOU do this weekend? “

Early morning at the Market

When I told her that we spent Saturday at the Farmers’ Market, her face clouded a bit. 

“Saturday?  You had to work on Saturday?”

“Well, yeah…that’s what I do.  Saturday is our big day for sales.”

A little furrow formed between her brows.  “Ugh..not me.  What do you do on other days? …wait…do you have to work EVERY day?  I farmers have to work all the time?”

I was more than a little surprised.  For Pete’s sake…this is an agricultural county.  My word!  Agriculture is the number one industry in the whole state! Honestly, I thought "everybody went to VATech". (well, not really...)

“Of course,” I said, “the animals have to eat…there are things to pick and/or plant, chores to do…”

Her eyes glazed over.  “no way!  I couldn’t do that!  You have to work EVERY SINGLE DAY? REALLY?!”

"Well…yeah…I mean, it’s what I do, how I make my living…it’s part of who I am…and I really like it..."

Somewhere along the way she simply stopped listening.  My life sounded too hard, too demanding…too much like WORK to her.  That made me more than a little sad because this is a great life. I spent part of my career way back in the dim and distant past as a bank teller, I remember all too well having to wear hose and heels everyday, listening to customer complaints and enduring the office politics,  so I could truly understand why NOBODY would want to do that every day!

But, the fact is that every single farmer spends at least a part of every single day focusing on some aspect of growing and providing food or other farm products.  …and that’s a good thing!  A VERY GOOD THING!

While there was no convincing the bank teller that I really like what I do…that other folks enjoy this work as well…and without our efforts everyone else would be cold, hungry and naked…it reminded me again how very different we are from the non-farm residents in the county, the state, the COUNTRY.

When the outside temperature is in the teens, the wind is blowing a gale and snow is drifting past the windows, we can’t just sit there with our coffee and enjoy the scenery.  There is feed, hay or water to haul.  There are eggs to protect from freezing. Here on the hill, lambs are born in the winter, while many of our neighbors are in the middle of calving season. All those babies require at least some sort of care and maintenance.  We have to harvest things for Winter Sales on a weekly basis.   Our winter harvest is determined by our fall planting and crop protection.  It demands a level of creativity and commitment far beyond that of summer gardening. All of these chores require us to “suit up” and face the elements. Hats, gloves, jackets, overalls are often draped all around the woodstove in hopes they will dry before we head out once again.  

In the heat of summer, the battle with the elements is far different, but when handled correctly allows us an abundant harvest despite the dirt and sweat and sometimes very taxing physical effort. With a little creative effort (and plenty of freezer space) we can provide garden goodness for ourselves and our customers in the dead of winter.

Yes, it would be far easier to slide into my heated (or air-conditioned) car and head out to a climate-controlled cubicle where I could put in my eight hours and head back home again, perhaps making a stop along the way to pick up supper and/or be entertained for the evening. I'm guessing my salary would be far more impressive, too. No...I KNOW that salary would be FAR more impressive!   But, for some reason (and, yes, I’ll admit… on a bad day I would be hard pressed to identify that reason) this is what I want to do.

Have I mentioned the FOOD?

I like feeling productive.  I like hard work and sweat (!)  and enjoying the fruit of my labors. I appreciate a job well done.  That sense of accomplishment at the end of a long day or an arduous project is deeply gratifying. Did I say that I really like my co-worker?  Happy, well-fed family and customers bring me great joy. The sight of a healthy, abundant crop that is the direct result of MY/OUR efforts defies description.

When you love what you really doesn't seem like you have to work every day, making it easy to be THANKFUL on this Thursday.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Celebrate AG Day 2013

It’s National Ag Day!

Are you celebrating? 

Should we make a cake?  
Blondie made this one to enter in the county fair years ago.

Have a party?  Nothing says party quite like a John Deere cake!

What about a parade? The annual fireman’s parades always make me think of Ag…what with all the vintage tractors that participate. But, parade season doesn't start 'til May.
Tbone and Blondie-Fireman's parade '09

Ag Day is being observed across the nation today. It is a day set aside to recognize the essential role that agriculture plays in all our lives.

Do you have any idea what I am talking about? Have you got any idea just how essential AGRICULTURE is to everyday life?

Here’s a little bit about Ag Day.

The Agriculture Council of America (ACA) is an organization uniquely composed of leaders in the agriculture, food and fiber communities dedicated to increasing the public awareness of agriculture's vital role in our society. The Agriculture Council of America and the National Ag Day program was started in 1973.

Core Values
ACA believes that EVERY American should:
 Understand how food and fiber products are produced.
 Appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products.
 Value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy.
 Acknowledge and consider career opportunities in the agriculture, food and fiber industry.

It always surprises me how very little folks actually know about food and the farmers who produce that food.  Of course, farmers are involved in fiber and fuel production as well.  You would be hard-pressed to think of an activity or a product that don’t have some tie to agriculture. But, it's not just about food, fiber and fuel.  We're talking everything!
The cow inhabitants of our county are only outnumbered by poultry 
Agriculture is the NUMBER ONE industry here in the Old Dominion, providing something like 357,000 jobs and utilizing around 8 million acres. It would seem that everybody would know somebody who is involved with agriculture and that lots of folks would be looking forward to recognizing such an important influence in so many lives.  However, I am going to guess that the date will go largely unnoticed…which is more than a little sad.

As a farmer, I can tell you that personal recognition is awesome.  Since we direct-market everything we grow, we get that positive (and occasionally NOT so positive) feedback on a regular basis.  But, those farmers who don’t have the opportunity to meet the consumers, either because they grow commodity crops or don’t direct market, miss out on that contact with the end user.  I think that it is this lack of connection that allows the horrible mis-information to run rampant across the internet and gives rise to urban myths causing consumers to become frightened and distrusting of the very folks who feed and clothe them.  It is hoped that the focus of Ag day might just open up a few conversations and make a few new connections.  Take the time to learn more.   

As a consumer, it is crucial that I have some idea of what I am buying. Talking to farmers helps me to understand just what goes into the products we use on a daily basis. Personally, I have learned immensely from other farmers, particularly those who run operations that are different than ours.  I have yet to meet a farmer who isn’t proud of what he/she does for a living and every single one has been glad to answer questions and even give advice.

So, I hope that as you go about your daily routine today, you will pause a minute and think about all those hardworking folks who made all that stuff you use possible.  The lifestyles we all enjoy are possible only because some farmer somewhere worked hard producing food, fiber and fuel.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Working Girls

From a strictly economic point of view, the hens are the most valuable and profitable wage earners on the farm. I did a little figuring and according to my calculations, a hen will produce somewhere between 35 and 40 dozen eggs in her fairly short career here on the hill.  That's not too bad considering each hen weighs about 5 pounds and has a brain smaller than a walnut and demands very little in the way of compensation!

While we, the farmers, work hard enough, I, for one, demand slightly more than chicken feed, garden waste and the occasional table scraps to keep my production level high and maintain some level of job satisfaction!

Usually, hens prefer quiet solitude to lay eggs
But, the hens produce eggs almost tirelessly. Day in…day out…a hen will lay an egg about every 26 hours. Egg production is only affected by number of daylight hours and extreme temperature fluctuation.

Pullets waiting to join the hen flock

The pullets, young female chickens, begin to produce eggs at about 22 weeks of age. We move them from the brooder several weeks prior to the beginning of their egg laying career.  They are confined to the henhouse (with all the necessary food and water) for a couple weeks to acclimate before they are allowed to roam outside with the older layers.  Once they begin to go outside, there is another period of adjustment as the whole "pecking order" gets worked out to the hens' satisfaction. Read this.

In addition to egg production, the hens also contribute somewhat to weed control.  During the winter months, they are housed over garden beds where they eat the weeds and roots and seeds while scratching out bug larvae. This garden work provides the hens with fresh green matter to keep the egg yolks vibrant. The bugs and grubs provide a little extra protein. However, egg production cannot be maintained at a predictably high level if this was the only nutrition the birds received.  To that end, they are fed grain as well.

If you missed the whole saga of the new and improved henhouse made from a "re-purposed horse trailer" really should read these:

Moving, Night

This winter, they are working on the garden where the early broccoli will be grown.  This is what the garden spot looked like when they moved in.

Here it is…after several weeks.

  Amazing difference!

The presence of the hens has the double benefit of weed/pest control as well as added fertilization.  The early spring broccoli crop will benefit greatly from the added nitrogen.

No mobile henhouse THIS winter!

No matter how mobile the henhouse can be…it must become stationary in the winter months.  Without the warmth of summer, the grass goes dormant.  If the chickens were to scratch on it all winter, there would be NO grass at all come spring.

To keep the hens’ winter diet high in green matter, any and all weeds from the hoophouses, as well as spent crops, are tossed into the pen where they are promptly demolished.

Thanks, girls, for working so hard and providing such a great product for...well...chicken scratch!