Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday Walkabout 3-30

We’re into the final countdown to Market season, but I am trying desperately not to think about it.   Last year I wrote about the annual phenomenon in “March Madness”   Read this. This year is slightly different, but we are definitely in preparation (possible melt-down) mode. 

I am trying desperately to overlook the fact that I got NOTHING on my “off-season” to-do list done…and we’re seriously behind in production because we have been living in the world of FROZEN all winter.  (seriously, people…I know you loved the movie, but stop with the singing!)…and it is snowing furiously as I type…on the 30th of March.  The Saturday Market opens on April 5, and at this point I am just hoping we don’t need snow shovels.

But, despite the weather…

snow 3-26 is snowstorm #2 in less than a week…attempting to recover from a tooth extraction AND a sinus infection (at the same time)…and having a few sick sheep, we actually saw some progress this week.  YAY    

Gus is my vet assistant
There are three animals under observation in the barn for various ailments.  At this point, it looks like they will all recover and I’ll tell you about my role as “ole Doc Mama” some other time. All the other animals are doing incredibly well, although they do seem pretty cranky about the lack of fresh greens.
What a face!

The grass IS greener on the other side of the fence!
Our first job for the week involved moving all the broccoli/cauliflower/cabbage plants onto the utility trailer for “hardening off”.
beautiful broccoli plants

This allows them to acclimate to the weather conditions in a somewhat controlled situation.  If it’s going to be very cold or violent weather is predicted, they are transported to a safer spot.  When it’s actually time for them to go in the garden (the day after tomorrow…hahahaha) they will be strong and vigorous.  Presently, they are sitting in the tractor shed. I really didn’t intend for them to get snowed on…yes, inside the tractor shed.
snowy cauliflower plants

  Looks like we’ll be moving them…again!

first of many loads of transplants to hoophouse
The Boss worked on cleaning the hoophouses, so I could do more planting. He even did some much-needed repair work on #1.  I am happy to report that hoophouse #1 is in full production.  Now…onward to #2. Thankfully, we did have some crops survive the winter and we don’t have re-plant the entire house (yet).
beginning hoophouse repair

I started more seeds.  Lots more seeds. 
Lettuce seeds
Did you know different colors of lettuce have different colored seeds?

Know what this means? 

 Less than two months and it will be time to break out the pickle and relish recipes…
It will be CUCUMBER time!
By providing bottom heat for the seedlings, we get great, quick germination.  This sequence only took a couple of hours! (the growth process slows considerably after sprouting)

The other seedlings are making progress, too.  The tomato plants are getting their first true leaves. 

The Chinese cabbage is starting to get its frilly leaves that form the head.

 This sea of green will be a welcome sight to all those arugula fans out there.

...and the green onions are finally growing!

Now, it looks like the snow will continue for the better part of the day…I’d wave a white flag of surrender, but, I’m pretty sure it would just blend in with our surroundings. Honestly, this is getting just a little monotonous.
choretime 3-30

Thankfully, I brought in a few daffodils yesterday…they sure brighten up the windowsill.

Here’s hoping you’re warm and comfy and having a

              Happy Sunday!

If you happen to see our SPRING…please send it this way! 

at this point even GUS seems less than thrilled with the snow

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

National AG Day

Hey there!

It’s National Ag day.  Have you thought about agriculture yet today?

I’m going to bet you’re going to say “NO” and look at me oddly.  You’re probably going to think that I’m a little strange when I counter “well, you should have!”  And you probably think I have an unfair advantage when I say it seems I am always thinking about it because…well, I am an agriculturist (a farmer). Or then, you might just continue to look at me oddly and  think I’m a little strange. (that’s okay…you wouldn’t be alone!)

But, seriously…it’s National Ag Day!

Have you thought about Agriculture today?

WHAT is Ag Day?

It's a day to recognize and celebrate the abundance provided by agriculture. Every year, producers, agricultural associations, corporations, universities, government agencies and countless others across America join together to recognize the contributions of agriculture.

Visit the website.

More importantly…What is AGRICULTURE?

It’s the science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products.

The University of California expanded the definition a little bit.

Agriculture is the science, art and occupation of cultivating the soil, producing crops and raising livestock.
Agriculture is the very basis of civilization.
It is the food we eat, the clothing we wear, the material of our homes, the gardens around us, and many of our traditions and values.   University of California

Ag day had its beginnings back in the 70’s.  It was hoped that the leaders in the Ag community could help to increase the public’s awareness of agriculture’s vital role in our society by setting aside a special day (the high point of Agriculture Week---this year March 23-29) Events are planned around the country to emphasize Ag's importance in all our lives.

To be perfectly honest here, if you hadn't heard of it, you're not alone. I’m pretty sure that National AG Day gets past a whole lot of the folks that are deeply involved with Agriculture, too.  But, I think that’s probably because they’re kinda busy providing the products necessary for the feeding and clothing of the nation.

Locally,(if yesterday was any indication) today will be spent getting ready for the upcoming growing season,.  Trucks and tractors ran in a steady stream up and down Mbrook Road as our farming neighbors begin to gear up and get back on schedule. The weather in our part of the world (in lots of parts of the world) during the winter season was not kind.  The cold, snow (and subsequent mud) and relentless wind kept fieldwork from happening on a timely basis and caused a new set of troubles that will be felt long into the future.  Today’s predicted snows will again interfere with the spreading and spraying that need to occur before the early planting. The snow also means that hay and feed must be hauled to the animals in the fields, again. It’s sale day down at the stockyard, too…and that means animals must be handled and transported.   

Looks like outdoor work is on hold...
it's snowing AGAIN!

On a personal level, our work for the day is far less ambitious, but every bit as necessary.  We will make repairs, start crops and maintain our livestock. The Farmers’ Market opens in less than two weeks…and we are SO NOT READY. (but, that's another story)

When you think of Agricultural products, you may think of fruits and vegetables, meat and milk and fiber for clothing. That’s just the beginning!  

Look at this list (which is not exhaustive by any means) :

Health Care: Health Care: Pharmaceuticals, ointments, pharmaceuticals, ointments, surgical sutures, latex gloves, x-ray film, surgical sutures, latex gloves, x-ray film

Manufacturing: Adhesives, lubricants, solvents, detergents, polymers

Education: Crayons, textbooks, chalk, desks, pencils, paper

Personal Care: Shampoo, lotions, cosmetics, toothpaste, fingernail polish

Construction: Lumber, paints, tar paper, brushes, dry wall, particle board, and tool handles

I realize that there is much discussion and a lot of concern in certain circles about the various practices in modern Agriculture.  So much so that some folks use “agri-business” as a bad word. (seriously people…it’s just the business of agriculture) Ironically, it is the very fact some have devoted their lives to Agriculture that allows us to even have these debates.  If we were all still engaged in a hunter-gather lifestyle, there would be little time for debate and discussion.  We’d be too busy attempting to provide our own sustenance and clothing! (if we existed at all) And, it is foolhardy to think that the world’s population could be fed and clothed by the meager offerings from backyard gardens. But, this is not the place for divisive wrangling.

Bet you didn't know some of these!

Instead, I’d rather focus on some of the amazing facts about Agriculture. You would be hard-pressed to come up with some aspect of your life that is NOT affected by Ag.     

Did you know?

Family farms account for most of the farms in the US.

Farmers and ranchers are independent business people who provide for their families by growing and producing food and fiber. They use modern production techniques to increase the quality and quantity of the food they produce.

The top five agricultural commodities are cattle and calves, dairy products, broilers, corn and soybeans. U.S. farmers produce 46% of the world’s soybeans, 41% of the world’s corn, 20.5% of the world’s cotton and 13% of the world’s wheat.

Soy crayons have been created to replace toxic petroleum-wax crayons, soy crayons are brighter in color and less expensive to produce.

One acre (43,560 square feet) of soybeans can produce 82,368 crayons.

Soybean oil is the most widely used vegetable oil. It is found in margarines, salad dressings, canned foods, sauces, bakery goods, and processed fried foods.

It takes just 40 days for most Americans to earn enough money to pay for their food supply for the entire year. In comparison with the 129 days it takes the average American to earn enough money to pay federal, state and local taxes for the year.

 Cotton is also a food crop. Almost 200 million gallons of cottonseed oil are used in food products such as margarine and salad dressing. Cottonseed and cottonseed meal are used in feed for livestock and poultry. And even products such as toothpaste, ice cream, and the paper money used to buy them contain by-products of the cotton seed.

The environment and everyone in it benefits from research on biodegradable plant products that break down easily in landfills.

Agriculture land provides food and habitat for 75% of the nation's wildlife. Deer, moose, fowl and other species have shown significant population increases in the past several years.

Genetic engineering with plants and animals has resulted in new antibodies for immunizations. Other research has developed surgical techniques and pharmaceuticals from agriculture that help save lives.

Ethanol and new bio-diesel fuels made from corn and other grains are beneficial to the environment and promote energy security.

Heart valves from hogs are used to replace damaged or diseased human heart valves.

One bushel of wheat will produce 73 one-pound loaves of bread.

More facts about agriculture can be found here. Check it out! 
Agriculture practices today are far different than they were way back there at the dawn of time.  But, then so is society.  I don’t think many folks would want to return to the accepted difficulties of daily life long ago and it is unfair to suggest that Agriculture turn its back on technology. 

Rather than fear what you don’t know… Take a few minutes and learn just a little bit about Ag today.  

You’ll be amazed! (I know I was)

Check out some of the blogs on Blogging for Agriculture. There are over 200 agriculture-based blogs listed here.

My favorite one today is by my friend, Katie, who wrote this...(read) about what she has learned about Agriculture.

…and here is my own entry from last year.

Now, you can say that you have indeed given some thought to Agriculture today. 

Have a great AG Day everyone! 


Monday, March 24, 2014

Livin' the Dream

“You’re living my dream!”

            “You’re SO lucky!  What a great life!”

                                                “You’re a perfect example of why small farms are best!”

There seem to be a lot of folks who think living in the country, doing the whole farm thing is the perfect life…the ultimate dream.

If they only knew…

When we came to the hill, it was NOT the final fulfillment of a lifelong dream.  It wasn’t to prove somehow that small operations were better than large ones.  …and it definitely was NOT because we had any burning desire to become Farmers’ Market vendors.

…no…we came to the hill with heavy, broken hearts, knowing that our old life was a memory…looking for a way to survive. This was one spot we could afford and ultimately it would allow us to heal and find the strength to go on with life. If you don’t know what I’m talking about…you need to read this.

Looking around today, it’s hard to imagine that there was once nothing here.  The hill was windswept and bare when we first visited back in ’97.

March 24, 1997

looking down the front hill
  The only sign of any previous life was a weathered sheep skeleton that was discovered as we marked the house site. I'm pretty sure I’ve done this whole story before.  Yep…read THIS.
the "back forty"

If I say that it was hard those first years, I fail to convey the depth of my own despair.  But, if I say anything more, I run the risk of sounding like a crybaby.  So, we’ll stick with hard…

Just how do you start over again? How do you start over again with a broken heart? How do you start over again with a broken heart in a place so unlike anywhere you’ve ever known? WHAT do you do?

You just do it. 

You show up every morning and do the next thing. 

You have to try even though you make a lot of mistakes. A WHOLE LOT of mistakes.

hoophouse #1 under construction

the garden begins - 1997
this is how we used to start seeds

the awesome workforce

And sometimes, you are blessed with a little help from your friends.

While we’ve since gone our separate ways, those folks who extended the gracious hand of friendship in those early days will always hold a special place in my heart.  The gifts of physical labor, encouragement and plenty of food and laughter made the adjustment to a new life a little more manageable. There is tangible evidence all around the hill of the help and care extended to us in those early days.

In reality, this life wasn’t our dream.

This isn’t our dream house, we certainly never dreamed of becoming farmers and prior to our move I hadn’t ever even shopped at a Farmers’ Market. Honestly, I was pretty content with our predictable, somewhat boring, stable life before our move to the Valley. But, when life throws you for a loop…you have to do something.  We knew we needed some sort of income when we got to the hill.

Our first thought was that the Boss could turn the “shop” (our separate garage) into a wood-working business.  He’s an incredible craftsman and he had all my granddaddy’s tools from his upholstery business.

But…in order to get our place re-zoned (we’re zoned EXCLUSIVE Agriculture) we needed $300 for a permit or we needed to attach the shop to the house by an enclosed breezeway.

 …and we didn’t have it or any possibility of doing either one.

                                        So…that was that.

Our new-found friends suggested that we consider selling at the local Farmers’ Market.  They were participating and it seemed a good way to earn some much-needed income even though our needs were relatively few. If there was one thing we knew how to do…it was food. Be sure to read THIS for more of the story.
1st Market day - 1998

As we worked, we learned…and as we learned, we grew…and as we grew, we found that the pain of the past was just that…the past.  The rhythms of the seasons became a part of our lives…a familiar and comfortable dance that we know and love. Every season brought new lessons, new challenges, some new heartaches and ultimately new joys and success.

Of course those folks who think this life is the ultimate dream have no inkling of the heartbreak it took to get here, the hardships we have faced to develop our business and way of life and the perseverance it takes to maintain it all. That’s okay. I don't want to burst anyone's bubble...but, dreaming doesn't make it happen. It has been (and continues to be) a lot--a whole lot, sometimes--of hard work.   I truly hope the dreamers hold onto their dreams and take advantage of each of those opportunities offered them.  You just never know where you might end up.

2013 Market

No, I wouldn’t say we’re living “the dream”, but it IS a very good life...and (borrowing lyrics from Montgomery Gentry)

That's somethin’ to be proud of
That's a life you can hang your hat on!
You don't need to make a million…
Just be thankful to be workin'.
If you're doing what you're able
And putting food there on the table
And providing for the family that you love
That's something to be proud of!
And if all you ever really do is the best you can
Well, you did it man!   -montgomery gentry

…and really...who could ask for anything more?

March 24, 2014
...just waitin' for warmer weather...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunday Walkabout 3-23

Spring arrived this week!

We actually got a bunch of outside work done!
nothing says SPRING like hauling buckets through the snow

Oh, but wait…I’m getting ahead of myself…

The wild weather ride that is March continues.

Rather than try (with absolutely no possibility of success) to NOT talk about the weather, I’m going to embrace it. The weather rules and that’s just the way it is.


view from greenhouse
On Monday it snowed AGAIN.

 Everything was covered in icicles and the snow was blowing furiously at choretime.  It was not the kind of day anyone would choose to be outside.  However, job one was to get the tomato seeds started. (yeah, kind of a test of faith considering the weather!) It’s not much fun working in the greenhouse when you first have to put on the whole winter wardrobe of boots, coveralls, gloves and hat!  The snow had settled heavily on the roof and it was fairly dark inside.  

But the tomato seeds got seeded and by Friday the first tiny plant was poking through the soil! Only 3 more months ‘til fresh tomatoes!
1st tomato seedling of 2014
Grow, little tomato plant, GROW!

Waylon's "snow cave"
March snows tend to be wet and heavy.  While this makes the scenery pretty, the trees, especially the white pines, don’t handle the weight too well.  Add in the incessant wind here on the hill and you have a recipe for disaster.  I noticed that Waylon had this little “snow cave” thing going when I fed him Monday morning. But, I didn't give it a whole lot of thought.
 It wasn’t until Wednesday that I realized that a lot of the branches had not returned to their normal position once the snow melted.  There were lots of broken branches and fallen limbs.  When they fell, they took out our electric fence wire and a lot of big branches landed on the woven wire fence that divides our property from the back neighbor.  A big clean-up job would be necessary.
some of the storm damage

It was Saturday before we got to the branches.  We hauled some hay in the morning and the Boss figured we could knock out the branch job before lunch.

Apparently, he thought I was exaggerating when I told him it was a big mess.  He kept saying “Gosh!  This is a big mess!  Look at all these branches!”  It looked like the damage following a hurricane.  

I hauled branches and he used his battery-powered Sawzall to trim the bigger limbs.  By the time both battery packs for the Sawzall were exhausted, it was time for lunch. But, we were nowhere near done. 

When we headed out after lunch, he took the chainsaw and we continued to clear the fenceline.  The decision was made to leave the branches in big piles in each paddock for a while.  The sheep will eat the leaves, the branches will dry (the sap makes them incredibly heavy) and then at some point we will have a gigantic bonfire. (I guess I better buy lots of marshmallows!)

Large limbs had been twisted right off the trees. Honestly, it was a little overwhelming.

 We did get the majority of the mess cleaned up and thankfully there was no damage to the neighbor’s fence. Our electric fence needs some minor repairs, but that’s pretty much the standard procedure in the spring time anyway. With that unexpected (and big) job completed, I think it’s safe to say the Spring Sprint has begun.

most of the branches cleaned up
leaving a shady place for the sheep to ruminate and lounge during summer grazing

St. Patricks’ day and the arrival of Spring make lots of folks think about potatoes.   Personally, I don’t need any special event to make me think about potatoes…they are one of my favorite foods! So very versatile!  …and delicious! We made our annual roadtrip to Hburg to pick up the seed potatoes and some onion sets so that we could get on the spud planting as soon as possible (not really, I think we planned on April first or second…) This trip is essentially the same every single year.  Here, read  this one.

One variety hadn’t yet arrived, so I’m not sure where we will source that one this year. We did check a couple other places, but they didn’t have them either. I’m sure we’ll figure out something…can’t go without taters! 

We took advantage of the delightful weather on Thursday (and Friday) and did a lot of work in the hoophouses.  

Despite a frosty start, the houses warmed nicely and the Boss actually rolled up the sides while he worked!

He weeded, tilled and pulled out more dead stuff.  I planted lettuce, chard, kale, radishes and turnips. Even though I planted a lot of stuff, I haven’t made a real dent in the transplants in the greenhouse.  One more weather event to get through (cold and snow AGAIN) and I can get back to setting out the transplants.  I have to…the greenhouses are full to capacity! (and we need to start seeds again this week)

chard transplants
the color goes clear through the roots!

It felt SO good to dig in the dirt once more!  It seems like forever since we were actually able to work “outdoors”.  (I cannot wait until the true warmth and work of summer) Some of the  hoophouse crops survived the winter cold, but our offerings will be greatly diminished the first few weeks of the Market. (total bummer) We should be in full swing before the end of April, though.  (assuming I can get the rest of the transplants in the ground in the upcoming week)
manicurist's nightmare

newly planted lettuce

It’s always surprising to note how quickly the grass greens after the snows melt.  
Monday morning

Friday afternoon

All we need is a week or so of real Spring weather and we can turn the sheep out on the grass once more.  That’s a very good thing because even the hay guy is running low on hay! We hauled just a little bit of hay this week and hope that will be the last load of the year. The sheep are getting more than a little cranky.  It’s as if they can smell the greening of the pastures and feel slighted because I am keeping it from them.

Today, we’re back in rain/snow mode, so we’ll do some inside work and the planning/organizing for the upcoming week.  There’s one more snow event and some serious cold predicted for the mid-week, and then the weatherman promises that the weather will moderate.  We’ll see.  I truly hope so.  We’re supposed to seed cucumbers this week! (among other things) …and the broccoli/cauliflower/cabbages need to be “hardened off” so we can get them in the ground soon.

Yep, the “to-do” list is growing exponentially!  It is definitely SPRING!

Take some time to enjoy the day...

                       ...smell the flowers…

...and have a very…

                                         Happy Sunday!

Thanks for reading!  

Hope y’all come back for a visit again soon.