Thursday, May 29, 2014

Thursday Thankful - the Gus Edition

Hey there! 

It’s Gus. (yeah, the dog)

Mama has been telling me all week how I should be thankfulthankful I’m alive, thankful I’m cute, and really thankful she hasn’t killed me.  So, with that in mind, I had her write this post on my behalf.

Gus arrives at Homestead Hill
For those of you who don’t know me, allow me to introduce myself.  I am Gus, the Great Pyrenees puppy who joined the farm team last September after the passing of Jed (the first Great Pyrenees).  I was born last July, I weigh in at about 100 pounds and I am still learning the whole guard dog routine.  Ellie Mae is my longsuffering teacher-dog and mentor. We make a pretty good team.

This whole deal about being thankful started some time ago.  You know, it’s really hard for a dog to know what NOT to eat around here.  I mean, the sheep make these tasty little raisin things, but Mama hollers when I eat them and then try to kiss her.  The chicken pen could really use a good cleaning, but when Ellie and I start digging around and eating that stuff, the Boss always shoos us out.  

And, I really don’t know what her hang-up is about those plastic tray things.  I mean, she has a bazillion of them, does it really matter if I chew one up once in a while?  He fusses a lot whenever I take the nearly empty cat food cans out of the barn for some extra cleaning. And, when I haul big sticks out of the burn pile, or out of the woodpile, someone is sure to yell at me.  I thought they'd forgotten the dryer vent incident
...and there are plenty of flowers, so what if I ate one (or two)?

And I thought I looked rather attractive with a lilac branch in my mouth! 

Anyway, there was this little black plastic thingy hanging from the trailer.  It kept blowing in the breeze and just looked like it might be rather tasty.  You know chewing on black plastic has been shown to help dogs avoid tartar build-up on their teeth…really…I’m sure.  So, I bit it.  Then, I pulled on it.  Before I knew it, the little black plastic thingy was in a million pieces.  I had one in my mouth when Mama came outside for the day.  I showed it to her, I thought she would appreciate my interest in dental hygiene.
Such a little thing...why the big deal?
 She started fussing.  I led her to the trailer…she fussed some more.  She got the Boss and HE fussed.  Who knew that the little black plastic thingy (that tasted SO good) was the wire to the market trailer lights?  …and it would have to be repaired before Market?  Oops  (and I forgot that I had already jumped all over the side of the truck with dirty feet while trying to capture a cat)  Double Oops!
I swear there was something on top of that truck!

Then, a couple of weeks ago, they were getting ready for Market when I showed them the ‘possum Ellie and I had captured in the night.  It wasn’t quite dead, but we had really done a number on it. They took a look at it, but weren’t too impressed.  After the Boss left, Mama finished off the ‘possum for us and then she kinda freaked out a little.  She’s no sissie, so it wasn’t the ‘possum.  No, she started worrying me about the two bottles of bleach I’d taken out to the orchard.  Now, I don’t really know why I took them out there…I guess I could have used them to clean up the ‘possum mess, but I couldn’t get the labels off very well.  I bit the handles, but nothing happened, so I got bored with them.  She kept smelling my breath and my fur and talking to herself about dogs drinking bleach.  I could have told her not to worry about it—I would never drink bleach, I just wanted to know if white plastic tasted the same as black, but she never really asked, so I kept that to myself. I guess that did cause a little unnecessary worry for her.  Ooops
Mama wasn't happy with the 'possum or the bleach bottles

This week, she got really mad.  I mean….really, really mad.  She went all "Alpha-wolf" and screamed and hollered…she even threw a few things.  If you heard some sonic boom the other morning, yeah, that was Mama yelling at me for destroying her Brussels sprouts plants.  Ooops

I really don’t know WHY she gets all worked up like this.  She’s got thousands of these little bits of dirt with tiny plants in them that she’s always playing with…didn’t anyone teach her to SHARE?  I’ve seen her dump them out plenty of times…how did she know I wasn’t trying to help?  Oh…yeah…I dumped them in the driveway.  (I took a few to the orchard for good measure) And then I rolled on them. I ate a few too…because I love brassicas.  You know they’re really healthy and good for you,right? 
Anyway, she lost it…big time.  I think she threatened my life.  Should I let someone know about this?

After a little while, she seemed to calm down.  She got some more black plastic trays (man, I wish I had her endless supply of that stuff) and started over again.  She told me that I should be thankful she didn’t kill me.  The Boss also told me I should be thankful he didn’t get a hold of me after that incident. Later, she said that the situation wasn’t as dire as she first thought…but, she was still mad at me. I just don’t understand the two of them sometimes.
I do feel bad when she gets so mad

Mama keeps saying…”heisjustapuppyheisjustapuppyheisjustapuppyheisjustapuppyheisjustapuppy….” 

She says it's her new mantra.  I don’t know what a mantra is, but I’m pretty sure that it’s going a long way to saving my big, fluffy tail, so mantra away, Mama.  But, aren’t you supposed to put an “ohm” in there somewhere?

So, today I’m thankful for Mama’s new mantra (whatever it is). ...and here’s hopin’ she always sees me as a puppy!


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The More Things Change...

getting ready to shear
As most folks looked forward to a long weekend, a time of remembrance and/or some family time, we were headed to the barn.

The supplies were assembled, the ewes housed in the barn and the pink Gatorade was chilling as requested.
It was time to shear the sheep!

I’ve written about this a number of times in the past. I’ve covered it from a humorous standpoint and focused on what hard, hot work shearing sheep can be. 

 Here are the posts from


This year, I realized that despite the “sameness” of the routine, things have change a lot in the ten years that Blondie has been doing the shearing.

shearing 2005
The first picture I could find of her shearing after attending VA Tech’s shearing school as a teenager was this one from 2005.

Back in 2005, we were still finding our way as shepherds. The sheep flock was a mish-mash of breeds.  Some for meat and some for fiber and there was no consistency throughout the flock.  We had nothing of considerable size…and all the babies had names.

But, things change.

Augusta Co Fair
Blondie grew up. She met "the one" and got married.  Today, she and the hubs have a place of their own on the other side of Staunton.  They grow vegetables and she does some awesome baking. If you’ve visited the Staunton Farmers’ Market you may have met her.  If not, you can visit virtually. Check out Country Rhodes Produce and Bakery.

some of the ewes awaiting shearing

The sheep flock changed, too.  Long gone are the wool breed sheep. We’re running a flock of commercial Suffolks now, looking for good growth and excellent carcass quality instead of fiber. There are also far more animals than there were “back in the day”.

We (I) still name the breeders and the occasional bottle baby, but the approach to the flock is a little different, too.  I think we’re far better shepherds than we were…mostly due to learning things the hard way over the years.

But, despite the changes, much remains the same. 

It’s still Memorial Day, and we’re still wrestling sheep (okay, Blondie does the wrestling), and celebrating a job well done with some lunch and some pink Gatorade. 

This makes TEN years that she's done the shearing...and six that we've spent the "holiday" in the barn.  

The old adage is true..."the more things change...the more things stay the same."

Thanks, Blondie! 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Walkabout 5-25

poor Squeekie is all tuckered out

It was a somewhat taxing week…

icy broccoli in May
On Monday, there were ice crystals covering the gardens once more. I kid you not!  Most everything fared well, except the cucumbers.  Two layers of row cover couldn’t protect them from the effects of the frost…so, we’ll try again. (third time is the charm…right?)
cucumbers do NOT tolerate cold

By Thursday, we were flirting with record highs again, the winds kicked up and it began to feel like a dry, dusty desert. The hens had created little shade oases under the burdock plants in the brooder pen, and the Boss even started irrigating the gardens. Maybe we’re done with the row cover for this season.

The warm weather brought out a lot more blossoms, and the lilac next to the kitchen door is perfuming the entire farm.
blackberry blossoms


Miss Kim Lilac

It was the latest installment of the “week of the broiler”.  Batch #2 was processed and moved to a “cooler climate”, Batch #3 moved from the brooder to the pasture pen, and Batch #4 arrived in the mail, spent a day in the shop and then moved to the brooder.  All these groups will stay put and grow for about 3 or 4 weeks until we do it all again.

by the time they move outside
they are NOT cute anymore

It sure is nice to have such lush, green grass again.
peaceful ewes

enjoying fresh grass

Gus and Ellie
Can you tell them apart?

We picked and packed and planted…and went to Market.
Bright Light Chard stems

1st round of starts
for fall brassica crop

Garden helper-Tess

This week I tried making Arugula Pesto for sale.  It was a great success!  So, I’ll add making some more to the to-do list for the upcoming week. 

As much as I appreciate the Market, visiting with our friends and making sales…I am always glad to head back down Mbrook Road towards home. It's a beautiful drive.

RG is cutting hay

Mbrook is just around the bend

two more turns and I'm home!

The holiday week promises to be an interesting one, to say the least.  This week, some of our bigger annual projects absolutely MUST get completed…so, we’ll probably be doing a little scrambling. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate as we do even more planting (and picking and packing).

We have a family get-together (of sorts) planned for Monday's holiday.
Do YOU know what we have planned?

And, I’m guessing that few (if any) folks see these items as essentials for the Memorial Day holiday.  I’ll leave you guessing about that one.

Thanks for visiting!  Hope you have a

            Happy Sunday!

Come on back again soon! 

It gets a little greener each week
I love Mbrook!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Signs of Things to Come - A Thursday Thankful

(yeah, I know this is late…and I’m not going to have time to write about food on Friday either…we have entered the “growing zone”...and I'm running around like a crazy person trying to keep up)

Today, it finally felt like the growing season was finally here to stay.  It was hot and sunny.  Things were growing and there was a lot to pick. We were busy, busy.  Our neighbor must have felt it too---he mowed his hayfield in the late afternoon.  There was the possibility of a new job everywhere you looked.  Make that the possibility of ten new jobs everywhere you looked. Really.

I’ve written about this phenomenon far more eloquently in the past. Read this from 2012. (I think I referred to it more recently, but don’t have time to look it up)

But, the heat feels good in comparison to the long, cold, dreadful winter.  The sensation of running faster and faster is rather exhilarating (sometimes)…and it makes us far more appreciative of those down times. And, we need the growing season to make our living! …and eat.

When I went to water the tomato plants (which, by the way, are still sitting in the trailer in the middle of the driveway) I found lots of blossoms, and even a few tiny tomatoes!  I won’t even begin to enumerate the tasks that need completion prior to any tomato picking.

The upcoming week will be full (and I mean FULL) of planting.  Because it’s time to get everything in the ground, not just the tomatoes.  A lot of planting has been delayed by the weather, and other crops have to be re-planted. (in the case of the cucumbers…RE-re-planted.  Here’s hoping the third time’s the charm!)

But, that’s okay.  Work is good.  Hard work is better.

...and it won't be long until we're eating fresh tomatoes once more!

Now, THAT'S a reason to be thankful!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I'm No P-S-T!

                                (no, I didn't mis-spell on!)

There was a very worried looking lady standing in front of me at the Market.

Cabbage looper moth looks pretty on the weeds
but, can destroy a food crop
“You ever haven’t heard of any type of Organic Pesticides, have you?”

Before I could answer…she went on.

“Someone told me that there are organic pesticides… but, I said that MUST be wrong…”  she looked more than a little confused.

"Because ALL pesticides are really BAD, aren’t they?" worry wrinkles appeared in her forehead.

I suppose my flippant answer of “well, pesticides are only bad if you are a pest!”  wasn’t quite the answer she desired. (and, in retrospect, it probably wasn't the smartest thing I ever said)

I couldn’t help it…the whole subject of pesticides punches my buttons AND for some perverse reason, the word P-E-S-T always reminds me of one of my past moments of somewhat embarrassing infamy. It was either rant at this concerned stranger or giggle at my past and look like a crazy person. I let the rant pass, choked back the giggles and tried grant a civil explanation. I don't think I really changed her mind, but she made her purchase and went her way.

But, the story of my past mis-behavior was teasing me in the back of my mind.
she looks harmless
but, she can be a PEST
and should be controlled

As the child of two “only children”, I do not have the privilege of a bevy of same-age cousins.  The closest in age on one side of the family is Secondcousinandrew who is at least fifteen years my senior.  Most of the time, he tolerated my presence.

 But, once I overstepped the bounds…gravely.

When I was about three or four, we were at some extended family gathering. I think it was a wedding reception. Secondcousinandrew had found a pretty girl to talk to…maybe she was his date, I don’t remember.  Completely unaware of the intricacies of flirtation, I was convinced that my contributions to the conversation were as equally important as his boring comments.  (yeah, I just kept talking and talking…and demanding their attention) They hushed me once, ignored me, they talked louder, then they turned their backs.  Finally, he couldn’t take it any longer.  He turned around, looked me straight in the eye and hissed,

“STOP IT! You are a P-E-S-T!”


no, really…WHAT?  I couldn’t even begin to spell…WHAT did he mean? His tone indicated things were not at all good.

“But, Andy!  I no P-S-T!"  

My indignant (and rather loud) wail of a response just happened to occur during one of those odd moments of complete silence that intermittently occurs in large crowds.  Everyone looked.

I turned to one of my parents and said in a slightly less loud voice. “Tell Andy I no P-S-T!  No, I "amn’t"!  What IS a P-S-T?”  

 Mortification would be an understatement as to my parent's reaction when EVERYONE looked AGAIN.

Ah, yes, the stuff of family legends. Alas, I heard repeats of the story for years. And Secondcousinandrew referred to me forever after as "the pest". I think I now know why that is the last family gathering I remember attending…and why Secondcousinandrew and I haven’t seen each other in...well, a very long time.

Later, someone filled me in on what the word meant.  Despite my very vocal protestations, by definition, I was certainly a PEST.

A pest is "a plant or animal detrimental to humans or human concerns" 
(as in agriculture or livestock production)    

I was most certainly a detriment to Secondcousinandrew’s human concerns!  Definitely!

 There comes a time when action must be taken against any sort of PEST.

 …and I’m pretty sure that if Secondcousinandrew could have gotten his hands on some sort of pesticide, (or at the very least a repellent..or maybe a flyswatter) I would have gotten a liberal dose.  While I don't think he really wanted to kill me...I was being a pest and really needed some level of control.  And, in retrospect, I can’t blame him for his reaction to my behavior.

Funny, embarrassing family stories aside, pesticide use is a very big concern in today’s world.

The word pesticide can include herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, miticides, bactericides and parasiticides.  As a matter of fact, there are probably a couple of –cides I may have overlooked. These all have very specific usages and can prove invaluable in any operation.

There are organic and conventional pesticides, naturally-occurring and synthetic pesticides.  All have the same control or kill pests.   Each type has some level of toxicity. Some work better than others. All add to the expense of any operation, fall under some sort of regulation and are not used carelessly. 

If you take nothing else from this post…please remember THIS!

There are a whole lot of things that threaten our healthy food supply....and

If producers NEVER used anything that repelled, deterred, controlled, or killed pests…we would all be cold, naked and VERY hungry…or worse (like dead).
I don't know about you, but I find that gives a new perspective.

Just like the pre-school me, PESTS do NOT respond at all well to cajoling, ignoring or even angry words.Little NO TRESPASSING signs, thinking positive thoughts, having healthy, robust plants won’t deter the hungry critters, either.  

MUCH (if not most) of what you read on the internet, much of what you might think you know about pesticide use is just plain wrong. 

Please do NOT read this as I am a proponent for horrible, chemical annihilation of the human species through some sort of mis-use or over-use of pesticides. I'm NOT a proponent of abusing our environment, either. I am NOT saying that concerns about pesticide use and possible residues are unwarranted. ...and I really do NOT have issues with pre-schoolers! Not at all.  However, the public needs some serious education when it comes to farming practices.  

As a consumer, your best defense would be your own education.   Find out how pesticides work and make up your own mind as to what concerns you, what YOU think may affect your (and your family’s) health. Don't trust those clever memes and TV doctors and question the credibility of those who don't speak (write) from firsthand experience. Do you have any idea WHAT the producer’s answer to your question means? Do you have any kind of understanding when it comes to chemistry?

FYI, farmers aren’t out there, somewhere, spraying pesticides willy-nilly, hoping to kill you while they make a fortune. Really. (that would just be silly) There are prescribed uses and procedures and enforcement of the rules. Inputs cost money and excessive usage isn't cost-effective. A safe and affordable food supply is in EVERYONE'S best interest.  

The only things producers want to control/kill are the pests that interfere with human concerns (you know, like your food supply).

what's left of a kale leaf after a caterpillar has a meal...
not much left for you and me!

Personally, I’m not too worried…

            I’ve done my homework, I understand how these things work,…and … I know that…

                                                  I’m no P-E-S-T! 
                                                                 (got it right that time)

            No matter what Secondcousinandrew said.


                                     ...and I bet YOU aren't either!

If you want to know more about food production and handling, I would like to help you find answers to your questions.  If I don't have personal experience or know the answer...I know people who do. I’ll be glad to help you find the information you need.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sunday Walkabout 5-18

It’s been a fairly unremarkable week here on the hill.

the valley is getting greener every day

 The potatoes were cultivated.

The sheep were moved.
they know what happens next

…and the onions weeded and fertilized.  

The hens are continuing to clean out the brooder yard.

…and the broilers are continuing to eat and eat and eat!

The gardens are actually growing...and things got planted, mulched and harvested.
the severe cold stunted the cauliflower
this is as big as it will get

summer broccoli

squash blossoms

a rather un-remarkable picture
of a delicious chocolate cake
A cake was baked and delivered to the fire hall.  It’s the seventeenth chocolate cake I have baked and sent down the hill for the annual parade and chicken barbeque dinner fundraiser in as many years. I’m always glad to do it, and it always makes me mindful of how much I love Mbrook.  . Read this.  Things have changed a little since I wrote that piece back in 2011, (the church has moved and the General Store has re-opened) but this is still a great place to live! 

just chillin' in the barn

Warm weather means that the dogs start shedding and it will be months before all the puffy, white clouds of dog hair finally disappear from the farm. 

Surprisingly, Ellie LOVES to be brushed and groomed. I guess even farm dogs need to look good!

the sky is SO beautiful

The weather was beautiful and warm…for a couple of days.  

Then a big storm rolled in.  The rain was torrential for a short while and we had a creek flowing THROUGH the hoophouse.  But, the sheep got a real rainwater rinse!
Waylon in the rain

Saturday brought a change in the weather as cool breezes COLD winds blew in and a frost advisory was issued. (yes…it IS May 18 and yes…the last frost date IS May 15…)

The row cover was hauled out once more.  

This is getting SO old!

38* at dawn with patchy frost.  (It’s supposed to be colder tonight) Let’s hope this batch of cucumbers can handle the cold!

Prior to the big storm, the tomato plants took a little ride to the shed. (the forecast included the possibility of damaging wind/hail/torrential rains…fortunately, we only got rain…2 inches of rain)
Then they issued a frost advisory.  This meant that the tomatoes took another little ride and moved to the shop for a couple of days.  They will be pulled out to take advantage of the sunshine and get watered, then we’ll tuck them back in for the cold nights.
They won’t be going in the ground for another couple of weeks. We have worked too hard on these plants to take any chances on their survival!

Saturday’s Market was another good one.  We set a personal record for number of bags of greens.  I picked and the Boss washed and packed 222 bags of lettuce, spinach, kale, chard and arugula for Market!  …and yes, we did end up giving some away…and bringing some back home. (but, we get to eat “the good stuff” this week!)

The upcoming week promises to be a full one.  It looks like the to-do list will be long as we hope to get broilers processed, seeds started and more stuff planted... 

Maybe warm weather will stick around for good now!
I know they're weeds...
but, a perfect dandelion head is kind of amazing

Here’s hoping you have a

Happy Sunday!

…and a great week!

Come back and visit us again real soon.