Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday Walkabout 3-29

March 24, 2015
things look a whole lot different after eighteen years!

“Expect the un-expected” could have, maybe SHOULD have been the motto for the past week.

Monday marked our 18th anniversary as owners of the hill. I meant to write a commemorative post, but realized I already had. You should read this one about "living the dream".
the robins are back!
 I didn't see any at all during the winter for the first time in a long time

But, at some point, somehow, we totally lost control of events and we’ve just been “flying by the seat of our pants” for the better part of the week. This is certainly not how I feel comfortable….but, “whatcha gonna do?”

On Monday, we finally got to pick up the seed potatoes…after nearly a month’s delay. Only to find we could have gotten them considerably cheaper through a different source…and that there was some cold, cold weather coming so we wouldn’t be able to plant them anyway.  No matter…they are safely stored here on the hill and we can work at getting them in the ground as soon as conditions are right.

No sooner had we gotten back from that errand than the phone rang.

Now, I’d been waiting for the phone to ring for quite a while…(we’ve been anticipating the appearance of #1 Grandbaby) but, it wasn’t the landline, or my phone…it was the Boss’ cell.  …and it took me three tries to figure out how to answer the blasted thing…only to hear a rather befuddled voice on the other end identifying himself as the Staunton Post Office. I didn’t even have to listen to the rest of the conversation to know that any plans I had for the afternoon had changed again. The next batch of chicks had arrived (a day early and at a different post office) and I was going on a little roadtrip.

The brooder wasn’t ready since the Boss had been fighting a nasty cold for a while.  So, before heading to town, I spread some shavings, found some heatlamp bulbs, turned on the lights and put out food and water so the brooder would be warm and ready for the new arrivals.
ready for chicks

When I got to town, a most apologetic postal employee greeted me.  He was so sorry that I’d had to drive all the way to town to pick up the chicks, but somehow they’d been delivered at an odd time of day and there wouldn’t be another carrier going to Mbrk until morning…and the chicks certainly couldn’t sit in the Post Office all night. I assured him that I understood and totally appreciated his concern for the chicks. This wasn’t the first time it had happened...and a trip to town is not a real big’s just the un-expected-ness of it that throws things off kilter.

broiler batch #2

That wasn’t to be the end of the “un-expected-ness” of the week.

When the "new arrival" phonecall finally came through…it wasn’t quite how I envisioned either.  For a little bit, it looked like I might actually be personally involved in the arrival of #1 GB.  (yikes) Thankfully, dad-to-be got home from work and I bid them farewell as they headed off for the much-anticipated birth. Karl was born less than 3 hours later.
newborn Karl 
However, the un-expected reared its head again when it was discovered that newborn Karl had incurred a potentially life-threatening complication during his birth (or possibly prior).  He had a subgaleal hematoma.  A rare occurrence, happening only something like 6 times out of 40,000 natural deliveries. The NETS (neonatal emergency transport services) truck came and took him from the birth center to the NICU at UVA. (the embodiment of one one his mama's greatest fears) To say that the situation was tense would be an understatement. He could have easily gone into shock, or quite possibly bled out.

Knowing that there’s an emergency situation involving family members (and you’re not in a position to help at all) is awful. Sometimes cryptic texts make things far worse. And, as a note to myself (and anyone else):  DO NOT look up unknown medical terms on the internet!  Particularly not late at night. Don't do it! It's scary…just TOO scary!

the new family

The only pro-active thing the Boss and I could do was head over to the Draft to feed the dogs, goats, chickens and ducks for the kids while they were at the hospital.
checking the kids...for the kids 

I have to pause here to say that I’m fairly certain that every member of this family never, ever wanted to have to head to University of VA Medical Center again…or even think about it.   We all (particularly Toughchick) spent far more time over there in ’10 than enough. And, the very term ICU stirs some awful, unwanted memories for all of us.  However, it was truly the very best place for Karl.

So, Thursday found us un-expectedly travelling to UVA to visit our grandson for the first time and attempt to grant a little encouragement to his tired and worried parents.  At that point, it sounded like he would be in ICU for a while.  Hugs all around and we headed back to the Draft to feed again before going home to our own chores.
out of NICU!

Friday’s dismal weather did nothing to lift our spirits and outside work was out of the question (despite the fact that Opening Day of the Market is just a week away) because frigid weather was headed back to the Valley.  I’m beginning to think that Winter is never going to relax its grip on this area.

But, the day did end with the wonderful news that Karl had left the NICU for a regular room in the hospital.

2015 garlic crop
The coming change in weather meant that we needed to cover the garlic crop to protect it (somewhat) from the cold.  I can’t believe that we nearly gave up on this crop.  It is absolutely gorgeous and we can only hope that the cold doesn’t stunt its growth too much.
covering the garlic.

The cold weather also means the grass isn’t growing like we expected.  So, it was off to the hay guy’s again…

But, not before it snowed…again.  No kidding.  An unexpected snow squall came through, momentarily blanketing the early spring blossoms. 

the sheep REALLY didn't appreciate snow in March!

Thankfully, it blew through quickly and we managed to get the hay back to the barn without incident.  Hopefully, THIS will be the last hay of the season. Strike WILL be the last hay of the season.  Our hay bill this year has been astronomical.

at least it was a pretty trip to get hay

Then we headed back to UVA to visit again.  Thankfully, Karl was doing much better.  However, jaundice was now a concern (as his little body re-absorbed all that blood) and he was spending some quality time under the bili-lights.  But, we got to visit and I actually got to hold him…and we’re all hopeful that the whole family will be home soon.

This morning’s 16* was rather unexpected for this time of year, too. COLD! Although it’s supposed to warm up nicely and be more seasonable this week.  Here’s hoping!

another morning of ice crystals on the hoophouses

We have lots to do in this week. The Market starts next Saturday…no matter what the weather might be.

hopefully the spinach (and other greens) won't be frozen 

Just six days to get ready…!

So, the upcoming week promises to be “interesting” to say the least. The Market starts…surely Karl can come home…and we get to “see” #2Grandbaby (due in August)...and those are just the highlights...

Thanks for stopping by!  

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday!

Please come back and visit again real soon.

P.S.  So sorry for the late posting of the "Sunday Walkabout"...we took another trip to C'ville to visit the newest family member.  Please pray that his bilirubin numbers look okay and that he can finally come home tomorrow.  EVERYONE will feel much better when he's home with his mom and dad.

"Mighty Baby" on his bili blanket

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday Walkabout 3-22

It’s been a long week here on the hill.

But, despite numerous setbacks and frustrations…

It’s officially SPRING!

1st day of spring
Spring never arrives with any special fanfare, and this year’s cold, damp weather certainly didn’t feel very Spring-y. But, we did miss the snow that fell further north, so there is that. If nothing else, the very fact that it’s “officially” Spring gives us a little different perspective…and things to look forward to.

The week started off with a “catastrophic computer crash”.  No, I’m not being overly dramatic. That’s what the Boss said. Computer issues are never fun, but one of this magnitude was maddening and had a ripple effect that truly affected everything else on the hill, since the Boss is also the IT guy.  Half of Monday was spent dealing with issues and talking with the computer-dudes in California. (which meant he was on the phone and in the office and not able to do his usual farmwork) And, it wasn’t until later in the week that I realized the email list for winter sales had been affected as well as my bookkeeping program...which meant I had to be in the office and not focused on my usual farmwork while I figured out what and/or who was missing. ARGH

But, since the potatoes STILL had not arrived at the seed company, we couldn’t make the trip to pick them up anyway. (so the Boss had the time to fix the computer)  He was assured that the potatoes would “probably” arrive later in the week. (he checked…they had not…we are STILL waiting) Again with the “ARGH” of frustration.

Potatoes are an essential around here.  Not only do they grow and sell well, we use them a LOT.  And, quite honestly, I am freaking out a little more with each passing day. We have never waited this late to get them before, and the whole situation is wearing on me.  It’s still too wet to plant, and honestly, the soil is still a little too cold. That’s why we generally plant potatoes in April and again in July. But, I will feel much better when the potatoes (which we have already paid for) are stored away here on the hill.

Trying not to think about the computer issues (or the potatoes), I spent a fair amount of time in the greenhouses and hoophouses. The Boss cleaned and tilled, and I planted…and planted.  I got over a thousand tiny seedlings transplanted.  In just a few weeks, they will be ready for harvest.  The planting is part of the weekly cycle that will keep the hoophouse in full production and make it possible to have fresh greens throughout the Market season.

Checking on the earlier hoophouse work, I found some good news... 
radish sprouts

onion sprout
...and another project... 
shallot ready for planting
Then it was time to start more seeds.

With the transplants moved to the hoophouses, I finally had some more room in the greenhouses to start those seeds.  I seeded the tomatoes and lots more greens.  The brassica crop was fertilized and we entered that season of vigilance where the greenhouses are kept under constant surveillance to assure that they don’t get too hot or too dry.  The transplants can go from luscious green growth to extra-crispy, dried and dead in a very short time, if I don’t pay attention. (unfortunately, I’ve done that more times than I care to recall!)
just a few seedlings

We also de-wormed the sheep and re-homed some hens. Both jobs were fairly uneventful, but quite necessary.  The hens don’t lay incredibly well after a while, and since we need a consistent egg supply, we either sell them, or if they’re very old and egg production is non-existent, we take them to the zoo, providing the big cats (and alligators) with some local food. But, this time, the hens found a new home at Blondie’s. 

As for de-worming the sheep, internal parasites (microscopic creatures for the most part) will kill sheep (particularly lambs) almost overnight.  With the coming of warm weather and the lush green growth of spring, this can become a serious problem in a very short time, so we must maintain a watchful eye on the flock and take action to prevent illness and death.  For the record, they all look great!
Doesn't it look like they're singing?

Since the snow finally melted and the wind blew and blew and dried the mud, the Boss took advantage of the break in the weather and tilled all the garden beds.

Our very hilly terrain doesn’t allow for huge, flat, square garden spaces that can be worked with big machinery.  After fighting the erosion for a number of years, we converted two of the garden spaces to a gridwork of beds.  While this cut down on the amount of open, tilled garden space, it has actually increased our productivity…and completely eliminated the erosion issues. It also makes succession planting easier. And, it’s far less daunting to head out to pick several beds of something than to face a seemingly endless row!

2015 season begins
That first pass with the tiller in the Spring seems bring the farm back to life and is the signal that the growing season has begun! (despite the still chilly temperature)

Saturday morning, we made our last “off-season” delivery.  We always take one week off before the Market opens.  And, NO, we’re not on vacation.  There’s a lot of prep work to get ready for Market…clean out the Market trailer, organize and defrost the freezers, print farm brochures and recipes…and then there’s the planting and the harvesting…among other things.

I want to take a minute to thank all the folks who participate in our winter sales program. 

THANK YOU! We appreciate each and every one of you!

I can’t believe that it’s been eight years since we came up with the idea and how many of our customer-friends have been there the whole time…and how the whole thing has grown over the years.  This year’s bitter cold weather proved to be  real challenge, and we didn’t have fresh greens anywhere near as often as we would have liked, but, all in all, it was a good “off-season”…and plans are in place to continue in ’15-’16.

But, first…there’s the matter of the Market season. 

Just 13 days…
                     until Opening Day!

Time to start talking nice to all those little plants in the hoophouses!

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday!

Thanks for stopping by.  Come back and visit us again real soon.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday Walkabout 3-15

I see GREEN out there!

It is truly amazing what a difference seven days can make!

Last Sunday, we were still covered in snow.  Lots of snow.

This week…the snow is GONE!

And, we're sinking in the mud.
Mud season is here!
Even though it's warm,
do NOT skip the coveralls

But, at least it’s not cold…and while it is rather windy (that will dry the mud)…at least we can see the ground and it is no longer WHITE.

We got a LOT done in the past seven days, too. (mostly because the snow is gone)

As a matter of fact, we actually did all the jobs on the TO-DO list.  Granted, it wasn’t a long list and I’m being a little “generous” on the definition of one job…but, then we accomplished a few things that weren’t even on the list. All in all, a successful week by any definition.

The Boss has been worrying over the shop roof for nearly a month.  We lost a bunch of shingles in a big wind storm, but before he could get up on the roof to repair it (without the risk of blowing off the roof) it snowed.  And, then it snowed again!  The combination really worried him, so he’s been surveying the roof anxiously for quite some time.

Monday was deemed “shop roof day”.  First, he shoveled all the snow off and hammered in the loose nails.  

Once the day warmed up somewhat, he went back on the roof with some shingles to do the actual repair work. 

Even though he’ll have to go back up and re-check on a very warm day, I think he can rest easy for a while now. 

With the shop roof repaired, it was time to focus on the inhabitants of the shop.  Although the shop has played host to innumerable activities over the years, from automotive repair and furniture building to church worship and numerous covered dish dinners…it had never been as close to being a zoo as it had for the past two weeks.  (and believe me, it smelled like one, too) While lambs and chicks are indeed cute little critters, they do NOT make good indoor pets.

broiler chicks at two weeks
First the broilers were re-homed to the brooder.  The move went off without a hitch and they adapted quickly to their new home.  We hope to get them out on pasture in just a couple of weeks, but we’ll have to keep a close eye on the weather.  We also got an email from the hatchery that the next batch of broilers has been “set” (meaning the eggs are in the incubator) and those chicks will arrive in a couple of weeks…so we are off and running with the succession of batches of broilers for the 2015 season. (we’ll be getting chicks every four weeks through September)
broiler chicks move to the brooder

Dot and Dash move to the barn
Then it was time to move “Dot” and “Dash” the little bottle lambs to the barn.  This was a little more tricky as we couldn’t just pack them in a crate and haul them wherever we wanted.  We each carried a lamb and a bottle. That was interesting, to say the least. They didn’t really want to be carried, with or without a bottle. (as for attempting to lead them anywhere…we would probably still be working on the project if we had gone that route)

We put them in a little pen inside the “Piranhas’” stall.  They will get to go outside next week, once I am relatively certain that they have assimilated with the rest of the flock.  They seem to be thriving and “Dot” actually weighs 17 pounds! That’s far smaller than any of the other lambs. (the largest lamb weighs in at 83 2 months old)  But, she is a triplet (they’re always on the small side) and she’s a bottle lamb as well. (they generally grow slower than dam-reared lambs, too) More on my “pet lamb” project in another post. (because it’s been one for the record books)

The “Piranhas” are going to be completely weaned from their bottles by the end of the weekend.  To this end, they are only getting one bottle a day.  (they eat grain and hay quite well) The actual weaning process isn’t causing too much of a problem, but they won’t to go outside with the rest of the sheep. They’d rather stay in the barn and call for me.  Hopefully, they will outgrow this behavior soon…because it’s really loud…and annoying.

one of the bottle lambs voicing his opinion about living conditions

Baa-ing lambs reminded me…

We are on call 24/7 around here.  You just never know when (or why) you might be called into action.

As we were quietly reading just before bedtime, I heard an odd noise, a distant, sporadic hum of some sort.  Figuring it was some alarm that was either overlooked or fouled up during the time change, I went to investigate.

It wasn’t an alarm, it wasn’t distant, and suddenly it was no longer sporadic.  No, somewhere in the darkness a lamb was quite agitated about something and he was bellowing. “BAAAAAAA!”

After donning barn attire (it’s mud season and you should NEVER go out in mud season without coveralls and boots---see my t-shirt in the photo above) I headed out.  Of course, my arrival at the barn was greeted with complete pandemonium as the sheep were convinced I’d brought a midnight snack and ALL the bottle babies assumed that meant another round of bottles.  The noise in the barn was almost deafening, but, somewhere, someone was still going “BAAAAAAAA”!

Slogging through the muck behind the barn, I found the source of the noise.  One of the bigger (but most definitely not brighter) lambs had decided to go through the bars on the side of the creep feeder instead of using the gate. (a couple of weeks ago, they all fit through any of the openings on the feeder) And, he got stuck.  Seriously stuck.  His nice fat hams were thoroughly wedged in between the bars.  “BAAAAAAA!”

He got frightened by my headlamp shining through the darkness and slammed himself forward.  “BAAAAAAA!” That only served to wedge him a little tighter.  He really flipped out when I grabbed him by his back legs in an attempt to pull him free going the opposite direction. I pulled, he popped free…but, not before he kicked me in the chest, splattering mud and muck (and sheep poo) all over the front of my coveralls. (THAT’S why you always wear boots and coveralls!) 

Problem solved, I headed back to the house, leaving him to join the rest of the sheep in their complaints about the treatment here on the hill. Without any hay or my feed bucket (or baby bottles), I am just not real popular. (sad, but true)

My point in telling you that story?  Our job has no set hours, we’re always ON-DUTY...and paying attention to odd noises and random occurences.

Then, we actually braved the hoophouses.  I’ve got to admit, the hoophouses haven’t gotten a lot of attention this winter.  Partly because I’ve been making baby bottles (that number alone is staggering and worthy of its own post) and partly because I just haven’t felt like it. (after four rounds of antibiotics---the sinus infection is finally history) but, mostly because of the weather.  It’s just been too cold to allow anything to grow. 

Except for the chickweed. 

Much like kudzu has taken over huge portions of the South…chickweed has engulfed the hoophouses.  It spreads and seeds itself with wild abandon and while the hoophouses are a riot of healthy green growth, and it can be eaten…it’s not exactly what we had intended.  The crops we did intentionally plant in the late fall have been just sitting there, all winter long.  We expect winter growth to be slow, but not non-existent, which has pretty much been the case this year.  It’s been frustrating in many ways.  Without growth, we can’t make sales.  Without some warmth, there’s no point planting anything else…which means that sales will continue to be off….and without our vigilant attention, the chickweed takes over creating more work before we can think about planting and working in order to be harvesting and selling…and…well, you get the picture.  But, the hens benefit greatly from the added "green stuff" in their diet. So, there is that.

Anyway, the weather broke and the tiny tiller started. And, we could get back at it.

tilling the beds

raking the beds

The farm store finally got some onion sets (yes, those were delayed by the weather as well) After the Boss tilled, I raked and planted and now we at least have onions and radishes in the ground.  And, guess where we’ll be spending lots of quality time in the next week (actually lots of quality time for the rest of the season). 

The hoophouses!

onion sets
ooops!  They packed yellow ones in with the white

planted onion sets
Grow, little onions, grow!

getting round bales from Woody

Then, we hauled some hay (hopefully the last for the winter), the Boss completed a few projects, I started some more seeds and we did our next-to-last delivery run for the season.

lots of little transplants ready for the hoophouses
We even “worked the lambs”, but I’ll have to tell you about that some other time.
working the lambs

It’s been a good week.

It looks like the weather will be cooperative in the upcoming week as well and we might get back on track.  Let’s hope so.  Opening Day of the Market is just 20 days from now.

20 days…

This is the point where I generally go into some sort of mild panic about our state of readiness, or rather our lack thereof.  But, then I calm down (somewhat) and get back into the rhythm and routine of Market season.  After 18 years as Market vendors, much of the choreography necessary to make the operation run smoothly just comes naturally. It's just a matter of getting back in the swing of things.

Spring mani-pedi...

Honestly, it feels SO good to get back to digging in the soil and working outside (even if it is only in the hoophouses). I am not alone in thinking this. Apparently, there is some microbe in soil that enhances mood. Really, I didn't make that THIS.

So, I guess that leaves me with no excuse for being out of sorts or grumpy, we certainly have enough work to do that involves soil in some form.

With that in mind, I’m off to fix some more baby bottles and head out to do chores once more…

Thanks for stopping by… 

I hope you have a Happy Sunday!

Please come back and visit us again real soon!