Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday Walkabout 8-30

The past week had it all...the good, the bad and the ugly.
In all honesty, it ended up with more things in the good column, but I must say, I really hope we don’t have another one like it!

After the catching up marathon of last Sunday, the week began in normal fashion. While I was in town, the Boss started cleaning up the upper garden in anticipation of the late season crops.


Preparations must be made for the garlic seedstock that will arrive shortly to be planted for overwintering in the gardens. Yes, it is indeed time to begin work for 2016!

Tuesday, I accompanied Blondie and GB#2 to the pediatrician to check the baby’s weight gain. Since he had lost a fair amount in his early days, his mom was slightly worried. She needn’t have been. All her experience with getting market lambs to grow must have paid off.  He had gained over 2 ½ ounces per day, much to the doctor’s delight.
He looks pretty pleased with himself

After that success, things started to go downhill.

I know I have said before that your ram is half of your flock. And, this is in no way an exaggeration. 

Since the ram mates with all the ewes, his genetics affect all the lambs.  This is why you need a good ram.  And, since the ram mates with all the ewes, he needs to be sound and healthy and able to perform his one job on the hill.

And, that wasn’t happening.

This year, before we turned Waylon in with the ewes, we checked him out (like we do every year). His hooves looked good, his color looked good and everything else seemed to be in order. He was outfitted with his harness and introduced to the ladies.

All went as expected.

Well, until it didn’t.

He mated with the first ewe. Then the second ewe. Hey, we’re on a roll here.  Just like in the past, it looked like everything was working just fine.

Then he started limping.

He kept pulling his back left leg up like the hoof hurt.

this can't be good

Not good.

A health check-up was in order. A health check-up for a large animal intent on breeding can be dangerous and really isn’t something anyone would look forward to.  But…this was serious.

A check of his hoof revealed nothing.  I trimmed it up (hoping that would help) checked his other feet. Nothing looked amiss.

He seemed a little better. I tried to relax.  But, I had this bad feeling in the pit of my stomach that this wasn’t going to end well.

And, I was right.

The next day, two ewes showed signs of heat. He showed some signs of interest. The Boss was hopeful. 

ram checking ewes
this is called "Flehmens' response"
Maybe my fears were unwarranted.

Nope. Nothing.

He wasn’t even trying to “do his job”. This was most worrisome.

He was not putting any weight on his back foot.  It curled under as he stood, as he rather listlessly watched the other sheep. Since a ram has to jump up onto the ewe’s back to mate, his back feet are of the utmost importance.

Another ewe was showing signs…instinct would have to win out over injury…surely in the morning…

When I walked in the barn and the Boss said “well, now this is frustrating…” I knew that things were not getting any better and I lost it.

I have to admit here that I have been struggling of late. All the focus on the positive instead of the negative and attempts at upbeat thinking just haven’t really been getting it for me no matter how hard I try.  And, that comment sent me over the edge. The frustrations and aggravations of late all welled up and I just lost it.  I threw a bucket (repeatedly) and said (okay, yelled) more than one cuss word. In that moment, I really didn’t want to do any of this anymore. It really seemed like everything was crashing down around me and I had no, absolutely no, way to fix anything.

Without the ram there are no lambs, without the lambs there would be no lamb chops, without the lamb chops (and other cuts) there would be no income…and well, no lamb chops…and we’d have to figure out some other source of protein…and all that hay expense…

There have been a number of other things worrying at my mind and this was the final straw.
I just wanted to sit down and cry. (or throw things)

But, I couldn’t. We had promised to check on the kids’ critters while the kids were out of town.  We also needed to go to a neighboring town and pick up a mineral supplement.

So, off we went. Conversation was strained at best.  I’m pretty sure the Boss doesn’t like me much when  I get all bothered and depressed and frustrated.  (heck, I don't even like me when I get like that) But, it is what it is…and I have no way to change, except to struggle through the darkness and find a solution to the problem at hand.

When we got home, he made a couple of unproductive phonecalls. The gloom thickened.

The problem with having ram problems during breeding season is that all the good rams are busy. 

That’s why you go into breeding season prepared.  It’s not a matter of going down to the local ram store, pick out a ram and head back home and getting on with things.  

There was a ram sale coming up at VATech. But, it was scheduled for a Saturday and there was no way we could be at the Market AND the ram sale (and NO, we can’t miss the Market…that is the one day we make our income) Plus, the prices at the sale are generally incredibly high… It was bad enough to be facing an unexpected expense, we couldn’t break the bank as well.

And, for the record, not just any old sheep would do.

To keep our quality and taste consistent, our breeders have to be consistent.  The Suffolk breed works for us, and mixing things up at this point just to get lambs on the ground seemed risky to me. So, while there were a couple of ram lambs on Craigslist that would probably be able the breed the ewes, we weren’t going to consider them. Besides, they were at the far end of the Valley…

Another call to another breeder and things were looking up.  After lunch we found ourselves talking sheep and farming while looking at a couple of ram lambs with a nice young farmer (and his cute baby) on a beautiful farm not too far from here.
a beautiful view

By afternoon chore time, the calamity of the morning had been resolved. (we hope)

joins the farm team

The new ram is young (and fairly small) but he has good genetics, and should be able to breed the ewes for several years to come. He’s got a lot of muscling, which will translate into lots of meat on his offspring.

outfitted and ready to go

After allowing him to spend the night in the barn to acclimate, we turned him out with the ewes. And, he went right to “work”!  By afternoon, he had covered four ewes and was keeping an eye on the rest.  We will have to wait a couple of weeks to see if this indeed “took”, but all indications seem to be positive at this point.

Our beautiful Valley is formed by
the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east
While we were embroiled in the great ram crisis of 2015…the rest of the area was focused on a horrible story that started in Roanoke and ended on the interstate north of here.  Our problems seem so trivial in comparison to the on-air murder that then involved a manhunt through the Valley (where schools were on lock-down) and car chase on the Interstate. The story has been told and re-told and is being used to re-ignited the issue of gun control once more, so I won’t get into it here.  While I will agree that the whole thing is beyond awful, it’s sad and horrifying…quite honestly nothing could have kept it from happening.  There are wicked people whose hearts are filled with hatred and all the regulations in the world will never change that. There is no preventative action we can take to protect our families from all the evil in the world. 

Just hug them a little tighter and pray a little harder…

the Allegheny Mountains in the west

Sorry, I digress.

By the time the ram dilemma was resolved, it was time to start working on Market prep once more. 

the apples are ugly
but, they are tasty!

At first it didn’t seem like there would be anything to harvest.  The weather has shifted and the garden is at that “in-between” stage… But, the tomatoes are prolific despite the chilly nights we had last week. The last planting of squash is starting to produce and there is a LOT of okra even though the plants are a little bit wilty since the rains have suddenly vanished.

getting ready for Market

In short, the Market was great…again! Thanks to our wonderful customers!

During the upcoming week, we will have to decide what to do with the old ram, work through the leftover tomatoes (again),

tomatoes ready for processing

do something with the pears and apples that are falling off the trees, start the winter squash harvest and work on getting the hoophouses ready for winter…and keep an eye on our new guy to see how he’s handling his assignment.

out checking the flock in the early morning light

It looks like we will have plenty to keep us occupied.

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday!

sheep at sunrise

Thanks for stopping by.  Please come back and “visit” again real soon!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Sunday Walkabout 8-23

the number of lambs in the flock is shrinking
but, the lambs are growing well

A change from the routine and mundane comes at a price…

There was a mountain of culled tomatoes sitting in the middle of the living room and I knew there were even more in the garden, begging our attention. Breakfast time revealed there wasn’t even one slice of bread anywhere to be found. An avalanche occurred on my desk, and laundry was spilling out of the hamper. I think I saw a basket of pears sitting next to the woodstove…

…and I was supposed to think about what had happened in the past week?

Couldn’t happen. I tried, I really did. But, the chaos was too much to bear.

With a little concerted effort (and serious help from the Boss) some of the tomatoes were sauced.  Many more were put up for our Winter Sales. By supper time, several loaves of bread were cooling on the counter, the laundry washed and folded…I even made a cake! The desk avalanche was confined to a box with a promise to myself to get the filing completed soon. The animal chores were done (again) and it was time to relax.

So, I know it’s Monday, but…here’s Sunday’s walkabout review of the week.

Last week was unusual in that we were actually off the farm more days than we were on it.  Hence the catch-up day.

Blake William
9lb. 12 oz.
If somehow anyone missed it, we all went to the hospital last Sunday and welcomed Blake to the world. 

A lot of people asked me how the cousins reacted to each other.  All I can say is they were completely relaxed in each other’s presence. In other words, there was a lot of sleeping going on.
Karl and his dad

pizza sauce cooling on the porch

While I made the town run, the Boss sauced last week’s culled tomatoes. I spiced them, cooked them and then he canned them off.  We now have 16 jars of pizza sauce ready for our wintertime larder.

I look so "official"

On Tuesday, the Boss and I headed out to “shoot” the fair.  While this sounds fairly ominous and my own position as “second shooter” seems to indicate possible action by Homeland Security, we actually went to take photos at the  Rockingham County Fair  for the fourth year in a row at the request of our friend, Jeff, the Fair Manager. 

Coming up with something original is becoming a bit of a challenge. Since this is an actual paying gig, the Boss is more than a little particular about our work.

The constant drizzle that turned into an all-out rainstorm didn’t make things any easier.  Expensive camera gear and water are not a good combination.

It’s interesting to note how the fair has changed over the years…and how some of it is probably the same as it was when the fair first started in 1949…and surely since it opened at its current location in 1980. At some point, I should write about the fair.  But, I think I’ve been saying that since the first gig…

a beautiful Suffolk ewe
I seriously wanted this one

Boer goat

Hereford cow

kids washing lambs for show

Mom clipping lamb for show

a happy hog

this t-shirt made for a great look

rides for the kids

a proud Jersey dairy family

I have to say…I got just a little distracted by my lunch-date and probably wasn’t a whole lot of help. 

But, I am certain the Boss did another great job.

Wednesday we did a little catch-up work, but the rain began in earnest this time, so outdoor work was out of the question (again). And, Grandpa hadn’t gotten the opportunity to hold the newest little man, so we took the new family some food and passed the baby around for a bit.

And, then, it was time to get ready for the Market.

…and mow the grass (again) and plant some more lettuce, and…wait a minute…are those pears ready?  Hey, look grapes!
harvesting concord grapes

Despite the marauding deer herd’s best efforts, (they have eaten just about every leaf on the lane side of the fence) there was a fair amount of concord grapes on the little vine at the top of the lane. Concord grapes seem to remind a lot of people of their grandmothers and sell well simply because of the memories they evoke. It helps that they make very tasty jelly!

pear harvest
We then set to work harvesting some of the pears.  The pear trees are loaded to the breaking point (literally) and the pears are beginning to ripen.  Although not like you might think.  Did you know pears ripen from the inside out?  So, if you leave them on the tree until they are yellow and soft on the outside, they are all mushy, grainy and generally gross on the inside. You pick pears when they are green and hard and allow them to sit for a few days prior to eating. (but, not too green and hard…there is a “sort of” science to it) Yes, I did learn this one the hard way.

The pears aren’t very pretty, but they are very tasty. And it looks like we will have them for sale for at least a couple of weeks.  There will probably be some apples, too.  There is a definite up-side to the wet Spring weather.

tomatoes and basil
a true sign of summer

And, tomatoes…the tomato harvest is immense. And they are big and beautiful, too. The Market was awash in tomatoes on Saturday, so although we sold a great number, there were lots left over. Which led to the mountain in the living room. But, those will be a treat come the cold, dark days of winter.

The Market was incredibly busy. It was a beautiful day, there was nice jazz music for ambience and there were people everywhere. I guess with the beginning of school, a lot of folks get back into a regular routine of cooking at home. With the exception of some tomatoes, we had very little left to share with the  CHURCH  that collects any leftovers at the end of the Market day to use in their lunch program for those in need.

With the Market completed, it was time to head home, relax some so that we can "gird up our loins" and do it all again.

The summer crops in the garden have slowed down considerably and some of them are completely spent and need to be removed. There’s still weeding, post-season garden clean-up and hoophouse planting to do,  so it doesn’t look like we will be slowing down quite yet.

Thanks for stopping by!

Hope you HAD a Happy Sunday!

Do come and visit us again real soon!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Thanks, A Farmer

In my attempt to address those who have been frightened and confused by the fear-mongers and “marketing mavens”, it was not my intention to make it sound like those folks are in the majority. 

After 18 years of growing food and selling it directly to the end-consumer, I can tell you that they are not.

In a world environment where it seems that we have to remind people where their food comes from and tell people to “thank a farmer”, I can personally attest to the fact that there are those who do know and are outspokenly grateful. There are shoppers who not only ask the questions, but they listen to the answers.

There are concerned folks who truly care about their food, and are committed to buying fresh and local, who want to be connected to the process that puts the food on their tables. Despite the crazy rhetoric tossed around in some circles, they are steadfast in their positive opinions and support. We are privileged to be able to make a living from the land while being directly connected to these people. Words fail to express the gratitude I feel at being in this unique position.

Each Saturday morning during Market season, we directly interact with at least 100 other humans in one way or another. (often many more) Our Market customers are an eclectic bunch and Saturday mornings are memorable experiences. We’ve been challenged, encouraged and inspired by each and every one.

Each interaction is unique and while we never know quite what to expect, here are a just a few of the experiences that make us thankful for the Market...
The guy who stopped me last week just to tell me that the chicken he had the week before was the “best in the universe!”

      And, the gentleman who waxed poetic about the double-yolk egg he had enjoyed for supper.

The lady who reminds me weekly that “the Good Lord has truly blessed us”.

Those folks who’ve been there since day one and encouraged us during this adventure.

Those people who think of us (pray for us) during the week.

Those “fixtures” of downtown who add to the “atmosphere” of the Market experience.

The girls who squealed with delight when I presented them with the last bit of cilantro.

The patient people who overlook my occasional brain-lapses and wait until I get it right.

The cooks who share their recipes and culinary triumphs.

    And the ones who are trying to figure out solutions to their dining disasters.

THIS is a dedicated shopper!

The ones who show up every Saturday, rain, shine or sub-zero temperatures.

Those who share in our triumphs and commiserate over the failures.

The dear old lady who once brought me an entire squash pie..

Those folks, who albeit unknowingly, kept us going through some of life’s darker moments.

The guys who always have a joke or a funny story.

The kind souls who have expressed their ongoing care and concern for our family.

The ones who feel comfortable enough to point out our failings, but know that we are doing our best.

The “cheerleaders” who sing our praises constantly.

The people who offer constructive criticism.

                And, make helpful suggestions.

The true Market devotees who try to make all their food purchases at the Market.

         And, the ones who only buy those special items they feel are a luxury.

The few who can’t remember my name, but know that we have the produce that they love.

The ones who do remember my name.

       And, the woman who declared I should identify myself as “badass farmer-woman”.

The guy who (loudly) tells the entire market how great our lamb is.

The people that say the same thing every single week.

The ones who say nothing.

The children who bring me artwork and flowers.

The funny, smiling babies.

The folks who ask lots of questions.

                        And wait for the answer.

The eaters who overlook the occasional slug.

        Or at least don't totally gross out over it.

The older folks who grasp my hand at the end of the transaction, look in my eyes, and say THANK YOU.

The shy ones that finally engage in conversation.

The ones who have shared their own stories and become our friends.

The people who truly understand how very difficult this work is, how hard it is to know that many things are out of our control.

To each and every customer who makes the effort to come out early on a Saturday morning to support our efforts when you could be sleeping or relaxing…

This whole farming/market vendor thing wouldn’t work without YOU.

And we appreciate you greatly.

Somehow, THANK YOU seems so small.

But, YOU are an integral part of our business…our life.

Without you, the endless work, our hard-earned knowledge of the crops, the continual battle with the pests and the dance with the weather, would all be in vain. Our Saturday mornings would probably start later, but they would be far less interesting. You’ve brought a richness to our lives that keeps us passionate about what we do.

We truly appreciate each and every one of you.

All I can do is say…

Thanks…from the bottom of my heart!
at the Farmers' Market 2011
(we REALLY need a new photo)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Momentous Month

Ugh. August.

I have never really cared for the month of August.

Everything is overgrown and even the garden seems tired.

The battle for dominance over the weeds and the bugs seems never-ending.

We’re caught on a treadmill of sameness, routine has long since become monotony.

It’s, very hot.

Vegetables, some far past their prime, appear in far too many places, awaiting my do so very many other things...

There’s still so much to do, because the calendar and the angle of the sun indicate that the shorter, colder days are rapidly approaching.  We must keep going, now is not the time to give into weakness.

But, I feel as tired as the garden looks.

And, I can honestly understand why "normal" folks head off for vacation.

Occasionally, it seems like it’s just too much. It’s just too hard…

But, on closer inspection, and somewhat ironically, August has actually been one of the most exciting months in our family’s history.  And, it has nothing to do with fair season.

August 1988. We welcomed our first child and became a family. We had no idea such a small person could make such a big difference.
new Papa

at this point,
I was pretty sure the baby was the only one who knew what she was doing

Years pass…stuff happened…

--add a sibling,

move to the Valley...
starting over in the Valley
 late 1997

...begin the farm, start at the Market…the barn was even completed in August!
roofing the barn "with a little help from my friends"

August 2009. We gained a son-in-law and began a whole new chapter.

More years…more stuff…

--gain another son-in-law, children all become homeowners, one survives a near-death head-on collision with a drunk driver---getting back on her feet, literally…in AUGUST…

August 2010
after 14 weeks of  being completely non-weight bearing...
standing was momentous!

August 2014. We learn we are going to be GRANDPARENTS!
Savannah, the dog, makes an important announcement
 This is when things get fun, we hear.

Some more time passes…(and another "announcement")

--Karl arrives fulfilling the fun grand-parenting prophecy--

Hello, Karl!

Which brings us to August 15, 2015.

Welcome to the world, Blake William!  Congrats, new mom and dad!

In reality…I guess, I have to say…

                    August is actually kind of awesome!

Baby Blake  just missed Aunt B's birthday by a few hours!

Next time we need Grandpa in the family portrait

Forget all the other stuff...

August means…Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday...and Happy Anniversary, y’all!