Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sunday Walkabout 5-29

working outdoors on a beautiful day
(see the Boss tilling there in the middle?)

  What a week!

For the first time during the month of May, we actually had a stretch of several days WITHOUT rain.
That meant we could work outside. That also meant that the work outside had multiplied exponentially. The weed pressure is intense. The bug pressure is extraordinary.  

…and there is grass to mow EVERYWHERE.

The Boss decided that we HAD to tackle the weeds in the onions first thing. Onions don’t handle weed pressure well. They need good air circulation and plenty of water. The weeds harbor pests and disease and inhibit airflow while absorbing the moisture and the nutrients needed by the crop.

weedy onions

"weed-free" onions
...just eight more beds to go

Some people use black plastic to hold down the weeds. We have never had much success with black plastic. Weeds come up under it, poke through and render it useless. With all the rain we have had lately, my concern would be holding too much moisture underneath and exposing the onions to rot and disease as the heat of summer builds and is retained under the plastic. Then, there is the wind here on the hill. I can just imagine the mess we would have if even one corner of a long piece of plastic got to flapping around in the constant wind.  

Some people use herbicides to hold down or eradicate weed pressure. While this sounds like a simple solution, vegetable plants and herbicides do not mix. Meaning, any fear of Roundup on your vegetables is totally and completely unwarranted, because the herbicide does not know the difference between a weed and a vegetable and will kill everything. There are some natural weed suppressants, like corn gluten, that can be used. However, this needs to be applied at planting time, and loses its efficacy over time.

So, we till to keep the weed pressure down. (which some would argue add to the possibility of erosion and is not environmentally-friendly…a post for another time.) Or we pull weeds.

weeding onions
Weeding by hand is the only option for the onions.
 The onions are somewhat delicate and the weeds have invaded the entire bed. And, at first glance it seems more than a little overwhelming.   Like, cue the music to Mission Impossible… But, slow and steady effort makes a big difference. While I rather like the monotonous, somewhat meditative work of weeding, it does take time. Lots of time. Time that could be better spent elsewhere on the farm…and it never (ever) ends.

And, speaking of weeds…thistles are threatening to take over the alley to the barn. Not only are the thistles invasive, they are next to impossible to eradicate. The roots can spread 17 feet horizontally and go 20 feet deep.  and, while the flowers are rather a pretty shade of purple…they quickly go to seed and the downy little seeds fly off on the wind and take root easily. We really needed to do something and do it quickly. Now, I’ve done my fair share of “slaying the Philistines” (read  THIS) but, this could easily become a full-time job.

these are the little thistles

 So, maybe we should just go ahead and buy some type of herbicide and spray the heck out of them. 

Hmmm? We discussed our options.

I was fully prepared to buy something, anything, just to get the thistles under control.

Personally, I don’t have the concern with pesticides (in this case an herbicide) that many people do. I have read the studies and done a great deal of research. The only reason most people are concerned at all is because they have been thoroughly mis-informed and they are fearful of what they do not understand.  That being sad, we weren’t about to just spray willy-nilly in hopes of getting rid of the thistles. (nor, might I add would any responsible farmer…and all the farmers I know are indeed thoughtful and responsible).  The biggest concern with any of the readily available sprays was the necessity of keeping the animals out of the freshly sprayed area. In some cases, it was weeks.

The alley is the one path back to the barn. And, it is back to the barn that the lambs must go for a drink of water. This trip is made countless times throughout the course of the day, so closing off the alley was not an option.
new stocktank
(see the salt on the thistles?)

We have tried our fair share of those homemade remedies in the past with little to no success. And, for the record…that combo of vinegar, salt and dishsoap is NOT chemical-free! Nor is it Organic. (but, again, a post for another time).   However, I had a gallon of cleaning vinegar and a box of canning salt, so I figured I would give it one more shot.

Turns out the lambs LOVED the slightly pickled thistles.

pickled thistles!

In two days, between the salt/vinegar and the lambs the thistles were completely gone.
thistle-free stocktank

…maybe we’re on to something! We'll have to see how long this lasts.

The rest of the week whizzed by in a blur of planting and mulching and seeding…and mowing. I think the Boss mowed grass Every. Single. Day.

the ewes are "mowing" this area

The first planting of summer broccoli is in the ground.
planting summer broccoli

The tomatoes and first cucumbers are planted, mulched and trellised.
setting posts for tomato trellis

teeny, tiny cucumber

planted, mulched and trellised cucumber plants

tomato blossom

I got all the beds in the hoophouses re-planted and kale, spinach and arugula started for successive crops.
I had some company
this tufted titmouse was gathering food for its chicks

There was actually enough asparagus to harvest for sale this week. Ordinarily, we have been picking for weeks by this point. I guess that just proves how different this growing season is going to be…
sorting and bunching asparagus
(we keep and eat the unseemly ones)

We still don’t have the volume for Market that we have in past years. It has been next to impossible to get into the garden (due to the rain) to plant and the hoophouse crops aren’t producing at the expected level because they need more light and warmth. Even germination has been an issue. New year…new challenges…

Saturday’s Market brought another of those new challenges. 

there was a "lamb jam" at 5am
when 11 lambs crowded into the empty feeder
(correcting that meant I was running late)

Now, I get all sorts of weird texts from my family members and I’ve been known to send more than my fair share of odd-ness. But, a text that requested “a pair of black nitrile gloves” at 5:45AM did strike me as a little strange.

When I got to the Market and delivered the gloves, the Boss revealed that the wheel bearing on the trailer had blown-out and basically the wheel was falling off. YIKES! He hadn’t been aware of the issue while driving to town and honestly I have no idea how he made it without true disaster. 

Needless to say, a trailer without wheels that roll is of no use. The Boss didn’t have the time or tools to fix it during the Market. (the gloves would aid in the greasy job) He envisioned having to unload everything, towing the trailer somewhere and waiting for a repair…

I’m not real sure how Tbone got pressed into service. But, he turned out to be the hero of the day (and the talk of the Market) as he repaired the problem right there on the spot…although he did have a great deal of “help”. 

We owe him another big THANK YOU for getting us back on the road! We truly appreciate you, Tyler. And, it was great that Mountain Valley Truck and Trailer was opened and had what we needed. Thanks, Keith!

helping Mamaw at the Market
Since Blake came along with his daddy, I guess he gets some credit for helping us sell out before 10am.

An awful lot of people stopped to talk to him and tell him how cute he is.
a happy guy

Once we sold out and Blake (and his dad) went back home, the morning was pretty dull…in fact it was downright boring. Do you know that I heard “wow! You’re sold out!” 45 times in 2 hours? Yes, I did keep track…I told you it was boring! But, the rules of the Market state that you can’t leave ‘til closing time. (and I’m married to the Market Manager…so I do have to follow the rules)  And, we did our best to have enough stuff to last all morning. 

sold out

…and that was the week on the hill…

Hope you’re having a

Happy Sunday! 

Thanks for stopping by.  Come “visit” us again real soon!

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with the week, other than I took it last Sunday…but, I just HAVE to share it. I’m not usually a fan of black cows (except on the dinner table...they do make the most delicious steaks!) but, this ole girl might just be my new favorite cow.

Have a great week!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

That's Downright Embarrassin' !

I love a good story. And, I really love a good storyteller.

Miz Frances is among the best. She sees herself as just “an old country woman”. But, as such she has some great tales.  

She tells the hilarious story of a bad little boy who once hid out under the sofa and darted out to bite the Sunday School teacher on the ankle. Now, Papaw Wally howls in protestation over this one. “It’s a lie! She’s just makin’ that one up! That’s just a big windy tale! You know she ain’t tellin’ the truth!”  But, his insistence serves only to reinforce the veracity of this particular story.

Then there was the long saga of an orphaned baby skunk that she had diligently tried to make a pet only to have it turn on (very literally) the young Frances and spray her in the face. Seventy years after that incident and her stomach still turns at the smell of “polecat”. That one had me laughing and crying at the same time.

You shiver when she tells of shoveling through shoulder-high drifts and you can almost smell her momma’s biscuits baking…  She has countless stories of childrearing and old-time country living and her insights are outstanding.

Once, the subject turned to sheep.

Having grown up in the church, and having numerous relatives that were (and still are) preachers, she had heard all those Scripture passages about the Good Shepherd and all the ones that liken humans to sheep.

It was this knowledge that caused her to lament…

 “oh…sheep….WHY did it have to be sheep?  I just don’t understand WHY the Good Lord had to liken us to sheep…

…they are so stupid!

you know…that’s downright embarrassin' !”

And, I had to agree.

But, this post really isn’t about Miz Frances.

Well, not exactly.

Although, she did serve as my inspiration...

At weaning time, the general chaos here on the hill got a little overwhelming. It was deafening and completely nerve-wracking. No exaggeration. 
sometimes they ALL scream at the same time

The cacophony continued all day. The lambs screamed while they were eating…when they were lying down…one even tried screaming while chewing its cud. (that bizarre sound that required a trip to the barn).  It became tortuous to leave the relative peace of the house. (although the office is quite close to the lamb paddock, so it wasn’t a “peaceful” as it could have been)

As the afternoon progressed, it did seem that the noise was fairly persistent. But, honestly, I was doing my best to zone it out. (seriously, screaming lambs could be used as a torture method) But, I did note that one lamb was still out in the paddock when the others were headed to the barn. I was intent on my hoophouse work and thinking of other things. The Boss was mowing the backyard and noticed the same lamb was moving in an unusual manner. He flagged me down to point it out.

We realized the lamb was actually stuck in the fence at the very same moment.

When I headed in to rectify the situation…all the other lambs trailed along behind me. I’m sure it looked like some weird rendition of “little Bo Peep”. As they followed me, they took turns hollering. Quiet life in the country is simply a myth, I can assure you.

At this point it was obvious that the lamb had been stuck for some time. He was really stuck. Wool pulled from his neck covered all the fence wire surrounding his imprisonment. He was loudly baa-ing in protest. He couldn’t get his head free, no matter which way he turned. I felt a little bad about this, I probably should have checked sooner, but who could tell over the din?

definitely stuck

I put my hand out to pull him backwards from the fence. Before I could even touch him, he let out a bellow, turned his head and popped free from the fence. He ran off to join the other lambs that were eating and cavorting in the lush grass. In the blink of an eye he was indistinguishable from the rest of the flock.

I think he's the one in the middle

He’d been standing there for ages. There was actually a puddle underneath him where he had peed repeatedly. A nervous sheep’s first reaction is always to stop and “take a leak”.

How incredibly stupid can you be? (I think I said this out loud)

Then it hit me.

We ARE like sheep.

Caught in a situation we don’t quite understand we thrash and complain and freak out a little (sometimes more than a little) …only to find that we had the solution all along. Yes, I do speak from experience here.

Oh my!

Miz Frances was right.

Sheep ARE stupid.

And, it IS embarrassing to be likened unto them. Incredibly so.

You can learn a lot out there with the sheep. I know I have. (click to read THIS)  The very thought that Someone cares for me despite my stupidity and over-reaction is incredibly comforting and lightens my darkest days.

As a believer, who is also a shepherd, I have become far more appreciative of the Good Lord’s continued care and endless mercy. Particularly when I consider the rather disturbing similarities. But, I am comforted nonetheless. 

But, don’t tell Miz Frances that I thought of her out there in the sheep field, surrounded by lambs. She’d be sure to say…

Now, that’s downright embarrassin’!

evidence of the lamb's "adventure"

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sunday Walkabout 5-22

misty sunrise 5-20

You know how I said we had experienced 17 consecutive days of rain?  Well, we are going to have to add a few to that…

It’s not that I’m complaining. I am simply reporting what happened in the past week. And, the wet weather is affecting EVERYTHING. (including any and all conversations)

However, somewhere along the way this week I heard mention of this old song…I mean really old…this rendition was recorded by Bing Crosby in 1944.

You've got to ac-centuate the positive
E-liminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between

Listen to the whole thing here.

So…with that in mind, I will attempt to focus on the positive things that happened this week…despite the numerous weather challenges.

the green beans made it!
We got through the cold snap with only the expected damage. Neither one of us could imagine that the squash plants would hold up to 37* and wind. (we were right)  We already had more plants started and should be able to re-plant next week. This will put our harvest slightly behind our target date, but that’s okay. And, we have indeed made a note not to try to hurry the season along next year.
...the squash did not

Processing broiler batch #2 went without a hitch and the chicken freezer is stocked once more. Yay!
processing broilers 5-16

While I went to town on the feedstore run, the Boss tilled and hilled the potato garden, hoping to cut down on weed pressure and give the tubers room to grow.  The potatoes are looking great and we should be seeing blossoms soon.
potato garden 5-18

there are some BIG lambs out there!
A couple in this photo weigh well over 100# each.
Definitely NOT cute!
Did you read THIS?
It was time to work the lambs again this week. Haunted by tragic Spring lamb losses due to wet weather and parasitic overload in the past, we aren’t taking any chances with this flock. Thankfully, they are continuing to thrive. In one month, they collectively gained over 500# for the third consecutive time.

"Beebi" in her lamb tube

While “Beebi” isn’t growing quite as quickly as the others, she is indeed growing!  Her wool had finally grown back enough for her to shed her little lamb tube. She no longer looks like some strange mutant, but a regular sheep, albeit a tiny one.
"Beebi - au naturel"

For those of you who keep up with such things, I was able to get a new prescription this week and it seems to be helping. As I headed off to town to get my pills, I had to chuckle at my similarity to “Emma Brand”. If you don’t know who Emma Brand is, then you don’t know the Andy Griffith show. (and you’ve missed out on a LOT)  If you’ve got 15 minutes…watch this. 

On Thursday, the Kman came to visit for a little while. Despite the fact that he has a whole bunch of teeth coming in at once, and he took a header on the sidewalk before he left home and busted his lip, he seemed to have a good time riding on the tractor with grandpa and loving on the doggies.

he even got to steer!

Kman LOVES his doggies!

 He even “helped” me in the kitchen. He’s particularly handy with a whisk and a broom.

There were cakes to bake. Not only was it “national chocolate cake day”, it was time for the Annual Chicken BBQ for the MVFD. For eighteen years now, I have baked a cake for this event. (I'm not alone in my baking, a number of other ladies in the community make cakes for this event) This is one of the ways our community raises funds for our volunteer fire department.
I made an "extra" one for us

Things have changed a lot over the years. I remember when there used to be a carnival with rides and such and a parade of firetrucks. (that was a big event for our girls) The carnival is a thing of the past, and there was no parade this year. But, the chicken bbq (and dessert) remains a standard. However, the weather put a damper on everything this year. 

the Middlebrook General Store
sponsors Old Middlebrook Village Days

gloomy weather for the event

Because, it started raining Friday night…

the trees at the Market are beautiful,
but drippy!

another soggy Market

…making Saturday’s Market cold and soggy. Here, check out the Boss’ photos.

 But, keeping in mind my attempt to “accentuate the positive”…

We sold everything (except two bags of greens, which became supper) and even surpassed our earnings goal for the day. Can’t complain about that!

A few other positives from the week. 

The next batch of chicks arrived in good condition without incident.

Batch # 4
so sleepy!

The bigger broilers moved outside.
Batch #3 in field pen
The hoophouses are looking good.

  …and I found teeny, tiny cauliflowers in the garden!

just a few weeks until harvest!

…and we can look forward to a new and hopefully productive week.

Here’s hoping you’re having a

Happy Sunday! 

all the gloom makes us truly appreciate a sunny day (or at least a few hours)

Thanks for stopping by. Come “visit” again real soon!