Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sunday Walkabout 9-25

first full day of fall in Mbrk

The change from summer to fall can be felt in a way unlike the other seasonal shifts. Maybe it’s that underlying sense of foreboding that WINTER, with its bitter cold winds and icy misery, will be following hard on its heels. Or maybe it’s the knowledge that the time for preparation is drawing short. Maybe it’s the change in the light. Or the first cool night...

…and I guess there’s the very real possibility that it’s all in my head.

first sunrise of fall

Whatever the case, as we make that shift, we see a lot of lasts. But, those are countered with numerous firsts as the cycle of life on the farm continues.

Firsts and lasts…that was the theme of the week.   ...and rain...

Rain, blessed rain, which we needed desperately, finally fell. Everything benefited greatly from nearly an inch of rain Sunday night. (although by week’s end any moisture was a distant memory) However, the moisture spelled the end for a lot of things in the garden. 

sad days indeed
the last tomato
The last beautiful slicing tomato was salvaged from the garden. There may be a few sauce tomatoes coming along, but the main crop is finished and that’s always a sad day.

Tomatoes are the iconic symbol of summertime gardening…but, it takes an enormous amount of time and effort to get those perfect slicers. We start the seeds in late winter in the greenhouse, providing warmth and light and a fair amount of babying. Then, the plants are “potted up” into larger pots to encourage good root development. After the threat of frost (which here in our beautiful Valley seems to be SO very late in the year) the young tomatoes are placed in the garden. Trellises are put up to train the plants (so the precious fruits won’t come in contact with the ground). We irrigate and mulch the plantings. Then the plants are monitored for pests and disease as they grow. But, fruits aren’t even expected for at least two months after the plants go in the garden. That’s a lot of time to anticipate that first tomato of the season.

And, anything can affect the possibility of a successful growing season. Pests. Disease. Weather. Sometimes all three.

This year it was the weather. It wreaked havoc on the crop more than once. Very hot weather keeps the plants from setting blossoms. Humid weather allows disease to run rampant. When the hot, dry weather gave way to torrential rains, the tomato plants absorbed all the water, causing the fruits to grow overnight…and crack wide-open. This renders the fruits unsaleable, as they begin to rot almost immediately. Or bugs and slugs feast on them…and nobody wants a slugg-y tomato!

Needless to say, tomatoes are not something to be taken for granted, no matter how iconic they may appear. However, we can now put any failures behind us and live in anticipation of next year’s crop. (just five months ‘til seed starting time!)

seed garlic

The last tomato was countered with the arrival of the seedstock garlic for the first planting for 2017. The bulbs that we will use for green garlic were delivered on Friday and will be going into the ground this week. They’re beautiful!

The anticipation of a new crop makes up for the disappointments we may have felt in the garden.

last zucchini

While it was actually sad to pick the last zucchini and I’m sure we will both be lamenting the lack of “zoodles” all too soon, the Boss dug the first of the fall potatoes…and they are gorgeous! 
new potatoes

And, I honestly LOVE me some ‘taters.

Despite the fact that we’ve lived and farmed here for nearly twenty years…we have not seen everything. There’s always something new. This week proved that.

In our ongoing quest to keep the rat population under control, (forget completely eradicating them) I baited the trap and set it in a new location. That led to a sight neither one of us had ever seen before. The trapped rat pulled baler twine into the trap with him/her. Hundreds of feet of baler twine. So much baler twine that you couldn’t even see the rat!
packed rat trap

That was certainly a first. (and the last of that rat, I might add) and, we have no idea if there was any rationale to the twine-pulling.
you could just barely see the rat's tail

In the henhouse, I noted another first.

I’ve been venturing to the henhouse several times a day to gather the eggs in hopes of preventing eaten eggs, since we haven’t had the time to sort through the flock and remove the offenders. Soon…hens…soon.

see the egg?
Quite often there is an egg over the door of the henhouse. I’ve never been able to figure out how/why this one hen picked that inconvenient spot for her egg-laying. (honestly, at first, I thought the Boss was playing tricks on me)
sometimes it rolls down in between the boards

I don’t know how there is even room for the hen up there. Or how she manages to lay her egg without it falling off the board.

This week, I happened to be at the right place at the right time…and watched the hen lay the egg over the door! I’ve seen countless eggs laid in the past, but that one was unique to say the least.
she found her spot

went about her egg-laying business

and headed back to the rest of the flock

 Before we knew it…it was time for Market once more…

it's really dark at Market time in the fall

At first light of Saturday we headed out to sell the LAST of the wax beans, among other things.
last of the yellow wax beans

In an attempt to do a little self-promotion and increase sales at a slower time of year, I embarked on another first. We now have a FARM calendar featuring a year’s worth of photos from here on the hill. We sold a fair number at the Market…yay! I do hope some more folks want one. I think they’d make nice gifts and they’re reasonably priced. ($10) So…fingers crossed…

sample calendar

…and that, my friends, was the week on the hill.

Hope you have a  Happy Sunday! 
Here's looking at "ewe"...

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

Here's the link to the Boss' Market photos.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The More Things Change

The redbud leaves are starting to change
...they look like little hearts...

The first day of fall….

…the changing of the seasons.

…it’s also our wedding anniversary…

32 years of watching the seasons change.

Countless things have changed. But, oddly, it all seems the same.

32 years.

I should probably take this opportunity to say something eloquent. Something profound, romantic…insightful.

But, I’m coming up short.

All I can think is

You know the more things change the more they stay the same...


Just take a look, we’re living proof and baby that’s a fact!

Nags Head

Farmer's Market 2016
(thanks for the photo, Lisa!)

And, that’s not even my own line…I borrowed it from  Bon Jovi  (and, believe me…that fact is truly unsettling)

I know we never envisioned this life all those years ago. Life has handed us more than one plot twist along the way. But we’ve weathered the storms, stuck it out and here we are…watching the seasons change...


...on the first day of fall.

Happy Anniversary to US!

(and yes, I realize we really HAVE changed)

                    …and Happy Fall, y’all!

Wonder about our story? You can find it here…

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sunday Walkabout 9-18

keeping an eye on the ewe flock
I’m not real sure what to tell y’all about today. Because, honestly, it’s been an incredibly boring seven days here on the hill.

But, another week has flown by and it’s hard to believe that we’re already more than halfway through September!

At first glance there is very little to show for the passage of time. I’m hoping by writing it out that I will see some progress or at least some level of productivity.

sheep on a hot day
It’s still hot. And, it’s beyond just dry…it’s arid, it’s parched, the fields are withered and dusty and it’s downright depressing. You know it’s too dry when the folks who live in town start mention praying for rain.

The garden is slowly transitioning to fall. That means the zucchini is just about finished…and we have seen the last of the beautiful slicing tomatoes. And without rain, it may be that we are done gardening for the year. (yeah, it really is THAT dry) …and, while we do irrigate, that is no substitute for actual rain.

it's DRY!

Some of the local farmers are able to take advantage of the dry weather…it’s perfect for chopping corn and making the last of the hay…others are selling cattle because without lush grass for grazing, hopes of profits are dwindling. I read that the line for the Friday sale snaked all through town and it took two hours to drop off livestock. That kind of makes me glad that we raise sheep (they eat far less) and that we took another load of lambs to the processor’s this week. 

Angus in hot pursuit of ewe lambs

settled down and grazing 
On Tuesday, we ran all the lambs to the barn, loaded the potential lambchops, turned the keeper ewe lambs in with the main flock and sent the remaining five out to graze until they take their own one-way trip in November. Then we’ll be done with lambs until the ’17 crop starts arriving in January.
the incredible shrinking lamb flock of '16

The trip north was completely uneventful, which is just the way we like it. I always heave a sigh of relief when we actually get the lambs into the holding pen at the processor’s. Interstate travel is not my favorite thing, but with the added concern of hauling livestock, it can be downright stressful.
It looks like Angus has been successful with the mature ewes. And, breeding season has been a far sight better than last year. (did you read this one? ) The first lambs should be born right after New Year’s, with the majority of them arriving around January 15th.  (time to think about stocking the vet box ) Regardless of what happens with the ewe lambs, it promises to be an interesting lambing season since we have numerous first-time moms. Here’s hoping for lots of babies (and easy, safe deliveries)!

With the “great lamb roundup” out of the way, it was time to get back to garden clean-up. The Boss has been focused on getting things neat and tidy for wintertime. He pulled t-tape, took down trellising and bush-hogged over much of the garden. This is a bittersweet time of year, I’m so glad to be rid of the weedy overgrowth, but just a little sad to know that the end of the growing season is upon us.

first hen in the garden
The hens were allowed access to the lower garden to begin clean-up. They will peck and scratch and eat bugs and weed seeds. This should theoretically cut down on pest pressure for next season. (I’m not truly convinced of this) With this year’s “epic” weed growth, it’s quite the smorgasbord. You would think that all the fresh forage would keep them from eating eggs. but, it hasn’t. There are still far too many broken, eaten eggs for my liking. This week we plan on figuring out which ones are doing the eating…and they will probably take a little “field-trip” to the zoo.
working the garden



I've got a few suspects
Some people are surprised to learn that chickens will eat eggs. Particularly their own eggs. But, it’s true, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. (read this one)  They are quite opportunistic (meaning they’ll take advantage of any food source) and they are definitely not selective and will indeed eat just about anything. (including eggs and on occasion, other chickens…) and, while I know that those who have backyard chickens think of them as cute, sweet pets…a layer flock of any size is not. But, I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, so…on to other things.

After weeks of clear, dry weather, it was a shock to waken to clouds and the threat of rain for Market day. A gloomy Market day is never a good thing, but particularly this time of year. I lost track of how many times I answered the question…. WHERE IS EVERYBODY? We were missing several vendors and I guess the cool, dark start to the day had the customers sleeping late. It was nearly ten o’clock before customer traffic reached a relatively normal level. Eventually, the weather cleared (never did get any rain) and all in all it was a pretty good day.

It can be a real struggle to remain upbeat and positive this time of year.  The push of summer activities and production has taken a toll on everyone’s enthusiasm, on both sides of the Market table. While Fall does indeed indicate a change in available crops, it does NOT mean the end of the growing season. There are still a lot of vegetables to maintain and harvest. And, despite the fact that the kids are back in school and all the local fall activities and festivals, (and those activities affect customer numbers) the Market will remain open until Thanksgiving. So, we dig deep and find the perseverance to continue on…and hope that the customers will do the same.

…and that’s all folks! I have reached the end of what little news I had to report. And, for the record, writing it out did not give me any real sense of progress and productivity.  While it may not have been the most interesting or eventful week…at least we’re one day closer to rain. (well, we can hope!)
the old-timers say "sun-dogs" indicate moisture in the atmosphere
I sure hope they're right!

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Mornin', Glory: a nearly wordless Wednesday

"Well, Mornin', Glory!"  was always my Granddaddy's first greeting of the day when I was a very little girl.

It always warranted a smile and to this day I think of him when the morning glories begin to bloom.


Mornin', Glory!

                                             Have a great Wednesday, y'all!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sunday Walkabout 9-11

lambs grazing in September
Labor Day marks the “end” of the summer season to a lot of folks. One last chance for picnics and beach trips…

Here on the hill, it’s just another day. As a Monday holiday, it does indeed cause a little wrinkle in our week. But, that’s nothing new. Here’s a post from ’14 about  Labor Day.

While our schedule has changed slightly over the years, things remain pretty constant around here. Although, instead of digging potatoes, we processed broilers.

It was an uneventful morning, no escapee chickens, no scalder fires… We were all finished, cleaned up and had the meat bagged and chilling before lunchtime. Oh, I do love when jobs go smoothly!
ready to process

bagging the last bird
a little less than four hours later

Blondie and Mr. B stopped by to visit and help me can off the last batch of squash. While I don’t know that we really need the squash for winter eating, I hate to see it go to waste. By canning it, it will be there when and if I need it, and it will taste better than if I put it in the freezer.

In checking the gardens for more squash and anything else that might need my attention, I discovered that the groundhog had apparently moved to the middle garden after his/her efforts to obliterate the winter squash had been thwarted. This time the zucchini had come under attack.

Now, say what you will about zucchini…you know all those jokes about submarines and locking your car doors to avoiding “gifting” … but, it is truly delicious and quite versatile. And, since it is a cash crop, I’m not about to allow the groundhog eat it all! I set a trap, baited it with a pear and waited…(I’m still waiting...guess they don't like pears) Groundhogs may look fat and silly, but they’re actually quite wily. …and horribly destructive. They are considered a noxious pest. Did you read the "Battle of the  Whistle-pig"?

Despite the groundhog attack on the winter squash, harvest time had finally arrived. The Boss had fenced around the entire planting and we didn’t see evidence of any more damage. But, we had our doubts about the harvest. So many of the fruits had been gnawed on, and once damaged, the heat and moisture would cause the squashes to rot or allow small rodents to eat them.  Either way, they would be useless to us. When the Boss went to pick up the first squash, this appeared to be the case, as its seeds were all spilled onto the ground and the squash was rotting around the edges.
what a waste!

However, there were indeed more edible squash than those that were destroyed. And, you wouldn’t believe the size of some of them!  A good number are pushing ten pounds. While these will be far too big for our customers to use whole, we will be able to cut them in chunks and sell them that way. (you wouldn’t believe how many butternut chunks we have sold over the years!)  

Now, that's a BIG squash!

…and I’m pretty sure that all the spilled seeds mean that we will have “volunteer” butternut squash coming up in the garden forever. While we can’t claim a real big success on the crop, at least it wasn’t the total loss that we first feared.

broilers checking out the field pen
With the big broilers processed, it was time to move the smaller ones outdoors. Actually, it was a little early since the whole rat attack incident impacted our carefully planned schedule. But, the last batch of broilers for the year was scheduled to arrive on Friday, this batch looks large and healthy, and it’s still incredibly warm, so it was decided that we’d go ahead and move them outside even though they’re young.  Again, an uneventful job. (yay)
last batch of broilers for 2016 arrived on 9-9

harvesting 'taters
Then the Boss worked at getting the Spring potatoes out of the ground. I know, I know, we had hoped to complete this job months ago, but between the weather and other more pressing jobs, it just didn’t happen. Thankfully, potatoes do well staying in the ground. However, the longer the potatoes are left in the ground, the better the chances for rodent damage, and damaged tubers don’t store or sell well. And, they will sprout again if left in the garden too long. So, they can’t stay there indefinitely.

The potato crop is so prolific this year that he didn’t come close to finishing before it was time to move on to another job.  So, digging potatoes will be at the top of the upcoming week’s “to-do” list.

hopefully these strawberries will provide a Spring harvest

While he dug potatoes, I worked on planting some strawberry plants and working in the hoophouses. Although the heat curtailed that job before completion as well. The heat makes it hard to work, but can also damage the tiny plants. So, I'll wait for a cooler day to finish up.

tilling for lettuce

ready to plant

planting completed
This September heatwave is really beginning to wear on us. Last week’s rains are but a memory as the continued heat is causing the grass to wither. Even with near-continual irrigation, garden production has dropped off considerably. Some of that is normal “end of the season” slow down, but the lack of rain is the biggest factor.

It’s really hot for this time of year.

…and it seems like it’s been hot, too hot, for a long time.

grazing at sunset
The heat isn’t helping the animals, either. The sheep and lambs head to the pines after early morning grazing and stay there until late afternoon, coming out only for water (and when called for feed). Egg production is down as the hens just hang out in the shade or take dustbaths to beat the heat. The dogs have taken to sleeping underneath the reefer during the daylight and patrolling in the late evening and early morning. The only group that doesn’t seem to be too affected is the broilers. It doesn’t seem like much affects their appetite and ability to grow!

With the growing season winding down around us, it’s time to think toward next year. Besides putting up food for winter and checking on the progress of the 2017 lambchop crop, we’re already making notes and preparations for next year.

tomato seeds for 2017
I finally got around to processing the tomato seeds. This is a stinky, gross job that I generally put off far too long that is not made any nicer for the delay. While I realize it is possible to simply buy new seeds each year, by saving our own we are able to preserve the traits unique to the tomatoes grown here on the hill.  You can read about the process in its entirety  here.

freshly processed tomato seed

And, just like that…it was time for Market once more. The Market went off without disaster or drama (like last week’s food truck saga). As a matter of fact, the Market seemed rather “off”. The week following Labor Day seems to be historically slow. I guess everyone has a difficult time getting back in the groove after a holiday. But, all in all it was a good day. Unbelievably, we’re more than 2/3 way through the Market season. Which puts us that much closer to Winter.

Yes, the thoughts of Winter are never far from our thoughts…despite the heat and humidity that we are currently experiencing, it is obvious that it’s coming, and a lot of our activities focus on preparation for the cold, dark days ahead.
a sign of the changing seasons
Monarch butterfly
with a little assistance
it flew out of the hoophouse and off to the wild blue yonder

But, for right now it’s time to renew and recharge (and do some laundry and bake a few loaves of bread) in order to be ready for the week ahead.

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday!

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll come “visit” us again soon.
sunset on the hill