Sunday, October 27, 2019

October 2019 Walkabout



poison ivy creates a spot of color
(just don't touch it!)

October is generally the time of brilliant blue skies, gorgeous leaf displays and a frosty nip in the air.

But, in a year where generalizations have pretty much been turned on their head, October is no exception.
we had weeks of feats of amazing aerial skill as hordes of dragonflies
filled the air eating the tiny midge flies
the last of the monarchs have flown through
a crop-duster plane had the neighbors talking
his acrobatics were good,
but nothing like the dragonflies
fortunately, most of the grasshoppers have hopped/flown away, too

I got to see the migration in progress
as countless butterflies flew over me in rapid succession





After months of drought and brutally hot temperatures, everything seems worn and tired. (including the humans) And, while there are spots of beautiful fall colors, many trees dropped their leaves early due to lack of moisture. When the rains began in earnest, even more fell to the ground before the leaf-peepers even got a glimpse. The grass has gotten brown and crunchy. A glorious fall seems to be a fleeting wish.

However, since I was beginning to feel like my very soul was shriveling deep inside with every passing dry day, I am sitting here listening to the rain on the roof with a deep sense of gratitude.
(the drought drying my very soul is the reason there was no September walk-about…I just couldn’t deal…it was too hard to find anything uplifting)

The first frost (October 18) was a reminder of the fact that winter is rapidly approaching, although the temperatures quickly rebounded, and I think we’re still running a bit above normal. If there had been adequate precipitation, it would have made for a phenomenally long growing season. As it was, any fall harvest here on the hill has been decidedly under-whelming.

The fall brassicas were doomed from the beginning. It was so hot at planting time that they didn’t get a good start. (brassicas really like it cool)  Then the rains all but stopped and while irrigation is wonderful, it couldn’t begin to compensate for the high temperatures. The plants were stunted and hopes for an abundant harvest were fading. By planting in a new spot, we had hoped to utilize a portion of the farm that would have otherwise been idle. Good idea…in theory. In reality, it allowed the groundhog (or possibly more than one) easy access to a delicious meal. So, we (the Boss) fenced the groundhog out. no sooner was that problem solved and the bugs descended. Now, the stunted, gnawed on plants were beginning to look like they had leaves made of lace as the insects munched voraciously. After we garnered some measure of control over the bugs, the plants made some major recovery and I began to have some real hope…

It was short-lived. 
I saw her in the orchard eating apples

The marauding deer herd has finally decided to breach the perimeter fence. Yep…hopped right in that broccoli and mowed every one of them down. It looks like someone took a weed-whacker to the entire patch. (the dogs are on patrol, and I have seen them chasing deer, they just can’t be everywhere at once, I reckon) so…despite the wonderful rain today, sadly there won’t be any late broccoli. (first time for everything)
harvesting potatoes 2019

And, it may be worth mentioning that for the first time ever we harvested less potatoes than we planted. (no, wait, this may have happened once before) With growing conditions being both hot and incredibly dry, the potatoes started to produce, but the tubers never got much bigger than eggs, leaving us with less poundage harvested than what we bought and planted. Wow! And, once the plants died back, there was no point leaving them in the ground. They would have just rotted rather than growing. So, “tiny ‘taters” it is. At least the customers will buy the little ones!

So, the late season was rather disappointing. Although, I am happy to report that the grass has come back to some degree, and we have not resorted to feeding the sheep any hay. (unlike some of the cattle farmers in the area) We will take good news wherever we can find it.

it's been a long time since we saw
puddles in the driveway

despite the shenanigans that go on in the sheep corral
it looks like all the ewes are bred
the lambchop crop should begin to arrive in January



volunteer grape tomatoes in October
great story...the plant grew in the fence along the hen yard,
but the hens couldn't reach the tomatoes
score for the humans!






The dismal harvest made our “planned obsolescence” run a little ahead of schedule and I’m fairly certain we will run out of inventory prior to the end of the Market. (except for eggs) Which means I will have to continue to answer the question, “where is everything?” another approximately 9 million times. (slight exaggeration)

But, when the garden starts looking like this...it's time to bush-hog it, turn the chickens in to eat the leftovers and wait until it's time to start planting for next year...


last of the okra


late season tomatoes

forgotten cucumber



corn is long gone
But, it is what it is. And, the lack of product just seems another sign that it’s time to turn the page, start a new chapter in this epic saga.

not everyone benefits from rain...
the hens are still enjoying garden clean-up


wet leaves on the porch
leaves through the kitchen window
my attempts at fall photography have been somewhat impeded by my "helper"






I may have given the wrong impression when I wrote about our “retirement” in my last post. Did you read this? https://homesteadhillfarm.blogspot.com/2019/10/i-love-you-all-goodbye.html

That did sound a little final…the very thing I was trying to avoid.

We won’t be giving up our lifestyle completely. The sheep are still working toward a lambchop crop for 2020. (just need to come up with our marketing strategy for this one) And, we’ll be growing stuff for ourselves.

We just won’t be selling at the Market anymore.


I don’t think anyone who hasn’t at least attempted this type of life has any idea how very difficult it is. Taxing on the mind, wearing on the body and trying to your spirit. Not to negate the positives (and there are a lot of those)…but, the reality is farming (of any type) is brutally hard. Add to that health challenges and aging and you can begin to understand why more folks are not interested in agriculture.

(random shots that don't fit anywhere in this post...but, I thought they were pretty)

millet at sunrise

view across the valley in autumn

moon through the trees

Sissie-the-barncat pondering life

But, that’s not where I wanted to go with this.

We have been talking about changes for a long time. But, the time never seemed quite right. It’s scary to consider changing your entire identity. Particularly when you don’t seem to have any specifics in mind.

But, last week we were talking to someone about the whole “retirement deal” and he said something that I’ve been mulling over ever since.

He said that sometimes you just need to go for it…take a leap of faith. He likened it to sky-diving. And, while you might ask yourself why anyone would jump out of a perfectly good plane, that small step into the unknown took them on an adventure few others have experienced. A. The only thing between you and the fulfillment of a dream, the adventure of a lifetime or maybe even finding your purpose in life is one small step. So…Claim it. Own it. (thanks Danny, I appreciate your words of wisdom)

I, WE, changed our lives once before. And, quite honestly, it wasn’t adventurous or invigorating like I envision sky-diving. It was more like someone pushed us out of a plane, came back firing missiles at us and crashed the plane into the ground on top of us. It was horrifying, terrifying and cost us nearly everything. Not an experience I want to repeat in any way.

So, I reckon that’s why I’ve felt a little like Wile E. Coyote in a free-fall high above the canyon floor. Why I find myself hesitating when “so, what are you going to DO?” comes up in conversation. (again, about 9 million times)  It is so scary to face the unknown. To consider giving up your very identity.

But, watching the leaves swirling through the air I am reminded of a meme that I keep seeing on social media. It says…”the trees are about to show us how beautiful it can be to let things go”.
It’s time to let this one go and find out what is waiting around the corner.

 And, take the time to appreciate all we have.

there is something almost magical about a misty sunrise


Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 


Come back and “visit” again soon.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

I Love You All - Goodbye



For weeks now I’ve been trying to write this piece. And, for weeks now I’ve failed. It’s one of those projects where I honestly wish I still did all my writing with pen and paper so I could crumple up all those sad attempts and make a wild pitch at the trash can. Although that might simply serve as one more frustration, the only thing more elusive than finding the words for this post is my ability to make a neat hook-shot into the wastebasket.

In my attempts to figure out how to approach this writing, somebody suggested that I simply say, “I love you all, good-bye.”

 Oh…ewww….no, no, no…that’s just too flat, too sad, too final…too well, suicidal. Oh gosh, I don’t want anyone to get the idea we’re ending it all. Even though I am going to tell you about an end. Truth be told, I think there was a “thank you” somewhere in the original suggestion, but my heart heard only the finality, making the writing far more difficult. I really don't do well with change, with finality, with any sort of end. 

I am supposed to come up with some words…words to tell our customers that we’re “retiring”, that we’re not going to do the Market anymore, that we’re not going to have any produce or eggs or meat for them during the winter or next spring, or ever…and I don’t know how to do it.

Okay. That sounds silly.

Surely, I know how to write some words to convey a thought. (I mean, I want to write a book for goodness' sake!)

But…

This is different. This is a big deal. It’s like writing a eulogy, although we don’t have the finality of death. And, it’s not just a letter of resignation, because we aren’t moving onto some adventure, I’m not even sure how this next part of our lives will look. It sounds vague and random and not at all well-thought out.

I certainly cannot just say “I’m tired and don’t want to do this anymore, grow your own damn food.” Not only is that rude, but it isn’t really true.  And I can’t honestly say that we’re “retiring” because that conjures thoughts of a move to a house at the seaside, a grand trip of a lifetime or at the very least a cruise (and quite honestly, none of those are appealing and that's pretty much how I envision hell…but, that’s another story) and, I don’t want anyone to imagine that we’re planning on sitting around watching Netflix, (while I might) or going on great adventures (which I know we will not), or any of the other things that “old people” are supposed to do.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe I am afraid to face the fact that I am old? Maybe. But, what do I do with that? Even the possibility that I have something else to sort through is definitely NOT helping this project. 

So, back to the keyboard…

More than twenty years ago, we found ourselves starting life anew, struggling to put ourselves back together after what was, without a doubt, the most horrifying and hurtful experience of our lives. The Market offered a chance to put that all behind us, to re-invent ourselves and provide for our family. But, that first Saturday morning was a scary thing, offering our paltry wares to an unknown crowd. Talk about feeling vulnerable! Who knew what that so many successful Saturday Markets would follow? Who would have thought that we would find our niche? Many of you know the story so I won’t re-visit it here. (besides, I don’t want to totally give away my book project)

Joining the farmers’ market seemed the best solution for our family at the time. It required little cash for start-up and the possibilities for return on our investment seemed limitless. It was an opportunity of a lifetime offering both potential income and creative outlet. (and some seriously delicious food) We were certain we could eke a living from our small acreage if we all pulled together.

And, we did, we have…we do. 

The Farmers’ Market quickly became the central force in our lives. Actually, it became our lives…taking over every waking moment at times. We took that opportunity and ran with it, proving that you can indeed make a living as Farmers’ Market vendors.

There are no words to describe what the Market has come to mean to us. Or at least I haven’t found them…and Lord knows I’ve tried. (ever read the farm blog? There are LOTS of words there! www.homesteadhillfarm.com )

But time moves on. Things change.

And, it’s time for us to change as well. While I know the time has come, we’re not just moving on, in some ways we are giving up our identity.  Who are we without this definition? Oddly, despite the fact that I (we) never intended to become Market vendors, it certainly wasn’t a lifelong dream to grow food and personally, I never thought I was in the least well-suited to the job, this has not been an easy decision to make. Our very identities are being revised and re-invented. No easy task, I can assure you.

But, after 22 years at the Saturday Staunton Farmers’ Market and 10 years of our special Winter sales, we are DONE. Finished. Letting go. Moving on. Ready to bid this chapter of Life a fond farewell…

With that final Market day of the 2019 season, it will be time to find out who we are without the Market as a backdrop. Re-invent ourselves on our own terms. Forge our new identity.

And, while it would be poetic (and perhaps expected) to say that we are riding into the sunset or heading for the islands…we’re just not that exciting. And, the hill remains our home.

Tom will be managing the market for one more year while he hopes to train someone else to take over (anybody want a thankless job that doesn’t pay very well?) and, I’m going to devote my time to writing that book I’ve been talking about for far too long (and quite possibly working on my hook-shot with all the ill-fated attempts) And, there is a lambchop crop for 2020 in the works…so, it’s not like we’ll be doing a lot of frontporch sittin’ any time soon…

We want to take this opportunity to THANK YOU, our market customer-friends, from the bottom of our hearts…

You made this all possible…and in the process y'all taught us more than anyone could imagine, tickled our funnybones when we truly needed a smile, and so doing touched our very souls.


I---WE---love you all, good-bye.

P.S. Keep in touch.




Sunday, August 25, 2019

Sunday Walkabout - August 2019



August is nearly over!

I must say, I’m more than a little happy to note that development. August can be a real challenge. It’s hot, stressful, and in a word, just “August-y” (I know, not really a word, but work with me here). However, for all the heat and pressure, there are good things about August, too. So, read this blast from the past.  Click here.

This year, the first of August brought us a hailstorm. I was going to call it “the mother of all hailstorms” until I saw a report about grapefruit-sized hail outside of Denver, CO earlier this month. YIKES That made our quarter-sized precipitation sound fairly puny by comparison. However, hail (of any size) isn’t a good thing. Particularly on a farm.

After the storm, we went out to survey the damage, which seemed surprisingly light. The animals were fine. The vehicles had escaped damage. And, at first glance there was just leaf damage in the gardens. We heaved a sigh of relief and went on to other things.

Later, we would find that the hail had damaged every single zucchini. It looked like a pack of rabid beavers had been through and taken huge chunks out of all the fruit. I picked a least 50 pounds of teeny, tiny damaged fruits off the battered plants. Then, it took about two weeks to see recovery. The green beans weren’t as damaged, but the plants were terribly stunted. And, many of the tomatoes were scarred beyond use. Oddly, the storm was incredibly localized. No one else we spoke with had any sort of damage.


I left a few to see if they would grow out of the damage
they didn't

everything was damaged

some of the tomatoes got damaged too


looks like someone chewed on this one
but it's hail damage



Storm damage or no, we had other things to do. Other things included processing a batch of broilers, hauling a (huge) load of hay, and something else…maybe a dump run…all in one week. And, then doing the Market. In the sweltering heat. I gotta say…we rock! Sometimes I am slightly amazed at the number of things two old broken-down folks can accomplish in a week.
that looked like a big load of hay
and it was HOT
Look at the view from the top of the wagon!

it was my job to toss the bales off


taking a well-deserved water break
(Karma thinks he should share)


Karma is glad we are done!

There was a run over the mountain to get yet another follow-up scan. That is always stressful. And, while the news was “still the same” (and that’s good…really good), the uncertainty of everything after that diagnosis in 2016 continues to haunt us. But, we’ll take the good news for now and move on.

Otis on "Happy Ram Day"
If you’ve followed the farm page for any time at all, you know that August includes  "Happy Ram Day". That’s when we turn the ram in with the ewes to start working on the lambchop crop for the following year. With a young ram, this can be a tricky proposition. You just never know how he will react or if he can (or will) do the job.  I am happy to report Otis got outfitted with his marker and went right to work. I mean that quite literally. Within the first three days, he had marked all but two of the ewes. The Boss questions the reality of these marks and puts them down to over-enthusiasm. Since we changed the marker to green the day before yesterday, we will have to wait and see. if you’re wondering about rams and marks and all that. you can read these old posts that give some insight on sheep breeding 101. 


In any case, we should be looking for lambs around the first of 2020!
getting ready for the green marker

We get a break from the sameness and hot of mid-august with MrB’s birthday party. It’s always fun to watch the little kids having a blast splashing in the water. Number 2 grandson is now 4 years old. Can’t believe our little guys are growing up so fast!







Back on the hill, we’re still doing a little re-configuring and down-sizing.

It's been super-hot

foggy morning

they say that for every foggy morning in August
there will be a storm in Winter

We have had numerous foggy mornings,
so the upcoming winter might just be a doozy!

When we bought the reefer 8 years ago, I never thought that we would ever consider getting rid of it. Finding it and getting it here was a real ordeal. Did you read that saga?
It proved to be an ongoing project. https://homesteadhillfarm.blogspot.com/2011/09/rollin-rollin-on-reefer.html  We got it up and running just in time.  https://homesteadhillfarm.blogspot.com/2011/09/perfect-timing.html And, it has been a great asset to our productivity.

But, things change and life moves on. The reefer wasn’t being used anymore and really needed to find a new home. Ever tried re-locating a reefer? It seemed like it was going to be yet another headache.

Our friends out at  Malcolm's Market Garden were interested in having more storage space for their growing operation and purchased the reefer. (yay) And, we just happen to have a son-in-law who is an expert commercial driver. (another yay)

He and the Boss made the loading look easy. And, the trip “over the river and through the woods” was amazingly smooth and simple.


getting in position

hooking it up

loaded and nearly ready to go

a few adjustments

cinch it down

warn the public 

...and away we go


had to stop and push up the power line across the lane

through Mbrk

down the interstate

up the driveway into  the woods

and the reefer is almost home!






Just like that, the reefer has a brand-new home. I hope it serves the Malcolms for a good, long time! And, I gotta say, Tyler kinda rocks, too. 

Other than that…there isn’t much news to report from here on the hill. August continues to be just plain “august-y”…

It seems to be the summer of butterflies and humming birds!
painted lady butterfly

red admiral butterfly

female black swallowtail

male black swallowtail

tiger swallowtail in flight


hummingbird out back


hummingbird at creek

hummingbird at coleus

The Market has been amazingly busy this summer and set an all-time record last week! That’s good for everyone, vendors, customers AND the City. You can check out the Boss’ images here. https://www.facebook.com/stauntonfarmersmkt or https://www.flickr.com/photos/stauntonaugustafarmersmarket

But, I’ve very nearly missed the Market more than once this season…
...one week there was a deer in the orchard.  The next there was a 'possum stuck in a rat trap in the barn. The ensuing "duet" between the angry 'possum and the dog was nearly deafening. 

the 'possum was growling
the dog was howling
(and it was 5:30 in the morning!)

And, then the following week...

When I was loading up the car, I saw something at the end of the driveway.

Image may contain: tree, sky, cloud, plant, outdoor and nature 
Before I could even investigate, the dogs were off and barking furiously…at the four steers who had strolled across the lane to eat the tender grass by the gate. (since TEN calves live in the field across the lane, and I could only account for 4, the morning had the potential to get REAL interesting) There was no way to drive through the gate without dogs escaping or cattle stampeding. And, I could just envision them running through Mbrk at 6 o’clock on a Saturday morning, startling every dog into a barking cacophony. Not a good idea, by any stretch of the imagination. I must say, I had absolutely NO desire to chase cattle or dogs. But, whatcha gonna do?

he did look rather nice there in the sunlight

I called the Boss to apprise him of the situation (since I was already running late) and he called Neighbor. Since, herding calves is all about angles and I knew that if I was calm enough (and the dogs didn’t get crazy) it could be done with relative ease. Three of them reacted just like I hoped and headed for home. But, the fourth one started down the lane and I had a little momentary panic. Fortunately, I got him turned back up the drive just as Neighbor came out to run them all back into the field.

All’s well that ends well! It gave me a good story for Market…and I can claim that I have herded cattle every summer for at least 20 years. (still not sure if that’s a good thing)

I don’t know what it says about a person when the height of excitement is chasing calves before the Market…

So, I guess on that note, I’ll wish you a

Happy Sunday! 

Thanks for stopping by! Hope you’ll come “visit” again.

 
Have an OUTSTANDING week!