Monday, December 24, 2012

Fall WWOOFer

  Justin came from Los Angeles this fall to stay on the farm with us and help us.  We enjoyed his time with us and are grateful for his help.  We often remember our WWOOF volunteers in part by the projects they help with.  Like a jar of tomatoes I opened yesterday was dated with Chelsea's writing, a reminder of those hot days of processing tomatoes last year.  As we've been snacking on peanuts this winter we remember Justin's help digging and pulling peanuts off of the plants this fall.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Boiled Peanuts

  You might think you don't like boiled peanuts.  But maybe you've never had boiled peanuts made with fresh dug Virginia type peanuts. When boiled peanuts are made with dry peanuts, they can take 24 hours or need to be pressured cooked and are often said to be slimy.  Fresh dug peanuts, like we have now, though, just need an hour in a pot of boiling salt water.  Then they are delicious. We've found them quite addictive.  Give this seasonal treat a try.


  From many of the WWOOFERs who come to our farm, I seem to glean some new idea for cooking.  Justin, our current visitor, likes greens, so I've even started cooking and enjoying mustard and turnip greens, which I'd previously shied away from.  Shelley, earlier this summer, liked grits, so with that encouragement, we started enjoying our own grits much more often and now still do.  It is Chelsea I have to thank for the idea of roasting vegetables, though.  Sure, I'd roasted some potatoes before, but only occasionally.  Chelsea said her normal meal back home was an assortment of roasted vegetables.  So I gave it a try.  I cut up whatever I had into bite size pieces onto a cookie sheet, tossed it with a generous amount of butter and salt, and turned the oven to a toasty 400.  An hour later, with a few tosses in between, the plain vegetables had been transformed into slightly carmelized gems of yum.  So now, whenever I set a platter full of roasted vegetables on the table, we joke we're eating Chelsea food tonight.  We laugh and then dig right in. Cooking vegetables this way, you can get even picky eaters to eat most anything.  For example, last night's roast tray included radishes, daikon radishes, and turnips, with a good portion of onions.  No complaints were heard here, just spoonfuls of seconds. Potatoes and sweet potatoes are always great.  Peeled chunked eggplant is delicious.  Don't forget the garlic as whole cloves or pressed to toss with the butter onto the vegetables.  Herbs and/or spices are a bonus.   I'm still experimenting.
  Try this as a main/side dish, but purposely make too much.  Then the next meal, you'll have the start to another great meal.  Reheat the vegetables as part of a pasta sauce, use them on a pizza, or tuck them into an omelet.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The GMO Labeling Debate

   The debate over whether genetically modified food should have to be labelled as such has heated up recently with Proposition 37 coming up for a vote in California.  Proposition 37 would require that all food sold in California as grocery (as opposed to restaurant food) be labelled as GMO if it either is a GMO crop or contains GMO crop ingredients.  If Prop 37 passes and survives the court challenges that would follow, then it will likely be the model that federal and other state GMO labelling laws would try to follow.
   It may sound like the kind of idea that farmers like us would be all for, but even though we're altogether opposed to GMO's, we think it's pretty ambiguous whether a law like Prop 37 would even be a good thing.  The thing that we find most troublesome about Prop 37 is that it effectively defines the fight against GMO's in terms that disregard most of the GMO crop acreage in the country.  There are currently only 8 GMO crops being grown commercially, although they include a few of the most widely grown crops.  Corn is the most planted crop in the US, and its leading use is for fuel ethanol. Its second leading use is animal feed.  Soybeans are similar. Cotton falls even further outside the Prop 37 definitions (although cottonseed oil is used as a food ingredient.)  Alfalfa is strictly an animal feed, so it falls entirely outside the Prop 37 definitions.  The other four crops are relatively minor: sugar beets (granulated sugar, etc.), rapeseed (canola), summer squash (zucchini/yellow squash), and papaya.  So our biggest concern is that Prop 37 gives GMO's a free ride for their most significant uses (particularly in terms of acreage): animal feed and non-food uses. Meanwhile we wonder what good the law might achieve.  People that care about the GMO take-over of our farms can easily find out what ingredients (i.e. the 8 crops we just listed) are GMO.  If they haven't even done that are they going to change their shopping habits when its on the label?  And if folks really cared about where their food came from or what went into growing it, then they probably aren't buying fossil fuel- and chemical-intensive, corporate-industrial food from supermarkets, whether it's GMO yet or not.  In other words, if they're already growing their own and buying from local farms that they know and trust, then the law can't help them any further.
   So that forces the question on us: what then should those of us opposed to GMO's do?  Here's something we wrote in answer to that question for another purpose:
   Insofar as we're opposed to GM crops, we think we should all be trying hard to get away from the whole commodity crop system. Relying on the commodity crops that haven't been genetically modified yet is perhaps better than nothing, but it's a hopeless strategy for the long-term (even the "medium-term.")  If we want to continue having non-GMO options, we think we need to take responsibility for starting to develop those markets and sources and growing methods/know-how, etc. now.
   What's most important to us are the issues of what -- if we understand the term correctly -- people are calling food sovereignty.  If farming communities in North Carolina can't control what they grow and how they grow it (and therefore also what they eat), then I think all the other kinds of problems (GMO's, chemical dependency, fossil fuel dependency, exploiting laborers, loss of farmland and soil erosion, etc.) are bound to follow, so we believe any real solution needs to start with wrestling control back from the global powers to which we've given control of our food supply.
   Those of us that would voice opposition to GMO's have developed a pretty good alternative model through farmers markets, CSA's, home gardens, etc. when it comes to in-season garden crops, but we think field crops are our neglected step-children.  There are something like 382 million acres of crops grown in the US.  Only 3.3 million of those acres are vegetables or 4.6 if you include Irish potatoes. We're always disappointed when customers come to us and suggest that they're going to fight the GMO tide by buying vegetables from us. If we're really going to make a difference in how the land in our communities is farmed -- and we think that's one very important way to look at things -- the other 99% (besides vegetables) is what really counts.  (Our numbers, by the way, came from more than one source, none of which we kept track of, but we're assuming they're nonetheless accurate enough to make the point we're making here.) Field corn, soybeans, and wheat apparently make up 198 of the 382 acres of cropland in the US.  Hay (59.9 mil) is right up there. (Land for hay is apparently counted with cropland, but grazing land isn't.)  Cotton is about 4 times as significant as all vegetables combined in terms of acreage.  Grain sorghum has a little over twice the acreage of all vegetables combined.  So the point we're trying to make is that we think the local-organic food movement should be giving a lot more attention to field crops.
   So to talk about answers, we see two kinds of solutions.  One, obviously, is for the local-organic movement to take more responsibility for growing the field crops it consumes, for human consumption but especially for animal consumption (and then also non-food uses like with cotton.)  We'll come back to that.  The second kind of solution we see is finding ways to raise animals without depending (or depending so much) on field crops (on corn and wheat and soybeans and North Dakota peas and alfalfa pellets, etc.) for feeding our animals.  It seems to us the easiest answer on that front and one which is available enough already to customers that want to seek it out is grass-fed beef.
   On the other hand, if we wanted to go out and buy it, we wouldn't know of any North Carolina milk or cheese we could buy from comparably grass-fed cattle (or goats.)  And so far as we know including organic (certified or otherwise) grain feeds wouldn't open up any more options.  There may be an exception or two that we don't know about, but the rule seems to be that the small dairies making cheese are feeding conventional grain to their animals and the large, certified organic dairies producing liquid milk are depending substantially on organic grain (much of which, in addition to the hay, we'd guess isn't at all local) and then sending their milk out of state.  So when it comes to local-organic (certified or otherwise) dairy, we feel like there's a lot of catching up to do just to get to where we're at with grass-fed beef.  Replacing grain with grass does seem to us like the most realistic path to dairy food sovereignty in the face of GMO's, perhaps made more feasible by lower producing genetics, longer dry periods, more seasonal milking, and/or multiple species grazing.  Whatever the technical solutions, we don't mean to suggest, though, that the problem is fundamentally technical.  The fundamental reason for the absence of local, grass-fed dairy in North Carolina markets, we believe, is simply that farmers and consumers don't care enough to want to take on the inevitable expense and trouble.
   From a food sovereignty perspective it appears to us that things only get worse when we consider pork, poultry, or eggs.  At least pasture plays a significant part in the macro-nutrition equation of a lot of small-scale/unconventional (and even some conventional) dairy animals.  There are plenty of producers that pasture poultry or pork for reasons of animal welfare, etc., but little if any of the pastured pork or poultry movement seems to be doing anything to redefine the macro feed equations.  What we mean by that is that these producers are depending every bit as much, both in degree and quantity, on the same sorts of dry feed mixes as confinement producers.  It would be theoretically possible for farmers or communities to grow their own grains and oilseeds (and possibly even press oil and generate oilseed meal) and peas/beans to produce substitutes for the standard feed mixes, but we think that would more than likely demand a scale of production incompatible with the amount of pork/poultry the farmer could find any way to sell, especially when most customers don't ever take any concern for where the feed comes from (so long as they see the happy image of an animal in a natural-looking setting, if they're even educated enough to realize that chickens and hogs are being fed any purchased feeds at all.)  So the best hope we see would have to lend itself to a smaller scale of production, i.e. entry-level for a very marginal enterprise.  We think that would most likely need to be some kind of low-input, low-production, extensive acreage system.  We'd see relying heavily on extensive forage, possibly planted forages, but more likely forest floor kind of stuff (grubs, mast...) and maybe some crop gleaning.  We think just a simple grain feed (like straight corn) that a farmer could conceivably grow himself could then suffice to fill the gaps and make the whole system come together.  The chief challenge would be that a "pastured pork" producer could sell his pork or poultry so much cheaper -- we'd guess on the order of 1/2 to 1/3 the price -- if he just took advantage of the economies of scale that come with the large grain production systems.  (Those economies of scale have, of course, nothing to do with ecological economy.)  The main point here, though, is that accepting those dollar savings of the large-scale systems leaves us without any footing to resist the GMO tide.
   No matter how much the kind of strategies we've been discussing can reduce our consumption of GMO field crops, we're still surely going to depend on field crops at least for supplementing our animals, and we're also going to want to consume field crops directly (i.e. human consumption), so there's still the hugely significant, terribly neglected question of actually growing local-organic (certified or not) field crops.  Suggestions that we can "close the local food loop by feeding locally milled, organic grain" -- and such comments seem commonplace, as do the even weaker assertions that simply feeding any kind of feed to local farm animals offers a real alternative agriculture -- say to us that we as the local-organic movement haven't even looked at the huge hole in our "local food loop," let alone begun the huge task of closing it.  ("Locally milled"?  That's nice, but is that as deep as our local agriculture goes before we happily abandon responsibility to the global economy?  Can't we, if we're really any kind of local food movement, at least aspire to have some community control of the actual agriculture, of soils and photosynthesis?)
   There are, of course, some genuine alternative efforts being made in North Carolina toward local-organic grain, at least for human consumption.  We're too far away to know much about the rice grown in Chatham County last year, but we read about it, and that's remarkable.  We know there are slightly larger things happening with local-organic corn and wheat and soybeans (and not just a byproduct of global-organic.)  There seems to be potential with malting barley, if efforts haven't begun in North Carolina already.  We think the fight against GMO's demands that we particularly embrace efforts to grow heirloom varieties of these crops.  And we think it demands that consumers learn how to use more of the crops that can be and are being grown locally with whatever the local processing limitations are.
   One upside of the small scale we would say is necessitated by local-organic field crops is that large backyard growers should have it within their means to do a lot of what would otherwise have to be left to larger farms.  A 50 foot square garden space could produce a bushel or two of wheat (60-120 pounds) for a family and be harvested, threshed, and winnowed by hand, ready to grind, in an afternoon.  It's an encouraging sign that a second edition of Gene Logsdon's book, Small-Scale Grain Raising, just came out.  We think it's quite conceivable, for example, to keep a few laying hens on a large backyard scale with just hand-harvested field corn, as much forage as possible, plus kitchen byproducts and whatever else can be locally scavenged for feed.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

2012 Tomato Taste Test Results

   We blindfolded each other (5 samplers in all) on Tuesday for our annual tomato taste test.  We actually held two separate taste tests this year, one for the slicing and paste type, and a separate one for the cherry and small salad type tomatoes.
   In the large tomato taste test the #1 rankings went to Aker's West Virginia, Mr. Stripey, Amish paste, and San Marzano redorta.  Those last two are our two paste types, but it's not the first time they've bested the slicing types for straight, fresh flavor.  Second and third place rankings this year also went to German Johnson, Illini star (our earliest red tomato), and Cherokee purple.  All five samplers ranked the Aker's West Virginia in the top three this year.  Amish paste was ranked in the top three by four samplers and was just barely edged out with the fifth.
   In the small tomato taste test the #1 rankings went to our orange cherry, our pink cherry, and a small red salad/plum tomato bred from our pink cherry (which took three of the five #1 rankings.)  Second and third place rankings also went to the black cherry, and Thai pink (which won the most #1 votes in our overall test last year).
   The tomatoes are definitely slowing down a bunch now, but you might still find another chance to try our taste test winners this year, and we certainly plan to grow all the winners again next year.  We'd especially encourage you to try some of the different colors and odd shapes (like the San Marzano redorta, which we grow more of than any other variety because its nearly solid flesh which makes it our favorite for salsa and sauce and canning and about any cooked use, as well as a fresh eating tomato as the blind taste tests show) and odd sizes (like the two-bite-sized Thai pink and sweet red plum.)

Monday, June 18, 2012

WWOOF Host Farm

  You may have noticed and wondered about the series of seemingly random young people at our farmers' market stand or the farm over the last three years.  In total we've had 19 people come stay with us on the farm, helping out with all the different farming and related activities we do (learning how to go through a bee hive, milk a cow, make simple cheeses, weeding, mulching, transplanting, scything hay, stacking mushroom logs, picking corn, threshing barley, canning tomatoes, shelling peas, etc., etc.)  Most of them have found us through a network called WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), although about a half dozen of them connected with us in other ways.  There are WWOOF networks all over the world connecting volunteers with organic host farms.  For a lot of the volunteers it's a way to take a cheap vacation (basically free after transportation), something like going to a dude ranch out West.  Michael was the first person to come stay on the farm, and he stayed for most of the summer as more of an intern, but since then everyone (so far) has come for shorter stays, mostly 3-5 weeks.  A couple Chinese graduate students studying as foreign students in New York City came for their spring break.  A manager of a World Bank watchdog organization in Washington, DC from a small farm in the Philippines took a little vacation time to get away from the office buildings to help us plant strawberries and dig peanuts.  Most of our "WWOOF'ers" haven't come with any thoughts of becoming farmers, wanting just to experience a different kind of work and life for a little while, although some have come exploring vocational options and a couple have even come with more serious desires to build on their farming educations.  We've had three separate volunteers come as part of international travels, all coincidentally from France.  A couple different WWOOF'ers have come from as close as the Winston-Salem suburbs.  It's been a fun experience for us as hosts.  We've enjoyed getting to "travel" to China and France, the Philippines, Alaska, and Miami, Florida.  We've also especially enjoyed continuing relationships with the North Carolina WWOOF'ers.  Two of last year's WWOOF'ers came back to the farm this spring to get started keeping honeybees of their own.  We're growing things like hops and Asian persimmons now thanks to our visitors.  Before they leave, we have the WWOOF'ers carve their names on a beech tree by the WWOOF'er hammock.  It's a living guest book of these random visitors' we've had the pleasure to get to know.  So that's a little introduction to WWOOF'ing and what we've been doing as WWOOF hosts.  If you know of any young people (or other adventurous souls)  that might be interested in leaving home to live and work on a farm for a period you might suggest the idea to them.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pediobius foveolatus

Would you pay $100 for some dried up bean beetle larvae?

We did!  Here we are attaching the bags to the bean plants (and showing off a really bad farmer's tan).

  After two years in a row of losing most of our bean crop to Mexican bean beetles, we decided it was time to take a chance on some organic snake oil.  It arrived today via next day air: Pediobius foveolatus, a tiny wasp that lays its eggs inside the bean beetle larvae. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Bad rain

   We had a terrible, damaging rain this past week: way too much rain, way too hard and fast. Since we moved to this farm we only got this much rain in a short period once before, but the other time was in early winter. Of course, we'd love to tell the story of how resilient our way of farming is and how it stood up to the stress test, but that's not our story, certainly not the story we're feeling. We lost soil. We had done a lot to prepare for a storm like this, carefully studied where the water comes from and where it wants to go, and then dug ditches and left permanent grassy waterways accordingly. More important, we've kept about three-quarters of our farm in permanent pasture, not wanting to expose any areas susceptible to erosion. Our farm isn't really hilly, but it's definitely rolling, so we've only plowed the flatest ground. But we definitely weren't ready. The ditch beside what we call the triangle and long gardens that's dry 358 days per year was roaring with so much water that we were afraid of getting pulled in and drowning as we were working to clear a small redbud tree that the storm had somehow pulled into the ditch and that was impeding the flow of water and threatening to overflow the banks of the ditch into the garden. That wasn't our big problem, but we say that just to give you an idea of how much water we were dealing with. The big problem was on the side of the long garden opposite the ditch. Probably over a hundred acres drain past the far end of the long garden into the main ditch beside the long garden. We had banked the ground up at the end of the long garden to send any surface water directly into the ditch and to prevent it cutting a diagonal through the long garden, but so much water was seeping through the bank and springing up at the far end of the long garden that we had two or three channels flowing down the length of the garden each with what we would guess was a gallon or two of water per second.
   Who would have known and been prepared for that much water to spring up out of the ground at the far end of the long garden? The answer to that question is clearly a family that had lived and intimately farmed on this land longer than we have. We're reminded of the Wendell Berry quote that we shared with you just before this storm hit: “The only sufficient answer to bad agriculture is good agriculture, which is not just an application of science and technology but a locally adapted way of living and working.” We're sorely feeling the need for better adaptation to our place right now, but that kind of knowledge can't be purchased from an agribusiness corporation or brought in by a white-collar expert. Adaptation takes time. We're learning the hard lessons of first generation farmers on this land. What we really need is the wisdom that comes from generations of intimately farming the same land. There's a saying that the best time to plant a fruit tree was 20 years ago, and the second best time is now. Similarly, we believe the best time to start farming our land was at least two or three generations ago, but we only have the second best option.
   But what might we have done differently and how might we have been farming when the heavy rain came if we had had a more mature farm model? “No-till” farming is the easy answer commonly thrown about nowadays (and practiced on most of the farmland around us), but as Berry said in preface to the above quote, “while there are some advantages to no-till farming, it is a way of growing grains that is totally dependent on toxic chemicals. Moreover, nutrient contamination from no-till agriculture remains a significant problem. The hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico is not going to be remedied by no-till farming...Abuse of land and people cannot be corrected by a scattering of technological 'perfect fixes.'” A lot more could be said about no-till farming, but we'll just add a couple more thoughts here. First, besides the total dependency on toxic chemicals (which alone is reason enough to reject it), the chemical herbicides that “no-till” farming depends on (which are just one set of chemicals) are already failing to kill weeds as weeds are developing resistance to the herbicides. Of course, the “solution” the agribusinessmen and universities promise is new chemicals and crops with additional “stacked” genetic modifications to accomadate multi-chemical herbicidal cocktails. As a brief aside, the second point we'd make with regards to the “no-till” idea is that even if we cleared all our woods and grew “no-till” crops on all our rolling ground -- a practice which inevitably leads to erosion as we've seen on our neighbor's “no-till” land -- our 43 acre farm still would barely be 10% the size of the smallest farm providing a living from “no-till” farming in our region. So even if “no-till” were the answer, it would be no answer for us. But that brings us back to the proposed “solution” of a perpetual string of newer and more powerful chemicals to be used on ever larger and “more efficient” farms. What is a “very small” farmer with 400 acres of “no-till” crops going to do when the herbicides he depends on no longer kill the weeds? What if, even apart from all the mysterious risks, he has specific reasons to believe that the next round of chemicals and genetic modifications is terribly unsafe? His options at that point are, of course, to use the chemicals anyways or give up farming and let someone else use the same chemicals in his place. But a huge part of the reason we're farming is to gain some independence from the course of faith in future chemicals. As if we didn't have problems enough from the chemicals we already have in our air, soil, water, and food!
   So where are we left? We're still farming without any easy answers but with hopes of slowly attaining that generational wisdom. This rain certainly taught us some lessons that we hope we can use to prepare for any more rains this bad. Digging ditches, etc. isn't work we relish, and we'll have to sacrifice some of the garden space near the house (where we can easily irrigate, where deer pressure is least, and that for other reasons, too, is generally most valuable), but it clearly needs to be done. None of this year's crops were really damaged, although there's still plenty of clean-up work to do, and the ground is still so saturated that the tomatoes look like their roots are about to drown. The worst trouble to this year's crops may have been from all the rain keeping us out of the fields for several more days when the Irish potatoes and dry beans and field corn and several other crops already badly needed hoeing before. So those are our big thoughts after the hard rain!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What's wrong with USDA organic?

   We've talked before about big business lobbyists distorting the organic rules to allow synthetic additives, about outright fraud followed by organic certifying agencies arguing for the safety of chemicals used on produce they're certifying as organic, about rules that allow organic "farms" to operate as confinement feeding operations without growing anything at all (and therefore not feeding anything green or fresh to their animals, etc.)  In addition to the structural problems with the USDA organic system there are, of course, also all the little stories of farmers that take the easy chemical solutions to their problems when no one is looking.  We bought some USDA certified organic buckwheat recently and noticed afterwards that the bag said "product of China."  (We need to figure out how to harvest our own buckwheat! [In 2014 we grew enough for our own limited use, and now, as of 2015, we're offering shares of buckwheat we grew as part of our Full Farm CSA].)  Of course, it's absurd for China to ship staple grains clear around the globe to the US, but it also strikes us as wishfully absurd to think that organic integrity can survive that kind of supply chain.
   But those are just the most superficial problems we see with the USDA organic system.  We could go a step deeper and argue that USDA certified organic farms shouldn't be allowed to directly support the production of chemical-intensive, genetically modified soybeans in order to use the soybean meal on their fields for fertilizer (which is quite common practice.)  Perhaps you'd want to tighten the rules so as not to allow for organic farmers to directly purchase conventional crop products like that, but where then do you draw the line?  If it's not okay to use GMO soybean meal, is it better to feed GMO grains to conventional beef in concrete feedlots or to hens packed thousands or tens of thousands to a building and process bloodmeal or feathermeal from those operations instead?  Or to even simply use that manure?  Of course, there's nothing inherently unnatural about soybeans or blood or feathers or manure, and a fully organic system would incorporate all of these things in one way or another without sending them to landfills or dumping them into rivers and streams.  The fundamental problem here may very well be that the USDA system really isn't any kind of alternative "system" but rather an inseparable offshoot designed to accommodate the mainstream consumer model.
   Before we bought our first couple of feeder pigs we read a publication by an organic agricultural extension service on how to organically control intestinal worms in organic hog production systems.  The answer was to maintain a carefully timed model that would allow for routinely medicating all sows in the first trimester to optimize the loophole in the USDA organic rules.  Organic poultry demonstrates even less systemic integrty: USDA organic poultry farms aren't given any reason to incorporate reproduction into their farms at all.  The whole process of raising breeding stock, laying and hatching eggs, etc. is simply left to the conventional mainstream and then 7 weeks later the bird is legally sold to the consumer as USDA organic.  The USDA organic response to chemical and pharmaceutical use is not to develop an alternative system but rather to outsource their use.
   So how would one develop a real alternative to our dependency on chemicals and pharmaceuticals?  We think the most important part of the answer is to shorten supply lines and rebuild connections between eaters (consumers) and the land that feeds (and clothes and houses) them.  Instead of putting a seal of approval on buckwheat from China we want to build relationships that can foster organic agriculture in our community, relationships that we can trust to deliver real integrity.  Probably our biggest and most basic objection to the USDA organic label is that it's all about replacing community-based trust with trust in bureaucratically governed certifying agencies.  The organic label is designed to replace the need to personally know anything about where or how your food was grown.  The trend in organic agriculture has certainly been overwhelming in the direction of larger scale, more heavily industrialized, and greater distances between consumers and the source of their food since the USDA rules took effect, and that's no accident.  In more respects than we can list here, the USDA rules have given the edge to the industrial-scale producers.  Is it any wonder that industrial abuses are the result?  If how food is farmed matters (i.e. if we're going to take on any organic concerns), then the first step to organic integrity is to know more of where and how and by whom food is grown.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Our excuse

   Mid-March is a very busy time of year on the farm.  There are onions, lettuce, and other greens to transplant, spring crops to seed in the garden, potatoes to plant, summer crops like tomatoes to seed in the cold frame, ground to work up...  The bees need attention; we try to keep the bees from swarming along with making up colonies for next year.  The grass is starting to grow, so we set up fences in the pasture for the cattle and goats.  The mushroom logs need to be stacked.  Then there's the winter projects we try to finish up before it's too late - like spreading manure or picking up firewood before it gets lost in the growing grass.
  Suddenly, mid-March this year, everything on the long to do list was put on hold.  Christina, our then 7 week old baby, developed a serious case of a respiratory infection (RSV).   For 7 days, she was on a ventilator in the pediatric ICU, followed by another 3 days in the hospital.  It was a harrowing experience.  Yet, God was abundantly merciful, and Christina is now completely fine.  Just a few days shy of 3 months, she is a happy growing girl.  We are so grateful.  We too were well cared for during her hospital stay.  We were richly blessed in prayers, visits, meals, offers to help, gifts, and phone calls from our friends, neighbors, and family.
    But what happened to that long mid-March to do list?  What about the farm?  Where are we at?  By God's provision, we're about as caught up as ever.  Of course, on a farm, you're never caught up!  But the spring crops are coming along with some of them even ready to harvest, the bees are making honey (earlier in the year than they ever have due to the hot spring we've had), the cattle and goats are out on pasture, and the firewood is mostly picked up.  And most important, the children are well.  That said, losing a week and half at a busy time of year does have consequences - some crops are probably going in a bit later than they otherwise would have, a few more hives swarmed than they might have otherwise, etc.  So we've decided, if anything doesn't go as we'd like this year, we'll just use this as our on-going little excuse.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

We tried

The strawberry patch - plants on left have already been uncovered.
Some 6 inches of straw with tarps on top wasn't quite enough.  Last week's cold nights nipped some of the early strawberry blossoms and fruits.  The unseasonal warm weather this past month had many of our fruits blooming and leafing out well ahead of schedule.  So when the temparture dropped to 27 degrees (or possibly lower) last Wed. night, our best efforts weren't quite enough.  That said, many of the strawberry blossoms were fine and we expect many more blossoms and fruit to come.  And it looks like some of the tree fruit survived too.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Seed cleaner

 Some of the most useful equipment for farms like ours is rusting away in woods or forgotten in the back of old barns.  Fortunately for us, a local farmer responded to our ad for a used seed cleaner.  Though it still needs some minor repairs it is in great shape and did a great job on our first effort at using it.  We ran some sunflower seed we'd saved through it and in no time had a tray of sorted and winnowed sunflower seeds.  We just need to make some more screens and then we'll be ready to go, cleaning our wheat and dry beans.  Useful technology is never out of date. 

Hard hat hail

A recent hail storm dropped quarter size hail that had us running out in hard hats to cover our glass cold frames with blankets.  Fortunately, we didn't suffer any damage.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hog killing day

   We recently butchered the first of the pair of hogs we've been raising since September.  These were the first hogs we ever raised.  Despite our hesitations, it went quite well.  They did get out quite a few times when they first arrived but after training them to the electric fence, they seemed content in their designated place.  It was about a quarter acre in some overgrown woods we'd originally fenced for the goats.  The pair seemed happy to root around for acorns or grubs or whatever it was they seemed to be finding.  We were also quite pleased with how well they gained weight.  We fed them our own heirloom field corn and surplus dairy from our cow along with some garden extras.  With warm weather approaching and our feed for them running low, it was time to butcher the pigs.  With the help of willing friends and advice of experienced butchers, we began the task this past snowy Monday morning.
Since we wanted to cure the meat, we decided we needed to scald the pig instead of just skinning it. We have an outdoor wood burning water stove, so we had a good supply of hot water.  So we tried filling a barrel with the hot water.  In the end, we decided to run hot water out of a hose over the pig.  This loosened the hair enough to scrape it off. 
Here a friend is cutting off the head.  Neighbors used the head for their livermush.  We were pleasantly surprised by how little waste there was from the hog.  And the only things that got thrown out, likely could have been enjoyed by someone or ourselves if we were better prepared.  We're curing the meat by the jaw as well as the side meat and fat back.  On this next one we may attempt to save some casings from the intestines for stuffing sausages.  Someone recently sent us pictures from a Spanish butcher shop with a large pile of pig snouts - maybe next time!
Gutting the hog.
Cutting out the backbone, then cutting up the rest of the carcass.
Here Eric is getting the last of the hairs off from one of the hams.  We're curing the hams along with the fat back, side meat (bacon) and jowls.  Since pork isn't supposed to last too long in the freezer, we want to try to preserve it in other ways to extend the enjoyment of it.  We're rendering the lard for frying and baking and we're canning sausage and cubed meats.
While the adults were busy with the butchering, the kids were busy enjoying the quickly melting snow.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New baby!

Christina Irene Brown, born Jan 21.