Just picked a gallon of wild blackberries at the peak of ripeness, and there’s more to pick! Wild blackberries are getting rare these days, and here no synthetic pesticides or herbicides are used. Blackberries are biennial; I won’t cut these down but will allow the nice stands in the west fields to continue to grow.
The chickens are enjoying the greenery and the warm temperatures, but humans here are busy! It is the season to harvest, weed and replant for that late fall harvest and there never seems to be enough time or light in the day. Farming for market and for a CSA brings the need to make sure nature hits deadlines–and I’ve come to the conclusion that nature does not like to be on a clock. Plants will produce, chickens will lay–but all in their own time and season. Understanding the rhythms on a farm takes time and patience.
This native perennial plant was used by early Native Americans. Potted some up for those interested in medicinal plants. Highly tannic, this can be used as a styptic and as a gargle for sore throat. Tons of it growing this year in one of the back beds. Great article on its uses here: http://www.twolanelivin.com/medicinal-properties-of-wild-geranium/
Our blue eggs aren’t dyed :) The North Stafford Farmer’s market opens Sunday and we’ll be there with our Non-GMO Project verified eggs, and live herbs, too.
The busy season is here! Photo of herbs in the greenhouse — finally a bit of warmth! About a half acre tilled for planting, just waiting on a bit more drying after the last round of snow. We may have at least one more snowstorm, but tell that to the bluebirds nesting near the greenhouse. The hens are enjoying being outside, and the fields around the farm are starting to green. The response to the NonGMO Project Verified eggs has been wonderful. Now, on to work on another cert!
Bitter cold here in Virginia, with -1 degree yesterday, at 5 am, and 6 above zero early this morning. I’ve been busy working on the garden & growing plan for this year, plan A, plan B, and also taking care of the goats and poultry.
For the most part, animals here are doing okay in the snow and cold, but they don’t get to range with snow on the ground.
Not that any of the birds want to come outside when I open the doors to the coops!
Even the guineas have spent less time out in their outdoor run, in contrast to their usual fussing at me to let them out. (If you’ve ever heard a guinea, you would know what I mean.)
And the goats and donkeys are not happy in this weather, but are doing okay, except for one extremely old guy who is having a tough time. He’s blind and today he was limping, so I took Guy into the only really warm farm space, the greenhouse, just for a temporary stay to get him out of the weather.
Normally I would not do this, but there are no plantings right now except for a few pots of parsley which have been placed on high shelves, so it’s okay for him to stay in for just a bit until we get out of single digits. There’s a run in on the farm with good shelter, actually three, but the other goats push him around so much that he doesn’t get the same protection.
Guy’s major goal in life is to eat grass (that’s his job here on the farm, too) and he’s now busy nibbling on the fresh green grass sprouting up here and there through the gravel floor of the greenhouse.
After the storm in December blew out a panel, freezing many of the herb plants, I said uncle to starting plants until after we got closer to spring, but now it’s time to get seeds started. I use a tool called a soil blocker to make soil blocks from a mix of peat and farm soil I dug up last fall.
Easily found on Amazon or garden sites, I recommend it highly as a speedy way to start seedlings. Each one inch cube has a small depression for the seed. It makes life much easier all around to seed plants in soil blocks for easy transplanting.
This month a lot of thought is going to future plans. What works, what doesn’t. Every place, every farm is unique and what may work on one, and in one locale, doesn’t always translate. And farms are businesses, after all. This year will see quite a few changes and I look forward to them.
2014 promises to be an interesting year.
January 24th, 2014
The Turning Point
Scarlet Nantes Carrots dug from the garden, Winter Solstice, 2013
What strange warm weather—and how welcome. Even now, it is 66 degrees outside, almost midnight on Sunday after the solstice. We all know that much cold weather is coming, yet, as of today, December 22, the days officially have started getting longer.
For gardeners, this is one of the best days of the year, the turning point, with rebirth en route. The winter solstice and its promise of transformation has once again come and gone. Planting and seed starting is just a month or so away.
The Winter Solstice is celebrated for its place in human history. The solstice has many names and those of us from Anglo traditions know well the terms Midwinters and Yule. When I attended college in the Dark Ages, my oh-so-traditional alma mater used the term Midwinters, which has its origins in ancient Anglo Saxon England.
Midwinters is a time for rest and that’s what been happening here. It’s also a time for new beginnings and for planning.
This year, the farm will not have a direct CSA but will participate in an area CSA and in local markets. It will be a year to focus on planting more than marketing. The poultry/egg operation will continue and there’s a growth plan there as well, and much of this year’s focus has been on poultry.
But our planting emphasis will be different from prior years, and for 2014 will focus on table greens, herbs, high nutrient value wild edibles, and medicinal plants. The key emphasis? Healthy food, as always, with a continued focus on heirlooms, but with 2014 bringing an additional focus on unique nutrient elements.
We’ve also written about Lamb’s Quarter, an excellent source of calcium. There are other plants, many wild edibles that bring health and flavor. This latter area, along with traditional culinary herbs, will be a new focus for 2014.
2014 will include more year-round gardening, with more understanding of what grows well in cold weather. Last year an heirloom variety of Arugula, Roquette plant as my grandmother called it, thrived in 7 degree weather. 7 degrees! Frost would come and yet after the frost melted, the plant could still be harvested. Right now there are wonderfully flavorful heirloom carrots ready to be harvested—they’ve wintered amazingly well. And did I mention the flavor? It seems to have become more intense with the cold. One of the many lessons learned in 2013: carrots are a wonderful winter crop.
Terembry will continue its mission to grow healthy food without synthetic pesticides or herbicides and with avoidance of GMOs. 2014 will also bring a focus on completing certifications, a long term goal of the farm.
There’s a lot to do for 2014 and many new beginnings. But for now, for this final week of the year, the farm’s focus is rest.
Bears hibernate in winter, sleeping off the fat of the last year, and awaken in early spring. Not a bad model to follow.
Yuletide greetings to all, and may the coming year be one of good tidings! Nollaig shona duit/daoibh !
Right now, outside, it’s pouring buckets, or cats and dogs–pick your analogy. The garden is overgrown, waiting for the goats, aka the grasscutters, to come in and clear. Only heirloom carrots are left, about seven rows; they handle the cold wonderfully. After they’re dug, I’ll open the gates to the goats and let them in.
In the greenhouse, Flat Leaf Italian Parsley and Rosemary are potted; other plants are started. But nothing is going gangbusters. This time of the year is a time for rest and both plants and animals seem to understand.
Poultry go into molt in fall and early winter, shedding and regrowing feathers, and older hens typically don’t lay too many eggs until after the molt and the time is right again. The birds will produce heavily in late January–as Spring gets closer.
Last Friday I dug the heirloom carrots for market and was pleased to see tons of earthworms in the soil– a good sign. The carrots were the last thing planted and then I let everything alone.
It’s important to let soils rest, and to not over till. Too many want to control every jot and tiddle of a garden but gardens don’t work that way and soil fertility over time–and nutrients in food–will benefit from a less controlled approach. I follow a simple rotational approach: root, leaf, fruit. Where carrots are this year, greens will follow. Where I planted spinach last year, tomatoes and cantaloupes will be planned for the following year–and after that, soil will be left fallow until the next season.
Regarding the carrots dug this past week, I recently heard a “Master Gardener” talk about the new approaches to root vegetables. She and the local Extension folks were suggesting that potatoes and other root crops should be grown on the ground under heavy mulch–hay. They noted that their trials were successful and the potatoes were plentiful. My first thought was this: it’s hard to find organic mulch, extremely hard, and my second was that anything that doesn’t grow slowly in soil doesn’t get the nutrient content. My third thought is that shortcuts aren’t usually a good idea in gardens.
One of the major pr0blems with today’s produce is that so much produce is engineered to grow quickly, that the minerals found in, for example, tomatoes, in 2013, are only about 50% of the minerals found in produce grown in 1940. In other words, we’re only getting 50% of the nutrient content.
Vegetables, greens and fruits get their nutrition from the soil and we get it from ingesting fruits and vegetables that are rich in mineral content. Growing produce the old-fashioned way is not as easy and as efficient as in some of the more contemporary approaches, but nutrient content is there–and that has value. Shortcuts, just as in so many areas of life, aren’t necessarily the best approach.
Thanksgiving is just a day or two away. I’ve oysters in the fridge–purchased from one of the Vendors at the Fredericksburg Farm Market, and I plan to make Fried Oyster Cakes, like my mother used to do each winter holiday. There is not much better winter eating than traditionally pan-fried oysters and greens.
Back to the seed catalogs. May all have a blessed Thanksgiving.
It’s been a tough week on the farm. A lot to do to prepare for what the Farmer’s Almanac predicts will be a tough winter. Beans are past ready to pick—the deer have nibbled the tops but don’t eat the beans, carrots need to be dug, and maybe I’ll get something from the Russian Fingerling potatoes planted, along with transplanting of Rosemary and other herbs to winter quarters, and harvesting the herbs—all needs to be done asap, along with some seed starting in the greenhouse. And I’ve been waiting on the local guy to build my portable coops—which has resulted in some juggling and moving of birds.
This wasn’t good. Last weekend, I ran a high fever and couldn’t do everything I needed to get done. On Monday night, a predator got into the old hen house. I lost some of the little babies and one of the almost ready-to-lay Barred Rocks. So all plans got upended. On Tuesday , I moved the flock to temporary quarters —the old dog kennel (rewiring it was one of my winter repair tasks). Nothing like moving a hundred birds in the dark by yourself, roosters included, though Spawn O’Satan, who if he attacks me one more time is likely to be renamed Coq au Vin, was left to fend for himself.
The flock have settled down, and actually have done a good job of clearing the grass in the old kennel. The local guy was replaced with another who is a fabulous carpenter and also grew up on a farm, so actually understands what he’s building.
To create efficiency—important for a one person labor team– I drew plans for custom designed 4×12 portable coops with 12 removable nest boxes, that have side access to nest boxes, wire floors (heavy predator-proof mesh) for easy cleaning—I’ll hose the coops out–and clear panel tops for light. They’ll hold about 50 mature birds and can be easily moved around. I looked at many plans and didn’t see anything quite like this, so plans are copyrighted and will be offered for sale online via the website.
Two coops will be ready on Saturday.
The old hen house is sturdy and will easily hold about 200 birds, so reinforcing that is next on the agenda, after getting the beans picked! The predator issue has been addressed (I think—but will be making sure) and the old main chicken house will be cleaned and given fresh straw on Saturday after market.
It’s been blessedly warm this past week but we have only a two week window until the frost date.
Lots to do, as always, and this week has made me think about the tendency of those who lack farm experience to romanticize the work.
Dealing with predators isn’t romantic. Nor is cleaning out old chicken houses, or bending over until one’s back hurts, picking beans, yet the urge to romanticize the farm has been around for centuries.
Marie Antoinette liked to go out and pretend to be a diary maid, riding around Versailles in a little cart, as part of a fashionable trend. 18th century French country landscapes show farmyard scenes as “enchanting,” and this portrayal of rural farm life was also popular in early modern landscapes.
Today we see this romanticism at every level: from quaint ceramic roosters, to the “farmhouse” look in furniture, a recurring trend in New York design, to the new food trends that emphasize Farm to Table.
Some of this is good—as in an emphasis on healthy food. But some of it means that people really don’t understand what it takes to get their food—and maybe they might not want to understand.
Anyway, back to work—there are beans to pick, and carrots to dig!