Welcome, Spring!

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!

Parsley!

Deep Freeze & the Goat in the Greenhouse

IMAG0006Bitter 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.

IMAG0009What a good feeling to be inside the greenhouse and feel the warmth of the sun, when all around is ice and snow.

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

The Turning Point

Scarlet Nantes Carrots dug from the garden, Winter Solstice, 2013

Carrots dug 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.

IMAG0152 (1)Purslane, valued for its high content level of alpha-linoleic acid (good replacement for fish oil) was identified as a great wild edible in one of the farm blogs in 2013.

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 !

Thanksgiving and the quiet time

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.

1462090_10200659777808302_2104652979_nRegarding 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.

Birds, beans, Indian Summer, and the not-so-bucolic farm life!

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.

John, Rooster of Many Colors

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.

Old Dog Kennel, temporary home of the flockDealing 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!

The joy of weeds, or an unexpected treasure in the garden

It’s September and the nights are cool and I’m as is typical in late August and early fall, behind on weeding—but the weeding has uncovered some treasures.  Growing all over the Redina bed (that leafy lettuce that’s been harvested for the shares these last two weeks) is a succulent that looks much like a jade plant.

This is a beautiful plant.  I potted some and it’s flourished inside, making a lovely houseplant.  And thanks to the Master Gardeners who are next door to me at the Market, I’ve identified the plant as Purslane. IMAG0152 (1)

Nature never ceases to surprise.  What everyone who worked for me would have gone, “another weed” and yanked is actually an ancient medicinal  plant, native to India and Persia.

Now a common “invasive” weed, Purslane was used to treat arthritis and inflammatory diseases, according to a page on Purslane by Prairie Land  Community Agriculture.

Purslane has high levels of alpha linolenic acid, or that type of Omega 3 fatty acid  that is found in fish oil.  But Purslane tastes much better than fish oil.  I  tried the cucumber/purslane/yogurt salad recipe found in Praireland and loved it.  What an amazing wild  edible and yet it’s considered another “weed” to be eliminated.

As for other farm news, I’ve been preoccupied with building infrastructure for the poultry—106 ten day old birds and 25 two day old birds sit in plastic  tubs in my kitchen under lamps.  Floyd is starting on their winterized mobile coop, and the new proposed FDA rules seem crazy—I can’t allow pastured  poultry to be exposed to wild birds.  Here is there about 8 acres of fenced pasture, and right now, the older birds free-range when I’m home to ensure  that they go in to roost safely.  The idea of covering all that with netting to meet National Organic Program safety standards is a bit much.   As for other  news, the Non-GMO Project Verified application is in and I’m waiting for next steps.

The garden is almost at the next phase where the beans planted at the beginning of August are just about ready to bear.  The deer sabotaged most of my beans this year so these are right next to the house which has helped.  Squash planted the same day also look beautiful and should bear in the next two weeks.  Carrots and cilantro planted in June are thriving and we’ll have another good crop of carrots on the way.  Much of the rest of the garden is winding down; tomatoes are slowing a lot, and I’m mowing and clearing and leaving sections of the garden fallow for the winter.

The basil has a blight, and I cut all the plants down but am starting fresh seed in the greenhouse.   The parsley is doing okay but not quite as well as last year, so fresh plants are being started also—the greenhouse will be used for herbs year round.

Time to get back to the garden.

Carrots and Turnips

I know that the CSA members may be thinking what to do with all the Golden Globe turnips that showed up these past weeks, and they may also be happy that the turnip harvest is done.   Only a few more carrots from spring but the carrots planted in June are well on their way.   Now the focus is on planting for winter (leafy greens and root crops) and weeding, weeding, weeding.

One mystery in the garden is why the heirloom Brandywine tomatoes are doing so poorly and the Romas–both variations–are thriving.   It doesn’t make sense but many have told me that their tomatoes did not do well this year.  That’s certainly true of many of my curcurbits, but I don’t understand why one type of tomato would thrive and the other not.

I did make the following dish and recommend it highly!   This is a variation on glazed carrots.

Ingredients

Scarlet Nantes Carrots, scraped, with one inch of green on top

Golden Globe turnips, diced into one inch section

Two or three Stuttgarter scallions, larger size, diced in rounds

3 tablespoons of honey (I used honey from Stratford Hall, purchased at the Old Town Butcher Shop)

1/2 teaspoon cumin (cumin is a relative of carrot)

salt/pepper to taste

butter or vegetable oil – two tablespoons, more if desired

1 handful fresh basil

Heat butter or oil in pan on medium high.  Place carrots lengthwise and let saute until slightly brown.  Add diced turnips and onions.  Add cumin.  When all are slightly browned, add 1/4 cup water and 3 tablespoons honey,   Turn heat to medium low and let the mixture reduce in the pan.  Add more cumin, salt/pepper, if desired.  When all vegetables are tender, toss in a handful of fresh basil.  Let the herbs’ leaves wilt a bit, then the vegetables are ready to serve. See the pics below.  This is wonderful with salmon.  The basil makes a wonderful combination with the honey.

As I’ve noted before, the Scarlet Nantes carrot, an heirloom, is smaller and softer than the carrots we find in the grocery store.  They’ve been prepped for storage.   Photos were taken in John’s kitchen, but this time I did the cooking. Notice how the carrots are prepped with the greens left on, about one inch.  This is a classic French approach.

IMAG0102 (1) IMAG0103IMAG0106

Happy Fourth of July!

Fourth of July, 2013, Terembry Farm

Happy Fourth of July, everyone! This is the first dry day in ages; it’s felt like Virginia was in the Amazon basin these last few days.  Yesterday it poured from 3 am until 2 pm.   It was a good day to work inside.

The gardens are growing, along with the weeds, and the 45 hens who have been in my kitchen are being moved out to the main chicken house, cordoned off in their own area.

I’m inside now, writing after a light lunch, but getting ready to go back out and work on weeding/restaking tomatoes/picking peas/planning for Saturday’s market day.

As with every spring and summer month on the farm, there’s a LOT to do.  When one bed gets cleaned up in the garden—I use 20×20 squares to organize,  planting on 3 foot centers, so everything is in linear feet and easily measured—there’s always another, as Mother Nature does not quit.   And then there is the mowing!   And checking on animals and fence lines.  Or cleaning poultry houses.  The work goes on and on.

Before farming became a non-majority occupation for the US, starting after WWII, an agrarian lifestyle was a norm, and everyone relied on the output of the garden for food to eat.

Sometimes gardens got messy, sometimes events intervened, machinery broke, or it rained for a week and work got disrupted, but that’s a norm.  It’s just what is, in a system where one depends on working with Mother Nature.

Speaking of Mother Nature, I want to acknowledge the day with some thoughts that are a bit more intense.  If anyone isn’t interested in deeper thought, stop reading here.

In Celebration of Our Independence Day

Here goes.  I am happy to have been born here in the US.  As an independent woman, I am glad I am not living in other regions of the world where to be both female and independent is not only an oxymoron, it’s dangerous.   Just read today’s headlines in the Washington Post—says it all.

Be glad we are here in America, where in our history, to quote a friend, we have never not responded positively to any group who has requested rights, albeit almost always with a brutal internal battle.  Consider the Civil War, and the abolitionist movement, first and foremost.  But also consider the Suffragettes who were jailed and beaten in the first part of the 20th century in an effort to get women freedom to vote, or the woman’s movement in the 60s (also  jailed in some cases), or today’s gay rights movement (amazingly non-violent in comparison to other events in our history).

Only here, in human history, has an effective system been put in place that not only attempts to protect rights, but also celebrates them.   We would not be here were it not for those founding fathers who got upset and changed the course of history,  and most especially without Thomas Jefferson’s  understanding of Enlightenment thought, which produced his famous Declaration that followed in the footsteps of Locke and Hobbes.

But America was born in contradictions and rooted in an agrarian system. Jefferson was a philosopher, a political activist, a revolutionary, and also a farmer.   Jefferson’s Farm Book shows the messiness of his life on a daily basis, and the process of a farm and the inherent contradiction of a labor system where individuals were not free.   Things got backed up.  He got late in payments.  Labor didn’t work out the way it should.   Weather caused issues and sometimes ruined crops.

My father, who was a really effective farmer and businessman, and good at what he did, was extremely critical of Jefferson, saying more than a few times that he was a  “bad businessman who died in debt” comparing Jefferson quite unfavorably to Washington, who was an excellent businessman.  All true.

Yet in looking back, Jefferson gave us so much more.   And, in the end of his life, the farm became his primary focus.

I have always thought that the intersection of natural law—something that Locke and Hobbes and Jefferson all wrote about as being the rational source and justification for a system that celebrates human freedom, and human freedom of thought—with the systems of a farm, which try to manage nature, that is, which allow nature to do her thing, to allow a seed to grow and mature, but within structures defined and managed by humans, provided inspiration for Jefferson’s writing and ideological leadership.

Farming, where one does one’s best to work with nature, and what Jefferson would have perceived as “natural law,”  was part and parcel of Jefferson’s daily life.

Historians routinely say his life was a series of contradictions.  So is farming.

It’s not easy, it’s sometimes off course.  Means can be limited, or weather interferes.  One has to pick up the baton and go out after the monsoon and manage what nature has kick-started—both weeds and plants.

But at the end of the day, or the season, there is ultimately something rewarding in watching tomato plants thrive when properly staked, or picking peas from a bed that’s been cleared of invasive lamb’s quarter—in watching nature do her thing.

I think Jefferson felt this and believe that it inspired what he did in his life, and I’m  grateful for the end result.

Happy Independence Day,  all.