The magical Indian Bean Tree

As is traditional, this Thanksgiving of 2016 I’ve been giving thanks, and I am most grateful for growing up rural on a working farm, and just as grateful for that happening in a time when farming wasn’t so industrialized that knowledge of the past wasn’t devalued or forgotten.  So often now, the  knowledge, especially the knowledge of nature that I saw used daily by my depression era parents, is considered “lost.” Happily, many individuals are working hard to bring it back and one of the areas where this occurs is with “native” plants.

One reason for the new interest in natives is that there’s a growing awareness that our pollinators are suffering from loss of habitat (not to mention all the poison used in modern “traditional” ag) — and that if we plant the right plants, i.e., natives, we can help re-create habitat that will aid pollinators and other beneficial insects.  And concern is merited. Pollinators are integral to plant growth–and agricultural effort.  We need our pollinators, our bees.  To this end, environmental studies are conducted, people are hired, and meticulous scientific inventories are conducted on parcels of land selected for study.  All of this is a good thing.

But selective effort isn’t enough–we need a widespread realization–and widespread shift–in how rural properties, both agricultural and residential, are managed.  Two key changes would have dramatic impact. One is abolishment of the use of synthetic pesticides. If we can get rid of the poisons that are routinely used in landscaping and in agriculture, the benefits would be rapid and dramatic. The other change that would help would be to change our addiction to mowing, to pristine golf-course style lawns and landscapes.

This past year I tried something on the farm.  I didn’t mow.  Not one bit, after bush hogging everything last November.  The result? When my reviewer came for the farm’s annual Certified Naturally Grown audit, I discovered that he had interned at the Smithsonian and was also working on his master’s in environmental science–and had certificates in permaculture.  He got out of his SUV and the first thing he mentioned was about the “bluestems.”  I didn’t quite know but quickly learned that native grasses–true natives–were all over the farm’s meadow areas.   There were others–and some I’ve learned about since.

The other thing that I’ve done was to abolish synthetic pesticides and herbicides. No Roundup.  Zero.  The only thing I’ve used has been hot pepper spray and in some cases, a vinegar and salt solution (the latter will kill anything).  And that’s been the case for 19 years.  And the results show, in pollinators, and in animal and plant life.  So often, I find a plant I can’t identify, like the one below.IMAG1734.jpg

During our walk around the farm that day in October, a bitterly windy day, at one point we looked up and saw a Monarch, struggling against the wind as it flew to a wild daisy plant, much loved by pollinators.  It was the last one I’ve seen this year–but amazingly, I’ve seen quite a few. Later, at the end of the visit, when I looked over the forms, I was happy to see a comment about “incredible diversity.”

My approach to farming, rooted somewhat in that depression era practicality that I was raised around, but also in a very modern awareness of the essential need to protect our biodiversity and to keep clean habitat–not just for animal life, but also for human health–has taught me to value the softer vistas of waving grasses, to check what’s emerging that might be something of value.

Out in the paddocks, where the goats and donkeys keep the grasses down and “controlled”, bluestems and other native grasses aren’t emerging as much in the other areas, but there have been these two strange 30 foot tall stalks with large leaves a foot across. I’ve been wondering what they were. Turns out that these are Cigar trees, or Indian Bean trees–an important Native American medicinal.  Another name for these are Catalpha Trees.  Native Americans used the seed pods for asthma and whooping cough–and the bark as a substitute for quinine.

Ten years ago, I would have cut those saplings down immediately.  Now, I wait to see what is emerging from nature.  Maybe that’s the most important lesson of all–that if we work with nature–rather than in reaction to, if we manage with an open mind to value, as to what is and isn’t a “weed”, rather than mowing everything down to a 1 inch swath or poisoning everything to eliminate anything not “planted”-our environment will do most of the work to restore itself.  And humans will benefit.

Can our communities, so focused on the ultimate mowed lawn, transition themselves to a place where nature is welcomed and not banned?  Hard to know, but if they could, wouldn’t that be wonderful.

Of course, yes, we need to manage the environment–but only where we need to do so. In addition to the Bean trees, this approach this year brought so much Saint John’s Wort, a highly valued medicinal that grows in meadows. Yet without some control, meadows and fields become forest, so this November/early December, fields will get bush-hogged, saplings–except for plants like the Indian Bean Trees–cut, and garden beds ready for cultivation. But all in moderation and all in intentional coordination with, and appreciation of, the power and cycles of nature.

There’s a full moon in the photo of the bean tree–the September Harvest moon of 2016. Seems fitting.

In memoriam

I like living out in a rural area, where every day I get to see the natural cycle of life, large and small.  Out here seasons matter—spring brings new grass for forage.  Fall means time to stock up. Winter brings snow and shoveling a path for the animals, or clearing the weight of the snow off their shelter.  Change occurs daily, sometimes hourly, when a new plant emerges or grass springs tall after rain, or seeds begin to show those first sprouts, or guinea eggs hatch new birds, or the swallow on the nest comes back for another cycle of sitting on eggs.

On the farm, life matters—but the other side is death. Death matters, too.

Nature isn’t kind and second chances don’t always happen.  A fox grabs a chicken who wanders off into high grass, or an owl carries off a keet who refuses to go into the chicken house for shelter at night.  A high wind comes through and tears down half of an ancient peach tree.  On some farms, those that produce meat, death is as routine as the white cloud of scattered feathers from butchering day.  But this place isn’t a meat farm; the poultry are kept for eggs and the goats—a collection of rescue goats—for grass mowing.  So when death happens, it usually isn’t planned.

The litter box reviews is the first group of rescue goats that came many years ago were Spanish goats, a heritage breed brought over by early settlers. Four goats came, a beautiful curled horn billy goat, and his small family.

We named the billy goat Apollo.

Apollo died today.

Apollo wasn’t a “pet” who came inside, but he has been part of my life for many years, always ready for a scratch, or in the early days, to give a shove. Every day, Apollo would come up, full of life and character and absolute joy. He gave my heart a lift whenever I saw him. He was always a character, pulling on my shirttail until I petted him or when younger, pushing me hard to start a game. His name Apollo fit his character to a t.IMG00417-20120721-1629.jpg

Until this past year, Apollo was the leader of the goats—the one in charge.  He moved the goats into the central pasture each night and they all followed him. He managed them and he managed them well.

But my personal name for him was “little man” – because he was always a gentleman, a darling, ready to give love and get it.

This year he’d gotten frail, moving slower and slower. He stopped being the leader. Several mornings recently when I went out to feed and water, Apollo was stretched out on the ground, and I was afraid he’d died.  But each time, he’d slowly lift his head and get up.

Today, when I came back from market to check on everyone, to feed and water before the storms hit, I found Apollo inside the run-in shed, against the wall, unable to get up.  I brought him water—he was thirsty– and sat with him. He drank, and I petted him.  He tried to get up but couldn’t and sank back down. I gave him more water and stayed with him for a while. He murmured to me the way he always has, but ever so softly.

It’s a bad sign when a goat or cow can’t get up.  When I went back to check after the high wind and rain had passed, I found him lying curled up out of the weather inside the shelter, head down as if asleep, as gentle in death as he had been joyful in life.

He was old. Goats live maybe 15 years and Apollo was past that. So I knew it was time.  But even though I knew, it’s still hard to believe that my little man has passed.

I will miss him.

Happy Mother’s Day from Teremby Farm & SimpleHerbals!

A medicinal herbal bouquet for mother’s day, using wild-crafted Goldcup & Gill over the Ground.

Goldcup has been used over the centuries in traditional poultices–it’s an acidic plant–and Gill over the Ground makes a tea that has traditionally been used for digestion. It has a lovely green flavor but is also  eaten as a healthy raw salad green.

Gill over the Ground was first used in beer, prior to the cultivation of hops, and an old English term for a measure of beer was “gill.”

Herbs wild-crafted from the farm are done so responsibly–and no sprays  or pesticides are used on anything here, either wild-crafted or cultivated.

Bouquets (along with a beautiful card explaining the herbs) will be available for Mother’s Day at our Sunday Farmer’s Market!

Goldcup and Gill over the Ground


The Rites of Spring are rather simple


Dime is a bit of a mystery. He’s our smallest rooster, but with the biggest attitude, and his tail feathers are over 2 feet long, easily gracing a Victorian lady’s hat.

He’s quite funny; when released from the coop, he literally flies several hundred feet to the main poultry area, and struts up and down checking out all the ladies.

Happy Spring, all.

Spring is around the corner~!

Guineas enjoying themselves on a sunny winter day.   These birds are such characters–they are also the guardians of the flock, alerting one and all if a hawk is soaring overhead, or if someone new and unknown is coming for a visit, making a racket you’ll never forget once you’ve heard it.

Blessings of the season

Today is the solstice. I’ve come in from feeding and watering (happy that it was warm enough not to require carrying water)  Thought this photo was a good one to celebrate the end of the solar year and the beginning of a new one , a good time to set intentions for the next year. May 2015 be a good year for all.

What Non GMO Project Certified Eggs means, and a thank you to those who buy my eggs

It’s been a tough summer. The hens here of laying age slowed down in July and have only just started back up.  That’s normal, but I wasn’t prepared for how much they slowed down! But thankfully, they’re laying again and the new group of pullets I’ve raised from day 1 are starting to lay, and the second new group will start in October! I’ve ordered more birds, that should start laying early next year—it takes 5-9 months for birds to mature to laying age.

A lot of you have told me that the eggs from Terembry Farm are the first farm eggs you’ve had that really taste different—and demand has really increased! So I wanted to note some aspects of our farm operation that may be different—even different from those who are currently saying they’re non –GMO (but without certification).

#1) The birds are raised here from 1 day old on certified non-GMO feed and they free-range on pasture that hasn’t had pesticides or herbicides or sludge (that’s a whole other issue) for 14 years.

#2) The birds get to free-range and they get a diverse diet—not just pasture. Chickens originated in the tropics; they flourish with a variety of plants and bugs to eat.

#3) Some time to live life. I know the trend is pastured broilers; raise them as chicks and kill them at 2 months. Maybe 3 months if they are lucky. That’s not my thing. The birds here will get a decent life for about 4 years, until they stop laying.

#4) Organic and non GMO grain is incredibly expensive. Each bird needs about ¼ pound per day. I use a high quality Non GMO Project certified grain that is also free of pesticides and herbicides.

#5) Gentle treatment. I grew up on a farm; watched my mother handle animals with ease and grace. They produced a lot under that kind of treatment. It’s the right thing to do.

Someone asked me why my eggs are different. I think it’s because of the reasons above, especially because I raise them from day 1. Some local farms buy 400 pullets just starting to lay and produce a ton of eggs that are “pastured” and “non-GMO”—because the birds have only recently been put on pasture. And it isn’t until they’re on that pasture that they are “non-GMO.” These practices are some of the reasons I made the decision to get certification.

Good treatment from day 1 means a lot.

Anyway, thanks to all of you out there who have been so patient—and thanks to you who have told me these eggs are the best you’ve had—that means I’m doing something right. And thanks, also, to all of you who have been so patient when I can’t meet demand.

Eggs are available for pre-order at North Stafford Farmer’s Market on Sundays, and also at the Frenchman’s Corner in Culpeper and Kickshaws Downtown Market in Fredericksburg..

Wild Blackberries ~!~

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.

Just picked wild blackberries

Summertime, and the Living is Easy

Chickens out and about

The chickens are enjoying the greenery and the warm temperatures, and 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.