Summer 2016

To make a long story short, summer 2016 was pretty darn awful.  But if you want the details

May was cold and dark and dreary.  Strong with the dark side.  Nothing much grew.  Silly me.  I didn’t plant sea weed.

June – Partly cold and partly hot.  Partly wet and partly droughty.  There’s now enough sunlight for greens, but summer things like beans, peppers and tomatoes just aren’t interested in life much.

July – Suddenly nothing but sun.  And heat.  And no rain.  And deer in the new hoophouse despite fencing.  And crows in the tomatoes.  Crows are desperate for tomatoes.  Not a ripe one to be found anywhere.  So the crows and the deer eat the green ones.  First ripe tomatoes of the season don’t show until July 9.

The following week I have to leave the farm.  My father is undergoing surgery for aortic aneurysm.  I hurriedly set up the garden irrigation on timers and head to Louisiana.  Shortly after I left, there was a failure in the irrigation controller to the garden in the reclaimed riding ring.  The new hoophouse doesn’t dry out enough to actually kill the tomatoes and the peppers, but nothing really grows much either.  And oh, yeah, that’s about the time the first serious heat of the year settled in.

When I returned from Louisiana, there’s nothing but a few dodgy beets and a wee bit of lettuce, a lot of jalapeno peppers.  And garlic that I had harvested in late May/early June and dried in the barn.  In a fit of despair, I went for a drive in the mountains of Nelson County and found myself at an orchard.  I bought a lot of peaches and some apples.  Peaches are scarce this year due to the late frost.  I managed to make a little money on reselling the fruit, but it would have been nice to make it on my own tomatoes instead.

So for the next three weeks, I played catch up.  Paperwork, pasture maintenance, bed prep for fall planting, cleaning garlic.  In the midst of this usual rigmarole, the tractor broke down at the top of the big field while I was bush hogging.  Every man I spoke to about this problem just assumed I had run out of fuel.  They didn’t believe, until they saw the fuel gauge for themselves, that, yes, there was a half tank of fuel.  It would have saved me a lot of aggravation if these gentlemen would have taken me at my word, “Plenty of fuel, but there’s a problem in the fuel line.”  I ended up using Youtube to diagnose the problem and the guy at the Kubota dealership was happy to supply a new fuel filter, printed diagram (that looked nothing like the engine in my tractor) and then provided instructions and tips for replacing said filter.  That’s all it took.  Thankfully.  I wasn’t looking forward to the bill to have the Kubota hauled to the dealership.

In addition to all the regular farm chores, I tried an experiment in fermented feed on my chickens.  That didn’t go over well.  Egg production dropped off drastically three days in.  Of course, by now it was mid August, past the solstice and chickens are prepping for winter.  The molting has begun.  Or maybe I introduced the fermented feed too quickly.

Ferment instructions:  Ultimately you will use ½ the feed you normally use, have to provide much less water.  The feed is fermented in containers appropriate to the amount of feed you are using.  (Plan on the volume of dry feed to triple in the fermentation process.  Place the feed in the container and keep covered with at least an inch of water. You want an anaerobic ferment.  No yeast.  No acetic acid.)  Ferment for 2 or 3 days and feed to your birds, saving a small of the ferment as a starter for your next batch.  I keep mine covered loosely with a lid.  Air temperature doesn’t seem to matter much as long as it is above freezing in the area where fermentation takes place.

Benefits: Cut your feed bill in half.  The fermented food contains probiotics and is predigested by the lacto bascillus in the ferment. (Occurs naturally.  No need to add an initial starter.)  Birds are able to get more nutrition from the feed.  They are healthier, have better plumage, lay more eggs, lay bigger eggs with larger yolks and stronger shells.  The flock requires less water, poops are firmer and less smelly.

Reality: While many farmers report smashing success with this practice, others have my experience.  Egg production went into immediate decline.  Of course, I went all in and probably should have introduced the ferment slowly.  It is also possible that it’s just that time of year for the molt to begin.  No time yet to go back and check records.

So here we are.  September Eve.  I’m just going to say it.  August was a shitty month.

The summer garden was a fail.  Worst growing season ever is what I’m hearing from other growers.  Hard to cover expenses with nothing to sell.

My dad’s health continued to deteriorate.  By the middle of the month, I knew time was short.  So I started shopping for a new van/delivery type vehicle.  My 18 year old Plymouth Grand Voyager made the trip from Virginia to Louisiana in July, but with 297,000 miles it had made it clear to me that it wasn’t up to another such adventure.  After two days of searching, I saw a picture of a minivan at the dealership in Farmville and that picture spoke clearly in my mind, “My name is Moira and I am the one you need.”  So I came home with Moira, a 2013 Town and Country Minivan on a Tuesday and the following morning came the call, “He’s in ICU.”

I left a few hours later, after buttoning up the farm as best I could for my husband and son to manage.  An hour and a half into my trip, my youngest son called to tell me he’d wrecked his car and was injured.  Several desperate phone calls later, the EMT’s and my neighbor were at his side and I am in a parking lot in Appomattox hyperventilating.  My dad is dying.  My son may be dying.  Which one do I pick?  How do I even make that decision?

My oldest son, the EMT, met the ambulance at the hospital. “He’s not dying.  Nothing is broken.  Go.”  And so I went.  Leaving my husband and kids to deal with this crisis on their own.

When I arrived in Louisiana, my father was in ICU to treat a raging infection of flesh eating bacteria stemming from poor care that resulted in a bedsore so bad it required surgery.  He was out of his mind.  (Or maybe not.)  Screaming, “Help me! Set me free!” Over and over again.  Honestly, I was horrified.  I treat my animals with more compassion than he had received.  I cried over him despite my nephew’s insistence that my dad didn’t need to see my tears.  I stayed with my dad, long after the family had gone home.  Long after visiting hours were over.  Telling him stories from my farm, about my new van, reminiscing about road trips we’d taken back in the 70’s.  My first RC Cola.  The first time we ever ate at an IHOP.  How cold the lakes were in Washington state.  How everyone accused me of cheating on the Louisiana history test because he taught the subject and I had scored higher than anyone ever had.   Camping on the Moselle River and him making toast in a cast iron skillet on a propane stove.  (You can make toast without a toaster? I’m convinced that’s where my willingness to step outside of the box came from.)  Funny, the things I remember.

He was a little better the next day, Friday.  On Saturday, my other nephew arrived.  He’s a highly competent ICU nurse who works at Standford in California.  He knew my dad was terminal, but how do you just let your grandfather die?  Because that was what my dad wanted.  I think I knew that when I left his beside in July.

I had been in his room in July, when the neurologist came in, poked, pinched, and prodded.  “The paralysis (from the waist down) is permanent.  This is common with aortic aneurysms.  You’ll need to start thinking about rehab and long term care.  Living at home will take a lot of rehab and special equipment.  Even then it may not be possible.”  No compassion.  Just “You’re screwed.”

My dad hadn’t been eating much since the fall on July 9th that brought him to the hospital.  And he pretty much quit eating altogether after that diagnosis.  Six weeks to starve himself to death.

On Sunday, we went to comfort care and moved him out of ICU and into a large room with unlimited visiting hours.  No more IV fluids, no more blood pressure or blood sugar medication.  We discussed the possibility of deactivating his pacemaker, but never had to go there.  On Monday, his mind was clear and he had some sense of time and some memory back.  The family spent the day gathered at his side.  He drank a coke and had some ice cream.  Then the family went home, I helped the nurses with the dressing change on his bed sore and turning him to a new position.  Then I got him another drink of coke, tucked him in, turned on a ball game and turned out the lights.  Nurses visits wore him out and he went to sleep immediately.  I settled into the couch to do some blogging while he slept.  It wasn’t long before I realized I could no longer hear him breathing.

The thing about living on a farm is you come to know what dead looks like. Chickens, ducks, rodents, ground hogs. I’ve buried a lot of dead things. I checked his pulse, felt for a breath by his nose and mouth, and put my ear to his chest even though the look of him was enough to tell the tale.  Then I got the nurse to confirm what I already knew.  Phone calls to the family.  Removing his oxygen tubes, turning off his high tech wound care bed that made so much noise, disconnecting his IV lines.  Making him presentable for my mom.

We met with the funeral director the next day and suddenly my dad was Major White again.  He was to be buried in an Air Force Blue coffin under and American flag with a bugler playing Taps and an honor guard firing three volleys.  My two oldest children arrived the next day.   My daughter was in time for the wake and my son arrived shortly afterwards.  Four hours of friends, most of whom I knew even though I haven’t lived in the area since 1981, coming to pay their respects to the man in the blue coffin.  The guy who didn’t look a bit like my dad. (So glad we had that time in the hospital to say our good byes to the man we recognized as my father.)  Funeral service the next day. In that weird sleep deprived way, I found myself wondering why do pastors have to read verses from the Bible.  I mean shouldn’t they have the ones for funerals and weddings memorized? And yep, I finally lost it when Taps sounded and the guns went off.

More days trying to straighten out my mom’s affairs and meeting with more old friends.  Then finally, after 12 days away, I was home.  When I left my farm, it had been lush and green, rippling with new grass.  When I returned, it was brown, crispy and sad.  Summer and drought made a last assault when I wasn’t looking.  My youngest son was treated and released after his accident and he has only a few scabs and a sore wrist to show for his adventure.  And no car.  He totaled his Honda Accord and is now driving George, my old mini van: egg-mobile, mom-mobile, nothing sexy about it, peeling paint, cracked windshield and marginal air conditioning.  Sucks to be him.  But then he’s also very lucky.  The engine from his Honda was in the passenger seat after the crash.

And now, I try to salvage a fall growing season.  Rumor is fall will be warm and long and dry, punctuated with a series of tropical systems interrupting the work from time to time.

September is going to be better. It has to be.

5.8.2016 Screech . . . Thud. Buzz, Buzz, Buzz

Late last night, after the baby’s 18th birthday party dishes were done, the guests had gone home and most of the family had gone to bed, I went out to the porch to unwind for a few minutes.  I hadn’t been there long when I heard a screech of tires followed by a thud.  The Deatonville curve strikes again.

My 18 year old baby, now all grown up, Eric was still awake and jumped out of bed when I asked him to go with me to see if we could help.  It didn’t take us long to find the accident.  A young mother had missed the curve and had driven off the road, went airborne through some young trees and landed on the driver’s side, wedged under the front porch roof of an old abandoned house close the road.  The engine was still running, the doors were bent shut and the windshield was cracked but not shattered where she likely hit it with her head.  She was awake, hyperventilating, and talking hysterically on her cell phone while her infant son sat wailing in the front seat next to her.  The child had been in a car seat in the back of the sedan, but she had been able to free him and bring him forward into the front seat.

I phoned in the accident while Eric talked to her and tried to pry open the doors.  Then I left Eric with her and went banging on the neighbor’s house.  The neighbor is a former deputy sheriff and I figured he would have a crow bar, not to mention, experience in dealing with car crashes.  Out here, you’re 30 minutes to an hour away from help, depending on whether the volunteer fire and rescue personnel are hanging out at the station or are at home and have to go to the station when the emergency calls come in.  The county deputies can be close by or an hour away.  I felt we needed to at least get a door open and have a look at the passengers to see if there was any bleeding that needed to be controlled until help arrived.  But my neighbor wasn’t home, so I went back to the crash site.  Eric was still talking to the woman, who wasn’t listening to him at all and who was still hyperventilating and still talking on her cell phone and the baby was still crying.

Once he knew we were going to have to wait on rescue vehicles, my son began prying with his fingers, working with the dented passenger side door until finally it popped free and we had our first look at the baby.  He seemed totally unscathed, thankfully.  That was precisely when the woman’s grandparents showed up.  We handed the baby and the woman’s cell phone to grandma and then Eric and grandpa pulled the young mother from the car.  County deputies and the Company No. 5 from Paineville Fire and Rescue arrived shortly after that, followed by more deputies, Company No. 3 from Jetersville and an ambulance.  More grandparents and parents arrived.  And for a while, the sleepy Deatonville crossroads were abuzz with activity and renewals of old friendships.  All that was missing from the reunion was potato salad and deviled eggs.

The firefighters went to high school with the woman pulled from the car.  The grandparents insisted they knew me from somewhere even though they’ve lived here all their lives and I’m just a six year resident refugee from another county.  The firefighters recognized Eric and me as being related to my oldest son Brian, with whom they work and whom they pulled from a similar crash a couple of years ago.  It’s a small community.  “We all related.”  Somehow.

After a long while, the woman and her baby were loaded up in the ambulance and driven off to the same hospital in Richmond that took such excellent care of Brian when he crashed his car.  After the ambulance was gone, my car was no longer pinned in and we drove slowly off, weaving our way through all the big fire trucks and police cars.

I have to admit, there’s a certain rush from such a situation.  Someone is in danger and you can help get them out.  Mighty powerful juju.  Having felt it myself, I asked Eric if he was interested in volunteering with the Fire Department.  He said he was thinking about it.  He’s a legal driver now and can answer the calls at all hours of the night.

And just like that, another Simoni son pins on a superhero cape.  Wow!

When we got back to the farm, Ophelia was having a panic attack from all the hulabaloo, which all went down about 300 yards from here.  I went down to the barn and spent some time with the horses.  Eventually all the emergency vehicles left and a tow truck came and pulled the car from the nest it had made in the trees.  The old house still stands sentinel beside the road, minus its front porch and the Deatonville crossroads are quiet once more.

Took a long time to get to sleep.

But this morning, I had to retrieve my hived swarm from my neighbor’s house.  I got it home without incident and had intended on combining it with the split I made a few weeks ago.  But when I opened up the split to see how they were doing, there were plenty of bees, nectar and pollen coming in and most importantly, capped and uncapped larvae.  That means there was an active queen in the split hive.  Over in the old hive, the bees were happily working away, filling the honey super.  Another active queen.  So that meant I could set my swarm up as a totally new hive.  One has become three!  When I made that split a couple of weeks ago, my timing was accidentally impeccable.  There were swarm cells everywhere and queens enough to go around.

I am officially exhausted.  I have a nasty case of the creeping crud.  Once the bees were settled, I was determined to consume mass quantities of orange juice, put on a pot of “cures what ails you” and just generally take the day off and rest.  Too much excitement this week.  But it’s all good.

5.3.2016 Birds, Bees and a Horse’s Butt

Lately, Tuesdays have been the Thursdays of my life.

Last Tuesday, we had the vet out to give one of the horses a once over. Sadie has been coughing for months, and we’ve tried many things to alter her stall environment. We thought we had turned the corner with her. The coughing had eased up quite a bit, her vitals were good, energy levels normal. Then she started heaving when she ate. Her owner took her out for the normal Sunday ride and they barely made it back. The horse just flat ran out of energy. When she exhaled, you could see the “push” coming from the back of the belly. All very abnormal.

So the vet came out, said the horse has developed a whole new set of muscles from all the coughing, did some blood work and pronounced a diagnosis of . . . allergies. Then it rained. (After a very dry April.) She seems totally fine now. No medication. Just rain.

Any vet visit, no matter how minor or routine, really messes with the routine.

Well today, Tuesday, I was on the porch having my morning constitutional when my husband called and asked me to meet him at the auto repair shop. His car was having issues with “frogs.” I couldn’t really afford to lose an hour of work time today, but luckily I now have a Plan B. My youngest is finally legal to drive solo. So I sent him off to rescue his dad, who would drop him off at school and take the boy’s car to work.

After the morning chores were done, it was off to town for feed and bedding. The local horse vets are sending out alerts on social media about the sudden shift from very dry to very wet causing lots of cases of foot rot. So yeah, bedding. Get all four horses in the stalls, give their feet a chance to dry out, and hopefully avoid that bit of nastiness.

As soon as I had all that stuff off loaded, I hauled out my clarinet and practiced for an hour for tonight’s concert. I don’t normally practice at all because I’m a decent musician. I can sight read most of the stuff I’m asked to play. But there was a passage in Porgy and Bess that’s bothered me for years and I was determined to play it and not fake it tonight.

That done, I had to spend a couple of hours online trying to straighten out a credit card mess – not of my making.

The husbands’s car is done. Mechanic says he can’t find the frogs. Text the son. Tell him I’ll pick him up from school and he can drive the Jetta home. Son doesn’t get the text. Rides the bus home. I pay the mechanic and pick up the Jetta key. Come home to wait for the son.

While waiting, I have a few minutes. I mow a path around the house so I don’t have to wade through tall, wet grass in the morning. Not enough time to do the whole yard.

Go to collect eggs and prep the stalls for the horses. As I am coming out of the coop, I hear the buzzing of bees – though my headphones. There’s a swarm in the cedar tree next to the coop. Judging from the agitation around my old hive, that’s where the swarm came from. It’s low down on the tree. I can reach it without a ladder.

Son is home. Called him down to the barn to prep the stalls while I get a hive box together and drop the swarm inside. It starts to rain. I’m out of time. I must leave if I am to make my concert. I leave the bees to finish finding their way into their new home, trusting the rain will chill them and drive them into the hive and darkness will come before they can get all warmed up again. My son helps put up the horses who are not entirely sure I am who I say I am because I’m wearing the bee suit.

Wipe off the sweat. Change clothes. Grab the clarinet and head to town. Drop off the son so he can get his dad’s car home. Very shortly thereafter I am stuck in a traffic jam. Eliminates any chance to grab a bite to eat on the way. Running out of time. Find an alternate route. Arrive on time. Nail Porgy and Bess and all the rest (well, nearly all – which is why I’m not a soloist in that band.) Head home.

Bees are right where I left them. Block up the opening. Secure the whole hive with ratchet straps and drive it to a neighbor’s house. I’ll bring them back this weekend and if my two-week old split hasn’t made a queen yet, I’ll use the swarm and its queen to bolster the split. If the split had a queen cell when I moved it, then she’s probably hatched out, gone on her mating flight and is back to work. I am starting to see some activity outside the split. If that is the case, then I will have three hives. Still can’t believe I got lucky enough to see the swarm and it was in a place I could reach it easily.

So yeah, that was my day. This comes on the heels of Monday where I had to rebuild a section of fencing that my horse, Ophelia, decided to use as a butt scratching post.

And then there’s the duck.  I have one duck and two drakes.  The duck has made a total of one egg in her entire life.  Last summer, she went broody and spent  many long days trying to hatch a potato.  Two weeks ago, she went broody again.  So when a fellow vendor was passing out free guinea eggs, I brought home a dozen thinking a duck could brood guinea eggs.  Well, let me tell you, that duck took one look at her nest all full of eggs and told me, “That’s not in my job description.  Do I look like a guinea to you?”  By the end of the next day, the duck hadn’t changed her mind, and something came and took every single egg.  I’m guessing the crow mafia.  Those crows owe me big time.

Not a whole lot of market farming going on so far this week.

So What Happened to April?

I knew I hadn’t blogged in a while.  But a month and a half?  How did that happen?

Well, I’ll tell you how.  In mid-March, I started the Whole-30 diet.  30 days, no sugar, no dairy, no grains, no legumes. It’s Paleo with a vengeance. I didn’t make the whole 30 days.  I lasted 21.  But in those three weeks I learned a lot.

  1. Eating this way totally stopped my habit of crying profusely while cutting onions.
  2. Eating this way reduced early stage arthritis swelling and inflammation over all.
  3. It is possible to get through the day without soda, but water and komboucha get really old after a while.
  4. It is possible to live without bread, and plantains make a reasonable facsimile and a really good sandwich. But bread is easier and smells divine.
  5. Potatoes and tomatoes make me bloated, gassy and make my hands go numb. I’ve suspected nightshades for a couple of years, but have never been disciplined enough to really pin them down.
  6. Protein is expensive when you start eating it three times a day, even when you collect eggs in your backyard.
  7. I am not wired to eat breakfast.
  8. It is just not possible for me to want to eat enough meat, vegetables, fruits and nuts to get enough calories and enough salt to maintain reasonable energy levels.
  9. Even my son the carnivore yearned for veggie nights.

It was the salt and lack of calories that broke the diet.  For three weeks I had no energy.  I couldn’t get anything done. Brain fog. The weather during those three weeks was really cold and windy and the farm work got put on hold anyway.  But as soon as the weather broke and warmed up, I was now three weeks behind and in desperate need of salt.  And calories.  Bread and soda have resumed their place in my daily constitutionals and energy levels are way up.  I’m still three weeks behind in planting, and I’ve stopped starting new things in the seed room, until I can cut that down to two weeks.

Though the weather has warmed up, the soil is still cool.  Good for greens.  Not so good for tomatoes.  We had a late hard freeze, like 20 degrees hard freeze, that took all the early hoop house tomatoes, despite several layers of protection.  The freeze also killed the fruit set on the plums.  Pears are iffy, but the peaches are making a go of it and the apples bloomed late and should be fine.  Blackberries, cultivated and wild, are looking very happy.

On our first really hot day, which came after a spate of really cold days, I put on my bee suit and prepared to do the first inspection of the year.  My plan was to lay on a honey super on my one surviving hive, and possibly make a split if the colony was booming.  It was, but it was also covered in ants.  And by the time I got out to the bee yard, I’d been in my suit in the barn (aka the Toaster) for two hours.  When I finally lifted the lid on the hive, I was in first stage heat stroke and not thinking very clearly.  So I sprinkled lots of cinnamon to repel the ants, took one of the three medium supers off to make a second hive, replaced the super I took off with an empty, plus I added queen excluder and a honey super to the old hive.  I did not check the frames for swarm cells, or newly laid eggs.  I didn’t find the queen.  I just moved boxes trusting the bees to work it out.  Then I found myself some shade, drank a lot of water and slept the rest of the day.  Just not adapted to work in the heat yet.

The new hive was very quiet for two weeks.  But now I’m beginning to see foragers coming and going.  I should probably feed them to tide them over until they build themselves up.  And I really should check and see if they are even trying. Just add that to a very long to do list.

Add in rehearsals and several concerts, family demands and life in general and that’s how one loses an entire month.

3.20.2016 Miracles

A breath of winter is blowing over my newly greened pastures.  Forecasts have been flirting with the idea of freezing temperatures and frozen precipitation.  The last winter storm of 2016.  It’s enough of a worry that I held back planting this week.  Which means I’m now a week behind and flats of starts are beginning to back up in the seed room.  But weather forecasters and their models have now decided the storm will happen further north and maybe, just maybe, my little farm will be spared a killing frost. And that will be a good thing.  Almost of all of the peaches and plums are in bloom.  Keeping our fingers crossed on that one.

Going out in gloves and coat this morning, sort of discouraging.  The usual Sunday dust off of the horses was limited to running a tape around them.  All four horses have gained so much weight this last week as the grass came in.  I’ve been cutting back on hay mostly because they aren’t eating it much anymore.  But I really didn’t think there was enough grass in that over-grazed pasture for them to put on 50+ pounds each in a week.

So muzzles all around.  Ponies are not happy.  They begged all day to be let out of their ridiculous face masks.  But, if I’m on a diet, they’re on a diet.  And I’m on a diet.  The Whole30 plan.  Lots of meat and eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.  No sugar, grains, legumes, dairy or alcohol.  Miracle of miracles – I’ve gone 6 days without a Coca-Cola.  I haven’t killed a single soul.

And now, I’ve just finished the evening feed.  The horses were cranky and anxious.  I suspect it’s the day spent in muzzles, hopefully not a weather event.  On the way back from the chicken coop, we found a duck egg.  I have one female duck, who to my knowledge, has never, ever laid an egg.  For the last six months or so, she’s been carrying around a softball sized pooch between her legs.  One neighbor asked, “Is she pregnant?”  (That question applied to poultry just always makes me giggle.)  Another neighbor insists she’s got a hernia.  I figured the winter would finish her off.  But no.  She waddles about the farm, some days slower than other, but generally keeping up with her two guys. Maybe she’s not a real Khaki Campbell and is instead some strange marsupial cross.  Who knows?  Anyway today, she laid an egg.  Not an Easter Egg, but a Palm Sunday Egg.  That’s pretty darn special.

 

3.13.2016 Farmer’s Day Out

On Tuesday of this week, I had a girl’s day out.  I met my fellow farmers at Heaven’s Edge Farm and we spent the morning processing extra roosters.  Butchering chickens is not a frequent thing in my life for a multitude of reasons.  Probably less than 100 in my life and it always takes me a while to find something approaching a rhythm, to remember where the knife goes and what all the parts are.  But doing an unpleasant job with pleasant friends certainly made the chore less spiritually bruising.  Not necessarily any faster. At any rate, I now have five roos in the freezer and two spares down in the bachelor bunker waiting for my pullets to grow up.  (They’re 9 weeks old already.)

Strangely, my roos had the toughest, thickest skin I’ve ever seen in a chicken.  Like slicing through a football.  None of the other farmer’s chickens with skin like that.  Must be the genetics of the roo that fathered all those boys. He’s a Copper Marans. I guess I need to read up on their genetics.

On Wednesday, my first batch of compost tea was ready and I loaded it up in my tow behind sprayer and hooked that up to my riding lawn mower (which had maintenance issues – new battery and a flat tire.)  Only after I was rigged and ready did I discover the sprayer had its own set of maintenance issues.  It seems I did not get it totally dried out before storing it for the winter.  Water had frozen in the trigger mechanism of the spray handle and cracked the plastic housing wide open.

I tried swapping out the part with bits and pieces off other sprayers, but none would fit.  So off to town to find a reasonable facsimile.  Over an hour later I had a workable but leaky sprayer.  Off to the orchards to spray the trees on the theory I will be coating the trees in good bacteria and fungi, thus keeping the bad bacteria and fungi no room to colonize my trees.  One spray down.  Three more to go.  I hope it works.  The Satsuma plum burst into full flower the day after I sprayed, filling the air with the most incredible aroma.  (Bees are loving it.)  That tree will be loaded this year providing we don’t get any more frosts.

There’s a blush of green on the pastures now.  The ground has firmed up.  No more boot sucking mud.  I’ve traded in sweat pants for scrubs and after morning chores, the jacket gets left on the porch.  All of the trees look like they are going to in bloom at the same time.  One more week and this farm will look like something out of Middle Earth.

3.7.2016 Winter Losses

On March 3rd, winter snuck back in when it wasn’t really expected.  Forecast low that night was 29.  It went down to 20.  That hive I was worried about last week just couldn’t take it.  I found them all frozen in a tiny little ball, with capped brood and plenty of food.  They were so close to making it.  But no.  So I am now down to one hive.  Which is one hive more than I had this time last year.  100% improvement, if I want to put a positive spin on it.

I will give them about three weeks and then try to take a split.  An heir and a spare.  Insurance.  Whatever.  I am not much of a beekeeper.  More of a bee mortician.

My son got sick this week too.  When he rattled off his symptoms, I decided he needed some ginger, garlic, apples and orange food, because you know food is medicine and medicine is food.  A quick web search yielded this soup.  I share it with you, not only because it was really good, but because my son ate a bowl of this stuff, went to bed and awoke the day cured.

Sweet Potato, Carrot, Apple and Red Lentil Soup

2.29.2016 Narrow Escapes

So if winter is over, it must be spring, right?  You know the old saying, March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.  Well, on my farm, March comes in like a lion and so does April.  This year, March began on February 24.  A powerful storm front rolled over the east coast.  On the leading edge there were scary storms.  Around 4:00 on Wednesday afternoon, my phone started going crazy with tornado warnings.  I was monitoring the radar and the radar did look very scary.  Reports were coming in of tornadoes all around the farm.  But on our farm, nothing.  The winds were suspiciously calm and the rain, light to non-existent.  Once again, the Staff of Moses which is apparently buried up at the cemetery, parted the weather and sent the fury of the storms elsewhere.  I am grateful.

Several nearby communities weren’t so lucky.  I have pictures from Appomattox, but I won’t share them.  A man died in that devastation.  Three others died east of here.  It was a bad day in Virginia.

I blame myself.  My husband called and told me his coworkers were wigging out about the forecast.  I replied, “It’s spring weather.  It is what it is.  No big deal.”  And thus I taunted the weather gods.  Something I am normally careful not to do.  So to Virginia, I am sorry.

Then came the wind.  Like a hammer on the west side of the house.  For a couple of days.  Not even The Staff could protect us from those.  The only damage though was a bird feeder blown off its hook and two cracks in my windshield from bungee cord hooks holding down the tarp that keeps water out of the minivan when it rains.  Both of my hoophouses just rolled with the flow.

On the farm this week, it was mostly about mud.  We got over 5 inches of precipitation in February and the pasture in which the horses are wintering has become a bog.  A boot sucking bog.  The horses made it clear they’ve eaten everything and they think they are starving.  Not true.  There’s still grass out there, but apparently not the good kind. Although it’s enough for horses to maintain their weight, I did start tossing out an entire bale every morning, partly to give the horses something to eat and partly to cover up the bare spots.

Pony has figured out how to get under the electric fence and into the big field.  The first day she did this, she was felt so superior that she challenged my authority to put her on a lead and take her back to the barn for the night.  We had a really nasty fight, with her on her hind legs striking out at me.  She had no footing.  I had no footing.  The ground was mush.  Very dangerous for both of us.  The fight ended in a panting and staring contest.  She blinked first.  After that she went quietly to the round pen for the night.  Now I don’t go near Pony unless I have my lunge whip.  I don’t lead her forward unless I first back her up.

I really need to take a day and spend about an hour in the round pen with each of the horses moving them on a line – backward, forward, left and right – refreshing their manners. 700 pound Pony doesn’t seem so small when she’s vertical and having a bout of short man complex.  This behavior from her comes and goes, so I suspect it’s hormonal.  Still, no excuse for violence.

But I haven’t got the time.  I did manage to prune the grapes this week.  The fruit trees, the black berry patch not so much.  I moved the chicks from the hoophouse to the coop because they were damaging the plastic and weren’t staying in their enclosure.  But they can’t stay there for long.  The coop isn’t designed for 50 birds.  I need to repair two chicken tractors or build something new to house them.  Spring bed renovation and planting is beginning.  Taxes still need doing.  Grow plan not done.  So much to do.

2.20.2016 The Spell is Broken

After a frigid week, winter threw another tantrum. Monday brought snow, sleet and freezing rain. Not exactly duck weather. I didn’t even bother letting ducks and chickens out. I put blankets on Ophelia and Sadie before turning them out. Cookie and Pony, who have thicker coats and are used to the foul weather of Blacksburg, went out naked. And that’s when things got interesting.

Sadie, so proud of her pretty green coat, started wagging her head and prancing about Cookie and Pony. She was just so certain her emerald green robe entitled her to some respect from the rest of her herd. Cookie didn’t even bother giving her the stink eye. She just put her head down and started searching for something to eat. The grass in the winter pasture is nearly gone and the person in charge of doling out hay rations is sooooo parsimonious. Cookie is always starving to hear her tell. Ophelia too. Liars, the both of them.

So Sadie focused her imperial presence on Pony. Head wags. Tail lifted with pride. Prancing in that awkward way only a gaited horse can prance. Pony? Pony had a roll in the snow. “Only sissies wear coats.”

Sadie tries so hard, bless her heart, and remains pond scum.

A little later in the morning, the crow mafia stopped by the duck house to snag a little to extort a little breakfast. Happens nearly every day. Crows clean up what the ducks leave behind. It’s protection money. I leave them some yummies and they harass the hawks. But the ducks were still in residence and not happy about it either. There was a long conversation between the ducks and the crows. Pretty sure the crows were trying to sell a magic feather to the ducks.

The crows didn’t get their protection money until the next morning. The ducks never got their magic feather. Instead they got duck weather.

As soon as I stepped outside Tuesday morning, I felt it. The cold was losing its grip. Frozen precipitation had gone over to rain. Winds were coming up out of the south and fog oozed over the icy ground. Where I had walked the day the before, the rain had already washed away my footprints and bare grass shone through to mark my path. The snow remaining on the ground was all slush. And just to make sure everyone could read the signs clearly, the horses started blowing out their coats and a flock of robins stopped by and set all the crows and the resident mockingbird in a tizzy.

In the chill Tuesday mist, I was transported back to my childhood and the Chronicles of Narnia.  I read those books to tatters.  This magical morning was just like the chapter in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, where the snow turns to slush, the streams babble wildly, the fir trees shake off their snowy blankets, birds chitter with excitement and the White Witch have to go on foot because her sleigh is bogged down in the mud. Her power is broken. Winter is over.

Sadie did not get the memo. She really didn’t want to leave the barn without her pretty green coat, because, you know, there was still snow on the ground and thus a chance she could convince Pony that a Sadie in a green coat was more worthy of respect than a Pony with no coat at all.

Odds and Ends

The bees gave me a scare. There were a lot of dead bees on the doorstep of one hive and I thought perhaps, I’d lost a hive to the bitter cold. However, today, it finally warmed up and both hives were out in force. Late February, and I still have two hives. Amazing!

I broke down and called the plumbers to fix the hydrant down at the barn. It’s been leaking for some time and has defied all our attempts at repair. According to the pros the reason for that is it was irreparable. So it got replaced. The hose bib at the back of the house got unclogged – a new one for the plumbers. And they assured me the moisture underneath the house was just creep from the surrounding soil and nothing was leaking under the house.

My 2016 farm accounting books are up to date, but I still have some columns to total in the 2015 books. That’s on the list this coming week, along with the pruning of the apples, pears and grapes.

The last of the winter lettuce came out of the hoophouse this week. I’ll be replanting with something other than lettuce, hoping to break the cycle of aphids. I have some spinach and onion starts ready to go. Lettuce starts and fava beans will go somewhere else. I just haven’t decided where yet. February is nearly over and I’ve not yet done a grow plan. Fail to plan; plan to fail. That’s what they say. They also say no plan survives first contact with the enemy. What do they know, anyway?

2.13.2015 Just Cold

It’s cold. Really cold. We cancelled market today because temperatures never got above freezing and the winds were howling. Customers don’t come out in weather like that. To stand out in that kind of weather is just painful. Instead, we worked in the barn today, revamping Ophelia’s stall like I did last week with Sadie’s. The first week of Sadie’s stall makeover has been interesting.  The ammonia odor seems to be under control and I’m moving a lot less bedding out every day.  I did move two yards of frozen rock dust into the barn today and my legs are like Jello. I am very thankful for the help of my husband and son and I am looking forward to a few days of minimal work to let the body heal. The good news is I got the stall renovation done with a day to spare. Word is on Monday we’re going to get slimed by snow, sleet, freezing rain and rain. After that, temperatures are supposed to return to normal Virginia winter, with highs in the 50’s and lows in the 30’s. Balmy.

The chicks seem to be happy in the hoophouse. Still moving as a herd, but the sunlight has made them much more talkative.

The chicks seem to be happy in the hoophouse. Still moving as a herd, but the sunlight has made them much more chatty.

Did I mention it’s been a long, cold, windy week? The chicks got moved out of the coop and away from their heat lamp. They are now managing quite nicely out in one third of the new hoophouse. They’re five weeks old and are fully feathered. Even though it drops into the 20’s at night inside the hoophouse, the soil is warm and the straw bedding is deep. They huddle together at night and are squealing for breakfast at daybreak. It took them a couple of days to figure out hot oatmeal. But they are hungry little buggers and eat a lot.

I've never used roofing felt before. Weird stuff, but relatively easy to work with. Cut to size. Staple in place and make sure the bees can get in and out. Easy if the wind is not blowing. Moderately challenging if it is.

I’ve never used roofing felt before. Weird stuff, but relatively easy to work with. Cut to size. Staple in place and make sure the bees can get in and out. Easy if the wind is not blowing. Moderately challenging if it is.

I wrapped the beehives in roofing felt this week. Never done that before. Last year, my bees froze to death in January. I got two new hives in the spring and as of a week ago, they were still alive. So I wrapped the hives to help them through this bit of nastiness. I hope I don’t kill them. I have a great record of losing bees over the winter. I’ve read that wrapping them increases the humidity in the hives and it was just too cold to open the hives to add spacers for ventilation. Always something new to learn keeping bees.

Notice how I cleverly zip tied a tarp to the round pen? Lots of zip ties, because, you know, free flying tarps are dragons as far as horses are concerned.

Notice how I cleverly zip tied a tarp to the round pen? Lots of zip ties, because, you know, free flying tarps are dragons as far as horses are concerned.

Then there were the wind breaks for the roos and the horses in the round pen. I hate wind.

Odds and ends:

Salt cured egg yolks. I mentioned these a couple of weeks ago. Easy to do. Just bury an egg yolk in salt and wait a week or two. Then chip away the salt and grate the yolk over pasta or salad as you would Parmesan cheese. It’s like grating salt on your food. Not worth the trouble in our opinion.

This yolk had about 2 weeks in the salt. I knocked off the salt shell with the butt end of a butter knife. It grates easily on a regular kitchen grater. It just doesn't add much of anything to a dish, unless you need some extra salt.

This yolk had about 2 weeks in the salt. I knocked off the salt shell with the butt end of a butter knife. It grates easily on a regular kitchen grater. It just doesn’t add much of anything to a dish, unless you need some extra salt.

Enchiladas: I made chicken enchiladas this week and I used store bought, canned sauce. It was good. My peeps liked it a lot, but I am not thrilled by the ingredients listed on the side of the can. So now I am on a quest to learn more about green enchilada sauce. Apparently you can make it with peppers or a combination of tomatillos and peppers. That’s tomorrow’s project.

That and trying to recreate the most amazing bread we’ve had in ages. I didn’t bake it. Sub Rosa Bakery in Richmond, Virginia did. It’s called Polenta bread and it is made with Turkey Red Wheat and Bloody Butcher corn. Bread Nirvana! It’s got a tinge of sourdough to it and yeast is not listed as an ingredient so I suspect it’s made with a starter dough of some sort. I am not fond of sourdough starters. They’re pets and require regular care and feeding – fine if you’re running a bakery, annoying if you’re not. But hey, I just happen to have some Bloody Butcher corn dried and ready for grinding. Do I cook it like polenta or add it to the dough straight up?

I’ll probably just end up doing laundry and resting the legs and save the creative cooking for Monday, when the sliming begins.