Friday, September 29, 2006

Geese, goose, fox, bluebirds and a party of peafowl

This week, instead of some stories about goings on at the farm I thought I might give you several pictures. Pictures of things that have stuck in my mind this week.

The first one I saw on the way out to the mountains to get apples. It was in the front yard of an old country house, the type known as a saltbox, but it might as well have been one of those three story townhouses on Swann Street in DC. You know, with the little ten by ten front yards.
Or it could be one of those new upscale housing projects out in Haymarket, or Gainesville or Leesburg, Virginia.

It could be right next door.

Imagine your next door neighbor sitting out on her front lawn. She's surrounded by her pets.

Two kittens running around in circles chasing a butterfly.

Her dog, a golden lab, by her side. She's scratching him behind his ear.

And behind her, she's leaning up against her other pet. Is a three hundred pound hog.


A three hundred pound pot bellied pig. Huge, dark and obviously enjoying nestling with its human.

Then there was the picture I saw last week. I was picking bell peppers in front of the house when I looked up. And there, running around and around and around in circles. Each one a little smaller than the last is a goose. A goose being chased by our peacock. (to appreciate this you have to know our peacock. He only thinks about one thing and it isn't just peafowl that excites him so).

Anyway, my first thought is: The fence is down around the goose pasture. The geese are loose.

However this goose, a beautiful, well cared for, large, brown, Chinese goose, seeing me, came running over and eagerly, allowed, really, wanted me to pick her up.

In other words, she wasn't one of my semi-wild weeder geese. This was someone's pet.

Had she wandered from her home? Maybe one of those new McEstates up on the ridge. Or maybe someone had grown tired of her and drove down our road and like an unwanted kitten, dropped her off at a farm, our farm.

I picked her up and gently petting her, carried her up the hill and put her inside the protective electric fence where our pack of wild weed eaters eat the weeds growing up in our asparagus patch.

And, I have several more pictures, including the fox that attempted to eat the large, brown Chinese, pet goose.

The fox!

Saturday morning I walk up the hill to check on the geese. Particularly, the new addition. The Pet.

As I approached I saw something was wrong.

The fence was down and caught in the wire was a fox.

A large red fox.

It had apparently attempted to sneak through the electrified netting.

Only it didn't make it. Instead of turning around after experiencing the first sharp shock, it kept on (after all, a predator is rumored to be able to suffer a little pain). It ignored the first shock and probably the next, no doubt determined on having a fine goose dinner.

As it struggled, though, it got itself more and more caught up in the netting, every few seconds getting another and then another strong shock.

When I found him, there it was.

A dead fox. caught in the electric netting.

On the other side of the ruined fencing were the dozen geese. Splashing in their bathtub as though there wasn't a threat in the world. As though the fox had never intended to make one of them a meal.

This morning.

Sitting on the wire that goes over the mountain and across the field is a gaggle (right term?) of bluebirds. A dozen song birds chattering and jostling for place. They must be getting to migrate south for the winter. Suddenly they drop down into the tangle of weeds around the sorrel, no doubt to collect a meal of mealy bugs and various caterpillars.

(as I look out my window right now, while I'm writing, there are two couples, sitting on the ten foot post holding the bluebird house where, this spring, several chicks were raised. One of the birds suddenly drops down and lands on the birdhouse roof and then jumps in the opening and disappears inside. Is this a bird visiting its home. The place of its birth back in the spring or is it, rather, one that raised her children inside? Sitting for weeks on eggs and then, when they hatched into demanding children, flying back and forth between gathering insects in the fields and forest and the nest box with its chirping children After visiting for a minute or two the couples dash off across the field and disappear.


One of our two peahen is peaking around the corner of the house. She hasn't been seen in over a month. I thought she might have had an unfortunate encounter with a fox, or maybe one of those coyotes that have so recently moved into the valley. But no, there she is, peering out of the bushes and then, deciding all is well, strutting out across the walk, closely following by two little chicks. Baby peafowl, born, (hatched, I guess is more proper) no doubt, somewhere off in the woods in the past couple days. I guess that explains her absence.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

attack of the walking stick

I was attacked, not once, but every day last week by, get this, a walking stick.

It wouldn’t leave me alone.

Everyday, as I drove the van full of vegetables and apples to the pick up spot a walking stick would appear.

Maybe on the inside of the windshield.

Or maybe up on the inside of the van’s roof.

One time it crept along the side of the van, I saw it, coming from somewhere in the back, passing just beyond my reach on the passenger side, shortly disappearing, and then suddenly dropping down and landing on top of my head.

Needless to say, I was quite disturbed.

I’m assuming, of course, that you know what a walking stick is. I did relay the events leading up to the attack to several shareholders and they looked at me knowingly and started to give me serious lectures about how it was a voracious predator.
But before I get too far afield, let’s go through the week’s farm news.

1. As you’ve probably noticed, we’ve been picking green tomatoes this week. The reason why is the temperature. I scarcely need noting that its been getting progressively colder outside, (today it’s not supposed to get out of the 60’s). And tomatoes, quite naturally, don’t do well in cold weather. In fact, tomatoes for them to grow and be healthy really like the soil temperature to average above 70 degrees. So, with the cold weather the tomatoes have stopped growing, stopped turning red, meaning there is no reason to leave tomatoes on the vine. With temperatures like these they are just not going to ripen up.

2. Cheese. A number of people have asked if we are going to put in another cheese order. OK. Do you want me to order you a five pound block of sharp organic cheddar cheese? This cheese comes from Farmstead in PA. Their cows are pastured, are not fed grain.
(did you know that cows do not naturally eat grain, that they actually get sick when fed corn for long periods of time? Additionally, there is a study out there which find that the special type of e-coli recently discovered on the bagged spinach mostly comes from cows that were fed grain instead of grass?)

Farmstead Fresh gives all sorts of reasons why their cheese is healthy and tasty but all’s I have to say is that in my humble opinion it really does taste great! Some of the best cheddar out there. A five pound block costs $40.
The url to their webpage is

3. We are finishing week 16 of the 20 week season. The last week of deliveries will be the week of October 16th through October 21st unless, of course, we get a killing frost before then. If there is an early frost the season ends with the sad demise of our vegetables.

Vegetables from here on out.
Starting now and running until the end of the season we will have sweet potatoes. These sweet potatoes were grown by Quail Haven Farm all the way down at the end of the Eastern shore (prime sweet potato country). They are certified organic sweet potatoes. They were harvested last weekend and driven up to the farm on Tuesday. These are great tasting sweet potatoes. We also have sweet potatoes growing on our farm but only a few hundred pounds that I will let people dig up when we glean the fields.

Regular vegetables that will continue to the end: Basil, bell peppers, hot peppers, and eggplant.

Summer vegetables that we might have a week or two more of: garlic, potatoes and tomatoes.

Fall greens. We have planted several types of lettuces, as well as arugula, mizuna, tatsoi, tokyo bekana, mustard greens and spinach. We’ll probably start harvesting these next week and they should run to the end of the season.

Other possibilities: radishes (we’ve planted a lot of radishes).
pac choi. We started enough seedlings for two weeks and put them in the ground several weeks ago however I’m not sure if they will be ready by the end of the season.
Okra. there is almost half an acre of okra plants. As long as it stays reasonably warm we’ll be getting okra.

Garlic -- one more week left
Winter squash. Maybe two weeks worth. I’ll probably give them out the last two weeks.

Honey. I’ll write more about it later but we will probably have honey in the share on the second to last week.

And of course, sorrel. The sorrel is picking up again. I could probably pick three more weeks of it.

Potential problems.
Of course there is the cold weather. A frost ends the season. Even a light frost kills the basil, peppers, tomatoes, squash, okra, pac choi. Greens can take a slight freeze.

The biggest pest I see out there right now are the harlequin bugs. This is a bad year for harlequin bugs. And they like, unfortunately, green leafy plants. So far they are only real bad on the radishes and who cares if the radish green are ruined. However, if they move to the salad greens they will make them look very ugly and unappetizing. There is really no organic great method for satisfactorily dealing with them outside of picking them individually off each plant and squishing them with your fingers. Yuck!

One solution that has been mentioned are predator insects. Wouldn’t be great to find an insect that loves the taste of harlequin bugs?

Walking sticks are alleged to be a predator insect. At least that’s what I’ve been told a dozen times since relaying the story of the foot long stick that has been attacking me in the van.

After all, a walking stick does look sort of like a praying mantis, (only it doesn’t have those long, heavy duty arms with the big snappers on the end). And everyone knows a praying mantis gets its name because it looks like it spends its leisure time between meals praying for the next insect to pass its way. An insect that it grabs and quickly crushes with its ‘snappers’.

Only, only when I looked up walking sticks in my book of beneficial insects it wasn’t there.

And when I looked it up in Wikipedia there wasn’t an entre either but there was a reference to ‘stick insect’.

And when I Googled ‘stick insects’ I found that there was a foundation known at the “British Stick Insect Foundation” (Which unfortunately turned out to be a spoof site) that does however, have a great recipe beginning:

It’s a sad day when a Stick Insect dies. We are apt to be lost in our grief, and to wonder aloud at the futility of life. At such times, it is naturally difficult to see beyond the here and now. Nevertheless, it is while the little corpse is fresh that we must seize the moment. In a few hours, the deliciously nutty flavour that we love will start to disappear, and the beautiful, crunchy texture will be gone.

If you don’t have time in your mourning to cook your insect, why not put it in the fast freeze compartment for later?

Of course, if an autopsy is going to be necessary, then sadly all is lost.
Recipes, British Stick Insect Foundation

And since my interest in the walking stick that seemed to be attacking me wasn’t in finding a meal I looked further and finally found out that most walking sticks (there are apparently close to 3000 varieties out there) most walking sticks are native to Australia, however not one of the 3000 is known to eat other insects.

Infact, the Amateur Entomologist Society reports that walking sticks mostly eat the leaves off of brambles. You know, blackberry bushes and the like.

So It looks like I’m safe. I wasn’t being attacked.

In fact, as I read more of the Amateur Entomologist Society page I learned that walking sticks make fine pets. Instead of attacking me, walking sticks, for some reason like to sit on the shoulders and hair of humans. The society goes further in claiming that because of this and other characteristics walking sticks the most popular insect pet in the entire world.

So if anyone is interested in a new companion...

Monday, September 11, 2006

spilt honey - chapter one

Spilt Honey

This morning, New Year’s Day, was a disaster.

I mean an absolute disaster. Unmitigated. Something on the order of the attack of the blob. You know, the jell-o like invader from outer space.

I’m thinking about the 1950’s version and not the remake. Though I would have just as soon have remade that morning myself. This time doing it without the blob
And if not the blob, at least without the mess.

It would have been nice to have a happy ending, or at least a non-sticky one.
But unfortunately you can’t undo mistakes. Not in the real world. And especially not mistakes of this magnitude. But, be that as it may.

Actually, the catastrophe started the evening before. Wenonah was cooking. Making cookies, I believe. And I was reading, listening to music and occasionally picking up a log and throwing it into the wood stove.

It was New Year's Eve and we weren't doing anything in particular. And while it was cold outside the woodstove was keeping our farmhouse warm.

Wenonah called from the kitchen. “I need some honey, a quart or so.”

Now, I keep the honey back in the laundry room, in the back of the house, a room right off of the sun room with its stone floor and skylights.

The laundry room isn’t very warm. It’s pretty far away from the wood stove and our farm house, an old salt box well over a hundred years old, doesn’t have any central heat.

If the wood stove doesn’t heat it, there isn’t any heat. And on cold winter nights we close off all the rooms except for the ones we’re living in. The kitchen, the bedroom, the large living room.

The rest of the house is chilly. Especially the room where I store the honey.
So, I got up, went into the pantry, got a half gallon jar from the shelf and went to the back of the house where I keep the honey vat.

It had been a good honey year. In the fall I had taken on average about 80 pounds of honey off of each of our fifty some hives. I had given out several tons to our customers.

But that left us still with something like 800 pounds of honey. All of it stored in the settling tank.

A settling tank is a large stainless steel tank that sits a couple feet up off the floor with a spout down at the bottom.

The first thing I noticed, when I put the jar down on the floor, under the spigot was how cold it was back there.

I hadn’t bothered to put on a jacket and so I was pretty chilled right away, it couldn’t have been more than a degree or two above freezing.
For a second my teeth chattered.

I opened the spigot and waited for the honey to fill the jar. Only..
Nothing happened.

No honey.

I stood there in the cold and waited a little longer.
And, still, nothing.

So, I waited,
And waited.

And waited.

Until finally, finally a thin needle like thread of honey appeared at the mouth of the spout and slowly worked its way down passing the jar’s mouth and finally, finally inched all the way to the bottom.

Sort of like a stalactite.

Or is that a stalagmite?

As you probably know, honey does not flow very well when it is cold.

In fact, the colder it is, the closer to a rock, honey becomes.

So I stood there in the cold. Rubbing my hands, thinking I should go back into the living area and get a coat.

While I shivered this strange thing, a cross between honey and a rock, slowly formed a needle like crystal between the honey tank and the jar.

But I wasn’t thinking much about the honey. Instead I was thinking about the cold.
And how nice it would be to have a coat.

‘Or better yet’, I thought. ‘I should just leave the jar here, with the spout open. It’s going to take at least half an hour. I can go sit down on the sofa, stand by the fire, be warm, and later. Later I’ll come back and get the honey. Way before the jar’s full. There’s plenty of time.’


Except I knew better. I knew:

You don’t leave an unattended jar sitting under 800 pounds of honey, no matter how rock like the honey might seem to be.

‘Don’t leave the jar unattended’. A voice somewhere said.

‘A smart person,’ the voice went on to lecture me, ‘would stand there in the freezing cold, ignore the fact they were shivering, ignore the fact that the honey really isn’t flowing at all. A smart person would pretend the honey isn’t more like a rock than a liquid.

‘They would stand there and put the idea of sitting by the warm fire right out of there mind.’

That’s what the voice told me a smart person would do.

They would stand there and wait and shiver until the jar filled right up to the top.

And when it was full, when the cold, frozen honey had finally managed to fill the entire jar, then, and only then, would they return to the warm fire, where they could sit on the sofa and stop shivering.

That’s what a smart person would do.

I watched the honey stalactite a while longer without noticing any growth. This was going to take forever. I was going to freeze before the jar would fill.

It would be so easy to just go in the other room, the room with the heat, with the fire and come back in five minutes.

Then the voice chimed in again.

‘Don’t you do it.”

It was like someone was right over my shoulder speaking. A wise someone. It was that voice that always speaks to you just before you go and do something foolish anyway.

And just like the other times. The other times when I have done something foolish that I knew at the time I shouldn’t do.

Just like those times I ignored the voice and instead I gave the slow moving honey one more look and turned around and walked back toward the wood stove, leaving the jar on the floor and the valve wide open and the voice screaming in my ear, ‘You’ll be sorry’.

I went back in the living room, looked at the wood stove, threw in another log, changed the music on the stereo, went in the kitchen for a snack, went back out to the living room, picked up my book and sat down.

After a while Wenonah called from the kitchen, “Did you get the honey?”

I told her it wasn't ready yet. “It’s so cold the honey's hardly flowing. It’ll take another half hour.”

“I’ll use sugar instead,” she said.

And that was the end of that.

She finished baking her cookies. I finished reading my book for the evening, we turned off the music, I filled up the stove with firewood for the night, we went upstairs, got undressed, pulled back the overs, climbed into bed. snuggled together.
And peacefully, cozily, drifted off into sleep.

And I woke up at 3 AM.


‘Oh no!’

And ran down the stairs, opened up the sun room door and there it was.
Covering the entire floor.

Six inches thick.

Sometime during the night there must have been a heat wave because the honey had started flowing.

Sometime during the night the honey had turned to water. And it looked like the entire tank had emptied and had poured all the honey out of the vat, into the jar, over the rim of the jar and on to the floor of the utility room.

Filling the floor.

And then the honey, squeezed under the door into the sun room, where it spread out across the stone floor, from one end of the room to the other.

800 pounds of honey.

800 pounds of very sticky, syrupy, gummy, glue like.

An absolute mess. From one end of the room to the other.

Thick, gooey, honey.

I just stood there at the door wishing that I could roll back time to the night before. Wishing that I was standing there shivering in front of the empty jar, when the honey was still in the vat.

And then I thought, ‘Maybe the tank isn’t empty yet, maybe half of the honey is still in the tank.

‘If I can get back there fast enough, I can save having to clean up all of it.

‘I can turn off the spigot. Save myself more of a mess.’

Only there was all of that honey to cross. It must be six inches deep already.
‘I could go outside, around the house, to the window in the utility room, somehow open it and squeeze through. Climb down into the room. Turn off the vat.’

Or I could just take off my slippers and wade through the honey.

I stared across the room. It looked like the honey could still be bubbling up under the door.

So, I made the decision and took off my slippers and took my first step out into the ooze.

My foot sunk into it, clear up to my ankle.

Imagine the feel of that?

Honey up to your ankles.

Not to mention the thought of all the work I had done, all summer long. Taking care of the hives. All the bee stings.

And I took another step. A rather long step, trying to cover the distance across the room in as few steps as possible.

The honey was cold. It had thickened into the consistency of Jell-O.

I took another long step, which was, of course, a mistake.

I took the step into the sticky, slippery honey and before I knew it my foot was sliding out from under me, and then the other foot, and both feet were in the air and I was flying backwards, landing.

Landing with my back in the honey.

Six inches of honey.

And quickly I tried to stand up, only there wasn’t anything to grab or hold except for all of that honey. And I was laying there slipping and sliding getting more and more covered. Honey from one end to the other.

It must have been fifteen minutes before I managed to slide to the utility room, move the door, which was stuck with the mass of honey, and then discover that all the honey had long since left the tank.

All 800 pounds was on the floor.

It took me another fifteen minutes to get back across the room, crawling through the honey, half the time on all fours because I couldn’t stand.

And then finally, crawl into the living room.

Dripping honey.

I stood up. I walked across the floor, leaving sticky footsteps behind, to the bathroom and climbed into the shower, almost crying, as I turned on the water.
What a horrible mess.

There is one fortunate thing, though, about honey. I mean, honey is really a very wonderful substance. It would be a lot worse.

Just think if honey was like oil.

Once you got it on your skin it took hours and hours of scrubbing and special, toxic chemicals, to remove it.

Fortunately, honey’s not like that at all.

It’s water soluble.

Meaning. It washes off with warm water.

Which is a good thing, besides getting it off my feet and arms and back, it was a good thing for cleaning the mess from the floor.

Only, 800 pounds of honey is sure a lot of honey. I could see right then that it was going to take hours, if not days to clean up.

What would be nice, considering the horrible situation, once Wenonah had come down stairs and looked at my handiwork, and seen the mess, and shook her head back and forth, and asked how I could have done such a thing.

What would have been better, after she had shaken her head for her to say, ‘Well, don’t worry about it. I can clean that up in no time.’

That would have been nice wouldn’t it? That would be better than I deserved. Just imagine. All that mess, all that honey. Covering the entire floor.

And instead of having to clean it up, it would be taken care of. That wouldn’t be as nice as it not happening it the first place, but it would have been nice.

Go back to bed and wake up and the mess was gone.

Snap my fingers. Close my eyes and magic.

No mess!

Only it didn’t happen that way.


Actually this is my Vietnam story written right after 9-11-01


As some of you know, when I was a kid, eighteen years old, I was sent off to Vietnam as a combat medic where I came to be the medic on a five person advisory team.

This team’s job was to teach Vietnamese home guard, called popular forces, how to be soldiers.

And my job was to pretend that I knew more than my 10 week ‘medic training’ had taught me.

To make a long story short, one day the 30 home guard peasants we were living with were walking along the river several miles behind the village and stumbled on a Viet Cong battalion and proceeded to get all shot up.

As the medic, part of my job description was to swim across this really foul smelling stagnate canal, slip and stumble through a muddy rice paddy, and try to patch up the wounded home guard soldiers. There were several of them.

One of the kids, I mean soldiers, shot, was a particularly good friend of mine. I don’t remember his real name but his nickname was Dinky, or crazy. And he was shot in the leg.

It was the kind of wound, though, that my 10 week medic training had prepared me for.

I quickly pulled out a pressure dressing, pressed it against the wound until the bleeding stopped. And then, since it looked to me like the bone was also broken, I took out my handy air splint, wrapped it around his leg and blew it up.


The only problem was that now he couldn’t walk on his own, and all this time, with the two of us laying in the middle of that rice paddy, bullets were zipping overhead and splashing in the mud around us.

It seemed advisable that we get to some place a little less conspicuous.

So I dragged Dinky through all of that mud and then down over the bank of the canal where we lay half submerged in the nasty swamp water.

Now, at that time, my team leader was a Lieutenant named John Smith (I kid you not). Lieutenant Smith was not a very brave man. The truth being, Smith was a coward. A fact the other team members often commented on. I think it was the general opinion that Smith would kill off every one of the men (and boys) in his command if it meant helping his career or saving his sorry, sorry ass.

And that, in this particular situation, is what he tried to do.

At this time our brave Lieutenant was several miles to the rear of where the shooting was going on, sitting in his jeep. Listening to the field radio. Talking to someone in the distant American base camp. And occasionally giving orders.

And somehow he got the idea into his head, from this vantage point, that the rifles firing and mortars exploding were a direct threat to him. In short, Smith thought that the shooting going on several miles away was a danger to his life.

So what he did to protect himself and his jeep was to tell the American artillery unit on the other end of the radio to drop artillery shells right on top of me and Dinky and the dozen other soldiers who were making a stand on the bank of that stangnant canal.

105 shells.

In minutes the explosives started landing in groups of four. Ear splitting explosions. Throwing up mud and swamp water, and pieces of shrapnel.

And one of the pieces of shrapnel hit my friend. Dinky took a piece of shrapnel right in his rear. Going deep, and coming out the other side.

It wasn’t a very big piece of shrapnel. But there sure was an awful lot of blood. And after I pulled Dinky up higher on the bank and got his pants off, I realized that this was the kind of wound that my ten weeks of training hadn’t prepared me for.

No pressure dressing was going to stop that bleeding.

I tried, though, I tried holding the dressing to the wound. And still the bleeding just kept on, soak through the bandage, and the next bandage on top of that one.

I looked at Dinky and smiled, gave him the thumbs up and told him in my best pigeon Vietnamese that ‘everything was going to be just fine’.

And then I crawled down the edge of the canal to where another advisory team member, Jim, was crouching, and screaming into the field radio. Yelling at Smith to stop the artillery.

When Jim stopped yelling into the radio I told him what I wanted. I told him that we needed a helicopter to come in and get Dinky (there were four other Vietnamese soldiers who had been hit by the artillery shells, but three of them were dead and the fourth had only a minor wound).

“We really need to get him out of here, now.”

Jim relayed my message to Smith. I couldn’t hear Smith’s response. But Jim turned to me and shook his head.

“Smith says he won’t do it. American helicopters don’t evacuate Vietnamese.”

That wasn’t all that Jim said, he had several choice observations about Smith and what he intended to do to him if and when he got the chance, but I didn’t wait around. I crawled back to Dinky and did the only thing I could think to do.

I put him over my shoulder, waded across the canal, stumbled up the bank and started walking down the trail toward where my brave team leader sat in his jeep.

I don’t remember about the shooting, or the artillery, whether it kept on or stopped. What I do remember is walking.

And walking, and all the time Dinky’s blood dripped down my back and all the time worrying that he was going to die like in one of those war movies I’d seen as a kid.

I remember putting him down several times and changing the bandage and then picking him up again.

And then I remember being so worried that he was going to die from loss of blood that I kneeled down. The trail had turned into a cart path, and there were several thatched huts along the side, and I put Dinky on the ground in front of one of the huts and I thought that I better hit him up with an IV or he wasn’t going to make it and so I cut the tape holding the IV bottle of saline to my aide bag and I got out the needle and tubing and tied off his arm.

Except, by then his veins had collapsed and I couldn’t hit it, I couldn’t stick the needle into his vein. I remember being so upset. I knew he was going to die, and I knew it was all my fault because I didn’t know how to do what I needed to do.

And right then I looked up.

And a Vietnamese woman had come out of her hut.

And she was laughing.


And I looked at her, and I looked at Dinky dying and then I looked at her again and I thought she was laughing at him, at me. And I wanted revenge.

I mean he was dying.

And, you know, my rifle was right there.

And I reached for it.

I think I even started to point it at her.

And then, just by accident, I saw.

She wasn’t laughing at us at all. Her child, her baby (Vietnamese peasant children didn’t own diapers) had made a mess in the yard and I had sat Dinky down right next to it. And she wasn’t laughing at us at all. Her laugh was a nervous laugh. She thought I would be upset at her, about her baby. Her baby had messed right next to my comrade, my brother. And she saw me reaching for my rifle and she gave a scream and ran out into her little bare dirt yard and scooped up her baby and quickly turned and ran back into the hut.

And I looked at Dinky one more time. His eyes were open but I could see his life just slipping away. And I told him that everything was going to be just fine. “Everything is OK. Number one.”

And I carefully sat my friend up and as gently as I could, I put him over my shoulder and continued walking down the road toward where my team commander sat in his jeep.

Leigh Hauter

Saturday, September 09, 2006

more fun facts!

Here is the url for FDA's list of allowed "natural contaminants" (insects, mold, rodents) in food:

An example:
Cornmeal is allowed to have up to:
1 whole insect or equivalent per 50 grams
25 insect fragments per 25 grams
1 rodent hair per 25 grams OR 1 rodent excreta fragment per 50 grams.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

rain dance

Before we discuss the successful rain dance (imagine over a hundred people out in the middle of a parched corn field performing an elaborate yet exotic dance) I have a question for someone out there to find us the answer to.

This question popped into my head this morning while I was eating a bowl of corn flakes.

I was eating the corn flakes and thinking about, of course, corn.

And since I was thinking about corn, I started thinking about corn ear worms.

And since I was thinking about corn ear worms and eating corn flakes, I started wondering what happened to the corn ear worms that were no doubt growing on the corn used to make the corn flakes.

I immediately turned to the side of the cereal box and looked at the ingredients.

No mention of corn ear worms, or for that matter any other insects.

The ingredients did not list harlequin bugs, cut worms, corn borers, seed corn beetles, root worms, wire worms and not even a mention of the fairly ubiquitous Japanese beetles that love to eat, in bad years, the corn tassels.

No mention of any insects in the ingredients.

So, the question is, what happened, if there is no mention in the list of ingredients of the insects that were undoubtedly clinging for dear life to the corn when it was harvested, what happened to all of those crawling critters?

What happens to all of those insects that regularly live on corn?

What happens from the time the corn is picked by those monstrous machines that harvest hundreds of ears a minute (or is that a second) to the time that box of corn flakes (or corn meal or twinkes or veggie burger or soda pop (yes the sweetener in your pepsi is made of mostly corn) is finally opened by some unsuspecting human?

What happens to all of those insects that one moment are happily going about their lives and doing all those things that insects regularly do, and the next moment when that machine comes and chops down their home, hauls its out of the field and after subjecting it to who knows how many processes, eventually winds up on your plate.

Where do all those insects go?

(Back in college I once had a friend who paid his bills by working in the local pickle factory, turning locally grown cucumbers into pickles that were shipped all over the country. He refused, because of his experience on the inside of the factory, to ever eat pickles).

Anyway, this morning, while eating a bowl of cereal I wondered if there was some magical machine that separated the insects from the corn that goes into making all that processed food we eat and drink (think coca cola and pepsi). And if there isn't, how many parts insect body is your average soda?

How many corn ear worms go into the secret formula for a Coke?

Or what percentage of insect bodies is that draft beer?

Anyway, those were the sort of questions I was thinking this morning just before I went out to pick our un-processed vegetables (you know, the ones with the corn ear worms that you can see and pick off as opposed to the ones in our sodas that ... well let's not discuss that).

And now that I've got that off my chest, let's go back to the farm.

For all of you who did those rain dances, thank you.

We received about 2.8 inches of rain on Friday, .4 inches on Saturday and another .9 inches Tuesday. My rain gauge says we've received 4.13 inches so far in September.

We seem to be just fine rain-wise. The lettuces are looking good, the rain was gentle enough that it didn't wash the seeds out of the field.

The wind , while it did some damage (my weather station says it hit 26 miles per hour Friday afternoon) blew over several thousand of the sunflowers we were growing for sunflower seeds for the most part didn't do much harm besides that.

Along with the fall storms note that the seasons are changing in other ways. Along with the lower temperature are the shorter days. In the next couple of weeks we will be getting different vegetables. The summer vegetables are starting to fade and the fall greens will be coming on.

Leigh Hauter

Friday, September 01, 2006

worms in the corn

There are a number of things I would like to write about this week.

Things like:

What were the dogs barking at in the middle of the night? (they spent last night running from one end of the farm to the other. Chasing something. A bear stomping through the woods? A deer that had managed to find a hole in the fence? A human stumbling around in the dark?)

What knocked over the fence by the greenhouse and ate 200 squash plants?

Why did the two turkey moms take their three chicks through that hole in the chicken yard fence and meander down through the peppers and basil and off into the forest (this morning I saw them coming out of the woods down behind the house, young ones in tow).

Those four baby chicks, golden colored chicks less than a week old, the ones that were walking in a straight line behind that large golden hen, where did their mother hide her nest so well that the eggs were never found? ( never found by me, or the local black snakes, or the possums, raccoons, skunks and other egg loving critters)?

Why weren’t they eaten by a predator?

How do I explain corn ear worms to people who have never eaten corn not thoroughly doused in insect killing poisons before?

And the watermelon. Why did they just shrivel on the vine?

But the truth is, the drought, (we are in a major drought. The rainfall every month this year except for the rains in early June are well below normal precipitation levels), is overwhelming everything else.

We are in the midst, as is much of the country, of a major drought.

Vegetables, to thrive, need at least one inch of water a week. They, of course, could use more. We have had only an inch in the last month.

(that’s why, when some experts discuss the global trade of food, especially vegetables --- think when you go into Whole Foods and see those large juicy red bell peppers grown in Sicily or the out of season asparagus shipped all the way from Peru --- look at that sort of trade as not just exporting vegetables, but more as exporting their valuable water).

Anyway, here in Virginia, as in most of North America, we are in a major drought. Hopefully there will be rain, as predicted again, this afternoon.

The drought is getting so sever it is beginning to hurt everything. Look out your door at the shriveled leaves on the trees. if you live in the burbs, look at the sad stand of weeds on that unmanaged corner. If it is not being watered, it is dying.

All summer long I have been watering nonstop and keeping our vegetables alive but an inch of water each and every week is getting hard to do. Somethings really want more than just an inch a week. Watermelons. We have lost our watermelons. They should have been ripe last week but they were still very small. I plowed them under.

And the greens. I went up and checked on some of the greens I planted two weeks ago and found the seeds still in the ground, un-germinated.

If any of you have a magic rain dance that’s been passed down from one generation to the next, now is the time to perform it.

This is week 13 of our 20 week season. The shares end October 21st.

Here is some other farm news:

Corn ear worms. I’ve received a number of e-mails in the past several weeks about the worms in the corn. I realize most of you know this but for those of you who have never had organic corn before here’s one of the facts of life. Corn mostly has worms in it. The reason the stuff in the grocery store does not have worms is because it has been sprayed with a poison (or because it has been genetically modified by inserted into its genetic make up a growth inhibiting gene from a bacteria).

Our corn does not have either.

If and when you find a worm in your corn the easiest thing to do is just break off the damaged corn. If, you are not interested in eating the worm, you can throw it in the trash can (or save them for our chickens. The chickens and turkeys would find the corn worms a special treat). If, though, you expect corn without worms in it, organic corn and our CSA is not for you.

Leigh Hauter