Monday, March 17, 2008

going where they hadn't outta

Here I am at 2:30 in the morning. Just back in after a traipse through the fields.

I can’t say it was a happy traipse through the fields either.

It all started several hours ago. I had been sleeping, I guess napping and had gotten up to go check the heat up in the greenhouse The temperature, tonight, is supposed to drop down right around freezing and I didn’t want to chance it, the temperature dropping below freezing and the greenhouse not being safe and warm.

(I know, this is about the place where I will get e-mails chastising me for not having an alarm system, I guess a sort of early warning system hooked up in the greenhouse that will go off down here at the house whenever the temperature approaches the magically dangerous freezing point. The truth is I do. I have a sensor up at the greenhouse that’s set to start beeping, actually its not a beep but a bong. Bong, bong bong. That goes off down here at the house if the temperature dares to drop down to 34 degrees.

Only... only something as important has losing 50,000 seedlings --- that’s how many plants are now growing up in the greenhouse -- the risk of losing that many plants is too great to chance to an electronic alarm).

So here I am, out of bed, awake at 1 am. Checking the outside temperature gauge, it has dropped down the 37 outside and the alarm says its almost 50 in the greenhouse.

Still, I find my pants. put them on. Find my boots, by socks. Look around for a coat.

And then, for some reason, and you know I don’t need it. By now I can walk the 300 hundred yards from the house to the greenhouse blindfolded (and walking that distance, sometimes, in the middle of the night is somewhat like that) I pick up by heavy duty torch. My several million candle light flood lamp and step out on the back deck.

For those of you who have been out to our farm, our farm house sits on a sort of ledge. Our farm sits on the side of a mountain, the Bull Run Mountains.

Above our house is Highpoiint, the highest elevation in the bull run mountains. Its top isn’t all that high, something like 1320 feet.

We’re down here at 850.

And between us and the top are several flat areas. that we have cleared and made fields out of.

At 950 is the greenhouse.

Below that, about 900 is the orchard field.

The house.

And out our back door, below our deck. Maybe down at 750 is another field. Four or five cleared acres.

This field is surrounded by a deer fence. An anti-deer fence of woven black plastic nailed and stapled up to trees and surrounding the field, which this time of the year is full of winter rye and our peas.

A nice field that sits another hundred feet above the creek, Catlett branch, and a road that runs along side it.

This is what I did, for no reason in particular. is I walked out on the deck, looked out into the darkness and then snapped on the spotlight.

To see five pairs of eyes staring back at me from the early morning gloom.

Five pairs of eyes looking up from the rye and peas.

Five deer inside the anti-deer fence busily eating away at our peas and rye.

Five deer busily eating where they hadn’t outta. (excuse my rhythm but recently I heard Nancy Sinatra singing her version of these boots).

My first impulse which was probably the same one that Nancy’s character probably thought was to go back in the house and get the shotgun.

“how dare them...” I thought. “how dare the deer get inside my anti deer fence. If they’re doing it now, they’re going to be doing it in the near future when its going to be a lot more than just some rye out there.

But I didn’t.

Instead I just yelled. Yelled at the deer. Yelled for my dogs and yelled to get the deer a running.

And that’s when I took the torch light and headed down the path and out into the field.

The deer took off running. Unfortunately they took off running in a direction I didn’t expect.

I had half expected the deer to turn and run down the field, down to the far corner where the fence was loose, where a tree had fallen and had stretched the plastic. Instead of standing up ten feet tall it was at an angle where maybe it was only 3-4 feet above the ground.

But that’s not where they went./

Instead they came toward me. Running up the fence line and then turning, disapearing into the forest.

I followed. Crossing the field. Through where the old stone wall had been, Where Eli Hall, the owner of the farm back at the end of the 19th century had a heart attack on his way home from work.

Across the next field and right there where the deer had disappeared.

Someone had been there before me.

The fence hadn’t just fallen down. Someone had been there and cut the fence. Taken their pocket knife and slit the plastic in a straight line form top to bottom.

Someone had deliberately made a hole in the fence, maybe not intentionally letting the deer in, but intentionally making a hole in the fence where they could cut through.


Come out of the woods and instead of following the fence around to a gate had slit it open so they could climb through, going from one side, from my neighbors’ land, into my field.

Only why?

Who was up to no good?

Besides damaging my fence, who was out there snooping around, going where they hadn’t outta?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

something at night

The other night, sometime after midnight.

I was outside. Making sure everything was OK. Walked by the barn, looked in, Then over toward the chicken pasture. My destination was the greenhouse. It was time to put more wood in the boiler.

Tonight is was one of those nights where the stars just glisten. No moon. Not a cloud. Crisp.

And that's when I walked under the old pear tree (see

I hadn't expected it. one of the guineas, somewhere near the henhouse, was squawking , making that rhythmatic guinea squawk they make, at the time listening to her neurotic night song, thinking about the minds of guineas and that's why I was probably so started. I hadn't expected anything in the tree.

Not then.

But suddenly up above me something huge moved.

At first I thought it might be that cat. What else would be up there in the night.

And then, there were the wings. Huge clumsy flapping wings, trying to take off from up in the tree top.

Colliding with branches. Flapping as it made a racket getting into the air and then struggling through through the night around the house and disappeared beyond the large fire damaged holly tree.

I stood there trying to pick it out through the starlight. Listening to it disappear down to the south with no idea what it could be.

Maybe one of the peafowl, it was surely that large. Maybe the peacock had decided to spend the night perched up in the pear.

And it was startled, roosting that low to the ground.

Which of course reminded me of the night we were camped out in the desert. Actually, it was in that place they say is the most remote location in the continental United States. That place on the far side of the Colorado River in the Maze district of Canyonlands.

But before we go off into the desert lets stay close to home with this week's farm news.

First of all are the shares. We are no longer taking vegetable shareholders at the Dupont Circle area, East Falls Church or now Alexandria pick up spots. We're full up at those spots.

(actually we have been putting people that are interested in those sites on a waiting list and will see if there are openings Come April when share payments are due).

Currently, we are taking another dozen shares for people that want to pick up their vegetables in Manassas, Centreville or on the farm. If you know anyone who wants to sign up and lives or works down 66. Here's there chance.

Also, as some of you might have noticed, we had a Herndon pick up site over the past several years but dropped it this year. However, there are still people that would like to get vegetables out that way. If anyone is interested, here's what I will do. We have a shareholder in Herndon who has volunteered her porch as a pick up spot and now have someone who is willing to pick up vegetables from Centreville on Friday and drive them over to the porch that night. We currently do something similar on the Hill after we dropped that pick up spot. If you are interested in getting your vegetables in Herndon, we are adding a limited number of shareholders to the porch pick up.

Eggs. This week again shareholders get free eggs if they come out to the farm. You have to check with me before showing up.

Seedlings. It hasn't taken long but we've filled up about a third of the greenhouse. Over 20,000 seedlings are planted. The seedlings that got a frost when we started are even coming up. As far as I can tell we're off to a good start.

Water system. Even the water system to the greenhouse is up and working just fine. We replaced the frozen PVC with polypipe. polypipe is, if you've been around when water wells are drilled, that black pipe that comes in 100 or 300 foot rolls and is used to reach water down to the bottom wells. It is much more resilient than PVC and does a better job of standing up to the elements.

Drought? Well, its raining right now and is supposed to rain again tomorrow. So far, this year, we are off to a decent start vis-a-vie rainfall. Unlike last year where we ended up being something like 20 inches below normal. Twenty inches is a lot of water we didn't get and considering tomatoes need almost an inch a week it made the living difference for a number of vegetables.

And that's probably it for our farm this week leaving us camped out on a plateau with endless desert down below us.

We were spending the night way out on the end of a plateau where we had driven our jeep over the rocks and around the ledges until finally what passed for a trail ended and the land dropped several thousand feet on three sides. (I know I wrote about this in three or four newsletters back in 05 but it must have been just before I started the blog).

We set up our tent under a wizened old fir tree and after a day of Wenonah hiking and me taking my mountain bike across the countryside we came back and lit our lantern and cooked our food and were sitting on the boulders being amazed by the night sky when I accidentally moved the light to shine up on the top of the tree where a large hawk, I guess it was a hawk, sat perched on a dead limb obviously waiting to see if anything tasty might happen by.

We sat there watching him for several moments until suddenly, something happened, (something to eat?) and he jumped into the air and like a wizard in a fantasy novel, disappeared.

The other night, I never saw whatever it was in the tree, but I did hear it jump into the air, definitely not as delicate as our desert hawk, actually making quite a racket like it wasn't accustomed to flying after dark, trying to flap its huge wings, hitting other limbs, almost sounding like it was going to fall out of the air right on me and then there was the cumbersome flapping.

It didn't sound like a chicken, much too large, or like something that makes its living from eating chickens (not coordinated enough).

And speaking of chickens. We've moved them. Moved them away from the barn, across the drive and onto a stand of winter rye.

The idea being, we're slowly moving the flock to where they will spend the summer, off to the side of the field in front of the house.

From there we can watch them.

Last summer we pastured the chickens a quarter of a mile from the house, over by the cemetery. Plenty of pasture but difficult to protect from predators..

While the chickens have an electric fence surrounding their pasture the reward of a chicken dinner makes them extremely attractive to our local predator population.

In fact I have a pair of really nice pictures from a wildlife camera, documenting this fact.

The first picture is of this scrawny, little, mangy fox as it came running down the road in the middle of the night.

The second picture is again of the same fox. Only, this time he's not alone.

On the return picture he's traveling with a companion. A turkey. One of our large black heirloom turkeys.

The turkey looks to be still alive traveling in the fox's mouth.

Quite a shot. Our domestic bird must be twice the size of the scrawny fox only that doesn't seem to matter. Instead of flapping its wings, jumping in the air and landing claws first in the foxes face, our turkey must have simply given up the ghost. Fallen to its knees, tucked its head under a wing and waited for whatever was to happen, to happen.

Here came the fox. Looked at the fence, probably ran up and down, around the fence, The time between the pictures was only a couple of minutes, looking for a place to sneak under the fence without getting shocked. (and believe me, the charge on our electric fence puts out a shock. Yesterday, I was carefully straightening the fence where it had sagged and accidently touched it with my ungloved hand. The shock was enough to bring me to my knees. I would have to be extremely hungry to even consider challenging it).

But even with the electric fence the various predators took a toll on our chickens, decimating the flock, in that far field.

The only answer seemed to be either going over to the pasture each and every night and when the chickens went into to roost, close the door on our hen house on wheels and lock them in for the night (which also meant getting up in the morning and freeing them for the day).

Either that or bring them closer to the house where they could be more closely watched and protected.

And that's why this year the chickens, guineas and turkeys are living right in front of the house (and this summer, during the vegetable season, will be just on the other side of the field).

If there's a squawk at night here, we'll hear it. Not only will we hear it but the gp's will too. And I suspect you have to be a mighty hungry predator to risk having one of those dogs chasing you back into the forest.

Our geese, though, we're leaving put.

They do a pretty good job of defending themselves.

Around here, there aren't that many predators that are going to take down a goose. And that the ones that can, the neighbor's dog. maybe a coyote, are going to raise such a fuss that our guardian dogs, the pair of Great Pyrenees are going to go rushing to their defense.

Leigh Hauter

Thursday, March 06, 2008

twelve degreeS and falling

The geese have escaped.

The chickens won’t stay in their pasture.

I can’t find where all the hens are laying their eggs.

The dogs have been barking all night long (or mostly so).

Is it deer they're barking at? a bear? some evil intruder? or just the moon shadows running across the barren fields?

And besides that it has been unseasonably cold.

Real cold. Here, winter should be winding down about now but this last Wednesday night the temperature out here on the farm dropped to 12 degrees.

And to cap that off. To add to a temperature that freeze water is seconds rather than minutes, the pump circulates the hot water from the greenhouse’s wood boiler to the new seedlings gave up the ghost.

It died. Hissed a couple times before giving us some loud clunks.


That means little, if any, heat in the greenhouse.

And without heat, at 12 degrees, that means water turns into a rock real quick.

And plants, even little seeds that have just barely spouted out a shoot, don't act very cuddly. In fact their cell walls sort of rupture and they die.


Three days of work in the greenhouse. Three days of seeds planted. Several thousand each of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower as well as several thousand other seeds.

So Wednesday night I started thinking of quick solutions.

By then all the plumbing supply places were closed.

And while the heating system in my house uses a couple of the same type pumps I don't think Wenonah would have been very happy if I cannibalized our homes heating system in order to keep the greenhouse warm.

And likewise, I don’t think Wenonah would have been all that happy if I hauled the 50 or so flats and trays down the hill to the house and set them on the floor of her kitchen, dinning room and maybe even the bedroom.

I don't think she would have believed me when I said I would be real careful about the several tons of potting soil in those flats and that I wasn’t going to spill it all over the house.

Besides that, When the pump stopped, the water from the spring stopped flowing. Which means that all thousand feet of that pvc pipe from the spring to the greenhouse was solid with ice.

This follows the principle that moving water doesn’t freeze. Or is that the axillary. Still, water freezes real fast once the temperature drops below freezing (but if you have it moving, even down as cold at 5 degrees the water doesn’t freeze.

And ice doesn't turn back to water and start flowing again until the temperature get up above 32 again.

So that meant no water in the greenhouse.

Oh well. It’s only three days of work and maybe, just maybe, some of the seeds hadn’t sprouted which means maybe the seeds that were slow in sprouting hadn’t frozen

It didn’t matter that on Thursday I was able to buy the best circulating pump out there. A German made pump. And on Thursday night, with the new pump circulating the hot water, everything was toasty.

Which of course reminds me of my grandmother.

She’s the one I learned to garden from and while she’s been gone for a few years now, she did live until 102 and I remember visiting her on nights like we just had and her turning to me and asking:

“Who feeds them?” she would say, “Who takes care of animals in the forest when its cold like this?”

And since she had asked me the same question maybe twenty five times before I knew she wouldn’t care much for my answer.

“Maw-maw, no one feeds them. They’re wild animals. That’s the deal they made when they decided to be free.”

“Free?” she would yell. “You can’t be very free if you’re freezing to death. I want you to make sure they all get enough to eat. And you have to make sure they’re warm.”

Which is probably enough philosophy for today