Wednesday, April 22, 2009

looking out the window

Out my window is a bluebird box and this morning there are bluebirds.

Flying back and forth.

Into the box.…

and then out again.

And then less than a minute passes and she’s (he?) is back again.

And only spending dozens of seconds inside before leaving once again.

I was wondering, ‘isn’t it early for chicks (if that is what baby bluebirds are called). And not only early. How is she managing to capture a steady supply of food so quickly.

I mean, I know that bluebirds aren’t much interested in grains.

Is there some place where she is digging up something like a mealy bug.? Some place right around the bird house?

And that’s when I saw, she wasn’t carrying food at all. It wasn’t hungry chicks she was so busy feeding.

It was building her nest.

She was flying back and forth, just as quick as she could, from a pile of straw that I had left at the base of a lilac.

Flying from the straw to the nest box and back to the lilac bush and the straw once again.

Picking up several pieces of straw and flying back to the box.

And now that I’m writing about it, she’s stopped building the nest, for the time being, and instead, perched up on the tree, a pecan I planted in the front yard the first year I started farming our CSA, is a blue jay.

I only have bad thoughts for blue jays.

Another story and another nest. It was outside of a side door. What? a cat bird, I think, (whatever sort of bird it is that will attack your cat in defense of its babies), had built the nest and not only would it dive bomb our cats when they went outside but occasionally would swoop down on people pecking them on the top of the head and then quickly flying away.

I remember that nest clearly though it was decades ago. And I remember watching it one day when the parents were away gathering food for the babies when a blue jay suddenly appeared, landed on the edge of the nest, grabbed one of the young and in seconds killed it and flew off with the body, possibly to feed its own young, hanging from its beak.

Right now the sun is shinning but its been raining off and on for almost four days now. We’re desperately waiting for it to dry up enough to continue planting.

Those almost 20,000 onion and leek seedlings we have waiting to go in the ground won’t wait much longer. Already they are starting to dry out. Even if we put them in our two storage refrigerators this sitting around isn't good for them.

Let’s hope the rain stops and the ground dries enough for us to get back to planting.

Other Farm news?

Asparagus. The Asparagus is coming up. In the past it has been first come first help yourself. this year we’ll do it differently. If you want to come out and cut your own asparagus first come out and help weed the asparagus bed. Besides the asparagus coming up the weeds are also growing. That and picking up the new rocks. (rocks also grow very well on our farm) if you want asparagus first half an hour of laboring in the asparagus bed. then we’ll divide up the asparagus.

Eggs. We are floating in eggs. For the next month these are still free to shareholders. Also, for the next month I’m going to be giving the excess eggs to a local food bank. If you want to contact your food bank and arrange dropping off our eggs, that works too.

Seedling day at the farm. For the past several years we have given our excess seedlings to the shareholders. That will be the case again this year only I’m not sure yet which week. It depends on how soon the ground dries out and how soon we can plant. Hopefully the weekend of May 9th or maybe the 16th. I will let you know.

Open Shares? We now have some openings. Also we’re adding several dozen more egg shares, if you are interested e-mail me.

Right now I’m in the process of finding tote bags for this year. The ones we have given out for the past several years (a real nice heavy duty reinforced cotton canvas bag with pockets) is no longer being manufactured. I've been shopping for a new one however it is amazing how many really cheap totes are out there. My motto though is cheap is, well, cheap. I’ve found that cheap not only means cheap in tote bags but it definitely means that for farm equipment. The number of times I've tried to save a few hundred (or thousand) dollars, only to be stuck with a piece of twisted metal after using it a few times.

attack chicken

I'm really late with this newsletter but its probably because of the attack I suffered from a ferocious farm animal.

An attack chicken!

How about this for the week's headline. Mad Mother Hen attack's Farmer!

And, yes, it was upsetting. And yes, it did hurt, and yes, if she hadn't had a little chick looking up to her with rapt admiration and attention she might very well have earned herself a future as the centerpiece in a formal dinner.

And it might still have happened, only, only I don't much like to pluck chickens (and Wenonah is generally pretty small about it when it comes to plucking fowl.

Not only did the hen in question jump out of no where, wings flapping and beak pecking, but when I stepped back in shock. Yes with blood dripping from the wound she inflicted on my hand, but when I stood back in shock she came at me again, wings flapping, and this time aiming her vicious beck at my eyes.

I side stepped the second attack and, standing there there in utter amazement thought. "Is this what motherhood does to you? Turns a, by all indications, rational female into a raving lunatic."

All in the defense of a lone child (or in this case a chick).

And remember. I was innocent. This was all a misunderstanding. An unprovoked, uninitiated chicken attack.

But before we get more involved in the story let's cover the farm news.

Today was an important day. Today we started planting (Yes, a gamble. A gamble that the year's last frost is a thing of the past for 2009.

This morning, starting at 7:30 we planted something like 6000 seedlings. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, pac choi, Brussels sprouts. We filled up the far section of the lower field (if you've been out to the farm that's the field to the right you can see from our deck).

Then this afternoon we started on onions. We first had to do some field prep but once we got started we planted almost 4000. About 16000 still to go.

So let's go back to the story of the violent mother.

It was Wednesday, the evening with all that rain.

I had gone out to the barn. The chickens in the field were in need of food and I store the chicken mash just inside the barn door. Several tons of chicken feed in 50 pound bags.

On the left was a short stack of maybe five bags.

I reached down to pick up a bag. Grabbed it, picked up the fifty pound bag, and just as I was throwing it up over my shoulder it happened.

I was attacked.

Mother hen was hiding behind the sacks of feed. She had already lost one of her chicks somewhere teh day before. One moment it was following her. The next it was gone.

But apparently she wasn't going to let it happen to this one.

I picked up the bag. The baby chick let out a squeak.

And momma chicken jumped into action.

Fluffed out her wings, screamed once, and attacked. Grabbing ahold of my hand with her beak.


I jumped back in shock, looking around for the assailant. Thinking, wild animal. alligator (did I ever tell you the time a momma alligator almost got my leg all because her babies started squeeling in dismay? It must be in a newsletter or blog somewhere) eagle, hawk,, porcupine?

And then seeing it was a chicken.

I was prepared to give her a good, swift, kick. let her go flying across the barn yard. Imagine a chicken having the gall to attack a human?

And here she came again. 

This time flapping her wings, up off the ground and aiming right for my face.

Fortunately I side stepped. Instead of hitting me in the face, she crashed into a stack of twenty feed bags.

Instantly she was back in the corner, Cawing and guarding her chick..

We stood there for a moment. Staring. How dare her. And then... And then I turned and walked out of the barn.

Maybe she would be the rare mother chicken that raised her chick to adulthood.

Later that night there was another predator out by the chicken yard. Around 2 am I was up and looking around. The weather forecast was calling for a late frost. (it didn't happen).

I was up, though, looking at the thermometer and walking around the fields, making sure nothing untold was happening.

And then that's when I saw the eyes.

It was one of those dark nights. A night where you needed a flashlight so you wouldn't trip over your own feet.. A heavy drizzle and a wet fog hanging over the fields almost like a wet felt blackout curtain.

That's when I saw it. I was flashing the light back and forth across the field. Trying to slice open the darkness.

It was over by the chicken yard. In the glow of the flashlight, two of the largest, bluest eyes staring back at me.

What sort of animal's eyes reflects bright blue eyes? Not just blue but bright, almost iridescent blue.

Predator? Grass-eater? Omnivore? 

I started to close the distance between me and the eyes. Trying to keep the light aimed right at the eyes. (if you keep a light on a deer's eyes, my experience is, she won't look away. You can walk almost all the way up on her. Slowly, slowly, until you are right next to her).

This animal, though, wasn't a deer, as I walked closer it blinked once, then again, then took off and disappeared into the drizzle.

One moment it was there and the next it had just disappeared. Vanished. Swallowed up by the darkness.

There I stood, swinging the light back and forth. The only thing was the sound of the light rain.

The chickens seemed unconcerned so I went back to the house.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

toad time of year

How will we know when its spring without a toad pond?

Or, at least a goldfish pond that the toad can use?

You know about toads, of course? How, in the spring, they are the ones that tell us when the last frost has come and gone?

(for more on last frosts and farming see my latest non-newsletter blog entry)

But, back to the toads. Each year toads come out of the forest, hop, hop hopping from, I guess, miles and miles away. Fording rivers, climbing mountains, crossing highways, risking electric fences (for more information try the Saturday, April 15, 2006 blog), until they finally, all of them, hundreds and hundreds of toads, on the same day converge on the same pond, the same pond being the one we had in our front yard.

Notice the word HAD. As in no longer there. Having been but not now. Kaput. Disappeared. As in, unfortunately, the pond in our front yard has been, alas, filled in. No longer a pool of water, Now, just a memory and grass.

What happened is...

Well, some time last fall we upgraded. 

We captured the twenty some koi and goldfish swimming about in the pond put these two dozen fishy creatures in one of those large 500 gallon black livestock troughs and filled in their home.

Sort of an urban renewal project. As in: ‘That wasn’t a real koi pond. What you had was just a hole in the ground filled with water and with a bunch of stones thrown around its edge.‘

(those people, the people that say that, have a hard time differentiating between a loving home and urban blight). 

But, be that as it may.

We filled in the old hole with a combination of clay, potting soil and manure and when it was filled in planted grass seed.

And the koi? Well, they were upgraded. Instead of the ghetto they were moved out to the burbs and into a brand spanking new community ‘executive homes for those with taste and income.‘ (the sign out front might have said).

That is, we dug another hole. This one deeper, larger, and with straighter sides.  

Then, instead of just a piece of waterproof pool plastic on the bottom and sides, we poured concrete ( yes, very tasteful and expensive), and stoned, (yes using real organic stones), the sides. 

And the new Koi pond didn’t end with the surface of the land but no, it rose several fish stories above the surrounding landscape.

The sides of the stone pond stood almost two feet (very handsome) above the ground.

When construction ended and the artisans went home we began to fill the new pond with water. Filling it all the way to the top of the stone walls.

And when it was all done, we took the Koi and goldfish out of their temporary housing and introduced them to their new, executive home.

And of course, they lived happily ever after.

Except there was a little bitty problem.

Just think of those fancy Frank Lloyd Wright designed houses with the elaborate skylights that would never stop leaking. We sort of have the same problem with our pond.

A few design glitches. A difference between concept and practice.

Our problem isn’t leaky skylights. No. Instead its leaky stone walls. And while we have drained and filled the pond five times, each time putting more patching material on the inside, looking for that one leak. Well, it still doesn’t fill up to the top. Water still leaks out.

But that’s not what I set out to write about. 

What I meant to write about was the toads and how the new koi pond is not toad compatible (or, at least not very toad compatible).

Two foot stone walls are, you can imagine, difficult to scale, especially when you are a toad. and while the other night almost twenty toads showed up and were seen hopping around the outside of the new pond, and while I leaned boards up against the wall for them to hop up, no one made it into the pond on their own.

In other words, this year’s toad orgy seems as though it will be stifled by modern architecture. 

Which leaves me here wondering, and thinking: Maybe I should go back out and quickly, with a shovel, dig up that new grass and dirt in our front yard.

Maybe I should dig a hole in the front yard and fill it up with water. Maybe I should make a pond just for the toads. One where they can congregate (or is the word conjugate?) on that special night so I will know that it is now safe to start planting. That we will know that the last frost is finally a thing of the past.

What do you think?

Farm news

Open house again this Saturday. Let’s make it 11-12:30 I’ll give tours, again, of the farm. Also you can come out and collect eggs or go for a hike. Hopefully I have time to get up the mountain this evening to make sure the trails are marked.

And at 12:30 until 2 Saturday lets have ‘help around the farm.’ Last week we picked up the rocks around the cemetery. Thank you very much. This week we will pick up the remains of that old stone wall that was between the fields below the house. If we get those rocks up we can plant there next week.

Shares are mostly sold out I’m collecting names for a waiting list and shortly I’ll have a sense of who signed up but changed their mind and didn’t send in a check and I’ll fill those spots from the waiting list.

We are still, though, taking shares at the Manassas pick up.

Hoop houses. This last week I got carried away and bought another 100 feet of hoophouse. That means we now have 500 feet erected and another 100 feet coming. The new plastic is on 400 feet of it.

Hoop house vegetables. The 100 feet of salad greens in hp1 have sprouted and are growing. When they are ready, in about a month, we will have the shareholders out for salad greens.

Hoophouse tomatoes, eggplant and bell peppers. We’ll be putting the plants in the ground just as soon as the seedlings are old enough. I’ve never had particular luck with greenhouse cucumbers but ‘they’ say cucumbers grow well under plastic so we will try again. Maybe this will be the year.

Asparagus. Some asparagus is up but its not ready for picking yet. Maybe next week we’ll invite shareholders out to cut asparagus.

Planting onions. 20,000 onion and leek seedlings are supposed to be shipped this way next Monday and should be here by Wednesday. If all does as planned we’ll have them in the ground by the end of next week.

Honey bees. Yesterday was bee day for me. Six Russian/Yugoslavian queens had arrived the day before and I went into six hives of Italian bees and killed the queen and inserted the cage with the R/Y queen. Let’s home the Italian workers and drones accept a new Russian queen. 

Then, yesterday evening at 4 pm the woman at my post office called to say that five cages full of honey bees had just arrived in the mail truck and if I wanted them come around and knock on the back door. I did, and back at the farm took these Buckfast bees (originally from Buckfast abbey) and their Buckfast queens and put them into bee boxes. This morning I went back and checked each hive to make sure all was going well and fed them each a gallon of sugar water. All seems to be well.

This afternoon, after I go to the store and buy another 100 pounds of sugar I’ll mix that up with water and feed last week’s hives again.

Baby chicks. This one is so cute I should give it its own story. Maybe I will next week. Remember that lone chicken, the lone hen I talked about over a month ago? Well, she had disappeared. I thought she had given up and was living with the other chickens. Yesterday I found out this was not the case. Yesterday, there she was, in front of the house, and following her were two adorable baby chicks. Somewhere, over the last month, momma had found a quiet place to lay eggs and for the past three weeks she has been sitting on them.

My experience is that baby chicks on the farm never (or at least seldom) live to maturity. Just think: black snakes, raccoons, possums, hawks and if I put them in with the grown up chickens, other chickens all work double time to make sure they don’t see adulthood. What should I do? Catch momma and her babies and lock them up in a cage?

Blue birds. Over the years I’ve put up about ten blue bird nest boxes. I did a survey yesterday and they all have bluebirds building nesting inside. Some of them have already layed eggs.

And that’s it for this week. Isn’t spring wonderful?


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Patterns in the seasons

Have you ever sat up on a beach, up by the dunes, and watched the waves come in off of the Atlantic, rolling in one wave after the next?

Or how about walking down the beach, maybe wearing tennis shoes, walking just above the waterline, where the sand is still firm but your feet stay dry?

One moment you are watching the horizon your feet dry and the next moment a huge wave breaks and you are standing in water up to your knees.

Many, many, many years ago I lived near Chincoteague, Virginia and would spend much of my free time walking the beaches of the barrier islands. Assateague, Wallops (when I could finagle a pass), Cobb, Cedar, Parramore and Hog when I could get a boat ride out.

But before we take a trip to the beach let's stop for breakfast in the kitchen of my house near Wallops Island.

Let's sit down at the small table and look out the double wide east facing window.

It's not important that out the window we could look across an empty potato field or the fact they hadn't bothered to plant a cover crop for the winter.

What was important is that as the sun came up, and I had to get up at the same time every morning the sun hardly came in the window, not in December. The only sunlight in the room at the winter solstice was just a tad over there on the north wall.

Meaning? Well I didn't realize what it meant in December, but as the winter passed, as it turned into January and then February that tad of light on the north wall grew. First from a sliver to a board and then a tree.

Maybe we should think about it instead as a vine, growing across the wall until finally in the morning it dominated the entire room.

Meaning? Well, with each day the sun was moving further north and the more north it came the more direct the angle into my kitchen.

A pattern or should I say a rhythm.

As the summer finally arrived and then passed the pattern turned the other way. the light that had once filled the room started growing smaller with each passing day until back to December when the room was barely lit.

Until the room was dark again when the sun came up in the morning

The same sort of thing I noticed was happened out at the beach (of course caused by different forces).

Sitting up on the dunes and doing nothing but watching the waves break on the beach I would try to figure out the pattern.

A huge wave would break higher on the beach than any before, then a number of smaller waves would break. Followed by several larger waves, the largest coming up higher on the beach than the large one of the last set.

And this would go on and on, the ocean, or tide, gradually climbing up the beach until it reached its highest and then it would turn and slowly go back down the beach.

This is the sort of thing, I guess, those of you that surf sit out freezing on your boards notice.

Noticing the order of the breaking waves form a pattern.

You know, A big wave followed by a little wave, and then another little wave, another even small followed by that large wave again, a set of large waves, followed by a small wave, a set of small waves. Followed by that large wave once again.

All the while the water climbing higher and higher up the beach until it almost reaches, once again, the place you have been sitting.

Last night we had a frost. It dropped below 30 degrees out here on the farm.

Fortunately I knew it was coming and I was up in the greenhouse at 2 am refilling the boiler with wood.

2 am it was 35 degrees and stayed that way until 4 when it dropped quickly to where it was 29.6 when the sun rose.

When, if I was still living on the Eastern Shore, the sun would just be peaking in my kitchen window.

Other patterns.

If you look back, sort of like the waves on the beach, the last ‘cold’ night was on March 31st, over a week ago, where it didn’t quite drop down as cold. 35 degrees. And the time before that, on the 24th, it went down to below 25.

And we could go back all winter long and see a pattern, of sorts. Each week, going back to last fall, actually to last September, it gets just a little bit colder until the cycle turns again, around the end of January when it starts heading in the other direction.

Right now we are just about to that point that is really important to farmers.

The last frost of the season.

This date around here used to be predictable, year in and year out. It was the middle of April.

However, in the past decade the last frost has become much harder to predict.

Last year, 2008, our last frost (up here on the mountain) was March 30th, (and the first frost was October 30th. 
2007, the last frost was April 10th and the first one in early November.
2006 April 10th again but a first frost about October 10th. 
05 about March 25th and the first one in the middle of November.
2004 we almost had a frost in early May and the first one in mid-November
2003 late April and early October.

What does this mean for us?

For me it means I’m doing something I don’t like to do, Gamble.

Gamble with our seedlings. With our crop.

When should I put the first ones out? When should I start planting?

What if I count on the weather being stable, sort of like it used to be, and began putting plants out in mid April, that’s next week, and what if we get a May frost? Two weeks of work, and thousands of plants wasted. That would mean the broccoli and cauliflower, the pac choi and cabbage Most of the plants I intend to put in the shares in June would be dead.

Or, what if I played it conservatively. What if I held off in planting until May.

The plants wouldn’t be dead but they wouldn’t be ripe for the first week of the season. We wouldn’t get them until July.

And all the other plants that I would be planting right behind them, they would be either pushed back in the season, or dead. depending.

Depending on weather that has been increasingly harder to predict.

Oh well.


Here is this year’s game plan.

This year I played it safe with the onions and leeks. Instead of planting in late March, like I sometimes do, this year I scheduled them to arrive next week.

Do you want to help? not help in planting, but we need more help in getting the field ready.

Over the past two months we’ve spent a lot of time picking up rocks down there and until the last rain it looked like we had done a good job.

Clean, rockless soil. 

That was until the last rain.

After the rain the field, again was full of stones. Hundreds of them. Either rocks are like plants and grow well with a gentle spring shower, Either that or what happened is the soil settled and the rocks bubbled to the top.

Either way we have more rocks to pick up.

Rock picking party. This weekend. Saturday 12:30 to 2. If you want to help with the onion crop come on out. right now there is a 50/50 chance of showers but if its not raining I’d be glad to have your help.

Visit the farm and collect eggs. This Saturday 11-12:30

Other farm news?

Shares. We are sold out except for people wanting to sign up at the Manassas, pick up site.


If you signed up before the beginning of March you should have your payment in by now. If you signed up after that, your payment is due either April 15th or 30 days after you signed up, which ever is later.

Late payment? If you are late with your payment get it in to me as soon as possible. I haven’t started going through the list yet to see who has or hasn’t paid but I will soon and then, after writing and saying ‘where’s your payment?’ I’ll start contacting people on the waiting list.

egg shares. I had announced they were full however, like last year, we will be taking some of Susannah’s eggs. So if you wanted an egg share and didn’t get one you can sign up. If you want a whole dozen each week, lets wait. I’ll look at the egg supply closer to the first week of delivery and decide if we’ll sell whole dozen shares then.

Fruit shares. Since the fruit comes from a number of orchards I can always add more fruit.

Apple cider. I have ordered a hand made apple press so this fall we’ll have apple cider making parties. You don’t have to have a fruit share to be part of this. In the fall, I’ll buy bushels of apples for people who want to come out and make their own.

Honey bees and queens 

A couple hours ago I got a call from the local post office saying half a dozen queen bees had arrived in the mail and I should come down and pick them up.

These queens are a Russian/Yugoslavian cross. I bought them from a bee breeder out west because they are somewhat tolerant to Varroa mites.

Why do I care?

Several decades ago Varroa mites were accidentally imported into North America and quickly spread throughout the honey bee population wiping out honey bees like a plague.

Today, if you do not put a poison, a miteacide into your beehives the chances are with in two years they will be dead.

However, USDA researchers discovered a honey been living in Russia and the former Yugoslavia that was resistant.

What I will be doing is going into some of my old established hives, hives populated with Italian bees and I will kill the queen and replace her with the Russian.

The reason why?

Russian bees are more tolerant of Varroa mites. There is something the Russians do (or don’t do) that the Italian bees don’t (or do) that causes the mites to kill Italian honey bees.

What I’m hoping for is a bee that isn’t killed by the Vorroa mites.

Tomorrow, hopefully, I will get another call from the post office. This time announcing that 15 pounds of bees have arrived.

These will be Buckfast bees, Honeybees that were bred at the Buckfast abbey over in England for a number of good (by human thinking) characteristics one of them is resistance to Tracheal mites (this is another mite that was also accidentally imported into North America and has been also causing devastation).

The theory is, along with the surviver hives I have (bees that have survived attacks by the mites) my honeybees eventually will not be killed off by the mites.

and that’s it for the week. Oh, and before I close out what local animal sucks out the bodily fluids of its victims? Several animals do it but the one most common in our area is the Opossum. Most of the signs of last week’s attack on our chicken points to a possum or two getting into the fence. One thing that points in another direction, though, is the fact that so many birds were killed I n one night. Another animal that sucks out its victims fluids and also goes on a mad killing spree, killing more chickens than it can eat, is a weasel.

Except for the fact that weasels aren’t very common around here I would think its was a weasel. So my guess? An Opossum.
Leigh Hauter

Friday, April 03, 2009

pullet eggs

Before we start talking about the farm, here's a survey (and this does concern food). Last night I watched a 1943 Betty Davis/Millie Drake flick, Old Acquaintances. Early in the movie, Drake's put upon husband answers her nagging question that 'I couldn't get the hen eggs you wanted so I had to buy pullet eggs.'

Without going to a dictionary, what do you think? Poor writing? That's too bad? Cute?

My suspicion is the humor would have worked somewhat better on its 1943, just off the farm, audience than with today's mostly urban viewers.

What is your take on pullet eggs?

Anyway, I only brought it up because I was going to talk about pullets as an aside to last night.

Or was that this morning at 5 am.

Either way with daylight savings time it was dark as I made my way up the hill toward the greenhouse.

I flashed my light over at the pullets in their field to the right.

It was so early that rather than out and about, scratching, laying eggs, socializing they were still up roosting as tight as they could get. Wing to wing, thigh to thigh along the narrow roosting boards 6 feet up off the hen house floor.

(last weekend a shareholder came out and was so concerned about the amount of space provided the chickens for sleeping that she asked me about it three times.

"Isn't it crowded at night?"

Which I answered: "Have you ever seen chickens roosting? One of the leading causes of death for chickens not locked up in cages is called 'piling'. As in piling on top of each other."

At night chickens scrunch up as close as they can get to each other for... well I guess for warmth and security - though they will do it even when it is even hot at night. Leaving plenty of space completely unoccupied.

And if they are so young they haven't started roosting, well, the ones on the bottom of the pile. I guess I don't have to describe that.

Anyway, when they are older and can fly up to roost they will perch wing to wing all along their perches, choosing an occupied perch before they will deem to spent the night on an empty one all by themselves).

But, so much for that. Let's get down to the action.

It's dark. I have this powerful flashlight. I'm walking up the drive toward the greenhouse.

I flash the light over at the pullets (and a couple roosters). They are all up on their roosts. Wing to wing.

No sign of a predator.

My real concern is not predators, after all we have the Great Pyrenees (GP) for farm animal protection.

I flash the light up the driveway and there's Marcus our head GP. Snoring. (He's been up, no doubt, the last five hours, running from one end of the farm to the other barking at suspected farm terrorists. Foxes, coyotes, and the biggest terrorist of them all, especially for all of us vegetable eaters. Deer!)

That's when I see her. Rapunzel. one of our three ex-barn cats turned house cats. Coming out of the rye.

You can take the cat out of the barn but you can't take the barn out of the cat.

From Rapunzel's teeth dangles a rodent.

A baby rabbit, I think. Dead. Blood dripping.

Caught in my spotlight she hesitates for just a moment before continuing on her way, across the drive and around the large poplar where we load the vegetables in the summer.

Of our three cats, Rapunzel is the one that roams the farthest a-field.

If we go for a walk at night we have to watch that she doesn't follow us. Getting tired over a mile from the house were our dogs aren't around to protect her could mean she turns in to a meal.

Especially when she has no fear of Coyotes.

There has been many a night when I'm out patrolling the fields and chicken pastures making sure all is cop-acetic I'll run across Rapunzel, out hunting.

Sometimes, down in the hoophouses in between the tomatoes.

Sometimes coming out of the woods, hunting on the edge of our various fields.

One season, when we were having a specially bad ground hog problem, literally hundreds of cabbages and broccoli disappearing every night, I set out half a dozen have-a-heart traps on the edge of the field half a mile away from the house.

In the morning, instead of a ground hog there was Rapunzel. her nose bloody from repeatedly trying and failing to lift the steel door that had slamming down behind her.

Once she disappeared for several weeks and when she returned there was a large wound on her side. Only partially healed. (we thought she was going to die).

No telling what animal she had encountered on one of her nightly strolls and whether it has attacked her, she it, or the encounter had been mutual.

The vital statistic, though, is she survived, with the fur on her side growing back a sort of silver-white rather than the normal deep grey.

Which brings us all the way around to the farm news.

And I guess we can start with the pullet eggs. All 100 dozen a week are now accounted for. SOLD OUT! 

However, A number of people want an egg share larger than half a dozen eggs a week. 'Is this possible?', I'm asked. 'Can we get more eggs?'

The answer -- Well, yes, but not our pullet eggs. Last year half the eggs came from a local certified organic egg raiser. This year all of the eggs come from our chickens. However, we could change this. Do you want more eggs coming from other local chickens than ours? If so, e-mail me. If there's enough demand, I'll contact the local egg raiser and see what I can do about price and quantities.

Other farm news?
The 16th and P as well as the East Falls Church location are now full.

Several people have asked the question. 'How do I know which pick up place I'm signed up for?' The answer-- Unless I have told you otherwise, you are signed up for the spot you asked for when you signed up.

Next question -- How do I know if I'm signed up? If you asked for a share and I sent you back a confirmation e-mail telling you what you signed up for (ie two person vegetable and an egg share or whatever it was you requested), you are signed up. Of course the share isn't yours until you pay for it, but...

When and how do I pay for my share? Again look at your confirmation e-mail. The date the payment is due, the farm mailing address, and how you make the check out (to me) is all there.

'I want to visit the farm, when can I come?' Next visiting time is this Saturday, March 14th, 11-1. 

And for all of you people who want to come out and work. (I've received almost a dozen requests) How about coming out Saturday after that, say 1 until maybe 2. We could pick up rocks from the bottom field, or maybe rehab the cemetery wall.

The hoophouse arrives next week, as do several dozen fruit trees. So next weekend there is plenty of work for volunteers.

Until next week.

bear breaks hibernation

I think one of our bears has broken hibernation.

At least the other night the starved war orphan looking creature that caused such a ruckus on the back hill sure looked a lot like that bear I caught eating our vegetables out of the delivery van last fall.

Only. Only he looked a couple hundred pounds lighter.

The dogs saw him first. Or maybe they smelled him (what do you think a bear smells like after spending a winter all cooped up in a cave?)

It was a little after midnight and I was at my desk doing paperwork, when the dogs started up a storm behind the house.

At first I didn't pay it much attention.

A raccoon? Moonbeams racing through the forest?

And then the barking became serious. The terrified bark just before a dog bites.


Not teenage boys pushing each other back and forth in a parking lot. Throwing names and insults but not throwing punches and kicks.

This sounded like... I don't know. The sound of townspeople picking up their hammers and hoes as barbarians breached their walls and beat in their gates (I was going to say, the sound of the fighting on that dock in the old Neil Young song if the boat had landed before the kid telling the story was shot).

I quickly got up, grabbed a flashlight and went out the back door.

And there they were. The bear on one side of the deer fence and the dogs on the other side.

They were moving back and forth along the fence. I recognized the bear right off. I have a picture of him when he climbed up in the tree last October. Only this time he looked like he was wearing a suit four or five sizes too big for him.

The dogs, Andorra and Marcus, with their teeth bared. Screaming out barks and then suddenly jumping in to bite.

Fortunately the fence kept both sides from getting hurt. The bear, even in his anorexia state looked just about as large as the two of them together.

If he got a hold of one of them....

I don't know what brought the bear was coming up the hill. This time of year it couldn't have been the bees. After a winter of fasting all of my remaining hives were living on subsistence and bare welfare. Most of their stores are depleted.

Probably the chickens.

I imagine if I was a hungry bear the sound of all our chickens clucking and a crowing would be enough to get me up from my winter's fast. I imagine a bear, if he could catch them, could chomp down on a dozen or so laying hens in a matter of minutes, Feathers, bones and all.

The fight went on for another3 minute.

I didn't go down the hill and intervene. I thought, 'it'll no doubt work its self out.'

And anyway, that's what the dogs are paid for. That's what Great Pyrenees are breed for.

That's why we have them.

And they're much better equipped to scare off a bear than I am.

At the end of another minute, or two, the bear disappeared back into the woods. The dogs switched from fighting off barbarians at the town gate tp the bark teenage boys in a parking lot.

And finally even that stopped. The dogs adrenaline rush fades as did their barks and finally they turned and with an occasional bark over their shoulders turned and came back toward the house.

Oh well. Another sign of spring. 

We're still several weeks, maybe a month away from the last frost. It's still too early for that bear to find much food, (unless, of course, unless it means eating our chickens.

It's even too early for the honeybees.

This last week I spent time out feeding our bees. 

Honey bees, around here, need to start building up their hives right about now. They need to start raising children. Increasing the hive population so when the nectar starts flowing there are enough workers to fly out and collect it.

That means making babies.

Which means having food to feed them.

And since there is hardly any nectar out there bring in and only a little bit of pollen from early bloomers like the skunk cabbage it means I have to get out there and give them food.

(another problem our honey bees are having, that is besides the new diseases and parasites they've been subjected to as a result of a side-effect of global trade, is the stress caused by the warming climate. 

It wasn't too long ago that honeybees would go into winter with a store of honey and come out in the spring with plenty of honey still saved to raise an overflowing hive full bees.

Now, with the warmer winters, instead of hibernating, all balled up for warmth in the deep recesses of the hive now there are many days were the temperature rises enough for the bees to leave their hibernation and to go out, to take out the trash, to carry out the bodies of their sisters who died over the winter. To go out to collect water. To look for food.

Only in January there isn't any food and instead of conserving energy and supplies the warm weather causes the bees metabolism to go up, to need more food.

Which means if I want my bees to survive the winter I now have to feeding them.

Which means mixing up sugar water. 1 part sugar to 1 part water. Mixing it up. Putting it into gallon glass jars with a few holes punched in the metal top. And putting the jar, upside down, inside the beehive.

This way the bees, on those warm days, can collect the sugar water and the queen can start laying eggs.

Not only that, but this past week a friend drove down to Georgia and came back with a truck load of bees.

I don't know how many he brought, the truck was full, but I bought 30 pounds from him. Thirty pounds of bees, separated into ten 3 pound packages, each package with its own queen.

The packages I opened and along with the queen, put into bee boxes. Creating ten new beehives.

Another 5 packages will be coming in the mail from Texas in about two weeks to make 15 new hives I'm adding this year to make up for the ones killed by the bears, killed by the accidentally imported mites, and ones that died from unknown causes, Maybe virus', maybe pesticides, maybe, I don't know.

Other farm news

Eggs. I talked to Susannah, the organic egg and chicken woman from the southern part of the county, and decided she would privide us with 50 dozen eggs a week. That means we have more egg shares available. If you want one, E-mail me, I might, also, sell some whole dozen egg shares but I haven't decided yet. I'll let you know, if I do, in about a month.

Vegetable shares. We are down to the last ten shares. I'll sell a few more to the Alexandria pick up and the rest to be picked up in Manassas or at the farm.

Payments. I misspoke in last week's newsletter. I forgot to mention those of you who signed up early last fall. If you renewed under the early sign up program your final payment should be sent within the next month. The people that signed up this year should look at their confirmation e-mail for the payment due date.

Free eggs/ Farm visits. It's supposed to rain this weekend but if you want to come out --- come out 11 to 1 on Saturday. We are flooded with eggs. the chickens are getting in shape for this summer's egg share so come out prepared to bring a dozen or two home with you.

Seedlings. the greenhouse is close to full with seedlings.. Almost all of our spring and summer plants are right now growing in the greenhouse. I think we're up to almost 60,000 seedlings.

Other plants -- suddenly we have too much work to do. 600 asparagus roots came this week and need putting in the ground. 300 raspberry brambles arrived. 100 horseradish roots.

Hoophouses. Our new hoop houses have arrived and needs erecting. Pipes hammered into the ground. The old hoophouses are without plastic. We took off the old and its time to put on the new.

Not this Saturday, its not fun to work with a cold drizzle falling, but next Saturday we might invite people to come out and help get the hoophouses ready for planting. Let's see, first, how much work we get done in that direction next week. I'll announce it in next week's newsletter.

Thanks to the people that stayed around last Saturday and helped. We sure picked up a lot of rocks and the help I got with the bees gave me enough free time to go for a hike down the valley.

And speaking of hikes, with spring coming on, think about coming out for a hike. I don't have one yet, but I'll make up a map marking the various trails.

Leigh Hauter


Instead of starting right away with a story of this week's farm happenings I was thinking that I'd just give a farm summary. A sort of vegetable/chicken Headline News .

Something like---

Vampire attack kills six in chicken yard!

Eerie glow continues to light up eastern night sky.

Wrens squat in blue bird house

New source discovered for rotten cow manure

Hoophouse expansion well under way.

Early Lettuce, Arugula, Spinach planted for pick your own 45 days from now!

Buzzards roosting over lower field.

There's a Blue Bird Right Out my Window!

And that’s just the front page. Besides that I could add a business section. (when I taught tenth grade English, back when there was a section in the curriculum on figuring out newspapers, I always said the important news, the stuff that explained what was really happening, was often hidden back in the business section).

Things like--

Share Payment Due Date Passes.

Also, in the business section I think there would be a column. A sort of ‘what if’ piece.

What if you miss your payment due date?

The ‘what if’ would say I’m not going to immediately drop you from the shareholder list and resell your share to someone on the waiting list. But I do want to hear from you. Either a check or, lacking that, a note telling me what's going on.

If you missed the due date send in your check soon. (within the week). Or, if you can’t, write me and tell me why and that you intend to do.

Then, after business there is always the  entertainment section.

That’s where things like farm outings get mentioned. As in --

Open House/farm tour/ get some eggs

The farm outing is where we walk up the hill to the greenhouse. Look inside at the almost 70,000 seedlings. Along the way I usually tell an embarrassing (not to me) story or two about Wenonah growing up on the farm (stories she would usually prefer I refrained from retelling).

Answer questions about the farm. Point out the farm equipment. Tell how (briefly) it works.

Then we walk down to where the chickens are pastured and that's where people (and kids) go about collecting eggs. Which, with Easter rapidly approaching, is pretty appropriate.

And for those who just want to come out and skip the tour, who have done it before,there are eggs. And hikes. Directions are on the webpage.

Also under entertainment, I think, is the helping on the farm section. If you want to do some work, we can always use help.

This week, I was going to have people pick up rocks, fix the stone walls. Walls, sort of like that one in that poem. ( I can still hear my 8th grade English teacher reading it. She sure liked Frost) ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,‘

Our walls, all except for the one around the house, have decades of abuse.

And maybe, if the fields are too wet and we can't get out to pick up the rocks without making a muddy mess, we could put plastic up over one of the new hoophouses. If its not too windy (trying to unfurl a 100 foot by 30 foot piece of plastic on a windy day is always challenging. Sort of like being a passenger on a human sized kite. On occasions I've been lifted up as high as a dozen feet in the air.).

But that's enough for the entertainment section. Let's get back to the front page and that banner headline. 


The time was a week ago. Last Friday night. A night where the weather works in well with a 1930's movie of Transylvania. (or maybe Poe and the House of Ushers).



Deep fog. Your legs are lost in it. This, interlaced with sudden downpours.

And thunder.

I didn't go out that evening. And the dogs? Well, the storm was so loud, they didn't hear anything. I didn't hear them barking.

Actually, I had fallen asleep on the sofa with a mystery by the fire and stiffly woke in the early morning with the memory of a vivid dream.

A dream where I was standing at the door of the hen house. There was a heavy fog. I could barely see down to the ground but I was counting the chickens as they scurried in and out of the hen house.

I was standing there watching them, trying to count and every once in a while, instea of a hen there would be a raccoon, or a bob cat. An opossum.

I didn't remember the dream clearly until I was on my way up the stairs.

I stopped and could see them again.

The chickens scurrying back and forth with all of those predators at my feet..

I stopped and almost turned around. Almost went back downstairs and put on my boots. Grabbed a flashlight and went out into the rain.

Instead I stood there on the stairs for a moment, thinking. thinking about the dream and then turning and continuing up the stairs and off to bed.,

It was the next morning when I saw the corpses (do you refer to dead chickens as corpses?). I had gone out with the first bunch of Saturday visitors. We were down in the hen yard when I saw the fence down.

The storm must have knocked it over.

And as you probably know, when an electric fence touches the ground, it stops working. Its grounded. It no longer gives a shock. The charge, instead of going through the hand, or nose or claws of the creature that is touching it.

The charge instead goes on to the ground. harmlessly making up a complete circuit.  

To the ground and back to the charger.

And the predator can easily step over the fence and do as it may with the chickens.

In this case it was six hens. All of the chickens were dispatched in the same manner.

Their bodies were whole. Only, something had bitten them in the neck and, from that wound had sucked out all of their bodily fluids.

The thighs, the breasts, the legs, they were all there, laying in the mud. What all of these chickens had in common was a bite on the neck and the missing bodily fluids.


Or, in this case, another animal.

What animal eats its victim in this manner? From the inside out?

The next night, Saturday night. Instead of just picking up the fence and making sure it wasn't grounded, I took Andorra down to the chicken pasture and put her in with the chickens.

She has much to much fur around her neck, I reasoned, to be bit by a vampire. Or whatever. A vampire wouldn't have much luck in biting through all that fur.

That was at ten in the evening.

And the next morning, I came downstairs. Put on some music.

Thought of the chickens, Andorra. and opened the back door, the one that goes out on the deck, taking my binoculars. From there I could see the chickens. I could look out and see what had happened.

Had Andorra caught the culprit?

Was the fence still standing?

Or were their chicken bodies laying everywhere?

I opened the door and, before I could step out, there was Andorra, wagging her tail. Smelling like a wet dog..

She had apparently escaped during the night. Had left the chickens unguarded. And had come up to the house to greet us.

I quickly put on my boots. Rushed down to the chicken pasture.

There was the fence where Andorra had escaped. She had jumped it, knocking it askew.

And the chickens? they all seemed to be fine. No new dead bodies. No bite marks in the throat.

And the vampire? What creature eats its victims in that manner? That's a research question for you. I'll give the answer to the people that come out Saturday. That come out for the farm visit. And the others? I'll put it up on the blog sometime next week.

I'll put it up by Wednesday. Give you time to find out on your own.

Leigh Hauter