Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Motherless dog

I better start out, before I tell you the story about the poor orphaned dog,  the one with the excellent blood line.

One of those pedigrees that seem to go back to the beginning of time.  One of those things with generation after generation  of ancestors with names like 'King Mighty Dog' and 'Prince Bigger and Better than Anyone Else'. (not to mention 'Queen Loud and Very Ferocious').

Only  somehow, somewhere along the line our high born dog went astray and instead of being carried
around in one of those boxes,  or maybe they're called carts.

Anyway,  you've no doubt seen them in movies.  Those things that some important person climbs into and the four servants  hoisting it up, important person and all, with a wave of a hand, set off down the road.

And if its a woman inside the box,  she pulls back the curtain and makes eye contact with some handsome knight or something in disguise in the crowd.

Well, our poor orphaned dog has a lot in common with the woman being carried around inside the box.  They both have those bloodlines.  Long Pedigrees.

But before I overdo it way to much and before I tell you about the dogs adopted mother,  you'll see her if you come out to the farm.  That large Kabota  tractor.  But before I tell you about his relationship with his adopted mother the farm tractor.  let's do something important.

The more or less weekly Open Farm, Tour and Egg Giveaway!

Saturday March 10th (that's tomorrow)  as usual  11-1 or even 2 if you can't get here earlier.

Requirements.  This isn't mandatory but could you please bring all the egg cartons you can get your hands on.  We are now out of cartons and are having to resort to storing eggs in buckets.  (think what that does to the eggs on the bottom).

What else can you do at the farm besides get eggs?

Of course you can collect eggs.  We'll leave all of the eggs that are layed after noon today in the nests so there will be plenty of eggs to collect from right under the hens.

Tours.  If you haven't been out yet it will be a nice day (in the 50's) for a walk around the farm while I play show and tell and answer any questions you might have about the farm,  the vegetables,  the CSA.   What's it mean to be a shareholder.

Things  of note that are happening on the farm right now.

Such as:

The seedlings.  All of the heated tables inside our greenhouse are now full of flats with many seedlings already up and growing.

My guess without actually getting up from the computer and walking up to the greenhouse and counting is that we've planted about 40,000 seeds in 800 flats.  That means we're over half way there.  We've started the first go-round of things like broccoli, cabbage cauliflower, lettuce, arugula, mustard pack choi  and other plants like them with second  and maybe thirds to go (we're talking spring plantings).

We've also started most of the tomatoes. Besides five varieties the expensive greenhouse tomato seeds we've started maybe a dozen other varieties, a mixture of heirlooms brandywines to those tasty orange cherry tomatoes called sun gold.

This year we've spent a lot of time and money choosing  a number of recommended bell peppers for growing inside hoophouses as well as out in the field  (when you go to the grocery store and see all of *  those almost universally are grown in hoops and heated greenhouse.

And speaking of hoophouse peppers and particularly those brightly colored peppers you've seen in the grocery store I might as well meander a little and give you a some brightly colored bell pepper facts and trivia.

One year while driving around Sicily, Along the southern coast we passed literally thousands of hoophouses.

Many of them handmade by bending  some sort of pliable limb or vines to make the supporting ribs over which was put long sheets of greenhouse plastic.

Several times we stopped and jumped the fence to see what was growing inside.

What we found were huge pepper plants (I didn't know it then but peppers if grown in a warm climate are perennial and will live for many years producing fruit every year.

The plants in Sicily  were bearing large bells that had reached the stage where the green fruit begins to turn colors..

Brightly colored orange, red and yellow peppers.

Destined, no doubt, for the markets of the other EU countries and maybe even for US grocery chains.

Hopefully, this year, instead of getting bells that have been flown halfway around the globe, as they do, passing just a few hundred miles south of Greenland on their way to the shelves of Wholefoods or, these days, Walmart.

(several times, when flying home from Europe, I've looked out the window and seen the southern tip of Greenland almost right below the plane's right wing. . I imagine vegetables fly the same route to he US as people do).

Hopefully, this year,  instead of buying colored bells that were grown in Sicily or down in the Peloponnese  (just before the Greek economy fell through the floor) we  toured ruins, and took our rental car over dirt roads that weaved over mountains and several times while stopping to let goat herds complete with boys herding them and guardian dogs, just like our two great Pyrenees, we got out of the rental and looked at hoop houses full of colorful bells.

This year, hopefully, instead of your bell peppers coming to you via the airspace over Greenland we'll grow them right here at home.

(what does a bell pepper, anyway, need with all those frequent flier miles, especially since, with the new rules, they are not transferable).

And seeing the clock, I better finish this newsletter up and get it out to you or no one will be coming out with their own cartons to collect eggs Saturday.

So if you do  (come to the farm tomorrow) that dog, the one that's standing back a few dozen yards and barking.   (don't worry about him,  he wouldn't even dream of hurting a person.  he's actually a real sweet heart and if you stayed around long enough he would finally wag his tail and slowly, getting closer  and closer, would manage to get close enough that he could reach out his head with the hope that you would pet him, or maybe just scratch him behind the ears.

He'd really like that.

And if you come out to the farm, if you want I'll tell you about him and tractors.  Actually, about him and one particular tractor.  our larger Kabota.  And how he's, kind of, bonded with it.  At night, he'll be out there with the tractor.  No matter where we park it.

He'll be there.  Not sleeping.  But protecting.

JC,  that's what the woman at the rescue society/orphanage named him,  spends his nights with that tractor.

Protecting it from harm.  Watching over it.  Just like those livestock guardian dogs we saw in Greece acted towards their goats.

But maybe more on that next week.  The dog with the adopted tractor.

Or something like that.


lightning strikes again

I was up and about first thing this morning, driving 10-20 miles to the south of our farm take care of some  chores and  everywhere were daffodils.


Full blooms.  Bright yellow.

And this is only March 2nd.

I know the USDA moved the hardiness zones up half a zone  (last year the farm was in a 6B zone and now we're in a 7a )

But still, daffodils blooming on the second day of March?

For all of the renewing shareholders out there, remember how we ended up starting the season a week earlier than usual because the vegetables were coming ripe a week earlier?  Well I think I will be doing that again this year only lets plan on it rather than letting it surprise us.  We'll start vegetable deliveries on the week starting June 4th rather than the next week like we normally would.  (don't worry about remembering that now, I'll be reminding you a number of times as we get closer to the first delivery).

Other things that have been happening out here?

We started seedlings this past week and many of the seeds are already germinating.  A rough guess is we've put between 30,000 and 35,000 seeds into flats.  That's about half way to what we will plant.

So far, some of the seeds we've started are: tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, kohlrabi, Italian basil, Thai basil, lemon basil, chives, oregano, thyme, sweet marjoram, tarragon, collards, kale, Swiss Chard, several mustards, tomatillos, endive, ground cherries, gooseberries  (not the perennial bush but an annual that looks like a large ground cherry) and probably a good dozen others that I'm forgetting.

We'll be transplanting most of the greens we've started already in a hoophouse as soon as they are large enough.

We'll be filling the two large high tunnels with tomatoes and taking four of the narrower tunnels  for hot peppers, bell peppers, eggplants and cucumbers as a way to extend their season.

I've been also looking into building a dozen or so raised beds as a place to grow vegetables like carrots that we've had problems with in the past.

Renewing for 2012.  If  you were a past shareholder and want to sign up for this year you should send me an e-mail soon to reserve yourself a spot.

Mushrooms.   We talked about something like a mushroom share at the end of the 2011 season and a significant number of people wrote back saying they were interested.  This is a note to say,  'I haven't forgotten.'  I have been doing research trying to figure out the logistics.  When I decide whether its worth the effort to go forward I'll put a notice in the newsletter giving a description of what the program will look like.  Right now I'm leaning to limiting it to just shiitakes this first year simply because I have experience growing those and unlike the other mushrooms Virginia is known to have an ideal shiitake climate.  After the first year, when I feel confident that I've mastered shiitakes I'll begin to add other mushrooms.

Though I have not yet made the move into investing in supplies and spoor.  But once I have a good grip on what its going to cost, I'll  put out a notice that will give those with interest in it an idea of the scope of this year's program and you can decide then if its something you want to sign up for.

Open house with free eggs for shareholders.  Saturday  11-1 as usual. While we have started selling them at $2 a dozen to non-shareholders they are free to all of you 2012 shareholders and to everyone that had an egg share last year.  I'll also show you around, give you a sort of orientation to the farm and answer any questions you have.

Be advised though. there's a prediction for an 80% chance of thunderstorms Saturday.  I know, living in the city, thunderstorms don't seem to be that big of a deal.

How many people have  been struck by lightning while strolling down K street?  Or for that matter,  Over on Quaker Lane in Alexandria?  Lightning doesn't seem to be all that dangerous in the city, or the suburbs.

Out here. though,  its a different matter.  Without all of those tall buildings equipped with lightning roods on their roofs lightning storms are dangerous.

Example - It was the first year we lived here.

1984, I think.

Back then I was a high school teacher and because I didn't have the  money to buy a  tractor and the fields and yard  around what then was an old farm house in serious disrepair.  I had read somewhere that goats did a great job eating weeds and cleaning fields.

So I looked in the local paper and found an ad for goats and ended up buying three  at $75 each which was about all I could afford back then.

The article was right about goats eating weeds.  As soon as I let them loose they started mowing down the weeds in the overgrown field in front of the house.

Unfortunately, though,  the article was more noteworthy for the things it had omitted about goats than they facts it had included.

One of the things the article didn't mention was that goats eat a lot more than just weeds.

 Goats eat just about anything, but they will go out of their way to eat certain plants while barely nibbling on others.

In fact if you were going to draw up a chart with the plants and trees goats really liked to eat at the top and the ones they only nibbled at the bottom it would look a lot a list  you had drawn up with the plants and trees you liked the most at the top and the ones you didn't like at the bottom.

Only, with your list the ones at the top would be plants we'd like to keep around.  Our list would start with flowers and plants that are nice to look at.  Or maybe trees that have some intrinsic value.  They produce fruit, shade.  Are pleasing to look at .

With goats the plants at the top would be the ones they eat.  (actually the term should be - kill).  The top of the list would be plants they kill quickly and the bottom ones they might just happened to nibble on as they happened to walk by.

That's why I was up in the far end of the field.  Repairing a fence.

(I didn't mention, yet, that goats also have an amazing ability to escape from even the best fence as long as there was a plant from the top of your list located, say, within a mile.

I had caught the goats down in my newly planted vegetable garden sampling the just emerged onions and had hauled them back up,  opened the gate to the newly encircled goat pasture, and got them through the gate when they quickly ran back over to the hole they had torn and were out again.

The next time I caught them, hauled them through the gate I beat them to the hole and started repairing it.

I was busy when the first roar of thunder echoed down the mountain side.

One moment its a beautiful sunny summer afternoon with a deep blue sky and the next was covered with threatening clouds and the goats were gone.

They had enough sense to retreat to their shelter.

Growing up in Arlington I can't remember anyone I ever knew getting struck by lightning.  Or coming close to getting struck.

So I kept on working.

Sure it was going to rain,  but what was getting wet compared to having to chase down those goats again.

The next thing I knew there was an explosion.

No more then ten yards away,  where there had been a hundred foot tall poplar tree something happened.

I looked up as spears of splintered poplar tree started raining on the ground around me.  Some of them sticking point down as if they had been thrown.

The top half of the tree was gone. and the bottom half was smoking.

It took me only a few seconds to digest what had happened.

I didn't even bother to pick up my tools.  I made a run straight for the house and if lightning struck again before I got there I was too preoccupied to notice.

And I guess the moral of that story, the practical lesson,  if we're having thunderstorms tomorrow before noon.  lets' not come out.  The eggs will keep in our refrigerators until the following week.


As Dorthy passed overhead

Finally, a newsletter finished before Friday afternoon.

First -- open house again this Saturday.  Usual time  11-1. This weekend there will be  free eggs for everyone that comes out.

Besides free eggs we'll be doing our usual.  Taking the kids (and those who are kids at heart) into the chicken houses and gathering eggs.

 For the new shareholders (and anyone else who wants to hear me) I'll be giving the usual tour and talk about our farm and CSA.

Of course there is the offer of a walk or hike.

 I'll show you the various trails and gravel roads and maybe even leading a 4 or 5 mile hike down the valley towards the remains of Beverly Mill or to that quarry where they had that day long skirmish/battle back in 1862

(that quarry is the same place where, a few years back when hiking with some shareholders a 500+ pound black bear  rambled past us going in the direction we'd just come from.

When he got parallel to us, less than 20 yards away, he stopped, stood up on his hind legs (at least 7 feet tall) and sniffed the air.

Apparently not detecting us, he dropped back down and continued rambling in the same direction.,  I even had time to snap a couple pictures that are up on the webpage.

Other farm news.

A couple Saturday's ago, with our weather station clocking the wind in front of our house  at 39 miles per hour, (we're at 800 feet) we could hear a deafening roar up above us and when I looked I could have sworn I saw Dorothy's house in those thick clouds that were pouring over the ridge to the North-east (1100 feet) of us and then disappearing over the crest of Highpoint  (that's 1319 feet) to the west.

She must have been on her way back to Kansas.

I don't know what the wind speed is up there (I've been waiting for an owner of one of the half dozen 5000 or so square foot houses that have been built up there in the last decade, to get a weather station and then register its readings with wunderground.com so I can follow it on the internet and compare it with the weather we get down here in the valley.

Here's a sense of how it is up there, though. A few years back we were friends with a couple that built the large log house right on top above Hopewell Gap.  They said that when the wind blew like that,  when it blew so loud we'd hear a roaring donw on the bottom of the mountain,  they would have to batten down all of their doors and windows and hide in an interior room.

They said that during one of those wind storms,  not only could they hear the wind roaring as it cleared the mountain top but even with the shutters pulled and the windows bolted the house would fill with sand and dust.

They have since moved off the mountain  and the long house I think, is being rented out.

But back to the wind.

This happened, the Northeaster, to be at the same time we were getting ready to replace the greenhouse plastic on the large heated greenhouse.

Before we could put on the new  four year plastic the old sheets were taken off and left up in the woods leaving the greenhouses metal frame standing naked.

The new plastic arrived later that week in the afternoon when there was no wind so we quickly unrolled it and tying rope to two corners pulled it over the top and just before dark temporarily attached it.

The next morning just before we set about attaching it right another wind started out of the North East and at 9:10 the plastic ripped off and flew up into the woods.

We spent most of that day  putting it back on and this time attaching it so it wouldn't blow off.

Now that the greenhouse is up we've been busy starting seedlings

Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant for the  hoophouses.***

***(As you probably know, we use hoophouses as season extenders. As a way of being able to grow and harvest these vegetables earlier than the ones that grow out in the field).

The greens we are starting now are also destined to grow inside.  this time so you can come out to the farm before the delivery season begins and harvest greens to take home.

Besides several varieties of lettuce we've started Swiss Chard, arugula, mustards, kale and collards.

We've also started a number of herbs herbs and several varieties of flowers that we'll be transplanting into 4 inch pots to give as part of the share during the season.

We've also started broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower in time to transplant in mid April so they will be ready for the June shares.  In the next several weeks we'll also be starting pac choi for June and then everything else that we gets planted in the field as a seedling rather than a seed..

One of the most often asked questions.  What are you growing that's new?

Last night I ordered seeds for half a dozen Asian vegetables I don't usually grow. Asian cucumbers. Japanese sweet peppers, edamame and two new varieties of bitter melon (yes, I know, not everyone likes bitter melon but we're trying several varieties that are popular and not as 'bitter' as the one we grew last year).

Soon we'll be planting a field of peas.  The problem with peas they ripen before the shares are ready.  This year we intend to grow them as a spring pick your own.  Something people can come out to the farm in May and pick.

Last year we didn't grow very much fennel. This year I've bought enough seed for everyone to have several weeks worth.

This year we'll be growing cucumbers inside so there will be more cucumbers and earlier than in the past.

More kale and collards than in the past.

Do you have any other ideas?

So far I've put in seed orders with over half a dozen seed companies spending, I don't know how many thousand dollars.

I imagine that by mid March we will have seedlings growing on just about every available flat surface in the heated greenhouse  (its 32 feet wide by 96 feet long).

Usually, that's in the neighborhood of 70,000 seedlings.

In early may we'll have our annual seedling day where we give away as part of the share just about 10,000 of those plants to our shareholders.  Is there a flower or herb you would like to plant in your yard or window box?

Anyway,  while Saturday is not supposed to be as nice as it is today come on out anyway.  It will still be nice when considering the usual weather for this time of the year.  See what's going on, gets some eggs and maybe go for a walk.ß