Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Reflections of Spring/Summer 2017

For some reason this growing season has been difficult for me.  The early spring, all was going well, a lot of the garden was installed and growing.  We had super early tomatoes, I was picking tomatoes before the end of June which is quite good here in central Virginia.  Some were heirloom and of course, the grape and cherry tomatoes were producing.  Our garlic harvest was huge, we grew enough to plant the fall garden, dehydrate, ferment, have plenty to cook  and lots for the goats to eat as snacks.  The onions were plentiful and tasty. The early corn was planted and growing, 

Squash, yellow and zucchini, were producing and for the first season we had squash until early October when the nighttime temperature was too cold for them to grow.  The other squash, Italian, did not do as well as before,  I think a small garden is catching up with me.  I do remove most of the soil and replace with new compost hoping to confuse the plants and they think they are the first squash planted in the space but this year I did not get the harvest I would have liked to have.

Blackberries, we had a wonderful harvest, lots of wine and brandy was made, enough to make the winter.  Raspberries, the fall crop was good.  Strawberries, we continue to struggle with the voles enjoying our plants but I am working on a change in the way I plant.

Time to plant the second crop of corn and seeds would not come up.  I fed, watered, mulched, complained and there were not any sprouts coming from the ground.  I had planted the bloody butcher corn and it was coming up without any problems.  Sweet corn just would not sprout, I sprouted some and planted, within 24 hours it was gone.  After 3 weeks I accepted defeat and moved in other directions.

I have always gardened for food storage, but this year I made a change and gardened to have veggies for the summer.  This is the first year I did not put up a lot of our veggies, but we have been eating good, delicious meals.   Mr. Bootsie has never eaten onion or tomato sandwiches and this summer he learned just how delicious these sandwiches are.  I know for years he has wanted to have my brain checked because I ate so many of these sandwiches, but he is eating them and asking for them as I was a bit concerned he would stop wanting these goodies if I fixed them too often.

I found new ways to celebrate fresh veggies, squash with eggs, new additions to pizzas, vegetables with pasta and salads of every variety.  While I was on a mission to enjoy every veggie which came from the garden, it hit.  Temperatures in excess of 90 degrees, the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants quit, not a bloom would set.  No blooms means no veggies and my harvest was going to drop off.  I went from plenty of veggies to almost nothing in the middle of the summer.  The city folk, who came for a visit, would ask why don't you have veggies?  My answer was just to hot.  This hot lasted from quite a while, there was a short break for a couple of days, the temperature went in the low 80's and some blooms were able to set.  This did give us a few late tomatoes and peppers. After the heat, in September we went for a long dry spell.  The squash plants I was able to water and when the temperature did break I was able to harvest my first ever summer squash in September.  I was so excited about the squash I forgot about the loss of peppers, tomatoes, butter beans, late snaps and of course, corn. 

The garden has veggies which our goats, chickens and ducks enjoy.  Most anything we could not use was consumed by the pasture crew.  Corn is loved by the goats and chickens, while the ducks seem to enjoy the lettuce and other greens most of all. 

The gamble begins in the spring when the seeds and baby plants go into the garden beds.  There is always a I wonder, wonder, wonder what will happen this season.  I really can't complain because we had a wonderful garden, ate so many delicious veggies and learned many ways to use the crops we grow.  I know I won the gamble, because now Mr. Bootsie is eating my favorite sandwiches, just for  his enjoying tomatoes and onion sandwiches this summer was a win, win on our little farm.

Last tomato was picked October 31, 2017
What a wonderful year!!!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Polish Chicks, A Lesson Learned

This has been a busy spring, Little Gray became broody and nothing but set her.  I found some eggs from a farming friend over in Bumpass as you know everyone is using all their eggs in the spring for their own hatching so I was pleased to find some eggs.  We set Little Gray and like clockwork she had 3 little baby chicks in her nest.  There were more eggs but they did not hatch.  Little Gray seemed pleased just to have baby chicks.  She was such a good momma hen.  I had no idea as to what chicks I should expect but I knew this farmer raised Polish chicks.  All of a sudden there were things on their heads and they looked as if they were frightened to death.  Momma hen deserted the nest, she wanted nothing to do with these misfits on our farm.  The weather was warm and the little chicks were doing good without any help from an adult hen so all was well.

I felt the other hens thought something was not quite the way it should be and they really were extra mean to momma hen.  No one would roost with her, this continues.  She has been accepted back into the flock during the day, nighttime she goes to her roosting pole by herself, there has been a few times when someone would try to roost with her but it did not last very long.  Before broody she roosted with 4 other hens every night, they do not even look in her direction any more.  Someday I will understand (or maybe not) how the mind of chicken works.

All is well as the little Polish with their big heads spend the day with the ducks in the duck run.  The little Polish are workers as they are busy turning the compost everyday.  They come out to free-range once a day with all the other girls.  I have to watch close as the girls are always trying to pluck the head feathers.  I did learn I needed to trim their feathers so they could see.  This was an experience for me.  Mr. Bootsie was afraid they may bleed to death if I cut the feathers.  The first time, I cut a couple of feathers from one chick, the next morning everything seemed to be going as normal and Mr. Bootsie settled down,  helping to hold the chicks so I could trim their feathers.

There was total unrest in the duck and chicken run after a few days.  The little rooster came into his own and he thought he could pick on just about anyone,   Momma Duck was not going to have anything to do with this little bird flying up into her face and quickly he was not welcome in the duck run.  We had something happen to one of our ducks and she passed away, at this point in time I was concerned as to what had happened to her.  When I put them in for the night she was a little slow and by morning she had given up her life.  I knew, with this happening, there was nothing I could do but keep these birds and my farm on lock-down for 2 weeks but I did 3 weeks.

I was going to return the little birds to the farmer who had shared the eggs with me but I did not want to take any thing to her farm which would be a problem.  When I shared what had happened she was more concerned for the loss of my duck.  After 3 weeks I made arrangements with the farmer and took the chicks to their new home.

I learned from studying the Polish chicks have an open skull and it is not good for the feathers to be plucked.  I really feel I made a mistake adding these little ones to our flock.

In a few weeks Little Gray became broody again and has continued to set on the nest for about 8 weeks,  Somehow, some way she has the other hens laying eggs in the nest for her.  Mr. Bootsie takes her off the nest and steals the eggs but the strong-willed little hen will not give up.

The eggs from our girls will not hatch as there is not a rooster on our farm.  Farm life in the coop has always been interesting and I must say this experience has taught me many a lesson.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Spring, 2017, has Arrived

During the winter there seems to be nothing happening on our little farm, but now as I look over the past few months we have been busy.  There are about 100 assorted seedlings ready to be planted in the garden.  The wood racks appear to have a lot less wood stored in them as we burned the wood stove all winter.  No one has loss any weigh as we cooked many a good meal and lived off the rewards of our hard work last summer.  All of the animals lived through the winter and now we await baby chicks on the 22nd of April.   We were busy but I just could not find things I felt interesting to share.  It was the day to day things, doing laundry, cleaning, running errands, that kept us busy.

I started the bulk of my seeds January 15th when the wood stove worked as my heat source and as the hot bed for my seeds  to develop into little plants.  I planted some of my standards, added a couple of new things and even a few flowers to bring in more bees and butterflies.  I have been checking for life in the garden, the artichokes are coming up, globe and Jerusalem, comfrey, rhubarb and garlic chives.

In the garden, we are seeing many signs of the moles, they just ate a hill of walking onions.  I did my chives in pots in the tunnel because the moles ate most of my plants during the summer.  I started new seeds, put in large pots and they are safe from the mole.

I am sorry to say my camera became sick during the winter, I plan to take it to the doctor to see if it can be repaired or if I must replace it.  I just have not been in the direction of the stores who might fix it, in our area there are not any  close tech stores.  It is on my list.  I did have to replace my wifi and it was a process finding the place in our home where it would function.  I did locate a special place and now I have real good access to internet (maybe the best ever!!!.  I will be posting pictures with my blogs and if you feel you have seen them before you may be right.  I will be using my pictures from old albums.

I was so pleased to see there are so many faithful friends and neighbors who follow my blog.  Even when I do not post, there are ones who read it.  I did find myself going in and checking on some information from past times.  As I become busy with the spring, I do want to keep my journal on Facebook and here.  With the blog it is an overview, Facebook is a little bit more of the day to day operations of our little farm.

Since I began this blog, I find I am the only remaining member of my family from growing up, as my parents and  siblings have passed away.  I will from time-to-time post a blog of reflections as I find myself going back to my parents home as we become more embedded into the rural way of life.  I am seeing the results of 11 years of work in the vegetable garden and I will be sharing the garden with you during the summer.  The goat barn is down to 3, the chicken coop is home to 17 and 3 ducks live in there run with a pool.

Eggs, yes, we are collecting eggs, hen and duck.  Our life is good just like the abundance of eggs we are now collecting.  Many thanks to all of you who take a few minutes to read about our life here on Triple Creek Farm.

The winter garden has produced, Harvesting spinach, swiss chard and onions.  Along with our eggs we have enjoyed spinach salads omelettes and quiche.  I also make spaghetti adding spinach and/or chard.  We were able to have fresh garden grown veggies most of the winter.

Fire in the outside fireplace, a cup of hot tea awaits me and a brownie.  There is plenty for you to share with us, stop by, visit our little farm and share a brownie.  Until....


Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Time for Being Thankful

After raising the pullets, I was just so sad to have only 2 laying,  I had wanted to have a good supply of eggs for the winter.  I wanted to be able to share eggs and have plenty for our kitchen.  I went to feed November 10th and Annabelle came out of the coop singing her song.  I thought is she going to start laying again?  About mid morning Mr. Bootsie comes in from the pasture lot and hands me Annabelle's pretty green egg.  She laid today and she was so pleased.  I hope she continues to lay and our egg count go up.  I knew Annabelle laid a green egg because she was laying before I messed with the feed.  Another hen has begun laying as I am finding a large green egg.  I was so excited to collect a dozen eggs in 4 days.  Maybe my girls did understand how sorry I was for changing their food.

I have been wanting to dehydrate potatoes, I really do not like having them sprout or rot in the pantry.  This has been on my to-do list for a while.  One rainy afternoon was spent preparing potatoes to dry.  I found myself getting quite excited about having this new stable in the pantry.  I thought about so many things I prepare using sliced potatoes, now all I will need to do is rehydrate the sliced potatoes and prepare my meal.

I think dehydrating the harvest must get into your soul.  I have been busy doing apples and pumpkin. I am now finding myself looking for other items to process.  I believe I am really beginning to understand the process and how to use these wonderful additions to my pantry.

With getting things ready to store, all of the heirloom corn was shelled and stored in jars.  I think I have enough red dent for another project.  We do not have a grain mill but I think we can work something out with several of the mills we have.  So,  Mr. Bootsie, there is a new project on your list.

There was not a frost on the farm until after a freeze.  I kept reading and watching the weather, it was said there was not a frost warning for us because we had a killing frost in our area.  I talked with some farmers who had experienced several frosts but the freeze was what took away our crops.  I do not know if I have found a micro-climate or there are just so many trees around the garden.  It was wonderful to have the garden growing until November .............We were harvesting peppers, eggplants and a few butter beans.

We shall be spending time over the next few weeks getting the garden ready for next spring.  Tomato and pepper hills to dig and fill with manure, corn rows to be dug and filled, this year I am going to try and do much more soil improvement during the winter.

I am so Thankful for our little farm. for the knowledge I have and my ability to learn.  This farm has been a gift to me and I cherish being able to spend my days working in the garden, walking in the woods, always on the search for something new.  I always had been taught it was important to grow your food.  I really had no idea what this meant until I returned to the farm and began to provide for my family.  There is a joy when the food you eat comes from your gardens and pasture lot.  I, also, am Thankful for the farmers who are in our area and support each other.  I now have the extended family I remember from Momma and Daddy's farm.  It is so amazing, they seem to appear when there is a problem and they have the knowledge to help.

I am very Thankful for those of you who take the time to read about out farm.  I hope you found something you enjoyed, I believe many of you have much more knowledge than I do.  I will never know the answers but I keep trying and our results are good.  We are feeding ourselves from our farm and sharing with others.  Yes, my quest has been reached and my dream is no longer the "Impossible Dream".  I know the journey has had it's ups and downs but that is how you learn and with all of the hours I have spent learning I now can sit back, put my feet up and enjoy a time to be Thankful.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Fall is Upon Us

First things first, you remember how excited I was to have 8 pullets who would be laying for us, well, things have changed.  I have 8 pullets but now only 2 are laying.  They were doing so good, I had eggs, more eggs than I could use and boom, it all stopped.  At this point I am blaming myself, because I changed their feed a bit and I am not sure they were happy with the change.  We have had more cloudy days than we need and maybe that has had an effect on the girls, but whatever, I am not collecting eggs.  One day we get 2 eggs and the next day 1 egg.  I am working hard to get them to laying again but I am not sure it will happen.

We made a change in the feed for all of the pasture crew, we were gifted a bag of new feed and all seemed to like it.  I decided to try using this feed and with my first bag I saw a problem.  When the fermented feed was opened it was very clumpy but I had been told I need to break it up.  The gift bag broke up easily so I knew there was a problem.  I read on the bag and it said it was good for some time, however, this stuff just did not smell like the first bag.  Digging down into the bag of feed I found the problem, there was mold.  I threw the mold clumps into the chicken yard to see what would happen.  After 2.3 inches if rain from the hurricane, Matthew, this stuff was still clumps, and a week later it is still clumps, The chickens have no interest in it and it is heading into the compost pile and I am not sure about that.

Mr. Bootsie filed a complaint with me from the barn crew, I was told they were not eating and trying to pick through their food bowls, decision, we will return to the way we were feeding.  New is not always good.  I was thinking it may be a good time to try something different as we are no longer milking Belle and the little ones are growing but my choice was bad and now I must pay the price by not having eggs as the feed doesn't seem to be of value to my chickens.  I told the person who supplied me with the feed, I could stop feeding layer grain but I knew to keep them laying they need the layer grain.  The new feed may have lowered the ratio too low to keep the girls laying.  Lesson learned and now I must pay the price.  At this time I will be surprised if any of the girls return to laying during to winter but I am hoping a couple of them will.  I know chickens do not like change and I was in question about making this change from the time it was suggested to me.  My mind was telling me no but I have respect for the person advising.  I shall keep you posted on this, as I would not want any of you to make this mistake,  learn from my being influenced by others and not sticking to what I knew I should do.

The last weekend in September we went up to Rappahannock County and did the farm tour.  It was a very interesting day.  We found an orchard which sold the not so perfect apples at a great price reduction.  I came home with a bushel of Grime's Golden Apples for $12.00.  This was a super deal for me.  I simply adore Grime's Golden Apples.  I remember them from my childhood.  There were fried, stewed or baked apples in the kitchen most of the time.  There was a tree of summer apples which was the first we harvested and I would love to find someone growing these summer apples, but I have no idea as to the name of them.  When I saw the Grime's Golden at the orchard I was excited.  Mr. Bootsie sometimes looks at me as if I have fallen out of the trees and this was one of those days.  After a few days I peeled and made stewed apples, no longer does he look at me that way, he picks up his knife and helps me peel the apples.  We have been eating  stewed apples and making apple butter.  Best twelve dollars I have ever spent.  6 pints of apple butter in the pantry, one has been eaten,  so many pots of stewed apples and dehydrated two quarts.  I am so pleased to say the ugly apple tastes as wonderful as the pretty apple.

It seems these past few weeks have been an adventure for me, I am just so excited to have over 4 quarts of lard rendered in my kitchen.   If you missed the blog about "Lard Rendering Day" just click here for the link,  I know I will enjoy making pie pastry with this lard as I feel lard is the best type of shortening to use when making pie crust. I also use lard in the quiche crusts I make. 

We have been working on planting the tunnel for the fall.  The last week in October the cover went over the tunnel, the weather has been so mild, the ends remain to be put in place.  There are turnips, lettuce and leafy greens  planted, I am hoping for a good crop this season.  Planted collards in the garden, did not cover with row cover and someone had dinner.  I had a few to replant and then covered with the row cover.  I am planning to remove the row cover when the plants become large as the winter cold is good for the collards.  

You can tell the night time temperature is starting to drop and with the change in the weather we add the chore of wood for the wood stove to our chore list.  I found a couple of dead large oak trees in our woods and Mr. Bootsie has felled them.  They are being added to our wood racks, with our supply of wood they will have time to dry.  The way our wood rack looks we should have enough wood for the winter.  These oak trees were just a nice addition to our supply.  

The brisk air seems to have a bounce in my step.  Our garlic crop is in the ground and growing.  We are mulching the garlic with wood chips, we have old chips and they are excellent mulch for the garlic.  The walking onions need to be weeded, some replanted where I have harvested,  I will be using a goat manure mixed with chips for the mulch.  This way I will be adding some richness to the soil as well as preventing weeds from growing.  Speaking of weeds, the chickweed is growing, Mr. Bootsie pulls the chickens a bucket full quite often.  I gather some of the chickweed to go into our winter salads, it is so healthy for you and I have plenty to share with all of us.  I will plant a couple of pots for the hard winter and put in the greenhouse.

Fall is in the air, leaves are falling, we went for a look around the property, hearing the crunch of the leaves under our feet was such a nice sound.  I enjoy the woods during this season of the year.  The winter wild flowers are starting to bloom and the woods are calling me.  Running cedar is greening and reminding me of days gone by when Momma would send us out to gather running cedar to decorate for the holidays.

Many chores are on my list and I must be on my way,   Thanks for stopping by our little farm.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Lard Rendering Day

Quite often as I walk do the aisle in the grocery store, my mind will go back many years ago, Momma did not buy vegetable or corn oil, nor did she purchase shortening.  I remember where our baking grease came from and it was a timely process.  First the hogs were slaughtered, all of the meat processed and the final task was making the lard.  Of course, when the lard is made you get a reward, the cracklings.  It did not matter how many hogs we processed all of fat was made into lard.  This was a woman's chore and even as a very small child I remember cutting the fat into cubes to be cooked for a very long time.  You would find me snacking on the cracklings as soon as some were strained from the liquid.  Momma would store the lard in tins and placing them in a room which was cool, but you must remember most of our home was cool or just cold during the winter because there was not any central heat.  The lard would keep  for a long time and Momma made everything with her homemade lard, fried chicken, biscuits, pies and cakes.  Those of you who were lucky enough to have a meal at Momma's table will remember her rolls, yes, they were made with her lard.   I can see her putting a spoonful of lard into the pot of green beans aka snaps as she felt she did not have enough meat in them to flavor the beans the way she wanted them to taste.  

I have often thought how I would like to make/render lard.  Having accepted the fact that this would be almost impossible I just do not talk about making lard.  Well, when you get out of bed in the mornings, here on Triple Creek Farm, you may think you know how your day is going to end.  Quite often, things change so quickly, I really can't seem to grasp what is happening so I just go with flow.  Mr. Bootsie and I were down in the pasture lot and we heard voices,  the Farmer and her girls.  We headed back to the kitchen and made some tea and coffee  while everyone is catching up, I saw on Facebook, animals were processed the previous day.  We talked about the processing, knowing the farmer is quite a good butcher, it makes me so happy to see her teaching her daughter the proper way to process meat.  As they were leaving I asked if they processed a hog with a bit of fat, I would really like to make lard.  Well, come on out to the truck, too much fat on this hog and I was not sure what I was going to do with it.  In just a few minutes, I was back in the kitchen with of bowl of pork fat.  I was pass excited to have this treasure and could not wait to start the process.

I cut the fat into cubes, and as I was setting on my stool, my mind drifted to days gone by.  I was a child setting in Momma's kitchen. " You be careful with the knife, cut into even sized cubes, stay away from the stove and do not grab any of the pots on the stove".  How many times I had heard these things said as the lard was processed.  But there was a flash in my mind, standing in front of the wood cook stove was Momma, wearing her apron and opening the stove to add more wood.  "We need to keep the fire going all day to cook down this fat."  "I need someone to go the wood shed and bring in more wood."  This was the one day when I knew there was work to be done and we must work together to get this chore complete.  My sister was off for more wood and I happily continued to cube the fat.  

Time for me to realize, this is today, the kitchen is my kitchen and I am rendering lard.  Things are just so much better today, I have a crock pot filled with pork fat and it is rendering, I can see the clear lard coming up in the pot.  I will strain the lard and store in jars, to keep it cool I shall store in the fridge.  I will be making pies, bread and using my lard in many ways, just hope somewhere in this journey I get a hint of the wonderful memories  which were cooked in Momma's kitchen.

 Bootsie, can you bring me the lard can?  There are some cracklings over by the bread box, bring them because if you do eat all of the cracklings there is going to be crackling corn bread for supper tonight.  

Sorry, I went down memory lane again, the bowl of pork fat which was shared with me, was memories, it was a gift which I will cherish.  So many wonderful things happened in Momma's kitchen and I have forgotten so much, but a bowl of pork fat bought back something so special and wonderful to me.  It is not how much a gift costs or how shiny the gift is...It is a gift that warms the heart, my friends, The Farmer and her daughter just had no idea how special and how many wonderful childhood memories were inside the bowl of pork fat, now lard and soon to be home made biscuits.

How can I ever say "Thank You" for giving me a look back into Momma's kitchen on lard rendering day?  

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Welcome Fall

I have been farming all of my life, I helped my parents from the time I was able to move about in the garden learning to pick the red tomatoes and the filled beans but I have never seen a season like this summer.

It started for me in the early spring, there were lots of bedding plants growing and just about ready to plant in the garden.  We had moved a number into the unheated greenhouse and boom, it was cold, so cold the plants were stunted.  Now the largest part of bedding plants were not going to be productive and it was much too late to start over.  My pepper plants were installed and again we took another drop in the temperature.  Peppers, being a tropical, were not going to do well and maybe there would not be a harvest.  I had started the plants and I thought I may as well give them a try.  Some plants dropped off as soon as they were installed in the garden only to be replanted.  Cool nights are not good for the peppers, as the few that did begin to grow also began  to show signs of struggling.  I always say each year brings it's own challenges but this past summer was the most challenging I have ever experienced.

We did mange to can green beans, harvest lots of garlic and finally, the peppers are producing.  I have some nice castor bean plants but I am not sure they are helping with the mole problem as they seem to continue to burrow in the garden.  I did not loose as many onions to the moles this past season but they have taken their toll on my crops.  Green beans plants had their roots eaten, I tried a new way to plant my sweet potatoes at this time I have not dug them because I put the crop in late.  The plants do look good and I am hoping I will at least have a few to start next years crop.  The strawberries have been consumed by the moles and I may not replant them, with some things I am starting to accept defeat.

We have had lots to eat from the garden so this year was not a total waste of my time.  I have cucumber pickles and relishes for the winter,  Lots of winter squash, the  spinach, as always, produced and I have harvested an egg plant which was enjoyed.  I planted dent corn and we harvested enough to save our seeds and I plan to mill enough to make one pan of red dent cornbread.  The winter squash harvest was good and there will be some for the chickens, goats and the humans.
This is a new variety for our farm.  

All in all, even with this being a difficult growing season we were rewarded for the work we put it and will have some veggies to enjoy this winter.   I will be working in the garden next month, time to plant the garlic and plant the tunnel for the winter.

We now have 17 chickens,  sad to have to say this but one of the older girls decided it was time to leave us and she was buried in the garden.  Three of our pullets have moved to a new home and that gets me where I am happy with the number of chickens we shall be wintering.  There are 8 pullets who will be laying all winter along with 2 of the ducks.  The 11 older hens have already gone on vacation and I hope they return from camp beginning in February.

This winter, Belle with her 2 babies will be in the goat barn, the little ones are growing, time had come for the little buck to be banded and that process has just about disappeared.  Today, September 30th, the chimney sweep came and now, if we need to have a fire in the wood stove we know it is clean and ready to keep us warm.  Why it seems only yesterday we were putting in spring crops and now we will be digging our tomato hills, squash hills and opening corn rows from next summer.  They will be filled with manure and covered over with our good earth, mulched and waiting their crops to be planted next spring.

I have seen some of the largest acorns in the woods and the mushrooms are coming up everywhere.  Time for me to head to the woods and learn more about this wonderful place I call home.