Wednesday, October 30, 2013

WHOLEsome Food: EGGS

Yesterday, on Facebook, I saw a post that I found eye opening.  

The post got my attention but so did the comments from folks still talking about the price of eggs.  I hear folks gripe a lot about the price of farm fresh eggs.  

No question, farm fresh food can be pricey in comparison to the big box stores. We're so conditioned to the prices established by the industrial size farms, when we're faced with the prices associated with the small, local growers offering the most healthful alternatives we often feel a bit of sticker shock. 

Many folks realize the choice they're making but for those that want to be a bit enlightened I thought it was time to share a bit of chicken and egg farming reality...

Yes, you can buy a dozen factory eggs from chickens lucky to see the light of day.  You can always be assured your eggs come from tightly confined hens dropping their eggs on a conveyor belt.  And yes, you can get those for around $1.99 or sometimes less!

Pastured, free range chicken eggs run $4-$5 in our neck of the woods.  Organic are even higher I'm not going to engage the "organic" discussion here, that might be a future Blog. 

Let me show you what you get for that extra $1.50.  

Look at the difference in nutrients!

And, if nutrients don't get your attention (the foodie in me never leaves the room) have you tasted the difference in a farm fresh egg and a store bought? 

Can you see the one?  Now you should taste the difference!  

What the farmer feeds the chickens, or pigs, cows, and sheep or even vegetable crops will have a direct impact on the price they have to (or should) charge the consumer.   You want your farmer sourcing the best inputs.  Small farms like ours don't always have the luxury of buying in bulk or spreading our costs.   On our farm the quality of input is so important.  We end up sourcing our inputs from specialty vendors and the cost is at a premium. 
Did you know....chickens are pigs
Not the cute pink squealing type. So named because they eat and eat more then you imagine they could.  Creative farmers are always thinking of ingenious healthy ways to keep them full like planting a field of something chickens love but then they have to worry about the need for a balanced diet.  Yep, no kidding, they need proper attention to balanced nutrients.  

This time of year we also face slowing of egg production due to shorter days and molting.  Industrial farms, well they just pour another concrete pad and add some light bulbs.  They have learned how to manipulate nature, we small farmers are still figuring out how to work with in her parameters!

 So, next time you pick up a dozen matter the source...think about those chickens and think about your health.  Most important though....if we want to have small farmers growing healthy food for us we need to 
Rethink our Food Choices!

As a farmer raising chickens I am blessed to see with my own eyes the bright happy spirit in these animals sniffing, scratching, rolling, cackling, and eating what nature provides....

Monday, October 7, 2013

Cinnamon Pickles

Have I said it before?  I love pickles!  This recipe is adapted from a Caswell County, NC neighbor.  I am sure it would rightfully be referred to as, "old timey".

As so often was the case, an old recipe came out of need for preservation or desire not to be wasteful.  This recipe is just that.  You know those cucumbers that stay on the vine just a bit too long?  Either hidden under all the growth, or, more likely with me...I didn't pick it in time.  The seeds are way too developed for your regular pickle recipes...well, here is the answer to your "i don't want to be wasteful" woes.  

I first had these pickles a few years back and fell in love with them immediately.  They're very different. They're crisp and spicy like fall, not from heat but from cinnamon.

The only issue I had with the original recipe was the bright red color which came from red food coloring and red cinnamon heart candy.  If you don't know, you should read up on red food coloring.  An unnecessary additive I choose to stay away from so I didn't use the candy or the food coloring.  The recipe also uses alum (yes, derived from aluminum) and I found some controversial information about it too.  Alum has always been used in pickling to get the crispness. Although controversial, I used it anyway, this time.  It is a tiny amount and I didn't want to alter the character of the pickles...Next time I will try eliminating the alum and see what happens.

The recipe is time consuming but quite easy.  Know that the next few mornings (yes you read that right) you will have a few basic steps.  The important thing to note is starting this today means you won't be actually canning until the 3rd day.  I do love canning but I also know I have to block off the time and kitchen space and I'll bet if you've read this far into this blog you know exactly what I'm saying!

2 gallons cucumber rings from too big cucs (peel, seed, slice in rings or as I've done half rings)
2 C pickling lime
3 C white vinegar
1 teaspoon alum
10 C Sugar
8 sticks cinnamon
1 C cinnamon hearts (if desired)
1 bottle of red food color (if desired)

Soak the cucumber rings, lime, and 8.5 quarts of water for 24 hours. Drain and wash well.  Cover with ice water and soak for 2 hours.  Pour off ice water.

Cover rings with 1 C vinegar, alum, and red food coloring if using and enough water to cover.  Simmer for 2 hours.

Drain and throw away the water.  Heat 2 C vinegar, 2 C water, sugar and cinnamon sticks and candy if using.  Pour the liquid over the rings. For the next 2 mornings, drain the liquid into a pot, bring to a boil and pour back over the cucumber rings.  Keep a lid over the rings to hold heat as long as possible.  On the 3rd day, reheat the liquid and rings together and bring to a boil.

Once you've reached your boil your ready to can these babies!  Put the rings in your hot sterilized jars, cover with liquid to 1/4 " head space.  Put on your sterilized lids and water bath for 20 minutes.  In 8-10 weeks your ready for the unveiling! I didn't miss the red color at all.  When they were first cooking they had a marvelous celery green color I wished had lasted.  The color is much more appetizing to me then the red ever was.  Hope you ENJOY!

Dog Biscuits

The more I know about farming and the food we consume the more engaged I become in sourcing our ingredients.  I'm a stickler about our food  and those choices are the same for all the animals on our farm.  I honestly don't know how it could be otherwise.

My, shall we say, enlightened perspective regarding our food has led to many of our food staples falling under the category, made from scratch.

Any of you that have experienced the shift from....
store bought:homemade in any of your food choices knows...
 it is always for the better.... in so many ways.

Today, our transition from store bought is all about our four legged kids treat...

We have a ritual, as soon as our pups hear the spoon hit the side of the coffee mug, there they are.  It's pretty cute, you can change everything about the moment, the setting, the cookies, the time, it wouldn't matter...the sound does it.  They know, it's morning treat time!

I'm sure those of you with pets can appreciate the journey through expensive food options.  I love our  kids and cost just couldn't be a factor, even on our farm income.  I learned to do with out pedicures some time ago.  I'll find something else to do away with before I feed our kids unidentifiable food!

Meet our Pups!

Earthquake (aka Quake)

Could you resist?
Not quite as photogenic but all personality.

After much searching I finally came up with this recipe,  adapted from one I found on  A really fun blog all about pet treats.  As always, I make a recipe exactly as I find it the first time.  Then an occasional tweak here and there for my taste...or should I say, Izz and Quake's taste?  So, here it is.  Hope your furry friends like them too.  

1 Cup water
1 egg (farm fresh of course)
5 Cups Buckwheat Flour
1 Cup All Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Honey (sourced locally)
1/3 Cup Molasses (sourced as locally as possible)
2 Tablespoons Cinnamon
2 Tablespoons Ground Ginger
Rendered Bacon Fat

Place the dry ingredients — buckwheat flour,flour, ginger and cinnamon — into a mixing bowl first and mix together. Then add the wet ingredients, water, honey, molasses and egg.   I used the stand mixer but you could mix by hand. Mix it until it forms a dough ball.  It does roll out easily but be sure to flour your surface well.  I also had some rendered bacon fat on hand so I brushed each cookie.  I cannot say whether it affected the cookie in flavor or texture but it sure sounded like a good idea.  I'll continue to use the bacon fat.  Our dry kibble foods, regardless how good the quality are just that; dry.  In the processing they loose the natural fats.
I like mine a bit thicker,  1/4″ and 1/2″ thick. I used a bone shaped cookie cutter for maximum affect.

Bake at 250 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour.  Viola, a treat you can feel mighty proud of.You cannot imagine how good they smelled coming out of the oven.  So much so I had to taste.  At first I thought, a dog treat, really?  Why not, look at the ingredients. Mighty tasty morsels they are, serious.  

The original recipe used all buckwheat flour because the author was after grain free.  I don't believe grains are meant for our canines but ours dogs don't have allergies and the all purpose flour gave the dough just a bit more gluten to work with.  I think you could change that 6 cups to whatever combo you like.  I also think the sky is the limited for flavors and such.  Have fun with it!

I'm even thinking I'll stack a few together, tie them with some pretty ribbon and give them as holiday gifts.  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Peaches, Peaches everywhere

I knew if I didn't hurry up with this blog post someone would be saying, "peaches, where did she get peaches this time of year?"  Lordy, lordy where does the time go?  Hopefully I've posted this in time that you can still relate to the abundance of summer peaches and the many yummy possibilities.

So, here is the deal.  I've become addicted to food preservation ideas.  I love having great food available to present at that last minute when you get the word your BFF is dying to see the farm and will come for lunch tomorrow or your husbands family is on the interstate just passing by and would love to come say Hi!  You know those moments. We all have them in some form.

 I love to cook and serving good food is very important to me.   I don't want those moments when an unexpected guest graces our home to be any different.  I might not be the best at making sure the Welcome mat is swept off but rest assured,  I'll serve something to remember.  During the summer when fresh food is abundant and full of flavor I have plenty of opportunity to make and stash those yummy treats.

Over the last couple of years, peaches have been a  star ingredient. The addiction began when the peach vendor next to me at the Durham Farmers Market would have boxes of peaches that couldn't be sold because they weren't perfect so I would gladly take them off their hands for a few dollars.  I gathered some of my favorite jam recipes during that time but today I am here to share my favorite of all surprises...

Freezer Peach Pie.  The filling is oh so simple.  You then fill a pie plate lined with foil full of the peach mixture.  Freeze the plate with the peaches.  Then, after it has had time to freeze, you remove the pie plate from the foil and Voila!   You have a frozen peach pie filling ready to rest in the buttery crumb of a freshly made pie crust and baked to perfection just as if you'd freshly peeled and sliced those peach beauties!

5 cups of peeled and sliced fresh Peaches

Mix your cornstarch, Tapioca, sugar and nutmeg and/or cinnamon with peaches

Line pie plate with foil, crossing layers opposite directions

Add peach mixture

Crimp foil together going all around to be sure you have a tight seal

After the foil is sealed, place the plate and all in the freezer.  In a few hours you can remove the plate.  I then place the foil in a zip lock bag ready to use at a later date.

After you've followed these easy steps (exact recipe below) at any time you place the frozen filling into your favorite double pie crust recipe and bake to a glorious golden Peach Pie fresh tasting as a summer day.

4-5 Cups Fresh Peaches (original recipe called for 2.5 cups but I say, why not more?)
2Tablespoons Cornstarch
2Tablespoons Tapioca
3/4 - 1 cup of sugar recommended but I add it based on peach sweetness (usually 1/2-3/4)
Dash of fresh Nutmeg
Cinnamon if desired.  I add a touch but husband not a huge fan.
Mix it all together and place in your foil lined deep dish pie plate.
When your ready to use:
Preheat oven to 450.  Place frozen peach mixture on top of your favorite crust.  Top with another crust or lattice strips.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Lower heat to 350 and bake another 30 or until lightly browned.

Recipe adapted from a recipe found on

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Spider and the Butterfly

My sweet husband often reminds me of a childhood memory of his, a teacher would often ask "wonder why they call them butterflies, not flutter by's?"  Watch a butterfly.  You don't see butter but you sure see flutter.

In the mornings I try to walk.  My morning walks are surrounded only by the sounds, smells and movements of nature.  There isn't much else around me.  Point is, I'm especially aware in these early morning moments. On this particular morning walk I noticed the frantic flutter of a butterfly's wings suspended in a not yet bloomed cluster of milkweed.  The butterfly was obviously in trouble.  I had to help!    So, I approached the butterfly.  Sorry no photos, I don't carry technology with me on my walks.  It didn't take long to notice that the butterfly was caught in a spider web.  Even better, little miss spider(nothing little about her really) sat, perched on the branch above, waiting for the last flap of the beautiful butterfly's wings.  Breakfast!  I couldn't just let this travesty take place.  Death and dining by a yucky old spider!  The milkweed was situated on the embankment, not an easy access point for me to reach.  With a little ingenuity I was able to whisk the web loose from the butterfly and off she flew as high as my neck could reach to see. Oh my heart felt free; and happy.  I almost skipped the next distance.  After my heart came back down to earth I began worrying about what I had done.  I mean really, I had to have something to worry about.  The spider has to eat my goodness.  I interfered with her breakfast.   I'm not fond of spiders that's true.  I don't imagine many of us are.  I do try to respect all Gods creatures though.

We raise an endangered breed of sheep, the Navajo Churro's on our farm.  As such, I am aware of many of the teachings and beliefs of the Navajo Indians.  Spider Woman is a wonderful spiritual story that suggests weaving and the spiders web are interconnected.  I might wrinkle my nose or scream at the idea of a spider.  I really don't appreciate the itchy whelps I find about my body from time to time.  I must admit though I have a sense of respect for them least my higher self does!

 So, I continued to walk thinking of the spider and feeling bad.  I had interfered with the natural process.  Not respecting the cycle of life I took matters into my hands and saved that butterfly.  I interfered in the natural process!

Wait just a minute, aren't I part of the process too?  Isn't that all part of life? Unsuspecting people interfere all the time. Get in the way. Ky bosh a plan. By the time I walked out as far as I wanted to go and turned to circle back to the farm I had concluded I would go apologize to the spider but not feel too much guilt for what I had done.  My motivations were genuine.  Maybe she wouldn't even be there?  As I got closer to the specific frond of milk weed I looked and you cannot imagine what I saw...the milkweed was covered with unsuspecting butterflies!  So, ms. spider might not have had breakfast but she would feast on lunch and dinner too.  Milkweed attracts butterflies.  Ms Spider knows that too.  I stopped, looked close and said, "sorry about your breakfast but from the looks of things you'll be dining fine in no time".  I turned to continue my way home.  I couldn't help but think how easily a thoughtful gesture can be considered otherwise.  How easily our kind reach can be considered interference.
I chuckled at myself over the whole ordeal.  I smile at the moments spent that morning with the spider and the butterfly.
What I realized. in the end, everything turns out as it should

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

They don't wear galoshes

We have had so much rain here this year.  My 102 year old mother in law says she has never seen anything like it and that's a whole lotta years to be comparing to.   We've certainly seen rain in large quantities come through quickly but not over such an extended period of time. The farmers growing vegetables have had quite a difficult year.

As livestock farmers, were not complaining. If your in the business of grass, things are good!  We have an abundance of grass and the sheep are loving it. This would be a year we'd duplicate in a heart beat...if given the choice.  Alas, that's not the way mother nature works.  So, we'll enjoy our bounty this year and hope to be as grateful next year.... regardless of what she has in store for us.

Rain or shine, there are chores on the farm that must be done!  Egg collections is just one.

Much to the dismay of Sir Richard (pictured here) we collect eggs daily.  He'd prefer having little progeny strutting about.  At least, based on his frequency of procreation you'd want to think that.  Believe you me, it's far from his fault there aren't little chicks running around.  Those of you that know chickens know what I'm talking about.  Wear those hens OUT!  That's why many farms choose not to have a rooster.  Unless you want chicks there is really no reason to have roosters.  Unless of course your like me and believe a farm isn't complete with out the morning crow of the rooster.

For some reason when it rains our eggs are covered in mud.  I haven't quite figured out how the mud gets on the eggs but they are generally covered.  It's not just one egg.  It's not just one hen.  I try not to disturb the eggs too much so if they arrive looking clean I put them directly in the egg carton.  On a normal day of collection (sans rain) there is always an egg or two that needs a bit of attention but not the majority and mud is usually not an issue.

The girls have nesting boxes to lay their eggs.  The nesting boxes are under the cover of the chicken coop roof so neither the nests or the coop perches are exposed to rain or mud.  The nesting boxes themselves aren't muddy.  Just how do those eggs get so muddy?  Maybe their feather bums drag across the grass hitting the occasional mud puddle or two and that's how it happens? They share nesting boxes so maybe it's one hen that is just a dirty girl with dirty feet?  Maybe it's one hen that likes to dirty the other girls eggs?  Maybe the hens get a little crazy?

Maybe Hen Party has more meaning then we know?  There are too many dirty eggs for it to be one or two hens.  How many hens does it take to have a hen party?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Blackberry Lime Jam

I have ventured into a creative space with my jams this year. I think I've overcome the fears around preserving and I'm feeling a bit brave.  Preserving is such a wonderful way to share gifts that keep on giving. It is a feeling like no other when you open a jar of something you made months, the previous year, or even years before and taste all the love you put into it.  The preserves get stored on a shelf waiting for the next PB&J or fluffy buttermilk biscuit slathered with butter.  The memory of what, how, where and when get stored away with them.  Then one day you walk into the pantry and pull out a jar. POP goes the lid and all those luscious fruits and memories are there for the spreading.

So the first "creative flavor combo" for me this year, Blackberry and Lime.  I can't take credit for the idea.  I knew I had a bunch of blackberries and I wanted something a bit different so I 'Googled' . Last year I tried a Blackberry Peach recipe.  That didn't get it.  The blackberries just over powered the peaches.  I've also tried a triple berry and it was good but I wanted something unusual.  The addition of the lime adds a brightness.  You can barely detect it until you read the label and then you exclaim, "I knew I tasted something a bit different.  I think this is a keeper.  See what you think

The jam recipe is ever so basic folks.  All I do is measure 2 pounds of fruit and place it in a non metal bowl with 4-8 ounces of  sugar.  The amount of sugar depends on the sweetness of the fruit and your taste buds. Then, finely grate the rind of 1-2 limes. Stir well.  Cover the fruit, sugar and lime peel and place it in the fridge for at least 24 hours. If your schedule gets hectic I've left it there for 3 days.  Yikes you say, but it was fine.  I adore this recipe for this reason.  So often my days plans get interrupted by something going on around the farm.  I have to be flexible and this recipe flex's with me.  Actually this year the blackberries didn't seem to break down at all in 24 hours.  That's what you want, the sugar and the fruit to macerate, or break down together.

OK.  Your 2 do list is letting up a bit and you can see your way clear to get into the kitchen and finish your preserves.  Place the fruit in a non reactive pot and bring it to a simmer.  Simmer, simmer until....

Here is the secret word friends...EVAPORATION.  It might not smack you in the head the way it did me but when I read about it in Christine Ferber's  beautiful book about preserves, Mes Confitures  I was like, Dah. Of course. That's all jam and jelly making is, removing the liquid from the fruit until it concentrates. So,the days of slaving over the stove worried about the precise timing of the process are over.  I know what to look for now.  When the liquids have dissipated I know it's time for me to really participate in the process.  Don't get me wrong I do stir the mixture as it goes I just don't stress over WHEN the mixture is about to jell.  So, after the fruit starts to thicken up I add my flavors.  I added 1 Tablespoon of fresh squeezed lime juice and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of lime zest.  Give the flavors a change to meld and then taste it.  If it needs more, go ahead but remember the flavors develop.  When it's time to check the set you may want to use a thermometer. The jam should reach 221 degrees Fahrenheit.  Another method used is a chilled plate.  
 Place some of your jam on the plate.  If a line drawn with your finger doesn't bleed, your good to go!  Now it's time to can that JAM!  

I won't spend time of the basics of canning on this blog.  Ball is an excellent site and has resources galore.  Basically fill your processed jars and process the jam in a water bath for 10 minutes but the Ball site will answer all your questions.

I am here to tell you this is another practice makes perfect story.  Each time you preserve fruit, be it jam, jelly, marmalade, chutney or whole, you will have a new experience.  The fruit will differ year to year and so will your finished product.

 I use this basic recipe for everything now.  The only thing I might change in the process is adding 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice to the macerating fruit if I want the flavor or so the fruit doesn't discolor.  When the fruit begins to thicken I add my flavors.  While surfing about the web I found a fabulous chart on Northwest Edible Life
blog that I will use as my guide  but once you get the basics the SKY'S THE LIMIT.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lamb Sliders

Requested again and I'm finally getting "round 2 it".  It wasn't until I saw our recipe published in another newsletter that I felt the boot in my backside.

We all have a few favorite recipes in our collection.  Why do we love one recipe over another?  Is it all about taste?  I think not. Preparation being such a huge part of the creation plays a huge role in my liking a recipe or not.  I've made a few things in my life that tasted good to me but I just didn't enjoy preparing.  If a recipe is too technical or requires too much of my attention it's usually not for me.  Like, puff pastry....why would anyone want to slave over such a process when you can buy such an excellent option as Dalfour?  I know and respect those cooks out there that love the preciseness of such an endeavor it's just not me.   Long story short, you won't find a recipe like that in my collection anywhere.
Some might argue that I love making breads, preserves, and pastries and they require thought.  RightO, but I've learned that with practice you become more adept at these and therefore less thought is required.

So, here you go.  A recipe we've served at many functions, weddings (mine included), art events and just round our table.  Hope you enjoy!
Recipe of the Week
  With summer time comes summer grilling! This week's recipe comes from Olga Elder from Stoney Mountain Farm.

Stoney Mountain Farm Lamb Sliders
1# Ground Lamb
1 link Italian sausage, casing removed
3-4 cloves garlic, grated or minced
¼ C grated onion
½ T cumin
½ t cinnamon
1 t fresh chopped cilantro or ¼ t coriander
1/8 -1/4 t hot pepper flakes
1-2T fresh parsley, chopped
1 egg
½ Cup oatmeal soaked in milk
S&P to taste
Feta or Chevre cheese 

Place all ingredients, except cheese, in a bowl and mix well (I use my hands).  The mix will seem wet.  Form into 1" balls, place on roasting rack or prepare for grill.  Flatten the patty gently, then press dime size ball of cheese into center.  Cover with just enough additional meat mixture that the cheese is sealed in.  Roast in 400 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes or starting to brown.  You can turn to broil if you like a crispier texture.  I also like to grill them.  These are also great regular burger size but the sliders are fun and trendy!
Serve in "slider" rolls now available in most groceries.  "Hawaiian Bread "Slider" rolls are a great option. I serve these with a tomato and onion relish but any one or combo of these would be great.
Experiment; there are many condiments and such that really compliment lamb!  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Our Little Orchard

Ah, our little orchard.  I knew when I first set foot on this farm I wanted to have a "little" orchard.  On a small scale an orchard is also referred to as a fruit garden and sounds more appropriate for our farm.  I love to eat fruit in every form, fresh in the flesh , pies, preserves, cobblers, in my pancakes, muffins, on yogurt or ice cream, and fresh in the flesh some more. My mouth waters at the thought of it. I am often reminded of a moment in my childhood some suggest should be embarrassing.  My grandmother placed a bowl of blueberries on the breakfast table.  Yes, a bowl.  I pulled the bowl in front of me, sure it was meant just for me and proceeded to pour a bit of milk.  With haste the SERVING bowl was snatched from my place mat.  Embarrassed, really?  I knew what was in that bowl.
Gosh, trees in my own back yard!  I can eat the fruit right from the branch it hangs from. What a treat.  Blackberries, blueberries, cherry, apple, pear, plum, persimmon, fig and even pecan are all here now.  We haven't gotten a harvest from each and every one yet.  The harvests of fruit will improve with age, the trees are still fairly young.  Our blackberries and raspberries provided gifts the first year and now there is enough fruit for me to really be challenged with options.  More then you can swallow in one sitting usually means your going to have to prepare them so that they don't go by way of the fruit flies. Plenty of jams and cobblers have been made from our berries already. In fact, as I write I have fruit macerating first step for jams and preserves. I have journeyed through the preserving process so that I'm just getting comfortable.  Now I'm even making my own flavor combos.  Today, blackberry lime!  I have already taken some pictures of the process so you can be assured I'll share the recipes in an upcoming post.  I love, love, love to preserve stuff.  It feels so thrifty and respectful of the food.  There is nothing quite like popping the lid from a jar of preserved fruit or vegi's  you toiled over the year (or more) before.

  As our trees are maturing  each year we have a few more fruits, that is if we get there before the deer, crows, or Japanese beetles.  You'd be surprised how much we loose.  Last year we lost about 50 pears to dining crows.  We wait for the fruit to ripen, they don't!

The fruit we planted that I haven't mentioned is the fruit needing the most attention....peaches.  Of course it is the very fruit we planted the most of.  I have been guided so often on this farm by an idea I've dreamed about in the past, never really understanding what's involved.  Me, really, jumping into something  Yep!  That's me.

For those who know our farm you know we're all about the no chemicals or pesticides way of doing things.  We follow organic practices with everything on our farm.   Ever tried to grow a peach tree?  Oh my is it a challenge....  Peaches are very susceptible to all sorts of pests and diseases and AFTER they were planted I heard folks say, "you can't grow a peach without spraying".  I don't know if you were paying attention but I am trying to tell you I was probably told  before I planted them but I didn't HEAR it until after.  Yep, I must admit...I wasn't listening.  Or, was it selective hearing.  Oh well, it wasn't intentional.  I just wanted peach trees and I didn't want to be discouraged.

Well here you have it.  Picked today from one of our peach trees.  They are some kind of yummy and I am some kind of proud.  For anyone who gardens you understand "the fruits of your labor" well this is truly "the fruits".   I wonder if the sweetness is at all influenced by the fact that we grew them right here in our own back yard.  Or, maybe the fruit is so sweet cause we did it against the odds?

I do know we can't take all the credit.  It's been a good year for our peaches.  The long season of cool temps kept the bugs at bay long enough that all the luscious fruit formed and ripened before the bugs got to it.  The reason we had no bugs this year I have figured out.  The real mystery, how did the deer and crows miss these beauties?  We're not complaining, just wiping the peach juice from our chins.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Hay Bale Fiasco

On a sheep farm you've gotta have hay.  We are a sheep farm.  I'm not adding this up for your benefit, I'm trying to remind myself why we have this current dilemma.  What dilemma you ask?  Well, it goes like this....
Last year we added chickens to the farm to improve our pastures, the natural way!  They're is nothing finer then chickens scratching and chickens pooping on a pasture.  I'm happy to share the science of it all but that's for another Blog topic...and another blogger!  So, having chickens it was and we have enjoyed having them.
 Having a rooster crow in the morning....every farm must, right?  Chickens produce those yummy farm fresh eggs...gotta have those too right?  And so, we did.  The real icing on the chicken addition, we'll sell those eggs and that will really add to our farms productivity, right?

All those facts became reality, except maybe one....productivity.  Again, I am not going to address all the chicken realities we've rearranged our farm for, just the most recent.

We spent a great deal of time last month putting up hay, cutting and baling and stacking ever so beautifully in the barn, Whew!  A huge task done.  The sheep will be fed this winter!  Wait, whats all that clucking I hear?  It was as if we'd sold tickets to THE chicken gathering of the century and we'd asked them to arrive earlier then the gates were opened.  I mean those gals were lined up to get in.  All in, around and over those bales they came.  They were picking at the seed heads and just enjoying the change to their I thought that's all they were doing.

 Ok, ok, I know I still haven't gotten to the point.  We sell the eggs, right?  We have a pretty standard order to deliver each week, pre sold!  That's great.  Each day we collect eggs and each Saturday we deliver them.  That's the routine.
Well I believe someone forgot to tell the hens we have a routine. Our laying boxes have become passe for the time being. The chickens have decided to lay those eggs 10 feet up on top of bales stacked so tight to the rafters we can't even see what's up there.  So, how productive is it for us to climb and hunt for our eggs each day so that we make about $40 per week?  We've had to scramble a bit to fill our orders and the saddest part according to my husband, there have been no egg consumed in our house lately.   Each chicken challenge we've faced we find a bit more chicken wisdom. We are now presented with a new challenge.  We haven't really figured out how we'll lure them back to our desired organized method of collecting but we'll figure something out.  It is my contention those hens just wanted to be sure we know....Chickens Rule!

Friday, May 17, 2013

My Secret Place

When I was young living in the mountains of North Carolina one of my favorite things to do was wander to a creek situated on the far side of our property.  I now know it was a special place.  I don't recall feeling as though I needed an escape but maybe I did.   I can still hear the gentle trickle from the water.  As if I was right there I can still feel the blanket of nature around me.  I would spend what seemed like hours there.  There was one spot in the creek that leaves would dam up the water flow and my mission, first thing upon arrival was to free the water.  I never asked or wondered if mother nature wanted me to.  It just seemed like the water wanted to flow....

So, here on our farm there is a spot that reminds me of that same place from my childhood.  This creek is quite a bit wider, probably proportionate to a grown up version of what I saw then.  In my 'adult' creek I have depth and can see wonderful reflections of the trees on the banks edges.  If you look in the right spot you can see fish darting about.  The water is very still.  Its so peaceful.

I have read that Alamance County N.C. supplied the gold to the US government prior to the California Gold Rush.   I wonder if anyone actually panned this spot in the mid 1800's?  Maybe our fortune in gold has been left, yet to be discovered!  Hmmm, maybe I should be panning, not blogging!
Often, I peer up and down this creek and imagine Native Americans skipping across stones or even local settlers making their way down the path to a neighbors.  We've also been told there was quite an active liquor still on the property.   I learned on PBS that a still requires a water source  be close.  So, maybe, ya think it was here?  I'm always on the lookout for signs of activity from people before me.  There is a fairly large mound of stacked rocks very near the crossing, who did that and why?  Who else might have walked across this same path?  Did this 80 year old stand of Poplar trees start from a bird carrying the seed or did someone plant them?  I know, this is nothing more then an "if walls could talk" thing.  Clearly certain places conjure more curiosity then others.   Maybe its the age of all that surrounds me?

Serious though, can't you imagine parking your bum here on the banks edge, listening to nature?  Pull up a rock, it will take you awhile to take it all in.    I don't know about the rest of you but I feel closer to God in these natural spaces then anywhere.  Surrounded by the awesomeness of earths beauty.  
And, I must admit, that little girls imagination is still with this adult girl, especially in places like this.  Maybe it's the peace and quiet that frees my mind?  

Dwarf Coreopsis, also know as Mouse Earred

 I don't think I consciously declared this spot as my secret place but that's what it is becoming.  The floor of the woods has had a few years of rest from the hooves of cattle tromping about.  Now, with each new season  I am greeted by new native wildflowers that pop up out of who knows where.    This is just what's there now, spring!  The summer will behold different ones and fall, and winter...well, I'll have to see.
Wood Violet



MayApple emerges in the spring and produces a flower in May that later bears the fruit, or apple. Looking down upon the plant you cannot see the flowers, protected by the canopy of the leaves.  Just who can you imagine has the vantage point to see those flowers?

The fern, as prolific as it seems to be in the richly composted forest soil, it always catches my eye.  The bright lime green against the brown leaves...  nature, our greatest interior designer.

I've been adding to my wild flowers, being careful to include only native varieties.  Saturday mornings, after I've set up my vendor booth for the days farmers market I venture over to see Tim and Helga MacAller of FourLeaf Farm in Rougemont NC.  I like to tell myself I'm going to say my morning hello's but something unusual  lures me in further.  Always truly excited about what they have I love hearing them describe what graces their tables on that particular Saturday.  Usually, I cannot resist something, at least one little treat.

As I hurried to discover whether some of my additions I'd planted the year before had decided to charm my woodland setting, I was so excited to see....
Solomon's Seal

Dwarf Iris not yet in bloom

I also planted Trillium but cannot find any sign that it came back.  Tim MacAller told me though, "don't give up on it, it's a funny plant".  The way he said it I'm convinced it's yet to appear.  I finish this blog today, Friday...the day before my Saturday market.  I'm thinkin I'll say hello to Tim and Helga......

Thursday, May 2, 2013

April. Did I miss it?

Where does the time go?  We always hear folks ask that.  If I didn't have so many notes all over the calender for April 2013 I'd swear something happened to that whole month.  Like a whirl wind, come and poof...gone!
Shearing Day over 100 visitors
Fact is April is a very busy time for us.  When April appears we have usually just finished shearing all of our sheep and wool is everywhere.  We always hope our Shearing Day event will reduce the numbers of fleeces we have to deal with as folks in attendance buy them right off the sheep.  We do have fewer but we still face what seems like a mountain of wool!
 Yes, I must admit, the quantity of fleeces can be overwhelming and it takes me longer then it should getting round to sorting through them deciding which will go for yarn, roving or which will be kept to sell as raw wool. Several of them will be too full of vegetation, some matted, or not the quality you'd want to sell to someone in any form.  So, what to do with each bag of wool?  As I have them stored under a shed roof for now it's a BIG task that smacks me in the face each and every time I walk out the front door of our house.  Guess I should have picked a better place to put them?  Maybe if I didn't have to see them they'd disappear like April.  
Mi Sueno

Yes, April is also a BIG month for lambing.  In the fall we put the ram in the pasture with the ewes for 60 days.  That's much longer then most farms would leave the ram with the ewes but our primary ram, Mi Sueno, has my husband speaking for him...get my drift?  The primary downside of leaving Mi Sueno in with the 28 girls longer could be that our lambing might take longer.  Mi Sueno is not a romancer, he's a, he's a, how should I put it?  Wham bam kind of ram?  How do we really know that...lambing was DONE in less then 30 days.

Anyway, basically 149 days from 1st exposure to the ram you start preparing for the possibility of lambs.  Over time you learn tell tale signs and you get used to your girls.
Soon Please!
March 29th was the 1st possible day, no lambs.  March 30th, nothing.  Then on April 1st the lambing began with one ewe and twins.  Within a few hours the lambs take on personalities and we're able to assure them the nursery will be full very shortly. 

As the days progressed we were gathering sometimes 6-8 lambs per day.  Mind you, were a small operation! Each lamb happily greats the new one(s).  Each mom is different, some very protective, others experienced and calm others know they have a responsibility and they'll give off their lamb specific bleat to let the wee one know where they are but other then producing milk and feeding it they're kind of like..."What?  I'm over here!"  Regardless, It's an amazing process to behold.  I am sure some would accuse me of being too imaginative with this whole process.  Maybe I am to some degree but mostly I'd disagree.  Each of these animals is unique, with personalities and feelings.
This year we were blessed with 37 beautiful lambs and only one didn't make it.  Sad fact, they say 10% loss isn't unreasonable. So, as farming goes we'd have to chalk it up to a very good year even with the loss. For those that follow us on Facebook you know about our loss, it was a very tough day.  After 6.5 hours of hard labor she gave birth to the biggest lamb we've ever had on our farm.  A real beauty!  We checked the mom for milk and made sure they had bonded and a few other aftercare protocols.  They were both exhausted!  He didn't make it through the night.  You beat yourself up, what could I have done, what didn't I do/see...this the hardest part about farming to me.  We face a lot of life and death realities around here.  From the raccoon eating our chickens to the lamb that struggles to be born only to pass before his romp through the green pastures.  We often cry but mostly we carry a heaviness for awhile.  Then we find ourselves standing on the fence line watching 36 lambs jump and play without a care in the world.  They gather in a bunch, all of them, and like a swarm of bees they run, kicking up their heels, happy to be alive!

That's where April went!


These harsh realities of nature are not easy yet we know we are in a close relationship with Mother Nature and knowing her we feel grounded. 

Nature reaches out to us with welcoming arms, and bids us enjoy her beauty; but we dread her silence and rush into the crowded cities, there to huddle like sheep fleeing from a ferocious wolf.   Kahlil Gibran