I spend a great deal of time observing. Being able to recognize subtle changes is immensely important as a farmer. Something as inauspicious as a ewe standing off to herself may indicate sickness. A brown spot on the leaf of a tomato plant may foretell the beginning stages of blight or may indicate a mineral deficiency. Farmers of old created sayings to help them navigate the natural world in the absence of Google, plant specialists, and organic growing guides. A lot of that passed-on knowledge has been lost. A lot of what we do on our farm is try to reclaim some of that knowledge, holding on to it as long as we can. Sometimes it seems that is the most important thing, to hold on.
This time of the year, the garden is in full throttle. We preserving what we can, sell a bit to others, and plan for the inevitable onset of fall. Somehow, just these few tasks takes up most of our time. Everything seems both ridiculously fast and terribly slow; tomato after tomato comes off the vine, while conditions conducive to baling hay are dubious any given day. It becomes difficult to plan the to-do list on most days. One adjusts based on the availability of resources. What HAS to be done today? What can wait until tomorrow? These guiding questions force us to both live in the moment and plan for what will be needed months from now.
Of course, a lot of the ebb and flow of farm days seems mysterious, if not bucolic, to many non-farming people. Tedium replaces novelty after milking every day for weeks. Vine ripened tomatoes are a sweet blessing at the beginning of the season, but counters overflowing with them translates into counters seemingly overrun with tomatoes in various stages of processing, sinks filled to overflowing with the accessories of canning. Beautiful shelves lined with jars of home-canned sauce, pickles, and beans represents countless hours of repetition, solitude, and hard work.
While much of the work of late summer is relegated to the garden and kitchen, the livestock are busy with the business of grazing. The sheep, shorn in early spring, resemble grubs as they move across the fields. This is a potentially dangerous time of the year for them. Aside from the ever-present danger of coyotes and feral dogs, parasites thrive in hot, humid weather. Sheep on pasture must be checked periodically to ensure they are not overburdened with parasites. Lambs are especially vulnerable to them, having not built a tolerance to them yet. Every day our mornings break with a thick fog that only releases its hold after several hours, and every day I observe the sheep to make sure none of them is too thin, not eating, or otherwise showing signs of ill health. Despite the challenges, I take time to notice the beauty in every daybreak, and there’s nothing like watching the sheep and cows graze, enshrouded in clouds each morning.
As the day moves on, it is hard not to notice that the trajectory of the sun over the pastures has changed. The shadows over the garden are longer in the evening and linger later in the morning. Even though it is early August, the chlorophyll in the trees are releasing their hold; the greens have lost their depth. Gone is the shiny, brilliant kelley green of spring; in its place is a dull, lusterless hue. Soon enough even that green will give way to the brilliant colors of fall. We will be grateful for the changes but sad to see the green go. Winter was long last year.
The recent E.Coli outbreak effecting eggs, lettuce, and ground beef highlight how important it is to shop locally and to know where the food on your plate comes from. The truth is, it’s not always easy to secure all of the food your family eats from your local community.
As farmers, my family spends a great deal of time in the garden and fields planting cover crops, spreading manure from our animals (in lieu of using chemical fertilizers), and implementing various permaculture principles on our farm. In this way, we are able to raise a great deal of our food. We started our rotationally-grazed Galloway herd to fulfill our desire of eating pasture raised beef. We are able to eat eggs from free range chickens. I humbly acknowledge that we are indeed blessed and fortunate enough to have the space needed to grow and raise a lot of our food. This is a are blessing that not everyone is afforded nor inclined to undertake.
Having lived in several major cities as an adult, I am keenly aware of how difficult it can be to find local food raised in keeping with ones values. Some cities make connecting with farmers pretty easy; I have lived in fairly large cities that maintain robust, vibrant markets. Farmers come from hours away to set up there and command prices that allow them to make a good living from the farm. However, I have lived in other communities where farmers’ markets were either inaccessible or consisted largely of resellers– folks who purchased produce from produce markets where food is from everywhere, and simply resold them to the public at the market.
So where does that leave the average consumer? Well, honestly, it makes “shopping locally” a challenge. Few would disagree with the need to support family farms, but folks have to feed their families, regardless of where that food comes from. Some communities struggle with food insecurity, food deserts, and lack of transportation to even get to markets. Many families struggle with the cost of food, and though they would like to purchase more fresh produce from local farmers, the budget may not allow for that. Additionally, many farmers markets across the country now accept EBT/debit/credit cards, but individual farmers may not be set up to do so. Many rural communities lack sufficient wireless infrastructure to be able to even add these payment options.
In addition to those socio-cultural challenges, there are real supply chain and natural impediments that also make it difficult for the the average consumer to eat locally. While grocery stores/box chains are dealing with the fallout of potentially contaminated food, farmers across the country are dealing with the aftermath of our long, protracted winter.
Farmers across the country have altered or delayed their planting schedules. Even cold-tolerant plants have been thrown off a bit by the conditions. My Southern farming friends have not been immune- many farmers markets have delayed their openings since so few vegetables are currently ready for harvest.
So please be patient with your local farmers. There is no part of our food system that is immune to the reach and whim of mother nature or other outside forces, whether you shop at your local farmers market or stop by the farm stand down the road from your house!
After a seemingly endless winter, spring has finally arrived on the farm. Maple season ended after a stretch of warm weather; the sap changed from clear to opaque, signaling the tree’s anticipation of warmer weather.
Ben has been busy finishing up a fencing project. Proper fences require ongoing maintenance and repair.
Our chickens grew weary of the cold, wet weather, but were happy for the longer days. Their egg production increased markedly in March, and we occasionally find our free range eggs in rather strange places.
The pasture is starting to awaken and the livestock are happy to have fresh grass to graze after a steady diet of hay, haylage, and alfalfa pellets. We are happy for the arrival of violets. We make jelly from those pretty little purple flowers.
The perennials are finally starting to return. We love our asparagus around here. There is something magical about those pretty green spears appearing overnight. Sauteed or lightly roasted in butter or bacon drippings, the taste of fresh asparagus is simply unmatched.
Spring signals the beginning of our lambing season. The red Tunis lambs are a stark contrast against the green grass. They don’t remain red for long, their white/cream fleeces begin to overtake the soft red hair after a week or two.
Many of our favorite plants are wild annuals and perennials that we forage. We spend time walking the woods to locate useful plants that we use for our family and the livestock. Certain birds, insects, and reptiles are indicator species to determine when it’s warm enough for us garden in earnest. Gold finches, bullfrogs, and grasshoppers have all made their presence known over the past week.
The bees are happy for the warmer weather, too. Our hives are active daily now, harvesting pollen from dandelions, wildflowers, and the many fruit trees that are now in bloom.
Many of our friend and family across the country are still struggling with cold temperatures. While we’re not quite out of the woods yet, it is encouraging to see the signs of spring on the farm.
With the first official boil in the books, we’re now busy replenishing our maple stores for the year. We use a LOT of maple syrup and honey at our house, primarily because we don’t use artificial sweeteners. We stopped buying processed cereal years ago and replaced it with granola. We eat granola with milk for breakfast or as a simple snack.
This recipe is pretty versatile– we typically add whatever we have on hand and don’t worry about it too much.
Preheat oven to 250ºF.
In a large bowl, stir to combine rolled oats, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and coconut flakes. In a separate bowl, stir to combine maple syrup, brown sugar, oil, and salt. Pour wet ingredients over the oats, and mix well.
Pour the granola onto a rimmed sheet pan and spread it out evenly with a spatula. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring halfway through the baking process. The granola is done cooking when it turns medium brown, so your cooking time may vary a bit. Let the granola cool completely then store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. (It NEVER lasts that long at our house.) This recipe can be doubled if you want to make more.
(Adapted from Homemade Pantry and Food to Live By)
A question posted on the farm’s Facebook page inspired today’s post. We make and sell wool dryer balls made with fiber from our Tunis sheep. Our chemical and dye-free dryer balls are a popular item, but many people don’t know what they are!
So, what are wool dryer balls? Dryer balls are used to help dry clothes more quickly than usual as well as to soften fabrics in the dryer. When you add dryer balls into your clothes dryer the balls will bounce around in the dryer and in between clothing. The balls will separate and pull them apart with their weight. This in turn is allows more hot air in and around your laundry helping the dryer to heat your laundry more quickly. By using up to 3 balls in a medium load, you can decrease the total dry time by 20% or up to 15 minutes at a time.
There are a few tricks to using dryer balls. You can’t efficiently dry great big loads of laundry at one time since the balls need a bit of room in the dryer to bounce around. Three medium sized balls should suffice for most small-medium loads, but 6 would work better for heavier material (think denim). (Keep in mind that overloading the dryer will reduce their efficacy, regardless of how many dryer balls added to the load.) To use them, you simply toss them into the dryer along with your laundry and they will do their thing!
What about static? Do dryer balls prevent static? The truth is, dryer balls do not prevent static. However, there are things that you can do to reduce static in your laundry. First, much of the reason that static builds up in dryers is due to over-drying the load. This is especially problematic during the winter months when the overall environment is low in humidity.
To compensate, try spraying the wool dryer balls with water, getting them rather wet. This will increase the humidity level in the dryer. Another tip– try pinning a small safety pin on one ball to diffuse static.
Can I add essential oils to my wool dryer balls? Absolutely! splashing a few drops of essential oils onto the wool dryer balls will make your laundry smell great without having to use chemicals!
To get the maximum benefit, allow the essential oil soak on the dryer balls for 10-20 minutes before putting them in the dryer. This will extend the amount of time the fragrance will will impart to clothes.
Can I use these with cloth diapers?
Absolutely! Unlike chemical fabric softeners, they won’t affect the absorbency of your towels, kitchen dishcloths AND your cloth diapers like commercial fabric softeners will.
We hope that you will give will dryer balls a try. For those of us who are sensitive to chemical dyes and fragrances, wool dryer balls offer an inexpensive, eco-friendly alternative to dryer sheets and fabric softeners.
We had a bumper crop of black walnuts this year. They are a flavorful addition to pancakes, cookies, and just about anything that could use a good crunch. While looking for a recipe to make over the holidays, I came across this savory pie recipe. It was a huge success! It is reminiscent of pecan pie but without the sugary sweetness that can be overwhelming.
Maple season is upon us, so I’ll try and share a few recipes during the season to illustrate the versatility of this wonderful syrup!
1 Preheat oven to 375°F. In a bowl, mix together the beaten eggs, maple syrup, rum (if using), vanilla extract, brown sugar, and melted butter. Sprinkle with flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Whisk until smooth.
2 . Pour the maple syrup egg mixture into the prepared pie shell. Sprinkle black walnuts all over top, arranging them where needed.
3 Bake at 375°F for 40-45 minutes. After about 20 minutes, or about halfway through the baking, protect the pie crust edges with foil or use a pie protector so that the edges don’t burn.
4 Remove from the oven and let cool completely before serving.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks around the farm. Despite my best intentions to chronicle and document the many dynamic projects that we have going on, it’s been hard to sit down and take the time to write. I compose all of these profound insights while moving fence or walking in the pasture, but when I get back to the house, it’s on to another project or series of demands.
While scrolling through my pages feed a few weeks ago, I came across a quote that has stuck with me– “Turn off Pinterest and create!” While I am not a Pinterest addict, I have been guilty of reading about projects and ideas for far too long, looking for a bit of inspiration to get me started on my next creative journey. I am especially guilty of dithering around with my weaving projects. I have some pretty severe avoidance behaviors when it comes to starting a new weaving projects. I linger a bit too long deciding on colors and yarn before I start warping the loom, but once I get started, the work seems to flow.
I’ve been busy making holiday crafts, and spent quite a bit of time on Ravelry looking at page after page of cute snowmen, Santas, scarves, and the like. Ultimately, I printed a few instructions and patterns, cast on, and promptly ignored them all, just as I tend to do with everything I make.
While I always long for a slower pace this time of year, I feel the subtle tide of the holiday season pulling me out to the sea of expectation. I fight it, but only the quiet peace of the woods, good coffee, and watching the sun evaporate the morning dew off the backs of my sheep seem to do anything to quiet my need for equanimity.
A month from now, the trees will be laid bare, and the still quiet of the woods will endure without much interruption. Hopefully I’ll be able to squirrel away a bit of time and sit in quiet reprieve.