We finally had a week without rain allowing us to transplant many of those heat loving crops. We all worked hard and accomplished so MUCH this past week! It is at these times when we are extremely thankful for an efficient and dedicated Farm Crew.
Just a week prior we had rain nearly every day, and then a very light frost early Saturday on May 25th, and are thankful we covered our basil. Our crops don’t know whether it is Spring or Summer. Just a week ago it was rather difficult to imagine us keeping up a continuous and bountiful harvest with rain showers sprinkling our fields nearly every day preventing us from preparing land, transplanting crops and seeding additional crops. In the end I am fairly certain that everything will turn out alright because in between rain showers Carl was able to get our land plowed.
With the land plowed and fields prepared, this week we were able to transplant our peppers, eggplant, most of the winter squash and leeks. The leeks were begging to be transplanted a few weeks ago, we just couldn’t get the land prepared with all the rain at that time, we are grateful the leeks made it out into the fields this week. We must be thankful for Mark, who is an Appalachian Thru Hiker, and spent a few days off the trail helping us get the bulk of our summer crops and leeks transplanted. There is an optimal time-frame where we need to plant our peppers and winter squash – which is right about now – that is if we have any hope of them maturing before our first frost. These crops can’t be planted until after our last frost, yet must be planted very soon after the frost, just so they have plenty of growing time before the mildews and diseases arrive late summer.
The past few weekends have been spent planning and building “The Dairy Parlor”. We have a phased approach for the parlor, and we will continue to work towards our dream dairy parlor, that is if dairy cows suit us. We are building the parlor in a portion of the barn that the cows won’t have access to except during milking just to keep the area manure free. This required that we clear wood that has been drying in the barn for several years to make room for a dairy parlor. So Sylvest and Julie cleared the wood. Meanwhile, Carl built a stanchion, then we finally hung a gate providing easy access to the parlor. Our dream parlor will have a concrete floor underneath the stanchion that can be watered down, a separate area for grain storage, a cabinet for milking supplies, a sink for washing the milking supplies and walls to keep the cold winter winds out. Right now, the parlor is simply a stanchion on a dirt floor, with a gate to keep the cows out except during milking.
We have also been working on fencing another pasture for the cows just so they continue to have access to plenty of lush grass. Clearing the new pasture meant finally collecting firewood that had been cut last year and moving it out of the pasture stacking it in the wood shed. Also in the pasture were trees, that we felled last year, so we cut those into firewood. We removed old fence wire and locust fence posts, then finally mowing the pasture, just to be certain it is free of anything that may be dangerous to the cows and so new grass will grow. Now that the new pasture is mowed and cleared, we will hang a fence, then we can rotate the cows between pastures.
That is towards building the farm vacation cabin rental. The reason being is that we’ve decided to get into the dairy business and buy a couple dairy cows. These aren’t just any old cows, these are cows from our neighbors the Browns, and we have been drinking these cows milk for about four years. The Browns decided to sell the cows so we figured this might be the best time to begin our journey into raising dairy cows. For those who have been following our journal, you might be aware that at one time we were raising goats for fresh milk, but decided that it was much easier to buy milk from the Browns than deal with adventurous diary goats. We’ve decided that Dairy Cows are much easier to contain while goats are smart and are forever trying to escape their fencing. At one point in time the goats ate our entire greenhouse swiss chard crop because our guard dog led them into the greenhouse.
Sylvest requested that he would like to undertake a “project” for just another learning experience during his apprenticeship here at MHO so we suggested either bees or dairy cows. His first choice was beekeeping; however, we were unable to secure a bee nucleus because the beekeeper we were hoping to purchase it from was sold out rather quickly this season.. So Slyvest said he would love fresh milk and would be more than happy to work on the cow fencing and milking during his spare time. So we thought, OK, a diary cow might be a good mix for this highly diversified farm.
Just a couple days after the discussion of dairy cows with Sylvest, while Alvin was visiting, Alvin mentioned to Carl that the Browns were selling their cows. Carl made a call to the Browns. We worked out a deal. We devised a fencing strategy that might work for a month or two. We then moved the cows to their new home here at MHO. Just a few days after their arrival Daisy May calved and out came an EXTREMELY CUTE little baby girl. We worried like any new parents as to whether the baby was getting enough milk so we called a couple of our neighbors who suggested that perhaps we need to restrain Daisy May allowing her baby to nurse. They say sometimes first time mothers, which is what Daisy May is, won’t let their youngun nurse. So that we did, which wasn’t a very comfortable for us, the bit about restraining Daisy May so that her baby could nurse. Little Daisy May happens to be very healthy and playful. All of this happened in a little over three weeks. It is still hard to believe we are on this new journey all because of little dreams in our head of warm milk directly from the cow, soft mozzarella that melts in your mouth, freshly churned butter, frozen custard, feta cheese, cream cheese, aged moldy cheeses. It is not just because of these dreams, but also because Sylvest is taking his job seriously in helping with the cows, making sure they are healthy and happy. SO THANK SYLVEST if you happen to taste our wonderful milk!
So here we are in the bovine diary milk business. This new journey is taking time away from progress towards the Farm Vacation Cabin Rental, but we feel it is the right direction for the farm, especially since we will be offering Agri-Tourism (or Eco-Tourism). How can you go to a farm and not expect to find cows in the pasture? Our next step is to build a small little Milking Parlor and Stanchion so that this milking thing can become a one person job. At the moment it is taking a couple of us to milk.
Production Note to Self:Sassy was born May 8th to Daisy May.
Several years ago, Angela Witmore apprenticed with us, she is a GREAT ARTIST, who painted an AMAZING PORTRAIT of Luther Baily from the North Asheville Tailgate Market.. We hope that today she continues to use her gift, in painting portraits of people and farms, as it is such a great way for preserving history and for educating others of our varied cultures.
Just last week we received an email from Angela’s brother, who visited the farm while she was apprenticing, and is currently working on a farm who wrote us inquiring if farming, “continues to be a source of discovery and joy”. That to us, is that he gets it, and that is something each and everyone of us should be asking ourselves daily about our jobs, goals and objectives. Throughout our life, society has defined one as being “successful”, based on how much money one earns, how big ones home is, the type of car one drives, etc.
We on the farm don’t live in a big house – we live in a trailer – but we do have a LARGE greenhouse with food growing in it. Is this considered successful? Our t-shirts and clothes are worn out because we only purchase one outfit each year. One of our vehicles is relatively new and runs well, while the others it seems, needs daily maintenance to keep them going. As we near retirement, without much savings or a retirement investment portfolio, there are times when we feel we are not successful and have made poor choices in our lives.
For certain, we find discovery and joy almost daily, so perhaps that sums up why we have chosen to farm. When working with Mother Nature, there are no constants, which is why discovery occurs daily in our lives. Also, we have so much joy, too much to write about. But a few of our joyous moments are…
- Waking up each morning, knowing that Carl and I are going to spend another day together
- Every day, when there is no cloud cover or fog, looking up at Bluff Mountain.
- Entering the propagation greenhouse, during our growing season, just to see so many seedlings near the beginning of their life.
- When Kaiser catches a ground hog or opossum.
- When Harmon, who has been sleeping in the house all morning while we’ve been working out in the fields, wags his tail with delight because he is so excited to see us.
- When it rains and Meadow Fork Creek is flowing fast and furious.
- Spring hikes in the woods when we see an astounding variety of wild flowers blooming.
- When we are so tired after a days work that we collapse into our bed with our dirty farm clothes on.
- Walking through the fields seeing potato sprouts appear above the soil.
- Cutting down a hemlock, then sawing it into lumber and admiring the beautiful grains, knowing that it was grown and raised right here on the farm and will be used for our building projects.
- Hoeing a bed of kale, after which looking back and admiring it without any weeds, knowing that the weeds will return before the next day.
- Having a crop of arugula or baby boc choi, that is free of holes from flea beetles, knowing this is a rare occurrence in our lives.
- Both our first and last harvest for the season.
- Placing tiny seeds directly into the soil out in the field, only to have them germinate a week or so later, knowing that we just got lucky.
- Knowing that 80% of the food we consume comes from us or our friends.
- And so much more
THANKS to all those who are dedicating so much of their life, time and effort seeking “discovery and joy”, rather than strictly “financial independence”, because it is these choices that will keep our planet healthy and happy. NOT CONSUMERISM. We know that many of our tailgate market customers, spend more of their budget on food than the average American, rather than use their hard earned cash for CONSUMERISM. We live in a GREAT place!
We’ve been enjoying hikes in the mountains this spring. Below are a few of the most incredible wildflowers making an appearance in the forest. My battery on the camera went dead or I would have photographed more.
If I was to look back through our journal entries from previous years the subject for this entry might just be the most commonly used. After all, we are transplanting seedlings throughout the season, hoping each time that the soil has just the right amount of moisture.
This past week we only had a couple days without either snow or rain, and our soil was by no means the perfect consistency for making smooth beds for our transplants, yet we made a decision to work up some land and went with it. We are thankful to have transplanted a few beds of crops, and our best guess is that we set out around 2100 little seedlings, that were finally freed from their cells of plug trays in the warmth of the greenhouse left to survive the cold wet fields.
We were hoping to direct seed the following morning after transplanting, but at dawn we awoke to rainfall, that arrived a few hours earlier than forecasted. This is the latest we can remember being able to direct seed, which is putting seeds directly into the soil rather than into plug trays in the greenhouse, so we may be delaying our first CSA delivery by a week. Each year is different in farming, which is one of the things we LOVE about our job, but it is also something we find frustrating about our job. Last year the weather was so warm that we were harvesting extra early, this year nighttime temperatures have been down in the lower 30’s and 20’s, so we will be harvesting later than normal.
We must give credit to Sylvestre and George for getting our greenhouse tomato crop planted this week, because Carl and I wanted to quit working early afternoon on Thursday while it was only 35 degrees and raining, but they insisted we keep at it. My motto is, “Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow.” Sad to say, George topped my motto, his being, “Nothing is something that I do.”
Recent articles that I’ve found interesting:
How cool is this class for high school students. If this class isn’t yet available in the Asheville area, I bet it will be one day soon!.
I love how this Texas Farmer is using native grasses for raising his cattle. It is all about rotational grazing and something we hope to get into one day.
I always wondered how much renewable energy our country produces. We have a long way to go and I do wish the money invested in the Keystone XL pipeline could be re-directed to renewable energy sources.
It does seem silly that I would like a few prayers for our fields to dry out, especially when a good portion of our continent is in drought and badly needs moisture, and sure enough just as we pray for drier weather we will be in a drought. But I am just going to say it, I would like a few days of dry weather so our fields can dry out, allowing us to place a few seeds in the soil and transplant seedlings to the fields!
We are at the mercy of Mother Nature. We need her sun to shine for a few days and her wind to blow so that our fields will dry up enough so the soil can be worked. Ideally, the farmer would like for the soil to have a little moisture but not too much, yet it is nearly impossible in the spring to have the perfect soil consistency. So we just make a decision as to the best time, given the circumstances, to work up the soil and go with it hoping the crops grow and prosper. This may be a year when we work up the soil when it is a little too wet. Time will tell.
We were in the midst of transplanting seedlings to the greenhouse when Alvin stopped by inquiring if we were ready to grade the cabin site. The soil is the driest we’ve seen since mid December of last year, so we said YES, and the grading began!
Alvin believes he has moved about 500 tons of soil so far, and just after grading for a couple days, he is done with the rough grading for the site. We could have built the cabin down in the farm fields, but after farming for over a decade, that land seems just so valuable from a food production standpoint that we decided to flatten a little nook up on the mountain. We will now let this area settle before digging footers and building the foundation for the cabin. In the next couple days we plan to stake out the cabin location, then hopefully we will post a few pictures of the site.
Click here to listen to an NPR story about the local food movement and how the farmer isn’t earning much. Like the couple interviewed in the story from Illinois who don’t know many folks that would work for such little pay, and we ask ourselves that same question at the beginning of each season, but we keep on farming. Some say the love and desire of working with dirt and planting a seed gets in your blood and you just can’t get rid of it. That must be true. It must be in our blood because each season we have the longing to till the earth and grow healthy food; rather than find a paying job. We are trying to work hard towards building the vacation cabin now that we are nearing a time in our life when we one day won’t physically be able to cultivate 5 acres of farmland.
Recently we read this inspiring article about our future scientists.
Prior to farming both Carl and I spent our life writing software, assisting companies in automating and streamlining their processes or manually done tasks, thus saving them money and time which allowed them to grow and flourish. Doesn’t it seem crazy that we’ve never evaluated our business from an automation standpoint?
When the Palm Pilot first made its debut, I ditched my day timer that had been a part of my life for a good 20 years, in favor of the Palm. The Palm went with me everywhere and I had all my contacts on it, appointments, meeting notes, my dream places to visit, my dream list of things I would like to accomplish, an ongoing list of books to read, etc. I even used the Palm for record keeping (although in a pretty archaic format) the first couple years while we farmed until the Palm bit the dust. I couldn’t financially justify purchasing a smart phone because out here in rural America we didn’t have data coverage. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that we actually could get a cell signal yet our signal strength was never strong enough for data and still too expensive. Because we spend so much of our time here on the farm without a strong cell signal, Carl and I have never yet entered into the world of smartphones and texting. We figured why bother with such technology if we couldn’t use it for receiving calls, emailing or texting because we had no data coverage, not to mention the smartphone still had a screen too small for the record keeping we do on the farm. So I must admit we are technologically a little behind the times.
Perhaps us being technically behind the times will be changing with the introduction of the Nexus7. Carl has been trying to talk me into this computer after he read reviews about it, then while at the store he showed me it, and I was sold after seeing how big the screen resolution was. The tablet can run software for displaying and editing spreadsheets, so now we can realistically export our reports from our PC and have them on the tablet. I am fascinated by this little computer and now am interested in one day having a smart phone.
Our hope is that we go paperless this season and I think the Nexus7 will actually allow us to do this. It is complete with a development environment so we are hoping one day to have a thin version of our farming software on this computer.
Here is an article that makes for an interesting read, and just another reason to buy local in supporting a regionally diversified food system, helping to protect the US food system from being impacted by extreme weather conditions such as droughts and floods. Also interesting is this article about the science of junk food being addictive and I found it astounding that in 1979 James Behnke of Pillsbury organized a meeting, with companies producing unhealthy food, to discuss what can be done for the health of America. Yet nothing has been done since that meeting and today, twenty four years later, junk food continues to be subsidized by our government.
This Valentine’s day we decided to make gnocchi as our main entrée along with steamed spinach and sweet potatoes for our sidedish. Is it right for two people to eat a 1/2 pound of fresh spinach for one meal? Perhaps, if one knows the individual who grew the spinach, otherwise maybe it is a bit too risky. Once again a top news story is the recall of spinach that has been shipped all across the country. I wonder if the new food safety rules can eliminate problems with a situation such as this most recent recall of spinach? I’m curious about this mostly because if you read this article you will note that manure is in the air across these central valley farms that supply much of our country with veggies. With the proximity of farms growing our veggies to CAFO’s, I am not sure how they can keep pathogens out of our food if manure is indeed in the air and I also wonder how the farms in this region become “Certified Organic”. USDA Certified Organic food must not come in contact with fresh manure within 120 days of being harvested. The food harvested in California’s Central Valley will have a “manure particles”, that are coming from the air, so manure must be coming in contact with the food as it is being harvested. We make it a practice to spread fresh manure into our fields in the fall of the year prior to that field being planted early spring. Our spinach, grown here on our farm is still healthy, even though critters such as rabbits, deer, cats, dogs, rats and mice might wander across our spinach patch. Not to mention, only perhaps 80 families per week might eat our spinach while it is in season, so if some rat or mouse spread a disease, we would not make most of the country sick because we are not shipping across the country.
So act on food safety today and purchase your food locally from our highly diversified farms here in Western North Carolina by joining a CSA or shopping at area tailgate markets!
Production note to self: Weed strawberries mid December because the weeds are growing much faster earlier in the winter. It took 25 hours to weed all strawberries which was completed 2/11/2013.
Last week we had four days of rain so we used this time for seed planning and then finally placing our seed orders. Early January we decided that we would decrease our production level by half with hopes that we will be able to juggle production along with building the farm vacation cabin rental. Then the catalogs arrived in droves, complete with mouthwatering photographs of incredible looking veggies, all with the caption; “Best Tasting, Highest Yielding, Grows in any weather condition.”. So yes, of course we had the urge to grow EVERYTHING in the catalog. That is winter for you – when it is cold and the weeds aren’t growing – one thinks they are capable of doing almost anything. Quite a few hours into our planning session we knew we weren’t actually cutting back on our seeds and varieties, so we took a break to regroup, and started the process over. I am proud to say that we ended up decreasing our seed order by 1/3rd which is a HUGE accomplishment for us!
This past summer while we were sawing our trees into lumber for our timber-frame projects, we noticed that our lumber was not consistently sized. Meaning that when we had plans on cutting an 8x8x12, it was actually 8x8x12 in some places, while in other places it was 7-3/4x8x12 or 7-7/8x8x12, with varying sizes along the length of the timber. What does this mean from a sawyers perspective? It means that we had either sawn through knots, were using a dull blade, that our saw mill wasn’t level while we were sawing, or all three of these. The beautiful thing about building using timber-framing construction is that your lumber does not need to be consistently sized because the size is factored into the layout for the mortise, tenon and dove tail joinery. These timber framing techniques were probably designed this way because our forefathers were using hand tools and I expect it was nearly impossible to obtain consistently sized lumber when hand hewing logs.
What we noticed during our limited time sawing so far, was that we would level our mill which has 8 leveling feet with 4 on each side, before sawing each tree. When rolling a tree onto the mill, the mill would slightly move, probably because our mill was leveled onto cinder blocks directly in the ground, therefore offering a little flexibility from the weight of the tree onto the mill. We even noticed that if we were able to roll a tree onto the mill and the mill remained level, then after making the first cut and using the winch to turn the tree for our next cut, the mill would slightly move because of the force of the tree. We don’t think we would have this problem if we were sawing smaller trees.
So after we finished edging our backlog of boards with live edges, we decided to take time out of our schedule to pour concrete piers that will allow us to bolt the mill onto the piers, hopefully yielding more consistently sized timbers. Before making the decision to build concrete piers, we discussed our plan with Edward Zimmerman who designed the mill, as to whether he thought it would be structurally sound for the sawmill to be bolted onto piers because we understand that one wants a little flexibility with mill movement so that large trees do not break the sawmill frame. Edward thought it would be fine because he has already designed this needed flexibility into the leveling feet so that our sawmill frame should withstand the sized trees we are sawing. I will post his design feature in a following journal entry once we get around to bolting the sawmill to the piers. We know that our lumber will never be perfect because we are working with mother nature. And although accurately sized lumber is not important for timber frame joinery, we like consistent lumber for stick building, and it seems we always have a building project in the pipeline for this type of construction. Not to mention, since we are not very experienced at cutting joinery for timber framing, consistently sized timbers will speed up the labor spent on layouts. These aforementioned concerns was our justification for pouring concrete piers.
In preparation for pouring concrete piers, we moved the mill, which was fairly easy because our mill is portable. After that, Carl graded the pad using our tractor so that the individual piers would be easy to level with one another and the mill would be positioned at a height allowing us to easily move trees onto the mill and lumber off of the mill. Normally, for any construction project, Carl likes to make batter boards for squaring a pad; however, I was pleased to say Carl relinquished a bit of perfectionism for this project and we simply put nails in the ground to square the area for the piers. We then dug 8 holes so that we could poor a pier for each of the leveling feet. When we built our equipment barn, we made wood forms for pouring concrete piers; however, this time we purchased cardboard forms from Lowe’s saving us a bit of time. After setting the cardboard forms, we mixed concrete and poured the piers, and now they are curing while we wait for warmer and dry weather to move the mill back onto the pad.
Moving the Sawmill
Site Preparation and Digging holes for Piers
Leveling the Forms and Pouring the Concrete
We spent a couple days the last week in December, while we had a dusting of snow and it being a bit too frozen for outdoor jobs, working up the soil in a portion of our propagation greenhouse for salad mix. We seeded the lettuce for our salad mix October 24th, but because of short day length this time of the year, the lettuce starts were perfect for transplanting even though they were 3 weeks older than those we normally transplant. From March until October, which is pour peak growing season, we prefer to transplant our lettuce starts at 5 weeks of age. We also direct seeded arugula and mustard greens which is just starting to germinate so perhaps in another month we will be enjoying tasty salad mix with our meals. We’ve never transplanted or seeded anything into our greenhouse this time in the season so it is just another interesting experiment for us!
Nearly a month ago Alvin stopped by inquiring if we were ready for him to begin grading the site for the farm vacation cabin because conditions were ideal with our weather here in these mountains being extraordinary dry and warm. Thank goodness Alvin is trying to move along the cabin project. Perhaps if we had appointed him our project manager we might almost be done building the cabin! We kindly asked him if we could wait a few weeks because we still had trees to clear from the cabin site. To speed up the project, we could have let Alvin simply push the trees down with his bulldozer and pile them into a brush pile for burning, but it seems silly to us not to use perfectly good wood for heating our home and greenhouses. So we spent the first week in January felling trees and cutting them into firewood, stacking branches and limbs onto a brush pile, and are pleased that the site is now ready to be graded once Alvin has time and the weather permits. We’ve enjoyed our time up in the forest rather than down in the fields. One of the many perks in being a highly diversified farm is that we get to switch gears to completely different projects. Not to mention, we are enjoying a little slower pace of work, which we treasure because our “off” season is short.
Greg – you are going to be so proud of us – we spent a couple days this week doing the dreaded job of edging – and we edged all the boards from the pile that was left after you helped us saw wood this past summer. For you readers, you must understand that Greg hated leaving without edging the boards because he is one that takes pride in finishing jobs that he begins. I think he knew that it would be quite a while before we found the time to once again prioritize sawing lumber.
Edging is when the outer layer of the logs, the portion of the tree that gets sawn before you are in the heart of the tree, are sawn into 1 x’s and occasionally 2 x’s. The outer lumber will have “live” edges which is the bark from the tree that needs to be trimmed off so that the board is 4 sided and of dimensional sizes. The reason it is a “dreaded” job is because it is tedious and time consuming for the yield of board feet.
In preparation for edging, we first organized the wood into stacks by the size we expect to get. We have the following sizes:
- A stack with live edges on 2 sides that we plan to saw into 1×8’s
- A stack with live edges on 2 sides that we plan to saw into 1×6’s
- A stack with live edges on 2 sides that we plan to saw into 1×4’s
- A stack with 1 straight edge and 1 live edge that we plan to saw into 1×8’s
- A stack with 1 straight edge and 1 live edge that we plan to saw into 1×6’s
- A stack with 1 straight edge and 1 live edge that we plan to saw into 1x’4s
Once our wood is organized, we can then put a few boards on the mill at a time, finding like sizes and edges. We cut the edge off one side, then flip the boards, and cut the edge off the opposite side. We still flipped the boards with one straight edge and did a final truing cut. Once the boards are cut the wood is stacked and stickered for drying. I must say, this week we have had a blast spending our time in the woods and another portion of our time running the sawmill. It is a nice break from seeding, weeding and harvesting; however, I expect in another month we will begin experiencing withdrawals from these jobs!