The word organic has become a bit of a hot topic as of late, has it not? Yet many people still have preconceived notions as to what it means. You often hear, “It’s too expensive”, “It’s hard to find”, or “That’s just for pretentious people.” Not that long ago, I was in the same boat. Being a product of the 70’s and 80s, it never occurred to me that there were other options besides what you could throw into the microwave and have ready to eat in the blink of an eye. However, a few years ago the blinds were lifted and I was enlightened on the benefits of providing my family and myself with foods organically grown. My support for organics has grown more steadfast with each article read on the dangers of conventional, genetically modified and processed foods.
Even though the organic sections of supermarkets are expanding, food still travels between 1500-2500 miles to reach your plate. That is a massive amount of petroleum. Not to mention the frequent news articles of certified organic produce being tainted with prohibited chemicals. This led me to the internet in an attempt to find local sources for as many of our pantry staples as possible.
This is how I made the acquaintance of Thomas and Robert. Initially, my plans were to join their CSA program and maybe catch up with them now and then at one of the farmers markets. But I really wanted to help support this spectrum of agriculture with everything I have to offer.
The opportunity to join such an operation has really been exciting and fascinating. One of the first tasks given to me was to start tomatoes and peppers from seeds. I cared for them carefully for six weeks, and when transplant day finally came, I was thrilled to watch as those happy little seedlings were set out into the garden!
Growing crops organically isn't as easy as I initially thought. Since the chemical middle-man is eliminated, the unwanted pests must be removed manually. Hours spent picking a wide variety of weeds and harmful beetles and grubs is a tedious and daunting undertaking, but this in itself is very satisfying. A lot of sweat and a little back ache are the real secret to a great harvest!
It is so fulfilling to know that the work put into a project will soon benefit others in being able to eat better. In the span of just a few short weeks, tens of thousands of gorgeous plants have been put in the ground. So take my word that there are lots of goodies growing fast and will be ready for your bellies before you know it!
The hardest part of planting is definitely trying to decide which varieties to plant. At last count I had over 700 different vegetable & flower types, making the task torturous. With the recent, very rapid rate of loss for heirloom varieties it has become vital that we try to preserve our agricultural legacy. Besides...it doesn't help that once you start collecting them, you think you need to have them ALL!
A few of the more than 70 varieties of beans in our collection.
By the end of the week we had managed to plant the majority of our crops, and it is a welcome relief. The carrots are shooting up and the lettuce is almost ready to harvest. Now we can focus on the weeds that are pressuring our earlier planting before they begin to steal vital nutrients and moisture content from the vegetables.
The chickens are growing nicely and should begin producing eggs in about one more month. CSA members will get the option of adding an egg share to their produce baskets. The cost will be $3.00 per dozen of chicken eggs OR a half dozen of duck eggs.
It seems that spring has come and gone, in a short 2 weeks. The weather is decidedly summer, and the farm is showing it. The hay fields are over waist high and already setting seed. It is a simple beauty that we thoroughly enjoy this time of year. Yet, it is a reminder that in a few weeks it will need to be cut, rolled, and stored for winter use.
There is nothing quite like a good summer storm.
This year will be our busiest year yet, so we decided to take a few days to enjoy time with family in the beautiful Smokey Mountains. Once June arrives we pretty much disappear until the fall frosts take the harvest. It is quite nice to know that the animals and plants are well taken care of while we rest. Andrea recently joined our team, and is a very welcome addition. She is currently on the farm ensuring everything is cared for and we appreciate it so much!! A huge thank you goes out to her for all of her hard work this week!!
Andrea, our newest addition to the farm
We are really looking forward to getting back on the farm and seeing what crops have sprouted while we have been out of town. It was a grueling week, but seeing all of the seedlings reaching for the sun will make it all worth the effort. Until next week...
When I began writing this blog, I promised myself that I would never be one of those people that are always late with posts. Yeah, how long did that last? These past 2 weeks have been the busiest I have ever been, and thus anything not essential had to be set aside. So, without further ado, I give you 2 weeks worth of 12 hour work days, presented mostly in photos, because let's face it...I have to get back to work!
We had a little scare this week with the threat of frost. Luckily, our low was 39 degrees, and all of the tender vegetables made it through just fine (without any additional protection)! After April 28th, we have less than a 10% chance of frost, so it is now safe to say, there will not be another frost until the end of October...October 25th to be exact.
The cold, and very wet Spring wreaked constant havoc on the garden. Fortunately, lettuce and carrots love that sort of weather, and are thriving nicely. With colder temperatures the darker coloring (reds, and purples) on vegetables become more pronounced and vivid...creating beautiful lettuces! The beets and swiss chard will need to be replanted though, as most of the seed rotted due to the increased moisture of the soil.
Our goal is to have every seed, and every plant in the ground by Friday. We are well on our way with over 2,000 plants hand set into the garden so far. We have about 1,000 more to go, and somewhere around 10,000 individual seeds to sow. It takes a lot of produce to feed our members and to have some left over for market!
On top of all of this planting, we also had to work cattle this week. We work them in the Spring and Fall, giving them the vaccinations they need to keep them healthy. A few calves had already managed to contract pink eye before we could get them their shots. A quick dose of antibiotics will have it cleared right up, and they will be happy, happy, happy in no time at all.
The day starts out with putting all of the cattle into pens, and then sorting the calves out from their mothers. Since the calves are so small, they would get injured in the commotion, so they are kept aside until we are finished with their mamas.
Once we begin with the little ones, they must be individually worked, since they can find their ways out of the pen quite easily. My job was to get into the alley, get a single calf and lead it down and into the chute. There it will get all the medical attention it needs to hopefully keep it healthy until the fall.
The calves are much more rambunctious, and unlike their mothers, they tend to kick... a lot. I luckily managed to only have one kick make contact. I just wish that one kick wasn't into my shin!
After I get them down the alley, and finally into the chute, I pass them off, and begin again with a new calf. They receive a variety of shots to protect against various viruses, just as we humans do (pneumonia, etc). The males are also castrated, and that is what Thomas is doing in this photo. We don't cut the calves but rather use the painless band method of castration. It's clean, easy, and safe...and it keeps the little guys happy.
Working cattle always makes the day seem long, yet the satisfaction of a hard days work doesn't go unnoticed. There is something innately pleasing about physical labor.
The day finally came for my little herd of bottle babies to be turned out to pasture. It's hard to believe this little girl was nearly frozen to death when we found her. It's even harder to believe she spent the night in our bathroom warming up in January.
I have been giving Ellie Mae a good chin scratching since she was a day old, so I make sure to visit her every evening so she doesn't think I've forgotten about her, if such an emotion is even possible for a cow. I don't care, nor do I pretend to, because my evening visits are as much for me as they are for her!
Here is Thomas trying to steal all of my lovins' from little ole' Ellie Mae.
I didn't realize how busy this post was going to be when I started writing it! I know I have kind of jumped around all over the place, but that is also how my last two weeks have been. It is way past time for me to be back in the fields, so I will go ahead and wrap this entry up. Lots of favorable weather this week, so look forward to a nice update in the next post!