November 30, 2011

Giving Thanks Down Home

Somehow we managed to convince the Abrams family to aim for a local Thankgiving this year. They didn’t even flinch, just a shrug. We could go on about how this is a more accurate celebration of the day, a reflection on the tradition of bringing in the harvest and preparing it with friends and family as they did in the beginning. ………The truth is, Thomas and I cringe at the holidays and what we politely and gluttonously gorge on, only to jumpstart our winter weight gain, kill our energy, and send us rolling in agony. Why did I eat that Jell-o, Cool Whip, and canned fruit medley? Why???

In our everyday lives, we shoot to incorporate as much, if not all our own produce, cheese, eggs, milk and/or meats into our meals. Obviously we can’t cover everything; coffee, bread, and mayonnaise are exceptions. Bread, beef, anything we don’t grow, we get from our wonderful food web of fellow sustainable farmers. The grocery store is reserved for dairy, tortillas, crackers, cereals, and sugar (where honey and molasses won’t do). Food is our paycheck and sometimes our method of payment is the barter system. In this sense, we are RICH!!! We are used to substitutions and adaptations of familiar americana into greener versions of their former selves. Naturally, it was assumed that Thanksgiving standards would be transformed or even replaced. Once we explained this to Mama D and Sissy realized the sky would not fall without cool whip, we were off. The following is a comparison of the feasts of Turkey Day past and this year’s adaptation.

2010 and BEFORE                                       2011
Butterball Turkey                                            2 Red Dirt Ranch whole chickens – roasted
Stovetop Dressing                                           with PPF carrots and PPF onions stuffed
Summer Squash Casserole                              with lime and apples
Canned Green Beans                                      PPF Home-Canned Green Beans
Frozen Yeast Rolls                                          Deviled PPF eggs
(canned) Pumpkin Pie                                     PPF Sweet Potato Casserole
Rice and Gravy                                               PPF Collard Greens Casserole
Canned Cranberry Sauce                                Homemade Biscuits with PPF lard, local     wheat flour, cut with organic all purpose
                                                                        PPF Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Kohlrabi
PPF Butternut Squash Pie with local wheat and PPF lard crust
Grocery List for this year:
Lime for chicken
Sour Cream
Cheddar Cheese (for greens casserole, non-negotiable)
All Purpose Unbleached Flour (to cut the whole grains in bread and crust)
Brown Sugar (for sp casserole)

I started preparing everything the day before. The chickens were salted and air dried in the refrigerator in order to seal the pores of the skin, locking in moisture. Casseroles are almost always better if the flavors sit together a day before baking. I cut carrots, onions, kohlrabi and potatoes the day before to save time later.  The morning of Thanksgiving, we started roasting the chickens, made the pies, started the slow simmer of the green beans, deviled the eggs and got a lesson from Mama D on how to make biscuits, I think the fact that I touched them cursed this batch as usual.

We pulled from our field, freezer, and pantry. The veggies and herbs you haven’t seen on our table at market were grown for our own supply and set back (onions, garlic, potatoes). Puzzle Peace Farm fed eight a local Thanksgiving feast, and the following day’s lunch, dinner, and another lunch (I grossly over prepared). Instead of the post meal sugar crash and coma, we went down to my old farm and loaded up some of my equipment left behind last season in the move. I can’t imagine we’d been able to do that with a stomach full of cool whip.

If you are sensing excitement and pride in my tone, you are correct! I am so thrilled to have reached this apex after 3 years of farming. We’ve eaten an imported feast for our whole lives and this is the kind of meal we’ve been waiting for. Let us give thanks to our families who have supported us in our journey of farming. What an appropriate way.

October 15, 2011

You Dig?

September brought with it SWEET POTATOES!!! Thus leading Thomas to declare, once more, that this will be his new, sole crop and his path to sane farming. I stood back as resident buzz kill, shaking head, repeating: “way to hedge your bets, buddy.” Some other people became completely reliant on potatoes before and we call them Ireland. Didn’t turn out so well. I’ll still root for diversification and leave the broad sweeping declarations to Thomas.  Here are our favorite great things about sweet potatoes:

  • Plant, water, wait, dig. If they take root in May, we may have to weed once but for the most part, we don’t worry too much about them until September. They keep the ground covered and grow steadily as we go about our business fretting over tomato blights and wild onions in the salad mix. 
  • There’s more tasty potatoes than one. We grow sweet, mild, savory, starchy, juicy, dry, purple, orange, yellow, white, small, medium, and huge. Our seed saving savior and sweet potato enthusiast started us off with our first diversified sweet potato crop last year and guided us through our own propagation this spring. Some of these heirlooms are hundreds of years old, some are new hybrids from NC State. All of which are non-GMO.
  • Sit and Sell.  After we cure our sweet potatoes in October, they are stable for storage in a cool dry place, like Mama Carson’s basement. We go in each Saturday morning, pick a variety and go off to market. They don’t taste old or lose texture, sweet potatoes are marathon keepers if they like where they are.
  • They are the starch free potato. Well, this isn’t really the most important aspect of sweet potatoes, seeing as how we need our carbs around here and neither of us is watching our figure. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that sweet potatoes are not potatoes at all. They are a bonafide super food root vegetable, just like a beet or turnip, and nutritionally complete. The sugars are appropriate for diabetics.
  • More versatile than shrimp. Here are a few recipes we came to rely on last winter and we’re sure to find more this time around:  sweet potato biscuits, sweet potato pancakes, sweet potato casserole, sweet potato hash browns, sweet potato pecan bread, sweet potato fries, sweet potato and kale quesadillas, sweet potato salad, rosemary roasted sweet potatoes with goat cheese, spinach quiche with sweet potato “crust”, sweet potato oatmeal cookies, baked sweet potato (no brown sugar necessary!) sweet potato pie, chocolate sweet potato pie and I shut my mouth. We never tired of them.
Our dear former intern, Erika Kuhn came down to dig some sweet potatoes this month and brought with her these (real old timey film!) photos she took on the farm this summer. Here’s a look back at the beginnings of peak season told through these beautiful photos. Thanks Erika! 






September 5, 2011

Please Pass the Lard

July’s blog was getting a little depressing, we’ll admit. Truth be told about August, it’s one of the most trying months of the season. It’s dry, hot, stressful, and big decision time. We’ll just leave it at that and talk about something more entertaining: FOOD.

Food is why we farm. Seems like an obvious statement but we spend so much time in the great outdoors dealing with dirt, bugs and plants, carving out some sad excuse for a cash flow system that we forget how vital our line of work is. That is, until this time of year when we are overloaded with market leftovers, bumper crops, final harvests and everything else we cherish. We alternate between feeling panicked and blessed as we work like bees to ensure that as little food as possible goes to waste. Waste is a poor word here for in the worst cases, food becomes compost or hog feed and therefore remains in the farm food cycle and out of the landfill. We hit some sort of stride this season though where we worked overtime to preserve what will realistically get us through the winter months while still feeling somewhat satisified with our market.

For the first time we went at canning full force. First were green beans, then tomatoes, red sauce, salsa, and now we’re on to pickled okra, a favorite to both hoard and sell at market. This year’s AWESOME basil crop has warranted biweekly pesto batches which are frozen for later.  It’s an odd feeling to spend days and evenings sweating in the kitchen during the hottest times of the year all with meals months away, in the coldest season, in mind. We’re harvesting and curing winter squashes which we grow in the summer and store for winter (that’s where the confusion of the name comes from). Thrashing, shelling, and winnowing the dry beans and grains is also an evening past time. On the weekends we’re skipping around to neighbors’ blueberry patches and bringing home gallons to wash and freeze. The resident mechanic/engineer/ultra man Thomas has repurposed an old Frigidaire this month into a monstrous utility sized dehydrator. We’ve dealt with tomatoes molding overnight to burning in hours as he tweaks the temperature, air flow, screen prototype and exhaust rate. This will go down as one of those projects that will pay for its self in the long run and show you just what your man is made of. Mine must have copper wiring for a circulatory system.   

Tomatoes waiting for Winter
Green Bean Glory

The Dehydronator

I am actively attempting the art of cooking and baking for the first time in my life this season. Obviously I have learned a few things before now, but they were mostly variations on spaghetti, pancakes, and zucchini bread and I have had a tendency to lean on roommates until now. Thank you for feeding me for so long; you know who you are. I seem to be actually interested in recent months in getting better and broadening my repertoire. Kitchen confidence is the main goal here and at 26 I think it’s time I had some.

 I feel like I’ve mastered frying eggs, finally, with the right combination of oil, heat and cast iron. Just in time, too as our first large flock of 30 just started laying. Last week I made a very successful batch of sausage gravy but I’m still working on biscuits. We use locally milled whole wheat flour and our own rendered lard, so if anyone has pointers on how to make a tall biscuit from that, please share. Mine have been short, dry and crumby at best even with baking powder.  With eggplant in season, I made my first batch of baba ganousch…yummy.  We’re working on new ways to cook okra – baking, stewing, and of course frying.

And then there is the cheese. Because we do not have a temperature controlled room in the house, we’re limited to chevre which requires only an even 24 hours at 78° to both set and drain. That’s conveniently the temperature this mobile home stays ALL THE TIME. Well, sometimes the kitchen gets hotter so we move it to another space. In order to relieve boredom, we’ve been experimenting with flavoring the chevre. Walnut and honey is my favorite so far with rosemary and garlic, hot red pepper, and pesto not far behind.

Thomas is a big fan of wild fermentation and is always tinkering with kimchi. Kefir is a new endeavor quite different with goats milk from the cows milk kefir we’ve had before.  We just got a mother to start some kombucha after trying some delightful vanilla ginger kombucha earlier this summer. Very exciting probiotic stuff we have brewing in the crocks.

Of no relation to this topic but worth celebrating: Thomas and I harvested our first successfully sweet and accurately ripe crop of sugar baby watermelons this month. And our expired bean patches from early summer kicked back into production as well. Hooray.

As I recently wrote a friend: my life is like Julie and Julia now, I’m learning to cook, gaining weight as a result and I have a blog. Basically the same thing. Now where’s the book deal and movie?

Current favorite cook books:

Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll
Good Meat by Deborah Krasner
Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables
The Complete Tassajara Cookbook by Edward Espe Brown
Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz

August 19, 2011

Our Plight, The Blight

May I please take this opportunity to vent? Thank you.
A conversation sprang up after market last Saturday. An older fellow that is friends with my Dad was visiting. I was in the process of making a tomato sandwich with one of our tomatoes and some delicious bread a friend had made for us while I waited on my next sandwich stuffing of eggplant and peppers to grill.  He commented on how good that tomato looked. I asked if he wanted to take some home with him. My dad laughed and said, “He’s got five-thousand bushels in his back yard.”  It turns out one of the biggest tomato growers in South Carolina (I won’t mention names, though perhaps I should) has a field full right next door to this fellow. He gets his tomatoes free, so he declined my offer. I did not take offense.
The conversation moved on to fertilization. “How do you fertilize your tomatoes?” I told him.  “Well what’s in that organic fertilizer?”  Well there’s greensand and wood ash for potassium, rock phosphate and bone meal for phosphorous, composted manures for nitrogen. “So what’s the difference in that stuff and me going and buying a bag of triple 17?”  I tell him that for one they are naturally derived and not processed or synthesized with chemicals or petroleum by-products. And then I explain how commercial synthetic fertilizers are water soluble and that when you get a big downpour half of what you put on your field likely washes away into streams, rivers and the ocean where it is disastrous to aquatic life. I mentioned algae blooms, poisoned well waters, and the “dead zones” in the Gulf where there is no life due to man-made pollutants and fertilizer run-off.  This all seemed foreign to him. “Well I’ve heard that it’s good to spread fertilizer in your pond?”  I had never heard of this and he couldn’t say for what reason anyone may want to do this.

And then it really got interesting. He lowers his voice as if the wrong person might be close and says, “Now don’t repeat this…”  … Which I never agreed to and given I’m not telling you names I don’t feel guilty repeating this. I feel it almost a duty. He goes on, “…That pond down below my house turned yellow like chicken broth this year. And then a couple weeks later all the fish I had stocked it with a few years ago were floating on the top. I went around and scooped them out and buried them so they wouldn’t stink. Then I called up [tomato farmer] and told him about it. He was real concerned and got on the phone and called up some water specialist and told him what he’d been using on his tomatoes and the guy said that it was all safe and shouldn’t have killed them fish.”  My dad asked if he was going to re-stock the fish. “I’ll wait till after tomato season is over, I reckon.”
Hmmm… Mighty peculiar. No one came out and tested the water. Was a call even made? There are a lot of questions there actually. If a call had been made surely the water specialist knew the hazards of copper sulfate run-off, the concoction that most all tomato producers use to control blight.  It is highly toxic to fish and other aquatic life.  And then there is the fertilizer run-off that we all know is bad in high doses. Not the first incident like this, no doubt.
A guy at market was talking to me about blight on tomatoes, which anyone who grows in the South has encountered. He said that the conventional growers he’d talked to said they spray copper sulfate every 4-5 days and always immediately right after a rain.  Do the consequences even register on their conscious or is it total ignorance?  Maybe they take my mom's approach. "Thomas, If it is legal it can't be bad for you, honey."  It is insane to me that this stuff is legal or at the very least not treated with the same restrictions as a controlled substance. There is even an OMRI (Organic Materials Research Institute) approved version of this stuff that has many of the same hazards. When the cautions on the bag take up more space than the directions, I tend to be wary and skeptical. WE DO NOT USE IT, even though technically we could and still call it organic!  
There are alternatives. We have actually had pretty good results spraying raw goats’ milk. As far as I can understand, the probiotics in the raw milk out-compete the blight fungus and/or boost the microbial activity in the soil, strengthening the plant’s resistance to the blight.  Worm tea will supposedly do the same, though there are attempts to make this practice illegal because of the potential threat of salmonella. We also use mychorizzal inoculants when planting. This is basically fungi that have a symbiotic relationship with the tomato plants. They bring nutrients to the roots and make them more available thus creating a stronger plant that is more disease resistant. These methods may not be as sure fire as copper sulfate but if it means the difference between poisoning streams and ponds should there be any question? 
We have pretty much come to terms with the blight. We rotate plantings so they don’t pick it up from last years’ crop and we use methods described above. Eventually the plants get blight anyway but it is after we’ve harvested a great crop so we let them take there natural decline until they are so bad they need to be removed from the field and composted. No fish were harmed in the process.
I hear people say things like, “Well it’s much more important to us that the food is local than it being organic. Sometimes you just have to spray to keep from losing a crop.”  Local is important to us too, obviously. Statements like that make me question whether people truly understand all the implications of using pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides.  The way I see it, if the option is there for a quick fix by spraying your problems with something toxic then it has a high potential to be over used and abused. On the other hand, if it is not an option you will be forced to find ecologically friendly alternatives that are more sustainable for the long term. Common sense tells me that if it kills insects and it kills vegetation, is a known carcinogen and the warnings on the pack regard skin and respiratory protection, then it can’t be good for you to ingest in any quantity. And frankly we have a lot of bugs and weeds that we like to have around. Pesticides and herbicides are mostly non-discriminatory and take them all out of the picture.
I don’t want to come off as “high and mighty.”  I understand the lure of using the quick fix. It is extremely frustrating to see all of your hard work go down with the bugs, or disease, to weed invasion, or the deer, among many others. And we don’t, by any means, have all the alternative methods down pat.  In fleeting bouts of upset I have desired to get drastic with a sprayer or a flame thrower. It takes a lot of reservation sometimes, but we manage to deal with it responsibly, for our own peace of mind and for yours.
We have good friends that grow conventionally and they are great people. I don't lay the bulk of the blame on the farmers. They are doing what they understand to be safe and effective.  In some cases the farmer should educate themselves better rather than taking that approach that if it's legal it must be ok.  In most cases the small scale farmer will spray when they see it as necessary to the crops survival (which is relatively subjective to the individual, I might add). There are a lot of exceptions but for the most part the very large farms are the ones that abuse and spray everything, whether it’s needed or not.
I see the biggest problem to be the companies that profit over their toxic products.  The way this stuff is marketed, I can understand how the unsuspicious farmer that needs a control desperately (as well as the consumer) can be convinced that this stuff isn’t really that bad. I have seen attempts to downplay pesticides on tv and in handouts many times. But when you really look closely at the sponsors and donators of the media you'll see conflicts of interest. 

And then there is always the argument for feeding the world.  But at what cost?  Killing the rest of it?  Personally I’m no where near convinced that the world cannot be fed organically, as they claim. Yes, it would take a lot of re-structuring and a lot more, smaller farms and people willing to work on farms, which could be the preface for an argument for boosting employment if I wanted to take that route. But I don’t. And it may take more people gardening in their spare time for themselves and with neighbors and families and doing more preserving and cooking on their own. A massive effort towards sustainability, for sure, but isn’t it about time?

I could go on, as you know, and get sidetracked on any number of tangents.  The bottom line is that I am morally opposed to broad spectrum herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides because they can be abused, they are non-discriminatory, and they are blatantly dangerous to life when they build up into large doses.  And there are alternatives that, yes,  may require a little more planning and ingenuity but will better us in the long run. So I believe it’s the only logical approach.  Please. Debate me if I’m wrong or with other perspectives.


July 16, 2011

These Days

To help you all understand how much love and pain goes into growing your food, we thought we'd share a typical Puzzle Peace Farm day:

After hitting the alarm snooze on the phone for the 4th time, roll out of bed at around 6:30 with guilt that we are 30 minutes behind for the day, putting our overall work deficit at around a month and a half.  Feed and water the pigs, goats, chickens. Milk the mamma’s.  Eat a quick breakfast, most often oatmeal with fresh milk, but hopefully eggs with a mix of fresh veg’s and goat cheese on this day. 

Arrive at the farm around 7:30, providing the truck hasn’t had another episode of the won’t cranks. Summertime daily harvest time!… cukes, zukes, squash, beans(every other day along with…), okra and tomatoes. Get them back to the wash room before it gets too hot. Wash them and put them away, hopefully finding enough room in the refrigerator.  If not, packing them away in a cooler with ice bottles while pining for that walk in cooler we wanted to have operational a month and a half ago.

It’s pushing ten o’clock now. No rain in the forecast? Better start watering. This brings on another bout of wishful thinking. If only we had money to buy that drip tape.  Instead we drag soaker hoses and rainbow waterers around that we managed to buy in ignorance way back when we had money, before we started farming. They get the same job done as drip tape but are much more time and labor intensive. This process repeats throughout the day.

Between watering we balance a steady stream of priorities with lists made from lists from previous days or weeks past. Often what seemed to be “do or die” yesterday but didn’t get done becomes less important today for some reason beyond my comprehension. Even more common is the side tracking. For example… While planting that cover crop in the pathways of the asparagus we realize that wiregrass (aka Bermuda Grass if you desire it’s presence) has crept in. This aggressive invader must be dealt with ASAP to prevent a complete and overwhelming takeover in a matter of days. An hour or so later the list becomes the priority again.

Other typical side tracks and items on the list:  weeding; pulling off rotten tomatoes while pruning; injecting BT (Bacillus Thurengensis, a natural bacteria that infects and kills many larval pests) into the base of infected squash to kill the vine borer that has all but killed a large majority of our plants (hopefully its not too late); moving goats, pigs and chickens to fresh ground; hoeing weeds; prepping and seeding beds; working on our equipment (tractors, small machines, and /or vehicles); trellising cucumbers and tomatoes; turning under cover crops; adding a super to the bees; working on infrastructure (plumbing, sheds, walk in cooler, animal shelters…); mulching, pathways and individual plants; and of course weed control, among others I have forgotten at the moment.

Lunch/break time is usually taken around 1:30 or 2, after everyone has become delirious from the heat. Usually a dip into the cool waters of the creek behind the house is enough to revive our spirits and appetites. Lately we’ve been eating fresh vegetable sandwiches for lunch.  There are so many options that it doesn’t get old; cucumbers, squashes, tomatoes, onions, kim-chee, pickles, radishes, greens, carrots, fresh goat cheese… all or parts put on fresh bread we’ve traded for at market or a local bakery. Oh, and mayonnaise… ‘tis a crime to forget the mayonnaise, salt and pepper.

After we’re nice and stuffed and hot (we refrain from turning on our A/C to conserve energy.  Proud to say we haven’t used it and don’t plan to use it this year. It helps that we have shade trees around us) it’s either a short siesta, house work, yard work, uptown for errands, or a combination of the sort. This is also an opportunity for recreation… blackberry picking, mushroom hunting, more swimming… I personally find it hard not to indulge in a midday nap for 30 minutes to an hour.   

At around 4 it’s back out to the field and on with the list. It is still miserably hot but gradually getting cooler and more bearable. By 6 o’clock I’m ready to work all night. I had rather work hard in the evening than early in the morning. With Lindy and the interns it’s just the opposite. So, unless we have sweet potatoes or some other transplants to go in the ground, they usually take off at around 8.  Not to say they are done. I usually continue working until it’s difficult to distinguish between cultivars and weeds, then it’s back home to dine on the fine meal lovingly prepared. Then we clean up our mess, make lists, relax for a few minutes, and prepare for bed. It’s now well after 10 and we’re all worn out. Can’t wait to wake up late tomorrow!

Please, come join us…


July 1, 2011

Under my feet, baby, the grass is growing.

The grass is greener these days and not just on our side of the fence. The black clouds swirl around us and we can literally see thunderstorms strike our neighbors as we hook up more sprinklers and know this one won’t touch us either. Well, that was the beginning of the June, towards the end we all got it good and we are all grateful. We would much rather deal with a little too much than far too little. And thank Glory, we only had hail once.
Our story of blessings in disguise:

The first of this month brought a 10 minute high wind and hail storm. It was a Thursday afternoon and Thomas was trying out a new market that evening in Boiling Springs. I stayed back with the interns, Matt and Erika and we frantically planted all the sweet potato slips we had cut as the clouds rolled in and the lightening and thunder crept closer. The storm arrived, the market yielded an understandably low attendance, and our field was laid out. Most of the leafy greens: kale, chard, pac choi, and turnips were beaten and shredded. The tomato plants were down from their trellises, and the squash plants were all pointing the same direction, on thier sides. Our gratitude was directed towards the market which did not yield much of an income but had unintentionally saved most of the week’s crops by requiring us to harvest a day earlier than usual and 6 hours before the storm hit.

Salvaged Hail Damaged Pac Choi

My dad asked me the other day, "So, I thought that farming was supposed to be less stress but it sounds like your job is just as stressful as anybody else’s". No and yes and yes, Lee. I replied that the stress is just as strong as everyone else’s but mine was based on a reality I believed in and was worth it because of my conviction. A little high on the horse, are we? Probably. I think what I meant was that I personally prefer to be concerned with producing food and anticipating (laughably) nature than answering to boss hog up in the office. But I honestly can’t say I blame or judge anyone who chooses or prefers the latter. The grass is greener over there when it tops a heat index of 110 and we absolutely cannot go hang out at the pool without sacrificing our meager income, so we work. Or when it’s Sunday and you just worked Monday – Saturday, and nope, no day off this week either. Or when you finally make it to dinner at 9:30 pm, pass out a little after 11 and are up again before 6. Or that we came home from market with produce and are broke again before the end of the week. No, this is not a pity party; I do not feel sorry for myself and I don’t want anyone else to feel sorry for us. I’m just through with handling misconceptions or juggling appearances.

We work hard and we are tired all the time and the growing season is rough. Our physical fatigue, dehydration, and heat stress give way to major contemplations about our way of life, absolute fits of rage and panic and complete mental and emotional meltdowns. But is anyone’s grass really any greener? Knowing that tomorrow might and most likely WILL bring any of the prescribed hardships does not change the fact that we will be up tomorrow by 6 as well, and it’s already after 11.

Now that you’re good and depressed, we’ll get to the fun stuff. So here’s our anecdotal pork story for the month:

Thomas went to RS Central Farm (go toppers!) last week to get our next round of pigs that will hopefully be ready by the holiday season. He brought home, honestly, three little pigs that were just weaned and so very cute. They are a mix of heritage breeds which means amazing flavor and great marblezation, and…borderline feral tendencies. We set up their electric fence paddock as usual and set the first one out. The little guy ran straight through the fence and took off for the woods. We all looked at each other and started running. Thomas, myself, Matt, and Erika started a cross country sprint/hike/walk/delirium that lasted 2 and a half hours. At one point we ended up with the piglet back in the paddock. We started back for the house, and turned just as he charged through the fence for a second escape. About an hour later I found myself hiking through all the back trails with a glass of water for Thomas, (he had yelled up and asked me to bring him one while he had his eye on the pig) only to end up in a Mobius strip of woodlands. I never did find Thomas in the woods but he came out later on his own. That night we went to sleep with Peter, as we came to name him, on the loose.

The following day we monitored Peter through the back window, watching as he came up to eat the bait/feed tray we set out for him by his friend’s pen (Loretta and Lucion have been gold star piglets so far). We moved his feed closer and closer throughout the day but ultimately Thomas snuck up on him while he slept. Peter was napping heavily and Thomas was treading lightly, taking almost 10 minutes to walk 25 feet. He paused, fearful that Peter would take off, then snatched him by the leg. Peter paused, apparently groggy, then proceeded the squeal like only pig farmers have heard. Thomas carried him into the pen and held him until he calmed down. It was here that he earned his last name – as Peter Peebody urinated all over Thomas.

Puzzle Peace out,


June 6, 2011

Wild Things

Bradley doesn’t know he’s a pig until it starts raining. Normally, we keep him in a paddock for controlled intensive rooting and grazing practices. In the past we’ve had two to four pigs in this kind of setup, moving them every week or two weeks, letting them completely clear out an area, then moving them to fresh ground and so on. This was working until Veronica and Hoagie went off for processing, leaving Bradley by his lonesome. You could tell he was lonely and a bit bored, laying down most of the day, staring off into space, getting skittish when we came around. Then the kids came. All five baby goats in 2 weeks. In a flurry, following some intense hail, we moved the kids and their mamas into the same pasture where Bradley’s paddock was located. Think little square within big square.  Shortly thereafter, we had Jersey and Wheezy jumping the fence to eat Bradley’s food, Bradley escaping his paddock to play with the kids, a circus. So we do what good farmers do when things get out of hand. We roll with it. We left them to each other, mostly out of guilt for leaving Bradley by himself. We started milking the goats for ourselves, making cheese, feeding Brad the leftover whey. Then one day when we returned the mamas to the pasture after milking, we watched in awe as Bradley latched on to Jersey. A 100+ pound pig suckled a 100- pound goat. 
The next day Bradley came around the corner caked in red mud after a good downpour, shortly followed by twins Ronnie and Donnie….also covered in mud. Goats don’t even like the rain so to see these two caked was a rare sight. The next rain, all the goats ran to their shelter, and Bradley followed as a good tribe member would, wondering why it was time to go to the shelter. Then he noticed the rain, and dove right out the front door.

This month we also got our very first interns. Erika and Matt are currently working and going to school in Asheville, studying sustainable agriculture and agro-ecology. Living in Thomas’s old camper and working for a meager stipend, great food, and an intense educational experience, they are helping us move as fast as we’ve been wanting to move for a long time. It is truly amazing what just two extra people can do. It helps greatly that their attitudes are encouraging and their work ethic is strong. They’ve helped us create and stick to a regular work schedule and challenged us to eat less and less from the local grocery store. With two extra mouths to feed our grocery bill has actually gone down. That may have just as much to do with our increasing yields…

The heat waves have sent us into summer schedule much sooner than anticipated. We’re getting up at 5:30, taking an extra long and late lunch break and returning to work until dark so as to dodge the extreme heat of the afternoon.  Dewberries are ripe and providing our mid morning snacks and the occasional cobbler. The days are hot and long but our meals are more and more satisfying by the day.

April 30, 2011

O, Death

It is a difficult thing, raising meat. We can put on a front and brush it off and make jokes but the truth is, our hearts break a little each time we say our goodbyes to animals we have raised from babies. We are not vegetarians because we need these animals not only to provide for our sustenance but to heal and improve our land. The goats and hogs over the last year already have helped to completely eradicate kudzu in some areas and have sent the multi-floral rose, wild blackberries, and greenbriar into retreat. This has helped to establish healthy pasture, fertilizing it all the way with real organic material. We name these animals out of respect and it speaks to the fact that they all get individual attention, care and love in their lives with us.

Early this month, we took Veronica and Hoagie off for processing. There is a degree of disconnect when the meat comes back vacuum sealed a week later but the farewells are tender. Thomas was ready to keep Veronica as a farm mascot. She wasn’t too thick (we think she may have been the runt of her litter) and she had really warmed up to Thomas. He scratched her head and petted her every morning at feeding time. He had given Veronica a sweet talking to about her future and thanked her for her company. When the trailer pulled up, she didn’t get on. We tried feeding the hogs on the livestock trailer a few days before we were going to take them off. We figured they’d get used to it, be accustomed to getting on it to feed, and it would be easy enough to load them when the time came. All three days, Veronica would not go on the trailer. Meanwhile Hoagie and Bradley ran up and down the ramp, feeding multiple times every day but Veronica went without food or water and we felt like she understood where this trailer was headed. We hoped for a seamless transition and instead were challenged to take this matter into our own hands, and our hands got dirty. We had to muscle Veronica by repeatedly coaxing her towards the ramp with food as we created and re-created and adjusted a chute which she repeatedly fought her way out of. Eventually though, she just walked on as if it were no big deal. Hoagie followed and 3 hours after the round up began, it was over…until the truck broke down somewhere less than halfway to our processor in Tailorsville. We wanted the entire end to be as short and painless as possible but were now in a position where we had to bring our babies back home, feed and water them on the trailer for another day, and try again, this time with more success.

Two days before we loaded up the hogs, Ronnie and Donnie were born. The cutest healthiest twin baby goats we thought we’d ever seen. One night we left Jersey and Wheezy in the pasture and the next morning we arrived to see two new lives just walking around, keeping near to their mama. That night we experienced a horrific storm that produced golf-ball sized and larger hail. Most of our large transplants in the field were shredded. Broccoli, tomatoes, lettuce were pounded into submission. Entire crops we were banking on and had been nurturing since January were gone in less than 20 minutes, or so we thought. Moments before, as I saw the clouds approach, I began to pray for a healthy rain, enough to nourish our small crops, and specifically, no hail. It’s safe to say I’m not in charge.
Chick chicks growing up in their new mobile unit
Dora and Ronnie, respectively.

The next day, I forced intentional death as I thinned carrots and beets. One minute I was hanging my head in sorrow over dead plants, the next, killing plants. What a juxtaposition. We went through rows in our field quickly choosing which seedlings to keep and which to discard so the others have more room to grow. In a span of 4 days we experienced life, death, tragedy, miracle, frustration, anger, and remorse. We spent the next week just trying not to lose it, which most farmers do from time to time.

The week before Easter, we went out to scrape together a harvest so we might have enough to go to market in Charlotte. The unexpected happened, we had a wonderful harvest. Tons of spinach, salad, lettuce, turnips, and radishes had flourished while we were focused on what all was going wrong. Those paired with fresh pork made for a really good market and one we appreciated for EVERYthing it was worth, and I don’t mean the income. After we gave thanks for our field, and a little tender care, most of those hail beaten tomatoes and broccoli recovered and started to take off. Two days ago, we harvested and ate some of the most delicious broccoli we'ver ever had and I'm sure the flavor had just as much to do with our gratitude as our taste buds.

April 7, 2011

Hungry Hearts

Thomas bedding up sweetpotatoes for slips

For us on Puzzle Peace, March seemed to come in like a lamb and out like a mangy son of a beast. The early warm weather had our spirits high and ambitious. Early in the month, we went to the RS Central Farm and bought a great little pig, Bradley, at their annual auction. Bradley is half Birkshire and half Hampshire, white with a belly that is ochre, I’d say, and hams like we’ve never seen on a piglet that small. We were brave and put him in the rotational fencing with some real hogs, Veronica and Hoagie, who are a week due from harvest There were lots of squeals and running wild for a few hours, especially as Bradley was having his first electric fence experience. By the second night, Veronica and Hoagie were snuggled sleeping with Bradley nestled in between.

Middle of March brought 550 asparagus crowns (remember, ambition is the key word this month) followed closely by 50 day old chicks. Shortly thereafter, we got the gumption to put tomatoes in the ground a full month before the “last frost date”.

We’ve been concocting organic fertilizer tea recipes, all of which so far, smell like the ocean and not in the good way. But it does seem to perk the plants up.

Oh yes March and April play this trick on us every year. Anything is possible. Our energy is back and we’re working 12 and 14 hour days, eating dinner sometime around 9 or 10. The field and the new rows are so nice and neat with just slight weed germination, and the mulch is really working! Reality sets in at some point. With us this year, it came with the cut worms on the new sprouting asparagus, tomatoes, and broccoli; with the wild turkeys munching the kale, the 4 wheel drive going out just as we were getting reliant on it. And then a root rot thing we are still dealing with. A cold snap came and we lost about half our tomato plants in the field. We thought we were prepared for that one. Good thing there are 300 more waiting in the wings.

Thomas has been glued to his mushroom I.D. books as the wet weather at the end of the month sent him out searching for fungi. He returns with samples from various patches and starts the spore prints. No tasty edibles so far but there are some trusty spots we’ll wait for.

Cutting rows on the contour in our "bowl shaped" field to
keep beds sturdy and drainage steady.

First sprouts from our purple asparagus crowns.
Other miscellaneous happenings…We’ve been digging up wild elderberry plants down by the creek to transplant in a wet spot in our field in hopes the water loving plants will alleviate our issue along with providing wonderful fruit… We were fortunate to salvage some farm infrastructure from a farm that moved across the country. Translated, we will be renovating a sweet mobile hen house to suit our needs; much less work than starting from scratch. And we acquired the material to construct various other mobile shelters. We can’t help but brainstorm about other endeavors… goats, turkeys, rabbits. I don’t see how farming could ever get to be a bore. So many possibilities.

Jersey and Weezy are ready to pop any day now with kids and sweet milk! Our struggle to find interns has proven fruitful. We hope to have at least one person by mid April, 2 by the first of May.
We’ll have fresh pork for the Charlotte market on April 16th, along with spinach, radishes, perhaps kohlrabi, turnips, and salad mix, sweet potatoes, and maybe some wild edibles like poke salet and green briar shoots. Its been so long it seems.

Hope to see you soon.
Pray for rain… but not too much.

Puzzle Peace Out,
Thomas and Lindy

February 28, 2011

Fire and Rain

February 7th went down in the farm journal as "Blazer Mudslide Disaster Day." You see, Thomas came driving down the driveway at a "very reasonable speed" in a mild rain and pulled in to park. However, the tires locked or the mud gave way, or maybe the Blazer hadn't been driven in a while...but it kept going all the way down the bank and into our very first three trays of transplants for 2011 which we were trying to harden off so we might get them acclimated and into the ground this month. Thomas grabbed plants by the hand full and Lindy re-positioned the stressed out little seedlings that afternoon. Final count: we lost half of the first brussel sprouts, yellow onions, and cauliflower. That was the last time we got measurable rain until the very last day of February. The Blazer wouldn't crank again for 2 weeks so it stayed parked in the front yard as an everyday reminder of the incident. From this we learned never to curse the rain, it might just leave you alone. 

As the weather warmed and the soil dried out, we broke ground, built beds, seeded and successfully germinated sugarsnap peas and spinach, transplanted brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, onions, and kohlrabi. We're still waiting on the beets, carrots, and turnips to poke through the soil. For the better part of February, we kept sprinklers running.

Hoagie and Veronica
So as to stop referring to areas of the field as "you know, where the okra used to be", we gave each set of beds a distinct and honorable name. This month, the Three Sisters and the Morning Star plots were planted. Both of these fields refer to our shared Cherokee heritage though we ignore the possibility of shared geneology.

Every battery on every piece of equipment and almost every vehicle went dead at some point during the month of February leading the more paranoid half of Puzzle Peace Farm to declare a universal electromagnetic shift and thus the beginning of the End. That would be 4 vehicles, 1 Gravely, and 1 John Deere within the matter of two weeks. Well, the dirt bike didn't die, but it did get a flat tire, fell over, broke a rear view mirror and scratched up a car not belonging to either of us.

Oh yes, and Thomas turned 30 on February 20th, much to his dismay.  We had a nice fire and potluck in the 60 degree weather featuring the food of our dear farmer friends and family to celebrate.

Right now, the hens are laying. We are gathering a few more eggs each day. Jersey and Weezy, our alpine goats, are with "kid:", job well done, Manchester!  And Veronica and Hoagie are wallowing and rooting and growing ....their "one bad day" is fast approaching.

The beds of the Morning Star field

Jersey and Wheezy, respectively.

February 23rd went down in the farm journal as "FIRE". We took a lunch break, leaving the field around 12:00. In blessing our food, we gave thanks for such things as our water supply, our opportunity to farm family land, the warm dry weather that allowed us to prep our field and seed for the spring. At 12:15, Thomas's dad, Jim called and screamed into the telephone "THE FIELD IS ON FIRE!!!". Thomas grabbed his fire extinguisher (and his sandwich) and we ran for the truck, speeding for the field. We could see the smoke half a mile away. Apparently the electric fence was rubbing some wire grass the wrong way and, well, we've got a lot of bermuda grass. One little spark and it was up in flames. The fire spread to the well, singeing the electrical wire and knocking out our water supply. Jim was on the tractor tearing up the field, trying to create firelines with the disc harrow. Thomas was guarding the beehive, and a dangerously close stack of flamable railroad ties with the fire extinguisher. Lindy and Seth (Thomas's brother) were stomping it out, burning up their boots. Fire was out by 2:03. Crops safe. All 4 parties involved safe. Bees safe. It was a good day.

We are grateful for the rain, our water supply, the field, the opportunity to farm family land, and now fire extinguishers and tractors.

Puzzle Peace Out,
Thomas and Lindy

January 26, 2011

In the Cold Rain and Snow

The month of January has been a trying time for us at Puzzle Peace. As we clammer to come up with a plan for the upcoming season, we are excited, overwhelmed, and regretful that our winter projects are not where we want them to be. This month we took inventory on seeds and drooled over pictures from our seed suppliers' catalogs as we ordered more of the same, debated back and forth over which varieties to try and added a perennial stand to our regular planting of annuals...look out for asparagus three years from now. The onions and garlic we planted in December were mulched and the much anticipated soil test results finally arrived. With ph, CEC, and NPK up, it looks like we're doing something right.

The winter projects chugged along as we created a grow room out of the spare bedroom (below), which allowed an early jump on transplants when there was snow on the ground.

Our new grow room for seedlings.

Onion Sprouts

We started work on a packing shed, a luxury that has elluded us for too long, took down a small deer fence in order to construct an enormous deer fence that might actually work, began moving Lindy's greenhouse from her former life as a bachelorette farmer in Rutherfordton, and aquired a milk truck body which we hope to convert into a walk in cooler very soon.  In the thick of these long term projects, we fed goats, hogs, and chickens to help them through the winter when green pasture is an unappetizing shade of brown. Right now we're chomping at the bit for a series of dry days so we can re-shape beds and finally put the first seeds and sets of 2011 in the ground. Here's to spring which can't come fast, or slow enough.

puzzle peace out,
Thomas and Lindy