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