Sunday, May 30, 2010

May Newsletter

I started writing this newsletter under a leafy umbrella waiting out a few raindrops from a fickle little raincloud. I had just settled into the hammock in the shade for the first time this year. But those raindrops kept coming, and I am grateful for warm, gentle showers. I am especially thankful for the gentle showers that bring back the grass in the pastures without shredding the garden with wind and hail!

Our sheep love their grass!

The animals appreciate the showers too- no flies, nice cool grazing weather. After the hot April weather many of our laying hens decided to go “broody.” A broody hen’s wings droop and they cackle as they walk about with fluffed feathers, all while thinking about a private nest. We have about a dozen American and European heritage breeds of laying hens for the beautiful array of eggs you see at the markets- Barred Rocks, Marans, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Buff Orpingtons, White Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshire Reds, Americanas, Lakenvelders, and Golden Campines- all beautiful breeds that thrive outdoors. Two Maran hens showed so much dedication to the nesting idea that we took them up to a private little chicken house where they could sit on a nest of a dozen eggs each without being disturbed. Just 21 days later and the hens have hatched out their little chicks. The fuzzy little ones follow their moms around as the hens cluck and scratch for food. After a break from laying, the laying hens have begun laying again (hooray) and I hope that future spells of hot weather won’t shut down everyone’s laying capabilities.

A mama hen and her day old chicks

As the nights continue to warm, it becomes Swiss chard season. With its beautiful stems of yellow, red, and green the Swiss chard lights up the garden as well as the kitchen. Swiss chard is a great substitute for spinach- it has a great flavor and is packed with nutrients. Chop and sauté the stems with onions and then add the chopped greens and cook like you would spinach. Another great addition to the vegetable fare is Bok Choy. This vegetable is also a beauty in the garden and it’s the ultimate stir-fry vegetable! Large, white stems add a sweet, juicy crunch to any meal. Cook with garlic, grated ginger, mushrooms, carrots, snap peas. Stir-fry the stems for 5 minutes, add the chopped leaves and wilt the leaves for 2 minutes.

Late spring greens-poc choi and cabbages

Warm weather also brings out the insect world. There is no better way to meet the six legged denizens of the world than by weeding a large vegetable field. After several hours on your hands and knees you begin to see the insect world around you. I have noticed, for example, that the lady bugs prefer hanging out on one particular weed over others. It makes me feel a little guilty ripping out their favorite habitat. Finding and destroying other bugs; however, brings no sense of guilt. Our worst so far this year is the Colorado potato beetle. The strikingly striped adults began appearing about a month ago. Since then we have surveyed the potatoes at least every three days to find all the adults, eggs, and larva and squish them. Save the potatoes! Using organic methods sometimes requires the laborious work of hand squishing something like potato beetles, but in the meantime we are able to enjoy all the benefits of friendly insects like predatory wasps and lady bugs that eat the aphids.

See you at the markets!

Up close and personal with a future stir-fry

Coming soon-summer crops like zucchini!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pork Family Packs- Special Event at the farm

We are accepting advance orders for pastured pork! Family Pork Packs are available with a special discount Friday 5/28 at the farm only. Pick-up of the special discounted Family Packs is at the farm on Friday May 28 from 4-6:30. Visit the animals and garden when you pick up. Family Pork Packs contain a variety of our pork cuts and allow you to "shop" from your personal freezer. The entire Pork Pack will fit in your refrigerator's freezer.

Our pork has no added nitrates or preservatives. Cuts are vacuum sealed, labeled, frozen, and processed in a USDA certified butcher shop.

Small Family Pack
Contains a variety of cuts totaling approximately 22 pounds* of pork. Stock up and “shop” from your freezer-you’ll have all the common cuts of pork to make delicious meals. Try the pork chops for pan-frying, roasts for hearty dinners, ground country sausage for quick savory meals. The Small Family Pack will fit in your refrigerator’s freezer with plenty of room to spare! 8% Special discount from retail.

Large Family Pack
The Large Family Pack contains a variety of cuts totaling about 42 pounds* of meat. A great variety pack with all the common cuts including more sausage and pork chops! See details here. If you have a little more freezer space in your refrigerator’s freezer this is a great way to stock up and “shop” from your freezer. 10% Special discount from retail.

* Family Packs are based on the approximate weights of listed items- each cut of pork is unique!

Pork will be available directly from at the farm Friday May 28th from 4-6:30. This is a special discounted Family Pork Pack event. Call it a "direct from the butcher shop" sale! This is also a great chance to walk around the farm with your family and visit the animals and garden when you pick up.

Email us to order and place your deposit. Copy and paste one of the order choices below into your email to reserve your pastured pork, and then mail your deposit! Your order is not final until we receive your deposit. We will then confirm your order and remind you of the pick-up date.
__ I want to reserve my Small Family Pack now with a deposit of $50* (My check is in the mail)

__I want to reserve my Large Family Pack now with a deposit of $75* (My check is in the mail)
*Please make all checks payable to Bluebird Farm
Mail non-refundable deposits to:
Marie Williamson
4178 Bluebird Dr.
Morganton, NC 28655

To learn more about our pork- visit Bluebird Farm's website
Happy eating!
~Marie and William

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The month of May

Happy May Day from Bluebird Farm! While the spring solstice is an important marker of the end of winter, May 1st (or thereabouts, calendars have changed so many times) has been celebrated as the true beginning of the warm growing season. The weather this spring chose not to break with tradition and celebrated May Day with our first night that did not drop below 70 followed by our first truly hot and sticky day with fireflies flashing in the darkness of the evening.

Of course we didn’t have to wait for the warm weather to begin growing food at Bluebird Farm. As many of you are aware of by now we have been harvesting lettuce, salad mix, spinach, kale, and radishes for several weeks now. The warm weather has also helped many of the crops that take a little longer, like broccoli and cabbage, put on new growth. Our hard work is displaying itself as the garden fills up with luscious shades of green.
In the vegetable field-William recording the planting dates for carrots
Unfortunately, not all of the green growing in the garden is delicious fresh vegetables. Garden beds are perfect weed habitat. Most plants we typically call weeds are annuals that are very good at rapidly colonizing bare ground. In a natural setting they provide a valuable ecosystem service, preventing erosion and holding nutrients. As they die and decay other plants are able to grow. Eventually another disturbance occurs and the cycle continues. From a weeds’ eye view a garden is a freshly disturbed area perfect to move in to. Many vegetable crops are in fact highly bred versions of weeds. However, as we selected over the centuries for high yields and good taste we sacrificed some of the original weedy tenacity. So vegetables need a little (sometimes more than a little) help from us to compete with their weed cousins.
Cover Crop flowers- We plant a mix of cover crops to improve the condition of the soil and prevent weeds from sprouting up after vegetables are harvested

On the animal side of the farm we have been busy trying as hard as we can to grow grass without much help from spring showers. Grass is our most basic resource for our animals. Our grass management has two main components-grazing and fertilizing. We are using sheep and Misty, the horse, in a rotational grazing system to improve our pastures and produce quality, healthy, grass-finished meat at the same time (more on that next). As any of you who have mowed your lawn know grass grows extremely quickly after being mowed. Well, sheep do just about the same thing as a mower. After the sheep have mowed an area some of the grass roots die back leaving behind organic matter. Next the grass begins regrowing, drawing in CO2 from the air, water from rain and using energy from the sun to create more grass. Then, just as the grass growth begins to slow down, we mow again with the sheep. In between mowings we use the chickens to apply fertilizer (chicken manure). Over time this will improve the fertility and organic matter of our soil allowing us to grow more grass and more food.
The flock grazing happily

More grass means more grass finished meat. Grass finished means animals that eat only grass from birth to butcher. Keep in mind this is only possible with ruminants and other strict herbivores (sheep, cattle, goats, rabbits. Pigs and chickens are omnivores and rely on insects and grains to lead a healthy life). We are beginning our grass finished sheep enterprise this year. The emphasis on grass finished is so important because of the health benefits of the meat. When sheep (or cattle) eat strictly grass their meat is lower in fat than grain finished meat. Additionally, the fat that is present is lower in cholesterol, has a correct ratio of omega-3 (important for brain development) to omega-6 (not particularly healthy) fatty acids, and is high in Conjugated Linoleic acids CLAs (an important anti-cancer agent). None of these benefits are fully present in ruminant livestock fed grain.

Even if the animal being fed grain has access to pasture the meat will not be as healthy. You can think of it sort of like two people, both with access to excellent exercise programs. The first eats vegetables, brown rice, beans, small amounts of meat, and no deserts. The second eats the same diet, but snacks all the time on candy and cake. Who will be healthier? In the animal’s case the pasture is like the healthy diet and exercise while the grain is like feeding them giant desserts.

So May is a great month for growing food on the farm. And for you it is a great month because you can find our food near you! Farmers markets all over the region are opening up for the year. You can find us at the

Hickory Downtown Farmers Market Wednesdays
12-5:30 pm, April 28th- October 30, 2010

Morganton Downtown Farmers Market Saturdays 8 am -noon, May 8th-October
Located at 300 Beach St. in downtown Morganton, behind Geppeto's
Look for the Farmers Market sign on Green St.

Conover Farmers Market Saturdays
8-12:30, April 24th- October.

See you there!
William and Marie