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