Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fall is here!

Hello all,

Rain and beautiful weather usher in the final week of September. The official Bluebird Farm rain gauge registered 2.1 inches from the first drops Sunday am to the final rain Monday night. Thankfully, the rain came in well measured bursts interspersed with drizzle. The last thing we wanted was a 2 inch deluge in one hour.

On Monday our older pigs loaded into the trailer to go to the butcher. Getting to the trailer was a little bit of an adventure. We had mixed the two age groups of pigs together about two weeks ago. So we had to somehow open the fence and herd the big pigs out while holding back the seven, very curious and excited little pigs. In the end four little ones came along for the walk to the holding pen. They had a great time exploring the woods without the older pigs bothering them (they were too busy exploring as well). But after the hullabaloo of corralling the older pigs into the holding pen the younger pigs were ready to head home. Petunia had jumped into the herding at the corral (usually she was more in the way than a help) and now she wanted to “help” with walking the young pigs home. So Marie and Petunia led the way along the forest road with the four little ones trotting along behind. I brought up the rear to make sure no one stayed behind. It was pretty funny seeing Petunia’s fluffy tail leading four curly pig tails up the road.

The big vegetable field is looking tired and worn out. The tomatoes are showing more blackened branches than ever before. Many fruit are damaged by insects, the sudden switch from dry to wet, and fungus that invades when plants become weak. It is the sort of garden that makes me start to think about clean up: the hard, dirty, but ultimately satisfying work of pulling up plants, taking down trellises, removing irrigation, mowing, and soil preparation for next year. I can already see the field in its fall state. The landscape of towering tomatoes, sprawling vines, and unruly weeds replaced by the groomed look of a made bed or mowed lawn-a welcome respite from the exuberance of summer vegetable gardening.

The garden from the hill. Next year's garden is in the far left

We feel a little like the garden at the end of a season. Our muscles are past tired and our minds have trouble with basic organization and focus. Cooler weather and shorter days make us want to spend more time reflecting than actually working (of course we don’t get to do that quite yet). As we talk about this year we never cease to be amazed at all the support and encouragement we receive. When we moved back to North Carolina we didn’t expect Morganton to be very interested and passionate in what we are doing at Bluebird Farm.

A moment with the bee (look closely in the center of the photo)

In our early planning discussions we frequently pointed out Morganton’s proximity to Hickory, Charlotte, and even Winston-Salem. But you have shown that you care about what we are doing. You care where your food comes from, you want to know your farmers, and you believe in what we are doing. We have been humbled, excited, and inspired to receive this response. Without such positive feedback it would be hard to want to continue working this job that is challenging in the best of years (and this wasn’t one of the best years). And so, even as we clean up from this year we are preparing for next year. We have been spreading organic soil amendments (manure, granite dust, lime), seeding cover crops, and writing down thoughts and observations about this year’s crops before they fade in our minds.

With our increased knowledge of the fields we are working, improved soil conditions, and more planning based on a year of work we look forward to a great year next year. We hope you will join us!

We will still be at Farmers markets for the month of October!

Morganton Saturday 8-noon Oct 2 and Oct 9

Conover Saturdays 8-12:30 for the month of October

Hickory Wednesdays Noon-5:30 for the month of October

Preparing for winter

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Time lapse chicks

Hello all,

Friday began early, picking up some baby chickens from the post office. Whenever I call down there in the morning they seem a little surprised to receive such an early call. They also seem relieved that someone is coming to get the noisy babies out of their office. The chicks are usually chirping so loudly that I can hear them over the phone as the post master looks at the address on the chick box. The only way to get them to quiet down just a little bit is to crank the heat in the car on the drive home-even on a hot morning like Friday. Now the chicks are happily munching, cheeping, and growing in their shelter.

Happy chicks

Our pigs are now (at least most of the time) getting along together. Two weeks ago I wrote about the big pigs chasing the little pigs all the time when we tried to put them in the same pen. We had to put up an electric line between the two groups to let the little pigs have some peace and quiet. However, the older girls (who have never broke down their fence before) continually broke through to the young pig area. After almost a week of constantly moving pigs and fixing fences we just took the fence down and told the little pigs to “stand up to those big bullies”. So far they have done just that and everyone is enjoying being a pig in the woods!

happy sheep

In the garden we have planted almost everything we plan on planting this fall. All we have to do for them is some minor weeding and harvest. But there is never time to sit around at the farm! We have been busily preparing next year’s area. We have spread lime to improve our pH, granite dust to make up for our potassium deficiency, and horse manure to add nutrients and organic matter. The next step is to plant a winter cover crop and hope for rain. Actually, because we need the cover to germinate before it gets to cold we will probably put up overhead irrigation (sprinklers-as opposed to the drip irrigation we use for vegetables) to ensure adequate moisture.


Roasted Pepper Spread

1 or 2 cloves of garlic, peeled

6 medium bell or sweet peppers, chopped roughly and roasted (see below)

8 ounces Neufchatel reduced fat cream cheese, softened

1 can chickpeas, 15 oz, rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon miso (you can find it at Nature’s Bounty. Maybe Ingles? If you want to substitute it try tahini and salt instead)

2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice

Minced parsley

Mince garlic in food processor. With the motor running, add each ingredient until smooth. Garnish with parsley.

Adapted from Passionate Vegetarian, 2002.

William and Marie

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mid-September and Spring Veggies?

Hello all,

It has been gorgeous dry, clear, dry, cool, dry, breezy, and dry weather. While we can’t complain too much about the weather we could stand a little more rain. Luckily enough we timed our last several plantings in the garden with the wet days we have gotten.

Our fall transplants of boc choi, chinese cabbage, lettuce, and kale are standing in vibrant green rows out in the field. However, you wouldn’t notice their bright little sprouts against the brown soil at first. What catches your eye are the giant white caterpillars, well not really caterpillars, but that’s what we call them. We have metal hoops about waist high and about 6 feet across from foot to foot. We set the hoops up over our garden beds and stretch a white spun fabric over them. Many of you have seen this row cover at the farm or in our photos. Right now we are using a lightweight cover for insect protection. Later in the fall we will switch to a heavy weight fabric for frost protection. Currently we have three of these hoops side by side running the 120 foot length of the field.

It is like entering another world when you lift the edge of these hoops and look under. The wind doesn’t blow; the air is moister and a little warmer. It’s like a little protected vegetable haven. Under each hoop are two beds separated by a narrow pathway. And down the beds are our little rows of bright green fall vegetables. Their green is almost incongruous with this time of year. Most grass, trees, and other plants are the dark rich, tried green of late summer. But not the vegetables, they have the bright almost neon green of spring in their leaves.

We tried something new with spinach this fall. Spinach is notorious for its poor germination. Ask almost any farmer or gardener about spinach and they will either tell you they have trouble growing it, or they have no trouble because of some complicated scheme they devised to make it work. Our new complicated scheme is to place the seeds between damp paper towels. We then put the towels in a plastic bag in a dark cool place for about three days. At this point almost all the seeds have germinated! They had little roots less than a quarter inch long. I then made small trenches about 1 inch deep and put the seeds down the bottom. I was afraid that the seeding might break off the roots and that the seed wouldn’t be able to regrow. But hey, farming is about trying new things. Next I put fish emulsion across them to give a little boost. Then I tamped the soil back over the seeds. Today we have rows of spinach with their two cotyledons (false leaves) reaching upward. Now the battle with the insects begins. We hope to win that one with the help of cooler nights. With any luck we will have some delicious spinach in a few weeks. Just in time for the last CSA week? We certainly hope it will grow quickly for Week 20, our last CSA box.

Pasta with Mizuna and Sausage
Mizuna is one of the primary greens in our stir-fry mix. I love its peppery flavor more than other spicy greens like arugula. Use stir-fry mix in this recipe (I thought it sounded better with Mizuna in the title) Feel free to substitute the sausage with cooked mushrooms.
1 large onion, cut into ¼ inch slices
1 tbl sp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup chicken broth
½ lb-1 lb of your choice of sausage, mostly cooked- a little pink is fine,
½ cup roasted peppers, cut into bite-size pieces
1 bag of Stir-fry mix, leaves chopped into 2 inch pieces, stems diced into ½ pieces
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1 pint cherry tomatoes, washed and halved
12 oz medium bow tie pasta
¼ shredded Parmesan cheese or Manchego
½ tsp. freshly cracked pepper

1. In a large skillet cook onion in oil until tender. Stir in garlic, broth, sausage, roasted peppers. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer. Add greens; cook 1 to 2 minutes or until greens are wilted. Remove from heat.
2. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Toss pasta with sausage mixture, basil, cherry tomatoes,cheese, and black pepper.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pig Adventures

Sometimes while farming we try things that we really don’t know if they will work or not. On Monday we tried combining our younger pigs with the big ones. The younger pigs have spent the last 6 weeks or so in a corral with a small run on it. We were moving them by herding them to the pig area in the woods. Unfortunately, they had become very comfortable with their space and were reluctant to leave their home. Eventually we had to shut them out of their corral and shove them far enough away that they began to explore instead of trying to return. Of course there was one stubborn one that I had to pick up and carry about 20 feet through briar infested woods to get her moving.

Once they were on the road through the woods the little group of seven moved along pretty well. As soon as the big pigs noticed the little ones walking toward them through the woods they leapt to their feet and ran to their fence snorting, “barking” and sniffing. The little pigs, surprisingly enough were not particularly intimidated. I say surprising because the labels “little” and “big” pigs are no exaggeration here. As I mentioned the little ones are still pick-up-able, about 90 lbs, albeit not very comfortably. The big pigs however, are approaching 300 pounds. The top of their back easily come up to mid-thigh on me. The little pigs can literally run between the legs of the big ones.

Once the little ones were in the fence with the big ones the curiosity of the large pigs turned into bullying. If the seven little ones stayed together over in one corner, they would be mostly left alone. But should they try to venture out the big ones would sneak up on them and start chasing trying to get a good bite out of the little ones ears. This culminated in all of the little pigs breaking out of the fence and having a little pig party in the woods. We thought we’d try it out- some pig herds can be mixed ages, but our big pigs don’t enjoy sharing. Now the little ones have their own paddock next to the big pigs. We hope they can sort out their differences across the fence and one day live in harmony. For now they enjoy being neighbors.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Labor day weekend farmers markets

After a brief break from farmers markets we will be back tomorrow! Add some flavor to your holiday weekend with some Bluebird Farm pastured pork sausages or bratwursts. Back this weekend will be our full assortment of pastured pork products. We will have our delicious chops, flavor packed ribs, and everyone's old favorite: country sausage. You can also try our cherry tomatoes on shish kabobs or in a great salad. We will also have our eggs from pasture roaming hens!

Come on out and find us in

Morganton 8-noon behind Gepettos


Conover 8-12:30 at the Conover farmers market

Come on out. See you there!