Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bluebird Farm Sausage at nature's Bounty!

We are excited to announce that Bluebird Farm Sausage is now available at Nature's Bounty in downtown Morganton. You can visit their website for store hours and location at http://www.naturesbountync.com



Bluebird Farm’s pastured pigs are raised without the use of antibiotics. They spend their entire lives outdoors rooting and enjoying fresh grain, leafy forage, roots, grass, and hay.

The pastured pigs are a valuable part of Bluebird Farm’s ecosystem. In warm weather their pigs help convert forest to a pasture and in winter pigs and layer hens till up garden areas and turn deep hay bedding into valuable compost for the farm’s vegetable fields.




Thursday, December 8, 2011

Last regular Farmer Friday

Hello all,
Tomorrow Friday 12/9 will be our last regularly scheduled farmer Friday at the brewery 5-7 pm. The end of the vegetables has finally come. We'll have:

Napa Cabbage, great for cole slaw or stir fries. The cabbage will last bagged in your fridge for several weeks (you may have to peel off the outer leaves before cooking)
Swiss Chard
Kale
Head Lettuce
Beets
Arugula is back!
Cilantro

Kale, chard, and lettuce will all keep a week to 10 days bagged in a fridge.

We will have a full selection of pork and chicken-shoulder roasts and ham roasts are back! Our sausage or salami makes a great gift to the food lover you know.

Unfortunately, we will not have any eggs this week.

See you tomorrow!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Napa Cabbage Slaw

Hello. We're looking forward to Farmer Friday this evening. There was surprise when I got out to the garden. There were still some beets for harvest. They're a little smaller than they were before, and the tops got frosted. But the little ruby red roots will be a great side. I wanted to pass along a napa cabbage cole slaw recipe we had the other day. It was great:

Napa Cabbage Slaw


This is a recipe I made up the other day with a little inspiration from a few cook books. Remember that salads are a great creative way to blend vegetable flavors, textures and colors. They are also where you see the seasons change. Arugula and spinach salads in the spring, lettuce a little later, rich summer salads of tomatoes and cucumbers, back to greens in the fall, then things like slaws late into the winter. Have fun with them, experiment with some new ingredients, play with the dressing. If you use fresh in season vegetables you won’t go wrong.


A quick and easy salad with a little extra body and great fall flavors


One head napa cabbage-diced

3-4 carrots-cut into coins, diced, or grated depending on your tastes

Dressing:

Olive Oil-about ¼ cup

Apple Cider Vinegar-about ¼ cup

Lemon Juice-2-3 tablespoons

Honey-1-2 tablespoons

Garlic-1-3 cloves diced

Salt-to taste

Pepper-to taste

Mix dressing ingredients. Modify as needed. Toss into cabbage and carrots.

This salad goes great with roasted fall vegetables or roast chicken (it’s the salad we had with our Thanksgiving dinner).

William

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Farmer Friday is Back and a delicious soup idea


We will be at Catawba Valley Brewery this Friday 5-7pm. Look for us inside because it will be a little chilly.

This week the menu includes:

The wonderful Buttercrunch lettuce
Napa Cabbage-good for slaws, salads, or cooked
Swiss Chard
Kale
Dill
Cilantro

We will have our full selection of pork and chicken. Just last week I made a simple and delicious soup with our chorizo sausage.

Pureed Pumpkin, sweet potato, southwestern soup

Serves 6 with leftovers-scale up or down as needed

Pureed pumpkin- about 4 cups
Pureed Sweet potato- about 4 cups
Chicken Stock-about 4 cups
One onion
1-2 lb chorizo
1-2 cans black beans

Heat pumpkin, stock, and sweet potato.
Saute onion (optional puree onion for a creamier soup)
Cook chorizo

Add onion, chorizo, and black beans to the soup. Salt to taste, serve with fresh diced cilantro and cornbread.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

A happy thanksgiving from all of us here at Bluebird Farm. We took a pause from the farm work to enjoy family and give thanks to a year of bountiful harvests. It is always awe inspiring to share a special meal with loved ones and take stock of the connections between each other and the land. Simple foods like rice become a full story when I met the man who grew that rice right here in Burke County. Besides the wonderful nutty flavor not present in most rice form the store that rice now is attached to the knowledge of how it was grown, with a memory of purchasing it on a breezy crisp afternoon, and a happy morning in the kitchen with Marie cooking a wonderful meal.

We also want to thank all of you for your support for what we do. We had a great market season with all of your help. Happy Thanksgiving!

Okra with sidekick rodent patrol agent Raven

This fall one of my projects has been training a new member of the rodent patrol team. Okra is a corgi, collie, terrier mix from Burke County Friends for Animals. We went to the shelter in search of an energetic, intelligent, and friendly farm dog. Okra fit the bill perfectly. She is a pretty good listener who loves to run around all day following me on chores and projects. Unfortunately, she enjoys chewing just a little too much. However, we are channeling her chew energy into rodent hunting. In Okra’a world all rodents from rats to squirrels and ground hogs are “MOUSE!” All we have to do is whisper “Mouse!” and she snaps to alert looking to us to show her where to hunt. Once she is on the trail she won’t stop until she’s found something. Sometimes, when we come up empty handed (or empty mouthed as the case may be) I literally have to carry her away from whatever hole she is just absolutely convinced harbors the enemy.

The fall is when we raise next year’s layer hens. The brooder shed provides a cozy shelter for 150 beautiful birds. It is so fun to see them grow in all their interesting colors. We look forward to all their equally colorful eggs in the spring.

Chicks are very fun to time lapse photograph. Click on the photos to animate.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Holiday Market Meat orders

Hello all,
In the coming week we will be attending the final holiday farmers markets of the season in Hickory and Conover. We are taking orders for our pastured chickens and forest raised pork for pick up at market. Remember we can only produce chickens seasonally, we are butchering our last birds before April of next year.

The Holiday market dates are:
Catawba Valley Brewery Farmer Friday 11/18 5pm-7pm
Conover Holiday Market Saturday 11/19 10am -2pm
Hickory Holiday Market Wednesday 11/23 Noon-5:30

Making your Order

1
At the bottom of this blog is an order form for our holiday market selection. Use the order form as a menu. Choose chickens and pork cuts from the list and copy and paste your choices into an email. Don't forget to include the quantity of each item you wish to have.

2
Select which location you would like to pick up your order at:
Catawba Valley Brewery Farmer Friday 11/18 5pm-7pm
Conover Holiday Market Saturday 11/19 10am -2pm
Hickory Holiday Market Wednesday 11/23 Noon-5:30

Special notes:

We will also have our fall vegetables available at markets. We raise our vegetables following all organic rules: no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. We will have crunchy head lettuce, and other great fall crops available.

We will not be taking preorders for eggs because of limited supply (they don't lay as much in the short days) and high demand.

We look forward to seeing you at the holiday markets!

***********************************************************************************
Order Form
**********************************************************************************

The end of the Farmers market Season is just around the corner. Order your pastured pork and chicken for pick up in November at the final Holiday Markets of the season. Stock up on Bluebird Farm pastured chicken.

The birds will keep all winter in your freezer, but they won’t need to because there’s nothing better than a warm fresh roasted chicken on a chilly winter’s day.

Delivery Locations Date Time
Catawba Valley Brewery Farmer Friday 11/18 5pm-7pm
Conover Holiday Market Saturday 11/19 10am -2pm
Hickory Holiday Market Wednesday 11/23 Noon-5:30

Pastured Chicken Quantity
3.75-4.25 lbs 4.00/lb
4.25-4.75 lbs 4.00/lb

Pastured Pork Quantity/Number of Packs

Pork Chops, bone in 2/package 7.50/lb
Bratwurst Limited supply: about 1 lb 5.66/lb
Italian Sausage, links About 1 lb 5.66/lb
Italian sausage, ground 1 lb 5.66/lb
Country Sausage, mild 1 lb 4.90/lb
Country Sausage, hot 1 lb 4.90/lb
Chorizo 1 lb 4.90/lb
Fresh Ground Pork 1 lb 4.75/lb
Fresh Ham Roast Limited supply: 2.5-3.3 lbs 4.60/lb
Shoulder Roast Sold out until Dec. 4.60/lb
Spare Ribs 4.50/lb
Country Backbones 2.00/lb
Uncured Bacon (sliced side meat)
About 1.1 lbs per pack 6.50/lb
Whole Belly Great for smoking: 1-2.5 lbs 6.50/lb
Fat Back, unsalted 1.50/lb
Leaf Lard, unrendered The best biscuits ever! 1.50/lb

Artisan Salami Aged for 2 months
Sweet Soppressata Red wine, garlic, and herb 7.99/ea
Pepperoni Excellant peppery flavor 7.99/ea


We will continue to have special orders available for delivery to Conover and Hickory monthly or twice a month from December through March.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Bluebird Farm at Brewery Wednesday 11/9

Special Notice:
We will not be at Catawba Valley Brewery this Friday 11/11, we are attending a sustainable agriculture conference in Durham.

This week you can find us at the Brewery on Wednesday 11/9 5-7 pm.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Killing frosts

Well, it took a little longer than usual. But we have officially had our killing frosts. The tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are all kaput, lying brown and dead in the field. The most dramatic death goes to the Basil. The moisture in their stems froze, rupturing the stem and exploding out into spectacular ice crystals.

All of out greens have spent the week snug under double layers of row cover. The row cover moderates the climate around the plants by holding some of the ground heat close to them. Swiss chard, kale, radishes, and beets are all happy to keep on trucking in the cold. Even our lettuces have been doing well under cover.

The cold actually brings out some great flavor in fall vegetables. The beets are especially good. Last night I sliced beets thinly and tossed them with olive oil, powdered ginger, cinnamon, and a little salt. Then I roasted them at 350 until they were tender-delicious!

The fall is also a time of planting. Early this week I cleaned out the eggplant beds and reformed them. After pulling some weeds, adding some organic fertilizer and raking them nice and smooth, they are all ready for garlic. In the southeast garlic is a fall planted crop. It will sprout about 4-6 inches before it gets to cold to grow. Then it will sit dormant for the winter. In the spring it will begin growing as soon as the weather warms up enough. It is then ready for harvest next June.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Catawba Valley Brewery Market

It might feel like fall, but Bluebird Farm is still going strong. We spent this morning harvesting beautiful head lettuce, rainbow swiss chard, tender kale, and lots of fresh salad mix. Fall gardening is such a joy because the cool weather keeps the insects away. We've done the big work of bed preparation, weeding, and transplanting. Now practically all we have to do is wait to harvest the vegetables.

Of course, there is the cold weather to contend with. Last Friday after market was the first frost warning. We hadn't had time to prepare yet so after market we ran around in the dark with our row cover and wire hoops to protect all the vegetables. They came through the two light frosts well. If the weather predictions are right I'll be out again in the evening covering all the vegetables so we can have crispy greens for weeks to come.

Friday Brewery "Menu"

Buttercrunch Lettuce
Beets
French Breakfast Radishes (the flavor is excellent with the cooler weather)
Dill
Cilantro (last night I added dill and cilantro to mashed sweet potatoes. A delicious southwest-ish twist)
Salad mix
Arugula
Kale
Swiss Chard

Pastured Chicken-roast chicken with fall veggies on the side is an easy, filling, and delicious meal.

Full selection of pastured pork, sausages, chops, roasts, artisan salamis-the whole nine yards!


Bluebird Farm at the Brewery!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Farmer Friday's at Catawba Valley Brewing


October is coming to a close and the Morganton Market as ended for the season. But don't worry, we are still growing delicious food! You can now find us at

Farmer Friday at Catawba Valley Brewery from 5-7pm on Friday afternoons

The fall garden has provided a bounty for tomorrow's market. I will have

Crispy, buttercruch head lettuce
Arugula
Salad mix
Swiss Chard
Red Russian Kale
Radishes
Beets
Dill
Cilantro
and the end of some summer crops:
Eggplant
Sweet Peppers
Poblano peppers
Jalapenos

Also, the weather is perfect for roast chicken. I will have a full selection of our pastured pork including our new artisan salamis Pepperoni and Sweet Soppressata (fully cured and ready to eat while you enjoy a beer!).

See you Tomorrow 5-7!

William

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ram pump and rain

Fall Garden

Rain, rain, and a little more

Where was all the rain in August? We try not to complain about much needed water, but boy howdy ten cloudy days with 6 inches of rain-not exactly what we were wishing for. The pastures are now a rich green of a fall growth. The sheep certainly look forward to their munching.

In the garden we could see the vegetables green up as they finally received the water they needed. The cooler weather helps the delicate greens stay tasty and crisp. However, I think they have enough water and could use a little sun for growth. While too little water in the summer is hard on vegetables too much rain can cause problems as well. We can see some fungus and rot problems around the edges of greens. Sun and air flow in the next few days should clear it up.

Sweet potato harvest

Success of the ram pump!

Way back in the spring we received a grant from the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) for sustainable farm development. RAFI distributes funds from the golden leaf fund (money from the tobacco trust fund settlement) to assist farmers to transition away from tobacco and develop alternative enterprises. We received the grant to help us develop our pastured animal operation. We already constructed our walk-in freezer. But the second part of the grant was to build an energy free hydraulic ram pump. The ram pump is a pump that uses falling water to lift water up. There are only two moving parts-just two valves. You can read about hydraulic ram pumps at http://www.clemson.edu/irrig/equip/ram.htm

9/28/11

Just today I finally succeeded in making the ram pump work! It has been challenging to get the water to flow downhill to the pump. Then I had to fiddle with the pump for much of an afternoon. But now it is lifting water 30 feet! Now it is just a matter of hooking up the rest of the tubing to run the water all the way to the top of our pasture. From there it will collect in a cistern to be gravity fed out to all the animals. Stay tuned for photos and video on our website.

Ram pump detail

10/5/11

The ram pump has officially pumped water to animals! I used it to fill 2 of our water barrels at the top of the property. The pump even seems to work better than anticipated. You can see a video of the pump in action here:

http://www.youtube.com/user/BluebirdFarmNC

Ram pump inlet pipe




Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Late summer on the Farm

September just flew by! The season’s last Morganton Farmers’ Market on Saturday October 1st. From then on, we’ll have vegetables, chicken, eggs, and pork at Farmer Fridays at the Catawba Valley Brewing Company on Friday afternoons from 4-6:00 pm. We will continue to have vegetables like lettuce, Swiss chard, lettuce mix, kale, and radishes as the cooler weather continues. Conover and Hickory markets continue through the mix of October.

Short Days

As the days shorten we can practically see the plants’ growth slow. Lettuce, arugula, and radishes that would have practically exploded form the ground in May are now slowly growing. A whole week after germination and the seedlings still only have their first set of leaves. Shorter days mean we can start work later and end a little earlier. But there is still plenty to do harvesting, cleaning up, and seeding cover crops. That means we have to run around faster while we do work to make sure we get it all done. The changing of the seasons does make us think of cooler days with a resting farm. Until then you can still find us out in the field.

Sweet Potato Harvest

Today we harvested sweet potatoes. We thought we were just looking for the colorful roots of sweet potatoes. But the harvest turned into an insect and spider safari. Sweet potatoes form a dense canopy of vines providing a great habitat for all kinds of critters. One of the more exciting finds of the day was a small salamander hiding in the debris on the soil surface. A gross find was a whole section of garden bed filled with large white grubs. We collected them as we dug through the soil and fed them to the layer hens-they loved them! We also found more of our arch-nemeses the squash bugs. They had headed into the cover of the sweet potatoes to begin bedding down for winter. In the cooler weather they are slow movers and we could easily squish them! Another exciting find in the jungle were hoards of young wolf spiders. Wolf spiders are the large brown spiders that move very quickly along the ground. They are great generalist predators to have in the garden. The whole surface of the soil had hundreds of little spiders (their bodies were only the size of a pencil led with legs extending out to the diameter of a dime.

Late Summer Color from tithonia or mexican sunflower

Some of the insects we found were pests, but many of them like the spiders are beneficial creatures. Amphibians like toads and salamanders that we find in the garden also play helpful roles eating insects. This entire micro-ecosystem would not be possible with the extensive use of poisons for weeds or insects. Organic practices allow beneficial insects and animals to thrive because there is a diverse base of prey species. When they live in a good balance together problems are kept to a minimum while the whole farm ecosystem thrives.

Sweet Potatoes

Not just for sweet potato casserole! These tasty jewels are great baked, boiled, or incorporated with black beans and perhaps chorizo sausage for a tasty main dish. We harvested several varieties with imaginative names such as Ginseng, Carolina Ruby, Bradshaw, and Covington. Like many fruits and vegetables the grand variety of sweet potatoes has been reduced to only a few commercially available. As usual these varieties are selected for transport and storage ability, not necessarily flavor.

Sweet Potato Jungle with harvested potatoes in background


Baby Lettuce


1

Tired tomatoes

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Insect Assassins

Cleaning Edamame

One of the defining activities of the last week was preparing the Edamame for bundling and distribution. Edemame is very easy to grow. It sprouts right up and turns into a bean filled jungle in no time at all. It is also easy to harvest, we simply snip the base of the plants’ stalks and carry them into the barn. Preparing the stalks is another story- hours of snipping leaves, cutting to rough lengths and taming unruly stalks into bundles. Of course, the rest of the farm doesn’t slow down, so we end up enjoying late night and early morning radio programs we prefer not to listen to on a regular basis while we work on the edamame. At least with this farm job we could enjoy a beer and work at the same time!

The insect assassins clean up summer garden beds

One of the reasons our summer squash and cucumber harvest met an early demise this fall was an over abundance of squash bugs and cucumber beetles. After killing off the late summer crops both of these insects will over winter in brush and debris around a garden ready to emerge again in the spring with their voracious appetites. Before they got a chance to go hide (at least we hope we caught them early enough) we went through the demolished squash patch turning over brush and shaking dead plants until they fell off. Then we ruthlessly hunted them down as the scurried for cover. We hope we got most of them! After taking care of the insect problem we put down our weapons of destruction and prepared the beds for late fall greens, hoeing out weeds and raking them smooth. The former jungle of summer now lays neatly tamed ready for sowing and transplants.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Farm Open House

Farm news

Weighing chickens (and pigs) and training pigs.

Our meat chickens are very sensitive to the weather. In hot weather they spend most of the afternoon resting in the shade instead of exploring the pasture and eating. So they grow much more slowly in the heat than mild weather. With the cooler weather and more afternoon shade our current chickens have been growing a little faster. But we are not sure if they will be large enough at 9 weeks of age (next week) or if they need to grow 10 weeks (September 14th) like the summer chickens. One way we can try to tell is to weigh them at age 8 weeks. So we head out tot the pasture with a scale and box. We set those up on a flat spot then catch a chicken! They aren’t too excited about getting scooped up. They are freedom chickens!

An even funnier sight was me (William) trying to weigh our piglets. We were trying to see how much they had grown since we purchased them. They don’t fit in a box on our small scale. So I brought a bathroom scale to the pasture. I weighed myself, then I had to grab the little squealing, thrashing piglets and weigh again. The scale is the kind you have to tap with your toe then wait for it to zero out. So I am holding a 50ish pound thrashing piglet while I try to reach out with the toe of my boot to tap the scale. Then once it zeros I have to try to balance on the scale and somehow look around the piglet at the numbers. Most of the time I moved too much and the scale read error. So I had to try the whole this over again.

A more fun piglet job is training them to an electric fence. Once they grow large enough we set up a double electric line and have supervised training sessions. At first the little piglets don’t really understand what the fence is. When they get shocked they run all the way back to their old, un-electrified fence. Once they figure it out though they are so excited to munch their way through our patch of millet and cowpeas cover crop.

Farm Day, Friday September 23rd 4-7pm

Farm Day is open to CSA members and the public. If you missed the CSA Open House, you can come on out to Bluebird Farm on September 23rd. Come out to the farm and tour the garden and pastures! Talk to the farmers (and the animals.) Let your kids dig and get dirty in a special kid area of the garden and enjoy petting layer hens and feeding pigs.

We’ll also have a special deal on pork, Pork Family Packs, and ½ hogs available at the Farm Day.

We encourage everyone to visit the farm and see your community farm! This is an opportunity for a full tour of the gardens and pasture with your farmers. See how we raise animals on pasture and organic vegetables at Bluebird Farm and hear about our sustainable farm management .

Friday, August 26, 2011

Farmers market!

Saturday is another wonderful farmers market day! I will be there with our delicious pasture raised pork. Our hogs spend a good life doing what pigs love to do, rooting in the woods, napping in the mud, and of course eating! Most pigs are stuck in a small pen not even large enough for them to turn around in! When pigs are allowed to be happy and healthy it shows in their meat. Tomorrow I will have our pork chops unlike any pork chop you find in the store. If you want a little treat for breakfast or maybe a new twist on the great BLT (eat your tomatoes, they'll be out of season soon!) try our thick cut uncured bacon. For a recipe on how to cook the bacon see our website at this link. We have our full selection of sausages: bratwurst, Italian Sausage, country sausage, spicy mexican chorizo, and our new fully cooked smoked kielbasa and spicy cajun andouille.

Yummy weeds!

I will also have our mouth watering whole pasture raised chicken. Whole chickens are easy to cook and provide a great variety of meals: roasted, smoked, pulled off the bone for salads and sandwiches, and of course use the bones for soup stock. See recipes here Our chickens are raised on grass and moved daily. Crowded chicken houses can't produce anything that tastes like this.

Its great to be a chicken at Bluebird Farm


For more information on how conventional pigs and chickens are raised check out the website Food Inc

I will also have some of our organically raised eggplant. It is a small asian variety great for sautes and stirfrys. It is a beautiful bicolor fruit. We like to cook it with tomatoes and squash for a simple vegetable topping for pasta.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Week of the Legumes

Week of the Legumes

This week was a week of legumes. Beans and peas are part of a larger family of plants called legumes that form special relationships with soil bacteria to make atmospheric nitrogen available to the plant. The second succession of fresh green beans that we have been watching with such anticipation still looks wonderful. The plants are large and full of blossoms. But when we went to pick them there were hardly any beans ready. However, the first planting that we had given up on started pumping out more beans. I guess they just needed a little rest through the really hot weeks in early August. We are very glad we didn’t mow them down after the first picking.

The second legume we harvested this week is edamame. It is a soybean for fresh eating. They make a delicious and nutritious snack full of protein. The edamame patch turned into a huge jungle of tangled bean bushes and weeds. We had to put on our bushwhacker outfits to venture in. We are very glad that the beans ripened now because we had started having our first deer problems in months. As Petunia the ferocious guard dog has aged she doesn’t patrol as often as she used to. She does a great job guarding the layer hens, but prefers to nap next to them instead of touring the edges of her territory. The deer noticed the lack of dogs and took the opportunity to sample our beans. Fortunately, they only ate the top leaves off. We harvested them before they found the rest.

Edamame Jungle

More on Edamame

Edamame soybeans- Fresh edamame is a special, nutritious treat. You may have had the edamame appetizer at a Japenese restaurant. The frozen pods are always tasty, but you can’t beat the delicious fresh ones! At home you can recreate the edamame appetizer. The beans are boiled or steamed whole in the pod and sprinkled with soy sauce. 8-10 minutes of boiling or steaming makes lightly cooked beans. Edamame, like all legumes, is high in protein, B vitamins , and potassium.

Cool weather

As the night time temperatures stay in the low sixties our summer crops slow down dramatically. Tomatoes ripen far more slowly, beans grow at half the speed, and the peppers seem to never size up. It’s as if the summer garden is in slow motion. Meanwhile, our cooler weather crops are enjoying the change. The chard planted last week is looking great as it stretches its colorful leaves to the sky. We look forward to harvesting it in September.

August around the farm

Sprouting Radishes


Baaaa!

Yummy!

Tomatoes

Mexican Sunflower

Thursday, August 18, 2011

August

Baby vegetable delivery

This week our babies arrived. Jeff Mast of Banner Greenhouses (the large greenhouses you see around mile marker 90 on I-40) brought about 15 trays of swiss chard and 15 trays of various types of kale. Banner Greenhouses uses Integrative Pest Management to grow their plants without synthetic fungicides or pesticides.We look forward to planting the babies and to growing yummy fall greens. I could almost taste them when I walked out into the cool, dry air this morning.

We also have baby vegetables sprouting in our greenhouse. Lettuce has poked its tiny head above the soil, ready to grow, grow, grow. It is almost a challenge to make sure it doesn’t grow too fast for its own good and become stringy. Still hiding under the soil are some cilantro and dill to spice up our food this fall.

Tomato Blight

Our tomato crop is suffering from tomato early blight. This is the same disease that caused the Irish potato famine by destroying the potato crop there. . A blight spore most likely landed on our plants way back in June during one of the frequent rainstorms. The blight is extremely common in tomatoes in the southeast because of our hot and humid weather. In fact, it is almost always of question of when and how bad, not if, your tomatoes will get the fungus. It shows up as blackened leaves starting at the bottom of the plant and working upward. Black lesions also appear on the stem and fruit. There are very limited options in both conventional and organic systems to slow blight. It is not curable, but we can slow its spread with an organically approved copper fungicide spray. We alternate with an organic bacterial spray. We apply it roughly every week and hope to prolong our yummy tomato harvest for several weeks.

Preparing for fall gardens

All week we have been getting ready for the fall garden. Out in the big field at Silver Creek Farm I mowed the cover crop (see last week’s newsletter). After letting it fry down for a few days I hilled up beds and tilled the tops smooth. Now we will wait a few more days before added our organic fertilizer and making a final shallow pass with the tiller. This will leave a smooth, mostly weed free, and fertile bed ready for our transplants.

At Bluebird Farm we added some composted horse manure to our beds and worked that into the top few inches. Then we raked them smooth and put out the irrigation tape. Just last night we were transplanting kale and Swiss chard. Unfortunately, didn’t finish until this morning because it is already getting dark so much earlier! Planting small baby plants is pretty difficult when there is not any moonlight.

Today we woke up to a downright chilly morning. Our thermometer even suggested it was below 60, maybe 59.5! The cool morning, and working at Bluebird Farm where it is shady until about 10 am, fooled us into not putting sunscreen on. We realized at about 4 pm when we were both turning an uncomfortable shade of pink-oops!

While we were busy burning our selves we were planting a variety of fall crops. We wanted to plant them about a week or two ago, but with the weather still so hot and dry decided it would have been a wasted effort. Most fall crops really prefer it quite cool, and all seeds need to stay moist. It is almost impossible to germinate lettuce when it is 90 and hasn’t rained for two weeks! But, now they are in the ground: lettuce mix, arugula, beets, and radishes. We hope for cooperative weather and a tasty fall crop. We hope to get some good harvests from the fall crops before the end of the CSA in end of September. Much of the fall crops will produce then and keep producing in October and November.

Mediterranean Salsa

Fresh flavor! This is a great salsa, salad or pita stuffing.

1 medium cucumber, diced

2 large tomatoes, diced

1 medium onion, finely diced

1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced, remove as much of the spicy ribs and seeds as needed

1 bell pepper, diced

1 bunch parsley, finely diced

2/3 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

2 cloves garlic, pressed

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup pitted kalamata olives

Juice from 1-2 fresh lemons

Combine all ingredients and toss well. Let marinate at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Harvesting in the heat

July 13th Humidity!

The other night we could have cut the air with a knife, or perhaps stabbed it with our digging forks. We had waited until the sun was safely sinking behind trees to go dig potatoes. But the heat lingered in the sweat soaked air. Trees only 100 feet away were blurry around the edges from the water in the air. It was like digging potatoes while swimming, only not as refreshing. Fortunately, the recent rains had softened the soil so it was relatively easy to dig. Just last week, before the rains, I had dug a few test plants. I had to jump on the fork just to force it into the soil. Now I could easily stab it into the earth with only my arms.

A healthy soil is only about 50% solid material. The rest is airspace that fluctuates between air and water. When the soil is very dry the soil particles are locked together, they do not want to yield to a fork or shovel. Water filling some of those gaps makes the soil more malleable. It will move over so to speak for the tool as it digs in. We certainly appreciated the extra help!


Potatoes before harvest


July 20th Season of Harvest

Lately it feels like all we’ve been doing is harvesting. All year leading up to this point we’ve prepared beds, weeded, started transplants, set transplants out, weeded some more, watered, trellised, and many other vegetable projects I can’t even remember. Of course we were harvesting, but now we are really harvesting. All the summer crops need to be harvested every other day at least because the fruit just keep on coming. They’re not like greens or root crops that can wait until a planed harvest day. Instead, it’s just harvest, harvest, harvest. It is wonderful to be able to see the fruits of all our hard spring labor coming to harvest.

Cherry tomatoes with their friends the marigolds

Marie in the cucumber patch


August 2nd Farm News

This week we have finally been catching up to ourselves and cleaning up some of the spring crops. The least fun part of that job is cleaning up the old irrigation line. It is a thin plastic tube that we laid out on the nicely tilled ground back in March. Since then dirt has been thrown over the tubing and the weeds have gone crazy. Now we get to not only find the irrigation line in all that mess, but pull it out, without losing the many 6 inch long sod staples we used to hold it in place before the weeds took over. Then we get to do it 36 more times-once for each line! With that out of the way the job gets considerably easier. I hop on the tractor and prepare the ground for a cover crop, plant the seed, and use the tractor to till the seed in.

Before the tractor work could begin though we also had to play a fun game we called “find the black widow spider!” In the spring (and fall) we use a thin cloth covering to help protect our plants from the frost. We hold the row cover down with sandbags. This spring, when we were done using them we just piled them at the heads of the bed. Today we had to move them out of the way of the tractor paths. It turns out that the moist, cool, full of good hiding spaces habitat formed by a pile of sandbags is ideal for black widow spiders. We found 10, most with egg sacks, in only 3 piles! We had previously noticed that we were finding more than usual around our house and farm already. It must be a good year for them. So if you are going our back to move and old lumber pile or clean up the junk heap, be careful!

In addition to planting one cover crop we are busy incorporating another. A cover crop of millet and cowpeas we planted in the spring had reached head high-ready to mow. Some of the crop I had to mow because we needed to chop in down quickly for the imminent planting of fall crops. However, in another section, we are letting the sheep do the mowing. When we first put them into the paddock they were a little nervous because the crop was taller than the grass they were used to. Consequently, they couldn’t see very far. They kept poking their heads up as high as they could reach to try to get a better view. Every time another sheep or Clyde the guard dog would unexpectedly burst through the tall plants they would spook and jump away. Interestingly, they all turned their noses up at the crop for the first few hours. They wanted their regular grass and were having no part of the millet and cowpea mix. The sheep just weren’t sure they believed us when we told them that a book had told us that they would like the cover crop. Fortunately, instead of breaking out of the fence they eventually sampled the available food and decided it was acceptable.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pigs Corralled!


Last Wednesday was a hectic adventure with many pig escapades. The final escape occurred during CSA pickup. A member came down to the house and said “are there supposed to be pigs on the driveway?” Nope! By the time I got fencing supplies in the truck and got up there they were headed toward the neighbor’s yard. Luckily I caught them before they made it there. I herded the 7 or so 250 pound hogs back to their home fence area. Then I fixed there fence-so far it has held. Instead of the one wire that has proved sufficient for the previous 40 or so pigs we have raised these 13 trouble makers required 2 hot wires and a ground wire to make sure they really get shocked! The gang of 13 has taken the title of worst behaved animals previously held by the sheep for their triple escape weekend. We attribute their ability to escape to their athletic prowess. Off to the butcher in 3 weeks (not that we’re counting).


Spiny pig weed


In the garden it is spiny pigweed season. Spiny pigweed is a hot weather weed in the amaranth family. The family includes many not so bad weeds most of which are edible. Spiny pigweed is the bad seed in the bunch. The entire stem is covered in needle sharp, nearly invisible spines. When touched these spines practically jump off the plant into your finger. They will penetrate gloves, socks, or the mesh portion on a running shoe. Once in your finger the spine is almost invisible and breaks off easily when tweezed. In short it is, a highly irritating painful, hard to get pain in the finger. Unfortunately, spiny pigweed is highly tenacious if you simply cut the plant it will grow several branches where there was only one. The only way to deal with this hydra of a plant is to pull it up by the roots. So with gloves and fork I did battle this week. Now where the pig weed had moved in edamame soybean seeds are beginning to germinate! We look forward to their delicious seeds in fall!


Cooling Rain


Today we suffered a setback during chicken butchering. When I went out early this morning to start the scalder up so that it would be ready when we start butchering, it wouldn’t light! Fortunately, we were able to fix it, but not before 7:30-when we were supposed to starting to butcher. Once lit the water takes nearly 2 and half hours to heat up. So we had to go find other things to do for that time-move chicks to pasture, move the horse, clean, relax, eat a snack. We didn’t start butchering until almost 9:30. We had an amazing crew though and we made up much of our lost time, finishing only about an hour later than usual at 2:30. As we ate lunch on the porch the clouds began to move in thicker. As the crew pulled out of the driveway the first few drops began to fall. The breeze and rain came in earnest and we enjoyed a lovely afternoon storm bringing a much needed 1.35 inches of rain. I had front row seats to the storm from the chick brooder. As I cleaned out the space in preparation for the next batch of chicks the storm crashed around me. There were frequent lightning flashes with thunder following just on its tail. Crack-boom! Crack-boom! The coolness and energy of the storm transformed the normally hot and tiresome job into an almost fun task. Poor Petunia didn’t think so though. She eventually found me in the shed as she nervously sought shelter from the storm. She eventually settled down in the fresh shavings as I finished the job. She does not like storms!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Reinforced, extra-shock fencing





Putting water in the piggy "spa"




Loading hay for vegetable mulch


The big project in the garden this week was to catch up on weeding and put down hay mulch around the potatoes and tomatoes. We still need to get around to the peppers. All these crops really appreciate the moderating effects of mulch. It will help hold moisture in, cut down on weeds, cool the soil temperature, and reduce pest pressure. Pests that particularly like tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes-in particular the potato beetle, are unable to navigate the jungle created by mulch. They tend to get lost in the hay instead of finding the plant. Unfortunately the same is not true of pests for other plant families. Mulch around squashes is a bad idea because this provides the ideal habitat for squash bugs to wildly proliferate.



Flowers in the potato patch

This Monday and Tuesday we didn’t get to work in the garden quite as much as we had planned because we were busy with an experiment. We were testing the idea that our single electric line fences for pigs only work when the pigs are happy. It turns out that when the pigs decide that they are unsatisfied with what’s inside their fence they have no problem going through it! In the last 48 hours the pigs have more or less operated as if there were no fence-extremely exasperating (especially to the poor horse who is pretty sure that the pigs are after her when they get out!). Last night we were finally able to address some of the issues. Turns out the pigs were just plain hot. Who can blame them for being grumpy when it’s almost 90 and humid? So we ran water for a nice big wallow-they loved it! We also added some electric lines to their fence so it looks a little more intimidating. Today we will find out if our changes worked. Update: The pigs decided that the fence doesn’t apply to their situation right now. William added one more electric line to help prevent these particularly athletic pigs from sailing over the fence. They are staying put now. Thank goodness.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Barn Rafters of Garlic

Happy summer! Yesterday marked the sun’s nothernmost track in the sky. For a few days the sun will stay in relatively the same place on the horizon, before slowly working its way back south.

Last Monday we harvested all of the garlic. Last week you received fresh garlic in your box. This is a bulb that we dug up, cut off the stalk and passed along directly to you without curing it. The rest of the garlic we have sorted and hung up to dry, or cure in the rafters of the barn. This will ensure that the bulbs dry down slowly so they can keep for as long as possible without rotting. Cured garlic can store for a very long time in a cool, dark, dry place.

When we hung the garlic up we carefully selected the largest, best formed, most even bulbs of each variety to set aside as this fall’s seed garlic. We cure these bulbs along with all the rest and just kind of forget about them. Then, in October, we will pull them out take all the cloves off the bulb and push them into the ground to start the cycle over again.

This is about half of it!

Garlic is an interesting plant because it is planted in the fall in October. In the sprouts up to about 6 inches then waits dormant for the rest of the winter. In the spring it takes off, quickly becoming the tallest, most lush green plant in the early spring. Their growth and vigor begins to slow in May when they start to think about flowering. This is when they send out their garlic scapes. The scapes are the closed blossom of garlic. Garlic reproduces both vegetatively and sexually. However, if it is allowed to fully flower and create seed it invests far less energy in the roots, the part we want to eat. So we cut off the flowers before they open, this is what was in you box several times in May. After the flower is cut the above ground portion of the plant starts to decline. The tips of the leaves begin to yellow and no new growth is seen. Meanwhile, the plant is working to make its bulbs as large as possible to give thee, energy to regrow the next year. Once several leaves have fully died on the stalk we know it is time to dig them up.

In a few weeks, we’ll pull down the cured, dried garlic and put them in your boxes. We’ll have several exciting varieties to taste and enjoy.

Flowering cilantro. Look closely to see all the pollinators it attracts to the garden.

Baby cucumbers for August fruit.

A bumblebee visits our Echinacea

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pig Wranglers and a Sweet Potato Jungle


Last Friday, our big afternoon project was not out in the vegetable field, but with our young pigs.We played pig wranglers with our youngest batch for several hours-they almost made us tear our hair out! The pigs in question are twelve piglets we purchased form Warren Wilson College about 6 weeks ago. When we first get piglets we keep them in a corral because they are so small they will slip through all but the smallest gaps in a fence (several of these actually developed a habit of worming their way through the gaps in a pallet we use as part of the fence!). After about a month of eating they are big enough to learn about electric fences. We string up a double line and hold training sessions. We let them into their electric fence area and watch to make sure they don’t run through the fence. After about 3 practices they generally know what the fence is and they don’t want to have anything to do with it. Now they are ready to go to a paddock in the woods. So we trimmed back some of the brush that has grown up this spring and strung up some electric line. Now comes the fun part; moving the pigs to their new home. Usually pigs herd relatively well. We can get them all moving in one direction out of their old area and toward their new area. Not these pigs, they wanted to go in every direction except the one we wanted them to go in. To top it all of many of them confidently explored the woods alone. It took us about one and a half hours of crashing through brambles to move these little guys thirty feet to their new paddock! Every time we got them close to their paddock they would decide that that was the least interesting part of the woods and scatter in all directions around us. Boy was it frustrating!But in the end they got tired and a little more cooperative. Now they are happily rooting in the woods.

He looks innocent now!

This week we also planted sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are an interesting crop because you actually grow miniature plants from last year’s roots to transplant. It all starts the previous fall when you save out your best potatoes for “seed” potatoes. You then store them in a dry cool area with some airflow until about April. In April you “wake” you potatoes up by allowing them to get warmer. Once the outdoor temperatures are safely above frosting, place the sweet potatoes in a pile of mostly decomposed mulch or very loose soil. Within about a month small green sprouts will begin appearing. In about another month there is a sweet potato jungle! Each sweet potato will send out up to a dozen sprouts, called slips, from one end of the potato. Once these slips are about 6 inches tall (ideally anyway, Mine are always bigger because if you neglect them for a week they grow from 6 inches to 16!), snap them off at the potato and plant. The little slips typically have begun to send out small rootlets of their own. When placed in the soil and watered well they will establish themselves in about a week. After that, watch out, because sweet potatoes are related to morning glories and they will take over! They are a long season crop that appreciates warm weather, so after about three months of patient waiting we should be able to dig up our sweet potato treasure.

Harvesting spring onions


You can't see the forest for the dill!

Zinnias

What does chemical free mean?

In the garden this week the weeds grew. It is amazing how we turn our back on the weeds for a week or two and they are suddenly knee high! In some ways the dry, hot days have been helpful. They make the weeds grow more slowly and die more easily when hoed out. In the paths of the big field we had planted a clover cover crop. In some areas it has done well, outcompeting weeds and blooming nicely (the blooms help attract beneficial insects). But in others the clover didn’t take as well and the weeds quickly filled the void (nature does not like bare ground). No the weeds are kind of like a cover crop as long as we don’t allow them to seed, so we mowed them all down. Many weed seeds can survive for up to 7 years in the soil without germinating. This is called the weed seed bank. Every time you till seeds are brought to the surface to grow. This is like a withdrawal form the bank. If you allow the weeds to seed this is like a deposit. Unlike most accounts, this is one where you don’t want to make any deposits. Overtime, if no plants go to seed we can reduce the number of weeds we have to contend with.

Depleting the weed seed bank is the primary weed control strategy available to organic farmers. In the short term we can weed, cultivate, and mow. But in the long run that is time consuming and tiresome. By eliminating the seeds we can prevent a problem before it occurs. Weeds are such a challenging problem that even farmers who have reduced or even eliminated pesticide use cannot imagine giving up their herbicides. This has led to some confusing labeling in the marketplace. Is “pesticide free” the same as “chemical free.” In either case is the farmer still using chemical fertilizers? (because the fertilizers don’t typically come into direct contact with the plant many farmers will say “chemical free, except fertilizers”). There are responsible and irresponsible ways to use many of the chemical tools at our disposal at farmers. But, as confusing as this sounds, never assume that a broad statement like “chemical free” means the vegetables were raised in anything like a balanced organic system. Always ask.

At Bluebird Farm we raise all of our produce following the organic standards for fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and all other growing techniques. In addition we strive to work with the ecology of the soil, our plants, and insects instead of against them. We work to establish patterns that encourage our vegetables instead of discouraging weeds. We try to increase beneficial insect populations instead of eliminate pest insects. In other words we are trying to build a positive ecological system of growth rather than a negative system of suppression.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May?

Where did May go? Here are some updates on May happenings on the Farm. Photos to follow:

May 25th

It has been a great week here on the farm. We completed the final major spring transplanting sessions with a round of herbs and flowers planted Thursday evening. We interplant certain herbs and flowers with vegetable “friends” to help them with various pests. The technique of planting different combinations of vegetables, flowers, and herbs together for mutual benefit is called companion planting. Sometimes we know why we do it, for example marigolds are supposed to repel a harmful root eating nematode that harms tomatoes; and sometimes we don’t, we planted dill with cucumbers because” I read it somewhere, I’ve seen other farmers do it, and beside it tastes good!”

Friday evening we welcomed all newly transplanted plants into the field with a fertilizer mixture of ground fish, liquid calcium, and some liquid potassium (all nutrients we are short on in the field). We are especially excited about our fish fertilizer because we found a western North Carolina source. There is a company in Murphy that raises trout for food. They have recently added a fertilizer sides to the business to eliminate a waste stream. By the end of the evening we smelled like trout ourselves!

While we planted and prepared for summer crops we harvested another week of delicious spring greens. This week you will enjoy kale, swiss chard, baby spinach, head lettuce, and lettuce mix among other things. Remember, spring is the season to eat all the green you can, because before you know it they are out of season! Believe it or not, spinach is a finicky plant to grow. It lets you know when its happy and pouts when it is not. We are trying to keep it happy so that we can extend the harvest in this humid weather. Its harvest window is short and sweet like strawberries and asparagus. Enjoy!

Each season brings a new round of delicious vegetables and fruit, but unless you ship food cross country, it also marks the end of another food. The food industry has tried to convince us that this is a terrible hardship and that no one should go without tomatoes in December or lettuce in August. But eating in season ensures that you always get the best flavor as well as health. Why eat a January strawberry when the only indication that it’s a strawberry is that it looks like one?

There is an interesting article in the New Yorker a week or two ago about PepsiCo that a CSA member brought to our attention. The article goes into detail into how PepesiCo (a huge conglomerate that includes beverages such as Naked and Gatorade, food products like Quaker Oats brand and Frito Lay, as well as their more traditional sodas) is shaping our tastes for the future. PepsiCo is making food products with the express purpose of convincing us that they are what we should eat. They are dreaming of one day even manufacturing “quasi-medicinal” food products to improve our health! Just think one day we can be healthier because we eat the right PepsiCo product.

Until then, we hope you will enjoy our truly medicinal food made using only the finest sunlight, soil, water, and air available.

Your farmers, William and Marie


May 31:

Every day around the farm now comes with several cleansing sweats. On Monday, Marie got a little taste of dizzying heat exhaustion after 2 ½ hours of hoeing weeds from kale plants. And it was only 10:45 am! Even William admitted to still feeling tired from the previous day’s unintended dehydration when we were harvesting veggies this morning.

Because of this uninviting heat, our schedules around the farm have shift slightly the past 2 days. During the 12:30-3 lunch “siesta”, we eat a healthy farm lunch, take a 15 minute power nap, make phone calls, box eggs, purchase animal feed at the mill and think of more projects outside! I’m even writing the newsletter now, instead of at 11 pm! After the siesta, we’ll check up on the farm animals and head back out for more garden work.

The life of a pea plant is ephemeral. T he vigorous vines twirl upward and the little tendrils unfurl, revealing delicate white flowers. Will Coffey, CSA member and volunteer extraordinaire, ate one of the first 3 peas that we harvested last Wednesday. We had to search hard for those first peas. Today, just one week later, we harvest 30 pounds of sugar snap peas from the plants! Enjoy them while you can- we don’t think there will be much of a harvest next week due to the suffocating heat killing the flowers.