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


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 .