Orchard Raising

 

Last winter we had a company come and clear two areas on the farm that were overgrown in invasive trees and brambles. One was a half-acre or so area that had been my grandparents garden/orchard many years ago. Years of neglect due to illness, allowed the area to become overgrown and begin to re-forest itself. Pine trees, brambles and poison ivy grew so thick we could barely walk into the former field. And despite searching for the fruit trees, we only turned up one very sick apple tree. So we had the area cleared of all the trees, mulched down to the ground. I planted it this spring with grasses and legumes and have been mowing to reduce the tree regrowth. I’d love to see it become a fruitful area once again, as I remember it from my childhood.

With the pine growth, we know that the soil is fairly acidic, and soil tests have confirmed as much, which means either heavy amending with lime or planting something more suitable for its pH. Enter blueberries! These acidic soil loving shrubs would thrive. In fact, our forest floor is already covered in low bush, wild blueberries.

But we need some help to make a blueberry orchard happen. So, we’re planning an old-fashioned barn raising. Or, in this case, an orchard raising!

We need two things, okay 3. First, hands and strong backs to help us plant the orchard. We’ll be putting in around 600 plants! Second, funds to purchase the blueberry plants and install deer fencing. And third, folks to help us celebrate.

The orchard raising will be October 20th from 2:00 till dark. We’ll plant as many as we can and work on putting up the fence. Just bring yourself and gloves. We’ll have plenty of tools on hand. And then, stay and help us celebrate. We’ll have a potluck dinner and probably throw some pork on the grill. Plus a fire to celebrate and relax around into the evening. Come to help work, come just to eat, or come for both. Check out our Facebook event page here.

And whether you can make it that day or not, consider helping us with the cost of establishing the orchard by buying a Blueberry Share. Details are here: blueberry share agreement, but here’s the gist. At the local markets around here you can buy pints of blueberries for $4-5. We are offering blueberry shares for $3 each. Shares can be exchanged once the orchard begins producing and each $3 share will earn you one pint of blueberries, plus exclusive early access to blueberries before we sell to the general public. You can purchase as many shares as you like. Obviously, this is a long-term investment in our farm as the plants will take at least a couple of years before they begin producing in any significant quantity and we may limit the number of shares that can be redeemed in the first year.

Our hope is to have a pick your own orchard in the years to come, where folks can come and gather for an afternoon in the summer to pick some berries, enjoy a walk through the woods, perhaps have a picnic with the family, and just enjoy the beauty and bounty of our farm. You can help us bring that dream to reality.

Pork Shares

We are excited to begin offering pork shares for our customers who want to stock their freezers with lots of tasty pork. Shares are an opportunity to get our pork at a reduced rate compared to buying retail from us at market. Plus, you get to choose how your half or whole pig is cut and processed into a variety of roasts, chops or sausages. The options are quite varied and we’ll help you fill out your cut sheet to get the most out of your share.

Shares come as either whole or half shares. You pay $3.50/lb on the hanging weight plus the cost of butcher. Butcher costs start at $0.80/lb and go up from there depending on the sausage and curing options you choose. Exact weight won’t be known until we take them to the butcher, but for reference our last two pigs came to a hanging weight of around 165 lbs each.

We are hoping to have two pigs available for shares around the end of April. $100 deposit is required to reserve your share, with the remainder due when we deliver your pork (generally 2-3 weeks after butcher date). If you are interested in getting a share, please email us through our contact page. 

Forest Raised Pork Current Price List

happy-pigOur freezers are stocked up with a variety of pork cuts and sausage. Our pigs are raised in our hardwood and pine forests, foraging on the forest floor. They also work as scrub land clearers, helping us to remove invasive species and prepare new ground for production. In addition to their forage they receive scraps/waste from the garden and a non-GMO feed to balance their diet. Their meat is sweet and tender.

To buy some of our pork, find us at the Scottsville Farmers Market on Saturdays beginning April 7th. Starting in May you can find us every Wednesday in Meade Park for the Farmers in the Park Market from 3-7. Or, email us at heartandboneshollow@gmail.com to arrange a time to come to the farm to pick up your order. We may also be able to arrange delivery to Charlottesville or Richmond.

Pork Price List 

Cut                                                           Price/lb

Picnic Roast                                                   $6.00

Boston Butt                                                   $6.50

Plain Ground Pork                                      $7.00

Sage Sausage, bulk                                     $8.00

                                         Chorizo                                                          $8.00

Sweet Italian                                                $8.00

Bratwurst (4 per pack)                              $8.50

Sweet Italian Links (4 per pack)             $8.50

                                          Jalapeno Cheddar Brats                           $8.50

Fresh Kielbasa                                           $8.50

Maple Breakfast Sausage                         $8.50

Chops, bone-in (2 per pack)                     $9.00

Loin Roast                                                   $9.00

Bacon (nitrite/nitrate free)                     $12.00

                                         Canadian Bacon                                        $11.00

                                        Other bits

Bones                                                          $3.00

Back fat                                                      $4.00

                                           Leaf Fat                                                      $4.00

Smoked Ham Hock (nitrite/nitrate free)        $8.00

 

Forest Raised, Non-GMO feed

A Day at Heart & Bones Hollow

One of the beauties and challenges of farm life is that you never really know what each day will bring. Between escaping critters, rogue chickens in the garden, unexpected weather events or human crises of one sort or another, something is always threatening to derail my best laid plans for the day. Still, most days fall into a familiar rhythm. So let me walk you through a spring day on the farm.

After getting everyone else off to work and school, my farming day starts by feeding the critters. The goats have likely been crying since they saw the first light go on in the house, as if we torture and *never* feed them. So they get their food first. The loudest of all, tiny Butterfinger, gets her bottle while the other jostle over some grain and Lespedeza pellets. It’s a bit like fending off a horde of velociraptors when I step into their pen with the grain bucket. While they eat, I refill their hay rack. Soon I’ll start milking two of the does, which will make feeding time even more chaotic!

Once the goats are settled I head to the pigs. The goats pale in comparison to the ravenous pigs. I dare not even step in their pen when I feed them, opting instead to dump the feed over the fence line while they fight over prime feeding position. Even a small pig is strong enough to knock me over. One time I tripped stepping into the pen and the bucket of grain spilled on me. I saw the hungry hogs running at me… I have never jumped up so fast in my life! Anyway, they’re sweet outside feeding time, but the expression “you eat like a pig” is an insult for good reason.

With the big animals settled I check on our rabbit and let the chickens out of the coop. The dogs and cats are usually last on my list to feed, being the most patient by far.

With the critters settled, it is time to check on the garden. I open up the greenhouse and water all the seedlings waiting for their turn to go into the garden. Then I open up the high tunnel. I usually take a walk past all the beds and stare at the bare ground or tiny seedlings beginning to emerge, as if my staring will bid them grow faster. Does what they say about a watched pot apply to seeds? Actually, checking my beds everyday is part of how I manage disease and pests. The close monitoring allows me to notice quickly the first signs of pest or disease pressure, so that I can address it before it becomes a problem. It only takes a day or two for something like flea beetles or squash bugs to go from minor issue to major infestation. I also take my trusty warren hoe and cultivate between the rows as I go. As with pests, it is much easier to knock back a just emerged weed with the hoe than to hand weed a bed that has gotten out of control with weeds.

With my daily rounds finished, I move toward planting and field prep. I spend most of the winter planning and preparing a spreadsheet that lays out my garden schedule for the year. This “Crop Master” is a massive spreadsheet (developed by Josh Volk of Slow Hand Farm) that would probably make your eyes glaze over, but it allows me to generate a list of tasks and dates for each garden activity. I print these out at the beginning of the season and then just follow the plan. Obviously things don’t always get done on the planned date, but eliminating that step of having to figure out what to plant and when during the rush of the spring season frees up valuable head space and decision-making capability.

 

At some point I break for lunch and then work on other projects around the farm in the afternoon. Right now this includes putting up fencing in the woods, improving our wash station, creating swales on the slopes of the garden, and prepping an orchard space. Obviously not all on the same day!

I knock off every day at 3 so I can meet the bus and then pick up Jake from daycare. A few farm chores happen in the evenings – another bottle for the little goat, closing up the chickens after dark, closing up the greenhouse and hoophouse, checking on water for all the critters. The kids might help me in the garden on a nice evening. But mostly the evenings are for the kids.

 

That’s it. Most of the magic here happens between 9-3 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays while kids are at school. Jake and I do a few little things on Tuesdays and Thursday, his “Mommy Days,” but mostly we play, run errands and try to tame the house (which definitely gets neglected). Bones helps with big projects on the weekends. It’s a lot, and I run pretty hard during those 18 hours of solo working time. But when I collapse, exhausted at the end of the day, it is with a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Sowing Seeds

 

If you’ve read our Meet Your Farmers page, then you know that I went to seminary some years ago and have served in a number of ministries before coming to the farm. When we moved here I thought I was finished with that part of my life. Well, you know what they say about God and plans…

After lots of conversations with friends and neighbors who hadn’t found a church in our community where they felt like they really belonged, I began to feel called to help create a faith community here where everyone, everyone, everyone is welcome at the table. With the help of my church, Sojourners United Church of Christ in Charlottesville, and a couple good friends, I’ve been working toward sowing the seeds of a new church for this community. We are gathering once a month around a shared meal and worship.  As the United Church of Christ (UCC) says, no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome. There is room at the table for everyone.

As a part of moving into this new ministry, I was ordained in the UCC this past Sunday. It was a beautiful service and affirmation of all that has led me to this moment. I feel overwhelmed with the love and support of this community, of my church Sojourners, and all the friends and family who came to share in the celebration with me or who celebrated with me from afar.

I have no intention of giving up this farming thing as I also move into a more active role in ministry. The two are not really separate to me. Being a farmer feeds my body and soul, keeps me grounded, and connects me deeply to this community as I also feed you. The work of farming is my daily prayer for the seeds I sow, for the earth that I work to regenerate, for the critters that I love and tend, for the folks who will eat the vegetables and meat I produce, and for those who visit the farm to snuggle goats or take a meditative walk through our woods.

I don’t know yet what it will look like as I work to bring these two realms of farming and faith together. I am attending a week-long fellowship this summer centered around the intersection of faith, food and farming. I’m excited to gather with others who share these loves of mine – to dream and vision together. In the meantime, I will, as always, be bringing great food to you grown with love and pray. And, if you are so inclined, you could join us for a meal and worship on the first Sunday of the month at 6 PM at the Fluvanna Community Center.

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My Favortie Unusual Veggies

I love tomatoes. They’re what got me into farming. I love the smell of the new starts when they just begin to leaf out in the greenhouse. I love watching the flowers turn to fruits and then swell with growth till that first flush of color announces their impending ripeness. And that first tomato is heaven – usually on some lightly toasted bread slathered with mayo. I gorge on tomatoes all summer, till I can hardly stand to eat another one.

But tomatoes, although certainly the star, are not the only delicious vegetable in the garden. Each has its place. Some more familiar than others. So let me tell you about some of the unusual ones that I love.

Mexican Sour Gherkins (aka Mouse Melons, Cucuameloms, pepquinos)

cucamelon

These tiny cucumbers are full of flavor – like a slightly lemony cucumber. Generally eaten whole and raw they make a great salad topper; can be a salad on their own tossed with some red onion, feta and a light vinaigrette; and make excellent pickles.

We brought them to market in July and August last year and they were a big hit drawing lots of curiosity and conversation. My kids like to go down the row, picking and eating as they go. And I must admit to eating more than a few when harvesting myself.

Sunflower Shoots and Pea Shoots

When I looked at our sales numbers at the end of last year, I was kind of surprised to see that the third best seller was Sunflower Shoots. I shouldn’t have been surprised because I get asked about them all the time at market. These are the sprouted seeds of sunflowers grown until just before their true leaves appear. They have a mild, nutty flavor that is excellent on salads and sandwiches.  We mostly do sunflower shoots in the shoulder seasons when not much is growing outside since these can be grown inside and take just over a week to produce.

We’ve also been experimenting with other microgreens this winter and have found a new love in Pea Shoots. The shoots taste just like peas. I’m eating them on every sandwich and salad these days. They are also great as a garnish on stir fry and soup. I’m serving them tonight as a part of a Pho dish. You can often find me snacking on them while I sit at the market booth.

Aji Dulce

aji dulce

I’m not a big fan of hot peppers. Aji Dulce is the one exception. This delightful pepper looks menacing, like a twin of the dangerous habanero, but has a floral, citrusy flavor with just a hint (sometimes slightly more than a hint) of spice. Even my delicate tongue can handle the spice here. Excellent in stir fry and salsa or even blistered and eaten whole. I use these for anything that calls for a hot pepper.

Sweet Potato Greens

sweet potato greens

Folks are always intrigued when I bring these to market in August and September. Sweet potatoes produce a prolific, vining green above ground that quickly takes over the beds and pathways where it is planted. Everyone knows the sweet potato itself, but not many folks realize that its green are edible. I worked for a time on a network of farms for refugees and they taught me about eating these greens. In fact, in many of their cultures, they grow sweet potatoes exclusively for the greens and don’t bother with the sweet potatoes. The greens are mild and a bit like spinach. Not at all bitter or spicy, they make a great green for folks who don’t care for other greens. And best of all, they fill the gap in the heat of summer when other greens and lettuces just don’t thrive. They can be eaten raw as a salad, though I prefer them cooked. Try in a Thai peanut sauce or a coconut curry.

Roselle

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This is another one I learned from the refugees, specifically a Burmese farmer. Roselle is in the hibiscus family and its calyces (flower buds) are used to make Hibiscus Tea or infusions. But my Burmese farmer friend never grew them out to flowering stage. Instead, he harvested the leaves. The deeply veined leaves have a surprising bright, lemon flavor. The Burmese use it to flavor soup and rice dishes and it is one of the staples of their diet. I adore this green. I’ve used it in soups, rice, stir fry, and salads. I love to have people taste it at market and see the look of pleasant surprise in their eyes when they are greeted with a burst of citrus instead of the spicy or bitter flavor they expect. I have not had success with it in Virginia yet, but I am still trying and can’t wait to bring it to market when success comes.

Be sure to try one of these veggies out this year and add a little variety to your plate! I’m always happy to chat recipes with you to help you make the best use of your produce.

 

Market Schedule

Farmer’s Market season starts this weekend and, despite the forecasted snow, we are excited to get to market and see all our friends and customers again. This year we are alternating Saturdays between the Scottsville Farmer’s Market and the City Market in Charlottesville. Our full schedule for the season is listed below, but we’ll also post a reminder each week on Facebook about where you can find us. And we’ll continue to be at Farmer’s in the Park on Wednesdays in Meade Park.

April

7 Scottsville

14 Charlottesville

21 Scottsville

28 Charlottesville

May

5 Scottsville

12 Charlottesville

19 Scottsville

26 Charlottesville

June

2 Charlottesville

9 Scottsville

16 Vacation

23 Charlottesville

30 Scottsville

July

7 Charlottesville

14 Charlottesville

21 Scottsville

28 Scottsville

August

4 Charlottesville

11 Scottsville

18 Charlottesville

25 Scottsville

September

1 Charlottesville

8 Scottsville

15 Charlottesville

22 Charlottesville

29 Scottsville

October

6 Scottsville

13 Charlottesville

20 Scottsville

27 Charlottesville

November

3 Scottsville

10 Charlottesville

17 Scottsville

 

Kids

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photo by Theresa N. White Photography

Kidding season is here and we’ve been blessed with all does! Twins from one doe and triplets from the other. We have one more doe who *might* be pregnant, but not due for another month or so. Unfortunately, one of the kids was killed by a dog, leaving us with four. Farming is heart wrenching somedays! Still we are loving on the remaining kids and enjoying their silly antics. We plan to keep two and offer two up for sale. They have all been disbudded and all are registerable with the Miniature Dairy Goat Association as Mini-LaManchas.

The two doelings available will stay with their mom until mid-May. Please email us through the contact page if you are interested in purchasing either of these two cuties. Both of the mothers are first fresheners. There udders are looking good, but I haven’t started milking them yet, so I can’t speak to their production. However, they come from good milking lines.

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photo by Theresa N. White Photography

Licorice is one of the triplets. She is available for purchase – $250. She has elf ears, which conforms to breed standard for mini lamacha does.

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photo by Theresa N. White Photography

Truffle is another one of the triplets and is available for $200. Her upright ears do not conform to breed standards and she should be registered as experimental. We still think she’s adorable though!

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photo by Theresa N. White Photography

Butterfinger is the third triplet. She is about half the size of her sisters. We will be keeping her because my kids have fallen in love with her. Her mother rejected her, so she has been on the bottle and spends and lot of time hagning out with us. She is super friendly and so stinking cute, there’s no way we could let her go!

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photo by Theresa N. White Photography

Finally, Snickers is the surviving twin. She comes from my favorite doe and is the spitting image of her mother. We’re hoping she will grow up to be a fine doe for us and will breed her next year.

Why Certified Naturally Grown

From the beginning we have been committed to growing as naturally as possible with limited inputs and a focus on sustainable methods. Folks at the market ask all the time if we are certified organic and the answer is always a mouthful because using the word “organic” is controlled by the USDA. In the short interactions I have with customers at the market it is hard to convey that yes, we use organic methods even though we are not certified.

So why not pursue organic certification? We have definitely thought about it. On a practical level, the cost of certification and the paperwork/inspection process are stumbling blocks for a farm as small and lean as ours. Though small farms certainly do pursue organic certification, in general it seems more geared toward larger farms. And on our scale, where we can know most of our customers and they can know us and our practices, the expense and hassle just don’t seem necessary or worthwhile.

Still, we wanted to be able to provide some sort of verification to our customers that we are indeed following the practices we claim. Enter Certified Naturally Grown or CNG. CNG is a grass-roots certification program geared for small farmers like us. Annual dues are a suggested donation of $200, though farmers can pay less if needed. The paperwork is more streamlined and less of a burden on our lean operation.

But here’s the part we love best – inspections are conducted by other CNG farmers in your area. This gives the opportunity to connect with other growers, to learn from one another and to create supportive networks in the community. All CNG farmers are required to inspect one other farm each year and you are not allowed to inspect the farm that inspected you. Our inspection last year was such a valuable experience because the inspector/fellow farmer walked our fields with us talking about our operation. He gave lots of helpful tips on things we could improve or tweak and I think he learned a bit from some of the things we were doing. Similarly, I had a great time doing my inspection of a neighbor farm and learned som much from seeing his set up. Rather than high pressure, make or break inspections by outside auditors, CNG views the inspection process as equal parts learning opportunity, community building and inspection/verification of your practices.

Another awesome part of the CNG program is the transparency they encourage. Anyone can log on to their website and see the profile and inspection forms of any certified farm. In fact, here’s a link to our profile. Feel free to check it out if you have any questions about our growing practices.

We are proud to be Certified Naturally Grown. CNG is in the midst of a membership drive, so if you’re a fellow farmer, check them out and consider becoming certified yourself. And if you’re a customer, look for and support the CNG farmers at your local market, including us!

 

Strength and the Farm

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I am not naturally endowed with much upper body or core strength. I’ve never been able to do a pull-up or even hang from a bar for more than a second. My core strength was once mediocre, but two pregnancies have left me longing for the good old days of even mediocre core strength. And, let’s be honest, my back has seen better days.

Most days I can get by without strength being an issue. I can do all the daily chores around the farm and even hoist a 50 lb feed sack when needed. But occasionally something big or heavy needs to be moved, a 5 foot ground rod pulled up, a gnarly tree root pried from the ground, or an onry buck put in his place. All these things require brute strength that I just do not possess. Fortunately, Bones is all about mechanical assistance and has taught me how to work smarter.KIMG1488.jpg

Take this heavy pallet we needed to move. 8 feet long and built to be extremely sturdy, this sucker was heavy and awkward. We tried hefting it together, but I dropped my end almost instantly. Then Bones suggested we use a metal barrel to move it. So we laid the barrel on its side and,together, we hoisted one end up onto the barrel. It rolled like a charm!

And then there was the greenhouse we needed to relocate. Carrying it was out of the question so our choices were either dismantle it or drag it. Dragging seemed problematic due to the unevenness of the ground and the fact that we would have to take it uphill. But with the help of strategically placed skids, a couple of ratcheting straps and our Subaru, the move went smoothly with zero back pain for the movers!

For things like pulling ground rods or other posts from the ground, Bones has rigged up a selection of levers and fulcrums that practically pop the rods straight out. And when I was struggling to dig an awful Paulownia root out of the ground, she rigged up a wench that jerked that sucker out of the ground like a twig.

Subduing the buck often still comes down to brute force, fortunately I have a slight size advantage on him, though his horns are the great equalizer. But I keep a length of baling twine in my pocket with a slip knot in it so I can easily lasso him. Once leashed, he is much easier to control and return to his proper pen.

Sometimes I wish I were a little stronger, but there’s not much I can’t do around the farm, even alone, with a little mechanical aide.

Moving Pigs

pigs in coop

This week we have 6 new pigs arriving at the farm – a breeding pair of Gloucestershire Old Spots and their 4 piglets. We’re very excited about their arrival, but in preparation we need to relocate our current pigs. One of our winter goals is to install a permanent perimeter fence in our woods with multiple paddocks for moving pigs quickly and efficiently. But it’s not built yet…

We scrambled this weekend to get the training pen built. This is a smaller area with both woven wire fencing and an interior electric fence used for training animals to electric fencing. Particularly with pigs, their instinct is to run forward when they get startled. So when a pig, untrained to electric fence, touches their nose to the hot wire for the first time, they bolt through the fence, unless there is a solid fence behind it to stop them. It only takes a pig one or two times touching the fence before they get the idea and stay put.

Anyway, the plan was to move our 2 biggest hogs into that pen, since it will also serve as the loading pen and they are headed to the butcher in a couple of weeks. We then set up a smaller pen inside our garden to move our 5 smaller pigs, freeing up their pen, which has a covered shed for our new mama pig to share with her babies. The 2 big hogs moved easily. Which should have been a bad sign for the day. Pigs never move easily!

Then it came time to move the 5 smaller ones. We don’t have a good system for moving pigs. Usually we just skip their morning feed to ensure they are hungry and hope they follow us with a bucket of grain to their new location. Mostly it works, but we’ve never done it with five pigs at once. So, I opened the gate and five pigs ran off in five different directions. I managed to get 3 of them interested in my bucket before the dog decided to go after the other 2 and chased them toward the house. The three pigs and I made it into the garden, momentarily, but I couldn’t get to the gate in time to keep them corralled. The pigs, meanwhile,were running and jumping and squealing with delight at their new-found freedom.

Then I noticed the chicken coop and so did the pigs. Forget my measly, small bucket of grain, they had just found the motherload. All five ran to the coop. Which actually turned out to be a good thing. Locking them in the coop, at least they were all five together and contained. Though the chickens looked less than pleased about their new coop mates. Fortunately the chicken coop is close to one of the garden gates, so we channeled our inner Temple Grandin and created a makeshift chute to get the pigs from the coop and into the garden gate.

With the pigs now within the garden, I was able to get them to follow me to the small pen. I set down the feed bucket and ran to turn on the electric fence. Unfortunately, one of the big hogs saw the little ones getting some grain and decided to break free from her pen. She tossed our beautiful new fence like nothing and then broke through the garden fence, ignoring the hot wire. The little pigs scattered, also running through the hot wire, but not before she pinned one to the ground attacking it ferociously. The pig got away, relatively unscathed, but there was no way it was going back in the pen.

Bones ran for another bucket of grain, and some slightly soured milk to entice the big hog to follow her back to her pen. With her returned to her proper pen, we both worked on repairing that fence and strengthening it to prevent further escape. Still unsure how to return the little pigs to the electric pen, we returned to the garden to find our kids shouting triumphantly and waving big sticks. While we were gone, they had successfully rounded up the little pigs and driven them into the pen. Yay kids!

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But, alas, somewhere in the scuffle, the electric fence had shorted out and there was no jolt when the little pigs went to test the line. So, they waltzed right on through and went about exploring the garden. We were now several hours into our pig moving project, so I decided to just give up for the day and let the little pigs have the run of the garden. There’s nothing growing right now anyway.

And that would have been progress at least, but they day was not yet done. A half hour or so later, I headed out to the garden to take Gryffindor to work. As I approached I heard scuffling in the chicken coop and then saw the last pig pushing out from under the garden gate and heading straight for the chicken coop. I quickly dropped Gryffindor off in the garden and ran to grab the chicken feeder. All five pigs happily followed the chicken feeder… back to their original pen. So, after an entire afternoon chasing pigs, we were back at square one.

Anyone want to come help me move pigs tomorrow?

Winter on the Farm

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2018 has been frigid so far with temps not reaching above freezing until yesterday. Sunday morning was -2 at the farm, which is awfully close to the record low for the Charlottesville area (-10 in 1985) and well below the average January low of 25.  Life pretty much comes to a standstill at the farm when it is this cold. The animals all hunker down in their nests or sheds. We give them lots of extra straw for bedding and refresh their water throughout the day.

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The few greens that were hanging on in the garden have been completely killed off now. And the top few inches of soil is frozen solid. We don’t typically get such a hard freeze here. Last winter was particularly mild; we had greens last all the way till spring and the soil was workable all winter long. Hopefully, without a layer of snow to insulate the ground, this hard freeze will kill some of the pests and plant disease that overwinter in the soil. That’s the silver lining I’m hoping for anyway.

After taking some time off for the holidays, We’re back into planning mode for the farm. Our first seed order went out last week and we’re anxiously checking the mailbox for delivery. As soon as they arrive, we’ll be starting onions, leeks and some early greens in the greenhouse. Since sunflower shoots were so popular at the market last year, we’ve been trialing some more microgreens to offer this year. So far, pea shoots and a spicy mix are looking promising and tasting delicious.

Hopefully you’ve seen our CSA info by now and are thinking about signing up. If not, you can find all the details here. 25 weeks of beautiful produce and a weekly visit to our farm, what’s not to love!

We finally placed the order for our hoophouse yesterday. We’re expecting delivery and installation the first week of March. This 30’x72′ structure will cover almost half of our current growing space. A hoophouse creates a protected environment that allows for greater control over the growing environment.  It also means we can get summer crops started a little bit earlier and get tomatoes to market sooner.

We also begin a fence building project in our woods this week. Our hogs are currently moved around with a series of moveable electric fence. It works, but is not terribly efficient. To improve efficiency and ensure that we move the hogs frequently, we are installing a permanent perimeter fence around 5 or so acres of our woods. The perimeter fence will then be divided into smaller paddocks. The hogs will be moved every few days giving them access to fresh places to root and allowing the forest floor to recover before they return.

 

 

Cast of Critters

I’d love to introduce you to the current cast of critters on Heart & Bones Hollow.

Let’s start with our faithful dogs. Scamper has been with us the longest. A 3-year-old Cattle dog/hound (?) mix, he has just come into his own and is proving to be a fiercely loyal and obedient dog. Through no good training of my own, he comes immediately when called and will “go home” even when he desperately wants to be by my side. He wants nothing more in life than to rest his head on my knee and accompany me on all my adventures around the farm.

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photo by Theresa White

Sirius Black came to us this past summer. She is a 9 month old black lab mix and is every bit a puppy. Loving and eager. Boundless energy. Rambunctious and playful. She is always tugging at Scamper to play. You can tell she wants to be a good dog, but her little body just can’t stop wiggling long enough follow commands. Unfortunately she has killed more than her fair share of chickens. So, we’ve been working with her closely to try to turn her into a good farm dog. Send her all your good, chicken friendly wishes!

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Gryffindor is our newest dog addition – a five-year old Anatolian Shepherd. He came to us from some friends who were downsizing their homestead. As their livestock guardian dog, he protected their pigs at night and hung out with them in the house during the day. We have kept this routine for him and sleep more soundly at night knowing Gryffindor is patrolling the woods and keeping us all safe. Gryffindor is different from any dog I have ever owned – smart and able to think for himself. He does not do tricks or come when called, but not because he doesn’t understand what is being asked. He is calm and steady, affectionate but only on his terms. He is always on guard, even when he appears to be sleeping. We all feel more safe with him around.

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Fido is our old man cat. He has been with me for 13 years and enjoyed an earlier career as a mouser. These days he spends his time lounging on the deck and begging for attention as we bustle through our day. I expect his days with us our numbered, but we’ll keep loving on him right up to the end.

Two new cats joined us this week – Professor McGonagall and Crookshanks (have you noticed the Harry Potter theme yet?). Young and playful, they are here to help with a little rodent problem. And so far they’ve also been really generous with the snuggles!

Bridging the gap between pet and livestock are our goats. We currently have five and are hoping that number increases with some new kids in February! Four of them are mini lamanchas and one is a full-sized lamancha. We got Chocolate and Caramel as week old, bottle babies. They are incredibly sweet and love to be snuggled. Caramel has even come to church with us for the annual Christmas pageant! Milkway was born on the farm in February. He has grown into a handsome and very eager buck. Hopefully he has done his job well and we’ll have lots of new kids to play with! Moonpie is a wether (a castrated male) who is Milkway’s companion. He’s a sweet boy, but a bit timid. Creme Brulee is our full sized lamancha. She came to us in milk and was a fabulous milker giving almost 3/4 gallons per milking. She is easy to handle and so quiet, an unusual trait for goats. Unfortunately she managed to rip her teat on something a few weeks ago. Despite immediate vet attention and ongoing care, it seems likely she is going to lose that teat and certainly her milking career is over.

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photo by Theresa White

At this time we have seven pigs. All Gloucestershire Old Spots a heritage breed know for their docility and great tasting meat. Originally bred in England, they were good homestead and orchard pigs. Legend has it that their black spots developed from the falling fruit hitting them as they rooted around the orchard. We love their easy-going nature and the way their big, floppy ears flap as they run.

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Our chicken flock has 13 hens of various breeds. They roam free around the farm helping to control pests and giving us eggs. They love to set up a daily easter egg hunt for us. As soon as we discover their hiding place, they find a new and even more secluded place to lay.  We haven’t had much luck with roosters and kids mixing, so we are currently roosterless. The girls don’t seem to mind.

 

And finally, Piccolo, a lion head rabbit. We’ve had Piccolo about 2 years now. I got him just before our first ever rabbit harvest because I needed one rabbit who would only ever be for snuggling. Turns out he’s kind of a loner. We tried to put his cage near the other rabbits, but he bit off another rabbit’s nose through the cage! He did, accidentally, father two litters of rabbit kits with our American Blue does. One of his offspring now lives with friends of ours; and Sunny Jim, unlike his father, is quite the friendly bunny. This summer we decided to stop raising rabbits, but Piccolo will get to live out his life here with his rabbit palace all to himself, just the way he likes it.

That brings our current critter count to 33. It’s a lot to manage, but they bring us so much joy and all provide such vital functions on the farm.