Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Field Trip: Tree Chopping, Determined Eggplant, and Tiny Milk Goats

This summer, we met Abby and Daniel at the Downtown Westminster Farmers' Market. They come every Saturday and pick up some produce from several vendors. After the first few visits, we found out they had purchased a farm in Westminster - but not just any farm, Greg and Kris's from Thorne Farm. (Thorne Farm is also a vendor at the market, right across from us as a matter of fact.) It's a beautiful 4.5 acre property only about 20 minutes from our place!
They already have a lot of really fun things going on there, and have even more planned for the future. On a recent Sunday we got a chance to go hang out with them and all their little farm friends.
Our tour started with the beautiful 1950's house, I didn't get any pictures but you can see a few on Abby's blog. The rooms are covered in wood paneling - real wood paneling, not the cheesy staple on kind - and it is the perfect size.
Behind the house the land goes back into a wedge shape, on the right will be their pasture as soon as the fences go up and on the left are their vegetable gardens. They have some really fun veggies growing (all heirlooms, yay!) and the plants have been very persistent in spite of a very pesky groundhog.

This eggplant had been eaten away and had seemingly died, it grew back and is now flowering again!

They are growing basil, peppers, beans, sweet corn, pie pumpkins, watermelons, eggplants, tomatoes and more!
Next on the tour were the three dead trees that need to come down before the new fences go up, one of which was coming down while we were there. Daniel and Shawn worked on clearing the way for the falling tree and then the lengthy task of cutting it down.
Here Daniel is cutting a wedge into the front third of the tree. This cut will guide it as it falls.

They then cut into the back of the tree until they were a few inches from the original wedge.
And TIMBER!!! The tree came down - to the applause of the neighbors who were watching from their deck.
Our final stop on the tour was the goats and chickens. They have 22 Rhode Island Red hens that were happily pecking at some cantaloupe rinds when we got there. In the future, they plan to get some rare heritage birds (we warned them that the polish ones, like Trudy, get beat up on).
The goats, however, are amazing! They are so sweet and full of personality...and small! They are smaller than my dog.

This is Stardust, the only one Abby is currently milking. She is the leader of the females and demands it stays that way. She threw two or three fits while we were there, which involved stomping to the back of the barn and giving us funny looks. I think she was mad that she wasn't receiving ALL of the attention. :)

This is her son, Ziggy. He is a very sweet wether (this is a castrated male). He is a little shy and acts a lot like a dog.
Abby and Daniel are planning to breed the four below soon so they will start producing milk too. For how small they are, each goat will produce more milk than you think - a quart per day! If you didn't check out her blog with my first link, here it is again. You can see the names of these four and a video of them. Abby spins eco/human/animal friendly fibers into all kinds of beautiful and awesome yarns. You must see them!

While we were hanging out with the goats, milking time rolled around. This is Stardust's favorite time of day.
The milk pail, cider wash for her udders, brush, and grain for her to eat.

She showed us how to do it! It's hard at first, but once you get it, it's fun.

These two are jealous of her milking time...they will get their chance soon!

There will only be more fun adventures had here, keep a look out for them. :)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Our First Melon!

We harvested our first melon yesterday! As we were picking for market, Shawn decided to check on the Amish melons and watermelons to see how they are coming along. There have been a few large Amish melons we have been keeping an eye on (ok, we check them daily) and one of them had been turning from gray to yellow.
Amish melons are a lot like cantaloupes, they are a yellowish color with a dry netting that develops all over as they ripen. Our melons looked a little different though. In general, they should have a round shape with large ribs, but ours have a strange knob on the bottom - sort of like a buttercup squash. Linda had saved the seeds from years past, and although she hadn't grown anything that would cross with the Amish melon, we were afraid they somehow crossed with another (less tasty) plant.

But it sure did smell like a delicious, ripe melon. It was still warm from the sun when we cut into it...I can't describe the excitement with which we sliced our first piece of fruit.
A hint of orange....so far so good....

The flesh was soft and juicy and it smelled amazing. We cut slices for everyone: Linda, Dave, Pawpaw and the two of us.

It was incredible!! Sooo sweet and so juicy, we were covered in sticky-sweet juice as we threw the rinds to the very grateful chickens. :) We were sure to save ALL the seeds from this melon...this will be a Truffula Seed staple! We may have to re-name it though...with it's knobby shape we may have a new variety on our hands...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Field Trip: Sattva Place (Scott's Farm!)

Since we began our farming adventure last year, we have made so many new friends. Some frequent the farmers' markets, some work on local farms, some joined us at one of the several conferences we attended last winter, and some are farmers. Our friend Scott is a farmer and happens to have the stand right next to us at the Westminster Farmers' Market. We had met him a few times at friends' get-togethers, but it wasn't until market started up this year that we really got to know him.
His farm, Sattva Place ('Sattva' is Sanskrit for 'purity'), is located in Frederick County between Frederick and Thurmont. Farming, however, is only one of his many skills. He teaches yoga classes, trims horse hooves, substitute teaches middle school math and is currently taking classes to receive a master's degree in education. And if that doesn't seem like a lot, you should see everything he has going on his farm!
Scott raises cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys for meat. He also has horses and goats. He rotationally grazes all of his animals, moving the cows and birds daily. We spent a day at the farm last weekend and as a part of our look around his 100 acres, we got to see him move the cows and chickens. What an amazing place!
Here is Scott in front of one of the barns with his affectionate little puppy (well, not so little anymore!).

She is killer, right? Soooo cute!

An old bee hive that pretty much takes care of itself.

The horses.

The goats.

I particularly like this one...

The boar.

The pigs.

The turkeys.

The chickens. These chickens, and the turkeys above, are in "chicken tractors". These are movable chicken coops that allow the birds to remain protected while out on open pasture. They are usually moved daily to allow the birds to eat fresh grass and bugs while distributing their manure evenly over the pasture. The chickens have shade tarps over their tractors to help with the heat.
This is the permanent chicken coop Scott built. It's perfect for winter with a south facing glass wall. The chickens seemed to love it!
For dinner, we ate a delicious salad with some of our cucumbers and peppers, some of Jackie's (De La Tierra Gardens) tomatoes and a hard-boiled turkey egg. Neither of us had ever eaten a turkey egg before and we were really excited to try it. It is shaped just like a chicken egg but is about twice the size.

It was delicious! Really, it tasted like a chicken egg, but boy was it good. We had such a fun day at Scott's, we are going to have to take field trips more often!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Dry Beans: The Under-Appreciated Crop

Last summer, while interning on several farms, we learned how to grow a lot of fun new vegetables like small orange eggplants, purple tomatillos, kohlrabi, and many others. As we chose the varieties to grow on our farm this year, we thought a lot about our experiences. At White Rose Farm, we helped harvest rows and rows of dry beans (or, as some call them, soup beans) and fell in love! Everything about them makes sense. They are easy to grow, low maintenance, and ready for storage right off the plant. Not to mention they are beautiful!
Some people may be turned off by having to shell them, but not us (see left :) ), it is actually a great way to spend your time (especially if you have company). In fact, a week or two ago, Renee - who writes
a great local living blog - came by to check out the farm. Half-way through the tour we took her into the workshop/prep space and showed her, among other things, the dry beans we had pulled. An hour later we were sitting on the floor, shelling the last beans from the bin and finishing an excellent conversation about how the events of our lives had brought us to where we are today. We grew several varieties this year, many of which are very old heirloom varieties - some cultivated by Native Americans in several regions of what is now the United States. And the varieties are: Jackson Wonder Limas, Black-Eyed Peas (left over from White Rose last year)

Cannellini and Black Beans

Jacob's Cattle (which really look like cows!) and Calypso (little yin yangs)
And Tiger Eye
Most shell beans can be eaten fresh like green beans when they are young, before the beans develop inside. Once the beans develop, you can also shell them and eat them fresh (before they dry). The most common fresh shell bean is the lima bean. Mmmm, and do I love lima beans.
Here is what they look like in the pod fresh, ready to shell and eat. You can tell they are ready because you can see the shape of the bean through the pod. You can also tell by holding it up to a light, you can see if the beans are full size or not.
Here they have dried on the bush.
When they are fresh, the beans take up most of the pod. But when they dry, they shrink quite a bit and develop their coloring. They are sometimes smaller than others. These are pretty small. And these are a little bigger. For lima beans, we pick the beans as they dry. They dry on the plant from the bottom up, so there are often dry and fresh beans on the same plant. For the other types of beans, they tend to grow and dry all at once, so we wait for them to dry and then pull the whole plant out. You know they are dry enough if you can press your fingernail into the bean and it doesn't make a mark. On a wet year, they can get moldy if you wait too long so you can pull them a little early and let them finish drying in a cool place out of the sunlight. Clearly we don't have that problem this year. The top ones are Christmas Limas, if you have read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle they are on the cover (fresh, not dried).
Another bonus to dry beans? They look great in jars!