Category Archives: Country living

Farm Life as Summer Approaches

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The 90 hp behemoth at work.  There are 47 bales done and they are working to beat the rain on the lower field.  He will bale by headlights tonight.  The hay is beautiful and thick.  That tractor always amazes me, our little tractor is only 28 hp.  It would pull the tetter or the hayrake, but the sickle bar and round baler require too much power.  We can easily mow with a 5 foot brush hog, power a post hole auger and if we could figure out how to use it, pull the small plow we store in the barn. I am not a short woman and my chin would rest on the top of the back tires of that beast.

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Bales in the morning sun.

Jeff has equipment that is modern with CD players and A/C and equipment that is older than my kids.  It is always fun when he is working here as he brings one tractor, then another, a hayrake, a tetter, generally he doesn’t trade out the equipment, he just changes tractors for the next job.

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In the midst of the chaos, today I found a new wildflower/weed in the front yard which is green, but seems to be more wildflowers/weeds than grass.

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This afternoon when I went to pick peas for dinner, I realized that there were still garlic scapes in the garden.  I harvested as many as I could hold with the egg basket full of eggs and peas.  I was able to make 7 half cup jars of garlic scape pesto and blended the other half of the scapes with olive oil to make a garlicky paste that I dropped in 2 Tbs. plops on foil to freeze for use as fresh garlic in sauces.

I was hoping to get some peas in the freezer for winter, but we are enjoying them fresh so much it is hard to put any away.  Peas picked, shelled and cooked within half an hour are a whole different vegetable than even “fresh” peas from the Farmers’ Market.

It has been a productive day on our mountain farm.

 

 

It is Hay Time

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It is that time of year.  We have been watching the fields mowed and baled around us for days.  Jeff has been waiting for hot dry days to do ours as we have really good hay this year and he didn’t want to spoil it.  There are currently two tractors with sickle bars mowing the upper fields.  Tomorrow they will be tettered and tomorrow evening probably baled.  The lower field will follow.

For the first bit they were here, both dogs were going nuts in the house, barking and looking out first one window, then the next.  They have gotten used to the noise now, but we wouldn’t dare let them outside right now.

The plus side of this is that we will be able to walk our entire property for a few weeks after they are done, and we will be able to see deer and turkey.  The negative side is that this will disrupt habitats and we will see more bunnies near the house and mice in the house for a few days.  It usually brings out a snake or two.

Life is good on our mountain farm.

Bambi in the Chicken Pen

Happy Father’s Day to my wonderful husband, my Dad who is an inspiration to us all, to my sons by birth and marriage and all of my readers.

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Our overnight guests departed for home half an hour ago, facing a 7-8 hour trip in Sunday traffic on Father’s Day, but he has his youngest son on break from college in Pennsylvania with him and his wife to help share the driving.

We were sitting on the front porch in the sun, it got quite chilly last night, watching them depart when Jim started pointing to the east and repeating, “Look, look.”  I didn’t see what he was excited about and ask and he said it was a solo fawn, probably only a month old tearing down the side of the driveway and around the house.  I jumped up and ran through the house to the back deck to see if I could spot it before it reached the tall still unmowed hay to be and realized that the little guy had somehow gotten itself through the fence to the chicken cull pen.  That fence is not very well set and he was terrified, bleating and slamming his little body against the more stable chicken run fence that makes up two sides of the cull pen.  This in turn had all 22 chickens upset.  The cull chickens and Cogburn hid in the chicken tractor squawking like they were being attacked.  The teenagers who were in the run were flapping and escaping over the 4 foot fence, others in hiding under the coop or in the coop.  Fearful that the little fellow was going to injure himself, we quickly pulled down the cull pen fences and stood back as the fawn took off across the back yard for the woods.  We don’t know where Mom is.  Perhaps our cousins leaving separated them on the road and the fawn ran down the driveway while Mom ran back into the woods.  Hopefully Mom wasn’t killed or injured last night and the little fellow is alone as it is much to young to survive.

The fences are back up, the escapees captured and put back in the pen, the chickens have settled, breakfast is cleaned up and the dishwasher is running so now we will just settle back and enjoy our morning before we figure out where to hang Jim’s Father’s Day gift.

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And later drive to “the big city,” Roanoke to buy him a Father’s Day meal at his favorite Mexican Restaurant.

No fawn rescue photos, it happened too quickly, but the little fellow was so cute and so afraid.

A Week on and off the Farm – June 14, 2014

This week, two of our grandchildren celebrated birthdays.  Our eldest, son of our eldest turned 9, our first granddaughter, daughter of our youngest, turned 3.  Though we didn’t actually get to spend their birthday with either of them, they are special.

The garden is growing.  The garlic looks like it is ready to harvest and cure.  Agree?

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I never did make garlic scape pesto.   Oh well, there is always next year as it is a crop we plant annually in quantity to share with our kids.  The peas are or so close to being ready for the first batch of lightly steamed or sauteed fresh peas.  My mouth is watering at the thought.  The raspberry patch is starting to ripen.  It is really going to be a challenge to bring enough in to make jam or smoothies with as I graze as I am in the garden, they are so delicious fresh.

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A few weeks ago, while in Lowes, I purchased two new garden implements, a hoe with a two tine rake on the other end and a loop hoe.  The loop hoe is an okay tool in bare soil.  The other implement bent the very first time I used it and it will be returned to Lowes along with a wire brush they sold us for our new grill that has coated cast iron grates and specifically says DO NOT USE A WIRE BRUSH ON THE GRILL PLATES.  A few days after I purchased them, I received a copy of one of the only two magazines to which I subscribe and they had an article on must have garden tools, one of which is a new Rogue Tool Hoe that has a tapered, sharpened end, flat at the end and a 3 tine rake on the other end.  It is American made, forged and solid.  I ordered one and was notified that they were backordered and it would be several weeks.  I okayed that and two days later, was notified that it shipped.  It is a great tool, well worth the money and the wait.  Used on its side, it cuts right through the weeds.  The end cuts deeper for heavier rooted weeds and the rake grabs even young tap rooted plants and pulls them right up.  The wooden handle is thick and well balanced.  They aren’t paying me or giving me anything, but I highly endorse their products.

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This is the first week of the summer that we have had house guests.  Jim’s cousin and his wife spend Thursday night with us on the way to Pennsylvania to pick up his youngest son from college and will spend tonight with us on their way home to Georgia.  They brought us two bags of Georgia peaches to enjoy along with pecans and a lovely loaf of bread.  Some of the peaches were very ripe and after they left yesterday morning to finish their trip north, I prepared about half of them for peach jam.

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In 25 or more years of making jam and jelly, this was my first experience with peaches and it didn’t set up properly.  Last evening, we went to town to purchase more fresh pectic, new lids and while there, I bought another case of 1 cup jelly jars and reprocessed it last night with a bit more lemon juice and a new package of pectin.  It turned out perfectly and they will get to take a jar home with them tomorrow along with a couple of jars of berry jams from last season, some of the cured garlic still left from last year and a dozen of my fresh eggs to enjoy once they are home.

I subscribe to a delightful magazine called taproot.  It comes out 4 times a year, contains no advertisements, often contains a gift, such as a small notebook or some notecards with artwork from one of their many artist contributors.  It always has wonderful recipes, craft ideas and generally a knit, crochet or sewing pattern in it.  This issue has infused vinegars and three fermented mustard recipes that I want to try.  Today while making a vinaigrette from it for our salad tonight, since I already had the small blender out, I made the Horseradish mustard to sit and ferment for three days before adding in the last two ingredients.  Once it is completed, I will divide it into 4 oz jars and share the finished product with our kids that want to try it. (It tasted delicious even without the fermentation and last two ingredients, so I bet it is going to be great.)

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There are two more recipes for other mustards in the magazine, but I bet it will be hard to beat this one.

I must have been born in the wrong century.  I love preserving, growing a garden, spinning yarn, knitting, and cooking from fresh ingredients.  As we await their return for the night, I am preparing a meal of roasted radishes, turnips, yellow squash, garlic, spring onions, rosemary from our garden and the Farmers’ Market.  Local grass finished beef kabobs with Monterey seasoning that I make.  Shrimp with mustard basil marinade.  Salad with local vegetables added and the vinaigrette from taproot magazine with fresh from my garden thyme.

Life is good here on our mountain farm.

 

 

Let Us Preserve

Tis the season to start putting by for the long cold, unproductive months of winter.  We have cousins in Georgia and he has a son in college in Pennsylvania.  We are slightly more than half way in between for them and love to have them for the overnight visit as they drive up and back.  Yesterday afternoon they arrived bearing gifts of fresh Georgia peaches, pecans, and a loaf of a wonderful Artisan bread.  Some of the peaches are at a stage of ripeness where we can enjoy them fresh out of hand or as breakfast fruit, some needed quick attention.  Since our peach trees still are young and not really producing fruit, they are a treasure to enjoy.

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This morning they left to complete their trip north with a southbound return tomorrow and another night with us, so I pulled out the jam making supplies and set to work peeling, deseeding, chopping, measuring and making a batch of peach jam.  That is one jam I have never made before and not wanting to make too much, I first bought the ebook, The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving.  As I started collecting jars, I realized that most of my jelly jars have been given away full of jams and jellies and my stock was low.  The recipe said it made 6 cups, I had 5 1/2 cups worth of smaller jars, but figured that any surplus would go in a jar in the refrigerator to be used first.

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Enough made to get us through the winter and still send a couple of jars home with them Sunday morning.  My taste test is that it is sweeter than the berry, plum and pomegranate jams I have made in the past, but a bit on toast or stirred into yogurt or oatmeal will be nice.   The black cherry tree at the top of our road is ripe and my raspberries are ripening enough to sample a couple when in the garden, but if I’m going to do anything with them, I need more jam jars.

Jim’s comment when he came through the kitchen was that I sure was industrious.  I smiled and said it kept me out of trouble.

I love this time of year with new good things to eat appearing nearly daily from the garden or in this case, as a gift.

Next up is to try one or all three of the fermented mustard recipes from the current issue of taproot Issue 10::Seed magazine.  But wait, I don’t have jars!

 

Olio – June 10, 2014

Olio: a miscellaneous collection of things

Nine years ago today, we received a call from Asheville, NC, a tired, satisfied and obviously in love voice announced that we had our first grandchild, a boy.  It hardly seems possible that he is now 9 years old.  The young man that I visit several times a year to provide day care for when his Mom’s and Dad’s school/work schedules require someone else to step in.  He will be spending 7 weeks with us this summer, in the house where he spent his first few years as they moved here when he was only 9 weeks old to supervise and do all of the stone masonry and finish carpentry in our home and then we all moved into it together for several year.

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Taking a break at the zoo in April.  Happy Birthday, Loakum.

It seems that the teenage pullets think I am the Pied Piper.  Each morning after I open their coop and let them loose in the pen with fresh food and water, at least half of them then follow me back down the run to the gate.  I don’t know if they think there will be a special treat for them if they do or if I’m just Mama as they came to me as tiny chicks and were raised in a brooder in my care until old enough for the coop.

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The garden is starting to brim full of good things to eat and other things to dream about.

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Chard and kale, peas with plumping pods, bushes of raspberries and blueberries slowly ripening in the sun.  Peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, beans, cucumbers, pumpkins, winter squash, summer squash and sweet potatoes getting larger with each rain storm and sunny day.  Garlic almost ready to harvest and cure.

Yesterday was a busy afternoon.  After having a skin cancer removed a few years ago, I make an annual visit to the dermatologist for a full body check, that visit was in February, but a few spots appeared that caused me some concern, so a return visit started the afternoon.  Everything is fine.  Once home, Jim and I finally tackled the cleanup of the burn pile from a few weeks ago.  We were concerned that it would start filling with weeds, making the task more onerous than it already was.  Upon burning the wood that was there, we discovered a significant pile of large rocks.  I remember than eldest son had discussed putting the chicken coop there when the garden was much larger than it is now and he hauled that rock in his pick up truck from remnants of building the retaining wall, to use as a foundation for the coop.  With much grunting and groaning, the use of the tractor bucket, we moved the largest flattest of those stone to the culvert on one side of the driveway.

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Where it will be turned into a guardian/warning wall like this one on the other side of the driveway.

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These are to warn folks that there are car and tractor eating holes on either side of the drive that feed and drain the large culvert under the driveway and prevent it from washing down into our garage.

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Once the rocks were removed, several tractor buckets of charcoal, nails and screws that had been in the wood, and rocks too small for the wall were scooped up and dumped where unsuspecting tractor or truck tires haying or hauling hay won’t meet with a flat.  The area was then leveled as well as it could with the edge of the tractor bucket and the surviving rake.  Once eldest and family settle into their own house after degrees are complete, I guess I will have to buy myself a new rake as the surviving one is his that I am storing.  Mine did not survive the burn pile control as it proved to have a plastic fitting.

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On each pass from the burn pile to the culvert, I mowed a swipe through the orchard and back on the return trip.  Once the burn pile cleanup was complete, I just had to finish the job I had started and mowed the yard and orchard as close as I could with the tractor.  After a quick late dinner from the grill and a salad, the lawn mower was hauled out and the finish work around the fruit trees, chicken pen, garden and close to the house was done, just as the sky was darkening with the chickens settling in for the night.  With them closed up for the night, personal cleanup of bodies and laundry and a rest were in order.

Life is an adventure on our mountain farm.

Native or not

This is haying season and the grass surrounding our “yard,” the acre or so that we regularly mow around the house, garden, chickens and orchard, is quite tall and thick.  One neighbor mows, rakes and bales all of the fields around us including ours for a split of the hay.  In our case, he takes all but what I need for the chickens and the gardens and in exchange he grades our driveway, plows us out in the snow and provides occasional emergency help like the day I got a 30 foot piece of black plastic conduit wrapped so tightly around the bush hog blade that Jim and I couldn’t free it. That is another story from another day.

Watching the uncut hay blow in waves in the wind reminds me of the song “America The Beautiful,” with the line amber waves of grain.

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Jim is tall and his beast, the mastiff is in that grass, standing.

The yard is cut in three levels right now, the area closest to the house is mowed with a lawnmower, from there to the edge of the fields around the trees that we have planted was bush hogged a couple of weeks ago and the fields are awaiting their first seasonal mowing as it is cut into hay.  Each level has its own display of wildflowers and as I look them up, I realize that almost none of them are native plants.  Some more invasive than others such as the multiflora rose, autumn olive, Ailanthus altissima (Tree of Heaven), kudzu (fortunately we aren’t dealing with this one on our land) and stickweed.  The Autumn Olive was actually introduced and encouraged by the Department of Agriculture as a yard ornamental and though we have never planted one, we spend our time pulling and mowing them to keep them from taking over.  Tree of Heaven is one of those you see in Parade Magazine as a quick growing tree for your yard, “buy it now for shade in 3 years” spiels.  They also are invasive, though I have recently seen an article that it may be dying out on it’s own, we can only hope.

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This is Moth Mullein, not native Mullein and though pretty, it is also an import and is so prevalent in some states that it is considered a noxious weed.

Daisies like the yellow ones above and these from the edge of the driveway were introduced from Europe and are now found in most states.

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Red and white clover are also European imports and it is difficult to buy pasture grass seed that doesn’t contain one or the other, they are good nitrogen fixers along with Hairy Vetch which is used as fodder and is also European.

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As we look at our trees on the mountain, few are native species.  Nearly all of the native grasses have been replaced by grasses from other countries.  It isn’t just the flora that has been affected, also the fauna.  We live with invasions of Nutria, stink bugs, gypsy moths, ladybugs, Hemlock wooly adelgid that is killing the hemlocks.  Insects killing the ash trees, blights that killed off and nearly made the American Chestnut extinct.  At the time of the European settlers, the American Chestnut was a predominate species in these mountains.  Many of the old farm houses are built with Chestnut wood beams and if you have ever had the pleasure to stay at Big Meadows Lodge on the Skyline Drive, it is built of American Chestnut.  The woods we see now would look alien to the settlers and the Native Americans that lived and roamed these mountains.

Some of these species have been deliberately introduced for a specific purpose and it has back fired.  Others have crept in; in or on the hulls of ships or in their water ballast, carried by migratory birds, accidentally brought in imported produce and plants or released from research facilities.

The prairies of the west have suffered similar fate and few if any stands of native prairie grass still exist, grasses that were taller than the men that cut it.  The wetlands are host to non native grasses such as Phragmites australis  that is choking out the native marsh grasses and the oyster beds, changing the ecosystem; and snakehead, zebra mussels and catfish overwhelming the animal populations.

The environment has changed, but we don’t have to continue to contribute to the destruction of it.  Research landscaping and flowering plants before you use them.  Buy from nurseries that specialize in native species.  Pull and destroy non native invasive plants before they choke out the native ones.  Support efforts to restore some of the majestic native species such as Chestnuts and Hemlocks.  We each need to do our part.  We can’t return to the past, but we can each do our part to halt further degradation of the ecosystem.

 

Faint of heart

Building a house is not for the faint of heart.  Buying a neglected farm and building a house when you are retired is a short step from being declared mentally unstable, however, we took on this challenge almost 7 years ago.  For decades, each time my dear hubby asked what I wanted for a holiday, I always gave the same answer, “a cabin in the woods.”
Seven years ago, several things came together to allow it to happen. Well, it is a cabin and we do have a few acres  of woods around the edges, but the house sits in an open field.  We found the property on a whim  midway through our youngest son’s senior year of high school.  I had retired as  school counselor and was working part time for a non profit organization to cover the family health insurance.  Hubby was reaching retirement age and trying to figure a way to retire from his law practice.  We decided to research log homes and begin the planning stages of putting a house on the land.
In order to facilitate this, we decided to sell the home we had raised our children in, and again, on a whim, put out a FSBO sign on a day some neighbors were having a yard sale.   We were painting inside as we really weren’t quite ready to sell yet, and much to our surprise, we got calls.  Quickly, we designed a brochure, decided on a price and signed a contract with a FSBO organization that gets the listing on the web and in a weekly booklet and by the next weekend, had sold the house, just before the real estate market went south.  This meant we had to move with no where to go and a 90 lb old dog to move with us.  Apartments weren’t large enough for a 4 bedroom house of furniture and the dog.  We lucked into a 3 bedroom rental house with a small yard, stored some stuff and moved in for a year.  Once settled, we purchased a log home “kit,” hired a contractor, who turned out to be a loser, to do the log erection and rough carpentry, convinced our eldest son to move with his partner and their newborn son to the area where we were building to oversee the contractor, help make decisions and ultimately take on all of the finish carpentry and stone mason work.  With monthly visits to select the house site, have the perk test done, hire a well driller and see the progress, we plodded through that year.  As the year was ending, my part time job was going to have to become full time and I applied for a job in the county near our property, returning to a school counseling position to pay into the retirement system instead of drawing from it.  This meant that I would be living near the house and could help with carpentry work or more often, babysitting so the kids could work.  It also meant that hubby and I would be living 6 hours apart in separate apartments, me alone in the mountains, he with youngest son and dog on the coast. The new job was an all year position, not just during the school year, so moves were made, goodbyes said and we started what turned into a nearly 3 year long distance relationship until hubby put all the steps in place to leave his practice for retirement in the mountains with me.  At this point, we had been moved into the new house for almost two years on a temporary certificate of occupancy.
After I moved in, along with son and his family, they continued to work on the house, building the interior doors, the upper kitchen cabinets, doing hand grading and stone mason work when the weather permitted.  When hubby moved up, son and his family moved to an adjacent town for him to earn his Master’s degree at the local university, working on the house during holidays and summer time to finish the foundation stone work and last summer, getting the cistern system that the contractor put in improperly to actually work,  continuing the fieldstone fireplace down into the basement in preparation for the contruction of the 4th bedroom and rec room that was in the planning stages.  He and I also, finally finished the breezeway/utility room that joins the house to the garage.
While this work had been done with some labor on my part, the restoration of the fields to a condition that will allow for hay production and grazing of animals, has fallen to my hubby and me.  The fields had become very overgrown with weeds, brambles, invasive shrubs and cedar trees.  We purchased a tractor and a brush hog and commenced  regular mowing of every inch the of 30 acres that we could take the tractor.  Last summer, after our poorly constructed gravel driveway had reached a nearly impassable state, we hired a neighbor excavator contractor to take on regrading the property so that it would drain properly and reconstructing the driveway, this making several more acres mowable.  While he was working in front of the house, son, partner, hubby and I were digging a trench hundreds of feet down the south slope, laying a water line from the cistern, installing a yard hydrant and recovering the trench without damaging the water line.  This involved much hand shoveling, picking up and moving many tractor buckets of rock that we had uncovered.
Early in the mountain project, son and partner, put in a huge garden, but in later years of the project, the garden was not as totally utilized and 3 summers ago, I undertook to restore as much of it as I felt I could manage on my own.  Son and family have since moved on several hours away to further continue education.  Hubby loves the produce from the garden, but gardening  is not one of his interests.  I have boxed beds, dug weeds, tried to foil the deer with a temporary monofilament fence  as of yesterday, with the aid of a neighbor friend, finally put an electric fence around the vegetable garden portion of the gardens.  We also smoothed areas for safe working and mowability.  Over the years, we have planted fruit trees, berry bushes, and grapevines.  Last fall we finally landscaped the front.  This winter, the basement project was completed.  We are nearly to a maintenance phase, but with 30 acres and plans for raising some animals other than dogs, it will continue to be muscle taxing, bone weary work,…but there is a good night’s rest at the end of those days.