In the Garden :: April 27

2015 Apr 27 In the Garden

Things are coming along pretty nicely these days.

Our number one biggest success has been the garlic! I planted it in October and basically crossed my fingers. I was surprised not to find any scapes this spring, but the leaves seem pretty tall and full. Out of curiosity I went ahead and pulled “one,” but I actually had 3 little scallions. How did three grow instead of one?

The garlic!
The garlic!

The asparagus seemed to take forever to start growing but we harvested our first handful this week! A friend suggested uncovering the bed, that the straw might be keeping the ground too cool. I am so paranoid about weeds that I just couldn’t imagine taking it off, so in its own perfect timing, the asparagus came up anyway.

Asparagus grows at Owl Moon Farm!
Asparagus grows at Owl Moon Farm!

And now for our biggest failure in the garden. At least, so far. I know using a cover crop is a critical part of creating organic matter in the garden. I searched and read and decided to use Winter Rye; it seemed to be highly recommended. Problem is, what they don’t tell you, is that getting rid of Winter Rye in the spring is next to impossible, at least without mechanical assistance. It just doesn’t die. I’ve spoken with a friend, and found on a few “how to get rid of winter rye” discussion boards, that Winter-killed Oats would have been a better choice, sooooooo… At least I know what I’m going to do next year.

To get rid of the grass in my raised beds I tried cutting it back. I cut the beds with loppers. A few times. Turns out, Winter Rye is crazy resilient and grew back. With gusto.

After being cut. Twice.
After being cut. Twice.

I tried to cut it super short but only had really “dead-looking” grass after I left a heap of it on the bed. It seemed to kill the grass below it pretty effectively.

After being cut back and left to rot.
After being cut back and left to rot.
Dead spot.
Dead spot.

So a friend recommended digging and turning the soil to kill the roots of the grass. It was annoying, but not terrible. Here’s the bed above after being turned:

After turning today.
After turning today.

And here’s a different bed that was turned last week:

Turned a week ago.
Turned a week ago.

Takeaway: DON’T use Winter Rye in a raised bed, especially if you’re hoping to grow something early in the season without using mechanical tillage. I’ll be using oats next fall and will keep you posted.

Farm History :: Part 2

Recently, the kids and I (and my cousin and her family) visited the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Virginia. The FCM is a living history museum, with exhibits that showcase the lives pre-Americans were living in Africa, Germany, England and Ireland. You can visit an African village made of clay, an English smallholding complete with a small herd of Cotswald sheep, an Irish village with a forge, linen loom and pigs, and finally, a rather large German estate with Red Devon cattle. Then, through the magic of modern technology, you are transported to a village made up of early American settlements, including one representing the Eastern Woodland Indians (not a specific tribe). I am eager to explore the 1740’s American settlement more as it is likely similar to what was built on our land when Rockbridge County was first settled in the mid-1700’s.

1740's Frontier Farmhouse
1740’s Frontier Farmhouse

I started my search for the history of the farm at the county’s government website and found this:

Rockbridge County was formed in 1778 and named after the Natural Bridge of Virginia, a natural historic wonder located in the southern part of the County. Two-thirds of the County’s 607 square miles came from Botetourt County to the south and the remainder from Augusta County to the north.

The inducement to settle the Rockbridge/Augusta area was provided in 1736, when Benjamin Borden received a Crown Grant of 100,000 acres with the stipulation that he would settle a hundred families [here]. Scotch-Irish [sic] and German pioneers soon migrated south along the Indian Road from Pennsylvania to settle in the area. Read more…

I did some more digging and was excited to learn the Logan family was a part of the initial Borden Grant filing. Unfortunately, the land {John} Logan settled in 1752 was a bit north of here, in the Walker’s Creek area. And while it appears his brother, David Logan, was already here as early as 1740, I have not found a map or any details showing that land. I have found evidence that his son, future General Benjamin Logan sold “800 acres on Kerr Creek” at some point. Our farm is not far from Kerrs Creek, but 800 acres…? If it was sold, then who bought it?

There is a large homestead between ours and Kerrs Creek which I believe to be the site of the Kerrs Creek Massacres, during which a Jane “Jennie” {Logan} McKee was killed, but I haven’t been able to connect her to either John or David Logan. Jane was born in 1713. John in 1703, David in 1706, and their third brother William was born in 1710. That would make her a cousin {?} but so far I have not been able to trace her family tree.

The previous owner of this home was able to trace the deed records back to 1825, so my hope is that between those records, the history of the county moving forward from 1740, and a conversation with a Logan still living nearby, I can figure out who and when this land was settled. Stay tuned! {OvO}

Scotch Collie History

Many of you already know our dogs, Kep and Finn, are Old Time Scotch Collies. However, it doesn’t seem I’ve shared what makes them so special to us.

We were extremely deliberate in choosing the farm dogs for Owl Moon Farm, and came across this breed in August, just after we moved to the farm. The wife of a colleague of Tripp’s has a breeding pair of these dogs, and is committed to reviving the breed. Old Time Scotch Collies {or, Scotch Collies, or Farm Collies, or Farm Shepherds} were once a dime a dozen. They are featured in agricultural works from 19th Century Europe:

Sheep Gathering in Glen Spean - Richard Ansdell 1872
Sheep Gathering in Glen Spean – Richard Ansdell 1872
Collies circa 1890
Collies circa 1890

And many, many photographs (and films!) from the early twentieth century in the US and the UK:

Collie helping with the sugaring - 1940
Collie helping with the sugaring – 1940
Beatrix Potter and her companion, Kep
Beatrix Potter and her companion, Kep

Known for their loyalty, biddability, and teachability, Old Time Collies were relied on for every job on the farm. They helped protect the livestock and children; they hunted rabbits, mice and other varmint; and of course, they helped the shepherd move his stock from place to place. They performed those duties in the Old Country, and the Scotch-Irish settlers brought them to the New World when they immigrated in the mid- to late-1800’s.

But, as the family farm started to decline, so did this once precious breed, and these well-rounded, dependable dogs were nearly lost. Luckily, there were a few breeders remaining in the late 1900’s that decided to rescue and revive the breed. There is a lot of history involved, so if you’d like to read more, I encourage you to visit Old-Time Farm Shepherd.

Our breeder was one of those folks that remembered having collie dogs around on a grandfather or uncle’s farm and committed to resurrecting the breed. Our pups are a result of that effort and we couldn’t be more pleased. Knowing that we are working side by side with a breed of dog that can likely be traced back to my own Scottish Highland ancestors…. Well, I get goosebumps every time I think about it.

 

Herding Instinct Test

Here’s a link to the video my son made during our Herding Instinct Test yesterday. I was so nervous leading up to it, but both boys really were phenomenal. Turn the volume up if you want to hear the trainer’s comments, or down if too much barking gets to you…

We tested at Keepstone Farm in Berryville, VA with all breed trainer, Susan Rhoades. We plan to do some more training with both boys and would love to take them to an AHBA trial or two this year. Stay tuned!

Farm History :: Part 1

When we were looking at the farm, the previous owner shared a lot of information with us about the history of the place. He told me that while this home has been here “since the 1800’s” there was a home here before that – which was burned in a fire. My number one itchiest question is –

Exactly when was the first home built on this land?

Once I figure out the answer to that one, I should have the answer to question numbers two and three – by whom and where exactly? Was it on this same homesite, or somewhere else? There is a spot labeled, “old home site” on the plat map that is at the very tippity top of our property line – who lived there and when?

After the family that farmed the land for generations (the Logans), the farm was used as an “artist community” (not a commune….?) and possibly a silk screen operation known as Inky Press in the 1960’s and 70’s. The property changed hands in 1984 and again in the late 1990’s, before finding its way to us in 2014. Since moving here I have spoken to the just previous owner extensively, the brothers who have been cutting hay off the pasture for nearly 20 years, and a woman who stayed in our rental cottage in the 1980’s. And fortunately, there is one living descendant of the Logan family living not far from here (he grew up on the farm); I hope to reach out to him this spring to collect his history. Along the way I have asked everyone who has photos or stories of the place to share them with me but so far, this is all I have found:

The farmhouse circa 1984
The farmhouse circa 1984

She’s come a long way, eh?

The farmhouse circa 2014
The farmhouse circa 2014

Recipe :: Homemade Yogurt

Thank you, Emily, for your super duper, easy peasy recipe for making homemade yogurt. Even with raw milk this worked perfectly on my first try, which really is saying something….

My first homemade yogurt!
My first homemade yogurt!

Ingredients:
1 quart whole milk {raw will work}
1 Tbsp. yogurt {I used Seven Springs Organic, Plain}

Instructions:

  1. Heat milk over low to medium heat to 18o degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Turn off the heat and let the temperature drop to 110 degrees.
  3. Pour warm milk into quart-size mason jar or other suitable container.
  4. Stir in yogurt and put on the lid.
  5. Place the jar of milk and a second jar full of hot water {I boiled water while the milk cooled} in a cooler. I also stuffed an old towel in the cooler for extra insulation.
  6. Wait 24 hours and enjoy!

Of course the result is plain yogurt, so if you prefer something sweet, you can sweeten it with honey or maple syrup. Add vanilla for a little extra something.

Enjoy! {OvO}

Product Review :: Darn Tough Socks

Halfway through the snowiest winter I’ve ever lived through in the lower 48, a good friend of mine in Pennsylvania turned me on to Darn Tough socks. We were talking about socks for ourselves, and for our kids, and how hard it is to find durable, warm, wool socks that don’t cost an arm and a leg. She suggested I give Darn Tough socks a try.

“Oh,” she said, “and they have a lifetime guarantee!”

“A what?!? On socks??!? Do they come in kid sizes???” I asked.

When she told me they did indeed come in kid sizes, I decided to give them a try. Our local outfitter {Eastern Mountain Sports} does a Buy 3 Get 1 Free deal on all of their socks, so I got some Hike/Trek socks for the kids and myself. I was impressed by the quality right away. The colors are vibrant and funky, and the cushioning is thick and comfy.

1455_Glacier_270x267The kids socks only come in the thicker, hiking-style sock, which worked really well for us inside snow boots, and around the chilly house. And because wool is anti-microbial and breathable, we could wear the socks for a few days at a time without washing. Darn Tough socks keep me toasty warm and very, very rarely are they too warm, even at night under a down blanket with my toaster oven bedmate.

One of my kiddos is picky about their socks and has complained that the arch area is a little tight. The hikers are made with built-in arch support, and are woven tighter in that area, which might take a little getting used to at first. But I can all but guarantee you won’t notice within a few minutes of wearing them. At least no one here can.

1620-darn-tough-womens-merino-wool-portland-light-cushion-no-show-socks-lime-21793I wear the thinner, Lifestyle style socks during the warmer months instead of cotton gym-style socks. They are breathable and anti-microbial, so my feet are comfortable and don’t stink, even after a full, hot day on the farm.

Knowing that the Hike/Trek style socks are 67% Merino Wool {29% Nylon, 4% Lycra(r)}, and the Lifestyle style socks are 62% Merino Wool {36% Nylon, 2% Lycra(r)}, and accepting the fact that wool shrinks, I decided to order a size bigger than I would normally wear. My socks did shrink considerably, so if you are able to be diligent about your laundry and will never, ever let them into the hot wash or dryer, you could go ahead and get your normal size. But, if you’re like me and you have a house full of people with dirty laundry and questionable laundry skills, you might want to go up a size.

Darn Tough ATCI got Farmer Tripp his first two pairs for his birthday this year. His hikers have the Appalachian Trail AT logo on them, and 5% of the sales of this style goes to help support the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s outdoor education programs and maintenance of America’s first national scenic trail. How cool is that??

And did I mention they are made in Vermont?

Bottom line: We love Darn Tough socks and would recommend them to anyone looking for warm, funky, made in the USA, wooly socks. {OvO}

 

Our first baby!

We noticed as the girls were being shorn that Rose’s udder was more full than Flower’s. And, since our veterinarian recommended checking for lambs every 4 hours {especially overnight} when the udder is “full,” I wondered: What does a “full” udder look like, exactly? It struck me, again, how much information is available for all sorts of things, like, “You should shear the sheep before lambing to make it easier for the lamb to find the udder,” but not for the most basic, practical things, like, “When the ewe’s udder looks like a basketball it’s full of milk and she’ll delivery her lamb within 48 hours.”

So I got up the first night and walked down to the barn at 12:30am. It was cold and I had a very hard time getting back to sleep. I didn’t think she looked like a ewe in labor {you know, at least not like any of the other zero ewes I’ve ever seen in labor}. I decided to look for a more reliable sign than relative udder fullness.

So I did the only thing I could think of: I Googled it. That’s right, I pulled up the trusty old Goog and typed, “ewe udder prior to lambing.” Among the Images results was a link to this page. And of course it answered my question immediately. It’s a collage of photos of the writer’s ewe, every day or so, from the time her udder looked “full” to the day or two before she lambed. The ewe’s udder looked like Rose’s udder in the first photograph. And there are 9 photographs.

So I had a pretty wide range from “check her every 4 hours, especially overnight,” to “it could be two weeks before that baby is born.”

Did I mention I’m totally new at this?

I decided not to wake up the second night. I had a late meeting and didn’t get to put the sheep in the barn until 10:30pm and figured I’d check on them first thing the next morning. Instead, I found this:

Surprise!
Surprise!

I guess you could say I was caught a tad bit off-guard. I can see the nursery paddock from the house and had zero clue that Rose was in labor. I saw no suspicious behavior. Heck, the dogs didn’t even notice! The great news is that Rose delivered her baby without complications, right out there in the field, and not at 3am or at below freezing temperatures. Just the way sheep have been doing it forever.

Of course I woke the kids and they helped me put together the lambing jug, feed Flower, and then I grabbed the baby lamb and brought her to the barn as Rose followed. We went to bed at 12:30am, once they were all toasty warm and safe for the night.

Phew!

Rose and baby, Dot
Rose and baby, Dot

Shear Madness!

OK, so it went really, really well, but I was SO nervous beforehand! I am new in town, and don’t have any experience with shearing sheep, so I had a tough time figuring out how to get the girls shorn, before lambing, and when it’s not 14 degrees (or colder) outside. You know, in that teensy window during the winter to spring transition. Oh, and you can’t shear wet sheep. And they really shouldn’t get wet for a few days following being shorn. What’s so hard about that?

Luckily, when the veterinarian came out last week to check on the girls I asked him for a referral. I called Drew Mackey over the weekend, and to my surprise, the guy that shears 70+ animals per day, was able to come out on Monday, the third of three sunny days. Turns out I got him just at the beginning of his busy season. Drew sheared the girls in no time flat, even with all of us crowded around asking questions. He showed us his tools and explained what he was doing every step of the way.

Even with no power in our 1/4 sided barn, we managed. We keep our generator in the barn, and used it to power the lights and the clippers. We used our 2 sheep/goat panels (cut down into 6, 5/6-foot lengths), hooked together with zip ties, and created a chute and shearing area. I was pretty proud of our ingenuity and we didn’t lose a sheep! Overall, it was a great day to be a farmer!

IMG_4544 Flower's 2015 fleece IMG_4545 IMG_4543IMG_4553 IMG_4556 IMG_4560