December at the Farm

Phew! Another CSA season has come to an end, and us farmhands can’t help but breathe a sigh of collective relief.  Like every year, we fretted through August and September over the Fall harvest – will there be enough variety to keep our members happy and enough bulk to keep our chef customers supplied?  Hot and droughty late summer conditions pushed back our planting schedule and stunted some of our early sowed greens, brassicas and beets.  But as the cool rains came in October, what appeared a weedy lot of nursery-sized veggie starts grew into a lush garden. 

The tenacity of garden plants never ceases to amaze me – as our farm has grown, so must the range of our attention – but inevitably parts of the many-acred garden must suffice on tough love alone. In August, dearth and decline seem to define the arc of the garden.  Times when you have to wonder if new life will return. Tomato plants streaked and spotted with virus, okra stalks growing ganglier with every bitter cutting, and forgotten runt onions with nothing atop to differentiate themselves from the ever browning overgrowth.  Bent over field hands pushing through another day of work more akin to scavenging.  Amidst this dismal and weedy scene, hopeful new ground is turned and aspiring sprouts hold on in the harsh light of long days.  Some of them make it and some of them don’t. 

This Fall we lost at least 60 percent of our beet crop and two out of three of our carrot crops.  Yet we are still harvesting them now in December.  What looks like too little in the eyes of a farmer tends to somehow suffice in the end. 

Many of the same crops that dominate the cool and wet Spring, also grow in Fall, but with an entirely opposite weather pattern through their lifespans.  Beets, for example, are direct sown in late March and so withstand frosty nights in their infancy and the hot June days of their maturity.  Fall beets are direct sown in August, withstanding the hottest and driest conditions, only to grow into a frosty November.  Difficulties persist on either track – cold to hot or vice versa – but persist they do.

As winter approaches we shift our primary focus from field to paddock.   Husbandry and its many facets becomes our primary occupation.  Kevin and Jeff have deftly managed this side of the farm all season and now as the harvest slows, they will have more help from the rest of us.  We are near completion on a woven-wire fence that will enclose nearly five acres of farmland.  The enclosure will allow us to integrate ducks and pigs into our cropping rotation, allowing us to passively manure our fields in Winter.  Our lonesome pitchforks will sit neglected in the barn, while we work smarter. 

Pigs are natural additions to the vegetable farm.  Not only does their manure amend the soil, their penchant for digging provides tillage and soil aeration.  Even so, it is what they seek in their digging that has perhaps the greatest advantage – weeds, especially tuberous ones.  There is no organic method for removing Johnson grass in a garden other than allowing pigs the opportunity to dig them up and eat them.  Johnson grass is the most noxious weed we deal with, especially at the Boiling Springs fields.  We hope this will be a bygone problem. 

Of late we have brought more pigs to slaughter then we have all season.  ___over the course of November and December.  They really seemed to have thrived in the cooler Fall temps and responded to all of the cull produce we have fed them.  Each pig has eaten loads of butternuts, sweet potatoes, turnip and beet greens, apples and collards.  We’ve also procured a wide variety of cookies from Salem Baking Company – for whatever reason they seem to enjoy these best.  When you combine all these goodies with consistent access to fresh pasture, pigs grow quicker and remain healthier and happier. 

In 2015 we increased our duck production by ___% in an attempt to keep up with growing restaurant demand.  Ducks take only 7-9 weeks to grow to 5lbs (our target weight).  Our Pekins spend their first 4 weeks indoors then move out onto fresh pasture for the remainder of their lives.  This practice is not common among poultry growers, as it requires more attention and effort.  We feel that allowing them fresh air and a varied diet is tantamount to raising a happier bird and a meat with superior flavor.  It seems our customers have been in agreement. 

We have set up a store on our website (link) that will allow you to stock up on our premium pasture-raised pork and duck.  Customers can claim their order each Saturday between 10AM and noon at our barn porch:  3835 Bowens Rd., Tobaccoville, NC 27050, big barn behind white brick house.  We will pair many of these meat pick-ups with a mini farmer’s market on the barn porch.  Please pull into the gravel drive immediately West of the paved driveway. 

To all of you supporting our family farm in 2015: