Saturday, January 19, 2013

The first "Southern Blizzard" of the season (trace of snow)

With the usual hype of eagerly expected snowfall in North Carolina, we made our preparations.  We brought in some extra firewood for the house and built a nice fire in our old Gatling woodheater.  We were well supplied with bread and milk, so no trip to the grocery store.  We made preparations for the greenhouses and chicken house which included heater and generator fuel-check and tractor- check.  We were set.  Bring on the snow!

We enjoyed a meal of hotdogs and fries from Central Cafe in Rocky Mount, then drove home in the rain watching the temperature drop with the drive back up Highway 64 towards the west. The wind was whipping the temperatures down while it drove the rain sideways.

After we'd been home for about an hour and were enjoying a nice evening watching next to nothing on TV, the power goes.  That familiar sound of the beeps from all the digital stuff going off and back on is sickening because we know what's coming next.  Two more quick surges and the power is completely out!!! 

We've already jumped up before the second surge and are scrambling for our flashlights, shoes, coats, and keys, while Tim is pleading, "come one, stay on, stay on, stay on!  Oh, blank!"  He then tells me he's going to the "new greenhouse" first and for me to be ready when he gets back to help him at the other greenhouse.

In the darkness as I prepare myself to go out into the cold rain, I'm immediately thankful for the silent warmth from the heater.  At least we won't be cold tonight even if it's dark.  In the quiet, I hear the eerie sound of the siren going off at the chicken house a quarter mile away telling us the power's off.  Then greenhouse and chicken house phone alarms start calling, as well as Jonathan (he gets the alarm calls, too).  My sister, who has power, calls from Battleboro to see if we have power.  What!?  (just checkin'.)

Tim returns for me and as I'm walking out the door, he steps out of the truck and says, "Oh blank!  The greenhouse is calling again. No power!  I guess the generator's cut itself off!  Let's go to the chicken house right now and get that one going, then back to the other one."

We drive across the road from our house to the tractor shelter and Tim gets on a tractor and starts down the road while I follow him.  The rain is coming down in buckets.  It's mixed with snow and Tim's getting soaked.  There are no covered cabs on our tractors because they are old tractor and left over from the days of tobacco.  No pity...our greenhouses are mighty fine. 

We finally reach the chicken house and Tim hooks a chain to his tractor and snatches pulls another tractor from under the shelter (it won't start) so he can get to the generator.  He then backs his tractor through a narrow passage and hooks up to the generator and pulls it out.  Did I mention this was done without lights and in near total darkness?

He drives the PTO* generator  over to the greenhouse "power pole" and whips through another tiny space and then backs this generator into place.  Once again....without lights!!!  (HE IS THE MAN!)

In a matter of minutes, the chicken house and greenhouse are up and running!  Tim is soaked and hops into the truck to go back to the other greenhouse and get the self-starting generator (that will not start by itself) back up and running!  While all of this is going on, the phone calls continue from the alarms and Jonathan, who is fully dressed and ready to come back to the farm for a sleepover in either of the greenhouses.  In addition, my brother, John, calls and offers to come and help us if necessary.

We go back home and about the time we get through the door, the lights come back on!  Tim goes back out the door to turn off the generators.  I wait and start hanging wet clothes around the room with the quiet woodheat and then reset all the clocks.

Just once we'd like to enjoy a blizzard (or a hurricane) and not have to work so much.  Another storm, another job. (sigh)

*PTO stands for Power Take Off. It's the means by which a tractor can power something other than itself like generators, log splitters, etc. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Black Cow loves Sunbursts, too!

My favorite cow is not a dairy or beef cow.  She is my pet cow who loves tomatoes!  I named her the original name of "Black Cow" when she was just a calf about 16 years ago.  She's not exactly black anymore.  Through the years, the sun has naturally reddened her.  She's more of an auburn cow now.

She's extremely intelligent.  When I call out for her, "Black Cow, I've got tomatoes", she will hustle over to the fence, pushing all the other cows out of the way, to be hand-fed tomatoes.  She'll even sprint clear across the pasture when she hears my voice calling to her.

While feeding her today, she dropped one of her treats in the water trough and pushed it around, much like bobbing for apples.  The tomato sunk to the bottom, so she looked for me to retrieve it.  I stuck my arm in clean up to my pits and got her tomato.  Smart, huh?!?   Not me.......HER!

A fact that most of you may not know about cows is how clean they are.  They will not do any eating of anything near or in manure, so I'm careful when pouring out tomatoes (to all of Black Cow's family and friends) not to get any in the poop.  Black Cow doesn't care to eat tomatoes from the ground at all, she prefers to be fed by hand.

I could go on about how Black Cow and the others have their own tomato garden growing throughout the pasture, but I don't think most of you would believe that one. They've actually pooped so many tomato seeds that tomato plants are scattered across about 8 acres of pasture land.

If you come to shop at our little self-service store and want to see the cows, take a look out that back window.  On a good day, the cows may already be looking in the window at you. 

Sweet face!

In case you're wondering, cow tongue feels like sandpaper!

Chewing while smiling

Sunday, April 29, 2012

New planting at someone else's farm.....

After months of preparation, we finally have some new plants to talk about.  That's a portion of them up above taking the 6 mile ride (in the back of my car) to their new home, a vacant greenhouse that was once set up to grow tomatoes and then sweet potato plants.

The borrowed greenhouse belongs to a fellow farmer, Andrew Tyson, who grows tobacco, sweet potatoes, soybeans, wheat, and cotton.  Andrew rents our farmland and a number of other farms in Nash and Edgecombe Counties.  During the fall, Tim drives a cotton picker for Andrew.  Tim spends about 12 to 15 hours a day sitting in (and/or working on) a cotton picker and calls that time of year his vacation.  (I don't get it....he's working....oh, it's a vacation from me and tomatoes!)

When we started the project, Jonathan and Daniel were sent over to clean and take down the unnecessary pieces and parts, move poles and supports and anything else that Tim saw necessary to do.  There were lots of trips to the dumpster and an ongoing battle with "fire ants".  They aren't necessarily attracted to the tomato plants (we hope), but who wants to share an enclosed space with fire ants? 

After what seemed like weeks of cleaning, the blank slate was left for the coconut fiber bags, the water lines and drippers, and then the new plastic cover.  We waited to put the cover on after most of the work was done inside.  The reason for that is that with the winter and early spring were so warm that the temperature would have soared inside the space causing the fans to run unnecessarily to cool the area.  For Jonathan and Daniel, being exposed to sustained winds and gusts on some of those blustery cool days, made them especially thankful for the comfort of our near tropical climate inside our existing covered structures back here on our farm.
Jonathan running a weed eater inside the greenshouse, trying not to disturb the ants
Bare bones greenhouse 
Daniel handling trash and more trash
New cover is finally on, plants set inside the bags and......
Lights inside the greenhouse so we can work at night....woohoo!

Tiny little baby plants

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The honeybees are back in the "Warnup Tree"

That's great news!  We have a nice old "black walnut tree" in our yard with a natural hollow in it about 20 feet up.  It's perfect for wild honeybees.  In fact we've had wild hives in that hollow for at least seven years.  About two times a spring, a swarm will leave the comfort of that tree with their new queen and look for a new home.  (I'm definitely not an expert on anything, particularly honeybee swarms, so go to this link, for some really fascinating reading.)
The pictures we took with our "point and shoot" camera do not show how
 truly magnificent this phenomenon truly is.
A queen and her workers always remain back in the hive year after year.  This fall and winter, we noticed no activity outside the hive and were a bit concerned.  We had no idea as to whether or not there were any bees left in the warnup tree.

This Easter Sunday, as I walked out of the packhouse, I noticed the familiar sound of the buzz that seems to echo across the yard.  I yelled out to Tim, and then we saw the cloud of bees across the yard.  It is amazing to see this phenomenom!  Seeing a few thousand bees leaving the tree with a new queen to start their own hive is quite a day at a living science museum.  Better still, we then noticed that the bees were not swarming to leave, but returning to the vacated tree!  About that time, Jonathan, Joy and the boys drove up just in time to see the bees going into their new home, the "warnup tree".   We are so excited to once again have a natural hive of bees in our yard, just feet away from our back door.

Since you're wondering why I keep calling the tree a "warnup" not "walnut" tree, it's because that's what Tim's late father called it.  Precious!  We always affectionately refer to it as that.  It's a cultural thing. You never correct your elders.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Not only do we have to leave home before daylight.....

......but it's still dark when we arrive at our markets!  Tim has the privilege of driving an hour away to Morrisville, NC to the Western Wake Farmers Market.  When he arrives, it's a bit before 7:00 a.m.  He finds his pre-assigned parking space, backs his truck in, drags out his tent, then his tables, his scales and bags, and begins setting up.  After his space is beautified (complete with the table cloths I make him use), he begins to place our lovely, delicious tomatoes out on the table.  When everything is in place, he pulls out his chair and waits for the cowbell to ring at 8:00 sharp.  Let the sales begin!  Not so fast, Cary does not get up that early on Saturdays.  He continues to wait and relax while catching up with the other growers and bakers.

Let's go east.  I'm Nancy, and I have the privilege of driving less than 30 minutes away to my hometown of Rocky Mount.  Leaving home at 6:00 a.m. seems like a crazy time for a 8:00 opening so just bear with me.  I arrive at 6:30 and back into my permanent spot at the Nash County Farmers Market.  My tables, complete with table cloths, are already sitting there waiting for me.  I unload my boxes of tomatoes and begin to put the closed boxes on the table.  I set up two scales and ponder as to when I might put out my bags for use by the customers. 

Since the Nash County market really rocks, it's necessary to have two people work.  At 7:00, Jonathan arrives with biscuits in hand.  I don't eat that early, so I set mine aside.  I try to politely ignore the customers who are milling around my table at 7:00 a.m. (I don't make eye contact.)  It's 7:15 and we have another 45 minutes until we open. We can no longer ignore the folks, so we open the boxes, put out the bags, and start selling tomatoes.  I don't even know if  our market manager has a cowbell to ring at the start.  I cannot hear anything but customer chatter around my table.  Suddenly, it's 10:00 a.m.  I'm starving and we're nearly out of tomatoes. 

Over at the Western Wake Market, Tim is having a different kind of day.  The Cary folks arrive much later than 7, 8, or 9 am.  Tim's day doesn't pick up at around 10:00 a.m.  The market closes at 12 noon sharp (when the cowbell rings).  He starts taking down his display while customers are still getting out of their cars and running over to shop with whomever may have product left on their tables. 

Back in Rocky Mount, we don't close until 1:00 p.m. even though the crowd always disperses between 11 and 11:30. At that point, I have to apologize about having sold out of tomatoes and promise to bring more next week.

We enjoy serving the folks at Cary and Rocky Mount.  The difference in the two places is that RM has a building and Cary does not.  Just wait until next year when Cary gets its permanent structure!

I said all that to let anyone who's interested  know that both markets open this Saturday, April 7.  We'd love to see you at either place. 

P.S.  If you come to Rocky Mount at 7 a.m. and I don't make eye contact with you, call me out on it!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Cheez-Its" or "Little Debbie Cakes"

Our associates discussing which is better,
 "Cheezits" or "Little Debbie Oatmeal Cakes".

The past two weeks of tomatoes have been less than typical.  Ordinarily, we begin picking in mid-February to early March.  We pick a consistent quantity of tomatoes from week to week with some weeks being slightly better than others. When the spring arrives, the quantities pick up and continue being consistent until the end of the season when the numbers drop way off.  By the end of the season, we are almost thankful for the low numbers. 

This year we started our season so early that we began picking in mid-January.  We started the seeds in October and were quite happy for the early pick.  With that early start came a fruit load of about 8-9 clusters of fruit throughout the winter months.  Wonderful, right?  Not so fast!  That fruit load on a winter plant (less daylight, and many cloudy days) apparently caused clusters 10 and 11 to be pathetic and either not set fruit (blanks), or give us small rough fruit.  Yikes!!!  In other words, for the past two weeks, we have picked less than half of what we have needed to keep all of our customers happy. 

Historically, we plant the Old Greenhouse so that the fruit will be ready before the farmers markets open.  Last year we chose to plant that house at the same time as the New Greenhouse.  We did not begin picking that Old House until about 2 to 3 weeks later than the New House.  Everything worked out lulls in picking or selling. 

This year, we chose to plant that house much later and wouldn't you know it, when we needed that fruit to take up the slack of the other house, the fruit would not ripen!   Talk about poor planning! 

While in the process of writing this blog and reading it back to Tim, he just said, "I still don't know what I'm doing".   As a typical wife, I have to disagree with my husband.  He does know what he's doing!   This season has been anything but typical for growing.  We definitely enjoyed the warm winter, but with that came the trade off of more obnoxious bugs and a great deal of cloudy days throughout the winter months.  (Yes, more clouds than we'd care to see....we document the daily weather.)

We are already working on next year's plan so that there will not be a repeat of the scenario we've just been through.  Out with the old, in with the new.  (Hint....the Old Greenhouse may finally be retired.) 
I know you're wondering about the aphids and the war that we have waged against them with the Aphidius ervi and Aphidoletes aphidimyza.  We are actually winning that war against the aphids.  In the hotspots in the house, we are finding more and more dead and parasitized aphids.  Aphids that have been parasitized will swell and harden into a leathery, grey or brown colored mummy. The adult parasite emerges through a round hole at the rear of the mummy.  The first mummies can be seen in the crop approximately 2 weeks after the first introduction.  They continue to reproduce and keep the aphid population manageable. 
Son, Jonathan

If you haven't noticed already, the title has nothing to do with the blog posting.  I just had to come up with something to pull you all in. 

Leaf pull time....done every week.  The plants add about 3 new leaves a week.  Three leaves on the bottom of the plant are removed because they are taking more away from the plant than they are adding, so we remove them. 
Nephew, Daniel
Guest Worker, David

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

In my Mother's blood runs a bit of Ireland.  Yes, her great grandfather, Docton Brown, was born in Ireland.  He then migrated to America and grew up in the Colerain, Bertie County, NC area.  Did you know there was a Colerain in Northern Ireland.....hmmmmm? 

The ancestors had always told that story of how "we came from Ireland".  Just recently, I found the 1920 census where the proof was written down.

One of the sons of Docton Brown answered the question as to where was your father born?........
Ireland, he states.   What is the mother tongue?..........Irish, he states.

That's proof enough for me.  Happy Saint Patrick's Day from an Irish girl!