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Growing Things on the Farm

My, oh my, has it been a while. I swear it is for good reason. For the last 19 weeks I have been growing a human. Within the first few weeks exhaustion hit and all motivation went out the window. What little energy I had went to working my regular 45+ hours a week and the rest  to any little help I could be at the property with barn building, house building preparations, chicken and bee tending, garden growing, and entertaining any people that stopped through town to visit this amazing region we call home. I had also just started the adventure of making soap in hopes to create a new business venture. My ultimate goal was to get enough made for Christmas season. Unfortunately, the last batch I made, and Almond Poppy Seed soap, which everyone tells me smells amazing, makes me want to gag even thinking about it. Not the best way to run a business. Luckily the energy is slowly coming back and the nose, while still in supersonic working condition, isn’t quite as repelled by a lot of smells (although as I write this I keep getting whiffs of some perfumey scent from down the hall that is making my nose burn and stomach churn slightly).

First batches of soap.

First batches of soap.

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But enough with the complaining! There has been a lot of things happening at Stout Grove since July. The biggest, and most recent development (besides getting pregnant) is that we finally have started to build our house! Hopefully by the end of the winter we will no longer have to call Stout Grove “The Property” but instead can call it “Home”. With the exception of the looming mortgage in our future, this has been such a huge relief to have it finally under way. It is amazing how quickly a small crew of experienced people can build walls and get a structure built!

We have a house!!

We have a house!!

We have lost our queen bee, which is not to say a bad thing necessarily. We had been debating if it would be best to get rid of her and buy a new queen bee since she was not doing a very good job making the rest of the hive work hard and get enough food stores for the winter. There are 2 main schools of thought on this matter: One of, pinch her head off and get rid of her! The other being that the bees know what is best for them. If the queen isn’t performing they will eventually realize and get rid of her themselves and “grow” a new queen. Out of lack of knowing which was the best route, and sheer forgetfulness, the bees took care of the situation for us. What exactly happened is still a mystery to us however. It sort of appears that the old queen died and then the worker bees built an Emergency Queen Cell to quickly replace her (More information about this in a later post – I don’t want to get too rambly right now).

New Queen Bee cell.

New Queen Bee cell.

The vegetable garden has slowly dwindled down, although we still have some carrots and potatoes in the ground waiting to be picked. Since this is the first year the garden has been in this location and the soil has not been amended at all, and since we don’t currently live there and are busy as heck, we started this season knowing that the garden probably wouldn’t perform optimally. In some aspects we were wrong, but it others, we were dead on. After a heavy rain storm in mid-July all of our tomatoes got what appeared to be late blight. Within 3 days they were deader than dead, all the fruit rotting off the vine and pretty much unsalvageable. From everyone else that we talked to in the area, this was a common occurrence. Our beans also got bean beetles, a creature I never knew existed until they were covering our plants with their unique pointy larva. The corn we planted never got very tall. When we finally checked some of the ears to see how they were doing on their miniature stalks, we noticed that the kernels were way too large to be tasty. Apparently all the energy that wasn’t going into stalk growth was going into ear growth and we never realized it until it was too late. Yet another lesson learned. On a positive note, our okra went wild. I had never grown okra before and had no idea that their production and growth was so high. There is a lot of frozen okra in our freezer for the winter. Our potatoes did pretty well too. We definitely don’t have enough for the whole winter but for the next few months we will be enjoying good, homegrown taters with our meals. The squash also went crazy. I don’t know how many spaghetti squash we have. More than enough, that is for sure. The pumpkins didn’t produce a ton, but we will have enough for a good number of tasty desserts, that is for sure. Overall we are pretty pleased with the garden this year. We wish that we could have devoted a little more time to it and not ignored it as much as we did, but there is next year. It will be hard to ignore when it is steps from our front door.

Bountiful harvest!

Bountiful harvest!

Another exciting thing to happen over the last few months is that our chicks are now chickens and laying eggs. The months of feeding them with no return on investment is done. Now we are swimming in eggs and giving them to anyone who wants them. Out of the original 17 chicks we got, 1 died in the first week, we gave 4 to a friend, 1 ended up being a rooster, and the other day another unexpectedly passed away. So all in all, there are 10 laying hens producing eggs of all different sizes, shapes and colors. We will no longer have to buy eggs from the store and are one step closer to self-sufficiency.

Different size chickens lay different size eggs; its a fact!

Different size chickens lay different size eggs; its a fact!

Double yolk!

Double yolk!

So for now, the garden has slowed down, the bees are hunkering down for the winter and the chickens are laying eggs like crazy. Winter has finally made an appearance this last week with a fresh cover of snow and daylight savings time has turned our day-lit work days a little shorter. Life is good. I can’t really say that it has slowed down to a standstill, but there is definitely more time spent relaxing on the couch at night when it is too dark and cold to be working outside, and I am not complaining about that. However, the addition of electricity and a wood burning stove to the barn has been a tremendous help in getting last minute projects done when we can. In the meantime, I will let my husband pick up my slack while I keep busy growing a child and helping here and there where I can. . . . and I promise to not be such a stranger again.

 

Spring

So, it has been a while. Sorry. Life has, as usual, been crazy and busy. Now that spring has finally sprung, my real-life job has suddenly picked up and I have been spending long days in the field collecting samples and being away from a computer. Excuses, excuses I know. BUT I just bought a new computer with the intent that while spending all free time working at the property I can bring this new computer and have no excuse to not write. So here I am typing away while my husband carries on building our new chicken coop. In an effort to avoid any inevitable and unnecessary squabbles, we learned quite well while building our barn, that my husband builds better without me and my opinion. Today instead I have been sitting here in the shade organizing our garden plot information, learning new things, updating and backing up my photo library and putting off, until now, writing a new blog post.

Trillium - my favorite spring flower

Trillium – my favorite spring flower

Apple leaf reaching for the sun

Apple leaf reaching for the sun

So where do I start? So much has happened since maple syrup season. Spring came. Then it left. Then it came again, but left shortly thereafter. Now I think it’s here for good. Spring has finally sprung in the New River Gorge! It’s about time, right? I guess it’s really right on schedule, but something about this winter has made spring a very welcome site for sore, weary and cold souls. And now that the long anticipated season has graced us with its presence, life has turned from busy to crazy to non-stop! This past Friday it was raining and I was glad for it, not just because of the forced downtime but because we really needed it. All of our plants that are just waking up from hibernation were happy too. It has precipitated very little in the past few weeks. A week ago this Sunday one of the most popular climbing and hiking areas in the Gorge caught on fire. Overnight a 15 acre fire ignited and grew to 130 acres in 24 hours. At the time of the fire, relative humidity in the Gorge was 21%! If you have ever spent time in West Virginia you know that this is crazy. During the summers I spent here living in a tent I often had clothes get moldy. It’s moist here….except for these past few weeks.

Newly emerging hops

Newly emerging hops

While running around and working 50 hour weeks, going to meetings and working at the property, I have failed to really notice that spring is here. Yesterday I was complaining about how hot it was. 1 month ago I was complaining about how cold it was. Fickle natured people we are, aren’t we? As I sat in my office at work Friday watching the torrential downpours, I realized, “This is spring! It rains in the spring!!” The only thing that could have set this deeper in my brain would have been a thunderstorm. Ahhhh, I am squirming like a little kid thinking about the magic of summer thunderstorms. What is it about them that makes people so happy? Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s an east coast thing. When I lived in Colorado for a few years I actually disliked how sunny it was ALL THE TIME. Blue skies and sunshine, every day, most of the day. I needed some east coast overcast weather to make me feel comfy.

But enough rambling for now. I promise to write more now and talk about everything that has happened, but for now, it’s time to go plant our potatoes….another task I have been putting off J

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New born fern fiddle heads emerging

New born fern fiddle heads emerging

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Garlic is coming up! Spring is on it’s way!

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