Wednesday, October 26, 2011

It's Official...

We are no longer Shepherds.   The last of our flock left for upstate NY on Sunday.  It's been awfully quiet around here.   Our LGD was so miserable we gave him a bunny to watch.  Boy, does he love his new bunny!  No more competition for his dog food, no more butting ram or little lambs climbing all over him --- just one quiet rabbit that is always where he left it.   Too funny to watch him race back to the rabbit to make sure it's safe.   He is the BEST livestock guardian dog ever.   No matter what he has to guard, he does it well.

A farm is much like a garden, always evolving and never done.   In the upcoming year we will be focusing on heritage and rare breeds of poultry - chicken and turkey.   Honeybees will be arriving in the spring as well.  Can't wait to move on to this new phase.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Apple Harvest

Last weekend we picked the first apples from our orchard.  It was only three Enterprise apples, small but tasty.   We then purchased an assortment of Gala, Empire and Stayman Winesap from the Chesterfield Berry Farm Market.  After taking enough apples to make two delicious pies, we prepared the rest for apple butter.

When I make apple butter I quarter them, and toss them in a big pot with a bit of  apple juice or cider, whole allspice, whole star anise, whole cloves and lemon peel.   Simmering on low heat, the quarters gradually reduce and take on the spiced flavors.

Phase I - Apple quarters start to reduce.

Phase II - Almost ready for puree.

When preparing the puree I use the old fashioned method, by hand.  Instead of the Cuisinart or blender, I use a chinois and wooden "pestle."  It's messy and labor intensive, but I think the flavor is much better.   The mashing allows the skins to add their flavor without the bitterness of pureed skins in the mix.  The spices also release their flavors without adding grainy bits.

Chinois, metal collection bowl and jars for processing.
 Once the pulp is pureed, it's time to add the secret blend of powdered spices - including cinnamon then it is into the roasting pan in a cool oven for a long, slow, simmering reduction. 

Blending in the cinnamon and spices.
Ready to reduce.

12 pounds of apples reduced down to four pints of smooth and creamy apple butter.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Looking back...

There are only two times in the year when I am bit by the cleaning and organizing bug.  The biggest bite comes in Autumn.   Something about the start of school, end of harvest, or perhaps simply the changes in daylight, day length and temperature, makes me think about all that has been accomplished and what is yet to be done.  

So much to do and so little time!  This year we are visiting colleges for my youngest who will fly the nest next year.  Of course Senior year brings its own brand of craziness.   By this time I have usually given the greenhouse its washdown, pulled all the trellis and begun breeding the sheep.   This year I am far behind, and of course we are trying to sell the sheep instead of increasing the flock.    Hopefully we will have some or all sold at the Chicken Swap this weekend.

On the bright side, I finally got to upload photos on my phone to the computer.   Pictures from market last year, holiday events, summer snapshots and even a recent sunrise have all been saved.

Here is one of our booth photos from the Goochland Market last summer.

June 2010 - Goochland Farmers Market

And a few photos from a Christmas Event at the Governor's Mansion.   I would have loved to get more pictures of the architecture, holiday decorations and art which are all quite lovely, sadly it was too crowded.  Didn't get to do more than shake hands in the receiving line but the food was fantastic.

Facade of the Mansion

Govenor McDonnell

Fantastic Buffet

As some of you may know, Tuckahoe Plantation is an historic landmark and the boyhood home of Thomas Jefferson.  What many people don't realize is that it is also a working farm.  Emily and Daniel are two of the tenant farmers who raise beef and sheep (Border Leicesters and Cotswold) along with heritage poultry.   In June we picked up our summer quarter of grass fed beef.  I'm a definite aficionado of grass fed!  If you are in the Richmond area, visit their booth at local farmers markets or their website here:
This picture is an outbuilding I found particularly attractive.

Outbuilding at Tuckahoe Plantation working farm.
Of course, Virginia is full of historic places.   Colonial Williamsburg is one of our favorite weekend trips.  We've done the tourist thing several times already, now we go to have lunch or dinner - particularly nice on Christmas Eve - walk around enjoying a nice day, and enjoying the shops at Merchant Square (Wythe Candy) or the Kings Arms Bake Shop for rootbeer, ginger cookes, queen's cake and cider.  We also like to look into the gardens for the tried and true.   This year we saw natural plant supports that we are going to try in 2012.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Thoughts on Farming

With all the recent outbreaks of food borne illnesses, we have decided to re-evaluate all of our farming protocols and come up with a formal food safety plan.  It will definitely help to have the sheep gone as well.  Though we believe in the benefits of utilizing composted manures for fertilizer, it looks as though there are greater risks associated with it.  While we were assured the heat of composting should kill harmful bacteria, we want to be certain what we use on our crops is 100% safe.  Like many market gardeners and farmers we know, our families eat what we produce too so we're not going to grow tainted food!

On a more upbeat note, we've adopted a new barn kitty.   He's an adorable little black shorthair with white mittens and boots.   We've named him Pixel.

Pixel and the pumpkins.  Both grown here on the farm.  On the top step is Big Max and on the lower step, Knucklehead.

Pixel looking for more belly rub!