Flannel Jammies Farm

...praising God on our 1/5 acre of suburbia

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

moments in Spring...

Sometimes we need a few moments...
to catch our breath,
to calm ourselves,
to see God's creative hand at work.

My husband has been in the hospital for the last few days.  A small injury injury, a barefoot step onto something tiny and sharp, immediately became aggressive cellulitis.  What we thought was a return to the Emergency Department for perhaps a stronger antibiotic just a day later turned into a hospital admission. 

And did I mention the rains that came pouring down, the fog that rolled in, the dark clouds that hung overhead?  Even my ever-faithful, ever-positive, ever-hopeful husband experienced a long evening of discouragement.

But today the sun is shining brightly and green things are bursting all around!  I took a walk in the gardens and visited with sprouts and blossoms.  Here are a few of blessings God sprinkled before these weary eyes (don't mind the weeds)...
lilacs and beehives

lilacs in bloom

faerie garden


peony waking up

lemon balm returning

one bed of Spring sprouts: sugar snap pea, radish, and lettuces

tender plants in the mini greenhouse

blueberries and lamb's ear


joi choi


broccoli bolting

creasy greens or watercress
After coming inside and beginning breakfast before my trip back to the hospital, I felt a little Spirit-nudge to take one more moment, one more peek outside.  And there, the most amazing and beautiful visitor!  One more moment of loveliness for the heart...
swallowtail and lilac

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

art therapy: stained glass...

A wise pastor knows.  A wise pastor sees the struggles, the anxieties, the pain we so easily hide from others.  A wise pastor knows that not all counseling is done in comfy chairs over a box of tissues. We are blessed to have just such a pastor at our church.  And the extra blessing?  He's a stained glass artist.  So when he sees me struggling against the stressors of this life, he invites me to learn about stained glass.  Brilliant.

First, the design.  "I want a bee," I tell this kind pastor.  He finds a design immediately:  a lovely fat bee on a circular background.  And I just as quickly say, "But I want the background to be a hexagon, like a cell of the comb."  We set to work reconfiguring the design (and by we, I mean he and my sweet husband).  Soon we have a workable design, a framework on paper to proceed from.   Each section is coded with a number (because this will be our pattern and each piece must have a number) and a letter or two indicating the color of glass for that piece.  The original paper pattern was cut apart, then each piece and its coding was transferred to a sturdier paper.  The pieces were cut from the sturdier paper, but not with ordinary scissors.  The scissors used cut the pieces and simultaneously created a "gutter", a small gap between each piece to allow room for the foiling to come.

Colors, oh colors!  Our patient pastor/instructor sat me down in the corner of his studio where he stores all those beautiful pieces of stained glass and told me to choose.  He and my husband quietly overlooked the squeals of delight as I pulled out each new piece of glass.  Well, of course, we need gold and dark brown for the bee, and black for its legs, I think.  The wings should be clear or opalescent, maybe?  The pollen basket... hmmm... pollen comes in so many colors!  And the hexagon.  Cream or ivory for the interior section to make the bee "pop" on the background, but maybe some sort of beige for the outer walls of the hexagon.  And then, he pulled out this amazing, mottled, bumpy, beeswax-colored glass from his stash.  It took my breath away!  It was perfect. 

We still needed a few colors, so we loaded into the Jeep for a trip to the local candy store stained glass store.  Pure bliss.  Colors, textures, patterns... everywhere.  Aisles of shelves arranged by color.  End caps with small, affordable pieces of gorgeousness.  Whole bins of glittering shards.  How were we to choose?  But choose we did.  And my husband found the most magical sky blue, opalescent glass for the bee's wings and a clear, bright green for the pollen basket!

Back to the pastor's studio (a cozy over-the-garage room with all the tools needed to create stained glass masterpieces).   Those sturdier paper pieces of our pattern were transferred with each one's coding to the coordinating color glass with a permanent marker.

In our sessions together, our pastor taught with care about scoring the glass with a special tool, how to split the glass along the score lines, how to grind each cut piece on the grinder until it was just the size needed to fit on the pattern, which had been tacked to a board with metal guards to keep the glass pieces in place.  Some pieces were more difficult (like me).  Some had to be ground more than a few times to get them just right (like me).  Some pieces had to be reworked altogether (like me).  Finally the pieces fit in an acceptable way into the temporary framework. Copper foil was added to the edge of each piece and burnished onto the glass edges, and the pieces were fit into place once more.  A couple of the pieces had to be ground again; the copper foil adding more width to the pieces made them fit too tightly in a couple of spots.  Flux, a gooey substance that allows the solder to flow and adhere nicely to the copper foiling between the pieces of glass, was brushed onto the foil a section at a time, then solder was applied with a hot soldering iron in a smooth, flowing bead.  (Soldering... let's just say that I need way more practice and I'm ever thankful that our pastor cleaned up my poor attempts!)

In the wink of an eye, she appeared!  Out of the broken, dirty pieces of stained glass appeared a stunning, shimmering bee! 

And isn't that what we all are anyway... stained pieces of fragile glass through which the Lord shines His Light, creating beauty?

Monday, March 10, 2014

lessons learned from the VABF conference, part three...

Our last day at the Virginia Association for Biological Farming conference...

This was the day that I knew exactly which sessions I wanted to attend. 

Workshop:  A Bio-Intensive Market Garden presented by Jean-Martin Fortier of Les Jardins de la Grelinette, Quebec, Canada, and author, The Market Gardener: a successful grower's handbook for small-scale organic farming

My favorite main conference workshop!  Loved Jean-Martin's practical advice and his efficiency mindedness.  Loved his wit.  Loved that when we chatted as he signed my copy of The Market Gardener he asked about my little urban homestead and he was genuinely enthusiastic about it.

Takeaway Tidbits:   
   - Efficiency in farming is everything... because you want to have a life!
   - Bio-intensive, example: grow onions in bunches of 3 instead of just one = more harvest, quicker planting
   - Permanent raised beds, 30" wide (easily worked with hand tools without causing back strain), 100' long (quick production calculations, efficiency in ordering materials that come in 100' lengths), and 18" between rows (because, as Jean-Martin put it, you don't want your ass in the cauliflower behind you while you're working the row in front of you).
   - Cover the rows with black tarps 2 - 3 weeks before planting or transplanting to kill weeds and prep the garden with a no-till method.
   - MUST check out the propane flame weeder!  www.flame-weeders.com

Next:  Edible Landscaping.  This workshop was one I was excited about.  It was not what I expected, but a great deal of fun!

Workshop:  Edible Landscaping presented by Michael McConkey of Edible Landscaping, Afton, Virginia
Michael McConkey
Michael is a loveable nut!  He started with an amazing ode to edible plants, singing and playing guitar.  His smiles were infectious.  He even took a couple of cell phone calls during the presentation, making them a part of the workshop and including the audience and the caller.  He knows his plants and it's obvious that he loves them dearly.

Takeaway Tidbits:
   - Recommended Surround spray, a kaolin clay-based product for apples and other fruit trees to keep worms and/or larvae such as plum curculio, oriental fruit moths, and codling moths from your fruit.  A happy item for those wishing to grow fruits organically!  Also, pheromone twist ties are helpful during the last 120 days of fruit growth.
   - So many edible plant suggestions were favorites:  che fruit, Regent juneberry, weeping mulberry, Eddie April apple... too many to list!
   - Blueberries love to grow in mulch and lots of rotting vegetation.  Put a couple of inches of mulch around them each year.  Container (20 gallon pot) blueberries need to be wet to be hardy.
   - Figs:  plant on the south side of the house.  These are not fussy about soil.  Cut figs with 1/4" of the stem attached... if it bleeds a milky substance, it's not ripe.  Stretch marks on the fruit skin are a good ripeness indicator.

Instead of attending the Simple Farm Structures workshop, I chose to slip away and take my son to lunch.  What a treat!  You can find the presentation notes for Simple Farm Structures, as well as many other workshop presentation files, by visiting the VABF website HERE.
my amazing son
I got back to the conference in time to pick up Lanette, make sure the Jeep was filled with all good things (seeds, chick feed, compost, luggage, notes, and snacks), and set the GPS for home.  The trip home was quick and free of traffic snarls and tunnel clogs.  I arrived, kissed the hubs, and then drowned him in notes and information!!!

Now, a last note.  I don't own a farm.  We work the soil and keep bees on 1/5 acre in the middle of a large city.  But we grow intensively and beyond organically and harvest much of our diet from our garden.  I am very curious about all things organic, farming, homesteading, and foodie.  Was I the likeliest candidate for this conference?  Maybe not.  But I learned SO MUCH and met so many people with the same 'loves' as mine who shared generously with me in lines, over dinner, and in workshops.  It was a wonderful experience that I won't forget.  Start looking at conferences that interest you and take the leap!!! 

Monday, February 24, 2014

lessons learned from the VABF conference, part two...

The second day of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming Conference was a whirlwind of ideas, inspiration, and great food!

The conference offered SO MANY good topics and speakers this year.  It was terribly difficult to choose, but just before closing our eyes in the hotel the night before, Lanette and I had decided and marked in our conference schedules which sessions we'd attend.  After some sleep, some yummy brought-from-home breakfast goodies, and some caffeine, we were off to the conference!  Presentation files from all of the great sessions can be found HERE.

Workshop:  Selecting Farm Land and Location: Own, Loan, or Lease: The Waterpenny Example presented by Sue Ellen Johnson, Cliff Miller from Mount Vernon Farm, and Rachel Bynum from Waterpenny Farm

Perhaps I'm getting older, but I didn't realize until I walked into the room and chose my seat for this session that I'd met Cliff Miller and Rachel Bynum and visited their farms!  The hubs and I took a trip and attended the Rappahannok Farm Tour a few years back and these two farms were on the tour.  It was a great surprise and truly enhanced my experience in this session as these two farmers discussed the long term lease (40 years!) between Mount Vernon Farm and Waterpenny Farm.

Takeaway Tidbits:
   - Farmland must support your objectives!  
   - Longterm goals to consider:  livelihood, lifestyle, and legacy
   When considering land for farming, be honest with yourselves and take a long hard look at...
   - Land:  How much?  For a median income, you'll need 700 acres for a hay farm, 500 acres for a cattle farm, 30 acres for orchards, between 1 and 20 acres for nursery crops, 5 acres for a vegetable farm, 3 acres for a flower farm, 1 acre for a hydroponic greenhouse, and only 1/2 acre if you just want a subsistence garden and chickens or a subsistence garden and 1 cow.  In our region of Virginia, potted plants and cut flowers currently return the highest profits.
   - Land: Kind/Quality?  Be sure to check soil type/composition, topography, current fertility, current plant cover (what's it going to take to clear the land?), soil moisture/water table/drainage.
   - Water:  existence, locations on farm, functioning system of wells, capacity (for irrigation, for livestock, for washing), potability (can you wash your market veggies with it?), ponds/creeks/river/floodplain.  Water issues can be limiting.
   - You've found a farm!  Now:  walk the farm many times, talk to locals about farm's history, feel/smell the soil, evaluate current production potential, look at the functionality/maintenance/looks of farm's structures, carefully consider the septic system (particularly for agrotourism which means lots of guest to your farm needing to use the facilities!), consider the location and the distance/time to market, check local zoning, is there room to grow?

Organic Food Festival Potluck Lunch - an amazing array of organic foods brought by the attendees!  I brought homemade oatmeal bread with honey apple butter and strawberry honey jam.  Lots of delicious choices here!

Between to-doings, I made mad dashes to the Silent Auction, vendors in the Exhibition Hall, seed swap, and the ladies room!

Plenary Presentation:  Ray Archuleta, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Greensboro, NC, "Healthy Soils for Healthy Profits".  Mr. Archuleta is loud, proud, and on a mission to get our soils biologically healthy!  A showman and a scientist, this guy was very entertaining AND informative with interactive soil demonstrations, a slide show, and huge helpings of inspiration!

Workshop:  43560 Project presented by Clif Slade, Vegetable Specialist and 43560 Project Manager

Takeaway Tidbits:
   - "One acre of soil can do it" - 43560 = number of square feet in a single acre; this project set out to prove that if you could grow 1 head, 1 pound, or 1 bunch per square foot, selling at $1 - $1.25 per square foot, the gross income would be $43,560.
   - This was an "all in/all out" plan - plant in Spring, raise to harvest, done; plant buckwheat and clover for the rest of the summer; begin again in September for a second harvest to sell.
   - If you have a soil pH of 6.5, you're ready to consider this method; a low pH will have lots of weed problems and plants won't do well.
   - Marketing is key!!!  Utilize on farm sales, growing for CSA owners, selling your produce as a complementary items to PYO farms, restaurants, value-added items (painted, "adoptable" pumpkin babies); be a dependable supplier of whatever you produce.
   - Fertilization:  One 5-gallon bucket of pelletized poultry manure per 500 square feet; ten 5-gallon buckets of compost per square feet (sifted by hand), weekly applications of vermicompost tea.
   - Corn, tomatoes, cantelope, and watermelon cannot profit $1.25 per square foot in an "all in/all out" plan.

More visits to the vendors, and then the catered dinner.  Having spent the entire first day with Gunther Hauk and beginning to feel weary, we reluctantly decided to skip his plenary presentation. 

With cramped note-taking hand and overfull brain, I made my way to the Jeep with Lanette and headed to the hotel for a lovely soak in the hot whirlpool.  One more wonderful day to go!