Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Our Extension Agent Paid Us a Visit on the Farm

One of the pastures where we plan to put the cattle
My husband is a former county extension agent and I have been a state extension specialist for over 20 years.  In all that time we have never had an extension agent visit our own farm.  Mostly that was because we didn't ever need one since we grow vegetables, fruits, and ornamentals and both of us are horticulturists.  But in recent years, mostly in response to hubby's physical limitations, we have been expanding into animal husbandry and neither of us is trained in that discipline.  We have a horse, a donkey, and six chickens and now we want to add beef cattle.  All our neighbors who raise cattle say how easy it is, but neither of us knows ANYTHING about raising cattle!  We've read books, consulted websites and blogs, and talked to friends and neighbors, but we still have many questions.  Also, we are cooperating with a conservation group to use the cattle for management of some of their property which is adjacent to ours and it is not all in pasture.  We have questions about what the cattle would forage on there and how much we would have to supplement their feed and with what.

So yesterday, the local county extension agent who handles cattle, pastures, and such came out to the farm and spent quite a bit of time with my husband and someone from the conservation group.  He advised them on what kind of cattle management system to use, breeds, marketing, pasture management, supplemental feed, shelter, and resources.  He was very helpful and friendly and my husband said it was kind of fun to be on the receiving end.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Some Vegetable Varieties We Will Grow Again This Year

Peas and brassicas in the early garden in 2009
Over the years we have discovered some varieties that we will grow over and over again because they perform well in the garden and we enjoy eating them.  Here are a few that we will be replanting this year:

Beans, Snap, Green: Tenderpick-An old standby, this variety fits our needs.
Beans, Snap, Yellow: Golden Wax Improved-This is a very yummy and productive yellow bean that freezes beautifully.
Beets: Tall Top Early Wonder-A very sweet beet that held up well under very wet conditions.
Carrots:  Nantes Coreless-We've had real problems growing good tasting carrots in our garden.  These were sweet and wonderful the last two years so we'll try them again this year.
Corn, Sweet:  Ambrosia Hybrid, bicolor- We've grown many different varieties of sweet corn with varying degrees of success.  Last year we tried this one and were astounded at how productive the plants were, how uniform the ears were, and there was very little earworm damage (we grow organically and did not treat for earworm).  We froze a lot of this as corn on the cob, and it is still wonderful!
Mesclun Mix: Sweet Salad Mix-We were amazed at how long this mix produced, well into the hottest of summer weather.
Peas: Super Sugar Snap-Not sure if I'm 100% sold on this one yet, but we sowed it late last year and it did well.  Will sow it much earlier and see if the yields are higher.  We did enjoy the flavor and it froze well without getting stringy.
Pumpkin: Seminole-This is an heirloom variety that we got through the SC Seed Foundation years ago.  We save our own seed from year to year.  We LOVE this pumpkin.  It is big, flattened (usually), and buff colored.  It has a very hard shell, and as a result, it stores forever.  I have held these in the cellar until April.  There is a very small seed cavity and each fruit produces lots of sweet flesh.  I cook these up in the oven, whip the cooked flesh in the food processor, and store in the freezer to use in pies, casseroles, pancakes, breads, etc.
Radish: Cherry Belle-Another old standby.  Tasty, not too hot, not too big, just right.
Tomatoes: Mountain Magic-This is a new hybrid, salad size tomato with incredible flavor and late blight resistance.  It is an indeterminate.  Developed by recently retired NC State University tomato breeder, Randy Gardner, this will be the first year it is commercially available.
Tomatoes: Sungold-If you have never had this tiny, yellow grape tomato, you have to give it a try.  It is like candy!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Plans Made for Our 2010 Vegetable Gardens

Garden early season 2009

This weekend, hubby and I planned the family's 2010 vegetable garden.  This is a pretty big deal in our household.  We are both record keepers and planners, so it takes a long time.  We made lists, consulted previous year's notes, checked spacings and timings, reviewed previously grown varieties, and read through several seed catalogs.  We went outside to measure the garden area, agreeing that we needed to enlarge it slightly (that happens every year).  Then hubby drew a to-scale garden on graph paper and off we went.  It took all day, but now we have a beautiful plan for a garden that meets our family's needs and will be easy to rotate crops from early to late season and year to year (we used to have a four year quad season for rotations, but the garden isn't a square anymore, so that doesn't work).

This is what will be in the 2010 vegetable garden:
  • Asparagus
  • Beans, bush snap, yellow and green
  • Basil, for pesto
  • Beets, red and golden
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Cilantro, succession plant
  • Corn, sweet, bicolor
  • Corn, popcorn, hulless
  • Eggplant, Japanese style
  • Garlic, fall
  • Leeks
  • Lettuces
  • Okra
  • Onions, green and storage
  • Peas
  • Peppers, sweet and hot
  • Potatoes, Yukon Gold
  • Pumpkins, Seminole heirloom
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga, fall
  • Squash, summer, yellow and zucchini
  • Squash, winter, butternut
  • Tomatillo
  • Tomato, late blight resistant and Sungolds
  • Turnips
Now we just have to convince the two strong, healthy young adults that live in this household to help with the "heavy lifting"!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Just Read Reviews on Our Book!

I was ordering the "Raising Chickens for Dummies" book on when I came across the book I coauthored with Scott Persons, entitled "Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal, and Other Woodland Medicinals".  I hadn't looked at that listing since it was first posted a few years ago.  It was fun to read the wonderful reviews written there.  One was brand new.  Nice to know the book is helpful!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Making Plans for Organic Growers School This Weekend

This weekend is the Organic Growers School and I can't get over how excited I am about it.  I helped start this annual event 17 years ago and I feel like a proud mama every spring.  It has grown and blossomed into an amazing educational conference.  There will be over 60 classes on farming, gardening, cooking, policy making, and sustainable living.  We expect over 1000 people to participate over two days.  I particularly love the tradeshow, the seed swap, and the chance to network with all kinds of amazing people.

Last weekend, my husband made a list of all the seeds we have on hand for this year's garden.  Then we made a list of what we still need and some new things we want to try.  I expect to come home from the Organic Growers School with enough seeds to plant four gardens!  But that's the fun of it, isn't it?  If you want to join us, check out

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Is This Winter's Last "Hurrah"?

A couple of days ago we could smell spring in the air.  Daffodils and ramps were pushing their way toward the sunshine, the buds on the trees were swollen, and my husband swears he heard a spring peeper.  But, now a few days later the ground is once again covered with snow.  This has been one of the snowiest winters on record for where we live in the southern mountains of western North Carolina.  What is most unusual, however, is that we have not been snow-free since mid-December.  In other words, it's been cold and I have the oil and firewood bills to prove it!  Needless to say, we are all ready for spring. Well, the forecast is for much warmer temperatures later this week and by the weekend it is supposed to be almost 60 degrees.  Perfect weather for the Organic Growers School which will be held in Asheville, NC this year (  Since I'm a board member, track leader, and exhibitor, I will be "working" a great deal, but I've scheduled time to attend presentations on small-scale poultry production, grass fed beef, and pasture management.