Friday, August 26, 2011

Blog has moved.

I know it's been a little while since we've posted anything here.  We have been transitioning all of our blogs and websites over the last month.

Please visit our blog at it's new home.  www.weksnyacres.net

We are in the process of moving all of the feeds over, o hopefully your service will not be affected.
We invite you to give the new blog a look and comment on it's feel, appearance, etc.

You are our friends here on the farm, so we hope that you join us there.

The staff of Weksny Acres.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Transition time

Over the course of the next few days, we will be transitioning our website and blog to a new web hosting company.  All of our current sites are still up and active, but I wanted to let you know that we are making a move and giving everything a new look.
Thank you for being such loyal readers and customers.
Keep checking back for developments.
You can see our progress at www.weksnyacres.com

Friday, July 22, 2011

Dry-Farming: Why It Works

Time for another update on our Dry-Farming experiment here at Weksny Acres.  (You can find a more detailed look at our dry-farming technique here, and our introductory results on tomatoes here.)

This morning as I sit here at my desk, looking out over our green garden and seeing red tomatoes and crops that need harvesting, I decided it was time to examine this concept of dry-farming more.

Why does it work?  It works because even though the top 4 or 5 inches of your garden soil is "bone dry", there is still a lot of moisture trapped under the surface.  Your plants just have to reach that water before they dry and shrivel up.

Before I get into how this works, I need to say something about how the average gardener waters their crops.  How many of you stand out at your garden with a hose and water?  (I have.)  We spray the water over the ground until it's good and wet then move on to the next part.  Sound familiar?  What is actually happening is we are just adding moisture to the top few inches of the soil.  It takes over an inch of water to really add moisture content to the soil down deep where the plants need it.  The result is that our garden plants grow shallow root systems to take in the water we are giving it.  The plants become dependent on us, and do not grow naturally.  By resisting the urge to water our gardens every day, we are forcing the plants to send their roots deeper into the soil, to the place where there is moisture and an abundant supply of minerals that every plant needs.

If you need proof of this, dig up some weeds that have been growing in the corner of your patch.  Have you noticed how hard they are to uproot?  How long their roots tend to be?  The weed knows that it's survival depends on finding water, so it goes deep to where the water is.  The results that we see are weeds that look healthy, green and growing, while our prize tomato plants just a few feet away are looking parched and dry.  The next time you are out walking around your garden on a hot, dry afternoon, compare the weeds to the crops so you can see firsthand.

If you are living in a region of the country where drought conditions seem to be the norm anymore rather than the exception, this old way of farming may be for you.  Here are some ideas to consider when you look at dry-farming:

Not all vegetables or varieties grow well dry-farmed.  A lot of what I am doing with the gardens this year is experimental with an eye towards what we'll grow next year.  I've planted multiple varieties of the different vegetables we're growing, just to see which grows best and gives the most fruit under these conditions.  (While on the subject of vegetable varieties, I cannot stress enough that you use an open-pollinating or heritage seed if for no other reason than the fact that you want to harvest the best fruit off of the best plant for your seeds for next year, which can't be done with hybrid seed. Like us humans, plants have their own gene mix, and you want to use seed from the plant that excelled in the hot, rainless summer.  These are the seeds that will be prone to perform, giving you your best chance for success next year.)

Letting your land rest for a growing season, while hard for those of us who have only a small amount of land to work, is very important to the dry-farmer.  By letting the land rest, or "lay fallow", you are allowing the soil to rejuvenate itself, and also retain and build up its moisture level. After heavy cropping, if not allowed to rest, the soil can become so depleted of water and nutrients that the land becomes its own little dust bowl. Combine that with severe drought conditions, and all life in the soil dies.  It will take years to bring that soil back to being a healthy, life-sustaining soil.

Mulching is so very important to the dry-farmer.  There are two ways for you to mulch.  Probably the better known way is to cover your soil with organic matter, such as leaves, grass clipping etc.  This method of mulching is good for trapping moisture underneath the mulch blanket, as well as retaining moisture in the soil.  You will still have to weed, but only the strongest weeds will be able to push their way up through the mulch.
The second method of mulching is dust-mulching.  I, for one, had never heard of this until I started researching this year.  In its simplest terms, dust-mulching is nothing more than taking a hoe or some other implement and breaking only the surface of the soil.  You don't want to go deep.  You are introducing air into the soil, trapping it, and using it's cooling effect.   But the real result of this hot dusty work is that it actually helps the soil retain its moisture below the surface of the soil.  When you are doing this hoeing, you are also removing weeds that are growing in the plot, keeping them from stealing the moisture from the soil.  It does work.  My wife and I finished weeding a plot that we have been dust-mulching.  It can best be descried as sandy loam soil.  We are in the middle of a heat wave right now and haven't had any rain in over a week. While I was on my knees (on ground so hot it burned through my jeans) I dug down to pull up a root ball and my hands hit moist, cool soil about 4 to 5 inches down.  Just to give you an idea of the current conditions, it is 99 degrees outside in the shade and we have had 0.01 inches of rain in the last 7 days here on the farm. I had my wife take some pictures to try to help demonstrate what we are talking about here.

That is the surface of our plot. See how dry, hot and dusty it looks?

This is one shovel-full below the surface. Notice the moisture-laden soil that was turned up. We have not watered this area at all this summer.

I'll say it again...this method of farming and gardening does work.

If you are suffering from hot, dry summers where all you can do is water your garden and hope to keep it alive, this centuries-old way of farming and gardening might just be for you. I hope that I explained it well enough from this small-farmer's perspective.  If you want more information or have a question about this or anything else garden or small-farm related, let me know and we'll explore it together.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Dry-Farm Tomatoes: An Introduction

 I've been working my vegetable and herb beds without any added irrigation this year, and I felt that it was time to test what I'm doing and share some results from our tomato patch with you.

Most people outside of the Midwest or the Pacific coast probably don't know too much about dry farming.  In its purest form, dry farming means just what it sounds like; No added irrigation or water aside from what's in the ground and whatever rainfall the area receives.  It relies on the farmer building up the soil, letting the soil rest, crop rotation, etc.

On our small farm here in South Carolina, rainfall can only be described as hit or miss. We have gone weeks without rain, while temperatures soar into the upper 90s. This trend has been the norm for a few years now resulting in drought conditions.  We have a well on the property that we tried to use for our gardens and animals, but it can't handle providing for both. To water the gardens "properly" as the gardening books stress is impossible for us.  So we have been experimenting with the dry farming techniques here.

Some things to remember when using a dry-farming technique:
Your harvest totals will be smaller than with constant watering.
You will lose some tomatoes to blossom rot due to heavy rain falls that occur.
Your tomatoes will be smaller and more compact.

But the flavor is awesome! These tomatoes have a fuller, more robust flavor and texture than any tomato I have ever eaten before.  This includes everything one can buy in the typical grocery store, organic or otherwise.

As a side-note...I harvested our heritage tomatoes at the peak of ripeness, and let them sit on the kitchen counter for a week before slicing, in order to duplicate conditions the store-bought tomato goes through.

From left to right: Orange Stripey, Marion, store-bought "Hot House"

The Orange Stripey, when taste-tested, had a full yet mild tomato taste with a nice firm flesh that appealed to the eye.

The Marion tomato, more comparable to the store bought tomato than the Orange Stripey, had a very rich and robust tomato taste.  The flavors actually "popped" in my mouth.  It, too, had plenty of rich, colorful flesh that was firm and retained it's shape when cutting.

The last tomato, bought from the store, actually had water draining out of it while it was sitting on the cutting board after slicing. The surprising thing was that after tasting the others, this tomato's taste could only be described as virtually tasteless. There was a light hint of tomato, but it was very bland and very watery.

After conducting this taste test, I know that I will never go back to growing tomatoes like I have in the past. This on-going experiment has given me some new direction concerning educating our customers and friends, as well as our marketing strategies here on the farm.

Now that I know what real tomatoes taste like, it's a shock to think that I ever used to enjoy what I bought at the store.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Sad Day On The Farm

Being a farmer who strives to work hand in hand with God's creation has a lot of good and wonderful moments in it.  But sometimes, the outcome isn't so good.  No matter what you do, or try to do, the "Laws of Nature" are still in control.

I posted about our "Nice surprise" the other week. It was an exciting time here on the farm, as only new life can bring.  Since the mother hen was one of our rare heritage breeds and was brooding her clutch on her own,  I chose to let her raise her brood where she wanted, so she could teach them and reinforce the heritage traits that she passed on to them.

It's been six days since she started gracing our barnyard with her precious little brood.  Every morning when I headed out for my animal chores, the first thing I did was check on Momma and her little ones.  They were always out at the barn, scratching around, learning how to be chickens.

This morning was different.  As I left the house and headed for the barnyard, I heard Momma's cluck, right where is should be at that time of morning.  But when I got out there, I saw only one chick with her, and my heart sank. Where there should have been a dozen little chicks pecking around their mother, there was only one.

When I got over to her nest, my worst thoughts were confirmed.  Sometime during the night, probably after the rain had stopped, the nest had a visitor.  And the outcome wasn't pretty.

Had I thought about moving her to the broody pen that I have set up?  Yes.
Had I worried day and night over her and her clutch?  Yes
Did I do anything about it?  A resounding no.

Why?  It's simple...

I lead a very simple life here on the farm.  I watch our little ones hatch or be born. I care for each of the animals that God has blessed us with, not just by making sure they are fed and watered, but by being personally invested in their well-being.  The responsibility for the life of an animal God has placed in my hands is one I don't take lightly.  I treat them with equal care and respect at death. We care for their lives, and their lives provide for ours.  To farm this way, you have to learn to work with nature, not against nature, because nature will always prevail.

Though the loss of these little ones hurts, it is still a part of the circle of life. I can't change it, but I can embrace it, and move on, carrying the memory of all our lost little ones with me.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Bee Balm 101

It's time for another installation of our Herb 101 series.  This time, we're focusing on one that seems to be overlooked a lot by most gardeners, Bee Balm.

A little history of this delicious and versatile herb takes us back to the time of the American Revolutionary War. Bee Balm is a native American plant that grows throughout the eastern half of the United States. The Oswego Indians, who lived in western New York, used the leaves of the Bee Balm plant to prepare a "tea." They shared this tea (which came to be known as Oswego Tea) with the colonial settlers, who used it as a replacement for the imported tea after the Boston Tea Party in 1773.

Bee Balm is also referred to by a few different names, such as Bergamot or Horsemint, and comes in 4 known varieties identified by the color of their flowers. The variety specifically used for Oswego tea develops flowers which are red, almost scarlet, in color, with leaves that taste of orange and lemon, giving it a citrus flavor.

The leaves can be used whole or chopped and add a nice flavor to meats, and also compliment many fresh fruits.  The flowers, though best used for making tea, can make an attractive and edible garnish for your serving platter. I would recommend that you use the leaves dried for your cooking, because the fresh leaves tend to be very strong in flavor.  Young tender leaves can be added with the flowers in making your tea, if you so desire. I have listed two tea recipes below. One is for Oswego tea, and the other is for "Mock" Earl Grey tea.

Bee Balm is well known for attracting bees and butterflies, making it beneficial to grow near your vegetable garden, perennial flower bed or in a border area, to aid in pollination.  If you want to grow Bee Balm but have limited space, this plant also does very well in pots.  Take note that it is a member of the Mint family, so it can be very invasive if allowed to grow unchecked.

It's best to plant your Bee Balm either in the Spring or early Fall.  I have had good success starting this herb from both seeds and cuttings.  Bee Balm grows best in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade well. It likes moist, well-drained soil that has a lot of organic matter in it.  A good practice is to dress your Bee Balm plants each spring with a thin layer of compost.  Then, mulch around the plant a layer of about 2 inches to help retain moisture and control weeds. The plants generally reach 2 to 4 feet in height. 

To overwinter your Bee Balm plant, after the first killing frost, cut the plant back to about an inch from the ground, and then mulch it with a straw blanket for the winter.  If you have a potted Bee Balm plant, either bring the plant indoors or plant the pot to overwinter it.

Since I am not an Herbologist, or herbal medicine practitioner, I am not going to address the medical properties of Bee Balm. I will only say that it is reported to aid with sore throats, insomnia, headaches, and menstrual pains, however any of the varieties of Bee Balm can be dangerous to pregnant women in that it stimulates contractions.

Oswego Tea Recipe

Use one tablespoon of fresh leaves and flower petals, or one teaspoon of dried leaves and petals.

Steep in a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes.

Sweeten to taste.

"Mock" Earl Grey Tea

Prepare a good black tea, then steep 2 tablespoons of dried Bee Balm flower petals in the tea for about 5 minutes. Do not boil the petals while making this tea. Boiling the petals will affect the oils that cause the "Earl Grey" flavor.

For more extensive information about Bee Balm and other herbs, I recommend either of the following resources:

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Nice Surpise

Allowing your chickens to free range, giving them their complete freedom during the day, has it's advantages and disadvantages. One of the disadvantages, especially in this area are predators, like coyotes, hawks, etc. So you just have to expect the occasional chicken loss to farm this way. I've been missing one of my Dominique hens for a few weeks now.

The good news is, we found her. The better news is that she wasn't alone.
If you have ever raised a chicken who has gone broody, you know that she has a distinctive clucking compared to the other hens in the flock. I saw this hen walking across the yard with this distinct cluck. She disappeared in a pile of brush.
When we went over to the pile, there she was, settled down in a nice nest of dried leaves in the middle of the pile, clucking softly. We saw 2 chicks, and there is at least one egg yet to go.

I have walked by this brush pile at least a half a dozen times a day, and never saw nor heard them until this afternoon.  It looks like I'm not quite ready to move that brush pile yet.

It is an exciting time for me and this little hen. She is my first Dominique to go broody, and my hope is that she passes this trait on to her babies.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Biodiversity and Permaculture for the Urban Gardener and Small Farmer.

A few of the things that my wife and I agreed on when we started this journey in farming were that we:
1) Would not only be good stewards of the land that God blessed us with, but of the livestock too
2) Wanted to hold ourselves and our farm to a higher standard then "organic", and
3)That we would "work the land" by hand, using simple yet proven methods that farmers have used throughout our history.

This might sound to some as a very odd way of talking about something like biodiversity or permaculture, but I ask you to bear with me for a few minutes.

Over the past couple of years, I have been hearing a few terms that have become hot topics in not only the farming community, but with many urban gardeners as well. Terms like biodiversity, sustainable farming, and permaculture. The truth of it is, they are all related and inter-connected.

According to Websters dictionary, the definition of biodiversity is:
"Biological diversity in an environment as indicated by numbers of different species of plants and animal." They say it was first used somewhere around 1985. I've read many an article on this term over the last couple of years, many dry and boring, and others where they have an agenda to them. There are a few good articles out there about this subject, if you look for them.

According to Bill Mollison, permaculture is "...a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labor; of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system." (Source: permaculture.net)

These concepts are not new. There are many a book written in the 1700s and 1800s that teach how to garden and farm in a sustainable way that embraces what biodiversity and permaculture stand for. Back then, it was the norm, not the exception. But what does it mean to you and me, the urban gardener or the small farmer?

If you were to ask me what the definition of biodiversity and permaculture for a farmer or gardener was, you would get an answer like this: "When nature is in balance, and we are working with nature, not against it." It is so very simple when one thinks about it. We all know (or if we don't, we can easily learn) what is needed for a healthy garden, farm and world. Watch nature, be in tune with nature, and work with nature.

A natural setting contains more than just one plant or animal.
Nature has a balance, and when that balance is tinkered with, problems occur. Think back to the dust bowl in the early 1900s. Dry farming was being used in the prairie states, which is a great practice for arid regions. But the land wasn't given time to rest, and vegetation wasn't allowed to grow on un-planted fields. Nature was knocked out of balance, the life was drained from the soil, and ceased to exist there. It took years to recover, and in some areas it hasn't fully recovered to this day.

Today, monoculture farming is a big thing. How many farms and gardeners plant the same crops in the same fields or plots every year? We live in a world dominated by pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. It's so easy to run down to the neighborhood hardware store or garden center and grab that can of pesticide to kill the squash bugs. Or grab that bottle of Round Up to rid you of those pesky weeds that are intruding on your prize tomato plants. The use of herbicides and pesticides are so commonplace now, that they are even in many of the seeds being planted. I'm not saying that all use of pesticides and herbicides should be stopped, but I will say that we need to understand how those powders and sprays work, and what the true result is. More people also need to understand that they kill everything, not only the unwanted bugs and weeds, but the beneficial ones as well.

May I offer an alternative? Understand nature, let her do her work, and stay in balance. We can augment her work by doing simple things that don't interfere with her delicate balance. Things like picking those "nasty" squash bugs and their eggs off the plants by hand, letting fields and gardens rest and lay fallow with a good cover crop or naturally-growing vegetation, using companion planting as an aid to pest deterrence, plant or crop rotation, getting away from those hybrid plants and seeds and planting crops that will reproduce true thanks to their natural genetics, or even planting things that attract beneficial bugs.

This list can go on and on. Even if we each did only a few of these things, our land would start regaining her health and we would begin reaping a healthy, wholesome harvest, instead of chemical-laden produce that poisons our bodies and our land.

Yes, doing things this way tends to be harder and is, without doubt, more labor intensive work. But our forefathers knew that if you take care of the land, the land will take care of you. We need to get back to this way of thinking, and get away from the "one-size-fits all" mentality that is prevalent in the farming and gardening communities.

I ask you to look at my opening statement again. I firmly believe that to be a good steward of the land, we must leave it in better shape than when we found it. I challenge you to be a good steward, and see what happens.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Farmer's Market and Flea Market Mentality

I hope that you can forgive me here for a few minutes while I ponder over a question.  Why is it that people, especially in the area where I live, treat a Farmer's market like it was a flea market?

I've spent a good deal of time selling our produce and wares in both venues over the past couple of years, and have noticed this trend with our customers in this area. Our product line is not organic certified, but grown or raised to personal standards that exceed all certified organic standards. My pricing is always based on the current market trends for "regular produce" sold in the stores. So our customers are paying at or right below regular store prices for an organic product that is higher in quality, flavor, etc.

Yet, when they come to the local Farmer's market, they fail to see the value in the products offered. If they have to pay more than $1.00 a pound for something that has a fair market value of close to $3.00, they won't pay it. Yet they will go straight from the Farmer's market to the local grocer and spend that exact same amount of money for something off of the shelf that was picked green, sprayed with a bunch of chemicals, and bred for it's shelf-life over taste.

I guess that I haven't been able to get my head around this mentality. Even with the time I have spent over the last year, trying to educate the customer base on all the positive value of locally grown, fresh produce. With the exception of a very few, they are still looking for "something for nothing".

Can someone help explain to me this mind-set? Or maybe even point me in the right direction in overcoming this.  I would love to hear what you think, both as a producer and a customer.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dry Farming Southern-Style

It's been a hot dry spring here in South Carolina.  And since the day we've moved here and started building Weksny Acres, this has been the rule and not the exception. It seems that when the month of June rolls around, the temps soar and the rain all but stops.  So how do you grow a good garden or crops in the field without installing expensive irrigation or standing out there with a garden hose every day?  I've come up with a way of gardening that I am calling "Dry Farming- Southern Style".

If you do some reading about dry farming, you will learn that it has been widely used for centuries in arid regions around the world, including our very own prairie states here in the United States. If done well, dry farming will grow certain crops very well.  If done poorly, the result is a repeat of the Dust Bowl of the early 1900s.

I've coupled the concept of dry farming, with some of the principles found in the "intensive gardening" method, as well as some permaculture principles. The result so far?  Beautiful cucumbers worthy of any salad, pole beans that are putting out a bumper crop on 6 foot high plants, and an abundance of tomatoes ripening on the vine.

The first thing that I had to learn, was that I couldn't use every growing bed, every year. The beds need to produce for a year, and then rest for a year. This is a hard thing to swallow, because I have a very limited amount of space to feed my family, and still grow enough to provide a portion of our family's income.  To this day, I still struggle making myself do this, but I know it's better in the long run.

Once you've decided what to grow and how much space you can use for it, the next step is to plant your crops close together.  I realize this goes against conventional gardening wisdom, but adopting this intensive-gardening procedure will allow your plants' leaves to shade the ground, keeping it a little cooler so the roots don't bake in the hot dry ground. 

The final trick to this little system of mine is to mulch, mulch,and mulch some more.  Use leaves, compost, grass clippings, whatever you have...even the weeds that you pulled out of your garden once they are good and dry.  Mulch helps trap the moisture in the ground where the plants need it.  It also helps cut down on weeding, something we all want to spend less time doing.

I'll keep posting about this as the season progresses and let you know how it turns out.  I can say that at this point, the produce that we've harvested has a much richer texture and flavor then it's heavily-watered counterparts.  The vegetable or fruit may be smaller and/or less uniform, but the taste is more flavorful, in my opinion.

If you want to try this, take it one bed at a time and see what happens.  It sure beats standing out there running the water bill through the roof.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Flowers in Bloom - Zinnia

One of the things we wanted to do for farmer's market and here on the farm is to provide cut flowers for sale.  I bet I planted 15 varieties in the hope of having a very nice assortment for our customers to choose from.

It has been a struggle this year for our flowers for some reason or another.  Our troubles ran the gambit from poor germination, to late frost and then hail, and now summer heat in May and June.

Of all the seeds I planted and plants that I've transplanted, only an assortment of my Zinnia have survived in various stages of growth.

Today when I walked out to the gardens, what did I see but this beautiful blossom.

I hope I can get flowers to grow as plentifully as our herbs and vegetables do.  At the very least, it'd be nice to give my darling wife something extra-pretty to enjoy.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


You would think that with all the things going on around here, that I would get some things finished before I tackle something new. I guess that's not to be this year. The farm has been expanding by leaps and bounds this year. We've put pigs on the property for breeding and meat, expanded our chicken business, expanded gardens, and added a greenhouse. I still have land to clear, fences to build, pens and additional pens and coops to fill.

And now we have a functioning bee hive.

I bought a package of about 10,000 honey bees from Rossman Apiaries in Georgia, and they arrived this past Monday.

Did you ever wonder what 10,000 bees looks like? I was surprised how many bees they can fit into a little crate.

The installation of the bees into the hive actually went without a hitch. I'll admit that I was pretty nervous right up to the point when I opened the shipping crate. Then it all smoothed out for me.

I've visited the hive daily since Monday, and have been happy to see bees buzzing in and out of the hive from the fields and gardens.

Today was the day to open the hive and inspect their progress. And it looks good. The queen has been freed from her shipping crate, and the bees have filled almost half of the bottom brood box with comb. It looked like the queen has been busy doing her duties too, so we have a growing hive.

Bees sure are fascinating to watch and interact with. I never thought I would get so much enjoyment out of a honey bee.

As the spring and summer progress, I will be visiting the hive and will update you with the progress we are making as new beekeepers.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Date Night - Farmer Style

We've been losing chickens to an unknown predator recently. One morning, we found a carcass in the barnyard. On Mother's Day, we found three. It would've been bad enough had it been some of our adult, egg-laying hens, but these were young chickens we've bought especially to sell for meat. Having local wildlife get an occasional snack is a farmer's occupational hazard but this is a threat on our livelihood and completely unacceptable to my hard-working husband. So he decided to sit up on a stakeout.

Now, my husband is a very experienced hunter, and an expert marksman, but his original idea of sitting out all night on top of a ladder propped up against a tree with a spotlight in one hand and a shotgun in the other wasn't sounding like one of his better plans, so I made a suggestion. Why not put the pick-up truck in an ideal location and sit in the bed of it? What's more, why not let me handle the spotlight?

You gotta love when a plan comes together.

So, there we were...sitting in the dark in the bed of the truck, parked on top of a pile of turkey manure to mask our scent, trying to hold still and keep quiet while getting buzz-bombed by insects, and straining our ears to distinguish the difference between normal night sounds and the approach of a hungry animal when I realized that this was the first time since I don't know when that we've been out of the house after sundown without children and that apparently this is the best I can hope for in terms of getting a date night with my husband.

Not really the kind of romantic evening I'd hope for, but in my life I've learned to take what I can get.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Early morning on the farm

I love early mornings on the farm. You walk out of the quiet house where the children are all still nestled in their beds, to the sun peaking over the hill, spreading it's warm glow on the fields.

The roosters are crowing as they greet a new day, while the hens are clucking their desire to leave the coop to find something to get into. The chicks are chattering as only little ones can do, wanting to get out and play. And the pigs are telling you good morning as only a pig can.

It's the morning feeding time here on the farm. Time to spend a little while with all my barnyard friends. There aren't too many things more satisfying that having your pigs greet you; to get down, and rub their bellies, and scratch their ears. Or the chickens surrounding you, looking for breakfast. When you reach down and let them  eat out of your hand.

Off in the woods you hear the wild turkeys gobbling away, as a light breeze stirs the air, and the rest of the world around you begins to wake.

The sights, the sounds, and the smells..They all make a farmer's early morning chores a satisfying start to the day.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Farm Update for May 2011

Here's a quick update on where we are at and what we are working on.

We are currently running 11 growing beds and have 33 different vegetables or herbs growing nicely.
The vegetable and herbs that we now have growing are:
Tomatoes - 3 heritage varieties,
Corn - 2 varieties
Yellow squash
Pole beans
Bush beans
Red potatoes
Zucchini squash
Thai Basil
English Thyme
Boxwood Basil
Sweet Marjoram
Texas Tarragon
Sweet Basil
Lemon Balm
Lemon Thyme
Bee Balm
Greek Oregano
Wheat (I know it's not a veggie)
and Watermelons.

We also have many of these herbs growing in pots for re-sale, with more to come.

We currently have 8 different cut flower varieties, and broom corn that will be used for cut flower sales at the farmer's market.

We also have new crops coming along as seed starts to be added to the fields yet.
Pie pumpkin
Lemon grass
Hubbard squash
Butternut squash

Coming this fall will be carving pumpkins and buckwheat.
Our goal here on the farm is to have the things that we love to eat and also to supply good flavorful heritage food to our customers who come to the farmer's markets and visit us here on the farm.

Is there anything I haven't thought of, or you would like to see us grow?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

New Additions to the farm

They've finally arrived. after what seemed like months of bad weather and logistical snafu's, our pigs have finally arrived at the farm. We got 1 boar and 4 gilts. We did a lot of research in making out selection with the pigs. And finally opted on these beauties, The American Guinea Hog.

For those of you who have never heard of this breed, the American Guinea hog is an old homestead pig, that at one time was prevalent on small homesteads. It is considered a lard pig, in that it has a good amount of fat, unlike the pigs that supply the meat markets nowadays.

We chose the the American Guinea Hog to raise at
Weksny Acres, because of their
manageable size, gentle nature and sustainable foraging abilities.
These characteristics make them ideally suited for a
small family farm like ours. These hogs will be
filling a functional niche on our farm, producing
outstanding natural pork on forage and feed that would otherwise go to waste.

The American Guinea Hog is listed a "critical" by the American Livestock Conservancy.
Weksny Acres is proud to have these rare pigs on our farm, and is
committed to preserving this unique American hog for use by future generations of small farmers.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lovin' it...snow, hail and all

It's funny how things work out sometimes on the farm. If I've learned anything lately it's that a farmer has to embrace nature and the weather just as they are and love them. Let me explain..

Last year we fought an ongoing battle with weeds, got struck by invasive bugs, and went through a drought from June through September. We had to water so much that we ran the well dry more times than I can remember. When it was all over and done, I licked my wounds and started planning for the next season. I decided I was going to get a jump on the hot, dry weather and start early this year. So we did.

On January 1st, I turned our sunroom into a greenhouse. We planted seeds. And more seeds. And, just for kicks, more seeds. We started perennial herbs and got them under plastic tunnels. The growing beds were expanded and fertilized right on time for an early start. We did everything right this year.

Then it started. Not only did we get snow here in South Carolina, we got it twice. One of the snows gave us a 15-inch accumulation. Now, for anyone here in the South, that's a lot. It collapsed our growing tunnels, wiping out all our perennial herbs, except for the rosemary and lemon balm.

The weather turned nice and warm in March, just like I knew it would. We moved all the plants out to harden off in preparation for planting. Additional tunnels were ready to protect them from the typically colder night. We were back up, ahead of the game. Then April came.

For those of you who know my darling wife, you already know that her father passed away on April 1st. She was already in Kansas City, so once I had someone to look after the chickens for us, I took off with the kids to join her for a week. Two days before we got home, South Carolina got hit by severe thunderstorms. And the farm got pelted with hail. The plants that we already had in the main garden seem to have weathered the storm fairly well, though we're still waiting to see if the onion and garlic beds recover or not. All the planting trays not only got hit, but 95 % of them got wiped out. We probably lost close to 300 plants that were ready to be transplanted. So much for getting an early jump on the market this year.

Since the hail storm, it seems like we've averaged a thunderstorm once or twice a week. The rest of the month looks to be the same.

So here we are, starting over. I spent 2 days going from store to store buying plants to replace the ones we lost. Let me tell you, that doesn't sit well with a guy who harvests his own seeds to grow year to year. I still have empty growing beds, and the seeds to put in them, but it's too late in the game to do that now.

The good news is that every day, with a lot of hard work, we get a little closer to being caught back up to where I'd expected us to be. There is hope of better things to come. This past Saturday, during the latest thunderstorm, I was sitting here in the office watching out the window that overlooks the front porch. In the midst of the blowing wind and rain, the sky parted a little and the sun started shining, casting a beautiful shadow across the porch. I was reminded in a big way that no matter how much I plan, and for all the labor I put in to working this little farm of ours, nature and the weather will do as they please. If I don't know how to roll with it, and love this life for what it is, I shouldn't be doing it.

I choose to love it.

Friday, March 18, 2011

2011 Poultry CSA

I'm taking the plunge and starting a Chicken and eggs CSA for this year. I'll be opening it up to 10 customer/families this year. Starting off small isn't a bad thing sometimes.
In the CSA membership package, each customer/family will receive 4 whole oven-ready chickens, a month from June into November, as well as 1 dozen eggs per week for 21 weeks.
I am finalizing the price with Wendy this weekend, but it looks to be somewhere between $342 and $400 dollars. We are finalizing the per pound price which is the reason for the difference.

I'll be updating this post sometime in the upcoming week with the final price.
We received the first installment of broiler chicks this morning and they are growing nicely in the brooder, and our resident hens are producing 18 to 20 eggs a day, and we haven't hit the heavy producing season for them yet.
I'm excited about the prospect of our fledgling CSA, and look forward to adding to it delicious things like Vegetables, pork, honey, and herbs.
If you are interesting in learning more about our poultry CSA, drop us a comment or email and we'll get you all the information on its way to you.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Expansion questions

I'm in the process of working up a egg / poultry CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for this spring and summer. It's one of those things that should have already been done. And yet, here I am still working on it. Shoot I don't even have the paperwork finished yet for it. Little things like, order forms, and brochures, etc.

It by no means would be on a grand scale this year, but I was thinking about starting it with about 10 customers. The program would be a dozen eggs a week and around 6 whole chickens over the course of a 12 week period. It would initially be set up as a scheduled farm pick up.

My biggest problem is the pricing, and what to charge. Living in a rural area that is economically depressed, I have to think long and hard about this. I read site after site that charges twice of not more than what I currently charge. Don't get me wrong here, I'm not one to over price, or buying over priced items, but I have a family and farm to support. I know I need to move into the markets around larger towns, but they are a minimum of 30 to 50 miles away, and the price of gas isn't going to go down anytime soon. I guess I couple charge a percentage of the purchase price to deliver to a drop off point there.

Can you help me?? If you were to buy your eggs and poultry directly from the farmer, what you you want to get? How much at a time? how often? What would you feel good about paying for it?
It's a lot to think about and work through for someone who has never done this sort of thing before.
Any and all thoughts will be helpful as I look to diversifying our small farm here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

New Additions to the farm

We've got some new additions coming to the farm this spring, and I wanted to introduce them to you.

First off, we have.....

American Guinea Hogs

The American Guinea Hogs are a critically rare breed of pig that is unique to North America. The original stock for the breed came from West Africa, and over the last 200-300 years developed through adaptation and crossbreeding with Appalachian English pigs to create an American original. They were commonly found on homesteads in the southeastern US.

We have 5 of these beautiful little hogs coming to live with us. We will be starting a breeding program with them to not only do our part to grow their numbers but also provide outstanding tasting pork for our customers.

At the end of May, we will be receiving our

That's right Honey bees. We are starting with one hive this spring. These little beauties will go a long way in helping with pollination in the growing beds and orchard. We will be expanding into more hives next year, so we can produce honey for sale, along with beeswax for our candles, soap, etc.

We are going to be raising broiler chickens again this year. We are starting off with 50 Freedom Ranger chickens for our broiler birds this year. I am expecting to grow out 4 batches for sale this year.

As you can see, we've got a busy spring ahead of us.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Basil 101

A little history about basil: Basil is native to India, and has been cultivated for more than 5000 years. But the word "basil" is actually a Greek word meaning "king". Greek and English royalty were known to use basil in their baths and for medicinal purposes. Basil can be used for relief from bee stings, and also makes a great insect repellent by simply crushing the leaves and rubbing them on your exposed skin. 

However, basil's most popular use is in cooking. If you cook at home, you have probably used it; in fact, many world-renowned chefs still refer to basil as "the king of herbs" today. Nothing beats the taste of a fresh sprig of basil in your favorite dish. I've even been known to pinch off a leaf and enjoy the flavor as I'm walking the gardens. But did you know there are about 150 varieties, each one having it's own unique characteristics? 

Here at Weksny Acres, we are currently growing 3 varieties of basil, which I will introduce to you. Since Genovese is the most commonly known, we'll save it for last.  First, let's talk about Boxwood and Thai.

Boxwood basil is a tight plant, which generally grows 8-14 inches tall. We did have one that got about 24 inches tall last year. Just as the name implies, it looks like a miniature boxwood. The Boxwood basil was developed in France. It makes a great ornamental edging for the patio or would be perfect for a small container by the kitchen door. It's also a great choice for making pesto and Mexican dishes.

Thai basil (Oriental basil) originated in India. It is not only used in Thai cuisine, but in Vietnamese and Indian dishes as well. It has a more distinctive and strong flavor than many other sweet basils. Thai basil has small leaves, purple stems and a subtle licorice or mint flavor. Some people say that it has an anise flavor to it. The flowers are edible, and the tender leafy stems can be used as a garnish or even cooked much like a vegetable. It's leaves and flowers are very aromatic, so it can also be used as a nice edging around the patio or walkways. It grows into a beautiful bush that can get up to 2 1/2 feet tall, so make sure you give it plenty of room if planting in your own garden.

Genovese is probably the basil that you are most used to seeing and using. It is one of the most popular sweet basils, best used to create those wonderful Italian dishes we all love. (I will admit, I am most partial to this basil since my wife, who has never cooked a dish I haven't enjoyed, is Italian.) In addition to being used in Italian dishes, Genovese basil makes the best pesto. This versatile herb also makes a good "after-dinner" tea that aids in digestion. It grows 18 to 24" tall with bright green leaves.

We have had good success growing these 3 varieties of basil here on the farm. We have all 3 growing again this year too. Our basil is available as fresh cut, dried, and as potted plants so you can enjoy your fresh herbs all year long.

If you know of a great basil that you think we should try, please let us know. We are always on the look out for great basil.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Marketing Ideas - Can You Help?

We are working on coming up with simple and easy marketing tools for the farm. You know, little things that don't cost much but get your name and image out there.

We came up with a t-shirt that I think portrays our farm.

Here are a few questions that I would love for you to help me answer:

1. Is it a good design?
2. Does it have any resale value as an extra product that we offer?
3. Would you wear this shirt?

I know these are objective questions and that everyone's opinion can be different. But any help that you can give me in critiquing the design will be helpful.

So what do you think?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Farmer's Dance

Being a farmer is kind of like doing a line dance.  Two steps forward, one step back. It doesn't always seem like you're getting anywhere, but eventually somehow you've ended up on the other side of the room.

I've shared here a little about the seeds we've already started.  Of those intended for our Spring garden, we're batting .500 so far.  The flowers are coming along nicely, the herbs are right on schedule and the peas are looking great and ready to be transplanted.  For whatever reason, though, our broccoli, cauliflower and cabbages did so poorly I ended up re-seeding.  The seedlings intended for our Summer garden are having a little better track record.  The squash looks gorgeous and the tomatoes should be ready for transplant in 4 weeks, but the peppers had to be started over.  Like the song says, two out of three ain't bad.

Anyone who's ever tried their hand at growing any kind of plants knows that things like that are par for the course.  Sometimes, seeds take off and amaze you. Sometimes, not so much.  You take your chances when starting from scratch, and you come to expect those kinds of things.

What you don't expect are mechanical breakdowns.

Over the course of the last week, we have spread over 1000 cubic feet of turkey manure on the gardens.  It was hard, arduous (and smelly) work made a little easier by the help of Wendy and the girls and I was really pleased to get the work done in relatively good time.This week's task is to get it "turned in" so those all-important nutrients have time to get into the soil, ready to nourish the crops.  A good roto-tiller makes it a fairly easy job.

Until this morning, our tiller has started faithfully on the first pull.  Today?  Nothing.  So, I called a good friend of mine that works on small engines to come take a look at it, and when we tried again to start it the pull cord broke in my hand.  I guess it just wasn't ready to come off vacation yet.  Until its (hopeful) return, I'll be out there for as long as it takes, turning over the beds with a good old-fashioned shovel. It's kind of ironic in a way, since I have written on my business cards "Fresh produce grown the old-fashioned way." I wonder how long it will take me to turn over a 1/2 acre of planting beds with a shovel? Only time will tell.

All this reminds me of a saying that my wife stumbled across online the other day and shared with me. It goes something like this:

Don't grumble that roses have thorns...be thankful that thorns have roses!

When thing keep going wrong in rapid succession, it can be so easy to forget the things that make this farming life so enjoyable. To step outside and smell the fresh air, to see life springing up everywhere you look, and knowing that God has given it to you to raise and nurture, and in return supply your needs.

When things aren't going right, remember to look for the roses.

Enough about me, how was your day?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Ups and downs

January is almost over now, and there is still a lot to do yet. The weather this past week has been nice and warm, giving us the chance to get some much needed work done outside. But even with the nice weather, things have been moving painfully slow.

The manure delivery finally got here this week. It was a couple weeks later than was expected, so now I'm feeling rushed getting it taken care of. We finished spreading it out on all but the last 3 beds today. Now I need to get it turned in so it will compost itself. The seeds we started for a bunch of those beds have already sprouted, so I am feeling the time crunch to get the beds ready.

We finished planting the seeds for the remainder of our early season crops tonight, with tomorrow promising to be a very busy day. First, I have to get some wood cut for our heat.  Then, I'll be planting some more carrots, and putting in the initial radish bed for the season.

Just to keep you updated on some other areas of the farm, we have two sides of the pig-house closed in so far. I have one side to finish framing up and then put the wood-siding on the remaining two. There won't be too much that needs to be done yet on the interior, with the exception of building a feeding trough.

I think that about covers it for the moment. Come back and visit often for updates on our projects, as well as seeing how the garden grows.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Time To Plant

As I mentioned the other day, we've started our seeds indoors.

They are finally coming up and starting to look good. Since we are using our sun-room this year as a dining room/greenhouse, dinner time can be interesting. These photos represent about 1/3 of the seeds we currently have started. So you can imagine sitting down to dinner surrounded by flats of seedlings and seeds.

These are Broccoli and Cabbage plants in the picture.

I am so excited about these little guys growing and the prospect of getting them into the ground. We are pushing it just a little this year. We are using low hoop house for our cool season crops and helping our summer crops get a good head start. Our goal is to have fresh produce ready for our customers by the first week of April. That's about a full month sooner than I was ready last year.

Now if only this snow would finish melting so I can get in the planting beds to work.

The time out of the garden is being spent as well as it can though, We've been steadily planting more seeds, and it's time to do some re-potting of Tea herbs so they can keep growing.

More to come on this and other progress here on the farm.  We'll keep you posted.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Snow Day - What's a farmer to do?

Greetings from snowy South Carolina. That's right, I said South Carolina. This is our first snow fall of the year and the second for the season. We had out first snow Christmas weekend, and now here we are in the second week of January and more snow. So far we've gotten 5 1/2 inches and it's still coming down. This is South Carolina, it's not supposed to snow like this here!

I do love the snow, always have.  It reminds me of my years growing up in Pennsylvania.

It's put a lot of things on hold for a few days though (work that really needs to be done.) But that's alright, it will give me a chance to do some other things I haven't had time for, like this blog, updating our website and Facebook page...things like that.

There has been a lot going on here for being in the dead of winter, so I'll just give a few highlights right now, and then go into more detail after another cup of coffee or two.

  • We've gotten about 21 varieties of plants started in our temporary greenhouse. This is about half of what we need to be starting this winter. We are planning on selling not only produce this year, but are adding herbs (fresh, dried, and plants), cut and potted flowers, and herbal tea mixes. So there are a lot of plants to start. The goal here at the farm is to have fresh produce available for sale by the first week of April this year.
  • We will be adding pigs to the farm soon. We have a number of fence posts cut, and have fencing ready to put up. We have a lean-to shed that we are converting to the "pig-house". This was one of the things I had originally planned to do this morning, until I found that deep blanket of snow outside.
  • We will be continuing with our chickens this year. We already are selling eggs and whole chicken. We will be expanding the operation by selling hatching eggs for our Heritage chickens.
As you can see there is plenty to do here on the farm. Like all things worthwhile, it's taking a lot of planning, thinking and changing the way we do things.

So here's to a snow day. A good day to play with the kids, and do a little planning and thinking along the way.

Monday, January 3, 2011

January 3, 2011 A New Year

The New Year has really gotten off to a rough start. We are just recovering from the stomach flu that started New Years Eve day and ran through Sunday. It affected 6 out of 7 of us, including Wendy and I at the same time.

Now that we have that behind us, it's time to start the new farming year.

Today, the girls and I are going to be starting the seeds for the garden (family and market garden). It's a balmy 50 degrees here in the South today, and there is still cold weather ahead over the next couple of months, but it's time to get started. Our goal is to have produce ready to sell at least 2 weeks ahead of everyone else this year.

I do need your help with something though. I have been thinking hard about starting a CSA here on the farm. Have you ever thought about using one?  I would love to hear your thoughts about it.  Anything you'd care to share, from what produce you would like to receive to thoughts on cost. All input would be great.

Gotta keep this short...it's time to start planting.  We've got about 400 seeds to start today. I'll let you know tonight how we made out.

Happy Farming!