We got them in the car which was a good sign. Sauce and I were on our own to pick up the load of strawberry plants I had ordered. I’m an optimist, or royally overconfident (more likely), so back in July I remember myself asking “Is 500 plants enough?” This is the kind of reckless enthusiasm that tempts one to plant 10-15 zucchini plants in April only to be secretly depositing the fruit on unsuspecting neighbors come July. So I plowed ahead with the order. Now in September, 500 looks a lot bigger in real life than it did on paper. But I’m committed.
This is our first foray into strawberries and the first time this plot of ground has been used for anything other than weed cultivation in 20+years. We’ve been planning this for a while. This site was the location of our pollinator seed mix this past summer. Those annual flowers are long gone and now Paul has done a fine job of prepping the soil. All that stands between me and some perfect strawberry beds is 10,000 years, of rock. Our farm was previously operated under the name Rocky Hill Farm. Not a quaint moniker, but fact. Our location near the Haw River grows rock. Despite all the tilling, disking, raking, etc. the best tool for removing rock is hands. Nothing like some good wholesome family time picking out rocks. Lured at the promise of baked goods, everyone pitched in. With the prep work done I’ve widely advertised that planting will be the easy part. :). Again, positive thinking.
Some folks are surprised to learn that strawberries are treated as an annual crop here in NC. Berry plugs are planted in the fall, produce their bumper crop in the spring and then meet their demise in June. If all goes well for us (and not the deer) these berries should contribute two-fold: fruit and bee forage. This will allow us to sell some berries (at market or u-pick depending on yield) and to can our own berries into jam. In the scheme of commercial production, we’ve actually started off pretty small in scale. But we intend to learn on a small scale and increase on successes and hedge our
failures learnings. So I look forward to a weekend of learning. Check back for an update once the plants are in!
Salsa gets serious
Most of our produce is done for the season. There are a few lingering watermelons and some ironclad swiss chard hanging out with the basil, but it’s mostly done and cover cropped back with buckwheat for the bees. (Who incidentally are having a literal field day with it). But fall is when peppers shine. They’ve been loitering all summer, mostly taking a backseat to the rockstar cantaloupes, corn and cukes. But those flash in the pan crops have gone and the steadfast peppers now have their moment. And it’s a spicy one. I’ve been using them in salsa all summer long but salsa is just the start..
Our friends at Abundance NC give peppers their own event: Pepperfest! It’s coming up next weekend on Sunday 10/2. It’s an epicurean gymnastic event for top chefs to showcase local peppers any which way but loose. 30+ chefs from local hot spots like Oakleaf, La Residence, Elaine’s, Harvest 18, Gravy, & St. Jacques will compete with their creations using over 1,000lbs of Chatham County peppers. This week we dropped off our contribution of Thai Dragon peppers. These are reportedly going to JuJu of Durham. I can’t wait to see how/where our peppers show up. I’m a heat wimp so hope I can eat whatever it is.
Our little hotties
The event is a family-friendly one with live music, entertainment, local vendors, beer and peppers in all forms. We will be there probably along with some bees (who were still working pepper plants even this week) and some tasty things. We may even be sampling some a new item: my experimental Chile-infused honey. Outrageous on cornbread! Customer feedback is way important on such ventures. So drop by and tell us what you think. Grab your tickets to Pepperfest (and some Mylanta if you need it) and celebrate pepper season.
Experimental spicy sweet heat
Recently I wrote about the cool new toy Spaghetti built for me, the wax melter. Despite its heft, we are using the melter as one of our demonstration pieces for educational use. Luckily Spaghetti added wheels. Your first chance to see the behemoth in action will be on this weekend’s CFSA Eastern Farm Tour.
“You’re on the farm tour?!?!” No. But Ninja Cow Farm is. They are part of the “Orange” route south of Raleigh. 85 acres of happy cows, pigs, chickens, and bees. You can visit the animals, tour the farm & buy local ice cream, meat, cheese, wine, baked goods, and of course, honey. They have this amazing on-farm retail store packed with NC goodies. Bring a bag, cooler, or sherpa to tote home your goods. The tour is a fun way to see how where good food is produced. There are 25 farms to see – pick & choose the ones that interest you (or are nearby). You can even ditch the car and take a bus! Some are small, community gardens inside the city and some, like Ninja Cow, are a step outside the rat race where you can take a deep breath. $30/car (fit as many friends as the law will allow) to visit as many farms as you can. 1-5pm Saturday & Sunday (ticket is good for both days!)
One day when I grow up, I hope we can join the tour. But for now you can visit our hives at Dan’s place in Garner. Maybe even meet Miguel who does the heavy farm lifting and secretly hopes to see me get stung. (Mostly its those who stop to chat with me who get it. Sorry Spork & Lucy). So while I won’t be opening any hives this weekend, we will have lots of interesting stuff on display: the observation hive, wax melter, and lots of great info on bees & honey. Stop by to say hi to the bees & stock up on wildly tasty local goods!
Honey extracting is our midsummer Christmas for several reasons. First is the sticky awe we enjoy at the honeybee’s efficiency. One bee will only produce 1/12 a teaspoon of honey in her life. So when you look at a jar, much less a bucket, you see immense cooperation. Extracting day also means new swag for us – honey & wax. The honey part is relatively simple: hot knife, honey frame, & extractor. This year we got to use a hot knife we inherited with the farm. Good bee karma and it definitely sped up the uncapping process which is both delightfully messy & cumbersome. So the honey frames get their wax capping lids sheared, and then go for a ride in the centrifugal extractor. Think merry-go-round on high. Spaghetti was helping out until I realized he was taking payment in the form of comb honey. Shoo.
But to his credit, Spaghetti made the wax rendering process mucho easier this year. Enter his solar wax melter. It started as a simple request, “Hey buddy, want to build me an extractor?” 8 weeks later I can finally park in the garage again. And have an amazing tool to show off. He built this thing. Alone. I mean, there were plans, but the only help I provided was funding and ‘here hold this’ support.
Now instead of turning my kitchen stovetop into a veritable wax altar, I can dump all the wax scraps into the melter and turn up the sunshine. (Sorry to those who’ve been wishing for cool weather. I have a bit more wax to melt and then we can do fall). The melted wax gravity-flows through a 2 stage filtering system and is collected in silicone molds for easy removal. Light years better than the stovetop, safer too. Did I mention that beeswax is flammable at low temps? Oh right, that’s why we make candles with it. Not to mention that anything touching liquid wax immediately becomes dedicated to beeswaxing jobs. It’s water repellant, solidifies quickly, and will coat a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g. So nice work Spaghetti.
Extracting day also means we have new honey in stock! This year we have both our Wildflower honey (it’s a classic, man) and our first Sourwood blend. The Sourwood is a bit lighter in color and flavor with notes of anise (read licorice). It’s straight out of the NC mountains and extra tasty on pecan waffles. Well, anything is tasty on waffles, but then again this honey makes anything good too. Want to try this coveted NC treat? We will be at several markets/ festivals in the coming weeks. And we have several new products in the works for fall and the coming gifty season, so stay wired. Follow us on Facebook to keep tabs on where we’ll be, sticky or not.
No honey in the bomb shelter?
Humans have an odd relationship with preparedness – sometime we go overboard, sometimes we don’t react at all. Anyone remember scrubbing your hands after touching U.S mail back in 2000s the anthrax scare? Surgical masks during the H1N1 outbreak? Safety first.
Many of you saw the recent news story about the honeybee colonies in SC lost to Zika virus mosquito spraying. There was much discussion about this at last weekend’s First Sunday event in Pittsboro. The story and photos are sad. The losses to beekeepers and farmers in that area are significant (not to mention the native bee population). The lawmakers were hyper prepared but the beekeepers left in the dark. How this calamity of loss? Can it happen here?
Enter the experts… NC is blessed to have a very active Department of Agriculture and Extension service. These good folks coupled with the research powerhouse of NCSU stepped in to shed some light on these recent events. The NCSU Apiculture Department has issued this article about the Zika Virus, NC’s current plans, and recommendations for the public. You can read it here. It presents a balanced approach I think most folks can agree with.
An excellent tool the article references is NC FieldWatch, a voluntary registration program for specialty crop farmers, including beekeepers. This free online mapping program allows farmers & beekeepers to self-identify their location and alert neighboring farmers. The idea is to make it easy for farmers or other commercial enterprises which use insecticides, to see where hives and organic crops are being kept. Our hives are registered, both at our farm and those at Ninja Cow Farm.
But I think about all the bees who can’t register themselves (like those wily, feral bees living in trees and ground nests). So consider your options when it comes to mosquito control. In his article, NCSU’s Dr. Waldvogel notes several. NC’s bees will rest easier knowing we are on alert, just not hyper alert.