The peepers are chirping, the daffodils are up, and the trees are showing their colors--spring has come to central VA!  But, along with spring comes spring work, and this year it’s compounded by tasks we weren’t able to get done during out snowy, wet, and ridiculously cold winter.   So, this past week we were busy in the vineyard, berry patch, and barnyard.

To begin, we had 4,330 new bare root vines arrive—our new varieties, Viognier, Chardonnay, and Cab Franc, as well as replacement vines for plants we lost during 2013.   Normally, we would have already set the poles for the new vines but this year, we were lucky to just get the IMG_5737new two-acre section ready to plant.   This is a multistep process…ripping then rototilling the soil and then digging a trench for irrigation pipe and laying the pipe.  Once this was accomplished the rows were staked and marked with string for straightness and the location of each plant was marked (yes, that’s a lot of marks!). Finally, holes were dug and our new vines were planted in their homes.

Once that was done, each new vine got a bamboo stick and a grow tube to protect it from the ever present and ever hungry deer, as well as other hazards.  The grow tube also acts as a miniature green house and keeps the young plant warm.  Next week we’ll get started on the posts and the trellis wires and in about 2 weeks we hope to have bud break!

And, the strawberries should be budding soon, too. Last fall we covered all our berries with hay to protect them froIMG_5588m the winter weather so we’ve been uncovering them and cutting them back to prepare for their new growth.   Rick’s also preparing berry field #2 for the daughter plants.  We’re expecting A LOT of strawberries starting mid to end of May and continuing through July. Beginning in June, our berries will be available at the Fluvanna’s Farmer Market (www.facebook.com/pages/Fluvanna-Farmers-Market-Pleasant-Grove/368116841344) on Tuesdays, Farmers IMG_5638in the Park (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Farmers-in-the-Park/81048539935)  on Wednesdays, some Saturdays at the City Market (http://www.charlottesvillecitymarket.com/), Salt Artisan Market (http://saltcville.com/), local restaurants, as well as on the farm during TBA Pick Your Own days.

S0070194Goats unlike plants have a lot of opinions. Much to the dismay of the moms and kids we weaned the baby goats. There’s really no way to do this without a lot of unhappy, noisy goats.  Our plan was to move the does to a different field and confine the kids inside the barn, aka Goat Palace, for a couple of days.   We were hoping to separate them by more than a fence for a couple days.  No one was happy, but it appeared all was well until 11 pm, when I looked out the window and saw kids in the field.  Bruce and I promptly changed from our PJs to barn clothes and went out.  It was like the first day of school for new moms and toddlers…all the does were on their hind legs and emotionally calling, “Buttercup, Peanut, Apple…” while all the kids were on their side of the fence crying, “Mom, don't leave me!”DSCF0184

 

We started to catch the kids one by one and put them back in the Goat Palace until there were about 6 nimble kids left.  After running in circles and tripping over ourselves (it was dark!) and goats, we realized that once we returned them to the Goat Palace there was nothing to prevent them from escaping through our clearly ineffective “kid proof ” fencing again.  We gave up, opened the gate and got back in our PJs.

Thinking we were really done for the night, Bruce went to brush his teeth and discovered we didn’t have any water—some nights just go on forever!  The problem wasn’t in the cottage so back into our photobarn clothes to find the problem.  It seems that Jackson, our adorable but precocious mini-mule, had opened a hydrant in the field and drained our well.  Fortunately, after we locked the hydrant, our well refilled relatively quickly!

On Saturday, we said good-bye to all of our boy kids and two of the girls.  The doe kids staying on the farm were again noisy as their siblings and friends departed but seemed to quickly forget when thIMG_5768ey realized that the dinner table was much less crowded.

All in all, it was a productive week with just enough comic relief.

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Last week, I spent a busy day at Virginia Food Works/Prince Edward Cannery and began the Cannery_Cannery Borderprocess to sell our fruit spreads commercially.  With the help of Emily Wells, the commercial manager, I finalized my recipes, learned to use the canning equipment, and made test batches of yummy strawberry spread.

I went prepared to make our three favorite varieties: strawberry-vanilla, strawberry-lavender, and strawberry-balsamic. I used the approved Virginia Food Works strawberry jam recipe but added our special ingredients for each variety.   I was excited because their recipe used Pomona Pectin, a brand of pectin that requires far less sugar than the pectin available at the grocery store.  In fact, it uses twice as much fruit as sugar!  Maybe we should call our spreads No Guilt Strawberry Spread?

The night before I cleaned and prepped about 25 cups of strawberry puree (I used an immersion blender—one of my favorite kitchen tools-- but kept some chunks).  Unfortunately, our stash of frozen strawberries from last summer’s harvest was not enough and I had to buy some fresh berries.  I couldn’t resist tasting a couple while hulling them with my new OXO strawberry huller.

Wow, the flavor of store bought strawberries picked days ago and shipped to VA does not compare to fresh picked berries!!  They may be pretty but they lacked the amazing sweet flavor and aroma that makes fresh berries (especially our berries) so delicious.

After processing the berries, I made jars of puree for each variety.  For the strawberry-vanilla spread, I split and scraped 2 vanilla beans and put them in the berry puree to soak overnight.  I pre-measured the sugar for each batch, and packed a pouch of culinary lavender and a bottle of balsamic vinegar.  It was kind of like packing a strawberry picnic.

Emily began by going over the rules and regulations for using the Cannery and the related paperwork.   A lot of the do’s and don’t were familiar like I had to wear a hairnet, wear gloves in the food area, and wash my hands frequently--because I spend a lot of time with the animals or in the garden, I’m a compulsive hand washer so except for the plastic gloves this seemed pretty normal.  The dishwashing process used three sinks (soap, rinse, sanitizer) just like I remember using ions ago when the girls went camping with the Girl Scouts.

After Emily reviewed all the procedures with me, she brought out her cool tools---scales, thermometer, and pH meter.  We carefully calculated amounts in both volume and weight for each ingredient.  And then finally, we made fruit spread!

Since I was making micro-batches we used the smallest kettle, which was a mere 20 gallons. I equipment2guess its not surprising that everything is big—it is after all a commercial kitchen.  The kettle is not a kettle you set on your stove—it’s attached to the floor and heated by steam!  (Kind of like a witch’s cauldron but not black). First, we made the strawberry-balsamic then we cleaned everything (using the three sink protocol) and repeated the process with the strawberry-lavender and then the strawberry-vanilla.

Some parts of the process were just like home canning and some like testing the pH of the fruit and then of the mixture were not at all familiar.  We also checked the temperature of the fruit spread before putting it in jars and then instead of using a boiling water bath, we inverted the jars.  The jars, of course, had to be sterilized but we did it in 2 minutes in the Cannery’s new dishwasher—I want one like this at home!!

At the end of the day, I had 21 jars of very tasty strawberry fruit spread.  I know because Emily and I sampled each variety and gave it 2 thumbs up.  StrawberrySpread

So basically, getting our spread approved for market requires 4 steps.  My day at the Cannery fulfilled Step 1, becoming familiar with the rules, regulations, and procedures, working out recipe details, and making a test batch of each variety.   Step 2 is submitting the recipes for approval, which can be done at the same time as Step 3, designing food labels.  The Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (VDACS) must then approve the labels. Finally, step 4 is scheduling a state inspection visit at the Cannery after the recipes and labels are approved.

Hopefully, this will all come together before strawberry season!
In the meantime, stay tuned for recipes using our strawberry spreads.

 

 

 

 

This is not the post I planned to write today—I planned to write about making strawberry fruit spread at the Prince Edward Cannery, and I will but first, how to de-skunk a dog…

Tuesday is yoga night so Bruce and I were pretty relaxed when we made the mistake of thinking we could add Internet service to the farm’s new IPad quickly & maybe watch an epiSnickers&DoodleSnowsode of Chopped.  An hour into my phone conversation with tech support, Snickers and Doodle, our wonderful but precocious Australian Shepherds appeared on the deck after cruising the farm.  It took Bruce only one whiff to know who they’d been hanging out with.  We ignored them and continued with our futile tech support call knowing it was going to be a long night.  Finally, after almost 2 hours we got to the fun task of de-skunking our favorite canines.

If you’re wondering, tomato juice does not work!  But, we do have a recipe that works. We found it on-line years ago so I no longer have the link but I keep it on my phone as a Note – you never know when you’ll need it

De-Skunking RecipeDe-skunk

1 qt. 3% hydrogen peroxide

¼ c baking soda

1 tsp dish soap

  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a bucket. We use one recipe per dog
  2. Wet the lucky pooch
  3. Wear rubber gloves and use a sponge to apply the solution (we pour any extra over the dogs as a top dressing)
  4. Rinse, sniff, and repeat

We live in a small cottage so washing stinky dogs in the house is not an option.  Fortunately, our horse barn has a wash rack with warmish water.  It was 350 F outside so we prepared the first batch, bundled up, and with dogs mistakenly excited about our late night walk headed for the barn.

We woke the horses, mini-mule, and chickens but the barn cats, Jewel, Larry, Darryl, and Darryl, were happy to see us. We sealed all the exits—there would be no escaping!  I held and Bruce de-skunked Snickers first.  She was definitely more stoic about it—and stinkier! Doodle was sure it was the end of the world as she knows it, but Doodle is a professional worrier.  The cats gathered around and supervised.

Around midnight, our overalls were in the laundry, Snickers and Doodle were happily tucked in their crates and we capped the evening with yesterday’s Daily Show.

Today we bought 6 more quarts of hydrogen peroxide—skunk season has just begun!

We couldn't capture it with still photos but Sara and Rick caught the kids playing gladiator and levitating on video--oh, to be a kid on a springlike day! Wonder what they'll think when their playground is covered with snow tomorrow.

 

The kids have all arrived and they are growing up healthy, strong and fast.  The final tally is 10 handsome bucks and 10 beautiful does.  Our last doe completed the kidding season on Feb. lastkid11 and presented us with a lovely tan buck.  Based on the breeding dates (and a distinctive set of ears), this youngQuizno fella is the only offspring of our very handsome Kiko buck, Quizno.   The rest of the kids are the offspring of a Boer “rent-a-buck” who belonged to our local extension agent.  Sadly, he has since passed but he gave us a fine crop of kids.

Most of the does will be added to our herd and bred to Quizno next year, furthering the positive traits that each breed contributes.   Two of the kids have been purchased as 4-H projects and they are currently learning to walk on a lead—challenging for the two and four legged kids. Look for these teams at upcoming 4-H events this summer.   The bucks will be available for sale before Easter and should average 40 lbs. For more information, contact Sara at 540-424-3987 or para Espańol, llame a Rick a 434-987-5896.

A favorite leisure pastime on the farm is watching the antics of the kids.  They have essentially four games they play when not engaged in the primary activities of eating or sleeping.  Game #1 is “king/queen of the mountain.”  This is played on the bridge-like structure built by Rick and Katie, Sara’s mom.    kingofmtn I have seen as many as three on the top but that never lasts long. There’s always an onslaught of challengers not only on the ramps, but also on the side.    Game #2 is standing on mom while she is trying to rest and chew her cud—just chillin’.  Some of the kids are already quite heavy and I’m thinking that the moms may be tiring of this IMG_4809game.  Game #3 is the helicopter game when the kids magically levitate on all fours—truly amazing (and hard to catch on camera)! They are not jumping like a horse but actually hovering with all four hooves equidistant from the ground.  Finally, game #4 is the gladiator challenge or classic head-butt activity.  Many of them have begun to grow horns so in time this could, from a human perspective, appear pretty hazardous.

The kids are enjoying exploring the pasture and, along witgoatspastureh their moms, celebrating their release from the confinement of the “Palace.” Green is starting to appear in the fields and we are all hoping that spring is on its way!

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Rick had quite a surprise on New Year's Day when he discovered two healthy female kids nursing in the field.  We thought the kidding would begin about January 15 but as with people, sometimes calculations and reality don't quite jive.  We've welcomed new kids almost daily since then and we are anxiously waiting for the last couple of does to kid so we can return to a more normal sleep schedule.  Fortunately Bruce built them a fine new maternity ward with four "birthing suites" which have heat lamps and heated water buckets to get us through the freezing polar vortex period.

The kids got us off to a running start in 2014 and we have great hopes for the strawberry "patch" and vineyard, as well.  Once spring arrives, we'll double our strawberry patch.  Rick says that will be about 40,000 strawberry plants-wow!   Just like the goats our new plants will be the offspring of our existing plants.  In the world of strawberries, these are called daughter plants (sorry, no sons) and when cut and planted will produce great strawberries this season, as well as their own daughter plants for next year (OMG, how many plants will we have then?).

We will also expand our vineyard in the spring. Currently, we have eight acres under vine with four varieties; Petit Verdot, Merlot, Malbec, and Pinot Gris.   We will add two more acres and three more varieties; Chardonnay, Viognier, and Cabernet Franc.  Bruce and Rick can hardly control their enthusiasm as they contemplate setting several hundred more posts!  The new vineyard will be on Route 619 (aka Ruritan Lake Road) across from the existing vineyard.  This year we will add a pond betweenNewVineyard1:14 the two vineyards, which will provide the water used to irrigate the vines, as well as a great picnic spot.  Future plans include a winery, tasting room and farm market, also on Route 619.