Vineyard

Not unlike a major motion picture, our wine has been three years in the making -- from planting our vines to harvesting the first fruit to fermenting, aging and filtering the wine and, finally, bottling our first wines!  Last week, with the help of friends, we bottled 930 cases of Meritage, Merlot, Cycle 76 (aka Pinot Gris), Rivanna Red, Rose, and Viognier wine.

I want to start at the end and say thanks to our friends, Gary, Pam, Rick, and Stephanie for showing up early in the morning and learning the process with us through the day.  Thanks also to Matthieu and Jason at King Family Vineyards and the guys from Hunter Bottling Company for being our guides.

Cunningham Creek first bottling

Hunter Bottling Co. truck

 

The Hunter Bottling Company truck is amazing.  It is a self-contained mini-factory that cleans, fills, corks or caps, and labels bottles at an amazing rate and then expels the filled cases down a conveyor belt.

 

Placing bottles on conveyor CCW bottling

As you probably guessed this doesn't happen without human assistance.  Pam, Stephanie, Bruce, and I were the ground crew while Gary, Rick P. and Rick H. manned stations on the truck.  The process begins and ends with cases on a pallet.

Job #1 is lifting each case of empty bottles off the pallet and setting it down upside down on the conveyor belt to begin the bottles journey. First thing, it's cleaned with a jet of nitrogen and then it goes to the filler.

 

The clean bottles are then filled with wine and either capped or corked, depending on whether or not the wine was fermented in oak.  The Rose and Cycle 76 (aka Pinot Gris) were fermented and aged in stainless and capped.  The Merlot, Rivanna Red, Meritage, and Viognier were fermented and aged in oak and corked.

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After filling and corking/capping, comes labeling.

IMG_1740 Cycle 76 Pinot Gris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

wine on its way to the box

Once labeled, the bottles travel down the belt to humans again.  Two sets of nimble and careful hands place each bottle back in the case and the last machine tapes it closed.  As you can see in this video, Gary, Rick and Rick worked hard and as this picture shows, they also had fun.

Cunningham Creek wine freshly bottled

 

labeling the boxes

 

After being taped, the box travels down the conveyor belt to more sets of quick and nimble hands.  This time the task is to label the box and place it carefully back on the pallet.

 

 

wrapping the loaded pallets

 

Finally, its wrapped in plastic and ready for transport.  It turned out that this job required special expertise and became the sole responsibility of Pam.

 

 

We sampled the Rose and Cycle 76 and gave it a thumbs up.  The reds go through a "bottle shock" period and need to "rest" for about a month before we taste them, so we are trying to be patient.   But, they will be ready for tasting along with our Strawberry Wine at our Strawberry Fest on May 21.  Hope to see you there!

Cunningham Creek corks

 

 

 

We finished our first harvest—hooray!

Before I tell/show you more about the harvest, I want to thank my “happiness engineer” (this is the title they use) at WordPress.com for telling me about an app called EXIFPurge that removes orientation metadata from photos. It’s now an added step to run my blog photos through EXIFPurge before loading them, but no more upside down/inside out photos!

About the harvest...

We harvested seven varieties which totaled 23 ½ tons of grapes from our vineyard and two vineyards we lease. Depending on the variety its now in barrels or tanks at King Family Vineyard transitioning from grapes to wine.

Harvesting is a truly tactile process—drawing heavily on sight, taste, and odor.  I can’t capture the taste or smell but I’ve got some great photos that will give you a sense of the whole Cab Francprocess.  We harvested four of the five red grapes that are used to make a Bordeaux blend.

Cabernet Franc (left)

Cab Sauv CabSav

 

 

 

Cabernet Sauvignon (right)

Merlot (left)

 

 

MFF Petit VerdotPetit Verdot

We also harvested three whites.

Young ChardonnayThis is young Chardonnay several weeks before harvesting.

Pinot Gris is the gray white winePinot Gris

 

 

 

 

 

Viognier

 

 

Viognier is the considered the white wine of Virginia.

 

In addition to great grapes, we discovered you need the help of fabulous friends and family to get the harvest in.

harvesting Cab Franc LHV

harvesting at LHV

 

 

 

 

 

We had some beautiful weather for harvesting and also some very wet days.  Can you identify the people under the rain gear?

Harvesting in the Rain LHV

 

Beth harvesting in the rain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After harvest, the grapes were transported to King Family Vineyards and stored in the cold Weighing the grapesroom overnight.  Loading the trailer

 

 

 

 

 

The next day each pallet was weighed and then sorted.

 

sorting

Happily, we were fortunate to also have fabulous friends and family to help process the grapes at the sorting and vibrating tables.

sorting Cab Franc

 

 

 

So, what's next? First, Matthieu and Bruce will turn all those wonderful grapes into incredible wine.   Then, we'll share them with you at Cunningham Creek Winery (at Middle Fork Farm).  We plan to break this month -- stay tuned!

 

 

IMG_9579As of Sunday, the whites (Chardonnay, Viognier, and Pinot Gris) were sorted, pressed and safely tucked into barrels and tanks (and available for a first taste). So, we moved on to making Rose using the young Cab Franc grapes harvested on Saturday.

Rose is usually made with red grapes that are lightly crushed and allowed to sit for a short time before being pressed. This makes the lovely pinkish color, which reflects the time on skins and grape variety.

As with the white grapes, after harvesting we refrigerated the grapes overnight.  This helped them retain their juice and assured that they Cab Franc in the bindidn't prematurely start to ferment.  On Sunday, they started their trek through various pieces of equipment to transition from fruit to wine. First,  we sorted to eliminate bad fruit and then the grapes moved from sorting table to conveyor to de-stemmer to bin.

They stayed in covered bins until Tuesday, when they moved again.  This time from bin to conveyor to press.

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After the press, the juice (collected in the trough below) went to stainless steel tanks. In the late spring,  It will be bottled and we hope you’ll come by next summer to enjoy some with us.

 

Rose is best served chilled and (based on my research) pairs well with almost anything—spicy foods, cheeses, flatbread, salads, seafood, and more. Check out Food and Wine for some tasty sounding recipes.

So far, I've been telling you about the "fun" part of making wine but I've failed to mention that there's a whole lot of equipment and winery cleaning that takes place constantly.  You could say that 75% of wine making is actually spent cleaning.  Fortunately, we had lots of help!

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Gary (the newest member of the Lucy and Ethyl Club) received kudos for getting the conveyor the cleanest ever.

 

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Sometimes its not just cleaning but taking apart and then cleaning. Here's Rick cleaning the de-stemmer after he disassembled it.

 

 

Stay tuned for news of our red grape harvest -- Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Cab Sav, and Malbec.  Depending on the weather, we'll start next week.

 

 

We've been really busy harvesting, sorting, and pressing for the past week.  As of Saturday night, we've progressed to the wine making process for Pinot Gris, Viognier, and Chardonnay.

Pinot Gris was the first to be harvested--approximately 4 1/2 tons, which will make about 300 cases of wine!  As you can imagine, harvesting goes much faster with many hands.  So, we were fortunate that along with Bruce, Rick, our regular farm crew, and me, our friend, Brandon, stopped by and helped.

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Like every job, there's a certain amount of prep before you get to the main event.  Before harvesting, there are two main tasks. The order doesn't really matter. The bird netting needs to be unclipped at the bottom and raised up.  For me, this is the worst part -- lots of bending and sometimes contorting to get the clip undone.  Also lugs to hold the clusters have to be distributed every few plants along the rows that are going to be harvested. Each lug holds 25-30 lbs and at the end of the harvest we drive down the rows and load the full lugs on the truck or trailer.

 

The actual harvesting was really fun, as harvesting anything you've grown always is!   Each cluster of grapes is inspected before we clip it and drop it into a lug. We check for sour rot (smells like vinegar) and bird, bug, or critter damage and remove the bad grapes.  This makes sorting at the winery go much faster.

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In addition to our 2-legged harvesters, we had Snickers and Doodle.  Their job descriptions were at first unclear but Doodle quickly appointed herself "official protector of filled lugs" and took this job very seriously.  Snickers did what herd dogs do--she herded me and made sure I didn't get lost in the vineyard.

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IMG_9426Once the grapes are loaded up, it goes to King Family Winery for processing.  First, it's refrigerated overnight and then the next day it gets sorted--once again looking for bad grapes--and pressed.  The sorting table  always reminds me of  Lucy and Ethyl hiding chocolates in their hats (and elsewhere).   For that reason, I've initiated the Lucy and Ethyl Club for all our friends who graciously volunteer to help with this task.  Pam is the most recent member of this very exclusive club.

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From the sorting table, it travels up the conveyor belt to the press, where the grapes are pressed and juice is extracted.  The juice goes into a fermenter for 1-3 weeks depending on the style of wine being made.  From there it goes into either stainless steel tanks or oak barrel to await bottling. The winemakers, Matthieu and Bruce, monitor it along the way for flavor and body so that's it tastes just right when it gets to your glass!

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In the last three years we’ve had a lot of firsts…

Our first strawberries

Middle Fork Farm strawberries

Our first grape vines

Middle Fork Farm vines

Our first kids

Middle Fork Farm kids

Our first spread

Middle Fork Farm spreads

Our first winemaking

Middle Fork Farm wine making

Tomorrow, we’ll have another much anticipated first—our first grape harvest from OUR vines! We’ll only harvest the white varieties, Pinot Gris, Viognier, and Chardonnay tomorrow. The reds need another week or so before they’ll be ripe enough to pick.

Immature Chardonnay

Middle Fork Farm Chardonnay

Mature Chardonnay

Middle Fork Farm Chardonnay

 

 

 

 

Bruce and Rick determine picking time by testing the balance of the sweetness (measured in Brix) and acidity of the fruit. To do this, they take a random sample every couple of days when the fruit starts to look ripe. The sample is then tested and when the fruit is above 20 Brix with a pH that is less than 3.3, it’s time to pick.

Pinot Gris

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Viognier

Middle Fork Farm Viognier

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, it’ll be an early start and our first task will be to pull back the bird netting that has Middle Fork Farm grapesprotected the growing fruit from, you guessed it—birds. Grape clusters are snipped at the base of the cluster and placed in bins. When we’re done, the bins go to King Family Vineyard to be made into wine. It will be refrigerated overnight and then sorted on Tuesday.

Stay tuned for pictures of picking and sorting and more about the wine making process.

It snowed—hooray! I know not everyone shares my excitement, and I wouldn’t want to be living in Boston with 95” of snow, but it’s really beautiful! First thing in the morning it’s so pristine and quiet.   It just seems like for those few minutes, the world is a calm and peaceful place and I love it (so do Snickers and Doodle)!

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The strawberry rows and vineyard looked lovely covered in snow for one last sleep before spring. They are both in a dormant state so the snow will not be harmful.

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Rick, however,  was planning to start pruning vines this week but looks like he'll have to delay a bit.

 

The kids weren’t too sure what to make of the strange white stuff on the ground and the does weren’t leading the way. They all came out of the barn to soak up the sun but only a couple brave kids ventured out to investigate.

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So, this blog isn’t really about snow but it had to be mentioned. It’s about the Valentine Wine Tasting/Strawberry Spread Sampling event last Friday at the Jefferson Pharmacy . We visited with neighbors, including Leslie and George from Thistle Gate Winery and made some new friends.

Sara, Beth, and I had a lot of fun preparing and sharing a couple of new Middle Fork Farm strawberry spread recipes.   We served our old favorite, a melted Brie with Strawberry-Balsamic Spread, and introduced two new dessert recipes: mini no-cook cheesecakes topped with Strawberry-Lavender Spread, and mini “pop-tarts” filled with Strawberry-Vanilla Spread.

Both are simple yet scrumptious recipes. Of course, the strawberry spread flavors can be switched around depending on your favorite or what you have on-hand.

No-Cook Mini Cheesecakes with Strawberry Topping
Makes 30

Ingredients:
4 oz. cream cheese, softened FullSizeRender
½ c. sour cream
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Middle Fork Farm Strawberry-Lavender Spread
2 packages mini phyllo dough crusts (you can use directly from the freezer or crisp them in the oven at 350 ˚F for 3-4 minutes. Cool before filling.)

Directions: 

  1. Beat cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, and vanilla in a small bowl; refrigerate 30 minutes.
  2. Spoon cream cheese mixture into phyllo cups.
  3. Add 1 tsp. Middle Fork Farm Strawberry-Lavender Spread to each cup.
  4. Enjoy!

The pop-tarts were really Sara and Beth’s creation, kid-tested by Sara’s daughters, Laura and Maya. Their idea was to come up with something easy for an after school snack. We made a mini size for sampling purposes but they could be made any size depending on how you cut the dough.

Mini “Pop-Tarts” with Strawberry Filling

Ingredients:
1 package refrigerated pie crusts, brought to room temperature IMG_8856
Middle Fork Farm Strawberry-Vanilla Spread
Sprinkles (PINK was preferred by the 6 and 9-year old set)
Powdered Sugar Glaze (whisk together 1/2 c. powdered sugar and 1-1/2 tsp. milk)

Directions:

  1. Roll each pie crust to 1/8 in. thin on a lightly floured surface.
  2. Cut the crust into rectangles, approximately 3in. x 1in.
  3. Place a small spoonful (about 1/4 tsp.) of Strawberry-Vanilla Spread on the bottom half of each rectangle.
  4. With your finger, wet the outside edge of each rectangle and fold in half, pressing edges together and sealing the spread inside.
  5. Bake at 375 ˚F for 10 minutes.
  6. Before they cool, drizzle your powdered sugar glaze over each piece and immediately sprinkle with your favorite (PINK) sprinkles!

Let us know if you like our strawberry spread desserts  and send us your dessert ideas to share.

Well, I didn’t meet my goal for writing blogs in 2014, but it’s a new year with new hope and (more realistic) ambition -- one blog per month. So, here’s my January blog…

Wrapping up 2014

Goats: If you’ve been following our FB page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Middle-Fork-Farm/540326095986621), you already know we have 21 adorable, rambunctious goat kids -- 12 girls and 9 boys. They were all born in a very busy six-day period from December 9 - 14. The does gave birth so quickly that Bruce and Rick had to convert our 4 spacious birthing stalls into 6 less spacious birthing stalls to accommodate all the new moms and kids.

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With lots of family help, Sara and I tagged, vaccinated, weighed, and photographed all the kids when they were one week old. There was lots of chasing, laughing, and squealing by humans and kids alike (and occasional barking from Snickers and Doodle while barn cats, Jewel and Larry, came by periodically to make sure we were on task). We weighed the kids again this past weekend and they are growing fast—approximately ½ lb per day!

P1070610 We decided that we should pick a naming theme for each set of kids to help us keep track of each generation (we only name the does as the bucklings will be sold). Laura was captivated last year when she studied Greek gods and goddesses (Percy Jackson helped, too), so we decided to go with a Greek theme for this year. Not all the doelings are named but so far we’ve got Hera, Hestia, Aphrodite (of course), Artemis and Demeter.

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Vines and Wines: Rick and crew were busy in the fall winterizing the vineyard. This involved two key tasks: winterizing pipes and irrigation lines and “hilling” the vines. Hilling is just what it sounds like—making hills around each vine. This protects the grafted wood from freezing. As you might imagine, this can be a very labor-intensive process if done by hand. So, in typical Rick style he researched “hillers” and designed and built—yes, built —an attachment for our tractor to make the task more efficient. Yeah, Rick!!

IMG_2554Bruce has also been hard at work making our first vintages of red wine with guidance from his mentor, Matthieu Finot, winemaker at King Family Vineyards. These will be our reds when we IMG_2621open our winery/tasting room in Spring 2016! We had lots of help from family and friends in the fall sorting and processing the grapes before they could be made into wine.

We now have four varieties of red wine ageing in barrels. From these, Bruce plans to make two pure varietal wines and one red blend wine. Three of the four varieties have been “topped off” (in lay terms, the barrels were filled with wine so there’s no room for air) and will rest for a year. The fourth barrel still has to finish its 2nd fermentation.

In late fall, we began working with architect, Susannah Marshall, on the winery/tasting room/farm store design. We’ve picked a picturesque site between the vineyard and the woods and plan to start construction in the spring.

Strawberries and Spreads: The strawberries, like the vines, have been winterized. It’s a longer IMG_8568process because they go dormant much slower than the vines and not only does the foliage have to be trimmed but the wounds from the pruning have to heal before we can put them to sleep for the winter with a cover of hay.

We hope you’ve tasted our Strawberry Balsamic, Strawberry Lavender, and Strawberry Vanilla Spreads. They are available around town at Foods of all Nations, Great Harvest Bread, Jefferson Pharmacy, Michie Tavern, Salt Artisan Market, The Inn at Monticello, and The Bakery in Farmville. We also have 9 oz. jars available at the farm, but we are sold out of Samplers (note to self—make more Samplers in 2015!).

photo 1We received approval from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs (VDACS) for our new flavors, Spicy Strawberry Spread and Ginger Lover’s Peach. They will be available through the farm and local stores in 2015. I am working on a new strawberry flavor (can’t disclose the flavor yet) and will write more after I finish experimenting with the recipe. Our farm kitchen now has VDACS approval so in the future we will make our spreads both at the farm and The Prince Edward Cannery. All of our spreads qualify for the VA Finest designation.

Last word on strawberry spreads…we are thrilled to be listed as an Edible Pick in the Artisan IMG_8569Issue (winter 2015) of Edible Blue Ridge!

A glimpse of what’s coming in 2015…

  • Prune the vines, then “de-hill” them
  • Uncover the berries
  • Plant more Merlot vines
  • Plant more strawberries
  • Wean the kids
  • Breed the yearling does
  • Start construction on the winery/tasting room/farm store
  • Open for Pick Your Own Strawberries starting late May/early June

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We had this amazing moment two springs ago when we realized we had transitioned from Middle Fork Farm to Middle Fork Farm and Vineyard.   Now, we are one step closer to becoming not just a farm and vineyard but also a winery!

It takes three years for vines to produce a healthy harvest and 15-18 months of barrel aging to make a good red wine. As our first vines were planted in 2012 and our goal is to open our tasting room in the spring of 2016, we had a challenge. The solution was to buy grapes—Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, and contract for custom crush at King Family Vineyards in Crozet. At King Family, Bruce is working with expert winemaker, Matthieu Finot, to make a Bordeaux blend as well as individual varietals.

A couple of weeks ago, equipped with lugs, needle nose snippers, and gloves Rick, Bruce and our crew got their first picking experience. With the help of the vineyard owners, they harvested about 700 lbs of grapes.   They opted to sort as they picked so it took about 3 hours.

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Bruce compared it to taking ornaments off a Christmas tree—there’s always one more ornament/cluster hidden among the branches. He also noted that it is definitely not unskilled labor as you have to be able to distinguish between ripe, not yet ripe, and rotten fruit while lifting the bird netting and moving down the row at a reasonable pace.IMG_2474

To begin, you grab a cluster and check for ripeness and a deep color (not green). Ripe healthy grapes are snipped at the top of the cluster and dropped in a lug. Grapes that are rotten, not yet ripe, or pierced (in this case by wasps) are rejected and either left on the vine or thrown on the ground.   The lug is kicked forward until full, somewhere between 20-30 lbs, and a new lug is started.   Full lugs are left for later and stacked in the pickup truck to make the trip to the winery, where they get sorted again.

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We also purchased grapes from California due to the grape shortage in Virginia. The Merlot and Cabernet Franc arrived last week and Bruce, Rick, daughter Beth, friend Nancy, and I sorted. If I had to pick one word to describe the experience, it would be sticky!

Matthieu, Bruce, and Rick set up the equipment and we went to work.

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Bruce unloaded the fruit, Nancy and I sorted for leaves and sticks (except when I was taking photos).  Initially the sorting table was going a bit fast for our novice hands so Bruce slowed it down. But then Matthieu came by and sped it up—oh no! Nancy and I both remembered Lucy and Ethyl at the chocolate factory and felt their pain. If you haven’t seen this episode of I Love Lucy, it’s a lot of fun. Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NPzLBSBzPI.

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Next, it went by a conveyer belt to the destemmer, which shot the stems into a bin and the fruit fell out the bottom to a vibrating table.

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Beth and Rick worked the vibrating table, removing  any stems and nub grapes left by the destemmer.

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The clean grapes traveled by another conveyor belt to a bin where they'll ferment and become wine.

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We've got more picking and sorting to do.  Next time we sort, we know to wear long sleeves, pants, and comfortable closed shoes—grape juice has a way of getting everywhere!

The next day, Bruce and Beth bottled the strawberry wine.  Bruce added a wine tannin so it's a dry fruit wine and quite tasty!

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A lot has happened on the farm since my last post, so here’s an update on the goats, strawberries, vines and bees.

Quizno, our buck,  was happily reunited with the does at the end of the June. Sara says that not only was Quizno elated but the ladies were pretty darn happy to see him, as well. They

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are now enjoying the ample grass and forage in their new field and, hopefully, all or some of the does are already carrying their next offspring.  The average gestation period for meat goats is 150 days, which means we should start having kids on the ground around December 1 (hopefully, we won’t have an arctic blast during kidding as we had this year!).IMG_4377

This year’s crop of does are continuing to grow (especially their ears) and entertain us with theirIMG_4392 antics. You can see Apple’s ear taking off as she and her friends race down the hill to greet Sara (hum, does Sara have treats in her pocket?). Annabeth is the adorable kid playing hide and seek inside the tree and in the next photo, her friend, ShyGirl, is trying to squeeze in with her.

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Snickers and Doodle are continuing to work as a team to round up the kids for us. This is tremendously helpful when we need to catch them for worming, hoof trimming, or any other reason. Check out this very short video on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5iR4oBrgWU&feature=youtu.be. Once they have them corralled Snickers patrols the perimeter like a herd dog should, while Doodle prefers to pass out kisses to any goats that are willing. It’s a tough life for dogs and goats at MFF!

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Our strawberry season was shorter than anticipated due to the rains in early June. We were hoping our ever-bearing plants would make a comeback and produce a July crop but sadly it didn’t happen. We still have plenty of berries in the freezer for our spreads so I’m making it as fast as I can! We sell it at the Fluvanna Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays, Farmers in the

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Park on Wednesday, and the UVA Market on Thursday. This week we introduced a sampler pack which includes three 4 oz. jars--one of each flavor and it sold out in no time. It’s a great choice if you can’t decide which flavor you like best or as a gift pack (great alternative to a bottle of wine).

In addition to all the traditional uses, we’re discovering lots of new ways to enjoy strawberry spread. Our friend, Mark, served 4th of July ribs cooked with a sauce made from our Strawberry Balsamic spread. I’m trying to get the recipe but Mark’s not a recipe kinda guy -- we’ll see. He also made a chicken marinade by combining Strawberry Vanilla and tomatillo sauce. Daughter Amy created a summer cocktail by combining Strawberry Lavender spread and vodka, then adding sparkling water, and finishing it off with a sprig of mint. Thursday a group of ladies were excited about scones and strawberry spread—a little afternoon tea? And, of course a super simple dessert is topping your favorite ice cream with Strawberry Vanilla spread. If you’ve got a recipe using any of our strawberry spreads, send it to me (with pictures, if possible) and we’ll share it!

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The vines are prospering and look beautiful! It looks like we had minimal damage from the winter this year (those burning hay bales must have helped)! Our new sprayer and spray program are doing great and the irrigation system for Block A and Block B are photo 5operational. As of Friday, all 400 posts for the new vineyard, Block C, are in the ground---good work guys! Next, comes trellis wires and then irrigation to complete Block C.

The beehives are filling up with honey. Both hives now have two supers and the bees are starting to draw out the wax in the upper super. Its really amazing watching them work and seeing the growth of the honeycomb and development of the eggs. Cover crops and crop rotation are an important part of sustainable farming so Rick planted one of the empty berry fields with cover crops, buckwheat and clover, and the bees love it!

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Remember to send us your Strawberry Spread recipes and photos!

For all its promise and beauty, spring in Virginia is quite fickle…

Every part of the farm is alive and showing growth.  The does are enjoying their lush new pasture and the kids are just plain cute! P1050806 P1050830

Isn't she adorable?

The bulbs and flowering trees are creating new displays of color everyday. 

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The bees are making honey and the frogs are reproducing (by the millions!)

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Strawberry field #1 is packed with blossoms and field #2 has about 10,000 daughter plants!

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About the fickle part… 

The new vines are in the ground and we were starting to see bud break when a nasty cold front blew in freezing temperatures--not good for vines (strawberries are much hardier). We decided that our best preventative would be to strategically place round hay bales around the vineyard and create a smoke layer to insulate the ground (helicopters and wind machines are more effective but just a bit more costly).

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In the afternoon of Day 1, Bruce and Rick checked the wind direction and put 8 round bales in the vineyard (with the help of Snickers and Doodle), ready for lighting sometime around midnight. Unfortunately, in the process of igniting bales the truck got stuck in the mud, so it wasn't until about 2 am that they called it a night.

That just about finished off the farm's supply of old round bales so the next day we called friends and neighbors and located a large stash of really old musty bales, ours for the taking and burning—thank you, Channing!

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Again, we checked the wind and placed the bales. When we were almost done, we looked across the vineyard and noticed that we’d dropped a bale on a smoldering pile from the night before—oops! That one went up in smoke.

When Spring came to her senses and returned to central VA, we checked the vines and it looks like our big burns did some good, despite the 26F temperature-- only limited damage to the vines.

So, enough of the fickleness!  Like all farmers we want spring to bring rain (just enough), plenty of sun, and warm temperatures!

As I write this, our "just enough" rain has turned into 2" with another 2" possible--we might be needing rain boots for our goats!