Tag Archives: growing grapes

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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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!

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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