Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Snow on the Farm

Our Christmas day was indeed white here on the farm. It literally snowed all day Saturday the 25th starting at 6 am. and lasting until 7 AM. on Monday. We got around 9 inches of snow and it provided for a good blanket of insulation on the blueberries above.
The butterfly flight house and milkweed field blanketed by snow.

Here are the blueberry starts under cover of landscape fabric behind the pump house. I put the fabric down earlier this month due to the harsh and cold temperatures this month. I believe that it will go down as the coldest December on record for this part of the county. The temperature has only reached an average high two days this month.
Luckily, most of the time the plants have been covered in snow providing some relief to the below average temperatures. It has been 9 degrees twice and we have had over 16 inches of snow to boot. Looks like we will be breaking out the short sleeves soon however, as the forecast calls for 55 degrees on Dec. 31st.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hop'n Blueberry Farm in Back Home Magazine

Wow, we are excited to be in the latest issue, Jan-Feb 2011, of Back Home magazine. This is a really great magazine that I have subscribed to for quite sometime. It is all about sustainable living and is a must for the farm as far as I am concerned, and not just because they have an article about my farm in it( although that makes em pretty cool!)

It was written by Jennifer McGaha whose daughter volunteered at the farm for this years Family Farm Tour. Jennifer came out later and spent a few hours with me on the farm. I have not yet read the article, but it is on page 40. I think there are even some good ole color photos in there as well.

I am currently trying to thaw out some ground and mulch here on the farm and am working on trying to secure some more funding for the farm for 2011 when it is too cold to work outside. The funding will be crucial to the survival of the farm in the near future and it sure consumes a lot of time, but hopefully it will pay off and I can really get to work expanding the farm.

If you can't find Back Home magazine, by the way, look on line at
You can order it there.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Winter Blues

Did I ever say that weeding was fun? If I did or ever do, shoot me. I have still been working on weeding and bedding down my three field crops. Let's start with a blueberry update.

The good news is that I only have 6 more blueberry bushes to weed. Well, that's good news to just one farmer in the world anyway. My only problem now is finding enough free suitable mulch for them. I am looking hard to find old pine sawdust or fine chips to finish three 250 foot rows of blueberries. That's about 9 pickup loads. Anybody got a source?

I have recently finished mowing out my hop vines and I am looking forward, like a condemned man looks forward to the firing squad, to start weeding them and laying down the mulch for them. I have some composted cow manure that I am going to put down on the plants before I mulch them. I have to get on the stick, the really cold weather is yet to come.

I started tackling the insurmountable task of cleaning up my 1/8 acre of weeds that contain one weed that I want to keep, the milkweed. Man, that has been a real challenge. The use of chemicals might just be an alternative to this mangle of tangled vines, stickers, and stringy contagious assorted other rhizomes. I must say, the other day it was weeds 1, Van 0.

Next year, I will have an opportunity to get my milkweed in the production stage and try to keep up with keeping them a bit more organized in defense for the aggressive weed attacks.

I got my last installment on my AgOptions Grant last month and I am now working on another grant to help finance my last phase of the expansion here on the farm. It will be for the picnic shelter and bathroom facility. I am a firm believer that this is going to be the most critical part for the survival of my small family farm here. It will be the make or break it part of the puzzle. Ah, if it weren't for stress in my life where would I be. ( Without shingles for one thing!)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Grant for School Tours Available

I just saw some good news from ASAP in Asheville. They have grant money available for school tours to farms. Although my butterflies are now gone, we still offer tours here for learning experiences on the farm, including conserving natural resources, composting, recycling, and alternative energy.

Check out the following and be sure to say you want to tour the Hop'n Blueberrry farm if you are a teacher! Call Molly Nicholie at Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project for more information on the Farm Field Trip Mini-Grant Program at 236-1282 ext. 102 and hurry, deadline is Nov. 5. If chosen, you can use this into next year.

Lately I have been in anything but heaven doing the two things I hate more than raking leaves, and they are paperwork and weeding.

The paperwork has to do with the financial statement needed for my AgOptions Grant, due in a few days. Problem is the I first had to clean up my desk generating two full trashcans of accumulated old notes and papers. I am still working on it.

The weeding I figured will take me 28 more hours! I don't think I can make it through that one without going bananas. Oh well, a little at a time.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Marion 4th Grade Arrives

Susan Childers, former National Teacher of the Year, brought out her fourth grade class from Marion, NC today and they spent almost three hours here in the clear blue skies of autumn in the mountains.

While here, her kids learned about medicinal herbs and why it is important to save our native species. Then they learned a great deal about conserving energy and natural resources here and at their homes. We looked at my solar panels and at the gravity feed drip irrigation system. We also looked at the benefits of composting with compost bins and talked about vermiculture.
Then it was off to the butterfly flight house. Along the way we looked at nectar plants and saw some swallowtails sipping nectar. We also visited the milkweed experimental patch and collected monarch caterpillars.
The kids took a few caterpillars back with them to school.

Then we went inside the flight house and captured four monarchs to tag them the Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas. The kids did a countdown and released them for their trip to Mexico.

I also was able to recruit 7 future crop scientist from the group. They were all given a newly rooted blueberry bush and each was given a task of using different techniques for overwintering the plants. They will all get back to me next spring with their results.

One thing I did learn was that these kids were really smart and very interested in the farm. I was amazed at how much they knew already. I only hope that a few of them will carry on and become our next modern farmers. Thanks again to Susan Childers for helping stimulate their learning abilities.
More pictures can be seen on our Facebook page for the Hop'n Blueberry Farm

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Last Monarch Generation, Blueberry Weeding, and Hops U-Pick

Here is a young monarch Caterpillar not more than a day old. Note the size of the pencil lead next to it. It is the last generation of monarch locally and should be the generation of monarchs to fly back to Mexico. It is amazing how fast and large this little dude can get in just a week. From this point, it will progress to an adult butterfly in about one month and have to scurry on down to our southern border.
A second grade teacher from Ira B Jones Elementary School in Asheville, NC came out Saturday with her husband and triplet boys to view the fight house and possibly set up my first school tours of the butterfly flight house. We are currently working out the logistics. It is a vital first step to the sustainability of the farm.
I have spent this weekend taking advantage of weeding. It is the first break in the heat wave all summer long as far as I am concerned. I was able to work 10 hours each day and not faint from heat exhaustion. Lots of opportunities for recreation were forfeited, but, believe you me, it was a welcome relief to get this job started.
On the hops front, I have had two local brewers come out and take advantage of my U-Pick hops adventure and will have two more this week. If you are a home brewer and read this, come on out and get your own fresh hop brew going.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Caterpillars Are changing To Pupas

The butterfly flight house is experiencing the third generation of monarch butterflies. I just happen to be in the house to film the caterpillar changing into a pupa. The whole process took about 30 minutes. See the time lapse of it by clicking on the link below.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hop Harvest Goes to Pisgah Brewing and Hops U-Pick

Pisgah Brewing Company and the "Burnette Brew"

Nuggets on the vine

My hop harvest, all 18 pounds of it, went to Pisgah Brewing company last month. After 3 years of talking and working with them, and after their initial experimentation last year with wet hops, we finally got it together!
They have named the beer Burnette's Fresh Hop Pale Ale and let me tell you, I may be a little prejudice, but it is really good tasting. It is available now in the Growler or tap at Pisgah and is on tap at places like Barley's in downtown Asheville.

Let me tell you how it came down. First I had to let them know that I was ready to harvest and second, they had to get the ingredients and the boil ready. It takes a little coordination, but they have the act together over there.

Next I incorporated the help of my good friend Tony and we begin the harvest. It took us 5 hours to harvest the hops and only 7 minutes to drive over to the brewery where they dumped the 18 pounds of fresh picked hops into the kettle.

This is what fresh hop, or wet hop beer is all about. Right off the vine and into the boil. The flavor takes on a truly fresher more aromatic flavor. If you like pale ales, this is one of the best in this part of the country.

My second harvest is happening now. I have been picking and packaging the dry hops now and anticipate only about 6 ounces of Cascade, Chinook, and Nuggets combined. But, I am offering to any home brewer a chance to make their own wet hop beer by contacting me now and coming out to pick them yourselves and add them to your brew! Hurry, they may not last!

Now on the the butterfly house. The monarchs have completed one complete cycle and are now working on their third cycle of metamorphosis. I already have chrysalises forming along with eggs, and caterpillars of the third generation of Monarchs.

Outside the flighthouse, the milkweed is attracting wild monarchs and the butterfly attracting flowers on the walkway to the house are hosting hundreds of swallowtails, buckeyes, sulphurs, and fritilaries. It is a great time to schedule a tour to see all phases of the butterfly metamorphosis.

Monarch laying eggs

Inside the butterfly fighthouse

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Monarchs Hatch

It has been one month since I received monarchs for the flight house from Fla. The life cycle has done the complete metamorphosis. I have fresh, bright, magnificent Monarch butterflies in the house. So far there are 15 newbies. I have pictures to follow.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Crop Mob Invades The Farm

Wow, what's it like to have a controlled mob at your place? Usually the term mob is associated with chaos and destruction. Well, that's not entirely wrong when it happens at your farm. Only, the destruction is usually done to weeds and to the mental stability of the farm boss, me! And, the chaos is present only when the farm boss, me, leaves the mobbers to free will resulting in mass exiting of the fields to the surrounding cherry, mulberry, and blueberry plants.

No, really, all kidding aside, the crop mob is a free membership of those that are mostly city dwellers that have little or no opportunity to work at a farm and learn about all the aspects of what it is to be a farmer/producer of one crop or another.

I usually try to tell people it is the modern day version of an ole fashion barn-raising. A time when people of varied interest just get together, and put in a good half-day of hard work to get a job done at a farm with the only reward being the camaraderie of others and of course a home cooked meal at the end of the work period.

I went to the initial crop mob meeting early this spring to help get the idea going, but missed the first 2. It was like a "catch 22" for me. I had so much work here on the farm that I couldn't get away. I finally realized that I needed to get away for a half day to get involved with the mob. Besides, you can only get a mob at your farm until you participate in a mob. That's how it works.

It was fun from the start. My first experience showed me that these "mobbes" worked rain or shine. I also met a bunch of folks that I had something in common with. A great way to tangle with a bunch of folks and enjoy an ole fashion spirit of community, which sadly, is so lacking in today's society.

What I didn't realize was that it is a lot more fun to have them over to your farm. The amount of work that gets done with everyone seemingly having a good time is something that I rarely, if ever, see over here for sure. It was great. And, if I must say, so was the food.

My wife, Martha, fretted forever about this thing for two day, but ended up putting on the best show of the day with a dinner ( southerners eat dinner usually on Sundays in the afternoon) that was spectacular if I must say. A fresh ham, greenbeans, corn, pasta salad, green salad, fresh fruit, rolls, spinach dip, cut vegetables, and cookies. Nobody complained, even after a thunderstorm cut us short for the day.

My advice. Join a crop mob and have some fun, we sure did. To get in touch with our mob go to

Saturday, June 12, 2010

North Carolina State University Article

This is a posted article in the NCSU Perspectives On Line about my hops farm.

My farm continues to be envolved with as much reseach as we can get our hands on. I am very excited to be a part of what may be a new and upcoming food industry here in the state.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Beer City Festival Was A Hopping Success!

It was amazing how the scene at the newly renovated Asheville City County Plaza transformed. What started out as a scene of 20 some white tents spread out over the commons in front of the Buncombe County Courthouse and the Asheville City Building with people busily setting up kegs of beer and children playing in the fountain, quickly grew into a mini-city of wall to wall people smiling, talking, listening to music, and of course, sampling some of the finest brews in the country.

The Hop'n Blueberry Farm was there with hops on. Our farm, along with the other 3 farms that are part of the Southern Applachian Hops Guild, set up shop along with the brewers. With our new banner flying in the hot afternoon breeze, folks started noticing and coming up to our tent to learn about the mysterious flavor ingredient of their favorite beverage in between filling their cups with fresh beer samples.
Pictured above with our new banner are John and Rita Pelczar with Blue Ridge Hops Farm, yours truly, and Scott Grahl and Stephanie Wilis of the Winding River Hops Farm.

Stay tuned for more about this festival and pictures coming this week.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Scientist Envade The Hop Yard

On Wednesday, five scientist came to the farm and spent a couple of hours working in my hop yard taking leaf samples for tissue analysis. In the above picture from left to right are Rob Austin, Jeanine Davis's assistant Tyler, Bill Yarborough, Scott King, and our very own Sue Colucci.

Rob and Scott are soil scientist at North Carolina State University and have received a grant along with Jeanine Davis at the Mountain Horticulture Experimental Station in Fletcher to study the nutritional aspects of hops.

Bill Yarborough is the soil expert for Western North Carolina and works with the Haywood County Soil and Water Conservation District in Waynesville. Sue Colucci is a dual Area Specialized Agricultural Extension agent for Henderson and Buncombe counties and is our regional pathologist.

There are four farms in the area that are presently being studied. A complex soil structure analysis has just been completed and this tissue sampling will complement that report. We should be able to determine more accurately the nutritional needs for the plants.

I am very excited to be a part of this study and hope that these folks get more funding to continue studying the feasibility of growing hops in Western North Carolina. You can see more about this project by going to and reading an article about this project in detail.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Raleigh News and Observer Article

Jay Price, staff writer for the Raleigh News and Observer, recently interviewed me about the Hop'n Blueberry Farm's adventure into hops farming. You can check out the article online at

The butterfly flighthouse is still a work in progress. The frame is up and much detail is being planned for the eventual finish. I am so tired, that you will have to come back to see pictures and find out all the progress.

The above photo shows Tony shooting grade on the greenhouse site. It is 40 x 16 and will be covered in shade cloth. More pics to follow.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Cascade Hops Flowering Now

Cascade Hop Flowers
I noticed the burs of the Cascade hops yesterday. Almost all of the plants are simultaneously flowering at the same time. I have allowed 4 vines to climb and they are at around 15 + feet in height now.

I have been pruning and weeding and have a lot more to go. My experimental project with cover crops is now out of control! I am far behind on getting rid of the cover crops of Crimson Clover and Winter Rye. It is going to take some real time to catch up.

One reason I am so far behind is the construction of the green/flight house. I have been working full time on this project now for 7 days. I hope to get gravel on the base by Monday. Then start putting up the frame work. I laid out the final foundation grading and drainage for the house and waterfall were done today as well.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

You Think You Had A Bad Day?

Really now, how many things did you have go wrong today? Well, I am here to make you feel better about your rotten day, if you are in that category. And if your not, then just read this and see how good your day was comparatively!!!
This was the first day for the actual construction of my greenhouse after all preliminaries were completed like grading, receiving and unloading the greenhouse kit, purchasing and hauling the concrete and wood, getting my good friend Tony over here to help me, and calling up my part-time employer and telling him I would not be in this week.
Right off the bat, within 15 minutes after Tony arrived at 8 AM. trouble started. I had borrowed an 3-point hitch auger to help me drill the 22 holes I needed for the greenhouse/butterfly flighthouse, each of which was 30 inches deep.
I had never hooked one up and had to go through a learning curve which cost me a snapped 3/4 inch 5 inch pin that nearly hit Tony in the brain! After I wiped the sweat off of my brow and continued on, finally getting the device to work, the tractor broke down. The transmission froze up. I worked on it for 2 hours almost burning out the clutch in my truck as I tried to haul it up to level ground.
Meanwhile, Tony worked on digging the first hole for the greenhouse post by hand. He hit a rock, believe it or not, here at the North Fork Rock Nursery, at 12 inches down and had to dig out the hole twice the diameter in order to get it out. I still was having the stress of my life trying to free up the transmission with bolts, steel plates, oil soaked hands, and a lot of cussing.
When I finally got the tractor moving, I realized that I still had work to do on it and had to take the plate off again and beat things with a hammer. 20 minutes later, I ran out of gas before I could dig the first hole.
Before that, I realized that the grade was off where the greenhouse site was and I had to grade it with the tractor. A process similar to brushing your teeth with a shovel. In other words, something that takes a lot of practice and luck and shouldn't be done in the first place.
It was getting late in the afternoon by this time and I started noticing that my neck was burning. Yep, I had severe sunburn going on. Not having a minute to myself, my exposed skin to the clear blue, 80 degree temps, had played havoc on me, burning me to a crisp! Plus, I was getting dehydrated and not thinking straight.
Now comes the fun part. The second hole I was to dig with the now working tractor and auger, I hit a rock again. It cost us another hour of digging, pounding, and cussing. We finally got it set and called it a day at 7pm. this evening.
There is always a silver lining and I am still trying desperately to figure out what it was today. Maybe it was the fact that Tony helped me and didn't expect to get paid. Maybe it was that it didn't rain on us. Maybe it was the fact that if I didn't have a bad day, I wouldn't have any day at all!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Hop Pruning

It has definitely been a pruning time here. I am playing catchup with the hop vines. Check out the video that I posted on YouTube about that. It is best to double click on the video to watch it in wide screen on YouTube. Also click on the 780p to watch it in higher definition. It is located just below and to the right of the video where 360p is located. Put your cursor on it and you can then select 780p.

I have been busy finishing putting in the water lines for irrigation of my milkweed and for water supply for the butterfly flight house that will be erected this week. The site has been graded and a 160 foot row of butterfly attracting flowers has been planted next to the fight/green house.

I am expecting to open the butterfly exhibit by July and possibly earlier. I will be focusing primarily on Monarch butterflies, but will have other native species in the house for observation including Swallowtails, sulphurs, and painted ladies.

Plants inside the flight house will be host plants for these butterflies and I should be able to get several generations of these butterflies for the rest of the summer. There is a lot of work and planting to be done before all of this happens, so stay tuned for the grand opening.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hops Prunning Begins With a Final Note on Ramp Harvesting

It is time to start pruning my hops. I have started with Nuggets which are now 9 feet tall. The vines are about 3/8 in. in diameter at the base. I have stripped out leaves and lateral shoots for the first two feet of the vine. I have also clipped any new vines coming out of the ground. The object is to allow air flow in and around the base of the vine.

This is the same process I did last year to my bines. It allowed me to keep the yard neat and also helped prevent the possibility of disease around the base of the plant due to high humidity and possible harboring of any diseases.

Note in the picture the before and after shot of the vines. It has been almost a month since my initial selection of 4 of the best bines to train up the sisal twine. It takes me almost 6 hours to prune and weed 35 bines. It is a work in progress from here on out!!
Finally, I know that there will only be about a handful of folks that read this, but I have seen some real devastation going on with ramp harvesting this year. I am afraid that the native populations of ramps have hit a new high in harvesting this year.
Let me explain. Ramps take an estimated 6 to 7 years to mature into a harvestable size. For hundreds of years, the native populations have always been aware of this. They have always, at least in the past, harvested just what they needed and left the rest.
Now, more and more, harvesting is being done on a massive eradication style of "Leave No Plant Standing"! Wow! The all-mighty dollar in tough times means that we need to feed the family and rape the land to do it. The heck with the future. Ah!, so is devastation that is now wrecking our fragile environment.
That used to be never the case. In the past, our indigenous populations and, later, the European settlers were in tune to what nature has provided for us. They took what they needed and looked after the generations of plants and people that followed.
Now, we have new populations of settlers. Those that have no idea of what it takes to sustain native populations of plants and traditions. All they are concerned about is getting as much as they can from nature to translate into cash. They poach, prey, eradicate, and destroy everything they can.
I was alarmed to find recently about ginseng arrest being made. Hundreds of pounds of illegally gathered roots. I know, it has always happened before, but now, it seems that there is no limit to what these scum bags will stoop to. Excuse me for being belligerent, but I have had all I can take.
I have recently been buying ramps from the middle man. It is my way of sacrificing what little money I have to help save what little we have left in our mountains. Through my little efforts, I have been able to talk to 10 other folks into buying up ramps and re-planting them instead of eating them.
I encourage each and every one of the few folks that read all the way to the end of this post, to do the same. I know it encourages the middle man to buy more because of increased sales, but I thing that if everyone would at least plant a little to save a lot, it would make a difference. Please do your part, however you can.
Let's save our heritage plants!!!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hops Have Reached New Heights!

Well, really, the hops reach a new height every day. I started training the bines about the first week in April. Now my Nuggets are over 6 feet tall, closely followed by Cascades, some of which are 5 feet tall. Then the Chinooks are closing in with 4 feet of height and Centennial are struggling to get enough height to start training on the twine.

I have been a bit overwhelmed by everything here on the farm, being the only worker. I have been laying out my irrigation for the past 4 days. I have about completed all of the tasks associated with putting down the old drip lines from last year

Some of the emitters have failed and must be replaced. The line itself has stretched somewhat and has to be cut or added for length to match plants. I have laid out a new 5th row of blueberry line today and will punch in the emitters tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow. Rob Austin of NCSU, will be visiting my farm tomorrow, April 19th. It is part of a new study being done by the university on growing hops. He has started a test plot in Raleigh and will be visiting a couple of hop yards here in the mountains tomorrow. I am excited to be a part of new research being done here in the state.

I noticed today that my Goldenseal is up and starting to bloom. I have also started to irrigate my woodland herbs as the rain is still eluding us here. So far, we have had only 1/2 inch of rain here and I noticed this afternoon that a forest fire is in progress just on the the north side of the Craggy Mountains, not less than 5 miles from the farm.

I have finished planting 11, 175 foot rows of Milkweed last week. It took a very long time. I have had to put the water to them and hope that after the 4 days of planting, that at least some of the milkweed will germinate. They are closely planted at one inch spacing and 30 inch row separation.

I will be ordering my greenhouse/butterfly flighthouse tomorrow as well. I have been laying out the foundation and getting things ready for this incredibly expensive endeavor. I hope to have it completed by the end of May, in time to order butterflies to fill it up!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ramps Are UP!

For a few weeks now, I have moved leaves and have seen the little ramp stalks breaking ground, but just two days ago, the whole leaves have pushed out through the leaf mulch and are taking in the sun! The first picture shows just that.

The second picture is one that really excites me. It is a picture of new ramp seedlings. It's been a long time coming, but they are up and growing. I harvested the seeds myself and planted them in the fall of 2008. They were covered in screen wire to protect them during that time.
After winter stratification that first year, they remained dormant for the next year finally breaking ground this year. That's a long time to wait to see if a seed will sprout isn't it?

These new seedlings should increase my ramp production another 1000 plants.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Interrested in learning more about hops?

There is a seminar coming up in April that should answer a lot of questions one might have about growing hops. It is being put on by the BioNetwork at the Enka campus of AB Tech. It is part of the Natural Products Seminar and is being coordinated by our own Hops Guild. It is the brain child of Chris Reedy and will cover growing, pest management, soils, brewers perspectives and an optional brewery tour.

I am one of the speakers on the first day with the topic title "A year in the life of the Hop yard".

Other prominent speakers include Bill Yarborough, NCDA&CS reginonal agronomist, Sue Collucci, NCSU Area Specialized Agent for Commericial Horticulture and plant pathologist, Andy Dahm, brewmaster and owner of Asheville Brewing Supply, and of course Chris Reedy the coordinator of the seminar and the Hops Guild.

Below is a posting for this event:

Learn about successful business and cultivation strategies in the
developing hops industry. You will explore issues from economics
to integrated pest and disease management and gain insights and
resources to further your business idea. Day one topics will
include Economics of the Hop Yard, “A Year in the Life of a Hop
Yard” which will provide you with a simple step-by-step guide to
the seasonal processes of hop cultivation followed by Nutrient
Management Programs. On day two we will cover Integrated Disease
and Pest Management followed by the unique perspective of
a local brewer addressing the industries processes, quality needs
and concerns. Following the close of class there will be an optional
brewery tour on Wednesday, April 7th from 3:30PM –
5:00PM. Transportation not provided. Instructor – Chris Reedy.
Hops – Series for the Prospective, Beginning and
Intermediate Hop Growers
Tue, April 6 10:00AM - 5:00PM
Wed, April 7 10:00AM - 3:00PM
127 Haynes, Enka Site Course #: SEF 2039-100
For More Information Contact
Sarah Schober

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Organics Growers School Special

Hello to any of the attendees of the Organic Growers School held in Asheville. If you attended my Hops Growing presentation that I did Saturday and Sunday, March 6-7, 2010 I have a special offer for you. I just wanted to let you know that I do personal and group tours here at my farm. Please call if you are interested. Generally I charge $20 for a power packed educational tour for groups 1-10, and $2 for each person over that amount. If you were in my class, consider the price of $10, get together, and come on out.

There is nothing like an on-hand observation of the whole setup, and if you bring your own beer, you can share it with me at no additional charge!!

See you soon.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Organics Growers School

If you are not familiar with the Organic Growers School, then, by all means, please look them up and try to make an appearance at this conference. It is a power-packed, fun-networking, all inspiring opportunity to learn about everything from growing hops to making goat cheese.

I was one of the speakers there today talking about growing hops with a general population of 1300 eager folks wanting to learn as much as they could in a two-day span. My class was full, and I presented my first PowerPoint presentation and video combination with what seemed to be accurate precision, ending my allotted 1.5 hour talk with no time to spare.

I will be presenting the same presentation tomorrow, Sunday March 6, at 2 pm. It is held at UNCA and very convenient to folks in the area. Come on out and see it if you can, but beware, it is suppose to be 60 degrees tomorrow, and playing ho0key from such an event is a good possibility for most of us that have been cooped up!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hop'n Blueberry Farms Recieves Grant

The Hop'n Blueberry Farm

We wanted to take this time to let everyone know that we have received a WNC AgOptions grant for 2010. This is exciting news indeed. The grant is funded through the NC Tobacco Trust Fund and was open to 17 Western North Carolina counties and the Cherokee Reservation. 120 applicants were received and 42 grants ranging from $3000 to $9000 were awarded.
check in hand of Van
We received our grant to expand research on commercial production of common milkweed ( Asclepias syriaca) and adding a butterfly ranch to our farm. Now, I know what you are thinking--it is the same question that everyone has when they hear about our new project--"Your going to grow what and raise what?"

Here is the scoop on milkweed so listen up. For one thing, it is the host plant for the migrating Monarch butterfly caterpillar. The Monarch as you may well know, migrates from Canada to Mexico in one breed season. The milkweed is the only thing that the caterpillars eat and is responsible for the bad taste that protects the butterflies from predators.

Milkweed seed floss is also used as a non-allergenic insulator used in pillows and comforters. It was used in WWII as the filler for the life-vests in the Navy. The seed is used in the cosmetic industry, as a native soil stabilizer for the highway department, in the plastic industry, and as an oil absorbent to name a few of its potentials.

I am working closely with Dr. Winthrop Phippen of Western Illinois University to find other low volume high dollar uses for the plant. In the mean time, our farm will start the seasonal raising of the Monarch and offer tours to the public and county schools where they will be able to literally enter into the world of the butterfly through the "flight house".

Our "flight house" will utilize a greenhouse with netting where the public will be able to see these magnificent insects as they land on their hands and see all the other stages of the insect's metamorphosis from the egg to the caterpillar to the pupa and finally, if they are lucky enough, to see the emergence of the butterfly from the pupae or chrysalis as it is called.

We will also be offering an educational and entertaining background of the life cycle of the butterfly with an interactive response from the tourist. Here, all will learn about all of the stages of the butterflies life before they actually see it for themselves.

During the off season, we will be transitioning the flight house back to a high-tunnel to aid in our propagation of blueberries, tropical milkweed, and native wildflowers as well as some food for our own table. There will be only two or maybe three months of the year where we will not get some value out of our greenhouse structure.

Be sure to keep an eye on our new year and come out for a visit this summer.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Warm Day, IE--Sping Fever

53 Degrees today! It's like spring. There is still snow on the ground in the shade, but I bet I was not the only farmer in Buncombe County that was out today assessing and addressing the farm that has long been hidden under a layer of snow.

Yesterday we had a hop tour of the farm from a small group from Durham, NC. They were bundled up as I talked their ears off for over an hour. I thought it was a glorious day with the 43 degree temperature, but it was not that warm I guess for them.

Our average temperature range for the first 19 days of Feburary here at the farm was 30.8 degrees. I dread the big thaw that is coming. Mud, mud, and more mud with little chance for pl0wing or working the soil for some time I am afraid. Oh well, let's just take it one day at a time.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The blueberries are snuggled once again in a blanket of snow. Our snowfall here was somewhat less than some of the Asheville area. We had 8.5 inches of snow covered in 1/2 inch of sleet. Today, Sunday Jan. 31, we are experiencing 39 degrees and the sun is shinning as bright as it can possibly be. I expect a faster melt than the 25 days that the last snow hung on the ground for.
One the closing for the day, the Hop'n Blueberry Farm was again selected for an AgOptions Grant. Was I ever so pleased to read that acceptance email yesterday. Our objectives for this year are going to focus on milkweed production and butterfly farming with a heavy focus on Monarch butterflies.

Stay tuned for more on our latest project as the new month begins!!

Friday, January 15, 2010

First winter thaw on picture to enlarge

We will remember this winter storm for a while, much like remembering the blizzard of '93. The picture above, showing the Craggy and Black Mountain Ranges just above our farm here says it all. There was a lot of snow, and it stuck around for a long time didn't it?

Although my tractor did look like this for a while, it doesn't anymore. We have finally had a temperature above 50 and it was a welcome for sure. Since our 13 inches of snow fell on Dec. 18, 2009, I still have snow on the ground in places around the farm. With an average high of only 36 degrees for 27 days and an average low of 22, the overall daily average was only 29 degrees, hardly enough for a good melt.

The blueberry beds had a nice warm? blanket over them for quite sometime, about 20 days as the temps dropped to the single digits. I was still waiting though, and anxious to get some more mulch on them and I knew a good opportunity was staring me in the face as soon as a big ice storm hit the area around Christmas.

There were a lot of white pine limbs that broke out from that and coupled with the snow storm, I knew there would be a lot of chipping of the tree litter. Luckily, I was able to get some of those chips at Blue Ridge Assembly where I am working part time during the winter. A chipper was on sight and I just parked my truck right in front of the machine.

I loaded up with chips and managed to so far add around 4 inches of pine chips on 20 of 50 new plants that were added last fall. I anticipate to have enough for the coverage of the remaining 30 with no problem.

I believe that with the anticipated 50 degree weather that we are going to have today, that most of this snow will be finally out of here. I don't know about you, but I have been ready for it for a long time already.