Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ramps Are UP

The ramps are looking good now at the farm. They first started breaking ground around the 15th of March. It looks like they are all in good shape with all of the rain and cooler temperatures lately. It was actually warmer in February than March by 5 degrees!
The picture above is my two year old ramp seedlings. Even though they are still small, they are almost ten times taller than their first year. It takes 18 months for the seeds to germinate. This means that I planted the seeds of these ramps over three years ago.

This is the reason that many of our native wild herbs and medicinals are so fragile. It takes so long for them to mature and when they are harvested and poached illegally, which is happening more and more, they are susceptible to becoming extinct.

Folks, if there is one thing I can say about all of our native plants, it is to only take what you need and plant a seed in its place. If it is a root crop like ramp, you can harvest them sustainably by leaving most of the bulb in the ground. The stem and leaves have just as much taste and it will be there next year!

Help save our native populations of plants. Ask me how you can help.

Monday, March 21, 2011

More Hop Pruning

hop shoots

It is the third year of my hop crop and I am still spending time in the hop yard root pruning. Well, what that really means is this. It is the hardest job, so far, of growing hops, as far as I am concerned. It is back-breaking and time-consuming! Once again, I picked the wrong decade to start farming. My standard reply to anyone that wonders what in the world is a 59 year old man doing two jobs that require physical and mentally exhausting labor!

Now, don't get me wrong, I have had some excellent and most rewarding volunteers over here helping me. For example, the folks that I featured last week in my blog, a good artistic friend that works in landscaping and who has brought in some fantastic artwork for the butterfly tours, and ironically, my good friend Brent, who is actually my boss at work. It feels especially good when I can tell Brent what to do for a change!

These folks have called me and ask me if they could come over and help!! I didn't call them. What more could a farmer want, well, unless he married young and had 12 kids! The only compensation they required was the enjoyment of getting your hands dirty while learning something and good companionship.

One of the most rewarding and under emphasized parts of this whole task, however, is the benefit of enjoying what the Romans called "Poor Man's Asparagus". That is the mostly underground shoots from the rhizomes. They are white and only about 3/16th of an inch in diameter, but have a most delicate taste. Somewhat similar between a cross of asparagus and cucumber. MMMMMmmmmmmm! You can pickle them too!

Hold on, I having them for super tonight and will let you know how good they were.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Root Prunning

Once in a while, a real farming moment happens! Like in the classic painting by Grant Wood, the "American Gothic", Rich and Jen Orris posed for today. Yep, this couple, newly planted in Western Buncombe County, are destined to be our next future of the small farmer in North Carolina. Why, because they believe in saving the heritage and necessity of creating and sustaining small farms in Western North Carolina.

I met Rich and Jen at a recent hop's growing workshop sponsored AB Tech. This is the AB Techs BioNetworks second year at this sponsorship and over 70 folks signed up and learned a great deal about hops in Western North Carolina. After teaching my segment of the two day seminar, Rich, Jen, and their friend Gabe Landas all wanted to learn more and I invited them over to my farm for real time sweat equity into growing hops.

The day was fantastic after several days of cold and heavy rain. In fact it was T-shirt weather. Our objective was the root pruning of my three year old hop vines. I couldn't have had a better more productive and learning happy crew than the three of them.

Rich, Jen, and Gabe showing giant Centennial rhizomes

Now for more good news. For the first time in Western North Carolina history, there are local, disease free, fresh hop rhizomes for sale. If you have thought about growing hops, no need to order your root stock all the way from Oregon. I have them right here at the farm. Centennial, Cascade, Chinook, and Nuggets. All on sale now and all can be planted right now. Call us at 828-664-1166.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

New Seed Starting House

With my south facing deck on the house attracting plenty of sunshine, I decided to gather up the a lot of reclaimed lumber, glass, and some store bought 2x4's and built a greenhouse under the deck to start seeds and for some passive solar gain on a 8 inch concrete wall.

The project started as usual with my good friend Tony and his wiliness to help me dig out a few dozen wheelbarrows of dirt. I then measured out my glass panels that various folks have giving me from other remodel jobs and planned out the pattern between the 10 foot span of deck post.

For the roof, I used left over pond liner on the above deck and covered it with outdoor carpet. It works really well. Down below, with the low angle of the winter sun, the concrete wall will serve as a thermal mass for heat gain.

Once all materials were in place I used a gravel floor and built steps and added a nice glass door that I had already on the property. Total cost was less than $75.

The largest expense was the grow lights, seed flats, vents, fan, heating mat, and thermostat which raised the total price to a whoping $200! I didn't have a single one of these items floating around the farm.
I plant 300 butterfly nectar and host plants tomorrow to add to the on farm experience.