Thursday, September 10, 2015

Pollinator Workshop And Our Annual Monarch Tag And Release Coming Soon

The Pollinator Workshop

Eastern Bumble Bee and Tiger Swallowtail
Have you ever wondered how come you never see any butterflies or bees on your property?  Now you can find out how to attract these beautiful creatures to your own yard or farm.  Our Pollinator Workshop is a great way to learn how to build native bee habitats that will now only attract the most efficient pollinators to you gardens but attract many different species of butterflies as well.

Did you know that native bees are 10 times more efficient pollinators than honey bees and require hardly any maintenance on your part.  At the workshop you will learn how to build "bee hotels" and to make seed bombs and have a hands on experience doing so.  You will also learn what kind of plants to plant to attract not only these native bees, but many species of butterflies as well. 

Join us on Sept. 26 at 11 pm.   The tickets are $12/person and will include materials to make seed bombs and bee hotels.  Tickets are available on our website, on the farm store tab.  Reservations are required.  The event takes place here at the farm under shelter.

The Annual Monarch Tag and Release

Male Monarch Butterfly
This is one of our more popular events held during the year.  The Monarch Tag and Release event is free to the public and is very family friendly offering lots of hands on experiences.  At this event, we net live monarchs from one of our pollination fields full of zinnias and we take out our own monarchs that we raise during the year from our butterfly house.  Then small tags are placed on their wings.  After the information is recorded we let them go on their long journey down to central Mexico.

Kids really like the opportunity to hold a butterfly and place the tags on them.  They sure get a kick out of trying to catch the butterflies as well.  All data is recorded along with the special numbers that are assigned to each butterfly released.  We hope to tag 50 butterflies this year, but nature governs the event, so be advised that the number of butterflies tagged may be smaller.  

The event takes place here at the farm on Oct. 3 at 1 pm., rain or shine.  It is an outside event so bring an umbrella if needed.  Butterfly nets are optional, we have a few on hand.  We will also have a few milkweed plants and nets for sale.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Our Annual Hop Harvest Tour Is Coming August 22

Large three finger Cascade hops
It is time once again for our Hop Harvest Tour this year coming up on August 22 at the Hop'n Blueberry Farm starting at 1 PM.  This year our harvest all went to Lookout Brewery in Black Mountain.  Owner John Garcia made sure that our hops went into the boil the minute I took them over to the Brewery for one of the freshest hopped beer ever made from my hops so far.

John Garcia from Lookout Brewery pours a fresh hop sample
The beer will be called Van's Front Porch Ale which is a truly "fresh hop" beer.  It is also a very local  beer with malt coming from barely grown in the next county over and malted by Riverbend Malt in Asheville.  The water comes directly from under the ground in Black Mountain, and the hops--well, they from our farm located 3.6 miles from the Brewery!  If that ain't fresh, then the world is flat!

The tour will start with a tour of the farm and hop yard, with details given to the hop yard.  We will be cutting down some vines during this tour so visitors can get a real feel of what it is like to pick hops off of the vine.  After the tour, we will be sampling Van's Front Porch Ale and having drawings to give away hop plants, and hops.
The hop tour
This year we are going to have an Americana/Alternative Country style of music played by Company News, a great local group of three guys including Hunter Begley.  Hunter has been a part of the farm now for two years, helping out with the growing and harvesting of our hops.  We can't wait to have this addition to our tour.

We will be wrapping things up around 2:30 PM and hopefully directing folks down to Lookout Brewery to purchase more of their delicious beer varieties.  We will have some other things for sale at the farm during this time including a great hop stained glass piece made by my wife Martha and of course plants from our magnificent gardens.

Tickets are $12 and can be purchased on our website, under the farm store tab or can be purchased on the day of the event.  Be sure to bring your camera as the farm is truly beautiful this time of the year with new additions to our pollination gardens and our butterfly house full of native butterflies.  

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Spartan Super Mud Race Camping

A huge event is coming right into our valley on Aug. 29.  It is the Asheville Super Spartan Mud Race held at Grovestone only two miles from our farm.  It will be a great time to spend at the farm during the race to take a break from all of the action.

We will be offering primitive camping at the farm, ideal for RV's or tents.  We have a toilet facility and will have limited electricity on a share basis.  We are working on setting up an outdoor shower as well (no hot water!)

If you are interested call us at 828-664-1166. Super Mud Race

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Our Pollination Habitat is at Full Bloom!And

I just have to say, "Is this a place you would like to visit?"  How can you say no?

Our farm is at full bloom and open to the public every Saturday at 1 PM.  And don't forget we are on the ASAP Family Farm Tour Sept. 19-20 featuring Nancy Adamson representing the Xerces Society. Check out this link for more info.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Hop Harvest, Blueberries, Pollinators, And Monarchs

Our hop harvest was completed on June 30 after five hours of picking.  All of our hops this year were delivered to Lookout Brewing Company where they were added to the boil two hours after the pick.  Talk about fresh!  Can't wait to try this release which should be in about 3 weeks.

Our blueberry season is coming to a close soon.  We finally did open up and had around 20 pickers come through and they seem to get more than the birds usually do.  

We had several families come to enjoy an outing together while picking buckets of blueberries.  Everyone seem to have a great time.  We still have about another week or so left so if you want to come out, give us a call.

Now is the time that all three of our pollinator fields and our native flowering hedgerow are really starting to glow with flowers and bees.
We also have lots of butterflies in the butterfly house as well as 50 brand new monarchs that are just now hatching!  It is truly a beautiful time of the year to visit our farm.  So much to see, so many pictures to take.  Plan on coming soon. You won't forget it.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Flag Day Camp Tours Farm

It was a good day today ,and is always a good day, when we are privileged to sponsor a special group of extremely talented kids from the Flag Camp in Fletcher, NC.  Flag Camp is a day camp that has seen a lot of activity already this summer and today we let them find out what our farm is all about.

We set up four stations on the farm to allow the 52 kids and 17 counselors to better understand what the essence of farming is all about, and that is pollination.  Starting with blueberry picking the four groups spent around 15 minutes picking before going on to the butterfly house, then to the pollinator maze, and finally to the seed bomb and bee hotel crafting center.
The butterfly house still had a couple of monarchs and 4 other native species of butterflies as well as some monarch caterpillars that held the attention of even almost everyone. Including this lucky girl that I let correctly hold her first monarch ever.

The craft area allowed the kids to make "seed bombs" and add to the "Bee Hotel".  Seed bombs are a clay and compost mixture with flower seeds inside are a convenient way to start flowering plants so necessary for pollinators.
Overall, it was a very fun day and ole "Farmer Van" probably had the most fun!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Blueberries Are Here NOW

 We are starting our picking of our highbush blueberries this weekend.  So far, we are ahead of the birds and I have seen evidence of bear scat in the filed.  So, if you want any be sure to call us to get the jump on the critters that eat them!

I am trying out a new thing, wolf urine, placed around the field in little cans.  It might be working, who knows, but I have seen anymore evidence of the bears.  Man and wolves are the bears only real enemies.  A friend gave me a bottle and it is produced by "Leg UP Enterprises", good name, but I wouldn't want to work there.

We still have monarchs in the flight house from the first generation of those butterflies that flew down to Mexico for the winter and flew back here this spring.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Monarchs and Hops

The monarch population has been getting a lot of publicity lately.  It's about time, maybe almost too late really.  In case you hadn't heard, the population reached critically low last year and it was foretasted by some that the migration may not recover. This years numbers were almost double what they were last year however and some hope was restored.  But, those numbers are still really low.  

Fourteen years ago the population of monarchs was almost 1 billion reportedly in Mexico.  This year, a little over 2 million.  I only saw one or maybe two monarchs this spring and got no caterpillars from my milkweed patch.  I was lucky to get 15 cats from a friend  and raised them to the chrysalis stage that formed just yesterday. Now, we will be able to continue our supply of monarchs for the tours here at the farm. 

 In more news concerning the butterflies here, I have planted 1/8 acre of zinnias for a great nectar source not only for the monarchs return to Mexico in October, but for all of the other pollinators in our pollinator habitat.  I am really excited to also add another 1/8 acre in native wild flowers as well.  If all else fails, it will be beautiful here to say the least this summer!

Now for the really bad news.  I definitely have downy mildew in my hop yard this year.  Chemical treatment for the disease if expensive, repetitive, and not very friendly to humans.  I refuse to lay the chemicals on my plants so this may very well be my last year raising hops.  It has been a good ride, and has definitely drawn some national attention to the farm, but I think it is over for me.   
The ugly spike phase of Downy Mildew

Although I was one of the first in NC to start up a hop yard, I am not the first to surrender to this non productive crop.  I know of 4 other hops farmers who have tried and have already plowed them under.  So much expensive infrastructure and work was involved for such a little return that when they tallied up their expenses, they found that there was no profit involved in the game.
Note the small leaves and short internodes.  It's a never ending battle from here on.

I, on the other hand, knew that right from the start, but managed to stay with the crop due to expanded niche markets.  But handling these disease problems from here on out is not what I intend to do, so for that reason "I am out", as the Sharks would say.  

We still will hold the hop harvest tour this summer on August 22 at 1 pm. with beer made from my hops by Lookout Brewery right here in Black Mountain.  This has been one of our most popular and fun events. We will have music again this year and food!  So, stay tuned for that.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Spring Means Business

Eastern bumble bee on blueberry blooms
It seems we went into spring at full steam,  It all of sudden means there is no time to sit around and write unless it is raining or too wet to plow as they say which is the case this morning.  I have just recently taken some pictures of my blueberry bushes specifically looking for native pollinators which are responsible for most of the pollination of these plants.  Here is one of those pictures.

And who can stop the most aggressive plant at the farm now, the hop.  Once she gets out of the ground, is is on.  The constant battle of trimming out unwanted bines goes on until the day they settle down for the winter.  I just finished stringing up and pruning my plants last weekend with the help of an old friend.  It took around 20 man hours.
Although I usually don't have to string my hops from a ladder with my system, occasionally I have to go up and fix a problem using one.  Here is a shot of me on the ladder adjusting a line 18 feet above the tiny 3 foot long bines.  Hard to believe that in one month, they will be close to the top.  They grow about 3 or 4 inches a day right now.

I often ask myself if it has been worth it to grow this crop and each year I say, this is the last, but I somehow can't seem to give it up just yet.  They do draw a lot of attention to my agritourism farm business and do make me some money.  I figured with sales, workshops, and festivals, I made a whopping $4/hr last year.  Sales alone would not even pay for the first month of work. The bottom line is "It's all about beer", and what's there not to like about that!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Last Of Winter?

It has been quite some time since my last post, but, when the farm doesn't change much during the winter, there is not much to see, except for these pics of our last snow.
vAlthough this light 4.5 inch snow was only the second for the year, our first snowfall of 3 inches occurred just two days ago.  Our average for winter here in this area of NC. is about 28 inches!
The butterfly fight house
One of the wildest things on the farm was the butterfly flight house under a cover of snow.  This is why we don't have butterflies in the winter.

The Ruth Collins Butterfly House
The entrance of the house looks the same, but inside the house was really a different look for me.  It appeared to have a hard covering over it.
The other photos are of the Bee Hotel, and The Chicken Coop (as seen from Mars)
Inside the butterfly house with snow cover
Native Bee Hotel 

The chicken coop as seen from space
If the earth thaws and it doesn't rain, we are going for a whole new crop planting.
More to come on that.