Blue Faerie Farm

  (Middletown, Maryland)
Confessions of two Appleholics
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Spring is the Thing

Trying to get back into the swing of things this Spring. We have been running every which way for the last month and are just starting to figure out where we are. So far we have added a lot more Apple Trees, new equipment to help get the work done and are working on fencing/Raspberry trelis to hopefully slow the Deer down.

Apple trees have been great fun this year. We added 140 new second leaf trees from ACN. New varieties in this batch included Lady, Ida Red and Pristine. We added quite a few Albemarle Pippins both on dwarf and semi-dwarf rootstock. We are growing both on a trelis and are curious to see how they do in comparison to each other. We also are working our way through 130 or so bench grafts. These are largely heirloom varieties that we are excited about. We will keep everyone updated on how this project goes!

New equipment has included a spreader for the tractor which has been greatly appreciated and a potato planter. We could not be happier with both of these. We started off hand spreading soil ammendments. For those of you who have done this, it is great until you are working in a field that is more than 20x20. Last year the budget would only stretch so far as a pull-behind spreader for the lawnmower, which was an improvement, but only just. This year we finally were able to get a 600 lb capacity 3-point spreader for the tractor. It really saves a huge amount of time and energy and is helping us more accurately and evenly apply our amendments. The potato planter got its first workout this weekend. What a difference! We planted 200 lbs of Adirondak Blue potatoes in less than an hour. It would have gone much faster but we kept stopping to make sure the planter was doing its job. The field we are planting in this year is also on the tight side, so there was lots of time spent making 3 point turns.

With the new mechanization we are really looking forward to being able to get things planted a lot faster this year and more importantly, at the times they need to be planted! Now if we can just get all the Farm Markets squared away we will be set!

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Oh Applesauce!

One of the big projects around our house starting in late summer and going through fall is making applesauce for our annual apple butter get-together. When my grandparents used to host the apple butter festivities, everyone would show up a day or two ahead of time and we would peal and core apples the first day and then cook the apple butter the next. As times changed the workforce began to dwindle and the rush to get the necessary applesauce together the day before changed from happy work more toward frantic activity, Jan and I got the idea that it would sure be easier if we canned applesauce ahead of time. At first we were just doing our share of the 20+ gallons the family needed, but that steadily grew to most, and then all of the sauce as we took over the responsibility for the get-together.

What started off as a way to better manage the work going into the project turned into a wonderful treat in many ways. To begin with the whole pealing and coring apples work had always been part of the fun and mystique of apple butter experience. Working on the apples at home extended the experience and helped build the excitement up ahead of time. I would always get into that Zen-like trance of doing pleasant hand-work and let my mind drift up to my grandparents hillside.

By spreading the applesauce process out  first over several weeks and now a few months, we have also greatly expanded the varieties of apples that are going into our apple butter. The family mantra with our apple butter recipe has always been at least seven kinds of apples. We took this very seriously and have had as many as 30 varieties in a batch.

One of the best parts of the canned approach has been the added bonus of the extra sauce that just won’t quite fit into the last jar but isn’t enough to justify starting a new one. The first year or two we were very diligent and worked to get as much of the sauce we made into jars as possible. We have always been big fans of applesauce though and once you have had homemade, the store-bought stuff just doesn’t do the job any more. We started having a more and more liberal approach to what wouldn’t fit into a jar until we finally just gave up and started putting up quarts of sauce for us along with the half gallons for the apple butter pot.

The last great benefit has been that we have gotten to know so many wonderful apples. When we used to buy applesauce in the store you would always have your favorite brand, but in general, applesauce was applesauce. When you take out all of the commercial sweeteners and preservatives and just have apples and a lit bit of water the taste of the individual apples really comes out. The taste palate variations are amazing. It is also fun to see the different colors from various types of apples, the different amounts of fiber, the changes in consistency between varieties and the veritable bouquet of different aromas.

If you have never made your own at home before, do yourself a favor, head down to the local orchard, get some apples and make up a batch.

Happing canning!

 
 

Our Special Potato Children

 There is a story with the picture of the potato below. For the last two years we have grown Caribe potatoes. The have been one of our prettiest potatoes, and they are heavenly mashed. This year we increased our potato crop significantly, and worried about most of them. One of the few we had confidence in was the Caribes. With all of that being said, we had quite a surprise when we started digging them up this month. From what we can figure out there were two major factors that contributed to their unique look: we added nearly the recommendation of organic fertilizer and we had an overabundance of rain right after planting. Our guess is that they were overwhelmed by the favorable conditions and just started growing so fast that the outside of the potatoes couldn't keep up and they split. The good news is that this happened early in their growing cycle and all of the splits healed up well. The insides are still as wonderful as ever too.

 So now our special children need homes. Please try to look past the cover and appreciate the book within! Adoptions can be arranged at a discount, so don't be shy!

 
 

As the Seasons Turn

One of the great things about moving out to the farm has been the opportunity it provides to become more in tune with the natural world around us. As a native Floridian, I am still greatly fascinated by the seasons (we only had two in the sunshine state, hot and hotterJ). It has been a treat to start get to know the progression of the year in our little corner of western/central Maryland.

Late summer in particular has some really fascinating signs that I am beginning to really get in touch with. One of the big ones is what I like to call our late summer armada. Around the start of August, various swallows seem to be finishing with their child rearing duties for the season and start to turn their minds to fattening up for the fall migration. When we head out to mow the fields, we are always accompanied by an air wing of at least a dozen barn and tree swallows with the occasional purple martin thrown in for good measure. The entire time we are out mowing, the circle around the tractor, zip back and forth in front of us and even come so close that you end up ducking out of their way to avoid a collision. It is a really great show.

At the same time that this starts one of my other favorite summer shows is coming to a close. By early August most of the lightning bugs are gone for the year. I will spend the next 3 seasons missing their faerie light illumination. Their place in the insect kingdom is taken by the cicadas who really start tuning up their daytime song.

Late summer is also the time for our attention to turn to apples. With apple butter coming at the end of October, if we don’t start canning applesauce now the battle will be well and truly lost. Our usual start comes with the Summer Rambos and Ginger Golds. This year we were very pleased that it started nearly a month early with the first Transparents from our very own orchard. It won’t be to many more years before we can starting putting up gallons of Transparent, Carolina Red June and Pristine to take some of the pressure off of the early August harvest.

Now is also the time for the last big push to plant veggies for this year. Certainly we will be planting garlic and onions in another month, but those treasures will hibernate through the winter before we see them again in the spring. Now is the time for turnip, radish, late spinach and collard green. These will see us through the winter to come.

Well, enough time on the computer, there are chores that need done, fall we be on us before we know it.

May the blessings of the season be upon you.

Blue Faerie Farm

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Peaches Anyone

After some debate, we have decided to provide fruit this year from the good folks at Hollabaugh Brothers up in Biglerville, Pa. They have the most delicious peaches we have ever had, and they follow IPM (low spray) practices. We have really enjoyed the apples we have gotten from these folks over the years for our apple butter, and decided that we should make some of this goodness available to others while our apple trees continue to grow.

Right now we are bringing in peaches of a few varieties, nectarines and apples. If you are interested in getting anything from us, we have been selling at the farm and at the farmers' markets in Middletown and Urbana. If you would like quantities, please give us a call or drop us an email ahead of time so we can make sure to have enough to supply your needs.

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Zucchini Anyone

So, for those of you who visited our main site, you may have seen the picture of us planting LOTS of zucchini. In case anyone was curious, here is a picture of SOME of what we have harvested. We were very pleased to sell 60 lbs of it to Common Market right after this picture was taken. We still have plenty though, and have been selling it at the markets. If anyone is interested, especially in zucchini bread size fruit, come on down to blue faerie zucchini corral and let us make you a deal.

 

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Wile E or one of his kin

So Sunday morning I am out digging some fingerlings and picking our first zucchini of the season to take to market over at Urbana. We have some real pretty cocozelle and ronde de nice coming in right now. After all of the deer we chased Saturday evening, I was on the lookout for anything else that might be out and about. Some movement caught my eye up in the neighbor's hay field behind us. While I have seen them in the region and heard of them within a few miles of us, the coyote hunting in the field took me a little by surprise. He wasn't paying me any particular attention and really was a couple hundred yards from our property line.

It’s always fun to watch nature, and this had me distracted for a good five minutes. I finally got back to work and started up the tractor. When I looked back, he was gone. Don't know if it was the machinery or there was just better hunting elsewhere. In general I kind of welcome the occasional scruffy visitor as we seem to have more than our fair share of mice and rabbits right now. Does make me think about our plan to add some turkeys next year. Maybe a little more budget for fencing...
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The things you can find in a potato patch

Saturday afternoon I was mowing down a few rows of potatoes to get them ready to be dug. There were a few weeds in with the potatoes. Well, OK, there were actually lots of weeds in with the potatoes. We are battling Johnson grass and it seems like you can turn your back for five minutes and suddenly your nicely set rows are covered in a four foot deep blanket of mess.

So anyway, me and Momma J (our trusty John Deere) are running through the rows with the brush hog when suddenly up pops a fawn. We have had two that have been showing up on a semi regular basis, but I was pretty sure they were bedding down in the neighbor's corn. This little guy spooks and runs around for a minute or two before figuring a way out through the brush row. Aside from feeling bad that I had enough weeds to hide a small deer in, I don't really pay this too much attention.

Later that evening, I am walking out through the field with mom and dad and here is a fawn again. I am not sure if this is the same one or not. We tried to shoo it out of the field, but instead of running away, it runs right at us. We realize we are between the fawn and the potato patch, so I guess this is the same one heading back to where it had been bedded down. It gets within five feet of us before veering off. We get it out of there after a little bit of work, getting back to within almost arms reach of it a couple of times before we can get it to move, and it heads straight for the apple orchard. This is where we really don't want deer to be hanging around or feeling at home, so we chase it out of there and finally get it headed on its way.

While we are headed back over to the bean field which is where we were going in the first place, what do we see but another fawn standing there about where the first had been. I am guessing that this was the sibling of the first one. It however is somewhat smarter than its twin and heads straight out when we get close. We continue on with what we were doing only to be interrupted a few minutes later by who I can only guess was momma deer. Thankfully she spooked out fairly easily.

Deer are a continuing problem for us, but we usually don't have quite this level of face to face contact with them. We have some new anti deer stuff this year that has worked very well, but it is at a height that is appropriate for adult deer, and the kids just run right under it without ever slowing down.  Thankfully they have not done any serious damage yet, but we are going to have to strengthen our defenses after this series of run-ins. The full anti-deer hedge rows are still a few years from being effective and we haven't even established anything near a full perimeter. I have never been a hunter by trade, but I have the feeling that many a freezer full of venison is in our future.
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Saturday Mornings

We had some wonderful and much needed rain from Friday afternoon through midnight. The field needed it and it gave me the chance to catch up on some much needed sleep. With sleep in hand, I was up more at my normal time instead of sleeping in til 7 or 8 like I have the last few weekends. Yeah, as a new farm the office job is still paying most of the bills so weekends are still weekends.

Getting up more on time let me get back to my Saturday morning routine. I like to take the 15 minute drive over to Jefferson to hit the Jefferson Pastry Shoppe first thing when they open and get apple fritters. They make the best apple fritters! In the same parking lot is Hemps Meats where they have wonderful sausage among other things. On the way over to Jefferson I passed one of our local farms that had sweet corn out in the back of their Gator, so I stopped on the way through and put my $3 in the coffee can and picked out my corn. On the way back I dropped off some corn and apple fritters for Mom and Dad and then back home for breakfast.

The drive is very pleasant, mostly lined with farm fields. At that time of the morning the sun is just coming up and with the rain there was a heavy dew on everything, so it was light and sparkles everywhere. Now its time to get to work. I like Saturdays.

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All About Apples!

The last few days we have been immersed in apples, just how we like it! Our orchard is very young, but we have a small amount of fruit developing on a few trees this year. Yesterday evening we finally got the chance to have our first apple out of our very own orchard. What a fabulous moment! Our Yellow Transparents had a tough year. We were hit with two weeks of rain just at petal fall completely wiping out any chance of spray so all but one of the YT apples had curculio damage. That one apple made it all the way through though. It sized up nicely, didn’t have any blemishes and tasted fantastic. We were so excited to finally try one of our own apples that we didn’t even think about taking a picture until all that was left was the core. Oh well.

 

This was just the highlight of a week full of apples though. Friday we headed down to Virginia for a family get together and on the way back stopped to see the wonderful folks at Vintage Virginia apples. We picked up a mixed bushel of Transparents, Carolina Red June and some winter keeper Albemarle Pippins. These are the start of our apple sauce season for this fall’s apple butter. We got the Transparents, along with some others from our trees that had minimal damage sauced. Tart does not begin to describe the sauce. It will add quite a bit to the overall flavor this year.

 

The Vintage Virginia folks were in the middle of preparing for the grand opening of their cidery next Monday, Albemarle CiderWorks. They have a flair for the big events and they were pulling out all the stops for this. We did manage to secure a bottle of their Jupiter’s Legacy, and are happy to report that it was delicious. Not being a pedigreed wine connoisseur I probably am missing many very important things to say about it, but to me it tasted like a very good dry sparkling wine with a hint of apple. We can’t wait until we are at a point to give this craft a try ourselves.

 

Happy Growing!

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Catching up

Seems we have been so caught up that nearly a month has passed since we last posted an entry. Things have just been going at a breakneck pace and while I had a half dozen or so posts put together in my head my hands never made it to a keyboard to transfer the information.

The market season has been going well for us all things considered. This year we had plans to have more than a dozen varieties of vegetables and have them all ready to go at the beginning of the season. One of the big learning experiences of the year though is that you have to choose your battles. Apples are demanding, jealous and fussy. They don't give you much of a chance or appreciate it if you spend your time with others. As a result, we only got about two-thirds of what we wanted going, and most of that much later than we hoped for. Still yet, this is not necessarily a bad thing, just one of the lessons along the road.

We have regrouped and got a late spring planting done that should start coming in late July or so. We also are finding some time for the fall planting now. Organization and planning are where the future is for our vegetables.

Happy farming.

 

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What a great weekend

We had a great weekend from Friday on through. The rain finally let off for a few days and just in time. We had a group come by on Saturday evening for a farm tour, the Vocal Locals. It was really nice to be able to show folks around the farm and talk to them about what we are doing and where we are trying to go. After the tour we had a very nice potluck dinner in the back yard and then ended the evening sitting around the fire circle talking and watching the fire flies and the nearly full moon.

We also got  very cool new tool on Friday, a High Wheel Cultivator. It has been put to work every day since it arrived weeding and furrowing. It has really sped up the process for us and we have managed to get quite a bit more squash in the ground and start on our backlog of beans. Finding good, practical hand tools that help us get through the work and have minimal environmental impact is really exciting. If we can catch some good weather this week, we should be able to almost get caught up with the planting schedule by Sunday (keep your fingers crossed).

The last great piece of news for us was that we got our first order from the local whole food co-op. It wasn't anything major but it was another big step along the path.

Happy Growing

Jan and Ray

Blue Faerie Farm.

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Planting Squash and Ruminating

We found a break in the rain Wednesday long enough to work on the backlog of planting. I was putting in some Ronde de Nice zucchini and some yellow crookneck and working as fast as I could with the storm clouds coming over the mountains. In the back of my mind I was grumbling slightly as squash is one of the very few things our trusty Earthway seeder is confounded by so I was having to put the seeds in the furrow by hand. It is amazing how fast something can become indispensable. It was only two years ago that we did ALL of our planting by hand.

One of the reasons that I like working on the farm so much is the opportunity to clear your mind. Usually what happens with me after a little while is things just start free associating and I have peace of mind to examine how they seem to want to fit together. So as I am out there hand planting zucchini and watching the storm approach over South Mountain I keep looking at the neighbor’s cornfield that is dead in my line of site. He is a really good guy from all accounts, but we definitely are traveling different roads with regard to farming. While we are growing organically for market he puts in one or two conventional commodity crops and does the rest of his land in hay.

It occurred to me how deep those differences are to the way we go about things.  As a market grower, we put in 10 or 12 vegetable crops on our modest few acres. With each of those types of vegetables we have at least two, and in most cases nearer to half a dozen varieties. Further for many of these we are doing successive plantings throughout the season. As a result planting in 300 row feet at a time of something with the Earthway seems like the cutting edge of modernization and luxury. We are finding ourselves either trying to focus on the planting and getting behind in the weeding or weeding with no time to harvest or trying to spend our time going to market but not putting anything in the ground. Then there is the whole pest and nutrient management aspect of trying to keep all of the different needs identified, sorted out and met. Our plans are to find somewhere between 2 and 6 main vegetable crops to have to supplement the orchard production and just focusing on those. I think of some of the other growers that we go to market with who try the “grocery store on wheels” approach of having a full gamut of vegetables, and I shudder at the thought of trying to manage 20 or 30 uniquely different crops at the same time.

Then I watch my neighbor with his commodity corn field. He went out on the tractor and ran the disc through one afternoon. Went back out a while later and ran a planter through that put down the seed, fertilizer and weed control all in one pass. He likely will have someone come through and put down a spray in a few weeks and then they will be out with a combine at the end of the season. All in all, less than 10 hours in the field to get from empty field to harvest.

Some of the differences are inherent in the whole organic vs. conventional issue. Most of the rest come from market vs commodity. On the one hand, I very much appreciate the diversity of what we are doing. I believe in the organic path we have chosen. I am a strong advocate of growing for the local market. At the same time, there is an economy in my neighbor’s methods that put him in a completely different league.

I never claimed that the thoughts I had out in the field ended up with nice neat conclusions. Nor do they necessarily always even make an argument all by themselves. What I do realize is that a lot of what folks are paying for at their local market is the labor that goes into the current style of market growing here in central Maryland. What I wonder is how I can find economies of time and motion that will translate into better prices for my customers so that we don’t place ourselves strictly into a luxury category instead of providing a competitive price for a broader group of consumers. It will be fun to see if these field ruminations can lead us to a path to grow better and smarter and provide good honest healthy food to a well balanced audience.

 
 

How the apples are doing

We finally had a few hours this weekend to spend in the orchard. Things are progressing nicely, despite some of the challenges the weather and my schedule have thrown our way. Just so everyone knows this is only the second year since we established this orchard, so the trees are still very young. Right now we are working to grow apple trees knowing that in time the apples will come. We are growing primarily on dwarf rootstock such as Bud 9 and EMLA 9 and setting everything up in a vertical axe system. While this way of developing an orchard makes lots of sense from a grower’s standpoint and works perfectly with our small farm, it takes some getting used to and is often hard to explain. Picture trees that don't get more than about 10 feet tall, planted in rows 12 feet apart with the trees 4 feet apart in each row. The rows of trees are supported by a trellis, with 8 foot tall poles every 40 feet or so and 4 wires spaced from about 3 feet off the ground to the top of the pole. We don't let the trees develop the classic lollipop shape. Branches tend to be longer at the bottom, starting about 3 feet off the ground, and get progressively smaller the farther up the tree you go.

One of the advantages of growing on dwarf rootstock is that the trees start producing much earlier than full-size trees. We actually do have some apples this year. We only had 45 trees in our initial planting last year. These are the only trees in the orchard that were big enough to allow fruit production this year, although many of the smaller trees did set fruit. The varieties working best for us at the moment are Goldrush and Royal Cortland. We did have really nice fruit set on Transparent and Gala as well, but the constant rain for the week of petal drop kept us from putting out the kaolin clay and allowed the curculio to run rampant in the earlier blooming trees.

Other trees that we planted are developing very nicely. We did get dormant sprays and an early spray for the caterpillars out in time to prevent serious leaf damage. This was a problem for us last year but thankfully we learned from our mistakes. Deer damage was also a major issue for us last year. We had some success with Plant Skydd last year, but it needs to be reapplied with regularity to be effective, and we got behind due to unavoidable circumstances. This year we are using Deer Stopper tape which seems to be doing very well. As the season goes on we will probably add Plant Skydd back into the mix to keep the deer from getting too used to one thing. We will also be working to establish border fencing and hedges. The fencing will be largely in the form of raspberry trellises while hedge candidates are being trialed to see which will work best for us.

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To Market To Market

We forgot how much we really enjoy going to farm markets. Wednesday at Brunswick was like finding an old friend. There is something very positive about getting to talk to customers face to face, explain to them what we are trying to do and listen to what they are hoping to get out of the local farm market. It is also a lot of fun to visit with the other farmers who are there.

We will be at the Washington County Market in the morning, so please don't hesitate to stop by and say hello!

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