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Potato Growing Class Wraps Up

We have a great time during the last session of our potato growing class. I am proud to say that we finished with 100% of the people that started the class. We had a nice harvest of potatoes. It was great to work with everyone for a class spanning several months

Currently Available Produce

This week we have

  • elderberries
  • garlic (very limited supply)
  • raw honey from the farm in Bennett
  • raw honey from Troublesome Gap
  • goji berries (you pick – email to schedule a time)

Visit our online store to place your order. We do porch pickups in Sanford, NC. Just select “porch pickup” as a shipping option when you place your order. Visit the online store here or click on the “Store” link at the top of the page.

Lack of Rain and Hot, but Some Plants Do Well

The fig trees are loving the high temperatures and growing like crazy. The warm spell in Feb of 2023 caused a lot of damage to our figs but now they are recovering nicely. The birds are enjoying the seeds from the sunflower heads

Future Plans

We have a wooded section on the farm comprising several acres. This part of the property was actively farmed 30 years ago. One of the goals for the farm is have a park like appearance. Having a beautful farm adds to the enjoyment.

The are several areas that were previously terraced and farmed but are now tree covered. We would like to reclaim an area for growing elderberries. There is an area with great microclimate. There is also flow of rainwater draining off the field that we can manage to provide an area that won’t need irrigation.

We’ve been working to manage the area grown up areas to

  • build abundance
  • return part of that abundance to the land and wildlife
  • provide a home for wildlife, diverse native plants and insects
  • provide pollinating plants for the bees on the farm and other pollinators

The first step is to have a plan that is open to pivoting. I’m realizing how important it is to be able change plans are we learn and discover more about farming and about our property. The next step is to remove brush, dead trees and small trees that don’t support the goals of the plan. This week I had an opportunity to do some work with the bush hog. Here are some pictures of the results.

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Upcoming Availability and Harvest

Its been a busy year on the farm. Many of our plantings will take years before we will have a crop.

Here are some upcoming crops that we hope to have available for sale soon:

  • elderberries
  • honey (local, from the farm)
  • garlic – one crop per year so make sure to order all you need for the year (should be available in 2-3 weeks)
  • onions – one crop per year so make sure to order all you need for the year
  • figs – very limited quanties
  • blackberries – limited quantities

We don’t use pesticides or insecticides on our crops and practice low-till regenerative farming.

We’ll send out an email when we know exact dates of availability. Thanks for following along with our journey.

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Planting Medicinals and Building a Fire Circle

There are always plenty of projects going on at the farm. One of our initiatives for this year is to build a garden for medicinal herbs. We have elderberry and comfrey in several places on the farm, but there are so many medicinal herbs available. It would be nice to add some of those to the farm. We just planted witch hazel bushes. Witch hazel has medicinal properties and provides pollen in the very early spring to the bees. The very early spring is a time when bees may have difficulty finding enough pollen. Witch hazel also has a unique flower. Combining these three advantages is an example of function stacking. Function stacking is where one item, in this case witch hazel bushes, does multiple jobs on the farm. Function stacking is a term commonly used in permaculture circles. We planted witch hazel in the driveway loop and in the back field between the pecan trees.

Benefits of witch hazel

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/witch-hazel-benefits-uses

Witch hazel surrounded by partially composed hay

We’ve also been slowly adding yaupon holly. The picture shows a test planting in the back field. The back field tends to be warmer and drier. There is also a soil type that isn’t available anywhere else on the property. Yaupon holly is also used to make tea. As far as I know, it is the only caffeine bearing plant that grows in our climate.

Yaupon holley in the back field

Camp and Forage Experience in the Making


Another project we’ve been wanting to work on is building a fire circle for the camping spot in the back field. We call this site “The Middle of the Field, Literally”. The site is in the field with wide open views and skies. The site is round and encircled by a cultivated ring what currently has a cover crop in it. Right now the cover crop is a mixture of sudan / sorghum hybrid and buckwheat. Right now there are several places with buckwheat growing on the farm. The cover crop helps build better soil. Inside the cultivated ring is another ring. This ring consists of plants found on the farm. Right now those plants are fig, elderberry, pawpaw, elephant ear and blackberries. The goal is to have a variety of fruit that is available inside the campsite. That allows you to get up and pick a blackberry, fig, pawpaw or elderberry right in the campsite. This should be a unique experience – camp and forage for a snack without leaving the campsite. The campsite is a walk in campsite (about a 1/4 mile way) for a nice and remote experience. As the plan moves forward, we plan to add signage and trails directs visitors to other areas in the farm that have other perennials. Maybe one day we can offer a foraging experience for visitors. It would be nice to add pick your own apothecary tour from our medicinal garden.

Campsite rental info: https://www.hipcamp.com/en-US/land/north-carolina-simply-us-farm-and-camping-retreat-zwjhp868/sites/639687

We just added blackberries, fire circle and a bench. We also mulched around the plants. The back field gets constant sun and wind in the summer and can get dry. We applied a heavy mulch around the plants. The thick mulch helps to suppress weeds and regulate the moisture at the plants roots. This helps the plant’s roots from drying out in the summer and going through dry and wet spells between summer rains.

The camp and forage concept for the campsite will take a while to come together. It will probably take 2-3 years before the plants grow enough to have a nice crop of fruit and berries. The pawpaw will be 5-10 years. We are taking a long view of how to develop the property. We have done a good bit of customer research using design thinking principles as a guide. Part of my day job is doing industrial design. At work I use a computer and sketches to develop concepts. The farm is this wonderful confluence of developing voice of the customer, vision development and sketching. The important difference is that on the farm we use a tractor and trees and plants to create a sketch and then a prototype. Thanks for following along with our journey.

Bench and fire circle ready to enjoy
New firecircle ready for use
Pawpaw growing at the campsite
Elephant ears suviving in the middle of a field, defintely falls under go figure
Fig tree coming up at the campsite

Gifted Roses Blooming

Our neighbor gave us 2 roses that she had dug up. We planted them at the farm a few weeks ago and boom, we have flowers.

Roses blooming
Roses with a nice bloom

Bees and Stumps and Flowers for Moms

The bees are super active and a little grumpy. I definitely could hear their buzzing as I was filling up the UTV with mulch from the wood chip pile near the hives.

Bees are so very active

We thought this stump had a cool look so Connie took a picture. Such a unique patter in the base of the stump

Cool picture of a stump

We stopped for a late lunch at a restaurant on the way home. It is good that restaurants in the country are used to smelly and dirty people who have been working outside. They were giving out a flower to every mom that ate a meal. That was a nice pre mothers day treat.

Restaurant on the way home giving away a flower to every mom
Beautiful flowers
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So Much Growth

The warm rains have helped kick off so much green on the farm. It is nice to watch everything grow. The fall and winter test plantings of fig, elderberry and pawpaw in the back field are growing well. We’ve had a few figs that might not make it, but overall it is looking good.

I hope you enjoy the pictures from this week.

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Potato Planting Class (Part 2) and Finding Meaning in Life for Men

What beautiful weather and a nice day to plant potatoes. We took time to plant potatoes (and a few onions) then cover with hay.

We also installed drip tape. Because potatoes are a early crop and generally finish before the summer temperature gets hot, we may not need to irrigation the potatoes. The need to irrigate is driven by how much rain we get in May and early June.

Why work hard on the farm when we can just to go the grocery store? What does that have to do with doing big things as a man?

Growing your own food has many benefits for the farmer and people who work on a farm.

Getting out on the farm and working with our hands leads to good conversation and a sense of accomplishment. Men do better in life when we can take on and accomplish big things. What are we responsible for in life? We have responsibilities at work. We have responsibilities at home. What big things are we doing?

Our jobs are tenuous. You could be severed from your employer in one conversation because someone 1000 miles away made a decision while looking at a spreadsheet. We trade hours of our lives for time spent at the office. I’m not anti-company, I just recognize the system that surrounds us. Most of us work for someone else to earn a living and that is the system that we currently live in. Working for someone else is how we pay the bills and there isn’t anything inherently wrong with that. The tenuous nature of the relationship with our employers means that we should not seek meaning in life because of our position at some company but instead in what we do that has lasting value.

Growing part of your own food means that you have taken on responsbilities for the following:

  • for the land and the soil
  • for the crops that you have to nurture and harvest
  • for yourself so that you are there to prepare, plant, nurture and harvest
  • for the time you spend
  • for getting to know the people you work with as you grow your own food
  • the neighbors that you give some of your excess food
  • leaving the land better off than when you found it
  • leaving behind a lasting legacy of abundance – abundance that you developed and nurtured

How are you serving others around you?

These are all questions and opportunities for us as men to answer as we seek to live meaninful lives.

The abundance of a single fig tree and doing big things

Even a single fig tree can provide a bountiful harvest for generations. If you plant and nurture that tree, you are providing figures for generations. Having a purpose in life and accepting responsibility for a man is one way to develop joy. Don’t “search” for joy in things or titles, instead develop joy and purpose by accepting responsibility. Men were made to do big things. What is your big thing? Accepting the responsibility to do those big things can bring joy to your life.

Pictures from this week on the farm

Putting down hay to suppress weeds in the potatoes that we just planted
New bee hives!
Picnic table is a great spot for taking a break
Potatoes planted and covered with hay and drip lines in place
Potatoes ready to grow
Buckwheat cover crop planted in tilled areas
Garlic is growing
The Paw Paw seedlings we planted last fall are coming to life
Another Paw Paw seedling is growing
Paw Paw seedling leaves looking for sun
Baby figs on the way
More baby figs
Comfrey is blooming
Comfrey is growing nicely
Figs coming to life
Blackberries are growing
Nice to see the blackberries growing
More blackberry growth
Snakes are back out and hunting food
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Nice Day in March and New Bees

Walking through the farm reveals a plethora of bushes and trees that are budding out. A few weeks ago, many of these bushes and plants were dormant. Now buds are forming and you can see the first signs of growth of the year.

Last year we sold out of honey from the farm. This year we are adding more bees. The first new hives arrived this week.

The first of the new bee hives have arrived!
Peach tree budding out
More peach buds

Fig tree buds
Terminal bud on a fig tree
Buds on one of the blackberry plants
Blueberries are putting out buds
Mulberry trees are growing quickly
The mighty goji berries seem upstoppable already
Elderberries are off and running, they do so well here
Hazel bush buds arriving. Looking forward to having hazel nuts in 2-3 years

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Making Elderberry Syrup and Oxymel

We did our test batch of elderberry syrup and an oxymel this week.

We started with frozen elderberries from the farm. They went in the steam juicer for 40 minutes. The steam juicer pulled the eldeberberry juice out of the berries and allowed us to drain juice into a pot. We added ginger and clove to the juice and then simmered the juice to reduce the volume in half.

We then strained the mixture to remove the pieces of ginger and clove. The next step was to let it cool before adding the raw honey from the farm. We want to make sure we don’t heat the mixture above 105-110 degrees F. This helps preserve the benefical qualities of the raw, local honey.

You can see the dark color of the syrup, even after we mix it with the honey.

The next step was to pour the syrup and honey mixture into jars for elderberry syrup.

We also made an elderberry oxymel. The oxymel is approximately 1/3 apple cider vinegar. So we added the vinegar to the jars and then filled jar with the elderberry syrup mixture. The oxymel has a longer storage life in the refrigerator because of the vinegar and a different taste.

Both of the concoctions have a strong amount of elderberry juice. This helps maximize the health benefits of the elderberries. Both the syrup and oxymel need to be refrigerated.

We hope to have a limited run to jars available for sale around 9 December 2023, just in time for Christmas.

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Honey from Troublesome Gap is Here!

Every year the bees make the trek up to the mountains where they spend a little over a month at Troublesome Gap. We have a campsite on Troublesome Gap. It is a remote area and the bees have access to sourwood and locust flowers. This gives the honey a unique flavor and color that varies each year depending on how soon or late the different trees and bushes bloom.

The honey has a crisp color and flavor. If you have camped on Troublesome Gap, adding a jar of honey to your pantry is a good way to bring home some of the uniqueness of Troublesome Gap and enjoy it all year.

Get your own jar here.

You can see the color difference of the honey between the farm and Troublesome Gap. There is also a taste difference. Which one do you like better?

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Changes to the Farm

A farm can be beautiful and functional. We have put a lot of emphasis on getting the orchard and food forest planted and growing crops for the past 2 years. This week we put the emphasis on improving the property and doing some cleanup.

Hargrove Lawn Care in Bear Creek, NC did a wonderful job helping to move brush and clear out areas so we can come back and plant pollinators. They also took out trees and bushes to make maintaining the property easier. They also opened up a spot for a fire circle and chairs. Its amazing what a trained operator with a skid steer can do in a day. Now we need to get planting clover and pollinators in these areas.

It will be nice to have a spot for a fire circle with room for a big group. The trees are out of the way so we can start bringing the rocks over and build the fire circle.