Bonafide Farm

Disappearing Buck Mountain

August 29th, 2013 § 0

Live at the foot of the mountain and you’ll never get bored of your view.




First hops harvest: Part two

August 28th, 2013 § 2

I took my hops in to the house and divided them up onto two baking sheets. My oven has a pretty convenient dehydrate feature, so I figured I’d give it a try. It basically just maintains the oven temperature at 120 degrees while running the convection fan.


After I took this photo I slipped a couple of wire cooling racks under the cones to elevate them off the baking sheets. I figured it would improve air circulation and thus drying.

It took a couple of hours for the cones to get lighter and more crispy. During this time the house smelled so delicious.


When I judged the hops dry enough, I packed them into quart zip-top bags and used the old straw trick to suck the air out around them. Then I tossed them in the freezer. I ended up with two quart bags of harvest.


I also took a few of the hops and packed them in a glass jar with 100 proof vodka to make a tincture. Hops tincture is relaxing, soothing to the digestive system, sedative, and good for insomnia. I will let the mixture sit for six weeks and then strain out the hops and bottle the tincture. This is the first medicine I have made from home-grown material, and it feels pretty wonderful to be working with plants in this new way.


And that concludes the 2013 hops harvest. When the frost kills back the top growth on the hops plants, I will cut it off to compost and mulch the roots well. Then next year I will restring the ropes and expect an even bigger harvest if all goes well.

I found hops to be relatively maintenance free. I didn’t give them any supplemental water, thanks to our abnormally wet summer, nor did I give them any extra fertilizer. Deer left them alone. The hops did attract stink bug nymphs during the last few weeks, but the insects didn’t appear to damage the plants or the cones. I’m going to go ahead and call the first year of hops experiment a success.

I don’t have plans yet for the frozen hops. They may make their way into tea, or maybe beer. We’ll see!

First hops harvest: Part one

August 27th, 2013 § 1

You may remember I planted my first Celeste hops back in April. It was pretty simple, involving amending some soil and running a couple of ropes from the ground up the the eaves of the garage.

It took a few weeks for the hops to emerge from the soil, but once they did they steadily grew until it was time to harvest two weeks ago.


I watched a few online videos to figure out that the time was right, and even though my hops cones weren’t quite as large as some I’d seen online, other signs suggested they were ready. They felt crisp and springy to the touch, had deep golden lupulin glands within, and bits were starting to turn brown. And, I was due to leave the farm for a couple of weeks and knew that if I didn’t get them down, they’d all be ruined when I returned. So harvest time it was!


I gathered the ladder and my harvest basket and set to work cutting down the rope that held the more vigorous of the two vines.

Once I had it on the ground it was easy work to strip the cones off the plant, and they left telltale yellow resin (deliciously hop-smelling!) on my hands.


Remember that dogs will die if they ingest hops, so if you’re growing them around pets take extra care. I know my dog has pretty good judgment about what he eats, but even so I watched him closely while harvesting and I made sure to not leave any hops cones on the ground and picked up all loose leaves and plant pieces.


Once I had the cones picked off, I wound the bines up so that the leaves could continue photosynthesizing until frost. I figured that as the first year is really all about root development anyway, it didn’t make sense to chop the plants down yet when the leaves could still be helping the roots grow. A chicken photobombed this shot, which also nicely shows off my flourishing Celeste fig. This tree is in its third year in this location and very happy to be living on the south side of a white barn, soaking up light and heat. Soon its figs will be ready to eat.

Up next: What to do with your harvested hops.


August 12th, 2013 § 0

I haven’t been meteor watching since college, when my then-boyfriend, an ecologist, would wake me up in the ideal hours of the night to drive into the middle of the dark desert for what seemed like every notable astronomical event. The first few times it was the most romantic thing in the world, cuddled together in a sleeping bag staring the sky, whispering about the dangers of scorpions. But the years wore on, and the last time we went meteor watching I remember freezing, retreating to the front seat of the car to fall back asleep while he stayed outside, devoted to the sky. At some point I woke up, and the heat was on in the car, and he was driving us home.

Last night the Perseid meteors, one of our old favorites, flew. There was still a chance to catch them tonight, so around 10:30 I dragged a porch chair out to the darkest spot of the pasture and sat watching the sky.

The air was warm and close, the humidity at 92 percent. It caused such a haze in the air that it took ten minutes before my eyes adjusted enough to pick out the brightest planets.

“Stars twinkle. Planets burn steady.”

Gradually, as my eyes adjusted, I could make out the tree line in front of me. By day all I see when I look at the wood line is everything I want to change about it, but by night the silhouette of the giant oak, oldest spirit of this place, tapered perfectly into every other tree. Around me cicadas and other insects called, a constant backdrop to smaller sounds. The shifting of the chickens on their roost, the lippy exhalation of the neighbor’s horse, a low call from a cow acres away, the Crozet train.

As I adapted to the dark, the lights of neighbors’ houses, which usually are irrelevant, grew bold. The town of Charlottesville lit Buck Mountain like a stage production, and an inexplicable brightness shone from the northwest. Harrisonburg, I wondered? Would its light be strong enough to traverse the Blue Ridge?

I settled deeper in my chair, tipping my face skyward as the ever-present breeze swirled across my legs. I could see clouds streaking the sky, and a few stars above them, muddy and unclear. Like looking at the sky through smudged glasses. Maybe it’s just me, I thought, my older eyes not as fast to adjust to darkness as once they were.

But when I glanced at a car coming up the road and saw the thick soup swirl in front of its headlights, I realized my search was futile. There would be no Perseids for me tonight, no awe-inducing fireworks streaking from one horizon to another. I hiked my porch chair over my shoulder and headed for the house. It will be years until optimal viewing conditions realign.

When was the last time

August 11th, 2013 § 0

you saw a snake suspended in a spider web?


Pulled into the garage and saw this tiny perfectly beautiful snake, no more than three and a half inches long, suspended in a spider web at the base of a stool. The web’s owner is just barely visible on the left side of the stool leg.

I was afraid the snake, a southern ringneck, would be already dead. But it wasn’t. I carefully pulled it out of the web and spent ten minutes trying to get the very sticky web unstuck from the miniature snake’s face. Now that’s a first for me. Have you ever had to despiderweb a snake?

P.S. The black salve worked brilliantly on my thorny finger. I kept it on, and covered, overnight. When I woke up and took off the covering, there were three minuscule open flaps in my finger skin where the thorns had been painlessly drawn out in the night. Amazing—two (thorn-free) thumbs up!

Every little girl’s fantasy

August 10th, 2013 § 2

Yesterday morning, around 7:30, I was awoken by Tucker barking, once, down in the laundry room, where he sleeps. I have been sick all week, with nights spent swinging between illness-induced, jolting-awake nightmares, insomnia, and mouse killings. When I heard Tucker bark again, a single bark, I swum to the surface in a daze. Then he barked again.

In the two and a half years that we’ve lived together, I can count the times Tucker’s barked from his sleeping room on one hand. In fact, I have him sleep in the laundry room, instead of loose downstairs, because I believe it’s the only way he feels like he’s “off duty” and can relax from his job of relentlessly keeping tabs on everything. But this morning he was definitely telling me something, very clearly, and by that third bark I was already on my way downstairs.

I walked into the kitchen and saw this:


Ah, insomniac online shopping—looks like that horse I ordered had been delivered!

And apparently it was a buy one, get one free deal:


All joking aside, I had a serious situation on my hands. These are my next door neighbor’s two horses, and they were loose. Again. On Monday morning I’d woken up and seen them grazing outside of their fence. By the time I’d made a call to determine my neighbor wasn’t home, these two horses were on a heel-kicking joy ride up the road. A horrible situation for all involved, particularly any unsuspecting drivers who might be on a collision course with two revved-up, slightly panicked, thousand-pound blindly running animals.

I’d gotten dressed and run outside to try to get the horses back in, but they were out of sight by the time I made it across the pasture. I wandered the woods in the direction they’d gone, but no luck. I was just about home when another horse-owning neighbor came walking up the road, leading one of the horses with a rope gripped around its neck. The other horse followed behind. Apparently yet another neighbor had seen the horses on the road and called the neighbor who caught the horses, and they were back home safe for eight hours before their owner returned to question their chipped-up hooves and get the story. She said she’d been distracted and forgotten to fasten their gate the night before.

And now, here we were four mornings later with the same horses on the loose again. I left a message on my neighbor’s cell phone, and was calling Monday’s horse-catching neighbor when the horses’ owner returned my call. She came right home and with a whistle had her horses back in their pasture. She called to thank me, and again said she’d been distracted and left the gate open. Wow. In four years I have yet to see these horses get loose, and here they went twice in one week.

The animal drama around here just doesn’t stop. But thanks to my farm dog, who wasn’t sleeping on the job, the horses were collected before traveling further afield or into the road. Tuck got an egg cooked in bacon grease on his breakfast, and lots of hugs for a job well done.

You know you’re a redneck

August 9th, 2013 § 5

When yer fixin’ to docter yer’ finger with supplies nicked from the chicken coop.


Trying to draw some embedded plant thorns out of my finger with black salve.


We’ll see if it works, or if my finger falls off overnight.

Banishing the muppets

August 8th, 2013 § 2

This summer I’ve grown to realize that I enjoy taking things out of my garden just as much—or maybe even more—than I do planting. Must be my editorial training, or perhaps it’s just a love of a quick, dramatic change.


Now that the garden around the house is in its third year of existence, plants are beginning to mature and thugs are making themselves known. Case in point: the two “Lena” Scotch brooms that when planted were one-quart, 10″ shrubs. They’re briefly pretty in the spring, when the bloom with rose-pink flowers, but the rest of the year they look like this: Like ugly, shaggy, muppets.


These bushes grew rapidly (though I haven’t experienced them to be at all invasive in my area, which I know is a concern for some parts of the country), and with each passing month I vowed they’d have to go.

But as it happens, I put it off, time kept passing, the shrubs kept growing, and then one day this summer I realized they’d completely overtaken a large section of the garden, were smothering a juniper beneath them, and were rotting my front porch where their branches held moisture against the wood.

I briefly considered trying to dig them out whole, saving them for replanting elsewhere. Then I weighed this logistical difficulty (they were close to six feet tall) against their value (not much), their short estimated lifespan, and their tendency to respond poorly to damage or pruning efforts. Not worth it.

So I went in with my loppers and cut their branches down to the ground. First one:


And then the other.


Ah! Looking so much better already! Now I just had to get the stumps out. A few exploratory shovel jabs into solid red clay got me nowhere. So I ran my hose over to the stumps and started drowning them out.


This worked really well. As the water loosened the soil, I could prize the root ball up and cut the most tenacious roots with my pruners. It was a hard, sweaty, dirty job, but I eventually got both root balls out. Even almost completely devoid of soil, each root ball weighed about 40 pounds. Good thing I had the tractor! I filled the big bucket with root balls, and all the cut foliage, and made the triumphant drive to the stump pile in the woods.


Up next, the Scotch broom are replaced with more interesting, better-behaved new plants.

There is some sort of creature

August 6th, 2013 § 2

in my bathroom. Either it’s the amplified ghost of last night’s dead mouse, or a rat or a squirrel or a giant anaconda, but it’s huge. Two nights of fifty degree temperatures and suddenly my house has turned in to the last outpost in the Arctic.

I was sitting at my desk tonight and kept hearing scrobbling noises above my head in the master bathroom. I thought it was Grita, my cat, after a bug or maybe another mouse, but it just kept going. So I went upstairs and the bathroom door was shut, as it usually is, and Grita ran up the stairs from where she had been all this time in the living room. Knowing that whatever was making those noises wasn’t my cat, my heart sunk and I opened the bathroom door. SOMETHING was behind the curtains that cover the unfinished cubbies under the eaves, which are awaiting some custom-built doors. So “Psycho,” I know!

I steeled myself and removed the curtains. SOMETHING ran from one cubby to the next, through the wall, flopping around on top of the plastic that lines the cubbies. It sounded almost like a bird, flappy and panicked. I was waiting for it to burst out and claw off my face, but it got quiet, and then nothing.

So just what I need. Another, even bigger, unidentified creature in the only space that directly connects to the area of the house in which I am most likely to pad, barefoot and sightless in the night, to drop trou.

I am so over the creatures in the cubby holes.

I set two mouse traps, discovering that either last night’s mouse or this unidentified monster had eaten most of the vinyl off a bath pillow I had stashed in the cubbies. Vinyl for dinner? I mean, really? I am not sure mouse traps are heavy enough artillery for whatever’s in there now, and I totally expect to wake up to a furious raccoon, a snapped mousetrap dangling from its toe, flying at my face when I open the bathroom door. Of course, the racoon will have rabies and will maul me to death in my own home. If I don’t post in the next few days, call an ambulance, no need for the siren.

Nature always wins.

Until I figure this out, I am avoiding the upstairs bathroom during the night. Which probably means I will break my neck navigating the stairs in the dark, but at least I won’t die of rabies.

The chicks at four weeks: New trick

August 6th, 2013 § 2


For the past week or so, the chicks’ new trick is to fly out of their broody coop when I open the lid to feed them or fill their water. At first they were shaky and tentative, but now they explode up the second the lid’s lifted, and fly from rim to rim, occasionally overshooting their landings and meeting the concrete garage floor. It’s cute, yes, but it makes a pretty ridiculous scene as I try to grab each chick and toss it back into the coop before another flies out before I can shut the lid. It makes me wish I still had the big garage brooder my dad put together for the guineas.

The only chick that has yet to fly out of the coop is the white Coronation Sussex. This bird is more stout than the others, which may be part of it, but I find it interesting that my homegrown barnyard mixes are more daring and precocious.


All these little flapping feathers definitely catch Tucker’s interest and provide a good training oportunity as I reinforce the concept that “the babies are to be protected, not eaten.” As you can imagine, this is a challenge for any dog, let alone one that I am asking to differentiate between unwelcome varmints and livestock. But I know he’s up to it, with constant reinforcement and vigilance on my part to help him succeed. Just after I took this photo my rooster and Cora started walking in the garage toward the coop. Tuck turned around and herded the older birds out the door. I would think this was a coincidence, except he did it each time the big birds tried to approach the broody coop. Very interesting.

The chicks, now four weeks old, have reached “the awkward stage.” Their baby down is quickly being replaced by prickly pin feathers, and their legs are now thick and scaley. But they are all healthy, and growing quickly thanks to their forays into the garden for free ranging. After having only raised chicks in a brooder, not with the help of the broody hen, I am noticing how much sturdier these chicks are. I attribute that to the more varied, natural diet they receive while free ranging, and to their being able to live a more natural chicken life, scratching in dirt and bug-hunting, much earlier than other chicks I’ve raised indoors.

As an unrelated aside, I just realized this is my 400th blog post at For some reason that number seems so big to me, and I am glad to have kept up with this journal for so long. I wonder if I will get to post #500 before getting fed up with country life?!

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