Bonafide Farm

Summer project: The ironic hydrant

November 25th, 2013 § 0

As we head into the last month of 2013, I figured I better record some of the larger projects I undertook this year but didn’t manage to write about. I know they’re no longer newsy, but I find that I frequently refer to my own blog to jog my memory about when I did certain projects, so it’s important to get them up here even if they’re month’s late.

First up, the ironic hydrant installation. Backstory: for the first year I gardened here, I carried 5 gallon buckets of water, one in each hand, to water the vegetable garden. Then I wised up and ran a few hundred feet of garden hose from the spigot on the well house. It lay across the field and driveway all summer, in all its crappy artificial green glory, and made not only an eyesore but a pretty annoying mowing obstacle.

Of course, each of these summers saw record high temperatures, summer droughts, and even some pretty serious storms that killed the power for sometimes up to a full week. I did my best to keep the garden watered, but finally told myself my plants had better grow some deep roots and fend for themselves. I threw on a thick layer of straw mulch and walked away.

Come spring 2013, I decided it was time to get some proper water out to the vegetable garden. So I called a nice guy and we set a date for him to come install a water line and frost-free hydrant. And then it started raining. And didn’t stop all spring. Which was great for my young garden, but we kept having to push back our installation date because it was raining too much to open the deep trench that was required to house the water line. And so, with these flooded conditions it was June 25 until it was dry enough to install the hydrant.

But the crew arrived that morning and within a few hours had opened a deep trench all the way from the wellhouse, where all my plumbing is located, to the garden.


They installed a new water line coming through the foundation of the wellhouse basement and ran pipe in the trench…




...and out to a new hydrant right next to the vegetable garden. I chose to not put the hydrant within the garden so I could use it to fill the chicken waterers without going in the garden. The photos above give you a good sense of the native red Virginia clay that I’m working with as I build my gardens, and is a good illustration of why I get so excited when I can eventually turn this into black, crumbly, worm-filled soil!


And now I have an awesome water source right where I need it. That I used to water the garden exactly twice this year, as the rain continued and kept things so happy that supplemental water was totally unnecessary. You can see in that photo how far along the garden was on June 25, without any extra water at all.

I know there are bound to be more summer droughts, but I sure was laughing that the year I chose to install the water line is the year I didn’t end up needing it! Oh well. Every little bit of infrastructure I add to this property improves it and takes me a step further along the path of carving a working homestead out of a field.

Birds and Blue Hole

November 24th, 2013 § 2




A friend and Tuck and I took a long hike up to Blue Hole and further up the mountain to Shenandoah National Park.


Tuck in one of the swimming holes along the North Fork of the Morman’s River. It hasn’t rained in a long time, and the water was low and crystal clear, the rivers easy to cross. This is the first and last time during the hike that Tuck got totally submerged. He figured out pretty fast that mountain streams in late November aren’t the same temperature as they are in summer!


The last of the fall color. Just about all the leaves are down now, and it’s looking very wintery.


Blue Hole. This is where my friends and I did most of our swimming growing up. With the water snakes, timber rattlers, copperheads and ticks. Rural childhood. You can jump off those big rocks below and not hit the bottom of the hole.



Yesterday I gave away one of the roosters that hatched this past summer. He’s turned into a handsome guy, but there’s no way I need three roosters in a small coop. This guy went home with a jolly lady and her young son—found via CraigsList—to rule over his own flock of hens. So he’s on to a better life, and I am happy about it. I knew he would be well-treated when his new owner asked what he prefers for treats! HA!


Daily commute

November 20th, 2013 § 1


Tucking in the house garden for winter

November 18th, 2013 § 2

Today dawned in marked contrast to the last few days. In place of cool mist and fog were bright sun and almost 70 degree temperatures. I seized the opportunity to complete the year’s final tasks in the garden that surrounds the house.

I started by robbing my compost pile that’s been in the making for almost a year. It’s a mix of garden waste, grass clippings, soiled chicken house bedding, and kitchen scraps. Instead of engaging in a hot composting process, which requires a more precise mix of nitrogen-rich greens and carbonous browns, plus proper moisture and aeration, I just throw everything in a pile in the woods and let time work its magic. Which it does, yielding a worm-full and deeply nutritious mix that every fall gets spread about the farm.


I forked the compost into the big tractor bucket. I prefer using this large bucket when dealing with bulky materials because it can carry much more than the smaller bucket. The downside, though, is that I can’t dig or scoop with this big bucket without damaging the tractor’s arms, so that means lots of hand forking. In many ways this is still necessary, though, as the margins of the pile aren’t well defined and the pile isn’t large enough to efficiently scoop with a small bucket anyway.


I managed to eek two large buckets of compost out of my pile. It’s not a ton, but I spread it almost an inch thick over all the exposed dirt in the garden and even had enough to pile some extra around heavy feeders, such as the roses.


Once the compost was down, I went back for mulch. My target was the remnants of the ten yards that were delivered in early April. They’d been spread about a bit in the field and briars and grass were starting to grow up in the pile.


This required lots of hand forking and tedious, prickly picking through, but I managed to get four big bucketfuls out of a rather insubstantial looking pile. Not only did it feel good to reclaim something for which I’d paid good money, but the eight-month rest in the field had decomposed the mulch the absolutely perfect consistency—damp, dark, crumbly and ready to go to work building soil. It makes me realize I should be ordering all my mulch at least half a year in advance of when I want to apply it.


Anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while knows that when it comes to mulch, I prioritize its soil-building properties over any aesthetic contribution it may make to the landscape. The key to building good soil is keeping it mulched with an appropriate material, one that breaks down and adds organic matter to the soil. When you’re working with what I’ve got here—compacted red Virginia clay around a construction site—short of digging out all the native dirt and replacing it the only way to create great soil is through repeated application of amendments such as compost and mulch. Do that for ten or fifteen years and you might get somewhere. I am three years in and my fantasies of dropping a trowel and having it sink blade deep in rich, black soil are a long way off.

But I work at it. And will keep working at it every year as long as I can wield the pitchfork.



By sundown I could barely move but I was finished spreading compost and mulch, and I felt good about this final gardening act of the year. This is always one of the most physically demanding days of the year, and I am glad to have it behind me. Now I celebrate, and rest easy knowing I have left a nutritious blanket over my garden that will nourish it through this winter and into the spring to come. It’s a good feeling, despite the protest of every nerve  and muscle in my bone-tired body. I’m headed for the epsom salts and a scalding bath, and most likely a well-deserved beer.


What a difference a week makes

November 17th, 2013 § 0

The brilliant fall colors and blue skies of a week ago are gone, replaced by dark and fog. It’s so socked in that the chickens put themselves to bed before four in the afternoon, and I haven’t seen the mountain in my front yard for two days.

After lots of computer work this weekend I had to tear myself away from the woodstove and get outside. I loaded up Tuck and we drove a short way from my house for a muddy, mizzly walk that brought to mind similar tramps across the English countryside.

I am really struck by how much it looks like winter now. There are a few hints that we’re just tiptoeing over the starting line of the season, such as the still-green grass and the last of the dangling, russet leaves, but it’s really clear now that this will be the view for many more months. Here’s to making the most of it, and trying to find its subtle beauty.











November 14th, 2013 § 0


What, you thought I wrote all these posts myself?

Fall at Bonafide Farm

November 11th, 2013 § 2

The last month has been so ridiculously gorgeous that I’ve been taking photos around the farm almost every day. I don’t know exactly what it is about this year, but everything is more lush and vibrant than usual for October and November. Perhaps it’s attributable to my own personal shift in perspective, but the pragmatist in me suspects that it has to do with the ample rain we received last spring and summer, and that for the first time since I moved back to this area we did not have a summer drought nor did we suffer the hellacious storms and heat waves of recent summers.

Whatever the cause, it’s been an inspiring season. Here are some random shots that I hope convey this fall’s experience at Bonafide Farm.





Mackerel FieldWeb








Faith in a box

November 10th, 2013 § 1

As we head into the darkest days of winter, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the prospect of at least five months of diminished light and cold, brown scenery. In an arsenal of coping strategies that includes Christmas lights, wood stove parties, strong dark beers, and emergency beach vacations, I offer one more tool: bulbs.

Spring bulbs, specifically. The show begins in March with the dwarf iris that shine indigo under late-season snowfall, and carries on to the tiny cerulean scilla that remind me of the September sky. These little spots of blue, planted right along the front walkway, arrive when I’ve about given up and remind me that in just a few weeks the yard will be spotted with yellow daffodils. And once the daffodils arrive I can begin to breathe the scent of thawing soil while I lose myself in spring garden planning and sowing the first sweet peas. I have made it through the winter, and will be okay.

But this late-winter rescue requires some premeditation, actually begun last August when I placed my spring bulb order. This year I am trying, for the first time, Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. Though they ship all over, they are a Virginia-based company, which I like as I believe the odds of anything they grow thriving in my Virginia garden are good. My order arrived a few days ago, and everything looks great. The box was full of 145 nice, plump, healthy bulbs.


Of course I ordered a few unusual varieties of one of my favorite flowers, daffodils. I can never have enough. And I am experimenting with some alliums, based mostly upon how popular they appear to be in the gardens created by some of my favorite naturalist and New Perennial movement garden designers.

Today I will slip all these bulbs under the soil for their long winter’s nap. And then, if all goes well, we will meet again in March, just when I need them most.

Daily commute: Mackerel sky

November 9th, 2013 § 1


In the fall woods

November 6th, 2013 § 0






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