Yesterday Tom finished the end walls of the hoop house, making patchworks of old doors and windows we found around the place. It's beautiful. Soon we put the plastic on and hopefully grow some winter greens.
We're thinking of putting this fall's new laying hens in the hoop house over the winter, too, to scratch up the sod and lay down some manure.
We have 26 four-day old chicks and somehow they're the most adorable ones ever. Americanas, good free-range foragers who lay the blue and green eggs, Black Astraulorpes, whose chicks look like tiny penguins, and Golden-Laced Wyandottes, which aren't the best layers but are beautiful. We've sold about 340 dozen eggs this year, and I'm hoping to reach 400 dozen in 2009. That doesn't count the four dozen a week for our extended family. That's a lot of eggs from our 50-60 (post- and pre- fox breeding season) hens.
The highlight of the season was Summer Days on Open Gate Farm. For a week in June and a week in August we had ten 7-9 year olds spend each day at the farm. The kids did chores with the animals and spent time entering the animals' world, worked and ate in the garden, cooked snacks from farm products, played environmental education games and swam in the pond. The days exceeded our expectations. We've been getting emails, letters and visits from the children, so we know they're remembering us, too - we think of them often.
We did five chicken slaughters this summer, one a month from May through September, of 80 birds each. That was many more than we had done in any previous year. We have perfected our system to the point that the last time it took us three hours - compared with eight hours to do 25 birds the first year! Our volunteer crew looks forward to the social aspect and the big farm lunch we share afterwards. There's something of the old barn raising feeling, it seems, in people working hard on a common project. And the place is hopping as families come by to pick up their fresh chickens. We like seeing the kids gathering eggs at the coop, gawking at the pigs and talking to the turkeys, which they rarely get to do when shopping at the grocery store.
We took our first cow to slaughter this summer. Tom's had grass-fed beef that was a little gamey and tough, but ours is delicious. Could it be the love again? One thing we learned about Clementine, our Dexter cow, is that when we rotate their pasture close to the barn she becomes free-range. She and her calf act like the fence is a suggestion (that they don't want to take) and they roam all over the yard, head down the driveway, go back in if they feel like it. Thankfully in their paddocks in the fields they stay put.
Last week we went to the Heritage Harvest Festival on Montalto, the mountain above Monticello. The views were breathtaking, with the geography so plainly visible - mountains to the west and the Piedmont stretching out to the east in what Thomas Jefferson called his ocean view. I noticed two big differences during the festival from when I first gardened and was a back-to-the-land hippie in the 70s. There were a lot of non-hippies in attendance, a wide array of folks who are interested in local agriculture and producing good food. And secondly, in the gardening workshops there is a new tendency to go beyond what is good sustainable practice for a particular garden. An emphasis is emerging on what we can do to make sustainable food production possible to feed everyone in the world, not just in the political realm but on our own plots. Very exciting times to be farmers and gardeners and chicken raisers - kudos to CLUCK, the Charlottesville League of Urban Chicken Keepers!