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Fall in Love with October at the Farm

October Events

Find out about our Spooky Corn Maze, Halloween Dance Party, Sausage Festival, and other awesome events at the farm! We are open for Fall Festivities 7 days a week, and the Farm Store is also open everyday for meat purchases. Also, if you’re curious about our October – March CSA program, read on!


Trumpet and New Orleans Jazz

Swing Dancing with The Roaring Lions

Join us this Friday for an amazing evening of swing dancing, New Orleans Jazz music, and delicious food! This quarter will take you from hot jazz swing dancing while strolling on the streets of New Orleans, to a fiery bayou boogaloo then old time waltzing and back again! The Lions are made up of Asheville’s finest traditional jazz musicians, drawing members from bands such as The Squirrel Nut Zippers, Empire Strikes Brass, The Krektones, and The Smoking Hots. Dancers Sparrow & Keith will be leading a swing dance lesson. Read more and RSVP on Facebook. October 6th 6-9pm.


Kids and Adults in Costume in front of Corn Maze

Spooky Maze and Costume Party for Kids!

We’re doing another Spooky Maze for Kids, with a costume parade for kiddos! Let’s celebrate how cute, scary, spooky and fun our little ones can be. Learn more and RSVP on Facebook. October 21 7-9pm.


Pumpkins and Spooky Sky

Haunted Corn Maze & Dance Party

This one is for big kids and grown-ups! Of course you can still bring the littles. The haunted corn maze will be open from 7-9pm, and from 8-11pm DJ Disc-Oh! will be dropping some spooky thriller jams! Don’t miss this one if you’ve got a great costume, because we’re having a costume contest for adults (with sweet prizes). Learn more and RSVP. October 21st 7-11pm.


Sausages

First Annual Sausage Festival

Yes, you read correctly! We’re having a festival to celebrate all things sausage! We will be pairing our tasty links with various local beers and tasty accoutrements. Yum. More details to come! Learn more and RSVP. November 5th 11-4pm.


Grassfed beef, pasture raised pork, pasture raised chicken

CSA Sign-Up Extended!

We have extended the sign-up period for our October – March CSA! It’s not too late to get that lovely 10% discount for 6 months of delicious pasture raised meat. Small or large shares are available for pickup at the Farm Store once per month.

Sign up for our Meat CSA!


This week, we have frozen short ribs, tri tip, and chuck roast all on sale for $2 off. Come see us at the Farm Store!

Thanks for reading! Please Contact Us if you have any questions.

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I Wish I Had Paid More Attention in Science Class

When I was a little kid I loved the Young Explorer version of National Geographic.  I loved the science shows like Kratt’s Creatures and Bill Nye the Science Guy. I loved learning about animals and plants and how they work. I would spend hours digging in the creek behind our house looking for salamanders, snails, and crawfish. Though I didn’t really know it at the time, I was conducting a scientific experiment when I took a toad out of the spring house and tried to raise him in a jar in my room by feeding him flowers.

I think lots of kids experience a fascination with the natural world- an absorption in the detail and mystery of life. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, science became dull. I struggled through high school biology and chemistry and then stayed as far from the hard sciences as I could in college. I stuck to history, English, sociology, things I felt that I could connect with more readily. I could get excited about a great book, but not about a new element in the periodic table.

Now that I work on a farm, I only wish I could have retained more of my childhood interest in the sciences. I wish I would have taken biology in college, even if I’d gotten terrible grades. I constantly feel as if I’m having to learn scientific principles backwards. When we encounter a disease in the pigs, I have to identify symptoms then possible origins then I have to research the science to try and understand how to prevent those illnesses in the future.

In the orchard, everything is connected. The bacterial and microbial life, the insects, animals, weather conditions, apple tree age and health… it all interacts in complex and beautiful ways. Understanding at least some of those relationships is crucial in order to make it to September with a decent crop of apples. Right now, for instance, I am thinking about Apple Scab. This disease produces blackened and rotting spots on the leaves and fruit of apple trees. If an orchard is highly infected, much of the fruit is inedible or falls to the ground before ripening.

Notice a little scab on these apples in a painting from 1824 by James Peale

We of course want to prevent that from happening. But it’s not as easy as knowing what to spray on the trees, we also have to know when. That means we have to know a little bit about the cellular activity and reproduction cycle of the disease. We have to understand how temperatures and moisture levels affect the initial release of fungal spores and what organic options we have to try and counteract that release. It’s all science.

I don’t know why it wasn’t more interesting to me in high school, I just know that if I had paid a little more attention, I might not feel so lost when I come across questions like: What is the probability of ascospore release this week…?

Best,

Sweetbread

The Art of Pruning

I don’t claim to be an artist.

Artistry (to my mind) implies a mastery of form or movement. It implies years of practice and concentration added to copious natural talent. It implies deep understanding and a uniqueness of vision or thought.

It also implies beauty, of one kind or another. When someone says “he has mastered the art of farming”, they mean that the individual has developed such a great intimacy and appreciation of the tasks involved in farming that their work has become beautiful. Not just their work, but their farm as well. The flow of beauty between art and artist is not entirely clear, but there is certainly a connecting depth which empowers not only master and craft, but anyone near enough to feel the effects of that relationship.

While pruning the blueberries, blackberries, and apples this winter I have come to realize that even the simple snip of the shears can become an artistic enterprise.

Each tree or bush requires specific attention. Each is unique and full of potential. When I make a cut I have to hold in mind the longevity of the plant as well as its current status. What do I want this plant to look like this year? What do I want this plant to look like in 5 years? 10? The long term health and shape is as important as the fruit producing capacity this year. Maybe I have to sacrifice a cane that looks particularly promising for this year’s crop in favor of one that looks more beneficial in the long run.

It’s also important to analyze the current plant health. I’ll remove any damaged canes and look for signs of disease or damaging bugs. I will also take care to notice other things about the plant like how many primocanes it produced, how the trunk or base appears, and the look of soil surrounding the roots.

Sometimes I realize that I’m not sure exactly what to look for or what certain signs mean. Sometimes I make cuts or lop off branches that I regret a moment later because they make the tree look odd or I see a branch that would have been a better choice. I know that artistry in pruning comes after many years. Years that allow practice and years that uncover the truth about my decisions. (You don’t always know if you made good pruning choices until a couple years down the road).

I have noticed that after a long day pruning one kind of plant, it begins to get easier. Just like you might improve your drawing skills if you drew the same kind of picture over and over for hour. By the end of a day of pruning each decision comes more quickly and more easily.

When I close my eyes now I can see a young blueberry bush, bare still of its leaves, branching out in just the right way. I can see the way it wants to grow. I can see its present and its future, full and green. I can make a few quick cuts and see it open up, fill out, let in the sunlight and breeze. Maybe there is a little more beauty for that.

Cheers,

Sweetbread

If you’re looking for more concrete pruning advice Michael Phillips’ book: The Holistic Orchard is a great place to start. The NC Extension Service is also a wonderful resource with online content and agents who are more than willing to answer questions.

The website is here: http://mecklenburg.ces.ncsu.edu/2010/03/pruning-3/

Slowing Down

I’ve had the strongest craving recently for applesauce. There’s something about the pure, unsweetened stuff that I just can’t get enough of. The fall may be the busiest season on the farm, but we still get a few chances to check the pace and enjoy a leisurely morning now and again. With another big farm wedding on Saturday (my cousin Elspeth Hamilton and her fiancé Gabe hosted yet another beautiful ceremony and rockin’ reception at the Sherrills Inn on Saturday), I took a few hours in the morning to remember some of the flavors of fall.

My Girlfriend, Asia, and I went out and picked a few HNGF organic apples early, while the dew was still thick in the orchard clover. We grabbed some Golden Delicious, Jonathan, and several Cortlands for good flavor variety. The organic apples may not look nice, they  may have a few spots and bumps and blemishes, they may resemble the apples you see on abandoned old trees beside the road, but they taste fantastic! I’m partial to the Cortlands for baking because they are a well balanced mix of tart and sweetness, and because my mom always used them. The Goldens are especially good this time of year when they hold just a hint of tang and haven’t yet gotten the mushy texture that they’ll develop later in the season. The Jonathans are especially juicy and add a nice red color in baking.

We spent the morning dicing apples, making tea, and whipping up some good lard and butter biscuits. We boiled our apples a bit longer than the normal sauce maker might (I like my apple sauce thick, more akin to the consistency of apple butter) and pressed them in to a bowl with the saucer. A little cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground clove and we had ourselves a breakfast.

I think I like fall for its color, for the nice weather, for its holidays. I like fall because the sky seems a little bluer, I like the crunchy sound of fallen leaves and the clear, crisp nights that hint of winter. I like fall a lot, but I LOVE APPLES! Apple pie, sauce, butter, tarts, strudel, german apple pancakes, baked apple, apples with pork, cabbage apple salad, or just plain apples!

It’s a shameless plug but; come out to the farm and get started on your fall cooking. There’s no better time now that we’re open until 6pm everyday! You can visit our facebook page to see what apple varieties are available and other cool events going on at the farm.

Fall On the Way!?

It’s hard to believe that fall is nearly upon us. For some reason I don’t feel like summer ever really hit. I suppose there were some hot days, but I just don’t remember enduring very many of those muggy, scorching afternoons that often characterize summer here in Fairview. Heck, I think I only got sunburnt twice this year, and that’s saying something for a pale guy like me. I’m not implying that I mind. The cool weather has been great, but it’s hard to imagine that summer is really nearing completion.

Here on the farm we’re gearing up for the fall season; always busy one for us. We’ve been clearing out the big old dairy barn and rebuilding the baby animal pens. We’ve got baby calves, turkeys, piglets, and goats moved into their new homes. The apples, what crop we have, are ripening in the orchard, and we’ve picked a few bushels of organic Jonagolds, Golden Delicious, and Cortlands to sell at the store. Organic apples may not look as nice as their conventional counterparts, but they sure taste great, especially the Jonagolds, I’m a big fan! I’ve spent so much time in the orchard this spring watching and spraying and hoping and praying, that now it is almost painful for me to discard any of the blemished and scabby apples. Most of those will go to making cider, but some are too far gone even for that. In those cases I find myself eating all the parts that are still good and making myself sick from too much apple. I think I’ve eaten the equivalent of ten or twelve apples during the past few days.

The pumpkin patch is looking a little rough for all the rain, but still struggling along. We’ve also been working on a History Timeline of Hickory Nut Gap that will go up in our education barn for this fall season.The first weekend in September has traditionally been our opening for the fall season and that was this past weekend, so that means the fall season is open! In addition to apples, and baby animals,  we have all kinds of attractions this year. The Corn Maze, the Trike Track, new giant slides, a barrel train for the youngsters… Hickory Nut Gap Farm is the place to be this Fall season! Our farmstore is also open seven days a week from 9am to 6pm. Those will be our new hours all the way through October.

I hope to see you at the Farm! Sweetbread

Looking Back

The past few weeks I’ve been working to put together some information, pictures, and old farm implements to create a history timeline wall in our education barn. It’s a neat project and one that I love working on because all the research ties so closely with my family and what I am doing on the farm. My great grandfather, James McClure, and his wife, Elizabeth, moved to Hickory Nut Gap in 1917, so it’s been nearly 100 years that my family has been farming this land! It’s so neat to go back and read through my great grandmother’s letters (a number of which were compiled by my grandmother, Elspeth Clarke) and think about how her life and mine coincide. The legacy that she passed on is still alive today in so many ways. The same is true of my grandparents, and all the workers who have contributed to the farm throughout the years. The farm hasn’t always been a prosperous or idyllic. Through the years there have been ups and downs and everything in between, but I’m amazed at the resilience and dedication that is so evident in the letters and pictures that remain.

Sometimes farming seems an overwhelming task. There is just so much to do, so much to think about and change. At times I grow exhausted in contemplation of the work ahead. This is especially true when the task in question is especially daunting, like raising apples. I love working with the fruit and the orchard is a fascinating and complex world, but it isn’t always an encouraging one. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent counting degree days, studying up on different apple diseases and pests, mixing organic concoctions and spraying them on the trees, pruning, thinning, examining, and praying for the apples, but our crop still isn’t going to be great. It’s not something I should have had terribly high hopes for. This is only my first year of orcharding, but when you put that much time and effort into something, it’s difficult not to hope. What the history project is helping me to see is that, no matter how depressing it may be to see your work fail, life goes on. That may sound a bit cynical, but really it makes me feel hopeful. We may not be the best organic apple growers in the world, but we will continue to do our best and, luckily, we still have family that love us, we have friends who support us, and we can only move forward as long as we keep our heads up and learn from our mistakes.

A Near Catastrophe

A farm in the spring is a busy place. I haven’t had much time in the past few months to write much of anything because the whole crew has been scrambling to keep up with all the projects that seem to be piling up in front of our eyes. We also had a major setback when Farmer Jake, our illustrious intern, broke his wrist while playing basketball a few weeks ago. He has been relegated to working in the office and the farmstore, his left arm firmly wrapped in a bright pink hard cast. His absence from the more physically demanding chores has left Walker and Jamie and me with a lot more on our plates than we had anticipated what with apple spraying, taking care of the U-pick berries, maintaining a mowing schedule, feeding and moving the animals, fixing fences, harvesting asparagus and mushrooms, attending farmers markets…

The problem is that there is no end to the chores you haven’t done on the farm, so making time to write can be difficult. There’s always something else that seems more pressing or has more time sensitive consequences than posting on the blog. Considering all that, I’m going to take satisfaction in the small number of posts I have made and, once again, resolve to be more diligent in the future.

What else can I tell you about the past few weeks? We…well, I… did have a near catastrophe with the apple sprayer that scared the wits out of me and very nearly caused a major setback in our attempt at holistic orcharding.

I had been spraying the trees with Kaolin Clay all morning and the tractor and sprayer looked like they’d gotten coated with powdered sugar. The clay is meant to deter the curculio beetle, a pest that lays eggs in the developing fruitlets and can destroy and apple crop without proper attention and management. The clay is ground microfine and when it is applied liberally to the apple trees, flakes off on the beetles and inhibits them from completing their reproductive activity.

When I had finished spraying and cleaned out the spray tank, I headed back up the mountain to park the 300 gallon sprayer in the shed. What I didn’t realize was that I hadn’t completely secured the sprayer hitch to the ball on the back of the tractor. While there was spray in the tank, the weight kept the whole thing from bouncing off but now that it was empty, the contraption balanced precariously on its one set of wheels and was only resting lightly on the tractor ball. As I pulled onto sugar hollow I noticed that a black Lexus was coming around the curve behind me but I didn’t give it a second thought. A slight bump in the road made the tractor seat bounce but then I heard a snap and saw the sprayer handle and connection lines tear from their mount on the tractor beside me. I spun in my seat only to see the oddly shaped machine careening back down the road and gaining speed as it went. The driver of the Lexus seemed oblivious for a moment that the vehicle in front of him was headed straight for the recently waxed hood of his sedan. Or maybe he was just inclined to play a one sided game of chicken. I waved wildly at him and tried to shout over the thrum of the tractor. Finally he  broke out of his momentary stupor and swerved into the other lane. He sped around the whole scene and, without so much as a “ Looks like you’ve got your work cut out for you”, ran the stop sign at the top of the hill as if he couldn’t wait to get the heck out of Fairview.

The sprayer didn’t make the curve in the road but instead went straight over the edge of the road, down a steep bank, through a barbed wire fence, and crashed into a rhododendron bush. I pulled the tractor off the road and ran down the barn, legs shaking slightly, to get help.

Walker, Jamie, and I were able to pull the sprayer back onto the road and found that, through some miracle, it hadn’t been damaged beyond reckoning. Only the handle, which extends from the spray tank to the tractor, and the odd little platform on the back of the sprayer had gotten mangled. Everything else was more or less untouched by the accident. I kicked myself thoroughly for not correctly securing the hitch, but I guess sometimes those kinds of mistakes are good. I will never, never pull out without checking and rechecking that connection again. Ever. I suppose it was just lucky that the Lexus driver didn’t play his game of chicken for one second longer, and that the rhododendron bush stopped the sprayer from crashing all the way down the hill, and that the odd little platform on the back that acted like a rear bumper. Oh yes, I’m counting my blessings on this one.

More Apples!

It seems little strange to have apples so much on my mind even though apple season is still so far away. Work for the fruit grower certainly comes in spurts, as all of us on the farm discovered with intimacy last Thursday. I mentioned earlier that we are in the process of re-establishing some of the old orchards and increasing our apple production here on the farm. The maintenance of the orchards in the past has been somewhat haphazard and our goal for this project is to develop a more systematic and organized approach to orcharding and to support the overall health of the land through organic and holistic management.

That being said, we have spent a good deal of time up in the orchard this winter. A whole lot more, I’m sure, that most conventional growers might spend on a similar number of trees.

Virginia Beauties and American Golden Russets waiting to be planted

Each young tree requires pea gravel, spread by hand to discourage weeds, compost to add nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil, weeding when the pea gravel doesn’t effectively dampen the weeds, pruning to be sure it grows in such a way as to support the greatest fruit growth, and a second and maybe third application of pea gravel in hopes that the weeds will eventually decide to grow somewhere else (we’ve spread a lot of pea gravel this winter).

Last Thursday we got into a whole new orchard task…planting apple trees! Walker, Jake, and I got started first thing in the morning by attaching a rented drill bit to our bobcat that we used to dig the holes.

Jake gets some instruction from Walker on operating the auger
The bobcat sure made digging 350+ holes a less daunting task

With one person measuring out the proper distance between trees for placement, one manning the machine, and one spreading lime, rock phosphate, and beef bones in the augured holes, we made our way down the rows. (The lime helps increase the soil pH, while the rock phosphate and beef bones add slow releasing phosphorous and calcium, both of which aid in plant growth and nutrient uptake.)

Maciah helps plant some Honey Crisps for the U-pick orchard

We worked quickly but soon realized that, in order to plant the 350-some trees that Jamie had purchased, we were going to have a long day. Jamie came to help around noon and several other neighbors showed up to get their hands dirty and enjoy a sunny day in the orchard. Once all the holes were dug and the minerals put in place, actually planting the trees didn’t take much time. All we had to do was fill the dirt back in around the tree, adding pea gravel around the roots to discourage voles, and then tamp down the earth with our feet to give the trees some stability. When Ann closed up the Farmstore at 5, we were still going at it, so she came up to help. We were feverishly planting trees until almost 7 o’clock when it became too dark to read the labels on the trees.

The boys haul gravel to protect the young tree roots from voles

The only reason that we needed to get all the trees put in on one day was that the forecast for Friday and Saturday was, ‘rain and freezing rain’, a good thing for the young trees once planted, but not good weather to actually be planting in. It was our longest day in a long time but the work was enjoyable and it was certainly a fine day to be out and about. I actually got a little bit sunburned! I guess my winter pastiness was too delicate for the brutal sun of February.

Best,

Sweetbread

The Apple Trees in Winter

I mentioned in an earlier post that my great grandparents came and began farming in Fairview in 1916. That means the 100 year anniversary of Hickory Nut Gap Farm is coming up soon. I’ve been spending some time lately looking back over the old ledgers and notebooks from the farm and reading the letters and journals from the early days. It’s really fascinating to see how the farm has changed, but also what continuities run through the years.

When James and Elizabeth McClure first came to Fairview, they knew very little about farming. They tried their hands at a variety of ventures, some of which turned out to be quite successful while others were more work than they were worth. Through the nearly 100 years of the farm, growing apples is one of the strongest themes that is still a part of our production today.  When the McClures first arrived, there were almost 50 acres of apples that the former tenant, Judge Phillips, had tended somewhat erratically. There were over 2500 bearing trees! We don’t have nearly so many now, but we are working to revamp our apple production in the next few years.

Last weekend I went down to Greensboro with Jamie and Jake to attend the Young Farmers and Ranchers convention there. On Saturday we snuck out of one of the information sessions and drove the  farm truck up to Rockingham County to the Century Farm Orchards to pick up a load of new apple trees. David Vernon runs the place and he works hard to preserve many of the Southern heirloom varieties of apples which have been largely forgotten. Most grocery stores carry five or six varieties of apples: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Gala, Fuji… There are a few others that show up here and there and some new ones that are turning heads, like the outrageously fashionable Honey Crisp. David sells trees that most people have only heard their parents or grandparents talk about. They don’t have the marketable names that their more recently developed counterparts do. They go by titles like Arkansas Black, Magnum Bonum, Carolina Red June, Newton Pippin, and Red Rebel. It’s exciting to me to be revitalizing our old orchards with the same kinds of apples that my great grandparents grew here in the 1900’s.  It will take a few years before our trees are ready to bear fruit, but it’s nice to be investing labor into a project with such long term yields.

The apples, beyond the fruit they provide, also lend so much beauty to the farm. My great grandmother was an artist and a brilliant writer. She loved the orchards because they were exquisite in all seasons. In one of her letters to my grandmother, who was away at college, she describes the farm and the orchards in early winter:

The distant peaks are a marvelous, pale smoky blue and there is that indescribable smell in the air—old, dry leaves, rhododendron roots, and the electric magic that belongs to the Carolina mountains. The old apple trees have dropped all their leaves and are a soft, smoky gray. The hundreds of little twigs look almost like a soft, gray mist—so beautiful with the orange and red and gold all around them.

Wishing you beauty even in this bleak month of February,

Sweetbread

Fall at the Farm- come visit

Customer qoute from this weekend ” this is basically…awesome” that, made me smile! Visit the Farm from 9-6pm seven days a week through October 31. This fall has been an amazing time on the farm. We have had over 1900 visitors so far this season! Folks have been giving us great feedback on the trike track. When was the last time you tried riding a three wheeled bike? Well come out and enjoy riding tricycles with your family, we have two adult and six kid bikes available and a fun little track in our newly opened barn area. When your legs get tired have a little rest on the tire swing while enjoying your maple bacon ice cream (it really is delicous). There are piglets, ponies, goats, baby chicks and calves to pet. We even have a round bale maze, recommended for four feet and under and a pick your own pumpkin patch. Enjoy food from one of our weekend food trucks and sip hot cider by the creek while your watch your kids play and don’t forget to take home some delicious locally grown apples. There is so much to enjoy on the farm this fall, come see us!

Certified Organic Apples

We did it! Certified organic apples grown right here at Hickory Nut Gap!  We will be selling our organic apples ($2.00/lb) as well as the low-spray conventional apples (.75/lb) at the farm store and at the three farmers markets we attend until they are gone.
Our fall season is upon us with the official opening on September 1st. We will be open 7 days a week from 9-6pm. New things to look for: the admission and snack cabana, baby goats, new cider making area, and 2012s upick organic berries on the hill. Our maze is growing and will be cut next week ready for families to wind their way through. Our pumpkins are getting bigger and the baby chicks are on their way. Come ride a pony on the weekends, picnic by the creek or have your special event at the farms newly enhanced party shed. Welcome to Hickory Nut Gap Farm, we hope you’ll visit soon!

Organic Apples

We have just received our organic certification for our apples. Annie Ager manages all 10 acres of orchards and although its been a tough year with the high temperatures this summer we do have a crop of organic apples to sell. Our apples are all sprayed with organically approved sprays and will be available by the bag for purchase. Not the prettiest apples you’ve ever seen but rest assured they were not sprayed with potentially harmful chemicals. We grow over 15 varieties stop by often to see what is ripe. Galas, MacIntosh, Ozark Golds, Empires, Jonagolds and Jonathans to name a few that are currently being picked! Your apple pie awaits you.