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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

A Jam Jamboree

A cool and rainy spring may have kept you inside too much over the past few months but it has done wonders for our fruits and berries! Our organic U-pick blueberries are just beginning to blush in shades of blue and our blackberries, black raspberries, and red raspberries are on their way to a beautiful crop. Beginning June 19th, you can bring the whole family out the farm to pick berries and enjoy the beautiful views from Berry Hill.

There is nothing more satisfying than the sweet, wily taste of fresh blueberries for breakfast. Unless, of course, you consider eating fresh blueberries still sun warm and succulent that you picked yourself from the farm. This will also be our first year to harvest black raspberries. They should begin to ripen toward the end of June and early July will be blackberry season for those who prefer a little more tartness in your berry. The red raspberries usually finish out the U-pick fruits, stretching the season until mid to late August and by then we’ll be gearing up for apples!

Springing Up in Asparagus

Nothing hits the spot in early spring like fresh, tender asparagus. In April and May we will have organic asparagus available at the farmstore, grown right here at Hickory Nut Gap. We expect the young spears to start shooting up in the next week, so keep an eye on our facebook page to see when we begin harvesting.

If you’ve never seen asparagus growing, it truly is a fascinating sight. The young spears sprout up out of the ground, emerging like green fingers from the beds. We have to keep a close eye on the patch because if we let them grow too high, they become stringy and slightly bitter. When they reach 6-9 inches we cut them off just above the ground and bundle them together. Asparagus is packed full of nutrients and anti-oxidants and is also a good source of dietary fiber. The crisp spears are excellent as an addition to salads, stir frys, or steamed on their own with nothing more than a pat of butter and a dash of salt.

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

Exciting Additions for the Fall

We are gearing up for our 6th season of inviting families to our farm for fall activities and are excited to have expanded our offerings for 2012. Come check out the renovated barn which will include the famous hay pile, new trike track, expanded animal area and performance space. We have food trucks lined up to serve lunch and snacks and have diversified our products with in the farm store to include more beverages, local artists and crafters, pickled good and much more. The organic apples and raspberries continue to ripen and the bale maze is under construction. There are alot of new things in store for you this year, stop by and see us. Current hours are Wednesday- Friday 1-5 and Saturday 10-5. Starting September 1st we are open 7 days a week from 9 am – 6pm.