Welcome to grubbygirl.com!

Makers of hand-crafted soaps,  oils, and scrubs using all-natural botanicals grown locally on Meeting House Farm.

We hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving surrounded by family and friends and that you take time to go outside and enjoy! We have been busy making soaps and other bath products for all your Holiday Shopping needs. The website will be under construction for a while, but please, stay tuned. Check out the The Country Store Antique Mall in Ruckersville, you can find our soaps, oils, scrubs and bath salts as well as at the Virginia Shop, in Barracks rd, Charlottesville. You will find me at the  Charlottesville Holiday Market every Saturday until Christmas, The Grelen Enchanted Extravaganza on Dec 3rd and Horton Winery Holidays Dec 4th & 11th.  If you’re in the area, come on down and stock up on your favorite soap, some yummy granola, and great gifts for everyone on your list!

We are sorry to report that the 2016 crop of Honey is sold out, please sign up to receive our blog feed and we will let you know when the honey is ready in 2017.

 

For more than you ever wanted to know about growing up Grubby, check out our family memoir: The Kids are All Right.

For more information about Grubby Girl products or to order, please email me, or call: 540-270-5229. I look forward to seeing you soon!

–Amanda Welch

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Our Honey Is Certified Naturally Grown!

We are proud that to announce that our apiary has received Certified Naturally Grown status!

CNGcolorlogoPeople ask me all the time: “Is your honey organic?”

The answer to that question is complex for several reasons:

1. Bees may travel up to two miles to forage for pollen & nectar.

While we may not use any conventional pesticides on the farm, our neighbors might. The bees will stay close if they have enough forage so we try to provide plenty of clean forage for them here on the farm, we have acres of natural forest around us, we plant pollinator plants in our gardens, we add clover to the fields every year, we are planting 200 heirloom apple trees this fall and we have started to incorporated meadow plantings at the edges of our pasture. We NEVER use any systemic pesticides or any pesticides that could harm the bees in the hives, around the apiary or on our farm.

2. Organic vs organic.

Organic Certification can be an long expensive process and using “Organic” as a descriptor without the certification can be tricky. Many farmers who practice organic farming without the sanctioned certification use terms like: “naturally grown”, “No Spray”, “all natural”, “biodynamic”, etc.

3. We were already doing it!

When I learned about the Certified Naturally Grown designation and read more about their mission, I knew it was the right fit for our apiary:

Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) offers peer-review certification to farmers and beekeepers producing food for their local communities by working in harmony with nature, without relying on synthetic chemicals or GMOs.

Our standards are based on the highest ideals of the organic movement. Our approach is based on transparency, direct relationships and a firm belief in our ability to create something uniquely valuable by working together.

So now I can answer the question with “No, but we are Certified Naturally Grown.”

You can read more about the specific Apiary requirements HERE

I started beekeeping over 20 years ago, it was just by chance: I was working on a farm in Fluvanna taking care of the garden & grounds where they had a few hives. The owners of the farm had read a few books and decided they wanted to get into beekeeping, but it didn’t take for them. Working with bees requires a certain temperment and flexibility. You must work with the bees schedule, not your own, and you must be able to read the mood of the hive to avoid upsetting them (and getting stung!) The owner asked if I would like to take care of the hives & I agreed. I didn’t know ANYTHING about beekeeping but I read a few books and figured bees had been around for thousands of years with any human help, I should just let them be. That worked for awhile….

We didn’t get any honey for the first few years, but the bees persisted. We then moved to a farm in Northern Virginia to work there and brought our bees along. A local beekeeper came by and wanted to put 12 hives on the farm, the landowners were game and had small home orchard, so we said SURE!

While we were up there, we took a beekeeping course through the Northern Virginia Beekeepers Association in Leesburg. This was right about the time that varroa mites were becoming a significant problem and just before colony collapse started showing up. The instructor was a good teacher and what I would call a conventional beekeeper, he used and promoted all the chemical treatments for the hives: Pesticide strips for the varroa mites, antibiotic treatments for nosema, feeding pollen substitute in the spring, fume boards for removing honey, etc. When it came time for the owners to sell the farm and for us to move back home to Louisa, I tried to find the beekeeper to come get his hive. His number was disconnected and I had no way to reach him, so we brought the neglected hives back home here to our farm along with the couple of hives that we had. The neglected hives were weak and full of pests (wax moths, mites, etc) and I tried to get them back in shape.

For a few years, I used some of the conventional methods. But it disturbed me to use the chemicals, one of which had skull & crossbones on the label and said it was cancer causing! There were very specific treatment timing instructions so as not to contaminate the honey that people would consume, and I kept thinking what about the bees?!?!)

Sometime in 2004 or 2005 I stopped.

I read about some natural controls, started using those and have ever since.

I kept some of my bees at other farms near by in the western Louisa area, near large fields of conventional agriculture crops (soybeans, corn etc), hoping to get the bees more diverse forage. Then I started hearing about colony collapse and reading about its possible causes. There were many crack-pot theories out there but one kept bubbling to the top: systemic pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids. Some of these pesticides are applied to the seed of conventional crops and are to control leaf eating insects. But, since they are systemic, they permeate the entire plant, including the pollen and nectar that the bees collect, eat and use for honey production.

So I did a Google map search around our farm and discovered that we are about 1.5 miles away from any conventional crop fields and I brought all the hives home. I have been working over time to switch out the old comb from my hives (a place where the pesticides may persist) and have recently learned some new herbal support to give the bees. Mainly by providing forage of beneficial plants with immune boosting properties like coneflower, lemon balm, oregano and mint. We also plant great pollen and nectar producing plants like sunflower, cuIMG_4257p plant, comfrey, aster and the 200 home grafted heirloom apple trees we have to put in the ground this fall

In the intervening years my hives have improved. I have one hive this year that got so big and, even though I gave it plenty of extra room, had the biggest swarm I had ever seen. (Which we caught, thank goodness!) That swarm drew out comb in three medium boxes and started to out up excess honey IN ONE WEEK! Astonishing! And the remaining hive has produced honey this season as if they never swarmed at all. I am very encouraged by my very small sample size of the advantages of keeping the bees naturally and proud to have our apiary Certified Naturally Grown.

You can find our 2016 honey (while it lasts) HERE, at our stand at the Charlottesville City Market on Saturdays, the Virginia Shop in Charlottesville and at For the Love of Local in Louisa

I have also been teaching classes on Natural Beekeeping and have another one planned here at the farm for Sunday August 21 10-4. Please click HERE to email me if you would like to participate.

Bee Happy!

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Farm Living is in my genes

12974349_10209092365088366_6644912381921673958_nI saw the film Doeville at the 2015 Virginia Film Festival. It is a lovely portrait of a small farmer trying to keep a promise to her late husband to keep the deer farm going. She is my kind of lady: Self reliant, stubborn, opinionated, kind and compassionate. My mother was like that. Even though she spent her days working on a “glamorous” soap opera, she much preferred to be in the barn, garden or out in the woods. We had chickens and horses growing up (and a big house and a pool). I have very strong memories of “farminess” from my childhood.

When my parents decided to put up some post & rail fence around a couple of acres for the horses, they had a big party. They invited friends from New York City, family and some of the neighbors. The men (and some of the women) dug the post holes with an old school hand clamshell post hole digger. The rest of the family members hung out by the pool and watched and swam and ate. At one point the diggers hit a yellow jackets nest. All of a sudden everyone was running up to the pool and jumping in!

I remember seeing the fence march down the row as they installed it. I can’t believe they did it all in that one day, but I don’t remember how it was finished (or when).When it was time to add another pasture my mother decided on a snake fence through the woods.  She cut down the trees and stacked them as she went, cutting the path for the fence line as she cut the trees. They were trees about 3-4 inches in diameter, so not too big to manage. But it was a big task. Each section took 6-7 trees alternately stacked with the next section, so you had to build it as you went along. People that came to visit for the weekend were pressed into service. That fence seemed to take a long time to build and it lasted a long time, in my recollection. At least until we had to sell the house after my mother’s death.

I only appreciated the work that went into it when we started trying to fence our current farm over 20 years ago. We bought 60 acres of scraggly timberland on the edge of the Green Springs National Historic Landmark District. We had some pines removed to create pasture (and because they had Pine-bark beetle). That left a mess, so we had to hire a bulldozer to clear up the “fields”. We were such neophytes, that we didn’t comprehend how damaging that was to the soil, all of our topsoil was scraped off and piled in the woods. We planted grass seed and got some turkey litter from the Valley spread over the field. (Our fields resembled bad hair transplants for years.) Then we rented a two-person gas powered post hole digger and started our fence. The first day we did 30 posts and about died. That did one side of the driveway almost 3/4 of the way. We were never going to survive fencing the rest of it. We got the fence along the driveway done the next day with that torture machine. I am short, so as we lifted it our to clean out the post hole, I had to change my grip and get under the handles to lift it up and out. Even though I am still pretty strong, I am sure I could not repeat that performance today.

We had a fence crew do the other side of the driveway and closed in another paddock in the back of our farm with a borrowed tractor and the old-fashioned clam shell diggers. Since then we have acquired a tractor of our own with a post hole digger, but we haven’t done too much more fencing. Only this year did we get the pastures cross fenced with electric so we can rotate the horses around the paddocks and give the forage some rest to regenerate.

After 20 years of horses grazing and chickens scratching (and both pooping) on the fields and mowing down weeds, we have a thin layer of topsoil that is coming back. It takes a long time to bring topsoil back, we should not have been so reckless with it. But we didn’t know any better then. Our veg garden is and our heirloom cider12923321_10209047937937715_4526593372695381702_n orchard will be in the front field that has been grazed less and mowed more. It is coming back a bit quicker. The raised beds help in the veg patch, we are getting great produce from it and the new raspberry bed is doing great!

This summer and fall we hope to have four more perennial raised beds for asparagus, strawberries, blueberries and luffa. And we are planning to get our 300 grafted apple trees in the ground out there as well. Then we probably have to raise that fence out there to keep the deer out!

 

 

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Who Do You Love?

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I think about who (and what) I love.

I love my friends and family.

I love my dogs & ponies.

I love cozy days by the fire.

I love to cook for people I love.

I love watching the chickens.

I love working in the woods and the garden.

I love watching the bees working the flowers.

I love using the honey the bees produce, straight from the jar, in granola or in a scrub!

I love pruning.

I love crisp apples.

And of course, I love my Grubby Hubby.

I’d also love to see YOU at City Market Arts on Feb 13, I have some special Valentines Gift sets. At Carver Rec Center in Charlottesville. Hours: 10-4

There is much more I could add to the list, and I will try to remember to show that love all through the year and not just on Valentine’s Day.

What do you love?

 

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Who doesn’t love a pony?

Sometimes your dreams do come true.

Me&Berryeventing

Goldberry (and me) approx, 1980

 

 

How I became a Horse-a-holic. When I was growing up we had horses. I got a pony for my fourth birthday and was hooked. When I outgrew Pony (yes, that was his name), we went shopping for a “next level” pony. My mother & I tried a few large ponies, but most intimidated me. Then we came across a Connemara pony named Landgate Goldberry.  Yes, from The Hobbit (book, not movies). We called her Berry. She was young and green, but so kind and sensible. Standard Connemara traits. They are a tough breed of pony from the western edge of Ireland, Galway Bay. They are sturdy and hardy and not fancy. We hit it off right away. I was twelve, she was four. She and I learned how to really ride together. We did Pony Club, horse shows, hunter paces, trail riding, we even went to polo camp and to the National Games Rally after our team won our region. Twice.

She was born on a farm near us that I used to ride past frequently and her Grandmother, Inver Grey, was a coveted mount for pony club kids without a pony of their own. I knew the breeder, Anne Frey, a noted Connemara breeder and importer and she told me the story of how Berry came to be. She wasn’t a planned foal, her father jumped out of his stall and into a field with his mother. Eleven months later, there was Berry. Surprise!

As I approached sixteen, I wanted more of a challenging horse, I wanted to compete at higher levels and felt Berry wasn’t fancy enough for me. (I know, what a brat.) And at that time my mother’s Thoroughbred that she had donated to the 3-Day Olympic Team was coming home: Presh. He was big, very talented and athletic horse but he just couldn’t stay sound for the highest level competitions. He almost went to the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, but had an injury that kept him out of the competition.  I had started doing some dressage and low level 3 Day events (Dressage, Cross-Country jumping and Stadium Jumping) on Berry but she couldn’t get the high scores in dressage. SO …. I rode him.

At least until it was time to go to college. Presh was ready to retire, I was going to NYU and had no time for horses. We gave him to a great home.

When I started riding Presh, we bred Berry to a lovely Thoroughbred stallion and she had a really nice foal that I named Bartholomew. I had trained him and he was ready to go. He looked a lot like Berry, just a little bigger and finer. I sold him to a very nice family who kept him his whole life.

That left Berry. I couldn’t bear the thought of selling her, so I found a young girl to lease her while I was in school. It worked out perfectly for me. Once I moved down to Virginia and had my own farm, I went and got Berry. I had so many grand plans, breed Berry, sell ponies have a successful horse farm. And I would have a Berry replacement for me!

Alas, there were no more foals for Berry, she was past her prime for breeding but I loved having her at the farm. Too old to really ride but she was the leader of the herd: funny and tricksy and sweet. She lived to be 29 on our Virginia farm and is buried in the back field.

By this point, I had worked on a Hanoverian breeding farm and thought that might be the horse business I could get into and figured out quickly why everyone wasn’t doing it. I bred a couple of mares and sold one of the foals but it just wasn’t a very good business model. And those giant, super athletic horses were intimidating to ride (I mean, they could be scary!) so I lost my nerve.

A couple of years ago, I started looking for a pony to ride, I wanted to get back into riding and have a pony for my niece and nephews to have fun on as they got older. I saw the Sherlock Holmes movie where Robert Downey, Jr rides a Shetland pony and thought: That’s about my speed now! When I was a kid, you could find Shetland ponies everywhere, for just about nothing. My sister’s first pony was a shetland that was $20! or was it $10? But the popularity of miniature horses seems to have ruined the shetland pony market. So, I started trolling the Connemara listings on the web. Nothing struck me until I saw a posting on Facebook for a free lease of a Connemara that looked A LOT like Berry. And he was in Virginia, not too far away. We clicked instantly. Yadda, yadda, yadda, I bought him and brought him home last month.

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My new pony, Snickers, 2015

Then I met with his breeder and got his full story:

Snickers (GlenMeadow Chocolate Chip) was born in 2003, (Berry died in 2002) in Louisa County (where we lived then & now). The breeder bought his mother not knowing she was pregnant at the time and her farm used to belong to my very dear friend. There are so many coincidences. I am hoping to develop a similar relation ship to Snickers that I had with Berry. And I know now that my niece and nephews will get a great introduction to riding. I am looking forward to a 2016 full of new adventures with my old soul pony. He has a great attitude and is super friendly, loves people and attention. We are going to have a lot of fun learning together, again.

 

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The road taken

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Last week, I attended a Celebration of Life for the woman that lead me to Virginia, Laura Dollard. I worked on her horse farm, Star Lea Farm, in Brewster, NY when I was in high school and summers in college during the time between my parents’ deaths. I spent many a long night at that farm, helping with special grooming projects and talking, mostly to avoid what was going on at home: Mom’s illness, the emptiness left by my father’s death and the uncertainty we all felt.

I’ll never forget the call that sparked my move to Virginia. Mom had died (the 30th anniversary of which was just a couple of days ago) I was living in Brooklyn, working two jobs in Manhattan. I had dropped out of NYU. And I had been held up at gunpoint at one of my jobs: A video rental store.

 

Yes, that is how long ago I moved to Virginia.

And my apartment had been broken into.

And my car had been vandalized.

I was ready for a change.

Laura asked us to help her transport her vehicles and come help out on the two farms she had rented to accommodate her herd of sport horse breeding stock, I jumped at the chance for a different path. The farms were in Keswick & Farmington. I was to stay at the Keswick Farm (Glenmore before it became a gated community). When it came to the time I would move down permanently, in January, I drove with a friend & my dog & all my STUFF in a rented truck. We lost our other friends driving my SAAB (which I had purchased from Laura’s daughter) somewhere west of DC on Rt 66 in a snow storm. I hadn’t checked the tires recently and they were BALD.  A really crazy blizzard snow storm, not the usual fare for a Virginia winter. You couldn’t even see where the road was once we got off the highway.  My friends ended up in a motel in Culpeper and flying back the next morning. I retrieved the SAAB when the roads cleared.
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Laura & I  spent hours together driving the back roads of Central Virginia looking for a farm that met her specifications. She was obsessed with soil maps, the soil was the most important thing for a farm, in her mind AND she had a point. She moved to different rental farms around Albemarle while looking and I got to move to the Farmington Farm after a while. The beauty of the land in the Charlottesville area and the dirt roads reminded me of growing up in Mt. Kisco. There was much broader expanses of farmland and views in Charlottesville, but there was something that reminded me of the area where I grew up.

I had started looking in Brooklyn for a place to buy. I had a little bit of money from my parents after they died and wanted to start putting down some roots. But when I got to Virginia and started driving around, I knew this was where my roots would take hold.

I learned a lot from Laura: to stand on your principals and to follow your passions. In addition to soils and farming, I  also learned about breeding horses and bloodlines and making hay and the importance of good fence. The first summer I worked like crazy and I wasn’t used to the Virginia heat. Mucking stalls and stacking hay for fifty horses will definitely get you in shape!

It didn’t take too long before I longed to do other things. I wanted to start my own adventure, so I stopped working for Laura, found our first farm and started a life in Virginia, complete with a home that all my siblings could come to, a place we could gather.

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It took me a few years to circle back around to farming. I worked in retail, went back to school, started a gardening business, tried breeding sport horses. I still have a connection to Laura through Baby (Guru). He was part of my sport horse (failed) breeding business, out of one of her mares. He’s 20 now and a perfectly fine lawn ornament.

I reconnected with Laura at the Farmer’s Market. She was already there selling her eggs and produce when I started testing the waters with Grubby Girl in 2003. She would stop by my booth ask about my horses and talk about the Master Gardeners, Market Central or fighting to keep her road gravel. She worked tirelessly on whatever the current project was. She got involved and always busy. Very busy and usually tired. I will miss seeing Laura at the Farmers Market, she sold her eggs up until the end and was talking about her vegetable garden, about getting it going in the spring, if she could just get some good help.

Always, to the end, doing it her way.

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Y’all Ready for This?

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This is the time of year when everything starts to ache. All the planting, hauling, weeding, moving bee boxes. It can take a toll. And I have been used to just being able to DO. I have always been strong and capable and, much like a toddler,  didn’t need any help. But I have to admit it, I am getting older and losing some of my strength and stamina. It creeps up on you slowly and all of a sudden one day your back seizes after a couple of hours of edging or mulching and it takes you totally by surprise!

In the next month, I am going to need to pace myself because there are a bunch of fun (and exhausting) events on the calendar for September! Labor Day means Meet Yer Eats Farm Tour!

We will have the farm open again for this super fun event. Our neighbors Forrest Green Farm and Cygnet Hollow Farm will also be on the tour which makes a nice Louisa loop to visit. We will be having an Intro to Beekeeping talk and a Soap Making workshop here. Also, J&P BBQ will be serving their market favorite breakfast and lunch items. So bring your friends and family and spend the day out on the farm. The chickens & horses always enjoy visitors!

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And if you’d like to spend part of the day as a volunteer, we’d love to have you!

 

Then, on the very next weekend is the Heritage Harvest Festival. This will be our first year participating and we are very excited. (Did you here that The Beekman Boys will be there?! And there will be about 100 varieties of heirloom tomatoes to taste?!) We’ll be having another soap-making workshop on the Friday and then be up on the mountaintop at Monticello on Saturday.

 

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After that, I may be in traction, but I am trying to keep up with PT exercises and keep hearing that song they play at ball games in my head~ Y’All Ready for This!

 

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Got my mind on my honey & my honey on my mind~Snoop Bee

Honey in the hive

Honey in the hive

Honey is a bit late this year. I have been able to take some in the past couple of weeks, so I will have it at market or you can order it here. The bees have been very swarmy this spring and the weather has been cool and wet. When they swarm, there are less bees in the hive to collect honey.

Each hive has about 50,000 bees. Each hive has one queen, and 100 female worker bees for every male drone bee. The queen’s only job is to lay eggs and a drone’s job is to mate with the queen. The worker bees are responsible for everything else: gathering nectar, guarding the hive and honey, caring for the queen and larvae, keeping the hive clean, protecting the hive, building comb, collecting nectar and pollen and producing honey. Swarming is the way bees create new colonies. when they start getting the urge to expand, or feel there is a threat to their current hive; the workers select one (or more) eggs that are between 1-2 days old, build a queen cell and feed the larva royal jelly to create a new queen. A queen cell is very different looking than the rest of the brood cells, it sticks away from the comb, is much larger and resembles a peanut in its shell. As the new queen gets ready to emerge, the old queen and some of the hive population leave in a cloud of bees and alight in a nearby spot while scouts go look for a new home.

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If you can get to this resting ball of bees, it is easy to place them in a new hive and increase your apiary. Too many times this year, the swarms were up high in trees, or left before I could capture them. Out of the 13 swarms that I saw, I caught 4 of them. That makes the current apiary total 19 hives. The oak that this swarm in the picture is resting in is a very popular place for swarms from my apiary to alight. I call it the swarm tree.

The bees left in the hive become loyal to the new queen. If there is more than one queen cell, the first queen to emerge goes around the hive and kills her rivals. If you find a hive with multiple queen cells, you can use these cells to requeen a hive that has lost a queen or create new hives with some brood frames and a queen cell. That is, if you can get to it before the new queen kills her!

I have not been as diligent about requeening my hives as perhaps I should have been, or in my record-keeping, so I am sure that many of these hives needed new queens. The hives that remain after the swarms of this spring are all doing well and appear to have vigorous new queens. There may not be as much honey this year, but the apiary is better for it.

Have a great day & Just BEE!

 

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swarm!

swarm

Swarm of bees looking for a new home.

 

This spring has been quite a swarmy one. I have counted 13 swarms from the 15 hives and that’s only the ones that I have seen. Swarming is the bees’ natural way to propagate. As the hive gets too full, or some other reason, there are many, the bees start raising up new queens. When one of the new queens emerges, she kills any other queens still in their cells and the old queen leaves taking about half of the members of the hive and they go find a new home.

So  as the weather warms and the hive starts to get crowded, the bee’s thoughts turn to swarming. Even though I have made my best effort to reduce the possibility, it happens.  I have caught 4 of the swarms and they are all doing well. The remaining hives look good too! If you can catch the swarms, it is a great way to expand the apiary.

 

If you see a swarm in a tree, shrub or anywhere it is easy to reach and you live nearby, let me know. I’d be happy to give them a great home! If you’re not nearby, contact a local beekeeper to get them to a hive.

Enjoy this video of me hiving a swarm from a few years ago.

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Has Spring Sprung?

Winter woods

Winter woods

As the last vestiges of the snow melts here on the farm, I wonder: Is it over, is it spring? I saw signs of the red maples getting ready to bloom just the other day. And City Market starts on April 4th!

How did another winter get away from me?

Last week

Last week

 

Will the garden dry out soon enough so we can get in it to plant? Are the asparagus too wet? How will I get all those apple trees grafted? Why haven’t I started the luffas yet? Will all the soaps be ready for the first market? We probably should have built the raised beds in the garden during that brief dry spell at the end of January.  Well, let’s not dwell on the shoulda woulda coulda, let’s just get busy!

Bees were fed over the weekend, 15 hives made it through the coldest nights I remember ever having here on the farm. Let’s hope they ramp up quickly and we can make some splits soon. And I have been toiling away in the Grubby shop, making soaps and organizing the shelves.

 

Freshly made soaps on the drying racks.

Freshly made soaps on the drying racks.

 

Luffas will have to get started this week and the grafting will begin as soon as I get a hold of the rootstock (hopefully this week). I’ve already cut some of the scion wood from our Hewes Crab and Albemarle Pippin. I hope to get a hold of some Black Twig or Arkansas Black scion wood as well. Let me know if you know of a tree in need of a little light pruning!

If you see me running down the street with my hair on fire, please give me a cup of water. I hope to see you soon!

Namaste, y’all.

 

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