Harvest Days Farm Tour and Pictures of the Season
Lots has happened on the farm this growing season. I will let the pictures tell the story, but first, here’s what’s coming up on the farm:
Culpeper Harvest Days Farm Tour
On October 3rd and 4th, many farms in our county will be participating in Culpeper’s annual farm tour. More information here. At Oak Shade Farm our whole family will be available to talk about the work we do to make a living on the land. The tour is quite informal and you can opt to simply take a self-guided stroll or you can join up with a group at one of our points of interest on the farm and ask questions. A few of the topics we will discuss are: shiitake cultivation, laying hens, honeybees, Christmas trees, no-spray/low-till gardening, greenhouse growing, small farm business management (for those interested) and our many arts and crafts, including rug-hooking and weaving. We will have many dry goods for sale, including honey, candles, and jams, as well as handmade gifts from the farm and some fresh produce. We have a trail to walk that is beautiful in the fall and many sitting areas overlooking the mountains. So bring out the whole family and come see what we’re growing!
Here’s a picture rundown of our summer so far. First up, the evolution of the new building! There’s a lot left to do, but it will be operating in time for the farm tour in early October. Important note: we are not the builders! This is done by family friends, the Dennees–a father and son team of great craftsmen.
Continuing with the theme of pictorial evolutions, these six pictures tell the (extremely abbreviated) saga of our garden, from seed to transplant to harvest.
It has been an educational season. We started 100% of our plants on grow shelves, in our greenhouse or by direct seeding–a first for us! It is great to no longer rely on outside sources for started plants. We can now tailor fit our cultivars to our needs and time their growth according to our gardening calendar, thanks to the new greenhouse and the management of Amanda.
But the hard work of farming happens once the plants are moved into the scary world of the garden.
These photos oversimplify the story–a vegetables path to the market table or CSA basket is fraught with peril when growing without herbicides, pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Good and bad insects, weeds, weather, soil health, human skill and human error spin a new narrative every year. The gardens have been quite productive this year, and although we’ve had a few weak or failed crops, we see ways to improve them next time around.
We think the farm is a more interesting place to be when we keep many irons in the fire. Here are a few other facets of our farming project this summer.
We raise broiler hens for our family’s dinners. There is no substitute for real, pasture raised chicken. We plan one day to raise some meat birds for market, but we tip our hats to the folks who make a living this way. It is a lot of work to raise healthy poultry and we prefer to leave time for things like…bees and mushrooms! We have about 20 hives at the moment and we are beginning to observe and assist their slow shutdown for winter. The shiitake continue to go strong, basking in the humidity we find oppressive.
Our other type of hen is far more self-sufficient and far less needy and fast became a cornerstone of the business when introduced to the farm 5 years ago. These laying hens forage from dawn to dusk on green fields and their trailer coops and feed wagon are moved every week.
Inside the fence these 200 chickens have access to over 8 acres of pasture. They easily hop the fence and make use of 2 more acres. It is nice to not have to stamp jargon like “Certified Humane” on our cartons–a picture or a trip to the farm speaks for their quality of life. This translates very well into quality eggs with orange/gold yolks.
Our two trailer coops are central to our style of egg production. Mobile chicken houses are not a new concept–keeping the flock in motion helps distribute their manure widely across the farm, turning a liability into a resource. It also gives the chickens a broader diet by giving them new foraging options every week, while also allowing the pasture weeds, grasses and insects to recover in their wake.
Soon we will be covercropping, harvesting fall greens and squash and preparing for other other big season on the farm–Christmas! For now, there is much more left to do in summer, but I will leave it for the next update. For now, here are some of the best photos from throughout our season.
Amanda and Stephen at the Warrenton Farmers’ Market
A May day’s strawberry harvest.
A freshly planted raised bed, full of potential.
The path to the mushroom logs.
The old barn, a solitary cedar and an ancient beech under a June rainbow.
Come out and see us soon! If you’d like to drop us a line, the best way to reach us is email: firstname.lastname@example.org