Ramble On

Thursday, March 29, 2012

New Vines at Hawksbill Cabin

So, after checking out all the new vines over at Wisteria and Beaver Run Brewery, I ended up with a half dozen rhizomes for hops vines from Dan.  During his harvest last fall - there are a couple of posts on this if you click on the Beaver Run Brewery label at the end of this blog post - he'd talked about thinning out the Willamette and Centennial sections of the hopyard.  He gave me three of each.

I plan to grow two of them out at Hawksbill Cabin, and I will container-grow two more at the Alexandria house.  For the third pair, I'm planning to share them with my USAF buddy and homebrewer Stan, who will container-grow them in Arlington. 

For the planting at HC, I chose a sunny spot in the backyard that should have summer sun for most of the day.  It is on the east side of the old shed, and far enough away from the north wall of the house to get good southern exposure.  This is also the area where I had a "bag garden" a couple of years, so there is old top soil still working its way into the marine clay of the yard - should be a post on that project under the container garden label below.

To plant the rhizomes, I dug a four inch hole.  I filled the bottom with compost, put the rhizome on that, and then covered it over with a mixture of soil and compost.  After gently tamping the soil, I watered them, about a half gallon each.

Now to watch and wait.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

New Vines at Beaver Run Brewery

It's spring and that means the hops rhizomes are gathering their energy from the sun for another growing season.  Dan told me he would be setting up the trellis in the hopyard over at Beaver Run Brewery last weekend, so I rounded up Tessie and we headed over to watch the action.

Dan and Sally have a couple of acres of woods where these rail-straight small cedars grow.  They are so densely planted in the forest that they grow to about fifteen feet and a calipered diameter of about 3 to 4 inches - in other words, they are perfect for this purpose.

When I got there, Dan was headed out for a couple of the poles so we strolled out and selected two good fallen cedars, bringing them back to the hopyard.  Then he set them up to hold the lines for the vines to grow up.

He has thinned out some of the hold varieties - Willamette and Centennial, to be exact.  I was the beneficiary of a half dozen of these rhizomes, and I planted one of each there at Hawksbill Cabin.  I'll plant one of each in the yard in Alexandria, too - as soon as I am back from the frozen north, and I plan to give a couple to Stan, another homebrewer who is also an Air Force buddy.

Dan added a row of Hallertau this year, and he tells me that he will be putting in two rhizomes of Gold Kent.  So he'll have five varieties going in there.  The whole point is to see what grows well here in Virginia - although we know that the Cascade thrives.

After he was finished with the effort, I pointed out for him the areas where he could easily quadruple the plantings.  And what happens then?

Well, I think he has to quadruple the brewing!

Monday, March 26, 2012

New Vines at Wisteria

We have a winery for a neighbor.
What's not to like?
Last year, our neighbors at Wisteria started vines on a new section of the farm, closer to Marksville Road.  The location makes it easy to watch how the plants mature as we drive by on our way to Hawksbill Cabin.

Driving by usually isn't enough for me - I need to go and check these things out in person.  So the other day, after taking care of a few other errands, Tessie and I took a drive over to visit Sue at the winery - beginning with our normal walk out to Hawksbill Creek, and ending with a nice tasting of that new Adonis blend they have over there - and of course, I took a bottle home with me.

Trellising going up in the new section.
This spring, they've been clearing out some of the property in the back.  And in a true sustainable approach, they salvaged the cedar tree trunks that came down and used them for the new trellis system where the new vines are.  I've forgotten the variety, but these are in their second year - seems I've heard that they need three years before they produce, so one more year on this bunch.

Tessie and I had a great walk around the farm, and then a great visit in the tasting room where we got caught up on all the news about Page County Grown - at least what we hadn't already gotten caught up on via Facebook and a stop at Public House Produce for eggs.

A vineyard talisman.

We're hoping our friends have a wonderful year at the vineyard.  It's a treasure to have this enterprise so close by.

I'm looking forward to my next visit and post!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Not Exactly the Glamorous Life

I've gotten into a little situation here where I am traveling more than usual.  Since I started consulting in 1998, I've typically had five or six trips a year, not a whole lot but maybe more than the average American.  Since I work primarily for government agencies, that has helped me get to 37 states so far (it is a goal to get to all 50 - I also would like to get to 50 countries, and have been to 25).

And I have to admit that I like it most of the time, even though the conditions have gotten progressively worse over the years.  In some years, I earn status on the airlines - although the inevitable irony is that the next year will be a slow travel year and I don't get to enjoy it.

There was the year I went to Richmond, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Topeka, Dallas (three times), St. Louis, Chicago, Cincinnati (three times), Boston, Detroit, Denver, LA, Fresno, and Oakland.  Then another when I went to Phoenix four times, LA twice, Atlanta four times, Orlando twice, Richmond once, and Boston once.  Those were both status earning years; so far, this year is shaping up like that, but the travel on my new job just hasn't been as exciting.

I've been to a small suburb of Dallas three times so far, since December, and also Indianapolis.  I've also had two overnights, non-flying, in Baltimore.  Now don't get me wrong, the change of pace was welcome, and the Dallas and Indi trips involved a great project - I'd just rather be doing it in Laguna.  But alas, this client doesn't do Laguna.

So I've decided to try and keep a sense of humor about it.  The location in Dallas is in recycled real estate that used to be a major bank branch.  When the bank closed, it took its toll on the neighbors - including a Whataburger outlet, shown in the opening photo.  As if the white paint could hide the iconic building - and any way the orange and blue stripes on the rooftop are starting to bleed through.

Then comes the treat.  We agreed to fly Sunday last weekend so that we could start early in Dallas on Monday.  I chose a flight via Philadelphia, and was rewarded with an upgrade to first class for the long leg to Dallas.  A treat like that at the beginning can make a trip that much easier - here's the photo of the meal...the choice was chicken or pasta.

Pardon me for the nostalgia.  But I do remember being treated this way in coach in the old days.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Catching up with Page County Grown

(Writing from Texas this week)

Next week, Page County Grown and the Northern Shenandoah office of the VIrginia Extension Service will host a session called "Cultivating Comparative Advantages for Agriculture and Farm-based Entreprenuership in the 21st Century."  The session will take place at the chamber offices on March 28 - next Wednesday - at 6:00 p.m.  Register by noon on March 26!

I'm sorry I'm going to miss this session, but it looks like it would be worthwhile for anybody that has an interest in our local agriculture scene.  There will be two speakers from Lancaster County, PA that will discuss on two very different approaches to farm entreprenuership.

The first is George Hurst, who owns and operates Oregon Dairy Farm in Lancaster County.  The link to their site is http://www.oregondairy.com/index.php.  There is a great history of the farm and it's a good read to see how the enterprise has grown from it's beginnings as a humber dairy. 

Now a perusal of that site will show you information about their farm tours and the array of farm goods that are offered there, but it doesn't cover some other interesting features of their operation:  innovations in manure handling - this is 500-head operation, after all, including anaerobic digestion, methane recovery, and composting. 

I could go on and on about these topics, you know, but I'll leave it at this: this kind of proactive environmental approach is worth having a look at, since these technologies are only going to become more and more important to farming on this kind of large scale.  As they work their way into the mainstream they will also grow more accessible to local farms and smaller operations.

The second speaker is Scott Sheely, who is the director of the Lancaster County Workforce Investment Board.  Scott is going to talk about forming partnerships between agriculture and farming and other industries, such as tourism and conservation.  This talk is right on the mark for Page County Grown, and it will include a discussion about farm-land entreprenuership and protection.

Mr. Sheely also worked as the founder of Lancaster Prospers, which was designed as an entity to create the kinds of alliances he will speak about.  There is a plan on their website and other useful background at http://www.lancasterprospers.com/.

As always, you can find out more about Page County Grown at the website, http://pagecountygrown.com/ , where the opening page will include more information about this event!

Monday, March 19, 2012

I am the Egg Man

Since I had a plane to catch on Sunday, we ended up staying in Alexandria for the weekend.  Since we couldn't get out to enjoy some local produce from our friends out in Page County, we trucked it down to Whole Foods (or Whole Paychecks, call it as you may) for some things to cook.

Well, I thought I would put in some volunteer activity on behalf of all the neighbors out there who are raising backyard poultry and collected a little market research on what those eggs your hens are brooding on will fetch here in town.

Here is a bunch of conventionally grown chicken eggs, as the first case study, which are being sold for fifty cents each.  That's $6 a dozen, home gamers.
Next we have duck eggs.  They get a lot of face time these days because of the rich variation the duck diet naturally contains - at least it has more variation than a conventionally grown chicken, of that I am sure.

These would make a great omelette...and they are priced at 75 cents a pop.
Finally, the novelty.  Many folks know that Whole Foods sells ostrich and emu eggs, as shown here.  The price of one of these exotic eggs is $29.95. 

Like so many (including the author of this blog post:  http://www.tamaraduker.com/2009/07/how-many-people-does-an-ostrich-egg-omelet-feed/ as it turns out), I've often wondered about the substitution of one of these ginormous eggs in a recipe for regular chicken eggs.  Turns out one ostrich egg will substitute for two dozen chicken eggs.

Doing the math, that is $15 per (chicken egg equivalent) dozen.
Now, as for the emu egg, well they have that beautiful color, and they have a rough texture.  That all makes them very interesting.    And as for the little Google search exercise I've done here - that tells me that both the ostrich and emu eggs are reliable substitutes for chicken eggs...
By the way, here is a link to a frittata recipe made with an emu egg...

They're telling me that the emu egg is roughly equivalent to a dozen chicken eggs.  So in the pricing department, you're getting $30 per dozen with these.  There is some economic analysis and price theory work that could be done here - a female emu lays three eggs per year, so if you're thinking of an exotic egg venture, that data point will help.

Well, let's close out this little adventure with the note that we didn't buy any eggs.  We know a place where you can get some farm fresh, pasture raised chicken eggs.  Cheaper than this.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

St. Patty's Day Meme

Here's a video making the rounds.  It's actually a Guinness ad, one that Mary sent me a few days ago with the note:  "Here's a funny video about a couple of things that you like a lot..."

She's right, I was especially happy to see the bit about one guy texting in here, or maybe checking in on Foursquare.  But it's actually about going to pubs, having a Guinness, and sheep dogs.  So it's got it's good points.

Happy St. Patty's Day - a few days early.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Pork Diaries: Leftovers

When we had some of the ham last week, we found there was a lot leftover, even after a couple of meals.  After all, there are only two of us.  One of the things we decided we could do - and actually this has been part of the grand plan all along - was to make some soup.

Because we saw the temperature drop a little bit right at the time I was preparing to make the  soup, I decided on a hearty ham and bean soup.  I make this soup all the time, after learning how to make it from my mom, but the difference this time was that it was my hog that we were cooking with.  So this was a special ham and bean soup.

You've probably seen the bag of beans in the store - there is one variety that calls itself 15 bean soup, and that is the one that I buy.  There's a recipe on the bag, but I only use that as a starting point, and most of the time I can either make this from scratch or with the ingredients we have on hand.  And there is a photo here of what I used in this batch - including the secret ingredient Yeungling Black and Tan.

I cut the leftover ham into half-inch chunks, and mixed in some vegetables (usually I only add onions, but you can see I added celery and carrots to this batch).  After cooking the onions down a bit with olive oil, until they're beginning to be transparent, I added the vegetables, ham, and a mix of vegetable stock and beer.  I brought that to a boil, then added the beans, which had been soaked overnight, and a can of crushed tomatoes.

I brought that back up to a boil and let if go for about 10 minutes, then turned the heat down and let it simmer on low for an hour.  That's all there is to the technical cooking.  You can spice this up as you like, but basically I use garlic, salt and pepper, and then a dash of chili powder - I didn't use much salt this time because of the ham.  Sometimes towards the end, there's a need to add a little something to taste - but that's to suit the cook.

If you haven't made bean soup before, this is a straightforward dish right of the recipe on the packaging.  After you've made it a few times, you might find your recipe evolving, just as mine has in the 25 or so years I've been making this.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tessie's Rescue Anniversary

Mary reminded me yesterday that it was one year ago today that we drove down to the Richmond area and adopted Tessie from Atlantic Region Central Border Collie Rescue.  Here's a link to their organization:

It's hard to believe our pack has been together a year already.  She's a great dog, a hug bag.  Having had a border collie before, Tessie is proof that even though the genetic material is pretty much the same, what you end up with can vary widely.

Readers of the blog know that Mary and I were blessed to have two long-lived companions before in Gracie and Sofie.  Gracie was a border collie also, but driven by the natural instinct of the breed,  so that she was always there with a ball to play fetch.  And Sofie, our loving chow mix - she was motivated by pure canine-ness, very protective and watchful, but very much a companion dog.

It's funny to think how Tessie has personality traits that combine both of these - but in a way that make her her own dog.

I went outside yesterday in the morning, having let Tessie out into the backyard first thing.  When I got to where I could see, I saw the dog grab a stick and toss it into the air...that's new behavior.  Tessie is finally coming into her own, settling in with us, so that now she's inventing games.  It's a heartwarming thought.

If you're thinking of getting a dog, we encourage you to think rescue first.  There are plenty of breed specific organizations like ARCBCR; there are others like Lost Dog and Cat Rescue (http://lostdogrescue.org/); or maybe best of all, you can find a good, worthy dog at your local shelter.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Land Prices: They're Just Not Making Any More of It

Sometimes on the Sundays when we don’t get out to Hawksbill Cabin, I find that I have time to catch up on some back issues of “Progressive Farmer” – we first got this subscription when we installed the new gas heating systems from Southern States, and renewed it since then.  Funny, but the publication started out in Greensboro, NC, and I’ve heard that some of my family members were early subscribers, reading every issue cover to cover.

Since I was in catch-up mode, I found that had three issues with reports on sales recent farmland, so I did a little analysis in the attached table, which is sorted by price per acre.
There is a full range of sizes and uses, with the improved farmland drawing the highest prices.  On the other hand, the “recreational land” – essentially timber land where you can also hunt, was at the lower end.  It’s all about values, I guess. 

I also took a look at a November special issue about risk.  This piece, “Land:  Love it or Leave it” by Deb Keller, speaks to how farmland prices have increased dramatically since 2004.  She finds that the reason for the price increases are increasing demand, skyrocketing commodity prices, and pressure from outside investor interests.

One impact of the boom in prices, Keller finds, is a bank in Indiana that wants a 35% down on land purchases.  She closes the article with an analysis that compared the current value of $1,000 invested in 1960 in Iowa farmland…that 3.63 acres would be worth about $170K now, while an equal investment in the S&P 500 would be worth at around $95K.  Even so, with prices for agricultural products being what they are, these individual land buys probably don’t pencil out – they’ve got to be averaged into existing production acreage, and they probably have to be 100+ acres at that.

The other issues in this group all have articles about land prices, alternatively discussing whether there might be a bubble, whether there is a correction coming, and how young farmers just starting out might find financing or other resources to start building their acreage.  Everything comes back down to cash flows – I’ve done a few posts on the topic before – and I just don’t see how you get there on small ground.

As far as the prices go, I always think about it this way:  It’s land.  They’re just not making any more of it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Pork Diaries: Ham on

Our first sampling of ham - from the pig, "Pork Chop."
At last, the ham.

A few weeks back, when we went to pick up the bacon (I posted this, readers, a few weeks back), we also got the hams.  They were both quite large, too big for any of our freezers, so I decided to bust mine down into parts.

Getting started breaking down the ham.
The knife blade is 8 inches long, for perspective.
I’ve got some photos here of the progress on that.  I think we ended up with two or three of these nice half-moon shaped ones that range from 2 to 4 pounds each.  There are also two oddly shaped ones of similar weight, and then there is still one that size attached to the ham bone. 

Here are a couple of hunks of the
broken-down ham.
When David sent them off to the smokehouse, he told me that they weighed the four hams (two from his hog and two from mine) and the average weight was 36 pounds.  He had the bigger animal and I am sure the heavier hams, but that puts the two from “Pork Chop” in at probably between 25 and 30 pounds.  That’s a lot of meat, no matter how you slice it.

Mary decided that she would take out one of the hams for dinner last weekend.  She picked one of the smaller half-moons, and prepped it as follows:  after scoring it, she basted it with orange juice and put cloves in the cross-hatch.  As it cooked the scent filled the air, driving Tessie, and our visiting 110-pound Golden Retriever Tobey, crazy as their dinner times approach. 

Mary paired the ham with kale and sweet potatoes using some standard recipes from around our household.

It made for a great weekend feast – and guess what?  There is plenty of ham left over!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Berlin Reunion 2012 (AM Version)

Well, here another February has come and gone, and that means a few of my USAF Berliner friends have gotten together to celebrate a reunion.  As always, we chose Blobs Park up in Jessup, MD as our venue – you can check it out at http://blobspark.net/

This year, in the after action, I think I will refrain from sharing photos of the people who were there…so that they can’t be tagged on Facebook or anywhere else.  This is not because anyone did anything that might compromise their reputation – as far as you know – it is just a matter of convenience for me.

I was stationed in Berlin from 1981 until 1986 – and I made some very good friends there.  I think it’s close to unanimous that everybody in our unit remembers a great experience there.  My tour was longer than usual, but there were quite a few who stayed longer, and several who were lucky enough to go there twice, or more!

The work we did ended abruptly in February 1992 (I hope I have the year correct) – and we have been celebrating on the last Saturday of February every year since then. 

There are some traditions…one of which is the big apfelkorn display we see here (in the before-and-after shots).  There’s also the “Flat Roy.” The original Roy can’t – or won’t – join us, so one of our friends (Penny, actually!) started this tradition.  There’s no telling where Flat Roy will end up…and that’s really very much like the Real Roy, when you think about it.

For some jollies, here's what Wikipedia says about Apfelkorn... 

My last photo here is of the Chicken Dance.  The Chicken Dance is another of those great traditions that people who go to these German fests enjoy.  I fondly remember doing it one time.

(You can check out the chicken dance here if you are so inclined.  http://youtu.be/6UV3kRV46Zs)

So, to all my fellow Berliners, thanks for coming out this year for another of our grand times.  Of the 50 or so who came out, I hope to see you all again next year…and since it is usually the case, I’m sure we’ll see a few new faces there as well!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Hops Geeks

Sometimes on Sunday afternoons at Hawksbill Cabin, I'll take a walk up to visit our neighbors, Sally and Dan.  We'll have a great chat about the news of the day in the neighborhood, or about goings on up in Shenandoah National Park, and then, sometimes, Dan will break out his latest home brew.

These are always good times, but especially when the latest batch rolls out, there's no time when Charlie Papazian's (author of The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing) ring truer:  "Relax.  Don't worry.  Have a home brew."

Since Dan often talks about the vines he has going in the backyard there, our discussion will turn to hops from time to time.  This last time, he'd joined the craze about the new Calypso variety and the Flat Tale IPA that resulted for dryhopping with it.

I looked up the variety on-line and didn't find a whole lot of info.  What I found mostly was a whole lot of "Oh, I want to try that."  Then there was some geeky detail, as follows:

"Here are their vitals: 

Calypso Pellet Hop

Alpha Acid 12.0%
Dual Purpose Hop
Pleasant, fruity aroma, with hints of pear and apple
Typical Brewing Styles: Ales, Stouts and Barley Wines."

Dan gave me a couple of ounces, and then paired them up with a couple of ounces of Cascade - enough for me to make a batch - I bought a home brew kit recently and have been waiting for my work load to ease up enough to try it out.

In his first batch, Dan had used his (he bought a pound) combined with the Cascade crop from last summer - I posted a few times on that crops process under the "Beaver Run Brewery" label at the end of this post.  But this result was among his best yet.  It had retained all of the great qualities of Dan's beer with the addition of a lightly dry hop finish. 

We were just admiring the quality of Dan's work. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Pork Diaries: A Shoulder Roast

It was Mary's turn for inspiration the other day as she opened the freezer and consider all the pork inside.  Some of the largest packages are the roasts - during the butchering I had taken one of the shoulders and cut it down into quarters, David showing me how.  These ended up being 4-pound roasts.

Mary consulted The Joy of Cooking as the guide for how to do the roast (Amazon link below, as always).  We ended up with a savory, perfectly done piece of meat, and there are lots of leftovers.

She paired it up with a second go at the winter vegetable medley that we'd originally found in Simply in Season, which is becoming our go-by cookbook on the vegetable side of things.  Here's a photo of the vegetables, including a winter squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes.

We've been getting comments back on the scrapple from the neighbors we'd shared it with.  The feedback is unanimous - they all love it so far.

We still have plenty of pork left!