We expect a small yield next summer, and in 2015 we should be knee-deep in blueberries come harvest time according to the old saying about new berry bushes: “first year they sleep, second year they creep, third year they leap.”
As with everything we grow, organic farming methods are used. We created bed rows with a tractor pulling a ridger. The root system for each bush was planted in a mixture of existing soil, composted leaf mold and double-ground pine bark. Then the entire bed received a 5-6 inch cover of double-ground pine bark mulch.
All weeds are hand-pulled, and there was no shortage of them the summer of 2013 when record rainfall occurred. In July it rained 17 of 31 days—13.5 inches. Great for the water table, not so great for farmers. Rutherford County, N.C., was declared a disaster area. However, drainage in the blueberry field was excellent, because the ridges were formed on slightly sloping ground. Fruit yield was negligible, because in the first year you want to concentrate on developing a solid root system.
We installed an irrigation system after the mulch was applied, but we didn’t need to irrigate until late summer.
Our varieties were selected to provide a staggered harvest over the longest period possible. They are: Climax, Premier, Tifblue and Powderblue.
The result is a semi-soft and highly durable scrubber for the bath, kitchen sink or laundry room. They also make great sponges for bathing or brushing horses, dogs and cats (well, maybe we don’t bathe the cat, but he likes being brushed). Small luffa pieces are great for cleaning tack.
When the luffas are ready, we cut them from the vine, crush the thick outer skin and peel them. We then soak them in water and squeeze and squeeze and squeeze some more to remove any flesh. Then they are pounded mercilessly on various hard surfaces to remove the seeds (which we save). After another rinsing they are squeezed and pounded again to remove any remaining seeds and flesh. The seeds fly every which way during the pounding, which explains why luffas emerge each summer in the most unlikely places.
Finally, they are hand-washed again and placed in the sun to dry. Using fresh goat’s milk purchased from local farmers Bill and Lee Barker of Emerald Springs Farm in Green Creek, we make a goat’s milk soap in the kitchen and fill the sponges with the liquid soap. Once it has set up, we slice the sponges to create round bars of soap and place them in cardboard boxes to cure.
The result is a heavenly soap made the old-fashioned way.
This year we are growing a small amount of organic heirloom Nankeen naturally brown cotton and green cotton to test its hardiness and insect resistance here in the Carolinas’ Isothermal Zone. So far it looks good, so we plan to plant more next spring.
Brown cotton is as Southern as peach cobbler, but it virtually disappeared from fields because white cotton was preferred by clothing manufacturers. It was easier to process and dye. Today, there is a small but growing demand for naturally colored cotton by small spinning and looming operations. Its small fiber makes it unsuitable for heavy machine spinning that the commercial giants use.
Nankeen Natural Brown Cotton is a pre-1860 heirloom seed that produces a short brown fiber. It has been grown since the Civil War. Among the characteristics of the short, brown fiber is that it doesn’t fade. Its dark copper color when first picked actually becomes brighter as it is washed.
There are four standard colors in naturally colored cotton: brown, green, red and tan (or mocha).
The Broad Breasted Bronze has a coloration that is so strikingly similar to wild turkeys that one day a state Department of Natural Resources official stopped at our farm to investigate a complaint that we were capturing and raising wild turkeys. He said he could tell immediately they were not the wild variety.
Next year our plan is to begin a breeding program of one of the heritage turkeys. However, we most likely will raise Broad Breasted Bronze turkeys as well.
We have never needed to use antibiotics on the chickens, and our pastures are fescue and native grasses receiving no chemicals of any type.
The end result is a naturally healthy and delicious bird.
We should note that if a chicken developed an illness that required an antibiotic, it would be separated from the flock, cared for in our infirmary and, assuming a happy ending, would become one of our own freezer birds.
Our current crop will be divided among four local women who formed a cooperative called “The Flocksters.” They gather at our farm on processing day, and, after a “Blessing of the Birds,” help usher the chickens off to “Freezer Camp.”
Why are they so good? Because we have a great team of hens, and we talk to them every day. We give them positive feedback, a real pat on the back and tell them they’re doing a great job. And when they lay an egg, they proudly strut across the yard, announcing it to their teammates.
Our pastured 20-hen team is comprised of three heritage breeds—Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks and a lone Buff Orpington, plus several Golden Comets. They are lovingly guarded by a Buff Orpington rooster named “Hammer.”
From first light until sundown they forage on grass, worms and insects, and we supplement that with organic feed. We sometimes give them homemade yogurt, cottage cheese and various kitchen scraps. Those are fun foods for them, entertaining for us to observe and healthy eating to boot.
We are a 40-acre all-natural farm concentrating on blueberries, hybrid and heritage laying hens, meat birds and luffas. We also make a variety of pure goat’s milk and Castile luffa soaps.
150 Rabbit Moffitt Road
Rutherfordton, NC 28139