State of the Farm

There’s nothing to complain about as we maintain our newest global warming trend of big rains followed by prolonged dryness followed by another just-in-time big rain. Let’s hope that continues to work as it did last year.

Meanwhile, we are seeing the same pattern that we saw during the winter - grasses and clovers are making an accelerated comeback following a harsher than usual series of freezing weather this year. We love Mother Nature’s resilience and compensatory values. The weather may cause her to hunker down for a prolonged period of time, but when she sees daylight, she rebounds quickly and with more bounty than usual. We dance with who brung us! She’s a good partner if we just give her a chance.

Bunny rows: we almost always have “standing hay” as we enter winter’s dormant stage. As we enter spring, we shred the old grass in order to bring more air and sun to the coming grasses and clovers but we always left some standing along the fence lines. This gave our rabbits and their spring bunnies some cover to hide in in their quest to avoid predatory hawks. We see the benefits of this practice with a larger bunny population each spring and summer. So we decided to take it a step further - we left wide swaths of bunny rows throughout the pastures. See the photo?
(Tracie, insert my photo here)

So what else do we expect in benefits besides “housing” for the bunnies? The mowed areas get a full dose of sun and air while the standing hay areas grow more slowly. We expect the cattle and pigs to enjoy the grasses in the mowed areas first. When they move to the bunny rows, they will forage a mixture of fresh grasses and dry hay. Spring grasses are “washy”, meaning that it tends to give more water than grass proteins which can lead to watery manure, very much like loose bowels that we sometimes experience. By getting a good dose of dry forage, digestion will improve and excrement will normalize. That means better health for our creatures.

Wildflowers, especially the blue bonnets: Flowers along the highways and many pastures are, of course, having a good year too. You will enjoy your wildflower tours and photography sessions this spring. But our patch of earth doesn’t yield the same bluebonnets like it has in the distant past.

There’s a good reason for that. Bluebonnets are legumes, so just like beans, peas and clovers, bluebonnets improve soil health by imparting nitrogen and adding humus to the soil. So bluebonnets grow where they are needed and as our soil has improved, we have seen a reduction of the state flower. Interesting, don’t you think? She giveth and She taketh away.

Open Farm is pushed to the Fall. April is always our first choice for Open Farm because of the spring flush, cooler temps and the chance for everyone to tour the farm, enjoy some of our meats and our chance to meet you in person. But it also an always busy month for many reasons and that truth is added to this year with a Brenham festival that we are participating in on the 21st. So, we have decided that we will have to push the farm tour back to the Fall this year.

We do invite you to consider the festival in Brenham where we will be found at the Home Sweet Farm in old town Brenham. You can even enjoy dinner with our pork and the produce from other local farms, starting at 5 pm. Contact brad@homesweetfarm.com for ticketed reservations. Hope to see you there.
 

A New Pork Recipe Site

One of our members sent us a successfully tested recipe for pork belly cooked in potatoes and milk which she found at Olive Magazine. Sure looks like a good source for our products, and the pork belly in milk and potatoes sounds delicious. Thank you, Juliet!

Speaking of pork, Here’s a refrain on our porkers and why they produce so many great eating experiences. When we decided to learn how to raise good pork, we first researched why commercial pork was so lacking in taste. We learned that not only was the modern diet and living conditions shockingly lacking. But it went beyond that. Industry production had focused almost exclusively on one breed, the Yorkshire, and bred them to produce lean meat during the ridiculous era where all fat was bad (how did that work out for us? Huge mistake).

So we knew we wanted to 1) grow pastured pork and 2) any breed except the Yorkshire. We discovered two breeds that dated back many centuries in England and the early American colonies, the Berkshire and the Duroc. These 2 breeds competed in 9 blind international taste tests and placed first and second in every case. They also fared poorly in caged industrial houses - they simply rejected the idea and died in those cages, causing Big Food to go away from these breeds - fortuitously for ourselves and the pigs!

And that is the short version of why JVF pork tastes so darned good!
 

We're No. 1

Edible Houston Magazine sponsored a contest asking Houston metro area residents which is their favorite farm serving Houston. And the winner is…Jolie Vue! We are overwhelmed by that news and thank all of you for your support. Makes all of our attention to the details of growing healthy, humanely-raised and sustainably-grown complete proteins worth all of the effort expended over the last 12 years worth it. And, I should mention, improving our regional environment’s air, water and soil while doing so.

I want to give posthumous thanks to my father for starting us on the right track. Dad was a lifelong restauranteur and he always taught that getting the food right came before profit because only if you did that would the sustainable business follow. Thanks, Dad. We miss you but are ever thankful for your wisdom.

State of the Farm

Our winter grazing was not as commensurately bountiful as the effort we put into planting it. We had one complete grazing of the oats and rye before the first, early, hard freeze came on us in late November. Very unusual to have it that early and that hard; and even more unusual that it was followed through in December and January by more hard freezes. All of that to say that we had no more grazing opportunities after the first grazing in early November - until February. Our creatures were limited to standing hay - the tall grasses that go dormant in freezing weather — which may maintain them but will not grow them like the winter grasses will.

But here is the rest of the story. February, often our coldest month, turned us from Arctic freezes to balmy weather, sometimes warming into the low 80’s, frequently reaching the low 70’s but always returning to cool nights. Average 24 hour temps were probably calculated into the 60-65 bracket, perfect weather for growing winter pasture, and the grasses responded with a vengeance. Jumping out of the ground, we were quickly overwhelmed with beautiful dark green pastures of oats, rye and clover by late February through March. The calves and pigs went from barely holding on to growing grass-fat! Big smiles all around.

The lesson? Never give up on Mother Nature. She’s a balancer.

Speaking of Clover

Those of you who have been with us for more than a few years will remember efforts to restore clovers in our earlier years. Clover is a soil balancer and enhancer. Makes a real difference in grass production and while it is reciprocally expensive, it makes up for it in nearly perpetual life.

So it is with great appreciation as we work around the farm to see it replete with clover of several varieties. We know it is working 24/7 to make us better.

…In the Kitchen

We used to raise meat chickens. Tough enterprise, very time intensive, predation can be severe if not guarded against, and harsh weather on either side of the gauge can be killing. We finally had to throw in the towel and went and found farmers who did chicken exclusively. Trying to do beef, pork and chicken was too much.

After a couple of false starts, we found Jill and her boys at Jolly Farms near Alvin. It’s been a downhill glide since then. They figured out how to raise Big Fat Hens year round with no loss of quality. Fat, tender, juicy every time. Not every member takes chicken. Big mistake in my opinion.

Here’s why: whether you cook it in the slow cooker, rotisserie or oven, you get nearly 4 pounds of delicious, juicy chicken. For Honi and I, that means three meals and a meaty carcass to make soup stock for another 2 or 3 meals.

Try the Jolly chicken if you haven’t. You’ll never look back.

State of the Farm

We sure are making up for last year's "non-winter" in a hurry. In fact, it is 32 degrees this morning as we approach Valentine's Day. Valentines marks the last average freeze day in Washington County but I suspect we will see more freezing weather before this winter is over.
Hard freezes came early and often this year and the result has been a dampening of our winter pastures' recovery. After grazing our oat and rye pastures just once, we have not returned as the winter grasses were stunted by the cold waves which have included snow and sleet. We hope that will change as the weather warms so that we see a final burst before the spring grasses show up but that is hope only - not expectation. In years like this one, all bets are off. We shall see…
 

Peachy

You may remember that last year our peach orchard grew no peaches at all, a first in 15 years of ample peach production. The previous winter was so warm that the orchard blossomed early but our one hard freeze came after that and snuffed out the flowers — so, no peaches for our porkers. I'm not worried that we will have an early bloom, but I am anxious that we may have a late freeze after normal warming occurs. If so, we could see our second year without peaches. I can hear the pigs grumbling already. They like their peaches.