Hello from the farm video!

Rooster Video-2

Everyone needs a happy rooster in their life! Ok, maybe not everybody, but we sure are glad we have one here on our farm! Hope this made you smile. Hope you all have a great day, and we’ll see most of you this week. The every-other-week CSA folks are “off” this week.

Eat your veggies,



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March on the Farm: in the fields

Every month we have one or two big projects we try to complete.  One of our projects for March was to finally build the chicken “family pen” we have mentioned in previous posts.  The plan was to build a small pasture in the woods so that some of our best hens can live and make babies with a big robust rooster.  We hope this family area will be a constant source of new hens for our laying flock, so we can stop ordering hens from the hatchery every spring.  Buying new chicks every spring gets expensive, peepers can be challenging to raise to maturity, and is not very sustainable. We like the idea of letting nature take its course and allow the hens to sit on and hatch their eggs, as well as take care of their little brood.  We would like them to live as independently as possible.  We will start our family area with Barred Rock chickens.  These birds are beautiful and make great laying hens or even meat birds if we wanted to go that direction.  We already have a big beautiful rooster I got from my niece.  He is happy to be here and quite excited about this new plan!

Barred Rock 2 barred rock rooster Barred Rock

Our second project for March was to build a place to raise rabbits.  Rabbits reproduce quickly and taste great.  They are an excellent source of sustainable meat.  The more we can grow our food ourselves, the happier we are.  Not only are we planning on including rabbit in our dinner plans, we also have several chefs who have asked about it.   My grandmother used to cook rabbit on a regular basis.  I remember her putting it in a crock pot before church.  You never know, we might even have a few adventurous CSA members who want to try it.  Either way, it will contribute to our food independence.  Sadly though, so far it has been a fail on the rabbit project.  We spent so much time fighting the weather and keeping the lowtunnels over the crops that this project fell off the page.  It will rise again though!

still under cover

One of our projects for February was to build cold frames for starting seedlings.  Mission accomplished!  We now have two new very basic cold frames.  These are very simply made by making a rectangle out of cinder block.  Get planks with a 6 inch width and cut them to the length of the rectangle.  Then cut them into a wedge shape.  You also need a plank to nail them to what goes across the back of the cold frame.  Then buy a big piece of plexiglass at Lowes and voila!  They were simple and cheap.  Total cost was $150.00.  The purpose of the cold frame is to have a nice warm place to start seedlings.  In the past, we have approached this by either contracting a local greenhouse grower to grow out our seedlings, or else just plant the seeds directly in the field.  We had problems with having our seedlings grown by a local grower.  The seedlings were not ready on time and when we finally got them they were spindly and weak.  They also were very expensive.  That is a bad mix.  We also had problems with direct seeding into the field.  The issue with direct seeding is that it wastes a lot of seeds.  When a crop is direct seeded, the seeds are often placed a little too close together and later thinned out when they are fully emerged.  Often the seeds we choose are extremely expensive and we simply can’t afford to waste seeds by direct seeding.  I hope the cold frame solves the problem.  We planted our seeds directly into the garden soil in the frame.  They are very close together but that’s ok.  We are going to dig them up when they are sized and transplant them at the appropriate spacing in the field.  This is not as easy as transplanting plugs but hopefully will be a happy medium between the expense of greenhouse plugs and the waste of direct seeding.  Crops seeded in the cold frame include fennel, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, brusselsprouts, cabbage, kale, and some fancy purple broccoli called Purple Peacock!  By the end of March they are out of the cold frame and in the field!  Let’s get ‘er done!

Coldframe with coverSeedlings in the coldframe

March is when the field work begins in earnest.  Fields need to be tilled and prepared for seeding.  Sometimes during the winter the fields can grow lots of weeds so the weedy fields need tilled down several times to kill the weeds before they can be planted.  The problem we have had this March is that it has either been freezing weather with high winds that forced us to spend huge amounts of time keeping crops covered, or repairing tunnels, or it has been raining!  It has rained several times each week in March with some of it being flooding rains!  When the fields are wet they can’t be tilled and the weeds just keep on growing.  This has caused much stress when it comes to getting things planted.   Normally by the end of March we have all the spring crops in the ground and many of the really early crops such as spring rabe, Asian vegetables, or baby lettuce are already big enough to harvest.  This year the things that are under the tunnels are looking pretty good because they stayed warm and dry. But, the things that are planned for the bigger fields that are not under cover are either just now at the tiny seedling stage or are not even planted at all!  We are ready for farming to not be quite so hard.

baby garlic baby ramps

The good news is that after the last week of March, with 28 degree weather, the forecast is looking much more spring-like with temps in the 70’s and several days of no rain!  We will be in a planting frenzy!  We also will throw off the row covers and try to get everything cleaned up for spring.  Once spring hits and we get a little warmth, the weeds will really start to come on strong.  If we don’t stay on top of it, the weeds will take over to the point where they can’t be easily hoed and they will take critical nutrients and space from the crop.  Weeds are probably the biggest challenge to pesticide free growing.  Without using herbicides, there are not a lot of easy solutions.  Our strategy is to plant the crop very dense in an attempt to quickly shade out any competing weeds.  We also want the crop to be growing fast and strong and we quickly hoe the weeds when they are very small.  This gives the crop the best chance to outcompete the weeds and hopefully get big enough to have the upper hand.  It is never perfect.  If you visit any pesticide free farmer you will see that there are weeds in the fields.  It is not cost effective to pay labor to keep everything perfectly clean.  You just can’t sell the produce for enough money to warrant that type of labor investment.  So we try to keep things clean enough and balance between managing labor costs and growing a good crop.  That normally means there are a few weeds!  We try to look on the bright side and consider that weeds also are habitat for beneficial insects to reproduce and live.  We need the weeds!

Speaking of weeds, we recently went to several classes on wild edibles!  We read a book called Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson.  We also saw her give a lecture at the Acres Organic Conference this year.  This author discussed the nutritional benefits of wild plants and how we have bred many essential phytonutrients out of the crops we grow.  Traditional plant breeding has bred for color, pest resistance, growth habit, shelf life, and many other traits. However, rarely are crops bred for nutritional value.  As a result, the nutritional value of many crops has declined significantly over the years.  Being knowledgeable about wild edibles allows us to grow these plants for the adventurous eaters and chefs, as well as bring back some key nutrients that we may be missing.  March is the perfect time to find these.wild violet 2

confederate violet

Since there was so much work required in the fields in March, there will not be an “In the office” post for March. As always, the weather dictates much of our activities around here. We are thankful for sunny skies and the start of our Spring 2014 CSA this week! And see this post for information on our “Farm to Fork” Dinner here at the farm in June.

Eat your veggies and Eat Wild!


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Our Spring CSA starts this week!



Just a quick reminder to all you veggie lovers, that our CSA begins this week! Clean out your fridge, mark your calendars, and set alarms on your smart phones for your pickup day reminders. If you are an “every-other-week” pickup, you will be starting this week. Remember, there are many recipes and helpful links here on the blog, so you can do a Search here, if you are looking for help with a specific vegetable. We look forward to seeing everyone this week!

Eat your veggies!


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Farm to Fork Dinner for Spring 2014

farmtoforkdinnerOur latest “Farm to Fork” dinner plans have been made, and you’re invited! Our first dinner, last spring, was a huge success and you can read all about it and see pictures here at the OrganicEater blog.

Please see the link below for more details and to sign up. It promises to be a special occasion that will connect us to some great North Carolina food!


We look forward to seeing you there!





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February on the farm: in the office; a personal word from Robin

Tunnel open on a sunny day, and yes, that's laundry on the right. You know farmers are the original "multi-taskers"!

Tunnel open on a sunny day, and yes, that’s laundry drying on the right. You know farmers are the original “multi-taskers”!

A personal post from Robin, from the February farm journal…… It is only the second week of February and we already have had three major winter storm events!  This is perfect for office work.  We set up our CSA sign ups using a program called Small Farm Central.  It has gone very smoothly and we have quite a few new veggie lovers signed up.  We can’t wait to start the new CSA.  These customers are so passionate about eating healthy, cooking real food, and even the social implications of the local food system.  Each and every one of these customers are precious and so interesting.  We love to hear their stories.  Some are cancer survivors, some have other serious health issues, some are gourmet cooks, some are hippies, some are yogis, some are cross fit buffs and Paleo enthusiasts, and all of them are very committed to eating their veggies, and are some of our favorite people. We love being the “common ground” for all healthy eating lifestyles!

There is a lot of anticipation February. Most of our seeds are ordered. At this point I have them all organized, my gardens mapped out and am just anxiously waiting to get them in the ground!  There is a feeling of anxiety knowing that the CSA is going to start soon and yet we see it snow!  I am trying to appease this anxiety by peeking under the tunnels and composting rows for planting at the end of the month.  Soon!

One of the most important things we do indoors is keep accurate accounting.  Every Sunday afternoon we enter all our receipts into Quickbooks and file them.  We also are sure we have accurately recorded our truck mileage as well as take a look at what was sold to CSA, market, and restaurants.  This keeps us on track and lets us know where to spend our energy.   Sometimes farming is so multidimensional that it becomes a tornado of activity with very little examination of what is financially viable and what is just spinning.  This is a tough but important part of the business that really needs to be a priority.  Our 2013 tax information is already to the accountant and I have no anxiety at all about our record keeping.  We have receipts and logs for everything.  A tax problem is the death of many small businesses and even families.  The extra work required to not have those types of problems is worth it.  We also take time on Sunday afternoons to organize everything that needs to happen the next week and decide who will manage each task as well as when.  This helps keep us and our paid help all on track and focused.  Again, the tornado of work can make it easy to spin and not really do what needs to be done.  Plan, prioritize, implement.  Speaking of planning, prioritizing and implementing, our goal for 2012 was to pay off all debt, including the car, truck, house, and land.  This was a huge challenge but WE DID IT!  It was not without a lot of very hard work.  Both Jay and I had full time jobs and worked the farm.  We also lived simply and chose to live well below our means, not shop, drive our old cars and truck, and love it!  The peace from being debt free is far greater than the momentary happiness “stuff” might bring.  So our goal for 2014 is to live totally on our farm income.  Jay left his job with Armstrong and is now working the farm full time.  I still have my job, however we are living off farm income and saving all of my income to buy some more farm land.  We are toying with the idea of purchasing land for a “teaching farm”.  Ideally this would be a small farm with an inexpensive house on it.  We are considering the feasibility of using this property as a place for a new young farmer to live and farm affordably and under our guidance.  Whenever I work with farmers or go to agricultural meetings,  I am struck by the fact that most growers are well past 40 years old.  Where is the next generation?  I think that there are several barriers to entry for these young farmers.  The biggest barrier is the cost of available farmland; the second is having a way to get hands on experience in profitably managing a small farm.  We haven’t figured out all the details yet but are working on how to make this happen.  We want to actually implement this goal in 2015.  Plan, Prioritize, Implement! -Robin

Hope you are enjoying the behind the scenes view of farm life. Next up, we will tell you what’s happening in March around the farm. Until then, we are taking names for the waiting list for Spring/Summer CSA, since it is already full! See this post if you need details for getting on the waiting list.

CSA Members and Atherton shoppers, you will be eating more veggies very soon!


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Spring/Summer 2014 CSA is now full!

hoophouse1What a great problem to have! So many people are supporting the “buy local” movement and see the value in fresh, clean local CSA vegetables for promoting health, that we are already at full capacity for our Spring/Summer CSA 2014.

For those who didn’t get to sign up yet, you have some options: get on our waiting list by emailing us here and/or come see us at Atherton Market on Saturday mornings, and shop for many of the same fresh veggies available in our CSA, plus even more specialty and unique items (described in that post) that may not have been included in the CSA box that week.

The third option is to “subscribe” to the blog, and sign up to receive an email every time a new blog post is up. That way, you will be notified via email when our next CSA is open for sign ups, which will be Fall/Winter 2014. The subscription info is on the top right corner of this page.

Thank you all for supporting the local movement! See you in about a week or so, when the Spring CSA begins! Looking forward to it!

Eat your veggies,


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Resources for Veggie Lovers (aka CSA members)

227922_146307215440459_4884097_nWe like to share helpful resources with you that will enhance your Bell’s Best CSA experience, and help you incorporate more veggies in your life! As we are gearing up for our Spring-Summer CSA (which is at full capacity as of this post!), this link below is a great resource for you to bookmark and refer back to when you get a veggie in your CSA box that you’re not quite sure what to do with (or you want to try something new!). Tons of helpful real-food information to be found here:



We look forward to seeing you face to face, with lots of pesticide free veggies next month!


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February On the Farm: In the Field

Completed Ginger GardenThe big goals this cold month of February were building some raised beds to grow ginger, turmeric, and wasabi and convert our laying flock of hens to non-GMO feed. We constantly strive to improve what we are doing and better meet the needs of our customers. Non-GMO is something lots of people are asking about. To accomplish this we are going to have to make our own feed that contains no soybeans or corn, which are the two main Genetically Modified crops. In our reading, chickens need a mix of grains and don’t thrive well on a single type of grain as a feed supplement. This month we made arrangements through a local feed mill to obtain several types of non-GMO grains such as oats and barley that we will use to mix our own chicken feed. It actually is much simpler than we expected and we can’t wait to see how the ladies do on their new rations. They get most of their nutrition by foraging and eating all the veggie scraps we throw to them, however they really like the scoop of food they get every evening. Happy happy happy hens! Now they should be even happier!

Lady on a roosting rack

We are building raised beds for ginger, turmeric, and wasabi in several different locations around the farm. One will be in an area that gets morning sun, but is afternoon sun protected. Another location is in the woods behind the barn in an area that has diffused light all day. It is mostly shaded. We hope that the beds in the woods work well because that area is currently not being used to grow anything. It is beautiful space, but not making the farm any money. The goal is to keep it beautiful and also grow some beautiful exotic crops that local chefs are going to love! To make these beds we are using 12×6 untreated planks as the bed boarders. Then we are filling the bed with great topsoil that is heavily amended with compost and kelp meal. We are starting the seed pieces indoors this week and are planning on getting them planted in the field in May. We grew a small amount of baby ginger and turmeric this year and got a great response from everyone. We think we can do it even better! We can’t wait for this project to really get going. So far the boards are in place and we just need to fill it with topsoil. The plan is to get some from a local grading company. Meanwhile we’re planting the ginger and turmeric in trays that we keep on our warmed porch. This gives it a head start so that when May comes around and the soil is warm enough, the plants will already be well rooted and growing. This is important for these crops because the growing season is really not quite long enough in our area. They have to be pre-rooted and already growing when they are put in the field. February is indoor ginger and turmeric planting time.

Planting Turmeric in Trays

February can be a little depressing when it comes to field work, because of the cold weather here in North Carolina. This year has been even worse than normal because it has been extremely cold and very wet. February also brought the once in a lifetime “Snowpocalypse” to our area. We got about 8 inches of snow and it completely flattened our low tunnels, but we were able to repair most of them. We were expecting the worst, but when we pulled the covers off our low tunnels, things were looking pretty good!

Open Tunnel for weeding

There are baby beets, carrots, lettuce, Asian vegetables, turnips, and herbs that are small, but looking pretty good. We even harvested some mesclun mix for the market and a chef. With a little heat, these crops are going to really take off. Last year we had rows and rows of garlic happily enduring the cold at this time of year. This year we don’t. We didn’t plant any because we realized we don’t grow garlic very well. It often is stained from our red clay soils and we noticed that lots of other growers have much prettier garlic. So, we decided to wait until February to plant garlic pieces and then harvest it all as specialty green garlic at the pencil size stage. We don’t see many people around growing this specialty crop and we know we can do a great job with it. Green garlic has a milder fresh flavor compared to cloves of garlic,  and we think our chefs are going to really love it. We also think our CSA members will love it. We never stop trying new things and trying to be flexible and inventive. We think the key to selling green garlic is marketing it. With the right description for this amazing aromatic, it is going to be irresistible.

Next post, we’ll tell you what’s happening in the office and in the hen house in February. Until then…

Eat your veggies, and your spices!



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January On the Farm: Chickens!

chicken phot-2And now for the last installment of the January “On the Farm” post, our most asked about feature of the farm: the chickens! We lovingly refer to them as “the ladies” of the farm…
How about those hens? Our hens have a very rough looking shack that houses their laying boxes and provides shelter, while still providing free access to pasture. There are no cages at all. In January, they are pretty chilly and complaining that the days are just too short. Chickens lay the most eggs when they are not stressed and have plenty of light. For us, the chicken house is not heated nor does it have lighting. That means that they are a bit stressed by the cold and roosting through long dark nights. We just accept the fact that egg production is going to go way down in the winter. It is the natural cycle of birds. Soon enough the ladies are going to get busy with their spring egg laying.
This is the time when we are looking at the hatchery website and deciding how many and what type of new baby peepers to add to the flock this summer. Every year we lose a few hens due to predators or because they get too old to lay prolifically, so we replace them in the early summer. Although the old hens are not good for roasting, they do make beautiful bone broth and are a great addition to our CSA, market, and restaurant offering. Bone broth, or stock,  is very healthful and the same people who are committed enough to their health to join a CSA, are very likely to be interested in making broth. This year we are considering selling a bone broth package that will include the hen, vegetables, and herbs for beautiful broth. Waste nothing!
Making the balance between keeping the flock safe, while also giving them free
access to the outdoors and ideally green pasture, can be very challenging. Our hen house opens to the front into a 50×50 chicken yard. It opens to the back into a two
acre pasture. When we first started growing chickens we idealistically thought the
best situation would be to allow the hens free access to the small chicken yard as
well as the pasture. Problems happened immediately. First of all, it is very hard to
adequately secure the fencing on 2 acres so we had hens out all over the place!
They were in the vegetables, roosting up by the house, and worst of all, getting
killed by predators. It never fails that chickens are genius at escaping and absolute
idiots when it comes to getting back in! When a chicken gets out, the first thing they
do is head for the tastiest looking vegetables they can find. It is very easy for only
one chicken to destroy an entire line of vegetables by simply taking a single peck
out of nearly every plant or fruit. Then in the evening when it is time to go roost up
in the safe hen house, they can’t figure out how to get back in! So, they roost
on the fence or in a bush or even just on the ground near the chicken house. This is
not safe for them. They normally end up eaten by a predator. IMG_0120Not only that, having hens out unprotected seems to even attract predators. During our earlier years when we were struggling with this, we lost our entire flock. We had several hens that we just couldn’t keep in the pasture and they seemed to be a magnet for night time trouble. Eventually the trouble maker dug under our fence and did its dirty work in the chicken house under the cover of darkness. None survived. The utopia I read about in some book, of chickens coexisting happily in the vegetables eating the bugs just is not possible. The solution is to limit the space they are allowed to roam, while still keeping them safe and happy.
Additionally, it is important to us that the hens are given plenty of green grass or vegetation to eat. We accomplish this by limiting them to the smaller but secure chicken yard most of the time. Then we dump all of our vegetable trimmings and culls into the chicken yard for them to eat.
chicken yard 3They seem to love it! They are safe, happy, and their yolks are bright orange from all the healthy vegetables they eat. (And by the way, chickens are not vegetarians as many seem to believe. They love to eat bugs and worms and other “meats”). IMG_2959
In the chicken yard, we create several areas that they can hide under in case of hawk attack, as well as driving wooden stakes all around the yard to prevent hawks from getting a good angle on grabbing a chicken. Any hawk big enough to grab a hen is generally not able to navigate its big wingspan through our obstacle course of tomato stakes. Some people make this balance by using chicken tractors. For us, the hens seem freer and happier in their shady yard than stuck in a tiny tractor.
Next month we plan to create a new chicken yard where we will allow a rooster and
several hens to live, have fun, and raise babies. Buying peepers is expensive and
troublesome. The plan is to see if handling the flock more naturally will work and be cost effective. Stay tuned for next month’s update and photos. This area will be in a beautifully peaceful area in the woods behind our barn. If they don’t like it, I might move in!IMG_1353
Next up: what happens around the farm in February…
Eat Your Veggies, and orange yolked eggs,
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January On The Farm: in the office

Hope everyone is faring well and staying warm during this huge snow storm here in North Carolina (more on that later!) As we continue to share what’s happening on the farm every month, there is a lot of behind the scenes “office work” that has to happen long before the seeds can be planted.
Here is what’s been happening on the farm, in the office, for January:
Back by the fireplace, sits the seed and equipment catalogues. This is super fun! I can spend hours plowing through those catalogues.
photo 1 Johnnies Catalogue
When I look at all the beautiful plants in the catalogues, I actually do have a strategy about what I buy. Chefs are often looking for that really cool and unusual item that makes their restaurant stand out, and they like to be able to say they are serving local produce. By choosing the super cool and unusual things, I stay out of the low price competition of the more common items. For the chefs, I look for Asian vegetables, herbs, longbeans, anything unusually colored, and anything that can be grown at ultrahigh density and harvested at the baby stage. These types of things are all hot items with chefs and can be sold at a price that makes them worth all the extra work required to grow these specialty crops. Chinese Long Beans pictured below:
longbeans2I also really enjoy choosing the seeds for our CSA. I pick the most colorful and beautiful, while not getting too outrageous with strange things. I have learned that our CSA members appreciate the opportunity to try new veggies, but only at paced intervals. They don’t want to constantly figure out how to use unusual produce with every CSA bag. They like plenty of the delicious standards with an occasional produce challenge. That means that the seeds I order for the CSA include things like kale, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, onions, garlic, potatoes, squash, and cabbage. Then I choose a few really nice specialty items that are not too hard to cook or deal with, just to spice things up a bit, and make the CSA feel more special. The types of seeds I might choose for this include brussel sprouts, Asian vegetables, colorful beans, white or lemon cucumbers, purple potatoes, or heirloom tomatoes. I don’t choose seeds specifically for the farmers market. I simply plant enough of everything grown for the restaurants and CSA to have extra for the market. Market customers are quite a lot like CSA members. They buy lots of the basics but often stop by our booth just because they want to see what type of specialty produce we might have brought. Market customers seem to prize the things that can’t be had in the grocery store. Once at the booth, we have the opportunity to sell both the more common items as well as the specialty items. Color and presentation also are very important at the market. I try to choose seeds that will allow me to harvest a wide range of colorful produce that can be artfully displayed. A sea of only green seems to intimidate market customers. We strive to constantly be pushing the limits of what can be grown here. That is why if you want something you might not normally find in our region, stop by our farmer’s market booth! It may not be cheap though, because it isn’t easy to grow these things. This month we have turmeric and brussel sprouts in addition to all the normal fare. Season extenders such as low tunnels can allow some crops to be grown at non-traditional timing. These can really be great market movers that the customers love and are profitable to sell. I also look for unusual crops and herbs that I can grow for our chefs.
Here’s the seed list for early spring: many types of kale, Bright Lights chard, spinach, purple brussel sprouts, plenty of herbs, purple, white, and pink potatoes, colorful cauliflower, broccoli, broccollini, red, gold, white beets, white and gold turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, colorful carrots, red and green cabbage, purple and white kohlrabi, Asian veggies, mixed lettuces, mesclun mix, different greens for micromixes, onions, leeks, garlic and assortments of root vegetables to be harvested at the baby stage.
Here’s the seed list for summer: many types of tomatoes, lots of colorful cherry tomatoes, lots of types of peppers (not too many hot peppers), not too many eggplant, flowers (new for us), heat tolerant lettuce, summer New Zealand spinach, specialty zucchini and squash, specialty cucumbers, all kinds of colorful snap beans, longbeans, pole beans.
photo 4
As you can see, a lot of careful thought goes in to every seed order, and we hope you can see (and taste!) that in the produce we grow! We are really excited about all of the delicious produce that will be ready in just a few months!
Now, back to dealing with all that snow and ice out there…… stay warm veggie friends!

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