Early Spring Newsletter: March 2009

This is our most recent newsletter. If you want a copy by email so the links work, please send us a note.
Early Spring On The Farm

The weather has been difficult to predict this year.  For a few days in February, it felt like spring had arrived and then suddenly it was in the mid-20's again.  This might be good if you are sitting inside reading a book, but if you have a farm it is not so good.  The warm days tricked some of our plants into thinking it was time to wake-up from their long winter's nap.  This past weekend, we had two mornings that were around 25 degrees and the more important dew point was around 21 degrees.  A number of blueberries and a few plum trees were in partial bloom.  Time will tell us if there was any damage.  I do not  believe it will diminish the berry crop much given the number of plants not affected.  For those that were, they will grow stronger and have more berries next year as a result of this event. 
The pastures have a touch of green in them with the vetch, clover and rye starting to emerge.  The cattle are eating less hay now and searching for the fresh greens.  We moved our steers, that will be harvested for the beef we sell in the late summer and fall, from their winter pasture to a paddock on our Rocky Branch Grass Ranch.  Here there is an abundance of fresh rye grass.  When they got off the trailer, they ran about in circles.  They were so excited. 
If you have been reading our blogs, you will know that we have started to plant vegetables and plan for more for the 2009 season.  We will be planting some very unique potatoes in a few days including Yellow Finn, Rose Finn Apple, Bintje, Ozette, German butterball, French Fingerling, Desiree, Caribe, Austrian Crescent, Banana and All blue.  Our onions are doing well despite the rather dry conditions.  We are already using drip irrigation on them. We planted Candy, Red Candy Apple and Borettana Cippolini.
We are mid-season in the flower gardens for bulb flowers.  They have really been nice this year.  Eva is trimming the roses getting them ready for their spring flush of flowers.  We still have a few crape myrtles and maple trees to set out near the cabins.  It is amazing how many weeds are starting to appear in the flower beds.  The red bud trees are in full bloom. I recall last year in mid-March we had a bit of snow under them. 
We have identified several varieties of raspberries that may do well in east Texas. We will be ordering them this week and set out a row to see how they will do. One variety is a summer producer and two others produce in the fall.  The plants we order will be very small, so this year we will just get a taste and see if they survive our hot late summer.  As the soil warms, we will plant more vegetable seeds.  We have many started in the green house now, but a lot will be directly seeded into the ground. 
This year we are going to do our best to produce salad bar beef.  That is a concept of having a variety of high protein forages available all summer for the cattle that we will harvest as grass-fed beef. We are taking 25 acres and planting it in strips of different forages that will mature at different times, providing a near constant source of lush greens for these cattle.  The plan is to use a special variety of pearl millet adapted for East Texas.  We will also plant Rio Verdi Lablab (a vine type tropical legume), red river crabgrass and 25% mix in each plot of Alyce Clover.  In addition we will test a smaller area with what is normally a deer plot forage (iron, clay and cow peas, soy beans and Alyce clover).  We already have hybrid Bermuda grass on part of this paddock and will retain one strip as a place for the cattle to get lower protein forage if they over eat on the rich forages. Cattle can get tummy aches just like humans if their diet is too rich. 
There are areas that we cut pine timber off and then shredded the stumps and tops a number of years ago.  This is now ready to plant in pasture.  If we can get the sprigs, we will use Jiggs Bermuda grass on a portion of it and red river crab grass on the other parts to see which does best.  Alyce clover will be used on both.  The clover is a good source of protein for the cattle, but also deposits nitrogen in the soil when it dies in the late summer supporting the grasses.
The blackberry bushes have had their winter pruning and are ready for summer.  Expect the first blackberries the last weekend in May.  We still need to build the Boccee Court near the cabins along with a long list of similar items that get worked on when we have time.  Early spring is a very busy time on the farm, but it is also an exciting time as we anticipate warmer weather and a lot of visitors and customers.
Farm Fresh Brown Eggs
We are finally getting fresh brown eggs after that long period in winter when the hens rest.  Actually, they do not produce because of the lack of light.  In commercial houses, where hens are kept in pens all their life or in very limited areas to walk around, artificial light is used to sustain production in winter.  We do things naturally and let the hens have a break and it gives me a chance to gripe that they are doing nothing but eating expensive feed. Did you know that chickens get vitamin D for their eggs from sun light absorbed through their eyes?  They have feathers and no exposed skin to obtain it in any other way.  Commercial layers are fed artificial vitamin D.  During the winter we had to buy so called "free range" eggs in the grocery store and even at close to $4/dozen they were not all that good. 
Have you ever wondered how long you can store fresh eggs?  Before refrigeration, where farms had a cool root cellar, eggs were stored for as much as a year.  In a refrigerator today, months is not too long of a stretch if the eggs were fresh when bought.  Some say they keep better if you keep a moist paper towel in the carton so the eggs retain moisture. 
We offer our farm fresh Greer Farm eggs for only $2 per dozen.  Call for availability before you make the trip.
Texas On The Farm Cooking Classes
Chef Eva has been busy with her on the farm cooking classes.  We have a few  photos to share from the February classes.
March will be a busy month and the first class is this Saturday.  Everyone knows how to cook, but sometime it's good to brush up on techniques or learn new ways to prepare tasty meals.  Cooking Basics: The Art of Good Food is a three class series that will allow you to make healthy, tasty, and enjoyable meals which are a snap to prepare after you brush up on your basic skills. These classes are sure to change your outlook on cooking, giving you a greater understanding, more comfort, and joy in the kitchen.  The cost is $60 per class or $55 if you attend all three.  They will make a great gift to a bride or bride-to-be, but anyone can enjoy them.  Men are welcome to attend.

Caesar Salad with Dressing and Homemade croutons
Perfect Roast Chicken with Sage and Brown Gravy
Roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes, Carrots and Shallots
Sautéed Spinach and Garlic
Lemon Mousse with Blackberry Puree

We will celebrate St Patrick's Day on the farm with a special class that focuses on traditional Irish cooking.  Ireland is rather rural and many farm fresh items are available.  Also, the climate is rather wet and days very humid, so a non-yeast soda bread became a staple.  This class will put it all together for a fun filled Saturday March 14. Cost is $60.

Irish Soda Bread
Carrot Soup with Marjoram
Champ Potatoes
Stewed Pork Ribs
Chocolate Whiskey Cake 

Easter is a holiday of special significance and for many a time for the family to be together.  With all the comings and going of Easter Sunday, we will offer a class that allows you to prepare a quick and easy Easter brunch that does not take away from family time.  This class will be offered March 28 and cost is $65. 

Mixed Greens with Crispy Bacon, Goat Cheese and Fried Egg
Sausage and Egg Casserole with Sundried Tomato and Mozzarella
Chive Corn Muffins with Maple Butter
Roasted Asparagus with Wild Mushrooms
Strawberries with Cardamom Sugar and Grand Marnier

More information on these classes is available at our website
There will be only one class in April on the 25th. It will be Part II of Cooking Basics:  The Art of Good Food.  Classes for the rest of the year are available here if you wish to reserve early.  Participation is limited in all classes.  Men may be interested in the Octoberfest class (complementary German beer) and the class November 14 on roasting meats. 
Wildflower Trails Festivals
The Wildflower Trails of Texas festival will be April 24-26 in the nearby towns of Hughes Springs, Linden and Avinger.  In each town, which are a few minutes apart on lovely east Texas highways, there are different events that the entire family can enjoy.  You can stay at the farm and still be near all the action.  At this time of the year many of our wildflowers are in full bloom along with the dogwood trees.
Live Music & Places To Hang Out
If you need more than a rural retreat, the farm is near a number of venues that offer a variety of music or other activities. 
For live music, Crossroads in Winnsboro offers a relaxed coffee house environment. Sadly they will close in a few months as the owners move on to develop their own musical talent.  There is probably a great opportunity for someone to take over this very popular business.  In Linden, Music City Texas also has live music on Saturday nights.   This is in a building that was the old National Guard armory in the 60's when I was in high school. A group of teens, known as the Four Speeds, performed for sock hops occasionally on Saturday nights.  The lead singer was a local boy that made it big time; Don Henley of the Eagles.  In Jefferson, is a pub that will remind you of a southern version of Cheers. Auntie Skinners has good food, good drink and live entertainment on weekends.
Not into music? There are two local vineyards with wine tasting rooms. Jeff Sneed is a great host at Pittsburg's Los Pinos Ranch Vineyard, where you can sit on the veranda of the tasting room and enjoy the view of the vineyard. In Naples, Red Road Vineyard and Winery 's host is Merrill Grove and this unique wine tasting venue is inside an 1890's ice and power generation house by the railroad.  Both offer great wine produced here in East Texas.
Cabin "Farm Stay" Special
At this time, we are not fully booked for spring break.  There are also a number of cabins available this spring (during the week and on the weekends). 
During March and April we are offering our own version of the economic stimulus.  If you stay three nights or more, we will discount the rental rate 10%.  That will probably cover the cost of gasoline for most of you to get to the farm. 
The weather forecast for this weekend (March 6-7) calls for a slight chance of rain.  Book a cabin for these two nights and save 10%.  If you go to the cooking class Saturday morning you save 20% which almost covers the cost of the class. 
Spring is a delightful time of the year on the farm.  The days are warm and the nights perfect.  I like to compare the hundreds of shades of green in the forest as the leaves appear to the many shades of green so common in Ireland.  This is also the time of the year the lake turns over and the fishing becomes a challenge. Lake turnover is a rather interesting event.  Water density varies by temperature.  The colder the water the more dense. The stratified condition of the lake is different in summer and winter.  In the fall, as the surface water cools the denser water drops to the bottom of the lake.  In the spring, the reverse happens. Each of these change the fishing patterns for a few days.
If you do not fish, the trails are great to walk in the spring. Many spring wildflowers and the scent off honeysuckle vines fill the air.  If you like to mountain bike, we have some very challenging back country roads or tackle the fire lane around the new forest. 
Many have already booked cabins for the summer season.  If you wish to reserve more than one cabin on the same dates we encourage you to book early. 
Healthy Texas Grass-Fed Beef & Pastured Pork
We recently updated the information on our grass-fed beef.  Many of you have purchased our beef in the past, or have placed an order for later this year.  We offer a variety of discounts for those that have purchased before or if you buy more than a split quarter.  Based on the actual packaged beef our customers received last year, the average price was about $4.29 per pound.  This includes all cuts from steaks to lean ground beef. 
For those of you that have never bought beef direct from a rancher, we sell in different quantities.  The least amount is 1/8 of a steer which is a split quarter divided into two parts.  This will be about 1 to 1-1/4 freezer shelves.  Most of our customers buy a split quarter.  If that is too much for their family, they divide it and share it with family or friends.  
We take extra special care of our cattle and they are raised in a natural environment free of artificial inputs.  This means no feed laced with antibiotics, hormones or any artificial supplement.   The beef you buy in the grocery store is totally different than that which we offer.  Our beef is dry aged for at least 21 days while the beef in stores is packaged within hours of slaughter.  Our cattle eat a variety of natural forages in the pasture.  They are not taken off their mother's at five months.  They are not taken off pasture and stuck in a feed lot with thousands of cattle and forced to eat a diet of grain with limited hay (plus bicarbonate of soda for their acid stomachs and antibiotics to keep them alive) until the day they die.  When we do harvest our steers, they are not left overnight in a cold damp killing pen. We take our cattle to our local butcher with familiar cattle they have been raised with and they are then harvested within minutes of arrival free of stress. I know to some this seems hard, but we do our best to respect our cattle to the end.  Ranching is a business, but it does not have to be harsh nor inhumane in treatment of the cattle. 
On March 16 HBO has a special documentary, Death On A Factory Farm. It is about raising hogs in factory farms.  A number of the beef magazines and web based cattle newsletters are raising concerns about this film.  They all say the same thing.  This could happen to us!   My view is that it does not have to be that way if the cattle industry woke up.  In the 1950's, most all of the beef available in grocery stores was raised totally on grass and seldom passed through a feed lot. It is only in recent decades, when the big corporate interest became involved and greed came into play, that factory cattle, hog and chicken farms became dominate.  If you purchase beef from the Greer Farm, it is going to be raised the old fashioned way and there is no chance we will be featured in an HBO special focusing on factory farming.
In an earlier newsletter and on a blog I shared information on factory hog farming and our desire to raise pastured pork as an alternative.  We applied for a grant that supports sustainable agriculture techniques that can be shared by family farms.  The grant was not approved for the cooperative project with Stephen F. Austin State University that we proposed.  The reason given was we needed a two year period for our project to be fully tested and the funding agency wanted projects that lasted a year or less. I could say they were short sighted when it comes to the timing of farming projects, but then it was graded by a group of academics and not farmers.  In any case, hope still springs eternal and we hope to still do the project on our own in cooperation with our local community college and others. 
We need some feedback from you
Please email us if you are interested in buying pastured pork or pastured lamb if the meat is available by the packaged piece, not a whole animal.  Also, it you are interested, what amount of each would you purchase in a 12 month period.  This will help us determine the commercial interest you may have in supporting a pilot project.  Without customers, we can not do this economically.
From Our House To Yours
We appreciate your support of our family farm and enjoy reading your emails including suggestions and comments.  Please forward our newsletter to those you think may enjoy it. 
For the cooking classes, registration is limited due to space, so please make your reservation as soon as possible. 
All the best from everyone here on the farm.
Sid & Eva Greer