Tag Archives: green living

Progress at Belle Terre Farm

Slowly but surely, this is our motto out at Belle Terre Farm. When working on a multi year project such as this you sometimes go a while without seeing any noticeable results. While this teaches patience, it is very fulfilling to occasionally see the fruits of your labor. My recent visit to Belle Terre Farm was just such an experience. As you may recall from earlier post the plan is to put in some garden rows and grow beans that will help to fix nitrogen in the soil so we can get on a regular crop rotation either, this fall or next spring. We got the first two rows of Black Valentine Black Beans planted a couple of weeks ago and were pleasantly surprised to see the progress they have made.

Here you can see Cassie, the ever faithful watch dog, keeping a close eye on the newly sprouted beans.  We got two more rows put in this week which leaves only three to go. We are getting about a hundred plants per row so needless to say, we will be eating a lot of black bean soup this winter =). Here is a pic of the four rows.

Earlier in the year we also planted a few blueberry bushes on the land. While we were told to remove the flowers so the plants could focus on root growth we just couldn’t resist leaving a few blooms on so we could enjoy our very own blueberries.

Our biggest concern for the blueberries at the moment is getting them some protection from the surrounding grasses. Blueberries don’t like competition and will struggle if we aren’t able to get them some breathing room. In the next couple of weeks we will get some weed cloth and mulch put down so they can have all of the moisture and nutrients for themselves.

The other big change at Belle Terre farm is the arrival of some permanent guests. We have put two bee hives near the creek, facing our crops and the morning sun.

The creek is just behind the hives and down the slope that is hidden by the unrelenting growth of plant life. The bees oriented themselves quickly to their new environs.

At the end of every work trip to the farm Wayne likes to spend a few minutes just walking around, getting acquainted with the land. A big part of this experience is thinking about how the farm will grow and develop in the coming years. Such walks often result in additional projects (exactly what we need with our current schedules). Since we won’t be able to build our home on the farm this year, Wayne is going to build a small shelter / studio this Fall. The idea is still taking shape but it will be something of a retreat on the lower part of the land that will be very organic and natural that will provide a place of rest and inspiration. Here is a picture of the location for the retreat.

The lighting is incredible as the few tall trees keep the area in relative shad during the hot part of the day. Some of the small saplings will probably come out and we will compliment the existing ferns with a collection of Hosta. We are looking forward to a nice week or two this Fall spent putting this all together.

That’s all for now. Will have further updates on Belle Terre Farm as time allows.

Be Well,



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The Return of Grass

As we make our way through Spring, life abounds at Belle Terre Farm.  The trees are filling out forming a green canopy that is ever in motion,  the white blooms of the dogwood peak through the woods, and the grass does what it does best; it grows!  With blueberry bushes in the ground, plans for hundreds of black bean plants in the works and preparations afoot for the arrival of at least two new hives; keeping the grass in check is a priority.  For those who are haven’t read our previous posts on http://willowhermitage.wordpress.com you may not be familiar with my old school lawn mower.  Well here it is (eat your heart out John Deere)…

For those who don’t know what this is or why I refer to it as a lawn mower, this is a scythe.  Traditionally used for cutting grasses, harvesting grains, etc. the scythe is a highly effective tool for anyone wanting to keep their grass nice and tidy without destroying their micro climate with a gas powered lawn mower.

Here is a picture of the garden rows before mowing…

and here is a picture of the garden rows after mowing

A noticeable difference after only about 30 – 45 minutes with the scythe.  I went ahead and turned under the cover crop and grass clippings in the three rows on the right.  I will start my first planting of black beans next week with these three rows.  The soil is looking better but will still need some work before it is ready for a regular rotation.  Next I will turn under the cover crop and grass on the rows in the center and to the left.  The cover crops were planted much later in these rows and I want to give them a little more time to build up organic matter before turning them in.

Here is a pic of the blueberry bushes before mowing…

and after…

Again, 15 to 20 minutes with the scythe.  Blueberries don’t like competition so I decided to put down some weed prevention cloth and mulch to keep the grass down.  I grossly underestimate the amount of mulch required so I only got one of the three rows done.  The bushes seem to be ok though I have limited experience with blueberries.

The next project was to clear the areas for the bees’ future home.  I didn’t make much progress as it had been raining for a while and I was starting to get tired and knew that I had much to accomplish back at Belle Terre headquarters.  As has become my habit this spring I did take a few minutes to walk our little corner of the world for a nice nature shot.  Here is what I found this trip…

My apologies for the quality of the picture.  I forgot my camera and was taking shots with my phone.  Not sure what kind of flower this is but the white and pink flowers were gorgeous against the green and brown backdrop of the creek bed.

It was a great day and I had much fun.  Every trip is another step forward toward our dream, step after glorious step.

Be Well,


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Planting at Belle Terre Farm

As many of you know, Belle Terre is more than a soap company.  Belle Terre is the name we have given to our transition to a more simple, sustainable and purposeful life.  The biggest part of this transition is the small sustainable farm we hope to move to next year.  For now, this farm is 6 acres of raw land located in the foothills of NC, just north Morganton.  In the past we have posted about this transition on a separate blog, http://willowhermitage.wordpress.com, but we have decided to consolidate some of our posting to make it easier for our readers.  With that having been said we are very excited about the progress we have made .

We made it out to the land on Wed. and had a great day.  It was 70 degrees and sunny with a slight breeze.  Absolutely perfect for working outside.  Started out by getting the last of our blueberry bushes in the ground.  We have 18 bushes total which we hope to begin harvesting a little next year.  The 18 plants should give us plenty of berries for morning cereal, pies, smoothies and healthy snacking.  Here is a pic of one of the young plants.  They are currently only one to two feet tall.

Young Blueberry Bush

We also got a couple of sweet cherry trees.  One Bing and one Black Tartarian.  We hope to get more in the coming weeks.

Young Cherry Tree

After planting the bushes and trees we were going to till some of the garden rows that had weeds growing in them.  Upon closer inspection we realized that it wasn’t weeds growing in the middle of the rows but the rye/hairy vetch mixture that had been planted last fall.  We will let this continue to grow for several more weeks before working it back into the soil.  Here are the 7 rows we have so far.  The three on the left are the more recent and the cover crop hasn’t sprouted yet.  The four on the right that look like lighter strips of green are the original rows we dug last year.

Garden Rows

Here is a close up of hairy vetch.  It is a legume (think beans, peas, lentils). It takes nitrogen from the air and puts it back into the soil, which is the opposite of most vegetable plants.  We are doing this as a cover crop, then will do black beans (another legume) before starting a more traditional crop rotation.

Hairy Vetch

Finally, we spent some time just walking the land and enjoying being in such a beautiful place.  Down by the creek we discovered these four trees reaching for the sky.  Words can not describe their strength and majesty.

Trees in Spring

After some more quiet time on the land we headed home.  We were remiss to leave but had the consolation that every day we are a step closer to moving out there for good.

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And the journey begins…

I’m excited to say that we are now the proud owners of 6+ acres of land.  This is the first big step toward our dream of living a sustainable life.

It’s quite beautiful land although fairly heavily wooded right now.  The land starts where the for sale sign is below…

…and continues to the second for sale sign that you can just barely see in this picture.

The front has a nice cleared portion (at least an acre) that will allow us to start an orchard and a vegetable garden.

There’s even a small creek.

We’re planning to build a straw bale home a bit up the hill past the creek and some of the trees so that we have privacy.  The house will likely be located a bit higher than where Wayne and his mom are standing in this picture.

The very tip top of the property has a flat portion that was set up as the original home site.  It will be my bee yard and Wayne has promised me a honey shed to go with it.

The day we closed Wayne and I took some lawn chairs and had a lovely picnic by the creek.  We then wandered to the top of the property and enjoyed the quiet while discussing our plans.  I imagine we’ll be doing quite a bit of that over the next few years.  I had to go back to work, but Wayne spent the day clearing brush and came home rather content.

It’s such a relief to finally feel like we’re moving forward.  I’ve been downloading every sustainable living/homesteading podcast I can find and I’m listening to them on the way to and from work for inspiration.  There’s so much to think about and so much to plan.


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Organic Grower’s School

Once again we attended the OGS in Asheville this past weekend.  And once again, we loved it.   This is the fourth year we’ve attended, but the first year it was held at UNCA.   The conference last year was what prompted my growing love of beekeeping and pushed me to bug David until I got my own hive.   It was my favorite class of 2009.

This year W and I took a pasta class where we learned to make our own homemade pasta.  We both enjoyed the experience and hope to soon try it at home.   W also took a Germination class where he (among other things) actually participated in building a hoop house on campus that was later auctioned off.

My favorite class this year by far was “Organic Farming- What to Expect Your First Year” taught by Anna & Paul Littman from True Leaf Farm.   Anna and Paul are a young couple who decided to leap into farming and are doing quite well.  They shared tons of practical tips including must-have equipment and thoughts about planning your business.  It was refreshing to hear them discuss what they are actually bringing in and how they set goals for themselves along the way (they both still maintain off farm jobs).  They encouraged each of us to discover our skill set and then find a partner who has strengths were you have weaknesses.  I left the class with a mental list of to-dos (a few of which I have actually accomplished this week!), and an overall we-can-actually-do-this feeling which is still resonating.

More than anything else, W and I love attending these events because its so wonderful to be surrounded by like-minded folks.  Its lovely to walk through and just hear the discussions that the other 1500 people are having that attend the OGS and how the mindset is all so similar.  We miss that kind of kinship terribly where we live.  The community just doesn’t exist, but we’re hopeful that we can start establishing it through our example and our actions.

Next up (I hope):

North Carolina State Beekeepers Meeting – July 2010

Southeastern Energy Expo – August 2010

Eastern Apicultural Society – August 2010

The Sustainable Agriculture Conference – Dec 2010

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Goals, Dreams, and Notes

I’ve started to keep a list of all the things I want to do and/or learn to do.  The more I read, the more this list seems to grow and its importance in my life increases.  We’ve recently invested in several new books including The Self-sufficient Life and How to Live It and find them to be quite inspiring.  I read blogs daily about people like us who are doing these things and I can’t wait for our chance.   Here’s the start of my ever-expanding lists.  Some of these things I’ve started to tackle one by one but between work and school I haven’t had as much time as I’d like.

Things to learn/do:

  • bee keeping
  • canning/preserving (applesauce, salsa, tomatoes, fruit, pickles)
  • soap making (body & laundry)
  • cheese making (?)
  • bread making
  • ice cream making
  • build a solar oven/dehydrator
  • build a clay oven
  • grow food year-round
  • make my own clothing & bags
  • home made pasta
  • buy land
  • build our own home
  • become as self-reliant as possible

Plant in mass on new land:

  • bee balm
  • lavender
  • cosmos
  • purple coneflower
  • mexican sage
  • russian sage

Take clippings/seeds from current house:

  • lilac
  • ecalyptus
  • honeysuckle
  • baptisia

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Something Old and Something New

Over the weekend, W and I attended the Mountain Farm Tour with David and Tina.  We always enjoy coming together with other like-minded folk on the tours.  This year we visited a few new farms that are noteable: Flying Cloud and Gladheart.  W was particularily fond of the blueberries we picked at Flying Cloud and the Peach Yerba Mate they were kind enough to share at Gladheart.  I loved watching the goat milking and seeing Gladheart’s impressive biodiesel operation.   We managed to see goats galore over the weekend and even saw an angora goat for the first time.  They are wild looking!

Flying Cloud Farm

Flying Cloud Farm

Lessons learned: we can likely get by with less than 10 acres and be just fine.  In fact, we learned that two people can manage 2-3 acres in full production.  Anything over that seems to require the assistance of interns or generous friends.  Hoop houses seem to be the way to go in extending the growing season and increasing yield per acre.

Firefly Farm Hoop House

Firefly Farm Hoop House

I was particularily aware of the different atmosphere of each farm.  Some are hippy-driven, communal living situations where people seem to want to just live happily off the land.  Others are family-based businesses which are still warm and fuzzy feeling, but definitely driven to succeed.  Lastly, there are farms that are pure business.  There is an obvious concern and passion for sustainable living, but the farm is their job. They are keenly aware that it is their livelihood, and needs to be treated appropriately.  I am personally drawn to the communal living situation and the idea of living sustainably for ourselves regardless of profit whereas W is drawn to the latter situation and wants to farm in order to retire.  I hope somewhere along the way we can manage to find a happy medium.

Gladheart Yurt

Gladheart Yurt

All in all we had two very enjoyable days with new friends and old acquantinces.

Mountain Farm "Kid Barn"

Mountain Farm "Kid Barn"

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