Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

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 Looks like the groundhog was right.  It’s now March and the end of this winter is nowhere in sight. So…since some of the most frequently asked questions we receive are related to our animals and, more specifically, animal care/welfare, we thought this would be a good time to let you know how our beloved, four legged friends fare during these frigid temperatures.

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First of all, our animals are more comfortable in cold weather than in our steamy Virginia summers, given that they are generally indigenous to countries with colder climates.  Think about it this way: llamas, sheep, alpacas and angora goats all have coat made of fibers that are used to keep US warm in winter.  In fact, one of our Co-Farmers in Chief, Lucas Cox, has those fibers from the spring shearing sessions spun into wool for his wife, who then knits them into beautiful creations.

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Even the goat herd in the goat village grows an undercoat of cashmere that makes them all look adorably pudgy!

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All of the animals have enclosures or 3 sided shelters to protect them from wind and rain, and they are given water and fed daily (a little more feed in the winter than in the warmer months).  Don’t we all tend to put on a couple extra pounds in the winter?  As for the “free range” animals, the peacocks and guinea fowl, they can make their way into one of our greenhouses for a little extra warmth.

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We are counting down the days until spring has sprung.  In the meantime, stay warm and we look forward to seeing you in the spring!

 

Yes, You Can Eat It! (The Fall Festival Parting Gift)

Market_Exit4_2011One of the favorite things about visiting the Fall Festival is getting your free pumpkin when you head home after a fun-filled day. Those cute, little patch pumpkins make for great fall decor on your porch or table but won’t be so tasty on your plate.  But maybe, when the time came, you thought outside the box, choosing a funny looking squash instead!  Did you know that most of them are edible and delicious?  Just in case you don’t know what to do with that squash that you brought home (or bought in the market) here are a few suggestions from our Pinterest page:

butternut squashButternut Squash and Kale Pizza

honeynut squashTwice Baked Honeynut Squash

acorn squashBaked Acorn Squash

carnival_acorn_squash-smallCreamy Carnival Squash Bisque

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Baked Delicata Squash with Cream and Parmigiano

Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti Squash 3 Ways

So discover the deliciousness of squash!  If you have a recipe that you want to share, please let us know – sharing is caring!

 

BEHIND THE SCENES: BARN SLIDE’S 10th ANNIVERSARY RENOVATION – “JACK IS BACK!”

barnslide 2009THE BARN SLIDE 2009

The 2014 Fall Festival is just a few weeks away and this year marks the 10th anniversary of the Barn Slide! Did you know that before it made the journey to Cox Farms, the Barn Slide half-pipe was a water slide? When it debuted at the Fall Festival in 2004, it was called “The Live-Stalk Barn Slide,” and we are transitioning the slide and barn back to its original “roots,” inspired by the classic story of Jack and the Beanstalk.  We’re taking the Barn Slide in a new direction – literally!  It’s still a work in progress, but don’t you want to take a sneak peek?

You will now enter through the “Once Upon A Time” arch and head through Jack’s house on your way to the top of the slide in the barn.  Along the way, you can follow the storyboards and 3-D art scenes from “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

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Alicia, our Master Designer, has made the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk” come to life! According to Alicia, Jack “loves his new home,” especially the hens upstairs who lay the golden eggs.

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When you reach the top of the beanstalk, enjoy the ride down, courtesy of the Giant and Jack! You’ll notice that this year, the slide trajectory has shifted; the slide was dismantled and reassembled in a different configuration, which was a significant construction project. The changes to the slide and surrounding layout make accessing the slide much clearer and easier for riders.

IMG_8697The amazing transformation and beautiful storytelling will engage the imagination of both kids and adults that you will enjoy over and over and over…

Summertime ♩ ♪ ♬ and the Gardening’s Easy (said no gardener ever)

Remember how excited we all were when spring finally sprung?  Planting flowers and veggies and fruits, weeding and mulching and enjoying every minute of it!  Well, it’s July and that “go get ’em” enthusiasm left the building with Elvis when the first heatwave arrived.  Your garden has faced some challenges, from minor neglect (remember when you left town for a few days?) to oppressive heat. So let’s try to tackle some of those issues as simply as possible.  Don’t give up…YET!

HANGING BASKET DROOP:  This is an easy one!  Give it a trim!  All the way around the sides and top.  Just cut off a couple of inches and it will grow back much fuller and healthier.

BLOSSOM-END ROT:

BER2 Blossom-end rot is a physiolocial problem, brought on by irregular watering (too much rain, for example) and deters the plant from getting the calcium it needs to thrive.   Once it has started on your tomatoes, squash or peppers, remove the affected ones and pitch them or throw them in your compost pile. Then begin watering with a 1/2 cup of epsom salt mixed with a gallon of water and pour it in at the base of the plant.  This should prevent any more blossom-end rot to future fruit.

ALL DRIED OUT:  At some point during the summer months, whether caused by lack of rain or a week of vacation, we’ve all experienced that moment when you look at your garden and see cracked earth.  If your plants aren’t completely dead, there are a few things you can do to possibly salvage all your hard work.  Start by watering in the AM at the plant base, when the sun is low and temperatures are lower.  This way the moisture won’t evaporate as quickly.  Don’t fertilize as often as fertilizer tends to dehydrate plant roots when is hot outside.  Add mulch to help add in moisture retention.  If container combos are drying our too quickly, move them to a spot where they can get a few hours of shade in late afternoon.

POWDERY MILDEW:

powdery mildew2Let’s start with the good news – this fungi is not fatal! Unsightly, yes and it will stress out and weaken the plant.  Commonly found on the leaves of squash, cucumber and roses and thrives when plants have a lack of air circulation (plants to close to one another), and when the weather is damp and humid.  What to do:  Remove the affected leaves and destroy them – do not add them to your compost pile!  Prune, if applicable.  This will help with circulation.  Finally, spray plant with a mixture of milk and water.

INSECTS:

aphids2 JapBeetleDamage2Not all insects are bad for your garden, but aphids and Japanese beetles are among the worst, at least in my world!  Aphids are very small and come in many different colors.  They usually hide on the underside of plant leaves and feed on the juices of flower stems, veggies and fruit. These little buggers reproduce at an amazing speed.  Once you have spotted them, get your hose and spray them – full throttle.  If that doesn’t do the trick, Mix 1 quart of water with 1 teaspoon of liquid dish soap and a pinch of cayenne pepper.  Spray away! (If you prefer, you can purchase ready-to-spray Insecticidal Soap from the Corner Market.)

Japanese beetles eat through the leaves of roses, crape myrtle, raspberries and grapes, to name a few.  They will literally skeletonize the foliage.  The good news?  They’re slow. You can handpick them off of the leaves or use a spray to debug your plants.  Another option that works against beetles and aphids are the good insects!  Specifically ladybugs and green lacewings.  Don’t have any in your yard?  They are available to purchase!  Is there anything you can’t order from Amazon?  However, I can’t tell you how to train them to stay in your yard!

General Summer Blahs 

While “blah” may not be a technical term, we’ve all seen it: come July, our formerly Pinterest-worthy gardens just lack that special glow. When the issue isn’t attributable to one of the above problems or other common garden troubles, there are still strategies to bring back the “wow” factor. In addition to weeding, be sure to take the time to “deadhead,” since removing the spent blooms will encourage new blooms. While you’re at it, check on the spacing; plants that are overcrowded can smother each other, so you may want to cut back some that have become overgrown, or even remove a plant or two if the space is just too tight. If you haven’t been fertilizing, or if you used a time-release fertilizer back at planting time, give your garden a boost and bring on the fertilizer!

Hopefully these tips will get your garden back on track and if you have any other solutions for mid-summer garden woes, please share them with us in the comments! Especially if you know how to train a ladybug…

WHAT’S YOUR TYPE? (When it Comes to Your Garden)

 

photo 3     There are so many personality tests out there…On social media (Which “Wizard of Oz” Character Are You?), in magazines (What Your Favorite Color Says About Your Personality!), and in your email junk folder… but when you look at your gardening style, this one could be the most accurate personality test of all!  

Long Term Investor vs. Instant Gratification:

Long Term Investor – You tend to lean toward evergreens, perennials, groundcover. You know the payoff of investing in shrubs that will one day provide you with some privacy from THAT neighbor.

Instant Gratification – Combo pots, annuals that bloom constantly all summer long, and tomato plants that already have ripening tomatoes on the vine call your name.

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Flashy/Playful vs. Traditional/Conservative

Flashy/Playful – You love hibiscus, sunflowers and unusual plants like papyrus and fuschia.

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Traditional/Conservative – Pansies in early spring, geraniums in hanging baskets, hostas in the shady backyard, and of course, rosebushes in the front and clematis on the mailbox.

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Overachiever/Type A vs. Just Go With It:

Overachiever/Type A:  It all starts for you in February.  Seed catalogs arrive, order sent, growlights are shipped, thanks to Amazon Prime and your sunroom is turned into a greenhouse.  You are a helicopter gardener, skipping summer vacations because you need to tend to your garden – daily.

Just Go With It: “Que Cera-Cera” is your theme song. Easy peasy and low maintenance is your style. You’ve never met a weed, but your yard features a variety of “native plants” and “wildflowers.” You may have even mulched your entire backyard.

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Best of Intentions But Distracted (ADHD) vs. Tunnel Vision (OCD):

Best of Intentions But Distracted – You start those seeds, but end up buying seedling. You planted raspberries but never got around to supporting them.  Let’s not even talk about the small pond kit that you started but didn’t read the directions.

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Tunnel Vision – You know your zone, you have a plan that you’ve drafted on graph paper or on a website.  You know exactly what you want and the plan WILL be followed.

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No matter your type, come see us at the Corner Market and we can help you fill holes, fix your mistakes or follow your plans!

How To Become An Herbin’ Legend

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I love fresh herbs and l admit, without remorse, I despise the dried herbs in a jar.  I have always been pretty confident in my knowledge of growing and harvesting herbs until a situation occurred in my life last week.  My sister, whom I consider a better cook and more knowledgeable about plants than myself, came over for dinner.  We decided on grilled steak with chimichurri sauce. Chimichurri is condiment crack for me.  It’s a staple in Argentinean cuisine.  We both had a recipe and I knew I had plenty of cilantro and parsley growing on my front porch.  When I gave her the scissors to get the herbs I had an anxiety attack!  Should you cut or pinch cilantro?  Will the parsley come back if it’s cut?  Where should the cut be made?  As I watched my sister take ALL of the cilantro and the parsley I had another question:  If I don’t use it all, what are my options?

To find the answers, I went “old school”.  I Googled it.  Pinterest and YouTube would probably give me the info but the distractions would be too many for my brain.  The search for answers led me to discover some terrifically informative blogs, certainly not limited to these topics!

Cilantro is a hardy herb but does not like extreme heat. It will bolt (flower and go to seed) quickly in the summer months if not used.  However, its leaves and stems can be cut, washed and placed in the freezer in storage bags. Great to know because I love to use fresh cilantro in turkey chili over the winter months.  These tips and more came from The Herb Gardener.

I discovered that parsley should be harvested by cutting the plant from the outside stems first and at the base, which will promote regrowth.  Once cut, like most herbs, place unused parsley in a water-filled glass and it will last for weeks!  Parsley information was learned on the Our Herb Garden blog.

How was our dinner?  Well…my sister used cayenne pepper instead of red pepper flakes in the chimichurri, so I threw the chimichurri in the freezer and as soon as my parsley has regrown, I will add more so my tongue won’t catch on fire!  Despite the faux-pas, I highly recommend this recipe for chimichurri, which isn’t limited to steak!  Find the link to the recipe on our “Summer is delicious!” Pinterest board.

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There’s still time to grow your own fresh herbs this summer!  Just come see us at the Corner Market at Cox Farms!

 

Mother’s Day – 5 Great Gift Ideas To Make Her Day!

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You know who likes flowers? Yo Mama! Stumped about what to get your #1 or #2 Mom? We’ve got the perfect gift for every mother in your life, no matter your budget. Here are five ways to secure your spot as mom’s favorite for another year:

  1. Flowering Perennials: Cut flowers are great for a few days but they die. Plants are living things that will continue to bring Mom joy long after Mother’s Day. Even better, perennials come back year after year, so she’ll be reminded of her doting children again and again.
  2. Hanging Baskets: Our famous hanging baskets make the perfect gift to bring color to even the trickiest spots. Pick up a fancy glazed pot to drop the hanging basket into for especially stunning gift presentation.
  3. Container Gardens: Moms are busy people, and our no-fuss container gardens provide instant landscaping beauty. Available for sun and shade, in countless color combinations and a range of sizes, you’re sure to find Mom’s perfect pot. Not sure what will work?  Our Cox Farmers at the Corner Market will help you find the solution.  IMG_4267
  4. Local Honey: Because your mom is super sweet! Take mom from busy worker bee to Queen Be with this sweet treat.  We also have jams, fresh eggs and salad dressings!
  5. IMG_4277 Cox Farms Gift Cards: Let Mom choose exactly what she wants!  Need more ideas?  We’ve got them!  Visit the Corner Market at Cox Farms and we will help you find something special for Mother’s Day!  In addition, your little ones are invited to join us this Saturday from 11-1 to make a free gift for mom!  For hours, directions and more, visit our website: http://www.coxfarms.com/corner-market/spring.aspx

 

 

What You CAN (and Should) Do Now

If you have been to any home improvement store recently, you might think that you are way behind the eight ball with your vegetable and flower planting.  We all get the urge to get started as soon as the calendar says it’s spring.  Now is the time to exhibit some self- control, as much as you may want to put those tomato plants in the ground! On the other hand, get out there and get busy.  There are things to be done and things to be planted!

Officially, the “frost date” for our zone (7a) in Northern Virginia is April 23rd, but that doesn’t tell the whole story; while that is the average date of the last frost, there’s a 50% chance of getting frost after that date. To be safe, many prefer to wait until May 1st, or even Mother’s Day. (In 2013, we even had a rare post-Mother’s Day frost!) If you’re not sure of your frost date, visit The Old Farmer’s Almanac site to learn more. For more details, data fans will appreciate this page, which really breaks down the probabilities of first and last frosts.

The moral of the story: Yes, our days are getting warmer, finally, but our nights are just too chilly for those summer crops.  If you are still itching to get started, let’s talk prep work.  It’s not as much fun as planting your peppers, tomatoes, heat-loving herbs, and melons, but in the long run, you will feel so much better.

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Let’s get pruning!  Shrubs and bushes, ornamental grasses and groundcover such as liriope can all be pruned now.  Even if they have some new growth, it’s okay.  As long as they don’t have all their leaves and there aren’t any flowers or blossoms, you are good to go.

Cut off any dead or broken branches on your shrubs at the point where they connect to the next larger limb. If there are branches rubbing against one another, cut one of them back, cutting it slightly above one of the buds.  Also, look at the bottom for suckers/water sprouts – new stems growing up from the base.  You can trim those off, too.

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Cut ornamental grasses all the way back – just leave a few inches at the bottom.  Liriope can be given a “haircut”.  Trim off all the long growth from last year and you will see new growth.  It’s easier to do if you rake through it first, removing dead leaves and getting the “tangles” out.  Here’s a great before/after example of liriope that is ready for spring:

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“Now on to my favorite prep job, weeding!” Said no one ever.  Pretty self-explanatory.  Kill them or pull them.  If you are pulling them out, it’s much easier to do immediately after a spring shower.  If you have a compost pile, do not add pulled weeds, just trash them.  Whichever method you choose, do it before those pesky weeds flower and spread their seeds.

Mulch is the icing on the cake.  It’s easier to spread if it’s dumped into small piles and you use a rake to spread it throughout your beds. Ideally, it should be 2-3 inches deep. Keep it a few inches away from the base of your plants so they can breathe.  To finish the job, water the mulch a bit so it can settle into the soil.

Now that the chores are out of the way, what can you plant now without worry?  Cold weather crops such as lettuce, spinach, chard, broccoli and cabbage can safely be planted.  Rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano and parsley are safe bets in the herb category.  If you are itching for some color in your yard or containers but can’t stand the default pansies, many other annuals, including bacopa, nemesia and gerbera daisies, are fine with cool nights but will not be happy in frost. Stick to containers so you can bring them into the garage if needed, or at least be prepared to cover them to protect them from frost.

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For your perennial planting pleasure, hostas, phlox and dianthus can be planted now, too.

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For all of these plants and more, join us for opening day at Cox Farms Corner Market! The season begins today, April 10th at 10am.  For more information go to our website: http://www.coxfarms.com/corner-market/spring.aspx

We will see you at the corner! Happy planting!

 

How We Spent Our Winter Vacation

Originally planned as a blog to let you know what we at Cox Farms do during those long winter months, we decided that it would be more enjoyable if the animals told you how they spent their winter instead!

The Winter of Our Discontent

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Did you miss us? It’s been a long winter for all of us, so we thought you’d like to know how we’ve been changing, growing, enduring and entertaining ourselves. This winter seemed to never want to end but “hope springs eternal” in April!

We participated in “No Shave November”.

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We kept guard.

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We waddled and roamed.

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We found ourselves in embarrassing situations.

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We put on a few pounds. Hey, who didn’t?

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We flirted and unfurled our feathers in the sun.

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We welcomed a new friend, Sammy, a shepherd mix puppy, who gets to sleep in the house.

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Oh – and we had a baby!  Meet Hoppy, our new lamb, who was born a few weeks ago!

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Now that spring has officially sprung, we are getting ready to make our annual trek to the corner where we can get some extra human attention and interaction.  The Corner Market opens on April 10th and we sure hope that you will come visit all of us and often!

For Corner Market hours, visit our website: http://www.coxfarms.com/corner-market/spring.aspx

 

 

Donation Fund Update #2: Helping Get Families Home for the Holidays

This year has been our most successful “in lieu of tips” donation collection ever: we have exceeded $5,000 in donations at the Corner Market this season. (And counting, by the way! If you’d like to contribute, we’ll be accepting donations until 12 noon on Christmas Eve.) With Cox Farms’ match, we’ve collected more than $10,000 to support local families in need! Yesterday we described our $5,000 donation to Our Daily Bread, to provide holiday gifts for 200 local kids whose families are struggling. Obviously, since we’re talking about $10,000, that’s only half the story…so here’s Update #2:

For the past two years, we have used all remaining funds (after going overboard with gifts for our sponsored Our Daily Bread families) to support one of our other favorite community organizations, Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS) and their Manassas campus, SERVE. Specifically, we have purchased thousands of dollars in gift cards to ensure that their clients and shelter residents- particularly the children- received gifts for the holidays.

This year, when I contacted SERVE to discuss our plans, I learned about the “Re-Housing 50 Families in 100 Days” initiative they have undertaken for the holiday season, part of a statewide effort to end family homelessness. SERVE points out that “toys and clothes are quickly outgrown, but a home can provide a lifetime of safety and security.” (In addition, SERVE assured us that they have received enough gift cards through other holiday donations to ensure that all the children at the shelter will receive gifts.)

Indeed, when it was brought to our team, everyone agreed that helping homeless families to secure stable housing would be the best gift imaginable. SERVE provides two great options for supporting this important work, and we’re excited to be contributing to both this season. First, we are using our funds to assemble a “Welcome Home” basket for a family that is moving from a shelter into stable housing; these baskets include household basics that quickly add up, from bed linens to bath towels to plates. We will be donating the rest of our funds to support SERVE’s Re-Housing fund, with donations that will provide a couple families with the financial support to get them “home for the holidays” (typically provided in the form of first month’s rent and security deposits).

While this form of giving is perhaps less flashy and not quite as ‘warm-and-fuzzy’ as giving gifts to children at a shelter, we’re confident that the ultimate impact on our community will be deep and long-lasting for the families touched by our donation. We’re thrilled to be able to contribute to both NVFS/SERVE and Our Daily Bread in support of the important work these organizations do.

Cox Farms is blessed to have such generous customers and employees. Thank you for being part of this community of compassion. I hope you share my sense of awe and pride and gratitude regarding this incredible difference we’re making together  I can’t think of a better way to end 2013!