Countryside: March 2024

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The Belties Farm Cafe is modeled after the property’s original 1910 farmhouse. Submitted.

Not Just Another Roadside Attraction

Sometime this fall, Nelson County coffee lovers will be able to grab a cappuccino and a homemade breakfast biscuit in the company of a herd of diminutive cows also enjoying their own breakfast of grass.

Dispensing the coffee and breakfast sandwiches will be a cafe, named Belties after the nickname for the miniature belted Galloway cattle that will be grazing on the property. It’s the project of John Washburn and Scott DeFusco. Washburn is the founder of the Bold Rock Cider Company, which started in Nellysford and grew to be a popular national brand. DeFusco, the founder of Capturelife, is a long-time resident of Wintergreen. The men became friends over the years and, once they both sold their businesses, looked around for what might be lacking in the county they loved. DeFusco said the gap in retail services was pretty apparent.

The pick-up window at Belties will be in the middle of the drive-through barn.

It seemed to them that hungry tourists, commuters, farmers, retirees and truckers might welcome a place offering drive-through service for a quick, on-the-go breakfast, or a homey, warm setting to linger over lunch with friends. Both will be available once Belties finishes construction.

Those on the run will have the chance to observe the distinctive Belties up close––the pick-up window is in the middle of a unique drive-through barn. Those who want to sit for a while will sip coffee and nibble pastries in a spacious, light-filled farmhouse modeled after the 1910 home that formerly stood on the property adjoining Rte. 151 in Nellysford. “We tried to save the original farmhouse, but it was so shot with asbestos and structurally compromised that we just couldn’t,” DeFusco said.

The Belties pasture is a three-acre parcel that will include the main farmhouse and the drive-through barn, as well as the Belties park where the cows will enjoy their fenced-in pasture, and the humans will enjoy a stone-walled picnic area. 

Miniature belted Galloway cattle provide the theme for Belties cafe

Washburn’s the one who first became interested in Belties, a docile, appealing breed that grows to be only about 450 pounds. Both men thought the animals would provide a rustic theme that would set them apart from coffee shops in nearby cities and towns. They’ll also roast their own coffee under the Belties brand, and serve waffles, pastries and fat, homemade biscuits made from scratch, filled with bacon, eggs, sausage, cheese or fried chicken. One thing you won’t find, though is a Belties steak breakfast sandwich. “They’re pets,” DeFusco said.

Unconventional Potato Growers Share Secrets

When Irish-Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, we like to think of them dining on corned beef, cabbage, soda bread and stout, but for centuries Irish people depended on potatoes for many of their meals. Despite their reputation as being mostly empty carbs, potatoes have enough nutrition to provide significant fuel for a nation of poets, playwrights and pugilists, millions of whom left the Emerald Isle because the potato crop failed in the mid-1800s after being infected by an invidious mold.

Charles Greiner with his grow bag harvest of sweet potatoes. Submitted.

Today’s potatoes are more mold-resistant, and many gardeners enjoy planting them in their vegetable gardens. Some find it even more fun and less labor-intensive to plant them in creative ways, whether to conserve space, make it easier to harvest, or simply for fun.

Phil DeFusco has grown potatoes in his garden, and in buckets outside, but when he saw a bunch of them sprouting in his potato bin, he didn’t want them to go to waste. He decided to try growing them inside in front of the windows in his sunny Stoney Creek kitchen. He drilled some holes in the bottom of some Home Depot buckets, set them on drip trays, planted the potato pieces, and was surprised at how rapidly they grew. “They seem to like the temperature of the house,” he said. Those he planted in mid-January are three feet tall or so. When about two-thirds of the greens die back, he’ll harvest them by tipping the buckets into a wheelbarrow. That way, none of the potatoes will be marked by a spade or potato fork. But there’s another reason he plants potatoes in his house, he said. “It’s fun for the grandchildren.”

In the community around Roseland some older residents remember a long-ago preacher at Beech Grove Christian Church who planted potatoes right in a bale of hay. Parishioners may have been skeptical at planting time, but when it came time to harvest, they were impressed by the spotless potatoes clustered right below the surface of the square bale. 

Potatoes thrive in the winter in a Stoney Creek kitchen. Submitted photo.

White potatoes—what old-time Southern gardeners called “Irish potatoes”––are not the only crop to inspire creativity. In his garden just outside Crozet, master gardener Charles Greiner has found a way to grow and harvest sweet potatoes in grow bags. He’s been doing it for many years for much the same reason other potato growers do. “I don’t have to dig them up,” he said. “I can just reach down and grab them.” He’s found, as he sets the grow bags upright in his garden, that the vines can sprawl and root right in the row, giving him a few bonus sweet potatoes each year.

Greiner uses a mix of mostly compost, with some soil. This is a medium designed to keep the soil loose, so they’re easy to pull up at harvest time. “The beautiful thing is that I don’t even need a shovel,” he said. Unlike white potatoes, sweet potatoes don’t like cold, or even cool weather. Crozet Hardware sells the slips in early May, and they’re usually ready to pull up by mid-August. 

Once harvested, the sweet potatoes are stored in a warm sunny place for a day or two, then have a more permanent spot in the basement, where they keep well for several months. Greiner said the grow bags tend to require more water than plants grown in the ground. From five large grow bags, he gets about 33 pounds each year, and says he’s never at a loss for how to use them. “We love them,” he said. “I like to cook, so I’m always looking for sweet potato recipes.”

The Farmers’ Almanac, which takes phases of the moon as well as frost dates into consideration, advises planting white potatoes in this area on March 26 and 27; and sweet potatoes on April 24 to May 6.

Ruritans Schedule Plant Sale

When weather permits, members of the White Hall Ruritan’s Club will dig up shrubs and perennials from their backyard gardens, potting them up for the club’s 14th annual plant sale, April 27. Others have already started seeds for the annual plants that will share the table. Also scheduled for the festive day are a rummage sale and homemade baked goods, all to support the Ruritans’ good works. The plant sale and other events are at the White Hall Community Building.

Local Wines Dominate at Governor’s Cup

Area wineries travel all over the world and do well in competitions, but winegrowers and winemakers love to receive honors closer to home at the Annual Virginia Governor’s Cup Competition, where they’re judged by their peers and friends.

The 2024 competition, just concluded, was distinguished by the sheer number of wines to be awarded gold medals, a phenomenon that reflects the impressive quality of Virginia wines and ciders. The gold was won by regions across the state, by seven vintages and twenty-six grape varieties. 

Central Virginia, though, was the region winning the highest number of gold medals, almost half of the total awarded. Of them, Virginia reds had an edge, with 55% of the total gold medals, many of them red blends, followed by Petit Verdot. 

White wines won their share of the gold, at 38 percent, with Virginia Chardonnay earning 14 gold medals. Other varieties, newer to Virginia also did well: in particular Petit Manseng, Albariño and Sauvignon Blanc.

The wineries around Crozet and western Albemarle County were well represented in the gold medal category. The Gazette will have the list once names of the overall Governor’s Cup winner and the dozen most distinguished wines are released in early March. They’ll be chosen from the full list of gold medalists found online now at virginiawine.org/governors- cup/awards.

Sale Season Begins for Spring-bred Cows

In late February, the Staunton Union Stockyard began selling spring-bred cows, some already with their calves. Results from those sales are not yet posted. In earlier sales, steers from all over the mid-Atlantic were sold in Staunton with top dollar going to a pair of steers from Gettysburg. The Pennsylvania steers, both 415 pounds, were sold for $350 per 100 pounds, the sale’s top earners. 

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