Graystem is a small farmstead nestled in the Eastern Piedmont of Central Virginia between the James and Appomattox Rivers. The farm’s name comes from the gray stem dogwoods growing along a spring-fed stream that marks our eastern boundary.
At Graystem Farm we raise uncommon breeds of poultry in addition to growing fruits, vegetables, herbs, and specialty cut flowers for the table. We make delectable preserves and baked goods from our fruits. In 2016 we added our first cider apple trees to the farm and plantings of vitis vinifera – Cabernet Sauvignon, Albarino, Syrah, Norton, and Petit Manseng soon joined the lineup.
We believe agriculture can work in harmony with nature if done correctly. Instead of tilling each year and adding manufactured fertilizer blends, we maintain soil fertility with rotations of green manure cover crops such as buckwheat, cereal rye, hairy vetch, winter peas, oats, wheat, fava beans and a variety of clovers. In addition to keeping the earth healthy by feeding the soils and beneficials, this method significantly reduces weed populations and erosion.
Our crop rotation plan also includes a fallow bed for vegetative composting and we dress the perennial vegetable and herb beds with well-aged composts and worm casings produced in our vermiculture bins. Fish and kelp emulsion is used as a foliar feed for seedlings and plants requiring an extra boost of nutrition.
If the soil needs amending, we use only those supplements that are closest to their natural form; greensand for potassium (K), rock phosphate and wood ash for phosphorous (P) and blood meal for nitrogen (N). Limestone helps to sweeten our naturally acidic Virginia red clay with calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg.) Using green manure cover crops and non-synthetic supplements prevents the buildup of residual salts found in manufactured fertilizers, which in turn saves the beneficial soil microorganisms and groundwater from decline.
To make the most use of available space, we grow vertically when possible. This practice has the added benefits of keeping the fruits of the vines from direct contact with potential soil borne pathogens, provides better air circulation and additional sun ripening exposure.
Because we maintain honeybees, eat what we grow and drink the water from our well, we follow organic practices and purchase organic seeds whenever possible; however, we are not a certified organic farm.
Who Are We?
John and Trudy were fortunate enough to grow up in the beautiful Garden State at a time when milk was still sold at the dairy, produce from local farm stands and eggs fresh off the farm. Standardbred horse farms were more common than subdivisions and strip malls. When we moved to Virginia and raised a family, we experienced a growing desire to return to those wholesome roots. We purchased land in 1993 and in 2001, the farmstead was born. Now we hope to share the benefits of our experiences with you!
Trudy began vegetable gardening at the tender age of six when she sprouted her first green bean in a cut down milk carton on the school room windowsill. That first foray into fresh from the vine was followed by many years of happily mucking about in the dirt. There is something infinitely satisfying in knowing you can grown your own food. Her horticultural interests are not limited to crop plants, she also loves the old time cottage garden flowers.
In 2012 Trudy began looking for ways to manage stress instead of medicating it. She renewed her interest in art and took cooking classes through the University of Richmond culinary arts program, earning dual certification in Culinary Arts and Baking & Pastry. Recently she learned that several university studies have proven that fresh flowers in the home and office have significant health benefits and our venture into cut flower gardening began.
John’s early years were spent studying American history – not by the books, but by doing. His family participated in Revolutionary War historical re-enactments. Much time was spent learning and practicing the skills used to survive and prosper in the early years of America – including camp cooking, gardening, wood, leather and metal crafts. These are the same skills he uses today to keep everything on track. He’s the mechanical wizard who keeps the machines running, and utilizes his carpentry skills to fix fences, construct hardscape support structures and keep the roof over the chickens’ little feathered fannies He is also a blacksmith and knife maker. Check out his Sallee Creek Forge page and on Instagram @sallee_creek_forge.
When he’s not busy in the garage or at the forge, he can be found in the kitchen whipping up something to tantalize the tastebuds. Many of our savory breads are his handiwork. John is also THE Grill Master and creative genius behind some fantastic BBQ Rubs & Spice Blends.