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Black Hog Farmstead thrives on freshness

From celeriac to heirloom lettuce, Lewes couple growing produce, clientele
December 19, 2012
John Feliciani and Helen Waite offer farm-fresh produce to visitors staying at their bed and breakfast at Black Hog Farmstead outside Lewes. BY RACHEL SWICK MAVITY

A Lewes bed and breakfast is putting a new twist on the farm-to-table trend: they are setting the table in their Black Hog Farmstead dining room and filling it with produce straight from their gardens.

Helen Waite and John Feliciani retired to the four-acre property, but they found retirement was not for them.

“I was sitting at the computer one day and I said, this is not for me,” Feliciani said. “We decided to start the farm.”

Last year, the two former horticulturists put their first plants in the ground.

“We planted 53 kinds of vegetables that first year,” Feliciani said. “We learned a lot. I don’t think we will grow that many this year.”

Celeriac, escarole and heirloom French lettuce were among the first crops grown at Black Hog Farmstead, named for Black Hog Gut on the other side of New Road.

“Our first real break was being accepted into the Historic Lewes Farmers Market,” Waite said. “They were so knowledgeable and helpful.”

“We really became known for growing oddball things,” said Feliciani, who is the former director of horticulture at Winterthur Gardens in New Castle County.

Waite, formerly a horticulture specialist for Delaware Greenways, said the couple’s advanced knowledge of plants really helped fuel their success.

“We had that background, but we had lots to learn,” Waite said. “We had to learn how to process, how to transport, how to keep the produce in good condition, and how to do it all with the right timing.”

Many of the delicate lettuces grown at Black Hog Farmstead must be transported with care, otherwise they wilt, Waite said.

“We took classes on food handling and bought a five-gallon salad spinner. I didn’t even know there was such a thing,” Feliciani said.

The couple tries to have as much fun as possible while tending the gardens.

“We invented a weeding routine,” Waite said with a chuckle. “We take turns using an old-fashioned weeding machine, while the other sits in the shade and fans himself.”

The couple also puts a favorite beverage at the end of each row to give themselves incentive to finish, Feliciani said.

“We tell others interested in starting a farm to do their homework,” he said. “Take some courses, read books – you have to know a few, basic scientific things about plants.”

Black Hog Farmstead opened its doors to the public about two years ago and received its first visitors shortly after.

“We hosted a young couple from the Washington, D.C. area and they told us about Yelp,” Waite said. “We got on there, and business has been steady since.”

Guests enjoy the quiet surroundings of the farm, while not being too far from Lewes or Route 1. It’s a balance of living and growing that the couple hopes to maintain well into the future.

While saying at the farm, guests enjoy fresh duck eggs for breakfast, as well as the day’s freshest offerings, Waite said.

Waite manages the house while Feliciani plans the gardens. For this year, he has 75 blueberry plants in a wet area and also hopes to plant cilantro and other herbs. The couple also plans to bring in a colony of bees to cultivate honey on the property.

Feliciani’s big project for the coming season is planting new fig trees along the entrance.

“Figs are very popular,” Feliciani said. “We are planting several varieties to see what does best, and also so we have a longer season.”

While one variety of figs is ready earlier in the season, others will produce a crop later, extending the season. he explained.

“Having this farm gives me a great appreciation for young people who go into farming,” Feliciani said. “It’s a huge investment.”

For more information on Black Hog Farmstead, call 302-236-2437 or go to blackhogfarmstead.com.