Saturday, December 31, 2011

peas out, chard in..radishes for lunch

When we looked at this property to consider purchasing the place, there was a shell of a hoophouse on it. After moving here Homer cleared all sorts of things out of it: full grown trees, tons of trash, bird cages, bird stands and the like. This property used to be Woody's Bird Farm and they used the hoophouse for bird housing.

Several times a guy pulled into our parking lot, offering to buy the hoophouse. For thousands of dollars. We turned him down each time, then decided we needed to learn more.

We spoke to vegetable growers, read books, attended conference sessions on winter growing.

It is a funny thing about seasonal growing. If seeds don't get planted at the right time, in the right place, you have nothing to eat.

Under the hoophouse it is advised by all the experts that planting of cool weather crops occurs in late summer..August and that the plants germinate and have good growth before real cold sets in.

One problem. We planted tons of stuff. Or so we thought. Then the kale, collards and Swiss chard turned out to taste amazing. The exposure to cool temperatures sweetens them, and we and many of our customers have eaten them every day.

Now our hoophouse has been picked clean. There are beds of lettuce still, also delicious, but the greens are really amazing. In the last few weeks Homer removed all the pea plants, lots of radishes, and planted more greens. Our fingers are crossed that they will germinate and grow in the coldest winter months of the seems easier to make it through this time of year with a plate full of fresh cooked dark greens every day! Grow little seeds grow!

Friday, December 30, 2011

gang grows

For a while, early on, it was just the geese roaming the property. Then we got a few ducklings that grew up to be a beautiful and comical posse. At Thanksgiving Homer pardoned a tom and a hen. One of the smallest pigs was injured slightly. So now, along with the dog, this gang follows Homer in the morning. There are all sorts of tidbits as he unloads stale bread and slightly rotten vegetables from the back of the truck, and every critter hopes to get some of that funky stuff. Here they are just after the pen was moved..the ground clear and warm, awakening bug larva, quickly consumed by our growing gang.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

clean up, aisle 12

Every one of our laying hens gets moved around to a new spot every day. In the summer time, the walk ways between row of vegetables can get away from us. There is a lot to do each day, and pushing the reel mower over the grassy areas goes on the back burner. Putting the hens in there means we sacrifice some of the crop to them..if they escape, they eat everything!

But in the wintertime, look out. These girls are tearing it up, scratching off every bit of growth right down to the soil. We would like to believe that nothing will grow back it is stripped so clear..but will grow back no matter what we do to it! The girls clearly enjoy it on a cold, clear, early winter day, and this important work keeps them busy and very happy..

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

picking n knitting

We have a few days between Christmas and New Year to take it easy. Then I've got to get to work on gathering all our information to go visit the tax man, and Homer gets work done for others while preparing for talks he is scheduled to give in January/February.

So we are hanging out on the farm, reading, drawing, thinking. Planning vegetable varieties to plant. Working on getting bids on solar panels. Scheduling meetings to talk about next growing season, and where our items will be.

But for now, we are eating like royalty. Every day we are eating from things we canned, froze, or are still growing in the hoophouse or under floating row covers. Yesterday it was eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce..all from our farm. Today, chicken and dumplings..our chicken, Everblossom Farm carrots and the last of their onions and garlic, Yee Haw Farm flour for the dumplings. Each brought tears to my eyes, they were so clean and delicious tasting.

There is a little knitting going on too. And most days Homer picks collards, carrots and daikons. After getting garlic and onions brown in a pan, he slices the greens and shaves the carrots and daikons in there, and in just a few minutes we eat the sweetest, most delicious dish. Incredible how tasty such a simple dish can be. We are almost out if collards and the kale and Swiss chard are too small to eat. Darn it. Will have to eat salad!

cattle and apple trees

Christmas Day we traveled to be with family, and had a great time seeing everyone.  We tripled the paddock space that the cattle usually have, in an effort to keep them happy, full, in their designated spot and to prevent them from doing any damage.  When we returned home it was dark, so not until daylight could we see how they had kept themselves busy during our absence. They rubbed most of the bark off of every apple tree. Unlikely the trees will survive this..but we will have plenty of organic apple wood for next years cookout. We had planned to get fruit trees in the spring, and will plant them in the small paddock where the blueberries are. Away from the livestock. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

red wiggler update

We made a decision about the red wigglers. Since we did not like the idea of introducing distructive non-natives here on the farm we decided to do what is best on the farm. Feed them to the chickens. Much like the tv show Deadwood, where the pigs destroy all evidence of murder, the chickens destroy all traces of the worms. The worms don't stand a chance.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Not certain what we did to deserve these, but we think they are the bomb diggity!!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Red Wiggler Worms

Homer requested red wiggler worms for Christmas. Seems a simple enough request. A variety of sources were identified, and worms were obtained and are now in a plastic bag in our mud room sink.

We also have been reminded that this variety of worm, a worm that eats what is on the surface of the not native to the United States. Years ago I read the book "The Earth Moved", a book that carries a lot of information about the many varieties of worms on this earth.

Because red wigglers are not native to the United States they are researched. Locally, there are studies being conducted by scientist at the Smithsonian and by folks from Johns Hopkins University. In Minnesota it is well documented that the entire forest system surrounding the wonderful lake system that exists there is being destroyed by these voracious and non-native heavy feeders. Red wigglers eat the leaves that lie on the floor of the forest, that traditionally breakdown very slowly, and has been there for hundreds if years..creating a cover for the roots of the forest, a blanket that keeps the roots of the trees healthy through long northern winters.

The red wiggler, used in tubs all over this country for making compost, have a high conversion rate of food to compost factor. That's why they are used. They also make great bait for fishing, so they are marketed for that use as well.

What makes them so attractive to compost makers and bait growers is exactly what makes them a problem on the forest floor. They reproduce wigglers. They have huge appetites and convert massive amounts of stuff to compost quickly. When it comes to the forest floor, they eat this protective layer of leaves that has been there..forever.. This causes the underground network of very important part of the natural system of decomposition. This further hastens the death if forests.

So we rethink our red wigglers. We are not yet certain what we will do with them but we will not be putting them outside.

Friday, December 23, 2011

baby egg layers

As we move back into days of more sunshine we take stock of our laying hens. Today we have 3 movable pens with 100 mature hens in each pen. A Row Toe Tiller with 17 (a couple turned out to be roosters) that were purchased off craigslist. And in the brooder, inside the hoophouse, are about 200 more baby egg layers.

Yup, more than 500 laying hens here at Sunnyside Farm. And yesterday? 5 eggs. From all those girls.

Once the amount of daylight increases to close to 10 hours a day? We will have 250-300 eggs each day, and will frantically collect, pack and sell the best eggs ever.

But for now, in the dark days, we feed all of these girls, haul water to them cause the hoses freeze, move them away from their own waste and pathogens in their portable pens, and dream of angel food cake made from huge spring eggs. I can feel the extra light already.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

last FOTS of the season

The market in Carlisle, Farmers on the Square, held the last session of the growing season yesterday. It is a bit worrisome..we have a bushel of apples in cold storage, chicken, beef and pork in the freezer, canned tomatoes, pickles and cucumbers (strawberry jam all gone), honey, maple syrup, a few eggs every now and then. Plenty of lettuce, kale and chard growing out back.

But milk, cream, cheese, yogurt and Homer's beloved chocolate pudding are heading into hoarding mode. Not that we can't get them from our local farms..but it is an hour or so drive to do so. In two different directions. Next market is the end of January, so we are contemplating reasons/excuses to visit these farms in a couple of weeks.

Homer has a cold and is not feeling well. Evidence here: the chocolate pudding is untouched. He always has some on Wednesday night..this is the first time this has happened. Poor guy, this cold has him in its grip, so much so he did not get his pudding face on.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

sniff, sniff

It is with great sadness we announce the passing of this years pea crop. There is nothing quite like fresh peas, and they have loved the cool weather.

They do not, however, like the freezing weather anymore than I do. So after harvesting all that we could eat the balance was pulled from the ground and fed to the pigs. The pigs were happy to receive.

Note the dog barks in the background. She was after something.

too much time in Disneyworld?!

I used to work for the mouse. THE mouse. Work would take me to meetings at Disneyworld several times a year, and lots of those times family and friends traveled along.

Homer made many trips to the parks. Almost every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas there would be reason to travel there..and that is the best time, IMHO, to visit. Beautifully decorated, fun entertainment, small crowds with temperatures that make it comfortable to move around all day.

He would be there while I was in meetings. He would also be at the pool and the hot tub while I was in meetings. While he was supposed to be relaxing he was watching, learning, thinking, drawing. And some days getting a sunburn.

We had spoken about decorating our front door with a container on either side filled with greens from all the trees on the farm, lights, pine cones, ribbon. He channeled his inner mouse and our front door now looks like this!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

farm fixes

We use tools all the time here at Sunnyside Farm. Over much larger areas and for much longer times than we used to.

Usually things can be repaired. Homer has woodworking and metal working equipment and can usually set things to right. We don't have a whole lot of plastic besides the buckets and garbage cans.

But this? Perhaps beyond repair? Used to build and rebuild hundreds of vegetable beds, to clean up messes animals leave behind, to rake out has served us well. Truth be told, I'm pretty certain this was in the shed of the house we bought when Claire was 3..

A couple of years ago a hoe was under the tree for me. Sharpened several times a day when in use it slices right through baby weeds. Perhaps a replacement rake will be under our tree this year. Or maybe just a new, long, ash handle ready for a farm fix.

Monday, December 19, 2011


Cleanup continues here on the farm. In the small woods lies lots of debris, left over bird cages from the days this property was the bird farm. Stacks of pallets. Old plastic rack systems, that held buckets. And then these bottles, intact! The pigs do a great job clearing out the places Homer can't get to, and dug all around these the other day. Pigs miss nothing, the attention to detail is impressive.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Yesterday the pea plants came out of the hoophouse. As we begin to see nighttime temperatures below freezing on a consistent basis we lose some of the cool weather but not cold weather plants from the unheated space. This makes the pigs happy! We ate pea shoots all fall..but the pigs did the big job, roots and all.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

December 16

Plenty to do here on the farm, even with cold weather and mostly dark days.

We are pleased to have fresh tomatoes to eat! This is the last of them, and the big plants under cover with the barrels full of water have frozen. We will use the same technique in about 12 weeks to see about starting the tomato plants early..cause we want fresh again ASAP!

Clearing down to trees is easier to do now. Some have these massive vines growing that not even the cows will we are removing, getting down to the tree and will use straight vinegar on the roots of the vine to retard growth. And send in the cows, who readily and easily eat fresh growth. It's a continuing effort to clean the place up, have it less overgrown and support growth of trees not smothering vines!

And suddenly, the cattle are big. Not so little anymore. And horns. Not cute little bumps but horns. Hmm..

Friday, December 16, 2011

ice cream Kevin

In early May I received an email, an inquiry about availability of duck eggs. Our small flock of ducks produces a steady supply of eggs..not a ton, but steady.

Kevin showed up to get them. I was, of course, curious about why he needed a steady supply of duck eggs. It is an unusual request from someone who is not a baker.

Kevin turned out to be one better than a least in my world. An ice cream maker. And the best ice cream. Ever. I know, because I have tried them all. When I traveled the country I'd always look for local ice cream and try it. I've always said if I could eat ice cream 3 times a day I would.

Kevin takes duck eggs (and our occasional contribution of cream or milk) and produces extraordinary ice cream. Mint chip plants..not mint extract..and real, rich, dark chocolate. Coffee from delicious coffee. Ginger from..ginger..honey with our honey (a double treat!)..strawberry from in season, the vendor next to us at the market strawberries..

So imagine..we clear our schedule when this email arrives after midnight last night..

"When/where are we meeting? I work all day on Friday but am free all weekend.

I made you guys some pumpkin ice cream. Give it to you when I see you."

Rest assured, we will find him this weekend. I promise not to hunt him down at work today, but tomorrow all bets are off.

He has ruined me for other ice cream. Just no where near as good. That might be the duck eggs talking.

The duck egg is bigger. And better for concocting richer ice cream, according to Kevin. I'm in.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

electric fence line cleared

Nothing stops an electric fence line from working like overgrown grass, weeds, shrubs, brush.

The way we farm electric line is essential. It keeps the cattle where we want them and it really helps to keep predators out. The geese and the not so friendly dog helps keep predators out too, but the electric line is the first defense.

It will stop working exactly when it is needed. We have farmed long enough to know that every single night the fox tests the see if a gate is not quite shut, to see if the electric is out, if the geese are locked up and will not interrupt them. If we have visitors and lock the geese up, if someone leaves a gate ajar, and we turned off the fence so no one would get shocked it can spell disaster for us. A fox and pals, can take an incredible number of chicks in one night..we have lost as many as 200 in one single night.

The pigs do a fantastic job clearing under electric lines. Their natural instinct is to root up the ground underneath them, to eat anything growing above the earth and everything growing under as well. Homer designed his mobile pens so the pigs fit just under the electric wire, clear out every day until they hit the other end of the property..and by the time that happens, they are needed again at a spot they cleared months ago.

And the electricity works, keeping all other livestock safe. Such beauty! No weed wackers! No mower! Just the sound of pigs doing what they love, rooting and munching.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

egg adjusters

The laying hens are adjusting to their new home. They are happy with the grass under their feet and the ability to sleep on roosts.

They do not appear to be thrilled with the new pen however. There have been few eggs since their relocation. Not one from the hens who lay white eggs, the few eggs we are getting are brown or blue. That is even with the light on the new, outdoor timer we bought. Maybe they really don't like the cold. Just like me!


Homer has ideas every day..ways to build things faster, cheaper, from local materials, from local sources.

He is scheduled to give talks in January and February. At the CASA/Future Harvest conference, at the PASA conference and at a museum in Detroit.

He has been inspired by the scheduled Detroit talks. Plots of land are inexpensive, there are still tons of people who live there and it is cold and sunny in the winter. He is working on two plans: a super insulated house that is constructed for $30,000 and a hoophouse that offsets heating costs for the family. He has been studying, writing, constructing models, speaking to experts. What he is doing is fantastic..and a possibility for a lot of people.

Mortgage companies hate projects like these. They will not write loans for small amounts..and they consider $50,000 to be too small an amount. The utility companies will hate it too.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

compost begins

We collect coffee grounds everywhere we can get them. With almost an acre of vegetables we need about a tractor trailer load of compost each year..vegetables are heavy feeders and we do not use anything else to grow them but compost..and coffee cuts down on any odd odors that might occur as compost is being made. Homer combines all sorts of things to make compost, and an entire wagon load of coffee grounds is like..paydirt!
The sawdust from the sawmill around the corner, bits and pieces from the farm that no one eats..and when we visit areas where leaves get raked and bagged we will..fill the truck with the ones in brown paper bags..and put bag and all into the compost pile..makes for very happy worms!

Monday, December 12, 2011

last tomato

It is December 12, and we just ate our last tomato. The dining room is decorated for Christmas! Breakfast was eggs from our hens, pork from the farm, tomato from under the hoophouse. The tomato plants, double covered, are doing well. Our hope now is to keep the plants alive until next year..and to have super early tomatoes.

Peas and lettuce look great, and taste fantastic. We knew lettuce would grow this time of year and decided to leave September planting of peas..from the ground and see what happened. Turns out peas really don't mind the cold!

The other morning the sun was out while the moon was still out. Lovely!

One of our neighbors removed their glass doors. He is renovating and changing the look of his home. Our township will not accept these massive pieces of glass and our trash hauler limits how much can be taken away at one time. He is very slowly getting rid of his construction refuse. When Homer saw these doors he knew they are exactly what we are looking for to go into our other building. A quick (and short) truck ride and the doors are now ours. Homer will have to do a little repair work to them, and remove a section of wall to install them, and then we will have a more open view of the property. Reuse and recycle at work here!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I'm melting

The last 2 houses we lived in..the last 20 years or so..had heavy tile or slate roofs. Roofs that needed a little bit of maintenance each year but lasted hundreds of years. And when it was cold out the frost and snow stayed on those roofs for a long time, until the sun or temperature outdoors melted it off.

Yesterday every house around had a layer of thick frost on the roof around here. There was frost on every single blade of grass, every tree and on our garage roof.

But our house roof was already melted as the sun rose. Not melted by the sun or by the air temperature but melted by the heat. The heat escaping from our house. It is freezing in here in the wintertime! Forced hot air from an oil furnace, drafty windows and clearly not enough insulation in the attic.

Enough of the work on the infrastructure of the farm has been completed that we can look around and take care of other things. Insulating the attic and keeping the heat in the house, and not warming the roof, has hit the top of the honey do list.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

leather coats

Yesterday the high temperature was in the low 40's. The low was cold..all the hoses froze.

On days like that we work to position ourselves in the sun. To help warm us up. We wish our house was passive solar, and dream of knocking out the wall between the dining room and the kitchen, so the sunshine can reach into where we prepare food.

But the cattle, in their thick winter coats, opted for the shade. Plenty of sunshine in their paddock..plenty of grass too..and they ate until it came time to chew their cud and then did so in the shade. The grass was frosty, the air from their nostrils came out as steam. And still they opted for the shade.

Not us! Or Sandi. We all track the sunshine all day, and work to be where that is. Of course we don't have thick layers of leather hides either.

Friday, December 9, 2011


We are at the top of a hill, well away from streams, creeks and rivers. In the various spots we leased before moving here we experienced devastating flooding and knew we wanted to skip that.

It is windy here. We have lost a few things..our first 2 cowshades just splintered in high winds. Chickens pens had to be redesigned to withstand 60-70 MPH winds and still be able to move daily..easily.

Some days the winter garden looks like this in the morning. The fabric row covers detach from the hoops and flap in the breeze.

And we contemplate how to keep covers on..the wind and cold are what come some are still covered and some aren't..windbreaks, a farmers best friend..

Thursday, December 8, 2011

there's a snake in my boot

Muck boots. We have tried others but none work as well. Muck boots have good tread on the outside and good foot support on the inside. Feet stay dry and comfortable. It is possible to break them so they leak when really wet conditions the entire 2011 year (with the exception of 2 weeks in July) we do get new ones. And we keep the old ones too, because even with small leaks they are better boots for farm chores than any other.

They slip off and on. They stay upright, so no need to get your hands in the wet funk. They also get..wet and funky. We do a lot of different activities on the farm, considered gross by many, and I have a strong desire to keep that icky stuff..outside.

Wintertime projects. Things we think of in the summertime but have no time to implement. Today Homer built a boot rack that holds multiple pairs of Muck boots, the big ones that hit just below the knee. Because we are pasture based farmers the grass gets..high..and up to knee protection is needed. Now boots can be removed, flipped upside down on the boot rack, allowed to drain and dry out before next time needed. Homer had to build the rack because these boots are big, and typical racks don't hold them. Plus it is a matter if principle for Homer..if he can build it why buy it?

Happy feet. And funk outside where it can be hosed down. Happy wife.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Homer, on rainy December days

Our growing season is much quieter now. We still have cattle, pigs, laying hens and chickens that are moved daily. And vegetables that need tending.

Bugs are virtually nonexistent at this time of year. Weeds barely grow. No turkeys. And next week will be the last of the chickens. Homer will begin working, building things for others in the next week or so..but the rain allows for some time to think and dream.

He is scheduled to speak at a couple of conferences in January and February. Also at a museum in Detroit. While most topics he will cover he knows inside and out, he has been thinking about construction of homes, cost of insulation and installation, and how improvements can be made.

While we are not building anything anytime soon we want to help people get into homes with out spending a fortune and mortgaging their future to do so. We are mortgage free and would love to see others do so is a gift that allows time to contemplate, cogitate, think, dream..and for Homer, results in an idea on home construction that requires building a model..

2x6's allow room for R30 and still have space for electric wires..little waste..and super strong in a drafty house that costs a fortune to heat is prompting new ideas!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

seed saving

We only grow open pollinated, heirloom variety vegetables. No F1 hybrids or GMO's here. We buy seeds every year because we want to support our seed houses but we don't really have to..we could make our own seeds and use them. Our vegetables grow true from the seeds they produce, no wonky weirdness here.

Leeks are a cool weather crop. In the heat of the summer they will bolt..they go to seed and look..funny. Sometimes bolting will have an effect on the flavor of the vegetable, usually causes it to turn bitter.

We bought leek seeds the other day at the Rodale Institute. And we have seeds here that came from some leeks that got away from us over the summer and bolted. We will use our saved seeds to experiment with, to see if December is too late to start leeks in our hoophouse or if we can grow them out in the dead of winter. Part of the allium family, a leek grows the cool, round flower at the end of the stalk. Inside that flower, which we hung to dry since the summer, are the seeds. Homer has made his own seed sifter and yesterday found out that this many flowers produce about a thousand seeds. All those seeds are now planted and covered with a bit of homemade compost. Fingers crossed we get leeks this year..they are beautiful and delicious..

Monday, December 5, 2011

December tomatoes

It's December and we have tomatoes ripening on the vine in our unheated hoophouse. Homer's plan is to keep these plants alive all winter and really have a jump on the 2012 crop. I'm concerned about the 2-3 nights a year when the temperature drops to low single is hard to imagine the plants lasting through that. For now we are each formulating a plan to convince the other why this tomato should not be shared..

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Rodale Institute and Smartwool socks

Yesterday we left the farm. Together. It must be the off season!

We met my sister Jane and her friend Murray at the Rodale Institue. It was Rodale's holiday open house, with everything on drastic sale. We purchased a couple of books at rock bottom prices, and then took a walk to see their hoophouse.

It looks like there might be others on the property, but the hoophouse we visited was empty except for grass. We had hoped to see crops they grow in the winter around here..just to see if we are missing anything!

It turns out that even an empty hoophouse can teach us. The sides have cranks connected to poles that run the entire length of the structure, and they look simple to operate and easy for Homer to replicate. For now our sides are either on or off, held down with wiggle wire and channels..and a full day to close it up in fall or open it up in spring.

The challenge comes on super sunny days in late fall or early spring. It would be nice to be able to open up so air could flow can actually get too hot..but to still be able to quickly close up at night. We don't have that option now and seeing the hoophouse yesterday provided an option that is simple and easy to install.

We ate lunch in a great little Mexican place in Kutztown. All fresh and homemade, lunch was delicious. A good visit with my sister and Murray.

On the way back we stopped at Cabela's. Located just off the highway, this store is massive and in the middle of no where. Although a community of fast food places has been built up around it.

Part of the size of the place has to do with taxidermy. Since it sticks a massive inventory of guns, ammo, camouflage and orange vests it is a mecca for hunters. There are all sorts of styles and positioning of animals throughout the store, all taxidermy.

Homer needed something neon orange. While we don't have huge acreage and our property is fenced, he is moving through areas everyday where safety is a good idea. He found a bright orange ear cover that he will wear this morning. An every day until hunting season is over.

And he got a new pair of boots. It seems every other pair has gotten holes and water seeps in while walking the fields.

And our one real indulgence anymore? Smartwool socks. We both wear them every single day, and love them. We wear them year round, different weights for different seasons. Feet stay dry, comfortable no matter the temperature. And they just go right into the washer and dryer and ready to go again. Fantastic.

Here was our favorite taxidermy in the place.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

frosty sunrise

It went down to 22 degrees the other night. Early morning chores get postponed until the sun is up in the sky and warming the farm. All hoses freeze solid. The days are shorter and shorter, and we look forward to the winter solstice when the switch happens and we go back to increasing daylight each day. Cmon sun!

Friday, December 2, 2011

sides up!

In the summer our porch off the hoophouse is open. The plastic roof stays on, but the sides are completely removed. We had visitors from St. Tims who helped pull the sides off in May of this year.

As the temperature drops it becomes necessary to reinstall the plastic. What would have been oppressively hot in the summer months becomes winter paradise with the plastic on! The table and chairs will remain in this spot, as winter time lunches are sunny and balmy out here. Homer has also been known to nap on the hay bales stacked out here.

The big round tables and the collapsible chairs will go into winter storage. We don't usually get big crowds in the winter, so the little ones will do.

Sandi will locate sunny warm spots and sleep while Homer works. She loves the sunshine and can always be found in it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

faux mantel

When we moved into our previous home it had a fireplace with no mantel. There was a "modern" treatment around the firebox..sort of a morphed out from the wall southwest looking thing. Here in the mid-Atlantic. Homer added a mantel made from mahogony that looked like it was original to the house. Here on the farm there are 2 buildings, 2 chimneys, and no fireplaces. It makes us wonder if someone lived here who hated fireplaces? No mantels, nowhere to hang stockings, no focal point. Yesterday, Homer and Jess returned to the saw mill around the corner. We are doing our best to buy local, and supporting this small business sure fulfills that goal! The approach is creepy..a beatup gravel road, full of ruts, straight up a hill. Through woods with electrified barbed wire fence on either side. I'd never travel up that driveway on my is the perfect setting for a slasher movie. At the top of the driveway the property opens up, and the entire hilltop is grass and sawmill and a couple of buildings. Perfectly normal. The sawmill itself looks to be 100 years old, with a blade 6 feet across in the middle. The wood purchased yesterday had been milled long ago and was stacked in piles out in the open. The planer (the piece of equipment that cleans small bits of wood off rough sawn lumber to convert it to the dimensions wanted) is operated by starting up the 100+ year old engine that used to operate a ferris wheel. Every planer we have ever seen requires serious ear protection..but this beauty was as quiet as it could be. It took large slabs of wood with a very rough finish and converted them to what, at the end of the day yesterday, is the new, faux mantel in our living room. There is not a photo of the saw blade itself. Homer will have to stand next to it for a sense of scale, as that blade is quite impressive!Pictures of the trucks used to transport full tree trunks are here. The planer in use. And the completed faux mantel. He made the shelves shallow, as this house is small and furnishings can't be large. And now he realizes we need a couple more of these around..

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

cold weather growth

It is turning cold here. The grass has stopped growing, the sun rises and sets all too quickly, and the winds are starting to howl around the house.

We still are able to eat our own food. There was a mess of a hoophouse here when we bought the property..a guy stopped by a couple of times when we first moved here offering to purchase. Homer cleared out lots of overgrowth (trees and all!) and garbage and we purchased a new cover for the frame. And just a layer of plastic produces amazing growing additional heat but the sun. Homer has tomato plants under another layer of plastic with full 55 gallon barrels of water tucked under there too, and the tomato plants are growing beautifully. Green, thick, happy looking. Lowest temperature outside has been in the 20's and the plants keep growing. He will have to play pollinator when they bloom, as no bugs are out.

Even on cloudy days the temperature under there goes to 70 or more. On sunny days it is a tropical paradise, with sun heating the space to 100 degrees.

Outside there are many things growing with fabric covers over them. And a few growing with no protection at all. Garlic is planted in the fall, grows all winter and spring, dries summer and fall, gets pulled and used daily by us!

The laying hens are out too. Between the rows, digging and cleaning up. Soon hoses will freeze solid and we will carry water to the hens in 5 gallon buckets, poured into their wire enforced rubber water trays. Every day we will pop out the frozen water and refill the trays, the girls have fresh water available until it freezes again. During the brutally cold time of January and February this needs to be done twice a day, as even during sunny days water freezes.

We don't look forward to those days.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Charlie Brown has nothing on us

Ah farming. Not quite making ends meet. Robbing Peter to pay Paul. Figuring out how to reduce expenses.

We love a live Christmas tree. The smell is wonderful and the natural look appeals to us.

Even here in the country they cost a small fortune. We discussed spending money on something we know we will throw away in a month and just cannot do it.

An early snow storm this year knocked out our power and knocked lots of branches out of our trees. The branches still look fresh and smell wonderful. Homer wandered the farm yesterday and found a few likely candidates to bring into the house and decorate.

Once in place he decided there was not enough tree, so he took the impact drill he got last year while working on the hoophouse with our friends at Keswick Creamery and added some more branches. With 4" screws.

It does look different. It looks creative and out of the ordinary. Truth be told, Homer said "you left me alone with the tree too long".

Charlie Brown and Suzy Ormand would be proud. We did not spend a dime, shopped in our basement and the house is ready for the holidays. Which we celebrate at my stepmothers home not here. Too small a house for that many people.

Monday, November 28, 2011

the worms

What makes good compost? When it smells like the freshest dirt ever, and has had a wide variety of bugs running through it. All summer long the compost pile is abuzz with a wide variety of creatures. When we lived close to neighbors our compost pile was kept clean by having a lid on a perforated container, and adding leaves to our kitchen scraps.

On the farm the components of the compost heap are different than outside our back door. Now the pigs get most of what is produced n the farm, or the chickens pick through it. The geese love yogurt. And the ducks eat every grub, slug and snail.

So the parts that are left for our compost are the parts no one really eats, but are parts that decompose beautifully. We used to purchase sawdust in giant clear plastic bags @$6 each, and the truck could hold 4 bags. Now we go about a mile from the house to an old school, open air, outdoor sawmill and shovel the sawdust right into the back of the pickup. For $4. The same amount of stuff, no plastic bags to get rid of, and easy unload onto the compost pile.

And today, when things shifted, here is what we see..areating and leaving their wormy stuff behind, making black gold for these farmers:

Over the summer, on hot dry days, there are meal worms all over the top of the compost pile. Meal worms are the bluebirds most favorite food, and the sky was full of many bluebirds, swooping down and getting meal worms for themselves and their babies. Glad we could help them out, they are one of the prettiest birds ever!

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Just before Thanksgiving we had a cookout. We cook up some of the things we grow here on the farm and folks bring along other yumminess. Irena took a bunch of pictures and sent them was a beautiful fall day, the geese were locked up..was just a wonderful day. We feel so lucky to live the life that we do, and have so much joy sharing this with our friends.


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