Wednesday, August 31, 2011

between beds

The way Homer puts down vegetable beds prevents a lot of weeds from growing in the beds themselves.  We are pretty happy with how the beds grow, drip tape installed for dry spells..they look good, and production of vegetables is ok.

Between the beds is another story. We tried using chickens in chicken runs. It worked great, except that the scratching and fertilizing done by chickens caused the grass inbetween the beds to grow at an advanced rate. Shoulder high in just a few weeks if decent intervals of sun and rain occur.

But the pigs..there is another story. We are using the biggest ones to clear out under the electric wire lines, and they are doing a great job keeping that clear. Regrowth is slow, just what is wanted under electric wire, and between bed rows.

The plan is to convert the dirt inbetween rows to hard clay/adobe sort of stuff, so we can walk there. Time will tell if this idea works. Yesterday the covered walkways were built for the smallest pigs, the big pigs will never travel in the garden rows..they would break out and eat all we grow!

Here are the pig containers? walkway?, constructed in a couple of sections:

and with the piggies in there:

and action shots (Sandi just had to get in there):

and because it worked so well, we had to get more action:

now, a little bread and vegetable leftovers, happy pigs!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Claire settled and one good bug

I spent the day yesterday getting Claire and her stuff into her place in College Park. She is in a house that will have 4 total housemates, so far there is one guy who helped carry all her furniture and stuff in. He did in one trip what it takes me two to get done. Yay for housemates! While she is not unpacked and the electricity is out (thanks to Irene) and many traffic signals are still out in the area she was settling in, and will be able to get everything set before classes begin tomorrow.

While I was gone Homer discovered this, all over the ragweed. The ragweed (not the bug) is currently the bane of my existence. Sneezy and scratchy still. Glad it is helping to attract this to the farm:

Scolia dubia: a wasp that eats beetle grubs under ground. That includes the Japanese beetle! yay and please stay here.

A special assist shout goes to Beatriz Moisset, who identified this bug for us. You can read her blog here. She also wrote a guide to pollinators, you can read more about that project here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Irene, now it is crystal clear

This morning it is sharp, clear, clean. And a little chilly.

We certainly had casualties here on the farm. Lost some chickens, some corn plants and some cucumber plants. The windmill Homer built was not able to stand up to a hurricane.

But we never lost power, flooding was minimal, no trees down and we were able to get many inside chores completed. Today Claire heads back to College Park for the start of this semester's classes, we hope the roads are clear enough for safe travels. And that everyone else is safe out there today.

Perfect day for moving!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

c'mon Irene

Lots of wind and tons of rain here at the farm. We are all fine, it looks like animal are too. Traffic on the road out front has not been this quiet since the last 6 inch snow storm. Here is what we saw yesterday and then headed inside:

While our farm is on the western most edge of the storm, we see on the news that many communities are in the direct path of the storm, and hope all are well. We too will stay off the roads except for emergencies..allowing the folks who restore power, check bridges and dams and such to do thteir jobs.

And here is Homer's rendition of hurricane Homer. With an assist from 3 Springs Farm and Yee Haw Farm..

Saturday, August 27, 2011

we have a drake..right?

This past spring we hatched duckings from our duck eggs. A couple of the ducklings went to friends, one went under the goose, and a couple are hanging out together here on the farm. The parenting style of ducks is funny: they ignore their ducklings or chase them into high grass. Not a whole lot of interaction.

Geese on the other hand attend to their goslings faithfully.

And ducks change their markings, and their feathers, as fall approaches. The male, who had a dark head and a curled tail in spring and early summer, now has the exact same markings as the females. At first we thought the drake had been eaten by something..but upon counting again discovered that all ducks are here. They just all look the same!

The group of 5 and the group of 2..they will not mix. The geese will sometimes let the 2 younger ducks walk with them, but the 5 older ducks never allow it.

and here are the geese, land cruisers on the farm, with the 2 hopeful ducklings..

Friday, August 26, 2011

batten down the chicken pens

It is a foggy and sunny morning here today. Warm, and all animals quiet overnight.

On the weather channel it is a totally different story. A huge storm headed up the east coast, bringing high winds, dumping tons of rain and maybe even hail around here. Our hoophouse and chicken pen can withstand 60 MPH winds, we know this because they have before.

We have refilled jugs and bottles with drinking water. The rain barrels are holding about 4,000 gallons of water so we will have that should we need it. The generator is ready with fresh gasoline in reserve. And today Homer will rearrange the chicken and turkey pens on higher ground, facing them into the wind rather than braodsides to the wind and use tons of rope to tie down all of the lids tightly. He is reinforcing all of the pig pens, and adding an extra line of electric wire around the cattle fence line.

And today is still a blue sky, puffy white cloud sort of day. Without the radio, tv and internet we would never know that this storm is approaching. Here is what is growing now:

Every cucumber plant under the hoophouse has been removed, and peas went in last week..8 rows worth! A cool weather plant, we start them in mid-August and will harvest as the temperatures cool off in October. Our CSA goes until mid-November, so we continue to plant and harvest every week.

Right now we are harvesting what was planted and grown in the basement, under lights, while it was still freezing out early this year. Our tomatoes still look beautiful..we lost a couple, but only where the driptape was mangled and water could not get through. This red ruffled beauty is tender, tasty and sweet. And will not roll down a conveyer belt!
and the squash are starting to show themselves. We planted squash, melons and pumpkins all over the place, in an effort to see where they would grow best. These in a rather shady spot have done well, and so far bugs have not found them. Along side them we have these growing:
baby pumpkins right now, we will see how quickly they grow with upcoming rains and warm days. They go from being nibs to being full grown in a matter of days at this time of year.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

sweet joy

The last couple of days I have not felt so hot. Insomnia coupled with a bumper crop of rag weed has my eyes tearing, nose alternating between stuffed and running, and a generally itchy face are wearing me out.

We have had the Mitchell kids here in shifts. With fairly limited sleeping space (and Claire occupying one room) we have had kids coming and going for just before school starts farm visits.

Mansadin has been very sympathetic to my under the weather feelings. For breakfast yesterday, he made me this, from the pancake batter he and Homer compiled:

a flower shaped pancake on a pink plate!

and then, later in the day, with Farmer Homer, he threw himself back on the swing to look at the sky..does this look like the most joyful move?!

and Homer, as a grass farmer, filled with happiness at such a beautiful sight: 3/4 of the way through August and there is still plenty of grass, here all covered with dew and Homer's shadow:

Claire was kind enough to head to Farmers on the Square for me yesterday so I could just take it easy. I'm feeling much better today and just know that all the rain we are going to get will cut down on pollen produced..a welcome change to the last few days..

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

not like this

Last night the 2 biggest pigs broke out of their pen. They spent the day testing the perimeter, then they busted loose! When Claire, Nekhu and Jayce went to collect eggs, there were the big girls, walking around loose. Today is a day where Homer usually plants seeds, instead he will reinforce the pen and then work to lure the pigs back in there. Because here is what they are doing right now, and this is a little too free range even for us..

Monday, August 22, 2011

we are not alone

While we sleep things are still happening here on the farm. This can mean going from 50 to 1,000 tomatoes in a weeks time, or it can mean this:

The geese were partying on the back porch.

And sometimes while we are sleeping the lettuce bolts. One day the lettuce is firm, refreshing, crisp, then it gets hot and the lettuce sprouts flower heads and the lettuce itself turns bitter. Two of our favorites did this, and we allowed them to dry up and kept them..and now we have seeds galore. The seeds will be planted today by visitors to the farm.

In just a few weeks we will have plenty of crisp, sweet lettuce again. Cool weather abounds and lettuce loves this!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

bees, vanishing?

We went to a movie last night. Not often that the farmers leave together to enjoy an activity off farm at this time of year! Sponsored by Sonnewald Foods and York County Beekeepers Association, we watched the movie "The Vanishing of the Bees". The commercial growers first experienced entire bee hives disappearing, just vanishing, in the middle of the last decade.

As they examined the change in pesticide use and manufacturing, it became clear tha the newest type of herbicide/pesticide/fungicide were the causes. If the bees were moved to a spot where a recent application of these powerful poisons had occurred they lost their in the bees just did not return to the hives.

Beekeepers in France noticed the same thing, and the director of the department of agriculture there banned the use of the new, systemic and very powerful agricultural chemicals. And the bees went back to right. Beekeepers in the U.S. have testified before congress to have these chemicals, so vastly affecting the nervous system of the honeybee, restricted. But no avail. These chemicals continue to be used on the subsidized by the federal government, big ag producers of corn, soy, wheat, sorghum fields. The beekeepers have learned to keep their bees away from these fields.

We grow animals on grass for these reasons. It just seems like a good idea to raise them on what they were put on this earth to do: forage. Our grass fed beef is delicious, tender and smells wonderful. Our pasture raised pork is great, our chickens, turkeys and eggs are wonderful too. We feed the poultry a small ration of GMO free feed..gone in less than 10 minutes in the morning, the rest of the day is spent scratching in the dirt, chomping on grass, eating worms and bugs.

The majority of the genetically modified, able to withstand the application of powerful chemicals because the genes have been spliced/altered to do so corn, wheat, soy and sorghum goes to animal feed. Or to the production of food that is processed and that the doctors say is not so good for you.

We have opted out of this big ag supported food system. Consider a pasture raised, rotational graized source for your meats. Look for a local farmer, learn one recipe that puts your meat and vegetables into one pot, all day, and then eat for several days. Get a different cut or type of meat and try another. It is amazing what these small things can do to make a big difference for all of us, including the tiny, sensitive bees.

The toughest thing for us to watch was the comparison of bees visiting sunflowers. We grow about 15 varieties here on the farm, and love them. We do only grow the older, closer to native type and never the hybrid, and certainly never any treated seed. In the movie, they had footage of bees on treated sunflowers losing their way, unable to systematically cross the face of the sunflower to gather nectar and pollen, eventually falling to the ground dead. What?! Sunflowers are the easiest thing to grow, why would they need to be treated?! The damage to the bess was just heartbreaking to fledgling beekeepers like us, who every day see how organized and thoughtfull bees are as they work the flowers on all the plants growing here. It does make me wonder what the compound effect of these chemicals is having on our is currently unknown, but scientists and doctors have suspisions that these powerful chemicals are linked to a variety of new disorders in children. We will continue to grow as we do here, hand picking bugs off our vegetables and fruits, rotational grazing our livestock, enjoying the bees and honey, and providing food as clean as we can grow it for families in this area.

and here are our bees, this morning, along with our sunflowers:

Saturday, August 20, 2011

bug catchers

We are always happy to see alternate ways of catching bugs here on the farm. We do our fair share of hand picking the undesireables off of our fruits and vegetables, and always welcome help from the spiders:

Friday, August 19, 2011

an extension of dinner

Every 2 weeks from the end of March until the beginning of September we get a shipment of chickens. Day old Jumbo Cornish Cross to be exact. And from June until November we have fresh, whole chicken available for purchase. Sometimes they are frozen, but we work hard to balance so that the birds are fresh.

It takes us 8-9 weeks to bring a bird to full size. Every day Homer moves them in their secure pens..pens that keep most predators out. In the very early spring the peepers go into a peat lined brooder, with plenty of water and 2-3 heat lamps. As the days and nights warm up we constantly monitor the temperature on the small birds, as either extreme will cause losses. At this time of year, it is perfect weather for brooding chicks, so they go right onto the field in a short pen that is moved, gently, on grass. An extension cord extends the brooder lights if the temperatures warrant use at night.

And then they are ready for the next step, where they go from being birds on the field to birds ready for consumption.

They are loaded into this trailer and then through the process.

Visitors..other farmers..will say "oh yes, those are the birds that get so big their legs break" our birds are walking around. More than once I have asked another farmer to stop and look at these birds..aren't they walking? aren't they supporting their weight on their own 2 legs? Other farmers will also comment on how filthy these birds get. I have to ask them again to look at our flocks..and ask if they see them filthy or are they clean, healthy, strong and well proportioned?

And once dinner is completed, there is no question. These birds smell clean, like the outdoors, when removed from the bag to cook them. The remnants in the pan stay slippery, stay liquid, never harden up. Chicken stock made from the carcass has an aroma that is fresh and a taste that warms the heart.

Dinner preparation. We love every step of the process.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

barn envy

On our farm we do not have a barn. Up the street from us is a small bank barn and an older house, likely to be the original farmstead around here. Our house was built in 1949 and has an additional building, but it is not a barn.

Every week I drive to Carlisle, PA. I used to drive the interstates, but found that accidents and traffic jams were a constant source of stress. So I changed my drive to back roads, past many farms and small communities. For a portion of the drive I am beside the Yellow Breeches river..where there are trout fishermen, complete with the chest high waiders and wicker basket, casting for trout. A beautiful sight. And on really hot days, tubers and kayakers too.

I drive past many old farms, and get to see many barns. Some are beat up and looking like they are about to collapse, most have had tremendous upkeep. Since mid-May and the opening of Farmers On The Square I've seen new roofs installed, new siding applied, new paint. There is serious barn pride around here. Yesterday was a picture perfect day: white puffy clouds, brilliant blue skies, so on my drive over to Carlisle I took photos with my iphone from the car window. Not the camera operation to do these amazing structures justice, but here is a feel for what I get on my weekly "commute":

the detail in the brick work on the side of this barn is amazing..the tiny iphone lens does not quite capture it!
this one is the stonewall barn yard..this is a bank barn, the livestock was kept in stalls in the bottom, the top would hold hay. the barn yard for preparing animals to take them out to work.

and this one, with the barn doors open, shows the massive hay bales some farms make now. Beside are old silos. one missing a roof. The blue ones are commonly referred to as "bankruptcy tubes" around here..when a farmer bought that silo, changed their farming practices it usually resulted in bankruptcy for the farm.
Someone has to have this beautiful, traffic free drive to work, happy that it is me!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I cuss, you cuss..

Ever read The Far Side cartoons? By Gary Larson? He had great distribution and a number of marketing deals, and then opted out of the daily drawing grind to retire comfortably. Maybe he is farming somewhere? Before he quit, he had tons of funny cartoons. Today I'm reminded of the one that was an ice cream truck type of vehicle, with a giant asparagus mounted to the roof, titled "Failed Marketing Slogans"..and the slogan was: "I cuss, you cuss, we all cuss for asparagus". Yes, likely a failure.

Our asparagus crop is growing beautifully. Constantly sending up new shoots and filling in the bed beautifully. The other day I saw a 4 inch long Praying Mantis on the feathery fronds and saw no other bugs on it, truly a beautiful sight for a grower.

This morning it is really lovely to see the fern fronds with the morning dew.

We have to wait years before we can pull from this bed. It feels like an eternity, I would love some of that asparagus right now, for lunch today!

And this year we have a smaller herd of cattle, in both size and numbers. So the property is really covered in all sorts of growing things, including a line of asparagus plants planted by a previous steward of this property. That one we will mark and pull for our consumption next spring. Along with the morels and fresh butter from one of the milk cows..almost makes winter bearable with that on the other side..

I'll only cuss if we can't locate this line of asparagus next spring!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

farm thugs

We keep geese and ducks on the farm for a number of reasons. Ducks are too funny as they waddle in single file all over the property, occasionally making funny sounds. They love to bury their bills in the soft earth and eat all sorts of things that are dug in down there. We have very few mosquitoes here and know it is because the ducks spend all day searching the surface of every water holding vessel on the property, and scoop up the eggs whenever they find them.

Geese are another story. Large, impressive..and thuggish. They always travel as a gang, they are raucous and loud, quick to spread their wings to the entire 6 foot span and always willing to goose (grab a fleshy part of a human with their beak and twist) at every opportunity. On the plus side, they rarely allow anything on the farm that should not be here, and have distinctive calls for when they are annoyed or when someone, human or animal, has entered the fence line. The geese are great watch dogs but now that we have 4 of them they are quite the posse as they roam.

This film was shot in the way back of the farm: all the way below the woods, were the pigs dug up the ground. Always with pigs comes heavy destruction of ground. As pigs love to root with their snouts the areas they leave behind are full of divots and even large holes. The ground is stripped bare. Fellow farmers who do not have pigs are always asking about the damage done by pigs, the wide areas of bare ground left in the wake, the problems of erosion. Here is Homer's solution:

There is corn, watermelon, cantalope and squash growing where the pigs were a few weeks ago. We just need to leave them all alone and pull when the plants die back..but we get curious and want to harvest..planting far away from the house helps reduce the curiosity factor.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Orkin Man? I don't think so!

WARNING: If you hate snakes and toads, stop reading right now!

Homer took care of lots of things in the hoophouse yesterday. In mid-August some plants need pulling up and fed to the pigs while others need planting for fall and winter harvest. He was on the farm working the entire day, got a lot accomplished and mad a couple of discoveries.

First, a toad in the hole. Blends in with the dirt around it, and is our favorite form of bug control. Here it is catching a cricket. Don't look away as that tongue is fast!

The brown stink bug, first seen in Allentown PA after coming into the U.S. from China, is reported to have no known enemies in this country. Well, we have found one..

And then Homer discovered this, looking full and happy. Just guessing that the feral cats we adopted never looked like just looks full of mice imho.

I warned you!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

antibiotic resistance

There continues to be growing concern about antibiotic resistance. We never use them here, and don't even know how to use them or what to do with them. It just not seem right to eat animals that have been given antibiotics, so we just don't do it.

Recently published in Scientific American, studies show that the antibiotic resistance can be lessened greatly in one generation of poultry. That is what we are doing here: keeping animals off of their waste or, in the winter, using tons of sawdust to absorb (and then be the foundation of our compost) so that we have rich, antibiotic free inputs for our planting beds.

We will continue to run our farm in this way, as the chicken tastes great, the eggs are delicious and wow do we love it!

Here is the link to the article: poultry changes in one generation

Saturday, August 13, 2011


days have been just beautiful. here on the farm and in our travels..

Sandi allows space on the couch for Claire

then Claire celebrates her birthday at Woodberry Kitchen with the rents and 5 Seeds Farm Basil ice cream (and chocolate too).
Diane and Julia enjoy a summer evening

Kevin, aka the ice cream man, double eater of watermelon

egg cleaning station on the the right is a window that overlooks the entire property..some office space!

Friday, August 12, 2011

busy days

The next few days are busy ones here at Sunnyside Farm. This afternoon is the Charles Strret Friday Market, along with a number of deliveries to a variety of places.

Tomorrow is the York County Farmstand Tour, sponsored by the Buy Fresh Buy Local group. After visiting 4 different farmstands free ice cream and peaches await at the final stop, The Horn Center! More here: Saturday Farmstand Tour

Monday we host the Future Harvest/CASA visit to Sunnyside Farm. Lots of different people are involved with this great organization, from fledgling farmers to large producers and policy makers for the country. We will be talking about a variety of things, including how we grow without a tractor or rototiller and how we bring products to market. More here: Monday Tour

So straightening up and getting ourselves pretty for this, gotta go!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

650 pounds of Momma

Homer picked up 4 weaners on Saturday. We will keep one to breed with our females, one is for a suckling pig roast, and the other 2 we will sell once they get to size. The price of piglets from this pasture raised momma has tripled in less than 2 years, so we are going to grow our own. Homer did not take a picture of the poppa pig, so let your imagination run wild on just how big he is, but here is the sow:

and when they got her moving, this is her getting up and going:

We have had great success with the pigs from this farm. They are used to being outside, to foraging and digging up the ground with their thick snouts. We use them to clear out a variety of spots here. It is easy for spots on 12+ acres to get overgrown, and the pigs serve as the original brush hogs. What has us tickled again are genetics and the variety of piglets that a blue butt pig can produce! Out of the mama blue butt (the original litter was 10 piglets) our 4 are: 2 blue butts, a belted Galloway type, and a solid red/brown Tamworth type. It is a mixed up world and we love it!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

mowing, old school

Every day Homer moves our animals around. The fields have a chance to grow back, the animal waste gets absorbed by the ground, the earth worms and dung beetles have time to do their thing. And the farm has lots of grass and flowers growing, allowing space for the cattle to roam along with space for all the critters here to grow. Following is a portion of our herd just moved to a new 1/4 acre. They always want the same spot..

And they look gorgeous!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

mammoth sunflowers

Every year we plant more sunflowers. Native to North america there are lots of old, open pollinated varieties, and we grow at least 15 types. The natives bees love them and are on them every day, all day long. The honey bees visit them too. There are also lots of F1 hybrid sunflowers: they are usually small, managable, pollen free (so they don't leave a mess on your table) and will not grow back true if you save seed and plant them. We don't grow any of those!

Homer wants an expeller press, so he can squeeze the oils from all our sunflowers and not need to buy olive or canola oil anymore. Anyone know where we can find one? seems like most farms used to have one, for getting oils from corn and sunflower..before big ag told us there is no way we can do such difficult things!

Here are the largest on the farm, shading the 16' tall hoophouse. The flowers themselves are massive, with hundreds, maybe thousands, of seeds. They help keep the intense summer heat out of the hoophous on these hot days.

Yes, those are 50 gallon drums next to them, also shaded by the sunflowers.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Claire has a birthday

Almost all of my siblings were here for Claire's birthday. Jeff missed it, but Jane & Murray, Jenny, Art, Steve and my step-mother were here. I traded chickens for peaches, so there was plenty of fresh peach consumption going on.

We had a great time, good to see everyone and catch up.

And the dog still has an intense dislike for my brother Art. In this video of singing the happy birthday to Claire and her blowing out the candles, you get just one guess as to who is poking her the entire time..

note to self: it is getting time for a dining room table that seats 10, this 4 seater just will not do..

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Potter Wasps?

We do find things we can not name. On a regular basis! And if we can't name the bug, we have no idea if it is a good bug or a bad bug. Often I ask my step-mother for help..a biologist by training, a lover of pollinators in retirement, she always helps. Or refers us to the right page on

So here is the Potter Wasp. Not named for Harry Potter:

in all likelyhood this grows to a wasp..what we do know is that it leads to something that eats caterpillars, and we have plenty of those that need eating so we are keeping it!


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