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.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Apothecary jars

When my father worked at the museum the specimens were kept in apothecary jars that had ground glass closures. The sizes were inexact..a little shorter, squatter, taller or thiner. Decades ago a conversion was made to glass jars with rubber gaskets, and the museum got rid of the hand formed ground glass apothecary jars.

I kept some small ones. Jane kept larger ones. Many times the lids were closed so tight they could not be opened. Since they held formaldehyde we never really used them, mostly just for their cool look.

After the fire last winter the cleanup crew took everything out of every kitchen cabinet and cleaned all. Now every apothecary jar opens easily, though all were empty. Decorating for Christmas has begun, and I looked at those jars and some containers of cupcake decorations and realized the two must become one. We will never eat those sugars, and the jars look great out of the cabinet and filled with the fun colors.

Now to find some holly. All that is here is white pine and cedar, need that pop of red..

home improvement, egg layer style

The girls like their privacy. They also love to scratch around in the dirt, actual dirt, not their waste.

The idea of mobile pens came along when gear became more plentiful. The farmer of 100 years ago would not have been able to get all the gear we use. With Home Depot, Lowes and Tractor Supply Co it is easy to get all that we need.

Next year Homer will build his new pen design for all the poultry we raise. This winter, the laying hens will spend their time in these luxurious accommodations..with plenty of fresh earth, lots of space on the roost, protection from rain, snow and wind and these lovely, protected spots for egg laying. This afternoon a roof will go over this..a roof on hinges that we will open to gather eggs and the hens will use in sheltered privacy. Girls do like their privacy.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Today there are time for changes on the farm. A beautiful, sunny day, with temperatures in the 50's, it is the perfect time to implement a few changes we have discussed, but not had time to do, for months.

The pen for the laying hens is one of the oldest, and hence the most difficult to move, of all of the pens on the property. Our solution has been to move the girls every few days, along with a feathernet fence, a system that is said to be easy to move but in fact is not at all. It is really a hassle, requires more than one person, is bulky and difficult to get tight against the ground unless your land is level and has no grass. Not a description of our property.

So the girls are split up today. The oldest ones into one pen, the Arucana's into another, and the youngest, just laying and about to be laying girls into another. The pecking order must be reestablished, and the girls go a little wonky when this happens..they run and poke at each other, egg production goes down a bit, and for a few days it feels chaotic. Then things settle back down, but today it is a little heightened around here..

Thursday, November 24, 2011

all clear

Last week at this time our fields were filled with 100+ turkeys and a number of chickens.

Things are quiet now. Yesterday, Homer made an appearance on a local weather broadcast and pardoned 2 turkeys..a tom and a hen, to live on the farm. Those 2 are here, as are the laying hens, cattle and pigs. As the winter progresses and grass runs out the cattle will go to the butcher, and as the pigs grow out they will head out too. The laying hens will end up inside the hoophouse in late January/early February, as transporting water really is a problem when it us that cold out.

So many people visited the farm and helped us this fall. We could never have finished the year with our marriage intact without help from Unjung, Eliza, Johanna, Jess, Matt, Will, Ari, Dan, Josh, Jerry, Claire, Ivette, Katie, and a host of others who offer such great support.

We are thankful for each year and what we learn on the farm. Thankful that so many will eat what we grow, on Thanksgiving and all through the year. Thankful that we have the opportunity and health to grow all that we do..that we keep our strength of mind, body, spirit and soul by working and eating here. That we have the blessing of knowing other wonderful farmers and growers who produce such lovely food. And for our beloved family and friends who make this life possible.

Homer always says none of us know how long we have, and that we should be enjoying ourselves. That each day should have time for work, thought and labor that must be completed today. And that each day also needs time for contemplation, reflection, dreaming, planning, music making, drawing, creating..that a mix of regular work along with creative outlet is what keeps us in the best shape.

I'm off to get work done, preparations for our Thanksgiving meal, a walk around the farm on this beautiful fall day, collecting eggs and having a couple of visitors. Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

the best gravy

Homer makes biscuits from scratch after Thanksgiving, and use the leftover turkey gravy for the vest biscuits and gravy! We make stock with the turkey feet..2 with giblets, carrots, onions and celery covered in water, brought to a boil and allowed to simmer for a good while. Strained, is almost like gelatin. Mixed up with with flour and pan drippings it is delicious at Thanksgiving dinner..the next day, over the buttermilk biscuit recipe from America's test kitchen..we are in turkey heaven! We repeat this meal several times during the winter. Roast turkey, potatoes, greens, sweet potatoes, rolls..and left overs of each for several days. If we cook a big turkey and can't eat it quickly enough, we freeze portion sizes of cooked turkey. On days with no time they cone out of the freezer, go into a sauce pan with some of our canned tomatoes until both are heated through We add some Keswick Creamery Tomme, shredded, on top, make apple sauce from apples from a local orchard (Oylers, 3 Springs) and greens from under the hoophouse..salad or sauted in olive oil in the cast iron pan. And we give thanks for the good, local eats, for the other farmers we are blessed to know and share in what they grow..

Monday, November 21, 2011

putting our best foot forward

this post is all Homer, he named the caption and took this picture..

Sunday, November 20, 2011 6 or 7 months..

We buy baby peeps on a regular basis. They come in the mail in boxes with holes in them, and most times things work out well. We get ducks, goslings, turkey polts, broiler peeps and today's shipment..laying hens.

We had ordered this batch to arrive the week after Thanksgiving, when things have calmed down for us. These arrived as people were here, the truck was being loaded for a turkey delivery..and the little things must stay warm or they will not survive.

Homer quickly built a brooder, installed two lights and the watering system and the peepers have a new home.

The birds are a variety of shapes and colors. Their eggs will be too. I love to assemble a box of eggs with an assortment of colors: different shades of brown (ranging from a pale tan to a deep chocolate brown), several shades of blue and green and of course white.

These variations in color only occur when we have different breeds of birds. While pullets (ready to lay hens) can be purchased for about $10 each, they are generally a breed that has been bred to lay eggs with a small amount of feed consumption. They have usually had their beaks clipped, which makes them at a real disadvantage here on the farm. It is easy to eat corn and the like, difficult to grab and break and eat a blade of grass without a top beak. Full beaks here!

We love the names: Ancona, Arucana..and the birds grow out to be beautiful.

Our experiment with making our own baby chicks was a fail. The roosters awoke at 3:45AM every day and proceeded to crow all day long. When the neighbors rooster answered the pre-dawn crow with a more distant sounding cock-a-doodle-do..Homer said "oh no, we are not having this".

And we don't. No roosters here, thanks. If we had more land maybe. But with the birds close to our home and just as importantly the neighbors homes..we will not be in the chicken making business.

The turkeys, ducks and they make their own, no problem. Quiet like. No middle of the night wake up calls. It appears that the cows have managed to make their own too, as the pigs will soon. But no roosters, puppies or kittens.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

why we finish up most years at Thanksgiving

We keep some livestock over the winter. Sybil, the milk cow. All 200+ of our laying hens. This year, a couple head of cattle and pigs not yet big enough.

And we grow greens in the hoophouse, which has a frost proof water tap inside.

But on the rest of the farm, starting about now and lasting until March, our hoses freeze. Today they will thaw out but by January they are frozen solid 24/7. That means hauling water in buckets. In below freezing temperatures with strong winds.

Here comes winter.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Some things that happen on the farm we know well. Others mystify us. We know we have dung beetles as we have seen them. Big, beautiful, impressive and fairly slow moving they are pretty easy to catch and identify.

We think these holes are likely a result of dung beetles. Or possibly cicadas. But the scraping around the holes has us mystified. Do the scrape marks come from what is in the hole? From the ducks consuming what when down there? From something else?

Right now we don't know. Certain that at some point we will figure it out.

Really busy few days ahead of us. The 100+ turkeys that are outside need to be converted to a form that people can prepare for dinner. All in the next few days.

And this morning the post office informed us our baby chicks will be delivered today. The ones that will grow out to be laying hens. The ones we thought would be delivered in early December when after we had a little while to rest and set up a brooder.

Time to move.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

skeeters and goldfish

There are a lot of rain barrels at Sunnyside Farm. At last count about 80 foodsafe barrels.

All summer Homer has the barrels in position to gather water from gutters he added to the hoophouse. He calculates that one inch of rain fills all 80 barrels. Each barrels holds 50 one inch of rain yields 4,000 gallons of water in reserve.

We don't need the water right away, as our vegetable beds have been soaked by the rain. It is best for the vegetables to get watered again 6-7 days later, and to empty the barrels dry.

In that amount of time the mosquitoes can get busy and breed in the standing water. We certainly don't need those growing here, and needed a toxic free, season long solution.

Pet stores sell a goldfish they call a feeder fish. Not certain what feeds on them, but they are usually $.11 each or so, cheaper with a coupon. We put 2 into each open tank at the beginning of the season, and they eat the mosquito larva all year.

The ducks take care of the mosquitoes most other spots on the property. Even with record setting rains this year we have managed to keep mosquitoes to a minimum and very rarely end up with any mosquito bites.

And the fish are just fun.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


As Homer experiments with growing food year round we are lucky enough to have good eats year round. Yesterday we had fried eggs and hash browns for breakfast and he grew them both.

Seed potatoes are only shipped to us once a year, in the early spring. Usually potatoes do not grow in the winter..although they can stay in the ground and be harvested.

Last winter Homer planted a few potatoes in this bed. Inside the hoophouse he added another layer of protection just over the spuds. We pulled potatoes from this bed for early spring CSA distribution. And then again in the summer.

He left the tiny potatoes in the bed and planted eggplant and peppers in here. Temperatures in the last few weeks have killed those plants. While cleaning up the bed the other day he discovered all of these potatoes..enough to harvest for a few meals for us..and to take the tiny ones and put them back in the ground. In just a few months he will be able to pull new potatoes from this bed. After he puts their cover on.

Good eats.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


In the early summer of 2010 Homer and I visited the Farmers Market in Hershey. Only about 20 minutes from the farm it looked like a great option for us, except it was full of folks with what we have. We made a mental note to join if an opportunity became available.

This summer a friend posted on Facebook: vendors needed at Farmers Market in Hershey. We jumped on it, and it turns out they needed just what we offer. Arrived the next week with the market paperwork in hand.

Waiting for the new vendors was a representative from the Pennsylvania department of agriculture. Who jumped on us, asking for a specific document without even saying hello. Told us we could not be there..after everything was unpacked and set up.

It turned out we had all of our documents in order, all was clear and Sunnyside Farm could in fact legally be at the market.

The inspector left, and people began to introduce themselves. Other vendors, was lovely. Laura, a farmer working for a vegetable farm south of us, introduced herself. She had gone to school on the west coast, then taken some time off to learn how to grow organic vegetables. She had grown up right near where we used to live in Towson, attended the same high school as my daughter.

I still belong to the Federated Garden Club in my old neighborhood. There are monthly meetings with speakers and then a shared lunch. Lovely people, friendly, informative, thought provoking speakers. Laura joined us yesterday..and the ladies of the club knew her..without knowing her. Asked her last name and discovered they knew her grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins.

After the meeting Laura asked me about flour..I carry flour from Yeehaw Farm to Baltimore, and Laura had met Judy and gotten flour from her all Hershey. Next time I see Judy I'll get extra flour for Laura. Judy is the one who referred me to the coordinator for the Women in Sustainable Agriculture conference, and I was able to attend the conference as a speaker.

Homer has been looking for straw or hay. There just has not been much on craigslist yet..both have been scarce. After garden club I stop to see a friend who had decorated for fall with hay bales. And corn stalks. And offers both to me so that they are off their property.

The farmer's wife arrives home, looking like this. What an awesome life.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


We had a cookout at the farm today. Good eats!

Martin helped out by cooking delicious food in the smoker. Thanks to him we were awake and alert today and able to enjoy ourselves. And we did! Cold and ugly weather yesterday turned into s beautiful, sunny and comfortable day today. Under the hoophouse it was hot!

Visitors from the summer returned, and showed us their plans for a Lego robotics tournament next month. I can't show details or tell names, as things are top secret!

And the last praying mantis of the season made an appearance.

And those eats were good!!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Time shift

Spring forward, fall back. We fell back this weekend and neither of us can adjust to it! Homer is in bed by 8PM and I can barely make it to 9. Awake way too early in the morning.

And today, when Homer was ready to move the cattle it was dark out. A full day today and that sunset creeps up quick on us!

They happily moved to a new paddock, but looked a tad creepy doing it.


The leaves on the mountain behind the farm are changing. The weather conditions have not been the best this year for colorful leaf displays, but it is still full on fall. In the mornings everything is crisp and covered with frost. It is a beautiful sight in the early morning light.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

daylight or moonlight?!

The moon has been so is beautiful outside. And it us shining like a flashlight into the windows of the house. The livestock is a little more restless than when it is really dark out.

With the time change this weekend our internal clocks are all out of whack. Up an hour earlier and not ready for the end of the day yet! Homer was working in the moonlight getting things done..and maybe howling a little too..

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

smoke it

Had the chance to visit old order Amish farms. Homer tells me I'm a bit Amish when we discuss what he wants to buy and I ask him to build it from things already on the farm.

One thing I saw was an ice house. 2' thick walls, nothing but insulation. The greatest part? They put plastic out, collected water in it, let it freeze, cut it into pieces with a chain saw, loaded the ice into the super insulted building..and on Monday they still had tons of ice. No freon,

The other thing 2 farms had were smoke houses. One a metal shed, one a cinder block building. One hanging venison, the other a side of bacon. Looked and smelled delicious!

Homer took an old tank, cut it open, outfitted with racks and side tables and a stand for implements.

The old order Amish would be proud. Let's smoke something in it!

Monday, November 7, 2011

pen em up

Plans are for different pens next year. Homer's new design is larger but lighter and easier to move. It will hold a few more of whatever livestock goes in it so not quite as many will be needed. Here is the first one of the new batch: pigs are in it now.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

tomato love

We don't have the earliest tomatoes, ever. Our hoophouse is not heated, so the plants must make it to maturity with the real weather, not with heat from other sources.

Homer experiments all the time. We canned a bunch of tomatoes when we were overrun with them in August, so we have them for cooking. But fresh is another story, we want them year round! How is that possible?

He has figured it out for now, we will see how long it lasts and expand next year.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

honeycrisp for the bees

Honeybees take a beating. It used to be that anyone could easily keep bees with little work or maintenance. That is no longer true for anyone, even on the type of farm (chemical free, fields of flowers) we operate.

Veroa mites, bee beetles and probably stuff we don't know about take out some hive members. Outside the hive there are all sorts of genetically modified crops growing, and those have been proven to have an awful effect on bees.

Experienced bee keepers advise giving sugar water to bees. A mix called simple syrup in the kitchen, it offers bees food as they wind down and prepare for winter. This fall, with about 3 weeks of rain and then snow before bees slow down for winter means the bees were forced to eat their honey stores. Early. Too early to have honey to eat through the winter.

We have a huge bag of honey and dispensers. But for right now the bees are sucking up natures sugar, from the truckload of semirotting apples Homer picked up to feed the pigs. The bees love it and are out on them every day, the entire time the sun shines, feeding and carrying back to the hives.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


We are seasonal growers. We grow chickens during the months of the year when the grass is growing. We start in early April and end sometime in November. At either end of our growing season hoses will freeze, the poultry waterers will sieze up, and the pens will get a bit harder to move because of ice in the wheels.

And then the sun comes up, temperatures warm up, Thanksgiving is challenging but we make it, dismantle pens and hoses before severe weather. Generally there is uncomfortable weather, but not extreme. Until this year. Rain falls of significant records. And last Saturday a very heavy rainfall followed by a very heavy snowfall. Gigantic, wet, heavy flakes fell from the sky. And stuck to everything on the farm.

Usually by the time it storms like this we have ended the season. In fact, we have usually celebrated New Years! Our early gift this year? Pen collapse. Never before has such snow fallen while pens are still in use, so transfers had to be made. Repairs as Homer can get to them. The weather has been challenging this year, to put it mildly.


This is what is in our fridge right now. A tub of chicken livers right off the farm. Yup, our farm. Strawberry jam right off the farm..Esh's farm..we don't have strawberries growing and that is a tale for another day. And the tiny amount of leftovers from Tuesday lunch.

On Saturday I started a pot on the stove. One of those cast iron coated with enamel pots, with the cool lid covered with dimples on the inside. Into the pot when our carrots, a few onions we had to buy (because we gave out what we grew in the CSA) and celery from the gals at Hamilton/Lauraville market. And 3 things our butcher called "soup bones" of beef.

Within an hour the power went out. Then the sun started to set. And the house went to freezing. And Homer, the dog and I found a hotel for the night. The hotel room had a little kitchen, so we took the pot of food with us.

When we settled in, warm and with lights, we put the pot on the stove. Added every teeny tiny package of salt that was there into the pot, and set it to cook.

The front desk manager called and tried to charge us an extra $100. He told us we had received the corporate rate, and that Sunnyside Farm was not eligible for that rate. After some ranting and raving on my part he relented, and our rate stayed the ridiculous low rate that the reservation clerk at the corporate 800 number had given us. He did not seem to realize that $100 is a new, hole free pair of muck boots for Homer. Homer could stop wearing plastic bags inside the boots and go back to wearing..socks. And boots. I was not giving in on our rate.

After this, Homer and I realized we had hours to go before dinner would be ready. So we got a pizza. And let our dinner cook, then into the hotel fridge.

Sunday morning we packed up for the quick trip back to the farm. The pot went into the snow in the back of the truck for the ride. Then onto the table on the shaded back porch. No power, and it was the temperature of a fridge out there.

Homer hooked up the generator to the furnace, a lamp and the fridge. The pot then went into the fridge.

Sunday night, power! Just in time for his favorite show, Amazing Race.

Monday came and went.

Tuesday, lunch time and we were both starving. Easy to heat up Saturday not really dinner but by now we are both..hesitant. What a hot mess this is going to be..

And it is delicious! Fantastic! Every morsel tasty, melt in your mouth good. From a few ingredients, oddly handled.

When people ask us about cooking we have to admit that more often than not it is unorthodox..but tasty.

Homer and I now have to decide who gets the small amount of leftovers to heat up. I've tried to remind him of me backing down the front desk clerk for $100 towards new muck boots for him..but Homer knows me and does not back down easy.

I love farm life. He can have the livers.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

batten down

Homer has been fighting the nighttime temperatures. It went from a couple of nights where it was cold enough to produce a light frost to snow, hard freezing and desiccating winds.

Yesterday was spent getting the sides on the hoophouse. Now, all winter, when the sun shines the temperature inside the hoophouse will jump to at least 80. No matter the outdoor temperature. As the the sides are battened down it is suddenly summer again. At least when the sun is out.

Lettuce and other fresh greens love this. For us, the feeling is mutual. Fresh greens? Thank you.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


one large turkey, coming up..

frost survivor

While some plants that originate in warmer climates shrivel up and die at this time of year, others hang on and bust out come next spring. We have a shady area between the house and the other building that I envision filled with moss and ferns only, along with the occasional mushroom. We have lots of different mosses growing here, and ferns too. Here is inspiration for that area:


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