Monday, December 31, 2012

new year

My folks had the old style champagne glasses: the flat ones that hold a tiny amount. When I was a kid, I thought it was awesome to stay up on new years and drink Tang out of one.

This year there will not be Tang in my glass. It has been a great year, 2012. Farming is always challenging, the world shifts constantly, and what we get to do here adjusts accordingly. Much has been accomplished since we moved here: the first year was the most challenging, the most exhausting, the most taxing. There are projects we want to begin and complete on the farm, and plans in place, but the critical, can't function without it infrastructure has been put in place. In 2013 we want to locate a dog that will patrol the property at night, to live warmly in the 2013-2014 winter, to host a few more meals and events here, and to continue to grow all that we have here in the past. Beef, pork, chicken, eggs, turkeys and vegetables. Chemical free.

We will launch our Speedy Seeder Kickstarter campaign on January 2, 2013. Homer keeps working on planting an accurate number of seeds each week so that our harvest is correct through the CSA season, and the Speedy Seeder is his answer. He patented a tool years ago and the results were a great learning experience. We know Homer's Speedy Seeder works, for accurate number and placement of seeds and to prevent weeds. And we know that producing less than 800 units does not make sense financially. But to produce that many and not sell them means we would bankrupt ourselves.

It is astonishing that Kickstarter exists for product launches like ours. If we don't sell or raise enough to get to our financial goal we don't get a dime and we do not produce a single Speedy Seeder. If we hit the goal, we put a lawyer, web designer, tooling designer, production and assembly, box maker...all within 50 miles of here, to work. UPS too, to get orders to people who order them. But if we don't get to goal our lives go on, as we have for several years here, growing, harvesting, taking to market all that we grow. Kickstarter allows an idea to spring from a brain and become a reality, all by offering a platform to demonstrate an idea, to show how it has worked with our winter plantings that went in the ground in September, October and November. Our video, as you will see, has sound deficits. In portions of it the tweeting birds almost drown Homer out. Shot with his iPhone propped up on a home made stand, in less than 5 minutes it shows start to finish the reason why he uses the Speedy Seeder for planting, and why it is such a help in growing from seed. Any seed. Vegetable, herb or flower.

Astonishing. That a platform like this exists, that creative people like Homer and thousands of others can dream up ideas and communicate them to people all over the world. It costs nothing to submit, nothing to run or operate unless we are fully funded, and then a percentage of pledged amount goes back to Kickstarter. In the meantime we are not strapped financially. We can monitor and let our local partners know the status, can help them plan and schedule our work and production time. Can continue to do our daily chores, get eggs packed, food delivered, repairs made all without worry of losing the farm going into debt.

A staggering number of businesses fail in the first 5 years. We have been fortunate to operate the farm for more years than that, and each year we manage to make a living at this. Not fancy, but lovely. Not rich in money but rich in time, in energy, in friends, in family, food and fun. We do not have to risk our home or time to offer The Speedy Seeder: we will know by mid-February if we can manufacture these, and will have them shipped out for the 2013 growing season. And at the same time can milk the cow, make a little cheese, pack some eggs and get ready and be ready for the intense growing season of 2013. We just love that, and marvel at it. This is a great country. And a land of true opportunity. We are happy for the opportunity.


There are some weeds in the hoophouse even in winter. They grow in the walkways, and in beds where the vegetables were harvested in the fall but not cleared and replanted. Since there are lots of planted beds in there we can't just let the laying hens in: they will eat every green thing in there! So old fashioned hand weeding.

And then feed for the cattle. Not all of the herd will eat the fresh greens, but enough do that it is worth while.

With snow covered fields the herd is also getting hay. There is still plenty of pasture out there but it is harder to get to now, as both snow and ice cover the ground. Today we get some better looking hay for them, grown just around the corner. Country corner that is.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

you know

It is really cold out when the dog will allow us to put a jacket on her.

The first time we tried it, she got mad at us. Sat with her back to us, ignoring our calls to her. Occasionally turning her head around long enough to give the stink eye.

Now she knows better. If she is going to be out there and return to the house not just a shivering bundle of nerves and frozen parts, the extra layer is needed. And welcome. She still hates the sound of velcro opening.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


Homer built his milking parlor from the rain barrels, stacked sideways for winter storage. It is so cold here now that left upright they would fill with water, freeze and crack. Figuring out another use for the barrels: a wintertime wind block, seems like an easy reuse of on farm materials.

Sybil is getting used to being milked again. The first couple of times she forgot how to stand still and knocked the bucket over. Each time she gets a little steadier, and lets Homer complete the milking until she has nothing left. Then we watch the cream separate and decide what today's milk will bring...

Friday, December 28, 2012


Our milk cow is one patient cow. Unlike the dog, she will let everyone pet her and even adorn her with holiday she is doing an imitation of one of Santa's reindeer.

She has been feeding 2 calves for months now. Things have slowed down on the farm enough that we have milked her a few times, and have spent time studying up on cheese. It appears to be simple, and year incredibly complex. Correctly done it yields beautiful soft, semi soft and aged cheeses that are a delight to consume: mix takes yield stinky and disgusting messes that even the pigs will not eat.

Homer has begun to separate Sybil from the herd at night on a more regular basis. The calves still milk her when he can't, but when he can it is experiment time here! Sybil is patient and kind with us, and as she takes care of the rest of the herd, guiding them around the farm, keeping them marching across the field in a straight row, so that they are all together and miss little, she is teaching us too. No cold hands there Homer.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Snow and all! It is happening, winter is really here.

The snow changes the ability to see what happens here at night. We lost a duck the other night, and the tracks in the snow lead Homer right to a den, and a spot under the fence where a hole has been dug.

More snow, and another night, reveals even more. A plan of defense is being formulated.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

bay leaves

We had a lovely Christmas with family. And back to the farm for a day of snow, sleet, rain and general winter weather mayhem. The wintery mix has continued all day and shows no sign of stopping. Reports of slippery roads and cars sliding into spots they should not be abound.

A slow, all day dinner was prepared. A pack of our beef cubes, along with garlic, onions and spices went into a Dutch oven on top of the stove. Browned a little, then a full jar of tomatoes we canned this summer on top.

A few hours pass, and the bay leaf from the branch brought to us by a friend, from her tree, was added. Hot peppers from our garden. A little rice.

A tray of deviled eggs on the side. Yum.
Life is good.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

It snowed here Christmas Eve. Unusual kind of day, reports tell is it has been 10 years since we have had snow in the eve!

Here, the cattle are coated in snow. The boar is holding the hose, giving water to the sow. And a Christmas gift of a hog pen is completed with a bow.

May your beef be grass fed, your pork, chicken, eggs and turkey be pasture raised and your vegetables be chemical free!

Monday, December 24, 2012

pen welds

The mobile pen design has evolved a bit.

Welds instead of clips. No twisting and clamping, and a tad taller.

Merry Christmas Eve!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

what to plant?

Should you decide to grow plants from seeds in your own garden, how do you decide what to plant, and how many?

We grow for more than just us. We plant for a 40 member CSA, and work to deliver an average of 8 items each week. An example: a bunch of carrots, radishes, beets, lettuce, spinach, chard, herbs and peas.

Folks want 8-10 carrots each week. For cooking, eating out of hand, shredding into cakes. How can a grower know how many have been planted? So that week by week a family gets enough, but not too much.

Carrot seeds are the tiniest seeds ever. A usual single packet holds 3,000 carrot seeds. What does that mean? Does every seed go in the ground on the same day? Will that result in tough carrots at the end of the season? And if, planted too close, will the harvest be carrot dental floss? If too far apart, will the result be a bed of weeds?

As growers, the numbers each week, and how to know what they are, has been frustrating. Thinning and weeding are certain to bring on carpal tunnel if we are able to produce the right number of carrots: a little more than 10,000 each year. And the tiny seeds are impossible to place, they stick to fingers and end up bunched up or not there at all. Against the dark dirt the seeds are impossible to see. And carrots are always tough to start, taking several weeks before sprouting while the weeds grow strong around them in a freshly planted bed.

Homer had enough. For years he worked in metal: sometimes a completely custom, one time object for NASA or military subcontractors. Sometimes in production where a piece needed to be exactly the same, in quantity, for years.

He trained in metal work, precision sheet metal, with his father. And as he tells it, a bunch of other old guys who teased him relentlessly, advised him when he was making something backwards to stop and think before advancing, and who also taught him hundreds of tricks to get things made. Knowledge those men had learned over decades: how to keep all of your fingers when working with heavy materials, sharp blades, several ton presses.

Homer spent time working for a company that made hundreds of prototypes for all kinds of use. The engineers would say "all this stuff needs to be fit into something, please do that" and back and forth they would work, until the thing could be put into production, where he helped figure out best and fastest practices.

Things changed. Computers became more powerful. Able to put 3D into use in design, slowly eliminating the need for prototypes. Data could be manipulated rather than materials. Dimensions of components were fed into computers, and manufacturing/tooling/layout guidelines spit out. The most interesting: the trigonometry, the visualization, the how best to lay out patterns so the least waste and most used of materials work slowly became a very small part of his time.

He was asked to take programming classes, and in classes with engineers he could always write the program and get it to produce the assigned shape or cutting pattern the quickest. He was told of promotions in his future, of a desk job. One spot all day long everyday. Sheer torture to a man used to moving all day, rarely sitting, and with a keen and active mind.

He switched work. Started building custom furniture. More than one person cried when he completed a job "so many looked at this and said no way, and here you have it finished, beautiful". And then farming. A desire to eat better.

And those pesky carrots. And lettuce. And beets. Those tiny little seeds. And a love of having 2 working hands as needed, avoiding carpal tunnel from that same, repetitive motion of seeding beds, trays, pots. Of thinning the too crowded seedlings as they sprout. Of weed pulling. And finally of harvest. Every motion, every 10,000+ carrot seeds and all the rest of the vegetables. Thousands of weeds to pull with the same hand position.

There has to be a better way. For years he has tried many things, different methods and materials to reduce time spent, increase accuracy, decrease weeding and produce a known number of each, week after week.

What he has figured out has been called, by 2 people in the last few weeks, a game changer. Always our goal is to keep ourselves out of debt while producing what makes our CSA members happy. And to farm without fossil fuels, without expensive, debt inducing equipment. Vegetable production accurately while blocking weeds. Using simple, low tech equipment. Made in America. And to share that knowledge with other growers.

We submitted his plans to Kickstarter. To offer his Speedy Seeder to people all over the globe. Nope they said. Not the kind of thing we do. Rewritten and resubmitted. Close they said, but not there. Rewritten and resubmitted. Accepted! Video reviewed by friends in the business, who say "wow, the sound is awful but I get it, I understand what it does and see the value, this thing is a game changer".

Miles to go still. Launch will be January 2, and run for 40 days. Legal, website, production, instructions, packaging for shipping, labels, UPS accounts, Amazon clearances will all be finalized if we get to goal in February. Anticipated delivery end of March. If we hit goal.

While certain we are missing some details, maybe we are close to covering most things. Homer even designed The Speedy Seeder to fit in a standard size box, built by a local box maker so we can just go get stacks of them when (if?!) we need them.

These photos show an example of lettuce planted with and without The Speedy Seeder.

Fingers crossed. We want everyone growing from seeds. It feeds bees, feeds us. If it is easier, less time consuming and trumps the weeds maybe more people can have victory gardens. We can dream, right?

Saturday, December 22, 2012


It is winter. It is cold and extraordinarily windy today. The world didn't end yesterday, but the wind is breaking up plenty of the things we own and use on the farm.

When people wonder what we do in the wintertime: besides growing eggs, beef, pork, vegetables and a dairy cow, the answer is always the same. Repairs. To all sorts of things. This repair did not need to be done yesterday. Yesterday it was intact. But today the cow shade, mobile, is in pieces.

At this time of year the cows don't really need it. So it is added to the work list.

Friday, December 21, 2012

a plan and a hope

Homer has a plan, and he has even named it. ARC. Apocalypse Rescue Cabin. It involves our livestock trailer, rain barrels as pontoons, the camp stove and a few other bits and things.
I have a hope. That Homer's plan never has to be enacted.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

step this way

We do not have a barn. And we have a milk cow. She is sweet natured and loves visitors and getting rubs and pats. Don't touch the dog, but the cow is fine.

Her calf, and the additional calf she has been nursing, are big now. That means it is time for the farmer to have milk again!

The calves have been consuming all she produces for months now. When we attempt to get milk from her there is not a drop left. Homer reused the rain barrels, stacking them into a configuration like walls, to cut down on the wind. He removed Sybil from the herd, put her into a separate small paddock area, then escorted her into the alfresco milking parlor.

A bucket and a half later there was half a bucket of milk. She kicked one over. It has been months since she has been milked, but once she is back in the routine all will be well. And tomorrow, grass fed milk from our cow in the coffee. We will milk her again Friday morning, with visions of ice cream dancing in our heads. And yogurt, cultured butter, cheeses...booya...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

per acre

Friends asked if we could host a student for a couple weeks: during the between semester break. Sure, if that student is ready for farm living!

Our student arrived yesterday. TJ will spend little time here, as there are outings and trips scheduled every other day with the group of students visiting the area.

He is studying in Georgia. And originally from Seoul, South Korea. Seoul is, by any standard, a mega city: more than 10 million people. 45,000 per square mile.

On the farm, it is 3 people per 13 acres. Today, we expect a couple of visitors which will ratchet that up to 4 per per 13 acres. TJ had a chance to meet our milk cow. He also requested to sleep past 6am. He might just be a tad freaked out at how much of nothing there is here :).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


These 2 doors. We have a plethora of ugly, industrial looking metal doors on the farm. These doors need a bit of repair, a bit of cleaning, and once Homer works his magic on them, they will be a warm welcome.
And light. I just love when a door lets in light. Such a great find, and at the right price.

Monday, December 17, 2012

local timber

There is a saw mill just around the corner and up the hill from us. I'd have never gone up there alone, but Homer is a brave man and always wants to know what is going on around us.

There is an open air mill. The blade is at least 6 feet in diameter. Entire trees get sliced up in no time at all.

And the results are these beautiful timbers. Inspiring. Gets us both to wondering: with a stack of these, $50 each: what could be done? How could we change things here on the farm? How beautiful would the results be?

Homer draws and we think. Chat. Redraw. Dream.

It will happen and it will be local.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

working, thinking, planning

The daily farm chores are at a quite manageable level these days. It allows us to work, think, plan and meet up with friends and colleagues.

Planning for conferences, giving talks about farming, writing grant proposals, building models, conversations about ideas. How to expand farming. How to harness the sun. How to put food by.

Homer loves to grow things, but hates the tedium and monotony of setting seeds. Without a tractor (and no desire to own one) the setting and starting of seeds is a time consuming and thankless task.

The dirt is the same color as the seed. The most favorite vegetable, the carrot, sprouts from tiny tiny seeds. After several years of planting by hand and finding gaps and crowding and many weeds...and carpal tunnel from thinning and a disappointingly small harvest Homer has worked to find another way.

The result is his Speedy Seeder. This planting method blocks weeds, allows known precise location of seeds and spacing, and enhances germination of seeds for an exact number of harvestable vegetables.

In short, for a farm like ours, this little piece is a game changer. Each week we deliver 8 shares of vegetables to 40 households. Using the Speedy Seeder, we can get seeds in the ground weekly, with the knowledge of exactly how many we have in the ground. 40 shares of 10 carrots each, each week? That's 400 carrots a week. On 3 inch centers, Homer now knows exactly how many to put down (with a few extra for the farmers) and can do this with every tiny seed we plant.

We submitted this for a kickstarter campaign, and have been approved for it. This will enable anyone to order a speedy seeder and get delivery in April of 2013 if we make it to full funding. Launch will be in January, and the campaign will run for 40 days. Funds raised will go to paying for tooling, packaging, legal production and shipping fees.

Meanwhile, work continues on the house of the future. A site has been located, renderings rendered. A scale model will be constructed this week.

We are also working with York BFBL to have a yearlong slate of events next year. Planning, budgeting and scheduling are under way.

And bigger visions too: how to support farmers keeping animals on grass, locating and building large enough infrastructure of support for products produced, lining up funding.

And little by little our farm and infrastructure is shaping up too. Not exactly where we want it yet, but more visible everyday.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

rolling on

We are mystified by many things these days.

Today it is egg production. Last year in December we couldn't get the hens, even young pullers, to lay eggs. Now? Even the old nags and hags, separated out and placed in a pen for the oldest gals, are making whopping eggs.

66 in this basket alone. Tickled, we are.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


The last couple of days Homer has been working on a project doing a few cosmetic changes in a room. A preholiday makeover.

Light covers, ceiling painted, walls and the trim painted, new floor installed. It is amazing what just a difference a few days can make.

My favorite part is being able to see the old floor under the floating cover in the hoot what was a mosaic of multicolor tile is now transformed into a room with a beautiful foundation for what will be added. And everyone is happy that all this took just a few days, no mess, and done while the homeowners are able to work and sleep and live as usual. No disruptions in their ridiculous busy schedules. I'm betting the furniture delivery will be a bigger hassle.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

local yokel

We work to eat local. Fresh as much as possible, but in cold winter months that is tough to do.

At the end of the growing season, we take the final beans we missed and separate from pod, saving them as dry beans. Tomatoes are canned in August. A gift of bay leaves from a dear friend is kept. Beef butchered a while ago, then frozen, is used. Chicken carcass and feet get the pot going with a beautiful stock. Any other vegetables on hand jump in there too. Hot peppers too.

Cornmeal and flour from Yeehaw Farm. Eggs from our chickens.

All local, but not fresh. Some fresh, some frozen, some dry, some just hanging out in a cool spot waiting to be used. All good.

A no recipe stew is the result. Delicious

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Most times the herd of cattle gets moved to a new paddock daily. Over the course of the season it is sometimes 2 days, but not usually more than that.

Just the other day they moved onto a smaller section that was quite overgrown. The grass was waist high, and thick, but a smaller area.

The result was quite quickly, in less than 24 hours, an entire area of mud. The ground is not yet frozen, what is falling from the sky is rain not snow, and that just means nastiness. It's a mudder out there.

Monday, December 10, 2012

feeling it

Homer made the run to town yesterday. The truck was full with a variety of things, including an intern from another farm heading home for the holidays!

We have been out of our own ground beef for months. Our next delivery is in January, and not until the end of the month. He was able to trade a dozen eggs for a pound of our own ground beef. And he received a loaf of beautiful bread (half gone already). And a present yet to be unwrapped.

Such a bountiful day! Maybe he should make that trip more often.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

there are reasons

We have lots of eggs. So many that we ourselves are astonished. As we approach the days with the least amount of daylight there are usually no eggs. Or very few.

They are a couple flocks that started laying just in the past few weeks. Those flocks arrived as day old peepers last spring, and are just now mature enough to lay. We anticipated that these girls would be producing now.

What is surprising is that the rest of the flock, including hens that are 4, 5 and 6 years old, are also producing eggs.

The pen design has evolved over the years. The very first egg layer mobile pen is still on the farm, but really serves as the infirmary. It is really difficult to move and strains your back and legs. The egg layer flotilla, now, is a total of 9 pens, each with enough protection from the fox, hawk, owl, etc. The pens have shade covering and plenty of really solid roost space. The roost area is completely protected and the hens are close to each other up there. Plenty of room on the ground for scratching, dusting, running, grass consumption.

We are delighted to have the eggs. Last winter we had 2 or 3 eggs each day. By the end of October last year we had to stop offering eggs, and had to make up some eggs this year for CSA customers. Not this year! And we are loving it!

Saturday, December 8, 2012


Homer worked with metal for about 30 years, as a precision sheet metal mechanic. He worked on projects that are now circling the globe or have landed on other planets, and required a security clearance to go to work. Massive, multi-million dollar equipment was used to make things that had to be measured to the hundredths of an inch.

These days life is different. The high precision equipment is not available. What to do?

A dip in the ground, some pieces of wood, a truck tire make the bend just right. And then back to farm work!

Thursday, December 6, 2012


These days one of our favorite sights, along with blue skies and white clouds is liquid water. With it, chores are completed fairly quickly in the morning and farmers can tend to other things.

Without it water must be hauled to the livestock. At 8 pounds to the gallon this job becomes a challenging one, and can take the better part of a very tiring day.

For now there is a portion of each day where everything thaws and water flows. In the next few months this will not be true, so hauling in the bitter cold and relentless wind commences. The water always splashes out of the bucket and onto clothing, gloves, boots...there is no avoiding it. Today farmers rejoice in liquid assets.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

herd fun

The mobile shade: lightweight when empty so it can be pushed by the farmer into the next paddock, was a source of fun for the herd yesterday.

Then Silla, the jersey heifer, decided she needed to rub all over the shade cover. The cover is usually overhead enough that we can barely reach it, now it has bits of cattle fur all over it.

Funny thing keeping livestock. From one day to the next we try to stay ahead of them. Yesterday the herd got ahead.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

funny time of year

It's a funny time of year, when a week ago it was snow covered, and now it is in the 60's. it was bitter cold, cold enough to get a fire lit and be happy standing over it. Then short sleeves weather. It is wintertime for certain, as we are in December and these warm days will evaporate quickly. Getting lots of cleanup done while we can: coolers are packed up, market gear stashed for the season, truck cleaned and cleared, steam cleaning going on.

Monday, December 3, 2012

things that get away

In the warm months stuff grows. While some of the vegetables we plant sometimes do not: usually a bug or borer of some kind gets to them, but the weeds survive. It can be frustrating to prepare an area that is clear, add compost, put seeds in and harvest little.

The rewards come now, as the pigs eat every inch of everything that did not work, and as we reevaluate why.

One year is never like another. Circumstances change: rain, sun, other farm commitments, building a commercial kitchen, growing birds to be the right size. Getting cattle to thrive on grass, locating the right amount of food waste for pigs, adjusting chicken pens to have the right amount of air and light without blowing away in high winds. The list is long, and in the early spring into the hot summer the predators are a constant night time battle, sapping energy from farmers who must save livestock.

In the end, it is the pigs who are happy, the pigs who clear up and down into and including the roots of everything, weeds and all. They leave us a clean palate for next year, when we know we will scramble to beat the weeds again. No chemicals, but the pigs and egg layers are happy!

Sunday, December 2, 2012


In the night, eyes reflect light in a way that can make your skin crawl.

Fox have orange eyes. Possums do too. The dog has white eyes, and so do the cows. Even the chickens eyes reflect white.

At night the laying hens settle into their roosts, snugged up to each other. Sandi begs for a bite of a delightful farm meal: onions carmelized, potatoes cooked to tender, eggs steamed on top. Time enough to make thought out meals now, not just rushing to shovel in food. We have the opportunity to enjoy and savor the cooking and eating process. Even with all those eyes on us.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

not all alike

Our laying hens do not all look alike. And neither do their eggs.

The type of eggs we produce are referred to as "ungraded". That means a carton of eggs from us might have eggs of different shapes as well as weights. Sometimes we get eggs from the girls that are bullet shaped, sometimes round and sometimes wrinkly.

Two extremes you are unlikely to see, as the tiny one looks too little in the carton and the big one causes the carton not to close. Farmer food.


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