Monday, April 30, 2012

stop freezing

It can stop freezing here at night anytime now!

There is something called the frost free date, when tracked temperatures are historically shown to stay above freezing all day and night. The USDA maps this, and in this part of the world the frost free date gets earlier each time the map is redrawn. It is a basic indicator of climate change..the temperature sensitive plants can go in the ground earlier and earlier in the calendar year.

Here, the official date has been mid-May. We had skim ice last night on every water receptacle on the farm. This is the tarp on a pen roof where a little water had collected from rain.

There are hundreds of chicks of various ages in pens on the field. There are vegetables that need to go in the ground. There are birds sitting on nests, keeping eggs warm so they can hatch. And there are flowering trees, bulbs, shrubs, flowers just waiting for the temperature to warm up so they can burst open.

From today onward night time temperatures are well above freezing. We will watch and cover/protect tender things and hope the frost free date has moved up to April here. We will push the limits of course, because that is what farmers do..

Sunday, April 29, 2012

cute at first

The tiny little rooster was a foundling a week or so ago. A friend contacted us about this guy who had suddenly appeared in a back yard.

At first he was cute. So little, with a tiny little rooster crow. Then Homer watched the rooster take 4-5 bites out of a pea plant leaf. And then said that was not so cute! Go eat blades of grass little guy, not what we are growing to feed our CSA members!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

strung up

The asparagus has sprung from the ground. Planted last year, 2 year old crowns, and fussed over..weeded, compost added and not cut. Pigs kept away and only an occasional single stem snack. Spears that are tender from end to end when we have tried them.

Now is the time to allow the asparagus to fern out, to settle in and build strong roots so that for years to come many spears can be pulled. Our CSA begins in May and we will harvest then, but not too much and for only a week or two, as these young plants need to gain strength.

To keep the beds clear we hand weed. No hoes here. And as the tops fern out it can make it difficult to get to the ground beneath and remove weeds. So in goes the support system for these young plants. I've seen established asparagus patches with ferns taller than I am and the ground underneath full of weeds..and look forward to the day when we feel so casual about such a precious thing..

Friday, April 27, 2012

right now

Every day we have a lovely breakfast. We are lucky enough to get cream line milk, and we use a cup to pull the cream out and get it into a delicious cup of coffee. The jar of yellow is butter, from the same batch of milk. Homer adds salt, but I love it sweet.

Eggs are in abundance, and we are enjoying them every day. Over easy with runny yolks..

And we go through the seed packages, decide what food crop and corresponding friend crop needs to go in and be planted.

Cows, pigs, chickens and egg layers are moving daily. Grass is growing like crazy. We are working to get the trailer inspected so we can get more cattle here to keep the grass down. Planning and weeding. In another 3-4 weeks we will begin processing poultry 2-3 days per week, so that we can deliver fresh. At the same time we will pick and deliver vegetables several days each week. Eggs are already being delivered. The farmers market in Hershey will start. Coolers need bleaching, vegetable boxes need clearing and cleaning. Weeding some more. Keeping an eye out for birds and what they are eating, covering if needed. Water and rain monitoring of vegetables, livestock and farmers. Early to bed, early to rise. Cold frame emptied, transplanted, refilled with seeds. Try and remember all that needs doing..

Thursday, April 26, 2012


About 6 weeks ago we received an email. The local 4H had purchased eggs and then hatched them out in an incubator and the birds had no where to go. Sure, we will take them! The brooder was empty and in they went.

Now this small flock is in a small field pen. The flock came from eggs which means it was a straight run..a mix of males and females, White Leghorn variety.

White Leghorns are the birds used in egg production houses. Thinner birds who mature earlier and average many more eggs per week than the heritage breeds that comprise the rest of the flock. It is already obvious which are males, and soon they will be separated out so the females can grow with less..hassle..and begin making eggs!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

the Beetles

I read an entire book dedicated to dung beetles. For some reason I thought they were only native to Africa, and that dung beetles had to be imported. How wrong! There are dung beetles native to the U.S.!

The chemical free, mob and move method we use encourages dung beetles to join the habitants of our farm. They lay their eggs in deep holes they drill right through the pile of dung, catching the egg, dung and dirt into a ball at the bottom of the hole.

This is one reason why our soil is changing, why what is growing here is changing. Our pastures have greatly reduced amounts of poison ivy and pricker bushes and greatly increased amounts of clover and grass.

The cows, chickens and turkeys love it, and eat what grows right up. The soil, filled with holes from dung beetles and earth worms, holds much more water, deeper, with every single rain.

To a farmer, this is a beautiful sight to behold..

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

safety first

In spite of the chill in the weather it is warm enough to have every rain barrel full of water. One side of the hoophouse has the sides off, the rain gutter on, and the rain barrels in place and full! A few days of slow and steady rain means diverting the water inside the hoophouse onto all those vegetables.

Most are closed tops, with a small hole that lines up with spots on the gutter where the water drops right in. A few have open tops and to be safe get a screen over no falling in!

This is the Homer made coldframe inside the hoophouse. The other day he pulled 150+ broccoli/cabbage/cauliflower out of here and planted them in the full beds. Then a total of 50 tomato plants were transplanted out of here and into individual holes with a bucket over each one. A real jump on the season, thanks to pieces our neighbor was discarding.

Monday, April 23, 2012

almost, but not quite

Overnight the weather was predicted to drop down into the 30's here. Most of what we have growing can withstand those temperatures, the heat lights help the little birds, and buckets over the tomato plants keep each one out of cold breezes and in it's own little area of warmth. At just before daylight it is still in the 40's.

As all growers do, we push the season. We want as much as we can to grow as early as we can, so we start, week after week, things that might be able to withstand chill and things that might not. We cross our fingers and hope all will make it. Frost free date is mid-May..except the USDA has just changed it to end of April here.

We will still watch every night and use buckets and anything else we have. Everyone of those buckets has a tomato plant under it..35 or so..2 already flowering!

Sunday, April 22, 2012


We have borage planted amongst our vegetables. Some sources say it will attract bees of many kinds as well as other pollinators. Other sources say it will help reduce the effect of the tomato hornworm. It is also used as an addition to cold water through the summer, to cool off the farmer.

All that works. And the blue is a lovely, hard to find addition!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

ethics at Penn State main campus

Last night we watched the documentary, "Home" with members of Slow Food Harrisburg. The documentary examined the globe, all footage shot from the air, and the impact of humans.

After, Donald Brown from Penn State lead a lively discussion about human impact the earth and the atmosphere, the oceans. About how thousands of scientists around the globe have agreed on the changing climate. That a few "think tanks" have been funded, for decades, to discredit these peer reviewed scientific findings. And the marketing to young, white, uneducated in the sciences males has been the goal..and has been achieved. There is a group of white males who listen to others talk about how they are under attack..and how they must put their energy to defending their rights.

Meanwhile, thousands of scientists, who look at facts, who submit and discuss for peer review articles and ideas that look at how climate is changing, and at this point quickly.

Because a few people, with heavy shareholdings in huge money making businesses have enough money to pay people to say and write nonfactual stuff..the people ignorant of science listen to this. And form conclusions that are factually wrong.

And Penn State, with all that has gone on there, is closing the department of ethics and science.

Ethics. Exactly what needs to be studied at a university. And the university that needs it the most is closing the department.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Inside, east side, hoophouse

This is our third year growing vegetables here. When we moved to this location the hoophouse was overgrown with trees, weeds and trash. The weeds are a constant and never ending cycle..and lots of progress has been made. Not much poison ivy anymore. The mile a minute has been slowed to a mile an hour. The big grass clumps continue to be broken up and removed.

Homer has a vision of beds that have a wood border around each one. It must be the woodworker in him. As chicken pens are updated with newer, lighter models, the parts are being reused around each vegetable plot. This definition makes it easier to run hoses and define where walking should and should not happen. And it does look better.

The wood is not pressure treated, so over time it will disintegrate and become part of the soil. The saw mill just around the corner now provides us with most of our wood, and is lower priced than the big box stores, so allowing wood to compost is ok with us.

Lots growing, lots planted, lots more to plant. We have been locating and bringing into the garden area the praying mantis pods, and have also discovered many lady bugs. The wasps the size of a pencil point? We guess they are there too, because the aphids appear to be gone. Looks like time to pull weeds in this bed.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Governors Award for Environmental Excellence

Last night we left the farm together. For a few hours. In spring! That rarely happens.

We traveled to downtown Harrisburg..about a 15 minute drive, to the Hilton, for an awards banquet and presentation. There was an opportunity to set up a display about our farm..Homer brought along his scale model of the place, and we had lots of photographs..and then we met other winners, interested parties, political executives, and members of the press. We had the chance to see and hear what other individuals, businesses, school districts, nonprofits and utilities are doing across the state. Michael Krancer, head of PA department of environmental protection, was the keynote speaker, and gave insight as to what is happening at the state level, including legal changes announced earlier that day.

It was a fun and interesting evening. 80+ applicants and 17 awards. A wide variety of projects and impacts. Lovely to be recognized for the type of farming we do, to be able to let people know why we farm this way, and enjoy a few hours off farm together!

Now it is time to get more seeds in the ground, move the livestock and pull some weeds. And to locate a spot for our trophy!

Homer..he cleans up nice..

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

big pigs

The biggest pigs on the farm have outgrown the biggest pen on the farm.

There is a point when pigs are just adorable. Piglets are endlessly cute and precious. They stay this way for a while, and then they turn into real workers, tearing up vegetable beds and clearing walkways. Moved on a regular basis they are an integral part of the work team.

They get a little bigger and then are not really too cute anymore. They start to look a little scary, and borderline fierce.

These 2 have reached that point. They do not look like it in this photo..they are in the area where squash and watermelon will grow this summer..and as we pull weeds we throw them over the fence for them to eat, roots and all.

Earlier today each one got out. Sort of a tag team, steel cage match with pigs, pens, boards, me, Homer, and a lovely unwitting farm visitor who became involved in the recapturing of these 2 pigs because she happened to be here. At the right time. Or the wrong time depending on your perspective.

They look peaceful in this picture. But don't let them fool you. Given the chance every stalk of asparagus, every pea shoot, lettuce, radish, broccoli, cabbage, kale, carrot, turnip, sage, potato..everything planted would be dug up and eaten in about 15 minutes by these two.

I was wondering, a little bit ago, why my back was tight. Moving slow tight. Didn't seem like I did too much today. Then..I flashed on the memory of dragging the larger of these two pigs out of the hoophouse by the tail earlier today. It does, in fact, outweigh me by a lot. Homer had a big board and got the pig moving the right direction by stopping it and blocking access to the garden. But I held onto that tail and dug in my heels while Homer ran to the other pig side.

Yes, hand washing ensued. And the crops were saved. And we will corral these pigs again someday soon.

Breakfast today, after pig capture? Mushroom omelets with eggs from our hens. And a side of sausage for all. Because we can. Given the opportunity those pigs would have us for breakfast. Omnivores too.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Homer, centerfold

Today the PASA (Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture) brochure for on farm summer learning sessions arrived. And there is Homer in the centerfold! We had a great time last year with this group and look forward to welcoming people back here for this years field day!

For years we have attended as many of these farm field days as we are able to. It is always a real learning experience to visit another farm business and see and hear how their practices are implemented. We are happy to share what we have learned with others, and look forward to being able to travel shore to shore of this country, stopping to eat at farms and restaurants that grow good food along the way! PASA is among the first in the nation to help bring people who grow, distribute and eat food that has little or no processing between farm and consumption, and we always enjoy the input and feedback when members of this 6,000+ strong membership visit our farm., and then look up field days to learn more.

Monday, April 16, 2012


The bees are out again. So are the gnats. This bee seems a tad confused..not much pollen on a battery charger.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

penned up

For some weeks Homer worked off farm this winter. During that time the laying hens were kept in a larger area, with electric fencing..that worked..some of the time..

As the weather warmed we lost more laying hens than we wanted to. We want our losses to be zero, but the hawks, owls and probably fox had different ideas.

Work was done upon Homer's return to the farm to get additional pens ready, and to move all the laying hens in them. There are about 100 more egglayers, teeny, tiny size, in the brooder right now. We will need 2 more pens for them in the next few weeks, at about the same time that turkeys move onto the field and chickens as well. Busy times, and we still need more cattle to mow the grass, our herd is already not keeping up. And we need little piglets for cleaning between rows. More seeds in today, as vegetable distribution begins in 4 weeks or so..

Friday, April 13, 2012

Thanksgiving, now, in April?!

Every year we take delivery of turkeys from the growers. Orders for polts are placed shortly after Thanksgiving, and then a couple of shipments occur.

Usually, losses are high. The first year we had turkeys the final, on the table production was 2. Out of 100. Homer sliced it thin so that we could enjoy each bite..since it cost about $1600 to get those 2 birds!

Every year we work to reduce the losses. We speak to other growers, to "experts", we read articles, watch you tube videos, books..anything!

Our first shipment arrived a couple of days ago. We have had unprecedented success with this batch, using all of the learning we have gleaned from all these different sources.

At almost 48 hours after receiving the shipment we have only 1% losses! By now with turkeys it is usually 10-25-50% losses! All rolled into one brooder, all of our learnings seem to be paying off. A lovely change to spring here on the farm.


Native, local, pollinated by insects.

And a sure sign of warm weather soon!

Busy days. Brooders are full of baby egg layers, turkey polts, chicken. All lights are in use during these cold spring nights. Weeding, seeding, bed building. Transferring seedlings, direct sowing of seeds, drip tape, floating row covers. Weeding. Homer is building pens as fast as possible as all we have are full.

Today is a beautiful day, lots will get done!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

warm weather

In the hoophouse, inside the coldframe is a 50 gallon barrel of water. Used through the winter to keep this small area warm, it has suddenly become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. In other parts of the farm the ducks eat every mosquito/hatchling..but we can't allow the livestock in the garden area, as they will eat the tender green shoots of every vegetable we are growing.

Later today a trip to the local pet store will occur. A few fish "feeder goldfish" will be purchased..usually 8 for $1..and then go right into each submerged, home made pond inside the garden area. And the mosquito problem will be no more.

When the rain barrels go in for rain storage off the hoophouse roof we will go back to get 160 of these fish..two each per they each have a companion..

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

time for battle

For the last 2 days the dog has been on leash or in the house. We are finding dead laying hens and needed to make certain that she is not the culprit. More dead chickens appeared on the field so she is exonerated.

Homer discovered yesterday a fox den dug in on our property. When he tightened the gate the beast must have lost egress, and set up residence.

Today that fox den must be cleared. Not certain how that will happen..we have some ideas..but last night was spent with walkabouts every hour and a half or so, checking on the safety of the birds. There is too much to do during the day to be up all night. And each of our chickens is too valuable to be taken by uninvited poachers.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

lights! action!

early in the morning, usually about 5am, the phone rings. A couple different days a week. It is the post office calling to alert us that boxes of chicks are on the way.

The little chicks need to stay in the brooder for a couple of weeks. Then they move outside, still covered and still with a heat light on to protect them from rain and drafts, and to keep them warm.

We have 100 chicks that will grow up to lay eggs. Later this week our first turkey polts arrive, as we start growing out Thanksgiving turkeys. And then chickens for dinner.

Busy days, as we are also building and planting out vegetable beds. Truth is the pigs are hard at work clearing the beds and walkways, we then form the bed and add thick layers of compost to plant in..yay for pigs!

Monday, April 9, 2012


The pigs really do graze. As we clear out overgrown weeds we dump them, dirt, roots, leaves and all, straight into the pig pens. The pigs wag their tails and chow down.

At the same time they dig out the entire area in their pen. Currently working in the garden area, the two largest pigs are keeping it clear..this takes no time to accomplish and they are moved twice a day. The grass goes from knee high to bare dirt in about 6-7 hours.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Here's hoping your spring holiday..whichever one you celebrate, is filled with happiness and abundance.

We are overjoyed to be celebrating another spring..much to do at this time of year and some days it can feel overwhelming..we are thankful to live this life and to have the strength and health to do all we do. The dog just wants her next meal..

Saturday, April 7, 2012

bleeding hearts

One of my favorite times of the year is spring. I love when daffodil bloom, azaleas and rhododendron, witch hazel and viburnum show their beautiful flowers.

This is the first year the bleeding heart have bloomed. Such a delicate flower, acquired from a neighbor, one who dressed her daughters in my daughters hand me downs. Such a lovely connection..our daughters, now all grown, all taller than I am, who as they grew from toddlers to young women ran around/biked around/attended school and sports in outfits familiar to me.

And now these beautiful flowers, on these sunny and cool spring days, remind me of those times.

It might be that my neighbor got these bleeding hearts from me, and me back from her..sometimes things work like that.

Friday, April 6, 2012

momma to be

The geese have gone broody. The female made her nest if February, laid a few eggs in it, flattened the nest, ran around for a bit: and now has filled a new, large nest with eggs and is on it all the time. The male is quiet now, after a couple weeks of highly vocal and aggressive interactions. He is quietly watching the pens with the chickens in them while she is solid on the nest.

While we were working on vegetables the geese had a short interaction..honking and calling back and forth to each other. Briefly. This is the first year she has done this..first time she has laid a clutch of eggs and then really sat on them. Last year she left them sit for much longer, it appears that now she has this figured out. We will know for certain in 30 days or so, when the eggs start hatching.

It is written that while she lays an egg a day in the spring they all hatch at the same time, typically within a 48 hour timeframe. She can take them all swimming just a few days after that. He steps in and guards then, almost always placing himself between the gaggle of geese and anyone/anything else.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

perennial vegetables

Many vegetables start from seed each year. A few are perennial: planted once and they return year after year.

Asparagus returns each year. Once planted it can be picked every spring for..20 years or more! There is a term used, getting them "established"..and that can be the challenge. Many times we have heard that asparagus is planted and then no sign of it the next year.

We have been waiting and watching in hopes that our bed produces shoots this year. It is a delicate balance between harvesting the shoots and leaving enough behind to fern out and feed the roots again for next year. We want to take every single shoot and eat it! Instead we will add more compost, take small amounts, and allow the plants to gain strength for decades to come!

Jerusalem artichokes, aka sunchokes, are native to the United States. These produce flowers similar to sunflowers, while the roots..not quite a potato, are eaten. They also return every year.

And the thing we love to see..strawberries plants with flowers on them..every flower means a strawberry. Not a vegetable..but it does produce every year once established.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

tomato starts

Homer is always experimenting. He is a tomato lover: from the little yellow pear to the 2 pound mortgage lifter he finds ways to consume the 12 varieties of heirloom tomatoes that we grow.

Every year we work to have tomatoes as early as possible. The varieties we grow are classified as indeterminate: which means they grow and produce until the cold stops them. The cold in the fall kills them..but in the meantime we work to fill in as many months as possible with fresh tomatoes.

Earlier this winter a neighbor removed 2 sets of French doors. He did not like how they fit and replaced them with newer, tighter sealed models. He wondered outloud to Homer about what to do with them.

Homer brought them here, and used them to make a cold frame inside the hoophouse. Inside it he planted spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage..and tomatoes. All have done beautifully with this double layer of protection, and he has been able to move the tomatoes, now each too large for their space inside the coldframe, to their own spots. Not our entire planting, this selection is the early planting with more started since then. The later starts are in the basement, under lights, over heat pads. Using electricity. It certainly looks like Homer's experiment using glass doors as a second layer of protection has worked, and next year it could be all that we do..cutting back on electric consumption, one of our favorite activities!

We do wonder if the winter had been colder, if there had been more snow would the results have been the same. It is amazing what a layer of glass and a layer of plastic can do. It has been described to us that an auxiliary heat source was a must for early tomato starts, and Homer used 50 gallon drums of water buried inside the coldframe as a heat sink. No additional power.

If we are to profit as farmers we must reduce our expenses while still producing tasty and timely food. We prefer no tomatoes to what is offered in the store now. We canned a fair number last year and in August will can many more this the jars, opened and the contents added to a piece of our beef or pork or chicken in a Dutch oven on top if the stove, allowed to cook on low for hours, finished at the end with fresh herbs from our garden is a fantastic meal. Easy: dump it all in a pot, forget it, dinner is ready. We want more of that, and more spaghetti with our tomatoes and all different kinds of Keswick Creamery cheese on top..every week next winter!

And fresh tomatoes all summer. We would love to have a glass cloche for each of these beauties, to keep them warm at night until it is warm enough they don't need covers. For now, we will use 5 gallon buckets with holes in them. Over the plants at night and next to them during the day. We have already seen Mason bees, bumble bees and honey bees out and working. Can hardly wait to see these beauties flowering and being pollinated..only good things happen after that!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

old kinds of gals

We eat eggs all the time. We have several hundred egg layers on the farm at any given time..we order more peepers on a regular basis and grow them for the 6-7 months it takes until egg production commences. We love a mix of the old varieties of laying hens..right now the flock looks like mostly Plymouth Barred Rocks, but that is only because there are Cuckoo Marans in there too. The Marans look very similar but lay a very dark brown egg.

Some of the old breeds are flighty..the Buff Anconas, Minorcas, brown Leghorns and Sicilian Buttercups lay white eggs and stay on the small side..and are hard to catch and coax back into the pens.

The Arucanas lay the blue and green eggs..we have some that are 4 years old and they are starting to look a little far, in almost a decade of egg production we have rarely processed a laying hen for the stew seems they self sort..the hawk or something gets them.

The dog has learned not to bother a full size hen..but the baby chicks are another story. We continue to work on the "leave it" command..difficult for a Jack to obey when the small ones are darting about at her feet..but we are getting there!

Yesterday the post office delivered 100 egg layers. We ordered an assortment and were happy to see this little, feathery legged gal in there..we do love a mixed up flock, no question about it.

And the eggs?! Ridiculous good. Tasty, gorgeous and full yellow yolks.

Monday, April 2, 2012

field transfer

The brooders are full. Today we get another batch of peepers that will grow up to lay eggs, so something must be done to get them into a spot that will keep them warm and dry.

Most times we have the peepers grow for their first 2 weeks in pens inside the hoophouse. Easy to monitor, feed and water and heat lights all right at hand.

This batch might have to start outside in a field pen with an extension cord bringing heat to them. While not optimal, there is no more room inside..and turkeys arrive next week! Turkey polts are extraordinarily sensitive and must have brooder space..the mix of heritage breed egg layers are hardier so out they go!

Here, 2 week olds outside!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

under attack

Some of the vegetable plants we have started don't look so good. On closer inspection we discovered why..there are aphids on them. Daily we will spray these sap suckers off of the plants, will hand pick to insure they are off.

The warm weather we had for a couple of weeks allowed bugs to hatch. Bugs we don't usually see until later in the year. We do not yet have any Praying Mantis or ladybugs out..each one of those eats many aphids in a short will use other methods to help the plants survive.


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