Sunday, September 30, 2012


Grilling, eating, chatting. We started farming because we love to eat, and the food options we found did not do justice to what we wanted to eat. So having a few chickens turned into a full fledged farm, with year round meals generated right here.

It seems only appropriate to have a massive grill for cooking. Since smoking all of those different types and cuts of meats we grow seems like the best thing to do. Homer found the tank here and modified for just this use.

And summer is here and it is just too hot to use. Cool foods make better sense, slow and wam seems like what we are all living and there is no need to amplify with wood and charcoal.

But now it is cooler at night. Lovely during the day. Even the yellow jackets have slowed down a bit.

The grass grows high back here in the summer months. This spot on the farm was used for a PASA field day in July and then it all grew back. Bring in the pigs.

Homer sets them out there, rakes over what they tear up to even things out a bit, tidy up, and make that grill available again. I'm salivating thinking about what gets cooked there...

Saturday, September 29, 2012

carrot tops

We grow several types of carrots on the farm. They are usually small, as the heirlooms are not quite as large as the hybrids.

Always people ask about using the carrot tops. Bunnies love them, but I did not really have an idea for anything else to do with them.

Turns out the Eastern Swallowtail Caterpillar loves them. And we love the big beautiful butterfly that this crazy looking caterpillar converts to. And so far it does not eat the carrot, just the greens: looks like we will leave a couple in the ground for these beauties!

Friday, September 28, 2012


Early this year, back when it was cool out in the spring, an email came in: "we hatched chicken eggs in an incubator, would you like the chicks?".

We took every one. They were added to another flock of baby chicks: all scheduled to lay eggs about now.

A few have developed larger combs. Deeper voices. Turns out hatching eggs means about half will be roosters. A rooster has a fantastic flavor while sometimes being known for being a tougher bird. So we let it rest and braise it: in chicken stock made with the feet, in tomato stock made with our tomatoes, in apple sauce made from local orchards, in peaches we can, with low sugar, over the summer. If there is time Homer will make chicken and dumplings, the best thing ever.

The roosters begin to crow before they are really large enough for dinner. These white birds with the large combs have now been separated from the flock and are all together in a smaller pen, moving in an area where our neighbors hear them from a distance, not up close. More than a dozen of these can make quite a wake up call early in the morning!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

dog years

It is generally accepted that a dog lives 7 years or so for every one of ours.

Our Jack Russell is heading towards 11, but most days we forget that. She zooms around, sticking close to Homer, running far afield to do what Jacks do: catch rodents.

Sunday she was moving as usual on the farm. Running, sniffing, digging, chasing. But since then she has had trouble moving. One of her front legs has been favored, with her putting little to no weight on it, moving slowly and gingerly. She is improving sand looked much better today.

And as she heads toward 80 we need to remember that, and maybe get her a doggie massage to ease those tight muscles.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

how weeds spread

The livestock move all the time on the farm. Because of the intense, brief visits from a variety of animals, growth can be explosive.

Sometimes 40 paddocks for the cattle mean everything grows at a furious rate while the cattle are in the other 39 paddocks. This week it meant that the weeds with burrs on them were large enough to dislodge right onto the cattle. Tails are particularly susceptible to collecting many burrs: the long hair just collects the burrs until the tail is full! Now as the cattle move to the next paddock the burrs will drop, spreading seeds.

Not the goal. While we want growth we don't need to spread seed like this. We have never seen this before and plan to not see it again. If the weeds get that high again the turkeys will need to go in first, as they can eat burrs, thistle and pricker bushes without wearing them. While it is the same chunk of land it is never the same.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

dumpster diving

We don't usually get into actual dumpsters, but we do work to prevent usable goods from going in there.

This week, the pigs have been eating a truck load of acorns. Friends who live in a neighborhood with many established trees collect their acorns and save for us. Rather than a landfill we get happy pigs!

We collect leftover bread, trimmings from vegetables, pulp from juicer bars and stale baked goods. All of it done with consent of the owner, packaged and coordinated for our retrieval times. Avoiding the landfill.

Close to us is a place that puts out furniture. Usually ugly, worn out, beat up. But many times still good. This piece will get new laminate on top, have a few pieces removed, painted and then into use on the farm.

We still go to stores. But less and less. Working to find other ways to get what we need...

Monday, September 24, 2012

soil building

If you speak to a geologist they will tell you, with certainty, how soil is formed. From the perspective of a geologist, centuries are involved, wearing down of rocks, some times a glacier visits and grinds things up a tad quicker.

As farmers, we have a simple way to build soil. We work hard to make every inch of the ground attractive to earthworms and dung beetles and other burrowing bugs.

We move animals all over, in small concentrated groups, leaving each chunk of earth for a good while before bringing the livestock back over.

And little by little: but noticeable, the soil grows. Not technically soil by the standards of a geologist. But deepening of material that helps place our brand of soil: broken down animal poop right where we want it. Building up our not really soil by geology standards but most certainly by farmer standards.

Behold, worm castings. Extra soil.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


We went backstage for an interview on Willie's network. It was an extraordinary day at Farm Aid, we really enjoyed ourselves.

Back to being farmers.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

seed starting

September might seem like an odd time to start seeds. Traditionally it seems vegetables go in the ground in the spring and that it is it.

The hoop house changes that. There are year round options of growing that surprise everyone. Including the farmers. Yesterday I found a few cucumbers: not many, but an unusual, known for warm weather (and being consumed by cucumber beetles in the summer) vegetable. Since we don't use chemicals we are constantly experimenting with how and when to plant so that we can have crops: right now we are pulling "summer squash", a plant that is consumed by a number of different bugs in the summer months. Started in early June and planted in the ground in July, these plants are now producing. There is very little bug damage to them and no chemicals at all were used to get them. We had read that a later start avoids the life cycle of most of their aggressive destroyers, and this has proven correct. Since we also grow pen pollinated, heirloom varieties and not F1 hybrids, we don't have the kind that have been hybridized to have resistance to molds and mildews or to the bugs: when there is reference to zucchini growing so rapidly that people lock their doors so neighbors don't leave shopping bags full of this over abundant vegetable it is usually an F1 and not an old, tasty (almost buttery and not a bit waxy) zucchini, patty pan or summer squash that we grow.

I am astonished at the difference in taste and texture in our summer squash. Neither waxy nor stringy, it is clean and buttery.

So seeds start at all times of year. We work to sync with the growth cycles of plants and the season of the bugs, to continue to supply our CSA members with as much of a variety of chemical free (neither organic or synthetic chemicals are used in our vegetable production, ever) and we keep experimenting with growth cycles. Homer takes it as a personal challenge to grow as much as possible out of season as he can, and here is where that begins.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Farm Aid

Farm Aid is sold out this year. Scheduled for the arena in Hershey tomorrow this all day concert raises funds to help keep this organization going, and helps farmers learn of options for lots information.

Saturday begins with an open meeting about GMO's. Anyone can attend and lots of people will! The concert begins in the afternoon and continues until 11PM or so. There is also a size able area for learning more about many farm practices and food: separate from the stage area but still speakers there so music can be heard.

We would love to attend all, but as farmers still in full production we have work to do. The concert venue holds 29,000+ people and will be full up. Fun!

Now where are my ear plugs?!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

stopping traffic

When we first moved here we paid a guy to mow the front yard.

Then we remembered that we live in the country now. Fenced the front yard and let the cows up there. With a big shade tree they love it, and the little while every month they are allowed up there they mow everything and then lie down and chew their cud under that shade tree.

Sybil has adjusted to 2 calves nursing from her. In the front yard we can hear people walking past say "oh! there is a baby!". When they are driving by and a calf is feeding the traffic comes to a stop. Of course, we don't have a lot of traffic!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Yesterday the weather was brutal. Sideways rain, heavy winds and a bit of lightening and thunder too!

The cattle don't care. It seems like the worse the weather the happier they are, as on a day like that the herd is not bothered by flies or other insects.
Without that distraction they can eat more!

We remember that on freezing cold days or when riding a motorcycle or working as a cow wrangler in heavy brush humans wear leather. As protection from the elements because it is such wonderful protection. So as the cattle are grazing and we are whining about our working conditions it helps to remember how tough their hides are! And any fly free day is a day they stuff themselves full of green stuff.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Early in the spring we noticed aphids on our pea plants in the hoop house. We found praying mantis eggs near the blueberries and pulled a few, carrying them inside by the peas. Ended up with a bumper crop of peas and teeny tiny praying mantis babies all over.

Now they are large. I've heard that they nocturnal and carnivorous...but bats and birds will eat them. And they will indeed eat each other. As a kid I can remember being told by other kids that it was illegal to kill a praying mantis...a while it seems a great idea to leave this wonderful bug alone there do not appear to be any actual laws protecting them. We try and keep them away from chickens, because the birds will eat them right up.

Such a cool looking bug and so good for vegetable growing, as they eat many pests. Our messy farm let's the eggs be all winter so that we can enjoy them during the warm months.

Monday, September 17, 2012

let no bean

go unpicked.

There have been 5 types of beans grown on the farm this year. First we started with Dragon Tongue, a speckled bush bean that was delicious, slightly lemony. We picked for weeks, until the bean beetles found the plants and ate them down to nothing.

There is also a small patch of yellow beans, still producing. And along the fence line the beans are growing...the patch where I was stung by a bee in early August is still producing.

There are bush beans inside the hoop house and then there are the beans that are climbing to the ceiling of the hoop house. They double back, cross cross, layer upon layer of bean vines and leaves, just beginning to produce enough for harvest. Climbing the ladder is essential for this harvest!

Because we use no chemicals of any kind we keep planting. In May, just as soon as the ground warmed, the first set of beans went in. Then, week by week, more went in. We grow this way so that we will continue to have beans to provide to our CSA members for as many of the 26 weeks as possible. The same approach is done with everything else we grow, we plant weekly so there is food to deliver every week.

Our selection of open pollinated, chemical free, planted in compost and usually heirloom means productivity is not as great as newer hybrid types. But the beans: they seem happy with this arrangement, and when the plants have stopped producing the chickens are more than happy to eat the ret of the plant, any eggs left on the plants from the insects, and to scratch through the ground for any bits of goodness in there.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


We learned our lesson last Saturday and did not stay out too late last night. Mehrl, whom I've known since I was a teenager, passed away earlier this year, and a memorial service was held for him yesterday.

I was reminded that early on in Claire's life, her father and I had asked Mehrl and his wife to raise Claire for us if something happened to the two of us. That summarizes how much we thought of them, what great people and how much love is in our hearts.

He was the kind of guy who tracked each of his friends, a guy who remembered family members, work situations, in short, he remembered lots of details and nuances of friends. And always asked, always stayed in touch. A great, solid, lifelong friend. A gift in a life.

He had one of the most beautiful singing voices I've ever heard. Lots of musician friends, lots of great voices lifted up last night, joining together to sing some of Mehrl's favorites...and to make a joyful noise.

I'll miss that sweet souled man. It will be tougher on his immediate family: his sister and her husband, their kids and Mehrl's wife and their 2 lovely daughters will feel the loss every day, will miss him dearly. His lifelong friends held him close in their hearts, close in their esteem, close in their actions.

Early morning, the sun rises, the fog rolls in, the flatbed truck that was brand new when Mehrl first walked.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

what's in your back yard?

This week, in our back yard, there are 4 pens of laying hens in our back yard. The grass was high as they approached, but not anymore. The ground is thatched, the weeds are eaten, the blades of grass plucked and consumed.

Eggs are easy to collect too...

Friday, September 14, 2012

home made bacon

We had a pig butchered a few weeks ago. Usually we have it broken down into parts, but this one was just split into 2 sides.

We got them back to the farm and Homer cut it up. Since this is only for our consumption (not for sale to anyone else) he is okay to piece out the pork.

The part that is used for bacon was cut into smaller sections and wrapped in freezer paper in about one pound chunks. This is the second batch he has made, the first batch was awesome and we expect the second batch will be too.

The slices are cut, honey poured over, spices added, then covered and allowed to rest for a few days. We can barely wait the few days, anxious to eat again.

It could also be put on the smoker, but we have not yet taken the time to do so. As things slow down on the farm and there are fewer chickens to care for we should be able to smoke a bit of this, but for now eating with just the marinade is a real treat!

Thursday, September 13, 2012


If you needed to separate 80 eggs just how would that happen?

Homer broke them all into a stainless steel tray and scooped the yolks out.

Then mixed with cream and sugar, into individual servers and *poof egg custard. For 75.

Efficiency. Love it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

full up!

Usually as fall approaches the egg production slows down. On Sunday this fridge had just that one lonely chicken in it. By Tuesday afternoon there were 28 dozen eggs!

There have been many design changes to the laying hen pens over the years. The girls love dirt baths, bugs, grass, weeds, poison ivy, roosts that hold the entire flock, plenty of air, grit and such. They are still making plenty of beautiful eggs every day!

Our egg CSA runs out in October. We work to make certain that 26 weeks worth of eggs are delivered, it is all based on the number of weeks we have 10+ hours of daylight, the number that works magic on egg production. This spring we went from almost no eggs at all to suddenly having 10 dozen eggs each day, and the switch in the fall is just as abrupt. I just hate it when that day arrives, the eggs are missed in the dark days of winter.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

baby chicks and the law

Chickens are known as outlaws in many towns and cities across this great nation. Some areas have changed these types of laws after citizen work with them to demonstrate how beneficial laying hens can be.

Not so for today's visitor to the. The chicks they brought to their neighborhood garnered them fines, orders of immediate removal, angry neighbors and a police escort out of town with the chicks hastily packed into cartons and transported here.

Safely in a brooder, heat lights on them, we welcome this flock of future egg layers. They have no idea the ruckus they caused and were just happy to start scratching in the dirt. Worms were pulled from the ground and these little chicks devoured them.

Egg layers. Not certain how they pose a threat to a suburban neighborhood but we certainly welcome them here on the farm!

Monday, September 10, 2012


Earlier this year we were contacted by the 4H. They have an incubator project for the kids and had hatched out more chicks than they needed and wanted to know if we wanted some of the extras.

Several meetups were arranged. Parking lots, backs of conference rooms, driveways. Boxes were transferred from back seats of cars into our trucks.

The birds grew beautifully. And some have grown to be roosters. That crow. Early in the day.

These are the ones that have been separated out and have a date to become chicken and dumplings.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

simple things

There are people who do not like chocolate. I know, I've actually met and spoken with a few.

Neither of us fall in that category. It is one of the few things I bring back from the grocery store. Except for the last few weeks, after a dear friend presented me with an entire sack of oversized chocolate bars, each one organic and/or fair trade.

Bliss! We are loved! Grocery store time dramatically redecued!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

got greens?

There is a time each year when greens are impossible to grow. There are some lettuces that are billed as able to withstand heat, but that has not been true here on the farm. Maybe in a spot where there is dry heat with irrigation, but not around here!

Greens: lettuce, spinach, collards, kale, mustard...they grow for a bit in the summer heat and then poof* seed stalks are produced, the leaves do not taste very good and the unpicked crop goes to the chickens and pigs.

Then in mid-August or so we can replant. The heat helps the seed to germinate and the tiny plant to grow. As the greens are filling out the temperatures cool off at night until it is cool, and even into the cold weather. Last year we grew and ate greens all winter, this year as the beds empty the beds are being refilled with glorious greens!

Friday, September 7, 2012

holding on for dear life

We took delivery on a few week old bull calf the other day. Right now he is a tiny addition to the farm, while next year he will have an important job.

To have milk from a dairy cow that cow must have a calf. To have a calf the dairy cow must get pregnant. In a few months Sybil will need a visit from a bull or we will need to work out an artificial insemination program for her. Sounds simple enough, but the ai person needs to be here on the correct day to make it happen, which means we must observe and track her. A bull is so much easier!

Last year Sybil raised 2 calves, her own and another. We hope she does the same again this year, and if this picture is any indication she has adjusted to the two calves. At first she would not let the new calf on her, so Homer went out and spoke to her, explaining how important this additional calf is to the farm and how she needed to help us keep the little guy alive. Sybil also got a scoop of chicken feed in a bucket, to distract her while the bull calf latched on. Homer's talk and little bit of feed persuasion did the trick: she is happily allowing both calves to lock on and get milk from her. A dairy man told me that a Jersey can nurse up to 4 calves: because the milk is so full of butterfat and their mothering instinct is so strong they can produce plenty of milk.

Sybil, Silla and the bull calf were separated from the rest of the herd for these introductions. Once everything is going smoothly they will all run together again, but for now the 3 of them need to learn to get along!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

rain and sun

Last fall we had rain that caused the bees to eat their winter stores by the end of October. It rained so frequently and so hard the honeybees could not leave the hive for gathering fall pollen. Honeybees need sunshine and blue skies to be able to work: other varieties of bees are up earlier, in bad weather and in cooler temperatures than the honeybee.

Lots of things are blooming now. I'm a fall allergy sufferer, so I know for certain there is something out there producing plenty of pollen!

The best weather for the farmer, the garden and the bees in fall is when it rains a bit everyday and the sun shines every day. A bit of each causes seeds to germinate, flowers to bloom, pollen to be collected, vegetables to be made, honey to be formed in the hives.

As the daylight changes and the temperatures change the honeybee colony changes. There are few bees to go out and forage in the dead of winter instead the bees are focused on keeping the queen alive through the winter.

Many things (squash, marigolds and cosmos among them) continue to bloom on the farm. Soon asters will replace the goldenrod and ragweed. And with a mix of sun and rain the honeybees can save more honey for the winter hive and not have to consume it early. The next 6-8 weeks will tell.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

too many?

Is it ever possible to have too many carrots? We think not.

Tough to grow in the summer as it is just too hot. They are unhappy sweating it out. At least the nonhybrids we grow. But at the end of summer we put seeds in by the thousands. In the warm weather with enough moisture they will germinate. With proper spacing they will fill in a bed. With a couple of cool nights they will sweeten to the best carrot flavor of the year.

I visited Landreth Seeds a few weeks ago. Bought almost every variety of carrot they had in stock and have been steady getting them into the vegetable beds. Lots and lots have sprouted and now are growing their frilly foliage. And we hope some deep rooted, sweet and tender carrots.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

eating local, wintertime

How can one eat local when it is freezing temperatures outside, and stays that way most of the day?

Canning, freezing, drying and cold storage are methods used with various degrees of taste success. We cook and eat beef, pork and chicken from the freezer for 6+ months of the year, and save other things using the other methods.

We also grow tons of food through the winter months. Many greens grow sweeter during the wintertime so we grow and eat them on a regular basis. There is a list of things proven by others, north of here, that will grow and keep in winter: salsify, radish, carrots, beets, greens, lettuce, spinach. For us, this list is a list of pure deliciousness, as we pull and eat these vegetables (started right now, in the warm weather of the fall) through much of the winter...they shrug off the cold and just keep growing!

By the time it is really cold out we are actually starting seeds for summertime vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant all love a very long growing season, so seeds go in the ground just as we celebrate the new year, and then we tend to plants all year!

Every year as the amount of daylight decreases we cross our fingers that some of the laying hens will continue to produce eggs. Last winter we had days with no eggs, or days where we would parse them out. We have a good sized flock that will start laying in the next few weeks and are hopeful they will produce in the winter months.

The milk cow just calved so our dairy products are going to be local for some time to come! We share the milk with the calf and take a gallon at a time for our use, not even every day. We use that milk to produce as much as we are able!

With vegetable beds planted, lots of green stuff still in the fields, the freezer and the larder filling up, egg production a possibility we hope to stay out of the grocery store except for a few things: nuts, chocolate, coffee, organic corn chips and oatmeal...

Monday, September 3, 2012

add a hambone

We have had a variety of beans this year. Dragons Tongue, Kentucky Wonder and next this one, started in the hoop house (the others were outside) so they could climb. The ladder is out because we think we will need it!

I'll eat string beans raw, run through hummus. I'll add beans to a fresh tomato sauce that cooks only for the amount of time it takes pasta to boil.

Homer's favorite for beans is the way his family made them: in a pot with small potatoes and a hunk of smoked pork, a bit of water and cooked for a long time.

I also like to steam them to a bright green, then butter, salt, pepper and parsley. Yup!

Sunday, September 2, 2012


"finish it all" I say. "please don't leave any leftovers, as they just become science projects in the fridge" is my request.

Except when Claire visits. The other day I picked up 2 sides of pork from the butcher. Not yet pieced out it was really two sides, impossible to get into our coolers. The only stop was for ice to cover it.

Homer pieced it out, wrapped it in freezer paper and put parts into the freezer. I took a piece of the fat to a chef who will render it to lard, and eventually a fig tart.

A few pieces were cooked up and eaten by us right away. Fantastic flavor and texture. Claire asked if she could put a bit into the fridge, for later use. Hopeful there was not a science project in our future, we agreed.

Yesterday a frittata appeared for breakfast. Eggs, pork, peppers, tomatoes, home made butter. Wow was it good, tender with a great mix of flavors and the right amount of heat.

The pork was top shelf. The eggs were dirty and cracked, tomatoes half rotten, peppers were the broken ones. The butter was spot on. The rejects that do not make into our CSA shares turn out to be some awesome meals. And no mysterious furry items in the bottom of a bowl at the back of the fridge in our future.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


Three times a day we eat, and some days more that that! Some meals are thrown together, others take hours of or in the stove. It is tough during the hot summer months to be inspired to cook as it is too warm to be cooking most things.

It has been cool enough at night to turn off the ceiling fans. And Claire is visiting, is a fantastic cook, and made the best meal last night!

Truly awesome: she looks around, figures out what is fresh and what combination will work, never asks "what do you want" but says "I'm thinking of making" and then does it. Fridays are busy here...most days are busy here, a meal is most welcome!

Chicken Picatta, where chicken is dredged in a bit of Yeehaw Farm flour, cooked in some homegrown butter, a bit of lemon juice and capers added to the hot pan...yum. Fresh tomatoes with basil and vinegar with it. Also some orzo with the left over sauce, all good!


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