Wednesday, October 31, 2012

mice, cats and dogs

Mice. They are everywhere it seems. Every house I have ever lived in has mice in it at sometime or another. We set up old school snap traps, bait them, and hope to catch one in there.

We don't have cats because Claire is deathly allergic to them. With allergy induced asthma only to cats, there is no reason to have one or more in the house. My dearest friend from preteen years is also allergic. And I don't really like cats.

3 arrived on the farm a few years ago. Ladies who had worked to rehabilitate feral cats came to the conclusion that it was, in fact, impossible to get these 3 to tolerate human contact. A perfect match for us. Rarely seen, but when sightings occur the cats are on the hunt.

Then it was decided to add to our mouse fighting arsenal. We got the Jack Russell, Sandi, who with zero training arrived on the farm, starting taking care of our mouse population within a week, and has not stopped since. She is always on the hunt.

Last night a mouse was in the living room. At the same time we were. Gross, I know. And Sandi, the bad ass dog? Caught it and got it right there in front of us. My goodness what a heart thumper that is to witness!

And later, in the chilly bedroom...the temperatures are dropping, and our heat is anything but efficient in this house...she gets wrapped up in her blanket like the mouse catching queen she is. What is amazing is that she stays wrapped up in her covers all night.

No, she does not sleep with us. On the hunt all day long, and sometimes in the living room too, she is a stinky thing, the last thing I want in my bed. Other than a cat.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

post Sandy

We never really lost power. The lights flickered a few times and came right back on. Homer had cleared the vines off the electric fence earlier in the week, and had cleaned out the gutters on the house, so both electricity and water was flowing all day and night.

The wind blew and did a bit of damage. Our house is fine, but Homer's home made propeller not so much.

The cattle, even the calves, don't mind this type of weather at all. Those leather coats help.
The pigs, natural pond builders, don't have quite as much lounging space as they did a few days ago.

We are always concerned about the hoophouse cover and high winds. It is just a layer of plastic and while it would seem that high winds would shred the thing, it has withstood every storm since installed.

Chickens do not fare well in weather like this. A combination of extended wet and chill does not do well for birds. While the turkeys were ok, there were losses in both the egg layer and broiler flocks. No where near as many losses as a year ago with the snowstorm we had then, so comparatively the flocks fared much better this year. It would help if the sun came out soon so we could all dry out, but it looks like a couple more days before that happens.

The ducks are happiest, as they can swim almost the entire property.

Monday, October 29, 2012

garlic withstands hurricane

Tons of rain, gale force winds. That is what is on tap for the next few days. Our gutters have been cleared of the debris that clogs when surrounded by trees, the garage is full of what is usually outdoors, and we have ground our coffee beans in case the power goes out: because we can always heat water up with a camp stove, but grinding beans would be tougher. And coffee is essential even if the power goes out, every retail location shuts down, and the National Guard arrives. I still need coffee.

And the garlic is growing in spite of all this. The first bed planted is already showing green shoots. We are dreaming of fresh garlic next year as we hunker down this fall. almost 50 pounds of garlic in the ground...if anything happens to us, someone make certain it gets harvested next year. Along with the asparagus and blueberries.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


It is time. The national weather service is warning of dire situations here in the mid-Atlantic. The computer models all have the farm in the path of the storm, with the storm bringing gusts of 80mph. It's batten down the poultry pens and move the stuff that can end up on our neighbors property time.

Along with chores, picking and distribution.

Friday, October 26, 2012


We are excited to have all sorts of creatures discovered on our farm. Actually, we were not all that thrilled when, the other night, a possum appeared in our headlights as we pulled into the driveway! They will eat eggs and kill chickens, given the opportunity.

And a stick bug infestation can defoliate an entire tree. We only saw one and have to admit that is one cool bug. Just don't produce an army...these bugs can reproduce on their own, no male needed. Yikes.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

sunshine girls

In an effort to keep egg production going as long as possible, the pens are getting a redesign.

While the hens hate to get rained and snowed on, and the winter winds are truly no fun, they, like Homer and I, love sunshine. We all do better with the maximum amount of sunshine possible. But how to keep them cool enough, out of the gale forces and yet able to absorb as much daylight as exists?

Still screened from end to end and side to side...because the predators never let up. The ends will not have plastic because air needs to move on those sunny days. And the hens that just came to us...the ones with half beaks and gnarled feet from not having roosts...are tearing up the grass and hopping right up onto roosts. Time will tell if their feet even out.

When nest boxes were added to the end of the pen the hens jumped right in and started laying eggs. The previous owner said she wanted to get rid of them because they had stopped laying. No one told this gal...

The straw was barely in when she got in and left a beautiful egg in there!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Food Day

It's Food Day!

Healthy, affordable food is the focus. Last year the challenge was to make meals for less than $5 per person. A dozen eggs, at $5 per dozen, along with fresh vegetables and lovely crusty bread...certainly can be made for under $20 for a family of four.

A $14 chicken can be roasted in the oven with a bunch of vegetables, dinner one night, the chicken carcass simmered in water for an hour or so, then strained for stock, the meat added back in, the vegetables added to it and dinner ends up at $3 per person over 2 meals. If a lunch time sandwich or chicken salad is also in there, the cost per meal really drops.

We will be eating from the farm today. Food put up: frozen or canned or even still in the earth. Of course, we have to amortize the cost of the farm into our meals...

Eat well! Happy Food Day!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

winter water

In the summer time, when we are running 20-30 pens of poultry that are moved daily, we use the bell drinkers. It is a system of bucket, tubing and water trough that refills as the poultry drink. Except when things clog the tube or there is too much algae in the bucket. It works reasonably well when we have many pens to move and lots to do in the summer.

In the winter time, these drinkers are dismantled and put into storage. Cleaned out, and then cleaned out again in the spring when they go back into use.

And the older, simpler way of watering the poultry commences. As autumn moves along we have fewer and fewer birds: until after Thanksgiving, when all we have are the egg layers to care for. At the same time the temperatures move lower every day, rendering the bell drinkers useless.

Back to low tech methods of watering birds. A short sided tray that can be used all winter (the frozen ice can easily be knocked out of it in the morning) placed outside the pen is filled with hand carried water. Right now we can still use the hoses, but those days are coming to an end. The tray is outside so the farmer does not have to roll over the thing, pull it out of a pen of birds, and so the birds can't...uh...use it as a toilet...

Monday, October 22, 2012


Chickens free to a good home. Ad on Craigslist this weekend. Not too far from the farm, numbers and chicken variety seems uncertain. Clipped beaks mean earlier life might be suspected: are they refugees from a factory farm, worn out and worthless? If their beaks have been cut off to prevent pecking each other will they still be able to snap off a blade of grass and eat it?

Over the years we have been given chickens. Families start out with a couple of chicks, grow them out, then they are thrilled to get eggs, amazed at what is produced in the back yard.

Then the birds go into a molt: their feathers break off as new feathers grow in. The birds that were beautiful, glossy and full feathered look bedraggled, flat and a bit beaten down. The eggs stop. And the family wants vacation. Hiring someone to watch, water, feed, let hens in and out of the barn for zero eggs seems silly. Winter approaches and getting water to them in the cold seems truly awful.

Our laying hens are typically housed in a different pen than the broilers. A higher topside with a roost, as these girls love to jump up at night, but the roost needs to be high enough they can walk under it all day scratching. Bell drinker and nest boxes. Still easy to move, and for the winter time a different drinker and maybe a clear cover to protect from rain, wind and snow while allowing for maximum light. Hens prefer as much light as possible. They don't lay eggs much in December or January.

But there is already an egg this morning. In the pen these "not laying we are going on vacation and need them gone today" girls now occupy. Turned out yesterday onto the grass they have been happily scratching and eating as best they can.

And whatever plans for work today existed get shelved. A new layer pen is needed, most parts are on farm, just assembly and then the hens get relocated again, into their permanent home.

And we hope they feather out. Get pretty again. We are pulling for you girls.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Farm changes happen when the time is right. When there is the right energy, work load, cash flow.

After visiting an aqua phonics setup we wondered about growing and feeding fish. A chef posted about fishing for yellow perch in Lake Erie. Hours north of here, in a colder zone. Maybe not the cleanest water.

Can we replicate those conditions and keep fish alive, even grow them to eating size? Can we grow something to feed them right here on the farm?

While our conditions are certainly not optimal, the barrel cost us $12. The setups we have seen cost $15,000 and up.

Time will tell. The goldfish that went in there earlier this year look good sized. The nutrients cleaned from them have been recycled on the farm. For a less than $100 investment it is certainly worth a try!

While out and about Sandi helped get the truck loaded up. Straw is always needed.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


We have never grown enough garlic. Of the 26 weeks of CSA distribution we give out garlic for 7 or 8 weeks. It has looked like a massive amount to us when it is going into the ground but it is not enough. We use 2 heads of garlic each week, year round. Our CSA customers might not need quite that much, but we are still aiming for a head of garlic in each share per week. That is 1,000+ heads of garlic for our 40 share CSA.

Seed garlic looks just like what you buy to use in cooking. It has no growth inhibitors applied, so that each clove can be separated, planted and can sprout and eventually grow into a head of garlic.

The toughest part is breaking up the cloves. They are tough, firmly attached to each other and a challenge to split up. The papery shells of the garlic are everywhere, as the cloves come apart the paper goes everywhere.

Then each of those 1,000+ goes into a hole, is closed up and the top dressed. We are always testing the placement and distance between what we plant and grow, and are always working to close the gap...but trying not to end up so close that plantings do not grow properly.

Garlic grows all winter. When spring arrives it grows like crazy, and we pull it and use it fresh, without curing/drying. Come on spring!

Friday, October 19, 2012

clearing and planting continues

Seeds are pretty cheap, in comparison to all the costs of farming. Depending on the plant grown, seeds can be a few pennies per plant or a few plants per penny.

We save as many seeds as possible, although the strict guidelines of having seed isolated is not something we adhere to. Garlic is going in by the individual clove, leeks are in, carrots, radishes, turnips, salsify and other cold hardy vegetables. There are herbs that can last all winter, those are going in too.

The current work crew is comprised of a couple of pens: one with a pair of Hereford pigs, one with a flock of 50 mixed fancy egg layers, and a few white leghorns from the hatching program thrown in. They are tearing it up for replanting, with seeds going in the ground every day. Yup, in October.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Symphony of the Soil

We picked, packed, chores done, went to deliver yesterday. Homer had a dentist appointment. So off we went.

There was also a screening of the film Symphony of the Soil. A beautiful and thoughtful film: the first part a good summary of the types of soil around the globe and then a terrific overview of the types of farming and scientists responses to them. Even our favorite insect, the dung beetle, gets a shout out!

The director of the movie was there to introduce the film and to take questions after. From San Francisco, she has made a number of movies in the last decades. It shows, as this was a well done film.

All the people we read, study and watch are in it. Many people who have gone no tillage, chemical free were featured, showing techniques that marry old knowledge with scientific discoveries. It was well worth a late night for these farmers!

Now, Deborah Koons Garcia needs to turn her skill and knowledge to the bugs that populate a chemical free farm, and find the connections between our food, the bugs, and productivity and health. Homer and I know a thimbleful, and we need someone with resources to visit all of the scientists and summarize as beautifully as was done with the topic of soil. Onto the bugs and how we need them for truly vibrant food, open pollinated, fertile food!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Our pigs graze every day, moving through the property at a good pace, eating every inch of sod.

We get restaurant leftovers, foodstuff scheduled for the trash, from a variety of places. The other day a bunch of brown bananas was offered to us, along with the question "would you like those packed up by themselves?" Oh my! Visions of banana bread!

Our freezer is being filled with loaves of big and little sizes. Yeehaw Farm flour, our eggs, organic sugar and pig bananas. Delicious for us and plenty of other stuff for the pigs. Each week there is more than a garbage can of food pulled out of the waste stream and redirected to the pigs. And in this case us.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

work days

There are work days and then there are work days on the farm. Everyday we move, water and feed livestock. We check them a few more times a day to make certain all is ok, just a quick wall by to make certain water is available and all are where they are supposed to be. Planting, weeding, harvesting.

And then there are work days where tools come out. On Saturday Homer had assistance from some local students in preparing the hoophouse for winter. Since if froze on Friday night lots of plant growth died back. Not the weeds of course: they survive everything!

The rain gutters down, the rain barrels out, the grass scythed where pigs have not been, the wiggle wire and plastic back up.

The hoophouse had a vented roof. But it is a very large structure, and Homer removed that potion because regular climbs to the peak of they hoophouse (about 16 feet) is not to his liking. With just a layer of plastic between him and the ground with the ladder fully extended it makes total sense to me. So the sides get pulled on and reattached with the seasons.

Tools are needed, valuable and easily lost. Drill bits have a way of becoming unattached, flying where you are not looking and ending up where a pig or cow might eat them. Not the goal. So to have a work day where all tools, parts, bits, gloves and fingers and toes are accounted for is always good. Mission accomplished on Saturday.

Monday, October 15, 2012


In Pennsylvania a truck can be registered as a farm vehicle. The truck must only be used for farm business and can be on the road without a tag, as it has a sticker that replaces it. Driving to the store for coffee does not qualify as farm business, but getting farm gear does.

This truck was used for (in the last 2 days) for hauling a truck load of wood from our local saw mill for the hoophouse. For pulling a pen to the neighbors, hauling the parts back after the thing fell apart and then pulling another pen over that survived the trip. It was used to pickup an over the top load of windows and insulation. And hauling a full load or two of compost.

My truck is a regular, road worthy vehicle. In the past 2 days vegetables, eggs, flour, buckwheat and chicken was hauled in mine. The bed was filled with acorns hauled from friends yards. And emptied out for the pigs to eat.

My truck has regular tags, so it is the one we can take to get an ice cream cone. While that seems like official farm business to us, it is not to the eyes of state officials, so Homer's truck does not usually make that trip. Can't really justify the trip to the police.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

sides up!

It hit freezing the other night. The okra, tomatoes and basil are now spiny slime.

The temperatures are scheduled to be warmer through this week, but winter is coming. The rest of the rain barrels were emptied, and the dog did her job as the barrels and the stands beneath them were moved: rodent patrol. Without and training she is on full alert, doing what Jack Russell's were bred to do. The rain gutters removed and into storage.

Then the sides are reinstalled on the hoophouse, and the temperature rises inside immediately. Sunshine and wind blockage are an amazing combination. In the summer it makes for sweltering conditions but in the is a tropical paradise. A total and complete relief from winter doldrums. A chance to get warm all the way to your boned.

Lots of plants love it too. Greens of all kinds go in as the heat loving plants whither away. Lunches plucked fresh will happen out there.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


While it threatened last Friday with overnight freezing temperatures, it appears it actually happened last night. Mid-October. Last night CSA share had teeny tiny yellow crookneck squash in it, as they turn to mush with freezing, better to pull them. The tomato plants still had plenty of flowers on them, but very few bees have been out as the days and nights have cooled down.

Buckets were filled with green tomatoes. A few red tomatoes were discovered too. The rain barrels have all been emptied and will get stacked in an out of the way spot until next year. The sides go back on the hoophouse ASAP.

Much will grow inside. The tomato plants are pulled and fed to the pigs. Thursday night the basil turned to slime, no one gets that anymore this year.

And unearthed while stripping tomatoes? A petrified horn worm, with many of the parasitic wasp eggs hanging from it. Proof of a system of checks and balances, chemical free.

Friday, October 12, 2012

baseball and gardens

Yesterday Homer and I attended the groundbreaking ceremony for a new baseball park at the Boys and Girls Club in Harrisburg. About 15 minutes from the house (as long as there is no traffic backups!) we were able to get chores done and still get to the farmers market.

The ball field is a joint effort: the Cal Ripken Sr Foundation, the city of Harrisburg, the chair of Ollie's philanthropy, the group that built MLB and NFL parks throughout the country are partnering to bring this facility to the Boys and Girls Club. Just up the hill from this site are hoophouses that Harrisburg's "Get Dirty" group have installed, growing beds are also there. Food being grown. A lovely hour of dedication, shovels of dirt, revealing of plans, and officials from every group involved. And kids too!

When it was over, Homer went and asked Bill Ripken, representing his fathers foundation and "Pistol Pete" representing the design/construction crew, where the tomatoes were going.

Cal Sr. was the 3rd base coach for the Baltimore Orioles. Earl Weaver was head coach. At the stadium there was a spot where tomatoes were always planted, every year. Seems appropriate to have a spot here in Harrisburg: Ollie's sells all the planting gear needed, there is space there, we always have extra plants early in the season, plants that will take over and engulf those hoophouse, and produce the best tomatoes ever!

Bill and Pete jumped up and told Homer "We were just talking about that! We think it should be up there, look, something is already happening!".

We see vegetables, flowers, dirt, hoops and it gives us hope. Ball parks too, the more kids can do that keep them outside, learning, working, digging the ball or digging the dirt, the better.

Here's Bill, talking about his folks and the Boys Club of Aberdeen. Homer grew up getting to the Boys Club whenever possible, lots he loved to do there. We are glad to see they are still going, still growing. We all need them.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

the garlic is coming!

The pigs are working, continuing to clear vegetable planting areas. With temperatures predicted to fall in the low 30's, we clear the beds that have been planted with the summery stuff. Yesterday leeks went in. The garlic is on order and is scheduled to be delivered any day, and the sooner it gets in the ground the better results next year.

The pigs are happy to root up any little thing in the planting beds and walkways. There are bugs that lay eggs in the ground, and as the pigs clear out the tasty roots they are happy to eat any bug eggs too. Chickens will follow and do the same. By next summer there will be weeds in the bed, but for now it is just limitless possibilities!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

over zealous

Landreth Seed is one of the oldest seed houses in the country. They specialize in older seed varieties. They do carry some newer hybrids but we never get those.

I follow them on facebook. Almost daily they post about a vegetable or flower and offer growing tips. The other day the tip was about growing leeks around here: plant the seeds now. Tiny wisps will appear this fall and then next spring they will take off. Not harvested for almost a year, we will cover the bed with a floating row cover to try and stop weeds.

Landreth is a local company. They are in New Freedom PA and have a store front. Right now the shop is filled with onion sets, garlic starts and a wide selection of flower bulbs. I asked for my leek seeds and they showed me an option: 4 ounces. Looked good to me.

Homer has a method of planting that allows for spacing on centers, filling a bed from edge to edge and cuts way back on weeding. Yesterday he put in 1200 leek seeds. And did the chores and prepared chickens for delivery today too. When we calculated that 30 leeks for each of our 40 CSA members is probably enough, we looked back at the bag I had purchased. We needed a thimble full, and I had about a cup. Oops.

Anyone want to buy some of my extra leeks seeds? Good deal on them. And we already had a seed pack anyway.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

liar, liar

Homer is making a liar out of me. I always tell people our CSA members get every vegetable we grow, that we don't sell the vegetables on a piece by piece basis. We pick all that is ripe and distribute that day, to our members. 3 days a week, to a total of 40 shares.

And then. Our CSA members have a moment where their eyes roll back in their heads. "Hold the hot peppers" "I have 2 tons of sage in my kitchen, what in the world am I going to do with all of it?!". Never do they say this about basil. Or sweet peppers.

As a kid, Homer's parents would hand all 6 of their kids...and any of the many cousins and friends hanging about...needle and thread and a couple of bushels of string beans. The kids would string them up: pierce each bean with the needle, slide down the thread until the thread was full. Hang them up until dry, eat all winter. After being pulled from the string, into a pot with water, potatoes and a smoked bit of pork.

Today, their might be a federal investigation into a variety of crimes associated with these tasks: arm each child with an instrument that could poke body parts out? Make children go outdoors, pick beans and help put them by? String...thread...what dangers lie there?! Isn't the only edible vegetable one that arrives in several layers of plastic and a nice dose of chemicals to boot?

I digress.

Homer was remembering his days of stringing up beans. If you are on Facebook with me you might have seen his bean stringing video I posted a few weeks ago. I must admit that I could not, at first, figure out what was going on. As a kid I was allowed to handle a needle and thread, but it was never associated with food.

The few extra bunches of sage and peppers got us to thinking. So this week, at the Hershey Farmers Market, we will offer these: a years worth of peppers! 52 peppers strung on a string, with sage garlands at the ends. Homer's folks are smiling down on him, their needle and thread wielding grown up farmer.

Monday, October 8, 2012

from tiny acorns

We had the chance to see a couple of friends we don't see that often anymore. Folks we used to see on a regular basis, who knew us back before Homer even began talking about having a chicken, let alone cattle, pigs, laying hens, turkeys, vegetables, a commercial kitchen, a farm, ducks, feral cats and a little dog too. We moved north a bit, they moved south a bit and *poof, facebook keeps us in touch most of the time.

Our friends filled the back of the truck with acorns from their yards. Last year no acorns fell. This year there is a bumper crop, as this is the second time this fall we have loaded the truck. The pigs are happy.

And we noticed these...acorns already sprouting. There are no squirrels here...we see them closer to town, but rarely here. Just like deer, our neighbors keep those populations way down, as they hunt and eat them. So if we put them around the farm, in spots where oak trees would be nice, maybe a few would grow? The oak tree supports more caterpillars (those little things that grow into butterflies and in between feed many songbirds) than any other tree on this continent. We will withhold a few from the pigs...maybe a hundred or so, they won't notice...and plant them around.

Because, as the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

Now we need to be on the hunt for those sugar maple helicopters that hold their seeds in the tip. Because tapping trees for maple syrup 20 years from now is ok with me.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

huff and puff

The 3 little pigs have nothing on the 3 straw bale houses we visited yesterday. Part of the MD/DC/VA solar house which more than 50 homes are open over Saturday and Sunday...we selected the straw bale houses to see. The first one, with south facing glass, thermal mass floor, solar panels and a variety of other technologies, was a take your breath away kind of house. High ceilings, amazing wood work, cool showers. And the amazing walls that are rounded and soft, covered in a sort of clay that is completely finished, does not come off on you. Cob construction, use of wood from the property, at about 3,000 square feet a spacious, lovely home. The next straw bale house we had seen before, 6 or 7 years ago, when it had just had an addition installed. Many more parts are finished, and it is a beautiful and livable space, amazing finishes. On this property is another structure, used as a guest house, and just the size Homer and I wanted to see. If we are to build a cob house in our lifetime it will need to be well under 1,000 square feet, be passive solar, small but detailed. This house was just the one, after seeing the other 2, to get our brains going: while we have a house here, we are ready to have a smaller something, an efficient something, we are just not certain what yet. The 3 little pigs runs on my mind: I'll huff and puff and blow your house down! I grew up in a brick house, every house I've owned (except for here on the farm) has been brick, so stacking hay bales tight, covering with breathable material and the living in it is still a bit of a head scratcher for me. Straw. Rewnewable, grows all over here...3 cuttings this year! Clay is just below the top soil here and is what bricks are made of. We have a patch of woods, and have friends who let is know when homes are dismantled, and get wood for us. Could we build a house for cost of roof, concrete, fixtures and appliances? It is all still swirling around, but this idea seems more and more feasible.

And as a bonus on the day we picked up a huge piece of glass that Homer will find a use for, a truckload of acorns, a quick visit with the Wethington's, and a meet up with Johanna and Tom. And, in the small world category, standing in one of the straw bale houses the owner/builder describes his day job to us, and quickly we realize he knows my step-mother...
The photos are from 3 different structures, each amazing. And wonderful that people open their homes and let us tromp through! Best learning ever.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

green day

A glorious fall day yesterday. Sunny, warm, beautiful. It is a challenge to believe that nighttime temperatures are going to soon drop into the 30's.

Some vegetables do not mind the cold and can be grown and eaten all winter. Others will turn to slime when the temperature dips. Tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplants all prefer the heat of summer.

There are plenty of green tomatoes. It is easy to feed the full green tomato plant to the big pigs, and to get the tomatoes for fried green tomatoes or for a cooked sauce to go over meats. Or to roast them.

Our open pollinated tomatoes produce tons and tons of pollen. Enough pollen to turn sleeves, gloves, hats and pants green. The tomato plants have a very particular scent, one that says summertime and good eats to me. We are busy pulling tomatoes for us to eat and tomato plants for the pigs to eat before the plants and fruit become frozen, rotten and develop an entirely different odor.

These are green days of a different sort. Green everywhere, and it stains. Will stain skin if allowed to make contact. When washed, using all of the phosphate free detergent, presoak and direct sprays we have...the clothes stay green. The stains don't come out. The formulations in laundry products that are environmentally friendly are no match for our green jeans.

Friday, October 5, 2012

ode to eggs

Egg production is a funny thing. Without ever wavering there are stacks of egg cartons at the grocery store, week in and week out, every year, year after year.

To get to that there are a number of things that must happen. Light is needed. Hens love daylight, and are not keen on making eggs when the amount of daylight reduces. It makes sense, really: darkness combined with cold means energy reserves are needed to withstand cold, and the hen uses up all she has there.

Egg production is down. A few weeks ago just a couple of days of eggs looked like this. Now we can just use the smaller basket when collecting eggs. At market, people stand and look at me, astonished that local eggs are not a year round thing. It is a difficult concept if you have lived for decades, buying eggs at the grocery store: have we ever heard the term "egg shortage"?! I think not! Eggs are always available and plentiful.

Except they are not, really. We start a flock of hens every spring, a group of 100 that should start laying eggs right now. We have fed and moved them for months and months, after having them growing in the brooder. Yesterday there were 2 eggs in that pen. Two.

The current laying flock of 200 produced 6 dozen eggs. The hens clearing the rows in the garden produced an egg each. We were certain they would not lay any more eggs, as they are not the youngest and they look a little rough.

We know and understand why hens are raised nothing like the way we raise them. This daily moving of pens, outdoor living without control of light, feed, strict accounting, mechanical egg inexact. It can and usually does result in tiny amounts of wintertime eggs. It can make profit elusive, and raising the old varieties of hens we raise can make it even that more of a head scratcher.

And yet, the eggs. They are delicious and flavorful. Beautiful in the carton, full of rich yolk color in the pan, clean taste in the mouth. Clean. Chemical free.

So we begin the time of year that is difficult, with no where near enough eggs, and with explaining that, yes, eggs are everywhere. In every store. Just not our eggs. There will be days in December that Homer and I will lay claim, with each other, over the 2 or 3 available eggs, where, with indignation, one of us will tell the other "I had plans for those eggs!". And still, at 17 degrees we will haul warm water and feed, and move those pens because those eggs are that good. Worth waiting for.

Our flock of 200, and the 8 in the vegetables, and the 100 "fancy egg layer mix" and the 50 Rhode Island Reds and the 50 that had to be moved here when the local authorities evicted them from their suburban back yard...a total of 400 hens, twice as many as this year will lay again. As certain as the sun will shine and the seasons will change. But they will not make a whole lot of eggs between now and the end of March 2013. Which right now feels like an eternity.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

change of season

While the official change from summer to fall was a few weeks back, we know it is real by a few other indicators.

It is dark in the morning. Egg production is down. It is dark in the evening. The amount of time it takes to get work done has not changed, but the amount of light to complete that work is no longer sufficient.

We can count the poultry available and calculate quickly how many are left, how many days of delivery are left.

It is oddly warm, then chilly. Lots if fig, for extended periods. Mushrooms are sprouting all over. The air has a different smell to it, as the leaves release themselves from the trees it seems to flavor the air. And we have lettuce again, and greens. Beautiful, delicious.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

cutting edge of low tech farming

Homer likes to joke that we are on the cutting edge of low technology farming. Like the water off of the hoop inch of rain off of a hoophouse the size of ours produces thousands of gallons of water, no longer falling to the ground but instead gathering, rushing, strengthening to be able to wash out foundations.

Our low tech solution, in this case, are rain barrels. Syphoned water goes to the indoor beds, is dipped out with a bucket and used as needed or runs from the bottom into the drip tape.

The rain here can be unpredictable. While we have not experienced the drought that other states have (and we are thankful for that) the rain here will fall, fill rain barrels to overflowing and then not rain again for a while. So the rain barrels will sit, full of water, as we use the water up.

Standing water? Not a good thing. Means mosquito breeding. And in thousands of gallons of water that can be a lot of mosquitos. Our low tech solution is to put goldfish, the kind sold for 12 for $1, feeder fish, at the pet store. The fish find the mosquito larva while we work. And then at the end of the season, as temperatures dip into freezing, we move the rain barrels so they can't fill with water and break when the water expands. The fish go into the cement pond, and if the ducks don't get them they go back to the rain barrels next year.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


A hoop house. We think everyone who lives where weather gets cold, cloudy, rainy: anywhere a person can get the winter time blues, should have a layer of clear stuff between them and the elements. In our case it is a layer of plastic but a small space made of old windows will also do.

In the dead of winter: dreary, long stretches of darkness, bone chilling cold, wind that takes your breath a hoop house is a respite. When the sun shines and the temperature is 17 outside, or maybe 34, turn down the heat in your drafty house and head to the hoop house. Sunny, quiet. If you have timed it right, food for the picking and eating. And finally warm. As we enter the season when our furnace must run again we know that we will be out here, basking in the sun, safe from the wind. So will the vegetables. And the man cave? Might need a new name, as it is sunny and warm. Perfect spot for an induction cooktop and a pot of something tasty, grown on farm, simmering and ready to eat at the farmers dinner time, as the sun sets. Makes wintertime tolerable.

Monday, October 1, 2012


We have never really grown peppers before, neither sweet nor hot. It turns out that what I pulled out as weeds was actually what we were working to grow. Also early on they need water and warmth and light...a little higher maintenance a bit earlier and longer than we realized. We got this now, and next year will even have sweet peppers: bell and bull nose both. Eggplant too, we have grown them this year, not enough but now we know how. Yum.


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