Friday, November 30, 2012

rifle season

It is rifle season. It was bow season, but we have moved onto rifle season.

Deer are everywhere. While they don't usually come onto our fenced property, they are all around, moving all night and sometimes during the day too. Homer has spotted hunters on the hill behind our property.

There are laws about hunting, when, where, distance from private homes. Our Jersey cattle have the same coloring as deer, and from a distance can be difficult to distinguish. The pigs can also be mistaken for deer..,movement in the grass can catch attention, and from a ways away mistakes can be made.

The cattle herd is right next to the house. We want them right near us, right by us in an effort to prevent mistakes.

The pigs are in their pens and we really don't want them to escape. A new shelter for the breeding pair, tons of stuff to clear for the next pair, locations closer rather than further away. Keep it together out there hunters, know where your bullets are going. We appreciate venison as much as anyone else, and appreciate the farmer and our livestock...more, so please watch where you point that thing, and think before you squeeze the trigger.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

front yard

While this photo was taken to show the cattle in the front yard, we discovered another bit of information.

The roof of the house. The two sides, the garage and the porch roof, are solidly covered with snow. The day before we had a decent snowfall, even if no one else did!

But our house, the actual portion that we live in and attempt to keep warm, is another story. A properly insulated roof would keep the snow cold. It would keep the house warm, and not icy cold.

Looks like a bit of work needs to be done.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

November snow

It has been cold. Cold. On Monday there was a call for snow: 2-4 inches predicted where we live, little to the south and little to the north.

There must be a reason Ski Roundtop is so close...this mountain range we live on really gets more snow than other spots. Odd, because it looks level...

I attended a meeting in York yesterday. And mine was the only vehicle anywhere in the parking lot covered in snow. Covered. It felt a little Twilight Zoney.

But the livestock do not care. They work right through the snow and still eat the grass. Pigs foraging, no problem.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

tomato love

We love tomatoes. Not the almost white inside things sold in the grocery store at this time of year, but the many colored, tender skinned, delicious ones we grow here. Efforts are always underway to have fresh tomatoes as many months as possible. While we can and use those all winter, fresh is still best.

A volunteer appeared in the hoophouse. Nestled amongst the more winter hardy greens it is unlikely to survive and set flower and fruit in cold January days. If the plant produces flowers we will need to get out the paint brush on a sunny day and spread pollen for germination. While it seems unlikely, the double layer of the hoophouse and its own private additional cover will certainly help. If the winter low is after sunny days and the jugs of water stay warm inside there overnight we might just have a chance...

Monday, November 26, 2012

office work

Office work is an important part of running a farm. There is tracking of payments of both ways: in and out of the bank account. Communications with a variety of contacts via a variety of means. Tracking of taxes and those payments due.

Most of my adult life I've had a home office. A desk in the basement, then in a first floor office Homer and I shared. A couple of times I had offices in office buildings with doors or just cubicles, windows and those officy partition things.

Only now do I have the best view ever. Out of our office window a few times each year...a day or two every 5-6 weeks, the cattle are in the front yard. The view is this, the movement is leisurely passing as they mow the grass searching for tender tidbits.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving activities

Thanksgiving, and the processing and distribution of turkeys, is a busy time for us. We are beat by the time Thanksgiving is upon us and do our best to take a couple of days and relax. Of course a day or two of relaxing is easier said than done.

There are still small amounts of vegetables that need to be picked. Mostly things that were not quite ready at the end of the season, or were missed and only discovered when plant removal occurred.

Peppers, asparagus seeds, dried sage and black beans are in these jars. We used the sage on top of our turkey when it was roasting. The few peppers will dry up and we will use both seed and skin. The asparagus seeds will be planted. And the black beans will go into a pot on a cold winter day and be combined with the peppers and sage to make a meal!

Saturday, November 24, 2012


About 6 months ago this flock of hens: Rhode Island Reds, arrived on the farm. They were day old peepers when they arrived, little balls of fluff that went straight into the brooder. A heat lamp kept them warm until they grew a bit, and eventually they went outside in a pen on the grass.

Then they moved into a tall pen, and received a roost. Yesterday the nest box went in. There have been a few eggs laid in the grass so we know they are ready to begin egg production.

The slight change in the pen got them all chittery...much conversation, nest fluffing and inspection, and then compacting into a nest occurred.

Friday, November 23, 2012

lettuce in winter

There is a funny thing about growing vegetables. In the mid-Atlantic. A couple months in the summer are really awful: so hot, the weeds grow triple time, special care in watering in and keeps seeds moist to germinate must happen. In general, it is hot and dry.

Cooler weather always arrives before we know it. As farmers, every week and month in the growing season flies by, there is so much that must get done every day.

It seems unlikely, but even after a really cold night like last night there are still many things growing, and not just inside the hoophouse.

Fundamentally, greens: lettuce, kale, spinach: can survive quite cold temperatures. And weeds don't grow. So growing is easier now than during the "growing season".

In this bed, Homer is playing with his food, making a serpent with the seeds, using his Speedy Seeder. And 2 kinds of lettuce. As long as we don't touch the lettuce or kale, shown here with frozen droplets at the end of each tip, and allow it to warm up on its own during the day it is completely edible and usable.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

turkey time!

It's all over but the eating! Enjoy!

Thankful for farming another year!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

cold weather weeding

As the daytime temperatures get colder, even the weeds stop growing. This gives us the illusion of a weed free garden area from now until next spring, when we are always shocked by how rapidly and strongly weeds can grow. Some days it feels like a jungle grew overnight!

For now, the hens are between rows, clearing growth at an outrageous rate. Here they are between the rows of asparagus. Next spring we will be able to harvest from here, and can hardly wait. From now until then the rows will stay clear, and then wham weeds will be shoulder height. Weeds rule, even when we think otherwise.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


It is turkey time. Too busy to post photos.

Can't resist a little turkey advice. Test your thermometer. Fill a glass with ice and water. When there is condensation on the outside of the glass put your thermometer in there. It should read 32 degrees. If it is off, adjust if you can. If not, remember how far off it is as you test your bird. Poultry is best when the breast is 165 degrees, so remove the bird from the oven before that, tent the bird w aluminum foil and let rest for half an hour minimum: it will rise to proper temperature!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

what's under a cow pie?

On our farm, we move those cows all the time. Small paddocks get mowed by the entire herd in just a day, and then onto the next small paddock they go.

Standard procedure is to give livestock a medication that prevents flies from hanging around, biting them, doing what flies do. We don't give this to our cows, as it kills the flies, is also a form of poison that goes through the cows system. The fly larva in the cow pies don't survive either. Fly larva? Favorite food for a chicken, and a source of protein!

A couple other things happen when we don't poison the cows/flies. Every evening we can see the birds, the native fly catchers, swoop in and eat the flies. The birds walk around the cows, stand on them, fly around them and *poof all the flies are eaten. We are feed ing the native birds too!

And while earthworms are not native to this country, they do good work displacing soil and opening up air and water ways further into the ground, in this way our soil grows, has better fertility and holds more water with each rainfall.

Native dung beetles are here too, rolling each baby up in a ball of cow poop, burying it 6 or so inches into the ground. Taking nutrients deep to where the root systems need it.

It is not yet known all that is in even a teaspoon of soil, but I'm betting it is not good to poison it,

Saturday, November 17, 2012

hot water

We live in a house with a cellar. Not really a basement: it is rough, ugly, damp, scary. Not ever going to be living space, unless you are a cricket.

There are 3 big tanks down there, holding 900 gallons of water. So we don't run out. A wide assortment of processing equipment, filtering, changing the chemistry of the water.

The other day the hot water tank blew. We had it replaced, and now the basement is dry. All dry. Looks like the water tank has been leaking for a while. Probably should have paid attention earlier. I've lived in other homes, never had this experience.

Our last electric bill was ridiculous. High, expensive. But it was the first that was an actual reading in a few months, so we thought the estimates were off. But now, maybe heating hot water that was going to the basement floor and slowly down the drain might explain that last awful bill.

Here's hoping

and a pledge to pay better attention to the hot water tank in the future, the floor of the basement, and the warranty date on the thing. We just missed this one!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

devil those eggs

In the growing season, March through November, we run to keep up with all that needs to get done each day. Eggs never sit, as soon as the hens lay them, we are taking them to CSA customers or to market. Or handing them over to farm visitors.

As the weather cools, we have a little time to leave a few in the back of the fridge, to age and dry out, evaporate, a little.

Then arrives some of my favorite days: egg salad, and deviled eggs. There is time to boil and peel these eggs that got lost at the back of the fridge. Deviled eggs are made with hot peppers we grew here, for that "devil" part. Tough time not making this the entire meal, they are so good!

and on these chilly mornings, a view of the farm.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

last of chicken

We try and end chicken production so that we have a break between chicken and turkey processing. Not so this year. For a myriad of reasons, we are just processing the final batches of chickens now.

As we wait what seems like forever for them to get to size, the reality is they grow pretty darn quickly. We will stock our freezer with at least 25, to last until next summer when we can have them fresh again. Some of these birds are big, and others are right on the mark at 4 pounds.

As the temperatures drop, the job of getting the birds processed grows increasingly less attractive. It will be cold next week and the week after as we finish this up, icy fingers will be the norm.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

losing it

Some days we thing the predators are winning. It can be discouraging to see the remains of chickens we have worked hard to raise. Fox, raccoon, possum, skunk, dog, cat, snake...all love to grab and take away parts or all of a chicken. Hawks and owls too.

And then sometimes we realize that the hens are just losing it. We have not actually lost any birds, they have just gone into a molt, and the feathers they have shedded as they make way for new ones are what is blowing around the farm.

In one day, the ground inside this pen was stripped bare of grass and lined completely with feathers. The girls are losing it, for certain.

But why? Why as it goes into the coldest time of year do they do this, and do so every year? We guess that they shed lighter, summer feathers and grow in heavier, warmer feathers. They will need them, and soon.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

don't touch

Every person who visits hears the same words from us, "don't touch the dog". Hard for people to believe that such a cute, lively little dog could turn into a rattlesnake, but she does. We are asked why we keep such a mean little girl, and we remind people that she never randomly goes after people...that it is when a person reaches out to touch her that she snaps. She is not an attack dog, she does not want to have her space invaded.

And why do we keep her? All day long, every day, she patrols the farm.  She alerts us when things are here that should not be. A few weeks ago she woke us up in the middle of the night and when Homer let her out she ran full speed away from the house, came back and got him...and when he went out to check, there was a fox coming around the back side of the hoophouse.

If a piece of wood, a cardboard box, a burn barrel...anything solid...goes on the ground a rodent will nest under it. The dog will search and get them every day, without training, with just a bit of encouragement. She does have a high kill instinct, a strong drive to be outdoors, tracking and catching rodents. Every family farm had a dog like this. She is really a one person dog, Homer's dog, she tolerates me but is always in Homer's vicinity no matter where he is. And then she does things like this. She will be 11 in March, but from her level of activity and agility you would never know it.

She lives the life of the dog she was bred to be.

And she has enough sense to avoid both the trap and what is in it.

Friday, November 9, 2012

more cleaning, and sweating

It has been freezing overnight a couple of times now. Not just a frost, but a sustained freeze. A few weeks ago the rain barrels were emptied, the rain gutter removed, the barrels moved aside. Last weekend the barrels were stacked in their winter home, away from the hoophouse and out of the wind.

Last week was the end of the vegetable CSA. The egg CSA ended a few weeks prior. The last of the broilers are on the field, and will be distributed next week or the week after, when they are large enough. The vegetable share boxes will not be needed until next year, so they were cleaned and stacked out of the way.

I went to Tractor Supply to get winter water troughs for all the poultry pens. Homer sent me this picture so that I would know what size to get. These are winter troughs because when it is below freezing this tubs can be banged on the ground and the ice cube pops out, and the trough does not crack. Water is available again for the birds, until it turns into an ice cube. Then repeat.

While checking out, the cashier asked if I wanted a 50 pound bag of lime for $.25. Yes, I'll take one. By the time I had walked to the truck I realized I wanted every bag they had, and returned to the store and spent $1.75. On an item that usually is $8 per bag. Midweek, we need to make room for driveway salt shopping. Gotta love it.

It was 37 degrees out doors, and the temperature in Homer's man cave said this.
Not quite cold enough for reptiles to be in complete hibernation yet. They are still doing their mouse chasing thing.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Yesterday, Homer and I had the pleasure of attending The York County Food Summit. A gathering of people interested in food, food systems and distribution. It was a great meeting with a wide variety of participants.

Today it is quieter. We have the last flocks of chickens that will be delivered to CSA members in the next few weeks, and our egg layers, turkeys, pigs and cattle. But the vegetable CSA is finished for the year, the egg CSA is also completed, the flocks are much smaller than they have been and it is generally quieter on the farm.

Sandi finds a soft and sunny spot inside the hoophouse on this chilly morning.

Tables in the hoophouse have been cleared and scrubbed.

and corn growing continues to be a challenge

Monday, November 5, 2012

on GMO labeling

As a farmer, and one interested in the economics of farming, I've participated in a variety of focus groups, concerned citizens, scientific meetings, farm conferences and over the table at farmers market conversations with a variety of people.

As farmers, we do not receive any direct funding from the federal government. We appreciate the help of Penn State Ag Extension, the Univ. of Maryland extension, the knowledge, facilities and support extended to us, but they do not fund us. Very few of our customers have purchased our food with Food Stamps or SNAP...less than $100 in the last 10 years. We are a registered business in the state of Pennsylvania, with licenses and regulators visiting our farm and farm stand every year. We pay real estate and school tax, as we are a for profit entity: so the options of getting Americorp funded volunteers is not available to us. Our farm is a business, and by any standards is considered a small business.

The Farm Bill has expired. It is a political hot potato that no one in our government wanted to tackle be fore this election. In general, the Farm Bill funds 3 agencies: the Food Assistance (SNAP, WIC, free lunch and breakfast); the conservation districts; and the part of our government that funds farmers that grow genetically modified grains.

Much has been written about franken foods, and test tube food and the like.

I'll just say this: There is science that points to damage done to the human system by the chemicals sprayed on the fields before the GMO crops are planted. These chemicals are poison to every single thing on that field. Plant, bug, bird, frog, mammal, rodent, and yes, the human who sprays them. On any farm, the person who applies these chemicals must be trained and registered as the administrator of these chemicals. And when they are applied to the field, everything dies. Everything except that one plant, genetically matched to deflect that poison. It grows, and no other thing does.

That is what is being asked to be labeled. That is what is being proposed in California, on proposition 37. The citizens are asking to be told when the ingredients of a food come from this farming method. That is all.

What is the threat? Why would the manufacturers, farmers, food processors, all join forces and contribute millions to stop this? The financial alarm has been sounded "It would raise your grocery bill $400 a year"! That is less than $8 per week. And the folks who are too poor to afford the $8 are the ones in areas that research has shown don't have access to real food...they live in the world of fast food and convenience store it will not really affect them, they will continue to buy the worst food we as a planet produce, and continue to be the highest medical cost populations on this entire earth. So who is the target here? Who are they scaring with this sky is falling verbage?

I don't know. I know this, if these companies think these GMO grains, produced all over this country are so fantastic, so needed to save our planet, why don't they want it on their bags and boxes? Why are they fighting this information being made available to the consumer?

Please vote for prop 37 if you are a registered voter in California. The farmers working to help you have options in what you eat know it is a good law.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

clearing okra

We had a frost a little bit ago, and it killed the okra dead. The day before the plants were 5 feet tall, covered in leaves, flowers and tiny okra pods that we had not picked. The day after the frost the stalks were there and every other part of the plant was mushy and no longer green.

I worked and pulled up 2 stalks from the ground. Giant root balls, very hard to budge. Homer pulled up one, and then began aiming the pigs in the direction of the bed. And the pigs, in less than a day (moved twice yesterday) dug up every single root ball, ate the top half of the plant and left an easy to pick up, much lighter weight root ball to clear. Here is the bed after they uprooted.

Next to this bed are collards, they don't seem to mind the cold too much. And here, after Homer raked the bed out, just a few minutes work.

All ready for the next planting.

One thing that never gets eaten on the farm: nightshade. No cattle, pig, chicken, turkey, duck or goose ever eats this. We wonder why it was put on earth, or on our farm. And hope the rabbit or the groundhog browse on this over the winter.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

fighting Toms

We bring day old turkey polts onto the farm in the spring, when there is still a chill in the air. They are tiny and fragile: and since we give them water and grains but no antibiotics or anything else we don't want to consume indirectly, we lose a good percentage of them. It is discouraging in the first week how many we lose. After that it turns into a whole different experience, as they become very resilient and strong.

As the months progress another thing happens. They turn into mature adults, and the Toms begin to do what fellas are sometimes known for doing: fighting for no reason. Just to prove who is the biggest one of all.

That is where we are now with our birds. They are big, strong and numerous. These 2 were fighting in the pen the other day and were removed. One will go into the freezer, and one will be delivered for an early turkey prep this week. Why? Because they will fight each other until one is dead, and who needs that?!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

and just like that...

The hens have been producing delicious, beautiful eggs since the end of March. In considerable quantities. And then came this morning, when production suddenly cut back by more than half. Cold? Sandy? Not enough daylight? Probably a combination of all three, but today the spots where eggs are usually waiting for us look like this: empty...


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