Sunday, March 31, 2013

grass roots

What makes a farmer's wife happier than a bucket of grass roots? Two buckets of grass roots!

My uncle owned a house surrounded by a lot of land when I was a kid. We visited a couple times a year: my grandparents were there, and my other uncle and his family lived on the cul de sac. Just a couple of houses, a pond, woods and field of grass.

With 6 kids in my family a total of 20 years apart, there were times when everyone of us made the trip and times when just a few did.

When I was 11, we visited in springtime. By that time my grandfather was not in good health but was still able to get outside. Into the garden we went, my younger brother, my cousins and I. We were put to work pulling the grass from between the bricks in the brick walkway. Many small hands cleared that path quickly.

There are no brick pathways here on the farm. Inside the hoophouse was completely overgrown when we moved here, and the previous owners kept exotic birds in there...and it sure seems like some of those weeds came from exotic seeds!

The grass is an ongoing battle. Each year we knock more back in the wintertime. As spring approaches the grass begins to pop again, and it is time to get it out. Yesterday time was spent in the back of the hoophouse, furthest from the entrance, with tiny blades of grass showing and tons of roots underground. While there are still grass shoots hiding out there, many were pulled up yesterday.

We use only drip tape in the hoophouse, that way little water gets to the walkways, which also helps to slow the grass growth. We are getting there, we both know it, with defined beds, few weeds, lots of seeds sprouting all over and many peas in too.

I remember my grandparents growing tomatoes. And rhubarb. I don't remember there being a whole lot more. But the satisfaction of rooting out what is not wanted still remains.

Saturday, March 30, 2013


We are not birders. While we love them, and host lots of them here on the farm, we cannot identify most. I can name most breeds of chickens, but that is because I see them live and labeled at the farm show. The birds that live at the farm year round? I'm astonished every spring when the gold finch appears, and then a naturalist tells me they are here year round. They just are not gold year round. And that is my problem: I don't know the ages, the stages, the songs. I downloaded an app and listen and look at the pictures but I really still only know the same handful of birds: the eagle, robin, blue jay, cardinal, hummingbird, Canadian goose, red tailed hawk.

And then there is the blue bird. I stayed at a friends house and walked her yard with her, where she was feeding blue birds mealy worms. The birds had nested near the feeder. It was in the country, her house had acres as did her neighbors, with trees near by.

Her husband is legally blind, and they worked to attract blue birds because the song is so rich and the color so bright he can feel them.

As a resident of much denser populated areas it had never occurred to me that blue birds could be right outside your home. While easily identifiable, it always seemed like they were all kinds of elusive!

We moved here and did not see blue birds the first year. We set about doing what we do, including making tons of compost. And our compost produces millions of mealy worms...not something we planned on, but there they are, for months out of the year. The same months the blue birds are scouting, looking for homes, making babies, fledging them out.

We have seen many blue birds here over the years. We have a small tree line (maybe 50 feet deep and almost the width of the property) and a steady supply of mealy worms along with wide open fields, no chemicals and a neighbor who mows walkways a few times through the year. Mostly pretty quiet and undisturbed.

While collecting the mail the other day, Homer saw the first blue bird of the year. He heard it too. Now we are hearing birds singing, at dawn and dusk and all during the day too.

We keep planting native trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers. The 30 foot buffer we left between our property line and our fence has non-natives growing in it, but we keep adding natives too. We know they host the right insects at all stages for the song birds at all stages and we want that!

We will also continue to make compost. That produces what keeps blue birds happy.

Jerry was here yesterday. He helped locate a hollow log to bring back to the farm. And to get the footings in place for the grain bin.

The log will get cut cross wise. A few other modification will get just the right size home for blue birds. A roof and a metal pole (prevents predators from getting to them) and 4 bird homes will be ready!

Today is pea planting. Every last pea seed must go in before bed time tonight. More potatoes should go in too. Tomorrow will be for the birds, getting homes ready for one of the handful of birds we can identify. And one of the best singers, and most beautiful. Because we live in the country and we can.

Friday, March 29, 2013


One of the headlights in the truck burned out. A quick bit of research shows that the fine for driving in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania exceeds $100...depending on the jurisdiction. Not a price we want to pay.

I was out the other evening. Driving home in the dark, I hoped that sequestration was keeping the number of police officers on patrol to a minimum, and that the few working have more important issues to deal with.

Last night we attended the awards ceremony for the Carbon Challenge, a design challenge for row houses in Baltimore. Homer submitted a design, I learned to work the software that calculated the carbon footprint of each of the materials used in construction. Fun to see the designs and speak with people there: everyone else had lots of letters following their names, as well as firm names of long standing architecture groups in the area.

Not wanting to take the chance of a ticket in two states, Homer popped the hood and replaced the bulb. Then slept the entire way home while I drove. Total cost, about $5.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A tweet this morning prompted this post. And a trip to York yesterday to listen to a conversation about climate change.

We are goofy farmers. We want to feed our poultry GMO free feed. We don't feed our cattle any grain. Our pigs eat food waste, not commercial feed.

There is no barn on our farm.

We use mobile pens or electric fence for our livestock. They move to new spots on a regular basis.

This is done to move them off of their own waste. Things that we, as humans, have learned about living right on top of your own, raw waste: it makes you sick, in a variety of ways.

As a result of all this moving, we don't administer antibiotics to our livestock. They are healthy because they get to eat what grows in our pastures (and because of all this moving about 4 times as much stuff grows) and their waste has a chance to decompose. Worms and dung beetles break up the animal waste. Cattle, named as producers of methane, have a different chemical composition to their gas when grass fed.

A study, conducted in Europe, points to the transfer of antibiotic resistance in meat to humans. Mapped by genomes. Results published in New York Times on 3/27/13. We heard a doctor from Hopkins in 2006 who had conducted preliminary research on this: now, with genome mapping, cause and effect can be seen. We will keep farming the way we do.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

things we love to see

Dark, rich, fluffy soil. As we transfer the compost from the huge pile in the parking lot to the planting beds, the look is beautiful.

Homer loves a finished raised bed. Every year we have more of them, buying lumber from a local mill that delivers...16 foot 2x4's don't fit into our trucks...and then positioning in place. In just a few weeks the wood will be hidden by the growing plants.

The cilantro lasted all through the winter inside the hoophouse. Replanted at the end of each row, it will grow out and be distributed to our CSA members over the season.

One of our piglets took a field trip. He went to visit a classroom, as part of a session on learning about farming. We are betting the kids will remember the parent that brought the pig for a visit as the coolest mom...ever...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

tons o fun

Every spring we take delivery on compost. We use compost made from leaves: called leaf grow or leaf mold depending on where it is sourced. We also make tons of compost ourselves, but have found it impossible to have too much of such a good thing.

We always hope that the tractor trailer will be able to drive across the property and deposit right at the hoophouse. We have yet to locate a driver willing to do that, so the load goes into the front yard, in our parking lot.

Then a tractor trailer load of compost needs to be transported to where we need it.

It's about half done. And it's only March. So that's good. Today the materials for more raised beds in the hoophouse arrive. Built out, filled in and planted by days end.

Next weeks planting should go into the ground outside the hoophouse. We will cover with floating row covers until nighttime temperatures are a bit warmer.

Peas are in. Onion sets will go in next. Lettuce, spinach, rainbow Swiss chard, carrots, beets and radishes today. Time to check the asparagus bed to see if the shoots are popping. After all the snow melts.

Monday, March 25, 2013

things we hate to see

Holes. Of all kinds and sizes.

Holes mean that some critter has breeched whatever protection we have installed. This one, located next to the chick brooder, called for much more work to be done today than originally planned.

We don't know what exactly it is. Sandi was on high alert all afternoon. A Jack Russell, her job on the farm is tracking down rodents, and she was tracking for hours.

But no luck finding any. So the brooder was reinforced before the chick delivery went in today. Day old chicks, resembling cotton balls, are an easy target for any rodent, and we have seen pens emptied in just one night.

Spring on the farm means the arrival of predators. They are having babies and need food for them. We want to encourage them to search...elsewhere.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

8 weeks

Nighttime temperatures will be warm in about 8 weeks. Farmers balance between putting seeds in the ground and having those seeds freeze or rot or sprout and grow. And the crow likes them too.

We use the hoophouse to be able to start the season a little early. Each week we clear and plant beds, installing what will be eaten about 8 weeks later. The next 2 weeks will fill these just empty beds (after emptying out broccolini, kale and collards...and a few weeds too) and then planting outside commences. And in here go the tomato plants, now sprouting in warm spots all over the farm!

Peas in yesterday and earlier in the week. Potatoes too. The second batch of chickens will be here tomorrow, the brooders are clear and waiting for them.

Also: the grain bin needs to be modified and set in place.

Turkey polts next week.

All of the wire frames hanging from the ceiling of the hoophouse get pulled down and placed around the tomatoes.

It is getting to be time where farmers can't leave the farm!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

what's working?!

Homer is the kind of guy that reuses anything, no matter what the original design and use.

When we met, I lived in a house with a monkey ball tree in the back yard. It was a very healthy and very large tree that produced millions of those spiky orbs.

I raked them up and filled garbage cans every year. Homer looked around, declared there had to be a better way, and quickly scooped the millions up with the snow shovel. And then we went roller skating.

Now, wherever we go, he looks at things and considers other uses for everyday items. We plant weekly, grow laying hens, broilers, pigs and cattle and are always looking for ways get all of the work done faster and using fewer fossil fuels.

A couple of recent ones that like the snow shovel help get things done so that we can go and roller skate.

Friday, March 22, 2013


It is officially spring!

On farms around here it is also known as mud season. As the temperature of the air and the ground shifts mud can appear in no time.

It was sideways snowing yesterday. That produces plenty of moisture, along with overcast conditions that cause snow to melt, rain to fall and ground to get soggy.

Under the pens the laying hens live in it an be quite a mess. This picture shows where all the pens had been, and the amount of ground torn up a churned into mud.

Those girls are so happy to move from spots like that onto spots where there is grass. The original thatcher, with a dose of nitrogen along with it, chickens transform the ground beneath their feet.

Grass will jump up from these spots in the next few weeks. A few more weeks and the grass will be to high to move the pens. Then cattle will need to get onto that section and eat the grass down so that pens can roll over it again.

Pasture management. It's what we do.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


We receive bills from our local government on a regular basis. And it makes me wonder about how our money is spent by even the government entity that is right here.

Several times a year, Homer and I each get an envelope with a bill for $5. If we pay the bill prior to the due date, it is $4.90. Each. 4 times each year we get a bill mailed to us for our trash removal. About $53 each time. Then comes a real estate tax once a year. Then there is a school tax, which is due in August. Or August, September and October if preferred.

I'm no efficiency expert: but we cannot pay these bills online. As far as I can tell we can't receive them on line. So our money is going to paying for envelopes being stuffed, sealed, stamped. And then opened, data entered manually into some tabulation/tracking system, check deposited.

Across York County there are a total of 72 school districts. Each has their own system. For food, teaching materials, cleaning gear, sports equipment, musical gear, technology.

There is a video on YouTube featuring Bill Gates, Andrew Zuckerberg and Will I Am. Many others too, speaking of the shortage of people who know how to write code that many companies outsource code to other countries because our kids are not "taught".

My father died in the early 1970's. in the papers that the Smithsonian has in his files are letters of recognition from S. Dillion Ripley, who ran the entire system. Recognizing my father for...writing programs that changed system there at the Smithsonian.

I've met young men and women who have attended exclusive, expensive schools for high school and/or college. Who have looked me in the eye and said how they wished they had gone to school where they were taught to code.

There are kids books written on how to write HTML. There are employers crying out for people to employ some basic Java or C or a multiple of other languages.

While I get it, that my local school system is unlikely to have, in its teeny tiny world, a teacher who can conduct training in programming or code writing, they should. I get it that across this enormous state their are people in thousands of offices, stuffing envelopes that enclose invoices for virtual pennies, and then must open and process every check that pays those invoices. I get it that high school kids graduate with no job prospects that they can see. I get it that computers are expensive (they aren't really anymore) and finding coders is impossible. Actually, there are a few. Everywhere. There are solutions. It sure would be nice to see a larger vision, a recognition of skill sets that are needed, applications that would save us all time and money. And would save me hand writing checks and mailing or hand carrying $9.80 to my township office. And the trash bill. And the real estate tax. And the 3 payments of school tax. Maybe another jurisdiction in PA has upgraded their systems and we could duplicate what they have done? Maybe a local bank or credit union could work with our township to make this happen? It's 2013 after all, lets use our money wisely. If coding were available as a class to more people at younger ages the kids would not be afraid of it and would demand changes. And new work would be created, work that increases efficiencies.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

13 years!

We were married 13 years ago today. We went to the courthouse and got hitched!

We lived in a house on a city lot, and together we moved to a house that had a double sized garage and a room that was a separate office, so that we could each have a place to work.

Then, the desire for better chicken and eggs hit us. After trying those we wanted better beef, pork and vegetables. And fruit too! And Thanksgiving turkey! And dairy products and grains...

So here we are on our farm, offering what we grow. Loving it.

The traditional anniversary gift for 13 years of marriage is lace. The contemporary gift is leather or fur.

We will combine our work with the traditional gift, and give each other some additional laying hens. The Silver Laced Wyandotte. Each feather is black trimmed in white, the girls are good sized (about 6 pounds) and are beautiful with their two toned look. We will get a flock of 26, 2 for each year of marriage. They lay a lighter brown egg. Look for those eggs in cartons next September!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

more potatoes

While several rows of potatoes went in the ground last week, the weather is not going as we thought it would. Mid-March has been cold: bitter cold, and we fear the potatoes are frozen. They will just turn to stinky rotten mush if that happened.

Round two of potatoes. In a bin inside the hoophouse. Where the ground will not freeze!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Move That Livestock 2013

Interested in learning how to build the mobile pens that are the cornerstone of healthy livestock production?

Here's the link to our work day:

making stock

We had the honor and pleasure of a group of visitors the other day. It was a cold, grey, dreary day and the group had to get muddy to see what we do: kinda the worst sort of day to visit.

In spite of the gloomy day we had a wonderful time. Diane Ott Whealy, co-founder of Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa stopped by the farm. Here for a presentation to Slow Food Harrisburg, she visited a number of other teaching and growing venues in the area.

We have been reading her book, Gathering, as a bit of preparation for her visit. Seed Savers Exchange was started with seeds from a beautiful morning glory that her grandfather gave her, seeds that had originally been carried from Bavaria by his grandfather as he emigrated to the US.

Now a nonprofit invested in the preservation of heirloom and open pollinated seeds, SSE has grown to employ about 70 people and operates test gardens, a seed bank, and the base of the reason for being, a database of annual dues paying members who have seeds and then trade seeds with others. While SSE offers some seeds for purchase, the real real beauty of what they do is to offer easy access to people that grow seed themselves, and exchange seeds based on the accumulated data the SSE aggregates. There are many more varieties of vegetables you know and eat than you see at the farm stand, and this exchange offers growers a way to locate other growers who have them. Most vegetable seeds are hybrids or genetically modified, both of which renders the seed produced by the plant sterile: unable to produce the same ear of corn, bean, tomato, squash...the list goes on to every vegetable we eat. what SSE offers, member to member, is fertile, not terminator, food. And is exactly what we grow.

We made lunch for the group. A couple of chickens from the freezer, with a bit of butter from a friends cow and chervil from our hoophouse slipped between the meat and skin, then roasted in the oven. Spinach from our hoophouse plucked an hour before we ate it, steamed and with a bit of the same butter. Onions browned, with our tomatoes canned last summer, a little capers and olives too, over pasta. Curtis Vreeland, a chocolate maven, brought along a couple of wonderful chocolates: raw with salt and chili pepper with orange. Jen and Bonnie, who have the farm across the street also joined us. Lots of laughter.

After everyone left, the chicken carcasses went into the soup pot. A bit later, the strained stock went into mason jars, and then into the freezer. As usual, the juices in the pan and the stock in the jars needed no skimming. The birds we grow just do not produce that stuff that turns into that ring of hard white fat.

It was an honor to have everyone here. And fun too! And a foundation for several other meals is now in the freezer. We are lucky people!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

planting the just right amount

We have started planting, weekly, for our vegetable CSA. Every week carrots, beets, Swiss chard, spinach, lettuce and radishes go in the ground.

We want to grow the right amount: enough that full sized vegetables are delivered weekly in reasonable quantities. It is a constant balancing act.

Homer keeps saying "there must be a better way". The Speedy Seeder is an answer...and this winters update to his version from 3 years ago has been working beautifully. 400 carrot seeds each week means 10 carrots per share per week without thinning! The next part:how to cover with the right amount of soil is solved with this box.

Homer does sleep. But I don't think his brain is ever fully at rest.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Can you see them? Peppers all over, finally warm enough to make them pop out of the soil. The entire plant grows and grows until it finally produces bell and bull nose peppers. Only one hot pepper so far this year: the Espellete, a medium heat chili from the Basque region of France.

The bell and bull nose this year are red, green, chocolate, purple, gold and yellow. The flavors and shapes are a little different one from the other, and will be beautiful all together.

In Maryland it is spring break at most schools. At 8 weeks prior to frost free date, it feels like no coincidence. It is another week or two later as we go further north in Pennsylvania, and that makes so much sense too. Now is the time many things can go into the ground. There are an entire class of vegetables that go in "as soon as the ground can be worked", which is now, as both day and night time temperatures are not cold enough to leave the ground frozen. It is workable, which would mean all hands on deck, including the kids!

Friday, March 15, 2013

potatoes for St. Patrick's Day

Just in time for St. Patrick's Day the potatoes go in the ground!

With no tractor or plow, the rows of potatoes can be not fun to put into the ground. Digging trenches with a shovel can be back breaking.

So the truck, a pallet and some shovel shaped objects were cobbled together to get potato trenches in. The pigs had cleared this area out already, and the spuds are in. Many more to go!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

fresh, in about 10 weeks

Industry standards for growing chickens is now less than 80 days.

While it is not growth hormones that make this happen, even in organic birds there is a compound that is like arsenic. In conventional birds there is arsenic and there are antibiotics, each of which is known to cause the birds to eat a little more each day, which results in slightly greater growth every day. Compounded this means the bird is to size quicker.

We only grow chicken for meat in the warmer months. The first flock arrived earlier this week. Our feed comes from a local company, known for offering organic and GMO free feed. They make a custom blend for us that does include some trace minerals, but no arsenic or antibiotics!

The financials work out better for a farm growing birds faster. We don't do this. Our birds grow slower and spend most of their day browsing, grazing, scratching and hanging out. Folks who get our chickens tell us they taste clean. The birds cook up clean.

Cheap food. Not cheap, really. We used to know, as food growers and buyers, to look at the eyes and the organs of the animals we eat. To look for clear eyes and organs that looked healthy, blood that looked clean.

We are told and we know ourselves that the livers from our chickens cook up beautifully. The livers look like dark chocolate, plump and a lovely dark color.

As a society we have been taught to consider these indicators of health to be disgusting. We have been taught to not eat them, let alone know what to look for as indicators of health.

Makes a Farmer's wife say hmm...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

no tractor. no rototiller.

We don't own either a tractor or rototiller. Both are expensive to purchase, burn fossil fuel and are noisy. While federal regulations measure and restrict the amount of particulates that can come out of cars and trucks, no such regulations exist for lawn mowers and rototillers and the older tractors. As we examine our farm practices, we try and produce as much as we can with as few inputs as possible.

When it comes time to clearing our planting areas for vegetables, we use pig power. The original bush hogs, they live to eat roots and anything growing above the surface. Brambles too!

So when it is time to clear out large swaths of land the pigs go in. Sometimes it has real fencing, other times just a couple strands of electric wire. And then? Clear as clear can be. Happy pigs, happy farmers and later in the season the best pork ever. And as the photos show, in just a few days clear ground!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

insider information

Somehow we end up on email lists that provide information on the work we do. Conservation, farm implements, land issues, right to farm, raw milk, safe food handling, grain production, farm legacies, legal issues.

We filed to become an LLC, and *poof, just like that we are. Amazing how these things work.

Our greatest annual expense is poultry feed. Each bird does not consume very much on any given day: each receives about half of a 5 gallon bucket daily, and the feed is gone in 10-15 minutes. The rest of the day the poultry: laying hens, broilers and turkeys are busy scratching the ground, eating the green stuff growing and drinking tons of water, swallowing oyster shells for the calcium and food grinding properties.

When we see notifications that all indicators point to the price of corn going down it gives us a little spark of hope that our GMO free blend might not increase this year. The amount of corn we need yearly never really fluctuates: our 500 or so laying hens need the same amount every day (with a slight increase in winter for those extra keep warm calories) and the several thousand broilers and couple hundred turkeys does not change. Over the years the price per ton of poultry feed has only increased and has never increased. When we see a headline like this, it helps us plan our year, with the business plan standing on our feed costs remaining at the same level as last year.

Then we cross our fingers and hope it remains true!

Monday, March 11, 2013

first planting!

Today the first seeds for 2013 vegetable CSA seeds were sown. That means it in the ground and covered with soil.

In 8-9 weeks we begin distribution. Every week for the next 6 months some seeds will go in: more when we hit the frost free date, because then it is safe to put in all of the temperature sensitive vegetables.

We track the varieties. While we say we grow lettuce, we really grow a dozen varieties, from small bright green heads to larger romaines, loose leafs, Bibb, deer tongue, speckled and red. Same with potatoes, tomatoes and everything else.

Today's list:

East Hoop House Jan 20, 2013

1) Brooder
2) Brooder
3) Seedling Dome
4) Seedling Dome
5 swis Chard
6 A Rainbow Chard
B Beets striped
7 Leeks
8 Carrots Danvers
9A Spinach
B Carrots scarlet Nanties
10A Drunken Woman
B Batavian Crisphead
D Winter Density

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Our chickens arrive via the US Postal Service. Starting this week, and for the next 6 months, we will get regular shipments of cartons with day old chicks inside them. We place our orders once a year, and then have automatic shipments.

The chicks will spend a few weeks in the brooder, inside the hoophouse. Depending on the time of year and the weather they will be in the brooder for a little longer if need be. If cold, rain and windy conditions are predicted they stay inside longer.

And because we grow heritage breed turkeys, we start them pretty soon too. Seems amazing that a Thanksgiving turkey will be here for about 8 months (about twice the amount of time needed for conventional breeds and feed) but we have learned that has the best outcome.

Conventional chicken growers are contracted by the chicken brands you recognize to grow out the birds. Bell & Evans, Perdue, Tyson, Eberly (there are many more) now grow what they call free range birds. It means the birds are not in stacked cages. It means the birds are in long, low houses with access to the same square footage of grass as every flock that contractor grows. The contractor must buy birds, feed and supplements from the company they grow for, and are paid based on the weight of their flock in comparison to their neighbors flock. Chickens grown this way teach maturity in about 6 weeks time, while ours take closer to 10 weeks. Outdoor conditions change outcomes: if the fox gets into a pen the entire group disappears, and that delays delivery.

But the chicken itself?! Tasty. We roast it whole, cut out the backbone and butterfly it for cooking on the weber, put it into a Dutch oven on the stove with our garlic and tomatoes, take it apart and fry it, put into the cast iron pot w carrots, peas and onions for real chicken and dumplings: the dumplings that sit up huge, light and fluffy.

When our chicken is roasted in the pan, the juice from the bird stays liquid. Even if we put that pan in the fridge, it does not congeal into that hard white stuff we used to see. Not certain why that is: we think the grass consumption has something to do with it. :) When the leftovers from a roasted chicken go into a tall pot to make stock, the same thing happens. The top of the pot, even when chilled, does not hold a ton of hardened white stuff. And the flavor of that chicken stock is nothing like you are used to: it makes eating a pleasure. Picky eaters become unpicky. Sauces become simple to make, because the stock behaves the way it is supposed to. Cooking simply is achievable because each ingredient tastes good and combined is just lovely.

So our brooders are ready. For both chicken and turkeys. Cleaned out, fresh bedding. Next the watering systems get scrubbed and cleared of dust, some tiny sized grit is made available, and the post office delivers. And in May (or early June if things go crazy) we get fresh chicken again. And each week so do a bunch of other people! Yum.

Saturday, March 9, 2013


For a number of weeks now it has been mostly me on the farm. Homer was lucky to get work off farm, revamping a kitchen. And then as sometimes happens, a long honey-do list appears that can fill up another week of full time!

The kitchen foundation remains unchanged. Same walls, floors and cabinets. New appliances a few years ago. The cabinets and breakfast nook were repainted. The wrapped Formica was removed from the walls and countertop, and a speckled granite went down. Sink and new faucet. A back splash of subway tiles.

Every thing in the rooms that comprise the kitchen was patched, repaired and painted. There was a bit of plaster that had been damaged and had broken off. A butlers pantry that is now a great looking cabinet. Really beautiful.

The home is located close to where my brother ran a comic book store. It was his own business in a space he rented. For about 6 years he went to this spot, now being converted to a falafel place. Funny how things change.

Homer has returned to get the heavy lifting done (literally) and then I've taken care of the small stuff. Today it is predicted to be in the 50's! So water can be run to all of our holding tanks, making life easier. No wind, rain or snow today either. A chance to make progress and no just maintain status quo.

Friday, March 8, 2013

winter growing

We grow and eat from the unheated hoophouse all winter. Yesterday there was eggs and greens, yum.

There are some weeds in there too, and as we clean those out they go to the pigs, so they get fresh and local greens too.

Spinach, Swiss chard, collards, lettuce, chervil, garlic, onions, mustard. Happy!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

bayscaping in Pennsylvania

Yup, the Susquehanna runs from New York, through Pennsylvania and right into the Chesapeake Bay. Home of the blue crab, the single most important reason (for me anyway) we will do our little part to improve water quality.

Crab cakes, crab fluffs, crab imperial, steamed crabs. All from a fairly sensitive little creature, the blue crab.

Right now, in 2013, homeowners and property managers are allowed to use 10 times the amount of pesticides a farmer can use. TEN times the amount per acre. Or square foot. However you prefer to measure.

The EPA figured out a while ago that farmers were using more than was really needed, and helped set in place best management practices.

The homeowner has no such constraints. Miles of lawn with no weeds. Looks good, but the run off might not be so great for those lovely blue crabs.

Bayscaping. I attended a talk at a local library the other day, and the room was packed. What can be done? Reduce your yard a little bit by adding a couple of shrubs: a witch hazel wood be blooming right now, a viburnum in a month or two, a holly would stay green year round and a blueberry has lovely flowers and then fruit that is delicious!

York County extension is taking orders now, as are most extension offices, for trees and shrubs at ridiculous low prices: 5 for $9?! And beauty and flowers to boot?! Sign me up, I've got $9!!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

what thrills you?

Does a grain bin thrill you?

It does us! So far we have taken delivery of our GMO free feed in woven plastic bags. Over the course of a year, we estimate the number of bags to be well over 500. Each bag is hefted from the delivery truck, loaded into the feed room, and then hefted and loaded into our truck and then hefted one more time before being loaded into a garbage can near the poultry pens. Then, it is scooped into buckets and served to the poultry.

That's a lot of hefts. The bags are *supposed to be 50 pound bags. Our feed supplier really loves...actually, prefers fill these bags, so they are usually closer to 80 pounds. Cuts down on the number of bags needed each trip, but hundreds and hundreds of bags at about 80 pounds gets...old. The worse job on the farm is cleaning the brooder in July. But the movement of feed from where our supplier delivers to where the poultry is located that particular day never stops, year round.

So. Craigslist. Offering of a multi-ton grain bin. Every year we peruse the Farmer Boy Ag Products catalog and dream of a grain bin. Then something else needs done and we go back to hauling bags. And, worse, filling the landfill with them. While carrying reusable bags to the store. Ack.

This weekend, this becomes ours. A cement pad under will allow us to back in, fill our buckets directly, and then move them right to the pens.

When the supplier arrives the feed can be blown in, with no bags used anywhere by any of us.

Our Food Alliance Certification asked us to continually improve our environmental efforts. This one we feel goes a long, long way in that effort.

And to saving our backs. And reducing the amount of feed spilled while loading and unloading. Now we just need to figure out how to stand this thing up. Block and tackle my husband tells me. Gulp I say. We are truly thrilled at how life changing this giant can will be.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

city scape

Homer has a plan for cities. Row houses that produce food, have small footprints and are superinsulated for low utility bills.

He has other plans too, for build it yourself kinds of people. We will implement those here on the farm next winter. Yesterday he submitted this design along with a bunch of supporting documents into a design competition. Thinking different, building different, living different. It is possible.

Monday, March 4, 2013

compost time

We add tons of compost to our vegetable beds every year. We feed the soil. The soil feeds the vegetables.

Without a tractor we are always refining what we do, how much goes in each week, how to quickly clear and replant beds.

Here is one for refilling, evenly. Will be tested this week.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


Homer ran into a friend yesterday. Their family gets a variety of foodstuffs from us, and they have a desire for something additional.

There are regional food delicacies everywhere. Berger cookies, Goetz's Caramel Cremes and crab cakes made with a bit of Old Bay spice and a tiny bit of egg come to mind.

There are cheeses, fermented foods, grass fed milk. Oysters on the half shell, fish peppers. Chipped chopped ham. Biscuits with gravy. Chorizo. Matzo. Oh my, so many and Homer and I are happy to try. Regional conditions change flavors, tastes, textures.

So the request for Bresse chicken is of interest to us. A chicken developed in that region of France, popular enough to support growing a million chickens a year and selling for about $11 per pound (equivalent). A good sized bird would be about $50.

An usexed, day old chick is $50. It has to be grown out, fed, watered, under the heat lamp and protected from all of the predators that love chicken. If we get 4, at a cost of $200, there is no guarantee that there would be a mix of males and females, to be able to breed our own. The whole issue with roosters is that they usually make a lot of noise. And they attack me. Not exactly a winning combination.

The birds themselves are white with bright red combs and blue feet. They are known for their deep flavor, lovely fat and marbled meat. The feet are always included, left attached, with each bird.

We are not set up now to bring these birds onto our farm and will monitor the availability of this interesting variety. We know the difference in flavor of what we grow here from other places, and have tasted different varieties of chickens, so we are curious but not set up for these birds. yum.

Friday, March 1, 2013

not sticky enough

I just had to add one more thing to the honey-do list. It is probably long enough already, but this one could not be helped.

It is the first of March, which means last night was the end of February. At the beginning of the month I sent in for the new sticker for the truck tag, and it was sent promptly.

And then sat around. I ran it out the other day, removed the backing and stuck it on. The sticker promptly fell off and into my hand. Placed it back in position, this time working to hold it in place. It fell back in my hand.

Book group last night, and the knowledge that return to the farm had to be before midnight when the tag expired. Made it, just under the wire.

And Homer has an addition to the honey-do list. He tells me I needed to wipe the dirt off of the old sticker for the new one to stick. Yeah, the entire truck could use a good wash. And it is not leaving the farm until it gets a good sticking.


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