Tuesday, April 30, 2013

there must be a reason

We live on a road that is a main artery in a country sort of way. It connects York with Newberrytown/Lewisberry, and is a road that cyclists, motorcyclists and people in convertibles love to drive. Farms, woods, streams and homes are all along the drive, and it runs parallel to I83.

Recently the road has had much heavy equipment on it, blocking traffic. We have gotten stuck in it. A work crew: 2 regulate traffic, 4-5 with shovels, a tractor with a large blade attached, a number of dump trucks, a conveyer belt attached to a truck and a few bits of other equipment are extraordinarily slowly moving up the road.

This entire group is doing one thing. Clearing the side of the road, so that the grass is farther to the side and not up on the asphalt.

The state of Pennsylvania reports 4,700+ structurally deficient bridges. Those bridges have restrictions on them, and some have been shut down.

While our road is lovely, the amount of equipment and people working to get grass off of it was large. The budget probably was too. I don't know much about roadways and construction, but it seems like state money might be better spent rebuilding and repairing bridges in this state.

Monday, April 29, 2013


Laying hens disappear in spring. Tiny turkeys and broilers have been moved into their field pens, and the sight, sound and smell of them can be a powerful draw for predators.

Another level of protection for the birds. Now there are electric fence connectors that are light and flexible (like a slinky with power running through it), the process of linking up hot wire to mobile pens is a possibility. An experiment, but a possibility.

So connectors, wire and the flexible, electrified hook will be installed. To deter the predators and encourage them to look elsewhere.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

it's happening

Not enough this week for distribution, but this is happening. Asparagus shows beautiful tips and spears. Planted a few years ago it looks like they are truly established now!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

same drove

When our sow gave birth to her drove of piglets, not all of them survived the first 24 hours. Plenty of piglets made it, enough so that we are full up in our mobile pig pens, and have strung up electric wire so the biggest pigs can clear the property line.

When we went to wean the pigs, the smallest one was picked on, so that one went back with mama. As the only one left from that drove with her, the smallest quickly outgrew all its siblings, and is the biggest by far. Almost twice the size at the same age.

Friday, April 26, 2013

carp e diem

A local man called us up, to ask about the fish he catches each spring. With a group of friends, they fish for carp in local lakes. He does not eat the fish, and was wondering if we would want it for our compost.

Fish meal has always been an item added to soil to improve the health of plants. The 3 sisters, a planting of corn, bean and squash (native plants cultivated by Native Americans) many times puts a fish in the hole for the plants to use as fertilizer.

We don't have time to fish. If we did, we would likely head to the bay and catch flounder, then freeze it for cooking up all year. No compost feeding!

Yesterday our first carp delivery of the year showed up. With the machete, a bit was chopped up and then put into each laying hen pen. The girls were momentarily quiet, and then a concerted effort was made to consume that fish in no time. While a flock might have been doing their usual thing, when a chunk of fish appears every hen is totally focused, intent on tearing apart and eating every speck of fish.

Every time we feed our laying hens something like this, it reminds us of the scenes in Jurrasic Park, where they tiny dinosaurs, as a flock, have a human for a meal. "Don't fall in the pen" we tell each other. Those sweet and beautiful girls can tear it up!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

90 days

The laying hen pens were across the back of the farm, between the hoop house and the woods, all winter. That area still has more pricker bushes than we would like and we know those girls had a powerful impact on other parts of the property. They have greatly reduced poison ivy, ticks and prickly things in most of our paddocks!

Today every pen is turned to head in the direction of the front of the farm. This long run, from the path by the woods up to the road, will take at least 90 days. It will be July before we turn their pens again.

The fields are getting green. Cattle struggle to keep up with the growth!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

growing now

Right now, beds planted about 5 weeks ago are looking beautiful. Here are a few, just the spinach and lettuce. 3 weeks or so to go!

Last night we heated up chicken stock, added leftover rice, and then a couple bunches of spinach. Sort of a soup thing. Yummy.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

lining the nest

We are pretty certain, based on lots of physical evidence, that our mama pig is going to have piglets.

Yesterday, she built a nest. She relocated about a bale of hay into a sheltered spot. Mouthful by mouthful she carried it, then rearranged until she liked it.

Nesting instinct? Yup, that's a thing.

Monday, April 22, 2013

more pens

And today, after a full day of coaching/teaching how to build the pens that Homer designed yesterday, a couple of neighbors stopped by. These guys helped last summer, and are curious about all that Homer does here. They spoke to him about an online game, where "you get to build stuff" and he said...he does that for real here, look around!

Then Homer coached them in using a drill.

And then they had to make certain it worked!


Sunday, April 21, 2013

pens built!

Yesterday, here on the farm, we held Homer's annual instruction day, Move That Livestock!

On one of the windiest days of this year, folks gathered with all the parts needed for making pens. With options for pigs, turkeys, broilers or egg layers, every attendee opted for an egg layer pen.

Starting at 8:15 and ending after 4 it was a full day of hands on work. Homer's design incorporates materials from every department of the hardware store...and here at the farm the sounds of all sorts of equipment filled the air: saws, hammers, impact drills, cordless drills, pipe wrench: well, it really isn't a construction project unless everything gets used is it?

Lots of pens left the farm yesterday. Lovely to see everyone here, exchange ideas, get it done. One participant emailed to ask if they had to bring the components and then assemble the pen on the day, I encouraged them to do so, and all left with happy smiles to have that job done, ready for hens!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

after the wind

Last night severe weather warnings here on top of the hill. And then amazing rain, wind all night.

This morning our neatly protected vegetable seeds might have all moved to another part if the garden. Torrential rains have a way of making that happen.

Row covers will be reset this morning. Hopeful most seeds are where we put them. Today's sunshine and warm will let us know...sprouting happens quick this time if year. With temperatures below freezing tonight, some things will need draining, covering and disconnecting at days end.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

a little dab will do ya

Chickens are funny creatures. They start life as adorable puffballs, then go through an awkward adolescent stage, a beautiful young adult stage, then a gorgeous adults.

Here is a Polish: they get a crazy topknot of long feathers as adults, but right now the poor bird is at that in between stage, where it all just looks a mess.
Now the grain bin, painted, upright, secured in place and filled, is working beautifully. Homer will tweak it a bit, but for right now it is like magic, no bags to lift, lug, load and fill and refill!

Just buckets we have gotten from restaurants who would otherwise pitch them.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

On Sundays we travel with eggs, and during the growing season all the other stuff we produce, to a parking lot in Towson. Just a few blocks from where we used to live, the parking lot offers plenty of space for cars and shade for the farmer.

All winter our hens have produced eggs, so almost every week we have been in this spot with fresh, pasture raised eggs. Somedays the sun has been weak and the temperatures have been very cold.

Now, the trees are getting their leaved. This tree is even flowering. In about 4 weeks we will begin bringing vegetables here. And the trees will provide shade so the farmer does not broil.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

weekly seeding

Each week we distribute 40 vegetable shares. We only offer our vegetables via the CSA, taking eggs and chickens to market.

5 weeks ago we planted our first seeds for distribution 4 weeks from now. Using Homer's Speedy Seeder, seeds for 80 heads of lettuce, 400 beets and carrots, 80 bunches of rainbow Swiss chard and spinach went in the ground inside the hoophouse. A week went by and we planted what will be harvested 5 weeks from now, and each week more beds are cleared and more goes in. In 4 weeks when the first beds are cleared tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, now growing from seed in sheltered, warm spots, will be planted.

Peas and potatoes are already in the ground, as are garlic and onion and chervil. Sage too. Asparagus has not presented yet, when it does this will be the first year we harvest and distribute. Yum.

Yesterday the first beds outside the hoophouse were built and planted. With drip tape down for water and floating row covers for protection from birds, pouring rains (that wash seeds away) and bugs that chow down on the vegetables the seeds should sprout and produce beautiful vegetables, for distribution in 8 weeks, in spite of the vagaries of weather in early spring.

Shown here. With beds of garlic behind that were planted last fall.

Monday, April 15, 2013

USDA changes

A few weeks ago the USDA announced that Kathleen Merrigan will leave as assistant secretary of the USDA.

Merrigan worked to help establish organic standards during the Clinton administration, then was a professor at Tufts. In the past 4 years, she has focused on the Know Your Food, Know Your Farmer program, a website that can be used by both consumer and farmer to locate all sorts of up to date information on programs and policy. Her focus on local farmers and food hubs has helped cause a ripple effect, spurring farmers to examine partnering with all sorts of other community members to strengthen local food sourcing.

Official news releases have an upbeat tone: that it is the norm for people to leave after 4 years time, that people and programs are in place that will carry on good works.

With interest and access to more information than most about food production than most folks, I am hopeful that her work will remain intact, supported and funded. There is growing scientific evidence on health, nutrition, diseases and causes that need a balanced, measured, calm and thorough spokesperson inside our government. In concerned that there will no longer be a high profile person within the USDA to be an advocate for food we eat. There are many proponents inside the USDA for food that is processed and has extended shelf life. Merrigan's replacement will hopefully be another person who works to keep fresh, local, minimally processed food into our food systems.

Shown here with Wendell Berry when she was the recipient of the James Beard Foundation Leadership Award, Merrigan has been recognized for her contribution to good food and good practices in getting that food available. Keep advocating for us, please. Farmers need policy makers that think of food not just commodities.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Partly shaded beds. Gets water regularly. What to put in them?

Chamomile and anise have both done well in there. The dehydrator is hooked up, so chamomile could easily be dried and used to make tea next winter. Delicious in cold water too, a real thirst quencher.

Or something else? Decisions.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

12+ acres

We live on land where others lived before us. Here for 4 years, we have worked to reduce ticks, poison ivy, multiflora rose and plain old trash here on the farm. We have cleared out and added a top to the hoophouse, planted and harvested in and around it. Dug in water supply lines. A south facing room off of the hoophouse, where sunny winter days are delightful. Swings, a little duck pond, a grove of blueberries, a bed of asparagus, fencing of the entire property, a couple dozen mobile pens, a commercial kitchen, grain bin, compost bins, smoker, giant cement table, gates, signs...

And then spring arrives each year. And there, in the field, next to a rock almost at the crest of a hill, a few daffodils bloom.

And we wonder: why this spot, on this entire 12+ acres. For us, there is nothing there. No wind break, no foundation, just one clump, all by itself. Who put it there, why was that spot selected, what used to be there?

Friday, April 12, 2013

farmers from Germany

The other day we had a couple dozen visitors on the farm. Students at an agricultural college in Germany, they are touring the east coast visiting a variety of farms, with a variety of growing practices. After their time here they went to the historic gardens of Williamsburg, VA.

At arrival, we introduced our farm and farm practices, giving a quick overview. We heard from them about the varieties of farming they are involved in. Then a walkabout.

A number of the group were fluent in English. Questions flew from them as the less fluent peppered them, and translations happened between everyone. How things work, regulations, costs, prices, equipment design, efficiencies.

What struck me most was the timeline they told us it takes to get a chicken from peeper to finished bird. 32 days. They looked at our first flock, out on field in pens, and told us they were the size of a 12-14 day old bird using their growing practices. A bird, full size in 32 days, means that each chicken house can be filled and emptied almost 12 times a year. The houses on their family farms hold 40,000 birds. Filling and emptying 11.4 times each year is a lot of chicken.

While here, they took a soil sample and performed an analysis. They unpacked, from the tour bus, a metal tube with a handle on one end, a point on the other, and an open side running the length of it. They also had a mallet, and with it drove the 5' tube into our ground, and then ran a series of tests on it. They had a small chemistry set for this. We were told the ph of our soil, the mix of the soil, and the fact that we are very iron heavy here, probably a result of the wind. They said the long roots of what grows here are a good match for our soil type.

And then they produced a framed photograph of our group, which included us! They had taken a photo here and incorporated it into their commemorative photo. Also photos of their school, dorms, and what is grown in the area: a heather.

Then more presents: a jar of honey and a bottle of booze. The honey from bees in their area, the booze distilled (and only made there, no where else in the world) that incorporates the heather and many other plants that grow there. When asked how it should be consumed: like wine, on the rocks, mixed with other things, the language barrier was broken, as many of them shouted "shots". Ah. Now we know.

A great group. Inquisitive, note taking, curious. Fun to meet them and exchange learnings.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Every year, when it is still cold out both day and night, the Jersey cattle start to look awful. Like the equivalent of mange in a dog.

We wonder what is happening.

And then temperatures warm. And we realize they are shedding, and the winter coat and summer coat are 2 different colors. Nothing is wrong. Just the change of season.

They rub on anything that will not break. Clumps of hair fall off. And the birds pick them up and make it a part of their nests.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

a fulcrum, a gin pole, a shear post?

Or why you should pay attention in physics class if you are going to be a farmer.

The grain bin we purchased off craigslist is up and in place. Anticipated bulk (not bagged) feed delivery is Friday.

2 guys, 2 ropes, 2 2x4's, a big bolt, a 4 wheel drive pickup truck, a maul and a t-post were all that was needed.

With the grain bin lying on its side, the ropes tied around the top, looped through the bolt that was holding the 2 2x4's, the truck was put into reverse. While the other end was anchored around the tpost and used as a brake. My job was to photograph and dial 911 if needed.

Smooth and steady the grain bin went up. The legs have holes that had to match up with brackets sunk into cement piers with very little room for error. Up went the bin, with the 2x4's acting as support and it swung right into place. A few adjustments, a little more backing up with the truck , a few more adjustments and the legs ended up right where they should be. Tightened down, now we can take delivery without bags, and just use buckets for moving the feed to the poultry.

Farming, and every piece of equipment needed for efficiencies, can cost a fortune. If we had to rent a crane and a crew to get this bin in place it would have cost. Multiply that times everything that needs to be done here, each year, and quickly farming full time becomes impossible. The limits of all that is grown sets the total income annually and then the farmer has to contain costs.

So: physics, and an understanding of fulcrums, pivot points, weight transfer are incredibly helpful.

And an understanding of compound interest and how it can work against you, if the loan/bank/credit card is calculating on what is owed...also important!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

it's a race

While it is important to be on the farm, it is equally important to leave the farm. We have visitors here regularly...just last night! And leaving the farm, doing something not farm related is just as important.

On Monday we had the chance to hear Leigh Barnes, president of Companion Plantings, speak on her design process, her favorite tools, pots and plants. Note scribbling occurred, ideas sprouted.

Leigh's business is that she brings pots and plants to homes and business locations and installs and plants them. In some cases maintains them, but most of the time that is for the owner to do. While she brought small pots to show us, she typically plants in very large containers. The size of a coffee table. Or larger! A few years ago she spoke to our group about holiday containers, and told us the value of using very large pots, that the trees planted in them can survive the winter, as can hardier plants/shrubs, because the water serves as protection.

We ran like crazy to get there. Chicks were picked up at the post office and all chores completed before we departed the farm. We were late, but we made it. And since it is the garden club a lovely luncheon was there waiting for us. And, the best part, such a warm welcome from our former neighbors, such sweetness, on a beautiful day...we are lucky people.

Sometimes, when Claire would be at work waitressing at Atwaters, groups of women would stop in to eat and request her as their server. Such regal women would always cause a coworker to ask Claire who are they, how do you know them?! Without looking, Claire would know they were our garden club.

As Homer and I drove through our old neighborhood, he commented on just how beautiful it is...right now all the spring flowers and some of the trees...are in gorgeous bloom. There is nothing like spring where the layers of trees, rhododendrons, azaleas, tulips, daffodil, crocus...the succession of spring ephemerals is breath taking.

It might be warm year round in other parts of the world, but the cold winters here mean an eye popping spring. The Wiltondale neighborhood was in all it's spring splendor yesterday: mild air, no humidity, sunny and gardens of envious beauty.

And we arrived home to a catalog of spring bulbs in the mail. So many options!

And a note to self, next spring our field trip could maybe be to Leigh's back yard. It is an amazing garden!

Monday, April 8, 2013

do you google map?

When we were searching for a farm to purchase, looking at google maps to find the location was done for every possibility. Checking on the distance from major roads, making certain all roads were paved and looking over the topography were all important.

The other view that was important was the the satellite view. This allowed us to zoom in and see a close up, from the sky view of each property we considered. We could see what was growing, the number of outbuildings, how much of the property had trees, was paved, etc.

Now we check on our farm just for giggles. We can identify the different pens we use: the turkey pens are the largest, the laying hen pens are next in size, rectangular and grouped together, the broiler pens are square and the portable pig movers are usually solitary.

We can see in the earth were the pens have been moved. The ground just behind the pen is bare, while the ground 14 days back is green and lush with regrowth.

The rain barrels off the hoophouse are visible too, as are the vegetable beds. Cars parked in the parking lot are visible, as is the compost pile.

A few weeks ago we acquired a grain bin. Used, it is a bit larger than we need so adjustments have been made. Some scrubbing, size changing, ladder attachment. The top was a little rusty, so primer was applied to make it solid gray.

And then the thought occurred. The helicopter training program that flies out of the airport just a few miles from here has choppers over our farm several times a day. The Harrisburg international airport is just a few miles beyond that, so a few commercial flights go over everyday. And then there is the satellite imagery available on every computer and smart phone all over the world...when we look at the farm from that perspective, what else could we show?

But it's spring and we need our feed delivery. This project needs to be completed as there is other work to do. Painting the farm name "Sunnyside Farm" on the top would have required much measuring and time. To be legible from a ways away...hmmm...many letters and maybe not enough space.

A sunflower was selected as the image that would show up clearly and still allow a full days work to be completed. Homer plotted the size, colors and dimensions and got to work. The paint, made for metal and outdoor use, is sold at the local hardware store. In colors that tractors are painted, the paint is typically used to retouch or restore a tractor that might have faded or chipped.

The results are magnificent. We will be checking google earth or just our regular mapping functions satellite view to see how it looks from above. And next time we fly, we will check this out!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

garlic, growing

Eggs packed. Commercial kitchen steam cleaned. Piles of paper relocated.

Garlic, inside the hoophouse, has not yet formed cloves. Planted last fall it is growing happily.

Three more beds were planted outside the hoophouse. Weeding this am before weeds take over and disrupt.

Work on grain bin continues. Turkeys, broilers growing well in brooder. All peas in. First 4 weeks of vegetable CSA shares in and growing. Watering of tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings daily. Final harvest of chervil, spinach and collards planted and harvested many times already.

Water pond cleaned out and refilled.

After grain bin? Pen repairs, and swings. Must have swings.

Flowers started too. A few natives will go in. As daylight and temperatures increase so does the to do list.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

last load

Monday new feed delivery, in bulk. The feed bin must be ready!

Last load that looks like this. Racing to get all that needs to be done completed.

Friday, April 5, 2013

steady at it

The pigs have cleared a size able area that will be planted with sweet corn in a few months. We plant a shoepeg corn...the rows of corn on the ear are random, the top is tighter wound...because growing corn without chemicals is really tough. The less perfect looking, older varieties of shoe peg corn are tougher for the bugs to get into, and growers report success. Corn grows tall with shallow roots, so toppling over in storms is a problem. And as they ripen we must keep the cattle away from the area, as we have learned the hard way the herd will break through electric fencing to get in and eat the corn, stalks, ears, husks, tassels and all, in 10 minutes or less.

Sweet corn never goes on the list of things we offer as part of the CSA. While we grow it every year we have never distributed any. Another season, we will try again!

This particular fence line has never been planted. This is the first year it has been cleared down to bare ground. Today the last of the pea seeds will go along this fence line: snow peas and snap peas have already gone in, in other locations, this will be English peas, the ones that, popped from their shells right after picking, into a sauce pan with a bit of butter, salt and pepper...yum. More complicated things can be done with English peas, but the first harvest gets a simple, quick cook.

Actually, the first harvest is standing in the garden eating them warm, opening the pod and just eating the peas raw. In about 8 weeks, give or take...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

inside the hoophouse

Inside the hoophouse it looks pretty empty. The beds that we harvested from all winter have mostly been emptied, only spinach and kale are left now.

What is in there now does not yet appear in a picture. The first 4 weeks of the CSA shares are in there, the first batch of seeds planted 4 weeks ago. While the unheated hoophouse protects the seedlings from the wind, it does not protect from night time temperatures below freezing, so the growth is slow. But steady, we see it!

And the snow peas are sprouting and popping! These are days where it seems like the peas expand every day. With nighttime temperatures above freezing for the next week, everything in here will grow quickly.

Next week the seeds will go in beds outside. The pigs cleared them months ago, and compost will be spread, and then in they go! At first they will get floating row covers for protection.

And under cover are tomato, eggplant and pepper seedlings. Cold nighttime temperatures will kill them so they get extra protection. Soon we will set them out.

And a broccoli raab left in the bed flowered...and bumble bees are all over it, inside our not airtight hoophouse.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


There are steps being made to get the grain bin in place.

Cement needs a resting/curing time, so that is happening now.

How do you use old pickle buckets?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

what sort of day?

It was a frustrating sort of day.

A one step forward, two steps back kind of a day.

In the summer months it can just be hot and dead calm. But in the winter and spring the wind, on some days, can be relentless. All day, windy as feed and water are carried. As eggs are gathered. As attempts at moving soil and seeds are foiled.

The planting beds in the hoophouse are full. We need to begin planting outside because when harvest time arrives it will be too hot in the hoophouse. So seeds need to go in outside.

Not possible. The wind rips everything, the plastic covering the hoop structure makes so much noise in the weed that serious headaches result.

So much wind a shade cover: a heavy pallet and large piece of metal went airborne. A lid from a garbage can blown into the road, smashed by a passing car before it could be retrieved.

Note to farmers: when the weather forecast shows an odd graphic that is just sideways graphics, figure out indoor work. Fighting it is just frustration.

Sunny, clear and reasonable temperatures are on the horizon. Rain on Friday. Farm work will happen. Please.

Monday, April 1, 2013


Does just the word fill you with terror? Or am I the only one l who heard that lard was evil and full of stuff that would kill me young?

Food is so contradictory. We try and eat fresh and clean food as much as possible. And then wonder what that means!

I found a cookbook recently that details making pie crust. Including crust made with a variety of fats. Lard is used in making savory crusts, and my history has 2 well known savory hand pies: the empanada (my stepmother is from Argentina) and the Cornish pasty (my great grandparents emigrated from Cornwall to the upper peninsula of Michigan, where my great grandfather was captain of a copper mine in the town of Republic). And Homer and I just straight up love a pie of any kind: quiche, fruit, pumpkin, vegetables, meat...it's all good.

With our pigs living on pasture the meat is clean tasting. After reading through the cookbook we started dreaming of pies with lard crust.

An empanada is spiced a little differently than a pasty. Quite similar ingredients until the divergence occurs with olives, raisins and garlic in the empanada, thyme and rosemary in the pasty.

The crust is the question. Modern recipes call for good quality lard. We are pretty certain we have that, from our pigs. The process to get lard is a separation over low heat, until there is liquid that can be poured off. That, kept in the fridge for a few weeks maximum, is the foundation of what is reported to be the best crust ever.

After the lard was removed from the cast iron skillet, burgers went in. Rated triple X, as this is all the stuff we are not supposed to eat. Cheese (grass fed cheddar), beef (grass fed here) and lard (grass fed here).

It was, without question, the most delicious and satisfying burger I have ever eaten. The dog did not get a speck from my burger. Homer makes 2 for him and usually shares a bit with her, but this was not a give to the dog sort of meal.

A savory pie will happen this week, with a lard crust. Promise of a crisp, not soggy crust even with and egg filling tempts that, but more investigation is needed before we get started.


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