Friday, May 31, 2013

yes, you too

The herd of cattle, along with the rest of the livestock, move all around the farm. With a system of posts and wires and the mobile shade/water, this is pretty simple to do.

The smallest member of the herd is proving to be interesting. It has cloned into the middle of the mobile shade unit twice, and is the one that managed to open the latches on the turkey pen and get in there. 

Today when it came time to move all the rest went right over. They walk from the paddock they have been in right into the new one. This move required crossing the mowed pathway (it runs the farm so we can get around) and that little one looks tempted to make a run for it. 

Herd instinct prevailed, and into the high grass of the next paddock they go.  They lead themselves.

And once in the new paddock, they get right on it.

What they are searching for is this:

Wheat. Not cut and neatly arranged like this, but growing in spots out there. Along with tons of others...

Thursday, May 30, 2013

what just hit the ground?!

IWhile the herd of cattle eats massive amounts every day, the grass continues to grow and grow. For right now, the cattle are sharing space with the turkeys. Sometimes the turkeys miss a bit of corn. 

And then the cows do this. 

On it, like a duck on a June bug. 

Crowding each other out, pushing each other aside. 

Cracked corn junkies. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


We left the farm on Saturday to attend a wedding. Held at the Cloisters, just outside of Baltimore, the setting was fantastic. 

The wedding was in keeping with the location, as the entire wedding party and many of the guests wore period costumes. It was fun to see so many friends all dressed up!

Homer was fascinated with the construction of the building. It really is spectacular. The food was awesome, flowers and decorations perfect, it was really a wonderful time. 

The ceremony took place outside, and the weather cooperated. Chairs were set in the courtyard for guests, with plenty of space for the musicians. Two sides of the courtyard were a portico, with the roof made from rocks...large, flat rocks held in place with a variety of means. 

We had a wonderful time and are so happy for our friends. And a spark of inspiration from their selection of such a beautiful atmosphere. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

swimming with the chickens

The other day a neighbor stopped by after a fishing trip. They had caught some bluefish and did not want all of them, and stopped in to see if we had a use for them. 

In years past, bluefish has gone into the smoker for a bit until edible. Takes some time but so worth it, smoking an oily fish like the bluefish makes for a rich tasting and nice and moist fish. 

But on that day we didn't have a moment to spare. So the fish went to the chickens. And they tore it up!

Except for the one pen of birds, the red sex links/Asa reds that were given to us. Those birds barely touched their fish. Another reason I'm partial to the heritage breeds of laying hens...they are just better at taking anything and converting it to big, beautiful eggs!

And then what was left went into the compost. Most growing guides mention adding fish meal and bone meal to the soil. We've got that. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

now that is hot

The entire growing season we use our licensed kitchen. In the winter time not so much, just the fridge for the eggs. 

There is a time in the really cold, really dark part of the winter where most things really grind to a halt. And egg production slows. For a bit we turned the water off, saving the pump and hot water heating. 

And then *boom, eggs aplenty. Water needed for hand washing. And no hot water. Water, but mostly cold. Discussions of removal, return, replacement of hot water heat system. 

Another realization: we might just need to clear the lines, reset, reprime. Done and done, and now steam rises from the water again. Sometimes it is just the simple things, maintenance stuff that needs doing, not the rip it out at the base thing. Seems we tend toward the tear it up way...

Sunday, May 26, 2013

a day of rest

Saturday. We know other people run errands and take it easy. 

In Saturdays now I go to a farmers market. Only about 15 minutes away, it is an easy thing to get there and back. Homer even visited yesterday and was there while I took a little break: the wind was just overwhelming. I sat inside for 15 minutes, a luxury!

Homer did the usual morning chores: feeding, moving and watering all the livestock. We packed the coolers and all the market gear. And after he visited me, he did a little work that is not really farm work but how he relaxes. 

If you ask Homer about sports of any sort he does not know the players or the teams. Sitting and watching others play at things is just not something he does. In his leisure time he is thinking, designing and building things. 

Yesterday he worked in the man cave. We have collected things in our travels and yesterday he installed some treasures there. 

We have received bamboo poles from people who have it growing on their property. Bamboo is incredibly healthy and produces rapidly in this country. There are just one or two bamboos that are native while most are not. Bamboo chokes out anything else in the area, completely overrunning where it was planted and beyond. These non-natives do not support our native song birds or what their babies need to eat, so when offered what is cut we agree to take it and install where it is not touching the ground. It will spring back to life given the opportunity!

The poles went in at the sunny/windy corner of the man cave. And then a couple of the big expanses of glass also went in, to cut down on just how much the strong wind that hits when in there. 

I returned from the market, unloaded the truck, cleaned coolers, stowed all the gear. A little rest a little lunch and off we went to a lovely wedding of a couple we have known for years. Such a beautiful evening!

And this morning. Picking and packing vegetables. Chickens packed in coolers, eggs in cartons and into coolers, and then distribution. Tomorrow we plant more vegetables, weed, finish the last chicken pen...and plenty of other things. 

So thankful to share the day with loved ones, to share in joy. Life is good. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

bald face

Hornets. Bald faced hornets. White faced with black bodies, good sized hornets. 

Last year we learned about them. The hornet hive grew larger all summer long, after it started in early spring just this small. This one was in a rain barrel, just opened up. 

While hornets look fierce with their big bodies and large stingers, we learned that this variety eats flies. We have cattle, so we have flies. So this wasp gets a spot on the farm. That we avoid and instruct others to give a wide berth. No reason to tempt the fates. 

Friday, May 24, 2013


We are always working to cut back on work and waste. There really is plenty of each on the farm, there is no reason to look for more. 

This year the hoop house rain barrels will not have gutters. It's an experiment, so if it does not work next year (or maybe sooner) it will again. 

There are ropes on the hoop house, as well as the huge pieces of metal the form the structure. This year the rain barrels are placed where it looks like the rivulets off the roof run.

Time will tell. We are just looking to retain water with the least amount of labor. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

stuck in the shade

We have had a few iterations on our portable cow shade. The first one blew apart one windy day...we do live in an area called bald hill, and it must be because of the wind that whips through here sometimes. Homer builds things strong, so they can take abuse, but had to make design adjustments to withstand the 50+ mph wind. 

The structure we have now provides shade, water, a couple of tubs for kelp and spots for salt and mineral lick. This is our 3rd year using it, and on hot sunny days in treeless paddocks the herd is found in the heat of the day chewing their cud in the shade. 

Never before have we seen this happen. This animal is just short enough to fit under the cross brace, over the kelp tubs, and stretch over to the water barrels. 

Most just walk up to the water barrels and get a drink. This one decided to get creative. Homer will be adding another 2x4 to block this and stop it from happening. 

Stuck. And breaking stuff. Livestock. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

walkway weeds

We have a pretty good system for weed suppression in the vegetable beds. Most of what we pick is pretty clean, and pulling weeds in the beds does not take long. 

The walkways are a whole different thing. There is, every year, different attempts made to stop grass and weeds from growing at a ridiculous rapid pace. 

We love to recycle stuff, to provide a different use before things hit the landfill. Sometimes used wall to wall carpet becomes available, so we decided to use some in the walkways. 

Cut into strips and turned upside down, these carpet remnants are now installed in about 1/4 of the garden. We used all that was available to us, and it is working. Stops light and water. We will use landscape cloth on the rest so that we have access to all beds. 

This year we have made a small amount of money with instruction, talks and tours. We are using those earnings for this purpose, to reduce the amount of hand weeding. Time is needed for other work. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

top flight xl

All over the farm, as the pens move the poultry around, they tear up the grass down to the bare earth. 

That process has revealed many things to our eyes. And many other things we do not see, that the birds eat. 

One thing that appears regularly in the ground are golf balls. At some point someone was here hitting them all over the property, we have found many. 

We have one pen of laying hens that was given to us free. They are a breed we never usually get: red sex link. Bred to lay an egg a day and to have a low food input requirement for maximum egg production, they regularly eat their own eggs. Disgusting and a money loser for us. 

So the golf balls go into their nest boxes. When they smack the golf ball rather then an egg in an attempt to break it, it helps discourage them from breaking the eggs. 

It worked, clean eggs from their nests yesterday!

Monday, May 20, 2013

a graduate

Claire had her formal graduation yesterday in College Park, MD. She has a  Bachelor of Science degree in Geography with a Sustainablity minor and a concentration in GIS. Map making using data, writing code using Python, and helping to change the face of data. 

Her internship this spring started as an unpaid venture, and then became paid. Her applications are in for full time work in her field, and she has been accepted (and has deferred for a semester at least) to grad school at University of Maryland. 

She has no debt to speak of. Her dad kept teasing her about outstanding parking tickets and overdue book fines...even when he graduated, schools held the actual diploma until the student paid their debt. I went with a friend to collect his diploma when I was in college, and he owed more than $300, could not get the paper until he aid up! She does not need to do that. 

Claire will be back at Atwaters working until she has full time work, say hi to her! We all discover the best way to stay out of debt: make more, spend less...

Sunday, May 19, 2013

peppers, eggplant go in

The big pigs moved to the spot on the farm that needs tearing up. Still full of briars and too many vines, including some big vines growing up trees, the pigs will browse and graze first, and eventually dig up and eat the roots too. 

This week the sides of the hoop house will be removed. The rain gutters will go up and all the rain barrels will get set in place. More weeding. And seeds will go in too. 

And the eggplant and pepper seedlings that have been growing in various spots will go into this area. Some of the seedlings are quite large: we start a bunch, when it does not look like we have good germination we start a bunch more, then more again, and then I went back to Landreth for even more eggplant seeds. We have not yet had too many, and setting them out is certain to cause some losses. 

Right now they look big in the pots. When they go into the ground the plants will look tiny. The temptation to plant them close together must be avoided. Each plant will end up a couple feet tall and wide, and we need room to move around them, must remember!

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Last year we attempted something different with our chickens. We tried a different breed. The local grower told us that the birds would grow in about 8 weeks to be 4 pound chickens. We needed 3 pound birds for a chef and 4 pound for our home cooks, so the season of chickens was ordered. 

Those birds just did not grow. And they were flighty, difficult to catch and did not clear the grass from the bottom of the pen in a 24 hour period. 

Because they grew so slowly we did not have enough pens to hold all of them. At 10 weeks they still were barely large enough for the chef and certainly not large enough for the home cook. 

When we called the man who provided the birds to ask what was going wrong, to find what was going wrong, he told us we needed to use chick starter. We had tried an organic chick starter years ago, and when we checked the list of ingredients we were not comfortable with some of the listed items. So we don't use it. And the fact that those birds could barely get to size without it really did not work for us. 

This year we are running only the variety of birds we have grown for the last 10 years. These birds do well on our farm, in the brooder for a bit until they get feathers and then on the field in mobile pens to full size. The chicken is plump and delicious, and grow in a time frame that works for us. This week we are delivering our first CSA chickens and today we will have them at the teeny tiny market in New Cumberland, and on Thursday in Hershey. 

Homer is finishing a couple of new pens, replacements for chicken pens we moved onto the farm in 2009. This design is easier to move, the birds are really protected from direct sun and rain while still getting plenty of sunshine. 

Full days here. Everything is happening, and we are having fun. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

we are watching, and they are too

The electric wire runs on the property. In the winter little is hooked up, the perimeter fence and an area for pigs. The winter herd of cattle is small enough that not a lot is needed. 

And now, with a total of 4 big pigs and a full herd of stockers, the electric fence runs all over the property. When Homer fills buckets in the morning with the poultry ration, he does not want every other animal running over him to see. A slight adjustment to the wire allows him the time he needs to get buckets filled and into the back of the truck. 

And while the cattle watch him, he can watch them. He checks on how they are doing: eating, resting, cud chewing, how filled out, how their eyes and ears look and the quality of their poop. 

All looks good. 

Yesterday when I stepped into their paddock to top off their water, a snake jumped in the grass. A dark snake with light stripes running the length of its body. When Homer had picked up a board lying in that area, he had expected to see voles, as they love a spot like that on the field, under cover. Instead there were just the two snakes, well fed. 

The electric fence scares me. I touch by accident and it makes me see stars. Same with the livestock I guess. We all avoid it. Most of the time it works, only occasionally does it fail. Never a good day when that happens. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Yesterday we notified our CSA members that its on. This week, and every week for the next 26 weeks, vegetables, eggs and chicken will be delivered. A few years ago we missed a week because of terrible storms, flooding and governors requests that no one go on the road except for emergencies, and lettuce didn't seem to qualify. So barring any weather craziness, we know just where we will be in 2013!

At the same time we are trying to keep life in balance, not work ourselves into exhaustion and resentment. Sometimes when it is hot and there is much to do we can, each of us, go out of balance. And in August, when home insurance, business insurance, taxes and a feed bill are all due while everyone else is at the beach, we need to remember to keep a balance. Not traveling to the beach, but by stopping and resting. And by continuing to prepare meals, visiting with friends and generally keeping it fun. 

Last year we grew chickens for a chef that wanted 3 pound birds. We made a commitment in January that extended from May until November. And by June realized that a 3 pound bird is a bird difficult for us to manage. This year we are doing what we have done in years past, 4 pound birds to our CSA members, farm visitors and a couple of close by farmers markets. We have a few more varieties of flowers in the ground. A few more pigs. A few more laying hens. And fewer chickens for chicken. 

Striking a balance always seems like a lovely but maybe not quite possible goal. We are lucky to have support and interest from such nice people who we get to call our friends, and from our family as well. 

Our vegetable planting is almost half over. We will seed lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, carrots, beets and radishes each week for 14 more weeks, along with planting out the rest of the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash. Other things still go in, but potatoes are all in (400 pounds!) and garlic too. And a bunch of herbs...

So a little calm before the storm. An effort to keep work in balance with fun, nourishment and hydration in balance with physical labor. 

And bacon. Let there be bacon for us and for all. 

And a few flowers too. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


The grass will be mowed. 

On Monday the stocker calves we use for mowing arrived. While they move away from us and avoid eye contact, the moment they are on grass the heads go down and they commence eating. 

At this time of year it looks impossible that the herd will ever catch up with all the grass. With the *mostly warmer temperatures, the grass is already knee high all over the farm. It will take them a while but they will catch up and eventually overtake it. Sometime in January of 2014!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

pigs in grass

We have 2 Hereford gilts. They have been a part of our work crew around the hoop house and have now hit a size where they are large enough to do real clearing. 

When we moved on the farm there were a lot of thorny things growing on our fields. Plenty of poison ivy too. We have chopped and pulled lots of it up, the cows have decreased the amounts too. Most look green and grassy with weeds mixed in too. 

At the very back of the property, behind the woods, it is still pretty shrubby. It is down a hill, not a huge slope, but steep enough to make moving chicken pens a real hassle, so they have not been down there. 

It is a perfect spot for these two pigs. Lots of shade and sun. Lots of spots for digging. Lots of weedy, shrubby stuff to uproot. And every bit of it edible if you are a pig. 

We gave them access to the non-native honeysuckle. But not to the May Apples, now in beautiful bloom. They can also get to the multiflora rose, but not the stand of beeches. And to a whole lot of acorns too. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

when electric wire fails

Why does electric wire fencing stop working? When vines overtake it. When grass grows up in it. 

We use electric fence on our perimeter and to form temporary paddocks for the cattle and the pigs. The fence line at the very back of the property is overgrown by weeds...we swear it wasn't last week...and shorted out the fence charge. The livestock got out. Repairs done, but it will keep growing, that's how things work...

Sunday, May 12, 2013


As farmers, we see lots of mommas and babies. The circles of life are considerably smaller in livestock and wildlife than in most humans.

So quickly a pig, duckling, chick or calf can be removed from its mother and still thrive. We substitute as parents for them, providing food, shelter and security. 

Some folks get their biological parents for life and some never see their biological parents. Some get people who stand in, and stand up as parents. I've had a mix of it in my life: as a parent, the joy of seeing my daughter grow and mature. Such a delight and honor! I'm a daughter and a stepdaughter. My grandmother was my fathers stepmother, after his dad was widowed. I'm a stepmother. And a stand in mother for some dear ones who have mothers not able to be. I know people who adopted or who were adopted, or gave up newborns for adoption. Women who have fur babies. Women who have buried their children. 

Mothering. The acts of encouraging, protecting, nurturing, teaching, loving, healing. Pushing, prodding, stopping, starting. Rule making, rule breaking. Hoping and worrying. No matter the bloodline it is always there. 

My mother was not able to care for me on a daily basis. She wrote letters, with that old style cursive, neat and straight, with messages that asked me to make sure I wore clean underwear. And chewed my food. My stepmother was there everyday, with many more messages, thoughts and insights. My mother died 25 years ago, my stepmother is with us, will attend my daughters graduation celebration next week. My sweet mother-in-law will not, as she has passed away. 

I have a group of friends who all have in common a woman we love and respect, and go to for guidance. For years we have been lucky enough to have a get away weekend with her. Many call her mom. Each of us know that she is wise, thoughtful, filled with insight. When asked she will provide guidance and shed light on things that baffle, confuse, confound. 

It is an amazing thing to be a mother. No matter the form it takes. I'm tickled for all the forms of mothers I get to have and get to be. 

And our momma pig? Gonna have more piglets soon. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

while we were sleeping

In January we get fairly low on grass. The entire farm is cut pretty close, sometimes so close we think there might be damage. 

And now it is May, with warmer temperatures, sunny days, regular rains and the grass is suddenly thigh high. 

When we moved here much of the property was shrubby with lots of poison ivy. And ticks. The combination of cattle and poultry has changed what goes here. And the grass clearly likes it. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

cute meter

The cute meter jumped way up the other day. 

A small box arrived from the hatchery. In it were a variety of ducklings and goslings. We will raise them all together and use a house that has reinforcement around it to house them at night. In the past we have lost ducklings and goslings to every imaginable predator, including the dog. So electric fencing with a covering over the area they are in is on order. 

Right now they are all downy and in the brooder until it is warmer out at night and they develop feathers. We used aluminum trays (pig food had been given to us in them) and put a large rock in each one, so the smallest ones could step out easily. 

These things double in size daily. They will be installed in the pond in no time. While they were growing, we set more beds, weeded walkways, built bluebird houses, and Homer made 2 more chicken pens. Next week we will process our first batch of chickens, emptying pens in that process, so pen building is about done. Cattle delivery on Monday. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

water and algae

For years we have used the bell drinkers in our poultry pens. And for just as long we have cursed them. Attached to 5 gallon buckets, with thin rubber tubes that the water runs through the drinkers are prone to algae growth and general gunking up. At the busiest time of year...when there are 25 pens on the fields with turkeys, egg layers and broilers, it is inevitable that one or more will stop working. Something will clog the tube, no water runs, and the birds go thirsty. It is also a guarantee that this happens on the hottest days of the year, when we think all is well and it is not. Without water poultry don't live very long.

So constant checking, weekly scrubbing, and the inevitable removal of a bunch of feed when water gets hauled out in a feed bucket, and all the bits of feed float into the tube and *somebody has to blow out the tube to clean it out. Not the nastiest job on the farm, but close.

The watering system is one Homer wants to change. Lots of ideas, now incorporated into one design.
A typical water system, where it fills a basin in the bottom to the point where even with the hole. What is different is that it moves with the pen, does not spill while being moved, and being almost airtight, we expect a dramatic reduction in algae growth.

It goes onto the latest version of the pen: constructed of an amazing strong tarp, it shades and protects the birds from rain, while still allowing plenty of light and air. And protection from those never gonna give up predators.
and when filling the poultry waterer, there is the added bonus of a shower!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

in the zone

When we installed our perimeter fences, we put them 30 feet inside our property line. We wanted there to be an undos turned area, an area where we could plant native trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses. 

Not everything in there is native. A couple of our neighbors don't like it, and mow from their property line as close to our fence as they can get. 

This *mostly unmowed buffer provides shelter for animals. Today, as Homer was walking and working, he saw this little nest. Probably a song bird, maybe only a robin, but clearly in a sheltered spot. 

Neither of us know birds, eggs or nest size/shape to be able to identify. Finding nests on our property is like a fantastic adventure. Poof! The nests suddenly appear. Just a few weeks and baby birds appear. 

It seems like each year we see more birds here. We do not set out bird feeders, we plant natives knowing they support the bugs that feed the songbirds. Because its all about the colorful, beautiful songbirds and providing spots for them to build. 

And the butterflies too! Already have seen swallowtails!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

he's back

Our boar left the farm in January. He had a little work to do, covering the sows at a neighbors farm.

He returned the other day. When he left he was about the same size as our sow. Now he is substantially bigger, longer. Our estimates are 6 feet of bacon.

In a couple of months he will go to the butcher in the meantime he is back to work clearing grass along our fence line. Delightful to see a pig graze. He is now a barrow, just working the grass and nothing else.

Monday, May 6, 2013

egg music

When the hens lay eggs they usually make a little noise. Egg music we call it.

There are 3 nest boxes in every pen. Stuffed full of straw, the hens wind the straw down and around, creating a hollow for the eggs.

The hens line up to get into a nest at certain times of the day. With 3 options, they will still lay all of them in one or two nests, and will sometimes pack three into a nest as they wait for eggs. If we had roosters and the eggs were fertile, one hen would take over the care of a clutch of eggs, setting on them until hatching. Since we are not breeding chickens but love the eggs, we pull them several times each day. And then, cook up lovely dishes with them.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

It's Homer's Birthday!

Happy birthday to the farmer!

It's Sunday and May and work needs to be done. So little bits of celebrating today, with birthday cake on less hectic Monday.

Homer is such a bright and creative person, it is a joy to witness as he designs and builds solutions here on the farm. Yesterday we ended our work day on the two person swing he decided we needed one day last week, and then built it from scraps and materials that were left over from other projects. After all we get to do here we end the day soaring through the air, a completely different perspective!

Homer offers that often. A different perspective on what is known, a different approach. Always interesting and testing the limitations!

And glad that we get this life, this work, this food. Lucky.


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