Sunday, June 30, 2013

more goes in

We plant year round. In January and February it is the earliest seedlings that get transferred in warm weather. In August and September it is the winter greens that we pull all winter. 

And now, in June, more beans. More squash, pumpkins and watermelon. And more carrots, beets, radishes, lettuce and such. 

We visited a couple of local native plant gardens yesterday. One also had pepper plants that were good sized, with huge peppers on them. Out peppers are still tiny, but getting there. Same with eggplant and tomatoes. And then it always seems like when we are not looking, poof! we have tons ripe, and pull daily, early, to keep up. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

today's share

What do we do with our vegetable share? Last nights dinner used up most of a box, for three of us. 

There was a garlic scape pesto: the scapes, nuts, cheese, olive oil ground up together and then mixed up with orzo. 

A salad that used up most of the lettuce, with carrots in there too. A quick dressing that is a mix of honey, mustard and olive oil. 

In a cast iron skillet a bit of olive oil was heated up. Into that went garlic until tender. Removed and then beets, sliced thin, until tender. And then after pulling the beets, radishes in there. All 3 mixed, then a little sea salt on top. And the beets greens cooked down and added to the salad. 

And a gift we received this week from our farmer friends in Detroit: pickled green tomatoes. We opened and finished the jar in one meal: the green tartness was a wonderful counterbalance to the sweetness of the crisped root vegetables and the honey mustard salad. And the bracing scape pasta. 

Who gets to eat like this?! We do! Yay!

Friday, June 28, 2013

summer showers

Our weather forecast is exactly the same for every day for the next 7 days. It is a photo of an ominous looking cloud accompanied with a lighting bolt. 

It means sunny days, a thunderstorm in the late afternoon that rolls over violently and quickly, cooling the temperatures down and then foggy, cool mornings. 

Yesterday I was at market when it happened. 15 minutes of rain, everything cleared up, and customers reappeared. 

Homer was at the farm working with seedlings, weeds and vegetables. Perfect planting weather, after the rains! Daily rains are good for the vegetables, and the grass we grow here. Milkweed and aster love it too. 

We want to keep as much water as possible on our farm. Our vegetable growing area is at the center of our property surrounded by grass, as we believe it is important to keep our soil on our property too. 

Erosion from growing in soil: when these sudden, intense, heavy rains appear in the heat of is important to us to keep our soul here, on our property. 

Soil in our waterways, scientists have discovered, results in many things. The water from New York State to the Chesapeake Bay is compromised by runoff, as the amount of soil particles in the water decreases the amount of sunlight that can penetrate the water. This reduces the amount of grass that can live in the water. And the grass is where the crabs live, breed and have their babies. 

This is important to us because steamed crabs...the best thing. Oysters on the half shell also excellent. 

Keeping our soil here improves our meals here on farm. And our meals off farm too. The next time you see a big wash of gravel/soil/debris leading to a stream after an intense summer storm, think of steamed crabs. And soft shell crabs. And oysters on the half shell. And consider ways to slow that stuff down. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

chickens catching bugs

It is a misty morning, with a chance of showers likely later on today. A great morning to be up early and get work done in what qualifies on farm as cool weather. Really it is hot and humid, but it is not broiling!

The chicken pen we call the old nags and hags was just moved, and given a run over an area we want cleared. In just a couple of days they will have the job completed. 

For now they get they view of the sunflowers in bloom, the new bamboo screen (from bamboo harvested out of a backyard) and the glassed in man cave. 

Working with a view. We all like that. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

in the heat of the day

Rolling thunderstorms of summer are happening on a regular basis now. The days are hot, sunny and humid until clouds gather and a quick, intense thunderstorm happens. 

During the hot and sunny times we hose the pigs down. They get hosed off during the thunderstorms too, but it seems like by midday all of that water has dried up. 

The pigs love to make themselves a coat of mud. They are making a cool coat of clay on themselves. Pottery pork. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

digging dill

Dill is such a delicious addition to food. On a piece of grilled fish, on hard boiled eggs, on sliced up cucumber, it adds a nice bright spot of goodness. 

It is quick to bolt and set flowers in the summer heat. Started a bit later this year in hopes that we could keep it a bit longer. 

Greeted by this: something dug in it. Some still intact but most not. Time to reseed and try again!

Monday, June 24, 2013

small things

It's the small things that make a difference. 

In the new kitchen, the commercial kitchen, there is plenty of room for washing up dishes. 

And now, thanks to Homer and his scavenger abilities, we have a spot of stainless steel for setting clean stuff on. 

Lots of cleaning up today. Mason jars are the first on that list. 

More seeds going in. In case the squash out there get eaten by squash bugs we have more of those going in. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

this is happening now

Two weeks ago the sour cherries ripened. We picked a bunch and made sour cherry lemonade. 

This week we made lemonade with strawberries in it. And egg custard with blueberries on top. 

The blueberries are just starting to ripen. The plums, peaches, pears and apples look beautiful too. 

But this week, and for a couple of weeks, it will be all about the blackberries, black raspberries and red raspberries. Mostly for us, maybe added to lemonade at farmers markets, we will be picking whenever we have the chance. 

While blueberries are available in the grocery store year round, the other berries now starting to ripen just do not transport. They really are ones that we must stand and eat within moments of picking. A job we are happy to do!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

even me

We were off farm for a couple of hours last night, attending a solstice party. Such a beautiful day: comfortable temperatures, low humidity, mosquitoes not too bad. I guess it was actually evening, but light for so long!

A chance to catch up with friends, tell some stories, laugh out loud. Meet the brother of the husband of a woman that I used to work with. 

The dog rode along. And while on my lap, when I patted her on the neck, she growled at me. I wasn't certain I heard her correctly, so tried again. She growled again. If I tried a third time I'd bet money she would have snapped at me. 

Don't touch that dog. She ran the farm with Homer on Thursday and she did what she is on farm to do, but that dog likes her space and wants no one, even me, in it. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

NOT there before

When I was a kid my family would make long car trips. We would drive from our home in Rockville, MD to St. Louis to visit my family. My father and my mother were both mid-westerners: my father, and every generation of Peters prior to him is buried in Greenup, IL while my mother, an Osbourne, has ties to northern Indiana and Danville, IL. My grandparents, uncles, aunt and cousins all lived near each other in the St. Louis area, and we visited a couple times a year.  

My dad was a kid who spent a lot of time outdoors. He knew early on that he wanted to study reptiles and amphibians. Eventually he ended up as curator of herpetology at the Smithsonian. 

At one point in his life he spent a summer taking an exhibition of native wildlife around the state of Illinois. His job was to have the animals in display cages during various events, and then move the animals back into smaller travel cages for transport back to the next location, then set up, meet people and identify/explain the animals to them. 

On one of our car trips he told me the tale of the summer, how each time packing and moving some animals was simple and some not so much. One, and I don't remember what variety, but a weasel comes to mind, hated to be moved from cage to cage and there was, over the course of the summer, increasingly aggressive interactions on both handler and handled parts to make the regular cage changes. 

My dad told us that as a result of this daily handling of native wildlife he could identify all animals at just a glance. Well, the native to Illinois wildlife. He proved this by identifying every animal on the side of the road. Dead or alive, mashed by a tire, he could still, as we sped past, call out the name. 

So when I moved a cage of small pigs the other day I was surprised to see this pile of bones underneath our 1948 International Harvester flat bed pickup truck. I immediately thought what in the world was that?! And who do I know that I can ask?

It looks like a possum to me. That long narrow jaw and fairly small rib cage bring it to mind. 

But I could be wrong. My up close skills are not as keen as my dad's drive by skills. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

rain much?

How can we tell it has been raining more than usual?

The garden beds are lush. The only flower bed we have planted, a perennial bed full of natives, is way overcrowded for the first time. Every plant is jammed up and huge, in years past they have just not been large. Even after the cattle ate the oak leaf hydrangea down it has sprung back to life, full of buds that are ready to bloom!

The vegetables have been thick and full. We know the heat will be here in full force in the next couple of weeks, and will be with us for about 8 weeks until things cool down a bit. There is usually scant rain during this time, and if a drought happens it is usually inside these 2 months. 

For now, the clover is in bloom all over the farm. Since this is pollinator week, I'm looking and observing the number of pollinators flying around and working our blooms. All I know is this: there are tons of them here. Every few feet in the clover, all over the buds on the flower beds, hanging out near tomato plants covered in blooms. The hive for the honey bees is buzzing and active, while the ground dwelling and more solitary bees are working every flower too. 

And then this! Mushrooms popping all over. Believe it or not: scientists know there is an underground system of something that is not roots of plants but roots of something else, and that when mushrooms sprout, all over, all at once, it is an indicator of healthy, life supporting soil. 

We have it here, no question. Each spring this one or two day phenomenon is larger than the year before, covers more ground with more varieties of mushrooms. They are here and gone quickly, and are sure signs that our soil is supporting many forms of life. 

I'm betting that this soil health helps all of the native ground dwelling bees. That somehow this flush of fungi signal those tiny, sensitive creatures that the soil here is good for them, and they make more and pollinate more. Earth systems fascinate me, as do the interconnections of healthy, fertile soil and the tiny creatures that fertilize so much. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

making life easier

Every day we feed our poultry a little grain. Not a lot, because at the same time we move the pens onto new patches of grass, and they eat away at that. 

The grain bin has made a huge difference in the day. The grain goes into buckets and then into the pens by the scoopful. Done and done. 

So much simpler. And our backs are happier too!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

keeping it clean

We have added 2 more work spots on the farm, and what a difference!

For cleaning vegetables, it is best to use as little water as possible while removing as much soil as possible. 

At the same time, we want to avoid creating mud. While the pigs love a good belly flop in the mud farmers prefer to have as little caked on footwear as possible. Mud is heavy!

A bit of wire mesh over a grassy spot and there it is. Spread out vegetables, a quick hit of the hose and into the crates. Little things make a big difference!

Monday, June 17, 2013

bacon, sausage and such

July 23, these 2 massive pigs will head to the butcher. They are large enough that we are not going to do what we usually do, we are doing something different. 

We will have 3 things made from these pigs, bacon, Canadian bacon and sausage. Nitrate free and smoked over real smoke. In one pound packages that are likely, from our eyes, to fill 3 of our largest coolers and much of our 2 freezers in the commercial kitchen. We are planning on keeping a bit for ourselves, as we have missed all 3 of that  pork goodness, and will sell the rest. 

We expect that it will be perfect timing for  BLT's with tomato and lettuce right from the garden. 

I love to eat. The pork we grow is delicious, and these two are working their way through high grass, eating every bit of it before making mud they wallow in. Then it is on to the next patch. A pigs life. And one that brings tasty meals. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

cow lick

When I was a kid I had a couple friends who had a cow lick. I knew a girl and a couple of boys too. 

The explanation for it made little sense to me, a suburban kid. Named for what the coat of a calf looks like after its momma licks it. That giant cow tongue apparently leaves quite a mark. 

And we have a black angus with a cow lick here on the farm. With an impressive cow lick right on the top of its head. 

During the heat of the day the herd vies for shade. Temperatures have been lovely, with hot sun during midday. We think that at night the herd still pushes each other around for good spots. They sure do it all day long. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

it's on!

It's time for the York County Buy Fresh Buy Local Scavenger Hunt!

Starts today. Download the map. Visit local food venues: farms, restaurants, wineries, apiaries, coffee roaster, bakeries, farmers markets!

Today is the kickoff with Tastes Of York at Millers Plant Farm. For $10 you can meet local food producers and try out some goodies! There will be printed maps with detailed instructions for the scavenger hunt too!

Friday, June 14, 2013

after these flowers dry up

There will be potatoes. We add more soil on top, to make even more potatoes grow in the same space. 

And then there are more planted in other spots too, not yet flowering. 

A new, fresh potato right from the chemical free ground is delicious. 

It is increasingly difficult to leave them be. That's the way to get the most yield, but hardest to do!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

when livestock in buildings look like a good idea

Today there are many many dire predictions for where we live. 70+ mph winds, possible tornadoes, hail, flooding, toppling trees, and requests from local authorities to stay home. 

Homer's mobile pen design has withstood 50+ mph wind. Hoping today only brings that. 

We moved the pens so the air will go through them. Hopeful they will not loft. 

No vegetable picking today. We doubt the farmers market will happen: when federal authorities ask to leave the roads clear for emergency services, chicken, eggs and vegetables might not qualify. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

now I know what I was forgetting

We are just shy of 13 acres here. Not a lot if you grew up on a farm out west or even many farms here in the east. We wanted as much as we could afford without a mortgage and still have shelter from rain and cold, so 12+ a little it is. 

On Sunday I was certain...positive...I was forgetting something. I knew it but could not get the thing to bubble up. 

On Monday I realized what it was. Toilet paper in the composting toilet. 

While tp reserves in the house are usually  in the linen closet right there in the room where it is used, steps away from the vehicle that transported it to the farm, the one a quarter mile or so from the house is a whole other story. 

The whole "could you throw a roll of tp in here please" takes on a whole different dimension when a half a mile round trip is involved. 

For that reason alone I'm happy not to own a thousand acres. Others can manage better than I. And I'm betting it is the real reason farmers are usually men. 

In other news the sunflowers are almost in bloom. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

breaking bad

Early yesterday morning Homer was headed through the big gate on the farm and was met by a pair of pigs. Right there by the gate, cleaning up under the feed bin. 

Normally both these pigs are in the biggest pen inside the fence around the hoophouse. They skipped the vegetables, poultry, beehives, compost pile and everything else and were up by the road. 

He wrangled them back into an area surrounded by electric fencing. They seem happy enough and are away from the road. 

Then another pair of pigs, in a smaller pen, moved themselves over and ate every bit of the recently planted rhubarb. 

Today...lets be where we are supposed to be. Behave yourselves, please. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

meanwhile, at the back of the farm

These 2 pigs, Herefords, have outgrown the mobile pens. So now they are mobile themselves. 

There is one thin wire that carries electric that they avoid. I avoid it too. The other day the dog decided to crawl under the electric wire and realized half way through what a bad idea it was. 

These two start the day with some leftovers from local food sources and then get to work clearing the area. This patch is still quite weedy and more overgrown than we want and pigs enjoy all they dig up. Looking forward to grass not poison ivy on those last paddocks. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

straightening up for the girls

The laying hens live in their mobile pens year round. The pens make it easy to provide them with clean ground, and to protect them from all that wants to eat them. 

Yesterday was maintenance day on the pens. Work is completed while the girls are on there, as the moment they get lose the hawks and sometimes the eagles are here to hunt them. 

Oyster shells are now in buckets attached to each of the 8 laying hen pens. Refill for us is easy, and the hens have it whenever they want it. It helps replace the calcium they use up making so many eggs. 

Every water bucket scrubbed and the lines cleared. Weak spots reinforced. Wheels aligned. 

Next, later today, the turkey pens get roosts. The turkeys are large enough to use them at night, and appreciate getting up off the ground. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

new year, new hope

Every year we plant corn. We have never had a harvest of corn, but nevertheless we put it in the ground every year. 

There comes a time when the corn is about ready to be picked and it must release an odor that the cattle get and we don't. One year the herd pushed the smallest member through the electric wire and then ate every ear and almost every stalk in about 10 minutes. There was no stopping them. And corn takes about 100 days to get to where there are actual cobs available, so 10 minutes of consumption after 3+ months of clearing, planting, weeding and generally babying the corn patch was pretty discouraging. 

There are those worms that get into the tassels of most corn, easy enough to cut the top of but most people object to bugs in their food. We planted Country Gentleman, a shoe peg corn, this year. It is an old variety that grows ears that have random placement of the corn kernels on the cob and a very tight twist of the husk at the top, where the silks are located. This tight twist is said to be difficult for the ear worms to traverse, reducing their damage to the corn. 

The field was prepared with plastic covering, holes burned in with the fresnel lens. The field is well fenced with electric and wire fencing. 

We will grow goofy, uneven kernel corn here. The kind of sweet corn that is delicious cooked and eaten within hours of picking, but will never last the process of getting from farm to truck to warehouse to store to kitchen. And we are ok if the top part of the cob needs to be cut off and fed to the pigs cause there is a worm in it. 

Each year we grow here we witness more good bugs appearing. The pea plants are massive and covered with flowers, even when chopped back they still keep growing and producing. No peas yet, but soon! The aphids we saw early had no impact on our ability to produce peas. 

Corn ear worms have the same kinds of animal control as aphids do. There are wasps, lace wings and soldier bugs that will all eat up the corn ear worm. And the lovely songbirds that just live a fat grub. 

We will keep growing soil that is healthy and full of compost and humus. We know there are thousands of growers that provide perfect vegetables, all identical to each other. We will continue to grow food that can reproduce itself, that is fertile, in an environment that supports many life forms, and we will continue to produce all that we can with as few inputs as possible. 

In the fall we will have knives ready to cut the tops off our Country Gentleman if a worm or 2 gets in there. We will have a pot of boiling water set up by the field, and butter from a grass fed cow ready to slather on it. And every means needed to keep the cattle out of there! 

All systems are in place for a corn harvest this year. We hope. If not, next year we will change things up and try again. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

and here it is

The Tramper camper: pulled from a spot in Delaware and rebuilt by friends: now runs on solar and a bit of propane, an amazingly efficient home away from home!

David and Jane Grant lived and traveled across the country for 6 months in this camper. All system were rebuilt, and now include jacks that power anything you can plug into a cigarette lighter: phones, computers, music, lights, movies: all powered by the sun! The large solar panel on the roof and the energy efficient light fixtures...even a fan that moves where you are, clipping on! A shower, stove, fridge, bed, dinette set...there is even an awning that can be set over the door! 

It will stay here in between sojourns with David and Jane. With insulated shades for the windows and layers of insulation in the walls, David and Jane were comfortable in high elevation Colorado winter and desert heat of summer in California. Should do just fine for guests here on the farm!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

hauling compost

Homer's truck has a bed of compost for months on end. We add a bit to the vegetable beds each week as we add seeds and transplants...all are heavy feeders that benefit from the addition to our natural clay soil. 

There are days when it seems like making bowls with the clay and firing it in the broiling sun might be a better idea than working vegetables. 

These are not those days. It has been a run of beautiful, calm, sunny, low humidity days. We have been able to get tons of necessary work completed. The cattle are slicking up, losing their winter coats, the chickens and turkeys are growing well, the egg layers are producing eggs that shine inside and out and the pigs are grazing and clearing the back fence line. 

And the vegetables and the flowers are glorious. The transplanted peppers, tomatoes and eggplants have settled in and are flowering and producing new tiny little things that in a bit will be harvested. 

And the flowers too. Homer's version of a truck farmer with the 500 pounds each pigs grazing in the background. Visions of bacon, sausage and Canadian bacon abound. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

such beautiful days

We know the heat and humidity are on the way. It will stop raining, and still manage to feel damp because of the amount of moisture in the air. 

But for here, now, it is amazing. Sunny, blue skies, puffy white clouds. Perfect day and night temperatures. 

Yesterday was a day when many tasks were crossed off the list. Easy to work from sun up to sun down...which is a lot of hours right now! 

Summer and warmth loving seeds and transplants in. More beds cleared and prepared. Brooders emptied and filled. 

And The Tramper arrived last night. If you read David and Jane Grant's blog on traveling the country for 6 months in their superinsulated, solar and propane powered rebuilt 1957 aluminum trailer you know it needed a spot for resting when they aren't using it. David says it is 70 square feet, which sounds like not much for living space except when it occupies your driveway!

Here it is on the crest of the hill, near the hoophouse behind the cedar tree. The front door opens to the view of the mountain. And last night to the view of the stars and the fireflies! 

Photos today, as it was too dark last night for pictures after getting The Tramper situated and getting a tour. 

We located neoprene roofing the other day, and have a vision of our plunge pool (the extra section of the feed bin we did not need) lined with it on that hill. It seems odd that the high point would be private, but the way the everything is situated it turns out it is. So a little space out there changes with one awesome thing: a rebuilt camper that is fully self contained. Nice!

And corn is in. And the pigs are doing as we had hoped, clearing the woods of all sorts of things we didn't want to get in there and deal with, and the pigs love doing it. One electric wire threads through, protecting may apples while providing access to nonnative honeysuckle. And the pigs are eating the vine and root, leaving nothing behind. And doing the same to poison ivy. While leaving the trees in place. What a fantastic animal. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

not with their elders

In years past, if a gentle sort of insult was wanted, a person was referred to as a turkey. 

Not until becoming a grower of turkeys did I give this much thought. For years we have grown heritage breed turkeys to be delivered fresh for Thanksgiving. We don't offer a lot: 150 usually, at the most. We take a deposit and usually all deposits are in by October, and the week just before Thanksgiving is an incredibly busy time. 

We grow the bronze turkey. They arrived at the farm as day old peepers a couple of months ago. They go into the brooder, which over the years has had many modifications: hard cloth wire so little can get in, lights into a hover, inedible ground cover, special feed mixes and more. 

We grow without antibiotics or growth hormones. No arsenic either. No extra goo in their water, with long lists of unpronounceable ingredients to "ensure polt health". So we lose a lot right in the beginning. After a while we put them out in the field pens and we lose some more. They get bigger as the months go by, and the largest ones will fight with each other and we lose a few more. 

The hatchery will provide replacements for the ones that are lost in shipment, or within the first 24 hours. It is inevitable that we need some replaced. 

The replacement flock went onto the field the other day. They have had their own brooder and now their own pen. If we mixed flocks the older ones would kill the younger ones. In the last flock still in the brooder are the replacements to our replacements. 

That's how, at Thanksgiving, we have birds that weigh 5 pounds. Birds that weigh 35 pounds. And everything in between. 

And maybe how the term turkey became the gentle insult that it used to be. Because they are not too bright, sensitive to every fluctuation in temperature and rain, cost a small fortune and flat keel over dead over nothing. 


Monday, June 3, 2013

in high grass

The growth of the grass has been rapid. It grows in clumps that still allow bare patches, which are good for the native bees. Those bees have homes in individual holes in the dirt, and where the ground is covered with clover there is no room for the bees to move in. We still offer many spots for them and see them all the time, everywhere. 

As the herd of cattle move through, they devour the greens. Little poison ivy grows anymore, which never ceases to amaze me. 

Still everywhere are the milkweeds. There are several different kinds, all supporting the Monarch butterfly population. We have seen lots of other butterflies and scuppers, but no Monarchs. We think it is awesome that the cattle cleared the tall stuff from around the milkweeds so the butterflies can spot them when they return from their travels to Mexico. 

While up close the herd of cattle are clearly not babies, from a distance all that can be seen are their backbones, or sometimes a set of small horns. 

The front yard, just a few weeks ago eaten down to nothing, is waist high on me. Homer met a neighbor who asked if we are the ones in the messy house. 

Yup. That's us. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

almost berry season

We have killed several plantings of strawberries. While winter hardy and a perennial in this part of the world, we have managed to handle them and move them too much, and then neglect them too long. They need one spot, regular weeding, occasional watering and left alone. Seems, so far, not possible for us. We get strawberries from our farmer friends. 

Right now it is time for seeing the flowers and early buds on blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. We only have enough of each growing to satisfy our own, daily, picking and eating needs. Not enough for jam, coulis or freezing for eating all year. 

We know other farmers who grow chemical free and pick your own. It's coming on time to visit, and preserve, for us to have great eats for the next year. 

There are a few servings left of blueberries. 50 pounds is about the right amount for us to put aside for a year. About the same on strawberries too. The raspberry coulis, which goes over a banana tempura with vanilla ice cream, or a home grown yogurt, is impossible to have enough for a year. A lovely favorite, we try annually to put away enough but that one is always a fail. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013


It's summer time.

A week ago it was so cold I wore 4 layers and a hat. At market, Homer stood outside for me for 15 minutes so I could sit down and get out of the howling wind.

Now it has been 90 degrees for several days. Today promises to be just as hot again.

The solution the cows have found: the heavy shade under the 3 cedar trees. Their portable shade only offers 80% shade, and on days like this we all need 100% shade!


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