Thursday, February 28, 2013

c'mon girls

A beautiful afternoon yesterday. Blue skies, white puffy clouds, 50 degrees kind of lovely afternoon.

I had some errands to run, which included an animated conversation with a locavore chef, my favorite kind of person, a lover of good food and one who understands cause and effect of every step of growing.

Back on the farm straightening up and I see birds running. At first it looks like crows but then...there are birds of different's our baby hen flock! Jump into boots and a heavier coat, run through the mud, coax them all back into the pen with a bit of corn. The sun is setting, at an amazingly quick pace, run some more to check if there are any more eggs.

Tons! These girls are happy and healthy and producing like crazy. It has only been a few hours since the last egg collection so it is astonishing to find so many more! In haste to get the pullets back in their pen I forgot to grab a basket. There are only funky buckets and these eggs are just like the day: clean, dry, warm and I can't carry so many in my hands.

Coat off, jacket improvised as an egg basket. A beautiful 5 dozen eggs. I return to the house as the sun is gone and the sky goes black. A bit of time like this makes up for the ugliness of the last few, freezing/sleety days.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

not here

This is not happening here, but it is what Homer is working on right now.

Plaster walls repaired, patched and painted. Kitchen cabinets in great shape so painted. New counter top, sink, faucet. And the tile backsplash going in.

He does beautiful work.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

mustn't be fooled...

As February ends we get itching to plant. Seeds can germinate under the correct conditions: hours of sunlight, warmth of air, decent soil conditions.

The frost free date is a bet that shifts every year. It truly does seem to arrive earlier each year, so is it April here this year, or May? Will a freezing night sneak in and lay tender vegetables to waste? If waiting too long will the ones that prefer cool weather be unhappy and wilt in heat?

One thing is certain, night time temperatures in the 20's and above are welcome. Nights in the teens are just too cold.

But can peas go in 2 weeks from now? That is the real question!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

20 years

I bought these short boots 20 years ago. I know this because the receipt is still in the box. I wore a size smaller jeans 20 years ago, but can still wear these boots comfortably.

We attended a chili cook off last night. Our contribution was a pot of Homer's chili, a recipe developed when he worked at Westinghouse and every person in his workgroup would contribute one item to the pot and then consume the contents (along with a loaf of bread) for lunch.

Fundamentally it is the same recipe: now the beef is our own grass fed, the tomatoes are ones we grew and canned last summer, and some of the heat and herbs we grow.

Each chili preparer selected a charity to benefit voted the winner. We selected a program that helps veterans become farmers, a program we think is a great idea.

The winner was the hosts chili, and their charity, the symphony orchestra trains kids and provides instruments to teach music: a wonderful program.

We had a great time, visiting old friends, meeting some new, great food.

And the boots? What do they have to do with this? Multiple compliments. 20 years later. I've worn them with skinny jeans, big bells, boot cuts and now skinny jeans again. A good pair of boots will last a gal a lifetime if not actually worn on the farm.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

digging time

Today it is all about the beef.

The cattle went to the butcher a few weeks ago. And now the beef is ready for pickup and delivery. Half went the other day and the rest is today!

And then this mountain of compost gets moved to the vegetable beds. Starts are in, and more go in weekly. It's on!

Friday, February 22, 2013

not really

It's not really water when you have to hit it with a pick axe or a mattix now is it?

Thursday, February 21, 2013


The mama pig is clearly getting the job done. The piglets have grown dramatically and are looking fat and happy. They scamper about, have learned to eat solid food and are clearly working their momma too.

She has been patient and sweet. Well, I actually don't test that, I stay on my side of the electric fence so all is well.

Our boar, who is on another farm, is also patient and sweet. And busy too, as the farmers report that caring for him is more like running a daycare...while their pigs have been content in their barnyard, our pig is destroying things that have been in place there for decades...oops...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

how does it happen

That I end up at sunset on my backside, in the mud?

Months ago we got an urgent email that a flock of baby chicks needed a new home. That day, before the town wrote the flock owner another ticket for violations..."no chickens allowed in this town", fines compounding.

Baby chicks arrive in the midst of busy fall activities, end up in a mobile pen away from the rest of the flock, just because of timing.

The nine pens on one part of the farm and the one pen all by itself get moved closer to each other every day.

And then *poof, just like that, the refugees are making eggs. No roost installed, no nest boxes. How did they get so big so quick? How long have they been here?!

Long enough.

Last night at almost 6pm it was still light out. I ran to get the last of the days eggs and check on the pens. And there was another egg in that pen. "I'll just move the pen a bit." I thought. "Just slide a bit to the right" and wham, down I drop.

Yesterday it snowed, rained, sleeted, froze up, thawed out. All in about 12 hours. As the sun was setting the mud ran from front to back: most of the ground seemed solid, until my weight and the weight of the pen pushed against mushy ground.

Got the egg. It was tiny and muddy. Perfect for a quick rinse and breakfast for us.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

build or burn

Some days this looks like something that should be thrown on the fire and used to warm things up.

Other days it looks like the base, the pedestal, for a new table.

Try to lift it and discover it is incredibly heavy. A dense wood, this is a section of locust from our stand of trees. It is locust, a wood that is used for fence posts, is incredibly hard and stands up to decades of in ground abuse that causes most wood to disintegrate. It is naturally rot resistant. In this circumstance it is used for a table pedestal that will be used inside not outside, but it could be. No need for plastic or pressure treatments: a locally grown and harvested wood will do your job.

The tabletop is next on the list of things that need built.

Monday, February 18, 2013


We are reaching the point in the winter where we have had enough, and we wonder if there is enough.

There have been enough cold nights and days. Enough breaking through ice to get to water, enough hauling water because hoses are frozen, enough numb toes and fingers.

At the same time, we are able to harvest from the hoophouse: lettuce, spinach, kale, collards, carrots, beets, Swiss chard, deep color and flavor, crispy cold.

Our freezer is emptying of blueberries picked in the heat last summer. The jams, pickles, beans, tomatoes and peaches canned last summer are now being counted, along with the weeks ahead of us, as are the greens in the hoophouse: can we make it? Is there enough? If the sun shines in the daytime and the temperature in the hoophouse is 80 degrees in the day but 18 at night, can we get more growth from our vegetables? When will we have fresh chicken again, and does the freezer hold enough to get us there? Can we coax a bit more from the hoophouse vegetables before nights get warmer and everything grows like mad?

It's February. Each day there is a little more daylight in the 24 hours. Just as cold each day. So cold paint won't dry.

Last week the butcher called with a tease, asking specifics on cuts of beef. We have virtually no beef left, and have been out for a while, and eagerly await the "come and get it" call.

C'mon March. C'mon spring, we are ready!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Mannings, sheep to shawl and more

At the PA Farm Show in January, we were able to watch the entire Sheep To Shawl competition. There were pens of sheep, looms at the ready, carders, spinners, weavers all ready to get to work as the fleece is trimmed from the animal. Tiny, black Shetland sheep, massive white hair sheep and a number of sheep in between.

We found a couple of garbage bags and filled them with fleece. Not from the competition sheep, but from the shearings in the aisle ways. An entire bag was emptied under the area where the piglets were born, with straw on top of that for an insulated nest.

The other bag is here, in the garage. Homer made 3 drop spindles, entrance equipment to spinning fleece into yarn.

There is another stage: carding. Where the fleece gets brushed between 2 very strong, densely pronged brushes. The fleece is converted to fluffy bits of wool which can then be spun into usable threads.

Carding gear is not available just anywhere. Not everyone needs it, so a little hunting is required to locate. And here in East Berlin, PA, not far from the farm, is a place called The Mannings. Their website says they have been in business for 60+ years, have added a new building, teach all kinds of classes, have a wide variety of looms, spinning wheels and all the rest of the gear needed to get from sheep to uh...anything you want to make.

Our neighbor, who does the play by play announcing of the sheep to shawl competition, is the primary instructor at The Mannings. He is a weaving teacher. He's made videos all about weaving, and in the clips I watched speaks English but wow, an entire other world of language and terms.

We will start small. The homemade spindle, the fleece given to us, selected by a shepherd in the aisles of the farm show.

And a little trip to get those brushes.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


We don't have a tractor and we want it that way. Yesterday there was work being done close by, and the noise of the equipment was not a bit fun. I just don't have the desire to ride around on equipment that makes that kind of noise!

So we move the pens ourself. At this time of year there are just laying hens in the pens, and the pens get moved frequently.

They are always inside the pen. This past year there were many predators on and around our property, for a time there was a pair of bald eagles, at either end of the stand of trees that crosses the back of the farm. If a chicken got out the two of them immediately got it. Hawks, kestrels and owls too. For the protection of the bird they are kept under cover.

Yesterday, hens ran to meet us. Never a good sign, and a real sense of panic occurs when this happens. Pen inspection shows they are all still full, the handful of hens appear to be all that escaped. Searching for the spot they escapes, a perfectly oval hole in a section of chicken wire was discovered. A head scratcher. No signs of any birds had to have just

Feed goes down. The birds run to it, jump back in the hole. A section of wire is located for a patch. And the discovery is made: one of the cows has their head straight through the hole, eating the grain on the ground. Not certain how a cow worked chicken wire that hard to wear a hole in it...they only have a few front teeth...impressive. The patch is installed and will stay in place.

Friday, February 15, 2013

going digital


As young kids we had library cards just as soon as we could sign our names. As the town we grew up in expanded, so did the library, and we were there constantly, taking books back and forth. We had one small tv and 8 people living in the house, plenty of opportunity to spend time doing other things.

In elementary school I shared a room with my younger brother. In a 5 bedroom house someone had to move out before I had a room of my own. My bed was by the window, and I read by the light of the streetlight at night, we had an early bedtime and many nights I was not sleepy.

After our father died, we moved and ended up at one of the largest high schools in the area. My graduating class was about 1,100 people. The school had well over 3,000 students. People got lost going to class.

The library was good sized, and in three years there I read my way pretty much through the entire thing. My brother told me that every book he ever checked out had my name in it: pre digital scan of a bar code there was a system of cards and names and book pockets.

He read younger and earlier than I did, which means he was right on my heels in what we were reading. In elementary school my older sister put me in a book of the month club, starting with the "I Can Read" series...and then on to chapter books. Thrilling every time a package arrived.

In adult life I had the pleasure of working for a couple of different book publishers. Amazing access to a staggering number of books and I did my best to keep up.

Magazines too. As farmers, it is surprising how many magazines are relevant to what we do. Our local library branch has a smaller collection of books than my high school did: makes sense, as we live in a rural community and not the densely populated area I grew up in.

Now I am increasingly interested in reducing my consumption. In reducing the stuff, the goods in my possession. Having a perspective that what we do has a profound effect elsewhere. My reading devices, whatever form they take, use up resources.

I'm working on reducing this stack, this pile that has always been a part of my life. A trade journal (yup, even farmers have them) is available in an on line only version. Several of the monthly magazines are too. The iPad makes it easier to hold onto the information, to search by topic, to read about emerging information. I'm not giving up information but I am moving to a new format, and whenever possible using the online version. It's time for subscription renewals and there is only one that will be here in print form...the information is valuable, and there just is no other option. But the rest will be here in digital form or not at all.

My parents, rumor has it, met in a bookstore. In the thriving metropolis of Danville, IL. That bookstore has been closed for decades. My parents held books sacred, and I can still hear my fathers words coming out of my mouth "don't treat a book like that, you will break the spine".

Sorry folks. I'll keep reading. Just in a different form.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Paper bags decorated with cutouts, crayons, names, hearts. Then filled up with valentines cards. That's what I remember from being a kid: cupcakes, a little drink, a little heart shaped candy. At school, after writing every name on each envelope, signing and slipping the valentine in.

Kids still do this, it is obvious. My Facebook feed has pictures of many children and their handiwork. I remember the kids in our house working up their valentines to be ready for the big day. And then not so much: some schools don't allow time for Halloween or valentines day anymore. Too busy for it, some kids don't have, blah blah.

We don't make a huge deal here. Time is taken to acknowledge just how lovely it is to love and be loved and then it is time to complete the chores, get eggs packed, make deliveries, get the work of life done.

I am a lucky woman to live the life I do. I am overjoyed to have this time, here, now. We have lost friends and family and remain happy to have health, strength, creativity, ideas and the ability to have just what we want. How amazing is that? The idea that contentment is here today and a choice we make each day. Happy to have the opportunity, to live in a country that allows us the chance to do this. Life is grand, happy valentines day and love to you.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


It's pretty cold most days. A little sunshine makes a huge difference, as the hoophouse heats up and is lovely.

In an effort to warm up the house, egg custards are baked in the oven. In a water bath, egg yolks, cream and a bit of sugar are combined and go into the oven for a good while. It turns out that unlike our house, the oven is superinsulated and not much heat migrates to the house. That's ok, we will keep making and eating. Farmers need calorie rich food to get work done in this cold weather.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

got sweet potato?!

We are trying sweet potatoes again.

We have not yet distributed any sweet potatoes to speak of. What we have produced looks the size of a French fry.

Shallow or deep? Compost or none? Lots of water early followed by dry spell?

Don't really know. Many contradictions. There are fertilizers beyond compost available. For purchase. Instead we are gathering up the cow pies with the intention of getting them in the ground with the sweet potato slips. If you are on the farm, feel free to fill up a wheelbarrow.
We have sweet potatoes to feed!

Monday, February 11, 2013


I've been asked about our strict adherence to open pollinated seeds. No F1 hybrids, certainly no GMO's. And asked about saving seeds ourselves. Why we grow with no chemicals: organic or synthetic.

We spent a couple of days at the PASA conference. The first hour and a half there I spent listening to a Mennonite dairy man speak about the low nutritional value of the grains grown in this country. How his herd health suffers from the awful feed and that he must buy supplements so they will stay alive. And build and entire building, kitted out with trays, water and temperature control, employ a person in growing sprouted seeds.

Then a session with the organic grain growers how have compared nutritional values of different grains. And compared trace levels of all of the "cides" that go into production.

Then onto the session about native pollinators, where the two entomologists agree that the evidence that an organic "cide" kills the bees dead, the moment it is near them. Certified Organic kills the bees.

Speaker Ben Hewitt on psychotropic drugs administered to a 2000% increase of children in our children's lives. How the brain is affected in developing, usually young male minds.

So I think again about our seeds. About our earth. About the parasitic, sometimes tiny bugs that eat away at the bugs that eat vegetables. How our pea crop was almost decimated by aphids last spring until the lady bugs, praying mantis, and a minuscule wasp set to eating them. And we harvested peas for weeks, only losing them when heat turned them brittle.

Or the toads and frogs that move about in our vegetable beds. With their skin that aspirates, they are highly vulnerable to any toxins, and we want them alive and eating the ridiculous amount of bugs each one eats daily.

Reading these two books on seeds, and why the diversity matters. Why in our small way, for the 40 vegetable shares we grow each year, we are buying seeds that help a handful of companies keep diverse seeds available. Seeds that don't need a lab to happen, that grow out and reproduce unassisted. Fertility of our soil, our plants, bugs (good and bad), nutritional value, water quality, animals, us. Just doing a little bit each day we get to be here to provide as much diversity of plant, animal, bug, reptile that we can. All the same is not so good for any if us. A bit different provides resilience, adaptation and survival. Inbreeding? Not so much.

Read these if you get a chance. One can be downloaded onto kindle, which is now a free app anyone can get. You can read it today. Plant a seed, any seed, that does not have a registered trademark in its title. Eat it. Get the vegetables from us, eat more beans fresh and dried, save some. Plant some next year. Learn about what we plant here, and how you can plant too. A little bit of compost does a body good.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

conference going

We were able to spend a couple of days at the annual PASA conference in State College PA...only because we were able to get help here on the farm. Reports came back to us that all the livestock was fine, doing their regular thing, but the dog freaked out completely: refused to leave the house, when carried out (in her box, where she sat and sulked) she sat at the back door and shivered. The pigs, chickens and cows all fine and did not miss us one bit.

We stayed in a hotel. Which for us these days is an odd thing to do. Homer said the long halls put him in mind of the beginning of the tv show The Twilight Zone, and did a bit of a narrative that began with "picture if you will, farmers leave and head for a meeting"...

Ben Wenk, from 3 Springs Fruit Farm and I were speakers at a session on social media. He is a 6th generation grower: his family has 400+ acres in mostly fruit trees along with some vegetables. We are a 12+ acre farm with cattle, pigs, chicken, eggs, turkeys and vegetables. A good cross section of using the same tools in different ways, lots of great questions and ideas. It was great!

I learned more about organic grains, and how to set up a milking program/parlor/creamery/farm stand. About traditional methods of preserving pork, native bugs that are attacking the brown stink bug, and about sprouting grains to use the 7 days of growth to feed in lieu of grains.

It turns out that the dairy industry is suffering from the low nutritional value of grains available to feed to cattle. We all hear about yield per acre, and that the new design/patented grains typically are less nutritional than older grain varieties. The dairy farmer has to budget for supplements because the nutrition a cow used to get from eating is just not in their feed.

Homer spent time with folks grow in hoophouses, learning best practices.

The best part is time to catch up with people, to swap ideas, to laugh and encourage others to live their dreams, branch out, set roots, build a business, stay out of debt, think things through...such good stuff. Always glad we can make it.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


It's the PASA conference. Every year at this time a couple thousand people who are interested in food have a get together.

Yesterday I had the chance to catch up with friends. To hear a Mennonite dairy farmer talk, for an hour and a half, about his family farms process for sprouting barley as a replacement for GMO grains. And to hear another farmer talk about the process of turning pork into aged charcuterie. And another hour and a half listening to a farmer and author on how to set up an on farm artisan cheese making facility. She and her family make 5 kinds of cheese, along with the occasional experimental batch of something else.

And a chance to participate in a roomful of people talk about debt. As it relates to farming. Followed up with additional conversations with people who are living on farm, debt free, and not working off farm jobs. The opinions were wide and varied and free flowing.

Then a movie about meat production in this country, and all the different ways different meats get on the table.

Today: more. It's fantastic to have information like this available in a jam packed 48 hours. It's a lot of work to pull all this together, and I'm sure glad the folks at PASA do it.

We would never be able to be here without folks agreeing to take care of all that is on our farm right now. Livestock in winter are a respectable amount of work to take care of, and we are lucky to be able to take this time.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Homer builds, and then tweaks. Our rolling egg layer pens have kept our hens in strong production this winter, and he made them easy to move and strong.

Last summer we started a flock of Rhode Island Reds hens. They came to the farm as day old peepers, and now are old enough to begin laying eggs.

The rest of our hens have nest boxes hanging outside of the pen, with an extra bit of roof over them. We flip up the roof and gather the eggs. Gravity closes the roof, it would take effort to leave it open.

This pen has a door made of wire mesh. It has to be opened and closed. I'm already nervous about this pen, and have terrible visions of the door left slightly ajar, the hens working their way out...and all the predators swooping, running, pouncing, slithering, pawing in and getting these girls.

Farm living. Trying to stay 2 steps ahead of chicken lovers.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

getting ready

It is not quite time yet. But it is getting close.

The daylight is returning, the days are lengthening. We made it through the couple weeks of bitter cold night and day temperatures and are back to the hovering around freezing at night temperatures.

We make a lot of compost here, but not yet enough. Our annual delivery arrived the other day. Homer set up the seed trays in the hoophouse: space for 500 more seedlings to get started. The broccoli is already growing nicely, as are the garlic and the leeks. Seed potatoes arrive in March. 500 seeds will go in here soon: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants. 5 eggplant varieties, 12 tomato, 14 pepper if you count sweet, bullnose and hot.

Last night we had collards for dinner. It is amazing what my sight memory tells me cooked greens will taste, and how they actually taste. Sweet, tender, still a bit crisp sautéed with garlic: just a whole lot of yum.

Potatoes and pork chops too. But the collards are off the charts.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


They are both Jerseys. Covered with their winter coats, in another 12 weeks they will shed the furry stuff. The song birds will gather up tufts of the fluff and weave it into their spring nests.

The light colored one is the heifer, a young female. The one with darker trim is the male, the bull calf.

Experts tell us these two must be separated soon. Even when they still look like babies they can be mature enough to reproduce. The heifer is too young yet to carry, she still needs to build her own bones, grow out to her maximum size.

Life cycles. Helping and preventing is what the farmer does.

Sunday, February 3, 2013


Claire provides tech support for Sunnyside Farm. She visits on breaks from school, sets up things so we have automatic recovery of data on our desktop, can watch movies at a reduced price on our tv, and makes certain everything is backed up, cleaned up and straightened out until her next visit.

I needed to scan something the other day. A document required for some (in my mind) ridiculous reason. We don't keep a fax phone line because it is an unnecessary thing anymore: just scan, name the file, attach and send.

Except. Remembering how to scan. Have not done it in a year, and it seems Claire was here and took care of it.

We text. I want her to remember, to just walk me through it. I push buttons on the machine and get a "fail" message. Aw hell. Isn't this supposed to simply my life?!

When all else fails read the manual. And it is a simple, 2 step process once I locate the needed instructions. Sometimes, when it looks hard, I just want someone else to do it for me. And then, when I do it I got this. Swagger.

I still miss my girl. Glad she has a life and is doing work she loves. Awesome to see her in the world. Because there are somethings the instruction manual just does not do.

laying hens, a portrait in winter

My o my, it is right up in the coldest time of year here! Everyone and everything is just working to keep warm. Of course, it was almost 60 just 4 days ago!

The ground has refrozen. It was a sea of mud. It snowed a bit and was not above freezing all day. No real sunshine. It is scheduled to be extra cold with no real sun for at least 5 more days.

Here is where the laying hens spend the winter. 8 pens like this line up and move to a new spot every day. Note the snow blowing around, in the furrows of the ground, in the tufts of grass.

The roosts are above their heads so when the pens roll the girls can walk along easily. At night each flock loves to jump up and hunker down close together, and since we are getting plenty of eggs daily, it appears that the ladies love this arrangement! The farmers love that mucking the stalls takes 10-15 seconds.

It is cold enough that water is not liquid. So it has to be hauled quickly in buckets, and the livestock drink up fast, before it is in a solid form. Ah winter.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

the dog is like a cat

Recently my Facebook feed has people posting an infographic of where a dog vs. where a cat can be touched. The cat zones are the zones our dog allows, not the dog zones. If left loose in the house for too long she will poop in our bed, just to let us know she is mad. She weighs about the same as a cat. From a standing position, without a running start, she can jump the fence.

She is startling cat like in her ability to go after rodents. Maybe cars dig in the ground to get to the voles and such...I don't know, I've never seen a cat do that.

But the dog will get onto the scent of a rodent and she refuses to quit until she gets it. And she does so all day long, every day. Well, not if it is really cold out since she hates the cold, but most days.

Here she is with a recent catch. There are cats on the farm too, probably catching rodents too, but they will not let us near them and they certainly never come to us when we call them.

Our Jack Russell is almost 11 years old. When she was younger she must have bounced off the walls, because she still does in most days.


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