Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Homers idea of using no electricity to get our seedlings growing worked inside the hoop house. This year we are testing seed starting the same way without the shelter of the cover.

The high and low temperature will be monitored using a device that measures the humidity.

One piece has a sealed back and teeny tiny screws. That way the batteries are protected from the humidity in with the seeds, soil and water. 

This set of screwdrivers is perfect for this sort of work. 

It always mystifies us when a two piece item like this requires two different size batteries. We had double A which works in the reader but not the monitor. So back to the store we traveled for triple A's. When these need replacing will the ones now rolling around in the junk drawer work or will we need two new packages of batteries again?

And now, each day, we track the high and low temperature inside and out. As the season progresses we will add different seeds to learn which grow and at what rate of speed. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

dirty work

The temperatures are cold. We have frost free water taps at a couple of different spots on the farm. The one inside the hoop house burst earlier this year, spewing water in every direction with only a bit going down the hose. The other one burst last week.

Yesterday new frost free bibs were purchased. Today the underground pipes are unearthed, the old pipe removed and the new one installed. Even in winter water is critical!

Muddy and cold. Farm fun.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

under the weather

We have both been fighting getting sick. Cough, sore throat, achy.

How do we fight it? One or two chicken carcasses with water, salt and peoper in the pot for a bit. A handful of beans, dried and pulled just this week from the garden. And at the end just a bit of fresh spinach floated on top.

That's the cure all. After a couple servings of this we feel all better. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Celebrating with friends and family. Merry Christmas! With a couple of throw backs.

1988, with a perm

1967, in red

1963, cowgirl style

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


We had to get our bearings straight.

At Thanksgiving time Homer heard and odd sound with the processing equipment. It was the sound of something mettalic.

Then things started to not work well. Hand cranking had to happen. There were a few curse words uttered.

And I drove to the middle of no where for replacement parts. These bearings can be oiled so they last longer. Metal on metal does not do well, destruction happens.

The beat up bearing had dropped its small metal balls. The two new ones made everything right in our world again.

Monday, December 23, 2013


From year to year to year we have a pretty good idea of the egg and vegetable production, the weights of chickens, pork and beef. The one unknown, always, are turkeys.

We have had years when, after months of growing, the turkeys are 12 pounds maximum with some weighing the same as our largest chickens.

This year? Fully 10% of our turkeys were over 40 pounds. And the smallest bird was 24 pounds. Everything else was in between. 

These very big ones? You can find them on the menu at Woodberry Kitchen and Shoo Fly this week. I don't think they are open on Christmas Day, but the wonderful/brave chefs are taking on preparing these beauties. 


Sunday, December 22, 2013


The last couple of springs we have started seeds without using electric lights or heat. Inside the hoop house, in a protected spot.

This year the idea is being tested outside the hoop house, to see if it will work without the shelter.

Frame and cover were constructed. 

And moved to the selected spot. 

Holes dug, growing medium added, trays for planting set into place. 

And a high/low inside/outside temperature gauge was added. 

Seeds have been added. Of the 
varities that don't mind the cold and sometimes overcast weather of January. And now we wait and see the results and make modifications if needed.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

here comes the sun

Its the winter solstice. One of my favorite days of the year, as it means more daylight in each 24 hour chunk of time. I love sunshine and warmth. Not so much darkness and cold.

Laying hens are much the same. As there is less and less daylight the egg production also wanes. Yesterday from 400 hens we had only a couple dozen eggs.

Years ago this pretty little basket appeared on our porch...back when we lived in Towson. It served us well for years when our flock was small and production of 4-5 dozen eggs per day was happening. At this time of year, as we are in the least productive days, it still serves us. 

This lovely basket is available from Landreth Seed. Sold as the German Harvest Basket, it can be used for gathering vegetables too: the wire mesh allows water and air to pass through and the handle can be repositioned. It holds closer to 10-12 dozen eggs, and will be used and filled a couple times a day in about 8-10 weeks. 

More industrial, heavy weight and with a capacity of 15-16 dozen eggs, this basket is put into use around Easter, when egg production kicks into super high gear for the year. Its available from McMurray Hatchery and is the largest size they offer. And the largest amount of eggs I want to carry! 16 dozen eggs fills this basket to overflowing and it is a heavy load to bring back for packing into cartons!

We are ready to have basketsful of eggs again. And more daylight each day. And so are the girls. 

Friday, December 20, 2013


I had jobs that provided the latest technology as soon as it was available, paid for it and paid for me to use it. The rationale was always that the increased connectivity was worth it.

So I had an iPhone pretty early on. A smart phone has served me well, and with the transition to fulltime farming, the iPhone was still important to keep in contact, take photos, process credit card payments from a field or a parking lot, answer phone calls no matter where, get directions and calculate totals.

And Homer had one too. Because he communicates with our suppliers, other farmers, and lots of technical, keep every piece of equipment running kinds of contacts. 

But the monthly costs have eaten at me. When I worked for other companies and had plan coverage for phones, matching plans for investments, medical insurance, a company car that cost little from my pocket and a salary and bonus...I needed it. That's all there was. 

But now, as we tighten up tracking every dime that this farm business brings in and sends out, the spend annually is looking ridiculous. Just too much on the phone and the wi/fi each month. TV has only the local channels so how to reduce the phone too?

Now available from Republic Wireless is the Motox. No contract...although the phone is setup so it can't really be used on another network without some fiddling so its like having a contract. 

Here's the thing. We have had them a few days now. We've talked on the phone, processed credit card charges, email, text, surfed the net, taken pictures...and there is no noticeable difference. 

Wait. There is a difference. We can actually have phone conversations now. The call ends when the conversation ends, not when the satellite drops it.

The phone uses the WiFi for calls, texts, email and internet access. For me the plan has additional access to phone, text and internet when away from WiFi so that I can still conduct business. For Homer he has cell phone service when away from WiFi.

The crazy thing is that we were paying $157 a month for our iPhone, which did not include a text plan for Homer. So it was always a bit more based on how many were sent or received. Now the two of us pay $35 per month. Total. There is tax on that, so our total savings might only be $120 per month.

The phones themselves cost a bit more than if we had gotten new iphones. About $100 each. So by March we will have, based on the totals we were paying, made up the difference. We have the same numbers we have had for decades. And the $1,400 per year savings that will happen by March of 2015? Will pay our business insurance.

Thanks Republic Wireless. These savings are important to running a business like ours. Appreciate using a technology we already pay for: WiFi, to offset our cost of something else we need: cell phones that are smart. Well done.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

41 and 14

41 years ago today my dad passed away. I was 14. My dad was wicked smart, thoughtful, focused, kind, loving and driven. He was kind to most people while being quick to point out inequities, ways for improvement and ideas to make tracking and finding information easier. He wrote a dictionary, consulted on other publications and a 2 volume set of books on squemata. Whatever that is. 

My younger brother and I would hide in the coat closet when he arrived home, waiting to jump out and scare him. He always played along. He had friends who still, in recent years, tell me how much they miss him. He taught at respected universities, served on review boards for other people getting their PhD's, designed a database for scientists, and came home and made popcorn so we could all watch Get Smart together. 

I have 5 siblings, and each of us is convinced we were his favorite. He made time to spend with each of us...going to work with him on Saturday at the Smithsonian was one of my favorites. 

My dad was full of energy and ideas. He had thought or considered or studied most things and always wanted to learn more. 

My parents divorced when I was young and he had the good graces to be kind and respectful to my mother in her presence and when she was not around. He remarried and kept all of us together through many trials.

As a teenager I still liked my dad. I liked to spend time with him, would ride along to the track with him while he ran, not because I was running but just to hang. 

I've had a rich and full and happy life. I've had the joy of seeing my daughter a young woman and the fun of her entire life. Everyday I'm tickled to still be here, to still get to do all that is my life. 

I've had times when the pain of his loss seems unbearable. Other times when I knew his guidance or input would have changed the outcome, when I've tried to remember what I think his response to my question might be. 

I've also had to unlearn some things my dad taught me. Because being a woman in 2013 needed some updating from what he was.

I would have liked to share more of my life with him. It was not possible. I'm certain he made his expectations very clear and some I've achieved and some I have not.  

And its all good. 


We grew out own pigs last year. And hope that we will again this year. There was a bit of a snafu where we had a boar that wasn't but it really turned out he was. So he has been spending time with a beautiful sow in a private setting for a bit.

There are many more scientific ways to tell if a sow has been impregnated. We use the old fashioned way: wait a bit and see if she starts to get round.

She is round. So the mistakenly a boar will be moved from her. And Homer built her s new shelter, cause mommas like a new, clean and dry spot for having babies. Lots of straw. Facing the sun, away from the wind and rain. 

The first construction had to be dismantled. The farmer seriously underestimated the actual size of the sow. She has gotten so tall!

Larger pallets were located and a taller structure installed. 

And now we wait. Not certain of date of fertilization, we know pigs are 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days pregnant. Fingers already crossed that it happens on a dry, mild, sunny day. The odds aren't good for that next February or March, so finger crossing it is. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


We planted spinach. And then waited with great anticipation for it to grow.

And grow it does. Inside the hoop house all winter. There is no buzz of bees, no beetles or bugs assaulting the spinach. It just grows quiet and steady: more when the sun is out, less when overcast. 

Until this happens. It is ready to harvest and eat. This makes us so excited, the decision as to how to prepare it seems like a world of opportunity! We taste it, just plucked and their is no bitterness and it is almost sweet. And velvety. Greens love growing in protected cold weather and it shows. 

Our potato harvest was pitiful this year. Same amount went in as always but nothing grew. Pretty certain the seed potatoes got too cold and then were mushy and not healthy. Whatever happened to them we have to buy spuds from other growers. 

A bit of butter, the potatoes, then our spinach, then our eggs. 

The potatoes cook up first and when close to done the spinach goes in. Then the eggs. Then a lid for a few minutes to soft cook the eggs and steam the spinach a bit. 

Brie was added on top after everything was scooped onto the plate. The cheese just softened from the heat of the dish. If we had really thought it through a few pine nuts toasted in a separate pan would have added greatly. But at this point we didn't even get a picture of the cheese on top: we ate this right up. And then high 5's. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

and after

A good snow storm is great and fun. 

Nothing beats a sunnyshiny PBJ and milk.

These days when the sun shines it is 70 degrees on the sun porch. Perfect lunch spot.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

in which I do my part

Homer has jury duty this week. He leaves when it is just light and returns as the sun is setting. Before he departs he feeds the livestock.

But water is another story.

It is not really liquid these days. So I wait for the hoop house to heat up and all the hoses that are inside there too 

We leave them stretched out the length of the hoop house so the sun and heat get to them. 

Then before the hoses freeze again we run them out to an empty 50 gallon drum in the back of the truck. There is a spigot at the bottom for emptying. I drive around and fill the water trays for all the animals. 

Then everything gets emptied so the next day nothing breaks from the freezing/thawing cycle. When that happens little pin holes happen even in metal and the farmer gets an outdoor shower in 20 degree weather. Guess how we know. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


As the cold settles in, changes to how we do things must be made. With snow fall of about 7 inches over the last few days, even more change happens. 

The shade/water/salt/mineral transporter briefly changes to a hay feeder. Hay is expensive when cattle eat it...because they eat a lot, so keeping it clean and off the ground is important. The herd will walk in it and then not eat it if just put onto the ground. 

Water is handled differently now. When we see that temperature will be freezing for a bit we load up 50 gallon drums close to where each herd is located. The water freezes and the top layer of ice must be broken, but they can get to the liquid water during the daytime. 

The hoophouse has a completely different appearance when covered with snow. It's overcast even as the sun is out. The snow melts pretty quickly, and then the sun shines right through. 

Today the high temperature will be in the 20's. Eggs will freeze if hens move off them in the nest. Farmers wear multiple layers and bring out the facemask, because it is important to keep all parts working. We will need them again. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

it's electric!

The sun porch is also getting electricity. While the outside has not been painted, and will have to wait until the temperature is high enough for paint to dry, work inside progresses. 

Homer discovered that our walls are think and, as we knew, uninsulated. 

His drill bit, needed to run wires from the breaker box to the room, was not long enough. He added length to the drill bit by welding an extension onto the thing. 

Multiple skills and knowledge sets are certainly needed to be a farmer. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013


We are farmers. And eaters. And conservationists. It is not easy to reconcile all we do. There is a need for a small amount of ration daily for poultry, that adds up to our largest expense and input on our farm. 

While usually gone in about 15 minutes, it is still a fair amount of feed. It comes from GMO free crops, combined by our feed supplier in Quakertown PA and then delivered to us. 

The cost of corn has almost doubled in the last 4 years. At the same time, USGS satellite imagery shows that millions of acres of land that was in conservation has been converted to crop land in that short time. 

Why? Ethanol. Almost half of corn produced goes to production of ethanol. Corn sells for more because of greater demand. Can it reduce our dependence on foreign oil? Maybe, but are we, as a nation, removing buffer zones and farming marginal areas? These buffers have been important in holding back and absorbing the massive amounts of strong chemicals used in corn production. For decades efforts have been made to increase the amount of trees in riparian areas, to have grasses and shrubs too, with deep root systems that help filter out what flows from row crop fields. And recently the number of acres in important water sheds has decreased. Dramatically. 

We need corn. Not a lot on our farm, and we don't eat a ton of processed foods that have the high fructose corn syrup or other corn based products in them. But we still need it. 

We also need water to be as clean as possible. Scientists, arborists, water experts all know that a healthy filtration system of a variety of plant materials helps absorb the very strong chemicals used on corn. These buffers also help to keep soil in place, which increases clarity of water, decreases algae bloom. 

And yet the fragile, not used before for row crop, edge of waterway areas are being used now for corn. In meetings with farmers from the Dakotas and other western regions, they report that much of the marginal land is being farmed by corporations, not their neighbors, but companies that have formed to make use of two things: the high price per bushel of corn and the subsidies from the federal government for each bushel of corn produced. These monies per acre far outstrip what conservation dollars provide for not growing. 

Alarm bells are ringing with farmers. What began as a good thing: support for farmers to stay on their land in low production/low price years has turned into a system that is being gamed by a few, that will have consequences for all. 

The riparian areas that filter water and hold back soil are critically important to cleaner water. It would be best for all if more, not less were left intact. 

We attended the Pennsylvania Farmers Union convention yesterday. Curious about the political lobbiest positions of this chapter of a nationally based lobbyist group for farmers, we arrived ready to take notes and learn. 

And as luck would have it, the 6 key areas that the national group lobbies for has one that the PA group opposes: the use of corn for ethanol. For two reasons: conservation of soil, air and water and for price: the cost of corn near doubling in 4 years has driven up cost of growing and cost to consumers. The board chair stated this fact to the national representative. 

As brand new members, we are happy to see civil disagreement. Important for all of us. 

John Ickerd, an economist, asserted that changes in our farming food system will come from a grass roots, consumer constituency. The NFU does not have such a component. Groups like Food and Water Watch, Food Tank and other more consumer centered groups have thousands of followers in Facebook and Twitter. Authors of books that have resonated with consumers are not on the board of NFU. Four years have been spent preparing the new farm bill and updating for votes, only to again and again be delayed in congress. 

How can we, as farmers and a farmers union, get the farm bill passed? How can we get consumers engaged? Who or what is backing the blocking of our farm bill? How do we communicate to these people who decide budgets that the Farm Bill is critical to water, soil and air safety?

As the Farm Bill continues to languish, the funds for these important efforts dry up, are no longer part of the budget, and will not be part of the budget. 

The farm bill needs to be unpacked and information disseminated in a way consumers can understand. As a farmer, I am still learning much about this critical funding. 

I'm not certain who can do this work and can have a voice that congress can hear and the consumers that vote in individual voting districts can galvanize around. There are a few key people blocking these votes. Is the National Farmers Union able to bring disparate groups together? Can they join forces with doctors groups, dentists, places like Center For A Livable Future, people like Marion Nestlé and Michael Pollan? The chefs who are gravely concerned about food quality? Nutritionists, allergists, oceanographers, bee keepers, the Cousteau society, the deer hunters, sport fishers, native plant/invasive plant experts together? Can they engage those who look at the changes to fish and frogs in our streams, note the bizarre changes and want to figure out why? Engage the pharmacists too? The heirloom seed savers, the protectors of ancient livestock breeds?

I've been fortunate to attend many meetings these last few years. I believe there is a national knowledge that has not been joined up to compare findings, ideas and concerns. I don't think there is a national effort to take all these findings and join all these disparate people together to say hey, there is quite a problem here, and it is stemming from crappy food, over farming and over production. I believe it can happen, that the groups I list and many more besides could join forces and vote into office people who could compromise along the lines of better health for people and the air, soil and water. 

I can't do it, unless I get funds to offset what we would not be able to grow and sell off farm. But I can see it. 

As the editor of geology and oceanography for Prentice Hall and the daughter of the former curator of herpetology at the Smithsonian, I've been able to meet and understand a lot (not all) of very smart people, who look at facts, who test theories and move science forward. I am lucky enough to interact with researchers at Hershey Medical Center and Johns Hopkins Center For A Livable Future. As a book rep at PH, I met with professors of biology, chemistry, engineering, nursing and more to discuss course materials for current and future courses. These people know a lot about health, of human, animal, soil and earth, and yet our congressional representatives act in a way that ignores the findings of these smart people. I believe the time has come for changes, and I believe there is a common ground for health of people and our surroundings. 

I just hope someone, if not me, can see and bring all these forces together on a national basis. We need it. We need to approach our political representatives from a much larger base, and to include the findings of our own federally funded research when we do so. The old way is just not working, and food is so critical for everyone of us. The uprising of these consumer groups and watchdog organizations makes it clear there is a large group of people concerned. The number of people visiting our farm, expressing desire to grow food for profit and health also indicate the need. 

Today is a snow day. Tomorrow we go back to the business of farming. We can't have the changes need in our short view because we need to support ourselves, and this is the best way we know how right now. But we are ready, should funding exist that allows us to help. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

why our neighbor moved next door

Our house was built in the late 1940's. It was built by the husband of the woman who lives next door to us. 

We have not been in her house. But based on our heating bills and the amount of heat loss through these cinder block/formstone/drywall uninsulated walls of this house...we guess her new house probably has a layer or two of insulation in it. 

Recently I purchased some liquid soap, and within two days it looked like this. 

It does not like the cold either, and separated out. Bar soap in the wintertime in this house. Plans to knock down next year and rebuild. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

why we lose livestock

We lose our livestock for a variety if reasons. Yesterday we averted one, and had no losses. If it had been a very got day the outcome would have been different. 

The baby laying hens were moved from their brooders into field pens. Two flocks of 48 birds each. The birds immediately started to eat grass. It is instinct, and happens the minute they are on it. 

Each pen has a watering system on it. Tomorrow it will be to cold to run, so tubs will go in. 

A few hours later, one bucket was more than half way empty. 

While the other bucket was still pretty full. This is always an indicator of a problem. 

The one pen had plenty of water in the tray, and the birds were acting normal, plucking grass and scratching in the dirt. 

The other pen had no water available. And the birds did not look happy. 

Some thumping of the system, some adjusting of the connections and out pops a bit of algae. It had blocked the narrow tube that runs from bucket to water tray. The birds all gathered and drank mightily. 

We check on everything: animal and vegetable, several times each day. This is why, because without water loses occur, and all to a little piece of gunk in the tube. Now we will have spring eggs!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

field time!

We are catching up from turkey time. Work, emails and snail mail really pile up as we make the run for turkey day. 

One of the jobs that was completed today was emptying the brooder. We ordered baby chicks to become our laying hens next spring. The birds arrive as little balls of fluff, and need the warmth of the brooder until their big girl feathers grow in. 

The girls have reached the point where their feathers are full enough to keep them warm during the winter months. A few weeks ago their lights went off, as we began to condition them to the weather. 

Now they are large enough and strong enough for field pens. They are not babies anymore. More like adolescents. Larger but not full grown. More mature but not mature enough to lay eggs. It will be April of 2014 before that happens. 

These girls went into the roomy turkey pens. Over the winter Homer will build out 2 more egg layer pens, with roosts and egg boxes. For now, before we have turkeys again, these will do. 

Meanwhile, the flock we statrted last June is just starting to produce eggs. Every day we get eggs from them. Not a lot yet, but it will happen soon. Half the birds in that pen are the girls who lay blue/green eggs, and the other half are the Silver Lace Wyandottes, our anniversary hens. 

The dogs are doing a fantastic job protecting all the poultry. Here they are checking out the new girls. 

The dogs also protect the farm from passing walkers, runners and bicycle riders. Both Chaz and Jazmine run at full speed, hackles up...Chaz barks like crazy, Jazmine not as loudly. We are pretty certain our neighbors would prefer that the dogs expend their energy on real threats, not on folks just passing by. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


The temperature has to hit a certain point before paint will flash and dry. Since Homer began construction on the sun room, there has not been a day that he could paint. 

That changes tomorrow. We will be monitoring the outdoor temperature all morning, and as soon as it is there, paint will be applied. 

While the room is still raw wood, the exterior has been completed and is ready for paint. 

And the inside is about ready. The other day the sun was out, high temperature was 32 degrees. Inside the sun room, with no additional heat source, I was in short sleeves. And a hat. 

The house, with our incredibly inefficient heat system, was 20 degrees colder. 

C'mon sunshine. 

Monday, December 2, 2013


Tuesday December 3 is the annual meeting of York Buy Fresh Buy Local.

We are a group of volunteers having fun with food in York County. So much is grown here, raised here, made here, and we love getting out the word on food!

Together we publish the food guide on line and in print. 

We partner for fun events. 

Farm to Street Dinner!

Seasonal dinner at Juliana's!

The Taste of York...which is a sampling of food from a number of partners!

The Scavenger Hunt, visit members for a chance to win great prizes!

We participate in many community events. 

And have been a part of Farm to School and Farm to Institution initiatives in York County. 

Do you grow here? Do you make something with local ingredients? Do you eat here? Please join us to learn more. We welcome volunteers with ideas, time and interest in eating local. 

Like our Facebook page, York Buy Fresh Buy Local. 

And the website: www.buyfreshbuylocalyork.com


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