Saturday, October 15, 2016

dogs barking, winds howling

We plan for the worst single day of each year.

The coldest. The windiest. The hottest.
And then we assume it will be even worse.

In spots where we plant flowers, we plant in landscape cloth. Woven, so that air and water can penetrate but it totally slows weeds from sprouting. There are holes in it where seedlings go.

Most days we hold the landscape cloth down with these:

Custom made at our local metal shop, these are super heavy rebar rods with a flat plate on the top. When these go into the landscape fabric it does not move.

But when we say to each other "we'll get back to that piece of landscape cloth later" and try to hold a long length down with rocks and other gear...this happens:

There is an entire building between this piece of landscape cloth and the bed it was covering! The dogs were running around and barking like mad. When we went to investigate, we found this 100 foot length twisted and flapping around in one of the trees!

Reattached with our custom pound in stakes, it has not moved. The dogs can rest. But no more of that "I'll get back to that" business. It results in two to three times the work and hassle.

Monday, August 15, 2016

flower prepping

We harvest flowers daily. Early before things get too hot, and late when things cool back down. Those headlamps campers use are exactly what is needed for illuminating each stem.

We start by having very clean buckets with plain water.

Some flowers dirty the water when first cut. Those go into their own bucket, and we switch out with clean water several times.

After getting a good drink, each stem is stripped of leaves. We use the extra leaves and any stems that are too long and need trimming to go into a bin. All of it goes out to our compost pile.

We clean all of our ball jars, washing them thoroughly so nothing but clear glass remains.

Then we assemble the bouquets!

We deliver weekly to several restaurants, to the Farmers Market in Hershey, to our Flower CSA members, to chefs for edible flowers and for events! We can design for exactly a certain look or structure. 

August production is high! Flowers are lovely to have in the house.

Friday, August 12, 2016


When seeds are started and then get roughed up and disappear?

We start seeds using a soil blocker. 20 spots in each block, where a seed lands right in the center. 

I started a few trays a week ago. Within a couple of days, one tray was a mess.

Every seed I had carefully set into the dent in each soil block had been unearthed and eaten.

Starting over again today and providing better protection.

Friday, August 5, 2016

bed building

We build out permanent beds on our farm. We use a system of covering when not in use, adding compost, mowing the walkways and weeding between the plants we want.

This area is needed for a new planting bed, with seedlings planted in there in early October.

That pen holds a few pigs. In 24 hours the pigs will dig up every bit of soil and grass. 

Moved every day, it will take them about a week to clear this planting bed.

We transplant seedlings we grow here and then grow out the flowers! Usually we cut the flowers as they are blooming, to get the longest vase life possible. 

Years ago we dug up vegetable planting beds in the same way.

Each time we plant we add compost, helps wake up all the microbes that make the soil sweeter. 

Then seeds, water, weed, harvest. And repeat!

Saturday, July 23, 2016


As a farmer, it happens. What we grow: livestock, vegetables and even flowers. People can't help the immediate and eye popping response to something we offer.

"Ewww" they will exclaim, and then apologize. So quick is their response to something that triggers an old memory, a faded thought that instantly becomes front of brain and out of the mouth before realizing it is happening.

This week? It's eggplants. The plants I started from seed and nurtured over heat pads, under lights, checking on them several times daily to make certain the seedlings were not too dry or too wet. Eggplants, along with peppers and tomatoes, are coddled here on the farm. When deemed large enough they are planted into beds rich in compost, double dug, drip tape around them, safely in the protection of the hoophouse. Temperatures are monitored daily for weeks, opening and closing doors and cranks, making certain that it's not too hot or cold. Monitoring of the soil to run our well water through it to be certain and supply the needed moisture. Slowly the plant grows. Eventually flowers emerge, bees and others jump in and pollinate them, and an eggplant develops. We watch daily: is it ready to pull? Is tomorrow better?

So much pride! So many months of watching, watering, encouraging, transplanting, weeding, whispering sweet nothings.

And then: "ewww" followed quickly with "I'm sorry". Months of work result in a memory trigger for some poor, unsuspecting soul who approaches our table at market. It's true, there was no warning. We have not had them here before this week. And yes, your awful memory of some awful concoction forced on you sometime in the past just bubbled up beyond your control.

"I hate eggplant". It's said. The words uttered so the farmer hears. 6 months of time, thought, preoccupation with the plant and it's well-being. Boom. "Ewww".

I'll ask how it's been prepared. Did they cook it themselves or did someone they not like serve it to them. I'll ask about varieties, explain how we grow, that ours are open pollinated and grown in our beautiful soil, never allowed to dry out, and that many ways to prepare are wonderful.

And people try them. Grilled. Pan fried. Ratatouille. Parmesan. With basil. Baba ghanoush. Quick cooked with beans or chickpeas.

"It's bitter" "it's so much work to peel and salt" "I don't have enough time".

Encouraged to try the simple methods, they return. Emboldened. "It was easy!" "It was delicious!"

Just slice, quick cook and eat. We've had it the last few days and wow, want more. Even the simplest preparations make me so happy! So good. Satisfying. Served along with our quick chicken braised in a cast iron skillet and pasta made with just whipped up pesto from basil we also grew. No photos of finished dishes because at this time of year we are ravenous when meal time is here and all disappears quickly. Ah yes. Life and dinner is excellent.

Friday, July 22, 2016


This weekend dire temperature predictions are screaming at us.

We have been on the run getting weeding, mowing and straightening up done. Drip tape is all in good repair so every flower and vegetable plant can be watered with little evaporation. Livestock will be checked several times daily to make certain water sources are full and functional.

And for the farmers? The system that sprays a fine mist over head has been installed and is operational.

Anna was happy to take the inaugural test run.

This system will only be up for 5-6 weeks. And used multiple times by many people each day!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

old school trimming

These days it is all hands on deck early. The heat and humidity set in as the progresses, making it uncomfortable to work. Start time shifts to 7am these days!

In our cut flower beds we built walkways that fit our mower. Last summer we were gifted a piece of equipment that can cut through our thick pasture growth, and lay it down right in the aisles. A mower that blows the cuttings onto the growing flowers leaves a mess, so this mower is perfect for our farmer. Homer can pull it with his truck, so it works out perfectly.

This method leaves a few areas that need trimmed. A substantial string trimmer (we traded a Thanksgiving turkey for it years ago) has been used to clean up the edges. But the engine froze up, and even Homer can't fix it.

So it's back to old school methods of trimming.

We sharpen the blade and run it along the edge of the planting beds. 
And it's ok to still forgo that gym membership!

It's good to have backup that just needs blade sharpening. The quiet work is lovely, the flower harvest is abundant, and the couple hours of sweating is good for the farmer.

Sunday, June 19, 2016


There is a certain amount of attrition in farming. Some intentional. Some accidental.

Laying hens are one thing that we bring on the farm every year. Some losses we can account for. Others remain a mystery.

Today our most recent additional flick was split up. When they first go out from the brooder and onto the field the girls are small, and need each other to stay warm.

But time has passed, each gen has grown and they each need more space.

Today about half moved themselves into a new pen. Each door was opened, feed added into the new pen, and doors were closed when about half had moved. 

We used to pick up and hand carry each bird. Food is a much more effective method to move livestock.

Double the amount of space for every hen. After the photo the pens were relocated onto fresh grass. A good life!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

agricultural chatting

The Farmers Market at Hershey started up a few weeks ago. We have been vendors there for years, and enjoy all there is to this market. The patrons, other vendors, the venue: it is lovely.

Each year there are a few changes to vendors (this year there is a goat cheese vendor weekly, last year a different farmer was there every other week with goat cheese) and to the structure. Years ago we each had to bring our own umbrella or easy up. Now there are large, beautiful white tents and we are all under the same cover. The locations of each vendor will vary slightly from year to year.

A new vendor joined us this year. They bring their kids along, there seem to be many of them of assorted ages.

When I set up my table I put out one dozen eggs while keeping the rest in a cooler.

Two little girls from the new vendors family stopped in front of the open carton of eggs. With eyes about level with the eggs, they stood and spoke to each other about the dozen before them.

After length discussion they began a conversation with me.

Their questions were about the breeds of chickens we raise, production level, if feed makes a difference: all reasonable, thoughtful questions. They pointed at specific eggs, described what type of eggs they have on their farm, the size of their flock, why and when they need to replace their hens... conversations I usually have with other farmers. Usually other farmers that don't  have a mouthful of baby teeth, but conversation topics I have all the time.

When they walked away (they had begun the conversation with informing me they are farmers, and would not be purchasing, just chatting) the vendor next to me (not a farmer) was busting to talk about our exchange.

"Did you just have a full on agricultural conversation with those two little girls?!"

Yes, yes I did.

"They knew their breeds of hens, production level, lifetime of birds, housing, predators?!"

Yes, yes they did.

Not once did these two girls try and poke or touch the eggs. They did not lean on or erase the chalkboard. They were respectful in every possible way.

Even the farm kids I know who swear up a storm are just like this. They do enough work with their hands and minds daily that they are not restless. They know textures. They know a gentle, soft touch, a firm strong touch, how to hold an animal to keep both human and animal safe. They are fearless of dirt and of injury. Calm in what make adults hysterical. Understanding of how reproduction, birth defects, death, decisions that are necessary for medical care, treatment, administration of medications. Clear-headed and thoughtful and measured as a result.

To me it was just what I expect from little kids raised on a farm. The first time a 9 year old kid showed me their book filled with costs, expenses, profits and losses on his egg layer flock I was surprised. His records went back for years, and his writing and math skills had improved over the years of keeping his journal. Meeting young kids still with only baby teeth who can participate in this type of exchange no longer surprises me.

The original entrepreneur, with little fanfare, IPO or wall Street journal coverage? 

Farmers. And it's still happening if you listen, quietly. And observe what they are up to...

Sunday, May 22, 2016

shares commence!

We are starting our CSA shares. This year we offer two: eggs weekly. And flowers: 6 bouquets over 6 months, farmers choice.

Our egg production has been very steady. The hens are happy and producing at the rate they should be, and we have another 40 hens that should begin egg production in June. The shares that are purchased help us get through the winter when egg production wanes. Thankful for those that support us during the darkest time of the year!

Flowers. We started years ago adding flowers to our offerings. Each year we learn more. Last week I brought a beautiful bouquet to Towson, for delivery to the mother of our CSA member. In transport the container fell over, broke a bunch of stems, ran water no delivery. Today. We are determined to get to the nursing home and deliver this mix of iris, allium, cockle, bleeding heart, anemone and ferns. Wedged firmly this time there is no falling allowed...

Friday, April 15, 2016

moving pigs

We raise pigs here on the farm. Not many, and not quickly. It's takes us months to grow them out.

They start in a very solid mobile pen. 4 or 5 piglets that get moved all the time, until they are big enough to move the pen themselves.

Then they go into a paddock, behind electric fence. So much to dig up, tear into, chew down. It keeps them busy.

Until that spot is all cleared out.

Then it is time to relocate.

Into the trailer and across the farm.

To a spot that looks so overgrown to us, it would take us weeks and aching backs to clear this up.

Busy, happy pigs, tearing up a section of the farm that is too rough for cattle or poultry. Pigs doing what they love best.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


A few weeks ago we had sunny days and warm temperatures.

Then this weekend we had 60 mile per hour winds.

Our cow shade flew over a 4' fence and ended up in unplanted vegetable beds.

The landscape cloth came unbound and rolled into fences.

And a critter dug under a chicken pen and we had a few less than the day before.

So tonight, after way too many long days and nights, Homer was working with the light of the headlights.

Electric fence line, low to the ground, around the pens. Take that chicken eater. We are sleeping tonight.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Lost and Found

One of us from Sunnyside Farm travels to Hershey every week. During the market season we are a weekly vendor at the Thursday market. And the rest of the year we meet people in a park so they can still get what we have from our farm!

Most of the winter we have spinach and eggs. We grow spinach in our hoophouses and our hens produce most of the year.

Today I travelled with lots of eggs and spinach. Enough to fill a big cooler.

And then leave the park with the tailgate down. And arrive at my next destination without the cooler, the egg crate or the spinach crate.


Plug the address of the park into GPS and it directs me on a totally different route.

As I try and retrace my route, miles slip by and nothing. My heart sinks. This is the time of year with the smallest amount of free time of the entire year. Building or sourcing gear is not how we want to spend time!

And then, safely pulled on to the sidewalk is our cooler! Even the spinach is still there!

I love Hershey. Supports the farm and us in so many ways! Saving what I dropped in the road is the latest.

Someone took the time to move this to safety, out of the road. 3 hours later it was all still there, waiting for me.

I just love that.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


We love potatoes, we plant 5 kinds and use them for different dishes. Yukon gold for mashed potatoes, Austrian crescent for delicious eating, Purple Viking for French fries, all blue for cool looking eats and Desiree for potato salad.

Last year we saved some, held in an area that stays cool but doesn't freeze. Timing needs to be right so that they hold, sprout a few eyes, and grow out when we plant in spring. We have hundreds of pounds ready for this, and we are itching to get them in the ground. But it's a little too early.

It would be good to cut these up, allow time for the cuts to heal and then plant them out. We may or may not get to that.

For backup, we also purchase seed potatoes from a professional grower. Last night the big truck delivered to the Horn Farm, a bunch of growers showed up, unloaded, sorted and reloaded the 50 pound bags of potatoes, about 20 different kinds.

In our truck went spuds for 3 farms, pickup will happen here, and ours will go in during a potato planting frenzy. We can hardly wait for those fresh and tasty treats later on this year!

Sunday, February 21, 2016


We have seedlings somewhere on the farm almost 52 weeks of the year. About 300 cold hardy flowers have been on our sunporch all winter, and will go in the ground as soon as we can find it. We are still snow covered, but this week it should all wash away.

We are about 12 weeks out from our local frost free date, so we start seeds in earnest now. Both flower and vegetable are in the basement, on heating pads, under lights (that are on timers), wrapped in insulation and checked for water needs twice daily.

The solid insulation is a new addition this year. There are gaps in it, and the temperature in the basement is about 30 degrees cooler than the heating mats, so air is naturally circulating around the soil and seedlings.

It's important to keep the lights as close to the seeds/seedlings as possible. Today we picked up a watering wand that has a tiny, flexible water rose  at the end. It can be adjusted to almost flat, allowing the water to go between the lights and the soil while taking up just a tiny bit of space.

Already more than a thousand seeds are in the soil in this stand. Some are Hardy enough to go outside as soon as the snow melts, others will live here for another 10-12 weeks. Preparations.

Thursday, February 18, 2016


It's almost time for a delivery of baby chicks. We will get a delivery early next week. It's been months since we had any chicks in the brooders, so it's time to get ready!

When Claire was 3, we bought a set of garden tools for her. Kid size shovel, rake and hoe. 

That purple, short handled hoe is the perfect size for this job. With a short swing and small head it easily breaks up what is in the bottom.

A hardware cloth lid, a spot to clamp the heat lamp, a wire to hang the feeder and a hook for the water.

A couple wheelbarrows of sawdust and we are ready!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

fences with holes

We have 6 dogs on the farm now. 6!

No more for now.

They tend to lose their registration tags within a week or two of attaching to their collars. We are on the hunt for inch wide collars, so that we can rivet the tag on. Maybe that will work?

This dog ran lickety split off farm when the gate was open the other day.

She is a short legged dog with a white belly and black back. A dachshund and beagle mix. 

As we searched for her, a neighbor told us he had not seen her just then, but that our Jack Russell had been over to meet his dog.

Huh? We have a fenced yard and we think we track the dogs pretty well, and get them if they get out. One was visiting outside our fence without one of us in pursuit?

Makes me wonder. Which one?

One of these?

Or this one we've only had for a few months?

Not one of them is telling us, it remains a pure mystery.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


Today it is raining, and will do so all day. At Sunnyside Farm we are overwhelmingly grateful it is not snowing. And we are all perfectly happy to have the rain wash the snow away.

With each day we need different footwear.

Today these rubber, knee high boots. Because with rain and snow melt its a sea of mud out there.

Yesterday, low boots that are sturdy with a little more insulation. Yesterday it was walking on frozen ground in freezing temperatures.

A few days ago it was full on snow boots, the kind with thick, felted wool liners. The snow was DEEP and temperatures were in the teens.

And when weeding, seeding and watering in the hoophouse these light, flexible, waterproof and still supportive slip ons are used.

Lace ups? No thanks. We have to be in and out of buildings, handling livestock, soil, water and waste. Easy on and off with room for thick socks is on the farmers wintertime list.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

chicken greens

Oh my its deep out there. We relocated the chicken pens in advance of last weeks 2'+ snow fall. In these conditions the mobile pens get stuck. The snow is just too deep.

And inside the hoophouse there is no snow, and both spinach and weeds keep growing.

Time is spent pulling weeds, clearing beds so we can harvest spinach in the morning.

All these buckets of weeds (4 buckets today) go into the hen pens. It's not the same as access to grass. But next week weather should melt most of the snow and the girls can get moving again.

And eggs? They are not really making them. They hate snow as much as I do.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

pastured hens

Most early mornings the hens are moving about, scratching in the earth, clucking and squawking.

Mornings like this, when the sun is shining and the temperature reads in the teens, there is a dramatic reduction in activity.

There was a light dusting of snow on the farm last night.

The hoophouses have a light dusting of snow on top. As the sun climbs higher this will melt right off.

The girls are still on the roost. At dusk they all jump up there, spending the night protected from any precipitation. This morning they will wait a little later than normal to jump down and start scratching the ground.

It's not just the farmer who hates subzero temperatures.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...