Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Transitions

It's a dreary day outside, but the rain is much needed so we can't complain.  The sunflowers, which all summer followed the sun's daily path with upturned blooms, now look sad out the window.  Their heads are drooping, so heavy with seed that the stalks can barely support them.  In fact, the weight of the seeds and some wind has already toppled a few of the largest.  While I'll leave quite a few for the birds and other wildlife, I'll cut many to use as supplemental food for the animals, especially our birds, over the long winter.  Also, I'll dry a bunch and save the seeds so we can have more golden beauties adorning the outside rows of the cornfield next year!

The gardening season at this point has changed from growing to harvesting.  My herb garden is a great example.  My cilantro did poorly through this summer's weather, producing few usable leaves and bolting straight into flower & seed production.  I let it go, taking up its space in the garden, and my reward has been a bumper crop of seeds which I've been harvesting lately. I miss lots too, but it's alright since the patch is dedicated to that plant and it saves me the trouble of replanting in the spring! The seeds are the spice coriander, and is called for in many Mexican or Chinese dishes.  I love this plant, it is like a 2 for 1 special!  Also, I've gotten lots of dill, parsley and chive seeds.

Amazingly, we haven't had a frost yet although it's looking likely that mid-week that will be coming our way.  About the only plants that will really be affected that are still growing strong are my basils- this year I grew a regular green basil and a delicious lime variety! I've been freezing or drying them in preparation, because once they are frosted they turn black and are unusable.  However, I'm looking forward to frost for a few reasons...the gnats have made it nearly unbearable to be outside recently, and none of the repellents seem to discourage them from swarming one's head and flying into one's eyes.  The frost will bring an end to that, which will make like outside more pleasant, even if it means putting on an extra shirt at times! Also, frost is necessary to bring out the colors of my multicolored ornamental corn.  I planted the open pollinated, heirloom variety Earth Tones Dent last year, and was able to save the biggest, nicest and most colorful ears to replant this year.  I planted lots more than I grew last year, and so far it looks like it did very well.  Checking an ear or two, they are definitely colored, but the true beauty won't show until after a good killing frost.  I love to decorate for fall, so I'm anxious to have that happen.  We will have some at the store too...I've planted enough to have lots of beautiful extras!

 
 

Homegrown Watermelon and Bananas..sort of

The leaves are rapidly changing and it's starting to smell like fall here.  So it was a bit of a surprise when Dan came in from the garden with a watermelon yesterday.  Melons usually conjure up thoughts of summer picnics, but with the short growing season here in northwestern PA, we're just seeing ripe ones in our garden now.  The one we had with lunch yesterday was small, about 8" across, and round like a ball instead of the longer ones usually found in grocery stores.  Perfect for two or three people!  It tasted like a stolen bit of summer.  Last year we didn't have any luck with watermelons, but we planted 3 varieties this year and 2 kinds of muskmelon.  If it stops raining, I just might have to go see what other surprises are lurking under all those big green leaves, but I know this was a hard summer for them and I'm not sure all my varieties did well enough to bear fruit.

 

I do most of the catalog shopping for the garden in late winter.  Dan knows what varieties have been successful here in years past, and we rely on that knowledge quite a bit.  However, something unusual always catches my eye, and I like to try something different every year.  We always find a little room for my experiments, and if they do well, we'll make them regulars in the garden.  Past successes have been a variety of Swiss chard with colorful stems and an open pollinated ornamental corn. This year, I stumbled across the giant pink banana squash.  The description stated that they could grow to be up to 50 lbs each, so we figured if they weren't delicious, at least it would be a lot of garden food for the pigs!  They are named because the squash is long and tapered at the ends, kind of like a banana if it were straightened out.  They turn a salmon pink color when ripe, and are called a pink banana because there is a blue variety out there too!  The banana squash did quite well for us, the ones we've picked and taken down to the stand so far have been big, but in the 12-25 lb range.  That's still a lot of squash!  I cooked one yesterday, and they have that rich, almost sweet taste of a good winter squash.  I sliced into it and was happy to find they are easy to clean out, hollow like a pumpkin but not so gooey.  They have lots of big plump seeds, and although I saved these ones to plant next year, next time I'd like to try baking them.  They look like they'd be delicious baked with a sprinkle of salt & spices, just like a pumpkin seed.  After cleaning, I sliced my squash into several pieces and baked it until it was tender.  Then I took 2 pieces and removed the skin and mashed it up, kind of like mashed potatoes, but wonderfully orange-yellow with a bit of butter, nutmeg and a pinch of brown sugar. Mmmm!!  The rest I cubed and put in the fridge...I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it yet, I may make soup or I may freeze it for later.  I've seen recipes that say the banana squash make better "pumpkin" pies than real pumpkins,  but I' not much of a baker.  I may have to get my mother in law, who is the best baker I know, to try that out and see if it's true.  These squash are supposed to keep well also, so we'll see later this winter how that works out.  I know that they will be back in our garden next year too!

 
 

A Big Problem

What weighs 750 lbs, has tusks, a bad attitude, and won't stay where he's supposed to?  Lately the answer has been our boar (male pig) Wilbur.  Normally, he's quite a pleasant guy to be around;  he loves having his back scratched and will take a treat gently from my hand.  However, this week has been a reminder that we really keep Wil for one thing only, as a breeding male, and that means an animal won't always act like a pet.  They can get very dangerous.  

This is the 3rd time we've had piglets from these animals, Wilbur and both sows, and haven't had a problem before.  Some boars get very aggressive and will go as far as getting in with the sows and killing the little ones.  The past 2 times we've had baby pigs, the sows were each locked up in a large pen with plenty of water, food and fresh bedding while Wilbur had the main hog run to himself.  The sow pens were in the hog house though, so he could still smell, hear, and to some extent see the girls.  While he was a little more vocal than usual, we had no problems.    Because we're about to put a new roof on the hog house and didn't want the piglets to be damp and cold in the meantime, the girls were moved to another building we usually use for the sheep & goats, but fixed it up for pigs.  Wilbur seemed ok until last Thursday.  Baby pigs will become anemic if not given iron shots, so that's what we do at 3 and 10 days of age.  One of our sows, Fern, gets very aggressive when you handle the babies and they squeal, so to avoid being bitten, we turned the sows out into the barnyard for the few minutes it took us to vaccinate the babies.  Fern decided to go over and say hi to Wilbur, and for the next 4-5 days we've been fighting to keep him away from our girls.  An animal that big is hard to contain when they are determined to be somewhere else.  When Wil got out, he was always found by the sow pen, ususally after doing something destructive because he couldn't get in.  Our poor plastic barrel we keep chicken feed in has been knocked around and spilled more than once, the plastic covering a couple of windows for draft protection on the henhouse needs replaced now, and we've had to put the gate back on its hinges too.  And our lovesick pig is a real monster to get back to his own pen.  The noise is horrendous, it sounds like a dinosaur or something terrible!  He's also been so agitated, he actually foams at the mouth and is beyond uncooperative. Handling him requires holding a piece of plywood in front of your legs, that way he can't bite you.  Usually he'll go anywhere if he's promised food, but that hasn't motivated him at all lately. It takes patience, bravery and some luck to get him where he needs to be.  Pigs are one of the world's most intelligent animals, and they can figure out pretty quickly you are trying to trap them somewhere they don't want to be.  That much weight and muscle can also make short work of fences and wire and boards.  Our biggest tool to keep the pigs where they are supposed to be is electric fence wire, but he has no respect for that right now, so we have to keep him penned up inside. 

This was a good morning however, as I saw no loose pigs when looking out my window.  So either Wilbur's calming down or the boards keeping him in the hog house were stronger this time! Normally, I don't tolerate mean animals.  More than one breeding rooster of ours has gone to the livestock auction because they were attacking people. One of my criteria for a new male sheep or goat is that they are calm and gentle towards people.  I refuse to spend all my time in the pasture making sure nothing is behind me.  Something that weighs 300 pounds and that will head butt you out of the blue is not acceptable.  A pig this big is nothing to take chances with either.  However, since it's only one bad week over 2 years, I'm going to give him a little time.  Dan told me he wasn't crazy about keeping a boar at all because behavior such as this is common in most of them...it would be very hard to find one more gentle than Wilbur's been 99% of the time.  So, here's hoping he's calming down for another 2 years of good behavior...or else I guess we'll be running some sausage specials!

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Auctions and Old Equipment

Dan and I love going to auctions.  Lately, we haven't been to many as most farm auctions start at 9 AM on Saturdays, which is our mad rush to get the stand in order before opening.  So I was very excited to find an "old farm moving auction" on a Wednesday afternoon only a few miles from the farm.  The advertisements always list a portion of the items to be sold, and what really caught our eye was a corn sheller.  This is a machine that seperates the kernels from the cob.  It is used for field corn, which is hard and dry (think decorative indian corn, but usually all yellow.) Some have motors, but this one is powered by a hand crank that moves in a circle on the side.  We have been looking to purchase one of these to shell the corn to be used in our animals' feed and also as the first step in grinding our own cornmeal.  The last one we saw at auction was a John Deere model (with a motor) and it went for $750, so it didn't go home with us!  This one had obviously been restored, but was in beautiful working condition, and we were very cautious about bidding on other items before the sheller came up, as we didn't want to overspend on small stuff and be short when it came time for what we really wanted.  There were many crocks & other antiques, so there were a lot of antique buyers present.  Luckily for us, the restoration which enhanced its usefulness to us also ruined its antique value for those who would buy it just to sit in a corner and look pretty.  Dan and I discussed how much we were willing to spend on this piece of equipment, and agreed that I would bid on it.  It's good to sort this out ahead of time so you don't overspend or accidentally bid against each other!  When I first started going to auctions, I was far too nervous to bid, afraid I'd make a mistake or buy the wrong thing somehow.  Now that I've been to plenty, I have a better understanding of how they run and can follow what the auctioneer is saying, which at first sounded like gibberish to me.  So bidding can be great fun!  When the sheller came up, I was the first to bid.  It went slowly at first, then a couple other bidders jumped in, but when it was over, I had the winning bid, and for a good bit less than what I was willing to spend if necessary.  My hands were shaking a bit because I was so excited.  It's a standing model, which weighs a couple hundred pounds, and the location it sat in wasn't really accessible to the truck at the time, so we waited until the crowds thinned as the auction ended to try and load it.  That way we could drive up. In the meantime, we bought a few other tools and other useful things for the farm.  I had to laugh though, because much like the dump rake, the corn sheller was a big conversation piece for the older auction goers.  We had a few gentlemen come up to us and ask if we really planned on using it, and most people seem surprised that we do plan on using the equipment we buy at auction. I imagine it's because we are a young couple doing things the old fashioned way, but we really love using things the way they were designed to be used.  Older equipment is a part of America's farming heritage, and a part that slips away as bigger farms and better machines become the norm, so it's very cool to me to be a part of the preservation of how things were done years ago.

 

As for those of you wondering about the piglets, all 18 are healthy and doing well.  They had their first round of iron shots last night.  The sows don't understand about booster shots, so we locked them outside and when they came back it was over and everyone was doing just fine! 

 
 

The Delaware Chicken Experiment Results

As promised, the results are in on our heritage chicken experiment!  Normally, our Cornish-Rock hybrid chickens are processed at 7 or 8 weeks of age, but our Delaware rooster was about 7 months old.  Because of this, we wanted a cooking method to keep the meat nice & tender, so grilling was out!  Dan had been looking to try poaching a chicken, so we decided that a big pot of water could only help keep our bird from getting tough. The water came to a boil, and in went our chicken along with a variety of garden vegetables and homegrown herbs.  After chores were finished we settled down to a feast.  I'm always excited when most or all of the food on the table is produced right here at the farm.  In this case, the only non-farm products were the salt & pepper, the butter for the sweet corn, and the sour cream used on the potatoes.  Not 100% farm raised, but pretty darn close!  So we dig in to the chicken, and I noticed that the dark meat was super tough, but with an awesome chicken flavor.  The legs were even tougher than expected, but these guys were truly free range, running all over the garden and backyard for months.  Note to self: if we do this again, a smaller pen may be in order!  However, dipped in my homemade Lemon-Sage Wine Mustard, it was still great.  Then we tried the breat meat, and the texture was totally different.  I have never tasted such tender, flavorful meat.  Growing up on store bought and fast food chicken, I never really understood what real chicken flavor was, and although our broilers do taste like real chicken, the Delaware did even more so.  My father-in-law always said that his stewing hens (old layers no longer profitable to keep on the farm)  got their flavor from "years of contented living under their wings".  My Delaware must have had a content life because he was full of that flavor too! It was a great chicken dinner, complete with potatoes, the absolute last of this year's fresh sweet corn, along with some zucchini, cabbage and green beans.  I was stuffed and wanted nothing more than a nap, but it was off to the local county Extension Office as I'm serving on the Board of Directors (as well as the secretary of the group) and it was meeting night.

 

The final verdict on my experiment was this:  while he was delicious, he was also a little too tough to market for more than stew or dumplings for the most part.  Unfortunately, it's not going to be economically possible for us to offer them for sale.  This year we raised over 200 meat chickens, but had no more than 90 at any given the due to the (much) shorter time frame of raising the hybrids. I don't think we would have had the space for that many Delawares for that many months.  Also, a longer life span means more total feed for each bird, and just to cover our costs of feed alone would make for one pricey chicken.  But we are still looking to support heritage breeds.  We plan on raising turkeys again next year, and I am very interested in the Burbon Red and Dan would like to try the Royal Palm variety.  So perhaps that will be next year's adventure.

 
 

Do you want to hear my story?

Before I met my husband, I never really though about the value of eating locally or organically.  I guess I had heard of those terms, but it wasn't until I became involved with the farm and started reading books about the "food movement" that I really had much of an opinion.  I think it's great that there are lots of sources for folks to find out how to eat locally, but like anything else, people need to be aware of their sources and how reliable they are.  

I was approached via email by a magazine called Edible Allegheny, saying they found the farm online and though they might be a great fit for us to advertise in.  Intrigued, I asked for more information and a copy of the magazine to look through before I committed to anything.  It was presented to me as a resource for all of Western PA for local farms, food, and eating seasonally.  I recieved several copies, and my vanity wanted nothing more than to see our farm advertise in such a beautiful publication!  The more I looked, however, the more it seemed to cater to the city of Pittsburgh & surrounding areas, which are more than a 2 hour drive from our farm.  Realistically, people won't drive that far for a tomato or chicken! And the advertising prices were astronomical!  I realize not every publication has the low rates of our local weekly, The Forest Press, but for the price I would pay to advertise in ONE issue would put a new steel roof on my hog house.  It would have covered ALL of my seed orders I sent out this spring.  etc, etc...and with no guarantee that it would bring us any business!!  So I politely emailed the nice lady back and shared these concerns and let her know her ad didn't fit into our budget, but that we'd welcome a representative of her publication if they would ever care to do a story on our farm.  I let her know that we're a young married couple farming self-sufficiently, with horses, on a turn of the century farmstead and I'd love to share that story with her readers.  The email I got in response told me that it sounded exactly like something her readers would love to hear, but they only do articles on places that advertise in the magazine.  If I wanted to take out an overpriced ad, she'd see what they could do about "editorial support."  It really disgusted me that all those pretty articles were not printed for the value of their story alone, but as repayment for paying to advertise in a magazine that is not local as it portrays itself, but is actually a subdivision of a nationwide company.  To me, these are the kind of people who just want to make a buck off of folks like you and me, who are genuinely concerned about where our food comes from, how it was treated, and how its production affects the world we all share. I'm sharing this with all of you not to trash the magazine, I'm thinking about subscribing myself, but just to point out not everything advertising "local" really is.  Or at least not without its own agenda. If you really want to feel good about your food, find a farmer!  Not a magazine, not a supermarket passing themselves off as seasonal, organic and local, but someone who has dirt under their fingernails and can tell you where the food really comes from. And thanks to LocalhHarvest, they take donations only, so small time farmers who don't have thousand dollar advertising budgets can still share our stories with people who care.

Ok, thanks for putting up with my rant this time, but it's been bothering me for a couple weeks now.  I've got to go and start the sausage making process for this week's market, but next time I'll share with you the results of the Delaware chicken experiment!

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Who do you belong to?

Well all the babies all made it through the first night ok.  Piglets always look so small and frail, and there is a possibility that the sow could accidentally step or lay on one or two without realizing it.  After the first week, the piglets are alert and mobile, but right now I hold my breath every time one of the sows gets up or lays down.  Fall is also rapidly creeping in, with temperatures falling into the mid 40's during the night.  We gave the pigs lots of good clean hay which they use to make a nest to keep everyone warm, but we still wake up in the night and wonder if we should have put a heat lamp on the babies.    I guess farm babies are always a little tougher than I give them credit for; they usually do just fine without much help from us humans.  There was only one small problem this morning; Charlotte had an extra piglet and Fern was missing one.  This is the first time we've had piglets in this building, it is a temporary arrangement until we get a badly needed new roof on the hog house.  So in building the dividers, there must have been just enough space for a smaller piglet to squeak through!  They grow so fast, they'll be too big to fit through the gap in a matter of days, so we're just going to leave it as is. The great thing about our sows is that they love thier babies and when something like this happens, they just take care of it as though it were their own.  So extra piglet was snuggled up to Char, nursing just like a piglet is supposed to.  We decided not to leave the piglet though, and keep things even so each sow had enough milk for her babies.  I knew Char had 5 black babies and 4 blue butt patterened ones and that most of Fern's babies are black with very little white.  As there were 6 black babies, I looked for the smallest piglet with the least amount of white.  So I picked up the most likely suspect and quickly but gently set it next to Fern, who wasn't upset until she heard it squeal (piggies don't enjoy being picked up!).  Char picked up her head as well and seeing that everyone was ok, I quickly exited the pen.  Commercial pig farms use what they call farrowing crates, which are basically a little cage for the mothers.  They can't get up and move around, so there is less chance that they will squish the babies, but the babies can put their heads inside the crate to nurse.  We don't use anything like that, so I am very cautious about angering the sows.  Char probably weighs around 400 pounds, and a pig is incredibly quick when it wants to be. In walking into their space, I had no more protection than blue jeans and sneakers offer, and so Kept a wary eye on my only exit door! That's why Char is in the pen by the door, she's more docile when she has little ones and we can just lean over her side of the fence to feed Fern, whose name becomes "Evil Pig" when she has babies because she is so protective.  But I escaped unhurt, I think the piglets have grown already, and now it's back to canning....I have the last of my tomatoes ready for the food mill, so I guess this is it for the salsa.
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It's a boy and a girl and...

On a farm, by necessity, you live seasonally.  This is the time of year when I'm busy freezing and canning what I am able to prepare before the first killing frost and the long winter that follows.  It's generally not time for babies.  Today was a big exception.  Because pigs will breed year round, we were expecting a litter from each of our 2 sows soon.  We had moved them into the same pen the mother goats occupied a few months ago after a lot of cleanup and a little work to make 2 seperate, pig-proof pens.  We then moved Charlotte & Fern to thier new home to let them get adjusted before the big day arrived.  Although they were appearing close to farrowing (giving birth if you're a pig), we thought they were still a week or so away and were still allowing them access to the outdoor run.  Fern also started to build a nest out of hay, grasses & corn husks, but again, that means she is close but not necessarily beginning labor.  I was in the kitchen canning a wonderful peach barbeque sauce when my brother in law came in and informed me that the pigs were in labor.  I had to go out and see, as most farm animals birth at night, not at 1PM wit the sun high in the sky.  However, Char was outside with 2 piglets by her side and Fern was inside with 3.  It's very unusual for pigs to need assistance when farrowing, so we let them go.  Each of our girls had 10 babies, with one from each litter being stillborn, not uncommon for pigs.  I've learned not to cry for those ones and instead be glad about having 18 live ones.  While our girls have always had their little ones within a week of each other, It's pretty unusual to have them on  the same day, much less at the exact same time!  We had to get the moms inside where everyone can stay warm and dry.  Fern weighs around 400 lbs and gets really mean after she has piglets, so while she was exhausted and fairly calm we picked up all her babies and moved them, then she reluctanly followed.  Char was thirsty, so she was already up, it was a matter of picking up her babies as well and moving mom & the kids inside.  Everyone quickly settled down and no humans were injured in the process.  It was a good day.

 

I know some of you are wondering how the Delaware tasted.  I still don't know.  We offered free samples of our homegrown chicken at the stand this weekend and had lots of leftovers from roasting 2 whole birds.  So the Delaware went into the freezer and between stuffing ourselves with the last of the garden's bounty of sweet corn and using up the leftovers, I'm not sure when I'll get it cooked.  But I promise I'll post it here! 

 

Apologies to Maureen for not personally replying to her comment from last post, but it's been hectic here.  She wanted to know why a commercial chicken would have all that salt water added.  The industry calls it "plumping" and says they do it because customers like the taste better.  A natural chicken will have a bit of sodium in it- 45-60 mg if you don't add any salt during the cooking process.  A plumped chicken can have 10 times as much.  To put that in perspective, it's more salt than an order of fast food fries!  Why?  You are buying by the pound but purchacing salt water, which is dirt cheap for big business to add to their product.  And customers across the country paid billions of dollars last year for the weight of the salt water alone! I'm also guessing that the salt and the seaweed product carrageenen, which is also used in the plumping process, preserve the chicken somewhat and allow it to sit in the store's cooler a bit longer before it starts to smell or look funny.  I haven't seen that in print though.  The best way to avoid all this is to find a farmer you can trust and buy direct.  Your taste buds will thank you too! 

 

Ok, I just can't get the pictures to come up on this blog.  If you'd like to see the piglets, just go to www.pleasantvalleyfarm.weebly.com and scroll down until you see "Our Newest Arrivals".  The piglets are about 2 hours old in the pictures!

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Experimental Chickens

Today was another day of processing chickens.  While it's not my favorite job, I feel ok about it as our chickens, living a life on grass and in the sun, have a far more comfortable existence than those in factory farms.  I feel better about selling & eating it too, as store bought chicken is injected with 20% of its weight consisting of nothing more than salt water.  So not only are you getting more salt from an unexpected source, $1 of every $5 you spend is nothing but salt water!  So I've gotten used to the idea of butchering.  We have until this point been using Cornish-Rock hybrids, the same bird the commercial places use.  They are bred to basically do nothing more than eat and grow at an accelerated rate, mostly in the breast since Americans are so fond of white meat.  They are usually no more than 8 weeks old when processed, a very short life.  They grow so fast that they would literally outgrow what their legs and heart can support and would die before reaching breeding age.  

As I've learned a lot in the past few years about farming, I was shocked to discover many breeds of livestock are just as endangered as wild creatures.  Other kinds of chickens once raised for meat birds have gone by the wayside in favor of hybrids or other fast growing breeds that can stand up to the confinement of industrial agriculture.  One of the breeds we use here for laying hens is the Delaware.  They are nearly white, with black barring on the neck and tail feathers.  For a time they were the #1 meat chicken in the country, but they don't grow at nearly the rate of the hybrids and have fallen out of favor.  The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, an organization devoted to saving these endangered breeds, puts them at  the critical rating, estimating that there may be as few as 500 of these birds left.  Total.  I feel so fortunate to have a small flock, and this spring decided to keep a few roosters as an expirement, to see how they rate as a meat bird. The ALBC recognizes that to bring these animals back in larger numbers, they have to be economically viable.  So that means in order to save them, we need to get people to eat them!  We butchered one this morning, and I was suprised that it bothered me far more than the usual broilers.  He seemed too pretty to be put to such a fate, even though I have too many roosters and they are starting to beat up my hens a bit, as well as fight with each other.   I was afraid that plucking would be hard because the broilers are bred to grow less feathers, both for easier processing but also so their bodies can devote more energy into making meat.  Although so thick that the feathers were dry near the skin, even after being dunked repeatedly in hot water, they came off with no problem.  (We do this by hand and it's my job, so it's something I noticed readily.)  While a much leggier bird, there was not nearly the amount of breast meat.  It was definately an obviously different bird, even once the whole process was finished and all the birds were in the fridge.  I plan to cook him up soon, and I'll share with you the final result of this experiment!

 
 

Cutting Corn

The corn is put up for the year, one more task to mark as "done" on the to-do list.  Two bushels seems sufficient for my husband and myself.  Though a little time consuming, I really love my vaccuum sealer for putting up food.  I used it on 3 dozen ears this year, so I should have sweet corn well into spring!  We always freeze whole kernel corn as well, and this year for my birthday Dan got me an American Corn Cutter- a little kitchen gadget that consists of a long piece of plastic which is curved to fit the shape of the ear, and 2 metal blades in the middle.  The blades can be adjusted for whole kernel, creamed or shredded corn.  I love my Roma food mill and kitchen gadgets in general, so he though this would be a time saver and something I'd use.  I can't work it to save my life!!  I tried on Monday, and figured I had the blade adjusted wrong.  It was really frustrating, so I set it aside and used a knife and cutting board.  Yesterday, Dan helped me and he had no problems.  He gave me lots of helpful advice, like not pushing down so hard, changing the angle, etc but I still couldn't do it.  So I  gave him the cutter while I husked, and he was done far more quickly than I was the day before with my knife.  Many times in farming, and life, you just have to know when to just ask for help.

 

One of the many things I love about being on the farm is how easy it is to find a use for things that might otherwise go to waste.  Freezing 2 bushels of corn leaves a lot of husks, cobs and silk behind, but we never throw them away.  My bunnies love it so much, they run up to me every time I  walk by, hoping for husks and cobs.  The cobs still have a bit of corn on them, and the rough inner part is good for a rabbit to chew.  Their teeth never stop growing, so I have to make sure they have chew toys or they will use the hutch itself. The stalks are still full of nutrients and the cows and horses come on the run when they see us cutting and throwing them over the pasture fence.

 

Well it's off to town now for jars and vinegar- I still have canning to do for this weekend and I need to get moving as I have family visiting later this week.  I just want to say thanks to everyone who reads this blog as well, I was amazed to see Pleasant Valley Farm at the top of the most popular blogs yesterday.  I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures as much as I enjoy living them! 

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Saving the Harvest

On a grey day like this morning, I'm reminded that dreary days in fall and winter won't be far behind.  It gives me extra incentive to put up what I can for those cold months when growing anything that won't fit on a windowsill is impossible.  So the dehydrator is humming in the background this morning as I type.  I've sliced tomatoes thinly, and they will keep forever if they dry thoroughly.  I love to put them on homemade pizza or in pasta salad.  I love them so much, but I'll probably sacrifice a few to sell a the stand.  We are most likely done having fresh tomatoes for sale, the blight has pretty much wiped out our plants.  It seemed so sad to me, the bucket full of blighted tomatoes filled up so much quicker than the one for the useable/sellable tomatoes.  Dan told me not to get down, however, because many, many people got no tomatoes at all.  And our pigs love to eat the less than perfect vegetables, so they weren't going to waste.  Still, I love to make my own sauces- spaghetti sauce, salsa, chili sauce- and that isn't going to happen this year unless I buy tomatoes from somewhere else.  So it was hard to feel lucky just then.    

 With temperatures reaching down into the 40's, it's time to start planning for the first frost too.  So I dry herbs or freeze them depending on my plans for them.  The ones that are best fresh I'll try to keep on the window sill during the winter, but I dry a lot of sage for one of our sausage recipes.  I've also been saving seed to sell, give away or use myself.  I have chive and parsley seed already, I'm sure dill isn't far off either.  I also have lots of  cilantro seed, which is the spice coriander if you crush it in a pepper mill.

Our corn has done pretty well, except the raccoons (or possibly the black bear that's been sighted in the neighborhood) found the ripe sweet corn the night before market.  They seem to have an uncanny ability to sense when the corn is at the peak of flavor, and then it's hard to keep them out.  Luckily we had plenty, and what is left over I'm going to freeze.  Last year I bought a vaccuum sealer and tried freezing corn on the cob.  It was the most amazing treat duing the long winter, like a little taste of summer.  Of course, it loses a little texture, but  we were happy with it and plan to do a lot more in the next few days for this coming winter.  I always freeze bags of whole corn as well, it's great to have on hand when making chili or winter soups, or just by itself!

  

 
 

The Value of Stillness

Don't you just hate when you type a great entry and then the computer crashes? I guess I'll try again and save this time!

It's been one of the busiest weeks in memory.  Moday was for running errands in town (20 miles one way) while Dan mowed hay.  Tuesday brought a day of canning.  Today we had to pick up feed, meat from the butcher shop, and come home and begin the process of sausage making as well as package ham & bacon. Tomorrow we will butcher chickens.  Friday we will be stuffing and packaging sausage and beginning prep for Saturday's stand.  We have a big, thick field of second cutting hay to put up as well.  To top it all off, we've been helping a friend move too, so it's no wonder I'm feeling a bit tired!

Also I've been trying to take more pictures, especially of the horses working and the different equipment we use.  Eventually I want to put it online, but the pictures are the first step.   It is a beautiful late summer day here, with temps in the lower 70's, no humidity and not a cloud in the beautiful blue sky.  I went out into the field with Dan and took a few pictures of the side delivery hay rake in use.  It dates from the turn of the century but still works great.  We pull it with a forecart so there was an extra seat for me to ride along.  It was so nice to take time and just be still while Dan drove.  It gave me time to truly appriciate the biodiversity we foster on the farm by not using chemicals or planting large monoculture crops.  As I relaxed, it was easy to take in the late summer wildflowers; jewelweed, Queen Anne's lace, goldenrod, Chinese lanterns, and many more I recognize but cannot name.  The fencerow between hayfield and pasture was stunning in the golds and purples of this time of year.  Artists know those two colors are opposites and emphasize each other, but I'm sure it was nature who taught us that.  The sound of hoofbeats, harness leather and metal machienery was soothing to me, but also allowed the creatures who share our field to get out of our path.  Goldfinches looked for bugs, replacing the red winged blackbirds which were so plentiful during the first cutting.  Butterflies took flight before the horses' hooves to alight on the freshly turned hay behind us.  A vole scurried away.  Not long after I saw a small snake slithering, possibly looking for dinner in the shape of that vole!  Crickets, believed by some to be omens of good luck, were plentiful, as were the lime green grasshoppers as long as my palm.  If you were looking at all, they were hard to miss!  The most surprising (to me) inhabitants of our field were the praying mantis.  I saw both green and brown ones, but I don't know enough about these benificial insects to know if that means two seperate species, a life stage, sex difference or just a color variant.  I do know that people pay money to release them into gardens to keep down bugs considered pests, so their abundance is a great thing for us and our crops.  While it's easy to appreciate the majesty of a bale eagle over the farm or a big whitetail buck in the hayfield in the early morning fog, these little guys I watched today are easy to overlook.  That's why I think, especially in today's world of high-speed everything, it's easy to forget the value of stillness.  

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Summer is Over

Well, we knew the school buses would be rolling by beginning this week, but we were hoping for summer to stick around a bit longer since it took so long to get here.  Over the weekend it seemed cool and almost fall like, and our low overnight temperatures are hitting the lower 40's now.  I'm just hoping we don't have an extra early frost, since we did have a very late one June 3rd.  But as we all know the one thing you can't control is the weather, even when your crops depend on it.  We're just glad to see the sun again.  Dan cut hay again yesterday, and we're supposed to have clear skies until the weekend.  Or maybe it will just freeze dry, who knows?

The herb garden is winding down in many ways now, and so I've been collecting the seed of my cilantro, which is the spice coriander.  It was quite nice out and very peaceful although I heard more wild bird noises than I'm used to.  Then a roaring, wooshing sound came out of nowhere.  At first I thought it was a big truck going way too fast on the road.  As I looked up, the sky was black with birds.  Too small to be crows, I think they were grackles or starlings- I always get the two confused.  But there had to be thousands of them, all rising at once from my little half acre patch of field corn by the road. It was impressive, in a sppoky way that just seemed to be reminding me that Halloween can't be far off.   

 
 
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