Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
[ Member listing ]

Open for the Season

We survived our grand opening yesterday, and I'm happy to say it was a success!  Thanks go out to all who stopped to see us, your support of local, organic food allows us to spend our time doing what we love- farming!

I admit, I have been pretty stressed about opening.  We did open for a partial season last year, but opening August 1 means lots more veggies are in season.  However, the table was NOT bare looking even though it is only May!  I've been busy with my jams, mustards and flavored vinegars, we have a nice assortment of raw milk cheese, and in addition to early crops like spring onions and rhubarb,  I also have some hardy herbs that are already needing to be cut.   We also had lots of pork and our first chicken of the year.  While we did sell out of one or two things, overall we had enough to keep the table filled all day.  My other fear was that no one would come, but we had a wonderful turnout.  So now that the opening is over, I'll be much less anxious about the coming weeks.  

The garden is looking greener every day.  Last week we put in 10 flats of transplants, so the plastic I put down is now filled and then some!  It's hard to believe, but our last killing frost was actually in June last year, so as much as we wanted to plant earlier, we also hated to take the chance of losing all our seedlings one chilly night.  Here in northwest PA, the general wisdom is that it is safe to garden after Memorial Day, so here's hoping that it will be great gardening weather from here on out.  We're planning on putting in some of our least frost tolerant seeds later today as well as planting beans and lettuce again so we can continue harvesting them throughout the season.  The peas are blooming, so they will be ripening quickly, and I know we'll be overrun with zucchini before long.  We've got more rhubarb than I can even describe right now, so I'm going to try and come up with something fun to can this week, so who knows what will be new for sale by next Saturday!

We hope you have a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend, and we hope you'll be able to visit us on Saturdays! 


Counting Down to Opening Day

Only 9 more days until we reopen for the year!  I'm excited and overwhelmed all at the same time.  I'm glad I was able to take 2 more days away from my day job next week, because as it is I put in almost a full day every evening after I get home.  There is so much to do!

I bottled my first homemade vinegar this week.  It's champagne vinegar, made with nothing but champagne (ok, domestic sparkling wine) a little water, mother of vinegar, and time.  It's fantastic!! I'll have a few bottles for sale and I've already started the next batch, but it will be a few months before it's ready.  I've been drying herbs in my little food dehydrator, so far I've packaged chamomile and some oregano.  I need a bigger drying space!  

We got some quail eggs and set them in the incubator last night, along with some Delaware chicken eggs from my girls here.  If all goes well, we'll have quail eggs & meat for sale by mid summer.  The Delawares will be to increase my laying flock, because those are my most productive and favorites of all the breeds we raise.

I was going to transplant some zucchini and pepper plants just now, but I see a wild turkey at the edge of the garden right now.  They are so neat to have around, I'll let him clean up some insects before I go out to plant, as I still have a few hours of daylight left. 

We still need to clean up the stand, but the fridge is plugged in and full of cheese.  Tom, Dan's father,  picked up our first order of raw milk cheese from Whispering Brook Cheese Haus, so we're set to go with that again.  New this year (for us) is a cheddar made from goat's milk and an Italian cheese with sun dried tomato chips, basil, and garlic.  We also got a lot of the Dill & Bacon cheddar which was so good we sold out of it the first day we had it last year.  We also have Longhorn (Colby), Mild Cheddar, Smoked Sharp Cheddar, JalapeƱo, and Horseradish again this year as well. So now I just need to forget it's down there so there is some left to sell!  

I've been working on updating the website page with products and prices.  A good portion of it is already live, but I'm holding off on listing the veggies yet.  I don't want to advertise things only to find they just didn't ripen in time for the first weekend.  I do try and go out to the garden nightly while I'm tending the rabbits... maybe if I just stare hard enough, I'll magically make the peas ripes or something...

I've also been working hard on getting the June e-newsletter completed.  It's almost ready to go out, hopefully I'll have the time to get that out next week.  We also participated in donating wool & hair for the oil spill, but that's a story I don't have time to type out tonight!  There is still so much to be done, and I won't get it finished if I'm blogging.  We hope to be seeing you next weekend! 


Not Really Vacation

Today is my 4th day off in a row, and by "off" I mean not commuting to my day job, because as usual, I've been busier here than I am at work!  Friday, Dan and I worked until 1 AM getting the butcher shop finished.  Although the Stevensons have always done some of the processing here, the kitchen was in need of a good cleaning and a coat of paint.  Not only did we paint, but we also put down a new tile floor, added much needed shelving and built a larger butchering table.  It turned out wonderfully, will be easier to clean, and if yesterday was any indication, a better workspace makes the whole process easier and more efficient.  We'll be butchering 3 more hogs today with the help of Dan's father, Tom, and that will complete our freezer pork orders.  Soon we'll be moving on to hogs we'll be selling at our stand when we reopen for the season on May 29. 

Of course butchering hogs & making sausage makes for busy days, but I've also been working hard on getting other things ready.  This weekend alone I made Honey Mustard, Cranberry-Peach Compote (like a chunky jam, but with almonds too!), Thai Hot & Sweet Dipping Sauce and repackaged all of my flavored vinegars into the new bottles.  Today I hope to bottle a bit of the champagne vinegar I made, buy more champagne because it turned out so well, and split the mother of vinegar to make some real white & red wine vinegars as well.  I also have some Blueberry Basil Vinegar that's nearly done and will need bottled in a week or so as well as some Dried Herb Vinegar, so I think I need to order more bottles too!  I filled some of my new herb containers with dried chamomile and the oregano in the dryer should be done today, so I'll package that and set more oregano on the racks to dry.  

The baby turkeys arrived, but they must have had a bad trip because only about half survived the 48 hour period after we picked them up.  There was a guarantee though, so Welp's hatchery sent us replacements.  There weren't enough turkeys to ship safely, so they filled the box with extra chicks so everyone would stay warm.  They look like Barred Rocks, so I'll gladly keep any hens and add them to our egg laying flock, since that is a breed we have here.  To date, the new turkeys and the survivors from the last batch are doing great and growing like weeds! We also picked up a batch of broiler chicks Saturday, and they are all doing well too.  We've been getting to know our postal workers pretty well, because this morning we went to the office before they opened again, this time to pick up hatching eggs.  We're going to try raising Cortunix quail for eggs and meat, so if they hatch well we may be offering those products at the stand by the end of July!

Most of our plants survived the early frost, so we're anxious to be offering things like rhubarb, spring onions and lettuce when we open.  But for now, I've got to go, we've got lots to do today! 


How We Roll

I'm commonly asked how we control weeds if we don't use pesticides.  The rototiller and hand weeding between plants are the main tasks once the plants are up.  For other veggies, like peppers & tomatoes, we put down a thin layer of black plastic, called mulch, and then make small holes to put the transplants in.  The black plastic absorbs the sun's warmth, heating the soil surrounding the roots up more quickly, but since light doesn't pass through, weeds don't grow underneath it.  The past two season Dan and I have put it down by hand, stretching it tight and straight before heaping dirt along all sides so it won't blow away in the wind.  This year we wanted longer rows, and frankly, putting it down can be a real pain, especially if even a tiny bit of wind kicks up.

Shortly before the farm went on hiatus, Dan and his family purchased a piece of horse drawn equipment called a plastic mulch layer.  It holds a large roll of plastic as well as a roll of drip tape, which goes underneath to provide irrigation.  There is a seat and a foot pedal which can be used to turn the wheels in case the horses step aside, since it's pretty important to keep the row of plastic as straight as possible. There are also two discs in the back to cover the sides of the plastic as you go along so it won't blow away. It had only been used a year or two, and besides the cobwebs from being stored in the barn, is practically new.

 The trickiest part was remembering how to thread everything through the rollers, but once that was finished  the job went very quickly.  I've been wanting to learn to operate more of the equipment this year, so I got to drive.  Once Dan covered the end of the plastic with some garden soil for a little tension, we put it in gear and away we went!  Overall, it was fairly straight...good enough that we didn't have to pull it up and do it over!  Although I'm getting much better at driving the team, this was absolutely my first time steering with my feet and hands at the same time, and it took a bit to get used to the feeling!  The plastic and drip line were cut, we turned around, centered the freshly tilled row, and Dan again covered the end.  Getting the hang of it a bit more, it was much straighter this time.  I was excited to learn about a new piece of our equipment, and was wishing just a bit that we needed to put down more than two rows.  I know it's pretty unusual for a non-Amish family to farm with horses, even more so for young farmers.  Also, few teamsters (originally the word referred to those working horses, not driving trucks) are women, so I'm both excited and proud to be one of those few.

The view from the driver's seat is pretty neat, don't you think? 


Butchering Season Begins Again

The trailer from our local meat processor just left with some of our pigs on board.  By law, we're required to send them to a USDA-inspected slaughtering facility.  We are able to process the sides of meat here at the farm, which means a busy week next week.  I'm usually in charge of the wrapping & labeling of our pork products, as well  as mixing up the herbs & spices for our multiple sausage varieties.  Some of the pigs that left today will go towards filling last fall's freezer pork orders, and the rest will be frozen for sale at the stand when we open at the end of the month.  We'll have fresh pork as well, but we like to have some frozen on hand too, and this allows the necessary time for the smoking & curing of the hams and bacons so we'll be able to have those as well.  It was nice to have a break from meat processing over the winter, but it's that time of the year again. It really takes a lot of planning to get everything scheduled properly!

We moved our broiler chickens to a larger pen today.  We want to get them out on pasture as soon as possible, but it actually snowed here today and these birds just don't handle cold & wet weather well.  To keep them healthy without pumping them full of antibiotics, we decided it was best to put them in another indoor pen with a raised floor, but we'll be watching the weather to get them out on grass as soon as possible. Unlike the pork, we are able to process our chicken start to finish here at the farm, so that will take place just a couple of days before our opening day.  Not only will we have some chicken available at the reopening of the stand, we also have a new batch of broiler birds arriving this week.  They will be able to be out on grass for a longer period of time, as we hope the weather will cooperate when they no longer need their heat lamps in a few weeks. 

The cold continues tonight, with frost forecasted.  We're a bit concerned about some of the crops, like sweet corn and blueberries, but the majority of what's in the ground, like lettuce and onions, won't be damaged if it gets nipped by frost.   It's so exciting to actually see veggies up, and I even have some early radishes to incorporate into our dinner tonight.

I was delighted with the new bottles that arrived this week and have been in the process of filling them with flavored vinegars.  Our Thai Sweet & Hot dipping sauce will be in them as well, so be sure to check them out when you stop to see us! 


Turkey Poults & Vinegar Bottles

I'll be watching the mail carefully, as we've got some exciting packages scheduled to arrive this week!

If all goes according to plan, I'll have my new vinegar bottles and herb jars delivered tomorrow.  I've got a new batch of Blueberry-Basil Vinegar to package, but I've been waiting on our new containers.  I think these salad dressing-style bottles will be easier to use than small canning jars.  I'm also very excited to finally package some of the champagne vinegar.  The mother of vinegar has been working for the past few months, and it's finally ready!  I'm excited to try it in some of my favorite recipes. If you've enjoyed any of our flavored vinegars before (we also sell Dried Herb and Mulled Blackberry) be sure to look for them in the new containers as well.  Once the herb garden gets going, I hope to have some new varieties this year too!

The oregano is growing rapidly, thanks to the warm temperatures and the gentle rain we got this weekend, and I'll be putting some in the dehydrator this week.  I'm hoping to expand our line of dried herbs from the organic coriander and dried basil we offered last year, and oregano seems like a great place to start.

I'm really excited about Friday though, because that's when our turkey poults will be arriving!  Dan and I have talked for the past year or two about getting a starter flock of heirloom turkeys.   While we have raised the regular broad-breasted white before, and will have some again this year,  they are a completely artificial breed.  To satisfy the American taste for white meat, the breasts on these birds grow so large, they cannot even mate naturally.  All eggs are fertilized via artificial insemination.  While I like to think I know my birds quite well, that's more up close and personal than I'm willing to get with a turkey!  Happily, there are a variety of heirloom breeds of turkeys.  While not as fast growing or large breasted, they have the ability to breed naturally, they have the "motherly instinct" to sit on a nest until the eggs hatch, do well in free range & pasture based systems like ours, and are an intelligent, beautiful bird.  The hardest part was deciding which breed to raise.  I quickly decided on the Bourbon Red.  A native of the Kentucky area, this breed is a beautiful reddish brown with edges of white on its wings and tail.  Dan, however knew from the beginning that he wanted the Royal Palm, which has a stunning black and white pattern.  What to do?  Since we just couldn't agree, we decided to order some of both.    Our broiler chicks are now three weeks old and have gone to an outdoor pen, so the indoor one will be cleaned and ready for our little turkeys when we get the phone call form the post office telling us to come pick them up!

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