Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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The Perfect Garden

Right now, this year's garden is perfect. That may seem strange, as it's covered with a few inches of snow, and harnessing up the horses to plow is still months off. But right now I can see it, I've planned it all out, and it's the only time of year where I don't have to deal with the difficulties of actually growing. So, in my mind, the weather has been perfect, no pests or diseases, and all the varieties are doing well. The weeds haven't been a problem, and you can tell by now that I'm totally delusional.

I've gone though all the seeds left over or saved from last season, took stock of our inventory, and figured out what I could avoid buying this year. I get excited about using heirloom varieties and finding ones that work for our microclimate. It is not too much work to spend a few hours in the fall picking dry bean seeds or scooping out the seeds from a squash to save for next year. Each time I do, I help to perpetuate a variety that in some cases is old and in danger of going extinct. In any case, it's like money in the bank, as I've created my own seed for next year. I am trying, year by year, to become better and save more different kinds of vegetable seed. I think if I can become proficient at saving seeds and starting plants in the greenhouse, I should be able to slash the seed bill somewhere around half. Some seeds take too long to save (for example, carrots are biennials, and would require field space for two seasons to produce seed, so it is worth it to us to purchase seed instead) and in some cases, especially with things like sweet corn, we will likely stick to the hybrid varieties, as they are what the public is geared to look for.

I've looked over my records of the last few years, noting which plant varieties performed well, and which I might like to try a new substitute. I've perused the seed catalogs and noted which varieties are no longer available and made acceptable substitutions. It's always a bummer when your favorite kind of something is no longer available. This year it was our favorite zucchini from Johnny's seed, Cashflow. We've picked out a new variety now, and hope it will be similar in taste & performance. At first, planning the seed purchase was almost overwhelming to me, as each variety sounds so amazing. (The catalogs are worded so that it is possible to feel overwhelmingly excited about something as plain as a radish!) I grew up with flowers in the yard, not veggies, so the names were not the old friends to me that they were to Dan. But I've got enough growing seasons under my belt that I am pretty confident about what (and how much!) to order, although Dan and I always sit down together and look it over before I send it in.

But hands down, my favorite part of spring garden planning is trying new things. In the past few years, we have had spectacular successes and also things we won't plant again, even for fun. Swiss chard grew fantastically, and is now one of my favorite greens. Herbs were not a big part of the farm and I've had fun starting with the basics and working my way up to more exotic flavors. Peanuts didn't work so well, and I'm still searching for the perfect melon for our weather, so not every gamble pays off, but if you don't try, you'll never find new, exciting things! So this year my wish list included everything from fingerling potatoes to salsify, a vegetable that supposedly tastes like oysters. I've seen fennel in so many recipes lately (I subscribe to what are probably too many cooking magazines!) that I have to try it. We've even tossed around the idea of branching out of the plant world to try our hand at growing gourmet mushrooms. So, as you can see it's easy to picture the perfect garden right now. The green house, the fields, everything is pictured with perfect optimism. Now I know there will be crop failures and pests and problems, but if you can't have joy in your heart picturing how this season will be the best ever, than you're probably in the wrong line of work.   

 And besides daydreaming about the perfect garden, there are still lots of things keeping us busy.  Our first lamb of the season was born on Sunday. I've been canning things I put away in the freezer until a slower time, so last week I finally defrosted a bucket of cherries and made case upon case of Black Forest Preserves.  (If you're looking for a unique Valentines gift, what could be sweeter than chocolate jam with PA-grown cherries in it for your sweetie?  We also have jewelry, handmade from our birds' feathers, and we ship nationwide!  Click over to our store at www.etsy.com/shop/pleasantvalleyfarmpa to check it out!)  The sun is streaming through the window, and the thermometer is reading nearly 50 degrees, so I guess it's time to get off the computer and get outside! I'll try to post baby pictures in the near future!

 
 

On the Road

January is just flying by! Dan and I took advantage of the winter slowdown by actually taking a vacation!  We visited both his parents and my mother.  It was fun to spend time with them and take some time to relax.  (any morning when you don't have to get up and do chores is relaxing!)  We were gone for nearly two weeks, and I honestly can't remember the last time we were away that long.  Dan's brother did a great job of taking care of the place for us, and other than the sheep deciding that they wanted to live in the front yard rather than the pasture, all went well.  But even on vacation, we still saw livestock!  Our visit to my mom's also concided with the PA Farm Show, just minutes from her home, so the three of us spend a fun day checking out the exhibits.

Now it's back to business here.  I'm working on finishing up our garden seed orders, keeping the website updated and  getting another email newsletter put together.  I'm also busy canning.  It's a great time to have the stove going all day, so I'm finally getting around to some things I stored in the freezer. Next on my list is defrosting a bucket of cherries to make a batch of Black Forest Preserves.  And besides freeing up freezer space, I need to get some inventory together because I just found out that I'll be taking the farm on the road again soon! We're excited to announce that we'll once again be at the Farm to Table conference.  This year's event is March 23-24 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh.  We will have a table in the exhibit hall with lots of your favorite farm goodies, like Carrot Cake Jam, Blueberry-Basil Vinegar, Oktoberfest beer mustard, and more!  We'll also be bringing some feathered jewelry creations.  Also, I will once again be a featured presenter!  this year's topic is seeds, and I'll be giving a presentation titled "Treasures from our Grandparents' Garden: Heirloom Seeds".  I'm excited to be coming back again this year, but I know that the end of March is not that far away, so I'll be doing a lot of work to get prepared by then!

 

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Taking Inventory

The first real winter storm has hit the farm.  It's cold out, the wind is blowing and I can barely see the woods line from where I type, meaning visibility is not good at all.  It's a good day to take on indoor tasks, and after I finished sweeping up the mud on the kitchen floor again, I needed another project for the day.  Strangely enough, seeing all this blowing snow gets me excited to start thinking about the 2012 garden.  I enjoy sitting on the couch or near the woodburner, perusing the seed catalogs with a highlighter and a pen and notebook to begin creating a wish list of plants I'd like to grow, plus lots of price & volume comparisons.  It's a major undertaking, but it's always enjoyable.  

But before I start planning our seed purchases, I need to find out what is still here, meaning an afternoon of sorting through seed packets which have been stored away since planting stopped.  I have a spreadsheet where I keep track of the types of seeds I have, both what vegetable and what variety, plus the quantity on hand and when it was purchased or harvested.  I've been trying to do better at saving seed from our own garden plants, which is only possible with older, heirloom plants, not the modern hybrids.   We do use some of the modern varieties for disease resistance or productivity, but we've been steadily incorporating more heirlooms each year.  So in addition to seeing how many small white packets of commercial seed are in the box, I also have an assortment of envelopes and brown bags, each carefully labelled "Chives"  or "Christmas Lima" or "Pink Banana Squash".  It's exciting to see how much of our own seed we can preserve, which in the end results not just in a smaller bill come spring planting, but also should produce plants that are most suited to our particular climate and location.  

Once all the packets have been inspected and inventoried, I'll put the boxes back in their cool, dry space in the pantry.  Then I'll get out the highlighter and notepad and the gorgeous assortment of seed catalogs that have arrived and start dreaming of the possibilities of spring! 

 
 
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