Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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The Biggest Compliment

  In the past, I've had inquiries about turning my farm into a Bed & Breakfast- one of those kinds where you can stay, live a day on a real farm, "help" with the chores and meet the animals. I totally understand why this is becoming popular- most folks don't have a family member who farms, unlike previous generations, and to pack up the kids for a weekend of living the simple life sounds ideal. However, I'm really a private person, and the idea of having strangers paying to sleep in a bedroom upstairs, expecting to have me cook them breakfast and eat in my kitchen sounds like my worst nightmare.

However, there is one couple that is always welcome to take their vacation time and spend it here at the farm working around the vegetables & livestock. That would be my husband's parents, Tom and Betty. They came to visit us for the better part of last week, and were an amazing amount of help. Although they have moved on and are comfortable no longer being tied to the farm, there are still lots of things they miss, so it is fun for them to come and be a part of spring (or any time of the year, really) on the farm. The weather was warm & beautiful, and Tom had a great time harnessing the horses and getting the fields ready with the disc, harrow, and cultipacker. (The cultipacker is my absolute favorite piece of equipment to run, so I was a little jealous about that...but he was having so much fun I couldn't bring myself to ask for a turn! Besides, there is plenty more space in the garden to prep, so I'll have my own turn at it later this spring.) Betty followed, running the rototiller. With their help, the section of field was ready to plant in no time. Dan was away at work, but I knew where all our seed supplies are, so Tom, Betty & I planted many of our spring crops. We planted 4 varieties of potatoes, beets, 2 kinds of peas, 4 kinds of onion, radishes, plus a slew of greens; red and green lettuce, arugula, chard, spinach, bok choi and mustard greens. It was great to get our hands in the dirt and see the first wave of spring planting done. In fact, even though Dan was home relatively early in the afternoon, by that time we were relaxing with some cold drinks on the porch, while Tom & Betty shared stories of farming, and of the history of this farm with me.

I love to listen to them...I always learn so much. I love knowing more about the history of this place (I really want to make time to write down all they know about it someday), both of things that they experienced here, and history they learned by talking to folks who had previously lived here, some of whom have passed away now. Of course, I married their son, and they love to share cute stories of his childhood with me also. But they also share so much knowledge with me, so I try always to pay attention & soak up what they say. They have been farming for longer than I've been alive, and worked these very fields for over 20 years before I walked them, so they have so much knowledge that is a help to me. For instance, they complimented us on getting rid of much of the quack grass (a troublesome weed) in the garden, and then went into how the weed that you see are a reflection of what your soil needs...quack is more prominent when soils need lime. So if you see it, you can be nearly certain that your soil could use limed, even without taking a soil test. To me, that is amazing.

Another major task tackled last week was getting the sheep sheared. Tom spent many years shearing, and even was hired to do other farmer's flocks, so he's simply quicker and better at it than Dan. And since shearing isn't one of Dan's favorite tasks anyways, he was grateful for the help. So one evening, the men went to the barn while Betty and I decided to stay in the warm house. While Dan was helping Tom to hold unruly sheep not wanting to be clipped, we had a great time talking. I have stepped into her role as main selector of seed varieties and the starter of greenhouse seedlings. It is neat to have someone as a mentor who understands the joys & stresses of being a woman farmer. Someone who understands how greenhouse seedlings of tomatoes, peppers and such can feel strangely like children and the excitement of watching them grow. By the time the men were done, we had spread seed catalogs across the table. She wanted to check to see if seed for the tastiest melon ever grown on the farm was still available (it is...and is high on next year's list already). I was showing her a great lettuce I love to grow which we find does not get bitter in warmer weather, so it may be a good fit for her garden which is further south now.

It was truly a great visit. Tom and Betty were excited to see what we've been doing with their beloved farm, from turning a spare bedroom into a library and getting all the books out of the attic, to building the greenhouses. Also, we do things now that they never tackled, so they like to see that too. Hatching chicks with the incubator was not a part of the farm for them, but they enjoyed checking out the chicks, turkey poults and baby quail.  About the only thing they weren't crazy about was the bull, but having known farmers who have been killed by bulls, I understand their concern. (I like to think I'm alert & careful around all the animals.  Even a ram sheep can be deadly. But that also doesn't stop me from feeding any of them cookies.) 

But the best part for me was that they allow Dan and I to make the farm decisions, and even treat me like I know what I'm doing. I don't always feel like I know what I'm doing yet! As we were planting, Betty finished a row and asked “Hey Boss Lady! What next?” Who, me? The newbie as Boss Lady? Or when Tom found me in the greenhouse and asked if the peas had all been planted...I said no, then started to tell him how I just wanted to check the greenhouse seedlings so they didn't get too dried out, and that I'd be right back to finish my peas. I probably sounded like a kid making excuses for why her chores weren't done yet. Tom said “Oh no, I wasn't questioning you're judgment, Em. You're doing the right thing. Betty just likes to plant peas and will finish up the row while you're busy here.” Or that Betty wanted to buy some herb seedlings to take home with her. Betty, who has started literally thousands of seedlings at once, wanted a few of my plants because she thought they would look better than the ones she had started by the time she got home. I guess it's like a stamp of approval from experienced farmers whose opinion really matters to me. Being in business for yourself is always hard, and farming is even trickier as there is so much beyond your control. To have someone who has been down this road and succeeded, it's an amazing feeling to hear them say that you look like you're on the right path. And I treasure that, because I'd like to be right here, doing this, for many years to come.

 

Planting potatoes while Tom uses the rototiller to plow another row.  For once, I'm actually in the picture, as Betty was kind enough to use the camera for me!  Also pictured is one of our free-range chickens, a Delaware rooster, inspecting my work.

 

 
 

Crazy Busy

Today, the sprouts and I are staying inside. It's snowing or sleeting or something out there, which just seems cruel after the 70 and 80 degree weather of a few weeks ago. But truthfully, it IS still early April, and after all, the barn coat is a much more seasonal piece of clothing than the tank top this time of year in our part of the world. But today is one of those cloudy, grey days where the small greenhouse, our sprout house, just won't warm up much. Right now, at noon, it's only in the lower 60's, since it is barely 40 outside with no direct sun.

For about two weeks now, I've been carefully bringing the trays of sprouts inside each evening, so they don't suffer cold damage, and then lugging them back outside for a day of warmth & light. At first, it was a 5-minute chore, as I had 4 trays and only needed to make 2 trip outside to the sprout house. But those trays were seed starting trays, with 96 one-inch spaces for plants. Since then, the tomatoes, cukes, flowers and more have been transplanted into 3” peat pots, and I already have over a dozen trays to move each time. I have some more things to start as spring goes along, and more things in need of transplanting very soon. A plant will pretty much stop getting bigger if it doesn't have any more space for its roots- it's called being “rootbound”. After transplanting, I'm always amazed at how much a plant will grow in the next few days. You can literally notice a difference from morning to night!

While inside, I have some flats under fluorescent lighting up to help to make up for the lost daylight, not that they are missing out on much today. I have the rest near windows, soaking up the ambient light. I'm hesitant to have many more flats, as I'm quickly nearing the end of the available space to set them inside the house! But soon a few will be empties. Last Saturday, the construction on the main greenhouse was completed! Although the ends have been up, and Dan and I put up the 20' wide plastic for the roof the weekend before, we still needed to enclose the sides. We used more plastic, fastened to boards at the bottom for the sides. This way, during the heat of the summer, the sides can be rolled up and tied, providing for even more ventilation than the windows and doors at the ends could provide. We're very excited to have the greenhouse rennovations completed right on schedule. We've already planted onions, chard, lettuce and beets in the ground in the greenhouse, and we're looking forward to getting our greenhouse tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and eggplants in the ground within the next 2 weeks. Although we know there will be some nights we'll have to heat the greenhouse, it's the only way to really get those crops to mature earlier. If all goes according to plan, we're optimistic that we'll be offering cucumbers as soon as we open this year.

It is spring, so of course we're crazy busy. Besides the greenhouse activity, Dan has already started plowing for the year, so it won't be too long before I'm working some of the machinery as well, which I really enjoy. Chick season is here and in full swing. Right now, we have baby chicks for sale. This year we will have Barred Rocks, and Easter Eggers, plus a few Delawares and Golden Phoenix chicks. Monday should bring our first turkey poults of the season. We're getting lots of inquiries about our Bourbon Red poults, and I do have a few folks who have already reserved poults. The quail have finally started to lay, and with only 18 days of incubation necessary (compared to 21 for a chicken or 24 for goose, duck, peacock or turkey) we'll have bumblebee-sized little quail in the brooder next week. The geese have been sitting on nests for a couple of weeks now, so I think we'll see goslings soon, too.

All our lambs are thriving on the good spring grass, and it's a joy to watch them run and play out in our fields. I'm also watching our Dexter cow Finni like a hawk right now. She is due any day now, and we're again looking forward to having a calf in our midst. We bought Finni to be our family milk cow, and we're once again anxious to have our own farm-fresh milk in the fridge. I'm looking forward to dabbling a bit in making some other dairy products, like butter, cheese and sour cream as well.  ...And speaking of cheese, as opening day approaches, we'll once again make the journey to Whispering Brook Cheese Haus so we can offer their raw milk cheese at he stand.  We've missed all the delicious flavors, too!

We don't have enough room in the incubator for all the eggs we're getting, so I've also been busy trying to use them up making a variety of handmade egg noodles here at the farm kitchen. Dan absolutely loves them, and I'm looking forward to listing on our Etsy store (www.etsy.com/shop/pleasantvalleyfarmpa/) and having them available when we reopen at the end of next month. It won't be long now!

Be sure to check out our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Pleasant-Valley-Farm/121591150986 ...our album “Greenhouse” shows the whole building process!

 
 
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