Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Slowing Down

November is here. It's very much a turning point in the year for us. It always feels like the month where fall leaves us and winter moves in, even though the calendar says winter won't officially arrive until well into December. At this point, the garden has had a killing frost and we've seen snow on the ground, so all the vegetable picking is over, with a few exceptions, like the Swiss chard and the beets. Saturday mornings have become much less hectic. I can enjoy a cup of coffee without worrying that I'll run out of time before I get all the vegetables picked, washed and displayed before we open at 10 AM. Although when the frost does come, it's always a bit sad to see the basil turn black and the pepper plants shrivel, the truth is that after six months of planting, weeding, hoeing and picking, the break is welcome. In a few months I'll be busy selecting the seeds that we'll purchase for the 2012 garden, but for now, I'm just fine with taking a bit of a break.

November is the last month that our farm stand is open as well. Although it's got walls, a roof & concrete floor, it isn't heated and some of the Saturdays lately have been more than just a bit chilly. I love visiting with everyone who stops by the stand, but the chilly mornings won't be missed when we close for the year. And, truth be told, having worked every Saturday since May 28, I'm ready to sleep in just once!

Meats are coming to a close for now as well. Hirsch's trailer has picked up the last of the beef & lamb for the year. We'll do a bit more pork, a few more chickens and the Thanksgiving turkeys. After that, all the critters will be with us for the long winter. Although I am proud of what we produce, and feel that our meat animals have the highest quality of life possible, it will be nice to take a break from butchering. I think having that break allows you to avoid being too hardened about the process. It will also be nice to be able to accept an invitation to go out to dinner with friends on a Thursday or Friday evening without having to say “I'll try to make it, depends on what time we get done plucking chickens/grinding sausage/etc.”

Canning isn't as frenzied either. No overwhelming amounts of peppers to can, tomatoes to turn into salsa or cucumbers waiting to be pickled. I get to be a bit more creative right now, instead of just trying not to waste anything. Lately I've had fun making vinegar candy (similar to hardtack), apple butter, and an Oktoberfest mustard. I've made a number of git baskets featuring our processed items as well. I have a few more things I hope to try, either before the end of the stand season, or possibly over the winter. It's never a bad thing to prep some inventory before the season begins again!

And while it is a slower time of the year, there's never a time when we're not busy. Lately we've been working on some temporary fencing. We hope to get the critters out into the hayfield near the garden when the grass runs low in the usual pastures. Stockpiling this grazing will allow us to go longer into the winter before we need to start feeding hay. That means the hay we put up will feed more animals, and we are hoping to increase our beef herd over the winter months, as well as purchase more pigs. Demand for our meats has increased incredibly, so we're already planning on how to have more available for our customers next year!

Winter is a time we look forward to because we can get indoor projects done during those long evenings. We have a room we're remodeling into a library, and I look forward to progressing on that. Dan wants to do more blacksmithing, and working over a hot coal fire just isn't fun in the summer. And I have lots of projects, too, from trying to get back into oil painting to becoming a better baker to keeping this blog updated a bit more frequently. I'm in contact with the Farm to Table folks in Pittsburgh, and it's looking likely that I'll be prepping another presentation for them, to be given in late March.  End of year records will need finishing, and it's never too early to begin planning for the next season!


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Happy Fall to All!

Happy fall to everyone!  It has been so busy around here,  I feel as though I've been neglecting my blog.  So here is my attempt to get you caught up with our goings-on!

I've meant to mention that Finnbar has gone home to Muirstead Farm.  He was the Dexter bull we had on loan for the summer.  He is a beautiful example of the Dexter breed; well muscled, docile and compact.  Although I was nervous about having a bull here, as they can be dangerous animals, we had a wonderful experience with him.  I'm always grateful to breeders who value not just production, but temperament as well, and the Muirstead Dexters are joys to work around.  Having Finnbar around for a few months also gave me the confidence that if Dan and I ever expand our little Dexter herd enough to warrant keeping a bull around all year, that with proper care and handling it would be no more stressful than having the other intact males here, like Rambo the sheep or Wilbur the hog.  And speaking of expanding our Dexter herd, we did do just that.  In addition to the calf we'll expect from Finni early next summer, we purchased another cow.  Lil came on loan with Finnbar, so we could have a chance to milk a Dexter this year.  We liked her so much that we chose to purchase her.  She is a former show ring champ and has had quite a few beautiful Dexter babies.  The Muirs have enough of her lineage in the breeding herd they maintain, so they agreed to let us purchase her.  She'll also be due with a calf in late spring or early summer, so we are so very excited!

Today is the first day of fall.  The official first days of summer and winter always seem to arrive a bit after the season starts in my opinion, but fall is right on time.  The leaves are starting to change and the garden is transitioning as well.  Our tomatoes finally succumbed to the blight, but we had a wonderfully productive year anyway.  While we won't have fresh ones at the stand again this year, I have lots of packaged sun-dried tomatoes available and I'm working today on making some more Bruschetta in a Jar with the last of the Romas.   But as I say good-bye to the tomatoes of summer, I'm saying hello to our fall crops.  We've been digging onions and potatoes and last week were able to start picking some winter squash as well.  This week we'll be able to offer acorn, buttercup, butternut and sweet dumpling squash, plus a few pumpkins and a blue hubbard or two.  Later, I'll have some really neat looking gourds (a frost will really bring out their colors) as well as kabocha and giant pink banana squash.  We also tried planting a bit of Bloody Butcher corn, an heirloom deep red corn, this year, so once it dried I'll be excited to try grinding it for cornmeal and see what color we end up with.

As the season goes on, I have more and more neat things I've dried or processed.  Something new we'll have this week is dried sage from the herb garden.  I'm also finishing up processing some peaches into a recipe called zesty peach barbecue sauce.  It's more like a hot peach salsa, so I'm thinking about what name to put on the labels as the jars are bubbling away in the canner.  Either way, it's a favorite here at home, Dan especially loves it with ham so I think ham steaks are going to be dinner tonight! (it's great on chicken or pork chops too.)  Then it's on to making the  Bruschetta and possibly, if the rain lets off, I'll be digging some horseradish to prepare and sell.  I might make some horseradish mustard before the week is up too!

 I'll also be cleaning up the brooder pen in anticipation of our layer chicks which are due to arrive Friday. As the seasons change, I'm always realizing how farming truly is a year-round occupation.  While most of the produce arrives within a fairly small window of time, we're always planning and preparing.  In addition to the hens, we're also deciding what kind of garlic to plant now and what we need to do to keep our fields, buildings and livestock in good shape over the upcoming winter.  It's always a busy time here!

 
 

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!

 
 

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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