Pleasant Valley Farm

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

 
 

The Sprout House

 

A big projet has been crossed off of our spring to-do list.  The greenhouse we use for starting seeds was really showing its age.  The plastic was in tatters, the inside was filled with skeletons of last year's overgrown weeds, and with all the rain we've seen, you had to walk through a real muddy mess to get to the door.   

 

 

This is what it looked like. Not a friendly space to work or grow.  So, we cleaned up the inside, removed the workbenches, and stripped it down to the wooden frame, which was in great shape due to being built with treated lumber.

 

Halfway there! (As you can see by the snow, this was not a one-day project!)

Once down to the frame, Dan and I moved it about the length of the building and placed it closer to the processing pavilion (in rear of photo). This area is just slightly higher, and therefore drier.  Once the frame was level and in place, we put a floor of underlayment fabric down.  This should shade the weeds and prevent them from taking over every summer!  Then we put new plastic over the frame, inside and out, then replaced the worktables.  This time, we put them slightly lower so they are easier for me to work with.

 

 

I love the new sprout house! It's so much more inviting now. Dan boxed in a corner to use as a raised bed, and after the cold snap over the weekend, we are hoping to direct seed some frost tolerant veggies like radish, lettuce, chard and spinach.  I've also got flats of seed trays here in the house.  I've already started tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and eggplant for our big greenhouse.  This is another project we hope to complete soon.  We'll be taking down the metal frames out in the garden, using the ones in the best shape, and making a 65' greenhouse.  We'll plant these vegetables right in the soil, but we'll be able to do it much earlier and so will be able to offer our customers these veggies earlier and for a longer time during our market season.  I've also started a few flats of herbs, including basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley, catnip and echinecea (purple coneflower) so far.  I hope to have a nice variety of potted herbs for sale when we reopen this year, a new venture for me!  The trays are here in the warm kitchen until the seeds germinate, then we'll be taking them out to the sprouthouse for lots of sun and an early start on the season.  It's good to be growing again!

 

 
 

Poults & Plastic

April sure has been a roller coaster, weather-wise, so far!  We're not even 2 weeks into the month and we've had everything from snow to thunderstorms to 80+ degree temps!  We're hoping things will even out and dry up a bit soon so we can get serious about preparing our fields for planting.  Getting the horses harnessed up and making the first few rounds with the plow says spring more than anything else here!

The started sprouts have been getting some good greenhouse time, and I see new growth daily.  I'm getting ready to start some more things that we'll want to plant as seedlings, but in the garden rather than the greenhouse.  This will include some of our open-pollinated and heirloom tomatoes and peppers as well as things like zucchini and squash that just don't need greenhouse space, but that we want to get a jump on in preparation for our sales season.  We are also hoping, if the weather cooperates, to get in some serious work on the greenhouses this weekend.  We plan on putting up plastic on one of the metal frames for our tomatoes, cukes & peppers.  We may also tear down one of the frames that is not in good shape.  There is also some repair work to be done on the small one I'm currently using for seedlings.  The back end of that greenhouse was made of untreated wood and is in rough shape.  The recent winds went a long way towards removing the plastic on that part, so we'll work on that and tearing down the lumber supports.  We've tossed out ideas for what we'll do with that space next- it could be anything from an asparagus bed to a new pavilion for poultry processing. 

But the most exciting event of the recent past was definitely on Sunday.   We have been hatching chicks for the past few years, and have over a thousand healthy chicks under our belt, so while it is exciting and fun, it's also not groundbreaking when the first fuzzy chicks of the season hatch.  Our incubator has also brought other birds to life, in the past few years we've had good luck with ducklings, quail and even peachicks.  We've also tried goslings, but they seem to require such high humidity that they don't hatch well, especially if we need to balance it with the needs of the chicken eggs in the incubator at the same time.  So we just let the geese do their thing, it works much better.  Our hope this year was that the Bourbon Red turkeys we bought last year would lay eggs and we would, for the first time ever, be able to hatch our own poults.  We've found eggs everywhere, it seems.  The hens have rejected my cardboard nest box in the safety of the turkey coop.  Instead, I've collected eggs from the yard, the woodshed, the bad part of the greenhouse, my front porch furniture, and the most popular spot, the neighbor's brush pile across the road.

 Since this is their first year to breed, so many things could go wrong.  Are they fertile?  Will the first eggs be viable? (often the first eggs laid by a chicken don't have as good of a hatching rate as ones from a slightly more mature hen.)  Did I find the hiding spot before the eggs got too cold?  Will we have any luck at all???  We set our eggs weekly, so that they don't get too old & lose viability.  The first time I set turkey eggs, I had a total of seven.  They take 28 days to mature (chickens take 21) so this weekend was the time to find out what, if anything, was going on inside them!  I had hoped that at least a few of the first eggs would hatch.  I was optimistic we wouldn't fail totally, but  was prepared to call even two poults a success.  I pulled out the hatching tray Sunday morning after hearing telltale peeping.  We had chickens in there too, so I saw a rainbow of adorable fuzzies...Barred Rocks, Cochins, Phoenix chicks...and two little turkeys! SUCCESS!  I removed all the dry birds to the brooder pen.  Then I snuck a look and noted that other eggs were also pipped (showing the first cracks as the bird works its way out).  More chickens and also more turkey eggs.  In the end, we had what we considered a monumentally successful hatch with 6 of 7 eggs producing a healthy baby turkey!

 We are looking forward to more hatching this weekend, including a bunch of Mille Fleur bantams from purchased eggs, more of our own variety of chicks, lots more turkeys and possibly a few ducklings as well.  I'm confident we'll have success, but as the saying goes, you really can't count your chicks (or poults) before they hatch...

 
 
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