Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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First Cutting

 A very important thing happened over the weekend...we put up our first cutting of hay! The weather was perfect for enough days for us to cut the entire upper hay field, as well as part of the field by the neighbor's woodline. Dan and the horses cut the hay Wednesday and Thursday, and by Friday it was raked and dried, and we were ready to put the “new” John Deere hay loader to the test. Dan and I were very excited to see how it would work out in the field. I was so excited, I snapped this picture of the first hay coming up onto the wagon.

Considering the hay loader hadn't been used in over 60 years, this was pretty exciting to see. There were a few bugs to work out and bolts to tighten, but that was expected. Overall, it worked wonderfully and, even making the necessary adjustments out in the field, Dan and I were able to put up 4 wagonloads that evening. Since the next day was Saturday, I was busy with customers at the stand, but Dan was able to do a bit more work on the hay loader to get it in perfect working order. To me, it's simply amazing the way he can look at a piece of equipment, and despite having no manual or prior experience with a machine like this, he's able to see what needs to be fixed and make it work. By the time I had closed up for the day, the hayloader was adjusted and the hay had been raked with the side-delivery rake. We put up a couple loads, and then help arrived. Dan's father, Tom, didn't want to miss the hay making fun, so he and Dan went back out into the field and put in a few more loads, bringing the day's total to six. The weather Sunday was great as well. Dan's brother Matt was here to help as well, so there wasn't really room for me on the wagon, leaving me the equally important jobs of photographer and person in charge of lunch. Here's a picture of them hard at work- Tom is driving the team, while Matt & Dan use three-tined hay forks to move the hay forward and pack it in for an even load.

All in all, we made 14 wagonloads of hay off the field. That is a very good yield, and we're expecting to make another cutting later this summer. While we were also hoping to make hay off of the other field, we just didn't have time to do it all, and Monday brought rain, ruining the hay. But it was the least nice of all the hay, so it was the last priority. Just mowing the field was good for it though, so perhaps we'll still be able to make the second cutting from it also. Even without that hay, we still have a barn full. This is just one side- and we put hay in both mows. The picture shows Tom forking the last of the hay off into the mow, after the trolley system had done most of the reloading. And having Tom in the picture gives you an idea of how very large the haystacks are!

To a farmer, there are few things as exciting or important as getting the hay in. The amount & quality of the hay determine how many animals we'll be able to support over the winter. On our farm, it's also one of the major keys to the sustainability of our methods...we use the horses to power the machinery to make the hay. We feed the hay back to the horses as they provide the power for our fields. The horses turn the hay into manure, which is used to enrich both hay fields and gardens. In a system like this there is no waste. No exhaust fumes, no need to buy foreign gasoline or expensive and toxic chemical fertilizers. It's why, to me, even though it's always 90+ degrees, doing hard and sweaty and dusty work in the sun, haymaking is a beautiful thing. And nothing smells like summer goodness to me like a barn full of freshly cut hay. If I could find a way to bottle it, I would!  


Late Season Hay

We've had such lovely Indian summer weather lately! It's a refreshing change from the rain we've had for too long this fall. It has truly been an extreme growing season- either far too much rain, or not nearly enough. We were so excited to have the earliest-ever hay made this year- we had it dry and in the barn on June 1. The second cutting was looking great as of late August, but with rain in the forecast and falling every day or every other day, we had to wait. We needed 4 or 5 days of clear weather for the ground to dry, then cut and rake the hay, then load it up and get it into the barn. That clear weather finally arrived on Wednesday, and Dan cut the entire hay field. That is a massive undertaking for us and the horses, as we usually cut the field in 2-3 sections. This time, however, we didn't foresee any other possible time to get it in, plus delaying the cutting had allowed weeds to take over in places. We thought it best to cut the whole field, and even if we didn't use what was cut, it would at least mow the weeds away so part of the field wouldn't start out with a weed problem next year.

After cutting hay, we were fortunate that Dan and his brother spotted a rotary hay rake for sale nearby. They were able to bring it home Thursday. While by no means new, it's new to us and in much better condition than the one we would have been using. After greasing up the moving parts, Dan put it to good use on Friday and it worked great. Yesterday, the hay had finally dried and Dan and I were able to bring 3 large wagon loads into the barn, the equivalent of about half of the hay field. Although I love watching my Steeler football games, it was too pretty of a day to be inside and too important a job to skip out on. (I did have the game on the solar powered radio and my Hines Ward sparkly jersey on while driving the hay wagon and walking down the hay loads. I sometimes wonder if I'm the only person in the country that combines things like that- Steeler football and making hay with turn of the century methods & equipment.)

Making hay is the most important thing we do each year, even more important than spring planting. Hay is the staple that gets our livestock through the winter. It's what keeps our cattle growing and healthy through the winter, it feeds the sheep and goats and provides food & bedding for the pigs, and fuels our horses all winter & early spring, so they in turn can provide the pulling power to clean the barn or plow the fields. So seeing the mow fill up with hay is always a beautiful sight! It's always exciting to get hay into the barn without it getting rained upon. Dan finished up the final load alone on Sunday, and let me go off to do another important job, making dinner. Haymaking is hungry work!

By the time he came in, I already had a tasty potato salad (with our heirloom Mountain Rose potatoes and bacon) done, as well as a no-bake cheesecake type dessert I make with homemade blueberry butter and caramel. For the main course, I had T-bones from our grass-fed beef. Dan also talked me into making it surf-and-turf by cooking up some shrimp to go with it. Seafood is one thing we don't raise, but we do grow and process so much of our own stuff I don't feel bad about treating ourselves to some good seafood every so often, and this seemed like a perfect excuse! So as the shrimp were defrosting, I quickly headed outside to my secret chantrelle patch to see if I could scare up some late season mushrooms. Sadly, any I found were too old to be much good to eat, so I turned around and headed back to the house. On the way out of the woods, I spotted another kind of mushroom. It turned out to be an oyster mushroom, also very prized for eating. So I made shrimp with wild mushrooms, sauteed with a bit of garlic and my own champagne vinegar, making a wonderful sauce. I even had some curly parsley on the counter to dress up the plate, it really looked like a meal from some sort of 5-star restaurant. It's been crazy busy around here lately, so much of my cooking has been quick stuff, it was good to make a really nice meal. And I do get really excited when I can make something great by using a lot of what I've made here. Anymore I can just throw things together and it turns out great, I really don't follow a lot of recipes, unless I'm canning, and then consistency is very important.

Today, Dan and I along with Matt, got another 2 loads in the barn. Some of the hay is weedy, so Dan is out raking it to the edge of the field where it can smother some of the weeds along the fencerow. It doesn't really have enough edible stuff in places to make it worth the work of bringing it in. Then he'll rake the rest of the field once more, collecting all the bits that escaped the fork into one big row. We'll put that up, and that will be the end of the 2011 hay season. Ironically enough, although the first cutting was the earliest-ever, this will be the latest into the fall that we've ever successfully put up hay!


Summer Has Arrived!

It seems summer is finally here, bringing lots of sun.  We've even had some 90+ days here at the farm already, which have sure helped to dry things up after the rains of spring.  Other than crops like lettuce and beans, which we plant small batches of throughout the summer, the garden is in.  Most of  the seeds are showing at least tiny sprouts.  On Saturday, Dan hoed a bit of corn up to check its germination, since none were showing through the soil.  It was hard to believe, but by Sunday afternoon, the rows of corn were clearly visible, with 2" tall plants! The transplanted plants, like peppers, tomatoes, and squash are thriving as well.  We're even seeing blossoms on the peppers and a couple of tomatoes! We got by with no frost on any of the transplants, which is a wonderful thing.  While it may seem too late to worry about frost, just two years ago our last frosty morning was June 2!  

This year, however, June 2 was noteworthy for another is the earliest we've ever been able to put hay up.  After cutting some hay Monday, we had a few hot, dry days, and we were able to rake and load the first wagon loads of the season last night.  It's amazing to begin putting dry hay away in the barn, while it seems summer has barely arrived we're already storing what we need to get through winter.  But at the farm, there is no such thing as planning too far ahead.   There is also nothing like the smell of fresh cut hay as it fills the barn!  On days like this I wish I could bottle it for a sniff of summer during those long, cold winter months.  We were also very fortunate that although sunny and breezy, the temperatures dropped into the 70's,  much more tolerable for all the physical labor of putting up hay.  Dan has cut more, so with a little luck weather-wise, we'll be loading hay again in another day or two.  

With all this sun, the only thing I'm falling behind on is my computer work.  I confess I've been a bit behind on blogging, and my June newsletter isn't ready yet either.  But you just can't feel bad about that when you've got hay in the barn and the weeds are (temporarily) at bay in the garden.  The sun is shining again, so it's time to log off and get out there! 


Heat Wave Continues

The heat wave is still here.  It's 9:15 in the morning and it's already 85 degrees with 66% humidity, so I'm planning to be inside as much as I can today.  Although it's not supposed to get as high as the 98 degree weather we had earlier this week, the humidity is apparently going to make it feel even hotter.  It's weather like this that makes winter seem like a good time!

Hay making is still ongoing. I will be forever grateful to my husband and my brother-in-law for taking over that hard work.  I just don't handle the heat too well, so I get the equally important job of rounding up ice cold drinks and making food for a good meal afterward.  The large field that we've been working on is so thick and beautiful it will nearly take care of our hay needs for the year.  There is another main field to cut, but it has gotten rather weedy over the past few years and we may just make the nicest hay from it and mulch the rest.  Or the second cutting from this field later in the summer should be more than enough to fill our barn.  Either way, we look to have plenty of hay for all the animals we overwinter.  This year the number of horses will be the same, the sheep and pigs roughly the same number as well, with probably an additional cow or two than we overwintered last year but significantly less goats.  So, we have a pretty good idea of what we will need, and although a full season of winter seems so far away right now, this is when the planning and work happens that enables us to get through it. 

The garden is growing fantastically! I swear, if you look closely, you can see plants like corn, melons and sunflowers grow throughout the day.  They love the heat! I've already been out there this morning.  Although some things could use some irrigation, we only use underground drip line during the day.  The sprinklers will be moved around later in the day so as to lose as little water as possible to evaporation before the plants have a chance to make use of it.  But this morning, my main task was to thin the cucumbers and zucchini.  Both are best if picked small to medium sized, so we need to thin them out every few days to avoid the baseball-bat sized ones on market day!  

My favorite fresh vegetable is the cucumber.  I love the crisp, fresh taste.  The soggy, waxy ones you find in the store can't hold a candle to the goodness from a local garden.  So I was thrilled to finally see lots poking out from under the leaves last night when I went out to round up whatever I could find for a nice dinner salad.  This morning, I returned to the house with half a bushel, so one of my projects for today will be making pickles. It's just in time too, because we had just opened the last jar from the pantry, and who doesn't go through more pickles during summer grilling season? Not only will I be restocking my pantry, but I'll be having some for sale at the stand too!  We'll also have fresh cucumber for sale beginning this week, so you can make all your favorite dishes!  I have a recipe for a great summer pasta salad using them.  If you get out newsletter, you already have the recipe to try out, but if not you can get it here:   


Hot Weather Means Making Hay

July is here, bringing hot weather and a number of rain-free days in a row.  That means it's hay making time!  For us. it's as much a normal part of July 4th weekends as picnics and fireworks. We've been fortunate to have a stretch of dry weather, so we have been able to spread the work out over several days.  At this point, we've filled one side of the barn up and are working on filling the other mow.  Although the weather is 90 + degrees today, we're going to try and push to get the rest of the field in.  Even though there is only a slight chance of rain, the longer the hay lies in the field, the more it gets bleached by the sun.  So we're in for a long hot day, but hay making is one of the most crucial farm activities for us.  The amount and quality of the hay we put in determines how many animals we are able to support over the winter months.  Doing it ourselves is not only a significant cost saver over buying hay, we also know what quality we're feeding and that the hay is organically grown.  We are also able to complete the entire process with our horses, using no tractors or motorized equipment.  We use the horses to cut hay, rake it, and pull the wagon across the fields to pick it up. Instead of running a baler, we put it away loose.   Dan uses a pitchfork to load it while I walk back and forth packing it down for a nicely balanced load.  Both jobs are physically demanding.  Unloading is the easy part, as we have a hay claw on a trolley that lifts large amounts of hay, that carries it along a track and drops it in the mow.  If you'd like to see more, we have pictures and descriptions on our website at  This picture shows our mares, Dolly & Dixie, with a nearly full wagon load of loose hay.


Although this stretch of dry weather means we need to irrigate the garden and the creek is running low, it did give us the rare opportunity to take a day off yesterday and enjoy a rare summer holiday.  Since we were confident that the mowed hay wouldn't be rained on, we had time to relax and have a cookout here.  July 4th is all about freedom and independence, and without our farmers, this country wouldn't be self sufficient.  So it made me smile as we sat down to our meal, to see how much of it we'd produced ourselves.  The steaks were grass fed beef from a cow who was standing in our pasture just a week or two ago.  The potato salad made great use of new potatoes dug from the garden just hours before, and was flavored with homemade mustard and dill from the herb garden.  I made deviled eggs as well with eggs I'd hand collected from my chickens.  A truly enjoyable meal, and I feel so fortunate that eating fresh from the garden isn't an isolated experience.  I'm frequently able to make an entire meal using just what we make or grow ourselves.

We hope you & your family had a safe and enjoyable holiday weekend too!


The Value of Stillness

Don't you just hate when you type a great entry and then the computer crashes? I guess I'll try again and save this time!

It's been one of the busiest weeks in memory.  Moday was for running errands in town (20 miles one way) while Dan mowed hay.  Tuesday brought a day of canning.  Today we had to pick up feed, meat from the butcher shop, and come home and begin the process of sausage making as well as package ham & bacon. Tomorrow we will butcher chickens.  Friday we will be stuffing and packaging sausage and beginning prep for Saturday's stand.  We have a big, thick field of second cutting hay to put up as well.  To top it all off, we've been helping a friend move too, so it's no wonder I'm feeling a bit tired!

Also I've been trying to take more pictures, especially of the horses working and the different equipment we use.  Eventually I want to put it online, but the pictures are the first step.   It is a beautiful late summer day here, with temps in the lower 70's, no humidity and not a cloud in the beautiful blue sky.  I went out into the field with Dan and took a few pictures of the side delivery hay rake in use.  It dates from the turn of the century but still works great.  We pull it with a forecart so there was an extra seat for me to ride along.  It was so nice to take time and just be still while Dan drove.  It gave me time to truly appriciate the biodiversity we foster on the farm by not using chemicals or planting large monoculture crops.  As I relaxed, it was easy to take in the late summer wildflowers; jewelweed, Queen Anne's lace, goldenrod, Chinese lanterns, and many more I recognize but cannot name.  The fencerow between hayfield and pasture was stunning in the golds and purples of this time of year.  Artists know those two colors are opposites and emphasize each other, but I'm sure it was nature who taught us that.  The sound of hoofbeats, harness leather and metal machienery was soothing to me, but also allowed the creatures who share our field to get out of our path.  Goldfinches looked for bugs, replacing the red winged blackbirds which were so plentiful during the first cutting.  Butterflies took flight before the horses' hooves to alight on the freshly turned hay behind us.  A vole scurried away.  Not long after I saw a small snake slithering, possibly looking for dinner in the shape of that vole!  Crickets, believed by some to be omens of good luck, were plentiful, as were the lime green grasshoppers as long as my palm.  If you were looking at all, they were hard to miss!  The most surprising (to me) inhabitants of our field were the praying mantis.  I saw both green and brown ones, but I don't know enough about these benificial insects to know if that means two seperate species, a life stage, sex difference or just a color variant.  I do know that people pay money to release them into gardens to keep down bugs considered pests, so their abundance is a great thing for us and our crops.  While it's easy to appreciate the majesty of a bale eagle over the farm or a big whitetail buck in the hayfield in the early morning fog, these little guys I watched today are easy to overlook.  That's why I think, especially in today's world of high-speed everything, it's easy to forget the value of stillness.  


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. on my side

It finally stopped raining here in Tionesta just in time for the 4th of July weekend.  I was finally able to get around to weeding my herbs.  I was thrilled that Dan and I were able to find some lime basil under all the weeds!  Now that the little seedlings will be getting some sun, I hope to be harvesting some leaves before too long, they smell delicious!  I was a little disappointed that we didn't find any Thai basil sprouting, but herbs from seed can be fickle and we've had some real extremes in both precipitation and temperature this spring and summer so far.  I was able to harvest the spent chive flowers and have a nice collection of seeds for starting them indoors when winter approaches.  I've got extra if anyone is interested in starting their own.  Many of my other herbs are bolting quickly this summer, so I spent a good bit of time trimming the cilantro, thyme, basil, sage,and oregano to keep the production in leaves a bit longer. I especially want the sage to keep producing leaves.  Not only is it one of my favorite cooking herbs, but I dry the leaves and use them in the sage sausage we make from the hogs we raise.  It worked so well last time that hope to dry enough to use in all our sausage orders this time! 

The sky is blue, with big puffy clouds right now, so of course we're preparing to make another field of hay.  The nice weather is supposed to stick around for a few days.  This will pretty much wrap up all of our first cutting hay.  We'll then wait a bit to cut second cutting, which simply means making a second crop in the same field.

The old farmer's adage is that corn should be "knee high by the 4th of July" this case we are in great shape, as much of it comes nearly to my waist!


Really Old School

We went to a farm auction on Wednseday looking to pick up some equipment to make haymaking easier.  Although the hay loader went out of our price range, we were able to pick up a dump rake. It was quite the conversation piece; many of the older men gathered around it to reminisce.  One gentleman, probably in his 70's, came up to tell us how he had not run one since he was a little boy, and seemed very happy we were going to use it rather than use it as an antique yard ornament.  It made me laugh a bit inside, as he was Amish and has been using more current technology for years!  But the dump rake is home and worked great for Dan yesterday.  We'll have much less hay wasted by being left in the field, and it will be much simpler to load several piles of hay than forking up long, narrow windrows.

On a much sadder note, we've had some deaths in our chicken flock recently.  We eliminated a raccoon who had eaten several of my best layers and though it was over.  Three of the 4 killed were my Ameracauna girls, so I'm having a bit of a blue egg shortage at the moment although I do still get one or two a day.  Unfortunately, one of the feral barn cats has developed a taste for chicken and last night killed her 7th hen.  She has got all our adult Giant Cochins, both my Porcelin bantam girls and a mother Phoenix died defending her babies.  We have no choice but to kill her, as she is wild and would not be a candidate for the local humane society.  It makes me sad though.  So I just want to remind everyone out there that farmers do not need extra cats.  Over the years many midnight feline drop offs have occured here because people assume that if they can't give away kittens then they will have a happier life on a farm than if taken to a humane society.  I have 4 "bitty kitties" that came to us in this way in October.  Please know that not all have a happy life- established barn cats, a new road, lack of food if they don't know how to hunt...many other kitties don't make it long.  So let me just channel Bob Barker for a minute and remind you to spay or neuter your pet if you personally can't handle a litter of suprise babies.  I can't take care of them either, and it breaks my heart when I have to destroy one!


First Taste of Summer

Summer is officially here! The garden is so close to full production I can almost taste it when we go out in the evenings. Actually I guess we have tasted it- I've been able to make a few small salads with fresh greens, spring onions and a few baby radishes, served with a delishious bluberry-basil vinegrette from vinegar I made myself! Delicious!  The peas are blooming, as are the tomatoes and zucchini and last night we put up trellis for our rapidly growing pole and lima beans.  I have a few hot peppers that are getting to pickable size, now I'm busy looking over my canning cookbooks for a good hot pepper relish. If you have a good recipe, I'd love to hear about it.  I can't wait to get started canning for the summer! 

Hay production is going well, as of last week we had 2 entire fields dry and put up in the barn, which put us exactly 2 fields ahead of where we were last year! Dan spent yesterday cutting more, and if the weather is as beautiful as the forcasters are predicting, we will hopefully be done with our first cutting hay by the weekend, including the oat hay which I cultipacted much earlier in this blog.  The fields that have already been cut are growing back at an amazing rate, and we fully expect to be getting a good second crop later this summer.

Our broiler chickens have done so well out on grass, despite the unpredictable weather, that they've reached butchering size in just 7 weeks.  We started processing the first ones last night and hope to wrap this batch up by the weekend.  Chicken is the one thing we butcher start to finish here at the farm, but I don't mind too much.  Dan and I each have jobs to take care of during the process, and it runs pretty smoothly.  We have had orders rolling in for our chicken so if you are interested, contact us soon.  We're already sold out until mid to late August, so don't miss out!   For me, the first real taste of summer comes with some absolutely fresh chicken cooked over our charcoal grill with a wonderful garden salad. 


Chicks...Extra Small

Today was a first.  Although we've hatched hundreds of chicks this spring and a good number of ducklings and geese, we've never hatched quail before.  This morning I had 2 in the hatching tray of the incubator.  They are so small!  The books describe them as the size of a bumblebee.  I would say our little bobwhites are a tad bigger, but not much.  Even all streched out, the head and body was no longer than my pinky finger!

Although we've had rain the past 24 hours, haying is going well.  We are almost done wit hthe field by the road and soon we'll be moving on to the field by the woods and then on to oat hay.  I'm on vacation from my Even Start job the next week, so I hope to get lots of hay made while still taking some time for a little relaxing!

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