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!

 
 

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!

 

 
 

The End-of-Summer Rush

Hello again, blog!  It's so easy to neglect you this time of year...

 

August is rolling by mighty quickly, it's hard to believe we're already halfway through!  It has been a typically busy late summer so far, and it's set to get even more hectic.  The end of summer is always exciting in Tionesta, as it brings the Indian Festival, our community's week-long celebration.  That started on Saturday and will run through this coming weekend.  The following weekend will also bring lots of visitors, as it's Rumble on the River, a motorcycle rally that takes place at Wolfe's Corners fairground, only 2 1/2 miles from the farm.  We are sure to have busy weekends because of this, both with increased traffic at the farm stand and also because friends & neighbors will be gathering to share food and fun.  

But in order to have a little free time on the weekends, that means I need to stay extra busy during the week!  It seems the canner goes nonstop through the week, usually except for one day which I use to run errands like going to the feed store or picking up more canning jars to hold all the garden goodness!  Last week alone, I made cases of Carrot Cake Jam, Emily's Own Dill Pickles, Pickled Beets, Sweet Garden Relish and added my medium-spicy Fiesta Salsa to the product lineup down at the stand.   Today I'm packaging sun dried tomatoes to offer this coming weekend, plus this week I'm sure I'll be doing some of the previously mentioned products, plus Hot Pepper Rings and Bruschetta in a Jar, possibly Dilly Beans, and whatever else I can come up with to preserve what is in the fridge right now. I have a new batch of Mulled Blackberry Vinegar that is ready for bottling, and I need to check on my first-ever batch of Malt Vinegar as well.  I'm also busy freezing things like chard and zucchini for my own personal use over the winter.  And of course weeding, drying herbs,mowing the yard, working in the garden and taking care of the livestock & poultry.  And did I mention I'm experimenting with some artistic projects that I hope to have on sale soon, possibly even this weekend?  (More details to come on that when I actually complete them!)  So it's crazily busy here right now!

 We're also butchering.  It's nice to have a break from doing chickens right now, but I can't believe how demand has gone up since just last year- I can't keep them in stock, which is a great problem to have!  We'll be doing pork again the next couple of weeks, with sausage this week and the return of chops and roasts next, with ham & bacon returning the week after once the curing process is complete.  

So even though that is more than enough to keep us busy, I'm also excited to be adding a new crop to our farm.  I place my order with Seed Saver's Exchange this morning for a quantity of garlic, something I have not grown before (but Dan has).  It will ship the middle of next month.  We'll plant it then and look forward to offering garlic scapes early next spring and garlic next summer. I'm always excited to offer new things, and garlic has been something we've had requests for from our customers.

Well, I best get back to the canner...stop by and see us if you're visiting Tionesta over these busy, fun weekends! 

 
 

Starting the Garden

It's an unseasonably warm weekend, and a long one away from the office for me.  We're excited to be getting some things in the ground at last! Our garlic overwintered well, and the chives are ready to be cut anytime now.  Other than the lemon balm and oregano though, there's not much green in the garden right now.  Dan has been doing a bit of tilling and I'm excited to start the day tomorrow by doing a bit of planting.  We've got onion sets for some early green onions and some carrots, beets, radish and lettuce varieties to start.  All of these can handle a light frost, since we're sure to have quite a few more, even though the high today was 82.  This should put them on pace to be ready by Memorial Day, when we open the stand. Plus I've really been missing fresh greens, so I'm anxious for a nice spring salad!  I also couldn't resist picking up some bare root strawberry plants while I was out, so I think we're going to risk the frost and put them in the ground with a nice layer of mulch hay to keep the frost off for the time being.  While I'm not going to be planting enough to plan offer them at the stand, if I have enough extras I'm sure they will end up in some delicious jelly or jam for sale. 

Another project underway is getting another greenhouse up and operational.  Dan's tilled a few times, and once we get a new layer of plastic over it, we'll be able to plant tomatoes, peppers and a few other plants right in the ground for an earlier first harvest.  This is new for me, and I'm pretty excited about it. 

We hatched 39 chicks last weekend and are hoping for even more coming out of the incubator this week.  I love hatching, but I really get excited when we have hens dedicated enough to do it without my help.  The mothering instinct has been bred out of many, many chickens, so they literally won't reproduce without human assistance, which to me is sad. However, my golden phoenix hens hatched 12 of their own last year, so when I saw them pooling their eggs into one nest box this spring, I let them go and didn't take the eggs away.  A hen will only sit on the eggs when she thinks there is enough to invest her time in, so I let them build up.  This evening, there was a broody phoenix hen covering the eggs.  She didn't give up last year, so I'm optimistic we'll be seeing some naturally hatched chicks three weeks from now!

 
 

Why Save Seeds?

Just like the stores seem to pull out the Christmas stuff earlier each year, the seed companies seem to be in a race to get the catalogs for the coming growing season out far earlier than necessary.  We haven’t even finished picking corn, and already I’ve received two! In case I misplace then during the holiday season, I’m sure duplicates will come my way in January or February.  While I love looking through them on a cold winter evening, with temperatures still rising to near 60 every day this week, I’m still outside, finishing up this year’s garden!  Dan put the rhubarb to bed for the year…our secret to a bountiful crop that produces clear into fall is blanketing it each winter with a thick layer of horse manure, which is never in short supply here.  It keeps the crowns of the plant safe from winter’s bitter cold, and as the manure breaks down gradually over the coming months, it not only provides a bit of warmth, but also valuable fertilizer. We’re also closer every day to having all of the corn in the corncrib.  Once that happens we’ll take some to a mill to have our own feed mixed, and some will be fed to the animals still on the cob.  And I’m picking the last of this year’s beans.  They are no longer green anywhere, but have produced hard dry beans inside the edible part.  These can be soaked and used in any bean dish, but can also be used to plant next year’s crop, as long as you have not planted a hybrid variety.  (While hybrid seeds will sprout, the fruit of the plants has no guarantees…it most likely won’t taste anything like what you enjoyed the year before.)

So although I haven’t even opened the catalogs, I’m busy planning my garden next year and saving seed.  I have my colored corn, giant sunflowers, squash, pumpkins, and several types of beans.  I also did some herbs earlier before the seeds dropped and supplied next year’s sprouts themselves!  You might wonder, if a bunch of mail-order catalogs featuring every plant under the sun are coming right to my door, why would I spend my time letting plants go to seed, picking the seeds and preparing them to keep through the winter?  Farmers are always short on time, but saving seed is worth the time in my opinion.  I’m helping to preserve the biodiversity of agriculture by not relying on the newest super-seed Monsanto or some other heartless corporation is pushing, and saving money to boot. Also, if you save the best seeds from the best plants in your garden for a few years, you will end up with a plant that is most ideally suited to the climate conditions of your particular farm.  You can also help save a piece of history.  Grandpa Admire’s lettuce, which we bought seeds from Seed Savers Exchange to plant this year, has been saved and replanted since the Civil War.  While it didn’t keep at all once picked, and therefore would never be an option at the supermarket, it was a beautiful combination of red and green leaves, had a fabulous taste, and never got bitter, even on those hot summer days.  It would be a shame to let this piece of American food heritage go by the wayside just because it doesn't appear in the big catalogs or on the racks of seed packets at Wal-Mart or Home Depot.

 

The biggest drawback to the heirloom vegetables which you can save seeds from is that they may not have the high disease resistance that hybrids are known for.  The only crop that we really had trouble with this year was tomatoes, the late blight hit hard and earlier than usual in our area this year.  Whole crops were lost whether you sprayed chemicals or not, and no matter what varieties were planted.  We were fortunate to get some tomatoes, and neither Dan nor I saw any real difference in the disease resistance of the various varieties, as none of the plants survived and all the tomatoes were spotted or rotten after a time.  I may have been overly optomistic, but the heritage Riesentraube cherry tomatoes seemed to have had more useable ones than any other plant.  It may have been the sheer number produced by these prolific plants though, as a small percent of each tomato variety were salvagable, but 20 cherries may have been comprable to 1 beefsteak.  I'm not sure they won if you looked at percentages.  While I was disappointed I really wasn’t able to save seeds from them this year, we both agreed that we’re not giving up on heirloom tomatoes.  So when the snow starts flying and I get into real garden planning mode, I’ll be ordering them again.  Hopefully, it is the last time I pay for tomato seeds, at least until I find another variety that sounds too good not to try!

 
 

The Pig-o-Tiller

We've worked hard to get an electric fence up around the smallest part of the barnyard so our little piglets can get some fresh air and sunshine.  Many of our customers who stopped by last Saturday enjoyed seeing them run around;  they're very playful at this age! Besides providing an outdoor space for the sows & piglets, we also had another reason to get them out in this particular space.  This part of the barnyard isn't grazed very heavily, so weeds have started to choke out the plants that the livestock find tastier and more nutritious.  A pasture without maintenance will become simply a place for the animals to exercise, but not much of a source of food if the plants that are best for that species are overgrazed or taken over by weeds.  So it's time to re-seed this patch of pasture.  We plan on using just a general hay mix- grasses, clover, legumes and other plants that appeal to pretty much all of our critters.  However, with the weeds thoroughly covering the ground, we have to prep the soil to give the seeds the best possible chance to grow and thrive.  While we do have a very high quality rototiller which we use in the garden every spring for that purpose,  that wasn't the route we wanted to take.  Round bales of hay were fed in this spot for years, and every spring I pull up yards and yards of orange baler twine.  It would quickly wrap around the tines of the tiller and cause major problems.  Besides, we try to use it as little as possible,  both to keep it in great shape for years to come and because we try not to use too much mechanized equipment.  This particular area is also too small and rocky to use the horses to plow it up.  Enter the pig-o-tillers!  Hogs have a natural instinct to root- they use their extremely strong snouts to dig into the dirt and then lift up.  This way they discover all sorts of piggie delicacies like grubs and roots. In the process, they expose the bare dirt and uproot whatever is growing on the surface. Two sows and 18 piglets can do a lot of work or damage, depending on your point of view. They can cause a huge mess if you don't want the ground completely uprooted, but  this is just what we're looking for to plant! So the pigs get exercise and some extra food at no cost to us, and they get to entertain themselves by doing what pigs naturally want to do.  And we get the pasture reseeded with just minimal time and work on our part.  It's what we like to think of as a win-win situation!
 
 

Thyme...is 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"...in this case we are in great shape, as much of it comes nearly to my waist!

 
 

Grass fed pigs?

The fields and garden are nearly planted.  The only major planting task left is to finish planting the last of the field corn.  However, with the rain we've had over the last few days that may have to wait until the weekend, the field is too wet to be worked right now.  But the corn that is in the ground has sprouted; we can see faint green rows across the fields getting a little taller every day.  It is amazing what warm weather and rain can do!  The transplants that survived frosting and the ones we set out this past weekend are thriving.  There are blooms on the peppers and beans, lettuce and peas sprouting, so produce will be coming soon.  I will keep everyone posted on what is available.

The animals are loving the lush pasture this time of year.  I love it too, it means so much less manure to move!  We have 6 little goslings following the proud parents around the pond and fields.  They did better than we did in the incubator!  The little ones grow so fast, I joke that they will only be cute for another 24 hours or so.  All the little lambs are doing fantastic on pasture too, and the bottle baby calves we are raising are chewing thier cud more every day.  Pretty soon we won't need to be mixing up milk replacer every 12 hours. 

Even the hogs are getting out on grass! We have been pleasantly surprised how easy it has been to put our boar and two sows on a rotational pasture.  Believe it or not, a single strand of electric fence about 8" off of the ground is enough to keep a 6oo lb animal where you want them.  If only goats were so easy! But the hogs seem to enjoy the new space and have been grazing and not rooting it up too much.  Most of the piglets are gone, we sold the ones we needed to last night at the auction.  We kept 5 to raise and they have moved out of the hog house into the pig tractor.  The tractor is a 16' x 8' pen with no floor.  We will be moving it onto fresh grass as needed.  It has all the comforts of home: sides and a roof over about half the area, a nipple waterer so they can drink fresh from the garden hose and a feeder full of piggie chow. So far it's working well, and soon we plan on doing some major renovations to the hog house, so we're glad that the pigs are happy on pasture.

The chickens are getting plenty of sunlight and grass as well and are laying beautifully.  We're not incubating much besides duck and quail eggs at the moment, so we have eggs for sale.

It is a beautiful time of year to just take in the view of the farm from our back porch in the evening while we're grilling dinner.  It's my favorite activity this time of year. 

 
 

The Start of Summer

Well, Memorial Day weekend is here and has brought summer's heat!  We planted lots of seedlings last night.  The peppers have a few blooms and I can't wait to be picking them! We hope to do some more work after the heat of the day and I'm planning to get my herb garden seeded for this year's annuals.  I'm planting Queenette basil, a Thai variety I was very pleased with last year.  Some new ones I have this year are borage, white mustard and lime basil.  I'm trying catnip again and hoping it does better than last year, it didn't really germinate.  The oregano, chives, parsley, sage, thyme and lemon basil all overwintered well and are really taking off.  I'm also glad to see peppermint coming up neat the creek, and my pineapple mint is coming back despite the prunings the goats gave it last year! I can't wait to be picking fresh vegetables too! 
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Seedling Trauma and Stunt Pigs

Well, last Friday we planted a few seedlings in the garden.  Some of the heritage zucchini, squahes and melons were getting a bit crowded on the kitchen window sill.  We put down black fabric to cut down on weeding and put the plants in.  A gentle rain fell all night and the temperature stayed in the mid 60's.  Sounds like a great start...until the wind started on Saturday.  The black cloth ended up wrapped around the moveable rabbit pen at the edge of the garden.  I'm not sure how or if we'll get it back where it should be.  Plus last night was the 3rd night in a row we had to cover everything with floating row cover because of frost.  Happily, more than half of the seedlings appear to have survived their traumatic transplanting!! My flower bed and herbs seem to have weathered through well. Some of the potatoes got nipped a bit by the frost, but they'll be ok, and the rhubarb seems to be indestructible at this point.  It's beautiful but I just don't have enough time right now to be making anything with it.

Alicia, our only ewe born last year, had a little ram lamb on Monday.  She's a dedicated mother and he seems to be doing just fine. She was born last year the day after Mother's Day, and had her own baby the day after Mother's Day this year! It's been cold the past few nights, so I put a little fleece blanket on him.  I think it makes me feel better than the baby, but it surely isn't causing any harm.  I started making the "lammy jammies" this February when most of the lambs were born out of scraps of fleece material I found on discount at Wal-Mart along with a few clearance-priced buttons.  It sure beat the prices in the livestock supply catalogs, and they were custom fit.

We'll be weaning the piglets this weekend.  The sows are going a bit stir-crazy in thier pens. They both escaped out into the boar's run this weekend.  I would have loved to have seen the 450-lb sow climb over the 3 1/2 foot stall divider. Twice. Luckily, no pigs were hurt during this stunt.  The babies are also getting very good at pushing the hog house door open and escaping into the main barnyard and pasture if the door isn't shut VERY tightly.  A cinder block propped up on the outside works too.

  Dan is done with the plowing for the year.  There is still much fieldwork to be done before all the field corn is in, but everything is moving right along.  Tom, my father-in-law, is coming to help us out again this weekend so I'm hoping for clear skies! I am also hoping to work my horse a bit behind the harrow this weekend.  Dan has worked her a bit, but she's acting a bit barn sour and I think he's a little too easy on her when she starts to throw a fit.  But I am excited to get her used to her new harness.  We were at an auction and found a gorgeous show pony harness with both a collar and the ability to hook up to shafts for a buggy or sleigh for a price we could afford. When it was brought out, I was in love with it and was sure it would go too high, but it must have been meant to be!  It is beautiful and covered in metal dots which will be shiny once I find time to clean and oil it. When we tried it on Sara in the barn, it fit like it was custom made.  I only had to adjust one buckle on the whole thing! The leather is in fantastic shape, it's just got a good layer of dust accumulated on it.  It even came with an ornate piece of leather that fits over the hames and collar just for decoration.  I told her she'll look fancier than a Budwieser Clydesdale!  The only thing I was nervous about is that the bridle has blinders on it, which Sara has never worn.  However, Dan used the new bridle with the old harness last week and said she acted like she'd worn them all her life.  Now if I can just get her used to the straps around her hind end without a royal kicking fit...

 
 
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