Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Ready, Set, Get Busy!

It's getting busy here! First of all, next weekend is the Farm to Table conference, so it's time to put the finishing touches on my presentation about Heritage Livestock breeds and the slideshow full of pictures I have to go along with it. I'm also making sure I have brochures, jams, signs, and everything else I'll need to make my table look nice and full with homemade goodies for sale and information about the farm. I'm so excited to be a part of this, I think as farmers, we really need to do a good job of informing the general public about how food is grown and where it comes from, especially when you are trying to convince them that it truly is better to buy from a family farm. So I'm excited to be the “expert” speaker about Heritage Livestock, I think lots of people would support the efforts to save them and use them on family farms, but most folks just don't know that they exist. I'm hoping to change that, just a little! I'm also really excited about my table in the exhibit hall. Of course, the opportunity to make some extra money is nice, but I'm really looking forward to talking with people about our farm and how & why we do what we do. So if you're in the Pittsburgh area, or already planning on going to the convention center and taking in the event, please stop by and say hello! (For more info & tickets, visit www.farmtotablepa.com)

I was also excited to attend a grazing conference last week. While you might think that there is nothing difficult about animals eating grass in a field, there actually is much more to know than that. What species of grasses or legumes will work best for the animals you want to raise is important. So is management, like how many animals are in a field and how long they are there- anywhere from rotating small pastures every 12 hours to just letting them roam a large area all summer can be done. There are advantages and challenges to each and I was glad I went because I learned so much. It was also really exciting to listen to Dr. Temple Grandin and what she had to say, both about handling animals in a humane way and also about animal welfare issues and how as farms, we need to be sharing what we do with the public, since most folks are generations removed from farms. And she encouraged the farmers in attendance to think about the practices we use- if we wouldn't want the public knowing we handled our animals in a certain manner, shouldn't we be doing something differently?

The past few days have certainly felt like spring is in the air here at the farm. Almost all the snow and ice has melted, leaving the usual muddy mess behind. Inspections of the garden plots revealed ruby red rhubarb poking through the soil, along with herbs- I spotted chives, oregano, sage and lemon balm with new growth. The seedlings I started in flats are also progressing nicely. Each day I take them out to the greenhouse for some sun, then bring them back inside to avoid any cold temperatures overnight. I've also been spending a fair amount of time on egg hunts. I was elated to find a turkey egg on the floor of the turkey house on day this week. Doing a project in the backyard later that evening, I went into the woodshed to get something for Dan, which was good as I found a turkey nest with 6 eggs in it! I would have been more vigilant, but as this is the first year we've raised a breeding flock of turkeys, we weren't entirely sure when they would begin to lay- we had thought it would be a bit later in the spring. So now I'm always keeping an eye out for those crazy birds and where the next stash may be. I've set up a nice, comfy nest box on the floor of their turkey coop, which they happily ignore in favor of the open floor, the back of the greenhouse, the middle of the yard, or (my personal favorite) the one that laid an egg on the couch that sits on the front porch. When you live on a free range farm, egg hunts aren't just for Easter! The pullets are also laying better each day, and I expect to be setting a few of their eggs when we next put eggs in the incubator. Besides the turkey eggs, we're also getting duck eggs, and also eggs from the Phoenix & Cochin hens. I saw the first goose nest of the season as well, but I'll probably leave those eggs alone. Goose eggs need so much humidity, they are tricky to do in the incubator, especially if you're hatching chicken eggs too, which we will be. The geese do a good job of sitting on their eggs, so we'll just let nature take its course.

 
 

Almost There...

March always makes me feel like we've made it through winter's worst. Although I know we'll still get some snowstorms, ice, sleet and all that wintry mix, on other days the snow begins melting and, for the first time in months, we can see the fields instead of just a blanket of white. The days are getting longer, birds are returning from their southern winter hangouts, and it's easy to feel spring coming on.

It's hard though, because as much as I want to dig into the soil and get things underway, I know we aren't safe from frost here until June. Yes, really. Two seasons ago our last frost was June 3. It's a hard balance to strike between getting an early jump on crops and not losing whole fields of plants that can't handle a cold snap. One exciting project this year is returning a greenhouse or two into operational growing space. The plastic has been off of them for several years, and we had considered tearing down the metal frames since they aren't really all that attractive if not in use. One is still slated for being torn down, as it's pretty beat up, but we're excited to have plans to recover another one or two in plastic and put them back into production. This will allow us to put plants out earlier and to have things like tomatoes and peppers earlier in the season. The greenhouse veggies will have all the flavor of our field grown ones, because we still plant them right in the soil, not in pots or hydroponically. The structure is just used to get the soil up to planting temperature earlier, and to keep the plants warm during the inevitable spring cold snaps. Since we'll be able to transplant the seedlings outside earlier, that means starting the seeds earlier too, so I've got trays planted with tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers and herbs. The hardest part was resisting the temptation to start everything right now, but we'll hold off on crops, especially the vining ones like squash & pumpkins for a few more weeks, otherwise they will get too big for their pots before we're able to successfully transplant them outdoors. But it is good to have trays full of seeds, I hope to see sprouts very shortly!

Another exciting sign of spring is eggs. Birds don't usually lay eggs in the winter, because it's not a good time to raise chicks. Generations of selective breeding have made chickens lay more eggs over a longer period of the year, but there is always at least a bit of slowdown in the winter. The days are getting noticeably longer, and it's signaling the birds to begin laying in earnest again. We're also beginning to get eggs from our layers which hatched last September. We've gotten eggs from some of the Barred Rock and Delaware hens, and it's certain that we'll soon be seeing blue eggs from our Ameracauna girls, too. While it's wonderful to have plenty of eggs to cook and bake with, this time of year I get most excited about hatching chicks. The quiet hum of the incubator, along with the periodic beeps letting us know the eggs are being turned, have become a sign linked in my mind with the arrival of spring over the past few years. There is nothing like opening the door to the incubator and pulling out a tray of downy chicks where just eggs were the day before. We set eggs for the first time this season yesterday, and we will be hatching our first few babies in about three weeks. We'll be hatching every week after that until sometime in late May, when we'll be collecting eggs to sell at the stand again. I'm also on the lookout for duck eggs, and I have a feeling it won't be long before the large eggs of our Toulouse gees begin appearing around the barnyard as well!   

 
 

More Babies...

After getting home from work, I checked Scotchie's nest box and she had 8 babies after all!  I am so excited that my first-time bunnies have been such good mamas.  Both Scotchie and her sister have raised 8 without any losses.  I am just anxoius to see the new ones hopping about in their pen, they should open thier eyes in a few days.

We are expecting piglets soon too, possibly as soon as the weekend.  Both sows had 7 each last time, and raised a total of 13. But we're hoping for even more this time around!  However, we only keep as many babies to raise up as we have orders for pork.  They just eat too much :(  So if anyone reading this is interested in a whole or half hog please contact me for more information!  

I am so excited, our seed order from Seed Savers Exchange came on Monday.  The packets show such beautiful plants, I can't wait to start them.  I was also impressed because each packet tells you how to preserve seed for next year.  I did some last year, but only green beans and sunflowers, so I appriciate all the information I can get!  We hope to do that this weekend, but first we have to finish a chicken coop & run, as we wintered over our Phoenix chickens and a few Delaware pullets in the greenhouse.  We need to move them before starting the seeds, because otherwise my beautiful seeds will just be expensive chicken food! 

 
 
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