Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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The Perfect Garden

Right now, this year's garden is perfect. That may seem strange, as it's covered with a few inches of snow, and harnessing up the horses to plow is still months off. But right now I can see it, I've planned it all out, and it's the only time of year where I don't have to deal with the difficulties of actually growing. So, in my mind, the weather has been perfect, no pests or diseases, and all the varieties are doing well. The weeds haven't been a problem, and you can tell by now that I'm totally delusional.

I've gone though all the seeds left over or saved from last season, took stock of our inventory, and figured out what I could avoid buying this year. I get excited about using heirloom varieties and finding ones that work for our microclimate. It is not too much work to spend a few hours in the fall picking dry bean seeds or scooping out the seeds from a squash to save for next year. Each time I do, I help to perpetuate a variety that in some cases is old and in danger of going extinct. In any case, it's like money in the bank, as I've created my own seed for next year. I am trying, year by year, to become better and save more different kinds of vegetable seed. I think if I can become proficient at saving seeds and starting plants in the greenhouse, I should be able to slash the seed bill somewhere around half. Some seeds take too long to save (for example, carrots are biennials, and would require field space for two seasons to produce seed, so it is worth it to us to purchase seed instead) and in some cases, especially with things like sweet corn, we will likely stick to the hybrid varieties, as they are what the public is geared to look for.

I've looked over my records of the last few years, noting which plant varieties performed well, and which I might like to try a new substitute. I've perused the seed catalogs and noted which varieties are no longer available and made acceptable substitutions. It's always a bummer when your favorite kind of something is no longer available. This year it was our favorite zucchini from Johnny's seed, Cashflow. We've picked out a new variety now, and hope it will be similar in taste & performance. At first, planning the seed purchase was almost overwhelming to me, as each variety sounds so amazing. (The catalogs are worded so that it is possible to feel overwhelmingly excited about something as plain as a radish!) I grew up with flowers in the yard, not veggies, so the names were not the old friends to me that they were to Dan. But I've got enough growing seasons under my belt that I am pretty confident about what (and how much!) to order, although Dan and I always sit down together and look it over before I send it in.

But hands down, my favorite part of spring garden planning is trying new things. In the past few years, we have had spectacular successes and also things we won't plant again, even for fun. Swiss chard grew fantastically, and is now one of my favorite greens. Herbs were not a big part of the farm and I've had fun starting with the basics and working my way up to more exotic flavors. Peanuts didn't work so well, and I'm still searching for the perfect melon for our weather, so not every gamble pays off, but if you don't try, you'll never find new, exciting things! So this year my wish list included everything from fingerling potatoes to salsify, a vegetable that supposedly tastes like oysters. I've seen fennel in so many recipes lately (I subscribe to what are probably too many cooking magazines!) that I have to try it. We've even tossed around the idea of branching out of the plant world to try our hand at growing gourmet mushrooms. So, as you can see it's easy to picture the perfect garden right now. The green house, the fields, everything is pictured with perfect optimism. Now I know there will be crop failures and pests and problems, but if you can't have joy in your heart picturing how this season will be the best ever, than you're probably in the wrong line of work.   

 And besides daydreaming about the perfect garden, there are still lots of things keeping us busy.  Our first lamb of the season was born on Sunday. I've been canning things I put away in the freezer until a slower time, so last week I finally defrosted a bucket of cherries and made case upon case of Black Forest Preserves.  (If you're looking for a unique Valentines gift, what could be sweeter than chocolate jam with PA-grown cherries in it for your sweetie?  We also have jewelry, handmade from our birds' feathers, and we ship nationwide!  Click over to our store at www.etsy.com/shop/pleasantvalleyfarmpa to check it out!)  The sun is streaming through the window, and the thermometer is reading nearly 50 degrees, so I guess it's time to get off the computer and get outside! I'll try to post baby pictures in the near future!

 
 

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!

 
 
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