Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Glass & Beads

The other day, I was joking with Dan that he should feel free to buy me jewelry or flowers, since Valentine's Day is coming up.  He replied that he is permanently off the hook as far as buying jewelry goes, since I now make my own.  And he's absolutely right.  I would rather he get me jewelry making supplies, so I can wear something I made myself, and I'd rather get flower bulbs or seeds over cut blossoms any day.

I got into jewelry making some time ago as a way to use the beautiful feathers produced by our peacocks.  I found it fun and enjoyable, and have since expanded into beaded things as well.  It's a great way to pass dreary winter days, and I set up an online store to feature these items (and as a source of off-season income).  

I was grateful Dan gave me some space in our new blacksmith shop building so I could set up another crafty hobby, stained glass.  The only downside is that it's an unheated outbuilding, so I can't do quite as much of it on cold winter days as I might like.  But it's been another fun hobby, and I'm excited about the things I'm able to create.  I've always loved art projects (I even got a minor in Studio Arts in college) and I'm very blessed to be able to spend my time having fun like this!

 

 I really enjoy making small stained glass jewelry boxes, like this one!

 

Over Christmas, I got a book that showed how to combine glass art and jewelry making, which I hadn't thought of before.   The book used clip art, photos & vintage-looking ephemera.  I didn't have any of that handy, but one thing a farmer has in spades is seed catalogs.  I came up with the idea to use photos of herbs, flowers & veggies sandwiched between scraps of stained glass.  These have turned out to be so cool!  For me, the hardest part is not keeping them all!  My favorite right now is a necklace I made that features chives in bloom, and I have another with a lovely photo of a pink rose.  But I've also made creations with flowers, Swiss Chard, hot peppers and more...I think they would be such cool gifts for gardeners or folks who love local food!  

 

Scrap stained glass & old seed catalog photos...in this case, lettuce!  Isn't it pretty? 

 As I was tearing up old seed catalogs, I found one in particular that had  some beautiful full page reprints of covers from years ago.  I liked how the jewelry turned out, so I thought about what I could do with these full or half pages.  While sandwiching them between sheets of glass would be cool, I don't have a big assortment of stained glass both big enough & translucent enough.  But...what I do have lots of are old farmhouse windows.  So, in a fun recycling project, I've been carefully removing panes of glass from their wooden frames.  Then comes the hardest part- cleaning them up!  I have been leaving any streaks of old paint though, I think it really adds some vintage charm to the panels.  Then I take the picture I like and mount it on some scrapbooking paper, sometimes using fancy scissors to make a decorative edge.  Then I solder the panes together and add hardware to attach a chain or ribbon and suddenly, I have something beautiful made almost entirely out of what most people would throw out.    

 

I'm really enjoying letting my creativity shine during some of winter's gloomy days.   Making beautiful things really helps me to beat those winter blues, and I can do it while basking in the woodstove's heat, unlike a lot of other farm projects!

 If you like the looks of these, please check out the other creations I have at  www.etsy.com/shop/pleasantvalleyfarmpa/  I ship nationwide, so you just might find the perfect, handmade something to treat yourself or a loved one!

 
 

What Now?

It's early December, so for us that means the farm stand season has finally come to a close.  We're so thankful to everyone who stopped by the farm and supported us over the past season...without folks like you who believe in what we do, we wouldn't be able to do what we love!  

One question I get frequently as the season winds down is "...so, what are you going to do all winter while you're closed?"  It truly amazes me how many folks think I'm going to have a leisurely winter holiday in Florida or somewhere warm.  (Well, maybe the Keys...if some relatives would be kind enough to move back so we have a reason to visit!)  The truth is much less glamorous.  Dan and I spend the winter doing lots of things, but soaking up sun generally isn't one of them.  There are more animal chores this time of year than any other, as the horses, cows, sheep and goats need to be fed hay while the pastures lie dormant.  The horses spend a lot more time in the barn, so there is more manure to move.  Keeping fresh water in all the pens of birds, bunnies and other critters is extremely important, and when it's bitterly cold, something that may have to be done 3-4 times per day.  

There are, of course, lots of "inside" projects, too...this is the part of the year where we can paint a room in the house or take up a new hobby.  For all the things we do here, we're always looking towards learning more to make ourselves more self-sufficient.  This winter, Dan & I hope to get started in leather crafting a bit.  I'm also hoping to play with some of his newer woodworking tools and make some signs & other decorations around the farm.  I haven't really mentioned him in the blog, but we got a young horse, Montana, earlier this year, and I hope to work more with him now than I did in the summer.  It's also a time to review what worked over the past year, what didn't, and what we want to do in the coming year.  The seed catalogs starting arriving before Thanksgiving, and after the holidays I'll devote quite a bit of time inventorying what seed I have, what I want, and then trimming that down to what we can afford, both in terms of money and garden & greenhouse space.

It's also a time to do more of the hobbies we already have...Dan looks forward to more blacksmithing, while I'm excited to have more time to devote to stained glass and jewelry.  The farm stand is closed for the year (tomorrow will actually be my first Saturday off since May 19, and I have to say that's pretty exciting!) but I am trying to make more of a go of our online store.  This week it's been a major project to upload lots of new items to the store.  I have a selection of some of the more popular canned items, plus a couple gift baskets, and now I've got a nice selection of listings of my handmade jewelry, and I've even got a few stained glass items up!  All handmade by me here at the farm, of course.   

I am extremely fortunate to be able to pick and choose what I do each day (at least after the animals are taken care of!) and this time of year means far more leeway in what HAS to be done on a given day vs. what I FEEL like doing.  It's a luxury that makes all the hard work of being self-employed worth it.   On this gloomy, damp day I'm making room in the freezer by making spaghetti sauce from the tomatoes I ran through the food mill & froze, when I had more canning to do than time to do it, earlier in the garden season.  I don't mind having the stove on for hours today, and it's pretty amazing to me that the only store-bought ingredients going into the pot today are salt, sugar, and vinegar. (Although I make vinegar, too, it's not tested for acidity and therefore not safe for canning.)  Everything is boiling now, and in the next few hours when I just need to stir every so often, I'm working on more jewelry plus a new decorative hop vine wreath idea I have...if I get ambitious, I'll list some more items online.  It's great fun to be making things like jewelry and stained glass, and I'm really hoping to have more of a supplemental income this winter from it as well.  The hardest part so far seems to be resisting the urge to keep most of it for myself!

 If you're shopping online this year, we'd love it if you took a look around our virtual store.  I ship nationwide! Visit our online store at: www.etsy.com/shop/pleasantvalleyfarmpa/.  We wish you happy holidays and stress-free shopping!

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Winter Farming

Saturday was our final day for the 2010 season.  A sincere thanks to all who stopped by this year, you made it a great one for us!  Although I'll miss the weekly interaction with my customers as well as the income, it's kind of exciting to look forward to my first weekend off since May as well.  Our lovely farm stand is enclosed, but it's not heated, and I was very lucky with the weather this year, only having snow the last day.  Today looks like a winter wonderland out there, and with temperatures expected to stay pretty chilly, it's a good thing that all the jars of goodies and winter squash and other storage veggies are safely in my pantry or basement to keep them from freezing.   (If we  were still open, I would have needed to bring everything to the house anyway, but this way I don't have to lug it all back down there!)

I have heard so many comments lately to the effect that since we're closed for the year we'll finally be able to relax.   Although it's surely not as hectic as the middle of summer with the garden, the stand, canning, and making hay all at the same time, a farm is a busy place 100% of the time.  Now that the pasture has finally worn out for the year, we need to start feeding hay and bringing the horses and cows into the barn.  This means more feeding chores twice daily, not to mention the additional chore of cleaning stalls since the animals are now inside.  Inclement weather means every creature will be spending more time inside voluntarily, so the pig pens and poultry houses will also need to be cleaned more frequently.  There's also the ever-present challenge of making sure all the critters have access to fresh, clean water, which will soon mean breaking up ice and putting out rubber pans to prevent the plastic bell waterers we normally use from freezing and cracking.  And as far as a nice, long winter vacation to someplace warm goes, we just can't do it (at least not together!) unless we have someone who is capable and willing to take care of horses, cows, pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and peafowl twice a day for as long as we're gone.  I love my animals and our lifestyle, but in some ways it is like a marriage- you have to fully commit to being a diversified family farmer and understand it's a year round obligation, not just a fair weather one.

 So besides feeding, watering and stalls, what will I do all winter?  Plenty!  I have pages I'd like to work on to expand our website, and I'll put out a few email newsletters as well.  The seed catalogs have already begun arriving almost daily, and  I'll have to plan what we'll grow.  Planning a market garden is a big job, we have to figure out what did well last year, what didn't that we won't grow again, which new varieties sound promising, which crops we might be able to transition to heirloom varieties, what we didn't grow last year that customers requested and how much seed of each type (that we didn't save ourselves) will need to be purchased.  Although we stick to a few catalogs, I compare prices and varieties and have it all sent out before the groundhog will be looking for his shadow.  Our home is a lovely 100+ year old farmhouse, and winter is usually the only season we have time to spend working on it.  Winterization is always a big chore, and this year we've planned projects upgrading things like insulation and windows.  It's also a good time to paint the interior, sew new curtains, and other small upgrades.  I also hope to spend some time in the workshop doing things like finally building a new hutch for my rabbits.  Perhaps we'll even get to the new bookshelves we've been planning for some time. A million other projects, too!  And like everyone else, the holidays are almost here and we'll want to celebrate by spending time with family.  And of course, I'll be blogging all about it throughout the winter!

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No Recess for Finni

It's still snowing here, and for the most part the animals are well adjusted to the routines of winter.  Mostly.  Every evening, we let the horses and cows outside to romp and drink from the creek while we take care of evening chores.  They all know that when the barn door opens, food and warmth await, so they march in and file into their stalls.  Every so often, one of them wanders around inside a bit before going to their spot, but it's usually not a big deal.   However, the cold can make the animals pretty rambunctious, and lately Fiannait, our Dexter cow, has been giving us quite a bit of trouble when it comes time to head back inside.  The worst part is she becomes the ringleader for misbehaving cows!  Here's a picture of her (black cow on right) and Louie refusing to come inside:

 

Just after the picture was taken, they ran away from the barn door, scattering the sheep and geese calmly waiting to be fed outside.  Dan spent 45 minutes chasing cows around the barnyard last night, and so he decided to take away "recess" for Finni, hoping the other cows would return to the normal routine.  So tonight, while everyone else got to run about, Finni was led down to the creek by Dan for her nightly drink. 

 

In this picture, she's waiting for her turn at the open water hole, since most of the creek is frozen over.  She wasn't happy, but got her drink and was led back inside without incident.  The other three cows, or the Three Stooges as they were known tonight, still acted like knuckleheads that were afraid to come inside anyway.  However, as we finished up chores, they decided to come inside without being chased.  So we'll see...either Finni will stay on lead rope probation for a bit longer, or we'll let all four cows out a couple hours early, so they can run around in the snow and be a bit chilly, a little hungry, and ready to come inside when they are supposed to next time!

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Brrr!

Winter is really here, and with a low temperature of -13 last night the main job around the farm these days is keeping warm!  We'll bed the pigs down with a bit more hay, and increase the hay fed to the other animals (horses, cows, sheep & goats) since they'll use the extra calories to keep warm.  The bunnies have lots of hay too, but I've never seen creatures less concerned about the weather.  My does love to be outside, and I can frequently see the outline of the individual snowflakes on the backs of my black girls.  The chickens have plastic over the windows to keep the wind out, and have plenty of feed as well, but they can actually suffer frostbite on their combs, especially the roosters who have large, single-type combs.  Rocky, our not-so-creatively named Barred Rock rooster, lost a good bit of his comb last winter when it got down to -25 one night last winter.  I've heard that if you cover the combs with Vaseline they won't get frostbite, but that doesn't seem like a very practical solution when you have more than just a few pet or show chickens.  It looks like our Delaware might have a bit of frostbite the tips of his comb this time, but nothing major.  The frostbit part will eventually turn black and fall off, which sounds horrible, but doesn't seem to bother the birds.  Some people actually dub, or cut off, the combs as a standard practice anyway, so the overall effect is more cosmetic than life-threatening.  But as much as I'd like to keep this from happening, there isn't much else I can do besides move south or put heaters in the pens when it's really cold.  And since both my chickens and I prefer that the hen house doesn't burn down in the middle of the night with them inside, space heaters are out too!

Not surprisingly, there hasn't been much outside activity around the farm these days besides plowing out the parking area and knocking ice out of the animals' water buckets.  Dan has been busy trying to repair and old farm engine so we can use it to grind our whole corn into animal and chicken feed later this month.  It can also be used to run our hay baler in the summer so we don't have to put everything up as loose hay again.  The old Wisconsin engine has been sitting for many years, so it's not going to be a quick project, but he's making progress.  We recently got a new computer, so I've been busy transferring records and setting up new tracking sheets for the new year.  While bookwork isn't my idea of fun, it does give me something constructive to do and, more importantly, it's inside!  

The other main project we're working on is planning our seed orders for the coming growing season.  Looking through the list of what we planted last year reminds me of all the successes we had despite the difficult weather we had here last summer.  The color pictures of all the beautiful plants, vegetables, and herbs get me excited about planting a new garden.  Our final order will be a good mix of heirlooms and commercial varieties, some which have grown here successfully in past years, and some new ones which seem too good to pass up.  While keeping in mind what we need to plant for the stand and for us, I'm adding some "wish list" seeds to my initial lists.  I'm sure I'll have to trim back the final list, but I figure that because I was able to save seed from a few varieties of plants, I don't need to purchase those seeds again so I have some room in the budget for some new varieties or anything that just sounds fun to plant!

 
 

Tastes of Winter

It's been a cold and snowy new year...so far we haven't had a day without being under a winter advisory or warning of some sort.  Currently, we have about 18 inches of snow here.  A lot more has fallen, but it's been fluffy snow that compacts, so while the white stuff keeps falling, and the cars need to be cleaned off every morning, it's not too deep, which is a good thing!

Since it's not nice outside, I spend a lot of time in my kitchen on these cold winter nights.  The hardest part of learning to eat seasonally is picturing what winter dinners will look like...no one wants to eat boiled potatoes and turnips all winter, so how to you stay seasonal and love what you're eating?  My first suggestion would be to buy a freezer!  I have lots of dinner choices since we have frozen beef, pork, lamb and chicken in the freezer.  Corn and green peppers freeze well and aren't hard to process at all, so we can still enjoy those as well.  Of course, we have squash, onions and potatoes which keep well in a cool, dark place like our basement.  The chickens are also laying reasonably well, providing us with fresh eggs.  Combine that with the things I canned over the summer and we can eat well all winter long.

Earlier this week, I came home from work and defrosted some pork chops.  After browning them in a pan with some olive oil and butter, I put them in an oven proof dish.  Then I caramelized an onion in the same pan and topped the chops with the onion, a dab of butter on each, and some herbs I'd dried from my garden (I used thyme and sage this time, but this recipe adapts well to whatever herbs you prefer/have on hand).  I put it in the oven at 350, covered with foil.  Since I had some room in the oven, I added a kabocha squash, seeded and halved, cut side down on a baking sheet as well.  In about an hour, I pulled it all from the oven and had a simple, but seasonal and delicious meal! 

The next night I made a half leg of lamb.  I slow cooked it in a crock pot all day with water & cooking sherry, garlic, onion and rosemary. I did cheat a bit on this one and also added some fresh ginger root which was store bought, but I love the taste it adds! A side of pasta completed a very filling meal.

Last night I made enchiladas with our ground beef, my homemade salsa, and the raw milk cheese we sold at the stand this year.  I only have a few blocks of cheese left, and I'm sure going to miss it when it's gone! Although we grind our own cornmeal, I haven't yet tried to make my own tortillas, so those came from the store too.  Besides, I am back to work full time now and I don't always have the time or energy to make everything from scratch every night.

So, no matter where you live, it is possible to eat seasonally, and eat well! And for those of you starting out, don't feel bad if everything isn't completely homemade or local...we all start somewhere, and the first step is being aware of our food choices and learning to recognize what seasonal looks like.   Just one or two local, seasonal items added to your everyday cooking does make a difference! 

 
 

Cooking in the Living Room

2010 is here, and it's brought quite a winter storm with it!  We're forcasted to get up to another foot of snow by Sunday night, with wind chills of zero.  There have been a number of snowmobiles riding up and down the road, and other than the state plow trucks there haven't been too many travelers our way.  I'm just glad to be home before it hit, as I was visiting family in North Carolina for a few days earlier in the week.  In my opinion, the only thing worse that a 9 hour drive home is a 9 hour drive through a blizzard!

I was gifted with some new cast iron cookware for Christmas, and it's something I've wanted to become better at using.  It's been really cold here, and we heat the house with a cast iron woodstove in the living room.  The stove is very hot and has a flat top, so I've been wanting to try cooking on it...it's kind of like a primitive crock pot, and I love cooking with my crock pot! So I decided to try something fairly foolproof.  I defrosted a smoked ham hock and added some beans and the other necessary ingredients to make barbecue beans (crushed tomatoes, cider vinegar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, etc).  I mixed it up and set it i the middle of the stove.  After a few hours, the meat was falling off of the bone, and other than a slight amount of scorched beans,  Dan and I declared it a success, and a perfectly warm and filling meal for a cold January night.

 

 So, why bother when I have a perfectly good crock pot?  Even though a crock pot uses only a little electricity, it does use some.  And my home is no colder for using the woodstove as a cooking surface.  Plus, I do have a wood burning cook stove in the kitchen, perhaps someday I'll be bold enough to cook meals on it, just to see if I can.  I like to challenge myself to learn new things.  In the past, for instance, I have taught myself to can and to make balloon animals.  While at the time they didn't seem like necessary, everyday skills, you'd be surprised how often I find myself making pink parrots or blue elephants, and of course the canning became a big part of our farm stand this year.  I'm never sorry when I learn something new, except that I may not have enough time for everything I'd like to be doing!

So, I guess you could say learning is always my New Year's resolution.  I'm also planning on learning to make my own vinegar from wine or cider this year, and when it is warm enough that the sheep won't need their fleeces, I'd like to try doing something with the wool, perhaps making a braided rug or something easy.  (I don't know how to knit...yet, at least!) So best of luck to all of you on your resolutions as well, if they haven't been broken already, and Happy 2010! 

 

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