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!  


Cultipacking and other farm adventures

I did my first fieldwork with the horses by myself!  Dan was finishing planting the hay field when I got home from work last week.  As he was sick of spending so much time up there, I got to drive the cultipacker.  It's like a big roller that presses the seeds into the ground just enough so they can sprout.  Dixie and Dolly, our Belgians, have gotten used to the rhythms of field work again this spring and were wonderful to work with. They are a mother (Dixie) and daughter (Dolly) team and both were born, raised and trained at the farm.  It's an amazing feeling to be out there working with them.  I look forward to doing more, possibly with my horse, this weekend.  It's supposed to be near 80 degrees and sunny.

Our seedlings are doing so well we'll be transplanting to larger pots this weekend.  We'll use peat pots and put them out under floating row cover when they start to outgrow these new pots.  We've done a little planting outside- spring onions, a few potatoes and Dan transplanted garlic so he could plow the garden last week.  I started to move the hay off of some of my herbs as well- the hay was starting to sprout!  This is my first year overwintering them and I am simply amazed at how well they've done.  I have so much green oregano I could make a great pasta sauce if my tomatoes were more than 2" seedlings!  The chives look great, I may have to try them on a baked potato if we grill out this weekend.  My sage seems to be coming back, as does the thyme and the lemon basil is huge!  It must not be directly related to real basil as that died at the first nip of frost last fall.

The rhubarb is well on its way up and will be ready for harvesting soon.  We have 2 great patches that produce the nicest you'll find anywhere.  I don't bake, so I have lots for sale if anyone out there is interested!!

Butchering went very well, other than running out of pepper for some of the sausage.  We let the sausage marinate in the spices for a day or two before grinding anyway, so I was able to fix it.  But I'm so happy to have a freezer full of pork again! We do have a a limited amount of extra sausage, chops and roasts for sale if anyone is interested.  Mmmm...pork chops on a charcoal grill...


Butchering time is here again...

It's a beautiful spring day here in Pennsylvania.  I'm looking forward to a productive weekend on the farm. 

My husband's parents are kind enopugh to help us with the butchering of our hogs, so I am looking forward to seeing them this weekend.  We are doing 5 hogs this weekend, so I'm not sure whether I'll be grilling pork chops for dinner or if we'll all want chicken!  This will be my 3rd time helping with this particular farm activity, and since we send the piggies to a USDA facility for slaughter, the sides of meat we pick up from Hirsch's don't look like any creature I'm used to feeding.  That makes it a bit easier for a new to farming girl like me. (I never even had a vegetable garden until I met my mom can't believe that I pluck my own chickens now!)  This will also be the first time I'll be doing hogs that were born on the farm...the last 2 times we raised up feeder pigs that we bought.  I am looking forward to this weekend though, my freezer was quickly emptying after a long winter.  I am excited to make sausage this time.  I was let in on the 2 "secret family recipes" for sausage, a brown sugar breakfast type and a sage variety, and as a cook I can never just follow the recipe without trying to make my own adjustments.  I grew my first ever herb garden last year and dried some sage that I'm excited to used in the sausage.  If it turns out well, I'll use it in all the sage sausage we make and sell in the future, but for now I'm only going to try it with what my husband and I will be eating.  Lucky for me, he really enjoys sage, so if it comes out a little strong it won't go to waste.

We also have 15 adorable little piglets that will be 2 weeks old this weekend.  Our 2 sows, Fern and Charlotte (yes, the boar's name is Wilbur...I'm a family literacy teacher by day so some of the creatures get literary names) have done a great job with thier piglets, both this time and with the last litters.  We give our piglets iron shots at 3 and 10 days of age to make sure they don't become anemic.  I was happy to finish that up last night.  Char is as sweet as can be and makes some noise when you handle the babies, but dosen't cause any trouble.  Fern, on the other hand, well, you have to admire her motherly instinct.  On the other hand I really don't want a 350 lb sow biting me for trying to handle the babies.  So what works for us is to lure her just outside the hog house with a little feed and shut the door!  We can quickly give the babies the care they need, clean out the pen and no one gets hurt.  She's ready to come back in when the door is opened. 

Other than that, I plan to keep up the spring cleaning and help Dan in the fields if possible this weekend.  He hopes to finish up planting the hayfield today before I get home.  This weekend is the opening day of trout season in PA, which means lots of campers and former customers will be driving by.  It always amazes me how many people will stop on the road so they can talk to you...I guess seeing someone working a team of horses in the field dosen't register to most people as work, but rather something you do for fun.  It sure makes it hard to have a productive day though.  We bought a work collar and adjusted a harness to will fit my little Morgan mare, Sara.  I hope to try and work her in the garden this weekend. (it dosen't border the road!)  She is my baby, I adopted her from a rescue society when she was 6 and I'm proud to say she is an unbelieveably healthy 23 now.  I hope to teach her to do some light field work to keep her in shape as I don't get to ride as much as I used to. She's been a 4-H show horse, a trail horse, a pet that didn't get ridden when I was away at college, we taught her to pull a buugy and sleigh in the past few years, now it's time for something new for both of us!

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