Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
Posts tagged [season]
This is generally the time of year when I usually start to panic. As I write this, I only have 3 days left to prepare to open the farm stand for the year, and there is still so much to do! The grass needs mowing, I have 2 cows worth of beef to pick up and organize in the freezers, a pig to butcher and sausage to grind and package, and I'm roasting coffee tomorrow. A farmer gets used to never having a day off, but it's a lot, even for me!
I tend to let myself get overly stressed this time of year, as I often feel like I won't have enough things to fill the tables. It's been a challenging spring for gardening, with lots of cool temperatures and dry spells. It snowed here and the overnight low was 24 degrees on May 12. We may even get another frost over the weekend. So, realistically, I won't have much produce outside of rhubarb, spring onions, and greens this first week, which seems like nothing. Although I always have a customer or two ask where the sweet corn or tomatoes are the first day, most folks are very understanding. I think more people have a better grasp on what seasonal eating means every year, which is wonderful!
But folks stop at our farm for more than vegetables. I actually think meats are a bigger draw, and while the broiler chickens just won't be big enough to process this week as we had hoped, I feel OK about one less major thing to do this week! We will have lots of steaks, roasts and ground beef, plus pork chops and our homemade sausages. And while I sold much of my inventory of canned goods at the Farm to Table conference, I do have a selection of things- 5 or 6 types of jam, 3 mustards, 2 barbecue sauces, an assortment of pickles and other things. There isn't a huge inventory of any (well, except things made with rhubarb...I've been busy canning that already) but there will be a nice selection to set out, probably 15-20 varieties. Plus I'll be roasting coffee tomorrow and we'll have a wonderful selection of that, and Dan is picking up 6 varieties of raw milk cheese (Smoked Cheddar, Longhorn, Havarti, Dill & Bacon, Italian and Garlic & Chive) from Whispering Brook Cheese Haus tomorrow. And this evening, one of our newest partners, Hummingbird Cafe of Tidioute, brought some of their delicious salad dressings for us to offer for sale as well! So there will be plenty of delicious, local edibles.
There will be other things as well...we've got chicks & turkey poults for sale, and they are always fun for everyone to check out when they visit. I've got some stained glass items and lots of jewelry, and there are also some things Dan has made in the blacksmith shop we'll have for sale. I've also been doing a little sewing, turning empty feed bags into cute recycled tote bags. In fact, once I started setting things up in the stand, I began to wonder where I'm going to put it all, which is the best problem to have! It really helps me to relax and feel like we will be ready by Saturday at 10 AM. But not too relaxed...there is still plenty to do before then!
Posted by Emily
@ 08:31 PM EDT
November is here. It's very much a
turning point in the year for us. It always feels like the month
where fall leaves us and winter moves in, even though the calendar
says winter won't officially arrive until well into December. At this
point, the garden has had a killing frost and we've seen snow on the
ground, so all the vegetable picking is over, with a few exceptions,
like the Swiss chard and the beets. Saturday mornings have become
much less hectic. I can enjoy a cup of coffee without worrying that
I'll run out of time before I get all the vegetables picked, washed
and displayed before we open at 10 AM. Although when the frost does
come, it's always a bit sad to see the basil turn black and the
pepper plants shrivel, the truth is that after six months of
planting, weeding, hoeing and picking, the break is welcome. In a
few months I'll be busy selecting the seeds that we'll purchase for
the 2012 garden, but for now, I'm just fine with taking a bit of a
November is the last month that our
farm stand is open as well. Although it's got walls, a roof &
concrete floor, it isn't heated and some of the Saturdays lately have
been more than just a bit chilly. I love visiting with everyone who
stops by the stand, but the chilly mornings won't be missed when we
close for the year. And, truth be told, having worked every Saturday
since May 28, I'm ready to sleep in just once!
Meats are coming to a close for now as
well. Hirsch's trailer has picked up the last of the beef & lamb
for the year. We'll do a bit more pork, a few more chickens and the
Thanksgiving turkeys. After that, all the critters will be with us
for the long winter. Although I am proud of what we produce, and
feel that our meat animals have the highest quality of life possible,
it will be nice to take a break from butchering. I think having that
break allows you to avoid being too hardened about the process. It
will also be nice to be able to accept an invitation to go out to
dinner with friends on a Thursday or Friday evening without having to
say “I'll try to make it, depends on what time we get done plucking
Canning isn't as frenzied either. No
overwhelming amounts of peppers to can, tomatoes to turn into salsa
or cucumbers waiting to be pickled. I get to be a bit more creative
right now, instead of just trying not to waste anything. Lately I've
had fun making vinegar candy (similar to hardtack), apple butter, and
an Oktoberfest mustard. I've made a number of git baskets featuring
our processed items as well. I have a few more things I hope to try,
either before the end of the stand season, or possibly over the
winter. It's never a bad thing to prep some inventory before the
season begins again!
And while it is a slower time of the
year, there's never a time when we're not busy. Lately we've been
working on some temporary fencing. We hope to get the critters out
into the hayfield near the garden when the grass runs low in the
usual pastures. Stockpiling this grazing will allow us to go longer
into the winter before we need to start feeding hay. That means the
hay we put up will feed more animals, and we are hoping to increase
our beef herd over the winter months, as well as purchase more pigs.
Demand for our meats has increased incredibly, so we're already
planning on how to have more available for our customers next year!
Winter is a time we look forward to
because we can get indoor projects done during those long evenings.
We have a room we're remodeling into a library, and I look forward to
progressing on that. Dan wants to do more blacksmithing, and working
over a hot coal fire just isn't fun in the summer. And I have lots
of projects, too, from trying to get back into oil painting to
becoming a better baker to keeping this blog updated a bit more
frequently. I'm in contact with the Farm to Table folks in Pittsburgh, and it's looking likely that I'll be prepping another presentation for them, to be given in late March. End of year records will need finishing, and it's never too early to begin planning for the next season!
Posted by Emily
@ 01:09 PM EDT
What a week! Our final week of the
season has been our busiest by far. This was my first year to
process turkeys for sale, and it's a daunting task. While our
original plan in the spring was to raise Broad Breasted White birds
and process a few Bourbon Reds as well, an error by the hatchery we
were dealing with sent us Broad Breasted Bronze birds instead of the
white ones we expected. While nearly identical in that both broad
breasted varieties are quick growing, have lots of white meat, and
are artificial breeds as they cannot reproduce without artificial
insemination, the bronze birds are colored much like a wild turkey
rather than having all white feathers. It does make for a more
attractive pen of live birds, but it's impossible to clean them up as
completely when plucking, as some of the colored pigment remains
under the skin. It's much like an ink inside the feathers, which
made processing a less than ideal job. I personally went over each
bird three separate times, and they still didn't clean up as well as
I had hoped. Sunday and Monday were completely consumed with turkeys,
and yesterday I had a final cleanup before opening for a special
Tuesday afternoon for turkey pickup. I simply let our customers know
what they were seeing, and they understood that they were buying a
farm-raised, hand-processed bird.
Nearly every customer was thrilled with
their bird, and I was grateful that they were happy with the sizes
available, as we don't have full control over that. We can feed them
quality feed all year, but we don't have the option to choose toms or
hens when we buy (or hatch) the babies, which greatly affects the
final size of the bird. Too many toms and folks who are having
dinner for two or four will be disappointed with a bird that's too
big, and too many hens may mean you don't have enough super-sized
ones to feed a dozen family members. This kind of lack of choice is
the greatest issue with marketing to the general public; most folks
are used to getting a bird that's exactly 17 pounds if that's
what they want. This is because Butterball or other large industrial
producers raise literally millions of birds and freeze them prior to
Thanksgiving and other holidays. Out of a few million, there's bound
to be hundreds of thousands harvested when they reach just the size
you want. A small farm like ours may only be willing to hand pluck
two or three dozen birds, and with a number that small, it's possible
that not a single one is exactly the weight you originally sought,
especially if you're picking up a fresh bird processed just a day or
two before. However, a farm bird like the ones we raise will not be
“enhanced” with a solution of salt water that can be as high as
20% of the weight you pay for, so going by pounds alone may not be
the best way to compare our birds.
Surprisingly, the Bourbon Reds, while
still having pigmented feathers, cleaned up much nicer and with less
work. Dan and I are discussing the option of offering only the
Bourbons in future years. While we'll likely have less birds to
process next year if we don't buy poults, I can't say I love doing
turkeys enough to be upset about it, and I love the idea of using
only heritage birds. Although they were a month or so older than the
Bronzes, the Bourbons who did not get to join next year's breeding
flock dressed out lighter. However, the heritage turkeys got the
same rations as the laying hens, while the meat turkeys got a special
turkey grower feed that had a much higher protein content. It will
be interesting to me to see how the Bourbons will perform next year
on the higher, weight-gaining ration.
Our Bourbon Tom
So all the turkeys have been processed
and picked up, but the hectic pace won't slow down yet. Today's
agenda includes going to the processor and picking up a pig and a
cow. I'll need to sort out the frozen cuts of beef for freezer beef
orders that will be picked up Saturday. The pig, as usual, will be
cut here, so tonight will include spicing the meat that will become
sausage and wrapping roasts, chops and ribs. During a normal week,
this would be done on Thursday, but Hirsch's will be closed tomorrow.
Friday we'll grind and package sausage as usual, and Saturday we'll
finish out the year for our farm stand. When the doors close for the
year, all the unsold products will need to be sorted. Canned goods &
vinegars will keep, but will need to be moved to the pantry or
basement where they will be kept from freezing or direct sunlight.
Storage vegetables that we'll use to feed ourselves over the winter
will get the same treatment. Extra vegetables will be used to
supplement the pig's rations. We'll try to condense all the unsold
meats into one freezer so we'll be able to unplug the one in the
stand ASAP, and that will be our meals for the months to come.
Nothing goes to waste!
Oh yes, in the midst of this madness
there's a holiday thrown in too! Since we've got so much going on,
we won't be traveling for the big meal. I'm cooking dinner for Dan
and I plus Dan's brother Matt. While I'm a master of roasting a
whole chicken, this will be the first time in my life that I've
single-handedly tried to manage a turkey and all the trimmings. It's
also a known fact that I'm no baker, but I hope to have a delicious
surprise or two for them. I'm excited, and my guys are the least
picky eaters ever, so I'm very optimistic that our dinner will be a
success. With sustainably raised ingredients and ones I love
sharing the table, how could it not be?
From our farm to your family, we wish
you safe travels and good times with family, friends, and
(sustainable!) food. HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
Posted by Emily
@ 10:19 AM EST
Yesterday was another glorious fall day and a great day to be outside. I'm so blessed to be home on the farm full time where I can take advantage of such days and not be confined to an office for 8 hours!
The day started out cold, with a low temperature of 28 overnight resulting in a freeze here, That means even row cover wouldn't save the frost-sensitive plants, so my basil and peppers are truly gone until next year, except for ones I've dried, canned or frozen. We've also finished digging onions and potatoes. While I hope to have beets again and the Swiss chard is still growing strong, the last major vegetable to harvest is our winter squash. If you've been to the stand recently, you've seen baskets overflowing with them, but the vines are dead and it was time to bring in the rest for storage as they were as ripe as they will get out there. Although the Kabocha and buttercups didn't do quite as well as they had in the past, we had a bumper crop of butternuts and great success with a new variety called sweet dumpling. It's like an acorn with a lighter, milder flavor and a beautiful white & green mottled exterior. There were still so many out there, I got the garden tractor and a trailer to cart them back to the stand. Although I can drive this little tractor, it's a joke between Dan and I that I can't touch a lawn tractor without breaking it; I get it stuck in a ditch, a bolt for the steering comes loose and I shut it off and abandon it mid-field, a belt breaks, or I jackknife the trailer hopelessly trying to turn. He's always on the lookout for where I've left the tractor around the farm after some such disaster for him to repair when he gets home. Amazingly, it was a tractor problem-free day. The squash looked so pretty, I just had to take a picture of it partway through collecting: you can see various gourds, acorns, buttercups, butternuts, sweet dumplings, spaghetti, and hubbard squash!
Hundreds of pounds of squash later, I was done. After we cut some more sunflower heads and some more corn shocks, all that will remain to do will be to pull up the plastic and fabric mulches that helped to keep the weeds at bay over the growing season.
Every year, there are successes and failures, that's why it's so important to us to have a diverse planting of vegetables. This year, the successes far outweighed the crops that under-performed. We keep careful track of which varieties work well for us, so each year we can learn more and take that knowledge into the next growing season. Although it's always a bit bittersweet to see the seasons change and the plants die or go dormant in preparation for winter snow, I know when the snow really starts to pile up I'll be able to warm myself by the cozy woodstove in the living room, perusing the seed catalogs, eyeing up new varieties and old favorites, and planning for the 2011 garden.
Posted by Emily
@ 09:46 AM EDT
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