I love the change of seasons, the cycles of growth. If what was grown, what was harvested was always the same, it would be incredibly boring. In the winter it's all about cool/cold weather crops, mostly greens that will do well in a greenhouse kept only slightly above freezing. Right now, at the height of summer, what's growing are plants that love heat and sunshine. Today, there were a couple of "firsts" for the season...
They are my companions, my compatriots, my confidants.
Biggie was my fourth Standard Schnauzer, my last one. He had a toe removed two years ago and then was neutered last year, both due to suspected cancer. All of my dogs have died of cancer, way too young.
So I suppose this was like a freight train that has been coming - you can feel the vibrations in the track, but it is so far off in the distance that you cannot yet see it. So you keep playing on the tracks, hoping you were mistaken until suddenly it is upon you. And you find yourself surprised by the suddenness of it. Even when you knew. You knew it was coming. Although you had no proof, you wanted to believe you were mistaken. That you could go on and on together. But the train came anyway, ahead of schedule, roaring upon you. You, with your deer-in-the-headlights look, amazed, that your fun on the tracks was over. Though you shouldn't have been - the foretelling was a long one; a silent vibration from a train miles away, but still coming. Unstoppable. Invisible, but real nonetheless. However, hope is a deep well, and so we play and laugh, skipping between the rails, in absolute and willful denial of the inevitable. Enjoying the moments while we can, because if we stop for just a second on the rail, balancing on one foot, there it is - the vibration - a little stronger. So we run again, the sun shining, our feet crunching on the gravel, dead grasses brushing at our ankles, and call to our friend, "come with me, let's run!". And you do, laughing. While the vibration under our feet grows ever stronger.
WHATEVER the path may be, my dear, Let us follow it far away from here, Let us follow it back to Yester-Year, Whatever the path may be: Again let us dream where the land lies sunny, And live, like the bees, on our hearts' old honey, Away from the world that slaves for money — Come, journey the way with me. However the road may roam, my dear, Through sun or rain, through green or sere, Let us follow it back with hearts of cheer, However the road may roam: Oh, while we walk it here together, What care we for wind and weather, When there on the hills we'll smell the heather, And see the lights of home! Whatever the path may seem, my sweet, Let us take it now with willing feet, And time our steps to our hearts' glad beat, Whatever the path may seem: Though the road be rough that we must follow, What care we for hill or hollow, While here in our hearts, as high as a swallow, We bear the same loved dream! However the road may roam, my sweet, Let it lead us far from mart and street, Out where the hills and the heavens meet, However the road may roam: So, hand in hand, let us go together, And care no more for the wind and weather, And reach at last those hills of heather, Where gleam the lights of home.
So here's the thing - more than just about anything, I love to learn (It's my favorite!). With that in mind, I thought perhaps the farm could play host to a monthly (or so) series of workshops - for the curious of mind, the lovers of learning. The first one will be in late February/early March. Maybe. You see, the actual date will depend on the weather. We need a series of days that go above 40 degrees with nights dropping below freezing. Have you guessed what it will be about yet? Drumroll, please...
The first workshop is:
When: Sunday, March 6 (give or take a week or two), 9 a.m. – 12 noon
Where: Tulip Tree Hill, 208 Penny Road, Holtwood, PA 17532
Learn to tap a maple tree and what to do with the sap once you have it. We'll be sampling the raw sap, making fir needle tea with it, and boiling it down for syrup. Afterwards, we'll share a snack of pancakes topped with freshly churned butter and maple syrup. If the weather is fine, we'll eat outdoors near a warming bonfire. You'll go home with a small bottle of the sticky elixir as well as your own tap and the knowledge of how to use it.
Attendance will be limited to no more than 15 people.
Cost is $36 per person.
As I've said, the actual date is likely to change, since the sap run depends on the weather, but it will definitely be on a Sunday morning.
If interested in attending (and who wouldn't be?) please send your name and contact info so I can get in touch with you once the sap starts running and we have a firm date. But if you are absolutely certain you want to attend, don't want to risk missing out, and are willing to move heaven and earth to get here, then you can pay ahead of time to reserve your spot, either by going to the farm's event calendar page or by stopping to see me at Lancaster Central Market.
Sounds like fun, doesn't it? I think so too.
There are other ideas flying around, such as: making hypertufa planters, building native bee houses, growing your own mushrooms, creating hand-built ceramics, making herbal wreaths, fermented foods, broom making, cider pressing, making Christmas wreaths, rug hooking, soap making, and spinning wool.
And you know what? If there's something you are interested in learning and think that Tulip Tree Hill might be able to help you out with that, post it in the comments below and we'll give it some serious thought.
I'm in the middle of reading this book by Ben Hartman, The Lean Farm. It speaks volumes to me. Motivated, one of the first things on my to-do list is to get rid of excess "stuff". Junk. Things that might be able to be used some day, but probably not. So a couple weeks ago, my sister called and asked if I wanted to go to a farm auction with her and her husband. The tiny little voice saying "no, you don't need anything, shouldn't buy anything, don't have room for anything, are trying to get rid of things" was drowned out by my resounding "yes!". Therefore I went and I bought. More stuff. Three pallets of stuff. You can't go to an auction and not buy, can you? Isn't there some sort of law against that? At the very least, it's un-natural.
A pallet of pavers. No lie, that very morning before I ever even got the auction call, we had started digging out an area in front of the barn door in order to be able to lay a gravel base for some as-yet-to-be-purchased pavers to sit on. I now have a mud-free entry to the barn. And life is good. Wahoo.
please don't look at how badly the barn needs new siding - but aren't those pavers great?
A pallet of five giant, crusty, old windows. They are beautiful, and measure roughly 3x4 feet each. I am amassing quite the window collection. Why? There are projects in my head that want to be made real, that's why.
A pallet of sweet old barn doors. Admittedly this was an impulsive, emotional purchase. One which could not be defended except to say that they have so much character that I had to have them. In light of the aforementioned book, this purchase was just a tiny bit embarrassing. Recently I decided to measure the barn door that got the new pavers, thinking a pair of these lovely old doors just might fit that space, when I looked up and saw the front-yard-gate-posts-without-a-gate. I measured. They fit. They are perfect. Rustic, welcoming, and a look I never in a million years envisioned.
add a latch, slap on a fresh coat of paint, and we're good to go!
this door, this door. I am in love with it. wooden handle, wooden latch, how old must it be? maybe this one will fit the barn. and by the way, that's not a split in the wood on the latch - that cut-out creates a bit of give so the latch can be lifted and then the tension causes it to spring back into place. simply wonderful.
The latest new, big experimental project here on the farm is mushrooms. I tried a very small batch of these a couple years ago and it went well. So the time finally seemed right to work on a bit of a larger scale.
What we have here is a bag of grey dove oyster mushroom spawn growing on grain, as it came from the spawn farm.
These oyster mushrooms will grow on straw in plastic sleeves. The first step is to chop the straw into small pieces (we used a leaf vacuum - noisy, but effective), then pasteurize it. We did this by using a sterilized stock tank and really hot water, letting it soak for an hour. We also added hydrated lime to adjust the ph of the straw to give the oyster mushrooms an advantage over any stray fungus that might have been around.
Next, we spread the straw out on a clean table to cool off.
Then added the grain spawn.
Next, the bags were stuffed with the straw/spawn combo.
(intern Machelle stuffing bags on a warm fall day)
The bags were closed with zip ties and hung in the greenhouse. Oysters like growing in light rather than the dark and manure of button mushrooms.
Holes were poked into the bags to allow for a bit of air exchange.
And here's what it looks like now.
I'll post photo updates as the spawn fills the bag. If the spawn fills the bag. If we didn't totally screw this up.
My heartfelt and abundant thanks to intern Machelle for all her hard work this fall; planting seedlings, weeding, hoop house building, harvesting, mushroom making, and all the other things she pitched in and helped with. Your energy, enthusiasm, and good company were much appreciated!
Speaking of interns, I'll be posting a notice here soon about internship positions opening up for next year.
We found this lovely lady meandering among the leaves near the Jerusalem Artichoke bed we were harvesting on Monday. About an inch long, black with a definite metallic blue sheen. Ant? Beetle? Some bizarre combination of the two? Today we looked it up and it is a Meloe angusticollis, the blue short-winged blister beetle, or oil beetle. As it turns out, it's a good thing we appreciated her beauty but didn't touch her. Apparently when disturbed, they secrete an oil that causes blisters. Woah. That's harsh. Moral of the story? Enjoy nature, but don't touch bugs if you don't know what they are.
Glancing up from harvesting, I noticed what appeared to be a hedgehog in the grass near the garden. Surely an impossibility, but intriguing enough to find out just what it was. To my happy surprise, I realized it was a chestnut burr. Looking up, I saw the young tree filled with them! I had been told this would not happen since there was just one tree. Apparently, no one told the tree and so this year he'll provide my first home-grown chestnuts!
About seven years ago, I bought and planted three american-chinese chestnut seedlings, hoping they would be blight resistant and their nuts would be as tasty and large as the original american trees. Two of the trees died, mostly from being grazed upon and so there was just one sole survivor. So far he's healthy and clearly producing nuts even with out cross pollination.
Last summer I planted several flowers in front of my porch with the goal of attracting butterflies, hummingbirds, and beneficial pollinators. One of the things in the mix was a milkweed. Happily, it re-seeded itself and this year there are many growing and blooming in the bed. It was enough to attract monarchs along with yellow, black, and zebra swallowtails, skippers, and others. Suddenly it seemed there were over a dozen monarch caterpillars munching away on the milkweed, and then just as suddenly, they were gone. Or so it seemed until I noticed the first chrysalis hanging from the arm of a chair, then another and another until I found a total of seven of them. Today they began to emerge...
Monarch chrysalis, green with gold lame'
See the wings? This one emerged just a few hours later.
Polka dots and daisies!
Can you imagine wearing such an outfit? The girl's got style.
I was able to get her to climb on my hand while she finished figuring out her wings, then she floated away to the tops of the trees.
The new batch of silky peeps arrived a little over a week ago and are now ensconced in a pen in a corner of the greenhouse, a heat lamp keeping them warm. If all goes well, they ought to be old enough to start laying eggs in March or April. In the meantime, they're awfully cute!
The ducks are eight weeks old, but I'd be surprised if their brains were bigger than a pea. Crazy is what they are - nuts. The more I'm into farming and raising animals, the more I realize there are very good reasons for many common terms. In this instance, ducks are daffy. Living cartoons. Looney-tunes, as a matter of fact.
On the upside, they are maturing rapidly and in another two to three months should start laying eggs for market. Duck eggs are excellent for baking and custard-making. And since (like my chickens) these girls will be living on pasture, they're more nutritious than any you could ever find in a store. Not that you're likely to ever see duck eggs in a store, but that's not the point. The point is, they're good for you. And just plain good. Rich and thick, with deep orange yolks.