welcome, and thank you for joining me on my farm and studio in southern lancaster county, pennsylvania

Monday, December 21, 2009

lesson learned

This is Aster. One of the two shetland ewes I brought home in the back of my VW Bug this summer. And of all the sheep here, she's my favorite. Sweet, friendly, gentle, innocent. And as most sheep are, also fairly helpless when confronted by predators. Their only defense, really, is to bunch up and run. So far around here, the only sheep-type predators I have to worry about are dogs. My dogs. aka "the destroyers". And so I have a good fence. However, when thoughtlessness is added to the mix, the innocent pay. This fall, I stacked some spoiled hay next to the fence, planning to use it as mulch next summer in the cut flower garden. On Saturday, two of the dogs climbed up on top of the hay and used it as a platform to jump into the pasture. When I found them, Aster was lying on the ground with the dogs lying next to her, pulling out wool. Like a live stuffed toy. They were so happy and then so surprised when I went berserk. Quickly removing said canines from the pasture, I examined Aster and found she had a rather large tear on the inside of her upper thigh. Of course, this was on a weekend. During a blizzard. Unable to come, the vet talked me through what I needed to do for her, and my brother-in-law (owner of a big 4WD pick-up) kindly went to the local farm store for the supplies.

On the upside, the vet came out today to stitch her up. In the meantime, I became pretty comfortable giving intramuscular injections of penicillin. Funny what you can do when you have to. But it also brings home the fact that veterinary supplies need to be on hand, that you can't always count on outside help. Another lesson learned.

And Aster? She's looking pretty good, so far no infection. I'm cautiously optimistic about her recovery.

The dogs are also still alive.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

in the nick of time

Thankfully, the last of the work was completed (wiring and heating) on Thursday in the greenhouse. Just in time, too, because Friday night the snow arrived. Knowing it was coming and that we'd see significant accumulation, I set the heaters to 35°F, just enough to help the snow to slide off. Why? Because allowing a heavy snow load could cause the whole structure to collapse. Unlikely perhaps, but a possibility.

If any of you are considering a greenhouse in the future and want to know how and why I chose what I did, feel free to contact me. I'd be happy to help.

Friday, December 11, 2009

guilty (or is it innocent?) pleasure

Construction on the greenhouse is complete! The only things left are for the electrician to run wire to the heaters, fans, and roof vent; and for the fuel company to deliver propane tanks and hook them up.

I've been going out to check on the temperature the last couple of days and I must say that when the sun is shining, it is just delicious in there, even without supplemental heat. Today it was just to much for me - it was 26° outside with a bitter wind, while in the greenhouse, it was balmy and extremely humid. As the moisture from the soil evaporated, it condensed on the roof before dripping back down - my own personal rain forest. What can I say? I caved. Brought a lawn chair and a book and sat for an hour, basking in the sunshine and warm mist, reading. Heaven on earth.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

first snow

The woodland path, decked out in the season's first snow.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

greenhouse construction

Construction is underway! However, it's been slow-going due to the weather - one day of sun, then two to four days of rain. They started at the beginning of last week, but have only gotten in three days of work so far. Frustrating for everyone involved. I'm concerned about being in December and not having this thing built. Hopefully the cold and snow will hold off a little while longer.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

in December?

Look, fresh flowers in December! In zone 6! They are growing in a protected spot at the front yard gate and must have been fooled by the warmer-than-usual fall weather into thinking it's time to bloom. Their exuberance makes me smile every time I pass by.

Not to be out done are these wonderful irises. Since they are a re-blooming variety their season of enjoyment is longer than you might think, but it doesn't normally last this late in the year. They smell heavenly, so a couple just might find their way inside to brighten the house a bit.

Admittedly, I am a sucker for fresh flowers. If I'm tense, burying my face deep in a bouquet and breathing in their fragrance can make my chest unclench. And in the depths of winter, visiting a conservatory to feel the warm and humid air, and enjoy the smell of living, growing things is hard to beat. It's elemental, and in some way, nearly essential. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

it has arrived!

The greenhouse arrived yesterday. Or at least all of it's bits and pieces did. There are now boxes of parts and bundles of pipes stowed in the garage. I put a call in to the construction crew so they could get me on their schedule.

Now, the nervousness returns. Next to my home, this is the single largest purchase I've ever made. Normally I go into new things slow and easy. Test the water to see if I like it, so to speak. This time I'm diving in and the water is deep.

Although tendrils of fear curl around the edges of my thoughts, I'm still definitely excited about beginning. Saturday I borrowed a pick-up truck and got a load of leaf compost (for just 10 bucks - what a deal, right?), then on Monday spread it as a top dressing over the topsoil where the greenhouse will be. Once the house is built, I'll be able to start preparing the growing beds.

Fear and excitement - sort of like being on a roller coaster. Hopefully just like an amusement park ride, I'll also have a lot of fun. I think I will.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

final fall planting

Yesterday afternoon I decided that it was the perfect day for putting in the garlic. We've had our first hard frost, but the soil is still warm. I tilled under the eight inch high spring oats cover crop and saw some truly beautiful soil - soft and dark and crumbly (all of the mulching and composting and rock-picking is paying off). The sky was overcast and rain was in the forecast, but the air felt almost balmy as I pushed the cloves into the earth. Working steadily, I could see my neighbors were also trying to beat the oncoming twilight and the next round of rain as one baled corn fodder and another brought in hay for their dairy cows. The shorter day length catches me by surprise sometimes and so planting was finished by the day's last light.

Monday, November 2, 2009

pickled peppers

The weather this summer was not real conducive to ripening hot peppers. They grew like gangbusters, set flowers, and even produced many, many peppers - that then mostly just sat there waiting for it to get hot enough to ripen. Poor things. A few hungarians and jalapenos ripened to make red and green hot pepper jellies as well as a bit of hot sauce, but the others just seemed to be holding their breath. Then finally, last week, the lemon drops decided to go for it and there were about a half dozen cayennes that also took the plunge. So this weekend I picked all I could find and made a small batch of lemon drop hot pepper jelly and an even smaller batch of mixed hot pickled peppers. I haven't tried either of them yet, but they sure do look good. And I'm grateful they managed to hang on long enough to give me this much.

Next year about half the tomatoes and all of the peppers and eggplants will be grown in the greenhouse. They should love the extra heat.


I have nothing to say about this piece, really. It was just a bit of fun.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

waiting and unfair

All the prep work has been done for the "great greenhouse project of 2009". Now I wait. Wait for the greenhouse bits and pieces to arrive, and wait for the actual construction of said structure. So until these things happen, there won't be much new news.

hey, unfair!
This past week, a neighbor just down the road, not 1/4 mile from me, also put up a greenhouse. I mean to say he put it up in a week. I drove by last week and there was nothing there. This week he had a greenhouse full of drying tobacco. And according to my excavator, they didn't have to dig trenches and fill them with stones for storm water control. Apparently the township wanted them to, but relented when told it wasn't a permanent structure! Now wait just one doggone minute! Neither. Is. Mine. Two standards? Or is there something I'm missing? Could it be because he's a real farmer with many acres? Well, not if you're actually going to follow the zoning regulations. If anyone in their right mind would bother to actually look at the two situations, they would be able to see that my land is flat and the likelihood of storm water causing any damage is nil. The greenhouse is surrounded by seeded pasture and there is no possibility of erosion. They would also see that my neighbor's greenhouse sits at the edge of a plowed field which slopes down to the road and from there to the local creek. Huge potential for storm water run-off and erosion damage, not to mention increased potential for pollution of said creek. I am angered and frustrated, but at this point, it's all water under the bridge (or into the creek), so to speak. The trenches are dug and filled, the money is spent. I wish my neighbor had put his structure up before I went for zoning approval, because perhaps then I would have had an argument for them allowing me the same leeway.

I want to believe that this other greenhouse is truly temporary and will be taken down after the tobacco is dry and gone, but that's hardly likely. A more distinct possibility is that it will be there for years, growing tobacco seedlings in the spring and drying it in the fall and winter. If that's the case, I may have words with the zoning officer. Not that it will get my money back for work that shouldn't have to have been done, but so they know I know.

Seriously - priorities, folks. Food or tobacco? Which grower would you give a little leeway to?

Now, I need to go relax and calm down. Perhaps have a glass of wine and read a good novel. Something not about farming.

Monday, October 26, 2009

the princess and the pea

Inspired by the old children's story, this princess is resting on a stack of seven cushions. Near the bottom is a pea in a pod, keeping her up at night.

The cushions are made of ceramic, as is the princess, but she also has wire for hair and a tin crown.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

budgets and seeds

This weekend I spent more rainy-day time working on my planting plans and seed lists. And yes, it's very early to be doing this - most folks do it in January. But, working within a very tight budget, I wanted to see if my seed cost guesstimate was accurate. If not, then other things would have to be adjusted down because, well, when growing plants, seeds are sort of non-negotiable. Necessary. Crucial. As it turns out, the seed budget will be a bit higher than previously anticipated. Part of that is because I want to grow several varieties of each vegetable, and so there isn't a lot of savings that could be had by ordering bulk packages of just a few. For instance, there will be over 20 varieties of heirloom tomatoes in all the colors you can think of - pink, white, green, orange, yellow, purple, and of course red. And then there are different shapes and sizes - beefsteak, plum, cherry, oxheart, and others. It all adds up. And that's just the tomatoes. But what fun would it be to just plant "Big Boy" or "Early Girl"? Yeah, not much. So the seed list is long.

Which brings me back to the fact that other areas of the budget will have to be trimmed. Because I'd like one of these. A lot. I mean I really, really want one before the mesclun and other closely-spaced seed needs to be planted. This puppy can plant six rows of baby greens, or radishes, or carrots, or, well, you get the picture. Can you imagine trying to plant 240 square feet of baby greens by hand? At two-inch spacing between each microscopic seed? I can. It's not pretty. So between now and January, I'll be pushing numbers around trying to see how to get this into the budget.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

we have water!

Big and Ava are posing with our new outdoor water hydrant. They don't look very impressed, do they? To them, it's a non-issue. They'd much rather be sniffing everywhere that all the strange men have been walking and working. That is to say, strangers to the dogs, not that the men are strange. They've all been very nice. In the last two weeks, there have been tree trimmers, electricians, plumbers, and an excavator here doing work. All in preparation for the greenhouse. Then, in early November, the greenhouse bits and pieces should be delivered, followed shortly by the construction crew. Add to this the four loads of firewood delivered earlier this week, and, well, the dogs are just about to go nuts. There have been more people in and out of here than they've ever experienced before, and while they desperately want to defend the property against all these strangers, I won't let them, so they're quite frustrated. I keep trying to explain that all these strange men have been invited, but only Big seems to believe me.

All that aside, I'm very excited about the new water hydrant. It's a frost-free sort of set-up and so can be used all winter. No more pulling hoses across the yard to water the animals in the summer. No more carrying buckets from the house in the middle of January. Let's all give a hearty "wahooooo"!

I've hauled hoses and buckets for the four+ years I've lived here because when you're on a tight budget, running a new water line is a luxury. BUT, if you have to trench for electric anyway, then adding just a couple hundred bucks more for water seems to suddenly make sense.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

digging in the dirt

Instead of digging the run-off trenches, the excavator spent much of the day trenching and laying conduit for the electric and water lines...

From the house,
To the barn. (The greenhouse will be at the other end of this barn.)
Take a good, close look at that pile of dirt. A lot of rocks, with just enough dirt to hold them together. This is why it drains so well here and it's rare you'll ever see standing water, even after days of steady rain. This is also why I hate digging any sort of hole, whether it's for fence posts or trees or anything else, really.
Tomorrow the plumber comes to connect the pipes in the basement. Hopefully the run-off trenches and any final earth-moving will also get done because I'd really like to get things re-seeded as quickly as possible while there's still a chance for new grass to grow before it gets cold.

Monday, October 19, 2009

breaking ground

Today's a big day at Tulip Tree Hill! First thing this morning saw me at the zoning office to pay my fines, I mean fees, and to pick up my permits. Then back home to have some coffee and await the arrival of the excavator. After measuring and staking it all out, he began work with the heavy equipment by first scraping off the topsoil and setting it aside. Tomorrow he'll dig the run-off trenches and use that dirt to build up the greenhouse pad, topping it up with the reserved topsoil.

I just can't tell you how excited I am right now. It's ridiculous, really. But how often do dreams become reality? When does something that is so outside of what you imagine to be possible for your life actually happen?

And by the way, look at that beautiful, low, mid-afternoon October light in the photo.


Above it all, perched on her very tall chair and enjoying it, or wanting to get down if she can just figure out how? Maybe both. As she is torn by conflicting desires, blackbirds are watching and waiting to see what happens, but not helping.

At Diddywopps & Keeffers gallery in Monkton, MD.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

endless rainy days

What better way to spend a cold, rainy Saturday in October than to sit with seed catalogs to begin plotting out a plan for next year's garden? And so that's how I spent my afternoon yesterday - sitting at the kitchen table with a gentle fire crackling in the wood stove, dogs lying at my feet, and a hot drink* to take away any remaining chill. Outside, an industrious squirrel ran back and forth, up and down the hickory tree, collecting all the nuts he could, their husks falling, making a hollow kerplunking sound as they bounced among the tulip poplar leaves glued by the rain to the wet deck.

Yes, even endlessly dreary, rainy days have their moments.

The hot drink? Milky coffee with a tiny shot of walnut liqueur.

Friday, October 16, 2009

food for profit

On October 28, I'll be attending Food for Profit, a state-wide entrepreneurship training program which is being offered by the Penn State cooperative extension. It's a one day overview of how to best go about starting and running a food-based business. Best of all, it includes a tour of the Lancaster Edibles Venture Kitchen - a local certified commercial kitchen which is available to food entrepreneurs and producers.

I'm mentioning this now in case anyone else is interested in attending. There's still time to sign up. You never know what you might learn!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"no one with land should be without a job"

I just read a blog post by Gene Logsdon on this subject. Logsdon is a wonderful writer with strong opinions about small farms and farmers - he very much believes in them. Maybe it's just the times, but my thoughts have been running along the same path. There is so much you can do with just a little land, and it really doesn't take all that much. It doesn't even have to be your own, (although if you're going to use someone else's land to farm, you should probably ask first... just saying). Anyway, there are folks farming in cities and suburbs whose total combined acreage, between their own and the rented/borrowed land, is between 1/4 and 1/2 acre. And they are making at least a part, if not all, of their living from it! Amazing, right? Yes, it's hard work. The days are long and during the summer you may be out in the garden every day of the week. But if it's something you love, then it's worth it.

As you know, I'm putting in a greenhouse and starting a market garden. Hopefully next year, a not-insignificant portion of my income will come from these endeavors. But that's all I'm going to say about that - I don't want to run the risk of jinxing myself by putting too much out there, too soon, if you know what I mean.

(If you haven't read any of Gene Logsdon's work, check him out. My favorite book of his is "The Contrary Farmer".)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

lasagna gardening

No, it's not about raising vegetables for lasagna. It's about a method of gardening that utilizes a layering system (basically sheet composting on steroids) to reduce the work it takes to make and maintain a garden.

Rather than digging or tilling the soil, the author encourages us to build it up by layering organic materials on top of the soil before planting and then keeping it mulched once the plants are growing and throughout the season.

I'm giving it a whirl on two new gardens this fall in preparation for spring planting. For the herb/perennial bed a thick layer of spoiled hay has been laid down already and more will be added on top of that as fall progresses. By spring the soil underneath should be soft and loose from the work of microbes and earthworms, and then I'll plant the herb seedlings right into it without any tilling at all. For the new cut flower garden, it will be a modified version of this method. the beds were spread with manure, tilled and planted in spring oats as a cover crop with the paths left untilled and covered with wood chips. Once the spring oats have been winter-killed, the beds will get layered with various mulches. Next spring, flower seeds and seedlings will be planted directly without further tilling.

Eventually, I want to do all of the gardens in permanent beds with walkways in between and hopefully do away with tilling altogether. As with all of this, a little bit at a time and we'll see how it goes.

Monday, October 12, 2009

the wonder of flight

Perhaps it's just me, but I think the sensation of flying is one we'd all like to experience. Soaring through the air, the wind rushing past us, the utter feeling of freedom. Getting outside ourselves, out of time and place, and just being in the moment...

This is a subject I've explored several times, but seemingly one that I'm not yet done with.

At Diddywopps & Keeffers gallery in Monkton, MD.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

the new low tunnel

Here you can see the start of my new low tunnel for winter growing. (in the foreground is a small fall radish patch, way overgrown.) The hoops are simple flexible electrical conduit (1/2" x 10'). They are fitted over bamboo stakes which were pounded into the ground. Through the middle of each pipe I drilled a small hole and threaded some strong twine. I made a loop with the twine over each hoop so it would stay in place, then at each end, it was tied off to a notched stake. Hopefully this will give the whole thing some stability. Now, don't be too impressed because I didn't come up with any of this on my own - it came from Coleman's book.

Once this was all together, with the onions and carrots planted and watered, I got the roll of plastic out of the barn, unrolled it, and measured it to make sure it was long enough. Of course not. That would be way too easy. Off to the local hardware store.

Back home, it took me most of the rest of the afternoon to get the plastic on and weighed down on the edges. I hope most of this time can be attributed to learning curve because that's way too long for something that's supposed to be quick. But either way, most likely next year I'll do something a bit more permanent by way of structure for any low tunnels that are used. Maybe a wooden base that both hoops and plastic are attached to. Because I have a sneaking suspicion that as windy as it gets here, that plastic may end up in the next county sometime in January. If not before. I may tinker with this a bit more because the way it is now, it's not easy to get into or to vent. And as warm as it still is this fall, it certainly will need venting to let some of the heat out in order to not cook the seedlings.

Friday, October 9, 2009

imagine the possibilities...

After reading a couple books by Eliot Coleman, I am pretty excited about exploring the possibility of growing crops all year long. No, we're not talking tomatoes in January. The expense and struggle of keeping a heat-loving vegetable happy in the dead of winter holds very little appeal. But - cold-loving crops - now there's something to give some thought to! There are numerous salad greens as well as root vegetables that thrive in cool or even cold temperatures.

So this could be a solution to the question of how to keep the greenhouse productive all year long. After all, it's a very large expense which needs to be kept busy. This fall I'll prep the indoor beds, adding any soil amendments that may be necessary. In February and March heirloom vegetable seeds will be started in pots and grown until about May or June. Then the beds will be planted with the heat-lovers - tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, sweet potatoes. In August, Those same beds will be underplanted with salad greens and root vegetables. By the time the summer vegetables are done, the salads should be ready to start harvesting. If the timing of successive plantings is done correctly harvesting should go on all winter with the greenhouse being kept just above freezing, at about 35°.

But for now, although October is way behind the optimum schedule for fall planting, I'm doing a test bed anyway. Just a small one, 4' x 15', covered with a low plastic-covered tunnel. Half will be onions and half will be carrots. Ideally the onions will put on some growth this fall and then just lie in wait for spring. If all goes according to plan, I'll have onions for market next summer before most other growers. I'm also hoping the carrots get some decent growth on them before winter. If they do, then I should be able to harvest them all winter for my own kitchen. There's no guarantee this will work, especially with the late planting, but if it does it'll be well worth it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

things to do, places to go, people to see

At 7 a.m. sharp, the tree guys came and began removing five trees right next to where the greenhouse will live. I hate cutting down trees. For me, it's on a par with ruining books or tearing apart musical instruments. But it needed to be done. Two were silver maples, two bradford pears, and one white pine. All weak trees that could easily have dropped limbs on the new structure. And that structure, I hope, will be a good part of my future livelihood. So bye-bye trees. On the plus side, I have quite a lot of wood chips for garden paths as well as a decent pile of future firewood! Not a bit will go to waste.

Just after noon, I went back to the zoning (no, you're not a farm) office to drop off my paperwork and make sure I have all my ducks in a row. It appears that I do. Next week they'll be out to see the site and by the following week, I should have my permit.

This evening, the electrician came by to give me a rough estimate on hooking the greenhouse up to my existing electrical system. Not as easy as I thought it would be. We're talking trenches and breaker boxes and who knows what else.

Not much about this whole process is as straightforward as I imagined back in the spring. Everything, it seems, is more involved and more expensive than one would think. I mean the project is bleeding money. Every time some new expense pops up the anxiety mounts and the pressure to make this thing pay gets stronger. But it's happening and it's moving forward. And I'm still excited about the possibilities...

Monday, October 5, 2009

books and dogs, two things I love

I love my dogs - I really do. But sometimes...

I bought a new book last week, something rarely done anymore since re-discovering the library as an adult. I used to buy books all the time because I love them so much, but they are just so expensive when the budget is tight. Therefore, new book purchases are few and far between these days and are reserved for those that will certainly be re-read. Multiple times. Which makes buying and owning a new book something to look forward to.

How is this pertinent to the tiny little farm? Well, after recently discovering Eliot Coleman and his writing, I promptly went online to the local library's web site and reserved all of his books that were available. And saw he had a new one out - "The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses". Since it's a new book and won't be available for inter-library loan for a year, I splurged and ordered a copy from Amazon. It came on Wednesday and by Thursday I was reading and thoroughly enjoying it. A beautiful book, I was taking great care to not mess it up. (Can you see where this is going? No? Hang on.) So yesterday morning after enjoying the book with my morning coffee, I carefully put it on the end table and left to go to the ceramic studio to glaze a couple of pieces. Coming home, I found my beautiful new book on the floor with it's cover eaten off. Eaten. Completely off. Oh, the book is still okay. None of the pages were chewed and so certainly it's still totally readable, but it no longer has it's shiny new cover. That's in somebody's stomach.

I love my dogs - I really do.

morning has broken

Morning has broken,
like the first morning.
Blackbird has spoken,
like the first bird.
Praise for the singing!
Praise for the morning!
Praise for them springing,
fresh from the word!
Sweet the rain's new fall,
sunlit from heaven.
Like the first dew fall,
on the first grass.
Praise for the sweetness
of the wet garden,
Sprung in completeness
where his feet pass.
Mine is the sunlight,
mine is the morning,
Born of the one light
Eden saw play.
Praise with elation,
praise every morning,
God's re-creation of the new day.

That old hymn, originally an even older gaelic tune, and popularized by Cat Stevens was the inspiration for this piece. It's this sort of song and performance that makes me wish I was a musician and singer. The best I can do is to try to capture the mood, feeling, and emotion the piece evokes.

I might take another shot at this, perhaps making the scene more lush in order to better capture the mood of the song. I'll have to think on it...

At Diddywopps & Keeffers gallery in Monkton, MD.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

panic rears it's ugly head and tries to kill the dream

The night before last, while working on the greenhouse budget, I was looking at various flats and seedling trays, and trying to decide which ones to buy. When comparing the different configurations, I thought that if I get these instead of those and arrange them this way instead of that way I could fit 9,000 plants instead of my original estimate of 8,000 in the greenhouse. And that's when I had my moment of panic. Well, several moments really. Okay, it lasted the rest of the night. Because how on God's green earth am I going to sell 8,000 plants let alone 9,000? WHAT DO I THINK I'M DOING? I am a graphic designer and artist, not a farmer! Oh, I ranted - if I could just sell retail off the farm the worry wouldn't be so strong because I could advertise and draw customers here. And I know how to advertise!

Then yesterday, after a bad night's sleep, I decided to forget about it. I mean, if you don't look at the big green drooling monster peeking in your window, then he's not there right? So instead of spending the day worrying and agitating, I tilled the beds in the cut flower garden. Amazing what a little physical labor and positive action will do for your mental health. I can't immediately solve the marketing issue, but I can do this. For me at least, working the earth is calming, relaxing, and centering. No the concerns didn't go away, but some perspective was regained. I mean, if there can't be any on-farm retail, then marketing will just have to get that much more creative.

I can do this.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

so, it's really going to happen

Today I gave the greenhouse company payment for the structure and it should arrive in three to four weeks. Hard for me to believe, but it's true. A greenhouse is something I've wanted my whole life and now it's going to happen? It just doesn't seem real and I suspect it won't until the thing is built. But so much has to happen between now and then. There's the whole permit thing which is still not done, as well as the excavation work. Then today I had a couple guys come out to give me estimates on removing 4 trees that could be a hazard to the greenhouse if they should drop limbs, which they've been known to do. Tomorrow I'm meeting with the construction company so they can give me an estimate on cost and schedule. After that is another meeting, this time with a greenhouse supply rep - for stuff like potting soil, seedling trays, etc. I won't be ordering supplies probably until January, but I'm trying to get a budget put together for next year.

I have to say that I'm pretty excited, but also stressed out just a tad.

Monday, September 28, 2009

zoning regulations and procedures

Finally just about ready to move forward with the greenhouse project and so called the zoning officer to see exactly what I need to do to get the ball rolling. Here's what I found out...

Download seven forms from their website:

1. Fee Schedule
Presumably so I know what the township will be charging me for all this red tape.

2. Cost Estimate for Storm Water Management Improvements
This form has to be filled out by the excavator who will dig the trenches which will be filled with gravel and into which all rainwater will run from the greenhouse roof.

3. Leach Trench Construction Instructions
Also given to the excavator so he knows what the township expects and so can estimate the job accordingly.

4. Minor Stormwater Permit Application
This must be filled out and accompanied with a check for $165.00 (according to the fee schedule).

5. Plot Plan Instructions
I need to show the outlines of the property, existing structures, driveway, and the proposed structure; the dimensions of the proposed structure; the distances of the proposed structure from property lines and center of the road; the location of erosion control measures; the location of the trenches and any grading that will be done; and indicate the "limits of earth disturbance" of the property during construction.
Before we go on, let me just say, that if I didn't have to dig these trenches, there would be no earth disturbance whatsoever.

6. Stormwater Escrow Agreement
Here's a goodie. Probably my favorite of them all. Whatever the cost will be for all of the excavation needed for stormwater runoff control, I must give the township 110% of that amount to be held in escrow until all storm water facilities have been installed, inspected, and approved by the township. That's in addition to what I pay the excavator. Oh, sure, I'll get it back, but I sure won't get any interest on it.

7. Zoning Permit Application
Pretty basic, just stating once again what it is I'm planning to construct, who will be building it, when the project will be started and approximately when it will be completed. This is to be accompanied by another $40-50, depending on the final cost of the project.

Once I have these forms and estimates all ready, I take everything to the zoning officer, and she then comes and checks the site out for herself. After that, it will probably be another 2-3 weeks before I'm granted the permit. Then the excavator can do his job and after that, the greenhouse folks can finally do their's. Oh, I have a feeling this is going to be down to the proverbial wire in terms of completion before my goal of mid-November.

On a positive note schedule-wise, the excavator came out to check things out today and he'll be back tomorrow with a laser so he can measure everything. He also volunteered to contact the zoning office himself to help things keep moving along. He seems like a real good guy and easy to work with.

So tomorrow, I contact the greenhouse company and do some final number-crunching and scheduling. I've got to keep pushing this thing along pretty hard at this point.


In the give and take between human and animal, a serenity is achieved while the knitter works and the sheep takes comfort in companionship.

At Diddywopps & Keeffers gallery in Monkton, MD.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

readying the garden for winter

Yes, there is still time for fall crops like radishes, lettuce and other salad greens, but I was in a mood and decided to go ahead and prep the garden for winter. With the exception of some peppers, carrots, and a small salad patch, everything got mowed down. Woody remnants that refused to be shredded by the mower were burned. Those that resisted burning got put on the compost pile. A shallow tilling came next and then cover crops were sown. In the beds where there will be root vegetables or the brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, etc.) next year, spring oats went in, everywhere else large purple-top turnips were planted. Since turnips are in the brassica family, it's best to not plant them where next year's crop will go since they share pests and disease.

So why plant turnips at all? Because the sheep love them! If the weather cooperates, the turnips should be ready for grazing in mid-November and hopefully through the end of the year. Frost won't kill them, but a good hard freeze will. So depending on the weather, the sheep could get as much as six weeks of eating off of them, saving quite a bit on hay. Along the same thinking, I've stopped mowing the grassy area around the garden, to create stockpiled forage. It should balance the the turnips nicely in terms of nutrition. The first year I tried this, it worked great, but last year was pretty much a bust. The turnips got planted late and then we had an early hard freeze. That one-two punch meant the sheep barely saw any benefit at all. It's all a gamble, but not an expensive one, so definitely worth trying.

I also prepped the garlic bed. It is tilled, raked, spread with chicken litter, and planted with oats. The garlic will get planted into the oats in late October, having just enough time to put out some roots before resting for the winter. The oats will grow until winter-killed, and will then provide a handy protective mulch all as well as a weed barrier next spring. All I need now is for the garlic to arrive in the mail. I ordered a second variety this week, called music. It should be interesting to see the differences between it and the red russian.

The last big garden project before winter is to prep the cut flower garden. I've been putting it off until I can get a nice fence put up around it to keep the dogs out, but probably a temporary fence will have to do for now since time is running short. A dog barrier is essential because there will be manure spread on the beds. Dogs + manure. Need I say more?

The greenhouse is still in the planning stages (yikes!). Hopefully next week that will move forward.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

going places

Delicately balanced through his forward momentum, this crow has places to go, people to see, and things to do. Busy, busy busy.

You know, sometimes we are so busy trying to get where we're going that we fail to enjoy the moment. Crowding our lives with so much activity that we don't even notice we've lost the ability to be still. How long has it been since you've laid on your back in the grass and watched the clouds go by? Or sat on a porch swing with your eyes closed and listened to the sound of birds? Or gone outside at dawn just to breathe deeply of the morning mist before the rest of the world wakes up? Try it. Slow your brain down and think of nothing but the enjoyment of the moment. It will fill your heart up.

At Diddywopps & Keeffers gallery in Monkton, MD.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

in my studio

I keep the bits and pieces of works in progress on a small table in my studio. There they stay safe and organized. They also stare accusingly at me every time I walk past as if to say "hey! we're still not done, and yet you dare to start another piece?" That's right, my work gives me attitude! You can see glimpses of two different pieces in the photo above. The woman is part of a sculpture which will probably be titled "freedom". Gruesomely, her legs aren't yet attached to her body (not that she seems to care). Eventually, she'll be sitting on the back of a crow in flight, and the whole deal will be hung from the ceiling. Clearly I'm not done yet with the subject of flight because another piece is in the works which also explores that subject matter.

And here is a little vignette of one corner of my studio work table. I got this table third-hand and happily don't have to worry about ruining the surface since it was already pretty messed up when I got it. At times I think I should sand it down to make it nice again, but but so far have resisted the temptation since then I'd have to be careful with it.

harvest the power

Today I went to the "harvest the power" festival. It was an hour and a half away, and halfway there, I realized I forgot my camera so, although there were some great photo ops, there won't be any pictures. Sorry.

Located in Kempton, PA and surrounded by wooded hills and rolling farmland, the festival was quaint, charming, enlightening, and exciting all at the same time. First, there was a special place right next to the entrance gate for anyone driving a hybrid, bio-diesel, or other alternative mode of transportation. I parked my bug out with the rest of the traditional cars. Walking up to the gate, we were serenaded by a group playing kettle drums. Then, as I walked around getting my bearings, a three-person bicycle rolled by and I don't think anyone but me gave it a second glance. This had to be one of the most laid-back and low key group of people ever to gather in one place. And yet still quite a diverse crowd. There were crunchy-granola, hemp and cotton-wearing folks mingling with polyester-clad nerds, and everything in between. Several tents were filled with vendors selling everything from alternative power sources to goats milk soap. And quite a few more tents were set up for the seminars which is where I was headed. First stop was a seminar on cover crops. Next up was growing and harvesting healing herbs. The keynote speaker for the lunch break was a freelance writer for Wired magazine talking about America's power grid. Speaking of lunch, numerous options were available. Skipping the vegan selections, I got a Thai chicken kabob with peanut sauce followed by baklava and some truly wonderful coffee. In the afternoon, I learned about Spin farming as well as growing exotic fruit in Pennsylvania (paw paws, quince, jujubes, and figs). During the spin farming demo, a circular five person bike sporting an umbrella went whizzing past (it looked like fun). And by then it was time to head home. A full day in a beautiful setting with a most interesting assortment of people and some good information.

Would I go again? Probably. And certainly I'd encourage others to go, if only for the ambiance.

Friday, September 18, 2009

harvest the power

On Sunday I will be going to the "Pennsylvania renewable energy & sustainable living festival" (isn't that just about the longest name you've ever seen for an event?). And although this will be their fifth year, it will be my first to attend. Billed as a true celebration of earth-friendly living, there will be workshops and seminars on everything from solar, wind, and hydrogen power, biofuels, green building, organic farming, and sustainable living. I have my eye on several workshops and seminars on farming. Exciting stuff, folks. Or, at least, interesting.

"Harvest the Power", September 18, 19, 20, Kempton, PA, http://www.paenergyfest.com

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

a quiet life

"The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind."
Albert Einstein

Impossible for me to have said it better. I've been thinking about this in my own life recently and was pleasantly surprised to happen upon this quote. Living here on the hill for four years now, my life has become increasingly quiet, less complicated, more in tune. With my dogs for company as I work, farm animals for the occasional distraction, a garden for physical exertion, and a good book to read in the evening, I am rarely bored.

When we deliberately slow down the pace of our lives and stop allowing ourselves to be constantly bombarded by everything that screams for our attention, we are able to find the quiet moments to think and reflect. To allow imagination free reign to entertain us. To dream and to ponder the "what ifs". For me, that's where art comes from. That quiet place.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Micro-Eco Farming

I read this a little while ago and posted about it on my other blog, but thought the subject matter would be more appropriate here. As I said then, the book is somewhat lightweight, but also interesting and inspiring. It explores the emergence of "micro-farms" - farmers that are operating on tiny acreages and achieving high yields using organic and sustainable practices.

One of the books that inspired me to try my own tiny little farm, it started me thinking about what and how I could grow things.
What: Heirloom fruits and vegetables that might have fallen out of favor due to their inability to be shipped or held for long distances and times, but which could be perfect for local consumption.
How: Restoring and improving the health and balance of the soil, thereby increasing the health and nutrition of what we eat. Specifically, I'll be adding lime this fall, and greensand and kelp in the spring. I'd also like to source rock dust. All of these amendments contain micro-nutrients that can be lost due to poor farming methods and which chemical fertilizers can't replace. I have also added and will continue to add straw and animal bedding as mulch and have begun composting almost everything that doesn't walk away.

Part of the fun of this is to see just how much of a difference can be made in the health and productivity of the garden.

Monday, September 14, 2009


For those of you who couldn't make it to the show, I'll be posting images of some of that work here in the next few weeks. I hope to continue this, posting images of new work as it is finished. There is so much in my head begging to be let out that sometimes I hardly know where to start. But what with the big push to get everything completed in time for the show, it seems I'm now back in creation mode - the long drought over.
And so here we have "Rainfall"...
Still in his shell and refusing to come out and face the world, this little guy is hunched in his nest and seeking protection from the elements with a rather flimsy umbrella. All within a glass cabinet, as though preserved like a specimen.

I sort of like the whole specimen concept. I may have to pursue this further... more little cabinets, more odd vignettes.

At Diddywopps & Keeffers gallery in Monkton, MD.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I hope to see you tonight!

So tonight is the opening of "In My Own Backyard" at Diddywopps & Keeffers. This will be my third show there in three years, but I'm still excited, thank goodness. The day it stops being exciting and showing becomes ho-hum is probably the day I should stop. Happily, that doesn't appear to be happening anytime soon. I continue to amuse myself while making the work and hope it strikes a chord with those who view it.

I'm a pretty private person and so putting this stuff out there has always been a stretch for me. Sort of a "here's what goes on inside my head, please don't smirk" kind of thing. But the reward of a piece making a connection with someone is worth the risk of disdain. I think. At least as long as I don't have to witness that disdain personally.

Friday, September 11, 2009

a preview of September 12, part 9

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

starting the 2010 market garden

The start of the 2010 season is officially underway today with the ordering of garlic bulbs for planting! I selected a red russian garlic from Wood Prairie Farm, an organic farm in Maine that also offers a wonderful selection of seed potatoes. I got my potatoes from them last spring and had great results.

The Red Russian is a Rocambole garlic, a hard neck variety and suited to cold winters, so should do well here. Unlike most hard necks, it is supposed to be a good keeper with large cloves. Most of the garlic you'll find in grocery stores is the soft neck variety, usually grown in California. In researching garlic, it's my understanding that soft necks generally keep better and have a mild flavor, while the hard necks have a stronger, more complex flavor. And while it will be interesting to compare flavors, really my selection of a hard neck boils down to what will grow well here in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

And so, with the simple act of ordering some garlic cloves, my new venture has officially begun. I am excited and nervous. Time seems to be both screaming by and yet crawling along. Winter will be here before I'm ready, I'm sure, and spring seems so far off.

a preview of September 12, part 8

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

kreativ blogger award

Thanks to Michelle over at Boulderneigh for sending me the Kreativ Blogger award! One always likes to be appreciated - or maybe that's just me, hmmm? Anyway, as I understand it, I'm to list seven of my favorite authors and then seven blogs to nominate for the award. So without further ado, here we go...

My seven favorite authors:
Dean Koontz
Gene Logsdon
Jonathan Kellerman
Patricia Cornwell
John Sandford
Michael Crichton
Dean Koontz

Okay, I cheated and put Koontz in twice. But really, these days most of the books I read come from the library with the exception of Koontz. If he has a new book out, I buy it. Because what I've found is that they are good enough to re-read. More than once.

Seven creative blogs:

I encourage you to visit these blogs and see if you don't agree that they are quite creative! Each one different and unique, but with something special to share.

Monday, September 7, 2009

a preview of September 12, part 7

buy fresh, buy local

The Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture is promoting seasonal, locally-grown produce and products through their campaign "Buy Fresh, Buy Local". On their web site it states: "Our goal is to make it easier for you to find, choose, and appreciate great local foods while supporting the farmers and lands that produce them."

In Lancaster County, we live in one of the most fertile and productive regions in the country, and our growing season is long enough for us to enjoy a full range of seasonal produce. From early spring greens, peas, and radishes through summer's full bounty with an almost endless selection, and on to autumn squash, cabbage, and apples. Let's enjoy it!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

a preview of september 12, part 6

Friday, September 4, 2009

eastern market

I have tentatively committed to attending Eastern Market in Lancaster next year. Primarily a growers market, it is seasonal, open from June through October. Currently in it's fourth year, it was recently ranked 9th favorite small farmers market in the nation. The folks involved seem friendly and helpful as well as having a lot of energy and the ability to create a buzz. Combine all of that with an affordable cost of participation and it seems like a good fit. There are two other growers markets in the area, but I think Lancaster will be a good start. Perhaps if all goes well there, I'll consider going further afield. We'll see.

a preview of september 12, part 5

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

a preview of september 12, part 4

growers markets

Once I decided to supplement the greenhouse income with growing and selling produce, I started researching local growers markets. My emphasis is on growers markets rather than farmers markets because many the vendors at farmers markets have turned into re-sellers of produce rather than growers of produce. Around here, many will go to the docks down in Philadelphia, buy produce, clean it up and sell it. Or in-season buy it locally, perhaps. So many times, folks going to a farmers market still don't really know where or how their produce was grown or when it was harvested. And they don't even know that they don't know. At growers markets, the vendors are the farmers, and they are required to grow what they sell. The produce is fresh, local, and seasonal. And that's something I can get behind.

Monday, August 31, 2009

a preview of september 12, part 3

I need a what?

One of the big garden plant sale events around here is the Landis Valley Museum Herb Fair. It's a pretty big deal. Plant and garden lovers come from all over just to attend. I've attended myself many times. And so I called them to see if I could maybe, possibly, have a booth in 2010. As it turns out, they'd love to have me! So I gave them all my info and they said they'd be mailing out the materials in December or January. Not five minutes later, they called back and asked if I had a license from the PA Dept. of Agriculture to sell plants. What? No. Do I need one? Sure do. The very helpful woman from Landis Valley then gave me a contact name and number to call and said it's not a big deal, and that the woman I'd be talking to is pleasant and easy to work with. And she was. The form came in the mail a couple days later. So now all I have to do is fill it out, send in my $40 bucks (every year) and I get my license. Huh. And to think I was that close to being a criminal.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

harvest the power

The fifth annual Pennsylvania Renewable Energy & Sustainable Living Festival will be held September 18-20 on 66 acres near Hawk Mountain Bird Sanctuary in Kempton, PA. The event attracts thousands of visitors and promotes solar, wind and hydrogen power, biofuels, green building, organic farming and sustainable living.

I've never been to this, but am hoping to go at least one day this year. It looks like there will be over 100 vendors there and the number of workshops, lectures, and demonstrations being given is pretty impressive. There are several lectures that I have my eye on and one in particular seems taylor-made for me: "Spin-Farming: How to grow commercially on under an acre". Could be interesting.

Check it out at http://www.paenergyfest.com

Saturday, August 29, 2009

perhaps a pond...

One of the things that will be required to build a greenhouse is some sort of plan to deal with storm water run-off. Typically what the township recommends is a gravel-filled trench on each side of the structure to capture and slowly disperse the water. I am thinking of proposing a retention basin instead. Mind you, if water just happened to stay in the basin and make the whole thing look like a pond, well, let's just say it wouldn't bother me. I'd like that a lot. I might even help it along. Just saying.

But picture it - a pond in the pasture with sheep grazing quietly along the edge while geese float by and a couple of adirondack chairs to sit in while sipping a cold drink at twilight on a summer evening.

I really hope the township approves it.

a preview of september 12, part 2

Friday, August 28, 2009

greenhouse selection

There are more greenhouse options than you can shake a stick at. Everything from size, to shape, to method of ventilation, to wall covering. I am still waiting for one final quote, but the specifications are being narrowed down.

Size: Originally I thought to go with a 24' x 48'. You know, start small, grow later. As it turns out, it's much more efficient to go larger from the outset. Cost per square foot is considerably less. So now we're looking at a 24-26' x 96'. Double what I thought at first.

Shape: Most likely it will be a rounded peak. I'm sure there is a technical term for that, but my brain is full.

Ventilation: Here's where I'm really waffling. Mechanical (end-wall fans) or roof vents with/without roll-up side walls? There are pros and cons for each and no matter who I talk to, I get a different opinion. There just is no one right answer. Mechanical is considerably cheaper to install, but will take electricity to run, so higher utility bills. Roof vents really should also have roll-up side walls for the best ventilation, but installation is significantly higher. However, cost of operation is extremely low. I haven't quite decided, but am leaning towards mechanical. We'll see.

Wall covering: Twin-wall polycarbonate or double poly film? Twin-wall polycarbonate is guaranteed for ten years whereas the double poly film is only guaranteed for four. Also, the twin-wall is much less likely to sustain damage from tree branches, stones, hail, etc., and it looks much nicer. But when you consider the increased cost of materials and installation, the twin-wall will be double the price, it doesn't quite seem worth it. So I'll be going with the double poly film.

Heating: Hands down, it will be a ceiling-hung propane blower. No question.

As soon as I make my final decision, I'll go and see what the zoning (you're not a farm) board needs to give me a building permit.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

a preview of september 12

Here's a little preview of what you can expect to see at the opening of "In My Own Backyard" the evening of September 12 at Diddywopps & Keeffers. The show is just over two weeks away and I'll be posting more of these tidbits between now and then.