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

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.