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

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.