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

Friday, March 26, 2010

farm update

An awful lot of seeds are being sown into soil blocks and many, many seedlings are being potted up right now. This is the big push to get everything seeded in order to be ready for herb fairs and spring planting. Since the garden soil is still too wet and too cold to do any planting outside, all the work is in the greenhouse, which is a really nice place to be this time of year.

and fauna...
Once again the sheep are naked, having been set-upon by the shearer last week. Two of the ewes are confined to the barn where I can keep a better eye on them as they both had a bout with pregnancy toxemia. I think they'll be alright, but I won't be able to relax until the lambs arrive.
Griselda the goose is still laying eggs but shows no inclination to start sitting on them yet. Seems like she should by now, but it also seems I think that every year about this time.
Chickens - what can I say? With six roosters and just three hens, things are seriously out of balance. One of these fine Tuesdays I need to take three of those roosters for a ride to Roots farmers market where they have a small animal auction. It's something that should have been done last fall but I put it off and then winter hit. Hopefully a more reasonable hen-to-rooster balance will be restored once the silky peeps get here.
Of course we musn't forget the bees. Honeys will be arriving in early April and bumbles will be ordered as soon as the greenhouse tomatoes start taking blooming seriously.

It seems almost as though the tiny little farm is holding it's breath, waiting, in anticipation of all of the new life soon to burst forth... seeds, lambs, goslings, peeps... bees.

Soon, soon.

Monday, March 22, 2010

an ordinary, decent egg

"It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad."
C.S. Lewis

Saturday, March 20, 2010

kiss the ground

"Let the beauty you love 
be what you do.
There are hundreds 
of ways to kneel 
and kiss the ground."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

new boots

Got a new pair of green sloggers boots. Cute, right? And perfect for spring mud gardening. Wild and crazy as I am, I also bought a new pair of their garden clogs. My old pair was too small. They didn't used to be. I think my feet are growing. Widening out. Perhaps for better stability?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

my favorite meatloaf

Never having liked meatloaf much as a kid, I enjoy the heck out of this recipe. It has some of my favorite things - rosemary, for one; and carmelized onions for another. If you enjoy these as much as I do, hold onto your hats because you're going to love this loaf.

Get started by preheating your oven to 400°. While that's happening, peal and thickly slice one large sweet onion and saute it until it's golden brown in a little olive oil on medium high heat. Add a couple tablespoons of water and continue to saute until the water evaporates. Take the pan off the heat and set it aside.

Next, remove the crusts from three slices of bread, tear them up into cubes, put them in your food processor and process until turned into fine crumbs. Pour into a large bowl.

Now, roughly chop up a stalk of celery, half an onion, and a carrot and put them in your food processor along with a half cup of fresh parsley leaves, and 2 peeled and smashed cloves of garlic. Pulse the processor until the vegetables are minced, but be sure to stop well short of making a puree. Add to the bowl of bread crumbs.

Into your bowl, add a half cup of ketchup, two teaspoons dry mustard, two eggs, two teaspoons salt, one teaspoon ground pepper, one teaspoon hot pepper sauce, a half teaspoon chopped rosemary, and a half pound each of ground veal, pork, and beef. Mix with your hands just until everything is combined, but be careful to not over-mix. You don't want a dense and heavy loaf.

Get a piece of baking parchment or tin foil about the size of a loaf pan and put it on a rack in a roasting pan. This will keep the meat loaf from falling through the cracks, so to speak, while allowing the fat to drain away. No greasy meat loaf here! Place your mixture on the parchment and form it into a loaf. If it hangs over the edge a bit, that's fine.

Here comes the good part...
Mix together three tablespoons of ketchup, one tablespoon dry mustard, and two tablespoons brown sugar. Smear this all over your loaf. Now, take those beautifully carmelized onions and put them on top of everything.

Bake for a half hour and then sprinkle rosemary needles on top. How many? Depends on how much you like rosemary. I like it a lot. Return the meat loaf to the oven and continue baking for another half hour or until a thermometer reads 160° when stuck into the center. Allow to rest for fifteen minutes before serving.

Some thoughts and suggestions:

  • The quality of this delectable meat loaf is dependent on the quality of the ingredients. Do try not to skimp. Fresh parsley is crucial, and fresh rosemary makes a big difference. Making your own bread crumbs is also important. I've made this loaf using dried ingredients and it's still pretty good, but can't hold a candle to one made with fresh ingredients.
  • I simply can't get enough of the carmelized onions on the top, and so use the largest onion I can find.

Friday, March 12, 2010

soil blocks

I'd like to introduce you to my new favorite product - soil block makers. I never thought I'd like them as much as I do, but they're simply a wonderful way to start seedlings.

Here is the smallest soil block maker. It makes twenty, teeny tiny little 3/4" blocks, with a small divot on top to drop your seed into. since the blocks are so miniscule, quite a lot of potential new plants will fit onto a tray.

See? On this one tray, 200 herb seedlings have begun their lives. Look at those giant ones - that's borage. Now, once the seedlings are big enough, they can be "potted up" to a larger soil block. What I've found works for me is to wait until the first set of true leaves has just begun to show. That way, the little guys will have some roots, but not so many as to be a problem.

When making your blocks, start out with a peat-based potting soil, then add enough water to make it good and wet. It should be somewhere between peanut butter and cake batter. Since you're adding all that water, use a flat-bottomed tray or tub or pan of some sort. I have found it easier to use more water rather than less. The blocks seem to hold together better.

This is the two inch block maker. It makes divots the right size to drop the 3/4" blocks into. So now that you have a big mound of wet soil, push the tool into the soil firmly and pack as much in as it will take, pushing on the handle to firm everything up.

When you lift it out, it should be tightly packed with soil.

Now, place it on the tray, squeeze the handle and lift up. You should have a nice row of four blocks. Repeat until you have as many as you need.

Lifting the little seedling either by its leaves or its block, drop it into the square hole.

That's it! Here is the same borage from above, but now residing in two inch square blocks with more room to grow.

before and after

Seedlings that are going to be sold will be transplanted into four inch pots so they can have a really strong root system before going to their new homes. Also, putting them in pots makes them more transportable. But the ones that will be planted here will go from the two inch blocks right into the ground. This will keep my garbage can from filling up with disposable plastic pots.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

goose egg custard

Teague and Griselda, my American Buff Geese, are once again earning their keep. They've started filling their nest with beautiful eggs, some soon to become custard and others, eventually, goslings.

My all time favorite recipe for these beauties is goose egg custard. With the higher fat and protein content, what is usually considered a delicate recipe is a breeze. It's quick, easy and most delicious! I first posted this recipe a year ago, on my studio blog, but it's definitely worth repeating here.
Baked Goose Egg Custard
2 goose eggs
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups milk, scalded and cooled to room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
- preheat oven to 325°
- beat eggs slightly
- whisk in sugar and vanilla
- add milk slowly while whisking
- pour into a lightly greased casserole
- sprinkle with nutmeg
- set in larger pan with 1" hot water
- bake 50 minutes or until firm to the touch and golden


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

planting peppers

Yesterday was the day I decided to transplant pepper seedlings into their bed in the greenhouse. I had six each of seventeen varieties, and having planned it out well in advance, knew I had exactly enough to plant a double row in an 82 foot bed. NOT having written it down anywhere, I seemed to recall that the spacing between plants was one foot. As I was planting, I thought "my, they look terribly close", but happily kept right on going. When over half of them were in their new homes, I looked up and realized that I was not yet halfway down the row. Ooops. Quickly doing the math in my head, I realized the spacing should have been 18 inches between plants. Thinking how lucky it was that I had not yet watered them in, I started over. When I was done, I had maybe about four feet of empty row left. Clearly this was not my day for math. Too bad, because planting something twice is my limit. And besides, I'm sure I'll be able to find a way to put that extra row space to good use.

Lesson for the day: When planning in advance, write it down for future reference. And use the flippin' calculator.

Friday, March 5, 2010

I want to see this movie


more good news

I found out yesterday that Tulip Tree Hill has also been accepted into the Landis Valley Herb Faire as a vendor. Whew! Happy day! What a load off my mind. Of course, there are still details that need attending to, but at least I know that there are now actual outlets for all these seedlings I've been starting.

The herb faire is May 7-8 at the Landis Valley Museum, just outside Lancaster, PA. It's a big deal and folks come from all over to buy not just herbs, but also heirloom veggies, flowers, and all sorts of related whatsits. Oh, come on, take a little spring vacation and make a long weekend of visiting Lancaster County. I know you'd like it if you came.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Aunt Ruth's bread recipe

I'm starting a recipe section, but so as to not leave behind some of my favorites, I'll be pulling them from my studio blog where they originally appeared. Apologies to those who've read them before.

"Without Bread all is misery." —William Cobbett, British Journalist (1763-1835)

My Aunt Ruth makes the best bread ever. Amongst all my aunts, uncles, and cousins, no one else can touch her. Several years ago she gave me her recipe and I've been making bread off and on ever since. It still doesn't quite match her level of deliciousness, but it's pretty good. It's your basic soft white bread, good with just butter or some home made jam - especially when it is still a bit warm from the oven. And since this recipe was freely given to me, I thought I'd pass on the love.

I use my KitchenAide mixer with the dough hook, but Aunt Ruth sure never did. So feel free to mix and knead the traditional way.

Aunt Ruth's Bread Recipe

Into a large mixing bowl, add 2 cups warm water (about 110°F).
Start the mixer on low speed and add the following:
1 3/4 tablespoon shortening (butter, lard, or crisco [ick])
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon yeast that's been dissolved into 1/2 cup warm (110°F) water
6 cups flour, adding just one cup at a time.

Add only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking excessively to the bowl. I'll usually add 5 cups and as it's kneading only use as much of the last cup as needed. The dough should be soft and shiny and elastic. It's probably better to add too little flour than too much. Too little just means it will be a bit harder to handle. Too much and you'll ruin the texture of your bread.
When finished kneading, place in greased bowl and turn over to oil the other side. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double. Punch down and let rise until double. Using oiled hands, divide into two, shape into loaves and place in greased pans. Let rise again until double. 
Bake at 375°F for 10 minutes, then 325°F for 15 minutes.
Remove from pans and allow to cool on racks.

If you're feeling feisty, you can exchange honey for the sugar. Also consider adding some crunchy wonderfulness to the mix. You'll want to add this stuff right before the flour. I've used as many as four or five of these at once. It turns a simple white loaf into something rich and hearty. But take note: these are my own additions, if you don't like them, don't blame Aunt Ruth. It's not her fault. 
Here are some ideas:
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup red and/or golden flax seed
1/4 cup white and/or black sesame seed
1/4 cup poppy seed
1/3 cup wheat berries (soak overnight first)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

we're in the big time now

So this is the big announcement... drum roll please...
Tulip Tree Hill is the featured seller at doleaf for the first two weeks of March. What is doleaf you ask? Well, in their own words, doleaf is "A place to connect with and buy from specialty nurseries and independent garden centers." That's right, now you can buy all the plants you want without ever leaving the comfort of your own home and garden. Great news for those of you who are hermits, or even those who live halfway across the country (or all the way, for that matter). Because if you've been drooling over thoughts of sun-warmed Bloody Butcher tomatoes sprinkled with Lime Basil, or icy cold Missouri Yellow Flesh watermelons, then you're in luck - no matter where you live.*

Of course if you're close enough, it would still be fun to meet you at one of the herb fairs if you can make it, and if not, you're always welcome to make arrangements to visit the farm. But if that's just not possible, then mail order is the next best thing!

Be sure to check out the really nice article that doleaf wrote about the farm.

*Unless of course it's in one of those states that has severe restrictions on plant importations, then sorry.

Monday, March 1, 2010

looking forward to spring

Also looking forward to gardening. I'm hoping a lot of folks are because I got very good news today: it's official - Tulip Tree Hill has been accepted as a vendor at the Pennsylvania Herb Festival, April 16-17, in York, PA! The farm's first big event. Just six weeks away. Oh my. On one hand I can hardly wait, but on the other hand, the logistics make me more than a little bit nervous. My biggest issue will be the transportation of all those plants, I mean a VW Bug just isn't going to cut it no matter how cute it is. My plan is to rent a van, but even so, I'll need to figure out some sort of shelving or some such thing. If anyone has ideas, I'd be more than open to hearing them! But you know, somehow I do believe it'll all work out. That the many flats of seedlings will safely make their way to the festival and a good time will be had by all. And by all means, if you attend the festival, be sure to stop by and say hello!