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

Friday, April 30, 2010

sad, sad

This morning I found Apricot's baby dead in the barn. Last night she was nursing and getting around nicely, Apricot was taking good care of her, and all seemed well. The only answer I have is that perhaps she got too close to Aster and her baby and got butted up against the wall. Not something I expected since I spent quite a bit of time observing and Aster who is normally the most gentle and mild of all my sheep didn't seem to mind sharing quarters. But then this morning I witnessed her giving Mayapple's white ram lamb quite the shove into a fence when he got too close outside. So now Aster and her daughter are alone in a paddock just to be safe. And no, I'm not angry with her, but I am disappointed in myself and saddened by the needless loss.

Apricot is calling for her baby almost non-stop and there's nothing I can do for her.

Another hard lesson learned.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

lambing is over. gardening, not so much

Yesterday Rosebud gave birth to twin babydoll lambs, a white ram lamb and a black ewe lamb. And today, Apricot (Aster's bff) had a black babydoll/shetland mix ewe lamb. So the count this year is six lambs - three boys and three girls. I'll probably take pictures tomorrow or Saturday, because just between you and me, newborn lambs are a bit homely for the first day or so. Sort of like a scrawny little kid wearing a sweater three sizes too large that just fell in the pool and had to be hauled out. (And not a clean pool, either.) After they've dried off, warmed up, and had a bit of mother's milk in them, they are ever so much more appealing. Sorry, but it's true.

In between watching and waiting for Apricot to have her lamb, I was able to plant most of the new herb garden today. I'll finish it in the morning and then I'll tackle some of the main garden beds. I hope to get potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, peas, radish, carrots, turnips, and salad greens planted. I might even get some corn in, but that's fairly doubtful. Some of these things are so incredibly late getting in the ground, but if I work hard the planting schedule will be back on track.

Greenhouse veggies are coming along nicely. Tomatoes are setting fruit and the potatoes are blooming. I'm hoping to have both of these on my market stand in early June. I might not have anything else, but by golly I'll have tomatoes and potatoes!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

right on schedule

Monday, April 26, 2010

rainy days and blessings

It rained all day today and so I spent it in the greenhouse in a desperate attempt to get caught up on seeding. Part of the reason I'm so far behind is the seemingly constant rain. Just about every time the ground is nearly dry enough to work, it rains again. And so you know what's going to happen, don't you? I'll finally get things planted and then we'll have a drought. I just know it. Or it'll keep raining and drown everything. Or, or, something else bad. Sorry, dreary days kind of get to me, especially when I want to be outside.

So let's look at this, shall we?

This is Aster's new baby girl. Does your heart good to see something so precious, right? This pretty young thing is a result of Sweet William, my babydoll ram, breaking down a fence and having his way with my shetland ewes.


But look at the result.

How could I be mad at William for that?

I don't have it in me.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

have you found a mind? I seem to have lost mine...

Midway through prepping this new garden plot, I gave serious consideration to the possibility that I may have lost my mind. This space is 48' x 108' and after two hours of wielding a behemoth rototiller, it is still not complete (please note that lovely green strip of grass that remains). I had to stop because I thought my arms might fall off. Next time I get the one that comes attached to a riding mower. And there will be a next time because there are at least two more plots to prep for next year. As for this year, I am so seriously far behind in my spring planting that the idea of getting caught up seems like an unbelievable piece of fiction in a bad novel.

So what made me question my sanity you ask? Walking behind that monstrous piece of machinery as it belched smoke while emitting an ear-splitting racket, I wondered, not for the first time, if all this is just so much fantasy on my part. Can I really earn a living on this tiny little farm? Will I be able to do all the work that needs to be done myself? And what if the answer is no? Am I burning bridges that would best be left intact? Have I, in fact, lost my mind? It's a distinct possibility.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

spring = new life

Especially on a farm (no matter how small).

Mayapple and her twin boys

a mix of blue silkie peeps

in late summer this will provide sweet and luscious watermelons

and soon to come,


and more lambs

and more seedlings.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

happy earth day!

"To forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

they're coming...

shipped yesterday, arriving tomorrow

Funny how much I'm looking forward to their fuzzy little selves.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

after the festival

I had a great time at the Pennsylvania Herb Festival! But there are two things - first, although I took my camera along, I also completely and totally forgot to take any photos to share with you! (Bad blogger! Bad!) Second, I am simply exhausted. It was non-stop activity all last week, starting with dealing with all the little details preparing for the event, loading up Thursday night, unloading and setting up then manning the booth on Friday, loading up additional plants Friday night, unloading on Saturday, manning the booth, and finally tearing the booth down, driving home and unloading one more time. Not complaining at all, but whew!

I met the most wonderful people at the festival, had some very interesting conversations, and sold many seedlings. All in all, it was well worth my time to be there. Oh, and bonus - I bought a nice little bay leaf tree which I'll pot up and grow in the greenhouse along with my meyer lemon and persian lime trees.

The next event will be at Lancaster's Eastern Market for the May Day celebration. A much smaller event to be sure, but looking forward to it since the emphasis is on gardening and, of course, local produce. After that it will be the Landis Valley Herb and Garden Faire, Friday, May 7th and Saturday May 8th. Then we settle into market season starting Thursday May 27 at the Willow Street growers market and Saturday, May 29 at Eastern Market. Both of these run all summer through the end of October.

I'm looking forward to it all!

Friday, April 16, 2010

PA Herb Festival

a table of seedlings in the early morning haze of the greenhouse

Today is the first event that Tulip Tree Hill farm will be attending as a vendor - the Pennsylvania Herb Festival. It runs from noon until 7 p.m. today and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow. We'll have a booth full of heirloom herb and vegetable seedlings. Some unusual stuff, too, like artichokes, licorice, and cotton as well as more "normal" offerings. More normal would be 23 different varieties of tomatoes in all sizes and colors, many sweet and hot peppers, eggplants, cabbages, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, lettuces, broccoli, and numerous herbs. And how about Thai Red Roselle? It's flower buds are a key ingredient in Red Zinger tea. Fun stuff, folks! 

Be sure to stop by and say hello!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

the buzz

The bumbles have arrived!

Inside this cardboard box is a sealed plastic insert that contains the bees. Upon arrival, all I had to do was lift out the insert, remove the lid from their sugar water feeder, replace the insert, and slide open that little blue door to let them out. Easy, do-able, and not very nervous-making. No special bee suit or equipment needed.

The bumbles are here in the greenhouse to pollinate the tomatoes, peppers, summer squash and lima beans. They aren't absolutely necessary, but supposedly the vegetables will be larger and more prolific because of them. However, since this is my first year growing in a greenhouse and I'm adding bees right away, there will be nothing to compare it to at the end of the season and I won't really know if they helped or not. But, they came highly recommended and so here we are. Coexisting. Hopefully peaceably.

I think that probably only my sister is able to comprehend how huge this is. Because you should have seen us as kids, hearts racing, adrenaline pumping, running for the house, flailing our arms and screaming whenever a bee chanced our way.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

the making of the hive

If interested, you can download plans for building your own top bar beehive at the Barefoot Beekeeper web site or go directly to their download page for their free e-book. Although I found the plans to be a bit confusing, that could just be me. However, after I read their book, it became much clearer. I would definitely recommend reading the book before attempting to build your hive.

Certainly recycled lumber could be put to good use in making this hive but I didn't have any and besides, not two miles from here is the most wonderful lumber mill with friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable folks. Groff & Groff lumber is the type of place you want to go if you enjoy working with wood, especially beautiful or unusual wood. I went there hoping to get fir, but that's one species they don't carry. After a brief discussion about my project, they suggested going with cypress as an easy-to-work, slow to decay wood, good for outdoor use.

sending the cypress through the planer

While the plans make it clear you can successfully build the hive using hand tools, I love power tools. With that said, I am at best somewhat ambivalent about the table saw and the chop saw. Since these are tools that could cause serious bodily injury, I'm always very careful and slightly nervous when using them. But if that keeps me from loosing a finger by becoming complacent and sloppy with safety measures, then I'm okey-dokey with that.

ready to send a board through the table saw

I actually don't have any sort of step-by-step instructions or photos of the hive making process, but mostly just wanted to share where the plans came from. As construction was underway, I did modify a couple of things which added some time to the process. Most notably, the roof. In the plans it was just a flat roof covered with rigid plastic or roofing material. I decided to go with a peak style and made it out of cypress, covering the center seam with aluminum flashing. Function combined with beauty, you know?

There is one thing I would change if I had it to do over, or if I had allowed myself more time, and that is adding an observation window. It would be great to be able to observe what's going on in there without having to actually open it up and upset everyone.

One more thing... check out top bar bee hives on YouTube. There are some very interesting and helpful videos there.

If you do decide to keep bees and build your own hive, good luck and have fun. Oh, and you might not want to wait until the bees are about to ship before starting construction. Just saying.

The finished hive the morning after installing bees - you can see some of the girls at the entrance holes. I haven't yet cleaned up the package debris, but will most likely do that tonight after dark so I don't have to don the bee suit.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

sunbeams and stingers

"The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams."
Henry David Thoreau

the new hive

This week, in between potting up seedlings, meetings, bottle feeding lambs, and repairing winter-damaged fencing, I finally made my top bar beehive. I first heard about this non-traditional type of hive in a Mother Earth News article last year and then learned more from the book The Barefoot Beekeeper. I put the final touches on it on Thursday evening, moved into location on Friday morning, and got a call from the post office late Friday afternoon that my bees had arrived, and would I like to come pick them up? Of course, I promptly jumped in the car and went to get the latest livestock for the tiny little farm.

Oh dear.

One thought... was it too late to change my mind? Yes? Oh. Okay. So I brought them in the house, put the package on my office desk and closed the door. Then I went into the kitchen and made a batch of fondant as well as some sugar syrup for them to eat in case there aren't enough flowers blooming just yet.

So this morning as soon as it warmed up a bit, I decided to buckle down and install the girls in their new home.

But first I took the syrup and fondant out, then decided the bottom ventilation board needed a hinge after all and so added that, thought that the roof/lid should have eye hooks to secure it, painted one one more coat of beeswax/linseed oil sealant on the roof, brushed my hair, and gave the dogs a fresh bowl of water. Pretty much doing everything I could to delay the moment when I would intentionally open up a box with, oh, about 4,500 bees in it and not run for my life, screaming and flailing my arms. Seriously.

After giving myself a stern talking to about bucking up, I suited up and donned my bee jacket and veil, rubber boots, long pants secured with rubber bands at the bottom, and leather gloves. All the while wondering why on earth I hadn't bought the Tyvek suit.

still safely in their package

that's right

Carrying them out to the hive brought me to the moment of truth. I sprayed them with sugar water, sprayed inside he hive, sprayed the bees again, and began prying off the lid. Lid off, the bees still couldn't come out until after either the queen cage or their sugar can was removed. I carefully removed the queen cage and slammed the lid back in place. All the YouTube videos I watched said to check to make sure the queen is alive. Looking into the cage, I was surprised to see several bees in there. But it did seem as though one was a bit bigger and longer. After prying off her lid and placing her cage in the hive (Where it shall remain until the end of time. Amen.), I once again sprayed the bees, then knocked the box against the hive to make the bees drop to the bottom. Moving quickly now, I removed the sugar can, turned the box upside down and began dumping bees into the hive.

They were mad.

Really, really mad.

About to panic, I walked calmly away until we could all calm down a little bit. And got stung on my leg.

What's surprising is that I walked back. And finished up by gently brushing bees out of the way so the top bars could be put back on. Then I quit. I'll wait and go back out tonight after dark to put the roof on because the girls and I had about as much togetherness as any of us could handle for a little while.

here they are - if you look closely, you can see many of them still in their package, crawling all over the top bars, and at the entrance holes

So I did it. I opened up that box of fear and shook out a couple thousand bees. On purpose. And lived.

I feel good about that.

Now I need to go rest.

Then I need to order that Tyvek suit.

Friday, April 2, 2010

how was my day, you ask?

I am in the midst of potting up over 1,000 tomato seedlings - taking all the teeny, tiny, little soil blocks and transplanting them into four inch pots. It all looks good on paper, then reality kicks you in the ankle in the form of thousands of seedlings that all want to be planted now. I'm doing it as fast as I can because they're not waiting for me to catch up. I asked nicely if they could pause a bit in their rampant surge of growth, but without even deigning to answer, the little buggers just keep growing. And waiting not so patiently behind them are all the other little sprouts eager to move up in the world. Add to that everything else that desperately needs to get done around here now that spring has moved in, and let's just say I'm a tad frazzled. But in a good way, if that's possible.

So after an early morning spent potting, the plan was to head out to a gallery to deliver a couple pieces of art. To add to the frazzle factor, when making my way through the barn, I realized Mayapple had delivered a little black lamb and was in the process of delivering a white one. This was a tough pregnancy for May and so I jumped in to see if the little squirts were alright. They're tiny, much smaller and thinner than they probably should be and so I spent quite a bit of time making sure they dried off and got something in their bellies. Unfortunately, May is exhausted and has little care for her newborns. None of the three of them, mother and sons, are out of the woods yet. So unless she quickly recovers her strength, I may end up supplementing the boys with bottles.

In between checking lambs, I also managed to get more tomatoes potted before having to clean up and go to an evening meeting at another gallery.

Today was a perfect example of the trichotomy of my life these days - plants, animals, and art. I love it. I am where I want to be, I think. Even if frazzled.

Griselda the goose has gotten down to the business of sitting on her clutch of ten eggs. They ought to hatch about April 27th.