Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sweet passage of a cold front

More pictures taken over the weekend of how things are progressing. The "big" fields are planted in field corn again this year. The corn is about waist high now and makes for a pretty picture looking out the field towards our woods. It won't be long before the corn will be taller than I am and then the view will not be quite as scenic.

The boys are still on a roll. Mike had some office work this morning so they did not get planting until later in the afternoon. Even so they got about 5000 more plants in the ground. More broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and some plants that we will call mystery vegetables since the writing on the labels that marked each flat had washed off. The weather has cooled off considerably with the passage of a front. I'm sure the guys really appreciated that while working in the fields today. Makes for nice planting weather. Even the chickens celebrated the cooler weather by laying lots of eggs today. The hot weather is a big stress on them too. The lows are suppose to be in the upper 40's tonight though so morning chores tomorrow are going to feel a bit chilly compared the hot weather we had over the weekend.

The early sweet corn is looking good. Almost knee high. Well it is almost the fourth of July. It is hard to believe that Mike's parents will be picking sweet corn on their farm very soon. Amazing what a couple hundred miles of latitude will do for slowing down the growing season. The beans and the peas are looking good too, but it will be a bit before there is anything to pick.

My day was just long, plain and simple. Up at 5:15am. My little lawn tractor broke, again. So I am back to using the wheelbarrow to haul feed and water out to the meat chickens on pasture. Just a pain. Tuesday's are my long day at the clinic and add some grocery shopping to that and I didn't get home until 7pm. Then evening chores. Dinner after 8pm. Then Mike and I walked out to the blueberries to plan how many we could pack in this week's CSA's. Only the family packs will get them. Sitting here winding down and off to bed soon.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The flowers bloom as the farm work continues

The nice thing about mowing acres of lawn is that it gives one time to think and observe. The swallows have not shown up to accompany my mowing activities yet as they are sitting tightly on their nests. I'm sure I will write about them when they do show up because they are a favorite part of lawn mowing. Sunday's lawn mowing brought an inventory of what is currently blooming in and around the lawn. The yarrow pictured to the left is a favorite. I love their delicate fern-like leaves. Their white flower clusters are similar to the more familiar Queen Anne's Lace which has not started to bloom yet. Oxeye Daisies, Day Lilies and Common Buttercups round out the "tall" flowers around the yard. Lots of the clovers (white, red and hop) grow in the yard itself. Which reminds to to talk of the "yard" philosophy out here in the country. Highly manicured lawns are not to be found. Oh we like our yards to look nice and mowed, but you won't find the plush green carpet that is commonly found in suburbs. There is no time for that on a farm. Instead, the yard is something that is green and needs mowed. Anything is allowed to grow in the yard as long as it is green and doesn't have stickers. So things like Bull Thistle and Sow Thistle have to go, but everything is free to grow as it pleases. Makes for some beautiful wild flower watching if one takes the time to look for them.

Sunday was also a day for Mike and Ed to finish laying plastic out in the fields. The plastic laying machine is a very cool piece of equipment. It makes a raised bed of soil, lays the plastic and buries the edges. Plants grow better in raised beds because it keeps the roots off soaking wet ground during times of heavy rain. The plastic helps warm the soil, helps retain moisture when rainfall is low and most important, it keeps the weeds from growing around the plants without having to use chemical sprays.

The plastic is sturdy enough that most animals (including the dog) can walk on top without disturbing the surface although we certainly don't encourage that practice. However we have no control over some of the garden's visitors that occasionally do punch extra holes in the plastic. Now if we could only teach them to put a plant in each hole they make.

And the cantaloupe planted 5 days ago is starting to take off and grow. This is what we like to see: new growth and brand spanking new blossoms.

With the plastic done being laid, the guys started back to planting today (I had to work at the clinic). They planted watermelon, celery, celery root, broccoli and cauliflower. About 7000 plants total. More planting tomorrow.

Mike and I had a nice summer evening although Mick did tease us some. We don't have a reliable water source on our farm and of course planting with a transplanter uses a lot of water. Mick lets us fill our big 1500 gallon water tank out of his pond. Mick's farm is about 5 miles down the road from our farm. So this evening, Mike and I jumped in the pickup and drove the big water tank over to get it filled. While Mike started the pump to fill the tank, I drove into town and picked up pizza and sodas for dinner. I parked the truck in the barn driveway and Mike and I enjoyed the evening sitting on the tailgate, eating pizza and watching the barn swallows dart around in search of bugs. So what if I parked the truck in full view of the dumpster and the port-a-john. Mick of course thought it was hysterical that we were sitting in that spot in the driveway. He made some snide comment about it must be a slow night at our place if we had to come over to sit and have dinner in front of his dumpster. Whatever. We did get the water tank 3/4 full before dark. Mike will finish in the morning and then the boys will be over to plant.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Converting blueberries

Market day for Mike and for the second Saturday in a row, I did not have to work. Don't worry, I'll make up for that this coming week. Mike said they had a good market today. The weather sure was nice. It was also nice having some more produce to sell. Between the two markets, they sold all 34 pints of blueberries that they took with them. We had onions again and sprouts as usual. Mike brought some broccoli home from the Covered Bridge Garden folks. I'll use our eggs to make a broccoli cheese quiche sometime in the next few days.

But for me, today was about catching up on my weekly sleep deficit. I don't buy into people saying that you can't catch up. I did get up at 6am to do chicken chores, but then went back to bed. After spending the morning sleeping off and on, I felt fantastic all afternoon. Finally got the pasture mowed for the chickens and most important, started converting the blueberries that I picked Thursday evening into various forms. Most of them are going to be frozen whole so I sorted, washed and let the berries dry before getting the first two cookie trays full and in the freezer. Tomorrow I'll pack the frozen berries into freezer bags and get the next two batches in the freezer. After dinner, I whipped up a batch of "to die for blueberry muffins" that I wrote about Thursday. I double batched so I could share with my neighbors. I am so blessed to have such great neighbors. I need to remember to say thank you and this seemed a good way. Got done too late tonight so I will deliver tomorrow morning.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Rescue mission

About the only farm work that got done today was picking blueberries. And even that I wouldn't call farm work exactly. I picked about 7-8 quarts after work today and I plan to freeze around 8-10 quarts for personal use so I really just picked for Mike and I. Ed will probably pick tomorrow for market on Saturday and there are plenty of berries to pick.

One of the daily farm chores that needs done is to check the blueberry bushes. All 5 rows of bushes are covered with netting to keep the birds from eating them and although the netting goes to the ground, birds do get underneath and get trapped. Today's bird rescue count was 4. One cat bird, two juvenile robins and thanks my trusty Peterson's guide, a juvenile Baltimore Oriole. Of course Molly the Brittany went on foot patrol with me and decided that chasing the trapped birds was a sport. With a combination of old age deafness and selective hearing setting in, it took quite a bit of yelling on my part to stop the chase. But she did stop and then just watched in amusement as I released the birds one by one. Looks like perhaps a deer may have gotten caught up in the netting as well because one section has several bushes that look "trampled" with broken canes. I will have to remember to prune those next pruning session.

I think this weekend I may have to whip up a batch of "To die for blueberry muffins". Follow the link to the terrific allrecipes.com submission. I have made this twice for the local county fair and won "Best in Muffins" both times. The only difference I make is that I double the main recipe, but do not double the topping part. There is plenty there without doubling. The recipe is best with fresh blueberries, but I have used my own frozen berries too in the winter. This recipe is a real keeper!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tomatoes - check!

The beat goes on and the planting continues. Sorry I missed the fun in the sun today guys! Man, it was hot and sticky today. I thought about the guys often as I worked in my air conditioned office today. At least they were riding the transplanter and not driving tomato stakes or something like that. They did good though. All 2500 tomato plants are now in the ground. The stakes aren't in yet ("stole" this picture from last year), but they are in the ground, finally. Thanks so much to Mitch for working for us today while we are down a couple employees. Rain came late this afternoon and more may make it here overnight so as so often happens in farming, tomorrow's work is wait and see dependent on the weather.

Good news though when I got home from work this afternoon. My Wheel Horse tractor is back after spending a week in the "hospital". That little tractor is a work horse for sure. It got retired from lawn mowing duty after the zero-turn came to live with us several years back, but it still works hard for a living. In the summer, I use it to pull a little wagon that carries feed and water for the meat chickens that are out on pasture. Since the tractor has been gone, I've been using a wheelbarrow. Let me just say that I am a happy happy camper to have that little tractor back home.

The evening ended with a nice dinner at home to celebrate Mike's birthday. I made one of his favorite meals: steaks on the grill, baked potato, corn (yes, I still have a little bit left from what I froze from the farm last year) and ice cream cake for dessert. Let me just say that it is a real treat to eat a steak once in awhile. I'll bet 90-95% of the meat we eat comes from the farm and we don't raise cows. So eating beef is something special in our house and that's how a birthday dinner should be. Something special.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dinner at 10?

I'm 2 for 2 the first two days of this week. Yep eating dinner at 10pm. This is NOT what I would do on a normal day, but summer is not normal on the farm.

Yesterday was my first experience riding the transplanter out in the field. I pretty much try to avoid doing field work because I am just so busy with work at the clinic and taking care of the chickens, dogs and cats at home. I do pitch in a bit, but for the most part, I leave the field work to Mike and the boys that work for us. But since planting is so far behind this year because of the weather and since 2 of the 3 boys that work for us are off on a family vacation and since I had a three day weekend, I told Mike I would work for him one day either Sunday or Monday. He chose yesterday.

The following are some pictures I took from my day working in the field. Click on any picture to make it larger.

Ed and Mike loaded flats of cantaloupe onto the pickup.

Then drove the truck out to the field and loaded the flats onto the transplanter.

This picture Ed is adjusting the flats on the transplanter. You can see the row we just finished planting out in the field. Then Mike mans the water pump on the big water tank while Ed holds the hose that fills the small tank on the transplanter.
Since I was riding the transplanter, I was kind of unavailable for photographer duty, but I'll throw in a couple of pictures of the transplanter in action from last year. Basically the tractor pulls the transplanter. The transplanter has a wheel that turns and punches a hole into the plastic. The hole is filled with water from the water tank which makes a slurry of wet dirt in the hole. Then the two people sitting on the back of the transplanter place plants into the hole. In these pictures from last year, the boys are planting either broccoli or cauliflower which get planted much closer together than the cantaloupe we planted yesterday.
We planted about 2000 cantaloupe in the morning. Took a break as Mike had a court hearing to go to and I had a meeting to go to. Then we planted 400 watermelon in the evening. Not bad for my first time on the transplanter methinks.
This morning, we had rain come through in the morning. Mike and I both had to tend to our normal jobs. Mike and Ed did label all the containers of wheat flour that are going in the first week's CSA's. Then Mike cultivated (weeded) the potatoes this evening. After I got done with after work poultry chores, I spent the evening walking the dogs which turned into the beagles chasing a rabbit for over an hour and me thrashing through the brush to go get them when it started to get dark. Good exercise for both dogs and their owner though, but made for a late dinner. Again.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Cool bees!

Last Sunday we had new neighbors move into the chicken coop. The chicken coop is an old two story out building that used to be a granary. Mike's brother Mark converted it to a chicken coop about 10 years ago. The building consists of two story wooden grain bins so there is actually both an inner and an outer wall. When we first moved to the farm, one wall housed a honey bee hive. The neighbors across the road actually used to live on our farm and told us there had been a hive in the wall as long as they knew. The bees caused us no problems so we just let them be. About 5-6 years ago the hive died out. Maybe one of the many diseases or pests that have been plaguing the honey bee population of late?

So last Sunday at 7am, I walk into the chicken coop to feed our four "pet" laying hens that live in there and there are about a dozen or so honey bees buzzing around INSIDE the coop. This is very unusual. In fact it was weird enough that when I got back to the house, I mentioned to Mike that I thought something was up with the honey bees.

That afternoon, Charlie, one of the high school boys that works on the farm, was helping me clean out the newer barn where most of our laying hens live. At about 4:30pm, I was walking past the coop and I heard them: a swarm of honey bees buzzing above the roof of the coop. I called Charlie over and asked if he had ever seen a honey bee swarm before. He had not. So we stood there and watched them. I think I have seen around 4 swarms show up at the farm over the years we have lived here. Every time I just watch, totally fascinated by how these bees work. They hovered over the coop and then began forming a ball of bees under the eaves of the building. The picture above was taken about 6pm that evening. Over the course of the night, they moved in. They are welcome residents of the coop. They will do a good job pollinating the crops. And the best part? There was a swarm of honey bees that moved into our old farm house last year. After identifying which wall they lived in, the plan was to call a bee keeper to cut open the wall and remove the bees. It was going to be a mess that is for sure, but had to be done. Well, these are the bees that moved into the coop. We guess that because we had some gutter work done this spring that we disturbed where they were living in the house so they moved. Perfect!


Productive day on the farm. I got the entire yard mowed (about 4 acres worth) except for the trimming that still needs done. The pasture where the chickens hang out during the afternoons needs mowed yet, but that will probably get done tomorrow. Mike and Ed got a lot more plastic laid in preparation for planting. Mike said there a total of 48 rows of plastic laid. Because a couple of the high school boys are on a family vacation this week and the planting needs done now, I volunteered to ride the transplanter tomorrow. My first time ever. Should be interesting.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Lazy Saturday

Whenever I have a three day weekend (like this weekend!), I usually take one day to just kind of vegetate and do little of anything. It's a great way to recharge. Heck if the vegetables out in the field can kick back and do nothing then so can I! Besides, this is one of the hottest days of the year and this northern girl does not like heat so today seemed like the best day to relax.

Mike on the other hand was up at 5am to get ready and head off for a morning of selling at the Peninsula Farmer's Market. (It's the one on Riverview Rd. for those of you following the link.) Mike is joined by Steve Prochko from Covered Bridge Gardens. Steve's parents Mick and Kay Prochko work the Farmer's Market at Shaker Square on Saturday mornings. Mike said that he and Steve had a good market today. That is good for early season when there isn't a whole lot of produce to sell yet.

I on the other hand got to sleep in until 6:15am. That was pure heaven. Morning animal chores were leisurely. The baby meat chicks are out on pasture now and the little tractor that I use to haul feed and water is broken. That means using the wheelbarrow and making two trips. I will be so happy when the tractor gets back from the shop. The babies sure don't look too much like babies anymore. They are just over 4 weeks old now and fully feathered. In a future blog, I will put up a series of pictures to show how fast they grow.

This afternoon I took a walk back to see the fields. I actually have been really busy and have not had time to see all the work the guys have been putting forth. The onions are starting to be harvested and sold at market. Early blueberries are days away from being picked. The boys put up the netting this week to keep the birds out. We have about 135 blueberry bushes total. They are probably about 4-5 years old and just starting to produce enough to get a decent harvest for market. I picked about a cupful of berries to make blueberry pancakes for Sunday breakfast.
The early sweet corn is about a half a foot high. Sorry how washed out the photo looks, but for some reason I walked back there in the heat of the day with the sun beating down from high in the sky.

Some of the plastic is laid and awaiting the vegetables that get planted here. These are the veggies and fruits that are raised in flats in the greenhouse. Tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, watermelon, cantaloupe and probably some others that I have missed. The guys will plant some seeds on plastic too. Squash and cucumbers come to mind.

But much of the field has just been fitted and is waiting for the plastic mulch to be laid. Looks dry doesn't it. Well it hasn't been and that is why planting is so far behind.

That's about all that is happening on this lazy Saturday. Tomorrow will be a full day of something? on the farm.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The journal begins

Welcome to the Peters Creek Farm journal. My name is Diane and somewhere along the road of life, I went from being a city girl to being a farmer's wife. I'm sure more details of this journey will emerge as the journal progresses, but in a nut shell, I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio and I now own and help run an 140 acre working farm in Ashtabula County, Ohio with my husband Mike who grew up on a vegetable farm in Marietta, Ohio. By day, I am a small animal veterinarian and the rest of the time I get to play on the farm. Mike tends to the vast majority of the actual farming, but I do raise laying hens and meat chickens as part of the farm business. Then there are the dogs and cats that live on the farm that need cared for too. Safe to say that I am in charge of all things animal related.

There are many reasons for starting this journal. First, it gives me a place to keep sort of a diary of what happens here on the farm. On of my most favorite books is Aldo Leopold's "A Sand County Almanac". I absolutely love how he goes through each month of the year and writes about the changes that occur on his farm. Well, I am no Aldo Leopold, but in my own crude way, I hope to be able to keep track of the seasonal changes on the farm. I decided to put this journal online because I thought there might be some interest to family and friends who are always asking me "how are things on the farm?". Online journaling sure makes it easy to share with all. Some of Peters Creek Farm customers may find this interesting as well. I know there are others out there besides me that enjoy reading other people's blogs, so for my fellow bloggers and blog readers, I offer this journal online. And last, this journal will be a record of when things happen on the farm this year so that we can compare to next year and the years that follow. It will help us plot out farming practices for future years and be an easy reference for what worked and what didn't.

I was hoping to start this blog at the beginning of the farming season(i.e early spring), but in truth, there is always something happening on the farm. Some months are busier than others, but something is going on none-the-less. So for what it is worth, the journal begins today. I'll go back and tell some stories from early season from time to time, but most of the entries will be the here and the now.


My first story of country life goes back to just the day before yesterday. I came home from work and Mike says "You just have to love country living" then procedes to tell me about his day. About 20 acres of our farm is planted in vegetables which we sell as farmer's markets and in a CSA program. June is the busiest planting month and Mike has really been having fits with the weather. Abundant rain has put planting way behind because the soil in the fields has been too wet to work. We have some veggies planted like onions, early sweet corn, beans, peas, turnips and beets. All the plants that get started in the greenhouse are still waiting to be planted. Wednesday's job was to pick up the flats of vegetables that were being grown in greenhouses owned by our neighbor Betty who lives on the next road over from our farm. She had the flats loaded onto haywagons. Mike would drive the tractor over to Betty's house, hook up a loaded wagon and drive it back to our farm. Then one or more of the kids that works for us would unload and Mike would pull the empty wagon back to Betty's. On one of the trips from Betty's to our farm, the mailman, who we know very well, was coming down the street and flashed his lights to get Mike to stop. Betty had called the mailman to let him know that she was missing one of her cats and thought that it may have stowed away on the wagon that Mike was driving back to our farm. Mike looked for the cat, but didn't see it. Later, Betty let Mike know that the cat must have jumped off the wagon right near her house and had come back home several hours later with a mouse in its mouth. This is just a typical occurence out here in the country. Everyone looking out for everyone else. The story sure made me smile.