Monday, December 9, 2013

2013 review in pictures and few words.

As you can see, I haven't done much blogging this year.  For those who wanted to know what was happening on the farm that probably wasn't a good thing.  For those of us living through the disastrous farming year of 2013, it meant less time writing depressing news in the blog.  Heck who wants to read about doom and gloom all summer long anyway.  But I thought I would do a year end wrap up by pulling a few farm pictures from each month of the year.  I was kind of chuckling as I worked my way through the year.  I organize all my pictures by the month they were taken.  The first half of the year I have a good amount of farm pictures, but as the year went on there were fewer and fewer pictures of the actual farm.  You'll see what I mean as I go forth in remembering 2013.

January didn't start off too bad.  We had snow of course.  Duh!  The fields were covered, but alas under all that snow were the cold hearty Brussels sprouts.  It is always a treat to have fresh produce in the middle of winter.  Well it is a treat for those eating them.  Not so much for the farmer picking them.

February we had snow too.  Shocking I know.  This is the time of year that the words "cooped up" have true meaning here on the north coast.  As you can see the chickens are feeling it as they stand at the edge of the barn door looking out into a world of white.  I never did have a chicken that would step outside in more than a dusting of snow.  And I don't take many pictures of the sky on purpose but I came across one of the February full moon.  We don't take clear skies for granted around here as we live in one of the cloudiest locations in the United States.

In March I dug up some carrots that had overwintered in not too bad of shape.  Their tops had all be eaten off by the deer, but the roots made for a tasty meal of cooked carrots.  And surprising as it sounds, we had snow in March too.  The chickens were surely getting sick of being in the barn because I found some tracks from a few adventurous chickens.

April gave us the pond project as part of our irrigation grant.  We sure could have used the pond during the drought of 2012 but by gum, we were going to have a pond for 2013.  The irrigation project became a huge joke later on in the fall as we laid drip line in the mud.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  In April the pond got dug and before the creek dried up like it does every summer, a huge pump was brought in and the pond was filled in about 3 days.

May started off in fine shape.  At one point it was actually getting a bit too dry, but overall things were going well.  Ground was getting plowed and disked, the high tunnel had plastic laid by hand and tomatoes and peppers were planted and rows of plastic were being laid in the field.

In June our farm season fell apart.  We had the beginning of what turned out to be 16 straight days of rainfall.  I thought about writing a blog entitled "It rains 16 days what do you get" to be sung to the tune "16 Tons", but it was just too depressing.  June is our planting season.   The yard flooded.  The fields flooded.  Our namesake Peters Creek that flows in between our house and our field should have been on its way to being a dried up trickle of water, but as you can see, it became more like a lake.  In between rain drops, we tried to plant in the mud and we did get some things planted, but because it never dried out the rest of the summer, most of our early planted transplants died.

July I have no pictures of the crops.  That's because there were no crops other than flats of plants that had not been planted or rows of transplanted plants that were rotting in the field.  I do however have a couple pictures that were taken in July.  Our broody hen Mama Buffy was showing her chicks how to forage in the yard and I took a picture of our employee parking lot in the pasture.

August brought the infamous "Tractor Stuck in Mud" picture.  What is striking about the picture is all the green in picture.  Look closely at not only what the green is that is growing, but notice how uniform it is and look for what is missing.  That green in the picture is spike rush which is an aquatic plant that grows in ponds.  Yes, we had a field of pond weeds.  As for what is missing, well, there is no pigweed or lamb's quarter or ragweed or smartweed or any one of a variety of weed's that grow up in the field between the rows every summer.  And for the farmers that are reading this, you should know that our fields have been tiled.  If they were not tiled, we would have never had anything planted this summer.  Oh and in my August folder, I also have quite a few pictures of the neighbor's cows across the road.  They presented a much prettier picture than the horror that was behind our house in the fields.

In early September we actually picked some beans.  They weren't plentiful, but they were more plentiful than the early plantings of beans that all drowned and died.  I was able to get a dozen or so quarts canned and we sold a few too.  We also had our first frost on September 17th, but fortunately it was contained to the low lying areas by the creek and did not harm anything back in the fields.

October brought wonderful fall colors.  The late plantings of cold tolerant plants such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts were actually growing.  They did not over-perform, but we got enough off those plants to salvage something from an otherwise disastrous year.  The red maple that sits behind our house lit up the scenery as it does every year.  And we had our first snowfall on October 24th.

My November file has slim pickin's for pictures of the farm.  About all I have is one lonely picture of a head of broccoli that I took in the pitch dark with the flash from my cell phone.  It was nicer to look at the fields in the dark anyway.  We did sell a good bit of broccoli, cauliflower and celery root in November.  Rabbit season also started in November and the dogs and I were able to get a couple of rabbits for the dinner table.

So here we are in December wrapping up 2013.  In spite of all the bad that happened, there were bright spots as well.  We had an awesome group of CSA member's this year.  We thank you all for your patience as we worked our way through the growing season.  As usual we had a great time selling at the Countryside Conservancy farmers market at Howe Meadow in the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area.  Mike is already getting seed catalogs in the mail.  Soon we will be placing orders for the 2014 growing season.  Farmers and Cleveland Browns fans have a lot in common.  We all know there is always next year.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Stuffed Bell Peppers

It's been quite a few months since I have wandered over here to the farm blog. The biggest reason is that I have been doing weekday "Morning Farm Reports" on the Facebook page so that has taken away a chunk of time.  The second reason though is that it has been a nightmare as far as weather on the farm this year and Mike and I are just about ready for the 2013 growing season to be done with. I am however planning on putting a post together of some of the highlights or more like lowlights of the season, but that comes later.

Today is about food.  Since it is October, we finally have an abundance of bell peppers coming on (that should give a clue as to the kind of year it has been).  Last week I made some stuffed bell peppers and have a few requests for a recipe so the ol' farm blog seems the most logical spot for easy access by all.

As the song goes, there must be 50 ways to leave your lover and I'm sure there are as many ways to make stuffed bell peppers.  I guess the classic way is a ground beef and rice mix, but you can use pretty near any type of meat you would like or even go vegetarian.  You can use rice of any variety or quinoa or orzo or any other small grain or pasta.  I make them with a tomato based flare, but I've seen them with broccoli and cheese or wild rice and herb flavored.  Pick a combo, any combo.

For the peppers I made last week, I choose ground venison.  Either my husband or myself usually harvest one or two deer off our farm every year so we eat much more venison than we do beef or pork.  The starting point of my recipe is one pound of ground venison that has been cooked and set aside (I did this the day before).

Cut the tops off 6 bell peppers, remove the core and seeds, wash and set aside.

Put a large pot of water on to boil.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Next is the rice.  I am a big proponent of making things from scratch and not using store bought mixes full of ingredients I can't pronounce.  However, when time is a factor as it sometimes is, I occasionally resort to store bought mixes.  If I had been making this totally from scratch I would have caramelized some onion, celery and carrot to use in a homemade marinara sauce that I would have mixed with some brown rice.  The easy way out was to buy one of those dry spanish rice mix packages that is more pasta than rice and use that.  Hey I was in a hurry.  I put the rice mix and the amount of water called for on the package in a skillet.

To the skillet I also added:
1 pint jar of my home canned tomatoes (drained)
1 tsp minced garlic (dang I should have added more)
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
And maybe something else, but that's all I can remember.

I then cooked the rice/pasta and tomato mixture.  When finished cooking, mixed with the ground venison and set aside.

Next I boiled the bell peppers in the pot of boiling water for 5 minutes.  Took them out and cooled them by running under cold water in the sink.  I suppose you could skip this step, but I've always done it this way and it does speed up cook time.

Next I stood the peppers upright in a foil lined baking dish.  They JUST fit in my 7"X11" baking pan (my 9X13 was in use for something else).  Then I stuffed them with the rice/meat mixture.  Added 1 tsp of sugar to 1 8oz can of tomato sauce and drizzled over the six stuffed peppers.  Covered the peppers with foil.

Baked at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.  Removed foil and sprinkled cheddar cheese on top of each pepper.  Baked 10 minutes longer uncovered.  Done.

They make great leftovers for lunch too!  

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Chick, chick, chicken

Summer chicken season is here.  That means I've got meat chickens here on the farm as well as the layers.  The first batch of meat chicks actually got here the first week of May so they are well beyond the cute fluffy chicks that were delivered to the farm in a box from the US Postal Service.  

Last Monday the 4 week old meat chickens were moved out to their new home on pasture.  My goal is always to get them out there at around 3 to 3 1/2 weeks, but the weather never seems to cooperate.  I always like to have a couple days of dry sunny weather strung together when I first move them out.  Truth is they are much easier for me to care for when they are in the brooder pen vs out on pasture so I never grumble about moving them a little later anyway.  My mind and body always seem to object to having to get up a little earlier for those first few days of taking care of them on pasture, but after I adjust, I really enjoy my time outside in the mornings.  Bird song fills the air and each sunrise is unique and beautiful.  The young rabbits are out and about in the yard and everything is green and lush.  My mornings taking care the birds out on pasture become one of the favorite parts of my day.  Well after I adjust to getting up earlier.

Although I would love to raise meat chickens in larger numbers, the fact that I have a full time job off the farm limits how much time I have to care for them so I only run two pens of 20-25 chicks each at a time.  I am always amazed how I can take 50 chicks that have been living together in the brooder pen, split them into two different pasture pens and each pen takes on a different personality.  I had three kind of runty chicks this time around so I put all three of them in the south pen so I could keep tabs on them.  They all seemed to perk up and start doing better on pasture, but I did have to put one of them down this morning when its legs gave out.  That is a job that I will never get used to.  The other two have taken off though and are almost caught up to the others.  The south pen is a little bit dumb about walking along as I move the pen each morning but they are pretty calm.  The north pen on the other hand are my flighty chicks.  Every time I walk in the pen to feed they all go scampering toward the back of the pen in a fit of panic.  But when I move the pen, they eagerly walk along with the pen and run into the fresh grass.  Two pens of chicks, two different personalities.

The other poultry news on the farm is some new additions thanks to a broody hen.  I almost always raise production type brown egg layer hens and while they are egg laying machines, these hens do not stop laying to sit on a clutch of eggs, ever.  Even some of the standard dual purpose breeds that I have raised in the past, like Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds, will sit on eggs only rarely.  Several years back I did have a Barred Rock hen that went broody every summer and I let her hatch some eggs.  Then the last of my roosters died so that ended that.  And Mama Chicken as I called her finally died last summer.  When it came time to order some new layer chicks, I ordered a couple roosters and a few Buff Orpington pullets as Buff Orpingtons tend to be one of the more broody standard sized brown egg laying breeds.  Last month one of the hens did go broody on me and I set some eggs under her.  I had moved her into her own pen and in hindsight, I think I chose a bad location for her to set and I THINK she probably had trouble keeping the eggs at an even temperature.  Even so, she hatched out 4 chicks and they are so stinkin' cute.  I really enjoy having a mama and some chicks on the farm again.  I'm hoping another one or two of my Buff Orpingtons will want to set this summer so I can hatch out a few more.

The rest of the layers are going along doing their thing.  I try to keep two age groups of hens and my older hens are really starting to slack off on the egg laying.  They are destined for the stew pot this fall and new layer chicks will be ordered to replace them.  The chicken cycle continues.  I'll end the blog with one of my handsome roo's out in the grass.  I love the cock-a-doodle-doos that serenade me every day when I am outside doing chores.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Full speed ahead, for the most part.

Lots of pictures in this one!

The month of May was a pretty good month for the most part.  The best part is that the entire field got prepped this month.  Quite a difference from last year when we were still pulling plastic mulch up in late June.  Or who could forget 2011, the year it wouldn't stop raining, when the field looked like this on June 29th.

But lo and behold the first plow went in the ground on May 2nd of this year.

And by May 20th, the entire vegetable field was prepped and some sections were even planted.  It really helped out that we switched to using biodegradable mulch last year for the most part and only had a few small sections of plastic mulch that needed to be pulled up.

Some of the earliest plantings were the onions and shallots.  Mike had been brainstorming over the winter to figure a way to put the onions on plastic since they always grow with so many weeds around them.  He came upon a yard aerator that was on clearance. With a little shifting of this and that, the aerator is perfect for poking lots of evenly space small holes in the plastic mulch perfect for planting onions.  All this was accomplished on May 9th.

Next up was getting early sweet corn and green beans planted under plastic.  Last year Mike grumbled a lot about the learning curve of planting and laying plastic over sweet corn as the clear plastic has the consistency and tangle-abilty of plastic kitchen wrap.  This year I heard a lot less grumbling.  On May 9th we had sweet corn and green beans in the ground.  A new record!

By mid May, Mike was able to go down to southeastern Ohio to bring home the tomatoes and early broccoli that his mom had started for him in her greenhouse.  Our yearly rotation of hay wagons filled with flats of plants sitting in our yard has begun.

A few days later most of the tomatoes and some peppers were planted in the high tunnel. This picture was taken on May 20th.  They look a little scraggly in the picture because they were just newly transplanted, but today they are growing and all the tomatoes have been staked.  I suppose I need to wander back in my spare time and take a more up to date photo.  Might be awhile.

Also on May 20th (or actually the day before I think?), the plastic was cut off the corn and the beans.  At this point in the month the fields were really dry and we were hoping for a tad bit of rain to help things along.  I checked back in last year's blog and the early sweet corn is a few days ahead of last year's schedule.

Shortly after the pictures from May 20th, we started getting some rain. The last two weeks have been a lot of start and stop.  All the lettuce got planted right before Memorial Day weekend.  Then we had three days in a row with freeze warnings posted.  (Yes folks this is a fairly common occurrence for us to have frost right up to June 1st.)  For 3 days we had frost and were kind of worried about the beans and the corn.  They got a little stressed, but they did survive.  Mike was able to get a bunch of plastic laid and now we are on hold due to some fairly heavy rain this past weekend.  We've had a couple days of dry though and so fingers crossed that planting will resume tomorrow.

There is the month of May in a nutshell.  Way ahead of schedule compared to the last 2 years.  Onward to June!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Pond

I have designated this week "catch up" week on the farm blog.  Farming has been rolling right along this spring (for a change).  Last year we were still pulling up old plastic mulch in late June.  Right now the fields are completely plowed and disked and the rototiller was suppose to be in action today, but I haven't found Mike yet to ask him today's details of what happened on the farm while I was at work in town.  Although it is getting close to 8pm, he is still in the fields working.  That is farming this time of year.

Since there is so much different stuff to catch up on, I've decided to tackle one subject at a time to make it easier to check back in the archives from year to year and because if I put too much in one blog, well, it's just too many words and I have trouble keeping things on track as it is.

This is how bad the "keeping on track" has become.  Two days ago I started writing this first "catch up" blog about the pond.  I've wanted a pond for a long time.  Every nature lover out there would surely agree that a pond adds a richness to the landscape.  Food and water perpetuate life and if you have both then you are surely rich.  All this deep thinking got me remembering my college days when I used to pull out my copy of Henry David Thoreau's Walden and would read and dream about a life outside of the city.  Our farm's new little 1/2 acre pond is a puddle compared to Walden Pond, but for me it takes me back to my youth when I was learning to love and embrace the natural world.  It has been many many years since I picked up and read from Walden, and so two days ago when I started writing this blog, I thought "I bet I can find a nice quote from the book to include in the blog about our new pond".  Jumping back into the present, I got online and took to looking through the Wikiquote pages on Walden. As I was reading, I was finding out that Mr. Thoreau had some not so nice things to say about farmers.  Well, at least I don't think they were very nice.  He chastised farmers for only caring about what money their crops could bring them and not caring about how their farm fit into the natural world.  Kind of ticked me off a bit since I now live on a farm and while making money is part of it, I care very deeply for nature.  All of this led me to continue reading more from Walden and before I knew it, I had to leave for an evening meeting.  End of writing session.  And this is why I never seem to get blog posts written these days and I swear it is getting worse as I get older.

But as much as Mr. Thoreau's views of farmers got me a bit agitated, I still do appreciate his writing and what he was trying to accomplish.  So it is appropriate that I include one of his quotes to start my pond blog.

“A lake is a landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”   Henry David Thoreau

Since the last time I blogged, the pond has been both dug and filled.  The two bulldozers worked in tandem and it was fun watching how efficient the guys were at piling up the dirt.

Seems like it was no time at all until the dozers were disappearing deeper and deeper into the earth.

In the end, we had a big hole in the east end of our meadow.

The next step was to take full advantage of several days in a row of rain, a nicely flowing Peters Creek, a big diesel powered pump and lots of hose.  A couple days of running the pump 24/7 and our big hole was now officially a pond.

The big pump.

The pond. Ta da!

And since this is an irrigation project first and foremost, Mike and the irrigation guy are now in the process of getting all that equipment set up.  The sand filters are up and we are waiting on the irrigation guy to return with some missing parts.

For my part in all of this, evenings such as the ones in the picture below are why I have always wanted a pond.