Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sunday Walkabout 11-30

no one enters without the secret password
or cookies
Welcome to the “off-season”! 

With the end of the Market season comes a great abundance of FREE time. We just do anything we want…or nothing at all.  Uh, no.  Not by a long shot.  (but, I’ll get to that one in another post)
just chillin'
waitin' to see if it will snow

Thanksgiving preparations were supposed to be the focus of the week. 

that's us
right under the pointer

However, a snowstorm was looming…and that dictated that I check on the weather at least 11 million times, seriously slowing down my preparations.  Now, we weren’t expecting anything monumental (I keep thinking about all those folks in New York State that are STILL feeling the effects of SEVEN feet of snow) but, measurable snowfall this time of year is pretty unusual, and had the potential of playing havoc on my T’giving plans.

sunset before the snow

when the moon is kinda hazy...

Since there’s nothing you can do about the weather, we just made our preparations and waited. (and I checked the weather again and again) Among other things, the Boss worked on the henhouse...again.
In hopes of eliminating the nightly "hen-round-up", he added roosts to provide more sleeping area. With more room, surely they'd go in at night...?
nightly hen round-up
another henhouse modification
adding roosts

they're starting to figure it out far, the round-up continues. (hens are apparently very slow learners)

When the snow finally started, Gus was the only one that seemed excited about it.
But, then Gus is the only one who shows real excitement over a lot of things. And, then it snowed and it snowed and it snowed.

Big, fluffy flakes that piled up quickly. By the time it was over, the “NWS trained weather spotter” in Mbrk reported 10 inches. (and it’s still here)
view from kitchen window
still snowing

photog in the snow
(with dogs)

backyard branches
Thankfully, we didn’t lose power. (that was my biggest fear) Have you ever tried to make Tgiving dinner with no power?  Me, either. And I certainly didn’t want to try!  Although the lights blinked approximately 49 times throughout the day, making me more than a little nervous, all that tree trimming the power company did earlier this year paid off. Although, with each power blink, all the clocks got wonky and needed to be re-set.  I finally gave up worrying over the clocks, since that, too, was interfering with my prep work.

The sheep and chickens were not at all impressed with the white stuff.  The ewes trudged out into the snow, looking for something to eat. (because apparently the hay I had given them wasn’t good enough)  When the wet, heavy snow began to fall off the tree branches, a few of the more nervous ewes ran DOWN the hill (unbeknownst to me the fence had been flattened by the snow) So, my preparations were once more disrupted as I chased and herded sheep through the snow.  At that point, they were restricted to the barnlot where they were given plenty of hay to eat. (and helped themselves to some more) 

looking for food

Yikes! Run!

YAY! Hay!

The hens, on the other hand, just stood around (first on one little foot and then the other) complaining about the weather.
she's got one foot tucked up to keep it warm

the pullets were totally unaffected
still, they didn't want their pic taken

Happily, my preparations were finally completed, the Boss plowed paths so we could feed the animals without getting snow in our boots and our neighbor cleared the lane. So, the kids were able to make it over the creek and up the hill “to grandmother’s house”…they didn’t even need their four-wheel drive! And, we had some fun family time and way too much food.

gotta love the crazy family

do ya wanna build a snowman?

he had too much fun
messing with the guys' tv from his phone in another room 

good food
forgot to take pics of dessert!

The girls and I spent Black Friday shopping, since the fellas had to work.  Don’t let all those awful stories on the news give you the wrong impression.  We didn’t see any bad behavior, and aside from some dicey driving moments, the day was fairly uneventful.  The girls even found some really good deals.  Although, I must say…Personally, I am NOT cut out to be a shopper.  The whole “life in the big city” deal is more than a little overwhelming.  I was REALLY glad to get back to my real (somewhat predictable and boring) life here on the hill!

But, with no Saturday Market (or Winter sales) to dictate my schedule, I am genuinely confused as to what day of the week it is.  It feels like the week has had three Saturdays and two Sundays….or was that two Saturdays and three Sundays?  Winter sales will start this upcoming week, so my confusion will be short-lived. (thankfully) This afternoon I will start work on our new email campaign for Winter.  I’m just a little excited to be updating our look and layout after 6 years! (if I can figure out the technical aspects)

Hopefully, the weather will cooperate and we will be able to have some greens for our customers. We’d really like to offer more than meat and eggs and storage vegetables.  But, it’s hard to get re-growth in the hoophouses when the sides are covered with snow and the temperatures remain below freezing. I don’t think most folks realize that just because the hoophouses protect the crops, the un-heated structures are not always conducive to great winter time production.  (and adding heat would be more than a little costly…and create a new set of problems) There is a real reason for the importation of fresh produce from warmer climes in the cold, dark winter months here in the Valley. (and it’s not because someone wants to make a buck, either) The demand (and need) for fresh produce is astounding, far more than we (and a huge band of growers) could ever supply, and then there’s the weather. Although, I must say, it was encouraging to peek under the frost blankets. There is some pretty stuff growing!

cold weather is not conducive to growth

see the snow on the sides?

oh, yum

With a few warm days, the snow will melt and the hoophouse crops will rebound nicely. But, for right now, it looks like February here on the hill…even though it’s November. And it’s more than a little depressing and disconcerting. I really hope it doesn’t stay like this!

Think Spring, y’all!

This is the last day of the Ag blogging challenge.  Did you read along with any of the other bloggers?   I found some very interesting things to read this month.  In case you missed it, here’s the original link to the challenge and all the other blogs.

Since I didn’t get around to posting on Friday (too busy shopping and recovering from shopping) I will finish up tomorrow. I realized that there are far more than 30 days of “Lessons from the Farm”, so I will be certain to revisit the theme in the upcoming days and weeks. Thank you for reading along with me!  I hope you’ll let me know if you were hoping to read about something I didn’t cover.

Can you believe that tomorrow is the first of December?

It is officially the “off-season” from the Market. But, this doesn’t mean we’ll be sitting around waiting until the Market opens the first weekend of April.  This week we are beginning our big home repair job of re-flooring the downstairs. I must admit, I am facing this one with fair amount of trepidation. But, first, I’m off to help Blondie re-paint her kitchen. That I know I can do!  Painting is SO fun.

The first of the seed catalogs arrived this week, so once the flooring job is finished, the Boss and I will start focusing on the crops of 2015.  There are also chicks to order and processing dates to schedule. Yesterday I ordered some replacement heatlamps since it’s only about 6 weeks until lambing season. We’re always looking toward the future. Farming is definitely a walk of faith!

you need to think about tomatoes and such
when it looks like this outside

I hope you’re having a Happy Sunday!

Thanks for visiting!  Come see us again soon!

November 30 sunrise

Lessons Learned:
Sometimes the weatherman IS right.
Things work out in the end.
My family is awesome.
...and chickens...ain't so bright. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Seeds of Change

Germination is a wonder.

I will never cease to be amazed by the miracle of life.

I cannot remember a time when I did not know about growing things.  It’s just a part of who I am. 
getting ready to seed lettuce

And, planting seeds is one of my favorite activities…right behind digging potatoes and assisting in animal births…   

No, wait…I nearly forgot, I love reading seed catalogs! There are countless varieties, pretty pictures…and the possibilities seem endless.

When we started growing produce for a living, it became evident that we really needed to grow our own “starts”.  Those little transplants that you can buy in six-packs at the Farmers’ Market, home-center or nursery are a great deal for the home gardener.  However, we needed a LOT of transplants. Starting your own (on a large scale) is far cheaper and you have a much wider selection of varieties.

Up until that time, my seed starting had taken place in the windowsills around the house.  The kitchen window was generally full of tiny plants in re-cycled yogurt cups.  At one point, the Boss even built a special shelf to provide more space.  But, the plants got spindly and leggy in their search for the sun and the warmth of the kitchen did nothing to prepare them for the harsh outdoor growing conditions on the hill.

No, we needed to do something different.

When we built the first hoophouse (the one for overwintering the hens) the Boss made it a little longer and walled-off a portion.  I would have my own “starting room”.  yipee!

This was about as low-tech and cheap as you could get, with egg cartons for starting flats and shelves made out of scraps from around the farm.  But, every little bit helps…and it was amazingly successful. (for what it was)

early days of "starting house" 1998
after the hens moved to pasture, we planted crops in the "hen side"

However, there were issues.
my improvised "starting" system
buckets, flats and egg cartons

The hens made a LOT of dust during the winter.  This made my work on my seed starting more than a little uncomfortable. It didn’t help the plants, either.

With no added heat, germination was slow and unreliable. This made any planting schedule more than a little unpredictable. Our recycled/repurposed stuff also didn’t allow for the optimum plant growth. And we needed a LOT more starts.

 I did find that I could buy seed starting trays (like the pros use) at the local farm store. But, they were still pretty expensive if you just bought a couple at a time.
next stage
nursery flats

There also wasn’t any water at the hoophouse.  That meant hauling buckets… While this makes me sound wimpy, YOU try hauling five-gallon buckets full of water through all kinds of weather and then you’ll understand. It wasn't long before the Boss (with borrowed equipment and a little child labor) got a water line to the hoophouse.
starting the waterline
check out the back of the house and shop
NO greenhouses!

Blondie down in the trench
she might have only been 9, but she was bound and determined to help

However, even that didn't solve the sporadic germination issues. We knew we needed some bottom heat, but just couldn't get that issue resolved in the hoophouse.

At one point, we tried putting an electric blanket on a sheet of plywood, covering it with plastic and putting our flats on top of that.  This was set up in the middle of the shop so we could have access to all the little plants.  This was cheap and gave us a lot more space.While the heat helped the seeds start, we were back to the light (or lack thereof) issue.

We still needed something different.

It had always been our intention to put a greenhouse on the back of the house.  When we had the builder leave the window off the room that is now the office, he looked askance. A greenhouse?  You’re going to build a greenhouse? But, of course! (yes, my wish list did include a greenhouse…and eventually a walk-in cooler…but, that’s another story) 

building the first greenhouse

Money being what it was, the greenhouse didn’t get built right away.  But, when the Boss found that a friend had a few hoophouse ribs he wasn’t going to use, you know what happened.  Some sort of deal was struck and before you knew it, we had our first little greenhouse.
completed greenhouse
fully equipped with daughters inside

This would revolutionize the way we started seeds.
we even got the kids involved starting seeds

The Boss used a couple of old drums from the local potato chip company as the base for the propagation table. (for a long time, we could get the drums quite cheaply and used them for everything…the potato chip company has outsourced the chip cooking, so the cheap drums are a thing of the past) Not only would these hold up the table, the black paint of the cans would reflect some warmth for the little plants. 

The table top is a wooden frame filled with sand.  A wire mesh with heat cables sits over this.  The heat cables provide a steady bottom-heat to encourage good root development. …and with a hydrant on the back of the house, watering was no longer an issue.

Wow!  This made all the difference in the world!

After the seeds germinate and the plants begin growing well, they are transferred to the “growing on” table.  This table has a wire bottom so that we can place small heaters under it on very cold nights and maintain good growing temperatures. (the heat is held close to the plants by draping a plastic dropcloth over some hoops built into the table) Read this one about HEAT.

keeping seedlings warm on a cold day

Since this house worked so well, it wasn’t long before I started angling for more starting space.

…and the Boss found himself building a greenhouse on the back of the shop.

Wow! This made all the difference in the world! (again) We can really get some transplants going now!

Gone are the egg cartons and yogurt cups.  We buy standardized starting trays in bulk. …and bales and bales of potting soil.

The transplants have never looked better.

That is, when I don’t overlook the watering schedule or ventilation issues and “cook” everything. “Cooked” seedlings can be a huge tragedy and  awful frustration…enough to ruin my entire day.
forgot to water

The greenhouses are my favorite place to spend some quality time on a cold winter’s day.  The  possibilities are endless. 

And, speaking of possibilities…

Look what came in yesterday’s mail…

It’s time to start thinking about the gardens for 2015!

Lessons Learned:
Germination is a wonder.
Growing your own plants is economical…and fun.
Bottom heat is the key to sturdy, healthy transplants.
You can never have too many seed catalogs!
I could really use another greenhouse.   ...just kidding.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

In Everything Give Thanks

 In everything give thanks: 

for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             I Thessalonians 5:18

Okay, I’ll admit it.

This one is just plain hard. Downright next to impossible sometimes.

More than a few things have happened where my first thought wasn’t “oh, THANK YOU!” Starting the farm from scratch (under somewhat trying circumstances) was one of those.  That phonecall in the night "there's been an accident" was a huge one.   Then there have been illnesses, crop failures and unforeseen animal losses…

Give thanks?



Ultimately, after the dust settles, there is always a reason to give thanks. Even if it’s just because “it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been…

It’s often a matter of perspective. 

Still it's hard...and sometimes (a lot of times)  I struggle.

But, on this day, the day we all set aside to be THANKFUL…

…when it’s all too easy to rush around trying to make sure that there is more food than any family should possibly eat at one time, to get caught up in the minutiae of hospitality, visiting with family and making memories…and somehow never feel satisfied that we did enough, have enough...

Here’s something to consider.

WOW!  Have I got it good!  I dare say a whole lot of us do.

Here’s the FARM and one of my all-time favorite songs that puts it all in perspective. 

                                            All I can say is…Man, I’m grateful.

          Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

Yes, it IS Thanksgiving...
...and YES, we are covered in snow.
(I'm TRYING to be thankful)

Read along with Holly Spangler and all the other bloggers taking the 30 day challenge...right HERE.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

...'Til the Veggies Come In

April 7, 2007
Opening day of the Market
As evidence of our total naïveté, when we decided to take our chances doing the Farmers’ Market, we didn’t reckon on the weather.

April in the Valley is cold.

Spring is just a date on the calendar.

It has been known to SNOW  on opening day of the Market.

No…we didn’t reckon on the weather. 

We also failed to realize that COLD weather and vegetable farming don’t work well together.

With no way to get a jump on the season, (to have any sort of produce, you must do some serious advance planning...and a greenhouse/hoophouse (that we didn't have) really helps) we did understand that our Market offerings would be sparse.  For quite some time.

Which led the Boss to utter the infamous words…

“So…could ya just bake ‘till the veggies come in?”

Yeah, sure.

I mean…how long could it be?

Try ten years and well over 15,000 loaves of bread.


More than 15 thousand loaves of bread from our little kitchen here on the hill.


We started off with a couple loaves of bread and a few cakes.

Opening Day - 1998

The next week we made a little more bread. And so on and so on.


Soon, my Fridays were taken over with flour and yeast and potholders.
just a little bread 

We baked our way through FOUR ovens and countless heating elements.

The weight limit on our minivan was tested more than once as we hauled flour home in 50# sacks. Something like 12 at a time (plus oatmeal and sugar and yeast and…)

Cinnamon rolls and white icing threatened to take over my life.

just the thought of cinnamon rolls makes me cringe

Somehow, I had become a professional/commercial baker.

Hmmm, that really wasn’t the plan.

While the gardens got larger, so did restaurant sales.  There just wasn’t that much produce left for Market…and it seemed everyone loved that bread!  The bread sales became the "golden handcuffs" and even after we quit restaurant sales, we were just making too much money to quit and turn our attention elsewhere.

Somewhere along the way, the Boss found a BIG mixer for sale.  (yes, I was still using the 4qt. KitchenAid we got shortly after our marriage) One of the market vendors was expanding his operation and opening a storefront.  He decided to sell his mom and dad’s enormous mixer for an amazing price.  He got something even bigger and better.

We became the owners of “Big Mo”.

"Big Mo" took over the kitchen

*For years afterward, every time I saw the elder Mrs. Yoder, she would say “you know you got a great deal on that mixer!” Yes ma’am, I KNOW we did.  …and thank you very much!*

The 30 quart mixer was built like a tank.  It was so heavy that the Boss put it on rollers and every Thursday evening we would roll it into position for Friday’s all-day bake-a-thon. It made dough mixing a breeze, but clean-up was a major work-out. I certainly didn’t need any trips to the gym for upper body workouts after swinging that big bowl around!
Friday bake-a-thon in progress

But, quite honestly, being a baker was NOT my life dream. (I’m still not sure what my life dream IS, but I do know baking was NOT it) Flour hung in the air constantly, it felt like I never went outside, and there was always something to clean. …and I was getting fat from all the very necessary taste-testing.

So, I was just a little relieved (and totally freaked out) when flour prices tripled in the course of a week. (eventually they would come back to somewhat “normal” levels). YIKES! There is not much profit-margin in baking anyway.  And, we certainly couldn’t triple our prices. Perhaps it was time to re-think this whole thing.

After much deliberation, we decided it was time to hang up the potholders and focus strictly on the farm.  That meant I headed outside to work. (YAY)

Big Mo found a new home. (YAY)

While our Market customers were sad at first, they eventually got over it and found bread elsewhere.  Blondie took some of my recipes (and added a number of her own) and started her own baking business. (YAY Blondie!) Check out Country Rhodes Produce and Bakery.

                       …and I’m glad to say…

                    The veggies FINALLY came in!

mid-summer Market offerings

Lessons Learned:
Before agreeing or volunteering, check the terms of agreement. (wink)

You would be amazed what you can do with just a little perserverance!

Kitchen choreography is a real thing.  I can tell you how to run 75-100 loaves of bread through a single oven and get them ready for Market in a single day.  (really)

The original KitchenAid mixers are awesome.  Mine is STILL going after 30 years.

I will never look at a cinnamon roll the same way again!

I hope you're reading along with the other bloggers in the 30 day Challenge!