Spring ‘Hoop Dreams’…

We seem to be waiting in vain for Spring to arrive at the farm. Unlike last year when February felt like April, this year, March and April have felt more like a typical February. We have had more than our fair share of rain but that is not as unusual as our continued low temps and the prediction of a heavy frost and possible snow for tonight. All of this threatens the lovely peach and nectarine trees which are finally in full bloom. IMG_0720I have resisted pulling the straw off of the strawberries even though it is tempting to let them get some sunshine and air circulation. Hoping next week we can uncover and they will start to bloom and produce some great fruit this year.IMG_0715We harvested the asparagus that was first planted last year in the new raised beds and has shown that it is on its way to developing into a future crop for us. It normally takes 3 years to really get any production but we cut the viable stalks today and then covered with plastic to keep the rest from the freeze. IMG_0764Ditto with the colorful rhubarb which we also started last year in the raised beds but we added 4 more mounds this year which are already poking out of the ground…IMG_0728Last year’s stand is further along but the leaf material is more at risk with the impending freeze. img_0772.jpgWe also chose a very cold and rainy day to begin to build our future hoop house. What? Backup a minute…a “what house?”, asks everyone who has been hearing about this newest venture of ours. Think of a hoop house as a green house only using plastic or mesh instead of glass. It is something that a plant nursery uses to get an early start for tender plants OR to protect shade loving plants from severe sun OR to protect late plants from freezing. So, for our future spring, summer, fall and perhaps winter needs, we figured we could really get some good use out of a hoop house to extend our seasons!

We bought all the pieces and parts for ours on line and it has a footprint of 12 feet x 26 feet and is just over eight and a half feet tall. It has a metal frame that we had to build with pipe and it looks rather like a ribbed skeleton right now. We purchased two different covers for it. One is mesh and the other plastic with zippered “doors” as well as flaps for “windows” in order to provide for air circulation when needed. All we did today was build the metal frame with the help of our dear friend, Jon. The package should have warned, “do not try this alone!” Haha!

With poor weather conditions all day long, we started out building sections in the barn where we had the assistance of two heaters.  Not pictured: Nancy wearing every layer of sweater, coat, hat and gloves imaginable.IMG_0750When we had two partial halves built, we then moved to the driveway, (using the barn as a wind break) since it would have otherwise been too tall to get out of the barn door. IMG_0754We finally walked the two halves to the field…IMG_0755.jpg where we were ultimately able to join them…IMG_0758.jpg When the fields have dried out enough, we will move the structure into place, secure it with metal stakes and then pull the cover/s over the top which will also then be secured with rebars. More photos to come!

In the meantime, we have a gang of new baby chicks at the farm that we have also been protecting against the cold!  Our current flock will be two years old in June, a time after which their laying habits will begin to wane. So we had to think about some additional flock members to keep us in eggs in the future. Introducing new chickens to an existing flock is a delicate process these days so we decided to choose wisely, ones that would be best for several reasons.

First, they needed to fit into the existing flock with ease. We also evaluated their heat tolerance since we seem more able to control their cold temps than their hot conditions. And lastly, it would be nice to not have to deal with any misidentified cockerels which are young males that turn into aggressive roosters.

Red sex linked chickens were a good answer on all counts so we ordered (months ago!) 6 Cinnamon Queens from the same hatchery we purchased from before.  The day we were to pick up our one day old chicks was one of the stormiest days we have had all spring. A 5 hour drive in torrential rain turned into 6.5 hours but we returned unscathed and so did all the newly hatched chicks…plus one! The hatchery had our order ready with a freebie in the box (their insurance policy?) and we were delighted to think of having 7 new chicks for Seven Oaks Farm! We took a few pics at the hatchery that boasts 185 varieties of fowl for sale. There were layers and layers (no pun) of small peeping birds everywhere.IMG_0461But here was our special package of 1 day old chicks ready to go!

They required constant heat of 98-100 degrees for the first week and then each week afterwards, they can tolerate a bit more of a temperature decrease until they reach 6 weeks old. With our crazy cold weather, we enlisted the heater in my workshop plus a special brooder as well as a heat lamp. Needless to say, the first day I checked on them every hour.

The first week they grew exponentially and each day you could see that they were sprouting wings and then tiny sprouts of tail feathers. IMG_0627Since then, they are now more than two weeks old. With as much attention as they required, we decided to add 3 more that were just about the same age. These were pullets (females) that are of the Leghorn breed which lay white eggs and are very productive as well. They are also lofting out of their first container so we have expanded to a larger coop and added screened lids.

We have promised the children of our neighborhood CSA members that they can each name one so they are already thinking hard of fun and appropriate names!

Last but not least, we have been busy beekeepers even before the season got going here as we were invited to share our activities with a classroom of children from Coulter’s preschool, Raintree. The children and their teachers had been studying pollinators and were keenly interested in learning more about bees. Here is how they decorated their classroom door to greet us.IMG_0030We brought lots of props for them to look at and they asked lots of great questions wearing their antennae! IMG_0022We got a lovely thank you note…IMG_0396And even made the school newsletter…IMG_0392Another thing that keeps daily smiles on our faces are Coulter and Willie Ward who are both growing about as fast as the chicks! IMG_0633Promising more updates from the farm soon!



Easter Greetings 2018

No, it’s not an April Fools’ joke!

The Seven Oaks Farm blog may have been ‘quiet’ for the last few months but our lives have been quite ‘noisy’ in contrast! As each busy week passes, I tell myself that I need to add this or that activity to the blog. But not unlike a pinball machine with multiple balls in play and not enough hands to manage all the levers, I have merely been able to ’tilt’ the board from time to time in order to keep all the balls in play a bit longer in hopes of getting back to sharing on these pages when time avails.

I can think of one hundred excuses for neglecting to write, but I won’t bore anyone with any of them. Instead, I may review a few of those highlights in future posts. For now, the photo below will instantly reveal some updates to our lives as I am holding the newest little farmer, William ‘Willie’ Ernest Ward who is one month old today. Older brother Coulter, soon to turn three, is sporting his matching tractor shirt and sits happily beside his Nana and his Easter egg hunt haul, his tummy full of the breakfast of bacon, waffles and fruit salad.

Happy Easter to all with a promise of more updates to come!


Buggy for the Eclipse!!!

Wasn’t the recent eclipse amazing?!? We were lucky to be pretty squarely in the path of the most recent display of the moon eclipsing the sun during the middle of the day. How cool as well as rare! We were so excited to share the special event with friends and family that we started by celebrating with an eclipse party the evening prior to the big day.  We finally had a nice rain a couple of days prior so the weather was delightful and the fields were rebounding from the much needed precipitation!

To celebrate, we offered a farm table full of the week’s harvest with a relaxing dinner of Salmon Nicoise…the only items not from our fields were the Salmon, olives and anchovies! (Um, well, the lemon, vinegar and olive oils for the marinade and dressing were additional exceptions but who’s counting!) Here are our lovely platters…Yum!IMG_4803.JPGI had the most fun making the eclipse cookies to share with our guests and a few special neighbors. I have a great affinity for rolled cookies…it must have been something I caught from my mother who made rolled cookies with great ease. I don’t remember her ‘teaching’ me to do this so I think I am just imitating her actions. I catch myself blowing the excess flour from the cuts so as not to make the cookies too tough and addressing the hierarchy of the first rolled dough vs the second roll out…anything after that was baked as scraps which are absolutely the best treat to eat since they somehow don’t count for much but are so very tasty to the sweaty cook!

Of course her grandfather (who we all called Pappy) owned a small bakery in the little Indiana town where she grew up; so she learned from the best since his wife, Grandmother K (Kettlehut), knew all the tricks and could bake circles around anyone and everyone! It is no wonder that my mother knew her way around the kitchen!

I must say, I have all of her old cookie cutters which bring back very fond memories but better yet, I even have her cardboard substitutions for the shapes she didn’t have in her collection. She would make a stiff paper cut out of a shape she wanted to represent and then tediously use a knife to cut the dough around that shape. She made an ax for George Washington’s birthday which was celebrated when I was little before we somehow glommed onto the current Presidents’ Day celebration. Is it my imagination, or wasn’t there also a cherry cluster for that special cookie day? Maybe one of my siblings could confirm this. If so, where did it go? But she also made a shamrock for St. Pat’s (she loved to tell us that she was part Irish!) and a gingerbread girl; this most likely was her response to making her tin gingerbread boy cutter happy to have the love of his life present beside him baking away on the cookie tray! Here are her cut outs that I so treasure. Is it ironic that they were cut, in part, from what looks to be the cardboard from egg cartons???IMG_4876So it was no wonder the night before the eclipse party that I began to ponder the cutter shapes I would use for my eclipses. An aha moment came about when I decided that my variety of snowflake cutters could serve as the ‘Suns’ and a variety of coordinating circles would work as my ‘Moons’. I think my mother would have approved.IMG_4789.JPGI made my ‘go to’ almond flavored dough for the suns and a delish chocolate flavored dough for the moons – sandwiched with vanilla icing between the two. IMG_4794I dusted them with powdered sugar to make the moons look like they had the proper craters. I giggled the whole time I made them! Of course we served them with our fresh, cold, farm cantaloupe and ice cream!IMG_4797So eclipse day dawned bright and sunny but I had a morning’s work to do before the celebration since I had harvested honey from the bees the previous Friday and wanted to extract it from the combs as soon as I could. I dragged out all the equipment again for this (hadn’t I just put it all away?) and did a final extraction (nearly 50lbs!) leaving the bees plenty of their own for the long winter days. I then put the newly emptied honey supers out in the yard for them to feast on and they went wild for hours cleaning them up!

They weren’t the only ones going wild. We did some of that here too as we were waiting for the eclipse. Of course we had to be careful to keep Coulter indoors so he sat very patiently with his Gramps watching the sky go dark and then bright again while I ventured out to capture some of it on video. (Excuse my camera fiddling…those dark glasses meant I couldn’t see what I was doing!)  Light to dark…

Then dark to light…

So while we were going buggy for the eclipse, it seems to me that the bugs were quite present everywhere I looked. Let’s just start with the growing presence of spiders in the chicken coop…this is no doubt a chapter from “Charlotte’s Web” and I have no intention of discouraging the spiders who have spun an intricate and on going construction between the coop ladder and the over head light fixture that so cleverly traps their prey.IMG_4834.jpgHere is another fellow I found in the coop one morning…a young grasshopper whose future remains unsure since he would be snapped up as a wonderful breakfast treat for the chicks if he ever gave up his overnight perch from the ladder step.IMG_4788This dragon fly was found hovering in the blueberry patch recently; isn’t he lovely!IMG_4683Of course not all insects are satisfied with the great outdoors…some find their way inside as proof of this praying mantis who I found upside down clinging to the edge of the shelf in the mudroom as he peered around wondering what to do next. I solved this for him by gingerly picking him up and re-launching him on the other side of the screen door!IMG_4695 Last but not least are the Monarch Butterfly caterpillars that have found my herb garden to be their best meal…Good thing I already harvested plenty of dill!

We have been swamped with melons of all sorts…IMG_4763.JPGAs well as green beans… UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18b11.jpgAnd tomatoes…4RvGAy+JTM2v2%1rLWtGIg_thumb_18b0b.jpgAll of which have been well received by our weekend egg and produce subscribers who eagerly embraced the recent offering of pizza dough to accompany a roasted cherry tomato pizza recipe that we shared. I wasn’t sure there would be as many people ready to make the dough for the yummy pizza so I presented it for sale one recent weekend and it was a hit! Here are the individual packets of dough ready for customers to pluck from the coolers and take home to rise and bake. IMG_4751With all the excitement of the recent weeks, no one is happier than little Coulter who is so proudly sporting his Big Bro shirt these days! Hurrah…everyone is looking forward to pushing a baby buggy next year! Congratulations to the Ward family!IMG_4744


Little Red Hen Syndrome…Debunked

Do you happen to remember the children’s story of the the Little Red Hen? The origin of this story has been attributed to a Russian fairy tale but it was actually popularized as a Little Golden Book publication when I was a kid and it is still in production.TheLittleRedHen

Here is a quick synopsis: basically, the Little Red Hen finds a grain of wheat and wants to  plant it, harvest it, thresh it, mill it into flour and then bake the flour into bread. She asks for help in doing this from all the other barnyard animals who decline to help her along the way but in the end, they all want to help her eat the beautiful bread she baked. At that point, she declined their help eating the bread, stating that those who do not help in the process should not share in the final product.

So, I sometimes I think of myself as Little Red Hen because I want to do every piece of the work from start to finish. Unlike LRH, I have plenty of offers of help from friends but I tend to be a control freak and work much of the time by myself. My excuse is that it is more difficult to coordinate with helpers than to just do what I need to do under my own steam when I’m ready to do it.

But, during the last month of busy farm work I’ve gladly accepted some help from some very special people. We enjoyed the company of my cousin Peggy and her family over the pre-Fourth of July weekend when they were in town for a wedding. Peggy acted as baby sitter for her son Zach’s young child, Weylin Jasper Jackson who carries the best nickname of WeyJay! What a delightful baby! So fun to spend time with WeyJay’s mom, Jayne…hoping they visit the farm again soon!IMG_4120Peggy and I had so much fun over the weekend. She helped me harvest blueberries which reminded me of the photo of us as youngsters at my grandma Luehrman’s one summer when we were all picking corn. I’m the one hoisting a shucked corn in each hand, next to Peggy in the gold shirt holding a bag of corn with my sister, Lisa. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_166d8Then we made sweet pickles together and WeyJay got into the act after we finished all the slicing! Peggy and clan also sat with us that Saturday on the screen porch, ceiling fans a whirring, as we greeted our egg subscribers and CSA buyers. What a fun visit! IMG_4125We moved on to Fourth of July which seemed like a week of festivities since the firecrackers went off in our area for nearly a week! We joined the Wards for their block parade and walked with Coulter along the route. IMG_5343The heat of the summer began in earnest after that which provided us with lots and lots of heat loving crops such as green beans…tray after tray, all demanding my attention! IMG_4164I both freeze and can them for future use. A recent sale on canning jars prompted me to stock up!IMG_4256Although it is nice to have fresh frozen green beans, it is good to have the jars of them for the likes of Shepherd’s Pie…a family favorite! UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_187a1The garlic finally finished drying in the barn and I enjoyed the simple preparation of sifting through the bulbs and cutting the stems to make them into little lollipops to sell to our customers. I appreciate those who can tell the difference between our fresh garlic and the limp store bought ones! IMG_4169 2.JPGWe had a small number of peaches to harvest this year after the very late, very cold snap but I must say we certainly relished eating the ones we did bring in to eat. They weighed approximately 8oz each and were so yummy as we ate almost all of them one evening with the Wards….topped with vanilla ice cream! IMG_4193The tomatoes, although a bit slow to ripen, rivaled the large peach sizes. IMG_4196.jpgThey are thick as thieves on the vines and finally started to give us ripe ones for our most recent Saturday sales…pictured here with the Pontiac Red potatoes and scallions!IMG_4601.JPGThe Yukon Golds were every bit as popular and are nearly sold out now. IMG_4130.JPGThe honey harvest took a great amount of our time this month. First, we finally bought our very own electric extractor that can handle as many as nine frames of honeycomb at once. Here is our little darling!IMG_4107We asked another beekeeping friend, Jeff, to make us a stand that would allow us to bolt the extractor down and then tilt it to get the honey out. Here is Jeff proudly showing us his homemade creation that boasted felt pads on both hinged sides so as not to mar our floors. IMG_4213So, the day finally arrived for stealing the honey from the bees. My friend, Joan happily donned our spare bee suit on a relatively cool morning not long ago and we posed for a photo before all the heavy and hard work began.IMG_4243.jpgDave caught some pics of us in the midst of the fury of bees as they reacted to our breach of contract…stealing their precious honey! Oh, were they mad!IMG_2815But the resulting honey harvest was our reward! Here we are scraping the wax cappings off the frames to reveal the honey. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_188f5.jpgThe frames then go into the extractor and using centrifugal force, the honey is forced from the combs and into the waiting buckets below. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_188e9The honey is strained and then stored in 10 gallon buckets before I put it all into jars. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18905With the honey all secured, I can then fill the jars at my leisure but after jarring…UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18937I secure labels and and the rest of the packaging for sale and gifting to our special farm friends. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1891f Since the honey harvest we have been in a severe drought accompanied by record heat which nearly did us AND the chickens in for a bit! I can’t believe how miserable the poor chicks were during this dreadful heat! Temps just last Saturday rose to 108 in Saint Louis even tho in Huntleigh I only saw 106. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18949The chickens have a tough time with heat stress due to their inability to sweat and self cool. So, not unlike dogs, they pant. They also hold their wings out and away from their bodies at a 90 degree angle to try to cool off. The most dreadful of their situation tho happened when I realized they had diarrhea…this due to their huge intake of water which went right through their system, depleting them of electrolytes. Ugh! I tried to help keep them cool by putting in trays of water with ice blocks as well as fans. Here is the fan system I set up between my workshop and their indoor coop with the door open to their outdoor coop for a “breeze”. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18946For some crazy reason, I went out a bit later to see that their improvised screen door had backfired on me and fallen into the workshop, nearly breaking the fan and the chair in the meantime! UGH! c1oU%ai7Q42z3kCc8hzSKw_thumb_1894a.jpg I was able to put everything to rights but it was a bit discouraging to say the least. Next I discovered I had a lame chick. Oh my, what next? The following morning I saw this poor gal on her roost with a swollen foot in evidence. Do you see the difference between her two feet? This could be two things…either bumble foot or gout. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18974A quick inspection told me that she had bumble foot which is when a chicken will have a small spot on the pad of their foot that gets infected and causes them to favor the limb as the infection grows. Arg! Here is what the bottom of her foot looked like. The dark circle is where the callous covering the infection was located. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18981After a good soaking I was able to remove the callous and treat with Vetericyn and Neosporin.  UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18993She then got a bandage and some isolation time to heal. Each morning I reapply the meds and she seems to be much better now. Interesting…she is not my Little Red Hen (the name I have for one of the Rhode Island Red chicks), but rather a Cinnamon Queen. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18994Our days are brightened by little Coulter who pops over to say hello regularly. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18923We had the opportunity to keep him recently while his mom and dad were out of town and despite the horrible weather, we made it to one of his favorite spots…the zoo…where he loves to brush the goats… UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_189aeAnd ride the frogs…UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_189b8It makes you wonder who is in charge at the end of the day! UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1895b



Oh, Dear, Deer, Dear…

Such prescience…just hours ago I spoke to our dear neighbor, Luis, and told him that if it would only rain, I could go inside and work on another blog. Within 2 hours, the skies clouded up and we got a sprinkle or two of much needed rain. Despite piles of other paperwork in my office, this is a bit more fun to work on!

We have been so busy here it is hard to know where to start. Luckily, my photos are in chronological order, so I guess that is a good way to tell the story of the last several weeks. I’m still astonished when I think that the end of June is near – where did it go?

June for us started with the annual fawning of the next generation of neighborhood deer. If we didn’t have our new deer fence in place, this story would certainly have had a different tone and perhaps a different outcome as well. It is well known that we have a family of deer on the north and south side of the property. So it was no surprise that just as has happened before, we woke up one day in the the first week of June to espy a tiny, newly born, baby deer deposited just out side of our bedroom window. It was so small and fragile, legs still all akimbo. IMG_3804.JPGAs I have stated before, the mother often will leave her young for a bit in order to off gas her smell. It was a fairly warm day for this so we wondered how long the little guy could manage without some attention. It was sweet to see the mother come back to let the fawn nurse for a bit.  IMG_3735This seemed to satisfy the babe for a bit and make it a bit more attuned to the world. IMG_3723Mother and child continued their presence for days and are still seen in repose as well as scampering about. The good news is that all of this ‘scampering’ is outside of the new fencing so even though they are enjoying the roses in front, we are seeing no deer damage in the orchard or fields. IMG_2632.JPGOf course this doesn’t mean we are immune to any chewing and nibbling on our plants. For instance, here is a mighty tomato caterpillar that marched its way through one of the cherry tomato plants recently until he found a sudden end. IMG_4067.JPGThe tomatoes are otherwise doing well and responding to our staking method of tying taut strings every 6-8″ high along the rows of plants between the large posts to support their weight.  This training method seems to keep the plants well supported and vertically trained. We have high hopes for lots of tomatoes this year!IMG_4098.JPGThe chickens are celebrating their first birthday this week (they hatched June 27th last year) and we managed to find the time (and energy) on a recent cool day to do a renovation of the chicken coop. This just means that we spruced up their digs by transferring all the interior coop sand to the exterior and added all new and fresh sand to the interior. This entailed a lot of heavy sand transporting (860lbs new sand to replace the old…oh, my back!) but it was worth the effort! We washed down all the surfaces and the chicks were cautiously amazed by their new digs when we re-opened the door for them.IMG_4039Their antics never cease to entertain me as they can’t wait for the greens that I give them each day and will pounce on the box from Schnucks before I can distribute the goods!IMG_3997The bees are quite busy making honey for us…some colonies more than others but I can’t complain too much. I recently added the 4th honey super to the first swarm colony and Dave managed to snap a photo of me barely able to reach up to put the top cover on this tall stack of boxes! Our anticipation of a healthy honey harvest is palpable! IMG_2639.JPGThe blueberry harvest that started in early June is now in full swing. I have harvested nearly 110 pounds of fruit so far and our subscribers are enjoying the benefits. It takes me hours and hours of berry picking every day but I do not mind a bit except for my nearly permanently stained fingers. These digits have been washed but still stained!IMG_4033.jpg We decided to purchase brand new containers from a local restaurant supply store to convey the goods to our customers and I’m so pleased with this method. We have one refrigerator entirely full of berries, berries berries, in both pint and quart containers.! IMG_3995.JPGAs I have mentioned in the past, our 5 varieties ripen in succession so it is good to know that at least two varieties are still no where near ripe at this point which tells me I have another month of berry picking!

We continue to harvest many other items. The radishes and turnips are done for the spring and will not reappear until the fall but we still have lettuces coming in along with an assortment of lovely peppers of every size and color. I finally pulled the trigger on the garlic last week and harvested the lot all in one day. (Perhaps just a few of the keenest of readers’ eyes will note my purple attire: representing my Amherst College Crew shirt whilst sporting Kate’s Williams College Volley Ball hat! A fun bow to Coach Fran!)IMG_4076.JPGSo, from the field, the garlic goes to the barn and rests on a massive screen form to cure for a week.  IMG_4084But I could not resist when making dinner last night and asked Dave to grab some fresh garlic for the pizza. Smaller in size than I would like but oh so perfectly delish when peeled and chopped. We will offer fresh garlic to our customers next week and hope they will appreciate the difference that we are providing!IMG_4101.JPGSpeaking of garlic and other goodies, here is a simple way that we put our produce to work at dinner time for a yummy, savory side dish. I sauté some onions and jalapeno in butter until soft for 5 minutes or so…IMG_3982.JPG and then add minced garlic…here is my stash from LAST YEAR! IMG_3984.JPGSauté until soft and then add 1 pound of orzo. IMG_3772.JPGLet the orzo brown in the pan for a few minutes, absorbing the butter as it turns a light golden brown. Add 3/4 cup dry white wine followed by 3.5 cups chicken broth and let simmer on stove top until liquid has been absorbed and the orzo is tender…about 15 minutes.  IMG_3985Stir in 1 cup grated cheese such as Parmesan but feel free to experiment with the cheese! IMG_3986.JPGI then add greens…this can be pea pods, spinach or Swiss Chard, your choice. Here is our spinach going into the pan.IMG_3987Which cooks down very quickly to subsume into this delightful side dish! Experiment and enjoy…you can’t go wrong!IMG_3988.JPG One of our dear farm subscribers, Janet Lange, gave us a lovely collection of chicken print postcards. Thank you for this, Janet!IMG_3619.jpgSo we passed them along as we wrote postcards (from the chickens!)  to the neighboring boys who went off to summer camp. We had a couple of cute responses which we tucked into the farm file for our memories!

Also in June, Nancy left Dave in charge of the farm as she escaped for a weekend of fun and frivolity at at family wedding in Boston, Massachusetts. It was great to see the cousins and enjoy the festivities of Lindsay Jackson’s wedding to Jon Wood who is a Boston Fire Fighter. How cute to see one of the nephews drive an antique fire truck down the aisle! IMG_3885.jpgSuch a wonderful wedding in every way… I was glad to get away to join in the fun. IMG_3840.JPGBut of course, no post is complete without a Coulter sighting…he is growing like a weed and enjoying his summer with lots of pool time… IMG_3954as well as hunting down every nearby construction site! Here he is, much to his delight, with a local bobcat!IMG_4085Hard to believe that it was a mere 3 years ago that we celebrated Kate and Jason’s wedding here at the farm. Such a nice reminder to watch this sweet video of the special day again! https://vimeo.com/104181393. Happy Anniversary Kate and Jason!

Farmer’s Market…Meat Market…Our Legacies?

We have had an exciting week at the farm for several reasons. Today we introduced our egg subscribers to the first of our farm produce on a retail basis. Of course over the years we have gladly shared various surpluses with friends and family and even sold some of our honey to eager neighbors but we never quite got comfortable putting out the farm stand and setting a price on our raw efforts from the fields until now…(of course my jams, honey, pickles, granola, etc. are always for sale, year round at the Artery!)

There would be no better way to open the doors than to offer the goods to our wonderful group of dedicated egg customers. We have been harvesting modest amounts from our fields for the last couple of weeks but yesterday we picked enough radishes, turnips and garlic scapes to offer them up this morning for sale.  As you have heard here before, lots of work goes into the planting, weeding, watering and care for these plants but a lot goes into washing and prepping for sale as well. So yesterday we brought in trays and trays of veggies.IMG_3679.JPG That we then washed, sorted and cleaned up before weighing and bundling by the pound. IMG_3684.JPGIMG_3683.JPGWe then need to properly store them before and during the sales time. Thank goodness for all the refrigerators, sinks and counter-tops that we have for this effort. Of course at sales time, a warm morning meant we had our trays on ice on the screened porch. IMG_3688.JPGWe did research on pricing according to a range of sources including CSA prices as well as local stores and made sure we were not over charging. I hope everyone found they got a good deal and will enjoy the first batch of weekly summer fruits and veggies.

As a good example for all, Kate collected her bounty the night before and sent this photo of her impromptu dinner creation with the turnips, garlic scapes and eggs (she added bacon of course…you can never lose with a bit of bacon!) I showed the photo to our customers this morning…maybe I’ll get her recipe and add it to the egg subscription cookbook. She said the turnip ‘coins’ were like butter and the garlic scapes tasted like tender green beans! Good job, thank you, Kate!IMG_3686I hope everyone enjoys their first taste of what is to come. Speaking of that, I had a bit of a shock yesterday when I looked at the blueberries and realized they were coming along very fast and were already blue! This, of course doesn’t mean they are ripe yet but we will be picking very, very soon, a task that takes hours each day and continues from early June until August but is worth the effort!!

The next big excitement was getting more of the fields planted now that the rain is under control. Dave installed the giant tomato posts again this year while I planted 34 tomato plants – 4 varieties – including the famously reintroduced Rutgers 250 tomato variety in celebration of 250 years of Rutgers University in New Jersey. We had read this story in the NYTimes last year found here but were unable to get a hold of this variety until now. Here is the fascinating story behind this tomato from the Rutgers perspective. I’m sure Dave’s grandfather (the original Sauerhoff family ‘Gramps’) sold these tomatoes up and down the south shore of New Jersey and eastern shore of Maryland as part of his business in the fruit and vegetable supply business.

Pssst…while Dave’s grandfather was selling shiny fruits and veggies on the east coast, this is what my family was doing…sending cattle to the meat market! My paternal grandmother, Sohpie Graupner is not the lady on the far right, but isn’t this lady just grand? I can relate to her! This is one of my favorite photos. My paternal grandparents did have a cattle farm in western Missouri which I visited often as a child and so these large steers are not that foreign to me as you might imagine.

Graupner Beef!I’m sure we will report on this tomato success and all varieties and their production. Here are the results of our joint effort in the tomato patch. Below you see our very own Stonehenge of sorts…8 foot tall posts planted in the field to supply support…a favorite spot for owls to perch at night with a view of potential prey! The rows of tomatoes get reinforced with a string method of tying along the rows from posts to post which are located every 12 feet. We found this to be a very effective method of securing the plants over time rather than individual tomato cages. IMG_3639We added landscape cloth this year to help keep the weeds at bay. We bought large rolls of the the ‘good stuff’ at a local supply house as well a box of 1000 anchors to pin the cloth in place. I hope not to be griping as much about weeds this year but they have loved the excessive rain more than anything!!!IMG_3638.JPGThe bees are continuing to be a source of educational entertainment for me. I had an opportunity to take some photos (not an easy task when wearing heavy gloves and other protective gear) of the life cycle of the bees. I know, I know, not everyone is as wild about the bees as I am but seeing the evidence of their very intricate life cycle is so fascinating to me and I’m thrilled to get to share it when I can. So I opened up the hive body of one of the nucleus colonies that we acquired this spring and this is what I found. IMG_3611.JPGThe photo above shows a hexagonal grid of wax comb that the bees are ‘drawing out’ (from the base of the foundation upwards – meaning perpendicular to the flat foundation) to eventually hold a nascent bee in the cell structure. But, look closely at the bottom of the black ‘spaces’…and you will find a very narrow white line in the center of it. This little line is the egg that the queen has laid in the cell. It is deposited by the queen into a cell that has been previously supplied with a bit of nectar to both feed it and help it adhere to the spot. This egg hatches after 3 days and becomes a larvae.  That is what you see in this next photo of another section of the frame I was able to photograph. IMG_3607In this photo, you can see various stages of larvae developing. They look like little white ‘C’ shaped worms or grubs…some smaller than others. They continue to be fed nectar during this stage for 5 more days by nurse bees whose only job is to care for the survival of the future brood until they are finally capped with a papery substance until they hatch. If the bees were wanting to make a queen bee out of an egg, they would need to start feeding that egg a super food called Royal Jelly within the first 2 days of the egg being laid. Since the queens are larger in size, they also (in addition to continuing with the steroid food regimen) would build her a roomier cell, called a queen cell to accommodate her grand physique. Sometimes this queen cell is built first and then an egg intentionally laid for the role of the queen. Here is a photo of a throng of bees covering a sea of capped brood cells…waiting for their new workers to emerge. IMG_3617In anticipation of all the honey we hope to be harvesting in the next weeks/months, I have patiently waited for the company from which I order my glass jars to offer their once a year free shipping deal. Glass is heavy and expensive to ship so this is a big deal to me! I ordered 30 cases (360 jars) from them and for the first time in 4 years I received one case that had breakage. I immediately contacted them about this and they very kindly said they would send a replacement case for free. Wouldn’t you know, this is how the replacement case arrived!!! Perhaps the label on the front was read as “Break Me” rather than “Fragile Glass” to the company doing the delivering??? Actually, the jars were in tack despite the rough handling of the box. IMG_3682Thank goodness the overwhelming rain has stopped for now and we have been able to play catch up in the fields and orchard. The grass needs cutting every day it seems and Dave let me try my hand at the zero turn mower for a while since we can tag team if needed with him using the mower on the tractor while I zip around with the crazy hand controlled machine of the Z-turn! I lament mowing down the white clover though since the bees love it and we allow it to flourish in the back for their delight. We cut it in patches so that they always have some available to them in one corner or another. IMG_3670.JPGThe bees have also loved several varieties of Salvia which have flourished among the peonies in front… IMG_3294as well as in several new beds of pollinator friendly flowers on the north side as well as in the rear terrace bed. I enjoy receiving starts of plants from friends and gladly entertained this special one pictured below from a beekeeper who was sharing this specimens from the back of his truck at our last club meeting. It is a banana tree…not exactly contextual in my non-tropical garden space, but amusing to watch as it unfolds from its winter dormancy. I am told it will have tiny ‘bananas’ after it blooms, so it should fit in with our orchard, right? IMG_3690Where was our best little helper during all of this? Coulter was at the lake visiting with his PawPaw Bill for the Memorial Day weekend. He loved the boat ride but could not stay awake for long! IMG_3596 I find myself in the same situation these days…too tired from our efforts but happy all the same.

The Planting of Seeds…Both Farmers and Teachers

This is the time of year at the farm when we just don’t know how we will get everything done given that there are only 24 hours in a day and some of that needs to be restful. We are working in between the rain drops these days as we have continued to have our share of wet weather which makes it challenging to do everything we need to do in the fields.

In addition to all the leafy plants that are starting to thrive in the cool season plot, Dave has a nice assortment of peppers as well as eggplants planted. IMG_3467.JPGDespite the wet, the cuke seeds have germinated in their mounds to nearly 100% and their surrounding wire trellises are installed as well after a few repairs on the ones we stored in the barn from last year. IMG_3560.JPGThe potatoes are ready to bloom which the bees will enjoy. IMG_3468.JPG Best of all, the orchard trees seem to have done ‘okay’ despite that late winter cold snap. Plums are evident here…in various stages of coloration as some are still green and others are starting show their purple color.

IMG_3559IMG_3558Not a whole lot of peaches to brag about but one tree in particular has quite a few. Even more fun than that is to see the pears. Many people might be surprised that pears actually grow in an upside down fashion until their weight makes the branch bend downwards. IMG_3552.JPGHere is one that is farther along and has already started to color and is weighted down. IMG_3553.JPGThe apple trees are struggling with the weight of their fruit in this wet and windy environment and we continue to struggle as well to keep them all in an upright position! Besides staking, we will also cull apples from these trees to help them along.IMG_3555.JPGThe bees have cause for continued excitement as we decided we needed to add another hive stand to the apiary for the ease of a future expansion. The reason for this was that early last week I discovered, upon inspection, that one of our nucs had created 10-12 re-queening supercedure cells in its nest. Yikes! This means that it was not planning to swarm away but rather wanted to replace its queen with a new one and in doing so was covering its bets with multiple cells. The realization of this sent me into a bit of a panic since I could actually try to take advantage of the extra queen cells and do a split if I had all the equipment ready. With no space for additional hive boxes, I called upon farmer Dave to help me out. We devised a list of necessary hardware and he went off to procure the goods and that evening we made another 8 foot long hive stand to add to the apiary. IMG_3512.JPG After unloading the truck, we went about building the stand together…something every husband and wife should experience together as a project!  😉 IMG_3514.JPGOur plan for early the next morning was to temporarily seal off the second swarm colony in order to get it moved to the new stand without too much of a distraction. Once we had the new stand in place, (not an easy task given that it needed to be leveled in all directions!) I was ready to open up the nuc that was about to re-queen itself and add a secondary new nuc box to the new stand. Here I am getting ready to do this… IMG_1692.JPGBut wouldn’t you know, in less than 24 hours time, the bees had already liberated their queen cells and had started the process of deciding which one would prevail. It would not have been a good time to reorganize them at this point so I quickly closed them up and let nature take its course without my intervention. This colony will now need 3 weeks time before my next inspection to see if all is well and the new queen is producing as expected.

This was not the end of the day tho since with the new hive stand, my intention was to alleviate the crowding on the first stand. Moving colonies has to be done with great care though…the thought is that you can move them no more than two feet or else you must move them 2 miles. Our new stand was a bit more than two feet away so I moved one hive to a temporary location between the two stands (about an 18″ move) where it will remain for two weeks until I move it again, another 18″ to the new stand. In order to help the bees reorient with this slight adjustment (their brains are acutely mapped to their location) I put a branch in front of their opening so they would make note that something was different when they left the colony and could re-map for their return. Oh, my, how intriguing the bees can be! Here are the results of the move. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_183e3.jpgI continue to build new bee equipment as fast as I can and am so glad I have the new workshop in the barn to help me with all the assembly and painting. IMG_3188.JPGI’m pleased to have a new jig to help with the frame assembly and the tools to make that all go smoother. This is the wiring jig after I’ve built the frame. IMG_3363.jpgNext is the crimper which is a clever tool that takes the straight wire and crimps it to cause tension, therefore tightening the slack. IMG_3364.JPG After the frame is built and wired, I add the wax foundation and embed the wire with a special tool called a star embedder. IMG_3410.JPGI find great satisfaction in building the bee equipment. It is a good thing though that we are getting so much help from Coulter as he as taken up the mantle at the farm. He loves digging so much that when we take him to the park he just wants to DIG! IMG_3372.JPGHe also helped out on storm clean up with his own broom. IMG_3495.JPGOf course he loves nothing better than blowing the dandelion seed heads! IMG_3535.JPGAs adorable as he is, Coulter can’t compete with his mom making the news today…She was quoted in this New York Times article that was written about one of her students. The back story to this was the student, when approached by the NYTimes for a story was told he could chose two of his teachers to be interviewed as part of the story…and he chose Kate as one of them! Such a cool young man…he chose wisely! The article made quite a splash as I found it in my print copy this morning!UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1843f.jpg Much to do in the coming weeks as we are picking strawberries from the young plants and eyeing the blueberries which are starting to blush with some color already. We also celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary this weekend with breakfast on the screened porch. Ahh, a quiet moment together to reflect on the past year’s accomplishments…on to the next year!