Tuesday, September 23, 2014


The last day of summer is a good day to get back to work splitting firewood. A few hours and a smashed finger later this is what we have:
Last winter we just ran out of split and seasoned wood before the winter weather broke. Hopefully this winter will be a little kinder or we have more wood split.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Family Heirlooms

My mother-in-law called last week and asked if I wanted the trunk her great grandfather, Heinrich Spielman, used when he traveled from Germany to America in the 1850s. Well, how could I say no?
The hardware on the piece, apart from the exterior straps added later, is hand forged. The lock has the original key and is etched on the inside.

While picking up the trunk we took pictures of a sampler/wallhanging that was made in 1837 by Catherine Leatherman, my husband's second cousin five times removed (thank you ancestry.com for helping to figure that out.)  This sampler has been willed to the Mennonite Heritage Museum, which already has many Fretz family items (Catherine was a Fretz on her mother's side.)

Ancestry.com has been a huge help in researching all of my husband's family's history. So many of his distant relatives came to this country in the early 1700s. His family makes all my relatives newbies to this country!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

It's Good to Have Help

Our daughters enjoy helping out around here, but they haven't been around much. Our oldest daughter moved back home last weekend and we have been putting her to work.
She pulled all the weeds from the area around the chicks' pen and now we can seed it. It took two days to pull all the weeds and now we have a trailer full of weeds.
Alan pulled the rest of the weeds that were tangled up in the garden fence and now we have seeded the area. Maybe we'll get some rain today.
Maddy also helped mow the pastures and had fun learning to use the mower.
I need to come up with more projects for her before she finds a job!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Figs are Ripe

We bought two fig trees this spring and they have done well.
Finally, we have ripe figs.

Alan and Max are the only ones who like figs, so Max when are you coming home?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Good-Bye Lamb Chop and Ram Lamb

Last week it was finally time to say good bye to our lambs. They were just about 6 months old and needed to go to the great freezer in the sky. Maddy and I picked up the meat this afternoon and spent the last 2 hours weighing and wrapping it.
We have a grand total of 72.5 pounds of lamb sitting in the freezer and fridge right now. Grilled lamb chops for dinner tonight!
Here is a breakdown of all the different cuts and weights of the meat:

Thursday, September 11, 2014


I love fall, and even though it feels like the July we didn't have, you can still feel summer coming to an end. The garden is especially gearing up for fall mode.
All the potatoes, onions, and garlic are done curing in the barn and have moved down to the basement.
I'll save the biggest garlic bulbs for planting in October and I also ordered some Elephant garlic for planting. The shallots were a disappointment, but I think I pulled them too soon. They might need a little longer in the ground than the garlic.
I was happy with the quality of the onions, but I wish I had started more. We'll see how long into the winter these last.
I was happy with my Adirondack Blue potato harvest, just not sure what I am going to do with approximately 10 pounds of blue potatoes. They do make great potato salad though.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cover Crops part II

The oats are up! It took a while with the dry weather we've been having. Watering with a hose just never seems to do as well as a good rain. I've been waiting for rain and Saturday night we had a nice cool front move through, bringing thunderstorms and about an inch of rain. And then Sunday morning this is what I saw:
Literally overnight the oats went from nothing to nearly two inches tall.
The dwarf white clover I planted in some areas of the paths is up as well. I struggle with the paths in my gardens every year. Always the weeds get ahead of me.  This year I put down a weed block fabric, but I can feel the weeds growing up underneath. In the book, Grow a Sustainable Diet, the author just mows her paths for the compost pile. I think I will try that next year, if I can just get all the rocks out of the paths.. The dwarf white clover would be a perfect plant for the paths.

Monday, September 8, 2014

8960 Square Feet

That's how much new pasture we added to the sheep and goats' pen. 
We will be getting the entire pasture area fenced, but that won't happen for about two months and the sheep needed more grazing.
Alan put his tractor to good use today. He recently purchased a fork lift attachment that made hauling all the cattle panels around much easier.
Thor wasn't too sure about the tractor though.
He has never had the tractor in his pen and was not taking too kindly to it.
All in all the animals are enjoying their new grazing and browsing area. Thor was sleeping so deeply when I went out to feed last night that he almost missed eating his grain.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Books That Change the Way We Think

Every once in a while I read a book that I am in the right place to read. You know, those books that may not have struck a chord at another time in your life, but because you are ready for the information they cause a change in the way you look at things. There have been many books like this in my life, but I am specifically thinking of gardening/farming books.

The first such book was John Vivian's Manual of Practical Homesteading.  The story of his family's life on their Massachusetts farm told in a yearlong format really inspired me to live a similar life. I first read his book in the early 1980s and have read it so often that I had to have my paperback copy bound into a hardcover.

The second book, or really group of books, was any book by Eliot Coleman. His work on season extension and crop rotation took my gardening to its next level.

The third and latest book is Grow a Sustainable Diet. by Cindy Conner. I was doing alright with rotation and my little hoop house, but the cover crop idea hadn't really sunk in yet. Cindy's work made it all seem feasible in my garden. She writes from a home gardener's perspective and made me see how I could make cover cropping work for me. Her blog, Homeplace Earth is chock full of great information too.
Here is my first Buckwheat, about one week after planting. This stuff grows like weeds, which is good as it is supposed to crowd out the weeds. I planted this section where we took out some of the potato crop.

That same plot is now this big:
The bare soil behind the buckwheat has just been seeded in oats.
Once buckwheat flowers you need to cut it down. You can just lay the cut buckwheat on the soil to let it compost in place. This also helps keep the weeds from germinating. Buckwheat is a good cover crop in between spring and fall crops when nothing but weeds would grow in a plot. Buckwheat also improves soil tilth and access to calcium and phosphorus. Most sites recommend tilling it in but Cindy just lays the cut buckwheat on the soil and lets it decompose that way. I really like this woman!
In another few weeks I will probably plant cereal rye for a winter cover crop.
Here is another photo taken Tuesday of two different buckwheat patches and a patch of Daikon radish.
The ready to cut buckwheat is in the foreground. In the middle of the pic is the buckwheat about two weeks behind the other and in the background, with the slightly yellower tinted green leaves, is the Daikon radish.  Not only will we be able to pull radishes until hard frost, the radishes pull nutrients up from deep in the soil and as they decompose over winter they leave channels for roots of future plants to go deep into the subsoil to get nutrients and water.
It's been fun getting to know the different cover crops and starting to work with them. Let's hope they add up to better gardening.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ugghhh, Late Blight

Every year since the first year Pennsylvania experienced late blight in the tomato crop (thank you big box store garden sections) my tomatoes have had late blight. This year it seemed to take a little longer to get going, but here it is.
I guess my next chore in the garden is to pull out all the blighted fruit and plants. Luckily, I have been able to harvest quite a few tomatoes and have canned pints and quarts of sauce.
There are a few tomato varieties available that have a resistance bred into them (no GMOs here thank goodness) and are showing some promise. Here is a link to a site listing the varieties. While the list is no where near the amount of varieties I can get from our local Mennonite farmer, with his 70 different heirloom varieties, if I don't loose tomatoes from disgustingness it might be worth it.