Thursday, March 31, 2011

Snow Farmer

Yesterday, I woke up to these temperatures in the high tunnel: 

And today I woke up to this: 

I've decided I'm going to become a Snow Farmer.  I'll
 grow snow and send it to Florida in the summertime!    

Although the high tunnel's morning temperatures are teeth-chattering cold, by afternoon, with the sun shining, the temperatures climb into the 70s!   It's a very strange feeling to walk down to the high tunnel dressed in a heavy coat, scarf, and gloves - and start working in a t-shirt!    

There's lots of work going on in there - cleaning it up and preparing the beds for this weekend's planting of spinach, lettuces, green peas, and sugar snap peas.    

"It's snowing still," said Eeyore gloomily. "So it is." "And freezing." "Is it?" "Yes," said Eeyore. "However," he said, brightening up a little, "we haven't had an earthquake lately." 
~A.A. Milne

It's all a matter of perspective.


For some really great reading, head on over to Bee Haven Acres and check out her excellent essay on sustainability.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Strange and Mysterious Landscape

What is this strange and mysterious landscape?
Can you guess?

Could it be an arial view of Mars?

Courtesy of

Hmmm.  Maybe it's something closer.  Could it be an arial view of Afghanistan?  Pretty close, but not quite.

Picture courtesy of

Do you give up?


It's chicken footprints in the frozen mud around the chicken coop!  

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Cold Continues....

We've had cold, cold, cold weather and not a drop of  maple sap for quite a few days.  A grainy, icy snow still covers the ground and the poor robins congregate at any open areas of grass in search of a meal.  The snow covers the food of the little seed-eating birds; so I've refilled the bird feeder and I swear I can almost hear them saying, "thank you!" A white-tailed deer came and looked in my den window today.  I think it wanted to sample the landscaping around the house.  You've heard the saying that "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb."  Let's hope so!

Later this week we're hoping for above freezing days and below freezing nights - perfect maple sap weather.  Then the temperatures continue to climb and we start getting days that are above freezing and nights that are above freezing.  That will cause the leaves on the maple trees to bud and sap season ends.  When the trees bud, the sap gets a kind of "green" slimy taste to it and becomes inedible.

The chickens have turned into egg laying machines.  I'm getting about 20 eggs per day more or less and have been able to start selling some dozens.  I love that the chickens pay for their own feed!

I hope to begin planting in the high tunnel next weekend.  There may be snow on the ground outside, but the temperature in the high tunnel, with the sun shining, has climbed into the 70s and even, on occasion, the 80s!  It drops dramatically at night with some mornings having a low temperature of 11-degrees.  For the first high tunnel planting, I'll be planting cold weather vegetables - lettuces, spinach, peas, sugar snap peas, and scallions.  Then in a few weeks the less hardy vegetables will start moving into the high tunnel.


Friday, March 25, 2011

21 Eggs

My chickens laid 21 eggs yesterday!

I have 32 chickens and some of them are really, really old; so this is quite an accomplishment!  They must have loved the little bit of warm weather (although now it's gone again) and the chance to really free-range, pick through the new grass, and dig in the dirt.  During the warm days, I found them contentedly giving themselves dust baths under the pig's shelter.    

How can you not smile? 

A day is like an egg, you know
Self-contained within its shell
Filled with energy and purpose
And yet remains so very frail.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Potter-Tioga Maple Weekend

The Potter-Tioga Maple Weekend is this weekend, March 26th and 27th!

Every spring, the Potter-Tioga Maple Producers Association open up the doors to their sugar houses and invite the public to come in and see how maple syrup is made.  Some of the sugar houses have pancake breakfasts.  Some of the places will take you out to the sugar bush and show you how the trees are tapped.  Some will even show you how to tap trees the old fashioned way with a hand drill, a hammer, a bucket, spile, and lid.

This is definitely something you won't want to miss!

Here is the link to the Potter-Tioga Maple Producer's Association so that you can see a map to find the sugar houses and find their hours and what they are offering:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Snow's Last Gasp?

I had planned to do a blog on the mud and mess we're having, but this morning I woke up to "school cancelled" and this!

Maybe/hopefully this is Mother Nature's last gasp of winter before spring comes?  

We're having a roller coaster of a maple season.  One day there's perfect maple weather, the next day it's too warm - then the following day it's too cold.  We're in a balancing act between good maple weather (days above freezing and nights below freezing) and fearing that the trees will bud - which signals the end of the season!    

This weekend is the Potter/Tioga Maple Weekend, so hopefully the weather will cooperate!    

Something is killing my chickens.  I put out a live trap and last weekend we caught an opossum in it.  Then, we went away on a mini vacation this weekend (before the truly hard work sets in!) and came home to another dead chicken.  I was very angry about this because I could see the beautiful green eggs that it was going to lay inside it.  I set out the live trap again and caught a skunk.  What a stench that created!  

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Cup Runneth Over...

Well, my Cup may not be running over, but my 
Maple Sap Tanks sure were!

Before I got the hose on it, the sap was POURING onto the ground!

I didn't collect sap for two days because the weather was cool and there just wasn't that much.  I felt it just wasn't worth the time and gas expenditure.  Today, I substitute taught at the high school, and as I drove home I swung by to check the sap collection tank close to my home.  As I drove up, what did I see?  Precious liquid gold - maple sap - was pouring out the top of the tank onto the ground!  

I ran home as fast as I could, changed into my outside work clothes, jumped into the truck and rushed down to pump that precious sap!

An almost full to the top tank.

I had to make two trips to get all of the sap.  Along the way I had a few mishaps  - like overflowing the tank in the back of the truck and spilling some sap!  

When I got to the unloading point this is what I ended up with.

Yup, that sticker says 550 gallons!  That tank was tilted, but I figured I had about 525 gallons of sap at 2.1 percent sugar content!

The chickens love the longer days and have been coming on laying.  I've been collecting about a dozen eggs, more or less, each day.  I'll be putting my "eggs for sale" sign out!

A happy Pants On The Ground surrounded by his hens.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Robins Are Back!

Melting snow, running sap, mud, slightly warmer temperatures - they, for me, all mean nothing.  Great flocks of robins are traveling across the fields.  

The robins are back! 

Now I know that spring is really here!

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold:  when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.  ~Charles Dickens

Monday, March 14, 2011

Seasonal Creek = Pond?

When we get a lot of snow melt and rain combined as we've had the past week, we get a seasonal creek at the bottom of our yard.  The old-timers tell me that there used to be a creek (in this part of the country it's pronounced, "crick"!), but many years ago, there was a really bad drought and I'm told it went underground.  You can find evidence of the old creek channel when you walk through the forest.  

We've spent some time discussing this wet patch in our back yard.  We would love to dig it out and have a small pond.  There's just something about a pond that draws children.  They can spend hours poking around the edges, catching tadpoles and salamanders, and dipping their feet on a hot day.  Myself, I envision a small pond that would hold tilapia.  We could fish our own little pond and have Friday fish fries.  Maybe the peepers would come and I could open the windows and listen to them signal a warm summer's night.    

We have found that in our back yard, if you dig down a few feet, the hole starts to fill with water.  There are a lot of questions to making a small pond work properly.  The worst to happen would be to dig the hole for a pond and end up with a mosquito breeding area.   When we finish our many, many other projects, and finally have time to turn our eyes to creating this little pond, we would have to do a lot of research into creating a pond that is a pleasant addition to the farm.  We'll have to figure out how to keep it aerated and how to keeping the water moving, etc.  If any of my readers have ever done a project like this, I would love to hear your pros and cons and any advice you may have! 

When was the last time you spent a quiet moment just doing nothing - just sitting and looking at the sea, or watching the wind blowing the tree limbs, or waves rippling on a pond, a flickering candle or children playing in the park?
~ Ralph Marston

(Click On Me)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Holy Giant Cow!

Yesterday we took a ride down to State College, PA to look at a wood stove that was for sale.  We ended up not getting it, but during our ride we passed a restaurant/antique store called "Dairyland," and I couldn't resist getting a picture of my kids in front of the giant cow!

I asked the waiter, 'Is this milk fresh?' He said, 'Lady, three hours ago it was grass.'
~ Phyllis Diller

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Save the Bees!

I usually keep my blog pretty nice and touchy-feely.  But, as a beekeeper myself - and dealing with all the issues that bees are facing - I felt that that this was an important issue to put out.

We're starting ten hives this spring - you'll get lots of pictures and information - and I sure would like to increase their numbers!

~I apologize that this post didn't fit within the post's borders.  I cut and pasted it and don't want to spend a couple of hours making it fit   :  )

Slow Food USA
Dear Sharon,
As a lifelong beekeeper, I'm worried. Nearly a third of all honeybee colonies in North America are dying every year.'Colony Collapse Disorder’ is a major contributor to these deaths, and while there is still no scientific consensus as to the cause, keeping pollinators healthy is crucial not just for our Co-op but also for the health of our environment and the future of our food.
Honeybees pollinate many of the foods we eat - from apples to chestnuts to raspberries and squash. That's why I'm asking you today to join Slow Food USA's campaign to save the bees, and our food chain:
A growing body of scientific evidence points to a certain class of agricultural pesticides (neonicotinoids) as one of the key culprits of CCD. Even the Environmental Protection Agency’s own scientists have spoken out against it. But the EPA isn’t doing enough to prevent more devastating honeybee die-offs in the years to come. Would you join me in asking the EPA to act quickly to save the bees?
Let’s keep the pressure on ourselves and on those whose job it is to keep our food and fields healthy, until the origins of this environmental catastrophe are understood and eliminated. Please join me in signing Slow Food USA's petition to the EPA, before it's too late to save the bees. You can see their original email below.
I manage a self-sufficient beekeeping cooperative in the city of Chicago that produces more than just honey. Our Co-op also provides healthy food and job training experiences for our neighbors in the community where we are located. Our hives are on an abandoned industrial property in a neighborhood that has seen better days. We also take care of bees on rooftops in downtown Chicago.
For the past several years, we have been losing nearly 50% of our hives each winter. This is an alarming trend I haven’t experienced in a lifetime of keeping bees. The worst thing is, we can’t even identify the cause. That's why we need the EPA to work quickly to identify the cause of CCD. Will you join me in signing the petition to save the bees?
Thanks for taking action,
Michael S. Thompson
Chicago Honey Co-Op

-------- Original email from Slow Food USA -------------
Dear Sharon,
Spring's going to be a lot quieter this year. Something is killing off almost 40% of North American honeybees each year, and it's threatening our entire food chain. Mounting scientific evidence suggestsagricultural pesticides are one a primary culprit.
The Environmental Protection Agency has the power to investigate and ban the pesticides thought to be responsible but, despite their own scientists' advice and under pressure from pesticides companies,they're dragging their feet.
Much of the plant-life we depend on for food exists thanks to honeybees. Now the bees are depending on us to return the favor. Click here to sign our petition calling on the EPA to solve the mystery that's killing our buzz:
Bees don't just make honey: from apples to lemons, much of the food we eat may disappear with the bees. Even milk and beef production could be threatened: guess what makes the plants that feed the cows? Our friend the honeybee.
What's more, bees add $15 billion to the annual US economy, and their loss will have a devastating impact on food production and food prices. But the EPA is under pressure to do nothing about it from pesticide companies and the pesticide 'scientists' those companies bankroll.
The EPA has already acknowledged it should look into the causes of "Colony Collapse Disorder". We need to counter the pesticide lobby's pressure and hold the EPA to that commitment, by sending them a message they can't ignore:
Everyone stands to lose with the threat to our food chain known as CCD. That's why everyone needs to stand together to counter the pressure the EPA is under not to do its job: protect the things we rely on to survive.
Many Slow Food chapters are also hosting screenings of a new CCD documentary, Vanishing of the Bees. It's a great way to get together in your community and learn more about what you can do to help solve this problem.
Time and again Slow Food members get together to celebrate the importance of food. It's now the time to take action to protect that which binds us together, and stand up for the bees that make it all possible.
Thanks for spreading the buzz,
The Slow Food USA team
PS - Can you help spread the buzz? For every 100 signatures we collect on our petition to protect the bees we depend on for our foodwe'll send a bee-shaped postcard to the Director of the EPA’s Pesticide Programs. Imagine those on the wall the next time the pesticide lobby pops in!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Local Harvest

You want to become a locavore and don't know where to find good, healthy food close to where you live?  There's a wonderful site named Local Harvest that will help you find locally grown produce anywhere in the country.  Use their map to locate farmers markets, family farms, CSAs, farm stands, and u-pick produce in your area.

Here's the link:     Local Harvest

Looking for Fitzgerald's Family Farm, LLC?  Our zip code is 16915.


"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."
- La Rochefoucauld

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Happiest Pigs in France

Isn't it sad state of affairs when raising pigs in a decent environment is NEWS? 

(Follow this link)  The Happiest Pigs in France

Last year we raised pigs for the first time.

We named them Ham and Lucky, but as they got older we couldn't tell which was which.  For their living area, we fenced about a quarter of an acre of  a field that contained some small trees (they pretty much decimated the trees) so they could run around.  Pigs love to run around if they have the chance - and they're fast!  They had a run-in shelter to go into to get out of the rain and they had a big bed of straw to sleep in there at night.  We fed them a good pig feed with no funky additives (I checked the label and researched all the science-eeze) and we gave them lots and lots of vegetables.

They lived a very healthy life before they left for freezer camp.

Pigs eating tomatoes.

Pigs eating corn.

The chickens get in with the pigs and try to steal food.  

Pigs eating their feed.  Their rooting noses turned this area into a sloppy mess, but they love wallowing around in it!

Although I grow lots and lots of wonderful vegetables, I just couldn't resist this quote(!):  

Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.  ~Doug Larson

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Backyard Homestead

As we see the prices at the gas pump climb up higher and higher, we'll see our grocery bill climb at the same rate.  It takes gas to deliver food to the grocery store and sadly, as gas prices climb, food prices climb!

To offset this, you may want to start a garden, plant some berry bushes, or you may even want to get a few chickens.  But you live on a quarter-acre lot and fear you don't have enough space.  There's a book that can help you get started!

The Backyard Homestead, edited by Carleen Madigan, writes on it's front cover that you can "Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre!"  The back cover its reads that, from a quarter acre, you can harvest:

1400 eggs
50 pounds of wheat
60 pounds of fruit
2,000 pounds of vegetables
280 pounds of pork
75 pounds of nuts.  

The book contains wonderful illustrations showing the layout of a homestead on one-tenth of an acre, a quarter-acre, and half an acre.  These illustrations show how a small homestead can utilize every inch of space!

There are seven chapters cover; The Home Vegetable Garden, Backyard Fruits and Nuts, Home-grown Grains, Food from the Wild: Easy, Fragrant Herbs, Poultry for Eggs and Meat, and Meat and Dairy.  Within these chapters you'll find great recipes, pruning information, informative charts, chicken coop plans, how to milk a goat, and much more.  

This is a really great book for the new gardener or mini-farmer.  It's incredibly inspirational.  Having said that, I would like to point out that this book is a great starter book.  The gardening sections are clear and you may not need more information than The Backyard Homestead provides.  But, if you are interested in raising chickens, or other livestock, this book will get you started, then you'll want to find a more in-depth book on the subject.

"When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it.  If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant."  

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Copra Onions

This year I decided to try starting my onions from seeds rather than from sets.  Sets are when you buy little baby onions and plant them to grow into larger onions.  It's a lot less expensive to start them from seed and if it doesn't work, I figure I can always get the sets.  I planted them in mid - February and they're coming along beautifully!

Close this window
Courtesy of Johnny's Select Seeds catalog.

I chose "Copra" onions because they are a good all-purpose onion and store well throughout the winter.  Here is the description from the Johnny's Select Seeds catalog.

Unsurpassed for storage.
Uniform, "rock-hard" storage onion with early maturity. These medium-sized, dark yellow-skinned storage onions have the preferred blocky round shape with thin necks that dry quickly. Firmness and skin are superior. Copra remains one of the absolute best in our yearly storage trials, staying firm and flavorful after most other varieties have sprouted. Highest in sugar (13°-14°) of the storage onions. Adaptation: 38°-55° latitude. NOTE: Also offered as plants. Packet: 460 seeds.
  Days to Maturity or Bloom:   104

Here are my baby onion plants.  I have two flats of about 250 baby onions starting up. (Don't mind the beer bottle in the bottom picture.  It works beautifully for reaching in under the lights and watering the plants!)  

Check out this Homestead Barn Hop! (click on the image below): 


I don't know why the cute little symbol turned into a question mark, but go ahead and click on it anyway!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Will It End Ever End?

Schnee, neve, nieve, sneeuw, niege ... in any language, they all mean the same thing... SNOW!

And I think I can speak for most folks around here when I say, 
I think we've had enough!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Killer Candy

I have a terrible vole problem in my high tunnel this winter.  They come in because it's warm and there's plenty of food.  It's like going to Florida for the winter!  They are also destructive and have ruined a good part of a radish crop by taking a few bites out of each one.

But happily, Killer Candy Cane is on the job.  She comes in the high tunnel with me and goes nuts sniffing after the voles.  When she gets one, it has about one second of life left.

How can something so innocent,

be so vicious!?!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Egg Colors

A lovely palette.  These are yesterday's eggs and I didn't get any green ones.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Waiting for Summer Flowers and Free Birdhouse Gourd Seeds

Some flower pictures from last year's Potter County Fair and 
my garden as a reminder 
that spring is coming!

I have some bottle or birdhouse gourd seeds to give away.  Let me know if you would like some and I'll mail or give them to you. 

Bottle or Birdhouse Gourd plant - it's a vine that climbs.