Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Busy as Bees... and Lady Bugs!

New timber frame barn  (replaced barn that burned) and rooftop veggie gardens

Our new timber frame, Amish built barn is nearly complete - we even recently held a powerpoint workshop presentation for my other company, Moss Acres inside the barn on a sunny afternoon, using chunks of scrap hemlock to block the light from outside.

Lady Bug Love in the Garden
May is a busy month at any farm, but particularly at Old School this year as this month has seen many important steps forward taking place.

Dave Campeau & Dave Benner plant asparagus

The majority of the garden has been planted with a wide variety of vegetables, including 400 asparagus plants.    

These get planted in a trench about 8" deep.  They were a foot tall in 10 days !  It takes two years until you can really begin to harvest, and even then you must only take every other spear.

The bee hives are set up and are awaiting "nukes" or in other words, break away colonies, each with a new queen from existing hives.   We are a bit worried about bears going for honey, so we will be adding barbed wire to the electric fence posts in this corner of the 1 acre garden enclosure and then continuing it around to enclose the hives on all four sides.

Dave gives Al's dad Dave a bee hive demo 
We placed the hives near large Norway spruce trees that will shelter them from the north winds in winter time.   Only a few of the shallower sections of the stackable hives have been put in places.  The other sections and "deeps" which will hold much more honey will not be put in place until the colony really starts cranking out comb and honey production later in the summer.  We believe our bees will be prolific producers of top quality honey, as our hillsides and river valley are loaded with black locusts, shrub honeysuckle, and autumn olive among other plants bees like.   We also have planted a lot of buckwheat as a cover crop in the garden - another bee favorite.  We are hoping for somewhere between 100 and 150 lbs of honey ultimately per year from each hive.

Of course our twin six year old boys, Owen and Coleman have been spending quite a bit of time at the farm and this means one thing - FUN.  From building toad houses (for pest control) in the garden, to riding around illegally in the back of our pickup truck "Hoss", the boys are really enjoying the spring season and all their adventures.  They even found an unidentified large turtle with red legs (one of which was missing).

Toad houses may encourage insect eating amphibians to inhabit your garden.  We don't know if this will really work, but it was fun for the boys - we will keep you posted!

Turkey Polts are now two weeks old and are soon ready to go outside into their coop and free range during the day.

Every young man likes to break the law once in a while....

Al with "ramps" - a mild wild leek with bulbs
As an admirer of American Indian ways and traditions (my wife, Deena and I were married by a tribal elder), I plan on using this blog as a way to share my knowledge that I acquired from my dad about edible wild foods.  Two weeks ago I focused on the "fiddlehead" - the restaurant delicacy found here in our area along the banks of the Dyberry.  This time around we have two more wild foods to share - "Ramps" (wild leeks - also on finer restaurant menus) and the lessor know "lamb's quarters" - also know less favorably as "pigweed" - the early germinating weed in many gardens.  I picked a "pocketful   a couple of days back while taking a stirrup hoe (an amazing weeding tool) to the garden.  When steamed or

 boiled, these young shoots give Spinach a real run for the money.  A pretty good deal when "weeds" become food.
Lamb's Quarters - A delicious & nutritious "weed"

Some other steps forward:

Our old unused small "duck house" got moved via our old broken down trailer and my station wagon from the orchard up above the house down near the small pool near the pasture where our Icelandic sheep will soon be frolicking.  This structure will be used to house the solar water pump that will provide water to our sheep and drip irrigation for our 1 acre garden plot - all powered by the sun.

Dave was able to get the new locking hubs onto our truck, Hoss, and we now have full 4WD capabilities.   In his excitement he backed into a pear tree in our orchard by accident - hard to fault a McGiver-like guy for a small driving mis-hap.  The tree appears to be fine....

Plans are now set to rent a mini backhoe and dig a small trout pond adjacent to our spring house - this will be 6 - 7' deep and will keep trout year round, providing quality fish dinners and eliminating the swampy area adjacent to the spring house.  I already put one trout I caught in the Dyberry into the large basin in the springhouse - she awaits the pond to be dug....

A biking destination in the making...

I must have seen over 100 bikers memorial day weekend....our 8 miles of flat road along a trout stream are becoming well known.  We are contemplating making a room or two available during the summer for bikers, fly fishers, and/or Farmstay enthusiasts - if you have an interest, please let us know.

Very happy hens in their new coop - with a young rooster to right eyeing up his gals.

My view of the Dyberry - and when I turn to my right...
the man who taught me to fish...farming after hours has perks !

We are seeing a LOT of ladybugs this year... Unfortunately also a lot of potato beetles (the boys  love to smush those)

Next blog will have 6 sheep in this photo 

Five years ago I innoculated a few sugar maple logs with Shitake mushroom spores - I almost tripped over  this log!

GET one of these.  Johnny's Seeds has this Swiss made model .
Owen Benner scores with a Jitterbug.

The moss garden patio expansion for the moss workshop held at the farm - learn more about moss at:

Volunteers needed:   If you or anyone you know is interested in staying in a nice home for the summer and eating what you raise while learning and working on the farm, please get in touch with me at    Dave could use a hand and this is a great opportunity to pick up a few farming tips from a local legend - Roger Hill, our farming partner and local farmer/artist.  When it comes to soils and farming in general, Roger is hands down exceptional.  Plus he's a really nice guy :)

Interested in growing your own food? Check out Backyard Farmers at

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Old School Farm
Charting a new course with old fashioned thinking...

Farm Manager, Dave Campeau with Coleman & Owen Benner
We believe Thomas Jefferson had it right - there is security and equality when the majority of people grow their own food.   Here at Old School Farm we understand that raising our own food, and the bio-diversity that comes along with a balanced small scale organic farm  is a good thing.  The current industrial farm, or monoculture scenario that focuses on one crop or livestock breed leaves food producers and the mouths they feed vulnerable.  It exposes the crop or livestock to pests, disease, and annual weather pattern fluctuations.  It requires large amounts of external inputs, including synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics, hormones and LOTS of water.  These systems can be very toxic to the environment as well as humans and are not sustainable in the long run, especially since their core input, fossil fuels, are being depleted.

Our intensive planting method
As we bring our farmland back to life, we are committed to the ultimate goal of zero external inputs. A perfectly balanced environment where rotational grazing, composting, cover-cropping, and other environmentally responsible practices will culminate in a "closed loop" food production  model that simulates naturally occurring plant and animal ecology.  The final step would require exchanging mechanized cultivation methods for horse power, but that is a ways off in our future.

So with life as hectic and fast paced as it is for all of us, why in the world should you take five minutes every week to read an update about a small farm you ask?

What I hope to offer with the Old School blog is to re-connect people with their agrarian roots (just one hundred years ago, close to 90% of us were farmers) and perhaps help others live more enriching, less stressful, and healthier lives in the process.  By sharing our experiences, successes, and failures, as well as our knowledge, our intent is to help others raise their own food, and perhaps also live more simply and closer to the land .  We also feel strongly that growing food in any capacity is very rewarding, therapeutic, and good for the body and soul.  Not to mention the incredibly flavorful, fresh food that is packed with many of the vitamins and minerals lacking in today's food supply.  To learn more about why this is so important and see systems for growing your own food in limited spaces, visit:

The lower pasture along the Dyberry - circa 1900
The history of our farm is similar to many that have become idle, been absorbed by mega-farms, or have been turned into housing developments in the past fifty years.  The land was first farmed in the 1800's (photo at right), and into the middle of the twentieth century, the focus was dairy cattle, hay, and some row crops to supplement for animal forage and as food for the family.  Rotational grazing and haying provided for healthy, grass-fed cattle and nutritious dairy products that were first produced on the farm and later at dairy co-ops to which the raw milk was sold (we have one of these original pick up receipts from the 1930's paid to the farm by the "hundred weight" of milk picked up by the co-op)

I have envisioned a working farm ever since I purchased the old farmhouse with 54 acres in 2002.  The only previous owners - the Walter family, designed and built the home in 1925.  We have many of the old photos which I will soon be scanning and posting so others can enjoy the nostalgia associated with these old black and white images.  I have found a lot can also be learned about the farm and how the land was used in earlier times.

The Walter Family
The name Old School not only refers to doing things the old fashioned way, but it also makes the connection to Olive Walter, the last of the Walter family to reside in our home prior to my acquiring it.  Olive was the beloved school teacher who walked to work at the old schoolhouse that once graced the banks of the Dyberry River that flows along the entire length of our pasture.  Olive's sister, Mary is still living and is as spunky as ever at 95. (Mary is on far left and Olive on far right in photo)  My wife Deena and I have become friends with Mary and she has given us many of the old photos of the farm.  She will be coming down for a visit in early June this year and is excited to finally meet our boys Owen and Coleman.  Mary is really great.  Unlike her sister, Olive who never married and stayed put at the farm, Mary traveled the world, had a pilots license, worked for IBM, and was married to Howard Thomas, who almost made it to 100 (we have some very funny stories about Howard :)

Located in Wayne County - the most northeastern county in Pennsylvania, our farm is situated a few miles north of the county seat of Honesdale along the Dyberry River (trout abound here). Old School Farm encompasses 54 acres, consisting of 14 acres of pasture/garden areas and 40 acres of wooded hillsides and overgrown pasture with northeastern exposure.  An incredibly serene water falls that flows out of nearby Lake Elsie provides year round soothing sounds, visual tranquility and cooling breezes on a hot summer day.  There is a small orchard of twenty-five trees that I planted eight years ago and a large organic vegetable plot now approaching one acre in size.  Laying hens, turkeys, berries, bees, sheep, and a soon to be built wood fired bread and pizza oven round out the mix.

Al Benner with Old School Carrots
As the father of twin six year old boys, and owner of a handful of small businesses, the reality is I am spread thin.  Being that I split time between the farm and our rental home in Philadelphia, I realized long ago that what the farm really needed was an inspired, intelligent, and hard working younger person that shared my vision to take on the roll of Farm Manger.  After searching for a period of years to find the right person, he finally surfaced last spring when he responded to a help wanted posting at (Pennsylvania Sustainable Agriculture) - we are members of the northeastern PA region of this amazing organization that is helping to connect thousands of farmers throughout Pennsylvania. 

Our Farm Manager, Dave Campeau is "old school" to the core and shares many of the small scale farming and self-sufficiency principles that I believe to be important.  Together we are forging ahead with the intent of creating a model for how anyone can live a simpler, more enjoyable life, while feeding themselves incredibly delicious food and caring for the planet.     Dave comes to mind when I think of a Ben Franklin quote that I have always appreciated:

"All mankind is divided into three classes: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move."   Dave definitely falls into the last category.

May 2012:   Not only do we raise our own food, but the boys and I also collect some of the edible wild foods of spring, including;  ramps (wild leeks), mustard greens, and my personal favorite - fiddleheads (the tightly wound emerging ostrich ferns found along stream and river banks).   We planted a lot of our early season row crops even earlier this  year due to the mild spring, and so far this is paying off, as the spinach, peas. potatoes, carrots, and beets are  ahead of schedule.  We are about to put this years' batch of egg layers out into their coop and the turkey polts and 500 asparagus plants arrive this week.  A few days back we were able to avoid a killing frost to most of our small orchard by spraying water on the trees during the coldest period of the night.   We have just three weeks to get ready for our six Icelandic Sheep that will be arriving in early June...

Here are just a few of the topics coming soon to our blog:

Icelandic Sheep Arrive
One of our new lambs due to arrive end of May

Old School Farmstays 

The New Barn

A Six Year Old's Fish Story (of a lifetime)

Children & Farming 

Bees Come to the Farm (from 5 miles away)

Orange Yolks

1955 - The Farmhouse is Moved

We're all Farmers at Heart

Wood Fired Pizza & Movie Night
Rooftop beds above sunroom

Up on the Roof....Grow Your Own Food - Anywhere  

Providing Food to the City

Roger - The real dirt from our farming
partner and soils guru

Hoss - Our '66 Ford

Sun Powered Water

Talkin' Turkey

Our road - A Biking Destination

Deena Benner polishes her business consulting skills
Finca Las Brisas - A Self-Sustaining Community in Costa Rica - Al's other passion

 Waiting for High Tunnels

Events at the Farm

Birds, Bats, and Toads - natural pest control

Maple Sugaring - Made easy by Gravity

Have Shade, Can't grow veggies?.... Grow Moss

If you like what you are reading so far, please feel free to follow our blog, or share it with others...

Thanks for spending some time with us...

Al Benner

Old School Farm
Honesdale, PA

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hoss...  A California workhorse finds a new home

As a teenager growing up in the early 80's in Bucks County, PA, I had a couple of friends in high school that were really into old Ford Mustangs.  I'm not sure if it was peer pressure, but the next thing I knew, I was convincing my younger brother, Rob to sell our beer can collection so I could buy my first car.  With the proceeds I then purchased a '67 Ford Mustang.  The good news is I survived to talk about it :)

I put off purchasing a truck for the farm, but realized a long time ago that without havaing one for local pick ups and hauling things around, we were very inefficient.  What my wife Deena will tell you is that once I made the decision to get a truck, I then became some sort of obsessed motorhead for a period of months.

Ebay, Craigslist, OldRide, you name it, I trolled the web postings.  For some reason that old Mustang had left an indelible mark upon me, for it wasn't long after looking at old makes and models of trucks that I became obsessed with Ford F-250 pick ups from the 1960's.    

I bid on one from Trenton, NJ, but got mixed up on the ending time for the auction and lost out on it.  Then a guy from California decided to change our agreed to price - that was a deal killer.

Finally, a '66 Ford surfaced on a classic car site, called   According to the owner of the company, Dana, the truck was in good running condition, had fresh paint on the cab, and best of all had little to no rust because it had spent it's life on a farm in California.  It also only had 70,000 miles on it.  

I took a chance ordering sight unseen but I had a good feeling about Dana - he seemed a very straight shooter, and proved to be as he ended up sending us some parts we needed to make the 4WD operable at no cost. Hoss has lived up to our expectations and then some, as it appears to be a rare model with a special drive train.  There are probably only a couple of hundred of these left around. Best of all it runs strong and starts right up.

The bed is not original, so our plan is to do a lot of hard work w/ that bed now, and then eventually remove it and replace it with "old school" looking flatbed with wooden sides - a real farm truck.  We also plan to sell the over-sized and somewhat tacky wheels and tires and replace them with more appropriate ones that go with the vehicle.

Owen and Coleman, our twin six year old boys are bonkers for the truck and are constantly looking to ride in the bed over to the garden area or up the dead end road to nearby "Tanner's Falls".  They refer to the red upholstered bench seat in the cab as a "sofa".  The truck has no power steering or power brakes, so it will be quite a few years until these guys are able to manage any off road driving.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Interested in growing your own food? Check out Backyard Farmers at