Thursday, July 26, 2012

Beet Sorbet, Ideas from Maine, and Bread Oven update

Wild low bush blueberries are easily "raked" along the coast of Maine. 

Late July marks the start of blueberry season in Downeast Maine, and the Benner family is fortunate enough to be able to spend some time in this glorious part of the world each summer.

Recently Al Benner paid a visit to an off-grid hostel/farm on Deer Isle, where virtually all the structures, food, and energy are produced right on site by the proprietors.  This experience touched a nerve with Al as he found the simple, yet elegant structures and grounds to be very much in line with the vision he and Dave Campeau share for Old School Farm.

Deer Isle Hostel - Hand built from stone and wood on site

Thanks to Anneli and Dennis for the wonderful tour and all the information they shared about their experience to date.  To find out more about the hostel, visit:     

The new "hut" made of cedar and oak

Hand carving tools on bed and view to the outside world
Here are some  photos and brief descriptions that show the progress since Dennis began clearing the land just a few years ago.  It's amazing what some patience, craftsmanship, and vision can produce...
Hand sculpted oak beams and medieval joinery
Anneli's garden - seaweed is a key ingredient

Reclaimed hardwood shipping skids - idea for compost bins

The modest home is completely off grid

A wood fired cedar hot tub for those cold Maine winters!Here are some
Chickens get lots of vegetable scraps and clippings

Dennis shows his simplistic log mover with min-mill and locust logs behind

Hot showers using a sprinkling can and pulley

Hand pumped Maine spring water

A Useful Wild Plant

Colt's Foot is a common low growing ground cover -type plant that has been used by Native peoples for centuries to help with Asthma.  Our son Owen experiences pre-asthmatic conditions and has bad allergies, so we will be trying this plant in lieu of inhalers.  Simply dry the leaves and then crush to make a tea.  Look for leaves with the black spots - the plant's oil that is medicinal is more prevalent in these leaves with the fungus present.
Colt's Foot Leaf - A native plant useful as a tea for treating asthma 

Beet Sorbet Donation

Old School Farm recently donated several pounds of beets to a local PASA food tasting even at the Silk Mill near Hawley, PA.  The sorbet was prepared the well known Settler's Inn also in Hawley. The feedback from many was that this was a very delicious and refreshing dessert.  Beets can also be used to make beet ice cream.

Farm Updates

In Al's absence, Dave has been hard at work with several projects that will ensure the long term success of the farm.  These include:  Starting to construct the wood fired bread and pizza oven, completing the solar powered drip system for the garden, and getting our six Icelandic sheep moved over into our twelve acre pasture.  
For the sheep to thrive and be healthy and to minimize parasited load, we need to constantly rotate their pasture area ever couple of weeks.  We will be doing this by using portable electric netting that keeps them contained and prevents predators like coyotes from coming in.  When we are ready to move to "greener pastures", we simply hook the towable hemlock shelter with a tow strap to our '66 Ford  pickup "Hoss" and easily move the structure to the new location.  The fence and sheep are then maneuvered to the new location.

The water line from the pump house to the spring fed stream
Getting the water flowing properly was a bit more challenging.  The soaker hose that we had been graciously donated by a neighbor had a few clogs and not knowing this at first created some confusion as to why water wasn't flowing properly, but in the end, we are now able to easily water several rows of our garden simultaneously by mid to late morning when the sun is shining.  If the power goes down for some reason, our crops still get water.  Best of all, pumping it costs us nothing.

The Pump House with solar panel, pump, pressure tank, control panel and water feed line

Soaker hoses extend over newly planted rows of rutabegas, carrots and parsnips

The wood fired bread and pizza oven is starting to take shape.  Dave is collecting stone from our old fieldstone farm walls in areas where they have fallen down, and we are using these w/ mortar between and behind for our base for the oven.  This stone base will finish at waste height.  We are planning on having friday pizza nights at the farm beginning this fall, with a large screen movie to follow in the barn.

We'll be in touch again soon with more news from the farm, but until then, enjoy some more photos...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Water is flowing...thanks to the sun!

Pump House
As temperatures continue to hover close to ninety in Northeastern, PA, we are thankful that we were finally able to get our solar powered pumping system operational for our thirsty one acre organic vegetable patch.

Our start up time was delayed several days thanks most likely to rough handling by UPS (not our driver he's a top notch guy).  Our first solar panel arrived shattered, and then our first pump wouldn't run properly.

We are using a solar powered pump, pressure tank, and drip irrigation.  For you solar energy geeks out there, the specs are as follow:  Dankoff Solar Slowpump 2507 that moves 4 gallons per minute.  Currently, it pumps when the pressure goes below 5 psi and builds the pressure back up to 15 psi before the pump shuts off again.  It has a 1 1/2" diameter PVC intake line, a pressure tank with a 6 gallon drawdown capacity.  The exit piping is 1 1/4"  diam. poly tubing which is set up to attach to a garden hose/soaker hose.

Soaker Hose in Broccoli bed

Movable sheep shelter
Other happenings include the construction of a second sheep shelter that is towable so we can move it around the twelve acres of river bottom pasture on the other side of the road.  The idea is to move the shelter and electric fence netting around so as to keep the animals on fresh pasture.   This will minimize or eliminate the need for de-worming for parasites as they have a two week start up life cycle once the sheep begin defecating on their browse area.  A two week rotation will greatly reduce parasite load and keep us from having to use harsh medications.  We need to be medication free for milking to make cheese for the pizzas we hope to soon be producing in our wood fired bread and pizza oven Dave will be building.

We are also pro-actively using powdered garlic and diematacious earth mixed with their minerals and/or grain to help keep our sheep from getting parasites.

"Massaged" Kale Salad...

Beginning last fall we started making "massaged" kale salads - sounds strange right?    Well the culinary experience is a delight for the palate.  Even our burly hunter friend, Jerry was having thirds last fall and soon after buying kale at his local supermarket.  Kale has one of the highest vitamin contents of any vegetable, but up until we discovered this easy way to make kale tastier by massaging it with olive oil from our neighbor, Pat Sanders, kale was not high on the list for the dinner menu.

Here is Dave's recipe that all our fellow PASA members were raving about at this month's potluck meeting:

LARGE bunch of kale (16-20 leaves minimum of at least 12 inches long)
1 tsp. salt
1/3 cup slice almonds
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/3 cup currents
3/4-1 cup diced apples
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup feta cheese

Remove stems from kale and cut chiffonade
Spit or pat kale dry
Sprinkle salt on kale and massage 2 minutes
Put kale in different dish and discard any extra liquid
Add apples, almonds, currents and stir.
Add olive oil, vinegar and toss
Sprinkle feta cheese on top.

Turkey woes...

Heritage breed turkeys enjoy bugs & grass in orchard
We lost several turkeys a few weeks back when we couldn't get the young birds into the coop one night.  All that we found were some feathers a few days later - we suspect a raccoon.  We have since kept the grain in the coop during the day while the birds free range in the orchard.  This appears to be working as they are drawn back to the grain in the evening.
The smallest runt however still seems confused by this process and walks in circles around coop, making the work day even longer this time of year.

Wild Food update...

Wild Elderberry Flowers - amazing in pancakes!
Wild Elderberry Pancakes...   Since we like to share our edible wild food experiences, we needed to pass on a very delicious addition to any pancake recipe - elderberry flowers.  Not only are the berries good for wine, but the flowers are marvelous when mixed into any batter.

Some R & R ...

Farm Manager, Dave Campeau's parents were recently up for a visit and Dave took some much needed time to relax and pick blueberries at a nearby property and do some fishing with his dad at a neighbor's pond.  He also visited what was once a private airstrip - just down the road a few miles.   You never know what you'll find tucked away in the hills of Pennsylvania.

The trout pond has really cleared up nicely and the new upper pond is holding water as well.  We hope to get a couple of Highland cattle next year to beging stripping invasive shrub honeysuckle and autumn olive from our upper pasture.

More projects and photos....

Clearing the old road bed to upper pasture

Fireworks by the fire pit...

Our compost piles are teaming with red worms - we feed some to our trout.

Spotted Efts abound near the falls - an indicator of a very healthy eco-system

Turkey feathers - nature can be cruel

Antique figurine shard found in garden near Dyberry trout stream  (note fish)
Raspberries staked with scrap hemlock from barn construction

garlic scapes, blueberries, beets/beet greens, snow peas
One of our bees gathering asparagus pollen
Keeping watermelons cold by floating them in our springhouse

A big reason to stay the course with a small farm...

Until next time.... stay cool and support your local farmers whenever you can - we all may become a lot more dependent on smaller, local producers in the years ahead as the costs of fossil fuels continue to rise and our clean water supplies continue to be threatened.