Monday, December 31, 2012

Holiday time at the Farm...

Things slow down at the farm during the winter.  The activities and projects  that can be undertaken during more favorable weather conditions are now limited.  It's a good time to focus on keeping warm and planning your agenda, seed selections/planting arrangement, pasture rotations,and budget for the coming year.  It's also a good time to catch up on those nagging deficiencies around the house that were put off during warmer months - the door that locks on it's own, the old kitchen cabinet that sticks, and that pesky pull cord light that isn't functioning.

There was one very pressing issue that finally got addressed just before Christmas - the chimney flue that had cracks in it.  This was of concern since we are now heating the entire house with the old Kalamazoo #23  wood/coal burning furnace in the basement (we are only using wood).
As creosote builds up over time in the flue, it can migrate into these cracks in the terracotta liner and possibly start a chimney fire.

It was decided that the most cost-effective and best way to remedy this problem was to insert a new stainless steel liner (sleeve) into the existing flue.   How to do this?   The chimney is close to 35' off the ground, and on steep angle at one corner of the mansard roof - quite dangerous to access with a ladder.   As it turns out we had a local tree professional out to remove some dead limbs that were hanging over our new barn, so we decided to see if Bob Myers (from Hawley) would be willing to use his 50' hydraulic bucket lift for lowering the liner into place.  Bob was game, and it all worked out great.   Thanks so much Bob!  We even hooked in the old wood burning cook stove in the kitchen.  Our first test fire yielded some awesome blueberry pancakes, but also a lot of smoke in the kitchen - we need to address some cracks in the Old Wyoming stove made by the Pittston Stove Company near Scranton.

The sheep are now receiving a larger ration of grain to keep their body fat up, and also regular bales of first cut hay.  Dave built a really nice hay feeder, and grain feeding trough.  We have also found a use for our old worn out kale and brussel sprout plants - the sheep love to eat them, and they even but heads over them!

We've also found that the pulp left over from the juicing of beets, carrots, kale, apples and oranges is a favorite of the sheep and the chickens - a great use of an otherwise worthless by-product.  At $35 for a 50 lb bag of organic sheep feed and close to $30 for chicken feed, this is a cost-saving and healthy addition to their diet.

The chickens are now laying fewer eggs - about 1 every three days.  This is due to the lower light levels and the seasonal molt some of the birds are experiencing.  We could force higher output by adding a light in the coop during periods of darkness, but we have instead opted to let the birds maintain strength and vitality during these cold months and letting nature dictate output.

Some good news - Al recently spied the brook trout he and the boys had stocked in the new pond last spring - we thought she had become dinner for a hungry heron, but happily we were mistaken.

Even though hunting season is over, the boys still enjoy seeing what passes by our game camera out in the woods.  We have here a link to our video showing a pack of coyotes that were seen up in our newly forming upper pasture area.  We certainly hope our electric fence stays well charged and our flashing predator eye lights keep doing the job for protecting our sheep.

We recently finalized our logo - many thanks to graphic artist, Charlie Layton for his excellent artwork in bringing Al's concept to reality.  We also have a website -  just click the logo here to take a look. It's a work in progress, but it will provide even more insight into the reasons for the farm and what we plan on offering moving forward.  Our first family farm tour/workshop that will feature learning how to build and cook in an earthen cob oven is set for Sunday, May 19th, with our opening Friday Pizza night is slated for Friday the 31st of May.  Check our website for more details as they unfold.  We hope you can pay us a visit in person come spring - we're even planning on constructing a traditional Lene Lenape Indian sweat lodge on the property.

Lastly, we part with a humorous photo of our "invisible" Christmas tree that was dragged out of the woods by the boys and was so void of branches, it is hard to see any green aside from the wall behind the tree !  Thankfully at Christmas time six year old boys don't seem to mind :)

Enjoy this special time of year with your family...

Your Friends at Old School Farm

Note:  If you enjoy snow boarding, click here to see a link of
"Farmer Dave" doing a 360 at the farm!

Below are some additional farm photos for your enjoyment...

Owen uncorks a fastball at Dad.

Giant "Grax" beet with our eggs & potatoes 
Syphoning Hard Cider 

Sheppards tending their flock
Turkeys venture out during snow storm
Dave makes final connections to cook stove
Owen writes his name in the slush forming on pond
Brussels still going strong
Coleman Benner after conquering the "half pipe" jump

"Happy Thoughts" - The caption on the bottom of our "Old Wyoming" 1920's kitchen stove plates
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Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Harsh Realities of Farming

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and as November turns into December, we have a lot to be thankful for here at Old School Farm.  Our Farm Manager, Dave Campeau has had a major impact on our small, bio-diverse start-up operation, contributing not only his physical labor day in and day out, but also his diverse knowledge base, creativity, problem solving, and willingness to learn new skills and techniques.  Thanks Dave - we look forward to a very exciting 2013.

Thanksgiving is turkey time and at OSF it was no different.  Our bronze breasted hybrid meat birds were plump from organic grain and free -ranging in the orchard and we have harvested and processed eight of these so far.

Hard to believe Dad let him wear that sweater for this job.
Owen and Coleman helped dad grind some of the meat in an old-fashioned hand crank grinder and then Christin (Dave's girlfriend from Germany who was visiting), Dave, and Al made several types of sausage from the meat with an old sausage stuffer/fruit press that Al acquired on e-bay.  The favorite variety so far has been the spinach/feta combination, with apple/currant/maple coming a close second.

We also had some serious problems and setbacks with our turkeys.  Not only did we lose two 30 lb bronze breasted birds and our only remaining bourbon red tom right in the pen due to pecking/cannibalism, but we also lost our prized and elegant Spanish Black tom to a predator early one morning.

The bird roosted up in a tree, but we think then decided to come back inside our orchard area to the ground before first light - something took him out - we found him half eaten under our elderberry patch.  Now we are left with only one heritage breed male turkey for breeding purposes - our Royal Palm. (update just before publishing - we just lost him as well - seems a virus has struck...  No breeding for spring unless it has already been done :)

As the temperatures drop we are really going through the wood.  Thankfully our neighbors Jim and Pat Sanders have a lot of dry locust logs they aren't using and this will be a big help for us in getting through the winter - we have about 2.5 cords in stock now, but we need about 6.

The chickens are doing very well, but one Buff Orpington hen keeps getting out of the fence somehow.  One night we didn't realize this and we found her the next morning in the woods just outside the fence sitting on an egg in the leaves!   We have since clipped her wing feathers, but to our chagrin she is still getting out - always the same bird.   We now need to look at a couple of the large shrubs and small trees near the fence line, as we think she is getting up in these and then getting over the fence.

The first week after Thanksgiving marks the start of the deer hunting season, and in what has become a four year tradition, Al's friends Rocco and Jerry were up for 3 days to try and get a deer for the farm freezer.  Unfortunately Rocco didn't connect on an 8 point buck at the top of the hill.  There are still a few days to go in the season, so Al will be out this coming week in an attempt to obtain venison for the family (the boys love it)

Team Coyote:  Rob, Owen & Sophia
A new tradition may have been initiated over Thanksgiving weekend when Al's brother Rob, his wife Erin and daughters visited.  Since Al's wife Deena, and  parents Dave and Sue were also present, he decided to divide everyone up into teams of three for the "Old School Farm Challenge"   This scavenger hunt/quiz of sorts took place indoors and out, and consisted of finding hidden objects, identifying things on the farm, and answering a series of farming/outdoor-related questions.   It turned out to be a lot of fun.  Congratulations to Team Coyote - Uncle Rob, Owen and Sophia for their big win!

Checking for clues during the "challenge" - note jug of hard
cider brewing in other room in background
In closing we would like to again put in a plug for a community and entertainment venue that opened in Honesdale this past June - The Cooperage.   On the friday after Thanksgiving the Benner family enjoyed  an amazing concert by Los Villalobos brothers from Mexico.  The three brothers who are classically trained violin virtuosos,  were accompanied by a band, and played a wide range of music, putting out some amazing sounds.  They have even played Carnegie Hall!    You can sample some of their music here.  They really are spectacular.

Below we have a lot of additional interesting photos and information this time around, so please
enjoy them.  See you in December!  -  We hope to have a cool "old school" logo for the farm to show  you by then.  We also hope to have our date nailed down for our first of several workshop/farm tours that will start next May.  I know some of you have been sending us your feedback and comments, but for some reason we are not seeing them...seems like google needs to take a look at their blogger program.

Al's dad, Dave harvested 60 lbs! of Napoli super sweet carrots
 from one of the 36" x 36" drip irrigated rooftop beds

Be well...

The folks at Old School Farm

A boy and his grain bucket

Scavenger hunt find in drain pipe

Boys with Enterprise fruit press/sausage stuffer
Seeding the newly cleared upper pasture with Winter Rye
Spreading straw on slopes to prevent erosion (this turned into a straw fight)
Coleman with giant storage beets - red & golden - super sweet!  
All our root crops are now safely stowed away in our springhouse.
Juicing our kale, carrots, and beets with apples and tangerines- incredible stuff -
we'll feed the leftover fibrous mash to the chickens
Our kale has survived the low 20's so far and is still growing
Clowning around w/ "Uncle Jim"
Brussels can last well into December or even later in zone 5

Treasure map found in cob oven

New spring loaded mineral feeder built by Dave in sheep shelter

Turkey identification -  part of the "Farm Challenge"

"Massaged" Kale Salad with olive oil, currants, apple and shredded carrots
Dave up in an ash tree that came down in last  years' hurricane.
It was later determined that the tree was too dangerous to work
    in as it was "spring loaded" by other bent smaller trees beneath it.
One of our hardest woods - Hop Hornbeam that was crowding a larger ash
 being thinned out for fire wood
We pot up & bring in our herb plants for fresh herbs all winter long
Thanksgiving day bikers pass through the farm (note recently turned section of pasture for growing grain feedstocks for poultry in the future)

Albenner - Find me on