Monday, February 18, 2013

Planning, Sugaring, Expanding the flocks

It may seem like a slow time of the year on a farm, but this is not the case.  Sure, aside from obtaining more firewood, tapping trees, and building portable structures, some of the physical demands have been reduced a bit, but the amount of planning, marketing, equipment sourcing and budgeting going on is at an an all time high.

For starters, after months of deliberation and hundreds of used tractors viewed online, it was finally time to pull the trigger and make a decision on a multi-purpose farm tractor.  In the end we didn't have to go far, as we found a 1959 Massey Ferguson T035 tractor at a good price right here in Honesdale.  The tractor has a live PTO (power  take off) and 3 point hitch on the back so that mowers and other attachments can be hooked up and powered by the tractor.  We are also presently sourcing a front end bucket loader that we can take on and off as needed to lift and haul loads or turn compost, etc.  We think our old tractor certainly has an "old school" feel.

We also purchased an old "running gear" wagon frame from local farmer and talk radio farming personality, Dave Williams. For this Dave Campeau will fashion an oak flatbed, bench seats and sidewalls to form a wagon that will be used to move guests around the farm and for hauling hay and other bulky materials.  Another addition to our small collection of farm equipment is an old John Deere corn/seed planter that gets pulled behind the tractor.

We have a lot of plans on the books right now for when the weather warms - for starters, a privy up on the hillside so that guests can have a complete "old school" experience when visiting the farm this spring and summer (superior in every way to a porta-potty.  We are also currently planning a cold frame, and an additional shelter for some dairy goats we will be bringing to the farm.

Old School Farm will have a booth this April at the Philly Farm & Food Fest on Sunday, April 14th -  We will be there to promote our upcoming Family Farm Getaways, sell some homemade wood-fired bread, and to get the word out regarding our sister company that provides and installs backyard family food gardens -

The boys and mom, Deena were up over President's Day weekend to visit their cousins at nearby Elk Mountain.  Some sledding fun, a bit of snowmobiling on Dave's snowmobile, and tapping sugar maple trees for sap added to the excitement for the boys.

Maple sugaring season is upon us, and we have a gravity feed line tied into 15  trees up behind the barn.  This sap line drains into our rain barrel (a reclaimed olive barrel) up near the hen house, and then drains down from there to our massive cast iron caldron suspended over our fire pit.  It takes 40 gallons of sap to cook down to make just one gallon of syrup.  Soon after set up it got so cold that our tap lines and bucket taps froze, so we now await warmer temps to get things flowing - and cooking.

Watch a funny video of the boys getting their sap here:

Nesting boxes are almost complete for our laying hens and female turkeys.  We expect these heritage breeds to go "broody" soon and sit on eggs so we can proliferate our flocks.  It take about 28 days of nest sitting - quite a commitment, but Al had success with a Buff Orpington hen hatching out 8 chicks a couple of years back, so we remain optimistic.  The best news is that even though we lost our tom turkeys to predation and disease back in November, we just confirmed that mating season began in September, so we are pretty confident that our girl's eggs have already been fertilized.

As for our sheep, they are thriving even in this very cold weather.  Elska, the largest ewe is still calling the shots and continues to butt heads (literally with our still smaller and younger ram, Uncas.  We certainly hope Uncas did his "work" this past fall and that we in fact have four pregnant ewes ready to lamb come late spring - it's hard to tell at this point w/ the shaggy winter coats.

During mid-February Al and Dave journeyed to State College for the 22nd annual PASA (PA sustainable Agriculture conference) - held at the Penn Stater conference center.  Over 2,000 people were in attendance to select from over 100 workshops/seminars to learn the latest sustainable agriculture practices.  Some excellent food and a great time was had by all.   If you are interested in where your food comes from, bettering how we produce it, and would like to meet some really great people, then you might want to consider joining PASA. Keynote speaker, Ben Hewitt, an author and farmer raising two young boys on a farm in Vermont was pretty incredible:   - he's a great read.

Bob Martin - 2nd from left
Finally, Al had a nice visit from Bob Martin who works locally for the Army Corp of Engineers.  Because OSF recently received a USDA grant and will be installing a 100' x 28' high tunnel (greenhouse-like structure) this spring for crop  season extension, Al decided to check with Bob to make sure this structure would be acceptable in the garden area which is within the floodplain.  No problem as it is considered a temporary structure.  Bob was then kind enough to drop off a few old photos of himself in class at the old one room school house.

Olive Walter - the much loved teacher at the Pleasant Valley School

Prior to the Jadwin dam being installed to protect Honesdale from flooding, the school was located directly across the Dyberry river from us.  Bob also shared copies of some old photos of Olive Walter (above) whose family had built our house, and who was the teacher for many years.  Olive can be seen above in the background behind her students. Bob then went on to tell me how each day students would walk over to our springhouse to get drinking water and how they were also responsible for keeping the wood stove stoked during winter months.  Thanks for the great history lesson Bob !

Until next time, enjoy the photos, stay warm, and think spring !

Your Friends at Old School Farm

Turkey tracks
Hen enjoying beets from our springhouse

Pileated woodpecker work

Our old Kalamazoo Stove in Basement - 100% wood heat

Old school sugaring bucket

Windows added to back of hen house for ventilation

An unknown creature;s winter burrow - possibly a weasel