A Woman and her Sickle

Back in September, we celebrated my 40th birthday at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA.  I attended a workshop there about bio-intensive growing with heavy use of cover crops.  The speaker, Cindy Connor, was a woman I’d guess to be about 15 years older than I.  She recommended a Japanese sickle for cutting down cover crops.  The vendor she recommended, Purple Mountain Organics, had a booth at the fair so I bought a sickle.  When I did, it felt a bit strange to be buying such a serious looking weapon and putting it in my purse–like I should need a permit or at least fill out a mental health questionnaire or something.

This spring, I have been using my sickle a lot to chop down the cover crops I broadcast seeded last fall.  The first time my husband came into the garden and saw me with it, he offered to do the work for me.  In his defense, he was being sweet and also knows I have a 40 year history of clumsiness and haste–2 traits probably not best for the task. However, I made it clear that the sickle was mine and I would be the one using it.

I was out cutting down cover crops so that raised beds could be placed on top of the beds and filled with great soil from another great lady grower’s compost business, Soilmaker, when I almost hacked one of my garden’s resident garter snakes.  I was startled and she was spared.  

My sickle has become a liberating symbol of  power.  I love chopping up cover crops and weeds with it.  I know many great lady farmers that have a serious amount of years on me and they are going and growing strong.  They are inspirational to me and I plan to follow in their footsteps.  I am feeling great recently due to some dietary changes and I know the best is yet to come.  I have every intention of going into the future wielding sickles and axes as well as vegetables and flowers.  I was recounting my sickle adventures to a friend recently and she said I sounded like She-Ra.  Exactly.  She-Ra moments are amazing!

Perhaps every woman should get a sickle for her 40th birthday

Summer in March

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I am not very happy about this already summer weather because I believe it to be man-made, but it sure has brought the farm to life.  So much is happening and I think it can be best summed up by photos.  Peaches are blooming, asparagus is starting to come, the high tunnel looks and feels like late May, and planting is well underway.  All these pictures were taken yesterday evening.  We grilled local pastured chicken on the grill, dined al fresco, Lily and Paco enjoyed their first popsicle of the season on the porch (raspberry hibiscus), and ,while they played basketball, I did the chores and walked the farm taking pictures.  As I came back up toward the house, I was overwhelmed with the joy of it all.  There is nowhere on the planet I would rather be.

A tree as beautiful…

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Last spring, we decided it was high time for Lillian to have a tree that is all hers.  We planted a beautiful magnolia right in front of the house.  The blossoms are as beautiful as she is.  Since we are having summer weather in March, it is blooming now.

Pleasing the Ladies

We are starting our 4th year with chickens and one of the things that I find interesting about them are there preferences as far as produce.  This morning when I did chores, I stopped in the high tunnel and grabbed a handful of mizuna.  My plan was to stick it in my smoothie for the day, but on a whim I decided to give it to the hens.  Of course, there was a mad dash to see what lovely green had made an appearance.  It was quickly apparent that mizuna was not to their liking.  Everyone wanted to try it, but no one came back for another bite.

So far, these are the items our chickens would rather do without:

Anything citrus

Onions, garlic



Squash (will eat eventually)


Our gals are lucky to get all the ends of the lettuces used at the restaurant.  That is about all the produce waste there is there. The goats love the lettuce ends as well.  When I come in with a bag, they work on picking it apart before I can even get the bag open.

This weekend we will be cleaning up the high tunnel beds so there will be some weeds for feasting on by the lovely ladies.

It Begins Again

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I did not purchase many seeds this year.  I cleaned out old seeds and purchased heavily last year.  This year I only purchased new things that caught my eye and a few things I was low on.  Some of the ones I am excited about are pictured here.

I have my seed bench moved inside, all my tools organized, and am ready to go.  I will be doing some planting outside in the high tunnel and the garden as well.

I am especially excited about growing Roselle (a hibiscus flower used for drinks), Johnny’s new “Flower Sprouts”, some beautiful patty pan squashes from Baker’s Creek, Indigo Rose tomatoes from Johnny’s, and Jicama.

It’s Syrup Time Again

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Sugaring season is here.  With this crazy warm winter we’ve had, I know some people have been sugaring off and on over the past 2 weeks, but I tapped our trees this past Friday.  It looked like we were going to have a stretch of perfect temps for collecting sap.  We collected 11 gallons form 6 taps on Friday and Saturday morning.  I have another 5 gallons on the boiler now (from yesterday, Sunday was too cold)–on my front porch “Sugar House”  as I type this.

We are pretty much following the method we used in the past, but this year we put our nice blue spiles to work.  Despite being plastic, they held up great to be pounded in the trees and have held our 5 gallon buckets just great.  I am very happy with them.  I know many uses small sap buckets, gallon milk jugs, or even mason jars to collect the sap, but I really like using 5 gallon buckets.  They can hold a lot more.  I never leave them until they are full of course, but my best taps can produce 2-3 gallons over the course of a day.  With smaller receptacles, I think I may lose sap when I am gone for longer stretches during the day–like my teaching days.  I also like that we are re-purposing something we already have–no need to buy sap buckets.

The chef and I celebrated our 17th anniversary on Valentine’s Day.  Since we own a restaurant, we will never spend our anniversary together.  We went on a mini-date while our daughter was at school on Thursday.  We did not get each other anniversary gifts.  Instead, we went and got a 20 gallon stainless steel kettle.  We bought the kettle and the propane cooker we use (bought that 2 years ago) at a local Mexican grocery.  Mexican groceries are a great place to look for large pots.   In Mexico, a huge kettle like this would be used to cook for a large crowd or even to sell tamales or carnitas on street corners.  A kettle this big is not cheap, but we know it will get used.  It is perfect for boiling sap.  Since we can put so much in it, I do not have to keep adding sap to my 5 gallon kettle–slowing the process down.  Also, since it is flared, there is more surface area to aid in evaporation–making the whole process quicker.

Other uses we foresee for this kettle are outdoor canning, making huge batches of tomato sauce for canning, cooking for parties, processing chickens, etc.  It may not be a romantic present, but I love it.  My husband’s willingness to not only indulge my farming whims, but to love it nearly as much as I do, is very romantic.

I brought the “almost syrup” indoors to finish on the stove.  I used my canning funnel and the filters I still have from my dairying days to filter the syrup.  This first batch is a light golden hue–fancy grade syrup.  The syrup will darken up as the season progresses.  Now that we have the larger kettle, I am thinking about tapping more trees next year. It would be wonderful if we could use maple syrup for most of our sweetening.

If you are interested in trying this yourself, here is a link to a site that explains the process.

Now, off to make some maple sweetened oatmeal for my breakfast.

Just in Time

The organizers of the Dark Days eating local blog challenge have given us some challenges.  The first was the One Pot Meal challenge that I filled with pot roast, but this next challenge was A LOT harder.  I thought about it off and on for weeks.  The challenge—make a sweet treat for your Valentine using all or nearly all local ingredients.  That coupled with my little Valentine’s allergies to corn, soy, dairy, gluten (and those are just the pertinent ones to sweets), made this seem like a challenge deadline I might just have to let slide by.  A few days ago, stopped at a red light, it came to me–meringues.  Finally, I was saved.

I beat 4 egg whites (ours) stiff, added a pinch of cream of tartar, about a 1/2 cup of Longhouse Farm maple syrup, and a few drops of red food color (I could not help myself).  It worked like a dream.  Pink heart shaped meringues that melt on your tongue.   I  did it!  The cream of tartar and food color were not local of course, but they were minor additions.  As I type this, it occurs to me that I could have thawed some frozen raspberries and used a bit of those for color and flavor.

My seven year old Valentine was very impressed.

Sometimes, I hit it out of the park

Well, if you really know me, you know that I cannot hit or catch anything, let alone out of the park.  But, in a culinary way, our Dark Days meal this week was a home run.  I am not a very good recipe follower.  If I do use one, I usually follow it loosely.  This week I decided the spare ribs from the hog we got in the fall were ready to come out of the freezer.  Since I taught this day an would no be home in the afternoon, I prepped this meal in advance and set the oven to come on later and a low temp and slowly cook our ribs and sweet potatoes. 


I wanted BBQ sauce–Small Wonder Farm style, so I took a jar of my canned ketchup which has 2 times the flavor of regular ketchup, added a 1/4 cup of local maple syrup and a 1/4 of yellow mustard.  After salting and peppering the ribs, I covered them in this.  We came home to the best pork ribs imaginable with sweet potatoes and fresh spinach salad (picked from our own high tunnel).  Definitely a hit.

This was the first year I made ketchup and it will definitely become a staple for our pantry.  More flavorful and so versatile.  It can easily become BBQ sauce, cocktail sauce, or an addition in dishes like meatloaf and cabbage rolls.

Small Wonder Farm: Spinach

Markle Farm: Sweet Potatoes

This Old FarmPork Ribs

Longhouse Farm: Maple Syrup

Outside inputs:  Yellow Mustard, Salt, Pepper


A Really Good Day

50’s outside meant 70’s in the high tunnel and plenty to harvest.  What a wondrous day for the last day of January.  Once I got done with my have-to’s in the AM, I made an executive decision to ignore my need-to’s in the house and spend a few hours working in the high tunnel and the garden.  I was richly rewarded.  Salad greens, edible flowers, and Jerusalem artichokes will be heading to the restaurant with the chef tomorrow.  The weekend’s Jerusalem artichoke chowder was a sell-out hit.  It was great to get my hands into the earth and go treasure hunting for them. Mother Nature does a great job of keeping them crisp and fresh for whenever we need them.  The “candy carrots” are sweet and crisp.  In addition to the harvest, I loved seeing a dandelion in the high tunnel and some beautiful magenta kales.

Super Juice

It is sick season and my little girl is sick.  She was home sick last Thursday and since has sort of roller-coastered between sick and not sick and last night just plummeted.  No fever (often her M.O.), but rashy (not a real word), nauseous, and generally terrible looking.

Having homemade juice for her makes me feel like I can do something 100% good for her as her little body goes to battle.  I steam juiced our own grapes, blackberries, and raspberries to make this years vintage of juice.  I don’t sweeten or dilute it prior to canning so each quart actually makes a half gallon.  I put half into another quart jar, add water to double each, and then sweeten to taste with liquid stevia.  This vitamin boost has to do her body good.

Dark Days Times Two

Just when I was pondering what our next meal would be for the Dark Days local eating challenge, 2 meals happened back to back without really planning.  

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The first is a meal of lamb burgers with home-canned ketchup, German potato salad, home-canned applesauce, and a cold beet salad.  Meal number 2 was a beef pot roast with carrots, potatoes, onions, and garlic.  We had this with some home-canned peaches. Our pot roast meal qualifies as they One-pot Meal mini challenge within the Dark Days Challenge.  The only item not in the pot was the peaches and we ate those right out of the canning jar!

You will notice that our lamb burgers were served without a bun.  We often have bread-less meals due to our daughter’s numerous food allergies.  Makes Dark Days easier too!

The German Potato salad is not a regular offering around here.   A few weeks ago, we visited Shapiro’s Deli in Indianapolis and I had their German potato salad and I have been craving it ever since.  Shapiro’s is a 100+ year old deli and a bit of a local legend. Hard to believe we had never been their before.  The potato salad, served warm, was the perfect combination of strong mustard, vinegar tang, and just enough sweetness to make it perfect.  I love vinegar, mustard, and the like. This salad had celery (sauteed), but no bacon (most recipes call for it), and came across as elusively simple—the kind of recipe that you might never peg.  My version was not bad, but not as good either. To make the dressing, I used mustard, apple vinegar (our daughter can’t have white vinegar due to corn allergy) and honey. I boiled the potatoes, sauteed the celery in lard, and then tossed it altogether in the mustard dressing and added fresh parsley.  I doubted husband and daughter would even like it (not big mustard fans), but we all loved it.  If anyone out there has more insight into Shapiro’s German Potato Salad, I would love to know.

Here is the score:

Meal One (Lamb Burgers):

Lamb and Lard—Thistle Byre Farm

Applesauce—canned from Butera Orchard apples

Honey (on beets and in potato salad)–Wabash and Reilly Honey

Beets, Potatoes, Ketchup, Onions, Parsley, Garlic, Parsley, Celery–from our own Small Wonder Farm

Outside Inputs: Yellow Mustard, Salt, Pepper, Apple Cider Vinegar,  1 TB orange juice (on beets)

Meal Two (Pot Roast):

Chuck Roast–This Old Farm processing and Glenn Hoover Beef

Onions, Potatoes, Garlic, Carrots—from our own Small Wonder Farm

Home-canned peaches—peaches from Thistle Byre Farm

Outside inputs: Salt, Pepper, Mixed Dry Herbs, White Wine

Butternut, Apple, and Cranberry Gratin

Our local meal pick of the week was a butternut squash, apple, and cranberry gratin and local sausage. The inspiration came from an online recipe from Organic Gardening Magazine. http://www.organicgardening.com/cook/butternut-squash-apple-and-cranberry-gratin




I modified the recipe to accommodate our dairy and gluten free household. I substituted my GF flour blend for the flour and Spectrum shortening for the butter. I also used fresh cranberries for the dried ones and added 2 tablespoons of local honey to accommodate the lack of sweetness. We had this with some local grass-fed sausages from Thistle Byre Farm. This was a first time making this and we all really liked it. It would also make a great holiday side dish.

Here’s the rundown:

Thistle Byre Farm:
Grass-fed pork sausage
Fuji apples

Markle Farm:
Butternut Squash

Wabash and Reily Local Honey

Our own Small Wonder Farm:

Outside inputs:
GF flour blend
Spectrum shortening