December 25, 2010

happy christmas from the farm

It's a beautiful morning here with snow lightly falling. I'm snuggled next to the woodstove with my love and all is right in our world.

Wishing you and yours a beautiful day.

December 14, 2010

curled up with a brick

I am happily curled up on the couch under a blanket with a brick. Yes, I'm hugging a brick that's been sitting atop the wood stove, heating up. I was freezing and my husband is a genius.

We spent the day working outside and it's cold. There's a thick blanket of snow covering the farm and gusty winds that force the snow to dance across the fields in wisps. The kind of wind that hurts your face and stings your eyes. Did I mention that it's cold? The kind of cold that gets deep into your bones. The kind of cold that turns chicken's combs black with frostbite.

We spent the day getting the old turkey greenhouse ready to house the hens for the winter. This will give them a nice, big, passive solar, snow-free and draft-free space to live, roam around and lay their eggs. Tonight, after dark, when the hens are at their calmest, we carried them into their new space and carefully set them upon the roosts. They're in such a mellow, barely conscious state when it's dark that they aren't really aware of what's happening. They'll wake up tomorrow, hop off the roosts, do some exploring, eat breakfast and lay their eggs.

We're putting together an order for new layer chicks. We'll order more than we need this time and will offer 'backyard chickens' to sell along with chicken-keeping classes, coop design ideas or custom built coops by Nate.

For now, we're hanging close to the wood stove, reading, knitting re-organizing and making plans.

November 25, 2010

empty nest and gratitude

Are they having fun, or what?

Taking a moment to show my appreciation. He does have the hardest job - he has to kill everything.

Jen was our happy organ sorter and here she is cleaning gizzards.

The result of our hard, hard work.

This is how exhausted I was at the end of the day.

I'm grateful for so much right now.

Even though butchering all of our turkeys is not the most fun job in the world, especially since they were our friends (*sigh*), the process could not have been any smoother. I can't believe how lucky we were with the weather which could have been awful and instead was just BEAUTIFUL. I can't believe how lucky we were with the overwhelming amount of QUALITY help with butchering. I mean, who knew so many people would not only want to help but would enjoy it so much. We really did have some fun.

We were pleasantly surprised with how smooth the selling process went too. Turkey sizes are really a gamble as we have no idea how they'll turn out until the moment we plop them on the scale. This isn't a factory farm that pumps out exact sizes year after year. Over the last 3 years we've played around with things to try to get the most desired sizes and they turned out just perfect this year.

I can't tell you how much we appreciate our customers. Especially those who are so grateful just to get one of our birds that they don't care what size it is. We had folks drive all the way from Ohio and Virginia just to pick up turkeys. Today we've been getting calls and emails telling us how good they were and really, what could be better than that?

This whole process is incredibly stressful which is why I haven't written in a while. Making enough ice in advance, checking, cleaning and setting up the equipment just right, chill tanks, hoses, knives, coordinating the helpers, cooking for the helpers, training the helpers, hoping and praying that everyone does a good job and that we don't end up with too many messed up, un-sellable birds, trying to make customers happy with the right sizes, really, it's overwhelming. I cannot express how grateful I am to have help from such amazing and understanding people. Nate and I have done this alone for the past 2 years and it's been hard. We didn't have to carry the weight of all of that alone this time though. Now, we have our own little farm family and we help each other out because we're all in it together. And it's a beautiful thing. I think there were many moments these last few days for both Nate and I where we thought to ourselves that we are, without a doubt, in the right place.

So now, there's a little hole in our hearts that those birds once filled but we're honored to have raised them and to have passed them along to others to grace their tables and nourish their families. And now, a much needed break is in store and time for new projects which I can't wait to tell you about. . .

More photos of turkey butchering 2010 can be found here:

November 18, 2010

for our turkey customers. . .

Here are a few ideas for cooking your pasture-raised turkey. The first one is a brine from "The Art of Simple Food" by Alice Waters and the second is a roast turkey recipe from "The Grass-Fed Gourmet Cookbook" by Shannon Hayes. You can enlarge the recipes by clicking on them.

Please remember that pasture-raised birds require less cooking time than conventional birds. 325 seems to be a good temperature and the temp in the thigh should reach 170-175 degrees.

Here's a good chart from "The Grass-Fed Gourmet"

12-14 pounds...2 1/4-3 hours
15-17 pounds...3-3 1/2 hours
18-20 pounds...3 1/2-4 hours
21-22 pounds...4-4 1/2 hours
23-24 pounds...4 1/2-4 3/4 hours

Happy Cooking!!

November 1, 2010

heads down

"The turkeys are out!"

... is a commonly heard phrase around here these days.

Oh, these turkeys. At 13 weeks, this batch of birds has proven to be quite a challenge for us. This is our third year raising them but being that we're at a new location and everything about our set up is different, it's almost all new to us. By last week they had finally gone through all of the grass and we were able to move them out of their 'day ranging' setup in the greenhouse into the modified shelter that Nate built last year. We needed a way to comfortably house them while giving them access to more fresh grass on another corner of the farm.

It would seem that these birds are taking advantage of their new freedom by escaping. . .often. Some factors in this common occurrence are:

a) they are too dumb to realize that if they mob the fence, they can push it right over and just walk over it. They get so excited when they see a person walking by or on the tractor, they just run towards them and forget there's a fence.

b) they are way smarter than we give them credit for and are learning this by watching us walk over the fence on a daily basis.

c) the electric fence charger is not working.

Most of the time it's :

d) all of the above.

Good thing they LOVE pea greens and good thing that happens to be one of our cover crops and we have a ton of it. I have used pea greens to get all of the turkeys back into the fence after an escape. They love them that much.

Anyway, here's their big move in pictures. . .

So much grass, they can hardly believe their little turkey eyes.

Notice their head position in the last 2 photos. Pasture-based farmers, often refer to themselves as grass farmers. Our whole entire animal operation revolves around grass. Grass feeds the animals, makes them healthier and makes their meat so much healthier. Their manure fertilizes and stimulates the grass to grow back thicker, greener and healthier. And so the cycle repeats itself.

We often use the 'heads up' or 'heads down' theory to determine when to move them. If they're contentedly grazing with their heads down, they're all good. If they're just wandering around with their heads up, they're bored and it's time to move to fresh grass. We surely don't want boredom, cause that's when the mischief starts. Right now, we're moving the shelter and fencing every other day.

That move was only a week ago and already they're outgrowing their space in the shelter. Tonight we moved a few out into separate smaller pens so they can all fit comfortably inside to sleep at night.

Rock on turkeys. Couple more weeks to go. . .

October 20, 2010

wordless wenesday

Caught in the rain while harvesting arugula and tatsoi!

October 18, 2010

a month to honor ourselves

Fall has set in around these parts. The leaves are turning and though we don't leave the farm much, we do drive up and down the long and winding driveway down to the barn and back to deliver just-picked produce for washing and sorting. The leaves we pass on the way up the driveway are just breathtaking. We've even had the wood stove fired up and have happily huddled around it with tea and soup to warm up after working out in the cold rain.

October is the month to honor our bodies here at the farm and all of us are doing a detox/elimination diet. The season is drawing to a close and we've asked a lot of our bodies by overworking, eating on the run and drinking lots of coffee to keep us going on those 14 hour harvest days. We've all taken a break from gluten, dairy, sugar, caffeine and alcohol and have been using herbs and supplements for a gentle detox.

With all of this amazing food growing right here, 5 creative minds in the kitchen and some really great gluten-free products, we have hardly been starving. The first day was rough (caffeine withdraw headaches all around!) But after that it got so much better and it's really been an eye opening experience for all of us as we're learning more about ourselves. We've just started adding some foods back into our diets this week.

This is the last week of the farm CSA. Yesterday and today we picked tatsoi, arugula, dill, spicy greens mix, turnips, eggplant, kale, pea greens, peppers, hot peppers, haukeri turnips and pineapple tomatillos. Blackberry Meadows is doing a winter CSA for a few folks and we'll still harvest for markets until mid November.

Then it will be time for the next big project . . . the turkeys.

*If you're looking for some good gluten-free products, some of our favorites are Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Baking Flour (makes the best pancakes!), Tinkyada brown rice pasta (the best!), Sami's Millet and Flax Bread, Udi's Gluten-Free Bread and Mary's Gone Crackers original crackers. . . just to name a few! If you've ever been gluten-free, you know there are lots of products out there but only a select few worth mentioning.

October 9, 2010


It's hard to believe these are the same cute little fluff balls that fit in the palm of my hand when they arrived just 9 weeks ago. They grow so fast, in fact, we're trying to slow them down so they don't get too big. We love raising turkeys and suffer a little heartbreak each year as Thanksgiving nears. There is just no doubt in my mind that these guys and gals are living happy lives. They're so much fun to have around.

This turkey has a brilliant idea!

Check out the 2 turkeys in the background doing their wing stretch dance!

Now that we're at a new location, the turkey setup is a little different but we've got a pretty good system... for now, anyway. They roost and sleep in the greenhouse which we've turned into their 'home base' and in the morning they go outside. Lately Nate has been herding them out to a fresh patch of grass inside a ring of temporary fencing. The greenhouse floor is covered in wood chips which we get for free from the township. Each morning, after we move them outside, we rake up all of the manure from under the roosts and add it to the compost pile. This is going to be one valuable, fertile compost pile!

Turkeys have a really strong instinct to roost. This instinct is what keeps them safe at night in the wild while they sleep. Predators can't get to them if they're up off the ground. We feel it's important to allow our animals to express their natural instincts. We want them to express their full turkey-ness. So, Nate built them roosts.

What we've done the past 2 years is house turkeys in our movable field shelters. For starters, we have more birds than we've ever had before but more importantly, there are no roosts in the shelters. We had been fencing off the area around the greenhouse and letting them roam there but they went through all of that grass already. They go crazy for fresh grass and we don't want to deny them of that. That grass is what keeps them healthy and what makes them so healthy for us to eat. As a result of all that grass consumption, they are really high in omega-3's.

So, we've been trying to come up with solutions for how to best house them and give them fresh pasture daily. Basically, we're trying to keep Nate from having to do any more building this season. He's our fix-it/design-it/invent-it/build-it guy around the farm and the poor guy is all 'built' out. We'll do some planning over the winter and will think about building a bigger, better turkey shelter for next season.

So, Nate's spent some time practicing this herding thing and figuring out what sounds to make to keep the turkeys alert. Turkeys imprint so easily and follow us everywhere so he thought maybe he could take advantage of that. In fact, the reason they can't totally free range without any fencing is because they would just follow us home and poop all over the porch!

I was at work the other morning and got a call from Nate and it went something like this:

Me: "Hello?"
Nate: "I did it!!!"
Me: "You did what?"
Nate: "I herded the turkeys to new pasture!!!"
Me: "You herded them?"
Nate: "Yes!!!"
Me: "With fencing and help from everyone there?" (Mind you, there are 94 turkeys.)
Nate: "No, all by myself using 2 long bamboo rods!!!"
Me: "You mean they stayed with you and you got them where they needed to go with no one escaping?"
Nate: "Yes!!!"

Needless to say, he was pretty excited and I couldn't quite picture how he did it until I came home and it was time for him to herd them back home to roost. Oh my, what a sight.

Let's hope it continues to work. At least Nate and the turkeys are having fun!

October 5, 2010


A few photos from harvest days the last few weeks . . .

September 24, 2010

quail fail

We awoke to a bad scene the other morning.

Just before we arrived here at the farm, Jen had just gotten some quail. They lay the tiniest, most beautiful eggs. Inside the shell, they're much like chicken eggs only smaller, and with more health benefits.

In an effort to give them a happy living situation, Nate built a little quail pen which is a little house on wheels. It has chicken wire around it and mesh on the bottom so they can forage on grass and their manure can fall through, fertilizing the grass. We move the pen around to fresh grass every day. Basically, we thought they should have a home similar to what we raise our meat chickens in. We moved them outside and though they seemed happy, they eventually started laying less eggs. We thought that maybe it was because we combined males an females, which I'm sure is a factor (we're working on that). Aside from laying less eggs they started looking rough and we found one of them with a nasty gash on it's chest the other day. So we've all been brainstorming and trying to figure out how to remedy the situation.

Yesterday morning after we did our turkey chores we discovered 3 dead quail in the pen. *sad face* All of them missing their heads. *even sadder face* Something, most likely a raccoon, grabbed them in their sleep through the chicken wire and pulled their little heads off. There were 2 others who were pretty injured, one of which we had to euthanize right away. It was a hard lesson but now we know a little more about what's been going on with them. I think the predator has been after them for a while and that's how the one I found the other day got wounded. They have been laying poorly lately because they've been spooked and stressed over the predator issue.

We modified their pen adding extra protection around the edges, put some 'rescue remedy' in their water to help combat the stress of the attack and set a trap.

It's never fun learning lessons at an animal's expense and losing them never gets easier. But we're determined to help those little ones feel happy and safe again. I'll be back to update on 'project quail'.

September 20, 2010

In case you're wondering. . .

. . . where I've been. I'm still drowning (but in a good way, if that's possible) in tomatoes. We're living, breathing, dreaming and speaking tomatoes. We did have the blight and we did think that it would wipe them all out but we're experiencing our own little farm magic here and they just keep coming. We are nowhere near complaining. We love every single one.

Here's a typical week:

pick tomatoes (among many other things)

lug tomatoes out of the field, onto the truck and then off the truck

sort tomatoes

lug tomatoes (among many other things) to farmers market or to CSA drop off

sell tomatoes

lug tomatoes that didn't sell back to the farm

EAT tomatoes

can, dehydrate, roast and freeze tomatoes


I have really been feeling like I need to be blogging about our experiences here and I just have to MAKE time because there really isn't any. I'm flying solo on the farm this weekend so everyone else can go to the Mother Earth News Fair so maybe I can get caught up then.

September 4, 2010

tomato madness

It has been quite a few weeks. *Deep breath* For starters, we are in full-on tomato season. There are oh so many tomatoes. The farm harvests twice a week for CSA and farmers markets so twice a week there is produce, particularly tomatoes, that are left over and need to be dealt with. We have to eat it, can it, freeze it, dry it or we lose it. These organic heirloom tomatoes are so, so divine, we don't want a single one to go to waste. To top things off, late blight has arrived in our tomato field so our days with these sweet, juicy babies are numbered. Considering our level of exhaustion, I'd say that it's a blessing in disguise. And really, we've had quite a tomato season and who could ask for more. We also got a nice storm yesterday bringing some much needed rain. We were so grateful, even if the downpour occurred when we were out in the fields picking.

So. . . we've been spending our non-working hours, which are so few already, preserving tomatoes. We dry most of the cherry tomatoes in the dehydrators and we cook down the whole tomatoes to can.

All of these late nights will pay off. We'll be enjoying the taste of summer in January.

August 24, 2010

August 23, 2010

the greenhouse

Since we're starting over at a new location, we don't have the set-up we had for starting baby chicks. This time we started the turkey poults in the garage, knowing that space would only last about 2 weeks before they outgrew it. Since the turkeys arrived, Nate's been working non-stop on building a greenhouse that will act as a brooder for the turkeys for the next month or so. After that, they'll move outside.

This will be a multipurpose greenhouse. We may house our laying hens in it over the winter and we can then start seedlings here in the Spring.

After Nate finished the foundation, it was time to put the plastic on. The farm crew got up extra early before the sun and before any breezes to accomplish the task. Being that we didn't know quite what we were doing, you might ask how we did this.

Now that's what I call team work.
We now have some pretty happy turkeys with plenty of room to run, jump and flap their wings.