March – Warmer – Inside and Out

Maybe we’ve finally turned the corner and spring will “March” in this April. The grass is greening, the daffodils have buds and the days are ever so slightly warmer.

But it’s what inside that is keeping us warm! We finally found a solution to our living room fireplace. From the beginning, it has been a struggle. It is on a north-facing wall against a steep outside slope, so getting a proper draft going always meant using a hair-dryer to blow hot air up the chimney, followed by bouts of smoke filling the room, opening multiple doors and “fanning” them to circulate the air, dissipate the smoke, and coax the fire to draft properly.  The fireplace has a shallow fire box, and a very tight throat. I didn’t know fireplaces have throats, but apparently, ours is a problem. And if all of that wasn’t enough of a problem, we couldn’t close the damper at night until the fire was completely out – so any heat we did have, went straight up the tight throat of the chimney.  We looked into getting a fireplace insert about a year ago, but nothing would fit in our tiny space.

Finally – we found a very cute (and very small) Vermont Castings wood stove that fits just right – it is the Goldilocks of wood stoves.  Even better – it was last years model, end of season and on sale! After two days of four guys trying to figure out how to install this – we could start fires to “season” the stove. We could only burn a small fire and let it go completely out – repeat three times – before really firing it up. We are now in the firing it up stage, and the temperature in the family room has sky-rocketed from 66 to 76! I might have to give up my flannel pajamas and fuzzy blanket.

I can hardly wait for next fall so we can stay warm all winter long! And guess what Chris is doing today? Chopping wood!

A fire in the fireplace — it looks pretty, but it wasn’t very warm.


It’s a tiny thing, but fits perfectly – not sure how Santa will get down this chimney though.
What a nice fire! And finally, a really warm family room!
Time to chop more firewood!

April – Making the cut

We’ve been trying to get fruit trees planted since we moved here.  We bought three apple trees a year or so ago at an Amish mud sale and we’re training them to espalier along a fence line in the back yard close to the patio.  However, I still wanted peaches, pears and cherries.  I always seemed to be too late to order them from the Adams County tree farm (seriously, I think you have to order them five years ahead of time — they are ALWAYS sold out).  Then I found out about Kauffman’s Fruit Farm.  They sell bare root fruit trees in the spring.  We picked them up a few days ago — six tall twigs in a big trash bag.

We’ve been preparing space inside the garden fence to protect our new “orchard.”  And I’ve been reading the book “Grow a Little Fruit Tree,” that basically says plant the tree and then chop it off at knee level.  WHAT!?!  The premise is that where you cut it becomes the main trunk, and then the branches grow from there — giving us an orchard that is accessible without climbing ladders or trees.

Chris dug the holes and held the twigs straight while I filled in the dirt and tamped them down all snug in their new garden space.  And then I took the garden clippers — and ruthlessly cut each one down to almost nothing!  I sure hope this works.

And if it does, there is just enough space left for two apricot trees – which we’ve ordered already for next spring.

We brought home a sack of long twigs.
Chris dug nice deep holes for the bare roots.
We made sure they are standing up straight and filled in the holes.
And we cut off the tops of the trees so they are about knee high.  The cat seems to know there will be no climbing up these trees today (or ever!).


March – Precious Drops of Liquid Gold

We’ve tapped our two maple trees – but I think we started too late.  Nevertheless, we got four gallons of sap.  It looks like pure water and taste like… water.  I expected at least a hint of sweetness or a tint of color.

We set up the outdoor burner, connected the propane tank and got out the turkey roasting pan.  I poured two gallons in and started boiling, adding more sap as evaporation would allow.  Six hours later, after sitting outside in the cold on the patio, I had two quart jars of lemonade looking liquid.

The next night I emptied those two quarts into a pot on the stove in the kitchen.  I figured by then most of the evaporation had already happened, and cooking it down further wouldn’t make my kitchen “that” sticky.  I boiled and simmered and boiled and simmered and kept measuring the temperature.  As more evaporated, I moved it to a smaller pan, and then to an even smaller pan.  And I kept boiling and simmering and taking it’s temperature.  Finally, after about three more hours of undivided attention – lest I burn the whole batch, I had SYRUP!  Yes, I tested it with the hygrometer and did some fancy math calculations that involve a chart and testing the temperature vs. the Baume scale and the Brix scale – but it was officially at the syrup stage!

I very carefully poured it into ONE of the 8 oz syrup jars (I bought a case of twelve, just to be optimistic) — and it filled it about two-thirds of the way.  Yes, four gallons of sap gave us about two-thirds of a cup of syrup.  But it’s really AWESOME syrup.   It’s thick and rich and tastes like maple syrup!  And the kitchen smells like a Waffle House.  I can’t wait to make some waffles to go with it!

Cooking down four gallons of sap.
Yes, there is snow on the ground – but it’s time to boil the sap.
All we got was two quarts of boiled down sap.
So we cooked it some more.
And the put it in a little tiny pan and cooked it some more.
Until we got about two-thirds of a cup of REAL syrup. The phone is to give you a perspective — this is not a very big jar — and it’s only half full — but boy will it taste good on our waffles!

March – The First Harvest of Spring

Well, Happy First Day of Spring.  It doesn’t matter that it’s going to snow today.  And it doesn’t matter that it’s going to snow even more tomorrow.  If the calendar says its the first day of spring — then it’s time to get things going in the garden.

In an effort to instill a love of gardening in Arianna — we’ve had a tradition every spring.  We plant jelly beans.  For some reason, this only works in early spring up until about Easter time, after that, the jelly beans just don’t seem to sprout.  We water them and then check on them in the morning.

This year, the garden was muddy, and since I have a perfectly good greenhouse just waiting to sprout seeds, it seemed like the perfect match.  We took a selection of good looking jelly bean “seeds” and a few candy speckled eggs, just for good measure and planted them in the flower pots left behind from my herbs last summer.  And it worked — just like every year!

Happy Spring!

We carefully planted the jelly beans, watered them and waited overnight.
Looks like she’s happy with her “crop” of lolli-pops that grew overnight!
Especially the ones that grew from those speckled eggs!
Happy First Day of Spring!

February 2018 – A Special Delivery

The special delivery from that unexpected BIG purchase at the Farm Show is here.  We frequently have trucks showing up to deliver things – the barn, the chicken coop, the greenhouse.  They have to maneuver backwards up the driveway and then navigate the hillsides of our uneven farm to deposit their cargo in just the right place.  This time, they just rolled our delivery off the flat bed – right into the middle of the driveway – along with all of its accessories.

Yes, Chris is the proud new owner of a John Deere tractor.  I thought we already had one – it’s green, it says John Deere, and it works.  But apparently THAT John Deere was only a lawn mower.  THIS John Deere can do so much more.  It’s bigger – in fact so big that it has a roll bar (that instills confidence right away), a ballast box, a front end loader and a grader (for our very long gravel driveway) — and it’s Diesel!  Apparently that’s a big deal.

There was one happy farmer out there this weekend trying out all pieces and parts and making room for it in our garage.  Already we are starting a list of things it needs to do – like uproot stumps from the meadow, scoop the horse manure out of the barn, and probably dig a foundation for a new barn to house this monster and all of its attachments (just kidding – I hope)!

Yep, another toy — here it comes.
Check out that roll bar – and yes, it does come with a seat belt and head lights.
Looks like it’s ready to go.
Check out all those accessories!  Chris says they are called “implements.”  I guess he will be busy.

January 2018 – Baby, it’s COLD outside!

It’s been a COLD January, except for a few days ago when it hit 60° and then plummeted again – like a tantalizing taste of spring only to be thrust back into winter. Our house is made of sturdy stone and while it stands up well to wind and rain, the stone gets cold. The walls are cold, the floor is cold – and I’m cold!

I don’t know why we didn’t think about this before, but we decided to insulate the ceiling in the basement to help keep the 1st floor warmer. With the cold weather we’ve been having (like 0° F), it has been as low as 41° in the basement, and that cold has been seeping up through the floor boards.

But not anymore. We installed 12 rolls of R-19 insulation up into the ceiling of the basement. Now we’re keeping an eye on the temperature in the basement to make sure it doesn’t get so cold that pipes freeze, and keeping an eye on the temperature in the house – to see if it makes a difference. I think my feet feel warmer already.

The floor joists had no insulation, and it gets cold in the basement.
So we bought 12 rolls of R-19 insulation.
We feel warmer, now I hope the pipes won’t freeze in the basement!

December – MORE fences

We have one fence for keeping things in – and three fences for keeping things out.  The fence for keeping things in works well.  The fences for keeping things out – not so much.  Between deer, rabbits, ground hogs and birds – my gardens seem to be fair game for anything roaming through the property.  “Oh look!” they exclaim.  “There’s a fenced in garden.  Let’s go have dinner there tonight.”  And they do.

But not next year.  We’ve rabbit proofed our six foot tall fence with chicken wire around the base of it to keep the rabbits out. And we’re stringing fishing line across the top of it to keep the birds out.  We’re putting up another six-foot tall fence to protect my fruit trees, raspberry bushes, blueberry bushes and strawberry plants – with enough room left over to plant potatoes and squash and whatever else strikes my fancy when the spring seed catalogs come out.  And we’re putting up a picket fence where my “pumpkin patch” will reside.

Now everyone just needs to follow the rules.  If you’re supposed to be inside a fence (like Pono), then stay in.  If you’re supposed to be outside the fence, then stay out.  I’m hoping for a bumper crop next year.


My pumpkin patch picket fence.
The big fence…
For fruit trees, raspberry bushes, blueberry bushes, strawberry and asparagus plants — and maybe some extra space for potatoes and squash
The bees (hive in the front) are close by to pollinate my fenced in fruit trees.
It’s a lot of garden space to fill.
The deer are wondering why they can’t wander through here now.
The chicken coop is right between both fences.


December – The Garden by the Numbers

The 2017 garden was a success – the freezer is full to the brim with a rainbow of vegetables – beets, carrots, green beans, squash.  Our shelves are laden with jars of sauce, jams, jellies, pickles, salsas, chutneys and soups.  The wooden crates in the basement are full of potatoes and squash, and the pantry is full of dehydrated tomatoes, herbs, scallions, onions, garlic.

What did we really get out of the garden?  Here it is by the numbers (rounded to the closest pound):

  • Beans                                     25 pounds
  • Beets                                      28 pounds
  • Brussel Sprouts                    3 pounds
  • Carrots                                   11 pounds
  • Cucumbers                            19 pounds
  • Farm Berries (wild)             4 pounds
  • Garlic                                      1 pound
  • Onions                                    2 pounds
  • Peas (shelled)                        3 pounds
  • Peppers, Green                     8 pounds
  • Peppers, Red                         3 pounds
  • Potatoes                                 25 pounds
  • Pumpkins                              8 pounds
  • Squash, Acorn                       9 pounds
  • Squash, Buttercup                7 pounds
  • Squash, Butternut                35 pounds
  • Squash, Spaghetti                 2 pounds
  • Squash, Zucchini                  4 pounds
  • Tomatoes, Amish                  32 pounds
  • Tomatoes, Beefsteak            45 pounds
  • Tomatoes, Cherry                 35 pounds
  • Tomatoes, Zebra                   30 pounds
  • Tomatoes, San Marzano     44 pounds

That’s 380 pounds of produce!  And that’s not counting the salsify that we’ve just begun to harvest, and all the herbs, and the gourds that were just for decoration, and the smattering of raspberries and blueberries.

What do I want to do differently next year?  I think less tomatoes, beets and beans and more garlic (I’ve planted it already!) and onions.  The acorn squash doesn’t seem to hold up well in the “root cellar” but the butternut, buttercup and spaghetti squash are doing great – so I probably won’t do acorn squash.  I would have expected more zucchini, but the plants got some sort of blossom rot and didn’t do much this year – maybe I’ll try that again next year.

There is a coating of snow on the ground now.  All my gardens are blanketed in white, but I gotta go… it’s time to start looking through the seed catalogues for next year!

Just a few beets for dinner.
Lots of tomatoes!
So many cucumbers, but where are they now?

November – A Thankful Thanksgiving

I may be a week late with this — but this year was a special Thanksgiving.  We welcomed a new granddaughter just two weeks earlier!  She weighed in at 8 pounds, 15 ounces — our turkey this year was 28 pounds.  That means the turkey was 3 times BIGGER than the baby!  We are certainly thankful for her healthy arrival and that we were able to spend Thanksgiving with family and friends around our table.  In fact, we were having so much fun – that we forgot to take a picture of the turkey — but we got one of our new “little turkey” sleeping off her Thanksgiving dinner.  She fit into the roasting pan — with room to spare.

We’re also thankful for the purposeful life we are able to live on this little farm.  There are times when we work too hard, get poison ivy, pamper bruises and blisters — but at the end of the day – we love what we are doing.  And we love just that little bit of self-sufficiency that this place offers us.

Once we packed away all those turkey leftovers, we settled in on Saturday night with a different dinner – one entirely sourced from our farm.  Our neighbor bow-hunts on our property and shares some of the venison with us.  Our salsify was finally ready for harvest after a hard frost, and the root cellar still has a BIG supply of squash.  While we always have farm-fresh vegetables and eggs – it was a treat to have a complete farm to fork dinner from our farm.

A fire in the fireplace and the table is set for Thanksgiving
Sleeping off that Thanksgiving dinner — she fits in the roasting pan — little turkey.
Time to dig up some salsify.
Our farm to fork dinner — venison, squash and salsify.


October – Nature’s Bounty

Every fall we are bombarded with green hand grenades. They fall from the trees with a thud or a thump, and lay on the ground where they become ball-bearings under my feet as I head down the hill to the chicken coop. Then they begin to rot; they squish when you step on them. The squirrels run around gathering the nut from inside the green husks and tap them against the tree trunks with the vengeance of a woodpecker. Yes, it’s black walnut season.

Last year, I called the local extension service to see if there is any place locally that processes these nuts – they never called back. This year, I decided I would take matters into my own clean hands. I put on rubber gloves and gathered four five-gallon buckets of the green husked nuts. Then I spent several hours with a paring knife, slicing into the husk and releasing the nut shell. I ended up with about three trash bags of green husks, and about 7 gallons of hard nuts – and black hands – because the rubber gloves apparently weren’t black walnut proof.

I washed the nuts in a big bucket using a rake to agitate them and get the remaining husks to fall off, drained the black sludge water numerous times, and then put the nuts on the shelves in my greenhouse to dry.

After much research on the web, I settled on “Grandpa’s Goody Getter;” a massive nutcracker with a lever that makes it look like you’re playing the slot machines. With each pull of the handle, I hit the jackpot if the nut cracks cleanly and the nut meat falls out. More often than not, it takes a tiny pair of clippers and a nut pick to coax the meat out of the shell.

Countless hours later, with hands that still won’t wash clean – I have two pints of nut meat. Yes, 20 gallons worth of green-husked nuts gave us two pints of edible nut meat. This IS nuts.

I’ve been researching better ways to do this (and keep my hands clean). I’ll let you know if next year’s nut harvest is less nutty.

Green “hand grenades” that land with a thud.
The nut inside the green husk.
Our industrial sized nut cracker that’s more like pulling the handle on a slot machine!
Tedious work picking out the nut meat.
Stained hands…
And a few nuts!