Chicken Adventures and The Start of Harvest

Sorrel picking

And so it begins!

Sure, my first big harvest was a mere pound of baby sorrel for the area farm to table, Curious Goods at the Bake Oven Inn, but standing out in the field with the harvest bin and a pair of snips made me feel the way walking past the track in high school used to. Excited, expectant. Ready for spring.

bagged sorrel

This week has been one of rapid movement. We’ve seeded mesclun and a pile of beets, we’ve planted kale, broccoli raab, cauliflower, cabbages, radishes and spring turnips, and there’s still more waiting in the wings for bed prep. Mom has been clearing out the leaves and weeds from the herbs beds.

komatsuna and raab

Today, after I post this blog, I’ll be in the greenhouse with my mom and aunt thinning, potting up eggplant, peppers and herbs and getting transplants ready to sell at the store. The ladies at Green Heron Tools gave me their lady-friendly tiller for the weekend, so I’ll be prepping my strawberry(!) and onion beds, and perhaps some more greens beds, with that over the next couple days.

The flowers are blooming, the trees are budding and things are finally starting to look green. Yes.

Last week was one of adventures, too. My neighbor at Willow Haven Farm and I expanded his egg enterprise this year, and on Thursday we packed up chicken crates and headed down to Lancaster to get our girls for the season.

chicken2 chicken 1

We came home with 200 birds and sawdust for the nesting boxes. The day before we cleaned out the Chicken Camper, a hotel and spa bird resort with mahogany roosts (an accident, really – we just got a fancy pallet), and when we got home that afternoon we released our ladies into their mobile environment.


The chickens are afraid to hop out of the crates.


So Lucia, Willow Haven’s awesome intern for the season, helps them out.

chicken fence move

Poultry Paradise, Hen Heaven, Fowl Fantasy, Chicken Chalet

In the next few weeks I’ll be dedicating a blog post to the price of happy chickens. Between the moveable fence, the weekly cost of soy-free, organic feed and the labor of moving them around every week, the cost of happy, healthy egg-layers might be more than you think. But let me tell you, these are the best eggs I’ve ever had.

The pups are taking very well to farm life. Arya oversees our operations on a daily basis and Chases rolls around like a toddler and sleeps under things.

arya drives

puppies in the leaves Like a boss (above). Children (below)

I keep discovering these beautiful flowers that are coming up in the yard at Little House. In the mornings before I go to the farm I pull out some weeds from the front and back beds and plant lavender, lemon balm, sage, tulips and hyacinths. Operation Hobbit Hole is commencing nicely. Stay tuned for housewarming details.

snowdrops scillia

Also, for inquiring minds, our good friend Farm Kitten has become a bigger (but still somewhat little) terror.


Prince cat.

I’ve been getting back into the swing of a schedule and am finally starting to balance the farm with the rest of my life. I see the folks I want to see (though never as much as I’d like, as it goes), I’m making time to read and run and, most importantly, write.

I used to write nonstop. Then I wrote a lot for whatever colleges and freelance roles I held at the times. Then I started this blog and ran it as infrequently as a busy outdoors person with touchy wi-fi would. But that’s all starting to shift. I don’t know if it’s my sister’s urging to blog more, or having a house where I can stay up until midnight writing on the couch if I want to, or just the natural progression of my life, but suddenly I’m writing every day. And not just farm-related things, though that is a big part of it.

I’ve been granted this magical opportunity to take an online writing course with my favorite lady author. Francesca Lia Block writes these beautiful stories that transcends genres. As many of my friends will tell you, I’m re-read one particular story line annually or in moments of emotional distress, and when I discovered she was teaching a series of classes, there was no way I could pass it up.

We received our first assignment last week, and it’s sent me back into the world of fiction writing, a place I haven’t visited since college. And it feels so, so wonderful.

So yes, things are great on this end. Now, off to the greenhouse!



Spring finally arrives, bringing garlic and puppies.

There is something that happens to my brain every time I see the garlic come up.garlic

It’s like holding your breath for five months. And then you wake up one morning, walk down and see the green. And you didn’t even know you were holding that, worrying a little somewhere in your mind that it wasn’t going to come up, and then it just all releases.

It’s been a productive and heartening few days. We’re experimenting with a couple of permanent raised beds, which is – and I’m not alone in thinking this, I’ve learned – wildly exciting and horrifying. What if you spend the time setting these up and the angles don’t hold up? But the benefits sounds amazing – higher soil temperatures faster, more efficient uses of soil amendments and compost, and they’re easier to weed.


All this without a tractor? Yes, please.

The potatoes from Maine Potato Lady arrived last week, and the first pea planting is in. It is finally (well, mostly) warm enough at night to have the first round of transplants hardening off outside, and these next couple rainy days should set the stage for some big planting projects. We’re looking at summer squash, mesclun mix, other greens and another tomato planting by week’s end.

Field peas in.

Field peas in.

I hesitate to get too excited about this, but it appears the greenhouse war of 2015 is at an end, or at least a hiatus. There were a couple weeks where a handful of mice were laying waste to my spinach, beets and a sad tray of eggplant, but the last few days and some smart tray coverings have kept them at bay.

chardlings redbor kalelings

Easter came and went, and I was reminded, as I am at every family gathering, how awesome our team is. We have business owners, entrepreneurs, hard workers, innovators in our family. My cousin took us into his garage to show us the forge he built and the work he’s making with railroad spikes.

beer opener

Housewarming – my cousin gives me a bottle opener made from an old railroad spike. Righteous. He makes coat hooks and other crazy things as well.

Right? I mean, sheesh. I don’t know if all families feel this way when they hang out, but I’m really grateful for the energy in ours.

And Little House, Little House. Sometimes I just want to sit there and watch the flowers bloom. Every day another photo is hung or some leaves are raked or the aloe gets repotted, and it starts to become a home.

repotting crocuses

In other news, a major hunt and a pair of boot laces later, Mom and Dad came home with chase, this stuffed animal bear cub baby Rottweiler.


I was hesitant at first about this whole thing, but when he laid (read: kinda slid fell, because he still doesn’t have the motor skills to do anything with coordination) down in the middle of the kitchen with his legs splayed out behind him and immediately fell asleep, I knew he was one of us. So I went to buy some stuff for him, and got him the smack dog food which apparently is the best in the market for puppies, it helps their hair and their digestive tract, it has many benefits and  wanted to give him the best I can.


Talk about underfoot.

puppy monsters

Barely a real thing.

And Arya is in love. These two are currently the same size, so they spend most of their days rolling around and chewing on each other, or chewing on things near each other, or chewing on both ends of the same thing. You get the idea. They already rousted their first groundhog together – though somewhat unintentionally – so hopefully when Chase is a little bigger they’ll start doing some useful farm dog tasks.

puppy and arya


couch puppies

In the meantime, about half my life has become something like Milo and Otis in real time.

There are still a few spots open in the CSA, guys! Get it, get it. Read the CSA tabs of this site for more details. For now, I’m trying to build up a couple more beds before the rain.

Cue the AC/DC – We’re Back!

You see that down there?



That’s some baby garlic coming up in the field. Yeah, I’m excited. And for those of you who’ve had the Keith Stewart Rocambole, I’m sure you are, too.


Hello, Starshine. We are so glad you could join us.


Copyright Sarah Merusi


Friend Sarah’s crazy fish lens captures the the mom/daughter planting excitement

The spinach is up. So is the kale, lettuce, beets, salad greens, assorted herbs and a plethora of other baby veg. The peppers are almost all up at this point, and every day my mom walks into the greenhouse and speaks softly and sweetly to the eggplants and tomatoes, coaxing them with promises of fun and parties if they hurry up and germinate (which I think Pennywise the Clown did too, right?)

tomato box

Tomato Kingdom

tomato country

And we seeded like 35 types of tomatoes, by the way.

In the field, the sorrel is chugging along, the perennial herbs are making their small and sturdy resurgence and the peas, radishes, beets and spinach I sowed last week should be up soon. Sometimes I find myself standing on the edge of the field wanting to seed and sun dance for them like the sisters in My Neighbor Totoro…but our field is just too close to the road. Too many people slow down to look at what weird things we are doing in the field on a day-to-day without drawing extra attention to ourselves.

And the garlic is up. THE GARLIC IS UP. Did I mention that? You can’t see this but I have paused in my writing to hug myself in excitement.

Two weeks back I took myself on a last grand adventure for the season. I headed out to Pittsburgh – one of my favorite drives and one of my favorite cities – to visit some dear friends, see Neutral Milk Hotel be great and spend hours in the Phipps Conservatory, a huge beautiful greenhouse building full of the most beautiful and exotic plants I’ve ever seen. It was a great way to kickoff a farm bound season in the beautiful LV.

phipps 006

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It’s a banana tree! In the middle of Pittsburgh!

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Oh look, a room full of airplants!

Not that there aren’t things to do in the beautiful Lehigh Valley. My friend Steve and I are slowly working our way through those delightful cases of our  Belgian tripel – and it was really satisfying to take a couple down to Philly and have the boys be surprised at how great it tasted (I am an okay baker, but the Keith boys know I am renowned for big ideas and bad delivery when it comes to cooking – see the twig debacles of 2012). The other day we transferred our maple coffee porter into glass for a couple weeks and added some bacon infused vodka – soooo we’ll see how that goes. But I’m excited nonetheless. I spent part of yesterday reading about herb-infused beers, and I can’t wait to give those a whirl this summer.

And this past weekend I had the pleasure of a lovely dinner with My Grandmother’s Table, a friend’s catering and dining experience company out of Allentown. A bag of sorrel for the dinner got me two seats at her small-party table at Ruby’s Floral Factory in Bethlehem for a night of food and fun that owner Dina Valentini Wanamaker modeled after her childhood Easter Table. I had a blast, made some new friends and she turned my bag of baby sorrel into a fantastic salad with Bulgarian Feta, watercress and garlic vinaigrette.


The first field greens of the season. Makes my heart sing.

Add another five courses of pork marsala, chicken roulade with sage and mozz, and homemade raviolis, and you can imagine the evening we had. We’re working on a vegetarian festival meal for September, so stay tuned. We’re talking apps, herb-infused drinks and some amazing vegetable entrees, so get stoked.

sorrel and feta salad

Sorrel and feta salad. Yummm.

It’s been a season with a lot of potential already. It makes me nervous, but I can’t help but feel lucky and excited, too. My cousin got a small cafe in Coopersburg to give me a call about buying vegetables this season. The sous chef at Curious Goods at the Bake Oven Inn reached out a couple days ago on Facebook. My boys have their folks at the Alehouse interested in some after-market vegetables. Tonight The Support Center for Child Advocates is auctioning off a CSA half share for an amazing cause at its Annual Benefit. The guys at Philly Foodworks and I haven’t met in person yet, but we talk frequently and are thrilled to be working together this year.

And for the biggest announcement – The Food Trust has given me a Wednesday Market in the La Salle-ish neighborhood in Philly. I’ll be over at the intersection of Mt. Pleasant and Chew on the Germantown/Mt. Airy border! I can’t wait. After a year of playing the scrappy huckster, I feel almost shell-shocked that folks have reached out to me to learn more and get involved in procuring some vegetables. Coupled with the Farm to City East Falls market, I am looking forward to a full and busy season in the city.

Which, of course, means wayyyy more vegetables need to be up and growing than last year. It’s a little overwhelming to think about, especially with all the weather delays this season, but my dairy boss reminds me regularly that everyone is in the same boat and that you can’t control these things. Which makes me feel better most of the time, aha.

field field work

It can be scary to go out there and seed three or four times as much of a crop than I did last year, but I know it’s well worth it. Folks were so happy with what we had to offer last year, and with a little more experience hopefully there will be more of all the favorites. This is still a big experiment year – I am trying lots of different varieties of each vegetable to discern what works best in my soil and this area – but I hope all this research and studying pays off. People see my hauling this backpack of magazines and books around and ask me if I’m still a student – and while I know what they mean and assert that I’m not, I really am.


In other Farmstead news, my folks are more than halfway moved up to the new home. Glenn has dreams of an orchard like the one on his childhood farm, so we ordered a pile of fruit trees from our Willow Haven Farm neighbors and got them in the ground last week. I spent a couple minutes making a cute and readable map for my parents to keep track of these guys, since they technically aren’t part of Crooked Row Farm (until I start stealing fruit in a few years, maybe).

Farmstead Tree Map

Right now they look much less exciting than the photo image

Right now they look much less exciting than the photo image

We’re doing a lot of mulching and they are doing a lot of painting and sanding and cleaning to get the current house in order to sell. Hope these new buyers enjoy all the secret tomatoes that are sure to pop up all around the landscaping by summer.

Glenn is also trying out a new toy – a Bobcat, which is really a glorified golf cart with shocks that drives faster. Matthew came up to seed tomatoes and make me some herb shelves the other day, and we spent a fair bit of time whipping around on this puppy. Old man Strider dog also enjoys a good ride in it.

matthew herb shelf

So excited he made some market shelves!


Matthew is excited.

And so our journey continues. I just spent the morning seeding a bunch of herbs, and now I’m off to help landscape for the house sale. Here are some plant babies in almost-real time:


Mizuna! Non nom nom.


Itty bitties.

Baby RR

Red Russian Kallllleee!

Mesclun Round 1

Mesclun – coming to a salad bowl near you.

All the best!


Chisel Plows, Seedlings and Getting a Move On

Papa Bear Glenn gets his tractor on.

Papa Bear Glenn gets his tractor on.

Saturday found my father and I seated in his Case IH , with him operating the chisel plow while I tucked myself up on the side of the cab to navigate, trying not to get launched out the back window pushes out but doesn’t lock (don’t tell the folks at my upcoming tractor safety course). Together, we plowed the south-facing slope of my hill.

Back by popular demand - more Strider pictures! He is wondering how the mechanics of a chisel plow work.

Back by popular demand – more Strider pictures! He is wondering how the mechanics of a chisel plow work.

The chisel plow is attached to the back of the tractor with a three-point hitch. It’s actually amazing we got this done Saturday, because we started the morning missing the top link to this hitch. Thankfully, after a handful of phone calls to various tractor supply stores around the county, we found one a couple miles from the farm.

The plow is lowered into the ground and digs up the soil a couple feet down, which in this case was a cover crop of medium red clover.

Glenn and I rode together up in his tractor. He drove and I navigated.

Glenn and I rode together up in his tractor. He drove and I navigated.

My mom and I measured out tractor paths before we started to plow, so there are several sections where we left clover growing to act as a natural erosion barrier and tractor path for both sized tractors and to limit soil compaction. Unlike some chisels,  ours is wide enough that two of the teeth run behind the tractor wheels, preventing compaction and wheel paths.

We let the ground set for a week, giving the organic matter time to break down, and then we’ll go through with the disc to chop of the ground further and smooth and even the areas into workable seed beds. We were missing the hydraulics in the disc, so we’ll be watching the mail and waiting for that to arrive before we can move on. This is just one way to prepare ground. Folks use rototillers or a number of other tractor equipment to similar results, but we decided this would be the most effective with the least amount of negative impact on the ground. Plus, Glenn had a bunch of fun dragging that sucker around the property.

And at the end of the day, we had a plowed field.

And at the end of the day, we had a plowed field.

Beautiful, no?

Last night I drafted my CSA agreement. It’ll be out for the public later today after some experience CSA-purchasers give it a once over. I’m going to be at an Ambler market, and it looks like we’ll be starting in Mid-May. And I have seedlings in the greenhouse that make me smile whenever I walk in.

Who's excited for broccoli raab?!

Who’s excited for broccoli raab?!

Good morning, little onions!

Good morning, little onions!

Yesterday I built a propagation box for tomatoes and peppers. It’s similar to the heating beds, but in a smaller space and with soil instead of sand. The orange cable is buried in the soil and will keep the ground warm. I’ll seed tomatoes and peppers directly into that box, and as the seedlings grow I will transplant them into individual cells.

Painstakingly setting up the soil heating cables in the tomato and pepper propagation box. The wires can't touch or cross or they short out (or so I've heard).

Painstakingly setting up the soil heating cables in the tomato and pepper propagation box. The wires can’t touch or cross or they short out (or so I’ve heard).

Okay, tomatoes. Let's do this.

Okay, tomatoes. Let’s do this.

I also had the opportunity to hang out with some area farmers Sunday night, which was awesome and welcoming and delicious. My friends Mario and Steph, who I met at the Greenmarket last summer, invited me to Eckerton Hill, Tim Stark’s incredible farm over in Berks County, for a farm dinner with their co-workers and Tim. One seafood soup, mesclun mix, roasted carrots and escarole later, my stomach was full and my energy rekindled. Tim and I talked about growing up in this area (his employees are transplants and find our PA-Dutch heavy world quite amusing), and everyone was curious about  my endeavors and encouraging. It was a blast. They have a winter CSA, an upcoming summer CSA, a market stand in Union Square and numerous restaurant relationships that carry the farm.

Their small greenhouse on the property where we had dinner is full of thousands of seedlings, kohlrabi, lettuce heads and amazing greens. It was invigorating to see. And Mario used to be a chef in Manhattan, so his food (and recipes, some of which are on the farm’s website), are incredible.

I am about to head off to my new part-time dairy gig – more on that in an upcoming post. I’m hoping this will help me diversify my skills and will help me learn how to work with bigger animals, which is something I’ve never done before. But we’re rocking and rolling up here in the Lehigh Valley and can’t wait to start working this ground.

The beautiful and peppery ruby streaks mustard. Get ready.

The beautiful and peppery ruby streaks mustard. Get ready.

-Farmer Liz

Onion Babies!

Working in the dirt.

Working in the dirt. You know, sort of.

The season has officially begun!

Yesterday after some bribing and coercing (just kidding) I wrangled my mom and aunt out for some farm work. We set up on a future greenhouse bench in the back garage at the house and spent the better part of the morning and afternoon seeding onions.

We mixed the Pro-Mix Organik potting mix with a pit of Gard-N-Tone organic soil amendments for an added kick.

We mixed the Promix Organik potting medium with Garden-tone soil amendments for an added boost.

And what better to do on a rainy Wednesday in February? Armed with Keith’s new book, a radio and a Frankie Valli CD, we drilled holes in the bottoms and some of the lids of piles of old salad containers Mom’s been collecting for a year or so, covering the excess clear patches with black tape. We then filled the containers with potting mix from the wheelbarrow, moistened the soil with a spray bottle of water, made little furrows in the containers (about 1/4 in deep, one in apart), and dropped in something like 20-35 seeds in each furrow depending on length.

What a ham.

What a ham.

Here are all the onions we'll (hopefully) be offering!

Here are all the onions we’ll (hopefully) be offering!

We then labeled the sides of the container with the seed’s variety, company, organic status (some of the Fedco and Johnny’s seeds aren’t certified organic), and date seeded. I set them up in our newly-erected heating mat (more on that later), dragged out a hose and misted the flats. This may sound simple enough, but all told we ladies were chugging away for a few hours (with lunch breaks, of course),  and seeded something like 5,000 onions! I’ve got a bit more to do today now that I’ve made some space and know that the heating coils won’t burn down the greenhouse (there was some concern, if only from my insane brain, that that might happen, which led to many visits to the mats throughout the day and night).

Seed those onions!

Seed those onions!

We also seeded a few cells of basil and lemongrass for fun. The lemongrass seed smells great, and I’m going to start some basil and other herbs soon to sell in Jiffy Pots over at Health Habits, where I’m working part-time (or to any of you who want some!).

My little babies. all waiting to be tucked in to bed.

My little babies. all waiting to be tucked in to bed.

Last night I brought out some leftover greenhouse plastic and tucked the little onions in for bed. Covering them at nights keeps some of the heat from escaping. But when you lift up the containers the bottoms are warm, which is just what we wanted! Thank you, ladies.

"Goodnight, onions," she said in her best Christopher Walken voice.

“Goodnight, onions,” she said in her best Christopher Walken voice.

And thank you, Keith. His book is intricately outlined and details propagation, transplanting and harvest for most of what I’m growing. And I hear his voice with that light New Zealand  accent as I’m reading, which is awesome and hilarious.

Our dear friend Anthony supplied us with drum caps for our passive solar heat!

Our dear friend Anthony supplied us with drum caps for our passive solar heat!

Yesterday was also a big day for mail! My friend and farmer compadre Anthony ordered some cap samples for me for our water barrels, which I’ve covered with black trashbags and which we hope we can use as passive bottom heating for our trays as the water in them heats up. Caps are trickier to find than the barrels themselves, and it was great to have such a helpful resource to procure them.

Two other recent purchases arrived – one was a riveting book about manure, that I feel will be helpful but know I’ll already have a really difficult time reading.

This looks like a college desk - this is why I DIDN'T go to grad school, ahhhh.

This looks like a college desk – this is why I DIDN’T go to grad school, ahhhh.

The other arrival was more fun – A walk-behind Earthway Seeder. These guys are perfect for direct seeding all sorts of produce, from beans and peas to turnips and radishes. You change the metal plates to the size of seed and – well, I haven’t even assembled it yet. So we’ll talk more about this awesome gadget when I gear up to use it.

Isn't mail great? Earthway Seeder arrived!

Isn’t mail great? Earthway Seeder arrived!

Now, to take a closer look at that heating system:

So when Matt was still here we spent a fair amount of time researching the best way to create a heating area for germinating seeds. Keith had a number of heat mats that the user would plug in and set at a certain temperature, and it was a good system because of it’s simplicity for the user and it’s ability for temperature control, but it’s an expensive one and now something I can use right now. So we searched around and Matt found some Gro-Quick soil warming cables and I found some online instructions from a farm that has been using them successfully.

Our heating bed!

Our heating bed!


These are the warming cables sticking out at the end. Despite some questionable customer reviews, they are warm to the touch, and I could feel the heat in the sand and in the bottom of the seedling containers. We’ll see how they do!

We built a wooden frame, braced the bottom with some old board fencing from the Papa Wagner scrap collection and some cinder blocks, and then attached hardware cloth and 1/4  sheet of insulation on the bottom. We ran over to a supply store for buckets of sand and then dumped 1/2 of sand over the insulation. We then took one set of the cables and laid them back and forth in the sand in an S-shape sort of pattern, and then covered the cables .


Two of these cables were the cost of one heating mat (which only holds three trays). We are stretched them over a space a bit further than suggested, but the sand seems to be helping in the transfer of heat. Of course, lots of people use all sorts of methods to start seeds. My aunt is going to give us some windows to set up some little warming spots in our old garden to see how that works.

And Teena Bailey, local farmer and grain grower extraordinaire of Red Cat Farm,  uses these incredible cinder block bunkers packed with manure and bedding and covered with compost, to heat her seedlings. Teena opened her farm to me yesterday morning and showed me her area where she cleans and stores her cold produce and eggs, and her big and beautiful greenhouse that can fit a truck inside and where she has her enormous and impressive bunkers. It was great to speak with her – she’s a local legend and just the spunkiest lady farmer I’ve ever met – and it’s exciting to know that folks like these are so close at hand.

All in all, this has been a great week. Still looking for equipment (and am thus far empty-handed), and applying to markets. I re-applied through The Food Trust with a more extensive and articulate application, and I’m making strides toward finishing the momentous Greenmarket application (which is daunting but has really made me organize my field planning, which has been great). Must finish seeding onions and starting some more herbs.

And I’m thinking about a small Philly and local experimental CSA, as I may have mentioned before. I’ve already had some folks express interest, but if you’re up for an adventure in vegetables, drop me a line at I’ll have more specific details and plans in the next week or so to share.

Hey! We Built a Greenhouse Part II: Frames, Plastic, and Victory

If you think this post was a long time coming, you should have watched our building progress.

Essentially, my only building experience up to this point was four years of week-long crash-course carpentry during my time with Project Appalachia, one of La Salle’s renowned and incredible service trips. We’ll get more into this amazing little adventure and how it essentially made me want to be a farmer later (in two weeks, when the next batch of kids is heading down to Harlan, KY).

The point here is that we needed to frame two end walls, with little to no understanding of geography, leveling (this was my fault completely – I hate using levels so I just don’t), or most of Glenn’s tools (at the outset – after some tinkering Matt became handy with all the tools at his disposal).


Building, building, building a frame.

After some discussion about what this frame should look like within the scope of the hoops, we picked a basic model a number of folks use in greenhouses. We built one wall outside and the other in Glenn’s sweet back garage, though it wasn’t until later that we realized that springing for extra-long screws instead of settling for free nails would have made a sturdier frame in probably a third of the time it took us. Ah well. Next time.


Matt may make the argument that the reason he is in all these pictures is because he did most of the work. But someone had to document (though he is also correct in much of this case)!

So we fit these frames under the hoops and attached them with metal strapping to the hoops. We then covered one wall with plastic by stapling old drip tape from last year’s irrigation over the plastic and into the wooden studs. On the front end we covered the frame with plywood and created a space for the door.

Glenn donated his graffiti-door to the cause. We hung it in place like that for a day, but don't worry, it's a nice happy green now.

Glenn donated his graffiti-door to the cause. We hung it in place like that for a day, but don’t worry, it’s a nice happy green now.

Through all this, Strider insisted on being very involved in all our processes. Which included pretty much moving in to Matt’s bedroom with him. That dog shunned his family and spent the weeks of Greenhouse Parts I&II in a fine display of ridiculous dog enthusiasm and traitordom.

He thought he was helping...


No, dog, you're not helping.

No, dog, you’re not helping.

Before the walls were built, we collected some old fence boards and attached them to the sides of the greenhouse with metal strapping to create a base for the wall plastic. At some point Glenn and Matt were actually dismantling some of our house fence to do this, further evidence of our family’s unraveling.

We had to wait a few days to get a day without wind – and by this time it had snowed so it was snowy inside the greenhouse and we are still contending with that a bit – before unrolling our 6ml greenhouse wall plastic from Agriculture Solutions. We stapled the front end of the plastic to the front plywood through more drip tape, and then began to travel down the sides of the greenhouse doing the same with the baseboards.

So if we pull from here, is it tight yet? What about here? Man, plastic is the pits sometimes.

So if we pull from here, is it tight yet? What about here? Man, plastic is the pits sometimes.

I cannot really explain how long and daunting a process this was as we desperately pulled to tighten each section, swore and got furious when it wouldn’t tighten as we’d hoped, and how many staples we pulled out and put it again before we got the hang of it.


There’s still some air movement within that plastic, and we probably could have made it tighter with a couple extra hands pulling (but where’s the fun in that?) but by God, we did it. And it’s warm inside, folks. And beautiful, and ours.

Yesterday Donna and I filled in the gaps between the baseboards on the sides and the ground with wet newspaper and sod to block the air from getting up and under the inside of the plastic. She was excited to be getting her hands dirty, and it is well worth it to bask in the heat inside that structure in the middle of February.

Other things happened during this time that I will save for next week’s blog fodder: Matt built greenhouse benches, we created a heating bed with sand and some soil heating cables, all my seed arrived, I assembled a solar cooker one night while he perfected his Wii Tennis. He’s back home in Indiana again, but still advising with seeding, manure, and all those farm things he understands a lot better than I do.

Don't be fooled by this hardworking photo, readers. Matt still got some vacation time in, eating sushi and bowling and playing all sorts of Wii Sports and bringing the new plague of Katamari Damacy into my home.

Don’t be fooled by this hardworking photo, readers. Matt still got some vacation time in, eating sushi and bowling and playing all sorts of Wii Sports and bringing the new plague of Katamari Damacy into my home.

Victory faces.

Victory faces.

But there is a greenhouse. And about a billion other things to do. But there is a greenhouse.

Enter: Greenhouse

Enter: Greenhouse

Hey! We Built A Greenhouse: Part I

What have I done in 2013?

Well, we started the farm.

After days of decision planning, price comparing, unbelievably tedious and painful (for me, anyway) math, reading vegetable descriptions and discussing the pros and cons of various tomatoes, squash and beans, I sat down and ordered my seeds. Johnny’s, High Mowing, and Fedco are now the happy owners of substantial amounts of my bank account. Maine Potato Lady came in at the end yesterday when I bought my really exciting and colorful potato seed stock and Stuttgarter onion sets.

I filed for an EIN and my fictitious name for the farm – Wagner Farmstead is officiated. I filled out some applications to a few farmers’ markets in Philly and Greenmarket in NYC, and I’m waiting to hear from them while simultaneously applying to the state to accept Farmer’s Market Nutritional Program vouchers and to the Department of Agriculture to accept EBT.

Which leads us to the project of the past two weeks: THE GREENHOUSE.

I am atrocious at math. I think I’ve said this before (besides this article already)– maybe several times. So let me reiterate once more – having a couple men around me who can do math and are mechanically-minded has been incredibly helpful.

Glenn being awesome

Glenn being awesome

Matt, all-knowing veggie farmer from Keith’s Farm, flew in from Indiana two weeks ago to assist (read: do most of) this project. Prior to his arrival, Glenn leveled the ground with his New Holland and we (read: mostly he) measured out the 36-inch ground sleeves (hollow metal rods that you sledgehammer 18 inches into the ground), making sure the screw holes were not facing out so the bolt heads would scrape the plastic walls.



Here is the sort-of level ground with ground sleeves

Here is the sort-of level ground with ground sleeves

When Matt arrived he placed the hoops in the ground sleeves, keeping them as level as possible. He screwed them into place with one of Glenn’s many awesome drills (we proceeded to use a litany of Glenn’s awesome equipment, from jigsaws and miter saws to, well, his entire toolbox).




And yes, at the end of all this there is a greenhouse…and more! Stay tuned for the next update: We Built A Greenhouse Part II: Frames, Walls, Snow, Benches and Victory

-Farmer Liz

A Farm Flyer For Your Thoughts

This is the flyer I’ve been handing out to folks with my garlic around the area. Take a look and let me know what you think! I’m thinking of doing a small CSA as well, if anyone in my world in the Lehigh Valley/Philly area is interested. Prices and planning coming up.

This list is pending, of course. Seeds are on the way so I’ll have a more concrete list soon – and like the flyer says, I’m still taking requests!

Wagner Farmstead Flyer

To give you a brief idea of what’s going on – I’m making friends with local farmers, I’m reaching out to area stores, co-ops and restaurants (but no definite takers yet), and Matt has been toiling in the cold PA winter building the greenhouse. Perhaps today or tomorrow I’ll post a step-by-step process of our adventures and mishaps.

And now, back out to the cold – today we’re painting and putting up more plastic!

Home Is Wherever I’m With You, Part Two: My Mom the Superhero, Greenhouses, and Getting it Together

This post should have been written two weeks ago, but here we are. 2013 has been quite something,

For reasons that are strange, somewhat unknown and exhausting to rehash, our family spent the first week of the new year hanging out with Mom Wagner in the hospital. She’s fine now, and thanks everyone for the food, thoughts, beer, visits and everything else.

A shout out to my cousins Chris and Bernie, who brought flowers to the hospital. These are beautiful. And to Melissa, who showed up with bread, soup and muffins.

A shout out to my cousins Chris and Bernie, who brought flowers to the hospital. These are beautiful. And to Melissa, who showed up with bread, soup and muffins.

While we were hanging out in the ICU, mom woke up one morning and promptly sassed me about not figuring out my greenhouse plans.

Long story short, Donna Wagner, exhausted and, uh, did I mention pretty sick?, insisted I get my ass in gear. Because in case you didn’t know, she’s a superhero. And now that she wants to farm, we’re in this for serious.

That was the real kick I needed to get my act together. I made a couple phone calls to some farm friends. One helped me get in touch with folks about grant questions. Matt started researching greenhouse prices and calling companies for quotes. And that was how we met H. Schwartz and Sons, the folks I visited with Glenn on Friday to pick up my greenhouse.

Yes. Yes, yes. After all the false starts, big ideas with no direction and easy ways out, the greenhouse pieces are here. There’s no turning back now.

On Friday morning Glenn and I packed up at 5:30am and headed down to Wilmington, Delaware, where H. Schwartz and Sons has a giant warehouse/garage surrounded by piles of steel pipe. That’s his primary business, but he gets bundles of seconds steel for projects that have been bent or can’t be used for some reason, and since he’s bending it to make greenhouse and tunnel hoops anyway, can utilize this rejected material and make affordable, sturdy greenhouses from galvanized steel.  His frames perform well in snow, which is very important up in these parts.

Some of us felt some trepidation as glenn and set out on our greenhouse drive. We don't always do so well together. But it was actually a lovely trip. We may (knock on wood) finally be starting to understand each other.

Some of us felt some trepidation as glenn and set out on our greenhouse drive. We don’t always do so well together. But it was actually a lovely trip. We may (knock on wood) finally be starting to understand each other.

Next weekend we start assembly. We may just put up 45 feet of the 96 foot frame and use the other half for a high tunnel, or get so excited we build the whole thing. That remains to be seen.

Loading up!

Loading up!

This will become a 96-foot greenhouse. In the words of one of my farmers, booyah.

This will become a 96-foot greenhouse. In the words of one of my farmers, booyah.

These pieces will connect the hoops with the center purlin.

These pieces will connect the hoops with the center purlin.

The ground cover for the floor arrived first on Thursday, puzzling the UPS man as he handed me half a dozen packages for my mother and a 15 ft., heavy roll of the stuff from the back of his truck. The plastic for the roof and sides has yet to arrive, and then my co-builder and I must price out some lumber for the base and doors. We’ll need some other pieces as well – once we are in the building phase I’ll try to document the steps and tools as specifically as possible, because other than YouTube videos, there aren’t a whole lot of detailed assembly instructions with photos floating around out there.

We also had a nice visit from my dear Tomato Boys Matthew and Derek as they set off on their winter cross country adventure. We caught up doing what they love best – eating pizza. They’ve made it to Memphis and last I heard they were bouncing around New Orleans somewhere. Derek is taking notes – maybe one day if I get it together I’ll be able to replicate some of their trip on my own. They may be staying at some farms along the way, so maybe they can’t report back on their arrival in San Diego.

This doofus drove hours out of his way to get some upside down pizza. Derek, who despite many appearances on my blog, hates having his picture taken and is loafing in the back.

This doofus drove hours out of his way to get some upside down pizza. Derek, who despite many appearances on my blog, hates having his picture taken and is loafing in the back.

In other news, I continue to wander the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia area looking for places to sell garlic and market my future produce. Over a dozen small natural food shops, restaurants and other similar venues have seen my nervous face and heard my bumbling, awkward spiel as I thrust some garlic bulbs on them and scamper out, but we’ve yet to see any returns. Keep your fingers crossed!

One of the owners of Food for All, however, seemed particularly excited (Nate Adams suggested this little number for lunch so I could talk to them about my garlic. Thanks, dude.). The store/café receives a lot of its food from a Lancaster-based co-op, but Food for All seemed interested in an additional food source. She asked if I would have my produce listed online to order – which is something I had not thought of, but is something that Matt seems to think is a good idea and is something his computer/farming brain can create. So that may be the avenue here. More to come with further investigation.

My first issue of Growing for Market came last week along with a hard copy of High Mowing’s seed catalog and a new Johnny’s catalog. I spent the better part of a day reading all the descriptions of the Maine Potato Lady’s seed stock and picking out my favorites. After some discussion, Donna and I came to the conclusion that since PA is a potato state, we should pick potatoes folks wouldn’t normally see, and will be choosing some organic stock that were bred for their antioxidant and vitamin content. Plus, they are beautiful colors. And I’m going to try some sweet potatoes, which have a growing process that isn’t quite the same as a regular potato, so it should be an adventure.

I mailed in my registration of a fictitious name and EIN application to the state and federal offices. I have to look into buying liability insurance if I’m going to sell produce at a market. And I need about two thousand more pieces of equipment and materials, from plows and discs to potting soil and trays, before I’m ready to roll. But we’re getting there. Inch by inch, we’re getting there.

Not the most organized planner...

Not the most organized planner…

And I’ve had nothing but support from my friends and family. One is helping me knock around branding and marketing ideas. One makes sure I’m trying to using my newly-created farm Twitter account to my advantage. Others make sure I’m not falling off my game. And some may not even realize how they help – I’ve got a friend traveling through Southeast Asia, another living in Japan, one becoming a father, one writing about music in a way that never stops making me laugh, and one picking up writing again, and reading their blogs motivates me on my own adventure and encourages me to be a more diligent writer.  And Nate has let me start writing for Patch again, so I’m getting back into the swing of what I loved most for such a long time; sitting down at a computer, making some phone calls, and starting to write.

Add soil and stir. The Farmer Liz gets back in the saddle.

Hey - this is my 3 and 1/2 acres from the sky!

Hey – this is my 3 and 1/2 acres from the sky!