Social distancing, a normal farm way of life

Whoa. I did not realize it’s been so long since my last update! Brace yourself for information overload!

First, a friend designed a sweet logo for us, which is nice to have done and we are pleased with how it came out.

2RR logo

Otherwise, the past few months have been full of both planning and action around here. As the planet is dealing with the pandemic COVID-19, we have pretty much been keeping to our regular routine (spending most of our time on our own property and for the most part interacting with family only).

Before social distancing became the new normal for everyone, I did have a chance to attend a few informative workshops. I learned requirements for commercial kitchens (never going to happen in our existing kitchen for a number of reasons) and a whole lot about business planning and insurance. Riveting, I know, but important.


I’m currently working on securing a new insurance policy that’ll cover farm activities. And I’ve got our LLC paperwork ready to send to the state. I’m not sure which state agencies continue to operate right now, so I’m not really in a huge rush to get that out the door. Insurance, though, is necessary and now is a good time to deal with it.

We got our potato order in at the end of February, though how we will pick up the nearly 500 pounds of seed remains in limbo because of restrictions on the number of people in one place at any given time. I use Fedco and typically potato orders are picked up during the annual tree sale in early May β€” which has been canceled.


My other veggie, flower and herb seeds arrived last week in the mail and will be started inside my two tiny greenhouses within the next few days.


Maine Maple Sunday (usually the third Sunday in March) was canceled because of the gathering restrictions as well. But that hasn’t stopped us from collecting sap and making syrup. This is the first year we will offer our syrup for sale, which is exciting. We had our inspection and received our license about a month ago, just as the sap was starting to run. Our 12-foot kitchen table is holding our stock of syrup for now. (If you’d like syrup, I have glass half-pints available right now for $7. Email and I’ll figure out a safe β€” and socially distant β€” way to get it to you. Larger amounts may be available by emailed request; price determined by container size.)


Let’s see, what else, what else.

More paperwork I’ve been looking it is licensing and insurance to sell pork and chicken, but I’m not there quite yet.

Part of the reason is that we got some bad news from our expected pig supplier (no piglets) so we’ve been scrambling the past few weeks to find a new source before spring. We’ve been in contact with someone else who is reputable, so fingers crossed!

Oh, and my local chick supplier closed its doors in the fall so I’ve had to find a new source of laying hens as well as meat birds this year. Much easier than finding piglets, at least, as both those small producer sources have been secured (no big-box birds for me, thanks).

Whew! I think you’re all caught up, for now. Stay healthy, everyone, even if that means hiding in a laundry basket under a drying rack like Penelope or chilling on the back of the couch like Leila. πŸ™‚




Tribute to the wood stove

It’s late January in Maine, and that means I am spending a lot of quality time with my winter workhorse — the wood stove.


Now, I know she’s not much to look at (and quite dirty, I just cleaned out the ashes and made a mess…) but man, oh man, does she throw heat! Years and years ago, friends of ours bought a house and this wood stove was out in the garage. They didn’t want it and offered it to us, so we loaded it up and took it home. This is the second house we’ve used it in and it heats our first and second floors easily.

Like any wood stove, we do have to perform some maintenance on it every year but it’s definitely worth it. And, then there’s cutting, splitting and stacking wood. Not to mention carrying it into the house, which is an every day event for me in the winter.

This year, we ordered some kiln-dried firewood. It mostly burns well, but there are some too large pieces that we have begun splitting by hand. I just finished splitting some and filling the wood box, actually.

One of Jeff’s super-fun sayings is that wood warms you twice — well, this particular batch has warmed me more than that. I stacked it, we’ve both split it by hand, we carry into the house and burn it.

When we cut our own (when I say we, I mean Jeff — I still don’t do motorized blades), there’s another step or two. We do have a woodsplitter but it doesn’t really like the cold much, so we mostly use it in the summer and fall. Extra steps for cutting our own firewood are, obviously, cutting the trees down and chunking up the wood; splitting, loading it into a truck, then stacking and the rest.

But, there’s nothing like wood heat in the winter with the wind howling outside (which is does often up here on the ridge), so, for us, all of the work is worth it.

It’s here!

After months of waiting, we picked up our new evaporator yesterday and she’s beautiful!

We were supposed to pick it up on New Year’s Eve, but the weather did not cooperate. I took this photo at our intended departure time that day.


This new equipment will be able to boil ten times the sap we’ve been able to manage to date β€” once we figure out how to run it properly. We are expecting to do a few test boils with water before the sap season begins to get a feel for how it runs.

Meanwhile, I’ve completed our licencing application and am dropping it in the mail soon, so we also have to wrap up some finishing touches on the sap house itself and relocate the chimney to match up with the new evaporator.


Jeff did all of the research into this company and model evaporator. We’ve heard from other people with the same model (four-foot XL) that it can’t be beat, and our experience with W.F. Mason Custom Welding in Porter (Maine) could not have been better. Bill took the time to explain everything we could think of in regard to use of the evaporator. It was wrapped securely for transport and went back together in the proper order with out any trouble.

We can’t wait to fire it up and start making syrup! And, as a bonus, we had a gorgeous sunset greeting us when we got home.


It’s beginning to look a lot like…

… Christmas, of course. We are a little behind in decorating this year because Thanksgiving was so late but we are getting there.


Of course, in the time since we put up our outside decorations, it has rained and melted what little snow we had and caused my big bow to look droopy. But this is the first year in a long time I’ve made my own wreaths (because who has time for that?!?) and I think they came out quite nice. There’s this big one on the saphouse (about four feet wide), a three-foot one on the house and a regular-sized one (16 inches) on our sign by the road.

This is also the first year we haven’t had at least one of the kids home to help decorate. The youngest loves Christmas and put up most of the lights and decorated the tree in matching ornaments last year. Nothing doing this year, as Jeff and I are left to our own devices because the two in college won’t be home until a few days before Christmas.

And the cats are no help at all. Leila looks innocent enough here but a few seconds before she was biting the lights and scratching my hands as I tried to hang up garland.


Penelope (the other cat) likes to sleep under the tree on my green velvet tree skirt, which takes forever to clean off. At least neither of them tries to climb the tree (fingers crossed they won’t pick up that habit!) and they are pretty good about leaving the ornaments alone.


With most of the decorating done, I’ll be moving on to cooking soon and definitely plan to try more things in and on the wood cookstove. And yes, I’ll be sharing both successes and failures …


Thanksgiving fail

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. I was expecting a dozen people. So, obviously, I decided to try cooking in my wood-fired oven for the first time.


I thought to myself β€” and said out loud to other people β€” I’ll cook my apple pie in the wood cookstove, because you can’t overcook apples. I’ve really been wanting to bake bread in it as well but thought, for some reason, that pie might go better.

I was wrong.


Clearly, I burned the crust. But, I peeled the top crust off the burned pie (the bottom crust was not burned at all!) and made a crumble topping instead, which went over well. In fact, everyone ate that pie instead of the do-over apple pie I baked in my gas oven.

Despite my initial pie failure, I decided I would also try to bake bread in the wood oven.


For safety, I made three loaves β€” one to cook in the wood oven and the other two in my regular oven. The silicone pan, obviously, went into the regular oven, with the idea that using the same pans in the wood and gas ovens would clue me in to what the differences are as far as heat circulation and temperature variations. (If you look at the images of the wood oven, you’ll notice a thermometer β€” but I didn’t know if it worked.)

And, I’m happy to report that the bread baking went much better than the pie. While the wood-cooked loaf was slightly underdone in the middle, it came out almost as good as the other loaves β€” in half the time! I probably could have cooked it in the wood oven a little longer but after the pie, I didn’t want to burn it.

With my 50/50 record so far, I’m still pretty excited about trying to cook more in the wood oven as I get more used to it.

I was worried …

Usually, I’m not a worrier; I’m pretty much a roll-with-it type of gal. Until it comes to planting garlic.

I almost didn’t write about it. That’s because I was worried I got it into the ground too late β€” until I went on Instagram yesterday and saw that a bunch of nearby farms and gardeners also are just putting cloves in the ground. Whew!

The funny thing is, everyone who grows garlic says it’s easy. We’ve watched YouTube videos, read books and seed catalogs and talked to people who grow garlic.

But, last year, we planted too early. We think. Our garlic sent up green leaves and very little of it sprouted again in the spring. That’s part of the reason I waited so long to plant this time around. Then I got worried the cloves wouldn’t have enough time to establish roots before it got cold.


I planted several varieties this year, mostly reds. Above are cloves of German red. I also did Chesnok red, Russian red, Inchellium red, German Extra Hardy and Metechi.

Now, the cloves are tucked under a nice blanket of hay for the winter while I dream of a bumper crop in the spring.


A sh**** day

Well, yesterday was a less than glamorous one on the farm β€” we dealt with s*** all day. Literally.

The first part of the day wasn’t bad. But the septic tank pump truck was here to kick off the day’s theme. It was a planned appointment β€” this time β€” at least. And we managed to check off this important task before winter cold settles in.

The afternoon, though, was a different story. Jeff’s been working a ton and I’ve been keeping a running list of things we need to get done in the coming weeks and months to be handled as we have time. On that list was shoveling out the chicken run.

I think you see where this is going.

About six inches of chicken poop mixed with shavings and hay had built up in the run and it’s been a very rainy fall, making it quite hazardous getting in and out of the coop to feed and water the laying hens.

Last winter, we were socked in with so much ice, I was using an ax to chop it away from the coop. I’ve been having visions of the ground inside the run freezing solid, partially based on the waterer being frozen together earlier this week. The weather forecast called for rain today (it was right) and snow at the end of the week, so I figured it was prime time to complete this task before things got soaked further and possibly frozen.

For now, our layers are mostly confined to a coop and run. This is because we have a huge number of predators including weasels, hawks, foxes and eagles. And those are just the ones we’ve seen … I hope to let the chickens out more often to range on the property going forward. But, as they say, winter is coming and these birdies like the mostly snow-free protection of the covered run.

After about an hour, we finished cleaning up the run and putting down a fresh layer of pine shavings for the birds. It was worth it but back-breaking labor. While we shoveled and pitch-forked β€” hunched over because the roof is only about 5 1/2 feet high from gravel (remember there also was about six inches of shud/shay too!) β€” we talked about our plans for a new coop and a new flock of layers. The 10 girls I have are now 3 years old so egg production is dropping off. (We expect to keep the old coop as a “retirement home” for the birds that are no longer producing eggs.) Jeff’s plan to to make one end of the new coop and run accessible with the tractor, so we can scoop with the bucket instead of shoveling and pitch-forking so much.

Then, after that fun, we moseyed over to the barn next door to clean out the pen where I started my meat birds earlier this year. That was a much more pleasant, and much less aromatic, endeavor.

The upside of all this s***? I’m going to have some great compost after a while.

A whirlwind October

It’s been quite a while since I wrote an update on the goings on around the farm! And, boy, has it been busy!

We did finally manage to get all of the potatoes harvested, though I could not tell you exactly when that happened. The piggies — John Ham, Kevin Bacon and Natalie Porkman — went off to the butcher and are now packed away in the freezers with the meat chickens. The gardens have been harvested and (almost) put to bed for the winter. I’ve got dozens upon dozens of jars of tomato sauce, salsa, barbecue sauce, hot peppers, pickles, pesto, roasted Romas with garlic, apples, apple butter, dried tomatoes and peppers and tons of hot sauce put up as well, either canned or frozen. I’m sure there’s more I’m not remembering…

The first weekend of the month, our oldest daughter got married! We hosted the reception here — with what Jeff calls “farm chic” decorating. She was beautiful, the groom deliriously happy, the day gorgeous and everything worked out wonderfully.


The following weekend, we hit the road with the big chicken barbecue pits for the wedding of friends a few hours away. Chicken for 200 in the misty rain was received like gangbusters. One of the groomsmen even absconded with a cooler full of leftovers at the end of the night!


Last weekend, we headed up to Bangor, where our youngest is attending college. And Monday, we helped friends install a big propane tank and new bunks at their hunting camp, where Jeff will head in a few weeks for deer hunting.

At some point in the past three weeks, I also marked my 13th year as a journalist — and left my full-time job as a newspaper editor. It’s something Jeff and I have talked about for a while and with a decidedly successful summer behind us, it was time to pull the trigger so I’ll have more time on the farm.

The idea is that having one of us focused on the farm 24/7 will make actually make our lives easier — pulling weeds as they emerge instead of whenever one of us has time; spotting potential insect problems before plants are eaten to the ground; not cramming 5,000 things into two weekend days and returning to the office exhausted, wishing I had completed more; being available to pick up seeds/butchered meats/feed without having to use vacation time; completing projects around the farm we have put off for years … the list goes on and on, really.

I still expect to be writing, of course. But, on my own terms, not someone else’s. More on that later…

Potato overload

I’m starting to think we planted too many potatoes.

Dark Red Norlands. Magic Molly fingerlings. Kennebecs. French fingerlings. Katahdins.Β  German butterballs. Banana fingerlings. Caribous.

After about three hours of hard labor, we’ve easily gained 300 pounds — in potatoes. I wish I could say we got everything harvested but in reality, we’ve only made it through about a quarter of what we planted in the spring. The fields are a lot messier than we’d hoped but the yield has been good — Jeff’s holding a Caribou potato we dug today.


Luckily, sales have been going well at the stand, despite the erratic hours we’re able to have it open. (If we aren’t open, please leave a note, there are note cards and a Sharpie inside the stand. We’ll call you, or put together your order for pickup next time you’re in the area.)

And, Jeff was home to help dig potatoes today, which was nice because we seldom are in the fields at the same time.Β It gave us a chance to talk about what we should do differently next year, like investing in more equipment that’ll save us all of the hand-hilling, weeding and digging. (Yes, you read that right, we planted, hilled and dug almost all by hand this year — approximately a mile of rows total.)


Now, it’s time to roast a chicken I raised this year (it’s been too hot to roast a chicken until now!) and a mix of potatoes. That was a long day.


I’ve heard that some people take weekends off and do fun things. My interpretation of fun things might be a little different, though.

Yesterday — Saturday — Bethy and I spent about two hours digging potatoes. That was after I worked on the pumpkin prison yard: electric fence up top, bird netting below to, we hope, keep most of the deer and turkeys out.


Jeff and I were able to work on the saphouse Friday to get it ready for the public — he built a door and did some finish trim, and with the help of our capable neighbors we installed the door before Jeff left to work for the whole weekend.


The door folds back down to cover the entrance to the saphouse, which was an idea I had that I thought would look cool. I think it turned out great.

Back to potatoes. Bethy and I dug a 100-foot row of reds, which are looking quite nice. Once I get them cleaned up, we’ll put them out the saphouse-turned-farmstand.

I managed to get the homemade (probably temporary) sign out by the road, with a flag bracket installed for our open flag by the road, too, though it’s a little hard to see in the photo below. And, picked some blueberries. And went grocery shopping. And weeded our own gardens of stuff (stay tuned for Two Rock Ridge hot sauce!). And made some signs for inside the stand, which I haven’t taken pictures of yet. All in all, a very productive weekend.

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