Saturday, May 14, 2022

Meanwhile In The Orchard


Vivid hues of crabapples

Will we have pears this year?

The orchard is a-buzz with activity as the warm weather coaxed the blossoms from the trees. Our new bees are delighted to find something new every day. Orioles, bluebirds, catbirds and hummingbirds flit back and forth.

It was two years ago that we spotted this distinctive nest of the oriole in a pear tree. Where have they hidden their domicile this year?

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Happy Pollinators

Dandelions! How they grow when there a few warm days with sunshine!

Previous generations welcomed the arrival of dandelions every spring. Leona Matteson Tasilllo, our beloved "Auntie Snip" went out into the garden and orchard on this old family farm every spring with her paring knife to harvest dandelions well into her 90s. Then she'd carefully wash and cook them and leave a message that we should stop at her place on our way home from work to pick up the greens for our dinner.

I have to admit I wasn't much of a fan of dandelion greens until I tried Auntie Snip's offering. Now both Arthur and I forage in our hoop house every spring for those tender greens while outside the snow still blankets the yard.

My grandfather loved dandelion greens too. He writes:

"Some folks are as delighted over the advent of the odiferous leek as I am over the appearance of the lowly dandelion. Everybody to his or her own liking. Dandelions were on the menu at this domicile Monday night. Best food I've had since last dandelion season." 

And later in the year he writes:
"Dandelions are blooming in most delightful profusion all over the landscape.  Some folks cuss 'em but with the green of the May grass, they are beautiful just the same."
Today, we rely so much on mass-marketed foods displayed in our full-serve supermarkets, we don't recognize many of the edible resources looked upon as weeds.* 

Dandelions are but one very visible example. How did folks come to loathe this tooth-edged plant with its bright sunshine-y flowers and begin to wage war on it by dousing it with chemicals?

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, homeowners use more than 10 times the amount of herbicide and pesticides on their lawns per acre than farmers do. That is a stunning and alarming statistic. 

This wanton use of harmful chemical herbicides is tied to the loss of pollinators across the globe. Without pollinators, our food systems will collapse and we will starve. To refresh your knowledge about pollinators, follow this link to the USDA.

In the United Kingdom, a public awareness campaign was launched by the Pesticide Action Network aimed at celebrating the role of the dandelion in supporting pollinators. One of its goals is to stop the application of herbicides and allow the dandelions to complete their life cycle. They urge residents to use these materials to inform local governments and other organizations about the loss of pollinators.

So here's to keeping our honeybees alive, keeping nature in balance and celebrating the arrival of the dandelion each spring.

*Update: May 13, 2022

I came across this clipping from a 1975 edition of The Potter Enterprise, from the Womanwise column penned by Muriel Lindhome.  Mildred Bashline and her husband Stanley had a small rustic cabin on Denton Hill and a big vegetable and flower garden. The last I knew, her blueberry bushes, trapped behind their falling-down chicken wire fence, still bear fruit, likely enjoyed only by the catbirds and robins.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Tub Sugar

My Book Club is reading "Braiding Sweetgrass" this month in a non-fiction departure from our usual fare. I will admit I haven't finished the book yet but it's not because it's a slog - rather because it's so beautifully conceived and written that I'm unwrapping it like a special gift. Or perhaps, living as we do in Maple Nation, I'm savoring it like a small nugget of maple sugar.

Robin Wall Kimmerer prepares us for her collection of intertwined essays and memoir describing it as "an intertwining of science, spirit and story - old stories and new ones ... that allow us to imagine a different relationship in which people and land are good medicine for each other."

In "Braiding Sweetgrass," Kimmerer shares the story of the Anishinaabe Original Man, Nanabozho, as he finds his people lolling beneath a maple tree, with their mouths open catching the falling syrup from the trees.
"They had become lazy and took for granted the gifts of the Creator … so he went to the river and dipped up many buckets of water. He poured the water straight into the maple trees to dilute the syrup. … Today, maple sap flows like a stream of water with only a trace of sweetness to remind the people of both possibility and responsibility. And so it is that it takes forty gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup.”

While most of the sap harvested from maple trees in our time is turned into syrup, in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the sugar produced from the trees was the prize. Cane sugar was rare and expensive and had to be imported from far away while maple sugar, created by boiling sap until it crystallizes, was available in exchange for vigorous outdoor work in the spring before our agrarian ancestors were busied with field work.  

There's an old sugar bush on this farm and squirreled away in the dusty corners of the outbuildings, reminders of a long-past maple sugaring times - galvanized metal sap buckets, some brimming with old-fashioned spiles and a long evaporating tray that once rested atop a roaring wood fire on the arch in the field behind the little house.

Grandpa Matteson's Arch

These days the buckets and spiles have been largely replaced with miles of tubing and giant collection tanks and the sugar shack is almost factory-like with gleaming stainless steel and modern firing devices. 

While we haven't tapped our nearby maples in more than 40 years, several of our neighbors have experimented with making syrup, and just over the hill, there's a new commercial syrup operation.

The sap run is over for this spring. Just last week our neighbor related that it wasn't his best year and he had already finished boiling off the last of his sap, bottled in a case of mason jars to share with his people.

And here I share another old story from a writer who appreciated the sweet gift from maples, my grandfather, W.D. "Golly" Fish. He wrote this in 1969, in his 94th year.

Golly wonders if maple product producers in these recent years make "tub sugar." They used to make it and it was used for such purposes as sweetening pickles and in curing hams. Tub sugar was made from the last run of sap after buds started in the maple trees. The sugar was called a "buddy." It was dark in color and when made into sugar, dark syrup would drain from it. It was reasonable therefore to put it into tubs or buckets which gave it its name of tub sugar. 
As a lad Golly used to pay visits to a lady who lived on a nearby farm. The hams she cured with tub sugar would melt in one's mouth. The cucumber pickles that had been preserved in brine, when freshened and finished with tub sugar, were dark in color and marvelous in taste. Golly could eat one this minute and he would not have to have salt rising bread with it.
buds on the maples

 (Read more about Maple Nation here.)

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Buckwheat - It's Not Just For Pancakes!

With maple syrup season in full swing and pancake breakfasts offering buckwheat pancakes, it seems appropriate to share this lyrical description of a common farm cover crop from early fall in 1926. 

The fields are white now with what J.C. Galloway writes about in The Port Allegany Argus and Reporter:  "A tiny triangular box of black or gray, filled with a cake of white powder; What a wonder box of magic it is!

from our buckwheat seed stash

"A bare plowed field in early summer; a few bushels of the wonder boxes scattered over it, a rain, and in a few weeks the fields are covered with white snow. Go closer, and one sees shining glassy stems standing thickly, dressed with leaves, and at the top, rows and rows of little waxen palaces filled with honey, fragrant and sweet and heavy; honey for the bees and honey for the farmer who plowed the ground and gave them their chance to grow. 

A little later, and the shining stems and the tops are heavy with the wonder boxes again, twenty or fifty, or a hundred to one; enough to work the same magic another year, and a great deal over  which to bless the world. Well done, little buckwheat.”

Buckwheat growing
as Metzger Heritage Farm
Summer of 2009


Sunday, October 3, 2021

Limited Edition Cider Pressing


Our apple cider is unique in that no two pressings are the same - and that's by design! When we first planned the expansion of an orchard, Arthur spent hours researching and sourcing apple varieities and now, all these year later, we (and you!) enjoy the fruits of his labor. (No apologies for the pun!)

We will be offering this wonderful cider for sale this week (beginning Thursday) here at the farm. We encourage you to order in advance because this is a limited pressing and we have always sold out.

Our apples are processed at a facility that uses UV light (not chemicals) and is bottled there, transported to the farm and stored at the proper temperature in our walk-in cooler. There are no preservatives added, making it perfect for wine or hard cider.

Call the landline (814-274-8004) or email to reserve yours today!

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Cider Time

 How about it! If history proves accurate, this pressing will sell out soon so place your order soon. Email or call the landline at 814-274-8004. Leave your name, phone number along with your order. We'll contact you with appropriate pickup time.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

That Time Of Year

It's the time of year when the seed-starting trays are stacked haphazardly beside the sink in the greenhouse, bags of seed starting mix are nearly empty and the trusty old avocado green watering pitcher, just perfect to reach around the plants in their peat pots, is relegated back the to top shelf.

a ridiculous plastic relic from the 1970s
 perfect for the job I ask it to do every spring

It's the time of year when an early visit to the high tunnel is rewarded with the sight of morning light coloring the plants with its own special palette of green, from the deepness of pepper plants to the hairy squash plants. The brave rows of milky green cabbage plants are newcomers to the tunnel, struggling to acclimate in their new space. Alaskan Nasturtium seeds, scattered about here and there in the squash patches as a bug deterrent, have thrust their mottled leaves through the soil and will soon bloom in bright colorful profusion.

It's the time of year when the bird egg beans send out their tendrils and begin to climb up the long length of trellis.

 Of course, those early morning visits are not all rewarding as I see the trails left by a legion of slugs marauding in the night and spot pillbugs (roly polies) scurrying for cover.