Monday, September 12, 2022

Change In The Air

 More than the seasons are changing this fall at the old Metzger/Matteson farm.

Perhaps if you've been driving up or down Dingman Run, you've noticed the big rolling fields have been mowed and recently giant bales of hay have been gathered together to eventually be hauled away on a flatbed trailer. That's the work of the new owners of that part of this old farm, Carl and Betsy Long, who are adding this Hebron Township acreage to their bustling farming operation.

Folks familiar with the farm will know that the Dingman Run Road intersects the farmland formerly owned by the Matteson and Metzger families. It's the place where Arthur and his sister Carol spent the early years of their childhood in a multi-generation small farm - with their parents, grandparents and great grandparents all living and working on the farm.

Time marched on and in the 1960s, Arthur Metzger Sr., his wife Wanda and their children moved away from the farm, though the close ties of the family continued with frequent visits back home.

Facing a time when they knew they could no longer manage the farm on their own, the elder Metzgers sold the farm to their granddaughter Karen Gooch and her husband Tom Gilliland back in the 1970s though some acreage around the old farmstead and the farmstead itself stayed with them and later passed to Arthur's parents and then to us.

We've lived on the farm since 1977, at first renting what we've all called "the little house" from the Gillilands. Grandma Metzger had recently died after a year-long illness and Grandpa Metzger lived in the farmstead with his faithful dog Peggy.

Death ended the dream of Arthur Metzger Sr. to spend his retirement years on the farm of his youth and soon after Grandpa Metzger died. Wanda Metzger eventually purchased the little house and a couple. of acres of land and we moved into the old farmstead and began the never-ending reimagining of this old house and our beloved organic farm.

Several years ago, we purchased all of the acreage on the western side of the road (where the farmstead is) as well as the original barn and some of the land adjacent to it from the Gillilands. Recently we've planted wildflower meadows that this year rewarded us with glorious blooms all through the spring and summer, an organic haven for bees and other pollinators. There's also a new planting of an acre of native trees on top of the hill.

It's going to take us some time to get used to hearing heavy equipment moving across the fields as the landscape changes from meadow to cultivated fields. It's going to take some time to adjust to the knowledge that conventional farming practices will be put in place on this land that's been fallow for at least 15 years. The caution that we may want to keep our bees sequestered when the inevitable spraying happens is chilling.

Carl and Betsy and their little girl stopped by one summer evening as Arthur and I were enjoying our dinner on the back porch. They shared their excitement in adding this piece to their 21st century farm as they look to the future. We know they intend to be good neighbors.   

And so this fall, when the goldenrod and purple asters fill our fields and the potatoes are unearthed and the squashes reveal themselves from underneath their sprawling leafy vines, we are feeling more than a little melancholy facing this change in our Crandall Hill landscape.

Here's where we post pictures to share the history of farm.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

August 31

So much portends the end of our summer in northcentral Pennsylvania - the calendar to be switched to September tomorrow, the daily transit of the school bus which I often hear climbing the hill on its way up Dingman Run before spotting it from the bedroom window, goldenrod waving in the field and the red apples at the tops of the old Northern Spy trees behind the house. A few colored leaves scatter across the lawn and leaves are turning on the trees that line the road to town. Mornings are foggy this time of year and the sun's rising later each day.

We had a vacation at my beloved Chautauqua Institution last week and returned home to tomato vines laden with fruit, overstuffed green beans clinging to their tired vines and a pepper patch taking on the beautiful red tones that signify that special sweetness.

A Selection of Hot & Sweet Peppers
Poblanos, Czech Black, Jalapenos, Jalora,
Bangles,Sarit Gat, Osmarko Kambe

Canning after a week away - sauce and jarred tomatoes

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Sunflower Stories


Anyone who drives past the farm will notice a proud stand of sunflowers in the Mama Wanda garden patch this year, keeping guard over our winter squash patch.

Many of those sunflowers started life as volunteers in our high tunnel. At one point in time, several years ago, someone (me) thought it was a good idea to plant a few sunflowers in the high tunnel just to add some late-season color. I carefully selected the seeds, reeled in by names such as Lemon Queen, Autumn Sunset. Santa Fe Sunrise, Velvet Queen and the exotic Soraya.

They grew well, some reaching well above the tomato lines. They were beautiful and colorful, full of bees and a treat for the birds who came inn through the open sides and ends of the tunnel.

And in the spring of the next year, hundreds of little sunflower plants sprouted all through the tunnel. And thus began the annual sunflower transplanting. They go at the end of the corn rows and in the squash patch and at the ends of the potato rows. They go in the flower beds and sometimes next to the kitchen door.

The thing is - they don't seed themselves outdoors, likely because it's just too cold to keep the seeds viable. But in the protected high tunnel environment, it's like a sunflower nursery.

I vowed this year to remove nearly all the sunflower plants that volunteered - thus the squash patch sunnies! Some went to my mother's garden downtown. But I wasn't nearly ruthless enough for the high tunnel is once again a sunflower seed nursery!

front porch bouquet of sunflowers
catching the August sunrise


Monday, August 8, 2022

The Joy of Shell Beans


We've planted a variety of shell beans this year and here's a sampling of yesterday's harvest. We shelled them this evening, remembering the always-wise advice of Mama/Grandma Wanda who always waited a day after picking before shelling. "It's so much easier!" she opined.

Pictured are Cannellini, Vermont Cranberry, True Cranberry, Painted Pony and the family heirloom Bird Egg Beans. (Click on the link to read the history of our family bean from a blog post in 2011 - my most-read blog post ever!)

Still filling their pods on the trellis are the Tolosa black beans which have a longer growing season.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

August Bounty

 The old graniteware canner has been pulled off the pantry shelf and put to work this week.

first of the 2022 tomato crop

pickled beets

Though we no longer grow vegetables for the Farmers' Market, it seems we have planted copious quantities of peas, beans, tomatoes, peppers, beans, cabbage, broccoli and the ubiquitous zucchini. I am hoping we were more restrained in the corn, potato and garlic departments.

Grandchildren Matteson, Juniper & Sadie Metzger

While I tended growing things of a different sort in Alaska, Arthur and my mother prepared the peas and the bulk of the beans  for the freezer - though later bean plantings are yet to yield their goodness.

The old pressure canner will be coming down from the attic to be put to work this week because of its efficiency in processing the tomatoes that are straining the vines in the high tunnel. Less water and less time - both good reasons to use it!

The apple crop is modest this year, likely due to the dry conditions we've experienced for much of the summer but watch for more information about cider and apples here.

Joe and Jen's garden spot on a former
Matanuska Colony Farm in the Mat-Su Valley 

Monday, July 4, 2022

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Snow In Summer


It's been more years than I can remember since Anne Acker gave me a clump of this plant known as Snow In Summer. This year it's putting on a beautiful show at the corner of the horse barn where it's cascading down the bank.

And speaking of plant gifts, this Summer Lilac was also a gift. We accompanied John Peet into the field beside his old farmhouse to dig up several plants that day but this one has given us  - and the butterflies and other pollinators - great joy every spring.

Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum) is a perennial flower that gets its common name from its blooming habit. It blooms profusely in the early summer, with a blanket of notched pristine white flowers that suggest a fresh snowfall. But the name does not tell the whole story. This ground cover, a member of the carnation family, is just as admired for its delicate, woolly, silver leaves as for its charming flowers. These leaves spread a mat of foliage from which flower stems rise in late spring/early summer. Snow-in-summer spreads quickly by reseeding and by producing runners when grown in favorable conditions.

Summer Lilac: Growing to heights of 12 feet and having spreads of up to 8 feetin diameter, the summer lilac is a large shrub. The flowers grow in long panicles, or branching flower clusters. The small blooms are noted for their fragrance. 

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