Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Squash House and the Chicken Coop

When we arrived at the farm during Christmas, 2009, we inherited 96 acres that included a farmhouse, workshop, four outbuildings, and miscellaneous farm machinery.  We waded chest-high in horse-drawn equipment from the 1930s, rusty milk cans, and sundry (hay) baler parts scattered throughout two barns.  We trudged knee-deep in manure, too, literally.  Pig and chicken manure had piled up in the chicken coop along with horse manure in the main barn.  We had our work planned for us.  It would take three years to completely plow through all of the outbuildings, sort equipment, salvage scrap metal, clean out manure, and breathe new life into the farm buildings.  We tackled the chicken coop first.  

Built in 1908, the chicken coop housed chickens full time until the latter 1960s when my parents switched to growing squash and pumpkins.  They installed a kerosene heater on the lower story, providing warmth needed to cure and thicken rinds of the winter squash.  The extended shelf life of the winter squash and pumpkins enabled my parents to sell the produce to area grocery stores during the winter.  I vaguely remember area school children peering into the chicken coop (during the fall farm tours) and inquiring about a squash house.  My British mother had dubbed the chicken coop, the Squash House.  The name stuck. 

Chicken Coop at Hickory Hurst Farm 1922
Feeding Time...
My great grandmother, Jessie Lathrop Ploss, at Hickory Hurst Farm, summer, 1922
(chicken coop, background)
After a 15 year hiatus, the Squash House reverted to chickens and hogs when my older brother asserted the farm reins.  The poultry-pig stint continued intermittently for 10 years, with layers of chicken manure accumulating and pigs inching their way to the ceiling.  Manure was never completely mucked out; there was always some residual foundation on which to build future layers of animal waste.  Twenty-year-old manure greeted us when we tackled the Squash House during the spring of 2010.

We donned our manure-cleaning gear, including dust masks, straw hats, barn boots, and shovels; and scurried to open windows so we could heave the dusty black gold onto the black raspberry patch below.  Dust radiated from our hair and soot flew from our nostrils when we finished mucking out the manure.  Needless to say, the raspberries grew twice in size and the surrounding grass grew quite lush.  Eventually, we transplanted the raspberries to an adjacent field, then created the Squash House cutting garden a year ago.   

Squash House Cutting Garden, Summer, 2012

Squash House (former chicken coop), 2012
The cutting garden at the Squash House serves many purposes.  It provides eye-popping color and doubles as a convenient source for cut flowers at the farm stand.  It also showcases samples of cut flowers grown at Hickory Hurst Farm.  Within the display garden we try to arrange plants to show what color combinations are trendy, too.  Anchor plants in the garden, such as ornamental grasses, play an additional role of providing "filler" for cut flower bouquets.   Perennials such as Delphiniums and lamb's ears provide blooms for early-summer tussy-mussies.

This year finds a larger cutting garden at the Squash House packed with more flowers than ever.  By the grace of Mother Nature, we hope to be picking cut flowers for our scheduled opening next Saturday, 27 April 2013.  Gather some posies from our farm stand and make your own bouquet.  Or, have us make the floral arrangements for your special event.  In that case, heed the farm sign.  Go Back, You Forgot the Flowers!  See you next weekend at the farm stand

Friday, April 12, 2013

Go Back, You Forgot the Flowers!

Go back, you forgot the flowers. 

It all started as a whimsy in an attempt to lure more customers to the flower stand in its early days of 2003.  We wish that we'd had a dollar for every smile and chuckle that tag line has brought us throughout the past decade.  Forget GPS.  Our signature farm sign (with the tag line--Go Back, You Forgot the Flowers--) directs more people to our farm than does technology.  That sign also creates lots of banter among customers.  Some people will say that the sign actually convinced them to turn around and backtrack to the farm stand.  On the flip side, there are the "regulars", e.g., male customers, looking for a bouquet to earn their way out of the proverbial dog house. 

Cut flowers and mums
Flower Stand, 2004
The former flower stand--now farm stand--has some humble beginnings.  A mosquito net shrouded a picnic table displaying flowers in canning jars.  Melinda, a neighbor, quipped that we should be selling posies from the perennial patch (gardens).  Through the years the flower stand graduated from a slanted wooden table complete with a vinyl canopy and mulched floor to the buckets of flowers at the roadside farm stand. 

Today we still harvest our cut flowers from the perennial borders, but we grow a wider array of annuals.  We also grow edible flowers such as Nasturtiums and Calendula.  Filler such as ferns, Amaranth, and Artemisia complement the bouquets.  May usually signals the start of picking flowers from our gardens, the cutting garden at the Squash House (behind the farm stand), or the high tunnel greenhouse.  Stop by the farm stand to make your own bouquet or have us make the floral arrangements for your special event. 

The next time you pass our farm stand, look for the sign.  You may just turn around because you forgot the flowers

Hickory Hurst Farm Stand, 2012

Friday, April 5, 2013

Crunching a Cucumber and Other Farm News

Have you ever gnawed on a homegrown cucumber?  What did it sound like?  Did it crunch when you first bit into it?  A homegrown cucumber tastes divine, compared to a store-bought cuke.  The same applies to homegrown herbs.

I walked into the hoophouse behind the barn this morning; an overpowering waft of rosemary filled my sinuses.  The rosemary endured a Chautauqua County winter in an unheated greenhouse.  The sun warms the greenhouse to a balmy 60 degrees Fahrenheit on a blustery 20 degree day.  And so another experiment comes to fruition; we'll overwinter rosemary year in the hoophouse.  We'll be harvesting some of the rosemary for our booth at Farm Bureau's Pride of Chautauqua event this Sunday.

(Rosemary in the hoophouse)

Here's a great recipe for using fresh rosemary.  The recipe is quick and a low-fat alternative to french fries.

Rosemary Oven-Roasted Potatoes
9"x13" baking pan
6 medium-sized potatoes (preferably red-skinned)
1 garlic clove
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3-4 springs fresh rosemary
pepper to taste
sea salt (if desired, to taste)
Prep time: 8 minuates
Cooking time: Approx. 30 minutes
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Wash potatoes.  Cut potatoes in half lengthwise (do NOT peel); place cut side of potato face down on cutting board, then slice vertically, making potato wedges.  Place potato wedges into baking pan.  Mince the garlic clove and mix with potato wedges.  Drizzle olive oil atop potatoes and garlic; dust wedges with pepper, then toss wedge mixture.  Dice rosemary and sprinkle atop wedges.  Place baking pan into oven for approximately 30 minutes until golden brown.  Serve warm.
Speaking of herbs, have you ever had the urge to pinch cilantro growing outdoors or inside in a container?  I'm getting impatient to pick some cilantro we have growing as seedlings--photo below--indoors (awaiting their transfer to the little greenhouse).  I use fresh cilantro as a topping with freshly sliced tomatoes, a smidgen of olive oil, and the juice of a freshly-squeezed lime. 
(Some of our cilantro seedlings)

The little greenhouse is now ready to receive its guests.  Numerous flats of flower (annuals and perennials) and vegetable seedlings await their transfer to the little greenhouse before final placement in the field, garden (s), or high tunnel greenhouse.  We finished replacing the plastic on the little greenhouse last night, with Pia (cat) supervising.  Warmer, calmer weather enabled us to complete the project. 
(Little greenhouse for seedlings)
Note the hitching post in the foreground (post is original to the farmhouse)
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Bring the kids with you Sunday to the Pride of Chautauqua this Sunday, 7 April, 1:00-4:00 PM, at the Chautauqua Suites, Mayville, NY.  The event is free and open to the public and a great opportunity to meet real live local growers and farmers.  Stop by our booth.  We'll have honey; fresh rosemary, thyme, and spinach.  We may even have some posies.  Pick up your herbs and get cookin'.