Sunday, May 27, 2012

Week of Planting

Here are a few pics of what we have been doing this week around the farm. It is starting to look like a garden and hopsyard around here!
In the hopsyard, we made and covered several long rows and planted 100+ hops rhizomes- Chinook, Nugget, Williamette and Fuggle varieties. (Just love hops varietal names.)

Then, we moved to the garden. We finally mapped out where the 40+ different fruits and vegetables would go. Rich tilled in an inch layer of composted manure.
After a week of hot, dry weather, this morning was overcast and cooler. That's ideal weather to transplant! We ran out and got  to work. We transplanted 206 peppers, tomatoes and tomatillos. The transplants are SO much healthier than last year's. The pepper and tomatillo starters already have some blooms on them!  We made sure to put up the deer fencing around our hard-earned garden before calling it a day.
We still have several more trays of transplants to put in their new homes, including lots of celery. And we are really looking forward to getting to try out our new Earthway Seeder for direct seeding, too. Soon, we'll have beets, squash, carrots, peas, beans and more!
PS: I wrote this blog using my phone app, just to see if it works. The photos are a bit grainy, but you get the idea.
PPS: The photos of Rich pulling that giant concrete lawn roller show just how much physical labor goes into this.  Just call him Conan the Agrarian. We found that beast of a tool in the shed and it works well for forming mounded rows, aside from Rich not being able to move his arms afterward.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Staircase: Before and After Picture time!

AFTER: The foyer/grand staircase

BEFORE: Chipped, old lead paint and dirty stairrunner

DURING: A big messy project that took forever

DURING: Ripping off the old runner, layers of dirt underneath

One of the many things we are doing renovate the old house is painting the inside. With over 20 rooms, most of which have not been re-painted in 60 years, that is a daunting task. We are just taking it one room or hallway at a time. Most recently, we finished the grand staircase foyer. It turned out so nicely with such a dramatic difference, that we just had to share.

Here are the before and after shots and here are some statistics:
  • about 50 hours of sanding, scraping, sealing, priming trimming, painting, and touch-up
  • 4 1/2 gallons of paints, 
  • 6 paint colors used, including gold, 
  • 16 rollers, 
  • 4 brushes, 
  • 2 respirators and body coveralls
  • 1 new chandelier tassel
  • 1 can of teak oil for banister
  • and many books on tape, and radiolab podcasts

Here is the history: The ENTIRE foyer and staircase was painted a muddy brown-grey for as long as anyone can remember. The stair-runner had faded and been worn to the same sad color. It started out fresh sometime last century, but it was time for a change.

When we started scraping, we found four previous paint layers underneath. Ours was the fifth layer. The bonus is that our layer doesn't have lead in it! Among the old paint layers, we found the two colors that we had chosen - pale green and ivory - to match the adjacent dining room. I researched MANY Late Victorian era staircases to choose these colors. In the end, it was like the old house was telling us that we chose correctly by bringing it back to its (one of the) original colors.

Color run-down in Behr:
Main - Mild Mint
Inside Trim - Ivory Lace
Staircase and Outside Trim - Off-White
Stair treads - Wildhorse
Mirror and chandelier medallion - Bronzed Gold
Ceiling - Pure White

Halfway through the project, we realized we are very lucky. These stairs - however old they are - were in great shape. The hubs had to seal a few cracks and patches here and there, but those stairs are very sturdy and not creaky at all.That is a testament to a sturdy house that has been here a long time and can stand for a long time to come.

In the end, we are very happy with how we turned a dark stairwell into a clean, bright cheery space. See those cherub faces on the chandelier? Yep, they are smiling now, too!

We are Journey People (with NOFA-NY!)

We are very excited to announce big news for McCollum Orchards! We have been selected for the Journeyperson program by the Northeast Organic Farming Association-New York (NOFA-NY). And, we have found not one but TWO great farm mentors willing to help us learn over the next year.  We are honored that both Promised Land CSA, a 200-person CSA serving Buffalo, and Elderberry Pond Farm, an organic orchard/farm/restaurant/country store, located in the Finger Lakes region, have agreed to be farm mentors.
Cucumber sprouts
“What is this Journeyperson program?”, you might ask. It is not a rock band fan club, although Wheel in the Sky should be our theme song. The Journeyperson program is “part of a multi-state project to support farmers in their first few years of independent farming,” according to NOFA-NY.  The program offers stipends for education, business planning and a farm mentorship for new farmers. It is in its pilot year and modeled after a highly successful long-running beginning farmer mentorship program run by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). We are one of only two New York farms selected to participate this year.

The business planning and educational stipends will be very useful - in fact we have already completed a Cornell class and NOFA workshop. But, the biggest draw for us is a the farm mentor component. 

Setting up a relationship with a more experienced farmer will help us with reflective learning. It is also a HUGE testament to the generosity and openness of the farming community. We can't think of another industry where people are so welcoming and helpful to newcomers. Since we started this venture last year, we have been supported, encouraged, helped and advised by countless people and organizations - from Bree’s dad, a retired citrus farmer, to friendly neighbors who worked on the farm, and we have gained access to excellent agricultural resources through Cornell Beginning Farmers Project, Niagara County Farm Bureau and NOFA-NY. Through it all, the biggest idea is that nothing - no amount of book learning - can replace grower experience.

The mentors are willing to answer our questions on everything from land preparation and seeding through harvest and packaging. In April, we spent a few hours touring each farm. We saw how they have evolved and are continuing to learn. That is another amazing aspect of farming - it is never the same thing day-in-day-out - a farmer is always learning, trying new things and adapting. We look forward to learning more from these mentors, and we hope that having us as their attentive mentees is a good experience for them, too!

Joining this program means a lot to us. Our situation prevented us from taking the more traditional beginning farmer route and apprentice on other farms for years or learn farming growing up. We had to jump in with both feet. At times, it is overwhelming and easy to lose the orchard through the trees, so to speak.  We just got to get out there and keep at it. We are so thankful that there has been a strong network that inspires us to keep progressing. Through the program, we get to connect to a larger group of beginning farmers and Journeypeople in the seven states in the Northeast.

Our vision of providing our community with healthy, organic, sustainable fruits, vegetables and hops AND a safe, fun place to connect with farming and history AND getting to preserve this lovely, special place for future generations will certainly be a journey longer than two years. Becoming Journeypeople make us feel like we are not out on a lone vision quest, but in the midst of a big farmer parade! So, that wheel in the sky can keep on turning, we plan to be right here tomorrow. Back at it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Guard Skunk - Hop Protection

We have now enlisted the help of Ralph, our new guard skunk, to keep our hops safe and sound.  Here's a video of him on his beat.  He lives next door to our barn kittens.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Preparing for the WNYLC Annual Meeting

Landscaping in the rain!
We are excited to be hosting the Annual Meeting for the Western New York Land Conservancy this Friday, 6:00-8:30pm. It is not farming, but it is land related. WNYLC is an important organization that is dedicated to preserving land and natural habitats in Western New York. As hosts, we are happy to draw upon the property's history and landscape, which is a mix of farmland and wetlands.

The RSVP was on Friday May 4, but we heard it was in the newspaper today, so we thought we would keep you posted.

The event program includes the organization's annual meeting, awards, and a presentation by guest speaker Andy Zepp, director of the Finger Lakes Land Trust. His theme is "Strategies for Landscape Scale Conservation."  We are looking forward to hearing about his ideas. This is an important mission and we hope people are moved to contribute to help WNYLC reach their year-end donation goal of $50,000. Small bites will be catered by Farmers & Artisans, a local foods market and bakery, whom we adore.

In preparation, we have been busy bees completing landscaping projects and cleaning up. There is nothing like the anticipation of 60 visitors to make you think it is probably time to dust and polish. As it happens, this event is in right in the middle of planting season. Whew - we just hope we don't accidentally mulch the carpet and vacuum the hops. We certainly won't get much sleep this week. Having a deadline has made us hustle to get those beautification projects done. Bree is planning to join the board of the WNYLC in July. (Luckily, that is after planting.) For her, it is a useful way to put her background in non-profit management to some use.

We are often asked if we will host events or tours. We would like for people to experience the pretty property and learn about the history and, so, we are working toward that goal. We hope that this trial-run of being first-time hosts will give us good ideas for doing that. For now, though, we are honored to be hosting this important organization and hope their guests enjoy the meeting and its natural setting!