All posts by Casey Hust

A Good Year for Apples

I must admit, I was a little sad last year. I didn’t cry or anything like that, but I was heartily disappointed. The reason for this, of course, was that it was a terrible year for apples in our little corner of the world.

The previous year the apples were raining down on us from the firmament, as well as the branches they were on because the weight of the apples was too much for the branches to hold them. I was happy that year. There was apple sauce, apple cider, apple pie, apple crisp, apples just to crunch on, and probably about nine other apple type things for all of us to enjoy.

The whole point of this blog post isn’t to live in the past, as much as I enjoy picturing myself repeatedly throwing hand fulls of apples into the air and doing the criss-cross applesauce dance or as vividly as I recall sitting forlorn at our dinner table last fall, resigned to eating a second helping of mashed potatoes instead of moving on to apple tarts. The point of this blog post is to look towards the future, which the present is using two-thumbs up to point at. What I mean by that is that it is looking like a fantastic year for apples.

The Golden Delicious tree in full bloom next to our chicken barn.

The reason that the future is so bright for the apple crop this year was the lack of frost in the last couple of weeks. If you recall, only a week or two ago, apple trees all over were in their full-blooming beauty. Because the trees did not get to put much energy into producing fruit last year, many of the trees had an overwhelming amount of flowers on them this year. Everywhere I looked, I saw the (mostly) white blossoms covering apple trees. It was during this critical time that we didn’t get a frost. The flowers survived and many of them were pollinated, and now there are little baby apples on the trees.

A little baby Zestar apple!

Now we must hope (and pray) from here that we don’t get too much rain, causing an increase in rot– or too little rain, causing the fruit, and our hope for a good apple season, to shrivel up and die. But as things are going, I am starting to drool over all of the apples I may eat.

We should not get too far ahead of ourselves, though. The lack of frost also positively impacts many other fruits. Strawberries, blueberries, cherries, peaches, apricots, pears, and what have you also dodged Jack’s bullet. It will still be a couple of months before I am biting into a fresh apple from the backyard, but it will only be a couple of weeks before I am biting into a fresh strawberry from our patch.

The Non-Store Farm Projects

Somehow it has been a few weeks since our last blog post. Our last post was on our summer plans for the Store, so I thought it would be fitting to follow that up with a post on our summer plans and projects for the rest of the farm besides the Store.

Now, I must start this off by saying that we have a lot of things we would love to do on the farm (and we fully intend to give them our attention when the store is complete. This is a list that includes things like getting pigs and setting up a greenhouse. This is absolutely not that list.

This list is one that we hope to accomplish this year. It is a list of tasks that we feel we have no other choice but to give our time to despite the fact that we would love to be pouring everything in to the store right now. Without further ado…

1) Build a blueberry house. This year is looking great for the blueberry bushes, and we want to make sure that the birds don’t enjoy the harvest instead of us (and you!). This project involves putting some posts in the ground along with enough structure attached to those posts to allow us to staple netting up. We started this project this week, and I am hoping that it is completed by the end of the long weekend.

2) The garden. It is planting season right now, and we are very excited to add more and more of our own produce to our Weekly Produce Program. The garden is a large and constant job, and we will spend more time on it than on the rest of the things on this list, so even though it isn’t exactly a new project, I felt justified in listing it.

3) Build a new chicken house. We have been expanding our chicken operations steadily for the last couple of years, and thanks to our faithful customers , we are in need of more coop space so that we can keep expanding. We are planning it as a large hen house with space along the back to put rabbits, as that venture has experienced steady growth as well.

4) Fence in our pasture. To go with the new chicken house, we need to finish digging holes and putting up fence posts to create a pasture area that takes up a large portion of our backyard. We are talking dozens of fence posts. I am literally starting to refer to myself as the mole because of the quantity of holes that I have been (and will continue to be) digging. The goats and the chickens will co-exist in this pasture, and the foxes will exist outside of the pasture.

5) Other. I put other here because it seems like we can’t go two or three weeks without coming across another project that is way more pressing than we realized. I’m sure you all can relate!

This list, along with our farm store exterior project list, holds the goals of the next few months. I’d like to think that we can accomplish them all, and we are planning on working like packhorses to make it happen, but I will be realistic and be content to finish one project at a time.

Spring Goals: the Store’s Exterior

The “before” picture, the current exterior of the Farm Store.

It is always exciting to me when we undertake an exterior aspect of the store. Don’t get me wrong, the interior is exciting too (the whole thing is exciting to me!), but the outside of the store adds an aspect of immediate visibility to the general public. We can work for weeks on the inside of the store, and then we work on one exterior project for 2 hours, and I get a dozen comments from people that have driven by and taken notice. Well, it is now the season for exterior work! It is time to give the good people of Glen Aubrey something to look at as they pass our store.

We have a lot of goals lined up for the outside of the store this summer, and we hope they all add up to us being completely finished with the exterior before the weather cools. Naturally, I think that all of these goals are achievable. My heart and mind tell me that there is no reason why they shouldn’t be… but experience tells me that I should work hard and not take it for granted that these goals will come to fruition in a timely manner.

So, without further delay, here is the summer schedule for the exterior of the store:

1) Finish clearing the yard around the store. We already did the large majority of it, but there is still an old tree to cut up as well as a scrap metal pile and wood pile to make go away.

2) Cut the window and door holes in the Tyvek.

3) Build the deck for the front of the store. This will be where people enter and come up to the ice cream window. I plan on starting to dig holes for the posts for this in the next week or two.

4) Finish the roof. We still have to put up the new metal roof on the front side of the store (the back is finished) and then we have to put up the ridge vent and gable trim. I get the feeling that this would have been nice to finish it all at once instead of trying to remember this year exactly what we were doing. Alas, mother nature denied our request late last fall.

5) Put gravel down in front of the deck for the parking lot. Actually, we will need to fill in and roll out the hills and valleys first, but you get the idea. We plan to put a parking area of crushed stone in front of the store.

6) Put up the siding (board and batten) on the exterior of the store. She’s gonna look nice.

7) Paint/stain the board and batten.

8) Stand in our new driveway looking at the exterior of the store and feel a sense of accomplishment.

9) Go get ice cream.

There you have it. If we can do all of those things, the outside of the store will really be shaping up. We are excited to make it happen. If you see us out working, don’t hesitate to stop in and say hi or give us a honk with your horn as you pass by. We may not see who it is, but we’ll still wave.

Farm Store Update

It has been a little while since we have given an update on how the store is coming, but I can assure you that we have been working on it the whole time. The progress can sometimes seem slow, but when we look back at it, there is certainly progress to be seen.

Last time we gave an update, we had just finished installing all of the new doors and windows. We promptly covered up everything with Tyvek. This wrap protects the house from the elements and adds a small element of insulation for heating purposes.

At some point in the coming months, we will cut the Tyvek around the windows in preparation for putting up siding to finish the exterior. When we get to this, we will also Tyvek the peaks of the walls before siding them as well.

Here (above) you can see the back end of the store which is a little bit more finished. If you were to walk up the steps of that porch in the middle, you would enter our future commercial kitchen (formerly the garage).

This is where we have spent the vast majority of our time over the last few weeks. Some of the differences a casual observer may notice include the existence of a floor now, as well as the insulation on the walls and the drywall on the ceiling.
We are very excited to be nearing the completion of the kitchen, but as you can see, we still have a bit of work to do. Next on our list is to finish putting drywall on the walls, then put the lights in, as well hook up the electrical outlets. Then we have to hook up that shiny sink under the window and put our heater in. At some point, all of this drywall needs to be spackled and painted as well. Then comes the floor…. after all of that I think the room itself (though empty of appliances and whatnot) will be a finished product.
At that point, we can walk up and out of the kitchen to go work on our store’s exterior (exit to the right) or we can walk one more step up into the main area of the store to get working on that. Let’s get to it!

Lessons from the Farm

One of my favorite parts of the farm, which really is one of my favorite parts of life, is learning the life lessons that seem to come up all the time. Some of these lessons are like low hanging fruit. They are easy to see and just begging us to learn them. Even if we don’t see this low hanging fruit, we run the risk of running right into it anyway. And some of these lessons are a little higher up on the tree, and if we want to enjoy the benefits of them we have to get a ladder or climb the tree and go up there to get them.

Of all these fruity lessons that are constantly ripening and waiting to be picked, I find myself frequently bumping my head on the low hanging fruits of delayed gratification. I always knew that delayed gratification was often a fine thing, noble even, but this farming venture has made me get up close and personal with it.

Our culture, when you think about it, is very much centered around our desires and immediately gratifying them.  Are you hungry? Go to McDonald’s, or Burger King, or any other of a hundred food joints that can get your food out to you in mere moments. Want a new car? Buy one on credit and pay it off later. There are a hundred other examples, and I’m not saying that stopping at a fast food place or buying a new car is bad, but I am saying that our culture teaches us that we should get what we want when we want it. And I do think that an attitude like that… one that is centered around me and what I want and how the world can make me happy… is ultimately destructive to ourselves and those around us.

Back to the farm…. I will say that I have very much been raised in the roughly the same culture as everyone else, and it took me a bit of getting used to how things work on a farm… namely the idea that so much of all that we do is for the future. Take the gardens, where you spend countless hours preparing the soil, planting the seeds, watering the plants, and weeding the garden before you can even think of harvesting anything from it. Then, once you harvest from it, half of the stuff gets frozen or canned and put away for an even later date. Another example would be the goats…besides feeding and watering them twice a day everyday and cleaning the barn regularly, we built the goat barn for them. We got a buck and bred them. And we waited five months while doing prenatal care and finally(!!!), we got to have goat kids and goat milk. These are just two examples, but you get the idea. A farm is a place where you put a lot of work in for a long time before you reap the rewards. That is delayed gratification.

So, what is better about having something later as opposed to having something now. Let me tell you. I feel like a king every time I sit down with a cup of goat’s milk and sip it, and the great part is, I have more than I could ever drink. There is great satisfaction in working hard for something and achieving it, and failing along the way only makes the end that much better. Also, I know a lot about goats now. I am by no means an expert, but I am delighted to say that I have learned a lot of really fascinating things… mostly because we had to blunder our way through various issues. Finally, such work builds character.  Hard, apparently unrewarding work is magnificent at developing self-control, patience, and perseverance, qualities which I think we all would admit we could use some more of.

Now we all have our projects and goals that try to teach us delayed gratification, and I am not at all trying to preach to people who probably understand the concept better than I. Instead, based on what our little farm has taught me, I want to encourage others as they undertake or are in the midst of their formidable tasks or are even considering doing something hard where the end is obviously to their benefit. These things have their own form of goat milk at the end, and it is rich and creamy.

Tis the Season for Baby Chicks!

It is that time of year again. You know, that time when Spring is so close and yet so far. Yesterday’s snowfall of 2-1/2 feet has us feeling “tis the season” …not for Winter Wonderland but for Spring to show herself! Well she’s starting… We’re hatching chicks!

Rhode Island Red Chicks for sale here!

Now I will admit that the chicks have lost a bit of attention to the new baby goats. Most visitors come to see the goats, and for good reason. It’s tons of fun to have a furry little goat crawl all over your lap and nibble on your nose–and if you haven’t gotten that experience, I highly recommend that you come visit before they grow out of their cute stage! But this isn’t a post about baby goats. This is a post about baby chickens.

They want attention too!!!

It is a magical thing to see a baby chick first poke a little hole in its shell, then slowly work a crack around the middle before giving a mighty heave to push the egg apart. There is something special about seeing a newborn creature that is just at its beginning. And, of course, it’s a practical thing. Thanks to our wonderful customers, we have a pretty good chicken business going, and the hatching of the chicks is a big part of that.

The chick enterprise.

We have to keep some of the chicks we hatch to replenish our egg laying hens every year, but we also hatch plenty to sell so that other people can experience the pleasure of  backyard farming and sitting down to a breakfast with eggs that were produced by their very own chickens. Some people even buy fertilized eggs from us so that they can hatch the eggs themselves.

For us, the routine is well underway. Every two weeks we collect fertilized eggs and put them in the incubator. It takes them three weeks to develop, and then they hatch. We have already hatched two batches of chicks, and our two incubators are loaded with the next batches. We will keep hatching chicks every two weeks until we call it quits for the year in September. This makes it so that we have chicks for visitors to see and hold all summer, and we also have chicks ready to sell all summer for those wishing to start (or continue) their own chicken venture.

Quick Pic Update: Windows and Doors

Starting this past fall, we have been working our way around the house replacing or filling in all the old windows of the store that were not in good enough shape to keep. If it was a nice day and we had more than a couple of hours, we would knock off another window. All told, we replaced or filled in 11 windows!

The hardest ones to replace, which are my favorites, are the big picture windows that face the road. We had to special order these, and putting them in required us to largely rebuild the side of the house, which was probably a good thing because the previous picture windows had let some water in and caused some rot.

You can see where the steps led to the old door

The biggest change that we made while doing this was the location of the front door. We filled in the old one that faced the road and put a brand new one on the side of the store that faces the parking area.

Come spring, we will build a deck to reach up to the door and the ice cream window, which is the window just to the left of the ladder

Now that we are done with all of the windows, we plan on wrapping tyvek around the house this weekend, and then we will be done with the exterior until the weather gets better. So for now, we can put our efforts into the inside of the store.
P.S.- If we are lucky , next week’s blog post will be about the birth of the baby goats (with pictures!).

Winter is Melting Away

The start of a spring to-do list, along with our newest task of milking the goat!

I know some people are looking at the month of February and thinking to themselves that we have a long way to go until we turn the corner to some golden days. Part of me feels that way. It really does. The other part of me looks at the last couple of months and wonders where they disappeared to. Winter is supposed to be the time on the farm where the garden goes dormant, animals stop having babies so we can work on the things we don’t have time for the rest of the year, like making serious headway on the farm store. And dare I say the winter is a time when we can go in before 9:00 at night and watch football on Sunday after church. Well… winter is just about over.

Technically, the winter still has almost two months to go, but if you are standing in my shoes (which are completely disgusting right now because I cleaned out the chicken coops today), things are about to get busy in an awful hurry as spring bears down on us like a freight train.

February Task#1: Hatching Chicks

Next week we’ll be releasing the roosters with the hens because we need to collect and incubate fertilized eggs for the first spring hatching. Once it starts, this project continues through the fall. The first eggs hatch March 1, and then we keep hatching them every two weeks until September.

February Task #2: Birthing and Milking Goats

Starting in mid-February, the goats could deliver at any time. We are already milking one of them (Pepper) because she had an early stillbirth a few days ago. While this was disappointing, it made us quite sure that the other two are pregnant, and getting to refine our milking skills for a month before the other goats give birth could prove to be very helpful. Once the other two goats deliver their bundles of joy, it will be a full-fledged nursery out there, with three goats to milk twice a day and little goat babies to enjoy 🙂

February Task #3: Maple Syrup

Around the same time as that, we will be watching the temperature closely, as the daytime temperatures could be subtly climbing into the high 30’s and low 40’s regularly, meaning it is time to tap the trees and make maple syrup. Somehow, that magical season always seems to sneak up on me. It is winter one day, then all of a sudden we are outside every day collecting sap and boiling it down every weekend.

Not to be overlooked, we have a garden to plan and seeds to order. Come March we will be starting to grow plants under the lights in the basement. The planning of our garden is particularly exciting this year as we are expanding our summer produce program.

On top of all that, we are putting in every free minute we can find (they get harder and harder to find) on the store. While we still have a lot of work left on the store, the progress we have made thus far has made us more focused on the finish line, which is becoming clearer and clearer as the weeks roll by.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining that winter is melting through my fingers. I am greatly looking forward to everything I wrote about above. It is just a marvel to me how fast even the dreariest seasons go when you have so much excitement right around the corner.

The Sweetness of the Season (Think Maple Thoughts)

Today, we pulled our 49 taps out of the maple trees. It was bittersweet. The bitter part was saying goodbye to the trees that we trudged to every evening for the last few weeks. It will be a whole year until we make those journeys again, which in some cases involve going through thickets and behind old buildings into places that don’t often see human traffic. The sweet part was that we
don’t have to go to those trees every day anymore. The evening chores suddenly seem a lot easier. The other aspect of the sweet part is inside the house, bottled into jugs and ready to be poured over pancakes.

A hillside of maples with our taps in them.

The weather has been unseasonably warm, which led to an early and pleasant maple season. Last year we were still boiling in early April, and we were freezing while we were doing it. This year we had the lawn chairs out and, at times, it almost felt like we were kicking back and relaxing on a warm summer day. Have I mentioned that we aren’t even halfway through March yet? I’m not complaining… at least not until our fruit starts blooming too early, but that is another problem for another day.

Here I am drinking sap coming right out of a tap. It doesn’t taste as good that way.

All told we collected 428 gallons of sap. Now that the war is over, we have about 8 gallons of syrup nicely bottled into pint and quart jars. Ponder that. We sent 420 gallons of water vapor into the atmosphere. I’m pretty sure we made it rain somewhere. The general ratio given for sap to syrup is 40:1. Ours was a little worse than that. For no particular reason I am going to say it was Dad’s fault. Glad to have that off my chest.

The boiling operation.

Now that the work is done, it is time to enjoy the sweet taste of our labor. We have taken stock of our product, decided on what we want to keep for personal use and to experiment on to create maple candies and maple cream, and are happy to announce that we will be selling maple syrup this year. For those of you who may be interested in buying some, we are selling pints for $12 and quarts for $22. You can contact us through facebook or call (business number is 323-1395) or text us (if you have one of our personal numbers) or just let us know the next time we see you. If you are reading this and would be interested, but you live in Rochester, we would be more than happy to bring it up the next time we come up to visit (which we hope is soon!).

Finished product. Pure New York Maple Syrup.

Tearing it Down. Building it Up.

Last fall we decided to make the small yellow house a farm store. We haven’t really blogged much since the fall (sorry about that. I will try to do better). However, the lack of blogging may signify a large amount of work in other areas, particularly the store.

This winter my father and I have spent much of our time freezing all of our digits off working on the yellow house. Many hot chocolate breaks and painful numbing sensations later, I feel that I ought to give an update as to how this venture is going.

First off, we had to clean out the yellow house. This was not very appealing work, and the finished job didn’t exactly make us feel accomplished, but at least we were ready to start doing some work that we could be proud of.

P1080648Next, we redid the stairs down to the basement. The setup that was in there was awkward, inconvenient, and took up critical floor space. So we planned out where exactly we wanted to have stairs, and did away with the old ones. We had to build a supporting wall downstairs and replace a few floor joists, which actually went much better than we thought it would. We cut the stringers, put up the stairs, and ever since have been delighted to go downstairs for any (or no) reason whatsoever.

This is a picture taken before the beam was put in.

Then came what I hope is the most difficult task we will have to do for the whole store: we replaced the center beam in the house. This took a couple of weeks of preparation, as well as a prayer that the house would stay standing when we cut the rafters and an escape route just in case it didn’t. By the grace of God, our temporary walls and rafter ties held it all together.

This is us getting the beam into the house.

We put up our beam, and  roughly 143,000 nails later (my arm is s
till sore just thinking about it), we had completed our task. We were then able to wipe out all of the walls and have a wide open building to build in as we saw fit.

This is what it looks like now, with the beam in place.

Naturally, the next step was to build the other walls. We built a wall around the steps, a couple of archways into the two rooms in the back, and framed in the bathroom. This week, we are looking to build the counter for the store, and then the skeleton of the store will be complete. It is already so different than it was in the fall.

There is still much work to do, however. We must replace a window or two and put in our main entrance when the weather is kind enough to let us. On the inside, we have to run electric, plumbing, and heating before putting up insulation and the finished walls. We also have the floor to finish. On the outside, we have some scraggly trees to cut down, a deck to build, and a small parking lot to make, so there is no dearth of work ahead of us.

Our goal is to have the store ready for a grand opening in the Spring of 2017, but in the meantime, we would be delighted to show anybody who stops by what progress we have made. We may even have the store as a useable work in progress later in the summer.