A Time to Sow

By Ron Eichner 

       Hi folks, Each year most farm and garden crops get started by putting seeds in seed trays filled with potting soil or even direct sowing out in the farm fields or gardens where seeds will germinate and grow. Soil temperatures and moisture levels are important to get the seeds to germinate. First, having the soil ready to plant and fertilized for the crops’ nutritional benefits to grow and produce a crop to harvest is essential. You may want to mulch with hay or natural grass clippings for moisture retention and/or manage the competing weeds during the growing stages. Then keep scouting for insect and wildlife damages, along with fungus issues. 

       The farming wisdom of billionaire Mike Bloomberg who has no agricultural or farming skills, said, “I can teach anybody to be a farmer. It’s a process; you dig a hole, put in a seed, fill the hole with dirt, add water, and up comes the corn.” Well, I don’t know any billionaire farmers, but maybe Bloomberg could team up with the billionaire duo of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos who have expanded their fortunes by purchasing enormous tracts of U.S. farmland. All three would be natural for farming. Here is a unanimous farm quote, “Farmers don’t farm to make money; they make money to farm.” 

        Most farmers and gardeners have learned from their parents and or grandparents or from an agricultural school where you can get a horticulture degree. I wish farming and growing crops was as simple as what Mike Bloomberg says or thinks. Farming has become one of the most advanced industries because of all of the growing conditions and challenges faced each year. 

        Mother Nature is our silent partner, and weather for a growing season is truly unpredictable each year. Most crops want 70 to 80-degree soil temperatures for seed germination. In April or May, the sun can warm the soil temperatures. However, cold spring showers and rains can drop the soil temperatures back down. This is why for generations most tender vegetables and flowers were planted later in May because a couple of frosts and/or cold soil temperatures can still kill your crop. 

       At one point, 98% of the world worked in agriculture, and now it’s about 2% across the United States. There is a big difference between true family farms, those who work their farms every day throughout the year, and the rich businesspeople who are buying up countless farms throughout the United States. 

       My grandfather and dad have instilled in me to always pay attention to the full moon cycles of April and May in the spring and September and October in the fall. Generally, when you have clear nights within a five-day window of a full moon cycle it can be the coldest period. This year, May 26 is the last full moon of the spring, which could be a factor. 

        The success of a farm is lies in growing the crops and being able to sell the yields your crops produce. In our area we have four full-time family farms – Kaelin, Shenot, Soergel, and ours, Eichnerand we share a common goal of supporting our community.  All we need is community support. So “Farm to Table” is a unique two-step from the farm to your table, where for most stores it is a four to fivestep process. 

        There are no days off with farming, and by no means is it as easy as digging a hole, dropping a seed, filling the hole and up pops a crop. Feel free to stop by Eichner’s Whole Farm & Green houses and experience “Farm Fresh” at 285 Richard Road, Wexford, and get the “rest of the story.” 

 

Facts from the Farm

stack of pancakes on white background

Hi Folks,

We are in the still of winter with a blanket of snow on the ground. When most people think of snow, they think of activities like skiing, cross country skiing, sled riding, snowtubing, and even making snow angels. But it’s also the time for maple syrup producers across the northeastern United States and Canada to get ready for another maple syrup season. And Pennsylvania has a big part to play.

Maple syrup production has spanned centuries with the practices of preparation, gathering the maple water, boiling or cooking, bottling, selling, and enjoying it on tables across America.

The best trees to tap are sugar maples, which are found in abundance in Pennsylvania. You begin tapping by either drilling or driving a small hole to install a small tube called a spile into the trees to vent the maple sap or water. The water is gathered in buckets or in a network of plastic tubes, which end up in the maple house, where it is processed into maple syrup.

The production really begins in the late fall and early winter when the maple trees store starch in their trunks to prepare for the winter period. Giving the right temperature in late winter and early spring, which can span 4-8 weeks, each year is important. Maple producers want to see below freezing temperatures at night and around 40 degrees during the day. The trees will never give anymore of the sap or water than it can without harming themselves.

It takes 40-50 gallons of maple water to make one gallon of syrup. Maple water is 2% sugar and 98% water and then is boiled down to a concentration of 65% maple sugar. The cooking and boiling process is achieved by heating with either hardwood, natural gas or propane, which is all very costly.

Modern approaches like reverse osmosis for producing maple syrup separates the maple water from the natural sugar, minerals and other impurities into a more concentrated maple liquid to finish by boiling or cooking into maple syrup. Another modern approach is to use a stainless-steel turbo evaporator that can do the cooking process in one hour instead of the 18-24 hours over an open flame or fire.

Maple syrup comes in different grades, and in most cases, it depends on the times of the maple season. Maple syrup is graded based on light transmission through the syrup. Grade A is a lighter amber, which generally comes from early to midseason. Grade B is a darker amber, which is more robust in both color and flavor and generally comes in late season. Some maple syrup producers are finding that customers’ tastes are moving toward darker amber or Grade B because it has a stronger maple flavor.

Maple producers say their worst enemy is the porcupine as it likes to chew on the plastic tubing or lines. A good natural predator for the porcupine is the fisher or fisher cat, a type of carnivorous weasel. Nature does have a balance.

So, if you think maple syrup is expensive, maybe tap a couple of maple trees, gather the maple water, buy or make a heatbased evaporator and either cut and split a cord of wood or use natural gas or propane to cook and boil the maple water down to make the precious maple syrup.
It may be cheaper and easier to stop by our farm market for some of the Grade A and B maple syrup found in pints, quarts, half-gallon and one-gallon sizes produced by Jeff Yatzor from his working farm in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, from the northwest region of Pennsylvania. Yatzor’s is having its 20th Maple Weekend, March 13-14, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Feel free to stop by Eichner’s Whole Farm and Greenhouse and experience Farm Fresh at 285 Richard Road, Wexford, and get the “rest of the story.”

Facts from the Farm: Food Safety

By Ron Eichner

Hi Folks! With the rising temperatures and increasing of gatherings, I would like to discuss the topic of food safety.
CLICK HERE to read the entire article!

Local Farms

Clarion River Organics is a cooperative of 12 horsepowered family farms working together near Clarion, PennaMost of the families are Amish, and all of our farms are certified organic and strive to maintain healthy soils as their main means of pest and disease control. Since we have multiple farms working together, we are able to offer a wide selection of produce over an extended season. Community supported agriculture (CSA) is a way for you to connect with the farms and farmers that grow your food. At its most basic level, a CSA involves subscribing to a portion of a farm or cooperative’s harvest for a given season, but it’s about a lot more than just the produce. We consider our CSA to be the best expression of the mission and vision of our cooperative and joining it as the best way for people to connect to that mission–and to enjoy a bit of agrarian life in their wider community. Our popular CSA serves Pittsburgh, Erie, and rural Northwestern Pennsylvania. In addition to certified organic produce, the farms now also offer organic grains, pastured meats and jarred specialty products. In addition to subscribing to our CSA, you can find our produce at Whole Foods Market, the East End Food Cooperative, Sunny Bridge Natural Foods, Erie Whole Foods Cooperative as well as several Pittsburgh restaurants.  [Read more…]

Buying Local

Buying Local-1By Ryan C. Meyer

In this fast-paced world, time has become one of the most precious commodities. A day’s hours are few and its stresses many. To fit our tight schedules, speed and efficiency are favored while quality seems to be pushed aside. Massive industries meet our demands with cheap merchandise and fast food, but are we making the right demands? [Read more…]