Tag Archives: Farming

sweetridgesisters

April 16, 2015

By Mary

With my green eyes I see beauty and with my green thumb I like to nurture and create it. One of my very favorite things to do is to spend hours lost silence while gardening. Growing flowers never bores me. I have an appreciation for the flexibility of flower gardening because first and foremost, it offers me a creative outlet that is beautiful, as well as in constant motion. I really do despise sitting still, so it’s wonderful to be engaged in projects that keep me busy and moving, Plus growing flowers is such a flexible way to have a fun niche market.

Yesterday I picked up flats of baby lupines that I had started at an Amish greenhouse back in February. While at the greenhouse I spent a few minutes looking around at what’s available, which made me ponder new ideas for this season. Later last night I was able to look back at some of the pictures from last summer which made me remember times, colors and designs that were a joy to experience during last years growing season. Here are a few memories, designs and projects from 2014.

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Last February the world seemed to as if it would always remain in a cold state of below zero frozen doom. Lisa King from the GAC show Farm Kings sympathized with my state of winter misery and was able to brighten my spirits by showing me the first shoots of new life inside her greenhouse. As a side note: Lisa is an amazing flower gardener and does some amazing and gorgeous things with flowers. For some great inspiration from Lisa, checkout some of the clips that are available from their show or Freedom Farms Magazine.

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After coming back from Pittsburgh, I was able to put together some lists of records and start planting.

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Writing for the Freedom Farms magazine challenged me to spend some time coming up with articles that gave potting a new twist (just like the twisted grass in the globe pots I made that resemble my unbrushed hair!). To make these, just up-cycle an old globe, slit it in half, drill holes for drainage, and plant inside before attaching rope for hanging,

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Last summer I was able to burn out a stump and turn it into a flower bed.

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Burning out a tree takes a lot of time, and in my case one very heated argument…. but I liked the end result!

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Last year I recycled old bottles that had labels I liked and used them as vases. The price is right to reuse them. This gave me a great inspiration to buy bottles of wine that had horses on the labels, I mean, I bought them for my flowers, right?

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When it comes time to fill buckets with bouquets to take to the co-op for market, I am in my zone!

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This year I will have new colors and plants to work with. I am really looking forward to seeing what I come up with. My hope for this post was that it provided some inspiration to think creatively, and most importantly, encourage you to get out and get your hands in the dirt. Happy gardening and don’t forget to get lots of dirt on your hands!

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Whereabouts

by Kate

This morning felt like fall. The air was chilly, the leaves scarlet and swirling down against a grey sky, and the park was full of small children in brightly colored sweaters.

autumn arsenal park

It’s been a long hot entry into autumn here in Pittsburgh, but this morning it was clear that the seasons have shifted. I am adding extra blankets to the beds, drinking more coffee in the morning, taking more time to curl up on the couch and read to the kids while across the street an avenue of trees blaze into fiery color. There may even be more time to blog. Somehow this is preferable to other time consuming possibilities, including but not limited to catching up with the laundry. The laundry situation has hurtled out of control here in my home. Browsing through the photographic record of the past month or two, I begin to see why.

Life has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. There was samba dancing at Kennywood Amusement Park.

kennywood samba dancer

There was the addition of a brand new chicken coop and three elderly laying hens to our urban backyard, bringing a sweet peace to my farmgirl soul.

urban chicken coop pittsburgh pa

Speaking of farming, I’ve spent a lot of time with a camera around my neck…

farmer's market northside pittsburgh

at the farmer’s market and way out in the country, taking notes and photographing the Farm Kings for their new magazine, which you should head right over and subscribe to. They’ve been shooting the new season of their reality show, which makes things particularly interesting in their neck of the woods.

farm kings behind the scenes

The day of the Farm Kings tomato field shoot, I sprinted across those hay bales to get some shots, jumped down, drove back into town, and got all gussied up in red lipstick and rhinestones to play the harp…

rhinestones and red lipstick

for a spectacular, high society style Downton Abbey fundraiser at the WQED Studios here in Pittsburgh. It was pretty stunning.

downton abbey fundraiser WQED

Watching young ballerinas from the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre rehearse quietly before the madding crowds arrived, dripping with jewels and sophistication, was one of my favorite moments of the night.

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Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to dance myself at a huge party comprising the entire Cultural District of downtown Pittsburgh, to welcome the Giant Rubber Duck to the city.

Pittsburgh Downtown big rubber duck sunset

It was a fantastic evening. The kids got to have a dance party in Katz plaza and see one of the largest Rubber Ducks in the whole wide world, and I got to work with some truly lovely women on a bellydance flash mob, and also had an excuse to wear bright red harem pants in public.

harem pants style downtown urban chic

Here in my own neighborhood, I had the privilege of spending an afternoon in my neighbor’s sunlit garden, playing the harp for the Lawrenceville House Tour.

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I am both exhausted and exhilarated by the various gigs I’ve had in the past few months, but it is possible that the most tiring thing I did was go on vacation for three days, with four women and six (small! loud!) children. Here is a picture of the sweet peace and sunlight that actually eluded us for the entire three days we spent laughing and snorting, occasionally crying, staying up far too late, and shivering because those were the only FRIGID three days of the entire fall. Holy cow was it cold.

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Also? I am shockingly inept with a rowboat. It was still great though. And I saw Lake Erie, and heard the thunder of waves upon the sandy shore.

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Back in Pittsburgh, there have been impromptu picnics….

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many wagon rides…

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and a lot of walks.

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Back in the park with the leaves swirling down, something about the change in the season makes me realize I am ready to sit down on my wooden stool and spend a bit more of my time here, on this blog. Come on over- you may just find me here. And then maybe, just maybe, I’ll get started on that laundry.

Country Girl in the City, Part One

by Kate

I was born and bred on a farm. I climbed a grain bin barefoot on my wedding day.

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And then I moved into the heart of a great grey city of steel and iron and statues and stone.

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But I am still a barefoot country girl, although I also have a pretty fabulous collection of sky high heels. I think that many people assume that simple sustainable living is a country thing. I know I did. I was wrong. I’ve learned a lot in the past few years, and I want to share some of them with you. These are some of the things that I do that remind me of home and have helped me to create a beautiful and sustainable life here.

I hang my clothes on the line.

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I’ve got a bed of strawberries under the laundry line too. I grow garlic, enough to last all year.

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I use cloth diapers as much as I can. These cheerful ones were a gift from a blog reader. (Thanks again, by the way. I love them.)

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I bake bread, and cookies, and cake, and I teach my children to bake too.

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These are some of the things that make me feel at home. Bake bread, grow garlic, hang clothes. Keep a compost pile. It turns out that some of the things that made country living enjoyable for me weren’t contingent on living in the country. I plan to keep sharing these things in an occasional series. Kick your shoes off, and join me on my country girl in the city adventures!

Slow Spring

By: Mary

Though this is just a mason jar filled with last fall’s jam:

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to me- it a vessel filled with the sweetness of summertime. Since making jam last September and October, the supply has slowly been consumed with the exception of one jar that I held on to. That is, until the other night when I used it as a substitute in a blackberry cobbler that my niece requested for her First Communion party.

I don’t usually hoard jam. The problem is that after 6 month of winter I am reluctant to believe that soon enough I will have fresh produce and fruit to use again.

I know I believe in God, and the Blessed Mother, and heaven and hell…. but I am not so sure I believe in spring anymore! This week has brought on more snow and ice. It’s less than amusing to be having to use windshield wipers to clear off snow and heat my car to thaw off the ice that coats it on early Ridge mornings. On Thursday I went to Tractor Supply to pickup more pellets for my pellet stove and was told they were out of them. What the heck? Hello we are still in the midst of a 6 month winter…. I say that with snappy assurance after having been on a long Saturday run with a winter stocking cap on my head this very afternoon.

This morning I showed my god-daughter how to make flowers out of egg cartons while Clare finished off the rest of the jam with some pancakes.

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The jam is gone and egg carton flowers are this spring’s April substitute for fresh blooms.

But next month…

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Might just be a good time for daffodils and apple blossoms

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and kites

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and dabbling with sheep

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and coveting how adorable they are as lambs,

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and of course, digging in the garden and fields.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALife will bloom soon enough under sunny spring rays,

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but until then I’m hoping the Tractor Supply will keep getting shipments of wood-burning pellets, because this is one slow spring.

Comfort and Calamity

By: Mary

In a matter of hours my connecting train from Pittsburgh to Chicago’s Union Station will take me back home. Home may only be 5 hours away from the busy city of Chicago, but to my county girl heart this layover in the city makes me feel both foreign and lost. The streets are full of slow moving traffic caught in jams, and the sidewalks offer little space as they accommodate the congestion of pedestrians moving at many different paces, most of whom are dressed in darker colors, and all of whom wear thick winter clothing to combat the cold and sharp wind that blows.

I have heard that in Wisconsin there has been a terrible storm raging away. It has been said that this is one of the worst of the year which means it must really be a beast of a storm as it has been an exceptionally cold and snowy winter.

Surely when I get home the snow will be deep and the pipes in my recently completed apartment will still be frozen. Grh!

Despite these obstacles, I am ready to return to my roots.

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I don’t have a place in this busy city traffic. When in Pittsburgh, I ended up in a conversation with someone at a Brazilian Carnival. He tried to sell me the concept of moving to Pittsburgh. I laughed and told him I gladly would move to the city with the requirement that my closest neighbor would have to live at least a mile away.

I love the silence and life that living on a ridgetop offers.

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I love the comfort

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and calamity

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that comes from being surrounded by open space and family.

The richness that rural life provides challenges me as I balance (not only on my horse’s back!)

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I love the roulette of farming.

I am thankful for knowing what contents and captivates me. Also, I am very excited to welcome the goodness of spring under the sphere of its golden sunshine.

Fame, Farming, and Family- An Interview with Pete King

by Kate

Last weekend the Sweet Ridge Sisters got a chance to talk to local farmer Pete King from Freedom Farms.

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Pete and his siblings star in Farm Kings, a nationally broadcast reality show about farming. The second season of their show is premiering April 11th on the GAC channel. The King brothers are perhaps best known for their rippling torsos, but they also have a striking optimism about the future of agriculture, a great work ethic, a deep sense of family loyalty, and a whole lot of high quality local food to offer to the Pittsburgh community. You can find more information about Freedom Farms including retail locations and the new 2013 CSA Program here.

Kate: What is it like to be a famous farmer?

Pete: Well, the farming is still the same! There’s a lot more recognition when you leave the farm, which can slow you down. The schedule can get busy and there’s lots of extra stress- but it’s entertaining.

K: What are your cash crops?

P: Corn, definitely corn. Tomatoes, and peppers. This year we’re trying something new and flash freezing our corn and vacuum packaging it. We just bought a fancy new machine so we’ll see how that goes.

K: What varieties of tomatoes do you grow?

P: Mountain Fresh, Mountain Glory, and we just started doing heirlooms with a Cherokee Purple. You’ve really got to get those sold!

K: There are 10 kids farming together in your family. What are the challenges of family farming?

P: There are different ideas about how to do things, and it is easy to butt heads- but having a family is useful on the farm. There are lots of extra hands, and we need them all to harvest the crops. My 12 year old brother has Downs Syndrome, and he’s right out in the field with us. It’s just what we do, As far back as we remember we’ve been working. I like creating. Farming is creating.

K: What is the future of farming?

P: Everybody getting their hands in it. Everybody learning how things are grown and farming is done. These days, people take their food for granted and think it came out of the back room of the grocery store. The future of farming is everybody getting involved and getting their hands dirty.

K: What is your least favorite crop?

P: (laughs) Tomatoes. Don’t like picking or eating tomatoes.

K: How about throwing them at your siblings?

P: Throwing them at my brothers is ok, yeah. But keep ’em in the field!

Thanks so much to Pete King for taking the time to do a great interview. Any readers in the Pittsburgh area should make sure to stop by the Freedom Farms Market or Bakery in Butler or the Cafe and Carry-Out in New Kensington. Locations and contact information are available here, Freedom Farms will also be selling at several farmer’s markets in the city this summer.

For the full story of our encounter with Pete King: Cabbages and Kings, Galoshes and Spring

For more of our own Sweet Ridge Farm stories, click here.

For more of Kate’s urban adventures in Pittsburgh, click here.

Putting the Lug in Luggage

By: Mary

When looking for a means of transporting an entire set of china that was left to Kate after the passing of my grandmother, I decided to find a new use for a sturdy cardboard box that is used to pack pie pumpkins and cabbage when shipping organic produce to Organic Valley.  Okay, I know that lugging about a produce box is not exactly the most hip (or practical) way to travel, but I formulated a plan that included getting two boxes of china, to my sister along with a few fur coats, some blackberry jam I made that is a fleeting commodity at this time of the year, a few purses, and of course a  ballgown that Kate wanted back after an extended loan back to the farm so it could be used as a prom dress.

As you may remember, Kate is quite comfortable with train travel in an heirloom fur…

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though in my opinion it makes her look a bit like a gigantic mother hen.

Because I was traveling on the train, I hoped with optimism that my plan of checking the two boxes could go off without a hitch. Well, the plan did work… but only with a LOT of lugging. The first setback was that I was told I couldn’t check the boxes because they were not fully sealed. I knew that the only way I could handle taking Kate her “stuff” was to just start consolidating as much as I could into only one box. When boarding the train, the not so hip me ended up with my luggage bag checked under the train, and a roughly 75 pound produce box bruising my hip, which was beginning to strongly resemble the blackberry jam.

Due to an early spring snowstorm from the never-ending winter I was trying to flee, my train got into Chicago several hours late. I missed my connecting train to Pittsburgh, but got in plenty of exercise lugging that heavy box through Union Station, into a cab, onto a Greyhound bus, and through the bus terminal in Pittsburgh the next morning.

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Thankfully, my farmgirl strength and a winter full of kickboxing classes had me in fine form for heaving produce- or China and ballgowns. Still, I was happy to arrive her for some much needed Porch Time with my sister.
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For more about the fur coats and recent and past travels, check out these links:

Furs on the Farm

Train Travel

The Slattery Oklahoma Suburb Rush

A Saturday Away