Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sounds of Spring

This morning as I went for my morning walk, I was so excited and relieved. While walking down the road the silence helps to calm me. I think of nothing but the silence in my head and how quiet it is. As you all know a house with a 2 yr old, 3 yr old and 2 dogs is anything but quiet. So I cherish every moment on my walk.

However, this morning was different. As I'm walking down the road proud of myself for staying motivated in walking and getting healthier I took a moment to stop and listen to the sounds. The noises excited me.

The birds were chirpping, the sun was shining just a little and I saw a couple little squirrels scurrying around under the trees. Then the sound of the creeks was the most soothing. There is no other noise in the world that I enjoy more than the sound of the creek with birds chirping all around. The peacefulness is just so unreal.

It is the sound of a new season, a new beginning, new ideas, births, friends, parties and fun in the sun. For us this is the portal to our busy season.

This is one reason I love living where we do. It is so serene. It makes it hard to get business out here because we are so far off the beaten path, but there is nothing better than enjoying the beauty out here!

Friday, February 8, 2013

How we build a germination box

As Spring slowly proceeds upon us, not that you would know it with the weather we are getting here today. Most of you are beginning to plan your gardens, buy your seeds and wonder how can I get things going earlier.

When we first started this business we started and grew our plants cold. Meaning we had no heating besides a salamander and could only keep the temperature just above freezing. It took forever for plants to grown and we learned early on that growing this way did not work for a farm that was trying to make a living selling plants. We realized that by the time our plants were ready so were the plants that our customers had started from seed. We had missed the sales and realized that we needed to change things.

We then learned about germination boxes and easier ways to get plants going earlier while still saving us the expense of heating a 20x96 greenhouse which could get extremely expensive.

So we decided to build our own germination box. Even though it has been 5 or 6 years now, we are still using it and it works wonderfully and still saves us money. By the time the plants are coming out of the germination box we are still only heating to above freezing but they are established enough to be able to give us a jump start on the plants and it is warm enough out that we don't have to worry about it too much.

So how did we do it?

Racks built out of pallets
We were given these stacked pallet racks by a family friend and decided that they would make an awesome germination box. Even though ours were already together it is not that hard to build what we have. Our racks are 4 pallets stacked in a way that they are like shelves. You would use 2 x4's to brace the sides and make it so they are spread out enough to fit trays on them. Make sure you cross 2x4's in the back giving support so that they don't wobble.
Plastic is wrapped around
3 sides

We then wrap 4 mil plastic around them on 3 sides. This helps to keep the heat and the humidity in.

Door to germination box

 The front side we drape plastic in front so that we can close it and seal it up at night and when it is really cold but also so that we can get inside it easily.

Heat mat

We also have heat mats that we lay on each rack and we place the trays of plants on top of these. The heat mats are hooked up to a thermostat with a little thermometer that is placed in the soil in one of the trays to monitor the soil temperature.

Grow lights

We hang lights in the germination box as well to help give the lights the plants need. We generally don't use them too much to be honest though. If it is warm enough during the day we generally just take the trays out of the germination box for the day and let them get the natural sunlight that is coming through the greenhouse. If it is 40 outside in the greenhouse it is generally 60 or above so the plants still get the heat they need while getting the sun they need.

We also place an electric heater in the bottom of the germination box that is also thermostatically controlled so when the temperature in the germination box drops below a certain degree it will kick on. Being that we are only heating the germination box and not trying to heat the whole greenhouse we are saving money.

This picture is from 2011 but this is the
the front section of the greenhouse that
we heat until we can no longer fit everything.

Once the plants are too large to stay in the germination box we then will begin to heat the smaller section of our greenhouse. We sectioned off the front part of the greenhouse so that we would once again save on heating expenses. We heat the front side until it is warm enough that we don't need to heat anymore. We cram plants in there and make sure that nothing happens to our little plants.

Don't get me wrong we are still kind of a behind a little on somethings with the greenhouse because we do not have the heating systems that most greenhouse do and we do not have the ventilation and things needed during the summer we have a disadvantage. But as a small farm sometimes you just have to make things work in ways that you can afford.

This is how we did ours. I am sure you can do it yourself and even figure ways that you could save in your own way.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Grateful and Humbled.

This week has been a great week for me. I was starting to get into this winter slump and blah mood. January is always an extremely slow time of year. This year January just seemed extra slow. While sitting here trying to figure out what is the best way to go with the business, planning for the busy season and stressing about the here and now I was getting hard on myself and a little down.

But this week I had a doctors appointment in Binghamton and Eric Sr being the loving husband he is watched this kids so that when I was done with my doctors appointment I could go to lunch with my mom. Something that I haven't done in a LONG time. Just my mom and I. It was awesome, nostalgic, relaxing and stress relieving all at the same time.

As I sat at her work waiting for her to get done so that we could go to lunch. I talked with an old family friend. As I talked he reminded me of how no one would have ever thought that I would be the way I am. I had always been into sports and went to college for accounting. I also swore I would never live on a farm or in the country. Needless to say I was a country girl trying to get away from my country roots. Here I am now running a farm with my husband and trying to make a living on it. I can, make my own and grown my own food.

As we got further into the conversation and he learned that I loved my "amish life" as my mother calls it and that I would prefer to live farther out in the country than anywhere near a big town or city. He told me I needed to "come out of my shell" and that I would need to leave my "country island that I love so much." What he was saying was all in good advice, just trying to say to me that if we want the business to grow that we need to push outside our boundaries. He is a phenomenal business man, a little too lenient with his employees but nevertheless has proven that he can run a large business in different states and make money doing it. So advice from him I listen too.

I explained that most of what has happened has just kind of "fallen" into our laps and we have rode the wave in with the Fruit butters. There has been a few things that we have actively pushed as far as accounts go. We were generally in the right place at the right time or word of mouth spread the word about our fruit butters.

We have been doing this business for 7 years now and have not been overly successful at anything. Everything seemed to have potential, but it never actually made it there. No matter how hard we pushed we got discouraged and tried to find something else that would make us profitable. We continuously were struggling and could not stay above the line.

Up until now.

As much as we have struggled and as much as family members and people close to us have told us that we shouldn't be doing this we shouldn't be putting ourselves through this we could never seem to prove them wrong.

Well here we are now, with something amazing apparently and not even realizing it.

We stopped in the Cardinal Cafe the other day for a drink and to talk . While there I was stopped by 2 different people expressing how much they LOVED our fruit butters. One customer explained to us that she puts the Jalapeno Apple Butter on her toast every morning. She absolutely loved the flavor and cannot get enough. Another man informed me that our Pear butter was outstanding and he loves it. Wow, 2 compliments in one day from random people in our community. It felt good.

Then I headed into the only grocery store in town and ran into a few different people that I knew and we were sitting there talking for a few minutes when a person that I don't believe I have ever met came up to me and asked if I was the one who made the fruit butters. I said yes and she proceeded to tell me that she was having a hard time getting her child to eat breakfast in the morning before school.  She had tried everything and he just refused to eat in the morning. She grabbed our fruit butter on a whim thinking it was locally made and that she knew there were no preservatives or anything. She had it in the fridge for the next morning and when she was struggling again with him to eat the next morning she asked if he wanted a bagel. He had previously refused bagels in the past with cream cheese, jelly, honey, butter. She had tried it all. But she finally convinced him to try the bagel with fruit butter made by us. She said that she could not believe it when she walked into the other room to finish getting ready and when she came out he had eaten the whole bagel and asked if he could take some of the "fruit stuff" to school with him for lunch.

Talk about humbling. Thank you so much is all I could think of at the moment. But as I finished getting my groceries and continued to head home I couldn't help but think that our fruit butters something that I made actually made someone's life a little less of a battle. WOW.

I know to some it may not seem like a huge thing, but when you make stuff and you don't really know if people are really enjoying it or if you are doing anything in making a difference in the big picture of the world. It seems small but nevertheless it is a step and it shows me that I am doing something, I am creating a great product that is making life and food a little more enjoyable.

We then received a phone call from one of our distributors (Cascun Farm) asking us if we would be interested in having our butters served at  HUGE event in New York City. After listening to what they said and hearing about how many people would be there and what they would be talking about we were extremely excited. The foodies of foodies go to this event and it is $400 per ticket! What!! Holy smoly, but hey nevertheless our butters will be there!

So here I am re-energized, self-esteem boosted and feeling like things will be just fine. We will get to that point and keep pushing. By the end of 2013 we hope to be in triple the amount of stores we are in now and in at least 1 or more big chain stores. Well that is at least my goal plus more. But trying to keep it realistic and attainable!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Kristen Rice Photography

Cross Creek Farm 9 oz fruit butter collection
Picture taken by Kristen Rice Photography
As our business has progressed we are constantly getting questions on pictures of our product line. Pictures that we can send to businesses or that our distributors can hand out when they are meeting with potential buyers.

We are also getting ready to launch our online store on our brand new website and needed pictures for that.

Cross Creek Farm Cranberry Apple Butter 32 oz
Picture taken by Kristen Rice Photography
I kept trying to take them but my picture taking skills were showing! I had read that natural lighting was the best so I set up a little table outside of the kitchen and was sitting out there taking pictures for a few hours. Failing miserably.

Our road gets very little traffic and of course that day it seemed like everyone decided to drive down our road. Everytime they drove past I could see the looks on their face like, "what is this girl doing taking pictures outside it is freezing cold! "Is that a Lightning Mcqueen table!"

Cross Creek Farm Blueberry Apple Butter 32 oz
Picture taken by Kristen Rice Photography
Yes, Yes it was a Lightning Mcqueen (from the kids movie Cars) table. I had wooden fruit crates stacked up on it trying to give me a great background.

Well as I said it failed miserably! I was done. Could not take it anymore I had been trying for a few days and could not seem to get anything that we thought looked decent.

Cross Creek Farm Pear Butter 9 oz
Photo taken by Kristen Rice Photography
Thank god for Kristen Rice from Kristen Rice Photography. I have loved her photos and have wanted her to do our family photos just have not had the chance. I didn't know if she did product photos but I knew it was worth a try.

I contacted her and gave her the products and could not wait to get the pictures back. I was so excited.

When I received the photo album, I was even more excited. They were above and beyond what I expected. I was expecting great photos, but these were just gorgeous!

Head to her website or her Facebook page and check out her photos!

Amazing photography!

Cross Creek Farm Jalapeno Apple Butter 9 oz
Photo taken by Kristen Rice Photography

Cross Creek Farm fruit butter 32 oz jars
Photo taken by Kristen Rice Photography

Friday, January 25, 2013

Cranberry Apple Smoothie

Lately we have been having difficulty getting Eric Jr (3) to eat his vegetables and fruit even meat without a fight.

He loves ice and ice cream, so we were asked if we had considered making smoothies for him. We didn't think of it but we decided to try it.

In the process of trying to figure out what fruit to use and if we had any on hand we realized....we have plenty of fruit it is just in the form of fruit butter!

We got the ice, the Cranberry Apple Butter and orange juice and put it together in the blender.

 It was amazing!!!!! Eric Jr absolutely loved it. He drank 2 cups full, Julianna enjoyed some and so did Eric and I.

Cross Creek Farm Cranberry Apple Butter
Picture taken by Kristen Rice Photography.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Herb Week

During the summer we are continuously outside whether it be the greenhouse or in the field.When we aren't doing that we are in the kitchen working on fruit butters.  Sometimes the dried herbs take a back seat.

Bee Balm tea leaves and flowers picked last year
Well this week my main focus has been on the herbs and herbal teas. We have been stripping and processing herbs everyday getting them ready for packaging.

We went out to the greenhouse and harvested some rosemary, oregano, thyme and  peppermint that have managed to stay alive through this winter so far. We hung them and have started the drying process. It is so exciting to be able to harvest herbs even in the cold month of January.

This Saturday at Otsiningo Winter Farmers Market from 9 am - noon we will be have a health fair as well as the market. So we figured why not take this opportunity to debut our loose leaf teas. I have been working so hard to get all of this done.

Goldenrod flowers picked last year
We have had many requests since we started doing tea to include loose leaf teas. We have been debating it back and forth and trying to come up with great packaging and great product.

Well for this year we have limited quantities until we get going again in the spring. But we are excited to launch our new product. Currently they will be sold in 7.75 oz glass jars and our labeling may change but I think I have figured out the label.

There are probably some of you who don't understand what a loose leaf tea is so I have included some information in this post that I hope you find helpful.

What is a loose leaf tea?

Loose leaf tea is basically the whole leaf. It is buds, leaves, flowers, and other particles of your tea plant in a chunkier thicker form. You need a tea ball or tea infuser to put the tea in to steep it.

Tea bags tend to contain particles or "dust" of leaves, flowers and other parts of your plant.

Is there a difference in taste?

Loose leaf teas tend to have a stronger flavor but you have to let them steep a little longer.

Tea bags tend to have a quicker flavor but it is often mild compared to loose leaf tea.

Chamomile flower petals and lavender buds getting prepped for Chamomile/Lavender Tea

Basically when it comes down to it it is more of a personal preference.  If you don't have a tea ball and would like to try the loose leaf teas, you can also put them in a coffee filter to test it out.

We will be offering tea balls for sale in the near future if you do not have one already.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Pine Needle Tea

While looking to expand our herbal tea line, we came across a recipe in an herbal book for Pine Needle Tea. As I began to read it was very clear that this is a tea that I should be drinking as well as a tea that would benefit some of our customers. So we decided to harvest some off the property and sell it.

Before we could sell it we obviously had to try it ourselves. I will have to say that I was a little nervous. I was thinking it would taste like Pine and if you have ever tasted Pine sap it is not so tasty. 

White Pine Needles
I will have to say though that this may now become my favorite drink. I plan on making a jug full tomorrow so that anytime I want a drink I can just go to the fridge and pour it in.

It is a very mild tea with a refreshing flavor. Does not taste like Pine Needles like you would suspect.

This was our first weekend with Pine Needle Tea at market.

The best way to drink it is to use fresh pine needles. Being that we have to have something that can be sealed for sale we dry it.

They say you can use any pine you want but the best pine to use is White Pine. So after scouring the fields and woods we found we have plenty of White Pine Trees.

When prepared as a tea Pine Needles inhibit mucus production in the bronchi and act as a disinfectant. It is a very good stimulant giving a boost to anyone who is tired and drained. They have a very high Vitamin C content. Pine Needle Tea is also a mild diuretic as well.

Besides just the straight Pine Needle Tea that we are selling today we will also be offering a few different varieties mixed with some other herbs once harvest season comes back around.

White Pine Needle Tea
We are going to be carrying a White Pine Needle Tea mixture that is said to help flush the urinary tract. As well as one that is said to help with circulation and one for neuralgic pain.

We are very excited to be adding new teas and to also be expanding on the teas and offering bulk loose leaf teas as well.

As we progress I will try to give details about some of the new varieties we will be releasing.