The hot dry end to summer gives our garden a boost. The heat is reddening up the Jimmy Nardello sweet Italian frying peppers, ripening the tomatoes, and giving the melons some size.The latter is an exciting addition to Quiet Creek’s table. Past success with cantaloupe and watermelon has been limited. The hi tunnel experiments yielded some small sweet butterscotch melons, but never a good watermelon. The only decent watermelon ever grown at Quiet Creek came from a volunteer spit in a contest at Spring Fest years back. This stray prompted the melon growing committee to try outside growing. Early this spring, we started a lasagna garden on a chunk of lawn by our honeybee hive. The twenty by forty foot patch mowed short, then covered with large pieces of cardboard donated by the local appliance store, and finally topped with wood chips is now yielding beautiful fruit. Initially we waited three weeks before transplanting seedlings into the layers. This time allowed the grass to be smothered, the soil to warm up, and the moisture to reach maximum capacity. It was a slow start, but by July there were plenty of melon blossoms. Throughout the season, intern Jeremy squashed bugs and top dressed the plants with worm compost. His hard work paid off last week when he picked three very sweet cantaloupes. There are plenty more waiting to ‘slip’ from the vine when ripe. The watermelons are doing fine as Rusty patiently learns to harvest them appropriately. The thumping test fooled him twice, although they were devoured with no problem by the boys. His next method is to wait until the white spot on the melon where it touches the ground turns orange, not yellow. Another good indicator is to watch for is the green curly tendril closest to the melon stem to turn brown. If waiting for ripening and a chance of frost may occur, be sure to cover them with a tarp.After the final harvest, the melon committee plans to cover the patch with more cardboard, leaves, and compost to prepare for next summer’s crop. We want to be sure to enjoy plenty of sweet, juicy melons.
Our intern Jeremy is soon moving back to his home city of Detroit. His urban farming plans are formalizing at the dinner table and the livestock issue is quite entertaining.
The poultry options are not paltry. Exotic chickens offer colorful eggs, but chickens will scratch up his garden beds and peck his fruit. Guinea fowl don’t carry these negative traits, but they are territorial and do have loud vocal tendencies. Ducks will eat slugs and lay eggs, but beware of their numerous, slippery deposits. Indian Runner ducks may be worth the effort since their upright waddle will provide many laughs.
The age old adage “which came first the –the chicken or the egg” problem will not be a problem. There will be fowl and then eggs. Milk, however, is an argumentative issue. Rusty, a recovering dairy farmer, states if you want a milk animal, you’ll be married to it seven days a week, twice a day. Rusty is an advocate of local, raw milk, but not owning a cow.
Jeremy has learned how to make cheese and yogurt here in Pennsylvania and is dependent on the rich supply of quality vitamins and protein. He attempted to track down a “cow share” since selling raw milk is illegal in Michigan, but the closest one was a hundred mile bike ride, round trip.
Goat milk is looking promising, although a determined goat can jump a six foot fence and create a nuisance by eating the garden, shrubbery, and miscellaneous household items.
Sheep milk is apparently good for making cheese and water buffalo makes the best mozzarella. These animals are somewhat uncommon in Detroit as well as Quiet Creek.
For a meat source, the afore-mentioned fauna will satisfy, but maybe a pen of rabbits sounds appealing. In addition, they will provide manure for feeding red wigglers who will offer worm compost for growing vegetables.
That brings the discussion back to Quiet Creek’s one and only recommended animal – the worm... not great for meat and/or milk, but super powerful for any herbivore in the city or the country. We wish Jeremy the very best in all he and his five thousand worms do to promote urban gardening for the disadvantaged.
Last week as Claire was putting the finishing touches on the newspaper column, she called to Rusty in distress, “It’s not flowing smoothly!” Rusty, whose head was in the toilet (literally), grumbled that nothing was, but assured her that all would be remedied soon.
The signs of a sluggish septic system have been haunting our household for a month or two. At first it acted like a periodic plug, solved with a simple plunge or a five gallon bucket of water poured from chest height. However, the commode contents weren’t always eliminated after such calisthenics. Rusty, suspecting a full septic tank, consulted with a plumber friend who showed up early one morning. As soon as he yanked the toilet off the floor, it smelled like the tank was wide open. You didn’t need a trained nose to distinguish the distinctive septic aroma. After some serious snaking and meticulous measuring, the plumber and assistant found the exact location of the septic tank and found it to be flowing freely. It was five feet below ground surface under a lilac tree that Rusty had planted six years ago. Back inside, the toilet was wax ringed and given a prognosis that “it was old and needed to be replaced.” Could it be – a worn out toilet? Rusty thought maybe another opinion was needed so he took the toilet’s history and headed to the local plumbing shop. Dave, plumbing extraordinaire, had never heard of a worn out toilet and suggested loaning his closet auger to clean out the toilet’s trap. Sure enough, things were flowing so smoothly that Rusty was ready to kiss Dave when returning the borrowed tool. A week later, the flush just didn’t have it’s get up and go after Rusty got up and went. So Claire was sent to buy the auger for lifetime use; this remedied the flow for a few days and then stopped (up). At this point Rusty jumped on the porcelain throne and swore he would get to the bottom of the problem. Carrying the victim out the front door and placing it on its side, he was now ready to pressure wash “whatever” out of the toilet. As he geared up for business, he noticed something peculiar inside the toilet’s floor hole. He fetched a pair of pliers and grabbed hold of the shiny gold item as he bent and twisted it. Out popped a lid from a quart canning jar! Apparently an ambitious dishwasher had poured dirty dish water in an attempt to flush the toilet and had not seen the lid disappear down the can.
We’re still celebrating in honor of the cracked case of the clogged commode. So much to be grateful for – a super clean toilet and twenty more years of flushing, although through this long ordeal, Rusty has seriously been researching composting toilets. A bucket of sawdust could sure simplify life.
About thirty miles east of Quiet Creek is a small community where Rusty grew up. Home Camp was named for the homey area where lumbermen returned after a long day of rugged work in the woods.
Rusty’s granddad moved his family there from the big city of DuBois in the 1920’s. Home Camp is the place Rusty’s Dad has lived eighty years grooming the land into golden fields of wheat, rich strips of alfalfa, and stately rows of corn. These grains supplement the pastured dairy cattle which out-number the human residents.
Last Saturday night neighbors answered Russ’s call to celebrate his eightieth on earth and his fifty-five years married to Nancy. One hundred and seventy-six folks swarmed the large barn yard bringing casseroles and desserts. They came to laugh, visit, dance, and rejoice on the beautiful autumn night. The campfire warmed their surroundings and their hands.
Seven local musicians picked, fiddled, and plucked overlooking the dance floor on top of the hay mow; the caller directed, as neighbor swung neighbor, brother escorted sister, and the littlest ones ran throughout the dance squares. Many visitors sat on the hay bales and grain sacks watching with delight.
Five years ago a barn dance occurred celebrating fifty years of joyful marriage. Russ and Nancy’s friends and family were hungry for another shindig, never thinking that this one would top the last.
Home Camp holds a warm place in our hearts having been the spot of our wedding fourteen years ago, and the birth place of Rusty fifty years back. We stop and visit there as much as we can. We are blessed to have such a place that values true community. We can’t wait to doe-see-doe and promenade with down-to-earth folk.
opter Cutter Last Friday the farm was in a flurry of activity. Rusty was canning tomatoes, Pearl was planting winter greens, Claire was preparing fruit leather, and the boys were riding their bikes. The crisp fall silence was broken by the boys’ excitement as they announced a calamity coming from the sky.
At first it sounded like a low flying aircraft, then a tree trimming crew, and finally a monster. Within seconds the integration of all three emerged over the hill. As the deafening monster grew closer it lifted high enough to reveal whirring discs at the end of its pole. Along the electrical transmission line skirting Quiet Creek’s property, it was a helicopter with its giant hedge trimmer hovering just above the tree line blasting the forest wall. It seemed as if a tornado was careening the tree line, but instead high speed saw blades.
The five of us stood in amazement at the skill and the agility of the helicopter pilot. What a dangerous and bulky apparatus to maneuver so accurately near the power lines. As quickly as the “Death Blade 2000” had appeared, it completed its task and flew away directly overhead.
On our way to church Sunday morning we spotted the helicopter camped out in our neighbor’s field. Later that day we stopped to have a closer look. The cutter was mounted to the copter on the end of a 75 foot pole and contained ten circular saw blades each with a 30 inch diameter.
Eric, our neighbor, a commercial pilot, shared his air strip with the trimming machine from North Carolina and informed us that the helicopter could trim steep hillsides where trucks could not easily go. We appreciated the fact that no herbicides were used to poison the trees along with the smaller forest shrubs, insects, birds, and ground water
Business is back to normal, but we never know what lies over the next hill.
As fall stretches on feeding us short beautiful days and long cold nights, we prepare for the inevitable – winter. All our canning jars are full (please drop off any unwanted ones), so now we are freezing, drying, and fermenting.
A fermented staple in our larder is kim chi. This is a Korean sauerkraut which has become a daily tonic for the Quiet Creek family. Interns, visitors, and our boys eat a tablespoon daily to keep the doctor at bay.
We’ve developed our own kim chi recipe over the years using fall produce. With a base of cabbage, we chop in kale, broccoli, radish, beet, carrot, celery, and/or onion. This crunchy blend is flavored with whey, hot pepper, sea salt, garlic, and ginger. It sits in glass jars for three days on the counter at room temperature. Lactobacillus bacteria found in the whey, air, and vegetable skins ferments the combo into a spicy, tangy, and textured condiment.
Korean friends from church have tried Quiet Creek’s kim chi. They politely smile, and shake their heads saying “thank you, but not real kim chi.”
Last week we invited the Kim family over to learn their technique.
Jen, Jung, Isaac and Joyce enthusiastically accepted our offer. They brought their authentic hot pepper paste made with fish sauce, garlic, a hot, sweet pepper, and rice water. We supplied the Napa cabbage, daikon radish, leeks, and carrots. The result was REAL and incredibly delicious. Claire and Walker couldn’t stop eating it.
Now our winter storage is stocked with many fermented products: Pearl’s purple kim chi, Lucy’s miso, Rusty’s cheese, Claire’s sourdough bread, and the Kim’s brilliant orange kim chi. We look forward to winter, a great time for eating.
Visitors to Quiet Creek are surprised by the absence of a television and often ask, “How can you function without it?” The answer – Better!
When it comes to entertainment, the options are limitless. Claire loves to read to the boys as much as they love to listen. Games of all styles and shapes are another favorite pastime. Board games, word games, table games, card games are welcome in the Orner home. Local thrift stores have yielded some winners: Blokus, Mastermind, as well as, jigsaw puzzles.
We have become a family of fun and games. Lately Ashton can’t stop playing chess and now he can whoop his dad two out of three times. Walker is particularly good at ping pong, thanks to the tutelage of friend, Jeremy. Claire is reading the Redwall series and Rusty is hooked on Othello.
Interns Kevin and Alice recently introduced us to a game called ‘Take One’ where unlimited number of players create and recreate their own personal crossword puzzle with seven scrabble letters. The first player to use his or her seven letters yells the game title and everyone picks up a new tile until all letters are used. It’s faster than scrabble and is great for all levels of spellers.
As winter evenings tick away we are actively engaged with one another challenging wit, mind, and skill. We’ll settle in the living room under the Christmas tree and listen to the radio, read books aloud and/or play a game with school work and chores completed. We all benefit in practicing good sportsmanship, complimenting great moves, thanking one another for quality time, and congratulating the winner (Rusty is working on the latter).
This holiday season try bypassing the passive television and computer screen; break out a game and enjoy everyone’s laughter and mental ability.
For those of us dreaming of next year’s gardening season, there are a few things we can do to get a jump on spring. First, if you want garlic next July, it is time to stick it in the ground. Try spacing the individual cloves four to six inches apart. Quiet Creek recommends lots of worm castings when planting your largest cloves from this year’s crop.
Secondly, if you want a no-fuss-early-planting bed next spring, choose a piece of lawn or field now. Mow your future food plot as short as you can, leaving the grass clippings lay. Next you will need to cover with a layer of newspaper (4 to 5 sheets thick) or better yet use large chunks of cardboard. It’s best not to use any glossy colored paper in the garden; it may contain heavy metals in the ink.
Next put six inches to a foot of leaves, manure, straw, wood chips and/or compost on top of the smothering layer to hold it down. This will decompose into great soil. By doing this in the fall, the grass and roots will die leaving organic material to attract earthworms that will slowly digest the mulch material above.
By the first of June, this area should be primo to plant watermelon, squash or most any other garden vegetable. Simply dig a hole and pop it in. No need to plow, roto-till or double dig. Another layer of mulch can be added if weeds threaten the area.
Your spring chore list will be reduced and your soil food web will be actively building by the worms and their friends.
While attending the SLOW Food Movement, Terra Madre, we decided to become adventuresome the last day by exploring Old Italy. The option of riding the bus to Turin with the thirty English-speaking Americans seemed too easy; the escapade of walking to Mondovi with two university students (no Italian speakers in our group) and later riding the train to the conference was more appealing.
That sunny Sunday morning offered new experiences. We enjoyed winding through cobble streets, riding a mountain tram, praying in five hundred year old cathedrals, and appreciating the local art work.
The view from the top of Mondovi offered lush green vineyards and olive orchards nestled in the foothills of the Alps. Interspersed within agriculture was architecture revealing red tile roofs with earthy tones made from local resources. Sundials decorated the buildings with hanging baskets of flowers and wrought iron balconies.
Famished from our explorations, the four of us questioned a fellow on the street for a “ristorante.” Giorgio smiled broadly motioning us up a hill to a plaza with a quaint open air café. There he introduced us to his friend the owner of the restaurant and a wide array of Italian cuisine.
We eagerly pointed to items on the menu thinking we would share one of each—a cheese appetizer, a meat appetizer, one pasta dish, a salad, and an entrée. Giorgio slapped the waiter on the back and they both laughed and said something in their beautiful native language.
When our first course, fresh mozzarella cheese and tomatoes, arrived we quickly devoured it with the accompanying bread sticks and olive oil. Next, a platter of naturally-cured meats came just as delicious and filling. By that time, the four of us realized we were receiving one platter with four servings instead of one platter with one serving.
Knowing that it was too late to cancel our pasta and entree orders, we attempted to ask for UNO salad. Sure enough, two huge platters arrived with our parmesan rigatoni and sausage linguini and one small salad. Needless to say, we ended up laughing at our mistake, stuffed with exquisite Italian food, and empty of Euros.
On the way to the train station, we ran into gregarious Giorgio. There he was on the corner waving his hands and shouting. The only thing we understood was “Grazie and Prego.” The rest of his words may have translated to “Thank you! I sure appreciate the kick-back from my restaurant friend. You hungry tourists are always welcome. Please, come again!”
Rusty and Claire just returned from a five-day networking session in Turin, Italy. called Terra Madre. This was an amazing gathering of over 6000 farmers, cooks, academics, and consumers from 156 countries sponsored by Slow Food International.
Carlo Petrini founded Slow Food in 1986. This passionate man originated the idea in a small Italian town when the corporate-owned, low quality food industry attempted to invade the European market. Slow Food supports good, fair, and clean food, grown, harvested, prepared and eaten at a slow pace and connects 85,000 members throughout the world.
Good food is defined as delicious, fresh, and local and stimulates the senses. This is food we see at local farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture tables, farm stands, and/or backyard gardens. At the Terra Madre gathering we experienced good food at its best; there was an overwhelming array of ethnic dishes to satisfy our taste buds and nutritional needs. This is the way God created it, whole and wholesome.
Clean food is produced without straining the quantity of natural resources, the earth’s ecosystem, and human health. Agribusiness is dismissed. Instead, traditional small farms practice the Slow Food philosophy. In Italy we met food producers from six continents committed to environmental stewardship.
Fair food respects the social justice of others, meaning fair wages and work conditions for everyone involved in the food chain --from growing to processing, and promotion to consumption. Our hearts cry out for the disparity of fair trade, health care, and immigration privileges within the food arena.
The Slow Food movement is committed to defending the biodiversity of traditional food to insure that your quality of health is sustained. Please join in our excitement as we together preserve good, clean and fair food by making it accessible to every person on earth. Check out www.slowfood.com and become connected.
Rusty and Claire Orner, with their two sons, Walker and Ashton, are stewards of the non-profit educational organization, Quiet Creek Herb Farm & School of Country Living in Brookville, Pennsylvania. They can be contacted at