Contributed by Sara Miller, Historic Village Program Administrator
Spring is arguably our busiest time of year here on the farmstead and we have been doing our best to keep up. Before I delve into my planned topic this month, let’s take a look back at the last couple of months and what has been going on at the farm.
April was a surprisingly cold month. Winter just refused to let go this year, but despite spring’s reluctance to arrive preparations had to be made for when it did. Out back, at the rear of our property, we built an apiary (bee yard) for our bees which would be arriving once the weather broke. A section of the area was graveled and one of the old voting booths was cleaned out and repaired to be used as a storage unit for the apiary. The hives arrived in the beginning of April and were painted with the insignias of four of the major military service organizations. About mid-April the Helmets to Hives program met for their orientation session where everyone got to know each other a bit and learn about honeybee biology, the history of beekeeping, and beekeeping safety. The weather finally broke the beginning of May and our honeybees arrived! Since then, the Helmets to Hives participants have been meeting on a bi-weekly basis where they receive instruction inside before heading out to work with the bees.
May brought spring, or maybe even summer, in full force. It got hot fast! That meant that we needed to quickly learn how to shear our sheep. We were very fortunate to have a pro come in and assist/teach us with our first shearing. We learned a lot and took what we learned and tweaked here and there to shear the remaining 5. It turned out to be a month long process since it was much more exhausting than we expected. We ended up shearing approximately one sheep a week, and they are now all gorgeous and much cooler in this summer heat.
Springtime, and the new warmth that comes with it, awakens the flies and other insects commonly found in a barnyard. While there is little you can do to eliminate them all together, you do want to minimize their abundance as much as possible to prevent the transmission of disease not only to the livestock but to us as well. Therefore, it is necessary to thoroughly clean all the straw, hay, and manure which has accumulated in the barn and barnyard over the winter. Let me tell you, this is a job that every farmer dreads each spring! Not only is the smell very unpleasant but the straw has become so compacted over the winter months that it is extremely heavy and back-breaking work. We began in the sheep barn and then moved onto the ox barn, the hay shed (where Joe sleeps), and finally the ox/ram barnyard. By mid-June we finally had everything cleaned out and are able to spray fly-spray to keep the flies under control.
June is also planting time. Here in Western New York, the rule of thumb is to plant around Memorial Day when we should be well past the threat of frost or cool nights. That said, we began preparing our fields around the end of May by plowing, cultivating, and moving raised beds. During the first two weeks of June, we were busy planting all of our crops for the year. We have cabbage and potatoes growing alongside our strawberries from last year in the garden next to the Rubeck General Store. We have three different varieties of pumpkins, a summer squash, cantaloupe melon, and cucumbers growing in our larger crop fields across from the barn. In the Elliott kitchen garden we have tomatoes, peppers, carrots, basil, lettuce, kale, spinach, beets, radishes, pickling cucumbers, dill, and beans. We will also be planting buckwheat in our grain field shortly.
On top of all of our planting, we have been harvesting our first cutting of hay. Hay season is always crazy since it is so weather dependant. Twice now we have cut our hay and an unexpected rain storm pops up on the weather radar and we are racing against time to get all of the hay raked and loaded onto the wagon so we can get it under shelter before the rains come. We still have a field and a half to cut and either bale or store in the hay loft.
While keeping busy with the springtime farmstead duties, we have also been adding to our historic village. Throughout the winter months, the Woodwrights Guild built a timber frame enclosure for a beehive bread oven. On Thursday May 10th, as a part of our annual open house, they raised the structure.
Once built and raised, it became imperative to protect our new wooden structure. After one rain shower the fresh pine already began to mold. Moisture and insect damage are the leading causes of wood deterioration. Our predecessors discovered that painting (or staining) wood will help keep moisture out which protects the wood and increases the structures longevity.
The earliest appearance of paint can be dated to 30,000-40,000 years ago in cave paintings. Early paints were made by mixing water or oil with pigment materials such as soot, soil/clay, animal blood, lead, glass, stone, ground shells, iron oxide, copper oxide, coffee, rice, fruits and berries, and various other forms of vegetation. These pigment materials would need to be hand ground and mixed with the water or oil to produce a specific color. By 1718 this process became a bit easier. Marshall Smith invented the “Machine for the Grinding of Colours” which used steam powered mills to more efficiently and effectively grind the pigment materials. Paint mills began to pop up all over which eventually led to Harry Sherwin, Alanson Osborn and Edward Williams to form Sherwin-Williams & Co. in Cleveland, Ohio in 1866. They subsequently became the first company to produce ready-to-use paints revolutionizing the paint industry.
In early colonial America, Puritans believed that painting one’s house was a display of immodesty and vanity and was therefore forbidden. Most colonists however, made paints and painted their homes anyway for the exact reason why we want to paint our bread oven enclosure, to protect the wood from moisture.  The majority of these early homes were whitewashed instead of painted using a color. Whitewash was cheap, easy to apply, and fast drying; and it made the home look clean and bright. In addition, whitewash’s main ingredient is lime which prevents mildew, repels insects, disinfects, and disguises odors. It was the perfect choice for not only protecting your home, but making your home look nice as well. Similarly, most barns were painted “red” which was made by combining ferrous oxide (rust) and oil. The ferrous oxide acts as a “poison” to mold and moss thus protecting the wood of the structure.
Due to the abundance of black walnuts we have here on our property, and the donation of several bushels full from one of the Woodwrights, we decided to make a black walnut stain. How does one go about making their own stain you ask? Well, it is a very simple process that you may do at home as well! First we filled several tubs (we used plastic storage containers) with the walnuts and then filled them with water. They sat this way for a week. After the week was up, we took a separate large tub (we used a livestock water tub but any large tub will work) and an old screen from a window. Using smaller buckets, we would fill them up in the water soaked walnuts and then pour them out over the screen into the large tub. The screen collects all the walnuts and gunk while allowing the stain to flow down. Once we were finished we filled up several 5 gallon buckets with the stain.
Once the stain was finished, I was able to start applying it to the bread oven enclosure. It took 2-3 coats to cover since it soaks into the wood but the end result is simply stunning! Once the stain was applied and dry, I put on a coat of linseed oil to protect the wood even further and it really brought out the unique color of the stain. Stop on in to check out this unique and historically protected structure or the results of any of the various tasks we have undertaken this spring. I can’t wait to see what this next month holds!
Please visit our Facebook page to enjoy a gallery of Spring 2018 photographs.
 History of Paint; https://www.paint.org/about-our-industry/history-of-paint.
 Frank Campanelli; A Brief History of House Painting; https://www.franklinpainting.com/blog/home/a-brief-history-of-house-painting.