Make hay while the sun shines

Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “you’ve got to make hay while the sun shines”? You might think it’s a figure of speech, but to a farmer, it’s the gospel truth. The definition of hay is dry-cured fodder for animals, and the only way to cure the hay is to dry it in the sun. In the winter, the hay is the primary feed for grazing animals such as cattle, sheep, goats and horses.

What exactly is in hay?

Hay is made up of grass, legumes or other plants. The actual content of the hay depends on the region of the country, the method of harvesting and the type of livestock that will be eating the hay. In Ohio’s Amish Country, we have plenty of rainfall so native grasses are generally very common.

Horse hay is generally made up of grasses such as timothy and orchard grass. Horses that are working hard, either in the field or in the buggy may require a richer blend with more energy. Heifer or Dry Cow hay is also mostly lower-quality grass (by the way, a heifer is a cow that has not had its first calf.) Dairy cow hay is usually rich in alfalfa and other high protein/high energy crops such as field peas or forage oats. Dairy cows and other lactating livestock have high energy requirements and need the boost in nutrition.

The sweet smell of Alfalfa

Alfalfa is an important crop for livestock forage

Alfalfa is an important crop for livestock forage

Alfalfa is one of the most common crops you may find in Ohio’s Amish Country, due to the many dairy farms in Wayne, Holmes and Tuscarawas counties. It’s a deep green bushy legume that is not only excellent fodder but enriches the soil because it returns nitrogen to the soil. Nitrogen is an important component of commercial fertilizers so raising alfalfa reduces the amount of fertilizer needed for the next crop (often corn).

Cut alfalfa has a distinct scent that is unmistakable. The next time you roll through the back roads of Amish Country, look for a drying field of mowed alfalfa. Even with the windows rolled up, you’ll smell the rich sweet scent of sun-cured hay.

How to make hay

Amish and “English” farmers have several methods of making hay. First, the hay must be cut. Back in pioneer times, hay was mowed by hand with a scythe, but now they use horse-drawn or tractor-drawn implements to mow the hay. Amish farmers may still use a sickle-bar mower which has a horizontal set of blades that move rapidly back and forth to mow the hay. Alternatively, they may mow with a haybine which requires a power cart (a horse-drawn cart with a diesel engine). The difference between the two is that a haybine has rollers that will crush the grass to aid curing.

Work goes faster when three teams of horses hay mow at one time.

Work goes faster when three teams of horses mow hay at one time.

The hay needs time to dry so they only mow when they weather forecast is for warm, sunny and breezy days. After a day or so of drying, the hay can be fluffed up with an implement called a tedder. It tosses the hay in the air to get air to the bottom layers of grass that haven’t had direct sun.

After more drying time, the next step is to rake the hay. This rolls the bottom layers to the top for drying and prepares the hay to be harvested. Some of the more conservative Amish farmers may fork the hay by hand onto a flat wagon and which is then unloaded as loose hay into the barn for storage.

However, many farmers bale the hay into small rectangular bales or into large round bales. Small bales must be loaded onto a wagon by hand, then stacked in the barn (again by hand). Round bales are simpler to bale, but must be collected with a tractor with a loader. All dry hay should be stored inside a barn or under a tarp to prevent mold. Moisture can cause mold to grow on the bale or inside it.

What are those giant marshmallows?

Wrapped hay may be preserved for up to a year.

Wrapped hay may be preserved for up to a year.

On almost any trip to Ohio’s Amish Country, you’ve probably noticed those big white round “marshmallows”, either stacked by a barn or in rows along a field. They’re actually hay bales that have been baled wet and then sealed in plastic. It’s similar to wrapping food in a zip-lock bag. Inside the air-tight plastic wrap, the hay ferments but does not spoil. It’s a way to preserve good quality fodder even if the weather is not optimal for drying. It can be fed to cows and to some extent sheep or goats, but it is not feed for horses. Horses must have dry, mold-free hay or they can become sick and die.

Learn more about horse-drawn farming at Horse Progress Days

Mowing hay at Horse Progress Days

Mowing hay at Horse Progress Days

Believe it or not, but there are technological advancements being made in horse-drawn equipment. A good way to learn about current techniques is at Horse Progress Days in Mount Hope, Ohio on July 4 and 5, 2014. You’ll see new equipment for horse-drawn farming, demonstrations, a breed parade, hear speakers discuss horse care and training and more.


If you’re hungry, you might even sample homemade ice cream, made on a machine turned by a Haflinger horse. Fun and educational – we can’t wait!




Peach Pie Season in Amish Country

Dutchman Fresh Peach Pie

Dutchman Fresh Peach Pie

Nothing tastes like summer like fresh peaches! Beginning mid to late July, they are in season here in Ohio. Families all across Amish country will buy them by the bushel and either can or freeze them.

Whether you can them or eat them fresh, you’ll want to start out with quality fruit. Here are a few tips for buying peaches.

Selecting your fruit

When shopping for peaches, be very picky. You’ll want to make sure the fruit is soft but not bruised. While bruised peaches spoil quickly, peaches that are hard will never ripen correctly and are not as tasty. To save yourself both grief and work, be sure to select free-stone varieties – “cling” peaches do not lift off the stone easily and will be harder to slice. Red Haven is the variety of choice but there are many good options for eating and “putting away.”

If you plan to can or freeze your peaches, try to ask for varieties that do not turn brown when sliced. Although the peaches may taste OK, they won’t retain the beautiful yellow color they had when fresh. If you’re not sure what kind of peaches you have, just coat your sliced peaches with an acid, such as lemon juice or orange juice. The acid helps the peaches look fresh and yellow until you eat them next winter.

It’s fine to store peaches in your refrigerator, but be sure to store them side-by-side. Stacking peaches will cause them to bruise and get mushy. Before eating fresh peaches, remove them from the refrigerator to warm up. Peaches at room temperature seem to have better taste than those straight out of the frig.

If you do happen to buy some peaches that aren’t ripe (a ripe peach should be soft but not mushy), just lay them out in one layer on your kitchen counter. They’ll ripen up naturally in a day or so.

Where to buy peaches

In Walnut Creek, Hillcrest Orchard is one place that raises their own peaches (50 acres of peach and apple trees) and they pick them only when they are ripe. Peaches will be available there by August 1.

Another option is at our local livestock auctions, such as Farmerstown (Tuesday), Mount Hope (Wednesday) or Kidron (Thursday). You’ll find multiple vendors there with peach varieties such as Harvestor, Contender, Red Haven and the later varieties of “white” peaches. If you are in the market for large lots of fruit, check out the Farmer’s Produce Auction in Mount Hope on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

In Plain City, just west of Columbus, you’ll be able to find peaches at Yutzy’s Farm Market. They’ll be selling the varieties Contender, Red Glow and later Red Haven. All three are good for freezing and canning and are free-stone varieties.

Peach Pie

Fresh peach pie, as the name states, is made with fresh uncooked peaches. At our Der Dutchman and Dutch Valley restaurants, pie bakers peel and slice the peaches, then cover with a homemade peachy-orange glaze. Although we can’t give you our recipe (it’s got a secret ingredient), it’s made with peach-flavored jello as its base. It’s the job of one baker to peel the peaches for all our pies – it takes nearly all day. The pies are made by filling a pre-baked pie shell and topped with whipped cream.

On the other hand, if you’d like to bake your peaches into a pie, here’s a simple Peach Cream Pie recipe that comes from our original and old-fashioned 1973 Der Dutchman Cookbook

Peach Cream Pie
From Mrs. Ben Miller

1 cup white sugar
1 cup cream
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Approximately 3 – 4  fresh peaches, depending on the size

Fill an unbaked pie crust with peeled fresh peaches. Mix the sugar, cream and cornstarch and pour mixture over the peaches in the pie shell. Bake like a custard pie.

Editor’s note: Instructions for baking a custard pie are as follows: Bake for 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or until until nicely browned on top.

Exploring the German Culture Museum in Walnut Creek

The Old German Culture Museum

The Old German Culture Museum still stands in Walnut Creek.

Holmes County, home to the world’s largest Amish community, has its share of attractions and shopping. But as of last May, another venue reopened in the village of Walnut Creek. The German Culture Museum has been open in the town since the early 1980’s with a collection of historical items pertaining to the arrival of the Amish in the area, Amish origins in Europe, as well as local traditions and lore.

Housed in a small house where President William McKinley once slept, the original German Culture Museum was a the brainchild of several of Walnut Creek township’s history fanatics, particularly the Schlabach Family, Wayne Hostetler and Roscoe Miller. With the blessings of the Mennonite Information Center (known for the Behalt cyclorama), the team started assembling collections of items that belonged to the early pioneers of Walnut Creek, as well as photos, books, and other antiques. Stanley Kaufman, a former art professor living in Berlin, expertly arranged each room of the little house to describe different aspects of life in the township from the early 1800’s to the present day. Guided tours were available during the weekend.

As years passed, the Museum directors saw that the little blue building would never be large enough to house all of the collection. There was no place to display a surrey, wagons or the numerous local furniture pieces that were housed in two dark damp storage facilities. The old building was neither climate-controlled, weather-tight or handicap accessible – all problematic issues. When land was donated by the Schlabach Family for a community building, the idea began to circulate to relocate the German Culture Museum.

In May of 2007, work began on a brand new Walnut Creek Community building to house a branch of the Holmes County library, a community meeting room and the new home of the German Culture Museum. Entirely paid for by a community fund drive, the building was completed and work began on moving the extensive and fragile collection from the old museum to its new basement home across the street. It took quite some time and a lot of grunt work to clean, build displays and arrange the antiques, but the museum reopened in the summer of 2010.

Jonas "Der Weiss" Stutzman Reenactor

Larry Miller, local resident, as "Der Weiss". Der Weiss means "The White One" in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect.

Rooms have been built to feature the old Kitchen, Bedroom (complete with rope bed and straw tick mattress), Dining Room, Textiles and Tool Collection. In addition, you will be able to see a small replica of a European Hiding Place where Mennonites hid from persecutors during the Reformation and the completely restored and Rockefeller Surrey. A museum feature is a replica of the cabin built by first settler in Walnut Creek, Jonas Stutzman who was known as “Der Weiss.” On a visit, you may even experience a conversation with the old fellow in the form of a Der Weiss reenactor.

Oh, by the way, Ohio’s newest covered bridge over the Walnut Creek has been named Stutzman Crossing in honor of Jonas. To find out why Jonas was called “Der Weiss,” view an interview with “Der Weiss” at the Grand Opening of the bridge last November.

At the new museum location, you’ll be now be able to tour at your own pace, but feel free to ask questions of the museum attendants. Expect to spend an hour there (or more if you are really a history buff), and take your time to view all the fascinating variety of items on display. You won’t need to be a local or a member of the older generation to enjoy the experience – all ages and school groups will find this to be a step back into time.

As of spring 2011, the museum plans to be open on Saturdays, with possible additional days throughout the week. Since the museum is staffed entirely by volunteers, entrance fees are on a donation basis – a great idea for families on a budget. To inquire about hours or book special tours, please call 330-893-2510

If you’re looking for an economical and educational activity, the  German Culture Museum should be a planned stop on your trip to Walnut Creek or Amish country. The museum is located on Olde Pump Street, just around the corner from the well-known Der Dutchman Restaurant in the basement of the brand-new library building. It is handicap-accessible and parking is free.

Purple Martins: a Sign of Spring

After a long winter’s nap, the days get longer, the sun shines a bit warmer and the earth begins to awaken. Along with the tulips and crocuses, another sign of spring are the birds returning from their winter feeding grounds. Robins, red-winged blackbirds and buzzards are among the early arrivals, but April 1 marks the expected arrival of the farmer’s friend, the purple martin.

Purple Martin

Purple Martin

In their purplish-black plumage, martins are among the most desired birds in Amish country. Have you ever wondered about those huge white “bird condos” often seen near a barn or pond? While they are charming and scenic, they aren’t just for looks. They are specially designed to attract the notoriously picky purple martins

Martins are known as the tamest of wild birds and have adapted to make their homes among humans. They are the only bird to completely depend on humans for housing.

Purple Martins are the largest species of swallow in North America. They spend their winters in Brazil then migrate to their summer grounds in spring. The time of arrival depends on weather – they can starve if the temperatures are too cool. Beginning in January, martins return to Florida and the Gulf Coast and they move northward as the temperatures warm.

Because they feed only on flying insects, martins are a valuable friend to the farmer or any resident of the country. Entertaining to watch, they dive and catch food in mid-air, including flies, midges, Japanese beetles, mayflies, moths and other bothersome insects. They feed mainly during daylight hours, and so are not predators of mosquitoes, which come out mainly at night.

Attracting a colony of martins is a difficult task. It’s all about location, location, location! According to the Purple Martin Conservation Association, their houses must be placed in an open locations between 30 and 120 feet from human housing or farm buildings. Trees taller than their housing should be far away – between 40 and 60 feet from the birdhouse. Housing must be 10 to 20 feet high with no wires attached or other vegetation in the vicinity. And, they are attracted to white or light colored houses.

Purple Martin houses on an Amish Farm

Purple Martin houses on an Amish Farm

Once a colony of martins has been established, they will return to the same houses year after year as long as predators and competing birds are controlled. Most houses are built on a telescoping post, so  the nests of more aggressive competitors, such as English sparrows and starlings, can be removed.

And while all this takes work and maintenance, there is no more “green”  or natural way of insect control than with birds such as martins or barn swallows.

The next time you are visiting Ohio’s Amish country, be on the lookout for the big white birdhouses, home to the purple martin!

February is “Sugaring” Time

Tapping Maple Trees

Buckets hanging on maple trees

Even though the groundhog may predict six more weeks of winter, February is the start of the maple syrup season in northern Ohio. Here in  Amish Country, the making of maple syrup is becoming more and more common as people become more conscious about their food sources.

Today maple syrup holds a distinction of being a delicacy – a taste that is desired by the finest of chefs. However, it wasn’t always so. Maple syrup used to the be the poor man’s sweetener, a time honored tradition from the pioneer days. Without a consistent source of sugar, pioneers across the eastern United States boiled the sap of maple trees into sweet maple syrup to use as a home-made sweetener. It was used in nearly everything – cakes, pies, cookies – you name it. When cane sugar became widely available and cheap to buy, maple syrup took a back seat.

With our fine stands of hard maple trees (yes, the same trees that show specatacular colors in the fall), Ohio ranks #4 in maple syrup production in the United States. Much of Ohio’s maple syrup is produced around Chardon in Geauga County, which hosts a Maple Syrup Festival in April. The Amish community in nearby Middlefield is very active in boiling syrup.

Maple sugaring is not as common in Holmes County as in Middlefield, but there are  producers scattered around the area. My own father got the bug to start boiling maple syrup after helping grandpa years ago. Dad built a small “sugar shack” behind our barn and installed equipment built for boiling syrup. The shack had a wood furnace with a large flat top, built to hold an evaporator pan. Ours was about three feet wide and six feet long and was divided into three compartments. The large back compartment was built with flues, or v-shaped ridges on the floor of the pan. Flues add more surface area to the pan and make the sap cook faster. The front two compartments had flat floors and were made for finishing the syrup. Each compartment had a spout in order to run each batch between the compartments, as well as a harvesting spout for removing the finished syrup.

Every February, Dad would venture to the “sugar bush” or maple woods to tap the trees and insert the spiles (spouts) to guide the sap into a container. And while hanging buckets on the trees is a picturesque sight, every bucket must be emptied by hand into a larger container for transport from the woods to the sugar shack. It’s a lot of work. In the old days, a team of horses pulled a sled with a tank through the woods. After a year of handling sap the old way, my father bought a series of tubing that ran from tree to tree and ran by gravity into a collection tank downhill from the trees. He would then pump the sap into a tank mounted on a tractor and return to the shack to transfer it into the holding tank feeding the evaporator.

Our set-up was entirely heated by a wood-burning furnace, so firewood needed to be chopped to keep the sap boiling (chopping wood is the best way to keep warm in the cold February weather). Dad would get up at 4am to start the fire and would expertly keep the fire burning all day. The evaporator pan had to watched at all times to keep the syrup from burning. Late at night, he would come in with the day’s harvest – a few of gallons of syrup. Believe me, there is no better taste than fresh warm maple syrup over your pancakes, waffles or french toast.

As you may have noticed, making maple syrup is a labor-intensive process. Depending on the year, it will take about 40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of syrup. In some years, the syrup will be more concentrated, but either way, it takes a long time to boil down the sap. Nature will determine when the sap will begin to run – warm winters will facilitate an early harvest. Generally, sap will run best when the daytime temperatures are in the 40’s with the night-time temperature goes into the twenties. When the weather gets too warm, the sap will become cloudy and bitter, ending the boiling season.

Grades of maple syrup

Grades of maple syrup

In shopping for syrup, the very highest-graded syrup will be light-colored and very clear. This is syrup that has been perfectly harvested and cooked down. Darker colored syrup is a lesser grade, but isn’t inferior in taste. Be careful when you use it – it is sweeter than regular sugar or pancake syrups. Ohio maple syrup is available in various stores in the Holmes County area, but is readily available year round at the Dutchman Online Store. What a great way to sample a harvest that truly comes from nature’s bounty!