Amish Country Journal

Reports and musings from Indiantree Farm, in Holmes County, Ohio -- the largest Amish community in the world. See more about author Larry D. Miller and Amish Country at

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Pre-Wedding Beehive

          With the countdown at less than two weeks to Katie's wedding, Indiantree Farm is a beehive of activity.
          And there are only two bees in the hive.
          Nola and I have been planting, pruning, scraping, painting and mowing (seemingly) from dawn to dusk.  B&B guests sometimes pitch in and help, but realistically they're here on vacation and should be kicking back and recharging their personal batteries, not engaging in grunt work.
          The ceremony site, at the peak of the hill and in the shadow of our Indian mound, has been off-limits for grazing by cattle and horses for a month and we've treated the area as if it were a lawn.  Looks like it too.
          I'm eager to see what it looks like when the muslin-covered straw bales are lined up for guest seating.
          Guests who don't wish to walk the 200 yards to the ceremony site will be transported in our antique (but rubber-tired) wagon pulled by the 60-year-old Farmall tractor.
          The wedding reception party will take place in the barn and Great-Grandfather Christ Miller – who built the barn well over a century ago - would never believe it.
          Twinkling lights hang in graceful long drapes from the hay slings in the center to the barn's far corners.  An old horse feeding trough has been resurrected to serve – appropriately - as a beverage station.  The sound system awaits setup as soon as remaining implements and machinery are relocated.
          Katie's parents and siblings spent many winter and spring weekends designing and decorating the barn interior.  They have several weekends to go, and all will be crammed into the next week. 
          Everyone's taking a week off and will turn the farm into a much more realistic beehive as the hilltop landmark gets a final decorating "push."

Friday, June 21, 2013

Yet Another Amish Country "Hidden Gem"

          My Amish friends never cease to amaze me, and it frequently happens while I'm behind the wheel of my pickup truck.
          I'm happy to help when an emergency pops up and someone needs quick transportation. 
          In this case, yesterday while cutting hay in one of my fields, a crucial belt on Jonas's "power unit" (which I call a horse-drawn" Amish tractor") became frayed to the breaking point.
          He needed a new belt – and quick.
          So we headed off into the hinterlands and within a few miles, found ourselves on a narrow, gravel road that I'd pretty much overlooked for about half a century.
          And there, in the middle of a moderate-sized forest, entirely off the grid, was a new but nondescript building identified only by a small sign out front, proclaiming "Trail Farm Supply."
          Once inside the shop I was confronted by an antiseptically-clean machine shop, with Amish men busy at welding, cutting and fabricating machines.  There were huge stocks of square and round tubing, heavy metal sheets and all the tools to turn these raw materials into farm implements.
          In this modest shop, off the grid and hidden in the wilderness of backwoods Amish Country, these men create horse-drawn tools and machinery to keep Amish farmers competitive with the modern world.
          Oh, and of course they had the desperately-needed belt, a six-inch-wide number with a price tag of more than $100.
          These guys may be off the grid, but they're not out of touch with their market.
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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Wedding, The Ford and The Buzzard Tree

          The wedding was spectacular!  Granddaughter Rachel was gorgeous and radiant.  Daniel was beaming and stunning in his Marine dress uniform.  Winesburg and its little white church on the sharp curve may never be the same.
          There were streaming tears and screams of joy when Rachel's sister Rebekah (also a Navy member) wrangled special leave and arrived totally unexpectedly.
          The family – Robyn, Jason and six kids – are exceptionally close, so there was much shrieking and marathon hugging when all were together once again.
          Daniel's family (10 of them) made the journey from San Diego.  Two flew and the others piled into a Ford Explorer for the 3,000-mile, two-day trip.  They arrived just in time for Friday's rehearsal dinner.
          The Saturday wedding day weather was perfect and megapixels cascaded onto memory cards as our families of photographers elbowed each other like paparazzi at a Kardashian Celibacy press reveal.
          At sunup the next morning, the newlyweds were winging their way back to their military bases in San Diego; the Strong (Rachel's) family was packed and ready to caravan to a new ministry life in South Carolina; and the Dominguez (Daniel's) family gathered at Indiantree Farm for a tour they hadn't expected.
          The inner-city San Diegans had never seen so much green and were not to be sent home without a closer look at life in the rural lane.  I slipped into my tour guide persona for a two-hour trek including: buggies swarmed around an Amish farm church site; the rolling, lumpy carpet of patchwork farms; and the Buzzard Tree with its dozens of foul fowl.  And more -- like zebras grazing alongside ostrich and bison, barefoot children bouncing on a backyard trampoline and miles and miles of gravel roads with zero traffic.
          But The West beckoned, and a 43-hour drive lay ahead. So the tour, the visit, the gala weekend came to an end as the Ford Explorer, packed with San Diegans, wedding pictures and a fresh understanding of Amish Country, headed for the interstate.

Friday, June 14, 2013

This "Roll In The Hay" Was Fun!

          Life on the farm can be dangerous.
          Young Eli came face-to-face with that truth recently as he was baling hay on a fairly steep hillside.
          Haymaking has evolved since I was a kid and we loaded loose hay onto a wagon before piling it in the haymow of the barn.
          Today's farmers – including many old order Amish – use the massive compactor/baler machines that compress the hay, roll it into a 1000-pound lump that looks much like a giant marshmallow and birth it onto the ground to be wrapped and stacked later.
          Eli, who is in his early 20s, knew that bales ejected on the hillside must always be carefully deposited sideways so they don't start rolling downhill.
          He followed that safety principle religiously until a few days ago when an emerging bale caught an edge, slowly turned downhill and began to move.
          Jonas later remembered, "I always told him, never get on the downhill side of a rolling bale, and he remembered.  I'm really glad of that."
          Eli grabbed at the trailing edge of the bale, trying to turn it before too much speed was gained, but he's 150 pounds of Amish muscle and the half-ton bale had a destination in mind.
          Jonas was working higher up the hillside and he saw it go.
          "It headed straight for my brand new, high tensile fence and I figured 'Well, there goes my fence!'
          "But when it hit those wires, it flew up into the air like a rock coming out of a slingshot and it went right over the fence.
          "I feel pretty good about the way we made that fence," he said in typical Amish modesty.
          "Of course the next two fences on the hill weren't high tensile wire and they weren't so new.
          "That bale went through them like they were made of string.
          "It was kind of a fun day!"

Monday, June 10, 2013

Culture Shock In Amishland

          There's a second wedding coming up for our family and it has all the makings of a culture-shock show-stopper.
          As I mentioned a few days ago, Katie's wedding is coming up soon, but her cousin, Rachel, is launching into matrimony this weekend.  She'll be married in the picturesque white country church with the tall steeple, in Winesburg, where her dad has been minister for 12 years.
          Rachel met Daniel Dominguez soon after they finished basic training.  She's Navy, he's a Marine. 
          I'm guessing he fell in love at first sight (she's my granddaughter, after all, what's not to love?).  She was a holdout, but they formed a close (non-romantic) friendship that endured as their respective branches of the service bounced them around the country for about two years.
          Both ended up in San Diego and the friendship blossomed into "Yes!"
          That was a couple months ago and now the big day is less than a week away.
          Which is all well and good, but the family subtext of this romance saga is where the culture shock part comes in.
          Rachel grew up on the outskirts of Winesburg, Ohio (Winesburg has outskirts?) while Daniel grew up on the inner city streets of San Diego.
          The societal chasm between Ohio's Amish Country and downtown San Diego is a cultural grand canyon, especially for the Dominguez family.
          Daniel and Rachel are totally cool with their divergent backgrounds.  They've been around.
          But Daniel's family hasn't traveled beyond their urban neighborhood.
          And bless their adventurous souls, they've decided to pile into a couple of vans and drive (a few plan to fly) 3,000 miles to a region where families ride in horse-drawn contraptions with wooden wheels.
          To sit in a little white country church and watch the first of their family to leave the streets, pledge his life to a direct descendent of "The Father of Amish Country."
          This . . .will be a weekend none of us will forget.

Friday, June 07, 2013

To Mulch . . . or Too Mulch

          To mulch or . . . when to mulch, that is the question.
          At least for today.
          Last time I talked about the insidious fluttering Maple seeds.
          Well, they've come and gone, but I held off on mulching the bulk of our trees for other reasons.  Make that one big reason, Katie's wedding.
          Katie, our eldest granddaughter is getting married.  (Her wedding invitation reads: "Eat, Drink and be Married."
          She and her betrothed, Josh Mount, will be wed in the pasture near the peak of Indiantree Hill.  The spot is mere yards from the (Delaware) Indian Mound which is about a quarter mile from the (Delaware) Indian Tree at the farm's entrance.
          If the weather's damp or blustery, the ceremony will take place in the barn, built by Katie's great, great, great grandfather.  Weather notwithstanding, we'll hold the wedding reception in the barn, pretty much in the style of our Amish neighbors except for the "deejay," the dancing and the lack of hay in the haymow.
          No matter what, guests will be roaming, lounging and poking around the grounds.  Since the "grounds" include more than 60 hardwood trees, dozens of shrubs and a variety of flower beds, we need a significant amount of mulch.  The first order totaled about $300 with more to come.
          The dark (not dyed) shredded bark adds neatness and depth to the two-acre lawn (besides, it cuts my trimming time by about 85%) and gives the flora something to feed on as it decomposes.
          But . . . it quickly loses its fresh look as it becomes contaminated by leaves, grass clippings and bird droppings.  Besides, heavy rains wash it away and windstorms seem to suck the feathery stuff into oblivion.
          So, we wait for that critical "window," when there's enough time to distribute the mulch but not enough time for it to be lost to the forces of nature or lawnmower.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

The Seeds, How They Drift!

          We're caught in drifts of Maple seeds!
          They drop like cascades of spiraling snowflakes each year in late May, and they're a truly beautiful, efficient and insidious design.
          We used to call them "helicopters."  They're fun to watch as they spin down their mostly vertical propagation trail from tree to earth.  Millions of them.
          Yes, I'm certain there are millions.   I counted for a minute then multiplied.
          Anyway, they collect in the strangest places, mostly in the fresh mulch we spread around the bases of trees and shrubs where they sprout. 
          In rain gutters where they sprout.
          And in the cracks between boards on our deck.
          Where they sprout.
          The only way to clean the deck (which I power washed in preparation for a coat of sealer) is to pry them out with a putty knife and compressed air (it takes a long hose and knee pads).
          The only way to clean the mulched areas is by pulling the little sprouts, one at a time, and dropping them into a bag. 
          So this year I decided to outwait the little whirling dervishes by delaying springtime mulch spreading by about a month.  After the whirlybird "fall"  I used the leaf blower to blast them away from the bases of trees and shrubs.  I learned the hard way that I can't use the leaf blower on mulch.
          Stupid move, but that was years ago and far away.
          So long as the seeds bed down in the lawn grass they're no problem because they get a clipping each week and soon give up.
          We just have to be very careful to always aim the mower discharge away from the mulched trees.
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