December 20, 2007

One more photo...

As we mentioned, Dan recently photographed some Icelandic Horses, here is one of our favorite images from the shoot.

Winter Scenes - from the farm

Dan has been going out with his camera on the early winter mornings ... some of the results have been fun. :-)

Orion enjoying his breakfast on a very cold December morning!

Snowy pony at sunrise!

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

It appears that our blog has been somewhat neglected of late, owing to a busier-than-usual time on the farm.
The days are very full and in addition to the regular routine, we've been finishing up a book project, fencing, working on Christmas shopping, gift wrapping, mailing packages, etc...

Dan has stayed busy with photo shoots all through autumn. He photographed two wonderful Icelandic horse stallions over Thanksgiving weekend and was pleased to have had the opportunity to photograph the handsome boys. In other news, Dan's next two Poster Books are due out in February-- check back here for details as that date approaches.

The ponies are enjoying the quiet winter days, digging in the snow and eating hay, and generally staying quite content. Severn Ribbons 'N Lace is already looking quite pregnant, her foal is due in May 2008.

More soon!

November 09, 2007

More Crabapple Fun...

The Cedar Waxwing birds have not been the only ones interested in the tiny crabapples on our trees. During the first blizzard of the season a couple of days ago, Dan photographed a very daring chipmunk who spent a delighted half-hour devouring the delicious fruit. These pictures speak for themselves--look closely at his very full cheeks, his tiny paws grasping the apples, the snow accumulating on his head and back, and his feet clinging tightly to the branches.

Cedar Waxwings...

A quick glance out the window this morning revealed a large flock of Cedar Waxwings circling above our front yard. In one accord, the entire group landed in the branches of two crabapple trees in our garden, settling merrily into a feast of tiny crabapples. For a minute or two, they dined vigorously, snapping the apples from the branches, until something -- a noise, perhaps?-- startled the entire flock and they hastily sped away, disappearing into the grey horizon of the November morning. It was nothing more than a momentary stop in their seasonal migration; a moment to rest weary wings and refresh hungry bodies before continuing on with their day of travel. If we hadn't happened to peek out the window at that precise moment, we might have missed them entirely. As it was, they were gone so swiftly that we couldn't even snap a photo...

November 07, 2007

New Article...

Samantha's latest article is now online on Tractor Supply Company's Out Here Magazine website: Be sure to also check out the new Winter issue of Out Here Magazine (available at all TSC stores), as there is a companion article by Samantha in that issue as well.

October 28, 2007

Daniel Johnson of Fox Hill Farm/Miracle Welsh is pleased to announce that his newest book "The Quotable Horse" is out in bookstores and available through Voyageur Press, Amazon or Barnes & Noble. The link at Amazon is

It's a great little gift book for the holidays for anyone who loves horses and ponies! The book features beautiful full color photos of horses (and ponies!) alongside inspirational quotes. Hardback with dustjacket, 6" x 6".

October 19, 2007

Meet a Mountain Pony: Doncardeb Miss Sunny Ruby

Today we are highlighting one of the matrons of Miracle Welsh-- Sec. A Welsh Mountain Pony broodmare, Doncardeb Miss Sunny Ruby. Ruby is a 16-year-old chestnut mare, with Dandardel, Farnley, and Twyford bloodlines. She has produced numerous foals with the Miracle prefix; her most recent arrival being the darling 2007 filly, Miracle Lady Fiona. Ruby's previous foals include the 2006 filly, Miracle Lili Maiden, who was Res. Supreme Champion at her first WPCSA show as a yearling, and her 2005 colt, Miracle Mr. Incredible, who is a driving pony-in-training out in CA.

Ruby herself has achieved a bit of fame-- you can see her photo in the current issue of Hobby Farms magazine. :-) She's also appeared in Horse Illustrated magazine, The Quotable Horse, How to Raise Horses, The World's Greatest Horse Poster book, and she is on the cover of the 2004 WPCSA Yearbook. Ruby doesn't let the fame go to her head-- she's still satisfied with the simple things in life, like apples and sugar cubes. :-)

We love Ruby. :-)

October 10, 2007

You Say Tomato. . .

We experimented with several varieties of heirloom tomatoes in our garden this year, and have spent the past few months comparing their characteristics and enjoying each one's unique traits. Here are the official "results" of our heirloom tomato testing. :-)

Beam's Yellow Pear

The production on these plants was simply incredible to behold. They produced, and produced, and produced, and now in October, when all of the other plants are quietly fading away, the Beam's Yellow Pears just keep on producing. They give new meaning to the phrase heavy yield. Good flavor and very reliable-- a tomato plant you can trust. :-)

Green Zebra

Not as prolific as the Yellow Pears, but we still had a very respectable yield from the Green Zebra plants. Good quality fruit with very little cracking or blemishing-- just one gorgeous tomato after another. You can't help but love the quirky "zebra stripes" of dark green against the backdrop of the yellow-green undertones. They really spice up the appearance of a salad!

Cherokee Purple

Sometimes tomato plants that are noted for larger fruits are also noted for being less productive, but the Cherokee Purple excels at both-- large, meaty fruits and lots of them. It is for these positive characteristics that we put our praise behind the Cherokee Purples, because otherwise, we might have thought twice about growing them again. Their flavor is... an acquired taste, perhaps? Whatever it is, it isn't a favored flavor among our unbiased panel of testers. On the other hand-- they are the most intriguing shade of deep, dark reddish-brown, and the transformation from green to ripe is truly marvelous to watch.


For those with more traditional tastes (i.e. you like your tomatoes to be red), the Trophies are consistent and flavorful, and ripen a bit later in the season, so they help keep things going after some of the other tomatoes (Stupice, Brandywine) have finished producing. They seem to be more prone to cracking than the Green Zebras, but they are tasty and pleasant and a welcome addition.

German Pink

These are amazing. For one thing, they are the most gorgeous shade of pale green prior to ripening, then slowly transform to a peachy-pink before ripening to a pale red. For another thing, they are absolutely huge and a beautiful shape. We would grow them again simply for their aesthetic appeal, but they are also very tasty and a quality fruit, so definitely a win-win variety.

Stupice (not pictured)

Weeks before the other plants even thought about producing flowers, the Stupice tomatoes were setting fruit. Although their overall production was lacking as compared to the ultra-prolific Beam's Yellow Pear or even the Green Zebra, the Stupice tomatoes are a worthy choice if for no other reason than that they are ready so early in the season.

Brandywine (not pictured)

Even though they are very well known (almost synonymous with heirloom tomato), we have to admit that we were "underwhelmed" by the Brandywine tomatoes in our garden this year. Their production paled in comparison to that of some of the other "large" tomato varieties we planted (Cherokee Purple and German Pink), and the few fruits that did set were plagued by cracks and other physical deformaties. So, even though we were prepared to like our Brandywines, we were slightly disappointed with them.

Wapsipinicon Peach

For the first few weeks, these little tomatoes were known as the "Wapsi-whatever Peaches," since none of us could remember their strange name. But as they began ripening, and we began eating, it was quickly apparent that these fabulous Wapsi-whatevers needed the dignity of their proper name! In whatever way we might have been underwhelmed by the Brandywines, we were doubly overwhelmed by the Wap-si-pin-i-con Peaches. They are the most delicious, the most flavorful, the most incredible tomatoes we have ever encountered. To top it all off, they are an adorable shade of creamy yellow, with fuzzy skin (hence the "peach" name). We can't say enough good things about them-- we only wish we had planted more.

September 23, 2007

Pure Magic, by Dan Johnson

I'M STANDING HERE, GAZING UP AT ANOTHER PLANET. VENUS IS BRILLIANT TONIGHT; it deserves a special photograph. Over the last few weeks I've been watching it chase the Pleiades, (a bright and pretty star cluster located along the ecliptic and in the constellation The Bull) running up alongside them, trying to run them down. According to "Sky & Telescope", tonight is as close as they'll get.

But there's more to it than that---the dusk is settling and coming down around me and the sky, the sky is just so right. The sun has set---has gone down and taken the sharpness of true light with it. But the horizon out and beyond the tree line glows rich with white, red, orange, then fading farther up into purple, blue, and finally black. And right up there---right along the division between the purple and the black---here come the stars...

It's been a lovely day and it's winding down into a lovely night. Chores are finished, and my other photography work is finished for the day---stopped by the lack of light. I photograph rural life and animals for books and calendars and magazines and so much of what I shoot depends on light-- and fast light-- light that lets you work at high speeds and low ISO's. You shoot a lot of film, and you shoot it fast, with a lot of time given to the shoot as a whole, but not that much time given to a single frame. But tonight---tonight the work is done. Time to play with the stars.
I take out my clunky, heavy tripod, an old Miller movie tripod with a fluid head and enough beef to hold steady against a hurricane (cameras don't go anywhere when they're attached to it) and set it up carefully in the growing dusk.

Again, the beauty of the evening settles onto me. One cannot----just cannot---be a photographer, be an artist, without appreciating nature and the skies and the wind and the sight of a bright star cluster glowing along side a brighter planet...
I fasten the camera to the tripod---a Canon Elan IIe that's seen better days---with a 28-80 zoom and assess the scene.

Immediately I see that I should not use the lens at it's shortest focal length---28mm gives too much space, shows too much blank sky---35 is better and I switch to that, manually focusing to infinity in the process and framing the shot with some foreground trees and some nearby horse fencing...both will end up nearly black but that's the idea.

Metering is next, and the meter lies right through its teeth at me: 3.5 @ 20 seconds. I shake my head. That can't be right. The meter is being tricked by the fading afterglow. I decide to open up one more stop---dodging reciprocity failure---to bring out the true brightness of the stars and Venus. Yeah, one stop should do her. f/3.5 @ 30.

I'm losing sharpness by keeping the glass wide open like this. (At least in theory I am: All lenses lose sharpness when opened up as far as they can, but in reality the problem is not all that bad, is in fact difficult to notice at all.) But I don't have a choice: The automatic shutter on my Canon only goes up to 30 seconds and I don't have a cable release with me for a bulb setting, and even if I did, stopping down to f/8 or something will force my exposure time much longer than it is now. Something around 6 and a half minutes, rough figuring, almost sure to cause streak blurs from the very earth turning. Imagine! Having a photograph ruined by the spinning of the very planet you're walking on...

All this takes less than 5 seconds to figure and yet I'm not rushing. I'm not hurrying as I work, but soaking it in, enjoying the coolness and the light breeze on my face as the evening continues to sink in, the wind waving the shoulder strap hanging off the camera. I wrap it around the legs of the tripod and tie it off to avoid any shaking it may cause the camera.

This shot is never going to sell. I have no markets for such a view---no people who would pay to publish the picture, and yet that's exactly why I'm doing it. I'm doing this one for myself, for me, simply because I enjoy the slow, methodical process of taking your time and shooting a scene just because it calls to be photographed.

Finally, I'm ready. Venus, Pleiades, girls, smile and hold still. Ready? I push the shutter button, which doesn't actually take the shot, only activates the self timer. (On very long exposures, if you don't have a cable release, you let the self timer take the picture because the very motion of your hand on the camera will blur the shot.)

And so the countdown begins.

10, 9, 8, 7, goes the LCD, barely readable in the dusk.

Beep, beep, beep, goes the Canon, counting each beat...

3, 2, 1...

Half a click---the mirror locking up---the shutter opening...and freezing there.
We're on.

I get up, the viewfinder now blank, and stretch. I always love this part, always love the thrill of a long exposure.

I walk around to the front of the camera, look at Venus, look at the lens looking at Venus, and smile. The picture is being taken. This is fun.

The whole night grows around me. I imagine the film down there, behind the lens, growing the scene. Slowly building and pushing the bits of silver halide around, working with low light levels, obediently forming the picture the lens is sending to it...beautiful.

A plane flies by. Man, how perfect can this get? A high flying jet plane out of nowhere---leaving a thin streak of smoke, still high enough to catch the last rays of the hidden sun. I do a quick calculation on the brightness of the plane and it's path: with a little luck, they might both be bright enough to come out as a pleasant streak across the right side of the photo...if they're in the photo at all...

The dials on the LCD remain locked on their settings: 3.5, 30, ISO: 100. So simple. So technical. As if everything in the shot can be described by those three little numbers. As if the whole of all I'm seeing---the whole of the sky and the whole of the dusk and the whole of the colors and the whole of the stars and gosh---the whole of another planet's light, the light of another world flying through space and sailing through our air, dodging clouds, just to be bent through the glass of my lens and fall onto the emulsion---as if all that could be driven down into those three little numbers that will tell the world how this shot was accomplished. Not at all. This is one time when the settings will tell nothing. You would have to be here to know this shot, to see the way it is done, the way it was, to feel all the feelings.

I look up at the sky, then back to the camera. The thirty seconds are almost up. Then another week or so until my slow processor gets them back to me. It doesn't matter. This photograph doesn't matter at all. Tonight---tonight is all about the experience.


It's over.

And everybody on earth missed it, probably watched TV right through it, probably did something they'll never remember, while I was outside watching magic happen.

Pure magic.

I love photography.

The Annual Bluebird-Bath-Bash

Every fall after a really good rain, the bluebirds have their bathing party in the bird bath in the lower gardens. We can see the birdbath easily from my kitchen windows and we have a great time watching them take turns doing the bird-stroke and bluebird paddle in it. They are fairly polite about taking turns although as typical in large families, there is always one water hog that primps and washes way too long and tests the patience of the others waiting in line.

Yesterday, they were really having a great time and more and more birds were showing up for their baths... some were not bluebirds and these infiltrators were promptly escorted from the festivities. I thought it was very interesting how the bluebirds kept out all the "other" birds and only allowed those dressed in the appropriate Blue-Bath-Bash attire to join in.

Most amusing of all is that after each bird finally finshed his or her bath, they quickly flew to our nearby clothsline to air dry. This event lasts several hours and is complete and total entertainment on a Saturday afternoon. It's a most pleasant and delightful way to pass the time for both bather and bird watcher.

'Tis the Season... save seeds!

Autumn is approaching... more quickly than we would like to admit, but there is no denying the hint of chill in the morning air or the rapidly changing colors of the autumn leaves. There's also no denying that the garden has seen better days. Last week's frost took its toll on the squash plants and the corn, but happily, we are still eating heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers and a few sweet peppers.

It's easy to feel a few pangs of regret and disappointment that the summer garden is heading into its seasonal decline, but we're doing what we can to prolong the joy of the garden by looking ahead to next year's plans.

At this time of year, the kitchen at Fox Hill Farm is filled to the brim with the fruits of the harvest-- antique apples of various types; onions, onions, and more onions; tomatoes of all shapes, sizes, and colors; and seeds, in varied stages of the drying process. Because we have become seed savers.

Why save seeds? Seed packets, after all, are not exactly a high-priced extravagance-- of course we could simply buy new seeds next year. And yet there is something comforting and sentimental about the process of saving seeds, something akin to conservation and preservation and keeping something from extinction. Something about enjoying the harvest for the moment, yet setting aside the barest essentials needed to go on, the promise of spring and the continuity of life-- all in a tiny seed.

And so, while the harvest comes in and the days march towards autumn, our kitchen is home to a nursery of drying seeds, each laying dormant in hibernation until that faraway spring morning when they too will get their chance to bloom and grow.

September 15, 2007

The First Day of Blog School

Is there anything harder than the first post on a new blog? Perhaps it's the first sentence that is the hardest, that jumping off point for starting something new, so we're going to jump in and hang on!


It froze last night...the worst sign that summer is over and fall has arrived, with winter just waiting around the corner to change our world from green to white. The temperature was 27 degrees this morning and I've yet to get out and inspect what damage was done to the garden and orchards.

Yesterday's wind made it a real challenge to try and protect the entire garden with a plastic cover. We started out with just three of us trying to get the cover in place, but it had ideas of it's own, helped along by 25 mph winds. Finally we called out for more help, and with six of us working the monster was tamed and the garden's safety was insured. They're saying we might get more frost tonight, so I guess we'll keep the cover on for now.

We have so many tomatoes still coming along that I hate to lose them all. In addition the watermelons aren't done and I'm hoping that if we get through this first cold snap that the days of Indian summer will help them to finish maturing.


The ponies and cobs have known since mid-August to start getting ready for winter as they are all putting on their winter woolies. Some are more into it than others, but they will all be toasty warm underneath their thick winter coats once the cold weather arrives to stay. We have some additional fencing to finish before winter as well, and the new tack/feed building is just about finished. It's very cute I think and will be very useful.

We raise registered Welsh Ponies and Cobs, mainly Sec. A, The Welsh Mountain Pony, but also a few cobs as well. You will be introduced to them in time through these pages and get to know some of our very favorite friends. Today's pony (pictured at left) is Heritage Hall's The Cat's Meow, a twelve year old bay Sec. A mare and an outstanding girl. Her barn name is Marey and she's produced six foals, all very nice examples of the breed. Gotta love Marey.


We just received our advance copy of the new book "Seasons On The Farm" the other day. It's a wonderful collection of essays by various authors, including our own Samantha. She wrote an essay for fall all about the Scarecrow's contribution to the farm. In addition Dan and I took a lot of the photographs for the book, about 50 in all, and it's been a real treat to see them all reproduced in this wonderful book. If you enjoy reading about farm life, including maple sugaring, lambing season, auctions, scarecrows, harvesting and more, you'll really have a great time spending time with the Seasons book.

Samantha also has two new articles coming out in the November issue of "Out Here" magazine and is currently working on several other projects. Dan's busy, busy with photography and shooting new images every day. This is a busy time of the year for photography, the colors are just beginning to change and we are pressed to hurry our chores up a bit so that we can get every bit of enjoyment and work out of each day. Once winter sets in, it tends to make most of the decisions for us.