What A Farmgirl's Night Out Looks Like

This past year has been one of great transition. Two daughters, the ag loving ones, moved out completely and one got married.  I tool a full time job outside of the home and that was quite a change.  I had it in my head that maybe the season of the farm animals had past.  We would just have a few chickens and that would be that.

I told myself that it was okay, in due time the farm animals would come back but to just be happy with so little responsibility.  No wondering during a storm if everyone was okay, no fighting a biting North wind to feed and water, no more middle of the night checks because someone made a “funny” noise in the barn.  Just enjoy a good night’s sleep.

After all, we only have one acre and I don’t drive an F250 anymore and we don’t have a livestock trailer- you see it’s just not that season.

But, the problem you see, is that once you have had the experience of seeing goats born in the middle of the night, or had the pleasure of a bottle calf thrive as you care for them, or tasted the meat and eggs from animals raised with love and good food- you just can’t forget it or leave it.

So, two weekends ago my husband and I had planned a date night in the city- Dallas, TX to be exact- complete with a hotel and nice dinner and nice breakfast the next morning.  So he calls me the day before and asks if I want the night in the city or if I want to go to the family auction that sells small livestock…

I choose the livestock auction.  So our date consisted of sitting in bleachers bidding on chickens, quail, dairy calves and the like.

I had more fun than I have had in many moons!

This is what makes my heart happy.  I have just come to accept that glamorous for me is a pair of great fitting bluejeans and Ariat boots.  I have dreams of perfect makeup and hair with done nails- but in the end, this farm and the animals that call it home bring me such joy that I just can’t escape it- irregardless of the work it entails.

jersey calves 2

Meet 46 & 48- two bull dairy calves.  These fellows are riding great in the back of my Nissan Pathfinder- on cardboard of course.  For those of you who have ever transported cattle of any kind know how they like to poop in transit- but God was smiling on me and nobody pooped.  Had they relieved themselves the cardboard would have made no difference and my Pathfinder would have never been the same.

chickens on the ride home

 

We have a trio of Mille Fluer D’Ulcce and three Rhode Island Reds.  The Rhode Island Reds are already laying large brown eggs for us.  The Mille Fluer are bantams and have their own precious little house that I will show you latter.

new satin rabbit

This little lady – a Satin Doe- got to ride in the front seat as I sat in the back to prevent the calves from crawling all over the SUV.  Not pictured are 8 quail.

We didn’t have enough cages, but not to fear, the auction sells those, too.  Really, it can be a dangerous place.

More information and better pictures are coming as I talk about the roles of the animals on such a small holding and how we do buy and have good success from auctions.

 

 

Advertisements

The Winter Solstice

Beautiful Paperwhites on January 29th.

Beautiful Papperwhites

It’s been awhile since I was here typing up a new post.  2015 was a year of great changes and new territory and I didn’t blog for a few months as I have been trying to keep up.  But here we are with the year drawing to a close and what a great year it has been.

I am, of course, looking forward to Christmas and seeing my family- but I am also looking forward to the winter solstice.  It holds no prominence in my religion or anything of that nature, but I love that solstice.  The longest night. For me and so many other farmers and gardeners, it is the day with the greatest opportunity for rest.

Working with the land is a hard job, so many things can go wrong, so many things are out of your control and winter is a time of rest.  More than New Years or the first day of school, the winter solstice resets the clock.  From this day forward the days will get longer, spring will be fast approaching and then the summer solstice- the longest day of the year.  I don’t notice that day quite as much because I am moving like crazy to keep up with the gardens, herb shows, and markets.  Grass grows faster than you can pull it and the weeds are formidable adversaries.  At that time, the slow pace of winter will be as distant a memory as the pretty little narcissus bulbs that were flowering when all else was grey and bleak.

But for now, the winter solstice is approaching giving us ample time to sit quietly and reflect- a new year is coming what will it hold?

Lettuce Get Planting! How To Grow Lettuce In Texas

Lettuce, Herbs, Green Onions, and Radishes- great fall crops

This post in from the archives- and oldie but a goodie!

There are some nasty rumors going around about lettuce.  I hear that it is really hard to grow with lots of insect problems.  It has also been said that lettuce grown in Texas tastes bitter because of the heat.  Lies, all of them.

The misinformation comes from the fact that  the instructions on the back of seed packets and those great little farming magazines are written for folks living in the areas of the country that actually have four seasons and one growing season.  Now do not misunderstand me, I love my gardening magazines, but the time lines do not line up. Well, welcome to Texas Gardening.  There is a rhythm to gardening in Texas that is as unique as our Texas spirit.  Once you learn the rhythm you will be amazed at what you can grow.

However, for now we will focus on lettuce and its cousins.  It perturbs me to no end to have to purchase greens of any kind in the grocery store.  Homegrown greens are so easy and tasty!  Also, it is so much easier to have a bed of lettuce and just go pick you some whenever you want, than to have to go to the store when you want a salad.  If you are like me, lots of times what’s for dinner is not something planned very far in advance.  So, having items growing in the garden to have on hand is just the ticket.

One of the perks about lettuce and all the other greens, such as arugula, chard, spinach, etc. is that they can by eaten at all stages.  Baby greens make for a scrumptious salad or sandwich.  Many people, like my children, do not like mature spinach but love baby spinach.  So, while the plants are growing you can pick the outer leaves and enjoy the garden abundance for many weeks.  The greens( the term greens refers to all types of lettuce, herbs, kale, greens, spinach etc)  do not take a lot of space.  One 5X12  foot bed of greens will keep my family of 6 in fresh greens.

Now to dispel the lies.

First, that lettuce is hard to grow.  Not so, you just have to know when to plant it.  If you read many of the labels on lettuce sold in Texas, the labels  say to plant after all danger of frost has passed.  The problem with this is that if you wait that long in Texas you can have as little as 2 weeks until the temps are consistently in the mid- 80′s.  The proper planting times in Texas are February- April and September- December.  Lettuce is a cool season crop.  When most areas of the country are having dead of winter, we are having our cool season.   When we have had a mild winter, I harvest greens from September until June.  That is only 2 months of store-bought greens in a year.  That makes my heart happy! Most lettuce varieties,as well as spinach and collard greens, can stand temperatures down to 23′ degrees.  Some winters we don’t even get that cold once so you can have a productive garden all winter.

Second lie- lettuce has many insect problems. Now there are certain worms- Cabbage Loppers for example- that do like lettuce.  However, these are easily dispatched with Bt.  Bt- (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a naturally occurring bacterial disease that only attacks caterpillars.  Bt is organic and you can eat the produce with no worries that synthetic pesticides bring.  There are other insects that can be a problem at times, but I have found in my gardens that Bt is all I need to keep things in balance.  Also, there are other methods of insect control, but again the Bt is simple, easy and effective so that is what I use.  You can find it at most hardware and garden supply stores.  If you have fertile soil fed and amended with organic compost and fertilizers, most other insects won’t pose a large problem.

Third Lie- lettuce grown in Texas tastes bitter- hogwash.  Again, you just need to know when to plant and what varieties to plant.  The types that are considered “slow to bolt” are the best for planting in the spring.  Bolting refers to sending up a conical shaft with blooms that will produce seeds.  Warm weather signifies to the lettuce that it is time to make seeds.  So, those lettuces that are slow to bolt will be the most tolerant of warm weather.  While you are looking in seed catalogs for heirloom selections (heirloom refers to varieties that will reproduce consistently if the seeds are saved) look for ones that were developed in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas- of course- or Israel.  These areas have climates similar to ours and those varieties will usually do well here for the spring planting.  Look for varieties labeled “Cool season” or “cold tolerant” on the lettuces, these will be the ones for planting in the fall.  When it comes to the spinach, swiss chard, and kale- these are not even stopped by a freeze so they will grow all winter.

lettuce in compost raised beds

Some of my favorite varieties are:
For Fall Planting: Black Seeded Simpson, Drunken Woman, Tom Thumb, Oakleaf
For Spring Planting:  Oakleaf, Jericho- awesome, Tom Thumb
Spinach- Longstanding Bloomsdale is great year round.

Most of your annual herbs like dill, Salad Burnett, chives are best planted on the same schedule as lettuce.
I like to sow the seeds in wide beds.  I thin the seedlings and use them in salads as baby greens.  Keep the lettuce or greens watered one inch once per week and a little shade is very helpful for extending the growing season in the summer.  The seeds usually germinate and emerge in 7-10 days.

So there you have it- the truth about lettuce.  Now what are you waiting for?  September is coming to a close and October is upon us,  I can just taste the homegrown lettuce now.

Raised beds are great for gardening, this one in the front is filled with baby greens.

One. Last. Time…

Old Timers around my part of the country refer to what is called “Good Friday Gardens”  because they never put out warm season crops such as tomatoes before Good Friday- the Friday before Easter Sunday.  Here is why- 9 times out of 10 we will get a freeze or at least very close to freezing the week or so before Easter.

As I write this the temperature is falling and we are looking at the mid-thirties overnight.  So long as we stay above freezing the vast majortiy of our plants will be just fine.  Quite a few won’t even care if we dip below freezing.  However; tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, Basil and other such warm season crops do mind very much if we get into the thirties at all.  So, we have been covering what is already planted and wrapping up those items that have already blossomed and are putting on fruit.

sierra in the garden covering squash

The squash plants were covered in plastic pots with plastic staked over the top so this confounded wind doesn’t blow them to kingdom come.

jonathan in the garden covering peach trees

Jonathan is working to stabilize the frame he and Tony built to protect the peach trees.

family covering peach trees

A farm requires a family to pull together.  Covering our crops and praying that the temps hold above freezing.  The white rectangle is covering the tomato patch.

sierra covering tomatoes

Sierra helped me put pots over all the 50 tomato plants and 20 Basil plants.  There are three times as many tomato plants to go out, but those are still safe inside the greenhouse.

tony and J covering peaches

My two favorite men.

peach tree covered

Here is our harvester peach tree all tucked in for the night.  The cold weather won’t kill the tree but we are concerned about damage to the young fruit growing on the little limbs.  We are just to close to the end of all this cold weather to leave it to chance.  We are determined to get a peach this year!

Once this was done, we all trooped inside for hot chocolate and a wonderful meal of sauteed Swiss Chard, mushrooms, bacon and eggs.

swiss chard, mushrooms and eggs

swiss chard from the garden

Swiss Chard is a beautiful crop and one we did not have to cover as it doesn’t mind the cold.

So, here we go just one last time.  Easter comes this Sunday and this winter will just be a memory.

Boy, Is This A Happy Girl!

When you begin a homestead or organic garden, you develop a new perspective.  What was once refuse  has become gold.  I now drive around neighborhoods looking for bags of leaves left out by the curb, if I find some we pull over and it is kind of like a Chinese fire drill- we all hop out toss the bags in the back of the truck and hop back in.  Well, yesterday on the way out to visit my grandmother I passed by a house with HUGE bags of leaves and lots of them, the only problem was that they were still in the yard of the house.  Stuff on the curb for the garbage man is free game, but I won’t go into a person’s yard without permission- What to do?  It just so happens we knew the couple that own the house from Tony’s days on the ambulance and I was able to find them on Facebook.

mother load of leaves

She was very nice and said I most certainly could get the leaves.  This truck load is only half!!!  Really, I am delighted.

earth worm in the pine needles

Before visiting with my grandmother, I stopped by my parents house and gathered a load of organic mulch- pine needles.  Using a pitch fork that I ran just under the needles but not into the soil, I scooped up a wonderful pick up load full. I also found this cute little guy working the soil under the needles.

 

great pile of pine needles

Of course, this  meant that this morning before I dropped Sierra off a the library to volunteer  I had to empty the bed of the truck.  Once #3 was delivered to the library I swung over and grabbed the bags.  Those double size bags are HEAVY, so #4 the strapping young man who likes to sleep late will be going on the second trip.  Who needs a gym when you have all this exercise?  We will also hit the furniture stores on this trip and gather cardboard.

perfect toad stole in the pine needles

Another bright spot in my evening was finding this perfect little toad stool under the needles & getting several bags of newspapers from my Auntie.  Auntie is my grandmother’s sister and they live around the corner from each other.  Both enjoy our visits and I always wonder why I don’t do more visiting.

So, what in the world am I going to do with all this stuff, you may ask?  I am going to sheet compost as far as I can.  Last year I battled the Bermuda and in several areas the Bermuda won.  This time around, I am going to spread the cardboard all around my fruit trees and berry vines.  Once the cardboard is down, I will pile rabbit manure (from under our hutches), wood shavings, pine needles and leaves.  The goal of the layer of mulch is to be 6 inches thick.  This will suppress weeds and grass along with mulching my trees and feeding them as the layers breakdown in to compost.  This may not eradicate the Bermuda, but it will give my the upper hand and I can spray what does come along with 20% vinegar which will kill it in a day.

The point I would like to make is that organic gardening does not have to be expensive- you just have to look at what you have in a different way.

Sunflowers & Sunshine

As I look back over notes from the gardens of 2013, I am pleased.  We were productive and met many goals.  One of my goals was to finally, successfully grow sunflowers.

sunflower herb

I know this may seem like a simple goal, one so simple why put it on paper, but I have had a terrible time with sunflowers.  I would plant many seeds and only get a few flowers.  Then, I had an epiphany- perhaps it wasn’t me that was a terrible sunflower grower but, perhaps, it was those pesky squirrels.  As I am sure you know, squirrels love sunflower seeds.  It seems that they would sit up on their branches and watch me plant then steal into the garden to help themselves.  So, I got smart.  I started my sunflowers in the greenhouse with all the other vegetable seedlings.

sunflower seedlings

And success!  I had very many sunflowers to transplant out and they did wonderfully.  There is something that is just so happy about sunflowers in a garden, you can’t help but smile when you look at their sunny faces.

It is not too late to order and start your sunflowers.  I order my seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and have had excellent germination rate that resulted in very healthy plants.  The top of your refrigerator makes an excellent place to start seeds, once they poke their cute little cotyledons out of the soil, you need to move them to a sunny window unless you hang a light over the fridge.  Florescent shop lights work great for this purpose and can be taken down once seed starting time is over.

short stuff sunflower seedlings

Sunflowers like the sunshine so they won’t go to the garden until after the danger of the freeze has passed.  In my area its looking like Easter will be the time to move warm season transplants out to the garden.  There are many, many kinds to choose from, I choose varieties that were high in oil content as these are the ones the birds favor.  Also, I did not want a hybrid because I wanted to save seeds so that I could spend that money on another variety!  One can NEVER have too many flowers.

In this past season, I planted sunflowers at both ends of each row in my tomato patch and around the other veggie plots as well.  This resulted in an unexpected benefit- the birds ate on the sunflowers all summer and didn’t touch a tomato until all the seeds had been eaten from the dried sunflower.  Needless to say, this will be repeated.  Only I will plant in succession so that that I can have sunflowers blooming until fall.

sunflower herb 2

I did clip one sunflower just as the seeds ripened but before the birds ate them so keep for this year’s seeds.

dried sunflower for seeds

Well now, Ain't that a kick in the pants…

Things have been bustling around the farm as we work like crazy starting, bumping, and feeding seeds and seedlings for all the wonderful people who will buy herbs from us this coming season.   The past two weeks or so have brought us very nice and warm weather, but then this…

herb farm under ice

We had a lovely time selling herbs at our first market of the season, the Athens, TX farmer’s market.  It was warm and pretty, I worked outside in shorts bumping seedlings after I returned home and even went to bed with the windows open in my bedroom.  Then it happened, the blue norther blew in, the winds shifted so hard the noise woke me up.  I shut the window.

The rain came and then the ice and all the way the temperature went down, down, down.

garden trellis in the ice

Now, I have lived here all my life and I never get used to the sudden changes- it just boggles my mind! At 6 pm on Saturday my thermometer registered 72’F by 6 pm on Sunday it was 21’F.  That is hard on every thing- plants, animals and humans. I also knew that while the weather was so warm and wonderful that it would be foolish to plant any thing that could be killed by a freeze, it is Texas after all and I knew we weren’t out of winters grasp just yet.  My head did understand this concept, but I just kept hoping the weathermen would be wrong,  you know considering that they are only right 30% of the time.   Well, no they got it right. We are in a very deep freeze with all the roads coated in a thick layer of ice.

garden box with cover

Did I mention that our well is not working?  We had water at 6:30 this morning and then it just stopped.  We have and have had a heater in the pump house to keep the pipes from freezing so at this time we are just waiting.  As it is still 18′ F outside, it may be a bit until we know exactly what is going on.

I am quite happy to report that the greenhouse never dropped below 45’F and it is quite pleasant in there right now.  All the thousands of seedlings are happy and bright, growing right along.  I am also happy to report that by weeks end, our highs will be in the 60’s again.  

green house march 2014

The average last frost date for my area is March 15th, but given the past spring, this winter and the Farmer’s Almanac- I don’t think it will be safe to put out tomatoes, basil, and such until Easter.  The old timers had “Good Friday Gardens” for a reason.  But there are plenty of gardening options from March to April- Kale, Spinach, Cilantro, Thyme, Rosemary, Sage, Cilantro, beets, radishes, carrots,  and such will do just fine, even with a light freeze.  If you can cover the plants, you can put out broccoli, green beans, and squash.

So stay warm and dream of large gardens!

The Winter Solstice, The Longest Night

The longest night has just passed.

Did you feel it?

We did, we kept noticing the time, thinking that it should be much later than it was in reality.  The evening wore on with cookies baking, gift baskets being stuffed, and herbed salts, salamoia bolognese, being prepared.  It was a quiet night, the rain that had poured from the heavens all the previous night and this day ceased just long enough for a few rays of sunshine to grace the landscapes before the dark crept over us.  It was not a darkness to be feared, but one that encouraged rest.

From here on out, the days will gradually grow longer and eventually bringing warmth but definitely bringing life refreshed.  Below the ground, the Narcissus bulbs are beginning to stir- soon little green spears will pierce the ground followed by buds that will one day show us their beautiful white and yellow faces.  Those are some of my favorite flowers because they tell me, “Cheer Up, spring is just around the corner.”

I always find parallels to life in my garden.  In life, we will walk through the longest nights, but spring will come.

“For his anger endures but for a moment; in his favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

 

daffodil

 

Two Brown Eggs, A Leaky Chicken House, & One Happy Duck

Duck is quite happy with all the water, she keeps splashing about having a raucous good time.

Duck is quite happy with all the water, she keeps splashing about having a raucous good time.

I sat down to type up a new post about an hour ago.  Just as I began, I heard the rain begin with gusto.  Sigh…  Guess what I did?  I put on my trust old coat (technically it is my husband’s but I have commandeered it as it has a really long waist and covers my back side.  If there is one thing I cannot stand now that I am older  is drafts), muckers, hat and went out in it.  You see, we have just built a chicken house on our little place and each time it has rained the inside has been wet.  This is not good.  Chickens can endure some harsh conditions, but they need to be able to get dry, especially while they sleep.  Once you have small livestock, you will never again enjoy the sounds of a rain storm without a care in your head.

Chicken in  the Coop

After each storm, I have made modifications that I thought would fix it- to no avail.  So, the only way to know is to go out when it is raining and sit and watch.  Well, the problem is where the nails have attached the tin to the lathes on the roof. The roof is leaking like a sieve. Strange, considering that we used the correct sort of nail with a little rubber washer attached to prevent just this sort of thing.  Regardless, this problem must be addressed.  When the weather is dry and warmish- God only knows when that will be- we can calk the nail holes but for today I had to improvise.  There were a few pieces very thin plywood in the scrap pile so I took these and wedged them on the ceiling.  This will at least cause the water to run to one spot instead of all over the coop.  The girls really haven’t seemed to mind so much they are eating and scratching about out in the rain.

Easter egger chickens

We really don’t need any more water right now.  It rained last week, then that froze while ice coated everything except the roads in my neck of the woods.  It has been so cold that the ice stuck around for days and when it did melt it was like another rain storm.  Frankly, I hate this weather.  I am a Texas girl and we like the heat.  There was a time not so long ago that I thought 45′ was cold.  This morning when I saw 45′ on the thermometer, I thought “Great, it is warm enough for a run before the rain comes.”  Well, it didn’t take long to remember that this is still on the cool side.  But, the cold air in my lungs and just being outside did me a world of good.  I didn’t beat the rain, however, a light shower came while I was running.  Oh well, that is what hoodies are for.  I am hoping the weather men have it together as they are predicting sunshine and 60’s next week.  Hooray!

Two beautiful eggs in the coop this morning.  Laid by the black and white hens- Dominiques

Two beautiful eggs in the coop this morning. Laid by the black and white hens- Dominique Hens

I may not like the ice, but it did make for some pretty landscapes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJonathan and the Duck are the only ones happy with this weather.  Jonathan enjoys breaking the ice out of water bowls- what a handy fellow to have around!

 

Pumpkin Pickin' and Memory Makin'

This past July I sweated profusely as I put 30 pumpkin seedlings in the ground.  I didn’t mind the heat or the sweat because in my mind I could see my children, my nieces, and little cousins picking pumpkins from a pumpkin patch not from a bin or pile at the store, but from a real live pumpkin patch.  Never mind that I had never grown a pumpkin before nor had I seen anyone around me do it, this was my goal.  I wasn’t shooting for Halloween as my target date, I was shooting for November- Thanksgiving.  That part turned out just about right, we did have pumpkins but we needed to pick them early as the cool wet rains we kept having were causing a problem with the powdery mildew.  As it happened, my nieces and my cousin, Luke -a preschooler, were around on Sunday so I hauled them all out and we picked pumpkins!  What fun!!

If you have never heard a child giggle or squeal with delight at the discovery in a garden- you, my friend, have not experienced one of the finer things in life.

new pumpkin patchThe pumpkin patch about a month old.  Growing strong and beautiful.

Searching for pumpkinsLooking for pumpkins amid all the large leaves.  These pumpkins did not turn orange as they should have.  Instead we had lovely molted green pumpkins with an orange splash.  No bother, it was still fun and the unusual pumpkins were pretty.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKatie found a baby, the kids all like the babies just as well as the big ones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARylie has found one, with a nice orange splotch.  She is twisting it to break the stem off.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALuke has just discovered that the stem of a pumpkin is prickly!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJonathan totes the large pumpkin for Rylie, he was waiting with his trusty knife if the twisting did not work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUncle Tony and Katie.  Tony requested that we pick pumpkins when he could be around.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALuke took to wrestling the pumpkins free and Sierra tried to help.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKitchen shears to the rescue, Sierra helps Luke get his prize

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASuccess!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA pile of cute kids and pumpkins!  We will do this again next year.  However, I plant to set a date and invite all the other cousins.  We will watch It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and eat something – maybe roasted pumpkin seeds that we harvest and roast ourselves.  I also plan to plant some “Mighty Max” pumpkins that reach weights of over 100 lbs as well as smaller pumpkins that can be handled by smaller pickers.  The seed order will be placed this Friday.  I just can’t wait.