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!

Ahh, The Rain

As I write tonight, the thunder is rolling and the rain is falling.  Such a beautiful sound and the scent of rain in the air is just delicious. How grateful I am to have the rain to water all that has been planted.  Lately( like since Saturday), we have been having typical Texas weather- hot and humid.  I do not mind, the tomatoes and peppers are growing, setting fruit and acting as they should.  We are finally harvesting squash.

Trenched Garden PlotThis garden plot is one of four in an area of the farm that holds water each time it rains.  And by” holds water” I mean that water will sit in this area and be squishy to walk on for days after the smallest rain.  As I write the trenches are filled to the brim from the rain coming down.  We suspect that there may be an underground spring located here, as well.  Anyway, for whatever reason, this area is a challenge.  So, to possiby make this a usable area I have trenched deeply and piled the dirt up to raise the rows.  Hopefully, this will allow the plants to drain well enough to grow properly.  I am thinking that if the plants can survive the spring rains that this wet area will be a benefit in the summer.  So far, the bell peppers and egg plants are doing well.  These particular plants like the heat to really thrive, so they are just now beginning to grow vigorously. Also  planted in these wet plots are cucumbers, watermelons, mush melons, and butter beans.

You may notice the hay scattered about.  I had company coming and thought a quick mulch that would make the beds look nice would be hay and I could just run to the farm store and get a bale easy.  So, I did.  Then a day or two later as I was admiring the lovely garden plots it occurred to me that I had no idea where the hay had come from and what had been sprayed on it.  Yikes!  Thus, I raked it all out and fed it to the goats.  This may seem like a lot of work but considering that some of the herbicides that are used on hay fields kill any plant in the nightshade family (think tomato and eggplant) and stay in your soil for five years- this was hardly a waste of time. Now, I can rest easy.  I will have these plots mulched by weeks end, but I will use pine needles from my mother’s place.

potato towersOur potato towers are growing very well. I covered the plants about 5 days ago as shown in the photo above and already there is so much new green growth out of the top of the compost that it is time to cover again.  I am excited at the idea of home-grown potatoes!  In the tomato patch, “Large Red” and “Illini Gold” are loaded up with green tomatoes, Matt’s Cherry  is looking good as well and has an orange fruit getting ripe as we speak.  I love to look out the kitchen window in the morning and gaze at my gardens while I wash dishes.  We have so many song birds in the gardens, they love to sit on the trellises that we have built for the tomatoes, cukes, and melons.  I would like to think they are happy to sing to me in the morning, but I know that they are really just casing the joint.

cute kittenMaybe my fierce farm cat will keep the birds from eating my tomatoes?

 

What is growing in your garden?  If you don’t have a garden, what would you grow if you could?

Could You Use A Little More Thyme?

This is one from the archives, but I love this herb and thought it worth repeating!
Thyme
Lovely plant and wonderful scent
Kitchen Dictionary: thyme
Pronounced: TIME
This is one of those little plants that laughs in the face of a Texas summer and remains undaunted by a few freezes.  The creeping variety has been spreading between the rock stepping stones in my herb garden for months.  I have to harvest it or it will cover the stones.  It is fabulous!  With dark green foliage that is so petit it belies its strong flavor, it is a perfect choice for edging the bed or filling in between the stones.
For me, it was surprising to see that Thyme is classified as a Southern European and Mediterranean ingredient.  I thought it was totally southern cooking.  When you think of decidedly southern dishes such as Chicken n’ Dumplins, Turkey & Dressing, Roast Chicken, Meatloaf, and so on, Thyme is a key player in creating the warm comforting tones of these dishes.  If I am boiling chicken for almost anything, I have Thyme in the pot, too.  Nothing beats the flavor of a lightly battered filet of Tilapia with Thyme mixed in the flour and cornmeal, I don’t care who you are- that is good right there!
Being that Thyme is a perennial, it is easiest to start with a seedling in the garden.  Soggy places are no good for Thyme as it likes will drained soil.  Lots of sun is a must, but a little afternoon shade in a Texan summer is greatly appreciated.  This is an extremely easy plant to grow. 
Top of Form
Bottom of Form
With Thyme being available in the garden year round, there is no reason not use fresh Thyme in all your cooking.  Just snip off what you need and chop it finely or tie the sprigs together with kitchen twine and remove before serving.  Thyme is a well-mannered herb and is not given to being over-powering in a dish.  To a roasted chicken, I will sprinkle about 2 teaspoons over the skin or add about 2 tablespoons to a pot of soup.  Your personal tastes really are the determining factor in how much to use.  Experience is the best teacher, so give it a try.
Thyme is perfect for filling gaps in a rock pathway
However; some days it may not be very convenient to get to the garden, so I like to keep dried herbs in the pantry. To dry Thyme, cut as much as you want from the plant- but never taking more than two thirds of the mother plant- and using a rubber band, secure the stems and hang in a dry place with good air circulation.  I have a little “clothes line” strung above my refrigerator where I clip bunches of herbs for drying.  Once dry, which will take about 2 weeks, remove the leaves from the stems and place the leaves in a air-tight container and store out of the sunlight.  Dried herbs keep for about 6 months and any extra you may have makes great gift ideas.
A “mini- clothesline” works great for drying small amounts of herbs
Matches well with: beef, carrots, chicken, figs, fish, goat cheese, lamb, lentils, onions, peas, pork, potatoes, soups, tomatoes, venison 
So, get planting!  Everyone needs a little more “thyme” in their day!

Shop Local, Shop The Rock

One sweet lady shopping the rock!

One sweet lady shopping the rock!

I don’t know what the words “Farmer’s Market” mean to you, but for me the words bring back many wonderful memories of going to market with my great-grandparents and aunts and uncles.  The words also bring to mind the smells of dill and fresh washed greens- the smell of fresh washed greens, man that takes me back.  As a preschooler, my family lived in one of three houses located on my grand parents farm.  The big house belonged to my grand parents, the two smaller houses were rent houses belonging to my great-grandfather and all the adult children at one point or another lived in those houses.

Fortunately for me, I lived that close to my grand parents most of my life.  In spring and summer, greens were a large part of the produce grown on the five acres behind my house.  All the family helped with weeding, gathering, washing and growing.  Under the shed was a huge tank that would be filled with water, all the greens from the harvest would be washed in this tank.  As

My grandfather working in the fields.

My grandfather working in the fields.

the greens went in, the smell of fresh greens, well water, and soil all mingled together.  I love that smell to this day.  I say the tank was huge, but I really am not sure how big it was.  I can remember standing on my tip-toes with my nose just above the rim.  I was only about 4 years old, so I guess it may not have been THAT huge.  I had run of the fields.  My earliest and first memories are of farming and burying my bare feet in the soft sandy loam.  Perhaps that is why, to this day, I say life is better bare foot!

And now, here I am taking my own produce to market.  This spring began our first experience being vendors at the White Rock Local Market.  What fun it has been!  This is a great market run by fantastic people.  They have been so professional and organized.  Not to mention getting great publicity and advertisement.  I have had great “neighbors” set up next to me and have made friends with many folks.  Not only do I have a great place to sell my herbs, but I get to do my grocery shopping for the week with great local farmers.

The variety at the market is awesome.  You can purchase local mushrooms, olive oil, granola, bread, meat of all sorts, eggs, and worms!  Yes, worms.  Texas Worm Ranch brings out worm castings (great fertilizer), worm wine (liquid fertilizer) and the worms themselves.  If you are looking to start a vermicomposting projects, these are the folks to get you started.

Where you can find us:

Locations

White Rock Local Market @ Lakeside
1st and 3rd Saturdays
Lakeside Baptist Church
9150 Garland Rd
Dallas 75218
View Larger Map

White Rock Local Market @ Green Spot
2nd and 4th Saturdays
Green Spot
702 N. Buckner Blvd
Dallas 75218

Garlic & Texas

As we get out and about now selling our herbs a Farmer’s Markets and Garden Festivals, I am frequently asked if I have any garlic.  When I ask questions to clarify just what the customer is looking for, I am surprised that they are looking for seedlings so that they can grow their own Garlic.  How marvelous!  Just one problem…

If you want to grow garlic in Texas you need to plant is in September, the same with strawberries- but that is a whole other blog and soapbox.  Once planted in September, the bulbs will sprout and grow all winter long then in June or so, the tops will start to turn brown and it is time to harvest.  Yes, no matter where you live garlic takes that long to grow.  But, it is so worth it and it really is easy.

To get started, you will need something to plant- right?  Garlic can be purchased in the store as a bulb.  In that bulb are many cloves.  Each clove when planted will produce another bulb and the cycle just keeps going.  So, once you purchase your garlic you will not ever need to purchase more, just save some cloves from your harvest and you will be good to go.  You can plant the garlic from the grocer or you can order from a seed company.  If you order from a seed company you will know exactly what variety you are getting and in the supermarket you will have no idea.  I have planted plenty from the grocer and did just fine.

The looser the ground, the better for growing garlic.  However, I have grown in clay and done fine.  Just dig a little whole twice as deep as the clove is long and plant the clove pointy end up.  Then wait.  You can inter plant with something like lettuce that has a shallow root system to make use of the open soil and double your harvest from the same square footage.  For the best harvest, you will need to water- but no more than you would for any other crop.

You will know when to harvest by the fact that the stalks have bloomed and now are beginning to turn brown.  Use a pitch fork or something similar to loosen the soil.  Gently pull the garlic up.  Spread the stalks on a dry and flat surface and let the cure (dry out a bit and the outer “paper” will dry).  Garlic can by stored for the better part of the year easily meaning that if you plant enough you will never need to buy garlic again.

Happy Planting!

garlic bulbgarlic plantinggarlic young plantgarlic bloom

Monday- Surprise, Surpise, Surprise!

Not that it is ever easy to get out of bed on a Monday when the alarm goes off, but today was really tough.  For one thing, it was just so dark so it couldn’t be time to get up.  When I did pull myself out of the bed to let the dog out, I saw why- there was snow and sleet everywhere!  The cloud cover kept the sun from shinning to tell us to get up!  What a surprise, the weather forecast had no mention of the white stuff.

Sierra hates the cold.  Jonathan likes it, so Sierra made him a sweet deal and he did her chores for her.  That left her to put her fleece PJ’s back on and help me with breakfast.  This kind of morning calls for a farmhouse breakfast- fresh eggs, bacon, hash-browns, homemade biscuits, and gravy.  Yum, Yum, that is my kind of food!  Tony came in from unloading hay and we all had a good breakfast together.  Homeschooling & a home-based business let us have fun in the morning.

The first bloom in the greenhouse- Calendula Pacific saying "Hello"

The first bloom in the greenhouse- Calendula Pacific saying “Hello”

I had hoped to fill all the trays with compost, but that will have to wait for a bit better weather.  So, I made myself busy in the greenhouse.  Once the sun came up the temps in the greenhouse were quite comfortable.  All the Calendula Pacific in four inch cups were bumped to 1 gallon pots.  It feels good to get those done.  Now, there is more room for the seedlings coming up.  Dill and Mullein sprouted almost overnight and are already in the greenhouse working on their real leaves.  As soon those real leaves are present, they will move up to 4 inch cups.

This was the first Monday to be a “regular” Monday since before the holidays.  It was nice to get up and finish laundry, do our homeschooling, and farm work.

How was your Monday?

Making Hard Cheese- A Great Class

Is this not beautiful?

Is this not beautiful?

I spent Saturday at Falster Farms in Winnsboro, Texas learning how to make hard cheese.  Nancy Falster taught the class and she and her husband, Karl, own and operate Falster Farms- a sustainable family farm growing food that is “fit to eat.”  These are great people who are passionate about living in such a way that there is a better piece of land left for the ones who come behind them and in the mean time, they are raising and growing wonderful food.

I learned so much in this class about food in general.  Nancy shared so much more than just steps A-D, so to speak.  Not only did we learn the process of making hard cheese, we made several soft cheeses, learned of ways to preserve the cheese and got to sample several different kinds.  There is a whole world of cheese out there and I am so excited about getting into it!  Now, after the class, I feel that I can order the cheese making supplies with confidence knowing what each ingredient is and what it’s purpose is in the process.  Nancy also shared some tips on choosing equipment such as presses and thermometers, of course lots of experience that was gained from what didn’t go as planned.

Chef Nancy Falster at work on the cheese.

Chef Nancy Falster at work on the cheese.

One of the best parts of the class was lunch or dinner you would call it if you are from the South.  Dinner happens mid-day and super is the evening meal.  It was so good, a Shepard’s pie made from grass-fed beef raised on their farm, local sweet potatoes and other goodness.  One of her class helpers and good friend brought this heavenly homemade bread to share with us.  The bread was just as gorgeous as it was delicious and we even got the recipe.  There was a wonderful salad and of course some great cheese.  Desert was wonderful, this blueberry thing that I can’t remember the name, but it was so good.  One thing that we all tried was fermented food- onions, radishes, relishes and such, done in the whey left from the cheese making process.  I had never had this before and not only did it taste good, I learned about all the health benefits of live food.

This bread was so good!  I could have made a meal out of the bread and cheese.

This bread was so good! I could have made a meal out of the bread and cheese.

Needless to say, the class is certainly worth the money and the drive.  We started at 9:30 and the class was wrapped up about 2:30.  There were about 10 of us and we all had such a good time.  Friendships were made and knowledge shared.  We chatted about raising honeybees and learned that cows like cabbage- but only the first bite out of every head in the garden!  Chef Nancy also teaches cooking classes and she and Karl offer consulting services for those interested in sustainable farming practices.  You can learn from all they have learned in their years of farming.  So, if you are looking for a cheese class, I suggest you give Nancy Falster a call!  You can reach her at chef@SouthernGrace.Biz .

Do you make cheese?  What is your favorite cheese?  Feel free to share!

Thursday, Another Week Is Drawing To A Close

With Tony home again today, we slept in till 9:00 am.  How nice to be able to stay under the warm covers on a cold morning!    Without hardly a word spoken, the kids got up and went about their chores.  Savannah was trying hard to be quiet, but her dog, Jade, backed up to our door and wagged her tail with great enthusiasm.  It cracked us up.  Once up, we walked our 2 miles at the park and ran the errands for the day.  One fun errand was to go by the Chamber of Commerce and set up the appointment to get our picture taken for the paper as our float in the parade won “Best Youth Entry” !

Californians-Beautiful Bunnies, great for meat and pets.

Californians-Beautiful Bunnies, great for meat and pets.

Last night we received a call from a couple that we had met at Living From The Ground Up @ North East Texas Community College-  a seminar on sustainable agriculture and backyard homesteading.  I was there to speak on herbs and composting.  Tony was there to tote my stuff and sell herbs.  We had a great time, learned a lot and plan to go back next year.  This couple shared our desire to produce as much of our own food as possible and were looking to purchase a few rabbits.  When it comes to producing meat without much space, nothing beats rabbits.  Sierra is in the rabbit business and has several that she breeds and sells.  So, tonight 5 rabbits went to a new home .

Sierra really does a great job of tending her business.  Earlier today, she and Jonathan separated out the ones leaving, tagged their ears and shut them up in a pen.  All the dogs were penned up so as to leave the visitors alone- not everyone like to be greeted by 2- 100 lb dogs.  But as such things go, Tony and I went out to load the rabbits when the 4 kids and their mom arrived and behold, there were only 3 rabbits where there should have been 5.  Bella, a yellow lab, had escaped the pen and pawed at the rabbit cage opening the cage and setting 2 bucks free.  We are hoping they turn up but to be honest, odds are not in favor of a white rabbit being able to hide very long.   We had more Californians for these folks so the kids went home happy.

Hopefully, we will have more of these blue bunnies in a week or so.

Hopefully, we will have more of these blue bunnies in a week or so.

If things go well, we will have American Blues born next week.  The American Blues are a rare heritage breed rabbit.  As the name implies, these rabbits are a beautiful gun-metal blue.  Being large rabbits, these are meat rabbits.  That being said, these also make wonderful pets as they are very docile.  I absolutely love these bunnies.  There are also white Americans and we have some of these, too.  As you can see in the picture to the right, in each litter you get a few off color one like the black bunny.  These will not be given a pedigree, but they make great pets.  When you live in the South, you need to choose rabbits with really large ears.  The ears act like radiators and cool the rabbits down.  This breed has performed very well for us over the past two summers and have had very large litters 10-12 kits (baby rabbits) in each litter.  I highly recommend this breed to anyone considering rabbits for food or pets.  A bunny or two will also produce lots of great manure for your gardens, they don’t bark, and require very little care.  Rabbits also fall under the pet category so anyone in town can enjoy these animals.

There were more Mario Kart tournaments on the Wii today.  I get so tickled listening to all of the squeals and giggles as the kids play this with their dad.  We ate leftovers today, so there wasn’t a lot of cooking today.  I did buy groceries for our Christmas celebration this weekend.  We are all so excited.  Tomorrow I plan to prep all that I can and process the dried herbs hanging in the kitchen.  I still haven’t done that- been working on the computer.  A lot of hours have been logged on the computer this week.  Today, I joined several search engines, localharvest, and updated ads on craigslist.

 

Can You Feel It In The Air…

Spinach, Chard, and Kale- not only edible but gorgeous!

The mornings of late have been cool and there is a change in the air, fall is just around the corner.  Even if we can’t trust the weather, pre-season football games have begun so really, fall is just around the corner.  With the heat breaking and rains returning, now is the time to prep your fall beds and start planning cool season crops.

First step in preparing the garden beds is to clean up what may be left over from the summer garden.  As I write this the last of the lettuce has gone to seed and looking quiet toasty.  Squash and cucumber plants are also due to be pulled up as they are well past their prime.  Of course, as the veggies fell prey to the Texas heat weeds gladly popped up and grew happily in the heat with very little water- go figure.  So, now is the time to pull weeds, clean up dead plants and feed the soil.

Regardless of the type of gardening you do- raised bed, square foot, or traditional rows- you must return to the soil what you are taking out in the form of nutrients.  The best way to do this is the use of compost.  Twice a year, at the end of summer season and just before spring planting, I take compost and spread about 4 inches on the top of each bed.  I do not worry about tuning this under because as I am planting the seeds or seedlings, enough turning over occurs.  Every time you till the soil, whether by hand or machine, you interrupt the soil biology and slow things down, so the less you disturb it the better your garden will grow.  There are a lot of beneficial bugs in the soil, such as earthworms, that will gladly come up and process the compost for you bringing the nutrients down into the soil making them ready for the roots of your new plants.  Other ways to help feed the soil is to use liberal amounts of mulch and feed your plants with a liquid fertilizer such as compost tea during the growing season. For information on compost tea follow this link: http://farmonthehill.blogspot.com/2011/10/compost-tea.html .

Now, its time to plant.  I firmly believe that the easiest gardens to grow in Texas is a fall garden.  There are so many choices.  Carrots are best planted in fall.  Some will be ready by October, definitely by November and the rest will grow happily all winter long just waiting on you to come get them.  Our ground does not freeze, so all root crops keep well for us all winter long in the ground right where you planted them.  So make good use of this and plant plenty of carrots, radishes, turnips, rutabagas and such things.

Nothing beats fresh spinach!

Turnips also fall into the category of greens.  As you wait for the turnips to ripen, you can eat on the greens of the plant ( the leaves above ground) all winter long.  You simply pick and prepare them like you would spinach.  Spinach also being my favorite green to plant in the fall.  Of course, I type that and think, “Oh, but don’t forget about Kale, that is also our favorite”.  It’s true, we love Kale and Swiss Chard and so many other greens that grow great, most not really caring if it freezes a time or two.  Most years, Kale, Spinach, Swiss Chard, and  Turnip Greens grow fabulously all winter.

Lettuce is an awesome crop for fall.  Although it may now tolerate a lot of freezing weather, it will produce really well for several months.  For fall planting, look for the varieties that are known to like the coolest of weather.  Drunken Woman (seriously) is a great variety both pretty and tasty.  Tom Thumb is great and there are many others.  Mescalin Mix is simply a mixture of lettuce, spinach, greens and so forth snipped off with scissors when they are just a few inches tall.  The great thing about this is that they will all grow back.

 Any tomato, pepper, and eggplants that you nursed through the heat of the summer will begin to produce again.  Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbages, and very short season English peas also make good choices for a fall garden.  As you can see, there is a lot of variety to be had in the winter.  It kind of make up for the fact that our veggies stop producing well at the end of summer unlike our northern neighbors that grow right on through August.  Grow something this fall, you will be glad you did!