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.

A Season of Transition- Are We There Yet?

tran·si·tion
noun
  1. the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.
My handsome flight medic
My handsome flight medic

This has been the definition of our lives over the past three years.  In reality, we are all in a constant state of transition as nothing stays the same.  We either move forward or we deteriorate.  However, so often the change is small and not so noticeable and then there are those times where change is monumental.

Our first monumental change was Tony retiring from Mother Francis where he had been employed as a paramedic first on the ambulance and then as a flight medic for 16 years.  Given that our oldest was only 17, this was the only thing our children remembered Tony ever doing.  This was a good change, but scary.  We started our business selling plants, shrubs, and herbs- what was then called The Farm On Holly’s Hill.  I was so glad to have him home and not working so many hours  and being so tired all the time. We could be together everyday and sleep in the same bed every night.  I have never regretted making this change not that it was easy.  We have worked very hard.

What I did not know , was that once Tony quit flying and working in the field of emergency medicine, he began suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Now, his was not so severe that he could not function but he began having nightmares and night sweats about all that he had seen and heard.  His sleep was horrible, he would hear the buzzer go off in his head and then be up all night because of the adrenaline rush that this triggered.  It was a rough year and for the most part I had no idea.  I am a heavy sleeper and he is good at keeping things from me if he thinks it will cause me to worry.  When he did tell me- after the trouble had passed- I said, “Why didn’t you tell me? I could have been nice to you on those days and not fussed so much.” To that he replied, ” I just wanted things to be normal.”  Oh, maybe I should work on “normal” a bit, huh?

I write all this, not because I want sympathy but to say that if you have a loved one working in this field be aware that they see so much more than they will ever talk about.  Just know that even if they haven’t been in combat, there has been trauma.  Tony would probably not really like me posting this because he is a very private person and keeps most stuff inside.  But he deserves a lot of credit for how long he worked helping people.  The average tenure is his field is 2 years, he stayed for 16.  This makes him a virtual legend, the old guy.

Now, we are in our third year with the business and have changed the name to Hollyberry Herb Farm.  Not only did we change the name but also our focus.  This spring was the first year that we did not sell shrubs but focused mainly on herbs.  This has been a great change, one that I have really enjoyed.  Instead of flea markets and trades days, we sell at the farmer’s market every Saturday.

Last October, our oldest moved out for school.  We moved farms in March leaving behind the house we had lived in for the past 13 years.  Savannah graduated from High school.  Both girls move into an apartment in Athens next week and will attend college there.  So, I have gone from home schooling four children to two children in a 12 month period.

What I hope to be the last monumental change for us for awhile is that Tony has been hired by Amazon.com and will be working full time off the farm again.  We both knew the season had passed for him being home full-time working only a part time job on the side.  He will be a medical representative at a major warehouse, kind of like a school nurse.  No more working in the field, he will have air conditioning, set hours, and private sector pay.  Tony has certainly earned it.  I am so happy for him.  As I write this, he has just landed in Phoenix Arizona where he will be in training for 3 weeks.  I hate having him gone for that long, but it is only temporary, an uncomfortable step to something far better.

Now, I would really like to just settle down.  Develop a rhythm with the two kiddos still at home, work my gardens and sell my herbs- that would be on my list of wishes.  We shall see.  I can’t foresee any more major changes to come.  Well, I say that when- you have a daughter that is 20 you could have some major changes popping up if some one pops the question but there are no candidates at this time so I think we are safe- for a while.

Goodness, when I read back over this realize just why I have been so tired lately.  I need to rest!  And rest I will, Sierra , I, and Jonathan will be headed to Galveston next week.  We will miss the rest of the bunch something fierce, but it will help pass the time while their dad is away.  I get happy just thinking about it.  There is nothing more soothing than the sound of waves rolling in to the beach.

What changes are you facing?

Off To Whispering Pines (the butcher)

Today was the day!  We have been looking forward to this for months.  Effie the Pig and the heifer ( and I mean that in EVERY sense of the word) went to Whispering Pines today.  Shortly, we will have a freezer full of good clean meat.  Meat having been raised on love, clean water, lots of grass and in the case of Effie, lots of kitchen scraps and melons too far gone for us to eat.

I am often asked, “How can you eat your animals, animals that you know?”  Well, I must admit that sometimes it is hard.  Francis Bacon was a pig that I loved.  I patted him as we unloaded him and told him thank you.  Effie, she was another story and pig all together.  You see, some animals push your buttons and make life miserable.  As you chase those animals around the farm, through your gardens, and out of the sheds – you find yourself thinking, ” I can’t wait to eat you!” Really, some animals are so determined to upend  a farm’s balance and happiness that you even have ideas of just getting the shotgun and having roast pig luau style.  I keep using pigs as an example and that should tell you something.  Effie was one of those animals that was made for pulled pork sandwiches. So when she got out of the trailer, with much ado and drama I must say, I was like “Good riddance and don’t let the screen door hit you in the behind on the way out.”  Very kind and loving, I know.  But until you have chased a pig in  Texas summer heat not once but three times in 5 days- don’t judge me.

In all honesty, I do take this seriously.  The fact is that it takes life to sustain life.  I am grateful to the animals that feed my family.  I show them this by providing shelter, good food and clean water and plenty of kindness.  They lead a joyous life, even if their joy is derived from causing me to cuss a blue streak, until the day they die and they never saw it coming.  Most humans can’t say that about their own lives.  Everyone has a job and purpose in life, farm animals are no different.

Most folks have problems with knowing the animals that they eat because in their minds they only have two files- Pet & Wildlife.  The reality is that there are three files- Pet, Wildlife, and Food.  All of our animals are stewarded as best we know how and treated humanly every step of the way.  Some are destined to a long life as a breeder (which are sometimes considered pets and sometimes considered family members) and some will have a much shorter life and are destined for the freezer.

The butcher we use is very important to us.  When you have taken the time to raise your own meat and treat the livestock in a certain manner, you want to know that they are handled humanly in the end.  We do not have the resources to process the large animals we raise so we take them to Whispering Pines.  This is a Mennonite community that are committed to peace.  You might not agree with their philosophy, but that peace and calmness permeate the place and even the animals feel it.  Cattle are very jumpy critters when stressed and will cause quite a ruckus.  Every time we have taken our cattle in, they have trotted onto the scales and then right on out to the holding pen with 5 or 6 other steers just standing there like everyone took a large dose of Valium before they arrived.  This is a wonderful bunch of folks and they make certain that you get the meat from the animal that you brought in to the shop.  It makes it so much easier to leave you animals when you can do business with people like these.

So, the circle of life goes on and I am looking forward to getting the lard from our pig.  I have never requested the lard before so this will be a new experience.  I hear tell that baked goods made with lard and just addictive they are so good.  We shall see!

Jonathan making pork chopsFried Pork Chops- a Southern Love.  Can’t wait for Jonathan to cook us up some more!

 

Pardon Me, But What State Are We In?

A state of dismay?  Or a state of confusion? Maybe a state of denial, but this can’t be the state of Texas!  We set a new record last week of the coldest nights we have had since the early 1900’s.  That my friend, is a record I do not care to repeat.  My tomatoes and squash are very confused and are not growing at  all, waiting on the warm days and nights that are supposed to be the norm in May. However, when you live in Texas and you know what is coming in one of our Texas summers, you hate to complain about cool weather.

But, that is Texas.  The weather is very unpredictable and you just have to put on your big girl panties and deal with it.  I have been keeping the peppers and eggplants in the greenhouse until this week.  Surely, this was the last cool snap we will have- but I have said that every week since Easter.  There are watermelons, cantaloupes, and bush beans waiting to come out as well, so this week will be planting week.  The new chicken house should also be completed by the end of the week.

Rain, cold, and wind did not stop a great bunch of gardeners from coming out to buy herbs and roses on Thursday.  We had a good time chatting about herbs, container gardens and vertical gardening.   Master Gardeners are just great people.

Friday the inside of the house is got some much needed attention and then I met Tony in Tyler for some R&R.  We went to the Tyler Rose Garden- yes, even my down time revolves around gardening- and truly stopped to smell the roses.  This was his idea and I am so grateful for his ability to but on the brakes and un-plug.  When I mention how busy the farm is during the spring, do not mistake that for a complaint or a cross to bare- I love it.  But, that said, no matter what your profession or job you must take time off to just enjoy something with no deadlines or demands.  Even when mothering was my primary job and all the kids were little, we took time off.  Not necessarily without the children, we would go camping or a day trip to the river anywhere where the kids could run and explore and I could just enjoy them and God’s creation.  This will feed your soul and enable you to give more when you get back.  We must take care of our hearts, life is futile if we do not tend to our hearts.

I hope you all have a wonderful week! And do something, anything, that will feed your soul and your heart.

One of the many wonderful roses I smelled. The Dark Lady Rose
One of the many wonderful roses I smelled.
The Dark Lady Rose

Snakes & Smoke & All Of That…

The morning dawned cold (for Texas) and I thought it would be so nice to start a fire in the wood burning stove so the kids could wake to a cozy family room and have a warm spot to cuddle by.  I am not sure what happened, but instead of being woke up gently with warmth from the stove the kids woke to the sound of the smoke alarm with the house filled with eye-stinging haze.  Then to clear the smoke we had to open the windows and turn on the ceiling fans.  For whatever reason the log in the stove refused to flame up but just kept smoking incesently.  The moment came when I looked at my kids and said,”Don’t ever do this” and then forced the very well lit and hot log out of the stove into a box which was then delivered to the burn pile where it smoked for hours.

So, began our day.  It was a good day, especially for Jonathan as we found three snakes during our gardening.  I personally hate snakes and have a crazy fear of them.  If you would like some laughs at my expense, you can read all about my fear of snakes on that link above.  The first two were baby snakes and nothing more than harmless garden snakes which are so good to have around that I leave them be.  You don’t have to worry about me killing a snake before I know what kind it is- I don’t stick around long enough to know.  I high-tail it out of wherever I am & the snake happens to be and yell for one of the kids.  Yes, you read that right I have my children do the snake killing.  I am the kind of mom that will lay down my own life for my children- until we meet a snake and then you are on your own.  Unless the child is still small enough for me to carry and then I run away with the child.

The third snake, however, was not so small.  Last week the young man who works for me dug holes for the Camellias I am planting along the fence.  Being such a full week I hadn’t had time to put those in the ground so I just dropped pot and all into the hole.  By dropping the pot and all into the hole it kept the wonderful rain from filling the hole back in before I could get the plant planted.  As it turns out, this also gave a good spot for a snake to take up residence.  I pulled the Camellia out, dropped it in my lap, pulled it our of its pot and tore up some of the roots.  I then leaned over the hole knocked some soil in and went to stick my hand in too.  Then I spotted him, coiled up in the hole hissing at me.  Glory Hallelujah I just about had a heart attack.

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I then called for Jonathan, my resident dragon slayer.  He got his 4-10 and blew the snake’s head off, J is a dynamite good shot.  I would have left the snake alive except that it was colored like a water moccasin and acting aggressive.  I understand the fear the snake was feeling- I was feeling the same way.  But, we couldn’t take a chance and J shot him dead.  Literally, he blew his head off and nothing more so then the snake became a homeschooling science project.  With the trusted field guide to North American reptiles, we determined that it was a yellow-bellied water snake- harmless except for the heart attack and self inflicted injury you incur while trying to get away.  As the kids dissected the snake they found a frog in its stomach.  The snake was then skinned and that skin pinned to a board to dry in the sun.  Jonathan could not understand why Sierra would not even think about letting him bring that into the room that they share.  It seems that smells do not bother 11 year old boys.  So, J will decorate his fort with the skin. Effie the Pig got the rest of the snake, as it turns out water snakes must not taste too good- she didn’t really like it.

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If you look close, you can see the frog on the ground at the end of J’ s knife.

As the boys and girl took the snake apart I got back to my work which was planting the Camellia and raking all the leaves and sweet gum balls up to use as mulch on my tomatoes.  There are about 30 tomato plants in the garden now and all of  them have a layer of cardboard mulch covered by a thick layer of leaves and compost.  Every time I raked and hit a stick which made leaves move I jumped.  Needless to say, I was a bit nervous for the rest of the day.  For all I knew, there could be another snake lurking about.

C, the young man who works for me, did great work putting in the brick edging for the knew path ways.  Now, the gardens in the front of the house are starting to take shape.  These beds are located under large shade trees so we have been planting a lot of azaleas, camellias, hostas, and vinca.  There is enough sunshine for Iris and day lilies to bloom so those will be added.  Sometimes, I fuss at myself for spending time on the “unproductive” gardens when there is still much to do in the veggie gardens and herb beds.  But with the rain, which is wonderful, those area were too wet to work and the great majority of the herbs are planted.  I still have Basil to plant but the weather keeps dipping down to very cool and I am gun-shy about planting it just yet. I just love my work!

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Now for today- errands to run in Tyler and more planting to be done.  I will have more seed trays of Basil done along with cuttings from oregano & mint.  We have been very busy and it is time for new crops of herbs to get going.  Hopefully today will be a snake free day.

So what gets your heart racing?  Snakes, spiders, mice?

My Honey Isn’t Feeling Too Good…

Tony loves to hunt.
Tony loves to hunt.

Tony has been sick, to be honest sometimes it is hard for me to be compassionate when he is sick.  The trouble arises from the fact that when I am sick, Tony totally deviates from his usual way.  Normally, Tony would go to the moon and back if I wanted something.  I am spoiled and I know it.  But when I am sick it is a whole different story.  He can be such a jerk.  For example, when I had just had my wisdom teeth cut out and we were in the car on the way home, he looks over at me and asks “What’s for dinner?”  Given that I had cotton packs stuffed up in my mouth, I had to resort to sign language to reply….  Tony doesn’t know sign language but I am pretty sure he understood and nothing was lost in translation.

Well, we have both come a long way since then.  Tony is a great guy and for those of you that know me- you know that he puts up with a lot more than I do.  Thankfully, he is on the rebound and didn’t get as bad as I was two weeks ago.  And I must say, Tony was perfectly sweet during that time.  He took off yesterday but was back work.  I was glad for him to get home.

Sierra and I made a trip to the library today.  We stopped at Old Navy, she didn’t find anything.  She is going to be a page in Austin, our capital this spring and we are looking for business professional clothes.  But when you are tiny and long legged that can be a tall order.

Herbs were bumped today- Borage, Milk Thistle, Annis-Hyssop,  and Dill are now in 4 inch cups.  More Dill, Basil, Mullein and more are waiting for me on Wednesday.

More Sleet? No, Thanks, I Have Had Enough

“Was that thunder?” Tony asked me before dawn.  It was and I won’t complain about more rain, but the sleet and ice I can do without!  So, Tuesday was a wet one for us.  The temp hovered around freezing all day which led to icicles forming on the sheds and barn.  Jonathan loves it, he gets to bash the ice on the tops of the waterers and he gets good things out of Sierra for doing her chores.

What a lovely brown egg in the pocket of my coat!
What a lovely brown egg in the pocket of my coat!

I was surprised when I looked out of the window and our red suburban looked like a red ice cube.  I then realized that if I didn’t start the car for Savannah she would be late for her college classes from trying to scrape the ice off.  The door to the car almost didn’t open as the ice had coated it thoroughly.  As I was taking of the Carthart when I got back inside, I ran my hand over the pocket and felt what I thought was an Easter Egg, then it dawned on me that Savannah had checked for eggs wearing that coat and had forgot to get the egg out.  I am so glad that it did not bust, thank heavens for strong shells!

Sorting seeds and straining herbal oils was the business of the day.  Rainy weather makes for perfect weather for sorting seeds and getting them into packages.  I have been recovering from a respiratory illness and the occasional cough or sneeze still sneak up on me unannounced.  Well, one hit while I was cleaning Texas Tarragon seed.  I sneezed and seed went everywhere!  You just gotta laugh.  So I cleaned them all up and carried on.  Citronella oil was ready to be strained.  Actually it had been ready for a couple of weeks, but I had not made time for it.  So, it is strained and ready to go.  Citronella makes for a great insect replant when used as an infused oil.  I made a small batch last summer and was very pleased with the results.  Jonathan was happy as well, he is like a mosquito magnet- must be because he is so sweet.

The oil takes on a lovely green color from citronella.
The oil takes on a lovely green color from citronella.

The other usual stuff around here- homeschooling and dinner.  Roast Turkey, potatoes, and salad are on the menu for tonight.  Just waiting on Tony to get home for super.  Well, the weather report calls for more chances of snow and rain, oh goody.  Thursday is looking like sunshine- I hope so!  This Texas girl has had all the winter I care to have.  Rain or not, I do enjoy homeschooling, herb farming, and being with my family.

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?

The Weather Is Teasing Us & So Are The Goats

Feeding Geese at the park
Feeding Geese at the park

Both today and yesterday were spring like, making us long for the cold to be gone for good!  But alas, rain moves in tomorrow and cool temps follow bringing another couple of mornings below freezing.  But the weathermen have missed it before, so maybe it won’t get so cold.  One can hope…

We certainly took advantage of the balmy days.  Yesterday found us at the park feeding geese and walking in the sun around the park’s lake.  It was so nice.  Sierra still loves to swing and Jonathan loves the merry-go-round.  He had a bit of a mishap on it and landed in the mud puddle.  Then it was time to go home.

Sierra Anne
Sierra Anne

The last of the chickens for sale were picked up this morning.  I sold about six more than I planned but that was Sierra’s fault.  She heard me telling Tony that I had recieved another call from a buyer- but he wanted a dozen hens and I didn’t want to sell that many.  Sierra then asked me how much hen’s are costing at First Monday (a huge flea market here in Canton) I replied, “$10.00”  then she asked how much we were selling our for, “$12.00” I replied.   I was feeling quite proud that I was getting such a good price for my very lovely birds.  She then said, “So, sell him yours and go buy more and you will still make money on the ones you sell.”  Shrewd little business woman she is, I took her advice and sold some chickens.  Then I went and bought chicken feed.  I love it when the animals pay their own way!

While outside in the sunshine, I took time to tend the chicken house.  It was time for some lime.  I hate to use it in the chicken house because I am concerned that too much won’t be good for then hens when they scratch it up.  So, I only apply it under the roosts where the poop really builds up and then I bury it under 6-8 inches of shavings.  This seems to keep everything in balance.  If you have chickens and the coop smells, it is not the chickens, but the management that is to blame.  With adequate space for the chickens, deep litter, a thorough cleaning once or twice a year everyone will be healthy, happy, and odorless.  The biggest challenge will be under the night-time roosts.  Chickens poop A LOT when they sleep.

Six week old Barred Rock chicks, by fall these girls will be laying eggs.
Six week old Barred Rock chicks, by fall these girls will be laying eggs.

Once the coop was tended, we turned our attention to the herbs.  We filled close to 100 gallon size pots that are now awaiting lemon grass starts and calendula seedlings.  Eight trays are now filled and ready to receive the next batch of seedlings- which will probably be Tashkent Marigolds.  I then got about 40 trays ready to be filled, each tray holds 20 cups.  Those aren’t big numbers, but I was glad to get them done.  Come Monday, all the trays will be filled with compost and all the other trays will be prepped for filling.  What is hard to believe is that in just six weeks all these cups will be filled and home to plants and ready to be someone’s garden.  It’s about to get CRAZY around here.  Since the silly goats have not had babies yet, they are probably going to wait until I am smack in the busy season and then kid.  Stinkers.

One thing I know, farm kids know how to work.Sierra, Savannah and Jonathan helping me fill trays.
One thing I know, farm kids know how to work.
Sierra, Savannah and Jonathan helping me fill trays.

Saturday is an early day, I am going to a cheese making class!  This class is a Christmas present from Tony.  I have been wanting to make cheese from our goat milk for quite awhile.  While in Winnsboro, I will stop by Jersey Girl Dairy and get some fresh, raw milk.  The milk from this dairy is really good.  Now, if the goats will only kid out I will be in business.  So, off to bed for me.

Kandi our fist goat and her baby, Kit Kat.  Kandi is bread and will have babies one day...
Kandi our fist goat and her baby, Kit Kat. Kandi is bred and will have babies one day…
Geraniums in the greenhouse.
Geraniums in the greenhouse.