gardening · lessons learned

Garden Dreams

Growing a beautiful garden has been a dream of mine since I don’t know when. We’ve grown little gardens here and there in the past, with very little success. I could say I have a black thumb- but the truth is I didn’t put enough time and planning into it. Even with a few plants, any kind of neglect can result in failure. Sometimes I let weeds take over or simply forgot to water.

I knew I was taking on a huge task with our garden we decided to grow here at our new home. I ordered more seeds than I should and we rented a rototiller. We spent all day tilling up a 80′ x 60′ plot (approximately). We’d had a very wet spring and we thought we’d had our last frost. Nope. It continued to freeze and rain. We had a big square of mud with way too much grass mixed in. The grass! We picked the plot because it looked like it had been a garden previously. Well if it had it was a long time ago- the grass roots run deep. A month later we still hadn’t planted our seedlings (except for the peas I put out that promptly died). The grass was taking over again. It was warming up and the ground was finally drying out. We decided to invest in our own rototiller. I wish we had just bought one to begin with but that’s hindsight for you.

Now it’s May and all of the seedlings we started are all but dead. We started over. We tilled up the garden again, brought in garden soil from the local nursery and mixed that in after the solid test showed low nutrients. (Originally we had added our composted cow manure but it wasn’t enough). I planted corn, carrots, beans, okra, squash (5 kinds), and melons.

Everything came up but the carrots. We put more seeds down. Once again it rained right after a washed the seeds away. The rain also washed away my dreams of beautiful multicolored carrots. I’m going to try again next year just need a solution to keep the seeds from washing or blowing away.

By July we had some good looking plants and a ton of grass. Weeds have not been a problem but the grass! I learned the hard way that being too aggressive with the grass could mean pulling up plants.

The zucchini started off with a bang and I had to keep a good eye on them lest they grow too big. Then I overwatered them and I had rotted veggies.

Next came cantaloupe, watermelons and spaghetti squash. I can’t tell you how gratifying it was to eat my first home grown watermelon. We were giving away melons to friends and coworkers.

I kept wondering why I hadn’t seen any cucumbers. Then one day I was out tending to the cantaloupes and saw I had tons of cucumbers- they were hiding under all of the leaves and grass! And they were mostly white and very light green. They weren’t getting enough sunlight.

The corn didn’t grow tall enough and we only had a couple of teeny ears- I gave them to the chickens.

But the okra- the okra grew beautifully and is still going! In addition to the okra we have tall beautiful sunflowers. I had planted quite a few different flowers from seed but the sunflowers are the only successes. Next year I’ll plant many more.

After a disastrous round one with tomato and pepper seedlings round two made it and I have several plants in the garden that I fenced off to keep the chickens and hopefully other critters out. The peppers keep getting attacked by something that is eating the leaves. I keep spraying them with insecticide soap but it doesn’t seem to help. I have yet to find the offending bugs. But my tomatoes are coming in y’all! Every day I inspect them for bugs and tend to them. I have many green little fruits. I’m excited and scared at the same time. Fresh tomatoes are so rewarding and delicious. And I know that other critters like them too- I’m scared I’ll go out one morning and find missing and or half eaten fruit. There’s nothing more frustrating than waiting for the tomatoes to ripen only to have them taken away before I get a chance to harvest them.

And now we are ready for round two- fall planting. The squashes and melons have been destroyed by squash bugs. Next year I’ll know the tell tale signs and stop them before they take over. Next year I’ll plant The zucchini on little hills so they can trail down. The melons and cucumbers will have cattle panels to climb. I’ll grow more beans and fertilize better. I’ll definitely plant okra again- maybe add a colorful red variety.

We got the rototiller out again and tilled up the old beds (well, just a portion) so I can plant the greens, broccolis, cauliflower and peas. My plan was to get the seeds planted for the greens and peas- but it’s raining. I’ve already learned to wait until it dries up to plant seeds. But I do have seedlings started in the house for the cabbage, broccolis abs cauliflower. Crossing my fingers we have some success this fall.

In the kitchen · lessons learned

In a pickle

Y’all- we have so many cucumbers! I planted two kinds. The bigger variety sprouted up nicely but the mini cucumbers bombed- not a single sprout. In spite of that I have more cucumbers than I’ll ever need. The funny part is, I kept asking- “when am I going to get some cucumbers?” Well, they were hiding. My garden is so overgrown and crowded (not to mention the grass snuck back in)- the poor little cukes were hiding under all that mess. Unfortunately that meant they were not getting enough sun (chlorophyll)- so they are very light green- some even white. The good news is they still taste good!

Hubby eyeballed all those cucumbers and asked when am I going to make pickles…

So I started with refrigerator pickles. Basically it’s sliced up cucumber in a brine of salt, sugar and vinegar. Really they are just marinated cucumbers without the oil. They are pretty tasty but I worry I made too many.

Next time I make them I think I’ll omit the sugar. According to the recipe they last a week.

But we needed to make REAL pickles- like the kind you use a canner for. I started with Google and this is what I learned- water canning (aka an extra big pot with a lid) is for canning high acid content fruits like tomatoes, pickles, jams and jellies. If you want to can low acid veggies like green beans, peas- etc- you need a pressure canner (the scarier and more expensive pot). Also any kind of meat needs to be canned in a pressure canner.

I checked out Amazon, ready to just order from them instead of checking out Walmart. Glad I decided to check out Walmart before making my online purchase. It was waaay cheaper to buy the water canner at Walmart. We found a canner pot (which included the basket you can use to lift the jars out with), a canning tool set with the jar lifter, funnel, and some other handy items that I can’t remember the names of off the top of my head. We also bought pint jars and extra lids. You can reuse the jars and screw on rings, but the lids can only be used once in order to have a proper seal (muy importante!)”

I cleaned and sliced the cucumbers into wedges and made the brine. My dill didn’t come up in my garden so I had to buy some fresh dill. Unfortunately I didn’t realize I needed more so I had to be sparing with the dill when I added it to the jars. Apparently the dried dill I have in the spice cabinet shouldn’t be used because it clouds up the brine in the jars. Whole dill seeds can be used as well, but I didn’t have any at the time.

I spent all evening working on the pickles- there are so many steps! The jars have to be sterilized and then packed just so. There has to be ample head room (the pickling kit I bought came with a ruler to measure). I ended up taking the lids back off a couple of times because I forgot to remove air bubbles or I didn’t think the head room space was sufficient. The actual processing of the jars in the canner was the easiest part. After they were done I carefully lined them up on a kitchen towel on the counter. I was so pleased how they looked like real pickles.

Clean up took a hot minute. When I was done I sat in bed with a good book as it was almost bed time. Then I heard “pop”! I had a bad feeling so I got up to check on my jars. I heard another pop and checked the lids- most of them were bouncy- meaning when I pushed down they popped back up. I felt so defeated. I went to bed thinking I was going to have to reprocess them in the morning.

The next morning I checked the jars. No bouncing! The jars were all properly sealed! I guess they were just releasing pressure. I proudly put my jars away in the pantry. Lesson learned here- some things take practice and patience is key.

Next up is pickled okra!

chickens · Farmers wife life · gardening · lessons learned

Apologies and Lessons Learned

Good morning. It’s been a while since I have posted. I am very embarrassed to be honest. I have had so much to say and write about, but haven’t taken the time. I apologize for my absence.

A lot has happened since February. Weather-wise it is a completely different landscape. We had a very long winter (felt like it would never end), a teeny little spring and then we were hit square in the face with summer. This is Tennessee so we are talking hot and muggy!

Did we have chickens last time I posted? I don’t think so. We started out on our farm with our dogs and cats, two calves and two Pygmy goats. Since then we have added 16 chickens and two ducks. Two days ago we were awarded with our first egg.

It was such an exciting feeling to find that little egg! Yesterday we had two more. Maybe today there will be three? I do now know what all that clucking was about.

We’ve also made a big garden. It has begun to give us lots of produce- such a rewarding feeling. Speaking of the garden, I must hurry and finish this post because I need to get out there and start working before it is too hot. It is already 87 on the heat index and it isn’t even 8am yet.

The second part of my blog post title is lessons learned. There are so many (lessons we have learned). I’m going to start posting them weekly. The big ones that come to the front of mind are:

1. Prevention is key

2. Knowing what to prevent is also key

3. How to prevent x, y, and z are important as well.

This applies to the garden, the animals and our house. I’ll talk about it all later. I promise to post more often. I must tend to my garden now- the grass is taking over! (Hint hint on that prevention discussion).

Farmers wife life · spring

So in love with our little farm

This little panoramic video is taken from my front yard. We spent the day shopping for pasture seed, a spreader and more seeds for the garden. Afterwards we pruned trees and burned all the trimmings and dead leaves we raked up. I don’t know why but pruning trees gives me such satisfaction. Our poor hazelnut tree was choking from all the tiny mini trees trying to grow all around it. CB and I spent at least 3 hours or more working on cleaning out all the tiny trees and branches. That was the most difficult tree but the most satisfying. There’s still a little birds nest in there too- hopefully we see baby birds in there this spring or summer.

Spring fever is in full swing!! Daffodils have been popping up everywhere. I told hubby yesterday we are in store for many surprises this spring (hopefully all good). We have bushes and trees that we haven’t identified yet. I do see many blooms getting ready to open.

CB and have begun planting seeds in our makeshift indoor greenhouse (basically an old entertainment tower with glass shelves). We are starting with lettuce and herbs. We are waiting for the ground to dry up a little so we can till up the garden with out getting the equipment stuck in the mud. But it’s been raining like crazy! Now that everything is starting to turn green again, I can forgive the rain a little.

It’s that time of the year where it feels like we are making the switch from black and white to color TV. (For the younger generation- not all TVs were color back in the day). The drab landscape was starting to really bring me down- it feels like such a long winter. I know it could be worse so I have tried not to complain too much.

Last night I did not want to go inside. I sat out front watching the fire, listening to the dogs bark and the crickets and cicadas sing. To top off a beautiful day I was presented with a glorious Tennessee sunset. As I watched in awe I felt a sense of peace of come over me and in my head I heard a voice say “Be still, and know that I am God.” My eyes welled up with tears. I have not felt so happy and at peace in a long time. I knew I was finally home.

As a Navy wife, I know nothing lasts forever. I have to make my happy wherever I end up. We plan on staying here indefinitely. Whether we do or don’t- I am making the most of this wonderful experience as long as I can. Right now this feels so right, like it was meant to be.


Rain rain go away

As you can see our Holstein calf is putting on weight and doing much better. He still coughs from time to time. I have a feeling he will always do that. He talks to us now- especially when it’s feeding time. We give them a little bit of calf starter every evening and they look forward to it.

This rain is drowning us! Of course we had no idea that flooding would be an issue with our barn so we weren’t prepared. We poured some concrete last Friday and put in a drain. So now the middle stays dry but that stalls along the sides still flood. Last night the honey and CB poured more concrete. We have rain non stop in the forecast this whole week so we will see how that goes. The only saving grace is that it’s not freezing cold right now. I can always tell when it’s warmed up outside because I’ll find a spider or two trying to sneak in the house via the mud room door.

Now we have to plan for our garden. It’s going to be fun hard work. I hope I don’t kill everything!

Cattle · Farmers wife life · puppies

Snow much fun!

We had our second snow storm of the year. It’s so beautiful but darn cold. Brownie (chocolate lab) and Atticus (Australian Shepherd) absolutely love the snow. But our little rescue dog Peanut (not pictured) has no fur nor meat on his bones to keep him warm. He went for a run out in the pasture but ended up with frozen paws and we had to take him in and warm him up. I’m seriously considering getting him booties and see if he’ll wear them. Poor little guy is from SoCal- he’s not meant for the snow!

Our barn kitty- Mamasita – has put on a beautiful fur coat. She hangs out in front of the barn watching the other animals in the snow. She has been coming in at night though to sleep in the mud room. It’s been too cold to make her sleep outside. She’s seems to appreciate it and is ready to head out in the morning when I go down to the barn.

While I’m like looking forward to warmer weather- I am dreading the mud and our barn flooding again. The good news is that we made friends with a local farmer down the road. He has a nice big tractor he’s going to bring out to help build the ground level back up in the barn so it will stop flooding. People are so friendly and helpful here. Makes me happy we moved to Tennessee. I see a lot of baking in my future to pay back the kindness.

I’ll sign off here as I continue to unpack and organize. Since I can’t work and am stuck in the house I have to keep busy! I can’t wait until it warms up enough to start painting the kitchen cabinets!

Farmers wife life · puppies

Let me in!

Don’t let this picture fool you, he LOVES being outside. Our Australian Shepherd – Atticus- is almost 6 months old and a lover of cold weather. I wish I could say that I love the weather. Not! I hate being cold, it makes me a miserable whiner. And I hate turning on the heat because it runs up the utilities and it dries the air out even more. I have painful cracks on my hands- which is bad because I’m a massage therapist. My daughter CB is hoping for snow but I am hoping against it. I feel like it is coming though. We have been spared so far. It’s probably our turn here in Tennessee.

But this sweet puppy loves the cold weather and for his sake I’ll stand a little snow. He will have a ball. This summer I’m afraid he’ll be the miserable one when the heat and humidity hit. Then he will for sure be asking to come inside!

Let’s just hope if we do get snow it’s short lived. Please?