All posts by Valerie Wills

The best marinara

August on the farm is kind of boring. We can’t spend much time out there because it’s dangerously hot. So when we go, I quickly water the garden, squish bugs, maybe do some laundry, and then get back to the air conditioning as fast as I can.

In lieu of farm posts and photos, I think I’ll type up some of my favorite recipes. Here’s my favorite marinara recipe. It’s nearly essential to make this in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet.

1 large yellow onion, diced
Coconut oil
1 lb lean ground beef (grass-fed tastes best)
3 cloves garlic, diced
3 15 oz cans diced or crushed tomatoes – do not drain
spices to taste: salt (about 1.5tsp), dried basil, dried oregano, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes
Optional: 1/2 cup red wine

Heat the oil in your cast iron pan over medium-high heat for about three minutes. Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the ground beef and saute until done. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes (with juices) spices, and wine. The amount of each spice is entirely up to you, but don’t skimp on the salt.

Simmer on low until the water and wine has reduced to about 1/4 of the original volume. Serve over any noodle of your choice, or zucchini noodles, with plenty of Parmesan and crusty bread.

Two steps forward, one step back

We aren’t feeling as stuck as we were a couple weeks ago, but we do feel like we’ve made progress both forwards and backwards.

We’ve been talking to some concrete contractors. One of them has been really helpful. He offered to bid on our piers, and quoted us a number far below the helical piers. That was great news! However, when he looked at the plans we had engineered, he discovered that they are very much overengineered for what we need. He said that if he built the foundation as it is in the blueprints, it would cost over $35,000 and he would not be able to do the work because of the specialized equipment necessary.

$35,000 is WAY TOO MUCH for a shop foundation, by the way!!!

The contractor then told us about certain elements of the design that are, in his very experienced estimation, completely unnecessary, and advised us to get a second opinion on the engineering. He couldn’t rewrite the plans because he’s not a licensed engineer. We are going to do that; first we have to have the second firm come drill a soil sample, and then they will have a look at our plans. That’ll take a couple weeks.

And while these conversations are all happening, our Excursion broke down. We knew it was having some trouble, and we were very glad it chose to break down in town five minutes from a Ford dealership with a diesel mechanic on staff! Just the day before we’d been using the truck at the farm, and it would have been much harder to get it towed from the farm! The diagnosis was that two of the eight fuel injectors had gotten stuck open. Plus the high pressure oil pump was all but shot. This was very expensive, and because it’s our farm vehicle, we had to use farm money to fix it. Which means we don’t have the money to build our foundation/plumbing/septic system any more.

When Andrew told me this, I started crying. This setback was a hard one to accept. Our girls (who are 5&3) were with me and saw that I was upset, and asked what was wrong. I said, “Well sweeties, the truck broke and we have to pay a lot of money to fix it. So now we don’t have enough money to build on our farm and be able to move there.” They put their heads together and whispered for a few seconds, then piped up, “You can have our money! We have some in our piggy bank!”

And then I was crying all over again!

Feeling stuck

Today is a day we feel stuck. We’ve committed that the next thing we do is get our RV moved to the farm so that we can begin our life in Paradise. However, there are obstacles we have yet to overcome, and some days are discouraging. Today is one of those days.

The next step is a multifaceted step. We need a septic system, which requires plumbing, which requires the forms for the barn foundation to be in place, which requires hiring a concrete contractor. And we’re finding that although we anticipated it would cost $x, and saved $x plus extra, it’s looking like it’ll cost about twice what we anticipated. We don’t have that saved yet. Because all of the construction is so interdependent on every other piece, we can’t start any of the next steps until we have all of the money to pay all four contractors. Plus all the concrete companies are apparently so busy in the summer months that no one has even called us back to express interest in getting us a quote.

In addition to this, if we can’t get the money saved up and spent by the end of the year, dear old Uncle Sam will charge us a hefty fine (aka tax) to have the money sitting in our bank account rather than spending it on the farm.

Fortunately, we have a meeting with our financial adviser already scheduled for this week. I can’t tell you how important it is to have experts on your team, and our financial adviser is perfect for us. We usually leave her office feeling much more positive about our financial future, with a good plan that we can implement.

In the meantime, we visit the farm about twice a week, and enjoy the garden, and the quiet, and being able to hang laundry on the clothesline. But we are so looking forward to the day when we don’t have to drive back to our trailer at the RV park!

So peaceful.

Adorable little frog Andrew found.

Yesterday’s harvest. Yes, the worm was part of my harvest. Extra protein right? Ok no no no, I cut that nasty thing in half after I took the picture.

Picture post

I’ve been working on this draft for a week and I can’t make it have a cohesive theme. So here’s some pictures of things growing and happening on the farm.

My favorite garden rock is apparently very motivational. This wasn’t staged at all – the zucchini really grew like that!

I planted some of these morning glories on one of the fences and didn’t expect much. But WOW.

Our driveway is graveled and we are loving it!

The cucumber plants are producing nicely!

We got a ton of dirt work done!

Happy birthday, Fields of Green!

Today marks the one year anniversary of when we bought the farm! So many wonderful things have happened – here’s a look at where we are now.

We have a pumpkin growing in the garden.

Emily’s my great clothespin helper when we hang laundry.

Doing laundry is NOT a chore when this is what I get to look at!

The garden is producing beautifully.

I’m learning about new pests…

And we have new friends as well.

I found this little guy in the girls’ wading pool! It was easy to capture as it played dead when I reached for it.

I took it to the pond and let it go, but not before taking a couple of pictures of how beautiful it was.

Ellie found a dancing partner in the corn patch…

All in all, from my perspective, the farm gets better every day! We are so grateful for it.

Grading and gravel, part 2

After a couple days of digging dirt and moving it around, we were ready to put down some gravel. It was really fun to see it come together!

One of the first places that got gravel was the breezeway between the containers. Our Bobcat guy did a great job grading the dirt and then spreading gravel. It’s a wonderful place to park vehicles and have meals now! Andrew found some long pipes in one of our fields and they fit perfectly across the top – he’s going to figure out a way to mount some tarps or canvas up there and make it a nice shady area.

Heading out of the driveway is so much nicer! This was all dirt down to the gate.

This is the site for the barn, completely level! Brad suggested we let it sit a month to see how it’s going to settle before we proceed with drilling piers and doing the concrete.

And now for pictures of my cute offspring. Emily was enjoying some grapes after swimming.

Ellie helped pull a funny carrot.

Emily did a great job helping water the corn!

Both of them wanted to get into a trench to help Daddy fix up some pipes.

Ellie got to have a turn steering the excavator too! She was so thrilled.

Most of the sunflowers that have started blooming are Lemon Queens or Mammoth, which are all bright yellow. And then there’s this beauty – I just love it!

Grading and gravel, part 1

Last week we spent nearly every day at the farm doing construction work. It was exhausting and exhilarating! We started the dirt work for the driveway, parking lot, breezeway, and barn pad. Lots of dirt needed to be dug up and moved.

Andrew rented an excavator first thing Monday morning.

The first thing he did was start to move the pieces of the barn – they were jumbled up and messy, so he was sorting them into the order they’ll need to be in in order to erect it. And he found a friend!

I’m in a super awesome group on Facebook about snake ID in north Texas which has taught me a lot about snakes. Based on his description of the snake and seeing the 4-5′ long skin, I guessed it was a coachwhip. And I was right – one of the herpetologists in the group confirmed that we have a western coachwhip. I’m so happy – these are terrific rodent control and they even eat venomous snakes.

Andrew dug and dug and dug. This is one of the many trenches he put in for water and conduit.

I helped glue pipe together, which is a very smelly job. Neither of us likes the smell of the primer or the cement; it tends to give us headaches.

Most of the work was done to the north of the container building.

We put one big trench in down by the driveway, though, for the gate controller and future keypad. Ellie was very happy to help and we were happy to have her help!

Things that are nice to look at

There are so many beautiful, wonderful things to look at on the farm!

Like the first tomato from plants I started myself from seed!

This hilarious garden rock that my goofball baby sister painted (and I LOVE it).

Volunteer acorn squash!

Tiny carrots (which were delicious and didn’t even make it into the house)

The corn patch, which got some fertilizer, pea seeds, and a mulch of grass clippings.

Hugelkultur bed #1, with most of the pea plants pulled, and many Lemon Queen sunflowers already!

Hugelkultur bed #2, also with Lemon Queen sunflowers and pink and red beans.

Hugelkultur bed #3, which is the prettiest of all, thanks to the profusion of wildflowers that grows all around it.

My adorable husband doing his geek thing on top of his container office.

I mean, really. What a magnificent place.


Updates to our plans

Surely someone in this wide world of ours has some pithy quote about making plans only to have them change constantly. The past couple months have been a period of intense work for Andrew and lots of waiting for me. He’s had a ton of work for our IT company, and hasn’t had much time or brainpower to direct to the farm projects. Now, however, we are emerging from that phase ready to tackle the next projects on the farm.

We have four things we need to accomplish in order to move our fifth wheel out.
-Grade dirt, for the driveway, for water retention, and for the barn
-Lay gravel for the driveway from the gate to the containers, and for a parking lot north of the container building
-The foundation for the barn, which encompasses getting more helical piers installed, laying plumbing, and hiring a company to do the forms, rebar, and pouring the concrete
-Build a septic system

We’ve learned a LOT! Today, for instance, we learned that we thought we could build the septic system and then tie the barn plumbing into it. But it should be done the other way around; the plumbing for the barn and RV should be at least roughly in place before the septic goes in so that the flow goes properly.

We decided to hire a septic company to do the septic system. We thought we could do it ourselves, but we just don’t know all we need to know about dirt and effluent and plumbing. Plus, Andrew’s time is far more valuable to us when he’s applying it to his business.

This week we intended to get the dirt work started. Instead we got 2+ inches of rain. Next week looks much drier, though, and we are excited about tearing up some dirt in order to get the gravel put in place!

Delicious things

Here are some wonderful things we’ve been growing and eating!

I grew onions at the trailer park. Ellie helped me pull a couple for pizza – but she clearly didn’t want any on her pizza!

We have a large patch of wild blackberries – the harvest is just beginning. I love the unripe red ones. They look like tiny jewels.

Ellie was a great help picking!

Emily was sharing the blackberries with her great GramE. I asked them to pose for this shot with berries in their hands and say “cheese!” GramE deadpanned “This isn’t cheese. It’s a blackberry.” She’s still got it, y’all.

Gratuitous shot of my kids being adorable 😀

The wild plums are bearing fruit! They taste just like a plum that you’d get in the grocery store, but they’re the size of cherries. I also harvested a couple tiny onions from my onion patch by the pond. When we let the cows back onto our land they trampled the patch and ate most of the tops, but the onions themselves are fine.

My mother in law and I found this – she thinks it’s milkweed and I think she might be right. I need to transplant it or capture the seeds to add to my small-but-growing butterfly garden!