All posts by Valerie Wills

Garden progress – Early May

The month of May has been an excellent month in the garden so far!

A large number of the sugar snap peas are producing. Ellie and I play hide and seek with the pods and eat them all while standing in the garden. None have made it into the house yet.

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I got to put some of my lettuce on a sandwich and it was very tasty.

Andrew marked off a HUGE plot for corn and tilled the whole thing. Twice.

It’s the shape of Nevada and seems to be about as big!

So I got to planting! Above is a variety of corn called rainbow corn. It was so pretty.

I had some excellent garden help. We planted the three packets of seed I had (rainbow corn, strawberry popcorn, and sweet corn) and got all of about 10 feet planted.

So Andrew went and bought 250 more corn seeds and we planted all of them, too! And we still only have about 25′ of corn patch! I think that’ll be plenty for our first year. I’ll use the rest of the soil for watermelon, pumpkins, and spaghetti squash.

All of this digging and hoeing and pulling our heavy wagon is giving me some nice guns ­čśÇ

One day while we were all out working and rain chances had been listed at 0 all day, we got a little surprise. A storm rolled in! We scrambled to get everything under cover. Andrew had been working on replacing the struts in his car – he was able to get three of the wheels done at least.

I had the bright idea to get a picture over the fence. The electric fence. Got my first zap! And boy, I won’t be trying that again anytime soon!

´╗┐First night on the farm!

I found a workaround – I can now edit my posts on my computer!

A couple of weeks ago, there was a fairly high threat for severe weather for our area of Texas. Severe weather makes me pretty nervous, especially living in a trailer. How convenient, then, that we have a storm shelter! So on the night it was supposed to be crazy stormy, we spent our first night at the farm, inside the shipping container building.

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Our sweet decorator got right to work, making art to help us feel at home.

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Even though it was raining, Ellie’s adventuresome soul didn’t quit! She wanted to see what was going on.

It ended up that the only severe weather we got was some marble-sized hail. It didn’t seem to do much damage and I am very thankful that we didn’t need to test how tornado-proof the shelter is!

We did learn one important thing. Night time in a steel building gets REALLY COLD. And we did NOT prepare for getting that chilly! Plus we were all in hammocks, which are not super warm either. It was not a restful night. But it was still a great experience, our first night on our land!

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The day dawned bright and cheery. Even though I am a night owl through and through, it was so nice to hear and see the farm waking up. I got to wash some clothes and hang them to dry. Not such a bad place to do chores, I think.

The girls loved playing in one of the hammocks and would pretend to fall asleep every time we came near. And then, we are pretty sure they DID fall asleep together and nap for a while. Too cute.

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After her nap, Ellie found a toad who wasn’t too happy about being restrained by little hands.

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Before we left the next day, I made sure to gather some of these spectacular blooms to brighten our trailer. Such a wonderful variety, and we didn’t do anything to care for these flowers!

Ellie said something adorable and it made me feel like the wealthiest woman alive. She was talking about all the wildflowers on our property, and said, “Even if we spent a whole DAY sniffing flowers, we couldn’t sniff all of them!” Isn’t that a wonderful perspective? All these flowers growing on our land, free for us to enjoy.

Having some trouble ´╗┐

I apologize for the lack of posts here lately; the WordPress editor on my laptop is having some issues since I installed the latest Windows updates and I can’t write posts. This is from my phone, so I can’t write much, but I’ll throw out a few pictures while I get the computer issue ironed out!

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Got some butterfly plants from a new friend! Above is milkweed and flowering senna.

This is how Ellie helps water the corn patch!


Stunning Texas sunset from this weekend.

Annnnnd we have electricity!

When we arrived at the farm last Wednesday, guess what beautiful sight we saw?

That’s right: it’s power hookup day!

The ground was too soft to get the lift truck over to the pole, but that didn’t stop these guys; they just climbed up instead. And they were done super fast; within a couple hours the wire from the transformer was installed, the meter was hooked up, and we had power!

Andrew finished the wiring in one of the containers, and we were able to get the lights on for lunch.

We are so close to being able to move the RV out! Just need a septic system and to extend the driveway up to the container building.

We thought at first that we could get away with driving on the grass between the container building and the gate, but the more we drive on the grass, the more it dies, and the more slick and muddy the two-track driveway becomes. If we are out there and it rains, the only way we can get out is to use the four-wheel-drive truck, and even then there’s the possibility of getting it stuck. So we need to make sure we can get in and out without a lot of trouble.

Speaking of mud…the girls and I went on a wildflower hunt and also came across soooo much mud. So they promptly sat down and made mud pies. Emily announced “I LOVE dis mud!” Yep. Country life. I love it.

These primroses grow on all over the sides of the road here, and I was really excited to find some on our property. They smell amazing, and are so delicately gorgeous.

Oh these kids are so cute.

The girls and I and my mother-in-law also went on a hike to look at all the flowering things.

The wild plums were one of the first things to flower and are setting fruit already. I’m so excited to harvest these!

The wild grapes are doing this. I don’t know much about grapes, so I can’t tell if those are going to flower or if they’re baby fruits. I am guessing that they’ll flower, but┬áI’ll have to keep an eye on them to be sure.

And also there’s this massive, overgrown, beautiful patch of brambles that are either dewberries or blackberries. Can’t wait to get on my study boots and gloves and go picking in there! Maybe I’ll even see a snake or two.

Garden update and a surprise

For Easter, my parents bought the girls a live caterpillar kit. We got to see the tiny caterpillars grow, morph into butterflies, and last week we let them go at the farm. It was a great experience.

This was Ellie’s face when the last butterfly flew away!

We love the Indian Paintbrush that is covering one of our fields. The girls pick armfuls of it every time we’re out there.

This garden is my happy place!

I wanted to get a tomato that was known to be heat-resistant; most varieties of tomatoes stop setting fruit when the nighttime temperatures stay above about 75F. And since that happens for two months straight here in north Texas, finding plants that are bred to set fruit in higher temperatures helps the harvest continue through the summer. I wanted the variety Arkansas Traveler but the nursery I went to was sold out of those. So I was directed to this one, the Super Sioux, instead.

When transplanting a tomato into its new bed, many gardeners do this trick; we pinch off all but the top sets of leaves and bury the naked stem in the dirt. A tomato plant will grow new roots along its stem. This sets the plant back a couple weeks in terms of growth, but it will catch up and surpass its previous growth quickly and have a terrific root system for the rest of its life.

Instead of digging a 12″ deep hole, you can dig a trench and lay the tomato in sideways.

Ready to grow!

Right after I finished watering my new tomato plant in, I noticed movement at the driveway. This sweet lab mix walked onto our land, and as soon as we made eye contact, she laid on her back and showed me her belly. I am not a doggy midwife, but it was pretty clear that this dog was going to be a mother very soon.

She was so sweet and so tired! I didn’t have any dog food with me so the girls and I fed her bagels with cream cheese and tortilla chips. Then we gave her some water, and she crawled under the truck and collapsed.

When we have our barn up, I’m going to become the Crazy Dog Lady, I’m sure. But for now, we do not have a place where a mother dog can safely birth puppies. I thought the best place to take her would be the county animal shelter. But just in case she was someone’s missing pet, I posted her picture and story on the lost animals Facebook group for our county. People quickly commented that taking her to the kill shelter was a terrible idea; puppies would not easily survive there. One lovely lady volunteered to take her in to her home until we could find a place for her with a no-kill rescue.

The girls and I took mama dog to the vet where she was found to have no chip (and had also clearly never been leashed – that was fun). Then we drove to Fort Worth to meet the foster lady. Mama dog had her puppies last Friday night, and then on Sunday was transferred to her new foster family with the rescue. Hooray for happy endings ­čÖé

Spring Vegetable Planting

North Texas farming and gardening is quite different if you’re not a Texas native. We who came from northern climates are used to summer arriving in June and having only one growing season. Texas, on the other hand, has two mild growing seasons – winter/spring and fall – and a┬ámassive blast of heat┬áfor four months┬áthat most northern plants don’t handle well. There’s been quite a learning curve for growing in Texas, but I think I’m getting a decent handle on it, and I want to share some resources I’ve found.

North Haven Gardens is a wonderful nursery in north Dallas. They have some excellent educational resources, one of which I printed recently and keep referring to during my spring planting. I took their information and rearranged it by vegetable type rather than by date. Below is the chart; I hope it is helpful to you!

North Texas Vegetables - Spring

Here is a printable version; it’s long, so print on legal-size paper. Or visit the NHG site for their version.┬áNorth Texas Vegetables – Spring

The hugelkultur beds are coming along beautifully! Here are some pictures of my recent work there.

The girls and I found a beautiful ladybug among the sugar snap peas.

I transplanted my tomato seedlings – that I started from seeds! Myself! This is a new venture for me and it’s very satisfying.

Here’s the western hugelkultur bed (number 1 of 3). It’s got the peas, tomato transplants, onions, radishes, and a few other cool-weather plants that will probably choke in the upcoming heat very soon. That’s ok though.

I spy a tiny carrot plant! The carrot seeds mostly got washed away, so I had to reseed the carrots in the center bed. But this one apparently hid under a stick and has recently gotten big enough to see.

This is super fun!

Having people over is AWESOME

On Sunday Andrew and I and his parents were making plans to go work at the farm, so I texted a few friends and family members to let them know we were hanging out at the farm on Sunday, and if they wanted to come they were welcome. In a stroke of pure awesomeness, nearly everyone who was invited came! It was absolutely wonderful. Andrew and I both adore having people visit the farm and enjoy the space with us. We had a wonderful group of people who gave us a hand with projects, played with the kids, contributed some delicious elements to dinner, and just overall had a good country kind of day.

When we arrived at the farm on Sunday morning, I noticed that our gate was closed differently. I couldn’t think of a reason anyone would have come onto the property in our absence, but Andrew spotted the reason right away. The power provider installed a transformer! One step closer to electricity!

The girls and the dogs were all sitting together in the shade of the container building so I thought I’d try to get a picture with them looking at me. HAHAHAHA. That didn’t go nearly as well in reality. I think Oliver (little white doggy) wins the Expression Contest though.


The wildflowers are in their glory; they cover part of our southwest field where the girls like to play. The girls are always picking them and giving them to family members.

I worked in my garden for several hours, planting watermelon, cantaloupe, pie pumpkins, and icicle radish seeds. I also transplanted most of the tomato seedlings I started here in the trailer.

Now here is a picture that makes my heart happy. The top two requirements I had for the farm before we moved there were a storm shelter and the ability to do laundry. Well, now we have both. Granted, we had to run the washing machine with a generator, and the clothesline setup was a little sketchy. BUT. Those two requirements are now met. And I don’t think I could ever get tired of hanging laundry with a view like that.

The above picture is a photo of Ellie’s first bouquet from a boy. Oh my heavens, how am I going to handle her adolescence if I got so mushy over flowers from a friend?!

Also in the category of firsts: first boat on the pond. I laughed so hard when one of our wee visitors got creative with the pile of cardboard to burn and set a box sailing.

No open-fire dinner is complete without a sticky marshmallow sandwich, naturally.

And here is another picture that makes my heart happy. Just look at all those people! Every one of them is near and dear to us, and they all thought highly enough of us to come out and play. Andrew and I and the girls had such a delightful time hosting everyone, and we hope there are many more gatherings like this in our future.

This is how we all felt at the end of the day. Ellie, who is five and doesn’t sit still long enough to fall asleep on anyone, ended up like this after her bath. She put her towel on, curled up in my lap, and within 5 minutes got very still. I sat there as long as I could and soaked up the sweetness.

I love our farm.

Fun weekend at the farm

I work most weekends at our church, but I had this last weekend off and we spent the whole time playing at the farm. Except at night. We originally wanted to go camping on the land, but it frosted both Friday and Saturday night, so we chickened out.

Andrew found a new place to hang his hammock.

My sister Rachael came out to the farm and was swinging Ellie in the hammock. Ellie said “You know sometimes you’re so happy you start crying?” Rachael asked, “Is that how you’re feeling right now?” Ellie answered “Yeah.” I absolutely loved that – it makes me so thrilled that our girls are loving our farm as much as we are.

We cooked hamburgers over the fire ring for dinner. I’m really getting the hang of open fire cooking. Having the right tools helps! I love this cast iron griddle. It’s ridged on one side and flat on the other. I’d definitely advise against leaving it in the rain. Not that I would do that. *whistles innocently* Andrew’s sister Laura came out for dinner, too, and it was such fun to have her and Rachael out with us!

On Sunday, Andrew and the girls worked on wiring up more lights and we all helped move boxes from our storage container into the container building.

At first we tried to keep the girls out of our way while we moved boxes, but they kept asking to help, and we finally got the hint and let them. Everything is so much better with adorable helpers!

I have a whole shelf for my canning/preserving gear! I am so excited to start filling these jars with produce from our land.

At one point during moving boxes I noticed something small hopping around. I’ve seen these tiny frogs around the pond but this little one was far away from a water source. After showing the girls, I took it to the pond and let it hop into the mud.

Soon after that, we had the most awesome thing happen! Brad, the Bobcat owner-operator who┬ádid our driveway, has struck up a friendship with Andrew. The two of them talk about country and construction stuff together. I am friends with his wife Janelle because we were in small group together through church. They are planning to┬ábuy some land in the country as well, and happened to be looking at a property near our farm Sunday. Brad suggested that the family go have a look at our farm, so without calling us to see if we were there, they just drove by – and we did happen to be there!┬áThey┬áhave┬átwo boys who are perfect ages to play with our two girls, and we all had a BLAST for the rest of the afternoon and evening. The kids went on adventures together, digging in mud with sticks and climbing in and out of the creek bed and throwing rocks into the pond. We all got to enjoy some campfire food and some excellent company. And THAT is why we bought the land – to make a place for people to enjoy the outdoors. It was definitely the highlight of our weekend. Thanks for coming out, Brad and Janelle!

A chilly, wet day

Last Thursday, before we got to the farm, a thunderstorm blew through and thoroughly soaked our land.

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This battered portion in the middle of the container building instantly turned into a sticky mess.

So we spent some time inside! Emily told me “I’m taking good care of Great-Great.”

Ellie took care of baking Oliver in the toy kitchen.

In the afternoon the sun came out, and though it was still muddy all over, Ellie and I went on an adventure into the creek. She picked me a tiny bouquet.

I made a little rock tower.

I think she was having fun! I know I was!

And we completed our adventure with a ride on the tire swing.


Even though it was far too cold for ice cream, we went and got shakes at Sonic anyway! Andrew is covered in paint because he finished painting the inside of our container, and we are starting to move our stuff into our container (and take the opportunity to purge things too).

Container building is UP!

Last Friday was such an exciting day! It was the day that the pieces for our steel building were coming, so we rented a forklift and hired a driver to help us move the containers onto their piers on the same day.

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Here they are prior to moving. The one on the left is my MIL’s (it went on the piers); the one in the middle is our current storage container; and the one on the right is the 20′ short container that Andrew converted into his office a couple years ago. Our┬ácontainer that went on the piers was behind this arrangement. We will be moving our stuff out of the orange container into the building and selling the orange one soon.

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Here is the first one on the move. The cows next door were fascinated (I realized later it was because the truck that pulled the forklift out to the property looks like their feed truck).

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After a bit of finagling with the southwest corner, the first container was up on its foundation and all four corners locked in place.

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As we were moving the second container, the truck with the barn showed up!

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The forklift did a great job unloading the truck. The building company told us to estimate 4 hours for unloading and it was done in less than two.

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And then we hit a snag. The forklift was too short to lift the final container up by about a foot!

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The driver tried piloting the container in from the north side of the building since it is closer to the ground. The second story container HAS to go on the south end, though, since that’s where Andrew had our welding guy weld extra supports. Right after I took this picture the forklift got stuck in mud.

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I couldn’t watch anymore. I went down to my zen place – the garden – and covered the entire second bed with┬ámy nice dirt. I never doubted that Andrew could pull it off…I just didn’t want to watch it all happen.

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And there he is! He did it! The top container is currently bolted down to the bottom two, plus it’s held on with chains. As soon as our welder can come back out, he will weld the top container to the bottom containers on all four corners and then construction will be done!

We had curious onlookers stop by and ask what was going on. That was funny.

Also, the bottom container’s corner is painted with the proper colors. The white is the primer; the containers will eventually (hopefully soon) be painted the field green color with the chocolate brown trim. It will definitely be less of a sore thumb then.

Our first building! It’s done!