Category Archives: Pictures

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.


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.


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.


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).


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


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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!

Garden progress and signs of spring

I realized recently that I started my cold weather veggies indoors too late. So I put them out in the garden, wished them well, and moved along to starting tomatoes and peppers indoors. I also think I wasn’t giving the indoor plants enough time under the grow light, so they were very leggy and weak. If I get anything useful out of the cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, spinach, and kale that I set in the garden, great! If not, oh well, I have a ton of seeds I can start in the fall.

I gave the girls permission to dig in the pile of nice dirt for the garden and they had an absolute ball.

We’re seeing things flower all around the farm now!

I am quite certain these flowering trees are some sort of plum. We may have two varieties; the above plum is a standalone tree, but we have some thickets of plums too.

We heard a big frog harrumping in this thicket so I have no desire to mow it down ­čÖé

Now I’ve started seven varieties of tomato, basil, four varieties of peppers (bell, poblano, and a spicy blend), and red onions.

Starting the seeds on paper towels isn’t strictly necessary, but I love getting to see the changes in the seeds that usually happen under the earth. The above basil seeds were hard as could be, but before they sprouted roots, they coated themselves in this jelly-like substance! That’s pretty cool #plantnerd

Ready for our first building!

Yesterday we completed preparations for our container building! Next Friday the pieces for our steel building barn are scheduled to be delivered, and the forklift we need to get the pieces off the truck is the same tool that can be used to move the containers onto their foundation. In order to kill two birds with one stone, we’re doing both on the same day! So we had to make sure the foundation was totally ready for the containers.

First, though, I just gotta tell you I was super excited. I went to bury this week’s food scraps and plant seeds on top. This time I dug up a small part of the garden bed near the girls’ playhouse. Guess what I found? EARTHWORMS! This is terrific! Earthworms in the soil are an indication of soil health, and this means our soil is not as bad as I feared!┬á┬áCan’t wait to see those flower seeds sprout and grow.

Most of the day was spent installing concrete around the helical piers. We used these round forms, buried about a foot deep, and poured concrete all the way to the top of the pier.

We mixed all the bags by hand (and by “we” I mean “Andrew”). Ellie wanted to help, so she got to help measure the water added to each load! Poor kid; just after I handed my MIL the phone to get a picture of family concrete mixing I accidentally sprayed her in the head. She was a good sport about it but I still felt terrible!!

This is what it looked like when we were done! Because of the shape of the pier I got to get a 32 oz plastic cup and painstakingly pour cup after cup after cup in carefully between the form and the cap on the pier. My shoulder is super sore today after hundreds of repetitions with a 5 lb weight! Andrew is super sore too; he hauled all that concrete and mixed 14 80-lb bags himself. Farm work is hard but so rewarding!

This was our reward! Pancakes cooked over a campfire! My MIL brought them for dinner and man, if I could eat fresh pancakes every time we are at the farm I would be super happy!

First flowers of 2016 and composting hack

At the farm yesterday, we spotted the first signs of spring!!

I have no idea what those little flowers are. I really need a book on Texas wildflowers and native grasses. If you have a book you like, please send along the recommendation!

And I planted my first small plants in the hugelkultur bed!

These are onion starts – I bought a bundle of 25 or so at a local feed store and split them between my RV park garden, the hugelkultur bed, and a new idea.

I’ve been having a problem that I think I solved yesterday. Let me explain.

No, that would take too long. Let me sum up.

I have been saving food scraps to compost. Since we live in an RV park it’s not practical or neighborly to start a compost heap here. I have a composting bin at my MIL’s house, but it’s not really animal proof. I thought putting the food scraps in the hugelkultur beds would help with their fertility, but it just attracted animals that dug up the newly placed soil to get the apple cores and banana peels.

So there was my problem; I didn’t want to throw away food scraps that could be used for improving our awful soil but I didn’t want to encourage wild animals to help themselves to everything in my garden.

At the farm conference last week, a couple ideas stuck in my head, and together they brewed up a solution to my problem. First, any bare soil on your farm needs to be addressed. Bare soil won’t soak up rain or sink carbon, and just isn’t producing anything at all, much less anything valuable. Second, the goal of everything you do on your farm should be to 1) make money and 2) increase the fertility of the earth.

With those ideas in mind, I came up with a plan. I found the worst patch of dirt on the farm. It was where we had a couple bonfires before we put the fire ring in place. The soil was bare and scorched. It wouldn’t absorb more than about a quart of water. And when I dug it up, there was ZERO insect life in the soil. It was dead, dead, dead.

I dug six inches down and dumped a week’s worth of compostable food scraps in. Banana peels, egg shells, old bread, etc.

Then I filled it back in, taking care to crumble the very dense clay into smaller clods.

And I put the rest of my onion starts in the soil on top. I think the view alone will encourage them to grow nicely!

I’m really excited about this idea. It solves many problems all at once. The next few months I’m going to concentrate on planting patches of wildflowers all around the farm to attract bees and butterflies.

In other news, Andrew got paint samples and my mother in law did a corner of one of the containers for the building. Oh my gosh, I love it! The main greenish color blends in beautifully with the landscape, and the brown trim sets it off so nicely. It’s going to look so…RIGHT.

Yesterday was WINDY. 20-30 mph constantly, all day. It wasn’t too fun, but hey. It’s our farm. I’ve not had a bad day there yet, windy or not.

Next week: we pour concrete to finish the foundation for the container building!

Farm tour

This weekend I’m getting to go to a farming conference. I am very excited to go and meet folks who farm for a living and learn from them. Today the association who is putting on the conference offered some farm tours as part of the pre-conference workshops, and I got to visit Cobb Creek Farms in Hillsboro to learn more about their pastured poultry operation.

If seeing carcasses or reading about killing chickens is going to disturb you, here is a picture of some bluebonnets you can look at instead. ­čśë

First we toured the slaughterhouse. There were plenty of jokes about dead chickens. Grady, our tour guide, called the above┬ámachine the wheel of misfortune. Chickens go in upside down and they’re beheaded.

Once they’ve bled out, the carcasses are scalded (left) and sent through the plucker. Then they’re eviscerated, washed, and cooled in huge tubs of ice water.

Once they reach the proper temperature, they’re sent into the super cold dis-assembly room where they’re butchered (if the supplier has requested that), labeled, vacuum-sealed, and boxed up. After that, they’re frozen and ready for the supplier to pick up or be sent to distributors. It was a super clean, honest operation and I was intrigued to see how chickens can be processed on this medium scale level. It’s much less intense than the giant slaughterhouses, but much more efficient and professional than having to do the whole thing yourself.

Since it was a gorgeous 75* February day, we then went to the pasture where the chickens spend half their lives to see the mobile coops and learn about how they improve the land while getting to be fat, happy chickens.

There are about 600 Cornish Cross chickens per coop, and the coop is moved every day. They get all the feed and water they want while they’re on pasture. The chickens only live for about 7-8 weeks before they’re butchered, and they spend about 4 weeks of that time outside in these coops.

There’s a single line of electric wire around the bottom of the coop to discourage predators. I thought that was pretty genius.

Above you can see how the chickens improve the pasture. On the left of the wire the pasture has had one pass of chicken grazing. On the right, the pasture has had two passes. Even in February the forage is much greener and thicker where the chickens have fertilized and lightly tilled the soil. That’s pretty cool.

Here’s a picture of how the feeders and waterers work. There are also misters in the top to keep the chickens cooler in the summer.

One of the best things I heard today was that a good farming operation needs to be focused on improving the soil – no matter how it looks for your land, you will never go wrong if you’re working to make the land better. And a close second is profiting from those efforts. They’ve managed to make that happen here. I don’t think a broiler operation is the right one for our farm, but I did get some great ideas about mobile coops for laying hens and I really enjoyed getting to see a successful operation like Cobb Creek!