Category Archives: hugelkultur

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!

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.

 

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 😀

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!

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 🙂

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 massive blast of heat for four months that 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. North 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!

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 container 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 my 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!

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 🙂

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

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!

Piers day!

January 28, 2016 was a great day – 65*, sunny, and best of all, the day we broke ground on the shipping container building! This is the first building being built on the farm. We were so excited to see it really happening!

We hired RamJack Systems to drill our piers and had a great experience. They sent a crew of five men and a Bobcat with a hydraulic drill attached to drill our 8 piers.

This is at the start of the drilling process.

This is the completed job. In addition to drilling the piers, they busted out their super cool level to cut the piers to level and installed caps. In the foreground you see the two piers with square caps are under a foot off the ground. 40 feet to the south and they are over 2.5 feet tall. I didn’t realize the foundation was on that much of a slope. We are grateful they did the leveling for us!

The next step is to have someone come out and weld the container anchors on the pier caps. Then, on the same day the steel barn is delivered, Andrew is going to move the containers from their current resting spots to their home on the piers. Why on the same day? Because we have to rent the biggest forklift you can rent without needing crane certification in order to move the steel building pieces off the truck. So Andrew figured he’d kill two birds with one stone and move the containers at the same time.

We also will dig out about 2′ around the piers and pour concrete to resist lateral wind shear. Each pier would require 60,000 lbs of upward pressure to move and we have 8 of them supporting the building. This is going to be a great storm shelter.

Another project we worked on was cutting and burning these nasty little locust trees we have growing all over the fields. These thorns are something else. So glad I was wearing my boots!

[Gratuitous photo of adorable two year old making a HUGE mess with a chocolate chip granola bar]

Said two year old also found sticks on the ground and asked “Mama, do you need dese for your garden?” So she helped put more sticks on the hugelkultur beds for us <3