Wild Things Farm

  (Crab Orchard, Tennessee)
Farm life adventures of the Happy Hoer

Poinsettia in summer

This summer hasn't seemed much like summer.  I'm an observer for the NOAA and the average high temperature for August so far this month is only 77 and July was 79!  Night before last it was 52 degrees here--barely warm enough to ripen a good tomato.

Many years ago I saw a flower that I had to have.  You gardeners know what I'm talking about--that obsession to FIND THAT PLANT!  It was during my "I'm only going to plant native plants" phase and the plant is called Euphorbia heterophylla, or Summer Poinsettia.  I don't think it is actually native to my area of the world, but it is native to the US.

One of my customers was at the nursery one day and asked if I would like seeds for a plant that she couldn't grow at her house because she had too much shade.  She said it was a native poinsettia.  I was excited and said "yes!"  I planted and shared and it spread and I saved seeds and for some reason or another, last year I didn't collect seed and I was sad that it might have been lost.

While picking green beans the other day, I came upon this in the bean patch.....


Yay!  All is not lost.  I shall collect seeds this year.



Okra and Grits

Okay, what comes to mind when you hear the words "okra" and "grits".  Why, the South, of course!  Many of the Wild Things Farm CSA members are transplanted Northerners, so on the "Veggie Rating List" each season, okra is one of the most noted veggies on the "Do Not Want" list.  One year a lady told me she didn't even want okra to touch her box!  Hmmmmmm.  Maybe it is an acquired taste, but I LOVE okra.

It's very pretty too, a member of the hibiscus family:



I really don't mind if some folks don't like it.  That means more for me :-)

Grits--that's another probably acquired taste, but I love grits as well.  A "health blog" (shall remain nameless) the other day mentioned 10 foods that you should never eat; grits was on the list.  Needless to say there were several negative comments regarding the author's choice of foods.  Some of them like refined sugar, were valid, but some were kind of "eh", not that unhealthy in the amounts a normal person would consume.

Anyway, my ramblings bring me to the subject of polenta.  I only heard of polenta about 9 years ago on a camping trip to Ossabaw Island (NC).  One of the campers had brought polenta in a plastic tube that you just slice off and fry up in the pan.  Hmmmm, cold grits in a tube.  How interesting.

Then I started looking in the stores.  Seems like polenta was a trendy sort of food.  I found a recipe and made my own--it is very good, and sort of like pasta or rice, a good neutral base for all sorts of yummy toppings.  I even did a blog about polenta several years ago.  http://www.wildthingscsafarm.com/blog/2010/01/22/playing-with-polenta

A few days ago I was discussing food trends with my mom and dad, and my dad, who turned 80 this year, said his mother used to make polenta when he was a kid--huh?  I asked him what she put on top and he said whatever was in the fridge that needed to be eaten.

There really is nothing new under the sun, now is there?


Open Farm day at Wild Things

I tried to capture the essence of the day in photos, but of course parts of it are blank :-)

Started out finishing up four CSA boxes for pickup today and the lettuce is still doing great



Some of the varieties are starting to bolt and taste bitter, but there is a new bed of seeds germinating, a bed of transplants, and several flats of plants ready to transplant in a couple of weeks, so we should be good on lettuce for a while longer.  One of the advantages of living "in a holler" is that it's cooler here so crops like lettuce, kale, and chard will continue to grow during the summer (most of the time).

Today was Open Farm day for the CSA members.  Several families were off on vacation and the threat for rain was REAL, like it thundered all around most of the time we were outside, but the rain held off.  One of the members and I set up a croquet court thinking maybe someone might play, but it was just too hot and humid to play.  BTW I found the croquet set at a yard sale for $3.00.  It was missing the red ball, which has been replaced, and today we discovered that one of the stakes and 2 wickets are missing--oh well, those are easily substituted.

Back to the farm.....we had good eats.  I love it when you say "pot luck" with no rules--well, the only rule I had was it had to be finger food and we cheated a little by scooping the beet and pea salad with chips, but all the food was great and the CSA members got to meet and visit with each other AND see where their food comes from.

inorchardWe worked our way from the house, through the orchard, down to the high tunnel



where I explained how the peppers are doing really well and the tomatoes are doing really crappy--well, tomatoes are doing crappy everywhere from what I here.  The awesome organic salad tomatoes are starting to make a showing though.....

The chickens showed everyone how much they love their new "chunnel" for "chunnelling" back and forth between their portable yard and their happy hen empire


and one of the members was explaining about how large the rose hips are on the rosa rugosa shrubs in the new border along the walkway to the chicken area.

Future plans are for an arbor to support the kiwi vines I purchased very very early in the spring.  I read somewhere that it is best to leave them in the pots the first year until they become established.  They were purchased from one of those catalogs where you can buy 10 plants and get 10 more for a penny or something like that.  Four female and one male plants made it to my place and are doing great in their gallon pots.  It will be in the area between the two beds in the photo below.....



I also explained to the group how I'm slowing killing all the lawn area in the yard by mulching with newspapers, cardboard, compost, rotating the chickens through an area for a time, and using bagged leaves from the enormous leaf pile.  I have sprayed a few really weedy areas prior to mulching, but I'd rather experiment more with sheet mulching and leave the spray for the fence rows.  So far I've planted rugosa roses, raspberries, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and Echium vulgare (bee plant) in these newly created beds.  Everything is doing really well, so I'm slowly expanding "the kill zone". 

One thing that we did collectively do was everyone brought a coffee cup or plastic drink cup to use  today and then leave them at the farm.  I'm going to keep the cups in a "party box" to use instead of throwaway cups.  We'll get to the plates next . 

All in all it was a great day.  As you can see, the dogs Hattie and Lucy are in most of the photos, and the newly rescued kitty cats "Smokey" and "Bandit" got their share of attention as well!


It's fun to share this little corner of the world with folks that appreciate knowing where their food comes from!  And thanks, Kim for being the photographer :-)


Summer is in full swing

Wow, it's amazing how fast this summer is moving!  The rain has finally slowed down, although there are still puddles here and there on the farm where it used to be dry during "normal" weather. This year kind of reminds me of a trip to Vermont that my family made back in 1990 during the middle of August.  We were camping in a tent and while I was packing for the trip it was like 90 degrees so I was packing shorts, t-shirts, bathing suits,  that sort of stuff, but I did throw in one pair of pants per person just in case.  Well, turns out that we wore the pair of pants most of the week, picked blackberries in long sleeves and the folks in Vermont hadn't even seen a ripe tomato yet.

Hello!.....just a few days ago it was 49 degrees here and I'm picking blackberries and I can still say that there hasn't been a peck of tomatoes harvested from the 400 plants I have planted, including the ones in the high tunnel!  It's just been too cloudy for a tomato to get ripe.

The sunflowers are starting to open.....



I took a bunch of them to the farmer's market last Wednesday and they were a hit!

A friend of mine dropped by for some kale and took a picture of the booth......



Most of the produce grown on the farm goes to fill the CSA shares each week, but sometimes there is extra to sell at the market, like the ever popular "Fresh Eggs from the Happy Hens".  This particular day I was sold out of eggs before I got to the market!

The broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts plants all succumbed to the deluges that we've experienced this year so they've been removed from the garden, devoured by the chickens, and have probably already returned to the earth in the form of fertilizer.   We're less than 10 inches away from our yearly average rainfall in this area and a lot of gardeners have given up on the season, but when one does this for a living, you can't give up.

Fall crops are being sown both in the gardens and in flats for transplanting--what's that saying....."no rest for the weary?"



Another great raw kale salad

It's been a few days since I've taken time to post any news....rain, rain, rain.  We've already had as much rain as we usually do in an entire year.  That means several crops have drowned, weeds are thriving, and us farmers are busy trying to salvage the season.

One crop that has been a staple in the CSA boxes so far has been kale, and it has been really yummy.  I've tried cooking it several different ways and it's okay, but I personally prefer it raw (if it's young).  Tonight was another late night and I was craving something fresh and green, so I harvested a big handful of kale.  After rinsing it,  pulling out the stems and tearing it into bite sized pieces, I went scrounging in the kitchen.  

In the fridge there was some rice left from a night or so ago, and I had cilantro, tomato, onion, added some garlic scapes that were in the fridge as well, some roasted garlic cloves, a couple spoonfuls of corn relish, a handful of pickled pepper rings, and a can of black beans.   I splashed some extra-extra virgin olive oil (unfiltered) and a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar.  I tossed it all together and YUM!  Yet another tasty way to eat kale RAW!

I got a new camera and it has a setting on it called "food".  This is what "kale kitchen sink" salad looks like on my new camera setting "food"......



I also rescued two kittens from the road today but that will be another post--- :-)


Kale Pesto

Years ago I remember finding a recipe for fresh pesto--using basil.  I made it and served it as a side dish for supper--the kids were small and both they and their father tasted it and said "YUK".  How did I know it was supposed to be spread on bread or served with pasta?

Last week one of the farm members asked if there was kale in the box when she picked her share up.  I told her yes, and then asked if she didn't want it.  (there's lot of greens early in the year)...she said "oh yes, I do want it.  A friend was telling me about a kale pesto that she made".

Kale pesto, hmmmmm.  I can't stand the texture of cooked greens so any way to get them in a palatable condition, raw, is interesting to me.  Plus, all the vitamins and minerals stay intact when a veggie is raw.  I perused the myriad of recipe sites on the net and came up with one that I thought I could work with, as I never have all the ingredients in a recipe "on-the-fly".  Here's the link to the original recipe:


First off I have one of those really small food processors so I had to really cram the leaves in there.  3 cups of kale were added instead of 5, and just about 1/2 cup basil leaves.  A generous handful of walnuts and 5 cloves of garlic were added to the mix.  Once all that started moving around in the processor, I drizzled in some unfiltered olive oil until it was the consistency to spread then added salt to taste.

The pesto was spread on cornbread fritters that accompanied a bowl of small red beans with sweet pepper relish on the side.


Why George Washington cut down the cherry tree

A few days ago I was performing weed control behind the high tunnel (aka mowing with the tractor).  A creek runs along behind the high tunnel and while backing the mower out over the edge of the creek to reduce the area of snake habitat, I spied several cherry trees that had lots of bright red, voluptuous cherries on them.....




So tempting.....so, so, over the creek!



I did temporarily lose my sanity and turn the tractor around to see just how close the bucket would get to the tree, BUT I regained my sanity when I compared the cost of a broken bone or wrecked tractor to the cost of a container of fresh cherries in the store.  The birds are enjoying a cherry feast.

I believe George just cut the darned thing down and ate the cherries himself.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it!


Photo of the day

 like those blogs that have photos of the day, and that is on my list of things to do---SOMEDAY--today's photo will be a mental vision for those who choose to read further......

Extra share boxes, row covers, farmer's market supplies, etc. are kept in the attic above the shop, accessible by a ladder and a small door.  This morning I did actually carry my camera with me to the garden, and left it on the table at the chicken house while I carried lettuce back to the house.

I realized, while at the house, that I needed two more boxes to do today's delivery so I put the ladder up on the side of the building, opened the door, crawled in the attic and started retrieving the boxes--one, two--oh well, might as well get an extra....it was really heavy for some reason.

I took the two boxes down the ladder and went back up to peek inside the heavy box and what did I see?  Not one, but TWO chicken snakes all coiled up in there.  My immediate response was "ewwwwww" and I dropped the box to the ground, ready to release the snakes outside of the building.  After I regained my senses I realized that there is a terrible mouse problem in the shop/greenhouse so I took them back up the ladder and set the box back in the attic.  I watched as they untangled and oozed out of the box into the attic.  Now I'll be even more conscious (aka paranoid) about moving things around

Get to work, my friends!PENTAX Image

Here's a picture of the shop/greenhouse.  The attic is under the rafters in the center section over the shop.  No, it's not snowing here--


I just learned a new word

Now that the farm CSA memberships are all filled, I needed to go into the website to change the wording"there are still a few memberships available".  I went to the web hosting site, JustHost (which I love), and attempted to find the software that I used to both create the website and that I use it to edit the website--GONE--GONE--oh my gosh, what do I do now?  For a middle-aged, still-remember-learning computers when you had to type "c: blah, blah", this newer techno-stuff gets over my head quickly.  Sure I can get it done eventually, but it's easy to spend many hours that I'll never get back trying to make it work.

So, I e-mailed the technical support dept. and got a reply--"that software is deprecated"--Huh?  what's that?  A quick search online revealed that "deprecated" means something like it's tolerated but not recommended, or we don't like it anymore.  That means that in THE BUSIEST TIME OF THE YEAR I have to come up with a new website OR just keep telling folks that the website is lying and I can't stop it :-)

I think I'll go pull some weeds to calm down.


How does a Happy Hen get happier?

At the Farmer's Market and with the CSA members, everyone loves Fresh Eggs from the Happy Hens.  The girls were pretty happy with their two coops, large fenced in area, fresh veggies and lots of different grains.  I wanted more......

More space--free range?  Nope, not on my porch railings, in the gardens, on the vehicles, and I sure don't want to start hunting eggs every day.

Enter electric poultry netting with handy dandy step in posts.  I settled on a 160' length and I already had a fence charger, so a couple of weeks ago I set up a new patch of ground for the girls, adjacent to their existing pen.  They loved it so much I didn't have to mow.  Now to get the fence in another position, further away, so they still have access to their nest boxes, water, and feed.  Voila!  The chicken tunnel was born......



I jokingly named it the "chunnel" but after looking that term up on line, other people besides myself think the English language is lacking in creative words here and there.  The chunnel is made from concrete reinforcing "ladders" that are bent into a hoop shape and pushed into the ground.  The chicken wire is then draped over top and attached at ground level with wire staples.  It leads from a small opening in their pen to the electric fencing that you see in this picture.

I wondered how long it would take them to enter the tunnel, and I timed it--12 seconds exactly!  Chickens are very curious creatures.  The netting is 42" high which must have been researched because a few times one of the girls has attempted the flight out, but came in contact with the fence and decided against trying again.

The farm dog Hattie (aka Battie Hattie, the Kooky Catahoula) decided to sniff the fence.  Evidently she had never felt electric shock before because she screamed and ran into the woods and up the hill behind the house, screaming the whole way.  She doesn't go near the fence any more.

Once they wear out this patch of ground I'll move the entire compound to new territory.


Quinoa with Chard and Chickpeas

Sometimes you run across a recipe that is sooooo good you can't stop eating the finished product.....this is one of those recipes.  I'm not a big fan of cooked greens, as a matter of fact I detest the texture of cooked greens.  BUT I know that greens are exceptionally good for us, especially when they aren't cooked to death, and this recipe doesn't completely kill the chard.

This recipe doesn't apply to that "detestment".

In a cookbook that I bought last year, "Wild About Greens" by Nava Atlas, there is a recipe for Swiss Chard with quinoa and chickpeas--sounded like a quick healthy meal to me so I fixed it for supper......the hardest part of the recipe is rinsing the quinoa (must get a smaller sieve).  Here goes!

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 vegetable boullion  cube (I used beef)
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 cup cooked chickpeas
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
10-12 ounces chard, rinsed and sliced into ribbons (you can use the stems too, sliced thinly)
3-5 scallions, thinly sliced (I used walking onions)
1 tsp cumin
1/2 to 1  tsps seasoning salt (to taste) ike Mrs. Dash (I used Lawry's)

Combine the quinoa with bouillion cube and 2 cups water.  Bring to a simmer and cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until tender.  Meanwhile, in a skillet put the olive oil and sliced up walking onions and the drained garbanzo beans.  Saute until they start turning golden brown then add the garlic and saute until everything starts turning a nice caramel color.  Add the chard and 1/4 cup water and cover.  Cook for about 3-5 minutes or until chard is tender but still bright green (not that dark yuckky color of canned spinach).  When the chard is done, add the quinoa, seasoning salt cumin and stire together.  Heat for additional 2-3 minutes.

Oh my.




Installing the packages of bees in the new hives

Crab Orchard, Tennessee--You know how it is when you're anticipating something--for months--maybe years.  Not years in this case, but I've been studying and learning all I can about keeping honey bees since last summer.  I spent all winter building 3 hives and obsessing over which "way" to keep bees.  Natural beekeeping caught my eye, but the Warre-style hive was just too different than hives that will accept traditional frames, so I opted for foundationless frames in a Langstrongth 8-frame medium with a quilt to absorb moisture during cold weather--I've detailed the construction in earlier posts.

I did get a bottle of Honey-B-healthy to mix with the sugar water I was feeding the bees.  At Thursday's beekeeper meeting several members were really praising the product and said that the bees really seemed to like it.  Since I have brand new hives and no drawn foundation for the bees, I put beeswax on the starter strips in the frames and sprayed the entire inside of the hive box with the sugar syrup/Honey-B-Healthy solution.  I hope it works to help them decide to call the box their home.



I've made sugar syrup for hummingbirds before, but it's like 1 part sugar to 4 parts water.  This syrup was 1 part sugar to 1 part water.  I have a lot of syrup :-)  Keeping it in the fridge.

I had read about something called a "swarm guard" that is placed over the entrance to keep bees from swarming; especially when introducing them to a new hive, so I built three of them.  Once I figured out that I was going to have to use a Boardman feeder at the entrance, the swarm guards had to come off--I'd still like to come up with something really quick to keep them from absconding once they get the queen free from her cage.  I've read that it doesn't happen often, but it can happen, and I've got about $350 in 3 boxes of insects that have wings-----!!!!



Yesterday was finally the day.  The USPS sent an e-mail notification that 3 packages were in the mail on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning I got a call from the Knoxville post office (about 70 miles away) telling me that my bees were there if I was going to "be in the neighborhood" I could pick them up and if not, they'd be in Crab Orchard on Saturday morning.  I opted to wait since I knew the bees had sugar syrup to eat and a queen to keep them occupied.


It started raining about 3 am Saturday morning and a brisk wind was blowing along with the rain when I picked up the bees.  They were put in the shop where I'd go look at them every couple of hours and come back to the computer and "Google" how to install bees in the rain :-)  The forecast was for solid rain for two days and then my schedule would not allow installing them for another day so I was looking for a window in the rain.  It happened about 6:00 pm Saturday evening.

I wasn't able to get pictures of the actual installation, but I might be able to provide a visual for you:

First off, I will say that I detest the leather gloves and will get rubber gloves before I go back into the hive.  When I removed the square piece of wood that covers the syrup can I COULD NOT get a hold of the syrup can and actually dropped the queen cage down into the package of bees--arrgghhhhh!  I retrieved it, saw the queen crawling around in there and tried to wedge the cage between two frames the way I've seen on all the videos I've watched.   That doesn't work very well.  The queen fell to the bottom of the box (again).  Next time I need a thumbtack to attach the strap to a frame so she can safely dangle.    (You can see the white strap that's attached to the queen cage in the center box extending past the cardboard syrup can cover).  I finally took the nylon strap attached to her cage and wedged it between two end bars.

I was using the "no shake" method of putting the package box inside the hive and just letting the bees crawl out.  I put the package in and tilted it on its side with the opening towards the dangling queen and put the top back on.

Now I was nervous--I didn't think that went too well.  So, I got the second package, some thumbtacks, and opened up the next hive to install the bees.  I hate those gloves!  Had trouble getting the can out again, and yes, I dropped the second queen down into the package of bees AGAIN!  Next time I'm not going to take the staple out of the strap holding the queen cage in place until after I get the clumsy syrup can out of the very tight-fitting hole.  I decided to ditch the thumbtack idea and to just lay the queen cage next to the opened package on this one, so that's what I did.

The third one went a little easier.  I didn't drop the queen cage, no bees flew out, and it didn't rain throughout the entire fiasco.

What did I learn during this first beekeeping experience?

  • I need to make sure my hair is pulled back so it doesn't get tangled up in the zipper of the veil,
  • Did I mention I hate the leather gloves?
  • Make sure there are no bees on you when you take off your suit--I did get stung on the chest by a stray bee after I was back in the shop

After I came back into the house I started second-guessing myself and wondering if I had turned the second queen cage upside down so she couldn't be fed, so this morning I peeked and there was a huge wad of bees on the area where the queen cage was placed, so I left it alone.  There were also several bees still in the package so I didn't remove it either.  I didn't think it would be a good idea to get the bees flying around in this crappy weather.

Oh yes, we had fierce thunderstorms during the night with lots of wind.  The first thing I did this morning was make sure none of the hives had blown over, and they were all still in place.

Now I wait.....let me see, 4 days from Thursday means that tomorrow evening I'll check to see if the packages are pretty empty so I can remove them AND it's supposed to be better weather by then--let's keep our fingers crossed that the bees are forgiving of a "newbee-keeper"!


How to successfully boil and peel a farm fresh egg

I'd say everyone that has ever tried to make deviled eggs from farm fresh eggs has experienced the frustration of peeling a fresh egg.  The shell just doesn't come off the egg in a clean manner.

This morning I wanted to make a batch of deviled eggs for snacking,   The last time I boiled eggs I had used the eggs that were cracked during the laying process--(hens are really rough on eggs)--or cracked during handling for whatever reason.  ANYWAY, I boiled the cracked eggs and they actually peeled very easily, so I told myself that the next time I needed to boil eggs I would purposely crack the shells before cooking.

I used a dozen eggs that were gathered yesterday evening.  Each egg was gently cracked against the side of the pot before placing all the eggs in cold water.  Don't rupture the membrane, just crack the shell.  The stove eye was turned on medium high until the water began to boil, then turned down a little so the water would gently boil for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes the hot water was drained off and cold tap water immediately filled the pot to cool the eggs down a bit.

I was simply amazed at how easy the shells came off--not one single egg was mangled during the peeling process.



Water Hose Wars

Okay, the title might be misleading----the war was between the water hoses and me and you know what?  As soon as the local trash convenience center opens up, I WIN!

The weather people were predicting 34 degrees for last night, so I'm thinking a light frost that the blooming strawberries, peaches, blueberries and apples will tolerate.  NOT SO!  At 1:15 am I fell awake and came in to the desk to look at the temperature outside---are you ready?  27 freaking degrees :-(  So, I start scheming to drag out water hoses and drench everybody before the sun hits them.  Luckily the farm is situated at the foot of Big Rock Mountain which is to the east, so the sun doesn't rise here as soon as it does everywhere else around.  That's probably the reason the farm is so much cooler than the weather people predict.

I've got several water hoses; some good; some not so good; and some just down right suck!  (You get what you pay for).  After un-kinking 4 of the hoses who-knows-how-many-times, I did finally get everything watered just before the sun hit them.  I will say that this morning is the first time I've peered through the branches of a young peach tree covered with frost and blooms while squirting water into the sunrise--absolutely, positively, just in the nick of time I might add.

Now it's time to change my soaked clothes and shoes, gather up the offensive water hoses and take them away......


Greens and Barley Salad

It's amazing how many different flavors you can get from a bowl of greens.  During the winter there are assorted greens growing in the high tunnel and I'm always looking for different flavors to keep the greens interesting to the tastebuds.

The April issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine had an interesting recipe that I tried yesterday.  The barley in the recipe is what really did the trick.

Greens and Barley Salad

4 cups assorted greens such as baby bok choy, endive, radicchio, and/or butter lettuce (Okay, I used spinach and baby Swiss chard--close enough :-))
1/2 head cauliflower, sliced into 1/2 inch slices
2 carrots, peeled and then sliced into ribbons with a peeler
1/2 cup cooked barley
1/4 cup lemon or lime juice (I used lime)
2 Tbsp honey
1 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp nutmeg (I didn't have any of this)
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 handful of toasted walnuts (you have to burn the 1st batch then do the second one perfectly)

In a large bowl combine the vegetables and barley.  I sort of kept the barley together on one side and the veggies on the other so I could taste them separately.  I also had a few cherry tomatoes that were "on their last leg" so I threw them in the bowl as well.

Mix the lemon or lime joice, honey, and the paprika, nutmeg and cayenne in a jar with a screw-top lid.  Shake well then pour over the greens and top with walnuts.  YUM!  This is a keeper.

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