Wild Things Farm

  (Crab Orchard, Tennessee)
Farm life adventures of the Happy Hoer
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So, what's new?

I was asked the question yesterday "So what are you growing that's new this year?"  I stumbled and stammered around with a few crops and realized that there are so many crops that are grown on the farm, I couldn't really come up with the entire list right off the top of my head.    So many hours have been spent this winter perusing the seed catalogs and websites that by the time the seeds are ordered, the varieties don't seem "new" anymore.  Kind of like when you work at a day job and you spend the last few months of the year worrying with the budget for the next year---by the time the new year rolls around you're so used to using the next year's date that it isn't hard to switch from current year to next year.....okay enough of that.

New varieties for this year:  a few new tomatoes in addition to the large variety of heirlooms that are saved and grown from year-to-year:  Moskvich Heirloom, Valley Girl, Big Beef, and Nepal.    

Last year I grew one package of horticultural beans (beans that you shell) and they were called Tongue of Fire--very tasty.  I saved seeds from those to grow this season and I found another variety called Taylor Strain Italian Shell which will be planted this year as well.    Along with the Partridge Head beans, Haricot Verts, Roma II and Blue Lakes, we should have a good variety of beans throughout the season.

Sweet Granite won the selection for a new melon to grow this year, and "Winner" Kohlrabi was the winner in the kohlrabi category :-)

An amazing variety of lettuces have been selected to provide greens throughout most of the season.  These include Mottistone, Tropicana, Summertime, Reine Des Glaces, Dark Red Lollo Rossa, Panisse, Allstar Gourmet Mix, Cherokee, Red Rosie........ in addition to the greens that are grown to be added to the lettuce mixes.....YUM! I can hardly wait.

Kale seeds have been hard to get this year, with several seed crop failures and sold outs--a combination of "last year was a crappy growing year everywhere in the US" plus the amount of press coverage kale received last year about how healthy it is.  A variety called "Afro" caught my eye, as it has the frilly leaves that are fun to eat (yes, I said fun to eat).    I'll probably grow another variety or two as well, IF I can find more seed.

All the seeds that I order online have been ordered.  I buy all the seed that I can from local sources, and my favorite is the Crossville Garden Center.  They are building a new building this year and it looks AWESOME!  I can't wait until they open........

I'm so tired of being cold.........



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.



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?"



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......


Seed starting tips

This post could also be called "well duh!"

A friend gave me some seed starting flats that have tiny cells in them, maybe 1/2" square or so, and there are probably close to 400 cells in the flat (I haven't counted them but there's a LOT)  I filled them with soil and started trying to drop seeds on the soil and they were bouncing everywhere.  Then a light bulb went off--I put an empty one over top of the one I was trying to seed, dropped a seed into each cell and voila!  They fell right in the center of the soil-filled cell underneath. 

I'm sure someone else has come up with this trick, or one better, but it sure made seeding the flat of broccoli raab much easier for me! 


And the Winners of the 2013 Wild Things New Veggie Varieties are.....

As each growing season is planned, along with the tried and true favorites, I always like to try some new things.   After pouring through the mountain of seed catalogs and following rabbit trails all over the Internet, the decisions have been made:  which new veggie varieties will make it to the ground this year?  (A few of) the winners are:

Jade Cross Brussels Sprouts....hold the applause...this is the first time I've tried Brussels Sprouts in YEARS.  This variety matures quicker so maybe I won't have to torment over it in the garden for so long....

Russet Potatoes--going for some bakers here in addition to the Kennebec and Red Pontiac.

In the pepper category, Ancho San Martin, Georgia Flame, Cabernet, Purple Cayennes, and Lipstick peppers join the myriad of peppers already on the books.  Peppers seem to like the soil in one particular garden here on the farm, so I try to rotate them there every couple of years.

New salad tomatoes being grown this year include every kind of salad tomato you can imagine and a couple more.  I've really gotten into the salad tomato mix--it's a real hit with the Wild Things followers and I LOVE to package them up--it's like playing with M&M's.   All the colorful and tasty salad tomatoes will be marvelous on top of the new lettuce varieties.  Names like Cherokee, Panisse, Skyphos, and Summertime will join the popular gourmet leaf lettuce mixes AND two iceburg-type lettuces will be trialed in the garden this year.

A horticultural bean (eaten shelled but not dried) called Tongue of Fire has arrived for planting and will be growing along with the usual Roma II, Blue Lake, and Jumbo beans.  A filet bean called "Masai" is scheduled to make an appearance at some point during the season as well.  

Lots of heirloom tomatoes will be planted again as in years before, and a few new ones are going to be added; Nepal, Cherokee Purple, Holy Land--hopefully they will be worth saving seed from for future gardens-- Hippie Zebra --that one sounds like a keeper to me :-)

A couple new summer squash varieties, Magda and Safari, will be added, and oh, I almost forgot the coolest one of all.....Veronica Romanesco.  It's classed with cauliflower but it looks like some kind of cool alien vegetable--



Well, that's about all of the new crops I'm going to share.....I can't tell you EVERYTHING.... if you're within the reaches of Wild Things this coming season, you'll just have to check it out for yourself.  


A "glomato"?

If there were a contest for the ugliest tomato, I surely believe this one would be in contention:

See, I told you this has been a really weird growing season........


I've Got Worms!

When I told a friend that, she promptly said "I've got some diatomaceous earth"--I laughed and then told her it was nightcrawlers.  I've been wanting to add worms to the menagerie here on the farm and about 3 weeks ago I made the leap.

My dad told me of a tv clip he had seen on a local news station about a couple raising earthworms for their manure.  That's exactly what I'm wanting them for.  The past couple of years I haven't liked the potting soil mixes that are available locally and I thought that maybe earthworm poop might be the answer.  I watched the video clip on the internet (isn't technology wonderful sometimes?) and contacted the couple featured in the video.  Turns out that they were downsizing a little so they had worms for sale.  Yippee!  Field trip.  My best friend and partner in unusual field trips already had her day planned so I mapped out my route and 2 hours later I was standing in a garage-converted-to-worm-house, complete with air conditioning, all matching buckets, sifters, incubators, instructions on the wall.....a bit intimidating to say the least.

These folks had purchased the complete worm growing operation that cost well over $1,000.  They feed the worms grain that they purchase from the supplier and they use leaf compost (sifted, I might add) for the worms to live in.  I chatted with the lady for a half hour or so, learned a whole lot from her, took 3 paper sacks of worms (3 lbs) with me and started back home wondering how the newbies were going to adapt to life on the farm.

When I got home I gathered up 8 of the cleanest dirty 5 gallon buckets I could find and washed them all fairly well.  I went to the leaf pile (see post on Black Gold to see how many leaves I have)  and went to the oldest part of the pile to get the most composted leaves I could find.  I got a tractor bucket full then proceeded to fill a bucket about 2/3 full of leaves that I had rubbed between my hands--sifting compost?  That's for sissy worms (lol)!  After I got one bucket filled with leaves I realized that I hadn't drilled the ventilation holes in them, so I got the handy-dandy cordless drill and drilled, and drilled, and drilled holes in the top 1/4 of each bucket.  NOW for the leaves.  I picked out the biggest globs, sticks, nuts, etc. and put the compost in the buckets and hauled them into the shop--my tiny 10x14 shop.

I started putting the worms in and thought I'd check online one more time before I did so to make sure I wasn't missing something important.  I WAS!  I read where the containers have to be dark and opaque because worms despise light.  Uh oh--my buckets were white.  Think---paint might kill them--leftover black plastic mulch and electrical tape!  Problem solved.  So now I filled up the buckets and tried to evenly distribute the worms between the buckets, and I put a handful of chicken food on top of the soil in each bucket.  That's only until I can figure out how to wean them off grain and start them on scraps.  I loosely placed the pretty purple bucket lids on top of the buckets and said "Welcome to Crab Orchard".

The next morning there were about a dozen worms that had crawled out of their buckets and committed suicide.  WHAT?  Not happy?  I took off a lid and could see why--it was really warm and stuffy in there, so I took all the lids off and haven't had any more deaths due to crawling out on the floor since then.

The worm folks harvest poop every two weeks.  I imagine they can do it that often because the compost that goes in the buckets looks like something you'd buy in a bag at the store and the grain smells like something wonderful to eat.  I checked a bucket after 3 weeks and wow, there was enough poop in there to start playing with seedlings and worm poop.  I decided that I would be a nice worm mom and sift their compost.  So I spent Friday afternoon sifting and filling and separating worms.  It really didn't take that long and I think they appreciate it.  I'm still working on the food though.....here's their internet debut photo shoot....

Everyone seemed all happy and wiggly when I changed out their bedding and I promised them I'd learn more so I could be a better worm mom.......


Really "wild" things

While cutting flowers in the front garden last weekend, I spied the strangest Rudbeckia I've ever seen.  I had to look twice and blink my eyes to make sure I was seeing just exactly what I was seeing....here it is

Yes, you are seeing correctly.  The flowers in the front of the picture got hung up on the "black-eye machine"!

I'm going to save the seeds but they probably won't come back like this.  It's always fun to see different things like this in nature; well, fun as long as it isn't a frog with three eyes or something different like that!


Starting Sweet Potatoes

It's always fun to get new things to "play" with here on the farm.  This year there's a "sweet 'tater startin' box" right next to the orchard.  The box was constructed right on the ground, much like a cold frame---well, I guess technically it IS a cold frame, but its main purpose in life is to sprout as many sweet potato slips as possible before it's time to plant them in the garden.

The box is made from 4 slabs of Crab Orchard stone, around 12-15" tall, 7' long, and 1.5-2" thick.  They were stood on edge and held in place with metal stakes on the outside of the box.  A pressure treated board was then glued and fastened around the top edge to accommodate fastening hinges to the lid.

A few pieces of aluminum that were left over from the small greenhouse were fashioned into a top, hinges screwed in place, then plastic fastened on the top.

The box was then filled with horse manure and shredded leaves, then mushroom compost.  The potatoes were all placed inside then covered with compost.  2 heat lamps provide heat when the sun isn't shining and a thermometer is stuck in the soil so I can keep an eye on the temperature of the potatoes (wouldn't want to burn them....lol).  BTW the thermometer is a meat thermometer that I normally use for soap making.  Temp is temp, right?  The thermometer doesn't know if it's stuck in a roast or dirt.....or soap for that matter.

Back to the bin......it's located adjacent to an electric fence charger station where an outlet was installed, so an extension cord powers the heat lamps.  Here are some pics.....


The whole contraption is covered with the frost blanket and tarp at night and if it's cold during the day.  The best part about the whole project is that almost everything came from items salvaged.  The only things purchased were the 2 heat lamps, one of the fixtures, some screws, and the mushroom dirt (the horse manure has way too many seeds to be on top exposed to sunshine).  The entire bill was around $30.00.  After the sweet potatoes evacuate the site, something else will occupy the space during the summer.


New USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

During the yucky days of winter the Happy Hoer does a lot of surfing ....... I also subscribe to several blogs of interest.  Just this morning a new USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map was published, with a feature where you can type in your zip code and your map will magically appear :)

Check it out   www.planthardiness.ars.usda.gov 


Rutabagas and Turnips

Last year, while in the produce section of the local supermarket, I purchased a rutabaga.  I did a blog about how wonderful it tasted and made a note to grow them this year. 

In mid-July I planted three rows, each about 180 feet long.  The seeds germinated, I dutifully thinned them to 5" apart, the cabbage worms came, I sprayed Bt, and I kept watching and waiting---man do they grow slow!

Botanically speaking, a rutabaga is a cross between a turnip and cabbage.  I'd say culinarily speaking it tastes like a cross between white potato, sweet potato, maybe a tad of cabbage, and a faint hint of turnip.  It's a great taste, anyway.  They kind of look like turnips but they aren't colored as brightly, have more roots on them, and they are harvested at a much larger size than turnips. 


The last CSA delivery of the season was last Friday.  I ventured into the rutabaga patch to see if there were any "early birds" fit to put in the day's delivery.  I was pleasantly surprised!  There were just enough large ones to fill the shares on Friday AND I got 2 monsters to try meselfeee.  One of them is about the size of a cantaloupe and the other was about 5" in diameter. (The big one just to the left of the middle is the cantaloupe size one and it may be like cutting a pine knot.)   I cut the second-to-the-largest one up and roasted it with some sweet potatoes and again, YUMMEEEE!  I peeled and chunked the veggies up into 1" squares and tossed them in a baking pan.  Then I mixed up 2T olive oil, 2T honey, 1t lemon juice and drizzled that over the veggies and roast at 350 for 30-45 minutes or until tender, stirring every 10 minutes or so.  Very tasty and simple. 

This has also been a very good turnip year.  They are firm and sweet and great either raw, mashed, or roasted.  Some people boil them but I don't particularly care for them that way.  Anyway, I love pulling turnips--it's kind of like hunting purple Easter eggs.  When they are ready to pull they pooch up out of the ground so you can see the pretty purple tops on them.


Several of the farm members had never tried them before and said that they actually liked them once they tried them.  It's a good substitute for a radish in a salad too!

Eating in season this time of year is very satisfying because a lot of the veggies are "comfort" food.  Personally, I think any food is "comforting" if I'm hungry!

p.s.  We're having a gorgeous fall here in Tennessee--hope everyone else is too :)



Bad bugs gone good?


We've always heard the expression good guys gone bad, but bad guys gone good?

In the hoophouse, tomatoes were planted in late winter. During the summer they produced and produced bunches of tasty tomatoes. In the process, the tomato hornworms found them, even inside the plastic surround of the hoophouse.

There are parasitic wasps that like to feed upon these giant green monsters that devour tomato plants, and I haven't really experienced them in the hoophouse yet, so I sort of panicked when I saw so many hornworms on the tomato plants, but then I noticed that most of them were decked out with little white globules on them. "Parasitic wasps"! They did venture into the tunnel! I don't think I've ever seen so many hornworms on tomato plants, BUT I've never seen so many parasitic wasp eggs either. The hornworms that had eggs on them got to stay on the plants (it was hard to do, but I left them). These are the "Bad guys gone good". I'm hoping the parasitic wasps will find a place to winter over in the warmth of the high tunnel. The hornworms that didn't have any eggs on them? Well, even the chickens won't eat them, so they must be bad.

By the way, birds fly freely in and out of the high tunnel too. I sure hope they are working on the grasshopper population in there! It's a lively place :)



Thank goodness for heirloom beans

You know what?  The best planning sometimes just goes to pot.  I spent a good amount of time planning the green bean harvest so as to not be overwhelmed by beans ready to pick.  Checking seed labels for days to harvest, staggering plantings, etc. 

Well, the best plans don't always work!  Mother Nature decided that four of the varieties of green beans all needed to be harvested at once!  Hellooooo, it's not like I have an army of pickers here.  So, I start picking, and picking, and picking.  The CSA members today got three different varieties of beans and when I went back out this aftenoon, I realized the yellow wax was ready to pick also---arrgggggghhhh! 

The farmer's market in town is tomorrow so I'm picking for that.  This year I tried a purple bean, along with the yellow wax, Romas, and Kentucky Wonder. This morning was CSA delivery day so I had to get that taken care of, but this afternoon was spent in the bean patch.  When the daylight faded into dark I was picking the purple beans.  I thought to myself, "these are hard to see in the dark, maybe I should switch back to the yellow".  Then I thought, "hey, these guys are all open-pollinated, I can save the seeds." 

So, I stood up, surveyed my seed bank, smiled to myself, and went in the house.

M - I - C - K - E - Y

T - o - m - a - to


Well, what else am I supposed to do in the sweltering heat while picking produce?

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