Wild Things Farm

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

I had my first experience with polenta about 8 years ago.  My oldest son had been on a backpacking trip and someone brought polenta for their meal and he wanted to make some.  He bought a 5 pound bag of cornmeal, got my biggest pot, mixed water with the entire bag, cooked it, and then it was supposed to go in the  fridge overnight.  I'm not exactly sure just how much polenta he made, but let's just say that it was probably the amount that a very busy restaurant, running polenta for the special of the day, would have made!  I let him "do his thing" and I finally had to throw the biggest majority of it out a week or so later. 

Back to the present.  I made a batch of polenta the other night.  I used 1 cup yellow cornmeal and 3 cups of water. I added a tsp of salt also.   Bring the water to a boil then slowly whisk in the cornmeal (so it won't make lumps).  Cook it for 10 or 15 minutes on med/low heat, until the meal is soft.  Pour the mixture into a greased round cake pan and press it down.  It goes in the fridge overnight.  You can also make like a sausage roll and wrap it in plastic, then slice it off as you need it. 

Polenta is kind of like rice or pasta; it's a good foundation for sauces, vegetables, or cheesy things.  That same son came by for lunch the other day and I sliced a couple of slices of polenta, browned them in a skillet, sautee'd a couple of slices of onion and a sliced poblano pepper in a tablespoon of Evoo, then threw a handful of spinach leaves just for the heck of it.  After the spinach was wilted, I served the grilled polenta topped with the sauteed veggies as a side dish to great northern beans I had cooked the day before.  He said it was fabulous!   I think it would be good to deglaze the pan with balsamic vinegar also. 

You can also put cheese, garlic, or peppers in the polenta before it's cooled.  

If you've priced polenta at the store, then priced cornmeal and look at how simple it is to make, it's like a no-brainer.  Make your own!

p.s.  My son is a most excellent cook now :)


The Eagle Has Landed

As most CSA farmers know, we have two speeds:  summertime, full blast, and wintertime as far as gardening is concerned, stopped.  I jokingly told someone the other day that I could stay in bed all day long and no one (except my animals) would notice!  I can't do that though, and I've been occupying a lot of these wintry days quilting, building cabinets, and tie-dyeing.

My brother-in-law asked for a red white and blue shirt, so I made one with a spiral on the front and just kind of scrunched the sleeves.  My sister said that Dennis loved the eagle I put on the sleeve and I laughed and said "what eagle?"  She sent a picture:

 That's one of those "wow, how'd I do that and I know I'll never be able to do it again", but it's kinda cool that it's on a patriotic shirt!


Life as a "Farmher"

There have been lots of new words and phrases "coined" in the last decade, mostly due to the internet and cyberspace, twitter, facebook, etc., but also in the gardening and food communities.  "Locavore", "Evoo", "green", "googled", and so on. 

During the few mindless chores around the farm (mulching, weeding, driving fence posts) I have time to think about all sorts of things and so far I think I've created two words:  organical, meaning it's grown using organic methods, and "farmher", meaning a female farmer.  There are many occupations that are traditionally held by men and we tend to stereotype the person in the job without seeing them; mechanic, welder, carpenter, etc.  I know there are women in those jobs; I was one of those for years.  Salesmen would come into my office (Facility Manager) and they looked confused for a minute until they figured out that Terry was a woman and not a man. 

Anyway, back to "Farmher".  That's one occupation that we could spell differently to recognize  female farmers, and they are increasing in numbers, you know.  Living on a farm is a daily education in all things mechanical, animal, and vegetable, and farmhers are well suited to life on a farm. 

We love baby anythings, chicks, pigs, cows, puppies, kittens, and the nuturing side of us takes over when any kind of babies show up.

We tend to read directions before attempting assembly on tools.

We keep the "lefty-loosy, righty-tighty" in mind when dealing with nuts and bolts.

We can wear cute garden clothes if we want to, and get away with it!

We can till the soil, plant the veggies, harvest them, and, and, preserve them too!  Then we cook with them.  Who else do you know that has that much involvement in a meal? 

There are times when that extra muscle helps out, so whenever someone comes to visit........


Cabin Fever/Spring Fever? Help!

Wow, everything around here FINALLY thawed out after 2 weeks of frigid temps.  I've been doing as many outside chores as can be done with the volumes of mud around the farm; the blackberries are are finally mulched--all I lack is getting the wire support fencing complete.  The weatherman is predicting "warm" weather for the next couple of weeks, and during my seed inventory I thought to myself, what the heck, I've got seeds left from last year, why not?

I found myself in the greenhouse this morning with my hands in the dirt AGAIN!  My nails were just beginning to look like a woman's hands again!  I potted up 7 flats of onion seed (the scallion-type), 1 flat of Mr. Stripey tomatoes, 1 flat of Roma tomatoes, and 5 flats of assorted letttuces, oh, and 2 flats of Swiss Chard.  I drug out the heat mat and a frost blanket because I know I'm going to need it, even in the greenhouse, which I don't heat.  If it's a failure, I still win--I enjoyed a little while in my sunny, 80 degree favorite wintertime place on the farm!

Maybe, just maybe, that will take care of the fever I have, whether it be cabin or spring--at least it's not the flu :)


All Cooped Up

Yesterday my friend Kim came over to help me install handrails on the house porches.  After we had been working for a while I noticed that only 3 dogs were around (I have 4).  Reuben, the catahoula, was no where to be seen.  I called several times, but still no Reuben, which is quite unusual.  About that time I noticed Angus, the boxer, racing around the shop toward where the chicken tractor was parked.  I ran over there to see a chicken flapping around the field, my really old Great Dane Buck, with a rare surge of energy, chasing the chicken, and Angus was double-teaming with Buck for fresh chicken for dinner.  That wasn't my plan for the bird, she just started laying eggs!

I was able to scream, stomp, and flail my arms enough to scare the dogs away. I scooped up the trembling chicken and headed back to the coop.  Inside the coop was Reuben.  His ears were down and his tail was way between his legs.  He was terrified of the roosters in there and he wanted OUT.  I had fed the chickens some bread earlier and Reuben decided he wanted to try some. 

After coaxing the very skittish pup out of the chicken coop, and securing the wire where he had gotten into the coop, my friend Kim shouted "Hey, an egg!"  That makes 4 eggs so far! 

 Each day on a farm is an adventure, and I wouldn't trade it for any other lifestyle.


The $148 Egg


Last year I saw a picture of a chicken tractor in Mother Earth News magazine and I thought that would be a great way to dispose of vegetable scraps, control bugs, and fertilize all at the same time.

Several weeks were spent building "the perfect tractor", although it’s too heavy for me to move around without John’s help (John Deere, that is).   In August I drove to Gainesboro (about 55 miles from here) to buy Red Star chickens because I had researched several breeds and these are gentle (they won’t step on you and hurt you like a cow or a horse will) and they are good layers, and they lay brown eggs, which is what I wanted. 

They were little tiny things but they were also getting feathers so they didn’t need a light to keep them warm.  I read up on them some more and this particular breed is supposed to start laying at 18 weeks.  I got out the calender and oh boy, fresh eggs for Thanksgiving!

One day after harvesting green beans, I pulled the chicken tractor into  the green bean bed  and it promptly sunk up to the axle in the soft ground.  Well, so much for taking the chickens to the plants, so I pulled the exhausted bean plants out of the ground and tossed them in to the chickens–they went crazy!  It’s fun watching them as I move the tractor around the yard; they get all excited about the “new territory” and if one of them catches, say a grasshopper, everybody chases the one with the bug until somebody wins and gets the bug.  I always cheer for the one who caught it in the first place, but I’ve told myself I’m not getting involved in the fights!   Back to the egg……

I’ve got about $100 in the tractor; $48 in feed, feeder, waterer, grit, etc.  Today I found an egg!  (note that it’s been almost 2 months since Thanksgiving)  It’s the most expensive egg I’ve ever bought, but it was as much fun as finding the prize egg on an Easter egg hunt:)

I think my chickens will get a permanent house, more chickens to play with, and they will take daily excursions in a more lightweight, sporty edition of the clunky tractor they now have.


Granny Gardening

Recently I was having a conversation with a friend about organic gardening, composting, sustainable; all the "buzzwords" of the gardening and cooking communities right now.  We both have attended numerous classes and workshops regarding organic methods and we both agree on the attributes of organic ways, but we also both chuckled about how "new" everyone treats these customs. 

I learned how to compost when I was about 6 (we'll just say that was while JFK was still alive!)  In the corner of my nanny's kitchen next to the garbage can was a pot where all the vegetable scraps went.  We couldn't put meat or cheese in there (and us kids didn't know why until later), but all the vegetable scraps went in there.  Every couple of days one of us kids was instructed to carry the pot up to "the apple tree towards the barn" and dump the scraps next to the tree on top of the pile.  Each garden season Nanny would take a wheelbarrow and a shovel and retrieve the compost that had happened over the year.  She didn't have a fancy compost bin, just a pile, but it worked.

Every fall we kids would rake the leaves in her front yard to make a huge mountain to jump and play in; we'd rake them back up and play in them until we were tired of it, then we would take a sheet, put all the leaves in it and drag the leaves "under the buckeye tree just beyond the white fence".  You couldn't walk in there because it was so deep with rotten leaves, but oh my goodness, that was the richest soil!  After I was grown with my own place I took several garbage bags of that home to put around my flowers!

She didn't use any poison on her plants; the chickens ran loose in the garden and I remember cows running in there too (she wasn't happy about that though).  That, to me, is perfect gardening and that's the way things are grown at Wild Things.......granny gardening style!


Organic Matters

mountain of leaves

Weeds are a real issue to most gardeners..... well, all gardeners.  I've read that 60-80% of a gardener's time is spent weeding...what a waste!  Last year in a futile attempt to smother weeds that were taking over several beds during ALL THE RAIN, I used newspapers, feed sacks, whatever I could find to cover the ground when I couldn't keep up by pulling them.  It worked to keep the weeds down, but the papers are really hard to keep in place and they're not too attractive, either.

Last year I was able to obtain a large amount of leaves from a neighboring community to utilize in the gardens this year for weed control.  Like most of the soils in Cumberland County, the soil on the farm tends to contain more clay than loam.  Clay is good, as far as nutrient content and moisture retention, but it's tough for roots to breathe, so as "plant parents" it's a gardener's job to make the soil as perfect as we can for our "plant babies". 

Organic matter in soil corrects lots of problems.  Adding organic matter will loosen tight soils, help sandy soils hold moisture, and helps with pH balance also.  I know, I know, it takes years to boost the "organic content" of a soil as far as a soil test is concerned, but  I can tell the difference in a soil that has been mulched just in one season.  Wherever leaves are, earthworms are, and wherever earthworms are, the soil becomes wonderfully loose and rich.

Anyway, I'm really excited about using all these bags of leaves on the gardens this season; the blackberries have already gotten their mulch and they smile :)


Goat Cheese, chickens, Great Danes, and cold weather

chicken tractor

You might be wondering what in the world do goat cheese, chickens, great danes, and winter have in common?  Well, the goat cheese is something I've been wanting to try for quite some time but just haven't done.  Yesterday, a friend and I did our grocery shopping together (it makes it more fun to go with somebody) and we split a package of goat cheese.  Today I made the most awesome salad for lunch with spinach, a thin slice of onion, about 4 sliced up mushrooms, a small handful of walnuts, 1/2 apple sliced up, and about 2 TBS of goat cheese crumbled over the top.  I like honey mustard dressing, so that's what I used.  It was very tasty.  The cheese has a very strong flavor and is somewhat salty; I'm anxious to find a recipe to use the rest of my half package.

The chickens have to do with winter, as does the great dane.  I've got a light bulb on in their roost (upstairs part of the tractor pictured above) to keep them warm during these frigid days.  I've also had to swap out their waterers twice a day because they have been freezing pretty quickly.  Chickens drink a lot of water and take extra time during frigid temps! 

Today it reached 33 degrees; the first time it's been above freezing since New Year's Day.  I know other parts of the country get that cold every year, but we usually don't get that cold for that long.   The great dane is very old (his name is Buck) and he shivers and chatters his teeth (he does it in the summer too), so I feel sorry for him even though he has a nice warm doghouse.  I've been letting him stay in the house during this really cold weather, along with Reuben the Catahoula, Angus the Boxer, and Cooper, the bad-haired terrier (he's a shelter rescue).  We're all snug and cozy in the house waiting for warmer weather---oh, and waiting for eggs too!  Yep, that's why I got chickens :)



Advice from an old farmer

I get lots of neat e-mails from friends and family, and most of them are just enjoyed for the moment then deleted to the Recycle Bin.  Once in a while there's one I simply have to share..........stay warm and keep those pets warm too!

Old Farmer's Advice:

Your fences need to be horse-high, pig-tight and bull-strong.  

Keep skunks and bankers at a distance. 

Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.. 

A bumble bee is considerably faster than a John Deere tractor.

Words that soak into your ears are whispered...not yelled. 

Meanness don't jes' happen overnight. 

Forgive your enemies; it messes up their heads. 

Do not corner something that you know is meaner than you. 

It don't take a very big person to carry a grudge. 

You cannot unsay a cruel word. 

Every path has a few puddles. 

When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty. 

The best sermons are lived, not preached.

Most of the stuff people worry about ain't never gonna happen anyway. 

Don 't judge folks by their relatives. 

Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer. 

Live a good, honorable life.. Then when you get older and think back, you'll enjoy it a second time. 

Don't interfere with somethin' that ain't bothering you none. 

Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a Rain dance. 

If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin'. 

Sometimes you get, and sometimes you get got. 

The biggest troublemaker you'll probably ever have to deal with, watches you from the mirror every mornin'. 

Always drink upstream from the herd. 

Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment. 

Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin' it back in.. 

If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else's dog around.. 

Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. 
Speak kindly. Leave the rest to God. 
Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he is too old to fight,
he'll just kill you.


Delicious Pumpkin Roll

I've never been a big fan of pumpkin pie so I just lumped all "pumpkin things" in that same category.  WRONG!  A couple of years ago I tasted a pumpkin roll and oooooooo, I've never looked at a pumpkin the same way since.  This pumpkin roll is literally "to die for".  I must correct myself though--around here it's called a "Punkin' Roll".  That's easier to say, you know.

Punkin' Roll

Before you start, set out an 8 oz package of cream cheese and 4 tbs. butter (or margarine) so it will soften.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a mixing bowl beat three eggs for 5 minutes.  Don't cheat, it takes 5 minutes. If you want to know why, it's because the cake will resemble a sheet of rubber if you don't beat the eggs that long!  (Voice of experience speaking there)  Also, line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper then spray it with cooking oil spray (a jelly roll pan is a cookie sheet with little sides on it)

When the eggs are sufficiently beaten up, gradually add: 

1 cup white sugar (I didn't say it was a diet cake)

2/3 cup solid pack pumpkin.  If you are using fresh pumpkin as I did, cook and puree the pumpkin, put it in a colander to drain for about 30 minutes or it will be runny (voice of experience again)

Also add 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 3/4 cup plain flour, 2 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. baking powder and 1 tsp. ground ginger.  When this is all blended, spread it in the jelly roll pan and put it in the oven for 12-15 minutes.   While the cake is baking sprinkle powdered sugar onto a clean dishtowel to put the cake on when it comes out of the oven. 

When the cake is done, (it is springy to the touch and doesn't stick to your finger) take it out of the oven and flip it onto the dishtowel (preferably not terry cloth).  While the cake is still hot roll the dishtowel and cake up from the narrow end into a jelly roll fashion.  Set it aside for 20 minutes to cool. 

While the cake is cooling, prepare the filling.  Mix the cream cheese, butter, 1 cup powdered sugar and 1/2 tsp. vanilla in a bowl.  Beat until smooth and creamy.  When the cake is cool, carefully unroll it out flat.


 Spread the filling all the way to the edges using a rubber spatula (there is usually just enough left over for a big glob to eat--yummy!)  After the filling is spread, roll the cake back up (without the towel, of course) and this is the most difficult part of the entire recipe.....wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge overnight.  Yes, all night...but it's WONDERFUL with a cup of hot coffee!  Enjoy.





Yummy Cabbage Rolls

The members of the Wild Things CSA Farm get to enjoy "baby cabbages" rather than a full head of cabbage when it's in season.  A baby cabbage is just about the right size for a meal and you don't have all that cabbage left over to deal with for weeks on end (it seems like anyway).  Last night for supper I fixed Sweet and Sour Pork with Brown Rice and these yummy cabbage rolls.  A lot of people are afraid of using egg roll wrappers, but they are really not as scary as they seem. 

The ingredients and preparation are as follows:

1 head baby cabbage (green), sliced into thin slices, or about 2 cups of regular head cabbage, sliced

1/2 onion, thinly sliced

1 carrot, grated

dash of soy sauce

dash of garlic powder

I used a pork chop left from supper the night before that I had put in the blender but you can use chicken or shrimp, or any kind of meat (I've never used beef, but I suppose it would be tasty).  A vegetarian cabbage roll would be perfectly fine too, you could add tofu maybe.....

Saute' all of these ingredients in either a wok or a frying pan until it's all limp, but not quite done (it will finish cooking in the wrapper)

Take an egg roll wrapper and lay it out on a flat surface.  I use a small bowl of water on the side to dampen my fingers then run them around the edges of the wrapper to moisten them.  Put a heaping spoon of the cabbage mixture in the middle of the wrapper (about 1/4 cup or so).  Fold the bottom third of the wrapper up over the cabbage and kind of tuck it in under the cabbage mixture then roll it all the way up and stick the top part of the wrapper to the roll.  Take the ends and mash them till the wrapper seals together then fold them over towards the middle about 1/2" or so and voila', you have a cabbage roll!  Roll all of them out; this recipe made 14 rolls.  You can keep the extra wrappers in the fridge and use them later.  They also freeze well.

Back to the rolls--heat up about 1/2-1" oil in a wok or frying pan (I used the same one from the cabbage mixture, just wipe it out).  If you use a wok it takes less oil.  Place the rolls in the oil, a couple at a time, and turn them when the bottom side gets brown.  It only takes a couple minutes to cook them.  Drain on paper towels and serve with duck sauce, sweet and sour sauce, hot mustard, or whatever you choose.


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