Wild Things Farm

  (Crab Orchard, Tennessee)
Farm life adventures of the Happy Hoer
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It's Blackberry Time in Tennessee

Some of my favorite, well, memorable memories from childhood and motherhood involve blackberries.  It was a tradition during my childhood to gather up crisco cans, buckets, and whatever would hold a bunch of berries and head up the holler at my nanny's farm. 

We kids had no choice--we had to pick blackberries.  I don't remember any insect spray and I don't remember ticks.  I do, however, remember chiggers!  I started wearing fingernail polish at an early age (on the chigger bites that is).  

Fast forward to motherhood:  My youngest son and I made it a yearly ritual to go along the roadways where we lived to pick blackberries.  We lived way out in the country and all the roads were dead ends and gravel and we could pick gallons of berries within a stone's throw of the house.  We'd be sweating and itching and fighting bugs and I would always say "think about having a great blackberry pie in December".  He'd laugh and say that he could go right there with me!

Now, there are thornless blackberries on the farm.  I still can't get near them without being careful of the thorns even though they are thornless!  I found an awesome recipe for not a pie, but a crunch.  I love "crunches" with fresh berries whether cherries, blueberries, or blackberries.  Here's the recipe:

Fresh Fruit Crisp

2 cups fresh fruit, 3/4 cups sugar, 2T all purpose flour, 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats (I use quick cooking), 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

In a large bowl combine fruit, 3/4 cup sugar and 2 T flour.  Pour into a square baking pan (8x8 or so).  In a medium bowl combine 3/4 cup flour, oats, and brown sugar.  Cut in the butter until crumbly.  Sprinkle over the top.  Bake for 30-45 minutes or until topping is golden brown.

It's great with ICE CREAM!  It's also good nuked in the microwave the next day; it stays crispy!


Gardening through a microscope - beneficial microorganisms

This year has got to be the year of the invisible helpers.  Bt (baccillus thurengiensis) has been in my arsenal of organic weapons for many years.  I use it on all the brassica family to control cabbage loopers.  There is another product I began using this year called "Serenade", which is another bacteria that fights blights and fungus.  It's being used on tomatoes every week to hopefully avoid the dreadful late blight that many tomatoes were plagued with last year. 

Another microorganism that I haven't tried yet but have plans to this week is Spinosad.  It's supposed to combat several kinds of beetles, including the Colorado Potato Beetle and flea beetles, two of my worst enemies. 

Several months ago I was contacted by a representative of TeraGanix, Inc.  She wanted to know if I would trial one of their products called EM-1.  This product is microorganisms that you apply to the soil and they feed on organic matter and in return nourish the crops.  I started the trial with the tomatoes.  There are about 13 different varieties of heirlooms and traditional tomatoes and I thought that would be a good way to see if this stuff really worked.  I planted three beds of tomatoes, two rows in each bed, approximately 320 plants total, and applied EM-1 to the bed on the left.  This photo was taken only 2 weeks after transplanting the tomatoes; everything was exactly the same except for the application of EM-1 on the left bed.


Pretty amazing, huh?  As you can see, the tomatoes on the left are much larger and greener than the other two beds.  I was amazed, to say the least.  I felt guilty for not giving the rest of the gardens the same boost so I ordered a gallon to give everybody a boost of micro-organisms.  I spent several hours today giving the other gardens a drink.  I used a hose-end sprayer for application.  It's a really fascinating facet of the chain of life and if you would like to know the specifics of it, click on the link below to get it "from the horse's mouth" (where did that stupid saying come from anyway, everyone knows horses can't talk---oh I forgot, Mr. Ed).




Living with Chickens

About 15 years ago my oldest son joined 4H.  He wanted to have chickens for his project, so a chicken house was constructed and 30 chicks arrived; 25 girls and 5 boys.  The chickens roamed around the yard for the first several months but they poop wherever they get the urge, so a pen was constructed, one wing clipped, and the girls and boys were confined to their own corner. 

The chickens grew up, laid eggs, and were auctioned off at the end of the season to raise money for the future chick-chain projects. 

Last year I decided I would like to have chickens again.  With so many gardens to tend I though they might be a useful addition to the farm menagerie.  I bought 6 Red Star chicks last summer, built them a tractor that's way to heavy for me to move without the tractor, and they started laying big beautiful brown eggs in November. 

They do a wonderful job cleaning up a garden bed once a crop is finished.  The spring crops are starting to fade out and the chickens have been very busy eating lettuce and spinach to make way for more crops.  A more user-friendly portable pen was constructed a few months ago so the chicken mom can move her small flock around easier.


The contraption on the left is the first tractor which has their roost and nest boxes upstairs and open pen downstairs.  The pen on the right is just pvc pipe covered with chicken wire and a tarp so they have some shade.  They love to go for walks in the mornings.  Chickens have a surprisingly large vocabulary.  When I go to greet them in the mornings they say "wok, wok, wok" which I know in chicken is "walk, walk, walk" (they don't do "L's" too well).  When one lays an egg their joyful screams echo from the mountain behind the pen "Buck, buck, buck-et".  Right before they do the bucket scream though they sit and almost hum while they're actually laying the egg.  It sounds painful to me.  I think the bucket song is a song of happiness that the egg-laying thing is over for the day. The other day when I was working in the gardens near the pen I heard one of the chickens making a noise I'd never heard before; sort of a growling-chirping noise.  I looked up and one of the other hens was pecking her on the back.  There were 2 roosters with them for a while until they wore the feathers off the girls' backs so the roosters are "cock-a-doodle-gone".  Now I see why the feathers haven't grown back on that one hen. 

The biggest problem with a portable pen is you have to remember to move them ever so often and you have to remember to put them up at night.  One night I was getting ready to go to bed and something reminded me that the chickens were still out.  I found a flashlight, traipsed down to their pen, woke them up and took them back to their pen.  I actually think they were fussing at me.

In April, 21 chicks arrived on the farm.  There were 5 Cherry-Eggers, 5 Barred Rock, 5 Buff Orpington, and 6 Amerecauna.  All were chosen for their disposition and eggs.  I built a chicken house for them and recently got their chicken yard fenced in so they can run around and catch bugs.  They're really fun to watch.  It's kind of like watching a lava lamp or an aquarium; you have to make yourself get back to work!

Inside the coop they fight for the top roost pole at night.


I guess I'll have to extend the top pole the length of the house so everyone can have "pole position".

The Amerecaunas are kind of like calico cats.  They all look different but they've all got a thick neck and no comb on their heads. 

The CSA members are eagerly awaiting fresh eggs sometime in the middle of the summer.  The 3 Red Star chickens will eventually be integrated into the new flock, but for now they are my garden slaves.......


Colorado Potato Beetle Blues

Does this insect not have any natural enemies besides humans?  The decision was made that this year the potatoes on the farm would be grown totally organically.   In years past I've always used a little conventional insecticide on the potatoes just so I would have some.  This year I'm experimenting.

Have you ever seen organic potatoes in the store?  I mean think about it....ever?  I haven't.  These potatoes were fertilized with organic manure and hundreds of bugs hand picked and squashed.  I'm able to squash a potato bug larvae with my bare fingers now.....I think that means something in the gardening community.  Well, maybe not an official title, but my nanny used to squash bugs with her fingers and I thought it was gross.  It's really not....it's just handy sometimes. 

In one of the patches I walked through yesterday there were literally HUNDREDS of potato bugs on the plants.  I knocked them off with the magic bug smacking wand (sprayer nozzle) into the pathway, sprayed them with rotenone/pyrethrum, them stomped them.  I realized that in my fit I was killing them twice.  Okay, stop panicking--the potatoes in the rear bluff garden are doing okay--if I keep diligently spraying them. 

I think the price of organic potatoes should be based on the price of gold.  There's probably just as much work goes into producing a bushel of potatoes in spite of this evil beetle as there is to mine more than an ounce of gold. 

Tomorrow the potatoes are getting sprayed with neem oil then dusted with diatomaceous earth.  We'll see how the beetles like that congloberation.

So far, this has been a pretty buggy year.  At least it isn't raining every day like it did last year!


Breaking Traditions

Everyone knows what traditions are.  Families have traditions at holidays, and there are certain ways that you're just supposed to do things. 

Well, this year I broke a tradition that I've had for I can't remember how many years--I think as long as I've been gardening.  Every year since I can remember, I've waited until the tomato plants were really too large to stake or cage.  I know there are others out there who are guilty, and you know too :).  It's not a really bad crime, it just breaks a few stems and plants and in the really bad years, really small tomatoes fall off....but anyway, this year I got ahead.  The fence posts got driven, the wires pulled, and this year I'm trying out some handy-dandy velcro ties to hold the plants upright on the wires.  They are reusuable and if they work, very economical.  Easy to use, that's for sure.  I just cut them into about 6 inch strips, loop around the stem and the wire, and voila, upright tomato. 

There are about 320 tomato plants in the garden this year, thanks to absolutely NO decent tomatoes last year due to the late blight (which hit early in the season, I might add).  I guess it's kind of a withdrawal symptom to plant so many, but a friend provided seeds for about 13 different heirloom tomatoes plus the ones normally grown on the farm.  I learned how to make sun-dried tomatoes too, so lots of Romas were planted for that adventure. 

Today was really hot and on the way back from planting the second crop of corn,

the dogs took a dip in the creek.

It looked and sounded so refreshing it was really hard not to jump in there with them!

After we got back to the house, peas had to be picked and chickens fed and put to bed.  The three big hens are still in the portable "tractor" so they can finish up the lettuce and spinach and other spring crops that are past harvest condition, and the 6 week old chicks are enjoying their new house and back yard.....

 I took pictures while the chicken house was being constructed.  That's another story when there's time to put it together!  Now, the sun is down so I can rest.

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