Wild Things Farm

  (Crab Orchard, Tennessee)
Farm life adventures of the Happy Hoer
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Winter is hanging on

Okay, so March 20 was officially the first day of Spring. There were a few days of nice, sunny, spring-like weather BUT winter has not quite let go yet. With nighttime temps at 24 degrees last night, about the same tonight and even colder tomorrow night, I'm sure getting a workout with the row covers and high tunnels in this sort of weather.

Today I transplanted 5 flats of Broccoli Raab into individual cells for replanting outside, really soon!

broccoliraabwebthe chives outside the high tunnel are happy, happy....

chivesathtweb

One of the projects on the wintertime funky weather list was to install a dry creek bed at the back of the house to drain the roof (no gutters yet) and a spring that is under the house.  Here's a start....

drysteambed

It will evolve over the course of the season, but at least the landscape fabric is down and the outline of rocks is in place.

I've been planting comfrey around the farm for the bees and the mulch.  Comfrey is a perennial that will produce lots of organic matter over the course of a season.  Several plants were planted in the orchard and at various places around the farm....

comfreyweb

Two weeks ago a new puppy arrived at the farm.  His name is "Blue".  His father is a Cur dog and his mother is a Catahoula.  I call him a "Curtahoula".  It's been awhile since a new puppy was here at the farm, and it is a constant battle to teach them not to kill chickens, cats, and not poop on the porch.  So far he hasn't threatened a chicken, hasn't caught a cat, but, hmmmm, has pooped on the porch several times...

blue3.24.14.web

 

In this photo he is really fascinated by a bunch of acorns he found on the ground--I could not get him to look at the camera.  He's a good dog so far :-)

I dug a clump of daffodils from my Nanny's house in Newport about 25 years ago, and moved them to my place in Lenoir City.  After that they moved to Crossville, to Crab Orchard, then to Wild Things Farm.  In spite of being relocated several times, they still remind me of my Nanny and I smile when they bloom.

daffodilsfromnannyweb

 

In the photo below you'll see the "Front Bluff" gardens planted in Swiss Chard, lettuce, kale, onions, mixed greens, and spinach---all covered up with row cover.  Maybe I can fool Mother Nature long enough to get a few things under way a little early!

The area nearest the camera is the newly established berry bed.  I killed the grass in this area last year, mulched with chicken manure, and will mulch with leaves before the raspberries, tayberries, blackberries, and hazelnuts are planted.

 

backyardberrypatchwebI'll go throw another log on the fire and dream of warmer days......

 

 

 
 

Brrrrr! Cold Chicken Toes

That's the only suitable title I could come up with for this post.  Sunday was fairly warm for January--in the upper 40's actually--then the wind blew and blew and the bottom fell out of the thermometer.  Monday and Tuesday night were both 8 degrees below zero and the high yesterday didn't get over 6---SIX!  That's not much.

Then, then.....the power went out about 3:15 yesterday.  I had a gut feeling about it so I put a pot of chili on the woodstove....

chilionwoodstove1.7.14web

 

Oh, and the reason it looks so light in there is because of the camera flash.  It was really dark, but I had candles lit in my awesome scavenged wrought iron chandelier that couldn't be used electrically anymore......

diningroomchandelierweb

 

It is hanging over the table in the "wining room" (the room where all of my wine is in various stages of fermentation) formerly known as the dining room.   It's actually part of the "great room" so the candles worked great.  Who actually uses a dining room that much anyway....

After staring at the fire, chunking wood, reading "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" with my tiny flashlight, and eating a bowl of pretty darn good chili,  the power came on--just about 5 hours after it went off.  I've lived off the grid before and really, I like a little electricity.  I don't use my clothes dryer, don't have tv, I heat with wood, am stingy with hot water.....but I do like electric lights...oh, and the computer :-)

Today I had to get outside.  The temp had gotten up to 30 so it was time for an excursion to the high tunnels to see how the veggies had held up to the brutal temps.  Lettuce, chard, spinach and kale all did well.  The broccoli raab and arugula succumbed to the bitter cold--BUT they were sort of on their way out anyway so it's not a big deal.

When I went to the empire of the Happy Hens yesterday to water and feed, I saw blood in the snow around the water and feed pans.  Oh no!  Not blood.....not now!  I looked at chicken toes until I found the problem.  One of the hens had broken a toenail into the quick and it was bleeding pretty profusely.    I gathered her up under my arm and headed to the house to the first aid kit.   I told her to not tell the others that she had actually been in "the house".  I grabbed some gauze and peroxide but couldn't find any adhesive tape, so here we go to the shop.  She behaved fairly well and didn't try to attack me or anything.   I was able to clip off the damaged part, pour peroxide over it a couple of times, then bandage it with a gauze pad and------electrical tape.  Maybe it will stay on long enough to heal a little.  Even  a small problem seems amplified in bitterly cold weather.

This morning when I went to water and feed and collect the frozen eggs I saw no blood and I didn't see a bandage on any chicken toes, so maybe all is well.   Their feet do look awfully cold in this weather though.

A lot of the country is experiencing this brutal cold front called, what, "Ion" or something like that?  Stay warm and pore over the seed catalogs.....spring will be here before we know it!

 

 
 

Twas the Week Before Christmas

And all around the farm, the creatures were stirring....

kittensonfenceweb

 

hattiediggingformouseweb

 

chickenslooseweb

 

Really looking for something to harm......did you think I was going through that whole poem?  Really........

Today was one of those wintertime treats!  Sunny....mid 40's at some point during the day.  It's funny how 50, cloudy and breezy is intolerable but 33 and sunny calm is great!

One of the projects on my "to do" list for the winter is to mulch around the blackberries and blueberries and I got started on that yesterday......

berrypatchmulchweb

 

I know, I know, the black leaf holders are kind of ugly, but they do keep the leaves from blowing around until they are put in their place.  I'm using layers of newspaper around the bushes then lots of leaves to keep the weeds down.  I do have lots of leaves....

2014leavesweb

 

I LOVE my leaves!

leafbagsontractorweb

 

Each season, John, Dear (that would be my tractor) and I spread a thick layer of leaves over every inch of garden space, in the chicken pens, and wherever I want new garden ground.  I did get the orchard completely mulched last week as well---yay!

seedlingflatingreenhouseweb

 

One thing I'm experimenting with this year is planting seedlings in the high tunnel throughout the winter season.  Most of the crops in high tunnels are planted in late September/early October but in the hurry of getting another high tunnel built this year and all the other chores I have around the farm, the big high tunnel wasn't completely planted before cold weather set in.  I'm experimenting to see if everything doesn't need to be planted at the same time.  So far I've planted endive, yellow and scarlet mustard, braising mix, assorted varieties of lettuce, sorrel, and kale.  The first test plot was planted about 3 weeks ago and I've harvested a few greens from them.  Today I planted another 5 flats of seedlings and we'll see how they do.   True, things do grow slower this time of year, but they do still grow!  I say hopefully next year I'll have time to get everything in earlier :-)

Okay, now scroll back up to the first pictures.  The kittens follow me into the high tunnels and catch and eat grasshoppers!  I don't know how to reward a cat, but I make a big deal when they catch one.

(2nd pic) Hattie the Catahoula dug in that bed for hours--then she came up with a mouse!  I was so proud--that's one I won't have to deal with :-)  Notice one of the Happy Hens had made her way up to the bed.....see next pic....

The chickens were in their pen and I was in the back garden spreading leaves.  This garden is really close to their pen, and they were following me up and down the fence.  I got to thinking--hmmm what is there to keep them in the pen?  Just a fence--no gardens to scratch up and destroy, so I let them loose.  They had a ball!  I think I'll let them out again tomorrow...it's supposed to be pretty here again (yay).

Until next time.....

 
 

Preparing for Winter

The weather prognosticators are calling for really cold weather tomorrow night--first really "hard freeze" of the year, although my thermometer read 24 degrees last night.  So that means removing the irrigation pump from the pond and subsequently draining the lines that feed all the different garden areas and the drip irrigation spiderweb that is in place in the gardens.  Done!

Next is to install all the wire hoops over the beds in the high tunnels to protect the winter crops inside the high tunnels.   The second layer of protection inside the tunnels really makes a difference..

rowcoversinhightunnel11.13This is a shot inside the larger high tunnel which is 20x96.  This tunnel has lettuce, kale, braising mix, spinach, broccoli raab, endive, mustard, radiccio, and a few other greens. The newer tunnel is 12x80 and is protecting spinach, swiss chard, arugula and broccoli raab.  Oh, and both tunnels have a row of strawberries on each of the outer walls.  Strawberries outside in this area (on this farm, anyway) are "iffy" during late frosts and freezes in the spring so I'm trying them inside each tunnel.  So far I've been able to eat strawberries with my yogurt about 3 days a week.  We'll see how they do on a production scale next spring.

On Saturday I opened the bee hive and on top of the frames of the top box I placed 2 layers of newspaper, cut a hole in the middle, then poured about 3-1/2 pounds of white sugar on the paper.  The sugar was then spritzed with water to "crust" over.  Several of my beekeeping buddies have said they are going to put a solid bottom board in over the winter because they are thinking that we will have a colder-than-normal winter--so, I decided to do the same.  I cut a piece of 1/4" insulation and covered the bottom board just after I put the sugar on, then I went about my chores.

It was a beautiful Saturday, low 60's and sunshine.  About 30 minutes after tending to the bees I noticed A LOT of bees around the entrance and a few of them on the front starting to "beard"--okay, maybe it was too warm to install the bottom board on Saturday.  I moved it back about halfway and a few minutes later all was back to normal.  It's okay to deal with one or a few hives in this manner but you sure couldn't do this with more than a few!  I've got a lot to learn about beekeeping :-)

Wintertime around here also means doing indoor things and that includes soap making.  I LOVE patchouli scent and bought a couple of patchouli plants this past summer.  They are in pots in the house and doing well.  I've been collecting leaves from them to make an oil infusion and finally gathered enough to actually get it done.  I used sunflower oil as the base oil (it's cheap and effective for this purpose).  I stuffed a pint jar full of dried patchouli leaves then filled it with sunflower oil.  Heat a pan of water to boiling, remove from the heat and set the jar of oil and leaves into the pot of water and let it cool.  Put a lid on the mixture and shake it up every time you walk by it for a few months.

patchoulioil

 

This is my first time doing this, so I'll report back as the experiment progresses.

Another project on the farm is that the chimney for the woodstove is in progress--YAY!  Hopefully it will be ready to use by Christmas--I'm excited!

chimneyinprogressweb

 

I plan on stuccoing the block since it's on the back of the house and not visible unless you walk all the way around to the back of the house.  Building the scaffold is just about as tedious as the block work.

Another winter project around here is winterizing the gardens.  The front bluff garden was in pretty good shape but there were 3 beds of overgrown lettuce, pepper plants, and a few ugly cabbages in addition to a few weeds.

I moved the electric poultry fence around this garden since it's adjacent to the chicken pen anyway.  The girls went nuts!

chickenpeninfrontbluff

 

Now that they've gotten that garden cleared out they'll be moved to the pond garden next--I appreciate all the help I can get :-)

 

 
 

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 :)

 

 
 

Welcome Blues in Late Winter

Here in Tennessee this winter has become one of the nastiest and coldest that I remember and much of the winter has been spent working inside.   Several projects have been completed inside the house, namely flooring and stair railing.

Yesterday was a late winter "blues gift" of blue skies and a beautiful day where one could get outside and do a few cleanup chores.

Protecting the chickens' domain are two huge sycamore trees.  Anyone who has had the opportunity of sharing the same piece of ground with a sycamore tree knows how messy they are.  I renamed them "Stick-a-more" trees because I picked up a pile of sticks that was about 4 feet wide and 6 feet tall in no time at all.  I burned them on top of a stump I'm trying to get rid of that is in an area where I want to plant basil this season. 

I spent a while in the high tunnel cleaning out crops that just didn't enjoy being in there over the winter.  Broccoli didn't appreciate the cold temperatures so I put them out of their misery and into the chicken pen.  There was also one last bed of spinach in one of the outside gardens that the chickens enjoyed immensely.  I folded endless numbers of frost blanket and stacked them to be ready for unexpected frosts and finished pulling all the wire hoops, posts, and stakes out of the gardens in preparation for that day when suddenly the ground is dry enough to till.  That day seems like an eternity away right now because if you step off the pathways you just might lose your shoe!

The greenhouse is also getting busy.  Seeds have been started on propagation mats for a mesclun mix, lettuce, lots of onions, swiss chard, kale, and arugula.  I've also started seeds for an early tomato to be planted in the high tunnel just to see how early one can get a tomato here in this area.

Yesterday's case of the "wintertime blues" was much welcome--I hope everyone else within shot of it got to enjoy the day as much as I did. 

 
 

High tunnel project at the farm

I remember hearing about the fall gardens going in at the White House and it kind of drew my interest so I watched the online video of the project, but being easily distracted as I am, I didn't pay too much attention to the video because I noticed a popup ad from the USDA NRCS about a program for high tunnels, so that's where I went.

Fast forward through all the phone calls, and stacks of paperwork,  and Wild Things Farm was approved for a 20'x96' square foot high tunnel---whoohooo!

Progress on the high tunnel has been minimal throughout the summer because its priority fell behind the CSA produce, so it's been slow, but steady.  Lo and behold yesterday the project was completed. 

The frame is from Grower's Solution in Cookeville, TN.  It's a great frame, met all the specs, and the price was reasonable.  Oh, and they delivered it for free (cute college guy in a pickup truck!)

The local NRCS person came out to the farm and helped me lay out the rectangle--he had surveying equipment that made it much easier. 

After that, I pulled strings, drove in the ground stakes (as straight as I could) then started assembling the bows and placing them in the stakes.  Attached to that is the 2x6 baseboard.   My friend Kim helped with some of the stake and bow project, but most of the job was just a minute or two here and there all season,  by yours truly. 

Once the bows were up, the purlin was to go on.  I looked at the diagram on the net on how to install the cross connectors, and I interpreted the purlin to be on top, right?  I get the whole purlin installed and I keep looking at it thinking that something just didn't look right.  I've been in hundreds of greenhouses and never paid any attention. 

 

Okay, so I'm looking at the video and "uh-oh", the purlin goes on the bottom.  Oh yeah, I was wondering how that big hump was going to work out with the plastic.  Under is much better :)  So, I get the ladder out again, go all the way through the greenhouse and move the purlin from on top to under. Lots of up and down and twisting with a rachet.   Lesson learned.

Several trips to the local Lowe's  punctuated with spurts of carpentry work ended up being the ends of the house.  The doors are 6' wide x 8' tall, just inches larger than my tractor. 

The plastic goes on the ends first because the big plastic on the house is supposed to go on last, and they share the same wiggle wire channel along the end purlin.  I used clamps to hold the plastic in place while I adjusted and attached the plastic to the ends. 

Once the ends were on, it was time for the big  plastic.  The plastic made me nervous for some reason--I don't know why, maybe because it's SO BIG!  Several people offered to help, but when I got outside yesterday morning, it was like, really still, and I thought "oh what the heck; I've got 2 ladders and 4 clamps, let's go for it!"

Lots of trips up and down the ladder, dragging it from end to end several times, twisting clamps, and 2-1/2 hours later, the plastic was on!  A slight breeze began to blow just as I was attaching the last side of the plastic--perfect timing!

The wiggle wire system is fun to use but makes my hands sore from so much gripping and pulling.  It tightens up the plastic very nicely.

The roll-up sides were another story.  I had a time getting the poles to roll up evenly from one end to the other.  I redid the first side 4 times before I was satisfied with the results.  The second side took only 1 try--thank goodness for small favors!  The black webbing holds the side in place while it is rolled up and down, and the webbing plus the weight of the pole holds it all in place during cold weather.  The roll up side sure cools off the inside of the house--it's almost the same temp as the outside with the sides up--good decision to add that option.

 

It has changed the landscape of the farm, for the better, I think.  There's already a pile of leaves outside ready to be placed around the crops and in the pathways, and 2 scoops of chicken manure inside ready to be tilled in--yeah!

Being a CSA farmer means very long hours for several months of the year, and a welcome break at the end of the season.

So WHAT WAS I THINKING?  High tunnel, extended season?

Why certainly!  After a full summer of intensively gardening  just over 4 acres, this little garden should be fun!  (Once I figure it out).

 
 
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