Wild Things Farm

  (Crab Orchard, Tennessee)
Farm life adventures of the Happy Hoer
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WHAT are you putting in your MOUTH!

OK, it's that time of year, when a lot of us make new year's resolutions and attempt to improve something about our lives.  The way I look at it is that we have "tomorrow" to improve, or "next week" to start something new--maybe "first of next month"--oh what the heck--new year's-----"I'll start taking control of what goes in my mouth".

 It's a real comfort knowing where your food comes from.  I was with my best friend at the grocery store the other day and I couldn't believe how stressful it was trying to decide which of the produce to encourage her to buy....the conventional spinach was--well, YUK!  not fresh...the organic wasn't much better and I thanked my lucky stars that I don't have to worry about where my produce comes from.  (If I had known she needed spinach I would have brought her some <img src=)" title=":))" />

Now's the time to decide how you want to nourish your body this year--join a local CSA and know where your food comes from, go to the farmer's market and get local produce (ask if it's organic) or continue to paddle along with convenience foods whether frozen or canned.  It's your choice.  Our bodies are using what we put in them to build new cells every day.  Junk in--junk out, as the old saying goes.  

I went to an "open house" yesterday at the home of one of the farm members.  They had prepared salad using greens from the high tunnel and they were really excited to share that information with the guests at their party.  It was exciting to me to be eating veggies that were grown on my farm but prepared by someone else--I knew where those veggies came from.   I know everyone isn't to that point in their consumption of food, but it's a really good feeling, and if you can't grow your own veggies, belonging to a CSA is a good foundation to taking control of your diet.


Progress of beekeeping on the farm

As mentioned in an earlier post, back in the summer I got bitten by the "bee bug".  After reading and reading and studying and attending meetings I've finally narrowed down the many choices for beekeeping styles to a Langstroth hive consisting of 8 frame medium supers.  They are lighter than the ten frame deeps that most beekeepers use, because they don't hold as much honey and comb as the 10 frame deeps.

I've also been reading about how the wax foundation that most beekeepers use has become contaminated with pesticides that beekeepers have been using for years.  I'm going to use frames so I can extract the honey and be somewhat flexible in moving frames, but I'm not going to use foundation.  I've read that bees build natural comb as fast or quicker than they do on wax foundation AND the foundation that is available is bigger than the normal size cell that a bee builds on their own.  This seems to facilitate the space for the Varroa mite to infest the brood nest of a colony.  I intend to keep bees the same way I garden, and that's "organical", so I'm going foundationless as well.

One thing I think I'm going to do is put Warre hive roofs and quilts on them to provide ventilation.  I didn't know it but bees have a real problem with condensation inside their hives, and they can actually drown, especially in the winter.  The Warre hive quilt and roof provide "breathable" insulation and a vented roof, so I'm going to put that on my hives instead of the normal flat roofs you see on beehives.

The area for the apiary on the farm that has been selected is nearby so I can watch the bees, it faces east, has a stream nearby, and is situated near a tree line to provide shelter from winter winds.  I've read that the ground needs to be clear of vegetation so if a bee falls on the ground while flying back to the hive that they can get back on their wings if not hampered by vegetation--so, I cleared the vegetation from the area and now I'm spreading wood chips from the utility company all around to make a nice clear area for the hives.

During the state beekeeping conference I attended a workshop where our state hive inspector opened a hive and showed us all kinds of things inside the hive; I like to pick up little tidbits during workshops and one thing he did say that was quite interesting was that one of the beekeepers in the state uses a 1 inch layer of lime underneath his hives to combat the small hive beetle.  He spreads it to a 3 foot area around the hives and the inspector said he had never seen a beetle in one of those hives.  Well, I have a huge pallet of lime that a friend gave me to lime my gardens with when I moved here, but turns out that my soil has a pH of 6.8 so I didn't need lime (very unusual in this part of the state).   That pallet of lime has just been waiting for my hives!  As soon as the wood chips are all in place and the hives go up, then I'll place the lime in its new home.

Today I purchased the lumber for the hives and I bought enough frames to do one box--I'm so excited :)

More info as the bee project progresses!


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.


The hands of a gardener

Did you ever stop to think about how much of our food never touches a human hand?  To me, that's scary.  I have three beautiful Red Star chickens and each day they lay three beautiful brown eggs.  I enjoy those eggs, as do my closest friends.  My best friend said she had to buy eggs from the store last week and her husband made the comment to her one day that "those weren't Terry's eggs" and she asked how he could tell.  He said that they didn't have the flavor, the texture, or the color of the farm fresh eggs from my chickens.  That was a compliment!

While working in the garden today and moving the chickens around, it dawned on me that so much of our food is never touched by humans.  I have "gardening" friends that load seed into a machine, plant it in the soil, spray the veggies with a sprayer on a tractor, then use a "picker" to harvest the vegetables.  The only time the vegetable is touched seems like when it hits the kitchen sink to be washed and prepared.  That's sad.

I know there are a lot of people to feed in the world, and everyone can't belong to a CSA or even know where their food comes from, but being in the business really opens you up to just how much junk there is out there that can be done to our food that no one really realizes. 

It's so easy to get caught up in the "spray" for everything that I think today's farmers have just gotten lazy.  Sure, it takes more time and energy to spread manure over a bed rather than sprinkle some fertilizer on, but the manure is feeding the soil and not just the plant. 

It might take a little more time to soak a bag of manure in water to form "manure tea" to water with, but the solution has a lot more microorganisms in it than a solution of chemical fertilizer. 

As far as insect control, building and hanging birdhouses, attracting birds to the garden areas, taking care of toads, bats, and dragonflies might seem frivolous to some, but those are all important aspects of gardening with nature.  Sure, a sprinkle with poison would get rid of the bugs quicker, but what about the critters that eat those bugs?  We don't want rid of them too. 

Every time I see a toad in the garden, a dragonfly cruising overhead, the bluebirds in all the boxes I've built them, the salamanders, snakes, bats, and wood ducks who all call this place home, how can I poison anything?  It's all connected.  Too many gardeners are worried about the perfect plant.  A few bug holes don't hurt anything....hand picking works well, but healthy soil and healthy plants work best.  I think keeping poison out of the food chain is a great start to a happy ending!  It's still a lot of hard work, though :)


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!

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