Willow Bark Farm

  (Grand Tower, Illinois)
Farming In Southern Illinois
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Growing Watermelons and Using EM-1

Well it has been awhile since my last blog post. Our summer has been busy planting, watering, weeding and harvesting here on our rural farm.

Southern Illinois has experienced record temperatures this summer along with drought conditions. With farming weather effects every crop that is grown.

This season it took three plantings to get a decent stand of watermelon. The third time is the charm they say. J

This season the varieties that we grew were Sugar Baby, Crimson Sweet, Charleston Gray and Georgia Rattlesnake. These are all heirloom variety watermelons. Ranging in size from small to quite large. Round and oblong in shape. Colors dark green, striped and pale green. Truly a beauty in the garden.

As the heat seemed to dry and scorch every living plant on our farm. Watering was a must. On normal rainfall years watering is usually very minimal. Not this season it has been hot, dry and down right miserable.

As the summer progressed, I was in great doubt that we would have a watermelon crop to harvest. The vines were drying and the blossoms were few. The watermelons were not maturing as I would have liked them to. As each day passed our watermelons that we had worked all season to grow were gradually withering away. Let me tell you, it is disheartening to work so hard only to be left with little or no crop to harvest. This is the way of farming though, some years are very good years while others are just plain terrible.

I decided to try EM-1 Microbial Inoculant on our watermelons. EM is an acronym for Effective Microorganisms. It is a brand name referring to a line of microbial-based products using a technology developed by Japanese scientist Dr. Teruo Higa. EM-1 is a liquid bacterial product made of three groups of bacteria: Yeast, Photosythetic Bacteria, and Lactic Acid Bacteria. EM-1 works together with beneficial microbes in the area to which it is added, creating a synergy among microorganisms and larger forms of life including insects and worms, pets and livestock, and people. It is a wonderful organic product.

At this point in the game of watermelon growing, I figured that I had nothing to lose.

I filled a one quart spray bottle with water and added 1 teaspoon of the EM-1. Let me tell you I spent quite a bit of time in our watermelon patch, making sure that every vine got a drink of the EM-1 solution.

I watched and waited. Within one week the watermelon vines began to show signs of recovering from the intense heat and drought. I was amazed and I couldn’t believe my eyes when our watermelons seemed to flourish and come alive again. It was wonderful to see the vines turn vibrant green and blossoms by the hundreds filled the vines. By the second week many small melons filled the vines. I cannot tell you how happy I was to see those tiny watermelons and lush vines filling up the watermelon patch. With my hope renewed, I knew that we would harvest a watermelon crop. Each and every week the watermelons just kept growing, the vines healthy and trailing and filling the entire growing area.

I harvested the first watermelons this morning. My, my they tasted absolutely delicious. Just the right sweetness, juicy, texture and vibrant color. For those of us that love watermelon, there is nothing that quite compares to a sweet slice of watermelon on a hot summer day.

To learn more about Effective Microorganisms visit the TeraGanix website by using this link http://www.teraganix.com/?Click=2131

They have many wonderful organic products to choose from.

I have included a few photos of our watermelons growing this season.

From our farm to your table, grow watermelons for a sweet slice of garden goodness.

How Sweet It Is!



Vegetables As A Healthy Food Choice

During the cold winter days, I long to be working out in my vegetable gardens. It is the first part of February and I have my section of the early vegetable garden planned out and prepared for planting.

February 14th - Valentine's Day is when I will plant my lettuce seed. Years ago my husband's grandmother Iva Jane told me the best time to plant lettuce in our area is Valentine's Day. She was born and raised on a farm in rural Southern Illinois. She said even if the snow is on the ground it is ok to sprinkle the seed on top of the snow, lightly tamp it down. The snow is a blanket for the tiny seed and as the weather warms the cold loving seed will germinate and quickly produce tasty and nutritious lettuce. Planting lettuce early will help to keep the lettuce from turning bitter as it reaches maturity.

We all remember our mother's saying "eat your vegetables they are good for you." My mother loved vegetables and introduced them to us at a very early age. Studies show that she was right.

Vegetables are a great choice when it comes to food. They are low in fat, high in fiber and packed full of vitamins -minerals. They can be eaten raw, lightly steamed, or added to your favorite recipe. Any way that you choose to have your veggies they are a healthy choice, instead of eating processed and fast foods.

Most vegetables are so easy to prepare and to serve healthy meals right in your own kitchen. It is very cost effective to prepare your favorite dishes at home, instead of dining out at expensive restaurants.

My daughter Amanda loves to cook and is always preparing healthy foods for our family using fresh vegetables. Our whole family enjoys eating Oriental and Thai foods. We all are very lucky to have such wonderful cooks in our family.

Last night Amanda cooked a delicious dinner for us. I have included a photo to show you Amanda's creation. Making a choice to pick fresh vegetables will help you to a path to a healthier lifestyle.

The menu is as follows.

Miso Soup

Amanda's Veggie Roll

Sesame Ginger & Cilantro Salad

Steamed Asparagus & Avocado Slices



The Big Snow

Many people in the Midwest braced themselves for the winter storms that were due to pass through our area in the last twenty-four hours. The weatherman was predicting between 5 and 12 inches of snow to blow in with the front. By early this morning in our little part of the world, six inches of powdery snow blanketed the landscape. Though in places the drifts were two to three foot deep. Talk about a winter wonderland.

Our small farm is in a very rural area. So our family as well as many other Southern Illinois farm families do our best to prepare for upcoming winter storms. Our small farm is about 20 miles from the nearest big town that has grocery and hardware stores. Having the needed supplies to survive a big winter storm is important. At times during big snow storms it is not unusual to be snowed in for three or four days. To be without electricity for days.

There is plenty to do and many supplies to stock up on. Food and water are essential necessities. The common foods such as bread and milk disappear quickly from the store shelves. In times like these I am thankful that we grow much of our own food. We home can, dry and freeze fruits and vegetables during the hot summer days. They are a welcome delight during hard times and cold weather. There is something to be said for growing a garden that supplies food and nourishment. Our fresh farm eggs are quite tasty for breakfast on cold winter mornings. Toast with peach preserves from our peach trees are a sweet treat.

Other supplies that we try to stock up on are candles, bottled water, matches, batteries, flash lights, rock salt, blankets, charcoal and snow shovels. The snow shovels are put to good use to clear the paths to the barn, the walkways and the driveway.

When a winter storm is approaching we prepare for our animals. Our chickens and turkeys must have a warm bed of golden straw to keep them warm when the cold winds blow. Plenty of food and water to keep them well nourished to withstand frigid cold temperatures.

It is not unusual for a large pot of chili or homemade soup to be our dinner fare on cold winter evenings. Comfort food to warm the body and soothe the soul.

Snow ice cream is a family favorite. The sweet and cold dessert is something we all enjoy.

Though there is plenty of work to prepare for a big snow, we also enjoy and take time out to play. Building snowmen and making snow angels. No snow day would be complete without dressing up warm and going out to the levee and sliding down in our tray sled. The wind bites at our noses and face but it is so much fun to enjoy this family time together. Then to come inside and have a nice cup of hot chocolate.

Yes, snow days on the farm are to be remembered and ones we take pleasure in.

You can view a few of todays big snow photos at this web link. http://www.mississippimoonnaturals.com/Big-Snow-1.html

Comfort Food On A Rainy Day

When I woke up this morning it was cold and rainy outside.

I finished my morning farm chores. Then came inside to start lunch for our family.

On days like this only certain foods will do. It was the perfect day for a comfort food. Comfort foods are warm and nourishing.

What was on the menu? Potato soup of course!

This is my recipe for potato soup. Our family loves this simple and wholesome food. This recipes makes enough to serve 4.


  • 6  Medium Potatoes ( Peeled, Washed & Diced)
  • 1  teaspoon of sea salt (More or less as you like)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper
  • pinch of ground cayenne pepper
  • small bunch of fresh garlic chives (chopped small) optional
  • 1- 12 ounce can of evaporated milk (Carnation is my favorite)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried parsley
  • 1/8 teaspoon of ground thyme
  • Water


In a large sauce pot add chopped potatoes. Add enough water to cover potatoes a couple inches in the pot. Bring to a boil. Add salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and ground thyme. Stir. Turn down heat and cook slowly until potatoes are fork tender. Make sure that potatoes do not run out of water. If needed add more water to continue cooking. Stir occassionally to prevent the potatoes from sticking. Do not drain the water from the potatoes, the water gives the soup a nice potato flavor. Add in parsely, chopped chives and evaporated milk. Bring back to a boil and stir. Turn down the heat and allow the soup to simmer for ten minutes. Serve warm.

We like to add in a little shredded cheddar cheese into our bowls. This adds a creamy flavor.

This soup is good anytime of year.

I hope that you enjoy this simple country soup!


The Four Penny Egg

 I have and raise a small flock of heritage breed chickens and turkeys. I have 20 young laying hens that are now 24 weeks old. The breeds are Buff Orpington’s, Rhode Island Reds, and Silver-Penciled Wyandotte’s.

Throughout my 30 years of living on the family farm I have raised many types of poultry. My largest flock was ten years ago when I had 100 heritage breed chickens, 10 bronze turkeys, 150 mallard ducks, 2 White Chinese Geese and 30 Bobwhite quail.  

I have 3 incubators and a brooder that I use to hatch new baby chicks. My children were always amazed when they were young when we would put the eggs in the incubators to hatch.  We all waited in anticipation for the little chicks to pip from their shells. Throughout the incubating process we would candle the eggs. This is done by holding the egg upright the small end pointing up, in a dark area and using a flashlight to look into the egg to see the embryo alive and growing inside the egg.

I just love raising poultry. They are easily cared for and have such individual personalities. It is an enjoyable hobby and the birds can supply a family with fresh eggs and meat. I like the idea that I know what my poultry is fed. My birds are naturally grown and are not packed full of hormones and antibiotic.  Commercially raised poultry are often raised in small cages and fed a meal that contains both antibiotic and growth hormones. My poultry love fresh picked greens and vegetables from my gardens. I feel it is important to give poultry fresh vegetables along with their regular diet of farm raised grains, grasses and clover that they pluck from the ground from free ranging and the many insects that they search out and find on their daily travels.

I awoke this morning at 4:00 a.m. to a temperature of 39 degrees. Tonight the temperatures are due to reach a freezing point. I hurriedly dressed warmly and made my way out to my chicken coop to feed and water my chickens and turkeys. They were all awaiting my arrival. Clucks, cock-a-doodle doo’s and gobbles sounds filled the air. They were chattering up a storm as I made my way inside for the morning feeding and watering.






One of my young Buff Orpington hens that I named Henny Penny was in the nesting box laying an egg. She is quite verbal when anyone comes near her nest when she is laying an egg. She cackles and ruffles her feathers warning off any intruder. I went about my business of doing my morning routine of caring for my birds. It wasn’t long and Henny Penny got off of the nest and made her way with the rest of the flock that was busily eating. 

I went to the nesting box to collect Henny Penny’s egg. I was shocked and amazed at the huge egg that lay in the golden straw. It was by far the largest egg that any of my chickens had laid in the 30 years of raising poultry. I added it to my basket and continued collecting the eggs. I went inside the house and washed my eggs under cool running water. It was apparent by looking at the normal size eggs that Henny Penny’s was a monster. I decided to measure the size of Henny Penny’s golden egg. As I carefully laid her egg on a clean and dry paper towel, I certainly didn’t want her egg to roll off of the kitchen table unto the floor. I lined up copper pennies in a row next to the egg. One penny, two penny, three penny and finally four pennies lay in a row next to the lovely egg. I hurried to get my camera to photograph Henny Penny’s wonderful egg.


 Her egg was so large that the egg carton would not close. You have heard of bragging size tomatoes, well I have a bragging size golden egg that was laid on a small country farm in rural Southern Illinois.

 So, this is my story of Henny Penny and her unusual four penny egg. A penny for your thoughts….





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