Old Home Farm

Which Way Did You Say?

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A friend of mine asked me the other day where I had bought my guinea fowl. I told her there is a man who lives down the road from me who raises exotic birds and she asked me for directions. My reply was, "His house is at the bottom of dump hill across from the old McEntire place."

"Oh!" she exclaimed as understanding dawned. "I'll drop by and see him."

And that is the way directions are given here in the country. We rarely know the highway or county road numbers. If you tell me that some one lives on County Rd 5006 I am totally lost. But if you say that they live at Anderson Flat and you turn left across from where the old Church of Christ building used to be, then I can go straight there.

Country folk rely on landmarks to navigate their world. I think it hearkens back to a time when fences were few and far between, and even if there was a fence, you were welcome to cross the land using a well-worn trail. Down the side of my field is an old wagon trail that intersects with another one coming up from the "hollar." To this day you can see faint groves in the ground where the iron or wooden wheels covered miles of country. We keep the path clear through the woods purely out of sentiment, and actually use part of one for our driveway.

We have places known as the Bruno Hill (where I live), the Bruno Ridge Road, Tomahawk Ridge, Dump Hill, Tabor Hill, and landmarks such as the Bruno Fire Dept, the old Eros Store, the Nanny Cemetery, Clear Creek, and a few new ones like the cell phone tower (just up the hill from me), the Bruno-Pyatt School, and the green water tower.


We have many obscure references too, such as "Where the old swinging bridge used to be," "Where the Anderson Flat store used to be," "Where the old Church of Christ used to be," "Turn by the old Phillips place," etc. Things only a local would know. Which leaves new people very confused.

A couple of years ago, I got a phone call. A woman started yelling at me that my goats were in her yard eating her flowers. I looked out my window, counted my goats, and responded, "I'm sorry ma'am, but my goats are all here." Then trying to be helpful I asked, "Where do you live? Maybe I know whose goats they are."

"I live on the Bruno Hill," she informed me, "and you are the only one near me with goats!"

I mentally considered my neighbors and knew of no one else close with goats so I asked, "Where exactly on the hill do you live?"

"I live right down the road! We just moved in three months ago."

"Are you in that big house up on the bank by the first curve?" I asked trying to get my bearings.

"What curve?" she demanded. "I'm just down the road from you. Now come and get your goats!"

"But I need to know where you are. Are you up on the cemetery road? Are you before or after the cattle guard?"

"What are you talking about?!" she demanded. "I am on the Bruno Hill not far from you. You live in that rock house where the road forks and I am just three miles down the road."

Ah! The light was beginning to shine through the fog. "Ma'am," I gently explained, "you live on the Ridge Road. I live on the Bruno Hill. We are several miles apart and my goats are all here."

"What are you talking about? I live on the Bruno Hill!! You come out of Bruno, go past that long field and across the creek and at the top of the hill there is a fork to the right. You live at the fork and I live down the road."

"I'm sorry," I politely told her, "but I live on the Bruno Hill directly up from Bruno and just past the cell phone tower. You live on the Ridge Road at the top of Dump Hill and there is a good two miles or more between us. Those are not my goats. You have the wrong number."


Her response was some nasty words and she hung up on me. I heard later that the owner of the goats (who I had gone to school with) had come along while we were on the phone and started collecting his wayward livestock. I never heard from her again, and I'm told she moved a few months later.

Thankfully, not everyone is frustrated by our navigation system. Most newcomers find it rather charming, and we locals try very hard to use easily defined landmarks. We have even learned some of the more prominent road numbers to assist them. But among ourselves, we revert to the old directions. Its rather comforting, and we always know just exactly where we are.

Hilza & Jeffery: A Love Story

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Valentine's is this week. As I was feeding the sheep this morning, I thought about all the sheep we've had in the last 17 years and I thought the story of Hilza and Jeffery would be nice to share for the holiday.

In the year 2000, our good friends and neighbors decided they could no longer care for their flock of mixed breed sheep, and asked us if we would like to have them. That is how sheep came back to Old Home Farm – my grandfather Felix having raised sheep many years before. It was a good flock to learn on, and consisted of a variety of breeds. Hilza was a Romney ewe and the lead sheep. Often it is the oldest or most independent ewe that becomes the lead. And Hilza was very independent. Our ram at the time was a Merino-Suffolk cross named Gregory (he was born on my husband's birthday). He sired many good lambs, but Hilza remained barren.

1 Hilza  Gregory

We assumed she was just too old to lamb, and Greg wanted to get rid of her saying she was a "drain on the grain." But I loved Hilza and insisted on keeping her. I teased him and said she was just picky like I had been. Greg and I met in high school during our sophomore year. I had never dated anyone, even though I had been asked out. I had an ideal in my head of what kind of a man I wanted and none of the boys fit the bill. Until Greg came along. It took him until our senior year to ask me out, then there was never anyone else for either of us. And, after 38 years of marriage, I can safely say that is still true.

Greg and I

One day a friend of ours asked if we would keep her Jacob ram Jeffery for a while so she could work on his paddock, strengthening fences and planting new grass. We agreed, and Jeffery came to stay a while. He was a beautiful Jacob ram with only one set of horns and with a very sweet nature. We put him in the front paddock so he could see the sheep, but not fight with Gregory, who was very territorial. (I never took a picture of Jeffery, but I did find a stock photo that looks very much like him.)

3 Jeffery

One evening, as we were putting the sheep into the barn lot for the night, Hilza refused to come. She stood by Jeffery's paddock and pawed at the fence. She would look at us, bleat, and paw the fence. I told Greg “I think Hilza wants in there!” So Greg opened the gate and in Hilza ran. She stayed with Jeffery the entire time he was our guest and seemed to mourn him when he went home.

4 Hilza at fence

That spring, Hilza gave birth to twins, one a little ewe an exact duplicate of Jeffery. The other was a ram that looked like her. I named them Jillian and Christopher. They grew into fine young sheep, and Hilza never had any more lambs. She had found her one true love, and no other ram was every good enough for her after that. Some of us just know what we want, and nothing else will do. Happy Valentine's.

5 Jillian  Christopher


Seeds 101

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The really neat thing about home-school is that you can add classes to your schedule and give the kids more depth to their education. I'm not knocking public schools or teachers. But they are governed by state rules and a board who stipulates the types, length, and quality of classes. Most teachers I know are really frustrated by this and would give anything to be able to devote more time to subjects and expand their classes. Fortunately, home-schoolers are not governed by these rules.

As an addition to my grandchildren's home-school, my daughter-in-law and I are going to do gardening classes one afternoon a week after the regular classes are finished. This will go toward a science credit. As they get older, farm classes can be credited toward an agri class.

Our first class started at the beginning with seeds. Which came first, the plant or the seed? Actually the plant did, but the book I bought to use as a resource (Seeing Seeds by Teri Dunn Chace) begins with “A seed is both the beginning and the ending of a plant's life.” I had never looked at it that way before, but it is absolutely true. You can't have a plant without a seed, and you can't produce the seed without the plant. As I read through this book I became more and more fascinated with the conception and life cycle of a single seed.

1 seed book

A seed has three basic parts: the seed coat, stored food, and the embryo. Its a bit like a baby in the womb. Seeds lie dormant (the incubation period) until three perfect conditions end the dormancy: the correct soil temperature, the correct air temperature, and sufficient day length and light. When these conditions (which differ for each species of plant type) are met, the seed coat begins to split and the cotyledon (or new embryonic plant) starts to emerge. As the cotyledon splits apart, the leaves emerge and the young plant is born.

2 life cycle of seed

Then, just like a new baby, the young plant must be tended to carefully. If the seeds are started indoors for a later planting, the seedlings must be kept in a controlled environment. I have a mini green house I keep indoors with grow lights to keep them warm. I use bio-degradable peat pots that will decompose after planting. I set these in a shallow pan (I actually use new cat litter pans) and pour water into the pans so that it will soak up from the bottom to water the plants. If you pour water directly onto new plants, it will pack down the soil and make it difficult for the plant to emerge and to grow. Every couple of days, I use a spray bottle and mist the plants to keep the leaves moist.

3 green house

Today we started cabbage seeds to be transferred to the garden around the middle of March. We also planted sunflowers. I found two seed-starter kits at the Dollar Tree so the kids can take home their own seeds as well.

4 starting seeds

In addition to the starter kits, I ordered a magazine from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. (copies are often provided free to schools and non-profit groups). Amazing Seeds ~ A kid's guide to incredible garden veggies! is a great read. It is full of fun facts, tips, and activities for the young beginning gardener. I enjoyed it as well, and found many things I could use in it.

5 baker creedk mag

The really cool thing about this class is that I am learning too. To teach, you must study, and by studying, you learn. Next week, we will learn about soil and how different plants need different soil types. I can hardly wait to get started!

A Horse Of Course

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Horses have always played a big part in my life on the farm. Like most girls, I was horse crazy almost from the moment I was born. I must have inherited the gene from my father, because next to dogs, Daddy loved horses almost as much as I did. His first pony was named Ned, and he went on from there to an assortment of horses, mules, and donkeys.

1 Daddy Ned and Un Carl

I began life with Old Jack. Daddy had Jack before he married Mom. Jack pulled a wagon, plowed the garden and field, and was used to drag trees that had been felled for firewood. There was no animal gentler than Old Jack. He was a very large donkey (Daddy always referred to Jack as a Burro). Jack was about 12 or 13 years old when I came along, and Daddy had me sitting on Jack before I could even walk. I'm told that Jack adored me, and that when I was a toddler, he would come to the fence and lay down for me to climb upon him. Daddy said Jack would never move a muscle until I got off, then he would stand up and if I was near his feet, he would stand patiently until I was out of his way. Jack lived to be around 30 years old and was my constant companion and playmate as a child.

2 Me  Old Jack

During my early years with Jack, Dad had a black and white horse named Babe. She was huge in my eyes and Daddy would ride Babe and lead me on Jack. But Daddy was the proverbial horse trader, and we went through many horses in my life. When I was 8, he traded Babe for a pregnant mare, which I promptly named Furylena. There was an old TV series called FURY! about a boy and his horse that I thought it was the greatest TV show ever. Furylena gave birth to a colt I named Vinegar. The plan was to raise Vinegar to be my horse and we would break him out for me in three years' time.

3 Furylena and vinegar

But Daddy grew restless waiting for Vinegar to get old enough to break, and not quite two years later Daddy traded both mare and colt for a 12-year-old named Icabod. Icabod was very gentle and rather lazy and perfect for me to learn to ride on. With Icabod, I learned how to saddle, bridle, and care for a horse. Once Daddy was sure I had mastered these techniques, he traded Icabod for a younger piebald mare named Beauty. Then Daddy and I began going for long rides in the woods, he on Jack and I on Beauty.

4 Icabod  Beauty

As I grew older, my horses became younger and more experienced animals. Jack died and was replaced with a gated mule called Muley. Oddly enough, Daddy preferred a gated mule for riding instead of a horse. My first real horse I could ride on my own was Buck — who didn't last long because he was aptly named. He would be just fine for a length of time, then suddenly I would find myself on the ground with no idea how I got there. He was quickly replaced with Sunset, who looked almost exactly like him, except he was a deeper red in color. Sunset was all he was supposed to be and I had him for about two years.

5 Sunset  Buck

Then came two horses at about the same time named Diamond and Wendy. At that time we had rented a neighboring pasture and needed horses to herd the cows back and forth twice a day. Diamond was a Morgan horse, jet black and though you can't see it in the picture, he had a small diamond-shaped white mark on his forehead under his bangs. Wendy was an Appaloosa, and one of the best cutting horses I've ever seen. It came down to just sitting still and letting her do the work.

6 Diamond  Wendy

Eventually, we sold the dairy cows and went to beef stock (Herefords to be exact) and there was no real need for a cow horse. So Daddy traded Wendy for a Welsh-Arabian cross that I named El Blanca (after a Disney movie) and that is where the horse trading ended. Up until this time horses were just horses. I rode them for pleasure, or to round up the milk cows, or at the school fair. But everything changed once this new horse came on the scene. El Blanca was 7 when we got him and he was my beloved companion and friend for the next 20 years. I spent hours on horseback wandering the property. I rarely used my saddle, sometimes not even a bridle, and during the summer never wore shoes. If I was out fishing at the pond, or under a tree reading a book, El Blanca was near by. I would even lay on his back and read while he grazed. That horse and I developed a bond that could never be broken.

When I married and left home, El Blanca waited patiently for me to return. He would let no one ride him, and stood by the road every day looking for me to come home. Daddy just didn't have the heart to let him go to anyone else. When we came back for visits, El Blanca would gallop to meet me and I would pet him and curry him and go for a ride. Even after all the months and years of not being ridden, he would still be gentle for me.

7 El Blonca

We eventually moved back home, and my children began to ride him. El Blanca seemed to recognize they were mine, and allowed them to ride and play on him much the same way I had. We lost El Blanca at age 27. And I grieve for him to this day. He was a huge part of my life growing up on the farm. And one of my most special memories.

Carrots Love Tomatoes...

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I am not a master gardener. In fact, I'm really not much as an amateur. I grew up in a world where the outside belonged to men and the house was the woman's domain. Daddy was the gardener, and I would even venture to say that he was a self-taught master. I never saw his garden fail. Daddy taught me cattle management, hunting, some electrical skills, some mechanical skills, but never gardening. Those other skills were fun to Daddy. It was knowledge he could pass down to me. But gardening was work, and that made it his job. Mom and I could harvest the garden and put up the produce, but outside physical labor was not for the delicate female. In consequence, his master gardening skills went with him when he passed. Oh, he would have gladly talked to me about it if I'd had the sense to ask. But in my younger days gardening was the last thing I was interested in.

Now, I find myself in middle age, unemployed, and back on the farm. The stock management has stood me in good stead with the sheep. We always had chickens, which did fall in mother's domain, so I have the knowledge required to raise my own flock. It is gardening that is the challenge. Daddy always made it look so easy. But we have been at this for few years now and have yet to be successful enough to allow me to put up the produce. Working full time was one handicap. We planted on the weekends, visited the garden before work, and again afterwards, but there just wasn't time (or energy) to really get down to the details that make a garden a success.

To begin with, there is the soil. Each plant family needs a different type of soil with different nutrients. Tomatoes needs lots of calcium, but cabbages do poorly in a calcium rich soil. And then there are the personalities to deal with! Did you know that not all plants get on well together?

This year I decided that since I am home full time now, I would devote myself to a thorough study of gardening and see if at last I could be as successful as Daddy. My first task was finding books on the subject. I am not a YouTube person, I can't stand sitting for hours in front of the computer, and I refuse to have a kindle. I want a real book I can hold and study and flip back and forth through the pages comparing notes. The books I eventually settled on are The Encyclopedia of Country Living (found at Amazon.com), Growing Fruit and Vegetables (by British master gardener Richard Bird – found at Discover Books http://www.discoverbooks.com/Growing-Fruit-amp-Vegetables-Richard-Bird-Pape-p/1843092425.htm ), and Carrots Love Tomatoes & Roses Love Garlic (found at Amazon.com and Discover Books http://www.discoverbooks.com/Carrots-Love-Tomatoes-and-Roses-Love-Garlic-Sec-p/1580178294.htm .

1 Garden books

The first two books are very straight forward teaching you about the various plant families, their characteristics, and what types of soil works best for each. But the last book is the real clincher. And the most confusing. Carrots Love Tomatoes & Roses Love Garlic taught me where many of my gardening mistakes are. For instance, last year my eggplants produced wonderfully! Then suddenly the fruit started to turn yellow and drop off. The leaves wilted, and I lost them all. I tried to research what disease might be attacking them, but every solution I tried came to no avail. Then, low and behold, this book tells me that eggplants do not like peppers! And I had planted my eggplants right beside my banana peppers. They also hate tomatoes, which were near by their pots. Now I know that eggplants love green beans, and this year I will plant accordingly. And while tomatoes love carrots, they absolutely despise cabbage, which has always been directly across from my tomato pots.

2 View of the garden

So now I am working on a garden plan. Greg (my artist husband) has drawn me a plan of the garden and I am working to place each of my plant beds the correct distance away from those neighbors they despise, and in a compatible space with the ones they love. It isn't easy in a limited garden plot of pots and raised beds. But I know if I can get this right, I just might be more successful this year and finally get to put up that produce and use my new juicer! It also makes me realize just how much wisdom my Daddy kept in his head. Somehow, he just knew where to put each plant so it would thrive. And that is what really makes a master gardener.

garden layout



Let It Snow!

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It's amazing what a little snow can do to lift your spirits. Its been dark and gloomy for a few days here at Old Home Farm. Then on Sunday morning this week, we got up to softly falling snow! Suddenly it felt like being a kid again. We haven't had much snow here in a few years now, and this was a real treat for us.

Greg and I pulled on our Carhartt coveralls, grabbed hats and gloves and plunged out the door headed for the barn. It wasn't much of a snow for us. The weather radar showed we were just inside the edge of a real snow storm. But it was enough to enjoy and be thankful for.

At the barn the sheep were all waiting inside the sheds for their grain and hay. You can see Bea in the lower shed munching her grain. The little rams are both black, so they don't show up as well. The back half of Bea's shed is blocked off for Bill, the mini horse. He was snuggled down in his bed of hay and was quite content to let the snow fall.

barn in snow

On the walk back, the dogs raced ahead sniffing and challenging each other to play. Even they seemed to enjoy the change in weather.

dogs in snow

One lone car braved the road past the house. He slid a little on the curve, but with his four-wheel drive he was in no real danger.

car on road

Across the road our neighbor's cows munched their hay and seemed unconcerned about the snow. Our neighbor takes good care of his stock and he was out much earlier than we were feeding hay, breaking ice on his pond, and doing a head count.

neighbors cows

The chickens remained in their houses, only venturing out to get a drink of water. I keep cedar shavings inside and it helps to generate warmth. They seemed quite happy milling about inside when I filled their feeder. Then, I filled my wild bird feeders and put a new suet block out for them.

Birds in snow

Every farmer looks for at least one good snowfall. It puts nitrogen back into the soil and helps to kill bugs — both insect and viral. This time of year the garden always looks sad and neglected to me. But the snow made it look prettier, and made me anxious for spring. It also gave us the opportunity to burn the pile of old plants to put ash into the soil.

garden in snow

All told, we only got about half an inch of snow, while others a few miles northeast of us got 4 to 7 inches. But our little snow fall was welcome and did much to lift our spirits and chase away the wintertime blues.

Fits Like A Glove

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When you live on a farm, there is one thing you can count on every day – farm chores! Most of the time this is very enjoyable for me. It's actually fun going out to feed the chickens and having them gather around my feet, clucking softly and waiting expectantly.

1 chickens

I love going the the barn with the dogs in tow and having my girls and Everest meet me at the gate. I feed Lacey and Evie from my hand and give Ellie and Honey a pat as I pour the feed in the trough. Then I battle Beatrice, as I take the lamb's hay and the bucket of grain down to the creep feeder. Bea is very demanding and she tries her best to pull the hay out of my hands or get her head in the bucket and trip me up.

2 Bea and the hay

But the last couple of weeks, chores haven't been so much fun. Temperatures have dropped drastically, and I have to bundle up before braving the outdoors. I put on my Carhartt coveralls (I call them my Michelin Man suit), the hunting boots Aubry gave me, my furry ear flap hat, and look dejectedly at several pairs of gloves, trying to decide which might be warmest. I have poor circulation in my hands and my fingers are always cold. For years I've tried to find warm work gloves. If I get waterproof ones they are too thin, and the fingers freeze. If I wear thicker ones, they are not water proof, clumsy to wear, and still not warm enough. If I wear leather ones, they are too cold, get too dirty and sometimes tear on barbed wire.

3 feeding the girls

I had given up in despair until a miracle happened this week. I went to the hunting clothes in Walmart to buy new socks and found a pair of gloves hanging just below them. The tag said Guaranteed Waterproof with Fleece Lining. I tried them on. They fit snugly (like a glove), were light to wear, and so soft and warm inside. But they were pricey. I looked at them for a long time. I thought about all the days with those hunting hand warmers in my pockets and how I'd put out some feed, jam my hands in my pockets and wait several moments until I could bare to take them out and grab another bucket of feed or water and continue the chores. I thought about how I'd hurry the dogs on their walk so I could rush into the house and hold my hands to the fire, or under hot running water just to get the feeling back in them. In the end, I decided it was worth the risk.

The next morning I couldn't wait to get into my "gear." I pulled on the gloves, grabbed the tea kettle of hot water, and headed to the chicken pens to thaw the water pans. And my hands stayed warm! I even slopped some water on them by accident and found that they are waterproof! Then it was off to the barn to feed grain and hay and break the ice on the troughs. And sure enough, miracle of miracles, my hands actually stayed warm!! The dogs were rather shocked when I didn't hurry them on the way home. In fact, Beau was ready to go in before I was.

5 fits like a glove

The brand name is Huntworth, and they are the best gloves I've ever found! And I have learned something. Aside from the Carhartt work clothes, no one really thinks of keeping the farmer warm. The work boots and gloves found in farm stores are sturdy and wear well, but give no thought to warmth and comfort. But boots and gloves made for the hunter? That's another thing entirely. These people sit for hours in hides and tree stands and the companies understand that warmth and comfort are a necessity. So from now on, I buy all my farm accessories in the hunting section. Warm wool socks, fleece-lined ear flap hunting caps or wool knitted caps, waterproof moon-boot style boots, and especially the Huntworth gloves!