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Old Home Farm

A Reason for the Green

farm signSaint Patrick's Day has come and gone. For those of us with Irish blood in our veins its a day to party and celebrate with everything green (including the beer, or so I'm told). I am not the party type. But Saint Paddy's day is a special day for me. It is the day I begin my gardening in earnest.

There is a reason Saint Patrick's Day is green. It is the day most gardener's plant that most Irish of all vegetables — potatoes! I gave up on potatoes long ago. For some reason, I have never had the knack for raising a good crop. I get beautiful plants, but no real yield. I've tried straight into the ground. I've tried pots, tire towers, straw bales, wire towers filled with straw — you name it, I've tried it with no real success. One year something ate them underground. One year ants invaded so badly the potatoes rotted. One year it was so hot here the potatoes actually baked in the ground! So I resigned myself to feeding my Irish love of potatoes at the grocery store.

But the Irish also love cabbages, and those I can grow! As you know, we began preparing our garden beds a couple of weeks ago, and God blessed us with a good rain to soak all of the nutrients into the ground. Last Saturday, on Saint Patrick's Day, we went forth with spade in hand and turned over the soil, raked it smooth, and began planting.

digging beds

First came the cabbages. I had started the seeds in the house in February, and they were now ready for their new home. The bed had plenty of lime, ash, and manure and once Greg had it turned over, I started setting out the plants. I used bio-degradable peat pots to start my seeds so all I had to do was pull the bottom off and set them in a hole and cover them with dirt.

planting cabbage

Then came the carrots and turnips. I read of a clever idea in Country Side magazine where a woman took an old salt shaker and used it to plant her carrot, lettuce, and radish seeds. I decided to try that myself, and it worked like a charm. But the holes were too small for the turnip seeds, so Greg broadcast them by hand the old fashioned way.

sewing seeds

Then came the netting. I have lots of reasons for using bird netting. Birds can't dig up my seeds, bunnies and squirrels can't get through, and most of all, the cat can not use the nice loose dirt for his own personal sand box.

laying netting

This morning we had a mild frost, but I covered my cabbages with small pots and they came through with flying colors. Soon frost time will be over, and the cabbages will be big enough I won't have to worry.

covering frost

So now I have everything planted that an Irishman loves. Onions, carrots, cabbages, turnips, and green peas. And a fine fat ram lamb growing up at the barn. Everything you need for a good Irish stew!

Getting Our Hands Dirty

farm signMarch has arrived and came in like a lamb! Last weekend we began to prepare the garden beds for planting.

In the past, we have always bought bags upon bags of dirt for the beds and containers, but this spring Greg decided he wanted to dig from my father's old garden plot. It has lain fallow for almost 20 years, so we took the trailer up to check out the soil.

The grandkids came out to assist, and Josiah grabbed a pick and told Greg he would dig to loosen up the soil, and Greg could shovel it in. The dirt turned out to be very rich and full of worms, so we worked all morning to fill up the trailer.

digging new soil

After a short break, we transported the soil down to the garden and began to work on the beds I intend to use first. I had my chart laid out so I would know where everything was to go. I also had the mix I wanted for the soil written down by each diagram, so once Greg filled the beds, I began adding lime, bone meal, etc. where needed.

filling the beds

Then Greg and Joe made a trip to the barn for a load of seasoned manure from the stalls while Kaydence and I cleaned out the greenhouse. Our greenhouse is homemade from an old aluminum frame with plastic panels and a screen door. I keep tools in there, as well as gardening supplies. In the fall, when we put the garden to bed, I tend to just shove everything inside for the winter, so come spring it is a major undertaking to make it usable again. Kaydence and I took everything except the work table out and neatly replaced what was needed and threw away the rest. Now I can use the table to re-pot seedlings into larger peat pots and eventually use it to set the plants out to harden before planting.

the greenhouse

By the middle of the month, I hope to have my onions planted as well as cabbages, peas, turnips, and carrots. Then it will be time to start working on the next set of beds to get the soil just right for planting. Getting the beds ready is a lot of hard work, but I love it. Especially when Greg and the grandkids are helping. That is gardening as it was meant to be. A real family affair.

Becoming a Real Sheep

farm signRemember my bum lamb 'Baby Bea'? I am happy to report that she has become a 'real' sheep at last. It wasn't an easy process for her, and took some time, but she is now a full fledged member of the flock.

I'm sure that you remember that Bea was born in October just before my birthday. The 1st day of January, I moved Bea up to the barn and separated her with her two ram cousins to be weaned and creep fed. Bea was devastated. Not only had she become attached to us (and of course her bottle!), but Beauregard was her hero and closest companion. For several days she ran up and down the fence bawling and looking for a way out. She would have nothing to do with the other lambs at all.

baby bea

When I would go to the barn in the mornings to feed the lambs, she would run to Beau and stay right by his side. Several times she managed to slip out, but I just told Beau to go back into the lot and Bea went right with him. For a while when I would shut the gate, Beauregard would stay by it as if to comfort the distraught lamb. Eventually Bea began to take up with her cousins, and learned to play with them. She would still follow us to the gate, but she would stop on her own and watched us leave, then run back to her grain.

Bea alone

In our lower shed Greg designed a creep gate in one of the lambing pens just big enough for only lambs to go through. Inside we have a tub feeder for the grain and the lambs learned to go through this door to eat. This way when the adults are reunited with the lambs, they cannot bully their way in and eat all of the grain. The adults have their own trough in the upper shed that the lambs cannot reach.

creep feeding

This past Monday I reunited the adults with the lambs. The little rams galloped over to greet everyone, and Beatrice went right with them. She even recognized her own mother and touched noses with her. Now Bea is one of the flock. She comes to greet me with the rest, eats grain from my hand, and happily trots around to the creep feeder for her breakfast. Sometimes she still tries to sneak out of the gate with Beauregard, but she is easy to send back where she belongs. I have a feeling that when the flock is let out into the big front pasture for the summer that she will once more join us on our morning walks and I will probably even let her come into the yard for a visit with her best friend. It isn't easy growing up whether you are a child or a lamb. But my baby Bea has made it. She has finally grown into a real sheep.

bea with flock

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.

landmarks

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."

roads

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

farm sign 

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

farm sign

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.