Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Viola! It's a winter storm to remember

One for the record books. And then some. It's the kind of weather that “builds character”. And ruins political careers. Or severely challenges them anyway.

Just some of the things I learned over the past 36 hours;

Winter storms have names, just like hurricanes.

We're experiencing two of them – back to back. Uri and Viola

Sometimes dumb luck is just not gonna go your way for long.

I managed to avoid losing my power (so far anyway), and I've diligently kept water running in the kitchen and bathroom to keep the pipes from freezing. 

However, the kitchen sink drain decided to freeze – so, in order to keep the pipe from freezing, and the floor from flooding, I have to scoop out the water every 2 or so hours and either find a container for it, bring it outside for the chickens, or pour it down the tub or commode.

I learned just how to manage to keep a steady enough stream outside for the horse trough AND the dogs/sheep and back chicken menagerie; which is great because it means I don't have to haul buckets of water from the house – or the pond. And I managed to bruise a rib last week doing some fence work, so that was a welcome thing!

Guineas are instinctive, but they are not very good at weather predictions. 

Up high in a tree might be good in the summer with leaf cover to catch a breeze, but not at all good on a night with predicted temps of 0 and -12 wind-chills. I'm still not sure if they all made it. Some came to the barn today when I shook their food bucket, while others may have had feet frozen to the branches they were sitting on for all I know. Thankfully, tonight, I managed to coax most of them into the barn to sleep. We'll see if they figure out how to get out in the AM or if they'll wait on me for breakfast.

Minnie, one of the shop cats, learned, that it's a LOT warmer in the shop with her housemates than wherever she disappeared to last night. 

She was present and accounted for in plenty of time for supper and did not leave or even try to sneak out this time.

I also learned that I do not have a standard kitchen faucet, apparently. 

After 3 days of scooping water out of my sink, every two hours, I remembered that there is an attachment for filling the waterbed that you can use for the kitchen sink that connects to a hose. I could drain from the sink, to the tub! Well, I've not ever used it in this house – and I remembered why. I don't have a standard faucet. 

But after rummaging through every imaginable box of misc parts of this and that, many leftover from my brother and father – both had been plumbers – and out to the irrigation box of various adapters; I needed to go to Home Depot.

I learned that I remembered how to drive on snow! 

It's been about 30 years since I've seen this much for so long – and actually needed to venture out into it. I did find the part I needed.

No matter how hard I try, I'll never figure out why someone would run a washing machine water line to an unheated, albeit enclosed, porch without a water shut off valve INSIDE the house – you know, where there's heat, so you can drain the line in the part of the pipe where there isn't.

 So, when I got home from the HD, so excited that I'd finally outwitted Mr. Freeze the Drain Line; I found water all over the kitchen floor - I'd not been gone two hours - but wait, it wasn't the sink overflowing – indeed, that pipe in the uninsulated floor board "box" (a custom job, I'm sure), had burst.

I was reminded that it's a very good habit to ALWAYS put the water meter key back in the same place. One of the rare things I can say that I'm good at doing that with. And I hightailed it out to the front yard to shut off the water.

Guess I don't have to empty the sink out anymore.

I also learned how cranky I get when I only get to sleep in 2 hour increments for 3 nights straight. 

Sorry to anyone I've snapped at recently. Sleep deprevation is real.

I also learned, and not from my late father or my brother, did I mention they were plumbers? - they make this magical tape that has a wire running through it that you can wrap pipes in these vulnerable places – and plug it in and it KEEPS THE PIPES WARM! 

Now, why wouldn't either of them mention this wonderful invention to me? I'll be shopping for this contraption soon. Right after I sweat a coupling on the copper pipe that burst, behind the custom floor board that hides it.

I learned that people are warmer and friendlier during a crazy storm like this. 

Lots of "excuse me's", and head nodding, and even help reaching some windshield fluid that me and another woman needed. She boosted me up by the leg as I climbed the shelf to reach for us, two gallons. Teamwork! We're all in this mess together. We may as well help each other as much as we can, when we can.

I'm sure I have or will, learn more before Viola is done with us and our normal 50, 60 and 70 degree winter days return, next week.

 Learning is never a bad thing, I suppose, even when it's under extreme conditions. Just repeat that over and over.

But boy howdie, tonight, I have EARNED this dinner.

And I ate it.

EVERY bite, and 2 chocolate chip cookies for desert.

And I'm going to go to bed, just as soon as this blog uploads.

And I'm going sleep all night and through Viola's arrival, although I think she's knocking on the door, I heard sleet earlier. 

But, with no need to dump any water out of the sink tonight, I can hopefully get a full night's rest. 

Which is good because tomorrow, I have to to go outside and use a shovel to break the ice in the water troughs that will no longer be thawed with running water. When I come sleet to stinging on my face with her, I may not greet Viola with a smile, but I'll just keep reminding myself that it won't last much longer and I probably won't ever have to endure this again. Not if I can help it. Once every 30 years down here they say. Hopefully, I'll be digging my toes in the sand somewhere other than my pasture by then.

Oh well. At least I have a latrine, and lots of extra water!

I'm not so sure pioneer living is what I bargained for when I moved here. But I've managed to endure more than my share of winter experiences in this old farmhouse on Pioneer Rd. and lived, to tell.

When ever I finally do really retire, it will be someplace devoid of winter storm names, the need for gas heat, and it will have modern indoor plumbing – no fancy heated tape needed to keep it flowing. I can do solar power, but I like my indoor plumbing and temperate climate – inside especially.

I hope Uri and Viola weren't too hard on any of you. I know many have had it much worse, especially considering they don't live in this old, drafty farmhouse with crazy, pre-code plumbing.

The Texas power grid has dodged federal regulations for long enough I'd say. It's time they brought it up to snuff and took a bite out of that bottom line for a change. But then we know that won't happen, we'll all get the bill, I'm sure. Looks like I'll need to plant some more tomatoes to sell – even if the ones I've been babysitting, along with tons of other flats of baby seedlings, do survive. It's gonna be an expensive experience for a lot of us. Hang in there!

Try to stay warm folks. And remember, this is winter every year, where I grew up. It's not fit for man nor beast, but so many people continue to endure it annually. I don't know why! 


Marie Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Monday, September 7, 2020

Dog Dayz 2020

August. The bane of many an outdoor worker's existence. 



I finally dusted off the window unit and took solace inside during much of the heat of the days the past couple of  weeks of triple digit temps. 



It was all I could do to make sure I was up and out to keep water buckets full, make sure no one was stuck in fencing, supplement animal feeds, and collect eggs before they started to cook in the shells.

August is a hard month on the farm. For everything. Plants, animals and people.

Most of us have been going pretty much non-stop since January; February at the latest. Planting, weeding, nurturing, harvesting. Harvesting. And more harvesting.

If I don't see another stalk of okra, it'll be OK with me. This year I discovered, after having a full bed of Pick Your Own, that very few enjoy picking themselves, it gives me a severe case of contact dermatitis unless I don long sleeves, gloves and long pants. That's not so fun when it's 80 and 60% humidity. 


This was the first year I planted “cow peas” and they just never stop! I picked and picked and then the heat dried so many on the vine..... so now I have a bunch of dried peas to pick and shell..... or turn into the soil as green manure, which is what it's really good for.

So I tend to look forward to a short break in August when I'm just harvesting what I need to eat, any burst of surplus for our local food pantry or an occasional pop up market.

With COVID this year, I pretty much took a hiatus from full-fledged market days. A few people stopped by on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays, and I sold what I had. But I didn't make a big deal out of it this year at all. (We just quietly celebrated our 13th year)

Under normal circumstances I welcome folks to the farm. But, I live here and touch everything all of the time. It's not like I hold market in a sterile parking lot. I didn't want to take the risk for myself or anyone else.

So August was hot, humid and for the most part, quiet and dry. And during that time, even though it's still summer, it's important to begin getting things ready for a fall and winter harvest. We got a few projects knocked out, too. Like this new rainwater collection tank out front for the community gardens. 


The ground was dry as a bone, except for very deep where the tomato plant and weed roots are seeking moisture. So it's not good to work soil during that time to preserve the moisture.






But in the little seed greenhouse, the flats are alive! This spring I used a little money

to invest in a misting system for our seed starts. What a big difference it makes! I can sit inside the shade of the house while the timer goes on and off keeping those little seeds just moist enough to germinate for us, even though it's miserably hot outside.

Now, we've had some rain, with more on the way. Making it a tricky timing event to get some beds prepped in between storms, but after the soil has drained enough to keep from destroying the granular structure and the tilth. (Don't ever work clayey soil when it's just rained!)



It sounds like I have today and tomorrow to finish up on the beds I'd started just after the 1/2” and before the big 3” rain came. There was not enough time to drain between that and the 3/4” we got Saturday though, but hopefully because I have a lot of sand, the ground will have drained enough by now to be able to re-disk where the Bermuda has re-awoken, re-harrow the loose vegetation, and lay down a layer of compost. 

Then, I'll bed it, cover it with a tarp for a little bit to encourage all of the weed seeds to pop up. I then rake them over, to kill them, re-inoculate the topsoil with some compost tea and plant my seeds. It's important to have a nice, clean bed for seeding.

I use a gifted heavy duty walk-behind seeder that my good friend Farmer Bev gave me. It can smash down some soil clumps; but the bed can't be full of loose vegetation or it'll just drag it and mess up the seed bed and give us poor germination.

Beets, collards, carrots, turnips, cutting lettuces – all of the things that are typically planted close together, are what I generally use a seeder for. This seeder drops seeds nice and evenly, doesn't smash small seed, and covers them up. With any luck, I will have hundreds of feet of beautifully germinated garden in about a week. IF all of the seed doesn't' wash out with this NEXT batch of rain they're calling for.... sigh.

A farmer's work is never done!

Think of a farmer or a rancher as you eat today. Have a great Labor Day everyone! And check out Farmer Bev's new seed and plant start company on Facebook or her Texas Tested Seeds & Plants website. 

Marie Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Sunday, May 3, 2020

What was old, is new again. Again.

Back in 2008 when I broke ground on what is now my 14 acre uncertified organic farm, eating local was a fairly new, old concept. It was how many or most of our grandparents ate, every day.

Yet for many recent decades, society, in America at least, had moved towards fast food, convenience in the kitchen by way of boxes and packages popped out of freezers and into microwaves and eating in shifts instead of on much of a routine together as a family, or even as individuals. I was guilty, too. Until about 25 years ago I wasn't often at a fast food place, but I wasn't immune from the occasional quick fix of the hunger pangs.

The introduction of CSA's in the 80's, and later the exploding number of farmer's markets in so many neighborhoods, slowly brought some people back to the basics.

It also helped that films like Food, Inc. and the DFW premier here of the film FRESH! for our 2nd Barn Aid exposed some of the dirty little secrets of big ag causing some people to ask questions. But we're talking about a finite number, and I mean teeny tiny percentage, of the population. Like, 1%. Maybe.

Now that is a lot of people, no doubt, looking for local farmers from whom to procure their food. And there were never going to be too many small farms that we could eliminate our entire alternative food production system overnight. But then entered on the scene, meal preparation kit start ups, food distribution start ups (these used to be called co-ops in the 60's but now they delivered to your front door, usuallly from big ag), and the concept of small, local farming got all wishy washy and diluted yet again.

For over 10 years many small growers, and I mean, really small not mid-size guys with combines and crews of seasonal workers, started to see the market that they had groomed, fade away.

CSA's of 100, 200 members were reduced to 75, 50, 20 - seemingly in a season. The concept of "sharing the risk" that farmers had bore on their own shoulders since the beginning of time was once again fading, too.

But many of us battled on. Doing what we loved and making ends meet with a loyal and dedicated core group of members that allowed us to at least break even, adding "agritourism" or side jobs - or both. Some had spouses with "day jobs" and some, unfortunately, left farming.

I've seen many farmers and start ups come and go in the past decade. It's been tense, yet I still can not see myself walking away from it all. I am fortunate to have one of those loyal and dedicated core groups of members that have made sure this little farm survives.

Enter a world wide pandemic; Covid-19. 

Suddenly there are no after school and weekend commitments to run all of the children to.

No 3-day a week business trips. 

No late night office meetings and deadlines.

No sitting in traffic whilst inhaling breakfast, lunch and/or dinner out of a paper bag and foam box.

No endless list of social gatherings, snacking and drinking our way through what should have been a proper meal.

Someone slammed on the brakes of nearly everything we were rushing around to do - simultaneously.


Now, I know there is, and can feel for, the worry and stress not having a steady income has brought to many. I've been there myself - many times.

Even losing my very first self financed, shiny red, brand new pick up truck to unemployment and lack of financial stability.

Nearly losing my home, twice.

Being unsure where my next batch of bills' payments would come from.

So, I totally empathize with those who are experiencing this now, and I truly hope you have people in your life you can reach out to for help. I know it can be as scary as hell.

I do hope for everyone's sake, too, that our leaders get it figured out how to help people become financially whole again in the face of a situation no one could foresee or really plan for.  I'm not here to get into the whole conversation of needing to work so many jobs just to make ends meet that it was impossible for many to actually also have a 3-month "emergency fund", that even so many "successful" businesses and people didn't seem to have.

But in the interim, while we're on "pause" in a way, and, hopefully, on the bright side, it has given millions of people around the world something most or many at least, lacked for far too long.


A silver lining?

Time to sleep 8 hours - out of 24, not over 3 or 4 nights.

And, maybe even a chance to grab that catnap they'd only dreamed of during another senseless, boring meeting after lunch.

Or time to read an actual newspaper with a cup of coffee in the morning.

Time to re-learn math along with their kids as everyone started a version of "home-school". 

Time to actually plan what meals they liked, or knew how to prepare - and could find ingredients for making.

(Never have I had such a hard time finding a jar of yeast! I've got some now, though, so no worries.)

Time to prepare those meals and sit down with loved ones and eat them - together.

And then have time to go for a walk after eating - wow, what a concept!!
(I do hope you are doing this.)

And it's also given some people time to think about where their food actually comes from, again, and how many steps it must go through to get to their freezer.

And they're re-visiting the produce aisles, whole grains and beans bins and - they're coming back to the farms! I've never seen dry beans sold out till this.

We're seeing so much waste though.
Factory-scale dairy and produce plants that normally package for schools and other industrial uses - are not equipped to simply retrofit their operations to put it into retail/consumer packaging. So it's being dumped because it can't just be stored until the places that package retail sizes can process it all. 

And don't even get me started on livestock. Those farmers and ranchers hearts are aching for many reasons when the flocks and herds they've raised from the start can not become what they were destined to become, a meal for a hungry family, school kids or a chef's creation. Heartbreaking even for someone who doesn't drink commercial milk or buy much produce or meat from a store; knowing millions may be doing without a proper meal right now.

Not to mention that the people who process our big ag food work in such cramped quarters there's really no easy way to keep them from getting each other sick. And as we've seen, falling ill with this virus is a lot different than catching a mild cold and soldiering on. (Not that we should need to do that, either!) It's really  hard to work your job from a ventilator.

There are also shipping logistics and contractual red tape to get through. It's all so "modern"; it's a dinosaur!

What happened to picking up a bunch of whatever out of the back yard garden, walking it into the kitchen and preparing it? Well, my friends, what was old, is new again. Again.

Local food is making a comeback! 

Many farmers are seeing an uptick in CSA memberships, farmer's markets are seeing lines of people each weekend looking for eggs, and produce, etc. I'm welcoming in a few new members during a rare summer sign up myself - welcome! (Sorry, we're full now.)

And several seed companies have had to either shut down non-commercial sales to make sure our farmers get seed they need to grow for the season or have run out of many things due to a crazy high demand by the general public to grow food at home - again.

I love that so many people are calling to ask me questions about home gardening. And I've even sold a handful of the extra seedlings to people who are gardening for their first time. It's inspiring to see people making the best of our global situation!

Can I ask just one favor, though?

Please - don't forget about it all once it's "over" and you can run out and grab and go again.

Please find a way to work more home made meals into your new routine, whatever it becomes. We have a lot of fine indie restaurants and so many service industry workers that will need our support, too once it's safer to go out again. But let's not get stuck in that rat race all over. Can we rethink a few things?

Your farmers have been here for you in this time of uncertainty. Please don't forget about them when things go back to "normal". Each time you do, we lose a few more and it makes it less desirable for new farmers to get into the game. They need to be able to make a fair living wage, too. "Rich in other ways", doesn't pay the bills.

And some day, if we don't learn from this, we may have to rely on methods of food growing thousands of miles away and distribution systems that are even more uncertain than we've recently endured. 

Support local - first. Then, fill in with your supermarket for those comfort food faves.

Stay well, stay safe and please, for the time being when at all possible, stay home until we've seen at least a two week drop in people coming down with this virus. Get tested if you can, for peace of mind if nothing else, and let's hope the doctors come up with a myriad of cures that keep others from coming down with this, or from us losing another person before their natural time to go.

Thank you to all who have and do support your small, local farmers. We couldn't do it without you!

Eat your food - Naturally!