Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Pioneer Grove at Eden's update



In the future these pathways will be permeable walkways suitable for wheels or feet.

What a journey it has been so far! 

We received the unanimous recommendation for our re-zoning request from the city's planning and zoning board, and the next step, before we can seek financing and start slinging dirt, is a public hearing before what we hope is a passing City Council vote, in early May.

This is my first experience as a developer, so I was not sure what to expect, and I was surprised at how long the process has taken. But, I can see all of the steps are needed in order to help streamline the application process, which can have its own set of challenges. 

I had hoped we'd present our project in the winter and be ready to go this spring. But as it turns out, the more people you bring into the process, the more other projects there are, working simultaneously. Our project team is 5 people now, counting me and the engineer, as well as the architectural firm and buyer's rep. Soon, we'll be adding an attorney or two and a CPA. So I'm preparing myself, to hurry up and wait. 

But we've come a long way since I passed a hand sketched drawing on a piece of tissue paper to my architect under the oak trees on the farm. And it's been an even longer ride since I started pondering ideas in my head for this land that would enable me to retire, and yet honor the land I've been the steward of since 2002. 

We've settled on a website address, PioneerGroveTX.com to give folks a closer look at the plans. Keep checking back for it to go live, soon.  We've had a couple of community meetings for neighbors and invitees, and once we've got the zoning approved, I see at least one more opportunity for in-person viewing of the plans and a tour of the site location. 

Until then, here are a few updated pics of the plans, some examples of proposed house styles, and some images of the land. 

Are you ready to live farm-side at Pioneer Grove at Eden's? 

From Pioneer Road heading east, the property will be "divided" into 4 areas. The 3 acre mixed use space for the retail, possibly shared office spaces, farm to table eating, hoping for a mini-general store/coffee shop or chef driven cafe. The return of our on-farm farmer's market can be expanded to include some permanent vendor spaces with the pop up shops, shown below. The existing farmland growing area will also be where the food prep, distro and tractor/equipment storage area will be. Additionally, a new barn will be built for the existing livestock.

Pop up market shops that can be leased by entrepreneurs.

Area 3 will be the pocket-neighborhood style living that promotes the benefit of neighbors, and a ped x-friendly cul-de-sac style layout, without any cars to dodge. Cottage style efficient, quaint homes with spacious front porches, drought tolerant and low maintenance landscaping, will face courtyards that can vary from seating areas to gardens to play spaces. There will be 4 distinct "pockets" of homes, a community center with a pool, dog park, and plenty of trails. 

Walking is promoted as one of the best forms of exercise there is - easy on the joints, and a lovely way to stop and smell the roses along the way. I see electric carts, bikes, trikes and scooters as folks pick up mail, grab some lunch in the retail portion of area 1, check for new produce or visit the farm - all within the 14 very walk-able, scenic acres.

It's been an interesting spring, with a broken wrist, lots of rain and mild temps extending our winter harvest, the planting schedule for summer has been delayed, and I've been relying on my CSA to help harvest each week. Feeling a lot less independent and pain in my hand every day through these months' long recovery, has me yearning to be healthy again. It almost feels like a forced partial retirement, but with all of the farming responsibilities still hanging over my head. It's given me a lot of downtime to sample what retirement might feel like, though. I'd just have liked to do it on my own terms and without the broken bone. Ah well, such is life. At least I'm typing better. Hopefully, another few weeks and I'll be back on the tractor again!

Eat Your Food - Naturally!


Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Fall Garden Pantry Prep


Fall Gardening Time is here! 

I know, we're not out of the triple digits yet, and only a  handful of folks have actually gotten any rain since forever. But we have to get started because we know at some point, the bottom is going to drop out of this heat bubble and bring us rain, cooler temps and the ability to grow again, right before we get a freeze. 

Welcome to gardening in the extremes. 

What products do I recommend?

Below, within my commentary, I will include my recommendations. Something new for me, and an easy way to help the farm make a little extra ching-a-ling, is for you to shop directly off the blog

If you buy through some of these links within 24 hours of clicking on them, Eden's will make a tiny little bit of commission from Amazon. And if enough of you do this, it'll help. Every little bit helps. You'll still be serviced through Amazon, no difference in the price, nothing changes there. products you might (hopefully) otherwise buy here if I was still able to stock the shelves like I used to. So, thanks in advance! 

There are hundreds or more products out there to choose from anymore. The ones I recommend, are my suggested items with which to stock your garden pantry, because I have some kind of history with them. Most are items I've stocked in the past. A few I still have on the shelf for special orders. If I can't find the specific brand of amendment, I'll simply link you to the right page of several choices for the amendment I'm suggesting. 

This is a way I can "sell" the products I've carried, and successfully used myself, without needing the deep pockets it takes to stock the store and the manpower and time it takes ship things out. All of which takes away from my farming time, which right now is my main priority as it has been for many years. 

I do hope to one day provide a full service brick and mortar shop again. I love helping folks! And with the new development plans rolling forward, maybe this old farm house will actually become the garden shop I intended for it to be in the first place!

But for right now, let's see how this works. You shop from home and have everything delivered and be ready to tackle that gardening project as soon as the weather breaks!  I can reach folks too far away to come to the shop. I'm always an email or phone call/text away for questions, too.

So let's get started!

Soil is the most important component to any healthy garden. Whether you're growing flowers or edibles, your soil needs to be alive!

That's not always easy to do with products you buy in bags or bottles. So I always suggest using home made compost from things like;

  • table scraps
  • chopped up leaves
  • grass clippings and weeds (hopefully before they have gone to seed)
  • manures of all creatures great or small (minus human - I don't use that, although I know some people who do)
  • deceased critters - roadkill, culled or deceased fowl, etc. (I, again, know ranchers that compost entire cows!)
But, yes, anything that was once living will decompose, and when done properly with heat, can safely be used in your garden.

Now, the average home won't generate THAT much compost. So chances are you'll need to buy some additional organic material (OM) to add to your garden bed, especially after a hot summer where most of the prior season's OM has disintegrated - quite literally. 

Like POOF! I KNOW I put 2 inches of composted mulch in there, but it's all sand again! 

It happens. Gardening and farming are an on-going process, not a once and done.   So get used to that. Each season you're going to need to add OM. Do a little soil experiment. All you really need is a large jar, a little dish soap, a ruler and a sharpie. 

And whether you decide, (and are able to), simply add to the top of the bed, or need to turn the soil over to bury newly emerging unwanted growth (i.e. weeds), you need to add OM to the soil before you plant. Check with your local municipality for low cost fresh compost. If push comes to shove and you need to buy it bagged, add as much of the home made compost as you can. Otherwise, get something alive in there. Be it worm castings (which I highly recommend), which we'll discuss later, or some freshly made compost tea. (More on that elsewhere). But just remember, something that's been bagged or bottled and sitting on a shelf for weeks, months or longer, is probably not still alive.

On top of OM, if you've planted and harvested from that plot, you've removed nutrients that need to be replenished.

That's why we grow food, to eat it, and get the nutrients from the soil into our bodies. So if you're eating the harvest, you're going to need to replace the nutrients - for them to be there again. That's just common sense. There's not an infinite supply of all things in the soil, especially if you're harvesting. 

Yes, soil organisms help replenish, too. But we're gardening in N. Texas, not generally under ideal growing conditions, and we want results. This season. You need to feed your soil, or your plants won't feed you well. It's pretty simple.

So to best determine which nutrients you need, and which ones you may not, I recommend doing a simple soil test, at the very least. I pushed back on this for years, because I thought I didn't need a test so long as I added compost. My very seasoned farmer friend Beverly finally got it through my thick skull that in order to be a better farmer, a soil test was a no-brainer.

For one thing, sometimes your soil is missing key nutrients you just didn't think you needed. Other times you could be adding things you don't need to add. Too much of a good thing, isn't always good. It can throw things out of whack. Too much of one nutrient, can lock up the intake of another.

Additionally, you may be spending extra money on amendments you don't need. So why guess? Use that extra money on more seeds or plants, or on the amendments you do need so you have a better harvest. And sell or give away the bounty!

There are various sizes of soil test kits. Here is the one I used and was pleased with. You can get this kit to test 40x, 80x or even 200x. Whereas 200 might be overkill for the average home gardener, I do suggest a unique test for each different area of your garden, and here is why. 

My main planting area is about 2 acres, including the high tunnel. 

On paper, I have it separated into sections and I plant different crops in each section, each season. I wouldn't expect each section, each having grown different crops, to all need the same thing, each season. 

So, if you have 6 raised beds and a spot over by the driveway and another in the front yard, and you plant various things in each, that's multiple tests - each season. You'll go through the 40x test faster than you think. 

Now, if you only have a little area, a few pots, etc., then maybe you do only need a small kit, like this. Both have you adding reagents to the soil, which provides a more accurate test than just a simple soil probe.

With these tests, you are actually adding specific amounts of the various test solutions, or reagents, into tubes of some kind, mixed with soil. Then, you use the included color chart to compare the color the mixture comes out looking like to determine levels of N, P and K.

 If you have ever measured the chemistry in a swimming pool, you can do this, too. It's science, but it's not rocket science. I promise. (OK, so if you are color blind, it might be a bit of a challenge. Get a friend to read the results for you.)

On a side note, for a first time soil test on newly turned ground that's never been fertilzed, you might consider packing up and sending some soil off to your favorite university (in Texas, most folks use TX A&M), or a private lab, like Texas Plant and Soil Labs, both of which can give you a much more detailed breakdown of both macro and micro nutrients. They'll provide a detailed list of suggested additions. Commercial growers generally do this - at least once a year.

I'll go into how to do a soil test a bit more in another post. For now, just know to avoid sampling areas such as small gullies, slight field depressions, terrace waterways, or unusual areas like where your dog does its business on a regular basis. (Hey my mom had the BIGGEST tomatoes on the block from the area the dog poop went into over the winter)


From TX A&M's directions here is how to collect a soil sample;

  • Using a trowel or similar tool, scrape away any non-decomposed plant tissue and materials.
  • Next, cut a core or divot 6 inches deep into the soil and place soil in a clean plastic container. (Do not use your bare hands to break up soil)
  • Repeat this step 8 to 10 times in the lawn or garden which is being considered for testing.
  • Air-dry soil if sample feels wet to the touch.
  • When sampling fertilized areas, avoid sampling directly in fertilized band.

Then you follow the directions of the soil test kit. Easy peasy.


Now, once armed with your soil test results, you should have a better idea of which soil amendments you're going to need to focus on. 

If you need Nitrogen (N) you can add it from a lot of different sources including various types of manures, "meals", or blends of fertilizer already mixed, derived of those things. 

A few choices could be

Feather meal

Blood meal

Cottonseed meal

Fish Meal

Chicken Manure (Composted) (we use in-house aged/composted chicken manure from our flocks)

Cow Manure (Composted)

Rabbit manure (Composted)

Goat or Sheep manure (Composted)

or my personal favorite - Horse Manure - again, fully composted - from a local stable

We need to age/compost the manures for various reasons, none the least of which is to kill all of the weed seeds that are consumed in the daily diet of these these animals. Putting down fresh manure can be "hot" in some cases, burning the roots of the plants. And, in some cases, it can be unsanitary and potentially dangerous due to the potential for pathogens in some manures. 

The adding of fresh manures to soil should only be done well ahead of planting (90-120 days before harvest depending on the crop) so it can be broken down into the soil by the organisms.

 If you need Phosphorus (P), there are fewer sources and usually they are bone or rock based. 

Phosphorous soil amendments generally come in the form of a bone meal, or soft rock phosphate.  NOT super, or  triple super. Just regular rock phosphate.  Again, these are products I'm suggesting. Most are the exact brands, but if you choose a different brand, just make sure the ingredient is the same and/or it's OMRI approved if you're striving to grow using clean products.

Potassium (K), is also a macro-nutrient because plants can take up large quantities of K each season. Some freebie places you can find it is wood ash and compost that is heavy on the banana peels. More likely you'll add crushed products like sul-po-mag


Let's say your soil is low on everything. The tests came back pretty much devoid of nutrients.

Might it make more sense for you to just get a nicely blended multi-purpose fertilizer? Sure. I've used and sold Maestro Gro's Texas Tee fertilizer for over a decade! (And I still special order this for pick up here at the farm. It's a little expensive to ship a 40lb bag)

But I gotta tell you, it's going to be heavy on the N, because it's primarily sold as a lawn fertilizer. 

So for fall, lettuces, greens, cabbage - go for it. I'll put in an order for fall pretty soon, so let me know. It runs about $40 a bag or so. 

But for things you're trying to get to bloom, like broccoli, cauliflower, late crop of squash or fall tomatoes, I do not suggest it, unless you're really low on N. Too much N, and you're likely to get a lot of leafy foliage, and not a lot of fruit. It's a good start, but if you're soil needs P and K, too, there are better options. 

Another great product that helps add those micro-nutrients that the home tests don't cover, is Azomite.  You probably don't need to use it every season, but once a year won't hurt.

Once your plants are starting to come up, a little secret to help them grow and stay healthy is to spray liquid fertilzer onto the leaves. This is known as "foliar feeding".  The cells in the leaves of the plants can intake trace amounts of nutrients, plus, whatever runs off the plant into the soil is absorbed, too. But the use of foliar sprays has been a long used technique. Neptune's Harvest (buy direct) or via amazon - Fish emulsion, liquid seaweed, or some combination thereof, are what I suggest.  

Here is another brand I like. Medina Garrett Juice Foliar Spray or Soil Soak - Gallon  or  Quart 

That should get you started! Stock your pantry. 

Buy your seeds or starts (Texas Tested Seeds & Plants), or your local organic nursery - if you can find one.  

As soon as it rains a bit, you can turn your soil and add your amendments, top it off with mulch (which can be more compost that's just not quite finished yet, like decomposing mulch - but not so much it's going to rob the soil of N.)

And thanks for ordering your amazon stuff through the blog. If this seems to generate some revenue, I'll do more posts like this. I get frequent calls asking for suggestions - this way I can help you, and you can help me. :)

 Eat Your Food - Naturally!


Monday, August 21, 2023

Moving Forward

The Pioneer Grove team has made its maiden presentation! 

This past Monday night, before the Balch Springs City Council, Brandon, Ivan and I gave a brief overview our plans. After giving a brief history of the farm, its various past events, programs and other community involvement, I introduced the team.

There was a short power point presentation given, (while it wasn’t visible to viewers on line, you should be able to see it here and follow along), while Brandon and Ivan described the project and its benefits to the community that would come as a result of its inception. 

There was only one council member with any questions, it was regarding types of businesses they could expect, should the project be approved. 
We re-iterated the types of businesses we’d be interested in pursuing for the commercially zoned portion of the property, as outlined in the presentation. (Agricultural, artisanal, farm to fork, etc.) I mentioned that there was even a BS Chamber of Commerce member interested in starting a small business enterprise on the property once the farm house was renovated/restored. 

So, it’s time now to tie up a few internal things and continue the pursuit of engineers, the filling out of planning applications for re-zoning with the City, and continue to interview potential sub contractors that would contribute some of the various aspects of the project. 

For instance, last week we spoke to an alternative energy planner who designs solar projects for communities and commercial uses. 

Solar and/or wind energy are on my list of priorities of features for the community. I would like to find a way to economically include energy self sufficiency to each residential unite and to the community itself, via a solar “farm”. As well as topping all of the viable roofs with panels, wind is also an alternative option here, as there’s little to stop the wind from the north or the south and at one time. I actually had a small wind turbine helping power the irrigation for the farm before a storm took it out.

This coming week, we’ll visit with an outfit that blazes trails, so to speak. 
We have walking/biking trails planned throughout the community, as well as on the back acre which will tie in to the City’s existing park trail. Ours is planned to be a permeable type, so that water drains through it, reducing the run off from heavy rains and preserving the natural flow of things as much as possible. It also looks cool, and with the grass that will grow through it, it should help keep the temps a little cooler, too!

As far as a timeline, we hope to have the zoning process wrapped up by the end of this year, and then we can start really working to secure serious pre-sales, investors, and any subsequent loans we’ll need. 

I’ll also be on the lookout for a few farmers. 
Part of the plan is for me to be able to more or less hang up my hoe. At least professionally. I'm not sure I will ever give up playing in the dirt entirely. But, I would like to find someone who has some farming experience, to hand the torch to, to keep the farm going. Maybe there’s a family out there who can’t find land to buy, or is about to get kicked off their leased land and needs a place to farm. I'm sure the right fit will be found. 

The farmers will be responsible for supplying the shares for the CSA members, as well as helping keep up the common areas, which, by design won’t require much. We’re looking at some various models including providing housing or reduced rent, depending on the situation. 

A  smooth and efficient transition will be important to maintain the flow of the current CSA and supply produce for new members as the houses of the development fill up with new folks. Additionally, we’ll be working to re-open Eden’s Organic Market Days, and so it would be great to have farmers who can produce some food for that, as well. But, we’re in the early stages, yet. So we’re still thinking out loud and looking at other project models to come up with ours. 

But bringing back the organic farmer’s market would be awesome. All farmers/ranchers and artisans, to me, is a real farmer’s market. And for nearly 10 years, it was to our loyal customers, too. The City of Balch Springs residents have indicated they'd be interested in one during recent long term city planning meetings. I would love nothing more than to see it make a comeback!

Well, that’s really about it for now. 
I just want to keep up with things, track them as they happen as much as possible. 
It’s way too hot to plant right now - triple digits is no time to transplant things, even if I could prep the soil. But it’s about like a desert out there with no end in sight. We’re hoping for some rain so I can do one more short mowing before turning the soil over and adding compost, amendments and then bed up the rows and get a late fall garden started. 

Until then, it’s trying to stay cool, trying to guess at when to start seeds in flats so they’re at the right size to go in the ground, and dreaming of cooler temps and landscapes for the new project. I wish we could simply plop the houses down on top of what is there, but I know in my heart that's not what's gonna happen. Preserving the trees is one thing, getting rid of the ragweed, "goat-heads" and other thorny/stickery natives, to make way for native wildflowers, perennials and shade trees, is another.

Here’s hoping your gardens will rebound and provide abundance once again!


Eat Your Food - Naturally!