Saturday, November 26, 2011

Turn, Turn, Turn...

So the holiday season is upon us, already. That means the cold weather is coming - today in fact, as I type, we are watching it drop from 64F to 32F before sunup tomorrow! It's ok, as Farmer Wendy reminded me a few weeks ago when I was whining about losing my winter squash plants to an unpredicted freeze, "everything has its season."  I know she is right, but it is still so hard to watch plants that I've nurtured along for months succumb to the cold. If only I had a huge greenhouse, I could.... never mind. She's right, who wants to eat okra and winter squash all year long anyway?

Eating in season is part of what makes a CSA fun, interesting and probably more healthy. There are plenty of writings on the importance of "eating your greens" in the winter, fresh fruits in the summer and so on.  We're so spoiled by supermarket availability, we often forget when things are supposed to be in, or out, of season.  (Although, one bite into a hydroponically raised tomato will quickly remind you - January is NOT tomato season in Dallas.)

Our animals on the farm have a season, too.  As recently as this past Wednesday, our beloved Snowball's season ended. Now for some of you hard-core farmers, this may not be as big a deal as I am making it out to be as a former city dweller who still makes pets of just about any animal that comes my way.  But, Snowball was not just another rooster around here.  He was everyone's rooster. The kids who came to the farm to visit looked for him, pet him, fed and even got to hold him. He came on field trips with me to teach school children, and even made an office visit or two! I had no idea how many people were afraid of chickens and roosters and it was nice to watch these folks learn that not all fowl, are foul.  So far, we've always had friendly fowl at Eden's.  The only exception was an old Tom turkey - I understand they can get ornery as they age, and Tom Tom was known to nibble on your shorts - or leg! But never have we had the cases of roosters chasing people down or spurring them. Other than Snowball, there weren't any roosters that stuck around unless you had food for them.  

Anyway, last week Friday, one of our CSA members witnessed feathers flying in the chicken coop area and heard a commotion. As he approached, he saw Snowball in a fight for his life with what was described as "the biggest house cat I have ever seen!" He hissed at the cat and it fled, up over the fence - front paws at the top of the 6' fence, and tail touching the ground....that's a pretty darn big house cat!

He described its coloring and features. This was no ordinary house cat. But what Bobcat has a long tail? And a mountain lion would have a solid colored coat, right? Did we have a mystery animal on our hands?
There was even talk for awhile that it was a Jaguarundi, a somewhat rare and Federally protected animal native many hundreds of miles south of here. With the drought and scarce food, many predators are moving out of their normal habitats, so who knew what we were up against? We never did find out even though I saw a cat-like creature creeping through the grass the next morning, I couldn't get a good look at it - or a good shot. I've since mowed down all of the tall grass and hopefully upset its hiding places.  Eliminating habitat and food sources are the best way to control unwanted wildlife. I learned disposing of one, via lead poisoning, only creates a void for another one to come in.  You have to get to the root of the problem, whatever is feeding on your livestock.

All I knew at the moment, was that Snowball was bleeding and the girls were upset. We quickly ushered everyone into coops and I took my injured rooster to the house for some first aid. Initially it didn't seem like a very bad wound. I was quite hopeful he'd be just fine. After all, this was Snowball - he'd managed to escape the jaws of pit bulls!

Sadly though, as the days drew on, Snowball developed pneumonia, apparently the puncture wound introduced something to his system because his skin was not infected externally. And, he may have had something inside punctured or ruptured, as the jaws of this nearly 20lb, 6' toe to tail creature tried to ring his neck. Fans of Snowball rallied to raise funds to help with the vet bill, not something we usually have around here for our chickens, and have sent condolences in his passing.

Snowball will surely be missed and it will take awhile to fill his talons. Not all roosters will sit so patiently while 100 3rd graders touch their beak, waddles and cone, squeal when he eats out of their hand and bump into him as others from behind push to get closer to see him.  No, Snowball had more patience than I sometimes do.  And funny thing is, he was a "stray". Early one spring, about March I guess it was, I noticed this pretty, young, white rooster wandering around with my flock. "Where'd you come from?" He'd make a trek back and forth to the nearby apartment complex daily, so I figured someone got a "cute chicken" for Christmas, and it turned out to be a rooster.... when will we learn not to buy kids baby animals for gifts? That's another subject I guess.

He was quickly accepted by the others here on the farm though, I suspect because he was so young as normally a strange rooster would quickly be chased off the property by the veteran residents.  And little by little, he began roosting with our flock in the barns.  He was pretty tame, coming when I would call to him and offer feed from my hand.  He was a natural for my educational program.  And, since Chipper had recently come up missing, Snowball was now the head rooster in charge of this job.

What we've learned since losing Snowball, along with 2 other roosters, our last guinea and a hen - all in the last week - is that we need to seriously figure out a way to better protect our flocks from what appear to be predators that are sticking around.  Premiere One has an electrified fencing set up we have a $250 pledge towards the purchase of.  This, in addition to some LGD, 2 Great Pyrenese, should significantly reduce our exposure.

One of our CSA member's, a couple from the Rowlett area, have decided that the farm needs better protection in the way of a pair of LGD.  If you're unfamiliar with them, I'll have more soon in another post, specifically about these dogs and their role on a farm.  I'm excited to be getting them, and ever so grateful to my CSA family for pledging to support them.  Vet bills can get very expensive - not to mention feeding two dogs that will probably outweigh me! I can eat vegetables for a long time and not care, they probably won't be as happy if that's all their diet consisted of.

So, it is with sadness I bid farewell to my buddy Snowball, the one red-eyed and one yellow-eyed, people friendly rooster, and with anticipation I await the arrival of 2 rescue GP dogs, to be described soon.

One season ends - and soon another will begin.  Turn, turn, turn.

Marie Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Day In the Life...On the Farm

I'm frequently asked, "What is your typical day like?" Well, typically, they are not typical.

I mean, more times than not, something seems to come up that changes what I had originally planned, at least temporarily, until something unexpected is cleaned up, picked up, fixed or captured..... So maybe the better question would be, what do you normally plan for each day? Here is an entry I started during the triple digit temp summer we (barely) made it through this year....

I don't generally use an alarm clock anymore, a welcome change to my life as I always hated being uprooted by some loud buzzing or ringing noise, (and no, the roosters are far enough out back that they don't generally wake me up at 4AM, either - I create a bit of a misconception about all farmers being up before the crack of dawn I guess), but somehow I do manage to awaken by 6, at the latest, and usually earlier - especially if the sun is coming up on a clear, summer morning.  I do generally see the sunrise if I look out the back window. In the winter, that time is sometimes later due to the shorter days, but I have a hard time sleeping much past 6:30. My internal clock is apparently pre-set. 

Depending on how hungry I am myself, sometimes I feed the animals first, and come back in while they are eating to make something for me. But always, the inside cats have to eat first or no one gets any peace. If you have ever been owned by a cat, you'll understand.

Stormy - making sure the little chicks are "safe".....

After all of the big critters are eating, and assuming none have become feed themselves, or victims of a stray dog overnight, the chickens are let out of their coop and any youngin's taken out of their crates and I do a quick cleaning of my horse's stall.  If it's been awhile since "stripping" it, sometimes I'll take longer and loosen up some of the old, compressed bedding/manure/urine. But ideally, it is just the loose manure from the night before. This then goes into a pile to be composted.

This is part of my "closed-loop" program; using what's available on the farm, for the farm.

I check the plants in the greenhouse on my way in or out from feeding the critters and water seedlings as needed. (Here is another place something can go wrong - a stray chicken or nocturnal critter knocking over trays; fire ants eating seedlings; winds blowing the shade cloth to name it. But that's right, we're going with a "normally planned" day, right?)

So now that I'm fed, the critters are fed and cleaned up after and the greenhouse is all set for the morning, it's off I go to the gardens....where anything goes!

50'x100' Shade Cloth Up in a 20' Tree - the Garden Gnomes Had a Party?

Out there I do a visual check to make sure there haven't been any overnight catastrophes. You know, stray dogs running through drip lines, rabbits eating seedlings, wild hogs knocking over bee hives, rats or whatever chewing through drip tapes - well, this one doesn't usually rear its ugly head till I start to irrigate and see a fountain or flood emerge at the end of one of the rows.

I keep a garden journal, (which could probably become a comedy/drama novel one day), and try to remember to record a little something each day about the farm and what I observe, or want to remember next year.

I walk up and down each row and make written or mental notes about what I've found/see, need to do, should have done, etc. (The written notes are recorded much better than the mental ones - because the memory fades as each new thing pushes the oldest one out.)  I look for new seedlings, things to harvest, insects or their damage, check the soil for moisture, especially in seedlings' rows, and determine if irrigation is needed. That's when the fun really starts. LOL

2/3 of the pond disappeared leaving about 12" of sludgy "water".

Of course there is starting the pump - well, since burning out the last 2 dc (solar) powered pumps and nearly losing all of the water in the pond, I'm forced to use a gas pump now, you know, like a little weed eater engine. Oh, no, it's not that easy - the starting is fine, it's the finding water that is a challenge. Up till the week we rec'd a 2" saving Grace rain, I would start and set up the pump in the rowboat, hose over the back end, shove the boat out past a marker I'd previously placed in the water showing where the water was deep enough to draw from without picking up mostly mud from the bottom of the pond, and hope the wind didn't keep blowing the boat in too far to shore. Always an adventure!

After a little-rain but heavy wind storm came through, reclaiming the boat became the day's "before 9am" challenge...the Army's got nothing on me!

Filters need to be cleaned, tapes need to be bled of algae and other debris from the pond that sneaks past the filters and of course, the aforementioned tape nibbling. This is actually the first year Eden's has been bothered by plastic chewing creatures - but boy can they make a mess! One day, in fact, when I started to irrigate, it did look like someone had installed a new fountain at the back of the last row! Needless to say, it was not worth trying to fix all of that - so the tape had to be carefully pulled up (or, if that is too much with mature plants, it's just disconnected), and new tape laid down in its place. Good thing I had already given up on the plantings in that row and were waiting to put in something new.

Eventually, however, I managed to find a location where it looked like the water level had steadied, due to the "spring" I hoped, and tied off the boat near enough to the shore that I didn't have to wade in the pond scum to board or off-board. I scared several bullfrogs on the way around the pond where no one normally walks, but, they started getting used to me.

So, once the pump is fired up, the boat is tied up and the filters are clean - watering commences. (a little more involved than walking over to a spigot and turning it on, but I get to see wild birds, baby ducks, bullfrogs and turtles!)

Now, depending on the date/moon cycle and season I can either be planting, harvesting, weeding or preparing soil - or, on some days, a little bit of all of the above.

This summer, with the drought and heatwave, I tried to water down "hard as concrete" rows so I could till them up to get fall seeds planted. It was nuts! But, farmers do what we have to do, and if we have to make believe it is raining by dragging hose up and down the 100' rows to moisten the soil - that is what I'm doing.

The trick is not to make it muddy. Composted horse manure and amendments are then added to the sandy soil and tilled in. Irrigation lines are run again and the row is then mulched with chopped up leaves/partially composted tree trimmings, etc. When it rains, this creates a bit of a "compost tea" for the soil. It also helps keep the soil from returning to rock hard.

The days ended pretty early when the temps hit triple digits, sometimes before noon, but heatstroke is not something I'd care to experience. I've probably drank half a gallon of water by now and if I'm not hungry, I will be soon, but usually it is the heat of the blistering sun beating through my hat that drives me in.

The greenhouse is always a stop along the way again to see if anything needs another drink and shoo any chickens out. Double checking everyone has water and then by now, it's lunch time for sure.

So, that was the "typical" morning plan on those, long, hot, summer days this year. The afternoon often included a bit of a siesta, hibernating in an a/c room, and working late into the dark, often watering again, when it was relatively "cooler", at least less than 100.....

Now that fall is here, there are some mornings filled with CSA work-share friends here to help, school farm tours and classes and lately, trips to the city for screenings, Food Day and other food related events. But when the dog-days of summer are upon us, and they seemed to have lasted for 3 months this summer, this is what "Life on the Farm" is like. Not a bad life at all. Sure beats being locked up in a cubical all day - to me at least. I have said it before, this is the most rewarding, challenging, fun, interesting, etc., "job" I've ever had.
And the perks are great!

Even the volunteers and work-share members have their share of "fun"!

Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hog Heaven?

Along with some of the more obvious affects of the drought, such as lack of harvest, trouble starting fall crops, seedlings dying after transplanting; can come less obvious results.

Such as wild boar visiting your urban farm! YIKES!

Now we don't have any iron clad proof or photographs of the wild beasts, but we have had a spotting and pick up of one such deceased aforementioned, who came into contact with a vehicle about a mile from the farm, near the now dry river bottoms which make a nice little highway for wildlife to travel upon. So we do know they have moved into the area and have easy access to the back of the farm now - thanks in large part, to the drought.

Seems this particular guy, or gal, has a sweet tooth. The evidence they left behind was similar to the incident on down the river bottom's trail at the Trinity River Audubon Center in southeast Dallas. Knocked over honey bee boxes......

This is actually the second time I've found one of our bee boxes knocked over. There wasn't any damage to the boxes, and most of the bees survived - including the all important queen bee. But this meant another unplanned trip to the boxes by The Texas Honeybee Guild's bee keepers to upright the boxes, inspect for damages and locate the queen - to see she was in the proper box.

When temps are in the upper 90's, dressed up in a full bee suit is not the coolest attire I can think of to wear, but Brandon suited up and took care of the girls - harvesting a bit of honey in the process.

It looked a little darker than the first harvest, but tasted very light and fresh.

So, all is well again in the bee world - and as for the hogs....well, I've had a few offers to take care of them for me; Bacon anyone?

We'll see about that - hopefully, it will rain soon and they will just find their way back home where they normally live - which, I don't think was originally on my farm. Until they move, or are removed, I just hope they stay at the back of the property and don't discover the gardens - that, could be another real disaster! We're having enough challenges in the gardens without them rooting around!

Farming and all its challenges...


Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Good News on the Horizon

Sandy Soil Temps Soar Even Under Heavy Layers of Mulch

This summer’s extreme heat continues to take an extreme toll on farmers and ranchers all over Texas. Some farms are able to cope a little better with the use of shade houses, trucking in hay, additional and different timing on plantings, and re-planting as we’re doing here at Eden’s. But I hear many stories like ours of lost crops, excessive water use, equipment breakdowns, drying out wells and selling off of livestock before they should be; in every conversation I have with or about North Texas and Central Texas farmers. It appears it’s going to be a summer for the history books.

A Silver Lining

There have been some positive things going on here at Eden’s in spite of our current season’s hiatus. We had an anonymous donor pledge $2,000 towards the securing of compost for our gardens and one of our members pledged $250 towards the purchase of a poultry netting security fencing kit.

Compost is the basis of the soil’s life – and in our beach-sand-like soil, it is going to help us to retain moisture levels and kick some biology into gear. We add horse and chicken manure to our compost piles but can’t make it nearly fast enough to cover the number of rows we need to plant to keep our place productive. This donation is a huge help!!

After our latest round with roaming dogs, it seems that setting up electrified netting in the back yard is going to be the best way to protect our girls – and Snowball. I’ve not heard back yet from the extension office regarding help with valuing our hens’ worth, but as soon as I do, I’ll send off the request for restitution from the dogs’ owner and/or pursue further action as needed. But it’s nice to know that if, in the end, justice doesn’t seem to prevail, there are people out there who appreciate the value of the eggs/food that this farm produces enough to step up and give extra when they can. I can't tell you how appreciative I am of these pledges as well as all of the hard work of our volunteers, workshare members and kind words from supporters of my work.

It really is a nice feeling to know that there are other people out there that can see the vision I have for Eden’s. I see Eden’s as much more than just a place a farmer can scratch out a living. Small farms are more dynamic than that – or they can be anyway. Especially one that is so close to a large, dynamic city such as the DFW metroplex where educated locavores are eager to improve their diets.

School Children Touring Eden's Learn About the Importance of Honeybees in the Garden

Part of what I see Eden’s doing, is implimenting programs that will help to grow the level of awareness and education among its neighbors in the metroplex. I want to reach those who may not really understand that there is a great benefit to eating more home cooked food made from real, clean and in-season local ingredients. Not just to their taste buds, but to their health, as well. Sadly, many of the problems we develop from poor eating habits form slowly over time – and unseen until it is a serious problem.

We all know, or in some cases, have lost, someone who has heart disease, diabetes, struggles with obesity, food allergies (which are often caused by processed foods laced with too many synthetic ingredients our bodies don’t recognize.) and even more serious issues that are often the result of a suppressed immune system due to lack of proper nutrition. Mood swings, learning disabilities, depression, lack of energy and slow healing from various illnesses or injuries can also be connected to our eating habits. This quest to reach out is a personal mission of mine to help those who would reach back and benefit. I realize not everyone is going to give up their 99 cent heart attack fast foods or prepare every single meal from fresh, locally grown in season foods. I'm not expecting anyone to do that - I don't even follow that strict of a way of life, though I've been called a food snob. I just try to take notice of what I put in my body so that on those occasions when I'm out with others and there isn't as healthy an option as I'd like, my body should be well enough to manage some cheesy fries from Snuffers or a bowl of ice cream or whatever your weakness might be. No one has to be perfect, but let's be healthy! Many of the top killers are caused by food and lifestyle choices - poor choices!

Eating is the basis for just about everything else in life!

Cacuzza is a Fall Harvest Favorite at Eden's

Here at Eden’s, I’m doing what I can to secure a future for farming, teaching, learning and sharing all things food and healthy in my community. Thank you to everyone who is on board with me and welcome to those who are just joining! Summer may be beating us up this year, but fall is around the corner and another season of growing is underway! Let’s be grateful for the farmers who have found ways to grow in spite of the treacherous temps, and work to secure more local sources that can do the same thing.


Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Summertime (or, when it rains it pours)

Snowball - Still reins over his throne

It seems as if whenever something out of the ordinary happens on the farm, I remember that it's been awhile since I've updated the blog and say to myself that I need to get that done soon. Seems things have been coming down the pike so quickly lately I've not had time to put them into thoughtful words to share. After this morning's events though, I thought it was time to stop, sit down and reflect - if for no other reason that doing so helps us to heal our hurts and move on.

Last night, there were dogs growling/barking and apparently taking up residency under the floor of my barn's feed room. Thankfully, none of my boarders or any of the horses were injured or attacked - but none the less, they were unwelcome guests and I called the authorities to have them removed.

Falling short of that, citing that they were unable to reach them under the floor and apparently thinking it was better to set a trap overnight than try to lure them out and finish the job right then, I was left with a trap full of canned dog food and a wish and a prayer that this would work out as they planned.

So this morning at 6, I headed outside to enjoy the cool of the dawn air and feed my chickens, cat and horses and see how many of the stray dogs had managed to share the food in the cage. None. Not one dog was in there. Where had they gone? How strange that they weren't attracted to that smelly dog food?

Solomon RIP

I fed my horse and let out my remaining cat, Eve; my sweet boy and everyone's most favorite cat, Solomon, met his demise two weekends ago after not being put back up one night, as I generally do. A coyote apparently thought he would make a good meal as there wasn't much left of my poor Solomon when I found him early the next morning. I then went through the barn to let out the chickens. Hmmm, that's strange - how did those silly chickens get the side door to the coop open? OH NO!

Snowball, Snowflake and one of the older yet to be named hens somehow managed to survive the brutal attack and mass murderous event that must have taken place late last night or early this morning - earlier than 5 when I got up or surely I'd have heard commotion.

Needless to say, I'll not be selling any eggs for quite some time. Snowball has some recovering to do as does one of his mates - Snowflake appears to have escaped virtually unscathed - somehow. Thankfully, I don't clip their wings - so she must have "flown the coop". I'm sure it will be some time before there are any eggs laid or any eggs fertilized in there for that matter. Snowball is in pretty decent shape considering the lack of feathers and bite marks but still needed to be doctored a bit, I think that he'll be fine eventually though. The hen I'll watch closely as she seems to be the most injured. Snowflake is a bit shaken up, and I can't catch her to examine, but looked ok from what I can tell.

Tootsie - our silly rooster in pj's

Unfortunately, Tootsie, Sister's Daughter, our last Bantam hen, and 8 of their coop mates weren't so lucky. A mass burial was held out back in one of the many mulch piles in order NOT to draw any coyotes up close to the barns. Hopefully we were able to bury them deep enough - I'll add some liquid molasses later on to help hide the odor and break down their remains into compost.

So one of the lessons here, is that you can't make a chicken coop out of chicken wire for one thing. You must use reinforced hardware wire - which I pulled out to replace the chicken wire with after the last kill of my pullets this winter but somehow never got "a round tuit". The dogs were up underneath the floor in one of the barns where there is about a 3' space, (that I've been meaning to board up - to keep the ducks and chickens from laying eggs where I can't reach them!) Not really big enough for the animal control officer to crawl into - but had he to do it over again last night, I think he'd have fired that dart pistol in there until he got them and then figured out how to drag them out later. Or, tried to lure them out with the dog food rather than just set up a trap and hope for the best.

Too late for that now - I imagine they'll be "put down" once they get back to the shelter (they were holed up in the chicken pen area with their victims and were finally "darted" and taken into custody.), and no one comes to claim them. Are dogs not pets anymore - just creatures people throw away or leave to run on their own? Faced with having to shoot a dog, I don't know that I could do it - not permanently anyway. Dart yes, bb, yes. Kill? Probably not me. I'm too soft for that. But I do have a few choice words for people who let that kind of animal run loose. This is a family site though, so I'll let you fill in your own thoughts....

Of course the dogs' owners had no ID tags on them. No irresponsible dog owner would do such a thing. Why that would mean they had to be sure their fences and gates were secure or they'd face a fine for stray, potentially vicious dogs on the loose, (yes, they were pitt bulldogs, but that doesn't really matter - put more than one dog of many breeds together, and they will chase down and kill chickens).

So there will be no restitution for my losses. My CSA members will not be able to get any eggs for quite some time and I'll be fortunate enough to find sufficient quantities for myself from the loose barn chickens that run around the pasture on the other side of the farm. They lay simple brown eggs which we mixed with the blue and green and pale pink ones from those that resided in the pen area. I'll be down to about 2 or 3 eggs a day - if I'm lucky enough to find them. I'll give Snowball and the 2 girls some time to recover and me enough time to really build a compound before I even think about whether I'll go outside of my flock to increase it or not. I've not brought in chickens from outside for several reasons. One is risking disease/pests spreading to my existing chickens. The other is trying to model a sustainable flock where my roosters do that for me.

So this week's projects of course include securing the remaining chickens behind the hot wire gate again, which was more for keeping out the skunk and raccoon that were terrorizing the baby chickens than dogs. As well, I'll have my farm's carpenter get on reinforcing the other coop STAT! And, I have decided that it is time to invest in some electric fencing designed for poultry. Premier One has a kit that I believe I can use with my existing electric charger to keep out anything - even vicious dogs. We leave the ground cover overgrown to provide shelter from hawks. I was reserving the electric fencing for use out in the pasture once we built our chicken tractor to use in the gardens for soil improvement, but it seems my budget will just have to be stretched early and again later on when the tractor is built - I can't keep going through this - I'm just a soft city-girl living on a farm and my heart just breaks every time this happens.

So, in addition to the August-like, season ending extreme temperatures this June, losing my favorite cat, various other disappointing things that just happen in life to all of us from time to time, to this morning's very sad events - I'd be putting it mildly to say that I'll not be too sorry to see June 2011 leave me and my farm behind.

I accept these things as learning experiences that force me to face certain things and make changes in myself where needed and forge on ahead. There's a lot of life left to live and all this stuff does help make us better somehow in the long run. We never know how today's events will turn out to change something tomorrow or how it will help someone else along the way.

We've turned under many of our crops due to failure from the heat and are hoping that we'll be able to nurse along new crops recently planted for an early fall harvest this year. We'll be erecting shade cloth as soon as they get their first true leaves to help protect them from the July and August sun which surely won't be any less merciless than it has been since late May.

Growing future farmers

Life on the Farm is not easy, that is for sure. Rewarding, challenging, exhausting, delicious and enlightening - yes. But easy is not a word I'd use. I have a lot of plans for this little urban piece of paradise, even though we've had our share of setbacks. If I can just keep my feet under me long enough to get them in place and start working, we'll have an even more wonderful farm to share with the community than we already do.

Into everyone's life comes a few storms - but the dawn always comes

Everyone who comes here loves it and vows to return - and usually does. I know it is a special place worth preserving and restoring and sharing with whomever we can. It grows more than just good things to eat - it grows people, experiences and character. I can't prevent every disaster, error or mishap - but I sure can get to the place where I'm not band-aiding everything instead of really fixing or doing it right the first time. Baling wire and duck tape are ok - but I'd rather have the right tool for the job. Thanks to everyone who comes out to the farm and helps. I can't do it alone - and I'm grateful for those who also share the vision with me. We will grow and continue to add programs and more crops to share with the community.

Here's hoping your gardens are green and growing better than ours up in North Texas are.

And on the upside - we got over 3 1/2 inches of rain and were able to harvest over 100 lbs of heirloom carrots!


Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Bermuda Triangle?

Recent twister passing in the not so far distance from our farm.
Recent storms spared us of any rain - or anything damaging.
We've been like the center of the Bermuda triangle as of the past few storms - a blessing in disguise.

After seeing the devastation that the recent storms caused in Texas and as it ripped through the rest of the deep south, I'm reminded of how blessed I am to have been spared any damage. I complain and even joke about not getting any rain, barely a 2 minute drizzle with that last batch of pop up tornado rainstorms this past week, but after seeing what some of my fellow farmers have had happen - I'm happy to irrigate!!

A hail storm can wipe out an entire farm in one fell swoop, a tornado can rip a barn roof off it's building, or worse and floods can carry away seeds and topsoil all in a matter of moments - as the farmers sit and watch helpless.

This is what CSA members share the risk in with the farmer. It is because of the loyalty of CSA members that a farmer can regroup, clean up and replant. And, in the 3 years I've been working the land here growing veggies, I can honestly say, I've not ever met a farmer that I've not just loved - it is the most supportive and least competitive group of people I've ever worked with! We are all in this together - growing food for our neighbors, friends, relatives and chefs alike. We do this because we love what we do and when one of us takes a hit - we all take a hit with them.

My heart and helping hand goes out to my fellow farmers at Eden Creek Farm in the wake of the recent storms. Y'all let us know what we can do to help out - and we'll be there!


Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Monday, April 4, 2011

While You (and I) Were Sleeping

There are so many amazing things about having a little urban farm that are more rewarding than I could probably ever verbalize. Things like, watching little kids' faces when they pet and feed a rooster for the first time, seeing fuzzy little baby chicks following around their momma learning to peck and scratch in the dirt for food, and hearing about how much folks are enjoying their CSA experience and the delicious food we are growing here at the farm.

But there are, and I suspect always will be, a few things that I just don't guess this city girl turned urban farmer will ever get used to and one of them is the loss of life on the farm.

I still cry out loud like a little school girl when I come out in the morning and find one or more of the animals I am trying to care for gone. This morning hit me especially hard....

Before I moved the shop here to the farm, I had a little store up in the north part of the city. I brought in 2 chickens, well, a chicken and a rooster. They were mates here at the farm and so I kept them together at my shop. They ran around the place and at night went into a crate to keep safe. Eventually, out hatched Chicken Little. You can see her and her late folks in the video. It was like a little comedy routine whenever they'd wander up into the shop. People always loved to feed them and watch them scurry after insects.

Well, upon coming back to the farm with them when I moved my shop here, Little Whitey the rooster was attacked and soon thereafter his little mate, Sister, showed up missing. Their little one, Chicken Little, had survived though and for the past 4 years has entertained me and countless others with her mild mannered temperament. She was recently the proud momma of 3 little chicks again this spring, too. That is until sometime very early this morning, when I suppose the circle of life came around and took hers and that of her 3 chicks. Her chicks, like her momma, are just gone, I didn't even find any feathers. And her lifeless little self was laying in the coop when I came to feed this morning, fully planning on turning them out into the chicken yard with the rest of the hens and their watchful rooster, Snowball. Today was to be freedom day. Instead, I am heartbroken. Many of my chickens go to the compost pile with the drowned squirrels, slow ducks and other compostable items when they meet their end-time. Chicken Little, however, like her daddy, has a resting place near our pond. Call me a sap, call me weak or a wimp. But when you start carrying them around and naming them - they surpass being just a chicken or "livestock" and become pets. And whenever I have lost a pet, I've cried buckets. This was no exception.

This morning it also started to storm rainclouds while I was sleeping, finally after months without any measurable rainfall. It was a welcome sound to awaken to, that is for sure. I heard a bit of hail but it didn't sound large enough to do any real damage to the crops. As daylight came, I could see standing water starting to accumulate -something we've not seen for ages save the time a water main broke nearby.

However, it was too much for the greenhouse roof which is now collapsed - again. Next year - for sure - we're going with metal hoops..... None of the plants were damaged, thankfully, and I've poked holes in the plastic to drain the water that weighted the frame down to its cracking point. It looks like a giant fishbowl. Soon, as soon as later this week, most of those plants will start going out in the gardens anyway and the plastic was scheduled to come off very soon, however, it is supposed to drop to the 30's tonight and I wasn't planning to put some things out quite yet - sometimes schedules were meant to be adjusted. Easter is almost here... thankfully.

But, life on the farm goes on, despite the losses of life, damage to buildings or crops, floods or droughts. Perseverance is one thing this little urban farm has sharpened about me. I've always been a determined person, but this has made me even more so. Nature sometimes seems to work against us, even though we are dearly trying to work with it. Sometimes I guess we just need to step back and re-evaluate things and re-route our course. For all of the hard work, blood, sweat and tears, it still makes for a cool way to make a living.


Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

To Spring or Not to Spring?

Well, the groundhog predicted an early spring - and so far, he seems to be on target. But, the veteran farmers I listen to, warn about the late Easter and the nearly 100% track record for there being a late season hard and killing frost - right before Good Friday. So do we plant and take the chance or do we wait and play it safe?

This farmer is playing it safe. I have the ground ready to go and the plants are in the greenhouse, happy and warm as bug in a rug. Or, as it has been, a bug in the row cover where it managed to survive all winter....I swear.

We've got onions, potatoes, Swiss Chard, beets, carrots, lettuces, cabbage and a few other cool season things in the ground. But the warm season plants, like tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons and beans - those are not anywhere near the unprotected soil - yet.

I admit, it is getting hard to wait - we've had so much nice weather lately - but then just last night, we dropped down to freezing only 30 miles north of here. All it takes is a brief freeze and the warm season veggies can crater. As it is, they prefer consistent soil temps of no cooler than 50 degrees - and ours has barely been 50 in the mornings. So, I wait....chomping on the bit as I read of home gardeners plopping their plants in the ground. In the city, with plenty of buildings, concrete and swimming pools around, most will be fine with the mini-microclimates created. Out in the open fields here - not so much. The winds have whipped through here unchecked all winter and it is the drying cold air that kills your plants, or at least damages them, and can make them susceptible to disease and pests. We don't need to fight any uphill battles if we don't have to. Organic farming is challenging enough without daring mother nature. But I admit, I sometimes question myself. What if....

But then, a fellow farmer of mine posted his results from last year and made me feel validated in my decision to wait. He had 2 crops going on at the same time - one he held back in the greenhouse, and the other he went ahead and put in the ground. He's a bit further south than here, but nonetheless, he didn't have any freezes so the early crop was fine and when it was "safe" to do so according to the calender, he planted the rest of his crop. His findings were: "Planted tomatoes in short and large tunnels last year. Kept some tomatoes from the same batch in the greenhouse. It snowed on the tunnels, tomatoes were saved. Greenhouse starts planted out several weeks later. Might have been a day or two difference at most in date of first ripe tomato between earliest and latest planted...." And lest we forget the first day of spring last year, greeted us with a dusting of fresh snow!

So, I rest assured that I'm not really losing any time. My root systems will be mature, the plants will be hardened off - it does get pretty cool in the unheated greenhouse, just never drops below freezing on the tomato bed, and they'll all be ready to grow once I get them in the ground. Plus, it gives my soil longer to mellow and in sandy soil, that is important. Fertilizer and compost seem to disappear in the soil each season and it has to be replaced. It takes a few weeks for the soil microbes to chew down the bigger pieces and make it usable by the roots of the plants that will be planted soon.

So, in the meantime, I'm still seeding plants - I am not sure where we're going to put all of these tomato plants, but if they all grow, we're going to be drowning in tomatoes this summer - and turning compost, mulching and irrigating what is in the ground and trying to keep up with weeds.

Tomorrow I will take one of our roosters on tour to the local library's "Growing Green" day, Thursday I'm speaking again to a group of homeowners on organic gardens at the Audelia Road Library in Dallas, and I'm teaching a basic organic veggie gardening class this weekend here at the farm. Whew! - and it's not even close to Earth Day yet!

Gardening is a passion of mine though - and I love to engage others in the fun. If I can teach someone to grow some of their own food, I've done my job. I think it is important that everyone know basic gardening skills - and grow as much as they have time to grow. There is no better food on the planet for you than freshly harvested, organically grown veggies that you grow yourself in soil that you tend sustainably. And wait till you see the look on your kids' faces, or your partners, or your own for that matter - when you pull out a purple carrot, pick a white tomato, or taste a freshly harvested potato. :) There's nothing like it - not at your grocery store anyway.....


Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Winter Days On The Farm - Part II

I always look forward to our annual local farming conference because TOFGA's TCOOPS conference always feels like old home week to me because I've known some of the wonderful folks I see there since TOFGA was TOGA, before I ever grew food commercially. They've seen me go from retail organic garden center manager, to shop owner, through organic landscape maintenance and now on to farm owner/manager/farmer - or, agriculturist. (Sometimes I still feel a little funny calling myself "a farmer" in part I guess because I didn't have to earn those stripes growing up in that world as a kid, I don't live out in the boonies on a regular "farm", and I still love the part of me that grew up just outside of Chicago that still embraces her love for a taste of the city life - and I often indulge in it so I feel a bit more citified than farmer sometimes. But I guess by pure definition of the word - I are one. My CSA family calls me Farmer Marie.)

At TOFGA, I usually lend a hand and volunteer my time as much as I can while still attending as many of the lectures as we are able to as volunteers. I have a history in public speaking, so the last few years I've found myself introducing and getting to meet many of the lectures' speakers, and this year - helping in the kitchen with the wonderful chef Amanda Love, The Barefoot Cook. What a great lady and of course, remarkable chef! Once we all finally figured out how to operate the commercial dishwasher - things went a lot better on KP duty. :)

We watched and listened as the creator/producer of FRESH! seemed almost in awe of her audience - a room full of generations of farmers. She was quite humbled by the energy I think as she went through her experiences in making the film. I was in and out of the kitchen, filling water and clearing tables so I didn't get to hear in detail all of her presentation, but I could feel she was clearly moved by the experience. Maybe little does she know, we so appreciate her, and others like her, who have the technical means and skill to go out there and tell the story of local farming and food. It's certainly a story we think is worth telling. The honor was ours as well.

And as that weekend of learning also comes to another close, it is time to head back to our farms to begin to apply all that we have gleaned in our CEU type classes. Continuing Education for farmers. You never can really learn it all, can you? Nature changes and throws curve balls at you each season, caves in the top of your greenhouse with ice and snow, freezes 90% of your crops with 100+ hours of subfreezing weather every 1 in 15 years, and don't get me started on the legislation that gets passed freeing up monster GMO plants to roam free in our environment causing havoc on small farmers across the world......we'll keep the energy positive. :)

New techniques come along to help enhance those we already use and to improve our growing, hopefully increasing our yields and expanding our options. The stories and experiences of our fellow farmers are always priceless and often save us countless hours of painstaking mistakes or just help us take shorter routes to successes.

All in all - I guess the life of this small urban farmer in the winter is much like many other avid gardeners. I just get to apply it each day when I walk out the back door to work at my favorite full time job here at Eden's. We cover up the rows as best we can - hunker down as Ol' Man Winter blows in colder than normal temps, and take to our repaired greenhouses where tiny seedlings are just waiting for the soil to warm up and welcome them into its care.

The Ground Hog and Solomon says Spring is coming early this year!

He's ready for it, are you?


Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Winter Days On The Farm - Part I

So what does Life on the Farm bring to this small farmer in the winter?

Well, several of the same things that it brings to most avid gardeners, too I suppose. While I wish for warmer days, I read farming books, peruse seed catalogs; dog-earing the page corners, highlighting "ooh that one's cool/pretty/neat/looks yummy" items. I also go over the prior year's successes and failures - hoping my notes have not been rained on or muddied beyond legibility.

And I sort seeds, look through the many pictures taken throughout the year, hopefully sorting and naming them for future use, I start to sketch out the plan for the next season, adding to my accumulating drawings of the garden plot so as to keep track of what was planted each year as I go along.

I also checked out the newest fast food burger place in Dallas! No, no, it's OK! It's the grass-fed burger place called Elevation Burger.
I invite you to indulge in a guilt-free "fast-food" experience there, too! Watch for one in your community and then support them.

I also continue my education in all things agriculture and add to my knowledge base by attending at least one farmer's conference each year. TOFGA holds one, Farmer Brad of Home Sweet Farm usually has a great Grower's Symposium down in the Brehnam area each late winter/early spring and this year, I was very fortunate to be chosen to attend Southern SAWG's 20th Annual Conference in Chattanooga, TN!

My attendance there was part of the Share the Wealth program that TOFGA participated in with Southern SAWG. I did get homework, but I was able to attend a wonderful conference I would not have otherwise been able to afford. One of my awesome CSA members donated air miles so I even got to fly there! This of course meant fewer days away from the farm - quite the consideration when animals are in your care. You might get away with a big bowl of food and water and an extra litter box for the 3 house cats, but try that for chickens or horses.... Thankfully, I have a lot of friends of the farm to help out with my furry or feathered "kids". It makes leaving them behind much less stressful.

The SAWG conference was filled with new faces from across the southern region and those of some familiar Texas friends as well. The topics ranged from intensive to basic record keeping, which is a lot more important in farming than one might think, to details of the latest university studies done on things like growing fruit in hoop houses - versus out in open fields and of course, sustainable farming was the underlying theme. There were a few presentations on Urban Farming, one by friends of mine, Skip and Erin from Austin at Green Gate Farms, who talked about the various activities that some farms are holding as "value added" type programs to help round out the farm's income stream. The Taste of Tennessee dinner I shared with Austin, Texas friends, Carol Anne and Larry, (also presentering at the conference), from Austin's beloved Boggy Creek Farm, was incredible and lots of fun, too. And then, probably one of the highlights of the event - the Seed Swap

Now this was a fun seed swap I've gotta say. I wasn't really prepared for it - don't recall seeing it on the schedule before I left Dallas so I didn't come with any seeds from home. But that didn't matter - all were welcome to come in and swoop up some of the neatest, prettiest, and some of the more rare and treasured seeds from fellow Southern region farmers I'd ever seen - and certainly ever heard of.

I picked up several kernels of corn seeds from original Cherokee Corn, which I was explained has to have 8 rows of kernels to be authentic. I felt like I went to Jack's field and found the seeds from his beanstalk as I gathered beans from several farmers' troves. Speckled climbing, Reverend Taylor pole butterbean, white 1/2 Runner snap bean, Preacher pea, Snow on the Mountain butter bean, Bradham stock, a little gray pea I forgot to put in the freezer that I hope the weevils haven't ruined, Owen soybean - a non GMO bean I'm told is good for Edamame, some Dixie Queen watermelon, Mammoth Gray Sunflowers, a pink peanut that dates back to the 1840's and a few other fun things I can't wait to try.

I almost hate to plant some of them - feel like they should be framed! But plant I will - even though there are not really enough to harvest a full crop of each kind; the whole idea is sustainability. Plant this year to raise a seed crop, collect the seeds, OK, maybe I'll have to taste test a few, and then save them for next year to plant a full crop to harvest. The seeds we save each year from our regions, and eventually our own land, become more resilient to our growing conditions and typically will produce better results the deeper the generation of seeds go. Plus, it perpetuates some of our original foods and the fun names and stories that go along with them.

My traveling companions and I enjoyed our visit to Chattanooga despite the wintry weather - it wasn't much warmer, if at all, back home in Dallas anyway. And we got to experience the city's Free, fun, electric powered public transit bus system - Hmmm, DART, you paying attention? It looped around from our hotel to the downtown area where we found the most sinful cupcakes at Chattanooga Cupcakes, (I know, original, eh?) and Lupi's, a local pizza joint - that used local, organic farm fresh ingredients! Now how cool is that? And, as a former Chicago pizza junkie, I might add, that it was a pretty darn good pizza!

We pirated the remote control in the airport's business lounge on the way home to watch the Cowboys' first half of their playoff loss for the Superbowl, and arrived back home full of ideas, tons of great information and instructional books and DVD's to share with other farmers at home and beyond, new farmer friends' names and oooh, those SEEDS!

Back home to our farms we go - winter still holding on strong. Ah, when will Spring be here?

Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy New Year Everyone!

It's been a great year for growing at Eden's Garden CSA Farm, minus the late freeze/foot of snow last winter, extra early shot of hot summer and an outbreak of some furry brown and very hungry caterpillars and late surge of giant grasshoppers this fall, we had a very nice variety of produce this year and plenty to go around to our CSA. Production is getting better every season, as our soil's health improves with time. I have already seen some of our CSA members not taking everything they are offered - did we ever think we'd see the day when we were allotted more food than we thought we could use and have some to put out for market? Hooray! And it will just get better! I just may actually be able to make a living doing this afterall!

A bouquet of pretty heirloom carrots Spring '10

I hope throughout this past year we have all learned to eat several new things, learned to like a few things we thought we wouldn't, tried several new recipes and become more accustomed to eating in season than we've been spoiled from doing in the past. I, for one, know that I have almost eliminated buying food from the store as I am able to make meals from the produce we grow here, and the meats, breads, dairy and now our own honey, olive oil and deserts, I am able to get through our market day producers, right here at the farm! That means less trips to the store, fewer processed items than ever before and, almost no waste - packaging is a minimum for sure!

The Selections at Market Day Continue to Grow

As an agriculturist, I've learned, and continue to learn daily, more about my land and the produce we are trying to raise as well as the rhythm of the seasons. Each year can bring adversity, and it usually does in some way or another. But, we learn that we can't always harvest everything we plant - and that we can plant and grow some things we never thought of. And, that sometimes, seeds are mislabeled - how about 200' of Miyashge Daikon Radishes!? Thankfully, through my network of farm friendly chefs, I have found a Japanese sushi restaurant in Dallas that may be interested in buying some of our overstock.

Recent Chefs for Farmers Benefit Dinner

I also learned that food and wine loving folks in DFW are very generous and that Dallas has some pretty darn cool places to eat that are run by some pretty darn cool farmer friendly chefs. The Chefs for Farmers dinner was such a hit that people are still talking about the premier dinner at Eden's - out in the middle of a horse pasture, next to the vegetable gardens, under the big Texas sky. Everything was perfect that day from the weather to the mysterious absence of very many fire ants to the spectacularly fitting sunset. Watch for more CFF events as well as the return of our own Barn Aid benefit this spring.

An important addition to our list of "friends of the farm", is a great free magazine available around town. Edible DFW has done a wonderful job getting the word out to locavores about the many excellent food choices available to them as well as uncovering some fun and entertaining food related stories, events and of course, farmer and chef profiles. Nanci and Teri, you girls rock!

I realize everyone in Dallas won't join a CSA or visit a local market every week - we'd run out of food if all of DFW jumped on the local food bandwagon at the same time! But, I do hope everyone can some day choose to eat more REAL, CLEAN, FRESH, LOCAL, FOOD because there is a surge of new farmers in the North Texas area and everywhere we turn, there will be more affordable, local food to choose from. Until then, I'll continue to work on my soil so our production increases with each season, varieties are added and our edible forest produces plentifully, so we can feed as many people as this land can produce for. (We are propagating pomegranates this winter!)

Farm Day 2010 at the Balch Springs Library

Eden's will also continue to hold classes to teach and train folks about gardening, food and nutrition, cooking/canning and organics. I'm committed to sharing the knowledge passed on to me by my mentors and experiences, which has become my way of life, because I believe together, we can indeed all make a difference! We are making a differnce! I hear from you all the time about how the kids are eating vegetables again, garden fresh never tasted so good and how much you're learning and applying to your home gardens. All of this makes every last one of those 100+ degree days well worth the sweat. I'm really very fortunate to have this opportunity to steward land and grow food for such wonderful, appreciative and beautiful people. Thank you for another great year!

Now- go git yer hands in the dirt!


Eat Your Food - Naturally!