Sunday, November 14, 2010

How Big?

How big does a farm have to be in order to call it a farm? One day at work I casually called what I do farming and received several condescending smiles. Around here "farms" are big; 2000, 3000 acres. They have lots of big equipment that need lots of petroleum products. They grow one crop and they do it darned well, if your goal is yield per acre. I have several goals for this little farm (yes, I'm calling it a farm). First, the food must be the highest quality possible; fresh, organic, picked at the last possible moment before delivery. Second, the varieties I grow are open pollinated, ensuring maximum nutritional value. Third, this labor of love will provide my family with an honest living.
I grow in raised beds to extend my season and outsmart the bermuda grass. I make my own compost. The trees supply leaves, the garden and the kitchen give "greens", the rabbits and chickens provide manures. This may not look like a farm to most folks but I feed myself and my teenager in addition to sharing the harvest with 8 CSA subscribers. I feel as if I've barely begun to tap the potential of this little 1/3 acre. There are so many imaginative ways to get more produce out of a small space and I've tried just a few of them.

I need a new name for this kind of agriculture. We need a name, because there are quite a few folks doing this kind of small-scale farming. I know there are Urban Farms but I can't really use that term when in live in a town of 720. Its kind of like Backyard Agriculture but its also a commercial enterprise so I don't know if that fits, either.

If you can think of what to call this "thing" we do, please post it. I'd love to hear your ideas.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Post Mortem

Fall has arrived and the chilly wind is giving us all new hairdos every minute or so.

I didn't post much in the summer because I was in the midst of doing so many things. Now that the fall garden is (mostly) planted I can take some time to reflect on the Summer's projects.

Five little chicks accompanied me home from the feed store back in March. At the time I thought perhaps I needed my head examined. I already had a house full of rescued cats, how on earth was I going to care for even more critters? They lived in a dog crate in my back bedroom for the first 6 weeks as I got used to the routine of feeding and watering. Then I took a weekend and built a chicken tractor for them. It probably would have only taken a day if I'd known what I was doing. But it got built and the girls moved in. They spent the summer happily eating grass and bugs and fertilizing my back yard.

Six raised beds became 7 as I scavenged some 2 X 12s from an old shed. I planted green chilis, jalapenos, cucumbers, sunflowers, green beans and a few more herbs. I dug up some more of the yard and planted corn and sorghum. I also got carried away with the tomatoes. I started some seeds, then the home improvement center put their Romas on sale for HALF PRICE. So I came home with more. By the time midsummer hit I had 50 tomato plants growing out back. I anticipated lots of happy jars of spaghetti sauce on my pantry shelves. But it was not to be. This was not a good garden year. Cucumbers did very poorly, tomatoes not much better. I didn't get a single green bean until September. But the jalapenos did well and so did the cantaloupes. The other veggies limped along. Eventually I had enough extra produce to start taking CSA subscribers.

My financial aid at the college got SNAFUed so I got a booth at the Farmer's Market and every week I baked artisan breads and lovely sweets. I brought my organic veggies. I enjoyed the face time with customers very much. I am definitely doing it again next Summer.

In July my favorite Hatchery sent me an email "White Plymouth Rocks are half price!"

Oh, that half price again. I just couldn't help myself. I drove to the Post Office three days later to collect my box of 25 fuzzy yellow peeps. These would not have names. These are for eating. We built a simpler enclosure for them, just some fencing and some places to roost. They graduated to a covered pen last month. As I write 5 of the roos are in isolation awaiting their date with destiny tomorrow.

The garden produced, the laying hens began to lay and I made the Dean's List at SEMO State. I still have my faithful CSA subscribers. Every week I deliver fresh bread, herbs and produce to their offices. I love the direct contact with customers. I love planning what goodies will go in their boxes. I'll be adding more shares for the Fall CSA and even more when we start up again in the Spring. Here's a link Mamas Garden.

Some of the Summer's projects turned out well, some didn't. I learned a lot and I gained some confidence.

So what's next? There's plenty in the ground right now; broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, beets, radishes, spinach and three kinds of lettuces. I'll be planting potatoes next week. I expect I'll be installing row covers soon if the nights continue to stay so cool. My big dream for this winter...

wait for it...

Growing Power Urban Farmer Training Workshop Series I want to take these workshops soooo badly. Say a prayer for me that it all works out.

Thanks for the encouragement y'all have shared with me this year. I don't think I could have made this leap into Urban Agriculture without it. Check back soon, I have other exciting projects that I don't dare share just yet. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Why I don't take photos.

Lately I've had no photos to accompany this blog. Okay, I haven't had much to say either but that's a story for another day. I've had plenty of things I'd like to show you. But then I look through the camera lens and there's always some sort of disaster going on in the background and I'm not able to a. clean it up or b. shoot around it.

I know you all understand weeds in the garden and unmade beds. But its embarrassing. Between work, full time school, car pooling the child 30 miles one way to school and taking care of the menagerie, things around here have become unraveled. I still get lots of lovely produce from the garden and I get very pretty eggs from my girls. The turtle finally expired but an abandoned baby bunny arrived. I still cook and bake bread. But sometimes clean up has to wait until much later in the day.

So imagine if you will, very happy cantaloupe vines producing a second crop while taking over the eastern half of the yard. 5 fat little hens in a chicken tractor cooing and trilling while munching fresh grass and bugs with the occasional cucumber from the garden. A new enclosure for the meat birds, who have also become rather fat and whose time on this earth is drawing to a close. Overlook the laundry that needs folding and the dishes in the sink. Those weeds will either get pulled or the frost will do them in.

Its all good and my problems are those of abundance.

My higher power (insert the name you use for the creator) has taken very good care of us. But as you can see, there are still no photos.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


What a great word. How appropriate to the situation it is.

Just now I went out to the chicken tractor to check for eggs. What do I see? The bird that was crowing and hopping on top of all the other birds is up in the coop laying a lovely blue-green egg.

Other words that might apply are as follows...

and Whaaaaaat?

Please feel free to add any other words you feel might be fitting.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010


We've started some meat birds. The hatchery sends you an extra chick for free, you just don't get to choose the breed. I thought, "Heck, why not?" one more bird is a good thing, right?

Well here she is, we call her chickzilla. She (or he) is only two weeks old and is HUGE. I believe she may be a Dominique. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Help. Chicken issues.

Okay, so this is one of the things that's been keeping me from blogging. No, not the beautiful teenager, the chicken. Actually I have 5 of them. Chickens, not teenagers. I have 5 Ameraucana laying hens that are just shy of 5 months old. One has always been the dominant hen. She pecks at me when I reach in to change their water.

 BUT, I'm afraid "she" may be a "he". Its been many years since I last kept chickens and I've slept since then so I don't remember everything I should. This large chicken has a much larger comb and holds her tail much higher than the others. "She" has also begun to bully a smaller hen, Martha.

While potentially having a rooster is a separate issue, I need to figure out what to do for poor Martha. She is hiding in the coop and can't even get a drink without being jumped on.

Please post any input you feel may be helpful. Thanks.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Its summer and I'm breathless. Partly because the heat has been oppressive. But mostly because this is such a busy time of year.
The garden is producing nicely, lots of tomatoes and peppers (I see a salsa canning session in my near future),cantaloupes ripening on the vine, cucumbers are coming along and the zucchini are taking over
I promised y'all a report on the great sheet mulch experiment and...TA it is.

 Initially I cut the grass very short. Then covered the area completely with thick layers of cardboard. I piled layers of straw, compost and a little garden soil on top before covering the whole thing in a thick layer of straw.

Results were mixed. I planted Red Norland potatoes where the green beans are now (far right). The potatoes were surface planted in a straw/compost mix on top of cardboard. Yield was very low as blight moved in and I had to harvest before the taters all turned to goo. I'm not sure whether this was from this planting technique or because Red Norland is mildly susceptible to blight. Anyway, the sheet mulch had little effect on the bermuda grass. After the potatoes I planted pole beans in this bed. They are doing well but the grass is impossible to control.

The next area to the left is where I planted Petit Gris de Rennes cantaloupe. I did the same sheet mulch technique, then piled on some composted manure and black plastic mulch. I made long raised rows with swales between the rows before placing the plastic. Poked lots of holes in the plastic with a small kitchen knife. Very cathartic. I let this bed sit for two weeks to settle and for the soil to warm up, then cut small holes in the plastic and planted two seeds every 3 feet with rows 2 feet apart. I know this is closer than the seed companies suggest but I wanted the black plastic to be completely covered so my plants don't cook in the Swampeast Missouri sun. The results in this bed are howling success. The plants are so happy I think they're trying to take over the neighbor's yard, too. My teenager calls the cantaloupe plants "Godzilla". Oh, and I spaced out a few old bricks in the swales so I would have a place to step without crushing the vines.

To the far left, hard to see in this photo is where I planted oats, then mustard, corn and zucchini. This bed did not do well. The mulch didn't keep the grass out but was difficult to keep moist enough for the oats. Won't do that again.
Final results. Sheet mulch is very effective for areas where plastic mulch will also be used. I would use this technique for potatoes, melons, sweet potatoes and perhaps squash.

Its been a very busy Spring and Summer and I have so much more to tell you about. But not today.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Yay! 20% off Heirloom seeds at

Hello y'all. Its been awhile since I posted anything. Spring went zooming by and Summer caught me unawares. I'll be posting photos of the garden soon, with the results of the 2010 Sheet Mulch Experiment.

I wanted to take the chance to introduce you to a new supplier I've found.  Hometown Seeds sells a wide variety of Open Pollinated Garden Seeds.

Here's my favorite of all the cool stuff they sell.   Survival Seed Bank

They also have a family sized version called Survival Seeds with 16 open pollinated heirloom varieties. The best part is the packet of growing instructions included with the pack. I like having so much information about the seeds I plant and now I know just what to expect.

Right now they are offerring a 20% discount on all of their products to all of us eco geeks.  By entering the coupon code thanks, 20% will be reduced from the total cost of any order.  The code will be good through July 31, 2010.

I'm taking the opportunity to stock up while all my favorites are still available.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

For the Love of Cardboard

My daughter is mortified. Its a common ailment when you're 15. But I have gone above and beyond in my parental obligation to embarrass my teenage child.

I've discovered sheet mulch. Oh, I've tried it in the past but the Bermuda Grass always overtook my heavily mulched beds. But this year I have a new ally. 

First, the photo.

This bed has potatoes planted in the first section. The middle is covered in plastic and warming up for cantaloupe. The last section is wide rows of hulless oats with mustard in between.

We cut the grass (read weeds) nice and short. Then put down a thick layer of cardboard, overlapping the edges so the grass was completely covered. Over that went a layer of straw and some compost. 

Then I cut 18 inch strips of weed barrier cloth. We tucked these strips under the edge of the cardboard, weighted it down with bricks and then rolled the outer edges of the cloth over the bricks. In the places where the cloth was too narrow I just stacked another brick on top of the first one to keep the cloth rolled up and over the bricks. Here's a bed we just finished. Once all that mulch and compost is in place, hose the whole thing down to make it nice and wet.

You can see the edge on the left doesn't have any weed cloth. That's because we'll be widening it as soon as I find more cardboard. The cardboard and straw smother out the grass. The cardboard breaks down and the plants send their roots through all that mulch and into the ground. For transplants I have to cut a hole in the mulch, but all but the smallest seeds seem to be doing just fine.

Yes, its a great way to expand the garden with a minimum of effort, but what does all this have to do with embarrassing my teenager? Well, all that cardboard has to come from somewhere (insert evil laugh). I make my rounds, the grocery, the feed store, the auto parts store, sweetly asking the manager if they have boxes to spare. I ask everywhere I go. Once I even hit up the Potato Chip delivery guy right there in the parking lot. I thought my kid was going to DIE!

But once we got home and she began screening beautiful compost she could see the beauty of all that scrounging. In two afternoons we made that really long bed in the first photo. Now we have a big, beautiful garden. Plenty of room to plant those lovely seeds in anticipation of healthy, organic food to feed our souls as well as our bodies.

Friday, April 2, 2010

We're Baaaack.

Hello everyone! I've been absent from my blog for quite some time. The winter was long and cooooold. I'm told Leos don't do well in the wintertime. Personally, I just want to curl up on the couch and hibernate until the sun is warm again. 

So I dreamed of sunny days and lovely flowers...and I digitized a new embroidery collection. Its called Bougainvillea and it has 19 designs and a full uppercase alphabet!

I have several strategies for getting through the winter. I sleep a lot. LOL, just kidding.  

I draw beautiful flowers and turn them into embroideries like the ones above. I peruse the websites of my favorite organic seed suppliers. I make garden plans on graph paper. I read my favorite gardening books, like this lovely one I got for Christmas from my awesome student and dear friend. I check my canning jars for chips and I count them, comparing how many I have with my huge (imagined) harvest. I choose a subject to research so I'm learning something new.

Then, just when I think I can't stand it anymore, something wonderful happens.