Spring and Summer Like No Other!
This has been a spring and summer like no other in my memory! Because we are staying on the farm and not having guests due to Covid-19 I had to find things to occupy my time and be productive. We basically closed the farm March 8 and I REALLY missed having guests, giving them tours, and interacting with them. With the stay-at-home orders due to Covid-19 Dan and I have basically stayed on the farm. We do curbside grocery pickup, drive-through banking, get drinking water from a kiosk, and go to church online – all without having to interact with anyone. The hardest thing I had to give up was my volunteer work – cooking for shut-ins at my church, a program that we have done for 15 years and we call Tuesday Lunch Bunch. Also, volunteering at The Caring Place and attending P.E.O. meetings in person.
Purge Time – Big Time!
The first big project I tackled was a building that is 80′ x 28′ that we built to raise birds in. When I developed a chronic lung condition, the doctor said I could have chronic lung disease or sell the birds. Well, that was an easy choice! We now use the “warehouse” as the farm woodworking shop, repair room, and general storage of “stuff”. Some of the rooms were filled to the doorways and a mess. We always said, “When it cools off, I will clean out the warehouse”. I spent a month in the early spring and got it all sorted and cleaned out. One room was full of file cabinets with papers we were required to hold for five years from a business we closed in 2015. I purged everything I could and had Shred-It come to the farm and pick it all up. Tools were a mess and I got them all sorted and put where they belong. It is so much nicer to walk in and have everything orderly. It is even nicer when the guys need something and I know right where it is!
I normally have a garden every summer and grow squash, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, and okra. In the past, I had had a large black-eyed pea patch down at Rocky Overlook, but it was difficult keeping the native grasses out as it was used for a short time each spring and early summer.
Two years ago, I didn’t even attempt a garden as we had record breaking heat – 100 days at 100 or above. Then, last year I lost my garden spot at the house when we had to put in a new septic system. The garden spot turned out to be the only acceptable spot for the drain field! When they dug the drain field, I realized why my gardens always seemed to grow rocks! The soil was fairly shallow there, only 6″ deep in places, setting on top of limestone and caleche, a shale-like limestone used in driveways.
You have to understand the soil in my part of Williamson County. It is black soil, rich in nutrients, but when it gets too wet, watch out – it might pull your shoe off! Then, when it gets very dry, it cracks and is hard as concrete! With the changing seasons, freezes and thaws, the rock works its way up and every year I would pick up buckets of rocks.
When we realized in March we would be staying home for a period of time, I decided to do some cleaning out of cabinets, shelves, books, etc. I found a book I had purchased years ago, Square Foot Gardens. I read it and decided I would put some raised beds in the front yard. Daniel, my oldest son, built wood frames for me. Being the scrounger I am, I did not want to purchase new boards, so I went to the barn where old lumber had been stacked. We found enough to make four 4×4′ beds. I had a couple of small water 4′ troughs that a friend had given me, and David, my youngest son, had a 6′ rusted water trough I drug down. I also had a huge tractor tire that Dan moved over to the new spot.
My chickens are free-range, so I had to figure out how to protect the garden. Before I got it fenced and planted, they LOVED to get into the troughs and dig in the dirt taking baths! They would make huge holes in the soft soil. Daniel suggested fencing the chickens out of the garden, rather than fencing them in around their chicken coop as they do control the grasshoppers and other bugs in the yard, so that is what we did. He built a fence around the garden using extra rolls of wire we had at the barn, and an old gate my dad had had in a cross fence that I had saved.
Sherry, my daughter-in-law, is an avid gardener with a very green thumb! She purchases heritage seed each year and starts all of her plants indoors under grow lights and with classical music playing. She also talks to the plants each day. She started me some different varieties of summer squash and tomatoes. I had some older seed I had kept and I planted cucumbers and yellow squash. The squash have been very prolific and I have found two new varieties that I love – Italian zucchini and a ridged yellow squash.
I decided I REALLY wanted to plant black-eyed peas again, so David dug 6″ of soil out of a plot down by The Palette Pad and filled it with the decomposed potting soil. We put up 6′ high portable fence panels around it to deter the deer and planted peas. I froze several gallons of fresh black-eyed peas and we have enjoyed several family dinners with black-eyed peas with sausage cooked in them, fried okra/potatoes/onions, cantaloupe, fresh sliced tomatoes, slaw, and cornbread – yum! That is my favorite meal!
When the peas began dying, I pulled the plants up and replanted. I am now in the middle of harvesting the second crop. This time I also planted a row of okra down the middle of the plot between the rows of black-eyed peas. When the okra was about 9″ tall, I noticed something was eating the okra plants off and leaving a stem. After I lost 3 plants over three nights, I asked Daniel, my oldest son, to go rabbit hunting the next morning. Sure enough, he got a pair of rabbits that had somehow figured out how to get through a crack in the fence. Now with the cooler weather the okra has begun to bloom and produce. I will freeze all we don’t eat. Daniel and I love it cooked with tomatoes and onions. Fried is the only way everyone else in the family will eat it.
We have eaten squash and tomatoes almost daily and I have frozen so much, my large chest freezer is level full, as well as the freezers at both vacation rental homes! Daniel and Sherry use the extra tomatoes and have canned 150 pints of delicious salsa. The home-grown heritage tomatoes make a huge difference in the taste! A friend on Facebook got sick of zucchini and pulled her plants up a couple of weeks ago. As long as they are producing, I can’t stand the thought of pulling them up! I am delivering bags of produce to the doors of some older friends that have a difficult time getting out. They have reported enjoying the produce eaten fresh, and one made delicious zucchini bread with a large fruit I gave her. I just pulled all but two plants – one zucchini and the yellow ridged squash. There are still quite a few small zucchini on the vine and a few blooms on the yellow squash.
In mid-September I actually had some squash that began blooming again! This summer for the first time I pruned back the tomatoes plants. Those I pruned too much, meaning I left no leaves on them, have died. The others are putting out new leaves and began blooming towards the end of September. I am hoping they will have enough time to produce fruit before the first frost. I kept the okra plants alive by watering, but they had quit blooming and producing with the record-breaking heat we have had. Thankfully the last week the temps have dropped and we have had good rains, and voila, the okra are blooming again and producing more than they did in the heat of the summer!
For those of you that garden, you know how zucchini can hide in the foliage and when finally discovered, be as big as clubs! I had one that was 5# 4 oz and have had several over 4#.! I found a very delicious way to prepare the large fruit. I cut them lengthwise, scooped out the seed and pulp, then divided each long half into halves or thirds. I steam the “boats” in the microwave for 10 minutes (I like mine totally cooked and soft), then I stuff with any cooked meat of our choice. I have used sauteed hamburger with onions and peppers, pulled pork, and shredded chicken. I top the meat mixture with sour cream and cheese and voila – a meal in an edible “bowl”. Delicious! Sherry made a delicious pizza with hers, using some of her homemade tomato sauce, sausage, many herbs from her garden and lots of cheeses. It was outstanding! I steam the extra boats in the microwave about 8 minutes, then put on a cookie sheet and freeze. Once frozen, I place them in a freezer bag for later enjoyment.
Guests in our two vacation homes on the farm have always loved getting a tour of Daniel and Sherry’s magnificent raised-bed garden. I thought I would plant a garden for the guests at their rental homes where they could enjoy freshly picked produce from the home they were staying in. All I did was extend a flower bed out 15′ feet down the west side of the home and added a truck load of potting soil I got from a nursery “trash” pile across the road from us. I planted several tomato, squash, zucchini and cucumber plants that Sherry had started, and they have done extremely well. Too bad there have been no guests to enjoy them! I will continue doing this each year. The Italian zucchini and yellow squash are both blooming again, so hopefully guests later in the fall will be able to enjoy some fresh produce from “their” garden. The first week of October I was checking the squash plants for blooms and found a 6# Italian zucchini squash that had been missed and a nice sized yellow squash!
During this weird time, my garden has given me purpose and a huge sense of accomplishment! I have fed my family very well with the freshest possible veggies, that taste better than anything I could purchase at the store, and have been able to share with so many others.
Well, by mid-July, the gardens stopped producing so there was no more canning or freezing of produce. Now, what should I do to stay busy? It was too hot to work in the yards. In fact it had been so hot and dry that we had mowed only twice! Some rainy years we have had to mow two times a week. I had a call with someone I consider a mentor in the vacation rental business, Matt Landau of vrmb.com. He called to check and see how I had been handling Covid-19 with the vacation rental business. After we visited for awhile he said, “I want you to write a book about lessons you learned living on a farm, and tie it into how those lessons apply to the vacation rental business.”
I have actually always thought I would like to write a book, but never followed through. Matt sparked something in me and I immediately began writing. I spent hours in my office and had so much fun doing it – it was really a trip down memory lane. Tanya, one of my sisters, has been a huge help with the project. She has edited the book and made suggestions. I thought I had finished it, but I keep remembering things I would like to add. I’m sure until it is actually published, it will continue to be a work in progress. Matt has some ideas on how to proceed from here, and I can’t wait to enjoy this part of the journey.
We welcomed our first guests back to the farm Labor Day weekend. It rained off and on through Saturday, then we had beautiful temperate weather for the remainder of the weekend. All of the guests reported having a great time and enjoyed the rain! Connie has been my housekeeper from the beginning and she does a fantastic job. So many guests comment on the cleanliness of the homes in their reviews. With Covid-19, we are stepping up our cleaning a notch and are now disinfecting all high-touch areas. We are also leaving a two-day open period on either side of bookings, to make it safer for us, Connie, and our guests.
After the weird summer we have all been through people are ready to get out and do something, but they want to do it safely. Our rural farm setting is perfect for them.