Virtual Tour of Storm Farms

If you were to come to the farm and take a tour, what you see would depend on so many variables that I can’t list them all. However, that tour would not be comprehensive. Since this tour is on paper, or well screen, you get to hear all of it. Warning: I babble in person, a lot. I am not sure how this will translate into a written tour of the farm. I also love to answer questions about plants, and growing them. I am a complete plant nerd and don’t get to show it off much.

So first things first. You pull in off of Bowen road through two big gates. The parking lot runs across the front of the farm. You can park either facing Bowen road or the fields. When you walk up to the entrance you will be greeted by myself or Machelle. The farm itself is not impressive, the entire properties is barely 6.5 acres. At least half of which is not farmable. There are two house, two wells, a root cellar, a open shed, and a free standing garage that alone take up at least an acre and half. Most tours start at the back of the farm, the downhill* side, it is not far, maybe 1000 feet.

I start by introducing the tractor. The tractor I use is a John Deere 5075e named Dela.** Than a quick run through of the other equipment used and the basic process of getting a field planted (see the post about planting strawberries for a detailed explanation of this process). If there is interest, I will spend more time talking about the attachments and how I use them and cool things about them. Typically, there isn’t a lot of interest, which is understandable.

After that we move on to the bee hives. Let me say this upfront: I do not keep the bees on my property. They are not my bees, I do not care for them, and do not have in depth knowledge of how to care for them. If you are interested in learning about beekeeping, I have permission to pass on my beekeeper’s name and number. Despite this, we do stop and talk about the bees, why I have them, and what they do for the farm. The bees are extremely friendly and have never stung anyone other than the beekeeper and all of my dogs. There is one hive that is feistier than the others and Does Not like the tractor. So when I do have to work in that area with the tractor I try to do so on a cloudy day, first thing in the morning, or right at sunset.

After the bees, we move to the actual fields. The fields themselves are very simple. We have three on the farm. The North, and South fields are both just over an acre, and the center is just under an acre. The West field is still in development and about a quarter of an acre. All four fields are rectangles, stretching East to West.  What is growing in the fields is, of course, what makes them interesting. I could talk forever about plants. I honestly think plants are the coolest thing. THEY TURN SUNLIGHT INTO FOOD! *ahem* anyways. While walking through the fields, I explain crop rotation, different things we grow, organic pest control, and the most common weeds we fight at the farm.

Finally, we walk back to the top of the farm, and I answer questions. I love answering peoples questions, and children always have the best ones. I love what I do and any chance I get to share it with people is a good time.  

When we get back to the top, you get instructions on how to pick whatever is in season, a container, and are turned loose in the fields.

Until next time,

Farmer Jo

*it is very very slightly downhill so you won’t notice unless you are really looking for it

**This is short for Fidelius which means trustworthy or faithful. My tractor has been very trustworthy and faith as learn how to use it. Yes, I am one of those people who name cars and other inanimate objects.

What I thought I was getting into and what I actually got into (Part 2)

Part two of what I thought I was getting into. The more personal half.

What did worry me about running a farm was me. I am the least organized person I know, and I come from a family of chaos. At one point my room was so messy that when the house I was living in was broken into they didn’t even bother with my room. So I knew that was going to be a problem.* The second thing that had me worried was that I do not see myself as a hard working person. I often feel like I am extremely lazy. My ideal life is sitting around reading books, drinking tea, in a cottage style garden. Not exactly the kind of personality you would pick for a farm. Finally I struggle (fight, do battle with) depression in a very serious, not get out of bed and don’t shower for a week kind of way. Again, not something you would look for in a person to be a successful business owner. I doubted, and some days still do, that I could do this. Just before I turned in my two weeks notice at my last job before the farm, I was at church and could not sit through the service when I was trying to decide my future. So I slipped into the quiet room, mostly used by nursing mothers but empty that day. I prayed the entire service. I listed out all the reasons why I should not be given such a responsibility. Just like Moses telling God in a burning bush that he stutters, so he can’t be the mouthpiece of God. When I was done saying my piece, God asked “Do you think I don’t know who you are?” That stopped me in my tracks. Of course He knows who I am, and all my faults. He already knows all the ways I am going to fail as a farmer. But He also knows all the ways I am going to succeed. There is nothing I can tell Him about myself that He doesn’t already know. So why was I there trying to tell Him why He should pick one of the other 7 million people that live in the DFW metroplex?

It is a fight. I still get in my own way. I often think that I am the biggest hindrance to the farm.  I don’t always get up as early as I need to, and often I don’t work as late as I should. I leave a million things undone each day. One day, I drove out to the farm and sat in my truck for 8 hours doing nothing, than drove back home. I seriously would never have picked me.

But here is what I didn’t expect. I have learned that doing the one most important thing of the day is best for the farm. But sometimes all I can do is the first thing I get my hands on no matter how important it is. Getting something done, anything done is better than nothing getting done at all. I have surprised myself by how often I do get up early and do spend the whole day working. I am always surprised how much better I feel when I do get up and work. Moping never helps. I never expected to find my work so satisfying. To work hard, to really work hard. I thought I knew how to do that already. I didn’t. Learning to see something that needs doing and do it, had taken me a long time. I am a champion procrastinator.

I want to stay on the farm. Most of my life, I have been a ‘go where the wind blows’ kind of person. SInce I started this farm, I have fallen in love with staying still, to watch the year grow and die. I never thought I would be able to find the endurance and determination to work all day, and than go out at midnight and take care of an emergency. I had no idea I had the ability to spend 10 hours talking, helping, and caring for the customers that come out to enjoy the farm**.  Even more surprising I found myself able to stand and listen to angry screaming customers and not take it personal. Everyone has bad days. While I wish they wouldn’t take out on me, they don’t know me, or the work I have put into the farm, so they don’t get a say about how I feel. I have grown more in my personal life while farming than at any other point in my life***. I never expected to learn about myself while farming. I was not and still am not able to see my strengths, I am very good at finding my weaknesses.

* Y’all should see my desk

** People are hard. The hardest thing is people. People are confusing.

*** Farming is not all of it but it has played a big part.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned is to be encouraging and grateful.

Until next time,

Farmer Jo

An aside from her sister:

For those who don’t know, I (Maddie), have been helping with the farm since about January. I run the social media, as well as, editing and posting this blog.

Talking about yourself is hard. I am so proud of my sister, reading this blog was moving and inspiring. While my sister is not perfect, she is an awesome role model. In her struggles, she lifts others up. In her weakness, she is a light.

If you’ve been keeping up with the blogs, you know that she has been obsessed with plants since college. She may be surprised that she became a farmer, but I, and most of my family will likely agree, that it is not at all surprising that she is now a farmer. She is incredibly hard working and dedicated. She struggles like every other person. Mornings are dumb and getting up early is the worst. We do it anyways. I bet you do too, or some other onerous, daily task.

I am not an eloquent writer, but I felt it was worth saying how amazing I think my sister is. She has always lifted me up and encouraged me when I was at my worst and ready to do nothing until forever.

We are so blessed to have her. I know you agree because I get so much feedback about how wonderful y’all think she is!

Thank you so much for your love and support!

So, really, until next time,

Helper Maddie

What I thought I was getting into and what I actually got into (Part 1)

Like most jobs, what you expect or have been told about the job, it turns out that it’s is very little like that.

This is where I admit I am a ‘leap first, look second’ kind of person. So when the opportunity to have my own farm arose; I didn’t really think much about what the day-to-day would actually look like. It was just growing plants right? I was already doing that at the Dallas Arboretum. How much harder could it be? With that kind of a questions you can guess that this blog will be more about what I did not expect then what I did expect.

So what did I expect? I expected to be growing plant, particularly strawberries. I thought it would be pretty easy despite hearing that strawberries are little diva plants (see my blog about growing strawberries).

The farming is the easy, or the easiest, part. In some ways. Plants are straight forward, there are never dramatic breakups, or family fights over inheritance with plants. If you plant them and than give them what they need to grow, most often they grow. This is what I was expecting. To put all types of edible plants in the ground, give them what they need, and they would grow. I say the farming part is easy, like all I have to do is go out into the fields and poof magically there are crops ready to harvest. Clearly that is not the case. If it was, we would all farm wouldn’t we? So no, it’s not actually that easy.

I did plan to be outside in all weather (which I am). I did know there would need to be advertising (which there is, although I am mostly not in control of it). I knew I would need to plan, what to plant, and when to fertilize.

What I didn’t expect was the day-to-day grind. I get up every morning and worry about the same things, and think about the same things, and work on the same things. Everyday of the year. Plants don’t take holidays. They don’t care that it’s supposed to be your day off. I think about the weather obsessively. I have 4 weather apps on my phone. I definitely did not ever think that would happen.

I never gave a passing thought to how organized I would need to be. Record keeping is a huge task. What sold well? What didn’t? What is in your soil? What is in your water that affects your plants? What is in your water that might affect people? What fertilizer did you use? How much per acre? When did you put fertilizer out? Keeping the records for Good Agricultural Practises certification. Keeping records for the new food safety laws. Keeping track of where all the money goes. Filing business taxes*.

I didn’t expect all the things I would need to learn. I can’t tell you how many Youtube videos I have watched trying to figure out how to kill Curly Dock**, how to better market on Facebook, how to clean filters, how to take apart a weed eater and make it work again after the wrong gas was run through it, and why exactly is the tracter making that noise?

I didn’t expect to do so much educating of the general public. The first year there was a pumpkin patch on the farm I had a mom come up to me and tell me that there were bugs on my pumpkins. I asked if they were ants (so I could flag the area and both warn people away and treat it after I closed) but no, they were just bugs. Turned out they were theses bugs

Cucumber Beetle

These are cucumber beetles, not yellow ladybugs, and are a huge pest. Please feel free to kill as many as you want. The type of bug is not actually the point. The point is this mom told me that I should not be selling pumpkins with bugs on them; In fact, it was wrong of me to sell these pumpkins with bugs on them. To this day, I cannot remember how I responded to that comment. I grew those pumpkins outside, in fact all pumpkins are grown outside. The outside is full of bugs. I have no way of keeping bugs off my pumpkins. I grew them organically so there was no pesticide on them, but even if I had gone straight to the harshest chemical, there would still be bugs on my pumpkins.

I never expected to have to tell people over and over and over that fertilizer is necessary for all plants***. The very rare exception is plants perfectly adapted to your yard. Even those might need help in the really bad years.

I never ever ever thought that growing plants of any kind was a special skill. I thought the only reason people didn’t do it was because they didn’t want to, they found it boring, not because they couldn’t.  It has been slowly dawning on me that farming is more than just putting in the hours, or loving the work. Farming is a skill. I am just opening for my third season of Pick Your Own Strawberries, and already I have had other farmers in the area come to me asking me when do I water, how much do I water, what kind of fertilizer do I use, when do I cover to protect from the cold, when is full sunlight more important than protecting from the cold. This is the most surprising thing to me, the most unexpected. I don’t see myself as specially skilled. I just get up everyday and check my four weather apps, and go to work.

Don’t worry, there is more to come, so check back in a couple of weeks for part 2!

Until then,

Farmer Jo

*It still is a problem, but it has going better in the years since I have been running the farm. I was even able to find an invoice from last year that I needed for my business tax return!

** Surprise! You can’t. Curly Dock is the cockroach of the weeds on my farm.

*** Seriously people feed your plants. That includes your lawn.

From Psychology to Horticultural

When I was growing up, my mom had a three step plan for when I had a bad day. First, feed me something.* Second, give me a hug. Third, send me outside. Seriously, those three things fixed basically any problem I had. Fail my spelling test? Follow the steps. Best friend moved? Follow the steps. Change schools for 8th grade and not have any friends? Follow the steps. With this as a background I feel like I should have known an outside job was where it was at for me. But no. I wanted to become a counselor. This was never going to be a good fit. Counselors are awesome. I sometimes wish it had been. I could sit inside in the A/C in August when it is 109 degrees out. (I would also have the potential for regular vacation.)

To earn a degree in Psychology, or in any field, require certain criteria be meet. For me, that meant so many hours of science classes. I had taken a food science class; the only thing I remember from that class is why chocolate turns white.(Simplified version is that as chocolate heats up the fat melts and moves to the surface of the chocolate. It has a name, but I don’t remember what it is.) I also took biology which was fine, but not actually that great. I needed one more class. I heard through the general rumor mill that the horticulture 101 (I think it was actually 1501 maybe?) was easy, and you got plants to take home. I liked plants. I liked plants in my apartment. I had successfully killed them all. I signed up and hoped that I could learn to keep at least a houseplant alive. Two weeks in, I called my roommate and best friend and told her if I believed in reincarnation (which I don’t) I was going to be a horticulturist in my next life (yes, I do understand that is not how reincarnation actually works). Needless to say I loved it. I loved the class. I loved the lab. I loved the professor teaching the class, and the assistant professor teaching the lab was amazing. But I was still determined to get my degree in psychology and work towards being a professional counselor. So I filled everyone one of my open spots with Hort classes and considering making it a minor.

Two semesters later, I am in my last semester until I graduate. I sit down to the “what am I actually doing after school” plan for my senior seminar class. It is at this point that I realize I would need a PhD to be a counselor. I had heard this before. I knew this. I had seen the program outlines. But I had never thought about actually staying in school all the way through a PhD. As soon as I processed all of this out, I knew it was not going to happen. There was no way I was going to make it through that much school with my sanity intact. It just wasn’t going to happen. I had only made it through a bachelor’s by the grace of God and the prayers of my parents. The next step was clearly to look into what jobs were open to someone with only a bachelor’s degree. The answer: not much, and nothing that I could see myself doing with any competency. May I just say that it is amazing how what you think you can do changes as you get older and face challenges? Thinking back on the jobs I was freaked out about, I know now that I could do any of those jobs and do them well. I might even enjoy them. I spent at least a week totally losing my mind, as only the young and untried can. After a week, I am going through homework, notebooks, lab books, and the like from the previous semesters when I come across one of the quizes from my first hort class. On it, Matthew Kent had written “Double Major?”. A light bulb goes off. The following day I am sitting in the horticultures advisors office asking what I need for a double major. She tells me that I am not that far away, two semesters if I want to double major, three semesters if I want a double degree. Well than. I call my parents and half tell, half ask about going for a double degree (there is no need to go half way and only get a second major). I don’t remember much about the conversation, only that it ended with the understanding that if I could make it work then they were fine. My dad, however, has recounted several times how they were so flabbergasted that I wanted to get a second degree that they couldn’t really argue with me in the moment. I am pretty sure they thought there had been a case of body-snatching going on. From there it was a matter of getting the paperwork filed, scheduling out the rest of the classes I would need, and three additional semesters. I loved those three semester. Well except basic chemistry. Organic chemistry was fine, soil sciences, which is lots of chemistry, also fine. Basic chemistry was the worst. I am not sorry I added horticulture. I love the jobs it has lead me to. I am happiest outside, working with my hands. I find so much satisfaction in what I do.

*I was and still am bad about not eating. Skipping lunch happens almost everyday.

Until next time,

Farmer Jo

Walking in My Boots

When people ask what a normal day looks like on the farm, the answer is pretty simple. I get up before the Sun, drink my weight in liquid caffeine, check the weather, work like mad until the sunset, check the weather, eat again, and collapse into bed. But, what a day actually looks like is a lot more complicated. A good friend of mine once said, “Farming is doing a thousand little things right, so that no one big thing goes wrong”. I have yet to find a better way to describe farming.

I do get up before the sun year round. That means a little later in the winter and a little earlier in the summer. I then shuffle off to the kitchen, turn the kettle on, stumble to the living room and turn the heat up, then I go collapse back into bed. By the time the kettle whistles, the house is warm. After a large breakfast and a pot of black tea, I am ready to face the day. Clothing is a funny thing. I probably should not admit to my terrible laundry habits. I put on a clean pair of pants on Monday, and unless I get covered in mud, or oil I wear the same pair everyday until Friday.* In the summer I wear a clean shirt everyday, but in the winter I treat my shirts the same way I do my pants. So unless it is a Monday, I pull on my dirty pants, put my boots on and go to work.

Now the fun part. You almost never do what you are planning to do when you woke up. I pick one thing (sometimes two) to be sure to get done. After that it is a matter of what comes up during the day. Sometimes, you walk out and spend the day covering everything is frost cloth cause two days from now it is going to rain, and the day after that it is going to be cold for the crops. Sometimes the field is flooded cause it rained 10 inches overnight, and you can’t get on the tractor. Sometimes, everything comes together, and you get your whole list done and find time to wash an extra load of laundry. But most days, I get up and the one or two things I have planned get started than I walk by something that needs doing, and I do it. Than I get back to what I was doing before. A real life example: The main project for the day was getting everything mowed, I had just switched from the brush hog attachment on the tractor to the riding lawn mower when I noticed that the tomatoes needed tying up, I stopped to tie up the tomatoes, than go back to the mowing.**

I typically eat lunch on the go. I have found that if I stop, I have a hard time getting back to work. Mostly I get distracted, but I can also be very lazy and once I sit down, I don’t want to get back up. I find that it is better not to have to fight that battle with myself. I have also learned that skipping lunch is not an option. If I don’t eat lunch, I run out of energy around 2 pm and get nothing done the whole rest of the day. Which is also not an option.

The rest of the day goes on like this. Working on a big project, getting sidetracked along the way, but getting the main tasks done each day. I work until sundown most days. I have seen many sunsets. I should take more pictures but I never quite around to it. Here is one I did manage to get:

Dinner and the end of the day are mostly an afterthought. I get myself fed with whatever is in the fridge, feed the dogs, and feed the horses***. If I am filthy I take a shower, but most evenings I bum around. I go to my parent’s house, I read, I watch a movie and crochet. Yes, I crochet, not well, but with enthusiasm. I typically save all my house work for the weekends, and do a real clean on the 1st and 15th of every month. After dinner, I turn the heat down and fill the kettle. When it gets cold in the house I go to bed, get my 8 hours (cause seriously I need 8 hours). Than I get up and do it all over again the next day. I have days when I wonder how could I be so blessed to get to play in the dirt all day and make a living do it. Other days I think I could have a nice office job, where my hands stay clean, I can wear something other then muddy jeans, and I get to sit in the A/C in the summer and the heat in the winter. I think this is normal for any job, sometimes you wonder where you went wrong to end up here, but if you’re lucky, most days you’ll love what you do.

So now you know what a day (roughly) looks like at my little farm in the middle of the city,

Until next time,

Farmer Jo

*This is probably why I wear out my pants so fast.

**I am pretty sure this method of farming is not the most efficient, and would not work for most people.

*** I have two horses, they are a huge money suck, but complete my life in a way nothing else does. More on them some other time.

A long time coming

At then end of my last blog, I told you that I would explain why the crown of a plant is important, why I am a huge fan of mulch, and why you should plant strawberries in the fall.  So first things first. The original plan was to post this before Christmas, but it turns out explaining what a plant crown is and why they are so very important is much, much harder than I thought. So here is what I have managed to cobble together. Hope it helps and excites you as much it does me!

Mulch. This is a topic all over the gardening web, but it is so useful. I feel the need to repeat it. Mulch is amazing!

The first, and my favorite, thing it does is help with weed control. Annual weeds often need the soil to warm up and sunlight to start growing in the spring. There is nothing we can do about soil temperature and honestly we wouldn’t want to as soil temperature is an indicator for so many plants we love. Sunlight, however we can do something about. Sunlight lets the seeds that are close enough to the top of the soil to germinate. They will reach the surface of the soil before they run out of the energy stored in the seed. When you put mulch on top of the soil, the sunlight can’t get through, and the seeds don’t germinate. This will not stop all weeds, sadly. It will however block a good majority of them. Any weeds that don’t come up, also don’t go to seed, and so don’t create more weeds.

The second thing mulch does is that it keeps the soil warm. I know I just said that warm soil is one of the things that can start weeds growing. Which is true, however tender plants that we want like strawberries, Dailhas, Cannas, Hostas, Roses, and Blackberries all need their roots kept warm over the winter. If their roots freeze, they won’t come back in the spring. Even though mulch will warm the soil signaling weeds to start growing; they won’t because it also blocks the sun.

What about during the summer will the soil get too warm?** The answer is No. In the summer mulch will actually keep the soil cool. How? By holding water in the soil. When you water where you have mulched, it keeps the water off of the surface so that it is not evaporated so quickly. This also keeps the soil cooler than it would be otherwise. If you have a dog, think about how they will dig a hole to lay in the summer. They do this because the soil is cooler than the air. Warning: if your mulch is too thick (more than about 2 inches), it can prevent the water from reaching the soil. If this is the case, you can either remove some of the mulch, lay drip tape under the mulch, or move the mulch away from the plant and water more heavily. Removing and thinning are what I would suggest.

The last thing to know about mulch but most important is NO MULCH VOLCANOES (see *)! Mulch volcanoes will rot your plants. Remember when I said plant crowns are vulnerable to rot when they stay wet? What is the third thing I listed that mulch does? Hold in water. If you mulch right up to the stem or trunk of a plant or tree and than water correctly, that will be too much water and will introduce rot into the crown. Now some plants are better at getting over rot and you may not see any real issues. That is the exception to the rule! Most plants will turn into mush if you mulch right up to the trunk and water them that way.

Finally, why you should plant your strawberries in the fall. Strawberries are perennials that act like biennials. Short Hort Vocab lesson. There are three life cycles to plants. The first and shortest is annuals; these plants germinate, grow to their full size, flower or fruit, seed out and die in one year. The second and trickiest are biennials; these plants germinate, and grow in their first year, than flower or fruit, seed out and die in the second year. The third is perennials, these may act like an annual at first, germinating, growing to full size, flower or fruiting, and seeding out in the first year. However, they keep coming back year after year after year. Some perennials die back to the ground each winter (Cannas, Hostas) but will come back each spring.

Strawberries are technically perennials, you plant them once and they will come back year after year after year. Strawberries are drama queens, so they don’t grow like the typical perennial with most of their growth the same year they flower and fruit. Instead they grow like biennials. The first year, they grow to mature size putting on leafy growth but no flowers or berries. During the spring of the second year they will flower and then fruit. To take advantage of this growth pattern plant your strawberries in the fall. This acts as the first “year” for them. If fertilized properly, they will grow a bunch of leaves and several crowns per plant (you know since they are drama queens). Each crown will produce between 3 and 5 strawberries. The more crowns your strawberry plant grows in the fall the more strawberries you have in the spring.

I know its a lot, and I hope I didn’t lose you along the way! Thank you for letting me share my passion.

Until next time,

Farmer Jo

*Mulch Volcanoes. They are a thing and they are awful for your trees.  

** While I am sure there are cases where the soil is too hot to grow anything or too hot to grow certain plants. I have never heard of this being a problem as long there is adequate water. The reason things don’t grow in Death Valley or the Sahara desert is lack of water not the soil being too hot.  

The “perfect” recipe for planting strawberries

If planting strawberries was like a recipe it would look something like this:

 

Ingredients

Garden

Tiller

Fertilizer

Water

Strawberry plants

Mulch

 

Directions

Note: Plant in the fall.

Prep:

Step 1. Mark out the area you want to plant your strawberries. Choose someplace that gets 8 hours of Sun a day. Making strawberries takes a lot of energy.

Step 2. Till the area you have marked out (note: be sure to have gas for your till or mixed gas if your tiller is a 2 cycle engine)

Step 3. Spread your fertilizer*

Step 4. Till again

Step 5. Water everything. Water the strawberry plants (note: you should have been watering them at least once a day. Twice a day would be better. Everyday until you plant them.)  You also need to water the ground you are going to plant your strawberries. If you don’t, the dry soil will suck the water out of the potting soil of strawberry plants which increases the chance your strawberry plants will die**.

 

Now on to the actual cooking or in this case planting:

Step 6. Plant your strawberries. This sounds easy, but how you plant will make or break your strawberries. Some of these things are going to be obvious, but if you have never planted strawberries before than read this part:

Plant them roots down and make sure there is room for the roots. You don’t want them to hit the bottom of the hole you dug and then be forced back upwards (this is called “J-ing” because the roots make a “J” shape). If they are forced back upward this will increase their chance of dying**.

When you place your strawberry plant in the ground DO NOT BURY THE CROWN!!! The crown is where the leaves turn in to roots. See this lovely picture from Bonnie Plants. If you bury the crown the plant will definitely rot and die**. If you plant them to shallow but water them like crazy, they might make it. (Strawberries are drama queens if you haven’t noticed.)

Step 7. Mulch. Now that your strawberries are in the ground, and their roots covered up, mulch. You want roughly (I say roughly because mulch does not spread evenly. Trust me, I’ve tried) an inch to an inch in a half. This is enough mulch that it will make it hard for weeds to grow but not so much that water won’t reach the roots of your strawberries. Mulch is not necessary, but it is a great time saver later.

 

Easy peasy right? Only you know that nothing is as easy as following the steps (I have enjoyed many a pinterest fail). Sometimes the tiller become choked with weeds, or breaks. Sometimes the fertilizer comes in clumps and won’t spread evenly, or the hose has holes in it and waters everything including you. Or it rains for 6 weeks and you can’t even get to your yard without losing your mud boots.

 

My farm currently looks like mudflats that should contain clams. I haven’t even finished my tilling yet. This has called for some creative farming. One option is to plant late, this may or may not be a problem depending on the winter. Another is to go ahead and work in the mudflats I am currently calling fields, and leave ruts that will be there all season and possible cause drainage issues. A third option is to do it all by hand, use a very small tiller, shovels and pretend I am feeding chickens while spreading fertilizer. A final option is to plant where you planted last year and reuse the prep you did then. I personally wanted to buy a team of draft horses (I am always up for more horses) and farm like the amish. Sadly, this is not a viable option. Someday, someday I am going to have draft horses on the farm (preferable american cream drafts as they are the only draft horses to originate in the USA). So I am going to start with option four. I will be replanting the center field at the farm. I try very hard to rotate my fields. It is better for the soil and the plants. But the center field needs a quick weed and will be ready to go, and since the mudflats aren’t getting any less muddy, I have to start somewhere.

 

I like being told why, so in the next blog post I will explain why crowns are so important, why mulch is amazing, and why you should plant your strawberries in the fall.   

 

Until then,

Farmer Jo

 

*osmosis!

**also I feel like in the movie The Croods, I’m the dad whose stories about Crispy Bear who always dies at the end.

 

South East Strawberry Growers Expo.

Every year in November is one of my favorite farm events: The Southeast Strawberry Growers Expo, hosted by the North Carolina Strawberry Growers Association. The McNitt brothers from McNitt Growers, who I source my strawberry plugs from, suggested that I go the first year I worked with them. This was the first time I did anything farming related, and I am sure they could tell I had no clue. The Expo is three day long and falls sometime between the 4th and 10th of November. The first day of the Expo is a farm tour day. We all load up on a bus and visit three or four farms in the area. It ends with dinner either at a farm that does farm to table, or a local well known restaurant. The second day starts with a grower spotlight, two break out sessions, lunch, and ends with two more break out sessions. At lunch we review the minutes from the North Carolina Strawberry Growers Association (NCSGA) meetings, vote in new board members, and award three scholarships to students focusing in ag education, and research with an emphasis on North Carolina.  Everyone is on their own for dinner, typically we take the McNitt brothers out as a thank you for all their help. The third day is only a half day, although most people hang around and sight see before leaving.

The first year I went (2016) I tried to absorb as much information as I could. It was like trying to drink from a fire hydrant*. I am positive I looked stunned the whole time. Everyone I met was nice, but I have no doubts that they thought I would not be back. Looking back I can’t blame them. Not only did I start with 55,000 strawberry, this is enough strawberries for 5 acres, but I also asked the most basic questions. The kind of questions you already know the answer to if you have farmed anything in your life.

The second year went better. I still felt like I was drowning in the information I needed to learn. However every now and then I would hear a sentence or a phrase I had heard last year (or had read desperately in that time) and actually knew what it meant. Having made it back a second year, people started to learn my name. Although this quickly became a mote point when they realized I was from Texas. The first and so far only person to come from Texas, at which point they just started calling me ‘Texas’. They were even friendlier and I walked away with a notebook full of things to research as well as a couple numbers to call if I had any questions.+

This year, my third year going, was even better. I was asked to be the speaker for one of the Grower Spotlight^, which highlights farms that are too far away to visit. But more importantly I was able to really enjoy the community of farms that shows up at the Expo. I still am awash in information, but instead of drowning I am treading water like mad and able to keep my head above water. I have never meet a nicer group of people. I truly mean that. During the first day on the tour we eat box lunches on the bus, with a bottle of water, a can of coke or diet coke. I jokingly asked one of the guys (I found out later he is on the board for the association, eep) handing out lunches, “Where the Dr. Pepper‡ is?” He kind of blinked at me and asked if I like Dr. Pepper, I said “Yes, but it’s a Texas thing, so I’m kidding. I don’t need one, and thank you for the lunch.” The next day at lunch he comes up to me with a six pack of Dr. Pepper. He had gone out on his own time and found me something to “Help me feel welcome.”‡‡ Seriously the warmest, most welcoming, kind hearted people. After I gave my presentation about my farm, several people came up, complimented me (one lady even said I was an inspiration!), and even offered solutions to one or more of the problems I mentioned having! I cannot say enough nice things about these people. I cannot wait to see all of them next year, catch up on how our years have been. Hopefully showing myself as wonderful as they are to the wide-eyed newcomers like I was only two years ago!  

I promises this time my next post WILL be about growing strawberries! Thank you for your patience and support!

Farmer Jo

 

* Turned on full blast, with a straw.

+ I am pretty sure they regretted this since I called several times a month for the next 9 months.

^This is not because I know what I am doing. Rather it is because I own a farm and am willing to get up in front of people and talk.
‡ I am good Texan girl.
‡‡ Here is the picture I took of my six pack. Yes I have saved an unopened can.

 

How the dogs derailed my post

I was going to do a post about planting strawberries. I still am, but first, I was derailed by the grossest thing that has ever happened on the farm thus far.

I have two farm dogs. Well farms dogs maybe a bit of stretch. They are dogs and they live on a farm. One is a total couch potato, and the other is the energizer bunny. Both, however are fast and love to chase anything that moves. This includes the typical squirrel, or rabbit. It doesn’t stop there, they like to chase the crows that land in the fields, and the ducks that show up when we have rain. They try to eat flies, but not the bees. Most of the time they don’t catch anything, mostly they tree the squirrels than bark at them, the rabbits lose them in the woods next door, the birds fly away, and the flys get lost in the background. I, personally, have no problem with this behaviour; they’re dogs. In the two years we have been here they have caught one rabbit. So, they mostly end up being an enthusiastic deterrent to those animals that would eat my crops. Back to my story: a couple days ago they caught a squirrel.* I didn’t see it happen, as I was on the tractor focusing very hard on making my rows straight.** All I see is one of the dogs trotting by with a dead squirrel, I roll my eyes and get back to work. That is the end of that. Well the squirrel is getting its revenge

Later that night I woke up because I needed to use the restroom, and a huge glass of water. Something smelled off, but not horrible. The dogs have been know to utilize the house (to put it delicately) when they can’t wake me. I sleep like the dead most nights.*** So I detour to the laundry room on my way back to bed. I flip the light on. In the middle of the hallway floor, inches from my bare feet is the headless squirrel leaking guts everywhere (I don’t know how to put this delicately and convey the horror scene I’d stumbled upon). I turn around, and there is my couch potato giving me the biggest pleading eyes. As if I am not going to remove a dead squirrel from my house. I grab a shovel, scoop it up and dump it over the back fence. I will have to bury it, so it doesn’t make its way back into my house. The extra disturbing fact is that I had closed the door hours ago. Which means It Was In My House For Hours!!! I have no idea where it was, but now I need to go over every room and look for squirrel..pieces..

Now you’ve heard the grossest event that has happened on Storm Farms. Don’t get me wrong, I love my dogs, and I love farming. So if you’ll stick around, I can’t wait to share a little bit more about it in my next post!

 

Until then,

Farmer Jo

 

*Let’s be real, any squirrel my dogs can catch is not adding anything to the local squirrel gene pool

** this is the most difficult thing I do. I often fail.

***You would too if you worked outside 12 hours a day.