It happens every year in the spring time. HAILSTORMS!

This is why we always cover our plants with caterpillar or low tunnels. Not only do we get an occasional snow storm, we also get multiple hail storms.

Sometimes we ask ourselves why we even try to grow in this short season, high plains dessert where the conditions are so extreme. I guess we may like the challenge but more then likely it’s because it’s home.

In preparation, we always have extra row cover, extra seeds and seedling mix. Many times I also have extra transplants waiting for just such an occasion. Worst case scenario, we can replace single plants by purchasing from a nursery.

Luckily because our growing season is so short, the plants are not very big yet resulting in little to no damage at this time. We have only had one devastating hailstorm that really took out a couple years ago in August which was prime selling season. You should see the pictures. You can search hail on the blog page and see the horrific pictures. It’s why we have tunnels today.

See the most recent hailstorm on our YouTube Channel:

Well Woes

There is nothing worse then not having water. When you have a well you never know what kind of issues could come up that stops the water flowing to your house or garden.

Over winter the water cut off 3 times. The first time was 18 hours, second was only overnight and the last time we didn’t have it for 8 hours. The well company came out each time and couldn’t find the issue but got it working again. This time they pulled up more well parts to try and resolve the issue permanently. This time they found it. A 45 year old check valve was the culprit.

Luckily this happened before we started planting! There was a lot of digging that disrupted the garden, bringing up clay and sand, and covering some of the good soil we had been building. Disappointing but the area is one we were still working on soil improvement anyway.

The well problem also gave us a chance to add something that will be a game changer for us. A hydrant running directly from the well is now placed inside the garden. No more dragging hoses or watering odd spots by hand. We can also rinse the vegetables in the garden leaving the good soil the vegetables carry behind rather than dragging extra dirt to our processing area.

Bad news but good timing! We are very happy with the end result. Hopefully we won’t be showering when the water goes out again! Getting shampoo out of your hair without water is not fun!

You can see the digging disaster on the farm’s YouTube Channel:

Snow Delays Planting

It’s March 22, 2021 and we are still experiencing snow storm after snow storm so we have not started planting outside yet. Even the transplants inside seem to be growing slowly since the entire house is colder than usual. The good news is snow quickly melts in our area so hopefully it won’t take too long to warm up enough to at least get the first seed in the ground, even if we have to put a covered tunnel over the row to keep it warm during this weather volatile spring.

Wish us luck!

Making Dried Basil

When you know it’s going to snow and you have a large row of basil what do you do? You make dried basil so you can have the luxury of home grown basil all year long. After trying a number of different ways to dry my basil we found one way that maximizes both flavor and appearance.

First we hand pick only the best, non-blemished leaves. Bigger is easier in this case but it is not necessary. We wash the leaves in a bucket or bowl of water and lay them out on paper towels until they dry completely.

Leaving the leaves on the paper towels, we tear them into individual squares, placing another paper towel on top, sandwiching the leaves between 2 pieces of paper towel. Placing the leaf sandwich into the microwave we cook for 30 seconds and check to see if the leaves are dry. If they are not dry, we cook for another 30 seconds. We usually cook for 1 minute.

After all the leaves are dry, we put them into one big pile and crush by hand. We usually do this on top of a piece of paper and then use a funnel to pour into a seasoning bottle.

It will take a lot of leaves to fill a bottle but it is so worth the effort. Ours lasts all winter long.

Baby Hawk in the Rain

The hawks on our property successfully hatched one chick. They were very protective and anytime we moved out of our normal space the parents would literally growl at us. I know how much a small bird can scratch you if you encroach on their nest. I can’t even imagine how badly you’d get injured from a large talon predator with a wing span of 4 feet!

Just to give more perspective, our space is 200 yards away from their tree. It has crippled us from traveling about half our property. I wouldn’t want to take the chance. But since we don’t farm or have animals on 75% of it we are okay leaving them alone.

Today the baby hawk got it’s first experience with rain and it was hysterical! The chick was standing on it’s tip toes, hopping around trying to avoid the wet stuff falling from the sky. Shaking it’s head and flapping it’s wings and giving out a little peep here and there. It was fun to watch.

You can watch the video on the farm’s YouTube channel. Keep in mind it’s not great quality since we had to stay so far away.

The Windy Plains

I’m sure you have heard us complain about the wind on the farm so I thought I would share some videos so you can see it first hand. The reason we have bamboo screens on our garden fence is to reduce the wind blowing up from the valley. Then there is plant support. As the wind continues to blow seedlings, the plant begins to grow sideways. Sometimes the wind is so bad the leaves rip off the stem. Sometimes the ground cover or tunnel fabric gets loose and smashes into the plants and kills them. You’ll notice our squash plants usually lean in one direction.

This year our pumpkin patch took the brunt of the wind and required a second planting after the ground cover popped up from the wind.

Don’t get me started with the tomato plants. It is absolutely necessary to stake them up or place them in hard wire cages. Every year the tomatoes start to blow over and we are forced to tie in more stakes and even tie them against each other!

All we can do during these storms is protect the best we can and hope for the best.

Here are a few vids from the farm’s YouTube channel to enjoy.

Recycle Reuse

Being organic, we are also very respectful of the environment. That being said we spend a lot of time thinking up ways to make less waste. To start with, in our home, we recycle more than we throw away. We usually only have one kitchen garbage bag a week, but a full recycle bin. We compost our organic food scraps and garden cuttings, and when we get a lot of plastic grocery bags we bring them to a recycle center at the store we bought it from. Due to Covid, we weren’t allowed to bring in our reusable grocery bags.

In the garden we reuse our ground covers that we plant in, our tunnel fabric covers and our pots that we grow and transplant in. We also reuse the drip tapes every year unless they have sprung a leak. And of course, we use our compost!

When I have a need for something in garden I look around to see what we already have that we could repurpose. For instance, our peppers don’t usually grow every tall because of the short season, but last year they grew so tall they were falling over. Tomato garden stakes are expensive and they contain plastic. I bought some small wooden dowels which worked well and in the end, slowly decay back into the ground.

This year I’m trying to reduce weeds. That is what takes most of our time in the garden. We use bamboo screens on the garden fences to reduce wind since it’s very bad in this area. After 4 years the screens start to fall apart so they end up in a pile next to the bush and tree branches and excess bricks and blocks, all which get somewhat used here and there. For instance, we periodically put the wood through a chipper and use as a top dressing for our perennial beds. But today I got the idea to line up the bamboo screens on the ground to act as a ground cover and reduce weed growth. It worked like a charm. Saved probably 6 hours of weed pulling over the season!

Even if you are not gardening, we should all look for ways to reduce, recycle and reuse what we have.

Nesting Red Tail Hawks

It’s common to see Red Tail Hawks flying through our property. Last year a mother hawk was teaching her baby to fly and was hopping tree to tree across our acreage. They are enormous birds with wing spans almost 5 feet long. They are so large the only way to tell the one bird was a baby was the funny cackling noise it was making.

This year a male hawk started building a nest in the tallest tree in the middle of our property. We believe he is the baby we saw from last year. It didn’t take long for him to build a nest and attract a mate. While we love the wildlife this means we can no longer free range the chickens until they are gone.

Our new bird neighbors are still a little leery of us. When I’m working the garden the male floats above me, checking me out. If we get close to their tree they sound like they are growling at us. We are now trying to avoid their area because unlike your standard robin attack when you get close to their nest, we have the feeling a hawk attack could be a major problem.

In the mean time, we are enjoying watching these predators and look forward to seeing a baby being raised so close to home.

Conserving the Prairie Grass

Although you usually enjoy posts about aspects of the farm such as the garden, bees or chickens, something else important is happening on the farm.

The majority of the property is not being used for farming, it’s being conserved for the wild life. Prairies are becoming endangered due to urban sprawl. The tall grasses of the prairies provides food and shelter for a wide variety of animals. Letting the majority of the property go wild resulted in a wide range of healthy wildlife that we don’t see on neighboring properties that are usually brush mowed.

Deer find tall grass to give birth in so that they are hidden from view. We’ve seen 5 generations born here. Usually 2 fawns at a time. They come back to visit every year. Whole herds seek shelter during storms here.

But deer aren’t the only ones who enjoy our farm. Besides your run of the mill birds, squirrels, rabbits and raccoons, we also routinely see skunk, red and grey fox, coyotes, hawks and eagles. We’ve also been told that bobcats and a cougar have been seen in the area but luckily have not come across them.

We like to enjoy and co-exist with nature rather than eliminate it. We’ve seen some sad situations as a result but have more positive experiences than bad. With high fences around the garden and 1/2 inch wire cloth covering the chicken run and open spots around coop openings, we have never had a break in from a predator or had the garden ravaged. In the end, preservation of the land has been easy to do and very rewarding.

Dill and Butterflies

One of my friends is an heirloom seed collector and shares what she has with me. She shared some dill seed so this year we decided to plant it as some customers have asked for it in the past. We sold some but had more plants than we needed. I figured I’d let them go to seed and collect for next year.

One day I noticed something crawling on the dill and when I got closer noticed all the plants were covered with two different caterpillars! The one pictured above is a black swallowtail and the picture below is a Monarch. While most farmers would probably stalk and kill these “pests”, we figured we have plenty dill to share.

It’s exciting to see how Monarch butterflies really took to our garden considering they are endangered. We decided to grow dill annually just for the butterflies. With free seeds, it’s not a lot of work to go through for expanding the variety of wildlife in our property.