Mike and I are gearing up once again for our busiest time of year, spring. Well, I should say that we are already in gear. Things get hopping around here starting about early February. We kick off the year with lambing and kidding, then seed starts in the greenhouse. That is pretty time consuming – then it begins to warm up. I start milking goats daily and doing all that goes along with massive milk production. Then it’s garden bed prep, tilling, moving in new compost, new bees, etc. Well, we are past that point and now it is time to plant the gardens and raised beds. We begin this project today.
We do a great deal of seed saving so a majority of our seeds we start from our own stock. This year we started seeds all the way back to 2019 to see which would germinate. Those that do not, we throw the entire seed packet away. We don’t like to keep seed that is not productive. Plus, the mini research project allows us to assess how long the seeds can be preserved and still produce. This is an interesting exercise as it is surprising how long some seeds can last.
We are not only doing more seed testing to make sure we are coming into these leaner times for the world with the most robust seeds possible, we are also growing grains for seed saving to expand that collection of seeds. We are growing a small patch of barley, winter wheat, oats, alfalfa, red clover and buckwheat. We will also be growing a grinding corn for corn meal versus sweet corn which is easy to buy at our nearby farmers market and popping sorghum for our popcorn needs. I was planning on growing sorghum for syrup for use for cooking but instead opted to expand our bee hives to get sugar in this form.
We have expanded our garden space to accommodate more plantings for seed saving purposes along with adding more raised beds. We particularly love our new greenhouse that Mike built last year that has allowed us to be so much more productive much earlier in the growing process. We would always start seeds early but we’d have to do it in the house which was an incredible pain in the you know what.
I so love this design Mike used for the greenhouse. There are several wonderful features about it. First, the beds inside the greenhouse are in ground up against that back wall. Since it’s sunken into the earth it is that much easier to keep those plants warmer in winter so as not to freeze. So, inside that greenhouse we were able to grow lemon trees that are doing great. Secondly, the entire back side of that greenhouse is a massive solar array. This solar power will ultimately power our main house and root cellar nearby. Based on this design you cant see from any direction that there is solar on top though it is perfectly aligned for the best sunlight. I love the use of solar but am not excited about having to look at a big array. So, this was a perfect solution. Since Mike loves to lay block, we built a block retaining wall there on the right where we have the picnic table and chimnea where I work all the time and can even enjoy a crackling fire. We sit here often while I am starting seeds just listening to music together and being thankful for our beautiful life.
The most frustrating issue we have had to deal with this spring is predators killing all our chickens and several of our ducks. We had literally animal proofed our entire chicken and duck pens by completely wrapping them in chain link. When I say completely, we are talking roof, walls and FLOORS! The animals were STILL getting in and killing them. We finally put up a game cam and were able to find out that they were squishing through the smallest spaces by using their bodies to push between two metal bars. Unbelievable. It ended up being both a raccoon and an opossum. Needless to say I lost about 15 birds in all. Raccoons are ruthless!
Needless to say, we’ve had to start all over with our chicken and duck flock for our eggs at a time when there are shortages and projections of sky rocketing prices in our future for eggs. So, we bought 15 chicks and hatched out 8 ducklings to add to the four we have left. We have them inside a mini barn enclosed for their safety and continue to monitor game cams to assure our predator situation has been solved. Here in the smokies where we live we have not only fox, but bear and bobcat. We live directly next to smoky mountain national park, and we see bears quite often trucking around the area. They used to go through our land directly before we fenced the entire perimeter (not that the fence would stop them to get at our hives mind you).
What we worry about now is making sure our free range rabbits don’t have their babies killed and also our cat Pluto who is expecting babies shortly. We have to have cats due to the rat and mice situation here. I don’t know what the deal is, but rats and mice have seemed to increase tenfold in the last few years at it is a huge problem. We are not keen to have chemicals everywhere loaded with poisons nor have we found traps of all sorts to be effective to any great degree. Cats are by far the best solution we’ve found that works. Thus, Pluto’s little litter matters to us along with Pluto’s well being. So, the predator problem continues on though we did appear to solve the attacks on our chickens.
The good news is it is always fun having little baby chicks and ducklings around – particularly during Easter.
On other grow your own food fronts, we have planted more fruit trees which seem to be doing wonderfully. We have about 15 fruit trees now. We had to transplant some to make room for a bigger garden. They appear to be doing spectacularly well in their new homes. Also, we purchased some fruit trees at a large discount last fall that we left in the greenhouse over winter. We also put them in the ground this spring. They too appear to be thriving. This is great news for us. Last year we had a late frost (two in fact) that killed all the buds and blossoms on our fruit trees. Due to that, we have zero fruit production last year on our apples, pears or peaches. It was quite a disappointment. This year we are much more aware of late cold spells and what it means for our burgeoning fruit orchard.
We also reinforced our massive grape vine trellises over winter and added even more 4×4 tees for the vines to continue expanding. We have a large quantity of muscadine grapes that grow natively to this region. I am sure you’ve heard many a country western song about muscadine wine. Indeed they are wonderful to grow and highly prolific in these parts. We love the idea of our own vines and therefore put a great deal of effort into the grape expansion in our garden area. We also have a white grape of some variety in our raised beds along with some Concord grapes. But those two varieties seem to get taken over by pests. The muscadines do not. Neither do the peaches. It is so interesting the fruit that does well here where pests don’t impact them which other fruits just get destroyed with either Japanese Beatles or cedar rust or something of the sort. We do two things to try and get best productivity of our fruits and vegetables – 1) we have our bees right in the center of our garden area and, 2) we grow tobacco. We don’t grow tobacco for smoking, but rather, we plant tobacco around the perimeter of the garden. Tobacco is a MAJOR natural pesticide. I am convinced this is one of the reasons tobacco is the first most primary plant for the Cherokee. They were great agriculturalists. They must have known this plant assured robust growing without pestilence being a factor in their production practices.
We also brought our saw mill back from the mountains we had had about an hour away. It was deep up in the mountains where we have been milling lumber for the last few years. We have a friend with 1000 acres where we were able to mill unlimited red oak for the tiny cabin and horse barn we built over the last few years. However recently there was a massive forest fire in the Gatlinburg/Townsend area very near where our mill was located. We headed up into the mountains to get the mill and have decided to keep it at home and process logs here at the farm.
The new exciting thing about this spring is we are breeding for three more litters of Australian Shepherd puppies this spring. So, we should have cute little ones available in the coming months for sale. We love our Aussies and are a small breeder. We only breed on litter per female every other year as we think more is just a lot for our dogs. They are like our children and while puppies are great, the load on mama is also great.
Here are the dogs we are breeding this year –
So, for those of you interested in an Aussie puppy remember to get on our waiting list. Our merles sell for $1295 and our trip-colors sell for $1000.
The biggest activity of our year is the building of a tiny cabin for our daughter who will be having my first grandchild (and Mike’s third). We have a tiny cabin Mike built for his other daughter but she decided to move to the city and didn’t want to live on a farm. Everyone has their own vibe so that’s cool. But, it left us with a gorgeous tiny cabin with no purpose and thousands of hours of sweat equity that was just sort of abandoned. When our daughter told us she was having a baby and wanted to raise him on our farm like she grew up, we thought there might be a purpose after all for this lovely tiny cabin. We had every intention to sell the cabin due its current location not being well suited should we ever opt to sell the farm in the future. Our realtor had told us you don’t want a tiny cabin at the entrance to your farm. It just doesn’t work. So, we knew we needed to either sell the cabin or move it somewhere else. When our daughter told us of her interest we randomly took a walk on our property to see if maybe there was a space we could move that cabin and kill two birds with one stone. The world has a funny way of working, because Mike and I ended up walking a piece of property we had never previously paid any attention to because we thought it was so small. It was a little figure of our land that connected to a different road that appeared totally overgrown and really steep, also very small. But, upon walking the land to see what it was, it ended up being the perfect size for that little cabin!!! And, it was right next to a road with utilities and everything. We literally in our seven years of living on this land had ever looked closely at that property section. So, needless to say, we showed the tiny cabin to our daughter and the lot and asked her if this is something she would be interested in. Indeed she and her fiancé were. They intend to buy the cabin and make the appropriate investment for the work that needs to be done for us to build the basement and all the site work — and they now have their dream home and we have a solution to the tiny cabin! The Lord always has a plan. We love all our kids and support each of their paths be it rural or urban, nomadic or deeply rooted. It’s just so wonderful to see all our kids happy and doing whatever it is they set their mind to whether here at our farm or not. We are just so thrilled though to have a kid who wants to be on the farm and raise our grandson here. It’s a great way of life with such a wonderful platform to teach kids about food, self sufficiency, living life OFF technology and intrenched in nature instead. It’s all just so healthy. I am shocked at how many kids wants to live on technology and don’t even want to go outside anymore. It’s scary. It seems abusive to me that parents would support that way of living. At this point we know how detrimental it is for the child’s well being. But, many parents use the tech as a baby sitter of sorts. That’s very sad to us. So, this project has a great deal of meaning for us.
Here are a few pictures of our progress thus far. We are so blessed because Mike is a civil engineer and my dad, Chloe’s grandpa, is a structural engineer. My dad, Mike and I have designed our houses together and we have built them. Dad, Mike and I designed our big addition we did on our current Victorian farmhouse. So, for my Dad to be able to design Chloe’s dream basement and structural elements that the current tiny cabin will sit on top of, is sort of full circle. Dad can do something for Chloe and his great grandson Asa, that will be with them for the rest of their lives. What a contribution and such a beautiful experience for all involved.
We are up to the final designs now and excavation. The building permit is next then pouring the basement and rock for the driveways and cement pad. But then we set the cabin on it and continue to finish the basement and the pop outs and decks. It should be a great summer project!!
Here are pictures of the tiny cabin that Mike built that Chloe is buying and moving onto the walk out basement.
All In all, it’s been a really busy season. Mike and I get tired sometimes, but mostly we feel totally blessed. We are fortunate to live in such a beautiful place in such an amazing region like smoky mountain national park. And now we have a grandson to look forward to and a daughter who will be within babysitting distance but with her own space and lifestyle for her and her burgeoning family. Mike and I like our space. It’s difficult having kids too close when you can see their struggles and their choices that harm them and create looping patterns of the past. You want to jump in and help – but they don’t see it that way. They see what they want to see which isn’t always good when their minds are elsewhere. As parents we have to just let that all go. People will do as they please and so be it. It’s just so wonderful for those who see, grow, seek health and strive to be better, take care of themselves and for their family. To be part of a daughter’s new life into motherhood and family with her and her partner is beautiful. And, for it all to transpire on a farm, well, it’s just about perfect.
And that is just another example of how God’s plans play out in God’s way and in God’s time. All we each need to do is be patient and walk by faith.
Until next time, be well.
~ Mike and Lori – notes from the farm