In Focus #9— That Old Country Flower?

“That is just an old country flower!”

Thus was the description of the humble little zinnia years ago. In fact, one could not even find them available in nurseries. It was one of those silly little flowers old country women planted in their gardens because they were cheap.

Well, every dog has it’s day, as my Momma used to say, and the day has come for this hardy, colorful flower. Zinnia belong to the sunflower family on the daisy side. They are a native in Southwestern United States. They are easy, easy to grow, and will self-seed if left in the garden over winter, though the next season flowers may not be the same as those first planted. They come in many different shapes in a huge variety of colors. They attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Every house is made more cheerful with a vase full of happy, colorful zinnias in it. Cut the spent blooms and these cheerful flowers just keep on blooming. In all colors and sizes. It is possible to purchase a specific type now-a-days.

I will let mine reseed next spring, and will also purchase a new package to mix in with them. The show next season will be splendid for sure. I have seen some blooms as big as a softball! These zinnias in my photos are a couple seasons old. I have noticed they are turning mostly red and orange. I am going to save seeds from the yellow, and white ones to see how that goes next year. In addition I will be purchasing a fresh package from the nursery.

Spent flowers, if one prefers, can be left out in the garden for the birds, most especially Goldfinches, to enjoy all through the fall and winter. They also make for pretty container plants. I have found full-sun to be their favorite choice, and moist soil. A huge bonus for us out here on the farm is they are also deer resistant, and may even help protect other plants from the deer.

For all these terrific reasons there is little wonder they were one of the favorites of—

‘we old country woman!’ Oh yeah!

Our chickens follow us all around the farm.

In Focus #8—Birds in the Hood

Catching photos of birds has always been a joy and pain at the same time. It seems my camera is always not on me when I see a great photo. Forget about running into the house to fetch it!

Bird watching has been a wonderful pastime for years, learned from my dear Aunt from many a walks in the woods. I started keeping a ‘life list’ of the species in my 30’s. I only have about 130 species checked off so far. The last, very exciting species I saw (and have only once) was the Bobolink!

Our feeder is filled daily with sunflower seeds. The bird bath is next to the feeder. Watching a bird take a bath will make one laugh! One day I’ll catch a photo of it. BTW, sunflower seeds attract Goldfinches as well (some folks insist thistle seed is the only feed to attract goldfinches). Truly, life is not the same without the beautiful, cheerful Goldfinch in it.

Another fun discovery for us with sunflower seed is how easily they grow all around the house and garden! We have beautiful sunflowers from the seeds the birds drop all around the house. We leave them on the stem and enjoy watching the birds, especially the Goldfinches, eat on them all through the fall and winter. Bonus! If your zinnias are left to dry out in your garden, you will see the birds eating them as well, plus they will re-seed themselves next spring. Double bonus!

There are many other birds around here on the farm than posted on this blog. These are the few that just happened to turn out rather nicely. Thought it would brighten the day to share a few of these lovely, happy neighbors that are all around us.

Thank God for birds. A friend of mine recently told me where she read “of another service rendered as the birds sing their praises in the morning…that somehow the vibrations of their voices actually affect and aid in the awakening of God’s creation for the day.”

Isn’t that a beautiful thought?

The Time Warp

Shirley is a granny.

She has been a granny for ten years. She says she has grown pretty used to it by now. In the beginning it took a lot of heavy thinking and re-arranging of herself to grab onto the thought of grannyhood. Gettin’ old was for everyone else. Shirley just knew she would not have that issue. Ha! Sometimes things have a way of sneaking up on a person. Age, for Shirley, was one of those sneaky little things.

Used to be when she talked about her life twenty years ago, she was a young momma with little babies running all over the place. Not so anymore. Twenty years ago she was a middle-aged momma, with a bunch of teenagers on the loose! How did that happen? Don’t ask Shirley. Time seems like a mystery to her. An enigma. Shirley remembers her momma telling her that the 30’s and 40’s were the busiest times of ones life. What she did not realize was that those years would vaporize into a vague misty memory. Her momma never told her that.

Caught in a time warp somewhere along the way. Sorta like flowers coming up in springtime. They seem to be so slow in bursting forth to color the dull winter earth. But are they? Eyes were just taken off the emerging plants. Had there been a more careful watch, the growth may have been noticed. More times than not they actually start growing before one thinks they should. Shirley finds herself gingerly stepping all around the bird feeder as they make their tiny, magical entrance. Then suddenly blooms are dancing in the breeze!

Maybe that is what happened in the middle of lifehood for Shirley. She got so busy and tied up with daily going ons that she missed that whole transition from young momma to grannyhood. Poof! It just seemed to appear!

A real strange thing happened to her the other day. Her husband, Snoot, was looking through old photos. He came upon an old family photo of them. Shirley just looked and looked at that young woman (that was she). After a few moments she quietly remarked, “I knew her once.”

Surprised by her own words, and the feeling of the vapor of time, she was caught again in the mysteriousness of it all. How can something, dear reader, seem so long ago, and yet like only yesterday at the same time?

Not that she would want to go back. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Pushing ahead into a new day has always brought joy and excitement to her. Today is a day that has never been she thinks with anticipation to herself, wonder what’s in store for this fine, new day.

She plans her days to be sure, but there is a question to everyday that no one but God Himself knows. Life happens. Shirley would say that far more than we think is out of our hands. Just try not putting make-up on a day because it is Saturday and it simply does not seem necessary. Or putting on that ugly old shirt that should have been thrown out months ago. Well, there is the ‘invitation’. Nine times out of ten somebody will decide to drop by that very day for an unexpected visit.

There are, of course, very serious events in lives that completely re-arrange one’s whole life in a moment. Those are beyond the scope of this little blog. Shirley’s thoughts are centered around the normal, daily passage of time. Those daily moments that fill a day, consume a year, and turn into decades often without even being noticed. How many full moons do you see, dear reader? How many stars do you gaze at regularly? Do you ever watch anymore the sparks of a fire as they rise up to Heaven? Have you listened to the Mourning Dove’s early morning song? Do you even know it? Are these the things that fill the time warp?

Shirley and Snoot live on a farm. Life is very much the same day in and day out. Routine is important to the well being of livestock. Truth is routine is important to humans too. Shirley says don’t mess with Snoots feeding times unless you want trouble. Routine can become boring though. Shirley has ways of shaking things up. It is funny watching her chase the horses around the fields with an empty trash bag snapping in the breeze to get ’em going. Getting the dogs and cats all excited and watching them run around like mad makes everyone laugh.

One word Shirley really loathes, and has all her life—‘bored.’ She would not allow herself to say it as a young girl, neither were her children, nor will she hear it out of her grandbabies. Life is simply too short to ever be bored.

Intentional. That is Shirley’s word. She has determined in herself that life is magical. Every day, moment, season of life, with nothing to be taken for granted. The following song is a favorite of Shirleys. It says it all so beautifully. “Don’t let me miss the Glory”, by Gordon Mote.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBfgDR8dYWI

The Lazy Man

I may be lots, I told myself, but one thing I am not and that is lazy.

Is that so? The next thought begged the question.

My thoughts immediately turned on their defensive mode. I grew up in the tourist industry on a big farm. We twinsters started earning paychecks long before our hours could be legally reported. No, no, I am not a lazy man!

Yet, there they sat, all ready to go. My photographs. Carefully place in frames that added to their visual appeal all ready to be entered into the county fair. Why bother with this fair in this other county? You have already won ribbons from your own county fair. You do not want to take the time to drive all the way over there. Think of all the work you could get done here in the time wasted doing all that mess! My thoughts nagged me.

Does anyone else have thoughts like these? These: don’t do it; it’s a waste of time; it’s not worth it, kind of thoughts? What a battle! I was exhausted! When suddenly floated in the encouraging words from my daughter:

“Yeah! Go for it, Mom!”

“You will have fun!

“Your pictures will win, they are great!”

The urge to not let my main cheerleader down pushed me to grab up the photographs and head to the fairgrounds.

It was in this struggle that the truth of Proverbs 13:4 hit me head-on:

“The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.”

Just how diligent am I being toward gaining my personal goals? What are my personal goals? It has struck me that I am a worker. I know how to work. But this Proverb did not speak of work. It spoke to me of desires. These are two different notions.

I do work hard. It is hard work to keep our animals healthy and well cared for. It is hard work maintaining the gardens and farm. However, I desire to become a better amateur photographer, a better blogger, a better horsewoman, a better Christian.

I realize I must be diligent in working toward my desires. After all, they will not improve just because I want them to. I must not be lazy in working to improve them. These desires add a great richness to my life. A cheerleader is another important piece to this puzzle. I did not want to disappoint her hope in me. Everyone needs a cheerleader in life.

As for the entries in the fairs? I won eight ribbons between the two fairs. It was a fun surprise to see which ones won. Call me sappy if you like, but when I saw that blue ribbon hanging from the photo of our steer, it put a lump in my throat!

I am rich indeed.

Ribbons won from both the Frederick County and Clarke County Fairs.
The blue ribbon on this photo of our steer put a lump in my throat. Yes, I am sappy.



#chickensmakeuschuckle

‘A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones’, so advises The Book of all books. This comes from the book of Proverbs 17:22, which happens to be one of my favorite books of the Bible. It has been said that this book of Proverbs is our guide for person-to-person relationships.

This timely advise forms the foundation of why I created this hashtag #chickensmakeuschuckle. I like to laugh, and it is even greater fun when others join in! So, this is my mission, to spread lots of chuckles to all that love the good medicine of a joyful heart.

Chickens, it seems to me, are some of the most industrious, busy, noisy, funny, sweet and beautiful of all farm animals. They are never ‘off-duty’. How could they be? When one is literally everyones potential lunch? Even when in the coop at night, they all have something to say before finally getting quiet! They fill this farm with laughter every single day. There is not a chicken owner alive that I have met that does not have a funny chicken story and/or photograph.

#chickensmakeuschuckle is THE hashtag to spread the fun, joy and chuckles of life with chickens intertwined with we all-too-serious-humans. Since starting the hashtag last fall, we have nearly 500 delightful chicken photos shared. It was SO difficult picking out these ten. So to have a real fun time follow #chickensmakeuschuckle to be sure to get a daily dose of laughter. Remember, it is good medicine!

Top Row L-R: @poultry’nmotion; @whimsyofwillowsfarm; @lakefronthomestead

Bottom Row: @chickenchikita; @melton_homestead

Top row L-R: @honeycreek_farm; @farmgirllizzy; @my_backyard_paradise

Bottom two: @shortgirlfarm; @glaistighomestead

These accounts are on Instagram. I am very grateful for everyone that shares their chicken fun with us. Go check them out and follow them. They are full of lots of chicken chuckles. You too are welcome to join the fun and laughs. On your Instagram account tag me @primaryfarmoperator, or better yet ‘follow’ #chickensmakeuschuckle. The winning photo is posted every Monday morning. The best way to start the week is with a good laugh, so join the fun with #chickensmakeuschuckle.

Always a Winner- Chili

Happy New Year! Real winter has yet to start here in our part of Virginia, the Northern Shenandoah Valley. We have had snow and ice already, but typically we get blasted in January and February. Which makes this recipe a winner all the time.

It is easy to put together, and by the time your family storms through the door at the end of another busy day, they will be asking when will it be time to eat. Perhaps they are running in only to run back out, then you may catch them eating straight from the crock-pot!

In your frying pan:

Heat: 2T oil of your choice (olive, safflower, sunflower, avocado).

Add : 2 cups chopped onion, and 3-4 cloves garlic, crushed

Add: 2 lbs ground beef (Our homegrown beef of course!). Brown beef with onion and garlic well, drain off fat (will not be much with our beef. :))

If the beef is still a bit frozen, place a piece of aluminum foil over pan to help cook meat faster. Set pan on edge of burner to help drain fat.

Rinse and drain:  4 1-pound cans of red kidney beans. Place in crock pot.

Add:  2 28-ounce can tomatoes, 1/2 cup beef stock (I use Better Than Beef bouillon)

The goodies that make it yummy: Remember: T=tablespoon,t=teaspoon

4 T chili powder

1.5 t salt

1.5 t paprika

1.5 t oregano

1.5 t ground cumin

1/2 t cayenne pepper (or a bit more if you are daring)

Add beef mixture, mix well. All ready! Cook on LOW 8-10 hours, or high 5 hours, or on automatic 6 hours.

This chili will take the most wonderful additions. Try any or all of the following:

Shredded cheese; sour cream, greek yogurt, jalapenos, tortilla chips or fritos. Let me know if there is something special you put on yours!

Kitchen Tips

I always season beef when browning. Use your favorite brand.

An excellent way to get iron in one’s diet is cooking with a cast iron skillet. Remember, they are heavy. I would recommend an 8″ skillet. The weight and size are great!

If you noticed in the photo of beans, there was a can of black beans. That is because I did not have enough kidney beans. They worked very well!

Do not be intimidated by recipes. By trying something different you may just discover something wonderful!

Homemade is always best

  

Cowboy Stew

Who would not enjoy a big, steamy bowl of this fun-sounding stew?

Most of the ingredients are canned. 



Ingredients:

1 lb hamburger

1  medium onion chopped (or 2 onions if you like lots of them!  They are great for fighting colds!)

4-6 medium potatoes

Can of:  green beans, corn, and beans  (your favorite type of bean, any type will work).

Large can of diced tomatoes (if all you have is tomatoe sauce, that is fine).

Slice onion, not too thin.
Chop potatoes in a good-size bite!
Brown onion and potatoes while browning hamburger.

It saves time, and makes for great taste to brown onion, potatoes, and hamburger together.  Should they get sticky in the bottom of your dutch oven, add a small amount of water to loosen the goodness.  Also, turn your burner temperature down.  We tend to cook too hot!  Do not know what a dutch oven is?  Check out blog:  https://bluerockhorses.com/2018/10/05/the-million-dollar-question/

You must know your tools and how to make them work for you!

After the meat is browned, add the tomatoes, corn, beans, and green beans.  Season with 1 tsp salt and pepper.  If more broth is needed, add 1-2 cups of tepid water.  For extra fullness in flavor, stir in a teaspoon of beef bouillon into the water.  Better Than Beef is the bouillon of choice for me.

Remember, this is a stew, not a soup.  Which means it should not have as much broth as a soup.

  

Mix everything gently. 

Please do not boil your stew! It only needs to simmer gently.  There will surely be left-overs, and the best part?  They will taste even better the second and third night (or in a lunchbox!).

  This recipe will serve 4-6 with leftovers, which we always strive for! It can easily be doubled as well.  Simply double everything.

Kitchen Tips

Keep your pantry in a good supply of canned green beans, corn, diced (or crushed) tomatoes.  There are usually 5-6 cans of each in my pantry. 

Onion and potatoes should also have a permanent place in your pantry.  Take them out of the plastic bags (this causes them to rot faster), put them in pretty baskets!  Should the potatoes start growing ‘eyes’, break them off and toss out in your flower bed.  This will extent their shelf life (if you do not, the ‘eyes’ will cause potatoes to shrivel up). 

Enjoy!  

Thoughts and ideas are always welcome!

Homemade is healthiest and best!

You are a What? A PFO? What is That?

PFO, Primary Farm Operator. That is what I am, and is what I do. This title was given to me by my twin sister several years ago. Actually, she is a PFO as well. Are you?

We are the main care personal or Primary Farm Operator on our farms, or ranches as my twinster, who lives in Colorado says. It is a growing movement in the rural parts of our country. Where woman are the mainstay, while husbands have full-time, away-from-the-farm jobs.  Indeed, we have a small farm because our husbands do work an outside job.

Making ‘livable’ money from farming alone is pretty much non-existent. Most especially for small farms. Father Harry (aka my husband, Bill) has worked away from home for all our married years.  This PFO has considered the home and farm her business. It is true we have had our little farm for only thirteen years, and we have been married nearly forty years!  Those years before our farm, I considered myself the PHO, or Primary Home Operator.

I have always looked at our home as my ‘business’.  The way I saw and still do is;  no one–NO ONE has the interest in the prosperity and success of this business as I do.  The work has been lonely and long, as Father Harry travels far, wide, and often.  It has been a choice, an agreed upon choice by the two of us, and it has worked well.

Thirty years ago, the house was full of five active children and pets.  Now it is full both inside and outside of pets and animals.  Some would say the animals are better than the children.  Some would say children are better because “they grow up and go to college!”

I say they are similar in many ways.  For instance:  to leave the farm for any amount of time requires finding farm hands to do the work;  having healthy kids or animals is the product of attentive care and attention;  the work is never-ending;  the rewards are far greater than the back-breaking labor;  they all are more fun than television; they keep me young-at-heart;  they all make me smile.

Different tools and skills are required, of course, between home and farm.  There are excellent books on small-scale farming.  A good place to find them is Tractor Supply stores.  Tractor Supply also has great tools you will need.

Enjoy our blogs on something every PFO needs: A Tool Purse.  A Chain Saw.  A Tractor.  Click on links to read blog posts on these important farm tools.

Happy farming gals!

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Read about tools you will be sure to need in our link below:  The Tool Purse

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This tool is necessary.  A small one is very manageable for a PFO.

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Every PFO needs to be able to operate one of these wonderful tools!

Continue reading

You are not a Cow-Poke! What do you know about raising Beef?

It was apparent there was some reason family members were not purchasing the good beef that has been raised here on the farm.  A Bible verse came to mind that helped explain it, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”  Mark 6:4.

 

That explained it.  Really, it was a good question though.  Growing up on a cow/calf operation on a farm as a youth did not teach much about growing good beef cows.  Or did it?  The training of our minds has been such that if one does not have a degree in a subject, or years of work in it, how could anything be known on any subject?  Years ago that learning was called the ‘school of hard knocks’.  Learn by doing, by asking good questions, and reading good material.  Learning from those who have walked the long path we newbies have just started on.  Learning from trial and error.

 

Reading, asking questions, visiting other farmers, going to feed stores and touring a processing plant  was begun months before the steers arrived.  We toured Joel Salatin’s farm, Polyface Farm,  in Swoope, Virginia.  Purchased several of his books:  Folks, this ain’t normal ,  Salad Bar Beef; and The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs  to name a few.  We toured T & E Meats in Harrisonburg, VA.  We visited farms and spoke with beef farmers.  We spoke with feed store owners about types of feed and how much to give.  Finally, we purchased quality miniature beef from a reputable farm and breeder, Bryan Hill Farm in Broadway, VA.  That maiden year then became trial and error as the first steers were unloaded onto our green pastures.

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The steers were quality miniature Herefords purchased from a reputable breeder.

There were buyers for all the beef, and it was exciting hearing the feed back come in.  We knew it was good, and now so did our customers!  We are now finishing our second round of hand-raised beef.  These, we feel, will finish out as nicely as the first ones.  It is satisfying work.

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These steers are finishing out very nicely.

 

So it was exciting when the inquiry came from a family member for a roast.  The freezer is cooling a lot of empty space right now because thirteen months have passed since those first beef cows were processed.  Yet, there was a nice-looking bone-in roast remaining, weighing around three pounds.

 

With bated breath we awaited the remarks from this tough family customer.  A text came through with this photo and remarks:

 

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The flavor not only was good.  It was the meat, it was tender, creamy, almost buttery.

We consider this compliment better than one that could be given from the Queen of England herself!  (No offense to the Queen, please.)

Some of our previous blog posts you are sure to enjoy about the cows:  “Meet the Farmer & the Farm”, Aug 14, 2016;  “The Steers are Gone”, Jan 4, 2017;  “Feedback has Come”, Mar 5, 2017.

We all have begun as a newbie at some point or another.  Keep on keeping on, do the due diligence, follow your gut and heart, and love what you do!  Happy farming to you!

 

 

 

Know the farm, know the farmer.

Homemade is best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cleaning the Barn

Cobwebs happily flutter in the gentle breeze in all the corners of the doors, stalls, and rafters;  dust seriously collects in and on every available space;  hay and straw are strewn all over the floor like children’s lego blocks;  and surely not to forget all the poo deposited in the four corners of each stall.  Why would anyone want to clean one of these messy, dusty ‘ole places?

 

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Cobwebs hang and happily flutter in every corner!

 

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Hay and straw cover the floor like children’s lego blocks.

 

Suppose it is confession time for this PFO.  There is no time like time spent out in the barn.  It does not favor any season of the year nor time of day.  Anytime of the year is a wonderful time to be out in it, and every hour has it’s own specialness.  The smells, temperatures, and critters all vary during a day.  Several of the critters were put there by this PFO.  Others appropriated it for themselves, seeing it very fit for raising and feeding their family.  One must be very still and quiet to catch a glimpse of those that have adopted it as their  home, for they keep to themselves, and come out only when all is either dark or quiet.  As God would have it, they are a benefit to the ecosystem of the barn.  The barn swallows eat pesky, biting flies, as do the spiders.  The black snakes eat the mice.  They also add to the overall mess!  But it is nothing a hot cup of coffee and pre-breakfast homemade biscuit cannot handle.

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A hot cup of coffee and buttered homemade biscuit can handle any mess in the barn.

Certain sounds and smells are unique only to barns, and a well-kept barn always has the sweet smell of fresh hay wafting in the air.  Horses stamp their feet impatient for feed, cows moo softly as they saunter in, the chuckles are busy working in the manure piles (good Chuckles!), the baby birds are chirping high up in the rafters for more, more food from busy parents.

 

It is a dusty, dirty satisfying job.  Being a good steward is important.  Visitors to the farm go away with a good or bad idea of farming and how this farm is run.  The goal is to send them off with a smile, knowing these animals (and farm) are well cared for.

 

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Oh! The sight of a neat and tidy barn!