Toad's Permaculture

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Stout Creek Farms: An exciting new adventure

I am super excited. I went to Stout Creek Farms and it was amazing. First, let me explain: it was for a job interview. I know, but remember although I do dye shirts as a side business- I have a to have a day job and this is a hobby blog. So now that that is settled… I am excited to do what I love and learn more about the world. Not the world that we know with cell phones and gadgets but the world we live in with life, plants and animals.

When I started this journey I never imagined that I would be able to see so many cool things and learn so much. The people at Stout Farms are serious about regenerative agriculture. They want to put carbon back into the soil, ethically raise livestock, and just leave the world a better place. They are amazing people and this is amazing work they are doing. Being here this week, even though it wasn’t for very long (so far), has been inspirational.

Me, I’m slightly different in my approach and end game goals: I want to live in a jungle. Doing right by the planet is a perk, but I want to live in a jungle and teach people how to create their own jungles. You know so we can hide away in our own forests and listen to the world.

I want people to learn that they can create a jungle they can eat and how easy it is to be in control of the food you eat and how to be food secure in their own back yard. Imagine if people invested in putting money into growing trees and shrubs that are edible- a surplus of food can only be beneficial to the world and to people, to the community and would leave things better than they were.

They are amazing people who do amazing work, and it was very cool and I am excited about this new adventure.

A lot of information was thrown at me. I’m not going to lie, I knew a lot but I also didn’t know a lot. They are self informed individuals who love what they do and have obtained crazy amounts of research. The only animal I am personally considering on my own homestead/food forest is ducks and possibly chickens, but now that I see it I am leaning more towards ducks. Hanging out here might change my mind, but who knows what the universe has in store for me. All I know is working here for the little time I have has caused me to really think about my own habits and lifestyle.

They have a super professional website that does not do them justice- they have so much going on at their farm. They are putting it back into the soil- carbon that is- and ethically raising livestock. I helped them move cows and sheep and feed the chickens- I know I can learn so much here and I cannot wait.

I enjoy the work, it is full of adventures and there is something new every single day.

They move the sheep and cows and chickens from plot to plot in order to fertilize the ground and create fresh grazing areas for their animals. Their animals seem so happy (and vocal- they know when it is time to move and are excitedly waiting) and they have donkeys to guard their livestock and they have working dogs. I am not sure I got a picture of those but it was cool to see them in action.

I am excited that I will be going back to this farm daily. It is amazingly beautiful and I am excited.

Things that I want think would be amazing:

  • Starting a large berry patch, but first I have to figure out which ones would do best in this soil. I have to get together and start planning with the team to figure out where and how- which berries and which spots of land.
  • Starting an apple orchard, like a real one not like this patch work backyard orchard I am starting. One that has been planned to perfectly work with nature but also produce delicious organic fruit.
    • Along with this I want to experiment with multiple grafts on apple trees to see if we can get the trees to produce all season long.
    • For example: we would put one early fruiting one, one middle fruiting on another, a early summer fruit producer and a late summer fruit producer.
    • Also, I think that apples are one of the most diverse fruits. They can make flour, sauce, they go good in meals, as a snack, in pies… if you can’t tell- I’m a fan.
  • Peach trees are always a fan favorite and I think it would be really cool to do a similar grafting scheme but with 3 cultivars on each instead, at least until the trees are older.
    • Peaches do really well in East Texas and it would be amazing to really show off how amazing peaches can be.
  • Plums are a popular tree to grow in Texas as well, although I am not a fan many people love them. I know they do well but like peaches they do not self pollinated (but with all fruit trees having different kinds helps with pollination)
    • My kids love plums and there are many varieties that do well in our area and they are a primary fruit export in Texas- like peaches- which I thought was amazing.
  • Grape vines. I want to make their drive green with grapes. There are thousands of types of grapes- what if we just grew them all.
    • Let’s say we plant six of the same kind year one. Year two we are going to plant a new kind or maybe two new kind. As the years progress we can always go back to our favorites, but wouldn’t that be neat?
    • Then not only would we be producing grapes but we could also be a learning center for:
      • The 4H, viticulture enthusiasts, horticulture majors, agriculture majors… and on and on.
      • Schools could have field trips where the kids take a tour of the vineyard and find out how grapes are produced and how easy it is to plant something cool. This can apply to anything we are growing.
      • Grapes are amazingly hardy for our zone and there are hundreds of grape varieties. Not all grapes are the same and they bush out to be absolutely beautiful in the summer.
  • Vegetable garden- I want to be a master gardener now. I have got to get in contact with the local ag extension office and see who to contact. Growing a vegetable garden is going to be one of the most rewarding things. We have multiple growing seasons in Texas and we can rotate crops of pasture.
    • Working here (mind you it has only been a day and all I did was clean up half of their beds that already exist) has made me see the potential and they are doing amazing things regeneratively from the soil to compost.
      • I am going to make lots of compost and see how we can find better ways to grow vegetables in our zone and potentially encourage others to do the same thing.
      • I already started propagating plants. I am just too excited.
    • They are very interested in farm to fork and that would be amazing. Imagine making your own meals from Apple flour bread as an appetizer with a garlic goat butter glaze over top. Followed by meat that is 100% organic on the farm, grape juice made on the farm, apple cider during the winter, bond fire nights where you tell scary stories and eat berries by the fire.
    • I’m just one big run on, rambling but it would be so exciting to see people enjoy the fruits and vegetables that are growing by you.
  • The Stout Farm could use some wild flower diversity and I would love to find out the right mix that would not only benefit the soil but add additional nutrition to the animals. I am sure the information is out there. I just have to find it.
    • They have done their research but I absolutely adore Indian paintbrushes and other diverse native wildflowers. Possibly throwing out some seeds in order to encourage growth.
  • Making the ultimate plant fertilizer. They have so much poop, I know that with the right mixture I can create the perfect fertilizer for these plants.
    • I finally figured out what I am going to do with their machine. I am going to create compost with their poop and with what they already have I am going to create mounds.
    • I have to remember Drip irrigation similar to what I have because it is easy to check and replace lines if necessary and I have had none of those shenanigans in a year- but also because it is ran on a timer. And my timer has been neglected because I just leave it out in the elements. Since this is professional I’ll definitely suggest some sort of cover. We can’t all live like heathens.
  • So many projects run through my head but we have to start with some trees and we need to drive around together and find out what they want to do and where.
  • Oh and don’t let me forget: morel mushrooms. We have got to start growing those naturally in the wooded areas that aren’t being utilized. We want to encourage mushrooms to grow in order to help breakdown organic matter but also because they are delicious fried in butter and crackers and served as an appetizer.

Not going to lie… my imagination went wild when I found I had the job. I immediately thought- drip irrigation, but I should ask. So now I am looking forward to taking my current knowledge of blackberries to start a patch- that will be fun and I can’t wait.

One step at a time: current beds, garden up front, orchard and berry patch planning… I am just going crazy staying up all night looking into fun things. I cannot wait until finals are over so that I can focus more. Two more weeks and I can fully devote my time to really establishing the foundation for their own magical regenerative forest. (Also I want to take a class on Native American agricultural techniques. How do I make that happen?) So many things I want to do now and you know what? I can’t wait.

I just want to contribute to making the world a better place and yes, I do things that aren’t planet friendly sometimes- why shouldn’t we make the world a better place? This is where I think I should be. The universe is calling me to a place where I can experience all of my allergies while doing what I love.

Stay tuned because they have an amazing set up where I have access to all of the compost I could desire and there is no stopping me now. I cannot wait. This place is really something and I cannot wait to learn as much as I can from this amazing regenerative farm.

Also they have ducks. I should have mentioned them. Regardless, I am excited to embark on this journey. Please remember that every big dream has someone who is in control and this is their regenerative kingdom and I am at their mercy truly, but I think my ideas are okay and could always use improvement.

Until next time…

Curry

Curry plant or Helichrysum italicum is a member of the daisy family. They will eventually turn into a cute little bushy shrub and I cannot wait. Although they smell like curry powder they are not like curry.

This plant does have medicinal properties, although when I bought it I’m not going to lie- I instantly thought about the spice curry. The medicinal properties are: anticoagulant, anti-inflammatory, moisturizer, fungicidal astringent, antibacterial and antiseptic. That’s a lot but that’s what amazed me.

This is not the only things that this is good for. No, that’s not all. It is also good for fevers, burned skin, healing wounds, internal bleeding and coughing. That’s just from the oil.

The flowers allegedly go well in herbal tea. This is also useful as a culinary herb and seems to go paired well with almost any type of dish. I am actually pretty excited knowing that there are so many uses for this herb. I am slightly disappointed that I can’t just throw it in a pot and boom curry, but that was wishful thinking anyway.

They flower from June to September but can be harvested year round and are a perennial. The taste is allegedly bitter and I cannot wait to find that out myself.

The curry spice is a mixture of different spices but this is a plant and allegedly can taste pretty intense. Excessive curry consumption should be avoided because it could cause stomach problems.

Not going to lie when I hear ‘excessive’ curry use, I think that maybe someone ate two spoon fulls of curry every day and it caused issues but they don’t explain further. So, the world may never know.

The leaves loose a lot of their aroma after flowering but is best known for it’s medicinal uses. Some sites even mention that it assists with stress and mild depression, I don’t know if I would use that as a fact though. Who knows what will help someone who is depressed, and I can’t contribute a recovery or even an improvement to one singular herb even if it does have symptom relieving properties.

Some fun facts about curry:

  • This plant is primarily used in perfumes. I had no idea that this plant was widely used in perfumes, but it is.
  • This plant is technically not a shrub but a subshrub and it doesn’t get more than two feet tall. I mean, sure I’m trying to break records but you know how it is.
  • This isn’t typically something you find in a grocery store
  • Again another one that is drought tolerant and requires little to no care or watering
  • A natural pest repellent
  • Deer resistant

I am really excited about this plant and can’t wait until I find more herbs to share with everyone.

Until Next time!

Snapdragons

Snapdragons or dragon flowers are also known as Antirrhinum are medicinal plants. They are beautiful and they do attract butterflies and other beneficial pollinators, but they are so much more. I didn’t really see them as anything more than an annual until the snow storm that shook Texas- my snapdragons survived. I was shocked.

Never in a million years did I think that these beautiful flowers would have survived but they started popping up. It made me realize that I wanted to plant more. When I originally bought the first snap dragons on sale I didn’t think about if it had any medicinal uses. I only thought about how beautiful the blooms of the flower are.

The leaves and flowers are said to have anti-inflammatory properties and has been used on wounds. I am amazed that this beautiful flower can also be so beneficial. It also adds a certain amount of beautiful color that draws in butterflies and other pollinators. I am really happy because I feel as though I have seen more active pollinators since I have added these flowers than any other. It may be because my more fragrant plants attract the pollinators and they swoop in to show them they light at the end of the tunnel. I have no idea, but I do know that snapdragons have positively impacted my landscape.

Snapdragons bloom in spring and in the fall. They are a lovely addition to any garden, border or container. I saw pictures in my research where they were growing out of brick walls. That makes me hopeful that I won’t kill these beautiful flowering plants. I really want to keep them.

They do not deter deer or rabbits but they aren’t their favorite food either. Snapdragons are just all around an amazing color fixture in gardens and I appreciate what they will add to our food forest. I don’t know how long we’ll be able to keep them in full sun and it was mentioned that they bloom better the first year and then it slowly becomes fewer and fewer. This is a short lived perennial and I don’t expect that any single plant will last longer than three to four years.

After that we will be relying on the plants to naturally reseed.

I wish I had more information for everyone, but I don’t. I do enjoy planting things and I enjoy plantings things that are beneficial, have amazing color and are hardy to my area. I cannot wait to see what the plant does to the scenery of our property.

Until next time

Tricolor sage

Tri Color Sage is good for growing outside in zones 6 to 9. This is excellent because that is what my other sage is like and it has grown into a monster. I am hoping that these sage plants will do the same. In fact, I confess that the only reason I got many different types of sage is because…

  • My current sage is doing phenomenal. Literally it’s getting much bigger than I anticipated. Sage seems to do very well in zone 8a and that is what I am looking for. The reason that I placed it in between the trees that I did is because I hope that it will continue to bush out like the regular sage and if it does- I’m ready and excited.
  • I enjoy cooking with sage and although the articles tell me that they taste pretty much the same- I’ll be the judge of that. People said that the different kind of basils didn’t have much of a flavor different but that isn’t true with basils or mints. I just don’t understand how it would be that way with sages. Ignore the fact that they’re the same latin name just with ‘Tricolor’ slapped on the end. Salvia officinalis ‘Tricolor’
  • This herb is drought tolerant. If I can get it established I believe that I will eventually be able to leave this herb to natural growth instead of having to water it regularly. That is my end game goal.
  • They smell amazing. Some people don’t think so but I disagree. If I put a lot of fragrant plants around my trees I figure I will draw in pollinators.

This plant can grow in anything. Drought and heat tolerant, which goes well with our Texas heat. I want to know if the purple leaves taste differently than the green leaves. I want to know if this plant will have large leaves like my normal average garden sage plant. I can’t wait until this herb has grown big and out because it’s not just a fantastic herb but also attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and other positive pollinators.

Something I have learned in my economic entomology class that by attracting positive pollinators they will naturally take care of other not so fun insects that I am not friends with. Attracting birds might seem like a bad idea, but they are amazing pollinators and control insects naturally. I am hoping that by planting more sage and an abundance of food plants that I will end up with an abundance of fruit.

I am not sure how this will work, but I have realized that there seems to be more than enough around that the birds haven’t bothered our strawberries yet. We’re waiting for that.

Tri Color Sage, like many other sages, is deer resistant. A lot of people look for that in plants. When I realize that I am planting so many plants that don’t attract deer I know that I have to plant other plants- just in case a deer does happen upon my forest I don’t want them to be the only animal not eat.

Now, after doing some research I have read that this sage is not quite as hardy as it’s close relative. It still states the same things but seems to require at least four hours of direct sunlight a day. If it fails to meet it’s natural sunshine requirements then Tri Color Sage seems to droop and die. I don’t think that will be a problem here, but who knows you might want to look into a new way to do it.

Remember that sage is a perennial, evergreen herb that grows in our zone. I don’t think that it will have any trouble as long as it gets adequate sunlight.

Sage is well known for warding off evil and Tri Color is no different. Some medical research suggests that sage can be beneficial for memory, which sounds good to me. Back in the olden times they used to use it for snake bites. I’m not saying use it for snake bites, I’m just saying the history of sage is really amazing and you should personally look into it.

I planted more of these than the others because I think they are prettier. I also found that most of the information out there is a duplication. The facts are regurgitated from one source to another. One post says that sage does not attract ants, in fact it deters them. I hope to find out that this is a scientific fact.

This plant has high amounts of vitamin C and vitamin A. Tri Color Sage, like all sages, are great for digestion, have an astringent quality about them and are also anti-septic. That is more than enough reason to add it, but I can’t help thinking about how it allegedly deters ants. That sounds amazing because up until I went to college I was spending close to two thousand dollars a year spraying for ants.

Planting things that deter insects that I don’t like will save me a pretty penny. If it proves that it is working I’ll surely let you know. I know that keeping ants at bay is important for any farmer and not just those of us who are really into permaculture.

Tri-Color Sage is also rabbit resistant.

That’s right. We have rabbits around here, but they haven’t become a problem. It’s nice to know that this plant will not be a victim to rabbits or other predators. I’ll have to plant some hostas for the deer and rabbits near the back of the property. I do want to attract them, I just don’t want them near my other plants. That’s why we plant things like this. In fact, I’ve come to find that many of our herbs are resistant to these animals.

I am not sure yet but I am eager to find out.

All in all I am very please adding this to our forest and I can’t wait to continue to propagate these lovely plants. I feel as though they are going to be littering my property in no time at all. They have lovely lavender flowers that bloom at the end of summer. In my zone they are perennials, but in other zones they are planted as annuals.

These plants do well in containers as well as in gardens. They even do well in shallow soil or rock gardens, if that is something you’re into. Until next time…

Pineapple Mint

Pineapple mint come from Apple mint. It smells so good, I liked the first plant so much I bought more. Mentha sauveolens ‘Variegata’ is a creeping plant that spreads across the ground like cover. This mint can be taken over by green leaves and if it does is reverts back to apple mint. I plan on cutting off the apple mint sprouts and planting them in other places. I thought it was neat that this plant has the potential to be two different types of plants.

You see, pineapple mint is a variegation of apple mint. Which means that it should produce cream and green leaves, if there are sprouts of only green leaves coming from it there is a possibility that it can take over and you will be left with only apple mint. I quite like both so I plan on cutting off green off shoots and planting the apple mint elsewhere. I also enjoy the fact that it is a mint and that means it is easily propagated.

I enjoy that it is a perennial and being a mint is able to grow in our soil. Turns out, our soil is not as full of clay as I had originally thought. Mints do amazing in our soil and if I neglect to water them for a day or a week they seem to bounce right back. This mint does not smell as minty as the others. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it smells like a fruit punch.

The butterflies seem to love it and fly around the flowers that I have planted it around. I have caught many different butterflies all around it. I started this off with one and planted it in our fairy garden. It did so well that I quickly obtained around six to eight more plants. Other mints have grown very well in other parts of my property but I used these as fillers in between trees and berry bushes.

All in all this mint can be used for many things. From teas to potpourri, pineapple mint is a fruity addition to any mixture. Although it can be used culinarily I didn’t see any recipes that specifically called for pineapple mint outside of smoothies and cocktails- not that those might night encourage you to plant some along your garden walkway. That will not stop me from trying to use it as a culinary herb. The reason that people aren’t using it as a culinary herb is because the smell is lost in the cooking process.

They did mention that it makes a good oil and I hadn’t really thought about that. I know that hopefully next year there will be enough that I will be able to experiment a little bit and figure out what these delicious smelling herbs are good for. I truly like the idea of turning it into an oil.

Other articles have said that it can go well in salads, but I haven’t put a leaf in my mouth. I might, it smells good enough to eat. They say that I shouldn’t harvest this until May to October, and I cannot wait. It does make me a little sad that I have to wait a month, but I suppose I can wait until this plant has grown enough that it might survive my collection.

Some sites state that you must keep the soil moist, but I am not going to lie- I don’t always water on time, when I need to or when the plant would prefer. The plants have done just fine so far, who knows this might be a false plant happiness. It’s happened before, I thought it was doing well and the leaves perked up before they dropped and died.

I feel as though this will provide a lovely ground cover and where I planted it- It’s needed. I need these pineapple mint plants to spread like wildfire in between the trees and bushes in order to push back the grass development. As you can see we spread out a large batch of wildflowers each year and this year we have twice as many come back. We hope one day we won’t have to spread those seeds and that the mints that we have planted all over- not just this one.

Some articles claim that picking the leaves early in the morning is beneficial. The reason is because as the sun beams down on the leaves it changes the smell of the plant. The smells returns to it’s original glory the next day, but as the temperatures rise and the sun beams down it does cause the smell to stress out and not seem as potent.

They say that pineapple mint is good for sauces, fruit salads, and other dishes that require a pinch of sweetness.

I looked for recipes and found that pineapple mint goes well with chicken and lamb. There is some mention that it goes well as an added ingredient to a ham glaze, but most people talk about additions to mojitos or other alcoholic beverages. There are a few mentions of adding it to smoothies as well, but I am not exactly sure how that will work and how much pineapple mint will be required for one smoothie.

If you’re looking for something that is deer resistant and attracts pollinators, this mint is amazing. It can be grown in beds, pots and even wild- like I’m doing. It is and easy grower and seems to do well in zones 5 to 9.

And it all started when I put it in our fairy garden. It did not take long for this little herb to spread out and that just tickled me. I bought quite a few more. I planted them so that they could spread out- I gave them plenty of room to spread but this one will be my primary momma. I will not let her spread out, instead she will foster a generation of pineapple mint and with that we’ll cover the ground.

I can’t wait. Until next time…

Last Years Herbs: First harvest 2021

We cut quite a bit of oregano and it was very overgrown. Last year it hadn’t gotten nearly as big so today I went ahead and cut off a bit, my daughter helped me. She only enjoys cutting the oregano because of how it smells and how easy it is to see where to cut. It got us a pretty large bowl that we’ll dry out and use for cooking or whatever we want.

This year my goal is to save up enough oregano to turn it into an oil. I hear that oregano oil is amazing when cooked and using oregano from home is entirely different than the oregano that you get in the store.

Fun fact: the oregano, basil and other herbs that you get in the store are usually multiple different types of those plants all mixed together to make the product. When you use individual types of oregano or sage or rosemary you are changing your dish because they all taste and smell just a little bit different.

I had no idea before October 2019.

This was the reason that we were cutting anything. This has gotten out of control. It was bushing out of the fairy garden which made me think that something happened to make it grow like this. I didn’t add any fertilizer to the fairy garden because I wanted to be able to see the little houses and walking paths that we made.

The sage doesn’t look like a lot but it really is and there is so much more that I left behind. This seems as though it went from one plant of sage to three individual plants. I didn’t think it had spread so fast, but I am impressed. The smell is distinct and I am curious as to what our Tri color sage will look like in a few months or even next year. Especially seeing how happy and healthy this particular sage is in our very neglected fairy garden.

I like to think that the fairies take care of it because I am busy caring for my other plants.

This is my salad barnett and rosemary. I tried to leave the rosemary alone a little bit because it took heavy damage from the winter storm. I dare to say that the rosemary was protected by the other plants that surrounded it. The taller plants (sage and oregano and english thyme) were surrounding the rosemary and although one of my oreganos did die, I contribute that death to keeping the rosemary alive.

The rosemary is spreading out and reaching to the other plants and I am glad, I didn’t know if it would come back this time around. I was extremely nervous because this is one of my favorite plants. Rosemary is something that I would love to spread out all over my property. I planted around six more plants this year and plan on propagating many more throughout this year.

Salad barnett has become the bane of my existence. I am not telling you you shouldn’t plant it in the ground. I’m only saying that this is the most invasive plant in zone 8a I have ever seen before in my entire life. People warn you about mint but they never warn you about this herb right here. We had already cut quite a bit and threw it into the compost, but this is what we can harvest after three days. I was not expecting the kind of growth that I am experiencing with this herb that I don’t even know what I can do with.

Finally, this is my english thyme. I know it doesn’t look like a lot but this really is a lot. The plant grows upward and some of the plant had started to grow to the side. I wanted this to be more of a bush and so I cut a few of the runners. There is still quite a bite there but I will say that this it is delicious. I enjoy every years harvest of english thyme because I can add it to so many different things.

I am excited about the herbs that we are collecting already. It isn’t even half way through April and we’ve got enough of these herbs to last us until May. That is amazing to me.

Each one of these herbs cost me three dollars and they have already saved me at least ten dollars each. That’s return value that tastes much better than anything that you’ll find in the stores.

Strawberry Patches: 2021

By Melinda Hatfield

I love strawberries. They have many redeeming qualities. First, they attract pollinators. They are perennials. They can become invasive and provide a lovely natural ground cover. They create delicious fruits, but my favorite part is how low maintenance they are.

That is why we put in two patches. The picture below is what we tried to do. Originally, we thought we could line out where we wanted our patches but it simply kept growing. We enjoy eating strawberries and the kids have been out there every single day to check on the patches. I don’t there will ever be enough- even if we let them take over.

By Melinda Hatfield

The patches tripled in size within a few days. I am primarily taking pictures of this one because I have more before and after pictures. We spent half a day planting over on hundred and fifty strawberry plants. We divided them into two huge patches one closer to our fruit trees and one closer to our blackberry patch.

My kids have already been commenting how these strawberries taste berry than the ones at the store. We grabbed three different varieties to ensure blooming happened throughout the season and not just all at once.

By Melinda Hatfield

We decided just to put flags for the perimeter because from what I have read- and always do your own research – that they will just spread if I let them. I want to let them spread everywhere.

If I start it now by the time I’m old I’ll have strawberries everywhere. I cannot wait.

By Melinda Hatfield

I will give updates as the patch continues to improve but as for now we’ve already picked 13 strawberries and anticipate many more. Until next time.

We’ve got grapes: 2021

By Melinda Hatfield

We have planted over 36 grapevines and I would say that 87% have come back but 100% show promise. Last year we started out with two seedless grapes and by the end of it we had over 30 grape vines. Honestly, when I first started I had no idea but already they are spreading out quickly.

By Melinda Hatfield

Our grapevines are showing real promise and last year we decided that adding extra grape vines would only help us out long term. They do very well in Texas. I barely have to do anything but water them. Not going to lie, sometimes I forget and they are okay with that. In fact, I don’t think I lost a single grapevines this winter- which is surprising.

By Melinda Hatfield

It is possible to get fruit off of one year vines but we have a bunch of two year vines- they’re two years old now at least- and we are expecting a mild harvest this year. In fact, we are so excited for the grapes to come in that we check them regularly.

Here is my delimma: I haven’t created the trellises for all of my grapevines yet.

By Melinda Hatfield

It is a lot harder than I thought and we have been slowly putting them together but we feel as though this will not be the end of the world necessarily and we can clip if we need to. I just didn’t think they would take off this fast and they are taking off very fast. I’m extremely impressed.

By Melinda Hatfield

Please keep in mind that I did zero research before planting so many and they are all thriving. Grapevines have been the second easiest thing to grow, outside of blackberries, and I was very concerned due to the snow storms this year. All in all, they have been a surprisingly amazing crop to have.

When they start showing fruit I will update, until then have a great day!

My Blackberry Bushes Spring 2021

By Melinda Hatfield awkwardly with her phone

This is my blackberry field. Well, I didn’t actually take a picture of the field because the leaves coming out are so small. These pictures were taken in mid March.

These pictures are two weeks later and show that all of the blackberries are showing exceptional growth.

All in all-

  • All 75 blackberries are thriving after the snow storm
  • A lot of extra shoots are coming up and branching out
  • Some of the tall standing canes have fallen to the side and are starting to run along the ground.
    • This means I will have to trellis if I don’t want runners everywhere.
    • They have to be tied. They cannot just stand alone. I misled myself by ignoring key information.
    • They need trellis.
  • I have more than three different varieties but they all look the same to me. I hope their fruit is different but their leaves look the same
I just love it. I cannot wait to see what year one yields and how this actually plays out. 
How much will year one produce?
Are they truly going to produce multiple plants?
Are they mildly invasive?
What insects will they attract?

Flowers all around 2021

Spring 2021: the beauty of it all coming together

Strawberry patch between trees. Berry bushes are planted in between trees and herbs (ground covers) are planted in between trees and berry bushes.

We put the flags up because we wanted to mark the areas where the plants where. This all used to be a pasture and last year we created a berry patch. It has over 75 black berry plants that survived the snow.

It doesn’t look like much right now…

So, it isn’t a straight line. I tried but it didn’t work out but the two juniper trees indicate the entrance. We plan up putting some fun stuff up to support our grapes on the side but we’ve fallen behind. Behind those juniper bushes are 75 blackberry plants. They all survived. I am very pleased with how they turned out.

Its sideways because it seems easier to see the canes.

They have lovely leaves and some have shoots. I haven’t seen any beetles around except for some Shiney dung beetles- i don’t know their name yet. I would share your picture but they were around a pile of poo.

Blackberry plant that is growing

Blackberries are going to be fun and I have heard rumors that they can spread like wildfire. I am counting on it. I hope to control the spread and plant the spares around the back of my property. It will give me a reason to go back there and I hear that they can simply survive in Texas. I am excited to see the results.

Straw berry patch

We have three different types of strawberries this year between two strawberry patches. I am excited to take baby strawberry plants and plant them in between my trees. My kids are already seeing baby strawberries forming on our plants- they stare at them and check them daily to see if there are any ripe. We hope that they start producing this year and that by buying three different kinds we will be able to harvest throughout the entire summer.

Indian Paintbrush or Castilleja
Fruit tree blooms

Golden Oregano: Aureum

Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’, also known as Golden Oregano, is a perennial that is grown in zones 4 to 9. These plants are not as invasive as other oregano varieties but still spready quickly and are fast growers. Usually they don’t get larger than three feet tall and can be an excellent ground cover.

They can be an evergreen in warmer climates, but still come back in cooler zones if they do not stay perky all year long. These plants are allegedly deer and rabbit resistant. I can confirm that they have the same great taste and smell as other oreganos, but it’s not as strong as their relatives. I haven’t really noticed much of a difference myself but I just planted this herb and it may change as it ages.

Now, we already have one successful oregano growing in our fairy garden. We were sure that it died during the harsh winter this year, but it didn’t. In fact, I feel as though the snow just made it stronger. That’s why we decided that adding different types of oregano would be beneficial to our forest.

Aureum enjoys full sun but can grow in partial shade. We planted this in several places in between our berry bushes and trees. They are still young and they are a nice contrast to the other greens that we have planted.

It blooms in the middle or late summer and attracts butterflies and other pollinators. I attempted to get more than one source but they all seemed to say the same things.

  • This is an ornamental plant
  • Aureum has little to no culinary value and that there are other oreganos that have a stronger flavor than this one. That only made me thing that this might be beneficial for people who have sensitive stomachs. I have not investigated this, it was only a thought.
  • It is edible
  • Aureum enjoys full sun and can be used as a lovely ground cover
  • The leaves are golden and their flowers are purple or pink

I wish I had more information, but I will show off the growth of this perennial as it continues. We haven’t used a lot of the herb since we have gotten it but as we use it in our recipes we’ll let you know if there are any true differences. Once I get more information I will put it out there, but there isn’t a lot to go on when it comes to Aureum or Golden Oregano.

March 2021: Outside the plant science building

By Melinda Hatfield at the TAMUC plant science center

These things are everywhere but I only took pictures of the ones that I particularly enjoyed. I most likely looked like a lunatic outside looking through the areas at the prettiest plants.

By Melinda Hatfield at TAMUC plant science center

Other plants where there but they hadn’t adjusted to spring or they might have been dead. I didn’t want to depress you so I didn’t take pictures of the dead looking or dormant plants. No one wants to see a bunch of dead plants, but if you want to I can take pictures next time I come.

By Melinda Hatfield at the TAMUC Plant Science Center

I think I would enjoy this as a ground cover as well but I don’t know if it has any usefulness. I will have to look into it and figure out if it has some use other than spreading like a disease.

By Melinda Hatfield at TAMUC plant science center. This is catnip. It had a sign to tell me that it is catnip

This is a healthy little catnip plant. I love the shape of the leaves and I enjoy seeing it spread. It was one of the plants that came back stronger. It also looks great. They must not have a lot of cats in the area.

By Melinda Hatfield at TAMUC plant science center.

These are beautiful blooms. I was just excited to see there are more flowers blooming around this time.

By Melinda Hatfield at TAMUC plant science center. More catnip

I just wanted to come back and say that I am planting catnip in line with my sprinklers so that it will lure my cats in and then blast them. I know I shouldn’t but they mess up so many of my plants I just can’t help myself.

By Melinda Hatfield at TAMUC plant science center

This is just a really pretty weed that I wanted to share… and below is more clover? Maybe I don’t know. I’ll have to look into it.

By Melinda Hatfield at TAMUC plant science center

I love the color green. Did you know green is my favorite color? These are so pretty.

By Melinda Hatfield at TAMUC plant science center

Horticulture Lab: Planting things

Thats right we were planting things. I have to say that it has been very exciting being in plant and bug based classes. I feel as though these classes will benefit me long term. I also feel like I am learning a lot. For example, most plants die from over watering or not enough life (especially houseplants). Also there is a correct way to water plants, which is not something I even considered.

By Melinda Hatfield

Now first we planted beans. He showed us three ways to do it as an experiment and we put them in the pot. You should be planting your seeds no deeper than 2x their size. If you plant them deeper it could cause the plant to poorly develop. They’ll be trying to hard to get to the sun and they’ll give up. So make sure you are properly planting the seeds to the accurate depth otherwise your seeds may not grow to their full potential if they make it to the surface at all.

By Melinda Hatfield

So first we did the bean experiment, which was fun. Next we grabbed a tray with 18 slots to plant things. He had lots of seed options but on this tray I chose….

By Melinda Hatfield

Oregano because I love the herb and it can easily be added to my collection. I cannot wait to have it as one of my many coexisting ground covers. It’s going to be amazing. Now more mowing the grass for this lady. Also I just enjoy oregano as a herb, it is good stuff.

By Melinda Hatfield

Also the yellow pear tomato. I have never planted these before but I am excited about planting them for sure. They are allegedly really delicious. My professor said they were amazing and I was in for a treat. I cannot wait to see these start growing. I know it is a couple of days before the seedlings germinate but I want to watch them like a stalker.

I don’t know, I’m weird watching dirt and waiting for sprouts is just something I’m into. Don’t judge me.

By Melinda Hatfield

Next we planted three seeds of Texas Mountain Laurel. My professor said that they have beautiful flowers that smell like grape kool-aid and I said, “I’m in. Let’s do this.” As you can see before we could get to the seed we had to get through the hard shell. The seeds are those bright red things.

By Melinda Hatfield

That’s a close up of the seed. It is red in color and, although it doesn’t look like it, the seed has a very hard outer shell. Its bright red and with this seed, the Texas Mountain Laurel, we planted three seeds again but this time we tried to file part of the seed down with one and put the other in sulfuric acid for ten minutes with another and planted one regularly. Filing the seed down was no joke and took more than ten minutes. I can’t wait to see which ones turn out better and which ones don’t.

By Melinda Hatfield

I even decorated my pot with a dead leaf. I cannot wait to see the results of this experiment and then plant all three in my forest. Flowers that smell like grape kool-aid- I’m so in. Let’s do this.

By Melinda Hatfield

Finally, I planted another row of eighteen because he said we could and I was just so excited about the entire adventure. So in my next tray of eighteen I did half…

Mammoth dill and half kohlrabi. I can’t wait to see how these babies turn out. I have no dill planted right now but I am sure I can find a place for it. He says they get a little big and I want to eat some kohlrabi. I’m excited about it.

Have a good day and I hope you’re planting something awesome as well. Until next time

New Life this spring 2021

By Melinda Hatfield

Beautiful green layout looking amazing over here. I like that there is so much of the green stuff, it kind of looks like a moss but to be honest I have no idea what it is. It’s probably in a different class. Regardless, I loved the natural look of the sticks and rocks with the green ground cover. Looking good spring. Looking good.

This is mint that I planted last year and to be honest I am surprised that it survived so well. It really is branching out. You can see all of the runners creeping around and spreading. I think mint will be a lively ground cover. When I was outside with the kids we noticed that the off shoots had gotten harder and there were tiny runners that were easier to move.

By Melinda Hatfield

Out first flower from the countless bulbs that we planted. I love the purple color and as you can see there are more shoots coming up around it. We are excited because we planted quite a few to add color to our land. These bulbs will allegedly come back next year but we’ll have to wait and see. If so we will be very excited.

By Melinda Hatfield

This is random plant smells like oregano but we did not plant it. I am assuming that some how it jumped across the yard. I’m not mad about it but I thought it was neat. I am actually excited about it. This oregano plant looks much healthier than our other oregano even though the other plant is older. When they say plants in the mint family spread they weren’t lying. I love it though. It’s a lovely long lived herb if its allowed to spread like this and I am going to let it spread out everywhere. Don’t judge me.

By Melinda Hatfield

This is just come beautiful patch, I think it is clover but don’t quote me. I haven’t learned to identify plants like that just yet but I’m working on it. I just thought it was beautiful.

By Melinda Hatfield

Here is some more mint. Really I want this to be one of my primary ground covers. Mint will eventually cover the entire place and choke everything else out but mainly the grass. I do not want grass anymore. I hate mowing. I will not mow mints I will harvest them. I enjoy harvesting.

By Melinda Hatfield

This is getting out of control. Salad Barnett is a wild little herb. It has spread out everywhere and its very soft to run your hands through. None of it died in the winter snow storm and it stayed green and flush. I am impressed. I may have to cut this back a lot.

Regardless I am very pleased with the signs of spring and I hope you are as well. Have a great day and enjoy these spring items.

Insect Reproduction

In farming it’s pretty important to understand you insect populations. I say this because there are many types on insects and each one has a specific set of rules and roles. There are also more beneficial insects than just lady bugs and butterflies. That isn’t saying that they aren’t beneficial, but it makes sense that there would be other insects that are both beneficial and general pests.

Photo credit to Larry Silsbee

Differences in reproduction

  1. Females are more selective when it comes to mating and often try to find the best suitor to lay their eggs with. They are often preoccupied with habitat selection and progeny development. These activities expend most of their energy after mating. Once they mate, females limit mating.
    1. Eggs fertilized as it leaves the ovarioles. (I know it’s too much information but it’s a scientific fact, so please understand that we’re discussing ovarioles for science.)
    2. By knowing a females mating patterns, after identifying our insect population, we have a better chance of preventing the spread of a pest or stopping further reproduction. There are many ways of doing this, but I’m not expert. Just make sure you’re reading the labels about application and the time between sprays. A lot of people don’t look at those and it could cause you to have ineffective treatment methods (I have been guilty of this myself).
  2. Males search out receptive females persistently and frequently. Locating mates and producing sperm expend more energy. After mating males frequently search for another mate.
    1. Sperm is stored in the spermatheca
    2. I know it’s gross but males are often doing mating dances and defending their territory in case any female comes along. They don’t seem to be as picky as the females.
  3. They find mates using:
    1. Vision
      1. Swarms
      2. Color
      3. Light
    2. Hearing
      1. Cicadas
      2. Grasshoppers
    3. Smell
    4. Touch
Lovely insect habitat right outside my own home

Many insects find each other through mating dances, light flashes or ‘sex-attractant’ pheromones which can be produced/performed by either males or females. Mating dances are specific to each type of insect and allow for their mate to find them or for them to find their mate. Dance patterns can be anything from flying in circles in an attempt to attract the females attention and she might possibly fly through his fancy dance to staying in a specific territory and zipping back and forth to assert dominance.

Pheromones -This is one of the way that pesticides are effective. It isn’t the pheromones that kill the insects but what is at the end of that tunnel. People put out bait that is coated in pheromones (which varies from insect to insect) and they either trap the insects inside a sticky trap or a net trap or they lure them to their deaths by poison or insectide.

I’m not advocating for any specific way but I am inserting that many people allow for a certain amount of pests inside their gardens, homesteads or whatever they are growing. They only spray when a population has grown out of control or once a season during a specific time before breeding is able to take place. Over spraying is a huge issue and can cause populations to grow out of control.

A nice green area with lots of spring growth (I really hope it doesn’t freeze again before April)

I’m just now learning about these things and I find that they are important to know and understand when I am attempting to start my own food forest. That being said there are a lot of homemade sprays that can kill or deter insect populations, just remember to know what insect you are spraying for. Guessing could kill many unnecessary insects in the process.

Without basic knowledge of insects in my area I might not notice when there is a problem or issue; also I might not notice when an invasive insect arrives. Also, having a diverse population of insects can help with the health of your plants.

More stuff to come… hopefully it’s interesting.

Photo credit to Larry Silsbee

Plant Names and Classifications

Are you like me and didn’t know that common plant names are not the best way of identifying plants because a lot of the common names get confused or could overlap with others? I mean there are trees that are called oak trees that are not in the same group. It’s just a bunch of craziness and I just want to make it clear: up until this point I was entirely ignorant. I’m cool with it.

Now there is a science to plant classification and in that science there are two categories that we should be aware of and that is the plant taxonomy and plant systematic systems. We used to go by common names but it often became confusing  for a lot of people. Today we classify all plants based on their genetic and evolutionary characteristics, this means that the plants are grouped based on who their common ancestors are.

In horticulture they are primarily concerned with the last three levels of classification: Species, Genus and Family.

The species is the most basic level of classification and below this there can be many subspecies. These plants are usually the most closely related to one another and they can interbreed freely.

The Genus is a group of related species.

The Family is the general group of Genus who are all related by a common ancestor.

There are two important flowering plant families that my professor made sure that we covered. Frankly, I’ve already learned more than what I knew before and I am pleased, but we’re only part of the way through so I’ll continue to let you know what I know or I am learning.

First is the dicot family, which is a flowering family with two cotelydons (embrodic leaves). Just to let you know those cotelydons are inside and this is the largest of the two families. There are over 200,000 types and they are everywhere. They are roses, myrtle trees and so many more.

The second flowering family is the Monocot. They are grass like flowering plants that only have one cotelydon per seed. In agriculture the majority of biomass is created through monocots. You might find a monocot as wheat, rice, bamboo, sugar cane, forage grasses and many others. This family includes many bulb flowers like daffodils, lilies, and iris. They are not simply flowers and grasses but also tumeric, garlic, and asparagus.

Both are angiosperms and very popular. I really enjoy these classes and can’t wait to learn more. How many more things am I going to learn? Who knows but I can’t wait.

Although this information may not be useful right away I am certain being able to identify plant families will be useful in the future. These pictures are by a wonderful lady named Vivian Morris.

Plant names are identified not my their family but by the genus and species. Common names change by region and can be confusing because a rose is a rose and can be any different species of rose if you are looking for a specific type. Although common names can be misleading botanical names are not. The Botanic name is a Latin name accepted world wide.

For example: Magnolia alba or Ligustrum album.

Until next time…

Horticulture: What I didn’t know

My salad barnett

Why didn’t I learn this stuff when I was in school? I’m amazed. Regardless, horticulture is a field of agriculture that deals with every aspect of plants from business to science and even the art of growing ornamental plants. Horticulture covers everything from ornamental plants and office plants to fruits and vegetables. Horticulture is different than other fields of agriculture for a lot of reasons, but mainly (from what I’ve learned) because we deal in landscape and artistic design.

The fields of the landscape industry according to my professor are installation, maintenance, irrigation, and design. This is not every part of horticulture and is only one of three different primary industries within horticulture. Inside each field of the landscaping industry there are many different jobs and needs that we most likely work with regularly on our homesteads or farms. The landscape industry as a whole deals in the design, installation and maintenance of home and commercial landscapes.

My tree

In the cities landscape is the most recognizable industry and is one of the largest industries in the entire State of Texas, allegedly with over nine billion in total added revenue to the state’s economy. This may not take in to account the kids who are looking for summer work, but it is clear that it is one of the easiest fields to get into.

When we talk about installation we are discussing the full destruction of a previous landscape and creating a completely new design or modifying an existing plants. Sure, it seems like fun but demolition of existing systems can take a lot of work and effort. It includes: bed preparation, adding organic matter to beds and tilling the soil before new transplants are added. This also includes adding things like rock walls, paths and structures that benefit the landscape or area of attention. It’s not hard to see why this area is one of the highest in profitability but is seasonal work because grass doesn’t grow in the winter.

My tree

Maintenance is also just more than maintaining existing landscapes. This can also be turf maintenance, which if you didn’t know is what we use on golf courses and sports fields. This could be anything from mowing the yard to making sure that edging and trimming is properly done around the fencing and other fixed structures. This work is usually low pay but can be continuous throughout the entire year with only a small decline during the winter months.

Irrigation is something that I have just started learning about outside of class- I set up my own crappy five hundred dollar system. Now irrigation system managers may assist in the initial installation of a landscape system or they may work in maintaining existing sprinkler and irrigation systems. They usually work on larger commercial projects or they have many smaller projects in a larger city and people who go into this field can specialize in irrigation design which I didn’t not know was a real life thing. This does require a license in Texas with TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality).

Plant at TAMUC agricultural plant science center

Finally, there is design, which seems to be incorporated in each and every single industry so far. They are usually in charge of designing new or existing landscapes. They usually design large commercial projects or for residential customers. If you are working in a large city you may be required to get plans from a landscape architect (who knew this existed) and those people are specifically certified by the ASLA (American Society for Landscape Architecture). Sometimes these people also specialize in irrigation in design, which I thought was kind of neat.

A big thing to look at with landscaping is that they do a lot of work with turf grass, which if I’m reading properly it should be an industry of it’s own. Especially because turf grass is widely used by sports fields and golf courses. This falls under the care and maintenance and is covered under the landscaping industry, rightly so, but is a huge part.

Sign at TAMUC agricultural plant science center

All in all I had no idea there were so many different types of landscaping and we haven’t even gotten through the rest of horticulture. Allegedly this is the most important because it is the most money making. Landscaping, it’s the most commercialized and has the highest profit margins. So if you’re looking for money to be made it’s from people looking for these services and for some reason I was a dummy and thought it might have something to do with food, but I was wrong.

Now onward to the other fields that are equally important regardless of how valuable it is to commercial America. After landscaping we have interiorscape. Just to let you know I don’t think that’s a real word, I know that it’s all over the internet and they say that it is a word and so we’re running with it. Spell check says no too though, so they should get together and work on that.

Sign at TAMUC agricultural plant science center

This specific industry deals specifically on the inside. That works with the installation and maintenance of landscapes inside buildings or structures. This doesn’t seem like a very common or wide range field. Yes, there are plants in the majority of buildings but the majority of buildings do not require someone to set them up. This is specifically to help businesses to establish a natural environment inside their building. For example a fancy fountain with fish at the bottom and the whole ecosystem that goes along with that. You might find these in fancy malls, hospitals, banks, offices or other environments where there are people who want an enjoyable and relaxing environment. Sometimes they might design an enclosure in a zoo. This is where they must design an environment that is suitable and specifically designed for the animal; that’s temperature, plants they are comfortable with and everything else that goes into recreating a temperature controlled environment. Although, this is usually done for primates.

After Interiorscape and Landscaping we have Floriculture. This one doesn’t pass the spell check either. I didn’t know they had a name specifically for flower people, but here we are. These people specifically deal in the production, sell and use of flowers. It’s got a lot of layers to it but floriculture serves a purpose in landscaping, but is a lot more than growing flowers in yards and it also is used in specialized greenhouse production. Floriculturists provide insight on color (especially seasonal color) and pretty much all plants that are used in interiorscapes. They are known for their ornamental plants and their pretty flowers and deal in anything from pothos ivy to flowers that we see in flower shops.

Sign at TAMUC agricultural plant science center

They are the growers of flowers you cut to make bouquets with as well as flowers that go into pots or in garden beds. This industry is the primary job in greenhouse production. That’s because floriculture deals in bedding plants, which is where plants are grown in tiny little pots to get ready for transplanting in a garden or a landscape. They also work with foliage, which are plants that are grown specifically for their pretty leaves instead of their flowers. They are the primary flower producers and in order to protect those flowers from being eaten by bugs before they hit the floral shops they grow them in greenhouses. Finally they work with potted plants and flowers, but this is mainly used in interiorscaping and not to be confused with plants that are grown for transplant.

The nursery is what you hear most about, or at least I do. I hear more about this because the people I am around go to nurseries a lot and so do I. They work in the production and sale of perennials, trees, shrubs and ground covers. Nurseries can be owned locally or by large box stores like Lowes, Home Depot and Walmart. Really, I advise everyone to shop locally, but I cannot deny sometimes they have things that I want and need.

Plant at TAMUC agricultural plant science center

Finally, my two favorite fields in the whole world and that is because they are the ones that I am most particularly interested in. Fruit and nut production is the first one, because as we all know I’ve been working hard towards growing my fruit trees and berry bushes. From fruit and nut production we have the two largest fields for fruit and nut production in Texas: pomology and viticulture. Pomology is concerned with fruit trees; in Texas it’s primarily peaches, pecans and plums but it can also include apples and citrus. Viticulture deals with grapes and grape production, this is particularly useful in wineries and vineyards. Although, you would think that this would be a big deal in Texas most of our production is done by people like me: hobbyists.

The last one would be Olericulture and if you hadn’t guessed by now this would be the field of horticulture that deals with the production and sale of vegetables. I am not going to lie when I tell you that I expected that this would actually be more in the higher profit margins because I see vegetables everywhere when I got to the supermarket. I am wrong, this is not the most profitable. Actually, if you want the honest truth it’s not even driven by vegetable sales it’s driven by hobby farmers like me and possibly you.

Plant at TAMUC agricultural plant science center

Learning about horticulture has really helped me see that there is more than just one field to go into and I am excited about it. I am still learning and have a lot to learn but as I learn so will you or not. I mean, tell me if I’m wrong and I’ll look into it. Regardless, have a great day.

Snowpocalypse pictures

It really shows off what a blank canvas we are working with.

The foraging birds

First, I love birds. They are a favorite of mine. I mentioned in a previous post that I did not like clipping my dead stuff until spring and I have a very good reason for it: birds.

But it’s not just for birds. The leaves and dead plant droppings cane be home to salamanders, butterflies, chipmunks, box turtles, toads and many other creatures. They provide a lovely ground cover for earthworms to turn all of that matter into compost. There are so many benefits to just leaving it alone and letting the animals forage through it.

Leaving it alone can also increase the survival of important and beneficial insects and other arthropods. They will be your helpers in keeping pest problems low and help in decomposition of earthly matter. All of this stuff combined will increase soil health and that benefits you in the long run.

So not only are you reducing your time and effort but you’re also the proud parent to an entire ecosystem. It warms my heart just to write that out. This will also save waste because a lot of people throw their trimmings out- which could be recycled and composted or just left to allow a little home for the bird food. It’s only temporary.

For more information on why you should leave your lawn alone you can go here Scientists Say or here National Wildlife Federation to find out more information. It isn’t hard to find out why I am such a big fan. Bring on the birds.