Why Blog?

This week we have had several calls from a Dallas Morning News reporter doing a story on why farmer's would blog. She had a number of specific questions about our blog, Farmer's Don't Blog. Since the fast majority of our blogs in the past have been written by Karl, I had not given the subject much thought. To me, our blog is a window into our life, farm and things that interest us. Karl had some pretty diverse blogs that I really liked and they had nothing to do with farming. He especially liked nutritional topics. I think one of his best blogs was a simple poem he wrote and posted about drinking tea.

Some who read our blog live close enough to drive to the farm and see it in person. Others may be like Sunday afternoon "lookers" that drive slow down our lane and take it all in, but seldom stop. I know a lot of our readers live far away, some over the atlantic, and they can read our blog and share our life here with us without our ever knowing it except for the occasional email question or comment.

Now that the blog is my responsibility, I will continue to write about the tasks we have on the farm, the challenges and other interesting perspectives on life that I care to comment on or share. Being a not so silent "yellow dog democrat", I will try to not write about politics no matter how hard that will be. With a full day from early to late, I am not sure when I will blog, but I will try to do it as often as a fancy strikes me.

Through Farmer's Don't Blog our readers will continue to get a unique perspective on what it's like to live on a family farm in Texas. Most will never experience it in person, but they can hopefully learn to appreciate what goes into raising the food they eat in our blog. People that work in office or factories seldom see the final product they work on. For a farmer, it is very different. On this farm and ranch what we do is on display everyday. It is easy to see our successes and our failures. Through our blog you can get that same experience.

Johnny Pinecone: A Progress Report

Our pine plantation is off and running 18 months after planting. I figured its time to share with you an update on a different kind of farming; tree farming. To appreciate this, you will need to read the blog of January 22, 2007 and see the photos taken at that time. I think you will be amazed the difference 18 months has made when you compare the pictures.

The method we chose for our plantation was very different than normal practices. We planted about half the number of trees per acre as the Texas Forest Service and consultants recommend, did our site prep chemical release six months before planting instead of a year after and used containerized trees, not bare root seedlings. Our march to the beat of a different drummer continues.

Since January 2007, we have not had a drought and have had normal rainfall and temperatures. The trees when planted were no more than 8-10 inches tall on average. Eighteen months later they are 18 to 38 inches tall on average. Some approach four feet. The two pictures below are of a taller tree and one that is average. From a walking survey, it would appear that we have very few seedling losses. In a bare root planting, often you lose 25%. Based on the results thus far, we seem to be on the right track with this planting method.

Our objective in using these methods was to avoid having a small wood (pulpwood) cutting, which is low value in 14 years, but have a higher value chip and saw cutting at 10 to 12 years.

We have a mowed fire lane around each of the new planting areas and will continue to maintain it. Our future plan is to fertilize the seedlings by over planting with some type of legume that fixes nitrogen. We have not figured what to plant nor how to do that since we can not plow or disk the planted areas. Aerial dropped fertilizer is too expensive in today’s market. Once the trees reach a height of ten feet or more, we hope to have fenced each of the areas planted with woven wire sheep and goat fence. We will utilize goats and sheep to clear out the understory of uneconomic growth. In theory, if we open up the area under the pines, grasses will grow keeping the ground cooler and help retain moisture helping the trees to grow even faster. The understory competes for water and nutrients much more than grasses. Once the area under the trees is open, we have a lot more options on fertilization. Also, an open planted pine forest is attractive to wildlife and has more recreational uses.

Terms of Reference:

CHIP-n-SAW - A cutting method used in cutting lumber from trees that measure between 6 and 14 inches diameter at breast height. The process chips off the rounded outer layer of a log before sawing the remaining cant or rectangular inside section into lumber. Chip-n-saw mills provide a market for trees larger than pulpwood and smaller than saw timber.

Pulpwood - Wood primarily for manufacture into pulp for use in making products such as paper and textiles. Typically pulpwood is too small or too low in quality to be used for lumber or plywood.

Chemical Release - The principal goal of applying herbicides in pine plantations is to enhance crop tree survival and growth rates in an economically feasible way. This goal is realized by suppressing or, less frequently, eliminating competing vegetation, hence increasing water, sunlight, and nutrient availability to crop trees. Reducing competition for site resources is especially critical for young pine seedlings. Therefore, herbicide applications are usually most effective early in the rotation, before tree planting or during the first two years after planting, when seedlings are becoming established. Effective site preparation and herbaceous weed control reduce pine mortality and provide for early and long-lasting tree growth increases. Good site preparation reduces the need for herbaceous weed control.

Understory - The understory consists of hardwood trees, saplings, small ground plants, and vines that emerged after the land was prepared for the pine plantation.

Average tree height after 18 months

Some trees are over 4 ft high after 18 months

Tree seedling ready to be planted January 2007

A Visitor's Blog: Must Read... Ought to Read

When you operate a family farm like ours you can not help but meet lots of different people. It just goes with what we do. We have only been renting our log cabins for a few months, but in this short span of time we have met a different set of very nice folks. They join the hundreds we have met in recent years that have picked berries or bought fruit, beef, cattle, flowers or vegetables.

One such recent visitor has written in her blog about their family vacation to our farm. Together with her photographs, she has captured the spirit of a farm stay on The Greer Farm . Please take a moment to read it and share their visit to our very unique farm.

The Setting Sun

From the porch of a cabin or any place on the farm where the shades of day fade into night and the sky turns yellow and red as the sun retreats, you can enjoy the conversion of light into darkness like no place else. Night brings on a magnificent change in the landscape in shades of black and gray with a chorus of sounds not heard in the day. Insects and birds that have lain silent all day awaken and break forth in nature’s song. Seldom do the sounds and lights of transport vehicles break the moment on our lane. Those of you that live in urban areas do not realize how much different the nights are on a farm than in your environment. Except for the occasional passing train in the distance signaling as it crosses our country lane, nothing has changed here at night since the beginning.


A poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Into the darkness and the hush of the night,
Slowly the landscape sinks, and fades away.
The ghosts of men and things, that haunt the light,
The crowd, the clamor, the pursuit, the fight,
the unprofitable splendor and display
The agitations, the cares that prey
Upon our hearts, all vanish out of sight
The better life begins; the world no more
Molests us; all its records we erase.
From the dull common-place book of our lives,
That like a palimpsest is written o're
With trivial incidents of time and place
and lo! the ideal, hidden beneath, revives.

Summer’s Work in the Berry Patch is in Full Swing

The berry season will soon be over and that means it’s time to tend to the berry patch. Serious times for a berry farmer. All those wonderful berries of black and blue will soon be a memory. To be ready for next year means a lot of hard hand work now.

For the blueberries, we do the final irrigation through the drip hose. At the same time we hand pull the weeds and grass from around each of the over 3,400 plants. We then weed trim the grass and weeds short between the plants. After that, we stretch the irrigation hose and make sure each plant is near a water emitter. The final step is to add about 1-2 cubic feet of shredded pine mulch around each plant. The mulch degrades to give the plant the acid and organic matter it needs and this also cools the roots and retains moisture in the summer. In the winter, it insulates the shallow roots. We have been working on the first 12 rows of berries planted in 2006 and 2007 and they look good.

The blackberries require a different set of work. The new canes and branches that will provide berries next year start to grow in early spring and by April or May you have to start to prune them off at about 3-1/2 feet. This is repeated every 3 weeks or so during the growing season. By the end of July, lateral or side branches have grown and they also need pruning. In August, after the last berry as been picked, the canes that produced this year’s berries die. Their death is measured. One day the cane is flush with bright green leaves and over a few days they all curl and wither turning brown. You can make no mistake which canes need to be pruned. They all have to be hand cut at ground level and pulled out of the trellis. This is about half the vegetation standing and is not an easy task. Once out, we burn the old canes to avoid spreading any virus they may have on them to the new brambles. We continue to prune the new canes until frost and in January cut each lateral branch 12-14 inches long. This sets the stage for the new growth in the spring.

Growing berries is a lot of work. It is much more than just mowing the grass so the berry patch looks nice. The good thing about all this is that our many customers appreciate what we do and how nice it is to pick here.

In the winter, we plan on planting more blackberry brambles and blueberry bushes to complete the 9 acre field. This will be a different set of tasks we will share later.

No Rainbow

Summer in Texas is normally very hot and very dry. In East Texas, you can add very humid. You can pretty much assume that if you have not had enough rain by June 30; forget it for the rest of the summer. Only the occasional afternoon heat shower might dampen things.

It was just such a shower that made this impression on me. Out in the paddock south of the ranch house I was checking a group of young heifers that had recently been weaned. It was a very still and extremely hot afternoon. Suddenly, with the sun still shining, a cloud turned dark and a heavy thunderstorm dropped down on me and the paddock around me.

Not having shelter, I leaned close to a tree and waited for the storm to pass. I was joined by insects and ants dashing up the trunk out of harms way. Passive observation made me aware of how expressive the storm was. The large rain drops shimmered as they fell in the bright sunlight. It seemed like inches between the huge droplets. You could actually see the space. I watched as the drops hit leaves of grass splitting in a shower of water spray. As the storm waned, there was a stillness accompanied by an aroma of earth and moisture that is difficult to explain in words. I know that you know what I mean. It’s what Mother Nature smells like.

I had made a dash for the barn, but before getting there slowed to a walk. There was no use to try and out run this storm. I was wet to the skin and felt cool and good. I enjoyed it after being so hot moments before. Behind me, the heifers had moved into the middle of the paddock to stand in the cool rain. Perhaps they enjoyed it as I did.

Then it was over. It ended as suddenly as it had started. The paddock shimmered in the afternoon sun as heat fog hung close to the grass. I looked up into the blue sky curious what I might see, but there was no rainbow.

This was written the summer of 2007, but was misplaced.

A Useful Item is a Joy Forever

I jotted down a quote out of a pulp paper black and white printed catalog for the Vermont Country Store years ago. When we poured a concrete slab 40 ft by 40 feet next to our shop I knew it would be more useful than just shooting baskets in the goal I set up at one end. I used a nail to carefully scratch in the wet concrete, “A useful item is a joy forever” and then put down all of our names and the date. I just could not imagine a more appropriate saying to be permanent in our slab. I could just imagine all of the many uses it would serve and how I would always be proud of the day we laid it down. Last July Eva and I actually visited the Vermont Country Store. It was just as good as the catalog. Every thing you can think of to support a country lifestyle was there. I think they had it right when they used that quote in their catalog. Anything you buy from them has the potential to be useful and a joy forever.

All Because Two People Fell In Love

There is a sign that hangs over our front door. Let’s get to that in a moment. Actually we have lots of signs hanging on the walls of the house; both inside and outside. On the front porch there are two. One is made of tree limbs that spells “welcome” and another just says “Greetings”. We want people to feel at home when they come to our house.

In the old dogtrot there are a few more. “Our love will always grow” is a stitch art with a farmer and his bride. I am not sure it looks like Eva and me, but for sure our love continues to grow. Above it is one that everyone feels is right for our farm. “We create our tomorrows by what we dream today”. I am not sure who said that, but it has deep meaning if you have gone from where we were on this farm to where we are today. I guess not much would get done in the world if it were not for the dreamers and the doers.

In our dining room is a paper cut print. “Our family is a circle of strength and love. With every birth and every union the circle grows. Every joy shared together makes the circle stronger. On the back I have written in the marriage and birth additions to our family. This makes it a keepsake. I have refrained from putting down deaths.

Also, in that room is a piece of art we commissioned to be painted. It’s a southern primitive farm scene with all of the animals, barns and buildings we have painted Grandma Moses style. Around the border is written, “I live each day and each night, that’s what makes my life so brite. I love my family and my home. When I am there I am never alone…could we sit, could we talk, take a long summer walk. There are quilts on the line. Can’t life be ever so fine? Amen”. For sure that reminds me of this house and this place and all that I am grateful for.

Eva’s kitchen has two little plaques. “When it’s dark don’t be afraid, just try your wings and you can catch a star. Take a chance”. The other says, “Never too old to be top banana, to go plum crazy, to be a hot pepper”. What does this collection of signs made over the years mean? Well it goes back to that sign over the door; “All Because Two People Fell In Love”. All the dreams we have had, all the things we have, all we have done, all of the family we have would have not have happened if we had not met and fallen in love in 1976 in New Orleans. That whirlwind romance between mid-January and Valentines Day when I proposed changed everything. So to sum up the past 32 years we look to the door sign; all of this because two people fell in love.

Fire Extinguishers

Today I got into one of the farm pick-ups and the seat was too far forward. Being a low-end vehicle and no power seat, I jerked the rod and slid back sharply. I should tell you that our trucks tend to collect all sorts of stuff before getting so filled up we can not find anything and then we unload, sort, toss out and start the process over. This truck was due a clean out. In any case, my moving the seat I set off a chain reaction in the mess in the back and dislodged the fire extinguisher. Suddenly, after hearing for split second release of air, I and the whole truck was enveloped in a yellow dust cloud. I don’t know what they put in one of those ABC extinguishers, but it is lighter than flour. It went everywhere. I could not bail out fast enough. Not like I had anything to do this evening, I spent an hour taking all the stuff out of the truck then using a shop vac to try and clean up my mess. Lesson learned. Keep your truck clean. Oh yes, I found that set of ratchets I had lost.