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Reaping the Rewards of Hard Work

My vegetable garden may look like a jungle but a bit of water, alpaca dung, and tlc are starting to show results.

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The squash took off and I’m looking at recipes.  I’m  going to have to start pickling cucumbers soon and the tomato vines are getting heavy with fruit. A bunch of spinach is already in the freezer and more is on the way.   I haven’t been able to keep up with picking the lettuce before the stalks get out of hand but it’s the first time I’ve tried growing it.  The red romaine is delicious and I’m learning a lot about gardening along the way.

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The peppers, corn and zucchini are still slow in growing but I’m not going to give up yet. I planted these veggies about a month after the rest so I’m still hopeful.

Unfortunately, we aren’t the only creatures harvesting in my garden.  Crickets are the biggest issue  but the chickens love them.  My broccoli and few heads of cabbage seem to be the hoppers’ favorite meals.

The other day I saw a 2′ long rat snake hiding in plain sight.  It scared me half to death but I left it alone as at the time.  I wasn’t sure what it was since I couldn’t see the head and wasn’t sure if it was a Copperhead.  Besides, I’ve never killed a snake before and didn’t want to risk getting bit.

Summer is already here in Texas and I’m ready to learn a rain dance as the garden is thirsty.  The sprinkler and hose are keeping the plants alive but what they really need is a good soaking.  Eventually, I’ll put together a good drip system.

 

My Garden, a Work in Progress

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Tomatoes and carrots are growing this year!

Gardening is challenging for me in Texas.  Our first year was great with a well-tilled plot with watermelon, cantaloupe, okra, onions, and of course, lots of tomatoes.  After moving, I struggled.  First, there was the drought and I couldn’t keep the ground saturated.  The next year,  as the corn sprouted and tomatoes budded, the grasshoppers came and destroyed my efforts in a day.When we finally bought our own place, I tried try hay bale gardening and while I liked the concept the chickens ate most of the seedlings.  The tomato plants did great though and I highly recommend hay bales if you have limited space – and no chickens.

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Cabbage and Potatoes

Last year, Jim Bob borrowed a tractor and tilled  nice area.  He then put up fencing but before I could get the soil ready, Johnson grass and other weeds took over. I took out the tiller to go over the soil again but the engine had seized.  I hand turned a small area and the tomatoes and squash grew well, especially with alpaca beans added to the soil.  The rest of the garden was an embarrassment.

This year, I finally have a long-term plan – raised beds.  I bought several and Jim Bob built a couple.  I placed cardboard under the beds to deter the weeds and set about planting. Having collected a couple of year’s worth of seeds, I direct sowed most and started some inside.  Now, everything is planted with a mixture of last year’s hay/chicken manure and alpaca beans mixed in the soil.

So far, things are looking great! The spring rains have helped to get the seeds sprouting beautifully.  The rest of the garden will be an ongoing work in progress. The weeds keep coming but the long-term plan is to cover the unused area with cloth, stepping-stones and rubber mulch.  The mulch is pricey so it’s going to take time to buy enough but it looks just like real mulch and lasts for years.  And it’s made from recycled tires so the dogs won’t be tempted to steal pieces of wood when I’m not looking.

Eventually, I think the garden will look great but more importantly, I am finally getting growing again.  Now I just hope another biblical plague doesn’t dash my hopes.

While it’s not about the garden, I had to share these pics of Hooch and Luna helping me pick blue bonnet seeds. Each year, my blue bonnet patch more than doubles from picking and tossing as many seeds as I can bear to pluck.

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Luna sniffing the blue bonnets
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Hooch helping me pick blue bonnet seeds

Shearing Day

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Patiently waiting their turn.

We drove up to Keller, today to have our alpaca herd sheared at our new friends and mentors’ farm, DJ’s Classic Alpacas.  What an efficient operation.  The shearer and his crew, along with recruited helpers, gave our six camelid critters the full beauty treatment – fiber sheared, nails clipped, teeth filed, and vaccinated – in about an hour.  It was amazing.

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Moose getting his blanket sheared.

The most stressful part of the process was worrying about the weather.  Alpacas can’t be sheared if their hair is wet.  For days, I watched the weather channel and listened to meteorologist predictions.  By Thursday morning, I thought we were in the clear   but driving home from work, I noticed the dark clouds gathering to the north.  Conferring with Jim Bob, we decided that Webb Acres wouldn’t be affected so I watered the garden and gave the alpacas their supper.

Finally, sitting down to watch the news, I looked at the weather app on my phone and sensed we were in trouble. The thunderstorm to the north and the other to the south were about to

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Frankie getting her teeth done.

merge and we were going to get drenched.  Gathering the scattered herd in record time, we managed to get everyone moved in to the trailer just as the first big drops fell.  By the time we had them in shelter the sky opened up with rain, hail, and wind.  Phew.

Alpacas are sheared annually and their fiber is the reason I first fell in love with them.  Alpaca hair is not scratchy, softer and more resistant than wool

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Zeus blanket is as big as him!

and it doesn’t contain lanolin which I’m allergic to. There are  so many uses for alpaca fiber too but I’ll talk about that in a future post.

I learned a lot from the folks at the farm too.  We purchased our alpacas without papers or history and know they are not competition quality.  Surprisingly, Cocoa and Zeus have a color and texture to their fiber that is high demand.  Two of the helpers are spinners and were so impressed with their hair that they want to buy some.  I was shocked and thrilled that mamma and son have high demand fiber. And hearing accolades from people in the know was exciting.
Continue reading “Shearing Day”

The Weekends

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Beautiful eyes

I took a break from the weekend routine on Webb Acres last week to spend time with my brother who visited.  We went to one of my happy places, Fossil Rim, in Glen Rose  It may be the closest I ever get to a safari.  Normally, I feel at peace feeding the elk and emu but the hot sun kept many of the animals in shade and I spent more time trying to get away from the traffic than enjoying the wildlife.  I guess I was most distracted with one car where two young children sat on the window sill stretched most of the way out trying to pet the wary zebras as the driver kept moving with her two year old on her lap.  People can be so irritating.

 

 

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Giraffes display grace even when drinking

Back home life was more pleasant.  The alpacas enjoyed letting me cool them off with the hose for the first time this year.  Only blue eyed Frankie wasn’t sure that she liked being sprayed.  Everyone else vied for a good spot not sure if they wanted to stand or cush.

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Lined up and enjoying the cool water.

Attempting to eradicate the ever growing fire ant mounds, I tried the Dirt Doctor, Howard Garrett’s, recipe for mound drench using dry molasses, orange oil, and tea compost. It seemed to work great but now I wonder if the queens can’t be annihilated.  Instead of the number of mounds dwindling, I swear mounds are multiplying.  Wanting to avoid pesticides, I’ve tried boiling water, corn meal and now mound drench to attack the ants.  This weekend, I continue to drench large and small, in hopes of at least lowering the ant population on Webb Acres.

I have also started planting vegetable seeds.  More on the garden in future posts.

Wishing all my readers a Happy Easter, Passover and spring!

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Taking a break at the half way point overlooking Fossil Rim.