Homegrown in the Heartland
There is maybe a two week time period every spring when all of the fields where we live turn bright purple. To be more accurate I might call it magenta, or fuchsia. It’s real pretty. Some years it is brighter and more wide-spread than others. The little plant that’s responsible for this sea of color is called henbit. It looks like this…
(There are also a lot of these white blooms, but I’m not sure what those are called.) Henbit grows wild, it’s not planted, and it’s really classified as a weed. Here is something interesting – over the course of the past several years it has become really obvious that there is more and more henbit growing in the fields in our part of the world. That’s because most farmers have adopted the no-till method of farming. No-till farming means that instead of plowing the fields each spring, turning over the dirt to prepare it for planting, farmers are skipping that step and planting their crops into soil that hasn’t been disturbed. I won’t go into all the nitty-gritty details of this method, but it reduces the amount of soil erosion, and increases the amount of water and nutrients in the dirt. Both good things. And, I guess one of the side effects is that wildflowers, or weeds, like henbit are more able to thrive and spread. That’s an added bonus, in my opinion. So, now when you see one of those fields covered in tiny purple blooms, you know why!
And, guess what else is growing right now?
Yep, it’s morel season. Morel mushrooms.
They look kind of strange, but roll them in a cornmeal batter and fry them in a little oil, and you won’t care what they look like. They’re good.
Last weekend I went along on a little mushroom hunt at our favorite mushroom hunting spot. I can’t tell you where that is, it’s a secret. Really. A few of my family members may have me taken out if I reveal the exact location. All I can say is that it’s a little bit of a hike. Over some fences, across a pasture, jump a little creek, and you’re there. Wear your boots, because it can get messy.
Morels can be tricky. They have a very short growing season, and you have to time it just right. I like to eat them, but I think the best part is going out to find them. It ended up that we picked a pretty good day. Successful hunt.
:: Carrie ::
It’s that time of year again! Fall is here, and that means it a busy season on our farm. This year has definitely been a trying one. Who knew that after such a great spring planting season that mother nature would decide to throw a curve ball and send one of the driest and hottest summers that anyone around here has ever seen?
I’m sure you have been wondering about the corn, haven’t you? Well, maybe you haven’t. But, I have good news. Thanks to an extensive irrigation system, and a lot of prayers and hard work, this year’s crop made it through one of the worst growing seasons ever. Last week I caught up with Brett in the middle of his favorite job on the farm…
Driving the combine. He’s real serious about his job. Can you tell?
Actually, it’s pretty fun to ride along. There’s a GPS system that monitors just how much corn is being harvested as it comes into the combine, in real time. It’s fancy.
When the hopper gets full the combine dumps all the corn into the grain truck. That’s Mike, my brother (Karen’s husband), making sure Brett doesn’t dump any corn over the edge and all over the road. I’m pretty sure that’s never happened.
Then it’s hauled to the grain bin where it will be stored until it’s transported to the grain elevator and sold.
In a nutshell, that’s what happens. I’ll let Brett explain it to you in a little more detail.
But wait a minute! Before you jump into the combine with us, you might want to go back and see where this all started…
In May we rode in the tractor with Brett and planted the corn.
In July we went along with Brett to check the irrigation system.
All caught up? Okay, now it’s time to harvest…
:: Carrie ::
We get this question a lot. Usually people are referring to the cute little stump that comes with each and every one of our calendars.
Don’t you love it? It really is great, and it’s perfect for sitting on your desk.
So, where do we GET those stumps? The short answer to that question is we make them ourselves. But that’s only part of the story. The long answer is much more interesting, and you’ll probably learn a thing or two, so keep on reading!
Our little stumps are cut from old branches of a tree called an Osage Orange. Or, as we call them, a hedge tree. If you live in the great plains region of our country you’ve probably seen them. Hedge trees are the ones that grow those big green balls known as hedge apples. They grow to about the size of a softball (which makes them good for throwing) and they look like this…
Did you know that hedge trees are either male or female, and that only the female trees produce hedge apples? It’s true.
There are a lot of hedge trees growing around here. According to my dad, who seems to know a lot, the hedge tree is the most widely planted tree in the United States. No other tree has been planted more than the hedge tree, which seems crazy, but he went on to tell me why.
Way back when the great plains region was being settled the farmers and ranchers needed a way to keep their livestock contained. They needed fences. Since barbed wire hadn’t even been invented yet, they grew their fences. They’d take a whole bunch of hedge apples and grind them up to make a kind of a slurry, which was full of hedge seeds, and they poured that slurry into a trench that they had dug around their pasture. Then they would have to wait for their fence, or hedge, to GROW! Talk about having to plan ahead! Seems like a lot of work, doesn’t it? I’m sure it was, but that’s how they did it. Hedge rows were planted all over the great plains, and we have old hedge rows on our farm. Of course, they aren’t used as fences anymore. Today they look like this…
So, this is where our stumps come from! Now, you should know that we are not cutting down live trees just for this purpose. No, not at all. We actually gather up dead branches from old growth. Wood from a hedge tree is extremely dense and highly resistant to rot and decay, so these branches have probably been lying on the ground for a several decades. Seriously.
Gathering up all of that wood is only half of the job.
The miter saw has pretty much taken up residence in the unfinished half of our barn for the past couple of months. This is where the branches are cut up into little discs.
Look at that sawdust fly!
Now, I have to give my Dad all of the credit here. He has actually done most of the cutting for us, and we are SO thankful. There’s not an exact count, but I’m pretty sure he’s already cut about 1500 little stumps, and we still can’t see the end of the tunnel. Not quite yet. Thanks Dad!
After we chop up the branches we head over to the table saw to cut that little groove in the top which holds up the calendar.
I don’t know if you have ever used a table saw, but it’s kind of scary. That blade. It could get you. When I use the table saw I am highly attuned to where my hands and fingers are at all times.
Cutting the grooves involves sliding each stump across the scary table saw blade. We have a good system for doing this, which involves some wood blocks that hold the stump in place and keeps our fingers as far away from the blade as possible. Rule #1: Don’t. Touch. The. Blade.
So that’s how it happens. That’s where we get our stumps! From the plains of Callaway County, Missouri, straight to your desk top.
Make sure you visit our shop real soon to pick up your 2013 calendar. And while you’re there grab a few more – they make excellent gifts!
Erin, thanks for the use of the photo that I snagged from your instagram feed. You are the only person I know who has a photo of hedge apples. I think this proves that we are related. Get yourself home for a visit soon. We all miss you!
Years from now people are going to look back and talk about the summer of 2012. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, it has been hot and dry here in the midwest. We’re setting all kinds of records. I can’t remember the last time it rained. For most people it’s an inconvenience, but when your livelihood is based on the agricultural calendar, a growing season like this can be terrifying.
Remember back in May when I took you on a ride in the tractor? Brett was planting the corn right outside our studio, and things were going so well. No sign at all that this summer would be one of the most stressful ones that anyone around here has seen. Well, I thought maybe you’d be curious about how the crop is faring in the drought and intense heat.
A few years ago the guys started the process of putting up a bunch of center pivot irrigation systems all over the farm. I’m know you’ve seen what I’m talking about. They’re long sprayers that move around a fixed center point in a big circle. They also built a huge 40 acre lake. It holds the water for irrigating, if its needed. Well, this year they sure needed it.
The water level in the lake has slowly been getting lower and lower over the past several weeks, and if we don’t get any rain soon it will be completely drained. There’s a bunch of fish in there that should be getting a little worried.
Look at this! On the left is an ear of corn from one of our irrigated fields. The ear on the right is from a corner of the same field where the water didn’t quite reach. Can you imagine a whole field of corn like that?! It’s happening. There are plenty of cornfields around our area that, unfortunately, haven’t gotten any water all summer. In those cases the crop could be a total loss.
We’re lucky that we have the means to get water to most of our crops, but it takes a lot of effort and monitoring to make sure that everything is watered evenly, and at the right times. This past Wednesday night I went along with Brett as he made the rounds turning on all the center pivots.
You were there when the corn was planted. I think it’s time for a mid-summer farm report! Let’s see how things look…
One of my favorite things is Sweet Tea. That might sound odd coming from a Midwestern girl, but you only need to know that my parents grew up in small towns in North Carolina and it explains everything about being raised as a daughter who loves vinegar-based BBQ, fried okra, sweet tea, grits, collard greens, country ham, and homemade biscuits among many Southern delicacies.
We’re getting ready to head to the South for a visit to see my parents and my grandmother, and of course, that leads to salivating over the delicious food ahead. It also means satisfying the craving before we leave!
Two years ago, my family (my husband and our girls) moved into our new house and, with the help of my mother-in-law (Carrie’s mom) and Mike’s great-uncle, we planted our raspberry patch. Last year’s harvest wasn’t much, but this year we have a true bounty. We’ve picked the patch several times and each time the raspberries seem to be sweeter!
Mike’s and Carrie’s grandmother sent over some peaches and I couldn’t help but think about how good a peach raspberry cobbler would be. So, I pulled out my Mom’s Southern-style cobbler recipe (see above – doesn’t it look lovely on our recipe card!) and got to work peeling peaches and washing raspberries.
Mom’s fruit cobbler is the best, especially peach or blueberry. Cobbler takes on all kinds of shapes, sizes, and textures, but I really prefer the kind my Mom always makes where the fruit is cooked into the flour-based breading instead of crumble or pastry-topped cobblers (though they’re yummy, too).
Ultimately, what makes cobbler so good is the fruit and the butter (I said I was a true Southerner!).
An hour later…the cobbler was perfectly golden brown on top and the peaches and raspberries invited me to dish out the first generous scoop full.
And then we really enjoyed the first-fruits of summer! It tasted as good as it looked – the sweetness of peaches and the tartness of raspberries in perfect harmony (just as delightful as a glass of sweet tea). Enjoy the season – get out in your garden or enjoy the fruits of someone else’s at your local farmer’s market!
Today was a good day for growing things. Lots of sun, with a few puffy clouds. It was hot, but if you watched closely you could actually see the corn getting taller. Just kidding, but sometimes it seems like that might be possible.
We have a vegetable garden right outside the barn where we work. My mom has always planted a garden, for as long as I can remember. I grew up loving those ripe red tomatoes, and they are still, hands down my favorite summer vegetable (or fruit?). If you have never tasted a homegrown tomato, picked right off the vine, sliced up on a plate with just a little salt – well you are missing out. There is nothing better.
This year we planted tomatoes, of course, and green beans, okra, sweet potatoes, zucchini, broccoli, red cabbage, lettuce, beets, and probably some other things that I’m forgetting. Let’s hope for a bountiful harvest starting here in a couple of weeks.
I have dreams of someday having a garden that looks something like this.
And, I might need a little shed like this one.
Have you ever wondered what Martha Stewart’s garden looks like? Take a peek, it’s right here. Wow.
:: Carrie ::
There’s a cherry tree right next to the barn where we work, and it grows the BEST cherries. They’re the really tart ones that make great pies. Early this spring it was loaded with blooms, and just a couple of weeks ago all of those blooms had turned to bright red cherries ready for picking. When the cherries are ripe it’s important to pick them quick, because the birds like them too. There was plenty to go around…my mom and I both picked buckets full, Beth’s mom came and picked all that she wanted, and a couple of neighbors picked some as well. Even after that there were still cherries left – most of them high up in the top of the tree where no one could reach.
I decided that a batch of cherry preserves was a must. As far as jams and jellies go I’m pretty sure that cherry is my absolute favorite. A little bit of cherry preserves on a hot buttered biscuit is like heaven in my mouth. Really.
2 lbs. pitted cherries (6cups)
1 (3 1/2 ounce) box pectin
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon butter
3 cups sugar
Place the pitted cherries in a large pot. Combine the pectin with 1/4 cup sugar and stir into the cherries. Add butter and bring to a full boil, stirring over high heat. Add 3 more cups of sugar and return to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil 1 minute. Remove from heat and immediately spoon preserves into sterilized jars. Secure the lids and stand inverted for 5 minutes. Turn upright and cool. Refrigerate for up to three weeks, or store in the freezer for up to one year. Thaw preserves in the refrigerator before using.
Delicious. And, I’ve still got a bunch of cherries in the freezer. There’s definitely a cherry pie or two in the near future. If anyone has other good cherry recipes to share I’d like to know. Send them my way!
We sure have been working hard inside our studio lately, but it’s nothing compared to what’s been going on outside. It’s spring, and that means it’s corn planting season here on the farm! For the past week or so this is what we’ve been seeing right outside our window. The guys have been busy working the soil and planting all those little kernels of corn. That’s my cousin Brett driving the big blue New Holland tractor pulling the big sixteen row planter.
And this is my dad and my brother, Mike. They’re getting ready to take off with those field cultivators to work the soil and prep it for planting so Brett can follow behind with the planter. It takes a lot of hours, and a lot of trips back and forth across the fields to work the ground and put in the crop for the year.
I decided to take a break from the printing press the other day took a little trip out to the field to see how things were going. I caught Brett at the end of a row and hopped in the tractor for a ride.
This was my view from the cab of the tractor. Look at those rows! Straight as an arrow. That’s right.
The field right behind the barn where we have our studio is one of the largest fields that we farm. Some of the rows are a mile and a quarter long! Brett and I calculated that since the planter drops a kernel every 6 inches that there are roughly 13,200 kernels planted per row. I said roughly. Don’t check our math.
And look at this! There are some real high tech things going on inside this tractor. I mean, really, this tractor could plant the field on its own. Brett just rides along to make sure nothing goes haywire. That’s the truth.
Do you want to see what I mean? Of course you do. That’s why I took along my video camera! Get ready for an education…it’s time for another episode of Farmin’ with Brett!
Here we go!
I don’t know about where you live, but spring seems to have come early here in Missouri this year. Actually, the last few days have felt more like summer. We took advantage of the great weather this weekend to head out into the woods to go hunting for mushrooms. If you live in the midwest, you know what I’m talking about. It’s that small window of opportunity, when you hope the conditions have been perfect, to find the elusive morel mushroom.
They’re a midwest delicacy. When you find one, it’s unmistakable. Here’s what they look like…
Hopes are always high. Some years there are a few, some years there are none. We headed out to an undisclosed location (it’s a secret!) to see what we could find. This year I guess the conditions were perfect, and we picked the right day, because it was a bumper crop!
Four bags full. And, we could have brought home more, but we ran out of room. Successful hunt!
Not only were the mushrooms plentiful this weekend, but the fish were biting too. On Sunday afternoon Natalie and I spent a little time fishing from the dock on our lake.
We pulled in at least fifteen fish in a little over an hour! That makes for a fun fishing trip for a five year old.
Toby was loving it too.
Sunday night dinner was fried morel mushrooms and fresh caught crappie.
Can’t beat that.