A Collard Peddler

Oh, if I knew then what I know now. Growing up, I had a strong dislike for collards, though I probably never tasted them until I was an adult. That smell, that sulfur stench, of collards boiling was enough cause for me to turn up my nose. This year I planted 1,000 collards, a lot for someone who once despised the things. Either my culinary tastes have improved or my olfactory senses have declined. Natalie says I can’t smell anything.

Earlier this year, I decided to become a collard peddler. I took my inspiration from a man who sold collards from the back of his pickup truck at an Exxon Station in my hometown of Hamlet. He did quite the business. Every year, during the fall and winter, he would be back at that gas station, selling collards. He sold the collards whole, not in bundles or bags. Some customers inspected the collards, examining each leaf, as if at a tobacco auction, before settling on the collard they wanted to purchase.

So far the collard business has been pretty successful, although I believe they aren’t quite as popular here in the western part of the state. It seems like a lot people here grew up eating turnip greens instead. I planted two varieties of collards: Georgia Southern and Flash. Georgia Southern is an heirloom variety with huge, crinkly leaves. Flash is hybrid that grows faster, albeit with a smaller size overall, and produces smooth, bluish-green leaves. Both taste the same, like collards.

I grew my own transplants from seed, which I planted into black biodegradable plastic mulch. This was my first time growing anything in plastic, and I’m impressed so far. The time it saves in weeding outweighs the cost. I planted the collards in double row beds, with 12 inches between rows and about 14 inches between plants in the row. I have a drip-line between the two rows. I strip-till the beds, living enough room to get a tractor between each bed. The ground between the beds is left in white clover sod.

I like the strip-till system. Before, we used to disc the whole garden, and anytime it rained, a muddy mess lingered. After heavy rains, much of the garden stood in water. Now with the clover aisles between each bed we can easily access the collards. The sod helps water infiltrate the ground. This has been the wettest November on record, with over 10 inches or rain this month, and standing water has only been a problem in tire tracks. Of course, the problem with the strip-till system is that it isn’t nearly as efficient with space. With so much ground left in sod, you’re only planting about half of what you could with traditional rows.

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Strip-till rows

Collards are easy to grow, but pests are tough on them. Caterpillars and grasshoppers have been a pain. I had intentions of cutting my collards whole, like the collard man at the gas station, and selling them that way. Instead, I’ve resorted to picking good leaves and bundling them, which adds more labor. I tried spraying some organic pesticides (Bt, neem oil, and sulfur), but they didn’t seem to faze the pests. The good thing about not cutting the plants is that I can continuously harvest more leaves as they grow. After the hard freeze, pests haven’t been as bad. So far deer have left my collards alone. I can tell where they’ve been browsing in the clover aisles, but apparently the deer herd here doesn’t like collards. Maybe for deer it’s an acquired taste, as well.

 

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A new desk for a new semester

Ever since I moved into the old white house 8 years ago – has it really been that long? – I’ve had a desk crisis. My cousins, who had lived her before me, left their old corner desk behind – and being low on funds, I was more than happy to keep it.

Let me tell you though – that thing was awful. I grew to hate that desk more than any other piece of furniture that I owned. (Sorry guys – but if you had actually liked it, you would have taken it with you.)

Years down the road, Stephen’s parents found us this fantastic craftsman style desk that a member of their church was throwing away. Cool woodwork, warm color, made from real wood – the only drawback was that the top was really too small to work on.

After going back to school this year and feeling like I needed a really good work space – I called up Poppaw and said it was about time for another episode of Hugh to the Rescue – the desk edition.

Poppaw and I decided that the easiest way to enlarge the desk would be to put a new top on it. My mom suggested adding black metal trim around the sides to hide the fact that the new top was not the original one. The end result – perfection.

To complete the ensemble, I added in my first library desk chair from my student worker days at Wingate. A wood storage box that I found on the farm as a little girl and hid in my grandparents barn – rediscovered still in its hiding place 17 years later. And an homage to the old white house – with photographs of every owner throughout its family history.

So, as I wrap up this post of procrastination – I must say that the new desk is perfect and will continue to be a perfect place to read, write, and craft.

Now it’s time to get cozy reviewing chapters 1 – 3 of The Education Dissertation…what joy is mine.

Old Stuff Works Good

If we had a farm motto at the old white house, it would probably be “Old stuff works good.” We’re chronic reuse it, re-purpose it, “if it ain’t broke” kind of people. While I’d like to philosophically say that we are hip, nostalgic, and connecting to our past….the truth is, we’re kind of tight wads who like fixable, old farm stuff.

Stephen’s most recent acquisitions have been a 1950’s Allis-Chalmers All Crop Harvester and an old Clipper seed cleaner.

all crop harvester

The All Crop Harvester was produced from the 1930’s – 1960’s and is designed to sweep harvest a wide variety of grains and grasses. It allows farmers to harvest crops on a smaller scale without having to own or rent an industrial sized combine.

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Stephen, after months of looking, ended up finding an All Crop Harvester for sale literally across the street in the barn of a cousin. This thing looked rough and while Stephen was having this weird holy grail moment all I cared about was whether or not it worked.

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After a treacherous tractor pull across Pleasant Hill, we got the All Crop Harvester home. Stephen and Poppaw (who is basically a mechanical genius) began tinkering away and before long she was ready for her maiden voyage…well, her maiden voyage after 40 or so years.

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On a bright, Saturday afternoon they revved up our old tractor, hooked the All Crop Harvester up, and made their way to the soy bean field. Within half an hour every old man in our neighborhood was out by the road waiting to watch the old girl in action.

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As I stood there dodging fire ant hills, I wondered whether or not that old machine came equipped with a homing beacon for anyone over 75. If I had known, I would have brought a box of crackers and some drinks to sell – maybe start to recoup some of our initial investment.

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At the end of the day, the All Crop Harvester still knows how to get the job done. It may not be pretty, and it may look a bit complicated – but there is a certain beauty in bringing life back to something forgotten. Well, while we certainly aren’t hip, maybe we’re philosophers after all.

Hair – the other renewable resource

While I have always enjoyed having long hair….one thing that I enjoy more is being useful. That is the great thing about Locks of Love – “a public non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis.” (Locks of Love, 2015)

I like knowing that my hair can be used to the benefit of someone else. It is easy for me to grow my hair out and I sort of view it like a renewable resource – it keeps growing and I can keep giving.

 

The Mighty Skeletor has Fallen

Once upon a time, a mighty post oak stood behind the old White House…big and beautiful, sprawling all over the place. One day, the post oak just got too dang big and had to be cut back. Unfortunately, it did not survive. In its place we were left with….Skeletor.

Skeletor
This is one of the few pictures we have of Skeletor. Generally, I try to edit Skeletor out of photographs since it looks like a giant dead hand sticking out of the ground – hence the name Skeletor.

Our big project this spring is to re-side the 100 year old corn crib (just behind Skeletor there) before it gets too far gone. The plan is to eventually convert it into a greenhouse. I told Stephen that as much as we’ve loved having old Skels in our life these past 5 years….it simply had to go. I didn’t want to risk the tree falling down and taking the corn crib out with it.

A few weeks ago a tree service came out to take Skeletor down and haul it away. We all agreed that this would be a quick job since Skeletor was most likely hollow. Well – we all learned a few things right quick:

  1. Skeletor was not hollow
  2. Skeletor was bigger around than any of our chainsaws could get through
  3. Skeletor was almost too heavy to haul away…even in pieces…even with the tractor

It was sort of a nightmare, but in the end the tree came down, the corn crib was preserved…and now we are left with what I fondly refer to as “Skelestump.” It is better than having a dead-hand tree sticking out of the ground, but it is still a bit unappealing. But, Skelestump is actually useful on occasion….like when you want to have hotdogs or smores.

We pondered several ways to get rid of the stump and finally settled on burning it – as it was the cheapest (free) option. We burned Skelestump for 4 days straight. It was sort of like having our own personal volcano in the backyard. The remains of Skelestump are still pretty impressive…I asked Stephen if he thought we should just give up, surround it with rocks, and turn it in to a fire pit.

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Right now the plan is to just keep burning what is left on dry weekends until it is mostly gone. The nice thing about this method is that it is free, it is sort of fun, doesn’t take too much energy, and gives us an excuse to eat food off of a stick.

So, if your ever in Pleasant Hill and you see smoke…grab a bag of marshmallows and stop on by. Our backyard is kind of like Motel 6 – we’re keeping the light on for ya.

 

Soppin’ up Soup

It is generally well known that I am not fond of cooking. One thing I do like to fix is homemade soup – chicken, potato, sausage, rice….you name it, if it goes in broth I’ll probably attempt it.

Armed with my trusty Hotpoint stove, the only electric stove our house has ever had, I’m fighting tonight’s cold, windy weather with my favorite sausage potato soup.

Begin to brown 1 lb. sausage. In a stock pot, simmer garlic, onions, and a small amount of chicken broth until onions are tender. Add remaining stock and chopped carrots and celery. ** You can substitute celery for Kale**

Allow vegetables and broth to simmer. Wash and slice 3 – 4 potatoes leaving the skin on. I typically use either russet potatoes (they hold up better in soup) or Yukon Gold (I like the texture and flavor the best). Add sliced potatoes and browned sausage to the soup.

Allow soup to simmer until potatoes are tender – then, you are ready to eat!

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This is one of my favorite soups to make – it is hearty, tasty, and it reheats well. I’m not the biggest fan of vegetables, so this is also a healthy and sneaky way for me to eat more of them.

Click the image below for a printable recipe card.

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The New Kids on the Block

This past spring we decided to allow Penfold to hatch out a clutch of chicks. She began her 21 day journey sitting on 6 eggs, all carefully selected from our other hens. We decided against allowing Penfold to hatch one of her own eggs since she is a game breed. Games tend to be pretty aggressive and we did not want to risk her hatching out a “game-boy.”

Penfold and a "game-boy"

In the end we ended up with three successful hatches – Chippy, Sybbie, and Emilius Brown – or “the tiny’s” as I like to refer to them. Each one of the little ones has their own unique personality – they also exhibit personality traits from their biological parents as well.

Emilius, Chippy, & Sybbie

Chippy, who hatched from one of Josephine’s eggs, is bold and gentle. She adventurously hangs out with the big chickens and always counts to make sure her siblings are present before she goes to sleep at night.

Emilius is like a visual clone of Andy. He is small and friendly, and like Andy he prefers to eat out of the top of the feeder (even if that means that he falls inside of it) instead of eating from the bottom like everyone else.

Sybbie is hesitant and sweet, we are pretty certain that she hatched from one of Danger’s eggs. She doesn’t really remind me of any of the other chickens, and in a lot of ways she is just her own self. She is completely enamored with  Penfold and rarely leaves her side.

Since this was our first time hatching out chicks with a broody hen, we pondered quite a bit about whether or not to allow Penfold to raise them in the coop with flock or if we should take them all to the house and reintroduce them later. In the end we decided to leave them where they were. We figured that out of all our hens Penfold had enough brass to take care of business if anyone attempted to bother the little ones. Interestingly, the other hens just seemed to accept the chicks as part of the flock from day one. Charlie and Flannery have given small “Watch yourself” pecks when they get too full of themselves – but otherwise it has been the smoothest flock transition that we’ve ever experienced. 

Penfold and Company

This past week has been excruciatingly hot and Penfold has transitioned the chicks from sleeping in the nesting box to sleeping on the roost with the rest of the gang. While the other hens are not exactly excited about sharing their space, they are tolerant. Chippy has taken to the roost with ease and is even willing to sleep next to the big hens. Emilius and Sybbie are a little less sure of themselves and still like to sleep under Penfold’s wings while on the roost with their heads drooping long and low. Quigley, who has shared a space next to Chippy and Emilius, tends to look at them like they are little boogeymen… “sleep with one eye open” and all that.

The tiny’s are growing up fast and it has been a lot of fun to watch. It has been especially fun to see Penfold mother the little ones around – teaching them how to forage, dust bathe, and chase bugs. I look forward to watching this little wild bunch grow more in the weeks to come.