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Unpaved Roads

If You Give A Girl Some Dirt

 If you give a girl some dirt...
new garden bed
...chances are, she'll get her hands dirty planting seeds.
gardening hand
When she plants the seeds, they'll probably grow into something like this.
tomato blossom
When she sees how beautiful they are, she'll tend them until they turn into something like this.
green tomatoes
And with a little care and a lot of patience, they'll eventually grow into something like this.
ripe tomatoes on the vine
When she finds out how delicious they are, more flavorful than any she bought at the grocer's, she'll want to grow more of her own food. So, she'll start more seeds...
...and they'll grow...
...and grow...
yellow squash plant
...and grow.
Kentucky wonder pole beans
And chances are, when she finds out how much she enjoys growing her own food and how good it is for her...
future corn field
...she'll want a lot more dirt.

Our Future Farmers

"Daddy, can we get sheep?"
My crochet hook slowed for a moment. This should be interesting...
"No, son, I'm sorry but we're not getting sheep."
"Why not?"
"We don't have enough land for them. Sheep need lots of grass."
"But we've got grass. Isn't it enough for one sheep?"
"One sheep would get lonely."
"How about two? Can't we have just two?"

It was a quiet Sunday afternoon. I was curled up in my corner of the couch near the woodstove, working on yet another doily, while Eric sat in the recliner across the room, peeling garlic. What didn't get planted or put in the freezer was finally being dehydrated in the oven and ground into garlic powder. He had put the documentary "Farmaggedon" on to listen to as he worked, and our son had walked in the room as a woman was sharing the sad story of her sheep being confiscated and destroyed by the powers that be. Ben watched for a minute, trying to process in his young mind why the nice lady didn't get to keep her sheep, and then asked his father if we could get some to raise ourselves.

There's been a change in my son the past several months, and it's not a subtle one. Maybe it's because when he asked why Daddy was leaving for work instead of simply going outside like he had been, I told him honestly that it was because we just weren't making enough money from our little farm. Maybe it's because he has finally grown past the "I'm the center of the universe" childishness and into the realization that there is a bigger world around him, one that operates on rules and work and cause and effect. A place where "I want that..." is no longer meeting instant gratification, but is now bumping up against the reality of "...then you must do this to get what you want." Or perhaps we have simply reached that critical time when I as the parent am now realizing that all three of our younger children are no longer calling out "Me too! Me too! I want to help!" in a toddler-esque desire of clinging to Mommy and Daddy, but because they genuinely want to be involved in what we do. For all the time and patient effort that Eric and I have given to discussing with all of them what we believe it means to be a family that works together, it's a powerful feeling to realize that our earnest words have taken root in the soil of our children's hearts. The day I heard our seven-year-old Benjamin say, "I want to do dirty work, too..." was the day I heard the voice of the man our son will become. And the day I saw all five children choose to help Daddy in the garden is the day I saw the future of our little family farm.

pitching in together

Someday, someone I've not yet met will say, "My grandparents started this farm with three acres and a dream and I'm proud to be following in their footsteps..." and they'll be talking about me and Eric.

"I'm sorry, son, but we're just not getting any sheep. But maybe, if your mom agrees, we'll get some turkeys this year. Does that sound okay?"
"Turkeys?" Ben pondered this for a moment. "Well.....okay. We can have turkeys."
"Thanks, Ben, I'm glad you approve."
"Can I watch the rest of the movie with you, Daddy?"
"Sure, son."
Ben climbed into the recliner with his father, anxious to watch more of the movie about farmers.

Making Garlic Powder

Dehydrating food is something I've determined to do this year, so when my husband suggested we try making our own garlic powder with some of our excess garlic, I was all for it.     

First, you'll want to break apart your bulbs and peel the skins from the individual cloves. 
peeled garlic cloves

Next, slice the cloves thinly and uniformly, cutting out any bad spots you come across.  Perfection is not needed here but keep in mind that thicker pieces will increase drying time.

garlic slices on baking sheet

Spread your sliced garlic in an even layer on a baking sheet and place in an oven preheated to 170 degrees Fahrenheit.  Ninety minutes has been our typical drying time but it may vary for you.  

dried garlic

To check for doneness, try bending one of your garlic pieces.  If it's flexible, there's still too much moisture in it and you'll want to put it back in the oven.  If it snaps cleanly in half, it's ready.  

 snapping dried garlic  

I hope to have a mortar and pestle someday, but for now my blender will suffice.  As you can see, most of the garlic has a fine, powdered consistency but there are still some small pieces left.  You can sift these out and try to crush them further, if you prefer.  My family are garlic lovers and don't mind the extra bits in my cooking, so I didn't bother.

grinding garlic in blender 

Making garlic powder is so easy, and now I have the satisfaction of knowing there is one less thing I'll have to buy from the store.  I love it!

homemade garlic powder 

Wendy is author of the blog and Facebook page Unpaved Roads. She, her husband and children live on a Southern homestead. Find her on .

You Know You're A Farmer's Wife When...

Wendy Slatt head shotWhether it's three or three hundred acres, I think we can all agree that being a farmer is a combination of heart, determination and ingenuity.  But what does it take to be a farmer's wife?  As a former urban-dweller, I pondered this a lot when we first moved to the country.  After several years' experience, I think I've found some answers.  How do you know you're a farmer's wife?

You know you're a farmer's wife when:

. . . you can spot a ripe tomato in the garden from 300 yards away.

. . . between May and September, every page of your prayer journal mentions rain at least three times.

. . . your husband says, “I’ll pick up dinner on the way home tonight,” and heads out with his shotgun.

. . . you don’t cry over spilled milk, you just grab a bucket and head out to the barn.

. . . your answering machine says, “Sorry we can’t come to the phone right now. We're canning.”

. . . dinner is late because the axe just wasn't sharp enough.

. . . your favorite shoes have steel toes.

. . . you want to hire a babysitter for the kids so you can spend 3-4 hours helping your husband sink fence posts.

. . . you tell him you’re fixing chicken for dinner and he says, “Which one?”

. . . you go outside to shoo the chickens out of the radish bed, stop by the zucchini to check for squash bugs, go say good morning to the piggies, check the feed levels, go in the barn to see how your broody hens are, check on the broilers, watch the ducks fly to the wallow for a morning dip, and make it all the way back to the house before realizing that you're still in your nightgown.

Wendy is author of the blog and Facebook page Unpaved Roads. She, her husband and children live on a Southern homestead. Find her on .

Bee Starvation - Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Wendy Slatt head shotWe learned a hard lesson on the farm here last week, one I feel is worth sharing in the hopes that others might learn from it.  We lost our entire colony of bees due to starvation.

This year in South Carolina, we've had a very mild winter.  I'm hard-pressed to even call it winter, it's been so warm.  Several times, I've spent the day with the windows thrown wide open, and I know there was at least one time in January that the children and I were running around in shorts.  No matter how long I live here, I'll never get used to it.  In my mind, winter is supposed to be all about bundling up, scarves and mittens, sitting near the fire with a hot cuppa in your hands, and getting your outside chores done as quick as you can to get back inside.  But here we are building greenhouses, tilling gardens, repairing fences, starting seeds and being excited about the progress of our garlic bed.
 Garlic bed
But the blessing of warmer temperatures had a consequence we didn't anticipate.  Just a day or two before, we were both sure we'd seen bees coming in and out as usual, but on Thursday morning there was no activity to be seen and no buzzing to be heard.  We opened it up and found all the bees dead.
 Inside bee box
I'll confess that our first reaction was to immediately suspect a spray of some kind.  After the experience last year of having the local power company drive through our area unannounced spraying herbicide and killing not only the wild blackberries around our mailbox but every other piece of vegetation in sight, I don't think you can blame us.  But after a little research and a conversation online with a master beekeeper, the truth became clear.  With a milder winter, and the start of the spring brood, the bees expended a lot of energy looking for pollen that couldn't be found, which caused them to eat through their stores a lot faster than we anticipated.  Our strong, thriving colony had starved.

We're putting our beekeeping endeavors on hold for now.  Replacing the bees is not in our budget and most apiaries are sold out.  Perhaps next year we'll be in a position to give it another go, but for now we hope that others will benefit from our lesson.  If you keep bees and your temperatures are mild, don't assume that everything's fine.  Check with experienced beekeepers in your area, and don't be afraid to give your bees a little help by feeding them.  Hopefully, it'll only be a few more weeks before spring truly arrives and you can sit back and enjoy watching your bees do what bees do best.  
 Bees enjoying Anise Hysop flowers

Finding the Right Path

Wendy Slatt head shotMy name is Wendy Slatt and the first thing you should know about me is this: Being a farmer's wife is not how I expected to live my life.  Of the long list of dreams and aspirations I had in my younger days, "farmer's wife" didn't even make the cut. And that's pretty telling, considering the list had a rather wide range of professions to choose from, like lawyer, symphony conductor, voice actor, optometrist and aerobics instructor just to name a few. How on earth did I end up being a farmer's wife and loving it?

Well, to start with, I was born the youngest child of a highly improbable pairing between an Italian from Brooklyn and a Tennessee hillbilly. (My mother was loud and proud to proclaim herself a hillbilly, and I sure was never one to argue the point. If you'd known her, you wouldn't either.) They met in Virginia, moved to Kansas City, and raised a family in working-class suburbia. Every summer, my father took two weeks' vacation to drive us to visit either his family in New York or my mother's family in Tennessee.  The result was my exposure to the widest contrast of lifestyles I could imagine in my formative years, between the unceasing sights and sounds of a concrete environment that never stopped moving and the near-total silence of a country home that didn't even have running water. (We took a "real" vacation one year and went to Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park. Between Dad complaining about the high cost of everything and me coming down with a stomach virus in the middle of a two-hour mountain stretch with no rest stops, no one was keen on trying that again.)

In New York, we went to the Museum of Natural History. In Tennessee, we listened to Grandpa tell family history. In New York, we climbed to the crown of Lady Liberty. In Tennessee, we hiked the side of the mountain to pick blackberries. In New York, we rode the Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone at Coney Island. In Tennessee, we jumped off Potter's Falls into the pond below. In New York, we ate knishes and hot dogs and pizza from Nathan's. In Tennessee, we ate chicken, corn and cucumbers straight from Grandpa's land. In New York, riding the subway at night was scary. In Tennessee, walking to the outhouse at night was scary. I could go on and on, but you get the picture. The contrasts were as endless as they were astounding to my young eyes. Given a choice between the two, I saw the logic of my parents' decision to eschew both worlds and raise their family in the middle-ground normalcy of the suburbs, but in my naiveté I really thought the city was where I wanted to be.

Adulthood found me doing the slow but steady crawl up the corporate ladder in the paper world of banking (another profession definitely not on my list of childhood dream-jobs). The only things I loved about my job were the pride in my accuracy, the sporty little stick-shift I drove, and the wardrobe I could afford to charge on my credit cards. I thought myself a typical American woman living a typical American life. I spent my days working, my evenings caring for home and children, and saw my husband in passing.

That could have been the end of the story right there, but obviously it wasn't. Ultimately, my marriage ended, I left behind my native Kansas home, and found a new life and new love in South Carolina.  When Eric and I married, it was our shared dream to someday move to the country and become farmers. (I know the popular vernacular these days is "homesteading" but in my mind I still think of it as a farm, just like my Grandpa's in Tennessee.) Eric had grown up in the beautiful Pennsylvania Dutch country, surrounded by Amish farmers. The sights, the sounds, the smells...all of it had gotten into his blood and made it his heart's dream to someday be a man of the land. And me? life had long since lost its luster. I had no more tolerance for corporate politics, pencil skirts and three-inch heels were no longer a look I cared to style, and I found myself wondering what kind of future my children would have to look forward to in a culture that seemed bent on giving up growing or making its own necessities. I wanted my children to grow up understanding that there are some joys in life you can't get through an electronic the joy I'd found picking blackberries on the side of a Tennessee mountain in summer. On April 15, 2009, we bought our home in the country and saw the beginning of our dreams come true. It tickles my irony-loving funnybone that I ended up living on a Southern plantation married to a dyed-in-the-wool Yankee. Considering my parentage and upbringing, I think it's very fitting.

new home 

I'm still getting used to being a farmer's wife and I often joke about the reaction my "inner city-girl" has to it all. It's dirty and gritty and sweaty and hard. We have our frustrations and disappointments, our lessons learned and mistakes made. But mostly, we have and thankfulness that, as crazy as this life may seem to some, it's a life we love. I wouldn't trade it for anything.