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Stoffels Family Farm

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Amanda StoffelsSummer is in full swing here in Texas. We've been spending much more time on the farm now that we have the shell of the cabin built. Being on the farm on a consistent basis has made for some experimentation when it comes to cooking with no electricity or running water. There are only so many days that a person can handle cold prep food until you start thinking how to cook a hot meal. I had gotten pretty good at cooking on the campfire until the Texas heat settled into town.

Have you ever wanted a hot meal, but had no kitchen? Cooking on a campfire has always been my solution. But have you ever experienced a Texas summer? Cooking over a campfire is the worst during the triple digit days. So how do we beat the heat here at Stoffels Family Farm yet still have a hot breakfast without a traditional kitchen? We cook on a rocket stove! This stove uses cinder blocks and creates a funnel of heat up to a burner where you can cook food in skillets. The heat is concentrated in one spot so it reduces the amount of heat you feel while cooking. All you need are four cinder blocks and some smaller red bricks.

Rocket Stove

You Tube continues to be a great source for how-to videos, and how to make a rocket stove has been extremely useful! Here are the two videos we watched when trying to create our own rocket stove.

Single Burner Rocket Stove 

Double Burner Rocket Stove 

The main problem with this video is the requirement to have an H-brace cinder block. I took an entire day driving around the metroplex to different locations in search of one. I couldn't ask over the phone because no one even knew what I was talking about. This should have been a warning at this point. Even with showing them the picture, I had employees taking my phone with the picture to their managers asking if they had the cement block. So after a long frustrating empty handed search I decided to look for a different solution to the H block.

Our farm has an area of land that has random red bricks left over from the original farm house that was built back in the '20s or '30s. These bricks come in all shapes and sizes. Some are whole rectangles that look like new while others don’t even look like a shape at all as they have been worn down over time. So I decided to see if I could use these bricks to create the H block that would support the air flow for the small heat source. These bricks worked great for creating the h shape for the rocket stove. It was very helpful that some of the red bricks were small enough to fit as the middle wall.

Red brick h block

Another benefit of the rocket stove is that it takes a lot less wood to create a flame to cook your food. With a hand full of twigs we were in business. The fall back is that twigs burn quickly so we had to add wood often to keep the heat source strong enough to cook the bacon. Our eggs cooked swiftly with only a little extra wood. One other thing that we noticed was that we needed a gap at the corner of each burner so that the air could move and keep the fire going. In the end we had a great breakfast with minimal wood and heat out put. I call this a win-win for sure.

cooking strong

Endless Summer Entertainment

Amanda StoffelsBeing on the farm is one of the highlights in my life. We are so blessed to have the stretch of land where our cows roam at their leisure. While on the farm, my husband and I have a long to-do list that keeps us entertained, but the kids sometimes struggle to keep engaged. Now don't get me wrong, my kiddos have their share of jobs to do around the farm. From unloading and loading small supplies, picking up the barn, and being handy, helping errand runners, my children have plenty to keep them engaged. But there is something different about a job that includes childlike entertainment built into the task. Catching grasshoppers for the chickens is such a task.

Summer Grasshopper 

As the days get longer and the heat increases, so do the endless numbers of summer grasshoppers. Just walking a small jaunt across the cattle corral will send hundreds of green and yellow critters hopping, and, yes, flying about in every direction. A challenge as simple as, "I bet you can't catch a grasshopper," can keep the kids busy for hours. One of the challenges for grasshopper hunting is the container to keep them in. We have used empty water bottles, a cricket holder, and any other bowl or bottle that will keep them somewhat contained. The problem with these containers is that no true volume of grasshopper can be contained. They either don't have air holes or the opening is too big and escape is very easy for the critters.

The other day we discovered the best grasshopper holder ever, and all we had to do was recycle and re-purpose a Parmesan cheese container. The lid has two openings, which are very helpful. The side for shaking is perfect built in air holes and the side for spoon access is a great space to put in or take out grasshoppers with ease.

Built in air holes 

Great access to the grasshoppers 

Catching grasshoppers not only give us entertainment at the farm, but also leads to a great treat for the chickens as well. When we are back at the house, the chickens are let out in the yard for a great grasshopper chase. I don't mean that they chase down the grasshoppers, because my kids hand feed them to the chickens. But as soon as one chicken has a grasshopper there are three more chickens trying to take it away. My kids giggle while watching the chickens do the grasshopper dance. As soon as it has been eaten, here comes another one and the music begins.

Summer Fun

It All Comes Down to the Meat and Potatoes: Part 2

Amanda StoffelsWhile working in the garden this spring I have also been caring for five young broiler chicks. In my last blog post, I discussed growing potatoes. My crop was very small but they made a great side dish to my home grown chicken I cooked in the roasting pan. Ever since reading the article on growing your own broilers in GRIT's Guide to Backyard Chickens, I have been very interested in getting the birds. I did come across some obstacles along the way but overall I call it a success and hope to do it again next year.

My first challenge to overcome was the limited space. I only had a set up to keep four or five birds comfortable in my brooder and grow out pen. When looking to buy broiler chicks, all my sources had a minimum order of 20! Living in the middle of the city I was limited in how many I could order. I wasn't sure how my neighbors would react if my flock grew to such a number. So you can imagine the excitement when I ran across some broiler chicks in the local feed store near our farm. The feed store by our house only carries laying hens, as the idea of raising your own meat is not as popular as one might think in the metropolitan area even if I live in Texas. I was able to purchase five broiler chicks and bring them home with no problem! My only issue was running the heater on high so that the chicks were not too cold on the hour trip home.

broiler chicks

When I got the chicks home, they went into my homemade brooder, which consists of an empty 25-gallon lick tub with a red heater lamp hanging down in it. I kept the chicks in the garage as the temps were dropping into the 40s at night. This set up has served me well with laying hens for at least two to three weeks. But I learned quickly that the broiler chicks grow much faster! By the end of the week I was worried for space. I quickly moved them to an old dog metal kennel where I wrapped chicken wire around the walls to keep them and others from entering or leaving the gaps. The dog kennel has a plastic bottom tray that allows the owner to pull it out and wash it with out having to open the pen. With laying hens this is wonderful! I can put some shavings on the bottom and switch it out every few days. This brings me to my next challenge. They poop a ton!

After the garage smelled very lovely, my husband had asked me to move the chickens to the front porch, which is covered and shielded from the weather elements. So one day as I came home, I happily got out of my car thinking I would go see the sweet beautiful chickens hanging out on the front porch. As I rounded the corner, five beautiful white chickens sat enjoying the spring day, until one decided to make the most awful sound! Ugh, the smell came with it and I think, "These are NOT laying hens." I have learned that Broilers have three main functions, eat, poop, and sleep. I found that I had to switch out the shavings once a day to keep the smell down and keep it sanitary for the birds.

Success was right around the corner though with this project. After only nine weeks, I had five very good-sized birds.

Broiler Hens

Processing the birds was a chore! It took me six hours from start to finish with the five birds. This process was somewhat difficult in an urban backyard as chickens can be very messy. Luckily we have a cleaning station in our backyard that we use to clean fish, chickens, or any other small wild game we might need to address. Hopefully I will get faster with each time. I do think I will look into making a cone set up which will help to control the mess. Also, I need to search for things to do with the feathers. There were a ton of feathers to get rid of and I don't like to just throw them away.

My only major short-coming in this process was not having a plan to preserve the food. Gallon ziplock bags were too small and my vacuum seal machine didn't seem to handle the bulkiness of a whole chicken. I knew I wanted to freeze the birds but they wouldn't last long with air all around them. This lead me to creating my own bag system. I got a small rectangle box and lined it with a trash can. I put the chicken in the bag and proceeded to fill it with water. When the whole chicken was covered in water, I carried the box into the chest freezer where I let the water turn into a large block of ice. I was able to take the trash bag and ice block out of the box and repeat the process for two other birds. No air around the chicken for freezer burn now. I just need to allow for 24 to 48 hours of defrosting in the sink before cooking!

It All Comes Down to the Meat and Potatoes: Part 1

Amanda StoffelsPotatoes have been something I wanted to experiment with growing for quite sometime. As I would find old potatoes in the pantry with eyes growing on them, I would find myself thinking where could I plant them. Timing and space have always been a challenge so I was never able to act on the itch to grow them until this year.

With the expansion of the garden to the back, I took it upon myself to take the summer and fall to make compost from the chicken coop. As the months went on, I realized that I wasn't going to be able to fill the garden box to the top with my own compost by spring, but I wasn't going to haul more dirt to the back until it got a lot warmer. After reading about building a potato box, I felt a half-filled raised bed was the next best thing.

One January day as I was making mashed potatoes, I discovered a jewel at the bottom of the bag! I immediately cut it up into chunks and headed out to the raised bed in the back. The puppies were right behind me trying to figure out what I was up to. I shooed them away and got to planting. I only had four so I felt I could fit them in a corner of the square-foot garden. I headed back in with a sense of pride. 

A day later I came back out like a little school child to check the plant and to my dismay the dogs had dug it up! I searched all around but to no avail. The dog(s) had eaten my potato! The challenge has begun!  

I bought planting potatoes at the local feed store and put them in a dark place so that they were good and ready to plant. On March 1, I was so excited to have a beautiful day so I locked the dogs up and planted all my awesome onions and potatoes. It was a success! A few weeks later I consulted the Farmers Almanac, and begun planting more plants. Things were going great! 

About this same time, I bought some broiler hens so that we could have a great homegrown meal of meat and potatoes. As the birds were growing so were the pine shavings and poop pile. I was very proud of my naive idea to use the shavings with straight chicken poop as mulch for the raised bed in the back yard where my dogs run free. I watered the plants knowing I was fertilizing the plants and helping conserve water while I did it! 

Potato plants popping up

By the next morning, the bird dogs had dug a considerable size hole in the raised bed, killing multiple plants and breaking all of my square-foot garden markers. I guess they thought if they kept digging they would find a chicken hiding in the dirt. Luckily I still had some potato plants growing and I still had time to plant so I took this as another challenge. The potato plants had begun to shoot up beautiful green stalks so I took some plywood and made a temporary wall on the open side of the plants.

adding the plywood

Next I proceeded to put more dirt on top of the plants in hope of encouraging more potato growth. I then asked my husband to expand the electric fence around the raised bed to keep the dogs out. So far the dogs have not hurt any plants, but the electric fence is too close to the bountiful plants and is killing anything that touches it. So we need to make it farther away from the edges of the raised bed. I guess I will just have to make my garden bigger!

Potato box within the raised bed

Things are growing great here in the garden these days, though I have had to trim back plants that are touching the electric fence. I have potatoes, zucchini, and tomatoes growing strong. The first of the blackberries and strawberries have been picked and my zucchini are ready to pick! The harvest is just around the corner! 

Happy Farmer

Walking Through the Ocean Blue

Fields of Blue

Amanda StoffelsOur farm is just outside the Bluebonnet Capital of Texas, near Ennis, and every spring for the past seven years we have been honored with the wonderful state flower blooming across our fields. I love spring and the blooming of the blue bonnets has become the symbol of my spring. So far every year we have had an increase in these flowers and my interest in the origins of the flower and how to cultivate them better has increased.  

Blue Bonnets on Earth Day

I have learned many fun facts about bluebonnets in my investigation. Did you know there are at least four species of bluebonnet that grow in Texas? The bluebonnet got its name from its resemblance of a sun bonnet, but has had many different names over the years. Some of my favorites are buffalo clover and wolf flower. Indian lore called the flower a gift from the Great Spirit!

Sea of Blue

I would agree that this flower is a great gift to our farm. They attract native bees for pollinating, not to mention the help they offer to the beehive we just added at our farm. Butterflies are also a big fan of the native bluebonnets, and the flower’s fragrance is such a sweet smell while walking through the fields. The biggest plus for me is the beautiful fields of ocean blue waving in the wind. It is a must that I capture the beauty of these flowers with the innocence of my children.

Running in the flowers

Bluebonnets are very easy to grow in Texas. They are drought resistant and actually like dry soil, which explains why these flowers are spreading across our acres in blue waves. We even have some color varieties that are naturally occurring in patches. One of these colors is pink! Pink bonnets actually have a legend about them that Texas A&M Horticulture site explains. (Check it out here.)

Pink Bonnets

Here are a few resources I checked out while investigating the Texas bluebonnet, maybe you can use them to explore your own native flowers.

Wild Flowers

Springing to Life

Amanda StoffelsSpring is here in Texas! I am so excited that flowers are blooming, warmer weather is here, and time in the garden each day is a must! Just yesterday I got to enjoy a salad with lettuce from my own garden! Planting has started in our raised beds and I even have more garden space than plants, which is a first!



Spring on the farm is one of my favorite times of the year. I love to see the farm wake up from its winter slumber. The grasses are greener, cows are happier, and all the wild flowers are in bloom!

Happy Spring Cows

 Curious Cows

Papa Bull Jr

We even found some wild blackberry vines for future berry-picking fun!


During the long winter months I tend to get the itch to create long project lists that are now getting to come to fruition. Here is a snap shot of our spring projects.

My first spring project is my potato plants. I have been wanting to grow potatoes in a potato box but decided to use the concept of the box within the structure of my already built garden beds. Things have grown nicely so far as all the spuds have sent up green leaves and are growing well.

Potato Garden

Another exciting project is that three beehives are on their way to Stoffels Family Farm. Beekeeping has been in my husband’s family for two generations now, and we hope to pass on the love for bees to our children through the adventures of beekeeping. I can’t wait to share the details with you. Some of the best resources we have used to get ready for bees have been You Tube videos so we have been studying away in front of the computer.

bee keeping

I have also been curious about growing my own meat birds especially after reading the article "Raising Chickens for Meat" by Gwen Roland in GRIT's Guide to Backyard Chickens. So this March, I was able to purchase five straight run Cornish broilers from the local feed store to raise. I am amazed at how fast they grow. And can I say they LOVE to eat! These birds put away feed like nothing else. These birds are a test run to see if I can maneuver a plan to grow meat birds on a larger scale on our farm.

meat birds

Overall spring means great weather, outside fun, and nature springing to life all around us. I love being in the blue bonnet capital of Texas.

Pink Bluebonnetts

Blue Bonnetts

Pass Me a Cup of Tea Please

Amanda StoffelsI have always enjoyed a hot cup of tea on a cold winter night, but I have never been good about composting or reusing the tea bags. While randomly looking through Pinterest the other day I came across a great idea on reusing old tea bags to grow seedlings. I got the idea from this kids' magazine, KCC.  


Tea Bag Idea  Tea Bag Tray

After reading the information page, I was very excited. I didn't have any tea bags right then but I sure know how to make some. Out came the tea bags to make iced tea. I haven't always been good about keeping iced tea around so my husband isn't complaining about this new project that gets him fresh iced tea on a consistent basis.  

Once I had the tea bags, I needed a tray to put them in that would hold some water so that the tea bags and seeds would stay moist. I found an old ice chest lid outside that had been saved for such a day as this. I put a thick layer of paper towels down and poured water on it so that they were pretty wet.  

I then laid the tea bags out in rows. I didn't have 21 tea bags as the website called for so I just used all that I had. Most of them are typical black tea while a few are green tea levels or herbal teas.

Tea Bags  Planting in a tea bag

We then cut slits in each bag and placed the seed in the tea bag.  

I used last year seeds thinking that if this didn't work I wasn't out any good seeds while also thinking if it did work with old seeds how much better could it work with fresh seeds. 

Four days later we have some starting to poke out. I do not have a seedling light source inside so I will need to transplant these little ones as soon as they hit 2 centimeters tall.  

Tea Bag Sprout

The information page stated that the tea bags will rot away, not hindering the roots of the new plant, and the tea leaves are direct fertilizer for the baby plant as well!  

I liked doing this project for multiple reasons. 

– I don't have the set-up to plant seedlings in my home, and I don't have the space for seedling trays. All of our windows are on the north or south sides of the house so there are no windows that get direct sunlight for any length of time.

– I like the idea of starting a seed inside where you have a little more control of the environment and may get a 5 to 10 day start on the planting time, especially with the crazy weather we are having in Texas this winter. (Check it out in my last post, Texas Ups and Downs.)

– It's also a wonderful way to get your kids involved in planting and excited about growing their own food! My kids have earned the Plant Police badge as I hear an update on how many millimeters the seedling grew every time they pass the plants.

I have had difficulties when using the tea bags, though.

– The plants sprouts are very fragile at this stage of only a few days old so I accidentally broke a few while planting.

– I rinsed the tea bags in cold water after making tea. The temperature of the tea bags was very cold, which seemed to prolong if not prevent the germination of the zucchini seeds.

– My lettuce seedlings look exactly like the day I planted them, so I'm not sure if they will make.

Overall, I will do this throughout the spring to see what plant seeds do the best with this method. If I only get two plants, I will call it a success.