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Stoffels Family Farm


Texas Ups and Downs

Amanda StoffelsWeather in Texas has a reputation of changing very rapidly but this year it seems to have been extreme even for Texas. I think that I have felt the weather changes more severely due to the major desire for spring planting. This will be my third spring to garden. With this being said, I have gotten the worse case of spring fever I can ever remember.  As soon as I have planned out a project on the farm or in the back yard, weather has reared its ugly head and put a hold on it. 

Project #1:  Cabin

As written about in "X Marks the Spot," we have been gathering supplies for our cabin made out of as much recycled material we can get our hands on. We have been successful in gathering a few trailer loads of lumber. Since the groundhog saw his shadow and we got six more weeks of cold winter weather, we are still waiting on the ground to thaw. This leads us to our first building project on the farm. Can you guess what we are building?

farm project

An outhouse is a true essential to the comfort of a future cabin with no running water on the farm. We hope to finish this up this next weekend.  

Project #2: Plant Cold Weather Plants

Last year I planted my leafy plants like lettuce and broccoli too late and only had a small window of harvest. This year I wanted to make sure that I planted in plenty of time for great kale, lettuce and broccoli in the garden. So I planted two of everything – romaine lettuce, kale, swish chard, and red lettuce – on March 1. I was so excited. I knew that a cold front was scheduled to come in late on Sunday so I planned to cover my plants that afternoon. The next morning was cloudy as we headed off to church and to my dismay the freezing temps and sleet hit before I could get home.The plants looked dead by Monday on our day off from school due to the icy roads. When I told a friend, who is a master gardener, what I had done, she said in shock, "Why on earth would you plant so early with the weather we are having?" "Because I just HAD to be outside in the dirt," I thought. But I am happy to say that I accidentally planted the lettuce a little too deep and so it will prevail through the sleet and freezing rain!!

Project #3: Haul dirt 

I have been working on creating more raised beds in the back yard but I haven’t mastered the ability to make high volume of compost so I needed to buy a trailer full of composted manure. Most of my friends here in the metroplex would ask, "Why are you SO excited about moving dirt?" Yet this is exactly how I feel, EXCITED. More dirt means more garden space which means more plants, different foods to try, and awesome times in the garden.

dirt for planting

It seems that I have encouraged my daughter down the same path as well. She found a way to haul her own dirt to the backyard to have her OWN container garden where she can plant whatever she likes. 

future gardener

My Two-Legged Garden Challenge

Amanda StoffelsOwning chickens is something I love about being an urban farmer. Gardening with chickens is not always easy. I kept reading chickens are great natural bug control for your garden, which is true but they never tell you that chickens eat the plants too!

Every afternoon, after I got off work, I would let the chickens out. This was a routine that the chickens were very used to. When I decided to expand my garden to the back yard last year, I thought the chickens would be awesome for the garden. What I didn't know was that they would eat all of my seedlings as well as the bugs! My first attempt to keep the chickens out of the garden was to lower the electric fence (used for the dogs) so the chickens would stay out. HA! Chickens are Houdinies! They ducked under or jumped over to get into the soft dirt to scratch. Back to the drawing board.

In the mean time, I have begun to plant new plants in my back garden, including beans. I should have drawn the conclusion from all the Pinterest pins titled, "Grow bean sprouts for your chickens!" BUT I honestly can say that I was shocked when the chickens stretched their necks just right to reach the freshly grown bean sprouts without a problem.

My next line of defense was my children. Since the moment we got our chickens I have been trying to teach my kids NOT to chase the chickens. So when I told them they could chase them out of the garden, they were excited. I even stated that they could hold a chicken if they could catch it, but a 10-minute attention span is no obstacle to a chicken. Chickens are persistent animals.

I then decided that I would wait until the plants were past the seedling stage and then let the chickens out to roam. With my daughter on guard, we let them loose to roam while I was working in the raised gardens around the house. Again the chickens won out and almost killed my watermelon plant. I know that they love the melon rind but I would have never thought they liked the leaves. Again one more battle won by the chickens.

I love my chickens and I love to garden so I have taken on this challenge to research ways to garden with chickens. One of my first resources is the book by Jessi Bloom, Free-Range Chicken Gardens.  I am half way through the book and can’t put it down. I love how I read it and ideas just keep popping up on how to plan out my back yard.

Gardening with Chickens 

Pinterest is another source of great ideas for chicken strategies.  I am happy to say that my chicken pins are growing daily.

Chicken page 

So far I have resorted to putting chicken wire around the onions and potatoes in the back garden box. It is not that pretty but functional. I will have to find other strategies soon as it is warming up here in Texas.  Spring is finally here.

Spring is Here 

Haying the Cows

Winter Landscape of Stoffels Family Farm

Amanda StoffelsI feel like I am one more skill closer to being an official farmer this month. I am proud to say that I was able to hay the cows with limited help from my husband! I know that putting hay out is a necessity, but I've never had the full amount of respect for this chore until now. I have always been the trusty assistant who helps pull the bailing twine off the hay bales up by the barn and even roll the hay rings over to the new bale, but the actual tractor driving has always been left up to my husband.  

Don't get me wrong, I have mowed a number of acres myself, but driving in long straight rows to then gradually turn around all in one section of a flat field is nothing compared to all the skill it takes to put out the hay. So when my husband pointed to the tractor and said, "You're putting out the hay today." Joy, excitement and panic all set in at the same time.  

Now our trusty tractor, "Old Yeller," has been a great addition to the farm. This 1972 Ford Tractor, minus its muffler and padded seat, and with its fading yellow paint, is still going strong. You can imagine the thought process going through my head as my husband explains to me, a driver of an automatic SUV, how to drive a manual tractor. Shifting, clutch, brake, gears, and driving in slow or fast gear were all phrases that broadened my tractor driving knowledge.  

Driving the tractor solo 

First job, back the tractor out of the barn. I don't think I could have gone any slower and have still been considered moving. Needless to say, it was a success, which lead me on to getting the first bale of hay! Again success and so I went through the gate, down past the barn, past the front pond, and then up Hay Bale Hill where we typically put out the hay. I was overjoyed with the sense of accomplishment as I put the first hay bale on the ground and my husband signaled for me to repeat the process again.

 A view of Hay Bale Hill

View of Hay Bale Hill

Four rings means four bales of hay. "Awesome! I can do this with no problem," I think, as I replay all the steps to switching into reverse in order to get the next bale. As the cows saw the hay being brought out, they were right there enjoying the first taste of yummy fresh hay.

Papa Bull enjoying hayCainan The Cow Enjoying Winter Lunch

The calves made me laugh as they seemed to jump and kick saying, "Watch out it's the crazy lady on the tractor!" as I drove past each time.  

Who is driving the tractor

As I am laying the last of the four hay bales out I am feeling very proud and thinking that was easy enough. Then my husband signals for me to stop and informs me I have three more bales to put out.  

"What?! Where?" I exclaim.

"Oh just down there, I'll show you." he exclaims

So I begin to drive back to the barn to get more hay. As I return to Hay Bale Hill, expecting to see him standing there, I scan the horizon to see him way down the bumpy pasture next to Crocodile Pond. My anxiety soars as I remember the other two hay rings we have sitting next to Crocodile Pond. This is where the mud tried to eat my boot last weekend while taking the bailing twine off the hay. So I begin to creep down the terrain and across the pasture to the next site. Success! I did it! And off again to repeat the job. But wait, he said three more bales and so I again try to remember where we might be putting the additional hay. 

When I asked him again he says with a grin, "Oh I'll show you. Just past Hippopotamus Pond."  

"But there's mud and it's steep and I can't!!!" I exclaim in a panic. But again he reassures me that I know what I am doing before I head back out to get the last bale.  

And so I begin the journey of taking the last bale of hay to the back pasture, I like to call Mesquite Land. Complete!! The last hay bale has been put out for our herd. I had driven the tractor like a real farmer!  

I have been able to do this successfully twice now. My respect for this chore has greatly increased due to the level of skill it takes to maneuver a tractor across the uneven pastures of north Texas. I am honored that I get to take part in this well known chore of haying the cows. May I never get tired of this privilege.

Sunset on Hay Bale Hill

X Marks The Spot

Having a place to stay on the farm has been a dream of mine since we bought the place seven years ago. So I type this post with great excitement. I have taken a lot of time over the last seven years researching ways to get a cabin on the farm without breaking our pocketbook. We have looked at the manufactured buildings, pop-up campers, mobile homes, and the list goes on. But in the end, my husband and I think it would be grand to be able to say that we built our own cabin for the farm. Now my husband and I have no formal training what so ever in building anything. Our first attempt to build a shelter was the chicken coop. It is a functional building, you might say, so we hold some pride in the coop. After this, my daughter saw our great building skills and began to ask for her daddy to build her a tree house. This too was a stretch in our knowledge but also in our pocketbook! We learned that lumber is EXPENSIVE and play set accessories such as slides and swings add up pretty quickly.  

First steps to building the tree house

So we needed to find another source for the building supplies. The tree house project showed us the power of recycled materials. As we were building our daughter's dream tree house, my husband looked up used play sets on Craigslist. I was greatly surprised at all the posts containing requests for people to come tear down their old sets for free or very small sums of money. A quarter of the wood that we made use of was from the recycled play set. Not to mention all the equipment like swings, slide, and monkey bars that was brought into play while assembling the tree house. As we were wrapping up the tree house project, I mentioned again how great it would be to have a cabin on the farm. My husband was quick to agree and said, we should really look into how we might use recycled material.  

And so the challenge has begun.     

Step one: Where? 

This month we marked the spot of our future cabin on Stoffels Family Farm. Our goal is to have small living quarters where we can get out of the elements when needed.  We don't want anything to big and we need it to convert to a barn once again if the need ever arises. 

Future Building Site  

Step two: Plans? 

I have found multiple sites that sell cabin plans, but I also stumbled across some that were free. Here are two sites that I found helpful and even printed off a set of plans from the sites. 

Possible plan resources:

Step three: Supplies?

I am a huge fan of reusing, upcycling, recycling, and things of this nature. So when my husband suggested we post on Craigslist and Yahoo Group Freecycle I was thrilled. We typed up a simple ad that stated we were looking for used or unwanted building supplies and were willing to come and haul the supplies away. So far we have gotten a full trailer load of supplies. We have done the back-breaking work of hauling off the unwanted materials for the individuals and we get to keep it! A win-win situation if you ask me.

First Trailer of building materials

Next step: Breaking ground – when it's not frozen.

A Good Name is Better to be Chosen Than Riches

Amanda StoffelsChickens have become an addiction for me since becoming a farmer. Naming the chickens is a very big event with our family. As King Solomon once said, "A good name is better to be chosen than riches." And so this is the story of my first successful attempt to add chickens to my first flock of three.  

Now my original three chickens were happy hens, but I truly felt that they needed a bigger family. Plus 1 to 2 eggs a day for a family of five are just not enough, so I went in search of how to add new chickens to my flock of three. Reading online I learned a few tips like, keep them separate for a while to make sure they are not sick, give them hiding spots when first introducing them, and even put them there after dark so the other hens will wake up and think, "oh I must have missed you yesterday. Come along, come along." But the most important tip was if a chicken stays overnight in one location for 48 hours it will return there to roost again and again. After reading up on all the tips, I went looking for hens to buy as I did not want to wait the six to eight months it takes for more eggs. I found four Easter eager pullets that were a few weeks away from laying. It was perfect timing as it was close to Easter weekend. So I bought them as Easter gifts for the kids.

Easter Chickens

Knowing to keep them separate from my original flock for a while, I put them in a large dog crate on the side of the house until Easter Sunday. It was a challenge to keep them fed and watered without the kids finding them. My foster son told me, "Man, our chickens have gotten really loud lately." I just nodded my head and kept going. Soon it was time to show the kids their Easter chickens! The kids were excited to have a chicken to call their own.

The first event was naming the chickens. I said proudly, "You can name your chicken what ever you like." Now as a mom, I should have known this was a dangerous declaration and should have added the mom clause, as long as I deem the name worthy of my flock. Due to this misfortune, the kids began listing names.

The chosen ones:

– Squirmy, because the chicken wouldn't stop moving. 

– Frank, because the chicken looked like a rooster.  

– Siley, because she made it up.  

– Dora, because she liked the cartoon. 

Oddly enough I was OK with the first three as they were original names that had meaning behind the name, mostly. But Dora was not original enough and I didn't like naming it after a cartoon character. But my husband reminded me that I had given them the ability to name them on their own accord.  

So later that afternoon on Easter Sunday, I asked my husband to help me clip their wings. (We have to do this or they will fly out of their coop and be lunch for the dogs. We learned by experience.) He began the process before I could get over to help him and he started playing "baseball" with chickens. These chickens were wild and all he could do was swat them to the ground to keep them from flying off. As soon as he picked up one, another would fly out as he opened the crate. Before long, two of the identical gray chickens took off flying across my neighbors' yard. One landed behind us in the creek bottom and the other right on top of the neighbor's shed. I was mortified. Here were my sweet retired neighbors sitting with family out on the back porch relaxing on Easter weekend and my crazy chickens come flying into their yard!

 I look over the fence and say, "Well, we got chickens." 

He grins, "I can see." 

He proceeds to help me get the one that flew from his shed into his pool! The chicken was nice and clean for her feather cutting. But the one that flew into the creek bottom was gone. I looked at my husband and say, "The one that flew away was Dora."

We proceed to go about our business and at dusk put the three pullets in the coop as directed by the chicken websites. I get all the kids in bed as a thunderstorm rolls in and put my feet up after a long hard day.

"SWAUK!! SWAUK!!!" She didn't come back did she?!!? Both my husband and I looked at each other in shock then run outside.  

Sure enough, my Dora, had returned and one of the bird dogs had it cornered. The chicken was able to run away with our diversion, but I couldn't leave her in the back yard until morning. She would become a snack by then! So off to get a flashlight. I head out in the rain to look for her as my husband stood under the covered porch and held the flashlight. I began to fuss at him to get his flip flops and help me. Next thing I know, I hear, "Hunt that bird, go hunt that bird!" and my sweet bird dog pointed the scared chicken. I was able to get her and bring her up to the porch. Besides being scared, she was in good shape so we clipped her wings and I put her in the coop. As I am walking back towards the house soaking wet from the torrential rain, my dry very comfortable husband says with a grin, "I guess Dora has earned her name. Dora went explorin'!"  I guess the name will work very well after all. 

Dora out exploring

Easy as 1234

Amanda StoffelsAfter reading the article "Planting Square by Square" in GRIT's November/December issue, I am motivated to plot my new 4x4 garden box so I will be ready for spring! The article did a great job of laying out the different sized plants so that I could see the ex-large plants all the way down to small plants. It truly is easy as 1,2,3,4! The typical garden plants seem to be a great start for me but I think I will pass on the beets. 

Having a visual map of the garden each year is very helpful to see what works and what needs to be rethought. So far grape tomatoes and cantaloupe, Success! Blueberries, cabbage and okra are a replant for sure. With cabbage I learned that I need to plant one in a square and another one over a few squares so that the aphids and cabbage moths won't find them all at once. This knowledge would have saved me some money when I bought nine cabbage plants last spring only for all of them to be pest cuisine over the whole month of April. Lettuce and broccoli were a success in the early spring last year though I would have loved to plant them earlier and gotten the harvest longer. I'm excited about planting green beans this spring. Hopefully I will keep the chickens from eating all my seedlings. I also want to grow carrots and potatoes.

With this article came a lot of questions, first why mark the squares with wood? Wood seems a little expensive. What do you do when needing to clean it out, rake leaves, add compost? Would you ever need to take it off the garden box? I think fishing line or burlap twine would work as well and be less expensive. I found some leather-like string I had left over from a craft project that I used. I can take it off and reuse it again if I need to. 

My First Square Foot Garden

I also have to consider the shade factor as we have fences and trees that affect our backyard and side yard gardens on our suburban plot. The 6x8 garden box on the side of the house really only grows 3x6 due to the shade factor. Square by square gardening can aid in plotting the shade, showing what time of day the sun gets to that square and when the shade invades. I now will be able to plot which plants need the most sun (outside squares) to the least amount of sun (inside closer to the house). My new 4x4 back garden will have the most sun so this is where I will plant the tomatoes for sure.  I might even put a trellis outback to maximize my growing space for the cantaloupes. 

I'm so excited to see my garden like a blank canvas ready to be created! We had a beautiful day here and I couldn’t keep myself out of the garden so I planted some onions today.  I better go read up on how to grow onions.

Red Onions I planted today

Next I hope to build a potato box to grow my seed potatoes I bought today. Spring feels like its just around the corner. 

My next garden project How to Build a Potato Box

WARNING

Amanda StoffelsRaising chickens has been addicting. There should be a warning out there letting people know the risk of walking by baby chicks. It should be something like: "Warning! Chickens sold here. People may become extremely attached, hours will be spent watching them roam, and the need to buy them treats will arise. "

Henrietta Our Original Hen

It all started for me when I went to the feed store to pick up some dog food. It was spring time, and they had baby chicks! I went home and began to convince my husband we needed chickens. By time I was able to convince him, build a coop, and head back to the feed store they were down to four pullets. I was SO excited! The obsession had begun.

 Our Original Pullets first night in the coop

I began to ask family and friends what to name them. Can you believe that people suggested names like Nugget, Fried Chicken, and Finger Licken' Good!? Within a day we lost one to a hole in the fence. I was very upset and quickly made more repairs to make the coop just right. I asked if we could buy more as three just seemed like an odd number, but my husband insisted we stick with the originals until we get an egg at least. He has been my good sense through all of this. 

I found myself locking the dogs up every evening so that the chickens could forage in the backyard. The kids and I began to watch the chickens roam as the sun went down. Right as the sun set the chickens lined up and walked into the coop like Mother Nature had called for bedtime. The kids giggled and laugh at the silly chickens headed off to bed. We were hooked!

Our First Egg from our HensWe waited, waited, and waited FOREVER for the first egg. It wasn't until December that the first egg was laid. I remember running into the house like a little school kid holding the first egg. I took pictures, posted it on Facebook, and called my mom as fast as possible. We scrambled the egg and each took one bite of the world’s best egg EVER! Soon after we were getting one to two eggs a day. At this point I didn't realize I was addicted to chickens, but the signs were all there.

Watching our three chickens in the back was wonderful. It was always fun to watch them but it just wasn't quite right. As I watched them roam, I realized the problem. I needed more chickens! Now my husband wasn't exactly in agreement with my conclusion, but I was convinced. So when he came home with the name of a guy who had a few Easter egg pullets, I was thrilled! I went over to his place to buy two, and I ended up with four! They were only a few weeks from laying, and so we quickly were having four to five eggs per day in the spring! Chickens were a part of the family, and they made me smile every time I laid eyes on them.

 The First Addition to our Flock

My addiction is very evident now. If asked about chickens, I can tell stories upon stories, tell you all kinds of facts about them, and enjoy hours on the back porch watching them. Since the first trip to the feed store, I have gone from enjoying the chirp of a chick to an obsession about types of chickens, different ways to feed and entertain my chickens. My children now have their own chickens, and I'm looking for ways to maximize my flock. I have begun to share my chicken adventures with my friends and so have gotten the nickname "Chicken Lady." 

Playing with our spring chicks

If someone had asked me five years ago if I would ever own chickens, I would have laughed. I never knew the risks of walking by baby chicks. So, let this be your warning, Chickens are addicting, but if you ask me, they are totally worth it. 

Our Heritage Hens







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