I injured my back last spring while I was working in our new herb garden. After a trip to the doctor and several tests, I was sent to a neurosurgeon who told me I had 4 ruptured discs, a pinched nerve and the beginnings of scoliosis (curvature of the spine.) I was shocked, to say the least. Thus began a long and sometimes painful journey.
Being a senior citizen and on Medicare, scheduling surgery wasn’t easy. I had endure the “conservative” treatments first. These included epideral steroid injections into my spine and physical therapy. Both made the pain worse. After both were completed – and the problems had not gone away – surgery was scheduled. On November 2, 2012, I entered St. Michael’s hospital in Texarkana for surgery. The procedure went well and, after 4 days, I was discharged to recover at home. The first three weeks were painful, but I was recovering well. Phil took very good care of me and, fortunately, is very observant. The weekend of Thanksgiving he began to notice that my incision was draining. By the Monday after, he called to doctor who had me come to his office immediately. After checking my back, he admitted me to the hospital. The next morning I was taken back to surgery to reopen the incision and drain three and a half liters of infection from my back. I had MSRA – super staph that has become resistent to most antibiotics. With the infection so close to my spine there was real concern that I would become septic. The outcome of sepsis is not always good.
I was in the hospital again for 4 days, then sent home with a PICC line for IV antibiotics and a wound vac to drain the incision that was left open to heal from the inside out.
I have little memory of the second hospitalization. Phil tells me I ran the folks who wanted to put in the PICC line out of my room because I thought they were selling something I needed. Phil convinced me it was okay. I also have very little memory of the first two weeks at home. I slept most of the time, awaking only to eat and for the home health nurses to change my dressing and give me my daily dose of IV Vancomycin. Gradually, over the two months of treatment, I began to feel that I would be well again. I really doubted that for some time. Phil and I celebrated when the antibiotics were stopped and the picc line removed. Two weeks later, we celebrated when the wound vac was removed and again two weeks later when the incision finally closed completely. Now, I am well on the road to being able to do what I love again – digging in the dirt! The pain in my back is gone, although cold weather makes it stiff sometimes. The incision is still tender, but that will go away with time. By the time it’s time to start tomato seeds, I should be up to the task.
Some have asked me if I would go through the surgery again even knowing what I know now. Yes, I would. Those three months were like being in a dark tunnel and at times I wondered if I would ever see the light again. I am seeing it now and it is shining brightly!
A few days ago a new customer came in looking for pepper plants. When I told her that the plants wouldn’t be available for another 2-3 weeks, she replied “Everyone else is selling them now.” She left unhappy. My gut response was that I should have done something to appease her. Then it hit me. We are not Everyone Else!
Every year it seems that vegetable plants start arriving earlier at big box stores and farmers’ co-ops. And, sadly, people buy them, take them home and plant them into cold soil, then frantically try to save them from frost. A new shipment of plants arrive, people buy them again, plant them and watch them freeze again. Sometimes this happens 3 or more times!
We began having people come to us looking for tomato plants at the end of February. We explained that we don’t – and won’t – sell our plants until it’s time to plant them. Some people grumbled a little, but we took the time to explain that warm weather plants need warm soil to thrive and that killing frosts generally don’t end until mid-April. Old gardeners know that, but often can’t resist the temptation to be the first with a ripe tomato. New gardeners had no idea. They assumed that because the plants were available it must be time to plant.
It saddens me to think that the bottom line has become more important than honesty, ethics and customer service. Phil and I would rather lose money than take advantage of our customers. Most CEO’s would think we’re crazy. Maybe we are. All indications are that tough times are ahead. The price of food is increasing while the quality is decreasing. The safety nets for the poor are being cut so the wealthy can continue to prosper. If we can help people learn to grow their own food and take care of their families without picking their pockets in the process, we’ll do it. We aren’t Everyone else.
I’ve finally been able to start tomato seeds! The night time temperatures in our garden center have been too cold for the growth of healthy tomato seedlings, but the worst of the very cold weather seems to have passed. The extra heat mats we ordered have arrived so I should have enough to keep the roots warm as the seeds come up. It takes 6-8 weeks for seedlings to mature enough to plant into the garden. We should have our first plants ready by late March. That’s really still too soon to plant tomatoes, but I know there are some who will plant them anyway. In fact, Phil had someone ask him a few days ago if our plants were ready yet. He wanted to get his planted. We all love that first ripe tomato and just can’t wait to taste it!
There are several things to consider before putting tomato plants in the ground. Is all danger of frost past? Yes, you can protect plants with row covers, jugs and cans, but the cold will stunt the plant’s growth. How warm is your soil? This year’s extreme cold means that the soil will be slower to warm up. If you put tomatoes in cold soil, their growth will be stunted. You can help mother nature warm the soil by mixing alfalfa pellets into it about two weeks before you plant the bed. It breaks down quickly and makes your soil into a mini-compost pile. Don’t put plants in with the alfalfa because the heat generated will burn the roots. You can also put down black plastic over the row and remove it when it’s time to plant. You can leave the plastic down, but be sure and add a lot of mulch over the top of it or the heat generated by the plastic will stress the plants during the heat of the summer. Clear plastic just helps the weeds grow bigger and better. As a rule of thumb, we wait until mid-April or later to put our outside tomatoes in the ground. We like the night-time temperatures to be at least 55 for a couple of weeks prior to planting. An occasional dip below that won’t stunt the plants too much, but it’s really better that the temperatures be consistently warm before planting them. Peppers and eggplants require even warmer temperatures to thrive. I generally plant my peppers after I dig my garlic – early to mid-June. I’ve tried planting them earlier, but they usually don’t do very well. Soil moisture is another consideration. Most years we have some pretty heavy rains in late March/early April. Unless your beds are raised, the heavy rains can cause blight – or even kill the plants out-right.
There is lots of good information on-line about tomato growing, especially through Oklahoma State University. Do some research and you will have a bountiful, beautiful crop this year!
The snow that covers HoneyBear Ranch this morning is beautiful. The sun is glistening off of it and it looks like it ought to be warmer than the 18 degrees on our thermometer. It fell softly a couple of days ago, piling up on tree branches, fence rails, and bird feeders. There’s probably a good 6 inches on the ground. It makes our place look like a winter wonderland. The dogs are having a ball running through it, playing tag, rolling in it. They’re like excited children seeing snow for the first time. It’s even beginning to help remove the skunk smell. We’ve felt guilty putting Cora and PJ in the run every night, worrying about them being cold as the temperatures fall to the low teens. They don’t seem to mind at all!
As beautiful as the snow is, I wish it would go away and Spring would come. The older I get, the less I like snow and cold. I grew up in snow country – northern Ohio – where winter lasted for months. I don’t miss it one bit!
It’s time to start tomato seeds in the greenhouse, but the nights are too cold. We’re able to keep the greenhouse above freezing, but just barely. All our plants are being stressed by the night time cold. The long range forecast is hopeful, though, and the ground hog didn’t see his shadow this year. Maybe spring is just around the corner after all.
I keep reminding myself that I’ll wish for this cold come August when it’s 110 outside and the gardens are stressed from the heat. We humans are never happy, are we?!
PJ arrived at HoneyBear Ranch a week ago. We saw him first near the pond, playing with Cora and Jax. Worried about how a strange dog would react to our animals, we tried to chase him off. At first, we were successful. He had a collar on so we assumed he lived nearby and was just passing through.
The next morning, he was sleeping just inside the pasture by the stone fence post that divides the drive to the house from the drive to the barn. Cora and Jax greeted him with enthusiasm; Phil and I, not so much. “We don’t need another dog,” we said to each other. He continued to lay by the post and watch our comings and goings. He was cautious – wouldn’t get too close. By late afternoon though, he decided to lick my outstretched hand. In that moment, a bond was formed and PJ, as we’ve come to call him, had found himself a home.
He is a most unusual dog, especially for his breed. Although he looks like a full-blooded Pit Bull, he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He’s content to be third in the dog pecking order, exposing his belly to Cora and Jax when they play. He lickes the faces of our Barbado Sheep - and they don’t seem to mind. Even Bonnie didn’t object to his washing baby Miracle’s face. Most of all, though, he just wants to be loved. At night when we watch TV, he puts his front paws and head in my lap, waiting for his ears to be scratched. He follows Phil on his rounds, or lays close by when Phil’s splitting wood. He’s the first to come when we call.
He does have one weakness, though. CATS! We think he wants to play with them, but he has such big feet that he scares them to death. Yesterday he chased poor Dora up a tree. Last night he learned that not all “cats” will run from him. We let the dogs out just before bedtime for one last bathroom trip. We heard Cora barking with great enthusiasm. When Phil openend the door to let them all in, he smelled the very strong oder of SKUNK! Apparently PJ thought that black animal with the white stripe was a cat. He took a direct hit in the face. Phil caught PJ just before he jumped up on the couch and threw him back outside. Cora was sprayed, too. Jax managed to escape. While I sprayed the house with air freshener, Phil took Cora and PJ to the run for the night. Today they will be powedered with Baking Soda. We’ve found that it takes the smell out of a dog’s fur better than anything else. Three applications seem to do the trick.
This morning, when PJ heard Phil calling Jax to come back inside, he broke out of the run. Cora soon followed. He just wanted his ears scratched and to know that he’s loved.
We don’t know why PJ showed up at HoneyBear Ranch. We can’t imagine anyone dumping such a loving dog. But no one has claimed him – except for us. PJ has found himself a home for life.
Last summer Phil and I lost our two beloved dogs, Honey and Harley. Honey, always the wanderer no matter what we did to protect her, ran in front of a car. Harley, our old faithful companion, died of a broken heart 10 days later. We were devestated. They had brought so much love and joy into our lives. To have them both die so close together made the grief almost unbearable. We didn’t think we’d ever want dogs again.
However, living on a farm without dogs is difficult. All sorts of critters began moving in to threaten our birds and livestock. First it was wild pigs rooting up the community garden. Then it was coyotes breaking into the chicken pen and killing a turkey, 4 guineas, and several chickens. With nothing around to protect them – to bark and keep them safe – our animals were in danger.
After much soul searching, we decided to adopt a dog from ARK, our local animal rescue folks. We agreed we wouldn’t get as attached this time. The dog would be a working dog, not a pet. I got on their website and searched through all the dogs they had for adoption. I was about to give up when up popped the cutest picture of two puppies, brother and sister, who had been dumped at a local greenbox. Part Boarder Collie and part Black Lab, they seemed perfect for farm life.
Cora and Jax came to visit on a hot August afternoon. At 3 1/2 months old, they were all feet – big feet – and tongues. They immediately took to Phil and whined when he secured them in a fenced area and walked away to get water. They wiggled all over when he came back. It was obvious that they felt at home. We agreed to adopt them after we returned from vacation. While we were gone, they were neutered and spayed and received their puppy shots.
In mid-September, Cora and Jax came home to live with us. It was love at first sight and all thoughts of not getting attached went out the window. What a pair they are! Full of energy and puppy enthusiasm. They have two speeds – full run or full sleep. Cora, also known as Cora Belle because of her southern charm, is the alpha dog. She pesters her brother constantly, pulling an ear or chewing a foot if he’s asleep and she wants to play. Jax, alias Trashman because he hauls stuff up to the back door to chew on, is more laid back. His favorite activity, when he’s not chewing, is sleeping.
They’re 9 months old now. They’re finally house broken. The sleep through most nights. Jax still chews on everything – shoes and socks are his favorites if he doesn’t have a bone around. They follow Phil everywhere! They “ help” him get his boots on in the morning, follow him on his daily rounds, chase the cats (who have learned to ignore them), chase each other, put up animals who’ve escaped their pens. Our remaining guinea runs at them, daring them to chase it, then flies up into a tree. If that bird had a tongue, it would be giving Cora and Jax the raspberry! Yesterday, they discovered the wild ducks who use our pond this time of year. They took off at a dead run and dove into the pond after the ducks. Neither had ever been in the water before. Jax quickly came back to shore. Cora swam all the way across. It was a cold day and the pond had recently had ice on it. Neither seemed to care. At Phil’s whistle, they came bounding up to the house, eyes shining. We could almost hear them saying, ”Dad, there are strange birds on the pond and we chased them! Aren’t you proud of us?” as they shook the icy water all over us! Cora and Jax will never replace Honey and Harley, but they are bringing a great deal of love and joy into our lives! They already have a special place in our hearts and our lives.
We’ve had our barbado sheep, Bonnie and Clyde, for almost two years. We bought them when they were babies from some friends. We’ve watched as Clyde’s matured into a fine looking adult ram, complete with curled horns and “lion’s” mane. But we began to think that he was sterile. Several times we thought that just maybe Bonnie was pregnant, but no baby ever arrived. About two weeks ago we realized that Bonnie was milking up! Every morning we expected to see a baby or two – or – gulp – even three – at her side. She teased us for a week, through bitter cold and wet weather. Phil built her a little hut and put a heat lamp in it. One of the other sheep, Lucky, checked it out by licking the heat lamp. He decided that wasn’t such a good idea! Two days after Christmas, my daughter Suzie and her family came for a visit. The morning after they arrived, Suzie and her boys Caleb and Logan, walked up to the pasture to see how Bonnie was doing. A few minutes later, Caleb burst into the house yelling, “Grandma. Grandma! The baby’s here! The baby’s here! It’s a miracle!” My grandson Caleb, now 11, has Ausperger’s, a high functioning form of Autism. He’s never much been interested in farm animals, so his excitement at seeing a new baby sheep right after it was born is, in itself, a miracle. In his honor, we’ve named Bonnie’s baby “Miracle.” And, in many respects, that’s exactly what she is! Oh, and Bonnie has never used the little hut Phil built. She, like most Barbadoes, prefers to sleep outside. If it’s cold, she wraps herself around her baby and keeps her warm
One of the many things gardening has taught me is patience. Planting seeds, watching them sprout, transplanting them to the garden, waiting for the plants to produce their bounty – it all takes time. The harvest can’t be rushed no matter how badly I want to taste that first ripe tomato!
We live in an instant gratification, I want it now society that has forgotten that the best in life often comes by waiting patiently.
The fast food movement is a good example of this. Now I’m not talking about McDonald’s or Wendy’s or Sonic. I’m talking about the movement that brought fruits and vegetables into our grocery stores in the the dead of winter, shipped from thousands of miles away, just to satisfy our need to have the best of summer even when there’s snow on the ground. The problem is, most of what gets sold as “fresh” has been in transit for days and is way past its prime by the time it gets on the grocery store shelves. Many things have to be picked green in order to survive the trip. Did you know that a whole new variety of tomato has been developed just for grocery stores? It stays green for months and only turns red when it’s gassed. That’s why so many of those grocery store tomatoes are hard as gourds. They only look ripe. They’re really green tomatoes gassed to look red.
From the phone calls we get at The Garden Market, I can tell that there are folks out there who have forgotten that fresh, off-the-farm vegetables have a season. Watermelons, peppers, tomatoes – well, you get the idea – don’t grow in SE Oklahoma in the winter. And plants can’t be put in the ground until the weather is right. If you plant tomatoes, green beans, squash, melons and cucumbers before the last frost, the plants will die. If you plant eggplant and peppers before the ground warms up and the weather gets hot, they won’t produce. Sometimes even seasoned gardeners get in a hurry, lured by those early warm spring days into thinking that the danger of frost is past. Then along comes that late frost that catches them and they have to start over. I have to admit, though, it is hard to resist the tomato plants sold early at big box stores and local feed stores!
There is a “new” movement that seems to be catching hold as people become more concerned about their health and about what’s really in their food. It’s called the “Slow Food Movement” – except it really isn’t new. It’s a return to buying what’s grown locally when it’s in season. It’s a return to waiting patiently for that first fully ripe tomato that drips juice and seeds off your chin as you bite into it fresh from the garden. It’s the crisp snap of green beans just picked off the vine. It’s visiting your local farmer and seeing where and how the food is raised. It’s knowing that what you’re eating has been raised with love and care – and knowing that chemical fertilizers and herbicides haven’t touched the soil or the plants or the produce that’s offered for sale.
I am encouraged by the garden that has been planted at the White House. I’m encouraged that children have been invited to help plant, tend and harvest the garden and that they will get to prepare what they’ve grown. What wonderful life lessons they will learn while digging in the dirt along side the First Lady, the President, their children and the White House chefs. While they’re digging in the dirt they will be getting fresh air and exercise, not watching TV or playing video games. And hopefully along the way, they’ll learn to wait patiently for the good things in life as they watch that first tomato turn red on the vine.
We are adding a community garden to our place this year. Anyone who wants a plot of land to plant a garden is welcome. Most of the plots available will be approximately 5′ x 20′ – enough space to plant vegetables to feed a family of 4 for a season. The plots will be rough tilled and staked off. Plot users will be responsible for preparing the soil, planting, maintaining and cleaning up the plot at the end of the season. There is no charge for using the space, but donations to cover the cost of water would be appreciated. Please contact us through our website for more information. Organizational meetings are being held February 6 and 9.
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