Extending My Gardening Season

using three different tunnels.

With a goal of growing as much food as possible for my family, I am looking for ways to extend my growing season. This was easy in southern California where you can grow year-around. It is more challenging in Tennessee, but not impossible.

Gardening is a grand experiment with successes and failures. I find that I am always learning and every year I will set a new goal or try something new. With so much space at our new homestead, I am a little overwhelmed, but still plowing forward with gusto. If I had a goal, it would be to “do all the things.” Not sure if I will get to “all the things” but I will share what I do get done.

I mentioned in a previous post that I started my seeds earlier than recommended. I did this knowing I would be planting them under cover in the garden protecting them from frosts. I will most likely lose a few plants; I may lose all of them. It is in failing that we learn.

Mr. J has completed my hoop house enough for me to start working inside. There are some minor details left, but the inside is now mine. Poor guy. I kept pestering him because my broccoli seedings were busting at the seams and I was itching to get them in soil. The minute he gave me the go ahead I got started.

I leveled the soil, applied a layer of cardboard, and poured out bags of raised bed mix from my local hardware store. The cardboard attracts worms and suppresses weeds. Ideally, I would have used my own homemade compost to fill this space, but realistically that wasn’t happening. Going forward, I will endeavor to add a new layer of my compost on top of this soil each season. I am practicing a no-dig method that will feed and develop the soil. The soil will in turn feed my plants. I like following Charles Dowding in Great Britain for encouragement with this method. You can find his website HERE and his YouTube channel HERE.

I have another section of my garden where I am using a makeshift cover and two low tunnels to see what works.

My earliest attempt to extend the season is a very low budget experiment. Using wooden stakes, I propped up three U-shaped metal frames (they were the legs of a bleacher bench in a previous life). I covered this with a plastic mattress protector from our recent move. I then surrounded it with hay bales for insulation and to support for a large piece of glass for further protection. I planted kale and cilantro seed starts here at the end of December. They have not grown much, but they are still alive. I am counting this as a win! This little covered space has survived several snows and temperatures in the teens. I expect these plants to take off once spring really hits.

This set up is very budget friendly. I purchased one bag of composted cow manure for the soil ($5) and four bales of straw ($6 each) that will be used as mulch later on in the season. Everything else was repurposed. It is also very easy to just walk by and lift up the plastic or tuck it back down as the weather changes.

At the end of last year, when the weather prevented me for actually working in the garden, I was looking for more options for low tunnels. Researching online, my brain was about to explode with the options, and I had analysis paralysis. Then I came across this “Easy Tunnel” while looking through the Harris Seeds catalogue. It seemed like an affordable way to give this method a try. This tunnel has plastic sleeves sewn onto the hoops and opens and closes in an accordion style. The wires poke through my leaves and cardboard easily enough and the length is just right for growing a crop and managing the tunnel.

I like the length and affordability of this option. There is no assembly required. It has also withstood some serious winds without blowing away. However, this tunnel needs to be completely removed and set aside for watering and temperature regulation. This is not a deal breaker, but it is an additional step to consider. I planted these broccoli starts a few days after the ones in my hoop house. It will be interesting to see the difference in their growth as the days go by. I purchased this low tunnel from Harris Seeds HERE.

I have a new garden to establish and enough space to make my brain hurt. Tackling smaller spaces as I ease into spring is making this process easier. Planning and planting a 10ft by 20ft hoop house is much easier than contemplating my entire garden all at once. One project at a time, one day at a time, and we will see how much I can produce.

In the picture above you can see what the garden looks like after a week of rain. We have clay soil and a high water table. I hope that covering the soil instead of tilling will improve the soil and reduce this puddling. The picture on the right shows how much my broccoli starts have grown in the last week (compared to the earlier picture.) They are loving the hoop house.

What are you working on right now? Are you trying to extend your season? I encourage you to try something new and grow more.


To design the hoop house Mr. J referenced this video:

Blessed and Beautiful Homestead cattle panel hoop house HERE.

And then life happened…

A blog post on why I didn’t write a blog post.

When I began this blog, I made a commitment to writing posts twice a week posting on Mondays and Thursdays. This seemed reasonable and doable. Enough consistency on my end, but not an overwhelming burden to create content.

And then life happened.

Life happens a lot on the farm. In this case it was Sunday. I had a plan for a post to write Sunday and to be published Monday.

While Sunday should be a day of rest and reflection – an ideal time for me to write – this Sunday had me bustling to prepare soil in my newly (almost) finished hoop house.

My broccoli seedlings were bursting at the seams, another storm front was heading our way, and life was telling me I needed to get them planted now.

I happily worked in the hoop house, taking pictures along the way, knowing I could relax Sunday evening and write my post about the work I was doing in the garden.

And then life happened.

You see our cows escaped again a month ago. It was soul crushing. We got Helen back the first weekend, but Panda was proving to be a challenge. “Roguish” was what one experienced farmer called her. The type of cow you send to the butcher. We are not quite there yet; we want to work with Panda more first. Besides it was largely our fault the cows escaped again. While the fencing was complete, the gates were not up, and the girls were able to run right through the openings.

Little Panda hanging out with our neighbor’s Angus cows.

After about a week Panda showed up at our neighbor’s field. We were able to get her fenced in their pasture with their herd of cows. That’s a start. Getting her out was the problem. The ground around the feed lot where the cows get loaded into their trailer was muddy and nearly impossible to walk in. Especially if you are a heavy cow.

Every evening for two weeks, Mr. J visited Panda at our neighbor’s field. He would bring a bucket of feed and get her to come to him. He went the same time every night to build trust and develop a routine. During this time, we were waiting for the ground to dry enough for Panda to navigate her way through the feed lot to the barn.

With another storm heading our way, this past weekend was our last chance for a while. Panda would anticipate Mr. J’s arrival with the feed bucket and for the last few days would wait close to the feed lot anticipating his arrival.

Mr. J headed out the door around 5pm Sunday evening as I began making dinner. I still had plenty of time to write my post that evening.

And then life happened.

Mr. J calls, “I got her in the feed lot with the gate closed. Can you come help me get her in the barn?”

I drop what I am doing and dash out the door. Arriving at the field, a mile down the road, I find an agitated Panda, not happy with being closed in. At points she looks like she is going to break her way through the fencing. My presence is not making Panda feel better. O.K. Let’s rethink this.

“How ‘bout I go get a bale of hay. We can put it in the barn and see if that will lure her in.” I suggest.

I dash home, get the hay, and a jacket for Mr. J, because he will be playing a waiting game, it is dark, and the temperature is starting to dip.

After dropping these off, I have to head into town to get our son from his job. Driving back, we get a text from Mr. J.

“I got her in the barn.”

Good. Weeks of worry, fret, patience, and coaxing is paying off.

We head to the field and find Mr. J connecting our neighbor’s trailer to his truck. In the dark. I head home to get flashlights to help with the wrangling.

Then I get a call. “We got her in the trailer.” Magic! They no longer need me and I can get started on dinner.

It is 8pm. There will be no writing from me tonight. Dinner is on the table by 9pm. We pour some Prosecco to toast the return of Panda. Bone tired we climb upstairs and are soon fast asleep.

That’s o.k. I can write my post tomorrow.

And then life happened.

Monday, anticipating the storm’s arrival later that day we move from chore to chore trying to get everything done. More broccoli gets planted, the Jerusalem artichokes get a spot in the yard, all in anticipation of the rain. At 2pm I remember that I had promised a visit to an elderly couple from our church. My afternoon is spent finding their hilltop home and having a good chat. I head home at 5pm to make dinner and help get animals tucked in for the night. By 8:30, we have finished our prayers and find ourselves too tired to move. I can write my post tomorrow.

Tomorrow will be stormy, the perfect day for writing.

Tomorrow is today.

And life happens.

The wind, torrential rain, and thunderstorms make for a restless sleep. We wake to a power outage and a baby lamb demanding her morning bottle. Baaaaaa! Morning starts quickly on the farm.

Animals get fed, generator gets set up, water is boiled for coffee in the French press, and we finally sit down for a cup at 8:30am. I chat with Mr. J and contemplate what I can get done today.

At 9am I get a call that the tractor we purchased will be delivered in an hour. The power comes back on, and I quickly throw together breakfast before the tractor comes.

The truck and trailer arrive. I direct the driver to our driveway loop where he can turn his rig around and unload the tractor at the barn. Navigating the loop, his truck starts to slide, downhill, in the mud. The torrential rain from last night takes its toll.

An easy, straightforward delivery ends up taking all morning. I try my hand at pulling the delivery truck out of the mud with Mr. J’s truck. No luck. The driver must call in reinforcements. Lamb wants to be fed again. Then Hope and I watch as another truck with a crane arrives to tackle the problem.

11:30am. My morning is gone.

This is life. It happens. And it is Good.

An Abundance of Everything but Time

When asked what we plan to do with our homestead I reply, “Provide as much food as possible for my family and have more to share with others.” All this while stewarding and maximizing the resources on our land. My hope is that by working with nature we can create abundance.

We have been here less than four months. It is winter. There is not a lot of abundance going on right now.

I have to be patient. That is hard.

Yet, I am graced with innumerable blessings and God has seen fit to keep our days filled with a steady stream of work. And that is Good.

My projects this week have been driven by the generosity and abundance of others and a storm front heading our way promising an abundance of rain. I want that rain to work for me, so I have work to do ahead of its arrival. I need to get cardboard and woodchips on the ground surrounding some new plantings. As much as I can do with the time that I have. The woodchips will soak up the rain and retain the moisture for the plants. The cardboard which helps to suppress the grass will also soak up the rain and create a moist environment that attracts worms. Worms love cardboard.

Laying down cardboard and woodchips is easy enough. Unless you have a storm front moving in. A storm front aided by strong winds. Think Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz type winds. The type that picks up your house in Kansas and drops it off in Oz. Well, maybe not that bad, but you get the picture.

And did you get the part about the cardboard? Yeah. That’s a good time. Chasing cardboard boxes blown aways by gusts of wind helps me get my steps in for the day.

But I need to get as much done as possible before the rain. And so out I go with the help of my guys to get this work done.

In my last post I mentioned gathering blueberry canes from Ivan Lee. Those plain looking sticks kept me busy for a few days as I prepared a bed for them. I found a sunny location, planted the canes, then covered the grass with cardboard and woodchips. Woodchipper for the win! In time I will add some companion plants – perhaps strawberries and thyme. It will take a few years to receive a harvest from these guys, but you must start somewhere.

Another friend had some abundance from her garden to share as well. Yesterday, I collected oregano, wild garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, and raspberry canes from her. These goodies were dug up right before I arrived at her home and need to be planted in my garden before their roots dry out. That means now.

Add to this timeline, the arrival of some bareroot fruit trees that I had ordered last November. Since they are bareroot trees they need to get in the ground immediately.

The timing for all of this is perfect, but there is some urgency and never enough hours in a day.

With these fruit trees, raspberry bushes, and wild garlic I will begin to establish a small permaculture orchard. In this type of an orchard, you use diversity to create symbiosis. The orchard is not just trees, but also berries and herbs. Around the trees you add plants that attract pollinators or confuse pests. Plants that are edible, culinary, or medicinal. Or plants, like comfrey, that will help to mulch the orchard along with being used in my herbal salves.

The pictures give an idea of the process. Ultimately, in this orchard, I will have two rows that extend over 45 feet long each with fruit trees and plants. There will be a grass walkway between the path large enough to mow. This area has peach and nectarine trees. I have more space, so I can add on more trees as I get them.

Stefan Sobkowiak has some great videos about his permaculture orchard in Canada. You can purchase or rent his feature length movie HERE. He also has many videos on his YouTube channel HERE.

So far this week I have planted 8 blueberry canes, over 12 raspberry canes, 5 fruit trees, lots of wild garlic, and oregano. I purchased the fruit trees; the rest was a gift of abundance. In a few years I hope to be the friend that can gift new homesteaders with our abundance.

Homestead Happenings – February 2022

Our life in pictures.

Arrival of the woodchipper –

We have a lot of trees on our property. Consequently, we have a lot of limbs and trees to clear. An investment in a good woodchipper was an obvious choice. Especially, since I use woodchips as a mulch in my gardening.

After much research Mr. J made his decision and purchased the machine online in early December. We were given an expected delivery time of December 22nd. It arrived, after many phone calls, at the beginning of February. And as they say in Tennessee: “It’s a big ‘un.”

I got to try the beast out this weekend as I tackled a dead pine tree near the front of our drive. It easily chipped branches up to 4 inches thick. This machine is no joke. I look forward to many piles of woodchips in my future.

The Hoop House –

There is a never-ending list of things to do around the homestead. Then I come up with more projects. Like a hoop house to extend my growing season. Fortunately, Mr. J loves me and has the patience of Job. He has tackled this project over the past month, and it is taking shape.

When complete, it will provide a 10-foot by 20-foot space for growing vegetables earlier in the spring and longer in the fall. I can’t wait to get in there and see what I can do.

Hog Netting for the win –

The girls made thorough work of tilling my garden space and we needed to move them out to other areas of the property. I invested in electric hog netting from Premier 1 to make this job easier. The starter kit includes a battery and solar charger.

The netting gives the pigs a zap to their nose if they push against it. This keeps them contained. It allows greater flexibility when setting up an area for them to forage. Finally, one person can carry and set up the nets easily and fairly quickly. This is much easier to work with than the hog panels I had been using. Well worth the investment.

Jane joins the family –

Since bringing Magnus home in November, we have known that we would need to add another livestock guardian dog. Having two LGD’s allow the dogs to work in tandem against any predator. It also lets them take turns getting rest.

We needed to get the right dog for our situation. Fortunately, we found her. Jane is a two-year-old Great Pyrenees/Anatolian mix. She is a great fit for Fiat Farm because she knows her job and can teach Magnus, who is still a puppy, the ropes. She is also the more dominant and keeps Magnus in line. Jane wants to please her people and protect her charges. We could not ask for more.

Welcome to Tennessee

Where bees and blueberries lead to moonshine.

One thing that I quickly learned about Tennessee: make sure you have time to chat. In the front yard, two cars side-by-side on a country road, over a fence, at the grocery store. Folks in Tennessee chat.

A few days after we arrived at our homestead, a truck made its way down our drive. Inside was Ivan Lee, a good friend of the previous owners. Ivan stopped by to introduce himself.

Ivan is a beekeeper. He is spending his retirement taking care of bees and learning their ways. He is a man after my own heart. Two of his hives are on our property and Ivan wanted to make sure it was okay for them to stay there. Of course!

I let Ivan know what my plans are for the homestead and that he is welcome to put as many hives as possible on our land. Deal!

I see Ivan from time to time as he comes to work with the hives. On one visit, while chatting he mentions the pain from arthritis in his shoulder. Pain so bad he felt like putting a bullet in his shoulder to try to get it fixed. He relates how he has his bees sting his shoulder to relieve the unbelievable pain. It works. I run inside and grab a jar of my Lion Balm in case that might help as well. Another time he brings a jar of honey. As we chat, I find out that he loves figs. I run inside to give him a jar of my fig preserves.

Then last week I got a phone call.

“Nancy? It’s Ivan Lee. I have a mess o’ blueberry bushes. So many I had to mow ‘em down last fall. I was thinkin’ you might just wanna come and git some.” Of course!

I called Ivan today and asked if I could stop by and get some blueberry suckers. I arrive with my bucket, shovel and a jar of Dilly Beans for Ivan. This was one of my two jars from last seasons harvest. A prized possession. The least I could do for his thoughtfulness.

Ivan drives over from his workshop in his side-by-side, I hop in and he takes me to the blueberry patch. After a little guidance on digging up the suckers, he goes back to his workshop, and I dig in.

Once my bucket is full, I wander over to the workshop to thank Ivan again. He invites me in. This is a real workshop. Ivan is currently melting wax to prepare his hives for the spring. He has tools, supplies, and projects strewn about in organized chaos. This is where he spends most of his day. A heater keeps it toasty warm and there is always plenty to do. Not bad for a retirement gig.

We talk bees for a bit. I tell him that I learned about bee “glue” and that it is medicinal. “The propolis,” he clarifies. “We can collect some in the hives on your property if you want.” I’d love that!

After a bit he tells me about the loss of his wife and how soon after he lost his best friend. Another friend came to inform him of this second loss, bringing him a jar of homemade moonshine to help ease his pain. This friend has spent years perfecting his moonshine in his copper still.

“Do you drink?” Ivan asks. Why, yes, I do. He makes his way to a shelf where he keeps a mason jar of the ‘shine – for medicinal purposes, of course. He unscrews the top and hands it to me. I take a sniff. Mmmmm.

“Go on, take a sup.”

Ooooh, that stuff is smoooooth right out of the jar. I am amazed.

“You need to come over to my house and have a sup of something I have there.”

Alrighty then!

In his kitchen, Ivan pulls another mason jar out of his fridge. This liquid has a red tinge. He pours a good amount into a crystal glass and hands it to me. It tastes like cinnamon, my favorite.

He adds hard cinnamon candies to his friend’s moonshine and the result is like a mild Fireball. As I drink the moonshine, we chat some more.

Glass empty, I set it by the sink and head for the door. He asks if I need more honey. Of course!

I give him a hug. He thanks me for the hug. “I don’t get many of those these days, he says.” So, I give him another hug. “You and your people stop by any time, and we’ll have a nice chat.”

Walking to the car, I smile to myself thinking that sure was a very Tennessee thing to do.

And as I drive myself home, I am thankful the distance is short, and the road is straight.

Rendering Lard

And more Hope.

A few years ago, if someone told me I should render lard I would have told them they were nuts. A few weeks ago, when I realized I needed to render my own lard, I thought it would be hard to do.

I have since learned that rendering lard is easy to do and makes sense under some circumstances.

Let’s back up a little…

At a Christmas party last year, I met a new friend who raises and milks goats. We discussed our various interests and I mentioned that I would like to try making soap with goat’s milk. She said she loves milking the goats but has too much going on right now to make soap. She then offered to give me the goat’s milk she had stored in her freezer.


So, I set about researching how to make goat’s milk soap and quickly learned that another key ingredient is fat, usually in the form of lard. Hmmm, where do I get lard…

Soon after that I was working with the farmer I purchased our pigs from and mentioned my desire to make soap and lack of lard. She had a freezer full of lard and was happy to give me some.


Now MY freezer is filled with goat’s milk and pig fat. All I need is time to learn.

This is where rendering lard comes in. It is the first step in making my own soap.

Rendering lard?

Basically, you are cooking pork fat until it is liquid. Then scooping out the liquid and straining it until only solids (cracklins) remain.

It is like saving your bacon grease to be used for something else.

It was super easy.

The hardest part of rendering lard was the length of time involved. It is an all-day process that requires you to stir the lard in a crock pot about every 30 minutes. I was not able to finish in one day. I turned the crockpot off and left it on the counter overnight to finish the next day. No problem.

These instructions from Melissa K. Norris at Pioneering Today were easy to follow. How to Render Lard and Why You Should (melissaknorris.com)

I need lard for soap right now, but I have another reason for trying my hand at this.

We currently have two pigs that we are raising to breed. That means we will have lots of pork in our future and much of pork is fat. So, I will have a lot of lard in my future. It is important to me to use all our resources. If managed well, nothing goes to waste. Rendering lard and learning to use it in soaps, cooking, and baking is part of this process.


They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength,

they will soar as with eagles’ wings;

They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.

Isaiah 40:31 (NAB St. Joseph Ed.)

Hope arrived at our house six days ago (see previous post). She was about six days old and not able to stand on her own. Since that time, she has worked diligently to get herself on her feet. She has grown stronger each day, fallen often, and improved immensely. She summons her energy, taps into her instinct, and keeps trying. And in between her Herculean efforts she rests.

It has been such a lesson to watch this little lamb try so hard. To watch her muscles strain and fail. To see her tail flit back and forth at her little triumphs. It has made me ponder the will of those who overcome immense physical challenges. The fortitude required. The getting up each day to try again.

It is truly humbling to watch. So exciting. Such an honor.

We are grateful for this lamb called Hope and remember that our Hope is in the Lord.

This is Hope

She was born the morning of January 27th. Her busy farmer mom, Faith, found her that afternoon alone and unable to stand. Faith did her best for Hope. Dashing home during the day for feedings, giving as much as she could. Hope needed more.

After seeing on Facebook that this little lamb had not improved and Faith just didn’t have the time, I offered to take her in. Faith enthusiastically agreed and dropped her off in a cardboard box with lamb formula and a nipple for feedings. I asked if she had a name. No.

“She is Hope,” I declare.

At six days old, Hope is still not standing on her own. This is a bit scary for us because we don’t know if there is something physical that is preventing her from standing and walking. She lays in her basket with her hind legs off to one side not able to get them under her. But she is alert, curious, and determined. Up to now, she has spent most of her time on her own because her farmer mom was working away from the farm. Now she will have a small family and large dog looking after her, providing physical therapy and encouragement. Let’s hope that’s all that she needs.

We introduce Hope to our guardian dog, Magnus. He needs a proper introduction to know that she his now his little lamb to guard and protect. Magnus practically pushes me out of the way as he gets to work cleaning her up. For once I am thankful for this dog’s fascination with poop. Magnus’ licking and nosing gives Hope some of the stimulation and physicality she has been missing. We are off to a good start.

It is a warm, sunny day (the high 40’s is warm in the middle of winter) so we sit outside with her on the grass. She sniff’s and nibbles the grass around her. We position Hope’s hind legs so that they are tucked under her body instead of off to one side, lifting her up now and then so she gets the idea of what to do.

At this age, orphaned lamb’s get a bottle about every 4 hours. We need to open her jaw gently to get the nipple in and she messily slurps from the side of her mouth. But that is something so we will take it.

Hope naps and rests between her attempts to move herself about and our physical therapy with her. By the end of the day she is able to brace herself against the side of the basket and get either her front legs or back legs in a standing position.  But not both.

She has worked up an appetite and tackles her evening bottles with the quick feeding burst lambs are known for. This is progress.

We bring her basket upstairs and she sleeps next to my bed so I can hear her if she cries. It’s like having a baby all over again. Except this one sleeps better than any of mine. Hope sleeps on and off through the night but is quiet and content until a little before 5am. “Meeeh, meeeh.” Hope is ready for breakfast.

As I am warming her bottle, Hope works to get herself into an almost standing position. And I notice that she is now able to get her hind legs tucked under her on her own. This is great!

Today, she holds her head a little higher and she seems to recognize us. She works throughout the day to stand on her own. This little lamb is determined to figure it out. We will help and encourage along the way.

An act of charity has brought this lamb to our homestead. We are thankful to Faith for letting us take this on.

You may remember at the beginning of this year I wrote about asking God to help with acquiring the livestock we need for our farm.

Now, we have HOPE.