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Sweet Summer Farm

Building Raised Strawberry Beds

Sweet Summer FarmWe have started some new projects down here at the farm. Among those are some new raised strawberry beds.

Our current beds are made of rocks found on the farm. These beds work as a short-term solution that uses up extra rocks around the farm. However, after our recent strawberry success, we needed a more long-term solution.

This year we had a very nice crop of strawberries, despite the deer and rabbits all fighting us for a share. This allowed us to make a number of strawberry based goodies including strawberry preserves, syrup, cakes, pies, and muffins too.

This time we decided to use a raised bed design that Grand has used for a number of years. We made these beds using three 2 x 10 x 8 board and cut one in half to create two end pieces. When assembled the boards create an 8 x 4 raised bed.

These beds can fit double the strawberries our other rock beds can. We built two of the above beds and are hoping to have as many as six beds when we are finally finished.

We used an assortment of potting soil, compost, sand, and peat moss to fill the beds. To prepare the area for the beds we burned off all the weeds with a propane burner. We are determined to get a handle on these weeds without using any evil pesticides.

We also put down weed block over the entire space. We just rolled it out, covering under the beds and the paths between the beds and space around the edge.

We are edging the whole strawberry world with the rocks the old beds were made out of. This will make a nice finished edge between the pasture and the raised bed section. Pictures of the building process and the finished beds are below.

burning garden weeds
Burning grass in preparation for laying weed block.

partial coverage tarp

covering garden area
Weed block ready for the strawberry beds.

raised garden bed
Empty strawberry bed ready to be moved onto weed block.

L bracket strawberry bed
L-Bracket on the corner of a strawberry bed.

assorted potting soil
Soil ready to fill the strawberry beds.

strawberry garden bed
A finished bed with strawberries ready to grow!

growing strawberry seeds

Photos property of Sweet Summer Farm.

The Past Lives on at the Farm

Sweet Summer FarmAs time passes on the farm we find more and more bits of the past. When we plow there are always bits of glass and pottery tossed up from the earth. They are tiny reminders of all that went before us.

Among these items were broken candlesticks covered in dirt. Did they once sit shiny and bright on someone's dinner table? Did they once hold Christmas candles for a joyful holiday? We will never know.

Once deep in the woods, we found old bottles mostly broken and tossed away. Once they held canned food for a family, likely vegetables that were grown on the farm. What happened to the mother that stood over the stove on a hot summer day canning food to feed her family? This woman who walked on the same land we now walk on, she lived her life in a different time from us but yet we share so much.


The other day we were cleaning out a room in the barn and found some odd things, a woman's pocketbook and an old shoe. The barn seems a strange place for such things but who knows how they came to be there. When we opened the pocketbook we found birthday cards, a Christmas card, and some mail also a piece of paper with some writing on it, but sadly it was not filled with money.


The envelopes were marked "To Aunt Clara" and the handwriting is the same, but one of the cards was signed "Love Carol West." The other card was signed "So sorry to be late Lots of love always Carol Lee," in different handwriting. There is also a Christmas card that is signed "Shelby and Frank Rogers."

PB card 1

One piece of mail has the name Willis C Burrell Rt 3 Hiawassee, GA on it. This is strange because our farm is not in Hiawassee, GA, but about thirty miles away in Batesville, GA.


The piece of paper had a phone number and an address 338 McDonald Dr. Versailles, KY. We would love to find out more about who the people are who gave the cards to Clara and who is Aunt Clara also who Willis Burrell from Hiawassee is and how he is connected to Aunt Clara.


It goes without saying that we would love to find out any information we could, but the truth is we may never know. I guess we will just have to continue to wonder about the past while we press on with our future on this beautiful farm that we are blessed to call ours.


Please let us know what you have found from the past on your farms we would love to hear your stories.

purse and cards

Photos property of Judith Baldwin

Planting Tomatoes

Sweet Summer FarmYesterday, we planted tomatoes and decided to try a different technique. Instead of just planting them in an open field where the weeds would soon overtake them, we would solve the problem with weed barrier.

We went down to our newly plowed and tilled beds and started laying down the weed barrier. The barrier was about 4 feet by 300 feet and the bed was 20 feet by 60 feet, so we laid four strips of weed barrier and that roughly covered the bed. After we did that, we started burning medium sized holes in the weed barrier. Why are we burning holes in perfectly good weed barrier? Well, the idea is that we burn holes just big enough to plant the tomatoes in so just the tomatoes could grow and not the weeds. How is also a good question. We bought a flame torch at our local hardware store. It was very exciting for us kids to watch the weed barrier get burned. It's probably not as cool as we think, but at least we enjoyed it. We also measured were to burn the holes by using two tomato cages and putting them side by side down the row. We would later plant the tomatoes, but first we had to bring all the tomato cages! Which is a bigger job than you think. We had to bring all the tomato cages, plus make more to fulfill all the tomato plants needs. We had many flats of tomatoes with many plants in each peat pot. Then the tomato planting started, which went pretty well, except for the rocks, but we did eventually get them planted. We placed some tomato cages on top, and put rocks on the tomato cages to hold them down.

We are hoping this new technique will work, and help us with weeds. We will soon be eating ripe red tomatoes.

OK, OK, we could not wait. It's fried green tomatoes for supper tonight!






Our Wild Loofahs

Sweet Summer FarmEarly in the spring of last year, we decided to once again try to grow loofahs. We have tried to grow them in the past, but the season was just not long enough. This time we planted the seeds in four-inch peat pots and started them under grow lights.They are easy to start from seed, and we soon had a flat full of lush loofahs. Trying not to get too excited — after all, we had been at this point before — we installed four cow panels into an arch. The baby loofahs were nestled in close to the arch as soon as the weather was warm enough and all danger of frost had passed. Well the days passed, warm wonderful days filled with sunshine. Warm rain fell on them, birds sang, and bees buzzed. The loofahs sat and sat and sat and not one new leaf. Nothing. Were we to be disappointed once again?

All of a sudden, the plants seemed to take off! We don't know if they overheard us discussing pulling them up and planting pole beans, or if that is just the common loofah behavior. Either way, they took off like crazy. If you watched, you could almost see them growing. They were vining skyward at an unbelievable rate.

Covering the arch

Soon the loofahs reached the top of the arch, but still they climbed up and over, went past the arch, and were grabbing the tomato cages. We tried looping them back over the arch. But loofahs are bold and wild; there is no telling them where to grow. They were the rebellious teenagers of the garden, not paying our ideas about what was best for them any attention. Like having teenagers, you just have to deal with them.

Wild tomato grabbing

Soon they were covered with bright yellow blooms and lots of bees. The bees loved the loofah blooms!

Lots of yellow loofah blooms

Then we noticed tiny loofahs that grew and grew; soon we had some very large loofahs. We were thrilled! We were able to get a large number of these wonderful gourds.

Lots of loofahs

Hanging Loofas
More loofahs

We picked some green — they make a softer sponge. Most we picked after they had started to change color from green to a darker brown. Some we dried and will use in the shower. Others were cut into smaller pieces for dish washing. We also made gardeners soap out of some of them. They have really come in handy. We look forward to growing more of them next year.

Dried loofahs

Loofah sponges peeled, seeds removed, and washed

Grand's Awesome Tacos

Sweet Summer FarmThis past summer, we had a harvest of beautiful peppers. They are very easy to grow and don't take a lot of care. We put them in the ground, and they took off growing. Peppers like a rich soil with lots of organic matter. They looked great growing in the garden. Pepper plants also make a nice addition to your flower beds. They blend nicely with brightly colored flowers. We did have to keep them watered late in the summer, because the rain stopped for a while. We only added fertilizer one time in the spring.

Most peppers start to produce in about seventy days — some a few days more, some less. Once they get started making peppers, they produce tons. We planted four kinds of peppers: Corno Di Torro Rosso, Marconi Red, Small Purple Bell Peppers, and a Yellow Bell Pepper. We loved the bright colors of all of these wonderful peppers. We enjoyed them all summer long and into the fall. Grand also put jar after jar into the freezer. Some she chopped into small bits, some she sliced into strips, and others she put up as whole peppers. There are many things you can make with peppers, such as casseroles, soups and stews, pepper steak, and even stuffed peppers. But the recipe we are going to focus on today is tacos!

Grand's Awesome Tacos


• A pound of ground beef
• A cup of chopped onion
• A cup of chopped bell peppers
• 1 14-ounce cans of tomato
• 3 cans of different kinds of beans, your choice (garbanzo beans, black beans, great northern beans — whatever kind of beans you like)
• About a cup of canned or frozen corn
• 2 teaspoon of garlic powder
• 2 teaspoon of cumin
• 2 teaspoon of chili powder
• salt and pepper, to taste


1. Brown ground beef, then add onion and bell peppers. Cook till soft.

2. Stir in tomatoes, beans, and corn. Add garlic, cumin, chili powder, and salt and pepper.

3. Cook over low heat for about 10 minutes. The longer you let it simmer, the better the flavors will blend.

We have used this recipe for tacos, enchiladas, nachos, and even topping for taco salad!

Hints from Grand:

If you like, you may use an envelope of taco mix. We like to use dried beans in this recipe. Grand cooks up a package of beans and then freezes them in jars. If you want more meat, use two pounds and cut back on beans. Taste this as you cook, as some canned beans have more salt than others. We don't like hot foods, but you can spice this up with jalapeno peppers or hot sauce. There are no rules here, add whatever you like! Green onions? Some leftover rice? Or maybe throw in some summer squash?

Our delicious taco delight

A close up of our peppers

Beautiful, colorful peppers

Epic Low Tunnel Failure

Sweet Summer FarmWe have had a major fail on the farm.

This fall we decided to invest in a low tunnel hoop bender and then used the bender to bend electrical conduit into low tunnel hoops. We also ordered one frost cover. When we started forming the low tunnels using our new bender, we were thrilled. The bender worked great, and we planned on ordering different sizes.

Collapsed garden tunnel 

We mounted the bender to an old, wooden, shipping crate that we found in a shed. Making the hoops went really fast, and they turned out perfect. We were hoping to use the hoops with the frost cover to extend the growing season at the farm. We used ten-foot electrical conduit to make hoops that were about four feet tall, and we used those to cover our Brussel sprouts. We used five-foot conduit to make a tunnel about two and a half feet tall; this size we used over our broccoli plants. The tunnels worked well, and the plants did great under them. We wired our hoops to fence posts we had driven into the ground, and we will try wooden boards next time.

Collapsed garden tunnel 

Then, we covered the hoops with our frost cover and lined the sides with our many rocks to hold the frost cover in place. It all looked so good, and we were very happy with our work. Then Mother Nature showed up with rain and high winds. The next morning, we found out that one of our frost covers had blown over. Well, blown might be an understatement. The cover over the Brussel sprouts had been knocked completely over, hoops and all, only the rocks had kept the frost cover from being carried into the next county.

Collapsed garden tunnel 

Our farm is in a valley between the mountains, and the valley acts like a wind tunnel. The four-foot tall cover that blew over was facing sideways, with the long side taking the wind full force. We decided to take down this cover so that it didn't blow over again. The frost cover that didn't blow over was facing into the wind and was only about two feet tall. We didn't stick the hoops too far in the ground because we knew we would take them up, but we thought we had them deep enough to resist the wind. We were obviously wrong.

We will keep you updated on how the uncovered Brussel sprouts do in the cold. We are going to use our hoops to grow earlier in the spring. We are going to work with Mother Nature and line up our tunnels differently next time. We have learned a lot.

Collapsed garden tunnel 

If you use low tunnels, please let us know how you anchor them to the ground. We ordered our bender from a company called Build My Own Greenhouse. We were very happy with this company and will continue to order from them. They also sell greenhouse supplies. We hope we will soon be able to build a greenhouse.

Collapsed garden tunnel

Collapsed garden tunnel 

Grand's Apple Pie

Sweet Summer FarmGrand's apple pie is awesome. It's great in any season, but really good in the fall made with fresh local apples. Grand has been making this pie for over forty years, and it's definitely a family favorite.

Apple Pie


• 4 to 6 cups of sliced apples
• 1 cup of sugar
• 3 tablespoons of cornstarch
• 3 tablespoons of frozen orange juice concentrate
• 1 teaspoon of grated nutmeg
• 2 piecrusts


1. Mix together the sugar and the cornstarch. Set aside.

2. Mix your frozen orange juice concentrate with your nutmeg.

3. Gently stir orange juice concentrate and nutmeg mixture with the apples.

4. Sprinkle the sugar and cornstarch mixture on top of your apple mixture and stir.

5. Place your bottom pie crust in your pie plate and pour filling into your pie plate, then place your top pie crust over your filling.

6. Crimp your pie crust however you like, and cut several small slits in the top.

7. Bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes

Hints from Grand: Check out our pie crust recipe — Grand's Best Pie Crust Ever. Grand's favorite way to seal the two pie crusts together is to just use a fork. You take your fork and press the crusts together all the way around the pie. Grand also likes to brush the top of the pie with a beaten egg white and sprinkle it with sugar; it makes for a very pretty pie.

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