Thrips and Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus

A thrip……a tiny aphid like insect that you’ll likely never see even if you cross paths with it. They are a common agricultural pest with a variety of species that favor one crop or another. There are thrips found on cotton, wheat, tobacco, and peanuts just to name of few of the crops seen here in our region. The most common varieties in this area are the western flower thrip (Frankliniella occidentalis) and tobacco thrip (Frankliniella fusca). It is rare that a commercial row crop farmer would attempt to eradicate a thrip population once identified on the crop for two reasons. The thrip itself rarely causes enough damage to cause enough loss to a crop to outweigh the extra cost of purchasing the insecticide and applying it (diesel fuel, labor costs, time, etc). Second, it is extremely difficult to successfully apply insecticide as the insect burrows in the small crevices of a crop and lays its eggs within the plant’s tissue away from where any insecticide would reach. Unfortunately, thrips are the primary vector for the tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) which does cause significant crop damage particularly for gardeners and produce farmers like us.

Early in the spring planting season we noticed that the tomato and pepper seedlings were not flourishing. They were alive, but despite adequate watering and fertilizer they were wilted and stunted. We first saw it in the tomato plants. The leaf edges were curled while immature plants were beginning to flower and make fruit way earlier than they should. Uncertain of what was going on we took a wait and see approach. The peppers followed shortly after. The leaf curl was not as noticeable, but growth was stunted and they also began to flower and make early fruit. The fruit that the tomatoes and peppers did make was small and discolored early in the ripening process. When we showed the plants to a farming friend he immediately looked to the drying, neighboring, wheat field and came to conclusion we had a thrip problem.

A little bit of research taught us that the damage had been done and at this point there was little we could do to salvage our spring tomato and pepper crop. The thrips had thrived in the dry conditions we had early in the growing season. When the winter wheat crop that was planted next door began to dry, the thrips left that field looking for a new food source. Luckily for them and unluckily for us, the spring garden was planted during this time. The TSWV spread like wildfire down the rows of 144 tomato plants and 72 pepper plants. It has a wide array of plants it impacts and we are watching the other crops with our fingers crossed that they will be spared. Commonly infected plants that we have in the garden include potatoes and cucumbers. Our potatoes appear to have produced before succumbing to the virus though we have lost a portion of the cucumbers and all the zucchini. Watermelon is not one of the more commonly affected plants, but we are seeing curling of the leaves on our plants though they seem to be producing in a normal fashion thus far.

Plans for the fall garden include an attempt to replant tomatoes and peppers at a different site in hopes that we will be able to make up for lost production as well as prevent the virus from infecting the next planting. It is important that we plant away from the soil that is now infected by thrips and the TSMV to try prevent another infestation. Knowing what we know now we can treat early in the season for the thrip to prevent it from establishing on the plants or transferring over from any neighboring crops. This can be done by laying a granular insecticide down into the soil while the seedlings are being planted.

Thrips and TSWV have likely always been present to some degree on the farm, but the dry conditions and amble food source provided by the neighboring field created the perfect conditions for them to flourish and spread the tomato spotted wilt virus. Hopefully, with new knowledge and preparedness, we will be able to thwart their population in the fall and once again enjoy the typical spring bounty of tomatoes and peppers.

Learn more about thrips at:

Learn more about wheat thrips at:

Learn more about TSWV at:




Farming Camaraderie and Summer Corn Salsa

The weeks have been busy as the activities of spring get rolling along. Luckily one of the best things about living in a farming community is that you are rarely alone during these busy times. Farmers have a camaraderie that appears in the hardest of times and builds friendships that last for years and transcend generations. We are blessed to count many other farming and agricultural families as friends. Neal has been spending the past few weeks helping a friend plant peanuts and cotton. That same friend will be helping us to spray hay fields later in the season as well as lending his hired help to us once his crop is in the ground. Rarely is currency exchanged, but instead an understanding that when one farmer is there for another it will come back around in short time.

This weekend was supposed to be quiet with no particular task to be done. Of course, it didn’t remain that way for long. Another farmer ran short on the chicken litter he’d been using to fertilize his fields and called the friend Neal was assisting. Between that friend and our own litter suppliers we were able to obtain what the farmer needed and were rewarded with a beneficial purchase price. While working to finish up that job Neal got a phone call from another hay farmer who was having trouble with his recently serviced square baler. Neal and company were able to stop what they were doing, head to the hay field, and get that baler back on-line so hay could be baled and stored before over drying in the field. Four completely different farming operations all tied together within our community network of farmers. Farming is hard and I am of the belief that it is nearly impossible without the support of peers in both good times and bad.

While my plans to enjoy a Saturday evening outside with a cold beer and the company of my husband were dashed, it was that hope that was the reason for whipping up a batch of this fantastic salsa. I got this recipe from Neal’s mother who makes it regularly for gatherings as well as quick bites when everyone is on the move. The recipe lends well to doubling or even tripling if you are feeding a crowd and the amounts are all easily modified to fit the taste of anyone particular. Today I left out the red onion only because I forgot to grab one at the store showing that you can make this recipe fit whatever you need it to and it will still be delicious. Do yourself a favor and stick with the fresh version of all the ingredients when you are able. The canned versions will work when things are out of season, but won’t be the same.

Summer Corn Salsa



3 ears raw sweet corn – kernels cut from the cob
1 cup grape tomatoes – diced into quarters
1/2 cup red onion – finely diced or sliced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro – chopped
1 16oz can of black beans – drained and rinsed
1 lime
salt and pepper to taste


Combine corn, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and beans in a bowl. Cut lime in half and squeeze the juice from both halves over the mixture being careful to not have any seeds fall into the bowl. Mix well and taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Recommend being conservative on the salt and pepper as this mixture will settle with time and the flavors will blend. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour before serving with corn chips or using as a topping for any lean meat.



Maple Mustard Salmon

Spring has official rolled in. The garden is growing, the hens are laying, and the hay fields are growing tall and green. At the same time our annual food stores are running on low in anticipation of the coming year’s bounty. There are still plenty of items that we tend to use in lower numbers. The carbohydrate rich corn and field peas are still available in plenty, but the favorites are becoming few. We are all out of the Italian seasoned tomato sauce. The frozen broccoli is gone. All that is left of the dehydrated peppers are tiny bits of broken vegetables at the bottom of plastic baggies.

I’ve been very late in assessing what we have available as well as what needs to be pitched after a year or maybe even two years of preservation. The chickens have been eating well as I clean out the freezer a little bit at a time. Sunday it was freezer burnt corn on the cob and today it was a two year old catering pan of stuffing. I think there is a fairly large stash of frozen field peas at the bottom that I’ll be digging out next. There is a thick layer of ice at the bottom of the freezer back from when Hurricane Matthew partially thawed it during the power outage that will have to be cleaned out as well.

All this comes to mind because I paired yesterday’s dinner entree with one of the final jars of garden green beans. They are a favorite in our house and so we planted a few extra rows this spring knowing that our supply is nearly out. I don’t look forward to the weeks of picking, snapping, and canning, but I do look forward to fresh beans throughout the summer and personally canned beans throughout the coming year. They’ll go great with anything just like they went great with this salmon.



1 lb salmon
1/4 cup real maple syrup – splurge for the real stuff, it is worth it
1/4 cup stock  – seafood, chicken or vegetable will work
2 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven 425 F. In a small bowl mix together all syrup, stock, mustard, and soy sauce. Pour small amount into a small baking pan. Place salmon in pan and pour remaining sauce over fish. Bake for 20-30 minutes until cooked through. Remove from oven and allow to cool five minutes. During cooling time spoon sauce over surface of fish. Plate, garnish with parsley, and serve immediately. Enjoy.


Shrimp and Beetroot Salad

Picky eaters. I don’t understand them. How can anyone possibly not want to explore all the amazing varieties of food out there at every chance they get? I love food. I love cooking food. I love growing food. I love trying new foods. Isn’t everyone like this?

No. And I somehow happened to marry one of those other people. Neal is one of the pickiest eaters I have ever encountered. I don’t think I realized this when we were dating or even engaged. Maybe that was because I was enamored with the amazing man that would become my husband or because I tried harder in the kitchen to impress. For whatever reason, I see clearly now that I’ve married a man who likes consistency and reliability. In other words he eats the same foods over and over again. He’s culinarily boring.

He use to keep quiet and tolerate my cooking adventures well. Not to brag, but it is pretty rare that I steer too far off course and create anything that isn’t pleasing to the palette. As our marriage has aged I’ve noticed he’s more prone to point out to me when he doesn’t care for something and these times are become numerous. Numerous enough that I have come to the realization I am yoked to a picky eater.

I explain this because the recipe I share with you here was one of the ones that was on the “Jenn Only” list because Neal hates beats. I love beats. They have been my favorite vegetable as a kid. Just don’t pickle them. Bless it, I hate a pickled beat, but I digress.

Neal was working late in the machine shop of a friend, working to rebuild two large wagons that had recently been added to our arsenal of hay baling equipment. When he told me he wouldn’t be home until late I knew it was my night to bust out the beats and make this delicious salad. It was fantastic. I even used the left over ingredients (minus the beats) to make two sandwich wraps to take to Neal for dinner while we worked. Maybe I can work with this picky eater I love after all.



8oz uncooked, easy peel shrimp
1T minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste
2.5 cups of chopped greens of your choice
1T feta cheese
1T slivered almonds
0.5 cups of sliced beets – cooked fresh and then sliced or canned sliced
2t olive oil
2t balsamic vinegar
2t dijon mustard

Thaw if necessary and peel shrimp. Place in bowl and toss with the garlic as well as the salt and pepper. Sauté over medium heat until thoroughly cooked. Set aside.

Plate the salad by layering the greens, feta, almonds, beets, and the shrimp. In a small bowel mix the oil, vinegar and mustard. Serve on the side.



Upside Down Peach Cake

Peaches! My favorite fruit on this entire earth. I have yet to have any luck planting peach trees here on the farm. No luck, as in I killed two of them. Probably because I brought them home and then failed to put them in the ground for several months. Not my best plant parenting. Luckily, we are a stone’s throw away from the great peach producing state of South Carolina which actually out produces Georgia in peaches. This year I received a text from a friend that one of her other friends would be making a trip to a nearby peach farm and was willing to take orders. Between myself, my mother, and my mother-in-law we ordered two and a half, twenty-five pound boxes. I was in peach heaven!

We enjoyed a few fresh ones and froze the majority for future use, but one recipe that I absolutely had to make before the summer was over was this fantastic variation on Pineapple Upside Down Cake. I love it so much and will likely never make the traditional tropical version again if I have the option. Give it a try and see if you agree.

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 Upside Down Peach Cake

11 tbps unsalted butter, divided
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3-4 large peaches, peeled and sliced
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tbps baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup whole milk

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Preheat the oven to 350 F. Using a 10” cast iron skillet, melt 3 tbps of butter over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar and let melt until it melts and bubbles to make a sticky, thick syrup.

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Remove from heat and allow to cool five minutes. Place the peaches in the pan in a circular pattern.

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In a large mixing bowl, beat 8 tbps of butter with the sugar until fluffy. Beat in the vanilla then the eggs.

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In a separate bowl, mix the flower, baking powder, and salt. Stir half of the dry mixture into the wet mixture. Stir in the milk. Stir in the remaining dry mixture and stir just until mixed. Pour the batter of the peaches spreading it to the edges of the pan.

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Place in the preheated oven for 60 minutes or until the edges of the cake pull from the sides and a knife poked into the center of the cake comes out clean (pushed only through the cake portion, not the fruit).

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Allow the skillet to cool for 20 minutes before flipping it over onto the cake plate. Allow to cool slightly and then serve while still slightly warm (with vanilla ice cream as a bonus treat).

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Time Management Tools for the Homestead

For anyone out there following The Pony Draw blog regularly, you probably have noticed that it has been several months since anything new has been posted. That is because back in March 2016 I returned to full-time work after working only part-time since August 2015 shortly before this blog was started. In the hustle and bustle of establishing a new schedule the blog fell by the way side, but has not completely disregarded.

One of the questions I hear all the time regarding our homesteading adventures is ‘how do you have time to do it all’? The answer is simply that I don’t. There is never enough time in the day, the week, or even the year to get done all the things I plan or desire to do. The green tomato relish wasn’t canned because the tomatoes all turned red before I got to them. Seeds weren’t harvested from the cilantro because they had all dropped before I had time to trim and hang them. The horses are all unfit, the cow pasture remains without fencing, and my dissertation is so far behind schedule it is shameful. The biggest time commitment by far is employment. Two full-time incomes are required for our family right now and with mortgages, student loans, tractor payments, and our own personal activities it probably always will be. Heck, sometimes picking up part-time work is needed to fund expenditures outside our norm. Combine that with the duties of the farm, the completing of a doctorate degree, and maintaining (somewhat) a functionally clean home it is no wonder a little supportive care is required to juggle it all.

As a professional educator with a master’s degree and nearly completed doctorate in higher education administration, I have found that many of the time management tools we teach students are just as useful on the farm as they are at the university. Two of those tools that have become gems in my daily life are my weekly schedule keeper and my journal.

The schedule is a concrete component of my time management that is meant to serve as a road map for the week. It details in half-hour segments exactly what I need to be doing and when in order to make sure everything gets the attention needed throughout the day or week.

Time Management 01

The journal on the other hand is the flexible piece. Unlike literary journals where you write your thoughts and reflections, I use my journal to keep track of the tasks, appointments, and other important information that comes my way throughout the day. I set it up to contain a to-do list on the left hand side and a weekly calendar on the right. The to-do list is what I need to get done while the weekly calendar along with the schedule is when I need to get it done. Important notes and thoughts also get written down in the journal such as the phone number of a pet sitting client or an important date in the future. If I were to misplace the journal I’d be in real trouble!

Do I always stick to the schedule? No. Does the to-do list always get done before the next journal page is turned? Absolutely not. But these tools do help me stay on track a lot better than if I worked solely on my own memory. These tools work for me because a state of organization is my happy place. For someone that thrives better on a more hectic pace these may not do the trick and may be more torture than anything else. There are a variety of other time management exercises out there and a simply internet search will reveal many of them as will browsing the self-help section of just about any library or book store. The key is finding what works for you no matter what it happens to be.

Happy Homesteading and God Bless!


Riding the Sandhills Game Lands

Over the past few years we haven’t had too many opportunities to wander far from the farm and with spring nearly upon us the likelihood of that chance remains slim to none. Last weekend though we took advantage of a quiet, yet beautiful Sunday afternoon to haul the horses out to the Sandhills Game Lands with friends.

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Despite this amazing public land resource being right here in our home county we often forget that it is such a gem. The Sandhills Game Land is a one of many large natural reserves set aside for public land hunting opportunities. Horseback riding is allowed within certain regulations on designated game lands throughout North Carolina though not all. We are lucky in that the Sandhills allows horseback riding year round except for one small block that is restricted during the months of October and March which leaves vast amount of land to be explored on horseback. The terrain is soft with wide cut roads and paths making riding easy and enjoyable for even the most novice of trail riders.

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While at first glance it is easy to say there is nothing to be seen here except pines and sand. While it is home to the largest stand of old growth long leaf pine that just isn’t true. The lands are dotted with streams and ponds that give rise to multiple varieties of wildlife including deer, squirrels, reptiles, song birds, birds of prey, fish, and even bears (though I have yet to have my first sighting).

Gamelands 01

The United States Army is also active on the Sandhills using the game lands for military exercises including parachute jumps which can be a whole new experience in your horsemanship when you encounter them. It usually takes a horse or mule a little bit to figure out those figures dressed in camouflage are actually people and not horse eating monsters. Folks who know the game lands well can lead to special spots that include old military equipment such as tanks and burned out helicopters as well as churches and houses that date back to years when this land was rarely visited by outsiders. Camping is primitive so come prepared if you plan to spend the night.

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Maps of the Sandhills can be found online, but don’t expect to find specific trail maps. I enjoy the rides here most when I have an experienced Sandhills native such as Neal or other long time trail riders with me, but you can navigate the lands with a GPS and compass just fine if you are savvy in that department.

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That short evening ride just a few weeks ago was just the thing I needed to relax as well as be mentally ready for the up coming spring and work that comes along with it. Hopefully, we are able to manage our tasks and time in such a way that we can return more often than we have in the past as these are the moments that remind us why we live here and do what we do to stay.

Happy Homesteading and God Bless!