Starting Plants from Seed

Last month I shared the growing rack that I had put together to start seedlings and grow plants indoors. I was so frustrated that it took me this long to carve out a time to get my seeds planted, but this weekend I made it happen. My sister-in-law, Martha, inspired me with pictures of her seedling sprouts that are just about ready to transfer into their own individual pots. She was also very generous and shared some of the seeds she had harvested from her garden bounty last year. I had also saved tomato seeds from last year as well had some herb seeds that never made it into the ground. My preparation for this adventure was to read up on starting plants from seeds in books I found at our local library as well as picked up from a second hand store. To start I gathered all the needed materials and set up on a folding table outside. My materials included…

1 bag peat moss
1 bag vermiculite
Five gallon bucket
Handheld garden shovel
Seedling trays
Four seedling trays
Seedling cell inserts – enough for four trays

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I pulled out all the seeds I had put up last year and separated them into four groups. Commercial herbs, commercial flowers, commercial vegetables, and harvested seeds from our family’s various 2015 gardens. The vegetables and herbs took priority today. I ran out of soil mixture by the end of the task so was not able to get the flowers planted, but will do that during the next round.

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I mixed the peat moss and vermiculite in the five gallon bucket. I tried hard to make sure it mixed evenly though I did end up with the bottom of the bucket being heavy in vermiculite. It shouldn’t be a problem, but wasn’t my intention. I then lined the seedling trays with the seedling cells. These were all saved from plants we bought from a local plant farm last year so no additional expense for them this year. Once in place I filled the cells half way with the soil mixture then sprinkled the selected seeds into the cells. I didn’t really have any rhyme or reason to the amount of seeds in each cell other than trying to have enough cells to evenly distribute all the vegetable seeds. Some varieties had only enough seeds for two or three per cell while others had much more, just depended on how many seeds I had and how many cells were available.

Seedlings 03 While planting I made sure to clearly mark the different seeds so I didn’t loose track of where I had placed each type which is something that would be in character for me. I then sprinkled more soil mix over the top to fill the rest of the cells.

Seedlings 05Once all the trays were finished I lightly watered them to ensure they were thoroughly dampened, but not saturated. The seeds will not need any more water until well after germination. The most important thing until they sprout is to prevent evaporation and maintain a soil temperature of 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. They don’t even need light necessarily though most set ups including mine use the light to help maintain the temperatures. The evaporation is prevented by placing plastic wrap over the trays.

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Once the trays were planted, watered, and covered I placed them on the grow rack and plugged in the lights. Now just time to watch them grow! There is a variety of different germination rates in these trays so they will not all pop up at the same time. As they do start to peek out of the soil though I will be able to mark them with more permanent stakes and move the cells around so that those that still need to be under plastic can remain there while those that don’t can be separated.

Looking forward to sharing an update in a few weeks and having plants to put in the garden and take to market soon!

Happy Homesteading and God Bless!


Reaves Engraving

Reaves Engraving is a family owned business that has been based in Scotland County since 1933. Specializing in quality invitations and social stationary Reaves regularly provides complete ensembles for weddings, save the dates, rehearsal dinners, birth announcements, social correspondence, and many other printed items. In addition to stationary Reaves also offers calligraphy completed through computer-driven plotters which provide perfectly formed calligraphy at an affordable price in comparison to hand calligraphy.

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Invitations and other stationary items ready to be put together for sample packs.

Reaves is owned by Lindsay and Gay Pratt of Pinehurst, North Carolina after being long time residents of Laurinburg. Another familiar face at Reaves is the office manager Barbara who has been part of Reaves since ____. Other employees who work in the typesetting and calligraphy departments are often friends and family of the owners or former employees and have thus known the Pratt family throughout the years.

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A computer-drive plotter does calligraphy for a rehearsal dinner invitation.

Most business is conduct through mail, online, and phone orders though customers who live nearby are welcomed to come visit the shop and see first hand what options are available for their needs. Reaves offers multiple printing techniques including engraving, letterpress, flat print, thermography, or digital printing. Each style offers a variety of colors and fonts to personalize a customer’s piece in either a classic presentation or unique personal flair.

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A collection of multi colored napkins available for customers to select from.

Reaves also offers a variety of services that help make the invitation process as easy as possible. Invitation orders can be finished with stamping services for both response and mailing envelopes including international addresses, number of response cards to keep track of attendees, stuffing completed elements of the ensemble, and even shipping directly from the shop if the customer desires.

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Invitation orders wait their turn for calligraphy before being shipped to customers.

Ultimately, Reaves provides a classic stationary product with expert experience in etiquette and design all with the personalized service that can only be provided through a small, family owned business. A credit to their success can be seen in their marketing strategy which is almost entirely word of mouth. Reaves has successfully brought that small, hometown experience to the rest of the world through their mail order business which makes the experience much more special than purchasing stationary through a mass production corporation.

Happy Homesteading (and local shopping!) and God Bless!



Pimento Cheese

It took me a good couple of years to create the perfect pimento cheese recipe to fit my tastes. I searched and searched cook books and blogs for that tasty blend of smooth cheesy goodness and sharp pimento flavor. Alas, I was unsuccessful. Instead what I present to you here is a recipe that I built piece by piece during my search. For me what makes this recipe perfect is as much the technique as it is the ingredients. I want pimento cheese to have a smooth texture and consistent flavor in each bite. I loathe tasting chunks of sharp cheddar or bland cream cheese in a spread. I believe that use of the electric mixer for this recipe is key.


8 oz cream cheese at room temperature (Not the end of the world if you forget to set it out and it is still firm from the fridge. You will just have to blend with the mixer longer.)
1 cup finely grated mild cheddar cheese (MUST be fine grated and MUST be mild)
1 cup finely grated  monterey jack cheese  (again, MUST be fine grated)
(Note: Two cups of a mild colby jack blend works well here, just make sure it is finely grated)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 fresh pimento
1-2 fresh jalapeno peppers (option)
(Note: For this particular batch I used dehydrated pimentos and jalapenos from our Spring 2015 garden. Dehydration removes many of the oils from hot peppers giving them a much milder flavor when re-hydrated. I am not a fan of super hot heat in this recipe, but using the dehydrated peppers gives the perfect balance of jalapeno flavor and just a hint of heat. Below are photos of the dehydrated peppers when they first hit the water and then about two hours later.)


Dice the pimentos (and optional jalapenos if using – removing the seeds to reduce the heat if desired) in a food processor and pulse until the peppers are very finely minced and blended well.

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Place the pepper mixture along with all other ingredients in an upright stand mixer with the paddle attachment (a hand held mixer would work just as well). Blend on low to medium speed until all ingredients are well incorporated and you can no longer distinguish the individual ingredients except for the bits of pepper.

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Serve immediately with crackers, fresh veggies, or on sandwich bread. Place left overs in a resealable container and place in the fridge.

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Happy Homesteading and God Bless!


Meet the Mules

I am of the opinion that the world is just a better place when viewed through a set of equine ears. I’m not picky as to exactly what kind of ears, but there is indeed something special when they are mule ears or LONG EARS as the mule skinners  call them. Does this sound like a foreign language to you already? You aren’t alone! Mules and mule people can be a very unique set of individuals with terms all their own. My life has been enriched by mules and their people since 2009 so it is often easy for me to forget that not everyone knows about these amazing creators and the folks that love them. Let me introduce you to just a little bit of mule know-how to help you see what I’m talking about.

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A group of “Mule Girls” enjoying their mounts and good company.                Photo: courtesy of Shannon Hoffman


One of the first questions I get from non-equine people is “what is it”? Some think mule is just another word for donkey or possibly a breed of horse. The truth is that a mule is the result of the mating of a mare (female horse) to a jack (male donkey). If the match is reversed with the female being a donkey (jenny) and the horse being male (stallion) then you get a hinny which may be difficult to tell apart from a mule unless you are an experienced mule enthusiast. Mules have been a part of the equine world since the domestication of horses and donkeys. They combine the best of both worlds with the calm and quiet demeanor of the donkey, but the size and athleticism of the horse. They are known for being very sure footed, hardy, and smart (or stubborn depending on if you are talking to someone they have recently out smarted). Just like any other animal though, they each have their own personalities, talents, and dispositions so generalizing them so broadly can be misleading. I have had horses that I liked more so than some mules and I have had mules that I liked more than some horses.

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Sadiee Mae, a Belgian molly mule. Photo courtesy of Shannon Hoffman.

Another question I get is “what do you do with a mule”? My answer is anything you do with a horse. My mules ride both on the trail and in the show ring, are trained to pull a wagon or carriage, and one is even trained in tricks. Just like horses mules can be trained in all different styles of riding and which ones they excel in is often determined by the talents of their horse mother. Mules that are born of draft horse mares are commonly used for driving and pulling or as riding mounts for larger adults. Mules out of stock horse breeds (Quarter Horses, Paints, Appaloosas, etc.) are common on the trail and in competitive western riding events. The breed doesn’t necessarily have to limit them in the events they parttake in though. Below is a picture of Lucky Number Seven owned by Shannon Hoffman of St. Claire Mule Farm and ridden by Dr. Jock Tate after winning the 2013 Quest for the Best Challenge at Reflection Farms in Vass, NC. Seven is a Belgian draft mule.

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Lucky Number Seven (owned by Shannon Hoffman) and ridden by Dr. Jock Tate during their victory lap in the 2013 Quest for the Best at Reflection Farms, Vass, NC.                                 Photo courtesy of Shannon Hoffman.

The reason I remain attracted to these special animals is the challenge they present to my horsemanship (or more correctly mulemanship). I find that training and building a relationship with a mule is different than doing the same with a horse. Mules require more of me and make me really think about what I am asking, how I am asking it, and how I can improve my communication with them as an animal. When I “get it right” they reward me with a long standing trust that opens so many doors as a mount on the trail, in the ring, or around the farm. I am blessed to be in possession of an amazing mule named Sally who was trained by the mule skinner James Lamm then later purchased by the late Buddy McCarter whose widow (also named Sally) left her in my care upon his death. Sally was already an exceptional mule when she came into my life. She was well-trained and mannerly, but she still required me to get to know her and bond with her before we really became a team and tapped into all the great things we could do together. I trust Sally with my life and the life of those around me because of this bond. I have never had that with a horse even Max who I have known and cared for twelve of his thirteen years.

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Sally with Jennifer McRae aboard at the 2012 NC State Fair Mule and Donkey Show.          Photo courtesy of Eddie Bruner.

I have had several other mules come into my life since Sally and each is as unique as can be. Some were introverted and laid back (Katie – below left) while others have been social butterflies that require constant stimulation and companionship (Woody – below right). Very different, but each special.

My absolute favorite thing about mules though is their people. The mule community has a type of comradery that is hard to come by in other circles. The equine world in general has been known to be a tight-knit and sometimes even exclusive group that can be difficult to find a place within. Mule people are different. They are a down to earth, fun-loving group that is passionate about their long ears. Years ago I was connected with the Carolina Mule Association and have been able to participate in a handful of their events though not nearly as many as I would like. It is through this group that I came to truly appreciate everything that is the mule community – passionate, caring, and fun. Even without a mule, membership with this group is amazing. Below are pictures of the group during a 2012 ride at South Mountain State Park in North Carolina. There were a total of 12 mules and one horse on that ride.

If you are in the area come visit the mules of The Pony Draw someday. Maybe even take a lesson on the great Sally. I promise you will not be disappointed with the experience and may even be ready to start your own journey to becoming a mule skinner.

Happy Homesteading and God Bless!


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Meadow, a stock breed molly mule. Photo courtesy of Shannon Hoffman.

Rough Days

Every now and again I have one of those days that makes me wonder why we bother with all the work and frustration that can be homesteading. Last Thursday was one of those days. One of those days that makes a small house or apartment in town feel like a much more appealing option.

For me it all started the second I walked out of our bedroom door and was met by an aroma that let me know the nine month old puppy was not able to “hold it” this morning. It has only happened a few times and this morning was one of them. The poor guy was looking at me from his crate with a look that said a combination of “I’m so sorry” and “Can you please come help me out of this situation”. So the day begun with crap. Literally.

In my efforts to make up for the extra time spent with this unexpected morning chore I forgot to make myself a lunch for my in-town, part-time gig. This made for a long and HUNGRY day. When I arrived home that afternoon I intended to bee line straight for the kitchen for a pre-dinner snack. Instead as I drive into the farm I see that the horses have taken down a section of fence that will need immediate attention. So much for that snack.

I quickly ran through the afternoon’s chores hoping that Neal would be home before I had to get to mending the fence. Unfortunately, just as I was finishing up and heading out to the pasture with hammer in hand I received a phone call that a wildfire on the gamelands would be keeping Neal away until well into the night. Time to put on the super farm girl cap and get this fence patched up on my own. I lucked out in that none of the boards were actually broken, just knocked off their posts. The braided electric wire was also still intact which had kept the herd in the fence and kept a bad situation from turning into an emergency.

Major frustrations quickly took over even the smallest of tasks. I cracked three eggs while cleaning the day’s collection, the pekin drakes bullied up on the khaki campbell drake while trying to pen them up for the night, and I still hadn’t even THOUGHT about what was going to be dinner. Why do we do this again?

The day’s chores eventually were completed and I find myself sitting alone in the living room with the windows open reflecting on what I would not call the best of days. One dog is curled up to my right and the other two are sleeping at my feet. All is quiet except for the song of spring peepers coming through the window behind me announcing that spring is soon on its way. I hear the rustle of hay flakes as the horses nose through what remains of their dinner with an occasional snort. Outside the night is clear and the light from the stars is crisp. The ducks give out an occasional quack as someone readjusts in their chosen part of the pen.

While these are the days that make me question our choices, it is these nights that reaffirm that we are exactly where our hearts have lead us which is farm from that small apartment in town.

Happy Homesteading and God Bless.


Sweet and Sour Wild Duck

I’m so excited to share another great wild duck recipe! As I mentioned in the Wild Orange Duck post last month I am always on the lookout for good recipes to use with the wild duck Neal brings home from his hunts. This particular recipe was largely inspired by a recipe found in After the Hunt: Louisiana’s Authoritative Collection of Wild Game and Game Fish Cookery by Chef John D. Folse which is on the shelf at a dear friend’s house. I’ve had a copy of the recipe for some time, but just now got a chance to try it. I made a few changes, but not much. I doubled the amount of duck, doubled the flour coating ingredients and deep fried the duck instead of pan fried. Everything about this recipe came out delicious. The duck was flavorful and moist while the sauce was the perfect blend of sweet and tangy. I served it with white rice and broccoli that was frozen from last spring’s garden. It made enough for two meals of two servings each. The leftovers the next day were just as good as the first night. Make sure to include this recipe on your list next time you have duck brought home by your own hunters.

Happy Homesteading and God Bless!



Sweet Sour Pork 01


8 wild  duck breasts cut into cubes
1 egg, beaten
4 tbsp cornstarch, divided
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp and 3 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
2/3 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white vinegar
18 oz chunked pineapple, drained with juice reserved


In a large bowl whisk together the beaten egg, 2 tbsp cornstarch, olive oil, 1 tsp soy sauce, salt, and white pepper. Add the cubed duck and coat. Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for one hour.

In a saucepan whisk together sugar, vinegar, 2 tbsp cornstarch, and 3 tsp soy sauce. Place reserved pineapple juice in measuring cup and fill with enough water to equal one cup. Cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes until thickened. Add pineapple and turn sauce down to lowest setting to keep warm while preparing duck.

Heat a deep fryer with oil to 350 degrees.

In another large bowl blend  flour and baking soda. Toss the marinated duck in batches. Deep fry duck in batches (however many you need in order to fry in single layers – it took me three). Let drain on plate with paper towel.

In a large bowl toss duck in sauce to coat. Serve over rice.

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Hummingbird Cake

I’m not sure when the first time I ever had Hummingbird Cake was, but I do know it was many years ago after I had moved to Laurinburg as a college student. I remember loving every scrumptious bite and wondering where this Southern tradition had been all my life.  Fast forward to a few weeks ago while standing in the grocery store aisle where I saw the 50th Anniversary issue of Southern Living (Feb. 2016).

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Being one of my favorite magazines I grabbed a copy and let it make a home on my living room end table until I had a quiet moment to enjoy it. Low and behold, the Hummingbird Cake was featured as a reader favorite from 1978 with many appearances since then.

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It had been so long since I had last enjoyed a delicious slice of this favorite of Southern cakes that I just had to find an occasion to make one. When a going away party was planned for a friend I grab the opportunity and got to baking. 
For those who have never had Hummingbird Cake I would describe it as a sweeter carrot cake with a bit more texture due to the fruit chunks.


3 cup flour
2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
8 oz crushed pineapple undrained
2 cup chopped bananas
1 cup chopped pecans (optional – I omitted)
shortening/flour for greasing pans
Double batch cream cheese frosting (One patch = 8 oz cream cheese, 1/2 cup unsalted butter, 16 oz powdered sugar, 1 tsp vanilla)
1 cup chopped or whole pecans for decoration (I chopped)

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Preheat oven to 350 F. Whisk together flour (I sifted the 3 cups first), sugar, salt, soda, and cinnamon. Add oil and eggs, stir until just moistened. Stir in vanilla, pineapple, and bananas. Pour into 3 well-greased/floured 9″ round cake pans. Bake 25-30 mins. Cool in pans for 10 mins. Cool on wire rack out of pans for 1 hour. Layer with cream cheese frosting and sprinkle top with nuts.

The batter is very thick and chunky so don’t be alarmed when it doesn’t resemble other cake recipes.

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I recommend freezing the layers before icing them because it is a very tender cake that is easy to tear when icing. I also prefer thinner layers of icing than many people which is easier to do with a frozen cake rather than a fresh cake.

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The nuts are optional both inside and outside the cake. Neither Neal or myself care for nuts in our cakes very often and think this recipe is just as great without them. Neal suggested fresh fruit as a top garnish and I might indeed give that a try next time around. However you choose to top your Hummingbird Cake, I hope you enjoy this Southern classic as much as we do.

Happy Homesteading and God Bless!