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:




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.

Gamelands 04

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.

Gamelands 03

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!


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

Seedlings 01

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.

Seedlings 02

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.

Seedlings 08

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!


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.


A Spring Tease

This winter has been long and wet. The temperatures have only been in the extremes for us a few weeks this season which is normal, but what is not normal is the large amount of rain we’ve had. It really turns the whole farm into a muddy mess making projects nearly impossible to complete and regular maintenance almost pointless. Not to mention ugly. The farm right now is just that….ugly.

The chickens seem to get the worse deal of it. Despite having a fully enclosed coup to protect them from the elements the excessive wet conditions have turned their outside run as well as their indoor coup into a muddy mess. Normally we clean out the coup and rebed it once a month with the laying beds being cleaned out once a week. There was so much mud and water seeping up from the ground this winter that it was impossible to rack anything off the ground and adding more bedding was like throwing good money in the mud. The poor girls had to make due with their laying boxes and the roosting bars as the only dry places to be found.

BUT….this weekend we finally got a break. The weather was dry, warm, and sunny. Both Neal and I jumped on the opportunity to complete jobs that had long been neglected. The chicken coup finally got rebedded. The cow shed got scrapped. The dog kennels which have gone largely unused in the wet weather got put back together after being disassembled by a number of ice and wind storms. Neal even got a chance to work on our newly acquired grain wagon which was in need of some work.

We weren’t the only ones enjoying this peek into the coming spring weather. The cows lounged, lazily in the sunshine. The horses rolled repeatedly trying to help their winter coats shed out. The daffodils are showing off the first of spring’s colors and the tulips are starting to poke their heads out of the ground as well.

I know winter hasn’t completely left us. There is still a thin layer of ice on the water troughs in the morning and a few cool days in the forecast, but we hope that the extremes of winter are behind us. These kinds of days give us something to look forward to and remind us to prepare for the coming growing season. It and it’s busyness will be upon us in no time!

Happy Homesteading and God Bless!


Tuff investigates my ground level daffodil photography.

Building a Growing Rack

Last year Neal and I intentionally purchased plants for our garden that were heirloom varieties that would allow us to harvest the seeds for planting the following year. I’ve spent the fall and winter collecting ideas of how to go about creating a space for those seedlings as well as indoor herbs. We did not have the resources to build a greenhouse so we needed to have a set up inside the house. Our home has two wonderful porches that wrap almost all the way around. While this is great for summer shade it means that I do not have a single window in the home with good growing sun light. This led me to find a set up that would allow me to put artificial light on growing seedlings. We were blessed this Christmas with a gift card that allowed me to purchase the materials from our local home improvement store.

Growing Rack 01

I materials I purchased included…

One five foot tall and four foot wide wire rack.
Two four foot long, two bulb utility lights with chains for hanging included.
Four T8 bulbs for the lights

The rack was relatively easy to put together. I have no exceptional skills other than the ability to read directions. If I can do it anyone can. I do need to purchase some additional S hooks so that I can adjust the height of the lamps as my seedlings grow. Other than that I’m ready to get planting.

Growing Rack 06

I’m very excited about how this turned out. I can’t wait to get my seeds planted last week and share my progress with you then.

Happy homesteading and God bless!


Greener Pastures

In a post last week, I shared that the success we experienced adding cows to our homestead was due to the pastures we had established prior to their arrival. I wanted to share more with our readers about that process and show you the beginning steps of our pasture expansion that is currently underway. We started with 5.5 acres of cleared land that was being leased to a local row crop farmer who had it in soybeans at the time of purchase. That was August 2012. I’ve broken our process down into four stages with a timeline of what we experienced during that time. Below is a picture of the area that would become our pasture when the soybean crop was still green and growing.

Pasture 01

After the soybeans were harvested in the Fall of 2012 the field was left unattended through the Winter and into the Spring of 2013. During this time the field began to grow a large number of weeds and undesirable grasses. The first thing that needed to happen before desired grazing grasses could be planted was to control these weeds. We did this through application of herbicides including 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid and glyphosate (commonly known as Round-Up). These were applied at recommended application rates in order to protect the land, other vegetation on the farm, and local environment. The use of these herbicides allowed us to quickly control the undesirable plants in order give the soon to be planted grass sprigs a chance to dominate the land. In addition to addressing the weeds we also smoothed the land by running a disc through it behind the tractor. We would have rather been able to use a cultipacker, but we did not have one available to us during that time.

1059892_10103692428720061_1622001140_oAbove: Neal spraying the weeds in Spring 2013.

In the Spring of 2014, we purchased 240 bushels of sprigs for planting in the pasture. We are lucky in that we are only a short drive from BB&K Farms where we were able to inspect the different varieties of grass they have available. Through BB&K Farms we were also able to rent the sprigging machine needed to plant the grass. Sprigs are small clumps of the grass including the root. These sprigs can then be placed in the ground where they will establish new growth. We selected the Ozark bermudagrass variety. It was a bit more costly, but we liked the thickness and speed of growth we saw in the sample fields at BB&K.

Pasture 05Above: The day we brought the rented sprigging machine home in Spring 2014.

It is not necessary to use a sprigging machine to plant sprigs in a field. Some people toss the sprigs out on a field using a manure spreader and then either leave them there to root on their own or lightly disc them into the soil. One thing that we discovered with the sprigging machine is that it left relatively deep furrows in the field which was disappointing as we had spent a fair bit of time making sure the land was smooth and even.

Once the sprigs were in the ground there was a lot of praying that the rain would be in our favor over the summer. Thankfully, the relatively dry summer was not enough to negatively affect our grass through the growth may have been more impressive with more water. We had hoped to provide ample fertilizer during this time, but unfortunately the funds were not available. We were able to mow the grass as it grew in an effort to encourage it to grow outward instead of only upward. During the early stages of growth the field had long, narrow lines of bright green, grass growing a foot higher or more.

Pasture 06
Above: The spotty growth of the Ozark grass in the first year.

During the Spring of 2015 we were able to lease the still growing pasture to a neighboring farmer who would fertilize it in exchange for harvesting the grass for hay during the Spring and Summer. The first fertilizer application was done with liquid pot ash and later an application of liquid nitrogen. The grass continued to grow though the amounto f hay harvested from it was minimal during the first two cuttings. By the time the third cutting came around mid-summer the five acres were producing around 200 squares bales per cutting and we were thrilled. By the fourth and finally cutting of 2015 it was producing over twice that much.

Pasture 08Above: Our fourth and final cutting of quality square bales.


One of the challenges we had was eradicating the goosegrass that continued to pop up in the fields. Goosegrass is an extremely obnoxious weed that is resistant to just about every herbicide on the market and thrives even with regular short mowing. One control option is use of a pre-emergent (herbicide used prior to germination). We applied Prowl H2O (pendimethalin) in February of 2015 with positive results though it did not eradicate the grass completely. This will be something we have to monitor in 2016 as well and likely apply an additional dose.

By the end of the 2015 Summer we had fenced approximately one half of the five acres of pasture for our soon to be arriving livestock (equine and cattle). We knew that we would have to keep the livestock on the pastures through the winter and wanted to protect them by over seeding with winter rye and fertilizing that rye with 34% nitrogen granules. We have been very satisfied with what this has provided for our pastures. Not only do the animals have additional forage through grazing on the rye, but it also provided staying power for the soil during the substantial rains we had early in the 2016 Winter. Below are a series of pictures showing the rye growth over the dormant bermudagrass.

Pasture 11Above: The visible blend of rye and dormant bermuda.

Pasture 10Above: The rye tall, thick, and green.

Pasture 09Above: The dormant bermuda where rye was not planted.

We are in the process of expanding our pastures by adding about three acres for our cattle herd. This land was wooded up until the Summer of 2015. The land was cleared by a small logging company in exchange for the harvested lumber. We are still in the process of removing stumps left by the loggers before we can seed and fence, but hope to work towards seeing growth this coming spring. Below are pictures of the process.

Pasture 15Above: The first round of heavy equipment removes the largest of the softwood trees.

Pasture 14Above: Trucks haul off the loads of hardwoods harvested during the clearing process.

Pasture 19
Above: Hardwoods stacked and ready to be hauled.

Pasture 21Above: Neal uses the backhoe to remove the stumps left behind by the loggers and piles them up for burning.

As you can see there is a quite a bit of work behind establishing and maintaining pastures. If fact, it has probably been the most time and financially consuming aspect of our homestead thus far.  We hope that this investment will provided benefits that last well into the future and pay off through happy livestock that consume less concentrated feed product. Time will tell…

Happy homesteading and God bless!