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).

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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!

Jennifer

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
Seeds

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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!

Jennifer