Farm Update: Oh deer!

We have known for some time that there are unique challenges to trying to grow crops on our land before we had moved out there.  We thought we had most of the bases covered: plant a hearty crop that doesn’t require daily care, plant a crop that doesn’t have a small harvest window and plant a crop that will build up the soil for future crops.  We didn’t think about the fact that with all the readily available vegetation around our land that the local deer population would consider our 400 bean plants such a delicacy.  We were wrong.

For any city slickers who aren’t sure what is wrong with this picture; there should be leaves on those stems.  🙂  I wasn’t really sure what to do so I decided  just to weed and mow and hope that the plants survive.  If not, they will have served part of their dual purpose: to fix nitrogen in the soil for fall planting.

About a week ago we decided to plant a row of flowering perennials on each end of the garden rows to attract beneficial insects and create a more balanced eco-system.  Ironically, the deer decided to avoid those completely.

The flower varieties that we have added so far include Russian Sage (Wayne’s favorite), Agastache, Coneflower, and Anise Hyssop.

The second chore for the day included checking on the bees and putting in some new wired foundation.  When we put the frames in the hives we include a thin layer of wax (known as foundation) so the bees are able to get a head start on building out their comb.  The foundation we put in when setting up these hives had no wiring in it so when it got hot the wax softened and flopped over creating a less than ideal environment for our bees.  You can read more about that little oopsie at our other blog –  Julia’s Bees.

Here is a picture I took looking between the tops of two frames, into the hive.

You can see the layer of wax that is laying down across the bottom of the frames.  Normally this would be standing up in the frame as demonstrated in the picture below.

After getting the slight bee problem corrected, I took a break.  I normally like to walk around the land and take a picture or two to share but 3+ hours in the sun convinced me that it would be best if I just sat down and relaxed.  While doing this I snapped a shot of the open portion of our land.

I like this picture, because it includes the bees, the beans (sans leaves thanks to the deer), and the blueberry plants (a bit hard to notice but in the clearing on the far side of the picture).  My goal is to get the grass down to where it is manageable by the end of summer so we can do a sizeable fall planting of bushes, trees, and winter crops.  Wooohooo!

Progress at Belle Terre Farm

Slowly but surely, this is our motto out at Belle Terre Farm. When working on a multi year project such as this you sometimes go a while without seeing any noticeable results. While this teaches patience, it is very fulfilling to occasionally see the fruits of your labor. My recent visit to Belle Terre Farm was just such an experience. As you may recall from earlier post the plan is to put in some garden rows and grow beans that will help to fix nitrogen in the soil so we can get on a regular crop rotation either, this fall or next spring. We got the first two rows of Black Valentine Black Beans planted a couple of weeks ago and were pleasantly surprised to see the progress they have made.

Here you can see Cassie, the ever faithful watch dog, keeping a close eye on the newly sprouted beans.  We got two more rows put in this week which leaves only three to go. We are getting about a hundred plants per row so needless to say, we will be eating a lot of black bean soup this winter =). Here is a pic of the four rows.

Earlier in the year we also planted a few blueberry bushes on the land. While we were told to remove the flowers so the plants could focus on root growth we just couldn’t resist leaving a few blooms on so we could enjoy our very own blueberries.

Our biggest concern for the blueberries at the moment is getting them some protection from the surrounding grasses. Blueberries don’t like competition and will struggle if we aren’t able to get them some breathing room. In the next couple of weeks we will get some weed cloth and mulch put down so they can have all of the moisture and nutrients for themselves.

The other big change at Belle Terre farm is the arrival of some permanent guests. We have put two bee hives near the creek, facing our crops and the morning sun.

The creek is just behind the hives and down the slope that is hidden by the unrelenting growth of plant life. The bees oriented themselves quickly to their new environs.

At the end of every work trip to the farm Wayne likes to spend a few minutes just walking around, getting acquainted with the land. A big part of this experience is thinking about how the farm will grow and develop in the coming years. Such walks often result in additional projects (exactly what we need with our current schedules). Since we won’t be able to build our home on the farm this year, Wayne is going to build a small shelter / studio this Fall. The idea is still taking shape but it will be something of a retreat on the lower part of the land that will be very organic and natural that will provide a place of rest and inspiration. Here is a picture of the location for the retreat.

The lighting is incredible as the few tall trees keep the area in relative shad during the hot part of the day. Some of the small saplings will probably come out and we will compliment the existing ferns with a collection of Hosta. We are looking forward to a nice week or two this Fall spent putting this all together.

That’s all for now. Will have further updates on Belle Terre Farm as time allows.

Be Well,


The Return of Grass

As we make our way through Spring, life abounds at Belle Terre Farm.  The trees are filling out forming a green canopy that is ever in motion,  the white blooms of the dogwood peak through the woods, and the grass does what it does best; it grows!  With blueberry bushes in the ground, plans for hundreds of black bean plants in the works and preparations afoot for the arrival of at least two new hives; keeping the grass in check is a priority.  For those who are haven’t read our previous posts on you may not be familiar with my old school lawn mower.  Well here it is (eat your heart out John Deere)…

For those who don’t know what this is or why I refer to it as a lawn mower, this is a scythe.  Traditionally used for cutting grasses, harvesting grains, etc. the scythe is a highly effective tool for anyone wanting to keep their grass nice and tidy without destroying their micro climate with a gas powered lawn mower.

Here is a picture of the garden rows before mowing…

and here is a picture of the garden rows after mowing

A noticeable difference after only about 30 – 45 minutes with the scythe.  I went ahead and turned under the cover crop and grass clippings in the three rows on the right.  I will start my first planting of black beans next week with these three rows.  The soil is looking better but will still need some work before it is ready for a regular rotation.  Next I will turn under the cover crop and grass on the rows in the center and to the left.  The cover crops were planted much later in these rows and I want to give them a little more time to build up organic matter before turning them in.

Here is a pic of the blueberry bushes before mowing…

and after…

Again, 15 to 20 minutes with the scythe.  Blueberries don’t like competition so I decided to put down some weed prevention cloth and mulch to keep the grass down.  I grossly underestimate the amount of mulch required so I only got one of the three rows done.  The bushes seem to be ok though I have limited experience with blueberries.

The next project was to clear the areas for the bees’ future home.  I didn’t make much progress as it had been raining for a while and I was starting to get tired and knew that I had much to accomplish back at Belle Terre headquarters.  As has become my habit this spring I did take a few minutes to walk our little corner of the world for a nice nature shot.  Here is what I found this trip…

My apologies for the quality of the picture.  I forgot my camera and was taking shots with my phone.  Not sure what kind of flower this is but the white and pink flowers were gorgeous against the green and brown backdrop of the creek bed.

It was a great day and I had much fun.  Every trip is another step forward toward our dream, step after glorious step.

Be Well,


On the home front…

For what seems like ages now we’ve been discussing about how to proceed with our little 6 acre paradise outside of Morganton, NC.  We would like to move there as soon as possible, but there are tons of variables (not the least of which is financial) that have been impeding that transition.  We’ve been researching options including (eek) living in a camper for a year or so while we build.  I’m quite happy to say that we’ve finally come to a decision and Belle Terre is playing a large role in it.

Rather than purchasing a camper or another temporary living structure, we’re going to try to build a {very small} traditional house on the land next spring.  The thought is that we can move in next summer and formally begin our little adventure.  It will allow us to put our current house on the market sans dogs (it’s slightly challenging to show a house when you have four of them!).   At the same time, we’ll be able to save  money to build our {slightly larger} straw bale home.  After we move into the main house, our tiny house on the hill will become Belle Terre’s permanent home.  It will serve as our production space/storage room/studio.

With that in mind, we met with a builder today (making this all feel very official) to discuss our options.   To prepare for our meeting, I drew up this 500 sqft sample plan:

The front of the house (at the bottom of the plan) has double french doors leading onto the deck and windows on either side of the door.  It faces down the hill and looks over our property.  It should create quite a pretty view.  If you have to spend significant time on the computer (as we do), its an awfully nice place to sit and do it.  

As a side note, is very cool.  It lets you draw out a simple plan quite easily, add all kinds of items to it, and even to see it in 3D.

I also gave the builder this photo so he know what I had in mind for the exterior:

It’s a very simple, rustic cabin feeling.  I pulled this picture from a site ages ago and unfortunately don’t know the source, but many thanks to the owner for their contribution to our dream.  I’ve posted the rest of my collection of home inspiration photos at Pinterest.

So, that’s our plan.  In the meantime, we can continue to both work and use our free time to focus on building our little soap company.

Planting at Belle Terre Farm

As many of you know, Belle Terre is more than a soap company.  Belle Terre is the name we have given to our transition to a more simple, sustainable and purposeful life.  The biggest part of this transition is the small sustainable farm we hope to move to next year.  For now, this farm is 6 acres of raw land located in the foothills of NC, just north Morganton.  In the past we have posted about this transition on a separate blog,, but we have decided to consolidate some of our posting to make it easier for our readers.  With that having been said we are very excited about the progress we have made .

We made it out to the land on Wed. and had a great day.  It was 70 degrees and sunny with a slight breeze.  Absolutely perfect for working outside.  Started out by getting the last of our blueberry bushes in the ground.  We have 18 bushes total which we hope to begin harvesting a little next year.  The 18 plants should give us plenty of berries for morning cereal, pies, smoothies and healthy snacking.  Here is a pic of one of the young plants.  They are currently only one to two feet tall.

Young Blueberry Bush

We also got a couple of sweet cherry trees.  One Bing and one Black Tartarian.  We hope to get more in the coming weeks.

Young Cherry Tree

After planting the bushes and trees we were going to till some of the garden rows that had weeds growing in them.  Upon closer inspection we realized that it wasn’t weeds growing in the middle of the rows but the rye/hairy vetch mixture that had been planted last fall.  We will let this continue to grow for several more weeks before working it back into the soil.  Here are the 7 rows we have so far.  The three on the left are the more recent and the cover crop hasn’t sprouted yet.  The four on the right that look like lighter strips of green are the original rows we dug last year.

Garden Rows

Here is a close up of hairy vetch.  It is a legume (think beans, peas, lentils). It takes nitrogen from the air and puts it back into the soil, which is the opposite of most vegetable plants.  We are doing this as a cover crop, then will do black beans (another legume) before starting a more traditional crop rotation.

Hairy Vetch

Finally, we spent some time just walking the land and enjoying being in such a beautiful place.  Down by the creek we discovered these four trees reaching for the sky.  Words can not describe their strength and majesty.

Trees in Spring

After some more quiet time on the land we headed home.  We were remiss to leave but had the consolation that every day we are a step closer to moving out there for good.


I finally made it out to our land.  It has been way too long.  The soap business has taken more time than either of us anticipated,  though we don’t mind.  Starting Belle Terre has been tons of fun!  But as I walked beneath the maples with yellow, red and brown leaves rustling under foot, the bigger picture was once again brought into focus.  A simple life, close to the earth, with Julia and our clan of canine companions.  This is Belle Terre!

The picture below is  of the garden rows I had been working on in late August and early September.  While the changing colors reminded me that nature was exhaling from a long busy summer, this image reminded me that life continued and there would be no season of rest for those who chose to live close to the earth.

The Great Shed Raising

On Monday July 26th we began the Great Shed Raising.  Bobby and Silvia were in from Texas and were kind enough to devote a portion of their vacation to our endeavor.  I documented most of the experience and Wayne will follow up on Willow Hermitage with details of our lessons learned.

We purchased a kit from Lowe’s as a hope of making it easier on everyone.  The reviews were positive, but most people said it took them at least two days to complete.  Naturally, we scoffed at the thought.  There would be four of us and at least two (that would be Bobby and Sylvia) are competent at carpentry, etc.  We’d be able to put it together in a day.  We’d show them. As Wayne would say, the best laid plans….

Part I

Here is our before picture:

And one with the addition of the footings.

Unpacking all the mess we brought with us:

Opening the pallet and reading the instructions.  Turns out the reading the instructions part happened a lot.  Like every few minutes or so…

Contemplating the instructions.

Who’s this random man climbing through the woods?  Just Charlie checking out the lay of the land.

Trying to get everything level.

And the painting divas got to work.  It was our job to stay a head of them.  The sun was bright enough (for the morning at least) that we were able to paint and have everything dry before the guys needed the pieces.  We missed one or two (no one’s perfect), but overall managed it well.

Building the floor.  This was shortly after realizing that the framing gun we brought wasn’t working.  The project probably would have been done in 1/2 the time if we’d had the assistance of the gun.  Instead the guys were stuck doing everything the old fashioned way.

Reviewing the instructions:

And we’re level!  Time for a break.

Putting up the first wall.

And nailing some temporary supports in place.

Wall number two!  (It looks so easy when you put it like this…the truth was this was probably half way through the day).

Wall number 3.

I got slightly distracted when we were visited by some neighbors.  The gentleman who lives to our right introduced himself.  He’s a landscaper and very friendly.

Here’s the next neighbor who showed up to say hello.  He just made himself at home no questions asked.  I wish I had got a picture of him beside a person.  It’s the first time I think I’ve seen a Great Pyrenees in person and they certainty live up to their name.  The dog is just plain HUGE.  I’m pretty sure he is the cattle dog from a couple miles up the road.

And this is his buddy who came with him but wasn’t quite so eager to be introduced.  This is the closest I managed to get to him.  He was a bit skittish.  The two of them took off together when a truck pulled up the road a short while later.

This is me helping.  My job was to stand on the framing and make sure it didn’t move while Wayne put it together.  Tough work.

And the truss goes up.  Boy, this was an experience that I’m sure Wayne will talk about in detail.  Basically, things were not fitting as we expected.

By the time the rest of the trusses went up, we were all exhausted.  We had arrived shortly after 8am and left around 6:30p.  All day in the sun is quite draining.  So, we pulled a tarp over the top to protect it from rain and loaded everything we had left in side.

Before leaving, Bobby said he had a gift for us.  I can’t remember the name (I’ll add it after I check with Wayne), but basically it helps cut stray bales when building.  We’re hopeful that it means Bobby & Silvia will be visiting us again to help with the honey shed that we’re hoping to building in May.

So, we adjourned for the day.  Bobby, Silvia, and Wayne headed back up to Beech Mountain where the Parker clan was staying and I headed to the puppies and back to work.

Part II

Bobby, Silvia and Wayne headed back to Morganton on Thursday to finish up what was left.  I had to be at work so I wasn’t available to take any pictures, but Wayne was kind enough to share these with me.

Here’s the finished roof.

And applying the rolled roofing.  I’m glad I wasn’t there for this part.  Anyone up that high makes me very nervous.

Looking good!

This was getting late again in day two and I think everyone was getting just a bit loopy.

Putting in the very last nail.  Whew!

And all done.

So, it did take the full two days as was promised to complete the shed from start to finish.  The good news is that Wayne now has a place to store all his lovely tools and doesn’t have to drive around Charlotte with the scythe stashed in the back of his car.  I was just waiting for him to get pulled and try to explain why he had to have that lovely item with him at all times.

A great, big, huge thanks to Bobby and Silvia for spending a good portion of their vacation assisting us in the Great Shed Raising.  It literally would not have happened had they not been there.

Next up?  Prepping the land for the orchard and berry patch.  Then we’ll being drawing up plans, investigating permitting, and collecting salvaged materials for the honey shed/temporary home.

Land Update

As promised, I wanted to post a quick update to the land.  I mentioned before that I had concerns about the fertility as we weren’t seeing much growth.  I was SO wrong.  We visited over the July fourth weekend as a family outing.  My sister from DC, her boyfriend, my other sister, her fiance, Wayne, my dad, and I all drove up to see how things looked.  It was the first visit for my sisters and their significant others.  My mom stayed behind to ensure dinner would be ready for us upon our return.

Everything has grown tremendously.  Even with Wayne’s persistent use of his scythe, the grass remains and threatens to take over.   Here we are upon arrival:

And walking up to the top of the property.

Wayne and Dad took a seat in the Adirondack chairs we bought just for sitting and enjoying the space.

While they talked, the rest of us took some time to snap a couple pictures.  Here’s my sister, her fiancée, and their dog Vada.

And here is the sisters shot.  Could we look any less related?

The land was just as gorgeous as I remembered it and Wayne and I had a lovely time filling everyone in on our plans.  It was refreshing and reassuring to see the lushness.

Juxtapose the picture above against my first post about the land.  The difference is just extraordinary.

Next up?  We’re shed building in just a few weeks.  We took the easy route and bought a kit, but I hope to document the process all the same.

And the journey begins…

I’m excited to say that we are now the proud owners of 6+ acres of land.  This is the first big step toward our dream of living a sustainable life.

It’s quite beautiful land although fairly heavily wooded right now.  The land starts where the for sale sign is below…

…and continues to the second for sale sign that you can just barely see in this picture.

The front has a nice cleared portion (at least an acre) that will allow us to start an orchard and a vegetable garden.

There’s even a small creek.

We’re planning to build a straw bale home a bit up the hill past the creek and some of the trees so that we have privacy.  The house will likely be located a bit higher than where Wayne and his mom are standing in this picture.

The very tip top of the property has a flat portion that was set up as the original home site.  It will be my bee yard and Wayne has promised me a honey shed to go with it.

The day we closed Wayne and I took some lawn chairs and had a lovely picnic by the creek.  We then wandered to the top of the property and enjoyed the quiet while discussing our plans.  I imagine we’ll be doing quite a bit of that over the next few years.  I had to go back to work, but Wayne spent the day clearing brush and came home rather content.

It’s such a relief to finally feel like we’re moving forward.  I’ve been downloading every sustainable living/homesteading podcast I can find and I’m listening to them on the way to and from work for inspiration.  There’s so much to think about and so much to plan.

Bees galore

In March, W & I (and about 1300 other people) had the privilege of attending the Organic Grower’s School.  We always learn quite a bit and made the decision this year to split up for individual classes.  W opted for Building an Outdoor Clay Oven and I took Beginning Beekeeping.  Neither of us were disappointed with our choice.  W built an oven start to finish and came out of the process feeling confident he could recreate it himself (and quite dirty).  I came out of the class with a grand desire for a hive of my very own.  The level-headed suggestion from the class was that each of us should spend some quality time with a beekeeper before jumping in and starting our own hives.

So since class I have been dutifully bugging David and Tina to allow me to come over whenever they happen to open their hives and they have been kind enough to humor me.  I’ve been twice now – once when David was just checking on the hives and (significantly more exciting I must say) today when he was in the middle of catching a swarm.  Someone’s wayward bees (a wild hive maybe?) had planted themselves in the top of a quite tall hollow tree.  David managed to get himself up there and cut down the top, lowering it gently to the ground.  He then relocated the bees in the top of the tree as well as those in a bucket he collected prior to cutting into the tree.  The whole process was enthralling.  W took a couple pics from a safe distance and I shot a few of the tree and bees.  You can click on those below to see larger images.

Needless to say, I returned home and promptly ordered my very own hive.  🙂

Bees - Suiting UpBees - Cutting down treeBees - lowering topBees - Top of TreeBees - moving to hiveBees - Frame2 Bees - Frame