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Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com
July 3, 2013
Summer: At least that is what the calendar says, that it’s summer. Time to clean up the grill, assemble the neighbors and enjoy extended daylight hours and fresh vegetables from the garden.
Only this year there are no vegetables.
We have had so much rain, so little sun that beans have yellowed on the vine, and tomatoes, well the ones planted at my house aren’t even blooming. Growing yes, blooming, no. This time last year I was in a summertime frenzy of picking, chopping, slicing, stirring, canning and dehydrating. I was blessed with an abundance, Billy was also. He had “the best garden ever.”
But that was last year. We’ve had rain and very little sun. This year no tomatoes, beans, chickens or corn. The last two have been systematically murdered and eaten by a legion of raccoons that we can not capture, despite having traps set.
Last week a friend traveled from Cartersville to Roswell, equipped the farm with a camera. But I also found tracks. Coon tracks.
If Billy could afford critter eradication, trust me, he would. You see, recently a developer began removing trees from a large piece of property just down the road from Billy. The coons have two places to go: Target Supercenter Shopping Center, and Billy’s Albertson’s farm. What we need is a truckload of Good-ole-boys with a couple coon dogs. But coon dogs aren’t quite as popular in Roswell, Georgia as a Pomeranian or a Bulldog. The critters have taken over. The garden has fed them, not humans.
Those who haven’t liked his FB page missed the news, last week a raccoon killed all of Billy’s hens, save two or three.
We are done my friends. Even the Outside Man himself is done, said, “I’ve give up. I’ve been farming all my life and I’ve never seen it so bad. It’s just terrible. I don’t have anything no more.”
The critters have taken what little God did provide. Eighty-year-old Billy just isn’t able to keep up with the varmints that see his farm as an all you can eat buffet. We can’t keep putting effort and energy into the saturated soil. Most-likely Billy will not open his vegetable stand this year. If he does the harvest will be a scant handful of vegetables. Kelle and her boys as well as many other volunteers have helped. We have planted, replanted and fretted along with Billy. We have prayed while dropping beans into the ground only to see those beans again after three more inches of rain washed the soil away, or worse never see a single sprout because the seeds rot in the ground.
This makes me sad; it makes the helpers sad. Billy is deeply frustrated.
Below are shots from the garden. As Billy Albertson once said, “A farmer is the biggest gambler there is.”
This year we gambled and lost.
Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes. In 2012 she released Stress-Free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author. 2014 will see the release of In the Kitchen with Billy: Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches. She is currently working on her first novel. She would love to hear from you. Visit her at www.reneawinchester.com
It’s a rainy day here in Atlanta. A day like most others, where I wake and immediately scan the mental “to-do” list. Today, was bean-picking day at Farmer Billy’s. But alas, since I do not watch television (too much politics), I missed the local forecast and altered my plans with the darkening clouds.
For those visiting my blog for the first time, I wrote a book titled: In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes. The book is about the last farmer in Roswell, Georgia. Not to brag, but it’s a pretty good book that was nominated for several awards and recently earned me the Author of the Year award from the Atlanta Pen Women Association. Your favorite bookstore can order it, or, Billy and I will personalize a copy when ordered through my website.
Today, there would be no farm visit. With the family gone and the house empty, I turn on the music and stand still waiting to steep the perfect cup of tea. Sometimes, all of the wrongs seem right when the tea is perfect. Personal time…something rare these days.
Realizing the many people curse the rain for interfering in their daily activities, as the drops began falling I grabbed my camera, curled my hands around the mug, and for a moment was very thankful. My tomatoes still have a long way to go before they look like this, but these things take time.
Chickens aren’t happy when rain falls; “mad as a wet hen” comes to mind. As I fed my chickens (on the front porch) I captured my view of heaven raining down this drippy yet glorious Atlanta morning.
Enjoy their video view from my front porch by clicking here.The ocassional chirps are from my girls. I hope you enjoy your day.
Remember: I am giving away a $10.00 gift certificate for Botanical Interests to my 100th follower of this blog. Click “RSS feed” at top. $ 20.00 for the 200th follower. Feel free to share my blog with others. Thank you for stopping by.
Renea Winchester is an award winning author visit her at www.reneawinchester.com
Ash Wednesday, 2012: 5:45 pm
Often I visit Billy late on Wednesday on the way to take my daughter to her youth group meeting. This past Wednesday as I chatted with Billy inside his kitchen, my cell phone rang.
“Momma, you’ve got to come to the barn. There is a baby here without a momma.”
For those who haven’t raised baby goats, newborns nurse every few minutes and rarely leave their momma’s side, especially when there are so many other newborns around. Dashing to the barn I encountered Jamie holding a skinny black goat who was crying, “Momma! Momma!” in the frantic yelp baby kids often do.
But no Momma came. Searching the field it appeared that every female had a baby, or two. Eventually, a small goat appeared and responded to his cry.
After trying to partner the two I noticed obvious signs that the baby hadn’t nursed (Swollen udder. Still-shakey and crying newborn). I instructed my daughter to take the baby to the stall behind the barn with the hopes the mother would follow.
Unfortunately, her udders so heavy the baby couldn’t get her nipple into its mouth. The poor precious kid would toddle along behind, bleating and crying, all while my heart hurt to help. After calling Billy from the kitchen (sometimes dinner must wait), we spent the better part of a half an hour attempting to catch the momma.
In the middle of this rodeo, three guests arrived. Hopefully they will understand the situation and forgive Billy and I for not entertaining them. Night was coming fast and this matter was of the utmost importance. I quickly explained our situation and shook my head no when one of the ladies asked, “doesn’t he just feed them with a bottle?”
Feeding with a bottle is a short-term solution. The baby needed to learn to latch on, but the mother also needed to-using Billy’s words- be relieved of her milk. With the momma goat tied to the fence, Billy milked, and we tried to get the baby to latch on.
If anyone has ever heard a baby goat cry you know that the neighbors certainly thought we were offering a ritualistic sacrifice. Still, despite our attempts at reducing the nipple to a manageable size, and trying our best to help the baby, darkness fell without proof that the baby understood how to nurse.
Thursday morning 8:00 am.
I awoke with the baby goat on my heart. After driving my daughter to school I purchased a bottle for premature infants, then climbed over the fence while Billy lay slumbering in his bed.
As an aside: if you visit Billy’s early and find the lights off, please let him sleep. Between the two of us we rarely sleep through the night.
Placing the bottle in the goat’s mouth (which in itself is a challenge) I forced some water, then tried the latching on process again with very little success. The kid did appear to be noticeably more energetic with a tummy that felt fuller, and the mother didn’t have an abundance of milk in her udder. (all we need is milk fever setting in).
An hour passed while I observed. Billy joined me in the stall and we discussed the situation. I explained that I thought we should keep mom and baby separated from the more experienced goats. This was her first baby. They needed time to figure things out. Billy agreed.
Friday morning 10:00 am.
Mom and baby are still doing well. My daughter has decided to name the new goat Ashton, in honor of his birthdate on Ash Wednesday.
Read more adventures from Billy’s garden in Renea’s book : In the Garden with Billy: Lessons about Life, love & Tomatoes. Visit her at www.reneawinchester.com
“Setting Eggs” and Breaking New Ground: By Renea Winchester
It only takes one or two days of sunshine to catapult winter-weary gardeners into a feverous pitch that can only be defined as mania. It’s been a frigid winter and most of the country has at one time or another, been blanketed in either snow or ice (or both)!
As a result, the moment the sun breaks through, birds gather to shout their praises and sun lovers abandon the couch in search of spring.
However, before we start getting all crazy and start setting eggs, planting seeds, and plunging our hands in the dirt, we need to refer to the “good book” for guidance.
I’m talking about the almanac…Grier’s 205th Annual issue to be exact.
Last week, I presented Billy with his copy of the almanac. Under his training, I’ve quickly learned that he takes the advice written on these pages quite seriously. He plants crops and “sets hens” only when approved by Mr. Grier himself. According to page 6 of the 205th edition, we should: “Set eggs to hatch in a fruitful sign. The chicks will mature faster and be better layers.”
Billy snatched the calendar off the wall as I delved into the newsprint pages eager to determine when we were going to “break the new ground.” As an aside, he likes to plant something, usually potatoes on Good Friday.
This year, Grier’s predicts a wet February which is not good, considering the rice-field debacle we mucked through last February in his garden.
Undeterred by the gloomy prediction Billy asked, “When does it say I can set some ‘aigs?’ The hens are getting restless.”According to Billy, he has been “breaking up hen parties left and right.” He is a firm believer health chicks comes from following these stringent, albeit mysterious, “signs.”
I licked my finger and turned the page. “It says we should set eggs on the 13, 14, or 15th of February; then on the 22 or 23rd of February.”
I placed a sharpie in his weathered hand. Billy opened the cap and circled the date; then he replaced the cap and said with a nod, “We’ll set those hens on Valentine’s day.”
I can think of no better way to celebrate our love of gardening…can you?
Soon, we’ll be listening to baby chicks say, “peep, peep” and enjoying the magic that spring brings.
Until my next post, remember keep those hands dirty.
Renea Winchester is an award-winning author whose
book, In The Garden With Billy: Lessons About Life,
Love & Tomatoes is available in bookstores everywhere and online. Visit her website at
www.reneawinchester.com to learn more.
At Billy’s farm winter is a time of gestation. While humans are “cooped up” inside the house, outside the Nannies grow fat. They lounge about teasing visitors with the hope that today just might be the day a baby goat (called a “kid”) will be born.
There is nothing sweeter than a newborn baby, especially a baby goat.
Billy’s Nannies test my patience. I realize it takes about five months of waiting before the newborn arrives; however, a glance at the pasture reveals rotund bellies that look (at least to me) like it’s baby time.
“They’ll come when they’re ready.” Billy assures me. “Until then, we wait.”
Waiting is not a virtue I possess.
During this “in between” time as Billy and I await the new arrivals I thought I would share some photos I’ve taken at Billy’s farm.
This is one of my favorite pictures. Kids are known for their ability to jump, climb and basically get into all sorts of mischief. Billy and I were watching the kids one cold December day last year. Suddenly, this kid jumped on his mother’s back and began chewing on her horn. She acted like it was no big deal !
While the kid chewied on his Mother’s horn, two others set out on an adventure. Goats are curious creatures and when two kids search for adventure, trouble is usually what they find. As they entered the area where Billy stores the tomato cages I grew a bit nervous. I was worried they would become trapped and possibly get injured inside the jumbled mess of wire and string. “Just watch,” Billy said when I expressed my concern. “A goat can get in a whole heap of trouble.” He paused. “But he also knows how to get out of a whole heap of trouble as well.”
Sure enough the kids got stuck, but only for a moment. Instead of struggling they stood still, and calculated their escape. With a kick and a jump they were soon free.
Keep checking the blog or the In The Garden With Billy Facebook Page for a birth announcement. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll have a baby shower at the farm before the New Year.
By Renea Winchester
It’s bad enough that my daughter’s birthday falls on the same week as standardized testing at school; she had the misfortune of being born on April 14th, the day before “tax day.”
You see, my husband despises doing the taxes, almost as much as the thought of paying someone to prepare them. Our home becomes a place of hushed whispers, and closed doors. Even the dog senses something is amiss and tiptoes down the hall. Each year I begin mentioning our taxes in March, hoping that he’ll do them early (like the 10th of April for Pete’s sake!). This year, I assembled all the documents, placed them in his chair, then gathered the birthday girl and evacuated to the safest place possible…Billy’s farm.
We found Billy on the tractor. He had tried to plow the garden, but was forced to abandon all hope. The ground is still “too wet to plow” in most places. Instead, he cranked the lawnmower, cut a swath of grass, and dumped the clippings into the chickens who clucked and scratched in delight.
While Billy and I were discussing our limited planting-in-the-mud options, Jamie snuck into the hen house and retrieved her favorite chicken, “Little Momma.”
Little Momma truly is the best of all mother hens. She’s a tiny thing weighing a little more than a pound, if you include the feathers on her feet. Last spring, she stayed at our house rearing a brood of chicks safely away from the “big hens” who were wonderful egg-layers, but negligent mothers. Once the chicks outgrew their accommodations, all poultry returned to Billy’s.
Since today was Jamie’s birthday, Billy said, “Why don’t you just take that chicken home with you?”
That’s when the adventure began.
Jamie, who was on her way to choir practice, held Little Momma in her lap until we arrived at church. She went inside while I snuck a birthday cake into the kitchen for a surprise. Two minutes later, I returned to find Little Momma sitting in my backseat where Jamie had left her, as if riding in a car is something she does daily.
I was now in charge of driving home while holding a live chicken, which looks as ridiculous as it sounds. Little Momma and I were doing fine, until the phone rang.
It appears in my zeal to make the tax preparation painless, I’d overlooked the obvious…Turbo Tax Deluxe Edition. (Now I know this is available on-line, but don’t get me started on that little tangent), since I was already out and about could I “pick up a copy?”
My response: “Of course I can.”
I mean, it’s not like I’m driving down GA 400 with a live chicken in my lap.
I pulled into the parking lot, carefully placed the hen on the floorboard and begged her to stay put. I ran into the office supply store, plucked the last remaining Turbo Tax off the shelf, and rushed to my car where Little Momma was flying around, accurately defining the term “screaming banshee.”
I ignored the stares of those parked around me and opened the door, which somehow triggered a clucking calamity.
The flying continued, with an added high-pitched cackle thrown in for emphasis.
I wedged the shopping bag beneath the seat and eventually captured the hen. With Little Momma safely in my lap, I returned home, delivered the necessary program to Mr. Grumpy Taxpayer.
I decided it best to have a seat ouside and find my happy place while Little Momma scratched for worms.
Next year, I’m taking my daughter and my chicken out of town on tax day.
Renea Winchester is the winner of the Appalachian Heritage Award. Her first book In The Garden With Billy: Lessons on Life, Love, and Tomatoes will be published in 2010. She welcomes your comments at www.reneawinchester.com