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Farm, Life

Room to Grow

22 May, 2016

I have learned a lot of important garden and farming lessons in the past few months and so many of them are metaphors for very important life lessons.

I planted three different types of sugar snap peas at the beginning of this journey. In one raised bed I planted a hundred seeds of two types, intermingled in a row. Snap peas need something to grow on, a type of trellis, so we put up some big branches because we thought the bark would allow the snaps to easily grab and grow along them.

pea trial

In the second raised bed, a week later, I planted only 50 seeds of one type of snap pea, except this time they were planted further apart, on either side of a A frame made of bamboo stalks. The bamboo was slicker so we put string every 6 inches going up, so that the peas could grab on to that if nothing else.

a frame

These pictures show the results so clearly. In my first attempt, the peas have created a low bush. Those shoots and leaves that cannot get enough sun are yellowed and withering. I was able to get some really delicious peas off these plants for the CSA last week but the plants have not recuperated from the harvest.

In the second attempt the pea plants are healthy and green. I had to spend extra time helping those plants (training them) up onto the A frame but the result is that they are healthy. As an added bonus I don’t have to bend down and search when I am harvesting because these sweet peas are at eye level.

a frame peas

Most people tell you to plant close together and then thin the plants so that the most healthy ones remain, spaced further apart. It’s hard to thin though, when you are trying to save space and grow more food. I had also read that you can plant many things closer together in order to reduce weed pressure, without harming the plants. Now I know that thinning is a very important part of my farm, especially for plants like peas and beans, because they need room to grow, to reach for the sunshine, and to spread out a bit. How true this is for us humans too.

peas and tipi

<3 Jessa


Feelings of Inadequacy

21 May, 2016

I listen to a podcast regularly that is put out by a small farm in upstate New York. I have been listening from the beginning so even though I’m well over a hundred episodes in I’m still not caught up. Recently (in my listening, not in their posting) they said “just because you can garden doesn’t mean you can run a CSA, although it does give you a leg up”. HOW TRUE.

family gardening

Sometimes I know exactly why I did this, jump in head first into farming and providing food for people. It’s definitely the best way to learn, as I am taking to heart and thoughtfully considering every single decision that I make. It is also the best way to make sure I am held accountable, so that I am working just as hard at this (harder) than I have worked at every full time job I’ve held. Beyond that I truly thought i was capable. I did so much research, so much planning. I wrote a detailed business plan and set up excel spreadsheets of what to plant when.


And then sometimes it is hard for me to feel capable and I chide myself for not realizing how different growing things in North Carolina is than Florida. I still belong to some Florida gardening Facebook groups and they have been eating well for months. I was so confident that what I planted would be big and ready by now. I should be serving broccoli and peas and squash and cabbage and beets, in my head. But weeks of rain and clouds, temperamental temperatures, and soil made almost entirely from clay have really slowed things down – if not halted some things all together. Of 80 rutabaga seeds I got 4 small roots. Of 50 chard there are 12 beautiful, delicious survivors. Of countless flats of lettuce I have 40 plants of varying ages. It’s so frustrating and it’s so difficult not to blame myself or to think that maybe I am not a farmer.

This is normal right? When success comes a little later than you hoped it’s normal to feel a little inadequate? Especially when you feel like people are counting on you, whether or not that is true.

mama watering

I have gotten some really good feedback and my CSA members are so sweet. They are already incredibly supportive, even the tribe members I had never met before and I am incredibly grateful to them. They got small shares last week but this week is even worse, so I just hope they’ll stick with me. I see hope in this garden, a tiny zucchini here and some almost tomato flowers there. Plus it’s supposed to be hot and sunny this week -finally- and I planted another 100 chard and several new flats of lettuce, winter squash, and greens. At some point some of them have to survive. Until then, I will – and I will keep reminding myself that I’m a farmer until I become good at it.

<3 Jessa

Farm, Life

Let’s Talk About Eggs

15 May, 2016

When I was younger I never thought much about eggs. I didn’t even really like them that much. Then I saw and tasted farmer’s market eggs. And at a different time Wayne, my hubs with the culinary school background, made me good eggs. Apparently all I had ever had were overcooked sad eggs but now I knew happy, delicious eggs. So if you don’t know and you don’t care to know – stop reading. Otherwise, here are some basics on egg labeling and what those labels mean.

Those Cheap Eggs

The deal with those cheap eggs at the grocery store is that they are usually the bottom of the barrel with the worst taste, the worst animal welfare rating, and *arguably* the least amount of nutrition. All eggs come from chickens but these chickens often spend their entire lives in a cage no larger than a sheet of notebook paper. Sometimes the cages don’t have true bottoms so the chickens little feet become deformed trying to stand on wire. Often they are “de-beaked” which means their beaks are trimmed in such a way that they can’t peck at one another, because they are so close and so stressed that they get aggressive. The animals don’t get any exercise, they don’t get to do any of their normal chicken things, and they are pretty sick – so they use a lot of antibiotics. If you want to see what this looks like google “battery cage chicken”.

Cage Free

This is two steps forward and one step back. Usually this means the hens don’t live in cages but in some cases it just means more hens live in bigger cages. Even if they aren’t in cages they live in big barns with no access to the outdoors, and this is where it gets confusing. There are not a ton of regulations so sometimes, these are small-ish farms with a reasonable number of hens in a reasonably sized barn. The hens have space to roam and dust bathe (chickens get clean in dust – it’s weird and looks like they are seizing) and be alone and scratch and stuff. In most places, though, it’s a lot of chickens in a big barn. So many that they don’t have much more space per chicken than a battery cage and it’s even more stressful because the chickens low on the totem pole (chickens have a thing called a “pecking order” where the big dawgs bully the little guys) cannot get away from the others. There is so much poop that they use big fans to try to pull the ammonia out, but often the chickens have respiratory problems.

Free Range

In the worst case it’s the exact same situation as above but the chickens have access to a small concrete pad that is screened in to protect from predators. In the better cases these are farms that give their chickens supervised access to a nice big fenced in area anytime the weather is ok and there aren’t predators actively lurking. The difference is pretty huge and you don’t know what you’re getting unless you can research the farm that raised them.


pastured hens

egg yolks

This is what most people think of as free range. Chickens have access to huge amounts of pasture and can roam basically wherever they want. This is what our chickens enjoy – but there are drawbacks. Almost half of our original flock has been taken by predators and I’m positive one of the Reds hides all of her eggs from me. Our eggs have dark yellow to bright orange yolks because these hens eat a hugely varied diet of greens and bugs and sometimes frogs and mice. (Forreal,theyeatmice) (seetheleftyolkinthepicture).

So now you know. I would encourage you to buy as far up the chain as you can afford. Pastured eggs sell for $6-$7/dozen in my grocery store but the quality is far different than the $1.50/dozen eggs. And many farmers sell cheaper than that (ours are $5/dozen) because they cut out any marketing and distribution costs by selling directly to you. I hope that helps!

<3 Jessa

PS Egg color is dependent on breed. Brown eggs are not any better than white eggs except that most sad eggs are all white because sad egg people use leghorn hens. Our eggs are pink and blue and brownish and cream but their insides are all exactly the same.


PPS *I put a disclaimer on the nutritional claim because even though I think that’s probably true based on the way the yolks look and the way I feel after eating them, I have not seen any real scientific evidence to back that up. The only articles I’ve read are from fru-fru organic hippie websites and it’s good to be skeptical.

Farm, Life

Life Hack – Save Your Veggie Scraps

29 Apr, 2016

Our home has very little food waste. We aren’t special and we don’t eat disgusting old food (usually – although I am way more likely to do it than Wayne is) but we do have several ways to divert what would normally go in the trash. One way is by feeding our kitchen scraps to the chickens, who LOVE it. They will eat all the insides out of a banana peel or watermelon rind, and if I cut the squash ends or pepper centers up enough they go to town. Then, the peel or the rind or anything moldy or super gross goes directly to the worms.

In addition to our normal outdoor compost pile we have a vermicomposting bin in our garage where red wiggler worms turn kitchen scraps and paper – yesisaidpaper into super terrific nutrient rich soil, while putting off some liquid fertilizer I can use on veggie plants.

But before any of that, I reuse a ton of our veggie scraps in a new meal! And you totally should too because you’ll be making easy, free, nutrient rich food for your family. I keep a tupperware in my freezer that I throw all sorts of veggie scraps in but especially: carrot ends, onion pieces and peels, celery ends (that white part you don’t want to eat and the leafy parts), and kale stems (we eat a lot of kale in this house). The only veggies I can think of that you wouldn’t want to keep in there are garlic bits (because it would overwhelm the flavor) and potatoes (because starchiness). Then, whenever my tupperware are full, I pull them out to make veggie broth and/or soup.

I use at least two 5 cup tupperwares in one batch, sometimes three or four – but that isn’t really important. I just wait a really long time because I’m lazy and use a huge pot.

Big Veggie Pot

Ignore the awful wallpaper and super old oven. That’s just what our kitchen looks like right now. One day we will have fancy upgraded kitchen but that day is not today. Here are your super easy instructions.

  • Put all of your veggies in your pot and put twice as much water in the pot. You don’t have to worry too much about this but generally make sure your vegetables are covered and then some. Make sure, for flavor purposes, that there is at least some carrot, celery, and onion. Sometimes my scrap bins do not have celery so I add a fresh stalk in.
  • Cover with a lid and bring to a boil.
  • Lower the heat to medium and simmer for – well, as long as you want. An hour is fine – I often lower the heat when I go to bed and let it run all night long. You should try it to see which flavors you like best.
  • Put your new broth through a fine mesh strainer and into your container to store!

Veggie Scraps for Broth

*Note that if you are planning to freeze your broth in any glass container you want to let your broth cool, put it into the container, put that container in the fridge to cool more, and THEN put it in the freezer. Otherwise your mason jars will crack and the world will be sad.

Since I do make a ton at a time I usually freeze about half of my broth and make a vegetable soup the next day. Vegetable broth is terrific for all sorts of things. You can deglaze a pan, use it to make rice instead of water for a more flavorful dish, or make a delicious soup. And then I give the dregs to the chickens and worms. 🙂


<3 Jessa


Crooked Beak Peep

28 Apr, 2016

In March we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of baby chicks at our local supply and feed store, Barnes. I debated ordering them straight from a hatchery and did a bunch of research but there were complicated minimums (a certain number of each bird type plus a certain number of total birds to keep themselves warm while shipping) plus a schedule because certain breeds hatch at different times. It was complicated so I decided to patronize the local feed store instead.

March 21st comes around and Cassie and I show up at Barnes all super excited with our little prepared box in hand… and no babies. We called every day and it wasn’t until Friday March 25th that they finally said the babies had come, but they were in “really bad shape”. Those little baby birds had been packed up the same day they were born, which is usually fine because they are born with about 3 days worth of fuel in their little umbilical cord spots. And then they got stuck on a train for 4 extra days. They were hot and tired and, honestly, dropping like flies.

Needless to say, I’m going to do my absolute best not to get any birds from far away hatcheries ever again. Local hatches and getting my own ladies to sit on fertilized eggs for me. It’s just another skill I am going to have to learn. Plus, when I was looking at hatchery chicks I realized a few of them offer debeaking for 5 cents per bird! WHAT?

When that fist week was over we ended up with 18 happy, healthy peeping fuzzballs. Oh man they were so cute. Then we realized that one of the yellow puffballs (which Cassie and Ben had preemptively named Peep and Cadbury) had a funny beak. Poor Peep’s beak has gotten worse and worse over the past few weeks.

We have done a lot of research about this and apparently it’s not incredibly uncommon. Some people say it’s genetic and almost every says to immediately cull the chick (culling = a nice way to say kill). One by one Ben, then Wayne, and then Cassie were on board but I was still holding out hope that she would thrive and adapt until yesterday. Yesterday I put the babies in the dog crate for the first time and let them hang out outside (in the shade). I also gave them their first treats, some leftover zucchini and stale bread crumbs. Poor little Peep couldn’t pick up a single thing, and it was really obvious how much smaller and skinnier she is than the rest of the chickens, who are all growing really quickly. It’s really sad, but today Ben culled her.

And this is the hard part of farming. Sometimes your chickens turn up in your front yard with their bellies eaten out of them by some unknown predator and you stay awake at night wondering how you can better protect them. Sometimes you have to murder cull your favorite little teeny chicken out of kindness because she is starting to basically starve as she gets older and her beak gets worse. It’s heartbreaking. But it is the cost of being more connected to your food. I get so much joy from these little birds, and so much delicious sustenance. I get to see how real food is made, give these animals a happy (if sometimes short) life, and experience the difference that makes in the taste and nutrition of food. That is worth a little heartbreak to me.


Peep Planting

Peep and Dolce

<3 Jessa


30 Before 30 – Let’s Have Fun!

7 Dec, 2015

I’m a list person. Lists help me stay organized and motivate me and remind me to do things like buy laundry detergent, bring brownies to work for a birthday party, and have picnics. I legit just realized that I’m going to be 30 in like, 7 months, and that seems like a fucking reason to CELEBRATE!


My twenties have been a freaking great time, for real. In fact, I’m going to do a 20 things I learned in my 20s post before this year is done (HEY! That’s my new first item!) so that I can reflect on it and tell all you disenchanted youth about it. I know the Riotous Living blog is the hot hang out spot for disenchanted youth and I don’t want to let all of my loyal readers down.

The great thing is that I’ve heard from so many people that your 30s is actually even better than your 20s!  I know I’m supposed to be all sad and worried about getting old but what do I have to be sad about? … besides my new weird skin and the intense hangovers and having to wake up to pee in the middle of the night. That’s all pretty weird but seems par for the course. In reality I’ve hit so many stereotypical major life milestones in the past decade that I never expected to meet. If you had told 20 year old me that I would be married and living in my huge 2nd house and planning an entrepreneurial venture I would laugh in your face and then order us some shots of whiskey.


So let’s celebrate the last 7 months of my roaring twenties with some good times and a little edification. But let’s also be realistic here because I’ve only got 7 months and I am an adult and so that means realism right?

  1. Write a 20 Things I Learned In My 20s Blog Post and maybe one of those pretty pictures that allow it to be pinned.
  2. Go on a boat ride. This one is pretty realistic right? I know people with boats. And then I can use the #Imonaboat on Instagram.
  3. Go on an overnight hike. Wayne really wants to do that and I’m nervous about pooping in the woods so let’s compromise and make it just one night, right?
  4. Finish renovating one room in the house. Because seriously, if we can’t finish that stupid bathroom in 7 months I am a failure.
  5. Feel strong again. Be able to do 1 pullup and 10 real pushups. 
  6. Learn a new creative skill. I’m not sure what it will be but this lady at the State Fair was selling gorgeous painted eggs and if my chickens would ever start laying maybe I could learn that.
  7. Develop a skin care routine. See above freakout & pics re: my old lady skin. (no offense to actual old ladies)
  8. See a playBecause it’s been too long and I freaking love theatre. Done 1/3/2015! Book of Mormon was amazing!
  9. Try a fast for at least 24 hours. Rachel says this is really good for you, physically and mentally.
  10. Complete a 30 day challenge. Photos or abs or yoga or something. GD, woman, commit.
  11. Volunteer for a good cause. Again, it’s been too long and I really freaking love volunteering.
  12. Learn to make brownies from scratch. I think this is supposed to be really easy. I’d like to stop buying box mix in my thirties.
  13. Sell things I grew. It’s kind of the whole point of this farm thing.
  14. Wear my wedding dress againMy beautiful friend Krystall asked us to wear our wedding outfits to her wedding so that we could all get pictures. It was sweet and wonderful.
  15. Print and display some of our photos. 
  16. Ride a horse. Save a cowboy
  17. Send 10 pieces of “for fun” mail. Wedding thank you’s do not count. Also I need to send those out too. Please don’t be mad, adulting is hard. I get a year though, right?
  18. Find/Develop my signature go-to potluck dish.
  19. Keep a few hostess gifts on hand for parties. I seriously want to be this perfect womanly adult who sends mail and keeps a beautiful house and has hostess gifts and remembers birthdays. Will that happen overnight at 30?
  20. Make a cutesy vacation video.
  21. Make bread from my own starter.
  22. Learn how to use our gopro. Probably I should put this one before the vacation video bit.
  23. Host a dinner party using all delicious foods that I grew on this farm. OMG, just thinking about this makes me tear up a bit.
  24. Quit my office job. If you’re reading this and you work at my job, well that’s like a not secret secret.
  25. Go through my closet and give away all the stupid practical clothes that I hate or aren’t comfortable or that I don’t feel good in. I should feel good in my 30s cause I freaking love myself.
  26. Get comfortable with lipstick. That red lipstick at the wedding party that Wayne was not sure about was the best idea ever. Those pictures are awesome. Who knew that I’m like, model pretty? :p
  27. Enjoy a totally relaxing day by the pool with margaritas. Ya’ll can come.
  28. Do a 24 hour digital detox. No screens at all!
  29. Watch 5 movies on the IMD Top 250 list that I’ve never seen. 
  30. Fix the tractor. (Wayne is allowed to help)

I feel like this is a good list. Fun and reflective and good for me. What do you think? Questions, comments, concerns?

<3 Jessa


Host with the Most

14 Oct, 2015

When I was a child my family belonged to this thing called the Florida Indian Hobbyist Association. It seems like total appropriation now, but before I knew about those things it was the highlight of my year.  Every year my family and about 40 others would go camping in Fort Wilderness (it’s a Walt Disney campground) with our tipis. Yep, tipis. Those are some of my favorite childhood memories. My sister and I would run around on the playground, play tetherball, and visit the big trading post for Mickey things. I remember vividly being taught how to bake apples in the neighbor’s dutch oven over a real fire.

As traditions sometimes do, that tipi was packed away and has not been unfurled for at least a decade. When we bought this house I asked my dad if I could have it and he brought it up with him when he came for our wedding. He set it up in our pasture and after the party several drunk guests found dubious refuge in it.

That weekend Wayne decided to put the tipi on AirBnB on a whim, with legit one cell phone photo and a small description that it was on a relatively remote corner of our property with access to our private pond. Within days it was booked, and then booked again, and then booked again. We bought it a camp stove, built it a composting toilet, and broke out the old camp dishes that my family used to use all those Thanksgivings ago. I even found a gorgeous double dream catcher at the thrift store to hang.

Having strangers on our property is so far really freaking cool and a little hard. You never know how well or how poorly you will vibe with someone, or what little things they might do that seem careless or disrespectful to you. Alternately you never know what really amazing people can bring exactly what you needed that day into your life: encouragement about your farm dream, appreciation of this odd little piece of your background, or a smiling happy baby to snuggle for a few hours. Anyways, so far I’m glad we’re doing this and I’m excited to share our life and our farm with people in the future in this small way – since long term roommates is not really our scene.



tipi with cot






set up



Check us out and come camp with us. 🙂

<3 Jessa




Farm, Life

Ceremony Pictures!

2 Oct, 2015

I had an idea about what I wanted to write about today, but all of that flew out of the window when Adam from Crafted Focus Photography sent me all of his magic. Adam was our photographer for the ceremony and I am so glad that he was. He was so easy to be around and really captured the feel of our day.

Photography, for me, is one of the most important parts of any big event. You want people to feel comfortable all day long and you want to feel like you can really enjoy the day without worrying whether it’s being captured. It’s also one of the only things that will last forever; long after we grow old and my hair thins and our tattoos fade we will be able to look back on these gorgeous images and remember the best day I’ve ever had.

I was very choosy about hiring a photographer. I spent hours combing websites and reading reviews. I wanted a photojournalistic style, someone who would be able to capture – not just images – but emotions and feelings.  For this intimate day, and ceremony, I didn’t want overly brightened images that make me and my friends look “perfect”, or whatever “perfection” in weddings is. I wanted truth and natural beauty. Nothing posed, just candid shots of real life. That’s what I got.

The boys prepared for the day with haircuts and hot shaves at Rocks, a local barber shop with a bar in it.









My beautiful ladies (and a confused/bored puppy) prepped with me in the guest room.



6 Pup


7 Champagne


Last Touches




And then there was a lot of crying. Why do we cry so much when we are happy? Also the progression of these photos is pretty hilarious. Hug, cry, hug, cry harder, basically collapse in mama’s arms, cry, hug.


And then it was just love. Washing over and around us, palpable between us. I am so incredibly grateful to the people who spent their time and money prioritizing us and being there for us. These people basically threw their own party, cooking and setting up and painting and staining and cleaning. This day was almost perfect.





 Ring Bear


13 Love












Seriously, how beautiful are these? And this is just a sampling of my favorites. Thank you so much Adam. You have given me such a gift. I owe you many beers and some homemade lasagna.

<3 Jessa


Photographer: Adam Brophy of Crafted Focus Photography

Barber Shop: Rocks Bar and Hair Shop

Venue: Riotous Living Farm 🙂 


The First Farm Loss

8 Jul, 2015

It’s already happened. One of our sweet girls has already been taken by the big guy in the sky. By big guy in the sky I mean, most likely, one of the hawks that continuously circle our neighborhood looking for field mice and baby chickens and probably small dogs as well. They were not alone for long but it didn’t take much for Lucy to disappear and never return.

I know this happens and it’s going to happen again. I know farm animals die, especially when you don’t coop them up all day long, and because: circle of life blahblahblah. But I cannot tell you how much this loss hurt, how much it felt like MY failure. It was my responsibility to care for these tiny babies and it was my decision to free range them and it was even me who said to my friend Sabrina as she was leaving town “they’ll be fine!”. They were not fine.

It is even more my failure because I thought I did enough research but it turns out everyone has a different opinion about when chickens are old enough to free range. I now have a different opinion as well. This is my first time with chickens and I didn’t realize what a difference a few weeks would make. Just two weeks after Lucy disappeared Ethel is basically covered in her adult feathers and is heavier and bigger. She’s also smarter and more cautious, although that might be because of the trauma of seeing her sister carried away.


We purchased the guineas to help protect the hens but they must be even younger than the chickens because they basically follow Ethel around as if she is their mom. They aren’t protecting anything, the lazy bums. For about a week after Lucy disappeared we were constantly looking around the coop, hoping in vain that she would come home. It’s a strange feeling, that weird little last bit of hope that you know you shouldn’t have but you do.

One thing I did well was make sure their home was finished so that they could move in, so at least I can’t fault myself there (trying to find some silver lining here). My fabulous mother in law spent one Sunday working with me to seal up the vents with hardware cloth (OMGsoannoying), attach the roof, and paint it and I have to say – I am proud of what the moms and I did (my mom helped me with the construction of the home). We used some free home depot plans that I am not going to link to because I would make SO many changes to those plans if I could and they were really difficult to follow. One day I’ll build another coop straight from my brainspace that fixes all of that and share those with you.

Nesting Box




Because no project is ever complete here at Riotous Living Farm my mom is currently working on some beautiful white trim for the coop and we still need a stylish egg collecting basket to hang from that carabiner.

<3 Jessa


The Girls (We Hope)

20 Jun, 2015

A while ago we decided to go visit Wayne’s parents in middleofnowhere Tennessee (Tazewell). They recently bought and moved into a fixer-upper as a retirement project and WOW, what a project it is. The pictures really did not do the house justice, quite honestly, and when Kate first told us how bad it was I was all “oh, it’s fine” and “didn’t you expect that?”  She’s blogging about the experience and you should definitely see this because it is a total gut job and you will be so impressed at the general bad-assery of my in-laws.


Wayne and I went prepared to work since they have come to help us with our renovations twice now but, it turns out, when you’ve been working on house renovations all week sometimes you want to just enjoy your son and daughter-in-laws company and a few beers on the weekend. Suits us just fine. 🙂


Then Kate took us to a flea-market, which looked quite a bit like tent city, because Kate and Big Wayne and I all have bargain hunting in common. Little Wayne (yes, he’s called that) did not get that gene. You can tell by looking at our Amazon puchase history. When we pulled up he said “This is definitely the most redneck thing I’ve ever done.” I have my doubts.

All along the outside of this flea market are people selling animals. Goats, roosters, one lone kitten, several hound puppies, baby ducklings, tiny piglets, and rabbits. Plus the new additions to our household:




Two Rhode Island Reds named Lucy and Ethel and two baby Guineas (I hope they are hens) named Rommel and Patton. They are the cutest babies and have already grown so much (except Patton but I hear he was a small guy). I had already begun building a chicken coop in anticipation of the hens I wanted so badly but they had to live inside for a week because they were so small and there was no roof on their house. This past weekend Kate helped me finish the coop after much swearing and sweating. Now my new babies have their own home. 

<3 Jessa