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Cash, Grass or…Cows?

We have a new lessee running cattle out at the farm. He has, what I think are, very aggressive ideas about what “improvements” need to be made to our property (hybrid grasses, city water piped to troughs, spraying the weeds).

Calves with loblolly pines.

America’s. Next. Top. Moo-del is…

We told him upfront that spraying was not an option, but already, he’s tilled up tens of acres and planted annual rye grass, with the intention of planting Coastal bermudagrass this Spring. Since minimizing property taxes is the main reason we currently have a lessee, I think we need to look at other alternatives that are more in-line with our long-term goals.

The alternative I’m currently researching is converting our current tax valuation from “traditional” agricultural practices to “wildlife management” practices. Doing this would mean that we wouldn’t have to have a lessee in order to keep the taxes low. “Traditional” agricultural practices require that we stock cattle based on income derived from stocking at traditional intensity rates, meaning you have to keep as many cattle on your land as all the other guys who are trying to make money from it and it alone. Changing to “wildlife management” practices mainly means not having to keep the land available to that one “traditional” income source. Instead, we could have some cattle, some timber stands, and some orchards — none of which would need to support us on its own in order to maintain the tax valuation.

From the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Comprehensive Wildlife Management Planning Guide:

“The Texas Constitution and the legislature provides those landowners with a current 1-d-1 Agricultural Valuation (often known as an Ag Exemption) an opportunity to change from a traditional qualifying agricultural practice to wildlife management as a qualifying agricultural practice while maintaining the current valuation. HB 1358 by Representative Clyde Alexander provided that the landowner must implement and complete at least one management practice from at least three of the seven wildlife management activities listed in Appendix A. Most landowners interested in wildlife can meet this requirement, and implement several practices beyond the minimum required.”

We would definitely be able to “implement several practices beyond the minimum required” — the practices include activities like pond construction, gully shaping, plant establishment in critical areas, and grazing management. I have contacted a Bastrop County TP&WD Wildlife biologist to schedule an evaluation and start moving forward with a management plan.

In the meantime, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s private land website has an unbelievable amount of useful information on this subject. I’ve only linked to a small portion of what’s available below:

November Austin Urban Beekeeping Meetup

I officially joined the Austin Urban Beekeeping group! I went to my first meeting this month and really enjoyed it. There was a large group (50 or so people) of all ages and experience levels. I learned a lot just listening to the casual conversations that were happening around me.

The main topic was “Winter Hive Preparation and Care”, but the meeting itself was broken into three parts: Introductions, Topic Discussion, and General Q&A.

Listening to the introductions was eye-opening — lots and lots of people have lost their bees. Suddenly buying bees didn’t seem like such a good idea and it made a lot of sense why, when asked for future meeting topics, most folks wanted to learn more about catching swarms and dividing hives.

In regards to wintering bees, I learned a lot about the winter cluster, and there was a lot of discussion about whether, when, and how to feed them if necessary.

I also learned that, since the bees are keeping the climate inside of the hive tropical-subtropical, ventilation and condensation management is important throughout Winter. The bees can keep warm as long as they stay dry.

There’s no December Meetup because of the holidays but I’ve already registered for the January meeting on the 18th which is a 3 hour Beekeeping 101 class.

I’m so excited to get started but I can’t get bees until April, and so, until then, I am going to attempt to build my own top bar hive.


I chose lemons as my ingredient for November specifically because I could use my own, homegrown lemons! I made eighteen jars of Spiced Honey to give away as holiday gifts and two Creamy Lemon pies for Thanksgiving.

My Lemon Tree

My Lemon Tree

My Lemon Tree

Four years ago, for my 30th birthday, my brother and sister-in law gave me a Satsuma tree. I loved it so much that every birthday since, I’ve gotten myself a new citrus tree companion for it. This Dwarf Meyer Lemon was the first companion, 2010, my 31st birthday. It’s my favorite by far, (Sorry, Satsuma), because it’s been the most productive. This is the third year I’ve gotten lemons from it — the first year I harvested four, last year eight and this year eighteen.

Spiced Honey

I chose the Spiced Honey recipe from my Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving for a few reasons: I thought it would make a great gift, I had enough lemons for it, and I could buy honey in bulk from the farmers’ market. (Next year, when I make this again, I hope to make it with honey from my own hives, in addition to the homegrown lemons.)

Since I’ll be giving the jars of honey away as gifts, I’ve made the recipe its own page and will be including the link on the jar labels so that anyone who likes it can make it again.

Lemons floating in honey

Clove-studded lemons and cinnamon sticks floating in honey.

I made two batches and tripled the recipe both times. The first batch, I mis-read the instructions and cut the lemons into wedges. I realized my mistake and cut the lemons into the rounds pictured above the second time.

The first batch was delicious — the honey was much less sweet, with very subtle hints of the lemon, cinnamon and cloves. We used an entire jar in one weekend, just in our tea. But I’m sure it would be just as good on biscuits or freshly baked bread.

We haven’t tried the second batch yet, but I’m curious if the lemon flavor will be more pronounced in those jars with the lemon rounds, as opposed to the first-batch jars with the lemon wedges.

Creamy Lemon Pie

This pie is quickly becoming an annual, holiday tradition for us. I made this lemon pie recipe for the first time, three years ago, and it was the first thing I ever made with an ingredient I had grown myself. I proudly took it to Thanksgiving that year and it was a huge hit. I made it again last Thanksgiving, that time with two of the ingredients coming from my yard: the eggs and the lemons.

This year, I messed the whipped cream topping up and wasn’t going to put my pie out for Thanksgiving (there were seven other pies after all), but despite the whipped cream flub, it ultimately ended up on the table by popular demand. (‘Demand’ being the key word there.)

Anyway, I love making this pie for a many reasons that have nothing to do with how it tastes. (But don’t get me wrong, it tastes amazing!)

Lemons being juiced for the Thanksgiving Lemon Creme Pie

Juicing the lemons for Creamy Lemon pie.

* The title of this post is totally a nod to the U2 song. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since I started writing this.

Soil Test Results

Soil Lab Test Results

Soil Lab Test Results — Click image to download a PDF of the detailed results

The soil lab test results came back. I’m not totally sure what to make of them, I don’t know which pieces are more noteworthy than others. I think I understand the reports well enough to know that there aren’t any really scary surprises. Looks like I need to add more of all of the usual suspects (organic matter, Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorus). The report also repeatedly mentions adding Sulfur.

Also, in an effort to continue getting to know my soil better, I dug a two-foot deep test pit at home, mainly to see if it was possible to dig that deep. I took another soil sample from the pit and tested it using the jar method. After letting the soil settle, I’m having a hard time telling if it’s silt or clay. There were no discernible layers, it’s pretty much all of one or the other — clay or silt? I opened the jar and felt the soil in hopes of figuring it out. It felt viscous and slimy like clay, but there was a decent amount of grit in it as well.

Low-tech soil testing, using my senses instead of fancy lab equipment.

Low-tech soil testing, using my senses instead of fancy lab equipment.