StarLight Farm & Gardens Blog 2011 the Beginning
A family dream comes true.
Ever since I can remember, my father was a gardener. I can’t think of a summer spent without freshly picked vegetables on our dinner table. As we ate, the conversation would often revolve around the food we were eating, the garden, and often how the present garden compared to the previous year’s. There was always something to talk about; the weather, the new varieties, and even the neighbor’s garden.
One reoccurring theme from my Belgian mother, and gourmet cook par excellence, was her idea of owning a restaurant where we could serve the produce we grew. We all knew that when the vegetables were freshly picked and served within hours, their taste and texture was so much better than what could be bought in the grocery store. She and my dad worked in the garden together and she nurtured the dream of owning a restaurant.
When my wife and I were married in 1976, we carried on the same love for gardening and the same fantasy of a farm/restaurant. Her father was a gardener too, and she listened to many of the same conversations about her father’s vegetable plot. By 1984, we had our first restaurant in California and had a small garden at home, but only combined the two minimally. We would bring fresh herbs and flowers into the restaurant, but we simply didn’t have enough space for a constant supply. Shortly after we moved to Greenville in 1998, we opened Starlight Cafe with the same concept of serving the freshest, most nutritious meat & vegetables. We buy as much as we can from our local farmers and watermen and grow many of our own herbs. Once again our dream of growing food ourselves for the restaurant had to wait due to lack of garden space.
In early January, after casually searching for a farm over the past several years, with help from our real estate agent , Bill Fleming, we came upon the perfect location. We found a 100 year old farm only minutes away from the restaurant on the outskirts of Greenville. After being in the business for 27 years our family dream is coming true.
This summer there is much to do, and although we will be supplying some vegetables to the restaurant, most of the summer will be devoted to repairing the barn and fences, renewing the orchard, planting cover crops, and restoring the farmhouse. The future will bring raising heritage livestock breeds, beekeeping, planting berries, cultivating mushrooms, processing pecans, restoring pastures and experimenting with different sustainable and organic methods of growing.
This project is a dream coming to realization through two generations and an exciting one for our family and everyone involved. We envision this as a process which can involve a whole community, and benefit all of us, especially our customers.
Early Spring 2011
We started working on some of the property before we even closed on the sale, it was spring and some things (like pruning the fruit trees in the orchard) just had to be done right away!
Middle Spring 2011
A new urgency started as Spring moved on.... Anything that needed to be done before hot weather arrived, needed to be done right away. The brown colors of winter were disappearing and green was becoming the dominate hue.
Late May 2011
Two weather elements and one event have shaped the activities for this Summer of 2010: lack of rain (drought),
high temperatures,and some new neighbors with goats and sheep.
Fortunately, when we did the majority of our planting, we installed drip irrigation systems. We also activated an
old well, and that combined with our city water supply, has enabled us to keep most of our plantings well watered, especially during the periods of searing heat.
Our farm is divided into 7 areas: a small garden by the main house which we are using to conduct our trials, two
large fields for production planting, a more remote field behind one of the rentals, two large fenced pastures,
the woods, a medium sized orchard, the large pecans trees, the grape arbor, and the original farm house.
The Trials garden was planted with two varieties of tomatoes, two varieties of eggplant, some
cucumbers, three varieties of
chili peppers, a half row of peanuts and edible soybeans and
a row of ground cherries. All and all, this garden is a total success and continues
to provide produce for the restaurant. As mentioned above, we acquired some new neighbors and one
day we discovered a herd of goats happily munching on some of our plantings. As you can guess,
this was traumatic for us, but fortunately, Nikki, one of our farm caretakers, was able to chase them off
before too much damage occurred. The peanut and soybean plantings were mostly eaten but the
rest of that garden was intact.
I paid a visit with a sheriff to let our neighbors know that this was not an activity that could continue.
Since then they have installed new fences and no more invasions have occurred.
In one of our larger planting fields, we planted 27 hills of various squash. The melons are growing
vigorously and have numerous fruit growing larger by the day. The summer squash plantings have not
been so successful and have suffered an significant attack by Squash Stem Borers. We have harvested
some fruit from these plants, but since we are organically growing, we were unable to use pesticides
to protect the plantings. Next year we will cover the plants with a light row cover to keep the pests
out. We will see how this works. We planted a one hundred foot row of okra, and they are now six inches tall
and looking well. The other planting field plus the remainder of the squash field is about
to be planted with a Buckwheat cover and weed smother crop. The bees love buckwheat blossoms
and maybe we can harvest some grain if we have time.
The orchard is doing well, with the pear trees almost breaking with the weight of the enlarging pears.
We should be harvesting pears soon and we will be preserving a good majority of them. The baby
trees that we planted were attacked by the errant goats and we have since then built fenced enclosures
around these trees and they are now safe from marauding animals.
The two fenced pastures were "bush hogged" with the tractor and all the little trees that were
starting to encroach, were cut down. Both pastures look neat and tidy now and are quite majestic to view.
The original farmhouse is being restored and one room is finished with a new ceramic tile floor
and fresh paint. The kitchen has been totally stripped and is ready for new
sheetrock, ceiling wood, and new tile. This project continues and is as large an endeavor as any
of the agricultural ones.
There is of course, still much to do as we will begin working on the barns and fences in anticipation of acquiring
animals. So far, the summer has been successful, with lessons learned to be incorporated next year. We think that it all goes with
the territory, as they say, and the family is enjoying the experience and the restaurant and our customers
are benefiting from the fresh wholesome food. We shall see what the latter months of summer and the early days
of fall bring.
I have to say, after reviewing all of these pictures, that we are painting a romantic picture of the farm. Of course we choose the best photos with the best light. Its not always like that though, some times the lawn doesn't get mowed, piles of debris don't get picked up right away, construction materials lay outside the house before we can take them away, and plantings go unweeded for awhile. But all and all, we do a pretty decent job in keeping on top of things while we work our "day" jobs. Thanks also goes out to the restaurant employees who also pitch in to keep it going.
Now that winter has arrived and the growing season has slowed way down, we have had time to work on the infrastructure.