Farmgirl School

"It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life." -Tolkien

The loom calms me. I am one of those people that has a very hard time sitting down. I must always be busy or I am frantic. The loom calms me. The colors thrill me. The pace is soothing to my soul. And what I create makes me proud. This is the shawl I am […]

Loom and Shawl — Creating La Belle Vie

I reread the first year of this blog from 2012. I was so full of curiosity and hope. My posts were funny and lighthearted. That was nearly eight years ago. I have written about everything from canning…everything, to farming where one oughtn’t and how, from farm animals to a diary of sorts of our journeys over eight years. Thank you to all of you who have been reading for so many years. A writer is better with readers!

Well, as we head into winter, I am switching gears for the time being. I feel like I have made Farmgirl School a soapbox (and not in a good way) and am starting to repeat myself. It doesn’t have the same funny vibe or any new information, really. (You can write anything regarding homesteading into the Search tab of this blog and find thousands of recipes, tips, tricks, and DIY.) In the meantime, I am heading over to my blog Creating La Belle Vie and I invite you to join me. Sign up to follow and I promise fresh posts, lots of inspiration, and joy. I am devoted to only writing in a positive tone and sharing beautiful and inspiring images and words. The blog itself has a fresh new slate and a nice magazine look.

I’ll see you around here, but please grab a cup of coffee and join me on the other blog where we can Create a Beautiful Life.

Click here: Creating La Belle Vie

My husband and I love to tour other people’s homesteads. We love to see what others are doing, be inspired, and swap ideas. We headed out to deliver medicine to a homesteading couple an hour southwest of us. The road rose to over 8000 feet. We came out of the trees and the road looked out across the most beautiful vista, the valley stretching across to the Sangre de Cristo mountains, those high, sun flecked, looming peaks.

Perched on the mountainside was their hand-built abode. A pole barn with an 800 square foot addition added for their house. Inside the house looked like a charming bed and breakfast with just what one needs, an open kitchen and living room, wood stove in the corner, and a view of the whole valley. A vermiculture tower of veggies was set up in their office. In the attached pole barn was their RV which acted as guest quarters. A wood cookstove, another wood stove, a seating area, dining room table and glitzy chandelier hung from the ceiling. A well stocked room was their pantry, and an upstairs loft was set up with comfy cushions.

The wind whipped across the drive and the pastures telling of an approaching storm. We passed several cords of stacked wood as they walked us through their large fenced garden. They used very tall frames and chicken wire that were used as drying racks at a marijuana greenhouse that had them for sale for cheap as fence panels. They dug down and put in chicken wire. The well secured space was being sectioned off for dual purpose chickens they were about to go into town to pick up. A few heads of lovely cabbage were left in the garden. They simply turned the soil and amended well with mulch and manure from local ranchers.

A cistern sat on a hill capturing rainwater (what little we get) and was positioned to move downhill to water the garden. They have a well that they are careful not to overuse. The lack of water here in Colorado is really the downfall of homesteading here, but clever homesteaders make it work.

Pushing my hair out of my face that the wind was whipping around, I entered the dome greenhouse and found myself in a quiet sanctuary. Water from the little pond trickled sweetly, the propane heater kept the space warm, and cucumbers and tomatoes scampered around the ceiling of the greenhouse. Herbs grew in pots and vegetables grew as if it were summer.

I mentioned how much I have always liked the domes but the price was so high. Mary explained that it was worth it. They were too old, she said, to do anything half way, to waste money on things that would not work. They bought a shed when they first moved onto the property while they were building their house. It blew away.

Mary and Glen hunt and process their own meat and have stored away non-perishables. They grow much of their food and have gradually built and moved to this carefully placed homestead. They are adding chickens and more solar panels to the property. They live a comfortable and cozy life off grid. Homesteads are all different and each one offers valuable wisdom and inspiration. I am thankful that this sweet couple shared their space with us and showed us around. Homesteaders are a generous and friendly group. I am glad to be counted among them.

Every year we try to do a little better; buy a little bit less, throw out a bit less trash, use less petroleum, grow a little bit more, become a little more self sufficient. This rocky, dry desert wouldn’t allow me more space to do a swath of turned soil for wheat or oats, but I had a bit of room in a raised bed to try my hand at an easier cereal grain, amaranth.

Seed Savers showed a photo of lush, six foot growth on a plant positively tipping with grain. Gorgeous crimson color made this lovely heirloom plant, harvested from Hopi land in the Arizona desert, one I wanted to try and grow.

It was quite easy to grow. The largest plants were the ones that had escaped the raised bed and grew in the shale, clay, sand mixture of pasture. We watered it every day. I had no idea what to do with it from there on, so I ignored it. When do you harvest? How do you harvest? What part is the grain?

This week the heads had fallen, drooping solemnly on the ground, great shocks of multicolored tops told me it was time. I clipped the tops into an open paper shopping bag. Using gloves, I crushed the heads and stripped the stalks.

I then poured the contents into a large strainer. Using my gloved fingers, I swept around the grains and chaff until everything came through the holes except for the stems.

I then utilized past knowledge I had gathered and poured the contents from bag to bag, then bowl to bowl, letting the breeze take away the chaff. I think I might have lost some of the seed and was making a tremendous mess.

I then poured the contents into a large sieve and that worked better to pull the contents through, throwing out the larger pieces of chaff.

Still, I had lots of purple chaff amongst the tiny black seeds. Still losing much of it across the pasture (which I am certain will grow fabulously next year. No one gardens quite as well as Mother Nature.), I took the lot inside away from the wind. I poured a little at a time through a smaller sieve and that seemed to work. I used my finger to push through as much of the seed as I could, throwing out the purple chaff.

That large shopping bag was reduced to half a cup of homegrown grain. Not one to be discouraged, I realize that next year I will know what I am doing (presumably) and will harvest more of the heads. I will know what to do ahead of time. I will also have more to harvest from. And I know that many hands make light work and I may get a little help next year. Either way, I look forward to grinding some of this grain for bread or turning it into porridge. The bright red color bleeds into the food you make with the Hopi amaranth.

In addition, the young leaves can be steamed and eaten like spinach. The bright red tops in their peak can be used to dye wool. Another project I am embarking on.

Plan ahead for next year and try your hand at growing grains. Grains are packed with vitamins and trace minerals, proteins and important antioxidants, and add a bit more homegrown to the homestead table.

The wood stove ticks along as the sun rises fuchsia pink across the horizon. The warmth feels good on this cool morning. I can scarcely believe it is October. I am mostly finished canning and preserving. Just need to put up some jars of beans for quick dinners. There are a few winter crops left in the ground to water today. The freezer is filled with sustenance along with the shelves of brightly colored jars. Yes, autumn is upon us. And though there is plenty to do to keep my fingers nimble, there is more time to think and reminisce.

I keep seeing the name Dahl many places I go and on things I notice. Not a popular name to keep seeing, but there is Lisa sending love from beyond the veil as I weave on the loom she gave me. Her last name was Dahl. It is the time of Samhain, you know.

I think of Grandma as I crochet a blanket for a baby I will help deliver soon and remember her gentle instructions when I was a young girl crocheting my first blanket. I pull up the collar of Aunt Donna’s shirt and look at how well her rhubarb is doing in my garden. I brought it over before her house was sold last month. I raise my glass of wine to Steve and can finally listen to Andrea Bocelli again without tearing up. I keep seeing people that look like Kat out of the corner of my eye. Yes, it is the holiday of remembrance.

They are referred to as pagan holidays because pagan means “peasant” and the country folks of Europe didn’t easily give up their spiritual beliefs when the church demanded them too. Pagan was used derogatorily, and the agricultural festivals of old were considered of the devil. (A character not created until later.) Just as the beliefs of Native Americans, and the Aztecs, and many cultures around the world nearly lost to organized religion, did not want to give up their original faith, neither did the early Europeans. The original spirituality did not need to be taught, it was felt, and still, the original ways feel natural, particularly if one is a farmer.

Samhain (pronounced Sow-wen)- much like the Day of the Dead and other celebrations around the world- is the time of remembrance. We have been busy all summer, we now sit and tend to our quiet chores by firelight. We set an extra place at the table. We light candles for those that have gone on before us. Pull out photographs. Notice odd activity- creaking cupboards, names popping up, songs that keep playing, activity that lets us know that the dead didn’t go very far, but are helping us along our way. We remember, we mourn, we find joy.

But Samhain is not just for remembering and honoring the dead. It is a gentle reminder that we are alive! Let us be alive! Call our loved ones. Hug our grandchildren. Be kind to others. And make memories with those we love. There is nothing more important than family and chosen family. That all comes together during this sacred time of Samhain.

I filled out my ballot. Signed the envelope. Voting is a right I do not take for granted. It is one my foremothers fought for. I am thankful that I have equal rights as my husband and am not his property, but rather his partner. I am a feminist as far as equal rights and partnerships go but I have a very old fashioned view of what feminism should look like and what many of us have forgotten.

I am a housewife. I do not have children at home. I am expected by society to obtain work. Even mothers with children are expected to work. The doors were opened by marketing campaigns for frozen dinners and cigarettes to alight the way for women back to work. No longer are we attached to our apron strings! What really happened is that women left the kitchen en masse for careers and the workplace, leaving their children to fend for themselves. And yet still, as we leave work at dusk, we are still expected to clean the house, run the errands, and feed the family. Fast food and restaurants, food services, house cleaners, and daycares fill the spaces that we left behind on our way to the office.

When Doug and I started a homestead, it was made very clear why women and men have specific roles. They are very natural and work well together. It would take me three days to chop and stack wood that a man could do in a few hours. Men have a natural inclination to provide for their families, to be the hunter-gatherer, and their self esteem is often linked to that. We as women are natural nurturers, holding any child to our bosom who is in need, providing cooked sustenance and taking care of most needs over our own. A homestead depends on gender roles, as does our society.

I have had as many young male farm interns as female, and even in our modern day, these young people excel at what their gender dictates. The men are terrible at cleaning house and doing dishes, scarcely lifting a finger to fix supper, not detailed orientated, but excel at large jobs, stacking wood, heavy lifting, building. While the women flit around seamlessly, canning tomatoes, fixing supper, laughing, and gardening. There are always exceptions to the rule and many things are fun do together with partners, but for the most part, we are different in beautiful ways.

We women are powerful creatures, fighting for good and fairness. If women put half the energy they do into fighting for the right to have an abortion any time they like into the good and well being of our communities, how powerful that would be. If we put that kind of energy into nurturing our families, how much stronger our society would be. We are incredible leaders and passionate advocates- we are just fighting for the wrong things!

We live in Colorado, the third highest cost of living state to live in. We are proof that two incomes are not necessary. We do not have streaming services, cable, expensive phones or data plans, we despise debt, we are thrifty when needed but still indulge in what we love. We save money by my being home. Feminism also is the right to stay at home and be providers at the hearth. Women of all centuries have always had a side hustle that allowed them to have pocket money without giving up their responsibilities to the family and home. Work one day a week, arts and crafts, selling eggs, teaching classes, profiting off of hobbies- all these things can bring in income. Being at home is more environmentally friendly, more economical, and creates positive outcomes in the home. If you want to be a lawyer, go be a lawyer. If you want to be a homemaker, you have that right as well!

I wake up, pour myself coffee, start a fire in the woodstove if needed, work in the gardens, take care of the animals, clean the house, prepare meals, preserve food, work on crafts, am available if my children and grandchildren need me or if the neighbors need help. I am able to have peace of mind, have a busy, enjoyable life in the company of my family, provide healthy meals and a warm house, and proudly wear my apron. Now is the time to rethink what feminism is supposed to mean and use it for the health and security of our families, our communities, and our society at large.

It has been an incredibly busy summer and here autumn is in full swing. Homesteading here is a pleasure and our first farming season was wonderful. In June, I was terribly discouraged, even considering giving up. I had started gardens six times bigger than any of our previous homesteads and was upset that I wasn’t able to keep up by myself.

Enter angels in cars and vans with backpacks and stories and ideas and joy and youth. Becoming a WWOOF host has been great fun. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is an amazing program; “The new backpacking across Europe,” according to my husband. A woman in her thirties with a master’s degree and a desire for a new career, new life, searching for herself (and a liberal cowboy). A young woman fresh out of college, feeling the peer pressure of starting a career, but really wanting more freedom and a homestead, fulling embracing her apron strings. A young man straight out of the military with some serious soul searching to do. A nineteen year old with ambition and wisdom beyond her years, with a great desire to change food deserts and start a farm. My last woofer is here now, a 6’7″, hungry, twenty year old basketball player. He is here for two weeks helping me put the gardens to bed and to prepare the homestead for the colder months. We will then have our house to ourselves again, and then will welcome more young, future homesteaders here in the spring. We have a greenhouse now, are adding extensive raised beds, and are putting in a vineyard with fifty-five vines. The help will be most welcome! I am eternally grateful to all of them. http://wwoofusa.com

These shelves are now much more full than when we took this picture!

I remembered exactly why we put up food! After a few years of slacking, the empty grocery store shelves of early spring reminded me. This year we put up over four hundred jars of food, have a full freezer, and root cellar vegetables. Our garden is still filled with root crops. Medicinal plants fill the front garden. All of these gardens were prairie and shale. I am enjoying teaching my techniques to create prolific gardens. A book is in the works.

So many projects planned! Rain barrels, greenhouse beds, raised beds, and a modern root cellar addition to the house.

Baby lambs will be born any day now at our friend’s farm. The same gal we got two from all those years ago before we lost everything. Here, everything is restored. All things that are taken from us will always be restored. I have started weaving and will be selling my work. I work at a local winery on Saturdays as their in-house sommelier, and I just love it. I have visions of making our own wine from our own vineyard and using the pressed off wine grapes to dye our own wool from our own sheep and then spinning it into lush yarn to weave my own creations. Homesteading allows so many opportunities for creativity and peace.

Coming upon my eight year anniversary writing this Farmgirl School blog, I contemplate our journey. From farm to rented farm to apartment to urban farm to here- this beautiful spot on earth, and realize that in the craziness of the world, and elections, and pretend pandemics, and social media…there is no place like home. And may that home always be a homestead.

We found this street sign while out on vacation. How perfect if we lived on this road!

6:30 am: The wind howled at fifty miles an hour all night, folding pieces of the greenhouse and threatening loose objects. My wwoofer, Maycee, and I rapidly pick green tomatoes, filling two large canning pots, saving all we can. The tarp and blankets only cover 15×4 feet of tomato plants. We cover the zucchini and bid farewell to everything else in the gardens. All of the beautiful flowers at their peak. The beans nearly ready, but not quite. The squash and watermelons and peppers and dozens of other vegetables that won’t make it through the sudden cold front that is upon us. Tonight the freeze starts and the snow will come, heavy and suffocating. And cleansing. The fires here in Colorado have been awful and the dense moisture will lower the smoke, clean the air, and usher us into another season.

I mourn the plants I am not ready to see fold back into the earth. This freeze is a good month earlier than expected. Autumn has been sneaking up slowly though. We watched the corn change to crisp seemingly overnight. And birds in masses gathering frantically. The grapes brought in to the winery for crush a month early, as are the pumpkins we brought in the other day. Yes, the seasons change in our lives without us being ready and all we can do is flow.

My husband’s photo of our squash bounty!

8:30 am: My friend Annie that used to live with me (the one who grew up with my children and comes to help me can on the weekends, the one who is now hooked on homesteading after living with me!), she sends me a photo of her new pressure canner with excitement. This lifestyle is captivating. It is addictive and satisfying in a way that is hard to explain. The young people are often just now being introduced to it. And that is good. Our world needs more self sufficient people. More homestead/community minded folks.

10:30 am: The fire is stoked and the heat carries through the house. It seemed strange to be hauling wood in yesterday. It was nearly a hundred degrees outside. The clouds float towards us over the mountains. I look brightly at my shelves, filled with well over three hundred jars of vegetables and preserves for winter. Our friends came to visit us yesterday and stayed for lunch. They brought us a lot of frozen wild meat. We don’t often eat meat because we despise the factory farms of the world. But these items along with what other friends have gifted us, feel like bundles of sustenance, waiting for the dutch oven upon the wood stove. They feel like amazing gifts for winter.

Our pantry wall looks like the finest art installation!

11:30: A large basket of beans was brought in to further dry and to shell in the week ahead. The tomatoes will be set out to turn red. We are full from Kleinur (Icelandic beignets) that I fried this morning. Hot cups of coffee warmed us after scurrying around the farm gathering vegetables and unhooking hoses, checking on the animals, and we are now settled by the fire.

Cherokee black beans will be shelled for soups and many dishes in the coming winter.

The children are coming for a harvest festival here on Saturday. It will be gloriously autumnal by the end of the week with temperatures in the seventies and eighties. We will still have a lot of work to do- with cleaning up the farm, setting up the trellising and posts for the vineyard, fixing the greenhouse, cleaning up garden beds, and canning the rest of the tomatoes, potatoes, and pumpkins. There is sauerkraut on the counter that will be ready to can next week as well. The season comes to an end then we will be vacationing in Colorado wine country and visiting friends.

The new shawl I made on my loom with my favorite colors!

I will then settle in with my loom and create new pieces. Work at the winery on weekends. Enjoy the fruits of our labor of summer. Bid farewell to wwoofers and intense heat, and welcome in fall. Everything has a season.

Five records were stacked and ready to start playing as soon as the first guest pulled up. The table was set. Small wine goblets brought out for the occasion. Fresh sunflowers filled canning jars. The dinner party was about to begin.

I decided to throw a four course dinner party for friends, complete with wine pairings. My own garden created inspiration and filled the menu, along with local mushrooms, wine, and cheese. Homemade pasta and sourdough baguettes rounded out the menu.

This was an elaborate party, but it was easily managed by planning out each detail ahead of time. The menu was written on a door painted with chalkboard paint. The chive pasta was made Thursday. The Limoncello cake was made Friday in anticipation for Saturday’s dinner. On Friday I also blended a simple gazpacho style soup using lots of fresh veggies and olive oil in my Vitamix, added seasoning to taste, then stored it in the refrigerator. The soup was served cold topped with crab, which was removed from its cans Friday and stored in a glass container in easy reach in the fridge. Ten sets of plates and bowls were set out on the counter for easy plating.

Everything that could be prepped ahead of time was, like harvesting vegetables, pre-cutting the iceberg lettuce, and making the salad dressing. The white wine and champagne were put in the refrigerator as well.

Saturday morning I met up with girlfriends, rested until after lunch, then hit the ground running baking bread and setting the table. The potatoes were parboiled then smashed and placed on a cookie sheet. I poured crushed garlic and olive oil over the whole thing and put it in the toaster oven to start after the soup course.

Before guests arrived, the wine was opened, a pot of boiling water was started and kept on low for the pasta. The pasta sauce made with garlic and oyster mushrooms was started to the point of adding cream and was then kept off the heat until it was time to pull it all together for the third course.

Cups of coffee and delicious lemony cake was served. Guests meandered the garden, played with the dog, sipped wine and found things in common with each other. The whole dinner was a success. It it is a wonderful gesture to invite those you love from different circles and spoil them with great food and drink and company.

A simple affair is also easy to pull off. Put on a pot of soup. I wanted to make my woofers (farm interns) a truly Colorado meal, so I made them green chile, heated some tortillas on the gas stove, juiced some prickly pears and made the most delicious margaritas ever. The point of a dinner party is to come together as friends and community. Joining together over food is a great way to keep relationships alive and well. It adds such sweetness to life.

Cheers!

We have been here a year. I can hardly believe how time flies! My granddaughter and I found an earth worm in the potato patch, a sure sign that our sand and shale desert soil farmed in a sustainable, no-till fashion- in just one season- is becoming an oasis. Now this land needs a greenhouse.

Doug removed all the cactus from the area we decided on.

A greenhouse could extend the season a few weeks. I am working on a system to naturally heat it so that we can start spring crops earlier. In all my houses before, there has been a nice sunny south window to start seedlings in, but the overhang is such here that sun rarely cascades in one place for very long. Then late in autumn, the tomatoes will have a few more weeks to ripen. Oh yes, a greenhouse is needed.

Choosing a place for the greenhouse. We needed a place that was easily accessible by the hose, level ground, and a place that wouldn’t block our view of the mountains.

We talked about building one from scratch, and we probably could have despite not being particularly handy or with excess funds…but we didn’t need to. Our neighbor has a friend, who has a partially put together greenhouse, do we want it?

Look on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace for greenhouses. A lot of people get them and then just don’t use them. Look for materials on those same sites. I am sure there are other sites that are good as well. You can put together a greenhouse for cheap. In some cases, free!

Put in a few phone calls and see if you can’t get a crew together to help you. Much like an Amish barn raising, I put out the word, and we got help. Then, of course, we will be available in their time of need down the road. Community is the best part of homesteading.

We walked the property looking for the best place to put it. Somewhere close to water, a place that is level ground, and a place that wouldn’t block my magnificent view of the mountains. (I regretted my placement of the little barn.)

Our neighbors, Carolyn and Rod, hooked up their trailer. My cousins met us there, along with our farm interns, Annie and Rex, and Annie’s boyfriend, Cole. We had a lively crew, happily moving the 10×12 greenhouse.

The young people quickly took the initiative and had the greenhouse finished and put together. The inside of the greenhouse is bolted to railroad ties so that the greenhouse won’t end up in Carolyn’s yard come first wind storm.

I am so grateful to my family and friends for helping this greenhouse manifest here. It is beautiful next to the kitchen gardens. I can just see the raised beds now, maybe a tea table, its warmth creating seedlings and life and food.