Sunday feels symbolic of family and spending time together. In old homesteading and farming memoirs I have read, the families go visitin’ after church, or family comes to see them every Sunday. A chicken or two inevitably gets plucked and the sound of children running around while the adults chat can be heard through pages of books and memories. I love the idea of bringing Sunday dinner back. (Dinner traditionally being lunch, whereas Supper is actually the later meal.)
My cousin had come from two hours north to visit me. She hadn’t seen our new farm yet and after much chattering and catching up, she spent night. As she sat on the couch sipping coffee, catching up on news, my husband drinking his and waiting for football to start, I texted my best friend, Tina, and invited her and her husband over. I had a chicken defrosted.
I had harvested some things before we moved out of our old house and into this one a few months ago, so the meat chickens were in the freezer, my homegrown potatoes and onions were in the pantry, and I had jars of green beans. A half stale loaf of homemade onion bread became stuffing and a bottle of local Pinot Noir was opened.
I drizzled olive oil in the bottom of a cast iron Dutch oven, and placed fingerling potatoes all over the bottom. They need a sprinkling of salt and pepper. I then used my fingers to rub the chicken with olive oil and gave it a good rub with New Mexican red chile and other spices. That went breast down into the pan on top of the potatoes. Cook the chicken with the lid off for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and replace lid. Total, the chicken will cook for 15 minutes per pound.
I let the chicken rest on a platter for 10 minutes, moved the potatoes to a bowl, heated up the green beans with butter, and made a quick gravy with cream and flour in the broth that was left at the bottom of the Dutch oven. The stuffing came out, the chicken was cut up, and everyone feasted. The chicken was tender and delicious, the stuffing crisp, the potatoes soft and the green beans reminiscent of summer.
Nothing has to be difficult to prepare. The table settings simple. The conversation and connection is the important thing. Sunday dinner is a very nice tradition to bring back.
We climbed out of the truck at Aunt Donna’s house. My cousin and I fought back a few tears at the thought that she wasn’t here. Nor will she be again. Her gardens were so dry, but the snap dragons and the huge trees stayed true to Aunt Donna’s garden with color and life. We were there to pick up wood for my new wood stove.
Janet and I walked around the back yard reminiscing. The old swing that used to hold family laughing, rocking back and forth. The family gatherings on the porch.
The decades old rhubarb was gone. The apple tree looked the same but with no apples. A broken limb hung from its girth.
I went to the shed and found all of her tools still in place. I took a shovel and went to the Oregon Grape Root that I always gather this time of year from her house. The last time, most likely. The house will be sold soon after the estate sale.
I filled a small bucket of water. I pulled up some of the Echinacea and placed it in the water. I dug up a few Sumac tree starts that had scampered away from the large trees. “Come with me, kids,” I said to the silent plants, “we are moving to a new garden.”
My own land here isn’t ready to plant. There is no amended soil. Just limestone and clay as far as the eye can see. The previous owner put in a small strip of garden along the front of the house with a plant every few feet for curb appeal to help the house sell. You know me and inter-planting; no soil unused! I filled in some of the spaces.
It is very easy to transplant anywhere you live.
Simply dig a hole.
Water the hole.
Let it drain.
Sprinkle a little organic garden soil in the hole.
Put plant in the hole.
Cover with soil.
Give a little more water.
Talk to it and tell it how happy it will be here if it will grow!
I do this every time I plant a tree or transplant a plant or bush. To prevent weeds and to keep invasive plants in place, put cardboard around the plants and top it all off with wood chips or straw. Everything looks beautiful, there was no need to rototille everything, and one can fit a lot of plants in a seemingly small area. It is the secret to creating a sprawling, cottage garden.
I will increase the size of the garden next year with the same technique and establish a walkway. A hundred medicinal herbs and more flowers and pleasing plants will join the garden. It won’t be Aunt Donna’s garden, but with any luck, her plants will thrive here and I will have a little piece of her spirit in my cottage garden.
For a long time, my daughter, Shyanne, had a life-sized faux skeleton posed in the passenger side of her jeep. It was hilarious watching people walk by her car and suddenly take a second look and a jump back! Victor proudly held onto the front seat until Shyanne got another car. Victor seems to have found a new place, this time on the front porch, sunning in the autumn rays and scaring playfully in the evening haze.
Our family has always gone all out for holidays. On October first, the children would arrive home from school to find the house joyfully decorated (I am not much into real fear and gore, more Disney Halloween) and I would be standing at the stove with an outrageous witch hat on carefully stirring my pot of witch’s brew. (Apple cider with pumpkin pie spice.) The dollar store, spider webs and cardboard cutouts graced the house and a large witch on a broom, that we named “Grandma,” hung from the ceiling fan above the dining room table.
“Grandma!” the children would all greet her.
The children had a great bin of old clothes, past year’s costumes, and lots of dress-up in order to create the perfect Halloween costume. We made veggie burgers with American cheese that had eyes, nose, and mouth cut out of the slice to make a face. They melted onto the patty in fierce/darling images of scarecrows, vampires, and ghosts.
Yesterday, I went to my daughter, Emily’s house to help her with her girls so she could clean out a closet and so that we could put up spaghetti sauce. Their house is cheerfully decorated for the spooky season. A mask was on their scarecrow, and each time that ten month old Ayla Mae saw it, she began to laugh. That cheerful-baby-laugh continued every time she saw something scary. She will be like her Auntie.
Shyanne needs a job with Martha Stewart, I have always said. She is brilliant with crafts and baking and bringing to life fun and creativity. I am bringing you scenes of her yard today to inspire and enchant you; and maybe scare you just a bit!
My first herbal remedy book was released over five years ago when I closed my first apothecary to become a full time farmer (three months later we opened a new apothecary!). Homesteader’s Pharmacy has been my best seller ever since. I am grateful that I have been able to share my knowledge and the many recipes I have developed over the years as a Master Herbalist. I am grateful because I have been able to write and homestead and there are folks out there that support my work by reading my books. Wado, Tapadh leat, Thank you.
The funny thing about being a writer is, one cannot just sit down and write a book. It just comes. As if I am not writing the book at all. My cousin calls it the Writing Witch. Once it hits, the dishes don’t get done, the house goes to the wayside, and the writer is consumed with words, writing as fast as they can before the precious prose vanishes. Well, around here, the dishes weren’t getting done.
My new book has just been released and I am so excited to share it. It follows up Homesteader’s Pharmacy with over fifty new recipes and new ways to create and brew medicines with detailed instructions. This book goes a step further and teaches many things that I have learned from studying with medicine people, and my experiences as a medicine woman.
The Medicine Person’s Guide to Herbalism; Healing with Plant Medicines, Stones, Animal Spirits, and Ceremony draws from my own work. It is important to have a knowledge base of plant medicine. It is essential on a homestead, in my opinion. Most folks also understand, however, that there are many ailments that manifest as physical, but are often emotional, stemmed from trauma, or are purely spiritual in nature. This book covers different ways to blend modalities in order to achieve true healing. I am honored to share it with you now!
To celebrate the release of my new book, my other books have been newly edited and have lower prices. I hope you enjoy my books and thank you for allowing me to teach, write, and follow my calling!
I long to get this show on the road. To get this new farm set up! Get the rototiller! Get the goats! Get the fencing done! Let’s get planting!
But, alas, it is October 2nd. I can plant hopeful bulbs of dancing tulips and sunshine yellow daffodils that will surprise me with delight come spring. That is all.
The wood stove is coming next week and the goat shed is coming too and we are slowly getting fencing done. I can see it all! I can see the corn in rows interspersed with pumpkins zooming along the front yard on green tendrils and vines. I can see the vineyard I have always wanted stretching out to the western sky. I can see the bright red tomatoes, the crisp lettuces dancing in the cool breeze, the baby goats and sheep jumping around the pasture in the sunlight. My polar bear dog with a job, finally.
I can see myself moving the dutch oven to make room for the kettle for a cup of tea and checking the fire. I can hear the vibrant shaking of the pressure canners putting away summer’s gifts. Wiping my hands on my apron and taking my granddaughters outside to play. Watching the sun set behind the wild pasture with rabbits shooting to and fro and turkey vultures swaying gently on the breeze overhead.
This is our fourth farm. Our fourth homestead. The second home of our own since beginning homesteading. This one on land. In the country. Our own. My heart soars with gratitude and excitement to get this farm set up! But alas, it is October 2nd.
The dark smoke billowed densely and ferociously off the mountain sides. The smell of it all filled the air. The wildfire was scarcely contained and my heart broke for the animals and trees and the wildness being consumed. Death and ending before our eyes as we drove to our mini-vacation spot. Next spring, there on the mountain, life will unfold. Everything in its season.
The aspens and oaks danced in brilliant colors of gold and red, creating patchworks across the mountainsides. That specific shade of bold autumn blue sans clouds stretched above everything and the west was in its ultimate splendor.
Our youngest daughter, her husband, and their new baby joined us for a few days at a beautiful place. A private spot where one can hike to various hot spring pools nestled along the mountain. Walking along the path we stopped to eat hawthorn berries and wild plums. Deer wandered past the pools, a fawn catching up with her mother. Birds flitted from thick tree to tree and life buzzed all around. It is a clothing optional resort and the feeling of air on one’s skin while passing thickets of herbs and trees and the feeling of the water from warm waterfalls is grounding and restorative.
A crow cawed and flapped its wings loudly as it flew close by. The warmth of the water followed by the cool breeze was enlivening. Amongst plans of future and to-do’s and day-to-day life, it is good to rest and restore, to ground in a new place, to spend time with loved ones, and to look out over thickets of oaks and pines and into valleys. To pull a blanket closer around, sip coffee, and hear the earth speak, as breezes lightly blow fog up the road. Everything in its season.
The early morning dawn brings with it the sound of roosters crowing around the village. The smell of wood smoke fills the air as the fire comes alive with a whoosh in the wood stove to start the day. A kettle of water is put on for coffee. Out into the early morn, a scarf pulled around the neck, the chickens are let out. They scurry by and gleefully pounce on scratch being thrown. Next up are the goats, and the sound of “mah”ing brings a smile to the farmer’s face. The sheep try to body check the others out of the way in order to get to the hay first. The sheep are distracted while the goats are led to their stanchions in their turn. The gentle sound of milk hitting the metal bucket methodically starts the day and inspires prayers of gratitude. A sleepy farmer can easily balance their head against the warm side of a goat happily chomping on sweet feed. Back inside, the milk is strained into half gallon jars and placed in the milk fridge. Boiling water is poured over fresh coffee grounds, and the cats and dog are fed and watered. Hot coffee is poured into a mug.
This is the average morning of a homesteader. If one has children, then they are tending to the youngsters as well. This was our life during the first years of our homesteading. For the last four years in the city, we have not been able to have anything but chickens, but here on our new farm, we are happily plotting the loafing shed and the pasture fencing for the “mah”ing of goats and the low “mom”ing of sheep. (Have you actually heard farm animals? It does make you wonder where the children’s books came up with their animal sounds.) We have homesteaded in each place we have lived, from country to city and back to the country. We build the infrastructure of our homestead and farm. The wood stove is coming in two weeks. The fencing this week. The loafing shed in two weeks. The goats and sheep? When we find them. Most likely in the spring. And our hen continues to crow.
The rest of the day for a homesteader is filled with satisfying chores. Keep the fire going. Plan supper. Make bread. Clean the house. Plan what to pack for hubby’s lunch tomorrow. Care for animals. Do laundry. Hang on the line. In growing months, tend to gardens-plan, plant, weed, harvest, preserve. In winter months, catch up on sewing, make Yule presents, craft, crochet, and write.
There is a joyful cadence to homesteading. A well versed schedule of chores, work, play, and rest. Of being present. Immersed in the cycle of life and death, joy and pain, intensely taking part in the life before us, and savoring every bit of it.
Yes, from old fashioned skills come real peace that truly cannot be found anywhere else. We step back from the craziness of the world, and stoke the fire, make cheese, harvest grapes, bake bread. We spend less, save more, have a lower footprint, and a lighter heart. We tend to be heathier, eating fresher food, breathing fresher air, making real connections with neighbors and holding family close. We appreciate and communicate with the natural world. We teach others how to do the same.
The joyful sound of newly canned preserves, their tops popping tight, lining the counter. The smells of manure, hay, wood smoke, coffee, bread, roasted chicken. The sight of mountain views and sunsets and skies of stars and baby goats entering the world. The feel of a sheep’s fleece and how the yarn slides through one’s fingers at the spinning wheel, and a soft kitten’s fur against one’s skin. The taste of really, really fresh, homegrown food and drinks. The sound of the baby laugh when the dog licks her or the squeal of delight as the older child finds the perfect pumpkin in the patch.
Yes, this is why we homestead. It is why we come back to it each time we move. It is truly a good life. For us, it is the only life.
I wish we had started homesteading and farming long ago. It would be nice to have a multi-generational legacy of land and tradition that becomes genetically ingrained in the children and is always a sense of comfort and a place to return. My eldest child grew up near the beginning of our journey so he had little experience with the farm (though he can grow anything), but perhaps he had some connection, because he would like a farm of his own some day. My middle child tends to pots of tomatoes and peppers, herbs and flowers that flourish on her second floor deck as she watches the deer cross her yard in her mountain-like neighborhood. My youngest daughter was around the most and seeing her hold a newborn goat for the first time was to watch a thirteen year old melt. So enthralled with farm life she became, and she and her husband are adamant about getting a farm and homesteading off grid. And of course, my granddaughter, has been a farmgirl since birth. Photo shoots with goats her first year and farmer’s markets in bonnets. Bottle feeding goats her second year, gardening her third, and so forth. She is the most excited about our new farm. Her baby sister will love it here too, I just know it. So, better late than never!
I will tell you a secret though; moving here to this gorgeous piece of land, I considered (gasp) not homesteading or farming (for like a week). Hang up my farmstead aprons and become a “normal” wife. I could get a job and wear smart pant suits and buy cans of food (instead of pulling them from the root cellar) and keep all the land as it is. I sat out on the back porch with my farm dog (who is a little bored without charges as am I) and looked out across the cedars and cactus, across the deep valleys, up the mountain tops, across the larger-than-life western sky, and then started envisioning things. Ah yes, normalcy didn’t last for long, because that (pointing) would be the perfect place for goats and sheep. That area could be kept wild for the bunnies and natural medicine. There is the vineyard, of course. There is the huge pumpkin patch and corn field as you enter the property. Here is the garden. There is where the clothes line will go. And so forth. Doug had the same ideas, so it wasn’t long until in our minds, a fully functioning homestead and farm was painted and planned. Homesteading and farming is hard work, but it is deeply satisfying, soul enriching, life giving work. And comes with wonderful things like homemade cheese and wine.
My grandparents grew up on farms (and had no desire to ever step foot on one again) and I was fascinated by their stories, always asking questions. The “normal” today is actually just the status quo. Farming and homesteading were not only the norm, but the expected, in every generation from my grandparents back. And I am honored to be a part of it. We will start this generational wisdom over starting here. Because it is important work. Environmentally, emotionally, sustainably, and beautifully important. Watch us grow!
What is your favorite aspect of homesteading/farming?
“Whatever you lose, whatever you feel was taken from you, know that it will return. It will be given back.”
I want you to remember that friends, because we may be speaking of wood stoves today, but this goes for everything in life.
Some four and a half years ago (a lifetime ago, folks), we were using our last bit of money to install a wood stove in a house on the prairie that we rented. It had been a very cold winter (36 degrees in the bathroom cold) and we were ready to be warm. We got lucky and a friend of ours in town offered to pick up an old stove that was on Craigslist for $250 and install it for $300 plus the pipes and such. Total cost was $1200. That was about the time that the landlords kicked us out (the whole story is in my memoir, The Making of a Medicine Woman) and since we had used every penny to set up the homestead, we had to give everything away and move into our friend’s guest room. It was the most devastating time of our lives. After living with friends, then in an apartment, we bought a little house in the city and it became our urban farm. It had the most beautiful wood stove. Everything returns.
Five weeks ago we moved on to land with a beautiful house, and some money in the bank from selling our last urban homestead. No wood stove though. We do have a furnace that is original to the house. It doesn’t get below zero this far down south, but it does get pretty darn cold in the winter and spring. I sure like having a backup plan if the furnace breaks down or if the power goes out. I also enjoy the ambient heat of a wood stove so much more than forced air. I actually feel warm with the heat from a stove. I enjoy putting a Dutch oven on the top or a kettle of water. My pioneer spirit loves wood stoves. So, even though we are a little gun shy about spending, I would love a wood stove.
Emily and the girls came over and we headed to Canon City to a darling shop called “The Woodshed Stove Shop.” I must tell you that I never imagined that my child would ooh and ahh over the newest models of wood cookstoves, but there we were, running our hands over a perfect Amish oven, two farmgirls at heart.
I was immediately drawn to a smaller cast iron stove with a beautiful forest squirrel cast into the side. Maryjane preferred the camp style stove. We also looked at a steel stove.
When looking for a wood stove, here are things to remember:
There are three basic types of stoves.
Steel gets the hottest the fastest, therefore burns the wood faster, but heats quickly. It is the lowest priced of the stoves. The one we looked at had a larger top to cook on.
Soap Stone holds the heat in and lets it go slower and longer. It is the highest priced of the models.
Cast Iron is in between. It holds heat well and gets hot moderately fast. The model I looked at would require a smaller Dutch oven a small kettle.
Look at how many square feet they heat. Some heat 800 sq ft, some much more. My house is 1176 sq ft, but the heat will not get into the back bedrooms. One can utilize fans and such to distribute the heat, but the heat will not reach bedrooms well. The Quakers and the Amish still use this fact to bring the family together in the evenings. Just think, no kids lurking in their rooms with IPADS. Everyone is together working on projects and connecting!
The cast iron stove I want heats 1000 sq ft. The steel one heats 1400. Your living areas will be real toasty, so the cast iron one would probably be sufficient for us. We could face it so it looks down the hallway, so it may send heat down some to the far side of the house.
Look at how much space you have. Remember that the stove has to come out from the walls a certain amount depending on how big the stove is. A stove may seem small but once you set it away from the wall and place it on a fireproof floor pad, you will lose space. I have a small main area that makes up the open kitchen, dining room, and living room, so we should err on the smaller side so I can still use my dining room and have plenty of seating in the living room!
See how big the firebox is. The one I am looking at only takes 12 inch logs. That is tiny when you are chopping wood so I had to run that by my husband first! The average length is 16 inches. The stove that I want is more efficient than most stoves so it will burn longer and use less wood.
The stove is not the expensive part! The stove pipes are. The stoves we are looking at are right around $1400 and we were quoted for pipes and installation an additional $2700. Expect to spend $4500 and upwards depending on the price of the stove. (There are some real nice ones out there!)
You will pull a permit from your local county. You can install it yourself if you have the know-how. I don’t and I would rather make sure a wood stove is properly installed!
Wood is carbon neutral. When a tree is decomposing, it releases carbon dioxide. The same as if it is being burned in a wood stove. And trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen over their lifetime. We need to be responsible about where we get our wood though. I am driving into town to pick up a load of wood from downed trees in a neighborhood. It won’t cost anything but the gas to get there. Look on Craigslist and keep an eye out for free wood. You can also order a cord of wood. Research cords vs face cords to make sure you get a good deal.
It is nice to know that if the power goes out, I can just set a Dutch oven on the stove or a frying pan, a kettle of water, and light some candles or oil lamps and I will be all set for the evening. A wood stove is a homesteading necessity and a lovely one at that!
We bumped the wagon haphazardly over the irrigation ditches to get to the next row of apple trees. Many were long picked over but there were still a few varietals heavy with fruit. Old to ancient apple trees lined many acres in perfect rows.
We are in the planning stages of our new farm. Where do we want to put the fruit trees? We will set up a separate area for them instead of just throwing them into the yard. In past houses, if they survived, they were in the middle of garden beds and mowing paths.
Ayla tried to take a bite of apple and smiled that huge, jack o’lantern grin. She opted for a stick instead. Maryjane picked out a white, Lumina pumpkin (our family favorite), and helped me harvest apples as Emily snapped photos.
Third Street Apples is a real treat. Pick all the apples you wish and then pay per pound less than sale priced grocery store apples shipped in from Venezuela (or wherever). Support local farms and have a ball doing it! Maryjane sat in the grass watching a ladybug crawl around the top of her apple.
I filled my apron with apples, so Maryjane gathered her shirt and did the same. That child is efficient, for when she poured her apples into the basket, it overflowed! I have a lot of apples to process now. I am not very good at making pies, I am afraid. A farmgirl skill I need to perfect, but I can make one, or maybe a tart. I will can apple sauce (see my recipe here), but I am the only one who likes apple sauce so maybe I will juice some as well. Oh! I can make apple wine, or freeze some apples. I will decide what to do soon, but in the meantime, I had a lovely day at a local farm with my granddaughters and my daughter making memories.
And in a few years, the children will be harvesting from our own family orchard. What is your favorite thing to do with apples?
My fancy, French cheese cave arrived today. Well, it’s a mini fridge, but it will work the same!
The cheese cave does not take up much space. It has shelves built in. At the very, very lowest setting, the mini fridge will be around 55 degrees. Which just so happens to be perfect for aging cheese.
One must take care to keep a drip pan under the tiny freezer compartment, because it will not get cold enough to stay frozen, so it will drip. That moisture is just the right amount of humidity to age cheese.
Once a week, wipe down shelves with soapy water, taking care to leave no residue that could permeate the cheese. Mold will start having a party, because that is what mold does when it is given ample amounts of cheese and temperate weather. Never mind it, it will not hurt you. Just wipe off mold from aging cheese with salt water (1/2 lb sea salt to 1/2 gallon hot water until dissolved. Keep in refrigerator.) Turn the cheeses over once a week.
Make sure to label the cheese. They all do begin to look amazingly alike after awhile. This one is a Parmesan cheese I made that will be ready next year on my birthday in April. It is already almost three months old and is getting a nice layer of olive oil to keep it from drying out.
I have a hard Italian cheese in the press. A woman reached out to me on Facebook and offered me my dear, dear departed friend and farmgirl business pal, Nancy’s cheese press! Lots of homestead memories right there sitting on the counter. The cheese will go into a brine this evening (same sea salt recipe as above) and then dry for a few days, then go into a red wine bath for another day or two, then will age for three weeks. (for a trip down memory lane, click here) (for the Italian cheese recipe that is no longer in the new additions of Home Cheesemaking, click here)
The soft cheeses, like Chevre, stay in the regular refrigerator and should be eaten in about a week. The cheese cave is for cheese that is aged longer than a week, typically 3 weeks to 9 months. (to learn how to make soft goat cheese, click here)
Even though we just moved onto our new homestead a month ago and are missing key elements to a self sustaining homestead (like goats, sheep, and gardens), there are still plenty of ways to homestead without a homestead while getting a homestead set up! The gal down the street sells me her milk that I make cheese out of. I purchase beautiful yarns (or use what I have!) and am getting ready to crochet some beautiful pieces for fall. I can tend to my chickens, pray that my farm dog will like goats, get the goat fencing put up, break down a processed chicken for supper, and make kombucha and other delicious additions to a healthy, happy homestead. Which now has a very fancy French cheese cave.
(Note: this particular mini fridge has ended up staying at around 44 degrees. So, I have been experimenting with using it as a cave with ice packs and that seems to be keeping it closer to temperature.)