Leaps of Faith and Pumpkin Patches

Leaps of faith are frightening.  To jump completely uninhibited into the wide expanse of time and fate and faith not knowing if you will fall on your face, live in a cardboard box, or fly high and live your perfect life is…ahem…concerning.  And sometimes it is not so much a leap of faith but that final nudge to get you out of the spot you’re in and into the next phase of your life.  A door slamming, rent going up, obvious signs that force your hand and your jump into that void of uncertainty with only prayer and your glass of wine.

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If you have been reading my posts for long, you see that we had such ordeals this year.  Some uprooting changes, and some things stayed the same.  It took the shop rent to go up for us to finally realize that the past year on a dead main street wasn’t doing us any favors.  It took searching and praying for a new house to rent with less bills to realize that we are really good right where we are.  It took working our tails off from pre-dawn to past dusk to establish new clientele that had never heard of us before to get us back on track.  It took moving the shop to our house to see that business really is a personal and community affair.  And it took rototilling the entire yard to see just how much food we can grow (and that you can find happiness in a pumpkin patch)!

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Leaps of faith so seldom end up poorly if following your heart.  I am living exactly how I envisioned.  In the future we will have our larger farm, but for now with the kids and Maryjane nearby, I wanted to teach classes out of my home.  Be able to prepare someone’s medicine on the spot by going out to the Apothecary garden and picking what herbs I need.  I wanted to spend more time with Doug.  To read in my garden.  To have open doors for folks to stop by, grab a few veggies, a refill of Herbal Antibiotic, and a cup of tea.

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The evenings here at Pumpkin Hollow Farm are lovely.  Our garden watering time takes two of us by hand.  Doug will start on one side of the quarter acre farm and I on the other and we meet at the pumpkin patch.  We sip our micro beers in our frosted mugs and enjoy the cooler air while letting our minds rest.  Customers and friends stop by throughout the evening to get what they need, to chat, and to tour the mini-farm.  It feels like old time country.  Visitors coming by to see how the crops are faring, and to catch up.  Business run out of our home.  Bartering.  More time.  More freedom.  Homesteading freedom. (So, go dig up the front yard and take a risk to follow a dream.  You won’t regret it!)

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Homesteader’s Necessity

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I try to not to get the “gimmies”.  Gimme this and gimme that.  I try to be content with what I have.  But, folks, I am trying to be a homesteader here and I am missing a major component to success!  I have the gimmies.  I am not afraid to admit it.  I want a wood stove.  The owners placed a lovely metal roof over the existing chimney so I cannot figure a way to put one in at this house.  Besides, I am renting and that is a lot of dough to spend.  But, I will never be a proper homesteader without the wood stove.

Imagine, a cold and blustery eve, warm in our home with cups of hot chocolate and cozy, woolen sweaters.  A book being read by lamplight.  The power goes out (often enough) and you can bet your apron strings that lamp light is not going to keep the house warm for very long!  No stove, no heat.  This bothers me.  So does the electric and gas bill.

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To be able to supply my own heat and know that a Dutch oven can be placed on the top of the stove with beans simmering in rich broth, a kettle of water for coffee or tea, a fire blazing providing security…..ahh.  I am missing a wood stove.  A homesteader’s necessity!

(The first picture is from Mother Earth News.  My dream kitchen!)

Perfect Pickled Eggs

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The first time we ate a pickled egg was at Nancy’s house a few years ago.  She put out a platter of olives, crackers, chutney, and pickled eggs to enjoy with our glasses of wine out on the deck in the waning sunlight.  The eggs were a royal purple with brightly colored yolks.  We hesitated, then tried one.  Then promptly ate all of the pickled eggs and asked for more.

Such a surprise they were, and so delicious!  So, last year I made my own.  You make them with beets so that the glorious color transfers to the plain white eggs.  I put up several quarts of pickled eggs and beets.  We picked out all the eggs and wasted most of the pickled beets.  So this year I did mostly eggs with a much smaller amount of beets, enough for one salad, but enough to turn our beautiful eggs into works of art.

I was telling my plan to three lovely ladies I know from town that were visiting the farm yesterday learning how to can corn.  They were intrigued as well and I said that I would post the recipe today.  After all, one of the gals paid me the most flattering compliment (though she probably didn’t realize it!), “This is like Little House on the Prairie!”

Pickled Eggs and Beets

Hard boil as many eggs as you see fit.  Click the link to see my recipe for the perfect boiled egg.  Cool and peel.

In clean pint jars layer sliced or chopped beets (I do not even peel them, just scrub them up.) with peeled boiled eggs to an inch from the top.

Add a tablespoon of brown sugar, a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice, and a half teaspoon of salt.  Fill half way with water, and the rest of the way (leaving a half inch head space) with vinegar (white or apple cider).  Make sure the rim is clean and replace lid.

Place jars in a pot of boiling water with water just covering lids.  Bring back to boil and process for 30 minutes.  Add one more minute per 1000 feet above sea level that your kitchen sits.  I just round up to 7000 feet, so I boil the jars for 37 minutes.  Remove from water and cool on counter until you hear the harmonious sound of popping jars preserving your bounty for winter snacks!

The Case of the Missing Garlic

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I used to think I was supposed to plant everything at the same time.  Right after Mother’s Day, time to plant.  I planted rows and rows of garlic.  They came up with their green hands waving and never really became anything.

I planted in one fall.  We moved the next March, so I never did see what the garlic became.

Last fall I planted rows and rows of garlic.  I kept them covered with straw for their long winter’s nap.  This time we would have garlic!  I looked for their awakening in the spring.  Indeed they shot out of the ground with promises of Italian food and garlic rubbed French bread.  They dissipated a bit, so I planted potatoes where the empty spaces were.  Yet, still a few stood strong.  Three small cloves were brought out of the bed last month (and I mean small, one clove).  Thinking more were behind them, I sold two of them.  I dug through the bed like a Blood hound searching out my long lost promised garlic.  Alas, it is gone.  Simply vanished.  Not a green stem, not a clove, not a husk to bid good bye.  Vanished.  No sign of vandalism, of raccoon or squirrel robbery.  No culinary savvy birds have been by.  So, where, pray, is the garlic?

Conquering the Root Cellar

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314…..Items preserved so far this year.  Still have much to do!  I am expecting the best but preparing for the worst and if winter is a little lean, then by golly, we will have food!

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Today, however, I have to go clean out the root cellar before I can fit anything else in there.  (Now, mind you, it’s not a real root cellar.  It’s one of those dark, creepy basements in a hundred year old house.  It keeps precisely ten degrees cooler than upstairs.  If I ever get a homestead with a real root cellar, I will flip out and do the happy dance.)  Today, I am expecting to encounter piles of deflated squash that were so pretty that I had to store them to eat later but alas, we didn’t.  A five gallon bucket of beets.  Oy, what is it with me and beets?  I preserve and store a ton of them but don’t even like them that much!  I have some missing carrots in sand somewhere down there too.  Who knows what preserves I have from last year because I just started stacking the new stuff with the old stuff.  I have peas on that shelf and green beans over there.  And more green beans up there and lots of “syrup” from two years ago (I have now mastered jam…).  Today, we conquer and organize.

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I made a spread sheet this year with the help of my computer savvy hubby.  Tomatoes-40, Hot peppers- 4, Beets- 8 (what the heck?), Peas- 18….

I also listed how many I still need to can, freeze, or cellar.  And a column for next year of how many are left.  We ran out of tomatoes in February.  Eek.  We ran out of peppers in April.  Not good.  If I ever see another jar of canned zucchini…yuck.  I’ll be better prepared next year to know what to preserve.

In the meantime, I will procrastinate just a tad longer and have another cup of coffee.  The deflated squash will wait for me.

To Love (or shoot) a Rooster

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From the beginning, when the little bundles of fluff arrived home, they received kisses and hugs.  It makes them tame chickens.  When we figured out that Louisa was now Henry Higgins, he got doubled the kisses.  I have heard the horror stories of roosters.  I wanted a nice rooster.  He now runs from me yelling, “Noooo, mooommm!  No kisses!”  But, at least so far, he hasn’t shown a lick of aggression and doesn’t want to attack us.  Which, considering his size and the talons on that dude, I’m glad!  I am afraid though, that Henry has become quite the perv as of late.  He prefers the younger sect, as the older girls give him a good glare and tell him what he can do with himself.  The younger girls don’t stand a chance against his charms.  He is a good looking guy.  But, he is the abusive boyfriend none of them ever wanted.  There are no abuse hotlines for chickens.  They seem to be living with it.  (And perhaps we will have baby chicks running about next Spring!)

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Not all of us are so lucky.  My friend got a rooster that was a scary son of a gun.  He would charge them, talons blazing, ready to take them down just because they were outdoors.  She’d had enough.  With her gun on the counter at the ready, she stalked him waiting for him to shed the company of the others and come out alone.  He never saw it coming.  While cradling her cell phone on her shoulder while talking to her mother, she took aim and fired.  Her mother (who lives in a city in California and probably not used to gunfire by telephone) exclaimed, “What was that?!  Was that a gun shot??”  I can imagine my friend blowing off the end of the gun, one shot.  “I just killed my rooster,”  she replied calmly.

I can see how if Henry came running at us every time we tried to use the back yard ready to maim us, that I would be about ready for my first chicken dinner in 25 plus years.  But, luckily, so far, he is a sweet, (though with a one track mind) adolescent boy.

Save Some For Me!

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Lisa came over to get some herbal medicine.  I walked her through the gardens and we gushed over how incredible all of our respective plantings are doing this year.  This is my first year farming a quarter acre and she asked a reasonable question, “Do I think it is enough to feed my whole family for a year?”  Unquestionably, no.  I thought it would be, but it is not even close.  I do see all the wasted space though, five gallon pots that could be filled with more tomatoes to line the porch, criss cross the rows, add more here…there.

I sold all of my beautiful purple green beans as soon as they hit the tables at the farmers markets.  I got a handful of the remaining growing and cooked them up to add to fresh potato salad; the lovely purple fading to green as they cooked.  I only got one serving!  I also realized that I was being really silly with my new farming mentality.  ‘Can’t eat that, that is to sell.  Save that for Woodland Park!’  I get bushels of vegetables from my friends at Miller Farms to can.  Granted, I am not growing bushels of anything yet, but I could also be saving some of my own produce for..*gasp*…us.

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My original plan since I was a child was to be a homesteader.  To follow in the footsteps of Laura Ingalls.  To skip through fields of wild flowers instead of cement sidewalks.  To can my own side dishes instead of consuming who knows what from poisonous cans.  To build a fire on a stormy night and heat up a kettle of tea on the stove; cozy and warm reading by oil lamp light.  To spend most of my time in an extensive garden among the bees and butterflies, tending to all the life around me.  To hold an infant lamb, to laugh at chickens running by, to feel the breeze and know the weather.  To not hear traffic, to hear only silence (except for cows lowing).  I am half way there, working my way towards this complete homesteading dream.

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I also have an extreme passion for farming that I could talk one’s ear off a hundred miles an hour about.  Non-GMO’s, organic, heirloom, urban farms, country farms, feed the masses!!!  Or at least the neighborhood.  I need to teach.  I need to get people started on creating their own mini-farms.

“How are the onions?”  Someone asked at the market.  I have no idea.  Sheesh, I planted all these onions to put in the root cellar and here I am selling them off for a buck a piece.

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The time will come when I can create a larger farm.  For now, though, I better sell what we can’t eat, but eat what we can!  Homestead first, then feed the masses….or the neighborhood.

Araucana Gift

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Our nine teenaged girls are becoming old enough to join the ranks of the other six as layers.  We got our first egg from the new set of chickens the other day.  It does look like a robin snuck into the coop and laid an egg.  So adorable and precious.  I would have never guessed that an egg could fit that description!  Thank you, Sophia!

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To Impress a Hummingbird

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She fluttered onto the porch to say good morning as we enjoyed our coffee and books.  We had so diligently kept the sugar water feeder filled for her.  Then we were so busy that after awhile the feeder remained empty.  Yet, there she was, our summer princess, the hummingbird, visiting.  She went to the pots of petunias that line the porch rail and took a drink.  Then to the yarrow.  The motherwort.  The oregano.  Flitting to and fro around the apothecary garden dancing from plant to plant.  She drank her morning nectar and with a thank you and a little buzz, off she went with her mate.

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I began to rethink my prior ideas.  In an earlier post, I had told all about how to make the sugar water, how often to change it, how to keep the hummingbirds near.  But, when I saw her drinking from the plants, a sudden ridiculous thought came to me.  She doesn’t need my sugar water.  It is really probably not very good for her tender frame anyways, and she does seem to enjoy my herb garden ever so much more.  Instead of giving her the equivalent of crack for birds, I think I will plan more flowers and plants that give her sustenance and us hours of enjoyment watching.  When the plants fade, she will know it is time to fly south.  A most natural balance and one that, even though it seems obvious, needed to be brought to light.

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What the Pantry Holds

We know what the root cellar held, and the importance of canning, what the freezer held, and we’ve been dehydrating .  And indeed, this year’s root cellar is going to be even more complete than last season’s, the freezer is nearly full, and dehydrating is in the works.  All great means of preparing for winter, but we haven’t discussed perhaps the most important; staples!

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Putting up food is not just a “prepper” ideal for potential zombie attacks, nor is it folly or old fashioned.  It is smart.  One good snow storm or emergency could leave you home bound. One lost job or identity theft could keep you from spending money.  Having a house stocked with food is important and takes away a lot of worry and fear.

In a pinch, you could blend together baking powder, oil, flour, salt, and water to make fluffy biscuits for breakfast or guests.  Use jam from the root cellar and you have a fabulous treat.  You can make bread from just salt, yeast, flour, and water.  You can make a lot of delicious meals more filling with cooked farro, or barley, or couscous, or rice.  Dried beans are at the ready to simmer all day to enjoy on a cold winter’s night with some warm bread.

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Organic bulk grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and flours are fairly inexpensive (two bucks a bag for beans) and can make several meals complete.  I store mine in canning jars so that I can see what I have.  Otherwise they become mountains of staples in the pie safe that I forget I had.  One positive thing about closing my retail front was reclaiming one of my display pieces.  It is a sixty plus year old hardware shelving unit with several cubbies.  I love the look of it, the numbered spaces, and the vintage appeal it lends to my kitchen.  It is becoming a wine rack/staples case.  Filled with canning jars of nuts, beans, and different grains and flours, and of course, wine, it will lend an easy air to cooking in my kitchen this winter.

Look for split peas, lentils, pinto beans, white navy beans, rice, barley, couscous, cornmeal, walnuts, pine nuts, any thing you enjoy, and fill the canning jars with them.  Display.  They look great out and make cooking dinner more inspiring.