Electric Items We Could Live Without (but don’t…yet)

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A few days ago I mentioned what electric devices we do not use and don’t miss.  Electricity is tricky.  See, it seemed like a blessing upon its discovery and I am sure in many ways it was, but not without a hefty price.  Electricity and oil, resources that cannot be replaced, have become such a huge part of our world that no one wants to give them up.  We have billions of car parts that will never decompose.  They use tons of oil and gas and have the ability to maim and kill.  Of course, I don’t particularly want to walk to the next town over (seven miles on a highway) but I seem to be without a horse and carriage as well.  Electricity becomes such a constant factor that we only become aware of it the few times it goes out and we then realize (horrified) that we cannot make coffee!  Pollution, fracking, it is all a bit much so that we can turn on a light at 1 am.

wind turbineThe larger electric companies, like the one that serves Denver, is creating huge grids of solar panels and they have a large wind turbine farm an hour east of here.  I used to cheer and carry on with joy about it.  Except those are not perfect forms either.  Disposable solar panels, batteries that never decompose, and wind turbines that take out thousands of bats and migratory birds every year.  They would have to use so many of these forms because none of us want to give up an ounce of our electricity.  We should be educating people of another option.  Gasp.  Use less.  Ok, someone help me down off of this pulpit.

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I could go completely off grid.  Prairie style all the way.  Doug would be searching for a cellphone signal around the tiny cabin and probably catch a taxi.  We have to make compromises.  If we did get a little solar power, a small one we could keep the few things that we enjoy.  It would certainly be a smaller footprint than how the large companies are doing it and we could be more self sufficient.  Here’s a few things that we could give up, may give up, but haven’t yet.

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1. The Television.  We watch precisely three television shows a year.  Sometimes less if we get bored.  This does not include Bronco football games.  We watch American Idol, The Voice, and So You Think You Can Dance.  We both missed our chance at Divadom and though we can sing at Rodney’s house on his karaoke system and sing to the chickens (they rather enjoy that), we like to see what others out there are doing with their voices and dance skills.  It also keeps us from getting terribly bored and wandering out to eat.  Perhaps when all the kids move out completely we can think of other things to do.  Ahem…

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2. The Coffee Grinder. I can indeed sit there for a half hour contemplating the universe while grinding coffee by the early morning light of dawn.  But the quick buzzing thing does it in twenty seconds!  I’ll work on it.

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3. The Computer. Not bloody likely, my husband would say.  He needs wifi like he needs morning coffee.  I could be happy writing this at the library.

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4. The Music ChannelAlong the lines of getting rid of the television (or could we keep it just for movies?), there would also go my music stations.  I could pick up the piano again, or the fiddle, or listen to Doug play the mandolin.  We could start a band, or just sit on the porch with cold beers and entertain the neighbors.  We could make mountain music.  We could hum to ourselves.  We could make our own music.

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5. The Stove I want a wood cook stove so bad I could cry.  I would love to be able to heat the house and cook up some biscuits and eggs all in the same place.  I know that after cooking on a gas stove for many years I would miss the quick kettle heat up, the fast soup heat up.  I would need a summer kitchen in order to stand cooking indoors.  Oh wait, I need that anyway!

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6.The RefrigeratorAnd the last thing that requires electricity is the refrigerator and freezer.  I would need a darn good root cellar and a cold creek to get away with that one.  Let me think that one over.

There are many ways that we can lessen our use of electricity.  A potato masher instead of an immersion blender, turn off the lights when not in use, give up the curling iron (you look great), unplug chargers and turn off power strips when not in use.  All those invisible currents are still pulsing out.  These things not only save us money (that we can spend on seeds) but helps out the planet.  Even if it doesn’t feel like a lot now, in a few generations it will, because everything we do has a trickle down effect.

Desperately Seeking Fresh Vegetables (and a fine Brussels recipe)

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I stared at the dusty jars lining the warped shelves in the basement.  They still feel like a blessing but at the moment were seeming more and more like a curse.  I swear if I have to eat one more jar of green beans…or peas…or corn…or beets…or…

I understand that hunger doesn’t care.  If I lived before grocery stores, out on an old homestead, or if I didn’t have a hundred bucks to spare, that food would be tasting real good right now.  But it is late February, too early for anything fresh, and my mind was dreaming of food that has not even been planted yet!

We have been fabulous at eating seasonally.  We ate almost all the potatoes, lots of carrots, onions, jar after jar of items I preserved, frozen vegetables and fruits.  I have been creative.  I have added fresh herbs from the windowsill.  We ate all but one pumpkin.  I need a radish.

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We picked up Maryjane and Emily (You know your life has changed when going to the health food store in town is the highlight of the week.) and off we went to Vitamin Cottage.  The pretty rows of product lulled us into a sense of summer and freshness.  I caught sight of the Brussels sprouts, as large as two golf balls side by side, and giggled like Gollum finding his Precious as I loaded up a bag.  I did a little jig in front of the ruby red orbs of radishes.  Maryjane held a piece of broccoli she had snagged as her mother walked by the green trees (what my kids used to call broccoli).  Emily pointed out various mouthwatering vegetables as we told the baby how she is going to love vegetables.  Doug walked over with crisp apples.  We put kale in our basket, Roma tomatoes, boxes of salad.  Large grapes for fresh chicken salad.  Long, elegant leeks to go into humble potato soup.  We felt like royalty.  Everything was organic, but I do not know where it was grown.  Certainly not around here.

I woke up yesterday and cut up two radishes even before the coffee was made.  I sprinkled them with a bit of smoked sea salt and popped them in my mouth.  I smothered a few with butter.  They held the crisp edge I was looking for.  They are not near as good as the earthy, spicy radishes that will come out of my garden beds in a few month’s time, but they were very suitable for a long winter of mushy green beans.  (Which tasted amazing, by the way, all through the cold winter months.)  Last night we had salad with homemade croutons and the melt in your mouth giant Brussels spouts.

Soon we will be back to frozen eggplant, and gelatinous peas (which tasted amazing, by the way, all through the cold winter months.  I need to repeat that so y’all aren’t tempted to not start canning.  It is great, and it is really fun going to the grocery store in the basement.)  I just needed a taste of spring.  I’ll be saving up for a green house!

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Melt in Your Mouth Brussels Sprouts

This recipe was adapted from a recipe in the “Vegan Soul Kitchen” by the great Bryant Terry.  He would be disappointed in me for the addition of bacon.

Fry up two slices of bacon, drain on paper towel and when cool, break into small pieces.

Drizzle pan with a few tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of bacon drippings.

Trim off the end and cut in half a bunch of Brussels sprouts, enough to fill your skillet with a single layer of halves face down.  About a pound.

Sear for four minutes or so until nice and slightly blackened.

Add 1 cup of rich broth.

Cover tightly and braise over medium high heat for 12 minutes.

Add 1/4 cup of white wine (I like Chardonnay) and a few tablespoons of lemon or regular thyme, fresh preferably.

Continue braising for five minutes.  Taste and add salt and pepper if desired.  Top with bacon.

I would show you a picture but we ate them too fast.  Sorry.

Electric Items We Can Live Without (part 1)

When I saw my electric bill this month, I nearly fainted and was tempted to go out for cocktails to forget it.  I instantly blamed Shyanne for running her electric heater that looks like a fireplace all the time.  She lives in the dungeon of a basement here and it is ten degrees cooler down there.  Which means these days it’s pretty flipping cold.  Her lights are always on as well.  Doug said it was more likely the animals.  Who would have thought that the farm animals would use more electricity than my teenaged daughter?  Electric heat lamps and water heaters are adding exponentially to the already high bill.  Is it summer yet?

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It does seem silly to be working so hard at creating a homestead, doing things the old fashioned way, yet we are using more resources than less.  That is what happens when the thermometer breaks records all winter with below zero temperatures.  Thank goodness spring is right around the corner.  We do not have a wood stove at this house, and I cannot bring the animals indoors (Doug said) so I will pay the bill and move onto the next month.

I may not be able to shut off the furnace or the water heaters, but there are some electric items that I have lived without for a long time.  And there are more that I am working towards omitting.  There was a lot of hubbub about making women’s lives easier at the turn of last century and though I think that was a noble cause, it was primarily to make a lot of money off of subpar products that would actually create more work for us and pollute our planet.

These are the things I have found that I do not need (that much less on the electric bill!):

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1. The Microwave.  We truly do not need a microwave.  Microwaves were originally war technology and I sure don’t need any extra radiation running through this house.  So, one could zap food to instant boiling in a matter of seconds.  In a pan on the stove, I can do it in a few minutes.  It also doesn’t scorch the tip of my tongue off or kill all the nutrients.  Additionally, I have more space in my kitchen.  When I put it out on the curb for Goodwill, the kids howled that it would be missed, yet for six years now we have survived!  I truly do not miss it.

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2. The Coffee Maker.  Sacrebleu!  What is this mad woman talking about?  I drink scores of coffee in the morning, folks, don’t worry. I am a normal farmer.  I just really love the process of putting the coffee in the French press, pouring the boiling kettle of water over it, and smelling the delicious aroma stir up. I swirl hot water in the carafe that I will pour the coffee into and carry around with me all morning.  It keeps the coffee hot, no plastic taste, no plastic-non-biodegradable coffee pots in the landfill every year, and really, I think the French press makes the best coffee.  See my post here for more on it.

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3. The Dryer.  After our third dryer in five years broke down and smelled like it could catch fire at any moment I realized that the washers and dryers past that actually lasted were a thing of the past.  Companies make more money if we send lots of things to the dump and buy more.  The low end for a dryer is $250.  That’s the cheap model, heading upwards of two grand.  Which could get me a decent car.  Ever since I started using a clothes line six years ago I have found that our clothing lasts so much longer.  If I wash the clothes with items in the pockets and send stains all over everything, I can easily rewash it.  Stains do not set on the clothes line.  The clothes line is a means of forcing me twice a week to stand outdoors in the fresh air, in nature, for ten minutes and put clothes on the line like my grandmothers did.  The breeze makes everything smell fabulous, the cat hair is whipped off, there are no fires on the clothes line from overheated engines and clogged airways.  They dry in a day, even on cold days.  Should a sudden snow or rainfall come by the clothes are all the fresher when they dry.  Should I not have time and leave it out there for three days, they do not get wrinkled.  See my post here if you are considering leaving the dryer buying rat race.

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4. Overhead Lighting.  Especially fluorescent lighting.  Lord, help me.  The natural ebb and flow of the day is supposed to speak to our bodies.  The sun peeks over the horizon sending lovely banners of color across the sky welcoming us to a new day.  We get up, we work, we rest in the heat of the day, we work, we go to bed when the sun goes down. I notice that I sleep so wonderfully naturally getting up with the sun and as the sun fades behind the hills and the oil lamps are lit, I start to get sleepy.  I highly recommend getting some oil lamps, they are as low as $10 at Walmart and create excellent lighting scattered throughout the house with the help of some bright tapered candles. We add twinkly lights throughout for a magical feel and a bit more lighting.  Those could burn out though, and I’d be fine with just the oil lamps.  Should your eyesight require a tad more lighting for your nightly reading, then by all means add a lamp, but for heaven’s sake, turn off the overbearing overhead lights!

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5. The Porch Light.  The porch light serves more to tell folks you aren’t home than to provide security.  Goodness, with all the street lights, who needs a porch light?  Do me a favor, drive out into the country and look towards the horizon.  Do you see that glowing light like a bomb just went off?  That is light pollution and it is getting worse every year.  It throws off the migration patterns of birds and animals and uses a lot of unnecessary electricity and valuable resources to run even a simple porch light.

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6. The LED Clock.  I unplugged Doug’s a long time ago.  As soon as I get him a wind up one, it will join the microwave.  I use a cuckoo clock gifted to me by my dear friend, Kat.  I wind it twice a day.  It is repetitive and soothing and the joyous little bird that reminds me of the time is becoming an old friend.  (Perhaps I have been on my homestead too long.)  I do not require a clock outside of the happy cuckoo in the living room.

Oil is finite.  Whether we are arguing about foreign oil, or homegrown oil.  I am watching the fields around me be ripped up to put in pipelines.  And in the end, it doesn’t procreate.  Oil will run out.  I am trying to leave a whisper of a footprint behind (to make up for the ginormous footprint of my youth) for my grandchildren.  The reward is that I have more quiet living environment, less artificial light, and more meaningful moments homemaking.  Can getting rid of some electric appliances bring more peace?  I believe so.

Eight Reasons You Must Have a Farmstead

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1. You need  less money to live.  In our culture one of the most stressful parts of our day to day life is trying to find ways to make ends meet, to find ways to make more money.  This is a vicious circle, because the more you make the more you spend.

Our journey may have began way back when we took the Dave Ramsey courses at our church at the time.  We cut up fourteen credit cards and have not looked back, nor do we hold a single one now.  Our “emergency credit card” is cash stashed away for an emergency.  One that we saved for and add to every month.  If we don’t have the money now to buy it, we won’t have the money when the bill comes either!  The course also showed us the follies behind borrowing and loaning.  We never borrow money (from banks or relatives), and we don’t loan out money.  Gift or nothing.

All these principles helped us find our way to this homestead.  We decided that the cushy job Doug held was not worth the money, since we spent it so quickly anyway.  You will spend what you make.  So, instead of making more money, we starting cutting bills.  Expensive cable, gone.  We’d rather be out in the garden watering, or chatting over a vicious game of Scrabble.  Home phone became my cell phone.  We do not have the fastest internet to Doug’s dismay.  We own really high mileage cars.  We have relatively low bills so we need to make less money.  This creates a sense of peace and a lot less fear and stress.  This lifestyle inspires less.  One only needs a plot for a garden, a very good library book, and a cat.

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2. You get to aide in creation.  This is a pretty spectacular concept.  You get to help God create a Garden of Eden right where you are.  Your hands help create the beds of brilliant ruby tomatoes, the crisp lettuces, the sunflowers that help feed the birds.  You get to grow plants that feed bees and butterflies.  You get to create beauty all around you that will bring happiness to all that see it.  It is a joyous privilege to be a creator.

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3. You create positive living environments for animals.  In a world of mass meat production, animals being shot up with hormones and drugs, ailing animals thrown into “dead” piles, and inhumane holding and slaughtering facilities, isn’t it nice that you can do your small part to help the animal kingdom?  Whether you choose to eat your animals or not is irrelevant.  For all their days they get to run in the sun, eat what they were intended to, be in contact with other animals, and receive much needed attention.  Even if you only have four chickens, those chickens will lead a very good life and were lucky not to have fallen in the confines of a factory farm.  It is a trickle down effect, every bit of good adds up to much larger change.

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4. Farmsteads diminish fear.  In our packed cities, and even in the country, most folks rely on the water company to do their job, that the water will always flow from the tap, the electric companies will always keep the electricity on so that the furnace will run, and the grocery stores will always be open.  In a disaster (not talking zombie apocalypse here, more like tornados or floods) it is nice to know one could light the wood stove to heat the house, open water that has been stored, and go down to the farmstead grocery store, the root cellar and bring up potatoes, jars of corn, and maybe some homemade wine.  If a disaster strikes, Honey, you’re gonna need it.

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5. Human nature requires farmsteads.  Cement sidewalks, air conditioned buildings, paved roads, our whole world is built to give the impression that we are controlling our environment.  Our sensory is diminished, our creativity slows.  A farmstead provides food for the senses.  Smell the flowers, breathe in the fresh air, see the wide expanse of sky, touch the soil, hear the buzzing of a honeybee.  Being in nature also amplifies creativity and any number of brilliant ideas can come to you while walking through a garden, or a field, or watching a sunset.  Creating your own farmstead (anywhere) allows your senses to be fed daily.

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6. Farmsteads save the planet.  Such a cliché anymore, Save the Planet!  But whether you believe in climate change or not, whether you are sick of the fight between sustainable energy and homegrown oil, one thing cannot be denied; we are doing damage.

Just look down the block on trash day.  If you look around the shelves of department stores and big box stores, and grocery stores and see the boxes and packaging and cheaply made items from overseas that will be in the trash on trash day in a matter of months.  It can be quite an eye opener if you see that all of that will end up in hidden land fills that we’d rather not think about.  Think about the toxic chemicals (cleaning products) that we flush through our water.  The pesticides that we add to the farms and gardens and lawns everywhere, slowly decreasing the bee population to a horrifying level.

We can do our part though.  Grow organically on your own patch of earth, use your own homemade cleaning products, create your own ideal of reuse, recycle, and for heaven’s sake, stop buying stuff!  A farmstead inspires all of this.  Houses are typically smaller for I’d rather be out hoeing than in the house cleaning.  You can heat a smaller house easier and you certainly need less stuff.  Homesteaders’ packaging comes in reusable glass jars and there are many ideas to reuse items on a homestead.  (I am collecting the large cat litter containers to use as pots for the summer.)  The beauty we create around us also reflects into the world and inspires us all to take care of our resources.

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7. Farmsteads ensure health. In our battles to find health, somewhere between doctors and fast food, in the gym, and with the psychiatrist, there is a place of perfect well being.  On a farmstead.

Mental health is ensured for it is impossible to be depressed or anxious sitting in a patch of corn.  I assure you that roses do indeed medically perk up the brain and increase endorphins.  To create something, to grow something, to fix something gives the mind such a sense of accomplishment, one we are missing in the common workplace.  To feel important, needed, and accomplished keeps the mind happy and healthy.  We cannot sit around all day and expect to be healthy.

Physical health is another part of the farmstead.  Lift a couple of bales of hay, fix a fence, and hoe a new garden bed and you will cancel your gym membership right quick.  Use the saved money to buy a new goat.  Then you have fresh milk.  The eggs from the chickens provide higher amounts of Lutein and Omega3.  Less cholesterol and cortisol is found in farm fresh, humanely raised meat.  And the organic vegetables from your plot have all their vitamins in tact because they did not recently arrive from Peru.  Fueling the body with amazing food and exercise outdoors is ideal for the human body.  Growing your own medicine is empowering and takes away one’s need to go to the doctor or pharmacist. (It also saves a whole lot of money that could be used for more hay.)

Spiritual health is every bit as important.  A sense of overwhelming peace and hope can be found among butterflies landing on nearby lilies and hearing birds sing.  It is difficult to be Atheist on a farmstead.  To know that all our needs are supplied and to see the proof around you is incredibly powerful.

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8. Farmsteads create community.  The term “self sufficient” is really misleading.  For we need people.  I need Jill to barter with me so that I can have goats and then I need her to tell me when they are in labor.  I need Sandy to grow some of the herbs I use in medicines for me.  I need Lisa to show me how to knit.  I need Rich to bring me trout.  I need someone to grow organic grains for me.  I need John to show us (or just do it) how to build a shelter for the alpacas.  I needed Deb to tell me to water more.  I need Skip to tell me what Kiowa has been like for the past seventy years.  I need folks.  Most of the time I like to be alone with my little world I’ve created over here but in a farmstead life, you need people.  The benefits are tremendous.  People stop and visit while we are out watering the gardens, amazed at how much we have grown in the front yard in town.  We meet new friends.  I am known as the herbalist with the pumpkin patch, a moniker I can be proud of. (I have been called worse.)  A pumpkin patch makes folks smile.  Bartering becomes the norm.  Circles of familiar friends are discovered and life gets just that much sweeter.

So whether you are in are in town or in the country, have access to a balcony or a full acre, get going on that farmstead.  You won’t regret it.

The Marvelous Miss Mims

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Seventeen years ago this morning a red head entered the world.  That in itself is not a particularly unusual event but this red head would change my life forever.  My third child was born.

With the cord wrapped around her neck the doctors prepared to perform a C-section but in Emily style she decided to do it her way and came out in such a flurry the doctors almost weren’t ready.  Her petite fingers and toes, her tuft of red hair, her sweet green eyes.  I was in love.

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She had a very different demeanor than her siblings.  They were very outgoing and loud, but this little girl with the red hair was very quiet.  So quiet it concerned extended family.  But inside that little mind, the wheels were always turning.  She was the little girl to watch because she was so quiet, an entire mural could be drawn down the hallway and I’d be none the wiser until I came upon it later.  The dog has worn mohawks and tie dyed hair.  She cut her own bangs for ten years.  She still does, but now her hair styling is beautiful and she knows what she is doing after all that practice!

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In preschool she hated the song, “Ants in My Pants” which they sang daily.  She would lament to us in the car all the way home.  We would try not to giggle.  She adored(s) her sister and brother and would do anything to make them happy, which of course has gotten those kids into a fair amount of mischief in the past years but it is a joy to see them as young adults reliving their fun childhood moments and speaking as adults to each other about college, life plans, life partners, and children.

Growing up, from the time she was very little, she has been a daddy’s girl.  Her email address was daddy’s girl Emily for a long time!  She could play airplane for hours, him swooshing her around or lifting her from a recliner with his leg, or leaning her backwards and back up, she breathless from laughter.  He worked with her in baseball and in track.  She loved his smoothly shaven face and would demand to pet it before he left for work.

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She has always been a character.  She would pile toys in her backpack to take to school only to have them taken away but would replace them with more the following day.  She had a shy smile, and an uproariously gritty smile to show her intense joy.  The same smile I see in the other red head that changed my life, her daughter, Maryjane. (below)

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Through the years I have watched her grow.  I appreciate how intelligent she is, how creative she is, how funny she is, and how quiet she is.  For it is not the norm to be silent so much, but I wish I could be more present and more quiet.  She is a beautiful, determined, and passionate young woman.  I am so lucky to have spent the last seventeen years by her side as her mother.  And how wonderful to see the delightful mother she is to Maryjane Rose.  She is already an accomplished photographer and hopes to start college in the fall to begin her journey towards law school.

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She has made our life laced with laughter and adventure.  Our life has been so much better with that sweet, marvelous Miss Mims.

Thankful for Bret, Emily, and Maryjane

So, a wish goes out to my dear Emily Lynn, Mims, as we have always called her.  May your days be rich with laughter, paved with good memories, and filled with life, love, and a farm!  Mama loves you!

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Where’d This Farm Come From?!

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A few years ago I vowed to have a farm by the time I was forty years old.  I would put it out to the universe and God and watch it transpire with hard work and quite a bit of blessing.  In forty eight days I will be forty years old.  Bummer, no farm.  My vision was of a hundred acres, a blend of woods and pasture.  An old farmhouse, a barn, and a few scattered outbuildings.  Sheep, chickens, ducks, goats, and alpacas, maybe a cow, would meander lazily in this romanticized setting.  Fresh milk would be brought in the warm kitchen early in the morning.  Colorful eggs would sit next to the stove to be fried up for a farm breakfast along with homemade toast.  My husband would come in after caring for the animals and we would enjoy each other’s company over fresh pressed juice.  Then we would go work in our extensive gardens that serve to sustain us and also act as farmer’s market wares.  Such a life.

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This made me look around.  After Doug and enjoyed a breakfast of fresh, pastured eggs and warm bread, with homemade juice pressed from Aunt Donna’s grapes.  This was after I helped Doug check on Loretta’s labor progress.  We fed the goats, chickens and the alpacas.  The ducks, a few more chicks, and ducklings will be here soon.  The new baby kid jumped around the pasture enjoying the warming days.  Our seeds arrived in the mail.  Enough seeds to feed a small army should it be necessary.  The quarter acre we allot to our gardens will be overflowing with over forty varieties of vegetables and fruits and almost equal amounts of medicinal and culinary herbs.

Our House

We may not be able to buy a hundred acres.  We may be in an old farmhouse that is a rental.  Our outbuildings consist of a garage and an ancient chicken coop.  The dog runs freely through the chickens, scattering them to and fro.  The sheep two doors down baah their good mornings.  The hoop house in the neighbor’s yard on the other side of us is coming along nicely.  We live among like minded folks.  Our makeshift basement root cellar still has plenty of sustenance within its concrete walls.  The weeds are just starting to peek up in the pastures.  By golly, this is a farm, isn’t it?!

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I thought by naming it a farm name (Pumpkin Hollow Farm) it would be facetious but I no longer feel like I am pretending when I say I am a farmer.  The IRS sees our occupation as farmer.  We sell vegetables, fruits, herbs, products made on this farm which in fact makes us a farm.  Perhaps my description and vision of what a farm included was not fair to what the essence of a farm is.

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Small farms are good because they are easier to keep up.  There is little space for Doug to mow.  No need for large machinery or equipment to keep in good repair.  We do not have to hire anyone to help us with our apothecary or our farm.  It is a lot of work, but we can handle it ourselves so we can keep this farm running on a moderately low income.  We do not have to make as much money to keep our farm.  My original version of the farm I would have when I was forty would be quite pricey and time consuming.  We have just enough as it is.

goat houseIt is a blessing to be on this humble farm.  And a farm it is.  Bret’s little brother at family dinner replied to this discussion as only a seven year old could, “It’s not a farm, you don’t have a cow!”

What to Do With All that Poo (composting manure)

As Doug and I were shoveling alpaca poop onto the garden beds yesterday I said lightly, “You sure can’t be bothered by poop if you live on a farm, can you?!”  He laughed and agreed and we continued shoveling.  I did not know that I would be around it so much post baby diapers. But there it is, now what to do with it?

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The nice thing about Alpaca droppings is that it won’t burn plants.  It is adds nitrogen to the soil but does not have to be composted.  It can be added directly around plants and into garden beds.  From poop pile to garden bed.  Instant fertilizer.  If you know someone that has alpacas, they will likely share.  It is an added benefit to adopting alpacas, no more Miracle Grow!

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The chicken coop is full of future nutrition for the soil but it needs a bit more time.  Believe me, six months on a farm goes real fast though.  I have a compost bin that Doug easily made out of discarded pallets.  In the first one, the pile starts.  Coffee grounds from the coffee shop and the kitchen, tea bags, and other items I wouldn’t put in the chicken food go in the pile along with the soiled chicken bedding.

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When Nancy and I saw Joel Salatin two summers ago he mentioned that leaving the bedding in the coop all winter and just adding more as needed creates a warm space for the animals.  In the spring, we are to shovel out the foot high plus pile of bedding and move it to the compost pile.  Nancy didn’t like this idea when she tried it.  She has a lot more chickens than I do and for her the smell was overwhelming.  The floor of my coop is dirt and it works well for me.  Next month I will scoop out the soiled bedding and leftover scraps they didn’t want (orange peels and such) and throw them in the first open bin of compost.  He also mentioned that using straw is what creates the ammonia smell.  I stopped using it and started using the pine shavings he suggested.  The coop does not smell bad at all.  However, now I learn that ducks will eat pine shavings so we will be back using straw soon.  So, in this case, I may clean out the coop four times a year instead of two.

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Scooped into the wheel barrel and thrown into its requisite side, it will be topped with some dirt or finished compost and left to finish.  (Note: I constantly forget to turn my compost.  It never looks completely black and finished, but it still works.) In the fall when I go to add compost to cleaned out beds, it will be perfect.  Then the bedding from the summer coop pile will be cooking away in the second open area of the compost bin and will be ready to apply in spring.

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The goat poo is new to us this year.  It will not easily be picked up in their pasture as they drop small and many pellets.  I’d be raking for a  week.  However, their bedding will get changed out next month from their igloo and that will go into the cooking pile of compost.

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Dog and cat feces may not go into the pile.  It will decompose in the grass, true, but just like ours, one would need a composting toilet and high heat to kill the bacteria present.  Doug and I are planning on getting a composting toilet in the next house though!

Human urine kick starts the whole process.  However, raised in a home of decorum and higher society than most folks I know, Doug refuses to pee on the compost pile.  (Of course we are open to a major thoroughfare and close neighbors.)

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I used to think the chickens were going to give me too much compost to use.  But I find myself in constant lack.  The more I garden, the more I need.  The larger this farm gets, the more I need.  Even if one lived in a house smack dab in the middle of Denver one can use the compost from the allotted chickens and goats there.  It goes faster than you think!

Manure tea can also be made with droppings and poured on house plants or outdoor beds.  Just make sure the manure sat for six months if it isn’t from an alpaca.

I never thought in my life I would be writing about poop.  Just goes to show, never say never and having a farm changes you.

Learning Homesteading Skills (finding teachers)

Our grandparents knew how to do all these things.  Mine laughed when I wanted a farm and wondered why.  Growing up on farms and in the country, in hard times, with so much work, it baffled them that I would run off to the lifestyle that they left willingly.  The skills from that generation and beyond become more and more lost.  No one taught me how to milk a goat when I was a child (which would have been nice since I will be milking in a few short weeks!), no one taught me to garden, or to spin, or to can, or to take care of one day old chicks.  There was no reason to in the middle of Denver!  Over the past years I have tried to accumulate these skills.

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I started with books.  Lots of books.  We are avid readers over here anyway, so I may as well be learning while reading.  And indeed I have picked up many great tips and tried and true ways of doing things from these books.  Many specific skill books though go in one eye and out of my memory faster than a three day old goat can elude me. (Man, they are fast!)

Things like knitting, milking, spinning, I need to see it.  I need to have someone show me step by step then I have it.  Most of the time.

IMG_0526Spinning was not working out for me.  My yarn looked like dreadlocks or clumps of fur.  It did not resemble anything looking like yarn.  My machine would not work.  My friend told me to pour a glass of wine.  I did.  Then I poured three.  Still couldn’t spin.  The spinning wheel anyway.  The teacher I had just kept saying I needed practice.  I could tell there was no more she could teach me.  I called my wine recommending friend.  She came over a week later.

She first noted that my machine was put together backwards.  That the break was on the wrong side.  The tension was all wrong.  She showed me the technique of spinning, which I knew but had been trying without good result.  I sighed and tried the wheel.  And spun.  Yarn.  It looks like yarn!  All I needed was a new teacher.

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In your community you will find people that do what you wish you could do.  Make cheese, spin, can, garden, make herbal medicines, make wine, any number of fabulous homesteading skills.  And most of them are happy to teach you.  You may have to pay a small fee for the lesson.  Or barter.  That is okay because the money you save and the joy you feel while mastering these skills outweighs forty bucks.

I teach canning, crocheting, high altitude baking, gardening, soap making, candle making, soft cheese making, herbal classes, and herbal body product classes.

I need to find a class on how to make hard cheese.  I suppose if I read the cheese making book I bought I can figure it out since I already know how to make soft cheeses.

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I need to learn to milk.  I milked a goat when I worked at an animal shelter some twenty years ago.  I wonder if I will remember.

I want to learn how to knit.  Books and teachers thus far have not been able to help.  Surely there is a patient lady out there with the perfect knitting needles to get me on my way to making socks and sweaters.

We signed up for a bee keeping class.

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I cannot wait to experiment with dying fiber.  I have many plans this year and I hope to teach all of them.  Of course, I could keep all these skills to myself and make money off of the canned goods, the yarn, the farming, the herbal medicines. And I will, because there are folks who would rather I do it.  But for those that want to learn, we must teach what we know.  We must share our knowledge.

And our lessons for the day summed up:

If first you don’t succeed, get another teacher.

Give a man a fish, and you have fed him once. Teach him how to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime.

New Arrival on Pumpkin Hollow Farm

newbornpapa and goatnew goatGuess who came early?  I don’t usually pull all the way to the back of our driveway but I had a bucket of grounds from the coffee shop to add to the compost pile before the cab of my truck took on the distinctive moldy coffee smell.  It wasn’t long after I noticed that the goats were in their igloo, odd for that time of day, that a tiny third head popped into view, then out again.

I yelled for Shyanne excitedly and we ran over to see the new baby who had just been born.  Placenta and mucous still present.  Shyanne swayed between cooing and ewwing while adoring the new addition who was not much bigger than a Chihuahua pup.  Nigerian Dwarf kids are incredibly tiny and impossibly cute!

Mama did good and is taking care of the infant.  We now wait for Loretta.  We are tired as one of us goes out every few hours through the night to make sure the new kid is okay.  She tends to wander from the igloo and get lost and is so small I fear a predator will swoop her up.  Just worrisome Mommy instincts, for there have been no issues.  Today she turns two days old.

This is one of the greatest joys of farming.