Farmgirl Gardening Series- Week 2 (Potatoes and Other Spring Crops)

Well, it’s snowing again.  As I write, warm in front of the fireplace with a cup of hot, earthy coffee, I watch the rain/snow mix fall weightlessly to the ground.  Maryjane thought Santa was coming the other night.  But, even folks that live in Colorado forget that April is one of our snowiest months and we have two more weeks before Santa can put his snow boots away! Still, the finches are singing and a quiet hush is over the land as the blossomed fruit trees drink and the earth softens with moisture.

Last week if it were even fairly warm I was at the Community Garden.  Opening a little late, leaving a little early from work, goodness, it’s a very good thing I can’t fire myself! (so this summer should I be missing from my shop go to the community gardens…)

Now, let’s get to work, spring crops are going in!  I lined the paths I created with thick blocks of straw.  Underneath, as I empty the bags of garden soil, I slip the bag beneath the straw as weed suppression.  I will place walking stones across these as money allows to hold everything in place.

Use a good old fashioned hoe to rough up the areas and to easily pull up errant, non-medicinal weeds.  You see that I purposely am gardening around the Cherokee roses and mullein!

The first row of potatoes (russet) will be joined by garlic.  Any organic garlic from the store will work (conventional vegetables are sprayed so that they cannot be planted).  A row of potatoes every foot and a half or so and a long row of garlic cloves next to it.  I used this marker to show where  ran out of garlic cloves, cause I’ll be damned if I waste even two feet of space!  In went kale seeds.

The next two rows of potatoes were joined by yellow onions.  When I ran out of onions, I planted chard.  Just dig a hole, nestle seed potato in, cover with garden soil.  Cut a thin row with your hoe, put a few seeds per few inches, cover in garden soil.  That is how we will plant everything.  Water, cover the whole thing with a light, and I mean light, covering of straw. We aren’t trying to suppress weeds here yet, just keep the soil from drying out too fast, and leaving little seeds exposed.

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I use tomato cages to hold up vines.  Around the outside of the tomato cages every three inches or so goes in a pea seed.  Four cages of snap peas, four of my beloved purple snow peas (just like immigrants and travelers and migrators of old, I have carried my seeds with me through our journey this last year), and four of Alaskan shelling peas.  In V shaped lines zigzagging between cages went four different kinds of lettuce, and more kale.

I had room at the end of the peas (see how many vegetables you can get in a small space?) I planted a few seeds in each hole a foot a part of quick growing cabbage.  Greyhound cabbage, it’s called.  I love it because we loved and miss our greyhound!  In a tick tack toe grid between the cabbages went radishes.

Another row went in of another kind of cabbage and Doug’s favorite, cucumbers, every other.  The last foot and a half is for corn, beans, and pumpkins, and sunflowers but we won’t put those in for two weeks.  I left a foot on the north end as well for the same.

In the other bed Maryjane and I started one row that contains beets, three different colors of carrots, pak choi, spinach, and cauliflower.  Then one of broccoli who will probably be interplanted with soy beans.  Seeds will grow, planting 1 or 2 in each hole is quite sufficient, unless you have a three year old gardener.  I think she planted 20 cauliflower seeds in each hole.  She was so cute doing it though!

Paths in, seeds lightly covered, now we wait for the rain and snow to moisten, then Nudah (sun) to come out and spread enough warmth to germinate the seeds.  Soon it will be summer.  See you next week!

 

The Beautiful Oil Lamps

My birthday present from Doug was a piece of our history together, a piece of our future together, a seemingly insignificant part of anyone’s life, but so beautiful I nearly cried.  Oil lamps.  We really miss our old ones!

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It is now romantic and just the amount of bright to read into the night.  Or until 10:00 anyway.  I am still on farm time.

 

 

A Spring Herb Walk with Sacred Owl School of Original Medicine

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Sunday was bright and just the right amount of warm.  We were like school girls tripping down the trail stopping every few minutes to look at new growth, smelling and tasting plants, and looking for snakes.  Laughter and stories fell around the group as we made our way down the meandering and winding path.

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Scrub oak is used in place of witch hazel for its astringency.

One of the classes from my school, Sacred Owl School of Original Medicine, went on a herb walk to Castlewood Canyon.  There weren’t a lot of things popping up this early but the spring tonics were showy and beautiful.  Some things that we tried to identify were small in their early spring infancy and we scoured the pages of the guide I brought.  A lot we couldn’t be sure, but promises of coming again later in the season, the fresh air, and the cold drinks and herb truffles the students had made, and resting at the end of the path made for a lovely day out of the classroom.

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Young yarrow leaves promise lots of beautiful white yarrow for circulatory, heart, and wound use.

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Dandelion may seem ordinary, or even obnoxious, but it is one of the best liver cleansers available.

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Currants, along with all berries, are very good for the kidneys, and the leaves are demulcent making them great for tummies, and uteruses!

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Dock (curly, burdock, or yellow) are all amazing medicines for cancer use, blood cleansing, and immunity.

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I highly recommend getting a nice, colorful guide for plants for your area and heading out onto a hiking trail.  That is medicine in itself!

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Class of Spring 2016!

For more information on my Master Herbalism program and my school, check out www.SacredOwlSchool.com

 

Walking the Labyrinth

lab·y·rinth
ˈlab(ə)ˌrinTH/
noun
noun: labyrinth; plural noun: labyrinths
  1. 1.
    a complicated irregular network of passages or paths in which it is difficult to find one’s way; a maze.
    a labyrinth of passages and secret chambers”
    synonyms: maze, warren, network, complex, web, entanglement

    “a labyrinth of little streets”
    2.
    Anatomy
    a complex structure in the inner ear that contains the organs of hearing and balance. It consists of bony cavities (the bony labyrinth ) filled with fluid and lined with sensitive membranes (the membranous labyrinth ).
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    I like these descriptions of a labyrinth; a difficult passage and a means of hearing and balance.
    This lovely labyrinth is on the corner of 136 and Pine Ridge in Elizabeth next to the community gardens.  (Take Elizabeth street to the end where it makes you turn left, it is one block down on your left.)  There are no dead ends, it is not a maze, per se, but a lovely curving, rounding, focused trek to the center which is placed strategically upon an energy vortex (which is scientific and geological).

If one stands at the entrance with a question (for all answers are within us already) or intention, one will find as they make your way quietly, contemplatively, through the winding paths that the answer or clarity will be startlingly clear in the center.  Peacefulness surrounds and the day is started much nicer or ended even nicer still by walking the labyrinth.

Wishing you a peaceful day!

Supporting Your Local Nursery (a field trip to Holly Acres)

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In winter,  you might find a child riding a zebra or a toddler on a horse.  Perhaps you’d like to sit with Santa or drink hot chocolate.  We choose our perfect Christmas tree and haul it home happily in the season.

In spring this same place is a gardener’s best friend.  Heirloom seeds abound, many plant starts, and a greenhouse of intoxicating brilliant blooms to take home.  I get my seed potatoes, garlic, onion sets, seeds, and most of my plants from my local nursery, Holly Acres.

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It is so important to shop local.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  Our communities rely on the mom and pop shops thriving.  Holly Acres is owned by a family in our community, whose children grew up with ours, who shop local themselves, and who have an amazing oasis of nature and beauty just down the road.

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Last year when we needed a bird bath for our instant rose garden, I got it there.  Same with the roses.  And when I taught you how to plant trees, I got the trees there.  They have the best fruit trees as well as many, many other varieties of trees.  They have everything one could want at a really great price.  They are very competitive with big box faceless stores.

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If you need seeds, garden décor, compost, or healthy affordable trees, head to our local nursery, Holly Acres and say Farmgirl sent you!  (And if you don’t live here, seek out a local nursery by you!)

5403 Highway 86, Elizabeth, CO, 80107.  303-646-8868.  http://Hollyacresnursery.com

 

Farmgirl Gardening Series (Planning and Prepping-Week 1)

The very first step is to sit with the land for a moment.  See which animals share that space.  See what weeds (or rather, medicinal herbs) are there.  What are the challenges?  What are the benefits?  Then measure the space.  Draw out (doesn’t have to be architecturally perfect) a grid so that you have a solid design for your garden.  You’ll know exactly what will fit and will be able to arrange the plot so that you can grow absolutely everything you want and still fit in a reading chair.

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I have 1 garden plot that is 20×20.  I have one that is 10×20.  I decided to make the smaller one the spring and fall garden.  It will also hold medicinal plants.  Each of my gardens will have the traditional Cherokee rule; the north and east side will be the three sisters, corn, squash, and beans.  Sunflowers will line that.  The Cherokee didn’t need books to figure these things out, they were passed down and I will keep that going.  The corn provided a stalk for the beans to grow on, the squash leaves keep the weeds down and helps divert marauding characters of the night who love corn.  The sunflowers provide food for beneficial insects and birds that will help pollinate the plants.  The tall plants also provide a little respite from wind and sun to help the plants below them.

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I opted not to rototill.  The beneficial organisms and earth worms are screaming their little heads off as the ground is tilled, plus you expose all those lovely invasive weed seeds to sunlight.  I will simply comb the areas with a rake, dig holes for each seed, and cover each seed/plant in its hole with organic garden soil.  This provides enough nutrition for now for the young seeds without creating too much havoc.  The ground will be covered with straw to keep in moisture and protect the plain soil.  Paths will be created with straw as well.  A thick pad of moist straw and cardboard makes any weed or grass that makes it through very easy to yank out.

Once you have your list of what you want to plant, and where you will plant them, go seed shopping at a local nursery (more on that Monday).

In the 10×20 I will plant 3 different kind of potatoes, garlic, onions, kale, chard, spinach, 4 different lettuces, arugula, English peas, snap peas, snow peas, wild flowers, California poppy, dill, lobelia, Bidens ticks, calendula, cucumbers, radishes, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, beets, corn, melon, sunflowers, and beans.

In the 20×20 I will plant beans, sunflowers, okra, Asian greens, bok choi, soybeans, butternut squash, roses, lemon balm, mint, thyme, valerian, chamomile, motherwort, borage, comfrey, broccoli, 12 pepper plants, 4 eggplants, 20 tomato plants, basil, oregano, chives, green beans, collard greens, zucchini, corn, and 3 different kinds of pumpkins (I am still Pumpkin Hollow Farm, after all) plus include a reading chair for me and Maryjane, a trellis to grow the Morning Glory seeds I saved, and have a bird bath.

How on earth will all this fit in 600 square feet?  By interplanting and sticking to a map.  Root vegetables need to have something growing above them.  Potatoes and spinach, carrots, beets, and lettuces, et cetera.  No monocropping!  Tomatoes need space between them, so collard greens and herbs will fill the spaces.

I went to the gardens to see if I could plant the potatoes yet but a sheet of snow still hid the plots beneath.  But, one thing I have found is whether I plant spring crops in the beginning of April or at the end, they still grow at the same rate.  It doesn’t matter whether you get a head start and plant potatoes and greens the first week of April or if you don’t get to it until the end of April.  The germination rate seems to slow the earlier you plant in this climate, thanks in part to 80 degrees, snow, freeze, flood, hail, heat, wind, cold… the soil can’t keep up with Mother Nature’s moodiness this time of year!  Plant when you can.  Next week, we will plant potatoes, onions, garlic, and a whole slew of spring seeds! See you in the garden!

The Literary Doors

I have always had a great love for old doors.  They appear so whimsical, so literary, in their quiet stature.  Where do they lead?  Where have they been?  What is beyond them?  What adventures will the doors lead us on?

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My first door purchase was at an antique store in Texas.  Doug insisted we drive the smaller car there and after much embarrassing time trying to cram the white vintage screen door into the backseat I had to sheepishly drag it back in for a refund in front of the sign that read, “No refunds.”

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That Christmas Doug gave me a gift certificate to an antique store he had done work at and I picked out a lovely old turquoise door.  It was sage green on the other side and had its original door knob.  So lovely and sweet, I wondered whose children might have run through it, what visitors knocked on this door, what old house held it firm to its frame?  It represented another world to me and it made a stunning decorating piece in each of our houses.  Until we had to leave the last house.

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At our farmhouse in Kiowa I found a tattered old green screen door that suffered from years of banging shut.  It joined the living room too.  These doors speak to me.

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So, I suppose it wasn’t a surprise when I asked Emily’s boyfriend to help Doug (who I alerted at the last moment) drag two very heavy doors up to the third floor to my apartment.  I loaded them into the back of my truck after a gardening client said she wasn’t using them in her remodel.  Pulling into an apartment building with salvaged antique doors is a bit contradictive, but I danced around the truck excitedly as the men pulled out my new doors.  My new adventures.  The doors that could lead anywhere…

 

Featherheart Finds Medicine

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In Liz Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, she refers to ideas as actual entities of their own and goes on to explain the real magic in that.  One poet talked about when an idea started coming she would run like heck to the kitchen to get paper and pen, sometimes even writing the poem backwards and capturing it “by the tail”.  I know this feeling.  And sitting in a classroom at an old hotel on the top of a mountain in Cloudcroft, New Mexico listening to a lecture on herbs, I found myself grabbing my notebook and not hearing another word from the class.  I wrote a children’s book with feverish intensity.  I needed very little editing and when I got home my daughter, Emily, agreed to do water color paintings for the book.

What resulted was a beautiful children’s book that leads the child on an adventure with Featherheart to her Grammie’s house.  As she and her Grammie head out into the morning with their baskets they meet plants (and learn their identification and properties) and birds and other creatures.  The book whimsically teaches while entertaining and the adult reading will learn as well.

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The book is printed in a sturdy calendar format with big pictures and easy print.  I hope you will let me share with you my work.  For blog readers it is only $10.  Call to order 303-617-3370 or email Katie@pumpkinhollowfarm.net.  And as always, thank you so much for reading.

5 Ways to Homestead Anywhere (and 5 serious signs you might be a homesteader stuck in the city!)

apron

I have always been an active cheerleader and voice on the matter that anyone can homestead and farm anywhere.  I just didn’t know I would be living that mantra for awhile!  It is good for me to experience though and I would like to share with you 5 ways you can homestead anywhere (even in an apartment).  I would also like to share with you 5 serious signs that you may be a homesteader stuck in the city (true story)!

5 Things you can do to homestead (Homesteading is about freedom and fun.  Save money to spend on what you want, enjoy the sensory of creating, and live more healthfully.)

  1. Preserve and prepare your own food.  Canning, freezing, dehydrating, and home cooking is all possible and easy even in an apartment.  Free facials (from the steam of the canning), delicious food, and shelves in the living room of fresh foods for the year are all included.  You will know what you are eating, save money, always have food on hand, and have an impressive looking display of homesteading life.  You can get boxes of produce from local farmers at the market.  Don your apron.
  2. Community gardens and pots.  There may very well be a community garden near you.  These days they are very popular.  1 in 5 women now garden and many people are looking for an outlet to grow some of their own food.  You may have a friend with an unused part of the yard, or your own yard may be sick of its own grass!  Get planting, friends!  (Watch my series every Friday on this blog for week by week how to farm!)  Line the balcony or porch with pots.  Even corn will grow in pots.  Grow, grow, and watch your spirits grow.
  3. We can’t do it on our own but we can support local farmers.  It amazes me that folks forget that they could go grocery shopping at the farmers market.  It is competitively priced and helps folks that love dirt right here in your community!  From meat, to eggs, to milk, to veggies, fruits and breads, there is a plethora of good eatin’ at the market!  Tip: get to know your farmer.  We farmers love regulars and will always give you a good deal.
  4. Recycle-Reuse-Reduce!  Yea, yea, yea, heard it before.  But homesteaders are special.  We will use canning jars for vases, repair a rip in a beloved pair or jeans, save rubber bands to band produce and twist ties to hold up tomato plants.  We’ll wrap presents in fabric.  We’ll put coffee grounds in plants.  Be creative.  And don’t buy what you do not need!  If you need something, can you get it used?
  5. Non-electric items…can you dig ’em?  The hand cranked coffee grinder, the French press, the oil lamps, the clothes line, the gentle clink of glasses as you hand wash, the hand cranked radio, the shovel…if there is a manual way to do it, do it.

Now, you may be a homesteader stuck in the city if you…

Attempt to rent out the entire community garden.  (But 600 square feet will do, I guess…)

If you cuss out appliances.  Why does the dryer shrink clothes and the dishwasher erase pictures from glasses?  If you find yourself lecturing them on their very nice off grid counterparts, “You know, the ringer washer does a better job than you!”

If you see broken apple branches and plot how to get them to the third floor of your apartment to smoke fish with and use in the fireplace. (and then remember you have a gas fireplace!)

If you start a compost pile in a three gallon bucket on the balcony in the middle of winter for…uh…the houseplants…(but you just can’t see all those food scraps go to waste!)

If you find yourself, after parking your big truck with farm plates into a small parking spot, staring up at a looming building surrounded by cement as you smooth your apron and clasp your jar of raw milk, and wonder for a moment, “Where the heck am I?”

You may be a farmer/homesteader who is caught in the city…

The Healing Power of Turmeric (and how to prepare it)

Turmeric has long been touted for its health benefits.  Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and circulatory herb.  It improves blood flow, helps with digestive issues, and pain.  It is what I call a supporting actor in many of my medicines.  It helps all the other herbs do their jobs better.

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I am not an advocate of pills.  Really, how many herbs can you stick in one little pill?  By the time you put in the other ingredients, and your stomach works its way through the pill you have practically zero plant medicine there.  Allow me to give you some ways to turn turmeric into amazing medicine that is accessible and bioavailable.

#1 Tea.  Oh, my favorite.  I usually just slice a bit from the end of a root and put it in my tea but while visiting my friend, Lisa, in California last week, she taught me a tremendous way to prepare turmeric.  Blend 2 Tablespoons of dried, powdered turmeric with 4 Tablespoons of water.  Add 1/8 teaspoon of ground pepper.  Pepper greatly enhances the bioavailability and effectiveness of turmeric.

Let’s face it, Folks, between pollution, pharmaceuticals, and our food system we all have some free radicals and inflammation to deal with.  So, every day I combine a scant teaspoon of this mixture with a Tablespoon of honey, a good squeeze of lemon, a basil or mint leaf, a chunk of ginger, and 12 ounces of boiling water to make it into tea.  Then I add a Tablespoon of coconut oil.  Wait, don’t let me lose you here!  It makes it taste ever more nurturing, the sweet creamy flavor with the spicy herbs, and the fat makes the antioxidants from the plants more bioavailable.  Delicious.

#2 Vinegar extract.  Place a 2 inch chunk of ginger root and a 2 inch chunk of turmeric root with a touch of pepper in a pint jar of organic apple cider vinegar.  Replace lid and put in window for two weeks.  Add maple syrup for taste and take a teaspoon a day or add to recipes or tea.

#3 Alcohol extract.  Do the very same thing but in a pint jar of vodka, rum, or brandy.  The alcohol is sharper but it sure pulls the medicine right out of the plants!  A teaspoon in a shot glass of orange juice is a scant amount of alcohol and a very effective way to transport the medicine.

No matter how you take it, turmeric is there to help you, as are all plants.