Farm Heroes and the New Chicken Yard, Greenhouse, and Shed.

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Emily, Shyanne, and Peep (and Maryjane in that little baby bump)

We started our farm when the girls were young teenagers.  They spent hours in the chicken coop with the new chicks, cooing to and naming them.  Tempers would flare and they would take their own time out among the soft chirping and fresh straw.  My youngest daughter and I (along with dad and Reed) have plans to go in on a farm together in the next few years.  We dream of two houses, one land, a barn, a large community plot of garden, animals, greenhouses, a view.  A Farm Air B&B, hot farm fresh breakfasts, coffee on the porch.  A small restaurant on site to serve high end dinners with a set menu with room for four couples a night.

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Emily and Ayla

But right now, everyone is busy.  The kids have their own lives.  So, it was incredible to see them all show up at the front door in the un-forecasted snow to help us create a functional farm back yard.  We certainly could not have done it by ourselves and our gratitude is overwhelming!

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We live on one third of an acre.  We have fourteen chickens and a very large dog.  Our eighteen month old Great Pyrenees doesn’t require a lot of room for running (he spends most of his days sleeping under the elm trees in the dirt or on the pink futon in the living room (which is covered in dirt).  I have a lot of room for the chickens but wanted to increase their yard to reach the piles of branches so they could play and have more space to roam.

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I also desired a greenhouse which I received last week as an early birthday present from my friend Tina.  This would require a fenced in separate yard to increase my garden space, and keep the puppy out.  This space will end up having a pond and waterfall with a tea ceremony setting.

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Doug purchased a shed to house all of our yard items and tools and try to make sense of our back porch which has become overwhelmed with debris, broken chairs, tables, tools, and market items.

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These things came in a million, zillion pieces.  A roll of field fencing to top it all off.  And two not-so-handy parents.  Enter the children riding in like heroes to our farm story.

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My beautiful granddaughter, Maryjane’s dad came.  Bret is amazing and he will always be one of my kids.  He helped Doug build the shed.

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Reed

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Emily’s long time boyfriend Reed (Ayla’s daddy) and I started on the greenhouse.  It got incredibly complicated and when Jacob (Shyanne’s long time boyfriend) showed up, he took my place.  They got it built and it is perfect!

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Doug and Shyanne and Bret then started on the fencing and quickly got two areas partitioned off.

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My granddog Lupo enjoying the new shed.
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The chickens enjoying their new yard.
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And my new greenhouse and garden.

Six cold hours later we took the kids out for sushi to celebrate Reed’s birthday and to thank them for helping us make the next phase of our farm dreams come true.  This little urban farm sure has lots of space and opportunity.  But it always feels more like home when the kids are here.

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Tunnel of Arbors (and how I made ours)

I would love to say that I am super handy or a DIY kind of farmgirl.  But, I am not.  I can think of all sorts of clever alternatives though that don’t require more than a screwdriver!

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I am in love with this arbor idea.  I have been for years.  I find it so enchanting!

So, I priced them out at the hardware store.  Yikes.  “You can just build one so easy,” my friends tell me, “You just need PVC pipe and…” They lost me.  I can go on Amazon though, y’all.  I ordered five arbors for $24.99 each.  I have had ones like this before and they last forever.

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Feeling mighty fine wielding my trusty screwdriver, pulling screws from my apron pockets, I got three of them up and made my husband do the others.

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One went by the gate because nothing is as wonderful as approaching a home and entering a gate and walking under an arbor with climbing roses atop it.  Secret garden indeed.

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Before (this is our third season)
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The new garden beds just waiting for climbing peas, yard long beans, and loads of pumpkins!

To read how to make my signature garden beds in about fifteen minutes and fifteen dollars, click here.  They are a combination of permaculture and straw bale gardening with a touch of broke farmgirl from buying too many seeds.

Spring is here and I would love to hear about your garden plans!

The First Warm Day in the Garden (onions, garlic, rhubarb, and the elusive robin)

It was over sixty degrees for a pocket of time yesterday without its normal accompanying arctic wind to ruin all of the fun.  I sat in a lawn chair, my face to the sun intermittently reading and sipping a glass of wine until my face felt warm from those glorious rays.

“There are no robins,” I told my husband.  Perhaps I was getting ahead of myself.  If the robins were not even here yet, then spring is not arriving early.

Little flitters of tiny, iridescent wings wafted past me.  I hope they are beneficial as opposed to a nemesis in my gardens.  They landed here and there.  I stood up and stretched and walked around my garden paths.  In the beds were rogue, forgotten splays of green- dark and alive.  Onions and garlic.  A tiny bit of spinach appeared in the pathway.  Funny place to grow.

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I let me plants go to seed in the fall because I am more interested in permaculture and sustained food than I am in neat rows.  (Which I seem to be rather bad at anyway!  The rows look like when I write on unlined paper.)  So the spinach decided to grow there, huh?  Well, so be it.  Bits of Swiss chard grow under a tree.

I am still getting used to the climate where we have moved.  It is warmer here but it is certainly not temperate.  But the growing season is quite different from our old town.  Here, I usually would plant onions and garlic (if I forgot to do so last fall…which I did) when I do the potatoes, right around St. Patrick’s Day.  One doesn’t want the beds to be waterlogged with snow for the next few months because the bulbs will decompose but a nice, damp, rich, fragrant, earthy, heady, malleable bed does call for something to be planted, don’t you think?  So, I took a cue from the garlic and onions that were already growing and planted my bulbs.  It was therapeutic in a way that only gardeners can understand.

I loosened the first four inches of soil.  Along somewhat crooked rows, three inches apart in all directions, I carefully placed their bottoms down and the papery points up, gently pressing them into the ground.  Eighty bulbs of red onions.  Three large heads of garlic separated into cloves.

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And four roots of rhubarb.  Every spring my Great Aunt Donna would call me and say, “Time to get the rhubarb!”  We would drive to Denver and head into her large back yard with her.  She taught me to place my thumb at the base of a stalk and lightly pull just so.  The foot and a half long stalk would easily come loose.  We both had a paring knife and would quickly remove the large leaf at the top and place it in a pile of ever growing foliage.  She would predict what her old apple tree was going to do this year.  Her beds were clean.  The compost was moving along nicely.  She would have me throw the leaves in the bin.  Into plastic newspaper sacks, the rhubarb stalks would go.  She would save a few for herself and send us home with pounds of them.  This will be the first season without Aunt Donna.  What will happen to her rhubarb?  I hope mine gets as full and healthy as hers.

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“Guess who’s here?” I shrieked into the phone.

“Who?” my husband answered, nearly alarmed.  The shrill chirping voice was almost a shock.  I recognized it before I saw them.  A pair of them hopping through the garden beds.  “The robins are back!”

 

Starting Seeds in Salad Containers

Over the years I have written about many ways to start seeds and they all have one thing in common, a simulated greenhouse.

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Now, every year I think I will have a real greenhouse.  Surely by the time I need to start seeds I will have one built or put together or otherwise exist, but then the same issue comes up every season (no funds), and so I am once again left with my own creativity.  This year I saved salad containers all year.  The kind with the lids.  You see, the key to seed starting is lots of sun and continuous moisture in a warm space.  It is so dry and cold here that I would be watering all the time and probably cause the seeds to mold.  No, I need a mother-nature-way of watering, softly and simply, with evaporation and condensation.

Many seeds should be direct planted.  Even though I added six weeks to my growing season by moving to Pueblo, I still need more time for peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant.  I found last year that when I direct planted them, they almost made it before frost.  This year I am holding back half of the seeds to direct plant and half I will transplant.  Transplanting is not always successful so we figure that one of the ways will succeed!  (And so goes the life of a farmer.)

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Fill your salad container 2/3 of the way full with organic, potting soil.  You want room for the plants to grow.  Water the soil so that it is evenly damp.  We don’t want any marshes settled at the bottom, but you might be surprised how much water the potting soil can hold.

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When it is evenly damp, sprinkle the seeds over the soil somewhat spread apart.  Barely sprinkle on more soil to cover and use a spray bottle of water to really dampen.  Until they are established, a water bottle prevents water pressure from dislodging the seed or drowning the poor fellas.

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Close lid tightly and mark with a sharpie.  Because you will forget the varietal and date you planted!  Just trust me on this.

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Let’s see, now to find a place with at least six hours of sun where the cats won’t step on or eat said seedlings.  (A more difficult dilemma than one might think.)  The guest room has a nice sunny spot on the bed from the south facing window a good part of the day and the door closes.

Now over the next week or two, keep an eye on your seeds.  There should be consistent “rainfall” in the box.  If it slows (every other day or so) spray thoroughly with water and reclose.  When plants are 1 inch tall, open the top and water as needed making sure not to let them dry out nor drown.  (You can still use the spray bottle.)  Once they get to be about two or three inches, transplant into another container separately.  (A blog post on that will be in a few weeks.)

I don’t know about you but I am darn near stir crazy not being able to be outside doing something.  At least starting seeds makes me feel like spring has begun.

Winter Book List 2019

I am done reading seed catalogues for the season.  I got my extensive order in and am dreaming and scheming up all sorts of garden plans.  From indoors, on my sofa, with a cup of great coffee and my sleeping farm dog who doesn’t love cold.  All that dreaming aside, this is the time for catching up on projects or reading.  Otherwise one might be prone to give in to seasonal affective disorder and crying until spring.  I have lots of books and plenty to do around her to get me through until spring crops.

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#1 #Do Not Disturb; How I Ghosted My Cell Phone To Take Back My Life by Jedediah Bila was a must.  I try to put my damn phone down long enough to read it.  When I was young (“Oh here we go…” I can hear you say.) we could not have even fathomed such a thing.  A phone without a cord?  A phone that you can take with you?  The computers had math games on them.  There was no Google, we had encyclopedias and libraries.  When the first shoe box sized phone came out in my great aunt’s fancy car, I couldn’t believe it.  So, to say that I am not sure how much time I lose checking email, texts, instagram, facebook, and googling things is beyond my scope of imagination.  I have eye strain, anxiety, and I see the detriment these things have brought our society.  Where children and spouses are ignored, personas are created, and time disappears.  Yes, I am reading this book!

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#2 Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Ngugen is magnificently written with captivating prose and such convincing characters and scenarios that I am tempted to google what is fact and fiction as the narrative is so convincing in this Little House on the Prairie obsessed novel.  Read it!  You will love it.

Also on my list to start-

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#3 Mud Season; How One Woman’s Dream of Moving to Vermont Raising Children, Chickens, and Sheep & Running the Old Country Store Pretty Much Led to One Calamity After Another by Ellen Stimson- I checked this book out many years ago from the library and I am not sure why I didn’t get very far in it.  Did another book show up that I wanted to read more, was it not interesting?  I don’t know but the plot sounds fun so I will start it soon.  I have a friend who did just this, left and went to a small town, a place in the country, and started a farm and café in Vermont.  Perhaps she read this book!

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#4 My Gentle Barn; Creating a Sanctuary Where Animals Heal and Children Learn to Hope by Ellie Laks- I follow this beautiful sanctuary on social media and I am looking forward to going there via the pages of this memoir.  My small sanctuary that I told you I was starting last year has come to be and eventually we want land where we can welcome more animals so reading first hand the pros and cons and ins and outs and triumphs will be a lovely way to learn.

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#5 Grow the Good Life; Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise by Michele Owens- You don’t have to tell me twice!  I am well aware of the powers of the garden, but I love reading other’s accounts, often hilarious and educational.

I have a few other memoirs ready to start as well and I hope no one requests them at the library so I have time to read all of them!  Wishing you great reading this cold winter season.  What are your favorite books right now?  Respond in the comments so we all have more books to look into!

Putting the Garden to Bed (compost, adding new beds, bulbs, and there’s no place like home)

Gardening need not be expensive nor incredibly difficult.  By necessity I have come up with ways to make widespread, prolific gardens quickly and easy on the homestead pocket.

The first thing that is imperative to a great garden is compost.  Compost is one of those things that still baffles folks a little.  You do not need a fancy, turning contraption to make compost.  Doug screwed together five pallets to make two open spaces and it is tucked into a far corner of the yard.

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The chicken coop certainly adds to it.  In the fall the chicken bedding gets changed and the soiled straw goes into compartment one.  For six months I add leaves, coffee grounds, lint from the dryer, food the chickens don’t like, and it builds up.  Repeat in the spring, only use compartment 2.  Put on the garden beds what you began six months ago and do this in the spring and fall.  I do not turn the compost or water it or do anything to it really.  It just does it’s thing.  If it smells, add dry material like straw or newspaper or leaves.  If it is not decomposing at all, add more wet items like food scraps or grass.  Let the chickens play in it, they scratch it up nicely.

Time to clean out the garden beds.  I let the plants go to seed.  Next year Mother Earth will grow dill, basil, carrots, spinach, arugula, and many other plants for me.  Everything is pretty well frozen and quite deceased so out they go and into the compost.  Perennials and winter greens stay put.

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Add a layer of compost.  Then a layer of warm straw.  Not thick enough to suppress weeds (because the water won’t get in) but enough to keep the soil cozy.

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When we first moved in.
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Now

I have a third of an acre here and I am only gardening a quarter of it.  But, we haven’t even been in this house two years; the changes in this property over that time have been impressive.  As always, I want more garden beds!

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These easy beds create abundant crops and very few weeds!

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This is my own design; a very easy gardening bed that combines many great techniques.  Lay out cardboard where you want your bed.  No need to rototill or disturb the beneficial guys underground.  Ring with wood you have on hand, rocks, bricks, anything really, use your imagination!  Then top with a 2 inches of thick straw.  You can add your compost and soil now or wait until spring.

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I am adding a bed that runs alongside the other one and putting an arbor over them.  Next year I will grow pumpkins over them (and will try to outsmart the squash bugs).  It will create an enchanted walk through that leads to the house or the gardens while freeing up space in the garden.  Pumpkin Hollow Farm is moving up!

Plant tulip and daffodil bulbs and lots of garlic cloves.

Everything looks great!  The garden is put to bed, the new spring beds are ready for next year, and the perennials are snug in straw.  Bulbs are planted, muscles are tired, and the farmer is happy.

All this wondering what to do now that I don’t have my businesses.  Should I go to school?  Should I get a job outside my writing?  Should I…?  And as I spent the day hauling compost, designing beds, standing in the next herb garden, dreaming, being present, working hard, I realized that this is what I want to do.  This is where my heart is happy.  At home.  Creating home.

The End of Summer

The end of summer.

‘Twas yesterday eve that I felt the shift.  The night temperatures would fall much too cold for summer crops.  I gathered my long shawl- orange and reds to match the changing leaves- across my hair and over my shoulders to keep the encroaching dusk chill away and gathered my baskets.

Out into the gardens with falling light I felt for vegetables and fruits in the dirt, on vines, hidden in lush leaves, swiftly clipping and twisting them into my hands.  Watermelons, butternut squash, yellow squash, poblanos, chilies, jalapenos, green peppers, and dozens upon dozens of green tomatoes came tumbling in.

Into the warm house where the fire was lit and the candles dazzled the rainy night.  For rain it poured and torrents of it came, while lightening bid farewell to the summer night games.  An autumn chill has descended here and the nights will stay cool as the sun tends to fall asleep early and the gardening days of fall are almost done.

The oil lamps lit, and candles brighten pages of good books.  And the darkness descends us into a warming rest.  I took a sip of tea and watched him put another log on the fire.

This Year’s Secrets of the Garden

Already I can feel the air shifting, changing.  I had been watching the birds and animals a month before the Farmer’s Almanac predicted a hard winter.  My crops are finishing up weeks early, ready to be placed asleep beneath layers of heady compost and blankets of straw.

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This year’s lessons were plentiful.

#1 I sought to use up all the seeds that I had collected over the many years of gardening and not purchase any this year.  Most were not viable and I had to do mad dashes to the store to get seeds/seedlings in order to have a garden!  I grew tomatoes from seed.  One large vine was struggling to turn ripe so I pulled the whole thing out and hung it in the kitchen.  It is now producing luscious, red tomatoes.

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#2 I did not purchase expensive potato starts.  Instead I filled my apron with potatoes from the kitchen.  Organic and growing eyes, fingerlings, reds, and a few yukons from a friend’s nursery.  They took off better than any potato start I have ever had.  I filled baskets and had three huge harvests of delicious potatoes.

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#3 I discovered a little nemesis to my farm’s name.  The Squash Bug.  Few pumpkins were found last year and this because of that wretched little bug and his army.  I shall be spending this winter’s reading time perusing garden books for organic methods to killing said enemy.

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#4 If it doesn’t grow well over here, then plant some more over there.  I never plant in rows.  I plant everything together.  This year the weather soared above a hundred degrees way too early and I did not have any spring crops.  Almost all of my new herb seedlings were toasted quickly beneath the scorching May sun.  I planted many things on the east side of the house and they thrived.

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#5 Mother Nature grows best.  The squirrel that hid a pumpkin seed in front of the porch is my hero.  The vine is up on the porch and produced the only pie pumpkin because the squash bugs didn’t know where to look.  The ristras hanging from my porch had their seeds scattered in an April wind and I will have New Mexican red chilies soon.  A rogue head of popcorn I didn’t know was there planted itself and grew in the herbs gardens.

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#6 Let things go to seed.  I had prolific basil and arugula.  The radishes and carrots reseeded, as did lettuce and spinach.

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#7 My perma/straw beds that I created this spring were genius (I say so modestly) and I had little work this year to keep them weeded.  I will add three more next month.

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#8 Some things cannot be tricked.  I grew ginseng and gingko until they realized they were in Colorado and promptly died.  Peppers, which have always been impossible to grow up north, grow plentiful and flavorful in Pueblo.  (The eucalyptus and ginger were tricked successfully, I must add.)

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#9 Water and compost are all you need.  The sun does the rest.  Plants want to grow.

#10 I love gardening.

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My porch and many gardens were taken over by morning glories, which effectively shielded many herbs and young trees from the record-high temperatures.  I enjoy feeding the birds and watching the wildlife.  I let the rogue “weed” trees grow and ended up with a lovely privacy fence.  We ate well.  Every year is different.  Even when some things don’t work, something else always does.  A good lesson for life from this Farmgirl’s perspective.

The Farmgirl School Milestone

Over a thousand blog followers.  I could not believe it as I lifted my coffee cup to my lips, the steam rising in the cooler morning air, and saw that number.  136,555 hits to my writings.  My most popular blog by far (by thousands) was How to Make Chokecherry Wine!  I want to share that with you again along with a few of my favorite blog posts.

What a chronicle this has become!  I use it nearly daily.  How do you can beans?  I look up my blog!  I am teaching a canning class today and I couldn’t remember how long to can pickled beets and eggs.  It’s right here.

We had a lovely visit with our friends, Lisa and Lance yesterday at Bristol brewery that resides inside a hundred year old school.  They have been on the same journey as we have all these years.  We have watched our children grow up and grandchildren come.  They have worked hard and own a ranch with their family out east. ( https://rafterwranch.net/) We talk about her cows, my chickens, our plans, our kids, this lifestyle.  We have some very big changes and great plans coming up so I bounce ideas off of Lisa and we talk about ways to make my new business idea work (oh, the suspense, I can’t tell you yet!) and how to use our house to buy a farm in the future.  In almost six years so much has changed for both of us, yet there sipping a macchiato on a summer day we may as well have been in her kitchen years ago plotting our next farming move.  Like minded friends are gold, folks.

And so, here’s to a 1000 more readers and a great many more tales to tell.

chokecherry

How to Make Chokecherry Wine

amish

A Visit to an Amish Home

baby girl

And a Child Was Born

 

 

The Little Farm Vehicle That Could

Okay…it’s a Fiat.  But a mini farm deserves a mini farm vehicle!

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There is something deeply satisfying about having enough food for the critters.  We hauled home a hundred and sixty pounds of dog, cat, and chicken feed and scratch in Fernando the Fiat the other day.  Heck, if we had put the top down we could have thrown on a bale of hay!  The back seat has enough Great Pyrenees hair to weave a scarf.  It may look like a city car but the little farm car works as hard as I do.  It does seem fitting that Pumpkin Hollow Farm ought to have a farm car that looks like a pumpkin!