Posted in Farming

Winnowing Amaranth (growing one’s own grains)

Every year we try to do a little better; buy a little bit less, throw out a bit less trash, use less petroleum, grow a little bit more, become a little more self sufficient. This rocky, dry desert wouldn’t allow me more space to do a swath of turned soil for wheat or oats, but I had a bit of room in a raised bed to try my hand at an easier cereal grain, amaranth.

Seed Savers showed a photo of lush, six foot growth on a plant positively tipping with grain. Gorgeous crimson color made this lovely heirloom plant, harvested from Hopi land in the Arizona desert, one I wanted to try and grow.

It was quite easy to grow. The largest plants were the ones that had escaped the raised bed and grew in the shale, clay, sand mixture of pasture. We watered it every day. I had no idea what to do with it from there on, so I ignored it. When do you harvest? How do you harvest? What part is the grain?

This week the heads had fallen, drooping solemnly on the ground, great shocks of multicolored tops told me it was time. I clipped the tops into an open paper shopping bag. Using gloves, I crushed the heads and stripped the stalks.

I then poured the contents into a large strainer. Using my gloved fingers, I swept around the grains and chaff until everything came through the holes except for the stems.

I then utilized past knowledge I had gathered and poured the contents from bag to bag, then bowl to bowl, letting the breeze take away the chaff. I think I might have lost some of the seed and was making a tremendous mess.

I then poured the contents into a large sieve and that worked better to pull the contents through, throwing out the larger pieces of chaff.

Still, I had lots of purple chaff amongst the tiny black seeds. Still losing much of it across the pasture (which I am certain will grow fabulously next year. No one gardens quite as well as Mother Nature.), I took the lot inside away from the wind. I poured a little at a time through a smaller sieve and that seemed to work. I used my finger to push through as much of the seed as I could, throwing out the purple chaff.

That large shopping bag was reduced to half a cup of homegrown grain. Not one to be discouraged, I realize that next year I will know what I am doing (presumably) and will harvest more of the heads. I will know what to do ahead of time. I will also have more to harvest from. And I know that many hands make light work and I may get a little help next year. Either way, I look forward to grinding some of this grain for bread or turning it into porridge. The bright red color bleeds into the food you make with the Hopi amaranth.

In addition, the young leaves can be steamed and eaten like spinach. The bright red tops in their peak can be used to dye wool. Another project I am embarking on.

Plan ahead for next year and try your hand at growing grains. Grains are packed with vitamins and trace minerals, proteins and important antioxidants, and add a bit more homegrown to the homestead table.

Posted in Farming

A Greenhouse Raising

We have been here a year. I can hardly believe how time flies! My granddaughter and I found an earth worm in the potato patch, a sure sign that our sand and shale desert soil farmed in a sustainable, no-till fashion- in just one season- is becoming an oasis. Now this land needs a greenhouse.

Doug removed all the cactus from the area we decided on.

A greenhouse could extend the season a few weeks. I am working on a system to naturally heat it so that we can start spring crops earlier. In all my houses before, there has been a nice sunny south window to start seedlings in, but the overhang is such here that sun rarely cascades in one place for very long. Then late in autumn, the tomatoes will have a few more weeks to ripen. Oh yes, a greenhouse is needed.

Choosing a place for the greenhouse. We needed a place that was easily accessible by the hose, level ground, and a place that wouldn’t block our view of the mountains.

We talked about building one from scratch, and we probably could have despite not being particularly handy or with excess funds…but we didn’t need to. Our neighbor has a friend, who has a partially put together greenhouse, do we want it?

Look on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace for greenhouses. A lot of people get them and then just don’t use them. Look for materials on those same sites. I am sure there are other sites that are good as well. You can put together a greenhouse for cheap. In some cases, free!

Put in a few phone calls and see if you can’t get a crew together to help you. Much like an Amish barn raising, I put out the word, and we got help. Then, of course, we will be available in their time of need down the road. Community is the best part of homesteading.

We walked the property looking for the best place to put it. Somewhere close to water, a place that is level ground, and a place that wouldn’t block my magnificent view of the mountains. (I regretted my placement of the little barn.)

Our neighbors, Carolyn and Rod, hooked up their trailer. My cousins met us there, along with our farm interns, Annie and Rex, and Annie’s boyfriend, Cole. We had a lively crew, happily moving the 10×12 greenhouse.

The young people quickly took the initiative and had the greenhouse finished and put together. The inside of the greenhouse is bolted to railroad ties so that the greenhouse won’t end up in Carolyn’s yard come first wind storm.

I am so grateful to my family and friends for helping this greenhouse manifest here. It is beautiful next to the kitchen gardens. I can just see the raised beds now, maybe a tea table, its warmth creating seedlings and life and food.

Posted in Farming

Dreaming of Vineyards

Have you ever stood in front of a row of grapes? The crisp lines marching up hills? The leaves lovely in autumn? Have you ever sipped a glass of wine in a vineyard and thought of the journey from planting to harvesting to magic in a glass?

Temecula wine country in California

Something about it fascinates me. I am a one-glass-of-wine a day kind of girl, but I appreciate that glass of transport. I have taken some amazing sommelier classes that helped me see, smell, and swirl my way to unlocking the mysteries of one of the oldest drinks in the world. The rings at the edge of the glass speak of vine age. The color foretells wine age and varietal The smell whispers terroir and place and of oak barrels or steel. The taste goes on about the farmers, the roses at the end of the rows, of the farms nearby, of the toil and prayers and careful blending, and the people who made it.

Napa Valley

I’ve long dreamed of a vineyard. I have read more books than I can recall on the subject. I know we should try to run our rows north to south so they gather as much sun as they like. I know they like difficult soil. I know they need a longer growing season. The very soil that is so difficult to grow crops in here is the very same that grapes would love. Spreading their long roots into the limestone earth gathering nutrients and flavors of our home.

Northern California

We have explored many a vineyard with different friends through Napa Valley and Sonoma, through Temecula, and New Mexico. And down the road to local wineries with fine and different varietals and blends and unique Colorado flavors.

We think and we ask questions of other wine makers, of vineyard owners, of Mother Earth. Could we sustain a vineyard here? Would it be too much work for me? Would it cost too much in water? Eight gallons of water per week required. We scarcely get rain. A local winery will buy all of our grapes. But you know me, could I make good wine from my own grapes? Would the start-up cost be exorbitant?

Life is an adventure. If you have a dream, just go for it!

Posted in Farming

Becoming a WWOOF Host

I read a great book recently called, This Tractor Life; A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Woofers by Pamela Jane Lincoln. I was initially a little disappointed that it was primarily a cookbook (I have a zillion cookbooks but this one is rather good!) but it was more than that. Those little things the universe does to subtly direct our paths is always fascinating to me.

We had heard of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), a great program that helps farmers find much needed help and up and coming farmers find mentors and places to learn. This Tractor Life takes place in Australia on an organic farm and vineyard. The author tells stories of the recipes she shares, most coming from young people that shared her farm for a weekend or a month. Stories of woofers from all over the world intrigued me.

Stephanie and Emily holding a very little Maryjane

We watched the old Winnebago with bikes attached to the back roll past our little farm in Kiowa some six years ago. The New York plates gave away that our visitors had arrived. I had received an email from Ethan, who read my blog, asking if he and his girlfriend could come learn herbalism from me and if they could help on our farm.

Our rented farm in Kiowa

They were twenty-four years old, excited to be in Colorado, and were delightful. Ethan had on overalls and his long, blond hair was up in a beautiful man-bun. Stephanie’s long, blond locks were tucked behind her shoulder and her lovely Swedish face was always smiling. They camped out in our driveway for six weeks.

The local policeman (knowing full well that they were our farm interns) would harass them constantly in good humor. Ethan was on the phone at the fairgrounds, up in the stands to find good reception, with his jar of iced tea by his side. The chief approached him and asked him if it was moonshine and gave him a real good ribbing before letting him jump the fence back to our house. They were entertainment for our tiny town. They were young and dramatic and fought and made up loudly for all the town to hear. They were fascinated by our large western sky, something I had always taken for granted. They would yell, “It’s time!” each and every evening, grabbing lawn chairs and their glasses of wine and would go sit in the pasture with the goats to see our fantastic sunsets. We had wonderful meals and good company.

I still keep in touch with Ethan. He is a farmer in upstate New York. Last I heard, Stephanie had started an herbal business.

I very nearly gave up last week. Was just ready to get a small raised bed of tomatoes and a hot tub. Our gardens are much larger than before and I am at the very edge of what I can do mostly by myself (my husband does things as he can while working 40+ hours a week). I also know that our gardens are not nearly the size they need to be to sustain us. I admit I need help. We thought we would be able to find a local kid to help, or even a farm intern, but that hasn’t been the case. Our children live a touch too far to come help their mom and it is not really what they want to do on weekends anyway.

This program might be just what we need. We applied yesterday to be hosts. We have an orientation Tuesday and then we will be ready to receive guests. The WWOOFing program is set up as a directory where farm interns can find hosts. They choose anywhere in the world they want to go to, then contact a host there. The hosts provide room and board and the willingness to teach and the guest puts in 3-4 hours of work a day to help with the farm. The farm has to be organic (certification not necessary) and sustainable.

Even though we are a small farm, there is lots to do and learn here. I am a practicing Master Herbalist, we are putting in a vineyard, greenhouse, and rain barrel system. We have large gardens and medicine plants and wonderful things to see and do around here. We are excited to meet people from all over the world and host like minded people who feel farming is as important as we do!

Posted in Animals/Chickens, Farming

Natural Insect Control (cont.) and Before and After Pics (so far)

Yesterday, while lamenting the incredible overpopulation of destructive bugs, I posted a picture of the gardens with three adorable ducks sitting outside the closed kitchen garden gate, practically yelling, “Put me in, Coach!” They were employed this morning and have been doing a great job eating grasshoppers. I am afraid they take way too many breaks to go swimming. I think they will really help us out though.

While they attacked grasshoppers, I turned my attention to squash bugs. They are easy to catch with tongs and then drop into soapy water. Look on the undersides of the leaves for tiny red eggs and scrape them off. Spray the base of each plant with a 27 oz water bottle filled with a teaspoon of castile or dish soap and 15 drops of peppermint essential oil (thanks, cousin Janet!). It makes the little buggers come out so you can catch them and repels them from the plant (for awhile). Grasshoppers hate the spray too but they come right back and they are harder to catch. So, that is the ducks’ new job.

Sandia, Serrano, and Big Jim (named so because they love chili peppers!) save the potatoes from grasshoppers!

We always used to shrug and count on next year. We never proactively fought for our gardens. We didn’t have to. But these days are a little weird, y’all, as you may have noticed. Empty shelves, rioting, and social media craziness makes us homesteaders sit up and take notice. Might be a good idea to fight a little harder to feed ourselves. This is our first year on this particular homestead, and I know from experience that the third year of compost and growing is really the very best. So we will get there. We have come a long way on this little homestead in the past eleven months.

There’s no place like home.

Posted in Farming

Surrendering and Saving Seeds

My friend, Lisa, is studying homeopathy and had an interesting solution to get rid of grasshoppers. You tincture them, dilute them, then apply it to the garden. I also heard of chopping up grasshoppers in a blender, diluting them, then spraying them in the garden. I am an herbalist so Doug and I had a funny image in our heads about what people would think when seeing a quart jar of grasshoppers suspended in liquid next to the dozens of quart jars of herbal medicine.

“We’ll place it next to the eye of newt,” Doug declares.

We caught three. About three thousand to go. Same with the squash bugs. I armed myself with tweezers, tongs, a jar of soapy water, and a maniacal laugh and sought them out, drowning them as Doug destroyed the eggs off our precious squash plants. Organic gardening is equal parts manual destruction and compassion, as we save honey bees and other beneficial insects (and ourselves) by not using commercial pesticides. Doug looked into nematodes and wants to order some. They sound great. Has anyone reading this ever used them? My fear is always that once you release something, you can’t take it back. We also cannot watch our garden fall to Exodus-style plagues.

There is a certain amount of surrendering that needs to happen this time of year. What is going to be planted has been planted. What has come up will come up. What will survive will survive. And we can try our darndest to get a reasonable harvest for all the hard work and first year financial output, but in the end, we must learn to surrender and focus on the positives.

Lots of plants never germinated, came up and fried in our desert shale, or were quickly taken out by late frost or flea beetles. C’est la vie. Lots of plants are doing wonderful. The tomatoes have small green fruits on them, the potato flowers are beautiful. The corn is tall, the pumpkin and squash plants are taking over, the soup beans growing wild. The root vegetables- though stunted from the limestone beds beneath the soil- are growing well. The herbs are surviving or thriving. There are lots of positives. I was certainly getting myself depressed over the hundreds of dollars of dead trees, bushes, and wasted seeds. Part of being a farmer is surrendering and seeing the positive. Next year we will have more raised beds and older trees put in. In the meantime, I need to see the garden as half full not half empty!

One of our two gardens: The Kitchen Garden

How to save seeds:

As the spring crops go to seed, we want to save them to replant in the spring. As the plants go past their prime, they will shoot up beautiful flowers. From these flowers will come seed pods. Keep watering the plant until the seed pods are fully formed. Then clip the seed pods into a paper bag and label. In a few months, when they are fully dry, transfer to a sandwich bag or small canning jar.

I had a huge bundle of shiso greens drying on my porch a few years ago. I should have put them up but I got distracted and the chickens got into them and ate them all! I cannot find seeds for that plant anywhere now. It is always wise to save as many seeds from your plants as possible. In order to do so, order heirloom seeds. There are some hybrids you can save but you will have the best luck from heirlooms.

There are many things that we are having to buy from a farm forty minutes east of here to put up. One day we will grow it all! For now, we will enjoy the process and the farm as it is in this moment. Surrendering to all the beauty around us.

Posted in Farming

Best Farming Clothes

I almost bought a few outfits from my sister-in-law who sells really cute (really expensive) clothes. My husband reminded me that I live on a farm. Looking at those darling capris and frilly shirts- yea, they won’t last long around here. I need sturdy clothes on this farm and Walmart isn’t cutting it either. I also have the dilemma of being 5’10” and pants and shorts just aren’t made for tall girls. They will be riding up here or too short there or sagging where they oughtn’t be! And then I laid eyes on a Duluth Trading Company catalog. Oh my. My farmgirl eyes lit up.

Duluthtrading.com

These overalls are my new everyday wear. They are so comfortable! They have many pockets- you can store pens, seed packets, a cell phone, gardening shears and much, much more. The material moves with you and feels good. They have details, like double material over the knees, and snaps to bring the leg up a little. They also have shorts.

Duluth Trading Company (they aren’t paying me a dime, y’all, I’m just excited to find real good work clothes) also has great shirts, and other work wear that cost a bit more than Walmart but less than Cabi, and will last for a long, long time. It is amazing how much you can get done with the right tools, and that includes clothes!

Duluthtrading.com

The model for their gardening line is my new role model. Doesn’t she look amazing?! I am a fan of bad-ass women. The headband she is wearing has protection against insects and the sun and can be used as a face covering, around the neck, or to keep one’s hair back. I have been wearing mine nearly every day.

My son has been giving me virtual ukulele lessons. So fun! I am wearing the overalls and headband here.

Well, I better get outside and get my farm work done before it gets too scorching. Looking at 100 degrees today. Hmm, which overalls should I wear today? Happy farming!

Posted in Farming

Real Farms are not Picture Perfect (but that’s okay)

The large book I have on natural insect and disease control says that one should plant their pumpkins as far as they can away from last year’s crop to prevent squash bugs. We thought twenty-five miles would do it. Nope. It is rather difficult to have a farm named Pumpkin Hollow Farm whilst battling these invaders.

Two weeks ago we had a great hail storm. Really a doozy.

RIP Scarecrow

Followed by a huge rain storm, flood, and mud slide. It was really something.

And something ate the beans.

Farming. Not for the weak of heart.

Now, I want you to forget all those pretty, glossy pictures in the magazines. They are like social media, carefully staged and edited to look a certain way. A real farm is messy. With a bit of trash blowing around (cause it’s always windy). And squash bugs, weeds, and ducks who eat house plants left on the patio.

It is easy to focus on the negative. Where did all the cabbage seeds I planted go?…for crying out loud. It can get frustrating. Where the heck did I put that wine? It can be scary. What color would you say that cloud is? But through it all, it is miraculous. Always focus on the positive.

A restaurant wants to buy my lettuce. My friends are getting their fill of fresh, delicious eggs. I counted fifty thriving corn stalks in just one row. The birds are taking out grasshoppers. Forty-five tomato plants were found under all the mud and debris after the storm and they are thriving. The amaranth grew an inch overnight. The potatoes are busy underground and the corn will surely be knee high by fourth of July (a saying we hold to dearly around here). We are planning out our greenhouse and vineyard for next year. And best of all, we live on a farm!

I need more help around here to keep this farm going. That is a good thing. That means things are growing. The weeds are pretty high but at least they are green (rain in the desert, woohoo!). I am getting fabulously strong and tan and we are eating the best lettuce and a few peas out of the garden. After our several mile walk around our country town each evening, we water by hand. Doug takes the front gardens, I take the back, and an hour later we meet on the porch to laugh at the ducks and baby chickens and eat ice cream as the sun colorfully sets behind the mountains beyond our little farm.

Posted in Farming

How to Create a Meandering Garden

Pictured here are irises, Aunt Donna’s Jerusalem artichokes, yerba mansa, and stinging nettles in a pot. I want invasive plants, but not stinging nettles everywhere! A lid of water for the birds and toads is used often.

This is the driest terrain I have ever gardened upon. It is straight high desert, cactus loving, rattlesnake calling, no-rain-in-sight, sand and limestone. Luckily, I like a good challenge and I believe that if I work with the land instead of against it I will have great results. Putting grass everywhere is not a sustainable option. So, how does one turn a pasture (or yard of dirt) into an oasis and meandering garden? Let me show you how.

Each dark round of dirt and straw holds a medicinal plant. Cardboard and wood chips will fill the spaces between. The plants will grow up and fill out, taking over more space.

You don’t need a rototiller or tractor. We are barely disturbing the earth here. First decide what you want to plant. The area in the front of our house has been designated the Perennial Garden. Doug fenced it off from the chickens. It has dozens of medicinal herbs, fruit trees and bushes, and perennial foods, like asparagus, spread out across the area. Maybe you want lots of the same flowers. Maybe an herb garden.

Angelica and Ashwagandha mingle with annual flowers.

For each plant, dig a hole, put a handful of garden soil in the hole. Put plant in the hole. Cover with garden soil. Water for fifteen to twenty seconds. Every 10 seconds= 1 inch of water. Plants need at least two inches of water per day.

Walk a few feet away and plant the next one. You can also dig a hole, plant seeds, cover with garden soil, water. I planted pumpkins among the herbs and trees. This is Pumpkin Hollow Farm, after all.

A few feet from that, perhaps plant a tree or a bush. In the case of a meandering garden, invasive is a good word! I want the plants to fill the space. One giant butterfly and bird garden that provides perennial, sustaining foods, and medicine.

In between the plants, you can lay down cardboard and cover with thick mulch. Wood chips are especially good. Do know that some wild plants, like bind weed, can and will permeate all cardboard and mulch but the mulch keeps things tidy and makes it easier to pull up weeds, and looks rather nice. I would never use weed barrier. Oy, all that plastic. Mama Earth sure doesn’t love that. Bind weed gets through that stuff too, anyway.

We added a large rectangle of thick cardboard ringed with bricks and rocks. We topped with cardboard with 3 inches of straw, and 3 inches of garden soil and planted green beans, soybeans, collard greens, pumpkins, Hopi amaranth, and other beautiful annuals.

A garden can thrive in absolutely any soil and in any climate without the use of machinery and chemicals. We hand water each night so that we can see how each plant is doing. They get plenty of sun. (Maybe too much, all forty of my tomato starts in the kitchen garden fried!) And the plants will reseed and spread themselves, creating an enchanting meandering garden.

Posted in Farming

Let’s Get Back to Farming

There is no doubt that this has been a very stressful time for most of us for many different reasons. Now, we can only handle so much stress and attempts to control things out of our hands. It’s time we leave the craziness and get back to farming. I have lots of things to show you and farming and gardening techniques to teach you, and such, but on this lovely spring day, I thought I would show you some images of my farm. We have been busy around here the past few weeks.

Brom Bones (inside doorway) and Ichabod Crane enjoy the sunshine this morning.
When we bought this farm late last summer, I made note of the lilac bushes on the property. Lilacs are one of my favorite flowers. This week there have been a multitude of butterflies flitting around the gardens bringing with them signs of hope.
Good morning Ladies!
Hopefully soon these innocent looking chicks and ducklings can move outdoors! The white chicks (leghorns) keep flying all over the bathroom. There is chicken poop all over and the ducklings actually got poop near the ceiling. That is farm life for ya! Beware using the guest bathroom!
I planted dozens of medicinal herbs. Here, Bear Root hangs out with the new rose bush my friend gave me for my birthday.
The spring gardens look good. This week I will replant the spaces that didn’t germinate. The new rows coming in are being planted with summer crops over the next few weeks. My cousin came over and looked out the window and exclaimed, “Did Doug do all that by himself?!” People are still surprised that women can be farmers! Ha!
Socorro at eight months old is the self appointed queen.
Linus and Booboo- Cats are best left indoors. Between cars, coyotes, foxes, dogs, people, disease, and poisons, cats don’t live long lives outside. When cats are outdoors, neither do song bird populations. Mine prefer the couch anyway.
This is a tiny nest above the door in the mini-barn. An American Pipit couple guards these tiny eggs. Life goes on, nature goes on, all will be well.