Posted in Farming

Time to Start Seeds! (how to easily and on the cheap)

Starting seeds at home is a great way to try grow many different plants and be able to get a jump start on the season. Tomato starts, for example, can be pricey, and if you are planning on canning 200 jars of tomatoes, you are going to need a fair amount of plants. Being able to grow certain varieties that are not available in nurseries is another benefit. Every year the wind knocks some of my dried chile pods off my ristras from Taos, New Mexico, and the seeds shatter. This year I planted them alongside other chilies I am starting from seed. Mmm, delicious, homegrown red chile!

This here blog is filled with every bit of information you could ever want to learn about homesteading, farming, animal care, and self reliance, but I will tell you a secret…it is built on years of failures! Can’t learn until you kill ten dozen seedlings with root rot, right? I have written about different ways to start seeds every year, and they all work, but anymore, I am keeping it simple. One year I bought a very expensive grow light to start all my seeds. My children were teenagers at the time and one of them sold it to some kids so they could grow pot. Luckily, one doesn’t need a grow lamp to start seeds! You just need a sunny window, some recycled containers, and potting soil.

Recycled Containers

I never throw away salad containers with lids, they work amazing as mini-greenhouses!

You can also save tin cans and punch a few holes in the bottom. These work well because the plant can grow in them all the way up until it is time to transplant to the garden. The less you can disturb the plant the better, so I tend to use larger receptacles.

I even utilized old drawers from a broken refrigerator. They are clear so I can see how the roots are doing, if enough light reaches the plant, and I can plant many seeds in one container.

Potting Soil

I use potting soil instead of seed starting medium because I don’t have to transplant as quickly. The seeds germinate just fine and grow well. Purchase organic potting soil. Fill containers 3/4 of the way with soil and pour water over. Let the soil soak it up (it can hold a lot of water) and stir well, adding more soil or more water to make it evenly damp.

Plant Seeds

Seeds love to grow. Plant one or two seeds every three inches. I generally only plant one. That way I don’t waste seeds. I like to save some of the seeds to direct plant in case something goes awry with the seed starting endeavor (cats, lack of sun, over-watered…).

I plant things that need a longer growing season, like peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. I planted paprika, red chilies, green chilies, ancho chilies, Cherokee purple tomatoes and cherry tomatoes for fresh eating, and Brimmer pink and Romas for canning, Sunberries for fresh fruit, and rosemary. (All other herb seeds will be direct planted.)

Cover Plants

We want to simulate a greenhouse environment in the guest room. Covering the plants creates that condensation effect. I place sandwich bags over the cans and secure with a rubber band. I placed plastic bags that contained our vacuum parts when new over the refrigerator drawers. I used the lid that came with the mini-greenhouse. And I placed the lids back on the salad containers.

Enough Sun

Finding enough sun in this house for plants is going to be a challenge. Ideally, the plants would be set up on a table in our bedroom in front of the southwest facing window, and the cats highly agree. There is nothing more they would like to do but spill pots of seeds onto the carpet. It’s great fun, you know. Now that my husband is working from home, he has taken over the office. That leaves the guest room, which can be closed and might be ideal. I covered the bed with an oil cloth tablecloth to protect it. The room faces northeast. That is not ideal so I will have to keep an eye out and make sure enough sun is hitting the plants and that the water is continually evaporating and raining back over the plants. If not I will need to move them to prevent the seeds/seedlings from rotting away.

Water

Do not overwater! Those little legs can’t sit in water. Every few days mist with a water bottle. As the seedlings outgrow their lids, begin to lightly water as needed.

Transplants

Start seeds 6-8 weeks before the last frost date. Before you transplant, let soil dry out a bit and it will be easier to pop them out of their containers. Transplant seedlings into bigger containers as needed. Remember, that most of these plants that you are starting from seed are tropical plants in nature, so give them lots of mist and sun and they will be happy! And you will be happy come salsa season!

Posted in Farming

Time to Plant Spring Crops! (how and when)

I have a confession to make. Almost every early March for the past fifteen years, I have registered for school. Once farming season hits, I drop classes and begin my life outdoors for the next nine months. Then I am busy with crafts and rest. After Christmas, I redo my house, busily planning my garden in the back of my mind. Then hits February and early March. The tyranny of it all! I lose my sense of purpose. I become listless and not super fun to live with. I wonder about my life and my dreams and my….oh, time to plant, see ya later! I wish I could farm all year.

When a person first starts gardening, it is enough to just get everything in after the last frost date. New gardeners tend to plant everything at the same time. That is great, but then one might notice how quickly the lettuce went bitter and bolted, or the peas went to seed, and that will never do. So the gardener starts planting spring crops. We have just expanded our food window three months! Then the gardener gets hooked on fresh food and decides to start fall crops too. Pretty soon, you’re a homesteader with fresh food nine months out of the year and lots of preserves, a verifiable grocery store going on in your house! It’s good stuff and lots of fun. It is time to plant spring crops now.

Many plants enjoy cooler weather. They are the first things that we shall plant and there are other cool crops that take many months to grow, like rutabagas and celery, that need to be planted now. St. Patrick’s Day is the traditional day to plant potatoes. And the Irish know potatoes! Now, if you happen to live in a very wet climate, your potato starts are going to rot away within a few weeks, so if you garden in the north in a wet climate, you might need to wait a few more weeks. But here in dry zone 6, the timing is perfect (add a week per earlier zone to wait to plant).

Cold crops generally need to be consistently damp in order to germinate. Carrots are particularly finicky fellows when it comes to being insistent on moisture. So, if it is not going to rain or snow, plan to water once per day.

Did you read my last post? I have been busy hoeing trenches and filling them with soil in preparation. (So, if you have tried calling me, that is why I haven’t returned calls!) My seeds are separated into early spring, 2 weeks later, and 2 weeks after that. 2 weeks after that, I will begin summer seeds. I try to stay on top of things because I have trees coming and will have many herb seedlings to transplant during the next six weeks, so if it is nice out, I am outside. That is my happy place.

Here is what I plant in the spring.

  • field peas
  • two kinds of carrots (the third will be planted in the summer for winter storage)
  • snow peas
  • shelling peas
  • three kinds of onions (yellow, red, and bunching)
  • garlic
  • four kinds of lettuce spread out over the spring planting season
  • radishes
  • beets
  • rutabagas
  • scorzonera
  • parsnips
  • salsify
  • three kinds of potatoes (the fourth will be planted in a few months for winter storage)
  • cauliflower
  • broccoli
  • cabbage (another variety will be planted in the summer for winter storage)
  • arugula
  • spinach
  • two kinds of kale
  • swiss chard
  • chives
  • celery
  • rhubarb ( roots planted in the perennial garden)
  • asparagus (roots planted in the perennial garden)

I bet you didn’t know there were so many delicious food items to plant right now! Keep damp, and once the seedlings start to appear, mulch well with straw.

I always haphazardly put out plant markers but they end up disappearing, so I keep a ledger of the type of seed and where it is planted and the day I planted it. This helps me keep track of my favorite varieties (5 Silverbeet Swiss Chard!) and what doesn’t work (having a doozy of time trying to get brussel sprouts to grow). I also know what mysterious plant is coming up when the plant marker gets blown away.

Planting spring crops is a great way to spend a quasi-warm day out in the garden. Dreaming of crisp radishes and peas and new potatoes and asparagus…

Posted in Farming

Trench Planting; Easy Gardening Anywhere

“But how will you plant with all the rock?” the sweet librarian asked me. Her colleague looked on curiously.

I began rambling on excitedly about how to grow in this particular environment. The soil of our new farm is really more sandstone and red sand (with a little cactus thrown in) then it is soil. I can see how many people would look at it and think there is no way you can grow here.

The librarians nodded at me with sympathy. She must be new here. I have grown terrific gardens in driveways, the wild, untouched prairie, and neglected yards; a little sandstone and dry high desert won’t stop me now! There are four techniques over the years that I have come up with/learned/combined/improved upon that work in any situation. Having little money, living in Colorado in terrain that is not usually farmed by the sane, and really wanting fresh vegetables has given way to ingenuity. Trench planting was one of my first techniques. (I will go over the others in the weeks to come as we get to them.)

Trench planting can be done in the front yard, along a strip of driveway, or in a pre-existing garden. This year I obtained an amazing new tool for the job! It glides through the sand and soil and unearths the shale as I go. I am not sure how I have lived without a triangle hoe before!

I am using the fence here as a trellis for field peas. Field peas become split peas for winter soup! The bricks suppress weeds along the fence.

Step 1: Choose where you want your rows. Corn field in the front yard? Pumpkin patch around the porch? A dignified garden inside a fence? My three gardens this year are the same size as my entire urban farm that we moved from last summer. This technique works for a 2000 sq ft kitchen garden or a nice flower garden in the front yard.

I’m saving a lot of energy here by only hoeing only where I will plant. There is no reason to rototille the entire thing.

Step 2: Pull the hoe through the soil to make a trench the depth of the roots of your plant. So, six inch trench for carrots, 3 inch trench for peas, etc. I hoe out the weeds from last year as I come to them and move large rocks out of the trench.

Organic gardening soil can be expensive on this scale. We used our hardware store credit card to get it. If that is our only debt starting a farm, we are doing good. If you consider that this size garden will save us between $2400 and $7000 a year in groceries, the $500 soil cost is worth it. From here on out, we will amend with compost so this is a one time expense.

Step 3: Fill trench with organic gardening soil. The plants won’t be growing in the rocks and sand, they will primarily be growing in the garden soil so it doesn’t matter what the native soil is like.

Step 4: Water rows. Plant seeds. Done.

Wasn’t that so easy? Well, I mean you do have to exert some energy to hoe around. The bags of soil are kind of heavy and you’ll need to do yoga to get your back in garden shape, but creating a garden is super easy.

Maryjane and her great adorer.

My granddaughter, Maryjane, was going to help me plant peas, but she was too busy playing with Gandalf! I will be planting spring crops all week! In the coming posts, I will cover planting spring crops. Until then, soak up some sunshine and get to hoeing.

Posted in Farming

The Intricacies of Placing a Seed Order

Oh it is one of the best days of the year for me! Not my birthday, not my anniversary (that’s next week), not Christmas, it is the day I placed my seed order! Do you know this joy? Oh happy day. My seed and orchard orders are in.

I know quite a lot of folks who are just starting a garden this year. And there are some of us that are moving more towards subsistence farming and those of you that want to start farming as an occupation. So, how many seeds? What do you plant? Drooling over the gorgeous photographs in seed catalogs not only causes hunger but a bit of confusion. Where do you order from? What should you expect?

What are your goals?

So you are just starting out. The proud new owners of my urban homestead that I sold in August plowed down all of my gardens, according to my neighbor. They can’t wait to start a quaint salsa garden. After I let out my breath, I realized that maybe they don’t have time to farm like I do. Maybe a few tomatoes and hot peppers is what will bring them joy, and that’s okay! If you are just starting out, maybe choose ten things that you really love to eat. Maybe even five. Don’t get crazy with new things. Stick with the tried and true.

What is your gardening zone? When is your first frost? Look at how many days it takes on the seed package to see when you can harvest. And then add a month! If it’s really hot in your area, you will need to sow cold crops early. And you can sow them again in July for fall harvest. If they are a summer crop, you cannot plant until after the frost. Some things are going to be started indoors or you can buy f@#k up plants (a term I got from the hilarious book, The Wisdom of a Radish. It is when farmers can’t get their seedlings to grow and have to buy plant starts. This relatively refers to tomatoes and peppers.) and plant them the third week of May. There is a lot to think of so don’t go overboard with the seed order yet! Choose ten things. And go from there.

So you want to start a farm. I guess we got tired of selling all of our best stuff. We sat at our booth amongst the bigger farms with their tables filled with produce from California and Mexico, that they passed off as their own, and their piles of corn in May for cheap, as hundreds of unsuspecting patrons bought up peppers with stickers on them. The funny looks I got trying to get a buck an onion. Selling out and taking our forty dollars out to eat because we had sold our best stuff and we were too tired to cook anyway.

Niche crops and a good market are key. And anyone that has a desire to start a sustainable farm is golden in my book. My friend, Ethan farms in New York and lamented to me on the phone about how the Amish come in with their sixteen kids as slave labor and drive the prices way down at the market. There is always something. But if you have the heart for it, think big! How much space do you have? What can you grow that is unique that would be of interest? Do you have a good market nearby or a place to do a roadside stand? Make sure you grow enough for yourself as well and take a day off. Or at least half a day off. Sustaining yourself is as important as sustaining the next guy. Your personality sells the produce. So have a beautiful display and a big smile on your face when selling produce.

So you want to be a subsistence farmer. Amen sister. I hear ya. This is a new phrase for me. To feed oneself and to teach others to feed themselves is more important than taking fifty carrots to market to sell to folks who want a half price deal. So when choosing seeds, think of space. If I have a fifty foot row that I am going to plant green beans in, and I am placing them six inches apart, and the seed packet has fifty seeds in it, then I need to get two packets or one size up. Yes? Don’t get crazy now here either. I wanted to plant leeks. I love leeks. You only use the bottom third of leeks. They take 120 days from transplant. I could do it (barely) but I could grow bunching onions in half the space and have twice as much onion in my fried potatoes.

I am intensively farming a quarter acre by hand with sustainable methods. I ordered over 75 different varieties of vegetables, herbs, and grain. I ordered 12 different varieties of fruit trees and bushes. I spent a smidge over $900. Next year I will cut that into a third because of the perennials and what seed I will save, and the year after will be even less, until I am saving all my seed. For this reason, I ordered almost entirely heirloom seeds and fruit. My root cellar and pantry will be brimming with delicious food to choose from all year and I can back out of the marketplace a bit more and more. In a few years when everything is up and going, I will save $8000 a year on groceries. And of course I will grow all of my own medicines and culinary spices. I ordered a lot of seeds because variety is the spice of life and without animal products in our diet, these beautiful plants make up our entire home grocery store leaving us to only purchase staples like flour, sugar, coffee, etc. I made sure to choose some crops that are ready to harvest in late April and those that will store through January to give us as much food security and variation as possible.

Getting Started and the Bottom Line. I like Seed Savers. I got the items that weren’t available through them from Territorial Seeds. And the remaining three items on my list I ordered from Johnny’s. I ordered all my heirloom fruit from Trees of Antiquity. I love heirlooms because I love plants that can tell an interesting story. Being a history lover, I want my food to tell tales of pioneers and indigenous growers instead of what the inside of a lab looks like. Plus I can save my seeds. One of my very favorite vegetables was Shiso, a spicy Asian green, that I saved the seeds from but the chickens got into them while they were drying on the porch and they are no longer available anywhere I have looked. Save your seeds.

If everyone planted food where they are, we would change the course of the planet. We would be healthier, the planet would be restoring, our children would be able to care for themselves in the future. All the environmental woes of the world can start being erased by planting some seeds and feeding yourself. It all starts with a seed order.

Posted in Farming, Food/Wine (and preserving)

How I “Make” Money and a New Chefs Knife

Welcome 2020! You bring with it such promise and excitement for a new year! What are your dreams this year? What are your goals? One of my main goals this year is to up our food production. Not just gardening, though that is a big part of it. We also have a lofty goal of creating all of the processed food items that we typically purchase in our own kitchen.

Homesteaders always have crazy goals like that. This is my living. I am a housewife and I make the bulk of my money by not spending what I typically would if I had a full time job. I “make” money by growing most of our food and I “make” money by preparing and preserving it. I create my own grocery store. And it is lots of fun! I also “make” money because I create all of our own medicines and because we stay healthy eating homegrown and prepared food.

I received a very special Christmas gift from my husband. Jewelry, you might ask? Better. A chef’s knife. It is a beauty. And sharper than a lost sewing pin in the carpet. It will make cooking such a pleasure for me.

I love cooking and I love a challenge, so homesteading is a good job for me. I have an animal sanctuary here and for as long as I can remember, animals have been dearer to me and better friends to me than most humans. I have sworn off consuming them and their by-products. We are always healthier and happier when we are vegan and we save a lot of money. We have begun making our own veggie meats to supplement meals. It is a lot of fun, super easy, and we get more nutrition without the preservatives and unknown ingredients. I am experimenting with different cheeses as well. I was a cheesemaker for many years so I think I might be able to come up with a pretty sly alternative to smoked cheddar! It’s all a part of the fun. Lots of baking will ensue as well; granola bars, cereal, breads, desserts, tortillas.

But my main love is vegetables. I make a very good vegetarian because I crave vegetables more than anything. I will have my biggest garden yet on this new homestead. It will be nearly as big as my entire last homestead! Using roughly a third of our 1.1 acre, I will be able to grow nearly all of our vegetables and get many perennial fruit and nut trees and bushes put in. I am even going to experiment with grains, though I will count grains, some nuts, coffee, black tea, and chocolate as things that I will probably always need to purchase! But within a few years my goal is to growing, preserving, and preparing at least 90% of what we eat and have plenty for my grown family as well. Another way I “make” money is by growing my own farm.

We all have plenty of goals this time of year and mine will certainly be more fun with a chef’s knife! Let’s not forget to live in the moment. One never knows what tomorrow brings. (I do hope tomorrow brings Spring!) Happy New Year to you all.

Posted in Farming

Seven Years in Farmgirl School

Seven years ago today, I began to design a blog and was giddy with the possibilities. Dozens of journals and manila envelopes filled with typed short stories and magazine articles that I had written filled shelves in closets. I had just read about blogs and was excited to try my hand at one. Farmgirl School came to mind and I laughed out loud as I typed it out.

We were city people, reborn in the country, trying to access knowledge from generations past and from books and experiences. We worked the soil, the gardens, and they grew each year. We longed for goats, and we fell in love, and we cried when one died, and we bottle fed newborns, and we longed for goats again once they were gone. We had sheep who thought they were puppies and followed me around the farm and enjoyed singing shows in the living room wearing diapers. We laughed at ducks in swimming pools and snuggled friendly hens.

We fretted about renting that farm in that small town that we loved. We knew at some point the owners would lose it to the bank. That day came and we ushered over to a different rented farm with dreams and aspirations as big as any. Nine months later we had lost everything- scammed out of every penny- lost each beloved farm animal, and antiques and heirlooms and silverware and part of our spirits, and moved quietly and brokenly into friends’ houses until we could get back on our feet.

We moved into an apartment, worked harder than ever, saved and bought an urban farm. One of our own! We’ll be here forever, we chanted! Ah, but the country called.

And here we are, dreams come true, three months now on our own farm in the country. Our chickens love it here, as does the farm dog. The views can steal your breath away, the air is crisp. Our fourth farm is slowly coming together. Why, by next August, you will not even recognize it, for the gardens and the animals and the life here will expand along with our hearts.

Seven years. A million years ago and a breath ago, it seems. It has been quite a road.

This blog has become a beautiful, exponentially important journal of how-to do just about anything. I, myself, refer back to it constantly for recipes and reminders of how to do things. Thousands of people have followed my Chokecherry Wine recipe- the ongoing number one blog post of mine, with How to Make Your Own Witchhazel on its heels.

164, 850 times people have read my blog. That is really something. The reach we can have with our words. Oh, I occasionally quit the blog when I don’t think I will be farming anymore, or when I think I want to do something else, and two weeks later, here I am posting again, because it has become entwined with my being. Farmgirl School has become as much a part of me as my name.

Here’s to seven more years in Farmgirl School. I oughta really know my stuff by then! Thanks for hanging around.

Posted in Farming

Moving Aunt Donna’s Garden (and how to create a cottage garden)

We climbed out of the truck at Aunt Donna’s house. My cousin and I fought back a few tears at the thought that she wasn’t here. Nor will she be again. Her gardens were so dry, but the snap dragons and the huge trees stayed true to Aunt Donna’s garden with color and life. We were there to pick up wood for my new wood stove.

My Great-Aunt Donna

Janet and I walked around the back yard reminiscing. The old swing that used to hold family laughing, rocking back and forth. The family gatherings on the porch.

My Andy and Emily on Aunt Donna’s swing at one of the many family get-togethers we had at her house.

The decades old rhubarb was gone. The apple tree looked the same but with no apples. A broken limb hung from its girth.

I went to the shed and found all of her tools still in place. I took a shovel and went to the Oregon Grape Root that I always gather this time of year from her house. The last time, most likely. The house will be sold soon after the estate sale.

I filled a small bucket of water. I pulled up some of the Echinacea and placed it in the water. I dug up a few Sumac tree starts that had scampered away from the large trees. “Come with me, kids,” I said to the silent plants, “we are moving to a new garden.”

My own land here isn’t ready to plant. There is no amended soil. Just limestone and clay as far as the eye can see. The previous owner put in a small strip of garden along the front of the house with a plant every few feet for curb appeal to help the house sell. You know me and inter-planting; no soil unused! I filled in some of the spaces.

It is very easy to transplant anywhere you live.

  1. Simply dig a hole.
  2. Water the hole.
  3. Let it drain.
  4. Sprinkle a little organic garden soil in the hole.
  5. Put plant in the hole.
  6. Cover with soil.
  7. Give a little more water.
  8. Talk to it and tell it how happy it will be here if it will grow!
Sumac and a stone from Aunt Donna’s garden.

I do this every time I plant a tree or transplant a plant or bush. To prevent weeds and to keep invasive plants in place, put cardboard around the plants and top it all off with wood chips or straw. Everything looks beautiful, there was no need to rototille everything, and one can fit a lot of plants in a seemingly small area. It is the secret to creating a sprawling, cottage garden.

Pinterest.

I will increase the size of the garden next year with the same technique and establish a walkway. A hundred medicinal herbs and more flowers and pleasing plants will join the garden. It won’t be Aunt Donna’s garden, but with any luck, her plants will thrive here and I will have a little piece of her spirit in my cottage garden.

Posted in Farming, Homestead, Our Family

The Multi-Generational Legacy of Farming and Homesteading

The garden once Gandalf moves to the goat and sheep yard.

I wish we had started homesteading and farming long ago. It would be nice to have a multi-generational legacy of land and tradition that becomes genetically ingrained in the children and is always a sense of comfort and a place to return. My eldest child grew up near the beginning of our journey so he had little experience with the farm (though he can grow anything), but perhaps he had some connection, because he would like a farm of his own some day. My middle child tends to pots of tomatoes and peppers, herbs and flowers that flourish on her second floor deck as she watches the deer cross her yard in her mountain-like neighborhood. My youngest daughter was around the most and seeing her hold a newborn goat for the first time was to watch a thirteen year old melt. So enthralled with farm life she became, and she and her husband are adamant about getting a farm and homesteading off grid. And of course, my granddaughter, has been a farmgirl since birth. Photo shoots with goats her first year and farmer’s markets in bonnets. Bottle feeding goats her second year, gardening her third, and so forth. She is the most excited about our new farm. Her baby sister will love it here too, I just know it. So, better late than never!

I will tell you a secret though; moving here to this gorgeous piece of land, I considered (gasp) not homesteading or farming (for like a week). Hang up my farmstead aprons and become a “normal” wife. I could get a job and wear smart pant suits and buy cans of food (instead of pulling them from the root cellar) and keep all the land as it is. I sat out on the back porch with my farm dog (who is a little bored without charges as am I) and looked out across the cedars and cactus, across the deep valleys, up the mountain tops, across the larger-than-life western sky, and then started envisioning things. Ah yes, normalcy didn’t last for long, because that (pointing) would be the perfect place for goats and sheep. That area could be kept wild for the bunnies and natural medicine. There is the vineyard, of course. There is the huge pumpkin patch and corn field as you enter the property. Here is the garden. There is where the clothes line will go. And so forth. Doug had the same ideas, so it wasn’t long until in our minds, a fully functioning homestead and farm was painted and planned. Homesteading and farming is hard work, but it is deeply satisfying, soul enriching, life giving work. And comes with wonderful things like homemade cheese and wine.

The goat and sheep yard
The vineyard
I can see this shed with a huge mural of pumpkins on the side! Need to contract my girls!
Welcome to our farm.

My grandparents grew up on farms (and had no desire to ever step foot on one again) and I was fascinated by their stories, always asking questions. The “normal” today is actually just the status quo. Farming and homesteading were not only the norm, but the expected, in every generation from my grandparents back. And I am honored to be a part of it. We will start this generational wisdom over starting here. Because it is important work. Environmentally, emotionally, sustainably, and beautifully important. Watch us grow!

What is your favorite aspect of homesteading/farming?

Posted in Farming, Food/Wine (and preserving)

Apple Harvest Day

We bumped the wagon haphazardly over the irrigation ditches to get to the next row of apple trees. Many were long picked over but there were still a few varietals heavy with fruit. Old to ancient apple trees lined many acres in perfect rows.

We are in the planning stages of our new farm. Where do we want to put the fruit trees? We will set up a separate area for them instead of just throwing them into the yard. In past houses, if they survived, they were in the middle of garden beds and mowing paths.

Ayla tried to take a bite of apple and smiled that huge, jack o’lantern grin. She opted for a stick instead. Maryjane picked out a white, Lumina pumpkin (our family favorite), and helped me harvest apples as Emily snapped photos.

My granddaughters are so beautiful!

Third Street Apples is a real treat. Pick all the apples you wish and then pay per pound less than sale priced grocery store apples shipped in from Venezuela (or wherever). Support local farms and have a ball doing it! Maryjane sat in the grass watching a ladybug crawl around the top of her apple.

I filled my apron with apples, so Maryjane gathered her shirt and did the same. That child is efficient, for when she poured her apples into the basket, it overflowed! I have a lot of apples to process now. I am not very good at making pies, I am afraid. A farmgirl skill I need to perfect, but I can make one, or maybe a tart. I will can apple sauce (see my recipe here), but I am the only one who likes apple sauce so maybe I will juice some as well. Oh! I can make apple wine, or freeze some apples. I will decide what to do soon, but in the meantime, I had a lovely day at a local farm with my granddaughters and my daughter making memories.

And in a few years, the children will be harvesting from our own family orchard. What is your favorite thing to do with apples?

Posted in Farming, Homestead

Starting a Farm and Homestead (Pumpkin Hollow Farm adventures continue)

“And just like that, we are homesteading again!” Doug said as he walked into the house after work. Two pressure canners were sputtering on the stove, twelve quarts of homemade chicken broth within. The house smelled wonderful. I was in the process of making cheese. We ate tortellini en brodo alfresco while pointing out where we should put our Pumpkin Hollow Farm sign. Yes, just like that, we will be farming again too.

The first real homestead we had was gradual; first a garden, then chickens, then goats, we learned one thing at a time. The next thing we knew we were practically living off grid and cooking on a wood cook stove! We have learned a lot over the past decade. I waited to see if Doug wanted to homestead and farm. I didn’t want to just jump into it. After all, it is an expensive adventure to start and it is a lot of work. He keeps talking about breeds of goats, and wethered sheep, and plotting the grazing section and where to put our vineyard…we went and picked up fencing for goats and sheep. We’re in. Homesteading isn’t just a job or a lifestyle, it becomes a very part of you.

I couldn’t remember how much it cost to have farm animals (besides chickens), it has been four years since we have had goats and sheep (that is how long it has taken us to get back to the country). This blog holds, not only my memoir within it, but so much information that I constantly resort back to. I looked up “How Much Does it Cost to Have A Farm Animal” from the first year I started this blog. I was pleasantly surprised to see that prices have only increased about 20%. I did expect higher. We should still be well in our budget to feed some more furry kids that give milk and fiber.

I have been visiting local vineyards. Grapes grow very well here and I would love to start my own winery. Even if it is just for me and my friends to start. A lot of folks focus on one thing, maybe beef, or chickens, or vegetables. They aren’t all over the map like I am. I want to have a vineyard, use my own plants to dye my own fiber from my sheep, create beautiful crocheted and sewn pieces to sell, have a huge pumpkin patch, a large garden, have milking goats, and still leave land to be wild and a safe place for bunnies. (Gandalf loves bunnies. They are as delicious as the chickens, apparently.) I love to have variety. That way, I always have what we need and my creative expressions can change as well. I am not going to get burnt out having sheep if I only have two!

When plotting your homestead, first write out what you would like. Garden? Chickens? Ducks? Remember that poultry will consume everything in their path, so they have to be separate from the garden. Goats? They will eat trees down to nothing so the orchard (did you want an orchard?) has to be fenced away from the cute ruminants. Do you have a niche you want to focus on? Don’t think of money while you are writing down your list. What do you want to do? Then draw out your land (even if it is a quarter acre or in the city) and sketch in where you will put everything. Decide on priorities based on money and time to get things started.

Then note where you might make extra money from your homesteading adventures but always have a back up plan. That is the most valuable lesson we learned over the past ten years. Pumpkin Hollow Farm continues on! Our family is excited.

Where are you at in your homesteading adventures? My granddaughter, Maryjane, has loved our farms and has made so many memories. I want to have Grammie and Pa’s farm for her and her sister. So, it’s not all serious here. Homesteading and farming should be fun.