Farmgirl School

"It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life." -Tolkien

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.

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!

As we walk around our little town each evening, down red dirt roads and surrounded by mountain ranges, we are amused by the eclectic makeup of this place. We pass run down trailers, the yards filled with decades of accumulation. We pass new houses (definitely city transplants)- large “country” homes with landscaped yards and a few horses. We pass lots of old houses with large signs that state, “Enter at your own risk! No trespassing! Shots will be fired!” By looking at the old places one can certainly guess that government conspiracy theories and old Veterans might live here, and that would be true. I’m not ready to put up a sign, but I will tell you the older I get, the more I stand with them.

This Covid thing just increased my skepticism in the sanctity of government. The CDC keeps getting caught in lies and misinformation. During the lockdown, a bill requiring children to have any vaccination the state sees fit was pushed through quietly. Information changes daily, the government wields its agendas while more people than I have ever seen in my lifetime lose their jobs, and continue to do so. It makes you kind of wonder about things.

If my husband lost his job today, would we be prepared? (a resounding NO fills the air) Most of us wouldn’t. If the grocery store shelves were once again empty, would we be prepared? Homesteading isn’t a fad or a crazy hermit mentality. It is not an extreme lifestyle or a paranoid action. It is just smart. Plain and simple.

You don’t have to list your house and move to the middle of nowhere. You don’t have to go off grid. You don’t have to buy overalls (though they are super cute) and stock up on shotguns. But, let’s be honest, we have to do something! We have handed way too much power over to companies, entities, and government.

Maybe today list 5 things you could do to be prepared in the case of job loss, empty grocery store shelves, or natural disaster. Do you want to try to save an extra hundred dollars a month? Do you want to learn to pressure can? Want to get a clothes line? Want to get a wood stove? Want to list your house and move to a cheaper state? We can go as simple or extreme as we want, but let’s do something to be prepared for emergencies and life changes.

My blog can help. If you type in anything you want to learn into the SEARCH section on the side of the page (if you are on a computer, at the bottom if you are on a phone), you will likely find informative posts and DIY. The internet and old books are filled with valuable information for those of us raised post World War II! That was the pivotal era when folks opted to buy frozen dinners and pharmaceuticals and move to the suburbs. We don’t have to get paranoid (how come the advertisements on facebook are for the very thing my friend and I were talking about the yesterday?), but we can get smart. Maybe a ’38 Special and canning jars aren’t such a bad idea.

I want to make it clear that we aren’t doing these things out of fear. Being prepared, and being fearful are different. Homesteading is really a beautiful way to live. We used to be much more sufficient and we are working towards that again. Seeing jars of beautiful vegetables and fruits lining wooden shelves, the smell of clothes fresh off the line, wood smoke and a Dutch oven of stew simmering on top of a wood stove, money in a coffee can, and friends over to play instruments while watching the sunset with a glass of homemade wine. Rows of vegetables growing, medicinal plants in the gardens, chickens laying eggs, children running through pastures with goats. Peace. That is what homesteading is really about.

I wish I were a natural, but I am no prodigy. I began playing the piano at eight years old. I started to play the guitar in seventh grade. I have taken violin lessons. Taken music in college. Every time I sit down to the piano, I have to relearn everything. My brother can still play the same songs he learned when we were kids. I can’t pick out Mary Had a Little Lamb.

My son, Andy, on the other hand, is a musician. He can hear the music. I have to read music. He can just play it. When he was twelve years old, he had dreadlocks and pirate earrings, a Bob Marley t-shirt, and a banjo that he walked around the neighborhood with, playing loudly, stopping along the way to entertain. By then, he had taught himself seven instruments.

Doug and I love to sing and our children can too, so we spent a fair amount of time singing karaoke with them at bars. Our house was filled with music and singing. When the children moved out, it got rather quiet. I played the fiddle and Doug played the mandolin, but neither of us were particularly enthralled, or very good, so when we moved, we sold all of our instruments. Noticing my regret, Doug bought me a guitar for my birthday that year.

My fingers do not quite reach to set the pads of my fingertips directly on the string so my songs always sound slightly off. Lessons did me little good, because the much younger teachers gave me songs like, “Oh Susanna” and told me to practice it a million times. Easily bored, I would just stop playing with a shrug. I am no prodigy but I also have the attention span of a Border Collie.

We now have a piano and my guitar that I play here and there. Andy has been playing the ukulele a lot over the past year and a half or so. He is, of course, great at it. He assured me that this is the instrument for me! He bought me one and it arrived in the mail Friday.

He talked me through it over Snapchat video and gives me lessons and things to practice that work for me. It is a larger ukulele but small enough that my fingers reach the strings easily and the sound is so great! I am already picking up the chords and he is having me learn songs so that we can play together. I gained a new instrument and a great teacher.

Music fills our home again. Isn’t that a quintessential requirement for a homestead? Playing mountain music for the corn. Instruments are an important part of the simple life. What would you like to play?

Enjoying a cup of coffee on the porch while the ducks splash in their little swimming pool and the chickens scratch in the sunny pasture. Deciding what to bake from scratch. Walking through the garden to see what rows need to be weeded, replanted, and what ought to be harvested. A chat with the neighbor over the fence. Homesteading allows us the great privilege of simplifying our life to the point where our days are spent how we wish. Homesteading doesn’t mean we don’t work anymore (we have been in a position where we didn’t have a homestead or jobs, and not working is just not fun)- we do plenty of work around here, but we do it out of gratitude and we have the ability to live on less.

Here are some farmgirl money tips to help you achieve your dream- whether it is to farm full-time, buy a homestead, homestead where you are, be a stay-at-home mom, or just live on less.

You Don’t Need to Make More, You Need to Spend Less

I love books on pioneering and old ways of living. In the Foxfire books that I am reading, the old timers chose to continue living how they always did, even in the 1970’s, when they could have lived a modern life. Many of us do not want to give up anything. We work, and work, for things that do not add to our life or that could easily be lived without. It’s all in your perspective. I didn’t grow up with much and my husband grew up with a lot, so I think we live in the Ritz and he thinks we are living rather low on the totem pole. I would be just as happy in a much smaller house (our current house is 1100 sq. ft.) in a warm climate, off-grid. Doug cannot live without his IPOD and wifi. So, we meet in the middle and homestead our own way. You can too. Remember, don’t make more, spend less.

Do you need cable television?

How much do you spend on subscription services like Netflix, Amazon, and the like?

Can you use the computers at the library for wifi?

Do you need a new car, or can you buy a used one with cash?

Do you need a smart phone? Do you need all the bells and whistles?

You can lower your electric bill substantially by unplugging anything that leaches energy. Unplug phone cords, lower unused freezers down to their lowest setting, turn off the porch light, turn off lights when not in use, turn off the LED lights on appliances. When making a new purchase, try to get one that is manual instead of one that plugs in. Use a clothes line instead of the dryer. Get some kerosene lamps for winter!

You can lower your gas bill substantially by investing in a wood stove. Not only will you be set if the power or furnace goes out, you will have the lovely ambiance of a stove that you can warm by or cook on while cutting your gas bill.

Good Savings Habits

Stay away from credit cards! Warning, money trap! 28% interest! You do not need them to raise your credit. You can still buy a house. And for everything else we are going to try not to take out loans and use cash, so the high credit score is moot anyway!

Use a cash based budget and you will save money. It is far too easy to use plastic money these days.

Put up $1000 for emergencies and then pay off debt.

Some money every month needs to go towards debt. The sooner we all get out of debt (we’ve made our fair amount of bad decisions and have a bit of debt), the sooner we regain our freedom and live better.

This one came from my son (who is, thankfully, much smarter than we are about money)- take half of what you have left over after paying bills and put it in savings. “Even if you have $25, put $12.50 in savings!” Andy told me. Smart kid.

Look where your money is going to. At the beginning of the month, before the lockdown was over, I had $400 extra to put towards my car payment in addition to the regular payment. Once the restaurants opened up again, there isn’t a cent of it left! What is your vice? Around here, a lot of people spend a lot of money on marijuana. Alcohol isn’t cheap. New cars aren’t cheap. In order to live a simpler, more peaceful lifestyle, we all have to figure out what can go. What we don’t need. What we no longer want to work towards.

How To Make Money to Homestead

Start your own business. Keep it simple. Keep it small. We used to do several farmer’s markets a week selling our herbal medicines. Before that I sold handmade puppets and throw pillows at craft fairs. In some places you can set up a roadside stand. Or do larger shows. Or advertise online. What do you do well? Can you teach it? Demonstrate it? Write about it? Sell it?

There is no shame in having a 9-5 job. My husband enjoys having a set paycheck. We have created a lifestyle that only requires one income.

“A penny saved, is a penny earned.” What can you do that you typically pay someone else or a company to do for you? Be your own grocery store! Grow some of your own food. Preserve your own food. Make some of your own clothes. Learn new skills. Have your own animals. Cook and bake from scratch instead of buying processed foods. Walk or ride your bike.

Live Well

Living simply doesn’t mean suffering. If something means a great deal to you and you really enjoy it, then keep it in your life. If you fell for advertising on facebook and just bought cheap clothes from China, that was a money trap (and one less bag of chicken feed you could have bought).

There are plenty of free activities to keep you busy. Make a phone call to an old friend. Write a letter. Go hiking. Have people over for dinner. Utilize the library for books and movies. Play an instrument, paint, sew, weave, and spend time with people you love.

Be brave and really look at your money and how you can live simpler and live a homestead life. Do you need a big house and green lawn? Do you need all the electronics? Do you need a vacation to the Bahamas? Do you need the new Subaru?

Or would peace of mind and coffee on the porch suit you better?

The loom and its parts have been with me for years now but I could not make any sense of any of it until yesterday when I took my first weaving class. What a great day! I learned what a heddle and shuttle was and how my loom works. I made a pretty, southwestern wall hanging that I finished last night and hung from an interesting stick. I cannot wait to start the next project!

Doug thought it would be a good idea for me to learn a new skill that would take me through the winter and hopefully bypass those winter blues. The ladies of old spent their winters in front of the fire spinning, weaving, and creating clothes, bedspreads, quilts, towels, socks, shawls, and pants. Lots of work to do and those women started with the sheep themselves and ended with a wardrobe. From fleece to fabric. It all amazes me. I wonder if the folks two or three generations ago knew how sacred their many crafts and skills were and how lost they would become.

I have had two spinning wheels, carders, a drop spindle, and had sheep and alpacas- all for brief times. We would move, I would feel like I couldn’t get the skill down, and I would sell them. (Not the sheep, I didn’t want to give up the sheep!) We plan on getting sheep next spring. I plan on getting a spinning wheel. And I plan on making a beautiful garment from fleece, to washing, to natural dying, to spinning, to weaving.

Our local yarn store in the next town over (which my husband always jokes is aptly named, “Yarned and Dangerous”) offers classes and that is how I found Diane. She is a great teacher. She plans on taking spinning classes at the shop. I would like to as well. I love fiber arts and have always been fascinated. Find yourself a local place that does classes and learn a new skill! Not only does it feel great to learn something new, you can also help revive lost arts.

We are in the peas! As we wind down rhubarb and pea season, I made a few great recipes for you to try.

Spring Pea Soup

This soup came together fast and was so creamy and delicious.

Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil into a soup pan and heat over medium.

Add a chopped carrot, a few cloves of a garlic, and a handful of diced onion and saute until soft.

In a good blender add 1 can of rinsed navy beans, 1 jar or can of peas (I had a jar that didn’t seal) not drained, and 1 cup of vegetable broth, and a splash of white wine.

Add 1 teaspoon each sea salt, dill, minced dried onion (or add any seasonings you want) and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Pour in vegetables and oil and process for a few seconds until creamy. Pour back into pot.

Add another cup of vegetable broth to get to desired consistency and heat through. Serve with garlic croutons.

Garlic Croutons

Take day (or four) old bread and cube. Place on cookie sheet (I always use the toaster oven). Drizzle well with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until toasted and dry.

The Easiest Rhubarb Custard in the World

I LOVE custard. I do not love separating eggs and double boiling and such. Well, I don’t mind it, per se, but I rarely take the time. This recipe turned out amazing. I took a little old lady’s oral instructions for custard from the Foxfire 2 book I told y’all about and created my own. In this one, my crust floated up to the top like those old Impossible Pies Bisquick used to market! It was still delicious.

Biscuit Crust

In a mixing bowl combine 3/4 cup flour, 1 Tablespoon sugar, 1/2 tablespoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Add just under 1/4 cup of walnut oil (or olive oil), and 1/3 cup of almond milk (or regular milk). Blend well and spread into a pie plate that has been lightly spritzed with olive oil. Sprinkle with walnuts

Filling

In the same bowl mix 1/2 cup each of flour and sugar. Whisk 1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk together well and add 1 cup of almond milk (or milk) and a splash of good homemade vanilla extract. Add to flour and sugar mixture and whisk well. Now add sliced rhubarb (I used a cup of canned rhubarb because I had one that didn’t seal!) Pour over crust.

If you don’t want to add rhubarb, just add a teaspoon of nutmeg and cook without fruit. Or add another kind of fruit!

Cook at 325 degrees in a toaster oven or 350 degrees in a standard oven for 30 minutes or until middle doesn’t jiggle.

Let cool and serve with coffee. It is a real treat!

Things got more efficient after we began using a paring knife to slice down the seam of the pods to free the spring peas. “Everyone is getting a scheduled C-section!” Doug declared. It certainly made us faster as we shelled thirty-seven pounds of peas.

Is it worth it?

Hail destroyed the majority of our peas and what survived is scarcely giving us garnishes for our salads so we bought over a bushel from a local farm. The cost was fairly reasonable for organic peas but once we add our time in, it is still a good deal? We are using clean glass jars instead of BPA cans at the store (healthier), organic, local peas are unheard of in the grocery store (lower footprint, fresher food), and homesteading is not only my job, but our lifestyle and having fresh peas that we put up in January? Yes, please. There is also the by-product of shelling peas. The pea pods become delicious broth, animal feed, and compost. Definitely worth it!

Kittens make fabulous helpers! (Not really.)

How to can peas:

Use clean, pint-sized canning jars. Never mind with all that boiling and what have you, just line them up in the sink and pour a kettle of boiling water over and in the jars. The point of boiling the jars was to make sure they were clean and to heat them up so that they didn’t break in the canner. We are achieving the same thing with the kettle of water. Use new lids and pour boiling water over them as well.

Fill jar leaving one inch headspace (one inch from the top) with peas. Add 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt. Pour water in still leaving that 1 inch headspace.

You can get creative with peas. Add any dried seasoning to enhance the flavors for a heat-and-serve side dish. In four of the jars I added the 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (do remember that salt is a necessary nutrient and sea salt is not the same as added sodium in processed food.), along with 1 teaspoon of lemon pepper and 1/2 clove of garlic.

Wipe off rim and place a lid and ring on to the jar. Not too tight!

Place in pressure canner filled with 3 inches of water. Replace lid to canner and turn to high. When the shaker starts a shakin’, turn it down a smidge but make sure that the shaker keeps shaking.

Pressure can for 40 minutes. (If you are normal altitude, use 10 lbs of pressure. For us high altitude folks we always use all the weights.)

Turn off heat and let the pressure release naturally. Then line the jars up on a towel and let cool and seal. The next day label and put away.

Over a bushel of peas took us a long time to shell and process BUT we ended up with over a gallon of frozen peas (click here for how-to) and 13 pints of delicious spring peas to enjoy all winter long.

Homesteading is an amazing way to take back one’s own food system, be able to feed one’s family with amazing, organic food, and always have food on the shelf. Preparation is a great thing!

My husband would get really frustrated pulling and replenishing all that bright orange plastic cord in the weed wacker every so many feet. “Where is all that plastic going?” I wondered aloud. There was shredded plastic all over the farm, basically. Not to mention the gasoline or the really long cord and electricity it required and that they were too unwieldy for me to use.

Enter the garden sickle. It is such an easy off grid device. I got mine from Territorial Seeds for twenty dollars. It is basically a mini-scythe.

Before

I don’t hoe the paths between the garden rows because Mother Earth likes some covering, and it’s just as easy to grow what she wants there. But I do give it a sleek haircut weekly.

After

You can stand or kneel. You can use the sickle in any direction. Hold it sideways and without too much pressure you just wack smoothly, like you’re giving the weeds a haircut.

The goats and ducks get excited when they see the sickle because they love the weeds that I chop up. It’s free food for the farm animals. The chickens prefer bindweed, but I just pull that up by hand.

Now, you don’t need all that fancy equipment on the farm. This simple tool will last you many years and does the job in a fraction of the time since you don’t have to stop and adjust it every ten minutes. After every few uses, clean and dry the sickle and sharpen. It has a serrated edge so be careful. Hold the sickle at a sharp 45 degree angle and smoothly drag the sharpener along the teeth a few times. You don’t want to grind down the teeth.

Sometimes I wonder if all our modern inventions didn’t just make our life harder! Try out a garden sickle and see how lovely off grid tools can be!

A fascinating book dropped into my home library by way of a student who thought I would enjoy it. It is the second in the series, and by god, I am enjoying it! Foxfire 2 has delighted me this past week with recipes, anecdotes, and interviews with homesteaders that were born in the late 1800’s. What began as a journalism class at a high school in Georgia in 1970 turned into twelve-plus books in the Foxfire series. The students interviewed and photographed elders in the Appalachian communities and surrounding areas about life during a time that most of us have never seen and most of us will never read or hear about. Without these books, a hundred years of homesteading wisdom, history, and life would have vanished. I saved up enough money to buy the whole set and I can’t wait to keep reading.

I think the folks that were interviewed in the Foxfire books would be most surprised by our lack of neighborliness and community these days. Back then, midwives delivered babies, neighbors dug graves and built caskets, elders took in the homeless, black and white folks were family to each other- the community was strong because that is how it survived. It seems a close community would have made life a whole lot less lonely and a lot more fulfilling. Wouldn’t they be surprised that we don’t know most of our neighbors’ names? That is something we just have to get back.

A long time client and friend of mine passed on last week. Death is a part of life but it always makes you sit up a little straighter and look around. Are we living the life we want to live?

You know over the years we have gone back and forth, forwards and backwards, from suburb living to hand washing clothes with a plunger and a two sided tin tub to fancy coffee machines and new clothes back to aprons and simple living. I tell you what, nothing beats simple living.

I can give you lots of reasons ranging from less bills, less stress, more security, healthier food, less hurry, more satisfaction, and more time with family. We still work hard, but that’s alright. Working hard keeps you young and makes your heart feel good. Simple living and homesteading is about choosing one’s priorities in life. Looking at one’s footprint on the earth. How much time one has for relationships that are important. And taking time to build community and help each other out. Everything has become about money. It’s not all about money. It is about community. Those around you. Your life! Sometimes it’s nice to sit with a glass of homemade wine next to your spouse and just watch the corn grow.

Check out the Foxfire book series on Amazon. It’s like gathering wisdom from the elders that have passed on.