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?

The Very Fancy French Cheese Cave (cheese recipes and homesteading lists)

My fancy, French cheese cave arrived today. Well, it’s a mini fridge, but it will work the same!

The cheese cave does not take up much space. It has shelves built in. At the very, very lowest setting, the mini fridge will be around 55 degrees. Which just so happens to be perfect for aging cheese.

Use a laser thermometer to check temps often. I turned the dial down a little further.

One must take care to keep a drip pan under the tiny freezer compartment, because it will not get cold enough to stay frozen, so it will drip. That moisture is just the right amount of humidity to age cheese.

Once a week, wipe down shelves with soapy water, taking care to leave no residue that could permeate the cheese. Mold will start having a party, because that is what mold does when it is given ample amounts of cheese and temperate weather. Never mind it, it will not hurt you. Just wipe off mold from aging cheese with salt water (1/2 lb sea salt to 1/2 gallon hot water until dissolved. Keep in refrigerator.) Turn the cheeses over once a week.

Make sure to label the cheese. They all do begin to look amazingly alike after awhile. This one is a Parmesan cheese I made that will be ready next year on my birthday in April. It is already almost three months old and is getting a nice layer of olive oil to keep it from drying out.

I have a hard Italian cheese in the press. A woman reached out to me on Facebook and offered me my dear, dear departed friend and farmgirl business pal, Nancy’s cheese press! Lots of homestead memories right there sitting on the counter. The cheese will go into a brine this evening (same sea salt recipe as above) and then dry for a few days, then go into a red wine bath for another day or two, then will age for three weeks. (for a trip down memory lane, click here) (for the Italian cheese recipe that is no longer in the new additions of Home Cheesemaking, click here)

The soft cheeses, like Chevre, stay in the regular refrigerator and should be eaten in about a week. The cheese cave is for cheese that is aged longer than a week, typically 3 weeks to 9 months. (to learn how to make soft goat cheese, click here)

Even though we just moved onto our new homestead a month ago and are missing key elements to a self sustaining homestead (like goats, sheep, and gardens), there are still plenty of ways to homestead without a homestead while getting a homestead set up! The gal down the street sells me her milk that I make cheese out of. I purchase beautiful yarns (or use what I have!) and am getting ready to crochet some beautiful pieces for fall. I can tend to my chickens, pray that my farm dog will like goats, get the goat fencing put up, break down a processed chicken for supper, and make kombucha and other delicious additions to a healthy, happy homestead. Which now has a very fancy French cheese cave.

5 Farmgirls

(Note: this particular mini fridge has ended up staying at around 44 degrees. So, I have been experimenting with using it as a cave with ice packs and that seems to be keeping it closer to temperature.)

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.

Simple Autumn Decor

I absolutely adore this time of year. Autumn is my favorite season, and September is the sweet spot of the whole calendar. The cool desert mornings and starlit nights, warm days, hints of wood smoke, changing leaves, and the colorful harvest all culminate into a beautiful time of year that inspires and settles my spirit. I want to infuse the colors and the feeling of Fall into my wardrobe, my meals, and throughout my house.

The colors of Autumn trees inspire my color palette most of the year, with rich golds, reds, and bright oranges. Mums and throw pillows add these easily to any room.

A simple, faux leaf garland added to each room- over the bed frame, or across the piano- adds a touch of autumn whimsy.

A simple Pyrex bowl of found goodies becomes a charming still life. Here I used pine cones, cedar, and faux leaves. (If you have more deciduous trees than I, feel free to add in real leaves!)

A black cat always adds a nice touch to autumn decor!

Of course, being Pumpkin Hollow Farm, it is probably obvious that we love pumpkins in this family! Jack be little, Princess, Lumina, or Warty, they all make a lovely display. I hope the new owners of my last house are enjoying their pumpkins, this year we buy, but next year the front of the house will be swarming with many types of pumpkins.

Admiring colorful mums, picking up beautiful leaves, decorating with pumpkins, enjoying a glass of wine, making an apple pie; however you celebrate the season, may it bring you great joy and inspiration!

Tissu à Colorier avec des Plantes (coloring fabric with plants)

Creating La Belle Vie is my primary blog these days. My blog post about dying fabric with herbs and vegetables may appeal to some of you farmgirls out there! Sign up to follow my other blog so you don’t miss a thing!

Creating La Belle Vie

I was so inspired by an article in the September issue of Martha Stewart magazine about an artist who grows wonderful herbs and flowers for dye and colors her own textiles to create art.

Many years ago some dear friends of mine bought me a picture that showed a woman weaving and had each plant for color listed around her. I often looked at that and thought I would do that some day.

I dreamed of it all last week, planning out a beautiful dye garden. In the meantime I bought some gorgeous purple cabbage, took one of Doug’s old t-shirts, and began to create something beautiful varying the recipes given in that article.

In a stainless steel pot, I brought 12 cups of water and 2 cups of sea salt to boil and added the shirt. That simmered for one hour. When cool, I pulled it out, wrung it…

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The Lost Bottle of Chokecherry Wine

I came across it while moving. It was hiding amongst the vinegar bottles that look the same. A precious bottle of sparkling, party dress red colored Chokecherry wine.

My blog post on How to Make Chokecherry Wine from nearly five years ago has been my overwhelmingly most popular article. It has had well over five thousand views. I haven’t seen any chokecherries growing in southern Colorado so haven’t made any since. It was fun to open that old memory filled bottle.

Back in my kitchen in Kiowa, about five years ago this week, I poured the half gallon jars of dark, tart chokecherries into a large pot. My tiny one and a half year old granddaughter, Maryjane, had assisted me in picking the chokecherries from the numerous bushes around our old rented farmhouse.

I poured a little wine into a glass so I could see the color. The red had tiny glimmers of orange, denoting age. The aroma was of summer berries. Hints of strawberry came through the chokecherry in the flavor with just a hint of bitter and sweet. And it was hot! I don’t mean temperature, I mean alcohol! I don’t have anything to test it with, but Doug said it was probably the same as rum or other spirits.

In two ounces of chokecherry wine, I added 3 ounces of cold white wine, and 2 ounces of fresh apple cider. It was a delicious fall cocktail. It was quite fun finding the lost bottle of chokecherry wine. I hope you are busy preserving. This weekend I think I will try my hand at making apple wine!

The Life of an Ordinary Woman (a fascinating book)

“To really learn about history, there is nothing quite as good as a memoir.”

-KS

This book. I am mesmerized as I turn the pages. I am transported to a time that few books have written about, particularly by women. What was it like during the mining booms? What was it like to live in the mountains in a time where corsets, trains, and horse drawn sleighs were the norm? One could read textbooks and proper dates and names, but to be transported there, a memoir is necessary.

I love memoirs about homesteading and farming (not to mention memoirs from the 1800’s or travel memoirs, or autobiographies- I just love to know about people) and I find that I learn so much more in tales of recollection than I do in DIY books. The Life of an Ordinary Woman by Anne Ellis is a fascinating and clear account of her life. She came to Colorado in a covered wagon. She was raised in a mining town. Her coming of age story speaks openly about her first love, her exasperation with her mother being with child all of the time, her accounts of helping to raise her siblings. The entertainment, decor, and lifestyles of this time are at the same time so different than our current lives, yet oddly similar.

This memoir spans from 1875 to 1918 but continues the dialogue in the introduction and in a second book. We read a lot of male accounts of history but this brave woman’s accounts showed me intimately just how damn hard it was back then. Anything we face in this day and age just cannot compare to the trials and every day dilemmas of that time. Her mother had a phrase when people were doing well, “They are having their white bread now.”

I had a dear friend when I was young who was born in 1892 so it reminds me that this story was not so long ago. I find myself wanting a long black dress trimmed in velvet with hoops beneath. I wonder if that will come back into style. The fun of this book is that it takes place in Colorado, not very far from where I reside. So the names from Pueblo to Westcliff, to Denver and Salida are at once familiar yet foreign, as it was all so very different. This book is a fascinating account of a women’s life as a bride and mother, life in mining camps in Colorado in the 1800’s, of life, love, loss, and hope, and most importantly, it is an accurate account of history. I do hope you will read it!

Homestead, Hobby Farm, or Commercial Farm?

“And sometimes I dream of things very, very fine,

but then realize a love of simple things is mine.”

-Katie Lynn

So you are ready to start something; growing food, raising animals, starting a new hobby. You have a bit of land or a plot in the city. You have checked zoning, read every homesteading and farming memoir in the library system, have been following my blog, and have a little bit of money to put towards an agricultural endeavor. Now, do you want a homestead, a hobby farm, or a commercial farm?

We have been homesteading for seven years now. Splitting logs if we have a wood stove, starting a small commercial farm with wool, eggs, milk, vegetables, and herbal medicines. Before that we had a small hobby farm where everything almost paid for itself but not much more. And we have lived on a “regular” paycheck and used homesteading as a means to save money and have a better life.

We have found ourselves in the most wonderful of circumstances; we are now the proud owners of a 1.1 acre lot zoned AG in the country. There are restrictions on how many animals one can have per acre. I do not have irrigation or water rights (the city water is from up the road from the reservoir and it’s quite good and not too expensive). My husband works full time and the children live over an hour away so I will be doing most of the work on this new farm. Land and houses are expensive in Colorado so our mortgage is high and will take a lot of our budget. All things to consider.

Homesteading: Homesteading is a a great way to live a simple, healthy, pretty self sufficient life. It generally includes a garden (anything from a community garden to a huge plot of land counts), avid preserving (120 pints of tomatoes…check!), a few farm animals (maybe a few chickens for eggs, ducks for laughs, goats for milk, and moving up from there), and a great respect for the lifestyles of our ancestors. There is nothing quite like gathering around the fire at night, the oil lamps lit, knitting on your lap, laughter in the air, time as a family sacred.

I will definitely be getting a homestead back in place here over the next year. Already, I miss my garden and harvesting what I want to eat. Popping open a jar of preserves without having to read the ingredients. Installing a wood stove and gathering kindling. Start milking goats again. I have homemade presents in mind for Christmas this year and new inspirations for crafts.

Homesteading generally saves money but it does take a lot of time so a stay at home wife or someone that can work their own hours can excel at this.

Hobby Farm: A hobby farm tries to pay for itself. The goats start to produce milk and you have excess, so sell the rest or make cheese and other products. Sell the extra eggs. Everyone pulls their own weight. The goats pay for their own feed, so do the chickens. A lot of people raise meat on their farms. Meat chickens grow to market weight in 6-8 weeks. Set up a U-pick or CSA or set up at a farmer’s market to sell extra produce.

An outside paycheck generally covers the costs of living expenses and the farm covers itself. Always make sure you have enough to live on plus enough to take care of animal feed in case the goats dry up, the chickens stop laying, or the garden gets destroyed by hail! Taking care of a farm is a year round chore but it is all seasonal. Planning for the down times takes a lot of stress away.

Commercial Farm: Oh, but you have a really great idea! Lots and lots of vegetables, specialty mushrooms, lamb, wool, flowers, etc. You have the land, you have the start up. You can get your name registered with Secretary of State and get a website. You can claim profits and losses on your taxes. You can qualify for grants and live your dream full time! Find some interns, and go for it!

We wouldn’t mind going this route. Our farm is named Pumpkin Hollow Farm and I have lots of ideas for pumpkin festivals and private tours and lunches at our farm. Farm to table dinners and homesteading classes.

A few things to keep in mind when pursuing a commercial farm.

  1. You could trigger an audit. With the ever booming hobby farm craze, folks from all over starting taking deep losses on their taxes. I know a lot of small farms that have been audited so keep your books and receipts in order!
  2. Have some money put aside for unexpected expenses or losses.
  3. Don’t put your eggs all in one basket! Create lots of ways to make money on your farm. Classes, festivals, different animals, different vegetables, crafts, etc. will help balance the budget out year to year.
  4. Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses. What a gift to have a farm. Don’t forget to grab a beer and sit on the back porch watching the chicken antics and the view around you.

Maybe you start as a homestead and work your way up or maybe you jump right into farming. Whatever you choose, have fun and be willing to be flexible and creative. A simple life is always a good life.

Célébration de L’Automne en Famille (celebration of fall with family)

Creating La Belle Vie

It is the beginning of autumn harvest season! This is our family’s favorite time of year. Our farm is aptly named Pumpkin Hollow Farm (we will have this new place looking like a farm in no time). So, when our children came for the weekend we wanted to do something really fun. We looked up local attractions but ended up at two nearby farms to pick apples, blackberries, and choose early pumpkins. Everyone had a wonderful time and it was the highlight of our weekend together.

Doug and I went around our village the night before the children arrived to scout out which farms we should go to. We ended up talking to one of the farmers for quite some time. The couple retired, they bought land here with apple trees on it, and a U-Pick farm was born.

The first farm we all ventured to looks to be a…

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Pumpkin Hollow Farm (a possible beginning?)

Our children are coming for the weekend and Doug and I zoomed around in our convertible looking to see what farms near us would be open that we could take them to.  Our kids and grand-kids love farms and who doesn’t love a good apple fresh off the tree and a bumpy hay ride?

We moved to the country.  To land of our own- not rented- that is zoned for agriculture.  We are surrounded by the friendliest folks you can imagine and surrounded by majestic views.  Walking through the farms, we laughed at the chickens, talked weather and crops with the farmers, and found ourselves at home here.  We live in a place now where we will be able to grow pumpkins really well.  We live in a place where tourists arrive from all over the state to pick and purchase produce.  Wineries, farm stands, and orchards abound.

After nearly seven years of pursuing farming (and often feeling like a failure), I think we are finally at the farm we dreamed of!  Blank slate for sure, but here we are.  We can see the baby goats playing with our dog in our minds, the chickens free ranging near the garden, the apple trees in bloom, the kids picking out their own pumpkins, the homesteading classes in my kitchen, women with wine glasses laughing while making cheese.  By god, we might be sitting on our dream. We are not done yet.  Looks like Pumpkin Hollow Farm (and Farmgirl School) are just beginning.