Friday Farmgirl Gardening Series Week 4 (summer seeds and the four sisters)

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Four sisters?  All these years I have talked to you about beneficial and interplanting   The three sisters is my favorite way to bring it to life.  Many Native tribes planted corn with beans and squash.  The pumpkin (iya) leaves suppress weeds and deter nighttime corn marauders, beans (duya) grow quickly and happily up the stalks of the corn, and corn (selu) is an absolute staple, corn meal, boiled corn, and don’t forget popcorn!  (That colorful corn one buys every year for decoration at Halloween if not treated is actually popcorn…)

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The Cherokee have another plant that joins the group.  The sacred plant, agaliha, or sunflower.  The sunflower follows the sun, her head tilted towards it, just as the farmer.  It’s leaves when young are delicious in salads, the seeds are a great source of protein, and the flowers encourage beneficial insects.  The north and east edges would be planted with the three sisters and the fourth sister, sunflower, which is just what I did.

I planted four different types of pumpkin, because after all, I am still Pumpkin Hollow Farm even in a community garden, showy white Lumina, mini, small blue, and princess pumpkins will bring whimsy to the garden and sustenance to the root cellar…or apartment corner, whatever.  I planted early sweet corn, a 90 day sweet corn, and Calico, an heirloom Indian corn which will make cornmeal and popcorn for my kitchen.  Yellow Indian woman, Bolito, Cannellini, and Bird’s Egg beans, all heirloom, all grew in a garden of a pioneer woman or a Cherokee woman.  I hold the brave spirits of both.  And they will grow in my garden too.

The easiest way to plant long rows quickly is to lay the seeds out in a somewhat straight line then follow up with a covering of organic garden soil.  Bean, 3 inches, corn, three inches, bean, 12 inches, pumpkin, 6 inches, bean….

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I also planted okra, green beans, white string beans, zucchini, butternut squash, and soybeans.  It is not time to plant tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant yet.  I did place tomato cages where they would go for staging purposes.  The nights are too cold yet.  But, summer seeds are most welcome and will love the rain/sun mix we have right now.

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The peas are just beginning to show their sleepy heads, unfurling just so.  The mustard and radishes are filled with wonder, and other seeds are just germinating and showing their tiny heads above the soil to look about.

I hope you are joining me in the garden this year.  There is just nothing more therapeutic.

Farmgirl Gardening Series- Week 2 (Potatoes and Other Spring Crops)

Well, it’s snowing again.  As I write, warm in front of the fireplace with a cup of hot, earthy coffee, I watch the rain/snow mix fall weightlessly to the ground.  Maryjane thought Santa was coming the other night.  But, even folks that live in Colorado forget that April is one of our snowiest months and we have two more weeks before Santa can put his snow boots away! Still, the finches are singing and a quiet hush is over the land as the blossomed fruit trees drink and the earth softens with moisture.

Last week if it were even fairly warm I was at the Community Garden.  Opening a little late, leaving a little early from work, goodness, it’s a very good thing I can’t fire myself! (so this summer should I be missing from my shop go to the community gardens…)

Now, let’s get to work, spring crops are going in!  I lined the paths I created with thick blocks of straw.  Underneath, as I empty the bags of garden soil, I slip the bag beneath the straw as weed suppression.  I will place walking stones across these as money allows to hold everything in place.

Use a good old fashioned hoe to rough up the areas and to easily pull up errant, non-medicinal weeds.  You see that I purposely am gardening around the Cherokee roses and mullein!

The first row of potatoes (russet) will be joined by garlic.  Any organic garlic from the store will work (conventional vegetables are sprayed so that they cannot be planted).  A row of potatoes every foot and a half or so and a long row of garlic cloves next to it.  I used this marker to show where  ran out of garlic cloves, cause I’ll be damned if I waste even two feet of space!  In went kale seeds.

The next two rows of potatoes were joined by yellow onions.  When I ran out of onions, I planted chard.  Just dig a hole, nestle seed potato in, cover with garden soil.  Cut a thin row with your hoe, put a few seeds per few inches, cover in garden soil.  That is how we will plant everything.  Water, cover the whole thing with a light, and I mean light, covering of straw. We aren’t trying to suppress weeds here yet, just keep the soil from drying out too fast, and leaving little seeds exposed.

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I use tomato cages to hold up vines.  Around the outside of the tomato cages every three inches or so goes in a pea seed.  Four cages of snap peas, four of my beloved purple snow peas (just like immigrants and travelers and migrators of old, I have carried my seeds with me through our journey this last year), and four of Alaskan shelling peas.  In V shaped lines zigzagging between cages went four different kinds of lettuce, and more kale.

I had room at the end of the peas (see how many vegetables you can get in a small space?) I planted a few seeds in each hole a foot a part of quick growing cabbage.  Greyhound cabbage, it’s called.  I love it because we loved and miss our greyhound!  In a tick tack toe grid between the cabbages went radishes.

Another row went in of another kind of cabbage and Doug’s favorite, cucumbers, every other.  The last foot and a half is for corn, beans, and pumpkins, and sunflowers but we won’t put those in for two weeks.  I left a foot on the north end as well for the same.

In the other bed Maryjane and I started one row that contains beets, three different colors of carrots, pak choi, spinach, and cauliflower.  Then one of broccoli who will probably be interplanted with soy beans.  Seeds will grow, planting 1 or 2 in each hole is quite sufficient, unless you have a three year old gardener.  I think she planted 20 cauliflower seeds in each hole.  She was so cute doing it though!

Paths in, seeds lightly covered, now we wait for the rain and snow to moisten, then Nudah (sun) to come out and spread enough warmth to germinate the seeds.  Soon it will be summer.  See you next week!

 

Farmgirl Gardening Series (Planning and Prepping-Week 1)

The very first step is to sit with the land for a moment.  See which animals share that space.  See what weeds (or rather, medicinal herbs) are there.  What are the challenges?  What are the benefits?  Then measure the space.  Draw out (doesn’t have to be architecturally perfect) a grid so that you have a solid design for your garden.  You’ll know exactly what will fit and will be able to arrange the plot so that you can grow absolutely everything you want and still fit in a reading chair.

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I have 1 garden plot that is 20×20.  I have one that is 10×20.  I decided to make the smaller one the spring and fall garden.  It will also hold medicinal plants.  Each of my gardens will have the traditional Cherokee rule; the north and east side will be the three sisters, corn, squash, and beans.  Sunflowers will line that.  The Cherokee didn’t need books to figure these things out, they were passed down and I will keep that going.  The corn provided a stalk for the beans to grow on, the squash leaves keep the weeds down and helps divert marauding characters of the night who love corn.  The sunflowers provide food for beneficial insects and birds that will help pollinate the plants.  The tall plants also provide a little respite from wind and sun to help the plants below them.

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I opted not to rototill.  The beneficial organisms and earth worms are screaming their little heads off as the ground is tilled, plus you expose all those lovely invasive weed seeds to sunlight.  I will simply comb the areas with a rake, dig holes for each seed, and cover each seed/plant in its hole with organic garden soil.  This provides enough nutrition for now for the young seeds without creating too much havoc.  The ground will be covered with straw to keep in moisture and protect the plain soil.  Paths will be created with straw as well.  A thick pad of moist straw and cardboard makes any weed or grass that makes it through very easy to yank out.

Once you have your list of what you want to plant, and where you will plant them, go seed shopping at a local nursery (more on that Monday).

In the 10×20 I will plant 3 different kind of potatoes, garlic, onions, kale, chard, spinach, 4 different lettuces, arugula, English peas, snap peas, snow peas, wild flowers, California poppy, dill, lobelia, Bidens ticks, calendula, cucumbers, radishes, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, beets, corn, melon, sunflowers, and beans.

In the 20×20 I will plant beans, sunflowers, okra, Asian greens, bok choi, soybeans, butternut squash, roses, lemon balm, mint, thyme, valerian, chamomile, motherwort, borage, comfrey, broccoli, 12 pepper plants, 4 eggplants, 20 tomato plants, basil, oregano, chives, green beans, collard greens, zucchini, corn, and 3 different kinds of pumpkins (I am still Pumpkin Hollow Farm, after all) plus include a reading chair for me and Maryjane, a trellis to grow the Morning Glory seeds I saved, and have a bird bath.

How on earth will all this fit in 600 square feet?  By interplanting and sticking to a map.  Root vegetables need to have something growing above them.  Potatoes and spinach, carrots, beets, and lettuces, et cetera.  No monocropping!  Tomatoes need space between them, so collard greens and herbs will fill the spaces.

I went to the gardens to see if I could plant the potatoes yet but a sheet of snow still hid the plots beneath.  But, one thing I have found is whether I plant spring crops in the beginning of April or at the end, they still grow at the same rate.  It doesn’t matter whether you get a head start and plant potatoes and greens the first week of April or if you don’t get to it until the end of April.  The germination rate seems to slow the earlier you plant in this climate, thanks in part to 80 degrees, snow, freeze, flood, hail, heat, wind, cold… the soil can’t keep up with Mother Nature’s moodiness this time of year!  Plant when you can.  Next week, we will plant potatoes, onions, garlic, and a whole slew of spring seeds! See you in the garden!

Farmgirl Gardening Series

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I rented three 10×20 plots from the community garden.  I went yesterday to sit with the land and watch, listen, look at the soil and note what may have been planted there.  My plots are a little rough.  Very sandy, very dry.  Weeds popping up.  But it is a blank canvas.

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I could  have rented the snazzy ones down the way from my apartment.  For $200 one could have a 5×10 fully amended garden bed ready to go.  Fake turf lines the paths between the beds.  Easy.  Mine was $30 for a 10×20.  It would have cost me $800 at the garden nearby for equivalent space.  I think I can take a hundred of that and go get some soil to amend in. This is my garden for a whole year or until I have my own again.  We are starting from scratch.

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Every Friday I will lead you through successful organic gardening.  Each week we will talk about how and what to plant, what to harvest (and on Wednesdays we will cover how to preserve), and how to have the most amazing Eden.  I will be writing specifically for the high plains of Colorado (about 6500 feet above sea level with about zero humidity), a very difficult place to grow, so the rest of y’all can just follow along knowing you are probably having an easier time gardening but you can use all the same tips.

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I went yesterday to determine whether Maryjane and I should hurry up and get potatoes, garlic, and onions in.  We could amend the rows real quick.  We are getting a glorious rain and snow storm tomorrow that could get the sets going.  But looking at the weather we are in for five days of rain and snow.  I would risk decomposing my potato, onion, and garlic sets before next Wednesday so I will wait.  It is all about timing and being able to act quickly to get done what needs to be done.  The best would be to plant on a warm day with a good snow the next.  With the rain we are looking at getting, the soil could wash away as well.  We’ll plant next week.

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I will blog as usual during the week but next Friday I will see you back in Maryjane’s and my garden.

The Farm is Always Better on the Other Side

Sometimes I go other places with lush flora and warm air and wonder what the heck I am doing trying to homestead and farm in such a difficult place.  A four month growing season, sudden freezes, floods, hail storms, drought, deer, can’t save rain water, high altitude farming is not easy.  Why, I bet one could just throw out seeds here, go in for another cup of coffee, and come back out to see them germinate!

A gal we know who is big in the local food community in Colorado told us a story about how she and her new husband at the time took a boat to Costa Rica and started a farm on a whim.  It was great, she said.  But then she made sure to mention that everywhere has its pros and cons of farming.  There are different pests, different climate issues, different things to think and worry about.  Grow where planted and do it gleefully is the lesson I got once again.

I was inspired by a Japanese Friendship Garden we visited yesterday in Balboa Park.  Sipping warm tea through the rain we stopped to visit the Koi fish in their pond.  I was inspired by the serenity of the gardens.  I often think of food production and intensive farming techniques, finding most flowers a waste if I can’t eat them or make medicine out of them!  But there was a peace and a spiritual aspect to these gardens that are missing from mine.  The Japanese Maple can be grown in Colorado.  Koi (my one experiment ended in a raccoon buffet) would be a lovely addition.  I like how the trees there were planted on a flat patch on the hillside to capture water.  Places to sit and places to listen all encourage one to rest and listen to the birds sing and take in the intoxicating views of flowers.

I am impressed with the produce here.  Everything we can grow in Colorado grows more vibrant and more prolific than at home.  I made this beautiful meal out of everything from the market.  It would be a lovely place to farm.

For the week I have traded Ponderosas and Daffodils for Palms and Bougainvillea.  I have traded fields of corn for fields of strawberries.  We dream of different options.  Where we could live, where we could farm, where we would thrive.  But in a few days we will be back in Elizabeth.  Maryjane and I rented 20% of the garden plots in Elizabeth and we will go pick out our seeds.  I love farming with my granddaughter and I suppose where she is, is where you will find me too.

 

Choosing a Community Garden

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We love strolling by community gardens that we happen across in Denver.  I never put too much thought into getting a community garden plot.  Just find one near you and rent it, right?  They are brilliant models to assist with the cultivation of the local food system, and lower the need for therapy.

We checked out the plots by our apartment.  Just a half mile up the road, a whirring bicycle ride away, is the closest one.  They are $200 for a 5×10 space.  I thought this was really high but wanted to check around to make sure.  I also didn’t want to choose a plot just because it was cheap.  What a blessing that we have choice in community garden plots!  Now, this is the only one in walking distance.  That is a huge perk.  Convenience really is worth something.  I just wasn’t sure if it was worth $200 times however many plots I needed.  (I simply cannot go from a two-thirds of an acre plot to a 5×10.)

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I heard from folks at the sustainability fair that another garden plot, a big one at a park, is $100.  They thought it was pretty expensive for a 10×20.  Then comes along an angel in the form of Quentin, my fellow farmer at the local farmer’s markets.  In his hands was the application to the community garden in Elizabeth.  That is a 25 minute drive from my home but my shop is there.  $30 for an entire year (as opposed to May-September) for a 10×20.  Holy smokes.  But there is more to consider.

When choosing a garden plot write out the pros and cons-

How close is it to home or work?  How convenient is it?

Do they amend the soil for you?

Do they provide the water?  City water or well water?

Do all participants have to garden organically?

Well, so far the local, expensive gardens were winning the pros and cons war.

But Elizabeth offers some tools to use.  There is a bonus, I don’t have my tools anymore.

They also have a compost pile.  Which pleases me since I am loathing throwing out vegetable scraps!

What are the months of operation for the community garden?  If it is only May through September one can’t very well plant many root crops or pumpkins.

Then it came down to the simple question, “What do I want?”  Space to garden.  I want to plant everything I did before just on a slightly smaller scale.  I could have a 20×20 plot for $60 for the entire year.  So, I could also incorporate medicinal herbs without having to yank them out in the fall.  This could be my plot until we find our farm.

In the end, it was an obvious choice.  I did not realize how much there was to look at in a community garden.  So, write down your pros and cons, consider what you want, and then choose a community garden.  Now we start seed shopping!

 

 

A Feast for the Senses on an Urban Homestead

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I put the kettle on. I am oddly consoled flipping the switch to turn on the fireplace. The sound of the dryer after nine years naught reverberates softly. I sip tea and watch the moon drift silently away above the rose hued mountain top in the early morning dawn. What shall I do now in my third floor apartment looking over the city blocks and the glorious mountain range? There are no chickens to tend to. No young lambs following on my skirts. No goats in need of milking. No ducks swimming in their icy pond. What shall we do?

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I positively glow at the sight of my kitchen. It is a beautiful, large expanse of creative space waiting for dinner parties and garnishes. For finishing touches of truffle salt and a sip of local Cabernet. It calls for melting butter and the smell of homemade bread. It speaks of decades of cookbooks and articles, of sustenance and my internal need to cook. Nay, create. Cooking is meatloaf every Tuesday. I have never made the same thing twice. I can be the entranced chef I long to be and still be in bed by nine.

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There are community gardens close by. My bicycle and basket yet to be purchased await and I can already feel the breeze against my warmed cheek as the summer sun heats the pavement as I whir past the buildings. Fresh produce overflows my carrier. I am planning a traditional Cherokee garden complete with language. Sacred sunflowers, the three sisters….more. Agaliha. Selu. Watsigu.

What shall we do here in our third floor apartment? Let’s cook. Let’s be chefs and farmers, shall we? Let’s preserve. Let’s not just can corn; let’s make relishes and marmalades and chutneys and more. Let’s create.

What’s that old saying? I think I have quoted it a time or two, Grow Where Planted!

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Off To the City We Go

 

apartmentOver the years I have written about how to homestead and I always include those in apartments.  For urban farming is not only possible, but probably easier.  I can still can and preserve.  I will get a plot at the community garden. (I’ll have some community garden plot, eh?!)  I can turn raw milk from a share into cheese.  I can grow herbs on the balcony.  I can also ride my bicycle around town and walk most places.  How cute will I be on my bike with my basket of produce from my garden plot riding to my home just a few blocks away?

Doug and I had decisions to make.  We could stay with our friend and pay lower rent plus housework and save up.  I am indebted to our friends for their kindnesses and keeping Doug and I off the streets last year.  But, y’all know how much Martha Stewart I like to channel and it may seem strange and maybe some folks won’t understand but I need a place to nest.  To decorate.  I need a home.

We thought about farming on our friend’s property for a  year but decided that we have continually put out all of our available resources to improve other folks’ property and then have to leave and enough is enough.  We will save money for a farm and in a few years perhaps will sit on our own piece of property but in the meantime, it just makes us sad.  No farm and no place to nest?

We are moving to a beautiful apartment on the top floor facing west with a balcony and some perks this farmgirl has not had in a long time.  Dishwasher, dryer, gas fireplace, holy smokes, people!  I’m gonna get spoiled!

It’s just a few blocks from Doug’s work and walking distance to everything.  Twenty-five minutes to my shop.  Close to the kids, friends, and the library!

We feel like we are eighteen years old again.  Moving out with a double bed and a table.  Hoping we can afford it all.  Excited to be together in our own place.

So here’s to our new adventure and urban homesteading (while drinking a glass of wine by the gas fireplace).  The next chapter begins…