The Sparrow Lofts

Amongst the branches of the miniature dome, they sing.  I watch them flitting in and out of their hogan happily, busily.  Some groups fly en masse to the bowl of bird seed in the front yard, another group will chat and catch up on the fence line, and yet another seem to be busy within the home, perhaps preparing for new babies or maybe they just got out of a town meeting.

I can hear them clearly through the thick, glass paned windows, and as the dawn breaks they begin to chant and chirp the loveliest, loudest songs to the sun.  As I approach them on my way to the hen house, they fly up in a tornado of song and air.  Exhilarating.

I shake my head when I see giant black trash bags of branches and yard clipping sitting in militant lines by garbage cans waiting to go to the dump.  Such a waste.  There they will never decompose.  Here on our urban farm, we throw them into a pile.  A large, haphazard pile (away from the eyes of the zoning lady down the street) behind a six foot fence.  An eyesore?  They are branches, for gods sake.  Make use of them.  They can be used for kindling or firewood or you can just let them be.  We thought we would get a wood chipper and attend to them but the sparrows had another idea.  As we threw the neatly clipped branches and larger weeds over the fence, blindly knocking leaves and clots of dirt into our eyes, they all landed in a great pile.  The sparrows dive in and out perfect holes.  A housekeeper I had said I ought to get rid of the mounds of wood because they invite mice.  So we dubbed it the “Mouse House.”  Haven’t seen any mice in there.  They are too busy in the chicken coop.  The mound gently settles each year and begins to decompose and we add more on.  Nature makes use of all things, they do not throw things blindly into a landfill to suffocate the land.

20190222_142926
Look at all the birds on the fence line and in the branches! Hundreds of voices come from this back yard pile!

The birds have created such a lovely haven out of those branches, carefully shaping them into lofts for hundreds of sparrows.  And their uplifting songs and antics please me as I watch them.  They make me laugh and smile.  Such a gift to be amongst nature and all of its inhabitants.

(Tip: create a place next to your compost piles for items that break down slowly.)

Putting the Garden to Bed (compost, adding new beds, bulbs, and there’s no place like home)

Gardening need not be expensive nor incredibly difficult.  By necessity I have come up with ways to make widespread, prolific gardens quickly and easy on the homestead pocket.

The first thing that is imperative to a great garden is compost.  Compost is one of those things that still baffles folks a little.  You do not need a fancy, turning contraption to make compost.  Doug screwed together five pallets to make two open spaces and it is tucked into a far corner of the yard.

20180710_160935

The chicken coop certainly adds to it.  In the fall the chicken bedding gets changed and the soiled straw goes into compartment one.  For six months I add leaves, coffee grounds, lint from the dryer, food the chickens don’t like, and it builds up.  Repeat in the spring, only use compartment 2.  Put on the garden beds what you began six months ago and do this in the spring and fall.  I do not turn the compost or water it or do anything to it really.  It just does it’s thing.  If it smells, add dry material like straw or newspaper or leaves.  If it is not decomposing at all, add more wet items like food scraps or grass.  Let the chickens play in it, they scratch it up nicely.

Time to clean out the garden beds.  I let the plants go to seed.  Next year Mother Earth will grow dill, basil, carrots, spinach, arugula, and many other plants for me.  Everything is pretty well frozen and quite deceased so out they go and into the compost.  Perennials and winter greens stay put.

20181028_142403

Add a layer of compost.  Then a layer of warm straw.  Not thick enough to suppress weeds (because the water won’t get in) but enough to keep the soil cozy.

Jpeg
When we first moved in.
20181030_082316
Now

I have a third of an acre here and I am only gardening a quarter of it.  But, we haven’t even been in this house two years; the changes in this property over that time have been impressive.  As always, I want more garden beds!

20180710_070506
These easy beds create abundant crops and very few weeds!

20181030_08240020181030_082356

This is my own design; a very easy gardening bed that combines many great techniques.  Lay out cardboard where you want your bed.  No need to rototill or disturb the beneficial guys underground.  Ring with wood you have on hand, rocks, bricks, anything really, use your imagination!  Then top with a 2 inches of thick straw.  You can add your compost and soil now or wait until spring.

20181030_082412

I am adding a bed that runs alongside the other one and putting an arbor over them.  Next year I will grow pumpkins over them (and will try to outsmart the squash bugs).  It will create an enchanted walk through that leads to the house or the gardens while freeing up space in the garden.  Pumpkin Hollow Farm is moving up!

Plant tulip and daffodil bulbs and lots of garlic cloves.

Everything looks great!  The garden is put to bed, the new spring beds are ready for next year, and the perennials are snug in straw.  Bulbs are planted, muscles are tired, and the farmer is happy.

All this wondering what to do now that I don’t have my businesses.  Should I go to school?  Should I get a job outside my writing?  Should I…?  And as I spent the day hauling compost, designing beds, standing in the next herb garden, dreaming, being present, working hard, I realized that this is what I want to do.  This is where my heart is happy.  At home.  Creating home.

Improving My Quick Garden Bed Method and Marvelous Summer

20180717_075151There were pros and cons to my quick raised beds but overall they are a success.  I had first put down a layer of cardboard, surrounded it with logs, then put in thick slabs of straw, then compost, then organic gardening soil.  The whole thing cost about twelve bucks.

20180717_075242
This row was planted directly in the soil and is doing just as well as the beds but has a lot more bind weed!

At the beginning I quickly realized that I didn’t have enough gardening soil but was tapped out of funds so couldn’t get more.  It took a lot longer to water because I think too much sand (we have sandy soil) got into my compost.  Don’t forget to check your beds after watering.  It should be wet to your second knuckle.  Beds can be deceiving, they look wet, but aren’t!  I will add more soil this fall or next spring to build up the bed.

20180717_075209

The second issue was an obvious one, but I didn’t think about it.  Some of the corn has to be staked up with re bar because the roots can’t get through the cardboard.  The beds aren’t that deep and the straw takes up most of the space.  So, some of the deeper reaching plants can’t get enough space and nutrients.  They are doing fine now though.

20180717_075322
The potatoes are prolific planted directly in the soil.

The weeds certainly found their way through the cardboard but not nearly as bad as in the regular beds.  I have had a much easier season this year with much less work keeping the beds clear of weeds.

20180717_075300_Burst01

20180717_07533820180717_075405My yard looks pretty and more organized with the makeshift beds.  Doug can mow easier around them.  It’s been so incredibly hot and dry here that the grass all died early in the season, but at least the weeds are green!  Because of the early heat, my spring crops came up (if they came up) and promptly died or went to seed.  I will be planting the same crops today as fall crops and hoping for better luck.  I need radishes!

20180717_075414
I planted a tomato seedling in the porch planter and it is doing amazing!

This fall I will build more of these beds and let them sit for the winter before planting in them.  How quickly logs (that I can still use in the wood stove this winter) and railroad ties make creative beds.  I like the look of them.  The bark gently peeling off, the varying colors, the moist soil within.

20180717_075348

20180717_075436The lizards dart here and there, drinking water from small leaves.  The birds come for their seeds.  And the cooler morning breeze rustles the sunflowers into dance. I hope you are all enjoying your gardens.  How I love summer!

 

How to Make Raised Garden Beds Easily and On the Cheap

I pour myself more sludge (strong coffee) as I write, the world encompassed in white, me not trying not to fall under SAD (seasonal affective disorder), knowing in a few weeks I will be planting those first seeds.

I told you that I was going to move the garden to the backyard because zoning had come by last fall and given me a warning post-garden to clean up my front yard into fancy neighborhood status.  I thought it would be easier to grow grass and flowers in the front yard and fence off a 25×25 designated garden in the back yard.  Enter large puppy, large expense for fencing, and here I am back in the front yard.

The weeds last year were incredible.  I have never seen lamb’s quarters ten feet tall!  I have never experienced mallow whose roots may actually tickle the top of Australia.  I was humbled.  This year I know we will still have weeds (they are medicine and food, but they do like to take over the world some…) but this year I will be a little better prepared.  Even though my crops did great in their sandy, never-been-gardened spaces I did want to amend the soil.  Did I mention on the cheap?  Because I never have as much extra money for gardening as I think I will!

This first-of-several beds coming this spring is a combination of everything I have learned over the years.  It is part Hugelkultur, part Permaculture, part straw bale gardening, part raised bed, part ingenious way to use what I have on hand.

20180217_113339

First I laid down sheets of cardboard.  Cardboard will break down within one season but it will help immensely in keeping weeds down.  I sure wish I hadn’t sent all that cardboard to recycling!  I would have layered on a few extra sheets of cardboard if I had it.

20180217_113351

I thought of large stones.  I thought of cinder blocks.  I thought of 2x4s.  I checked the bank account, and went into the back yard to see what I could find!  I have large limbs from the dying Elm tree that were ready for firewood.  We have lots of wood right now and these are so beautiful with the bark still on them.  They were easy to place in an 18×4 rectangle (with the help of my husband) to create a frame.

20180217_142127

Then two to three inch slabs of straw went on top of that.  The straw will suppress more weeds, will create an airy environment for the seedlings, will break down and become mulch and amendments, and helps fill the space so I didn’t have to buy so much garden soil.

Next went on pails of finished compost.  It never fails to amaze me that a banana peel in six months becomes dirt.  That scraps, and straw, and grass clippings, and chicken straw, and everything I put out there turns into rich, dark compost.  I won’t have enough for all the beds I am planning on putting in but I can purchase mushroom compost pretty cheap once I run out of my own.  It is only for this year.  From here on out my own compost will act as fertilizer in spring and fall sprinkled on the beds.  I won’t need quite as much.

20180219_172941

Then went on five bags of organic gardening soil.  I wanted to get it spread on the new bed now because it will have a few weeks to settle into the straw.  I want to make sure I don’t lose seeds in the settling soil!  We will know in a few weeks if I need more soil.

20180219_173204

The tiny trees I planted are in the tomato cages.  They will be watered regularly by being in the garden bed.  Once they grow nice and tall in as many years and begin to shade the patch, the patch can move.  Gardening is as much about flexibility as it is growing food.  Nature will work with you.  The main idea is to improve the soil and to create as many perennials so that each year we have more and more food and we are helping the soil regain health.

Done!  Now, the straw will try to sprout but the grasses easily pull out.  If a weed makes it through eight inches of cardboard, straw, and soil, it, too, will be easy to pull out.  At the end of the season I will pour some leaves, straw from the chicken coop, etc on top, and blend it in come spring.

*Side note- the empty soil bags will be set around perennial herbs and bushes with straw or wood chips placed over.  Weeds will not get through them!

Grab another cup of coffee, Folks, and hang in there.  We are almost back in the garden…

 

Hypocrisy and the Homesteader’s Guide to Saving the Earth

green-earth-free-clipart-1

First things first, a compost bin.  The very weekend we move in I do hope Doug can build me a compost bin.  He makes it with pallets, three open spaces to move the cooking fertilizer through.

The thing about apartment living is that it is really difficult to be ecologically friendly.  They don’t recycle in this town.  There is nowhere to put scraps (no chickens to be found).  There is nowhere to compost (piles of coffee grounds on the balcony would be a bit weird).  There are hills of trash here, eye-opening, mouth gaping amounts of overflowing trash near the dumpsters.  I am shocked and saddened.  And yet, my things join the piles.

I am very much against the pipeline going through Indian land. I am also very much against the fracking, hideous wind mills, and pipelines going through farmer’s land (who don’t get to protest, by the way, they just get the land stripped from them) across the country.  I can get mad and share a post on facebook about stopping the black snake then I go get in my car and drive to work.  I understand that I am among the billions of hypocrites on this lovely planet.

The answer lies, perhaps, in mindfully (perhaps maniacally) opting to use less electricity, oil, and its many ugly faces.  We know we are killing our beautiful Earth (we know she is getting mad as hell) but we seem to not know what to do about it.  Our life has woven itself so thickly through the oil reserves that we don’t know how to function.

Once I step into my new homestead tomorrow I will be starting a compost pile.  I will find recycling.  I hope someone still does it.  I will reuse.  I will be like my elder generation where one is not sure if the contents of a container in the fridge is butter or leftovers.  I will get chickens and feed them my scraps.  I will use organic methods to grow as much of my food as divinely possible.  I will get oil lamps again and still crazily unplug appliances and Doug’s IPOD.  I will use carbon neutral wood to heat my home (though it will be nice to have that back up furnace!).  I will be more mindful.  I will do the best I can.  I will walk.  I will ride my bike.  I will purchase less.  I will sew more.  I will….

We must….

The Enchanting Urban Homestead (a field trip, class, and future)

IMG_1388

Farmgirl school is supposed to be uplifting, inspirational, and full of fun and hope.  It is also about our life so I suppose not everything can be as such but I inadvertently caused a storm of emotions for many people across the continent and beyond in empathy for us.  We want you to know that we just do not have the extra strength or energy it would take to rip out the wood stove, pipes, fittings and fix the ceiling at this point.  We have no emotional attachment to the stove.  Our hundreds of plants will feed the local wildlife and a lot of hungry girl scouts that are coming Monday to take home a transplant since they helped create the garden in the first place!  We are not sad over these things any longer.  With the encroaching wind mills and the negativity here we are more than ready to head out on our next journey.  So let’s get back to the inspiration and hope part of this blog!  Yesterday we visited a lovely urban homestead that was so enchanting and complete that I am ready to get back into the city.  We were there taking a cob building class to make outdoor structures.  Doug and Chris will be creating a chicken coop, bread oven, and who knows what else!  Tomorrow I will take you through our class to learn to make cob.  But today I want to take you through the enchanted homestead of my friend, Niko and his wife, Brandi at Folkways Farm.  

IMG_1422

IMG_1498

It wasn’t very long ago that I wrote a blog post about Old Colorado City (which is a bike ride away from where we are going to live) and that is where we headed this fine evening.  I met Niko three years ago when Joel Salatin came to speak at a local farm.  He sat with me and Nancy and we talked all things homesteading, about his family, his work as a cobb builder, and we told him about our adventures in homesteading.  I later ran into him building a yurt with our friend when we went to visit the goat she bought from us, and then at the homesteading store, and then…well, you get the picture.  We were meant to meet.

His beautiful wife held their youngest daughter on her hip and spoke freely with the guests.  His middle daughter came up to me and took me with her on a tour of the “forest” where a silent cat lay secretly in the high weeds below trees.  They are easy people, barefoot, comfortable in their surroundings and self and I was instantly drawn to them.

They have created an oasis in town, a secret place of sustenance and wealth.  Herb gardens, Permaculture gardens of food, honey bees, goats, a shed-barn, and places to get lost and read or dream or be.  The plot of land is about the same size as the one we are moving to and I was so inspired and overwhelmed with ideas and joy.

IMG_1506

The cob structures look to be out of a fairy tale.  A sweet chicken coop stands off the back porch.  Another is a bit more elaborate and whimsical.  It is a chicken coop with a bread oven on the side.  One could start a fire in the cooking area to heat the coop on the coldest nights while making some delicious thin crust pizzas.  A door on the other side lets the chickens out to wander a closed in area that felt roomy and lush.  A towering apple tree above provided shade.

IMG_1504

IMG_1423

IMG_1503

IMG_1505

IMG_1403

IMG_1400

IMG_1398

IMG_1399

IMG_1392

IMG_1390

IMG_1397

IMG_1395

The greenhouse built in the back yard was a structure of fine art and skill, a transporting place out of the cold.  A place for tea and books in autumn and a place to grow starts in the spring.  All made from reclaimed windows, mesh, wood, straw, clay, sand, water, manure, and painted with beautiful slips.  Niko is an artist above being a builder.

IMG_1419

IMG_1406

IMG_1402

IMG_1410

IMG_1420

IMG_1415

IMG_1414

IMG_1412

IMG_1418

IMG_1417

IMG_1416

IMG_1421

One can meander from the front herb garden, past the vegetable gardens, visit the bees, duck under the apple tree, wade through weeds and medicinal herbs, follow a path past the goat yard, past bins of delicious compost, a pile of wood, the beautiful green house, wave to the chickens, pass the hemp plants growing tall for fiber, onto the back porch to sit a spell, and visit with the kind family that lives there.

IMG_1494

IMG_1502

IMG_1442

IMG_1429

IMG_1428

IMG_1439

IMG_1497

IMG_1479

IMG_1437

IMG_1404

IMG_1389

IMG_1411

IMG_1409

I spoke with Jillian at the end of the class.  She wanted to make sure that I considered our new venture to be our homestead. I asked what if we jumped forward fifty years and there we still were and her then much older daughter would mention to visitors that her crazy aunt lives in the back.  “That would be fine,” Jillian replied.

And so begins our urban farm adventure.

The New Farm (starting from scratch)

IMG_0955

I always have good intentions.  I spent the winter learning everything I could about Permaculture and how to incorporate it into our new farm.  I was on fire about it!  The inner garden we did not dig.  We piled on six inches of straw.  To plant I opened up part of the straw along rows to fill in with organic garden soil and plant in that.  The beds will stay well mulched.  The new garden soil will be covered around the plants as soon as they are up and strong.  Eventually the whole garden will settle in and each year we will just add new layers of soiled straw and leaves and let the years work themselves into great soil.

IMG_0954

I saved boxes all winter and threw them into the garden.  Once they were all broken down they sure didn’t cover much space between the beds.  The weeds are peeking around it.  I would need a lot more boxes, and a box cutter to cut them to size, and a lot more patience.  More straw, I think, is the answer for the remaining paths (that is my answer to everything).

IMG_0953

Then I looked out upon the large pumpkin patch we are creating.  It will be a Three Sisters garden complete with five different kinds of pumpkins crawling along the ground and three different heirloom beans climbing organic sweet corn stalks.  The grass is now thick and I am sadly lacking in time or cardboard boxes.  I think we will have to rototill.

The thing about Permaculture is one starts slowly.  Creating one bed at a time.  We now farm for a living.  I have a half acre of vegetables, fruit, and herbs to finish getting in.  I don’t have time to build raised beds for ridiculously long rows of pumpkins or wait six months for a lasagna garden!

I won’t be able to do the whole farm in Permaculture this year.  Some lessons are best taught over time.  Long, windy initial rows will be rototilled into the never before planted area of the yard.  I will add aged horse manure and gardening soil and plant.  I will mulch well.  We will have a good comparison between the inner no-till garden and the traditional tilled rows this year.

Next year I hope not to have to till.  I will keep working up and adding layers of compost.  This year though, we will just do what we know, pray for Mother Nature’s blessing, light the candle for San Isidro (the patron saint of farming), and enjoy all the blessings that come from our humble patch of rented land.

Thank goodness it is spring.

The New Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

landfill

The three R’s, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle has sadly been overused and overlooked.  Folks think about the big green tub that their trash company may or may not pick up on any given Thursday to send their recyclables off somewhere.  Hopefully the rumors aren’t true and they really are being recycled.  Many people don’t have recycling services available to their homes so don’t even bother.  We tried, sorry, we’ll wait for recycling to come to our town.

Alright, now we need to slightly tweak our way of thinking so that we are not dismissing these three R’s.  We don’t want to view them as an inconvenience and we don’t have to wait for someone else to offer us a service.  It would be wise for us to start considering these R’s.  I know that we all have heard over and over again about our finite resources, islands of plastic in the ocean killing animals and fish, oil spills tainting our water and who knows what floating in our drinking springs.  We have heard of landfills the size of states and the problem isn’t decreasing.  But, when we can’t see the detriment with our own eyes, it is hard to fathom and is often easier to just go about our day and hope all that remedies itself.

Here are some easy ways to bring back the three R’s into our day to day routine, save money, and keep things out of the landfills and oceans.

store

Reduce

This is one of the harder ones.  “I need this!”  I do attempt to stay out of stores all together now.  It doesn’t always work.  I try to see Walmart and department stores in a new light.  Shelf upon shelf upon shelf of cheaply made items shipped from overseas that may or may not be bought that will ALL end up in a land fill.  Boxes and packaging and cheap petroleum based items.  Tons and tons of it.  Scary.  Set it under fluorescent lights and you have the makings of a horror movie.

Do you really need it?  Probably not.

twist ties

Reuse

Things like twist ties and rubber bands can be reused in a myriad of ways.  I use the twist ties to fasten plants to trellises and cages.  I use the rubber bands to bundle produce, extra silverware, pencils, etc.

Paper bags can be reused to hold vegetables in the fridge or be used to pack a lunch.  Or to dry herbs.  Likewise, the plastic produce bags can be reused to hold homemade bread or potato chips for a picnic.

Sandwich bags and freezer bags can be washed and used several times.

Glass jars can serve as leftover containers or drink receptacles.

The obvious scratch paper can be used to make lists or write down reminders.  They can be shredded and added to compost.

Cardboard can be used to suppress weeds or make a playhouse.

Try to give everything a second life.

wood

Recycle

Now at some point we have to throw some things out or we get a little cluttered.  There are recycling services out there, whether the trash service that will take marked bags or a place you can drop off.  Try to recycle what can be recycled!

There are other ways to recycle.  When we need wood for a project we immediately go to the hardware store.  We have never thought twice.  Our friend, Rob, showed us another way.  He drives to building sites after hours and hauls off the wood that has been placed in dumpsters.  Perfectly good, wrong sized, wood thrown in a dumpster to haul off.  He has collected enough wood to build a goat barn and a chicken coop.

He came to our house (we are boarding his goats) and built a feeder out of wood strewn about the yard that has been here longer than we have lived here.  Now, mind you the goat kids flipped it over and are using it as a playground, but a recycled wood playground nonetheless!

Thrift stores have a ton of usable fabric instead of buying new.  They also have quite nice clothes that can be reused.  And dishes, and pretty much anything else one would need to set up house.

Craigslist is a great way to find what one needs without buying new.  I did end up buying a new cheese press yesterday because I had exhausted every avenue finding a used one, but in most cases, from furniture to cars, this service helps folks save money and reuse something instead of buying new.

SAM_0393

Analyzing the Trash

What is in your trash?  For me, most of the trash is paper towel (could I use clean towels that don’t attract cat hair?), plastic coverings (overused sandwich bags or bread bags…maybe I can sew some?), used cat litter (is there a litter that breaks down and can be put in the compost?), torn plastic bags (can I remember my reusable bags maybe??), and empty coffee bags (would they fill a different container?).  My business is trickier.  Wax and oils are really messy to work with and we almost have to  use paper towels and end up throwing away really gross jars and old bottles.  I wish I could find a more eco-friendly way to do business.  Could folks come over with their own bottle and fill it up?  If I could do business out of my house, maybe.  There will not be a perfect solution, we cannot go back to our great-grandparents’ time when things weren’t so over processed and packaged.

How about the recycle bin?  Beer bottles and wine bottles, organic soda cans, paper, and cardboard are the main things in there.  I noticed that if I do not buy packaged cereals, crackers, and other processed foods, I have a lot less waste.  Homemade food is not only better for us, but saves us money and creates less waste.

We could go on and on with ideas…compost, don’t buy it in the first place, make things into planters….but one day at a time.  We just need to bring the three R’s back into the forefront of our day to day and make better choices so that we can take care of ourselves and our planet.

What to Do With All that Poo (composting manure)

As Doug and I were shoveling alpaca poop onto the garden beds yesterday I said lightly, “You sure can’t be bothered by poop if you live on a farm, can you?!”  He laughed and agreed and we continued shoveling.  I did not know that I would be around it so much post baby diapers. But there it is, now what to do with it?

SAM_0440 (2)

The nice thing about Alpaca droppings is that it won’t burn plants.  It is adds nitrogen to the soil but does not have to be composted.  It can be added directly around plants and into garden beds.  From poop pile to garden bed.  Instant fertilizer.  If you know someone that has alpacas, they will likely share.  It is an added benefit to adopting alpacas, no more Miracle Grow!

IMG_0644

The chicken coop is full of future nutrition for the soil but it needs a bit more time.  Believe me, six months on a farm goes real fast though.  I have a compost bin that Doug easily made out of discarded pallets.  In the first one, the pile starts.  Coffee grounds from the coffee shop and the kitchen, tea bags, and other items I wouldn’t put in the chicken food go in the pile along with the soiled chicken bedding.

IMG_0530

When Nancy and I saw Joel Salatin two summers ago he mentioned that leaving the bedding in the coop all winter and just adding more as needed creates a warm space for the animals.  In the spring, we are to shovel out the foot high plus pile of bedding and move it to the compost pile.  Nancy didn’t like this idea when she tried it.  She has a lot more chickens than I do and for her the smell was overwhelming.  The floor of my coop is dirt and it works well for me.  Next month I will scoop out the soiled bedding and leftover scraps they didn’t want (orange peels and such) and throw them in the first open bin of compost.  He also mentioned that using straw is what creates the ammonia smell.  I stopped using it and started using the pine shavings he suggested.  The coop does not smell bad at all.  However, now I learn that ducks will eat pine shavings so we will be back using straw soon.  So, in this case, I may clean out the coop four times a year instead of two.

duck

Scooped into the wheel barrel and thrown into its requisite side, it will be topped with some dirt or finished compost and left to finish.  (Note: I constantly forget to turn my compost.  It never looks completely black and finished, but it still works.) In the fall when I go to add compost to cleaned out beds, it will be perfect.  Then the bedding from the summer coop pile will be cooking away in the second open area of the compost bin and will be ready to apply in spring.

new goats

The goat poo is new to us this year.  It will not easily be picked up in their pasture as they drop small and many pellets.  I’d be raking for a  week.  However, their bedding will get changed out next month from their igloo and that will go into the cooking pile of compost.

IMG_0311

Dog and cat feces may not go into the pile.  It will decompose in the grass, true, but just like ours, one would need a composting toilet and high heat to kill the bacteria present.  Doug and I are planning on getting a composting toilet in the next house though!

Human urine kick starts the whole process.  However, raised in a home of decorum and higher society than most folks I know, Doug refuses to pee on the compost pile.  (Of course we are open to a major thoroughfare and close neighbors.)

img_0807.jpg

I used to think the chickens were going to give me too much compost to use.  But I find myself in constant lack.  The more I garden, the more I need.  The larger this farm gets, the more I need.  Even if one lived in a house smack dab in the middle of Denver one can use the compost from the allotted chickens and goats there.  It goes faster than you think!

Manure tea can also be made with droppings and poured on house plants or outdoor beds.  Just make sure the manure sat for six months if it isn’t from an alpaca.

I never thought in my life I would be writing about poop.  Just goes to show, never say never and having a farm changes you.

Year Round Greens

You know you are a homesteader when things like poop that doesn’t have to be composted excites you.  Alpaca poo isn’t “hot” like other types of manure so it doesn’t have to be composted for six months.  We filled a wheel barrel full of alpaca droppings and took it over to one of the raised beds to spread.

chard

Now in November I had every intention of getting every bed cleaned out properly, covering them with compost then mulch for their long winter’s nap.  A good kink in my shoulder decided otherwise.  It would have been nice to have it all done, but it will surely wait for me, I decided.  So, on the bed that we started putting manure on, I noted emerald green from the patch of otherwise browned kale, chard, and collards.  Tiny Swiss chard leaves, two inches high were trying with all their might to grow.  It certainly was an epiphany for me.  If I cover the greens well with loose straw next year, I could be harvesting well into January!  That is without the help of a greenhouse, hoop house, or cold frame.  An easy way to extend the season.

Since I did not expect any more greens after November, I had been diligently snipping greens and freezing them.  No blanching necessary.  I have no desire to eat slimy food…ever.  All you do is pack sandwich bags with greens, release the air, and zip closed.  Put in freezer.  Now, the next day it will be frozen solid.  Don’t let it thaw!  Just crush it between your fingers so that the greens are crumbles.  When you need greens, crush the ones on top more and sprinkle handfuls into whatever you are cooking.  Replace the rest in freezer immediately.

I have been putting greens in all kinds of soups, in omelets, scrambled eggs, on potatoes to be roasted, and in sautés.  There are innumerable ways to use greens and the nutrients are especially desired this time of year.  The perfect blend of calcium and magnesium to make it bio-available, iron, A, C, E, and K, full of anti-oxidants and cancer killing properties.

Greens are one of the foods that I would have with me if I were trapped on an island…along with margaritas.  Is that a food?