Farmsteading Scenes and Living Life Well

When we first began this journey, we went into it wholeheartedly and completely naive. We learned, we cried, we laughed. A homesteading/farmsteading lifestyle makes life amplified. The good is really amazing, healing, and life-giving; babies being born, fresh food from the garden, baby goats prancing sideways, a lamb’s comical yell, gathering fresh eggs from the coop, watching the sun set, waving at friendly neighbors, gathering wood to bring inside before an approaching storm, hanging clothes on the line while watching wildlife.

Crop losses, predators, freak accidents, money worries; there are a lot of things to worry about while being a homesteader. The neighbor’s wolf/husky got into my coop last night and killed my favorite chicken, Bubba. I was mad at myself for not closing the coop sooner. I was mad that I purposely chose this lifestyle! Where there is life- and farms are teeming with life- there is death. And it is much more in your face than apartment living. When we lived in an apartment, on our way to our next homestead, we had plenty of stresses and things to worry about then too. So, it really is a matter of how you want to live. This lifestyle gets ingrained in you, so that you have no other choice but to live like this. And we do love it.

Being a homesteader and farmer comes with a great sense of accomplishment. I tend to point out everything on a guest’s plate that I grew or handmade. I love the methodical motions of traditional domestic work. We appreciate the intense rush of love that comes over us when we see a baby being born. We appreciate seeing the horizon and knowing how to judge the weather by watching nature. Homesteading and farming is all about family, and living life to the fullest. If life is short, then I want to spend time bottle feeding precious infant goats, and being followed around by lambs and chickens. I want to laugh at duck antics while sipping homemade wine. I want to watch the fire swell up as it fills the wood stove. I love tying off the final piece of yarn to finish a project or snipping the last thread on a dress I have made.

If you are considering adopting this lifestyle- Do It! You won’t regret it. It costs some to get started but it pays itself back quickly. We save money, eat well, live healthier, have a happier marriage, a closer family, and a sense that we are really living. Start somewhere. Get chickens, or cheese making equipment, or get out yarn to make holiday presents. This is a very good life.

The Multi-Generational Legacy of Farming and Homesteading

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

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

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

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

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

What is your favorite aspect of homesteading/farming?

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.

Finding the (Nearly) Perfect Property

The very first showing of our house resulted in an offer.  We are under contract.  I love this little old house.  I am proud of what I have done with the yard and the sheer beauty of the space makes me smile.  I turned a barren driveway and dirt lot into an Eden in less than three growing seasons.  So, now it’s perfect, time to move, right?!

This will be the 28th time I have moved.  Doug’s parents lived in the same house for thirty years.  He’s made me promise that we stay ten years to forever in the next house!  Is the next house the sprawling adobe on a hundred acres that we envisioned as our next and forever home?  Does it have water rights and mineral rights?  Does it have a wood stove and solar?  No, nope, and not yet.

We live in Colorado.  We were both born and raised here.  A zillion and a half folks who love pot, mountains, or who are in the military have moved here and prices rival San Francisco and New York City now.  That baffles us both.  My first house in Denver was $36,000.  Those days are gone.  Pueblo kind of got stuck in a time warp thanks to an old reputation of crime and gangs, but the city has cleaned up a lot and since there is so little housing in Colorado Springs, military families are moving here.  Everything has gone up 50% in the past few years here in Pueblo, everywhere else we are talking a hundred grand more for everything from the suburbs to trailers.

When you are choosing a homestead, you have to choose your priorities.  For us, Doug’s job is a really good one that he enjoys.  Our children are here.  Our granddaughters are here.  And we were raised here; we like it here.  We found a small town 30 minutes south of Colorado Springs.  It puts us closer to his work and our kids by 15 minutes.  It looks like it was a back to the land beacon back in the seventies.  Driving down dirt roads one passes a large sprawling house and orchard next to a run down trailer next to a marijuana greenhouse, next to a house built in the 90’s.  Very eclectic.

There are no wells and almost all of the water in Colorado is city water or not owned by the property owner.  In Penrose, everything is on city water (more affordable than the other towns we have lived in thus far at least) and some properties have coveted ditch rights to water fields.  The only one we saw like that was snatched up in days.

So, the question one must ask themselves is, “What do we want?”  (Besides a sprawling adobe on a hundred irrigated acres…for $200,000…near Doug’s work and next door to the kids…)

For us, we have long given up the idea of commercial farming.  We just want a few goats, chickens, ducks, a ginormous garden, and a great view.  We can subsist on that easily.  Three bedrooms and two baths.  A wood stove.

Our realtor took us out Sunday and we went to the three places that were for sale under $300,000.  The first one looked like the makings of a horror movie, with slanting floors, a falling down manufactured home, with lots of junk on two acres.  The second one had five acres but we weren’t sure what we would do with five acres without water.  One would need a rather long hose.  The views were cut off by nearby houses and the ceiling of the manufactured home was falling in.  That one was $225,000.  Lord, help us.  So, off to the third house (which we had driven by and disregarded).

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All pictures were taken off of the listing on the internet.

It was humble on the outside.  The inside was completely redone.  Gorgeous wood floors, high ceilings, new kitchen, fresh carpet in the three bedrooms, all new paint.  Two bathrooms with new vanities.  A large master bedroom with a perfect view of the nearby mountain range.  No wood stove.

The house sits crooked on just over an acre of cactus and cedar with views all around.  A fenced in back yard is in place to keep our dog home before we can secure the mismatched fencing around rest of the property.  A large shed with electricity would make a fine chicken coop.  Neighbors are quite close.  “Sometimes it is nice to have neighbors near,” my daughter commented later.

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As we drove home discouraged and sure we’d have an offer on our house, I turned to Doug and asked, “If that house (and it was the only real house for sale) had six foot fencing around it and a wood stove, would we buy it?”  He replied, “In a second.”

Since those are things we can do over time, we put in an offer and it was accepted!  We move August 15th. I know it’s early and there are a million things that could go wonky from now to then (I am systematically going through over six and a half years of blog posts deleting irrelevant posts like when we thought we found a new rental or when I wanted to become a chef) but I wanted to share the news that we have found our homestead.  It may not be the elaborate dream we had, but it is perfect for us, because it will be ours.  I am beyond grateful.  To think four years ago this week on the blog we were losing everything we owned and moving into our friend’s guest bedroom.  And now we will have our own farm.

Farmgirl School adventures continue!  Happy Homesteading wherever you are!

Where Did the Time Go?

That was probably the most common question asked in my grandparent’s home.  Where did the time go? They would be telling a story about a friend who used to live there, or the neighbor and her daughter, or look at how tall we had gotten and shake their heads and utter the question.  This continued on through my children growing up, and even still, with Grandma gone, Grandpa shakes his head and says it again.  Where did the time go?

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I found myself the other day, as my youngest daughter had her wedding dress tailored, muttering under my breath the same words.  It’s really all so beautiful, this life.

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I have an amazing relationship with my children that I do not take for granted.  Emily and I (and our men) have been talking about going in together on a family farm for some time now.  I have learned better than to force it or hurry it up before the doors naturally open, but we are actively planning what we need to do to achieve this goal.  All of my hair brained schemes (new businesses, new career ideas, etc.) are essentially routes to the farm.  In my heart all I really want to do is homestead.

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I cannot believe that my granddaughter, Maryjane, is six years old!

Emily and I talked yesterday on the phone about how much money we could save by staying home and working our family farm.  We would be growing our own food (right now I grow four months worth of our produce (hopefully eight months worth this year), we are talking about chickens, goats, and I want to learn to fish.  She went on to say how incredible it would be for her children to learn homesteading skills while being homeschooled and being so close to their grandparents.  Growing up on a farm.  This is what all of us have always wanted. For four years we lived that dream.  We are ready to get back to it.

 

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My granddaughter, Ayla Mae, is 6 months old and growing fast!

I love my little urban farm here.  Solar powered, chickens, huge gardens, a farm dog, it’s good livin’ here.  I am very grateful.  I love donning an apron in the mornings.  I love feeding the chickens, and gathering eggs, and watering the extensive beds, and harvesting weeds for salad.  I love seeing everything grow, and the stack of wood on the porch, and the fruit trees leaf out.  I love the look of colorful jars cooling after being processed in boiling water and listening to the pop-pop of the lids sealing the contents of summer within.  I love going down to the cellar to bring up corn or tomatoes or jam or dandelion wine.

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Gandalf is ready for a farm.

So, we plan to eat out less, put more money towards debt, start saving, keep an eye out for properties coming up, continue to dream.  Whether it is here in this beautiful house in the city on a third of an acre, or on a larger family farm, this is the only life for me.  And if I am going to shake my head and wonder where the time has gone, it may as well be in my rocking chair in front of a fire with a grandbaby on my lap on a family farm.

A New Farmgirl and the Family Farm

A new little farmgirl is joining our family this November.  During Emily’s ultrasound yesterday I watched in awe as the little skeleton baby moved her knees into her chest, moved her arms, and turned her head.  Is there anything more amazing than new life?  My daughter is five months pregnant.  Her five year old, our beloved Maryjane Rose, is overjoyed to have a sister coming.  We have so much to show her!

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New life is everywhere.  My garden beds overflow and bees, goldfinches, and hummingbirds delight in nectar as a baby squirrel eats walnuts from the tree.  I am not sure if there will be any left for us again this year.  There were plenty of mulberries to go around though.

No matter what new endeavors I take on, no matter where my life and studies take us, I always end up back to this place.

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“I keep asking myself what I do I want to do now?  What are my goals?” I told Emily while we were waiting for the doctor.  “And all I want is to be able to live on a big family farm, take the grandkids to see what is growing in the gardens, check on our general store and restaurant, and be together living sustainably.”

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“That’s all I want too,” she responded.

At dinner the other night, my son has it all planned out.

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In the end, all I want is to live close to the heartbeat of the earth, surrounded by family and community, and live sustainably.

It is time to can peaches today.

The Greenhouse?

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There is a large mass of building on the property.  The caved in root cellar burrows beneath it, the stucco and plastic paneled building serves now as a place to store items.  Trash and treasures abound in the light filled space.  It once held a giant pomegranate tree and rows and rows of water plants.  Our landlords used to own a business selling plants for ponds and I can imagine the place filled with flowers and greenery, with a large pomegranate tree as the center of its universe.  Two snow storms and disability turned the now dusty greenhouse into a storage unit.  We keep our Christmas items and canning jars in there, ourselves.

When Tuesday supper club came around this week, the landlords (I prefer the term neighbors) entered the kitchen smiling and chatting.  Dianna looked at my organization black board in the kitchen and the to-do list.  One item is to start ninety-eight tomato, eggplant, and pepper seeds.  I said I was going to line all the window sills and hope the cats didn’t get it.

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“Why don’t you just use the greenhouse?” she asked.

I’ll admit, I thought since it was filled with items it wouldn’t work as a greenhouse.  Not proud of this, folks.  I had a dumb moment.  A greenhouse is still a greenhouse.  And I have a greenhouse, y’all!  Another perk of this lovely property we have stumbled upon.

Out of Space Farming (finding garden space in unusual places)

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We need a bigger garden in the next house!  This is always our mantra.  The next house will indeed have a bigger garden and I will inevitably run out of space.  We have already begun saying it again.  This quarter acre garden is the largest we have had and succeeded at but the drive to farm and garden and grow more veggies and succeed at the farmer’s market and at filling the root cellar leaves me looking for nooks and crannies of dirt.  I need more space!  Our lease doesn’t run out for another garden season or two so what is a farmgirl to do?  Find space.

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A palm reader once told me that I would be farming in pots.  Yeaaah, sure.  Pots of farm vegetables are reserved for the day our kids stick us in an apartment.  Pots of vegetables are for when you don’t have a yard to tear up.  And pots are expensive!  I don’t want to go out and buy all those pretty ceramic pots.  They would break in the first hail storm anyway.  (You can see my wheels turning here, can’t you?)  What about five gallon buckets?  I could put them between the rows of the garden!  I could line them up the driveway!  I could fill the porch with them!  So, off to Walmart we went to get five gallon buckets.  I needed over two hundred dollars worth.  Yikes.

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I wrote on our website and on our Facebook page our wish list for the farm including five gallon buckets.  Two different folks wrote back that we should check the bakeries at the local grocery stores.  That seemed odd, but the frostings and other products come in those buckets and they just throw them away.  (Read the ingredients on those suckers and never buy a cake or donut again.) So, back to Walmart we went and scored a few buckets.  Every time Doug thinks about it, he pops by the bakery and gets me more buckets.

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I have nine buckets of peas going next to the house and they are coming up wonderfully.  If an impending hail storm were to come, I could easily move the buckets to the covered porch.  Twenty seven tomato plants and ten peppers will hop into buckets of potting soil as well.  Okra, green beans, pinto beans, and more will find their way in a cushy bucket to grow.  They will line the house and wherever I can sneak them in.

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The other place I found was this patch of driveway.  It is a hill of sand and ants.  It has been overlooked long enough!  I will plant medicinal herbs there.  I will dig a hole, put some garden soil in it, then drop the plant in.  I plan on this being a spiral design down the little hill with thick hay in between the plants.  (Speaking of which, the hay was free too.  It was sitting at the feed store, moldy and unwanted.)

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One could also use a children’s swimming pool with a few holes drilled in the bottom filled with potting soil.  It could easily fit in about any size yard.  Most any large container or few feet of overlooked ground can hold vegetables and fruits.

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Anyone can grow vegetables.  A south facing window can provide all the salad fixings one would need.  We new farmers just need to look at space with new eyes.