Six Years of Farmgirl School (and the adventure continues)

1005625_697090816973051_350125397_nSix years ago today I sat down and wrote my first blog post.  I had just recently heard of blogging.  I was writing regular columns in a few local newspapers but I was excited to take my words onto a bigger scene.  Even if I didn’t get any followers, I would enjoy typing away in the morning while watching out my window, holding a cup of coffee and watching the chickens play.  We were still fairly novice at everything from chickens to growing lettuce so the blog has chronicled our vast and adventurous journey and the life of a family, and inadvertently has become a comprehensive site to find out how to do everything from making witch hazel to milking goats.  My “How to Make Chokecherry Wine” has had thousands of views over the years.  Tomorrow, we will bottle homemade mead.

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This photo was used in an article in the Washington Post about our family.

I remember seeing a blog that had five hundred followers.  I could not believe it.  500!  I wondered what that would be like.  This morning I have one thousand, one hundred, and two followers.  Over 142,000 people have read my blog since I began this journaling journey six years ago in a rented farmhouse with nary an idea of how much to water crops.  We’ve come a long way!

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Maryjane
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Ayla

Six years ago I was preparing for my first granddaughter to arrive.  Today my second granddaughter is twelve days old.  Many people watched as we moved to what we thought was our forever farm, only to become homeless.  You cheered us on as we got back on our feet and purchased a home of our own with a third of an acre and a chicken coop.  You have watched me make friends, mourned over deaths with me, read as we created new businesses, patted us on the back as they closed, shared holidays with us. laughed with me, and befriended me.

Turns out that folks don’t keep blogs going for very long, maybe just a few years.  I love blogging.  Anyone who enjoys writing ought to start a blog.  It is easy and so restorative.  I just want to thank all the readers out there right now for giving me an ear, a place to be, for following along on this Farmgirl adventure.  It is far more fun to write for an audience.

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I read through the November posts from 2012.  The first ones.  Man, that’s some funny stuff.  Typos and all.  (Amazing how much one can edit and still overlook typos!)  Thanks for purchasing my books. (AuthorKatieSanders.com) I have seven, but Farmgirl School; Homesteading 101, which covered our first few years and my memoir, The Making of a Medicine Woman are near and dear.  I will have a second Farmgirl School book out by the end of next year.  We have much to discuss about urban farming and lots of projects to do!  (Let us turn the back porch into a greenhouse.  Should we get ducks?  Let’s make a walk-through arbor with pumpkins and twinkly lights!)  Oh friends, six years later, we are just getting started.  Thanks for coming along for the ride.

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Sleepover with a newborn goat at Grammie’s house.

If you have been a follower since the beginning please make a comment.  Here’s to another six years of living the good life.

The Motley Crew of Pumpkin Hollow

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I need this sign!

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Gandalf is over a hundred pounds now at seven months old.  He is adorable.  His crazy brother, Merlin is eight months old and thinks he is a jaguar.  Or a dog.  That boy is a little special.  Each morning my husband emails me from work and asks, “How are you and zoo?”

DSC_6169My three old kitties, that we had hand raised almost thirteen years ago, came home after being at the shop for over two years.  Let’s just say they don’t love Merlin.  Gandalf is loud and furry and naughty too.  I didn’t get chicks this year.  I think eight cats, a giant polar bear, and seven chickens will do me just fine for now.  But I tell you what, this zoo makes me laugh. Every. Single. Day.  It’s a motley crew over here on Pumpkin Hollow Farm!

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The Cost of Gardening

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Ooh, purple carrots, must have those.  Pak Choi, yes please.  This is Pumpkin Hollow Farm, mind you, so three varieties of pumpkins in various colors sounds good.  Three kinds of potatoes.  Two kinds of asparagus (we are finally in a place where we can wait until the first harvest!) naturally, and don’t forget yard long beans.  Ginseng?  Oh yes, yes.  I got to the end of this charade and almost fell out of my chair at the final charge.  I silently clicked the order button, peeking out at Doug reading on the couch.  I am feeding either two people or an entire army with this order.  Just a touch under $500.  Yikes!  But, let’s break down the cost of seeds.

  1. Counseling- $200
  2. Gym membership-$150
  3. Homes for birds and bees-$50
  4. Mini-vacation hidden from the world-$100
  5. Fresh, delicious food to maintain health and youth-$1,000,000

Hey, I got a good deal!

The Littlest Farmgirl Strikes Again (and choosing backyard chickens)

How does a nearly four year old remember life on a farm so vividly two years ago?

“We need to get goats,” she says casually.

“We can’t have goats here,” I replied, “but guess what we are getting?”

“A cow?”

“Uh, no.”

“How will we get milk?” she exclaims!

“We are getting sheep though.” she continues.

“Uh, we can’t have sheep here.”

She sighed as if mustering patience for me.  “But I love sheep!” she exclaims again.

“We are getting chickens!” I said brightly.

She told me all about chickens and how we get their eggs and take care of the chicks and feed them.  The sunny opening of the soon-to-be shed beckons and I can nearly see the ladies pecking the ground in the sunlight, rolling in the dirt, and having their lively conversations.  Today we go to the feed store and reserve our chicks.  Two of our favorite breeds were our originals, Golden Buffs and Jersey Giants.  Neither breed is very interested in flying the coop and they are dang near cuddly.  They are also great layers.

Trying to appease the child I said, “Well, I think we can have ducks…”

“Oh good!  We’ll get a little swimming pool for them again..” Maryjane told me how we will care for them and did some quacking for good measure.  My goodness, what a memory.

Once a Farmgirl, always a Farmgirl.

The Return of Farmgirl School

That’s right, Folks.  From small town urban farm to prairie homestead to friend’s houses to apartment living while farm dreaming to….our own homestead.  One that we own.  As we approach the four year anniversary of Farmgirl School, how fitting to start it off with a bang.  A new farm.  An urban farm.  Watch as we search, find, purchase, decorate, and turn an ordinary place into a beautiful and inspiring homestead.  Farmgirl School is back.

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How to Make Kombucha (and Home on the Range)

We drove out past Elbert to our friends’ house and arrived on their doorstep just as it started to rain.  The turkey followed to see what we were up to.  One of her pups had gotten into the calf pen but couldn’t get out.  Her other sweet dog snuggled up to the wood stove in their large dog house.  Two calves lay under a tarp trying to gather strength.  Two were in the field jumping in the rain.  One had died earlier that day.  Mud started to form around the ranch.  Evening had come.

Inside, the house was filled with children squealing by, grown ups gathered in the kitchen, beers being passed out.  Neighbors dropping by, laundry on the couch waiting to be folded, chili on the stove, laughter in the air, farm life.  While Doug entertained the kids with his juggling act, Alli showed me how to make kombucha.

This was important because Doug and I have gotten somewhat addicted to the stuff and at three dollars a bottle (x2 every day), it was high time I learned.  What is kombucha, you ask?

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Kombucha is a sweetened, fermented tea beverage that has been around and has been enjoyed for over 2000 years.  It contains a SCOBY (a Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast) or mother, much like vinegar.  And like vinegar it contains about .06% alcohol.  Quite negligible.  The mother looks like a mushroom and contains probiotics used to detoxify and aid the digestive system and other organs.  It contains glucosamine which helps with joints and the skeletal system.  (Any good thing undergoes scrutiny in the US, pestering from authorities, and non-sense speculations, but as in herbalism, anything that has healed for thousands of years is good enough for me.)  I feel better, more energetic, and healthier when I drink the stuff.  Alli taught me to make a gallon at a time.

  • Boil 3 1/2 quarts of water
  • Add one extra large tea bag and one cup of sugar.
  • Turn off heat and let tea brew until it is at room temperature.
  • In clean gallon container add 2 cups of reserved kombucha.
  • Pour in tea.
  • Separate SCOBY on a clean plate with clean hands and place part in friend’s new batch, and in her own new batch.  You only need to separate it when it is over 1/2 inch thick or when friends come by seeking mothers. (She started hers by using a live bottle of kombucha from the store and let it sit in the tea mixture for three weeks.)
  • Let sit for 5-7 days on counter with cheesecloth secured over opening.
  • Every week, brew a new batch and add the reserved 2 cups and move SCOBY over to new gallon jar.

With finished kombucha, place in a jar 3/4 full and add frozen fruit, lemons, or ginger…anything that sounds delicious and let sit on the counter for three days until carbonated.

After that made we wandered downstairs to see the baby turkeys.  Alli picked up one of the little birds to show us.  Round the clock bottle feeding calves, endless chores and housework, she smiled, “It’s a lot of chaos, but we’re having a great time.”

Happy Birthday to the Littlest Farmgirl

This kid.

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This kid is three years old today.  From the moment she was born, our world lit up, much like a firecracker, with this little spunky, fun, highly smart, lovely little girl.

When asked what she wants for her birthday she will reply, “Sheep.  Big ones.”

She has been a farmgirl from birth (after all, she was named for the magazine, Maryjane’s Farm).  She was lain in the dirt while we gardened around her.  Sat in the holes the dog dug with her shovel.  Fed the chicken and gathered eggs by six months old.  Rode sheep around their pen.  Milked goats.  Cooed over ducklings.  Harvested vegetables.  Loves the rodeo.  She was pretty perturbed with me that I wasn’t going to be on a farm today with her sheep.  I told her when she was four, she’d have a farm.  She doesn’t live with me, but you know, what is Grammie and Papa’s is pretty much Maryjane’s!

She does yoga when time allows, breaths deep, knows herbs and how to help people, is planning her garden, pow-wow dances, and dreams of sheep.  She is my sweet little friend and we are so blessed to have her in our life.

So, here’s to getting Maryjane’s Farm.  Happy Birthday, Maryjane Rose!

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The Job to Make a Dream

After our farm dream temporarily came to a halt (which ended up being a very good thing as gigantic windmills were installed across the street looming over the farm, the propane tank accidentally blew up, and the distance and dream were just not quite right…hind sight…a very good thing indeed.  Sometimes we have to be assisted out of the wrong path and placed in the right path rather forcefully) Doug dutifully went back to work as I opened the shop so that we could get back on our feet.  There were no IT jobs to be had at the time and the company that returned his call and interviewed him was at a large corporate coffee shop.  He had experience working at our local coffee shop and it seemed a perfect job for him.  However living on just a bit over minimum wage was proving to be frustrating for the work involved.  He wasn’t happy.

A few weeks ago my cousin was rounding up our old pool team to start in the spring and Doug got on the phone with one of those friends, who I believe Doug has known since birth as their dads have played cards together for some odd fifty years.  He owns an IT company.  He has been wanting Doug to work for him forever but we couldn’t get a hold of him last year and he didn’t know what had happened with us, and the timing just wasn’t right.  Doug promised his company six months.  It is now six months, his notice is in, and Doug will be working back in the field he really knows and thrives in.

He will be making a decent wage and the dream of buying our own farm (the size of said farm…urban or rural is still questionable) is back in motion…save, save, save.  I love watching this saga unfold.

 

Don’t Find Fault, Find a Remedy

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A tremendous amount of folks I know are on the cusp of a huge life change.  New jobs, health problems, moving, life changes, relationship changes.  It’s like the universe tilted us on our side and is watching us all fall back into place.  It is easy to blame our circumstances on others.  Even if they have a role in it, our choices are ultimately what will design our path.  Sometimes there are bigger things at work and the universe needs a little help getting us to the train station for the next part of our journey here on earth.  People, circumstances, and even tragedies help shape us, help us grow, strengthen, learn, and move through this life with intention and wisdom.

There were many factors that went into us losing our farm dream.  We really thought that we would be here for a very long time.  We spend thousands….and thousands of dollars from our final product sales from the Apothecary, the Herbal class tuition, and income tax return on promoting and building this farm so the real tragedy for us was that we are broke and lost all our money on a dead end venture.  Not the end of the world.

We really love this lifestyle.  We like roughing it, working hard for everything we need, from wood to cheese.  We love the endless prairie and the sound of owls.  Sometimes when we can’t see a new path things have to happen to force us into that new journey.  And for us, it was to lose everything.  Well, not everything, we have our family.  And each other.  And great friends.  And hope.  And our next step in our journey that I am getting really excited about and will tell you about tomorrow.

I worry about my daughters finding a place to live, I worry about….well, I can’t worry.  We all know that everything works out beautifully in the end.  Every path has its tripping stones and beautiful rainbows.  Everything will work together to put us all on the perfect path.

If you are on an unknown path in this time of transition, keep your chin up and see the rainbow!  This life is a beautiful place of wonder with Creator’s fingerprints everywhere.  Don’t find fault, don’t place blame, don’t cry too long, find a remedy.  It’s right around the corner!  By the way, that fortune came out of my fortune cookie this past week!

Homesteader’s Espresso (off grid ready and fuel for chores)

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We are trying to purchase any desired or needed items to be off-grid ready, non-electric, and well made.  Doug works at a coffee shop in the winter, we enjoy really good coffee, and I do like an occasional espresso in the afternoons.  I researched non-electric espresso makers.  They were pricey and the concept was the same as our non-electric French Press.  Just pour boiling water over coffee grounds!  The containers were smaller and made a more compact, stronger cup, but essentially it was the same.  I poured roughly one cup of water over 4 Tablespoons of good coffee grounds and let it sit for four minutes or so.  Perfect espresso!

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My friend, Nancy (dang, I miss that woman!), taught me to use lemon peel.  She learned it in Italy.  She rubbed the lemon peel on the lip of the cup before taking a sip of the dark, rich drink.  It didn’t sound like it would be a good pairing but it was. A burst of sweet and tart and rich and earthy in one small, timeless sip.  This is best enjoyed on a patio, or under a tree, or with friends.  A little pick-me-up before the second round of farm chores.

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I have been enjoying it on rainy afternoons since the rain just won’t let up, but the past two days it has been sunny during the day and rainy at night, a perfect combination!  Look at how beautiful everything is turning in its electric green and soils filled with life.

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Perhaps summer is coming after all!

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