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.

What’s Next? (welcoming the new year)

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The sun is shining brightly on this lovely New Year’s morn as a feeling of hope and aspiration overcomes us.  We release the last year, accept its many lessons, rejoice that we are here this morning to breathe and revel in unstoppable dreams and goals.

What is in store for Farmgirl School this year?  My lists are brimming.

This year we will completely immerse ourselves in permaculture (Doug and I are already busy reading books and listening to lectures on the subject…such a foreign concept to us as we have been gardening the same way for so long but are excited to completely change for the better our way of farming.) and create an oasis here on our new  homestead with fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, perennials, annuals, container gardening, cold frames, green house?…lots of big ideas.  Join us as we grow mushrooms this year and more herbs too.  Let’s learn to hunt wild foods and eat weeds.

Let me show you how to make medicines with wild herbs and many ways to administer them.  There is lots of wacky information out there on herbal medicine, let me just teach you how easy and effective it is.  We’ll make our homesteading and herbalist school a great success and meet lots of folks from all over on the way.

Let’s get some more farm animals maybe, and learn many more skills.  I will teach you how to make hard cheeses.  Let’s eat our way around the world and learn more ethnic cooking.  Who knows what else we will learn in our journey this year!

I love the idea of the proverbial clean slate ahead of me.  Unwritten days and new attitudes, memories, and experiences at hand.  As always, thank you for following us on this journey.  Last year we found the homestead that we dreamed of and learned many valuable lessons that will be pivotal to our experiences this year.  I love receiving your letters.  Should you like to correspond please drop me a line via snail mail.  Mrs. Katie Sanders, 7080 Calhan Rd So, #2, Calhan, CO, 80808 or if you are in Elizabeth on Mondays, come by Grumpy’s coffee shop and sit a spell with me.  I love seeing who is reading my writings and learning from each other.

So, here we come 2015, we embrace you with open arms.  Who’s with me?

5 Steps To Becoming a Homesteader (or just simplifying your life)

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1.Write down your goals. 

Do you want to quit your job?  Move to the country?  Have an urban farm?  Homestead on the weekends?  Live a more peaceful, mindful life? 

We have been on the path to simplicity and homesteading for about seven years now.  It started with reading books like “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral” by Barbara Kingsolver and wanting to learn to can and grow all of our own food.  I started canning (badly) and started a sad little garden in the city.  I got better!

Our goals were to leave our corporate world and busy suburban lifestyle.  When Doug had a nervous breakdown our timeline sped up.  Our goals constantly change and morph each year.  We have a pretty extreme list of homesteading goals right now.  I have no way of knowing if they will work, but I have written them down and am working towards them.  Ask and you shall receive!

  • Find a place with a small house that has a wood stove.  Wood cook stove?  Even better.  Said house should be around $850 a month.  Don’t laugh, it could happen.
  • Small house would be on a bit of land.  I need a full acre of garden.  A quarter acre at the moment provides us with 90% of our vegetables during the summer and early fall, and 80% of the medicinal herbs I use.  Another quarter acre could be the remaining herbs I need to grow, and additional fresh eating vegetables, plus a pond.  A green house and hoop houses could inhabit part of the remaining half acre and a large preservation garden (everything I need to can) and a spice garden (Lord, do I spend a lot on spices!) could round out this menagerie of growing Eden.  An orchard would be added as well and then of course we need room to walk about, have our goats, chickens, and ducks, and be able to ride our bikes to town.
  • A composting toilet and gray water systems could be in place.  We will use as little electricity as possible.
  • This will be a haven for our friends, children, grandchildren, and wildlife.

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2. Learn two skills. 

There was a vast amount of information about homesteading lost with our past generations.  We just don’t know how to do many of the basic skills and farmstead chores anymore.  Find a mentor or a class or a great book and make a goal to learn two things.  Two things a month, or two things a year, whatever works for you.   

A few years ago on this homestead I wanted chickens and to preserve almost all of our food for winter.  The next year I wanted goats and alpacas and to learn to spin.  I learned to spin, didn’t like it, didn’t care for the alpacas, gave away the alpacas, fell in love with goats, got more chickens, and canned over 500 items.  Homesteading is constant rearranging of goals.  This year we got bees and ducks and started growing almost all of our medicinal herbs.  We dug up the driveway to make more space to garden.  Last year we dug up the front and side yards.  Last year I learned to make soft cheese, this year hard cheese.  Doug has learned fencing methods and how to milk a goat.

We have learned what we enjoy, what we don’t, what’s a waste of time, what’s imperative to our homesteading journey.  Learning everything at once is not possible and would be overwhelming.  Just pick two skills.  What do you want to learn?

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3. Get Money Savvy    

Rethink your finances.  Get out of debt.  Stay out of debt.  But don’t wait for pristine credit before you make the jump.

Our BIGGEST mistake that will continue to haunt us for years to come was getting into debt.  We had fourteen credit cards, owned our house (or the bank did), had two car payments and had amazing, perfect credit.  Ironic, isn’t it?  We took the Dave Ramsey program at our church six years ago and it changed our lives.  We paid off and cut up all of our credit cards.  We do not have any still.  We paid off a lot of debt.  We then lost our house and one of our cars in the crash and our credit went to crap.  Which didn’t matter at the time because we were content renting for half the price of our house in Parker.  We have everything we need but there is the little matter of $50 grand from the second mortgage that still says it is an open account and $25,000 for the student loans we still owe.  There should be a money back guarantee.  If you don’t use your degree you should get a refund.  I do not see, with the interest rates the way they are, how we would ever in this lifetime pay these off.  If you are in debt, get out.  If you are not, do not venture into that pitfall.

Save a hundred dollars a month.  Pay yourself first.  Put it in a coffee can or the bank.

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4.  Simplify.  REALLY Simplify!

Every hour you work is money spent on something.  How many hours do you have to work to make enough to pay for the car?  Gas?  The house?  Cable?  Cell phones?  Restaurants?  Is it worth it?  What do you need?  How much time would you like?

It goes against every grain of our society to make less.  The mantra is make more, spend more, the more you make the more you can give, the more you can have, the more secure you will be.  Wrong.  I highly recommend you read “Radical Simplicity” by Jim Merkel.  It outlines our footprint on this planet as well as radically simplifying your life.  If you work less, you leave more work for others.  If you consume less, you leave more for others.  If you have less, you have to work less (this does not include the good kind of work on your own time on a farmstead).  The less you consume, the less resources you take from the planet, less pollution, less animal habitat loss, less unfairness.  Do you need a huge house?  Do you need to buy all of that packaged stuff?  Does it really bring happiness?

My goals are to lessen even more.  We are stressing over bills still and have too much stuff.  What is it with the seven sets of (gorgeous) antique dishes in my cupboards?  All the clothes I don’t wear?  The jewelry I don’t wear?  Where is our money going?  I am now writing it all down, the spending for each day.  See where the leaks are.  See what we don’t need.  What we don’t need to buy.  How much is everything really costing us?

And despite the stressing of leaching money, I want to make less.  No, I have not lost my mind.  I want to stay beneath the poverty line.  I have all the food I need, I am looking at lessening my rent, getting rid of my water bill and most of the electric bill, driving less, less gas money and wear and tear.  High taxes?  Don’t have them.  Where is your money going?

I am ready to simplify even more.  Make less money.  Offer medicines on a donation basis so that everyone can afford them.  Does cable television make us happy?  We don’t really watch it, so no.  That glass of wine in the evenings?  Yes, I don’t have to give that up.  By freeing up your money and where you spend it, you have only what you need and love.  And lots of time to watch the sunset and play with baby goats.

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5. Just Do It!

No more five year plan, maybe next year, only if he gets a raise, or when the kids move out.  There are no guarantees you will live long enough to live the life you really want.  Now is the time to act!

What can I say?  I have friends my age in their forties heading on to the Great Beyond and ones in their eighties who are too tired to do any more.  What is the best time to pursue your goals, cut your spending drastically, move to the place of your dreams, and start living self sufficiently?  Now is a real good time.  And if you cannot move yet or don’t want to, if you don’t want to quit your job or change much at all, just learn a few skills.  Cheese making?  Crocheting?  And urban garden?  Simplifying and homesteading can be done on many levels.

 

 

 

Canning Sweet Corn

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to learn to can.  It seems that it skipped a generation and very few people my age even know how to can.  Folks think it is easier to buy food from the store.  I disagree.  How many hours does one have to work in order to buy food?  I would rather spend those hours in the garden or at the farmers market.  In just a few hours one can turn an entire bag of corn into several jars of delicious sweet corn, summer flavor locked in, to enjoy all winter.  It is a rather nice task with huge rewards.

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Not only do you know where your food is coming from, how it was raised, how long ago it was harvested, how big the footprint is, and if it is organic, but you also provide yourself food security.  Big snow storm?  No job?  Car broke down?  Can’t get to the store?  No problem.  The grocery store is in the basement.

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I am not growing enough to can yet.  Each stalk will produce 1-2 good ears of corn.  I got a big bag of corn from Miller Farms (they are not certified organic, but I know for a fact that they do not use pesticides, fertilizers, or any kind of herbicide.  They also use non-GMO corn) and went to work.

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1. Shuck a big bag of corn and cut corn off of cobs with a sharp knife.  Give cobs to chickens and ducks.  They love corn day!  Give the outer leaves to the goats.  They love them!  Save the corn silk in a paper bag for healing up urinary tract infections.  Just make into tea with a handful of cranberries and juniper berries and honey.

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2. Fill warm jars with corn to half an inch from the rim.  Add 1/2 a teaspoon of sea salt to pints, 1 teaspoon to quarts.  Fill jars to 1/2 an inch from rim with a kettle of hot water.  Wipe off rim and put on lid.

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3. Fill the pressure canner with three inches of water.  Put jars in canner.  Attach lid.  (Note: the new pressure canners are inexpensive and not our great-grandma’s pressure canners.  They do not blow up!  There is no fear using one!)  Turn on high and when the shaker starts shakin’ and it sounds like you ought to be belly dancing, then start timing.  55 minutes for pints, 85 minutes for quarts.  For high altitude canning, always use all the weights.  For the rest of the world use 10 lbs of pressure.

A burlap bag 2/3 full made 10 pints of corn and 3 quarts of corn.  I need thirty jars to get through winter (we love corn) so I’ll need another bag!

A Bathtub of Fluff (mid-summer chicks)

We saw the sign on the door of Big R (our local farm store) as we walked in, “Chicks arrive July 31st!”  We have never taken home chicks mid-summer but it made rather good sense.  Just a day or so earlier Doug was talking to someone who told him that if we get chicks in the summer they start laying in mid-winter when many of the girls have slowed production.  After losing three chickens last week and the others on strike, we figured we better get some more chickies.

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I think it is absolutely fabulous that places like Denver and Colorado Springs allow chickens.  The fact that they only allow eight and four birds respectively is baffling to me, however.  What would one do with four birds?  Should one die, or go broody, or the others stop laying for winter, or whatever the situation may be, it would be hard to keep enough eggs coming in!  Plus I seem to have a chicken addiction.  Not an addiction to eating them, but rather to watching their antics and having them around.  So Saturday our numbers jumped to twenty five and secured our permanent place in the country.

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We went in to the enclosure to pick out our new chicks and cooed and chased down the cutest and fluffiest ones then would give them a kiss before putting them in the travel box.  Both of us, completely smitten by the little birds.  The burly salesmen eyed us as if we might be from the city…or Mars.

The house has more charm with chirping in the air.  The little fluff balls running about the bathtub are adorable and in the middle of winter our teenagers and ducks, plus these ten layers will provide, not only priceless entertainment, but numerous meals with farm fresh eggs.