Posted in Homestead

10 Rebellious Ways to Make a Huge Impact Now

Be the change you want to see in the world.

Ghandi

It can feel so overwhelming. A single person on the planet amongst billions of others; our lives run by big business, lobbyists, and corrupt governments. Our ecological footprints growing larger by the day, farmable land expected to be gone in a mere sixty years, pollution, disease, starvation. We were never meant to know the problems of the rest of the world. Our minds cannot handle the influx of news and images- handpicked for chaos- across our screens. Whenever we feel overwhelmed, we simply need to step back to our own home. Our own neighbors. Our families. And our choices. It may feel like we cannot do anything about the mega-powers destroying our earth, taking away our choices, freedoms, and way of life, but that is a myth. We are the mega-power. There are things we can do that can make powerful change. Our own dollars keep those mega businesses in power. We are not helpless. We can make a huge impact on this planet and in our communities.

Heirloom “Moon and Stars” watermelon.

1- Buy organic. We should no longer be accepting the vast amount of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers that threaten our top soil and health.

2- Avoid GMO’s. Genetically modified organisms are everywhere. Seeds brought into a lab and changed and patented to withstand massive amounts of Round Up. Monsanto used to be the face of this, but they were bought by Dow. If they own the seeds, we lose our food security. Organic food cannot be genetically modified. See #1.

Handpicking squash bugs was so much more effective than I could have imagined. We have lots of pumpkins!

3- Buy local and organic if you can. Support local farms if they are sustainable. If they use pesticides, move on to another. (Note: If you live in Colorado- support Miller Farms if you are up north and Milberger Farms if you are south.)

4- Grow food. This is the single most political, earth changing, health changing thing you can do. Start a victory garden. Let it grow each year. Grow pots of tomatoes and basil on your apartment balcony. Grow corn in the front yard. Grow! Anyone can grow food. I have developed some amazing techniques using Permaculture and no-till methods to turn even our shale filled, sandy piece of land into a food haven. Use heirloom seeds and save them. Anyone can do it.

My wwoofer, Dominique harvesting basil for lunch.

5- Cook. Not processed food. Cook vegetables and lots of them. Grind or cook whole grains. Eat wild fruit. Throw beans in a crock pot. Use lots of spices. Animal agriculture and GMO’s go hand-in-hand. If you do eat meat, support a local farmer that uses organic grains and grass. You will be a lot healthier if you just go veg.

One of my “kids”, Annie learning to preserve.

6- Teach. Learn to can. Learn to preserve. Learn to bake bread. Learn to garden. Now teach someone else. The power of community has been forgotten as of late. Sustainability and homesteading is a huge way to make big changes and sharing that knowledge has exponential effects.

Anyone can make a few jars of cold and flu medicine, pain, allergy, and topical healers.

7- Avoid pharmaceuticals- I bet Big Pharma causes more deaths than any one industrial giant out there. Learn to make herbal medicines. Find a great herbalist or holistic practitioner. Grow medicinal herbs for teas and extracts.

Love your life.

8- Make your own way- Do not get caught up in the chaos. Social media may be the most damaging driver in our society. They like to keep us angry without telling us all the facts. Focus on your family. Your neighbors. Your friends. Love all the beautiful diversity and cultures around you. Respect police officers. Vote with your heart. Vote for our rights and freedoms. Find joy.

Slow, methodical tasks are imperative to good mental health and happiness.

9- Bring back the simple life. Invite people over for dinner. Put on a record on an old player. Take up crocheting. Can tomatoes. Take a wine class. Go hiking. Pick up the phone and call people you love. Unplug. Instead of focusing on renewable energy, focus on using less. There are so many ways you can use less energy and water in your household.

10- Click here to watch an important documentary. There is hope!

Posted in Farming

Real Farms are not Picture Perfect (but that’s okay)

The large book I have on natural insect and disease control says that one should plant their pumpkins as far as they can away from last year’s crop to prevent squash bugs. We thought twenty-five miles would do it. Nope. It is rather difficult to have a farm named Pumpkin Hollow Farm whilst battling these invaders.

Two weeks ago we had a great hail storm. Really a doozy.

RIP Scarecrow

Followed by a huge rain storm, flood, and mud slide. It was really something.

And something ate the beans.

Farming. Not for the weak of heart.

Now, I want you to forget all those pretty, glossy pictures in the magazines. They are like social media, carefully staged and edited to look a certain way. A real farm is messy. With a bit of trash blowing around (cause it’s always windy). And squash bugs, weeds, and ducks who eat house plants left on the patio.

It is easy to focus on the negative. Where did all the cabbage seeds I planted go?…for crying out loud. It can get frustrating. Where the heck did I put that wine? It can be scary. What color would you say that cloud is? But through it all, it is miraculous. Always focus on the positive.

A restaurant wants to buy my lettuce. My friends are getting their fill of fresh, delicious eggs. I counted fifty thriving corn stalks in just one row. The birds are taking out grasshoppers. Forty-five tomato plants were found under all the mud and debris after the storm and they are thriving. The amaranth grew an inch overnight. The potatoes are busy underground and the corn will surely be knee high by fourth of July (a saying we hold to dearly around here). We are planning out our greenhouse and vineyard for next year. And best of all, we live on a farm!

I need more help around here to keep this farm going. That is a good thing. That means things are growing. The weeds are pretty high but at least they are green (rain in the desert, woohoo!). I am getting fabulously strong and tan and we are eating the best lettuce and a few peas out of the garden. After our several mile walk around our country town each evening, we water by hand. Doug takes the front gardens, I take the back, and an hour later we meet on the porch to laugh at the ducks and baby chickens and eat ice cream as the sun colorfully sets behind the mountains beyond our little farm.

Posted in Farming

How to Create a Meandering Garden

Pictured here are irises, Aunt Donna’s Jerusalem artichokes, yerba mansa, and stinging nettles in a pot. I want invasive plants, but not stinging nettles everywhere! A lid of water for the birds and toads is used often.

This is the driest terrain I have ever gardened upon. It is straight high desert, cactus loving, rattlesnake calling, no-rain-in-sight, sand and limestone. Luckily, I like a good challenge and I believe that if I work with the land instead of against it I will have great results. Putting grass everywhere is not a sustainable option. So, how does one turn a pasture (or yard of dirt) into an oasis and meandering garden? Let me show you how.

Each dark round of dirt and straw holds a medicinal plant. Cardboard and wood chips will fill the spaces between. The plants will grow up and fill out, taking over more space.

You don’t need a rototiller or tractor. We are barely disturbing the earth here. First decide what you want to plant. The area in the front of our house has been designated the Perennial Garden. Doug fenced it off from the chickens. It has dozens of medicinal herbs, fruit trees and bushes, and perennial foods, like asparagus, spread out across the area. Maybe you want lots of the same flowers. Maybe an herb garden.

Angelica and Ashwagandha mingle with annual flowers.

For each plant, dig a hole, put a handful of garden soil in the hole. Put plant in the hole. Cover with garden soil. Water for fifteen to twenty seconds. Every 10 seconds= 1 inch of water. Plants need at least two inches of water per day.

Walk a few feet away and plant the next one. You can also dig a hole, plant seeds, cover with garden soil, water. I planted pumpkins among the herbs and trees. This is Pumpkin Hollow Farm, after all.

A few feet from that, perhaps plant a tree or a bush. In the case of a meandering garden, invasive is a good word! I want the plants to fill the space. One giant butterfly and bird garden that provides perennial, sustaining foods, and medicine.

In between the plants, you can lay down cardboard and cover with thick mulch. Wood chips are especially good. Do know that some wild plants, like bind weed, can and will permeate all cardboard and mulch but the mulch keeps things tidy and makes it easier to pull up weeds, and looks rather nice. I would never use weed barrier. Oy, all that plastic. Mama Earth sure doesn’t love that. Bind weed gets through that stuff too, anyway.

We added a large rectangle of thick cardboard ringed with bricks and rocks. We topped with cardboard with 3 inches of straw, and 3 inches of garden soil and planted green beans, soybeans, collard greens, pumpkins, Hopi amaranth, and other beautiful annuals.

A garden can thrive in absolutely any soil and in any climate without the use of machinery and chemicals. We hand water each night so that we can see how each plant is doing. They get plenty of sun. (Maybe too much, all forty of my tomato starts in the kitchen garden fried!) And the plants will reseed and spread themselves, creating an enchanting meandering garden.

Posted in Farming

Time to Plant Spring Crops! (how and when)

I have a confession to make. Almost every early March for the past fifteen years, I have registered for school. Once farming season hits, I drop classes and begin my life outdoors for the next nine months. Then I am busy with crafts and rest. After Christmas, I redo my house, busily planning my garden in the back of my mind. Then hits February and early March. The tyranny of it all! I lose my sense of purpose. I become listless and not super fun to live with. I wonder about my life and my dreams and my….oh, time to plant, see ya later! I wish I could farm all year.

When a person first starts gardening, it is enough to just get everything in after the last frost date. New gardeners tend to plant everything at the same time. That is great, but then one might notice how quickly the lettuce went bitter and bolted, or the peas went to seed, and that will never do. So the gardener starts planting spring crops. We have just expanded our food window three months! Then the gardener gets hooked on fresh food and decides to start fall crops too. Pretty soon, you’re a homesteader with fresh food nine months out of the year and lots of preserves, a verifiable grocery store going on in your house! It’s good stuff and lots of fun. It is time to plant spring crops now.

Many plants enjoy cooler weather. They are the first things that we shall plant and there are other cool crops that take many months to grow, like rutabagas and celery, that need to be planted now. St. Patrick’s Day is the traditional day to plant potatoes. And the Irish know potatoes! Now, if you happen to live in a very wet climate, your potato starts are going to rot away within a few weeks, so if you garden in the north in a wet climate, you might need to wait a few more weeks. But here in dry zone 6, the timing is perfect (add a week per earlier zone to wait to plant).

Cold crops generally need to be consistently damp in order to germinate. Carrots are particularly finicky fellows when it comes to being insistent on moisture. So, if it is not going to rain or snow, plan to water once per day.

Did you read my last post? I have been busy hoeing trenches and filling them with soil in preparation. (So, if you have tried calling me, that is why I haven’t returned calls!) My seeds are separated into early spring, 2 weeks later, and 2 weeks after that. 2 weeks after that, I will begin summer seeds. I try to stay on top of things because I have trees coming and will have many herb seedlings to transplant during the next six weeks, so if it is nice out, I am outside. That is my happy place.

Here is what I plant in the spring.

  • field peas
  • two kinds of carrots (the third will be planted in the summer for winter storage)
  • snow peas
  • shelling peas
  • three kinds of onions (yellow, red, and bunching)
  • garlic
  • four kinds of lettuce spread out over the spring planting season
  • radishes
  • beets
  • rutabagas
  • scorzonera
  • parsnips
  • salsify
  • three kinds of potatoes (the fourth will be planted in a few months for winter storage)
  • cauliflower
  • broccoli
  • cabbage (another variety will be planted in the summer for winter storage)
  • arugula
  • spinach
  • two kinds of kale
  • swiss chard
  • chives
  • celery
  • rhubarb ( roots planted in the perennial garden)
  • asparagus (roots planted in the perennial garden)

I bet you didn’t know there were so many delicious food items to plant right now! Keep damp, and once the seedlings start to appear, mulch well with straw.

I always haphazardly put out plant markers but they end up disappearing, so I keep a ledger of the type of seed and where it is planted and the day I planted it. This helps me keep track of my favorite varieties (5 Silverbeet Swiss Chard!) and what doesn’t work (having a doozy of time trying to get brussel sprouts to grow). I also know what mysterious plant is coming up when the plant marker gets blown away.

Planting spring crops is a great way to spend a quasi-warm day out in the garden. Dreaming of crisp radishes and peas and new potatoes and asparagus…

Posted in Farming

Trench Planting; Easy Gardening Anywhere

“But how will you plant with all the rock?” the sweet librarian asked me. Her colleague looked on curiously.

I began rambling on excitedly about how to grow in this particular environment. The soil of our new farm is really more sandstone and red sand (with a little cactus thrown in) then it is soil. I can see how many people would look at it and think there is no way you can grow here.

The librarians nodded at me with sympathy. She must be new here. I have grown terrific gardens in driveways, the wild, untouched prairie, and neglected yards; a little sandstone and dry high desert won’t stop me now! There are four techniques over the years that I have come up with/learned/combined/improved upon that work in any situation. Having little money, living in Colorado in terrain that is not usually farmed by the sane, and really wanting fresh vegetables has given way to ingenuity. Trench planting was one of my first techniques. (I will go over the others in the weeks to come as we get to them.)

Trench planting can be done in the front yard, along a strip of driveway, or in a pre-existing garden. This year I obtained an amazing new tool for the job! It glides through the sand and soil and unearths the shale as I go. I am not sure how I have lived without a triangle hoe before!

I am using the fence here as a trellis for field peas. Field peas become split peas for winter soup! The bricks suppress weeds along the fence.

Step 1: Choose where you want your rows. Corn field in the front yard? Pumpkin patch around the porch? A dignified garden inside a fence? My three gardens this year are the same size as my entire urban farm that we moved from last summer. This technique works for a 2000 sq ft kitchen garden or a nice flower garden in the front yard.

I’m saving a lot of energy here by only hoeing only where I will plant. There is no reason to rototille the entire thing.

Step 2: Pull the hoe through the soil to make a trench the depth of the roots of your plant. So, six inch trench for carrots, 3 inch trench for peas, etc. I hoe out the weeds from last year as I come to them and move large rocks out of the trench.

Organic gardening soil can be expensive on this scale. We used our hardware store credit card to get it. If that is our only debt starting a farm, we are doing good. If you consider that this size garden will save us between $2400 and $7000 a year in groceries, the $500 soil cost is worth it. From here on out, we will amend with compost so this is a one time expense.

Step 3: Fill trench with organic gardening soil. The plants won’t be growing in the rocks and sand, they will primarily be growing in the garden soil so it doesn’t matter what the native soil is like.

Step 4: Water rows. Plant seeds. Done.

Wasn’t that so easy? Well, I mean you do have to exert some energy to hoe around. The bags of soil are kind of heavy and you’ll need to do yoga to get your back in garden shape, but creating a garden is super easy.

Maryjane and her great adorer.

My granddaughter, Maryjane, was going to help me plant peas, but she was too busy playing with Gandalf! I will be planting spring crops all week! In the coming posts, I will cover planting spring crops. Until then, soak up some sunshine and get to hoeing.

Posted in Our Family

The Old Jar of Rhubarb

It is magical how something simple can transport us to another time, amongst people we love, to memories…so often bittersweet. Suddenly and without warning, I found myself in Great Aunt Donna’s garden. I could see her jutting along with clippers and bags. I could see her deftly slicing the tops off the rhubarb stalks with a paring knife. Her light hair curled and in place, her squints of joy through her glasses, her smile because we were there.

I took another bite and felt the sunshine of a spring day cusping into summer, the smell of damp soil, as I walked towards her garden.

The jar has sat on my pantry shelf for the past five years. It was time to eat it. The rouge of the stalks had disappeared and the sliced vegetable had turned a blue-green color. The pieces looked nothing like they began and were soggy and sad. Aunt Donna had told me after I canned all those jars of rhubarb how to freeze future harvests. 6 cups of sliced rhubarb, 2 cups of sugar in a freezer bag. They scarcely lasted the year.

Yet, those original jars of rhubarb still moped on the shelf and I decided on a whim to drain a jar and make a rhubarb crisp. I sliced some frozen strawberries and blended it with the soft rhubarb, stickily sweet from all those years in sugar syrup. I needn’t add more. I stirred in a bit of flour. Topped the whole thing with oats, chopped Brazil nuts, freshly crushed cardamom, brown sugar, crumbled together with coconut oil. I baked it. It smelled divine. I poured my coffee and took a bite.

My daughter, Emily, granddaughter, Maryjane, Grandma, me, Aunt Donna

Suddenly and without warning, I am gathering up giant leaves of rhubarb and placing them into the compost bin laughing. I always loved Aunt Donna’s garden. She showed me tricks to composting, to growing, to harvesting. She introduced me to Jerusalem Artichokes and she let me harvest her wild medicines, though she doubted they were medicines at all. She would call me on the phone and say, “The rhubarb (or grapes, or apples, or…) are ready, you better come get them!” She waited for us to drive to Denver to her house on a busy corner and take what we liked before she let others come. I was always mindful and left plenty.

Rhubarb season is still a few months away. Great Aunt Donna’s rhubarb is no longer there. Neither is she. But if I close my eyes and take another bite of this rhubarb crisp, I shall be by her side once more, slicing rhubarb, and enjoying the sunny spring day. And there is one more jar on the shelf.

Posted in Farming

The Intricacies of Placing a Seed Order

Oh it is one of the best days of the year for me! Not my birthday, not my anniversary (that’s next week), not Christmas, it is the day I placed my seed order! Do you know this joy? Oh happy day. My seed and orchard orders are in.

I know quite a lot of folks who are just starting a garden this year. And there are some of us that are moving more towards subsistence farming and those of you that want to start farming as an occupation. So, how many seeds? What do you plant? Drooling over the gorgeous photographs in seed catalogs not only causes hunger but a bit of confusion. Where do you order from? What should you expect?

What are your goals?

So you are just starting out. The proud new owners of my urban homestead that I sold in August plowed down all of my gardens, according to my neighbor. They can’t wait to start a quaint salsa garden. After I let out my breath, I realized that maybe they don’t have time to farm like I do. Maybe a few tomatoes and hot peppers is what will bring them joy, and that’s okay! If you are just starting out, maybe choose ten things that you really love to eat. Maybe even five. Don’t get crazy with new things. Stick with the tried and true.

What is your gardening zone? When is your first frost? Look at how many days it takes on the seed package to see when you can harvest. And then add a month! If it’s really hot in your area, you will need to sow cold crops early. And you can sow them again in July for fall harvest. If they are a summer crop, you cannot plant until after the frost. Some things are going to be started indoors or you can buy f@#k up plants (a term I got from the hilarious book, The Wisdom of a Radish. It is when farmers can’t get their seedlings to grow and have to buy plant starts. This relatively refers to tomatoes and peppers.) and plant them the third week of May. There is a lot to think of so don’t go overboard with the seed order yet! Choose ten things. And go from there.

So you want to start a farm. I guess we got tired of selling all of our best stuff. We sat at our booth amongst the bigger farms with their tables filled with produce from California and Mexico, that they passed off as their own, and their piles of corn in May for cheap, as hundreds of unsuspecting patrons bought up peppers with stickers on them. The funny looks I got trying to get a buck an onion. Selling out and taking our forty dollars out to eat because we had sold our best stuff and we were too tired to cook anyway.

Niche crops and a good market are key. And anyone that has a desire to start a sustainable farm is golden in my book. My friend, Ethan farms in New York and lamented to me on the phone about how the Amish come in with their sixteen kids as slave labor and drive the prices way down at the market. There is always something. But if you have the heart for it, think big! How much space do you have? What can you grow that is unique that would be of interest? Do you have a good market nearby or a place to do a roadside stand? Make sure you grow enough for yourself as well and take a day off. Or at least half a day off. Sustaining yourself is as important as sustaining the next guy. Your personality sells the produce. So have a beautiful display and a big smile on your face when selling produce.

So you want to be a subsistence farmer. Amen sister. I hear ya. This is a new phrase for me. To feed oneself and to teach others to feed themselves is more important than taking fifty carrots to market to sell to folks who want a half price deal. So when choosing seeds, think of space. If I have a fifty foot row that I am going to plant green beans in, and I am placing them six inches apart, and the seed packet has fifty seeds in it, then I need to get two packets or one size up. Yes? Don’t get crazy now here either. I wanted to plant leeks. I love leeks. You only use the bottom third of leeks. They take 120 days from transplant. I could do it (barely) but I could grow bunching onions in half the space and have twice as much onion in my fried potatoes.

I am intensively farming a quarter acre by hand with sustainable methods. I ordered over 75 different varieties of vegetables, herbs, and grain. I ordered 12 different varieties of fruit trees and bushes. I spent a smidge over $900. Next year I will cut that into a third because of the perennials and what seed I will save, and the year after will be even less, until I am saving all my seed. For this reason, I ordered almost entirely heirloom seeds and fruit. My root cellar and pantry will be brimming with delicious food to choose from all year and I can back out of the marketplace a bit more and more. In a few years when everything is up and going, I will save $8000 a year on groceries. And of course I will grow all of my own medicines and culinary spices. I ordered a lot of seeds because variety is the spice of life and without animal products in our diet, these beautiful plants make up our entire home grocery store leaving us to only purchase staples like flour, sugar, coffee, etc. I made sure to choose some crops that are ready to harvest in late April and those that will store through January to give us as much food security and variation as possible.

Getting Started and the Bottom Line. I like Seed Savers. I got the items that weren’t available through them from Territorial Seeds. And the remaining three items on my list I ordered from Johnny’s. I ordered all my heirloom fruit from Trees of Antiquity. I love heirlooms because I love plants that can tell an interesting story. Being a history lover, I want my food to tell tales of pioneers and indigenous growers instead of what the inside of a lab looks like. Plus I can save my seeds. One of my very favorite vegetables was Shiso, a spicy Asian green, that I saved the seeds from but the chickens got into them while they were drying on the porch and they are no longer available anywhere I have looked. Save your seeds.

If everyone planted food where they are, we would change the course of the planet. We would be healthier, the planet would be restoring, our children would be able to care for themselves in the future. All the environmental woes of the world can start being erased by planting some seeds and feeding yourself. It all starts with a seed order.

Posted in inspiration

Creating a Peaceful Reality with an Old Fashioned Life

When I die, I’m going right back to 1830″

Tasha Tudor

I was not familiar with Tasha Tudor as an illustrator, but rather became fascinated with the works that highlighted her lifestyle. A fierce, talented, and enchanted woman who lived on her own on her homestead in Vermont wearing her long skirts, aprons, and living a life from the 1800’s. A life the author of one article referred to as a fantasy world. I smoothed my own apron down across my long skirt and took another sip of tea as I read.

Why do women want to dress like men when they’re fortunate enough to be women? Why lose femininity, which is one of our greatest charms? We get more accomplished by being charming than we would be flaunting around in pants and smoking. I’m very fond of men. I think they are wonderful creatures. I love them dearly. But I don’t want to look like one. When women gave up their long skirts, they made a grave error…

Tasha Tudor

I suppose I came by it naturally. My mother had a collection of lovely vintage aprons and wore them all the time (albeit over jeans) and played music from the 1940’s on the radio as she prepared everything from scratch, and read the Little House books to us in the evenings. My grandmother leaned over the quilt frame and sewed her dainty stitches. My great-grandmother fed me simple, three course meals before our game of rummy. I come from a line of women who appreciated or came from the fantasy world. The difference, I suppose, is that my grandparents could not wait to leave the farms they grew up on and were happy with a small kitchen garden and cable television, and I try to grow all of our food and medicine, make all of our food from scratch, and have even gone a step further in time as I read by oil lamp in the mornings in front of the wood stove. I have a lovely collection of aprons and I am much more comfortable in long skirts and petticoats. You might think the outfit in the photos of me are a costume, but rather, they are my day-to-day clothes. They are comfortable, feminine, and most efficient for the work I do.

I enjoy doing housework, ironing, washing, cooking, dishwashing. Whenever I get one of those questionnaires and they ask what is your profession, I always put down housewife. It’s an admirable profession, why apologize for it. You aren’t stupid because you’re a housewife. When you’re stirring the jam you can read Shakespeare.

Tasha Tudor

Does being a modern homesteader seem like a fantasy? I stash my cell phone away so that I can get my housework done and check on it occasionally to see if one of my daughter snapchatted me. I walk around the house unplugging anything that saps energy, except for the refrigerator. True, Google Home does play me lovely bluegrass tunes as I crochet, my needle moving to the sound of the Appalachians. But only because I haven’t a record player. Oh, how I do long for a record player. I could get a full time job. Or start a new business. I could wear jeans and tennis shoes (oh but they are so uncomfortable). I could look “normal” as I walk to town. I could purchase packaged items, rely on trucks and fuel for vegetables, and sometimes I do. Though it may seem like a terrible bit of work, I intend to transform this homestead (our fifth, so I am getting rather good at this) into an oasis of sufficiency, sustenance, and beauty. This feels like how life is supposed to be.

It’s exciting to see things coming up again, plants that you’ve had twenty or thirty years. It’s like seeing an old friend.

Tasha Tudor

When I’m working in the barn or house I often think of all the errors I’ve made in my life. But then I quickly put that behind me and think of water lilies. They will always eradicate unpleasant thoughts. Or goslings are equally comforting in their own way.

Tasha Tudor

‘Tis actually a lovely feeling to haul in wood to stoke the fire to warm the house and to cook the soup for supper. Such peace to tend to seeds, to plant, to water, to speak to, to harvest, to feed us. Such purpose to knead dough, or put up three hundred jars of sauces and vegetables and fruit and root cellar bins of potatoes and onions, chilies, and garlic. To soak beans overnight. To sew a quilt for my daughter’s wedding. To crochet a blanket for a new life soon to be born. This life is precious and the real fantasy is the modern world of 5G this, pressure to succeed, anxiety, and social media dissonance. I find my peace among garden plants and great skies of stars.

I gather my skirts around me. How fun that my galoshes match this one. The 2000 square foot kitchen garden (not to be confused with the three sisters garden and perennial/medicinal gardens) is fenced in and swept clean. The clear mountains beyond hover over the valley and hold up the watery sky. The cedars fold over creating a place for rabbits to nestle and the goats next door wander together in friendship. It will rain today. The fire crackles. Steam rises from the kettle.

Tasha Tudor’s illustrations are a beautiful portrayal of an old fashioned life that can still lived today.
Posted in Homestead

Top 10 Homesteading Tips I Have Learned Over the Years

This was hard to narrow down, because in each area of homesteading, there are many great tips available. I wanted the most useful tips for this article; the ones that I use all the time.

1. Steaming Eggs- even following a plant based diet, we have happy chickens that lay a lot of eggs. Not ones to let things go to waste, and knowing that it isn’t harming anyone, we do enjoy our farm fresh eggs. Now, how to hard boil them so that peel without exhaustion, frustration, or loss of all the white part! The best tip I learned was to steam the eggs. Place the eggs in a steamer basket above boiling water, covered for 30ish minutes. Perfect every single time.

Last year, I asked my granddaughter, Maryjane, if she wanted to color Easter eggs. “Grammie, the chickens already colored the eggs!” The Araucanas are her favorite chickens with their beautiful blue eggs.

2. Freezing Greens- we grow a lot of greens. How I love curly kale, lacinato kale, 5 Silverbeet Swiss chard, spinach, and wild greens. But, how do you preserve them? Jars of mushy greens turns my stomach. They won’t stay good forever in the fridge. A great tip I learned from an old timer’s homesteading magazine was to stuff all the fresh greens tightly into a freezer bag, seal, and place in the freezer. A few hours later, or so, as the greens freeze, quickly use your fingers to crush up the greens through the bag. Don’t let them defrost. Keep doing that occasionally until you have a whole bag of crushed frozen greens. To use, just sprinkle a handful into soups, scrambled eggs, or stir fry. It is a delicious way to preserve excess greens.

My favorite recipe for frozen greens comes from my friend, Rodney. It is a rough recipe that we alter every time we make it. It is a delicious soup of potatoes, garlic, onions, greens, veggie sausage, and lots of white wine.

3. Labeling Canned Preserves- I used to dutifully notate the contents of each jar with carefully written labels. Should the labels get wet, they fell off. Should the labels be of good quality, they never came off. Perhaps the print was smudged or maybe I ran out of labels. A useful way to label home canned goods is with a Sharpie. A Sharpie is a homestead necessity, y’all. Just clearly mark the contents and date on the lid and that will stay put for as long as your have your beautiful jars of food on a shelf. The sharpie can be rubbed off with a little elbow grease, or maybe you won’t be using that lid for canning anymore so it won’t matter.

My new house looks like a show home. It is lovely and comfortable, but not made for a homesteader. The prior owners apparently never put up several hundred jars of produce. There is simply nowhere to store them. The house is undergoing a slight makeover soon with rows of rustic shelving all along the north wall. 60 feet total. Cookbooks, canned goods, pantry staples in canning jars, and this and that, shall grace one full side of the main area of the house. It is not often that folks showcase all of their food, but it is so lovely, why not? A half wall is coming down as well to open up the kitchen to the living room and create more space for visiting and cooking.

4. Unclog a Drain- I had to use this one just the other day. It doesn’t work if it is something like a washrag or huge clot of hair, but it works for slow running sinks. Pour a heavy hand of baking soda down the drain. Top off with a good pour of white vinegar and let sit. It shall bubble and start clearing. An hour later, pour in a kettle or two of boiling water. That should do the trick!

5. Replace Dryer Sheets- should you have to wait for a clothes line until spring as I do, you can create a simple dryer sheet that will leave your clothes smelling fresh and static clear. Take a washrag, dampen it, and shake about 5 good shakes of lavender oil onto it. Throw in dryer with clothes. Brilliant.

Dryer sheets have a lot of toxic (to you and the environment and are very harsh on the skin) ingredients in them and are just not necessary.

6. Bring Back Aprons- if you know me, or you have read my blog for some years, you know my obsession with aprons. I traipse all over town in them. I adore them whether they are vintage and have a story or the ones that were made by a few Mennonite gals for me. Aprons keep your clothes cleaner so you have to wash less. Aprons have pockets for eggs, clothes pins, quarters, a cell phone, a handkerchief, and children’s toys. I cannot wait until mine are holding seed packets again!

7. How to Take Care of Plants- I had the black thumb of death for so many years, it is hard to believe that I can grow plants so well now. Houseplants and garden plants succumbed to fates that I rather regret. A fellow at the garden center said this simple statement that changed how I take care of plants, “Treat the plant as if it is in its natural environment.” Tomatoes are tropical. They need sunshine and lots of water. Succulents and cacti go for weeks without water. My jasmine plant is crawling all over the bathroom because it loves humidity and filtered sun and a good watering once a week. My fine old aloe loves water every two weeks and at least a bit of direct sun.

8. How to Water Plants- this was a big one for me. I assumed one must never over-water the garden! It wasn’t until my friend, an accomplished Master Gardener, pointed out that it is really difficult to over-water in the high desert! For every plant, place a finger into the soil next to it and it should be damp to the second knuckle. Corn, houseplants, tomatoes. It changed the game for me.

9. How to Easily Garden- well, this one I came up with myself, but it is brilliant if one does not want to rototille the dirt driveway (or anywhere else). Dig a hole or a trench. Place a handful of organic gardening soil into it. Plant seeds or transplant seedlings. Cover with garden soil. Water. Place cardboard around plant and top with straw. Do this all over the yard and driveway. Every year the soil gets better and better.

10. Plant Perennials- by planting perennial food crops, one can assure harvest of something year to year. Annuals make up the majority of our food, but perennials create food security. Fruit bushes and trees, wild foods, and annuals that reseed themselves are all helpful on a homestead. Raspberries, burdock, apples, arugula, even lettuce will reseed itself if you let it.

I have learned many things over the last ten+ years, but these ten tips can be used anywhere, on any sized homestead or garden. I hope they make your life a little easier! Do you have a homestead tip to share? Write it in the comments! Happy Homesteading!

Posted in Farming, Food/Wine (and preserving)

How I “Make” Money and a New Chefs Knife

Welcome 2020! You bring with it such promise and excitement for a new year! What are your dreams this year? What are your goals? One of my main goals this year is to up our food production. Not just gardening, though that is a big part of it. We also have a lofty goal of creating all of the processed food items that we typically purchase in our own kitchen.

Homesteaders always have crazy goals like that. This is my living. I am a housewife and I make the bulk of my money by not spending what I typically would if I had a full time job. I “make” money by growing most of our food and I “make” money by preparing and preserving it. I create my own grocery store. And it is lots of fun! I also “make” money because I create all of our own medicines and because we stay healthy eating homegrown and prepared food.

I received a very special Christmas gift from my husband. Jewelry, you might ask? Better. A chef’s knife. It is a beauty. And sharper than a lost sewing pin in the carpet. It will make cooking such a pleasure for me.

I love cooking and I love a challenge, so homesteading is a good job for me. I have an animal sanctuary here and for as long as I can remember, animals have been dearer to me and better friends to me than most humans. I have sworn off consuming them and their by-products. We are always healthier and happier when we are vegan and we save a lot of money. We have begun making our own veggie meats to supplement meals. It is a lot of fun, super easy, and we get more nutrition without the preservatives and unknown ingredients. I am experimenting with different cheeses as well. I was a cheesemaker for many years so I think I might be able to come up with a pretty sly alternative to smoked cheddar! It’s all a part of the fun. Lots of baking will ensue as well; granola bars, cereal, breads, desserts, tortillas.

But my main love is vegetables. I make a very good vegetarian because I crave vegetables more than anything. I will have my biggest garden yet on this new homestead. It will be nearly as big as my entire last homestead! Using roughly a third of our 1.1 acre, I will be able to grow nearly all of our vegetables and get many perennial fruit and nut trees and bushes put in. I am even going to experiment with grains, though I will count grains, some nuts, coffee, black tea, and chocolate as things that I will probably always need to purchase! But within a few years my goal is to growing, preserving, and preparing at least 90% of what we eat and have plenty for my grown family as well. Another way I “make” money is by growing my own farm.

We all have plenty of goals this time of year and mine will certainly be more fun with a chef’s knife! Let’s not forget to live in the moment. One never knows what tomorrow brings. (I do hope tomorrow brings Spring!) Happy New Year to you all.