Life Lessons From the Garden

In four weeks from today we will be moving towards the mountains to our new homestead.  Oh, it doesn’t look much like a homestead.  It looks like a suburban style house from the 90’s on an unused acre of land with a workshop that is about to become a chicken coop.  Our neighbors near, our mortgage double, but if I close my eyes and push away the anxiety of moving and inspections and packing, and “see” the new property for what it will be, I am filled with optimism and strength.  A friendly small town.  Baby goats.  A thriving garden where there once was nothing.  A view of the sunset.  I haven’t seen the sunset in years, blocked in by trees and neighbors.

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Google Earth has not updated the view of our present house since we moved here so one can see the tired house, the empty planting rings, the barren yard, a car backed up in what is now my potato patch.  We have done miracles here in just two and a half years.  Everything in life can be transformed by a little love, research, and hard work.  Everything from a house and garden, a marriage, a friendship, to a new outlook and fresh perspective.  Yes, this house and garden represent so much in life and has taught me some valuable lessons.

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1.  Have faith in the future.

Moving here fresh from heartbreak and a mere eighteen months after we lost everything, this house was a blessing.  It represented new life, faith, a fresh start.  A house of our own- not rented.  Always have faith.  Looking back, one can easily see all the “coincidences,” friendships made, sheer luck, and universal pulls to get us where we are.  Even now, my house sold in one day, we found a house the same day, all is going smoothly thus far, the money showed up, the young military family in need of a nice home to raise their infant child precisely around the time of closing saw our house first….everything going on in the world around us is so much bigger and more controlled than we think.

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New, cheaper soil

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Doubled the price soil.

2.  Buy the best that you can afford.

I skimped this year.  I usually buy a particular kind of soil to start my straw bale/permaculture/quick beds of my own design, but it wasn’t there this year.  It seemed Miracle Grow (hello, Dow.) had taken over the shelves at the nearby stores.  So, I opted for cheaper bags of soil.  Lots of them.  It’s just soil, right?  Those beds look terrible.  I wasted hundreds of dollars.  If the seeds did germinate, they quickly died.  In everything you do, just do it right the first time.  Maybe I have always been a cheapskate, but that keeps biting me in my farmgirl derriere.

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3. Expect surprises.

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Being on this earth is such a blessing.  My goodness, to wake up every day and see the great sky, the warm sun rising, the birds singing, the plants surrounding us, to see the people we love, and to learn and experience this day- such a gift.  I love how Mother Nature gives sweet gifts, like wild sunflowers, and potatoes I didn’t plant, and hollyhocks.  Elderberries that aren’t typical here in Colorado.  Fresh rains in July, and cool breezes on a hot day, surprise trees, and places for wildlife to live.  Surprise friendships that become incredibly valuable, great jobs, and moments to help others.

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4.  Leave a legacy.

In all you do, try to leave things better than they were.  Whether that be cleaning up trash at the park, using less resources, offering a smile and compliment to a stranger or friend, or planting a tree, always try to serve.  I hope this pear tree grows wild and fast.  I hope the three month old baby moving in climbs its branches and loves it when he is older.  I hope the tree feeds many and brings joy to the beholder.  I may have paid for, planted, and tended to it, but it is not mine to benefit from.  It is a gift to the future.

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5.  Don’t run from your true self and purpose.

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In a blog post last year, when our shop was about to close, I questioned, “Am I nothing more than an herbalist?”  Well, of course I’m not just an herbalist.  I am a friend, a wife, and a mother, an animal lover, a nature admirer, and I have a few talents, but I am not just those things either.  I am me.  Individual.  Specially created, me.  What I was pondering when I uttered those words though, is if I could be something else, start a new career.  My table is filled with dozens and dozens of single and compound extracts beginning their brewing process.  I am at peace when I am gently clipping echinacea leaves and popping calendula heads into jars, and talking to the rose while I snip comfrey.  I am an herbalist.

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6. Learn to let go.

I am preparing so many new medicines because I am going to have to say goodbye.  I could try to transplant everything I have planted but I have learned that if a plant is thriving where it is, it doesn’t necessarily want to grow somewhere else.  I will take a few things but most will continue to live here, and I do hope thrive.  I will not be able to harvest my sweet corn, or Aztec blue corn, or popcorn, or pumpkins, or all the tomatoes, or so many other things I have carefully tended this summer.  It is hard to leave behind so much that we create, so much that we build, to start over.  But we don’t really start over, we just start anew with more experience, more lessons, more faith.

A Visit to the Desert Botanical Garden in Arizona

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The Desert Botanical Garden was my favorite outing this week in Phoenix.  It was the only day my friends that we are staying with had off work.   At the Botanical Garden, I learned about the ecosystem and plant life here.

The long, meandering paths lead in circles around the living outdoor exhibits, so it was easy to traverse.  I found myself fascinated by the landscape and the warm sun felt great upon my skin as the four of us wandered around the expansive space enjoying each other’s company and watching exquisite birds.  Fluffy chipmunks darted to and fro and a large hawk hovered near.

We found great enjoyment watching the blackbirds dart full speed into holes in the Saguaro cacti, apartment buildings for the birds.  Hummingbirds happily drank nectar from cactus flowers and trees in full bloom.

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I have an enormous aloe plant in my house that flowers each year and it is always a topic of conversation the first time folks visit my home.  To see these beautiful specimens full of juice and flowering prolifically beneath the Arizona sun was wonderful.

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There is a medicinal herb that I use called Chaparral.  It holds the astounding properties within it to kill cancer cells, repair teeth and kill infections.  It is often hard for me to get.  Its other name is Creosote Bush and there it was, prolific across the desert.

The herb gardens were thick with rich aroma and life as bees darted from tip to tip.

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I wondered how the indigenous people of the land here could withstand the heat.  There were many examples of willow and ironwood structures for cooking, living, and communing.  Gardens and history were provided around the simulated village.

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My husband is a very good photographer and I was happy that he could capture the day for us.  If you find yourself in Phoenix, Arizona, head to the Desert Botanical Garden for a day of history, beauty, and desert magic.

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It has been a lovely six days in Arizona and now we bid a sad farewell to our dear friends and travel east to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Sunday Morning on the Farm

We need to bring in more wood.  I shall find some more kindling.  Empty the ash into the compost.   A wood fire is far more warming than the furnace.  And delightful as well.

The grandfather clock chimes and the morning is still.  Blue jays call in the distance.  Steam rises from my coffee cup as my husband sips his beside me.  A quiet Sunday morning save for sounds of the homestead.

Blur….upp, the sound the honey wine makes while fermenting.

The busy whir of the sewing machine as I work on Yuletide gifts.

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Gentle snoring from the farm dog who reclines comfortably on the sofa after a cool night outdoors keeping watch over the urban farm.  He loves his work and does it well, coming in to rest then opting to go outside again late morning.

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This life, this home, it balms, sweetens, and simplifies.  This homestead life.

Root vegetables- sunchokes, parsnips, and potatoes- harvested from the garden beds will be roasted for brunch alongside fresh eggs from the coop.

The chickens dig around in the leaves and the golden light of autumn cascades over the sleeping beds.  I jot down ideas for a preservation garden.  I will need more fencing.

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Dreams, and the gentle lilt of every day life pervades me and I smile, and take another sip.

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.

Creating Hills in the Garden (you be the teacher)

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In this installment of Farmgirl School, you are the teacher!  Please respond with your ideas and experiences.  We will all greatly appreciate the inspiration!

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So, in this crazy idea of mine where we have meandering paths around and through the gardens (on this very flat land), I would like to create some height.  I think it would be interesting to create a look of natural hills and curves.

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Now, how does a girl that may have spent her gardening budget on seeds create such a thing on the cheap?

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Doug’s idea is to outline the “hill” with rocks.  Fill center with the discarded branches around here.  Fill it with fill dirt (am I bringing that home in my Fiat?) and then organic soil.  Seems a good plan.  What else can we do?

What say you?

The Homesteading Bug…or in the Blood?

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There are some that are content with flowers in a pot.  There are those who are perfectly happy turning on a switch to make the fire come to life (the gas flame is rather pretty).  A package of this food or that blended with another to make “homemade” food.  Our society has a different view of homemaking these days.  But I, well I used to think I had the homesteading bug.  A bug that I wondered would pass once we entered the city.  Would I miss canning?  It is tedious work.  Would I miss hand washing dishes and clothes lines, and the smell of firewood setting aflame while a pot of beans is set on the wood stove to percolate?

I guess you know the answer.

City life can be rather easy.  My friend cleans my apartment once a week.  I leave for work with everyone else and work very, very hard all week long.  So does Doug.  We come home and fix supper or head out to eat.  We switch on the fire.  And a movie.  We feed the cats.  I do laundry.  It is quick, even though our clothes are a bit shrunk from the dryer…or the lifestyle.

We long for chores and the cool breeze as we run to the chicken coop to let the ladies out.  We miss the sight of dozens of jewel colored jars cooling on the counters waiting for the larder (I did get several dozen things put up, but we’ll be out by next month).  I miss the sound of the dehydrator and the smell of drying tomatoes.  The sound of crackling from the first log that catches in the wood stove.  I miss the extensive gardens to water and the music blaring from my earphones as I dance and water at the same time, entertaining the neighbors.  I miss pointing out what we grew on the plate (sometimes all of it).  I miss falling into bed exhausted with a huge smile of completion on my face.  Planning the winter rests of learning to knit and weave and spin and the books I’ll catch up on.  Only to be planning the next year’s gardens and pouring over seed catalogues instead.

We wondered if we would get over the homesteading bug when set into a life of a bit more ease.  But, no, it turns out, it was homesteading blood.  Not a bug.  We are a few of those folks that could go back to 1890 with ease.  Playing the fiddle or working as we please.  To step out of normal society is a plus.  Yes, on a mini-farm and homestead you will find us.

I look forward to donning my apron again.  The one that swaddled new born goats and chicks.  The one my granddaughter can hide under.  To wipe my hands on after chopping a zillion vegetables or to wipe my brow after crawling on my hands and knees to plant tiny seeds that will become life and infuse our life with…life.

Some of us just have homesteading in our blood.

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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When Homesteading is Life

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When one is faced with starting over there is an underlying gift involved.  One that creates space.  Yes, it is sad to lose everything one owns and it is odd to have to reinvent one’s occupation and lifestyle but what this creates is a place to only bring back in what one loves.  What one needs.  What improves life and doesn’t clutter or overwhelm it.

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I am living in a beautiful home with friends.  Electricity is used as needed and sometimes when not.  I have relearned to use a dishwasher and a dryer.  We flip on lamps to read.  I walk around their house in the evening squinting for the overhead lights are so bright.  I do not like overhead or artificial lights.  My forever farm will have oil lamps again.  I miss them, love them, feel better by them, and will not miss turning on the switch.

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I rinse and lightly scrub dishes and put them in the dishwasher.  One more good rub and these dishes could be put away.  I do not feel I need one.  The dryer has been fun and makes laundry day a snap with these beautiful machines but I miss hearing the flick of the clothes as I snap them in the air before placing them on the line while listening to birds and taking a few breaths to myself as I enjoy the outdoors.  My clothes, wrinkle free and not shrunk coming off the line in piles of aroma that could not be matched with dryer sheets.  “Perhaps I will love city life again or at least modern conveniences,” I thought.  Wrong.

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Right now we don’t miss milking twice a day but we really miss our chickens.  I haven’t eaten more than four servings of fresh food all summer.  My gardens filled with bounty in my memory and planning.  No eggs, no produce, and no milk on hand is sobering.  Maybe we will get a milking goat again, I know not as of yet, but the chickens and gardens will be taking over available space on the forever farm.

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Our neighbors hope we get the place.  They miss us and our goats.  We have only been farmless for a month and a half so perhaps more things I miss will come up.  But we will start house with as little as if we have just left home.  Mementos and little else.  No clutter, only build what we love and treasure in our new home.

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We are having trouble securing work that pays over minimum wage despite our experience and education.  Another interesting dilemma.  But, we are following open doors and not trying to force our way through bolted ones.  Let’s see where this meandering path leads us.

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“It’s a good thing you know how to homestead!,” my friend exclaimed.  She said that most people faced with our situation moving to the country with little wages would think they wouldn’t survive!

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I know how to build a fire, how to can, how to preserve, I know friends who raise their own livestock for meat, I know how to make bread from scratch, and how to make a corn field come up in a driveway.  I am not worried.  I got this.

Searching for Home

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It is just an ordinary old building from the outside.  It was a feed store and a liquor store among other things.  Its basement is flooded and water rushes around the old, old boiler standing proudly, its ankles wading in the rainwater misplaced.  The large main floor is open with high ceilings, windows, wood floors, and my eyes gaze around in wonder as if I were designing a loft for a popular television show.  The upstairs is a rounded loft that would make a lovely bedroom.  The back room is really the gem.  A rustic blank slate of old brick and cement, a kitchen it must be.  I dream as the owner shows me around.  Lord, I could decorate anything.  Unfortunately we have to rent a year before we can buy and she could not afford to allow us that being too far behind.  The bank will likely have this unspoken masterpiece, unappreciated in its barrenness but too expensive in its needs.  I wished her luck.  I could have had supper clubs there and art openings and karaoke nights!  But alas, it is not for us though if could buy we could get it for a song.  I could even turn the outside strip into a garden oasis with chickens.

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So, Doug and I decided to head out to the building that holds the company that he is interviewing with tomorrow.  We are confident and hopeful.  We backtracked from the building to various neighborhoods, many with pristine grass and home owner’s associations written all over them as well as mighty confident price tags.  Because his work, should he get the job, is on the far north side of Colorado Springs we would be a mere ten minutes from the first bit of country.  A life Doug would like to hold onto.  Truth be told, so do I.  We still want the large gardens and chickens.  The views, the stars, the quiet, that life.

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We drove past the trees that were scarred by the fire I wrote about a few years ago.  The area is regrowing and beautiful.  To live in the trees would be magical even though the fire risk is always a possibility.  A few minutes further we get into the prairielands we know and adore.

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Oh where will our new home be?  And can it be somewhere we can stay?  To put down roots and apple trees without fear of being forced to move?  Can we find someone to help us get the house then buy it from them?  Or a place that we can rent then purchase later?  A place that we can call our own?  Dreaming of home is a bittersweet ordeal when you know not where home is.

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Home is by a hearth and fire, surrounded by our cats, and visited by our beloved ones.  It is where we find each other at the end of the day and at early dawn.  Where the rooster will crow and the pumpkins will grow.  We are searching.

Found Vegetables (dreams, hidden gardens)

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I dreamt it was there.  I dreamt that there were vegetables growing at our old house in Kiowa.  I woke up thinking that was preposterous because our weather hasn’t allowed anyone to have vegetables yet!  We decided to go have a look anyway yesterday while driving though.  The house wears a large foreclosure notice on it.  The landlords wanted us to buy the place or move so they could but that must not have worked out and so the old farm in town on two-thirds of an acre sits with three foot high grass and hidden treasures.  I figured the bank wouldn’t mind.  Being raised by a dad who was captain of the sheriff’s department makes one slightly paranoid about breaking the law.  But I planted this stuff, for crying out loud!

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At the end we left with four huge buckets of onions, beets, carrots, celery, garlic and herbs.  There were potatoes and many more things growing should someone move in before fall.  What a bounty and a surprise!

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I should listen to my dreams more often!