Posted in Homestead

The Busy, Busy Summer

It has been an incredibly busy summer and here autumn is in full swing. Homesteading here is a pleasure and our first farming season was wonderful. In June, I was terribly discouraged, even considering giving up. I had started gardens six times bigger than any of our previous homesteads and was upset that I wasn’t able to keep up by myself.

Enter angels in cars and vans with backpacks and stories and ideas and joy and youth. Becoming a WWOOF host has been great fun. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is an amazing program; “The new backpacking across Europe,” according to my husband. A woman in her thirties with a master’s degree and a desire for a new career, new life, searching for herself (and a liberal cowboy). A young woman fresh out of college, feeling the peer pressure of starting a career, but really wanting more freedom and a homestead, fulling embracing her apron strings. A young man straight out of the military with some serious soul searching to do. A nineteen year old with ambition and wisdom beyond her years, with a great desire to change food deserts and start a farm. My last woofer is here now, a 6’7″, hungry, twenty year old basketball player. He is here for two weeks helping me put the gardens to bed and to prepare the homestead for the colder months. We will then have our house to ourselves again, and then will welcome more young, future homesteaders here in the spring. We have a greenhouse now, are adding extensive raised beds, and are putting in a vineyard with fifty-five vines. The help will be most welcome! I am eternally grateful to all of them. http://wwoofusa.com

These shelves are now much more full than when we took this picture!

I remembered exactly why we put up food! After a few years of slacking, the empty grocery store shelves of early spring reminded me. This year we put up over four hundred jars of food, have a full freezer, and root cellar vegetables. Our garden is still filled with root crops. Medicinal plants fill the front garden. All of these gardens were prairie and shale. I am enjoying teaching my techniques to create prolific gardens. A book is in the works.

So many projects planned! Rain barrels, greenhouse beds, raised beds, and a modern root cellar addition to the house.

Baby lambs will be born any day now at our friend’s farm. The same gal we got two from all those years ago before we lost everything. Here, everything is restored. All things that are taken from us will always be restored. I have started weaving and will be selling my work. I work at a local winery on Saturdays as their in-house sommelier, and I just love it. I have visions of making our own wine from our own vineyard and using the pressed off wine grapes to dye our own wool from our own sheep and then spinning it into lush yarn to weave my own creations. Homesteading allows so many opportunities for creativity and peace.

Coming upon my eight year anniversary writing this Farmgirl School blog, I contemplate our journey. From farm to rented farm to apartment to urban farm to here- this beautiful spot on earth, and realize that in the craziness of the world, and elections, and pretend pandemics, and social media…there is no place like home. And may that home always be a homestead.

We found this street sign while out on vacation. How perfect if we lived on this road!
Posted in Farming

A Greenhouse Raising

We have been here a year. I can hardly believe how time flies! My granddaughter and I found an earth worm in the potato patch, a sure sign that our sand and shale desert soil farmed in a sustainable, no-till fashion- in just one season- is becoming an oasis. Now this land needs a greenhouse.

Doug removed all the cactus from the area we decided on.

A greenhouse could extend the season a few weeks. I am working on a system to naturally heat it so that we can start spring crops earlier. In all my houses before, there has been a nice sunny south window to start seedlings in, but the overhang is such here that sun rarely cascades in one place for very long. Then late in autumn, the tomatoes will have a few more weeks to ripen. Oh yes, a greenhouse is needed.

Choosing a place for the greenhouse. We needed a place that was easily accessible by the hose, level ground, and a place that wouldn’t block our view of the mountains.

We talked about building one from scratch, and we probably could have despite not being particularly handy or with excess funds…but we didn’t need to. Our neighbor has a friend, who has a partially put together greenhouse, do we want it?

Look on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace for greenhouses. A lot of people get them and then just don’t use them. Look for materials on those same sites. I am sure there are other sites that are good as well. You can put together a greenhouse for cheap. In some cases, free!

Put in a few phone calls and see if you can’t get a crew together to help you. Much like an Amish barn raising, I put out the word, and we got help. Then, of course, we will be available in their time of need down the road. Community is the best part of homesteading.

We walked the property looking for the best place to put it. Somewhere close to water, a place that is level ground, and a place that wouldn’t block my magnificent view of the mountains. (I regretted my placement of the little barn.)

Our neighbors, Carolyn and Rod, hooked up their trailer. My cousins met us there, along with our farm interns, Annie and Rex, and Annie’s boyfriend, Cole. We had a lively crew, happily moving the 10×12 greenhouse.

The young people quickly took the initiative and had the greenhouse finished and put together. The inside of the greenhouse is bolted to railroad ties so that the greenhouse won’t end up in Carolyn’s yard come first wind storm.

I am so grateful to my family and friends for helping this greenhouse manifest here. It is beautiful next to the kitchen gardens. I can just see the raised beds now, maybe a tea table, its warmth creating seedlings and life and food.

Posted in Homestead

Life on a Colorado Homestead

Colorado can be harsh and it can be breathtakingly glorious. It can be twenty below zero, a hundred and five, with a severe drought, or a wild flood. A month without rain then torrents then clear. A mere few miles to the south and also to the west of me, hail completely destroyed the gardens of friends and family. A few sprinkles hit our corn. In Colorado, you never know what will happen. The weather is as fierce as its beauty.

My grandfather, my father, Doug’s parents are from here. We were born here. Our children were born here. Our children’s children were born here. Despite our dreaming of other places, Colorado is home. It holds the people that hold our hearts.

Because of this, we choose to homestead here. I realize after talking to perspective wwoofers that the perceptions of Colorado range greatly. Denver is not in the mountains. We are in the high desert. We rarely have snow. The mountains are where the snow is. We are often in drought. We have a four month growing season. Cactus and cedar grow best here. The wind blows most of the time. It is cold most of the year, but with the sun shining on your face, even winter days can be wonderful. If you can learn to farm here, you can farm anywhere. The views are staggering, the weather this summer quite pleasant, and the gardens doing well.

In the morning, I rise, let out the chickens, throw them scratch and watch them run free. I let out and feed the ducks and watch them flap their wings madly in the morning light. I throw hay to the goats and a scoop of food to their faithful guard- an oversized Great Pyrenees who watches his fortress with grace and a bit too much tenacity. I feed the cats and give them fresh water. The kittens chase flies and toy mice. Our oldest kitty endearingly watches Dad work. He is so happy that Doug works from home presently.

Coffee on a homestead is next, of course. If it is winter, the wood stove would be stoked. In summer, I stay outdoors as long as I can, writing, reading, putting the hot, dark liquid to my lips.

Weeding, watering, killing squash bugs, harvesting, replanting, making sure the resident toad has water, admiring the foliage, the colors, with gratitude for the sustenance contained within a mere seed that will fill our bodies and pantry with food. I watch the hummingbirds and listen to the song birds. The ducks swim in their pool, the dog sleeps in the shade of the barn, the chickens bathe in the dirt. The heat comes quickly so I work faster.

Canning, housework, cooking, laundry all fill the summer days of a farm wife who is also the farmer. The busyness feels good and I stretch to relieve my tired muscles. When my farm interns arrive this week, we will tackle the larger projects of painting the large chicken coop, mucking the coop and mini-barn, and starting keyhole gardens. Making sure we still have time to sit on the porch and admire the view of the Sangre de Cristo mountains and watch as a hawk lazily glides overhead. The breeze through the trees and the fresh air of country caress as we enjoy sweet tea.

I work on my weaving in the late afternoons. Or maybe read a magazine before I realize another task undone. Winter is for resting. Summer is for doing and my mind and body love it.

I love homesteading. Up with the sun. Working with my hands. Doing things from scratch. Dedicating my life to hard work, family, animals, and creating beauty and sustenance. To be grounded with hands in the soil, my eyes on the horizon, my heart at peace.

Posted in Homestead

The Amish, Pioneers, and the New Homesteader

Ruth and Joel’s house was cozy and warm. The sun shone through the large windows looking out on the cold mountains just yonder, the wood stove stood guard against the chill, in front of a wood cabin wall. Their children played with simple toys and brought me books to read them. Ruth had sewing waiting for her- a task she dislikes despite her very fancy sewing machine plugged into the outlet that is supplied by propane. She brought us out sweet rolls and a drink. We talked of her husband’s job, canning, her makeshift root cellar under the house, and about the animals. It was really no different- to my surprise- than if you visited my farm some January morn. Except that her husband rode his bike or hitched up the horses to go to work, whereas my husband starts the Fiat, which is much smaller than Joel’s buggy.

Ruth and Joel are Amish. We have a small community not far from here and a good number of Mennonites as well. Tourists snap photos of their buggies and horses and sweet caps and darling children.

I, myself, was rather fascinated by the Amish. The simplicity. The family focus. The back-to-earth lifestyle of gardening, chopping wood, living off grid, and staying away from the chaos and destruction of social media and television. Living on faith and hard work and enjoying the slow, simple life of a happily busy existence is something most people these days are searching for, which just adds to our fascination of people brave enough to live that way.

The Amish didn’t create anything new. The pioneers lived that way out of necessity. The indigenous cultures of each country lived that way at one time. Some still do. The back-to-land dreamers of the 1970’s saw the benefits. There are men and women who quietly live this way today.

People choose to live a homestead life for many reasons: food security, and health, to live closer to the earth (therefore feel closer to the Creator), and to walk softer on the planet. The focus is on simple life requirements such as: growing food, saving water, raising animals, being close to family, having faith, and providing basic necessities for oneself, like heat, medicine, clothes, and other handmade items.

It starts with the buying of a few cute oil lamps at the antique store. Next thing you know, you’re weaving scarves and sewing quilts and making baskets. Soap, body products, cleaning products can easily be made. Then you are cooking on a wood stove and have your crocheting nearby. Instead of fine art, you display five hundred stained glass-looking, sparkling jars of food. Researching rain barrels and organic methods to gardening and increasing the size of the tomato rows is next. Then you are making mead, inviting friends over for farm suppers in front of a bonfire, or getting the instruments out to strum some music for the ducks while watching the sun set neatly behind the mountains, splaying splashes of vibrant summer colors across the clouds that you pray rain will come from.

It is a good life, and every year we strive to become more and more self reliant while still immersing ourselves in our community. The reasons that people do not choose to homestead are things like: no time (didn’t you just post that you binge watched something like eighteen hours of some ridiculous show?), no skills (no time like the present to learn! There are lots of great books in the library or you can order mine here!), too hard (you can reverse ailments and get super healthy farming), and then there is the age old don’t-want-to-give-up-anything. Just remember, that big house, green lawn, fancy electric appliances, gas guzzling multiple cars, credit card bills, manicures, hair dye, and restaurants all have to be worked for. They cost hours of your life. I’m not saying those are bad things, but if we want a life of peace, then we must choose what we want to spend our life working for. If homesteading is on your list, this is a great time to get started.

Posted in Homestead

The Wisdom of Simple Living

A fascinating book dropped into my home library by way of a student who thought I would enjoy it. It is the second in the series, and by god, I am enjoying it! Foxfire 2 has delighted me this past week with recipes, anecdotes, and interviews with homesteaders that were born in the late 1800’s. What began as a journalism class at a high school in Georgia in 1970 turned into twelve-plus books in the Foxfire series. The students interviewed and photographed elders in the Appalachian communities and surrounding areas about life during a time that most of us have never seen and most of us will never read or hear about. Without these books, a hundred years of homesteading wisdom, history, and life would have vanished. I saved up enough money to buy the whole set and I can’t wait to keep reading.

I think the folks that were interviewed in the Foxfire books would be most surprised by our lack of neighborliness and community these days. Back then, midwives delivered babies, neighbors dug graves and built caskets, elders took in the homeless, black and white folks were family to each other- the community was strong because that is how it survived. It seems a close community would have made life a whole lot less lonely and a lot more fulfilling. Wouldn’t they be surprised that we don’t know most of our neighbors’ names? That is something we just have to get back.

A long time client and friend of mine passed on last week. Death is a part of life but it always makes you sit up a little straighter and look around. Are we living the life we want to live?

You know over the years we have gone back and forth, forwards and backwards, from suburb living to hand washing clothes with a plunger and a two sided tin tub to fancy coffee machines and new clothes back to aprons and simple living. I tell you what, nothing beats simple living.

I can give you lots of reasons ranging from less bills, less stress, more security, healthier food, less hurry, more satisfaction, and more time with family. We still work hard, but that’s alright. Working hard keeps you young and makes your heart feel good. Simple living and homesteading is about choosing one’s priorities in life. Looking at one’s footprint on the earth. How much time one has for relationships that are important. And taking time to build community and help each other out. Everything has become about money. It’s not all about money. It is about community. Those around you. Your life! Sometimes it’s nice to sit with a glass of homemade wine next to your spouse and just watch the corn grow.

Check out the Foxfire book series on Amazon. It’s like gathering wisdom from the elders that have passed on.

Posted in Animals/Chickens

Baby Goats Join the Farm

It was nearly five years ago. As we stood outside in the dirt of the prairie, the wind howling, watching our animals being trucked away one by one to new homes, tears ran down our faces. We were leaving the world of farmers and joining the world of the homeless. We prayed that one day we would be able to hold a baby goat again, to feel the breeze around us as we surveyed our vegetable gardens, to hear a rooster crowing as the sun rose over the horizon somewhere in the country.

We moved from friend’s house to friend’s house, diligently working, to apartment, to owning a home in the city, to homesteading that piece of land (not able to have goats in the city), working harder, purchasing land in the country. Our own. Our own land in the country. Where we could have goats.

Doug was insistent that we adopt boys. Boys are fairly useless in the traditional farming model. A few will become studs or maybe a lucky wether will be a companion animal, but by and large, boys are meat. And if there is not enough demand for goat’s meat, they are thrown in dumpsters. It was hard to choose who to save.

So, these two will be wethered (neutered) and will hopefully live a long, happy life prancing around the farm, entertaining visitors and being apart of the family. I was worried about our Great Pyrenees, how he would take to them. He sniffed them thoroughly, then went off to protect the fortress. They will all be just fine.

We are all smiles, babies in our arms, bottles in the fridge. Feels like a farm.

“What have you done?” – Socorro
Posted in Animals/Chickens

Life With Animals

The last two homesteading books that I have read were great to read because they outlined clear and practical guides to subsistence farming and homesteading without the use of animals. In the books, Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self Reliant Gardening and Helen and Scott Nearing’s The Good Life, the authors are/were all vegan and I appreciated reading books where the authors were successful and offered approaches that I have, and will continue, to utilize on my own homestead. To continue taking the cruelty out of agriculture.

There was only one thing missing from the books. Because the authors did not use animals on their homestead and were vegan themselves, they saw no reason to keep animals at all, not even dogs and cats. Valuable resources wasted on animals and keeping animals just to do so seemed unnecessary. Have you ever walked into someone’s home and it’s really eerily quiet and clean? And then you notice what’s missing? No dogs, no cats, not even a parakeet? To us, animals make a homestead a home as much as each other’s company. Animals add so much joy to our lives.

Each year that we tick off as another that we have homesteaded, we make our own way. We learn from others, we experiment, we make lots of mistakes, we make heartbreaking decisions, and we move forward creating the life that is best for us. I considered starting a non-profit animal sanctuary but I decided against it for a few reasons. I have many friends that have sanctuaries. 1) They have a lot more land than I do and I would be very limited as to whom I could take. 2) My friends have to hustle for donations constantly. 3) People are really cruel. They call these sanctuaries and make threats about what will happen to the animals if the sanctuary doesn’t take them. No thanks. I wouldn’t be able to handle it. And 4) These are pets to us. Our past goats and sheep followed us around our farm just like little puppies. We enjoyed them so much and will not be giving up ones to come. We want to adopt a few bottle babies. Raise a few chicks and ducklings from birth. Just as we go to the shelter and choose kittens that need us most. We bring in animals young and slowly so that everyone adapts well. And then they live here their whole life and are loved ridiculously well. That is our sanctuary.

The farm animals might contribute by donating their wool (they are getting sheared anyway), their eggs (they just walk away from them anyway), and their antics. We make sure we make enough money to take care of them, just like our indoor animals. But there is no cruelty here, no using animals for meat or dairy. Some people watch cable television, some people like fancy cars, we like to watch animals play. It is worth the money.

The other animals that we welcome are of the wild sort. I have a good bird guide near the office window and provide bird seed for the many wild birds that visit. We see traces of deer that came through in the night. Foxes live over the hill. Hawks float above the trees. Our Great Pyrenees keeps everyone safe on the ground from behind his fences. I enjoy the world so much better surrounded with animals.

A homestead does not have to use animals for food. A homestead is more of a home with animals as family. There is more than one way to homestead and farm successfully. Find your path and find your joy.

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 Beauty/Health

Honor Your Spirituality (Your Best Life, day 6)

There are similarities amongst the places in the world where the people have the most longevity. They move, walk, and are active most of the day. They eat little to no meat. They have large familial ties and close friends. They consume a little alcohol each day (usually with said friends and family). They have a purpose, and they have a spiritual path that they honor. Some are Buddhist, 7th Day Adventists, or Catholic- the religion does not matter, it is the spirituality that matters. All paths lead to the same place. We are all on a journey. Everyone is different, so everyone’s perceptions and connections will be different as well, and that is a beautiful thing.

However one connects with their Creator, feels comfort, and peace is the right spiritual journey. Throughout our lives and experiences, we will connect with God in different ways, have different views of something bigger than we are, will have places we are more comfortable with and people we connect with. They are all right.

So go to church, shul, or temple. Or go hiking, light candles, or meditate. Create an alter and place pictures of ancestors upon it. Or elements of nature. See the face of Creator in each person you meet, in each animal you see, in each leaf or blade of grass. Feel that immense love and power inside of yourself as well. Today, honor your beliefs, whatever they may be.

Posted in Animals/Chickens

Cuddlewell Mission

One day when we were quite a young couple, snuggling and giggling, I said to my husband, “You cuddle well!” He said, “That will be our last name!” And so it was. Mama and Daddy Cuddlewell.

Our children were told that their actual, secret last name was Cuddlewell, as we would snuggle them. Andy, Shyanne, and Emily Cuddlewell. Even today, that is our name.

Our animals carried the same family name, Ichabod Cuddlewell, Clara Cuddlewell, and so on. I recently told my granddaughter about her secret last name too. She laughed and wondered if I was serious. Maryjane and Ayla Cuddlewell. And so it goes on. Our secret family name. We cuddle well.

Many years ago, when were trying to come up with a name for our own land, should we ever get it, Doug nonchalantly said, “Cuddlewell Mission, of course.”

In our hearts, everywhere we have lived has been Cuddlewell Mission. We tend to rescue the animals that need us. The cross-eyed cat with the spinal injury, who lived and played and cuddled for thirteen years, Clara. The retired racing hound, Bumble Bear. The tiny, Siamese kitten that we are still bringing back to health, Taos Mouse. The blind chicken, Heihei. This is a sanctuary. We have always had a sanctuary.

We got off track, somewhere along the way, with books and studies and farmer friends. We went from friends aren’t food, to maybe we were wrong and that is how it is supposed to be, then to regret and heartfelt wisdom. Just because it is how has always been, doesn’t mean that it is how it should be moving forward. We also used to keep slaves, beat our children, and ate cockroaches. We humans can move forward and do things better when we see the error of our ways! We can create a new normal. A new this-is-how-it-should-be. We would never allow an assembly line of shelter dogs, swinging from one leg, having their neck sliced, then being cut open before they were dead, cut up and packaged and put in the store….what are we thinking? Cows and pigs and even chickens are sentient beings. Look into the eyes of any creature and see the life there.

I’m not here to convince you one way or another, I just wanted to tell you about Cuddlewell Mission and how we have arrived here. With land and places for animals. A sanctuary for people and animals. A safe place to commune with nature and not fear for one’s life, and if you are human, maybe have a cup of tea. Yes, this is a mission. We are home.