Posted in Homestead

Tour of a Mountainside Homestead

My husband and I love to tour other people’s homesteads. We love to see what others are doing, be inspired, and swap ideas. We headed out to deliver medicine to a homesteading couple an hour southwest of us. The road rose to over 8000 feet. We came out of the trees and the road looked out across the most beautiful vista, the valley stretching across to the Sangre de Cristo mountains, those high, sun flecked, looming peaks.

Perched on the mountainside was their hand-built abode. A pole barn with an 800 square foot addition added for their house. Inside the house looked like a charming bed and breakfast with just what one needs, an open kitchen and living room, wood stove in the corner, and a view of the whole valley. A vermiculture tower of veggies was set up in their office. In the attached pole barn was their RV which acted as guest quarters. A wood cookstove, another wood stove, a seating area, dining room table and glitzy chandelier hung from the ceiling. A well stocked room was their pantry, and an upstairs loft was set up with comfy cushions.

The wind whipped across the drive and the pastures telling of an approaching storm. We passed several cords of stacked wood as they walked us through their large fenced garden. They used very tall frames and chicken wire that were used as drying racks at a marijuana greenhouse that had them for sale for cheap as fence panels. They dug down and put in chicken wire. The well secured space was being sectioned off for dual purpose chickens they were about to go into town to pick up. A few heads of lovely cabbage were left in the garden. They simply turned the soil and amended well with mulch and manure from local ranchers.

A cistern sat on a hill capturing rainwater (what little we get) and was positioned to move downhill to water the garden. They have a well that they are careful not to overuse. The lack of water here in Colorado is really the downfall of homesteading here, but clever homesteaders make it work.

Pushing my hair out of my face that the wind was whipping around, I entered the dome greenhouse and found myself in a quiet sanctuary. Water from the little pond trickled sweetly, the propane heater kept the space warm, and cucumbers and tomatoes scampered around the ceiling of the greenhouse. Herbs grew in pots and vegetables grew as if it were summer.

I mentioned how much I have always liked the domes but the price was so high. Mary explained that it was worth it. They were too old, she said, to do anything half way, to waste money on things that would not work. They bought a shed when they first moved onto the property while they were building their house. It blew away.

Mary and Glen hunt and process their own meat and have stored away non-perishables. They grow much of their food and have gradually built and moved to this carefully placed homestead. They are adding chickens and more solar panels to the property. They live a comfortable and cozy life off grid. Homesteads are all different and each one offers valuable wisdom and inspiration. I am thankful that this sweet couple shared their space with us and showed us around. Homesteaders are a generous and friendly group. I am glad to be counted among them.

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 Farming

The Little City Greenhouse

May 21st, 2019- SNOW.

I wouldn’t say that it is out of the question for Colorado to get snow this late but I personally have never witnessed snow past the 14th or so.  Really, everywhere along the front range, folks have probably already put in their summer crops.  Here in Pueblo, I would have put out my tomato and pepper plants by now if I hadn’t had a hunch and a hint from Accuweather.  An hour north of here my daughters both got a good foot of snow.  Here, we got a ton of rain (we are still high desert and very thankful for rain, even if it slightly floods the chicken coop) which turned to snow overnight and is now back to rain.

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There wasn’t a dry space to be found outdoors so Gandalf worked from the couch last night.

Thick blankets of slush are currently sliding down the outer greenhouse walls. Tonight will drop to 30 degrees.  I may lose my pumpkins, beans, and corn that are all growing proudly in the beds.  I may lose some of the flowering plants.  And we will deal with losses as they come.  But, in the greenhouse, cold steam fills the air.  Peeking through the plastic I can see the tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers standing green and solid.  I dare not open the door and blast them with cold air.  I will probably bring everyone in tonight though.  Just in case.

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I am still experimenting with my new greenhouse.  I have never had one before, so temperatures and humidity and all that are still a bit of a mystery.  This is a kit from Home Depot.  My friend generously bought it for me for my birthday.  They run about $650 plus shipping.  Not inexpensive.  This particular greenhouse would have never stood up to a foot of snow at our old house, nor would it withstand the wind of the prairie.  Tucked behind six foot fencing in the city in a mild climate, it does pretty good.  I have to replace rogue pieces that fall off from time to time, but it is fulfilling its purpose of keeping plants safe.

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The temperature varies from 32 degrees to 114.  It baffles me.  Maybe because it lets in all that beautiful sun without any harsh breezes that the plants sit in a happy state.  I keep the seedlings on the second shelf of the greenhouse.  The color was being bleached from their leaves on the top shelf.  Watering every day to every other day keeps them happy.  I cannot get my seeds to germinate in there.  I speculate that they need individual cells that drain and are specific to starting seeds.  My peppers are still in their plastic salad bin and I think they would love drainage as well in the greenhouse.  But today, in their cold steam room, they are alive.

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It does get super hot here and my soon-to-be son-in-law recommended shade cloth.  If I planted a few tomatoes straight into the ground, would it boost production?  If I started seed pods of fall crops right now, would they be ready to plant in August?  (In Colorado, if a seed packet says it takes 90 days to mature, you can bet your apron strings that it means 120 days.  Maybe the altitude?)

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If not for the freezing night temperatures the rain would be most welcome!

It is fun having a new tool for gardening.  I can only say a prayer for my plants in the garden, but in the greenhouse, all is well.

Posted in Farming

Farm Heroes and the New Chicken Yard, Greenhouse, and Shed.

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Emily, Shyanne, and Peep (and Maryjane in that little baby bump)

We started our farm when the girls were young teenagers.  They spent hours in the chicken coop with the new chicks, cooing to and naming them.  Tempers would flare and they would take their own time out among the soft chirping and fresh straw.  My youngest daughter and I (along with dad and Reed) have plans to go in on a farm together in the next few years.  We dream of two houses, one land, a barn, a large community plot of garden, animals, greenhouses, a view.  A Farm Air B&B, hot farm fresh breakfasts, coffee on the porch.  A small restaurant on site to serve high end dinners with a set menu with room for four couples a night.

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Emily and Ayla

But right now, everyone is busy.  The kids have their own lives.  So, it was incredible to see them all show up at the front door in the un-forecasted snow to help us create a functional farm back yard.  We certainly could not have done it by ourselves and our gratitude is overwhelming!

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We live on one third of an acre.  We have fourteen chickens and a very large dog.  Our eighteen month old Great Pyrenees doesn’t require a lot of room for running (he spends most of his days sleeping under the elm trees in the dirt or on the pink futon in the living room (which is covered in dirt).  I have a lot of room for the chickens but wanted to increase their yard to reach the piles of branches so they could play and have more space to roam.

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I also desired a greenhouse which I received last week as an early birthday present from my friend Tina.  This would require a fenced in separate yard to increase my garden space, and keep the puppy out.  This space will end up having a pond and waterfall with a tea ceremony setting.

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Doug purchased a shed to house all of our yard items and tools and try to make sense of our back porch which has become overwhelmed with debris, broken chairs, tables, tools, and market items.

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These things came in a million, zillion pieces.  A roll of field fencing to top it all off.  And two not-so-handy parents.  Enter the children riding in like heroes to our farm story.

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My beautiful granddaughter, Maryjane’s dad came.  Bret is amazing and he will always be one of my kids.  He helped Doug build the shed.

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Reed

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Emily’s long time boyfriend Reed (Ayla’s daddy) and I started on the greenhouse.  It got incredibly complicated and when Jacob (Shyanne’s long time boyfriend) showed up, he took my place.  They got it built and it is perfect!

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Doug and Shyanne and Bret then started on the fencing and quickly got two areas partitioned off.

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My granddog Lupo enjoying the new shed.

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The chickens enjoying their new yard.

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And my new greenhouse and garden.

Six cold hours later we took the kids out for sushi to celebrate Reed’s birthday and to thank them for helping us make the next phase of our farm dreams come true.  This little urban farm sure has lots of space and opportunity.  But it always feels more like home when the kids are here.

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Posted in Homestead

On the Verge of Spring at Pumpkin Hollow Farm (an enchanted life)

Petunia is still rather plump, even after having babies last autumn.  She is very fluffy and so cute I wish she would come in the house to live, but of course squirrels don’t typically enjoy living in the house.  She sits next to me on the porch as I eat my lunch on warm days.  I just watched her from the picture window jump from limb to limb.  I need to put more bird seed and peanuts out.  The Blue Jays are making such a racket.  They do despise when I am late.

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Hundreds of lovely, chirping sparrows reside here.  As do many doves and starlings.  Crows fly over.  Owls can be heard in the night.  Hawks stop to rest.  Sea gulls and geese fly over towards the lake.  A third of an acre in the city sure can be a wild life haven.  I love it here.

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The chickens from the factory farm that we rescued are plump and quite loud.  They run towards me bow legged and squat, hollering like miniature geese.  They love to eat and are firmly against being on a diet.  “We are not broilers here, Dears,” I remind them, “You do not need to get so fat!”  Dixie is still tiny.  My granddaughter renamed the infant rooster, Bob.

I am fervently manifesting and saving for a greenhouse.  The ducks come April 20th.

My classes are chosen for the autumn session of college.

I am quite sore from teaching dance last night.  I am teaching two herbalist classes.  Just keeping busy until I can be in my gardens full time!

I leave in three weeks for ten days in Arizona and New Mexico for my birthday.  Such wonderful blog posts I will write!

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The seedlings are doing well.  The ground is softening.  I am teaching a gardening class Sunday to plant potatoes that have taken over the cupboard.

My friends are here visiting for the weekend.  I have so many dear friends.  I am so lucky.

Such a slow, lovely, blessed, ordinary, extraordinary life I lead.  And that, my friends, is what is going on at Pumpkin Hollow Farm on the verge of Ostara and the equinox.  Spring is next week!  Here it is quietly arriving.

What is happening on your homestead this week?  I am honestly interested!

Posted in Homestead, Uncategorized

Farmgirl Inspiration

Hello March, it’s nice to see you.  January and February can be the very hardest time of the year for farmgirls.  We have our gardens, our farms, our animals, our preserving, our home making, our crafting in the fall in anticipation for the holidays, we have our cooking, and our entertaining, and our pleasant fatigue.  Then there is January and February…hello March, it’s nice to see you!  Thank the Lord you’re back!

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Even though it is still cold and there is ice on the car and tomorrow it is going to snow, it is March and all things can come anew now, in my mind and in nature.  I have plans!  Oh glorious plans, and guess what?  I figured out a way to make them manifest.  My son texted me yesterday and said he would come help with the fencing.  I found an affordable way to get the outbuildings I wanted.  Yes, my gardens are about to take on some marvelous expansion and changes.

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Field fencing is a farmgirl’s friend because it is easy to put up and can be taken down if needed.  I am expanding the chicken yard.  I am fencing off another part of the backyard for a greenhouse, raised beds, and space for a rooster.  Doug isn’t thrilled we have a rooster.  But I think one in seven wasn’t bad!  I also have ducklings on order to pick up in April.  They are honest-to-god worthless (few eggs, eat ten times more than the chickens, are noisy, splash water everywhere), but dang, they are so cute!  The greenhouse will double as night quarters for the trouble makers and Captain the Rooster.  None of them can jump or fly up on things, so plants will be safe and the added humidity from the ducks’ water antics will create a nice space.  (Did I mention my husband doesn’t like ducks either?  I just look at him like I don’t speak English.)

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A shed is going up to fit all the yard tools in, which will make room for some outdoor furniture and hanging plants around the back porch.  Listen, y’all, I will do before and after pictures when all this is said and done, but right now it looks like a hundred and fifty pound puppy dug holes to China, ate all the outdoor pillows, destroyed a huge dog bed, and threw some trash around.  (Actually, that is what happened.)

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In the front yard, a large archway will have pumpkins and other climbers growing up it.  Add in a few twinkly lights and I will have an enchanted garden for sure.  I have added a couple hundred feet of gardens.  The stalks of the roses are all turning green.

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There is a loom downstairs.  I have friends that can show me how to use it.  I have always wanted to learn how to weave.  I painted a box with a lid for my son’s long time girlfriend for Christmas.  It has a dear clasp and longs to be filled with secret treasures.  I painted a scene from a vacation they took on the lid.  I would like to do more of those.  Maybe set up my sewing machine.  Craft ideas come to mind.

Inspiration to farmgirls is like medicine.  Maybe even breath, if I am not being too dramatic here.  What are you inspired to achieve this spring?

Posted in Farming

Starting Seeds in Salad Containers

Over the years I have written about many ways to start seeds and they all have one thing in common, a simulated greenhouse.

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Now, every year I think I will have a real greenhouse.  Surely by the time I need to start seeds I will have one built or put together or otherwise exist, but then the same issue comes up every season (no funds), and so I am once again left with my own creativity.  This year I saved salad containers all year.  The kind with the lids.  You see, the key to seed starting is lots of sun and continuous moisture in a warm space.  It is so dry and cold here that I would be watering all the time and probably cause the seeds to mold.  No, I need a mother-nature-way of watering, softly and simply, with evaporation and condensation.

Many seeds should be direct planted.  Even though I added six weeks to my growing season by moving to Pueblo, I still need more time for peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant.  I found last year that when I direct planted them, they almost made it before frost.  This year I am holding back half of the seeds to direct plant and half I will transplant.  Transplanting is not always successful so we figure that one of the ways will succeed!  (And so goes the life of a farmer.)

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Fill your salad container 2/3 of the way full with organic, potting soil.  You want room for the plants to grow.  Water the soil so that it is evenly damp.  We don’t want any marshes settled at the bottom, but you might be surprised how much water the potting soil can hold.

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When it is evenly damp, sprinkle the seeds over the soil somewhat spread apart.  Barely sprinkle on more soil to cover and use a spray bottle of water to really dampen.  Until they are established, a water bottle prevents water pressure from dislodging the seed or drowning the poor fellas.

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Close lid tightly and mark with a sharpie.  Because you will forget the varietal and date you planted!  Just trust me on this.

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Let’s see, now to find a place with at least six hours of sun where the cats won’t step on or eat said seedlings.  (A more difficult dilemma than one might think.)  The guest room has a nice sunny spot on the bed from the south facing window a good part of the day and the door closes.

Now over the next week or two, keep an eye on your seeds.  There should be consistent “rainfall” in the box.  If it slows (every other day or so) spray thoroughly with water and reclose.  When plants are 1 inch tall, open the top and water as needed making sure not to let them dry out nor drown.  (You can still use the spray bottle.)  Once they get to be about two or three inches, transplant into another container separately.  (A blog post on that will be in a few weeks.)

I don’t know about you but I am darn near stir crazy not being able to be outside doing something.  At least starting seeds makes me feel like spring has begun.

Posted in Farming

Planting Fall Crops in Pots

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I am having fun in my friends’ greenhouse but even if you don’t have a greenhouse, or a garden, or a house even, you can still get some fall crops.  For some crops it is too late in the season, we should expect a frost next month (really? already?!) but you can buy a little time with a greenhouse or cold frame or south facing living room window.  Almost all the crops I planted will be ready before the frost hits and the ones that don’t could be brought indoors and placed into a south window.  Planting in pots is quickly becoming my favorite way to garden.

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The lettuce I had brought over finally went to seed (three months of salad was great!) and became bitter so I yanked it out of the pots (and wished I had chickens to give it to) and fluffed up the soil.  Then I pulled most of the pumpkins I brought over since they really were not getting going in time to produce.

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When I say pots, I mean the three or five gallon buckets I got for free from the Walmart deli and empty cat litter containers.  This is also not fresh potting soil, this is the same soil I poured in this spring and some of it is from last year.  Next year I will pour this year’s soil into a garden space and refill the pots to keep the nutrients in tact or we will create our own soil on this blog.  That would be fun, wouldn’t it?

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I planted arugula, spinach, and Swiss chard.  Greens will be ready in no time.  I planted two pots of carrots, carefully separated so I don’t have to do too much thinning and one pot of cauliflower.  We will see how long these can withstand the autumn and hope for a harvest from them!

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Now where to put the lettuce?  I scruffed up the soil beneath Pat’s gorgeous tomato plants (that I have become the caregiver for) and planted lettuce in them.  In no time, we will have fresh vegetables.

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The gardening and farming addiction doesn’t subside easily so having some five gallon buckets, some potting soil, some discount seeds, and water is an easy way to feed the soul while adding delicious, fresh ingredients to late summer cooking.

Posted in Farming

Learning the Greenhouse (an adult playhouse)

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My friends’ greenhouse stands erect and proud in their yard.  I am impressed that it hasn’t blown away, been destroyed by hail, or any other natural greenhouse killers on the Plains.  It is set to the east of a steep hill which much keep it somewhat protected.  It is quite well made and cost them a few thousand dollars three years ago.

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Right now the upper section of the Dutch door stays open and a few windows are cranked out.  I have never had a greenhouse before that was is in working order to do its job well.  This greenhouse is small but effective.  It would probably extend the season a month or two either calendar direction.  It would be great for starting seeds and would keep plants growing into late autumn.

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The tomatoes are in heaven, growing and stretching as if they were in the tropics.  In the greenhouse they want to grow, too much nitrogen will make them humongous but won’t allow any fruit.  Using an organic fruiting fertilizer with similar ratios of potash to nitrogen will help bring on baskets of tomatoes.

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A shelf across the south side offers more space.  I brought over my five gallon buckets of kale, chard, spinach, and lettuce, and a few herbs.  They absolutely love the greenhouse.  There are a few pesky grasshoppers but not as many as there would be in an open garden.

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I have been noting the differences in the areas of the greenhouse.  The lettuce does best below the shelf on the south side.  It gets plenty of light but doesn’t burn up.  This would be a good place for cold crops like greens, broccoli, cauliflower, or cabbage when extending the season.  I only have to water those plants every four to five days.  The plants on the top shelf, herbs, especially huge basil plants and comfrey, sun bathe and grow lavishly.  I water them along with the tomatoes every other day.

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When we get our own place we will have to get a greenhouse like this one.  It’s been fun taking care of and using my friends’ greenhouse and learning the nuances of it.  I suppose you can probably guess that the homesteading bug bit me again, or perhaps it never left!  My fingernails have become far too clean.

Posted in Homestead

The Enchanting Urban Homestead (a field trip, class, and future)

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Farmgirl school is supposed to be uplifting, inspirational, and full of fun and hope.  It is also about our life so I suppose not everything can be as such but I inadvertently caused a storm of emotions for many people across the continent and beyond in empathy for us.  We want you to know that we just do not have the extra strength or energy it would take to rip out the wood stove, pipes, fittings and fix the ceiling at this point.  We have no emotional attachment to the stove.  Our hundreds of plants will feed the local wildlife and a lot of hungry girl scouts that are coming Monday to take home a transplant since they helped create the garden in the first place!  We are not sad over these things any longer.  With the encroaching wind mills and the negativity here we are more than ready to head out on our next journey.  So let’s get back to the inspiration and hope part of this blog!  Yesterday we visited a lovely urban homestead that was so enchanting and complete that I am ready to get back into the city.  We were there taking a cob building class to make outdoor structures.  Doug and Chris will be creating a chicken coop, bread oven, and who knows what else!  Tomorrow I will take you through our class to learn to make cob.  But today I want to take you through the enchanted homestead of my friend, Niko and his wife, Brandi at Folkways Farm.  

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It wasn’t very long ago that I wrote a blog post about Old Colorado City (which is a bike ride away from where we are going to live) and that is where we headed this fine evening.  I met Niko three years ago when Joel Salatin came to speak at a local farm.  He sat with me and Nancy and we talked all things homesteading, about his family, his work as a cobb builder, and we told him about our adventures in homesteading.  I later ran into him building a yurt with our friend when we went to visit the goat she bought from us, and then at the homesteading store, and then…well, you get the picture.  We were meant to meet.

His beautiful wife held their youngest daughter on her hip and spoke freely with the guests.  His middle daughter came up to me and took me with her on a tour of the “forest” where a silent cat lay secretly in the high weeds below trees.  They are easy people, barefoot, comfortable in their surroundings and self and I was instantly drawn to them.

They have created an oasis in town, a secret place of sustenance and wealth.  Herb gardens, Permaculture gardens of food, honey bees, goats, a shed-barn, and places to get lost and read or dream or be.  The plot of land is about the same size as the one we are moving to and I was so inspired and overwhelmed with ideas and joy.

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The cob structures look to be out of a fairy tale.  A sweet chicken coop stands off the back porch.  Another is a bit more elaborate and whimsical.  It is a chicken coop with a bread oven on the side.  One could start a fire in the cooking area to heat the coop on the coldest nights while making some delicious thin crust pizzas.  A door on the other side lets the chickens out to wander a closed in area that felt roomy and lush.  A towering apple tree above provided shade.

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The greenhouse built in the back yard was a structure of fine art and skill, a transporting place out of the cold.  A place for tea and books in autumn and a place to grow starts in the spring.  All made from reclaimed windows, mesh, wood, straw, clay, sand, water, manure, and painted with beautiful slips.  Niko is an artist above being a builder.

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One can meander from the front herb garden, past the vegetable gardens, visit the bees, duck under the apple tree, wade through weeds and medicinal herbs, follow a path past the goat yard, past bins of delicious compost, a pile of wood, the beautiful green house, wave to the chickens, pass the hemp plants growing tall for fiber, onto the back porch to sit a spell, and visit with the kind family that lives there.

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I spoke with Jillian at the end of the class.  She wanted to make sure that I considered our new venture to be our homestead. I asked what if we jumped forward fifty years and there we still were and her then much older daughter would mention to visitors that her crazy aunt lives in the back.  “That would be fine,” Jillian replied.

And so begins our urban farm adventure.