Mid-summer Farming (bees, dreams, and permaculture)

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It looks like we live in a different state.  We have had rain every day, so unusual for July, and the grasses are green.  No fires, no drought, no hundred degree weather.  It has been glorious.  Other places in the state are dealing with too much water but here in our little oasis of Kiowa we are basking in perfect weather.  The gardens and trees are drinking deeply and everything is serene.

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We were able to grab a moment of warm sunshine to put our bee suits on and peek in the hive.  The bees are working on their eighth frame in the top bar hive.  The frames stretch across the entire frame now reaching the sides of the hive.  The bees were very busy and completely covered the outer frame.  I tried to pull a middle frame up to see if I could tell what was going on (Is there new brood?  Is there honey capped? What else am I supposed to be looking for?) but couldn’t pull it all the way up.  I was afraid of smashing bees or pulling apart the combs.  I need my mentor to come over next time and show me what the heck we are supposed to be doing.  But for the moment it was like looking into a magical world.  The bees were calm and I have fallen in love with these gentle creatures.

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We have two interns here that are just lovely people.  They have been helping me immensely.  The gardens were all weeded and mulched by yesterday afternoon and new seeds planted.  We enjoy meals with them and talk about our ideas and dreams.  We have been looking for a place to move that has a small house but more land.  Renting has a definite downfall for me, I worry.  I worry that I can’t renew my lease, or that I have to stay but for how long?  Can I plant trees?  Should I get attached to this quaint little house, my neighbors, this town?  What if I miss my opportunity for a homestead?  Dang, I wish I could buy a place.  Turns out we have a choice to make.  The homesteads we can afford to rent are way out in the prairie or far away towns.  Or we can stay near our children and granddaughter.  Not a hard decision to make.  My friend, Lisa, came over one day and asked if we were going to farm the back part of the yard because we had fenced it off (for the goats).  Suddenly while talking with Stephanie and Ethan, our interns, I realized that we could, with their help, transform that space.  We could build a greenhouse.  We could use permaculture techniques to up our food production.  Hopefully we can stay on for a few more years here since nothing seems to be coming up in the form of larger place.

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I have been reading a lot about permaculture and came across a film that fascinated me and a technique we will definitely try.  It is a free documentary.  Worth the watch!  http://backtoedenfilm.com

I do hope your mid-summer farming is going well and you get a perfect mix of sun and rain!

Year Round Greens

You know you are a homesteader when things like poop that doesn’t have to be composted excites you.  Alpaca poo isn’t “hot” like other types of manure so it doesn’t have to be composted for six months.  We filled a wheel barrel full of alpaca droppings and took it over to one of the raised beds to spread.

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Now in November I had every intention of getting every bed cleaned out properly, covering them with compost then mulch for their long winter’s nap.  A good kink in my shoulder decided otherwise.  It would have been nice to have it all done, but it will surely wait for me, I decided.  So, on the bed that we started putting manure on, I noted emerald green from the patch of otherwise browned kale, chard, and collards.  Tiny Swiss chard leaves, two inches high were trying with all their might to grow.  It certainly was an epiphany for me.  If I cover the greens well with loose straw next year, I could be harvesting well into January!  That is without the help of a greenhouse, hoop house, or cold frame.  An easy way to extend the season.

Since I did not expect any more greens after November, I had been diligently snipping greens and freezing them.  No blanching necessary.  I have no desire to eat slimy food…ever.  All you do is pack sandwich bags with greens, release the air, and zip closed.  Put in freezer.  Now, the next day it will be frozen solid.  Don’t let it thaw!  Just crush it between your fingers so that the greens are crumbles.  When you need greens, crush the ones on top more and sprinkle handfuls into whatever you are cooking.  Replace the rest in freezer immediately.

I have been putting greens in all kinds of soups, in omelets, scrambled eggs, on potatoes to be roasted, and in sautés.  There are innumerable ways to use greens and the nutrients are especially desired this time of year.  The perfect blend of calcium and magnesium to make it bio-available, iron, A, C, E, and K, full of anti-oxidants and cancer killing properties.

Greens are one of the foods that I would have with me if I were trapped on an island…along with margaritas.  Is that a food?

Farming Lessons (turn on the water!)

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It was a beautiful morning yesterday.  The calm before the storm.  The chickens at Debbie’s house were playing, her chocolate lab waited patiently for us outside the garden gate, and all was well in the greenhouse for my “farming without killing plants” lesson.

In the outside beds we planted rows of carrots, cauliflower, and kale.  The kale we planted a month ago never came up probably due to our fanatical weather and the extreme cold temperatures.  This time should work!  It’s May 1st for crying out loud!

Then I helped her prepare a bed for planting.  A lesson like no other.  She sprayed it down very well, puddles welled  up, and the soil was lovely and damp.  We turned the soil with a spade.  Dry.  The ground was dry!  I sprayed it really well for a second time.  Turned it with the spade, dry.  Debbie mentioned that this scenario is the very reason many gardens to do not succeed.  We sprayed it once again and it still was not damp through and through.  The fourth time did the trick.  My lesson?  Never assume that because the top layer is wet that anything  below is drinking water!  Always use a water gage or the poor (wo)man’s water gage…your finger.  The soil should be damp up to the second knuckle, if not, it needs water!  I came straight home and turned the sprinklers on!

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This is a long time idea in my head that I have to reverse.  Reading gardening magazines and books for 20+ years has taught me one thing….don’t over water!  It causes diseases, fungal stuff, root rot and possibly world hunger.  I have adhered to that sentiment with fervency.  Don’t over water!  Here is the thing they never specified, they aren’t talking about Colorado or other dry areas.  It’s so dry here your nose may start bleeding at a moment’s notice, so dry my lotion flies off the table at the shop, so dry weeds died last year here!  One would really have to work at it to over water in a dry state like this.  I have been more diligent, twice daily checks on the soil in the garden.  The reason I have NEVER had a carrot germinate is because the soil must remain moist the entire time until it gets its foothold.  So, my soil has been consistently wet.  It will need more once the roots spread down and need more drinks.  The radishes have germinated in thanks.

In my garden, there are onions and garlic coming up, the herbs have returned, last years onions that never came up are making a grand display in the wrong bed, and the cold crop seeds are slumbering quietly just beneath the surface which I hope by this weekend will be light carpets of tiny greens.

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Debbie’s herbs are so happy in her greenhouse they were jumping ship.  Comfortably spreading out and lounging all over the bed.  Because a good chunk of them needed to be evicted, I was the proud new recipient of twelve pots of oregano and cilantro.  Which brings me to a great way to spread the wealth among farmers.  Wendy brought me a few chive plants she split off, Diane is bringing me borage.  Don’t worry about having herbs that spread all over, split them up, stick them in a pot and give as instant gifts!

Will the Real Farmgirl Please Stand Up?

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When I told the owner of Miller Farms, Joe, at his birthday party a few months ago that I wanted to be a farmer, he looked at me with a mix of pity and humor.  Apparently grown women don’t run around dreaming of being a farmer when they grow up.  The rest of the farm hands laughed too.  The grumpy farmer at the farmer’s market asked why I would want to do such a thing?  It’s hard work.  I have never been afraid of hard work.  In fact, I dislike days that there is no work.  I have to keep busy.  I am not afraid of sunrise, dirt, or feeding people.  Only two percent of the population grows all the food for our country.  Scary.  Not crazy about relying on someone else to grow food for me.  Makes me feel kind of helpless.  That is why I garden.  Be it not very well for the past twenty years but I had a slower learning curve then everyone else and no family to teach me.  Just books.  And now Debbie.

Debbie started out as one of my students learning herbalism a few years back.  She received a grant for a greenhouse and grows a myriad of wonderful herbs as well as vast amounts of food.  So, the teacher becomes the student today as I go for my internship and learn which side is up.  Everything in her hoop house survived the below zero temperatures.  I am intrigued.  Her land is a picturesque bounty set against hills and filled with roaming cows and a beautiful old restored house.  Her general demeanor is always kind and upbeat.  A renaissance woman, a Master Gardener, and a friend.  I will learn well in this atmosphere!  http://lookingoutfrommybackyard.wordpress.com is her blog.  I shamelessly stole these pictures off of her blog!

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I think I will plant a few rows of wine grapes.  I have two Cabernet Sauvignon vines here I can bring with me to start.  An Apothecary garden that will consist of beautiful medicinal and culinary herbs.  Long rows of three sisters, corn, beans, and squash will grow together and remind us of history.  All of the glorious, unique, colorful heirlooms seeds I ordered back in January in my garden dreaming will sprout and take hold, reaching their heads up to the endless sky, looking out to the mountain range, and will provide sustenance for our family and beyond.

I never want to sell wholesale.  Just as I run my Apothecary.  No wholesale.  No faceless item on the shelf.  No wondering who made it.  I want to hand it to you.  Tell you a funny story about it.  Throw in a free round of cheese to eat with the fresh tomatoes and kale.

Now I am really getting ahead of myself.  I don’t have a goat!

Catching Time…unplugging

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I want to feel satisfied as I fall into bed exhausted.  Complete in what I do.  Comforted in the thought that homesteading improves my lifestyle and mood, that I stay healthy, contribute to the health of animals, grow glorious food for my loved ones, prepare for accidents or Mother Nature or the Zombie Apocalypse, according to my dear friend, Erik, but also live a good life.  I want to lessen my footprint on this fine earth and live fully.  Busyness sneaks up.  Its eager eye on making me feel tired and blue instead of satiated.  It robs me of time to make gourmet dinners and practice all the skills I am learning.  Here I have learned all these much desired skills this winter with scarcely a moment to practice or put into place.

This winter I have learned to make soap, spin (somewhat…I am getting there), knit (crooked albeit), and play the fiddle.  I have designed two new businesses.  I have learned how to keep chickens in the past year and will learn how to keep bees this year.  I will intern with my friend in her greenhouse.  I have my shop in town.  I will be a friend, mom, wife, lover, grandma, and farmer/homesteader extraordinaire…..tomorrow.  Because busyness makes it tomorrow far too quickly.

So, I look around in vain trying to find the cause of my minutes flitting away.  I still wanted to take a cheese class!  I still want to go to college.  I still want to do farmer’s markets with Emily, Maryjane, Nancy, and Faleena.  What is taking so much time?  Granted I do hand wash laundry, try to do things slow, but something else is stealing in the shadows.

Then a revelation!  Lo and behold the thief comes to light.  Do I seriously need to check my email twenty-five times a day?  Check my blog to see if it is still there?  See what’s happening on Facebook?  Would it wait until the next morning?  Could I properly homestead, complete tasks that I desire to do, and have time for a chapter of my book and a glass of wine under the huge Elm tree if I didn’t continually stalk the internet?  What kind of off-gridder wannabe am I?  I thought I had outsmarted technology and all its glitz by not watching television (save for The Voice and So You Can Think You Can Dance…I don’t think it’s too late for me!), but then the internet, in all its Siren glory, tricked me out of a few good moments on the land.

I will turn its face to the wall, turn it off if I must, but I will only view this box into the world once a day…..maybe twice.  And find magic hours to read how to keep goats, play with the baby chicks, plant potatoes, treat animals, teach herbs to children in the inner city, learn to knit straight and spin fabulous yarn and breathe outdoors on this quaint little mini-farm.  And play with Maryjane.  Time found.

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