Samhain and the Owls

The owls returned this morning.  Two owls bantering back and forth outside our bedroom window in the early morning hours.  If you know me quite well, or if you have read my memoir (The Making of a Medicine Woman; the Memoirs of Bird Woman), then you know that that is quite fateful for us.  My spirit animals only arrive when there is a profound shift in our life occurring or about to occur.  Our moves, my shop closing, and many other events were heralded by my guardian messenger.  I smiled and pulled the covers up closer as my half feral kitten licked my hair as a sign of love.  I felt in that moment profoundly grateful.

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It is Samhain.

Pronounced sow-wen, Samhain is the last agricultural holiday of the year.  Tomorrow is New Year in the old ways.  Samhain is the third harvest festival and one that is near and dear to many souls across many continents over many thousands of years.  From those celebrating Day of the Dead to those Scottish farmers lighting candles in their cottages, this time of year is bittersweet and filled with love and great memories.

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The sky grows dark earlier now and the harvest is in.  The air grows colder and the fireplace is lit.  The veil is quite thin and the things you think are coincidental are not.  Our ancestors, our beloveds, our friends and family that crossed over this year make their way visiting.  Cupboard doors creak and electronics have a mind of their own.  But it is not a scary time.  It is a time of comfort and remembrance, and most of all, gratitude.

For those lives that have touched us over the years and the people and animals that walk our journey with us for a time, we are grateful.  So tonight, put out a few chairs around the fire for the weary souls and light a candle in the west window so they can find their way.  Know that in your life, you are not alone.  There are spirits and messengers and an entire universe opening and closing doors, sending hope, arranging meetings, and helping you maneuver this lovely path called life.  So put out some old photographs, light a few candles, pour a glass of wine, take a deep breath, and know that all is well.

Happy Samhain

Actually Moving and the Garden that Keeps Giving

20171025_14592720171025_150124In many ways I haven’t actually “moved” to Pueblo.  Perhaps because out of all the places I have lived Elbert county was the first place that ever felt like home to us.  Slowly, slowly I am moving to Pueblo.  We have been here nine months now.  I changed my bank last week.  I do my shopping here now.  I go to Elizabeth to work my shop just once a week.  I work from home and am rewarded with many new customers that seek me out here.  I still greatly love my old town and I pine for the country but I am gradually moving here.  The garden is helping me do so.

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Garlic planted for fall. The bok choi keeps coming back!

I am not sure that I could go back to gardening at 6500 feet.  Yesterday two more overflowing baskets of produce came into the kitchen.  It is late October and the gardens in Elbert county have been sleeping for awhile now.  In my gardens there is more…more vegetables to be harvested, another month’s worth at least.  I am astounded and thrilled at the farming conditions in this valley.  The soil that has not even been amended has produced the most flavorful and prolific crops I have ever grown.  I am smitten.  The weather here is heavenly.20171025_150112

20171025_15010420171025_150011I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished on this little homestead in just nine months time.  It will be beautiful seeing what it all looks like as months turn to years and years turn to decades.

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This is also the first time in two decades that we have a mailbox in front of our house.  If you would like to exchange letters you can write me at Mrs. Katie Sanders, 1901 Brown Ave, Pueblo, 81004.

The Autumn Gardens (Spring and Fall Crops and the Great Harvest)

20170929_121332Fall crops grow beautifully and swiftly in their haphazard rows.

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The spring crops that I painstakingly place inches apart in the early cool of spring take awhile to germinate in the cold and then go to seed when summer decides to come on strong.  When those very same seeds are planted in  late July or early August they germinate quickly from the warm soil, ample water and light.  Then the nights become brisk and they soak up the cooling temperatures and thrive, which is why they are called cold crops!

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Of course I have all the energy in the world in April.  By then I have been dreaming of my garden for many months and am ridiculously excited to break ground.  By late summer we are getting tired of weeding and daily waterings and bugs so fall crops look more like mosaic puzzles than long tidy rows of food.

I had one bed pretty clear from the spring crops so I roughed it up with the hoe and planted-or rather, kind of threw in- a bunch of seeds.  Carrots, spinach, lettuce, peas, cabbage, and radishes came up with the colors of early spring with no help from me.  I forgot to water the seeds several times.  And yet they surprised me with their delicious arrival.

There are still tomatoes and other delicious summer crops in the garden.  The weather speaks of a freeze coming Monday.

Seeds and plants want to grow.  They are hard wired to do so.  As an experiment when the flea beetles came to town to chow down the cruciferous crops, I left a few of the broccoli and others to see what would happen.  I think we will have broccoli cheese soup tonight.  This garden has been a lovely experiment this year, one I allowed myself to do being in a new climate and a new place with un-amended soil.  Amazing.  Plants never fail to thrill me.  I think I will have radishes for breakfast.

Farmgirl Gardening Series Week 12

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Every year’s garden is different. As soon as you think you have it figured out, the next year throws you for a loop.  This is why becoming a professional farmer can cause severe anxiety issues.  There is no control.  Over anything!  Here in our three community garden plots we are simply trying to feed ourselves for the summer.  And we are eating delicious food.  This year we may not see pumpkins (which is crazy to me, my farm was called Pumpkin Hollow Farm, for crying out loud!) but we will see for the first time ever sweet potatoes.  We have had lots of rain for Colorado and it shows.  So for starting with a plot that had sand and ant hills, with little amending to the soil, and two tons of hail thrown in, I’d say we’re looking pretty good this year.

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In season now are peas.  Glorious purple snow peas and crunchy snap peas.  A few thick pods of English peas are ready but I do believe that I am missing several vines of English peas.  The rabbit seems to know nothing of it.

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The collard greens are prolific and delicious young.  Crisp them in the oven with the snow and snap peas, some garlic, salt, and a good drizzle of olive oil for a farm to table side.  The tomatoes are setting on their vines as well.  Yesterday I did have a hankering for fried green tomatoes but they aren’t quite that big yet!

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The cabbages are growing their heads.  Now, there is a fine line in the high plains of Colorado, one week you could have happily growing cabbage and the next little black bugs will be sent by Mother Nature to take them out since they aren’t ready yet.  The clean up crew.  So, sometimes you can just harvest as is, without the finished head.  Chiffonade the leaves and stir fry.  With the snow and snap peas, of course!

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Some of the potatoes have flowered and some are yet to flower.  Potato flowers are amazingly beautiful.  They always surprise me in their lovely understated elegance.  I let the mustard, radish, and arugula plants go to seed.  I enjoy their flowers and they may reseed themselves, which is always a nice treat.

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The herbs have been prolific.  Waving California poppies, knee high cilantro in bloom, morning glories grasping for the trellis, volunteer borage with its star-like blooms.  Chamomile and its glorious scent, the first head of Calendula, roses.

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Lots of fresh lettuces, baby carrots, greens, young onions, and herbs await.  I am better after an hour in the garden.  My medicine.  Watching the water crystals from the sprayer bounce off the leaves of the great sunflowers, watching birds flit by, a lady bug lands on a nearby leaf.  I am in my element in a garden, wherever it may be.

Friday Farmgirl Gardening Series Week 10 (erosion, hail, hoppers, and hope)

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And this, my dear friends, is one reason we do not rototill!  With the crazy summer storms we have been getting an inch of sandy thick topsoil from the neighboring gardens slid onto my plants and pathways.

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My novel takes place in the 1930’s and through my grandparents’ stories and books I am learning about the dust bowl.  Something we were never taught in school and something that could so easily happen again as we deliberately and repeatedly deplete our soils of nutrients instead of building on top of the soil.  Soil does not like to be barren!

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“Oh hail” is my new cuss word.  Grasshoppers are my nemesis.

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Yet, each day the soil and my plants call to me.  I find my respite and peace with fingernails caked with dirt, birds flitting by, and despite everything, the harvest.  Plants want to grow.  Spinach, baby kale, baby collards, arugula, lettuce, and nearing the end of radish days fills my basket.

I thin a few carrots and beets each day.  It is the most loathsome job in the garden I know.  I think that I will just put two fingers down for two inches, pick everything in between, but goodness, those seedlings are everywhere.  Which direction do I go?  Two inches this way?  Then I take out that nice tall one…It is rather stressful but it must be done, for carrots one or two inches in girth feed folks a lot better than two millimeters in girth.  The kids need room to grow.

Next year, I think, you shall find me at the end of the winter months at a table with a glass of wine and opera blaring carefully dotting each seed with glue and placing them strategically two inches apart on long strips of toilet paper.  Though that sounds dreadful to my “do six things at a time” mind, listening to Andrea Bocelli and dotting seeds with glue sounds a lot more fun than the mass killings I am attempting to complete in my garden.

This week I will be laying more mulch and making everything tidy.  We’ll see what there is to harvest.  We’ll start planning our fall crops.  We’ll listen to birds, get a sun tan, and plan up new recipes inspired by the garden.

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My balcony garden is doing amazing, may I add.  Just goes to show that the best gardens have a roof!

Grandmother Moon and Mercury

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I went to a ceremony yesterday.  A beautiful woman led the smudging and prayers in Cherokee as we welcomed Grandmother moon.  Over fifty women of different colors (and a few men) and backgrounds banged on drums and shook rattles and sang.  It was an empowering group.

I didn’t fully understand what Mercury in Retrograde meant but I found out what it meant for those around me and myself.  Life changes, extreme life changes, deaths, perceived failures, loss, new paths…

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Eva explained that now is the time to start focusing only on the positive.  All things that did not serve us have fallen away.  We are waking at this time in full female energy.  The Super Moon means that the moon was closest to the earth than it will be all year.  An embrace, Eva said.  The lunar eclipse.  Venus glowing brightly in the east in a haze of dawn color.  The Cherokee harvest moon.

From here on out we get stronger.  We get wiser.  We see our bountiful blessings and we are filled with gratitude.  In this ceremony we prayed to release one thing and replace it with something better.  I traded poverty for prosperity.  I traded our family’s hardships this year for strength and love.  I traded lack of inspiration for wisdom and joy.  What a beautiful way to bring in Autumn.

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I always teach my students, as I was taught, to place their medicines in the full moon each month.  The moon’s cycles have a profound effect on us down here on earth.  Women’s menses, the ocean tides, biodynamic farming, and many other things are influenced by the waxing and waning of the moon. All of my medicines glowed like stars from the balcony hanging onto the Grandmother moon’s rays.  As she turned red and dark then light and embracing, the power of the moon made the medicines match the frequency of our own bodies.  A fascinating fact.

During this harvest season and through the feminine power of Grandmother moon and Venus in the east, I wish you prosperity, peace, love, strength, and child-like joy.

Lughnasadh and the County Fair

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Lughnasadh (loon-ah-sah) is one of the Gaelic harvest festivals of old.  The word is from old Irish text and is a Pagan holiday celebrating the first of the harvests.  A harvest festival is always a welcome holiday in this farmgirl’s mind!  Tonight is also a full moon and I can just imagine my grandmothers of old times dancing under the moon celebrating the harvest of grains and other summer bounties.

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I study all religions and see the similarities in all of them, the same God with different names, the same holidays, many customs “borrowed” by other faiths, and the joy in all of the different ways to honor the great Creator.  Paganism was not a religion pre-Christianity since everyone from childhood was brought up with great respect for Mother Nature and the holidays were based on the agricultural calendar.  Paganism reminds me greatly of the Native American ways of worship a continent away.  The Christians use many of the same elements and traditions as the early Pagans.  I was always brought up thinking that Pagans were Atheists, this is not so apparently.  I love the various celebrations.

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Did you know that the local county fairs were originally the celebration of Lughnasadh?  The first harvest festival, showing off goods and livestock, morphed into what we now know as the county fair.

There I am on the Swingers, again 11 years old!
There I am on the Swingers, again 11 years old!
The ride that bankrupted Grammie and Papa!
The ride that bankrupted Grammie and Papa!

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This year’s county fair was more fun than ever with rides and a two year old who loved everything from the young people competing with their horses to the motorcycle ride she would not get off of until we were completely broke from buying tickets!

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Our friends at the annual Dutch oven cookoff.
Our friends at the annual Dutch oven cook-off.

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So tonight, the holiday brings with it a bright full moon, a promise of more crops, and a sense of peace.  The traditional way of late is to enjoy a beer (grains) and a bit of bread (or pizza?) and celebrate and have gratitude for the harvest.  And maybe a little dancing in the moonlight is in order!

The Art of the Cold Frame

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In this lifestyle bartering is a way of life and I was happy to trade an herbalist class for help moving and a homebuilt cold frame.  My friends built this beautiful wooden structure with windows that open and screens.  It is made from old barn wood and even has an old Christian fish symbol burnt onto a board.

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I was concerned that even at the height of day the entire box was not bathed in light.  The southern half was in the shade all day.  It is built so that the back is higher than the front.  The clever builder believed it would still work and indeed it did!  Pots lushly filled with peas, collards, chard, and kale and then promptly died.  The first real freeze came along and froze every bit of life out of them.

‘When the heck do you use the cold frame then?’ I wondered.  It extended the season until the end of October.  We did have that unusual cold snap (A bit of an understatement seeings how it was twenty-two below zero!) at the beginning of November.  Perhaps it would have survived longer in the average late autumn.

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This spring I was ready though.  I didn’t do it too early.  A few weeks ago I planted tons of pots of cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, strawberries, and Chinese onions and placed them in the cold frame as an experiment.  Most things have germinated and are growing well.  Not as fast as last autumn’s batch but certainly the temperature is right for germinating.  The tomatoes have not come up yet but the ones in the greenhouse are a bit slow as well.

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A very cold night last week prompted me to take action.  I piled bags of soil up around the cold frame (I bet bales of straw would work too) and placed a blanket on top.  Everything is still growing.

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I am still experimenting with this new medium to extend the season but I think it could potentially bring greens and other delicious foods to the table later and earlier than expected.  It is doing a fine job of holding my seed starts as well.

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Remember that in any situation when starting seeds one must keep the soil moist until the plants come up.  They cannot germinate in dry soil!  Don’t overwater seedlings or they will dampen off, which is sad.  Check every other day to see if the top 1/2 inch is dry.  If so, give a sip!  When the plants are trying to germinate they like the hot, humid space but when they get to be plants open the windows of the cold frame on really warm days to let air through.

Plant what you love to eat and watch it grow!

Attend a Festival or Event at Pumpkin Hollow Farm

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I can hear it now.  The sound of music surrounding the prairie as the owls look on from the south pasture.  The warm summer evening is cooled with a passing breeze, the smell of roses upon it.  The mountains across the horizon are bright with summer color and the prairie is its variegated taupe patinas.  A refreshing drink in hand, folks on blankets laughing and enjoying the summer sounds of fiddle make for a great end of season day.

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Oh I know there is snow still sifting into the ground and the fire is crackling merrily in the wood stove but I wanted to share the farm events that will be occurring in the late summer and fall so that you, my friends, can plan ahead to visit our farm during one of these summer festivities that we will have on Pumpkin Hollow Farm.  It would be so great to meet some of you in person, see old friends, and share in a celebration of harvest and good fun.  There are motels and great camping facilities just seven miles down the road in the little town of Calhan.  We are just thirty minutes from Colorado Springs and there you will find many great historical sites, museums, hotels, and fine dining should you want to make Colorado your destination for a  summer vacation this year.  For all of you local readers, I hope you’ll make the brief drive and join us on our new farm.  Here is the line up for events…

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Sunday, August 30th- Homesteading Boot Camp

Start the day early on the farm and choose between learning to milk a goat or going on a wild herb walk in the pasture.  Meet back at the farm kitchen for breakfast and hot coffee.  You will choose from a myriad of homesteading classes upon sign up taught by five different instructors, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  A picnic lunch will break up the day.  There will farm tours and a Question and Answer forum for the instructors.  Our day will end a potluck dinner and live music.  $100

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Saturday, September 12th at noon- Pumpkin Hollow Farm Harvest Party

Bring a dish to share and come enjoy a meal with community and new friends.  A professional karaoke host will be there to make all the guests the stars (start planning your songs!) and will play some great dance music as well (have you ever danced among pumpkins?).  Our pumpkin patch will open that day and guests will have first harvest of the festive orbs.  Choose your perfect pumpkin to take home (nominal fee).  Visit with the animals.  Take a tour of the gardens.  Relax and meet new folks.  We’ll eat, drink, and be merry and celebrate the harvest while singing our hearts out.  Free!  Kindly RSVP

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Saturday, October 10th at 3:00- 1st Annual Food Swap

Bring a dish to share and preserved items to barter with.  Meat, cheeses, home canned goods, wine, whatever would keep well in the winter works!  Enjoy an afternoon of comradery among other homesteaders and have more selection in your pantry at the end of it!  We’ll dine alfresco with new friends and enjoy the farm in Autumn.

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Saturday, November 1st at 6:00- Samhain Dinner

Pronounced Sow-in, this holiday is most identified with pagans but it is actually an ancient Celtic holiday that marked the end of the agricultural year.  The end of the harvest and the beginning of winter was a time for reflection and rest.  The fires would begin to burn in the hearths of the homes of farmers and there was less to do.  After the busyness of summer the farmers would start to think of loved ones that had passed on that year.  Samhain is a time of remembrance and the mark of the new year.  Join us for a silent dinner.  Bring a dish to share that reminds you of the person that is in your heart that has left this world.  We will set a plate for the people that have left a hole in our lives and sit among our new friends and have a meal by candlelight and music in silence.  At the end of dinner we will share stories and reverie, enjoy a glass of wine and dessert, and celebrate the beginning of winter’s rest.  Free!  RSVP  Space is limited.

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I am proud to be adding to the 14% of women owned farms.  This is a such a big dream for me.  But I don’t want to just feed people and introduce them to fabulous new foods, I want to feed people with community and friendship.  So many are lonely, so many kids don’t get outside, so many don’t know a goat from a dog!  I want to build a rich foundation here on this farm to encourage, inspire, and bring folks together.  Won’t you join us for one of our events?  We’d love to have you!

 

 

‘Tis Thanksgiving Eve

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‘Tis Thanksgiving eve

a prayer hushes over the land

of grateful hearts for harvest so full

such bounty in our lives and hand.

 

We bow our heads in repose

to give sweet thanks for blessings abound

for those before us that bowed their heads

their new lives on this prairie found.

 

A feast to eat before us

everywhere in the wild to be found

our little cottage so filled with love

warm sun setting without a sound.

 

We will be thankful and not want

so easy to wish for something more

we could be unloved, hungry and cold

and sleeping on a sodden floor.

 

So we bow our heads and say grace

lest we forget that our basic needs are few.

Tomorrow we will be thankful too.

And the day after.

And the day after.

Happy Thanksgiving!