Seven Years in Farmgirl School

Seven years ago today, I began to design a blog and was giddy with the possibilities. Dozens of journals and manila envelopes filled with typed short stories and magazine articles that I had written filled shelves in closets. I had just read about blogs and was excited to try my hand at one. Farmgirl School came to mind and I laughed out loud as I typed it out.

We were city people, reborn in the country, trying to access knowledge from generations past and from books and experiences. We worked the soil, the gardens, and they grew each year. We longed for goats, and we fell in love, and we cried when one died, and we bottle fed newborns, and we longed for goats again once they were gone. We had sheep who thought they were puppies and followed me around the farm and enjoyed singing shows in the living room wearing diapers. We laughed at ducks in swimming pools and snuggled friendly hens.

We fretted about renting that farm in that small town that we loved. We knew at some point the owners would lose it to the bank. That day came and we ushered over to a different rented farm with dreams and aspirations as big as any. Nine months later we had lost everything- scammed out of every penny- lost each beloved farm animal, and antiques and heirlooms and silverware and part of our spirits, and moved quietly and brokenly into friends’ houses until we could get back on our feet.

We moved into an apartment, worked harder than ever, saved and bought an urban farm. One of our own! We’ll be here forever, we chanted! Ah, but the country called.

And here we are, dreams come true, three months now on our own farm in the country. Our chickens love it here, as does the farm dog. The views can steal your breath away, the air is crisp. Our fourth farm is slowly coming together. Why, by next August, you will not even recognize it, for the gardens and the animals and the life here will expand along with our hearts.

Seven years. A million years ago and a breath ago, it seems. It has been quite a road.

This blog has become a beautiful, exponentially important journal of how-to do just about anything. I, myself, refer back to it constantly for recipes and reminders of how to do things. Thousands of people have followed my Chokecherry Wine recipe- the ongoing number one blog post of mine, with How to Make Your Own Witchhazel on its heels.

164, 850 times people have read my blog. That is really something. The reach we can have with our words. Oh, I occasionally quit the blog when I don’t think I will be farming anymore, or when I think I want to do something else, and two weeks later, here I am posting again, because it has become entwined with my being. Farmgirl School has become as much a part of me as my name.

Here’s to seven more years in Farmgirl School. I oughta really know my stuff by then! Thanks for hanging around.

18 Authors, 30 Books (Great Homesteading and Farming Books)

On day eleven of our “So You Want to Be a Homesteader Series” we are learning from other homesteaders and farmers.  Now, there is nothing like learning first hand; sitting in a kitchen watching a farm wife deftly move from task to task.  Asking a homesteader how much wood you need to get through winter (3 cords ought to do ya if you live somewhere chilly), or working with a lifelong gardener for a summer is priceless.  And as you live this lifestyle you do find yourself gravitating and meeting more like minded folks.  But overall, there isn’t a lot of us per capita.  Trial and error plays a huge part in the learning curve for all of us.  But most of my education has been through books and memoirs.

These are just a hand full of great books I enjoyed.  I gleaned bits and gems of information and ideas from the day to day lives of regular folk trying to make a living as a farmer, trying to simplify life as a homesteader, or getting back to nature and a grounded life living off grid.  I have laughed, I have cried, I have learned.  And for books and the ability to read, I am incredibly grateful.  So, here are 18 authors and 30 books to check out and enjoy over a cup of tea.  Get ready to get inspired!  (An asterisk * denotes my favorite books.  The ones that really stuck with me.)

*1- A great place to start is with Jenna Woginrich.  Her books are some of my favorites.  Made From Scratch; Discovering the Pleasures of a Homemade Life is the first book I read in a long line of homesteading and farming books.  It is the book that made me go from, “Oh, that looks fun!” to “Let’s do this.”  Her series of books takes us from a rental in Idaho to her forever farm in New York with lots of lessons along the way.  Makes you want a hard cider and a fiddle.  

s-l300

2- Laura Ingalls Wilder may not have set out to be a teacher of all things homesteading when she wrote her nine books, but through these enchanting memoirs (which are mostly true, just the time lines are slightly different), the reader learns so much.  I gleaned a lot of practical farming and homesteading advice from reading these as an adult.  They are also beautifully written and hopelessly romantic.

515eStZv5KL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

*3- If There’s Squash Bugs in Heaven, I Ain’t Staying is one of the best books I have read.  Stacia Spragg-Braude writes the story of an elder in Corrales, New Mexico.  We find ourselves in her adobe kitchen with preserves covering the counters, out in the fields learning generations of farming tips and hoeing chilies.  Evelyn’s life is beautifully written out in these pages and the lessons and history are sound.  I never had squash bugs before moving to Pueblo, but I now share that sentiment as well!

51L-AuGJGXL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_

4- Goat Song by Brad Kessler taught me the most about goats and cheesemaking.  I was inspired and enchanted as I walked through the woods with his goats, their bells clanging as I turned the pages.

5- Hit By a Farm and Sheepish by Catherine Friend taught me the most about sheep.  I loved my lambs, Olaf and Sven, and I hope to have a few again.  The author holds nothing back as she recounts her life with sheep.

51TKgMSTFwL

6- The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball was a good book.  I did enjoy it and learned quite a bit from it about raising cattle, CSA’s, and the adjustment it takes to lead this kind of life.

512fsVUGCEL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_

7- Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the most inspiring book when it comes to local eating and sustainable farming for one’s own family.  It is filled with recipes and great advice.  Solid knowledge to help you walk away from the petroleum dripping banana and pick up a tomato start.

912L7uHQ52L

*8- The Feast Nearby by Robin Mather is not so much about homesteading or farming, but about making do and eating locally.  The story is inspiring, the recipes mouthwatering, and the wisdom will make you want a Dutch oven and a wood stove.

A1gah6bTfKL

9- Farm City by Novella Carpenter was recommended to me by one of my old farm interns.  He said I must get it and I will be wanting pigs in the front yard in no time!  I actually still have no desire to raise pigs (I will leave that to Alli and Cindy) but I was intrigued by the vacant lot farm in a rough neighborhood of Oakland and her drive to eat locally.

*10- Kurt Timmermeister’s books are genius in prose and inspiration.  Growing a Farmer gets us started and Growing a Feast inspires us to take up bee keeping, cheese making, and put on a heck of a farm-to-table dinner for friends.

51my6RaQzoL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_

*11- Off on Our Own by Ted Carns was the most inspiring book when it comes to going off grid.  I loved his laid back tone, the pond in the living room, his views on life.  It made me wish I were handier but it gave me ideas!

51tAB+cyhaL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

12- Chickens in the Road by Suzanne McMinn was a cute book filled with real life, real decisions, and a quote Doug and I still use to this day about animals having many good days and one bad day on a farm.  Factory farm animals have lots of bad days and a super bad day at the end.  Her personal memoir is lovely and filled with great tips.

51uHxpFjY6L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

13- Turn Here Sweet Corn by Atina Diffley was a good book.  It was marked with fights for land and other policies, a good tome of reality and life.

51Eo0XWKI+L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_

*14- Better Off was one of my favorite books.  It is high time I read it again.  I was upset when I had no more pages to read!  Eric Brende and his wife’s experiment living with the Amish was at once educational and captivating as they figured out wood stoves, pumpkin farming, and the joys of a simple life.

51CMFZhrViL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

15- The Bucolic Plague will leave you laughing and wanting to visit upstate New York.  From the Martha Stewart Show to the small (slightly drunk) turkey on the Thanksgiving table, I was mesmerized by the characters and stories that Josh Kilmer-Purcell shares in this entertaining book.

77141._UY475_SS475_

16- This Organic Life is one I need to read again.  I remember bits and pieces of it.  Her tale of local food and her passion to grow all of her food are the sentiments left with me.

51s6u1Wkl9L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_

*17- Wisdom of a Radish is another favorite.  Her experiences directly helped me to be a better farmer and see what it takes to keep up.  Her prose is witty and sharp.  There is a quote in there that I use still regarding f@*k up tomatoes.  Read it!  You’ll love it.

Homestead 101 Cover

*18- Farmgirl School; Homesteading 101 by Katie Lynn Sanders (What?!  I am one of my favorite authors!)  This comprehensive manual is our first two years blogging and farming with plenty of how-to’s, from cheesemaking to homeschooling to canning corn.

IMG_3396

Some of these books focus on living off grid, simply, and some of them focus on farming or ranching, while others focus on homesteading.  There are a lot of facets to living simply.  There is solar and oil lamps, sewing and crocheting, shearing and milking, chickens and ducks, medicinal herbs and growing food.  There is canning and chopping wood, letter writing, and there are great books to read and tea to be brewed.  There is a never ending learning curve and plenty of experiences to enrich your life.

There are so many books that I can vaguely remember the cover but not the title or author.  So many books I did not include here!  Here are a few more books that I discovered that I will have to get soon!  I have begun work on my own extensive farming memoir.  What are your favorite homesteading and farming books?

81ixuaB7y3L

51S8j55a3NL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_

61Eu0BEDxoL._SX359_BO1,204,203,200_

711pMpmXCcL

515EXb7ExpL

Growing Older Joan Gussow

 

“You Got to Learn Them To Eat.”

stove

He adjusted his cowboy hat as he entered the shop.  Beautifully dark skin and an easy smile shone from his slight frame.  He had come in to see the medicines.  A bit reminiscent, he was.  His grandmother was half Cherokee and she knew all the remedies and how to doctor up everyone on her place in Oklahoma.

I am not sure how we got from plants to homesteading but it was a seamless jump and his stories filled me with wonder.  He is about the same age as my friend, Rod, who was there making his jewelry and he came over to join the conversation.  Soon, I was quiet, a child, listening to tales and bits of wisdom I had yet to learn.

They grew a lot of food.  They grew corn for the pigs.  Good corn.  The cowboy talked of catching ‘coons and how good of eating they were.  A bit like bear.  Rod talked of hunting rabbits.  Nothing was wasted.  “You got to learn them to eat,” the cowboy’s grandmother said.  “They might look at you and wonder how you eat that but they are sitting there not eating.”  He told this as he explained how to use a sling shot to kill pigeons.  They are little but you just take the feathers off, and cook ’em.  They are good with dumplings.  They taste like chicken.  “Everything tastes like chicken!” Rod joked and added to the recollections.

Growing up in the seventies and eighties in the city there wasn’t much chance to “learn to eat”.  Sure, I learned to cook.  I learned thrift and such but everything we had came from the store.  Who knows what folks would have thought of us if we were out getting birds.  Or raccoons.  And I am pretty sure my mother would have avoided that like the plague.  She may never have learned to eat either!

But I think of that.  I have been writing a “how to homestead” blog for over three years now.  Almost a reenactment though.  This is how to homestead, as I eat a piece of veggie chick’n (which is quite good actually).  We had a hard time putting a hit on our roosters.  But, Doug and I were not brought up to hunt or feed our families.  Not many of the kids I know were.  I suppose if we were in dire straits, we may learn real quick, but as of right now the thought of my sheep from last summer in someone’s freezer brings me great sadness.

But I listened intently.  I am fascinated with all of the wisdom that was lost in such a short time.  The things I never learned, but I pay attention.  Doug and I hope to buy a place to homestead next year and even if we never use a sling shot to kill pigeons or if we end up with a pet raccoon instead of dinner, at least I will know how things were.  And one day we may need to learn our grandchildren to eat.

 

Memorizing Moments and Merry Christmas

stars

The night is surprisingly cold and calm. The snowstorm has passed and the late sky is crisp and stars are just twinkling through.  The prairie is beautifully dark.  Exhilaratingly so.  I am walking the path east into the swell of ebony towards the mailboxes.  The path is faintly lit with the bluish street light behind the farmhouse.  Christmas lights dance in the frosted windows.  In the distance a thick darkness lay and I can just make out the happy dog prancing in front of me, her sleek black coat blending into the void.  Wood smoke flows through the air from the stove pipe promising a warm kitchen upon my return.  Behind us, in the distance, dark mountains fold into the night as city lights glitter.  The wind chills us and makes us shiver as we quicken our walk and say goodnight to the day on this ordinarily beautiful winter eve.

IMG_0538

I recorded this after my walk last night.  We are caring for the neighbor’s dog, Serina, and we were walking to the mailboxes to retrieve Christmas cards and such.  An ordinary moment, walking a dog in the dark, getting the mail, inhaling the crisp night air; I want to live these photographic moments more vividly in the coming year starting with Christmas.

christmas

This year was difficult it seems for everyone, a lot of good souls called home, and financial worries.  I want to think more on moments.  Make each day count.  I want to take a mental photograph of ordinary moments.  This Christmas, won’t you look around and memorize the sounds; the laughter, the pots clinking, the paper being opened.  The smells of fresh coffee and Grandpa’s cologne.  Memorize people’s faces.  For there are no guarantees that any one person of any age will be with us come next holiday.  Love, hug, smile, relax, memorize, and mentally photograph each moment.

zebra

Thank you for reading my life this year and for your sweet cards, notes, emails, uplifting words in person, and for supporting me in my writing and in our homesteading adventures.

grad

From my family to yours, Merry, Merry Christmas!

dad and i

 

A Homesteader’s Guide to Preparing For Winter (not just for homesteaders!)

snow scene

When I was growing up Autumn was a time for a new pair of shoes and back to school.  For getting excited about holidays and playing in the leaves.  Each season was really no different than another.  Once we became homesteaders there are marked differences in the seasons that we have to respect.  For instance in the spring we plan, start, plant, and get ready for farmer’s markets to begin.  In the summer we farm, do farmer’s markets all week, and start canning and planning what needs to be done for winter.  Imagine that!  Planning what needs to be done for winter in the midst of July.  Now it is fall, and we will be insanely busy this month.  You could wait like we did last year to get all of our hay for winter, only buying what we needed but there was a shortage come February and we had trouble locating good hay.  We could wait to get all the wood we need but there is nothing guaranteeing dry, available wood come January and that is how we will be heating our home.  Should we be snowed in it is quite lovely to walk to the long pantry waiting for me in the new house and grab everything I need for dinner without ever worrying about a shortage or having to run to the store.  There are lessons in here for the average city citizen or the non-homesteader as well.  No one can be sure what the winter will bring and if the Almanac is correct and the weather serves prediction, our winter this year may be a doozy.

wood stove 2

1.  Heat- If the power goes out for an extended time, how will you keep warm?  We will need to make sure we have plenty of wood and coal at the ready.  We’ll have plenty of blankets and wool sweaters at the ready.

IMG_1866

2.  If you can’t get to the store, how will you feed your animals?  Make sure you store a bit extra than you normally would for just in case scenarios.  I will need to get a few months of hay at least and an extra bag of dog and cat food.

3.  If the city water gets turned off due to a water main break or other reason (or if the electricity goes out and the well stops working), how will you get water?  I will be filling several canning jars and jugs with water.  It won’t be enough for an extended time but it could certainly help get us through for a bit.

SAM_0226

4.  If a blizzard kept trucks from delivering food to the grocery store or if you were home bound, how would you eat?  So far we have 378 items canned.  I have another 100 to put up.  This is enough to get Doug and I through the winter, have some to give as gifts, and give to the kids should they need it.  I also have a freezer full of meat that we have already obtained and I am ordering another ten chickens from a local sustainable farmer.  Here is a problem though….if the power goes out I will need to find a right cold area to keep the meat in!  I should be canning meat but as of yet, that sounds like a pain and not very appetizing but I know I need to learn to do it!  It won’t go bad if it is canned.  I also have a fridge full of cheese wheels that I have made.  So, we have cheese and if the fridge goes out the cold back room will probably keep it just fine.  We have dehydrated food and have more to do.  I have canned jars and jars of juice and am doing the rest today.  We will stock up on staples like flour and sugar and other grains like cornmeal, of course beans and legumes, and salt and spices.  There should be little we need to go to the store for.

extracts

5. What if you or your animals are ill or injured and can’t get to a doctor or vet?  Make sure you have plenty of herbal remedies on hand so that you can treat yourself or your animals in an emergency.  We have remedies for colds and flu, for pain, for infection, even for broken bones at the ready.  (You can see these remedies at http://gardenfairyapothecary.com)

fire

I encourage you to think ahead just a bit just in case so that you won’t be panic stricken should the electricity go out or if you cannot get out the front door due to snow!  It will give you great peace of mind and a homesteader spirit!