The New Farm (starting from scratch)

IMG_0955

I always have good intentions.  I spent the winter learning everything I could about Permaculture and how to incorporate it into our new farm.  I was on fire about it!  The inner garden we did not dig.  We piled on six inches of straw.  To plant I opened up part of the straw along rows to fill in with organic garden soil and plant in that.  The beds will stay well mulched.  The new garden soil will be covered around the plants as soon as they are up and strong.  Eventually the whole garden will settle in and each year we will just add new layers of soiled straw and leaves and let the years work themselves into great soil.

IMG_0954

I saved boxes all winter and threw them into the garden.  Once they were all broken down they sure didn’t cover much space between the beds.  The weeds are peeking around it.  I would need a lot more boxes, and a box cutter to cut them to size, and a lot more patience.  More straw, I think, is the answer for the remaining paths (that is my answer to everything).

IMG_0953

Then I looked out upon the large pumpkin patch we are creating.  It will be a Three Sisters garden complete with five different kinds of pumpkins crawling along the ground and three different heirloom beans climbing organic sweet corn stalks.  The grass is now thick and I am sadly lacking in time or cardboard boxes.  I think we will have to rototill.

The thing about Permaculture is one starts slowly.  Creating one bed at a time.  We now farm for a living.  I have a half acre of vegetables, fruit, and herbs to finish getting in.  I don’t have time to build raised beds for ridiculously long rows of pumpkins or wait six months for a lasagna garden!

I won’t be able to do the whole farm in Permaculture this year.  Some lessons are best taught over time.  Long, windy initial rows will be rototilled into the never before planted area of the yard.  I will add aged horse manure and gardening soil and plant.  I will mulch well.  We will have a good comparison between the inner no-till garden and the traditional tilled rows this year.

Next year I hope not to have to till.  I will keep working up and adding layers of compost.  This year though, we will just do what we know, pray for Mother Nature’s blessing, light the candle for San Isidro (the patron saint of farming), and enjoy all the blessings that come from our humble patch of rented land.

Thank goodness it is spring.

Empowering Young Farmers and Humbling the Farmer (and how to design garden beds)

IMG_3615

I received a message wondering if I could use the help of twenty girl scouts.  The farm they were supposed to help out decided they didn’t need volunteers.  Not only can I use volunteers, but I always jump at the opportunity to reach out to kids.  It is staggering to me the minute amount of people who have chosen to grow food and the even smaller amount of women that have opted for this job.  I don’t remember in school it even being an option.  I was told I could be anything I want, a stay at home mom, a doctor, a lawyer, a nun, but never was the word farmer uttered.

IMG_0855

I think it is so important to show kids that living simply and farming is indeed a real career and lifestyle choice.  So I stood there thinking of all the ways I would inspire and encourage troop 2251 to do great things as they pulled in.  My breath caught and tears threatened to come.  Two cars of smiling girls were followed by a truck and trailer.  Stacked a top that trailer were twenty bales of straw for mulch and twenty bags of organic potting soil.  They had raised money to help out a farm.  What a blessing, what a group of angels that descended on our humble farm!

IMG_3616

IMG_0853

I welcomed them to Pumpkin Hollow Farm and told them a bit about our simple lifestyle.  I introduced them to the animals.  They swooned over the baby lambs and my granddaughter, Maryjane.  They looked for all the kittens in the house and I showed them the wood cook stove.  We then set off to work.  We had a daunting task, turn the barren patch of dirt that was once a thriving garden at one time into a ready-to-plant plot.

IMG_3619

IMG_3618

IMG_0850

IMG_0851

We gathered all the cardboard boxes that I had thrown in there over the winter, flattened them, and laid them beneath the paths.  I explained how we would make a one foot path, then a four foot bed, and repeat that all the way across.  They didn’t have to be straight beds.  Gardening is art, I told them, so they could make the beds wavy like little rivers, or use interesting items to line the path.

IMG_0852

IMG_3621

IMG_3617

IMG_3622

IMG_3620

The girl scout leaders, the girls, and I worked diligently under the first hot day of spring to create a masterpiece.  We brought over loads of bricks from the side of the outbuildings and made wavy streams of paths.  Discarded wood and branches lined the way.  I dared the girls to find the most creative piece to line the beds with.  My Christmas three that the goats stripped clean now lines of the beds!

IMG_3627

IMG_3623

IMG_0857

We had lunch beneath the pine trees and took in the views.  The little girls took turns carrying Maryjane around.  She has been in heaven this week with so many kids around.

IMG_0854

IMG_0859

IMG_3629

IMG_3628

We then laid the twenty bales of straw thickly onto the planting beds.  All I need to do is lay a thick layer of wood chips on the paths and place stepping stones at strategic places across the beds to get across easily.  This plot will feed many, many people.  I am ever so grateful for their help.

IMG_3630

They taught me about generosity and hard work.  They helped a farmer that they didn’t even know.

Water, Mulch, and Reseeding (ways to assure a good crop)

I suppose a drip system would be the most effective way to adequately water without wasting and would save time.  Doug and the neighbor laid out their respective plans over the winter for an elaborate drip system for our gardens.  However, come spring we have enough budgeted for a new hose and maybe a sprayer.  A drip system didn’t fit into our meager farmstead funds!

IMG_0183

The system we came up with wouldn’t work in clay soil or in humid environments but here in the high plains of arid Colorado, it works really well.  It also saves us a lot of money on the water bill.  Last year I wrote a post about trench planting during the fires (see post here) and wondered if that would work.  This year when Doug rototilled the front yard rows, I left all the dirt on the sides creating a long trench.  I planted the seeds directly in the trench which is about six inches deep in some spots.  We can water quickly by filling the trenches with a few inches of water which happens in ten seconds per area.  It seeps in quickly and keeps two inches of soil wet for the next twenty hours or so.  The plants are protected from the wind and the moisture doesn’t get whisked away so quickly.

IMG_0184

In the garlic, onion, and potato rows I used the hoe to create small trenches along the sides of the rows.  I can quickly fill them with an inch of water and they will seep in right to the roots.

Once the plants are established a thick layer of old straw cushions the plants.  (See last year’s post on mulching here) I leave a little space around the stems so they won’t rot, but the entire area gets a nice blanket of weed squashing straw.  This is a far easier way to keep up with the straggly and strangling crab grass and other fun weeds here.  It really does slow down the weed growth and keeps the moisture in so that on some days we do not even have to water.

SAM_0798

My biggest failures for the first twenty years of gardening came from these factors.  Not enough water.  Not enough weed control.  And not enough diligence planting seeds.  If seeds didn’t come up, I felt that that particular bed was a failure.  I never heard of the saying, “Plant Three; one for God, one for the birds, one for me.”  Boy, is this true!  Every third seed seems to come up.  The birds help, no doubt, and apparently there is a tithe involved with planting.  So, if some seeds don’t come up, I am now out there planting another seed where I want it.  All along the pumpkin patch there were spaces of missing plants.  I just reseeded them.  Same with the corn.  Same with the brassicas.  Through the middle of June one can keep planting seeds that will be ready for harvest and mid-July for the fall crops.

Three ways to assure good basic crops.  Now we just hope for great weather and that Mother Nature looks kindly on our gardens!

Learning to Be a Farmer

book

I love farming books that inspire and make you laugh through antidotes and stories that actually help you learn.  I love Jenna Woginrich and many others that I told you about in my post about farming books.  I started this blog to be one of them.  I would have liked a book that was more step by step.  Like, how much to water.  Basic stuff so that I could actually get further than fried seedlings and an empty chicken coop.  I wanted to write one of those books (via blog) that would inspire, teach, and make people laugh each day.  The chapters unfolding throughout the week.  I appreciate each and every one of you that takes the time to read what crazy stuff we are up to on any given day.  Writers need readers.  Thank you.

So, here are the results of the experiments (some pretty nutty) that we did this year.  It may help you in your garden planning for next year (or make you shake your head in wonder).

SAM_0636

First, water is good.  Okay.  I have discovered that you must water more than once a week and more than a few seconds in order to feed the thirsty plants.  Daily watering (beer in hand) helped Doug and I, not only relax, for twenty minutes, but also helped us keep up with any problems or triumphs in the garden.  We discovered that hand watering saves a ton of water.  We’re talking fifty bucks a month off our water bill.  We also had the opportunity to wave at neighbors, catch up on the day, and enjoy the fruits of our labor.

We also learned that one can water till the cows come home (or goats, in our case) but nothing beats rain water.  We got a great amount of it this year and it was like pouring fertilizer infused water on everything.  Something our desert-like environment wasn’t used to!  Everyone’s crabgrass is still green!

flea beetle

When the flea beetles went on the buffet and began decimating cold crops, you all chimed in and identified the little gorgers.  Also giving sound advice.  Bill was right though and the flea beetles were acting as the clean up crew.  It was too late for cold crops.  They knew it.  They were apparently smarter than the farmer.  Which leads me to the conclusion that I need to start broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts indoors next year then transplant them out in early spring.  Those guys still aren’t ready to harvest.

Butterfly

I learned about diatomaceous earth.  I learned that when dousing plants and soil with “natural”, “organic”, and effective bug killers, that the substance cannot differentiate between flea beetles, leaf miners, and lady bugs.  Or bees.  Or all the micro-organisms I have so carefully protected.

trash can

The results of the potato barrel experiment were…um…cute.  Seven tiny potatoes in one, five in the other.  Now, I did notice that the soil and straw were very damp.  Something I would not have had to worry about in past years.  I’m betting quite a few of them already decomposed.  The ones in the ground did great!

IMG_0841

I think mulching with straw is a brilliant idea, and I will do it more than I did this year.  We never did mulch with clothes like I considered.  Worried that I would trip, while holding my beer, while watering, while waving at passerby’s.  I have a cute farmer image to uphold here.

IMG_0679

Goats, in all their cuteness, are a pain in the %# and can get through anything.  We’ll decide what farm animals (home bodies, I am hoping) to get next year.

The fall crops came up enthusiastically, then turned yellow and died.  I forgot where I planted most of them.  The radishes are the only plants that hurried up and became ready to harvest.  Of course, I was tired of radishes by then.  Perhaps fall crops are overrated.

IMG_0726

I love chickens.

SAM_0811

Next year I will use my root cellar check list to plan my seed order.  I may line the porch with five gallon buckets of tomatoes and peppers.

I planted six plants of heirloom tomatoes.  Feeling very smug about myself for growing such a eloquent crop, I watched as dozens and dozens of them became ripe after the farmer’s markets were over.  They are too watery to make into sauce or to can diced.  Next year, I will plant the less cool Roma tomato.

img_0807.jpg

I have learned to grow where planted.  I have learned that I am a farmer through and through.  Still learning, granted, but enthusiastic, and in love with this life.  Turns out my husband is an unlikely farmer too.  Two kids born and raised in the city becoming the next great farmers….stay tuned…

concert

Mulching Clothes

IMG0128A

I don’t like to waste.  Sometimes I get very overwhelmed with the sheer amount of stuff out there.  Hidden landfills, better left unthought of, filled to the brim and sealed with things that may never decompose!  Department stores and Walmarts full of disposable stuff.  Okay, I am getting depressed now so in order to not hit the liquor cabinet this early, I want to think of reusing.

Oh man, do we have stuff.  An entire garage of stuff, closets and basement and bedrooms of stuff.  Today, specifically I am thinking of clothes.  Yesterday I took five full bags of clothes out of my bedroom (and I still don’t know where I am going to put all the clothes currently drying on the line!).  FIVE!  I have friends that give me cute clothes that no longer fit, and I am good with that.  I have people in our life who are pretty certain we are struggling through poverty and give me bags of clothes (yes, I need to learn to say “no thanks”!), and we have a really nice second hand store here with the occasional sweet sun dress, skirts, or overalls that I must have.  I am attempting to get rid of this city girl vice.  The chickens and bugs in the garden really couldn’t care less how cute I am.

Many of the clothes just end right back up at the second hand store.  Renting clothes I guess we could say.  But, what do you do with the clothes that are not nice enough to be given to charity but you don’t really want to send them to sit for all eternity in the landfill?

  1. You could use cotton clothing to tear into strips and make a nice rag rug, charming in any farmhouse (even if it’s in town). I did hear that you can only use cotton for this purpose.  Someone correct me if I am wrong.
  2. Patchwork quilt….anyone have a year on their hands?
  3. Dusting rags

Here is my current problem, most clothing is a mixed blend, I already have twenty projects going right now, and I seriously don’t need any more dusting rags.  So, here is my crazy idea and you all make sure to sound out if this is the stupidest idea I have ever had.

IMG_0407

Take this lovely teal skirt.  It was gently wafting in the breeze outside one of those India Imports shops.  It screamed of belly dancing and cool refreshing walks in the park, and a promise of a whoosh-whoosh every time I walked.  I bought it at a ridiculously high non-thrift store price.  It promptly started unraveling at the seams, then continued to snag on everything that I walked by.  It’s not a flattering cut and I am pretty much done humoring it!  What if I took my pile of clothes; discards, couch covers that Bumble ruined, stained beyond belief shirts of Doug’s, frayed skirts and placed them in the garden walkways and covered them with straw?  Would this work?  Would this keep the weeds down?  Would it provide lovely pathways?  No one would be the wiser with the packed down straw on top and weeds would have to work forever to get their pesky heads through.  Or, would I trip over a skirt, smack my face on a raised bed, and have a huge wet, moldy mess to clean up when it didn’t work?

I am counting on you people out there!  Sound off!