Posted in Farming

The Intricacies of Placing a Seed Order

Oh it is one of the best days of the year for me! Not my birthday, not my anniversary (that’s next week), not Christmas, it is the day I placed my seed order! Do you know this joy? Oh happy day. My seed and orchard orders are in.

I know quite a lot of folks who are just starting a garden this year. And there are some of us that are moving more towards subsistence farming and those of you that want to start farming as an occupation. So, how many seeds? What do you plant? Drooling over the gorgeous photographs in seed catalogs not only causes hunger but a bit of confusion. Where do you order from? What should you expect?

What are your goals?

So you are just starting out. The proud new owners of my urban homestead that I sold in August plowed down all of my gardens, according to my neighbor. They can’t wait to start a quaint salsa garden. After I let out my breath, I realized that maybe they don’t have time to farm like I do. Maybe a few tomatoes and hot peppers is what will bring them joy, and that’s okay! If you are just starting out, maybe choose ten things that you really love to eat. Maybe even five. Don’t get crazy with new things. Stick with the tried and true.

What is your gardening zone? When is your first frost? Look at how many days it takes on the seed package to see when you can harvest. And then add a month! If it’s really hot in your area, you will need to sow cold crops early. And you can sow them again in July for fall harvest. If they are a summer crop, you cannot plant until after the frost. Some things are going to be started indoors or you can buy f@#k up plants (a term I got from the hilarious book, The Wisdom of a Radish. It is when farmers can’t get their seedlings to grow and have to buy plant starts. This relatively refers to tomatoes and peppers.) and plant them the third week of May. There is a lot to think of so don’t go overboard with the seed order yet! Choose ten things. And go from there.

So you want to start a farm. I guess we got tired of selling all of our best stuff. We sat at our booth amongst the bigger farms with their tables filled with produce from California and Mexico, that they passed off as their own, and their piles of corn in May for cheap, as hundreds of unsuspecting patrons bought up peppers with stickers on them. The funny looks I got trying to get a buck an onion. Selling out and taking our forty dollars out to eat because we had sold our best stuff and we were too tired to cook anyway.

Niche crops and a good market are key. And anyone that has a desire to start a sustainable farm is golden in my book. My friend, Ethan farms in New York and lamented to me on the phone about how the Amish come in with their sixteen kids as slave labor and drive the prices way down at the market. There is always something. But if you have the heart for it, think big! How much space do you have? What can you grow that is unique that would be of interest? Do you have a good market nearby or a place to do a roadside stand? Make sure you grow enough for yourself as well and take a day off. Or at least half a day off. Sustaining yourself is as important as sustaining the next guy. Your personality sells the produce. So have a beautiful display and a big smile on your face when selling produce.

So you want to be a subsistence farmer. Amen sister. I hear ya. This is a new phrase for me. To feed oneself and to teach others to feed themselves is more important than taking fifty carrots to market to sell to folks who want a half price deal. So when choosing seeds, think of space. If I have a fifty foot row that I am going to plant green beans in, and I am placing them six inches apart, and the seed packet has fifty seeds in it, then I need to get two packets or one size up. Yes? Don’t get crazy now here either. I wanted to plant leeks. I love leeks. You only use the bottom third of leeks. They take 120 days from transplant. I could do it (barely) but I could grow bunching onions in half the space and have twice as much onion in my fried potatoes.

I am intensively farming a quarter acre by hand with sustainable methods. I ordered over 75 different varieties of vegetables, herbs, and grain. I ordered 12 different varieties of fruit trees and bushes. I spent a smidge over $900. Next year I will cut that into a third because of the perennials and what seed I will save, and the year after will be even less, until I am saving all my seed. For this reason, I ordered almost entirely heirloom seeds and fruit. My root cellar and pantry will be brimming with delicious food to choose from all year and I can back out of the marketplace a bit more and more. In a few years when everything is up and going, I will save $8000 a year on groceries. And of course I will grow all of my own medicines and culinary spices. I ordered a lot of seeds because variety is the spice of life and without animal products in our diet, these beautiful plants make up our entire home grocery store leaving us to only purchase staples like flour, sugar, coffee, etc. I made sure to choose some crops that are ready to harvest in late April and those that will store through January to give us as much food security and variation as possible.

Getting Started and the Bottom Line. I like Seed Savers. I got the items that weren’t available through them from Territorial Seeds. And the remaining three items on my list I ordered from Johnny’s. I ordered all my heirloom fruit from Trees of Antiquity. I love heirlooms because I love plants that can tell an interesting story. Being a history lover, I want my food to tell tales of pioneers and indigenous growers instead of what the inside of a lab looks like. Plus I can save my seeds. One of my very favorite vegetables was Shiso, a spicy Asian green, that I saved the seeds from but the chickens got into them while they were drying on the porch and they are no longer available anywhere I have looked. Save your seeds.

If everyone planted food where they are, we would change the course of the planet. We would be healthier, the planet would be restoring, our children would be able to care for themselves in the future. All the environmental woes of the world can start being erased by planting some seeds and feeding yourself. It all starts with a seed order.

Posted in Our Family

Cowgirls, Colonial Dresses, Apples, Tinctures, and the Family Farm

Emily is driving “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s” (Grammie’s) house this morning. We are taking my six year old granddaughter, Maryjane, to her first horseback riding lesson.

If you have been following me over the years, or if you know us, you know that Maryjane Rose came into this world a future rodeo queen. Or at least that is what she told us when she was two. She was upset when we moved to the city because there was no way she could fit a horse in our back yard. And she was overjoyed when we moved to the farm in August, her glimmers of horse-hope restored.

I struck up a conversation with the cute blond farmgirl who was cashiering at Tractor Supply and it turns out that she can give Maryjane lessons and that she lives a half a mile from me.

…………………..

I walked to the library yesterday. I spent the morning designing and sewing a long skirt for myself out of green and beige check. It is tied shut with four lace ribbons and the front has a high waist. I sewed on a lace hem. It looks a blend of Victorian and colonial- my style. It just needs a pinafore.

My eyes were tired and I wasn’t keen on jumping into housework. The air was a warm eighty degrees and I wanted to stretch my limbs, so off I went to walk the three quarters of a mile to pick up more books.

I passed an empty commercial building and in front were two large apple trees- all of the apples wasted, on the ground, and rotting. I made a mental note to come back next year and harvest them. I passed houses with trees with masses of untouched apples on them, now too late in the season to harvest.

I plan on planting plenty of apples and other fruit trees. It seems strange to me that I did not spend the summer harvesting, canning, or prepping for winter. That I am not exhausted, finishing up the farming chores, and looking forward to winter. I wear myself out daydreaming these days.

This time next year, I will be exhausted, because this beautiful plot of land will be teeming with vegetables, fruit and nut trees, and livestock. There will be no wasted space or apples on this land. This is our fourth homestead and we know what to expect and what to do better.

……………….

I set up my jars of herbs that I had tinctured before we moved. Each medicinal herb carefully harvested and brewed. I had to order loose herbs for teas. Lord, have mercy, they are so expensive! I have been spoiled with my medicine gardens! Those will come next year as well. I signed up for a craft show and will take my humble medicines and books there to introduce myself to the area.

We did not expect to move. It came as a complete (and pleasant) surprise. One day we were sitting in a park in June with my students after visiting a medicinal herb farm and Doug and I wondered aloud how far Canon City was from his work in the Springs. Doug walked off and started talking to someone in the park who was from Penrose. Ten weeks later, our house is sold and we are living in Penrose. Funny how life works that way.

…………………….

A student brought me a chokecherry and gooseberry from her land to transplant as a gift. Aren’t plants the most fabulous gifts? I hope they thrive here. I know we will.

My beautiful family at our daughter’s wedding.
Posted in Farming

Pumpkin Hollow Farm (a possible beginning?)

Our children are coming for the weekend and Doug and I zoomed around in our convertible looking to see what farms near us would be open that we could take them to.  Our kids and grand-kids love farms and who doesn’t love a good apple fresh off the tree and a bumpy hay ride?

We moved to the country.  To land of our own- not rented- that is zoned for agriculture.  We are surrounded by the friendliest folks you can imagine and surrounded by majestic views.  Walking through the farms, we laughed at the chickens, talked weather and crops with the farmers, and found ourselves at home here.  We live in a place now where we will be able to grow pumpkins really well.  We live in a place where tourists arrive from all over the state to pick and purchase produce.  Wineries, farm stands, and orchards abound.

After nearly seven years of pursuing farming (and often feeling like a failure), I think we are finally at the farm we dreamed of!  Blank slate for sure, but here we are.  We can see the baby goats playing with our dog in our minds, the chickens free ranging near the garden, the apple trees in bloom, the kids picking out their own pumpkins, the homesteading classes in my kitchen, women with wine glasses laughing while making cheese.  By god, we might be sitting on our dream. We are not done yet.  Looks like Pumpkin Hollow Farm (and Farmgirl School) are just beginning.

Posted in Farming

Meandering Paths (shunning straight rows)

garden-2

I have visions of meandering paths.  Perennials interspersed with annuals.  Gardens in themes.  Soft grass (or mowed weeds) in the path.  Maybe wood chips.  Maybe pea gravel.  I want to walk upon something soft.  My granddaughter never wears shoes, what would she love to walk on?

Hills and secret benches for pondering butterflies.  A pond or two.  Corn growing the way I have read in old American Indian gardening recollections, a large hill, seven kernels around, squash plants growing between mounds.  Beans of course growing up the corn.

garden-3

What if we took a world journey through the gardens?  What if you begin your trek by the multiple rose bushes in the English garden and walk past the peas and cucumbers, radishes, lettuce…

Then you turn the bend and suddenly you are in Ireland?  There are swirling mounds of potatoes and kale, parsnips and cabbage.

In Italy the tomatoes would be red and plump near the eggplant and oregano.  The basil and zucchini and artichokes (I’ll try to grow them here.) and garlic tucked amongst.

garden-4

In the Asian garden yard long red beans hang over soybeans and pak choi.  Snow peas for stir fry interspersed with Thai basil and green onions.

In the Americas the corn will stand proudly waving with pumpkins at its feet.  The old varieties of beans will slither upwards.  Homage to my southern ancestors with collard greens and sweet potatoes (I’ll try to grow those here too!).

garden

Flags or little statues and annual flowers join in the fun.  And the medicine plants will fill all spaces, rest assured.  Forty plus varieties of herbs that we use in medicine will add beauty and pollinators to the spaces.

The orchard will be grand, with plum and cherry (cherry bark for medicine), apples, and apricots, willow, and hawthorn, sumac, maple, and bushes of berries.  A meditation pool.  A fire pit.

garden-5

A place of enchantment is what I wish to create, not just for sustenance of the body this time, but for sustenance of the soul….

Posted in Field Trips, Uncategorized

Supporting Your Local Nursery (a field trip to Holly Acres)

zebra

In winter,  you might find a child riding a zebra or a toddler on a horse.  Perhaps you’d like to sit with Santa or drink hot chocolate.  We choose our perfect Christmas tree and haul it home happily in the season.

In spring this same place is a gardener’s best friend.  Heirloom seeds abound, many plant starts, and a greenhouse of intoxicating brilliant blooms to take home.  I get my seed potatoes, garlic, onion sets, seeds, and most of my plants from my local nursery, Holly Acres.

holly acres

It is so important to shop local.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  Our communities rely on the mom and pop shops thriving.  Holly Acres is owned by a family in our community, whose children grew up with ours, who shop local themselves, and who have an amazing oasis of nature and beauty just down the road.

bird bath

Last year when we needed a bird bath for our instant rose garden, I got it there.  Same with the roses.  And when I taught you how to plant trees, I got the trees there.  They have the best fruit trees as well as many, many other varieties of trees.  They have everything one could want at a really great price.  They are very competitive with big box faceless stores.

trees

If you need seeds, garden décor, compost, or healthy affordable trees, head to our local nursery, Holly Acres and say Farmgirl sent you!  (And if you don’t live here, seek out a local nursery by you!)

5403 Highway 86, Elizabeth, CO, 80107.  303-646-8868.  http://Hollyacresnursery.com

 

Posted in Farming

How To Plant an Orchard (with adorable farmers)

IMG_0830

I had an adorable work crew yesterday on Pumpkin Hollow Farm.  Our mission was to plant trees.  Apple, plum, and apricot trees to be exact.

IMG_0829

“Can we climb the trees?” the younger ones asked.

“Maybe your kids will be able to climb the trees!” I responded.

IMG_0834

That certainly seemed a long time away for my young farm hands.

IMG_0833

We live on the property with our landlords, us in the little, old homestead that was built here one hundred and ten years ago.  They are sweet enough to let us farm this property.  We would like to stay here a very long time.  Trees will outlive me and give future generations something wonderful to eat.  These children have decided to eat all the fruit available in the meantime!

“When will there be apples?” they asked.

IMG_0838

The young man pictured above is Will, the son of our neighbors here.  His older sister and husband are here for spring break with their four darling boys.  They are full of fun and energy and a fair amount of humor.  “Hello Mr. Rogers!” they shout as Doug walks by.  “Sanders!” he corrects. “Hello Mrs. Sandra!” to me.  Shyanne and I couldn’t stop laughing at the kids calling Doug Mr. Rogers.  Thoughts of my favorite childhood show in mind.

IMG_0832

Maryjane was in heaven with this many little boys.  She generally stays very close to me, often wanting to be held, but yesterday she wanted to be near the boys.  She walked down our porch and boldly out the gate.  She tried to get them to come back with her.  At one point she was in a large dog kennel with them.  She was completely enamored with these older boys.

To plant trees:  This is a perfect time of year to plant trees.  They are still sleeping and when they wake up next month they will stretch their roots and begin to grow and thrive.

Dig a hole about 18 inches by 18 inches to start.  That very well may be big enough for the trees but you could always make it bigger.  Make sure there are no electrical lines beneath you!

IMG_0835

Then fill the hole half way with water.  This lets you see how fast the water drains.  One of the holes we dug didn’t drain even after two hours so we filled it back up and dug a hole four feet from it and it was perfect.  By watering the hole you are also putting in moisture for the new trees.

IMG_0837

IMG_0839

Will and Doug took Maryjane back to Elizabeth when her mom got off work and headed to our favorite nursery to pick up the trees.  I love to support local business and families in the community and Holly Acres in Elizabeth is a great source for plants at a very fair price.

IMG_0841

Stand tree upright in the hole and fill hole half way with organic garden soil.  Then top with the soil that was initially removed from the hole. This allows the pile of dirt to nestle around the neck of the tree and adds a little extra nutrition for the roots.  Don’t put compost on yet as it will burn the sleeping tree.  We will put some compost on in June.

Draw a ring around the tree a foot away from the trunk and fill the little ravine with water.  Mulch with straw or wood chips.

Keep watered year round to ensure a healthy start!

IMG_0846

Posted in Our Family

An Ordinary Day on the Farm

A new day.  I breathe in the fresh air with thanksgiving.

Photo by Emily Sanders
Photo by Emily Sanders

Today’s to-do list:

Pick up granddaughter so she can play at Grammie and Papa’s house while Mama is at work.

Dig big holes in four places and plant fruit trees.

Check on seedlings.  Move larger pots if they are not getting enough sun.

Remove debris from garden.  Five young volunteers are coming Saturday to help me design garden beds.

Bottle feed lambs three times today.  Rough work.

Take goats for a walk.

Spend time with my daughter, Shyanne, who has just moved back home.  It is delightful to have her here.

Reminisce a bit and light a candle for my best friend, Nancy, that died a year ago today.

Embrace the sunshine.

Mail my book to the person that ordered it.

Play with kittens.

Kiss my husband.

I love this lifestyle!

nowhere

Posted in Farming

Planting Trees and Rented Farms

IMG_0307

We are quite out of room but I found yet another spot to grow things.  In another part of the driveway, lining the raised bed garden, we prepared four spots for trees.  We put down cardboard in a 3×3 square and topped it with three inches of mulch, namely soiled half broken down straw from the chicken and goat pens and coffee grounds.  We watered it but Mother Nature has taken over the watering and each day gives it a good soak.

IMG_0308

Two weeks ago the ground was hard.  Only a few inches of ground could be disturbed.  The wet cardboard and breaking down compost is creating a wonderland beneath the soil.  The moisture is staying in and the ground should be cool.  Tunnels of earth worms might be frolicking about and creating air and fertilizer beneath.  In a few months we will plant four fruit trees.  We will cut through the center and dig just deep enough to set the bundle of roots in then quickly cover it again with more wood chips, mulch, and compost.  The cardboard will continue to break down and the nutrients will feed the trees.  In the meantime, groupings of mushrooms that look to be homes for fairies are growing in the mulch.  (Does anyone know what kind they are?)

IMG_0306

We are renting a farm.  This makes us vagabonds in a sense.  A feeling of permanence is never with us.  An underlying worry plagues us if we are not careful.  Will we need to move?  Should we move?  Is there a better farm?  Is there a place in the city that we could farm and help more people?  Should we stay where we are because we love so many folks around here?  Would I even be able to get a hold of the landlord to ask?  These questions can usually be shhhed with a glass of wine.  I try to not think and let the pieces of our life fall into place as they may.  In the meantime, we are planting trees.  Permanent?  Yes, but a gift to the earth and the next occupants of fresh apples can only be a positive.  And perhaps if we are here long enough, we will enjoy a few harvests.

IMG_0305

If you rent a space, do not rule out about making improvements or planting trees and perennials.  They will gift those that come after you, the wildlife, the bees and birds, and yourself while you live in that spot.  The world is ever changing, as are our lives, and there are no guarantees that we will stay in one place, even if one owns a piece of property.  For it is never really ours.  Everything on this planet is on loan and our lives are in constant change, so enjoy where you are now and perhaps plant a tree!

Posted in Farming, Food/Wine (and preserving)

The Year Without Apricots

apricots

This is a blissful time of year and we have been blessed with many delights of the season. The goldfinches have returned after a two year hiatus, glints of gold everywhere, beautiful blue birds, and cooing doves incant the air.  Our small farm is filled with birdsong from feathered creatures of all types.  Two years in a row now the weather is uncharacteristically cooler than usual, and though the tomatoes cry for more heat, everything else is lush and green.  Mornings with no markets are spent leisurely with a cup of coffee and a few chapters of reading before I wake Doug to milk.  Writing, reading, hoeing rows, watering with a cold glass of beer in hand, visiting with neighbors, friends, visitors to the farm.  Sitting under the canopy taking in the fresh smell of earth after a light rain and feeling the heat of summer on my skin.  It is an enchanting time.

Not yet into the throws of full time preserving, I can, dehydrate, or freeze as things come available.  It is time to dehydrate hordes of apricots for Doug’s favorite snacking.  I hide bags of them in the root cellar and ration them for knowledge that they would be enjoyed in a week if not.  To my dismay, the freeze on Mother’s Day wiped out a good portion of fruit from Colorado’s trees, apricots being one of them.  The organic farm at the market had some from Utah.  Said they were better anyway.  I doled out thirty dollars, a lot as we are still penny pinching this time of year, and took home the apricots.  They were unripe, tart, bitter.  I left them on the counter for a few days then dehydrated them.  They came out tart, bitter, disappointing.  Not only did I waste precious funds and time, but I have no apricots this year for Doug.

Lessons learned.  I cannot have everything I wish the moment I want it.  I am sure there are some apricots at the store from Peru but there is nothing like a local, freshly harvested piece of fruit.  The warm juices of summer penetrating the flesh of a small bit of sustenance.  A treat.  So this year we will be without.  But as nature does, if it misses one year, the next is sure to make up for it.  And next year, with patience, we shall dine on fresh apricots.  This year I should have waited.  Luckily the peaches survived.  They will arrive at market soon.

Posted in Homestead

The Delicious Journey to Food Self Sufficiency

IMG_0368

It’s become a bit of a game.  We sit down and see how much of the meal came from our farmstead.  The best are frittatas.  The eggs are ours.  The vegetables piled in it are ours.  The cheese and cream are the only things that I didn’t produce.  (Okay, mental note, try goats again…or a big, fat cow that can’t escape…)  The bread is homemade but I didn’t grow the wheat.  (Could I grow wheat here?)  Can’t wait until this wine was made here!  (I guess I better grow some grapes.)  The peaches were not grown here, but were grown locally, and canned by me.

SAM_0852

Next meal; Sustainable fish (sure wish I had a stocked pond), mashed potatoes (from the garden), corn bread (we’ll see if I am producing my own cornmeal this winter from my experiment!).  Grape juice from Aunt Donna’s garden.

brussels

How far into self sufficiency can one go?  I can try to grow nearly all my own fruits and vegetables, enough to eat and enough to preserve.  With the help of other friend’s gardens, this may be possible.  (I have choke cherries, they have apples…we can trade.)  I learned a lot this year on just how much I need to grow to provide meals and winter stores.  I also learned that some of the vegetables take up a lot of space and take a long time to grow.  That space could be used for more intense growing of common vegetables that don’t take as long to mature like beets, green beans, early tomatoes, etc..

cheese

I could get a cow or a couple of goats and have milk, butter, and cheese.  I have chickens, so I have eggs.  Ducks might be fun next year.  We are not into “harvesting” our own animals but we did grow a lot of beans for protein this year!

IMG_0838

Could I grow grains?  This year we have our corn experiment to see if the varieties I planted will indeed dry nicely and become cornmeal and/or popcorn.

My mini-orchards hate it here.  They promptly pop off and die.  Maybe I can sneak a few trees into a different spot, water well,  and hope they don’t realize they are at my house!   They might just grow!

Food Self sufficiency Checklist:

1. Can we grow our own protein?  Beans, legumes, fish, eggs, milk, cheese

2. Can we grow our own grains?  Wheat, buckwheat, corn, oats

3. Can we grow our own vegetables?  Spacing out vegetables so that there is something to eat in every season?

4. Can we grow our own fruit?  Trees and bushes (We rent, is it worth it?  If we get one good harvest, I’d say so.)

5. Can I preserve enough for winter?  I think so!

6. How about sweets?  Honey, maple (I don’t have any maple trees though…)

We could do all these things, especially with bartering, and help from friends, and careful planning.

bee 3

Further self sufficiency would be moving somewhere with a well.  A wood stove.  A forested area for mushrooms and wood, as well as an open area for farming.  An area for animals to free range.  A place to grow fodder.

It seems like it is a never ending goal.  And perhaps it is a lifetime goal.  I’ll probably never be able to harvest yeast, or salt, or other valuable items in the homestead kitchen.  So, maybe it is about the journey.  One thing at a time.

SAM_0798

This year we had the most stunning garden.  People stop us in Walmart to ask if that is where we live.  People honk and wave as they go by.  People know us by our garden.  We have stored, frozen, dehydrated, and canned over six hundred items so far for winter.  We have saved money for the winter.  We have learned new skills like spinning, knitting, farming.  We have learned from failures; fencing in goats, bird netting over the chicken coop, making jam…I mean syrup.  We grew enough to eat, but not a lot to preserve.  (We got cases of veggies from one of my farmer friends to preserve.)  Next year, I will plan better.  I will use my root cellar checklist to order seeds!

with jovie

We are ready for our next homesteading lessons.  Right after we rest a spell from this crazy homesteading summer!