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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Meandering Paths (shunning straight rows)

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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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.

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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….

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

How To Plant an Orchard (with adorable farmers)

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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Planting Trees and Rented Farms

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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.

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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?)

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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.

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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!

The Year Without Apricots

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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.

The Delicious Journey to Food Self Sufficiency

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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.

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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.

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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..

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

Grow Where Planted

So, what would be the perfect homestead size?  5 acres?  20 acres?  100 acres?  A river running through it?  Near a library?  I am starting to wonder if instead of always thinking, ‘THAT would be the perfect homestead’ and then being frustrated because it is out of my reach, that perhaps I should look around where I am at.  I may very well have the closest-to-perfect-possibly-at-this-time-in-my-life homestead.

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We spend a fair amount of time at my friend, Nancy’s homestead because for our new business and lifestyle venture, Farmgirls-From the Homestead. (http://facebook/5farmgirls.com)  The goat’s milk is at her house (cause her goats are there!) so we make soap over there…and cheese….and go over there to view baby barn kitties and baby goats.  Very sweet.  She has a lovely forty acres, a red barn, horses milling in the fields.  Idyllic.

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We started discussing our seemingly endless design of ideas for this year’s business venture ranging from multiple farmers markets, incorporating the idea and products into my current shop, The Garden Fairy Apothecary, teaching canning classes, bread baking classes, homestead tours, and Farm to Table dinners, all of which we will do this summer and fall.  We discussed the Farm to Table dinners for her property and found a level area that overlooks the hills and would be quaint and ethereal for a Farmgirl fancy dinner.  She mentioned that we could do one at my house too.  I was thinking….but I live in town.  Who wants to go to a Farm to Table dinner on the driveway?  But then it hit me…I live in town.  How many people live in town but are still interested in homesteading and making their way more self sufficiently but, like me, cannot and may never be able to afford acreage?  I live a mere three miles from Nancy, I am not in the city of Denver, but I do live in a neighborhood, on a busy street, with neighbors.  And a large garden, and a small orchard, with chickens, soon to be goats, and checking the zoning, alpacas.  I can turn the garage into a barn.  I could turn the yard in front of the porch, who’s grass has long since left us, into a magical apothecary garden and bee garden.  Swirly paths of bricks and oregano, sweet scents of rosemary and thyme, carpets of chives.  I could host the Farm to Table dinner in the driveway, next to the raised beds, in view of all of the farm animals.  I could place a long table in the back yard and eat with the chickens (not eat the chickens, I said, eat with the chickens!) and have a nice view of the fairgrounds.  Perhaps a rodeo will be going on.

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I mean, I may not be able to get the alpacas, and in some areas folks can’t even have chickens, but there are so many options we can do.  Bee hive?  Chickens?  Goats?  Garden?  Balcony garden?  Community garden?  Use less electricity?  Preserve food?  Use less water?  Walk more places instead of driving?  Crochet your own scarf?  Bake your own bread?  Smoke your own fish?  Grow your own herbs?  Plant an apple tree?  The sky is the limit.  And even in smaller quarters, there is always something we can do to be more self sufficient and homestead.

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Here on this homestead, I can have all the things I want, not have too much to keep up, and walk to the library.  The best of both worlds.