Putting the Garden to Bed (compost, adding new beds, bulbs, and there’s no place like home)

Gardening need not be expensive nor incredibly difficult.  By necessity I have come up with ways to make widespread, prolific gardens quickly and easy on the homestead pocket.

The first thing that is imperative to a great garden is compost.  Compost is one of those things that still baffles folks a little.  You do not need a fancy, turning contraption to make compost.  Doug screwed together five pallets to make two open spaces and it is tucked into a far corner of the yard.

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The chicken coop certainly adds to it.  In the fall the chicken bedding gets changed and the soiled straw goes into compartment one.  For six months I add leaves, coffee grounds, lint from the dryer, food the chickens don’t like, and it builds up.  Repeat in the spring, only use compartment 2.  Put on the garden beds what you began six months ago and do this in the spring and fall.  I do not turn the compost or water it or do anything to it really.  It just does it’s thing.  If it smells, add dry material like straw or newspaper or leaves.  If it is not decomposing at all, add more wet items like food scraps or grass.  Let the chickens play in it, they scratch it up nicely.

Time to clean out the garden beds.  I let the plants go to seed.  Next year Mother Earth will grow dill, basil, carrots, spinach, arugula, and many other plants for me.  Everything is pretty well frozen and quite deceased so out they go and into the compost.  Perennials and winter greens stay put.

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Add a layer of compost.  Then a layer of warm straw.  Not thick enough to suppress weeds (because the water won’t get in) but enough to keep the soil cozy.

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When we first moved in.
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Now

I have a third of an acre here and I am only gardening a quarter of it.  But, we haven’t even been in this house two years; the changes in this property over that time have been impressive.  As always, I want more garden beds!

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These easy beds create abundant crops and very few weeds!

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This is my own design; a very easy gardening bed that combines many great techniques.  Lay out cardboard where you want your bed.  No need to rototill or disturb the beneficial guys underground.  Ring with wood you have on hand, rocks, bricks, anything really, use your imagination!  Then top with a 2 inches of thick straw.  You can add your compost and soil now or wait until spring.

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I am adding a bed that runs alongside the other one and putting an arbor over them.  Next year I will grow pumpkins over them (and will try to outsmart the squash bugs).  It will create an enchanted walk through that leads to the house or the gardens while freeing up space in the garden.  Pumpkin Hollow Farm is moving up!

Plant tulip and daffodil bulbs and lots of garlic cloves.

Everything looks great!  The garden is put to bed, the new spring beds are ready for next year, and the perennials are snug in straw.  Bulbs are planted, muscles are tired, and the farmer is happy.

All this wondering what to do now that I don’t have my businesses.  Should I go to school?  Should I get a job outside my writing?  Should I…?  And as I spent the day hauling compost, designing beds, standing in the next herb garden, dreaming, being present, working hard, I realized that this is what I want to do.  This is where my heart is happy.  At home.  Creating home.

This Year’s Secrets of the Garden

Already I can feel the air shifting, changing.  I had been watching the birds and animals a month before the Farmer’s Almanac predicted a hard winter.  My crops are finishing up weeks early, ready to be placed asleep beneath layers of heady compost and blankets of straw.

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This year’s lessons were plentiful.

#1 I sought to use up all the seeds that I had collected over the many years of gardening and not purchase any this year.  Most were not viable and I had to do mad dashes to the store to get seeds/seedlings in order to have a garden!  I grew tomatoes from seed.  One large vine was struggling to turn ripe so I pulled the whole thing out and hung it in the kitchen.  It is now producing luscious, red tomatoes.

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#2 I did not purchase expensive potato starts.  Instead I filled my apron with potatoes from the kitchen.  Organic and growing eyes, fingerlings, reds, and a few yukons from a friend’s nursery.  They took off better than any potato start I have ever had.  I filled baskets and had three huge harvests of delicious potatoes.

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#3 I discovered a little nemesis to my farm’s name.  The Squash Bug.  Few pumpkins were found last year and this because of that wretched little bug and his army.  I shall be spending this winter’s reading time perusing garden books for organic methods to killing said enemy.

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#4 If it doesn’t grow well over here, then plant some more over there.  I never plant in rows.  I plant everything together.  This year the weather soared above a hundred degrees way too early and I did not have any spring crops.  Almost all of my new herb seedlings were toasted quickly beneath the scorching May sun.  I planted many things on the east side of the house and they thrived.

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#5 Mother Nature grows best.  The squirrel that hid a pumpkin seed in front of the porch is my hero.  The vine is up on the porch and produced the only pie pumpkin because the squash bugs didn’t know where to look.  The ristras hanging from my porch had their seeds scattered in an April wind and I will have New Mexican red chilies soon.  A rogue head of popcorn I didn’t know was there planted itself and grew in the herbs gardens.

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#6 Let things go to seed.  I had prolific basil and arugula.  The radishes and carrots reseeded, as did lettuce and spinach.

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#7 My perma/straw beds that I created this spring were genius (I say so modestly) and I had little work this year to keep them weeded.  I will add three more next month.

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#8 Some things cannot be tricked.  I grew ginseng and gingko until they realized they were in Colorado and promptly died.  Peppers, which have always been impossible to grow up north, grow plentiful and flavorful in Pueblo.  (The eucalyptus and ginger were tricked successfully, I must add.)

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#9 Water and compost are all you need.  The sun does the rest.  Plants want to grow.

#10 I love gardening.

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My porch and many gardens were taken over by morning glories, which effectively shielded many herbs and young trees from the record-high temperatures.  I enjoy feeding the birds and watching the wildlife.  I let the rogue “weed” trees grow and ended up with a lovely privacy fence.  We ate well.  Every year is different.  Even when some things don’t work, something else always does.  A good lesson for life from this Farmgirl’s perspective.

How to Plant, Grow, Harvest, and Store Garlic (plus how make garlic oil)

20180711_081445Garlic is among the easiest of all plants to grow.  The homesteader can simply top a bed with compost that has been recently harvested of its crops in October and plant a few heads of garlic.

Any garlic will do (organic always preferable).  One does not need to pay exorbitant prices for “planting garlic.”  Choose a variety from the market or health food store you enjoy.

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Separate the cloves and plant them three inches apart.  Cover with soil and top with straw.

They are among the first stalks of green in springtime.  You will see them and be reminded of your clever fall planting.  Who doesn’t love garlic?  The humble cloves can rid you of the plague, flu viruses, and cancer while adding amazing flavor to any ethnicity of food.

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Now, here is the fun part!  Come July, the stalks will have turned mostly straw colored and will languish and fall to the earth.  Gently unearth them with a hand spade, pulling out bulbs of aromatic garlic.  Shake the dirt off.  I always save twist ties and rubber bands for gardening.  Secure the stalks with a twist tie and hang from a hook in an airy, warm spot.  Like the kitchen!  In two weeks or so, the papery husks will have dried and your garlic will last nicely.  From there you can lay them in a box in the root cellar or leave them as a ristra in the kitchen so garlic is always in reach!  Save a few bulbs to plant this fall!

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Garlic Oil 

Pour 1 cup of good olive oil into a sauce pan with 1 clove of garlic, a bit of salt and pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes.  Heat over medium-low heat, swirling the pan often, for 15-20 minutes.  Serve with great bread or drizzle over vegetables.

How to Make Raised Garden Beds Easily and On the Cheap

I pour myself more sludge (strong coffee) as I write, the world encompassed in white, me not trying not to fall under SAD (seasonal affective disorder), knowing in a few weeks I will be planting those first seeds.

I told you that I was going to move the garden to the backyard because zoning had come by last fall and given me a warning post-garden to clean up my front yard into fancy neighborhood status.  I thought it would be easier to grow grass and flowers in the front yard and fence off a 25×25 designated garden in the back yard.  Enter large puppy, large expense for fencing, and here I am back in the front yard.

The weeds last year were incredible.  I have never seen lamb’s quarters ten feet tall!  I have never experienced mallow whose roots may actually tickle the top of Australia.  I was humbled.  This year I know we will still have weeds (they are medicine and food, but they do like to take over the world some…) but this year I will be a little better prepared.  Even though my crops did great in their sandy, never-been-gardened spaces I did want to amend the soil.  Did I mention on the cheap?  Because I never have as much extra money for gardening as I think I will!

This first-of-several beds coming this spring is a combination of everything I have learned over the years.  It is part Hugelkultur, part Permaculture, part straw bale gardening, part raised bed, part ingenious way to use what I have on hand.

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First I laid down sheets of cardboard.  Cardboard will break down within one season but it will help immensely in keeping weeds down.  I sure wish I hadn’t sent all that cardboard to recycling!  I would have layered on a few extra sheets of cardboard if I had it.

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I thought of large stones.  I thought of cinder blocks.  I thought of 2x4s.  I checked the bank account, and went into the back yard to see what I could find!  I have large limbs from the dying Elm tree that were ready for firewood.  We have lots of wood right now and these are so beautiful with the bark still on them.  They were easy to place in an 18×4 rectangle (with the help of my husband) to create a frame.

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Then two to three inch slabs of straw went on top of that.  The straw will suppress more weeds, will create an airy environment for the seedlings, will break down and become mulch and amendments, and helps fill the space so I didn’t have to buy so much garden soil.

Next went on pails of finished compost.  It never fails to amaze me that a banana peel in six months becomes dirt.  That scraps, and straw, and grass clippings, and chicken straw, and everything I put out there turns into rich, dark compost.  I won’t have enough for all the beds I am planning on putting in but I can purchase mushroom compost pretty cheap once I run out of my own.  It is only for this year.  From here on out my own compost will act as fertilizer in spring and fall sprinkled on the beds.  I won’t need quite as much.

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Then went on five bags of organic gardening soil.  I wanted to get it spread on the new bed now because it will have a few weeks to settle into the straw.  I want to make sure I don’t lose seeds in the settling soil!  We will know in a few weeks if I need more soil.

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The tiny trees I planted are in the tomato cages.  They will be watered regularly by being in the garden bed.  Once they grow nice and tall in as many years and begin to shade the patch, the patch can move.  Gardening is as much about flexibility as it is growing food.  Nature will work with you.  The main idea is to improve the soil and to create as many perennials so that each year we have more and more food and we are helping the soil regain health.

Done!  Now, the straw will try to sprout but the grasses easily pull out.  If a weed makes it through eight inches of cardboard, straw, and soil, it, too, will be easy to pull out.  At the end of the season I will pour some leaves, straw from the chicken coop, etc on top, and blend it in come spring.

*Side note- the empty soil bags will be set around perennial herbs and bushes with straw or wood chips placed over.  Weeds will not get through them!

Grab another cup of coffee, Folks, and hang in there.  We are almost back in the garden…

 

A Great Farming Book and Why Every One of Us Needs a Garden

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With very little work I am still pulling out baskets of tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, beans, squash, and greens from the gardens.  The nights are getting cool enough that tonight I will need to bring in the houseplants.  Crickets still sing for summer as I write.  These gardens have been such a lovely respite.  They didn’t cost much to start or maintain and if I did have more money for amendments it would have been even more prolific.  Each year the soil will get better and better with techniques I have learned over the years from organic gardening and permaculture.  I am still learning.

A garden is not just a hobby.  It is one of the most fundamentally important things we ought to be doing.  To provide really fresh, nutritious food without chemicals and without the oil needed to produce, package, and ship our food from across the world is imperative to the health of our beautiful earth, and in a time of epidemic chronic disease, imperative for our own health too.

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Miraculous Abundance; One Quarter Acre, Two French Farmers, and Enough Food to Feed the World by Perrine and Charles Herve-Gruyer is a lovely guide filled with inspiration and ideas.  By simply focusing our energies on the soil and improving it we then let nature grow all of the food.  We are the helpers, not the geniuses behind food production!

The author states, “If we want to live sustainably on this planet, a growing number of people will have to reconnect with the land and produce food for themselves and the community….But the farmers of tomorrow will not come from the agricultural class that has been reduced to near extinction; they will come from the cities, offices, shops, factories, and more….Their farms will be places of healing, of beauty, and of harmony.”  The farms will be in front yards, in the country, on balconies; we will have to find a way to feed all of us because the current food model is killing us and killing the earth.  Period.

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Our yard in the city is the equivalent of four city lots, or just under a third of an acre.  We have utilized very little of it this year and are still producing all of our own produce for our week’s meals plus some for canning.  I have purchased the rest of the vegetables for putting up from local farmers, thereby boosting my local economy and putting food up for our winter meals.  I have chickens for eggs in the city and just purchased a goat share so that I can get plenty of fresh milk to drink and make cheese and other dairy products.  I trade classes or spend my grocery money on fresh meat from my friends that are ranchers.  Now I just need to get staples.  I save money, eat better, and support my local friends and farmers.  This is the model that we may all have to follow sooner or later.  Unsustainable systems are doomed to fail, and Honey, if you look at our food and medical systems….better plant some comfrey and Oregon grape root while you’re at it.

But we can do this!  We can support each other and help each other with knowledge and tool sharing, with friendship and bartering.  What can you plant next year?

 

Pick Your Patience (a lesson in seeds)

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According to the Farmer’s Almanac, yesterday and today are the opportune moments to plant root crops.  My potatoes aren’t here yet, but plenty of seed packets awaited.  Carrots, parsnips, radishes, beets, onions, and cloves of garlic were pressed gently into a half inch ravine of roughed up soil and soft, organic garden soil covered the precious seeds.

The most beautiful invention in all the world might be pelleted seeds.  My, how lovely, how easy, to finger each clay pellet holding a single seed and place them precisely one and a half inches apart (give or take a millimeter).

But some of the seeds don’t have such a luxury.  Tiny fragments of what will become food threaten to fall out of my hand in great clumps due to my impatience.  I have found that later in the season I will never thin plants.  I start looking at the great plants all together and wonder in which direction do I start?  Which plants are doomed?  How long will this take me?  And I leave them, only to harvest micro thin carrots and nonexistent beets come fall.  So, I must pick my patience.  This year, I chose to have the eternally sought over virtue during planting.  I listened to a lecture on my headphones and carefully knelt over the ravines.  One seed.  One-ish inch.  One seed.  All the way down the rows.  And, oh how I rejoiced in this!  I am one step closer to inner peace and I will not have to thin plants this year.  Placing the seeds one by one in their distinct rows and spacing was not as hard as it seemed.

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The yard has been separated into Italy, China, England, Ireland, and the Americas.  Ireland is in rainbows with enough room for a mower.  It’s all shaping up rather beautifully.  This climate!  However did this enchanted city escape my search when looking for the perfect place to live and farm?

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Farmgirl School; Homesteading 101 (now available on Amazon!)

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I never guessed back in 2012 what this would become.  I set out to chronicle our adventures in homesteading.  To create a template and how-to that we wish we had.  We weren’t able to find information on how to farm high altitude, or how to bottle feed a goat, or how to do any of the hundreds of things we did by trial and error on Pumpkin Hollow Farm.

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Those years on the homestead were some of the best times of our lives.  Re-reading the manuscript was like reading about an old friend.  I laughed and recollected.  I finished the book with a smile.  As if I had read it for the first time.

Our Lady of the Goats

This book is priceless, I tell you, it has everything a new homesteader could possibly need to get started on their journey.  Organic gardening, high altitude farming, canning, dehydrating, root cellaring, freezing produce, back yard chickens, bottle feeding goats, taking care of ducks, candle making, soap making, herbal remedies, recipes, homemade gifts….goodness, the list goes on.  The textbook we needed, but in a humorous storytelling method.

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I am so excited to see this book in print!  It is now available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.  https://www.amazon.com/dp/152077494X?ref_=pe_870760_150889320

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Wishing you many blessings on your homesteading journey.  See you ’round the farm!

The Straw Bale and Other Easy Raised Beds

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There are many ways to create raised beds.  My favorite right now would be to use straw bales to create a rectangle, place a piece of cardboard in the bottom to suppress weeds (and prevent roots from accessing the soil before it is properly cleaned), then fill with soil.  That would take a bit of organic soil, but we could put a few inches of wood chips in the bottom and make it even more rich.  The soil can be half way up the bales.  We will be putting mulch on top anyways (no exposed soil!).  In the early spring and late fall an old window can be placed over the bales to create a simple cold frame.  We can sit on the bales for ease of reaching.  We are using a natural means of holding the soil in, and as it breaks down we just release the strings from the bales and blend it into the soil or use as mulch.

Old pieces of wood can be fastened together.  Large scavenged rocks can be used to rim a garden as well.  Our only limit is our creativity.

Large containers could be built to place on concrete.  Small ones to be placed on a picnic table.  Then, of course, the smaller of the raised beds is simply a pot!  There are many ways to incorporate vegetables and fruits into the landscape.

Hugelkultur Gardening

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Hugelkultur gardens.  Heck, that is just fun to say!  This German word means “hill culture”.  It is an easy form of raised beds.  Some beds can be seven feet tall!

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Logs and branches are your foundation. We have branches piled up behind the chicken coop.  Doug was going to use them for firewood, but I claimed them for my gardening project!  One could dig a trench or place rocks or other materials around the bed to hold it into place.  The logs are laid out, filled in with branches, straw, leaves, then topped with gardening soil.  The bigger logs take many years to break down and hold on to water.  So a seven foot tall bed would never have to be watered, even in the desert!  Now, mine will be just a foot or so tall once it settles and shrinks.  The microorganisms in the wood benefit and improve the soil.  It’s all pretty ingenious.  By the time the wood completely breaks down, the soil beneath should be pretty cleaned up.

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I’ll have enough materials to make one bed like this.  We’ll do many beds of different styles so that we can compare them at the end of the season.

Farmgirl Gardening Series (Knee High by 4th of July)

“Here we go corn, here we go!” clap clap “Here we go corn, here we go!” stomp stomp.  My cheerleading days come in handy around here.  The corn is indeed up to my knee.  The sweet corn will likely make it before the season ends!  Some of the popcorn is up to Maryjane’s knee and I don’t think that counts, but we will keep cheering and watering and see what happens.

I did not ever thin the carrots.  I meant to, I really did.  I reached down and pulled one of the thousands of seedlings and out came a tiny little carrot.  I dusted the dirt off and ate the sweet the little thing and decided I rather like baby carrots and wandered off to the next task.  In season this week is the end of the mustard, kale, lettuce, arugula, collards, and herbs.

Just like when kids go from being little ones and one year in junior high shoot up taller than dad, the plants will do the same.  They are ten year olds right now, just cute and new but in the next four weeks we will see them jump up and start coming into their own.

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The gardens look beautiful.  Each person’s plot their own, filled with their favorites, the bunny rather enjoying the buffet.  Shh, I told him I wouldn’t tell on him!

Next week, compost tea and fall crops (already!), see you ’round the garden!