Starting Seeds in Salad Containers

Over the years I have written about many ways to start seeds and they all have one thing in common, a simulated greenhouse.

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Now, every year I think I will have a real greenhouse.  Surely by the time I need to start seeds I will have one built or put together or otherwise exist, but then the same issue comes up every season (no funds), and so I am once again left with my own creativity.  This year I saved salad containers all year.  The kind with the lids.  You see, the key to seed starting is lots of sun and continuous moisture in a warm space.  It is so dry and cold here that I would be watering all the time and probably cause the seeds to mold.  No, I need a mother-nature-way of watering, softly and simply, with evaporation and condensation.

Many seeds should be direct planted.  Even though I added six weeks to my growing season by moving to Pueblo, I still need more time for peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant.  I found last year that when I direct planted them, they almost made it before frost.  This year I am holding back half of the seeds to direct plant and half I will transplant.  Transplanting is not always successful so we figure that one of the ways will succeed!  (And so goes the life of a farmer.)

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Fill your salad container 2/3 of the way full with organic, potting soil.  You want room for the plants to grow.  Water the soil so that it is evenly damp.  We don’t want any marshes settled at the bottom, but you might be surprised how much water the potting soil can hold.

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When it is evenly damp, sprinkle the seeds over the soil somewhat spread apart.  Barely sprinkle on more soil to cover and use a spray bottle of water to really dampen.  Until they are established, a water bottle prevents water pressure from dislodging the seed or drowning the poor fellas.

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Close lid tightly and mark with a sharpie.  Because you will forget the varietal and date you planted!  Just trust me on this.

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Let’s see, now to find a place with at least six hours of sun where the cats won’t step on or eat said seedlings.  (A more difficult dilemma than one might think.)  The guest room has a nice sunny spot on the bed from the south facing window a good part of the day and the door closes.

Now over the next week or two, keep an eye on your seeds.  There should be consistent “rainfall” in the box.  If it slows (every other day or so) spray thoroughly with water and reclose.  When plants are 1 inch tall, open the top and water as needed making sure not to let them dry out nor drown.  (You can still use the spray bottle.)  Once they get to be about two or three inches, transplant into another container separately.  (A blog post on that will be in a few weeks.)

I don’t know about you but I am darn near stir crazy not being able to be outside doing something.  At least starting seeds makes me feel like spring has begun.

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.

Life On An Urban Homestead

20180813_071437The air is cool this morning.  Autumn just whispers.  A  little early, it seems to me.  A lovely few weeks of monsoon broke us out of our months of triple digit drought.  The farms are half fallow for lack of water.  On my little urban farm, the rain has brought forth abundance and we are just nearly tired of zucchini.  Still, fried zucchini and early pumpkin beer sounds good today.  I am grateful we do not rely solely on ourselves for food as I thumb through my depression era cookbook.  We are eating well from our gardens.  The herbs are lovely and fragrant, and though the produce is all slow to mature this year, we are now eating peppers and tomatoes and calabacitas.

The chicken’s yard is filled with birds of all kinds, apparently enjoying the new chicken feed.  The egg eater was discovered and went to a chicken swap where she is going to live in a lovely coop with three other roommates.  We now have eggs again.

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Many years ago I wrote a post about the pros of urban farming.  I think of that post now as I sit on my front porch watching the early morning world go by.  The morning glories have run wild and made the porch art.  Though I do want goats- many cities do allow them, perhaps eventually Pueblo will too- I see the many pros to living here in town.  I have abundant space to garden.  My garden on ten acres was smaller than the space I have here.  I can go up and out and raised and potted and there is much more land to make into gardens and orchards.  One does not need as much space as one might think.  I have the benefit of not having crop dusters flying over my little organic homestead.

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I have chickens and their hilarious antics and fresh eggs.  I have local farmers for milk should I choose.

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Today I am making soap for our new shop and for ourselves.  I canned seven pints of fresh, organic peaches from the farmer’s market and seven jars of spicy pickles from my own garden.  Little by little the root cellar fills.  Soon Doug will be chopping wood for the wood stove.  My favorite reading spot has oil lamps and candles and the power could go out and I would go on reading.

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Homesteading, I have learned over a decade of experience, is not about self sufficiency, but rather it is a village ideal.  One cannot possibly do everything themselves.  I need sweet corn from the local farmer, organic meat from my friends’ ranch if I choose.  They might get medicine or take a canning class from me.

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Here in town, I can ride my bike to the newest coffee shop to pick up fair trade coffee and hit the library for a homesteading book.  I can grow food and have chickens and even a farm dog.  Old arts like quilting and sewing and crocheting are making a comeback.  Homesteading is not insistent on the country, but rather a space in one’s heart for simplicity and old ways.

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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.

A New Farmgirl and the Family Farm

A new little farmgirl is joining our family this November.  During Emily’s ultrasound yesterday I watched in awe as the little skeleton baby moved her knees into her chest, moved her arms, and turned her head.  Is there anything more amazing than new life?  My daughter is five months pregnant.  Her five year old, our beloved Maryjane Rose, is overjoyed to have a sister coming.  We have so much to show her!

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New life is everywhere.  My garden beds overflow and bees, goldfinches, and hummingbirds delight in nectar as a baby squirrel eats walnuts from the tree.  I am not sure if there will be any left for us again this year.  There were plenty of mulberries to go around though.

No matter what new endeavors I take on, no matter where my life and studies take us, I always end up back to this place.

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“I keep asking myself what I do I want to do now?  What are my goals?” I told Emily while we were waiting for the doctor.  “And all I want is to be able to live on a big family farm, take the grandkids to see what is growing in the gardens, check on our general store and restaurant, and be together living sustainably.”

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“That’s all I want too,” she responded.

At dinner the other night, my son has it all planned out.

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In the end, all I want is to live close to the heartbeat of the earth, surrounded by family and community, and live sustainably.

It is time to can peaches today.

The Charming Garden

20180501_143251There are many efficient and simple gardens out there and they are all lovely.  I thrive on color and texture and I love a little whimsical touch.

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We spend much of our time outdoors if it is nice out so we treat the yard as if it were an extension of the house.  Two comfy chairs (not couches or discarded recliners please) make a nice place for settin’ with a glass of sweet tea, to watch the world (and neighbors) go by.  They don’t match, but someday they will.  I always have about twelve bucks in my gardening budget so we use what we have!

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Trellises anywhere you can put them invite vines and climbing flowers.  They add a vertical element to the garden.  Of course, our old farm sign still graces the porch.

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A yard (or a house) should never be quite perfect.  Complete orchestration takes out the whimsy and comfort of a place.  We have weeds and barren places and we have beauty and interest.  Our gardens invite the visitor to look for fairies and sit awhile to watch the birds.

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These trellises are a bit rickety after years of use but attached to the fence they make a lovely architectural image, like a large picture in the garden.

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I have friends with very efficient gardens that are self watering, raised beds that can stand the test of time.  Again with twelve dollars, I get more creative.  I want my garden beds to become part of the earth.  Each spring and each fall as I add more compost and chicken straw from the coop, I want them to nestle down into heaps of greatly fertile soil that restores Mother Earth.  My simple method is logs surrounding cardboard topped with straw, compost, and soil.

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This soon-to-be herb garden is awaiting its soil.  The trellis in the center is for scrambling vines to add height to the bed but also to create beauty.

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I love how the beds seem like they just rose out of the ground.  I didn’t leave enough room for the mower in between the beds so I took empty chicken feed and mulch bags and lined the space between the beds then topped them with mulch.

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The spring crops peek out of the soil.  My fingernails are gloriously dirty.  I love springtime!

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Most of our decor are natural elements but sometimes you need a little bling.  I added the wind vane/solar lights to create a fun vibe.  The tractor and the bicycle are adorable.  There are more beds to be made and more twinkly lights to be added.

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We put pumpkins from the root cellar in the trees for the squirrels and put out a big bowl of bird seed along with a bowl of water for birds.  The hummingbird feeder is full.  We love the Snow White feeling here.  We welcome all the critters.

We eat alfresco every night of the summer so it is time for me to clean off the table and put a nice woven blanket on it.  Yesterday a lovely, rich rain fell upon the beds and the earth and the birds sang and is beautiful in this charming garden.

 

The Spiritual Tea Garden (and letting go)

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The community came together and helped save our shop.  An interest free loan from a customer helped smooth out stress.  The beautiful shop in Elizabeth will remain nurtured and cared for as Shyanne’s.  I am trying to release the need to control and know every outcome.  Maybe we will make it until the lease is up, maybe for many years to come, I must release what I cannot see.  For now, it is a lovely testament to a community who came together and helped us remain open.

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I am not sure when it began but what started as divine inspiration turned into stalking the bottom line.  Ideas became web domains and joy became stress.  I am trying to quiet my mind and listen and not plan out every detail of my next chapter.  I am letting it fall together in pieces of timely thoughts and guiding purpose.  I am not rushing to choose a name.  I am not getting the website. I am not plotting every detail as I have in the past.  The idea of jumping back into a full blown business defeats me at present.  Farmer’s markets, shows, promotion, packaging…it all exhausts me to think of it.  I want to serve and to be more generous.  I want to extend my wisdom and my heart to those around me and that gets lost when I am trying to reach a financial goal.  I don’t want a business, I want a purpose.

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Three years ago sitting in the prairie grasses beneath ancient cottonwoods with five owls perched around me, the names of herbs popped in my head that I had not heard of and I jotted them down.  I researched them and was astonished to learn their spiritual uses and properties.  My love affair with herbs as spiritual medicine ignited.

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As I worked with Native American elders I learned the uses of cedar, sage, tobacco, sweetgrass, lobelia, and others to help purify and bless spaces and people.  I found that I innately knew what herbs healed what spiritually.

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I am a medical intuitive and I see physical illnesses like tumors and breaks but I also see spiritual wounds and heartbreak.  The herbs that are used to heal physical ailments also work on the same system of the body for spiritual health.  Heartbreak, rejection, trauma, dementia, stress can all be healed by herbs, as well as manifesting love, clarity, inspiration, grounding, or connection with the divine to increase joy and purpose in every day.  I am fascinated by the medicinal and soul empowering aspect of herbs.

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I am listening.  I am not moving quickly.  I have a dream of many gardens filled with herbs and flowers.  I grew dozens of varieties last year and this year I hope to double that.  I had a feeling that I should purchase some organic base teas to blend with my spirit teas.  Organic Assam, Yerba Mate, Rooibos, smoky Lapsang Souchong, along with the Jasmine I grow will act as carriers for my herbal blends.  There is sacredness in tea.

I had a dream last night of raised garden beds of herbs with fairy lights around them.  I hadn’t thought of that. I always put the herbs along fence lines or along the house.  To designate space for specific herbs is a beautiful idea.

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The universe is my marketing director and those that need me will find me.  I can give back and heal and be generous and trust.  I stay quiet and listen to the plant spirits.  There is nothing to do right now but learn and be grateful.  And maybe have a cup of tea.

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…

 

To Grow and Forage One’s Own Food

home 4Soon.  Soon now the dark greens of earth will peek through the moistened soil and seek the sun.  Dandelions will unexpectedly be dancing through the grasses.  The mulberries, black and velvet, will stain my fingers as I gather them.  Perhaps the squirrels will leave some walnuts for me.  And this is the year for the plum tree to fruit.

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To forage for food gives a great satisfaction to the spirit but to forage amongst one’s own gardens and land is spectacular.  I can already taste the cleansing lamb’s quarters, the tangy purslane, the scrumptious dandelions interspersed with sweet butter lettuce fresh from the garden.  Just dressed with good olive oil and sea salt, the tastes of spring come forth and fill my body with nutrients after winter’s rest.  Soon.  Soon now.

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I am reading a beautiful book called, “A Year in the Village of Eternity” by Tracey Lawson.  It takes place in Italy, in the village of Campodimele, one of the Blue Zones, where the most active and healthy elders live.

Cibo genuino. Real Food.  Roba nostra.  Our own things.  I let the many Italian words roll off my tongue and take their lessons.  Real food.  Our own things.  Grow an orto, a garden.  In this village they forage or grow nearly everything they consume.  Is it possible?  Last year on our own little third of an acre in town, in soil fit for a driveway, we grew all of our own produce for the summer.  Our first season here with little time or money.  Now we have eggs from our chickens.  We have planted many fruit and nut trees (if I can just keep the puppy from thinking they are sticks to play with!), we are recognizing more and more wild foods, and are growing many more vegetables this year in better soil.  Contadino.  Farmer or gardener who produces their own food.

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I cannot wait to feel the soil in my fingers.  Soon.  Soon.  The season comes earlier where we live now and in three short weeks I will be folding spring crops into the cool ground.  What preserves shall we do this year?  I imagine lilac and lavender jam, stewed tomatoes, crisp fire roasted corn.  We are enjoying our larder these winter months.

To live like this is to be ready at all times, for what you seek or what you want to “put up” may not be there tomorrow.  Herbs must be harvested when ready.  Fruit may be eaten by birds at dawn.  Piles of corn need shucking.  Ah, but I enjoy the work.  I love our evening walks after dinner in the sunlight.  I love the sound of water covering plants and the crisp sound of the pea pod being opened.  Ogni cosa ha il sua momento.  Everything has its moment.

For now I have winter preserving to do so that it is done once the busy season starts.  In my cucina this week dozens and dozens of jars of beans will be put up.  Vegetable broth too.  I still have beans from the garden to shell.  I will check on my vinegars and my kombucha.  I have been resting and a tad neglectful.  But now as each day falls closer to spring, I awaken, don my apron, and get to work.  In campagna, c’ e sempre da fare! In the countryside (or city as the case may be) there is always something to do!