Posted in Farming

Winnowing Amaranth (growing one’s own grains)

Every year we try to do a little better; buy a little bit less, throw out a bit less trash, use less petroleum, grow a little bit more, become a little more self sufficient. This rocky, dry desert wouldn’t allow me more space to do a swath of turned soil for wheat or oats, but I had a bit of room in a raised bed to try my hand at an easier cereal grain, amaranth.

Seed Savers showed a photo of lush, six foot growth on a plant positively tipping with grain. Gorgeous crimson color made this lovely heirloom plant, harvested from Hopi land in the Arizona desert, one I wanted to try and grow.

It was quite easy to grow. The largest plants were the ones that had escaped the raised bed and grew in the shale, clay, sand mixture of pasture. We watered it every day. I had no idea what to do with it from there on, so I ignored it. When do you harvest? How do you harvest? What part is the grain?

This week the heads had fallen, drooping solemnly on the ground, great shocks of multicolored tops told me it was time. I clipped the tops into an open paper shopping bag. Using gloves, I crushed the heads and stripped the stalks.

I then poured the contents into a large strainer. Using my gloved fingers, I swept around the grains and chaff until everything came through the holes except for the stems.

I then utilized past knowledge I had gathered and poured the contents from bag to bag, then bowl to bowl, letting the breeze take away the chaff. I think I might have lost some of the seed and was making a tremendous mess.

I then poured the contents into a large sieve and that worked better to pull the contents through, throwing out the larger pieces of chaff.

Still, I had lots of purple chaff amongst the tiny black seeds. Still losing much of it across the pasture (which I am certain will grow fabulously next year. No one gardens quite as well as Mother Nature.), I took the lot inside away from the wind. I poured a little at a time through a smaller sieve and that seemed to work. I used my finger to push through as much of the seed as I could, throwing out the purple chaff.

That large shopping bag was reduced to half a cup of homegrown grain. Not one to be discouraged, I realize that next year I will know what I am doing (presumably) and will harvest more of the heads. I will know what to do ahead of time. I will also have more to harvest from. And I know that many hands make light work and I may get a little help next year. Either way, I look forward to grinding some of this grain for bread or turning it into porridge. The bright red color bleeds into the food you make with the Hopi amaranth.

In addition, the young leaves can be steamed and eaten like spinach. The bright red tops in their peak can be used to dye wool. Another project I am embarking on.

Plan ahead for next year and try your hand at growing grains. Grains are packed with vitamins and trace minerals, proteins and important antioxidants, and add a bit more homegrown to the homestead table.

Posted in Farming

Surrendering and Saving Seeds

My friend, Lisa, is studying homeopathy and had an interesting solution to get rid of grasshoppers. You tincture them, dilute them, then apply it to the garden. I also heard of chopping up grasshoppers in a blender, diluting them, then spraying them in the garden. I am an herbalist so Doug and I had a funny image in our heads about what people would think when seeing a quart jar of grasshoppers suspended in liquid next to the dozens of quart jars of herbal medicine.

“We’ll place it next to the eye of newt,” Doug declares.

We caught three. About three thousand to go. Same with the squash bugs. I armed myself with tweezers, tongs, a jar of soapy water, and a maniacal laugh and sought them out, drowning them as Doug destroyed the eggs off our precious squash plants. Organic gardening is equal parts manual destruction and compassion, as we save honey bees and other beneficial insects (and ourselves) by not using commercial pesticides. Doug looked into nematodes and wants to order some. They sound great. Has anyone reading this ever used them? My fear is always that once you release something, you can’t take it back. We also cannot watch our garden fall to Exodus-style plagues.

There is a certain amount of surrendering that needs to happen this time of year. What is going to be planted has been planted. What has come up will come up. What will survive will survive. And we can try our darndest to get a reasonable harvest for all the hard work and first year financial output, but in the end, we must learn to surrender and focus on the positives.

Lots of plants never germinated, came up and fried in our desert shale, or were quickly taken out by late frost or flea beetles. C’est la vie. Lots of plants are doing wonderful. The tomatoes have small green fruits on them, the potato flowers are beautiful. The corn is tall, the pumpkin and squash plants are taking over, the soup beans growing wild. The root vegetables- though stunted from the limestone beds beneath the soil- are growing well. The herbs are surviving or thriving. There are lots of positives. I was certainly getting myself depressed over the hundreds of dollars of dead trees, bushes, and wasted seeds. Part of being a farmer is surrendering and seeing the positive. Next year we will have more raised beds and older trees put in. In the meantime, I need to see the garden as half full not half empty!

One of our two gardens: The Kitchen Garden

How to save seeds:

As the spring crops go to seed, we want to save them to replant in the spring. As the plants go past their prime, they will shoot up beautiful flowers. From these flowers will come seed pods. Keep watering the plant until the seed pods are fully formed. Then clip the seed pods into a paper bag and label. In a few months, when they are fully dry, transfer to a sandwich bag or small canning jar.

I had a huge bundle of shiso greens drying on my porch a few years ago. I should have put them up but I got distracted and the chickens got into them and ate them all! I cannot find seeds for that plant anywhere now. It is always wise to save as many seeds from your plants as possible. In order to do so, order heirloom seeds. There are some hybrids you can save but you will have the best luck from heirlooms.

There are many things that we are having to buy from a farm forty minutes east of here to put up. One day we will grow it all! For now, we will enjoy the process and the farm as it is in this moment. Surrendering to all the beauty around us.

Posted in Farming

How to Create a Meandering Garden

Pictured here are irises, Aunt Donna’s Jerusalem artichokes, yerba mansa, and stinging nettles in a pot. I want invasive plants, but not stinging nettles everywhere! A lid of water for the birds and toads is used often.

This is the driest terrain I have ever gardened upon. It is straight high desert, cactus loving, rattlesnake calling, no-rain-in-sight, sand and limestone. Luckily, I like a good challenge and I believe that if I work with the land instead of against it I will have great results. Putting grass everywhere is not a sustainable option. So, how does one turn a pasture (or yard of dirt) into an oasis and meandering garden? Let me show you how.

Each dark round of dirt and straw holds a medicinal plant. Cardboard and wood chips will fill the spaces between. The plants will grow up and fill out, taking over more space.

You don’t need a rototiller or tractor. We are barely disturbing the earth here. First decide what you want to plant. The area in the front of our house has been designated the Perennial Garden. Doug fenced it off from the chickens. It has dozens of medicinal herbs, fruit trees and bushes, and perennial foods, like asparagus, spread out across the area. Maybe you want lots of the same flowers. Maybe an herb garden.

Angelica and Ashwagandha mingle with annual flowers.

For each plant, dig a hole, put a handful of garden soil in the hole. Put plant in the hole. Cover with garden soil. Water for fifteen to twenty seconds. Every 10 seconds= 1 inch of water. Plants need at least two inches of water per day.

Walk a few feet away and plant the next one. You can also dig a hole, plant seeds, cover with garden soil, water. I planted pumpkins among the herbs and trees. This is Pumpkin Hollow Farm, after all.

A few feet from that, perhaps plant a tree or a bush. In the case of a meandering garden, invasive is a good word! I want the plants to fill the space. One giant butterfly and bird garden that provides perennial, sustaining foods, and medicine.

In between the plants, you can lay down cardboard and cover with thick mulch. Wood chips are especially good. Do know that some wild plants, like bind weed, can and will permeate all cardboard and mulch but the mulch keeps things tidy and makes it easier to pull up weeds, and looks rather nice. I would never use weed barrier. Oy, all that plastic. Mama Earth sure doesn’t love that. Bind weed gets through that stuff too, anyway.

We added a large rectangle of thick cardboard ringed with bricks and rocks. We topped with cardboard with 3 inches of straw, and 3 inches of garden soil and planted green beans, soybeans, collard greens, pumpkins, Hopi amaranth, and other beautiful annuals.

A garden can thrive in absolutely any soil and in any climate without the use of machinery and chemicals. We hand water each night so that we can see how each plant is doing. They get plenty of sun. (Maybe too much, all forty of my tomato starts in the kitchen garden fried!) And the plants will reseed and spread themselves, creating an enchanting meandering garden.

Posted in Farming

Let’s Get Back to Farming

There is no doubt that this has been a very stressful time for most of us for many different reasons. Now, we can only handle so much stress and attempts to control things out of our hands. It’s time we leave the craziness and get back to farming. I have lots of things to show you and farming and gardening techniques to teach you, and such, but on this lovely spring day, I thought I would show you some images of my farm. We have been busy around here the past few weeks.

Brom Bones (inside doorway) and Ichabod Crane enjoy the sunshine this morning.
When we bought this farm late last summer, I made note of the lilac bushes on the property. Lilacs are one of my favorite flowers. This week there have been a multitude of butterflies flitting around the gardens bringing with them signs of hope.
Good morning Ladies!
Hopefully soon these innocent looking chicks and ducklings can move outdoors! The white chicks (leghorns) keep flying all over the bathroom. There is chicken poop all over and the ducklings actually got poop near the ceiling. That is farm life for ya! Beware using the guest bathroom!
I planted dozens of medicinal herbs. Here, Bear Root hangs out with the new rose bush my friend gave me for my birthday.
The spring gardens look good. This week I will replant the spaces that didn’t germinate. The new rows coming in are being planted with summer crops over the next few weeks. My cousin came over and looked out the window and exclaimed, “Did Doug do all that by himself?!” People are still surprised that women can be farmers! Ha!
Socorro at eight months old is the self appointed queen.
Linus and Booboo- Cats are best left indoors. Between cars, coyotes, foxes, dogs, people, disease, and poisons, cats don’t live long lives outside. When cats are outdoors, neither do song bird populations. Mine prefer the couch anyway.
This is a tiny nest above the door in the mini-barn. An American Pipit couple guards these tiny eggs. Life goes on, nature goes on, all will be well.
Posted in Farming

Trench Planting; Easy Gardening Anywhere

“But how will you plant with all the rock?” the sweet librarian asked me. Her colleague looked on curiously.

I began rambling on excitedly about how to grow in this particular environment. The soil of our new farm is really more sandstone and red sand (with a little cactus thrown in) then it is soil. I can see how many people would look at it and think there is no way you can grow here.

The librarians nodded at me with sympathy. She must be new here. I have grown terrific gardens in driveways, the wild, untouched prairie, and neglected yards; a little sandstone and dry high desert won’t stop me now! There are four techniques over the years that I have come up with/learned/combined/improved upon that work in any situation. Having little money, living in Colorado in terrain that is not usually farmed by the sane, and really wanting fresh vegetables has given way to ingenuity. Trench planting was one of my first techniques. (I will go over the others in the weeks to come as we get to them.)

Trench planting can be done in the front yard, along a strip of driveway, or in a pre-existing garden. This year I obtained an amazing new tool for the job! It glides through the sand and soil and unearths the shale as I go. I am not sure how I have lived without a triangle hoe before!

I am using the fence here as a trellis for field peas. Field peas become split peas for winter soup! The bricks suppress weeds along the fence.

Step 1: Choose where you want your rows. Corn field in the front yard? Pumpkin patch around the porch? A dignified garden inside a fence? My three gardens this year are the same size as my entire urban farm that we moved from last summer. This technique works for a 2000 sq ft kitchen garden or a nice flower garden in the front yard.

I’m saving a lot of energy here by only hoeing only where I will plant. There is no reason to rototille the entire thing.

Step 2: Pull the hoe through the soil to make a trench the depth of the roots of your plant. So, six inch trench for carrots, 3 inch trench for peas, etc. I hoe out the weeds from last year as I come to them and move large rocks out of the trench.

Organic gardening soil can be expensive on this scale. We used our hardware store credit card to get it. If that is our only debt starting a farm, we are doing good. If you consider that this size garden will save us between $2400 and $7000 a year in groceries, the $500 soil cost is worth it. From here on out, we will amend with compost so this is a one time expense.

Step 3: Fill trench with organic gardening soil. The plants won’t be growing in the rocks and sand, they will primarily be growing in the garden soil so it doesn’t matter what the native soil is like.

Step 4: Water rows. Plant seeds. Done.

Wasn’t that so easy? Well, I mean you do have to exert some energy to hoe around. The bags of soil are kind of heavy and you’ll need to do yoga to get your back in garden shape, but creating a garden is super easy.

Maryjane and her great adorer.

My granddaughter, Maryjane, was going to help me plant peas, but she was too busy playing with Gandalf! I will be planting spring crops all week! In the coming posts, I will cover planting spring crops. Until then, soak up some sunshine and get to hoeing.

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 Farming, Food/Wine (and preserving)

How I “Make” Money and a New Chefs Knife

Welcome 2020! You bring with it such promise and excitement for a new year! What are your dreams this year? What are your goals? One of my main goals this year is to up our food production. Not just gardening, though that is a big part of it. We also have a lofty goal of creating all of the processed food items that we typically purchase in our own kitchen.

Homesteaders always have crazy goals like that. This is my living. I am a housewife and I make the bulk of my money by not spending what I typically would if I had a full time job. I “make” money by growing most of our food and I “make” money by preparing and preserving it. I create my own grocery store. And it is lots of fun! I also “make” money because I create all of our own medicines and because we stay healthy eating homegrown and prepared food.

I received a very special Christmas gift from my husband. Jewelry, you might ask? Better. A chef’s knife. It is a beauty. And sharper than a lost sewing pin in the carpet. It will make cooking such a pleasure for me.

I love cooking and I love a challenge, so homesteading is a good job for me. I have an animal sanctuary here and for as long as I can remember, animals have been dearer to me and better friends to me than most humans. I have sworn off consuming them and their by-products. We are always healthier and happier when we are vegan and we save a lot of money. We have begun making our own veggie meats to supplement meals. It is a lot of fun, super easy, and we get more nutrition without the preservatives and unknown ingredients. I am experimenting with different cheeses as well. I was a cheesemaker for many years so I think I might be able to come up with a pretty sly alternative to smoked cheddar! It’s all a part of the fun. Lots of baking will ensue as well; granola bars, cereal, breads, desserts, tortillas.

But my main love is vegetables. I make a very good vegetarian because I crave vegetables more than anything. I will have my biggest garden yet on this new homestead. It will be nearly as big as my entire last homestead! Using roughly a third of our 1.1 acre, I will be able to grow nearly all of our vegetables and get many perennial fruit and nut trees and bushes put in. I am even going to experiment with grains, though I will count grains, some nuts, coffee, black tea, and chocolate as things that I will probably always need to purchase! But within a few years my goal is to growing, preserving, and preparing at least 90% of what we eat and have plenty for my grown family as well. Another way I “make” money is by growing my own farm.

We all have plenty of goals this time of year and mine will certainly be more fun with a chef’s knife! Let’s not forget to live in the moment. One never knows what tomorrow brings. (I do hope tomorrow brings Spring!) Happy New Year to you all.

Posted in Homestead

The First Things to do to Start a Homestead and Winter Reading

When you first move onto your property (or to your house in the suburbs), or when you first decide to homestead (or just live more sustainably), it can feel overwhelming. What to do first?

I suppose my moving in the fall was a very good time to relocate. Yes, I lost all of my harvest and my pantry is a few hundred jars of produce short, but I have had time to sit with my new property. See what all can be done here. Where to leave wild. Where could I keep animals (we’d like to rescue a few). What I want to plant, how extensively, and where.

Here are the first things to do:

Set up a compost bin. 7 pallets become a three space compost bin. Screw them together creating open sided boxes. That way you can start right away collecting grasses and old straw and pouring your coffee grounds into a pile. Click here to read an amusing and informative post of mine from six years ago all about composting. It will give you more instruction.

I do hope you found a place with a wood stove. If not, I do hope you have some cash reserved to get one! This is one of the very best ways to become a little more sustainable. Wood is carbon neutral, and when you find cords of wood cut from already downed or diseased trees, your heat is carbon neutral. The electric companies lose some money and you lower your footprint. Not to mention the deliriously luxurious feel of wood heat. Forced air just cannot compare. Our little stove and installation came in at $4500. A used stove would have been cheaper. That little stove easily heats our 1100 square foot house.

Plan what you will need for your extensive garden this year. Do you have wildlife? The deer will be awfully glad you moved in! What fencing needs to be done to ensure your crops safety? How about field fencing for other animals?

Winter is a wonderful time to reassess how you want your life to look. What do you want to add and what do you want to walk away from? What do you need (pressure canner, gardening soil, chickens) to do those things this year? What do you want to learn how to do?

Now, order yourself an heirloom seed catalog to read during snow storms. I am reading a really interesting books called Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self Reliant Gardening; Innovative Techniques for Growing Vegetables, Grains, and Perennial Food Crops with Minimal Fossil Fuel and Animal Inputs. His dry humor makes reading a text book style farming manual fun and I am learning lots of ways to improve my food growing. The author is vegan and has deemed his way of growing “veganic.” It is an interesting view of how to grow a farm and eat sustainably and very well without having to kill chickens. Eloise will be relieved.

Posted in Farming

Life Lessons From the Garden

In four weeks from today we will be moving towards the mountains to our new homestead.  Oh, it doesn’t look much like a homestead.  It looks like a suburban style house from the 90’s on an unused acre of land with a workshop that is about to become a chicken coop.  Our neighbors near, our mortgage double, but if I close my eyes and push away the anxiety of moving and inspections and packing, and “see” the new property for what it will be, I am filled with optimism and strength.  A friendly small town.  Baby goats.  A thriving garden where there once was nothing.  A view of the sunset.  I haven’t seen the sunset in years, blocked in by trees and neighbors.

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Google Earth has not updated the view of our present house since we moved here so one can see the tired house, the empty planting rings, the barren yard, a car backed up in what is now my potato patch.  We have done miracles here in just two and a half years.  Everything in life can be transformed by a little love, research, and hard work.  Everything from a house and garden, a marriage, a friendship, to a new outlook and fresh perspective.  Yes, this house and garden represent so much in life and has taught me some valuable lessons.

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1.  Have faith in the future.

Moving here fresh from heartbreak and a mere eighteen months after we lost everything, this house was a blessing.  It represented new life, faith, a fresh start.  A house of our own- not rented.  Always have faith.  Looking back, one can easily see all the “coincidences,” friendships made, sheer luck, and universal pulls to get us where we are.  Even now, my house sold in one day, we found a house the same day, all is going smoothly thus far, the money showed up, the young military family in need of a nice home to raise their infant child precisely around the time of closing saw our house first….everything going on in the world around us is so much bigger and more controlled than we think.

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New, cheaper soil

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Doubled the price soil.

2.  Buy the best that you can afford.

I skimped this year.  I usually buy a particular kind of soil to start my straw bale/permaculture/quick beds of my own design, but it wasn’t there this year.  It seemed Miracle Grow (hello, Dow.) had taken over the shelves at the nearby stores.  So, I opted for cheaper bags of soil.  Lots of them.  It’s just soil, right?  Those beds look terrible.  I wasted hundreds of dollars.  If the seeds did germinate, they quickly died.  In everything you do, just do it right the first time.  Maybe I have always been a cheapskate, but that keeps biting me in my farmgirl derriere.

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3. Expect surprises.

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Being on this earth is such a blessing.  My goodness, to wake up every day and see the great sky, the warm sun rising, the birds singing, the plants surrounding us, to see the people we love, and to learn and experience this day- such a gift.  I love how Mother Nature gives sweet gifts, like wild sunflowers, and potatoes I didn’t plant, and hollyhocks.  Elderberries that aren’t typical here in Colorado.  Fresh rains in July, and cool breezes on a hot day, surprise trees, and places for wildlife to live.  Surprise friendships that become incredibly valuable, great jobs, and moments to help others.

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4.  Leave a legacy.

In all you do, try to leave things better than they were.  Whether that be cleaning up trash at the park, using less resources, offering a smile and compliment to a stranger or friend, or planting a tree, always try to serve.  I hope this pear tree grows wild and fast.  I hope the three month old baby moving in climbs its branches and loves it when he is older.  I hope the tree feeds many and brings joy to the beholder.  I may have paid for, planted, and tended to it, but it is not mine to benefit from.  It is a gift to the future.

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5.  Don’t run from your true self and purpose.

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In a blog post last year, when our shop was about to close, I questioned, “Am I nothing more than an herbalist?”  Well, of course I’m not just an herbalist.  I am a friend, a wife, and a mother, an animal lover, a nature admirer, and I have a few talents, but I am not just those things either.  I am me.  Individual.  Specially created, me.  What I was pondering when I uttered those words though, is if I could be something else, start a new career.  My table is filled with dozens and dozens of single and compound extracts beginning their brewing process.  I am at peace when I am gently clipping echinacea leaves and popping calendula heads into jars, and talking to the rose while I snip comfrey.  I am an herbalist.

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6. Learn to let go.

I am preparing so many new medicines because I am going to have to say goodbye.  I could try to transplant everything I have planted but I have learned that if a plant is thriving where it is, it doesn’t necessarily want to grow somewhere else.  I will take a few things but most will continue to live here, and I do hope thrive.  I will not be able to harvest my sweet corn, or Aztec blue corn, or popcorn, or pumpkins, or all the tomatoes, or so many other things I have carefully tended this summer.  It is hard to leave behind so much that we create, so much that we build, to start over.  But we don’t really start over, we just start anew with more experience, more lessons, more faith.

Posted in Homestead

Finding the (Nearly) Perfect Property

The very first showing of our house resulted in an offer.  We are under contract.  I love this little old house.  I am proud of what I have done with the yard and the sheer beauty of the space makes me smile.  I turned a barren driveway and dirt lot into an Eden in less than three growing seasons.  So, now it’s perfect, time to move, right?!

This will be the 28th time I have moved.  Doug’s parents lived in the same house for thirty years.  He’s made me promise that we stay ten years to forever in the next house!  Is the next house the sprawling adobe on a hundred acres that we envisioned as our next and forever home?  Does it have water rights and mineral rights?  Does it have a wood stove and solar?  No, nope, and not yet.

We live in Colorado.  We were both born and raised here.  A zillion and a half folks who love pot, mountains, or who are in the military have moved here and prices rival San Francisco and New York City now.  That baffles us both.  My first house in Denver was $36,000.  Those days are gone.  Pueblo kind of got stuck in a time warp thanks to an old reputation of crime and gangs, but the city has cleaned up a lot and since there is so little housing in Colorado Springs, military families are moving here.  Everything has gone up 50% in the past few years here in Pueblo, everywhere else we are talking a hundred grand more for everything from the suburbs to trailers.

When you are choosing a homestead, you have to choose your priorities.  For us, Doug’s job is a really good one that he enjoys.  Our children are here.  Our granddaughters are here.  And we were raised here; we like it here.  We found a small town 30 minutes south of Colorado Springs.  It puts us closer to his work and our kids by 15 minutes.  It looks like it was a back to the land beacon back in the seventies.  Driving down dirt roads one passes a large sprawling house and orchard next to a run down trailer next to a marijuana greenhouse, next to a house built in the 90’s.  Very eclectic.

There are no wells and almost all of the water in Colorado is city water or not owned by the property owner.  In Penrose, everything is on city water (more affordable than the other towns we have lived in thus far at least) and some properties have coveted ditch rights to water fields.  The only one we saw like that was snatched up in days.

So, the question one must ask themselves is, “What do we want?”  (Besides a sprawling adobe on a hundred irrigated acres…for $200,000…near Doug’s work and next door to the kids…)

For us, we have long given up the idea of commercial farming.  We just want a few goats, chickens, ducks, a ginormous garden, and a great view.  We can subsist on that easily.  Three bedrooms and two baths.  A wood stove.

Our realtor took us out Sunday and we went to the three places that were for sale under $300,000.  The first one looked like the makings of a horror movie, with slanting floors, a falling down manufactured home, with lots of junk on two acres.  The second one had five acres but we weren’t sure what we would do with five acres without water.  One would need a rather long hose.  The views were cut off by nearby houses and the ceiling of the manufactured home was falling in.  That one was $225,000.  Lord, help us.  So, off to the third house (which we had driven by and disregarded).

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All pictures were taken off of the listing on the internet.

It was humble on the outside.  The inside was completely redone.  Gorgeous wood floors, high ceilings, new kitchen, fresh carpet in the three bedrooms, all new paint.  Two bathrooms with new vanities.  A large master bedroom with a perfect view of the nearby mountain range.  No wood stove.

The house sits crooked on just over an acre of cactus and cedar with views all around.  A fenced in back yard is in place to keep our dog home before we can secure the mismatched fencing around rest of the property.  A large shed with electricity would make a fine chicken coop.  Neighbors are quite close.  “Sometimes it is nice to have neighbors near,” my daughter commented later.

penrose-market-report

As we drove home discouraged and sure we’d have an offer on our house, I turned to Doug and asked, “If that house (and it was the only real house for sale) had six foot fencing around it and a wood stove, would we buy it?”  He replied, “In a second.”

Since those are things we can do over time, we put in an offer and it was accepted!  We move August 15th. I know it’s early and there are a million things that could go wonky from now to then (I am systematically going through over six and a half years of blog posts deleting irrelevant posts like when we thought we found a new rental or when I wanted to become a chef) but I wanted to share the news that we have found our homestead.  It may not be the elaborate dream we had, but it is perfect for us, because it will be ours.  I am beyond grateful.  To think four years ago this week on the blog we were losing everything we owned and moving into our friend’s guest bedroom.  And now we will have our own farm.

Farmgirl School adventures continue!  Happy Homesteading wherever you are!