Farmgirl Inspiration

Hello March, it’s nice to see you.  January and February can be the very hardest time of the year for farmgirls.  We have our gardens, our farms, our animals, our preserving, our home making, our crafting in the fall in anticipation for the holidays, we have our cooking, and our entertaining, and our pleasant fatigue.  Then there is January and February…hello March, it’s nice to see you!  Thank the Lord you’re back!

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Even though it is still cold and there is ice on the car and tomorrow it is going to snow, it is March and all things can come anew now, in my mind and in nature.  I have plans!  Oh glorious plans, and guess what?  I figured out a way to make them manifest.  My son texted me yesterday and said he would come help with the fencing.  I found an affordable way to get the outbuildings I wanted.  Yes, my gardens are about to take on some marvelous expansion and changes.

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Field fencing is a farmgirl’s friend because it is easy to put up and can be taken down if needed.  I am expanding the chicken yard.  I am fencing off another part of the backyard for a greenhouse, raised beds, and space for a rooster.  Doug isn’t thrilled we have a rooster.  But I think one in seven wasn’t bad!  I also have ducklings on order to pick up in April.  They are honest-to-god worthless (few eggs, eat ten times more than the chickens, are noisy, splash water everywhere), but dang, they are so cute!  The greenhouse will double as night quarters for the trouble makers and Captain the Rooster.  None of them can jump or fly up on things, so plants will be safe and the added humidity from the ducks’ water antics will create a nice space.  (Did I mention my husband doesn’t like ducks either?  I just look at him like I don’t speak English.)

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A shed is going up to fit all the yard tools in, which will make room for some outdoor furniture and hanging plants around the back porch.  Listen, y’all, I will do before and after pictures when all this is said and done, but right now it looks like a hundred and fifty pound puppy dug holes to China, ate all the outdoor pillows, destroyed a huge dog bed, and threw some trash around.  (Actually, that is what happened.)

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In the front yard, a large archway will have pumpkins and other climbers growing up it.  Add in a few twinkly lights and I will have an enchanted garden for sure.  I have added a couple hundred feet of gardens.  The stalks of the roses are all turning green.

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There is a loom downstairs.  I have friends that can show me how to use it.  I have always wanted to learn how to weave.  I painted a box with a lid for my son’s long time girlfriend for Christmas.  It has a dear clasp and longs to be filled with secret treasures.  I painted a scene from a vacation they took on the lid.  I would like to do more of those.  Maybe set up my sewing machine.  Craft ideas come to mind.

Inspiration to farmgirls is like medicine.  Maybe even breath, if I am not being too dramatic here.  What are you inspired to achieve this spring?

Making Your Own Chili Powder and Cornmeal (from seed to plant to pantry)

Drying staples is a way to preserve the harvest and has been done, presumably, since the beginning of time.  Come autumn, at just about the moment that I think I cannot possibly water one more plant or can one more thing, frost is at the doorstep.  I gather in baskets the remaining produce and carry it to the still-warm kitchen.  There will be peppers.  And there will be corn that I purposely left too long on the stalk.

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The corn came in a humble seed package at the farmer’s market.  Aztec blue corn.  I love crowing Indian corn and usually it is for popcorn, but this one is specifically for, essentially, growing blue corn meal.  I pulled the husks over their heads, removed most of the silk, and hung them up to dry on a hook in the kitchen.

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If you have been following me for any number of years y’all know that my heart belongs to New Mexico.  The terroir is so familiar to me that I can identify a New Mexican wine or chile in a blind taste test.  My friend brought me back two large ristras from Taos, New Mexico to adorn our front porch when we first moved in.

I learned that the winds out here are fierce in the spring and Mother Nature likes to trim trees and clear out debris (like lawn chairs and stuff).  She got a hold of my ristras and shook ’em like nobody’s business.  Now, I have had a notoriously difficult time of growing peppers over the years.  But there in my paths, window boxes, and in rogue spots of the garden amongst herbs and zucchini were thriving pepper plants that she had planted from seed.  “Show off,” I muttered under my breath.  I sit there tending to each seed with exact care, squinting to read the backs of seed packets, and still failing and there goes Mother Earth, flinging seeds into the barren soil seven weeks before the last frost and coming out with amazing results.  I could learn a thing or two from her.

But then happy day, I am growing New Mexican chilies!  It turns out that this very spot of land that I reside on is nearly exactly like the land in New Mexico.  The same altitude, the same soil, the same elements of the places there I love.  Not like the farmlands just east of me, nor like the dusty plains west of me.  Right here, I have a little New Mexico-in-Colorado oasis.

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I am getting better at growing peppers and last year I brought in quite a few.  Last year was not a good growing year though.  In the spring the temperatures rose to a hundred degrees and hovered there straight through till frost.  The inconsistent watering didn’t help, and I got some kind of rot on the bottom of the peppers.  But I still managed to save some.  They sat on my cutting board on the kitchen counter up until yesterday.  They had all turned a lovely, passionate red and were dry.  Once chilies are dried, they lose that volatile oil that burns the heck out of your skin when you touch them, but still take care not to get the chili powder in your face or under your nails.

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Chop off the very top stem and using a sharp paring knife pull out the seeds.  Keep these because we are planting them in a few months!

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Throw the chilies in a food processor, coffee grinder, or other grinding mechanism.  I used the grain pitcher with my Vitamix.  I like my chili powder nice and fine.

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Normally I keep the New Mexican chile separate from the others but some of them had rotted so I didn’t have a lot.  I blended the Pueblo chilies with poblanos and the red chilies from New Mexico.  The taste is spectacular.  Hints of tomato and earth, smoky, not too hot, and better because it was from my own garden.  I sprinkle it on potatoes and everything else under the sun.

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As for the corn, use your fingernail to easily dislodge each kernel, taking care not to pull too much chaff in with it.  I put the seeds in a strainer with bigger holes.  As you shake, blow gently on the kernels and the chaff will blow out.  Place corn in blender or food processor and grind to a fine powder.  That earthy, corn flavor is great.  I used it in my pizza crust last night blended with regular flour.  Save one ear for planting this year!

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Growing, harvesting, drying, grinding, cooking with, saving seeds, planting- all these beautiful, ancient practices connect us with our ancestors and help us feel connected to the earth and our food.  Soon we will be in the garden again!

The First Warm Day in the Garden (onions, garlic, rhubarb, and the elusive robin)

It was over sixty degrees for a pocket of time yesterday without its normal accompanying arctic wind to ruin all of the fun.  I sat in a lawn chair, my face to the sun intermittently reading and sipping a glass of wine until my face felt warm from those glorious rays.

“There are no robins,” I told my husband.  Perhaps I was getting ahead of myself.  If the robins were not even here yet, then spring is not arriving early.

Little flitters of tiny, iridescent wings wafted past me.  I hope they are beneficial as opposed to a nemesis in my gardens.  They landed here and there.  I stood up and stretched and walked around my garden paths.  In the beds were rogue, forgotten splays of green- dark and alive.  Onions and garlic.  A tiny bit of spinach appeared in the pathway.  Funny place to grow.

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I let me plants go to seed in the fall because I am more interested in permaculture and sustained food than I am in neat rows.  (Which I seem to be rather bad at anyway!  The rows look like when I write on unlined paper.)  So the spinach decided to grow there, huh?  Well, so be it.  Bits of Swiss chard grow under a tree.

I am still getting used to the climate where we have moved.  It is warmer here but it is certainly not temperate.  But the growing season is quite different from our old town.  Here, I usually would plant onions and garlic (if I forgot to do so last fall…which I did) when I do the potatoes, right around St. Patrick’s Day.  One doesn’t want the beds to be waterlogged with snow for the next few months because the bulbs will decompose but a nice, damp, rich, fragrant, earthy, heady, malleable bed does call for something to be planted, don’t you think?  So, I took a cue from the garlic and onions that were already growing and planted my bulbs.  It was therapeutic in a way that only gardeners can understand.

I loosened the first four inches of soil.  Along somewhat crooked rows, three inches apart in all directions, I carefully placed their bottoms down and the papery points up, gently pressing them into the ground.  Eighty bulbs of red onions.  Three large heads of garlic separated into cloves.

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And four roots of rhubarb.  Every spring my Great Aunt Donna would call me and say, “Time to get the rhubarb!”  We would drive to Denver and head into her large back yard with her.  She taught me to place my thumb at the base of a stalk and lightly pull just so.  The foot and a half long stalk would easily come loose.  We both had a paring knife and would quickly remove the large leaf at the top and place it in a pile of ever growing foliage.  She would predict what her old apple tree was going to do this year.  Her beds were clean.  The compost was moving along nicely.  She would have me throw the leaves in the bin.  Into plastic newspaper sacks, the rhubarb stalks would go.  She would save a few for herself and send us home with pounds of them.  This will be the first season without Aunt Donna.  What will happen to her rhubarb?  I hope mine gets as full and healthy as hers.

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“Guess who’s here?” I shrieked into the phone.

“Who?” my husband answered, nearly alarmed.  The shrill chirping voice was almost a shock.  I recognized it before I saw them.  A pair of them hopping through the garden beds.  “The robins are back!”

 

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.