The Overhead Garden Plan

Here is one way to get a broader overview of a new garden plan.  Get a bird’s eye view of your property!  Look up your property on Google Earth and print off map.

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From here I can see where the trees are, the shady areas, the barren areas, the possibilities.  I can see that the space by the garden is shady in the summer so I need to plant things in that area that can handle partial shade.  The spot that I considered for the hoop house is partially shaded too.  Not to mention that the lawn chairs in that area are constantly blowing away.  I can see where new fruit trees would work and where a pond could thrive.

In planning a new garden it is important to analyze and observe the space diligently.

Wind- We can sure get our fair share of wind out here.  But because I placed different reading and eating areas all over I can better see where the wind goes.  Beside the house, under the elm trees, is protected.  The cushions on the chairs haven’t even budged.  This is where we will erect a canopy and build an outdoor, off grid kitchen this year.

Sunlight- The porches are very sunny right now.  They will make great spaces to grow food in pots and five gallon buckets.  When the trees are in their full foliage I should be prepared to move them around to get maximum sun or grow cold crops so that by the time the leaves are out the plants won’t require so much sun.

Space- I can see on the map where the trees expand in the summer and can lead me to plant trees a little further out.

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There are many benefits of downloading and printing the overhead view of your land.  You can see where best to fit a chicken coop, where to put a windbreak, or where to put a pond.  Or where to put a hammock!

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You can use little pictures like these and move them around before drawing in the final idea.  Just one more way to plan a new garden or implement a new idea!

Winter Learning (permaculture and garden dreaming)

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We live very seasonally.  Everything we do has its time of year to be done.  During January, there is little farm work to do.  The bees are busy in their apartment building, the goats and chickens are cared for a couple times a day, and we fill a few orders.  We have one market this entire month.  This is the time of year that we read and learn new things.  We don’t have time to learn anything in the summer and fall.  We are so exceptionally busy from pre-dawn to falling into bed exhausted at nine that we scarcely have time to read a magazine and a shower is considered a break!  So this time of year, books that we wanted to read get consumed.  Movies we wanted to see get rented.  And things we want to learn get to take precedence this month.  This year we are obsessed with Permaculture.

This will serve as a before picture of our fenced garden.

This will serve as a before picture of our fenced garden.

We have a blank slate here, really.  We have a 26×30 square foot fenced garden and ten acres.  We have established trees and areas of un-irrigated prairie and areas around the house that are near the wells.  We have rain water to capture and swales (little ditches that curve around capturing water and watering nearby plants) to create.  We have trees to plant and a food forest to create.  Visions of apple, plum, and pear trees to join the present peach trees.  We have hazelnuts and pecans to try.  Walnuts and berry bushes.  We have herbs to go crazy and work in many functions, tap roots, ground cover, attract beneficial insects, beautify the area, food, and medicine.  We have water features to add, fountains and perhaps a pond.  We have gardens to plant.

Idea garden

Idea garden

Permaculture is like learning a new language for us.  We are very much schooled in organic farming techniques and that is what we have been practicing.  But we are attracted to this Permaculture way.  It is so beautiful out here, and the landscape is so breathtaking that I would be saddened to plow it up to grow rows of corn.  Indeed, I am excited to work with nature, rather than against.  I believe this way will create more food for market as well as for our own larder and every year it will increase.  It will support wildlife and allow an oasis to remain here.

View of fenced garden and bee hive.

View of fenced garden and bee hive.

I have been listening to lectures on http://openpermaculture.com which is a free online permaculture course.  I have checked out a ton of books from the library.  I am listening, and reading, and looking at pictures, and trying to make this stick in my brain. I am trying to rewire.

Outside the back door, site of trees and food forest perhaps?

Outside the back door, site of trees and food forest perhaps?

I was so busy trying to figure out how to create this food forest in the fenced garden.  But, if I plant trees in there, won’t it all be shaded out in a few years?  One of the lectures said to start outside the back door.  The back door?  Goodness, I didn’t even think of that.  Off the deck, near the elms, across the grassy area by the clothes line, near the fence lines, by the bees, I could plant trees.  Trees with fruit bushes around them, and bulbs, and herbs, and perennial vegetables like asparagus and rhubarb, and ground covers and I could create a swirly swale around them all to catch the rain.  The farmer’s almanac predicts that this year will be hot and rainy.  Odd for this area but nothing surprises me anymore after farming the past few years.

Another view outside the back door.  Lots of space for trees and food producing perennials.

Another view outside the back door. Lots of space for trees and food producing perennials.

In the fenced garden we will create keyhole gardens and arbors with climbing food plants, squash, beans, peas, that lead to a water feature and a circular tea garden.  Maybe there will be ducks running through (I do miss my ducks) to keep the grasshoppers in check.

Another idea garden.

Another idea garden.

We have started letting the chickens out to free range.  They were so used to it at our old house that they simply seemed desperate to get out of their enclosure.  With Christopher Robin indeed being a rooster, he has already started sounding alarms when the hawks and owls fly over, keeping the girls rounded up and protected.  They love to be out foraging and will help keep the insects at bay this coming growing season.

Food forest idea garden.

Food forest idea garden.

Shade garden site.

Shade garden site.

Site of outdoor kitchen, completely off grid.

Site of outdoor kitchen, completely off grid.

I have swimming with ideas to beautify this already spectacular place and create more habitats for my beloved wildlife and create permanent food sources for all.  Mushrooms, fruit, vegetables, wild foods, this year is going to be an exciting journey as a farmer.

Possible pond location.

Possible pond location.

Will grow pots of cold crops on the porches.

Will grow pots of cold crops on the porches.

Now, time to peruse the seed catalogues!

What’s Next? (welcoming the new year)

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The sun is shining brightly on this lovely New Year’s morn as a feeling of hope and aspiration overcomes us.  We release the last year, accept its many lessons, rejoice that we are here this morning to breathe and revel in unstoppable dreams and goals.

What is in store for Farmgirl School this year?  My lists are brimming.

This year we will completely immerse ourselves in permaculture (Doug and I are already busy reading books and listening to lectures on the subject…such a foreign concept to us as we have been gardening the same way for so long but are excited to completely change for the better our way of farming.) and create an oasis here on our new  homestead with fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, perennials, annuals, container gardening, cold frames, green house?…lots of big ideas.  Join us as we grow mushrooms this year and more herbs too.  Let’s learn to hunt wild foods and eat weeds.

Let me show you how to make medicines with wild herbs and many ways to administer them.  There is lots of wacky information out there on herbal medicine, let me just teach you how easy and effective it is.  We’ll make our homesteading and herbalist school a great success and meet lots of folks from all over on the way.

Let’s get some more farm animals maybe, and learn many more skills.  I will teach you how to make hard cheeses.  Let’s eat our way around the world and learn more ethnic cooking.  Who knows what else we will learn in our journey this year!

I love the idea of the proverbial clean slate ahead of me.  Unwritten days and new attitudes, memories, and experiences at hand.  As always, thank you for following us on this journey.  Last year we found the homestead that we dreamed of and learned many valuable lessons that will be pivotal to our experiences this year.  I love receiving your letters.  Should you like to correspond please drop me a line via snail mail.  Mrs. Katie Sanders, 7080 Calhan Rd So, #2, Calhan, CO, 80808 or if you are in Elizabeth on Mondays, come by Grumpy’s coffee shop and sit a spell with me.  I love seeing who is reading my writings and learning from each other.

So, here we come 2015, we embrace you with open arms.  Who’s with me?

Planting Trees and Rented Farms

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We are quite out of room but I found yet another spot to grow things.  In another part of the driveway, lining the raised bed garden, we prepared four spots for trees.  We put down cardboard in a 3×3 square and topped it with three inches of mulch, namely soiled half broken down straw from the chicken and goat pens and coffee grounds.  We watered it but Mother Nature has taken over the watering and each day gives it a good soak.

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Two weeks ago the ground was hard.  Only a few inches of ground could be disturbed.  The wet cardboard and breaking down compost is creating a wonderland beneath the soil.  The moisture is staying in and the ground should be cool.  Tunnels of earth worms might be frolicking about and creating air and fertilizer beneath.  In a few months we will plant four fruit trees.  We will cut through the center and dig just deep enough to set the bundle of roots in then quickly cover it again with more wood chips, mulch, and compost.  The cardboard will continue to break down and the nutrients will feed the trees.  In the meantime, groupings of mushrooms that look to be homes for fairies are growing in the mulch.  (Does anyone know what kind they are?)

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We are renting a farm.  This makes us vagabonds in a sense.  A feeling of permanence is never with us.  An underlying worry plagues us if we are not careful.  Will we need to move?  Should we move?  Is there a better farm?  Is there a place in the city that we could farm and help more people?  Should we stay where we are because we love so many folks around here?  Would I even be able to get a hold of the landlord to ask?  These questions can usually be shhhed with a glass of wine.  I try to not think and let the pieces of our life fall into place as they may.  In the meantime, we are planting trees.  Permanent?  Yes, but a gift to the earth and the next occupants of fresh apples can only be a positive.  And perhaps if we are here long enough, we will enjoy a few harvests.

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If you rent a space, do not rule out about making improvements or planting trees and perennials.  They will gift those that come after you, the wildlife, the bees and birds, and yourself while you live in that spot.  The world is ever changing, as are our lives, and there are no guarantees that we will stay in one place, even if one owns a piece of property.  For it is never really ours.  Everything on this planet is on loan and our lives are in constant change, so enjoy where you are now and perhaps plant a tree!

Mid-summer Farming (bees, dreams, and permaculture)

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It looks like we live in a different state.  We have had rain every day, so unusual for July, and the grasses are green.  No fires, no drought, no hundred degree weather.  It has been glorious.  Other places in the state are dealing with too much water but here in our little oasis of Kiowa we are basking in perfect weather.  The gardens and trees are drinking deeply and everything is serene.

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We were able to grab a moment of warm sunshine to put our bee suits on and peek in the hive.  The bees are working on their eighth frame in the top bar hive.  The frames stretch across the entire frame now reaching the sides of the hive.  The bees were very busy and completely covered the outer frame.  I tried to pull a middle frame up to see if I could tell what was going on (Is there new brood?  Is there honey capped? What else am I supposed to be looking for?) but couldn’t pull it all the way up.  I was afraid of smashing bees or pulling apart the combs.  I need my mentor to come over next time and show me what the heck we are supposed to be doing.  But for the moment it was like looking into a magical world.  The bees were calm and I have fallen in love with these gentle creatures.

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We have two interns here that are just lovely people.  They have been helping me immensely.  The gardens were all weeded and mulched by yesterday afternoon and new seeds planted.  We enjoy meals with them and talk about our ideas and dreams.  We have been looking for a place to move that has a small house but more land.  Renting has a definite downfall for me, I worry.  I worry that I can’t renew my lease, or that I have to stay but for how long?  Can I plant trees?  Should I get attached to this quaint little house, my neighbors, this town?  What if I miss my opportunity for a homestead?  Dang, I wish I could buy a place.  Turns out we have a choice to make.  The homesteads we can afford to rent are way out in the prairie or far away towns.  Or we can stay near our children and granddaughter.  Not a hard decision to make.  My friend, Lisa, came over one day and asked if we were going to farm the back part of the yard because we had fenced it off (for the goats).  Suddenly while talking with Stephanie and Ethan, our interns, I realized that we could, with their help, transform that space.  We could build a greenhouse.  We could use permaculture techniques to up our food production.  Hopefully we can stay on for a few more years here since nothing seems to be coming up in the form of larger place.

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I have been reading a lot about permaculture and came across a film that fascinated me and a technique we will definitely try.  It is a free documentary.  Worth the watch!  http://backtoedenfilm.com

I do hope your mid-summer farming is going well and you get a perfect mix of sun and rain!

Farming Failure? (or enlightenment?)

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I am not sure how to tell my CSA members this week that I have more….lettuce.  Not many eggs (the girls are hiding them) and not much milk (Isabelle is giving less and I am taking more for cheese making).  Doug and I have been eating well.  We go out each evening and see what is growing.  We harvest four beets, fifteen snap peas, a large handful of beet greens, kale, spinach, and chard, four pods of peas, and ten purple snow peas.  Add some fresh garlic from the garden and a handful of chives.  This makes a really tasty dinner sautéed or roasted with a bit of goat cheese and some homemade bread.  Each day there is slightly new bounty, but not enough for a bushel extra a week to be harvested.  I keep thinking I need more space!

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After I read that book with the great CSA model that I wrote about last week, I was fired up.  Lord, when I get fired up, watch out.  I do everything intensely.  I give my husband a full time job with all the work I put out there for us.  I am gung ho.  But, I also just as easily see when that idea is not working and promptly put a stop to it.

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I was chatting with one of my friends who is one of seven kids from Miller Farms.  The work there is difficult.  That would be an understatement.  A thousand acres and a ton of farmer’s markets, crazy weather, and having to purchase food to bring to the farmers market at the beginning of the season is debt inducing and back breaking.  The kids, one by one, making their way to new fields.  Not farming ones.  Her friends who had a large farm near them just sold out and started a brewery.  Happy as can be and not nearly so tired.  This caused me to pause in my plans.

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I want to farm.  I want to farm and teach for life.  Can I imagine myself tilling enough fields and planting enough and hoeing enough and harvesting enough to feed even a hundred people?  Our quarter acre garden takes up a lot of time and there wouldn’t be much more to give.  When I brought produce to the market, there was very little of it.  I felt like a failure.  But, looking at the farm next to me unpack box after box of produce from Mexico and California, then stare at a customer right in the face and say they grew it made me realize, I am not a failure.  There is not a lot of produce right now.  I do not live in a climate that allows a ton of produce right now.  Also as I sold a bundle of onions for a buck, or last year with a handful of potatoes for a few dollars, I am not doing anyone any favors. I sell them the food that was supposed to feed my family, they may or may not let it rot, and then they (and we) are hungry again.

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I am a natural born teacher.  Even as a child I taught everything I knew.  I stayed in at recess in second grade to teach younger kids how to read.  I taught dance, modeling, and teach everything else I know from cheese making to soap making.  I am a teacher.

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I have become quite interested in Permaculture.  I have heard some lectures and read a bit about it and I think I will hit the library today to find out more.  I love the idea of everything growing willy nilly where it wishes and the lower impact on the earth.  The gardens I am attracted to are ones that hold a bit of spiritual magic, a place where prayer comes naturally, and the wild world lives as one, from micro-organisms to lady bugs to blue jays and squirrels.  A place I can teach my herbalist classes and homesteading classes.  Workshops and visitors, plenty of food and homemade wine, goats and chickens, and a pony for Maryjane.

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I do not want to quit being a farmer, ever.  But perhaps my vision of what a farmer is is being held captive, only seeing farmers as market farmers.  There are a lot of different farmers and farm techniques.  I could sell you a bundle of radishes or teach you (inspire you) to grow your own.

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This has been an amazing practice farm.  What a blessing to be here.  We have learned a few things.  When I started this blog we only had a handful of chickens and some sad looking plants in the garden.  We have learned how to grow food.  In the driveway, on the porch, in the side yard, the front yard, and in the raised beds.  I realized that the ants I tried to kill were taking away larvae that were eating my green beans.  I realized that the voles that Doug tried to kill were aerating the soil and that the mounds where I thought they took plants actually just covered the plants and those were the biggest under the soil.  I realize that city water is not much better than a swimming pool.  If  you set a bucket under the spigot to catch drips, the nauseating smell of chlorine rises up as you approach.  We have learned what we are good at and what we are not.  The search for a new farm to lease will be on shortly and we know what we are looking for.  We need an enchanting place to make into a learning place.  A spiritual place.  A place where we can provide for our family.  A place to learn more and more and more…..