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.

Planting Basics Q&A

I have spoken at many events over the years, from small gatherings, for the Master Gardener’s Program, to large sustainability and gardening shows.  I take the fear out of gardening.  Dispel the idea that you need a backhoe to clear an appropriate plot.  That you need a yard at all!  These are questions and answers that might seem obvious to the seasoned gardener (there is always something to learn from each other, however) but hundreds of people wondered at these events.  I thought this would be a good time of year and a good forum to share on.  Happy planting!

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How do I know when to plant? 

Look up your last frost date.  You can plant cold crops four weeks before that date, summer crops on that date, and seedlings (young plants) four weeks after that date.

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How deep do you plant a seeds and starts?

Twice the depth of the size of the seed.  A carrot or radish seed will just have a dusting of soil atop it, whereas a pumpkin seed could be two inches deep.  The same goes for pots of plants, bushes, or trees.  Dig a hole twice as big as the pot.  Fill it in with garden soil.  Then give it a good, gentle watering.

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How far apart do I plant the seeds?

Plant the seeds the width of the plant.  So if you want radishes that are about two inches wide, plant your seeds every two inches.  Plant corn every foot.  Plant tomatoes every foot and a half.  Carrots are every inch or two.

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How about soil?

Until your soil has had a couple of years of amendments and care, you can use organic gardening soil.  Dig a hole, plant the seed, top it with a handful of garden soil.

Alternatively, dig a three inch trench, place the seeds in the trench, and cover with the appropriate amount of soil.  This aids in watering, as you can just run your hose right down the trench. (Not too strong of current or you will dislodge the seeds!)  This also helps the bases of the plants get stronger because they are not subjected to the wind.

You can also plant in pots!  Here is a fun decorative idea to flank a sunny entrance to a porch.  In a large pot, plant a kernel of corn in the middle, a bean on either side, and four pumpkin seeds around the edges.  The three sisters will be a showstopper come late summer!

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Keep a compost pile!

In the corner of your yard between a couple of pallets or in a fancier version, throw straw from the chicken coop, grass clippings, leaves, coffee grounds, and any manner of food (no meat) that the chickens don’t eat into the mix along with a bag of soil.  In the fall, sprinkle all of that compost onto garden beds and let them sink in over the winter then blend in in the spring.

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Annuals vs. Perennials

Let your annuals go to seed!  Mother Nature has a job and it’s to keep things growing.  The seeds disperse and will come back next year.  Since we are not doing any intense tilling and we are planting up in layers as opposed to digging out a garden bed, the seeds start where they land.  I have romaine lettuce and arugula in the path.  I planted both in nice, straight-ish lines elsewhere, but because these came up earlier, being planted by Mother Nature, I get to enjoy them earlier.

Annuals are a must.  Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, corn; all these things are annuals.  You can save the seeds of the last fruit or vegetable you pick from each and dry and save them for the following year.

Perennials are really where it’s at!  I love that the raspberries, burdock, dandelions, roses, sorrel, rhubarb, and strawberries come back on their own, bigger and better!  They are really what gives us food security.  Perhaps one year you might be ill and cannot plant a garden, but you can still feast on salsify, sorrel, sunchokes, dandelions, and fruits from trees and bushes.

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How much water?

I can only speak for my state and surround.  We are bloody nose and cracked hand dry.  Like seven percent humidity would be a lot.  Water every day, folks.  Even the “drought resistant” plants like herbs and such love a bit of water every day.  One inch of water for seeds and two inches of water for plants.  If you count for ten seconds, you have one inch of water, twenty seconds=two inches.

Use a hose without a sprayer.  Use your fingers to divert and control water flow.  It will take six times longer to get enough water from a sprayer.

Place your hose by a tree while you walk over to turn it off.  Or use a five gallon bucket with a nail sized hole in the bottom, fill with water at the base of the tree and let it slowly get into the roots once a week.

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Lastly

The thing to remember here is that Mother Earth loves to grow stuff.  She shakes the seeds out of my chile ristras and plants them willy nilly.  Seeds want to grow.  It is their life purpose.  Water, sun, soil, they are off and running.  Expect that 1/3 of your seeds will make it.  Animals, wind, viability all play a part here.  I grow equal amounts of bind weed, mallow, and straw to purposely planned vegetables and fruit.  Forget the idea of perfectly manicured gardens.  Here is the deal, Mother Earth does not like barren soil, so if you have space, she will fill it.  Grow plants together.  Lettuce next to potatoes.  Beans next to corn.  One with deep roots, one with shallow.  All through the beds.

Have fun.  Have tea in the garden!  Enjoy the birds and the lady bugs and the sounds of real life.

Planting in Glass Jars

Planting in canning jars and other large glass vessels is such a fun idea.  I have seen these a few places now and I love the idea.  My bamboo is planted in a canning jar.  I love the idea of giving succulents in canning jars as gifts.

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I equally love the idea of using larger glass jars to showcase pine trees, like this one that we saw at a restaurant in New Mexico.  They really would have to be for a party or a few weeks of decoration because of the lack of drainage.  But they really are charming.  I can also envision miniature rose bushes in large glass jars lining a table.  The ideas are endless.

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My Easter bunnies

My Easter table this year will seat ten.  Bright colored oil cloth of reds and blues and my new Fiesta ware will be used at each place.  I am making a feast of enchiladas, chili rellenos, beans, rice, guacamole, and icy margaritas.  Perhaps a bit untraditional for Easter dinner but shaking things up is my specialty.  Succulents or miniature cacti in canning jars may very well complete the décor.

So grab those wide mouth jars and plant away!  Gifts and entertaining just got more creative and fun.

 

On the Verge of Spring at Pumpkin Hollow Farm (an enchanted life)

Petunia is still rather plump, even after having babies last autumn.  She is very fluffy and so cute I wish she would come in the house to live, but of course squirrels don’t typically enjoy living in the house.  She sits next to me on the porch as I eat my lunch on warm days.  I just watched her from the picture window jump from limb to limb.  I need to put more bird seed and peanuts out.  The Blue Jays are making such a racket.  They do despise when I am late.

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Hundreds of lovely, chirping sparrows reside here.  As do many doves and starlings.  Crows fly over.  Owls can be heard in the night.  Hawks stop to rest.  Sea gulls and geese fly over towards the lake.  A third of an acre in the city sure can be a wild life haven.  I love it here.

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The chickens from the factory farm that we rescued are plump and quite loud.  They run towards me bow legged and squat, hollering like miniature geese.  They love to eat and are firmly against being on a diet.  “We are not broilers here, Dears,” I remind them, “You do not need to get so fat!”  Dixie is still tiny.  My granddaughter renamed the infant rooster, Bob.

I am fervently manifesting and saving for a greenhouse.  The ducks come April 20th.

My classes are chosen for the autumn session of college.

I am quite sore from teaching dance last night.  I am teaching two herbalist classes.  Just keeping busy until I can be in my gardens full time!

I leave in three weeks for ten days in Arizona and New Mexico for my birthday.  Such wonderful blog posts I will write!

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The seedlings are doing well.  The ground is softening.  I am teaching a gardening class Sunday to plant potatoes that have taken over the cupboard.

My friends are here visiting for the weekend.  I have so many dear friends.  I am so lucky.

Such a slow, lovely, blessed, ordinary, extraordinary life I lead.  And that, my friends, is what is going on at Pumpkin Hollow Farm on the verge of Ostara and the equinox.  Spring is next week!  Here it is quietly arriving.

What is happening on your homestead this week?  I am honestly interested!

Improving My Quick Garden Bed Method and Marvelous Summer

20180717_075151There were pros and cons to my quick raised beds but overall they are a success.  I had first put down a layer of cardboard, surrounded it with logs, then put in thick slabs of straw, then compost, then organic gardening soil.  The whole thing cost about twelve bucks.

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This row was planted directly in the soil and is doing just as well as the beds but has a lot more bind weed!

At the beginning I quickly realized that I didn’t have enough gardening soil but was tapped out of funds so couldn’t get more.  It took a lot longer to water because I think too much sand (we have sandy soil) got into my compost.  Don’t forget to check your beds after watering.  It should be wet to your second knuckle.  Beds can be deceiving, they look wet, but aren’t!  I will add more soil this fall or next spring to build up the bed.

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The second issue was an obvious one, but I didn’t think about it.  Some of the corn has to be staked up with re bar because the roots can’t get through the cardboard.  The beds aren’t that deep and the straw takes up most of the space.  So, some of the deeper reaching plants can’t get enough space and nutrients.  They are doing fine now though.

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The potatoes are prolific planted directly in the soil.

The weeds certainly found their way through the cardboard but not nearly as bad as in the regular beds.  I have had a much easier season this year with much less work keeping the beds clear of weeds.

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20180717_07533820180717_075405My yard looks pretty and more organized with the makeshift beds.  Doug can mow easier around them.  It’s been so incredibly hot and dry here that the grass all died early in the season, but at least the weeds are green!  Because of the early heat, my spring crops came up (if they came up) and promptly died or went to seed.  I will be planting the same crops today as fall crops and hoping for better luck.  I need radishes!

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I planted a tomato seedling in the porch planter and it is doing amazing!

This fall I will build more of these beds and let them sit for the winter before planting in them.  How quickly logs (that I can still use in the wood stove this winter) and railroad ties make creative beds.  I like the look of them.  The bark gently peeling off, the varying colors, the moist soil within.

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20180717_075436The lizards dart here and there, drinking water from small leaves.  The birds come for their seeds.  And the cooler morning breeze rustles the sunflowers into dance. I hope you are all enjoying your gardens.  How I love summer!

 

DIY Seed Potatoes and Spring Planting

20180316_121644Today is the perfect day to finish the first spring planting.  When the moon is on its way to full, imagine the energy rising, so one would plant crops that grow above ground like peas, spinach, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, and lettuces.  When the moon is waning and heading towards a new moon the energy is focused below the ground and root crops are planted like potatoes, beets, and carrots.  The Farmer’s Almanac goes into more detail but I follow the best I can and also look at the weather.

Tonight we may have rain and tomorrow light snow.  That is a perfect finale for planting!

Last week I bought seed potatoes from a local nursery.  I usually buy seed potatoes through mail order.  Seed potatoes are not cheap, y’all.  I looked at those seed potatoes and they each had one eye.  As I planted that one eye in the ground a foot a part I remembered the potatoes with multiple eyes languishing in the basket in my kitchen.  I went and retrieved them.  I planted fingerling potatoes and red potatoes along with the Yukons.

You think a lot while you are digging in the soil and I remembered a few months ago when I stopped by a roadside stand.  The man was grumpy.  He picked up produce from all over and sold them it out of the back of his truck.  We had an argument because he didn’t believe that pinon nuts were the same as pine nuts.  He wouldn’t sell organic potatoes because they rot too quick.  He pulled out a few bags of organic potatoes with eyes growing out of them attaching to the bag.  Conventional potatoes are sprayed so that they don’t sprout.

I have been a Farmgirl a long time, y’all, why am I still purchasing seed potatoes?  Buy a bag of organic potatoes from the store in varieties you enjoy.  When they start to sprout cut them into large pieces with at least two eyes on each.  Plant in loose soil eight inches down.  Cover with straw once they sprout.

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Do a rain and snow dance after you finish your spring planting!

Rainy Days, Worries, Manifesting, and Farming

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The rain has been gently coming down for days.  It will continue today.  My cold crop seeds, parsnips, potatoes, garlic, onions, radishes, mustard, stir fry greens, spinach, Swiss chard, snow, snap, and Alaskan peas, pak choi, carrots, beets, lettuce, herbs, all these things stay in their blanket of fresh soil and the water will rejuvenate them into life.  The rain dampens my heart just a bit.  A sliver of warm sun would do me good but perhaps this rain will wash away my worries.

Oh, we all have worries.   I take them as a waver in faith.  I know all is well and that we are where we are supposed to be but sometimes the mind can get oversaturated with thoughts.  Perhaps I should stand in the rain until they are gone.

Did I move too far away?  We end up driving back to our old town nearly every day.  Over 160 miles for two round trips to watch our beloved baby.  Back there again for Celtic Festival meetings and bank trips. I only know the friendly faces that I miss seeing regularly at the coffee shop and around town.

Will the landlords grow tired of the animals and the farm and the comings and goings that go with it?  Already a comment was made about the chickens.  Did I make a mistake?

Did I really just practically give away our means of paying bills?  I dreamt I opened another apothecary, this time in the high end Cherry Creek district.  A laugh of course.  Why can’t I be patient and finish jumping off this cliff and see that we will be just fine financially?  That we are living the life we wanted.  That we are always fine.

Perhaps I am tired from assisting Isabelle’s birth and then watching her baby go to her new home yesterday.  Perhaps the weekend caught up with me.  Perhaps I should go sit in the rain.  It is so cold though.  Coldest winter we have ever endured.

My cousin, Heather, said to me, “You manifested everything else, why don’t you just manifest another wood stove?”  And of course we did and it is being put in tomorrow.  So enough with the worries.  We will have food here on this farm, new friends, our family, and a spectacular view.  Another shot of coffee and plan the week’s course.  There are animals to care for and seeds to plant.  No time to second guess myself now.

This was from the series of paintings I did four years ago of the animals I eventually wanted on my imagined farm.

This was from the series of paintings I did four years ago of the animals I eventually wanted on my imagined farm.

And this is one of our sheep, Sven.  I do love living on a farm.

And this is one of our sheep, Sven. I do love living on a farm.

What to Plant Now (4 weeks before last frost. Hallelujah!)

It’s approximately four weeks before the last frost date.  As I sit here rather cold this morning again, I am sure post-frost date is going to feel pretty darn good.

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I used to plant everything May 12th.  Which of course endured one last frost.  I planted all the seeds for cold crops and summer crops.  No succession planting, no spring, summer, and fall plantings, just all in one shot.  Now I know a little better.  Still learning, I assure you, but I know in order to get those cold crops to finish growing they need to be planted strategically.  And anything under the ground loves a little time in the spring to get started.

Here is a modest list of what you can plant now.  Remember, only cold crop seeds and underground crops can be planted now.

4 weeks before: radishes, parsnips, kale, Swiss chard, spinach, potatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, Alaskan or English peas, snap peas, snow peas, and asparagus.

This year I started the broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage in a greenhouse to see if they grew any faster this year (we have a rather short growing season) so they cannot go outside until after the frost date now.

2 weeks before: herb plants, flower seeds, herb seeds, strawberries, lettuce mixes, and more of the above seeds to stretch your season!

May 15thish plant the rest!  In July plant everything above again for yummy fall treats.  You’ll miss radishes by then!

How to Create a Rose Garden in Less than 30 Minutes

A beautiful rose garden in less than thirty minutes?  What about digging a bed?  Amending the soil?  What if the area is just straight prairie and nothing grows but yucca?  You can indeed start a rose garden anywhere.

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Here are the requirements:

Despite the common advice that roses love full sun, here in Colorado (and I bet in other places too) roses like a little reprieve from the harsh rays of summer.  Roses love east and west exposures.  Never north, not enough sun.  I just planted our new rose garden on the south side but the shed to its west will block some sun at the height of summer.

You need a water source.  Roses enjoy water.  Can’t stick them in the prairie and hope they can fend for themselves.  I give the roses two inches of water every other day.  If it rains, I skip the watering.  The  straw surrounding the rose allows six inches of space so not to suffocate the plant.  This creates a perfect hole to water into.  I just fill that hole and it filters into the ground.

I do not fertilize my roses with chemicals, not even “organic” ones.  My organic fertilizer consists of a good pile of chicken bedding on top of the rose bush in autumn to shield it from winter.  Every time it rains or snows the fertilizer seeps into the ground.  In mid-summer a mulch of goat bedding around the base helps contribute nitrogen to the roots every time it rains or gets watered.  If you don’t have farm animals, a bag of compost can be used.  Mushroom compost can be poured three inches from the base circling the plant.  Then topped with mulch.  This keeps the soil moist, the nutrients slowly seeping in, and we don’t accidentally burn the plant.

The only pruning I do on roses is to remove dead branches.

All roses available for purchase at the big box stores or local nurseries will grow here.  This time of year buy bare root, they are still sleeping.  During the growing season any rose bush can be planted, even the miniature ones in the grocery store in pots meant as gifts.

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Now, let’s get started.  You can use the porch as your boundary or if you are putting it in the middle of the yard like I did, you will want to contain your garden.  I gathered the thick pieces of wood that I found last summer.  One could use bricks, 2×4’s, or old gnarly branches to create any kind of artistic image you see fit.  Gardening is art.

Don’t hurt your back now by digging up the whole garden!  If you aren’t growing anything there why would you spend the energy and resources to amend the whole thing while exposing the place to sun so that the weeds have a lovely place of amended soil to grow in?  Just stick to the planting at hand.  Do remove any large weeds though.

Dig a hole about a foot across and down. Fill half way with water. Let it drain.  Place rose in hole.  Fill hole half way with organic garden soil. Fill the hole the rest of the way with the soil that was removed surrounding the neck to keep the new plant sturdy.

Anywhere you didn’t plant place thick layers of newspaper down and cover with four inches of straw.

Give the rose another drink.

Step back and take in your work!

To add things to this garden, simply remove a chunk of straw, add garden soil, plant.  Cover anywhere that is not a plant or seed.

A birdbath, comfy chair, and good book finish the space.

How To Plant an Orchard (with adorable farmers)

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I had an adorable work crew yesterday on Pumpkin Hollow Farm.  Our mission was to plant trees.  Apple, plum, and apricot trees to be exact.

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“Can we climb the trees?” the younger ones asked.

“Maybe your kids will be able to climb the trees!” I responded.

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That certainly seemed a long time away for my young farm hands.

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We live on the property with our landlords, us in the little, old homestead that was built here one hundred and ten years ago.  They are sweet enough to let us farm this property.  We would like to stay here a very long time.  Trees will outlive me and give future generations something wonderful to eat.  These children have decided to eat all the fruit available in the meantime!

“When will there be apples?” they asked.

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The young man pictured above is Will, the son of our neighbors here.  His older sister and husband are here for spring break with their four darling boys.  They are full of fun and energy and a fair amount of humor.  “Hello Mr. Rogers!” they shout as Doug walks by.  “Sanders!” he corrects. “Hello Mrs. Sandra!” to me.  Shyanne and I couldn’t stop laughing at the kids calling Doug Mr. Rogers.  Thoughts of my favorite childhood show in mind.

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Maryjane was in heaven with this many little boys.  She generally stays very close to me, often wanting to be held, but yesterday she wanted to be near the boys.  She walked down our porch and boldly out the gate.  She tried to get them to come back with her.  At one point she was in a large dog kennel with them.  She was completely enamored with these older boys.

To plant trees:  This is a perfect time of year to plant trees.  They are still sleeping and when they wake up next month they will stretch their roots and begin to grow and thrive.

Dig a hole about 18 inches by 18 inches to start.  That very well may be big enough for the trees but you could always make it bigger.  Make sure there are no electrical lines beneath you!

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Then fill the hole half way with water.  This lets you see how fast the water drains.  One of the holes we dug didn’t drain even after two hours so we filled it back up and dug a hole four feet from it and it was perfect.  By watering the hole you are also putting in moisture for the new trees.

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Will and Doug took Maryjane back to Elizabeth when her mom got off work and headed to our favorite nursery to pick up the trees.  I love to support local business and families in the community and Holly Acres in Elizabeth is a great source for plants at a very fair price.

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Stand tree upright in the hole and fill hole half way with organic garden soil.  Then top with the soil that was initially removed from the hole. This allows the pile of dirt to nestle around the neck of the tree and adds a little extra nutrition for the roots.  Don’t put compost on yet as it will burn the sleeping tree.  We will put some compost on in June.

Draw a ring around the tree a foot away from the trunk and fill the little ravine with water.  Mulch with straw or wood chips.

Keep watered year round to ensure a healthy start!

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