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!

Memorizing Moments and Merry Christmas

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The night is surprisingly cold and calm. The snowstorm has passed and the late sky is crisp and stars are just twinkling through.  The prairie is beautifully dark.  Exhilaratingly so.  I am walking the path east into the swell of ebony towards the mailboxes.  The path is faintly lit with the bluish street light behind the farmhouse.  Christmas lights dance in the frosted windows.  In the distance a thick darkness lay and I can just make out the happy dog prancing in front of me, her sleek black coat blending into the void.  Wood smoke flows through the air from the stove pipe promising a warm kitchen upon my return.  Behind us, in the distance, dark mountains fold into the night as city lights glitter.  The wind chills us and makes us shiver as we quicken our walk and say goodnight to the day on this ordinarily beautiful winter eve.

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I recorded this after my walk last night.  We are caring for the neighbor’s dog, Serina, and we were walking to the mailboxes to retrieve Christmas cards and such.  An ordinary moment, walking a dog in the dark, getting the mail, inhaling the crisp night air; I want to live these photographic moments more vividly in the coming year starting with Christmas.

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This year was difficult it seems for everyone, a lot of good souls called home, and financial worries.  I want to think more on moments.  Make each day count.  I want to take a mental photograph of ordinary moments.  This Christmas, won’t you look around and memorize the sounds; the laughter, the pots clinking, the paper being opened.  The smells of fresh coffee and Grandpa’s cologne.  Memorize people’s faces.  For there are no guarantees that any one person of any age will be with us come next holiday.  Love, hug, smile, relax, memorize, and mentally photograph each moment.

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Thank you for reading my life this year and for your sweet cards, notes, emails, uplifting words in person, and for supporting me in my writing and in our homesteading adventures.

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From my family to yours, Merry, Merry Christmas!

dad and i

 

The Enchanting Prairie Visitors

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The sun was shining yesterday and though the air was cool I figured it was a good time to get some laundry done.  The sky was clear and soft, a mirror of light blue stretching far and wide and the mountains stood tall in the distance.  A purple silhouette against the prairie sky.  The grasses swayed just gently.  The cows watched me as I brought my basket out to the line.  I am beginning to get used to the complete silence. It is the most beautiful sound.

I threw a towel over the clothes line and grabbed a pin to affix it when I heard the sound.  My mind ran through various files of what it could be and I realized I didn’t know.  A little panic struck as I worried that one of the goats may have gotten their head stuck or something just took a chicken, it was a sound of desperation, whatever it was.  And so like a flash I left my damp clothing and ran behind the greenhouse to the animal pens to see what was the matter.

And there along the fence line stood the most magical sight.  Over a dozen horses, donkeys, babies, and mules stood regally against the open space and greeted me.  My heart felt fuller, my breath exhaled, my smile got bigger, and I am sure I had the magic of a child in my eyes as I took in this majestic sight.  I walked over to the large mule and scratched his neck, felt his soft winter fur across his nose.  I chattered to and patted the surrounding horses and wooed the baby donkey nearer (who was the source of the unusual sound).  Another dozen horses on rest from cattle roundups and enjoying the miles and miles of prairie grasses began walking towards me as well. I found myself wishing for a camera but knew I could never capture the beauty and just enjoyed the moment and secured it to memory.

It was like an enchanting holiday movie or a commercial, it was so surreal and magical.  And beautiful.  And even when the day comes that I have my own horses and mules and donkeys, I shall not lose that wonder of seeing them there to greet me.  It felt like an early Christmas gift.  This prairie and all its beauty and quiet is a gift indeed.

‘Tis Thanksgiving Eve

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‘Tis Thanksgiving eve

a prayer hushes over the land

of grateful hearts for harvest so full

such bounty in our lives and hand.

 

We bow our heads in repose

to give sweet thanks for blessings abound

for those before us that bowed their heads

their new lives on this prairie found.

 

A feast to eat before us

everywhere in the wild to be found

our little cottage so filled with love

warm sun setting without a sound.

 

We will be thankful and not want

so easy to wish for something more

we could be unloved, hungry and cold

and sleeping on a sodden floor.

 

So we bow our heads and say grace

lest we forget that our basic needs are few.

Tomorrow we will be thankful too.

And the day after.

And the day after.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Winter Storm on a Homestead

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The season’s first storm blew upon the land.  Racing winds howled across the prairie.  The sounds both ominous and exhilarating.  The house shook, the wood stove crackled, cats snuggled close.  The midnight sky showed only coal black.

This morning the house read forty-five degrees.  Our breath showing in threads in the main room.  In the kitchen the little wood stove-that-could chugs along trying to keep up with the frosty chill.  A gentle snow is falling.

Horses escaped their pasture to the north and came galloping across our pasture.  A dozen majestic creatures stirring the snow and playing freely as they made their dawn run.

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The howling prairie now calm and peaceful, it is eleven degrees with the holiday snow flitting down.  The kitchen is warming, the coffee is hot, and the day ahead seems best spent beneath a warm comforter watching holiday movies!

But first chores need to be done.  Bundled up and braving the cold we need to check on chickens, break their icy water, give them food to warm themselves.  The goats are still away.

There is a great peace here.  A silent solace that calms the spirit.

Three cords of wood stacked high, a fire in the kitchen where we rub our hands together to keep warm…such is a homesteader’s life.

A Field Trip to the Paint Mines

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We walked along the dusty paths, the only sound from our shuffling feet.  Cottontail rabbits with their winter fur occasionally crossing our path.  Hawks swooped overhead.  A beautiful silence and solace lay across the land.  Not another soul out hiking today.  Just the two of us.

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The valleys used to be filled with Buffalo and antelopes.  This was a hunting ground for various tribes and a place that must have awed immigrants travelling across the prairie.

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The land used to be a tropical rainforest, most of it underwater.  The ghosts of dinosaurs swimming by.  But what you really feel is the spirit of the old west here.  One feels as if they could be on a horse at the top of the cliff looking over into the caverns and rocks and hoping for a good hunt.  Looking out for other tribes.

Our National Geographic take.  The Sand People.

Our National Geographic take. The Sand People.

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A hawk circles overhead then glides down near the long grasses.

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The colors here look like an artist’s palette.  God’s own canvas.  These clays were used in ancient pottery as well as paints in more recent times.  It is all protected now.

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We found this place just a few miles down from our new homestead.  It is called the Paint Mines and it is located in Calhan, Colorado.  The signs say no dogs but the footprints through the sand willows tell me a few snuck in.  This is a free park and has two nice sized loops with plenty of places to decide how far one wants to walk and pretend to be from a different time.

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It is amazing how complete quiet and time in the natural world can rejuvenate and relax.

Prairie at Dawn (and you can rest in January!)

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I stepped outside before the sun’s colorful hands glided over the edge of the prairie.  The lighting was surreal and looked as if I lived in a Renaissance pastel that might hang in the museum.  A painted landscape so beautiful my mind could hardly fathom.  The owls called to each other from tree to tree and the city lights in the distance shone against the silhouette of the mountain.

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Our year starts in spring when the baby goats are born and we start our early planting.  Spring is filled with preparing beds, planting at the right times, bottle feeding goat kids, cooing over baby chicks, and praying for warm weather.  We are also madly getting ready for farmer’s markets.  Preparing, bottling, labeling, farmer’s market checklist; tent, tables, chairs, displays, application fees, products made…ready, set, go!

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And we catapult into summer where for the next four months family and friends have troubles getting a hold of us.  Those close to us understand.  We live a whirlwind of sunrises, farm animals, farmer’s markets, farming, herbal business, preserving, holding classes, getting ready for winter.  Always getting ready for winter.

Grammie and Baby at Parker

Sporting my new fashion look.

September seems like it will be slower as some markets draw to a close and we see our pantry filling up but for the next three months we will still be actively preparing, just as the ants and bees do, to settle in for winter.  Always wondering if we have enough stored.  Enough food…enough water…enough wood.

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Moving was a wonderful thing since it marked the end of our years of pining for a homestead.  It is exactly what we prayed for.  Low enough rent and no utilities that we can afford to be healers.  The landlords share the property which is not something we would have ever considered before until we started being intrigued by the idea of cohabitating homesteads where we started to think that we should not share property with friends.  Too complicated.  But, the idea is sound.  The owners here are quiet and leave us to ourselves but we are all here if the other needs us.  Best of both worlds.  We are near my favorite city.  In twenty five minutes I am at a library, coffee shop, or restaurant if I want to be.  Then back to the confines of the vast prairie, large stars, and serene silence.  I am humbled to be here.  But moving was exhausting and we find ourselves longing for rest.  But there is something about Autumn that makes me want to keep working.  An innate desire to get things done and prepared.  The longer I homestead the closer to nature and natural seasons and intuition I get.

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Our friend, Jim, was one of my students; he is a Vietnam Vet, commander for a veteran’s organization, lover of plants and herbs, a survivalist, loyal friend, and in the tree business.  He gave me a great deal on three cords of wood.  Even though it is a lot of money for us, a winter without utilities will even things out.  He dropped off the cords one by one while Doug and I spent the afternoon stacking wood.  Doug kept stopping to pull up his jeans.  Forget a gym membership.  We work hard, our muscles are defined, we eat healthy, homemade food, and though we’ll be a little soft by the end of winter, we’ll be right back in the swing of things for the remainder of the year.  Homesteading looks good on folks.

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We have a pantry full, two freezers full, now a total of four cords of wood, and we are getting closer.  Time is ticking because we are still doing farmer’s markets through the end of the month and craft shows through the middle of December.  In between we get ready for our winter rest.  We are drying off the goat; we have plenty of cheese made and milk frozen.  We are getting ready to breed Isabelle again.  Today the gutters will be cleaned, homestead area mowed, garden worked on, chimney cleaned, and orders filled, even though we are under the weather.  The seasons don’t stop for sick days.  Soon we will only have craft shows on the weekends and the holidays to look forward to.  Then for three months we will rest and grow restless and be ever ready for the seasons to start over.  We are thankful to live this lifestyle.  This is truly the good life.

Autumn Prairie Musings

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I am in love with this place.  It speaks to me…

of heartbreaks healed and promises kept.

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The lingering wood smoke scents the air as the rustic landscape captivates me.  It pulls me in and dances with me across further snow capped peaks and nestles me near in elder Elms.  I am pleased here, at peace, quiet, exhaled.

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Words and new poems run through my mind- cadences and song, psalms and prayers.  I think I have been burnt out for a long time.  Work too hard.  Expect too much of others and myself and often forget to live.  The rabbit that shoots out of the brush and away in a zigzag when I startle him cares not if I answer every call or busy work myself to exhaustion.  The wild world of nature will still be there if our chaos of whirlwind, human made, self righteous living were to end.  It would go on, more peacefully perhaps.  I breathe again and look out across the prairie and realize my soul is connected to this natural world and I come back to myself.

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The prairie is so alive.  Rabbits scamper under brush as owls speak in trees under foliage of vibrant hues.  Hawks circle, the sky is huge here.  Dauntingly beautiful, I cannot even find myself to paint.  I could never match the beauty.  Inspiration fuels me, revitalizes my senses.

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Fall is evident in scenes I failed to notice in our past existence.  Piles of firewood in country front yards.  The thicker white coats on our goats.  Chickens getting new feathers, laying less eggs.  The winds are different, the clouds look different.  The colors increased- vibrant, charged, glowing.

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I watch for birds flying south so I have my timeline of preparedness.  Firewood.  Sweaters.  Pantry full.  Animal feed stocked.  Chimney swept.  Gutters cleaned.  Garden prepped.  Garlic planted.

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My list never ends but may I learn to live in a simpler breath.  Slower.  Methodical.  Meaningful.  Breathe, the air is sweet upon us and Autumn is in the air.

Our Farmstead (a new chapter)

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The house smells faintly of wood smoke.  It is beautiful here.  Serene.  Earlier when taking my greyhound for a walk through the acres of tall grass, he startled a large owl.  It fled from a massive willow and swept overhead across the pasture, it’s long grey wings soaring.  The skyline is seemingly painted.  Such a sense of surreality to it all.  The sun rising over the prairie, those luminous mountain peaks, the glorious rose fire of sunset, the glittering city lights in the distance.   The night sky is dark and mysteriously layered.  There is space here for finding peace.  Space for finding self.

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Such an odd thing to move without one’s children.  Granted they are adults and don’t live at home anymore and I am a mere forty-two minutes away if one were counting (further from my son and daughter-in-law in Denver) but still quite accessible and a new era begins.  It has never been just Doug and I.

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As I walk up the long ramp of the deck to enter the house I feel as though I am walking up a dock, a sense of vacation permeates this place.  Entering through the door and into the warm kitchen, quaintly decorated, I feel as if I have rented a cabin for the weekend.  I may have to return home Monday.  But in fact, this is home.  What a wondrous thing.

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I don’t feel like this is a farm.  In fact, the idea of having a farm exhausts me.  This past year I attempted to grow enough vegetables for market, to start a CSA for milk and vegetables.  To sell dozens of eggs.  I could only grow enough food for us.  I only had enough milk for our use and for making cheese.  The chickens went on strike.  Interns are no longer in my future.  I like my space too much.  I will continue to teach classes.  I will have friends over for tea.  I will grow enough for us, have another milker to sell fresh goat’s milk next year, and now that the chickens are penned up in an eight food high large coop and yard, I should be able to locate their eggs!  No, I do not want a farm.  This is a farmstead.  A homestead with farm animals and a large garden.  It is a place to sustain ourselves and to teach others how to do the same.  A place to find inspiration and joy.  New memories to come.  Our farmstead, our homestead, our new place is here.  I can hardly believe I am not dreaming.