Field Trip to an Animal Sanctuary (and saving chicks)

We loaded up the cat kennel in the Fiat (our urban farm vehicle) and headed hours north.  Through our old county, our old town, past our old farmhouse, and down the Kiowa-Bennett road.  The prairie is breathtaking even in winter.  Golden strands peek through layers of snow as the sun glistens across the vast expanse of country.  The western sky a watery blue stretching far and wide.  Singing to country music on the radio and a good feeling in our hearts, we drove towards Danzig’s Roost, a rooster and animal Sanctuary in Bennett, Colorado.

 

Sometimes the carefully protected public get glimpses inside factory farms.  What we consider family, humane, free range, and all the other marketing words that help sell meat is all a façade of chicken houses crammed with suffering birds and sometimes people are able to get a peek at those and the whole operation is exposed.  The huge chick rescue in northern Colorado this month made the news and raised thousands for resourceful sanctuaries.  But then so often apathy returns and people continue their habits.  Sad that animals are suffering, but unwilling to omit them from their plate.

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We were on our way to take home some of those rescued birds.  Chickens are snuggly, sweet, and have all different personalities.  One of the chicks we brought home is tiny, fluffy, and sings day and night like she is singing her songs of thanks to the heavens.  She doesn’t like to be put down.  As it happens, we went to get between four and six birds and ended up with seven, soft, white babies.  They are in the guest room.  They have every disease you can think of from parasites, E coli, to upper respiratory infections.  That is what is in meat.  I am treating them with my herbs.  So far they are thriving.  These lucky few were saved and will live their life here on Pumpkin Hollow Farm dust bathing, getting treats, and sitting in the sun or on our laps.

We are only allowed poultry in Pueblo but one day we will have land where we can take in more animals, save more lives, do what we can.  But every life counts.

Jewel Straightedge runs the sanctuary that we picked the chicks up from.  She has, what looks to be, hundreds of roosters that she has rescued.  Two calves with big, heartbreaking eyes are from the dairy down the road.  The little girl fights to live.  Darling sheep and goats and geese that clearly know the friend that rescued them all add to the raucous singing of the farm.  Turkeys strut about.  The wind picks up and turns cold and we hasten our tour.

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Jewel and her team rescued over six hundred chicks from the thousands and thousands that were being inhumanely killed and dying without food and water.  With the swift turn in weather, we help her chase hundreds of chicks trying to get them back into their warm enclosure.  It is every bit as hilarious as it sounds.  We are happy as we head back towards home.

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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.

Welcome to Our New Shop (a video tour)

My friends, I would like to show you around my new shop that opened Saturday!  My daughter and I (and a beautiful array of angelic friends) have been scrubbing, painting, creating, preparing, and decorating this glorious 1800’s store front.  Welcome to Pumpkin Hollow Farm Homesteading Supplies and Classes.  If you are ever in Pueblo, Colorado, do come by!  687 S. Union Ave.  Facebook.com/pumpkinhollowfarm

Paint and Friends (transforming a hundred year old shop)

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Some of the greatest transformations come from friends, a box of donuts, and a couple of gallons of paint.  One such transformation took place Saturday at our new store set to open in less than two weeks.  While the great state fair parade marched down the main street, we gathered with friends and began painting.

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When I first stepped into the space I saw through the looming clutter, the holes in the walls, the bedding in the back.  I saw past the white drywall  and the forty year old linoleum that destroyed the wood floors that are over a century old.  I could see it.

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My daughter, Emily, and I are on a great adventure opening a homesteading supply shop two miles from my house in Pueblo, Colorado.  We are taking our beloved farm name, Pumpkin Hollow Farm, as its moniker.  My first thought was to paint the walls a light orange but that was quickly vetoed.  We brainstormed old fashioned colors, ones that might have been seen in an old hotel.  Grey/blue fit the bill and a broody, crisp grey became the trim.

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We began to paint the trim around the huge picture windows grey and found that it was quickly diffusing the light.  The whole front end of the shop became cream colored.  We brightened cobwebs and grease stains and a hundred years of paint.

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The doors needed a little showcasing.  We agreed on a lovely adobe orange.

20180826_163029Emily went to work creating a pumpkin patch along the front of the building.  You can see it from blocks away and it adds whimsy and character to our store front.

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Oh, there is much to do still, but we were able to hug friends, step back and look at the change, the honoring of an old store, and envision a lively shop with memories to be made.

Pumpkin Hollow Farm Homesteading Supplies and Classes (a shop is born)

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Wednesday: The idea came swift and clear as a starry night.  Or perhaps it resurfaced.  Or perhaps it was whispered in my ear by the homesteading spirits before me.  Either way, it has been seven days since then and we are already planning our grand opening.

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Thursday: I ran the idea by my youngest daughter to see if she wanted to be a part of it.  She was in.  We went for a long hike and discussed why we wanted to start a farmgirl store.  I did not want to start something rashly with just money in mind.  It needed to be meaningful and enjoyable.  We came up with a list of why the homesteading lifestyle is important to us.

  • Helps environment
  • Healthier
  • Creates better mental health
  • Satisfying
  • Affordable
  • Homesteading creates more family time
  • Great for children
  • Creates community

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It was five and a half years ago that we stood in Nancy’s kitchen making goat’s milk soap, creating label ideas, going through seed catalogs and beginning “The Five Farmgirls.”  Emily held a few-month old Maryjane on her hip as she and Nancy’s daughter, Faleena came up with product names.  We laughed as we sarcastically came up with our own catch phrase, “It’s Farmgirl Good!” as we shook the cold milk trying to turn it into butter for two hours.  Our friend, Lisa came over to help make soap and we sat outside on an early spring day and had a picnic lunch.  A year later Nancy would suddenly and quietly cross over the veil.

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Saturday: Doug and I had lunch with Lisa and Lance Saturday and I told her my idea.  They raise humane meat on their ranch and we could have a pick up point at our shop.  We could do the same for milk.  We laughed and talked for three hours and discussed ideas.  Still, with not a lot of dollars and no idea where to get an affordable retail space, it still felt far off.

So certain that this was going to take off, Emily and I started picking up usable antiques (that are sturdier and still work better than modern versions!) and items for our store.  I bought material to make aprons and farmgirl style pillows.  We came up with a name, Pumpkin Hollow Farm (of course); Homesteading Supplies and Classes.

Sunday: Doug and I drove around and gathered phone numbers for retail spaces.  None of them were quite right.  They also were way out of our price range.  I wanted an old space that looked like a general store.  And it had to be ridiculously affordable.  (They are cleaning it up…I’m keeping the piano for the shop!)

Monday: I call on a shop that people had said would be hard to get.  Many people had inquired on this space and had either been turned down or never called back.  The manager picks up, says she will call the owner and call me back.  Five minutes later she calls me back, the owner loves my idea.  She will rent to me.  For a ridiculously affordable price.  Ten minutes later I am at the shop to see it.  The building is over a hundred years old and it sure looks like a general store.  It is in a great location.

Tuesday: Dad brings a box to my apothecary that says my name on it.  “Mom wanted you to have these,” he says wistfully as he hands me a large bag along with the box.  My friends Kat and Rod are like parents to me and Kat died almost exactly two years ago.  I have a collection of her grandmother’s things.  Hilda is alive and well in my home.  A box and bag of homesteading items and china were the new gifts to me to carry on.  A whisper from above that there are many friends helping this come together.

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Wednesday: Yesterday morning we signed a lease and shook hands.  A private loan came through.  I registered my name.  We have held on to our beloved name since our early farm.  Our farm and homesteading school took a devastating turn a little over three years ago when we had to suddenly leave our rented farm and all of my beautiful homesteading items and our lifestyle was lost.  In a twist of irony, as I searched for my name in the Secretary of State, the name expired three years ago to the day that I re-registered it.

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Mission Statement: To increase happiness, health, and well being for people and Mother Earth by offering quality, second hand, homemade or sustainable objects that bring back the charm of an old fashioned, simple life.

Pumpkin Hollow Farm Homesteading Supplies and Classes coming in early September!

“It’s Farmgirl Good!”

 

 

The Little Farm Vehicle That Could

Okay…it’s a Fiat.  But a mini farm deserves a mini farm vehicle!

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There is something deeply satisfying about having enough food for the critters.  We hauled home a hundred and sixty pounds of dog, cat, and chicken feed and scratch in Fernando the Fiat the other day.  Heck, if we had put the top down we could have thrown on a bale of hay!  The back seat has enough Great Pyrenees hair to weave a scarf.  It may look like a city car but the little farm car works as hard as I do.  It does seem fitting that Pumpkin Hollow Farm ought to have a farm car that looks like a pumpkin!

 

Backyard Chicken Tips and Homesteading School

20180605_085348Gandalf the Great Pyrenees had a new toy.  The story goes (according to him anyway) that Buttercup the chicken got out of the pen and he was simply attempting to corral her back in.  Three quarters of her was stuck in his mouth as I screamed at him.

Forget hawks, eagles, raccoons, skunks, bears, coyotes, or any other predator you may have heard about.  Dogs are the most common predator chickens face.

20180710_161045My friend, Addie- aka Superwoman…if war breaks out, we are heading to her house- brought us three chickens to make up for Buttercup.  Buttercup, was of course, our best layer.  These three have some work to do.  They were in a large coop hanging out in the front yard when we got home.  A lovely surprise!  We quietly put them in the coop in the night so that the chickens would all be fooled and think that they were always there come morning and there would be no blood baths.  It always works.  Except when it doesn’t.

We used the portable coop she loaned us that the chickens had been delivered in to lock up the chickens.  “Should I put the three new girls in the pen?”

“No,” she replied, “you lock up the bullies!”

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This is Hei hei because she acts like the leghorn in the movie Moana.

She further explained (if y’all knew how many homesteading lessons I have had from this gal over the years you would think she should have written a book!) that if you put the new girls in the pen it only tells the old girls that they are indeed below them.  If you lock up the mean girls then they come to understand that they are not the bosses.  It worked like a charm.

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Then the egg eating started.  Oh, those three rascals.  One of them was eating eggs like she was sitting in an IHOP.  Addie suggested we raise their protein intake in their food because they were all molting and they needed more nutrients to get through it.  We also laid golf balls around the coop so the culprit would peck those once and would stop pecking eggs.  That worked but no one is laying eggs right now!

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I have been a subscriber since I was twelve years old to a magazine about country living.  I am afraid its gotten a little high falutin and ridiculous.  Very pretty pictures but really geared for rich people who have no idea what farming is about.  Photographs of chicken coops with pea gravel and curtains with lush, landscaped yards and chickens crossing the kitchen without any poo in sight.  I love it, but it is a little deceiving.

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We have a noxious tree that I love called Tree of Heaven here, or Chinese Sumac.  It’s poisonous so the chickens don’t eat it.  It has popped up all over the chicken yard creating a jungle atmosphere and shade.  When they first moved in they had two foot high grasses to jump through.  They will eat any plant that is edible, y’all.  Do not landscape your chicken yard!

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We looked around this place and saw the chickens, the infant orchard, the vegetables growing tall, and the pumpkins jumping out of their beds, and we have realized that we live on a perfect urban farm.  A lot of people cannot afford to live out in the country and I have decided to reopen my Homesteading School.  I will be teaching canning, preserving, baking, cooking, gardening, and much more as our little-farm-that-could gets more organized and utilized.

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Check out my Facebook page for events here! I will also be putting a link on this blog.  Happy Homesteading!

The Evolution of a Homestead and the Original Carryall

20180711_105459Five and a half years of writing about farming and homesteading.  Almost a thousand readers.  Full circle.  I am peaceful as I write this.  The sun is behind the large walnut tree, filtering its light through the dense branches highlighting the herbs and flowers on the medicine gardens.  My front porch rocker is comfortable and my coffee is hot.

We started with chickens, a garden, some dreams.  Moved towards alpacas, goats, and sheep, and bigger, simpler; somehow tripped and found ourselves in an apartment.  Yet, we gardened at a community plot and hung a calendar of farm animals in the kitchen.  Now we own a home of our own in a good sized city skirted by farms and friendly people.  “This is not a farm,” I said.  But I was wrong.  Because being a farmgirl and having a homestead heart does not die.  It just gets more creative.

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So we have started with chickens, a garden, some dreams.  Our house is similar to the one we started in.  We have a third of an acre of urban space to dream and build.  More raised beds, hoop houses, a greenhouse.  We have a root cellar, a wood stove, and fruit trees, and a place to settle and be.  By god, this is the urban farm we have read about.  Every year it will grow, and get better, and right now it is perfect and warm, and as the cars zoom by to get to work, the hummingbirds drink from the geraniums and honeybees buzz in the pumpkin flowers.  The Pumpkin Hollow Farm sign sits proudly on the porch.  It would be easy to dream of an off grid homestead, but the challenge and dream will be to see how sustainable we can get right here on this humble plot of land.

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A dear, young woman is living with us right now with her little, baby farmboy.  I inadvertently see through her eyes what we have here and I am grateful.  I have been on a little book tour with my newest book (http://authorkatiesanders.com) but we had time to put up ten quarts of corn broth and a dozen jars of corn yesterday.  It is really warm here and the climate whispers of year round gardening with a little wisdom.  The chickens frolic, the farm dog barks, the kitties mouse, and all is well in our little house.

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20180711_155417So, the original carryall is an apron.  Y’all know my great love of aprons!  This one carried dozens of corn cobs to the porch to be shucked, to the kitchen to be canned, to the chickens as treats.  Don your aprons, Friends, our urban homestead adventures continue…

The Urban Farm Dog (meet Gandalf)

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He’s here!  Eleven weeks old and thirty-three pounds of fluff.  (And muscle and baby teeth and mischief!)

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He is a gentle giant.  My granddaughter ran into the house laughing yesterday to meet the new addition.  She ran right up to him and he began licking her face.  He played with my daughter’s dog.  He loves the kitten.  He welcomed my students to the house.  He is a friendly fellow.

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I know I will be learning a lot in the next year about training; something I have never done.  He’s a smart one.  He outsmarted the baby gates with sheer force.  He doesn’t sleep in the kennel; he wants to sleep on the floor by our bed.  But he is a good boy.  And I am excited to have him here.

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Welcome Gandalf to Pumpkin Hollow Farm!  (He set that pumpkin there!)

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A Great Farming Book and Why Every One of Us Needs a Garden

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With very little work I am still pulling out baskets of tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, beans, squash, and greens from the gardens.  The nights are getting cool enough that tonight I will need to bring in the houseplants.  Crickets still sing for summer as I write.  These gardens have been such a lovely respite.  They didn’t cost much to start or maintain and if I did have more money for amendments it would have been even more prolific.  Each year the soil will get better and better with techniques I have learned over the years from organic gardening and permaculture.  I am still learning.

A garden is not just a hobby.  It is one of the most fundamentally important things we ought to be doing.  To provide really fresh, nutritious food without chemicals and without the oil needed to produce, package, and ship our food from across the world is imperative to the health of our beautiful earth, and in a time of epidemic chronic disease, imperative for our own health too.

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Miraculous Abundance; One Quarter Acre, Two French Farmers, and Enough Food to Feed the World by Perrine and Charles Herve-Gruyer is a lovely guide filled with inspiration and ideas.  By simply focusing our energies on the soil and improving it we then let nature grow all of the food.  We are the helpers, not the geniuses behind food production!

The author states, “If we want to live sustainably on this planet, a growing number of people will have to reconnect with the land and produce food for themselves and the community….But the farmers of tomorrow will not come from the agricultural class that has been reduced to near extinction; they will come from the cities, offices, shops, factories, and more….Their farms will be places of healing, of beauty, and of harmony.”  The farms will be in front yards, in the country, on balconies; we will have to find a way to feed all of us because the current food model is killing us and killing the earth.  Period.

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Our yard in the city is the equivalent of four city lots, or just under a third of an acre.  We have utilized very little of it this year and are still producing all of our own produce for our week’s meals plus some for canning.  I have purchased the rest of the vegetables for putting up from local farmers, thereby boosting my local economy and putting food up for our winter meals.  I have chickens for eggs in the city and just purchased a goat share so that I can get plenty of fresh milk to drink and make cheese and other dairy products.  I trade classes or spend my grocery money on fresh meat from my friends that are ranchers.  Now I just need to get staples.  I save money, eat better, and support my local friends and farmers.  This is the model that we may all have to follow sooner or later.  Unsustainable systems are doomed to fail, and Honey, if you look at our food and medical systems….better plant some comfrey and Oregon grape root while you’re at it.

But we can do this!  We can support each other and help each other with knowledge and tool sharing, with friendship and bartering.  What can you plant next year?