Farmgirl Inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Botanique (a beautiful weekend)

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A large neighborhood lake was on the left, children playing with intertubes, and the day was warm and sweet with autumn tinged air.  We turned right into the parking area of what once was a school in 1919.  But it certainly wasn’t your typical school of that era, it felt more like we entered Italy.  All marble and wood floors and magazine inspiration.

 

I am making the tinctures for my cousin’s new line of medicines that she is releasing along with her already well known body products.  H2a is the company she and her daughter, Sierra created years ago. Their products have been previewed in Vogue and can be found in spas and retail stores.  Heather’s new project is The Botanique in Fort Collins.  An event space, a class space, a retreat, an Air B&B, a respite, I was drawn in instantly to the serenity and sheer beauty.  A beauty that makes you feel beautiful just witnessing it all.

The chicken yard was built off of an old adobe outbuilding, its fresh wood and chicken wire a lovely contrast to the old structure.  We do love chickens so Doug and I immediately got out of our car and walked over to see what breeds she has.  As they pecked around in the sweet dirt, we admired the back of the property, that below the dirt lies quietly an asphalt playground of old.  Heather plans to build up with beds and create a lavender madala and rose arches.  Doug pointed to a spot perfect by the adobe wall and curved door for farm-to-table dinners.

Years ago, when all of our children were quite small, the grown cousins would all choose a name to buy a gift for at Hanukkah.  When Heather was still married to Doug’s cousin, I would always hope that she picked me, as our style is almost identical. Her sense of vintage and practical with elements of joy have always been drawn out perfectly through her design work, her homes, and now The Botanique.  I wanted to stay in our darling room with the large bath she created for days.  Walk in showers and bath spaces are being created throughout the resort for ancient bathing rituals and cleansing.  A space to heal.  A space to restore.  A space to feel beautiful.

The property is filled with raised beds that a friend of Heather’s runs a volunteer program with.  She teaches and works with youth to grow many varieties of produce and then sell them in CSAs.

I walked out of our bedroom early, glorious in good sleep, and headed to the kitchen.  Through the wide double doors of my dream kitchen I could see my lovely cousin in a warm sweater, her blond hair messily put up and a cup of coffee steaming from her hands as she walked softly through the filtered light of morning rays streaming through the large windows.

The Botanique is a place to ignite one’s senses, restore one’s soul, and is incredibly accessible and not far from home. https://www.thebotaniquefortcollins.com/

 

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!

 

How to Make Raised Garden Beds Easily and On the Cheap

I pour myself more sludge (strong coffee) as I write, the world encompassed in white, me not trying not to fall under SAD (seasonal affective disorder), knowing in a few weeks I will be planting those first seeds.

I told you that I was going to move the garden to the backyard because zoning had come by last fall and given me a warning post-garden to clean up my front yard into fancy neighborhood status.  I thought it would be easier to grow grass and flowers in the front yard and fence off a 25×25 designated garden in the back yard.  Enter large puppy, large expense for fencing, and here I am back in the front yard.

The weeds last year were incredible.  I have never seen lamb’s quarters ten feet tall!  I have never experienced mallow whose roots may actually tickle the top of Australia.  I was humbled.  This year I know we will still have weeds (they are medicine and food, but they do like to take over the world some…) but this year I will be a little better prepared.  Even though my crops did great in their sandy, never-been-gardened spaces I did want to amend the soil.  Did I mention on the cheap?  Because I never have as much extra money for gardening as I think I will!

This first-of-several beds coming this spring is a combination of everything I have learned over the years.  It is part Hugelkultur, part Permaculture, part straw bale gardening, part raised bed, part ingenious way to use what I have on hand.

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First I laid down sheets of cardboard.  Cardboard will break down within one season but it will help immensely in keeping weeds down.  I sure wish I hadn’t sent all that cardboard to recycling!  I would have layered on a few extra sheets of cardboard if I had it.

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I thought of large stones.  I thought of cinder blocks.  I thought of 2x4s.  I checked the bank account, and went into the back yard to see what I could find!  I have large limbs from the dying Elm tree that were ready for firewood.  We have lots of wood right now and these are so beautiful with the bark still on them.  They were easy to place in an 18×4 rectangle (with the help of my husband) to create a frame.

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Then two to three inch slabs of straw went on top of that.  The straw will suppress more weeds, will create an airy environment for the seedlings, will break down and become mulch and amendments, and helps fill the space so I didn’t have to buy so much garden soil.

Next went on pails of finished compost.  It never fails to amaze me that a banana peel in six months becomes dirt.  That scraps, and straw, and grass clippings, and chicken straw, and everything I put out there turns into rich, dark compost.  I won’t have enough for all the beds I am planning on putting in but I can purchase mushroom compost pretty cheap once I run out of my own.  It is only for this year.  From here on out my own compost will act as fertilizer in spring and fall sprinkled on the beds.  I won’t need quite as much.

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Then went on five bags of organic gardening soil.  I wanted to get it spread on the new bed now because it will have a few weeks to settle into the straw.  I want to make sure I don’t lose seeds in the settling soil!  We will know in a few weeks if I need more soil.

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The tiny trees I planted are in the tomato cages.  They will be watered regularly by being in the garden bed.  Once they grow nice and tall in as many years and begin to shade the patch, the patch can move.  Gardening is as much about flexibility as it is growing food.  Nature will work with you.  The main idea is to improve the soil and to create as many perennials so that each year we have more and more food and we are helping the soil regain health.

Done!  Now, the straw will try to sprout but the grasses easily pull out.  If a weed makes it through eight inches of cardboard, straw, and soil, it, too, will be easy to pull out.  At the end of the season I will pour some leaves, straw from the chicken coop, etc on top, and blend it in come spring.

*Side note- the empty soil bags will be set around perennial herbs and bushes with straw or wood chips placed over.  Weeds will not get through them!

Grab another cup of coffee, Folks, and hang in there.  We are almost back in the garden…

 

The Straw Bale and Other Easy Raised Beds

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There are many ways to create raised beds.  My favorite right now would be to use straw bales to create a rectangle, place a piece of cardboard in the bottom to suppress weeds (and prevent roots from accessing the soil before it is properly cleaned), then fill with soil.  That would take a bit of organic soil, but we could put a few inches of wood chips in the bottom and make it even more rich.  The soil can be half way up the bales.  We will be putting mulch on top anyways (no exposed soil!).  In the early spring and late fall an old window can be placed over the bales to create a simple cold frame.  We can sit on the bales for ease of reaching.  We are using a natural means of holding the soil in, and as it breaks down we just release the strings from the bales and blend it into the soil or use as mulch.

Old pieces of wood can be fastened together.  Large scavenged rocks can be used to rim a garden as well.  Our only limit is our creativity.

Large containers could be built to place on concrete.  Small ones to be placed on a picnic table.  Then, of course, the smaller of the raised beds is simply a pot!  There are many ways to incorporate vegetables and fruits into the landscape.

Hugelkultur Gardening

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Hugelkultur gardens.  Heck, that is just fun to say!  This German word means “hill culture”.  It is an easy form of raised beds.  Some beds can be seven feet tall!

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Logs and branches are your foundation. We have branches piled up behind the chicken coop.  Doug was going to use them for firewood, but I claimed them for my gardening project!  One could dig a trench or place rocks or other materials around the bed to hold it into place.  The logs are laid out, filled in with branches, straw, leaves, then topped with gardening soil.  The bigger logs take many years to break down and hold on to water.  So a seven foot tall bed would never have to be watered, even in the desert!  Now, mine will be just a foot or so tall once it settles and shrinks.  The microorganisms in the wood benefit and improve the soil.  It’s all pretty ingenious.  By the time the wood completely breaks down, the soil beneath should be pretty cleaned up.

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I’ll have enough materials to make one bed like this.  We’ll do many beds of different styles so that we can compare them at the end of the season.

Gardening the Driveway

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I can see from the Google map of the house five years ago that people were parking their cars in this part of the yard.  There is a concern that oil and other chemicals have gotten into the soil.  Antifreeze lettuce doesn’t sound like a good deal.  The house has been empty for six months and I do not know how long it has been since folks parked in the garden, but…  I am looking at hugelkultur gardens, raised beds, and purifying plants.  We’ll want sustainable, inexpensive, and easy ideas and come up with a garden plan.  Tune in each day this week!  It might be a little early, but spring planting is right around the corner!

Choosing a Garden Design

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It’s been a long time since I had a blank slate.  I am staring out at the fenced in garden.  26×30 sized plot, no beds.  The porch longs to be filled with pots of greens.  The side field will become a pumpkin patch.  Fruit trees will be off of the porch.  The big blank garden space needs life.

We have made the very possibly crazy but incredibly giddy decision to jump ship into full time farming.  Oh the excitement!  But, that means I have a quota in my head of how much produce I need to sell, how much I need to feed us, our intern, our friends, and for events, plus have enough to preserve for the winter.  That kind of glazed over expression sneaks up and I grab another cup of coffee.

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I read that circles are the most space savvy way to farm.  How do you find things to border circle slightly raised beds?  I don’t have that many rocks.  My friend recommended a hexagon.  Doug was explaining how much square footage was in a circle bed verses a square.  “Well,” he says, “If pi equals….then the bed would be…..minus the path…”  He sounded like the teacher in Charlie Brown.  wawa..wawa..wa.  Uh, what?  I am not a math girl.  I could be if I wanted to but I was daydreaming about swirly twirly paths of herbs and water features and the new Asian greens bed I am planting.

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I am going to create this plot in a permaculture fashion.  No rototiller, no digging.  I will outline the beds with rocks, bricks, wood, whatever I can find around and fill them lightly with compost and amended soil.  That will be the basis of my planting.  Two tons of wood chips are on my wish list.  Alas, my daughter has my truck.  Lisa told me to call the utility company.  It’s on my ever growing list!

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But outside of the no digging, building up theory I am stuck in my ways.  I like the look of long rows of potatoes intermingling with garlic and collard greens.  I saw some photos of permaculture farms that do garden that way so I shall too.  I may make it a bit more creative though.  Maybe the lines of the long beds will be a little wavy, like little rivers of vegetables heading down the garden.  A water feature in the middle will add beauty and a water source for visiting bugs and birds.  A handful of arbors will create a walkway to the water feature, yard long beans, squash, and morning glories scampering up their sides.  I can fit 600 square feet of plants in with 1 foot paths minus the water feature area and the walk way.  That’s the kind of math I can understand.  I am so ready to plant.

Spring fever’s got a hold of me!  Would y’all mind checking out my new website for the farm?  Let me know what you think. I am most ridiculously proud and enthusiastic for the next person to ask me, “So what do you do for a living?” “Me? I’m a farmer.”

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http://pumpkinhollowfarm.net