Posted in Farming

Becoming a WWOOF Host

I read a great book recently called, This Tractor Life; A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Woofers by Pamela Jane Lincoln. I was initially a little disappointed that it was primarily a cookbook (I have a zillion cookbooks but this one is rather good!) but it was more than that. Those little things the universe does to subtly direct our paths is always fascinating to me.

We had heard of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), a great program that helps farmers find much needed help and up and coming farmers find mentors and places to learn. This Tractor Life takes place in Australia on an organic farm and vineyard. The author tells stories of the recipes she shares, most coming from young people that shared her farm for a weekend or a month. Stories of woofers from all over the world intrigued me.

Stephanie and Emily holding a very little Maryjane

We watched the old Winnebago with bikes attached to the back roll past our little farm in Kiowa some six years ago. The New York plates gave away that our visitors had arrived. I had received an email from Ethan, who read my blog, asking if he and his girlfriend could come learn herbalism from me and if they could help on our farm.

Our rented farm in Kiowa

They were twenty-four years old, excited to be in Colorado, and were delightful. Ethan had on overalls and his long, blond hair was up in a beautiful man-bun. Stephanie’s long, blond locks were tucked behind her shoulder and her lovely Swedish face was always smiling. They camped out in our driveway for six weeks.

The local policeman (knowing full well that they were our farm interns) would harass them constantly in good humor. Ethan was on the phone at the fairgrounds, up in the stands to find good reception, with his jar of iced tea by his side. The chief approached him and asked him if it was moonshine and gave him a real good ribbing before letting him jump the fence back to our house. They were entertainment for our tiny town. They were young and dramatic and fought and made up loudly for all the town to hear. They were fascinated by our large western sky, something I had always taken for granted. They would yell, “It’s time!” each and every evening, grabbing lawn chairs and their glasses of wine and would go sit in the pasture with the goats to see our fantastic sunsets. We had wonderful meals and good company.

I still keep in touch with Ethan. He is a farmer in upstate New York. Last I heard, Stephanie had started an herbal business.

I very nearly gave up last week. Was just ready to get a small raised bed of tomatoes and a hot tub. Our gardens are much larger than before and I am at the very edge of what I can do mostly by myself (my husband does things as he can while working 40+ hours a week). I also know that our gardens are not nearly the size they need to be to sustain us. I admit I need help. We thought we would be able to find a local kid to help, or even a farm intern, but that hasn’t been the case. Our children live a touch too far to come help their mom and it is not really what they want to do on weekends anyway.

This program might be just what we need. We applied yesterday to be hosts. We have an orientation Tuesday and then we will be ready to receive guests. The WWOOFing program is set up as a directory where farm interns can find hosts. They choose anywhere in the world they want to go to, then contact a host there. The hosts provide room and board and the willingness to teach and the guest puts in 3-4 hours of work a day to help with the farm. The farm has to be organic (certification not necessary) and sustainable.

Even though we are a small farm, there is lots to do and learn here. I am a practicing Master Herbalist, we are putting in a vineyard, greenhouse, and rain barrel system. We have large gardens and medicine plants and wonderful things to see and do around here. We are excited to meet people from all over the world and host like minded people who feel farming is as important as we do!

Posted in Farming

Real Farms are not Picture Perfect (but that’s okay)

The large book I have on natural insect and disease control says that one should plant their pumpkins as far as they can away from last year’s crop to prevent squash bugs. We thought twenty-five miles would do it. Nope. It is rather difficult to have a farm named Pumpkin Hollow Farm whilst battling these invaders.

Two weeks ago we had a great hail storm. Really a doozy.

RIP Scarecrow

Followed by a huge rain storm, flood, and mud slide. It was really something.

And something ate the beans.

Farming. Not for the weak of heart.

Now, I want you to forget all those pretty, glossy pictures in the magazines. They are like social media, carefully staged and edited to look a certain way. A real farm is messy. With a bit of trash blowing around (cause it’s always windy). And squash bugs, weeds, and ducks who eat house plants left on the patio.

It is easy to focus on the negative. Where did all the cabbage seeds I planted go?…for crying out loud. It can get frustrating. Where the heck did I put that wine? It can be scary. What color would you say that cloud is? But through it all, it is miraculous. Always focus on the positive.

A restaurant wants to buy my lettuce. My friends are getting their fill of fresh, delicious eggs. I counted fifty thriving corn stalks in just one row. The birds are taking out grasshoppers. Forty-five tomato plants were found under all the mud and debris after the storm and they are thriving. The amaranth grew an inch overnight. The potatoes are busy underground and the corn will surely be knee high by fourth of July (a saying we hold to dearly around here). We are planning out our greenhouse and vineyard for next year. And best of all, we live on a farm!

I need more help around here to keep this farm going. That is a good thing. That means things are growing. The weeds are pretty high but at least they are green (rain in the desert, woohoo!). I am getting fabulously strong and tan and we are eating the best lettuce and a few peas out of the garden. After our several mile walk around our country town each evening, we water by hand. Doug takes the front gardens, I take the back, and an hour later we meet on the porch to laugh at the ducks and baby chickens and eat ice cream as the sun colorfully sets behind the mountains beyond our little farm.

Posted in Farming

Seven Years in Farmgirl School

Seven years ago today, I began to design a blog and was giddy with the possibilities. Dozens of journals and manila envelopes filled with typed short stories and magazine articles that I had written filled shelves in closets. I had just read about blogs and was excited to try my hand at one. Farmgirl School came to mind and I laughed out loud as I typed it out.

We were city people, reborn in the country, trying to access knowledge from generations past and from books and experiences. We worked the soil, the gardens, and they grew each year. We longed for goats, and we fell in love, and we cried when one died, and we bottle fed newborns, and we longed for goats again once they were gone. We had sheep who thought they were puppies and followed me around the farm and enjoyed singing shows in the living room wearing diapers. We laughed at ducks in swimming pools and snuggled friendly hens.

We fretted about renting that farm in that small town that we loved. We knew at some point the owners would lose it to the bank. That day came and we ushered over to a different rented farm with dreams and aspirations as big as any. Nine months later we had lost everything- scammed out of every penny- lost each beloved farm animal, and antiques and heirlooms and silverware and part of our spirits, and moved quietly and brokenly into friends’ houses until we could get back on our feet.

We moved into an apartment, worked harder than ever, saved and bought an urban farm. One of our own! We’ll be here forever, we chanted! Ah, but the country called.

And here we are, dreams come true, three months now on our own farm in the country. Our chickens love it here, as does the farm dog. The views can steal your breath away, the air is crisp. Our fourth farm is slowly coming together. Why, by next August, you will not even recognize it, for the gardens and the animals and the life here will expand along with our hearts.

Seven years. A million years ago and a breath ago, it seems. It has been quite a road.

This blog has become a beautiful, exponentially important journal of how-to do just about anything. I, myself, refer back to it constantly for recipes and reminders of how to do things. Thousands of people have followed my Chokecherry Wine recipe- the ongoing number one blog post of mine, with How to Make Your Own Witchhazel on its heels.

164, 850 times people have read my blog. That is really something. The reach we can have with our words. Oh, I occasionally quit the blog when I don’t think I will be farming anymore, or when I think I want to do something else, and two weeks later, here I am posting again, because it has become entwined with my being. Farmgirl School has become as much a part of me as my name.

Here’s to seven more years in Farmgirl School. I oughta really know my stuff by then! Thanks for hanging around.

Posted in Homestead

Farmsteading Scenes and Living Life Well

When we first began this journey, we went into it wholeheartedly and completely naive. We learned, we cried, we laughed. A homesteading/farmsteading lifestyle makes life amplified. The good is really amazing, healing, and life-giving; babies being born, fresh food from the garden, baby goats prancing sideways, a lamb’s comical yell, gathering fresh eggs from the coop, watching the sun set, waving at friendly neighbors, gathering wood to bring inside before an approaching storm, hanging clothes on the line while watching wildlife.

Crop losses, predators, freak accidents, money worries; there are a lot of things to worry about while being a homesteader. The neighbor’s wolf/husky got into my coop last night and killed my favorite chicken, Bubba. I was mad at myself for not closing the coop sooner. I was mad that I purposely chose this lifestyle! Where there is life- and farms are teeming with life- there is death. And it is much more in your face than apartment living. When we lived in an apartment, on our way to our next homestead, we had plenty of stresses and things to worry about then too. So, it really is a matter of how you want to live. This lifestyle gets ingrained in you, so that you have no other choice but to live like this. And we do love it.

Being a homesteader and farmer comes with a great sense of accomplishment. I tend to point out everything on a guest’s plate that I grew or handmade. I love the methodical motions of traditional domestic work. We appreciate the intense rush of love that comes over us when we see a baby being born. We appreciate seeing the horizon and knowing how to judge the weather by watching nature. Homesteading and farming is all about family, and living life to the fullest. If life is short, then I want to spend time bottle feeding precious infant goats, and being followed around by lambs and chickens. I want to laugh at duck antics while sipping homemade wine. I want to watch the fire swell up as it fills the wood stove. I love tying off the final piece of yarn to finish a project or snipping the last thread on a dress I have made.

If you are considering adopting this lifestyle- Do It! You won’t regret it. It costs some to get started but it pays itself back quickly. We save money, eat well, live healthier, have a happier marriage, a closer family, and a sense that we are really living. Start somewhere. Get chickens, or cheese making equipment, or get out yarn to make holiday presents. This is a very good life.

Posted in Farming

The FSA (Family Supported Agriculture)

veggie 2“Do you know what you want in your FSA this week?” I asked Emily.  Eggs, goat cheese, beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, sage, and pumpkin piled into the cooler.

20170815_125536

I have always been on that in-between-sized farm.  I can grow a lot of produce, but I have run into a few problems with a small farm.  When I take produce to the farmer’s market, most folks will pass up my small display to go to the big farm tables.  You have to have a big, vibrant display to get folks to stop.  I tried to do a CSA (community supported agriculture) one year and some weeks my customers got a lot, and sometimes barely a shoe box.  We used to pick the best to go to the market and for the CSA’s and then ended up with the garden dredges ourselves, or worse, out to eat because we didn’t have enough!

produce

This year I took produce to the market early on and ran into the very same problems so I stopped.  Our kale is still four feet high out there and vibrant ruby beets line the row.  We have eaten more of our own produce then we ever have before.  We put up quite a bit as well.  I still have Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and cabbage to harvest but the garden is sleepily falling into slumber.

20170903_193511

I have found more joy in delivering large bundles of produce to my grown children then I ever did going to market.  Knowing that they are eating delicious, organically grown produce, cheese, and eggs makes this mama’s heart happy.  I always throw in some meat from my friends’ ranches.  It is my way of giving gifts to my kids.  I can’t always help them repair their cars or pay their bills, but I can feed them.  It’s what I do best.

maryjane

FSA stands for Family Supported Agriculture.  Payment comes in the form of a hug, and that is just right for me.

Posted in Homestead, Our Family

The Forever Farmgirl (keeping the faith, new beginnings, and the ongoing homestead)

cropped-cropped-img_0200.jpg

I wonder if life thus far has been preparing us for this.  Doug and I love bed and breakfasts.  We travel when we can and see as many as we can.  We even considered opening our own.  We lived through the coldest winter of our lives and came out stronger and loving the sun even more.  We have been practicing and perfecting every homestead skill we can think of in order to be more self reliant and to encourage others to do the same by teaching these skills.  We have amazed even ourselves by being able to grow food in the harshest of situations, on gravel driveways, and in discarded buckets.  We can split wood, take care of animals, make and grow our own food, preserve, and have learned that we really want to live very simply.

owl

My herbal business has changed and morphed over the years as has my knowledge and what I want to do with it.  I was able to sell my business and grow my herbal school.  The women in the course this semester have brought out so much in me that I was afraid to teach before for fear of scaring folks off!  I am teaching herbs to not only heal physical ailments but also mental, emotional, and spiritual as well in order to achieve a more balanced life and a new level of health and inner peace.  Teaching folks how to tap into their intuition and personal strengths has made teaching all the more valuable to me.  I changed the name of my school this year to the Homesteader’s Pharmacy School at Pumpkin Hollow Farm because there is a school in Boulder with a very similar name to my previous name, North American School of Clinical Herbalism.  But this, just as this final practice farm, was just a transitional name.  The new name of my Herbalist School is going to be Sacred Owl School of Original Medicine and will teach students how to not only know how to handle physical ailments, but how to use intuition and other means of holistic knowledge to really help themselves and their loved ones.

yarrow

I sometimes forget in the midst of intense heartache and changes that worrying is really quite useless, that the universe works in amazing ways and the Creator always helps guide.  Someone called me the other day and signed himself and his wife up for the fall Herbalist Course.  He didn’t care where we were moving, they would drive there to take the class.  When I asked how he heard of me he said that a woman in a grocery store gave them my information.  So many things are coming together without my knowledge or help that I cannot help but be astounded and amazed at how this life works when one is able to step back and look in from a new perspective.

wood stove 2

I will always be a farmgirl.  Doug and I will always have a homestead, whether it be in the middle of Denver, or in the beautiful mountain town of Cascade.  We love this lifestyle too much to attract any other kind of lifestyle.  Our life will reflect our greatest desires.  We will always teach.  That is my greatest gift and passion.  The possibility on the horizon pertains to a possible purchase of a three story Victorian bed and breakfast by friends that would be turned into a holistic bed and breakfast, meeting center, retreat center, and working homestead with classes.  The four of us have the right skill sets to be a power house team.  Goats would still be milked, chickens fed, organic gardens would fill the property.  Yoga, spiritual retreats, delicious food, tea on the large southern style porch, a cabin in back for us to live in complete with artist’s loft.  A dream come true?  We will see! Our fingers are crossed and breath held.  But we must exhale and inhale the wisdom that all things work together to bring us what we most desire and to help us to help as many people as possible.  We have each other and no matter where we end up it will be just right!

pikes

Farmgirlschool is alive and well.

The overwhelming number of responses and emails and phone calls have been very heartening for us.  Thank you for your support, prayers, and encouragement.  We are excited about what is on the horizon!

hallways

Posted in Crafts and Skills

Spinning My Wheels- Take 2 (from fluff to fiber)

spinning wheel

Jill’s friend was selling a spinning wheel.  I told myself I should not be spending so much money.  She had a carder available too.  Both of them were the same price I paid for my spinning wheel two years ago and each had only been used twice.  I figured that if we are crazy enough to jump off this cliff and give this homesteading full time thing a go, then we should just jump full out and see what happens.  If I fail it won’t be because I was five hundred bucks short.

carder

Do you recall my story?  Two years ago I bought a spinning wheel and two alpacas with the hopes of getting sheep.  Doug termed the name PackyWoo and we were going into the yarn business.  I had trouble getting the hang of spinning and was so frazzled at the time that I didn’t have the patience to learn.  The alpacas were not friendly and kicked, at about visiting kid height.  We were not able to sell them and lost all of that money.  We sold the spinning wheel for less than we paid.  It was a heartbreaking bust.  I didn’t know I was getting sheep.

IMG_1108

My sheep are the two craziest, cutest, little line backers around.  They love to romp and play and hug and nuzzle and get scritched (yes, that is how we say it).  They make me want some more sheep.  They make me want to create the dream I had dreamt before.  Raise the animal, sheer the animal, card the wool, spin the wool, grow the plants used for dye, color the yarn, and use it to knit or crochet hats, and blankets, and shawls, and sell some gorgeous yarn too.  I understand that only having two sheep will get me roughly a pair of socks.  But, I do this stuff for the love of it, not for the profit.  If they could help bring in a little income, they are welcome to.  If they just want to be freaking adorable and brighten my day, so be it.

In the meantime, I have a spinning wheel, a carder, two month old lambs, and a dream.  What could be better?

Posted in Farming

Creating Your Own Mini Greenhouse to Start Seeds

IMG_0814

Getting a jump start on the season is always a good idea.  I have had my trials and errors with seed starting over the years and have often ended up purchasing large tomato and pepper plants to put in the ground.  This year I am going back to the way I used to start seeds a long time ago and that always worked well for me.  I had given it up because of my lack of success transplanting them (that was before I knew you were supposed to water more than once a week!) and went on to more professional ways of seed starting, none of which worked for me.

I bought peat pots (good bye $100), I bought seed starting kits with mini green house lids, I bought grow lights (which mysteriously disappeared from my garage and is probably being used to grow pot by one of the neighborhood kids).  I bought seed starting medium, I took classes, I watched each seedling meet its untimely and sad little death.  And after all that money was spent, I had to find more money to go buy grown plants.  I should have stuck with the tried and true for me.  And that was creating little mini green houses on the cheap.

IMG_0813

Here’s how:

You will need organic potting soil, some Styrofoam cups, rubber bands, and sandwich bags.  So far I am fourteen dollars into this venture.  Yesterday I planted eighty-nine tomato, pepper, and eggplant seeds and still have plenty left to start more.

Organic potting mix is a must!  You don’t need extra chemicals in there promising twice the growth when you may end up accidentally poisoning wildlife and bees.  Everything needs more water here in Colorado so I have found that the seed starting mediums don’t hold enough water.

I know, I know, Styrofoam?  How unsustainable.  But they don’t fall apart like newspaper, peat, or paper cups. You need several weeks to get these started and I have had pots positively decompose before I could even plant them!  I reuse the cups year after year.  If one breaks it can be added to the cold frame or between two boards in the chicken coop for added insulation.  It can be crushed up and added to the bottom of a pot before adding soil to make it lighter.  And the plastic one-time use trays don’t seem to be much better from an environmental standpoint.  We’ll just keep giving them new lives.

IMG_0812

Fill cup with soil and mark outside of cup with variety name with a permanent marker.  Believe me, you think you will remember, but you will not!

Water soil, don’t make a lagoon, just make sure it is uniformly wet, about a quarter cup in a twelve ounce cup.

IMG_0815

Add two seeds.  One to grow, and one for insurance, but no more than that or you will have to cut a lot of little seedlings out and waste seeds.  And organic seeds cost a bit!

Add just a bit of soil to cover the seeds and add about a teaspoon of water.

IMG_0816

Place the opening of a sandwich bag around the rim of the cup and secure with a rubber band to create a mini greenhouse.

These can be placed in a very sunny window sill.  This year I put mine in the green house.  Seeds need sun and warmth to germinate along with humidity and water.  That is what we are creating in this environment.

This will self water for about a week.  You will see the condensation rise and fall off the sandwich bag.  Once it is not as humid in the bag, remove the bag and water with a spray bottle until seedlings are well established.  You can replace the bag as long as the seedlings are not too tall.  Don’t let the cups dry out (it is harder to without drainage holes) but don’t make it too wet either.  Just moist.

This makes a great homeschool project and is an excellent way to provide your family with more food security by starting your own vegetable seeds.  This will be a tasty summer!

Posted in Farming

The Greenhouse?

IMG_0809

There is a large mass of building on the property.  The caved in root cellar burrows beneath it, the stucco and plastic paneled building serves now as a place to store items.  Trash and treasures abound in the light filled space.  It once held a giant pomegranate tree and rows and rows of water plants.  Our landlords used to own a business selling plants for ponds and I can imagine the place filled with flowers and greenery, with a large pomegranate tree as the center of its universe.  Two snow storms and disability turned the now dusty greenhouse into a storage unit.  We keep our Christmas items and canning jars in there, ourselves.

When Tuesday supper club came around this week, the landlords (I prefer the term neighbors) entered the kitchen smiling and chatting.  Dianna looked at my organization black board in the kitchen and the to-do list.  One item is to start ninety-eight tomato, eggplant, and pepper seeds.  I said I was going to line all the window sills and hope the cats didn’t get it.

IMG_0810

“Why don’t you just use the greenhouse?” she asked.

I’ll admit, I thought since it was filled with items it wouldn’t work as a greenhouse.  Not proud of this, folks.  I had a dumb moment.  A greenhouse is still a greenhouse.  And I have a greenhouse, y’all!  Another perk of this lovely property we have stumbled upon.

Posted in Farming

Spring Time Lambs, Seminars, Seeds, and Farming

sustain

We were driving home and heard a commercial on the radio for the Southern Colorado Sustainability and Outdoor Living Expo for this weekend.  We are participating in it so were glad to hear ads for it going out.  They named off different topics that were being spoken about at the fair.  It took me a minute to figure out they were naming off what I was speaking about at the fair!  I started giggling.  I changed my life.  I used to be invited to speak about herbalism.  Which I love, and is fine, but I want to be an herbalist for us and to teach herbalism, not promote my retail business anymore.  So, here I am speaking six times this weekend on homesteading and simple living.  A new start.

fairy38

My dear friend, Margie, bought my business name.  She is the new Garden Fairy.  She was my first student.  She used to run our shop when we were gone.  She is a part of the Celtic Festival in Elizabeth that we are avidly involved in.  She and our families get together for Christmas and see each other when her kids are in town.  She never thinks of herself, only of others.  And I am thrilled that she is taking it over.  So, if I am not the Garden Fairy anymore, who am I, the Pumpkin?  Pumpkin Hollow Farm is our new full time endeavor and it starts full throttle now!

Homestead 101 Cover

Our spring has begun.  My two books are done.  (I have a cookbook coming out in the spring, but that is not too time consuming.)  My promotional materials and work for the farm are done.  The seeds have arrived!

1 lamb

Tomorrow we pick up two darling baby lambs.  Just like with our goat kids they will have collars and leashes and baby bottles for awhile and go with us everywhere until they are old enough to hold their own in the yard.  They will be attending the fair with us this weekend.  I’m sure they will be a hit!  They even made the poster!

IMG_0646

Tomorrow we also get into the garden.  Five rows of four foot by twenty-eight foot beds will be created and formed with bricks or whatever creative pieces I can find laying around the property.  Leaves and coffee grounds and old compost layered in, then topped with hay.  The walkways covered in wood chips.

Today 98 plants will be started, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants and will line the windows with hopes of keeping them hidden from the kittens.

I’ll write about each thing this week!

Spring cleaning and the last orders being filled will take place as well.  Perhaps a little time in the sun.

Spring has sprung and we are now all systems go!

If you would like to go to the Expo this weekend we’d love to see you.  My speaking schedule is as follows but you can also just come by and see our new additions and say hey!

Friday at 3:00- Chickens 101 and Common Chickens Myths

Friday at 5:00- How to Live a Simpler, More Sustainable Life

Saturday at 11:00- Turning Common Weeds into Medicinal Teas

Saturday at 4:00- Smart Gardening; Interplanting and Permaculture

Sunday at 12:00- Chickens 101 and Common Chicken Myths

Sunday at  2:30- How to Live a Simpler, More Sustainable Life