There is no doubt that this has been a very stressful time for most of us for many different reasons. Now, we can only handle so much stress and attempts to control things out of our hands. It’s time we leave the craziness and get back to farming. I have lots of things to show you and farming and gardening techniques to teach you, and such, but on this lovely spring day, I thought I would show you some images of my farm. We have been busy around here the past few weeks.
It figures that three different neighbors wanted to come out and talk to me yesterday as I was painting. I had chosen items of clothing that a little paint wouldn’t bother. So I brushed pumpkin orange paint onto the chicken coop whilst wearing red and green Christmas pajama bottoms, purple galoshes, a tie-dye shirt, a Mexican woven hoodie (until it got too hot), and a big, floppy yellow sun hat.
1- Paint Outbuildings and Trim
If it is going to be over 45 degrees for most of the day, go on out and paint. Sheds, chicken coops, window sills, and barns all need a little touch up or full paint job and this time of year is a perfect time to do it as we gear up for farming season.
I only had enough paint to do three sides of my chicken coop so I will finish it next week. It will be quite a transformation!
2- Create trellises
Darned if I could find the twine, so I grabbed leftover yarn from a Christmas project. It will work just fine. Peas are light so they don’t need a heavy frame to grow on. Dowels and twine (or yarn) work well to create a trellis for peas. Ideally, trellises will be put into the garden before the seeds are planted, or if you forgot (like me), then before the plants begin to sprout.
Dowels will go every four to six feet along rows of peas. Two or three rows of string are knotted on. Dowels and string can be reused year after year or disassembled and used for something altogether different.
3- Keep planting cold crops
A great friend of mine read my post about planting spring crops and she went out to plant but decided against it in case of frost. We have all been so ingrained that planting before the last frost date shall bring devastation and dead plants, but some plants aren’t bothered in the least by a little frost or a bit of snow. They prefer it to hot temperatures. Hot temps make them bolt (go to seed), so y’all get out there and plant your spring crops! Click here to see the list of plants to plant now.
Based on the recommendations on the back of the package, I will plant every two weeks. If the seed packet says to plant as soon as the soil can be worked, then plant early. Otherwise it will say mid-spring or late spring.
4- Take care of your plant starts
If you haven’t started your tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants indoors, better hop to it! Mine have sprouted already. Mist well with a water bottle every few days if they are covered. Once they outgrow their cover, take it off and check moisture regularly. They should be lightly damp, but certainly not soaked.
5- Prepare garden beds for summer
But, it’s only April 1st, you say? Y’all know how fast time goes and in six sweet weeks all of the summer crops are going in at practically the same time, and six weeks goes by pretty fast. It sure is nice to have beds ready to go.
I love Spring and if it is a nice day out, I just want to be outside soaking up lost Vitamin D from my winter indoors. Spring is filled with hope and joy…and sore muscles and projects! What are you working on right now?
Starting seeds at home is a great way to try grow many different plants and be able to get a jump start on the season. Tomato starts, for example, can be pricey, and if you are planning on canning 200 jars of tomatoes, you are going to need a fair amount of plants. Being able to grow certain varieties that are not available in nurseries is another benefit. Every year the wind knocks some of my dried chile pods off my ristras from Taos, New Mexico, and the seeds shatter. This year I planted them alongside other chilies I am starting from seed. Mmm, delicious, homegrown red chile!
This here blog is filled with every bit of information you could ever want to learn about homesteading, farming, animal care, and self reliance, but I will tell you a secret…it is built on years of failures! Can’t learn until you kill ten dozen seedlings with root rot, right? I have written about different ways to start seeds every year, and they all work, but anymore, I am keeping it simple. One year I bought a very expensive grow light to start all my seeds. My children were teenagers at the time and one of them sold it to some kids so they could grow pot. Luckily, one doesn’t need a grow lamp to start seeds! You just need a sunny window, some recycled containers, and potting soil.
I never throw away salad containers with lids, they work amazing as mini-greenhouses!
You can also save tin cans and punch a few holes in the bottom. These work well because the plant can grow in them all the way up until it is time to transplant to the garden. The less you can disturb the plant the better, so I tend to use larger receptacles.
I even utilized old drawers from a broken refrigerator. They are clear so I can see how the roots are doing, if enough light reaches the plant, and I can plant many seeds in one container.
I use potting soil instead of seed starting medium because I don’t have to transplant as quickly. The seeds germinate just fine and grow well. Purchase organic potting soil. Fill containers 3/4 of the way with soil and pour water over. Let the soil soak it up (it can hold a lot of water) and stir well, adding more soil or more water to make it evenly damp.
Seeds love to grow. Plant one or two seeds every three inches. I generally only plant one. That way I don’t waste seeds. I like to save some of the seeds to direct plant in case something goes awry with the seed starting endeavor (cats, lack of sun, over-watered…).
I plant things that need a longer growing season, like peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. I planted paprika, red chilies, green chilies, ancho chilies, Cherokee purple tomatoes and cherry tomatoes for fresh eating, and Brimmer pink and Romas for canning, Sunberries for fresh fruit, and rosemary. (All other herb seeds will be direct planted.)
We want to simulate a greenhouse environment in the guest room. Covering the plants creates that condensation effect. I place sandwich bags over the cans and secure with a rubber band. I placed plastic bags that contained our vacuum parts when new over the refrigerator drawers. I used the lid that came with the mini-greenhouse. And I placed the lids back on the salad containers.
Finding enough sun in this house for plants is going to be a challenge. Ideally, the plants would be set up on a table in our bedroom in front of the southwest facing window, and the cats highly agree. There is nothing more they would like to do but spill pots of seeds onto the carpet. It’s great fun, you know. Now that my husband is working from home, he has taken over the office. That leaves the guest room, which can be closed and might be ideal. I covered the bed with an oil cloth tablecloth to protect it. The room faces northeast. That is not ideal so I will have to keep an eye out and make sure enough sun is hitting the plants and that the water is continually evaporating and raining back over the plants. If not I will need to move them to prevent the seeds/seedlings from rotting away.
Do not overwater! Those little legs can’t sit in water. Every few days mist with a water bottle. As the seedlings outgrow their lids, begin to lightly water as needed.
Start seeds 6-8 weeks before the last frost date. Before you transplant, let soil dry out a bit and it will be easier to pop them out of their containers. Transplant seedlings into bigger containers as needed. Remember, that most of these plants that you are starting from seed are tropical plants in nature, so give them lots of mist and sun and they will be happy! And you will be happy come salsa season!
We started our farm when the girls were young teenagers. They spent hours in the chicken coop with the new chicks, cooing to and naming them. Tempers would flare and they would take their own time out among the soft chirping and fresh straw. My youngest daughter and I (along with dad and Reed) have plans to go in on a farm together in the next few years. We dream of two houses, one land, a barn, a large community plot of garden, animals, greenhouses, a view. A Farm Air B&B, hot farm fresh breakfasts, coffee on the porch. A small restaurant on site to serve high end dinners with a set menu with room for four couples a night.
But right now, everyone is busy. The kids have their own lives. So, it was incredible to see them all show up at the front door in the un-forecasted snow to help us create a functional farm back yard. We certainly could not have done it by ourselves and our gratitude is overwhelming!
We live on one third of an acre. We have fourteen chickens and a very large dog. Our eighteen month old Great Pyrenees doesn’t require a lot of room for running (he spends most of his days sleeping under the elm trees in the dirt or on the pink futon in the living room (which is covered in dirt). I have a lot of room for the chickens but wanted to increase their yard to reach the piles of branches so they could play and have more space to roam.
I also desired a greenhouse which I received last week as an early birthday present from my friend Tina. This would require a fenced in separate yard to increase my garden space, and keep the puppy out. This space will end up having a pond and waterfall with a tea ceremony setting.
Doug purchased a shed to house all of our yard items and tools and try to make sense of our back porch which has become overwhelmed with debris, broken chairs, tables, tools, and market items.
These things came in a million, zillion pieces. A roll of field fencing to top it all off. And two not-so-handy parents. Enter the children riding in like heroes to our farm story.
My beautiful granddaughter, Maryjane’s dad came. Bret is amazing and he will always be one of my kids. He helped Doug build the shed.
Emily’s long time boyfriend Reed (Ayla’s daddy) and I started on the greenhouse. It got incredibly complicated and when Jacob (Shyanne’s long time boyfriend) showed up, he took my place. They got it built and it is perfect!
Doug and Shyanne and Bret then started on the fencing and quickly got two areas partitioned off.
Six cold hours later we took the kids out for sushi to celebrate Reed’s birthday and to thank them for helping us make the next phase of our farm dreams come true. This little urban farm sure has lots of space and opportunity. But it always feels more like home when the kids are here.
Petunia is still rather plump, even after having babies last autumn. She is very fluffy and so cute I wish she would come in the house to live, but of course squirrels don’t typically enjoy living in the house. She sits next to me on the porch as I eat my lunch on warm days. I just watched her from the picture window jump from limb to limb. I need to put more bird seed and peanuts out. The Blue Jays are making such a racket. They do despise when I am late.
Hundreds of lovely, chirping sparrows reside here. As do many doves and starlings. Crows fly over. Owls can be heard in the night. Hawks stop to rest. Sea gulls and geese fly over towards the lake. A third of an acre in the city sure can be a wild life haven. I love it here.
The chickens from the factory farm that we rescued are plump and quite loud. They run towards me bow legged and squat, hollering like miniature geese. They love to eat and are firmly against being on a diet. “We are not broilers here, Dears,” I remind them, “You do not need to get so fat!” Dixie is still tiny. My granddaughter renamed the infant rooster, Bob.
I am fervently manifesting and saving for a greenhouse. The ducks come April 20th.
My classes are chosen for the autumn session of college.
I am quite sore from teaching dance last night. I am teaching two herbalist classes. Just keeping busy until I can be in my gardens full time!
I leave in three weeks for ten days in Arizona and New Mexico for my birthday. Such wonderful blog posts I will write!
The seedlings are doing well. The ground is softening. I am teaching a gardening class Sunday to plant potatoes that have taken over the cupboard.
My friends are here visiting for the weekend. I have so many dear friends. I am so lucky.
Such a slow, lovely, blessed, ordinary, extraordinary life I lead. And that, my friends, is what is going on at Pumpkin Hollow Farm on the verge of Ostara and the equinox. Spring is next week! Here it is quietly arriving.
What is happening on your homestead this week? I am honestly interested!
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!
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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?
It was over sixty degrees for a pocket of time yesterday without its normal accompanying arctic wind to ruin all of the fun. I sat in a lawn chair, my face to the sun intermittently reading and sipping a glass of wine until my face felt warm from those glorious rays.
“There are no robins,” I told my husband. Perhaps I was getting ahead of myself. If the robins were not even here yet, then spring is not arriving early.
Little flitters of tiny, iridescent wings wafted past me. I hope they are beneficial as opposed to a nemesis in my gardens. They landed here and there. I stood up and stretched and walked around my garden paths. In the beds were rogue, forgotten splays of green- dark and alive. Onions and garlic. A tiny bit of spinach appeared in the pathway. Funny place to grow.
I let me plants go to seed in the fall because I am more interested in permaculture and sustained food than I am in neat rows. (Which I seem to be rather bad at anyway! The rows look like when I write on unlined paper.) So the spinach decided to grow there, huh? Well, so be it. Bits of Swiss chard grow under a tree.
I am still getting used to the climate where we have moved. It is warmer here but it is certainly not temperate. But the growing season is quite different from our old town. Here, I usually would plant onions and garlic (if I forgot to do so last fall…which I did) when I do the potatoes, right around St. Patrick’s Day. One doesn’t want the beds to be waterlogged with snow for the next few months because the bulbs will decompose but a nice, damp, rich, fragrant, earthy, heady, malleable bed does call for something to be planted, don’t you think? So, I took a cue from the garlic and onions that were already growing and planted my bulbs. It was therapeutic in a way that only gardeners can understand.
I loosened the first four inches of soil. Along somewhat crooked rows, three inches apart in all directions, I carefully placed their bottoms down and the papery points up, gently pressing them into the ground. Eighty bulbs of red onions. Three large heads of garlic separated into cloves.
And four roots of rhubarb. Every spring my Great Aunt Donna would call me and say, “Time to get the rhubarb!” We would drive to Denver and head into her large back yard with her. She taught me to place my thumb at the base of a stalk and lightly pull just so. The foot and a half long stalk would easily come loose. We both had a paring knife and would quickly remove the large leaf at the top and place it in a pile of ever growing foliage. She would predict what her old apple tree was going to do this year. Her beds were clean. The compost was moving along nicely. She would have me throw the leaves in the bin. Into plastic newspaper sacks, the rhubarb stalks would go. She would save a few for herself and send us home with pounds of them. This will be the first season without Aunt Donna. What will happen to her rhubarb? I hope mine gets as full and healthy as hers.
“Guess who’s here?” I shrieked into the phone.
“Who?” my husband answered, nearly alarmed. The shrill chirping voice was almost a shock. I recognized it before I saw them. A pair of them hopping through the garden beds. “The robins are back!”
Over the years I have written about many ways to start seeds and they all have one thing in common, a simulated greenhouse.
Now, every year I think I will have a real greenhouse. Surely by the time I need to start seeds I will have one built or put together or otherwise exist, but then the same issue comes up every season (no funds), and so I am once again left with my own creativity. This year I saved salad containers all year. The kind with the lids. You see, the key to seed starting is lots of sun and continuous moisture in a warm space. It is so dry and cold here that I would be watering all the time and probably cause the seeds to mold. No, I need a mother-nature-way of watering, softly and simply, with evaporation and condensation.
Many seeds should be direct planted. Even though I added six weeks to my growing season by moving to Pueblo, I still need more time for peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. I found last year that when I direct planted them, they almost made it before frost. This year I am holding back half of the seeds to direct plant and half I will transplant. Transplanting is not always successful so we figure that one of the ways will succeed! (And so goes the life of a farmer.)
Fill your salad container 2/3 of the way full with organic, potting soil. You want room for the plants to grow. Water the soil so that it is evenly damp. We don’t want any marshes settled at the bottom, but you might be surprised how much water the potting soil can hold.
When it is evenly damp, sprinkle the seeds over the soil somewhat spread apart. Barely sprinkle on more soil to cover and use a spray bottle of water to really dampen. Until they are established, a water bottle prevents water pressure from dislodging the seed or drowning the poor fellas.
Close lid tightly and mark with a sharpie. Because you will forget the varietal and date you planted! Just trust me on this.
Let’s see, now to find a place with at least six hours of sun where the cats won’t step on or eat said seedlings. (A more difficult dilemma than one might think.) The guest room has a nice sunny spot on the bed from the south facing window a good part of the day and the door closes.
Now over the next week or two, keep an eye on your seeds. There should be consistent “rainfall” in the box. If it slows (every other day or so) spray thoroughly with water and reclose. When plants are 1 inch tall, open the top and water as needed making sure not to let them dry out nor drown. (You can still use the spray bottle.) Once they get to be about two or three inches, transplant into another container separately. (A blog post on that will be in a few weeks.)
I don’t know about you but I am darn near stir crazy not being able to be outside doing something. At least starting seeds makes me feel like spring has begun.
The air has a slightly different feel to it. A different scent. The cold is still there. I bundle up as I go out to do chores. But there is a tinge of something else upon the morning breath. Life. Spring. By all indications, it is still the dead of winter, but I sense it. I sense the pulse of the earth strengthening and the awakening of the plant world beneath it all. Spring is coming.
My home is still in the dead of winter. Warm blankets caress chairs and the furnace is on. The sun shines like a spotlight through the closed windows, still low in the sky. My spirit falls more easily into stress and I long to be in the garden. To be outside with a book without wind chill. What to do? The only thing I can do is to introduce notes of spring into the house.
Plants always infuse spring and life into a place. These are the babies from my very large aloe. Last week I transplanted them into a new pot. Its wide berth lets them spill out and catch the sun, giving a warm desert feel to this corner. The cheap pots at Walmart are usually my go-to. I love their cheery celadon, rouge, and artist blue colors, but sometimes it is nice to get a special pot that reminds you of something you love. In this case, the land of the southwest where my heart and inspiration dance.
It still gets dark out early so candles are still throughout the house. These Catholic prayer candles sans saints are perfect and long lasting. I used an old Coca-Cola crate to hold them.
Found bird nests and unique pieces of wood and stone are set carefully around the house to bring nature in.
My Farmhouse sign (bought at Cracker Barrel of all places!) doesn’t have a place on the wall right now because I have all my own bright paintings up but it seems cheery on the floor against the wall amongst the geraniums and other plants.
I seem to collect things with bicycles on them. Bicycles with baskets. I love the idea of them. I love the freedom of them. The perk of being in the city. The promise of warm breezes and exercise and French bread in the basket picked up from the bakery or fresh flowers. I have coffee cups with bicycles with baskets that say things like “Do More of What Makes You Happy.” My daughter, Shyanne, gave me a small bicycle statue. So Doug gave me a bike for my birthday last year. With a basket. I only rode it a few times before the tires were inundated with goat heads. But a kind friend came over three different times to fix my tires, fill them with fix a flat, put on my basket and other accouterments (a bell included!) and I am ready to take off on the first nice day without Nordic winds. The bike had a place on the porch but I brought it in. It adds notes of spring and whimsy to my living room.
Lastly, I picked up a snazzy pair of bright galoshes. Oh, spring, I hope to see you soon!
The agricultural calendar has eight farming and community holidays and celebrations making a wheel. Every six or so weeks is a corresponding holiday that helps denote the time of year and gives us space to receive blessings and to show gratitude. These holidays are Celtic historically but they are celebrated still. The first of these holidays in the year is Imbolc. Pronounced im-bowl-g. It begins the eve of February 1st and sometimes goes until February 2nd. It is not too late to bring back some of our most beloved traditions and wisdom.
It is interesting to note that in each culture around the world, the gods and goddesses looked very similar and had similar roles. Brigid is the goddess of spring. She brings back the light of the sun. She awakens Mother Earth to warm and bring spring. She travels through the night on January 31st blessing articles of clothing that are left outdoors. In her wake life is sparked.
Now as Christianity came rolling through, destroying cultures and people in its wake, the church demanded that the peasants (another word for peasant is Pagan) stop worshipping gods and goddesses. But the people so adored Brigid that the Catholic church finally made her a saint so that the people would at least be praying to a saint. St. Brigit was born. Her Celtic cross is not a crucifix, it is a symbol of the four directions.
Imbolc is one of four fire festivals. The elements are revered in every original culture for their power to destroy and renew. Fire warms, awakens, enlivens, brings life.
Imbolc translates to “In the belly” or “Ewe’s milk” depending on text and is the celebration of lambs being born. Fiber, milk, and meat were of course ways of survival before we could truly choose compassion completely. This is a time to bless seeds. And each day gets a little longer and a little warmer and gives us hope for spring and a break from the cold.
Ways to Celebrate and Prepare
Sweep out the house and set out a bouquet of fresh flowers.
Mix in a small spray bottle a blend of essential oils along with witchhazel or vodka to suspend. Try lavender, cedar, sage, orange, frankincense, sandalwood, vanilla, rose, or other intoxicating, cleansing scents and smudge your home and yourself with the oil spray. Your house will smell fresh, negativity will be released, and a fresh start will commence.
This evening, start a fire or light a candle. Ask Mother Earth and Brigid and Creator to bless your seeds and gardens.
Prepare a glass of warm almond milk with herbs steeped in it like lavender or green tea and enjoy before the fire.
Place a scarf or hat or other article of clothing outdoors to be blessed.
In our world of science and seriousness, we have lost the enchantment of what was. People would not have been doing these traditions and celebrating these holidays for thousands of years if there was nothing to them. Accept your blessings, feel renewed, and enjoy the warmth of Imbolc.