Supporting Local Farms (So You Want to Be a Homesteader Day 7)

It is a good idea to try and be self sufficient enough that you feel secure.  You have water in empty jars in case the water gets turned off.  You have candles, oil lamps, and matches.  You have food preserved and a bustling garden.  You have firewood.  You have some cash in a coffee can.  Going further, it is really satisfying to raise your own food, preserve all of your own food and drinks, and make steps to be more eco-friendly and simple.  We can get pretty darn self sufficient, but really it not likely to be completely self sufficient.  Mainly because we need people.  We also cannot possibly do everything ourselves.  Supporting small, local farms in your state- as close to you as possible- is a great way to build each other up, create community, eat well, ensure humane treatment of animals, and support a more environmentally friendly path.

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We don’t have too many flour mills here in Colorado (do we have any?), and I know no one is growing coffee and sugar, so I do need to buy those.  I can choose organic or small operations to purchase from.  I grow most of our vegetables for the summer and fall here on my urban farm, but it is always nice to head to the farmer’s market and buy some fruit or unique vegetables from the organic farmers there.  We talk about bugs, weather, family, recipes.  I can also get extra produce to preserve if I didn’t grow enough. The money stays in the community, amongst friends.

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Most of the homestead authors I enjoy reading started out as vegetarians.  Many of us have felt strongly about vegetarianism before.  Many of my farmer friends were vegetarians.  We care about the environment.  We care about animals.  So, once we see that tofu and bananas wreck the ozone as much as anything with all the fuel and deforestation required, and that GMO crops (the basis of many a veggie burger), and factory farming are what are destroying our health and our beautiful planet, it makes a farmgirl step back and reassess.

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There are lovely, caring farms and ranches, many around you, that lovingly grow animals for meat and gently send them off into the night.  A world away from the pain and stench of factory farming.  My meat chickens got lots of kisses and lots of sunshine and were dead in less time than it takes to blink.  No pain.

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The key to curing many of our environmental, social, and health problems can be found in our food choices.  By purchasing as much local as possible, from real people in your community, who don’t use pesticides and herbicides, who have bills to pay, and a smile to offer you, and authentic conversation, we can reverse disease, destruction, and separation.  Local is where our food should come from.  As close as possible.  Your back yard is even better.  It is possible to eat primarily local, it just takes some planning and networking on social media and at farmer’s markets to find everything you need.

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I despise the dairy industry and do not want to support them.  Yesterday I visited a small farm thirty minutes from mine where a gorgeous, tanned farmgirl showed me around.  She loves each and every one of the newly hatched chicks that ran by chirping, the bucks who got out and created a lot of babies this year, the old goats, the babies frolicking with their mothers, the pigs, the dogs, the land, that life.  I packed three gallons of delicious, fresh milk into my car.  Today I am making cheese and ice cream.

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Local is not more expensive.  Creating a good network of fellow farmers and ranchers is imperative to becoming a successful homesteader.

So You Want to Be a Homesteader (27 ways, a new series)

I read a blog post that talked about homesteading.  In it the author states that people in the city can say they are gardeners, can say they are homemakers, but cannot say that they are homesteaders.  I beg to differ.  I have homesteaded in the country, a small town, and in the city.  Our plan is to get back on land, but that does not change our lifestyle.  In fact, I believe we are actually more sustainable in the city.  We are just missing a well and a couple of goats.

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The word homesteading isn’t really a relevant word anymore because the government is not giving us parcels of land to try to live on for five years before we get to keep it.  So, we need to go by the new definition of homesteading and leave it open to everyone.  You can homestead anywhere.  Homesteading starts and ends with high self sufficiency, appreciation for the natural world, sustainability, community, health, and pride in hard work that we do ourselves.

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Homesteading can be done on any level, but as you grow your own food, chop your own wood, eat from your own root cellar, create your own medicines, it does get addictive.  This is a great lifestyle and one that anyone can incorporate into their lives.  The more aspects of it that you pick up, the more money you save, the healthier physiologically and psychologically you become, and things that are really important come to the forefront of life.  Family, food, security, counting blessings, and the good life.

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I have come up with a list of 27 ways to start homesteading.  27 aspects of homesteading that keep a heart humming, the fam fed, and the home fires burning.  Join me over the next month as I cover each one to inspire, teach, and swap ideas with you.  We will talk about searching for land, preserving, growing, animals, home arts, and more!

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27 Ways to Homestead

  1. Organic gardening
  2. Canning
  3. Fermenting
  4. Dehydrating food
  5. Smoking food
  6. Freezing food
  7. Raising chickens
  8. Fishing/Hunting
  9. Supporting local farmers
  10. Bread baking
  11. Cooking three meals a day
  12. Preparing simple, unprocessed food
  13. Sewing/Mending
  14. Crocheting
  15. Purchasing second hand
  16. Cheese making
  17. Generating your own electricity
  18. Generating your own heat
  19. Making your own medicine
  20. Making your own cleaning products
  21. Making your own body products
  22. Making homemade gifts and cards
  23. Free entertainment
  24. Learning to make everything from scratch
  25. Budgeting
  26. Using original homesteading items that last
  27. Learning from other homesteaders

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Go get yourself a cute apron and let’s get to work!  We are embarking on the good life.

Planting Basics Q&A

I have spoken at many events over the years, from small gatherings, for the Master Gardener’s Program, to large sustainability and gardening shows.  I take the fear out of gardening.  Dispel the idea that you need a backhoe to clear an appropriate plot.  That you need a yard at all!  These are questions and answers that might seem obvious to the seasoned gardener (there is always something to learn from each other, however) but hundreds of people wondered at these events.  I thought this would be a good time of year and a good forum to share on.  Happy planting!

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How do I know when to plant? 

Look up your last frost date.  You can plant cold crops four weeks before that date, summer crops on that date, and seedlings (young plants) four weeks after that date.

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How deep do you plant a seeds and starts?

Twice the depth of the size of the seed.  A carrot or radish seed will just have a dusting of soil atop it, whereas a pumpkin seed could be two inches deep.  The same goes for pots of plants, bushes, or trees.  Dig a hole twice as big as the pot.  Fill it in with garden soil.  Then give it a good, gentle watering.

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How far apart do I plant the seeds?

Plant the seeds the width of the plant.  So if you want radishes that are about two inches wide, plant your seeds every two inches.  Plant corn every foot.  Plant tomatoes every foot and a half.  Carrots are every inch or two.

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How about soil?

Until your soil has had a couple of years of amendments and care, you can use organic gardening soil.  Dig a hole, plant the seed, top it with a handful of garden soil.

Alternatively, dig a three inch trench, place the seeds in the trench, and cover with the appropriate amount of soil.  This aids in watering, as you can just run your hose right down the trench. (Not too strong of current or you will dislodge the seeds!)  This also helps the bases of the plants get stronger because they are not subjected to the wind.

You can also plant in pots!  Here is a fun decorative idea to flank a sunny entrance to a porch.  In a large pot, plant a kernel of corn in the middle, a bean on either side, and four pumpkin seeds around the edges.  The three sisters will be a showstopper come late summer!

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Keep a compost pile!

In the corner of your yard between a couple of pallets or in a fancier version, throw straw from the chicken coop, grass clippings, leaves, coffee grounds, and any manner of food (no meat) that the chickens don’t eat into the mix along with a bag of soil.  In the fall, sprinkle all of that compost onto garden beds and let them sink in over the winter then blend in in the spring.

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Annuals vs. Perennials

Let your annuals go to seed!  Mother Nature has a job and it’s to keep things growing.  The seeds disperse and will come back next year.  Since we are not doing any intense tilling and we are planting up in layers as opposed to digging out a garden bed, the seeds start where they land.  I have romaine lettuce and arugula in the path.  I planted both in nice, straight-ish lines elsewhere, but because these came up earlier, being planted by Mother Nature, I get to enjoy them earlier.

Annuals are a must.  Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, corn; all these things are annuals.  You can save the seeds of the last fruit or vegetable you pick from each and dry and save them for the following year.

Perennials are really where it’s at!  I love that the raspberries, burdock, dandelions, roses, sorrel, rhubarb, and strawberries come back on their own, bigger and better!  They are really what gives us food security.  Perhaps one year you might be ill and cannot plant a garden, but you can still feast on salsify, sorrel, sunchokes, dandelions, and fruits from trees and bushes.

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How much water?

I can only speak for my state and surround.  We are bloody nose and cracked hand dry.  Like seven percent humidity would be a lot.  Water every day, folks.  Even the “drought resistant” plants like herbs and such love a bit of water every day.  One inch of water for seeds and two inches of water for plants.  If you count for ten seconds, you have one inch of water, twenty seconds=two inches.

Use a hose without a sprayer.  Use your fingers to divert and control water flow.  It will take six times longer to get enough water from a sprayer.

Place your hose by a tree while you walk over to turn it off.  Or use a five gallon bucket with a nail sized hole in the bottom, fill with water at the base of the tree and let it slowly get into the roots once a week.

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Lastly

The thing to remember here is that Mother Earth loves to grow stuff.  She shakes the seeds out of my chile ristras and plants them willy nilly.  Seeds want to grow.  It is their life purpose.  Water, sun, soil, they are off and running.  Expect that 1/3 of your seeds will make it.  Animals, wind, viability all play a part here.  I grow equal amounts of bind weed, mallow, and straw to purposely planned vegetables and fruit.  Forget the idea of perfectly manicured gardens.  Here is the deal, Mother Earth does not like barren soil, so if you have space, she will fill it.  Grow plants together.  Lettuce next to potatoes.  Beans next to corn.  One with deep roots, one with shallow.  All through the beds.

Have fun.  Have tea in the garden!  Enjoy the birds and the lady bugs and the sounds of real life.

Yea Sustainability! (I am teaching free classes)

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We will be at the Sustainability and Outdoor Living Expo again this year!  We won’t have baby lambs on a leash (maybe next year!) but we will have all of our fabulous medicines, beauty products, and books.  I will be teaching every day right at my booth so come sit in on a free seminar and come visit us!

White Wolf Herb classes and seminars for Sustainability Fair.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 11:00- Herbal Tea Party and Creating a Medicinal Tea Garden.

Learn easy herbs to grow, different designs to create, and the medicinal properties of the herbs. Learn how to properly infuse and taste test different teas!

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2:00- Herbalism 101; Using Your Kitchen as a Pharmacy!

Learn how to turn common herbs and spices in the pantry into powerful medicine.

 Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 4:00- How to Make a Healing Liniment for Pain, Sprains, and Sore Muscles.

Learn common plants and how to extract them to make an amazing healing liniment you can make at home!

Print off this coupon so they know we sent you!  Yea Sustainability!

 

Canning Sweet Corn

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to learn to can.  It seems that it skipped a generation and very few people my age even know how to can.  Folks think it is easier to buy food from the store.  I disagree.  How many hours does one have to work in order to buy food?  I would rather spend those hours in the garden or at the farmers market.  In just a few hours one can turn an entire bag of corn into several jars of delicious sweet corn, summer flavor locked in, to enjoy all winter.  It is a rather nice task with huge rewards.

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Not only do you know where your food is coming from, how it was raised, how long ago it was harvested, how big the footprint is, and if it is organic, but you also provide yourself food security.  Big snow storm?  No job?  Car broke down?  Can’t get to the store?  No problem.  The grocery store is in the basement.

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I am not growing enough to can yet.  Each stalk will produce 1-2 good ears of corn.  I got a big bag of corn from Miller Farms (they are not certified organic, but I know for a fact that they do not use pesticides, fertilizers, or any kind of herbicide.  They also use non-GMO corn) and went to work.

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1. Shuck a big bag of corn and cut corn off of cobs with a sharp knife.  Give cobs to chickens and ducks.  They love corn day!  Give the outer leaves to the goats.  They love them!  Save the corn silk in a paper bag for healing up urinary tract infections.  Just make into tea with a handful of cranberries and juniper berries and honey.

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2. Fill warm jars with corn to half an inch from the rim.  Add 1/2 a teaspoon of sea salt to pints, 1 teaspoon to quarts.  Fill jars to 1/2 an inch from rim with a kettle of hot water.  Wipe off rim and put on lid.

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3. Fill the pressure canner with three inches of water.  Put jars in canner.  Attach lid.  (Note: the new pressure canners are inexpensive and not our great-grandma’s pressure canners.  They do not blow up!  There is no fear using one!)  Turn on high and when the shaker starts shakin’ and it sounds like you ought to be belly dancing, then start timing.  55 minutes for pints, 85 minutes for quarts.  For high altitude canning, always use all the weights.  For the rest of the world use 10 lbs of pressure.

A burlap bag 2/3 full made 10 pints of corn and 3 quarts of corn.  I need thirty jars to get through winter (we love corn) so I’ll need another bag!

The Romance and History of Seed Saving (now how the heck do I do it?)

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I have been listening to lectures and reading about seed saving.  It is something I have wanted to do, but then at the end of the season I either get lazy, run out of time, or run out of plants to save!  This idea appeals to me though and makes so much sense.

There are the practical reasons, of course.  When you patent something, you own it.  When you patent a seed, you own life.  Dow, Dupont, and Monsanto would very much like to own life.  These are mega corporations that seem to have no soul.  They are made up of people with well lined green pockets and their friends in politics benefit too.  Dow and Dupont create the most powerful pesticides and herbicides on the market made from leftovers of chemical warfare, slowly killing populations of species including people.  These require plants that can stand up to them.  Monsanto, with their genetically engineered seeds, are patenting all types of seeds.  They are open pollinated so if it drifts into your garden, they own your seeds too.  If one was to stop and think about it, it is all very terrifying that a large entity could own our life force, our food, and not just any food, poisonous food.  They are already poisoning millions of Americans every day with their GMO’s that are in practically every processed food and in more and more produce.

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I am blessed to live in an area that is not known for farming (lucky me, there is a reason for that!) but the benefit of that is that I have no drift from GMO crops.  I should be saving my seeds!  I would also save $600 a year on seeds that I starry eyed buy in January.

I am also struck by the romance and the history of saving seeds.  Our grandparents that came over from other countries with seeds in the lining of their jackets.  Our Native American ancestors saved seed to take from place to place.  There were no glossy seed catalogues for them to order from each year.  Seeds were a source of trade.  Seeds were gold.  Over 94% of all seeds are gone.  Forever.  We will never know many of the delicious foods that our ancestors ate.  Even from the 1940’s.

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We have selected hybrid seeds to choose from.  This is a great reason to choose a seed company like Seed Savers.  They have successfully saved hundreds of seeds from extinction.  To plant a seed that was brought over by covered wagon or a seed from corn that was used as cornmeal are all gifts from a past time.  Then save the seed.

A beautiful story I read in a magazine years ago has followed me in memory.  After the Vietnam war there were several refugees.  I believe this happened in Louisiana.  The Catholic ministries bought two apartment buildings to house these refugees.  These folks were missing their homeland and their families.  With them when they fled their war torn country were seeds.  The people started a garden at their new place and planted the seeds from their homes.  They created an oasis of foods of comfort that are not grown here.  Vegetables their mothers grew, recognizable and tactile pieces of home.

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I know how to save seeds from squashes and tomatoes, that type of plant.  I just need to do it.  I do not have a clue how to save things like collard greens or lettuce or radishes.  I left  some of them up and their flowers are beautiful waving daintily over the other plants.  Now what?  Will the seeds come after the flower?  Do I need to chop their heads off now?  Oh bother, I need a book and a teacher!

This year I will at least save seeds from pumpkins, from squash, from potatoes.  Start slow and work my way up to a collection.  Create my own chest of gold.

 

Farming Failure? (or enlightenment?)

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I am not sure how to tell my CSA members this week that I have more….lettuce.  Not many eggs (the girls are hiding them) and not much milk (Isabelle is giving less and I am taking more for cheese making).  Doug and I have been eating well.  We go out each evening and see what is growing.  We harvest four beets, fifteen snap peas, a large handful of beet greens, kale, spinach, and chard, four pods of peas, and ten purple snow peas.  Add some fresh garlic from the garden and a handful of chives.  This makes a really tasty dinner sautéed or roasted with a bit of goat cheese and some homemade bread.  Each day there is slightly new bounty, but not enough for a bushel extra a week to be harvested.  I keep thinking I need more space!

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After I read that book with the great CSA model that I wrote about last week, I was fired up.  Lord, when I get fired up, watch out.  I do everything intensely.  I give my husband a full time job with all the work I put out there for us.  I am gung ho.  But, I also just as easily see when that idea is not working and promptly put a stop to it.

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I was chatting with one of my friends who is one of seven kids from Miller Farms.  The work there is difficult.  That would be an understatement.  A thousand acres and a ton of farmer’s markets, crazy weather, and having to purchase food to bring to the farmers market at the beginning of the season is debt inducing and back breaking.  The kids, one by one, making their way to new fields.  Not farming ones.  Her friends who had a large farm near them just sold out and started a brewery.  Happy as can be and not nearly so tired.  This caused me to pause in my plans.

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I want to farm.  I want to farm and teach for life.  Can I imagine myself tilling enough fields and planting enough and hoeing enough and harvesting enough to feed even a hundred people?  Our quarter acre garden takes up a lot of time and there wouldn’t be much more to give.  When I brought produce to the market, there was very little of it.  I felt like a failure.  But, looking at the farm next to me unpack box after box of produce from Mexico and California, then stare at a customer right in the face and say they grew it made me realize, I am not a failure.  There is not a lot of produce right now.  I do not live in a climate that allows a ton of produce right now.  Also as I sold a bundle of onions for a buck, or last year with a handful of potatoes for a few dollars, I am not doing anyone any favors. I sell them the food that was supposed to feed my family, they may or may not let it rot, and then they (and we) are hungry again.

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I am a natural born teacher.  Even as a child I taught everything I knew.  I stayed in at recess in second grade to teach younger kids how to read.  I taught dance, modeling, and teach everything else I know from cheese making to soap making.  I am a teacher.

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I have become quite interested in Permaculture.  I have heard some lectures and read a bit about it and I think I will hit the library today to find out more.  I love the idea of everything growing willy nilly where it wishes and the lower impact on the earth.  The gardens I am attracted to are ones that hold a bit of spiritual magic, a place where prayer comes naturally, and the wild world lives as one, from micro-organisms to lady bugs to blue jays and squirrels.  A place I can teach my herbalist classes and homesteading classes.  Workshops and visitors, plenty of food and homemade wine, goats and chickens, and a pony for Maryjane.

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I do not want to quit being a farmer, ever.  But perhaps my vision of what a farmer is is being held captive, only seeing farmers as market farmers.  There are a lot of different farmers and farm techniques.  I could sell you a bundle of radishes or teach you (inspire you) to grow your own.

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This has been an amazing practice farm.  What a blessing to be here.  We have learned a few things.  When I started this blog we only had a handful of chickens and some sad looking plants in the garden.  We have learned how to grow food.  In the driveway, on the porch, in the side yard, the front yard, and in the raised beds.  I realized that the ants I tried to kill were taking away larvae that were eating my green beans.  I realized that the voles that Doug tried to kill were aerating the soil and that the mounds where I thought they took plants actually just covered the plants and those were the biggest under the soil.  I realize that city water is not much better than a swimming pool.  If  you set a bucket under the spigot to catch drips, the nauseating smell of chlorine rises up as you approach.  We have learned what we are good at and what we are not.  The search for a new farm to lease will be on shortly and we know what we are looking for.  We need an enchanting place to make into a learning place.  A spiritual place.  A place where we can provide for our family.  A place to learn more and more and more…..