All the Animals (the peaceful farm sanctuary)

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She was three days old.  Bouncy, adorable, and everything one would imagine a baby goat to be.  She nibbled on the geraniums, went to inner city schools with me when I went to speak, played the piano, and loved her bottles.  She stayed next to me as I read and thought herself a cat.  She rather enjoyed rides in the truck and loved everyone.

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We often have to learn things the hard way to realize what our true beliefs are.  I had been vegetarian for twenty-five years and then vegan for an additional two years when we entered the farming scene head on and fell into line with all the other small farms around us.  We started a small dairy.  We increased our chicken family.  We had many animals who all had to “earn their keep.”

Elsa got pregnant too early.  When she gave birth, we took the baby away. (That is how people get the milk and not the infant) (and we were so thankful it was a girl because boys get killed in the dairy industry.  Period.)  She got mastitis and scabs on her udders.  Instead of letting her heal and giving her another year, I quickly sold her to a family who ushered her into their minivan and were gone.  For $250.  It was only then that I realized in my farming fervor that I just sold our baby girl.  Roosters I couldn’t get myself to eat came home plucked and beheaded for little reason.  I have too many recipes out there that need to come down.

Many folks deter squirrels with cruel spinning feeders and squirrel proof this or that.  We had a squirrel years ago that would throw his food bowl if it was empty after getting our attention!  They are quite fascinating and sweet animals.  Our life is certainly richer watching them play.  They come quite near to receive their goodies.

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Birds of all sorts gather around our third of an acre in the middle of the city.  Scores of blackbirds, owls, hawks, eagles, sparrows, finches, and silly blue jays.  Hummingbirds drink the nectar from the geraniums on the porch.

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The chickens are named and are actually included in our holiday cards.  They all have very different personalities, just like cats and dogs.  My friend’s young turkey was killed.  A few weeks later, the mother of the turkey died.  She was depressed and had stopped eating.  There is no difference (and it is only humans that have determined who is more worthy, who is food, who is equal) between the dog, the cats, the chickens, the squirrels, the blue jays, even the mice that steal a nibble here and there from the birds’ food bowl. They all have a right to live and be and I have no more right to be here than they.  We are all walking upon mother earth.

At this time that we wish for peace on earth, let us remember these things.  Not only will your health drastically improve, but your emotional state will be happier,  anxiety disappears, your impact on the earth’s resources will lessen, and the very number of lives you will save and improve by not eating animals and by putting out some bird seed will be significant.  That is how we get peace on earth.  One life at a time.  This mini-farm is a sanctuary, for me as much as them.

 

Recommended Reading:

The Good, Good Pig by Sy Montgomery

Happily Ever Esther by Steve Jenkins

Living the Farm Sanctuary Life by Gene Baur

 

 

 

Six Years of Farmgirl School (and the adventure continues)

1005625_697090816973051_350125397_nSix years ago today I sat down and wrote my first blog post.  I had just recently heard of blogging.  I was writing regular columns in a few local newspapers but I was excited to take my words onto a bigger scene.  Even if I didn’t get any followers, I would enjoy typing away in the morning while watching out my window, holding a cup of coffee and watching the chickens play.  We were still fairly novice at everything from chickens to growing lettuce so the blog has chronicled our vast and adventurous journey and the life of a family, and inadvertently has become a comprehensive site to find out how to do everything from making witch hazel to milking goats.  My “How to Make Chokecherry Wine” has had thousands of views over the years.  Tomorrow, we will bottle homemade mead.

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This photo was used in an article in the Washington Post about our family.

I remember seeing a blog that had five hundred followers.  I could not believe it.  500!  I wondered what that would be like.  This morning I have one thousand, one hundred, and two followers.  Over 142,000 people have read my blog since I began this journaling journey six years ago in a rented farmhouse with nary an idea of how much to water crops.  We’ve come a long way!

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Six years ago I was preparing for my first granddaughter to arrive.  Today my second granddaughter is twelve days old.  Many people watched as we moved to what we thought was our forever farm, only to become homeless.  You cheered us on as we got back on our feet and purchased a home of our own with a third of an acre and a chicken coop.  You have watched me make friends, mourned over deaths with me, read as we created new businesses, patted us on the back as they closed, shared holidays with us. laughed with me, and befriended me.

Turns out that folks don’t keep blogs going for very long, maybe just a few years.  I love blogging.  Anyone who enjoys writing ought to start a blog.  It is easy and so restorative.  I just want to thank all the readers out there right now for giving me an ear, a place to be, for following along on this Farmgirl adventure.  It is far more fun to write for an audience.

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I read through the November posts from 2012.  The first ones.  Man, that’s some funny stuff.  Typos and all.  (Amazing how much one can edit and still overlook typos!)  Thanks for purchasing my books. (AuthorKatieSanders.com) I have seven, but Farmgirl School; Homesteading 101, which covered our first few years and my memoir, The Making of a Medicine Woman are near and dear.  I will have a second Farmgirl School book out by the end of next year.  We have much to discuss about urban farming and lots of projects to do!  (Let us turn the back porch into a greenhouse.  Should we get ducks?  Let’s make a walk-through arbor with pumpkins and twinkly lights!)  Oh friends, six years later, we are just getting started.  Thanks for coming along for the ride.

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Sleepover with a newborn goat at Grammie’s house.

If you have been a follower since the beginning please make a comment.  Here’s to another six years of living the good life.

It is Enough

My mantra this year, for 2018, was, “Never make a decision based on fear.”  It was amazing how many times I caught myself making decisions (keep my struggling apothecary open, open another shop, apply to begin school) based on fear rather than faith.  This simple mantra helped me understand my motives and make better decisions (no more shops, no school).  And through that faith Doug got an amazing promotion and I am able to stay home and do what I do best, homestead and homemake.  I am available to help my children, feed my husband nutritious meals, keep a house, take care of a mini-farm, and grow our food.  That mantra led to a great outcome.

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Autumn always feels like a new beginning to me.  Like the pagans of old, I feel this is the New Year.  My mantra for the next year is, “It is enough.” I have enough things.  I have enough love. I have enough creativity.  I have enough space on this mini-farm right here, right now.  And most importantly, I am enough. 

Our Lady of the Goats

With so much time on my hands I have had way too much space to reminisce, regret, and be hard on myself.  Over the past four years we have built our dream farm, lost it, went homeless, lost our animals, lived with friends, lived in the city, rebuilt, bought an urban home, made a farm, closed our businesses, Doug went back into the IT field, our children have found the loves of their lives, and our second granddaughter will arrive any day.  A lot to take in.  A lot of gratitude.

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So I may have made some dreadful decisions over the years.  But I have made a lot of good ones too.  I am enough.  I don’t look like I did when I was modeling in my twenties.  I have faults.  But I have more wisdom and I have more love.  And everything around me echoes, It is Enough.

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…maybe one day we will have goats or the animal sanctuary I so dream of….or maybe we will stay here in this space…or maybe it will become legal to have farm animals beyond chickens in the city here…but in the meantime, I must leave the future where it belongs and be present.

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It is Enough.  We are enough.  You are enough.  This beautiful life is enough.  And when we realize that, gratitude comes rushing in with peace and great joy on its wings.

Sunday Morning on the Farm

We need to bring in more wood.  I shall find some more kindling.  Empty the ash into the compost.   A wood fire is far more warming than the furnace.  And delightful as well.

The grandfather clock chimes and the morning is still.  Blue jays call in the distance.  Steam rises from my coffee cup as my husband sips his beside me.  A quiet Sunday morning save for sounds of the homestead.

Blur….upp, the sound the honey wine makes while fermenting.

The busy whir of the sewing machine as I work on Yuletide gifts.

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Gentle snoring from the farm dog who reclines comfortably on the sofa after a cool night outdoors keeping watch over the urban farm.  He loves his work and does it well, coming in to rest then opting to go outside again late morning.

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This life, this home, it balms, sweetens, and simplifies.  This homestead life.

Root vegetables- sunchokes, parsnips, and potatoes- harvested from the garden beds will be roasted for brunch alongside fresh eggs from the coop.

The chickens dig around in the leaves and the golden light of autumn cascades over the sleeping beds.  I jot down ideas for a preservation garden.  I will need more fencing.

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Dreams, and the gentle lilt of every day life pervades me and I smile, and take another sip.

Putting the Garden to Bed (compost, adding new beds, bulbs, and there’s no place like home)

Gardening need not be expensive nor incredibly difficult.  By necessity I have come up with ways to make widespread, prolific gardens quickly and easy on the homestead pocket.

The first thing that is imperative to a great garden is compost.  Compost is one of those things that still baffles folks a little.  You do not need a fancy, turning contraption to make compost.  Doug screwed together five pallets to make two open spaces and it is tucked into a far corner of the yard.

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The chicken coop certainly adds to it.  In the fall the chicken bedding gets changed and the soiled straw goes into compartment one.  For six months I add leaves, coffee grounds, lint from the dryer, food the chickens don’t like, and it builds up.  Repeat in the spring, only use compartment 2.  Put on the garden beds what you began six months ago and do this in the spring and fall.  I do not turn the compost or water it or do anything to it really.  It just does it’s thing.  If it smells, add dry material like straw or newspaper or leaves.  If it is not decomposing at all, add more wet items like food scraps or grass.  Let the chickens play in it, they scratch it up nicely.

Time to clean out the garden beds.  I let the plants go to seed.  Next year Mother Earth will grow dill, basil, carrots, spinach, arugula, and many other plants for me.  Everything is pretty well frozen and quite deceased so out they go and into the compost.  Perennials and winter greens stay put.

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Add a layer of compost.  Then a layer of warm straw.  Not thick enough to suppress weeds (because the water won’t get in) but enough to keep the soil cozy.

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When we first moved in.
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Now

I have a third of an acre here and I am only gardening a quarter of it.  But, we haven’t even been in this house two years; the changes in this property over that time have been impressive.  As always, I want more garden beds!

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These easy beds create abundant crops and very few weeds!

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This is my own design; a very easy gardening bed that combines many great techniques.  Lay out cardboard where you want your bed.  No need to rototill or disturb the beneficial guys underground.  Ring with wood you have on hand, rocks, bricks, anything really, use your imagination!  Then top with a 2 inches of thick straw.  You can add your compost and soil now or wait until spring.

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I am adding a bed that runs alongside the other one and putting an arbor over them.  Next year I will grow pumpkins over them (and will try to outsmart the squash bugs).  It will create an enchanted walk through that leads to the house or the gardens while freeing up space in the garden.  Pumpkin Hollow Farm is moving up!

Plant tulip and daffodil bulbs and lots of garlic cloves.

Everything looks great!  The garden is put to bed, the new spring beds are ready for next year, and the perennials are snug in straw.  Bulbs are planted, muscles are tired, and the farmer is happy.

All this wondering what to do now that I don’t have my businesses.  Should I go to school?  Should I get a job outside my writing?  Should I…?  And as I spent the day hauling compost, designing beds, standing in the next herb garden, dreaming, being present, working hard, I realized that this is what I want to do.  This is where my heart is happy.  At home.  Creating home.

The Little Farm Vehicle That Could

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

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

 

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!

 

Backyard Chicken Tips and Homesteading School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Evolution of a Homestead and the Original Carryall

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

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

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

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

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

How to Plant, Grow, Harvest, and Store Garlic (plus how make garlic oil)

20180711_081445Garlic is among the easiest of all plants to grow.  The homesteader can simply top a bed with compost that has been recently harvested of its crops in October and plant a few heads of garlic.

Any garlic will do (organic always preferable).  One does not need to pay exorbitant prices for “planting garlic.”  Choose a variety from the market or health food store you enjoy.

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Separate the cloves and plant them three inches apart.  Cover with soil and top with straw.

They are among the first stalks of green in springtime.  You will see them and be reminded of your clever fall planting.  Who doesn’t love garlic?  The humble cloves can rid you of the plague, flu viruses, and cancer while adding amazing flavor to any ethnicity of food.

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Now, here is the fun part!  Come July, the stalks will have turned mostly straw colored and will languish and fall to the earth.  Gently unearth them with a hand spade, pulling out bulbs of aromatic garlic.  Shake the dirt off.  I always save twist ties and rubber bands for gardening.  Secure the stalks with a twist tie and hang from a hook in an airy, warm spot.  Like the kitchen!  In two weeks or so, the papery husks will have dried and your garlic will last nicely.  From there you can lay them in a box in the root cellar or leave them as a ristra in the kitchen so garlic is always in reach!  Save a few bulbs to plant this fall!

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Garlic Oil 

Pour 1 cup of good olive oil into a sauce pan with 1 clove of garlic, a bit of salt and pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes.  Heat over medium-low heat, swirling the pan often, for 15-20 minutes.  Serve with great bread or drizzle over vegetables.