Choosing Farm Animals (no alpacas this time…)

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We went over to Sylvia’s farm Sunday afternoon.  The day was warm and sunny and her alpacas were wandering happily about their pens.  Sylvia was a gracious host and went over again everything we would need to know after taking the two alpacas home that she had generously offered us.

They are very cute boys.  Buddy is small and fluffy and his friend, Carmello, looks like a camel.  Their fleece is lovely and they didn’t kick me or spit at me.  They did immediately head away from anywhere we were.  That is how alpacas are.  I don’t know if I thought these alpacas would be different.  They would run up to me and want their noses rubbed and a hug around the neck.  They aren’t mean but they aren’t really friendly either.  A little newborn kept nibbling at my shirt and was absolutely adorable but would skitter away as I turned around.

We thought it through, we planned.  We decided.  Not this year.

Our Lady of the Goats

When I write something on this blog and set it out into the universe it starts spiraling.  It starts manifesting.  And my dream for this year is Doug’s as well and we are going to make it happen.  (Look for the full scoop later this week!) but for now, our entire income will hinge on the success of our Homesteading School including the Certified Herbalist arm.  Farm tours and interns, vegetables, milk shares, eggs, lots of folks coming to the farm.  The aura of the farm needs to match our intention.  Having families come tour our homestead is always a delight for me.  I love how excited the kids get when they hold a docile chicken or play with Elsa, the uber friendly goat.  When they talk non-stop about bottle feeding goat kids or kitty “hunting” (can you find all nine in our house?).  If we had terrified animals in the back corner…well that doesn’t really fit in.

I am getting two lambs next month that will be bottle babies to make them tame and I will try my fiber fun with them and if I love it, I can always get an alpaca next year to add to the fiber animals but in the meantime, we need more of a petting zoo environment, I think.  A good experience for kids (and adults) to hold onto when dreaming of their future farms.

The Best Farm Breakfast

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I talk a lot about lessening our use of electronics, heading towards off grid living, getting to the point where if the power went out we wouldn’t notice, there are a few electronics we love and one of them is our Vitamix.  Doug jokes that it has a Volkswagen engine.  It makes it very easy to get lots of fruits and vegetables in one sitting.

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We always feel better when we start drinking our breakfasts.  Green drinks have been written about in books and researched to rid the body of cancer.  Green drinks oxygenate the blood and cancer cannot survive in an oxygenated environment.  I like the Vitamix because juicing wastes a lot of the pulp and uses more vegetables and fruits than necessary.  Throwing everything into the machine breaks down all the produce into a drinkable vitamin.  This drink provides the body’s needs for iron, calcium, magnesium, folate, B vitamins, vitamin C, D, K, and protein.  Add pumpkin or other orange fruit and get vitamin A.  Add a tablespoon of almond butter and get vitamin E.  I don’t think much of vitamins in the store.  They are lab created and the body simply does not recognize them but vitamins in food are readily uploaded into the body.

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The raw fruits and vegetables have all the necessary enzymes for the body to digest easily and the cell walls of the produce are broken down allowing the body to assimilate the nutrients effectively.

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(To serve two) In a powerhouse blender add:

4 cups of greens like dandelion, kale, or chard.

Then add whatever is around the kitchen.  The produce section at the health food store often has bags of produce on discount.  I scored a big bag of bananas that were browning but make perfect smoothies.

Apples from the root cellar.

A chunk of raw pumpkin.

Frozen berries and rhubarb.

Peaches I put up.

Anything works!

Then I add a splash of maple syrup (anti-tumor) and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom…mmm.

Add enough water to achieve desired consistency.

We fill up the Vitamix container and we each get 3-4 cups of smoothie with approximately 5 fruits and vegetables each to start our day.  We get plenty of energy, boost our immunity, and feel really great.

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This may very well be the quintessential farm breakfast!

 

A Perfectly Marvelous Salad

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A perfectly marvelous salad should be extremely simple to make, quite inexpensive if you have to purchase the ingredients because of the snow in the garden, and nutritious with lots of unique flavors.  This one fits the bill.  It meets every possible diet, I think, and is so tasty, I could practically eat it every day.  It is our main course lunch salad quite often but with a side of salmon or egg drop soup it would make a nice supper.

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For two people chop one head of romaine and split it between two bowls.

Slice open an avocado and discard the pit.  Place one half on each bowl.

Fill cavity of avocado with pumpkin or sunflower seeds.

Sprinkle salad with sesame seeds.

Drizzle very lightly rice wine vinegar, a bit more sesame oil, and good splashes of soy sauce.

Enjoy with green tea or a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

To your health!

CSA or Farmers Market? (a small farm dilemma)

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We live in a little yellow house.  We rent from folks that don’t care that we started a farm.  This property envelopes two lots, two thirds of an acre total.  It backs to the fairgrounds, and I have lovely, like minded neighbors.  We love our little farm, it is a dream come true.  We call it our practice farm because we intend to move to more space next year.  We have successfully intensively planted a quarter acre, take care of six adorable goats, a plethora of entertaining chickens, and the cutest ducks I have ever seen.  We have a wonderful little homestead here.

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We intended, reasonably, to have the farm help pay for itself.  I sold two goats this year and I have milk share holders.  I cannot bring enough eggs to the farmers market.  They are gone in minutes.  The vegetables are coming up now and there are amazing nutrients to be had after a winter of preserved food.

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Crisp, peppery radishes line up in rows, nearly ready to harvest.  Waves of green butter lettuce tempt the palate.  Green onions, and small bulbs of garlic, herbs of every sort, oregano, basil, chives, ready to season the salads.  Collard greens, kale, and Swiss chard ready to be simply sautéed with olive oil and garlic, a touch of sea salt.  Delicious meals at the ready.  I have a bit to share.

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The farmers markets are not inexpensive to participate in.  The main one we do is quite pricey, actually.  We had two tents proudly held and filled them with our Apothecary items as well as canned goods, cooking extracts and homemade vinegar, eggs, and a table of produce.  I am the only farmer there with produce that did not get shipped in.  The larger farms have to bring vegetables in from California and Mexico in order to make a living in these early months.  A separation of knowledge.  Folks don’t know what is in season.  They demand fresh corn in May and peas in September.

My main industry is Herbology.  Farming is my passion and one I want to share.  To be able to assure chemical free vegetables picked at dawn and driven only two cities over is an amazing gift. However, without the large table of overflowing produce, I get little notice.  Bags of fresh salad go home to be eaten by us for supper.  Onions line my produce drawer.  I cannot sell all the produce I bring and that is a terrible waste.  I would rather harvest for those who will enjoy it and eat it.

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I love the idea of the overflowing tables of produce.  I may have that by mid-season.  I want to stand there in my overalls and serve up heirloom tomatoes, and brightly colored corn.  I want to be known as a farmer.  But am I a farmer?  Or am I a farmsteader?  Farms have to grow a lot to survive as a farm.  I would have to sell everything I grow in order to keep up at the market leaving nothing for my own family.

A farmstead is a place where a family tries to be as self sufficient as possible.  One tries to make, grow, and create what is needed to live.  And that is where we lie.  We have enough to share, eggs, milk, vegetables, fruit, but most of it has to go to us in order to have enough for the entire year.  We are a farmstead.

Last week we only did one tent (so half the price) at the farmers market.  The market manager was not happy.  I suppose though, if it were so important for them to have small farms present, they wouldn’t charge so much.  He really wants us to bring produce next week.

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CSA stands for community supported agriculture.  A co-op of sorts, a club.  One pays an upfront fee at the beginning of the season (which is now, here in Colorado) and every week the recipient receives a basket of fresh produce of what is in season, freshly harvested at dawn.  Mine would include a milk share and a dozen eggs.  All for less than $22 a week.  This helps me confront the exorbitant water bill, as well as getting more seeds, and helps me keep my farmstead running.  I offered two.  Half a bushel of really fresh produce, half a gallon of creamy milk, and a dozen pastured eggs.  One has dinner.  It truly is a great deal and it helps me immensely.  The CSA holder is a part of the farm at this point.  They own a share of the goats, the gardens.  If a hail storm or coyote attack occurs, we are all at a loss.  We pray for good weather.  We pray for a wonderful harvest.  We pray for an invisibility shield from predators.  The families can visit the farm, see what actually is in season at any given time, help out if they like, let their children see what a farmstead looks, smells, feels like.  What warm soil feels like, a chicken’s feathers against the skin feels like, what the ducks sound like as they march across the yard, what a fresh raspberry tastes like.  Enchantment thirty minutes from the city.  Priceless.

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The answer seems obvious. Offering families CSA’s helps share the extra harvest, assures that I have enough to preserve and enjoy, and makes two families a part of our farm family.

Farming Lessons (turn on the water!)

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It was a beautiful morning yesterday.  The calm before the storm.  The chickens at Debbie’s house were playing, her chocolate lab waited patiently for us outside the garden gate, and all was well in the greenhouse for my “farming without killing plants” lesson.

In the outside beds we planted rows of carrots, cauliflower, and kale.  The kale we planted a month ago never came up probably due to our fanatical weather and the extreme cold temperatures.  This time should work!  It’s May 1st for crying out loud!

Then I helped her prepare a bed for planting.  A lesson like no other.  She sprayed it down very well, puddles welled  up, and the soil was lovely and damp.  We turned the soil with a spade.  Dry.  The ground was dry!  I sprayed it really well for a second time.  Turned it with the spade, dry.  Debbie mentioned that this scenario is the very reason many gardens to do not succeed.  We sprayed it once again and it still was not damp through and through.  The fourth time did the trick.  My lesson?  Never assume that because the top layer is wet that anything  below is drinking water!  Always use a water gage or the poor (wo)man’s water gage…your finger.  The soil should be damp up to the second knuckle, if not, it needs water!  I came straight home and turned the sprinklers on!

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This is a long time idea in my head that I have to reverse.  Reading gardening magazines and books for 20+ years has taught me one thing….don’t over water!  It causes diseases, fungal stuff, root rot and possibly world hunger.  I have adhered to that sentiment with fervency.  Don’t over water!  Here is the thing they never specified, they aren’t talking about Colorado or other dry areas.  It’s so dry here your nose may start bleeding at a moment’s notice, so dry my lotion flies off the table at the shop, so dry weeds died last year here!  One would really have to work at it to over water in a dry state like this.  I have been more diligent, twice daily checks on the soil in the garden.  The reason I have NEVER had a carrot germinate is because the soil must remain moist the entire time until it gets its foothold.  So, my soil has been consistently wet.  It will need more once the roots spread down and need more drinks.  The radishes have germinated in thanks.

In my garden, there are onions and garlic coming up, the herbs have returned, last years onions that never came up are making a grand display in the wrong bed, and the cold crop seeds are slumbering quietly just beneath the surface which I hope by this weekend will be light carpets of tiny greens.

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Debbie’s herbs are so happy in her greenhouse they were jumping ship.  Comfortably spreading out and lounging all over the bed.  Because a good chunk of them needed to be evicted, I was the proud new recipient of twelve pots of oregano and cilantro.  Which brings me to a great way to spread the wealth among farmers.  Wendy brought me a few chive plants she split off, Diane is bringing me borage.  Don’t worry about having herbs that spread all over, split them up, stick them in a pot and give as instant gifts!

Forcefield Fencing…no more deer buffet!

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The first time Doug and I saw deer close up we were driving through a neighborhood to a dinner party and the lovely creatures were crossing the road.  Doug and I hung out our car windows whistling and blowing kisses like they were supermodels crossing a catwalk.  “Hey Beautiful!”  We were so astounded seeing deer close up.

When we moved further out we found they were in our own yard every evening.  We watched in awe as a huge buck with a large rack (Hey there good lookin’!) jumped through a one foot opening into our garden.  We laughed and pointed and blew kisses as they ate all the bird seed and moved on to what vegetables were left.

They are cute and all, I certainly don’t want to hunt them and they are beautiful crossing my landscape but I want them to deter around the gardens.  A student of mine told me about an article he had read a long time ago about deer fencing on the cheap.  We had just moved into this house last year and were a little cash poor so it seemed like a good idea, though highly far fetched that it would work.

So, Doug bought several t-posts and fishing line and went to work.  He placed the t-posts every ten feet all the way around the mini-orchard and the garden.  He then strung fishing line around the posts, winding it up every eight inches or so.  Around and around he went like he was wrapping a secret present.  The fishing line strings only go six feet high and a deer can easily clear eight, but the idea behind the force field, superhero fencing is that they walk right up to the garden not seeing the fishing line and when they hit it they get spooked.  They cannot see where to jump and there is something invisible touching them so they leave it alone.

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You can kind of see the fishing line in this picture.  Apparently the neighborhood teenagers running in the dark through our yard one night didn’t see it as Doug had to redo a section!

Doug installed a gate and my arbor and it looks wonderful.  It worked all year!  I could not believe it.  It seemed too simple.  This spring there are a few lines down.  And there is deer poo in the garden.  I thought at least we outsmarted them for one year but Doug thinks we should just restring it taut and that it will serve us well another year.  It makes for inexpensive fencing around hard to fence areas and when the cash flow does not allow for fancy fencing (or it is not your house) it is a fine idea, so here we go again!  Here’s to another year of no more deer buffet! (They can eat out of the compost if they’d like.)

Will the Real Farmgirl Please Stand Up?

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When I told the owner of Miller Farms, Joe, at his birthday party a few months ago that I wanted to be a farmer, he looked at me with a mix of pity and humor.  Apparently grown women don’t run around dreaming of being a farmer when they grow up.  The rest of the farm hands laughed too.  The grumpy farmer at the farmer’s market asked why I would want to do such a thing?  It’s hard work.  I have never been afraid of hard work.  In fact, I dislike days that there is no work.  I have to keep busy.  I am not afraid of sunrise, dirt, or feeding people.  Only two percent of the population grows all the food for our country.  Scary.  Not crazy about relying on someone else to grow food for me.  Makes me feel kind of helpless.  That is why I garden.  Be it not very well for the past twenty years but I had a slower learning curve then everyone else and no family to teach me.  Just books.  And now Debbie.

Debbie started out as one of my students learning herbalism a few years back.  She received a grant for a greenhouse and grows a myriad of wonderful herbs as well as vast amounts of food.  So, the teacher becomes the student today as I go for my internship and learn which side is up.  Everything in her hoop house survived the below zero temperatures.  I am intrigued.  Her land is a picturesque bounty set against hills and filled with roaming cows and a beautiful old restored house.  Her general demeanor is always kind and upbeat.  A renaissance woman, a Master Gardener, and a friend.  I will learn well in this atmosphere!  http://lookingoutfrommybackyard.wordpress.com is her blog.  I shamelessly stole these pictures off of her blog!

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I think I will plant a few rows of wine grapes.  I have two Cabernet Sauvignon vines here I can bring with me to start.  An Apothecary garden that will consist of beautiful medicinal and culinary herbs.  Long rows of three sisters, corn, beans, and squash will grow together and remind us of history.  All of the glorious, unique, colorful heirlooms seeds I ordered back in January in my garden dreaming will sprout and take hold, reaching their heads up to the endless sky, looking out to the mountain range, and will provide sustenance for our family and beyond.

I never want to sell wholesale.  Just as I run my Apothecary.  No wholesale.  No faceless item on the shelf.  No wondering who made it.  I want to hand it to you.  Tell you a funny story about it.  Throw in a free round of cheese to eat with the fresh tomatoes and kale.

Now I am really getting ahead of myself.  I don’t have a goat!

What the March Root Cellar Holds

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I suppose you might have thought me lazy when I first started canning for I really didn’t want to go through the whole trouble of water boiling the jars to seal the jars.  I just figured that if the top popped I was good to go, so any form of heat would probably be good.  Window sills seemed reasonable. Luckily, I was in the beginning stages of canning and really limited to pickles.  I filed them into their jar, filled half way with vinegar, half way with water (just like I do now), a sprig of dill, a teaspoon of salt, and some mustard seeds, celery seeds, and cayenne.  Then in the window they went!  We enjoyed them greatly.  I wasn’t making the amount I make now so they were gone in a matter of weeks.  Same with tomatoes in their tablespoon of lemon juice and teaspoon of salt.  We thankfully ate them quickly.  I got really brave one year and made salsa.  With corn.  I asked a friend at the farmer’s market, who I knew canned, about what I might have done wrong.  She looked a bit horrified at me as I revealed how I canned.  And the yummy tomatoes and corn and spices I have sitting in the window.  They were ticking….oddly enough.  Literally, ticking like a time bomb.  She said hoarsely, “Get rid of it!”  I did.  I ran with the ticking thing to the trash and threw it in and said a prayer for the trash man!  I hoped it wouldn’t blow up until it got far away.

I can immodestly say now that I have perfected canning, the real canning, with a little sheepish horror in reminiscence for how I started!  So, last year I decided to can over three hundred items.  It was a homesteading goal.  Just to see if I could do it.  And I did.  I am doing a root cellar tally.  I did not really think about all I was canning, just that I needed to can.  So whatever Miller Farms had extra was in my kitchen.  So here’s how it looks come Spring time.

Peas were the earliest to be canned and promptly eaten…sadly.  So delicious.  The frozen not quite satisfying my craving.  It seemed like I had tons of peas, but had only four jars by the end of shelling.

I have one can of corn left.  Not bad, but not enough.  Corn won’t be here until July so I should can more corn this year.

Apparently we ain’t big on beets.  We like them alright but somehow I still have at least twenty quarts left plus all the pickled beets.  It is very beautiful in the root cellar with all the ruby colored jars.  Perhaps less this year?

Ditto with zucchini.  Seemed like a brilliant idea.  Lot of zucchini and zucchini and tomatoes to put into soups and minestrone.  I guess we didn’t feel much like minestrone and soup this year.

The green beans are half gone.  I like them better canned than fresh I think.  How weird.  Perhaps because my memory growing up is of canned vegetables so they taste like when I was a kid.  Only organic and home-canned.  Still put butter and salt on top.

The fruit cocktail didn’t last too long.  The apples did.  Apparently I did not bake as many apple pies as previously expected (I baked one).  However, we do not get more apples until this fall so there is time for apple crisps and cabbage and apples.  The cherries are holding out alright.

Tomato sauce is gone.  It is a staple.  I have eight jars of spaghetti sauce but those won’t stick around.  I am swimming in ketchup, barbecue sauce, chutney.  These should last until fall though when it is time to do it again.

No matter how many jars of diced tomatoes I put up every year, it is not enough.  I am down to one.

We ate pickles like they were going out of style last year.  I ran clean out, so I doubled my numbers.  They haven’t been touched.  Oh, if we could only predict cravings!  Too bad Emily didn’t crave pickles!

The dried beans are holding out.  I am almost out of honey.  I have plenty of wheat.  I have an entire bucket of beets in sand.  Really?  More beets?!

The carrots that I packed in damp sand last fall?  Awesome.  Crisp, delicious, perfect.

The potatoes?  Well, you read that story.  If I hadn’t escorted them to the compost bin, they may have climbed straight out the window.

I have one less squash than when I started.  Huh.  I should have canned it.  During the winter, I don’t feel like canning.  It feels too out of season.  Too comfortable in the house or something.  It must be at the peak of temperatures and misery.  I will can in the fall.  More of this, a whole lot less of that!

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The Indoor Farmer

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I am slowly learning how to be an outdoor farmer.  Real slowly.  I asked a gentleman at Miller farm how often they water their corn.  Two hours Senora.  Say what?  Uh, I’ve been watering for five minutes a day by hand, not enough?  He lowers his hand to show how tall my corn might be.  Generous.  It peaked at a foot and a half.  But, next year…..boy, I’m really going to  have an amazing yield.

Well, now it’s December so what is a dreamy eyed gardening gal to do in the dead of winter?  I have learned all about greenhouses, and ahem, their price, so I do not have one of those yet.  My row covers blew away.  I do have a grow light (which made the teenagers giggle most inappropriately) for tomatoes people, geez.  But, I am trying not to use so much energy!

Enter the cute, little house we rented last March.  Built in 1920, it was designed with common sense.  Unheard of in new construction!  The windows face south, big fabulous windows with an overhang so that in the winter the house is bright and warm.  In the summer it is cool and shaded.  This makes for a great living room window that is five feet wide and about three feet tall.  Doug got me a folding table.  I brought the geraniums from the porch in, all the herbs I grew in pots on the porch came in, and then a few more pots of tomato seedlings that I filled in with lettuce and kale seeds.  Any spare opening gets some petunias planted with them.  It’s a cozy set up and smells wonderful.

Now, I have had a bit of experience with indoor plants and generally avoid them like the plague.  I water them too much or not enough and there are at least one or two cats sleeping on top of the plant or just eating the contents.

So, I got smart.  I leaned an old screen door on one side of the table, put up two wooden ladders (the kind you will find in a New Mexican store that you can hang blankets on) on each side and put the largest pots blocking any holes.  I figured out that the tomatoes enjoy a bit of water every few days, the rest every five days.  I also took some classes this last spring at a gardening center and learned about organic fertilizers.  I have in the past sworn them off completely, not sure what’s in it, my ancestors never used them, etc.  But I thought I would try the Old Organics Kelp, Grow, and Bloom bottles of murky nutrients waiting to perk up my indoor garden.  What do you know?  I never had such lush growth.  I’m picking cherry tomatoes off the vine.  I even made myself a mini-salad for breakfast the other day.  A symphony of riotous red flowers has taken over.  It is breathtaking.

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The problem I have run across is aphids.  How did they find me?  Outside I let all creatures live, wasps and lady bugs take care of aphids in short order but my family drew the line at letting wasps in the house.  I have tried everything from dish soap to an organic pesticide (that I never would have used before) that they just enjoy bathing in, I swear.  It hasn’t gotten rid of them.  Yesterday, I chopped down their kale domain.  Not wanting to waste, I washed the greens really well and threw them into fried eggs for a delicious lunch.  However, my mind couldn’t distinguish aphids from pieces of eggs and I promptly picked the kale off.  Too much protein for me, Friends!

If anyone has advice on indoor pests, please comment!  Luckily, even though they have invaded too many plants for me, there are some still thriving.  I do hope these green tomatoes will ripen soon!  Enjoy your gardening, wherever it may be!