Posted in Homestead

The Busy, Busy Summer

It has been an incredibly busy summer and here autumn is in full swing. Homesteading here is a pleasure and our first farming season was wonderful. In June, I was terribly discouraged, even considering giving up. I had started gardens six times bigger than any of our previous homesteads and was upset that I wasn’t able to keep up by myself.

Enter angels in cars and vans with backpacks and stories and ideas and joy and youth. Becoming a WWOOF host has been great fun. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is an amazing program; “The new backpacking across Europe,” according to my husband. A woman in her thirties with a master’s degree and a desire for a new career, new life, searching for herself (and a liberal cowboy). A young woman fresh out of college, feeling the peer pressure of starting a career, but really wanting more freedom and a homestead, fulling embracing her apron strings. A young man straight out of the military with some serious soul searching to do. A nineteen year old with ambition and wisdom beyond her years, with a great desire to change food deserts and start a farm. My last woofer is here now, a 6’7″, hungry, twenty year old basketball player. He is here for two weeks helping me put the gardens to bed and to prepare the homestead for the colder months. We will then have our house to ourselves again, and then will welcome more young, future homesteaders here in the spring. We have a greenhouse now, are adding extensive raised beds, and are putting in a vineyard with fifty-five vines. The help will be most welcome! I am eternally grateful to all of them. http://wwoofusa.com

These shelves are now much more full than when we took this picture!

I remembered exactly why we put up food! After a few years of slacking, the empty grocery store shelves of early spring reminded me. This year we put up over four hundred jars of food, have a full freezer, and root cellar vegetables. Our garden is still filled with root crops. Medicinal plants fill the front garden. All of these gardens were prairie and shale. I am enjoying teaching my techniques to create prolific gardens. A book is in the works.

So many projects planned! Rain barrels, greenhouse beds, raised beds, and a modern root cellar addition to the house.

Baby lambs will be born any day now at our friend’s farm. The same gal we got two from all those years ago before we lost everything. Here, everything is restored. All things that are taken from us will always be restored. I have started weaving and will be selling my work. I work at a local winery on Saturdays as their in-house sommelier, and I just love it. I have visions of making our own wine from our own vineyard and using the pressed off wine grapes to dye our own wool from our own sheep and then spinning it into lush yarn to weave my own creations. Homesteading allows so many opportunities for creativity and peace.

Coming upon my eight year anniversary writing this Farmgirl School blog, I contemplate our journey. From farm to rented farm to apartment to urban farm to here- this beautiful spot on earth, and realize that in the craziness of the world, and elections, and pretend pandemics, and social media…there is no place like home. And may that home always be a homestead.

We found this street sign while out on vacation. How perfect if we lived on this road!
Posted in inspiration

Seasons of Vineyards and Life

Memories rise to the surface as I swirl my glass. Cascades of great times trickle forth. I can still hear their voices above the murmur of reality. I can hear Steve’s laughter above clinking glasses and conversation. Above the too-loud opera and our off-key singing in his living room or ours. In restaurants gathered with great food and wine. Skipping arm and arm to the wine bar we loved so. The one we took our sommelier classes together at. Discussions with the owners of the upscale place where we gathered weekly with other wine lovers over dinners with renowned wine makers from around the country. Tears accompanied by tapas and wine at a nearby wine bar where Steve and I whispered our deepest traumas and biggest dreams.

I remember his smile and sweet demeanor as he picked up my three rebelling teenagers and took them to see how coffee was roasted. To the park to run around and talk openly. Off to make pottery. How he tried to show them how important they were. Steve looked every server in the eye. “I appreciate you.” he would say in a low, meaningful tone. Everyone he encountered. He just wanted to speak life to them. To show them their sheer importance just being here.

Then came our sweet Lisa. Pixie blond and petite. A wine lover as well and off to elope and California they flew. They reveled in discovering their spirituality, and learning, adventuring, studying, being, loving each other fiercely. Driving Doug and I up the coast to eat great seafood and visit dozens of vineyards. Nights of discussions and joy.

The cancer caught up to Lisa. How she ran from it. Eight years of joyful and full life after diagnoses. And into the night she went. How Steve wept. He took his own life. A year ago this month. Two years ago she left. Four years since our last visit. Oh, how time flies without us knowing.

I swirl the garnet liquid and think of my friends as I turn up Andrea Bocelli and whisper to them through the veil. Beautiful memories. Beautiful people.

I often wonder why I am so fascinated by wine. I am not a particularly big drinker. I don’t stay out late enough to be an employed sommelier. But there is something about the chatter of leaves in autumn through the grapevines and rows of gold. Something about the fruit hanging voluptuously and sweet from vines. The hope in a sprouting vine in spring and the serenity of winter snows atop skeletal vines. Drinking the labor and gifts of the vineyard. Each decision of the vintner adds to the flavor of the wine. Every element of weather changes the taste. A wildfire will impart its smoke on a chardonnay nearby. The late frost will leave a year without. And some years will be so glorious that feasting and hard work will fill the days and nights.

I took my farm interns (now friends) with me to a local winery for crush. Our late freeze here in the valley left us all without fruit. Just beyond the mountain, near where the wildfires burn, is an oasis of Colorado wine country not known by many. The owners of Legatum purchased half a ton of gorgeous white grapes, La Crescent. We met them at the winery to help.

Five gallon buckets were filled with grapes from the container that filled Cindy and Rich’s truck bed. Into the destemmer they went as two others transferred the thick pulp and sugary sweet juice to the press. Everyone moving in tandem to keep the process moving. 200 liters of honeydew colored juice filled a tank and the process of PH and yeast began to create a luscious moscato-style wine.

I feel such joy and peace standing between rows. I feel life and giddiness. An unexplained spark. Thick red grapes pouring out of the destemmer. The aroma of malolactic fermentation. Wine is not just about preserving a fruit. It is not just about creating a drink. Wine amplifies life and family. Feasting and celebration. A combination of earth and spirit, the hope of spring, the pride of harvest. The seasons of the vineyard following the seasons of our life. Igniting my spirit. I raise my glass to Lisa and Steve. Sip for them. And pursue my dreams because I am alive.

Posted in Food/Wine (and preserving)

To Screw or Cork…

screwcap

A few years back we were sitting in an upscale wine bar, twinkly lights abounded, a joyful dancing fire warmed in the large fireplace,  It was our monthly wine tasting event and we were cozy with the owner at a table as people milled around sampling, catching up on the month’s events.  I came back to the table with my next sampling.

“This wine has a screw cap!”  Giggle, giggle, shake my head.

I could see that Lee had explained this many times and just as he had explained to me how to pronounce meritage, he patiently explained to me the reason for screw caps.

Cork is endangered, actually.  It is a tree.  And we sure use a lot of it to make floors, and wine corks, and corkboard.  One could choose the plastic type corks but they expand and contract.  So does the cork, actually.

The wine maker pouring the wines cut in.  “Every one in one hundred bottles gets oxygen into it via the cork.  That ruins the wine.  I only have one shot at getting people to fall in love with my wine,” he says, “It may not seem like a lot, but one out of a hundred people are not going to re-purchase or try my wines again because of it.  Screw caps keep oxygen out better than plastic or corks.”

This is also cost effective and helps keep wines affordable.

“Do you know how much I paid for that wine?” my dinner guest exclaimed ($13), “I can’t believe it has a screw cap on it!”

I proceeded to tell her what I just told you.  It wasn’t until last night that I remembered my own lesson.  I had bought different bottles of wine during the week but had taken them to friend’s houses and left it or my friends drank it all at my house.  (I helped.)  Last night I wanted a glass.  I had three bottles of half drunk wine.  One vinegary, one really vinegary, and the one with the screw cap.  Doug poured me a glass of the screw capped one.  I hesitantly sniffed it since it  was about ten days old and after four, we typically pitch it.  It smelled of Sangiovese, of Italian countryside, fresh currants, and cinnamon….

Ah, screw caps, you spoil me.