Our Homesteading Journey (what we have learned, what we still need to learn!)

We always called this our practice farm.  The place we would learn valuable homesteading skills while still living in town so that when our homestead came forth we would know a great deal before diving in head first into a cold winter with a wood stove.

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Things we have learned on our Practice Farm:

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1. We learned that chickens are not as scary to take care of as previously expected.  In fact they are easier than cats and dogs to care for.  They also add amazing amounts of entertainment to the yard and many a good meal of delicious eggs.

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2. We are able to farm anywhere.  Even in a sandy, weed covered plot in town with extremely expensive water.  A piece of land that sits at over 6500 feet above sea level and where not many folks are crazy enough to farm.  Those of us that do around here hold a remarkable bond.

3.  We can survive running our own business.  If we are passionate, glean bills like mad people, and keep a simple lifestyle, we can live on quite a little sum.

4. We can provide almost all of our own food with a little help from our friends.  We now can over five hundred items to eat over the winter.  We pay half the price of the health food store and support local farmers and ranchers by purchasing humanely raised meats.We can buy from local farms what we do not produce.  This year we produced a good portion of our food supplying all vegetables for summer and into fall and some to can for winter.  In the summer we also dine on fresh eggs and homemade cheese from our own goat’s milk.

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5. We learned that we have an addiction to goats.  They are like outdoor puppies, full of fun and lots of affection.  And they give delicious milk for heavenly cheese.

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6. We are no longer afraid of hoards of bees.  10,000 bees is actually quite quaint and awfully fun to watch work.

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7. Ducks are a hoot.  Perhaps not very practical though.

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8.  We are able to sustain tremendous loss.  Losses and deaths of friends, financial losses, losses of beloved animals.  Losses of bits of ourselves and somehow come out a bit stronger, if not weepier, and hold them close in our hearts.

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9.  Grandchildren are the best healing agent.  They simply make life brighter and more colorful (particularly when they write on the walls).  Graduations, weddings, and family make life very rich.

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10. We could never go back to the city.  We actually exhale as we enter the open prairie.

11.  The most important thing we have learned on this journey is that if you write out and put out to the world your desires, the universe conspires to put everything in place so that you may have it.  Be careful what you wish for but prepare to be blessed!

Things we will be learning on our new Homestead:

I cannot believe that everything we asked for came true.  A small, old house (1905) with the square footage we requested (850 square feet).  A wood cook stove, a well, a pantry, two bedrooms, a chicken coop, goat pens, places to walk with the goats, a view (of Pikes Peak was my exact request and I am quite close to it).  A large fenced garden, close to a small town but not terribly far from the city (in case of momentary lapses in judgment whereupon we find ourselves gorging on fondue and seeing a mediocre movie) and a great library district.  Doug wants to be near a place to shoot pool and a good breakfast joint (I guess I can’t say that in Colorado anymore; I mean restaurant).

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1. First and foremost we better figure out the wood cook stove.  It takes wood and coal.  Where does one get coal?  How much do we need?  What the heck is a damper?  Am I going to freeze to death?

2. Doug will be mastering the art of chopping wood (hello lumber jack!) and hauling mass amounts of water.

3.  Many skills I do not know I need that I will inevitably need and which you, my dear reader, shall be the first to learn along with me.  What a journey we are heading on!  So glad you are with us.  We will be moving our name and sign to our new homestead.

Welcome to The Cottage at Pumpkin Hollow Farm…

Our New Homestead

I have been stalking Craigslist.  It is exhausting.  The rents in our county have nearly doubled.  Mention eight cats (let alone a dog, chickens, ducks, and goats…and self employment and bad credit) and it’s amazing how quickly someone else gets the house!  Doug and I talked about what we wanted.  Do we want to give up our farm animals and move closer to town?  No.  Do we want to pick up extra work so we can afford something more?  No.  So we started looking at towns 30-45 minutes away from where we are now.  Really just a shot down a dirt road from here but they are not familiar to us so they felt very far.  Even there, dilapidated trailers or houses in town that didn’t allow animals was all we could find.

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I walked by the desk and quickly typed in the computer-memorized web address for Craigslist to take a quick look to see if there was anything new.  A brief post had been listed an hour prior.  It didn’t give very much information, nor did it mention animals, but I did not dilly dally by emailing, I called straight away.  We hopped in the car and went to see it fifteen minutes later.

Even though I had not given the landlords a clear answer yet, they had turned down potential seekers after we came to see the place.  The couple used to run cattle and there are pens and chicken coops on the property.  They like honey bees.  There is a large garden already fenced.  There is a clothes line.  There is a well.  Hold onto your hats folks, there is a wood cook stove attached to a propane one in the kitchen!  There is everything we could desire.

It is  few miles due south of the sleepy town of Calhan.  Not very far, about forty minutes from where we are now.  I can still pick up the baby to watch her.  I can afford the extra gas money because the rent is cheaper than the townhome I rented some sixteen years ago.  Blessingly low rent.  This could be a place that could stand out in the minds of our children and grandchildren as “Grammie and Papa’s house”.  A fun retreat in the country.  A place we can stay for a long time.  I am so relieved (as Doug is) to set ourselves into a place and stay.

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The owners of the property have their house on the land as well.  His grandfather bought the old house we will be renting many years ago and the house itself whispers stories of its past and of joyous events.  It sits on ten acres where on a clear day one can see from New Mexico to Denver.  The mountains majestically framing the view.  Mature trees surround the homestead.  It is a peaceful place.

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We are putting a bit of work into the house before we move in as the last tenants did not love it like I already do.  Yesterday our interns, Ethan and Stephanie, went and helped us remove the carpet.  Beneath it we found two layers of linoleum and beneath that lay in secret the original wood floor.  I  nearly cried.  I will be painting the main rooms a creamy antique white with a slight gold undertone.  This house longs for bright colors and exposed windows.  There are seventeen feet of windows in the living room alone!  I will share before and after photos as we go, but come along with me as I give you the initial tour!

The house was built in 1905.

The house was built in 1905.

This is the living room looking out the front door.  The houses faces east to embrace the sunrise each morning.

This is the living room looking out the front door. The house faces east to embrace the sunrise each morning.

The rest of the living room. The house itself is tiny, 850 sq ft, but it is well laid out.

The rest of the living room. The house itself is tiny, 850 sq ft, but it is well laid out.

The "dining room" is a part of the living room.  The sixties era linoleum didn't want to come up so it will lend its own charm!

The “dining room” is connected to the living room. The sixties era linoleum didn’t want to come up so it will lend its own charm!

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Our bedroom faces east with lovely windows and two closets!

Our bedroom faces east with lovely windows and two closets!

There is a second bedroom but it is so dark with the wood paneling and the small window I could not get a good shot of it.  It will be brightened up and turned into a guest bedroom and will hold all of our apothecary items.

Now come into the warmest part of the house…

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The wood cookstove

The wood cookstove

A long shelved pantry off the kitchen to store canned goods.

A long shelved pantry off the kitchen to store canned goods.

The small laundry/utility room and back door.

The small laundry/utility room and back door.

Now come see the yard…

Water from the well (no more water bill)

Water from the well (no more water bill)

The clothesline (I am taking out the dryer)

The clothesline (I am taking out the dryer)

A dusk view of the garden.  It is about 600 sq ft.

A dusk view of the garden. It is about 600 sq ft.

One view of the ten acres

One view of the ten acres

The sign we saw on our way back home.  A positive sign indeed.

The sign we saw on our way back home. A positive sign indeed.

Treasure Hunting and Magical Gardens

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The sidewalks stretched out across the landscape, endless walkways about the city.  Bits of glass glinted in the light.  The air smelled of beer and urine with a hint of marijuana outside the warehouses near the tracks.  We dropped our car off for repairs and began to walk towards the bustling south Broadway.  The familiarity of Denver streets and sidewalks made us reminiscent and oddly comfortable as if we had just put on a pair of comfortable old socks once again discovered.  The birds were singing, the trains and Lightrails were in full swing.  Hobos left their things by the road in borrowed grocery carts near restored small Victorians in the historic Baker district.  The houses were bunched together in an effort to fit more friends in and the yards were the size of my quaint kitchen, partially shaded.  We noted gardens and stopped at a large lot that had been converted into a community garden.  Each plot holding the personality of its occupant.  Creative trellises of t-posts and wire, lingering fingers of pumpkin vines slithering into walkways and a small child of perhaps three carrying a grocery bag whilst carefully placing tomatoes into it.  Her treasure held close to her chest.  Her blonde hair glistened in the morning sun as her mother removed weeds from the garden.

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We walked on towards the roar of traffic and the busy coffee shop that we were to meet my friend at.  I hadn’t seen Partha in at least seven years.  We had shared classes together in college and had quite a bit to catching up to do.  After a lovely visit Doug and I went to eat a Czech restaurant we had walked past.  We figured if we were gallivanting around the city we may as well try a new cuisine.  We sat on the patio but could not hear a word each other was saying for the massive decibel of the street.  We forgot how very noisy a city can be.

We continued on to the funky shops and specialty stores perusing books in old storefronts with massive stacks upon stacks and dusty corners.  A treasure hunt of sorts and I came away with several Beatrix Potter books to read to Maryjane.  Prized oil cloth was found at a fabric store.  A housewarming gift for Andrew and Megan at another charming store filled with glistening treasure-like tchotchkes and delights for the senses.  Five hours and several miles of walking went quickly by.  We had enjoyed our trip to Denver but we were ready for the comfort and rest of the country, our loud road in front of the house not so loud in our minds anymore.

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On our way back to the car shop we crisscrossed through the neighborhood and found unexpected minute pieces of farm.  A heavy laden plum in one scant front yard, herbs growing in the greenway by the street.  Yellow squash intermingled with large tufts of ornamental grass.  Pumpkins in corners and across sidewalks.  Wooden framed raised beds in the middle of a gravel parking lot near a warehouse.  Large leaves of chard and cabbage growing beautifully along with trellised green beans.  In front of a decrepit office building, quite near the tracks, surrounded by cement and street, in select sections tall stalks of corn waved proudly as if they were new forms of ornaments and at their base the beautiful pumpkins crowded out the unsightly ground and thrived, right there in the dusty, smelly city of cement.  Bits of farm making their way back to the urban field.  It was pleasing and exciting indeed to see the local gardening and food movement in unlikely places.  Seeds long to be planted.

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Autumn in the Air

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I felt a chill and knew it’d come

he doth snuck in through the night

on glided rain through corn stalks stealth

a new feel to this dawn light.

 

Coloring as he made his way

green beans wave an aspen gold

birds sing brightly from pine perches

prepare for winter untold.

 

Vast pumpkin leaves unfold with grace

the harvest a blessed sight

glinted orange orbs of autumn hide

peering out to children’s delight.

 

Summer sun will still dance about

her familiar warmth a treat

but in the evening’s autumn mist

fall moves o’er farms on painted feet.

5 Steps To Becoming a Homesteader (or just simplifying your life)

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1.Write down your goals. 

Do you want to quit your job?  Move to the country?  Have an urban farm?  Homestead on the weekends?  Live a more peaceful, mindful life? 

We have been on the path to simplicity and homesteading for about seven years now.  It started with reading books like “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral” by Barbara Kingsolver and wanting to learn to can and grow all of our own food.  I started canning (badly) and started a sad little garden in the city.  I got better!

Our goals were to leave our corporate world and busy suburban lifestyle.  When Doug had a nervous breakdown our timeline sped up.  Our goals constantly change and morph each year.  We have a pretty extreme list of homesteading goals right now.  I have no way of knowing if they will work, but I have written them down and am working towards them.  Ask and you shall receive!

  • Find a place with a small house that has a wood stove.  Wood cook stove?  Even better.  Said house should be around $850 a month.  Don’t laugh, it could happen.
  • Small house would be on a bit of land.  I need a full acre of garden.  A quarter acre at the moment provides us with 90% of our vegetables during the summer and early fall, and 80% of the medicinal herbs I use.  Another quarter acre could be the remaining herbs I need to grow, and additional fresh eating vegetables, plus a pond.  A green house and hoop houses could inhabit part of the remaining half acre and a large preservation garden (everything I need to can) and a spice garden (Lord, do I spend a lot on spices!) could round out this menagerie of growing Eden.  An orchard would be added as well and then of course we need room to walk about, have our goats, chickens, and ducks, and be able to ride our bikes to town.
  • A composting toilet and gray water systems could be in place.  We will use as little electricity as possible.
  • This will be a haven for our friends, children, grandchildren, and wildlife.

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2. Learn two skills. 

There was a vast amount of information about homesteading lost with our past generations.  We just don’t know how to do many of the basic skills and farmstead chores anymore.  Find a mentor or a class or a great book and make a goal to learn two things.  Two things a month, or two things a year, whatever works for you.   

A few years ago on this homestead I wanted chickens and to preserve almost all of our food for winter.  The next year I wanted goats and alpacas and to learn to spin.  I learned to spin, didn’t like it, didn’t care for the alpacas, gave away the alpacas, fell in love with goats, got more chickens, and canned over 500 items.  Homesteading is constant rearranging of goals.  This year we got bees and ducks and started growing almost all of our medicinal herbs.  We dug up the driveway to make more space to garden.  Last year we dug up the front and side yards.  Last year I learned to make soft cheese, this year hard cheese.  Doug has learned fencing methods and how to milk a goat.

We have learned what we enjoy, what we don’t, what’s a waste of time, what’s imperative to our homesteading journey.  Learning everything at once is not possible and would be overwhelming.  Just pick two skills.  What do you want to learn?

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3. Get Money Savvy    

Rethink your finances.  Get out of debt.  Stay out of debt.  But don’t wait for pristine credit before you make the jump.

Our BIGGEST mistake that will continue to haunt us for years to come was getting into debt.  We had fourteen credit cards, owned our house (or the bank did), had two car payments and had amazing, perfect credit.  Ironic, isn’t it?  We took the Dave Ramsey program at our church six years ago and it changed our lives.  We paid off and cut up all of our credit cards.  We do not have any still.  We paid off a lot of debt.  We then lost our house and one of our cars in the crash and our credit went to crap.  Which didn’t matter at the time because we were content renting for half the price of our house in Parker.  We have everything we need but there is the little matter of $50 grand from the second mortgage that still says it is an open account and $25,000 for the student loans we still owe.  There should be a money back guarantee.  If you don’t use your degree you should get a refund.  I do not see, with the interest rates the way they are, how we would ever in this lifetime pay these off.  If you are in debt, get out.  If you are not, do not venture into that pitfall.

Save a hundred dollars a month.  Pay yourself first.  Put it in a coffee can or the bank.

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4.  Simplify.  REALLY Simplify!

Every hour you work is money spent on something.  How many hours do you have to work to make enough to pay for the car?  Gas?  The house?  Cable?  Cell phones?  Restaurants?  Is it worth it?  What do you need?  How much time would you like?

It goes against every grain of our society to make less.  The mantra is make more, spend more, the more you make the more you can give, the more you can have, the more secure you will be.  Wrong.  I highly recommend you read “Radical Simplicity” by Jim Merkel.  It outlines our footprint on this planet as well as radically simplifying your life.  If you work less, you leave more work for others.  If you consume less, you leave more for others.  If you have less, you have to work less (this does not include the good kind of work on your own time on a farmstead).  The less you consume, the less resources you take from the planet, less pollution, less animal habitat loss, less unfairness.  Do you need a huge house?  Do you need to buy all of that packaged stuff?  Does it really bring happiness?

My goals are to lessen even more.  We are stressing over bills still and have too much stuff.  What is it with the seven sets of (gorgeous) antique dishes in my cupboards?  All the clothes I don’t wear?  The jewelry I don’t wear?  Where is our money going?  I am now writing it all down, the spending for each day.  See where the leaks are.  See what we don’t need.  What we don’t need to buy.  How much is everything really costing us?

And despite the stressing of leaching money, I want to make less.  No, I have not lost my mind.  I want to stay beneath the poverty line.  I have all the food I need, I am looking at lessening my rent, getting rid of my water bill and most of the electric bill, driving less, less gas money and wear and tear.  High taxes?  Don’t have them.  Where is your money going?

I am ready to simplify even more.  Make less money.  Offer medicines on a donation basis so that everyone can afford them.  Does cable television make us happy?  We don’t really watch it, so no.  That glass of wine in the evenings?  Yes, I don’t have to give that up.  By freeing up your money and where you spend it, you have only what you need and love.  And lots of time to watch the sunset and play with baby goats.

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5. Just Do It!

No more five year plan, maybe next year, only if he gets a raise, or when the kids move out.  There are no guarantees you will live long enough to live the life you really want.  Now is the time to act!

What can I say?  I have friends my age in their forties heading on to the Great Beyond and ones in their eighties who are too tired to do any more.  What is the best time to pursue your goals, cut your spending drastically, move to the place of your dreams, and start living self sufficiently?  Now is a real good time.  And if you cannot move yet or don’t want to, if you don’t want to quit your job or change much at all, just learn a few skills.  Cheese making?  Crocheting?  And urban garden?  Simplifying and homesteading can be done on many levels.

 

 

 

Gin and Jelly (sounds like a rap song)

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Chokecherries by themselves are rather tart and cannot be eaten plain, however if you boil them with water then the juice can be turned into all sorts of delights!  Here are a few recipes for chokecherries to save the delightful taste of summer.

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Chokecherry Gin

Fill a half gallon canning jar with chokecherries

Add 3 cups of sugar (organic and raw preferably)

Fill jar with gin.

Let sit for at least two months.  Shake daily for the first week to dissolve sugar.

I don’t strain it until the liquid is below the fruit.  The color becomes a deep purple.

My friend, Sandy, adds more sugar half way through the waiting time and hers is quite spectacular.  I may do the same this year.  A nip of this concoction during the holidays or on a cold evening in front of the fire is very satisfying and very tasty.  Incredibly smooth and easy to drink, do keep in mind it is straight gin!  Make mixed drinks with it as well.  The gorgeous, festive color lends itself to fine holiday gifts.  Just pour into a decorative jar and arrange a ribbon about its neck.

Chokecherry Jelly

This, my dear friends, is the first time that my chokecherry jelly has set completely!  I have made a good deal of chokecherry syrup over the years unintentionally.  (Which is quite delicious blended with maple syrup and poured over waffles.)  My friend, Liza, brought me a magazine and in it was a recipe for chokecherry jelly which used two packets of liquid pectin rather than one as I had been doing.  And it worked.

This recipe is a variation of the one from the Fall 2014 Capper’s Farmer magazine.

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Place 1 quart of chokecherries in a saucepan and cover with about two inches of water.  Boil until the color is lovely and the seeds are all showing through the skin.  Strain liquid.

Put 3 cups of juice in pan.

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Add 6 1/2 cups of sugar (organic and raw preferably) and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla sea salt (optional).

Bring to rolling boil stirring constantly.

Add two packets of liquid pectin and return to boil.  Boil for two minutes.

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Take off heat and add a teaspoon of vanilla extract.  Pour into half pint and/or 4 ounce jars.  Clean rim and replace lids.  Boil in large pan with water covering jars for 6 minutes.  12 minutes if you are in my neck of the woods.

Mmm…chokecherry jelly and peanut butter sandwiches, chokecherry jelly on biscuits, on toast, in oatmeal, in salad dressing, in barbeque sauce, in….