Festival Escapes

IMG_0280

Festivals are not just for children, nor are they solely for those with children, a festival is an entirely different world where one gets to leave the regular day to day and enter into another era of fun and memories.  From Celtic Festivals where circa 1700′s and fairies rein or Pumpkin Festivals where pioneer days and crafts mingle with wood smoke and harvest time, festivals offer a day away from the ordinary.

sword fighting

Our local festival is the Elizabeth Celtic Festival.  Doug is on the committee so we see it coming together throughout the year and watch as an ordinary park in the woods is transported into a literary masterpiece of medieval genius and come to life villages and actors.

IMG_0279

Bag pipes fill the air.  Sounds of the homeland of my ancestors pulsing through my blood stream.  Maryjane dances every time she hears the ring of bag pipes.  This year she was enthralled with the fairies.  She kept running from our booth towards the fairy glen where magical ladies and gents in creative costume met her with smiles and glitter.  Next year I think we will dress her in wings.

IMG_0300

There are dancers and bands.  Pubs and vendors.  Rows of clans to find your ancestry.  Scottish games can be heard throughout the park with the sound of yelling as larger than life athletes in kilts throw heavy metal orbs and bales of straw over ridiculously high posts.  I can barely lift the straw out of my truck.

IMG_0284

dancers

IMG_0285

IMG_0286

celtic festival And of course, ice cream.

The day is filled with wonder as the talented re-enactors come from all over to set up camps and transport visitors into their world.  Vikings, Scottish vagabonds, even Civil war actors show how life was in a time that we only know from books and artifacts.

cooking fire

A weekend of fun is gone too soon and we find ourselves saying goodbye to everyone with a promise to meet up this time next year.  Find your local festivals and take a day off from the present!

irish

Mid-summer Farming (bees, dreams, and permaculture)

IMG_0277

It looks like we live in a different state.  We have had rain every day, so unusual for July, and the grasses are green.  No fires, no drought, no hundred degree weather.  It has been glorious.  Other places in the state are dealing with too much water but here in our little oasis of Kiowa we are basking in perfect weather.  The gardens and trees are drinking deeply and everything is serene.

IMG_0276

We were able to grab a moment of warm sunshine to put our bee suits on and peek in the hive.  The bees are working on their eighth frame in the top bar hive.  The frames stretch across the entire frame now reaching the sides of the hive.  The bees were very busy and completely covered the outer frame.  I tried to pull a middle frame up to see if I could tell what was going on (Is there new brood?  Is there honey capped? What else am I supposed to be looking for?) but couldn’t pull it all the way up.  I was afraid of smashing bees or pulling apart the combs.  I need my mentor to come over next time and show me what the heck we are supposed to be doing.  But for the moment it was like looking into a magical world.  The bees were calm and I have fallen in love with these gentle creatures.

IMG_0275

We have two interns here that are just lovely people.  They have been helping me immensely.  The gardens were all weeded and mulched by yesterday afternoon and new seeds planted.  We enjoy meals with them and talk about our ideas and dreams.  We have been looking for a place to move that has a small house but more land.  Renting has a definite downfall for me, I worry.  I worry that I can’t renew my lease, or that I have to stay but for how long?  Can I plant trees?  Should I get attached to this quaint little house, my neighbors, this town?  What if I miss my opportunity for a homestead?  Dang, I wish I could buy a place.  Turns out we have a choice to make.  The homesteads we can afford to rent are way out in the prairie or far away towns.  Or we can stay near our children and granddaughter.  Not a hard decision to make.  My friend, Lisa, came over one day and asked if we were going to farm the back part of the yard because we had fenced it off (for the goats).  Suddenly while talking with Stephanie and Ethan, our interns, I realized that we could, with their help, transform that space.  We could build a greenhouse.  We could use permaculture techniques to up our food production.  Hopefully we can stay on for a few more years here since nothing seems to be coming up in the form of larger place.

IMG_0278

I have been reading a lot about permaculture and came across a film that fascinated me and a technique we will definitely try.  It is a free documentary.  Worth the watch!  http://backtoedenfilm.com

I do hope your mid-summer farming is going well and you get a perfect mix of sun and rain!

A Field Trip To 1860 (learning from an old homestead)

IMG_0268

We travelled back in time yesterday to 1860.  We visited the home of the Hildebrants from Germany at the Denver Botanical Gardens at Chatfield.  Completely as it was.  The added gardens are impressive and the acreage of farming provides a CSA program for the community as well as a ginormous pumpkin patch and corn maze for Autumn fun.

IMG_0266

As homesteaders, especially ones that are looking to delve further into the world of self sufficiency and off grid living, we look for valuable lessons, ideas, and inspirations from those that came before us.  They whisper through the walls of their old homes and the physical pieces left from a time of homesteading as necessity teach us many things in their silence.  Something in us understands them intuitively.

IMG_0265

We started at our dream house.  A clapboard house with a large porch and swing.  The interior was sparsely decorated with furniture and tools from the era.  The wood stove stood proudly waiting for a kettle of water to be placed on it.  Simple rugs, old quilts, hand tools, and kitchen accessories were displayed.  Many things that we have collected ourselves on our homestead.  I cannot wait until the next homestead when I get my wood cook stove!  How fun the second chapter of Farmgirl School will be!  The house was uncluttered, comfortable, and very welcoming.  We peeked through windows and pretended we lived there.

IMG_0269

A summer kitchen was erected behind the main house with another wood cook stove in it, a counter, and a table.  Heat up the smaller house and leave the big house cool in the summer.  Every year I think we will build a summer kitchen for canning.  Soon we will.  The root cellar was on the side of the house and entered below the home to hold staples for winter.

IMG_0270

IMG_0238

The refrigerator is a shed looking building, larger than our present fridges but a small structure in itself.  We would locate ice from the rivers in the winter and place them in the ice house with sawdust to keep the shed nice and cool and keep our food chilled throughout the summer.

IMG_0235

IMG_0234

The woodshed would be close to the trees, close to the house, and would house the winter’s worth of wood needed to stoke two fires in the home all season.  More wood stood under the eve of the back door to the house.

IMG_0236

We have two interns from New York right now that have travelled by RV to study herbs under me and work on our mini-farm.  If it were 1860 (though I think this rather quaint for right now as well) this is the house they would stay in.

IMG_0241

These raised beds are perfect for building over cement slabs or driveways and are tall enough to not cause too much backache.

IMG_0239

When we move to our next homestead it will be quite likely that we will encounter a good deal more predators than we do here in town, so we will have to build a large pen such as this one.

IMG_0244

This is the blacksmith shop.  A shed with all the important tools to provide horse shoes and for fixing iron implements around the farm.  The buildings were placed in close vicinity to each other along the creek and house in order to block the winds from the southwest.  Everything was close to the water as one could not exactly turn on the faucet and pay a water bill.  I do dream of the day when I can use a grey water system to water my plants, not wasting a single drop, and have fresh well water.

IMG_0242

IMG_0253

IMG_0247

After about having it with any type of automobile I am this close to getting a pair of work horses and a wagon!  My friends would probably nary blink an eye.

IMG_0243

This is the Granary where we would store all of our grains for the winter.  There are openings along the top of the walls to create airflow so that the precious grain would not mold.

IMG_0248

IMG_0249

A barn is very important as animals are an important part of a homestead.  Goats waiting to be milked bask in the sunshine.

IMG_0252

IMG_0256

On our quarter acre I have found that I am able to intensively farm and be able to feed Doug and I and a few occasional guests during the growing season.  I am not able to grow enough to provide food for the community or to put up for winter.  That has been an eye opener for me.  I would need at least an acre to provide enough year round vegetables.

IMG_0250

IMG_0240

The Hildebrant homestead also has several orchard trees as well as an entire herb garden.  There were many medicinal herbs growing in the plot near the back door.  This would have likely been the kitchen garden that held herbs, lettuces, and things that mama would want to access easily without going out into the fields to pick.

IMG_0264

Looking over the bridge here I saw many medicinal plants as well as wild grapes and choke cherries.  If I could just have a quick word with the homesteaders that lived here a hundred and fifty years ago, the stories and lessons they could teach me.

Doug talking with a tiny bunny.

Doug talking with a tiny bunny.

IMG_0258

Having several ecosystems on a single farm is imperative for biodiversity, wild foods, and plants.  This woodland was so beautiful just steps from the fields of vegetables.  Animals and wildlife may add some troubles with farming but by and large add a great deal of charm and are important on a homestead.

IMG_0263

IMG_0261

A homestead is a place to have family around to help with canning and splitting wood!

IMG_0272

and for adoring grandchildren.

This was the old school that was moved to the property.

IMG_0233

Such a beautiful life.  A life filled with hard work, bountiful harvests, and close family.  A place where one can feel proud of their accomplishments and enjoy the world of simplicity.  A homestead is the place to be.

IMG_0262

A homestead can make you very tired though!

 

Making Hard Cheese (an adventure in patience and goat’s milk)

IMG_0232

I plot and wait.  Plan and save up.  Read and wonder.  Then in a matter of minutes decide to buy something.  Now.  I have been dreaming (drooling) over getting a cheese press for a long time.  Ever since Nancy and I were in her kitchen separating cream to make butter and making goat’s cheese some time back. (Read here)  She said she had a cheese press that I could borrow.  When she died her children couldn’t find it and eventually the house was empty and someone has the cream separator and cheese press I had my heart set on!

Alas, we went to the homesteading store and bought one on Father’s Day.  I know, I know, that seems a bit like getting him something I want, but believe me, this will benefit him.  I have a pound and a half of cheddar ready in seven days.  We love cheese.

We were vegetarian for a long time and still don’t eat a tremendous amount of meat.  We were vegan for two years after linking the veal and inhumane factory farm conditions to cheese.  We are so grateful that we have our own milking goats now.  We love milk and we so enjoy various wheels of cheese.  The test was to take all the traditional cheese recipes designed for cow’s milk and make them with Isabelle’s milk.  I am always up for a challenge.

IMG_0225

Hard cheese is so much more time intensive than I imagined.  It starts with heating the milk to a certain temperature according to the recipe, adding the cultures, then stirring again and letting it rest.  During this time, with my first batch of cheddar cheese, I was stirring then set the spoon down, then added the cultures, then picked up the spoon again.  It had a small inch square piece of paper towel stuck on it.  It flew up into the air and in slow motion (well, faster than my brain could react) fell into the swirl of milk and disappeared.  Frantic, I stirred trying to pull the paper towel to the surface to remove it.  I am afraid it was never seen again.  I am not proud of this.  Whomever shares the first slices of cheddar with me next week be warned, there is a tad bit more fiber than I previously planned in said cheese.

IMG_0226

The next step is adding the rennet.  I naturally gravitate towards veg products so I got a vegetable rennet instead of the typical which is made out of calf stomach lining.  Of course I defeated this purpose when I bought Lipase to add to some of the recipes like the Truffle soaked Manchego I just made.  Lipase is made out of the same animal organ.  I wonder if most vegetarians know that cheese is not a vegetarian product.

The cheese sits a bit longer.  Then using a long knife I sliced the set gelatinous orb into half inch squares.  Slice across one way then the other.  A small squared checker board.  Then slice at an angle the same way.  Some recipes require stirring for thirty or more minutes.  Completely against my nature!

IMG_0227

Sometimes it is just time to raise the temperature.  Turn up the burner?  No sir.  Put the pot in the sink and fill with hot water little by little, using a kettle half way through to make hotter water and raise the cheese about twenty degrees no more than two degrees per five minutes.  The laser thermometer makes this more fun and taking the pot out of the water or adding more hot water to achieve desired temperature gives me just enough to do to keep from wandering off.

IMG_0174

The cheese curds are now set into the cheesecloth lined mold and placed under the cheese press.  I had to get real creative with weights.  I use old milk jugs and fill them with water to create which weight I need.  There are lines on the cheese press handle that have a number.  Times that number with the weight of the milk jug to come up with the total weight of pressure.  For instance if I need fifteen pounds of pressure according to the recipe I fill the jug with water until it weighs five pounds and place it on the line that says three.  For fifty pounds I place the Dutch oven with the handle on the 4 line and hope that is 50 pounds!  The pot could be twelve and a half pounds.  I don’t have a kitchen scale that goes up that high.

I have made cheddar, derby, gouda, an Italian softer hard cheese, and manchego.  Tomorrow I will make Swiss.

IMG_0231

I thought I could just place the cheese in the basement to age.  Wrong.  The ideal temperature needed to be between 50 and 55 degrees with 80% humidity.  My basement is 65 degrees with more humidity than upstairs, but I live in Colorado y’all, there is no humidity here.  So I may have had like ten percent humidity.  The answer came in the cheese making book.  Set an old refrigerator on the lowest setting and place a bowl of water at the bottom.  Perfect cheese cave conditions.  I put old wood planks on the plastic refrigerator shelves.  I borrowed a friend’s mini-fridge for this.  She needs it back for her classroom as school is starting soon and I am out of room in there anyway!  I need to find an old fridge.  Red wine keeps perfect in there too, incidentally.  It only needs to raise a few degrees at room temperature to be perfect to pair with the cheeses.  Coincidence?  I think not.

I am following recipes in the “Home Cheese Making” by Ricki Carroll.  I’ll let you know how they turn out!

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

SAM_0851

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.

IMG_0838

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.

Maryjane's first radish.

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.

pumpkin

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.

 

When Chickens Get Grounded

We have our hussies around here.  The white one I have been writing about since the beginning, as she is my oldest chicken, is the worst.  Ethel.  Always flying the coop (and then the fence).  Sophia and Yetta, the Araucanas followed and pretty soon I had a regular runway of chickens dancing up my driveway,  laying eggs under pumpkin leaves, and singing opera in the front yard.  Leo always coming over to tell me my chicken is out as nonchalant as if one of the kids were in trouble.  Then we found out our sweet neighbors next door have recently been shooing them out of the street.  Time for a change.

IMG_1754

We live on a major thoroughfare.  Constant traffic and even though the sign says 20 miles an hour, 50 is often the new 20.  We started looking to see how to clip their wings.  Their vagabond days are done.

IMG_0223

We spread Sophia’s wings which naturally extended the lower flight feathers which are longer.  A pair of sharp kitchen scissors easily cut through the lower half of those feathers.  Much like a craft project with feathers, it did not feel strange to cut them and Sophia didn’t flinch.  Then it was Yetta’s turn.  We could not catch Ethel to save our life.  Fast little bugger.  She spent yesterday in the front yard.  Sophia joined her.

IMG_0224

So this morning, before they could get their breakfast, we went into the coop and kidnapped Ethel, snipping both wings of flight feathers and Sophia’s other wing.  It didn’t hurt them and we have more fear of them getting hit by an oil truck then a coyote coming into the back yard.

We shall see today if all eighteen chickens in the back yard remain in the back yard!

Farming Failure? (or enlightenment?)

IMG_0195

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!

IMG_0219

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.

IMG_0220

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.

IMG_0221

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.

IMG_0218

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.

IMG_0222

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.

IMG_0217

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.

IMG_0162

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…..