Planting Trees and Rented Farms

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We are quite out of room but I found yet another spot to grow things.  In another part of the driveway, lining the raised bed garden, we prepared four spots for trees.  We put down cardboard in a 3×3 square and topped it with three inches of mulch, namely soiled half broken down straw from the chicken and goat pens and coffee grounds.  We watered it but Mother Nature has taken over the watering and each day gives it a good soak.

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Two weeks ago the ground was hard.  Only a few inches of ground could be disturbed.  The wet cardboard and breaking down compost is creating a wonderland beneath the soil.  The moisture is staying in and the ground should be cool.  Tunnels of earth worms might be frolicking about and creating air and fertilizer beneath.  In a few months we will plant four fruit trees.  We will cut through the center and dig just deep enough to set the bundle of roots in then quickly cover it again with more wood chips, mulch, and compost.  The cardboard will continue to break down and the nutrients will feed the trees.  In the meantime, groupings of mushrooms that look to be homes for fairies are growing in the mulch.  (Does anyone know what kind they are?)

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We are renting a farm.  This makes us vagabonds in a sense.  A feeling of permanence is never with us.  An underlying worry plagues us if we are not careful.  Will we need to move?  Should we move?  Is there a better farm?  Is there a place in the city that we could farm and help more people?  Should we stay where we are because we love so many folks around here?  Would I even be able to get a hold of the landlord to ask?  These questions can usually be shhhed with a glass of wine.  I try to not think and let the pieces of our life fall into place as they may.  In the meantime, we are planting trees.  Permanent?  Yes, but a gift to the earth and the next occupants of fresh apples can only be a positive.  And perhaps if we are here long enough, we will enjoy a few harvests.

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If you rent a space, do not rule out about making improvements or planting trees and perennials.  They will gift those that come after you, the wildlife, the bees and birds, and yourself while you live in that spot.  The world is ever changing, as are our lives, and there are no guarantees that we will stay in one place, even if one owns a piece of property.  For it is never really ours.  Everything on this planet is on loan and our lives are in constant change, so enjoy where you are now and perhaps plant a tree!

The Mystery of the Dead and Dying Chickens

She wasn’t standing at the back door like she often is, waiting for me to sit down so she can hop on my lap and fall asleep.  She was lying stiff and quiet on the soft straw beneath the alpaca shelter.  No sign of injury.  Shirley had just passed away sometime during the day.

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Meanwhile, Mahalia was standing still, her backside tucked, lethargic.  Now, we’ve had our questions about Mahalia before.  Soon after she grew up we wondered if she had an egg stuck when she took that stance.  If you haven’t read it, it was quite a fiasco.  She has never laid solid eggs.  This is her third year of laying occasional slips of eggs.  Suddenly, she was paralyzed, scooting her way around on her side with her wing.  Burrowing into a nesting box.  Her breast bone protruding, her stomach bloated and hot.  I have no idea how to euthanize a chicken.  This morning she is still moving her head.

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Yesterday, Ethel did not run for the fence as usual.  She is lethargic.  She didn’t run from us.  Seems tired.  Dead this morning.

These three were among our eldest chickens, in their third year, but not what I considered old per se.  No one knows.  Elizabeth asked if we fed them green beans or potatoes.  Someone working at the feed store told us of a gruesome way to kill them but had no ideas as to why they were sick.  Sandy looked in her chicken first aid book.  Nothing.

I do hope these are all separate incidences.  That they are just getting older.  That I will not start slowly losing my entire flock.

Any ideas out there?

Turns out there is a pretty bad upper respiratory virus hitting chickens in this area that is carried in on people’s shoes.  We have added a good amount of my herbal anti-biotic to their water with hopes that we can nip this is the bud!  Thank you so much for all of the responses and the concern!  I love a good homesteading community, international and local, that can help solve problems and cheer each other on.

 

Festival Escapes

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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dancers

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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.

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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!

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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and for adoring grandchildren.

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

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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.

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A homestead can make you very tired though!

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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?)

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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.

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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.

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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.