Mother’s Day in the Kitchen Herb Garden

Mother’s Day dawned clear, sparkly, and sunny today. The dwarf lilac bush just off the front porch is in full bloom; I can smell it when I open the door. The lilac bush stands guard at the head of the kitchen herb garden, which is also off and running. The lilac reminds me of Mother’s Day when my daughter was very young. As a child, she had no money to go buy a gift, so she gave me what she knew I would love. The night before, after I had gone to bed she would get back up and pick up all the clutter in the family room. Then she would pull out a vintage table cloth with a spring look and set the table, always including whatever she could find blooming in our yard; almost always a few sprigs of lilac. She would wake herself up early and make me something for breakfast. Those Mother’s Days were priceless to me!

md bouquet

This year she is a young mother herself, but she still chose to come to my home early this morning to share breakfast together before celebrating with her own kids. So, I returned the favor for her, setting the table with that same cloth and a vase of lilacs from this house. She loves tradition!

crayons

We spent a couple of hours playing around with melting crayons onto canvas ala Pinterest after breakfast. No better way to finish off the morning than playing! Check out the results—mine is very haphazard; but I am really impressed with her meticulous application and puttering!

beths flower

Now, she’s off to her home where I’m quite sure she’ll be beginning new traditions with her own kids!

 

And back to the herb garden. While I was cleaning out that bed the other day, I dug up this:

story ring

So many questions spring to my mind; what is the story of this ring? How did it come to be here in this garden? Why was it cut off its wearer’s finger? How old is it? Where did it travel? What did it see in its lifetime? And, . . . why is it making its reappearance right here, right now, to me? This house is almost 100 years old and had been abandoned for a decade before we moved here 2 years ago. We will probably never know the story of the ring, but how fun to sit on the porch in the sun and imagine, . . . . maybe that’s a good title for a book, “Stories From the Herb Garden” a book about all the treasures that we’ve dug up while gardening!

story ring2Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy International Permaculture Day!

dandelion If you were unaware that today is International Permaculture Day, scoot on over to  www.permacultureday.org and check it out.  They are having 24 hours of permaculture related events, video broadcasts, interviews and more.

So, how are we celebrating?  We’re just doing what we do!  Planting is in full swing here in the Midwest.  We are having great weather for it, for the first time in a few years and the plants are loving it.

lilac

Did you notice the new look we’ve chosen for the blog?  We thought that International Permaculture Day would be appropriate for making some changes in our look.  We’ve also decided to change our name, . . . . just a little.  We’ve gone from ‘farm’ to ‘cottage’ which is more in keeping with what’s up around here these days.  We will still be planting plenty of food and selling or sharing our overabundance as usual.  We’re still raising our beloved chickens for eggs for those purposes as well.  As a matter of fact, we just added another 11 Buckeye chicks to our flock!  They are in the awkward teenager phase at the moment.  They are very friendly; hand-raised by a young man of about 12 years.  We bought them from him at an animal swap flea market a couple of weeks ago.

apple

What’s changed?  As I’ve mentioned before, we have decided after last year’s drought that we needed to make some drastic changes in our long-term plans for the land. We are busy planting trees and bushes, many of them fruiting varieties.  Every thing coming to live on our land, plant or animal must add something.  Plants need to add food, medicine, fiber, fuel or shelter.  Animals should add food, fertilizer or pollination.  Last year’s drought really brought home to us that even though we weren’t practicing the dreaded monocropping that strips life from the soil, we were not addressing the fact that land stripped of trees and brush adds to the dust-bowl problem.  Without trees and brush, the wind blew relentlessly across the sun-baked earth.  We had no shelter for pollinators and very few blooming things for them anyway.  Our gardens perished.  No matter how hard we worked, we simply could not salvage most of what we planted.  So we are busily adding fruit and shade trees, berry brambles, grape vines, and perennial vegetables.  We just finished seeding a 400 square foot wildflower meadow near the fruit trees.  We put in a handful of perennials around our little decorative pond.  We have plans to add a couple of dairy goats next spring.  We’ll enclose the old greenhouse and turn it into a goat shed.  I am inspired by Collette at Bealtaine Cottage and strive to do here what she is doing so well over in Ireland. We will keep adding in trees as money allows.  Which brings me to the next new thing going on around here, . . .

. . . finding more ways to bring money to the table from home.  Jason has grown specialty hot peppers from seed with an eye to creating hot sauces and rubs.  In the meantime, he grew a few more than he needed. (Don’t we always do that!)  He’s had success selling the excess as bedding plants.        So, we are working on adding in a greenhouse that can withstand the crazy winds around here!  The plan is to build a greenhouse out of discarded windows and heat it with a woodburning stove so that we can grow enough bedding plants next year to add to our cash flow.

pear

And that flows right into my (Lisa’s) new project.  I’m beginning a line of handcrafted dog and human soaps made with great ingredients from around the farm and things sourced locally from friends.  Xena will supervise the doggy line of soaps!  Hopefully next spring I’ll be adding a few soaps with our very own goat’s milk.  And the woodburning stove in the greenhouse?  It will supply ash to make the lye to make some of the soaps, . . . and the ‘farm feeds the farm’ (a lovely quote that I’ve shamelessly stolen from Celi over at The Kitchen’s Garden!  She’s an amazing storyteller–pop on over and check our her blog.  I promise you’ll be hooked!)

grimpounce

These are the reasons that we’ve made the decision to change our name from ‘farm’ to ‘cottage’.  We’re going to continue to brainstorm ideas for becoming more of our own self-contained ‘cottage-industry’ business and it just makes sense for everything we churn out to have a common name.  I am busy working on a logo that will represent us well in all of our endeavors.  Watch for it–coming soon!

centaura

In a nutshell, and since it’s International Permaculture Day, we’ve grown very weary of contributing to a culture that is NOT permanent.  Every new step that we take will be taken purposefully to move in a direction of sustainability; not only with the land, but also with the ways that we make our livings, the way that we entertain ourselves, and the products that we choose to purchase.  While it may take us a while to get there in this economy, we will take little baby steps as we are able.  We believe that having the basic necessities of life; good quality clothing, healthy fresh food, a reasonable roof over your head and basic contentment should not be something only the wealthy have access to.

pink

I’ll end with a favorite movie quote from War Games.  Remember at the end when the computer is cracking the launch code and playing out all the different possible scenarios for nuclear war?  And just as he finds the last digit in the sequence, he figures it out–“the only winning move is not to play”.

Early Spring

mamahenThis is one of our BIG Buckeye hens.  She’s sitting on at least 15-18 eggs for about 4 days now.  We’re so excited to see if she’ll stay and hatch out our next batch of chicks!  Have I mentioned lately how much we love our Buckeyes?!  They are so gentle.  They follow us around the yard like puppies!  The giant roo could really do some damage if he chose to, but he is such a sweetie!  He takes care of his hens, but is gentle with us.  We had 4 too many roos this winter and it started to take a toll on our girls, so we dressed them out and sent them to the freezer for table meat.  Each one of these boys cleaned and ready still weighed in at just over 5 lbs. each!  This breed did very well with the winter weather, very cold hardy; even venturing out of the coop in 8″ of snow when the Wyandottes were snuggled up in the warm, dry coop.

We have more new furry additions to our little farm:  we took in a stray female cat that someone had rescued.  She was pregnant and gave birth in this lovely woman’s care.  We now have her (spayed) and one little girl of hers.  They are gray tabbies and their names are Mama and Bitty.  We’ll get pics of the two of them and our other tabby, Grimm soon.  (It’s raining here today and they’re all in hiding!)

And now on to news of our new plant ‘babies’!  Last night we put in 3 semi-dwarf apples: a Honeycrisp, a Gala, and a Johnathan.

appleguildSo here’s where we’ve headed ‘off pattern’ a little.  Most permaculture and food forest sites seem to be planting understory trees almost as specimens, singly.  They may have lots of fruit trees, but not in groupings.  Or you will find a more traditional orchard with tons of trees simply underplanted with other beneficial things.  Jason and I have spent many hours walking in the local old growth forest nearby.  What I’ve observed is that even the trees grow in groups, usually small groups, but groups.  So we’re modeling after that pattern and planting our fruit trees and bushes in groups of 3 or 5 with common understory plantings shared by the whole group.  This particular planting will be a 5 specimen group; we’ll be adding a Fuju and a Winesap as soon as they come in.

Now for the ‘apple tree guild’ (a grouping of plants that mutually benefit each other) that we’ll be building:

dandelionSee the dandelions already sprouting within what will be the drip line of the trees?  These will stay!  They are part of the rhizosphere layer and help combat soil compaction in our overused, clay soil.  Bonus:  we’ll harvest some of the leaves for spring salads and the flowers will be harvested for jelly.  Over time this season we will be adding: 1.dill and carrots to the area for their roots as well as to provide a food source for caterpillars and food for our table, 2. beebalm and catmint to attract pollinators and for tea and medicinal uses, 3. nasturtium and sweet allysum as ground cover, pest control and table food, 4. onion, chives and garlic for pest control and table food, 5. daffodils to absorb excess nitrogen in the spring which can be detrimental to fruit trees, and 6. comfrey and nettles which are super-dynamic accelerators (they are superb at absorbing nutrients and returning them to the soil).  These will be used medicinally and will also be chopped and dropped right where they are to add their nutrients back to the soil for the other plants.  Eventually we should also add a shrub layer to this area as well:  maybe a berry bramble or a butterfly bush.

trimbranchesHere is a closer view of one of the new trees.  In the coming days (when we can find time and weather permitting!) we will clip off all of those small, lateral branches down below the main branches.  They won’t produce fruit and fewer branches makes it easier for the tree to put its energy into putting down a great root system.  We will also pinch off most of the blooms this first year for the same reason.  A tree stressed from transplant cannot concentrate on making good fruit and putting down roots at the same time.  Even though we’re all so excited for the fruit, waiting for any tree to establish a root system will result in a tree that will live longer, provide better fruit, and be better able to fight off pests and diseases!

Here is a link to a site with a simple explanation of the layers in a food forest for anyone wanting more information.

Snow Day!

8 inches of snow fell overnight. This is what we woke up to this morning! Beautiful and dangerous at the same time. Everything was closed today.

TREES

I discovered this when I went out to feed the chickens early this morning. The snow is so heavy that it took down most of the chicken wire fencing; even bending one of the metal t-posts to the ground! Not a big deal right now—the chickens free range during the winter. We’ll need to make repairs before the neighboring fields are sown with seed.

FENCE

See the bent post at the back of the little snow cave?

Our hardy Buckeye hens are NOT afraid of 9 inches of snow!

Our hardy Buckeye hens are NOT afraid of 8 inches of snow!

 

 

And speaking of seed, Spring IS coming! Here’s the evidence—we have a broody Buckeye hen—she’s sitting on about a dozen eggs right now. Also, we have pepper and tomato seedlings started and enjoying the warmth of the pellet stove in the living room with us.

PLANT BABIES

We took a short break from the work for a little play time just before lunch. Xena loves the snow! The cold energizes her and she goes crazy running and burrowing into it with her nose. She especially loves it when ‘Daddy’ rough houses with her!

DaddyXena Xena snow

After lunch we decided that we’d work on trading out the disaster of a ceiling fan we inherited with the house. Of course, no home improvement project ever goes as planned! One thing led to another: the box was not supported on one side and so, not sturdy enough to hold the heavier fan we were given. We began to poke and prod around trying to find a way to either get the old box out and put a more supportive one in or brace the other side of the existing one. (And all without taking down all the drywall in the ceiling! So instead we had to take out a few floorboards in the bedroom above and suddenly a seemingly simple project has evolved into 3 or 4 connected projects! All projects that were on our list to tackle—just not all at once!

It will eventually all come together.  In the meantime we had a full, purposeful snow day!

 

 

It Takes A Little Effort

Choices, freedom, food safety, biotechnology, terrorism; these words floating this morning, buzzing like bees around the room and inside my head. More and more each day, we are assaulted by news articles, blog posts, and Facebook updates giving us information about what is going on around us: things that sound like they are out of a spy novel or at least things that must be happening in another remote country.

 

This morning I was met on my Facebook page with multiple headlines leading to stories about GMO crops, Monsanto, and drone technology. So, how real is the threat? Is it just more propaganda floating out there to mislead us; to put us in a constant state of terror? Then the terrorism is on our soil? Real or not, I believe it is a wake-up call.

 

I am reminded of a great blog post from Live Nakedly that I reposted here a few weeks ago. We cannot ‘beat’ them by taking the fight to them; ‘they’ are bigger, stronger, and more powerful—kinda like trying to eradicate a noxious weed—you may pull them out here only to have them pop up over there!

 produce

We scream, we cry, we protest, we throw our tantrums. We want change! We want a choice! We want GMO food labeled! We want to choose what we eat! So, . . . . DO it. (Yes, it requires that we get up from the couch or the computer chair and do things for ourselves rather than relying on buying everything we need from someone else.) For now, we HAVE the choice! Grow your own, buy seasonally and locally. Get to know the people you buy from at the farm market. Talk to them! Many of them don’t actually grow all they sell—they buy stuff in—ask!! Skip the grocery store, or at least know what’s in the products that you buy. It’s not as tough as you may think. Don’t buy the hype on the front of the package, read the label. If it has corn, soy, canola or cotton in it—it is a GMO! (Try to find local meat sources and ask questions! Most animals are fed GMO grains! And, yes that includes the eggs.) Skip the packaging altogether—buy food in the packages nature put it in! Cook from scratch. Learn to forage. Learn to hunt. Learn to make your own herbal medicines. If you can’t grow, forage, hunt, make or find someone who does; learn to do without!

 

Find like-minded people in your local area who can share the teaching of so many skills that we have lost. Watch, learn, teach, share. Get to know your neighbors! For now, we have the internet. Use it; be a sponge, soak up all the knowledge you can. Don’t just read, though, . . . do. Scour the libraries—they are treasuries of older books that teach the skills so many of us have lost. Talk to local seniors who still remember. Connect with real live, skin-on people! We live too much of our lives online socially—I am guilty of this myself—that’s the first thing we need to change if we intend to make a difference out there.

 

And maybe most importantly, do all of these things but without a sense of panic and worry. We cannot control what is happening around us, but we do have control over how we handle it. Do all of these things with a sense of fun, wonder, play and adventure! Never forget that this is your life! It may not turn out to be what you had hoped and planned for; but it can still be amazing!

As for me, I’m off to the kitchen to work on learning to make cheese!

 

Planning for a Pond

One of the first things we learned from last year’s drought—every farm needs an alternative water supply! Farming friends that we made last year at the local farm market shared with us that they only had produce to sell because they used their pond to keep their gardens going. Pond water is the best option if there is lack of rainfall—pond water is naturally filtered and is full of nutrients that plants can readily use in times of stress. Another big plus: if you have the space, a large pond can supply you with fish to eat.

Every forest needs a natural water supply: a pond, a creek, a brook; something that will provide water for the beneficial insects, birds, reptiles and small mammals that will make the whole ecosystem work. So, in lieu of a naturally occurring pond, we must add one.

natural swimming pool

Here is the result of the research on the ‘perfect’ farm pond. We have decided to go with a natural swimming pool/pond. The idea is still just beginning to catch on here in the States, but has been in use in Europe since the late 80’s. We are in love with this idea. It will be half shallow areas covered in gravel and planted with pond plants that will act as natural filters for the water. The plants will use up the nutrients so that algae will have nothing to grow on. The plants also will be yet another attractant to beneficials who will feed on mosquitos. The other half of the pond will be deeper water without plant material so that the humans, ducks and dogs can cool off in clean water; a swimming pool that needs no chemicals and a pond that will take care of itself once it is established.

We don’t have all the details ironed out yet.  We did find out that here where we live, if the pond is hand-dug we don’t need a permit so, . . . this will be the first project we start, but will most likely take us most of the summer season to accomplish!  Hard work, but I’d much rather be out in the open air adding value to our lives than hanging out in a high-priced, air-conditioned gym!

Links to sites about natural swimming pool/ponds: http://www.inspirationgreen.com/natural-pools-swimming-ponds.html , www.motherearthnews.com

 

Inspiration To Keep Moving

Alright, I said we’d be visiting pond ideas today, but reality is I had a horrible week at work and simply don’t have the energy to pull the pond article together!  We all have those weeks, right?  For me this week; I was expected to continue my regular work of feeding 180 students and staff at the preschool where I am cook/server/kitchen manager/dishwasher while also preparing pasta for 614 souls for a full take-home meal on Thursday.  Then again in 2 weeks for Valentine’s Day I am expected to feed ALL the parents breakfast along with the kids and do it 45 minutes earlier than usual!  ARRRRG!  Am I the only one tired of killing myself for peanuts while being expected to do the work of 4 people??!!!!!

So, enough of the rant!  I am inspired lately by some amazing people doing some amazing things with their time and energy.  Check out Ron Finley and his food forest in South Central LA.  He is growing veggies in the space between the sidewalk and the street in one of the worst neighborhoods in LA.  Check out his website LA Greengrounds.  They hook up volunteers with people who want to learn how to grow their own and together they make gardens happen.

I would love to do something like that here where I live and I’m going to work in the next few weeks to see if I can hook up with some people I know of like-mind and make it happen this spring.  Can we all pitch in and make something great happen where we are?  The reality is the economy and job situation are not going to get any better.  The only way to ‘beat’ the situation is not to play the game anymore.  Can’t make more money?  Then figure out how to need less of it–grow your own food and medicine.  Actually, the more home-grown organically grown food you eat, the less medicine you will need too!

This is just one of many, many inspiring stories out there.  Do you have a favorite one?  Please share the links in the comments section.  We CAN change the world by working for positive change rather than caving in to the world around us!  It is a geometric progression–train one person, and they train one and the chain goes on and on, . . .

Trial and Error; Let the Auditions Begin!

I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.  ~Thomas
Edison

Trial and error, scientific discovery, educated guesses; reading books, essays, blogs; theory after theory; and finally, sit back, relax and simply observe!

Last year’s intense heat and drought caused a fairly epic fail on our little fledgling farm. Rather than quit, we decided that Mother Nature had issued us a challenge.  Ultimately she is in charge, not us. After reading everything I could get my hands on throughout summer and fall, I finally found something that make sense to me. It’s being called a ‘Food Forest’. Here is a great explanation of it, so I won’t repeat.

Just like all the other theories and models out there, this is man-made. The difference though is we’re observing how Mother Nature does it and mimicking her. Jason and I have watched Mother Nature reclaiming her land around us over the last 2 years that we’ve lived here.  We’ve taken several walks lately in the old growth forest just a few miles away from home.  Observing, . . . even in winter you can see the pattern. No one ‘helps’ Mother Nature with this forest/meadow combination.  There are tall, straight trees in heavily forested areas–nothing much grows at ground level; a few bushes, some shade loving herbaceous plants.  Then there are areas where the taller trees are fewer; a few shorter trees are able to survive and sunlight reaches the ground; more bushes and brambles, and herbaceous plants.  Then there are the meadow areas–wide, open spaces with a few baby trees scattered here and there, but alive with grasses, and sun-loving herbaceous plants. Lastly the pond areas, where she adds bog and water plants into the mix.

So, . . . a food forest mimics this system, but we plant things with a definite use in mind. To maximize our land, any additions to the farm must provide food, fiber, fuel or medicine for the farm.

My 'brainstorming' on Panera napkins--fueled by bottomless cup of coffee!

My ‘brainstorming’ on Panera napkins–fueled by bottomless cup of coffee!

Now we are in the planning stages, trying to figure out what comes first. Honestly I was having coffee on a Sunday morning at Panera and these ideas blossomed onto a couple of napkins! I’m going to try to walk you along with us as we muddle through this one step at a time–and surely one mistake at a time too!  We’ve decided to begin with the ‘bones’–the pond, the larger trees and a much-needed wind break.  We will be auditioning both flora and fauna for inclusion in our little system and I’ll try to put the auditions here on the blog page so you can follow along.

We will be building ‘guilds’ which consist of 1. canopy (tall trees; nuts, fruits, windbreaks), 2. understory trees (small and dwarf fruiting trees), 3. shrubs and bushes (mostly berries and medicinal plants), 4. herbaceous growth (herbs, veggies, annual and perennial flowers and fruits), 5. ground covers, 6. roots (veggies and herbs), and 7. vines.  Each guild will consist of cast members who complement one another in some way; so that each guild will be different just like in our old growth forest.

Alright? So let the auditions begin!  Feel free to leave cast member suggestions in the comments and we’ll explore them together.

Our first cast member auditions will be for the role of the ‘pond’, and will begin next week!

A great read to begin 2013!

Live Nakedly

Our calendar turns the page, so that we start at the top once more.  Though each day represents a full rotation around the sun, we only mark it on January 1.  If we celebrated each individual day, how might life look?  The Mayan long count could have used pages and saved many people from unnecessary, even foolish, stress.  Perhaps a lack of paper had something to do with that.

December 21st came and went; humanity is still here.  The Mayans merely “turned a page,” perhaps not literally.  Is there significance to this?  Is there significance to any “new” year?  Or is it merely a number or a glyph stretching today into tomorrow?

People I know have said the “Mayan shift” signified a move away from dominance to cooperation in the global sphere.  Looking at the state of the world and the power structure that allows such dominance, I’m uncertain that…

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