Farming Lessons & Life Goals

pepper starts 012019Once upon a time I hated pepper plants. They are notoriously slow to get started from seed and no matter how much I babied the seeds they were always weeks behind the other plants. While all my other starts were tall, strong and bursting to get outside and into the sunshine, my pepper plants were always tiny and struggling. It became an annual frustration. I would move them to the best location for light, place a seed mat under them, have a small fan blowing nearby for air circulation, etc… But every year when it came time to move the seedlings outside I would look at my peppers and feel as if I had failed once again. I took to starting them much earlier than the other seeds but I did it with so much frustration, mumblings and complaining the whole time at the extra work and attention they needed.

A few years ago I decided to approach the growing season differently. Rather than trying so hard to get my peppers to go against what is their inherent nature (being slow to start), what if I embraced that trait? Rather than complaining about starting them a couple weeks early, why not start them a full 4 weeks early and do it with a happy heart? After all usually by the beginning of the new year I am itching to get outside. I’m perusing seed catalogs with glee and dreaming of when I can sink my hands into some dirt. So why not start the peppers super early, enjoy playing in the dirt and let the peppers take their sweet, and molasses-like, slow time to reach maturity. It took me a bit to finally stepped outside the box of my normal schedule and routine and try this life shifted without a grudging heart, but once I did….. what a change.

I was able to enjoy having a valid reason for playing in the dirt in the middle of winter and the peppers were finally allowed to follow their natural inclination. Best of all they were ready when the rest of the plants were, standing tall and strong and I didn’t feel like a frustrated failure. Win- win! Wouldn’t life be awesome if this idea could be applied to people? Rather than trying to get people to fit into other’s ideas of what or where they should be in life, we just support and appreciate their individual quirkiness? I love it when farm lessons teach me about life. ❤

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Enjoying the Season

47345720_1154511974723742_810125995615977472_n[1]I recently saw this meme on my Facebook feed and it resonated deeply with me. A few years ago we made a conscience effort to try to live with the seasons, rather than fighting against them as I had done most of my life. The result was to feel a sense of peace settle over me.

For most of my life I’ve felt hurried. I was either wishing away the winter so I could get outside and work on projects that I had fallen behind on or I was wishing summer get here quicker so I could finally harvest the garden. Rather than living my life to the fullest and enjoying it, I was actually wishing it away. Being the typical farmer/homesteader I always have a list of to-do projects that are about a mile long. Also being the typical farmer I never seem to get to the bottom of the list. As soon as I cross off an item, 2-3 more get added to the list. It’s the farming version of Sisyphus’s hell. When you also have to take the weather into consideration when planning your projects, meaning you can’t drive fence posts when the ground it too soggy or frozen and roofing repairs needs to happen to structures before the heavy rains hit, planting needs to occur when the temperatures are right for that particular plant, etc… it just adds another layer of complexity to an already difficult task. Trying to coordinate with mother nature, who is a fickled team player at best, can make even the most patient person sizzle with frustration.

thumbnail_IMG_1849[1]I’ve been told that I am incredibly stubborn, but even I had to admit that I would never win in my ongoing war against mother nature. Remember that old saying, “if you can’t beat them join them.” I decided to take it to heart and in an effort to simplify my life I decided to give up the war and join her team. Once I stopped fighting mother nature and aligned myself to her schedule, however wild and unpredictable that may be, I finally felt peace. I stopped feeling as though I was running as fast as I could and still falling behind. Suddenly, I was able to appreciate the present.  I wasn’t late or playing catch up. I was exactly where I was meant to be for that moment.

We were blessed with a abnormally dry and warm fall this year and that helped us get a few lingering summer projects completed, but there are always more that didn’t get done. So when I woke to the hard frost this morning I felt the old apprehension set in for just a moment. I thought about the roof and walls that hadn’t been put on the new temporary shelter, the trees that hadn’t been  planted yet, the gate that hadn’t been hung, the cabbage that I still needed to harvest and so many other things that needed my attention, and then I took a breath. I reminded myself that mother nature and I now played for the same team. Apparently she felt those things could wait and so I took my lead from her. Things would get done whenever they got done and there was nothing I could do to change that timeline. After a sigh of acceptance, I built a fire, set some butter chicken simmering on the stove (with extra garlic of course) and settled in to do some computer work, all while enjoying the best view in the world, because this is exactly where I am meant to be right now.

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Winter Prep Ramblings

Winter Prep Ramblings

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERASummer is a time of plenty and replenishment. Anyone who’s familiar with the fable of the grasshopper and the ant knows summer is when there is an abundance of food but it’s also a time to prepare for the coming winter. People prepare for the coming season in a variety of ways from simply doing some back to school shopping to the more comprehensive preparation of canning, freezing and dehydrating their home grown foods.  

Here on our farm, we are like the ant. We start drying herbs early in summer, move to canning and freezing vegetables and fruits in mid and late summer and of course do our meat harvest in early fall to fill our freezers. Aside from food there are other items that need replenishing, such as the firewood shed. I also start making fire starters in the early fall, make sure my candle stock is sufficient for any long term power outages and of course do basic home winter prepping like cleaning out gutters, making sure rain barrels are ready, weather stripping is still in good shape, etc…  But aside from all these practical needs, there is one that I also consider fundamental to having a well stocked winter home…..it’s items for my mental health and entertainment.  reason firewood EDIT

In some ways we’re like the grasshopper, we enjoy our down time, but unlike the grasshopper, we just plan for it. Winter can mean some much needed down time. While chores still need to be done and animals cared for, the garden work is minimal and most large construction or repair projects are put on hold till the weather is better. This means I have some time for me. Time to rest after the craziness of summer and time to rest and replenish my weary self. We have given up our Direct TV services since we found we only watched a few hours a month and it just wasn’t worth the amount we were paying for it. What we found instead was that we read. In fact we read A LOT. We also spend winter hours learning and trying our hand at new skills. This is part of our summer replenishment planning too.

During summer we visit as many yard sales as we can building our collection of winter reading material. As we finish reading these books we take them to our favorite used book store and then trade them in other reading materials. We also pick up books and supplies for our winter crafts and skill building. For example I’m also looking for good sheets that I can use to make fabric yarn for my rugs and baskets. I also pick up supplies to make new molds, curing racks or storage for soap making, wine making supplies and also materials for paper making.  

While the winter preparation for food, heat and shelter may make our physical lives more comfortable, these additional preparations make our emotional lives more satisfying. I would encourage you to embrace both your inner ant and grasshopper and plan for both to make for a enjoyable winter.

Happy Prepping!

 winter books

The Distracted Farmer

tomatoes 0816It’s another sweltering evening and I was debating turning on the air conditioning but was trying to hold off on general principle (I’m always trying to compete with Mother Nature to see who’s more stubborn) and also to save myself from heart failure when I get the electric bill. Anyway, I digress, I was busy trimming soap and getting them ready to package for a special order and I needed to go get my recipe book so I could list the ingredients on the labels…as I headed into the kitchen to grab the book I realized I was starving.

Hubs is at an agriculture board meeting tonight so I figured it would be a pistachio and beer kinda night (dinner of champions right there). I grabbed the bag of pistachios and happened to glance out the window and see the horses. I’d been working from home all day but hadn’t had a spare minute to spend time with Shasta so I decided to rectify that. I put down the bag of pistachios and headed down the hill to spend some time with my girl.

Once I got down there I saw that Gia had several new insect bites on her back. I went tothumbnail_IMG_5040[1] get the fly spray to offer them some relief but apparently Gia wasn’t appreciative of this idea. In fact we had what we call in the horse world, ‘an excellent training opportunity’. Once that was finished convincing Gia that all spray bottles weren’t demons in disguise and had sprayed both horses I did a brief walk through the garden and saw that the tomatoes were looking beautiful, heavily drooping on the vines and begging to be picked, and just like that my dinner plans changed.

I grabbed a couple of the tomatoes, a handful of herbs and a garlic bulb. On the way past the chickens I grabbed a couple of eggs and almost ran to the house, my mouth watering in anticipation. I love homemade tomato soup with a couple of eggs dropped into it and as a bonus I have some homemade soft cheese to dollop over the top. I was practically drooling just thinking about it. It would be totally worth turning on the air conditioner to enjoy this soup.

garden 072818As I waited for the tomatoes to cook down I decided I really needed to sit down and type out the labels for the soap, except I really needed a beer to wet my parched throat as I worked and as I wandered past the laundry room, on my way to the garage to get a beer, I realized that there were two loads of laundry that needed to be folded. So I got to work folding laundry and then put it up. Finally, I headed out to get my beer and about that time I realized someone had taken my beer out of the fridge when the fridge stopped working last week and failed to move it into the other fridge. All my beer was warm. Sacrilege! I put some beer in the freezer to hurry along the process and went to work pureeing my soup and impatiently waiting for the beer to chill.

Now I’m sitting here sipping beer and enjoying my soup and thinking I need to work on those soap labels and wondering how anything gets done around here. Ok, time to get serious, I’m going to work on the labels, nobody say squirrel or otherwise distract me….. hey, I wonder what’s on FB this evening….

Adventures in Bee Keeping

 

IMG_0520Some of you remember that last year we embarked on a new venture for the farm. Bees! To be honest this is mostly Hubs’ adventure. I’m a big fan of honey and the process of pollination for all my garden plants and fruit trees, but being highly allergic to bee stings, I’m slightly less enamored with the little winged friends of death. However, Hubs really wanted to do this and so with the funds from one of my soap sales we got his first hive.   

Fred with beesI’ve tried to be very supportive….from very, very far away. Which probably explains why in one of the few pictures I have of Hubs working with the bees he’s about the size of an ant(and that’s using the zoom on my camera to its full capabilities).  He reminds me of the man on the moon in that get up, but maybe that’s just me.  

 

It doesn’t help alleviate my concerns when Hubs seems to get stung almost every time he has to do anything with the hive. This is not reassuring to me. In fact the last time he went into the hive to take out a couple of trays he was stung on the neck as he took his suit off. Then…….. <WARNING: this is truly gross so if you’re squeamish stop reading now>  after he removed the hood a bee flew into his ear. Yes, his ear!! He could feel it wiggling around and could hear it buzzing but couldn’t get the bee to come out. It just kept going deeper and deeper into his ear canal. You know the saying, “if you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging?” well, apparently no one told the bee.  Hubs finally had to come up to the house and use a ear cleaning thingie to get it out. Oh my! I swear my heart started beating faster and my palms started sweating just listening to him tell the story. Nope, nope, nope! No bees for me.  

I do have to admit though that the honey that Hubs gathered from the hive was excellent. It was so dark it looks like black strap molasses and the flavor is amazing. From what I’ve been able to research dark honey has better health qualities, including higher levels of antioxidants and a higher mineral content than the lighter colored honey. Awesome!  So it looks like I will need to try to overcome my concerns and be extra supportive  because Hubs is buying a couple more hives. Me, I’m buying him a pair of ear plugs. God help me!22627379_10213977725654646_1250656608_n[1]

 

Fruit Fly Wars

 

The farm house is under attack. I know I say this every year, but its true every year.  I also know I say that “this is the worst year ever for fruit flies”, but that’s also true. I swear each generation of fruit flies is learning from the previous ones and getting harder and harder to kill . They are getting more prolific and talented in finding new ways to torment me.

 

Some of you who follow our adventures on Facebook may remember during our first year on the farm a dear friend took pity on me (or got tired of hearing me whine) and bought me a fruit fly trap. It appeared to work well and when we used that and used boiling water in all the drains 2x a day we seemed to hold the enemy at bay.

 

Then the next year dear daughter and I had a contest. We made two fruit fly traps, which basically consisted of a glass bowl partially filled with bait and covered with plastic wrap that had a few holes punched into it. I filled mine with apple cider vinegar and she filled her trap with wine. They both did well and those were my weapons of mass fruit fly destruction for the year.

This year we are being completely overrun. I have removed all vegetable and fruit produce from the counters and keep everything in the fridge. We dump boiling water down the drains at least once a day and I have made my new and improved fruit fly traps. At first I filled them with my tried and true lure of vinegar but we didn’t catch anything. Not even one bugger! So I emptied them out and added wine….waa–laa now I’m in business. Apparently fruit flies prefer good red wine. I can’t say I blame them or that I’m surprised. I do too! You know things are getting bad if I’m willing to donate some of my wine to the cause. Anyway, even with these tools of war craft I am still losing the battle…..until I found a new weapon.

It happened quite by accident. I had gone to the sink to wash my hands. I had gotten my hands good and soapy when I reached my limit of frustration at the little buggers flying around my face. I waved my hands in front of my face to shoo them away (and hopefully keep them from flying into my mouth and up my nose) …… and the fruit flies stuck to my soapy hands! I immediately thought, “Ohhhhhh, this just got interesting!” and a new form of entertainment was formed.

 

Now, several times a day I soap up my hands well and then go wave them wildly through the kitchen, around the fruit fly traps, the fermented foods and sometimes, if I’m feeling particularly evil, I’ll leave a banana peel out just to tempt them. Hey, I never said I play fair. I play to win!

I am probably enjoying ‘bug killing soapy hands’ way more then I should. It’s a cheap form of entertainment for me and so incredibly satisfying. I got 7 at one time yesterday!! Today my limit was 4. Maybe I’m making headway in the war and as an added benefit my hands have never been cleaner!! One day in the future they will one day refer to me as “The Great Fruit Fly Killer”…… okay, so maybe I’m getting a bit carried away. Whatever, you’ve got to appreciate the simple pleasures right? Excuse me while I go wash my hands!

Motherhood and Goats

Viney headshotWe’re under attack from the blackberry bushes. No, that’s not a metaphor, nor am I being overly dramatic. They are truly trying to take over. They’re encroaching into the yard, across the driveway and slowly but surely gaining ground toward the house. I dream about them at night. More like nightmares really. That one day we’ll wake up and find that they’ve completely encompass the house and we’ll become prisoners in a blackberry vine cell. It’s not pretty.

Yesterday while I was out watering and weeding the kitchen herb bed and flowers I decided to pull out a goat or two to help with the blackberry problem. After all I have goats, they view blackberry leaves as a form of goatie crack cocaine. I figured it’s a treat for them and saves me some work. Win-win!

I pulled out a couple girls and Murphy laid down close by to keep an eye on them (I’m not sure if he’s guarding them or keeping them under surveillance because he views them as suspicious) and I went back to weeding . It was during this perfect moment with the sun shining brightly, a slight breeze that floated over the skin and the buzz of fat, lazy bumble bees that I had a deep bonding moment with my goat, Viney.

She had wandered behind the shed, out of view from the rest of the goats in the pasture. Personally, I think she was hiding from her kids. They were yelling to her and she was quietly ignoring them as she munched away contently on her blackberry bushes. Watching this I immediately flashed back in my memory to a time when my kids were small and I would steal downstairs while they were playing and sneak a bite or two of the hidden “good” chocolate. I think I had the same content look on my face as Viney did munching on those blackberry leaves. As I was thinking about this Viney glanced over at me and our eyes met. Just then I connected with her on a level I never thought possible. We were both moms who hid from our kids while we raided the secret stash. It was a profoundly bonding moment…..and then she went after my roses and I had to chase her away from the flower beds pretty much killing the moment.  But for that brief moment we connected as only mothers can. Sharing the struggle of deep love for our children…..and the desire not to share our snacks. Motherhood really is a sisterhood that stretches across all boundaries.