Keep up with the goings on around the farm!

Keep up with the goings on around the farm!

Friday, April 6, 2012

I Love Dirt!

Life on the homestead is pretty dirty right now. Spring planting and bed preparation has begun in earnest, Adam is bringing home nightly pots filled with transplants discarded from client's homes, spring garlic is finding itself in the cast iron skillet, garden greens are getting tossed in vinaigrette, flowers are popping everywhere! The dirt under my fingernails is now a permanent fixture, alongside blisters, poison ivy, splinters, and an occassional scrape. Inevitably someone needs something from inside and few of us are patient enough to unlace so the floor bears a gritty shine, soap dishes are lined with dirt splashes, the chopping block even sports a few dirt crumbs carried in by radishes and gloves, a pile of dirt-caked overalls and socks linger at the back door too dirty to wait in the hamper for wash day, and dare I speak of the lovely ring around the tub! This is life! I am going to cry when I have to return to school on Monday, once again closed in by four walls and a mountain of paperwork, luckily I work with amazing children and have managed to cultivate the beginnings of a decent school garden, so technically I am still engaged with dirt in my professional life, and so exhausted by being indoors for so many hours a day, that upon my return home I find myself rejuvenated by the possibility to get really dirty before preparing dinner, tubbies, and bedtimes, that I jump right in, weeding with a grin!

What is this love affair I have with Dirt? Could it not be the most amazing substance on Earth? I think of the Native American Folktale, "The Earth on Turtle's Back". I read it recently to my fourth graders who are beginning a unit on Native Americans. I chose the story to illustrate the theme of Survival but as I think about my affair with Dirt, this story comes to mind. Could it be that Dirt = Survival? Quite possibly so. Shall I share a quick version of the story with you, I am glad that you in the beginning there was only water, Sky Woman has a dream that the Tree of Life is uprooted, such a powerful dream must come true Sky Man orders the tree to be pulled up. Curious Sky Woman leans over to see below and falls, falls, falls down toward the ocean abyss. The water animals look up and see this creature falling. They send the swans up into the sky to catch and cradle Sky Woman. Immediately they recognize that she cannot live in the water, clearly her body lacks the appropriate adapations. The concerned animals decide they need to build her a place to land and live so one by one they attempt diving to the ocean bottom to bring up some Earth. Failure after failure occurs, and just as they are ready to give up teeny tiny muskrat says she or he (I can't remember and do no wish to offend...) will do it or die trying. (This is the survival theme I was shooting for with the kids; determination, motivation, etc.) What do you think happens, is little muskrat successful? Do we walk upon Earth everyday? (please don't argue this one with me, even if you walk on concrete most of the day, Earth is hiding below, just waiting for a breath of fresh air.) Yes, muskrat barely makes it to the surface, clutching one handful of Dirt. The ocean animals are all quite impressed, but quickly realize there is no place to put this Dirt. Wonderful, wise old turtle volunteers his or her back for the Dirt. Muskrat's hand lays the dirt on turtle's back and it begins to multiply covering all of turtle. The swans gently lay Sky Woman on turtle's new Earth back. In her clasped hand is the clutch of seeds she grabbed attempting to catch her fall out of Sky Land. She lays the seed in the dirt, and alas life as we know it began. Isn't that a wonderful story? It speaks to so much of why I love homesteading. I want to be an active participant in my family's survival. Is it a lot of work? Yes. Are our goals overwhelming at times? Absolutely. Is it worth it? Hands down the best life I could imagine for my family.

It is such a strange world that we live in now. In so many ways it is so disconnected to what we are, dirt. We can walk down any aisle in a grocery store and pick out just about anything we want, regardless of season, distance, or practicality. One might argue that this privilidge is so healthy, I mean fresh strawberries in December, yeah vitamin C. But is it healthier? Is it really any better, is there really any vitamin C left after the genetic modifications, long journey from Florida, and ripening in a truck? What happened? Have we completely fooled ourselves into thinking that having everything and in quantity at our fingertips is natural or normal? No wonder our student's lack the art of patience! How many have to wait, or resist the oh-so-tempting urge to pick their strawberries before they are ready?

Anyway, back to Dirt. We are what we eat. What we eat comes from dirt. We are dirt. It is our responsibility to care for it. If, anything at all, please start a compost bucket in your kitchen. Delegate a hole in the corner of your yard, or invest in a small home composting tub. Give dirt back what it gave you and I promise you it will not dissappoint you, or your children, or your children's children...

I started this post over a hot cup of tea last night, after a long busy day deconstructing pallets and recycling them into raised potato growing bins, preparing and planting our new addition to the farm titled "Cherry Lane", and scooting the chicken tractor around the yard to all the juicy clover patches. It must have been more exhausting than I realized because when my son asked me to read him some stories before bed, and asked me to snuggle him to sleep, I too drifted off, not to wake until the sun came up. So, I finish this post next to a steaming cup of coffee and a beautifully long list of to-do's for Saturday at the farm, no doubt involving OUR best friend, DIRT!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Spring Fever

The pinks and purples of spring are taking over the perennial beds.

Springtime is just around the corner. Signs are everywhere from the daffodils, crocus, and lily pips to the non stop chatter of songbirds from dusk till dawn. With the dream of feeding our family better produce that will last us longer throughout the year, springtime means lots of planning and lots of work. We have our seeds picked out. Tomato and eggplant sprouts in the kitchen window. Bush cherries are expected in the mail any day! We have been busy expanding the vegetable gardens. This year we are going to try out a no-till method. I am lucky to be able to aquire lots of cardboard from the school cafeteria so we are prepping and almost ready to go. The strawberries look promising, as is our large crop of garlic. We have herbs aplenty; rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, and oregano-I think a lucky combination of a sheltered herb garden and a mild winter. Peas are sprouting and the lettuce is growing. Blueberry buds are turning pink. All good things that I am very proud of.

And chickens are back on the farm. Six: Omelet, Scrambled, Mega-a-Zega, Modo-Bodo, Skipita-Friskita, and ?. They are quite a lot of fun to watch eat and grow. They do have their own little personalities.

Balance is still the goal. I wake up early, get Ben and myself off to school, teach all day, attend meetings afterschool, sometimes attend an evening class, all of which would seem utterly exhausting, and it is. But somehow no matter how tired I feel, the second I turn in the driveway I am instantly ready to charge at tasks with new vigor. Weeding while the children swing, orchestrating dinner, sitting beside the chickens, planting spring seeds, and jumping in mud puddles. No wonder I am behind on housework, can never seem to get my kids to bed on time, and once horizontal-out for the count.

The list is endless and the days never seem long enough. I can't imagine a life any other way.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Wet, Rainy Season is here.

Well, it is finally raining in Georgia. We suffered another severe drought this summer. Hopefully this now endless seeming rain will help bring the water table back.

What does this mean for us at the farm? Despite the rain we have been busy; planning gardens, transplanting, and cleaning up.

This has been our first pecan year at the farm. So far this season we have probably collected around 100 pounds from around 12 trees. There are still trees out there that haven't dropped yet, which is good because we are not looking forward to crawling around the moist grass in search of nuts. We are enjoying the bounty, snack time is nut cracking time. Often Adam and I find our self in competition for cracked nuts with both the dogs and the boys, we just can't crack them fast enough for all the hungry nutmunchers as Adam likes to call them.

We had a large brushpile that has been growing from our first spring on the farm. We finally took the plunge and set the pile on fire for the first step in prepping the area for our perennial veggie and berry patch. Now on my to do list is weaving some more trellises for the blackberries. We found a nicely crowded patch of young pines in the woods that we have decided to cut into a forest hideaway for the kids that will provide the necessary poles for the project. I am looking forward to putting aside time to play in the woods with the boys and harvest our poles.

Adam and I are enjoying looking through seed and plant catalogs, dreaming about future purchases! We have already placed our seed order which includes seed potatoes and sweet potatoes, both a first for us at this farm. This year we are planning a large garden down the center of the Pecan grove that we will plant in the Native American Three Sisters style; squash, beans, and corn. I haven't yet picked out the beans for that yet. I have yet to eat a pole bean that I truly enjoyed, any suggestions? We are thinking maybe a been for shelling, which means a lot of canning, but we do eat a lot of canned beans throughout the year. Probably a good bet.

Almost all of the hundred garlic cloves I planted this fall have shot out of the ground. Can't wait to taste fresh garlic this spring.

I am hoping for a strong strawberry patch this year. I have always struggled with this plant, but I think this year we have at least the best chance yet. They are now in the ground long before spring, soaker hoses in already, lots of sun, and high hopes. We just need to combat the weeds that seem to have infiltrated from the mulch pile. I think I will put in a request with the custodians at school to start saving me cardboard again to line the rows organically before the real warmth of sun hits. All the strawberry farmers use black plastic and even though there fields are all weed free something just doesn't sit right with me and black pastic in my garden.

Adam has been inspired to delve into his big landscape dreams for the property. The driveway rockery has begun and transplanting is in high gear. We are again thankful for the rain as we truck loads of plants to the farm from our old property. It is amazing to me that we planted a half acre property and cultivated it to the point that we are able to remove enough plants to completely landscape this five acre property. We were fortunate to buy a property that had once been a cattle farm so the soil was rich and black, so unlike the typical shovelfull of red clay that we expect here in Georgia. Adam also discovered the free local mulch pit which provided hundreds of yards of rich organic material which created a "Little Shop of Horror's" effect, lots and lots of healthy happy plants growing. Perennial gardening is where it is at if you like to move plants around and grow your gardens. Variety is lacking however and we are enjoying putting aside a little budget to add some new plants to our iris and seedum laden beds.

On my list of to-do's is to get a few chickens. Adam pulled the tools out and built a chicken tractor recently, a movable coop that we plan on moving around the pecan grove primarily. For one the electric dog fence doesn't go there, remember Leo is a chicken killer, and the other reason is that Pecans like Nitrogen rich soil. Spending time at my sister's over Christmas and enjoying her farm fresh eggs has re-invigorated our desire to bring chickens to the farm.

Adam has also cleaned up his pallet area. This has become a winter routine for him. During the busy season stuff just accumulates from pallets, rock cages, and pots. The pallet stack was getting so tall I was beginning to worry that it may fall over and potentially endanger something living.

Pickles, we need to eat a serious amount of pickles before growing season begins. Jelly too. A goal for next year is to be more creative in my canning endeavors. Tomatoes are a breeze, I just freeze those and use them throughout the year. I just made a delicious pasta sauce from our summer tomatoes. Tomatoes are so easy to through into chilis, curries, and soups. Now that I have an immersion blender it is even easier to turn the tomato harvest into something the kids will eat happily too. We still have peppers in the freezer, need to think up something good for those. We are eating the frozen peaches almost daily in smoothies. Still have chili peppers in the freezer, one of these weekends I am going to attempt my own hot sauce. Definitely need to think smarter about food preservation next year, learning through experience what works and what doesn't. One goal-instead of I think I will put Adam on that one.

On a sad note, our cat Luna has disappeared. We haven't seen her since before Christmas. I know how cats can be and I have not given away her food yet, but with each passing day we know that the likelihood of her return goes down. She was always rather aloof and rather prone to scratching for no good reason, but we did enjoy her daily visits for a quick nibble and pet. It was nice having a cat around, I can't remember many times in my life when there wasn't a cat nearby doing the cat thing. Luna wasn't the closest cat I have ever had but I do miss her little black face and her little crooked neck. We miss you Luna, wherever you are.

On a happy note Rama just had his thirteenth birthday! His face is getting whiter by the day but he still manages puppy play when something sparks his interest. Mostly he just lays around keeping his eye on any potential goodie that may come his way. Summer is going to be hard for him I think. I don't think he is in hiking form anymore. He was a trooper this summer but there were times on the trail that I began problem solving how we were going to carry him out of the woods. I really don't want to be in that predicament, nor do I want to see his face when we have to leave him behind. That decision is going to suck.

Ah well. Life just has a way of going and going and going. Fleeting moments of frustration, happiness, and all out exhaustion...are we lucky to be here navigating the road.