On Ground Hogs Day, Punxsutawney Phil can out of his burrow, looked into the bright sun and signaled that spring would come early this year. But, with massive blizzards in the northeast and record lows in the west spring seems a long way off. Although the temperatures have been low in my area the sun sits high in the sky shining down like it would on a warm April day. With weather like this I can’t help but wish, dream even that I could get outside and work in the garden, but with the temps barely above 50 gardening outside just isn’t possible. So, like any die-hard gardener I have ways to bring spring to me, in my own way.
I spent last night by my fireside, sorting and taking inventory of my seed box, arranging them by roots, fruits and leaves; making lists of seeds to buy and planning out the garden beds. Many of my seeds can be started indoors, well before spring arrives, and that’s how I can make spring come to me.
Today I spent the afternoon mixing soil, filling starter pots and flats and planting seeds of herbs, cucumbers, peppers, onions, leeks, cantaloupes, watermelons, cucumbers, squashes, tomatoes, head lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and annual flowers.
The plastic lidded “to-go” containers my family saves for me make perfect little greenhouses, keeping the soil inside warm and damp so life can begin beneath the surface.
In a few weeks green things will be growing and by the time the weather changes, for the better I hope, they will be ready to set out in the garden. I can hardly wait.
Our weather of late has been like a tumultuous roller coaster ride—rising and falling; twisting and turning with temperatures that ride high into the sky then plummeting down into the depths of a freeze. Winds that howl so strong the house seems to inhale and exhale, then so calm that the frost settles over everything it touches. In between there have been bouts of rain; gentle and soft so the ground can soak it up then torrential downpours that flood the streets.
For the last week or so I have only run out into the weather to quickly feed and water the chickens and goose, and make a cursory survey of the farm looking for damage or the potential for damage.
It wasn’t until tonight that I actually had a chance to really look the place over. Frost bitten leaves were evident everywhere, but thankfully the barn and the greenhouse (still unfinished) remained intact with no signs of wind damage. During my wandering I noticed what I thought was a large reddish golden leaf on the Fuji apple tree. I had seen it from my bedroom window several days before and thought how amazing that with all the wind we’ve had a leaf was still attached to the barren tree. But, when I looked closer I discovered it wasn’t a leaf at all, but a ripe apple, missed during our fall harvest; curious that I didn’t see something of that size earlier.
It made me reminisce of fall, and made me think of how good a small rustic apple pie would taste in the middle of winter so I plucked it from its stronghold and brought it inside.
Along my walk I also noticed bits of green in the long narrow vegetable planter I built for onions and garlic. The garlic I planted before the holidays is beginning to poke slender leaves through the dark rich soil. In contrast to the lone forgotten apple of a season gone these are the promise of spring, of readiness for planting early crops and the desire to eat fresh from the garden again. Bulbs of dried garlic will hang in the kitchen in a few weeks, seasoning everything from sauces to meats.
If the weather holds I may soon be outside plunging my hands deep into the soil, churning it and smoothing it, making it ready for greens and peas and broccoli and other early season cool weather seeds.
I ended my walk at the barn, filling up the water troughs and topping off the hanging chicken feeder. The hens have had a grand time scratching in the thick layer of straw laid to keep them cozy on cold winter nights. There are deep holes where they have fluffed and nestled themselves in their daily dust baths, and mounded up places where they scratched so fiercely that they’ve piled up the straw. One pile, though, looked particularly strange so I walked over to investigate. As I moved toward the mound Princess Sophia, our Sebastopol goose, became agitated. The closer I got the louder she protested. As I bent down to look at the straw more closely she was literally tugging at my pants in a frenzy. When I pulled a layer of straw aside I could see the reason for all her commotion. She must have begun laying in the last week or so because snug under that mound of straw was a small clutch of eggs. If we had a gander this would be the best ever promise of spring and the promise of a fluffy little brood of goslings. But, it isn’t to be. We have no gander.
Before I had finished my rounds the temperature fell and a frozen breeze was swirling around, the setting sun had painted the sky with streaks of pink and orange and yellow. Fall and spring were clashing in one afternoon; remnant memories of days gone and the promise those to come ran through my mind. As I walked back to the house, glowing with a roaring fire, I turned for one last glance at the tiny farm and thought life can’t get much better than this, especially for a Tuesday.
When I was 8 years old a friend of my moms gave us a used upright piano. It had been owned by a local church for ages and they were replacing it with a new one. Every attempt to sell it had failed, so one day it showed up at our door. It was old, showing signs of age and hard use. The keys were yellow and some were cracked and chipped. The tuning was off and some key pads were so worn down they barely made a sound when the key was struck. But never wanting to pass up a free deal, no matter how battered or unwanted, my mom let the beast into our home.
Our house was full; three active kids under the age of 10, pets running around, toys, activities, and school projects took up almost every inch of available space, but mom was not deterred.
The only place this monster would fit was the rarely used dining room; no matter that every time we walked through the kitchen door it would bang the side of the piano, adding to its ragged state and damaging the door.
After the delivery men left we three just stood looking at this old wooden box with its broken keys and warped sound, wondering what the hell mom was thinking. Little did we know mom had a plan, one that would be revealed to us just before school let out for the summer. Read the rest of the story »
Little bits of anything are often forgotten about or viewed as not useful. But at our house little bits mean we not only use up food that might go to waste in other homes, but we also put a wonderfully satisfying meal on the table. Take the quiche and peach popover above. It was made with two slices of bacon, two mushrooms, a 1/4 of onion thinly sliced, left over half and half cut with some milk to make the needed amount, eggs from our hens and a pie crust. The extra pie dough was rolled out big enough to hold 1/2 a peach sliced and tossed in sugar and spices. The rest of the peach was eventually chopped and sprinkled over the vanilla ice cream that accompanied the popover. The whole meal used small amounts of many things to make one deliciously filling meal after a long day of work on the farm.
So…the next time you are tempted to toss those little bits, don’t. Find a way to use them. Little bits of meat and veggies can be sliced and tossed over a salad. Or, if you can’t find a way to use them now, freeze them to be used in hearty soups chalk full of veggies and meat, or put them in stews and create a belly filling supper perfect for the coming cold weather months.
I love the glow of candle light. It casts a warm comfortable feeling over the entire room. From the first hint of fall’s chill until buds burst in the warm spring air there are candles burning in my little farmhouse.
They are on my mantel, set in a collection of thrift store candle holders on my hearth, on the window sill of my kitchen, in my bedroom and even along side my bath tub. It’s amazing how much that little flickering flame of light can calm and restore and bring peace at the end of a busy day.
But, what once was a necessity for lighting a room, reading a newspaper, or illuminating a path has become almost a luxury. Years ago I could buy candles for a few dollars, but now they cost more than I spend on a bag of chicken feed. Being the frugal farmer that I am however, I have found a few tricks to keep my love affair with candles without breaking the bank.
One is to use the department store gift cards I receive in the mail. You know the ones I’m talking about…where they give you $10 off of a purchase to entice you into the store, hoping you’ll spend more. I’m too savvy for their ploys, though. I am usually able to find 3” pillars, or jarred candles or 6 votives for just under the minimum $10 (which I am still able to use my card to purchase). More times than not I walk out of the store with a beautiful scented candle for no money at all. How’s that for farm girl frugality?
My second method to keeping the candle flames flickering is to save all the little bits and pieces of burned down candle wax. I keep them in a ziplock bag. When I have gathered enough pieces of the same color (or similar color) I melt them down to make new candles. I save all the old jars from any jarred candles because they are made of tempered glass and safe for pouring hot wax into.
For just a few dollars in a package of wick and a $2.00 pot I bought at the thrift store I can make a new candle in less than 30-minutes and enjoy the glow of my recycled wax for hours. How great is that!
To make your own candles out of bits and pieces all you need is a stainless steel pot (one you don’t mind getting covered with wax), a larger pot, an old jarred candle jar and a package of wick.
Now—fill the larger pot half way with water and set it on a medium flame. Cut the wick 1-inch taller than the jar, tie a knot at one end, wrap it around a pencil or chop stick a few times so it sets nicely on the bottom of the jar.
Place the wax bits in the smaller pot and set it inside the larger pot. Let the wax melt, stirring occasionally at first, then constantly as the wax gets hotter. When all the wax has melted, gently pour it into the prepared jar. Let it set overnight. When you’re ready to burn the new candle, cut the wick to ¼-inch and light it.
Voila! That’s all it takes to keep the candle glow burning.
I love my little homestead on the edge of town. It is a stormy weekend here on the Central Coast; grey clouds cover the sky and rain falls light and soft. The Sycamore tree outside my window is the color of New England, red and gold and brown. Leaves fall, swirling around with each puff of wind before landing on the wet ground, insulating bulbs planted this fall.
As I write, there is a blazing fire in front of me, crackling and popping with wood laid in back in September. A stockpot bubbles on the stove, full of vegetables and herbs and chicken raised and killed on our farm this past spring. Soft instrumental music floats through the house, the sounds of winter found on Pandora. It is quiet and peaceful and reflective. It is home, an oasis, a refuge from a chaotic world just outside me.
My friends and acquaintances say I don’t live in the real world, that what I have created is unnatural, a fantasy, a fake world not based on reality. They think I am hiding from life, from drama, from real problems and real situations. But, is it—hiding? Or, is it looking life square in the face and consciously deciding to have something different? A different kind of life; a better life; one based solely on realism.
The daily life of a farm is the most real place you can be. There is living and dying on a farm; crops to be planted so they grow to their most bountiful, animals to be bred so offspring is born during the right season, meat animals to be raised to get a family through the winter. Animals to care for no matter what the weather is, what other pleasures may be sought, what schedules must be kept. Oh, sure you can always run to the store to buy a pre-made meal, but is that the real world? Or, is that the fake and shallow world created by corporations and consumerism?
Is it more real to spend the day walking a mall full of pushing crowds and glaring lights and blaring sounds? Or, is a real life found in the natural flow of a farm? Is reality found in dashing out on a cold winter’s day frantic to get an extra discount on something you already have or don’t really need? Or, is reality found in a home that can care for its family no matter what difficulties may come?
How much more real can you be growing your own food, trading or bartering with others, helping friends in need and being part of a community that understands what real life is, appreciating the hardships and pleasures it can afford, while reveling in the natural beauty of it all.
I suppose we all have a different view on what is real and what reality is. It is shaped by our values, our upbringing, our life experiences. It ebbs and flows as we age and live and grow; deciding what we want for ourselves and from ourselves.
Farming is MY reality. I look out over my little farm and see a decade worth of work and striving and accomplishment. My farm is what solidifies me, quiets my soul, makes me happy, and makes me—REAL.
Do you find the homesteading life an escape from life? Or, a strong walk into reality? I’d love to know.