Planting down memory lane

A few days before we left our Oregon homestead, my good friend and neighbor helped me pack my garden. Yes, I know it’s crazy, but it felt hugely important to bring to our Missouri home some small percentage of the hundreds of plants that I had come to know and love over years.  So we spent several hours choosing, pruning, labeling, digging, and packing flowering perennials, herbs, bulbs, and fruit bushes into black garbage bags nestled inside of enormous cardboard boxes.  Into the moving truck, and across the country my plants traveled, and when they arrived in Missouri, I hastily heeled them into a makeshift bed of topsoil, covered them with leaves, draped chicken wire over the entire thing, and hoped for the best.

In March I checked on the bed to see if there were any signs of life, and sure enough, the Columbines were putting out lush green growth. I felt an urgency to put the plants in the ground, to get them established before they put all their energy into upward growth. On a gusty day, Brian and I worked quickly to dig up sod, shake off the topsoil, loosen the hard clay below, and add horse manure.  It was hard work, and thankfully our good friends who were visiting were willing to chip in and help.  There were moments that I lifted out a “plant” and saw nothing more than a dead stick with a bright pink label.  But I put it all in the ground, thinking that you never know when a plant will surprise you!

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve been eagerly watching the bed for new signs of growth, and every time I see a tiny leaf push through the soil, it is a joyous gift.  Yesterday, I was on my hands and knees, gasping with excitement over the fact that my favorite mint – which I dug up from the Echo Hollow creek-side, and interestingly, had been first planted by my Missouri neighbor Sarah – was indeed alive!  It struck me that these plants are so important to me because they represent so much more than beauty and culinary delight; they are like a scrapbook of my past, holding the memories of important friendships, events, and places.

For instance, the four years that I worked at a wholesale plant nursery, way back in 2000-2004.  So many discarded, overgrown plants came home with me those years. Into the garden they went, and as I added more and more plants to my stash, Brian obligingly dug and sculpted more garden space. Those were tumultuous years of our relationship, yet there was something about the garden work that we did together that assured us that, like the plants, we would grow together. Some of the plants from that nursery, a perennial primrose for instance, are still alive and now at home with me in Missouri.

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Or flowers from the garden on the land that I was married.  I worked in that garden for a summer, talking with my friend, the owner as we weeded together.  I remember one day I was confiding with her about my relationship with Brian – I wasn’t quite sure where it was all going.  She assured me that we were meant to be together, and when we were ready to be married, it would be on her land.  Her Cut-Leaf Rudbeckia came home with me one day that summer, and is now growing more happily than I’ve ever seen it.

Or the way that my Oregon garden acted as a backdrop for our lives.  We’d step out the door and check on new growth, or steep some sun tea, or warm ourselves, or play with goats in that garden.  Some people have a stately tree under which they snap their family portraits; I had that garden.

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Some of that warmth, that connection, those memories that I associate with plants and gardens is here with me, in our new home.  And so my plants and I continue our journey together, sending down new roots, and experiencing new growth.

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* This post was shared at Natural Living Monday, Homestead Barn Hop,The Backyard Farming Connection, The HomeAcre Hop, and Homestead Bloggers Network.

Planting fruit trees

The past three weeks on our homestead have been all about fruit trees.  When I placed my orders in February, perhaps I was a wee bit overzealous, and I ordered a lot of trees (18 to be exact), fruiting bushes (a modest 6) and raspberries (only 12!)  Planting fruit trees is like a celebration of finally owning our little piece of land and an investment in the future, so the more the merrier, right?

Well, sort of right. The thing about fruit trees is that you really need to take care siting and planting them.  All winter long I’ve been placing markers at potential sites, reading books about orchard management (The Holistic Orchard is my favorite), and drooling over fruit tree catalogs (I ordered from One Green World and St. Lawrence Nurseries). Yet somehow, with all that dreaming and planning, I kind of neglected to think about how much time it takes to properly prepare a hole for planting.  Thank goodness for my strong Homestead Hubby and a lot of great tips from St. Lawrence Nurseries’ planting guide. If you are getting ready to put trees in the ground, I would highly recommend reading their guide before you begin.

Here are some highlights of our planting experience, including some ways that we made planting flow more easily and quickly. Fruittree1

Brian prepares the site by first scraping and removing the sod in a 2-3 foot diameter circle.Fruittree2

Digging deep!  Topsoil is moved to one pile, and subsoil to another.  In our holes, the topsoil was rich and brown, while the subsoil was a heavy reddish clay.

We found it easiest to lay cardboard down next to the hole and place the soil upon the cardboard, making it really easy to lift and shake the last bits of dirt into the hole.Fruittree3

Three piles: sod, subsoil and topsoil.  After digging to a depth of 1 1/2 – 2ft, we roughed up the bottoms and sides of the hole, which makes it easier for roots to penetrate the heavy clay. Fruittree4

 

Trees and bushes were kept heeled into our big compost pile until we were ready to plant.Fruittree5

We used a long stick across the hole so it was easy to determine the proper level at which to plant the tree.  The contents of the hole go back in the opposite order: sod first, topsoil around the roots of the tree, and subsoil last.Fruittree6

After planting, I heaped a large wheelbarrow load of composted horse manure in a bowl shape around the tree. Then the tree gets a nice big drink of water. Fruittree7

Voila! The beginnings of an orchard!

 

 

Creating a School!

For the past few months, I’ve been part of a group of parents that are working together to create a Waldorf-inspired homeschool cooperative.  This year we have been meeting once a week and taking turns leading circles, songs, stories and crafts for nine children, ages 2-5.  Next year, our numbers will grow a bit, and we began to wonder how we could best meet the needs of our children as they enter kindergarten.  While we’re all committed to homeschooling, we also wanted to create regular, structured opportunities for the kids to learn and create together.

After much visioning and communication, we have decided to hire a part-time Waldorf teacher for next school year.  We are so excited to move forward with this plan, and have created a job description that we’d love to circulate far and wide. It’s a unique position in that we’re able to offer room, board, and many opportunities for learning homesteading and simple living skills at the various family farms, permaculture education centers, and radical simplicity projects in the area.

I’d like to share the job description here, in hopes that perhaps you might know someone perfect for the job!  Or perhaps you might know someone who could connect me with someone to connect me with someone!  Thank you.

An Extraordinary Teaching Opportunity
Waldorf-Inspired Homeschool Cooperative Seeks a Part-Time Teacher
for the 2013-2014 School Year

 The vision of our homeschool cooperative is to create a dynamic and inspirational learning community that embraces the holistic philosophy of Waldorf Education, fosters a deep love of all living things and a connection with the natural world, and incorporates ideas of simplicity, service, and sustainability while developing the unique gifts of our children.

We seek a loving, collaborative, creative individual to plan and implement a Waldorf curriculum and act as lead teacher in a Waldorf-inspired homeschool cooperative.  Two days a week you will teach a four hour Kindergarten program for 8-12 three to six year old students. In addition, one day per week, you will organize and facilitate an outdoor/farm/wilderness enrichment program that is open to a wider community of children, and is taught in cooperation with parent volunteers. Expect to work 15-20 hours per week, 12 of which is with the children and the remainder used for planning and preparation.

The ideal candidate will have training and experience in Waldorf Early Childhood Education, is enthusiastic about sustainability and homesteading, and has a desire to share his/her gifts while learning simple living skills.

We offer an incredible opportunity for personal development and professional creativity, with benefits including:

  • Private room on a small family farm
  • Delicious, non-vegetarian, mostly organic meals
  • A monthly stipend of $400
  • Access to a wide variety of classes and learning opportunities including: organic gardening, animal husbandry, permaculture, non-violent communication, restorative circles, food preservation, indigenous skills, natural building, and handwork/crafts

This is the experience of a lifetime for someone self-motivated that wants to work creatively, building a new learning community in Northeast Missouri.

For more information, contact Teri at: laplatahomeschoolcoop@gmail.com

Link love

On this cold, rainy, gloomy, decidedly un-springlike Thursday, I wanted to share a few links that have been bringing me joy in the past weeks:

  • I’m so in love with the fine art of Amanda Greavette.  Her depictions of women laboring and giving birth in her series, The Birth Project are just so gorgeous, raw, and real.
  • I really enjoyed this post about GMO-free animal feed for your homestead critters, at Joybilee Farm.  She talks about how homesteaders can altogether avoid GMO feed by making their own out of grains and legumes such as wheat, oats, and split peas, and includes a recipe to try.
  • As my thoughts wander to next year’s fruit tree purchases, I’m really eager to get some blueberries in the ground.  Blueberries need an acidic soil, so this year I’ll choose a site and amend the soil in preparation.  I enjoyed reading this article on planting blueberries in a  Hugelkultur mound – great to learn from their lessons (and the author lives in Northeast Missouri, so I’m getting bioregion-appropriate tips).
  • (Warning: the next two links contain blatant self-promotion!)  I am happy to be guest posting today on The Homesteading Hippy, talking about ways to reduce plastic in our homes.
  • Have you seen the new online magazine FROM SCRATCH?  It’s a great resource for anyone interested in growing their own food, raising animals, or DIY (and it’s free!).  I wrote an article for their most recent issue about goatpacking in the backcountry with my family.  You can find it here (click on the image of the magazine to make it full size, and then flip to page 84 for my article!).

As I have been writing this, another package of fruit trees arrived on my doorstep, so I must get out to the land and make space for an assortment of fruiting trees and bushes. Have a beautiful Thursday!

 

Wrap them up

Hailing from the Boston area myself, I’m feeling a little raw today.  I’m so relieved and grateful that my friends and family members who were watching or running the race are all home safe.  But it really pains me to think of all the families who are hurting today, and I am hurting with them.

I was reading Facebook earlier today, and a high school friend asked how to explain this to his 4 year old son.  One person’s response was to just give his son the facts.  I am on the opposite end of this spectrum.  Perhaps I’m too naive, but if there is anything I can do to protect my two year old and five year old from the terrifying aspects of this world, I would like to do so.  I’m not afraid to talk about life and death, because this is the cycle of life. Yet, their young minds can not truly understand the rational details of such an event; is it really worth giving them “the facts”?  I just want to wrap them up and keep them safe and innocent, just a little bit longer.

There were a few hours yesterday when I was waiting to hear if my brother was safe; what an unsettling time.  Thankfully, I had to remain present with my kids.  Ella and I had a fun photo shoot, showing off her new Regina (to coordinate with mine – so Hanna Andersson!).

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Wrapping her up.

 

* This post shared on Yarn Along and Keep Calm Craft On.

Taking Stock

Some days, it’s a very good idea to take stock.  It’s easy to think about how much has NOT gotten accomplished, or to stress about the very long list of things-to-do.  But when I really look back and realize that just in the past two weeks, we’ve gone from this…

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To this…Cabin4

To this…Cabin7

And from this…SheetMulch3

To this…

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And this…

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It all feels really darn good.

(The above photo is a newly planted bed of perennial flowers, herbs, and fruiting shrubs that got dug up in Oregon, moved cross country, heeled into top soil over the winter, and now planted on the land. We’ll see which ones make it!)

Wishing you a wonderful weekend, taking stock of what is truly good about life right now.

Good morning!  I am so pleased to have our little homestead featured on today’s Homestead Highlight at The Backyard Farming Connection.  Gretchen is a fellow homesteader who has built a great community on her blog, with lots of interaction and information.  Pop on over and check out her site!

 

Chick Days

Chickens truly are the gateway animal on a homestead, and ours is no exception.  Last week we drove out to a small hatchery, operated in a local family’s backyard, kitchen, and garage. Day old chicks peeped and chirped in boxes, and pens of turkeys, hens and game fowl stood in the yard. We got a small box of chicks – three Ameracaunas, two Rhode Island Reds, three Buff Orphingtons, and two Black Australorps.  At the last minute, I decided to exchange out a Buff Orphington pullet for a rooster, knowing that they tend to be docile and good around children.  So there it is, the start of our laying flock – 9 hens and one rooster.

For now they are in a box in the kitchen, where they can remain warm under a heat lamp, and where we can all watch “Chick TV.”  The kids are enamored with the chicks, of course, and all sorts of chick shenanigans have ensued, from truck and train rides around the house, to outdoor field trips.

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As we drove home, Brian remarked, “I feel like a real homesteader again,”  and it is so true.  Not having animals or a garden to tend has just felt incomplete.  I’m so happy to jump back into the daily routine of caring for the animals and plants that provide us with food and joy.

* This post shared with The Backyard Farming Connection, Homestead Barn Hop, Monday Menagerie, and Natural Living Monday.

Create an Instant Garden with Sheet Mulching

This weekend I took advantage of the gorgeous sunshine and direct-sowed some spring crops – peas, lettuce, spinach, radish, and kale – in the lovely raised beds of our house-sitting home.  Thinking ahead to our move in May (ish), I’m also creating a summer garden space on our land with the sheet mulching technique.

Sheet mulching is a way to create an instant garden by deeply layering organic materials.  If you have a large backyard, imagine turning a corner of your lawn into a space to grow food!  On our land, we will most likely plow a piece of earth in the fall for next year’s planting, but this summer sheet mulching will create an immediate growing space, with no tilling.

Sheet mulching is very similar to making lasagna – layer, layer, layer. In fact, some folks call this the “lasagna method.”  It can be done with a wide variety of organic materials, some of which are likely available for free or cheap: straw, hay, leaves, wood chips, manure, compost, food scraps, cardboard, newspaper, or grass clippings.  If you’re a visual learner, you might enjoy referencing Toby Hemenway’s diagram of sheet mulching here.

So here’s how it works:
1) Get yourself some big old piles of organic matter!  We bought a huge straw bale, but were able to source free horse manure and amazing finished compost from the local university farm.  Many years ago, I sheet mulched a garden over the course of several months so I never had huge piles like these; I just added leaves, food scraps, manure, etc. as I acquired it.

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2) Lay down cardboard (remove the tape!) or newspaper as a base layer to smother any weeds.  If you want to add any soil amendments (lime, rock dust, kelp meal), put these in direct contact with the soil, before laying down the cardboard.  Wet this layer.SheetMulch3

3) Layer your organic materials, watering as you go. Since we don’t have water out on the land yet, I decided to really model lasagna and do many smaller layers of straw alternating with horse manure.  Rain will help wet the straw, and my thinking is that the horse manure will more readily decompose the straw if added in thin layers.  Some people prefer a 12-18″ layer of straw/leaves/hay followed by a thin layer of manure. Do what works for you!

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4) Continue working in this manner until you create a VERY thick layer of materials.  Remember that it will break down over time and will shrink considerably!

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5) To finish, add a layer that you will plant into, such as a finished compost.  Make it thick – around 2-3 inches is great.  Top off the pile with straw, sawdust, leaves, or wood chips – something that will hold moisture and prohibit weeds.  I will be direct seeding many summer crops, so my personal preference is to let the plants grow to a few inches height before adding the final layer.

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6) Now you are ready to plant directly into your new garden. Before long, your pile of straw and manure will turn into rich, dark soil, and the cardboard will break down, allowing roots to penetrate the soil below!

 

*This post shared on the Homestead Barn Hop, Homestead Bloggers Network, and Natural Living Monday.