Blossoms of My Life

Without a doubt, this daily prompt (Blossom) opens so many windows in my soul.  I once read a book entitled The Language of the Flowers that was at heart a kind of romance book, which I usually detest. But, embedded in this book was an understanding of the meanings for so many flowers — “Rosemary for Remembrance” and such.  I have always been a plant-loving nature girl, but this book brought new meaning to my appreciation of flowers and how they mark our lives.  There are flowers for celebration, love, mourning, anger, revenge, success, wealth, and a world of other sentiments.

When I originally began this blog, I was a homeschooling mom with two beautiful girls  reading and learning their way through high school.  I had a small heard of sheep, grew my own organic vegetables, and fancied myself as a budding homesteader. Life was like the snapdragon flower — full with days of  playfulness and fun, representing a hope for children. Every decision was made with the focus of raising happy, healthy, God-fearing, young women, confident in themselves, who they would become, and what they would have to offer the world.  As all situations in life happen to be, this was an ephemeral time of joy and happiness that was as fleeting as the snapdragon itself.  My girls are all grown up and pursuing adventures of their own.  And, it is so gratifying to still be their cheerleader and experience them cheering me on to my own pursuits.

Now that I am classified as what most would call an “Empty-Nester,” though technically my girls still live at home between college term breaks, I have decided to embark on a new life adventure.  I set sail on June 12, along with my sister, in a small car bulging at the seams with  provisions for a summer of working, playing, and hiking in Yellowstone National Park. It is an adventure that I have dreamed of since my early 20’s but never really saw as a reality because the joy and excitement of being a mom  stood as a beautiful towering mural on the wall of life in front of me, and I could not see over or beyond it.   I feel a strange bittersweet emotion deep in my soul that I don’t yet have a name for — a mix of remembrance of all the joys in life thus far, excitement for all the adventure ahead of me, fear that I’ll do something dumb like get eaten by a grizzly, thrill for all the beauty of the earth that I will witness, and longing to still have my babies with me for every adventure.  

Leaving behind a life of familiar comforts and taking to the road of adventure is a grand step out of my comfort zone.  A sense of sheer terror sometimes creeps upon me to think that everyday ahead of me will be totally unpredictable (I may not even get to have my usual morning coffee time.) But I say, “ADVENTURE HERE I COME!”  Lavender is my new life symbol flower, with its gorgeous and fragrant purple blooms.  With its exotic qualities, lavender offers the promise of new adventure.

 

Thank you to the Daily Prompt for sparking these thoughts.

Advertisements

Garden Log I: Simple Soil Preparation

Since we began our homesteading adventure, my girls and I have enjoyed a great harvest each summer and fall, but last year we made the jump to 100% organic gardening.  We prepared the soil well in advance of gardening season and tended the garden all summer with pretty good success. We did not get started last year, however, in time to start our own seeds and ended up purchasing many plants and our seeds from a local feed store.  All summer, I could not get those pink chemically-treated and fertilized seeds and plants and out of my mind.  It seemed that we were doing all the right things for a natural and organic bounty, which was, I felt, better than the veggies I would buy from the supermarket. But, I wanted EVEN MORE from my own efforts. I want to share some of our decisions and changes we are making this year in hopes this can be a help to others.  As the summer advances I will also chart the successes and struggles arising from these decisions in our “Garden Log 2014.”

Simple Soil Preparation

I remember in my childhood stepping off the school bus in early April each year to see the tractor turning over the our garden spot with the turning plough.  Just thinking about it, brings the smell of fresh dirt and anticipation to my mind.  In the coming days, my daddy would put pelleted fertilizer in the ground, and we would plant the garden.  Though the memories are precious and the veggies delicious, I want to take my inherited love of growing my own food to an even healthier level and produce the best garden veggies I can using no harmful chemicals.  After much research and some small failures, I learned that organic/ natural gardening begins with advance preparation and rich soil.  There are many MAGIC formulas out there (“8 Steps to the Perfect Garden” or “Six Secrets to the Best Veggies”.) But, in all honest, I need a SIMPLE SOIL PREPARATION, or quite honestly, I will just get frustrated and quit. I subscribe to the following: 

3-SEASON Soil Prep:     FALL FEEDING     /     WINTER REST     /     SPRING SUPERCHARGE

1. Fall – Since the ground will be resting all winter, it is always a good idea to pile on the manure and compost for the long winter’s nap the soil will be taking. It is best to remove any remaining plants from the seasons gardening.  If they were healthy plants,I add them to my current compost pile.  Next, I bring in wheel barrow loads of horse and manure from the barn and spread it out over the garden bed as evenly as possible.  Finally, I pile on a thick layer of compost that I  have been collecting all summer.  Both these are still active and will need the winter to decompose and will feed rich nutrients into the soil as they finish rotting.  The recommendation from the department of agriculture is to give manure 2 seasons to rot before planting your vegetables, so putting it on before for the winter is perfect for early spring planting. (more on Composting here)

Before I had a horse or sheep to provide the manure, I just volunteered to clean out a neighbor’s horse stalls.  Usually people are very willing to allow you to do their mucking for them and, and you get free fertilizer.  Feeding the soil in the fall is wonderful for raised beds or regular gardening, and will be well worth it come harvest time.  Being realistic, it takes a couple of years to really condition soil for optimum organic growing, but I didn’t wait till my soil was “perfect” to begin gardening.  I learned a great deal about the individual plants as well along the way.

2. Winter Rest- The soil is resting in the winter time, so there is not much to do but sit by the fire and draw up my garden plan while I thumb through seed catalogues and dream of warmer days to come.  There were a couple of things to consider, though, before I put away my garden tools. To Turn or Not To Turn –  Some people turn the compost and manure into the soil, some don’t.  I opted not to disturb the soil under the blanket of manure and compost.  I may experiment with something a bit different next year.

3.  Spring Super Charge – This is really an exciting time, and I always begin before spring officially arrives.  With the first peep of “Buttercups” from beneath the cold ground, I begin loosening the soil with a shovel and/or with pitchfork.  The soil needs to be sort of dry to begin working it so that I avoid compacting it into clumps.  Since I covered the garden with compost and manure the fall before, this is pretty easy.  If I had not, it might take a bit more muscle but would still need to be done. Lifting the soil lightly adds air to the soil and makes it workable.  This year, I have added three enhancements to the soil – Epsom salt, Blood Meal, and  Azomite.  After letting it rest a few days and begin to absorb the enhancements, I will be ready to plant the early veggies.  

Over the years I have done a great deal of research into how to maximize my garden harvest, and I have no doubt that I will learn from this year’s adventure.  If one change does not work this year, I will shift my thoughts next year.  I read garden blogs and articles all the time, and am so impressed (or maybe confused) with the people who have the perfect blanket solutions to growing a great garden.  I may have limited experience, but I have learned some important lessons: “Embrace what works and leave what doesn’t in the dust of last year’s garden.”  

February Mucking Day/ Composting for a Huge Harvest

With the Buttercups, known also by the name of Daffodils, popping their heads from the ground in Mid-February, the farm springs to life with anticipation of the coming garden season.  One farm chore I excitedly dread is the cleaning out of the sheep shed.  Our tiny barn is home to our ewes Nesse, Phoebe, and Beatrice  and their big brother Moose ( a lovable goofy whether) where they are kept safe from predators at night year round.  It needs cleaning out twice each year to prevent foot rot and yuck from mounting up and eventually squeezing them out of the barn.  I realize it is now April, but I found some pictures I took this year, and thought I would share how we garden organically with our barn, yard, and leaf keepings.

barn muck3

The most exciting part of mucking day is the end when I can stand back and look at the mountain of organic fertilizer and hay mulch that we will now mix with the fall leaf collection.   We have experimented with several different ways to create compost.

Initially I used a 2 foot square compost bin I purchased, but that was way too small and did not facilitate the proper amount of moisture and was hard to turn.  Then, I built one from a huge plastic barrel with a crank handle, but that also was not large enough to provide enough fertilizer for the whole garden.  Finally, we arrived at a method that is both easy and time effective.  For easy composting we set aside about a three by eight foot rectangle of space at the end of the garden against the horse fence.  There we  began piling up the barn mucking and leaves in layers along with kitchen scraps and the occasional bucket of chicken manure.  Layering the dry matter with the manure as we piled keeps us from having to turn the pile.

Half the year we add to the pile on one end as we use from the pile on the other.  That way we are always building for the next garden season fall or spring.  It is never too late to begin composting.  Since spring gardening is already upon us this year, we are building our compost for the fall.  If you are just now getting started, think ahead to all those wonderful fall veggies you can grow and get started composting.  Composting is a very simple, economical way to make sure your garden harvest is the most healthy you can produce in addition to saving money on commercial fertilizer.

GREEN + BROWN + WATER = LOVELY COMPOST FOR YUMMY GARGENING

I am sure there are many clinically “accurate” ways to compost, but we like to keep it simple at the Kottage. Nitrogen and carbon are the two working ingredients in good compost.  Layer green /gooshey stuff (yard clippings, manure, garden and kitchen scraps) with brown / dry stuff (leaf rakings, straw, sawdust, shredded paper) and then wet it down.  When you are satisfied that your mound is a good mix and is wet down, then cover it with a black plastic tarp and wait.  You can add to it and move it around with a hay fork if it makes you feel productive.  Check it ever so often to make sure it it moist and add water as needed.  The following link explains in more detail the nitrogen and carbon that comes from different sources.

Composting (article from EarthEasy)

So as much as I dread the full day I must devote to cleaning out the sheep stall, I am equally excited to be putting it to such tasty use in my garden.  We always make it a family day and have fun with both leaf raking and mucking stalls.  It makes for great family fun as well as precious memories.

 

Health is Relative / Rage Against the Dying of the Light

DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT

RAGE, RAGE AGAINST THE DYING OF THE LIGHT  

 (Dylan Thomas)

      “You are in relatively good health…. for your age,”       the doctor comforted at my yearly check-up last year.

 WHAT!?!?  

Those words made my temperature boil.  I’m only 47, but he made it sound as though I needed to go ahead and reserve home health services.  In all fairness to him, though, I must admit that I was overweight, with some mysterious, unexplainable pains, blood pressure and sugar not high but… rising, possessing the energy equivalent to a slug, and STRESSED beyond reason by my then 80-hour-a-week online teaching job (but that’s another post for another day.)

………………So he did what many doctors do.  He offered me some medication for

  • depression to give me hope
  • pain to hide the mystery ailments

balanced and counter-assisted by medication for high blood pressure, which will most certainly be made worse by the first two.  And, I did what any sensible middle-ageing woman, who did not want a full on medical confrontation, might do — I gritted my teeth and bit my tongue through a smile, took my bag of pills, and went home.  The one thing I knew, however, was that I would not just take some pills and give up on life, so I flushed them down the toilet and determined to “rage against my own dying light.” Since I had no idea which malady to tackle first or how, I decided to follow the example of the beautiful Scarlet O’Hara and “worry about it tomorrow.” I fell into bed with a fresh new resolve to “get healthy” all on my own — starting tomorrow.    

The following morning I was “released” from my employment by a “savvy, all for profit,” on-line school in the name of cutbacks or fiscal responsibility.  I sat at my kitchen table with a weird mix of relief and fear jousting inside  my brain for several hours, just sipping coffee and tearing up my breakfast napkin in a strange stupor.  However, God is continually showing me living proof of his word:

“You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result…” – Genesis 50:20

Fast forward nearly a year and I find that my whole life has changed, and I am truly “not going gentle into that good night…”  I had so much more time last year to devote to my garden and farm, growing my first ever fully organic garden harvest.  My new state of life also meant more time outside, more exercise, and more time with my girls.  I made a list of all the things I had wanted to do or learn that I had never had time to try and ploughed ahead: bee keeping, wild-crafting, chemical free living, wool sheep, painting, English Country dancing, and herbal teas and medicines just to name a few.  I felt like a penny pinching bird out of prison, and I never wanted to go back to the overstressed, face-pinched, ailing woman I had become in my seven years of on-line teaching.  And thus my HOMESTEADING journey began in April 2013.  I was homesteading for LIFE – literally to save my life and help my daughters see a different way of living.

BUT….. Have I truly managed to become the picture of health I vowed to attain?  Sadly, NO.  I was happier, but still suffering many of the ailments of a poorly tended life. I had managed to rid myself of seasonal allergies, but not much else had changed.  At the insistence of a close friend, I finally consented to see a Naturopathic Nutritionist.  At the first visit, after the nutrition response testing I learned that

  • my liver is clogging my knee
  • my spleen is loaning stuff to my stomach, and
  • my body scars are preventing me from being healthy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~SOUNDS CRAZY…. RIGHT!?~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Yep!  It really does sound crazy, but I have been witness to my friend and so many others experience such amazing health revivals that I felt I had to go for it with my whole self.  I went back this week for my consultation and to find out what supplements I need and came out with a list of foods I can eat and bag of “Whole Food” supplements that are going to help restore my body to its youthful 47, and maybe even back the clock up a few as damaged organs begin to heal.  So, this is how I “Rage, Rage Against the Dying Light.”

  • I am again planting an organic garden.
  • I will still harvest wild and grown herbs for teas and medicines.
  • I will still shear, spin, and knit my way to happiness.
  • I will expand my homestead this year to include chickens, milk goats, and more berry bushes.
  • I will continue to walk the home education path with my girls.                    AND
  • I will take my supplements and follow the food plan.

But above all these things, I will trust in the Lord to guide me.  He rescued me from a sad life filled with stress and exhaustion.  He has placed wonderful friends and family along my path to make the way even more joyful, and is guiding me on living my Homesteading Dream.

How are you raging “against the dying of the light?”

Kindred Kottage: Exploring the Simple Pleasures of Life and Legacy

More than 15 years ago when my girls were small, I dreamed of living a self sufficient life on our small farm — raising chickens, milking a cow, spinning wool from a flock of sheep, growing our own food, and providing a happy, healthy life for my small family that I was sure would grow to at least 1/2 dozen kids.  Fast forward to today, and I am still dreaming that dream, at least part of it.   Some days (infrequent as they may be) I feel like it may just be one of those “if I could have just” dreams, but then I realize just how far I have come on my homesteading life journey. My small family (just me and my two girls) have survived divorce, a temporary stretch of city life, job loss, physical illnesses, education – public and home, “near poverty, rock soup lean times,” drought, storms, predator attacks, and countless hurdles over the last 15 years.  So, when I read the article “Start a 1-Acre, Self-Sufficient Homestead” from Mother Earth News a few years ago, the spark of THE DREAM surged again through my heart.  In hind sight, I take issue with how easy the article makes it all seem and plan to discuss openly with you here the honest reality of living sustainably on a small farm.

From somewhere back in my youth, a lesson from my papaw, the Watermelon Man, resounds continually in my ears and provides the fertile ground on which my life now builds. Growing up all my life on a farm meant for me long summer hours hoeing in the watermelon field with my grandfather.  He seemed to magically know just when my resolve to finish a row was about to melt away under the baking sun, and he would break the silence with a story or question or a life lesson that I was sure he heard straight from Ben Franklin himself.  He once explained, “Life an’ anything you want to accomplish is jus’ like this field of watermelons. They’s alot of work needs doing ‘fore the fruit’s ready, but all you gotta do is hoe it one row at a time.” That was one lesson I heard loud and clear, papaw.

I’d like to share my journey with you, including farming small ruminants, chickens, gardening, wool, fiber arts, wild crafting, preserving, sewing, home education, good books, faith, family, and anything else that life tosses our way.  My goal is not just to bombard you with post after post of instructions on how you should do this or that to be self-sufficient and happy, but just to honestly share my journey from a “Homestead Wanna Be” to where we are now — Exploring the Simple Pleasures of Life and Legacy at Kindred Kottage.