Brier Hill Permaculture

1 02 2012

We are official. I picked a name for our little gem of a farm, and I’m sticking to it.

I finally gave in and started calling myself a farmer. I have wanted to be a farmer since I was about 10 years old and living next to a horse pasture. I remember looking out the window at the neighbor’s horses and thinking “Yes, that is what I want; a horse farm is in my future.” As I grew, my dream evolved and changed with my growing knowledge. I wanted a permaculture farm before I even knew what permaculture was. In my young mind’s eye, every farm should be permaculture, with all the different systems supporting each other. I thought real farms were living, breathing organisms, with a life and pulse all their own.

It turns out I was more or less right. I don’t think of industrial agriculture as farming anymore. I think I only ever did because that is what children’s stories and books depict modern farming as: some man of ambiguous age riding a tractor through a monoculture crop of some type of grain. Either that or an idealized version of Old MacDonald’s farm.

In reality, the truth is so much better. I wake up more or less around 5am every day, shortly before the rooster starts crowing. I toss and turn until the urge to relieve myself gets to be too much to ignore. Check the baby one more time before I get up. Starting the day with dawn is just lovely. I step out while the water is boiling for my first cup of tea, breath in the new day’s air, get a feel for what today’s weather might bring. Check the goat’s water and hay, feed the chickens and check for eggs in their new nest buckets. Come back inside, grab my now-cool-enough-to-drink tea and head back into the bedroom so I can wake the baby for another snack, if I keep her full she sleeps later.

As I drink my tea and nurse the baby I think about what I want to get done for the day. Since the snowstorm mid-January, the weather has been nice enough that the house is making a lot of progress on the garden and animal housing. Echo, Bean and I recently spent an afternoon clearing old stubby blackberry canes into a pile for our new hugelkultr bed in the garden while Tricks made some sweet new underground chicken nests since our hens FINALLY started laying eggs. We got 5 the first day!!

Last week I put in my seed order with Sustainable Seed Co, arguably one of the best seed companies I’ve had the pleasure of doing business with. Everything they sell is heirloom and open-pollinated.

So, going back to my original point, I finally gave in and decided to start calling myself a farmer. I feel like I finally got to join some secret club. Like, now that I call myself a farmer, do I get a badge, or an id card? “It’s okay folks, I’m a farmer!”

I have always wanted to be a farmer. My success with growing things it hit or miss, but I keep trying and I keep getting better. I am giving some serious thought to trying to join the local farmer’s market this summer. It runs from mid-May to mid-October, and would be cheaper and easier to start doing than a CSA, at least until I have an established clientel. But I am already about to start hardening off my first seedlings of the year, a mixture of salad greens and radishes. I think I should be able to get the hang of succession planting between now and May, and with all these blackberry vines and manure sitting around, I have an endless supply of materials for more hugelkultr beds.

Once I embraced the woman I have always wanted to be, and I mean I grabbed her by the dirty pigtail braids and gave her a damn good shake to make sure we were all on the same page, everything sort of started falling into place. I don’t feel like I am fighting myself anymore. I am happy more. And I’ve found a way to combine my passions – good food, animals, and gardening, with some more recent needs – working from home so I can also raise our daughter in a way that lines up with my morals and views, with a long time need of making money.

Bean will never have to fight it. She has been born into farming. She’s known goats and chickens since before she was born. She knows goats and chicks now. She has been strapped to my back while I chop wood, cut down trees, clear blackberry vines, build garden beds, herd goats and more. Her first taste of food will be of real food, grown and raised right here on this property. We aren’t that far from the city. We could just let the land keep sitting and it will just do what it does. We could keep trying to find a way to make a living in the corporate rat race, we could struggle trying to make ends meet while living on welfare and food stamps. Or we could use some of those food stamps to buy vegetable seeds (yes, it’s true, you can!) and start a garden. We choose to make a life rather than live one doled out to us one unsatisfying portion at a time.

I’m happy with my choice. I am happy there is dirt under my nails at the end of the day, and that my muscles are so sore that sitting up straight hurts. I think this is a good life we are creating here and I can’t wait to share it with others.

Advertisements




Things That Scare Me

23 01 2012

24 Stats To Crush Anyone Who Thinks America Has A Bright Economic Future

Americans Keep Cars Longer Than Ever

It’s happening people. It’s the beginning of the end. It has been for quite some time. But the collapse is like a tumor. First it’s just one mutated cell. But then it divides and grows, next thing you know it’s a lump the size of a pea. Now, if you are observant or lucky, you notice the pea-sized lump and do something to get rid of it. Less observant people won’t notice the tumor until it is much larger, and a few unlucky ones will never notice it, and live on in denial as it grows and consumes them.

The collapse is just like that.

It’s funny. I can remember being a kid, maybe 10 years old and thinking of my future. I never once believed I would grow up in the same world as my parents. I always felt so sad about my future. It felt bleak even when I was young. Sometimes I would just start crying for no reason. I learned to do that in private after it freaked my mom out. She thought something was wrong with me, or I had some bad secret I wasn’t sharing. I just felt sad because my world didn’t feel rosy and full of promise. It felt tired, and used up and short on time.

It turns out I was right. We are finally short on time and we are also short on resources. Welcome to a new, peak world, kids. Our predecessors raped and pillaged this planet, and left us with so many messes to clean up, where do we even start? And how do we stop it from getting any worse? You think because you are 40, 50, 60 or 80 you’ve lived, and you have rights to keep doing things the way you’ve always done them, because that’s the way you’ve always done them. Guess what, your refusal to change, grow and learn is what got us into this mess in the first place.

I will never be a rich woman, and I am okay with that. But what if I can’t afford to buy land in the next 5 years? What if 5 years is too late? I’ll be lucky if I can ever consider myself “middle class.” I am a farmer at heart, and I am trying to be a farmer in real life. That means I will probably work very hard for very little money for most of my life.

I don’t want much, nothing fancy, just a good life for my daughter and future generations. We all deserve to live in a good, healthy, clean world, to hear birds chirp in the morning, breathe fresh, crisp air and drink clean water.

I’m scared that I am out of time. What if I can’t learn enough skills and get the right tools to keep my family alive and healthy? What about my livestock? I don’t know how to grow, cut, dry and store my own hay. I saw a youtube video once, but that in no way makes me qualified to go out and try. But I have to try, and hope that I get it right.

I have to believe I have enough time to learn what I need to. Otherwise the fear will immobilize me.





A Matter of Habit

17 01 2012

“For work, ultimately, is about habit. Good work can be a real joy to do. It can also be a great challenge. But it’s very satisfying and I never regret doing it. My avoidance of good work is not about avoiding pain, misery or drudgery so much as it is a weakness of habit. I fall easily into distraction and its instant pleasures. However, I gain far more from good work than I do from those instant pleasures. The tendency toward the easy escape, I think, is as much in the habit as anything else. It all in that initial moment of deciding what I’m going to do next. It’s very easy, in that moment, to start engaging in distraction. It’s much harder to start engaging in good work. But once good work has been engaged, it’s far more satisfying.”

Over at Ofthehands.com, Joel writes an interesting and thought-provoking post about work and habits: A Matter of Habit.





The rooster crows!

17 01 2012

Our rooster, Vin, finally crowed for the first time this morning. Mr. Ewe, Laydn (the globetrotting housemate) and I all heard him. Laydn chased after him and tried to give him a hug (he’s normally quite amenable to human interaction), Mr. Ewe came in the house to find him a tasty treat, and I hollered out the door “Good Job Buddy! Keep it up!”

I honestly didn’t think he would ever crow. We had our chicks shipped late last June, and by the time they were coming of age, the days were getting drastically shorter, so the chickens reproductive cycles basically went dormant. I understand this can be changed by supplemental lighting in their coop, but they don’t really have a coop yet. They have an old goat shed that we put fencing on the front of, and roosts inside. So they have somewhere to sleep, but not a real, honest-to-goodness coop. Besides, I think I am not too sure about the supplemental lighting. I think I would rather honor the natural rhythm of the chicken and give them some time off from laying in the winter. It means we get an extra year with our hens, too. Because once they are done laying , they will be going to the soup pot.

We have the framing for a coop, but in order to erect the chicken coop, we have to move a compost pile the size of a car, and no one is too eager to do that yet.

But now the days are getting longer, and the rooster has started crowing. Which means my girls will be looking for somewhere to lay their eggs soon, and I don’t want to miss out on fresh eggs because the hens are laying them in the goat beds, or hiding them somewhere. Our chickens have been free-ranging on pasture since they had feathers, and these eggs are going to be amazing.

I am glad eggs are imminent, but this now also means we need to fast-track a building project in the heart of winter. Mr. Ewe and I are just so swamped with projects. Someday they will all be done, and we will feel happy and comfortable here at Brier House, and that should be right around the time we decide to move to southern Oregon.

One idea I’ve had rolling around behind my forehead lately is to use the framing for the chicken coop, and to cob in the walls. I would love if our first cob-project was a chicken coop! I want to put a living roof on it, and a rainwater collection barrel for the livestock drinking supply. The nest boxes could be little cubbies in the back wall, and we could put a hatch door over the top of the next boxes to collect eggs without having to go inside.

I can see it now when I close my eyes. When I open my eyes, I see a lot of work, and the fact that it has started snowing again. Reality sets back in, and I realize this is one more project that is going to have to wait a little while longer.





January on the Farm

15 01 2012

Companion planting guide

January sure did start out warm here, and pretty much the rest of North America from what I gather. It’s hard to argue against the Global Warming theory when it is so much warmer than previous winters.

Mr. Ewe and I took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to get some last minute work done outside. No, the goat barn still doesn’t have a permanent roof, but a bill board-sized tarp seems to be doing the job fairly well, even if it is tacky. But we got all the old dirty hay shoveled out of the the pen (20 wheelbarrow loads worth) and spread it out in the garden where one of my new beds will be going in this spring. We then brought in 20 wheelbarrows loads worth of fruit tree wood chips we had delivered for free from a local tree service company. Then we cleaned out the barn (another 12 wheelbarrow loads!) and put that in the back of the orchard next to the potato tires for our next batch of seed potatoes, as well as for cob mixing and building experiments later this Spring.

I got the chicken coop cleaned out and replaced one of the roost-ladders I had made last summer (that cracked when one of the goats decided to make herself comfortable in the chicken coop) with a couple apple branches the goats had graciously stripped of bark. So now the chicken coop looks pimp. The barn is sweet because Mr. Ewe finally made a hay-bale feeder so we can feed one whole bale at a time, so we put that in there alongside an 8’x2′ pallet/goat bed and they seem to be pretty damn happy lately. They don’t hang out by the gate all day waiting for human hand-outs which I love.

The only problem I have with all of this is that the goats are never hungry anymore. You wouldn’t think that’s a problem, but I can’t let un-hungry goats out of the pen and expect them to just stay in the field and eat. Nope, they are wicked little beasts when they are feeling mischievous.  A week and a half ago, I let them out to forage back in the woods. Nelly took one look at me and took off through the front yard, down the driveway, up around the house, back down the driveway all the way to the road, down the road to the neighbors driveway, down the neighbors driveway to the back of our property and then they all squeezed through a previously unknown hole in the fence and right into our raspberry patch, taking all 6 of the other goats with her. Now this whole time, I am chasing after them waving my shiny aluminum goat-stick and Bean is strapped to my chest in her moby wrap. You should have seen the look on the driver’s faces when we stopped traffic to take a stroll down the road to the neighbor’s place.

What all of this amounts to is that I am done letting the goats out of their pen unless I have a mobile pen to move them to, and I do it one goat at a time. They know I am weak now that I can’t chase after them. They sniff Bean, they aren’t stupid, they know what a baby is. They know a new mom is the slowest member of a herd, and Nelly is challenging my herd queen status while I am slower than her. Just wait, once she kids this spring, she and her daughter from last year are outta here. I will probably sell them off as quick as I can as a starter herd. Good riddance.

Still no word from my buck’s previous owner regarding his registration. I’m really screwed without that, as my entire crop of next year’s kids were supposed to be registered via him. I can only hope she will eventually reply to my emails, and that it all works out.

One more reason those damn goats need a mobile pen is because we are expanding the garden this year. Last year I just got here too late, and had too much else going on, so I just used the one little bed that was full of weeds. I was so miserable with morning sickness I just didn’t give a damn. We got a decent little crop of peas and strawberries, but with a baby that will be eating solids this summer, I want her first foods to be home grown.

Now that I am feeling slightly closer to a more normal version of myself, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about my garden layout. I am planning on expanding by two more raised beds this spring for a total of three. I am planning on turning all of them into covered rows probably for a majority of the year. I am thinking I will just plan that this summer will be as cool and rainy as last year so I plant the proper things.

In order to maximize diversity in my limited space I’ve been doing quite a bit of research into companion planting, and I just picked up TheOne Straw Revolution from the library. Now I just have to find enough time to read, plan and plant a garden. Right now there is only one thing growing, about 100 cloves of garlic.

I can’t even begin to stress how important I think growing a garden is. I’ve really only had three seasons of actual gardening time in my entire life, so I am quite a novice still. But I would rather try growing 100 things and fail at 99 of them, then to not try at all and be at the mercy of the current food supply. Every time I fail in the garden, I learn something to not do next time, and I get better. My goal is to someday be able to produce all of our food ourselves.

I take my job as mother, wife, and living, breathing member of this planet very seriously, and I think knowing how to care for my people and being able to feed them is a big part of that job.

Our power went out this morning, and it was great to realize it wasn’t that big of a deal. We had a fire going, a kettle on the fire place, all the roommates gathered to hang out by the fire. There was nothing upsetting or panicky about not having the energy system turned off, and even once the power came back on, there was no real rush to go back to our electronic gadgets.

There is going to come a day in my lifetime where that is a more common occurrence than not, whether by my own personal design, or a larger collapse of the system. I like a life less electronic. Yes, I understand the irony of the fact that I am typing and you are reading this on a computer. But I can survive without the interwebs, it is not my lifeline to reality, nor is it my reality.





A New Year, a New Ewe

10 01 2012

So the Bean is now almost three-months old. I was originally planning on blogging about her birth, but it is just not something I am ready to write about in a public space yet. All I will say is this: her labor was hard, and long, and wonderful. My midwives were amazing, and Mr. Ewe and I welcomed her into our arms, on our own bed minutes before midnight. I can’t wait to do it again.

There have been huge adjustments in our lives to make our little family work smoothly. Adjusting to a new baby is never easy, but I would have to say that because of how much we slowed down our lives before the baby came, making that adjustment was that much easier when we had to slow down the pace of our lives even more.

Having this new person in our lives has made us so much more aware of where we are in our lives and in the world, and where we want to be headed. The last three months have involved lots of whispered, late-night conversations between Mr. Ewe and I about the path we are on.

The world seems so much scarier now than it ever was. Resources and time seem to be dwindling at an ever faster pace, and I spend a lot of time worrying about what kind of world my daughter is going to have to live in.

Mr. Ewe and I have always had what seemed like a pipe dream to buy land out in the boonies, build ourselves a small house and just try to live the best, simplest life possible. But with Lamb here now, it seems we can no longer afford for that to be a pipe dream, it is time for us to act.

The problem with acting now is that we are literally starting with almost nothing. I admit that we are quite poor, and saving anything when you find yourself poor is a huge challenge, both physically and mentally. We looked at the ledger and realized that to make a saving account grow, we are going to have to become evenmore resourceful than ever before. I am a stay at home mom, and Mr. Ewe is a full-time student. We are living off of his financial aid and the GI Bill right now. We have to find a way to turn an idea into something tangible with little to get us started. It is scary and a challenge. But here we are, ready to make the leap.

At the end of 2011 Mr. Ewe and I both turned 30 within a  month of each other. We are 30. Standing on the precipice of a third decade on this planet. It seemed like this was a lifetime away when I was turning 10, I had no idea where I was headed when I was 20, and now that I am 30 I have to wonder where I am headed to next.

But each month now we get ourelves a little more ahead than the previous month, and pretty soon I think we will be able to start putting money in savings so that we can put a down payment on land next year.

Our pipe dream of land and a small house has grown quite a bit in those late-night talks. This year we are going to start building on our rental property. I have decided that we are going to build a cob pizza oven, and then maybe a cob garden shed or milking shed. We are going to use this year to narrow down our property search, and start gaining skillz. We need cob-building skills so when we move we don’t have to live in our camper longer than we have to.

Our little house and farm on a few acres has morphed into a small eco-village, based on cob houses, earthships, and lots of permaculture. We don’t want to settle down and forget the world, we want to invite the world in, teach classes and show the world that there is a better way to live. One that does not involve a 30-year mortgage, hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and fears that the bank will take back your home because you looked at a teller cross-eyed.

The ability to live in harmony with the world, and the ability to find comfort in having nothing is out there. I am redefining what comfort means to me on a daily basis. I am teaching Lamb how to live in sync with the world around her.

Turns out having a baby is the catalyst I needed to change my life for the better. :)





Epiphany!

17 10 2011

I know my last post was all about venting and feeling sorry for myself. I don’t deny that I go through periods of depression always being so broke here on our little corner of land. But getting it out of my head allows me to look at my “problems” from multiple angles and ruminate on what I wrote and why I felt that way.

This morning I was making myself some breakfast, and while washing down my daily dose of cod liver oil, I had an epiphany. I realized that despite all of our financial woes, the Mr. and I are actually doing pretty well for ourselves. Yes, we don’t have extra money to go shopping, some days we barely have enough gas in the car to get him to school and back. We have no savings and walk a tight rope every day, hoping we aren’t hit with some problem that will cost a lot of money to fix.

But thanks to the fact that we are willing to live simply, and in fact have found quite a bit of joy in living simply, things aren’t all that bad when I really think about it. Sure, almost all of our food comes from WIC and food stamps, but we qualify for those services for a reason: we both paid into the system through years of hard work so that if we ever needed them, they would be there for us.

And here’s another great thing. Because we have food stamps and WIC, we are able to make what little bit of income we do have go so much further. It actually allows us to survive. Most of the time I have to choose to buy animal food over treating myself or the Mr. to something nice, and we have to budget our shopping trips to the thrift store. But we have become so much more resourceful at finding what we need and what we want while maintaining a pretty nice quality of life. We live Occupy Wall Street everyday. We live within our means. We don’t ever use credit. If we can’t afford cash, we choose to do without. Mr. already has a credit union account, and I am going to try to get one this week. It will be more of a challenge for me as I have bad credit from years of poor decision making in my early 20’s.

But back to eating, I really feel like my quality of life revolves around the quality of food I can feed my family and myself. $50 a week for groceries for each of us was hard to adjust to at the beginning. Back in the day when I was a stripper and bringing home hundreds (sometimes even thousands) of dollars a week, I ate pretty darn well. Most of my shopping happened at the local organic co-op or at Whole Paycheck. We drank a lot of beer. We ate… well, actually, we ate pretty much the same. Probably a lot more take-out then we do now, but our cooking style wasn’t much different. We bought more expensive “packaged” and “convenience” food products, which add up quickly.

These days, I usually stick to the perimeter of the grocery store when I do my shopping. We hit the local ethnic grocery store (I freaking LOVE LOVE LOVE 99 Ranch Market) for our meats, as the meat from Safeway or QFC is often rancid within 2 days of bringing it home, and quite overpriced. At the ethnic market, we get fresher animal products (organs, meat and seafood) at a much more reasonable price. We STILL go for the cheaper, tougher cuts of meat unless I am craving steak because we have found that the slower it has to cook, the better it tastes when it is done. I learned how to slow cook chicken so it always comes out tender, juicy and delicious.

We cook from the ground up. Most of the things we eat take time to prepare, so we cook in larger batches and then reheat for a few days. Sunday we made a huge breakfast. We made lacto-fermented blackberry pancakes, with enough batter to sit in the fridge until next week. These come out so delicious! The fermentation process gives them a kind of sourdough flavor that you just don’t get from bisquick. And we made so many extra pancakes that we can just pull some out of the freezer and pop them under the broiler for a couple minutes, and voila! instant hot homemade breakfast.

As I washed my morning dishes, I looked at what I had cooking, and what I had just cooked, and I felt really good about myself. Because we eat so simply and make almost everything from scratch we can afford “luxury” items like cod liver oil so my baby is healthy, organic produce so we aren’t riddled with pesticide residue, and chicken and goat feed so we can have fresh eggs and fresh milk (when the season is right). We stay away from packaged foods, especially anything containing sugar, corn, corn syrup, or high fructose corn syrup. Those things never fill us up, and they cost more than you realize.

We eat a lot of fats, produce and soaked beans and grains, and have meat on the table several nights a week. We never feel like we are going hungry, or have to go without. Because we cook for ourselves, our taste buds aren’t burnt out on too much salt and sugar, so we can actually taste what we are eating.

The next thing we have to do is build up our garden with the fertilizer our animals so graciously provide us with so we can produce our own organic produce and rely on store-bought food even less.

I sincerely hope that all of this good nutrition will mean that my future child will avoid the dental problems that plagued me as a child, such as needing braces due to a malformed jaw, and the dental problems that continue to plague my nieces.

So yeah, some days are hard to cope with mentally. Some days I get caught up in the consumerist woes. But honestly, it isn’t all that bad. And I can take this opportunity of lack of money to retrain myself and develop better spending habits for the days when we won’t be so broke.

Thanks for reading!

Oh, and by the way. I am 41 weeks pregnant as of today. I will post about the birth as soon as it happens and I am able.








%d bloggers like this: