Living Two Lives

Living Two Lives

Living two lives isn’t easy. We live in a house with four walls, but our lives, our souls, our very beings scream to be on our land. Managing two lives isn’t easy when our time is divided between our work and commitments, and the commitments we made to ourselves more than 10 years ago when we decided that we wanted to live an agrarian life.

The excitement grows each day, and sometimes I feel that I can’t contain myself. Dom and I go back and forth about how to approach moving onto the land. Do we build our camp first? What about establishing the farm infrastructure? There are so many important decisions to make, that we barely know how to rate them on a list of things most important. They are all important!

For now, we have decided to move forward establishing the gardens. Our main garden which will be a semi-formal very structured French Potager garden will be the focus over the next few weeks while still gathering resources to build our camp.

I’ve always wanted to have a French Potager garden, and I’ve had a lot of fun designing ours. They feel otherworldly and completely magical. There is something poetic about how everything is arranged for beauty and function. The picture on the right is an example of a potager garden.

We’ve estimated that our garden area is about 50’x50′ but until Dom gets in there and gets an accurate measurement, I can’t get too specific with my plans. I estimate that the garden will ultimately be a 40’x40′ area. This area is the true focal point on the farm. It will marry two other areas together. On the west side of the garden will be an outdoor kitchen and covered gathering place. On the east side of the garden is where we plan to set up camp and build a chicken coop, rabbitry, duck pond, and a tropical greenhouse. To the east of that section will be a large market garden and high tunnel for high-value crops like tomatoes, peppers, basil, etc.

To the east of the market garden is pastured area for the horses, meat birds like chicken and turkey, and eventually sheep and goats.

Where was I? Oh yes, the French potager…I just have a general idea of what the overall design will be. In this area, there are a few challenges. One is the side of the mountain that blocks some light on the south side until about mid-morning.  The second challenge is how cold air descends into the garden area.

In the photo on the left is Dom clearing the weeds in the area we’ll be building our camp, the animal structures, and the tropical greenhouse. See the mountainside in the distance? That is at the edge of where potager garden will be going.

To address these two issues, we’ll set up espaliered apple trees that require more chill hours and plant more cold hardy perennials in the area that will get hit with the coldest temperatures.

I’m also setting up our garden with far more cold hardy annuals and perennials. We are in growing zone 6 to 6A, however, our perennials will all have a hardiness to growing zone 3-4. The reason I’ve chosen this approach is that we are at the beginning of a Grand Solar Minimum. Agriculture will suffer greatly because of this natural cycle of cold coming to us. It will mean erratic fluctuations in temperature, excessive rain and snow, and much longer cold seasons. Fall will continue to grow shorter, with snowfall and bone-chilling cold becoming the norm. Growing seasons will be shortened. Farmers will find it difficult to plant in spring because of snow or frozen ground. Once they can plant, they will then deal with compression events that bring excessive rain. Rain in areas of wheat production will bring fungus and molds.

Thriving during the grand solar minimum is of the utmost importance for us. Food prices are steadily rising, and it may become difficult to get the foods we are all accustomed to. Also, have you tasted what is being passed off as fresh fruits and vegetables? They are tasteless, and, even organic food is becoming lackluster.

Our farm is not being cultivated to feed the world, but we will have a farm store for the products we choose to sell.

All these things weigh heavily on my mind and heart.

We can’t wait to be on the land full time. Right now it feels like we’re going at a snail’s pace, but planning is the most important part of this adventure we’re on.

Wait until you see the rest of the land! I’ve only shared the side where our farm will be. Then there are the other 10 acres to the west of the farm. It is where we will eventually build our home. We’re not in a rush to build because the farm infrastructure is far more important. We will be living in canvas tents for the next year and we may make the tropical greenhouse our temporary home if we get tired of tent living. In the meantime, we will continue to live these two lives.

 

Aren’t potager gardens beautiful? I love the whimsical aspect to them, as well as how they mix flowers and herbs and fruit trees.

The wattle edging is swoon worthy!

Pure magic!

There are so many beautiful versatile ways to set up a potager.

I want to build something like this for where we gather. It would be wider, but this bliss to me. Where this would go is at the edge of the badass grapevines that need new vertical space to thrive on.

At the entrance to different areas, I would love to have inviting entryways that beg you to come and stay for a while.

 

 

 

Relocation Countdown: Six Days to Go

Relocation Countdown: Six Days to Go

Our countdown has officially started. We are picking up the Uhaul on Friday, and Saturday morning we will be leaving West Virginia for our new home in Reserve, New Mexico. I’ll miss West Virginia. It’s the birthplace of my coffee company, Buffalo Mountain Coffee Roasting Company. It’s also a place of unimaginable natural beauty. The air so clean and fragrant, the wildflowers-beyond compare.

I would have loved to stay and continue our love affair with West Virginia, but there are no suitable homes for us and our mold allergies. The only option would have been a tent in the woods, but we looked at that option and there wasn’t anyone willing to sell land at a reasonable price. That was the saddest part of it all.

New Mexico is our home. Dom and I joke around about our odyssey as a very long extended vacation from hell where most of the two and a half years were spent ill. Hey, we can rewrite our own narrative, right?

As I continue to deteriorate, Dom is becoming more worried about my health by the day (often moment by moment) and he continues to show great strength and resolve. He’s like a machine!

Most of our things are packed up and now we’re just finishing up the last of the packing. Well, Dom is finishing the last of the packing. His last day of work is tomorrow, and then he has one other building project to finish up in town. After that, it’s getting all the boxes and furniture organized and ready to go on the truck. We’ve moved so many times that I think we’ve become experts in how to NOT do things. Ha!

There are so many factors that go into moving across the country with a child who has severe multiple food allergies, a sick wife, and sick husband with a weak stomach because of the mold. Think about that for a minute. We’ll all be in a Uhaul truck, unable to eat what we want because of Simmi’s food allergies, hacking up a lung on my part, and well, a very smelly cabin because my poor husband has suffered terribly with some sort of bacteria overgrowth in his gut. Not fun. Kind of the perfect storm.

Oh, and then Dom has to listen to me endlessly worried about my orchids. Will they make it? Will it be too cold for them in the car without any heat? Will they hate me and end up giving up the ghost before we can even get to New Mexico? I’ve only killed one orchid in my life and that was before I knew anything about how to care for them. It still haunts me that I could have avoided such a horrible death.

I don’t own any fancy orchids. Just six that have my heart because they were given to me by Dom at different occasions in Vermont and Virginia. One was gifted to me by a dear friend. I will, however, get some orchids when we move to NM. I really love them. They have this elegant presence about them, even when they don’t have flower spikes.

I’ve ordered some supplies to make the move to NM easier in a few ways. I’ve purchased orchid supplies (see! there I go again talking about those damn orchids) to re-pot and give them a good dose of probiotics and fertilizer. We purchased a cheap little pink handheld game device so we won’t listen to her say how bored she is on the road for four days. And finally, a small hot plate to cook on and a toaster oven to bake in since we don’t use a microwave.

Beyond that, I’m beginning to put together the list of perennial native species, riparian vascular species (we’ll be near a few large spring fed ponds), pioneer tree seeds, fruit-bearing ground cover, and geeking out over the fact that we will once again have a place to start our gardens, orchards, animal systems, earthworks and water harvesting.

Here are some of my favorite perennials native to the southwest:

Yellow Bird of Paradise

Fernbush

Desert Willow

Western Sandcherry

Silver Buffaloberry

I’ll stop there for now. More musings of a future perennial high desert garden to come!

New Trees Ordered and on the Way

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A large assortment of trees, shrubs and flowers (578 to be exact)  were ordered and are currently on the way to our farm. Here’s a list of what’s coming:

  • 100 Mulberry trees
  • 25 Giant Arboritae
  • 50 Crown vetch plants
  • 50 Day lilies
  • 50 Viburniem American Cranberry
  • 1 American Sycamore
  • 2 Mimosa
  • 100 Siberian peashrub
  • 100 Elderberry (2 varieties)

It looks impressive, but all the different species are just little tiny seedlings. There’s no way we could afford large gorgeous trees! Little babies will suit us fine, and since they are all relatively fast growing trees and shrubs, we’ll have a food forest in just a few short years.

A few very generous donations (not listed on our farm site and wanting to remain anonymous) were graciously given to us to help get our farm off to a great start. Money for playground equipment for visiting children, garden supplies, building materials, a farm truck and so much more. Thank you to everyone who has believed in local small farms, and donated to us. From buckets and simple tools, to large and expensive items we could have never afforded…

Thank you, thank you!

We’re currently in the planning stage for designing the new playground. We found a used swing set that will work for us, and we’re also planning the sandbox area, gathering area and fire pit, and other things that engage a child’s imagination.

Originally we planned to put the playground in the Northeast Quadrant, near where we’ll be keeping the rabbit colony, but we changed our minds last night, instead choosing the area directly behind the courtyard. Below are a few photos of the area:

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This area was chosen because it’s attached to the courtyard, and makes it possible for children to play during potlucks or other gatherings in a safe gated area.

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The 4×4 posts surrounding the tree my daughter Gina painted is the perfect location for a covered sandbox area. All kids love sand, and creating an area that is shaded, with shelves for sandbox toys will be amazing.

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The play area is about 35’x50′ and planted in this area will be:

  • 4- Siberian Peashrub
  • 1 American Sycamore
  • 2 Mimosa
  • Coneflowers
  • Crown vetch
  • 8 Mulberry trees
  • Comfrey

In the future I’ll be planting honeyberry shrubs, after the other trees are established. Edible landscaping that encourages children to eat fresh fruit at their height couldn’t be more heavenly…don’t you think?!

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Although you can’t see it from this angle, the area is on a slight slope. We’ll be renting some heavy equipment to level the area for the swing set. I’m told that the dimensions of this set in an “L” shape are 30′ long x 25′ wide, with two playhouses, a slide, swings, and a long walking plank. Next weekend we’ll be picking up the set, so things will need to be done quickly to prep the area.

After the swing set has been installed, the trees and plants will be planted.

May 1st or 2nd is when our chicks arrive, and we’ve been preparing for that as well. We have a LOT of planting to do in the next two weeks, rounding everything off with our warm season crops going into the ground mid May just after the ducklings, goslings, and turkeys arrive.

We’re in a mad dash to get things finished off because we will be hosting our first potluck and garden tour the end of May. I’ll be living off a constant flow of caffeinated tea, very little sleep, and lots of Motrin to get me through. Planting 500+ trees and shrubs, no matter how small they are takes a toll on the body. Beyond the major tree planting, we need to finish the market garden and Northwest Quadrant garden, and get each of those planted out as well.

It’s so thrilling watching everything come together!

The Mulching Continues

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Today was another productive day. Noah has been on spring break and he helped move the rest of the mulch that was in the greenhouse to the north east quadrant. On Sunday I got quite a bit accomplished laying mulch around some of the fruit trees. Well, today, before I could lay mulch, I needed to rework each basin around the fruit trees.

Last year the chickens scratched up and flattened all the basins. The way our earthworks are laid out, there are two swales dug about four feet IMG_1480deep and four feet wide on contour. Both swales are filled with dead trees, branches, sticks, twigs and anything else we could fill the swale with. Then each swale was filled with dirt, and then on the west side of each swale, Dom installed a berm. It’s on this berm that the fruit trees are planted.

On the berm, we had basins dug so that each tree could be watered individually. Without a basin, the water would just run off.

Although there’s a lot of water stored in each swale, I still decided to build new basins and deeply water. As I dug the basins, the soil was already very moist. Swales help cut down on our need to water, although we do have weeper hoses on the berms.

The weepers were installed to help establish new fruit trees planted on the berm. We’ll leave them in place until we’re done planting the berms.

This year I plan on installing more fruit trees and berry bushes on the berms, but once they are all established, the weeper hoses will be removed and used in other areas.

Tomorrow the work continues. I have weed seeds to burn, and more areas to clean up. I’m about 75% finished with the north east quadrant, and I hope to be finished with this particular quadrant tomorrow. Then it’s on to the next section.

Today Dom got in touch with a local tree company, and it looks like we’ll be getting regular deliveries of wood chips. This company was taking their wood chips to the dump! GAH! As Dom was talking to the owner on the phone he was actually delivering the wood chips to dump. Dom told him he’ll never have to pay the dump again. Woot! He’ll just bring all the chips here and save himself a ton of money.

Here’s more photos of the day:

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New Growth, Revived Hope

Can you see it?! It’s so exciting to watch something planted spring up.
In the photo to the left are a whole mess of things growing.

  • Delicata Squash
  • Corn
  • Bolita beans
  • Amaranth
  • A French variety of scalloped squash

Yesterday it looked like it was going to rain. The winds kicked up and it misted only slightly and then BAM! we got hit with a major wind storm.

Dom scrambled outside to stake one of the pear trees since it was swaying a little too much.

I was checking on the new seedlings, wondering if they would make it through the desiccating wind.

I took these photos this morning, so…YES! so far they did make it.

Some of the straw blew away yesterday, but as you can see, in this section, no straw was lost.

Another interesting observation is that we never prepared any of the soil these seedlings are growing in. It’s straight up sand and duck poop water. That’s it. Oh, and of course water. 😉

Here are a few more photos from this morning:

Here are some peaches that stayed on the tree through the storm. We lost a lot of fruit early in the season due to wind storms:

A few different shots of squash fruiting. By the way, we will have way too much squash this year. Last year we only has a few zucchini and summer squash plants and we still had way too many…hopefully we’ll be able to sell them this year:

And finally one more photo of our artichokes…I’m going to let them flower:

See all the lush green tumbleweeds in the background?! There isn’t enough time in the day to get all the weeds. 😉

At this time last year:

Actually it was on June 7th, 2011 but what’s a few days right?


Awww! A long lost photo of Pinkie named for her pink toe. She died last year bravely trying to swim like a duckling. She so wanted to be like them. Rest in Peace Pinkie…we love you.

Sheet Mulching is Energy Intensive


Today was an extremely long day. The sun has been intense, the labor intense, the weeding intense…geez! I’m exhausted.

While Noah watched Simone for us, Dom, Gina and I went to work sheet mulching. Okay, well, mostly it was Gina and Dom, since I was circulating from watering trees and seedlings, to weeding and also helping them with the garden beds.

As of today, eight long garden beds have been laid.

Tomorrow we have a lot to plant:

  • 8 new crab apple trees for the chicken pasture
  • 2 Sea Buckthorn
  • 2 Elderberry
  • 2 Lilac
  • Lots and lots of huckleberries

We’ll also be setting out a bunch of tomato plants to harden off on the front porch. The nice thing about the front porch is that the sun is blazing on it for a few hours before the sun sets, which warms the bricks and then gently radiates heat through the night.

Below is what’s left of our compost:

The compost heap originally extended all the way out beyond the tarps onto the gravel. We’re trying to be sparing with the compost since we still have a lot more to plant. 🙁