Gardening Vicariously Out the Car Window

“…and apologizes for her hands, which are covered with flour and dough. I show her my own hands, still stained with island soils, and tell her never to apologize for dirty hands. I am reassured when someone offers me a rough, callous mitt.”- “Fields of Plenty” by Michael Ableman

My hands are usually something that could use a apology. The constant kitchen work leaves them quite dry and rough from the constantly washing off whatever it is I am baking. The deep cold of winter and extra “work” during the holidays leaves me with a bit of carpel tunnel or early stages of arthritis. The aching feeling in my hands and wrists usually subsides late January assuming I wear mittens every time I’m outside.

Spring, summer and fall means my hands (and feet) stained a rather unpleasant shade of brownish-green. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I scrub. The callouses, though there year-round, are much more noticeable during the “non-snow” months. Between shovels, pitch forks and garden weeds there is no rest for my hands.

I appreciate someone with hands like mine. I can see the common ground between us without having to speak. For someone like me who struggles with conversation, garden stained hands gives an opening for pleasant small talk that isn’t weather based. The conversation will inevitably end up there, as talking about the weather is a true Minnesota pastime.

Driving home the other night I was temped to stop by and talk to a family that was planting a garden along the road. I didn’t of course, that would mean I would have to actually speak, but I thought about it. Over the years I have watched that garden plot thrive with vegetables for a few years, then taken over by weeds for a few and back with new owners. Last I heard, it is a father and couple sons that have it.

Last year was weeds. This year I saw they tilled it so nicely and then laid sheets of black garden plastic over the whole thing. That in itself must have been quite a task, this is not small plot. Over the next few nights I could see they were planting through the plastic and carefully marking the plants and rows with flags. They also appear to have a fence up to keep the deer out. Probably the reason for the weeds last year; gardening can be very discouraging when all you do is unwillingly feed deer.

I am curious what they have planted, how they plan to keep it watered if needed and what they are using to keep the plastic down. It’s not the first time I’ve seen this method. It’s also not the most common method in the area, so it would be nice to hear what they have to say about it at the beginning of the season and again after harvest. Over the years I have tried all sorts of things that at the beginning of the season sound like a great idea and by harvest I would never do again.

… A few weeks have gone by now (I have been slacking on finishing this post). I see them planting almost every night on my way home from work. It’s starting to look like quite the garden. I still have no idea what they have planted but it’s looking good.

The flowers I planted in the front bed must have from been too old seed. I have a lovely patch of weeds in there and no flowers that I can see. I learned years ago to not weed the flower beds until they are big enough to tell the difference between weeds and flowers. By now everything that was going to grow should be up. This late in the year I am not going to bother trying again. I will just pull the weeds and leave it empty for now.

Our vegetable garden plot in looking great so far. Our neighbor plowed up a big area between the two of us. We helped pick some rock and then he took the disc to it. Some of this will get some fresh grass seed and the rest will be vegetables next spring. I can’t wait to get some seeds in the ground next spring. The soil there is beautiful, rich, black and alive. I’m tempted to try the black plastic method next year. Maybe for half of it… I haven’t yet decided.

This no vegetable garden is a tough one for me but I am surviving. I just gawk at everyone else’s.

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Spring, Bare Feet, and Farming

Spring! It's so close!
Spring! It’s so close!

Here is it, we made it through winter, spring is here (hopefully) and I am dreaming about this summers work. We made our “Big Project To Do List” for the next few seasons; put together an estimated cost for each project and figured out how much we needed to try and “squirrel away” each month. Let’s just say the lists are long and the budget will be extra tight, but doable.

We have our pasture plans set. We drew up dividing fence lines for inside the main line. The cows will be able to rotate grazing between 4 different pieces daily, to every other day, depending on how things look. This will keep them in nice green grazing all season.

The pile of “barn cleanings” will be moved out to the vegetable garden and orchard plot. Those plots will just be worked this year as soil prep. Turned over every so often and allowed to lie empty and soak in the compost. The vegetables for the season will be grown in the small berry garden for this year; an “eat fresh” garden. It will be much smaller of a garden than I like but it will be something to get my toes in the dirt.

This winter I read “Fields of Plenty” by Michael Ableman. It was not what I was expecting but a very enjoyable read. I was glad to read this:

“”I don’t understand how any farmer can feel the land with shoes on,” he says.”

It just proves I’m not the only one who likes to do my work barefoot. Socks are only worn with boots around here. When my boots come off at the door the socks do too. As soon as most of the snow is gone and it is time to get things going in the garden and yard the boots are usually left at the door. I prefer to feel the ground beneath my feet. Unless I’m in the coop or barn, then I like my polka dot mud boots. Chickens peck the  skin on my feet and as warm as a fresh cow pie is, I’d rather not have it between my toes if I can help it.

I have started to do chores again, not all the time, Mike and I share those for now. I am once again starting over with Lucy. I haven’t been able to work with her for a few months and haven’ been out to visit her much since I handed off the chores. She was doing so well too. I hate starting over, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. This time around it shouldn’t take nearly as long to get her back to “milking calm”… I hope.

Wheezy, may or may not be pregnant. I haven’t been able to pin her down to check. We are going to keep a close eye on her just in case.

Elvis is very friendly, Mike has been working with him when he does chores. Hopefully I can get him halter broke this spring as well.

The new chickens and turkeys are on order, some more layers and a bunch to butcher. The coop is all ready for the new bunch. I am too. We picked out a few different breeds. It will be nice to have some variety out there. The “old” chickens are still laying daily and most will make it through this years butcher, some will be stew birds or canned. Their rowdy behavior is not something I desire around here.

A few more days and the snow will be gone and spring work will be here. I can’t wait!

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The Book Shelf

One of my hap-hazard book shelves.
One of my hap-hazard book shelves.

I have a ever so slight book problem. I made mention of my cookbook collection a while back, but the book collecting isn’t limited to those. Every time I take up a new interest or just have a question about something I feel the need to get a book. I may do a quick web search to tide me over but eventually the question will end up in a book.

I like to read, but if I sit down to read I need to be able to feel like I am not wasting time. By reading something non-fiction, instructional, reference or something where I am learning something, the guilty feeling of “doing nothing” goes away. I am learning. Not every book I own I buy into the full truth of it, but I usually find some bit of information that is useful. I like to read different views on the same topic at times as well. Looking up the references a book uses can lead to more interesting reading also.

Someday the we are planning a built-in bookshelf that is floor to 12 foot ceiling. When that happens our books are going to be so organized even the library will be jealous! I can hardly wait for that day to come. As of now, we have a few bookshelves that I try to keep somewhat categorized at least but that just doesn’t always work either.

I started a “short” list of some of what’s on my shelf as of now. The cookbooks, I am not ready to admit just how many are actually there; a five shelf case dedicated to cookbooks that is overflowing is where we will leave that. As time goes on and I continue to collect, you can find the running list of my “reference” books here.

The Book Shelf
Some of these fall into multiple categories, in which case I just picked one.

The Back Yard Cow, Sue Weaver
Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle, Heather Smith Thomas
Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, Gail Damerow
Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses, Heather Smith Thomas
Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs, Kelly Klober
Storey’s Guide to Raising Poultry, Glenn Drowns
Storey’s Guide to Training Horses, Heather Smith Thomas

Babies and Family
A Christian Guide to Childbirth Handbook, Jennifer Vanderlaan
Beautiful Babies. Kristen Michaelis
Ina May’s Guide to Child Birth, Ina May Gaskin
Smart Martha’s Catholic Guide for Busy Moms, Tami Kiser
Special Delivery, Rahima, Baldwin
What to Expect When You are Expecting, Heidi Murkoff

Artisan Cheese Making at Home, Mary Karlin
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, Michael Pollan
Fields of Plenty, Michael Ableman
Home Cheese Making, Ricki Carroll
Natural Wonder Foods,
Wild Fermentation, Sandor Ellix Katz
Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan

Gardening and Farming
Carrots Love Tomatoes, Louise Riotte
Complete Guide to Gardening, Better Homes and Gardens
Garden Wisdom and Know-How, from the Editors of Rodale Gardening Books
The Heirloom Life Gardener, Jere and Emilee Gettle
Home Grown Whole Grains, Sara Pitzer
New Garden Book, Better Homes and Gardens
Seed to Seed, Susanne Ashworth
Folks, This ain’t normal, Joel Salatin

General “How to” and Homesteading
These are good starting points for some fun projects and ideas.
Country Wisdom and Know-How, from the Editors of Storey Books
Encyclopedia of Country Living, Carla Emery
Little House in the Suburbs, Deanna Caswell and Daisy Siskins
The Ultimate Guide to Homesteading, Nicole Faires

Health and Nutrition
Breaking the Vicious Cycle; Intestinal Health Through Diet, Elaine Gloria Gottschall
The Gerson Therapy, Charlotte Gerson and Morton Walker D.P.M.
Natural Relief for Anxiety, Edmond J. Bourne Ph.D
Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon
Nourishing Traditions; Book of Baby and Child Care, Sally Fallon

Leather Working
The Stohlman’s Encyclopedia of Saddle Making 1, Al and Ann Stohlman
The Stohlman’s Encyclopedia of Saddle Making 2, Al and Ann Stohlman
The Stohlman’s Encyclopedia of Saddle Making 3, Al and Ann Stohlman
To be continued…There’s more on the shelf.

Other Reading (non-fiction)
The Bible
Montana Women Homesteaders: A field of ones own, Sarah Carter



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Keeping Records on the Farm

Downloadable Record Keeping Sheets
Free Printable Record Keeping Sheets

I have a touch of OCD every now and then and record keeping is one of my issues I suppose. It’s important to keep certain records especially when dealing with livestock. Knowing breed, birthdays, registration numbers, breeding records, any veterinary work that was done and so on. I go the extra few miles and like to record the amount of eggs laid each day, the amount of milk collected each day, birds hatched or purchased from who and when, what feed was bought from who for what, what was planted in the garden, how many plants, started indoors or not, season notes, harvest yields, how many jars of beans I canned. The recording goes on and on. I admit not all of it is necessary but I still like to be able to look at years past and see what was done.

I find spring to be the start of the year on the farm rather than January. It is typically when all the new life begins; babies born, chicks hatched, plants sprouting. But for the sake of my need to record I tend to start new sheets in January. This year was the first year with new land and I was quite unorganized. I had record sheets here and there, online and in notebooks, tucked in seed catalogues and on the fridge. It was a mess; almost enough to give me a permanent twitch. I have since “cleaned up” the records. I scraped a few and added a bunch. The super exciting part is that I now have everything in one well labeled binder.

I didn’t go back and organize this years garden records. Most of them would say “Sprouted. Drowned. No Harvest”. Last winter I put together a Vegetable Gardening 101 series. In it I made mention that records should be kept. It’s true. To keep your soil healthy it is good to know what was planted where in the last couple years so that crops, even small garden crops, can be rotated properly. It is also nice to know if you added compost to any garden plot, what type and when. The same goes for field management it’s just a larger plot. Next year I will be ready, I have my sheets printed and in the binder.

Record Keeping Binder

I have already received the first few seeds catalogues for the season and at this point I would usually have started making my lists of what I have and what I need to order so I can start drawing my garden plan for the year. This season we are not going to plant a full garden (or even half as of now). I didn’t take the time last year to properly prepare the garden plot. Between my impatience and the cold, wet weather, the garden was a huge waste last year. So this year we are going to do things right. Condition the soil with manure and work it a few times through out the summer. Just liven it back up. Which is exciting and disappointing all at the same time. I can’t wait for the following summer when I can get back to planting as usual. It’s just a whole growing season away and that’s a long time!

I did go back to last spring and record all the birds that were brought home, price, number, breed etc. Then the cows. Everybody has a sheet so I can keep track of what goes on with who. I put the egg records that I had on the fridge onto a nice sheet in the binder and am all caught up.

Below you can find a link to each of my record sheets and they are Free!
They are all pretty basic, easy to use and not calendar specific so you can start recording during any month with wasting pages! If there is a page that I don’t have but would be useful please let me know!

Animal Records- I use these for the 4 legged animals
Breeding Records – Again 4 legged animals
Poultry Record- Breed, amount, layer, butcher etc.
Egg Production- Number of eggs collected each day
Milk Production- Amount of Milk collected each day
Feed Purchase Records- From, For, Amount, Cost
Standing Egg Orders – Here I can keep track of people that have set up regular egg orders
Butcher Bird Orders- Keeps track of who purchased butcher poultry
Big Project To Do List – For projects like dig a well by the barn and such
Wish List – So I’ve got a list of things to save for besides the Big Projects
Next Year Don’t Forget To…
Field Records – Harvest Yield, Crop, Amendments and so on
Garden Records- What was planted, how much, harvest date
Seed Records- Seeds saved, Seeds to order, Amount
Canning Records- What was harvested, how much and how was it preserved
Season Notes – For things that seem to need to be recorded about the growing season
Notes- I have one of these after almost every category there is always some extra I need to record

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I Kept the Manual

This year my garden was less than successful. It was pitiful really. All the “know how” I have about how to properly prepare a garden plot went right out the window last spring. I am impatient when it comes to planting seeds, usually it turns out ok, but sometimes it’s just a waste of space (and time and energy and money). I put the garden in what used to be a horse corral. The ground is hard packed and filled with deeply rooted nettles and wild raspberries; both of which when tilled, will turn each chopped up piece into yet another plant. It was a loosing battle right out of the gate.

We tilled the ground a couple times with the tractor which worked ok but the threat of unknown rocks kept us from running it deep enough. I tilled with our walk-behind tiller. That about killed me! I had one foot on the ground and one foot on the tiller to push it through the hard packed ground. By the time I was doing the splits it was time to take another step. I went over the whole garden in this fashion…once. It should have been done a few more times but, well, “good enough for this year” I thought. I was not going through that torture again. My poke-a-dot mud boots were caked with muck and my lemon apron was black from me cleaning my hands after digging the mud off the tires.

Seeds were planted and straw put down in a feeble attempt to reduce the weeds. I think at least half the seeds washed away in the rainy spring and a good portion of seed potatoes rotted in the ground too.

I’ve decided our garden is done for the year; after a hand full of green beans, a couple golden beets and one cucumber that looked like a small, green, baseball.


That whole part of the property we want to remove the weeds and rocks, till, smooth and make usable ground for vegetable garden, orchard and lawn. Next year is planned to be the year of landscaping. I have been dreading the tilling.

As I was pulling weeds in the raspberry patch one afternoon I heard a very enthusiastic squeal from the other end of the barn and it wasn’t the little boy. It was my husband. After two years for pushing that heavy, hard to move, rear tine tiller he discovered
Are you flipping kidding me?!! Ahh!

I still get excited just thinking about. Do you know how much easier working the gardens will be?! And how dumb I feel for not figuring that out two years ago?! I kept the manual, I guess I should have read it too.

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