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Updates at the Farm

As the warmth of summer quickly fades we find ourselves being catapulted into fall and making plans for the winter and 2018 growing season.  Many of our garden plants are quickly shrinking back or slowing down and the last of the fall plants are starting to peak (mostly pumpkins).

Our Harvest Dinner was a huge success!  Pictures are posted on Facebook.  With all of the interest this year in the bees, it was only natural that honey would play a star role in our meal.  A special thank you (again) to dad, John and Amanda for the relentless effort put into making our dinner special.

Speaking of bees, we are going to be treating our hive for mites this week before preparing it for the winter.  Winter preparations will include building a foam insulating structure around the hive to help maintain its warmth while still allowing airflow (preventing mold and condensation).  This has to be done with extreme mindfulness in order to ensure our bees survive until spring.  Matt even plans to build a windbreak around the hives using pallets.

A second bee update:  we have purchased two hives!  One hive will replace the hive we have on loan and the other will be an additional hive.  We hope to have enough bees in the spring that we will be able to split our one hive into two.  Eventually, we hope to have three hives.  This is mostly because with the rate of hive failure in Michigan, we want to ensure we always have some bees around.  This winter we will be working on cleaning them up and painting them.  We are strongly considering a call to action event where we will be asking people to help paint.  These will be a showcase on our farm and we want to be reminded how much community support we have had to get us to this point.

Before winter hits we will be doing a final till of the garden, including an additional space to expand the footprint.  This will be made easier with the help of a gracious volunteer!  (my uncle)  We will be working hard in the upcoming weeks pulling potatoes out of the ground and taking down our rabbit fence so we can get the tractor through.

Matt will be working on regular maintenance of our grounds keeping equipment this winter (oil changes, filter changes, etc.)  Meanwhile, I have plans to research regulations for preparing and selling foods from a home facility so we can 1. reach more people and 2. help with the cost of running the homestead.  I also plan to chart out some of the 2017 costs, timelines, etc. so we can have a more smooth growing season in 2018.  For example, we know we need to plant more carrots next year and I would like to have an earlier harvest (which means more germinating).

I spent some time reading through my earlier blog posts today and realized that we really didn’t do too bad for our first year!  There was a lot we learned and some things we did really well but can fine tune.  It was actually pretty encouraging to realize that as little as we knew, we pulled off a pretty nice harvest.  Now that we have an idea what grows well, etc. we will also be able to (hopefully) donate more next year.

Which brings me to a final thought:  What would you like to see donated at the community share table next year?

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Melissa

One of my absolute favorite herbs is Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), nicknamed Melissa.  Perhaps my fascination stems from my slight obsession with the name Melissa.  I always thought I should have been a Melissa.  Or perhaps it is that I was researching remedies for cold sores and learned that lemon balm essential oil will cure them if applied topically.  Now I have a bottle of Melissa oil on stand by that I just adore.  The more I learn about lemon balm the more it captivates me.  It was an obvious choice for my herb garden when I was choosing seeds last winter.

I was not sure how well any of our herbs would grow.  Instead of trying to figure out our soil and what grows best, I just chose my favorites, lemon balm being one of them.

The lemon balms seeds were germinated and seedlings were planted in those whisky barrels cut in half.  You know, the ones you see at every garden department?  They seemed to be taking to them well and then we had about a week of heavy rain.  Now they’re taking off!

This morning I googled lemon balm again.  Isn’t it funny how you think  you know everything about something and you’re always humbled to learn otherwise?  Maybe that’s just something I experience.  Regardless, this time when I googled lemon balm I was surprised to learn that these are actually quite hardy plants.  I think next year I’m going to increase the area of these herbs so I can dry a lot of it for tea.

If anyone is interested in some fresh lemon balm, please come by the farm and pick some!  A few leaves steeped in boiling water makes a great herbal tea.  It has a fresh, lemony scent which is delightful and it supports healthy digestion and sleep.  Enjoy!

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Joni

 

Wanted: Community Feedback

Over Memorial Day weekend we brainstormed many ideas for the future development of our farm.  We agree that we want to have a farm which benefits ourselves as well as members of the community around us.  We want to offer knowledge and encourage self-sufficiency while remaining true to our own individual values.

In order to move forward with developing our goals and plans, we’d like to gauge the interest of community members.  Please take a moment to complete this short survey.  This information will be extremely useful for us and hopefully will paint a clearer picture of your needs and interests.

Nuestra Granja Community Survey

Thank you & Happy Summer Solstice!

Deepest Gratitude to Friends & Family of the Farm!

“The community which has neither poverty nor riches will always have the noblest principles.” – Plato

This past weekend was our first big call to action event at the farm.  We asked volunteers to come and help us plant the garden.  Hours were spent preparing for the much, anticipated arrival of friends and family.  The garden space was plotted on a grid (and re-plotted several times), numbers were figured, labels were made, stakes, string and posts were purchased.

Hours were spent just buying seeds.  Local (Michigan), non-GMO and organic (when possible) seeds were scoured through online.  Dirt for seeds was researched.  Seed trays were compared on Amazon.

Once the seeds arrived, more hours were spent researching germination.  Which seeds need germinated when?  We sorted through temperatures, sunlight and seed depth.

The seeds were planted and began to grow fast.  Before we knew it some had to be transplanted.  More time was spent learning which seedlings should be transplanted.  How to transplant and into what kind of container.  Peat pots were purchased for the astronomical number of tomato seedlings.

Hours were spent gently removing tomato seedlings to plant them in their peat pots.  We learned to plant tomatoes DEEP.

A week was spent hardening off the plants until…

Finally it was time to plant the garden and it was a huge success!  We had a decent turn out and were able to enjoy some really great food.  Pictures to follow down below.  Just so you know what you missed, we had Chris (the grillmaster) slow cook some St. Louis style pork ribs on his wood-fired BBQ grill.  Paired with the ribs was a seasonal berry salad, grilled asparagus, watermelon, coleslaw and macaroni salad.  We all ended the long day with happy hearts and full bellies.

Deepest gratitude and munay to all of those who came to support the first annual planting event.  I’m looking forward to many more years to come.

Joni

 

Hard(ening) Lessons Learned

It’s finally that time, we are going to harden off our plants.  Quick recap on this process:  hardening off is the process of slowly exposing the germinated seedlings to the elements in the week leading up to planting them.  We started with 1 hour on Saturday, 2 hours on Sunday, 3 hours today (Monday) and will eventually have them outside up to 8+ hours by Sunday (when we plant).

As we prepared to harden off our garden plants it really started to dawn on me how much we’ve learned.  Here is just a quick list:  1. Onions do not germinate well 2. Peat pots grow mold 3. Pepper seeds like warm soil 4. Avoid leggy seedlings by giving them more sun 5. I don’t know what the lesson is yet but it will have something to do with being able to germinate lavender 6. Thirty six tomato plants are too many and 7. Do not buy seeds that need to be planted earlier than you can till the garden.

I’m sure there are more lessons in there and I didn’t even mention the bees (which I will explain in another post).

Saturday was an exciting day in terms of the garden.  For weeks we’ve just been giving them water and watching them grow.  It was finally time to do something different (although transplanting them was something different I guess).  We took all of the plants off the shelf in the dining room, gently rolled the shelf to the garage and placed them back on the shelf outside.

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Do you see what I see?  All I see when I look at this is droopy tomato plants.  Those things are SO BIG!  I had to take some photos with them.  Lesson 8. do not plant tomatoes seeds too early.

Living in “Ayni”

I’ve been meaning to elaborate a little on why there is a spiritual practice associated with our farm. Since we have our first moon ceremony approaching on Saturday, now is an opportune time to elaborate.

When I lived in California I went through a series of spiritual growth spurts. I received Munay Ki rites that have passed down through generations of Andean Shamans. One of the nine rites was the Earthkeepers rite:

This rite connects you to the archangels that are guardians of our solar system, stewards of all life on Earth. It lifts you from your earth-bound existence and sets your spirit free to begin your journey to the stars -beginning with the sun, our local star- so you may dream your world into being.

These nine rites bring people closer to something called “Ayni” or “right relationship.”

Another time of spiritual growth was the year I spent in the Incan Medicine Wheel where I went through a rigorous series of self discovery and healing learning how to be a self-referencing Shaman. This is where I really began to learn about Ayni and was also about the same time I started to realize I would one day serve as an Earthkeeper in this world.

It is very important to me to be in Ayni with the land where we live. This includes all aspects; the trees, the birds, the wasps, the soil, the waters that run through it…

I really believe the Earth has life and IS life. We are responsible for taking care of it and only taking what we need. “Leave no trace” as they say in backpacking. In the Medicine Wheel we learned to “keep our rivers clean” and to “walk in beauty.”

When we do ceremonies, such as moon ceremonies, despachos or sand paintings, we bring ourselves into that right relationship. We are aligning with God’s plan for our lives and for His creation.

That is why I can’t ignore I am in a spiritual practice as much as I am planting a farm or garden. This isn’t “my” farm. This is our farm and the farm of our descendants long after we’re gone. This opportunity is only made possible by generations before me. If we treat it well, it will do the same to us in return.

We Have Transplanted Our Plants!

Time doesn’t wait for me, it keeps on rollin’.

As promised, this post is going to be an update on our germinated seeds.  If you remember the post from March, we were germinating our seeds.  My husband and I knew we were going to be away from the farm for two weeks, basically the last half of April, and as our vacation grew near the seeds grew in height.

I knew I should have transplanted them before we left, they had met every milestone of a plant ready for a bigger container.  Their true leaves were showing and they had reached heights of 4 inches or more.  Regardless of these blaring signals that they were ready, I ran off on our vacation leaving the hard work to my mom.

My mom is amazing, by the way.  She transplanted something like 72 tomato plants while I was gone.  I don’t have any photos from it and she probably wouldn’t want them anyway but I do have photos from last night’s tomatillo transplanting extravaganza.  It took me around an hour to transplant my 18 tomatillo plants.

I tried to transplant my onions, too, since they were looking pretty weak.  I probably spent another hour or so on the onions.  They were small, limp and almost lifeless.  I had to look up “growing onions from seeds” today to see what I could have done differently.  I found a great YouTube video describing the process which was completely different from how I did mine.  She even has great tips on how to spread the seeds and cover them to get a nice, even cover of soil.  I was very impressed with this and might try germinating another batch (who doesn’t love onions anyway).

We will be planting on Memorial Day weekend with help from my dad.  Stay tuned for a Facebook event announcing the first annual planting of our garden!  Anyone and everyone is invited.  There may even be food involved, depending on how it goes.

Joni

I (Also) Have a Dream

Dreaming Our World Into Existance

As promised, this is the second of two inspirational posts from my childhood. This time it is the MLK Day short essay by my brother, the realist, John. Here we go!

I Have a Dream

By John Edson Porter

I had a dream to fix everything in the school. It would be neat.

All the computers would be fixed. And everything would work. All the food would be good. All the kids would be nice. We would know more math. We would buy more pencils, and wash floors, and tables, and buy computers. Kids wouldn’t make fun of people with glasses. We would donate books and get more chapter books. We could get more drinking faucets.


It’s all about the computers. I can only imagine the wonder inside his head as he imagined his world into a better existence.

When to Plant

Four basic instructions for planting your next vegetable garden or planter bed.

I was hit hard by an epiphany this morning when I realized I should do a video post about germination.  As I thought through what the video may be, I then realized I should back up and do a post about how I got to that point.  What is the first steps in deciding how to grow your food?

I’m assuming by this point you’ve already figured how much space you have available and have a rough idea of what you might want to plant.  There are a few basic phases to growing which are 1. germination 2. transplanting to larger pot 3. hardening and 4. transplanting to garden.  Some vegetables do not require all four steps and some even allow you to skip right to step 4.

Before you get into the steps, make sure you know your growing zone.  If you don’t, check the USDA Plant Hardiness Map to find out.  Our farm is located right on the cusp of zones 5a and 5b in Michigan.  Since 5a is a bit colder, it’s best to err on the side of coldness to ensure your seeds or plants will not succumb to frost damage.


Step 1:  Germinate Your Seeds

There are some great resources for figuring out which seeds need to be germinated.  One site I purchased seeds from, Seed Savers Exchange, included the growing information right on the page of the seed which was helpful.  I used two other sites when buying seeds which did not include the growing information so for those I would refer to the Old Farmers’ Almanac.  By the way, if you prefer gardening with the moon (like me) the Farmers Almanac has some great steps you can be taking each day to get you there!

After reading a few hundred seed instructions you will begin to notice patterns.  For example, all varieties of tomatoes need to germinate.  All of my herbs are germinating as well.  Some others that needed to start early were kale, cauliflower, broccoli and peppers.

For germinating your seeds you will need containers and a warm, sunny location indoors.  We have a great South facing window for this and I purchased Burpee Seed Starter Kits for $7.99 each at a local Tractor Supply Store.  These trays come with pellets that expand when you add water, however, I couldn’t figure out what was in them so I just threw them away.  If I could do it again I would have saved time and waste by just getting some basic seed trays.  I plan on saving the trays for next year’s growing season.  I plan on a separate post that will include all of the information for this step of the process including how I chose the soil for the seeds, so for now, let’s move on to step 2.

Step 2:  Transplant (to a larger pot)

Seed trays can be excellent for germinating seeds, however, you may find some plants outgrow them quickly.  Our tomatoes were an example of that.  After just one day they had poked through the soil and in less than two weeks they’ve grown about four inches high!  As of right now (two weeks into germination) we are still in seed trays, however, I can tell they will need to be transplanted soon.

At this point, some growing instructions will tell you to use a biodegradable pot that you can transplant into your garden without disturbing the roots of your plant.  For this, I found Burpee biodegradable pots at Tractor Supply and stocked up.  You can also find them on Amazon (10 for around $7).  These remain indoors where the seed trays were located until the next step.

Step 3:  Hardening

Hardening is the process of gently exposing your plants to outdoor conditions before planting them in your garden or planter box.  I purposely bought a metal rack with big, fat castors just for this purpose.  Once we get to this step I will be able to gently push the whole rack anywhere I need it.  It just happens that our garage is South facing and will be the perfect spot to harden our plants when the time comes.  You want to start this at least a week before you plan to have them in your garden but no more than 10 days ahead of time.  Start with exposing them for 3-4 hours at a time and gradually work in 1-2 extra hours each day.

Step 4:  Transplanting (to garden)

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations!  Your baby seeds are ready for their forever home.  For us, that will be our garden.  By this time, the most important thing is to follow the spacing instructions on your seed packet (or refer to the Old Farmers’ Almanac if you can’t locate it).


So there it is!  The basics you need to know when you’re getting ready for planting your garden.  If you’re interesting in planing this year, you still have time!  I started mine as early as possible, hoping to be able to harvest some of my vegetables and fruits more than once this season.

Happy growing and best of luck!