Our mornings start with a sprint as we take care of the animals and end with a whimper as we make our way upstairs to sleep. With the arrival of spring there is so much to be done. The days are longer, the weather is more enjoyable, and the time to plant looms.
Establishing the garden
The challenge of a new garden is real. I have to learn the seasons of this new home. I have to prepare my beds – weeding and planning for little seedlings and tiny seeds. Where should each main crop go and what companion plants should I plant nearby. Putting up a fence to keep the livestock and dogs out. Creating something from nothing. I am overwhelmed with the barren aspect of this space but look forward to creating a place of abundance.
All this takes time
When I began to garden years ago, I learned quickly that most plants need at least two months before you can harvest any food. That is assuming your crop survives storms, drought, bugs, and other creatures that want to partake of your hard work. This is not an easy feat and any harvest at all should be celebrated.
This is important because if you think you may want to grow your own food in the future you need to start NOW. You need to practice. You need to fail. You need to learn what works. What you love to eat now and what you can preserve for the future.
I feel compelled to grow as much food as possible. For our table, for our health, and to bless others.
I feel compelled to suggest that you grow as much food as you can this summer. Maybe it is a tomato plant in a pot on your patio. Some green beans against the side of your house. Or filling those raised beds you haven’t found time for in previous years.
Grow something. Practice. Fail. Learn. And celebrate your harvest. Bless others with your abundance.
This area of Tennesse is known for its waterfalls. I had no idea I would have one in my home.
Let me back up a bit. Two weeks ago, I had a prompting to start tackling some of the bigger projects on the homestead. This means calling in contractors and shelling out substantial amounts of money. Mr. J is handy, but he is not replacing the roof handy. Time to bring in the big guns.
Our home has a metal roof that looks a bit like a patchwork quilt. I don’t know much about metal roofs, but I’m pretty sure that is not a good sign. The roofer confirmed it. He also found an area of the roof that had several inches of standing water and no slope to drain it. He promised to fix this issue when the roof is replaced…two weeks from now.
We weren’t too concerned, because while the house has several leaks there were none in that area…until early Saturday when we were hit with 6 inches of snow and below freezing temperatures.
The dam broke loose. Our son woke to water dripping on his bed at 6:30am and our day began.
Handy Mr. J overcame bitter cold and fear as he climbed the ladder again and again to try to scoop water off the roof with a squeegee on a long pole. On the inside, I was adjusting buckets and sopping water with towels.
Our outlook improved as the drips appeared to stop, but that was really just the water turning to ice as the temperatures dipped into the low teens.
This morning’s bright sun turned that around and we looked into our son’s room to find this…
Honestly, after a while, you take inside waterfalls in stride. It makes you take a good look at the dust bunnies on the floor and provides plenty of water to wipe them up with.
When outside water comes in, use it as an opportunity to clean the floor.
And did I mention we have guests arriving this afternoon? And before heading to church this morning Mr. J found a leak in our hot water heater?
Taking it in stride my friends. God allows these challenges to both humble and strengthen us.
I suppose most people think of dandelions as weeds. I happen to know that they are one of God’s gifts. I am always excited to see them after a good rain and some sunshine. Then I know it is time to forage the flowers to make dandelion oil.
Dandelion is one of the first plants that introduced me to the healing properties of the plants around us. My first exposure to practical herbalism.
These simple flowers are known to reduce inflammation among other things. When the flowers are covered in oil and warmed the oil becomes infused with this anti-inflammatory property.
Several years ago, when I first read online about making dandelion oil, I thought “I can do that.” I kept my eyes peeled as I drove my boys to and from soccer practices. I found a bonanza at one of their soccer fields. I was thrilled to learn that this was also a “no pesticide” park. I happily filled my grocery bag with dandelions during my son’s practice while the other parents looked at me out of the corner of their eyes and surely thought I was nuts.
I took the flowers home and let them air dry overnight. The next morning, I put them in a glass jar, covered them with olive oil, and placed the jar in a sunny window. This step allows the sun to warm the oil and the warm oil pulls out the goodness of the flower. After a few weeks the oil is ready to be used. It can be used as is or turned into a salve. I use dandelion oil and a few other ingredients to make a salve I call Lion Balm. We use it on sore muscles, bruises, aches and pains.
I make this salve every year.
This week I found dandelions in my yard. Yay! I am so excited. But I am not going to pick these first flowers. Instead, I will let them go to seed in the hopes of multiplying my dandelion plants in the future.
Yep, I am that crazy person that cultivates dandelions.
I encourage you to look around for dandelions in your yard or neighborhood. Maybe, do some foraging and make your own dandelion oil. It is an easy first step towards learning more about the herbal gifts God has blessed us with.
About two months ago, I purchased a flock of chickens from a family that was downsizing in preparation for a move. This flock of birds came with two ducks. I was told their names are Minnie and Daisy. I asked if the ducks laid eggs. The owner replied, “Once and it was really good.” Hmmmm.
Well, it looks like I got a pair of pet ducks. Ideally, all our animals on the farm have a role to play, I am not really interested in feeding a bunch of freeloaders. We will have to see what happens.
Our relationship was off to a cool start. The ducks did not trust me and would studiously keep at least 6 feet away from me at all times.
That was until they figured out that the food comes from me. And it is pretty good food. Then their attitude changed from one of mistrust to joyful declaration of my approach. If they hear me walking towards the chicken run they announce “QUACK, quack, quack, quack, quack” as they waddle their way towards me.
O.K. So that’s really cute and endearing. But they still aren’t laying eggs.
As I would feed and water the birds, I would tell them they needed to pick up their slack. For a while I had nine birds and was only getting two eggs a day. (Of course, three are roosters, but that’s another story.) Feeding all those birds makes those two eggs quite expensive.
The ducks have taken up residency under the chicken coop. Plenty of space. Keeps them warm and dry. A pretty good place for a duck.
Once in a while I look under the coop for eggs. Chickens don’t always lay in their nests and perhaps one or two were laying under the coop. I also still held out hope for the ducks.
Then I found them! I looked under the coop and saw two eggs.
I got down and reached under. One. Two. Wait, I feel more. Three. Four. Dig a little more…5, 6, 7!
They had been laying. But the nest was so deep that I didn’t see it until these last two on top were visible.
A total of six duck eggs and one chicken egg (the green one). I feel bad for giving Daisy and Minnie a hard time. I have no idea how long have they been down there. Are they still good? There is an easy way to tell: the float test.
Put your eggs in a large bowl filled with water. If they float, they are too old. If they stay on the bottom, they are perfectly fine. As you can see, mine are on the bottom (no floaters) so we are safe. I gave them a good wash and put them in the fridge.
I normally store my eggs unwashed on the counter. This is how eggs are stored throughout most of the world. There is this magic that a chicken does as she lays her egg. She surrounds it with a protective coat called a “bloom.” The bloom prevents bacteria from penetrating and helps preserve it. Washing the egg removes this coating. So washed eggs go in the refrigerator.
Farm life is marked by the simple excitement of dandelions and duck eggs. I’ll take it.
When I began this blog, I made a commitment to writing posts twice a week posting on Mondays and Thursdays. This seemed reasonable and doable. Enough consistency on my end, but not an overwhelming burden to create content.
And then life happened.
Life happens a lot on the farm. In this case it was Sunday. I had a plan for a post to write Sunday and to be published Monday.
While Sunday should be a day of rest and reflection – an ideal time for me to write – this Sunday had me bustling to prepare soil in my newly (almost) finished hoop house.
My broccoli seedlings were bursting at the seams, another storm front was heading our way, and life was telling me I needed to get them planted now.
I happily worked in the hoop house, taking pictures along the way, knowing I could relax Sunday evening and write my post about the work I was doing in the garden.
And then life happened.
You see our cows escaped again a month ago. It was soul crushing. We got Helen back the first weekend, but Panda was proving to be a challenge. “Roguish” was what one experienced farmer called her. The type of cow you send to the butcher. We are not quite there yet; we want to work with Panda more first. Besides it was largely our fault the cows escaped again. While the fencing was complete, the gates were not up, and the girls were able to run right through the openings.
After about a week Panda showed up at our neighbor’s field. We were able to get her fenced in their pasture with their herd of cows. That’s a start. Getting her out was the problem. The ground around the feed lot where the cows get loaded into their trailer was muddy and nearly impossible to walk in. Especially if you are a heavy cow.
Every evening for two weeks, Mr. J visited Panda at our neighbor’s field. He would bring a bucket of feed and get her to come to him. He went the same time every night to build trust and develop a routine. During this time, we were waiting for the ground to dry enough for Panda to navigate her way through the feed lot to the barn.
With another storm heading our way, this past weekend was our last chance for a while. Panda would anticipate Mr. J’s arrival with the feed bucket and for the last few days would wait close to the feed lot anticipating his arrival.
Mr. J headed out the door around 5pm Sunday evening as I began making dinner. I still had plenty of time to write my post that evening.
And then life happened.
Mr. J calls, “I got her in the feed lot with the gate closed. Can you come help me get her in the barn?”
I drop what I am doing and dash out the door. Arriving at the field, a mile down the road, I find an agitated Panda, not happy with being closed in. At points she looks like she is going to break her way through the fencing. My presence is not making Panda feel better. O.K. Let’s rethink this.
“How ‘bout I go get a bale of hay. We can put it in the barn and see if that will lure her in.” I suggest.
I dash home, get the hay, and a jacket for Mr. J, because he will be playing a waiting game, it is dark, and the temperature is starting to dip.
After dropping these off, I have to head into town to get our son from his job. Driving back, we get a text from Mr. J.
“I got her in the barn.”
Good. Weeks of worry, fret, patience, and coaxing is paying off.
We head to the field and find Mr. J connecting our neighbor’s trailer to his truck. In the dark. I head home to get flashlights to help with the wrangling.
Then I get a call. “We got her in the trailer.” Magic! They no longer need me and I can get started on dinner.
It is 8pm. There will be no writing from me tonight. Dinner is on the table by 9pm. We pour some Prosecco to toast the return of Panda. Bone tired we climb upstairs and are soon fast asleep.
That’s o.k. I can write my post tomorrow.
And then life happened.
Monday, anticipating the storm’s arrival later that day we move from chore to chore trying to get everything done. More broccoli gets planted, the Jerusalem artichokes get a spot in the yard, all in anticipation of the rain. At 2pm I remember that I had promised a visit to an elderly couple from our church. My afternoon is spent finding their hilltop home and having a good chat. I head home at 5pm to make dinner and help get animals tucked in for the night. By 8:30, we have finished our prayers and find ourselves too tired to move. I can write my post tomorrow.
Tomorrow will be stormy, the perfect day for writing.
Tomorrow is today.
And life happens.
The wind, torrential rain, and thunderstorms make for a restless sleep. We wake to a power outage and a baby lamb demanding her morning bottle. Baaaaaa! Morning starts quickly on the farm.
Animals get fed, generator gets set up, water is boiled for coffee in the French press, and we finally sit down for a cup at 8:30am. I chat with Mr. J and contemplate what I can get done today.
At 9am I get a call that the tractor we purchased will be delivered in an hour. The power comes back on, and I quickly throw together breakfast before the tractor comes.
The truck and trailer arrive. I direct the driver to our driveway loop where he can turn his rig around and unload the tractor at the barn. Navigating the loop, his truck starts to slide, downhill, in the mud. The torrential rain from last night takes its toll.
An easy, straightforward delivery ends up taking all morning. I try my hand at pulling the delivery truck out of the mud with Mr. J’s truck. No luck. The driver must call in reinforcements. Lamb wants to be fed again. Then Hope and I watch as another truck with a crane arrives to tackle the problem.
When asked what we plan to do with our homestead I reply, “Provide as much food as possible for my family and have more to share with others.” All this while stewarding and maximizing the resources on our land. My hope is that by working with nature we can create abundance.
We have been here less than four months. It is winter. There is not a lot of abundance going on right now.
I have to be patient. That is hard.
Yet, I am graced with innumerable blessings and God has seen fit to keep our days filled with a steady stream of work. And that is Good.
My projects this week have been driven by the generosity and abundance of others and a storm front heading our way promising an abundance of rain. I want that rain to work for me, so I have work to do ahead of its arrival. I need to get cardboard and woodchips on the ground surrounding some new plantings. As much as I can do with the time that I have. The woodchips will soak up the rain and retain the moisture for the plants. The cardboard which helps to suppress the grass will also soak up the rain and create a moist environment that attracts worms. Worms love cardboard.
Laying down cardboard and woodchips is easy enough. Unless you have a storm front moving in. A storm front aided by strong winds. Think Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz type winds. The type that picks up your house in Kansas and drops it off in Oz. Well, maybe not that bad, but you get the picture.
And did you get the part about the cardboard? Yeah. That’s a good time. Chasing cardboard boxes blown aways by gusts of wind helps me get my steps in for the day.
But I need to get as much done as possible before the rain. And so out I go with the help of my guys to get this work done.
In my last post I mentioned gathering blueberry canes from Ivan Lee. Those plain looking sticks kept me busy for a few days as I prepared a bed for them. I found a sunny location, planted the canes, then covered the grass with cardboard and woodchips. Woodchipper for the win! In time I will add some companion plants – perhaps strawberries and thyme. It will take a few years to receive a harvest from these guys, but you must start somewhere.
Another friend had some abundance from her garden to share as well. Yesterday, I collected oregano, wild garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, and raspberry canes from her. These goodies were dug up right before I arrived at her home and need to be planted in my garden before their roots dry out. That means now.
Add to this timeline, the arrival of some bareroot fruit trees that I had ordered last November. Since they are bareroot trees they need to get in the ground immediately.
The timing for all of this is perfect, but there is some urgency and never enough hours in a day.
With these fruit trees, raspberry bushes, and wild garlic I will begin to establish a small permaculture orchard. In this type of an orchard, you use diversity to create symbiosis. The orchard is not just trees, but also berries and herbs. Around the trees you add plants that attract pollinators or confuse pests. Plants that are edible, culinary, or medicinal. Or plants, like comfrey, that will help to mulch the orchard along with being used in my herbal salves.
The pictures give an idea of the process. Ultimately, in this orchard, I will have two rows that extend over 45 feet long each with fruit trees and plants. There will be a grass walkway between the path large enough to mow. This area has peach and nectarine trees. I have more space, so I can add on more trees as I get them.
Stefan Sobkowiak has some great videos about his permaculture orchard in Canada. You can purchase or rent his feature length movie HERE. He also has many videos on his YouTube channel HERE.
So far this week I have planted 8 blueberry canes, over 12 raspberry canes, 5 fruit trees, lots of wild garlic, and oregano. I purchased the fruit trees; the rest was a gift of abundance. In a few years I hope to be the friend that can gift new homesteaders with our abundance.
After two weeks hanging out with our neighbor Travis’ herd of Angus we finally have our heifers back on the homestead. The recent rain and snow made the ground too muddy for us to retrieve them until two days ago when we had enough of a gap between wet weather to give it a go. Our neighbors across the road lent us their livestock trailer and Travis was a life saver in separating our girls from his. He even used his tractor to pull our truck out of the mud.
Fencing, Fencing, Fencing
Helen and Panda’s escapades made it clear that our fencing was sorely lacking. While they were safely contained in the neighbor’s pasture, we put all our energy and time into fencing one of our pastures. Thankfully, we had some extra help from visiting friends, extended family, and our two grown sons visiting for the holiday.
Mr. J quickly educated himself on how to install durable perimeter fencing – H-braces, 5 strands of tensioned barb wire, woven wire, and gates. Our brother-in-law suggested we rent an auger instead of digging the post holes manually. Genius! As of this post we are more than halfway done. Lessons learned here will be applied to fencing the rest of the property.
The pigs have been much easier to work with than the cows, but fencing is still a focus. We currently use hog panels and t-posts to set up temporary paddocks in my garden. The pigs happily root up the soil each day and I rotate them to a new space weekly. I will need to invest in some electric fencing for the pigs so that when they finish with my garden, we can easily move them to other areas of the farm to be worked. They are already trained to the electric wire, but I would feel better if they were surrounded by electric hog netting.
Our weather has been cold and wet. To keep the pigs warm and dry we bring them into the barn each night. I am training them to follow me from the barn to the garden in the morning and from the garden to the barn at night with voice commands and food rewards. Every time I go down to feed the pigs I call “Piiiiiig, pig, pig, pig, pig” and they squeal in anticipation. When we open their fencing to relocate them, I continue my call while shaking a container with some food. They either follow right behind or run ahead because they know where to go. My hope is that this association with my voice and food will make it possible for me to herd them farther distances. So far so good. Plus, it makes me laugh.
I have a confession. Our Great Pyrenees is a chicken chaser. He will walk towards the birds and if they start to move away, he will give chase. The faster they move, the more excited he gets. For him it is a game, but it may not turn out well for the chickens. So, I decided to enlarge the chicken run to give the birds more space. This meant in addition to everything else, we quickly put up a run with welded wire fencing and t-posts. It was completed yesterday, and the girls were let out of their smaller enclosure. What happy chickens!
As I write this, snow is falling, and our fires are burning as we anticipate 6-10 inches of snow.
Another busy Saturday on the homestead. The chore list is unending, but we pick a few priorities a put at the front of the list. This Saturday our goal is to paint the guest room and replace the heater in the room (because it stopped working).
Side note: my mantra on the homestead…
If it’s not broken now, it will be soon.
The guest room is a priority, because we have guests arriving Monday. Normally painting would not be a priority, but the ceiling in the guest room had to be repaired because the last time we had guests in that room there was a leak from the shower above and they woke up to dripping on the bed. So, my husband had to remove the drywall ceiling to investigate the leak and we have spent the past few weeks slowly putting it back together. But guests are coming so that is the priority today.
But remember: If it’s not broken now, it will be soon.
Saturday, late morning in the middle of painting and heater replacing the water stops flowing from the faucets.
Our homestead is on a well. That was a major selling point for us. Having our own well makes us independent. We are neither reliant on, nor answerable to the city for our water usage. The water is clean and delicious without chlorine or fluoride. Our water comes from below our property, not hundreds of miles from some faraway mountains. This is our water.
This is our water. This is our responsibility. I can’t call some clerk at some bureaucracy and demand that the problem be fixed by some stranger. It is our problem. Fixing it is up to us.
My 18-year-old son and I take over the painting. Mr. J goes to replace the heater in the guest room with a new one, only to find the old one just needed a good cleaning. Live and learn. By Saturday mid-afternoon Mr. J is able to pivot his focus to the broken well.
Mr. J and son investigate the well. They checked the pressure on the tank – it is low. They check the switch for the pump – it has power. The only thing left to check is the pump and that job is too big for my very handy husband.
Friends, the well stopped working.
And it is Saturday.
The beauty of small-town Tennessee is that everyone stops working Saturday afternoon and nobody works on Sunday. That, of course, is assuming you can even find a plumber that works in the area – evidently there are very few for our county. There was a local plumber we had called earlier in the week, but he is booked until January.
It is Saturday afternoon, and the well is not working.
But I am thankful.
How can I possibly be thankful? I have no running water and no plumber is coming to save us in the immediate future.
I am thankful that the weather is mild and it has been raining the past few days. After all, we could be freezing and in a drought.
I am thankful for the opportunity to test our emergency preparedness. I thought that having a well means you always have water, but the well stopped working. I need to make sure we have water storage on hand for drinking and flushing toilets. I can prepare for this now and be ready for the future.
I am thankful I get to test my Berkey water filtration system in real life. We poured water from an outside barrel in it Saturday night and used that water to make our morning coffee. And we are still alive.
I am thankful my handy husband was given a reason to thoroughly investigate the well system. It is a system he was unfamiliar with and now he knows how it is put together and can do some basic troubleshooting.
I am thankful for the chance to practice virtue. I seek to find joy in this while my husband digs deep for patience.
I am thankful my son had this opportunity to work with dad on a very real problem. He was helpful with trouble shooting the system and this will better prepare him when he has his own home.
I am thankful for the existing water catchment in place around the homestead. I was able to walk out my back door, dip a pan in a barrel, and heat it up to wash dishes.
I am thankful for YouTube and a bottle of wine. This made our Saturday evening almost romantic. We learned about wells and for a short time cared just a little less – thanks to the wine. YouTube has everything and RC Worst has a great channel on how to trouble shoot your well.
I am thankful Costco is not too far away and is open Sundays so I can buy more bottled water and get the supplies we need to make it through the next few days.
I am thankfulwe don’t have to use the outhouse. Our homestead has the original outhouse (a double seater I’ll have you know) still standing a short walk from the back door. It worked for the last century it could still work for this one. But thankfully I don’t have to find out…yet.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
I am thankful for this homestead. This opportunity to work, to struggle, to do something real.
And eventually, I will be thankful for a well that works.
And God said: Be light made. And light was made. (Genesis 1:3) Dixitque Deus: Fiat lux. Et facta est lux.
The story of how Fiat Farm came to be really demands the beverage of your choice, a few comfortable chairs, and time to share all its details and nuances. I will unwrap bits and pieces as time goes on, but for now let me tell you how our new homestead got its name.
How to start…
First you must know this jump from suburban life to rural homestead was sudden. Very sudden, but not completely surprising. It has been a dream in one way or another for my husband and myself, but we never had the courage to take such a bold leap. We felt we needed the security of his government job. A steady paycheck. Our world that was comfortable and familiar to us. But then his job, the paycheck and our world, became less secure, less steady, less familiar.
So we leapt. We took a chance. Trusting God, we sold our home in California and purchased a homestead in Tennessee. The adventure began.
More about me…
For the past 13 years I have homeschooled my three boys. This final year of homeschooling with my youngest son, now 17 and towering over me, I am teaching a worldview class with a small group of his buddies. In this course we study the six dominant worldviews with the goal of better understanding what is True. In a world where truth is subjective, seeking objective Truth becomes necessary. This is especially so for young men preparing to launch into adulthood. This class is as much a benefit to me as it is to the young men. It has given me clarity in these clouded times.
Where does Fiat Farm come in?
The origin of our homestead’s name came about while we were still in California. We were in escrow on the property in Tennessee, thinking of our future, but still fully present for my students. I was reading the worldview curriculum in preparation for our next class. The chapter we were studying defined the Christian worldview and the Biblical justification for our beliefs. In the book of Genesis, we learn
our world was created by a loving God.
The world view curriculum goes on to explain
God created through fiat, a Latin word meaning “let it be.” What God wants, happens. What God says, goes. Even nothing became something when God told it to…Each step along the way God said, ‘Let there be…’ – and it was as he said. In verse 26, with human creation, the language changes abruptly. Instead of “Let there be,” the text says, “Let us make.” After creating humans and imbuing them with purpose, God says it is “very good.” In the Hebrew, the phrase is “meod tob.” It is almost impossible to exaggerate the resonant awesomeness this phrase is meant to convey. It literally means exceedingly, heartbreakingly, abundantly, richly, loudly, immeasurably good in a festive, generous, happy, intelligent, charming, splendid way. (UTT, Ch 2, p.31)
In a festive, generous, happy, intelligent, charming, splendid way
That resonated deeply. I decided then that our new home would be Fiat Farm. A place where we seek to work with God’s creation. A small corner of the world that we steward in the hopes of creating something that is very good. Meod tob.
So I proclaim:
a faithful, regenerative homestead. And I pray that it is very good. Meod tob.