Falling Leaves Hide the Path

Tags

, , , , , ,

Autumn came to the homestead without much fuss for that is a time of year that we all generally look forward to.

Something new for this season’s harvest were drying racks that I crafted for use in the greenhouse.  Here we pulled turnips, stored them in the racks and then shared some of the greens with our chickens.

We kept a few rows of radish and turnips all throughout the fall and fed them every other day (or so) to our flocks.  Only the ducks seemed to turn them down on a consistent basis.

img_0430

Autumn is also the culmination of many projects that were started but never finished throughout the summer.  Suddenly we are sorely pressed for time as tools need to be cleaned and brought inside, netting needs to be put up on the bird runs and barns need to be battened down for the coming cold.  The harvest comes quickly and without much choice, we are inundated with produce that needs to be canned, frozen or stored away in the pantry.

While the work load increases, it is also a time of celebration and enchantment.  The leaves begin to turn and the bonfires begin to take upon them a different type of glow.  Huddled around the firelight, our stories change from the heroic tales of summer to offerings of thanksgiving to our ancestors and those that watch over the land.

anglo-saxon_ploughmen

Here are a few late Autumn pictures of our last harvest of 2016.

My To-Do list for the coming year and winter season:

  • Building a feed shed
  • Planting another 6 fruit trees in the orchard
  • Adding more berry bushes around “Bamfurlong”
  • Building a raised bed inside of the greenhouse and adding a potting bench
  • Building 6 more raised beds
  • Updating my Garden Plan
  • Building a smoke house
  • Root Cellar
Advertisements

Returning to the Victory Garden

Tags

, , , , , ,

Throughout World War II, there was a growing fear that food sources would become scarce in many countries.  To ease pressure on the food supply, a public works campaign was launched to entice patriots to grow their own vegetables at home.  This worked so well that at one point nearly one third of vegetables produced by the United States came from small “Victory Gardens.”

victory-gardenThe idea that a simple family garden could produce so much of the nation’s needs speaks volumes about what could be accomplished if we returned to the land.

It is not simply the volume of food that is impressive.  It is all the additional benefits that surround the individual that voluntarily accepts this task.  Think, for example, the exercise that folks would get by spending their time in the garden.  Families would now spend time together outside, the children learning a valuable skill and one that seems to be increasingly lost upon today’s youngsters.  By using heirloom seeds, many people would be ensuring that these precious treasures would not be lost to time.  Instead, tons of organic and modified-free harvests would flood our dinner tables.  More people would learn to appreciate the land around them as they studied the changing seasons and poured over garden plans.

img_0413During the 1940s these war gardens proved valuable not only for providing a respite to the food reserves, but for providing a model for what we could be accomplishing today.  As our culture spires out of control, disenchanted and separated from the land, I would suggest that we grow “Needful Gardens.”

What is more needful than fresh, organic vegetables that have been grown as locally as outside the kitchen door?  For those folks that understand that it is not only needful but rather an obligation, I provide some starter tips to begin.

First, find some stone that is readily available for creating a raised bed.  I prefer to use cement block since I can buy them in bulk and I enjoy the added ability to plant in the holes.  If you go this route, save the holes for companion flowers or plants that attract beneficial insects.

I see recommendations all the time that first time gardeners should start small.  I dislike this opinion and offer that you should build as large as you can.  With attention, raised beds rarely ever fail.  You will produce a harvest.  That is, if you follow these general guidelines:

  • Create the bed so that you can easily reach to the middle from each side
  • Craft the bed so that it is in direct sun light.  Plants need Balder’s strength.
  • Fill the bed with a combination of topsoil, leaves/grass, and rabbit manure.
  • Watch for harmful insects throughout the growing season.  Pick them off!
  • Water as appropriate. Put your finger in the bed about an inch down.  Is it dry?

See here for how I set up a bed from scratch.

Raised beds offer a variety of benefits to the landsman.  I have found that since no one is traveling over the soil, I rarely have to turn it over to plant.  For the most part I simply keep it heavily mulched and pull back the plant matter when I’m ready to sow seeds.  Also, I can more easily control the manure and compost that I am applying at the end of each year.

img_0460Lastly, use the square foot method to gardening.  The easiest way to do this is to arrange the beds so that they are 4 foot across.  This creates 3 square feet of planting area between the blocks.  In addition, crafting a wooden planting grid makes sowing much easier.  Square foot gardening is great because it allows for a more organized and intensive use of space.

We come from the earth.
We return to the earth.
And in between we garden.
~Author Unknown

Midsummer Celebration 2016

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Midsummer Celebration 2016 arrived this year amid what we would consider drought like conditions.  Though the gardens were in full growth, it seemed that we only had three or four good rains since the beginning of June.  Despite these conditions, the miracle of our raised beds seemed to stave off a lot of the damage since we were able to retain moisture under mounds of mulching.  While the yard grass turned brown and seemed to wither away, most of our produce remained fairly succulent.

img_0444

We completed two major projects during the month of July: the greenhouse build and the grey water system for the kitchen.  As you can see here, we had been using our little make shift greenhouse for several seasons but it had been pretty well beyond repair at the beginning of Spring.  Gathering the family, we set to work over the course of several weekends and soon put together a much larger and stronger structure that will hopefully last for quite some time.

With much more space in the new greenhouse, many possibilities have opened up for us.  We have plans to extend our growing season by putting raised beds inside for winter salads but also to get our seeds started much earlier.  Since next Spring will be the first year of its use, we will be doing a lot of experimentation.  Although, most of what we do is an experiment.

Amid all of this activity, the Midsummer Holiday arrived and we took time away from our projects to rest and enjoy the power of the sun and the growing season.  The solstice marks the high point of our season’s growth and we prepared for the festivities with all seriousness.  Here, we make sun wheels out of grapevines and adorned with flowers that we gathered earlier in the week.

img_0404

We welcomed the Sun with the hopes that our celebration would extend its warmth for a longer season of growth and good health for our animals.  While we do not have a large hill upon which to build a great bonfire, we did create one in the fire pit.  Here we gathered around the flames to toast the May King as he reigns over the land, mead flowing freely and telling stories of times long past.  It was a grand time and one that we will not soon forget.

img_0383

 

The Importance of Land

Tags

, ,

As the old birds sing, so do the young ones tweet.

img_0382 The Importance of Land

In some respects, I have always lived in the country.  Most of my life has been spent within a rural area and much of that in close proximity to my extended family.  Some of that has changed over the years but the one constant is that the idea of rural life has always been a part of my thoughts.  I suppose it all reduces to the idea of freedom.  Once a soul experiences the freedom that country living provides, it is hard to extinguish.

As a youth, I roved over the land without care for boundaries.  I built forts in other people’s woods and harvested grain in neighbors fields.  I fished from lakes and streams without a license and I trapped where the animals were to be found.  My grandparents grew much of their own food that we were eventually pressed into service in harvesting and storing.  I can remember late summer weekends spent turning the tomato strainer or snapping peas.  Time did not exist for us – only the changing of the seasons as the wind became colder or the nights came more swiftly.

As many of these seasons have passed and I have grown to have children of my own, I often see how being ruptured from the land has impacted others.  I look around me and I see a folk that are a slave to time.  I see a people that no longer understand the benefits of an agrarian type of lifestyle.  It is a life that is not earth centered.  It is also a life that has never experienced the freedom of self sufficiency.

img_0381There is really no need to point out the deficiencies of modern life and that is not within the scope of this post.  One needs to simply look around at the condition of the nearest town or city.  My point is that there is something healthy and whole about living a life that is deferential to nature.

Land and a genuine attachment to it is a central component of a healthy and whole life.

My advice to any young folk that are beginning life is this:  buy as much property as you can afford and buy more than what you think that you will need.

Purchasing property changes life if a soul will allow it.  First, it establishes a person as someone that has a genuine interest in the local and national well being of our country.  Laws effect how you use your land.  Second, it immediately provides a safety net for the individual.  I always have my land to retreat to in times of adversity – economic or otherwise.  Third, it becomes the impetus for becoming a more traditional person.  For example, the land demands that you care for it.  If you do not invest the time and energy into maintaining your property, the property will eventually become a wild space (not entirely bad in my opinion).

Owning land is not enough.  While the above statements are true, our folk need to establish roots with the land.  This is where the soul can be made whole and healthy.  Establishing roots with your property entails a few practices and while this is certainly not a complete list, this will begin a more personal and constructive relationship with the part of nature that is under your care.

Establish your property as the centerpiece of your family.  That is, view your land as ancestral land.  It is a treasure that you should pass on to your offspring.  Include your children and grandchildren in planning, building and maintaining your estate.  Invite your extended family to share in the bounty that you reap from the soil.

Establish familial roots on the property.  Create a space that individuals are invested in.  For example, weddings and birthdays can be celebrated.  Bury a time capsule in the ground or create a monument to relatives that have passed on.  The idea is to create an anchor to the property that future generations can respect.

Lastly, develop a relationship to the land through appreciation.  Work the land and reap the bounty that it can offer.  Improve the soil and woods that can be found within your borders.  Maintain the waterways and create habitats for indigenous plants and animals.  Meditate on warm summer days.  A rural life within the boundary of your own farm can be a healing practice.

For health and wholeness and tradition.

The Month of Three Milkings

Tags

, , , , , ,

In ancient Germania, May was called Thrimilce, or “the month of three milkings.” After the long and cold winters of the frozen north, livestock were often so well fed on fresh spring grass that they could be milked three times a day.  What a change this must have been from the lean months after Fall Harvest.

Here, on our land, April is usually our mud season but this year with all the freezing and thawing, May has quickly taken its place.  For us, May is not Thrimilce but Quagmire!

Nature moved slowly this year but as a comparison, these pictures show the slow march towards warmth and growth.

Remnants of Old Man Willow still lay upon the ground from an earlier winter storm and baby peas are poking up out of one garden bed.  The leaf mould, grass and rabbit manure that I put on the beds last fall has all decomposed nicely.  In the picture with the shed, there are still a few overwintered crops left in a couple of beds.  Some of those are parsnips which came back quite nicely and produced many seeds for us.  In the background, our three Barred Rocks that we keep in a second flock are out in one of the chicken tractors.  We keep them separate for pure bloodlines and as a redundancy in case something happens to our primary rooster, Ned Stark.  They spent most of the summer in the tractor until I found these tracks one morning:

img_0353

Racoon again.  Luckily, my live trap worked fantastic and I was easily able to rid the property of the predator.  A tip I found worked out great for me – if you have the type of live trap with a pan that snaps the door shut, place a marshmallow under the pan from below the trap.  The marshmallow will get stuck under the pan between the metal and the bottom of the cage.  In this way, the racoon will set the trap off simply by standing on the pan and trying to pull the marshmallow out.

To continue the comparison to the rather bleak gardens above, these were taken mid-May on a (finally) warmer day.

This is a glimpse of the rabbit barn and our two herb beds.  The herb beds are central to our homestead since they provide tea, food and medicines.  It is also a slight enigma to me because this is one area that I rarely personally attend to.  For that reason and because these plants mean so much to us, the entire area has a sense of the magical to it.  Of course, we have plans to expand as we incorporate many more important herbs into our system.

Cold Snaps and Angry Farmers.

Tags

, , , , , ,

The second week of May did not show signs of becoming any more welcoming.  In fact, we suffered a drastic cold snap that sent us scrambling to cover a dozen 4 x 20 garden beds.  This put us in a dire situation for two reasons: first, we did not have enough plastic to cover them and second, we treat our homestead as if our lives depend on the food we grow.

img_0342

In addition to covering the beds, we were also very worried about the new kits that had just been born several nights earlier.  Two of our does had kindled five kits each. To have a frost warning put them in immediate jeopardy.  We stuffed nest boxes full of hay, covered garden beds with plastic and bed sheets and in the end suffered no losses.

While this near disaster was avoided, we did suffer a few setbacks in other areas.  One of our duck hens had decided to lay a clutch of eggs under an old tree that was in one of the paddocks.  She did the same last year and hatched us a dozen ducklings.  Unfortunately though, we woke up one morning this May to find both her and her eggs missing.  No sign of struggle could be found.  Later, however, I found these tracks behind the duck house: raccoon.

img_0308

By the third week of May, it finally began to warm up.  We found one of the new kits had crawled out of the nest box and somehow had fallen onto the straw covered floor.  At this young age the baby rabbits really begin to squirm and move around even though they cannot see and have very little hair.  Luckily the poor thing had only been out for a short while so we tucked it back inside where it quickly disappeared under its siblings.

We also began to wonder if we would lose our seedlings that had been grown in trays in the pantry.  Normally by May 5th we have tomatoes and peppers planted in the garden.  However, with the cold snap our normal calendar was off by nearly two weeks.

All ended well well though and by the end of the month all seedlings and another round of succession plants had been tucked into their garden beds under warm and friable layers of compost.

May Day

Tags

, , ,

img_0350

May 1st was our first celebration on the homestead of May Day, and though this ancient tradition has many variants, we settled on a quiet afternoon of reading and drinking tea.

Dinner was served by candlelight since a late Spring storm began that ushered in several hours of rain.  The thunder was magnificent and added to the solemnity of the day.

These storms brought in cooler weather but also spurred on the growth of our greens.  While this is the normal time that we begin projects, the wetness, the mud and the cold had forced us to put most ideas on hold.

One particular windy day brought another large section of Old Man Willow down and took out a gate and part of our fencing.  We spent much of the next few days cutting and splitting up the wood.

Though nature often brings adversity, it is a wonder and the power displayed can be truly humbling.

 

 

 

The End Draws Nigh (Spring Jubilee)

Tags

, , , , ,

img_0299

Sacrificing to the Bees.

The end of Spring draws nigh and with it, the fury of work that began in February is drawing to a close.  The work will not completely end, it never does, it only becomes a new kind of work.

Much of our time over the last week of Éastermónaþ was spent in yard care and weeding.  While there were many projects that we needed to begin, most of the demand on our time was simply maintenance of both land and animals.  We must keep our animals healthy but also our home clean – inside and out.  This reminds me of the true meaning of Saturday, or what was once known as Washing day.  Called Laugardagr, this was the day of washing or bathing amid ancient northern Europeans.  To our family, this stresses the idea that cleanliness is truly a reflection of holiness. 

Around the homestead, the peas had really grown by the last few days of April and our potatoes had sprouted.  We finished planting the flowers around the gardens and it should be noted that all of the overwintered plants that had been saved for seed were doing very well except for the cabbage.  This experiment was a near failure.  Only a single plant seemed to have survived the winter.  It did and would later produce a few seeds for us.  Again, it appears as if they simply needed to be covered by more mulch to protect from frost.

 

With Hands in the Mud

Tags

, , , , , ,

And when spring came she fared over Broadfirth and came to a certain ness, and there ate the day-meal; that place is sithence called Daymealness, and there beginneth Midfellstrand

Late frost and even some light snow arrived during the first few weeks of April and the temperature had been alternating quite wildly.  Despite the efforts of Winter, we were not pushed indoors but continued our work as best as we could.  All of our indoor seeds were started by the first week of April and outside, both ducks and chickens were laying eggs once more.  The first duck egg of the season is always exciting and we hoped for many more over the coming weeks.

We did have several set backs – first, the potato bed that we overwintered proved to be a disaster.  Apparently the potatoes were not deep enough under mulch to protect them from the winter freeze and spring thaws.  We dug many up that were a rotten and soggy mess.  I decided to leave the remainder in the garden in the hopes that they would sprout new plants for us this year.  In addition, we had several hens that were pecking at our main rooster again.  We eventually had to wrap his legs in loose bandages so that they would leave him alone.  This trick worked fairly well but we also put him under quarantine until he could recover.  Our last near disaster was that we had a hard time sprouting our green peppers. It appeared as though they had not gotten warm enough to sprout so we had to move them under lights even before the first green leaf popped out of the soil.  This additional heat finally did the trick and they sprouted, although by nearly a week too late.

Mid month we had a second round of greens planted but also put in: peas, collard and mustard greens, two beds of onions and a large patch of carrots.  We also spent this time transplanting our tomato sprouts into larger pots.

Other plantings for April: 10 Lilac bushes, tobacco, beets, parsnips and turnips.

img_0305

Release the Hens!

Tags

, , , , , ,

Growth and Fertility blessed the homestead during the Spring of 2016.

Chickens were safely allowed to spread their wings once more outside of the confine of the runs and our paddock system was put into full use.  Ducks were finally able to break through the ice of the pond and ushered in the usual season of mud as they dug their holes and splashed water.  Rabbits were bred and born and the general sense of blessing could be seen in every green leaf and blade of grass.

Most of our work right now is focused on continuing to clean up the paddocks, repairing fencing and cleaning out animal barns and coops.  The weather continued to be fairly cold well into the first week of March so it was slow going preparing the garden beds for planting.

img_0001 img_0002 img_0003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We did manage to plant the following greens on one warmer day (3-8-16):

Romaine lettuce, Oakleaf lettuce, Black Simpson lettuce, Arugula, Chard, Spinach and radish.  On 3-19-16 we started our tomato and green pepper seeds inside the pantry.

During March-April, we also began work on our stone circle.  This was an important crafting for us as it signified both digging roots into our land for the future, but also looking back at our ancestors and the past.  It seemed fitting that my journey into the thoughts and customs of our forefathers converged at this time in such a drastic way – Spring had arrived, the celebration of Ostara, seeds growing and being sowed and now finally moving the heavy stones that will mark our folk way for many years to come.  Homesteading has truly been a step on the long path to awakening.