We bought this farm 14 years ago. At that time I wanted a place where I could keep most of my show horses at home. Then life took over and talked me out of show horses. First, it was no longer in my tax bracket. Second, I didn't want to travel anymore. In my dream world I would still like to just curl up with Josh, the movie Arthur, Reeces Cups, and Mountain Dew (2L chilled in a champagne bucket) when ever I can. This was an actual date that Josh and I had in our early days. Third, I didn't really like it as much as I did before. I will always love horses. I can't imagine never having at least one - but I don't crave it like I did. I remember watching other horse girls hit the teen years and half of them would stop riding because they wanted to chase boys and be a cheerleader. All I wanted to do was ride and show. But then things in my personal life in my early to mid twenties finally became more interesting that showing horses. I can honestly say that I don't miss horse shows. I can't even dream how that would fit into my life now. Dragging my kids around to make them follow my hobbies??? No way. Even if I had the money, I wouldn't do that to them.
When we moves in here I hated all vegetables. I loved to flower garden in the city house I had before this, but I never grew or really ate a single veg. I remember growing my very first tomato plant next to my house. I buried my little plants, put some cages around them and told Josh to eat what ever he wanted to eat. I didn't trim them or water them or give a hoot about them. I think the next spring they where still in the ground - all brown and way dead. A few more years passed. I planted roses and daisies and other pretty water wasters, but something was building in me to start branching out.
I think it started with me wanting some strawberries. I have no idea how I heard of Square Foot Gardening, but it seemed like a good idea. I didn't want to spend much time on my garden. AHAHAHAHAHAHA!! Seriously!!! I remember saying to a friend, "I have plenty of space but I like the idea of Square Foot Gardening because it it will not take up much time weeding and being BORED in the garden." BORED IN THE GARDEN???? I really talked like that. Bored in the garden? Never. Weeding had become something that I could zone out and meditate while doing for hours if I could. I actually set the timer on my phone to make myself stop. Now I say stuff like "OK - you only get 45 mins to weed then you have to stop."
With my little square foot garden I put in three 4/4ft beds and one 4/8ft tomato bed. I grew my little plants with minimum success but I was happy and learning. I think I had that for two years before the bug really bit down hard. I needed a real garden. A Cottage Garden. A Kitchen Garden. A Potager. Something with plants thickly planted and working together. I needed to dive in. Thank God Josh loves to eat fresh veggies enough that he was 100% in. I planned and planned and planned again. I had it all figured out. And in our usual fashion, my Josh took one look and it and knew it made no scenes. He made it actually happen. I fought him and made him reuse the beds that I had already made. Of course in retrospect he was right. Dammit. He usual is, and it drives me crazy. Now I had blow up the amount of usable garden space that was available to me. I went from 80 square feet to around 450+ square feet of raised bed space. I thought I was big stuff. Then I planted that garden and quickly ran out of room. Where would I grow melons? Pumpkins? A billion more tomatoes? I needed another garden. The next year I was too broke to make a new raised bed garden. That meant having a traditional in the ground garden. Which I thought I was too cool for, yet went for it anyway. 18ft by 96ft was the original measurement. I never measured it since the first time. Since it has no defined boarders I bet it has actually gotten bigger over the years.
The front garden - the Cottage Garden is my love. I always wish it was bigger, but then I might not love it as much as I do. It is just the right size for me to keep it pretty and under control. If I work too much and let it go a little too wild it takes me a day or so and it is back under control. It's just right. The back garden or the Orchard Garden. Damn that orchard garden. It has always been my bad kid. It really illustrates to me that growing veggies in the ground is way harder than raised beds. But just like my bad kids - its totally worth it. It is a great place for me to grow large scale things in the quantity that fills my freezer. I try to put things back there that are ugly or take up lots of space. I like to eat tomatoes but the plants themselves take up tons of space. If I planted them up front they would take up almost my entire Cottage Garden. This year last second I decided to plant 30 tomatoes out back. No problem. Plenty of room. The pumpkins are going insane back there. Every year I draw out a plan of how I am going to convert that garden into partial raised beds and partial open vine space. Then I never do. This year Josh has really helped me with the weeds back there. He goes back there with the weed wacker and pushes those puppies back. As the pumpkins start to take over they are shading out the weeds from coming in. Between the Jurassic sized leaves on the pumpkins and weed killer Josh its all under control - today. Call me back if we get some hot weather and tons of rain.
Once I lost myself to gardening I learned a new term - homesteader. And that is me. My title has been found. And I am so excited to find a bunch of other geeks that love gardening and growing food. The girls wanted to show in 4H and we all fell in love with goats. Then I discovered Babydoll South Down sheep and I fell in love again. Grad school is stopping me from having a huge flock right now, but the day will come when I have 10+ ewes breeding away for me each year. I make lists of expenses and needs for that flock. I doodle and dream about them. They are coming eventually - sorry Joshy. Egg chickens has been a fun adventure for me. I enjoy the love that develops between me and my pet chickens. They are such lovely little ladies. The horses have whittled away to just one old retired gentleman and my mini donkey. That's just right. No show horse worries. Just a happy fat old man living in the pasture with good shelter and plenty to eat. He doesn't even wear a blanket in the winter. The dog is higher maintenance.
Every year I want to try one more step. I still have not reach my limit of the amount I think we can handle. Pasture chickens, beef, veggies, pasture pigs, fruitfruitfruit and more fruit. I love it. And because of my selfish choice to buy a horse farm I have plenty of space to live out my little homestead dreams. My horse barn has been converted one stall at a time into a chicken coop, then a goat pen, then another goat pen. This homesteading thing owns me. I love it. More please.
What's on my plan for next year? Remember - grad school is getting in the way. More fruit! Add a new horse pasture Greenhouse Make a barn quilt Add some cut flower growth areas Some small projects - goat hay feeders, goat portable pen, mailbox remodel
For the future? Dream big. SHEEP! Bee's Meat chickens and turkeys Treehouse Solar and wind power Re-do the pond Much more fruit
I don't make much secret about the fact that I love 4H.
I love the concept, the honest root of the whole idea.
Learn stuff and grow every year.
Be nice and play fair.
Hold yourself to a certain standard of behavior and self accountability.
Work hard and get acknowledge for that work.
Reality - I work with the goats more than I should. I stress and fret about cakes that need decorated. I constantly remind myself - let them do it! Back off. Even if they fail the failure is part of the learning experience.
Two reasons I struggle to back off -
1. I want to win. The competitive crazy person that lives in the part of brain that used to show horses comes out sometimes and wants a blue freaking ribbon. It makes me talk myself into driving five hours to pick up a goat that is going to win. It talks me into email breeders and begging them to sell me a winner. It talks me into spending way too much money on the highest quality I can afford. I have convinced myself that investing in quality stock is the way to go. It costs the same to feed a piece of crap as it does to feed quality, but if we are being honest I buy quality because I want to win.
2. I don't want them to fail. I want them to be happy. They like to win too! Emma could not really give much of a rats ass about her goats most of the year. She doesn't dislike them, but she worked with them less than 15 times total before fair. She is just a busy teenager with other things to do. I kept telling myself I wasn't going to pick up her slack. If her projects where not ready then they just wouldn't be ready. But I still went out and worked that dairy goat all the time. I just couldn't let them fail. I wanted Emma to be happy with her blue ribbon. Which she was.
We primarily show pygmy goats. We always have. I just love the short little fatties. They are so cute. Almost like cartoons - with all the round fatness. This year we tried two different breeds of goats just to expand our knowledge.
Lily showed a fainting goat. You can see it here about peeing on her foot! It didn't get her, but it cracked me up. I like fainting goats. They are hilarious! They seriously faint - look it up on YouTube. With all that said - our county does not have a division for fainting goats. They show in the meat goat category with huge fat meat goats. It's not a comparing apples to apples. We will sell this doe this year and buy a wether for next year. Something cute and hilarious that Lily can show for one year and can then come be a pet on the farm. Just fainting away periodically to make me laugh.
Now here comes my little dairy goat. Mine Mine Mine. I pretend that she is Emma's but this is really my baby. We have a class at our fair where they take the highest placing meat, dairy, and pygmy doe and wether and show them against each other to pick the Supreme Champion. We have made it to this class one time with a wether we own. Usually the class is won by a dairy goat or a meat goat. Pygmy goats rarely win, but it has happened. So last year Emma and I talked about what breed of dairy we might want to show to try and have a shot at Grand Supreme. We decided on Nubian. They are so graceful and elegant. After lots of research I found a champion breeder that was willing to sell me a baby. It's actually really difficult to get a doe bred this well. Wait lists and deposits and long road trips. Seriously. I have problems - ok? We already talked about that. And this doe defines my crazy exactly. But - isn't she gorgeous? I love her. I work with her all the time. I groom her constantly. I enjoy her company. She is a wonderful little pet. She and Emma took first in her class, then champion junior Nubian. They didn't make Grand Champion (the step below supreme) this year, but I feel like this is our best chance in a long time. And she is going to be providing milk for this family eventually :)
Then Emma and Lily ended up showing against each other with their two junior pygmy does. Lily got champion with her Delilah and Emma got reserve champion with Darcy. Both does shows lots of potential and I am hoping we can keep both for next year.
Lily showed her little Marshmallow Fluff. This goat is so special to me. She is the only pygmy goat I own that I bred and raised. From a super fancy buck I owned for a few months and a doe my kids used to show. She is a spoiled little brat from a year where five other babies died and one doe died. It was such a tough farmer year that she got too much attention. Thank the lord she is actually a really good looking little doe. She gets to live out her life with me forever, but its nice that she wins too. She was a blue ribbon in her class, which was wonderful since this is her yearling year which is usually not a great year for my goats. They look like awkward teenagers that year.
The theme was superhero's this year. So Max had a cape he wore around the whole time. My goats are used to dealing with his crazy, so they just went with it.
Emma also showed her senior wether Bo. He is a really high quality animal but I didn't let him in with the babies to eat himself into show weight in time. He looked good but not good enough and got a fourth. Next year he will be back and bringing the heat.
A big storm rolled in causing the goat show to be delayed. Max provided entertainment while we all waited in the barn for it to blow over.
Then it was time to show sheep. Lily really loves to show sheep. She loves her little sheep, Annabelle and together they are very focused in the ring.
And got rewarded for it!
They won first for yearling All Other Breeds. But they where the only one.
Then they won Champion for All Other Breeds.
Annabelle was the only babydoll sheep in the group.
Which is a shame. I think she really does have wonderful confirmation and could give lots of other babydoll's something to compete against.
I can't wait till the day comes that I have about 10 mama's just like her breeding in my field.
But I had to give that up for grad school.
Annabelle will be going back to her breeder in the fall to have babies.
They can only show sheep for two years, so we traded Annabelle for a spring lamb.
The breeder we got her from is so wonderful, she will be well cared for.
But I will miss her pretty face.
We also traded her with an understanding that if the breeder ever sells her we get first refusals.
For indoor projects Lily got all blues.
The indoor projects are different.
If you do the project well you get a blue.
If you mostly followed the rules but missed some stuff you get a red.
If you did the project better than well you get in Honor Group.
If you did it the best in your age group you get Champion or Reserve Champion.
If you did it the best in the entire fair you get Grand Champion or Reserve Grand Champion.
So - on sewing she got a blue on construction and on modeling.
She made the skirt with my mother.
This is the purse she made for her Recycling Project.
It was really good and she put a lot of work into it.
This is the cake she made.
You ice a foam cake form with royal icing. It dries like cement. Then we take it to my dad and he sands it down with a belt sander to make it smooth.
We traced the letters and owl on to the cake from clip art.
Then she filled it in with stars.
She got blue and honor group with this cake.
For woodworking she made this game with my father. My Dad is a master woodworker and she loves learning from him about how to make these things. He really makes her do the whole thing her self and I love the idea of the two of them working on this.
My pretty little back garden is going insane this year.
Broccoli up front then a row of beans.
Three double rows of tomatoes.
Then a random sampling of corn and pumpkins.
Everything growing out there is resistant to powdery mildew since last year I lost this entire garden to that stupid mildew.
Broccoli has gone crazy and less than a week after this picture it was larger than a dinner plate and had to be harvested. From my first broccoli harvest I got enough to freeze three full family portions of broccoli. Not a bad start.
Broccoli gone wild.
The tomato rows are going perfectly. The ditch in the center is hard to see but it has not really caved in much. We have had so much rain that I haven't really had to use it.
The bottom six to twelve inches get all branches trimmed off. If they are forming a tomato they get to stay. Otherwise its in to the compost pile. This is supposed to keep bugs away.
My row of green beans has given me two baskets of green bean already. I love this variety that I picked for this year. I'll post the link after I finally get to eat some.
This picture is from the back of the garden. It shows the row of sunflowers coming in and all the corn and pumpkins growing together. It's two week right now since this picture and you would not believe the changes! Update picture to follow once the weeds get beat back again.