In the first few years living at the homestead, we focused on spreading existing perennials throughout the different gardens and planting fall flowering and foliage plants to extend the garden color and splendor well into autumn. This year we also featured sunflowers in the garden bed. Enjoy the slideshow!
I love to grow. And while it is very satisfying to grow food to eat, my heart belongs to the flowers first. Here is a intimate look at some of the glorious flowers blooming in the garden throughout the summer - both in the gardens and in the pots on the deck. Most of the flowers in the gardens are perennials, but the potted beauties change from year to year. Enjoy!
Two winters ago, when planning the gardens and ordering vegetable and flower seeds, I asked Mitch what flowers he would like to see more of and he answered: Blue. So, I looked through the catalogs for blue flowers and delphiniums topped the list with their feathery yet dramatic spikes of blue flowers. I ordered a pack of seeds without knowing that growing delphiniums from seed is not as easy as growing marigolds.
Upon receiving the seeds from Johnny's Selected Seeds, I read the directions which said: Seeds must be stratified to germinate. Stratification was indeed a new term for me!
When the herbs and greens were ready to plant in the ground, I felt the delphiniums were too small and fragile to go in the flowers gardens, so I transplanted them to bigger pots and took care to attend to them throughout the summer and into the fall, when I then transplanted them into their new homes among our perennial flower beds. Last fall, the delphiniums were able to establish themselves with a gentle fall, compost tea, and some good mulch because...
This spring, the delphiniums sprung strong and bloomed blue and bright, adding color, height, and gentle drama to the gardens. Mitch is pleased with the beautiful blue flowers and I am thrilled with their blue blooms which helped the garden transition from the bold peonies of late spring to the daylily showcase that is about to explode an array of sunbursts over our Plainfield, Vermont homestead.
Good food and beautiful flowers start with nutrient rich soil. Just like how people need vitamins and minerals for our own vitality, plants need nutrients to grow strong. And just like how we need to continue to nourish our bodies to stay healthy, soil needs to be continuously amended to remain rich in nutrients. In other words, the nutrients in soil get depleted as plants grow and that's where compost comes in - to give soil boosts of nourishment to help fruits and veggies grow strong which we then eat for energy and return the unused parts back into the soil. It's a beautiful cycle and one that has intrigued me from a young age.
Mitch and I completed the UVM Extension Master Compost program to help us better prepare compost and grow our own soil at the homestead. Part of being a Master Composter means educating others about composting, so here are some of our composting tips:
We also purchase compost until our infrastructure and ingredients can produce all the compost we need. And, we give our gardens bursts of energy with our secret compost tea sauce. YUM!
Homesteading, by definition in Wikipedia, means "a lifestyle of self-sufficiency."
We enjoy sharing the MitchaRachia Homestead on our blog and with friends and family who visit. Homesteading is a choice we make and self sufficiency is a value we live by. Some people choose to raise a family, some to travel, some to build wealth, some to live off the grid, and so forth. We choose to live in the mountains away from a consumer-driven society where we grow and produce as much of our own food, fuel, and other products as we can while both working full time jobs.
We strongly believe in reducing our consumption and waste, reusing all that we can, and recycling what we can't reuse. We are not farmers - a farmer produces or aims to produce for their primary source of income. We produce for our own use at a much smaller scale than a farm and we barter our surplus or time with friends and neighbors before heading to the store. We do not believe a stronger economy is based on being a consumer of more stuff we do not need, but rather supporting local farms, businesses, companies, and services for what we cannot make/do ourselves. Rachel does have an affinity for clothes, but has primarily only shopped at thrift stores and reusing/recycling other people's purchases since she was 16 and only throws away what really doesn't fit anymore - hence the big closet.
Yes, we do think a self sufficient lifestyle is the best way for us to live on a planet that does not have the resources or capacity to sustain its outrageous population growth or societal demands. However, we know the ability to make the types of lifestyle decisions that we make are not feasible for everyone. We try not to pass judgement on individuals, but rather work towards more system level societal shifts and help educate those we are connected to along the way. We judge the system and not our friends and family and we ask that we are not judged in return.
We live in Vermont to be in Vermont which means we do not often travel out of state. This is hard for some folks to understand. Why you may ask? Because it takes a lot of time, energy, and resources to develop and manage our homestead. Working full time leaves us with most weekends to work on the land - we do not have the fortune of unearned income sources. It is also very expensive to live in Vermont and wages do not balance the cost of living the way they do in other states. This presents us with a minimal leisure budget outside of nature, which is our primary source of leisure as it is of sustenance. We are able to plan a few visits in the late fall and winter, but must balance visits with homesteading responsibilities, finances, and days off. We also do not have a credit card by choice, which means we really have to plan for extra travel costs as we keep our debt limited to cars, mortgage, and insane student loans.
Lastly, in spring, summer, and fall, we WANT to be in Vermont - to work our land and to play here and anywhere nearby. A common phrase Vermonters use to share this sentiment with their out-of-state family and friends goes like this: "We don't live in Vermont to vacation in other state." Stick season, winter, and mud season are just too long. Although this year, winter did seem to skip us over. All good, all the more to get done now for summer enjoyment.
Come visit us!!!!
Green moss, pine boughs, spruce branches, and ferns blanket the forest floor behind our homestead. Snow covered the landscape the first two Decembers in Plainfield, but this year, the remaining lush greens generate a magical aura on our woods, growing along the spring fed streams.
Bringing the outside in is one of my favorite decorating activities and I thoroughly enjoyed creating these mossy fern centerpieces. To start, I cut floral foam blocks (available at most craft stores) and soaked in water until wet. I placed the foam in a large basket within a box for leakage and two metal containers that can be filled - the foam should be misted/watered frequently to stay damp.
The walk in the woods to collect all of nature's gifts was frosty and delightful. While not Christmas-y in the snowy sense, the earthy smells and December silence were beautiful and evoked feelings of peace and gratitude. I found more Christmas cheer in the collecting and crafting of centerpieces than I ever could shopping and trudging through slushy parking lot snow. Not to mention, Uley is a perfect little elfin helper.
A warm fire was festive accompaniment to arranging the moss, ferns, and boughs with lavender and thyme sprigs from my herbs - many of these come inside during the winter as well.
Love and Light this holiday season and may the winter solstice bring cheer, graciousness, and harmony to all!
We've been so busy gardening, we've slacked on getting a weekly post up, so I'm cramming some lessons learned over the past year into one informative post - refer back often!
When spring arrives in Vermont, its a flurry activity for gardeners to get beds ready for planting. Soil preparation is a top priority and one which often leads to multiple rounds of weeding, since weather up here does not always allow for planting as soon as the bed is ready.
So this year I opted for planting buckwheat as a cover crop in beds that won't be planted until later in the spring. I did this for the lettuce and greens area of my kitchen garden as well as for a perennial garden I am planning for the front of the house. Cover crops not only suppress weeds until you are ready to turn the soil over, but they act as a green manure and add nutrients to the soil. And while the break from weeding is awesome, it is the nutrient benefit that really makes cover crops a secret weapon.
The better the soil, the better the garden and what one taketh away each year to grow foliage and flowers, one must giveth back or you're stripping the soil of nutrients which leads to disease, pests, and poor growth.
I started applying my other secret weapon last year and am ready to spend a day this weekend dumping compost tea all over my gardens. I have long since fertilized with fish emulsion, a guaranteed organic method to ensure stronger, bigger, juicier, and more flavorful (for the edible) plants. But, my constant pouring over garden books and magazines like Mother Earth Living, inspired me to try a compost tea last year - fertilization and nutrient amendments, like nitrogen (the most likely to get depleted as you grow and harvest), all in one.
Compost tea can be applied like compost to soil and like fertilizer to plants during planting and while growing. I'd like to share my recipe here:
4 gallons of water
1/3 cup of alfalfa meal
1/3 cup of fish emulsion
1 tbs molasses
Stir it all together, transfer to a watering can and apply away!
The number one reason we purchased a vinyl sided grey box house, a tad bit larger than we really need, was because of the land - and at a great price. The 7-acres on the side of Spruce Mountain in Plainfield, Vermont, was already an established homestead. Apple orchard, blueberry bushes, raspberry and blackberries (still a jungle we have to tame), wild strawberries (we're cultivating a solid patch this spring as well), home-scale logging infrastructure, deep well, spring-fed pond, and several established, but overgrown gardens.
I am not one to create from scratch, but rather build upon, fix, or recreate what is already in existence. Now in our second spring, we are in full force tackling the "big garden." At 1,000 square feet, the garden was several years overgrown, making it past due searching and salvaging anything that was left growing within. The remnants of an electric fence remained, leading us to believe deer are a problem - which we have learned they are indeed.
So, when we moved in the fall of 2013, we had the whole garden mowed to the ground and we cleared out the debris, using it to add organic matter to build up the southern facing slope-side as it dips into the woods.
The following spring we laid heavy duty black plastic over the entire space, securing it with heavy rocks. It sort of looked like a pond or river which was really cool.
The plastic held all season, and last fall we turned all of the hot, remaining nutrients into the soil and then planted winter rye as a green manure.
Once that snow melted this spring, we tilled in the winter rye and added close to two yards of organic compost from Grow Compost in Moretown, Vermont. Then I planned out the paths and built up the beds. I covered the tomato and pepper beds with more black plastic to warm the soil - portable hot houses are in the works for these veggies to grow up here on the mountain. A tarp covered the bed with the remaining compost to add when planting and the rest of the beds were covered with straw. Another bale remains for mulch.
Mitch is completing the electric fence as we speak. We purchased a new solar fence charger and are stringing up five rounds of wire - a few more are being added after this picture was taken. And I am off to plant!!!
Mitch and Rachel are a groovy, retro-fit couple stewarding
7-acres of woodlands halfway up Spruce Mountain in Plainfield, Vermont.
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Farm to Plate
Vermont State Parks