Turning of the Season on our Farm

The last sunflower of the season; Mosey sniffing newly-harvested cornfield; the garden is winding down; lazy autumn cats; end-of-summer barbeque.

 

Since I’ve moved to our farm, I have found my year is now measured not by the days of the month but by the seasons. My calendar is based on the work and events on Whimsical Moon Farm and the farmers around me.

People who farmed had a different way of understanding time, one based on sunlight and seasons, ebbing and flowing in activity like river water. Their year was alive, growing and dying.”  Jenna Woginrich, sheep farmer.

Living on a farm, you would think that Spring would be my favorite season of the year. You know: renewal, Mother Earth waking up again after a long Winter, newly planted gardens, baby animals….but truth be told, I am all about the Fall. I love the cooler temperatures, the slowing down after a hectic summer, harvesting and ‘putting by’ the last of the garden bounty, and the beautiful fall colors. Orange, russet, yellow and red.

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Autumn glow at a nearby lake. This picture was taken last fall.

Although my summer garden beds have pretty much been laid to rest, there is still plenty of activity all around me.  The agri-farmers have begun frantically harvesting their corn and soybean crops. The weather here in East Cornfield has been spectacular for this time of year but the farmers still race against the perfect timing of dried corn on the stalk and the possibility of a thunder storm stomping across the fields.

The dance of combine, tractor, and over-flowing wagon has begun circling around us, as we are bordered by crops on three sides of our tiny farm. We hear the revving of Farmer Matt’s tractor early in the morning and prepare ourselves for a day of loud engines, blowing chaff and dust, and the abrupt change of our landscape.

Farmer Matt maneuvering his combine across our tiny road into the soybean field on the east side of our farm, cleaning up freshly harvested corn field, hauling the filled wagon to the grain bin, harvesting the soybean, the corn field next to our farm as it is cut down.

The hard-wood trees have begun to change color and the squirrels have been frantically busy burying dried corn on the cob, black walnuts, and dried seed heads they discover in the flower bed and herb garden. Many of my favorite wild birds have already flown south for the Winter, so all I have at the feeder now are nuthatches, a lone red-headed woodpecker, and mourning doves. I’ve kept the hummingbird feeder up as I still have hummers swooping in each morning and evening.

Even though the days are growing shorter, the chickens continue to lay their eggs, keeping us supplied with tasty omelets and frittatas.  They have become fat and sassy chickens, their feathers shiny, and their loud ‘crowing’ when one just laid an egg never fails to make me smile. Sometimes I will sit on the side porch sipping my first cup of coffee of the morning, and listen to their gentle clucks and watch as they scratch the ground, entertained by ‘Farm TV’.

There are plenty of chores around the farm that need to be accomplished before the weather turns cold, including shoveling over the garden one more time, cleaning up the compost pile, closing up the storm windows, and maybe even getting that shed painted. The furnace needs to be serviced and we still need to fill up the propane tank. (I never look forward to that!)

The ‘girls’ rearranging their attic, autumn fire-pit, the tip of a recently buried cob of corn the squirrel placed in a fresh mole hill, falling leaf tangled in a cobweb, I LOVE Halloween!

Yes, I love Autumn. And I love living on Whimsical Moon Farm. As I’ve grown older, my definition of success has changed dramatically. Living a life that makes me happy, surrounding myself with freshly grown food and outdoor activities,  working with the seasons and the rhythm of the farm, and building a sense of place and community, Autumn is that time of year I can take time to reflect and appreciate this simple way of making my way in the world.

I send you Whimsical Moon fall blessings with hot spiced cider and fresh baked pumpkin bread on the side.

 

 

 

Whimsical Moon Farm Musings

Bella-boo heading outside, the girls in their attic loft, a tiger lily blooming next to the chicken coop, and another tomato ripening.

 

Even though it is hot and muggy, you can feel the summer season winding down on the farm. Leaves are turning golden on the old maple tree and I can feel a slight chill in the air when I go outside to do chores each morning. The days are increasingly shorter, yet there is still plenty to do as we look forward to the Autumn equinox.

Tomatoes and peppers continue to ripen on the vine and the ‘girls’ greet us almost every morning with an egg or two. The Ameraucana chickens have been laying for a few weeks now and we are patiently waiting for the Buff Orpingtons to begin their laying cycle. There is nothing tastier than  fresh chicken eggs!

Fresh picked peppers, tiny first egg next to regular sized eggs, Sweetums snoozing on the comfy chair, baby toad, and a recent farm sunset.

 

I find myself just as busy in the kitchen as I am outside. Besides freezing bushels of corn last month, I have canned tomato sauce, pickled dilly-garlic green beans, and dried peppermint, sage, and rosemary for tea and crafting soaps. Soon, we will be gleaning fallen apples from the neighboring farm and I will fill my kitchen with the spicy scent of bubbling applesauce and apple-pear butter for the winter.

The gigantic pile of broken tree limbs and cleared scrubby locust trees and encroaching mulberry shrubs is still smoldering ash after Farmer Matt came chugging down the road in his backhoe three days ago and helped us build the pile into a massive bon fire. It is such a relief to get the back yard cleaned up but it looked like a scene from the ‘burning-man festival’ for most of the afternoon into the evening.

Farmer Matt working on the burn pile, glowing bon fire in the evening, the tiny egg sunny side up. (We couldn’t help ourselves. It was one of the first eggs!)

 

I’ve noticed many of the birds in the area gathering into their flocks. Chickadees, finches, and hummingbirds will soon be moving south and the juncos will be moving back in. The fields of corn and soybean are beginning to turn brown and soon we will hear the loud combine and tractor engines crawling through the crops harvesting another years income.

Each season in Central Indiana is distinctive and defined by different types of work and activity. As the urgent summer heat and growing season mellows towards Autumn, I look forward to the cooler temperatures, the slower work load, and the pile of books growing next to my favorite reading chair.

Harvest blessings from Whimsical Moon Herb Farm.

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Pookie Poo peeking out from my bamboo garden cage.

 

 

The Chicken Came First…..!

 

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? This ancient conundrum became clear here at Whimsical Moon Herb Farm on Saturday, August 13th, 2016. The morning dawned bright and sunny, a normal summer Saturday. I was going about my chores, as usual, when suddenly I heard an unchickenly chicken squack. In fact, it sounded more like a honk. And then another more elongated honk. And then garbled gobbling. What on earth?

I rushed to the girl’s coop, opened the attic and peered into the dim, straw filled interior. Prissy stared back at me, shook her feathers, then waltzed down the step ladder into the main chicken arena. And lo, the sun filtered in through the main attic window, and there it was. The first EGG! It was perfect.

We purchased 6 fluffy, tiny fuzzballs on April second of this year. They resided in their brooder for a short time. They outgrew it quickly and ended up living in our main bathtub until the middle of May, when they graduated to their personal coopacabana.  They thrived in their new digs, munching on fresh spinach and radish tops from the garden, layer pellets with added oyster shell supplement, and fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen. They got fresh water every morning with a splash of unfiltered apple cider to control bacteria and during the heat of summer, chunks of ice to cool off.

We have three Ameraucanas and three Buff Orpingtons and as they grew, they each developed their own distinct, mature colors as well as individual personalities. We realized they were getting closer to laying their eggs early this month as their combs and wattles grew and turned a brighter red.

As of this writing, we now have six delightful, whimsical eggs. We find we stop whatever we are doing, no matter what, as soon as we hear the chortly squack of a laying chicken and smile in anticipation of the next egg.

And so, in answer to the question: which came first? We can assuredly say, six fluffy chicks came first. For us, anyway. Here on Whimsical Moon Herb Farm.

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Did somebody say omelet?

Sweet Summer Corn!

Friends visiting from out of town in front of ‘the corn’, sweet corn pudding with fresh blackberries, Bella-boo kitty peeking out from under the bathroom sink, and a butterfly on wild Echinacea.

As someone who has lived most of her life in small towns or suburbs, I have found living in the country agrees with me in so many ways. Besides the benefit of neighborly black Angus cows nodding at  me over their fence as I sit on my porch drinking my early morning cup of coffee, the freedom to raise farm animals and grow wild gardens without breaking residential codes, and the opportunity to see wide open sky and and tangled meadows growing along our wandering creek, I have found one aspect of living on a farm that I had not counted on: BARTERING!  The unspoken bartering system is alive and thriving in East Cornfield, Indiana.

For instance, when our driveway was covered in two feet of snow last winter, the farmer down the road plowed us a way out, and in turn we baked him several batches of his favorite chocolate chip cookies. A tree blew down in our backyard this spring and our widowed neighbor chugged down the road in his back-hoe and made short duty of removing it. He also received home-baked goodies and a meal or two. He does appreciate a home baked meal now and then.

So, when my 71 year old friend Joy Jean called me up one afternoon and asked if I would like some fresh picked sweet corn I eagerly said “for sure”! I could always use a few bags of corn. She told me her friend Sandy’s farm had a miraculous (raccoons hadn’t gotten into it) abundance of sweet corn and all we had to do was come get it. As we pulled into their driveway, Sandy met us out by their Gator utility vehicle and pointed into the back. The entire bed was filled to the top with corn. Bushels and bushels of corn. We filled Joy’s trunk bursting full and tossed several more bushels in her back seat. We knew we had our work cut out for us, but I was excited. Enough sweet corn to last all winter. And it is the best tasting sweet corn I have ever had.

As soon as we got back to Joy’s place, we set to shucking all of the corn. We sat outside near her burn pile and tossed husk after husk after corn silk well into the late evening. By the time we had finished, the moon had crested over the tree-line and we were ready to take a break. But, there is ‘no rest for the wicked’, or so Joy Jean says, and we got busy blanching the corn, stripping the kernels off the cobs with an old-fangled corn kerneler (that’s its technical name), and scooping serving sizes into freezer bags. By the time we were finished, we were covered in wet corn kernels, smelled of corn, and were hot and weary from our hard work. But we looked at each bag as we placed them into the freezer and smiled in satisfied, tired agreement. Sweet corn is good. Friendship is even better.

If there was some way to package the laid-back, caring, neighborly, sharing attitude of living in the country into freezer bags, I would make sure everybody had their very own.

I hope each of you is having a lovely Whimsical Moon sweet corn day!

 

Sweet Corn Pudding with Fresh Blackberries:

Ingredients:

6 ears sweet corn
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 white cheddar cheese, shredded (I used a little bit more, I like cheese)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp maple syrup
about 1 cup of blackberries (any berry works here)
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease casserole dish (or pie plate). Shuck the corn and cut all kernels off with a knife into a bowl, making sure to keep all of the runoff juice from the corn. Reserve. Mix together the milk, heavy cream, cheese, cayenne pepper, eggs, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Add in the reserved corn. Gently stir in the berries. Pour into casserole dish and bake for 35 minutes or until the pudding is set. (Still kind of wobbly.)

(This recipe is an adapted from The Neelys)

 

 

 

 

The High Season of Summer

 

It is the high season of summer here on the farm. Sweat trickles down my back as I walk out to the garden, the air heavy and damp. I notice another green tomato on our ‘mortgage lifter’ heirloom tomato plant and glance at the early morning tilt of the sun shining on the meadow flowers in the nearby field.

The chickens have dug themselves shallow nests in the straw next to the chunk of ice I tossed into their coop earlier, spreading their wings across the cool earth, not very interested in the lettuce and spinach I harvested special for them. It’s too hot to eat at the moment.

My farm Chihuahua, Winter, enjoys the sunshine on her back as she pleasantly stretches and tilts her head to the warmth, her eyes closed. The cicadas are churling their raspy  song, circling in the hardwood trees all around her.  Catbirds call back and forth as the farm cats lie sprawled all across the side porch, ignoring them.

We notice a bright yellow plane barnstorming the neighboring farmers fields, spraying the crops with fertilizer one hot evening, amazed at the finesse of his flying as he banks tightly to circle around and drops lower and lower over the crops. High summer flying.

The corn has reached heights well over eight to nine feet and the soybeans are lush and bushy, at least 3 feet tall. Each morning as the warm sun rises, a thin layer of fog stretches across the fields as the accumulated night moisture evaporates from the leaves, giving everything an eerie, spacey feel. Strains of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” whisper through my mind and I look twice as a slight breeze brushes the corn, rustling the leaves.

This is the time of year I try to get all of my work done early before the heat leeches my energy. Chores, gardening, cooking, and repairs around the farm receive top morning priority allowing me to relax inside during the hottest part of the day. Piles of my favorite magazines are finally weeded through and I find time to crack open that summer novel recommended to me a few months ago. I drink gallons of refreshing sun tea with peppermint and point the fan towards my desk to stay cool.

The days seem long and hot, but I know they are slowly getting shorter as the sun moves towards the fall equinox. Soon enough, the days will get cooler and the first signs of autumn will color the maple trees. For now, I will savor the coolness of home-churned ice cream and the opportunities to catch up on my writing projects and my reading.

Here’s hoping you are staying comfie and cool and having a Whimsical Moon high summer season.

The Way of the Cottage Herbalist

 

“Those who dwell….among the beauties and mysteries of life are never alone or weary of life. Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”  –Rachel Carson

A Cottage Herbalist is anyone who honors herbs and has an inner desire to understand and share their healing properties. Spending time with these plants, growing, harvesting, even meditating with them, takes us to our Source. Time with Mother Earth is healing. You won’t find a dictionary definition for cottage herbalist, but I’m pretty certain this is pretty close to how I would define it. This is how I define myself.

I have studied medicinal plants, growing herbs and ethically wildcrafting, making herbal products, and crafting with them for many years. I began my herbal ‘career’ as a young girl when I planted my first herb garden in a scrappy, worn-out iris bed that mom determined would get plenty of sunshine and relieve her from further weeding.

My studies continued when I attended the Seattle School of Massage and found several herbal courses available as elective subjects. I enjoyed every single class. Several years later, I was ecstatic when I found Rosemary Gladstar’s “The Science and Art of Herbalism” course offered through her Sage Mountain Farm. Rosemary has always been my herbal idol and long distance mentor, and she said, “Whatever you choose to do, do it well, and do it joyously”, and I determined herbs, gardening, and crafting would always be my joyous work.

I have learned as I continued my herbal studies that nobody becomes an herbalist overnight. In fact, learning the healing qualities of plants is a life long process. It does require us to grow and harvest, make effective preparations, and then use them in our own lives as well as share them with others. I realized that discovering our own medicines in the fields and woods that surround us, and in our gardens, can be empowering.

Herbal medicine is about creating a deep relationship with the plants and ourselves, and not just about a jar of herbal supplements or a bottle of uncertain tincture we purchase from the shelf of the nearby big name mega-store. An herbalist begins with the healing plants growing outside their door, working hands-on with them, as well as learning from mentors, taking courses, and reading books on the subject.

I believe a Cottage Herbalist understands the everyday use of herbs, studies the traditional use of plant remedies, grows and ethically wildcrafts their regional plants, prepares plant medicines, and even teaches others the aspects of the herbal healing arts. Helping people discover the healthy possibilities for themselves is an important part of being an herbalist.

Creating an herbal livelihood within the context of a sustainable farm and community is important to me. Amanda M. Crawford, an herbalist, said,”Sometimes when technological medicine has nothing more to offer a person, we may find the deepest healing in a simple green blossom”. I wholeheartedly believe this, and I believe that our health, as individuals and as a society, is inextricably linked to that of the earth. Herbal medicine is nature’s ultimate ecological medicine.  Herbalists teach this Earth awareness and the nourishing good health that comes from the plants, clean water, fresh air, and the pursuit of your passion — and laughing often.

I enjoy sharing the adventures and antics here on Whimsical Moon Herb Farm as we continue to grow our herbs, raise our chickens, and scratch the farm cats behind their ears. I also intend on sharing my adventures as an herbalist and herbcrafter. I will alternate my focus on farming and herbalism in future posts, with a bit of everyday whimsy. Please feel free to comment or ask me questions as the seasons progress! I hope you will enjoy learning about the herbs – and healing with them – right along with me.  Have a most whimsical-moon day!

 

 

 

The Pulse of our Farm

 

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.”  –Rachel Carson

I recently realized that we have been living and working on our farm for just over a year now. Fourteen months, thereabouts. And as I look back on this past year, I find that I have learned how to accept and work with the rhythm of the seasons and this land.

I have learned how to watch the clouds move across the vast sky, how to feel the differences in the wind, and how to smell the air for moisture or electricity.  Yes, you can smell a thunderstorm as it marches its way across the fields, with low rumbles and crackles of lightning. Our chickens know even before I do that a storm is coming as they make their way to the coop attic, they cluck softly and move closer together.

I have learned how to watch the methodical movements of tractors and plows as the farmers begin preparing the fields for corn and soybean in early spring. I wait and watch for the first bursts of grass-like shoots as the corn pokes through the dirt in their gently curving rows and often check their height as the corn grows quickly in the hot sun. When I notice the first combine (reaper/thresher) tediously make its way down our narrow country road, I know that summer is coming to an end and it is time to harvest.

It won’t be long before the air takes on a crispness like that first taste of fresh-pressed apple cider and the sun light mellows and softens. Pumpkins, nuts, and pears replace the berries, greens, and zucchini at the farmer’s market and I find myself wearing socks and sweaters again. (Barefoot or clogs is my normal footwear during the summer.) The frantic buzz of summer on the farm slows and outside chores reflect the quiet of the gardens and the calm preparations for winter.

The first few snowflakes trigger excitement and childlike glee (yes, I admit to crazy giggling when it first snows) as we scurry around the farm tightening doors and latches, turning over the last of the dried vegetable stalks, and covering the compost pile. We check the seals on the windows of this old farmhouse and make sure the propane tank is full for what I now know will be a long winter season. My pile of books next to my favorite reading chair grows almost as tall as my favorite lavender bush and I check my supply of herbal teas and soup stock. Time to hunker down for the season and nest.

Even though it is now a warm, muggy evening in July, I reflect on the cycles of this farm and find myself feeling a sense of gratitude and comfort in fitting in with the natural rhythm here. I watch Sweetums, one of our farm cats, stalking a lightning bug and savor the creamy, tartly sweet black raspberry ice-cream we churned from berries Mindy picked around the edge of our property. Mosey, our St. Bernard proudly guards his newly found tree limb he has been dragging around the yard, and I prop my garden feet on a stool as I relax and savor the calm.

“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of the human being.”  –Masanabu Fukuoka