A Bump in the Road!

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The bridge over Middle Fork Creek creating a slight bUMp in the road. This picture was taken late this Winter from our barn lot.

Many people consider a ‘bump in the road’ to indicate misfortune, a detour, or an obstacle to overcome. Here on the farm, we consider it to be a windfall or an opportunity.

You see, we live on a narrow rural road, straight and flat for miles, running East and West from one state road to another. Large grain trucks, a few commuters, and beat-up old farm trucks run up and down this road, often at indecently high speeds. The little bridge spanning our creek creates a slight bump in the road, and if you don’t slow down, may cause a jolt to the driver, and in some cases, loss of cargo in the back of the truck bed.

For instance, one day I was bemoaning the lack of straw that I needed to line the chicken run area. Lo and behold, there on the side of the road next to the newly planted soybean field, I saw a straw bale tilted at a funny angle. Huh! Where did that come from? I peered up and down the empty road looking for the owner and realized it must be up for grabs.

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My scavenged straw bale found on the side of the road.

So, I fairly sprinted down the road pulling my favorite garden wagon, hefted the bale onto the wagon, and made my way back to the chickens, my loot in tow.

It was probably a few months later when we were coming home from grocery shopping and found  three rustic wooden crates stamped with One Bushel Bean Crate  on the side. They were scattered across the road and the side ditch just past my now favorite bump in the road.

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Battered but useful green bean crate. 

One of the crates was damaged beyond repair, but we now use the remaining two as storage and porch tables for holding chilled ice tea. Perfect ‘farm chic’ decor.

Opportunity and fortune continued to fall on the farm (literally) when one morning, while savoring a hot cup of coffee on my front porch, I noticed a wood pallet sitting right square in the middle of the driveway. Seriously, I can’t even make this stuff up.

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The scrounged wood pallet.

As of this writing, we still haven’t figured out what we will use it for, but rest assured, it will find its purpose and destiny right here on the farm.

Another recent addition to the farm probably didn’t fall off the back of a wagon, but it did wander onto the front porch one evening meowing and purring, all cute and cuddly. Cats often show up out of the blue and soon move along, but this cat decided to adopt us as his own.

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Luna Kitty stretching in the early morning sunshine.

We made him a home on the front porch with our critter cage and moving blankets until we can get him ‘fixed’. Kayla named him Luna because he has a round, moonly face. It has taken a lot of hissing and meowering from our girl cats to finally warm up to him, but they seem to have worked out some sort of agreement and tentatively get along.

Last but not least, for the moment, the latest edition to the Whimsical Moon Farm menagerie is a fine young rooster named Ginger.

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Ginger Roo is an Easter-egger with beautiful shiny feathers and a robust singing voice.

Ginger came to us from my daughter, Chelsie one early morning via parcel post. Chelsie has a small flock of laying hens in her back yard in Seattle, WA. One of the two recent additions to her flock grew up to be a rooster. With a heavy heart, she called me one evening and asked if I would be able to take her rooster. The city, and her neighbors, frowned on his newly developed vocalizations.

Several days later, I received a call from the local post office at 7:08 am. “Hello, is this Terri May? Yes, well….we have your rooster here. When can you pick him up?”

A nice postal worker greeted me at the back door and allowed me into their ‘inner sanctum’. I could hear Ginger, plainly it was him, as the worker had me sign a form and quickly placed a large shipping box with a handle and air vents into my waiting hands.

 We got him set up in his temporary cage with fresh water, chicken crumble, and a few slices of his favorite apple. After a few days in a separate cage next to the hens, we slipped him in the roosting area late in the evening while the hens were sleeping. The next morning, the ‘girls’ woke up to a new dude in the chicken coop. What a pleasant surprise.

When Ginger-roo crows early in the morning, I always have to smile. It feels like we are really a ‘farm’ in the capital F sense of the word.

What is that saying? When life hands you lemons, make lemonade? Well, faced with a ‘bump in the road’, we find it quite easy to see it as an opportunity. The universe saying, “here, I bet you can use this straw bale”.

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Life on the farm!

We would love it if you found a few moments to check out our hand-crafted herbal soap cottage business at Whimsical Moon Farm.

Kayla on the Farm!

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This is Kayla on the Farm!

Kayla was born 28 years ago. She spent the beginning of her tiny life at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital at OHSU, Portland, Oregon. Many of those weeks were in the Neonatal Intensive Care Center.

The specialists soon determined that her ‘floppy baby syndrome’ would become a diagnosis of Myotonic Dystrophy (a muscle disease) along with several developmental delayments. It was a momentous occasion when they moved her onto the main infant’s floor. Many, many prayers were answered when we were actually allowed to bring her home.

As she grew into toddler-hood, her delayments became more pronounced and Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder, learning disabilities, and several anxiety disorders were treated with medications and specialized therapies. Several years later, as she matured and grew into ‘puberty’, she had a major break-down and was again hospitalized for several weeks. She was diagnosed with psychotic schizophrenia along with her numerous anxieties and her OCD. Add to that a diagnosis of Type ll Diabetes.

I am telling her story because Kayla is my daughter. Not only am I her mom, but now I am also her guardian and her full-time caregiver. Moving Kayla to the farm was not a decision I took lightly. This is a young woman with the emotional and mental IQ of a nine or ten year old. Kayla believes in fairies, dragons, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny.  I should know. She ‘chats’ with them often. She is obsessed with puppies, kittens, and unicorns. And Captain Jack Sparrow. (OH, wait! That’s me!!)

Kayla holding a brand new chick, two of her farm cats (Bella and Pookie), a tiny toad, fledging robins about to test their wings, and a young Screech owlet.

I chose to move Kayla and myself to this farm for several reasons. The main reason was to allow her the experience of raising animals and growing gardens. I wanted her to experience the changing of the seasons, along with the abundance and the diminishment that goes along with those cycles. Lots of fresh air, exploration, and new adventures have provided her many opportunities to get ‘out of her head’ and experience a more visceral, hands-on daily life. Moment by moment.

The fluffy two day old chicks grew into scrappy chickens!

Kayla helped us pick out our six chicks from the nearby Rural King last March and participated in raising them into the ‘divine ladies’ they are today. She checks for eggs daily and she never ceases to be amazed every time she finds an egg. Or five. She was also actively involved when we lost one of our hens to a deformed crop that suddenly caused the hen to convulse and die. We were sad and we mourned our chicken. It was both an experience of the joy of life and the grief of death.

Farm kittens in a basket, going outside for the first time, stretched out on the comfie chair, smiling, and catching the sunshine on a straw bale.

One of the things Kayla really, really wanted was a cat. We had to leave her cat, Zoe, behind with her grandma and grandpa when we moved. She missed her companion. Zoe was just a little too old and a little too settled to be bothered with being packed in a crate and flown clear across the country. I continued to put Kayla off, promising her when we were more settled on the farm we would begin to look for a cat. She wished and prayed for that cat often. Well, all the time!

Needless to say, she was beyond thrilled when I discovered  four fluffy kittens snuggled behind some old boxes in the shed early last February. It was a bitterly cold morning with several inches of snow on the ground, of course they needed to be ‘rescued’!  Pookie, Bella, Sweetums, and Whimsy soon became active members of our farm family. Mosey, the St. Bernard, was beside himself. The Chihuahuas scoffed and went about their little duties. Kayla was delighted. She reminds me often that prayers are answered!

Kayla’s creative ‘fairy’ garden, her specialty: strawberries, planting seedlings, fresh vegetables for our salad.

Kayla loves to help me plant seedlings in the garden and watch them as they mature into delicious salads on her dinner plate. She is not a big fan of the weeding process, though. Neither am I. But we get it done and then we enjoy the bounty.

Kayla loves to eat and she loves all of her vegetables and her fruits, but her all time favorite thing is munching sun ripened strawberries right off the vine. She volunteered to grow our strawberries. We have several large pots that sit on the front porch and she is eager when the season becomes warm and we can clear the straw mulch and look for the first tiny leaves. Last Winter was harsh and we had to replace many of the plants, but Kayla enjoys choosing the variety she will grow. As the season progresses and tiny flowers blossom into hard green fruits, she checks her ‘crop’ daily looking for that first blush of pink, then red. She also has no problem volunteering to taste the new strawberries and make sure they are yummy. Somehow, they are always yummy!

Kayla pulled the winning name for our Whimsical Moon Farm gift soap give-away, a big chopped salad, handcrafted items for the cottage business, a Blue Jay at the feeder, the first daffodils of spring, baby bunny in the back yard.

Kayla enjoys participating in all aspects of running the farm and growing our hand-crafted soap business. Chopping vegetables for one of our favorite farm salad dinners, testing a new fragrance for a batch of soap, and discovering what just might be outside her kitchen door are many of her daily amusements.

She does have several farm responsibilities besides gathering eggs and growing strawberries in the summer. She keeps her bedroom picked up and her bed made. She helps with laundry and puts her own clothes away. Plus, after a blustery wind, there is always yard pick-up which usually involves gathering broken locust tree limbs and building the burn pile. She is in charge of small fallen limbs.

She shares in the delight of discovering the first daffodils as they bloom and identifying the wild birds as they come to the feeders. As her focus moves from her internal landscape to what is right in her backyard, she is thrilled when she notices a baby bunny poking around near the compost. Or the bright colors of the resident blue jays or male cardinals.

How amazing it is for me to watch my daughter blossom right here on the farm. Beyond all the therapy appointments, psychiatric evaluations, blood glucose maintenance, and morning and evening medications, there is a young woman who is a part of my heart and my soul. If I ever had any qualms (okay, I had many) about bringing Kayla to this farm, they have long ago been diminished. I honestly believe divine inspiration brought us to this place. Kayla thrives!

Kayla, Kellen, Chelsie, and I, Grandma and Grandpa, Mindy and Mosey.

I want to thank my folks, Don and Loberta May (grandma and grandpa), as well as my daughter, Chelsie Johnson, and my son, Kellen New for being the most supportive, loving, and kind family Kayla and I could ever ask for.

Also, a big thank you to my farm partner-in-crime, Mindy Hall.

Please feel free to check out our hand-crafted herbal soaps grown and created right here on Whimsical Moon Farm.

 

Winter on the Farm!

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The snow plow moving Winter out of East Cornfield, Indiana.

Winter has descended upon Whimsical Moon Farm. The skies can change from gray to baby blue then gray again in a slight moment. The snow falls in tiny sparkling ice chips or fat fluffy flakes and I find myself moving through the chilly day determined to get from one farm chore to the next in the most expedient manner. The temperature usually hovers in the teens and muck boots, wool gloves, and thick layers are now the norm. My baseball cap has been replaced with a heavy knitted cap pulled down over my ears. My breath comes in silvery puffs and my glasses fog up as soon as I come back inside. Yes, Old Man Winter has made himself at home once again.

We have the chicken coop fortified with straw bales blocking the wind and holding in some of the heat produced by a warming heat pad hidden under the straw on the main floor. A heated water feeder keeps the chickens’ water flowing, but there have been a couple mornings I have had to scrape a rim of ice off the edge of the container.

Straw bales encircle the chicken coop. The girls peek out at me from their opened attic.

Neither of our Chihuahuas nor the farm cats want anything to do with the snow and frigid temperatures, but one of our beasts is totally in his element. Mosey, the St. Bernard, loves the snow. In fact, he often begs and whines to romp outside so he can plow through the drifts and sniff every little scent. He is certain the snow is here just for him as he claims every pristine area with his snuffling and galloping footprints.

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Mosey loves, loves the snow!

Although the Winter season has never been one of my favorite times of the year, I do appreciate the excuse to bake home-made bread and keep hearty soup warming on the stove for a quick bowl. The days are shorter lending themselves to getting chores done fast and then hunkering down with that good book I’ve been wanting to read. Piping hot chocolate steaming on the table next to me, a warm blanket tucked around my legs, and shivering Chihuahuas burrowed underneath.

Garden seed catalogs come in the mail regularly and I find myself dreaming of that new flower bed next spring and more raised beds closer to the house. I know, I still have a long cold slog ahead of me, but those seed catalogs can be a life-line to somebody that appreciates warmer days and abundantly bursting gardens.

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The Winter sunsets are remarkably beautiful even with the bare trees accenting them.

I try to greet each morning on the farm with gratitude. Winter provides opportunities to count different blessings as I appreciate a toasty warm home, the messy pile of books next to my futon for my reading pleasure, internet when it is actually working (unfortunately we can only get satellite here on the farm. Ugh!), hot coffee percolating on the stove, and rousing board games on the kitchen table with my daughter Kayla. She is a Candy Land maniac beating me 3 out of 4 games regularly.

I do look forward to Spring, but right now Winter has us in his grasp and we will continue to snuggle with puppies and stay cozy warm.

Hope you have a toasty warm Winter!

Please check out our handcrafted herbal soaps at Whimsicalmoonfarm.com

OH! You’re One of Those Farmers!

 

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Harriet greeting the morning, “I’m a farmer!”

So, there I was standing in line at the local Tractor Supply store, my cart loaded down with a 50 pound bag of Layer Pellets, a 50 pound bag of Scratch Grains, a small bottle of liquid wormer for the farm cats, and a diet cherry cola.

“Are you a farmer?”

I turned around and there sat a bright-eyed, smiling little girl in the basket of a shopping cart. Her mom was impatiently paging through last months issue of Capper’s magazine. “Don’t bother the lady, Cindy Lou.”

“Well, yes I am,” I told Cindy Lou and winked at her as I turned back into the line.

“Do you grow lots of corn like my pop-pop?” Cindy Lou asked.

I turned again and smiled at this darling girl. “No. I grow vegetables and herbs for the farmer’s market and my family, and I have a small flock of laying hens.”

I heard Cindy Lou’s mom snort from behind her magazine as she mumbled “oh, one of those farmers.”

“Next please,” the cashier said. I really wanted to ask Cindy Lou’s mom what she meant, but it was my turn to check out. I pushed my cart up to the register and moved the heavy bags around so the cashier could scan them. By the time I was finished paying for my items, Cindy Lou and her mom had already moved to a different register and I needed to get out of the way for the next customer.

By the time I got back to the farm, I had worked myself into a dither. What did Cindy Lou’s mom possibly mean with her snorting comment? Did I own or lease 250-300+ acres of land and plant it in agri-corn and soybean subsidized by government programs and supplemented by herbicides and pesticides? No. My tiny farm sits on 4+ acres right smack dab in the middle of those vast corn fields and I grow vegetables and herbs. I prefer not to use chemicals but rely on permaculture techniques, crop rotation, and just plain weeding and observation. Did that make me one of those farmers?

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One of many raised vegetable beds.

I continued to consider my position as a farmer. What are the requirements and standards? Did I have to be raised on a generational farm to call myself a farmer? If so, I was again out of luck. I grew up in a small mill town on the banks of the Columbia river in Washington state. I grew a scrappy little herb garden in my mom’s old iris bed. I did want to grow up to be a farmer, though.

 

SONY DSC              The Columbia River gorge as seen from the Vista House near Corbett, OR.

How did I decide to call myself a farmer?

Well, I roll myself out of bed each morning at the (ass) crack of dawn with several of my chores staring me in the face. Mosey, the St. Bernard licks my hand while the two Chihuahuas, Winter and Autumn dance around my feet, eagerly waiting to be fed. The cats need to be let outside as they chase each other from one end of the house to the other, and I must put a pot of coffee on the stove. Strong (fair-trade) coffee just makes sense on the farm. For me, it’s a necessity, not just a fancy.

The mornings are cold now and I have to make sure the chicken’s water isn’t frozen. I grab a couple scoops of layer pellets and grain scratch to toss in their bowl, and I gabble and cluck at the chickens as I clean their nest box and check for eggs.

During the summer time, I try to get my garden and outdoor chores completed early  in the morning while the temperatures are moderate. Now that Winter is knocking at my door, I still try to get as much done in the morning as I can so I can get back into my toasty kitchen and determine what needs to be done for the rest of the day.

As one of those farmers, I have learned how to tolerate dirt under my nails, random chicken feathers stuck in my hair, and ‘farm fresh’ as my new favorite fragrance. Work gloves are my go-to accessory and muck boots and garden clogs now sit  forefront in my closet while the designer heels and loafers are piled way in the back gathering dust. Heavy duty Carhartt pants and t-shirts or flannel shirts round out the ensemble topped with a baseball cap; my hair pulled in a long pony-tail sticking out the back.

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Dusk on the farm.

More importantly, being one of those farmers isn’t about what I can take from the land, but what I can give back. How can I make this tiny piece of earth a better place than it was before I began calling it my farm?

I have chosen not to use herbicides or pesticides on the land, but choose to restore the earth with compost and manure, cover-crops, and vermiculture (earth worms). I plant only heirloom and traditional (open-pollinated seeds) so I can both save the seeds for next year’s gardens and be assured that I am not eating genetically modified organisms. I consider rebuilding the soil on the farm just as important as feeding my family and my animals.

I grow a variety of different types of vegetables, herbs, and even flowers in my gardens as I follow a permaculture system of maintaining diversity and building miniature eco-systems in each bed. This means I try to create habitats for the birds, beneficial bugs, and butterflies to help me sustain a healthy, co-operative farm. With permaculture I tend to plant my seedlings closer together so that as they grow they create a canopy that will reduce evaporation and block the weeds. (Generally.) I rotate my crops from season to season to maintain healthy soil and hopefully fool the invasive insects into thinking dinner is no longer available here. Plus, I grow many different types of crops in the same place. For instance, I have learned that I can grow sweet corn with pole beans and squash in the same bed. As the corn grows taller, the pole beans grow along the corn stock and the squash with its broad leaves ramble around the base of the plants which again hinder weed growth and reduces water evaporation. This technique is often called planting ‘the three sisters’ and is credited to our Native American elders.

As I focus on what I can do to create a healthier farm, I attempt to maintain mindful consumption and conservation. Waste is such a huge issue for me and I find myself not only recycling every little thing that I can, but trying to figure out other uses for items that would ordinarily be tossed in land-fills. Admittedly, this is not always possible to do, but I limit my purchases of items that I realize will end up being tossed and try to use things to their maximum output. If I must throw it away, I want it to be as small, used up, and compact as it can be.

As I work towards a simpler lifestyle, I have found so much stuff that no longer benefits me. As I decide what needs to go I always try to ask around to see if somebody else could use it. If not, I pass it on to Goodwill or one of the many ministries at the local church.  When contemplating a purchase, I spend time determining if this is an absolute necessity or just a passing whim. I have come to realize that each purchase I make has an impact on the planet. Will my money benefit or diminish resources on this tiny piece of earth I leave for the next generation?

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Wildflowers growing in our barn lot.

I have found that this farm has helped me to reconnect with the land. It has challenged me to learn new skills and to create a more socially responsible lifestyle. Whimsical Moon Farm has pushed me to be more creative and passionate about what I value and how I display those values to my family, friends, and community. I am absolutely doing what I love while I live in alignment with nature and the seasons. If this makes me one of those farmers, than I embrace that calling wholeheartedly.

 

Please feel free to check out our new Whimsical Moon Farm website featuring hand-crafted herbal soaps and products crafted right here on this farm.

Whimsicalmoonfarm.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just One of Those Days!

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Our changing landscape: the harvested corn fields and fall trees look bare against the Autumn morning sky.

I woke up early this morning and knew it was going to be one of those days. A fabulous day! The sun is shining, the air is fresh and crisp, and I feel like I can conquer the world. Well, at least my tiny, tiny corner of the world.

I practically skipped as I did my chores, my steps light-footed, and my off-key singing barely bothered the chickens. What is it about some days that allow you to feel like everything is exactly the way it is supposed to be?

My schedule is full with necessary activities that I have to get done, but I felt optimistically confident that creativity and calm will reign supreme. My daily writing practice has been swept aside lately with the accumulated tasks that have piled up, but today is the perfect day to make my writing a priority again. I fired up my lap-top as I sat on the front porch, listened to the ‘girls’ softly cluck, and spent pleasant moments as I revisited my story in progress. I even got to share the calm with a deer as she crossed the barn lot. Thank goodness we always keep the camera handy and ready to roll for moments just like this.

A deer wandered into our barn lot, the chickens keep me company while I write on my porch, and the day-lilies always make me smile.

Monday is always clean house day, and usually I drag my vacuum cleaner around like it is a torture device. I grumble and sneer. Today I decided to open up the house one last time before the weather turned cold and give the place a thorough once over. Cobweb patrol, chasing dust rhino’s from under the furniture, and even washing windows gave me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. A good spit-shine can lift the spirits of an old farmhouse and it just feels good to sit back and ’embrace the clean’. This is a fabulous day!

 Kayla standing in front of our ‘Gandalf’ scarecrow, newly canned applesauce, and dinner: big ol’ chopped salad.

Maybe it’s just the Autumn season that provides this feeling of exuberance. The cooler temperatures and the shorter days give me many reasons to spend time ‘nesting’ and slowing down. Life doesn’t feel nearly as frantic and things get done as they get done. I have crossed many chores off my to-do list, like canning applesauce and dilly beans and freezing summer corn. Most of the outbuildings are secured and ready for the harsh Winter weather ahead. The chicken coop is almost ready for Winter and we’ve stocked up on bales of straw and feed. Being prepared does provide much impetus for a fabulous day!

My daughter Kayla has decided she would have a fabulous day today, too. Her special needs and her battle with schizophrenia can often cause her anxiety and stress, but how can anybody be ‘down-in-the-dumps’ when you have a friend like ‘Gandalf the Scarecrow’ to protect your pumpkins and make you smile? She decided to help me make our main meal and cheerfully began chopping vegetables and tossing in handfuls of walnuts and dried cranberries. Soon our salads will change over to thick, hearty vegetable soups but since today is so fabulous, chopped salad it is.

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Ninja toady. Can you see him?

As I brew a pot of coffee on the stove-top and look out the kitchen window, I notice the drain spouts full of dried leaves, old clay pots that need to be stored in the shed, and fallen limbs that need to be stacked on the burn pile. I will save those chores for my next fabulous day. Right now, I need to go take a peek at the big toad Kayla found next to the smoke house and have a mug of hot, fresh coffee.

It’s just been one of those days! I hope you have a whimsically fabulous day, too!

The Humble Gardener

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I was sitting in the orthodontist’s chair when I realized something – I was considered a master gardener (yes, I have adult braces — let’s ignore that and move on). The revelation smacked me as the assistant settled in to remove my rubber bands and explained, “Oh! I’ve been waiting for you to come in so I can ask you a question….what do you think of Zoo Doo? Is all the hoopla worth it? Should I sign up for the waiting list?”

Whoa there, when did I become a master gardener?

The title is emphatically undeserved. I’ve only had a real garden for two years. Yes, I’ve had a “potted” garden for years prior, devoured many soil and gardening books, even got my Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences with a focus on soil and land use, but does that make me the go-to gal for advice on manure?

Let’s rewind this a bit. In fact, quite a bit. My love for growing things came about when I was about eight. I meticulously prepped a bed for my vegetables. I weeded, tilled, and worked all day until I had the perfect fluffy bed. When I excitedly showed Dad the fruits of my labor, he said, “That’s great dear, but that spot doesn’t get enough sun to grow anything”. You see, in my ignorance I had only accounted for 2 of the 3 necessary requirements to grow plants (besides a few tenacious weeds, anyway). I’d thought of land (soil, check) and I had thought of water (watering can, check) but I had neglected to think of solar requirements. The spot I had chosen was basically smack in the middle of a grove of rhododendrons. Barely a ray of sunshine made its way through the gnarled branches and thick leaves. My dream of being a farmer was immediately shattered. But only temporarily.

Fast forward about 5 years and I found myself transplanted onto a small island outside of Seattle. My mother had decided that she wanted to garden, and I was determined that she would not have all the fun. But I had no knowledge, no understanding of how to grow things. I just possessed an unexplainable desire. With a bit of whining (as teenage girls are prone to do) she conceded a small plot of my own to grow herbs. Perhaps not as exciting as tomatoes and cucumbers, but still important! And most importantly, less fickle to grow. This is where I cut my teeth and quickly learned growing things wasn’t as simple as scattering a few seeds in the soil, crossing my fingers, and letting Mother Nature take her course – that is if I wanted to cultivate anything other than dandelions and creeping buttercup. I learned quickly that gardening was a series of constant little battles. Is the soil to dry? Oh, I better water it. Is the soil to wet? Then maybe I should mound the rows to keep the roots from drowning. Not getting enough sun? Well perhaps I should chop down those darn blackberries that are towering overhead. And the battle royale? The slugs. Oh those pernicious slugs! The garden turned into a mine field of tubs filled with Miller High Life in the hopes of luring the slimy monsters to their death with the champagne of beers.

If gardening doesn’t teach you anything else, it will teach you persistence. It took me years to unlock the secret to successfully growing plump, tasty tomatoes. And I’m still learning to properly thin the carrots (it just seems such a waste to pull any of them!). And I’ve discovered that it’s not a single-season endeavor to cultivate the perfect soil bed that’s rich with humus and teaming with microbes and mycorrizae. In fact, it can take many, many years.

Regardless of all the “little battles” and the patience it takes to garden, I’m hooked. I can’t imagine at this point in my life not having a garden. Where else can I get dark red, super-flavorful tomatoes that put those hot-house fruits to shame? How else could I pick candy-like sugar-snap peas right off the vine? And how would I fuel my love for cool cucumber drinks on hot summer days? Yes I’m hooked. And I’ll enthusiastically share my love for all things gardening if you dare to ask. But am I a master gardener at this point? I don’t think so. Though it is a title I hope to earn one day. Instead, I think I just happen to be the only person many of my co-workers and friends know that gardens at all. And because of this, I’ve become the de-facto pro.

So back to that question the orthodontist assistant asked me. What do I think of Zoo Doo? You may be surprised to learn that I’m not a fan. Why? Other than fundamentally not supporting the confinement of wild animals, I’m also not confident that manure from the zoo is free of antibiotics and other residue (sedatives, anyone?) that is left over from treating the animals. These left-overs can have a negative impact on the soil biota as well as be translocated (taken up) by the plants you grow to eat. While most of these medications would have broken down during digestion, some simply do not. Heavy metals, such as arsenic and mercury, sometimes used in animal supplements, persist. I’d rather not risk it. Instead, I choose to compost the nitrogen-rich manure from my chickens. Chickens are little poop-machines – so why waste it?  And if you don’t have your own chickens, find a neighbor that does. If they are like me, they always have excess chicken poop. Otherwise, check out Craigslist or reach out to local farmer. It may take a little effort, but it’s well worth it.

Happy gardening.

Guest blog courtesy of Chelsie Johnson at Humble Bee Farms.

 

Growing a Cottage Business.

Herbal soaps and Whimsical minions, Salvia and Echinacea, Herbal apothecary, and a loaf of uncut lavender soap.

We have lived a year and a half on Whimsical Moon Farm now. A full growing season under our belts plus the original fall garden I planted while we were getting settled has given us much to be thankful for. As I contemplate what we have accomplished, I find myself already figuring out where to build new raised beds next Spring, how I want to increase the herb garden, possibly with a small turtle pond (our turtle Grover has almost outgrown his aquarium), plus I would like to create an herbal medicine wheel near the barn lot. We  have added a small flock of laying hens, a handful of farm cats, and we are researching Dwarf Nigerian goats for milk. (They are adorable!) A never-ending process of growing, experimenting, and enjoying the harvest.

Our local Farmers’ Market, raised bed, owl soaps, a loaf of soap ready to be cut, and my daughter Kayla holding one of our new chicks. 

 Mindy works off the farm so we can make ends meet while I handle the farm chores, the gardening, as well as regular care of my special needs fairy adult child. It dawned on me one morning, while enjoying my first mug of extra bold Sumatran coffee on the front porch, that a small farm business would be a pretty darn good idea right about now. I handcraft herbal soaps for gifts and for sale at the farmers’ market, I figured herbal body products would be a great ‘cottage’ business I could run right out of my kitchen. I grow most of the herbs I would need for the soaps and sugar scrubs and I could work around chores and my daughters needs.

I passed my brilliant idea by Mindy that evening and she said, “um….okay” and thus began my business adventure. I’ve always been a rather ‘shoot-from-the-hip’ type of person, and working for anybody but myself has always been rather unappealing but I did promise Mindy that I would put together a business plan. My research consisted of re-reading Chris Guillebeau’s book, “The $100 Start Up: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future” (which I highly recommend), Blake Mycoskie’s book, “Start Something That Matters” (of TOM’s shoe fame) and “Creating an Herbal Bodycare Business” by Sandy Maine.

I learned from Blake, “When you have a memorable story about who you are and what your mission is, your success no longer depends on how experienced you are or how many degrees you have or who you know. A good story transcends boundaries, breaks barriers, and opens doors. It is a key not only to starting a business but also to clarifying your own personal identity and choices.” Well, I certainly have stories. And the story about Whimsical Moon Farm certainly identifies my mission and is easily entwined within my business purpose.

 Butterfly on Echinacea flower, me holding Mamie, one of our Ameraucana chickens, and a field of wildflowers near the barn lot.

As I hammered out my business plan, I decided simple was best. So, I determined I had products to sell: herbal soaps, bath salts, sugar scrubs, and dream pillows.

I considered who my targeted customer base would most likely be (besides my loving family): those people, mostly women ages 16-90 (approximately) interested in lovingly hand-made, natural body-care for their personal use and as gifts. Although I also create a wonderful beard oil and soaps for men, I have found women are usually the ones initially attracted to my products.

And, I figured out a way to get paid, or how I would sell my products: an online market/website plus my favorite farmers’ markets and seasonal festivals. I chose Wix.com as my e-commerce site not only for its ease of navigating through the complex dashboards plus their on-going support, but also because the cost was budget-worthy and I thought the name Wix was catchy. Not to negate Etsy or Shopify, (or any of the other many possible markets out there) they are excellent sites as well, but I felt Wix.com would be a good fit for my farm soap business.

After stewing and fretting over my business plan, which now exceeded three paragraphs, I felt confident I could present to Mindy who, by the way was now listed as CO-OWNER, the details and the budget for OUR ‘cottage’ business start-up. I had determined a nice round figure of $1000 would be sufficient to get the business up and running with a little cushion for padding. Where we would get this $1000 was undetermined at that time but after an informative meeting with our bank customer service rep, we walked out with a zero-fee, zero interest-rate for 15 months, credit card with a cap of $3000. We still intend on keeping the business costs at or below the $1000 we planned for and figure if the business is not paying for itself in 15 months, then we would surely need to reconsider our options. I, however, am confident that between the two of us and the story woven throughout our farm business, we will be prosperous. Well, you know….something like that!

Our goal is to have our web-site up and running by early November, but we are shooting for Halloween because it seems rather auspicious and fun. I have been learning about marketing via social media (I had NO idea there were so many sites to get involved with) and I have been crafting soaps like a mad-woman. The kitchen smells incredible as does the pantry where I dry the soaps and any other flat surface in the house that isn’t occupied at the moment.

I am looking forward to growing, experimenting, and harvesting this newest ‘crop’ endeavor here on Whimsical Moon Farm, and I will definitely follow up with our experiences and adventures.

Stay creative and have a prosperous Whimsical Moon day!