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!

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?

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.