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!

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 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

 

 

 

Critter Crazy!

 

What is a farm without animals? For me, the chickens and the farm cats certainly lend themselves to my farm image, as well as our St. Bernard and two Chihuahuas. (Farm Chihuahuas, you know.) But I am finding this place includes many other critters calling this small herb farm their home.

Last week, while we were relaxing on the side porch just as dusk was darkening the sky, we heard the most interesting sound rustling from our nearby old Maple tree. We have watched red fox squirrels scamper across its branches, downy woodpeckers and nuthatches peck at its bark, and lightening bugs brighten its shadow, but this was a sound uniquely haunting. It took three of us several moments of searching with flashlights until we found a beautiful eastern screech owl looking agitated down on us. I’m sure we were quite a sight, gawking up at it with our mouths hanging open, dancing about excited at our discovery.

Mindy was able to snap a few photographs of our visitor before it got too dark. We felt blessed at this rare sighting as it flew silently away towards the back of the property. I have always loved owls since I was just knee high to a grasshopper and was pleased to have had this visitor.

The next evening when Mindy got home from work, she noticed the cats slowly circling around an object on our porch. She turned on the porch light and began excitedly yelling at me to grab the gloves and high-tail it over there. A very frightened, fluffy and angry baby screech owl was clacking its little beak at the cats as it was trying to find a safe place. Mindy gingerly picked it up with the leather gloves on and placed it in our critter cage while I wrangled cats away from the sweet baby.

We found a quiet, dark corner in our pantry safe from the cats and called the non-emergency sheriff’s department number. A kind operator gave us the phone number for the Department of Natural Resources who then guided us to the Indiana Raptor Center folks in Brown County, Indiana. The next morning, Mindy was able to deliver the baby owl to a knowledgeable veterinarian fairly close to us who would take care of it until the Rescue folks could pick it up. Last time we checked, the baby owl was doing fine with only ruffled feathers and a hearty appetite for filet of mouse. It was housed with other rescued owls and will be released as soon as it was mature enough to fend for itself.  We are proud owl caregivers.

We are also proud to report that we were able to watch the first gawky flight of the young robins who were nesting under the eaves of our porch. A few weeks ago we had suspected they were getting close to fledging and had kept the cats inside for several days until they were safely independent. Mastering flight is an amazing thing to witness!

We’ve spotted baby bunnies taking their first tentative forages beyond their nests (some of them straight into my vegetable garden), baby tree frogs clinging to herb pots on our front porch, and deer frolicking in the cornfield just to the west of us.

The chickens  continue to mature and fill out and we are looking forward to their first eggs sometime in late August early September. Dolly Madison, one of our Buff Orpingtons, keeps a close eye on all of the farm shenanigans near her coop.

I hope you are having a most whimsical day and enjoy this summer season!

 

 

 

Summer Daze!

 

It seems like we moved from a chilly, wintry April right into a hot, balmy Summer with only a shy nod at Spring. And with the humid, muggy heat of Summer comes the unexpected thunderstorms. In about the time it took me to feed and water the chickens and spread fresh straw in their coop, the sunny sky turned ominous and the wind began to whip out of the west. As I stood and watched the dark clouds move quickly across the cornfields, I noticed a slow circular momentum and decided it was time to high-tail it into the house.

I grabbed Kayla from her bedroom and moved her into our enclosed pantry and rousted Mindy from her nap. She noticed the locust trees practically touching the ground as they were bent over from the force of the wind. By the time we gathered the animals into the pantry the rain began pounding on the roof and hail was bouncing off the country road.

In the space of a few worried moments, the storm had moved through the area and the quiet of the gentle rain was a relief. We made our way outside to assess whatever damage may have occurred. The chickens were fine, although hunched tightly together in their ‘attic’ quietly bawking, and the two cats that were still outside had rode the storm resolutely. Their tails looked like bottle brushes, but they were unharmed.

We were fortunate as we only had a few trees down and piles of broken limbs and branches. Other homes in the area were not so lucky with damage to their roofs, fences, and large up-rooted trees.

The sunset that evening was breathtaking and glorious. We are often reminded of the beauty as well as the power of the Divine, momma nature, and our earth.

The next day we had plenty of help from the farm cats cleaning up the mess and even discovered a blooming wisteria vine that had been uncovered from the canopy of a fallen tree. Pookie-poo supervised from the comfort of her hay  bale and we now have a burn pile that rivals that of the Burning Man festival. Here’s hoping the wicker man doesn’t get any ideas.

Whimsical Moon Herb Farm is looking forward to the bounty of summer as the black raspberries ripen and the sweet corn and tomatoes continue to grow. The herbs enjoy this heat and I am thinking I may need to begin cutting some of them back and drying them for our herb crafts.

Check back with us again soon as we continue to grow our farm and our herb business. Have a most whimsical moon day!