Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Dogs

The farm would not be complete without our wonderful dogs. In September 2009. we lost our 10 and a half year old German Shepherd, Storm. He was one of our children, our protector, our best friend, and our helper. Storm lived according to a code we could only hope to aspire to. Yet, though he had an intrinsic sense of right and wrong, he'd never judge us, only love and protect us.

We picked Storm up from Ponelli's Atlantic Canine Training Center in April 1999. Cold and wet from his dunking bath right before we arrived, you'd never have guessed he would be the powerhouse who kept us feeling safe for just over 10 years. Tom Ponelli scoffed at the blanket I wrapped Storm in to bring him home. They bred and trained K-9 dogs, you know.

Over the years, though, Storm became our very best friend and the shock and sadness at losing him suddenly in September 2009 has weighed heavy in our hearts and lives. There is a big whole where Storm once lived.

That being said, we now have two German Shepherd dogs on the farm. Jet is a 9 month old beauty who was bred by our neighbor. She is precocious and energetic - and absolutely beautiful. Her bright eyes warn us when there is trouble, or when she is in a playful mood and ready to jump on us. She is a joy and helps us with tasks like laundry and caring for the chickens. She also knows how to open the door to let herself in.

Not long after Storm's death, we really needed to visit Atlantic Canine Training Center again. We could not believe there was an available litter related to Storm. Oskar is Storm's great-nephew. He is 6 months old and smart as a whip. We barely have to train with Oskar - he understands what we want him to do with barely even a word. The resemblance to Storm is uncanny.

The dogs are the Dharma on our farm. With the children grown and on their own, we really rely on the dogs for companionship, protection, and help around the farm.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Greenhouse

This past weekend, I began potting up the cole crops out in the greenhouse. Though we'd had a total of over four feet of snow in about two weeks, the greenhouse was warm-about 95 degrees. We made a decision to warm the greenhouse using as little resources as possible. The greenhouse itself is polycarbonate, 8 feet by 16 feet, and is arranged with two several raised beds along the outer walls. There are also 1-foot wide wire shelves running all along the outer walls at about 5 feet.

Lettuce mix, endive, kale and beets were seeded last week and heavy row covers put down. We have kale and Lolla Rossa lettuce seedlings this week - barely started. I planted two each broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts seedlings in one bed with a heavy row cover over the weekend. All are doing well as of this writing.

Tired of looking at bleak whiteness, the hints of spring are evident through the snow and I am anxious to get back to the garden. We will be seeding additional tomatoes and peppers, melons, squash and cukes soon.

Here's hoping you are all warm and feasting on the preserved harvest of last year.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Welcome to the Farm

Hello there - this is our first blog and the beginning of our story about our path toward a self-sufficient homestead. Well, okay, it's not the beginning - that happened about five years ago, but it's the first we will tell the story.

First, a little about us - my name is Michele. I have been a traditional herbalist most of my life, and am a self-taught artist. I've always dreamed of living a peaceful, self-sufficient life, but modern day life got in the way and I've spend a lot of years working for the establishment I care not to really be a part of. I have been deeply in love with my betrothed since I was thirteen years old (not giving away my current age, let it suffice to say that was a very long time ago). Dan is the grounding force here that keeps the rest of us on the right path. I call him the musician, not necessarily because he plays an instrument, but because he knows more than anyone I know about music, artists, instruments - you name it. He also remembers an awful lot about films and foreign, subtitled selections always bring interest.

We share our little half acre farm with a menagerie of domestic and wild critters - yes, small though it be, it's a farm since we really have nothing growing other than grass that we can not use for something. Our two German Shepherd puppies keep us very busy, as do two cats and six Rhode Island Reds. We welcome most of the wildlife in our area, including a herd of white-tailed deer, a hawk we call Scorsia, a raven we call Kali, a skunk we call Daisy, an opossum we call Penelope, and various snakes, birds, mice, and others I'm sure I've forgotten. We do our best to walk softly on the Earth and live in harmony with the visitors to our little plot. We are careful to not use chemicals, choosing organic and biodegradable when needed, but mostly using natural methods and preparations in all areas of our life.

Over the last five years or so, we have planted fruit and nut trees, culinary and medicinal herbs, everlastings, and grown most of the vegetables we need. Our goal is to produce 80% of our own food and this year will be the first we do our best to make this a reality. We are currently planning an expansion that will make the vegetable gardens approximately 170 x 40 feet. We also installed a greenhouse a little over a year ago and we should have our winter veggies in there right now. We took these pictures in December:

Unfortunately, this year we did not get the passive solar heating elements in place that we had wanted to add and our produce froze by January. We have seeded just this past weekend to hopefully get an early harvest started and we will be posting about all of the improvements and details about the gardens in the coming weeks.

Our home is old and needs a lot of work, but we have managed to upgrade it to geothermal heating and cooling and solar hot water. We hope to add solar electric in the near future. We've had an unfortunate experience trying to accomplish these and other upgrades, including hopefully building a passive solar sunspace around the southeast corner of the house. More about this later also.

We are hoping to add a lot of useful information here for anyone else setting out on this path to self-sufficiency. We'd love to hear from you if you're starting, or dreaming about a peaceful life working for yourself and living off the land, even if the land is a container garden on your deck or patio. We also are hoping to share information with all of you who are seasoned homesteaders. We know we always have so much to learn.


the Dharma Dogs