Friday, September 25, 2009

Last Snow of Summer

There is no question that this has been a weird summer. June arrived with a dry cold that keep the grass from growing, seeds from germinating, and any fruit from setting on the tomatoes, peppers, squashes or most anything else. Summer exited in a flurry of snow, wind and cold rain that had woodstoves going all through the Valley.

I pride myself in my tomato and pepper production skills. I start several heirloom types in April and transplant the seedling to my little greenhouse in mid-May. In the past my plants have blossomed quickly, set fruits by the end of June and we are eating homegrown tomatoes and peppers by the end of July. We usually have enough to eat throughout the season and freeze for the winter. Not this year. In June, my little plants just sat there – no growth, no blossoms, no fruits. Finally in July they started up but it wasn't until late August that any of the fruits even started to ripen.

Just when I thought I might get some edible tomatoes and peppers, winter arrived on the last day of summer. Realizing there was no way I could protect my plants through four or five nights of 20 degree temperatures, I picked all the unripened tomatoes, put them in a box between layers of our local Wet Mountain Tribune, and put the box in the pantry. I’ll check the box every week and pull out the ripened tomatoes to enjoy for several months.

There is a local joke that the only month you have to lock your car while you are in town is August. That’s because everyone is looking for ways to get rid of their excess zucchini and an unlocked car is fair game. After stopping at the feed store, library or local market, you are apt to find a great load of zucchini on your front seat. But this year my summer squashes completely failed to produce edible fruits. All that I could find after the freezing summer nights were a few tiny squashes which I left for the local squirrels.

Fortunately we did have some agricultural success this year. Once the weather warmed up our irrigated pasture kicked into gear and produced enough beautiful grass to feed eight yearling cattle for the summer. Mid-way through the summer the heifers enjoyed a visit from a young bull (their inexperience reminded me a little of college) and the girls are now pregnant. The heifers belong to a neighbor and have returned home for the winter. In exchange we get some hay from our neighbor to feed our horses. All in all, a good trade.

From Fleur Creek Farm.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Coming Home

For years, we had hiked past this place. Finally I got up the courage to write the owner and ask that she let us know if she ever wanted to sell. I had no idea what we would do if she contacted us.

Then it happened. In 2000, she came out for her yearly visit and told us she was thinking of selling the place. Before she changed her mind we submitted a contract not knowing how the heck we would pull it off if she accepted our offer. After all, we had offered more for this unimproved property than our present place would bring if we could find a buyer.

Before we knew it, our contract was accepted, our old place had sold and we were moving all our possessions, horses and cats the last week of November – to a place with no electricity or running water and only a 120 year old cabin that had not been inhabited by anything but furry creatures in more than fifty years. Nothing like a challenge to get the spirit moving.

During our first year we focused on the basics like making the old cabin comfortable, clearing out the rodents (the cats threw themselves into this task) and getting electrical power added back to our lives. For water, we hauled buckets from the creek next to the cabin and heated it on our wood cookstove. Baths amounted to standing in a large bucket, soaping up and pouring water down the body.

The second year we added a well and started building our new home. Our goal was to create a small, sustainable space that could be easily heated with wood and someday could be powered completely by a renewable energy source.

Two and a half years after the relocation we moved into the new home. Though it still lacked a lot of features, like a bathroom and a kitchen, it was warm and rodent-proof. Over the last six years we have continued working on our little home adding doors, a working bathroom, an almost working kitchen, and some of the final touches that most people take for granted.

This place was once part of a 160 acre historic homestead. In 1880, Jacob Miller came to Colorado from Pennsylvania and staked his claim on this land. He built the small cabin, filed on the water rights, and probably produced hay and cattle. Of the six owners of the land since the late 1800s, only we and Jacob Miller have truly called this place home.

From Fleur Creek Farm .

Friday, September 11, 2009

Starting our homestead life

After years of hounding by friends and family to write about our homesteading lifestyle I finally realized that we would either have to move and leave no forwarding address or start a blog. The blog idea seemed easier.

We started our homesteading odyssey more than 30 years ago with the desire to live more simply and sustainably and in harmony with natural world around us. Over the years we have changed our location four times finally coming to rest at this special place.

Our first homestead location was a tiny rural property of two acres and a very run down home. We planted our first garden, started our first poultry flock and worked on the house learning new skills with each project. It wasn't long (actually four years) before we realized that we needed more land.

The next homestead location was forty fenced acres - no house, no barn. We got to work on building a barn and had the 1200 square foot, passive solar house built. Starting from scratch on the barn was a new task for us but somehow we muddled through. I think the barn is still standing 26 years later.

During these early homesteading years we still worked at conventional jobs. But in 1993 those jobs disappeared and we were forced to make a decision - leave Colorado in search of new jobs or follow our hearts and move to the Colorado mountains. In the end the decision was simple and we found our next property at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains in southcentral Colorado.

This time it was just forty acres - no fence, no home, no barn. And we had just two weeks to packup all our possessions (which included 6 horses) and move. Over the summer we put up fence and built a 36' by 48' barn, all this while living in a tipi. By September we were tired and still without a home. And winter, real winter was coming. In six weeks we built a 24 foot by 24 foot cabin and moved in just before the first snowfall of the season. Over the next seven years we learned how to garden, cut firewood, heat and cook with wood and survive in a much more hostile environment. But we also learned just how special this wild setting was. But we still had one more relocation in us.

Our current home, Fleur Creek Farm, started with forty-five acres and a 120 year old log cabin. Though only 15 feet by 18 feet, the old homestead cabin, without running water or electricity, became our home for two and a half years while we hand built our new small home.