The Last Most Epic Birthday Party Ever

Currently I’m writing this at 6:30 am on a Saturday morning (now, a few weeks ago) in my own little corner of the living room surrounded by 6-foot windows illuminating a scene of stupid April snow and a flock of adorable little birds.

b712a539-a659-4f8f-a6a0-b8f718b2f332.jpg

Why am I up so early, you probably didn’t even ask yourself, considering I’m on a farm and isn’t that what farm people are supposed to do? Well, it’s because Townes decided to turn my bed into an Elaina sandwich for the millionth night in a row. And that’s hardly even an exaggeration. I was sleeping in a 6-inch gap between him and Nick while both of them had generous portions of bed on either side of them. Anyone else not getting any sleep because your children forgot where their own beds are?

Quick side note (and so far this entire post has been a side note), sitting in my corner totally makes me want to sing out loud, “In my own little corner” from the 1965 live action Cinderella movie. I even found the song on YouTube for your listening pleasure.

But let’s be honest, now that I have kids I don’t have my own little corner. I don’t have my own little anything. In fact, Ryker just woke up, came to my not-own-little corner and is sitting on top of me, which makes writing this difficult, but proves my point explicitly. I even took a picture. See?

89906a09-9979-4a5e-b7fb-5e911054bc85.jpg

Ryker crowding my not-own-little corner while I expertly balance my laptop on my lap. Also, yes I am wearing the Hubs’ Old Milwaukee T-shirt.

How do I even transition from that 4-paragraph ramble? How ’bout I just jump in by saying, “last month I threw my first, most fantastically epic, (and possibly last) kid birthday party to the theme of Harry Potter for my now 7-year-old boys. I mean it was perfect!” From the invitations…

 

IMG_2437.jpg

I mean how cool are these invites! I even took the time to burn the edges, soak the envelopes in tea, and melt a crayon into a wax seal. I know, I totally rock.

and the spot-on decor…

IMG_2663.jpg

In order for the guests to enter the party, they had to walk through the 9 3/4 platform brick wall, which I painted using a sponge. Oh, and did you notice the super adorbs hand-drawn Hedwig balloons (there’s about 30 in all). I mean, I even bought a helium tank.

IMG_2639.jpg

This was the Grand Hall and where the kids got sorted into their houses.

IMG_2637.jpg

The kiddos even got to drink Butter Beer out of goblets!

IMG_2643.jpg

Voldemort even made an appearance (the creepy guy in the picture frame, not the girl in the mirror).

57512793645__EF7A0E2D-9B0E-4497-B9CB-7A10B6F60662.jpg

Hagrid even brought his Monster Book of Monsters for the kids to take home with them. Oh, and yeah, I made these. NBD.

IMG_2655.jpg

Baby Hagrid and his baby hut.

to the games and guests (everyone came – 13 total – and was extremely well behaved!)…

IMG_2674.jpg

During their feast, each of the kids got sorted into their house. I was amazed at how quiet all the kiddos were while they listened to hear where each person was sorted (Yes, it was a talking sorting hat!). This is Townes getting sorted.

img_2688.jpg

And Ryker…

IMG_2720.jpg

After each of the kids were sorted, then they were blindfolded so their wand could choose them. (Hint: the kids actually chose the wand, but couldn’t see the wand so it hopefully had the effect of the wand choosing them.)

IMG_1946.jpg

Side note: The boys, my friend Annie, and I made all the wands with small wooden dowels, hot glue, and paint. Pinterest rocks!

IMG_2783.jpg

After the wands chose the wizards, we moved on to pin the scar on Harry.

IMG_2767

IMG_2619.jpg

Our last game was to free Dobby by throwing a pair of socks into the corn hole. The kiddo who was able to throw all three pairs of socks, won Dobby the house elf.

IMG_2816

IMG_2870

After all the games, it was photo-op time. I got pics of all the Kids like this with my Polaroid wannabe camera so each child got to take home a photo. This is Townes.

IMG_2877 2

And Ryker, who’s all wet from playing with water balloons or something like that.

IMG_4235

I couldn’t not get in on the fun.

and the food…(well, it was almost perfect. The summer sausage I bought was mushy so that got thrown out, and the beef sticks were a little spicy for some of the kids, but overall there was no, “I don’t like that.” So win for me.)

IMG_2666.jpg

To cut down on some of the work for me. I didn’t make any food and it was all finger food. Cheese and crackers, beef sticks, veggies and dip, various fruit, chips, cheesy popcorn, and gummy worms, jelly beans, and donuts. I left it out throughout the whole party so kids could grab something whenever they wanted. It was probably my best idea yet – to have a variety of finger foods and let the kids go to town. I also had water, pumpkin juice (aka, orange juice) and butter beer (aka, cream soda floats).

But you know what? I think I’ll pass on the epic kid party for next year. Gasp! Hear me out…

Although the party was fantastic and really did go off without a hitch (excluding the minor traffic jam in our driveway at pick-up) something felt off about the whole thing. I could’t figure out who I was throwing the party for. Was it for my kids? Me (I mean, I did get pretty into it)? The other kids? The parents?

IMG_2892.jpg

This is me getting into it. I mean…the invites did come out from Professor McGonagall, so naturally I had to dress like her.

The irony is, I was planning a party to celebrate my children, but through the stress of planning the party and entertaining the guests I didn’t have a single quality moment with them. Quite the opposite in fact. I was screaming at them to do this and to do that, and NOT to do this or that. I felt I was deeply missing the point. Quality interactions with my children (and with my guests).

When the final guests left, the four of us (Nick, Townes, Ryker, and me) found ourselves sitting at the kitchen table talking about the party. I asked the boys if next year they wanted to have their second friends birthday party or if instead they wanted to have a family day where just the four of us did something really fun for the whole day. Can you guess what they chose? Us. I mean, all that effort and they’d rather just spend a super cool day with me and dad. What?! That’s pretty cool.

Now, I love to host, and I love people, and I love having people at my house connecting and having fun, so this definitely is’t the end to that, but until I can do it better, and by that I mean be less mean to my kids, I may have to forgo the extravagant kid birthday party. But then again, there is a whole year until they turn 8, so who knows how I’ll feel when that time comes.

 

 

Advertisements

Turning our farm into a business

These last three months I feel like I’ve been living in Acronym-MANIA as I dive a little, nay, a lot, deeper into the farm business. With acronyms like the USDA, NRCS, FSA, EIN, BTR, WAMS, DTM, LLC, to name a few, how’s a girl to keep it all straight? Lucky for you, I’m about to give you all the deets on those seemingly random combos of letters. I promise it won’t be boring – much. <winky face>

Let’s start with the more commonly known acronyms, LLC and EIN

Yes, we have both – Woot! We filed for a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) last spring. The LLC establishes us as a business and provides some protection if all goes to crap. When we filed we also got something called an Employer Identification Number (EIN). This is so we can someday hire employees since we’re planning to grow this business Jack-and-the-Beanstalk style – BIG and fast.

fullsizeoutput_1deb.jpeg

Nick planning his crop list and seed order.

Our official farm name is Fresh Roots Farm and Gardens, LLC. Nick chose it because we’re growing baby root vegetables (e.g. carrots, radishes, turnips, beets) and because we’re putting down fresh roots in Cumberland as a family (Yup, Peeps of Cumberland, you’re stuck with us for awhile – hopefully).

fullsizeoutput_1df3

Continuing to establish our family roots by snow tubing at Trollhaugen with our Cumberland Cub Scout troop last Sunday (2/10/19).

Moving on to the USDA, NRCS, and the FSA

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that offers funding in the way of grants to new farmers who would like to or are using sustainable farming techniques that promote conservation of their land. We decided to apply for a grant to help us purchase another greenhouse since the more covered crops, the longer the growing season, and the more food can be produced.

fullsizeoutput_1e16

Ryker lying in a bed of oats and winter rye cover crop last fall. We use the cover crop to build nutrient-rich soil and organic matter. It also helps prevent erosion and weeds. This is considered a regenerative/sustainable technique.

fullsizeoutput_1e18

One of the Mustards debugging and fertilizing our apple orchard all natural.

But first, before applying for the grant, we had to establish our farm with our local Farm Service Agency (FSA)   another division of the USDA. Check, check, check! Now we wait for the director of our local NRCS to come out and take a look at our property to see if we qualify. Fingers crossed!

fullsizeoutput_1e1c.jpeg

This is our front yard, AKA, the vegetable garden last year with a few test crops. We still have to put in fencing and a water drainage system. We use the raised beds because we have heavy clay soil and need the water to be able to run off the beds.

Here’s the DL on WAMS and BTR

I’m still not sure what BTR and WAMS stand for, though I have one of each – hold a sec while I look these up. (I literally just googled, “What does WAMS mean?”)

After contacting the wrong people and hitting a few dead ends, I finally landed on the Wisconsin Department of Revenue website where I registered for a Web Access Management System (WAMS) account (google delivered!). I’m still not sure how this will help me, but it has something to do with taxes and the seller’s permit we need, which brings me to the next acronym. In order to obtain a seller’s permit, which is required to sell our veggies and flowers, we had to apply for a Business Tax Registration (BTR) number. Check! Now we just wait the 5-7 business days to receive our seller’s permit – I think.

fullsizeoutput_1e1e.jpeg

I wasn’t sure what photo would go best here, but am convinced one is needed. So, enjoy this photo of Hedwig in the pool. She lays deliciously tasty eggs and gets rid of ticks.

Now, for something a little more exciting – the greenhouse, farmers markets, crop list and cut flowers + our last acronym, DTM

Perhaps you’ve already seen on Instagram, but our greenhouse is up and covered! Nick also designed and built a seeder table inside. Next on the agenda? Putting in heat and crop tables.

fullsizeoutput_1e28.jpeg

The greenhouse shortly after it was put up. It’s 30′ X 50′ and sits in our front just to the east of the uncovered garden.

After discussing what we feel capable of delivering our first year and the client base we want to build, we reached out to a few farmers markets and were accepted at two of them – check again!

We ordered and received our seeds and will start/plant many of them in the next couple of weeks. Our crop list includes lettuces (arugula, spinach, spring mix, kale), micro greens (radish, peas, and broccoli), Sunflower shoots, red and golden beets, radishes, carrots, turnips, garlic, tomatoes, and cucumbers, to name most. We chose most of our crop list based on their Days to Maturity (DTM). In other words, how many days it takes from the time you plant till you can harvest. The lower the DTM, the more times you can harvest in a season. This is one way to help create profit.

fullsizeoutput_1e24.jpeg

Test radishes from last summer.

fullsizeoutput_1e25.jpeg

A few of our test cherry tomatoes from last summer.

img_6045.jpg

And a spring mix in Nick’s DIY bubbler washing thing-a-majing.

We’re also going to try our hands at growing and selling cut flowers. We have absolutely no experience here, but such is this entire adventure. Nick and I took an online class on growing and selling cut flowers, so we’re ready to…keep referencing those online modules and our notes till we grow a gorgeous bouquet. We’ll be growing zinnias, asters, dahlias, sunflowers, anemones, snap dragons, along with various greenery and airy fillers.

fullsizeoutput_1e1d.jpeg

I’m planning on also utilizing wild flowers from the property in our bouquets (something recommended in our online class).

So, what’s next for us?

We still have loads of infrastructure to build, like constructing a wash and pack station, putting in a French drain tile system to redirect water to our pond so the garden doesn’t flood, and design and implement an irrigation system.We also have all of our branding and marketing work to do, like designing a logo and website, social media accounts and designing what our farm stand will look like.

This building-a-business thing has been challenging and overwhelming, but also very fulfilling. I mean, we’re actually dreaming out loud and in action.

I’d like to end with this quote from my amazing sister-in-law who is a production BA and owns her own production company, “You just do it. I didn’t know how to start a company, but I did.” Yeah you did. #girlboss

 

 

 

A Year in Review – the good, the bad, & the scary

It only seems fitting that on the first day of the new year I look back and review the previous year and share it with you. Because, although I share a lot, I haven’t shared it all. And 2018 was a year that emotionally and mentally brought me to my knees in despair, elevated my joy in earnest, and all but eliminated my pride.
fullsizeoutput_1b3e

Taking a walk in our greenhouse

Joy. Courage. Faith.

Never one for New Year’s resolutions, a few years ago I adopted a bit of a new tradition, inspired I believe, by Brene Brown (check her out; she’s amazeballs). Instead of overwhelming myself with all the ways and things I should do to become a better person, I instead adopted a word to guide and direct my actions and decisions for that year.

My word for 2017 was “joy,” and consequently the year Nick and I decided to make a major change based solely on what brought us joy. Not what was financially the smartest or most secure, otherwise we would have stayed put in our home and in our jobs, which you know by now, we didn’t do.

fullsizeoutput_1b42.jpeg

Townes and Ryker exuding sheer joy at the Mall of America this Christmas season visiting Santa

Then in 2018, my word became “courage.” Courage in all things big and small. Courage to start over in a new state. Courage to leave the city and all we had ever known for a life in the country. Courage to build a business. Courage to trust ourselves. Courage to live daily in the unknown. Courage to ask for help. And courage to leave my job and forgo the security and stability it offered.

 

IMG_0359.jpg

Our woods

Now, in 2019, my word is “faith.” Faith in myself, in my abilities and my dreams. Faith in the unknown, believing that it’ll all be okay. Faith in our farm and our business, that we’ll be able to make a living. Faith in God, and, in the words of the Alchemist, “the universe [that] will conspire to help us.” Faith in my family and children. Faith in my decisions, values, gifts, talents, and purpose. Faith in humanity. Faith, that no matter what, I can claim the sky.

IMG_8630.jpg

Hanging in the rain by our pond

 

The “Good”

All-in-all, 2018 was a good year. I met amazing people here in Cumberland, made new friends, and started to immerse myself in this wonderful community.

I exerted courage doing many new things.

  • I took country line dancing lessons.
  • I raised ducklings successfully into adulthood.
  • I got a part-time (two Saturdays/month) job at a local boutique outfitters, Idlewild Outfitters, to meet people and learn sales.
  • I chased a lifelong dream of being a Cub Scout and became the den leader of my boys’ Tiger den.
  • I volunteered for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Barron County.
  • I commissioned my first independent consulting gig.
  • I started this blog.
  • I helped build a yurt!

And many wonderful things happened on the farm.

  • Though we didn’t get as far as we would have liked, we made loads of progress on the farm.
  • An adorable stray kitty, now named Turnip, showed up out of the blue this summer and has chosen to let us adopt him.
  • We ate so much wonderful fruit we discovered growing on our property: plums, apples, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and black raspberries. Plus deliciously huge asparagus.
  • We witnessed the most beautiful sunsets.
  • Our home was almost always filled with loved ones.
  • We adopted chickens, and they lay the most beautiful eggs and are hilarious to have around.

Then there were the moments of quiet joy that would break through my angst and depression with realization of the life I’m so lucky to live. Surrounded by beauty and nature. Taking care of animals. Working from home. Being part of a community. Loved by my family.

IMG_6603

Walking in our field of Goldenrod

The “Bad” and the “Scary”

I’m a bit hesitant to call what I’m about to say, “bad” simply because it’s what brought me to my most courageous moments.

For the last couple of years I had been dealing with an intense lack of purpose. My values were evolving and my life and career were beginning to feel out of alignment with them.

I was loathing a job I once loved and felt trapped in what was beginning to feel like purposeless work. Then I began to fear I’d lose the job I once loved, and fear I’d keep the job I now loathed. I felt useless, purposeless, and stuck.

Then, last summer, it all came to a head and I found myself for the first time experiencing self-loathing and crippling anxiety. I sought help and started seeing a therapist and was put on Zoloft.

As I started feeling better I began having productive conversations with my boss. Nearly nine years I had been on his team, and I was attached, but it was time for me to move on. And so, I did the scariest thing that I’ve ever done in my life. November 2, 2018, I left a job with fantastic benefits, a 401K, a pension, flexible hours, and amazing people for the unknown. I honestly don’t know what’s in store for me next and it scares the crap out of me. But for the first time in a couple of years, I’m positively excited about all the possibility that exists ahead of me. I’m still afraid, but this fear feels right and good.

IMG_0276

Christmas time with my handsome hubs

So, onto 2019 with new and wonderful possibility.

IMG_5150

A walk in the butterfly garden last summer

 

Our weekend building a yurt

A couple of weekends ago we were invited by our friends, Kayla and Eric from Turtle Hare Farm, to build an 18′ yurt at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais. Considering that I’m hoping to put a yurt or two on our own property, I was jumping up and down waving both arms at the chance. It also just happened to fall on the weekend prior to my birthday. So happy birthday to me – eek!
It was a four-day build, but we could only stay for the first two days. You know – kids, ducks, chickens, dog, and cat stuff.
IMG_9793.jpg

The North House Folk School

First things first, what’s a yurt?

I wasn’t sure of what this was myself until about a year or two ago. It’s basically a semi-permanent, year-round, circular tent. But there’s more history to it than that. Apparently felt-walled yurts were often used by a horse-riding nomadic people in Asia many, many, many, MANY moons ago. You can read more about it here if you’d like.

fullsizeoutput_1a2e.jpeg

The sample yurt the school had up for us to see. It also had a small heating stove in it.

Now, onto the yurt building with Turtle Hare Farm

We met our friends at Turtle Hare Farm when we lived in the Afton, MN area. They were our neighbors and they happened to move in, and consequently out, at the same time we did. They largely inspired us when they turned their entire front yard into a market garden (see my previous post for what a market garden is). Then, six months after we moved to 16 acres in Cumberland, WI, they moved to 16 acres in Two Harbors, MN. It does all feel a bit serendipitous doesn’t it? Like, we were totally supposed to meet when we did.

 

fullsizeoutput_1a2f

A selfie of us with our instructor Ian (back left) and Eric and Kayla (foreground), taken by Eric

Day 1 – Saturday, December 1, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Nick and I left our house at 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning to make it to class in Grand Marais by 8:30 a.m. for check in. When we got there we met Ian from Creaking Tree Farm, our instructor and fellow market gardener. FYI, Ian and his wife lived in a yurt for nearly five years up North. Super cool, right?

Once introductions were made, we, along with Garrett (Kayla’s brother) and Hannah (Garrett’s girlfriend), and Eric, got to work (Kayla would be joining us later that day).

The first thing we did was drill/press holes into the wood that would become the lattice walls. We did that many, many times over.

fullsizeoutput_1954

This is Eric using the drill press to measure and drill holes evenly through for the lattice. We would later tie rope through these holes.

From there we put the wood into a nice hot bath so that we could later bend it into a slight curve for the walls. The wood soaked for the day while we worked on the roof and skylight. Then we wove the wood in a frame to the get that slight round curve.

fullsizeoutput_1957

Soaking the wood in a nice warm bath.

fullsizeoutput_1958

The hot tub – so to speak.

fullsizeoutput_195b.jpeg

Bending the wood felt like a giant weaving. It was beautiful and really cool to do.                    Photo credit: Eric Elefson

Once we wove the wood lattice then we got to work preparing the wood that would be used to frame in the ceiling, AKA the rafters. This consisted of planing the four edges of the wood so they wouldn’t rub the fabric walls, cutting out notches in one end that would set into a cable, rounding the other end of the wood that would fit into the skylight, and sanding everything down.

fullsizeoutput_1965

Here Eric and Kayla are planing/sanding all four edges of the wood.

fullsizeoutput_1970

Garrett is cutting out the notches that will fit against the cable and Hannah is sanding them.

fullsizeoutput_196b

Kayla using this thing-a-majig to create a rounded post of sorts.

OV1xW+cwRmG%3Y731f%o%w

Time to sand all the rough edges down.

fullsizeoutput_1967

What the rafter posts looked like when all was said and done. Ain’t they a beaut!

Now onto the skylight! This consisted of a lot of tracing patterns onto wood, cutting them out, gluing the pieces together, and team work. We even gathered in a circle for the chorus of kumbaya (haha, JK, but doesn’t it look like it?).

fullsizeoutput_1a30

Here we’re actually lining up, gluing, and clamping the cut wood together for the skylight.

Once the pieces for the skylight were glued together, we clamped them and left them for the night to dry.

fullsizeoutput_1a43.jpeg

Now we leave it overnight to dry.

Day 2 – Sunday, December 2, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Day 2 started out with tying the lattice boards together to create the slightly curved walls. This consisted of tying, burning, and waxing approximately 700 knots. We had numb, worn fingers by the end. It was oddly satisfying and took most of the day.

We were coupled off and assigned a section of the wall. It felt a bit like couples’ therapy. I liked it.

fullsizeoutput_1a34

Nick tying the lattice wall together. Each knot probably took about 1-2 minutes to complete. Although we did get faster with each passing hour.

fullsizeoutput_1a36

Once all the knots were tied we went through with a blow torch and wax block to secure the knots. I also liked this part; you know…fire and stuff.

While we were tying 700 knots, Ian was busy finishing up the skylight by cutting off the points and rounding the outer edge. He also drilled large holes to fit the rafters we cut and sanded the previous day.

fullsizeoutput_1a38

The one in the foreground is after the edges were cut and rounded. The one in the background is what it looked like before.

fullsizeoutput_1a39

Ian is drilling the holes we’ll put the rafter posts into.

While finishing touches were being made to the skylight and lattice walls, Kayla and I started to cut the Velcro and fabric that would be used for the walls.

Then we got to assemble the frame!

fullsizeoutput_1a3c

The lattice walls are up!

fullsizeoutput_1a3e

Now to string the cable.

fullsizeoutput_1a3f

Eric and Kayla fitting the rafter posts onto the cable. The notched end slid over the cable and the post end fit into the skylight.

fullsizeoutput_1a40

They skylight and rafters once assembled.

Once the frame was assembled the work day was over and it was time for us to jet and start the nearly 4-hour trek home. The whole way home we talked about what an amazing experience the weekend had been with some really cool people and how we’d be back soon to hopefully build our own yurt.

fullsizeoutput_1a41.jpeg

Enjoying all the day’s efforts inside the yurt.

Kayla and Eric would stay another two days to finish the yurt, then they’d disassemble it, load it in their truck, and bring it home to reassemble in the spring in time to open their farm stay. To see the final product, follow along with Eric and Kayla on Instagram at @ericeire and @turtleharefarm

Peace!

 

Where has our child-like faith in ourselves gone?

And can we get it back?

I remember as a child believing I could fly. I’d tie a towel around my neck, swing as high as I could on the backyard swing, then at its highest point, I’d jump — and I’d fly. Never mind that I was told that people can’t fly. And so what if I crashed to the ground on all fours only a second later. I had flown and I knew it. All I had to do to fly was believe and try. The two most natural and innate things to a child.

IMG_2797

Then I became an adult, a wife, a mom, a career woman, and somewhere along the way I stopped believing that I could fly. I lost sight of the sky to the view of a shingled roof and bad fluorescent lights. I started doubting my gifts and talents and what I was capable of, trading my child-like faith in myself for financial security, safety, and reputation.

I swapped my faith for fear and my dreams for reality because that’s what adults do and that’s what they teach their children. “Get a job.” “Buy a house.” “Provide for your family.” “Make something of yourself.” “Have the things we couldn’t provide for you.” “Be better than us.”

What adults forget when they’re no longer children, is as children we never wanted more than we had — not really. We played swords with broken branches, traveled the seas and made our friends walk the plank on old seesaws, became stately queens of great lands in our mother’s old worn heels, and flew the skies with dragons and unicorns in worn, dusty towels. Everything we had was enough. We were enough.

fullsizeoutput_122e.jpeg

As children we found ourselves equal to kings and queens, presidents and celebrities, geniuses and philanthropists, the homeless and the sick, the poor and the rich, and the athletes and handicapped. We believed that we could do or become anything or anyone and so could everyone else. We believed we were enough — all of us.

Last week during my weekly two-hour commute home from work, for a brief moment I felt that belief again. And I reached for it, rejoiced over it and mourned over my loss of it.  Then I wondered why I ever stopped believing in myself? Why was it so difficult now to believe I am capable of anything when as a child I innately believed in my invincibility?

fullsizeoutput_122a.jpeg

So, this is my goal: to fly again, even when others say it’s not possible, even if I inevitably fall to my hands and knees over and over again. I need to at least believe and try. Because how much more beautiful and fulfilling would life be if we all started believing we could fly?

 

Becoming a market garden

Wowza has it been awhile since I last wrote. I’ve started and stopped many times. The last few months have been a fury of emotions as I come to the tail end (hopefully) of my 2-year existential crisis (What am I doing? Why? Is it enough? Does it matter? And does it align with my evolving values?). Now I’m ready to rock and roll. Let the pendulum swing baby because this life that I want to live is about to take shape.

First things first — what have we been doing on the farm this summer?

Ready for it? Drum roll please….(dum-dum-dum)…we’ve been building a market garden!  Man oh man has it been a lot of work. I’m super pumped to share with you what we’ve done so far, what we’re learning, and why we’re doing it.

fullsizeoutput_1167.jpeg

“So…for a friend who’s asking, what is a market garden?”

I’m super glad your “friend” asked because I’m dying to tell you them.

Now, it’s possible that if your “friend” googled “market garden” they may get a slightly different answer, but in a nutshell, this is how I understand the term (remember, I’m learning too). A market garden can vary in size, many being anywhere from an 1/8 of an acre to 7 acres or larger. The crops are typically a variety of veggies (or flowers) and sold direct to consumers through a farmer’s market, farm stand, CSA, and even restaurants.

Apparently more goes into a market garden than meets the eye, which is why we’re a bit behind schedule and why Nick’s tanned and toned bod is looking so good — but I digress. You’ll just have to see it for yourself ;). Anyway, keeping it as brief as possible (sort of), here are the steps, with photos, we’ve taken so far in building our market garden.

Step 1: Preparing the land — tree roots and bulldozers

As you may remember from a previous post, our property isn’t ideal for farming, even on a small scale. It’s heavily wooded and very hilly. So, before we could get started with the garden, we had to cut down about 40 trees, pull the roots and level the ground. Nick cut the trees then once the ground thawed we hired people with big equipment to pull out the roots and start leveling.

fullsizeoutput_1162.jpeg

Starting the leveling

fullsizeoutput_116a.jpeg

Almost done!

Step 2: Picking rock — dollars and buckets

Oh the amount of rock that had to be picked out of the 1/2 acre dirt pit that would soon become a garden. And it just keeps coming up! Nick got creative and started paying the boys $1 for every 5-gallon bucket they filled with rock (not worth it in my opinion, but the kids took to it like a fly to poop).

IMG_5388

Rock pile from picking rock

IMG_5390

Rock pile from picking rock

Step 3: Testing the soil — calf poop and compost

This is something we should have done prior to buying the property, but alas we didn’t. Live and learn I guess. And that’s what we’re doing — learning by living. We don’t really know what we’re doing. In theory, yes, but in practice it’s a whole different ball game.

The soil test consisted of filling a few containers with dirt and sending them out to get tested by experts. Based on the results we needed to add a dash of this and a dollop of that to create the perfect recipe for growing nutrient rich veggies. So we add crushed limestone and compost to start.

Some day we hope to make our own organic compost, but in the meantime, we’re dependent on others. Turns out compost is hard to find around here — especially the amount we needed to get started (24 yards). In the end we purchased calf poop from a nearby farmer. Zero waste and supporting local. Now that’s what I’m talking about!

Step 4: Making the beds — playtime and tractors

Now, this is the step that got Nick all sorts of jacked. He finally got to play with his own big equipment (Ew gross! Not that!), a walk-behind tractor.

For our market garden we’re using a no-till permanent bed system. This is because we have a large amount of clay in our soil which can water log the crops if there’s nowhere for the water to flow. So, using a permanent bed system allows the rainwater to run off the beds in small trenches that runs down into the pond or slowly gets absorbed into the ground. There’s more to it than that, but I usually tune Nick out at that point. It is interesting though — REALLY!

IMG_3884

Nick playing with his big equipment (AKA walk-behind tractor)

fullsizeoutput_1157.jpeg

After all the beds were made

Step 5: Covering the beds — weeds and waiting

We’ve decided that it’s important for us to be responsible and respectable stewards of the land and all living things, which is why we’re choosing not to use chemicals, and also why there’s clover all over our yard. For that reason, instead of spraying to kill our weeds, we covered the beds with a black tarp. Without sunlight and with the intense heat, over time, the weeds and grass all die off. We’ve had our garden beds tarped for the last couple of months (minus two beds for test crops). And it appears to be working!

fullsizeoutput_115c.jpeg

The garden beds covered in black tarp to kill the weeds and grass underneath

Step 5: Building a greenhouse — sledge hammers and metal posts

This isn’t done yet, but we (Nick) did get the frame of the greenhouse up. And let me tell you, watching Nick work that sledge hammer has done wonders for our marriage. I’m telling you, that I just can’t tell you what that does to me.

Moving on…

We bought the frame of the greenhouse from a friend of a friend. The next steps, so Nick tells me, are to level the inside of the greenhouse, put the ends on, and then cover it all in plastic walls. There’s a few other things that’ll go into it too, like a fan, possibly insulation, etc. The greenhouse will be used in addition to the outdoor garden beds.

IMG_5385

Greenhouse skeleton. This will be used to grow cucumbers and tomatoes.

fullsizeoutput_116c.jpeg

Evening close-up of the greenhouse

Step 6: Growing test crops — baby roots and lettuces

We’ve reluctantly come to terms that we won’t get to a point of selling veggies this year. Everything is taking longer and has a bigger learning curve than we anticipated. That being said, we’re using this year as one of learning and are taking the opportunity to grow a few test crops, including carrots, radishes, beets and three different types of greens. They were planted about two weeks ago. Now we wait and watch and learn.

fullsizeoutput_116d.jpeg

Seeding the garden beds for our test crops

IMG_5378 2

Greens mix

IMG_5375

Radishes nearly two weeks in

IMG_5247

Radishes a few days in

IMG_5255

Rows of tomatoes

IMG_5258

Tomato

Step 7: Finding our market — farmers markets and co-ops

Deciding to wait a year to start selling our veggies has allowed us the opportunity and time we need to find our customers, know our competitors, and determine our niche. We’re doing that by traveling to farmers markets, finding co-ops, and talking to people. This is where I get to shine. Nick shines everywhere else.

img_5304.jpg

I don’t have any pictures of the markets so this raspberry from our apple orchard will have to suffice

As in life, nothing is going quite as expected. Sometimes it’s better or easier and sometimes it’s worse or harder. That’s when we tell each other and ourselves, that this, the painful learning and growing and joy of going after a dream, is the adventure we’re after.

When a pile of junk becomes inspiration

I guess it really is true what they say. “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” or in today’s case, it’s another man’s business.

Today, I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting a local kid who brought so much inspiration to me, and I don’t think he has any idea that he did. No, I didn’t ask permission to write about him, so in the off and unlikely chance he comes across this post, I hope he likes it.

Hidden junk

So far on this blog, I’ve only told you about the beauties and wonders of our dream-like property. But now stuff’s about to get real, real fast.

You see, like perhaps most large areas of personal land, it would appear that a portion of ours was used as a personal dump. Somewhat hard to see at first glance, and hidden off behind some trees on the west side of our pond, you’ll find rusty metal galore. Junk for us, treasure for some. Everything from an ancient pontoon, riding lawn mower, multiple push lawn mowers, barrels of some sort, an old metal mattress spring, and a slew of other unidentifiable metal objects. Many of it partially buried from its 60+ years of being there.

Hidden treasure

Today, when I got home from picking up the kids from school, an unidentifiable young person was at our house with a truck and large trailer.

Turns out it was the “kid” Nick told me about a week ago. He met this “kid” at the brush dump while dropping off crap wood from the many trees he cut down for the garden. The “kid” asked Nick if he could have the wood. Nick was like, “you want to come haul thousands of pounds of wood off my property so I don’t have to? YES PLEASE!” And so he came, and with a broken hand, hefted large tree stumps and branches into his mini van. The “kid” made an impression on Nick that day. This was a kid not afraid of hard work.

Today, he made an impression on me. He showed up and started clearing out our dump pile of metal scraps. He was going to recycle it for cash. This is what he did for money. Not a job, neigh, he doesn’t call it that. What I call it is business, and good business. It’s good for the environment, great for our property, and he just made our lives a heck of a lot easier, all at no cost to us.

sTAyfnTfRZ2fia2U9Rbqtw

The scrap metal loaded up on his trailer. He’s coming back to pick up the rest tomorrow. (Ryker thinks he’s helping.)

Awestruck

There was a brief moment as I was watching this “kid” heft incredibly heavy and sharp rusty objects, without gloves, into his trailer, that I thought, “wow, he works really hard not to have a job.” The thought sounded like judgement, but felt like awe. Here was this junior in high school working his butt off and making good money without getting stuck in the grind of what many jobs offer. Security? Yes. Freedom? No. He told Nick that he makes more money doing this than his brother ever did with “real” jobs. I was, am, impressed.

He saw a unique problem, that likely no one else was solving, and went for it. Now he even has special permission from his school to do pick-ups during the day, and they give him their leftover scraps from their auto shop.

This “kid” at 17 years old knows more about running a successful business and working his butt off than I do, a 35-year old with a masters degree in business. And the clincher of it all, I don’t think he even knows that’s what he’s doing.

93ND614RTWyRUN410l%2NQ

Here he is stopping to pick up some of the wood on his way out. (This is a glimpse of where the garden will be, well, at least part of it. Nick took out about 20+ trees)

Inspired

Although I am always a proponent of learning, no classroom can come close to life experience. This kid taught me more about business in the 15 minutes of chatting with him than my six years of business classes. What he taught me was, like Nike, you just do it. Don’t worry about the perfect business plan, like I have been, finding the right audience first, like I have been, doing all the right marketing, like I’ve been trying to do, but just do it already.

Now, that’s a lot easier said than done. I have 35 years of fear I’m facing, a family I’m supporting, and a lot of self-doubt I’m trying to overcome. But I really want to be like that “kid.”