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Backyard Bohemia

Top 5 Herbs for the Homestead

KellyWith winter in full swing I have been busy doing a lot of reading, dreaming, and planning for the planting that will need to be done before we know it. I have been doing a lot of research on herbs — their uses, how to grow them, and just other general information about them. I have found that herbs are truly fascinating! So, along with vegetables this year, I think I will try my hand at growing some herbs. You do not need a lot of land — or even any land, really — to grow herbs, as they will grow in patio pots or in a sunny windowsill.

Herbs  

Here is a roundup of the top five herbs I am going to try to grow this year. Side note: as part of my “research” on the subject, I did visit a local herb shop to see how they use their herbs in teas and other concoctions. As they noted (and I will echo their sentiment), while the use of herbs can aid in overall general health, my suggestions for their uses are in no way intended to treat or cure any disease or ailment. Disclaimer aside, here are my five:

Chamomile. Chamomile is so pretty; it resembles teeny tiny daisies. The flowers can be used in a tea as a mild sedative for relaxation and can also soothe upset tummies, especially when caused by excess gas and bloating. Good to know after eating all of those holiday goodies!

Lavender. Lavender seems to be the most common herb that people know about, and for good reason. Besides its obvious beauty and lovely scent, it can be used to assist in alleviating the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and headaches. Lavender can also be used as a culinary herb for adding flavor to baked goods and drinks. If you have never tried lavender lemonade, I highly recommend it!

Raspberry. I know what you are thinking ... raspberry is a fruit! And yes, you’re right! But besides the luscious berries a raspberry tree provides (excellent for making jam, by the way), the leaves of the raspberry tree can be used to make a tea that strengthens the uterus during pregnancy, can be used to ease diarrhea, and even to help with a sore throat. I like that the raspberry tree has two parts that can be used for something — very thrifty! We have a raspberry bush in our yard that needs some tending to, so I already feel ahead of the game on this one.

Rosemary. Rosemary is a popular herb that is very easy to grow (I hear). It can be used in an oil tincture to help heal wounds and to assist in hair growth.

Mint. Oh, the smell of fresh mint! Mint is also very easy to grow (my husband swears when he planted it a few years back it took over the yard, so be careful!) and has multiple uses, including aiding in digestion and as a natural bug repellent. Peppermint oil used topically has a cooling sensation that helps with headaches. I like to put fresh mint in my water with some slices of cucumber. It feels like you are at the spa, and you are aiding your digestion. Win-win!

A thorough book about herbs and their uses is The Complete Herbs Sourcebook: An A to Z Guide of Herbs to Cure Your Everyday Ailments by David Hoffman (the book I’m currently reading). Books about growing herbs are next on my list to seek out, then after that I’d like to read some books on making teas and tinctures. Any suggestions?

DIY Mini Wreaths (On the Cheap!)

KellyIt’s that time of year, y’all — the holiday season! Now that we are no longer stuffed from our Thanksgiving turkey and mashed potatoes, we can start thinking about holiday gifts, decorations and more. I don’t know what your holiday decorating theme is, but mine is “cheap.” OK, we can say it in a nicer way ... ”Budget-friendly.” And what better way to stay within your budget than to make your own decorations with what you can forage in and around your farm or homestead?

The items you will need for this little craft are: greenery (foraged for free), twine to make the decorative bow (or you can use any ribbon you have on hand; the point here is to make this cost effective!), snips, and green floral wire. The floral wire you will probably have to buy, but I found mine very cheap at the craft store — and by cheap, I mean the spool in the photos was $1.99 and I found a 50% off coupon online, making it about $1.00.

1. To start, snip your choice of greenery to your desired length. I used boxwood here because I like the color and shape of the leaves. Remember, however long you cut your branch will determine the size of the circle that forms your wreath. For the size of wreath I created here you would want a snip about 6 inches long.

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2. Take one snip and form the circle for your wreath. Where the ends come together, use your floral wire and wrap a strand of it around the ends several times. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look perfect, or if the wire stands out — we will be covering it with ribbon so no one will know!

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3. Once you have your ends wired together and your wreath formed, grab your ribbon or twine. Simply make a bow over the area where you have wired your ends together. It is that easy! You’re done!

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You can do so many things with these cute little wreaths. I used mine as decorations on a brown paper gift bag; you could make them into hanging decorations by adding another loop of ribbon at the top, or you could even hot-glue them to the top of a mason jar as part of another homemade, thrifty, gift idea. Or make several and turn them into a garland or fireplace display.

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This is my year of the “handmade holiday,” so look for more ideas from me soon!

Stoneybrook Farm Market

KellyNestled in the hills of aptly named Hillsboro, Virginia lies the Stoneybrook Farm Market. To the general passerby, this farm market might look like all the rest — a clean, wooden structure overflowing with the bounty from the season’s harvest. But this is no ordinary farm market. For those who stop for a moment and venture inside, a peaceful agrarian wonderland awaits.

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Stoneybrook Farm Market belongs to a community of farmers where every member has a corporate share in the operations. In 2010, Stoneybrook expanded the initial certified organic farm operation to include a café area, originally selling coffee drinks and homemade fresh baked goods and more recently offering a full, eclectic menu complete with smoothies, salads, sandwiches, organic fresh juices, and breakfast items such as poached eggs and fresh waffles. They use their own ingredients in the food as much as possible — even milling their own flour for their baked goods — and make every attempt to avoid products that contain GMOs for any necessary supplemental ingredients.  

The farm currently boasts kale, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots among their seasonal crops. During the full planting and growing year they also farm wheat, spelt, potatoes, onions, garlic, tomatoes, hay, lettuce, zucchini, squash, and raise pastured chickens and turkeys on their nearly 70 acres of property. The word “organic” can mean different things to different people, but to Stoneybrook Farm that means the use of cover crops and compost to fertilize their soils, as well as being completely pesticide-free. They sell their own vegetables in the market along with other locally grown produce and goods and a small, hand-curated selection of healthy food and drink, bath and body products, and their own handmade items such as cleaning products, essential oils, candles, and soap.

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The handmade interior of local wood is warm and inviting, with modern, rustic, country décor like apple basket lights and hand-hewn wooden tables. I won’t even attempt to describe the stunning restroom — you just have to see it for yourself! In nice weather, a slate side porch offers several wrought iron tables where you can dine while overlooking the cows grazing in the distance. Future plans include an enclosed porch complete with a potbelly stove for winter outdoor seating. Quite simply, it is sheer bucolic bliss less than one hour from Washington, D.C.  

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I write often of the farms that I visit and the products they provide for those of us who celebrate agriculture, and Stoneybrook Farm Market is at the very top of my list. If I could sum up my weekly (yes, weekly!) visit in one word, it would be nourished. Indeed, visiting Stoneybrook Farm Market is nourishing to both body and spirit.

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You can learn more about Stoneybrook Farm here. The Farm Market is open year-round:

Monday-Thursday. 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Friday 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Closed Saturday
Sunday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Joy

KellyThroughout my (somewhat short) journey into the adventure of homesteading, I keep finding myself wondering why I am seeking it. Wouldn’t it just be easier to buy an ingredient for a recipe — or even the desired finished product — at the store? Or wouldn’t it save time just to take a shortcut and make refrigerator jam instead of learning the ins and outs of pectin? The lure of IKEA looms when I want a new end table/bookshelf/coffee table, when I know we have a nice supply of reclaimed wood in the garage and easy access to pallets that will otherwise go to the landfill (gasp!). So why do people do this thing called homesteading or DIY or whatever one may choose to call it?

I looked around at other homesteading blogs and did some internet searches, and there seemed to be a myriad of reasons — beliefs of living close to nature, wanting to know where your food comes from and how it is processed, wanting to live as frugally as possible ... All wonderful reasons. But the underlying theme of the reasons behind people’s choices to take on the seemingly never-ending tasks of making a homestead was the joy that it brings them. The joy keeps them moving forward instead of looking back at the easier, just-buy-it-at-the-store versions of their former lives. When a person has true, lasting, fulfilling joy, it easily spreads to others. Perhaps this is why I find the homesteading lifestyle so appealing; the joy of it is so deep that it easily shines over the dusty boots and dirty, worn jeans of its purveyors.

I know there is nothing earth-shattering in this post. I haven’t told you anything new or even exciting; these are all things most of you already know. No pretty pictures of my homestead this time, even! I just wanted to share my thoughts and hopefully encourage a reader who might need it. I would love for anyone who reads this to send me a line and let me know why you homestead and how it has changed your life.

gardening
Photo by Fotolia/nixoncreative

Prepping For Fall

Kelly

Early autumn sunset.

I know, I know ... it’s only September. But in my part of the world we have had some very nice days followed by some very cool evenings that let us know that fall is soon coming, and just look at that gorgeous autumn sunset in the above photo! The weather got me thinking: fall provides some decision making opportunities for the garden. You can either a) close up shop for the year until spring arrives again, or b) plant some cool-weather crops and continue gardening into winter. I decided to do a little research about both and share what I came up with. Read on!

When I say “close up shop” for the year, I mean stop growing vegetables. But, in reality, there’s work to be done even if you decide to put your garden to rest for the season. You can do a lot in the fall and winter months to prep your garden for the next season, such as pulling up dead weeds and crops and adding a layer of compost to your gardening area. The Old Farmer’s Almanac has an extensive list of things you can do at their website.

The other option is, of course, to grow some cool-weather crops and continue your gardening pleasure. I have never grown these types of plants, so I had to look up what could even be grown when planting as late as September. In some parts of the country, September planting may be too late, but here in Maryland I could still plant any of the following and get something going ... I mean growing:

• Kale
• Spinach
• Broccoli
• Peas
• Beets
• Carrots

That’s a lot that I could still plant, and a lot of my favorite vegetables!

If you are curious what you could grow in your little (or large) plot in the fall, check your zone at the USDA’s plant hardiness website. Then mosey on over to the Veggie Harvest website’s calendars to see a great visual of what you could plant in September and October in your area.

I’m curious to know what people’s plans are for their fall and winter gardens. Let me know in the comments!

Rocky Point Creamery

Kelly

 

 

Rocky Point Creamery
Rocky Point Creamery, Timonium, Maryland.

Located just outside of Timonium, Maryland, is a dairy farm. But this is not your ordinary dairy farm. It houses the nearly 200 cows that make the milk used to create the amazing ice cream at Rocky Point Creamery.  Fun for the whole family, Rocky Point Creamery has become a destination in Maryland and for good reason.  It’s one of my favorite places to go on a summer evening and I decided to write a little bit about this piece of heaven.

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A view of the farm.

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Some of the hardest working members of the Rocky Point Creamery staff.

Rocky Point Farm spans 1,500 acres and has been continuously farmed by the family that owns it since 1883. Because of this heritage it has been designated as one of Maryland’s Century Farms. They decided to add ice cream to their dairy farming business and became a part of Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail.  The Trail is just one of the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s promotions that also include Farmer’s Markets and CSAs that attempt to bring food straight from the farm to the consumer. These types of promotions also help to inspire younger would-be farmers as they can see first-hand that farming can be a viable business opportunity for those willing to work hard, be creative and stay flexible and open to new ideas.

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Just a sampling of the ice cream flavors available at Rocky Point Creamery.

It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t write a little about the ice cream itself. The evening we visited the flavors ranged from Cherry Vanilla to Java Chip and also included sorbet and no sugar added options.  Different types of cones are offered including freshly baked waffle cones, and a variety of toppings can be added to your sweet treat. If you’re in a hurry they even have a drive-thru option!

Field of sunflowers
Field of sunflowers. For a $1 donation to St. Jude's Hospital, you can cut one to take home.

Sunflower
Even the bees have a treat at Rocky Point Creamery ...

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... and the butterflies, too!

The view from the porch of the building during the summer includes a sea of sunflowers. The sunflowers are pick-your-own for a $1 donation to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and Rocky Point matches the donations. Since sunflowers are my favorite flower I make sure to “purchase” a few each time I go and they are in bloom.  Each visit to Rocky Point Creamery is enjoyable, and I am glad that these generational farmers have found a new way to prosper from all of their hard work.

Famrall playground
Let the kids play on the Farmall playground.

Playground area
Another fun playground area.

Cow shaped couch
Enjoy the view from one of the "cowches."

Tractors, Farm Equipment, and Gas Engines ... Oh My

KellyMy husband and I visited the Central Maryland Antique Tractor Club gas engine and tractor show at Gladhill Tractor one weekend this past June. We try to attend this celebration of agriculture every year, and it wasn’t until this year I realized I didn’t know much about the people who plan and organize this event. The Central Maryland Antique Tractor Club (CMATC) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1977. From their website, their members have a “desire to promote the restoration, preservation, and use of antique tractors and machinery in activities which are educational in nature and the sport of tractor pulling, and improving the standard of community through providing education, interest and general participation in these activities.”

That’s a tall order! The good thing is that their members carry it out each year in the form of shows and pulls open to the public for us to enjoy. Some of the shows — such as this one — also include a farm equipment auction and flea market. Proceeds from the club’s events are given to local 4H clubs and FFA. They also give annual scholarships, restoration awards, and awards for the most sportsman-like puller, or, as they say “the overall good guy or girl.” Don’t know anything about tractor pulling? Here’s a little “Tractor Pulling 101” from the National Tractor Pullers Association website. CMATC has this main show every year in June near Jefferson, Maryland. They also have a presence at a variety of shows and pulls in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia throughout the year.

You can find their schedule here. You can also visit them at their Facebook page.

Enjoy these photos from the show!

Antique Tractor

Antique Tractor

Antique Tractor

Antique Tractor

Antique Tractor

Antique Tractor

Antique Tractor

Antique Tractor

Antique Tractor

Antique Tractor

Antique Tractor