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Seed Starting Tips for a Flower Farming Newbie

KellyAs a newbie on my farming journey one of the first things I was excited to do was to start flowers from seeds. It amazes me that you can hold these tiny items in your hand and they contain... well... life. In knowing that, I take it very, very personally when I start seeds and they don't come to any fruition (read: die). To me they are my babies (I know I am speaking to the heart of most — if not all — farmers here.)!

So when my first journey into seed starting didn't really end too well I dried my tears (yes, I cried), planted what I could, and consulted an expert. My expert is Katey Wietor of Good Omen Farm in Bealeton, Virginia. I met Katie — where else?! — at a farming expo just this year, and felt an immediate connection to her. Maybe because we both love flowers, or maybe because we have the same initials, I don't know why — it's just cosmic that way. Regardless, she has been a tremendous resource on my journey. When I knew I needed help I jumped at the chance to pick her brain.

seed tray
Photo property of Kelly White.

So... get to it already right?! Ok... here's what I asked her: Please share with me your top three tips for seed starting for people who don't have a greenhouse (I don't — I want one — more on that later). Here are her tips:

  • "Make sure you have adequate lights." She suggested bright shop lights with fluorescent bulbs, but noted others have used LED or lights specific to growing plants with success also. An additional tip on lights: "Make sure you keep the lights close to the plants as they germinate, or you run the risk of stretching your transplants."
  • "Don't overwater." (I felt like she looked right at me as she wrote this — just FYI). "While seeds do need moisture to germinate, indoor starts don't dry out as quickly as those raised in a greenhouse. Make sure to water only when dry or you will run the risk of damping off and fungus gnats." (DING DING DING — me!) Katie added she uses a 1-gallon garden sprayer that has only ever been used for water to mist her plants. Notice the word "mist" and not "water," the key is to not fully saturate them. She also added that she likes to use "clear plastic dome lids to cover germinating flats — this creates a micro-greenhouse for the plants and reduces the need to water." I did this! And watered... so... there's that. Next...
  • Air circulation. I failed hardcore here. "If possible, have a small fan to move air around the space. The breeze will also help the young plants strengthen up. Plants grown indoors can be very tender as they don't have as much environmental stimulation as ones grown outdoors. When your transplants are about an inch tall, gently run your hands over them once a day." (Awww... I love this one the most!)

What struck me the most about Katey's tips (besides her limitless knowledge) is how clearly she cares for her plants like the living, breathing creatures that they are. It really speaks to her as a person, that she is a true steward of the Earth and loves what she does.

I could go on and on about her and her beautiful herbs and flowers, but if you'd like to learn more about her farm, visit Good Omen's website. Katey learned her craft at the Organic Farmer Training Program at Michigan State University, and has further developed it with lots of care and practice.

If you visit the Northern Virginia region you can find Katey at the Leesburg Wednesday Farmers Market at the Virginia Village shopping center in Leesburg, VA, and on Saturdays at the Reston Farmers Market at Lake Anne Plaza. She also supplies flowers for three stand-alone markets: Brassicas Farm Fresh Market and Café in Aldie, VA; Market Salamander in Middleburg, VA; and Messick's Farm Market in Bealeton, VA.

Why a CSA?

KellyThe idea of community supported agriculture is not new, but is becoming increasingly more popular. As the farm-to-form movement continues to grow, small-scale farmers are finding success in the CSA model.

Is it right for you? And what are the benefits and pitfalls? These are my own thoughts and opinions but perhaps I can give you a little guidance.

If you're asking, "What is a CSA?" let me briefly explain. In return for the cost of a monthly "share" and a mutually agreed-upon pickup location, members receive a weekly delivery of a farm's produce.

Often there are also add-on items such as herbs, flowers, or additional products that the farmer makes from his or her other farm products. What is offered in the weekly share can and will differ as the seasons change, which adds to the fun of the shared-risk venture.

Whoa... wait... I said "risk." Yes, this is a shared-risk investment. As everyone knows farms are not immune to the whims of Mother Nature. What a farm promises in their share may not grow due to weather or any other unforeseen circumstance.

Or perhaps, enough didn't grow to fulfill everyone's share. Usually, the farmer will substitute with an equally valuable product but sometimes even the backup pickings can be slim. This is the shared-risk a member understands.

vegetable display
Photo by Wikimedia/Baileynorwood.

However, with any risk there are significant opportunities for reward. Knowing where your food comes from, how it is grown and raised, and getting to know the farmer who provides it are just some of the benefits that come immediately to mind. Your money goes straight to the producer of the goods, and allows for small businesses to sustain and flourish.

Often, in return for the purchase of your share, the farmer will hold a fun family event on their farm as another incentive, so you get to see where your food comes from first hand. It really is an amazing venture.

Now for the hardest part... determining the best CSA for you. The best CSA is where you feel you are getting products you can use for a fair price.

If you know, for example, you don't like goat's milk, you wouldn't want to pick a CSA where goat's milk products are prominently featured! You'll always get a mix of products with a CSA, and those should be clearly spelled out within the agreement what products the farmer is offering, so it should be easy to pick a CSA where you'll enjoy a majority of what is offered in the share.

Also important is the pickup time and location. You want to be sure you are able to be at the location at the advertised times to pick up your shares. Farmers try to make multiple family-friendly pickup options, so look around and see what works for you.

Where to look? Of course the internet has made things a little easier for you! Local Harvest provides a wealth of information as well as a CSA-finder on its website. On its pages you will find good information on how to choose a CSA, some questions to ask, and more about the "shared-risk" concept. You can also use its"finder" to find farms and farmer's markets in your area.

One more tip — use social media like Pinterest to find recipes for unique vegetables that come in your CSA share. I found quite a few sites with easy recipes by searching "Recipes CSA." Have fun with it — maybe you'll find a new family favorite!

Edible Weeds

Kelly

We recently purchased a new property (Yay! More on that later!) and are in the process of tidying up the landscaping. By “tidying up,” I mean actually doing the landscaping that has needed to be done for the last, um, probably 40 years! One of the plants I kept finding in all of the overgrown flowerbeds was this purple fuzzy...weed?

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After some searching, I found that this was purple dead nettle and while technically a weed, it is an herb in the mint family that can be eaten both raw and cooked. This website has interesting information on how the plant has a unique relationship with ants (of all things):

https://chestnutherbs.com/185/

Should you wish for a more in-depth description of purple dead nettle, you might check out this website:

http://purdueturftips.blogspot.com/2013/04/aprils-weed-of-month-is-purple.html

This got me thinking...was there anything else edible in the yard? That sounds funny, but if I could eat purple dead nettle what else might be growing wild on our new farm that could add nutrition and or flavor to our meals. Here’s a list of some other very common weeds and wild edibles you might find in your yard:

Dandelions: Dandelions can be eaten cooked or raw and even made into a tea that has mild diuretic properties.
Clover: Another weed that can be eaten raw or cooked and made into a tea.
Plantain: Plantain can be applied topically to soothe minor skin irritations, and can also be boiled or sautéed and eaten. This is not the same as the tropical fruit that resembles a banana!
Chickweed: Every part of this weed is edible, even its tiny white flowers. It can be eaten raw or cooked as well as dried for a tea.
Stinging nettle: Some people use nettle tea to ward off seasonal allergies. Be careful foraging this one because the “stinging” name does it justice. It has little prickles on it that can irritate some people’s skin. Best to wear gloves and long sleeves.
Wild violets: Just as lovely as the ones you plant on purpose, wild violets can be used for tea and to add subtle flavor to baked goods and salads.
Mallow: Mallow can be added to salads or soups or in a stir-fry.
Fiddleheads: I’m not sure how anyone can resist the temptation to pick fiddleheads because, let’s face it, they look so cool. They are also edible — preferably cooked.

I am certain there are more items I could add to this list, this is just a start from some quick research. It’s amazing to me how plants can provide so much to us if we just take the time to learn about them. It’s a whole other secret world. I can’t tell you how many weeds and edibles I found just weeding those aforementioned neglected flowerbeds. Incredible!

P.S. If you don’t find purple dead nettle as lovely as I do, don’t fret — you can easily pull it out by hand or wait until the weather warms up, the plants won’t last past the June heat. Just an added tip for you!

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.

Greenery_1

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!

Greenery_2

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!

Greenery_4

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.

Greenery_5

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.

IMG_0807_Entrance

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.

IMG_0826_Produce 2

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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.  

IMG_0822_Interior

IMG_0823_Interior 2

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.

IMG_0789_Chicken Coop

IMG_0757_Bella

IMG_0820_Field 1

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







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