Grit Blogs >

Windy Meadows Farm


Saving Water: Tips We've Learned Along the Way

Windy Meadows FarmSlowly, but certainly, we’re beginning to see the gentle green of spring…buds on the lilac, chives sprouting in the garden, and the sun shining brilliantly. Yes, there’s a lingering chill in the air, and even a bit of snow fell last night, but we can feel that a change is coming. The predicted warmth of this week will encourage daffodils and azaleas, and it looks like the last of the puddles are finally drying. I quickly dodge the few remaining puddles as I set out for daily chores, only to land in a spot of mud more often that not. The folks around us call this "Bootscrape Weather" and they couldn’t be more right. Funny enough, the farm wives will tell you mud on the floor is as much a sign of spring as the first flower!  An old quote from the Hoosier Farmer comes to mind…

“Love is the thing that enables a woman to sing while she mops up the floor after her husband has walked across it in his barn boots.”

A basket sits by a comfy sofa, and soon I steal a few minutes to look through the latest arrival of seed catalogs and favorite magazines. My to-do list is getting longer… I want to make an arbor from some dusty old doors I found tucked away in the back of  our barn, while a vintage screen door seems just the right thing to add a little whimsy to a flower garden. And oh yes… those broken dishes. (Who knew the bottom of that box was so flimsy?) When I lifted it up, out they came with a crash… a rainbow of colorful bits that now wait to become mosaic stepping stones around the chicken coop.

Then in the middle of all my planning and dreaming it comes to me, as it does every year, why (on what was once a cattle farm 70 years ago then in later years a horse farm) are there no working water pumps near the barns and gardens?  Each year this means hauling water from the one lonely spigot near the house to make sure our goats and chickens, barn cats and trusty guard dog have all the water they need. And when the garden is planted, several sections of hose work will wind their way over the grass, gravel, and then more grass until they meet their destination. Years ago we had someone search for water lines… there must be some, but after watching them dig up most of the yard and finding none, we gave up. (Someday I’d love to have a water pumping windmill… add one more thing to do to-do list!)

large tomato on scale

Like so many, we look forward to that first tomato, warm from the garden... is there anything better? We've also started setting up a little roadside stand to share our extra vegetables. So over the years we’ve tried to come up with clever ways to provide water for the garden by saving rainwater and using the water we do have as efficiently as possible. And so, if you should you find yourself living in a 155-year old farmhouse with only one outdoor spigot, we’re happy to share some of the ideas that have worked for us.

 1 — Underground cisterns are a good way to collect rainwater, and if you live in an old farmhouse, you may already have one. Ours is located where all the rainwater is directed off of the roof, and adding a new pump was easy. Companies such as Lehman’s Hardware have several types of pumps to choose from. Practical and pretty… what’s not to like?

 2 — Adding mulch to garden rows will help plants hold onto moisture, as well as slow down evaporation and weed growth. Last summer we tried a new method that worked very well… a thick 6-inch layer combination of straw, compost, and shredded leaves. It could also be manure, pine shavings, or winter’s bedding from the chicken coop. Anything that will hold water and break down over time.

 3 — Watering early in the morning before the heat of the sun can begin to evaporate the water is always best for us. On days that are very hot or during a long dry spell, we will water twice, again at sunset. While there’s no evaporation, watering late in the day can attract slugs, so it’s something we don’t do often.

 4 — Soaker hoses are great to make sure the water gets right to the plant roots, and it also helps cut down on evaporation.

 5 — Setting up a rain barrel is something new for us, and we can’t wait to see how it works. We had the ideal spot to add a downspout that will feed rainwater directly into a rain barrel. I feel that harvesting the rain just might make all the difference during the hot days of July and August. And while we’re not worried about a higher water bill, we do want to make sure we don’t waste the groundwater from our well.

 6 — Simply go organic! Organic planting methods will help retain moisture in the garden. Healthy soil filled compost, leaf and grass clippings, and manure will act as a sponge to keep plants strong and growing, even when the heat and dry weather arrive.

farm stand by road

Walking to our garden spot this morning, I reconsider its future size. Hmmm, maybe I’ll add a section for a salsa garden, and the kids would like a pizza garden. While I’m pondering, in the distance I can hear a garden tractor sputter and then roar to life… Someone else is thinking it’s time to garden, too. The earth is waking up… in its proper time.

Mary is a Midwest farm girl who will tell you, “I love simple, old-fashioned ways. For me, it’s the country pleasures that mean the most ... tying on an apron for Sunday dinner, barn sales & auctions, farmers' markets, county fairs, porch swings, and slow train rides. Add to these the laughter of children, and I couldn't be happier!” You can visit Windy Meadows Farm here, Windy Meadows Farm.

Creating an Herbal Tea Garden

Windy Meadows Farm

A cup of herbal tea, on blustery days like this, warms me from head to toe. After I've been outside clearing a 6-inch snow from the path taking me to the chicken coop, then another path leading to the goats, coming back in the farmhouse to a warming cup of tea makes it all worthwhile.

Lately I've been thinking, why buy herbal tea when I can easily grow the herbs I need myself? I'll know exactly what is in my tea and know that it's absolutely organic.

tea ball photo
Photo by Unsplash.

To begin with, I'll keep the garden outside my kitchen door...the herbs will receive full sun and be close at hand come harvest time.  Next, I'll choose as many fuss-free varieties as possible, brushing up on how to best care for each herb, and making sure I harvest them at their absolute best flavor.

What will I plant? Old favorites such as chamomile, apple mint, lemon verbena, pineapple mint, lemon balm, and peppermint. And then, just to add some new flavors, I'm going to plant lavender, cinnamon basil, sage, and ginger.

Now that I've chosen my plants, what's the best way to grow them? Herbs need to be in full sun, in soil that drains well. My garden will be against a wall, so I'll plant taller herbs in the back, then stagger shorter varieties toward the front. If you want to plant herbs in your yard, create a clever circular design by planting tall herbs in the middle surrounded by smaller varieties. (And herbs grow perfectly well in containers, too if space is limited.) Keep an eye on them to be sure they're getting plenty of water in the long, hot days of summer, and be ready to snip them at their peak.

While you can certainly dry herbs to use year round, you can also enjoy them fresh! Snip them early in the morning, rinse under cold water, pat dry, then store them in a mason jar of cool water and use within a few hours. 

It's also easy to dry herbs...simply tie them into small bunches and hang them upside down to dry for several weeks. They could also be dried in a food dehydrator if you have on handy. Once they're dry, store them in an air-tight container.

tea cup photo
Photo by Unsplash.

You can also find fill-your-own teabags for sale...fill them with your own herb blends to share with friends. Tuck several bags into a vintage teacup...a gift they'll absolutely love.

Recently, at a local shop filled with all kinds of wonderful vintage finds,  I spied a pretty retro teapot that was cleverly turned into a wind chime...I think it will be just right hanging in my tea garden. 

When the snow is gone, and the ground is warm enough for planting, I'll share the progress of my tea garden from the first plantings to harvest, and even share some of my favorite herb blends. Dreaming of warmer days...planning a garden is ideal on this blustery afternoon.

the basics of choosing firewood...

headshot

We've entered day 4 of the snow and ice storm that has hit the Midwest, and as the temperatures plummeted (-11  yesterday morning), each day opening the door we're greeted with a bone-chilling blast of air. It's so cold that even heated water buckets have a film of ice on them that needs breaking so goats, chickens, and barn cats can be assured of plenty of water.  

wheel in snow

In preparing for the storm, extra wood was stacked on the back porch, and after tossing another log on the fire, I'm glad to be inside. Morning chores are done, and I've left the gusty winds outside, for now. Warming up by the fire makes me glad for the wood we have on hand. This crackling fire in the kitchen will take the chill out of a home built in 1864, a home that certainly seems lacking insulation in some rooms!

As I talked with a friend, she asked about the best types of wood for burning. A look through our local paper will have advertisements for a variety of woods. Which is best? The prices range per cord; does a lower price mean an inferior wood?

While I'm certainly no expert, I'll share what she and I talked about...a list of what has worked best for us over the years, and what we've found for sale in our area. 

Good Firewood Choices

  • Ash
  • Cherry
  • Maple
  • Walnut

In our experience, these woods give off a good amount of heat, have a long burn time, and produce little smoke.  While ash and walnut are difficult to split, it can certainly be done.  I admit, we buy ours split and ready to stack.

Poor Firewood Choices

  • Elm
  • Pine
  • Poplar

We've found that these woods don't give off much heat and can have a short burn time. That means I'm tossing more logs on the fire to get warm and finding that it's burning just too quickly. I'm going through that woodpile much faster than I'd like to.

Again, this is only our personal experience with these types of wood. No matter which wood is used, it's important that its been set aside to dry at least 6 months before burning, and it's been kept dry while it's stored.

In early fall when we double-check our wood supply, it also a reminder to schedule a chimney sweep. A chimney that was used all winter will definitely need a good cleaning to loosen and remove any soot that's built up inside. A chimney sweep can also check for any damage, loose bricks or mortar, and even add a cap to the chimney; this will keep debris and rain out.  

On days like today, when a bitter wind is whistling and it's 8 degrees outside, a crackling fire in the fireplace is a warm and welcoming country pleasure. 

Hmmm...it seems like cats love the warmth of a fire, too!

will it work this time?


 Photos courtesy of Mary Murray

 

Dreams Do Come True...

Windy Meadows FarmEarlier in the spring, I found myself wandering through one of my favorite shops...a great small-town store that has become a "must" anytime I'm nearby. Filled to the brim with everything vintage, primitive, antique, and retro, it's nothing short of fabulous!  

On one of the walls was this sign: 

 

 

Something about it caught my eye...the lovely shade of turquoise-blue, the talent behind the hand-lettering, the message. Yes...so true, NEVER stop making wishes! 

As much as it called to me, it really didn't "fit" into our style. Built in 1864, I've tried to fill our home with things that have a sense of history...old trunks, cupboards with wavy glass, sponge-ware dishes alongside yellow-ware bowls, spinning wheels, handmade quilts...you get the idea. As cute as this sign was, it just wouldn't work. 

After wandering through the store, I finally told myself, "It NEEDS a home."  You see where this is going...yep, it did come home with me. I wrapped it in paper and tucked it away. Not sure what to do with it, but knowing it just had to be a little gift to me, from me.

Which leads me to this...no matter what, NEVER stop making wishes. What do you wish for? Dreams delayed come true every day! Just because you're living in an apartment now, doesn't mean you won't be gathering eggs from your own happy hens in the country some day. Making business deals across the conference room table, doesn't mean that you won't be making lunches for kids, and yes, climbing the corporate ladder, can be exchanged for chasing fireflies. Here's a little story of my "dream delayed."

An earlier post of mine was titled Dream A Little Dream and all about the search for a vintage camper--a search my teenage daughter began--and I was determined to help her. There's the story of the cutest little 10' Shasta compact camper that was the $100 find of the century!  Not my find, of course, but one lucky gal had her wish come true. It was so...Tiny. Yellow. Adorable.

Then there was another Shasta I drove by for several days just pondering over. Maybe? Maybe not. Okay, definitely! Peeked inside...no leaks, had potential, yes! Bring the Hubby to look over it/climb under it...let's make plans! 

Lesson learned...do not ponder too long. By the time I decided to show it to Hubby, it was gone. On it's way to Michigan with a young family. You know, for months I found myself still looking at the spot where it sat...as if I could turn back time and it would still be there.  

I kept looking in the paper and reading online auctions. Nothing was right, or nearby, or simply nothing existed at all. Vintage campers have taken off like wildfire and I could find nothing. And so the search continued...for years.

One day I sat down to catch up on a friend's blog, I'd followed the progress on her 1963 Yellowstone camper for about 5 years. Freshly painted, with cheery fabric stitched into curtains and comfy seating, it was fun to look at the before and after snapshots. 

While reading her blog I blinked...what? "I have decided to let our little trailer find a new home." No pondering this time...I immediately commented, and then, just in case she didn't have time to check her blog, I sent an email. I knew that the camper was well-cared for and only about 15 minutes away. In no time Hubby and I looked it over, then brought along a friend who knows all the ins and outs of vintage campers. He suggested roof repairs and a quick fix on the water line.

And you know what? That sweet little 13 foot 1963 Yellowstone Cab-over camper is sitting at our farm. The first thing I did was unwrap and hang the picture telling me to "Never Stop Making Wishes." While the turquoise blue wasn't right for our home, it was perfect for a camper now named Maizy! I'm dressing her up with turquoise, cherry red and a bit of lightning-bug yellow...I'm having fun putting my own retro spin on her. And you know, for someone who loves antiques and primitives, who knew I had a surprising amount of vintage goodies tucked away just waiting for someday?

 

maizy

 I'll share some more photos of her interior transformation...what fun it's been for my daughter and I to camp out in Maizy...even if we never left the back yard.

So as we shortly enter 2019...remember this:

Never Stop Making Wishes!


Images Courtesy of Mary Murray

Keeping it Simple

Windy Meadows Farm

This morning’s walk with a dear friend found us enjoying the brisk and frosty air. The weather in our part of the Midwest has changed quickly…going from warm and sunny to downright chilly. It was 17 degrees one morning last week…brrr!  November has arrived, and as we walked we began talking about Thanksgiving and all that needs doing. There are plans to be made. The dinner menu: ham, turkey, or both? Do we truly need three pies…pumpkin, apple, and cherry pie? Side dishes…and old family favorite, Kingston mashed potatoes, are a must, but are they served alongside brown sugar-glazed carrots or succotash?

Whew…as much as I love Thanksgiving, the mere thought of all that needs doing can send me into frenzy. And while there is the inevitable debate on jelled versus whole berry cranberry sauce, this year, I’m determined to SLOW DOWN.

Like so many of you, that has been my goal all year, slowing down, keeping things as simple as possible, and keeping home as a haven and resting place from the worries outside. Alas, as many of us have found, keeping things simple is easier said than done. We all look forward to the holidays...tantalizing aromas that fill the house, a crackling fire, the post-dinner nap, board games, favorite old movies, and remembering to give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy.

This year our Thanksgiving decorating has taken a turn. Yes, the pumpkins and bittersweet are still there, but also reminders of what the day is truly all about.

I'm sharing some of what we've created this year...simple and done in no time. 

Come on! Pull out a permanent marker and grab some pumpkins at the farmers market (they’re all on sale now!) and let’s get started!

mypumpkinone

 

mypumpkintwo

 

mypumpkinthree

Use a stencil...free-hand the lettering...just have fun! There's no right or wrong!

Wishing you a blessed Thanksgiving from our family to yours.

Become a Beekeeper in 2017!

Windy Meadows FarmBeekeeping ... I've always been a bit curious about this somewhat mysterious hobby. My uncle was a beekeeper, and I remember growing up we were gifted many mason jars filled with delicious liquid gold. 

Several years ago my neighbor became a beekeeper, and I soon found myself enjoying the sweet rewards of her labors. Mmmm ... honey drizzled over warm slices of homemade bread or biscuits. Again, I became curious about bees, and I soon watched her (from a distance) as she worked her hives. I began asking questions.

It wasn't long before I joined our local beekeeping club and attended their beginning classes. So much to learn, so much to remember. Could I do it?

As spring rolled around, the kids began to ask, "What do you want for your birthday?" I finally said, "You know, this year I want a beehive!"

And that's how it began — scouring catalogs for a beekeeper's suit, gloves, veil, smoker, tools, and hive kit. Reading all I could get my hands on and armed with the promise that my good neighbor would mentor me, I ordered my first set of bees.

It was exciting. they were delivered late in the evening. I woke up the next morning ready to follow the steps I'd learned. It was true. I was a beekeeper!

That was five years ago, and I've since added two more hives to my first hive. I've been blessed with delicious honey that I can now share with friends and neighbors. I've learned much along the way. I've lost bees to swarms, then turned around and captured swarms. I've lost hives that went into winter full and healthy, for no reason, have been opened in spring to find not a single bee. I've battled yellow-jackets, and certainly, I've been stung a few times.

But truly, it's been a rewarding, fascinating experience. Yes, the bee suits are incredibly hot on on those 90-degree, humid, summer days, and yes, there are times when I take a deep breath as many, many bees buzz around me, curious as to who has invaded their home.

But I wouldn't give it up, and I would encourage anyone who has the desire to seriously consider becoming a beekeeper.

Read, learn, join your local beekeepers association, ask questions, find a mentor, and read some more ... I don't think you'll regret it!

copper top beehive

So God Made a Farmer ...

Windy Meadows Farm

To me, the poetic words of Paul Harvey’s, So God Made a Farmer are astonishingly accurate and timeless.

While farming dreams run deep with so many of us, the reality of the life that a full-time farmer leads is often different than many imagine. Farmers excel in courage, grit, hope, and determination. And, while I’m not one for recalling many commercials, Mr. Harvey’s words paired with a simple slideshow of inspiring still photos made this particular commercial one I’ve not forgotten. I hope you’ll take a minute to click the link and take a look and listen ... even if you’ve seen it before. And if you can make it through to the end and not tear up, you’re a stronger person than I am!

"So God Made a Farmer"

My husband grew up on a 100-acre farm: livestock needed to be cared for, hay baled and stacked (on what seemed to be the hottest days of the year), and always they were at the whim of Mother Nature. The days were long and sometimes the lessons hard, but along with such days were moments of inspiration and gratitude. Animals they thought were lost miraculously recovered; dark clouds filled with rain blew in to break what would have been a devastating drought; and, as he’s quick to tell us, he’ll never forget the laughter and closeness he felt working alongside his dad.

Harvest-time ... a season in itself that teeters somewhere between the languid days of summer and the first scent of autumn’s wood smoke. In a time when so much changes, it’s good to know that some things always endure. It’s a busy season, and we feel the subtle differences; we are gathering, gleaning, and putting by. In our part of the Midwest harvest-time is in full swing, and as I watch the combines working late into the night, I’m reminded, “so God made a farmer.”

Farmer in field
Photo by Fotolia/PointImages







Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of GRIT for just $22.95!




Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds

click me