The Living Without Series

This is a series of posts that I wrote back in 2006 on living with less stuff. Check them out: liv011Living #2liv031liv04

Coal Creek Farm on Facebook

The Chicken Doctor


The Architect


The Latest on Coal Creek Farm


I was sitting on a decrepit wicker love seat that I bought at a garage sale many years ago when I took this photo.  I had just finished planting 100 sweet potato slips and my back was whispering it’s disapproval when I eased gently in the wicker seat that is in no way comfortable, in fact, it is horrible, it’s scratchy, it creaks as if it’s going to spew splinters and collapse the second any weight is on it.  It’s one of those things that I’m keeping just until I need something to burn, but for now it’s nice to have a place to sit in the garden that doesn’t allow me to get comfortable so I’ll get back up and work some more.

As I was sitting there I noticed Preacher, our farm dog, sitting upright on the squash bed looking out over the cornfield.  I took my phone out and zoomed in to take a photo of him.  He’s such a sweet dog, but he has no ability to distinguish lawn from garden, plant from weed, grass from mud.  He was sitting right on top of a summer squash plant and he totally squashed it.  Get it?  He squashed it.  It’s a squash plant and….he squashed it.  I know, Comedy Central is missing out on this.


I’m in the process of caring for the largest garden I’ve ever planted.  I’m not saying it’s successful, but it’s growing.  I lost my peas and the first planting of beans to a late frost, it seems no matter how long I wait I never wait long enough to plant.  I planted 100 sweet potato slips (pictured above) then I pulled out 50 of them the next day to space them a little farther apart.  This is how I garden….chaotically.  I move plants until they finally find the right spot.  I still have so much to learn.IMG_3402

This is part of my potato patch, I planted three varieties.  It’s the largest bed I’ve ever planted and so far it’s doing great.  The green bushy thing in the raised bed is Chocolate Mint, it’s invasive, it smells fantastic and it’s really fun to use in baking and cooking.  Behind the bush is part of the garlic patch.  Garlic is so easy to grow, you can throw it on the ground and it will survive and spread.  And there is Preacher, being Preacher.  IMG_3369

These are garlic scapes.  The scape is the top part of the plant that will bloom into a flower with seeds.  I picked half of the scapes and made a garlic paste and a garlic/spinach pesto.  It’s really wonderful to have early in the season.  It has a milder taste than the garlic bulb and is easy to add to any recipe that calls for garlic, which is every recipe I use.IMG_3367

Last year Clay built the two beds on the far left.  I had him make them 2’X16′ and I loved them so much more than my beds that are 3’X16′ because I can work entirely from one side.  I also had him put the beds closer together so I wouldn’t have such wide paths to weed between the beds.  This year I added three more and put a wide path for the wheel barrow and truck to travel through.  I arched two 16 foot cattle panels between two of the beds and planted peas and beans to trellis up them.  I’m also going to cover it in plastic this fall and try a hoop house.    The white sink you see sitting on the ground is my washing station.  I set it on the edge of the bed while I’m picking and throw the greens in the sink with the hose sprayer washing off the dirt, the water and dirt travel through a short hose that I put in the bed which waters the plants while I wash the greens.  I bought it at my local Salvation Army store for $5, it was a great find.  I like that I can move it around the garden, I just wish it wasn’t so white, it sticks out a bit.IMG_3364

Easter Egg Radishes are one of my new favorite crops.  I am loving these, I eat them like candy and I’m throwing them in everything I cook.IMG_3347

This was the second picking of spinach.  I had a banner year with this stuff.  Now I’m sick of spinach, but the ants have taken over, so I think I’m done with it until this fall.  I’m so in love with my garden this year.  I’m trying a lot of new things I’m certain some will fail and some will succeed.  I find such joy in watching things grow, it’s exciting to see a tiny seed grow into a plant that feeds my family.  And speaking of family….IMG_3117This picture was taken on Easter this year.  My oldest son was taking the picture and I have no idea where Ellen was, but this is pretty much what my home looks like now that my older two are off working and becoming adult humans.  My family is growing up.  Also, if you look closely you might find Salt the Barn Cat, she can’t stand not to get attention when we are outside.  I hope you are having a great summer so far.  I am enjoying a healthy husband this summer!  We are busy catching up on all the things we set aside when he was sick last summer.  It is amazing how much can pile up on a little farm when the fake farmers aren’t paying attention.


The American Homeplace

I originally wrote this post in 2008. I got a spam comment on it today and couldn’t remember what I had written, so I re-read it and thought how timely it was. This week I’m taking our pork, veggies and other items made here on the farm to a farmer’s market. I’m a bit nervous taking this step, but if I fail I will continue to feed my family from this land that I love.

I’m finishing up Donald McCaigs book The American Homeplace. McCaig and his wife moved from New York City to the hills of Virginia in the early 70’s. He knew nothing about sheep or living in the country, but was tired of the city and his corporate job. So they took their savings and drove around until they found a spot with good water and pasture.

It’s been an interesting read. It’s could easily be three different books. The first part of the book explains the history of his farm and surrounding area in Virginia. He talks about the homesteaders and their families and what happened to them.
The middle of the book is short essays about his time on the farm. I learned about his flock of sheep, especially his sheep dogs. I appreciate the thoughtful and tender way he speaks of the animals he’s responsible for. His wife, Anne, and he sacrificed many a winter’s night sleep to work during the lambing season. He talks about his community and how they rely heavily on each other to survive. And sadly, he writes about the decline in population, the youth of the area moving away to find work.
He’s a model citizen. Volunteering for the fire department and working as an election official. He helped an elderly neighbor put up hay to relieve the worry of the old man’s wife.
The last part of the book are interviews of fellow homesteaders and alternative farmers. I’d never heard of the political radical Scott Nearing or his wife, Helen and their influential book, Living the Good Life. Their hand built stone house is still being used at the Good Life Center at Forest Farm. Ah, if I were young, had children named Rainbow Trout, Black Earth and Butternut Squash, I would send in my application to be a resident steward.
McCaig also interviewed Wendell Berry and Maury Telleen, here is Telleens slate of ten considerations on modern agrarianism. One of my favorite interviews conducted by McCaig was with fellow Kansan, Wes Jackson of Salina, Kansas founder of The Land Institute. This is a conversation McCaig has recorded in his book:
On the way back to my motel, Jackson pointed at a brand new shopping center under construction, just slightly nearer to the highway than the old one, which would be torn down. Tax advantages, easier shopping, more fertile land gone.
I said, “Wendell Berry once wrote that soil is an ultimate value. Can you think of any other ultimate values?”
He was silent for a moment. “Well, there’s water…..”
“Oh, sure, Wes, and air, and-”
“The Kingdom of God,” Wes Jackson said.
The Kingdom of God is an ultimate value. This book made me think, a lot about big agriculture and when it started to go wrong, when farmers began to feel the pressure to, “Feed The World” instead of their family. And I’ve thought about how hard it would be to live off the grid. I have a deep inner need to live more sustainably on this land, harness it’s power and produce, bring forth the goodness only sweetened earth can provide. How successful will I be? I think ultimately, I will only be as successful as the work I put forth. God willing, my family will become more thankful of this earth, it’s beauty, the miracle of life cycles. My children, my legacy, will look at their food and know where it came from and how much work was put into providing it and how deliciously deformed a tomato should be.

Spring on Coal Creek Farm


Salt the Barn Cat had kitties.  She had two white and two black, like little piano keys.  I keep asking them to sing, “Ebony and Ivory”, but they don’t get it.  So, I sing it to them.


Salt helped me plant the day before she gave birth.  She was incredibly helpful and not at all needy.



I’ve planted beets, onion sets, spinach, lettuce, carrots, radish and broccoli.  Oh, how I hope they grow quickly.  I’m a month behind because of the late April snow falls.  I’m taking produce to a farmer’s market this year and I’m a little nervous that I’m going to fail.  The first market is next week.  So far, I have two crops and pork to take.  It’s a small offering, but that’s all I have.  I am learning a lot this year, hopefully I can stumble through and do much better next year.


I can’t write a post without talking about my hair.  I went in for a trim and came out looking like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.  I was a bit shocked and compensated for it by applying and reapplying eye make-up.  Baseball caps are my favorite accessory right now.

It’s spring on Coal Creek Farm.  We have so much to do and so little time to do it.

What are you growing this year?