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Mid-Spring at the Farm
Travel, Planting, and Fostering a Creative Practice
Good morning and welcome back to the farm. As always, we have been very busy lately! However, we have been taking time to get some restorative time away from the farm as well. Since I work full time and Damien works nearly full time, it’s easy to get a bit burnt out from the constant chores and endless projects around here.
Beers with Country Monks
Earlier this month we were invited to a place in rural Arkansas where there is an Abbey with monks who brew beer, and since we both love a good beer and were excited at the idea of a short road trip through the country, we embarked. We went with my dad and his wife. During the drive to the abbey almost two hours away, he pointed out the spot where my great uncle’s antique store used to be, among other family histories. It was a gorgeous spring day and that weekend happened to be one in which it seemed an entire county (or two) had coordinated a county-wide yard sale effort. I wanted to stop at each one and see what treasures awaited, but since the abbey was only open for a few daytime hours, we resisted. Though we did decide to stop at one in which I found an adorable strawberry sugar jar to match my strawberry canisters.
The abbey was situated on acres and acres of farmland and Ozark forest. We drove past many cows and parked at a small metal shed building with an outdoor carport awning. Inside were several monks, the first one probably in his mid seventies, enrobed and having a beer with a visitor. Another was behind the bar, serving fresh draughts, homemade peanut brittle (a very southern treat), and even a peanut brittle ale. He was probably over 6’ tall, fully enrobed, and had the aura of someone who is about to give you information about a quest in a video game. We grabbed a beer and went outside to enjoy the perfect weather. After we had finished our brews, we walked around, I tried to convince several cows to come to the edge of the fence so that I could pet them but was unsuccessful, and then we toured the abbey. I’m not a religious person, but have always been in awe of cathedrals. They always feel sacred, so intentional, and have beautiful architecture. After my mischievous father convinced me to go check out the rooms behind the stage(?) area (no one stopped us, so…), we continued our adventure elsewhere.
A little over a week later, I went to Washington D.C. for a work conference. Besides the conference sessions, this trip was filled with Smithsonian visits, incredible food (my most favorite of all being Ethiopian food, and not just because it’s a no-utensils-required situation), and a night tour of the monuments. By the time I returned all the springtime buds had turned to vibrant leaves, and you could no longer see the mountains in the distance from our hillside because of it. The birds are abundant, making themselves known. We have a mother Starling who has built her nest of babies in the roof of our shop, Eastern Bluebirds who are living full-time in a birdhouse with their babies, seemingly vagrant blue jays, crows, and many others I’m not as familiar with.
Besides beer drinking, abbey touring, and bird watching, we’ve been working on getting the garden planted, planting so many trees, and more. Always more. We have taken a “mostly no-till” approach to our garden since the beginning. This means that when we are initially prepping the bed, we do turn over the top couple of inches of soil, take out the big rocks (our soil is full of them), add in compost, and cover with straw or mulch. In succession planting, we do not till the top layer again after doing so initially. This method has worked pretty well for us. We are experimenting with “living mulch” meaning that when we plant something in the bed, we “chop and drop” the cover crop instead of tilling and exposing the soil. We also add amendments when needed in the garden. Since our amendments consist of vegetable scraps (along with chicken manure), we get a good amount of volunteer plants, mostly pumpkins and potatoes. Of course these things grow more successfully than our carefully tended crops, but that is the way of things.
Small Garden Update
As I told you in an earlier post, I started tons of seedlings indoors this year. The weather in our area is generally mild, but also extremely unpredictable. This is worsening with each passing year, particularly severe weather and unanticipated late freezes. I wanted to give our crops the best chance of survival, which means utilizing the stable environment of our spare room and grow lights instead of directly sowing. These crops are looking incredible and are more than ready to go outside, but as I’m writing this, a last-minute, unexpected freeze will hit tonight, so they’ll have to wait a bit longer.
I always thought the worst part about keeping chickens would be all of the poop. It turns out…that’s the truth! It is made slightly easier by the way we keep the coop though. We are experimenting with the “deep litter” method which sounds sort of gross, but actually means a much less gross coop. All you do is add 4-6” of bedding material (wood chips, hay, etc.) and let the chickens do their thing. Over time, the material under the surface turns to compost and your coop smells more like rich soil than how you’d expect a chicken coop to smell. The other great benefit of this is that whenever we need garden amendment, we just dig out the bottom layer of the bedding material and put down more fresh stuff.
Although we have a lot of run space for them, I still run the chickens in the tractor out on the grassy field behind our house as much as possible. Are you like me in that when I said “chicken tractor” you could not form a reasonable image of what that might be in your head? Probably not, but if you are, ours looks like this:
Because of the tractor’s size, I only put four out there at a time, but it helps keep them healthy, giving us healthier eggs, and it helps with our *massive* tick population too. Added bonus: we don’t have to mow the field (as much).
Fostering a Creative Practice
On a different note, I’ve been feeling very drawn back into my creative practice lately. Most of my time has been consumed by work, chickens, gardening, and resting these days. This project has been part of my creative practice, but I really want to spend time painting, printmaking, bookmaking, illustrating, and whatever other silly goofy things I can think of. It feels impossible at times to maintain a day job, a farm, feed myself, stay healthy, contribute to my personal relationships, and take time for myself. However, I am going to make an honest effort in the coming months to make more art and do less existential dread-induced staring into space or doom scrolling. Just putting it down here so that maybe I’ll stay accountable. This project is a massive inspiration for my artmaking, so I’ll still be writing here regularly and soon I’ll share my soap making ventures (as soon as I find the time) as well as all the other things I plan on working into my creative practice! Also, gonna have to dive back into “the Artist’s Way” and see if that helps keep me motivated and on track.
During college, it was easy to make time for a creative practice because it was basically my job. Now, with the demands of life and my habit for starting one million projects but never finishing any of them, it is extremely difficult to carve out that time for myself. My ideas for sticking with it are 1) set up my studio as nicely and as inviting as possible, and 2) Schedule a few hours each weekend to just sketch or work on creative projects. Do you have tips and tricks for fostering a creative practice? I’d love if you shared them with me.
Something that IS easy to find time to do is to sit in this new porch swing we were given. It has made an excellent addition to the backyard and is perfectly positioned for sunset watching. We’re also getting tons of rain right now and so things are FINALLY growing in the garden. Salad greens, beets, onions, strawberries, herbs, and flowers are coming alive. It’s so much fun to grow food, despite the occasional failure and heartache. I hope to be able to share some lovely harvest photos in the near future, friends.
Recently I have been noticing such beauty in tiny moments. One of those was the other evening when I wandered out to the shop to get food for the birds and noticed the golden hour glow on the back of the house. When life is overwhelming and it feels hard to find happiness, it helps me to focus on tiny things. They are what gets me through.
Cheers to appreciating the little things!
Until next time,
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