Monday, April 20, 2015

The Best Books for Beginning Gardeners & Farmers

It only took me 30 years to figure out what I  really wanted to be when I grow up.  A farmer!  I had this initial discovery when I began taking the Small Farm Business Management class at the local community college.  We were given our list of books that would be required reading for the course, and the second I opened "You Can Farm" by Joel Salatin, all the pieces just began to fall in place.  This was the voice I needed to hear (or read) and it's what motivated me to study up and try my damnedest at farming.  You must know that while I have learned a lot over the last few years I'm still a long way from working my own farm, but I'm getting closer and closer.

Our garden on our 3/4 acre homestead (and our business, which is called Black Dog Homestead) continues to expand and get bigger with every coming year, and our first year at the farmers market went really great last season!  Not to mention, we'll be attending a second farmers market this year in addition to the previously mentioned one.  All that said, I think that Lindsay and I are well on our way to creating our farm and I'd like to mention some of the reading material that I feel has brought us here.  So, in no particular order here is my recommended reading for anyone who is interested or already involved in gardening or farming.  Since I've already mentioned him I'll just start off with...

Joel Salatin
You Can Farm
Folks, This Ain't Normal

As I mentioned before "You Can Farm" is really the whole reason that I had the idea to expand from just gardening as a hobby, to taking a shot at farming full-time.  Joel Salatin is really a charismatic person and I'd almost be willing to say that he is a far better speaker than a writer. (Just type his name into the youtube search and watch any of his videos and you'll see) But, he does have a way with words on paper just as much as he does speaking.  What more would you expect from someone that describes them self as a "Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-Farmer"?  "You Can Farm" is his most informative work and covers almost every different aspect of farming you may have questions concerning.  "Folks, This Ain't Normal" is quite different.  It's more humorous, but focuses on the philosophical ascpect of farming and where our food comes from.  Joel also has a great book on keeping chickens and earning an income from them, as well as a book on raising cattle.  Unfortunately, we have yet to get into the livestock territory, but a boy can dream!

Eliot Coleman
The New Organic Gardener
Four-Season Harvest

"The New Organic Gardener" had to be the second book that got me super excited to grow different vegetables and take a chance at selling them at the market!  Eliot Coleman really takes organic gardening and makes it so easy.  This book covers several different topics and helps to get you prepared for selling your own produce at the market.  "Four-Season Harvest" is another excellent book that helps to show how you can grow a variety of vegetables throughout all of the seasons, even winter.  I feel that this is something that most gardeners don't even consider, I should know because it certainly hadn't ever crossed my mind until opening this book.  Funny side note, back when The Learning Channel was actually a channel with substance, Eliot and his wife had a great show called "Gardening Naturally".  My how the time's have changed.

Gene Logsdon
The Contrary Farmer
Two Acre Eden
The Contrary Farmer's Invitation to Gardening
Gardener's Guide to Better Soil

Alright, I had to stop myself before I just listed the man's whole list of work!  Gene Logsdon is by far my favorite author when it comes to gardening and agriculture.  Hell, he's become one of my favorite authors in general.  Just read some of the posts on his blog and you'll quickly see how infectious his sense of humor and intelligence are.  It was hard to narrow down the list, he has nearly 30 books under his belt: some even fiction, one on life and death and even one titled "Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind".  C'mon!  If you were more interested in a book on farming I would highly suggest "The Contrary Farmer".  While "You Can Farm" got me started, I much more enjoyed "The Contrary Farmer" and it has that Gene sense of humor that is just too hard to beat.

Ellen Sandbeck
Eat More Dirt

Libraries are under appreciated.  Mine works with several other libraries in the central Illinois area, so if one of the other libraries has a book you would like you can put a request in and they'll receive it for you.  I've used this several times, just like I've checked out some of the same books several times!  Ok, there are a handful I have broken down and purchased my own copies. (Salatin, Coleman, Logsdon...) Anyways, I was lucky enough to come across this book at the local library while I was just browsing.  It's a quick and easy read and has some great pointers regarding organic gardening.  I haven't read any of Ellen's other books, but she has written some and keeps a blog on living a 'green' lifestyle.

Rebecca Thistlewaite
Farms With a Future

Each chapter throughout this book focuses on a different farm the author visited.  Some being strictly vegetable farms, some livestock, some both.  The different chapters discuss some of the groundbreaking ideas the farms had as well as some of their failures and advice from mistakes that they made.

Niki Jabbour
The Year Round Vegetable Gardener

This is another book I just happened to uncover while browsing the 'new' section at the library.  The idea behind this book is in the same vein as Eliot Coleman's "Four-Season Harvest".  It focuses on showing how to garden during the cold winter months.  Unlike Coleman's book, this is a larger hardback and has photographs rather than illustrations.  While the informational content may not be any better than Colemans, you may find the photographs to be more helpful and it really is a nice-looking book to browse through and get those taste buds salivating.

Edward Smith
The Vegetable Gardener's Bible

I've only listed this one because it is pretty massive and it's a good trouble shooting guide for the avid gardener.  If you can't find any answers from this book or any of the other massive Rodale gardening books you're probably S.O.L.

Helen and Scott Nearing
The Good Life

This isn't really a book to help you with gardening or farming, but it still has a great deal to with those two topics.  This book reflects on how Helen and Scott lived self sufficiently for sixty years and it makes a lot of good points on how we should try to live, and to think of where our food comes from and how it really matters to live our lives to the fullest while respecting the planet we live on.  I'd highly recommend any of the Nearing's books if you haven't already read any.

Well, that's it!  I know there's a massive amount of literature on the broad topics of gardening and farming so hopefully this little list was able to help narrow it down some for you.  If you check any of these books out (library pun!) I'd be interested to know what you thought of them, or if there's any other good books you know of that I missed don't hesitate to mention them in the comments.  Remember, you can farm!  You can garden!  You can be self sufficient!

Harvesting pumpkins with Keller after a hard day of slip & slide!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Quick and Cheap Ways to Freshen Up Your Living Space

The past week I've been trying to finish up indoor projects before garden season is in full swing.  I finally got a chance to use the Hawaiian fabric I bought in Maui to make new curtains.  And as you know, one project always leads to another with us!  I came up with this idea a couple months ago while thinking about a way to keep plants on the window sill without the worry of them  getting knocked over.  We had a few pieces of this really pretty decorative white trim laying around, and I thought why not nail some in to the front of the window sill!  It looks really streamlined and polished, and has the functionality of keeping all of my pretty plants safe from harm.

Maui is Jared and I's favorite place in the world, so we love to bring Hawaiian elements into our decor if at all possible.  I hit the mother load at the fabric store there and brought this as well as the silver and white lace vinyl that covers the built in window seat, which is super pretty an easy to clean!

This color palate is very unexpected, and to tie the room together, I had to make new pillows. (Just kidding...I think it was just an excuse to play with my new Cricut Explore Air cutting machine. Yussssssss!) They are currently having an awesome promotion going on right now, too!

I whipped up a couple of pillows using this yellow and then some burlap to keep the beachy feel.  Then I busted out my Cricut Gold Glitter Iron-on Vinyl.  I am in LOVE with this stuff. I wish you could better see in this picture how beautiful it is in person!  My Explore Air has a cut depth setting for Iron-on which I used for the gold.  I chose the designs I wanted and then my sweet little machine cut them out perfectly.  I ironed them on, which took all of two minutes total for the three pillows and then promptly showed Jared my handy work!

Apparently its a hit with our new little baby boy, Odie, because he thinks mama put the pompons on the sides of the pillow for him to leisurely chew on when he's lounging and not in the mood to jump down and get a toy.  
But seriously, look at that face.  Every damn thing he does is cute!  I'm under his thumb...err...paw? Paw pad? What would you call a dog's thumb?.... are the other pillows I used.  All of this fabric was laying in my hoard, ah-hum, I mean stash, of fabrics.  I ironed heat n' bond onto the back of the seersucker fabric and cut this fern and palm tree on the fabric cut setting of the Explore Air.  It made glorious cuts!!!! Hallelujah!!

And now I can check the "curtains" off my list and also feel like the room is tied together.  Methodically mismatched....

And unexpectedly whimsical without feeling too childish.  We'll leave that up to the owners! (wink, wink)

Enjoy!! Please feel free to comment or message me about my experience thus far with the Cricut Explore Air! 

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