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Bloom Where You are Planted, A Letter From The Editor’s Wife

Blooming where we are planted is what we’re doing and we are so thankful we decided to do so.

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A late summer’s weekend harvest, we were very grateful for.

For a few years my husband and I have been discussing moving and having a homestead. We relished in the dreams of owning our own land somewhere south of Rhode Island where the growing season was longer and the weather more pleasant year round. A place of our own where we might have chickens, ducks, goats and a bountiful garden that could sustain us year round. However we have been on the outskirts of the system since the beginning of our marriage and made many sacrifices from the start to be able to have one of us at home with our children no matter what the cost. So we are here in Rhode Island living with his parents and forever grateful for the roof over our heads and a place to sleep at night.

It was late in 2019 when we really took the phrase “bloom where you’re planted” to heart.


It really struck a cord with both of us. If we moved who would take over the roles we have assumed here? With his parents getting older and not in the best of health we have taken control of the more arduous tasks around the home. I had planted flower gardens that would need maintaining not to mention the snow removal in the winter to name a few. We still had some debts that needed to be repaid before we could make the move and money has always been a little more than tight around here, so we dug in our heels and said let’s build a garden. We’re going to bloom where we’re planted and that’s what we did.

Where do we start? How are we going to plant? What seeds need to be started inside? Which do we direct sow? What seeds do we even buy? Where do we get our soil and compost?
What spot in the yard is the best and how big should we make it? It felt a little overwhelming at first, with me at work and him at home starting the seeds and planning was difficult. I’m the family’s green thumb though I didn’t have experience with vegetable gardens. We ordered the bulk pack of seeds from Baker Creek and a few extras to start. We went to a local store where I knew we could get organic potting mix and pots for seed starting, purchased some grow lights from Amazon and we were on our way. It was a promising start. When our seeds arrived in the mail it was better than Christmas morning, eager to start I sorted through seeds that needed to be started early from those that could be direct sowed. It was late in February and the weather was looking promising for March which had us dreaming of what our garden would be. I started some seeds with my boys in cups and trays, properly labeled them and set them up with the grow lights. Boom we were on our way!

March came around and with it the start of the confusion that 2020 has turned into, but on we carried. While I was at work my husband built raised boxes out of pallets and placed them in the yard where we decided to put the garden! For the boxes we used the Hugelkultur method to save on soil and manure which was purchased from the same store as our seed staring supplies. We discussed in ground beds and where to place them, had the layout planned and the digging began. Meanwhile our seedlings were looking great, it was all coming together, then March came to a close and with it weather generally unheard of for this time of the year.

Living in New England there are risks of snow in March and April but what we got this year was not snow. It rained through most of April and the temperatures stayed in the low 40’s. Not ideal for planting outside. It was a little discouraging to say the least and our seedlings were yearning for fresh soil in a new bed. When we had a break in the weather we planted the more cold tolerant seedlings. I soon discovered I was a little over zealous and not mindful enough when it came to the quantity of seeds I provided to my children when preparing the seed cups. We planted a few too many seeds in each cup. That was the first mistake. The weather improved once mid to late April hit and we were able to add more to our beds. The deeper into the current world situation we got the more we thought about expanding our garden. So we did. We added two more raised beds and a second in-ground bed. By mid May we had most of our direct sow seeds planted and all we could do was wait. It was at this point that we notice the lack of growth the plants in our raised beds were achieving. Confused and frustrated we started to analyze where we went wrong. It had to be more than just poor overcrowded germination pots. Poor soil quality? Not enough manure? Too much manure? We just weren’t sure. We then stopped to consider what had been used for the Hugelkultur, pine branches from a tree that had been removed the previous year. The soil must be too acidic even for the tomatoes, nothing was growing properly. Mistake number two. So we started the boxes over, removed the soil, took the pine out, mixed in some new soil, added garden lime and filled the boxes again.

That was around the end of June, at the same time our local farmer’s market had re-opened and we were able to reconnect with our favorite farmers. The connection was truly a blessing from God. We told them about our garden and shared our struggles. We exchanged business cards and they offered to give us some excess plants they were not going to be able to get in the ground this season. When we got to their farm we were more than surprised at the number of plants they were willing to give us. It was already the 4th of July at this point and the plants they gave us were going to end up in their compost so they were more than generous. The beets, tomatoes, eggplant, pepper and cucumber plants were more than enough to fill our boxes and some empty spots in our other beds! Not only did we gain plants for our garden but we formed a relationship with the farmers that allowed us to volunteer with them as a family and for my husband to go help a few days a week. Our time was compensated in fresh veggies and a discount every Sunday at the market though the experience and community building was payment enough.

From then on out as the weather continues to improve it was like magic. Our boys loved watching the plants grow week to week and I spent my mornings before work in the garden talking to the plants and checking to make sure every thing was growing well. After struggling a bit our greens finally took off, the potato plants looked amazing, we enjoyed peas and green beans fresh off the vine nearly daily. The pumpkins we planted were a lesson in themselves! Next time we will plant them in their own bed where they cannot climb all over the boxes and fence, though the fence made a lovely trellis.

Our mistakes have been good lessons learned. Less seeds per germination cup, bunny proofing before breeding season and preparing for pests of the insect variety before you find caterpillars on your kale in the fridge. The garden as a whole has been a learning experience for us and we know there are more mistakes to come. It’s part of what makes this journey so beautiful. We started a new and smaller fall garden which is coming along though it didn’t come without mistakes. You live and you learn, blossom and grow with your garden. If your family is involved it makes the experience all the more enjoyable.

Our 8 year old has read a book all about chickens, he knows all about raising chickens and can’t wait to grow up and be a farmer. Our 4 year old absolutely loves playing in the dirt, digging the earth, looking for worms to add to the gardens and compost not to mention eating whatever he can get his hands on right off the vine. There is nothing like cultivating your land and watching your children enjoy the cultivation the land provides in return. Their homeschool curriculum is going to be based around gardening and nature moving forward which will only further their love for it. They have grown so much because of our humble garden this summer in so many ways as have my husband and I. Blooming where we are planted is what we’re doing and we are so thankful we decided to do so. It has allowed us to see the path God laid out for us more clearly and presented us with new opportunities we never thought possible.

Who knew all we had to do was reach out to a neighbor with a jar of garden fresh homemade salsa and a job offer would be soon to follow. This opportunity is allowing me to come home for good, be with the children where I belong especially since we are expecting our third in December. It has also given my husband a new career path. We are blessed to be blooming here and look forward to all the adventures that come our way. This was the first of many beautiful things to come, God has and will continue to provide.

-Jessie (CameraBear’s Wife)
@jessie_g_art_ on instagram

Farming

Building a Beartarian Homestead

So, how does one get into homesteading if you don’t have any experience with it? The big thing is, to take it slow.

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By: Mohawk Farmer Bear

This article was first printed in our very first issue of The Beartaria Times Magazine, Origins, A Revealing of Legends

There’s something romantic about homesteading. Thinking about building a chicken coop, or milking your own cow. Making butter, cream, and cheese with that milk. Raising a few sheep and pigs that you slaughter yourself and put in the freezer. It all gives you a wonderful homey feeling as you daydream about all the possibilities of building your own homestead and growing your own food while reading homesteading books by a warm cozy fire with snow gently falling outside.

But then comes the daunting task of making it happen. Pounding that fence post into the ground or putting up dusty, scratchy, hay in 90 degree weather… all of a sudden it doesn’t seem as romantic as that homesteading book made it feel. Truth be told, it’s not romantic at all. But it is good, and it’s extremely rewarding.

So, how does one get into homesteading if you don’t have any experience with it? The big thing is, to take it slow. Raising animals requires building infrastructure and dealing with living animals, weather, and predators. There’s a huge learning curve that usually takes years. So don’t try to do everything at once. Start slow and work into it. Get good at raising chickens before getting a pig. Likewise get proficient at keeping a few pigs or goats before adding a milk cow. As you learn how farm animals behave and what is required to manage them, you will become more confident with keeping larger animals.

If you try to do everything at once… chickens, pigs, beef cows, milk cows… you’re going to be overwhelmed. So take it slow, start with some chickens, and work up from there.

As you build your homestead there are a few things you should strive for.

Functionality

Remember, you are growing food to feed your family. While we do want to properly care for our animals, we also want to keep our costs down as much as possible. The goal is to grow the best food we can at a very affordable price. Don’t let money be your go to solution for everything. When faced with a project or a problem, challenge yourself to think of solutions that don’t require spending money.

Animal housing and infrastructure should be primarily about function, not looks. The chicken coop needs to keep the chickens comfortably out of the elements, give them a clean place to lay eggs, and keep the predators away. You can have an attractive chicken coop, just figure out how to do it without spending a boat load of money. If your homegrown eggs are costing you $50 per dozen, you probably overbuilt your chicken coop.

Efficiency

If you just got into homesteading, You’re probably still working a full time job. That means everything you do needs to be efficient. Daily chores should be under an hour per day. Right now I have 11 cows, 1 milk cow, 5 pigs, 70 chickens, and 3 sheep. My daily chores usually take 45 minutes. Mostly this boils down to just a few things.

Sturdy reliable fencing, You don’t want to be chasing animals that escaped. Good fencing is a must and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Accessible water. Hauling water is a pain and very time consuming. Black plastic pipe is cheap. Run some over the ground to where you need and pump the water instead of carrying it. During the winter, keep the animals close to a central watering point so you don’t have to carry buckets very far. Automatic feeders and waterers are a must. There’s tons of options out there but the main thing is to always have clean fresh water available to your critters.

For Chickens I like the Poultry Bell waterers. They can be gravity fed from a 5 gallon bucket with a float valve filling up the bucket. All you have to do is check daily to make sure the water is flowing into the waterer. For pigs I like the Brower 85gallon field drinker. The weight of a full tank keeps the pigs from tipping it over and a float valve keeps it full. 

If all you have to do is collect eggs, add a little dry bedding here and there, do a walk by inspection to ensure feeders and waterers are working properly, then your daily chores won’t take hardly any time. Occasionally you’ll have to clean out the coop or load pigs to go to the butcher, but your daily chores will be minimal. 

Forgiveness

Don’t get discouraged when stuff happens. Things will go wrong from time to time. You’re dealing with living animals, nature, weather, and seasons. A Pine Marten will massacre your chickens, your sheep will get out and eat your garden, drought will dry up your pastures. Whether your toddler steps on a chick, or your goat gives birth to stillborn kids, don’t let the emotions overwhelm you. Life and death is all part of homesteading. Take a moment to ponder what happened, learn from it, and move on. After all, the other critters on the farm still need tending to. Just pray that God would give you the wisdom to learn, prosper, and crush despite the challenges. 

Homesteading is about continually building, refining, getting more efficient and more self-sufficient. It’s the journey that makes it so much fun. Enjoy the building process as you build your homestead. 

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Farming

The Subtle Power of Growing Food

In 2008 I purchased a property that looked like a park, had amazing soil, and a seemingly endless supply of water, with the intention to experiment on the potential to strengthen my overall health by growing a large portion of my own food.

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By Volgadeutsch Bear / Zachry Smith

This article was first printed in our very first issue of The Beartaria Times Magazine, Origins, A Revealing of Legends

I live in Evans, Colorado. It is a town with a population of around 25,000 people. It is a food desert. There are a smattering of excellent hole in the wall restaurants. There are a bunch of gas stations with crappy food. There are a couple of small Mexican grocery stores and that is it. Granted, Evans is a suburb of Greeley, which has all your normal food places and grocery stores and you can easily fulfill your needs by going to Greeley. Like most places in America, the people of Evans and Greeley are dependent upon an external system of supply chains for food. But I wonder; is it possible for the town of Evans to become food independent? What about Greeley and Evans, heck, I wonder if it is possible for all of Weld County to become food independent? What would happen if the people of these communities realized the vulnerability of the existing food system and decided to send significant resources and energy towards becoming food independent on a local level? Is it possible for any community, regardless of size, to make food independence a fundamental pillar of the communities existence?

In 2008 I purchased a property that looked like a park, had amazing soil, and a seemingly endless supply of water, with the intention to experiment on the potential to strengthen my overall health by growing a large portion of my own food. My property is basically divided into three sections. A one acre field with rich soil, the park section shaded with trees where my house sits, and another ¼ of an acre field with beautiful soil. A few of my neighbors and I joined forces and by the third year on the property we created ‘Empire Gardens’ and had an operation growing a little over an acre’s worth of vegetables and herbs. From July through October, Friday through Sunday we created a farmers market in the front yard. We did this for two years when unfortunately my neighbors inherited land in Tennessee and split. The energy explosion and the wisdom revealed in those two years was remarkable. We built real community connections as the farmers market became the place to be. Neighbors got to know each other. Powerful discussions about health, food supply chains, what is value, debt slavery and the trajectory of the education system are examples of the depth of topics discussed. People were learning about nutrition, saving seeds, and preserving food. Many people within the community suggested that I run for mayor. I would jokingly always ask, “is it possible to be mayor without running for mayor?”

My buddy Jayson is a seventh grade biology teacher at a middle school in Hastings, Nebraska. Like Evans, Hastings has a population of around 25,000 people. Jayson spent a few days at Empire Gardens one summer during the peak of its operation. That experience and our conversations planted a seed in his mind. He envisioned the power of growing food and providing the opportunity to do so for kids. He went back to Nebraska and spearheaded the creation of the largest school garden in the state of Nebraska. This is where it gets interesting. One year in the late winter I drove out to Hastings to tandem teach with Jayson for an entire week. We hijacked a week of school to work on one project with the kids.

We asked them; Is it possible for the town of Hastings to become food independent? The kids quickly came to realize that the majority of the food they consume does not come from the vicinity of Hastings even though Hastings is surrounded by farmland.

By the end of the week, kids were presenting solutions on how to create and make available more food on a local level. One kid began mapping underutilized open spaces where food could be grown. One kid searched properties for sale to build an interconnected network of food stores that could be conveniently accessed by foot from anywhere in town. Kids realized we need people who can do stuff. We need growers, processors, marketers, lawyers, leaders, programmers, communications, money and so on. The more we contemplated building food independence for Hastings the more gaps kids realized needed to be filled. That became the game, ‘Fill the Gap’, who is interested in filling the gap? What will it take to Fill the Gap?

Kids can be the catalyst to build more harmonious, cohesive and resilient communities through food independence. What if part of the curriculum of growing up was to be a part of building food independence? Imagine if a team of kids presented to a bunch of investors a plan to make the town of Evans food independent? What if a team of kids ran the math equation, found a few ranchers outside of town and developed a method to provide a quarter of a cow to everybody in town? What if a team of kids ran a media operation with the intent to show the current state of food independence within the town by describing what is currently being produced, what gaps exist, can those gaps be filled, what do people want to eat, what should people eat, we have this need/who wants to help? Empire Gardens is simply the process to create food independence on a local level. Food independence is fractal. It begins with the individual and has the power to radiate from family, to neighborhood , to town, to county, to state, to country, to the world. We all know high quality, nutritious and energetic food when we see it. We all know that that kind of food is a fundamental pillar to achieving our best selves. We all know that a direction through food is a way for harmony to restore. What if we as communities utilize the energy of generation next, the wisdom of elders, the infrastructure that already exists and the super lofty goal of food independence on a local level as a mechanism to create a new trajectory for the good, true and beautiful?

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Farming

The Butler Family

Our homesteading journey into self-sustainability has been so exciting! We won’t sugar coat it and say that it has been easy because that is not a word that we like to use. Farm life, homesteading, or whatever you choose to call it, is hard! If someone tells you otherwise, they are lying!

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This article was first printed in our very first issue of The Beartaria Times Magazine, Origins, A Revealing of Legends

Hi! We are the Butlers party of seven. Our family is nestled on 80 acres in the hills of West Virginia. Our homesteading journey began in 2014 when we decided that we would build our current 750 sq ft cabin and sell our 2,500+ sq ft farmhouse. My husband Bobby’s job as a coal miner was undependable and made things difficult.  It took us three years to finish but all the costs were out of pocket. Finally in 2017 it was complete and our farm house sold! We were mortgage free! The first night we stayed in the cabin was surreal! The thoughts of our five homeschooled children getting to make memories on the farm where Bobby grew up made all of the long, hard days of work well worth it! We would get to see our children not just live but thrive on the land.

Our first spring on the farm we purchased our flock of feathered friends. They were and still are a mixed breed of both brown and white egg laying hens with one handsome Red Leghorn Roo. We collect around a dozen eggs a day that go unwashed into egg cartons then into our refrigerator. Eggs contain a coating that is called bloom. The bloom keeps the pores on the eggs covered and reduces the risk of bacteria from entering the eggs. We don’t leave the eggs out on the counter since our eggs are fertilized. You can though! We’ve read that chickens are the gateway animal. That may have some truth behind it!

We had constantly talked of becoming more self-sufficient on the farm. We’ve always had a large garden and canned, but 2021 felt and ended up much different. We experienced some food shortages in our area but God always came through! We were never without! We knew we needed to make changes if we were serious about becoming more self-sufficient. Spring of 2021 we set our goal to jump full in! Meat, dairy, garden, all of it!

A reliable meat source for our family was important.  We are a hunting family, so every fall our shelves and freezer are usually full of venison. That only lasts our family a time and hunting season on deer isn’t year-round. We wanted a meat that would quickly add to our food storage, be timely to manage and wouldn’t take from our pasture. Meat rabbits were our focus. Good friends of ours had already started the rabbit journey and supplied us with three New Zealand doe’s from their farm. To complete our warren of rabbits we purchased a Lilac Silver Fox Buck and a Blue Silver fox doe. Silver Fox rabbits are a dual-purpose breed, raised for their meat and fur. Their fur coloring trait is found in no other breed and resembles the pelts of the silver fox from the Arctic. They are also a heritage breed. We have had three successful litters so far. One of the litters we have already butchered for the freezer and sent their furs to a friend to tan for us. Be on the lookout for some fun fur items to come!

The next add on to our farm that spring was Honey Bees. I mean why not? Who doesn’t love raw honey?! We purchased a package of Italian honey bees from a local bee shop. A package of honey bees includes about 3 pounds of bees and one queen bee. Three pounds of honey bees is estimated to be 10,000 bees. They toss those three pounds of bees into a mesh box and add a boxed queen bee. She has to be left in her separate protective box for several days after placing the bees into their new hive. This gives the colony time to accept her as their new queen. If she was released into the hive without their acceptance the colony would kill her. Honey Bees are so cool! If you ever get the chance to be present during a hive inspection, do it! Those little creatures are so neat to watch!

The first year of beekeeping, honey usually isn’t collected. The goal is to get the colony strong enough to survive the winter with enough honey to feed them during the months when they can’t forage. A month later, after getting our package of bees set up, a friend called about a swarm of bees that had landed in a peach tree of theirs.

We were excited! What an awesome opportunity! We jumped on the chance to catch the swarm and bring them to the farm as our second hive. We closed up both of those hives for the winter a few weeks ago. If everything goes as it should they will be ready to produce honey for us in the spring.

In between getting our farm ready for our rabbits and bees we expanded our garden. It is roughly a quarter of an acre and was jam packed this growing season! Gardening is such a forgiving sustainable option, in my opinion. We not only use ours to grow our fruits and vegetables for the season but we also have several herb beds that we use for medicinal purposes. We started some from seed and purchased some from local nurseries. A small list of some that we have are: Comfrey, Feverfew, Jerusalem Artichoke, Motherwort, Elecampane, Marshmallow, Anise, Hyssop, Arnica, Lovage, Pearly Everlasting, Bee Balm, Catnip, Sweet Annie, Wild Licorice, Goldenseal, Solomon Seal, Wild Ginger and several different mint varieties. We dried a lot of herbs this year for teas. They are such an easy way to boost your immune system or add as treatment to a condition. 

While we have plans of adding a few other creatures to our farm, we feel that our Jersey Cow, Momma, is the staple to our homesteading life. We did a lot of research and searching before finding her. We knew with the size of our pasture that we wanted a medium sized cow but also one that produced a lot of cream to increase the number of food products that we would be able to make from her milk. A Jersey was the perfect fit for our farm. 

In preparation for her arrival all of the old fencing that enclosed her pasture had to be torn out and replaced with new. The old fence was in rough shape and would not keep in a cow. Along with the fencing provisions we didn’t have a barn to milk in. The same friend that gave us a jump start on our rabbits came to help square up and set the posts for our milking barn. We are so grateful for that help! The milking barn is currently under roof and about fifty percent covered with rough cut. That wood was cut from downed trees from our farm on our saw mill.

Momma requires to be milked & fed  twice a day now that her calf, Guapo, is weaned. She is currently giving us about 2 gallons of milk a day. That adds up quickly! We spend lots of time in our kitchen! We make mozzarella cheese, butter, chocolate milk, ricotta, and yogurt several times a week. Just this month we made our first hard cheddar cheese! Hard cheeses have to age from three to twelve months unlike soft cheeses that can be eaten right away. There is something so special about the bond you form with your animals. We spend hours with Momma every day and she has made such great improvements since coming to us. She is expecting and it’s  due to calf this coming June 2022! 

Our homesteading journey into self-sustainability has been so exciting! We won’t sugar coat it and say that it has been easy because that is not a word that we like to use. Farm life, homesteading, or whatever you choose to call it, is hard! If someone tells you otherwise, they are lying! There are so many ups and downs but this way of life is so rewarding! We tell our kids that there is such satisfaction in a hard day’s work! To be able to sit back and look at your accomplishments, how far you’ve come and the amount of priceless knowledge that you gain cannot be matched!

If you would like to read these articles when they are first printed, you can purchase the magazine here: https://magazine.beartariatimes.com/

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