Backyard Apothecary

Greetings, Friends –

Last Sunday we hosted a Backyard Apothecary workshop at the farm. This topic is so important, transformational, and where my true passion lies. I love learning how to utilize, partner and engage with plants to support my own wellness and love supporting others on their wellness journey, too. It feels great to thrive and it feels even better when we can thrive together.

Backyard Apothecary is all about knowing how to take care of your Self with the support of plants that live outside your door, in your community, or even on the world wide web. Yes, “backyard” can refer to what is out your door, however, it is less about plants and more about reclaiming the power of You. Here “backyard” refers to our Self – a vehicle that is our own individual responsibility for which to care.

While it is easy to expect someone else to diagnose our physical ailments (besides, some professionals have gone to school for many years to study about wellness and how to care for patients), it is not fair for someone else to be expected to diagnose the root cause of our physical ailment in a short appointment. Most ailments are caused by spiritual or emotional stress that our body’s have not yet processed or let go in a healthy way. There are many statistics that point to chronic stress or trauma as the root to most ailments, however, typically this stress is not addressed – the physical ailment is instead. When we individually take responsibility to look at our emotions, our stressors, our thoughts that stick around and bother us, we can begin to increase our own awareness of what thoughts serve our being well and what thoughts don’t. Thus, Backyard Apothecary is not just a deep study of plants but also (and more importantly) the study of our own emotional landscape.

With this perspective, Backyard Apothecary reinforces first accessing information about yourself (your constitution) so that you can better understand how your own body operates and what it needs to be in balance. After gaining an awareness of what your body needs to be in balance, one can then navigate the specific plants that offer this support. Because we are all individual in the way we express our selves and our emotions, the way in which our physical ailments surface can be fairly unique. This is a very different way of approaching  wellness than the one-size-fits-all pharmaceutical that is typically prescribed to treat physical conditions. Plant medicine is best for every day use to support the body’s balance while pharmaceuticals are best used for emergencies.

So, if you would like to redefine your relationship with Self Care, here are some phenomenal resources to begin understanding your constitution:

  • Rosealee de la Forêt’s Free Online, “What’s The Best Herb for You?” e-course. You can also purchase or check out her book from your local library, “Alchemy of Herbs” to access her ‘Discover Your Own Constitution Quiz’. This straightforward quiz is based on Chinese Medicine principles of balance and the four energetics that help us maintain our balance: hot/cold and dry/damp.
  • To delve even deeper into understanding your constitution, check out, “Healing With Whole Foods, ” by Paul Pitchford. This reference book provides extensive context on how Chinese and Western Medicines can integrate to support our individual wellness needs. It is my family’s go-to reference book for all things physical health-related.

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Once you have an understanding of your basic constitution, you can then begin seeking out plants that reinforce the opposite quality to help bring your body back into balance. For example, my general constitution is Cold & Dry. My extremities are generally cold, I’m usually wearing layers in a room while others around me think it’s plenty warm, and my skin is typically on the drier side (these are just a few physical characteristics that help me identify my constitution). Therefore, it is best for me to seek out plants that have Hot (ie, cayenne, rosemary, turmeric, horseradish, ginger, black pepper, +) & Damp (chickweed, violet, evening primrose, slippery elm, +) energetics. Rosealee’s e-course and book provide nice overviews of easily-accessed, culinary plants and includes their energetics. This is not typical of most plant identification and herbal medicine books, so look carefully. “The Backyard Herbal Apothecary,” by Devon Young & “The Herbal Apothecary,” by JJ Pursell are two additional examples of books that include information on plant energetics. This is so important for helping us select plants that are most suited for our individual needs.

When we think about creating an apothecary, it is likely to conjure up a visual of an herbalist’s shelves filled with potions, tinctures, and teas. This visual does not include – but should – what most of us already have in our kitchen. Spices! You already have an apothecary in your home! And are not far from taking a small step into transformational self-care practices when you learn how these spices and herbs serve your body. Rosealee’s book & free online resources also contain straightforward recipes to incorporate into your daily life. Food can be medicine and eating can be a self-care practice you enjoy multiple times every day.

There are many resources within yourself and just outside your door that can support your wellness journey. I wish you the best as you navigate your individual intricacies and I wish you joy in discovering the many gifts that plants have to offer. Every plant has a gift and there is a respectful practice to determine if this gift is appropriate for you to experience (Robin Kimmerer’s, “The Honorable Harvest”).

Best,

Megan

P.S. Tell everyone, including Burton Cummings, to get out of Your Backyard. It’s all yours.

Empower Your Self, Pamper Your Skin

Greetings, Friends –

Last Sunday we had a lovely afternoon of soap and salve-making with myself and Jackie of The Wright Soapery. The most important thing about making your own skincare products is the empowering knowledge you gain about the ingredients you’re actually putting on your body. Our skin is our largest organ and absorbs the substances that we put on our bodies. Rosemary Gladstar, famed herbalist, says, “If you can’t eat it, it doesn’t belong on your body.” Here’s a quick overview of The Dirty Dozen to Avoid In Your Skincare. It is also helpful to be aware of the differences between Essential Oils & Fragrance Oils in your skincare products.

This class demonstrated additional benefits of making your own skincare products. When you begin acquiring ingredients to make soap or salve, you are building an arsenal of ingredients that can also be used for many other things such as lip balms, lotions, shampoo and conditioners, body butters, +. So, these ingredients are good investments in addition to being better for you and your body.

Another benefit about making your own soap and salve is that you can adjust the ingredients to best suit your particular needs: what scents to you most prefer? how do you want your product to feel? what quantity do you like to have for yourself and for sharing with others? what physical & medicinal properties best support your body’s needs? You can invest as much as you want into growing or purchasing high-quality ingredients and this does not necessarily mean that it will cost you more than store-bought products. Making your own products typically saves you money.

Jackie provided all of the materials and equipment for each participant to craft their own 6 oz. loaves of soap. Most soap ingredients can be found at your local grocery store (ie, olive oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil), however, some ingredients are harder to find locally (ie, lye, shea butter, castor oil, essential oils) and might take a trip to a specialty store or an online order. There is a great deal of information about the varying qualities, both physical and medicinal, of body-care ingredients – Magnolia Hill Soap Co has a nice overview here – and it is easy to find more at your local library.

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For the soap-making, Jackie uses SoapCalc – an awesome free tool – to provide guidance on the soap you want to craft. You can type in the ingredients you have on hand and it will automatically give you the appropriate ratios for your recipe. It will ALSO give you ranges for the soap bar quality (conditioning, cleansing, creamy, hardness+)…really cool! Like all new recipes, it is helpful to start small in order to see what the product actually feels like to you and then apply your lessons-learned to future batches.

After we completed the soap-making, I demonstrated the process of making your own salve. The ingredients for salve are generally more straightforward than that of soap – the most basic salve uses only 2 ingredients: oil & beeswax. We used 5 ingredients for this batch: calendula-infused olive oil, comfrey-infused olive oil, beeswax, lavender essential oil and vitamin E. The oils and beeswax are melted together on low heat and then the essential oil and vitamin E are added once removed from heat. This mixture is then poured into the desired (non-plastic!) vessel for future use. Voilà! This creates a general purpose salve that is great for bug bites, stings, bruises, wounds, and dry or tired skin.

I grow calendula and comfrey at my farm and it is an awesome benefit to use these herbs for my physical self-care in addition to my garden’s ecosystem. Growing your own herbs is a great way to begin crafting your own body-care products and developing additional self care practices. For example, calendula and comfrey can both be used for lotions, balms, teas, tinctures, salves, soaps, shampoos, conditioners, bath salts, flower essences, +. It can all begin with planting one plant!

Best,
Megan

A little bit of handmade soap will wash away your fears… but perhaps not your tears:

Fermentation At Its Best

Greetings, Friends –

Last Thursday night we had a lovely joining of folks in the Monticello Community Building to learn about The Whys & Hows of Making Fermented Foods at Home. Dr. Ann Marty started the class with some context on why gut health is so important for our overall well-being. She began with the adage that ‘Food is Medicine’ and discussed the disservice we do to our bodies when we rely on food that is primarily composed of refined white flour and sugar. These refined foods do not feed the ‘good’ bacteria, but instead help the ‘bad’ bacteria to flourish.

Ancient Chinese considered the gut to be “the center” as it influences and controls our immune system and the function of all of our organs – particularly the brain and our moods. Chemicals produced in the gut, such as serotonin and tryptophan, directly feed the brain – influencing cognition, sleep, mood, and memory. Of the trillions of bacteria in our gut, the ‘good bacteria’ produce enzymes that help metabolize our food and enable our bodies to transform and use the nutrients. You cannot receive the energy from your food if you don’t have the right enzymes. The ‘bad bacteria’ do not help metabolize our food and instead fuel the growth of yeast, fungi, and pathogens that can be very taxing on our immune system and body. Check out Paul Pitchford’s awesome talk on “Your Gut Instinct” for more info – this paragraph was synthesized from parts of his talk.

So what foods support ‘good bacteria’?! There are many – and the best options are based on the individual’s needs. However, raw and unpasteurized fermented foods naturally contain ‘good bacteria’ / probiotics, enzymes, and vitamins that enable our body to access, transform, and use the nutrition in the food we eat. Examples include yogurt, unpasteurized kraut, kimchi, pickles, miso, kombucha, and kefir. If you’re not drawn to fermented foods, why not just take a probiotic pill? Here is a great article, by Dr. Kara Fitzgerald, on the 5 benefits you get from Fermented Foods that you cannot get from a probiotic supplement.

Additionally, here are some benefits from making your own fermented products at home:

  • save $$
  • control the ingredients for your own tastes and body’s needs
  • learn more about the transformation of simple ingredients into food that is regenerative and rebuilding for your body
  • have more connection to the way in which your body responds to the foods you’re consuming and continue to refine what works best for you

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After our discussion on the importance of gut health and how fermented foods can support it, I demonstrated how to make Kombucha (recipe snapshot below), Julie demonstrated how to make kraut and kimchi (Sandor Katz recipes from “The Art of Fermentation”), and then everyone got to try samples of the aforementioned. It was so fun to share this class with everyone, learn more about the health importance for our well-being and take away tips for our own fermentation experiments. The best part was getting to collaboratively-deliver this information with Dr. Ann Marty & Julie Birdwell!

If you are interested in participating in a class on this topic, let us know!

The very best to your experiments with wild fermentation and your empowered wellness, Megan

Fermentation Class Trio

Myself, Julie Birdwell, & Dr. Ann Marty collaboratively present on Fermentation

A quick snapshot Kombucha recipe:Kombucha

To celebrate the many and Good Vibrations of Vega-tables:

 

Give Us a Kiss

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” – Rumi

Greetings, Friends –

It is November and I have now been in a post-season, downshifted gear for (a glorious) four weeks. My last blog post was in April while we were packing up our home in Alaska. We’ve since had an epic cross-continental journey back to the farmhouse (photo highlights here) AND I’ve officially completed my very first flower farmer florist season. The idea of capturing the past 6 months in a nutshell blog post feels overwhelming to say the least, so going with a top 10 list.

2018 Flower Farming Season Top 10 Highlights 

1. Partnering with Nature Intelligence. Having an awareness of nature intelligence has changed the way I think about this Earth & my place on it. Using a pendulum and the art of kinesiology to ask yes/no questions, nature intelligence guided every farming activity, enabling me to move confidently through my first season’s learning curve. Most of my time in the garden was spent pondering how to best share this experience with others. Will attempt to do this in a blog post soon.

2. Spending time with flowers. I can’t get enough of them, they are so freaking awesome.

3. Receiving serendipitous aerial videos of farmstead & garden. Three guys just happened to change out their drone batteries outside of our barn lane one afternoon in June. I’d been desiring an aerial view of the garden a couple weeks before this, so of course I drew additional meaning from the timing and entire orchestration of this occurrence.

Video of Garden in June 2018

Video of Farmstead in June 2018

4. Receiving mentorship from Violeta Veenstra, flower farmer partner at Harvest & Blooms Farm. In addition to absorbing helpful hands & eyes-on learning from Violeta, I am grateful for a lovely new friend.

5. Receiving family support throughout the season. Steve took on the primary parent role that enabled me to dedicate 10-14hr days to farming. My parents provided additional kid and market/harvest support. My younger sister, Kate, joined me for an entire harvest & market day and then captured her experience in a lovely blog post. Uncle David helped with perennial plantings and rototilling. Uncle Jim dropped off found treasures that we put into use. These provided the keystone that held the season together. Much to learn from this season to inform work/life balance in future seasons… for example, I need more hands on deck!

6. Returning to volunteer sunflowers & surviving perennials. I planted over 45 perennial plant species in March and then flew to AK for 2 months. It felt like a gamble. It was more than awesome to return in late May to surviving perennials underway AND volunteer sunflowers throughout the garden.

7. Making it to market for 13 consecutive weeks. I attribute this primarily to Nature Intelligence guidance as I would not have been brave enough to start when I did. I consistently sold at the Monticello market & I also had the opportunity to sell at one Champaign and two Mahomet markets. Exposure to different markets, audiences, vendors, and harvest windows was very informative and helped me get over my trying-new-things nerves. I am so appreciative for the patron support and enthusiasm for flowers! Without this, I would not be able to continue pursuing this work.

8. Receiving exciting opportunities beyond the market: Farm to Table dinner, Artisan Cup & Fork, special orders, weekly subscriptions, & corsages. I love making miniature, intricate bouquets for corsages & boutonnieres. The awareness of pre-ordered bouquets for weekly subscriptions was awesome! *I am developing a CSA flower subscription for 2019, stay tuned* It was great to make more local connections and exchange flowers for food with Triple M Farms and The Land Connection. All of these opportunities also provided awareness of associated work load and what I can handle/balance.

9. Observing aspirations coming into reality. There is no better metaphor than planting seeds and observing the phenomenal growth that can occur. Backyard Beauty coming to Be is full of this ‘evidence’, inspiring me to pay closer attention to the details of the unfurling. The Backyard Beauty name and logo visual both reflect aspirations that I want to support coming into reality. Much like a chrysalis, transformation is underway.

10. Practicing the art of allowing. One of my life lessons. Goes hand in hand with #9. Patience is not one of my virtues (I’m made aware of this every day) and I greatly benefit from the garden’s daily reminder to observe and allow the gifts that surround me to unfold.  Pursuing this relocation to central Illinois, developing new business ventures, and bringing about the resulting life changes is an intentional leap into trusting the Divine. I would not have used these words even a year ago. Details of the unfurling becoming more clear… lovely. “Let the beauty we love be what we do…”

Cheers to our finding ways to kiss the Earth –

Megan

This blog’s musical inspiration: If You Wanna Sing Out by Cat Stevens

Come Dance With Me

[This guest blog post brought to you by Kate Murphy Orland, Megan’s younger sister]

“Set an intention for your practice”- my yoga teacher, every class.

Sometimes this makes me groan internally (can’t disturb the polite quiet of the class setting), but recently I’ve tried to embrace this whole intention business. My intention is typically something along the lines of “don’t sneeze during shivasana”. However, parenthood has made me an even bigger puddle of feelings, allowing for a more meaningful and sincere intention of “gratitude for all the things”. This can lead to light sobbing during what should be a happy baby pose. I suppose that’s why they call it a practice.

Anyway, this post is not about yoga. I had the opportunity to spend a whole week with my little family visiting my big family in Illinois and got to spend some time helping Megan at Backyard Beauty. This trip was significant to me. Because I live out of state, it is rare that we all get to spend more than a weekend together. It is important to me that my children know their grandparents and aunts/uncles/cousins.

I’ve always had the luxury of looking up to my older sisters – learning from their mistakes and following in their intelligent footsteps. For as long as I can remember, Megan has been a person with initiative, energy, bravery, independence, and leadership. She is ok with risk. She is a do-er. I’ve been fortunate to accompany her on some of her adventures and at the very least I’ve tried to be supportive. Her new farming endeavor requires a multitude of the characteristics that she possesses, but because she only has two hands, I was thrilled to get to help her with flower harvest and market preparation. This meant that we got to spend about 12 hours together and I witnessed firsthand this new job that she’s so in love with (and she literally says this through the day, “I JUST LOVE MY JOB”).

KateDay - 1 (1)We started the day early such that an extra layer was required to be comfortable (a welcome break to humid Illinois summer), harvesting Queen Anne’s Lace and Spurge in the pasture of my grandparents’ centennial farm. The magical morning light, the cool air, the feeling of doing something productive to help my sister made the experience just beautiful. I feel so connected to that area and it warms my heart to think that Megan and Steve are working and re-working the earth and old buildings into beautiful and useful spaces that would make my grandparents proud. The day is long and tedious at times, but it was a welcome change for someone who sits in a windowless office for the majority of the week. I loved getting to observe her process, the intention with which she moves through the harvest in preparation to make stunning bouquets for lucky farmer’s market patrons.

KateDay - 3“THIS IS JUST GORGEOUS!” “CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS ONE?!” “I JUST CAN’T GET OVER THIS” came shooting out of Megan’s mouth regularly, particularly in the giant Crayola-box zinnia patch. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if this is what harvest sounds like even when she’s by herself. I can appreciate Megan’s enthusiasm. I sat next to her as she parted the sea of butterflies to snip geometrically perfect zinnias rich and varied in tones and hues. To think they all started out as a tiny seed! Nature IS astounding.

KateDay - 2Guided by a partnership with Nature Intelligence (most easily explained in her words, “Intuitive Gardening”), the harvest day focus is on what will go into each bouquet recipe and thus how many of each flower/forb/foliage is required. Much to my surprise, this led to her directing me beyond the garden to bushes long established on the homestead, and sometimes down the road to my parents’ house, to obtain a specific number of trimmings from unassuming shrubbery I would never think to include in a flower bouquet. KateDay - 5Greenery from Honeysuckle, Ninebark, Foxtail, and Aromatto Basil are cleaned, trimmed, hydrated, and stored until bouquet assembly commences. She troubleshoots along the way, addressing a source for some special-request gladiolas and reviving dehydrated basil with a boiling water trick. Megan’s faith and excitement about her final product never wavers. She seems to float.

KateDay - 3 (1)She seldom loses focus. She frets for a minute here and there about being a little behind schedule or wishing she was more efficient with her assembly. She admits that she’s not even sure how the bouquets will turn out, but she trusts her process. In the end, it pays off big time with some strikingly beautiful and unique arrangements, even if she continually questions “should this go here or here?” “higher or lower?” “two reds or one?”. The texture, color combinations and foliage combine to make a lively, lovely, living spray.

KateDay - 10Although market preparation is a bit of a scramble, she is still set up well ahead of start time. She beams, exuding pride and excitement about sharing the fruits of her labor with others. I feel similarly, but for me it was getting to watch her in her element. She is, of course, glad to be paid for her efforts, but it seems that her satisfaction peaked at the point where she got to display her flowers. She’s brought beauty and joy to the community; she is living her intention.KateDay - 11

In gratitude for all the things,

Kate

PS – If you want to know what my expression looked like throughout my experience, it most closely approximates Dana, Danielle’s little sister, seen around the 2:40 mark on this video:

Sound Bites & Zoning Approval

Greetings, Friends –

As I sit at this computer in my Homer, Alaska home, I’m streaming KBBI 890am and listening to the live performance of Steve, Atz Kilcher, & John Cottingham. A delightful treat and lovely example of Homer-living gifts. Steve just sold his adult-sized drum kit last week – this drum kit and many other material belongings that make sense for our Alaska existence are now out of our possession. However, the adorable kid-sized drum kit that Steve found for $5 a couple years ago at the local thrift store made the list for transport to Illinois. And now I’m smiling as I envision and hear Steve sitting behind this miniature drum kit on the airwaves. Ah, Homer.

One of my first ‘real’ jobs in Homer was working as a program coordinator for the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve. My most treasured experience was coordinating a Nancy Baron Science Communication workshop the day before a phenomenal Kachemak Bay Science Conference. It was a dream come true: rock star of science communication, Nancy Baron, in the flesh in Homer supporting our local community; scientists changing their presentations after the workshop to deliver more engaging and enjoyable presentations the very next day; a science conference that incorporated the interdependence of human wellness with environmental science and health. Yep, this is what Megan Murphy dreams were made of in 2012 (and not too far from 2018’s)! I got to revisit my delicious memories and had a hindsight’s-2020-laugh about this a couple days ago as I was pulling down books from our storage, sorting the keep-worthy from the pass-on-able. I nostalgically opened Nancy’s book, “Escape from the Ivory Tower: A guide to making your science matter,” and thought, “Sheesh, do I need to review THIS again!” Yes, the book is directed towards scientists. And even scientists who are flower farmers need to brush up on their sound bites and communicating with the media from time to time…

Our centennial family farm is agriculturally-zoned so Steve and I need home-based business permits to enable customers to come to the farm. A few weeks ago, I walked into the Piatt County Courthouse just as the zoning board was reading aloud the description of our [Backyard Beauty] special-use permit application. I had not even considered the possibility of media coverage at this event – this was just the 1pm commitment of the day before I could get back to planting perennials at the farm. After the meeting (that was solely focused on my application), a local news reporter approached me with questions about our developing businesses and goals. I repeated the things I had just shared with the zoning board and never considered the implications of having this information written up in the paper until I read the article the following week. Yikes! The business advice adage is definitely not “over promise and under deliver”. For the purposes of the zoning application, we needed to share a spectrum of possibilities that this permit would cover. However, I have a whole lotta ideas that I’m not yet ready to share with the public. I first need to start tending the seeds I’m planting and then see what grows. This was an excellent reminder that I need to work on my “message box” (Nancy Baron) and more clearly communicate our present goals. I immediately wrote a letter to the editor in an attempt to clarify the confusing introduction I’d provided in our very first media coverage [Both article and letter to editor shown below]. Oi!

Well – good news. First – our special-use permit was approved! An integral piece for fulfilling our present business model and ideas! Second – I’ve been reconnected with an amazing communication tool-kit to support future media forays. Thank you, Nancy Baron! Your book and my memories of March 2012 will make the 4,500 mile journey to Illinois. Third – While I practice my own communication, I’m fortunate to have a dear friend and neighbor who happens to be an amazing writer. Mary Lucille Hays wrote a lovely Letter from Birdland column depicting one of our afternoons together in the garden: Sharing a love of planting. What gifts!

I reread the note that Nancy wrote on the inside cover of my Escape from the Ivory Tower. The last sentence reads,And I look forward to following how you change the world.” Cultivating Joy through Flowers, Art, & Self-Care sounds pretty good to me!

Cheers to our daily practice of communication – it comes in all forms!
Megan

P.S. The featured image of this blog post is of Nancy Baron and me on the eve of her workshop in 2012. We stand in front of her last slide with the Mary Oliver quote, “What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?” 

Flower Farm gets zoning approval article

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Letter to the Editor

LettertoEditor_3.28.18

Fire Water

Greetings, Friends –

We are well into the Aries Fire on this second day of April. The Pisces Water slipped right through my fingers. March was full!

As I looked at the to-do list for March, it seemed a bit unlikely that it would all unfold as desired. Steve was leaving mid-March and I would head out at the end of March for Homer, Alaska. This created a condensed springtime work window to prepare for my very first flower farming season.

Most of my tasks hinged on the arrival of a new 42″ rototiller. And Mother Nature’s activities are more than just variables, yes?  Steve was hoping to get the new shop insulated and vapor-barriered before leaving and I was vying for a bit of his time and person-power, too. Taking you to the exciting conclusion (If you’re intimately familiar with the movie When Harry Met Sally, here you can visualize Billy Crystal flipping to the back of his book): we got 92% of it completed!!! The unfolding and orchestration of the weather windows, the coincidental mentioning of neighbor Hank that he had a 3-pt hitch rototiller available for loan, the support of Grammy & Pops with child care, the physical support of Pops, David, and Mary with tractor and planting time, and ongoing Nature Spirit guidance made the completion of the March tasks nothing less than magical. I still well up thinking about it.

There are two main areas in which I’m focusing my growing efforts this year: 1. The Garden [Virginia] and 2. Two new 40’x120′ flower beds in the metal yard [Walter & Carmen].

Metal Yard Phase I, II, & III: Clean Me Up, Scotty! Plow & Till Me!! Cover Crop Me!!!

In addition to hosting treasures and troves of farm equipment and miscellaneous other, the metal yard used to be the orchard. As an incentive to clean up the space and reclaim/repurpose found objects for Steve’s handiwork, we thought it would be a great place to begin our farming experiments (the W&V White Farm was supportive of this idea). An overview of March steps (“Contemplated, reviewed, revisited guidance, contemplated some more, went outside to ground truth then adjusted plan on paper” could be woven in, around, under & through all of these steps):

  • Measured & marked out beds
  • Spread Manure
  • Plowed 2x, unearthing more metal
  • Rototilled & Harrowed (Thank you, Uncle David!!!)
  • And hopefully in April, white clover & oat seed will be spread on these beds that will stay through the season. The idea is to start competing with the weeds and prepping the soil for flower planting in 2019.

 

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The Garden: First Year Flower-Farming Experimentation

We utilized a circular garden plan last summer (our first growing season in IL) and I loved it. Taking in to consideration our tractor & tiller size and their combined maneuverability, I decided to keep the circle plan for perennials and to establish annual beds in the southern and western sides for more frequent tractor-accessibility. An overview of March steps:

  • Moved fencing to allow tractor passage into garden
  • Dug up & transplanted existing perennials to allow for garden tilling
  • Spread manure
  • Rototilled 3x (I did the first round and didn’t have the engine running fast enough… made for a ‘light’ tilling and a very stiff neck. Thankfully, Uncle David remedied the approach & donated tilling time)
  • Established new center point of circle & marked out concentric circles / beds with flour
  • Laid out perennial plants in their respective spots (per the on-paper plan)
  • Laid cardboard & mulch in the walkways
  • Added nutrients and compost to holes, used weed fabric in beds that would not have any additional seeds sewn, and planted plants
  • Put frost covering on a few beds with tender perennials

 

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I continue to rely on the support of family members who are ‘on the ground’ in IL and look forward to see what will develop in our absence. A new ecosystem is underway!
The Murphy-Collins team is presently in an entirely different universe. The adventure continues. Best, Megan

This post’s musical inspiration:

The Learning Curve Plunge

Greetings, Friends –

Flower Jewelry & Tattoos

Flower Jewelry & Tattoos!

Last week I got to attend my first flower grower workshop through the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers. It was awesome, extremely informative, and also overwhelming. I began the workshop feeling inspired with new ideas (for example, flower jewelry and wearable flowers / ‘flower tattoos’!) and left feeling like I needed a pep talk. It became increasingly challenging to absorb back-to-back presentations of folks that have much of their systems dialed in, breezing over topics that I am presently trying to navigate. It was a humbling reminder that I’m in the steep beginning of the learning curve plunge.

In addition to learning how to grow flowers in Illinois and at a scale beyond my own personal use, I am diving into a world that I have previously never entered: business. Here is where the leap of faith into the unknown is tremendously supported by the genuine excitement of spending more time with flowers and sharing them with others.

Biznass Time

“learn to grow & sell” in one easy bullet

Most of you can relate to the discomfort that accompanies doing something new.  There is trust that at some point it will get easier and there is an acceptance (on some level) to embrace the awkwardness.

Just a couple days ago I was redoing 82% of my drip irrigation order. It hurt my brain and my sense of humor. I initially purchased a system that one might confuse with the needs of a fire station. We’ll just say it was ‘robust’. I’ll have to eat the cost of shipping on a heavy box of parts, but thankfully no additional harm done except a little embarrassment. One of my flower farmer authors describes drip irrigation as ‘like tinker toys’ and dedicates a short paragraph about watering. Well… let’s hope irrigation systems are like tinker toys once you have the parts in hand. Navigating the purchasing side of things, however, is decidedly not so simple. It’s not just mainline tubing attached to your spigot with drip tape attached down your beds. Oh, no, there is more. Options for the beginning of your line include a pressure relief valve, check valve, screen filter, pressure gauges, timer, and how ’bout a fertilizer injector while you’re at it?! You need to determine your water pressure and flow rates and weed through ridiculous numbers of purchasing choices.  Steve did me a huge favor and took the wheel on this one. After a few conversations with Rose, the extremely helpful DripWorks customer service agent, a more appropriate drip system is now on its way to our home.

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It’s lovely to have help with the things you enjoy, too. Uncle David helping me transplant 40+ yr old gooseberries today!

One of the nuggets of wisdom that I’ve heard a few times on this new journey is to identify the things you’re good at and identify the things you’re bad at (so you know when to ask for help)… think I’ll add ‘figuring out proper irrigation systems’ to the latter. Navigating taxes, insurance, and legal structures are also going on this list.

A fellow science-careered-turned-artist-careered colleague and friend, Mandy Bernard, recently posted a video on instagram (@homesteadingroasters) that pretty much sums up my recent thoughts. The words resonated and the video continues to help me lighten up. I’ve watched it over & over again. With her permission, I’ve included screenshots as the featured image & the video here: Be the Mouse / Leap of Faith.

Cheers to stretching, following your joy, navigating the unknown, and taking the plunge –

Megan

P.S. This song helped me loosen up on my return drive from the ASCFG workshop in Oberlin. Listened to it on repeat, I did. For a good half hour or so.

 

“Yesterday is history…

… tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.” (unknown)

I discovered this quote while watching (of all things) Kung Fu Panda. A good reminder for me as I spend a great deal of energy thinking about the future.

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Visioning, planning, planning

Ah, the anticipation of our unfolding art, flowers, gardens, studio, workshops +++ is so delicious!!! Most of the time it is excitement. Sometimes it is impatience. Regardless, I get so much joy out of turning ideas on paper into touch it, see it, feel it, smell it, hear it reality. (Turning ideas to reality is one of Steve’s fortes. I love being on the same team.) Sketches below.

Today I am celebrating the many desired mysteries that I hope will unfold in 2018 (ahh… desired mysteries sounds way better than goals 🙂 ).

2018 Unfolding Desires

  • Re-establish new garden beds and fence lines for a suite of flowering perennials, my first annual cut flower patch, and vegetables for our family
  • Obtain and erect a high tunnel through a partnership with the NRCS
  • Establish new flower beds [big ones!] in the soon-to-be-more-flowers-than-metal yard [plow, disc, rototill, cover crop] (see photo below)
  • Finalize major renovation of studio / shop so it is functional
  • Begin prototyping art projects
  • Transform (ace of) base of grain bin into flower cooler (and what to put up top?)
  • Establish water catchments wherever we can
  • Establish drip irrigation system for annual plantings in garden, determine best irrigation set-up for larger flower beds
  • Finish first official draft of our business plan (Thank you Land Connection Beginning Farmer’s class & the upcoming Monticello BootCamp!)
  • Obtain hands-on mentorship support from Alaska Stems and Harvest & Blooms flower farmers
  • Attend the Beginning Grower’s workshop (this month!!) put on by the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers
  • Oh, yes… move our material life from Homer, AK to White Heath, IL via Janice the converted yellow school bus (where’s Mary Poppins when we need her?)
  • Visit dear friends along the AK – IL journey
  • Sell my first flower bouquet
  • Meet and connect with more central IL community members

Well… there’s a start. Almost every one of these bullets involves the support of my parents (Grammy & Pops = Love & Support that money cannot buy). Most involve the support of the W&V White Farm, LLC. And hopefully some of these bullets will involve the engagement of more friends and family… want to join in the fun?

Cheers to the present, the many gifts of your day, & the unfolding mysteries of tomorrow!
Megan

Featured blog image is of W&V White Farm ~1950. Ever-changing.

Desired Vision

Present vision for unfolding desires

Plumb, Level, and Square (ish).

The renovation of the new shop is nearing a significant turning point as we finish up the rough framing phase.

Let me first back track, to bring y’all up to speed on this project. We have been focused on this building since last September, when it was decided that a modern workshop was going to be essential gear for the future of team Collins/Murphy.

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Progression from clean-out to concrete

We spent much of the fall clearing the building of old lumber, shingles, tires, tin, junk, rotten shelving, barrels of mysterious liquids, old wagons, coffee cans full of you-name-it, machinery parts, tractors of both old and new vintage, and several hundred pounds of raccoon droppings. Oh, and a few treasures of course. The treasure we continually find around here will require their own essay someday. Excavating ten inches of  dirt floor unearthed an unending array of nuts, bolts, glass, washers, wire, ceramic insulators, tools, and the occasional alternator,  horseshoe, or gopher tunnel.  Gravel and form work was placed in preparation for the new concrete floor, and over Thanksgiving weekend the extended family gathered for a work party to help with the pour and get us up out of the dirt.

It feels wonderful to get to a point where there are no more secret raccoon latrines, no more surprise rotten boards to put my hammer through. What is going to be straightened up in this building is now, (mostly) straight. And best of all, I get to move into a cleaner mode of work, as the demolition and deconstruction ends, the additive, constructive work can begin.

The building, known around here as ‘the old machine shed’, was built in 1942 to the best of my knowledge. It was apparently born out of the need to house Walter’s (first?) new combine. At roughly 27’x48′ it contains 1,225 square feet of space, plus a loft, and a covered shed lean-to along one eave. Pretty spiffy workshop space. As is common for barn sheds, it is a pole barn, that is to say it was framed with posts and purlins, rather than vertical studs. It’s strength has relied on it’s tongue-and-groove vertical siding which has creaked, cracked, and racked through the years. The framing and siding throughout are primarily fir and that fact alone made this building worth saving.

When work began sections of the building were out of plumb by as much as two and one-half inches in eight feet. That is enough lean to spot from a passing car.

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Straightening walls

Horizontal sag between posts (every eight feet) was an inch and a quarter in some places.  I was able to coax all the walls back into what, by eye anyhow, can now be called ‘straight’. Not perfect, but straight. The bubble is within the lines if you know what I mean.
Megan’s uncle Jim has a knack for acquiring ‘stuff’. Sitting in the shed was a pile of (twenty!) 36″x36″ double-pane windows he had scored from a school or a church if I recall,  and I am liberally using them up. I punched three of them into places where the old windows were rotting out of their frames. Also, I have framed in for ten of them along the north wall of the building which will provide much-needed natural light to flood the building, as well as a view of the adjacent garden and cherry orchard.

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New entry door

All rotted framing has been replaced. Siding has been re-nailed all around. One 13′ sliding door has become a wall, with a new entry door and a window. The (previously undersized) main entry door has been replaced and it’s location moved. This required sawing the concrete stem-wall out for the new door opening, and forming up and pouring concrete into the old opening. Done and done. This move will allow us to build a set of stairs to the loft, replacing the ladder that had been there. Since there are technically no shear walls to prevent racking, there will be a 1″ layer of polyurethane foam sprayed on the inside of the siding which can technically stiffen the structure by 40%. Although we lean hard toward natural and organic, there is a time and a place for everything, and this seems like the time and place for some spray foam.

As I whittle away at the The List of Tasks it is sometimes difficult to stay focused. So many things to touch and to think about. In these cold winter months I have to consider in the morning, “do I dress for working or for thinking?” Many questions swirl around beyond the realm of engineering and execution. Do old buildings deserve new life?  This one does. How far does one renovate? Tough question, relative to one’s resources I suppose. How do history, aesthetics, ownership, purpose, and new ideas mix?  How does one (me) get beyond the romanticism of a wooden building and recognize it’s intrinsic value? Are those ideas even separable?  There is some poetry in every old wooden building and poetry is sometimes hard to comprehend.  I have no criticism, and only respect, for the carpenters who erected these buildings, but entropy is a formidable opponent. This building has weathered some 70 years. If my efforts give it half again as many years I will consider advising the next occupants on what to do with it. I believe the space it is providing to work within will be well utilized and allow for much creative force to flow in the future.

Here’s a song that accompanies my work space.

Steve