Today

I have to push my way past the sunflowers to reach the okra, both beautiful plants in my eyes.
But no one loves the okra like I do.
Suddenly, in the kitchen, I realize that I like the freckled eggs more than the plain-shelled ones.
Do they remind me of my wife’s precious skin?
We will give to my wife’s sister a supply of patty pan.
Squash reveals true friends.
The quantity of blossoms tell me that there will be many more tests to come.

I will battle with the crab grass and creeping charlie.
Both will outlive me.
I will take a moment to watch the goldfish dart under rocks in their tiny pond.
I hope to outlive them.
Today.
I will consume and be consumed by the garden.

Garden Decoration

This is what happens when children help with garden art. Installation called Skull on Post.

CAM00645

Why I Love Weeds

I photographed these weeds in downtown Omaha on May 1st.
dandelion sorrel

Amazing, yes? Just two weeks earlier, we had five days with low temperatures of freezing or below. Fourteen days later, these plants – dandelion, grass, pigweed – were in seed. Not only had they grown up from under the cold earth, they had bloomed and developed seed heads, just after the advent of Spring.

What is a weed? By definition, weeds are just plants we don’t want. Gardeners and farmers hate weeds. We fight them every step of the way, pulling, smothering, burning, and some people even using poison sprays that kill everything they touch. It seems like they are our constant enemies.

Could it be that we’re just jealous of them? They represent everything that we want in our beloved flowers and vegetables. They are hardy. They self-seed or spread rapidly. They grow everywhere. And they don’t need us.

The tender, fickle plants we love – like lettuces, sweet corn or artichokes – need us to tend them. We have to clear the land, prepare beds [as for our children], plant their seeds, water and feed, remove competing weeds, thin them, mulch them, and in general, coddle them. It’s a lot of work, and weeds get in the way.

But a lot of the problem comes from us, homo agriculturus, the gardening man. We work against Nature to obtain the foods and blooms we want, especially when they are not hardy in our immediate climate. Gardening is constant activity to nurture something that could not survive without our care. Maybe weeds are unloved because they strip us of a sense of accomplishment in our struggle against the world.

Hunter-gatherer societies look at the world in a different way. They find use for what they see in the environment. They eat freely of what Earth produces. [I wonder if their languages have a word for “weed.”] Humans have lived this way for eons longer than we’ve been farming. Of course, I’m not in favor of abandoning your garden. But it might be nicer if it was less work.

“Less work” is one of the tenets of naturalized gardening and permaculture. Weedy plants might be the answer to all the frustration of keeping an orderly, manicured yard. Strong, self-seeding, spreading. And independent of us.

 

2014 Spring Classes at Black Sheep Farms

Broccoli Sprouts-smSpring is approaching. At least, that’s what we keep telling ourselves. The seed catalogs keep coming, and so do the requests for classes. This year, we’ve added a Spring Garden Planning class to our regular offering of Chicken Academy.

Both of these classes are designed for the suburban gardener or budding urban farmer. We know that getting started is sometimes the hardest step, so we help you learn how to plant seeds at the right times, deal with shady spots, and protect your precious plants [or chickens] from pets and pests.

Prices are just $15/individual and $25/couple. Children are always welcome at Black Sheep Farms. Just click on the links to register.

-Brian

Sunny December Day

Sometimes, all a boy needs is a stick and some open space.

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Today, it was 60F and sunny in Omaha. We took the kid for a walk around our favorite neighborhood lagoon. On days like this, I used to walk around the farm with the camera to capture Winter’s scenes: the dried grasses, the iced-over creek, the sun behind a bare tree. But now, we can walk up to the park and explore what we have in town. It’s nice to know that there are sticks, mud, and ice everywhere.

-Brian

Free Mulch

Every garden and small farm can benefit from more mulch. Besides protecting your plants over the winter and keeping down the weeks, it eventually decomposes into compost. What could be better? FREE!

Leaf Litter

Leaf Litter

In Autumn, neighborhoods are bathed in the noise of leaf blowers. Long gone are the Saturday afternoons of jumping in the piles of crispy leaves that Mom and Dad raked up in the middle of the yard. Now, this valuable resource is blown into the street or crammed into brown yard bags, destined for an eternity in the landfill. If your city has a municipal composting program, maybe you can buy your leaves back next year.

In a natural system, trees lose their leaves, and the leaves decompose and feed the trees. You can take advantage of this system by gathering your leaves and mulching your bushes and flower beds or adding directly to your compost pile. They can also be used as bedding in a chicken coop. We collect bags of leaves from family members – who do not spray their trees – and get piles of free leaf litter to use in our operation.

Wood Shavings

Wood Shavings

Another source of free material is wood shavings. We have a friend who builds custom furniture from beautiful hardwoods, such as poplar, maple, oak, and cherry. He collects the shavings from his planer, and we pick them up. Easy.

Of course, there are a couple of important considerations when using wood. Make sure you avoid black walnut, which produces a chemical called juglone. Just like old timers will tell you not to plant anything around a black walnut tree, you should avoid using the wood in your compost or mulch. Wood shavings can create crusty mats if you use thick layers. In high concentrations, wood can also rob the soil of nitrogen as it decomposes. Wood’s high carbon content binds with nitrogen to break down.

Never use plywood, oriented stand board [OSB], or other materials that have been glued or chemically treated. It’s a terrible feeling to realize you’ve put toxic materials in your beloved garden beds.

Another creative use for wood shavings and leaf litter is to line garden paths. They create a nice, soft walkway that eventually breaks down naturally.

All this free stuff is yours for the taking! Just do the asking, and you can have a healthy pile of mulch and compost every year.

Easy Does It

One of the easiest crops we grew this year? Beans. It was simple. Plant the seeds, keep the dog out of them, and let ‘em go until the pods dry.

beans-in-handWe’ve grown beans every year. They have always proven to be a reliable choice… almost one of those “can’t-kill-if-you-tried” plants. If you’re thinking about beans next year, try letting them dry. Sure, beans are cheap in the grocery store, but there’s a huge satisfaction in the process of soaking, cooking, and savoring your home crops.

Since we moved back into town, space is at a premium. We also have prioritized making our growing area beautiful as well as functional. Beans serve double duty when planted along a chain link fence. As they grow, they use a tiny area of soil and create a living screen that adds height interest to your yard.

We love to try different varieties because dry beans are like roosters. There are so many beautiful kinds! The beans in the photo are called Speckled Cranberry, They lose the red and purple tones as they cook, but that’s the way it goes. Calypso, aka Yin Yang, are another beautiful type we’ve grown. They have a stunning black and white coat.

I know that the catalogs will come soon, and we’ll have months to circle – and debate over – next year’s selection.

-Brian

Estes Park

We are fortunate to have a set of parents [or in-laws, depending on who you ask] who love Estes Park, CO. They visit the town and adjacent Rocky Mountain National Park every year, and we accompany them every third year or so. This summer, we visited in July and stopped at Mrs. Walsh’s Garden. What else do you expect from flower-crazy farmers?

Mrs. Walsh’s Garden is tucked into a little spot just west of downtown Estes. It features a beautiful range of native flowers, grasses, cacti, and other plants. The garden is open to the public without charge. Even in the shadow of RMNP, it is a beautiful, quiet spot to appreciate the flora that make up the region. Since Kelly has been designing gardens, we appreciated it with a new eye.

With the recent floods, we’ve been thinking about our favorite places in Estes: Kind Coffee, Castle Mountain Lodge, Rambo’s Longhorn Liquor Mart, and magnificent Donut Haus. We’re happy to share some pictures of beauty with you.

Chicken Academy – October 2013

legwarmersWe’ve had a lot of requests, so Black Sheep Farms is hosting another round of Chicken Academy. Find out how to keep feathery friends for eggs and enjoyment. Yes, you can keep birds in the city!*

We are offering classes at 10am on Saturday, October 5 and 1pm on Sunday, October 6. Each class runs approximately 90 minutes and covers all major topics on urban chickens. Learn about housing, care, feeding, and more.

Class size is limited. Register using the links on the right sidebar.

 

*Applies is most Omaha metro areas. Check with your homeowners association or city permits department before any purchase.

Big Tomato

Today, we pulled a nice tomato from the garden. At a little over two pounds, it is a big one! We made panzanella yesterday for a family gathering. A secret: it’s even better the second day.

Some people have speculated that the rise in home gardening and heirloom farming is due to our national obsession with tomatoes. It’s our drive and desire for that perfect mix of acids, sugars, and juice that sends us back to the dirt every Spring… and suckers us into buying bland, Mexican hothouse replicas in February.

Isn't it lovely?

Isn’t it lovely?

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