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.


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.


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.


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?



Today, we harvested borage for The Grey Plume. It’s sometimes called starflower. The leaves can be used as a vegetable or garnish, but the flowers get most of the attention.

There are a lot of edible flowers – rose, daylily, chive, pansy, violet, lilac, honeysuckle – that are common in the garden. Borage is grown less often, but you should consider it for next year. It is a bushy, upright plant and can spread. You might want to grow it in a separate container.

People say borage has a cucumber flavor. The flower has a slightly sweet taste. It’s also used as a companion plant for tomatoes, spinach, strawberries, and brassicas (cabbage family).

So far, it’s been a pretty addition to our front lawn garden. Borage tops out about 3 feet tall, and it makes a good focal point in the landscape.


Small Farm and Garden Consulting


Could you use a helping hand in the garden? Do you wish you had someone to help you figure out what plants grow well in shade (besides hostas)? How to get set up a kitchen garden? Maybe you’re planning for something bigger: your first farm.

You’re in luck. Black Sheep Farms has added small farm and garden consulting services. You can have expert help in planning and planting.

Kelly Smith has clients in the Omaha metro area, including Ralston and Valley. She has 15 years of experience in gardening and six seasons of farming. Kelly has also passed the floral design program at Metropolitan Community College and has an amazing eye for flowers.

If you would like to discuss your garden or farm project, contact Kelly now.


In the past 18 months, we have only posted 20 times on this blog. In context, there are 177 total posts, which means we have been very quiet. There are some reasons. For starters, we found out in January 2012 that we would be moving from the Bennington farm because our lease was not being renewed. At the end of July, we made the public announcement in a post, Moving the Farm. In between, we tried desperately to find a new location and funding, and that took up a lot of mental space. In October, we made the move back into Omaha and immediately started building out our urban farm. Then, in November, Molly died.

There were a lot of things happening, but that is no excuse. While on the farm, we wrote plenty of articles, took beautiful photographs, and lived a busy life. The truth is I didn’t know what to say. With so much uncertainty and transition, I gave up talking about the farm because I was afraid that we didn’t have a future.

Well, we do.

Black Sheep Farms is an urban farm. We help people learn how to grow plants, how to start their own farms, how to keep chickens in the city, and how to live life closer to the earth. We grow food. And flowers. We consult. We write. We have a new dog.

Say hello to Peach.

Say hello to Peach.

Our life is different than it was on the big farm. I needed to come to terms that it is as important and as valid. This last year was a mourning period for me. I let things slip away. I stopped showing our journey and helping people find the joy in their own discoveries.

No matter where we live, Kelly and I can always have Black Sheep Farms. I am ready to share it with you again.

Love, Brian


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