It’s Finally Spring! (Maybe)

I say maybe because we’re still due for a massive amount of snow. I’m told, anyways. It’s a little alarming to complain about the snow and have a local, patting my arm, say “Haha, you’ve never been here in May.”

Apparently March-April-May is when we get FEET of snow up here on the mountains, rather than mere inches. Thrilling.

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Look who decided to show up!

But don’t tell my seedlings that. It was the perfect end to a great first day of spring when we returned from our first official hike in the area (!!) to find cucs and chard and kale poking up out of the egg cartons.

And the hike! Planning to return and hike even more, if not ALL, of this 11-mile loop up into the mountains when there’s less snow and more free time (ha-ha). There’s a creek, plenty of foresty places perfect for decorating with hammocks, and I was shocked to learn that campfires were allowed…?

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Lost Wilderness Trail, in Shawnee, Co
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The views!

Also, a friend has been cleaning out her greenhouse, and asked me if I wanted any topsoil or compost. Duh.

Also ended up with some planters, some potting soil, and a few other things I didn’t have to buy (thanks, P!)

And judging from our weather forecast, starting Wednesday it looks like we’re going to be getting a lot of snow over some pretty regular intervals, so we decided to take advantage of the (very) windy sunshine to mostly put in our 3rd raised garden bed.

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Leveling the soil.
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Since we’ve decided to use this southern-facing slope for our tiered beds, we’ve been trying to level out each bed. The first 2 (eventually the greenhouse) turned out great, so we followed a similar method of “construction” with the 3rd. A few boards tapped firmly into our bed face, then held in place with stakes pounded into the ground, and a make-shift stacking of rocks for a wall to keep our garden from sliding down the hill.

Not the best for a long-term garden, but for now it will work.

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Found some time today to make freezer breakfast sandwiches. The boys were getting sick of breakfast burritos so it was time to switch it up.

Happy Spring!

Starting the Hoop-house (and Daylight Savings!)

Somewhere between New Year’s and Valentine’s Day we became something like the busiest we have both been in a long while – with jobs in and outside of the home, commutes, childcare, meal planning, and general necessary activities, like buying a reliable 2nd vehicle and paying bills (gah).

I've never seen so many beautiful pink and blue snowy mornings in my life.
I’ve never seen so many beautiful pink and blue snowy mornings in my life.

It’s helped tremendously that we’ve been able maintain something of a reliable schedule, and now that we’re used to reliability and packed every open space with either activity or sweet NOTHINGNESS, even slight changes or tweaks to our calendar we’re less than enthusiastic about.

However, even part-time parenting of a 4 yr-old demands flexibility, or how about LIFE in general? We’re learning to appreciate the un-scheduled moments of peace and stillness, or indulge in simple rituals that bring clarity when we see the opportunity.

We’ve also spent the past few months buried under icy crusts of snow that have melted and refrozen and been snowed on; we’re just now able to register the amount of work our newly-bare driveway may need in the near future, and as the temps seem to stay a little bit more consistently in the above-40s, Garden Fever is setting in (Mother Earth News isn’t helping things, either).

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Sorry, but I’m not sick of this view yet.

It’s looking like we’re due for one or two more large amounts of snow before winter is officially over here, but never too early to begin work on a hoop-house, right? I’ve also spent a lot of time daydreaming about chickens and a milk goat and heritage meat hogs and curing our own bacon, but…little by little.

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In love with my kitchen windows. Especially when it’s sunny and warm enough for them to be open.

Despite my grand schemings for a small-scale homestead, “we” knew that we probably wanted to stick with a smaller garden for our first year, something of a more manageable size than our last space and stocked with only the important essentials, like salsa ingredients (lol).

A few raised beds with the ability to convert into mini covered greenhouses seemed like a good place to start, and thanks to the previous owners, we have plenty of salvageable materials.

E spent most of the day Saturday getting the beds and general framework in, and today the project has morphed from 2 separate hoop houses into one convenient space.

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Yeah, it looks a little crazy, but the man has a plan. All of the PVC is enforced with rebar and T-posts, and fastened with good thick wire. My only concern at the moment is figuring out how to make certain the thing is windproof.

The PVC framework is supported with rebar he drove deep into the ground, and the raised bed frames are set into the ground and fortified with our main native crop – big ol’ rocks. At the moment, the plan is to fashion a door at one end of the structure (probably just a slit in the plastic, like a teepee) and fasten the sides to the tops of the frames with staples. However, we’re also wanting the option to roll up the sides in the summer to allow for air circulation, so I’m thinking stapling or fastening the plastic to poles or boards and stabilizing them with rocks in the early spring and fall.

The raised beds have been sheet-mulched wth cardboard, and covered with the tiny amount of topsoil we can find for the time being. Hoping to truck in some compost, as ours isn’t finished, and some topsoil in the next few weeks.

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Time for a cider and joint break.

While he continued working on the frame, I started most of the seeds, using trays and containers we found in the shed, and a simple mix of topsoil, potting soil, and vermiculite.

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These guys should be pretty happy here. I used egg cartons to start hardier greens, kale and chard and beets, that will be transplanted sooner than tomatoes and peppers.

I feel like I’m starting tomatoes and peppers indoors too early, but then again it takes upwards of 80 days of perfect weather for them to yield so…I don’t see why they won’t be perfectly happy in full sun just inside one of our super-insulated sliding doors that’s been plastic-ed over for the winter.

I did my best to keep the selection pretty simple yet satisfying for our first high-altitude round at gardening – a few tomato varieties for drying, canning, and salsa, tomatillos, one each of sweet and spicy peppers, a pickling cucumber, 5-color silver beet, kale, choggia beets, carrots, yukon golds, basic herbs, spinach, arugula, and a lettuce mix.

I didn’t really feel up to trying to cultivate onions this year, although that’s definitely on the list for when we’re a little more established. Garlic we’ll have to wait to plant until the fall, and so far our brief foray into “herb” seeds hasn’t yielded much, although we’d certainly like to have a few home-grown strains on hand before the end of the year.

It feels good to begin taking steps towards the garden again.

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I actually made brunch today.

 

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We’re dorks.

Happy Sunday!

Winter Compost – Starting From Scratch

Our first Christmas in Colorado was wonderful! We sat around and watched the snow fall, played checkers, drank eggnog, ate pie and fried chicken, and just enjoyed having down-time together, with nowhere to go and nothing to do but watch W open his presents.

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Christmas morning view, snuggled up with coffee.

Now that we’re mostly settled in and the rush of the holidaze are over, I’m getting antsy to be making garden preparations for the spring/summer. It doesn’t help that when we moved in we found T-posts already set up on south-facing hillsides, and the corresponding PVC pipe needed to frame out at least 2 hoop houses piled neatly next to the driveway.
It’s been too cold, however, and the pipe has been outside under the snow for so long that we’re worried it will crack, so we’ll probably just wait for early spring to attempt set-up. Le sigh.

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One of these days I’ll stop taking so many pictures of this view. But not right now.

But composting. After some googling and Pinterest-ing, apparently I can still be composting in the winter to prepare for spring, which is a huge relief.

I’ve never begun a compost pile from scratch in the winter. It sounds tricky. The soil is frozen, it’s rarely above freezing, and apparently we have the added bonus of large scavengers about – bears being one of them. And it’s been cold here, really cold, and going outside every other day to empty the compost and stare sadly at a pile that’s now strewn all over the yard sounds…depressingly chilly.

AND, during the 3 weeks that it took us to get our stuff together, our butts out here, and into our new home, all our vegetable scraps went right into the garbage.

Not a “big” deal, really, but it felt wasteful. Our trash volume just about tripled, which means more garbage bags and more valuable organic material ending up in the landfills instead of on MY non-existent garden.

And it just didn’t feel right, not composting SOMETHING. I mean, I’m always composting, and winter seems like a terrible time to start.

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Good ol’ Virginia compost from our garden a few years back. So beautiful to my earth-starved hands right now.

Thankfully, from what I’ve read on the vast expanse of the internet, composting in the winter – especially STARTING the process – requires only a little more maintenance than usual – adding the right ratio of “brown” to “green” materials, providing just enough airflow to allow oxygen to help in the breaking-down process, insulation, and ensuring that it’s wet enough from time to time.
If you are able to scavenge up some soil and/or dead leaves to layer in with your kitchen scraps to help kick-start the process, even better.

In addition to the kick-ass hoop house set-up, the previous tenants ALSO left behind numerous planting materials – pots, potting soil, peat mix, and an awesome Tupperware bin that will work PERFECTLY for small-scale winter composting with just a little tweaking.

This has a great and simple break-down of what is and isn’t allowed in the compost, and this defines what’s meant by Browns and Greens.

To start, I gathered my materials – drill, Tupper, kitchen scraps, my “Browns”, and a shovel.

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Materials gathered.

I drilled a few holes in the bottom and along the sides towards the bottom of the container to allow for drainage, and then drilled some further up on all four sides to ensure airflow. Not gigantic holes, just large enough to breathe and allow a little essential moisture.

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Snow apparently can provide pretty decent insulation, and I wanted easy access to the bin, so I dug a space in the naturally-occurring snow-drifts that have been building up just below the porch. Once the bin was situated and stable, I shoveled snow back around it on all sides, about halfway up.

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Snug in a snow bank.

Now it’s time to add the first layer of materials. Newsprint and brown paper we have in abundance since the move, so that went in first, about 6 in. deep. Then I added some leftover Christmas decorations, and tossed in a few handfuls of manure from the bag the previous tenants also left just to help the process get started.

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Next – kitchen scraps and some ash from the pellet stove.

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…and done! I’ll probably end up using a bungee cord to keep the lid on tight and try to deter pests, but I’m curious to see how well that works. As we get more snow – which WILL happen again plenty of times before spring since we’re at almost 9,000 ft. elevation – I’m hoping to have enough to pretty nearly submerge the whole thing and add another layer of protection and insulation.

It’s a pretty small-scale set-up, and I might need to add another compost bin or trashcan before spring; it all depends on how quickly this stuff is able to break down, which probably won’t be very quickly because of the cold. Time will tell. I’m keeping a bin of newspaper and discarded plant materials handy to layer in with my ash and kitchen scraps as needed.

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Easy-access compost, even with a bungee cord and some snow.

Also – when and if I do need to add another bin, I am probably going to go with a black plastic one to retain as much necessary heat as possible.

Welp. Hopefully I’ll end up with a bit of a head-start on my composting game this spring. What better way to ring in 2016 than with a fresh batch of gorgeous compost full of goodies for the garden?
In the meantime, I’ll be unpacking and setting up the rest of the house (still) and planning out the garden until time to order and start indoor seeds.

Looking forward to this new year and all the experiments, garden and other-wise, it shall bring.

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See? We did absolutely nothing over Christmas.

* A note on the pellet stove ashes – I researched a bit about pellet additives (to make the wood scraps form and hold together in pellet shapes) and whether composting them is a safe bet, and couldn’t really find any outstanding evidence that composting pellet ash is a “bad” idea. The only really negative thing I could find was that they might add too much alkaline, but even then putting pellet ash directly on the garden rather than composting was discouraged. I figured I’d give it a try and see how it goes this first year.

Settling In

Now that we’re here and mostly unpacked, setting up our new home has been a relaxing process, for which I’m thankful after the stresses of being house- or hotel guests for the past two weeks. Very worth it.

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Just look at our view! Every morning we sit down to breakfast and coffee and just laugh with gratitude.

I was going to write about the moving-in process but now it doesn’t seem to matter. We’re here. We unloaded. It snowed. And now we’re creating a home.

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Same view from a different perspective and with more snow.

Working side by side with Everett to set up our home is something I’ll cherish for years to come, and I’m very thankful for the process. Because of the snow, he worked from his home office for a few days, which also allowed us to spend time together.

We definitely needed it. After weeks of going non-stop, just trying to get to the new house, and being guests in other peoples’ homes and working through the many details that come with making a house livable before you even get there.

We were able to relax and enjoy seeing the results of our diligence and patience with the past few weeks, and quite honestly, the past two years. We goofed off and laughed, we took hiking breaks outside, ogled our future garden site, and just enjoyed being married best friends and setting up our home.

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Our coffee nook has become our favorite space in the house. On sunny days – which are most of them – the sun just streams in through the many large windows and warms our backs and we sit there and laugh about how damn lucky we are.
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I am shamelessly in love with my kitchen and the dish-washing views.
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Part of the living room…still a work in progress but coming along. Next step is the christmas tree. Clyde is happy with all of the napping spaces.

Being mostly un-packed has also allowed me to have some time in the evenings to brain-storm about the garden, and even get in a bit of researchive reading. The only hard part about being here now is going to be waiting to break in some garden ground, but I’m also thankful for the time to research and draft up plans.

It will be spring before we know it…

The first week has been a good one. Looking forward to setting up a routine with Waylon and our lives and enjoying where we live now.

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The first thing we see when we open our eyes in the mornings. We are so happy to be here.

Colorado Life – Week 1

We are so happy to be in Colorado. Denver has always felt like an extension of home, and now it truly is. We’re getting our fill of the traffic and city life this week, and next week we’ll be where we TRULY want to be – tucked up in the mountains with access to the city every now and again, just the way we like it.

Waylon is non-stop curious about his new surroundings. He’s never ridden in a taxi before, or seen a parking meter or a homeless person. I love that this move has opened up a new world of experiences for him, and we’re hoping it becomes one of his best memories.

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Waylon’s new best friends Miles and Cooper. They’re already thick as thieves.

Moving from VA to Colorado represents closing chapters in our lives so that we can begin new ones, being intentional about the lives we want to lead. With all of the logistics to be worked out, we initially thought that we would move someday, maybe.

But then we realized that our lives needed to change. Life in VA didn’t seem conducive to even moderate happiness for either of us anymore.

Everett and I got Lyme disease. Our living situation was no longer working as we thought it would. The Commonwealth of VA intervened in our lives and cost us time and money that should have been spent elsewhere, rather than supporting the police state.

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While the rest of the country is relaxing it’s laws in relation to cannabis, Virginia is actually making 76% more weed-related arrests.
The ridiculousness of legal, highly-addictive pills and an illegal, all natural plant became especially frustrating this past year, and we’re happy to be living in a more enlightened area of the country – where natural stress-relief is grown in the ground like any other garden plant and used to treat people with once debilitating diseases. While the rest of the Bible-Belt clings to alcohol, pills, and meth, Colorado, Washington, and many other states are embracing the legalization of a beneficial plant given to us for a purpose. This was a home-coming present grown by friends.

Our stress levels spiked. For two years it seemed like we were both performing a delicate balancing act and one mis-step would throw everything off. We had thought that living back in the woods would mean a peaceful life, but the peace aspect was proving harder than we thought it should be.

Living in a small town had turned from something we enjoyed to something we disliked. We’ll always love Floyd, and plan to visit, but it was clear that we needed to move on for now.

Once we made the decision to move towards the end of summer, all of the logistics and details that had seemed completely overwhelming in the beginning fell into place one after another, and it shortly became apparent that all signs pointed to Colorado. We hit a few wrinkles now and then, but eventually they smoothed out and disappeared.

And amazingly, in what seems in hindsight a giant blurred whirlwind, we are here.

The past few days have been a little hard, but we knew we would technically be homeless until we closed on our house, and today is the LAST day we’re spending in a hotel room with a dog and a 4 year old (!!).

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He’s drying his shoes after playing in some parking lot snow mounds. A hotel in a busy part of town with no indoor amenities means Audrey has to come up with ways to expend energy and stay occupied. Voila.

 

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Ah, the La Quinta life.

We close on the 10th, but we’ll be dividing the rest of our homelessness between kind and generous friends, who also have kids for Waylon to play with. He’s been holding up like a champ, and we’ve been trying to hold on to some sort of familiar routine even in such different surroundings, and it seems to be helping.
The only real stickler has been the time change (2 hours earlier than VA), combined with all of us sleeping in ONE room. 5:45 am wake-ups from both a dog and a child are getting…less than enjoyable, but we’re all starting to adjust, and it’s only going to get better from here.

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Being hotel-bound meant plenty of time to fix that horrible bowl-cut I gave him last month. I bribed him into stillness with a cookie.

 

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Living in a hotel room with a microwave and fridge means hotel cooking. Take-out boxes cut apart turn into plates. Salad leftovers from restaurants equal easy-to-make wraps for lunch the next day.

Even though it’s meant jumping from place to place, waiting to move into our home and start our new lives, I’m thankful we’re here now.

It’s worth it.

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Celebratory “We’re Here!” margaritas and Mexican food – the only photographic evidence I have so far that our friend Tommy came with us. He helped us drive our vehicles out from VA and it was a HUGE help. Thank you, Tommy!

 

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Our new view. Pictures can’t do it justice.

 

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First family pic in front of the new house. In love with it and the property, and looking forward to putting down our roots here.

From Willis VA to Bailey CO – A Quick Move Recap

Day 1

Made last minute adjustments to the ridiculously full vehicles. After some repacking we were able to get out on the road around 1030, close to our original goal.

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Last-minute truck loading, last time at that Willis house.

 

Waylon did really well that day; we made hardly any extra stops, and cruised into a very wet and cold Louisville KY around 7pm.

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Truck-stop selfie. So ready to get there.

A quick look at the weather and our driving schedule told us we needed to be up and on the road by 7am if we wanted to make it to Salina, Kansas by the time the ice storm hit the northwest of Kansas at 9pm.
Gorged on chinese take-out and tucked ourselves into bed by 9pm.

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TV and Chinese food in a hotel room.


Day 2

Early early morning…up before it’s even light. We had a quick hotel breakfast and cuppa coffee and then hit the road.

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Coffee with Clyde. La Quinta hotels are awesome and so dog-friendly…something I never knew. Good to remember next time we travel.
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Waylon was prepared to keep us updated on weather developments.

Really long day, as we knew it would be, but the first 3 hours were quiet and overcast with hardly any traffic…good cruising weather.
The driving rain began around noon, and the stop-start traffic that popped up here and there for the rest of the night began about the same time.

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Traffic. There was always traffic.

Waylon did well again most of the day, getting a little bored around 5 pm or so.
The last two hours through the dark empty prairie of Kansas were the longest, but pushing on to Salinas meant that we only had half a day’s drive left the next day for the entire trip. Around 6pm, we noticed the ice coating the trees, the grass, and the sides of the road: not very reassuring, but we kept going to make it to our La Quinta by 9pm.
Pulled in around 715pm, and decided that if the roads were bad in the morning, we’d stay till about mid-morning and relax a bit.

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Exhaustion for the parents kicked in around the same time the kid got hyper.

Devoured some McDonald’s and passed out in bed, thankful to have a more lenient drive the next day – the final push to Denver.

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The best salad I’ve eaten in a long time, believe it or not.

 

Day 3

Took this morning slightly slower than the last few. No snow had accumulated overnight as we thought it would; roads were also wet and slushy, but not dangerous.

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The open road in Kansas…icy beautiful nothing.

We were on the road by 9am, and continued the long empty haul through ice-encrusted Kansas, with little flurries and freezing rain cropping up now and again. Bits of icy or wet road, and hardly any traffic.
Waylon really started to get bored, and we made a lot of pee stops here and there. The final push always takes the longest, but once we saw the Rocky Mountains rise up out of the plains we allowed ourselves to get excited to reach out destination.

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The prettiest view in Kansas.

Driving through congested Denver in a 26ft moving van was a fun experience; Waylon has never seen a city this large and we were enjoying pointing things out to him. He’s convinced that foothills of the Rockies were once volcanoes.
We made it into Conifer around 3pm. The views were incredible all the way to our friend’s house, and it was a relief to stretch our legs and get a good night’s sleep. Looking forward to seeing our new home and exploring our new neighborhood. Happy to be in CO!

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Our new home sweet home territory.

High-altitude Beginnings…

This is the first time in a long while that I am picking up my feet and changing up my location on this busy little globe.
And with new surroundings and sights comes newness – a new home, new climate, new territory. I will have to learn new weather patterns, new faces, new roads to the store.
Also a new garden. A new garden is like finding a new friend…you must spend a brief period getting to know their face, their tendencies, how deep or shallow they go, what their perennial weather (stormy? placid?) tends to be on average.

The main purpose for this blog is to document and archive useful info, tips, ideas, and failures as I learn to grow my food in a new climate. Although we were at 4,000 feet in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this differs vastly (or so I hear) from the garden zones of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado – snow the end of September? Only 51 guaranteed frost-free days? First planting in JUNE?!

It will also serve as a useful benchmark to see the goals I’ve achieved over the months, and aim for new ones.

In addition to the trials and errors of a highly-elevated Zone 4b garden system, I’m hoping to include some recipes appropriate to the season, a few eventual forays into keeping/eating small livestock, and keep a light and brief record of our family life as we settle into a new chapter, a new groove, and new horizons.

We are anxious to reach our new mountain home and put down some deep and intentional roots, and looking forward to all that Colorado has in store.

See you there!

 

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Audrey, Everett, and Waylon