Category Archives: Growing Groceries – Plants, Seeds and Growing Tips

The Farm Wife Mystery School

baking day

Sometimes ideas are too good to let them die. Two years ago when I dreamed up the urban farm challenge it was a way to ease people into what might seem an overwhelming task: to completely change the way they approach feeding themselves and their loved ones. It was a great idea but the schedule of coming up with prizes and hosts and challenges while trying to start up my own farm nearly killed me. My own farm is clipping along still but I miss sharing that knowledge with people and I really enjoy physical interaction. Last winter I taught a few cheese classes out of my home and I loved every minute of it.

making cheese

So this year I am partnering with one of my best friends, Patti Pitcher, to offer a nine month course covering much of the same material as the urban farm challenge in an intimate setting, in person and in more depth. We are both incredibly excited about the class, and both bring different skillsets and experiences to teaching it. The classes run from October to June, the second Sunday of each month and I will also be offering classes on the Saturday before separate from this program. These Saturday classes will complement the year-long course, although a few of the cheese classes may duplicate material. I’ll be offering a Saturday stay at my house for one or two people interested each month so you can really get the hands-on and individual attention you may need, or look at it like a mini vacation on a farm with an old friend. Check it out!



Put yourself on the path to independent, conscious living by reclaiming the lost skills and healing arts of the traditional farm wife. In the old days, the farm wife knew how to grow, preserve, cook, nourish and heal her family. She could take a small leaf from the garden and turn it into a healing salve, or preserve it for a winter’s meal. Wouldn’t it be great if there was one fun series of classes that could teach you all this and more?

It’s the perfect sunny day just begging for a family outing with friends. You grab your picnic basket and load it up with odds and ends from your personal pantry: bits of cheeses, some membrillo, subtly spiced sausage, canned fish, pickled asparagus, crusty bread, dried fruits and kombucha. Your friends pull out their standard grocery store fare and marvel at your lovely spread, every bit of which you made yourself in season from your local foodshed. ”How did you find the time or even know how to do all this, and how can you afford it?” they ask, enviously. You smile humbly. ”Oh, I have some farm wife friends who made it easy,” you answer, keeping the mystery alive.

If this sounds like a scenario you can imagine yourself in then Nelly, are you in luck. Patti and Annette, farm wife extraordinaires, are offering for the first time ever a year-long course designed to put you on the path to farm wife independence and style.


The Farm Wife Mystery School is the premier 21st century guide to practical home arts that will help you reclaim that old time wisdom of traditional homemaking.

How many times have you wished for the knowledge and courage to plant, grow and use forgotten herbs like horehound, feverfew, valerian, and chamomile? How to clean your home with pantry items instead of caustic agents, estrogen disruptors and carcinogens? How to eat like a king while spending like a peasant?

Gain the know-how to fearlessly:

  • can, cellar, and dehydrate
  • ferment vegetables, dairy and kombucha
  • cure meat
  • make cheese, yogurt, kefir, and other cultured dairy delights
  • grind, soak and bake grains
  • turn those mystery parts the butcher offered you into free yet deeply nourishing meals
  • make tinctures, salves and compresses to create your own home apothecary
  • forage for food and medicinals
  • plan and plant a kitchen garden along with basic seed saving skills
  • master simple home nursing skills
  • develop your own line of homemade body care products
  • employ natural, effective cleaning techniques and products
  • bring back frugal like it’s 1938

This class will fill in gaps and provide the hands-on knowledge you just can’t find online. Farm wives Patti and Annette will invite you into their kitchens and guide you through the material like only old friends and farm wives can do.

It’s January and your wee ones have coughs, ear aches and sore throats Do you know how to turn plants from your medicinal and tea garden (along with a few simple pantry staples) into herbal healing solutions? Patti and Annette will share that old fashioned know-how.

It’s March and the days are getting longer. Do you know which seeds to start when, and how to ready your garden? Patti and Annette do.

It’s June and the flowers and herbs in your garden are blooming and lush. Do you know what time of day is best to pick them so they will be at peak healing powers? The first fruits of summer are coming in – do you know when to look for things so that you don’t miss out? Annette’s calendar of when things ripen will come in handy.

It’s September and summer’s sweet produce is fleeting. How do you know if you have enough of everything to last all year? How can you possibly juggle all those pots, boxes, baskets and canning jars? Can you even find your kitchen counter?

friends canning

Learn to plan, prioritize, and tackle the most important things your family needs, Patti’s secret to slowly reducing fruits into delectable butters without a stove burner, and non-canning methods of preserving produce. Gain the courage and organization you need to plow through September without melting into a puddle of tomato sauce. Patti and Annette know how, and you can too.

One Course to Gain the Skills You Need!

The Farm Wife Mystery School is a comprehensive course packed chock-full of skills sure to amaze your friends and family and improve the quality of your diet and life. Patti and Annette will help you build that all-important farm wife support network of friends who also crave a life out of the norm. As part of each class, there will be time to share collective experiences (both frustrations and joys) as you integrate these skills into your family life, along with a good dose of practice so it soon feels old-hat.

farm wife pie

Patti and Annette will pack each monthly lesson chock-full of skill building while helping you explore how to bring the natural expression of the Earth’s seasons into your home in simple, yet beautiful ways. They will show you how to add healthy self-care to the hectic pace of your modern family, and how all this knowledge works together to reduce your financial burden and footprint on the planet.

You will leave each class with serious skills and goodies to share with your family or friends. It might be a jar of berry jam to top homemade ice cream, sauerkraut for your home corned beef Reubens, kefir to boost your energy, herbal tea mix for sore throats, soothing bath salts that detox, or some other new favorite thing.

The mystery will be how you ever managed to live without this class.

The Details

When: The Farm Wife Mystery School is a hands-on, participatory class that meets the second Sunday of the month from October 2013 to June 2014, from 10 am to 4 pm

Where: Class location will rotate between Patti and Annette’s two farms in Snoqualmie and Carnation

Cost: $1200 plus a $300 supply fee that will cover all ingredients for the year

Questions??? Contact Patti Pitcher at (425) 831-5360 or email

Who? Adult and mature teen aspiring farm wives of all genders

To Register: Send a $300 deposit to made out to Patti Pitcher 39819 SE 60th St Snoqualmie, WA 98065

Who are Patti and Annette? Instructors Patti and Annette are friends who have spent years unraveling the mysteries of traditional homemaking in a modern world. They both live on small farms of their own with larders full of things they have grown and preserved.

Patti Pitcher is the mother of four now grown children (ages 32-18). Since she was a teenager, she’s been actively studying and practicing traditional home arts and herbalism. She lives on a small farm in Snoqualmie where she grows, preserves and cooks as much of her family’s food as she can. On her farm there are orchards, berries, herbs, vegetable gardens, bees, cows, goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks and sometimes lambs. Her house is filled with various pots brewing and projects needing finishing. Always interested in trying something new, she loves learning, experimenting and concocting with plants and food and she loves sharing what she knows. She teaches practical home arts classes with Sound Circle Center in Seattle. In addition, she co-authored Under The Chinaberry Tree: Books and Inspirations for Mindful Parenting, Random House 2003.

Annette Cottrell is the mother of two active and curious boys (ages 7 and 10) who pine for sugared cereal and candy. She lives on a small and heavily wooded permaculture farm in progress just outside of Carnation with hugel orchards, silvo-pastures, a large and increasingly perennial vegetable garden, medicinal and tea garden, bees, turkeys, dairy goats, chickens, and rabbits. She breeds Black Copper and Cuckoo Marans (fine French table and dark egg laying chickens,) and Mini Nubian dairy goats that provide high yielding, flavorful cheeses and tasty fluid milk. Annette teaches various farm life classes through the WSU Winter School program, around the Seattle area, and out of her own farm kitchen. She masterminded and co-authored The Urban Farm Handbook: City-Slicker Resources for Growing, Raising, Sourcing, Trading and Preparing What You Eat, Skipstone 2011.

Simple Lives #145

Welcome back to Simple Lives Thursday – a time where we share simple living tips, tricks and projects that we have going.

Please read and follow the Simple Lives Thursday bloghop rules

1. If linking real, traditional and simple recipes, please make sure all ingredients used are whole. Such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, meats, even sugar. In order to keep the integrity of nourishing food, we will delete any recipes that utilize processed, boxed foods. We are definitely not going to be ingredient policeman, however, please note that this is a hop hosted by advocates of the real, local and sustainable food movements.

2. Please link your posts back to one of the hosting blogs. This is a common blog hop courtesy. This link helps build the Simple Lives Thursday community by sending your readers to all of the other participants posts. We all end up sharing and learning from each other.

Featured Posts - The hosts will be choosing posts from the previous SLT to highlight each week. Those chosen will be promoted and linked on all four host blogs. As a highlighted post you will also have the chance to win in special giveaways that we will be starting soon — another great reason to link up and share all that you do to live a simple and intentional life!

Featured Posts from Last Week’s Submissions

SLT Featured Post Badge
We really enjoy reading your posts each week! Featured post bloggers, please grab the badge above and display it on your site! Link it to one of the host blogs’ posts for the specific week that you were featured.
Here are our picks from last week’s submissions. Thanks to all who participated — it is always hard to choose!

1. Our Windmill– A Sustainable Pump by Live Ready Now! “We dug our well last year with the goal of using a windmill pump. Our idea of living sustainably means we aren’t dependent on the availability of fossil fuels or grid power to exist.”
2. Kale Paneer (gluten free) by Stealthy Mom. “Saag Paneer is a creamy, spicy dish of green (saag) and homemade cheese (paneer). It was one of my favourites when dining out in college and a rarely seen delight here in the Midwest. ”
3. How to Plant a Cottage-Style Window Box by Livin’ In The Green. “What brings to mind the cozy look of a cottage more than a window box?”

The Simple Lives Thursday Blog Hop

Your Hosts

  1. Diana from A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa
  2. Wardeh from GNOWFGLINS
  3. Alicia from Culinary Bliss
  4. Me!

Wherever you choose to post, it will show up on all 4 sites! As a reminder, this blog hop is a way to share with many people your posts on what you are doing to live a simple life. Whether that’s gardening, raising urban chickens, homeschooling, sewing, making your own deodorant, or cleaning supplies – we want to know about it! If you’re into homeopathy, ways to save money by conserving energy or other ways to live frugally – we want to know about it! If you bike, cook real food, homestead or farm – we want to know about it!

Real Food, Real Tenuous

I have to admit that I waiver between completely withdrawing from any news about the food industry and Big Brother Ag, and being drawn to the train wreck of conspiracy theory that is slowly unraveling.

This week, however, there have been so many disheartening pieces of information affecting my local foodshed and farmers that I could not stay under my rock. If you think it’s hard to find small family farmers and local, affordable food now, just wait another year.

From the FSMA to the large number of insurance companies currently refusing coverage for vegetable growers in wake of wide-spread spinach recalls, to proposed bills that could put small, local dairies out of business (5139), to self-righteous agendas (HB 1201/SB 5203) which would make animal sales or barters illegal and possibly have the effect of eliminating on farm sales of meat animals (currently the only way small farmers stewarding livestock and land can work around the lack of local access to USDA licensed slaughter facilities.)

According to the FDA, “FSMA is the most sweeping reform of FDA’s food safety authority in more than 70 years. This act gives FDA new and enhanced mandates and authorities to protect consumers and promote public health.”

It is also poised to put many small, local farmers out of business. You can bet this is already affecting your local CSA farmers, small market farmers, and even farmers who are only selling produce on-farm. These farms are only excluded if they generate less than $25,000 of income per year from all income sources. How many hard working farm families do you think could comfortably live on less than $25,000 per year?

Given the recent and alarming trend of insurance agencies suddenly dropping coverage for produce farmers, the FSMA may not have the chance to put them out of business anyway.

Our local foodsheds hang in the balance right now.

But our existing model of agriculture cannot be sustained so this will soon be a moot point. Even local, mono-cropped farms are contributing to our woes. I urge you to watch the video A Farm for the Future” and consider if you think we are making sufficient changes in our own kitchens to correct this situation.

In the face of all this disheartening news, I cannot help but remember my favorite Jess post called “The Floaty Brigade”. Are you floating in the water, or still on the cruise ship?

What I don’t see in all of this are realistic solutions to grow the amount of food we will need to displace our current food systems. I don’t see a large enough re-educational process happening amongst consumers and those responsible for feeding their families. I don’t see an emphasis on shifts in diet away from mono-cropped foods grown using precious oil reserves to truly sustainable foods. And realize that what is sustainable will vary in every region of the world.

Instead I see corporate green washing, national and state legislation, insurance companies and multinational corporations on the verge of destroying small truck gardens/family ranchers/fertile agricultural lands/water supplies/biodiverse seed stores, and reprogramming the way we taste, experience, consume, purchase and waste foods.

Policies surrounding health care, real estate, wetlands, tax incentives, food and farm subsidies, small farmer education initiatives, educational institutes and research facilities, the restaurant industry, the processed food industry, and consumer demand all need to change and they need to change yesterday.

Yes, permaculture will be part of the solution, but creating successful ecosystems is such a complex job that even mastering the theory is not enough to successfully farm on the level required to replace grocery store shelves and freezers. And especially difficult when it is removed from every process mentioned in the paragraph above.

I have not seen the big picture solution yet that we need to stave off genetically modified crops and meats along with their threat to native plants and animals, or the loss of the final rainforest and coral reef.

If this was a family problem, we could all sit around the table, point to how each is affecting the whole, and come up with solutions. But there are so many disparate players with conflicting goals involved that it will take tough and forceful resolution by a central ruling body to even get the conversation started.

I urge each and every one of you who eats (yes, that means YOU) to take this, the ultimate challenge. But direct from local, small farmers. Watch the videos, read the articles, contact your senators and congressmen, sign the petitions, and teach your children well.

This mess is going to be their inheritance but only we can save it.

Lessons from the Soil

It’s been just over a year and half since we found ourselves relocating to a log home in deep woods at higher elevation. It’s been a long and humbling year and a half. All my fears of bears and deer and deep shade and late frosts have proven true. But all my hopes for simplicity, family bonding, and deeply satisfying lessons learned have also proven true.

The former ornamental roses and structured gravel walkways have slowly given way to an ever-changing garden filled with many bittersweet lessons. Slowly life is beginning to find it’s way in and stay. The small garden pond will soon be once more full of tadpoles and azole, the bowers and seed flowers have attracted native birds all winter long, and the beneficial insect populations continue to grow and thrive. The ecosystem is strengthening.

By mid summer, this dirt and stick planted sun trap had turned into a thriving shelter for birds and boys alike, filled with sunflowers, Jerusalem artichokes, beans, pumpkins, peas, strawberries, lettuces and semi-dwarf apple trees.

The orchards are still going in and yet but tiny, unrecognizable sticks. These foundations will take years to fully mature. But I am learning patience and humility and enjoying the journey instead of simply charging along to reach the goal.

The garden above is a mini hugelkulture planting of elderberries, currants, blueberries, strawberries and rhubarb. Those first year sticks produced so many berries last summer the branches still sag under the memory of the weight of all the fruit they bore.

The soil is still problematic but improving. It is fully fabricated, having been trucked in first as 8 cubic yards of topsoil then amended with many loads of manure from local dairies and deep goat bedding from last winter. Add to that many loads of deciduous leaves and poultry and rabbit manure as well as blood, sweat, tears, and spent blisters.

The lack of sunlight and late hard frosts I can do little about. A greenhouse only helps if there is sunshine to shine on it. I am also struggling to create a low-maintenance answer to the particularly vicious forest slugs. The ducks were fraught with their own drawbacks and making too many changes at once proved more than I could manage so I sold the ducks off for winter and will re-introduce when I have time to properly protect the garden from their help.

I put in a garden of meandering paths, keyhole plantings and polycultures which was beautiful to behold but the maintenance of it quickly got the better part of my summer.

The non-rows made it difficult to irrigate, sow, weed and harvest. The fact that I did not have a garden to plant until late in April meant some things got in too late to form strong root bases before the weather warmed up in May and then got cold again in June, tricking the brassicas into thinking summer was over prematurely and it was time to go to seed before winter. Deceptive sun patches tricked me into planting sun lovers in the wrong parts of the garden. When the weather turned cold in June the bees retreated for another month, leaving tomatoes and squashes unpollinated and the first round of fruit set withered and dropped. The compost was not completely aged, tying up critical minerals and stunting plants. The slugs, encouraged by last year’s never-ending spring, provided some more stunting.

All in all, it was the worst garden failure I’ve ever experienced but I must admit I learned quite a bit. In the end there was enough food for my family but no surplus to sell or donate as I had hoped.

So as we are about to embark once again into gardening season, I am pondering the changes I want to make. I have tested and appropriately mineralized the garden. I will compost with only fully aged manure this year. I will reconsider the keyhole beds or at least design them around a watering system. I will not charge head long into garden folly and a summer of enslaved weeding and watering. This year my expanded garden will be more productive and less work. If nothing else, a gardener’s hope spring’s eternal.

Winter Gardening Challenge – Plant Carrots

Succession Sowing Carrots

Succession Carrots

How simple is that?

Plant Carrots.

You know you eat carrots all winter.

Did you know that they are simple to grow and can be stored in the garden until you are ready to harvest them? {Caveat: you may want to cover them with straw once the deep freezes start.}

Right now is the perfect time to prepare and plant out your carrot bed. Check with your extension office to find varieties that overwinter well in your climate. In the Pacific Northwest, Territorial Seed has a great winter catalog.

Grow them in a spot fairly void of nutrients. If you just pulled peas or lettuce out and have some space that would work. Check out this older post which explains how I prepare my beds for growing nice long carrots. I just started mine last week and they are covered with floating row cover to ward off the carrot rust flies and help keep the soil and seedlings from drying out when the sun decides to grace us with it’s presence.

Before heading out to start carrots, you may want to check my standard winter and spring seed starting schedule. Maybe you’ll be inspired and start some other things while you are out there!