Category Archives: Roots

Trying to decide

I’m trying to decide what to do with Healing Tree Farm. It has been a remarkable part of my life and has really helped me come to a genuine place of healing after a difficult health ordeal. And while the move out to New York doesn’t constitute starting over, it does feel like a refreshing next step in the direction of a dream. Do I owe that next step a renaming or re-branding? Part of me yearns to step away from the connection to illness, but another part of me feels I owe that process some ongoing recognition.

At the same time, I feel like we’ve outgrown the name, heading into a direction so well-photo 1 (5)rooted in fiber, despite our continued adoration for apple trees. I have no intention of giving up fruit-growing; I just want to broaden the scope to include a full-scale fiber operation.

When people have asked in the past about Healing Tree, I find myself feeling obligated to share the full story. In NY, there’s a kind of freedom from that, if that makes any sense. I’m no longer the girl who got cancer and started a farm out there. I’m the woman who wants to launch a fiber business.

And it’s purely psychological. Naturally, I don’t have to launch into the full story every time I’m asked about the significance of the Healing Tree, but even if I don’t share the story outwardly, it runs through my mind.

So, as we pack up the fencing and materials at the farm this week, I am engrossed in this ongoing dialogue. Remembering, reflecting, and thinking about which elements to carry on with us, and which to leave behind, both literally and figuratively. And I can genuinely say, it’s a healing process.


Hobbits, Unicorns, and a Cow Goddess

I just returned from another trip out to New York, this time to explore the Schoharie valley and Delaware County. This trip, thanks to the farmers who housed me, really invigorated me.  I think I’ve been feeling a bit disconnected from farming, despite the daily regimen because we’re currently partially uprooted. Being on a farm started by a woman and witnessing the incredible foundation she has built, along with the connectivity she fosters with neighboring farms, has really inspired me not to “begin again,” but to continue with this mission forward to build a farm and fiber business.

photo 2 (3)
Isadora, the Adorable

The farm where I stayed (had to make this trip out alone so Chris could tend to the alpacas), is technically East Branch Farm, but most of the locals know it as Straight Out of the Ground, a beautiful property with a goddess of a guernsey cow, who is the apple of Farmer Madalyn’s eye, for sure. And it’s easy to see why. Look at that adorable face!

In addition to farming, Madalyn also co-produces a radio show called the Farm Hour Radio.

The mountains are nothing short of magical. The roadways and farmland trace their contours, and in the mornings, mist hovers over the valleys, leading me to look for hobbits and unicorns as much as farmland.

Madalyn connected us with some good folks and resources for farmers and reinforced the awareness that New York is a good state for agriculture. Beneath every county sign I passed, the words “Right to Farm” appeared prominently. The soil in the valleys appears good and the prospect of a fiber mill feels welcomed.

photo 1 (2)Moreover, the locals are fiercely loyal to their agricultural roots and at one stop, in a village where we had been told we could not house our alpacas, a local business owner stormed down to the local village office and demanded to see the ordinance. When the village couldn’t provide any specific wording ruling against alpacas, she called me and said, “You can have your livestock here.” Can’t help but love these folks.

I would like to say we have figured this whole thing out, but after an inspection revealed some significant issues on the house we were under contract to buy, we are once again looking for the farm. However, despite this setback, I feel more confident than ever that we’ll find the right place, because more significant than where we will land is that feeling of where we belong. And it’s there, among the mountains and the hard-working farmers of the Schoharie, where we feel most at home. Looking forward to calling this place home.

Last trip out, we traversed Sharon Springs, where an inspiring couple revitalized a farm into an enterprising business. Madalyn told us it’s not only a thriving business, but they even had a television show. Check it out below. Also, living in the region, a woman I look forward to meeting at some point in the near future, Shannon Hayes, the Radical Homemaker. And so much more I would like to share, save for the time to write it all down…

If you don’t know them already, the Beekman Boys are fabulous.

Begin again with the Beekman Boys:


Nature follows pathways of least resistance. Today, while sewing bulbs in the orchard at the wrongtrees time of the year, chasing my toddler from one field into another, running zig-zagged hoping to plant as many guilds as possible, I realized this is why nature occasionally favors the routes we least anticipate. Sometimes it’s simply about getting a job done.

Next spring, I’ll be able to retrace this day’s path through the fields in daffodils mixed up a little by the mouths of ground squirrels. And every year, that pathway will grow, an invisible song to our time as mother and child. How poetic are the quaking leaves of clover, flashing like silver fish bellies in the stream; the new apple trees throwing green to the wind in celebration of taking root.

We breathe meaning as much as air in the orchard, working in the shadow noise of sprayers high on the hill. Working in the dappled light thrown from the looming old pear. Reminders both of our own pathway here.


Bark Grafts and Air Layering, plus King, Liberty, Sweet Sixteen

-1Yesterday was my favorite kind of day. We started the morning with the grafting workshop at Levi’s farm (RealEyes Homestead), working with a number of great people from all the way up in Harbor Springs down to Louisiana. [Oh, how I love this up and coming generation. Such kind and positive energy!]

We followed some air layering and bark grafting with the planting of the front field in Liberty, King of Tompkins, and Sweet Sixteen apples. The soil, thanks to previous courteous farmers was in good health, a very nice surprise. Eighteen trees in last night. Still 100 plus more to plant. It’s been a long labor of love, but every day brings us closer to a dream realized.

More grafting and planting tomorrow. In the meantime, we’d love to hear from some of our orchard supporters. If you’d like a tour of the orchards, please feel free to email us at and we’ll happily share our progress with you! Again, we appreciate the support of the community in bringing this orchard to fruit-ition. Thank you!

Willows and Rooting Hormone

willow-treeI was planning on writing about willow water today, but found a great article from Deep Green Permaculture on the subject already. Rooting hormone can be purchased at the store, but a natural method of collecting indolebutyric acid and salicylic acid involves a couple of seriously simple steps. Click here to check out the how and why willows are a great alternative to store-bought rooting hormone.


“You can’t do that without a tractor!” and other things people tell us… [Part One]

We hear this a lot, “How can you do that without a tractor?”

Tractors make great trellises.

It helps that we don’t till and manage the farm in a manner consistent with Permaculture’s ‘slow and steady’ principle. But the question remains, how do you deal with a large swath of land that requires working? We’ve run into one such stretch of pasture that was heavily tilled and sprayed for a few years. What remains is a rocky, sandy, depleted soil with several varieties of pioneer plants putting down deep tap roots to mine for nutrients and to gain traction in a heavily eroded landscape.

How can we alter this stretch without a tractor?  Our answer: Time, livestock, poop, and seeds.

Pioneers, the first to appear after the soil has suffered enough tillage, are plants often detested by the traditional farmer/gardener. They’re designed to survive in harsh, arid soils. Some even secrete a growth-suppressing hormone from their roots, keeping other plants from competing for the limited nutrients available. Additional tilling, which throws nutrients into the air, will generate an ideal habitat for these plants, preventing what we’d like to grow from growing (unless we rely on biocides to kill them, then soak the ground with synthesized NPK).

Instead, we approach the land with an integrative thought process. How can we work with what’s here and what we have to improve soil and get a yield of some kind out of the process? That yield might come in the form of fodder for animals, or food for humans (or both).

The land mentioned above, once a GMO-cornfield, is being transformed into a productive grazing pasture for our sheep. We first let it grow undisturbed for a full year (in a few more years, the microbial life there prior to conventional approaches will return), while installing fence-posts.

Taking advantage of a gentle slope, we’ll graze the sheep, who expel some of the richest pelleted manures of any livestock, in the upper portion, supplementing their feed with hay. During this process, as it rains, they’ll fertilized the upper portion of the field and allow for water to carry some of the nutrients to the lower half.

The Tengelitsch-Graves kids plant fence posts for the future sheep pasture last summer.
The Tengelitsch-Graves kids plant fence posts for the future sheep pasture last summer.

The pioneer plants, which congregate in the lower portion of the field, will now serve as a food source for meat-chickens. Using a chicken tractor (instead of a petrol-driven tractor), we’ll move the chickens daily and where they’ve eaten away the vegetation, they’ll leave a rich manure in its place. After each move, we’ll sew grasses and a limited supply of clover (a great nitrogen fixing legume).

By next year, we’ll reverse the process, allowing the sheep to graze the lower pasture, continuing to fertilize as they eat, and run the chickens across the upper portion, seeding as we go. Out of this, we get yields of meat from our chickens, fodder for the livestock, and fiber off the sheep. No tilling (and no tractors) necessary.

Confucius Conscience

esb-observation-deck-1940sYep, we’re still in 1940, but I think I’m beginning to understand why. Between baking bread, polishing the floors, and visiting with guests today, I realized there’s quite a lot of sense in a bit of Confucius-style antiquity-loving thinking.

It wasn’t the abandonment of 21st Century ideals, but the adoption of an attitude that appears to have slipped by the wayside, outpaced by convenience.

There was a rhythm in the work. Not tedium, but tenacity; an adherence to an ethic that transcends the work, and is on par with meditation. Like religion, like knitting, like working in the soil by the light of day.

ideasIt isn’t enough to get through each day. (That thinking never built bridges or sky scrapers.) It’s about how each effort engages our senses, reminds us we are human, reveals our humility, and allows us to find strength in a kind cyclic certainty.

And at the end of the day, we can retreat to a peaceful slumber aware of sore muscles and knowing the comfort of solitude in a way no sliced white bread could ever afford us.

Give me the seeds and let me plant the grain, mill it, collect yeast from a passing breeze, work the dough with my hands, bake it with a fire I build, and share it with those I love.

Confucius was right. A little antiquity begets contentment.