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gardening

Homesteading update: the status of my chicken and kale dreams

I’ve been craving more space for our little family. Daydreaming of 3 bedroom apartments with chickens in the backyard and a garage for our bikes. And then the universe promptly declared, “Put your money where  your mouth is, lady!” in the form of an unexpected and radical rent increase at our little cottage.

After recovering from my initial shock and terror, I realized that this was just the kick in the pants I needed to get moving. Nothing like the prospect of paying $700 more per month to motivate a hunt for new housing. So we’ve had to put the backyard chicken plan on hold for the time being. That is not to say that our coop isn’t getting plenty of use.

JoToddlerCoop

Please note the cool combo ladder/door that my naked child is playing with. I came up with the design and A hammered it out–this way, we don’t have to put out and then take away a separate ladder every time we open and close the door. What efficiency! That is, won’t that be efficient once we actually get chickens?

JoToddCoop

While our chicken aspirations are on hold, my kale dreams are coming true.

Perhaps I’ll go make myself a kale salad and go obsess over housing ads on Craigslist…

I have a crush on a blog: 6512 and growing

You know when you spot someone across a room and just desperately want to be their friend?

I feel that way about the blog 6512 and growing and the gal behind it. Everyone, meet Rachel. She lives in my hometown. I’ve known of her for quite some time, in that way that you know of most everyone in the small town where you’re raised. I watched over the years as she and her partner transformed a very “normal” looking house in our neighborhood into what most “upstanding” members of our community would call a hippie commune. With every top-heavy sunflower that sprang up in the front yard, I silently cheered. As if that wasn’t reason enough to be friends forever, she is a sensational writer, has refreshing things to say about parenting and relationships, can teach you an easy way to make yogurt, and writes magazine articles about fermentation that read like sonnets, driving J to such distraction that he forgets to eat breakfast. (You can read it too, flip to page 30 here.)

I took this picture with the hopes that Rachel’s kids will see it and decide they want to be friends with us, since J has the same taste in local food quarterlies as they do.

Here’s hoping.

Sadness and succulents

Honestly, it’s been hard to know what to say after my sadness project post. The flood of wholehearted comments you all wrote knocked my socks off. Reading your sadnesses lifted me off of my solitary sadness island and dropped me down in the middle of a feast. And we all belonged. What a sweet, sublime relief to connect with the deep, dark, real parts of other people. It reminded me of PostSecret and had me dreaming of other projects where we could all be anonymous and really let it rip–The Jealousy Project, The Tell-Motherhood-Like-It-Is Project, The Things-I-Can-Hardly-Admit-To-Myself Project.

Thank you.

Part of me wants to admit that now I’m cured. Writing about my sadness and connecting with all of you fixed me. But I know that’s a load of crap. My feelings all have a purpose, a season, and they pass through like summer storms. But no matter how mindful I get, I still return to the impulse to cut away certain parts of myself and throw them into the deepest pit of the ocean. But after loving all of you so much for your sadnesses, I’m reminded once again that I just need to pull extra seats up to the table when I’m feeling these things. “Hey there Crippling Jealousy, would you like some more mashed potatoes?” How many times will I need to re-learn this lesson?

In other news, our walnut tree finally decided to join the spring party.

I’m blown away by the tenacity of succulents. This was a leaf that J ripped off of a neighbor’s plant.

I put it in a dish of water and every time I walk by our kitchen windowsill, it reminds me, I’m more alive than you can imagine.

Gardening by the moon

Since posting this, lots of people have been asking me about gardening by the moon. While it would be fabulous, it does not mean that you’re digging around on your knees in the dead of night. What I’ve been doing, and what I learned from my mother, is to consult ye olde Farmer’s Almanac. Turns out there are quite a few out there, so let me know if you have any knowledge or experience of which is better and why. I wanted to like The Old Farmer’s Almanac the best, because I tend to trust old things. Instead, I’ve been using the Farmer’s Almanac which has been published every year since 1818. It’s not as old as The Old one, which started in 1792, but I like its layout better. I bought both and have been comparing them. They disagree on auspicious dates for various things, which 1) make me wonder if this is all a bunch of malarkey and 2) makes me curious about the secret formula each one uses for its calculations. And it is most definitely a secret formula. This from The Old Farmer’s Almanac:

Based on his observations, Thomas used a complex series of natural cycles to devise a secret weather forecasting formula, which brought uncannily accurate results, traditionally said to be 80 percent accurate. (Even today, his formula is kept safely tucked away in a black tin box at the Almanac offices in Dublin, New Hampshire.)

According to my trusty Almanac, on Easter Sunday, I planted seedlings. As my friend C says, it was an auspicious day to plant seedlings.

The kale sprang right up, 3 days after I planted the seeds. Don’t they look jurassic?

Thursday the 19th was a “Favorable day for planting root crops, extra good for vine crops. Set strawberry plants. Good days for transplanting.” So I transplanted into our new driveway planter boxes.

I planted my seeds in eggshells, which was recommended by my friend R. It was a dream. And also, delightfully seasonal, if you’re into that whole Easter egg thing.

Once it was time to plant, I just broke the shells apart and plunked the seedlings in the ground. The next morning, when I went out to check on these babies, they looked like they were flexing their little seedling biceps into the sky.

Extra super lunar power seedlings? Perhaps.

Starting somewhere

You have to start somewhere.

That’s the line that’s on repeat in my head today. I’ve been reading The Mists of Avalon for the last couple of months. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s a cult classic re-telling of the Arthurian Legend from the perspective of the women. I just finished the last page (p. 892!!) yesterday and still feel under a spell that only a pagan, goddess, earth-based, woman-power-festival book can cast.

Reading it has stirred the longing I’ve had, since I moved away from the small, arid town of my youth, to have the dirt and sky and seasons figure prominently in my everyday life. Instead of smelling the rain coming, I sit here and type and scan websites as though the internet will save me. My tangible connection to the natural rhythms of life consists of two things lately: hanging the laundry out on the line that we strung across a tree and our back door and digging bare hands into my daily kale salad to work the oil and lemon juice and salt into the leaves. And sometimes it’s raining, so I put the laundry in the dryer. And there are days when I’m sick of kale. On those days, my ribs hurt from sitting at the computer for too long, and I try to remember to look up at the sky when I’m sitting at the park with J.

It’s not enough.

During this recent Mists of Avalon bender, I’ve been noticing the cycles of the moon again. And remembering this experiment my mom and I did in our garden, where we planted half of our plot by the moon and the other half a few days before that, just to see if the whole farmer’s almanac, by-the-moon thing had any merit. Our by-the-moon potatoes and green beans were head and shoulders above the others–I still remember the site of that lop-sided garden. One half bushing out on mysterious lunar steroids. If the moon has that kind of influence, what power is it exerting over me every wax and wane? And why does my life have so little to do with that?

So I’ve been criticizing our life here, and how I unknowingly traded the slow satisfaction of life in the San Juan mountains for the hip here-and-nowness of living in a thriving urban community. I’m stifled by the high density of people and concrete and traffic here. For better or for worse, I was raised in the high mountain desert of Colorado. I grew up roaming on our 5 acres which was surrounded by dozens upon dozens of open, roam-able sage brush acres. Solitude and open and the sounds and smells of dirt and bugs and life were freely given every day. There was no seeking required. And now I live in our little cottage that I love. And I sit on our back deck and hear airplanes, traffic and cackling crows. The deck looks out over our back yard, for which we once had grand plans and has now become a storage receptacle for our family’s bicycle fetish (cruiser, road bike, tandem, cargo…!) and various J toys. Our front yard is a shared driveway. A very beautiful, recently re-poured driveway for which I am very grateful, because J loves to roll trucks and balls and ride bikes in it, and we have a nice table and chairs there where we enjoy warm evenings . But it’s a concrete driveway.

You have to start somewhere.

I have known, very clearly since our ill-fated trip to Boulder last year, that I want chickens in our back yard. And I’ve been putting it off, because in the back of my head, I think we might move (in the next year or two) since the 650 sqft that we occupy is, for the first time, starting to feel too small. So I want to live in our wee cottage for another year or two without my dream backyard chickens just because I might have to move them? Upon conscious thought, I’ve deemed that not a good enough reason. And my earthy, Mists of Avalon, pagan self needs chickens now. So, we’ve gotten approval from all of the neighbors and have an email in to our landlords for our final stamp of approval. Here’s our future chicken sanctuary:

Goddess willing, they’ll live just below my favorite walnut tree in existence.

I love to watch the drama of it leafing out in the spring, the crunch-crunch-crackle of the squirrel walnut harvest in July and August (which inspired this video), how in one or two days in November, it drops every single rattly leaf and is naked like this again. Locals have been telling me that the soil surrounding walnut trees is often difficult to grow in, and we’ve certainly found that true over the last 4 years. So replacing the stunted ferns and lilies  s l o wly  growing there with chickens seems like just the ticket.

The one edible thing that we have successfully grown in our walnut-ed, shady backyard are strawberries. And here are some rogue spring bloomers getting ready to pop on this lovely March day. I have no idea what this plant is, so if you do, let me know. I intentionally left them here instead of weeding them out in the fall and I’m so glad I did.

And last weekend, I snapped myself out of the internet hypnosis that always calls when J is napping, and instead I potted some plants and dragged them out to the driveway.

I’m rooting more succulents in the kitchen that will occupy another pot or two once they’ve got some nice trailing roots to show. I also want to build or salvage a long narrow gardening bed for our only sunny, vegetable garden-able spot that we’ve got–also in the driveway. I’d thought of this years ago, but A was worried about the exhaust from cars on the driveway, and so I shelved the idea.

You’ve got to start somewhere. And if that’s eating exhaust-y vegetables from a concrete driveway garden that is planted by the moon, so be it.