Saturday, September 17, 2011

Another Post Prompted by Erica

I am realizing that all of my recent posts have been prompted by other bloggers, and 3 out of 4 of those, including this one, by Northwest Edible Life. (So I think the message is I need to blog more? Duly noted.) I swear I only stalk her a little.

Erica wrote a post entitled Wifery, Money And Not-Work, and this is my response (because the comment I started writing got long to the point of “get your own damn blog.” Oh. Wait.) So you should go read hers first, so mine will have appropiate context. It’s okay, I’ll wait.

::twiddles thumbs. eats some yogurt and granola. sips some tea.::

 Okay, now that you're all caught up, we can continue.

I have a feeling this topic of the value of my contribution to the family is going to be more of an issue in my future, but I already see it sneaking its way in. Right now I work in the monetized economy, but as soon as we can swing it the plan is for me to stay home. At which point we also plan to start having kids. Frankly, we’d love to start yesterday, but I really want to be home with our kids, plus right now close to half my income would go to child care (which seems just ridiculous to me). We also want to homeschool, so having one of us home for a goodly portion of the day is going to be helpful in making that happen.

Both my parents worked full-time, and while they were blessed with reasonably flexible jobs that allowed them to be at many of my events, games, etc. growing up, I hated daycare. My mom grew up with the push to never be economically dependent on a man. While I certainly sympathize with that motivation, I view it as both of us working to support our household, just in different ways (I also have employable skills and an advanced degree, so it’s not like I have no skills on which to fall back). But I do recognize that the luxury of this distinction is afforded me by my mother’s generation and the women’s lib movement. I have options. My grandmother did not. I grew up with the understanding that I could be almost anything I wanted. I don’t think my parents imagined that I would choose to be a radical homemaker (of course, “radical homemaker” would have been a laughable term, if they could have conceived of such a thing).

But I think I digress a little. My husband is totally on board with homesteading, for which I am unceasingly grateful. He likes to joke that it gives him excuses to build things, but he really likes it for more than just that aspect. However, I do feel like he thinks I don’t do “enough” sometimes, on the days I’m home. (I work full-time, but my schedule is such that I work 80 hours in 7 out of every 14 days, so I have a few extra days home compared to traditional hours, if I don’t work overtime.) One of the issues therein is that our to-do list priorities are a little different sometimes, so we both struggle to appreciate how the other has spent the day. I’ve taken to sending him lists of what I’ve done just to show that I’m not sitting at home eating bonbons. And when he gets a little whiny about household stuff I exclaim that, yes in fact, I was eating bonbons, thank you for asking! I still see him struggle with the shiny lure that having a second monetary income holds even though he knows that we will both be happier with me home, so we’ll see how we cope when we get to the portion of the program where my being home full time is our reality. Our current struggle is with “stuff” and the paring down of consumption and spending. When I do stop working full-time outside our home it will necessitate that we tighten our belts, so we are trying to get ahead of the game and start now. It’s an ongoing discussion and negotiation.

However, I think in addition to fighting for appreciation for what we do within our families and communities, many of us also fight ourselves. We struggle to value our own contributions because we are not bring home a “real” paycheck or receiving annual reviews telling us we are worthwhile. Erica does a great job of addressing this in her post Negabucks. Sometimes it helps to see our contributions quantified.

One of the biggest challenges I foresee for me when I get to be a full-time homemaker is that I really had no examples growing up. I can recall precisely one friend growing up with whom I spent any real time with who had a SAHM; and while I loved them dearly, my perception was that her mom spent her time dusting faux flower arrangements and cooking from boxes. She undoubtedly did far more and she was an unwavering cheerleader of her kids and husband, going to all their games and events, hosting church groups, and feeding hoards of ravenous teenagers. But still, the type of wifery she lived was very different from what I do and aspire to do. It’s not that I don’t wish to be an unwavering cheerleader (does that involve reading during games, because if so I will be extra great!), gracious hostess, and feeder of hoards, but that the whole life I envision is just so different from that one example I had. And, of more immediate future relevancy, I did not see that lived out with young children. How do I balance babies, toddlers, managing a household, a large garden, a rapidly expanding menagerie, growing and preserving the bulk of our produce, feeding my family a whole-foods-from-scratch-mostly-local-and-organic diet, educating the children, loving my husband, maintaining my friendships, and keeping up some minimal amount of self-care without going bat-sh*t crazy?

Reading what I just wrote I think the real issue is the loss of community. Our mothers said “we can have it all!” and the mega corporations said “we have just the product for that!” While the radical homemaker movement is something of a backlash to that, I think the tendency is still to think that we have to do it all ourselves. I know I have struggled with this most of my life, even before moving in to the RH-UH spheres. I don’t like asking people to do things for me. I don’t like feeling like I am imposing, I don’t like risking being told “no,” and I don’t like admitting that I can’t handle it – whatever “it” is. I don’t like needing other people. The sin of pride is my most ongoing personal struggle. But if I am going to do this thing, if I want to be a radical homemaker and suburban homesteader, I am going to have to learn to lay down my pride. Lord help me.

“Back in the day” you didn’t do all these things yourself (unless, perhaps, you were a pioneer on the edge of American manifest destiny). You had a large family and a community from which to draw help and support and wisdom. I learn loads from the blogs I follow and the online communities I am a part of and I value those connections, but let’s be real – they do not take the place of having someone physically beside you, helping you can those peaches while you chat your heads off. We are starting to find and build that support network within our church and neighborhood, but it is still frustrating some days and more dispersed than I would like.

So I realize I have veered off course from Erica’s original point and questions, but I have a hard time not seeing all these things and interrelated. What do you think? Do you have a local support network with similar values? Do you struggle with asking for help?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Frolicking Through the Garden: A Tour of Growing Things

You might want to get yourself a cuppa. And maybe a cushy spot to sit. This is going to be a little… lengthy. I’m going to begin with a few pictures of what we started with, the building of the garden beds, and our first garden in the space, so that you have a sense of scale and progress (and because, frankly, it reminds me how far we’ve already come; a reminder I often need when staring at our painfully long project and to-do lists). Bri took all these lovely photos for me.

Let’s Review
This is what the house looked like on the day we first laid eyes on it, April 2009. 

This is what the garden site looked like on the day of our home inspection, mid July 2009. As you can see, the previous owner left us a lot of … stuff. We kept, repurposed, or recycled as much as we could, but we also filled up far more landfill space than I’d like to admit.

Just under one year later. We cleaned out the junk, ripped out almost all the plants, leveled the ground as best we could, and ran irrigation. This shot is mid-build. Please note, the front two garden beds are MIA in this picture and as a result those hose stub-ups you see were placed in the wrong spots. Bri had to then trench two more stub-up’s by hand to get us water where we needed it.  However, it turned out to be a fortuitous mistake as we left the accidental hose bibs in place and they have come in very handy for hand watering.

The beds were not completed and filled until mid-August 2010. Undeterred by how ridiculously late in the season it was, I put in some tomato starts and even sowed zucchini, corn, watermelon, cantaloupe, tomatillos, and beans from seed (let’s not discuss the “harvest,” m'kay?).  Three months later this is what it looked like, in November 2010. This makes me laugh in comparison to this year’s garden, especially when I see the growth gains in pictures taken a single month apart.

This is the garden on June 20th of this year. I started planting at very end of May which, while a vast improvement over last year, is still at least a month but probably more like two to three months later than we should have started. At the very least we could have had a round of cooler spring crops in and out before these went in.

This picture is also from June 20. These tomatoes (the tiny plants you can barely see hiding behind the trellising panels) are all ones I started from seed in April. This is the first time I have started a majority of our plants, including the “difficult ones” from seed instead of purchasing starts and I had so much anxiety over when to start and when to repot and when to transplant. I felt like I was sticking infants in my garden to fend for themselves when I set these out. Surely, Garden CPS should have been notified.

Get On With It, Already!

And now we begin The Tour of the yard and garden as it is now. We’ll go through it as an overview, and then each bed individually, and then other areas of interest. I assume you’re still reading because you’re interested. Or you’re a glutton for punishment. Either way, we begin.

The view of our main patio from the garage roof. There are small trees in pots, along with mints and petunias. Petunia is such a stuffy name for such a fun, flouncy flower, is it not? Those lines you see are our retractable clothes lines, waiting for the next load. The above-ground spa came with the house. It’s definitely not the most “green” thing, especially if we actually heat it (rare) and taking into account all the chemicals necessary to maintain it, but it is admittedly oh-so-nice after a long, hot day on the homestead.

Mid-yard. We ripped out the old, yucked up sod and reseeded about two months ago. We put in a mix of fescue and clover. It should be reasonably drought tolerant, as grass goes, once established. The clover will be food for the bees and we can pick it for tea. When we mow the greens will go to the birds and to the compost to add much needed nitrogen. That lovely pineapple fountain came with the house. (FREE to a good home! Or any home. Besides ours.) Where it sits is the home of our future wood-fired brick oven. Against the wall we put part of the citrus trees and the strawberries.

North-west corner of our yard. The enclosure in the far corner was built by the previous owners as a dog run, but is slowly being commandeered by poultry. It’s not my ideal poultry run, because it is all on a cement pad, but you have to work with what you’ve got. The desert oak, while getting too big for its britches is great for providing protective shade for the birds during the hottest part of the day. And you can also see that we back up to the far corner of a school yard. Fewer neighbors to worry about and a regular influx of various size balls for Guinness to disassemble, win-win.

Front half of the main garden, from the garage roof.

Back half of the garden, from the garage roof.

Front third of garden from the back fence.

Mid-garden from back fence.

Back half of garden from back fence.

Garden Beds, One by One

Okra (three varieties - two green and red burgundy), yellow crookneck squash, and dill.

Edamame (I planted a whole packet and had about 5 plants come up), stevia, fenugreek (grown from seeds out of my spice cabinet), fennel, cucumbers, and garlic (that sprouted in the compost bin, so I threw it in the bed to see what would happen).

The summer squash bed. Black beauty zucchini, Cocozelle, white patty pan, and baby round zucchini. Two of each. WhatthehellwasIthinking.

Snap beans, including Contender, Dragon’s Tongue, Purple Pod Pole, Royalty Purple, and Kentucky Wonder Pole and the volunteer squash (more on that later).

Tomatoes that I started from seed. Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, Amish Paste, Nyagous, Moonglow, Green Zebra, Cherry Current, and Brandywine. Look how big they are getting! And they are just starting to flower.

Winter squash bed. From left to right, Trombonico, spaghetti, Delicata Honeyboat, and butternut. In between I’ve seeded heat-sensitive crops – cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, chives, and lettuce.

Sweet corn in a three sister’s planting with Cherokee Trail of Tears beans and Jarrahdale pumpkins.

Recently seeded basil bed. There’s also a random Bright Light’s Swiss Chard plant (yellow) and a sad looking volunteer borage. We love pesto, so basil is a crop, not just an herb.

We’re trying cantaloupe again, at a more seasonally appropriate time of year, and interplanted it with sunflowers. We’re trellising it, although it seems disinclined to stick to climbing; it also wishes to go visit its neighboring beds.

Sweet potatoes. This is my first time growing them. I purchased three slips from the plant guy at our farmer’s market that he said are purple sweet potatoes. The rest I grew from organic store-bought sweet potatoes that I grew slips from and then transplanted. They seem to be doing well. Fun fact that I recently learned: sweet potato greens are edible!

Watermelon interplanted with sunflowers, including some mammoth sunflowers whose stalks are as thick as my forearm!

The honeydew bed with sunflowers, and leeks which I failed to pull and have gone to flower and which the honeydew are now climbing.

We have one more (empty) bed slated for peppers, eggplants, and tomatillos. My seed-starting efforts on that front went less than swimmingly this year, so I’ll be using some gift cards to get some starts that will go in this weekend.

Animals, Compost, and Pots

The poultry run. This is where our two adult hens and one almost-adult pullet reside. The next big project is a major expansion of the poultry run and a new coop to house all the birds.

Two month old chickens in our portable run. Ten girls, two each: Barred Rock, Rhode Island Red, Buff Orpington, Araucana/Americanas, and Black Australorps. Once the new run is built and they are close to starting to lay they’ll move in with the big girls.

The ducklings, all five Khaki Campbells. They will live with Lucky once the new run is built and they are a little bigger.

Compost bins on the other side of the animal run. These are where the kitchen scraps go, since they are animal-proof. Other stuff goes in too, as needed.

Compost Pile. Mostly for garden “waste” and spent poultry bedding.

Next to the side door I have a potted kitchen herb garden. Regular and lemon thyme, lemon balm, sage, oregano, rosemary, lemongrass, tarragon, chives, and garlic chives. I need a couple more.

On the opposite side of the steps to the side door is a big pot of basil. I let this go to seed a couple times a year and it reseeds itself. That aloe plant is just waiting for a new home. And you can see the end of one of the seed-starting racks Bri built me.

Some Side Notes and Tips

Tip #1: Hedge your bets (if it’s not too cost-prohibitive).
It was my first time starting tomatoes and peppers from seed. I took a pragmatic approach and spent $10 on 5 tomatoes and 5 peppers that I put in pots, just in case mine were a flop (purchased when our local nursery had one of their 50% off sales). Plus, I knew they would give us tomatoes at least a month before the ones I started. I also potted up a volunteer tomato that sprouted in the compost bin and it is giving us fruit too!

Tip #2: Remember to be grateful for volunteers, even if they don’t work exactly how you might prefer.
This applies to tomatoes that sprout next to your animal run, as well as people. This tomato came up a couple months ago and I let it grow; it appears to be a cherry type.

Up close and personal with a female squash flower. I just included this because I think it’s such a cool shot.

Tip #3: If you use rigid fencing as your trellis material for your winter squash, keep an eye on it and gently push them out when they start to rest in a square.
Otherwise it’ll wedge itself in there and then proceed to grow around the squares. Just sayin’.

Tip #4: If you let volunteers grow, you take your chances.
Shortly after we amended all the beds a squash plant sprouted. I decided to let it be and see what it would give us. This is approximately a month after it sprouted.

A mere 15 days later.

And one month after that. We’ve started referring to it as the monster squash.  I have no idea what variety it is (if you know, by all means, please advise). I suspect that it is a cross between a winter and a summer squash, based on the growth habit it is displaying and my very limited knowledge.

It has been so very prolific and we have enjoyed the flavor and texture, treating it like a summer squash.

We decided to let this one develop fully, so we can save the seeds (hoping to avoid cross-pollination we picked this one to save because it set before our other squash started flowering). It’s a gamble, but I hope it works. This is ridiculously heavy for its size. We are going to let a few others ripen fully and see what kind of eating they are that way.

In solidarity with front yard food (and because we needed to hide some more dirt) Bri built me two beds in the front yard. They still look like this, but they are destined to be home to some larger perennial and biannual crops (rhubarb, aloe, perhaps asparagus, artichoke). We refer to the area behind the fence as the front yardette and it houses roses, blueberries, and hibiscus.

We also have an orchard. Check out the details on that here. Look, you can see our new front door that I painted eggplant PURPLE! I lovelovelove it!

I hope you enjoyed this peek into our garden. Thanks for visiting, come back again soon!

This post is part of the Nosy Neighbor Virtual Homestead and Garden Tour hosted by Erica at Northwest Edible Life.

Friday, June 10, 2011

On My Mind...

Bri noticed yesterday that the satellite view of our home on Google maps recently changed. Previously, it showed our home just before we moved in. When I remember the last view I can see how much we have done in the year and a half we've been here. Ours is the one with the green roof in the near middle of the picture. You can see the circles of mulch around the trees in the orchard in the front yard and the garden beds in the back (our garden beds can be seen from space! Well, sort of).

In the spirit of full disclosure, the green in the orchard and in the grassy area in the back is actually weeds; this was definitely taken in winter or early spring. Those same areas are now growing a mixture of pasture grass and clover that we seeded a couple weeks ago. Besides making for a nice substance on which to walk and play, the clippings will go to the birds for greens and to the compost to give us some nitrogen for the piles. And the clover will attract bees. Slowly, but surely, we are making progress.

This post is part of a Friday photo feature hosted by Rhonda Jean at Down-To-Earth.