Several years ago, I saw a nice little card that said: “she designed a life she loved.” It struck a chord with me – and while I don’t have anything with the phrase adorning anything I own, I think about the phrase often. Daily, almost.

I hated the idea of becoming an adult. Loathed it, in fact. When my brother got his driver’s license, I sobbed in the Smitty’s parking lot because I was so scared of not being a kid. I was 10. Six years later when it was my turn, my mom had to force me to take the exam.

My avoidance of adulthood followed me for longer than it should. I floundered through college, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted out of my life, and I set myself back in a lot of ways. I started my career at 25 and at some point after that, I realized I can make my own dreams come true.

So I started doing it. I got chickens. Later on, I got ducks. I tried my hand at beekeeping, though that was cut short due to a fallen tree.

I started figuring out what I really cared about. I started focusing on quality over quantity. I spend a portion of my time every day trying to learn about the life I want to lead.

The prospect of buying new land has me in research mode. I know what I want it to look like eventually, but I also know that I need to implement things in phases rather than going all in at once. I know I will always keep chickens. Whether I keep ducks or not will likely be dependent on whether the location of the pond. I want to eliminate roosters and have guardian geese with the layers. I want bees again, although I want to always be sure to cultivate a good environment for the native bees.

I want a dairy cow and a few beef cattle, not only to provide company, but to provide my own food. I want to raise a few feeder pigs per year, again for food. In a total dream world, I would want a few dairy goats and maybe a small herd of sheep. But that’s absolute dream land and even I can recognize those additions might tip the scales into “too much stuff” mode.

I want a closed loop system on the farm. I want to follow the basic guidelines in “Holy Shit” by Gene Logsdon and the general guidelines from Joel Salatin.

I want to be as self-sufficient as possible on my little corner of the world and leave it a better place than I found it.

life, as of late.

We found out a few weeks ago that we will not be buying the farm. It’s a long, semi-dramatic story, but the bottom line is that at some point in the future, we will be moving.

Part of me is very excited about the change. It will be nice to have a blank slate of sorts and I have always appreciated change. The only issue is that we have three people involved in the deal and finding a property that we will all be happy with is a struggle.

But now I’m in a weird purgatory. We could find land in six weeks, six months, or 18 months. It’s impossible to know, honestly. I didn’t have a fabulous garlic crop this season, so I probably should look into buying garlic. But what if I plant it and then we leave before I can harvest? It will probably be a risk I end up taking, but right now I am hesitant to sink any money into something so temporary.

A lot of changes are coming. I have big plans, but until we see the land it will be impossible to know if they all make sense.

current garden battles.

Growing squash is difficult for me. Primarily from squash bugs, though I have a fair amount of trouble with vine borers as well. Last year I had my first successful squash harvest, though I am not sure what to attribute that win to. I did use tobacco ash when I planted the seeds, but I had also done a controlled burn in the garden the fall before, so I may have just eliminated their ability to overwinter.

I am only growing a few squash plants this year. I had originally planned on growing zero, partially because they are so difficult to grow and partially because I didn’t like any of the squash we had grown last year. I do like eating squash quite a bit, so when I saw the honeynut squash and then the 898 squash, I made room for a few plants. I have four vines in total growing, with nasturtium in the middle.

Only one plant appears to be currently afflicted with squash bugs. I have been going out several times a day to do an egg check and kill any that I see. I got rid of a ton of eggs and I’ve only seen a few today, so hopefully I have gotten ahead of the game.

There are caterpillars eating the tomatoes. I had one Pink Arab tomato that was just starting to ripen, but I found a caterpillar munching on it, so the chickens had a nice little snack. I’m trying to spot them and relocate or let the chickens eat them. I found last year that borage seemed to help and there are several large volunteer borage plants around the tomatoes, so maybe we will get lucky and not have a ton of pressure this year.

There are beetles eating one of the grapevines. I’m killing them as I see them, but I just brewed a garlic/hot sauce spray that will hopefully deter them.

There was also a rabbit in the garden sniffing around the squash. If he goes after my watermelon I’m going to be pretty upset.

Speaking of – two decent sized watermelon are growing so far. The watermelon had kind of a slow start this year, but I’m hopeful we can get a few good ones in before the season is over.

The peppers seem to have rebounded. We have quite a few Thai hot peppers in the container plant. The ones in the ground have had a real struggle. There are various other hot pepper plants that are spread around the garden as I removed other items and needed cover.

The eggplant is starting to grow fairly quickly. I would like to get a few eggplants off of it, but it had such a slow start that I’m not sure anything will ever come of it.

Green beans, dry beans, and wax beans are all growing well. I actually didn’t realize one of the plants was a wax bean, so now I need to start harvesting those as well.

on history.

My grandmother was an avid gardener. I always knew it, but by the time I came around her ability to maintain a garden had waned. Some of my earliest memories are of her garden. The first time I tasted (and was subsequently repulsed by) a cherry tomato was in her backyard. I remember kneeling next to her bed of green beans and her showing me which ones to pick. I remember standing next to her bed of irises and admiring how pretty they were.

She broke her hip when I was three or so. I don’t remember any gardens after that. All of her hobbies – knitting, sewing, gardening, cooking – faded away after that. The only hobby I remember her maintaining until the end was crosswords. I was a kid and while I knew she had these hobbies and talked to her about them some, I didn’t know what questions to ask. Or even to ask questions.

My parents are moving and downsizing. My dad has boxes and boxes of old files. A lot of them are absolutely ridiculous – his taxes from 1976, the hospital bills from my birth, printed Mapquest maps from 2006, records of a church we haven’t attended in 20 years and a place we haven’t lived for a decade. But I did find a file entitled ‘Memories’ that contained letters from my grandmother to my parents during the 70s and 80s.

My grandmother was a letter writer, you see. We exchanged letters for a time when I was in third grade, though I doubt I kept many of them. But my dad is an archiver, a hoarder of information. And so I had the opportunity to read a stack of letters from my grandmother.

She grew apples and peaches, blackberries and tomatoes and cabbage. She cited varieties by name and in a few cases, compared varieties. She talked about the weather and how it impacted the garden. She mentioned shooting squirrels. She cracked jokes.

Probably because my childhood coincided with her failing health and inability to do all of the hobbies she mentioned enjoying in her letters, I never saw this side of her. She was the grandparent I spent the most time with, even though she was my first grandparent to pass. Seeing these letters gave me insight into her that I never had before, and also has provided inspiration for my own garden.

 

volunteers.

One of the most pleasant aspects of the transition to no till is the amount of volunteers I am noticing in my garden. There are lettuce plants dotting the garden, cosmos came back up, borage is everywhere, squash, and an unidentified vine I hope I don’t regret giving a chance to.

The no till transition is going okay. I definitely have more work to do. The straw I got is wheat straw and I think caused a whole different weed problem. I am hoping to get a few loads of horse manure from my cousin that will let me make new beds and hopefully healthier soil.

My compost bins are definitely off in composition. I need to go back and read my compost book a little more in depth to see what I need to add in order to get it cooking a little faster. I also haven’t been completely diligent it keeping it moist.

There is so much happening in the garden, but I’m mostly waiting for harvest. Lots and lots of tomatoes growing. Tons of cucumbers. The squash still haven’t blossomed out, but it’s getting close. The garlic leaves are starting to go brown, which isn’t ideal because it’s still a few weeks early for harvest. The strawberries are still producing, but they’re definitely winding down. A few of the watermelon plants seem to be taking off, but the rest seem to be growing very slowly. The beans are starting to flower, so hopefully we will have green beans shortly.

I did harvest a couple of potato plants today and I pulled a small garlic plant for lunch today. I’m going to do roast garlic and thyme potatoes with braised roasted pork chops. I made a small salad with probably too many radishes, but I don’t want the radishes to go to waste.

It has been such a dry year. I am worried about the orchard.

sweet potatoes & other nonsense

Another snake in the coop today. I couldn’t reach it to get it out, so hopefully the baby chicks survive the night. My bravery has limitations, and that is about the length of your standard hoe or shovel.

I tilled up a portion of the garden today to get the sweet potatoes in. I wish I had planned for them better, but I have been so wrapped up with other (bigger, life changing) things over the last couple of weeks. I had sweet potatoes several years ago and it is probably the most successful crop I’ve had other than maybe cherry tomatoes. I sincerely doubt these will be nearly as good, but we can hope. I usually count on the will of the plant to survive.

The garden somehow feels further along than it usually is by this time. I’m not sure if it’s my mind playing tricks on me since it has been so hot or if it’s because I planted the grapes, strawberries, and blackberries that are making the garden seem so full. The tomatoes are definitely further along at this time than they usually are. The peppers do seem to be on the struggle bus, aside from the plant I put in a pot. There are tons of tiny cucumbers trying to find their way into this world.

I am absolutely, 100% failing on my pledge to be better about marking varieties. I had too many pepper plants this year and I’ve just been tucking the extras in wherever there is space after I harvest something else. It’s a strategy, but not a great one.

back to the heat.

Most of the ducks have abandoned their nests, so I cleared those eggs out of the coop today and I can finally start gathering eggs without concern again. There is one duck who is still sitting on her nest. So far she has hatched about four chicks that I can see. Hopefully ducklings will follow in a few days. The chicks are very attached to their mother and it’s extremely adorable. No pictures or videos because she is in the darkest corner of the coop and my presence upsets her.

There are little tiny cucumbers growing now. They are the 7082 cucumber and I’m very excited to taste it in the hopefully near future. I think by July I will be loaded down with tomatoes. My mom’s family loves tomatoes, so I wonder if I could have a tomato taste test at one of the summer holidays. For science, of course.

My favorite corner of the garden is the flower section. It’s tiny, but it’s absolutely gorgeous. I have had the bee feed mix from Seed Savers for a couple of years, but I never prioritized planting it when it was recommended. I had a little patch of bare soil in early spring, so I sowed it heavily. I was worried the chickens had destroyed it the same day they destroyed my tomato starts, but it has grown up and been an absolute pleasure.

Next spring, I would like to have two full rows of bee feed and butterfly feed mix. Ideally at the front of the garden.

I need to build my mobile chicken tractor this weekend.