I got an email from a local indie publisher the other day about a new upcoming book about a couple who lived in a city in Ireland and then moved to the country to pursue a rural agrarian homesteading sort of life, living lightly on the earth, discovering what it means to be rooted and part of the land, not without errors and lessons, etc., etc. There are so many stories like this these days, and I thought, do we really need another one? Privileged people moving to the country who are somehow able to not work for wages, or, if they do, have jobs that allow them the freedom to perform their work anywhere, discovering the life they yearned for is hard work, making it through the steep learning curve and out the other side, and then writing a book about it and how they now feel so connected to place and earth and blah, blah, blah.
Yeah, I’m a lot resentful that I have been longing for a small farm since the late 1990s when I was still in my twenties and I have never been fortunate enough to be able to make it reality. So instead, I have worked to make my little city yard into a tiny farm. I have probably struggled and learned as much or more than the people who write these back to the farm books. And I have also discovered a rootedness and place. All while working a full-time job that I have to go to five days a week.
I’m sure I am not the only one whose farm is their city garden and who relish the challenge and heartbreak that accompanies any sort of place-making and farming. But no one writes books about people like us. The books are all about people like the Irish couple, and most of them are in the UK, not the upper midwest, or even the US for that matter.
I enjoy reading city folk learn to farm books as much as the next person; some of them are quite good. But there are so very many of them that I’m tired. Tired of both the privilege and the plot. I want to read about people like me, someone who lives in a city and has turned their yard into a farm. Or someone who lives in an apartment and gardens on a small community garden plot. I want to read about someone who doesn’t live in the mild UK, or Portland or California and talks about plants that will never survive in my climate. I want to hear about someone who battles squirrels and rabbits, the neighbor’s cat, a passing bald eagle, harsh winters, and blazing summers. Someone who can’t fix all their soil ills by hauling in truckloads of topsoil (taken from somewhere else) and composted manure (also from somewhere else) because it’s too darn expensive. Someone whose farm garden is never going to make it into the pages of a glossy gardening magazine because it wasn’t designed for looks but for practicality and because there is no time to keep up with the weeding due to having to go to work everyday.
Where are those books? If you know of any, please clue me in!
My place right now is in strange territory. Usually we have frost by the week of October, but here we are three weeks in and I still have flowering zucchini plants with lots of tiny squash that are never going to make it to edible size. And a few days ago I picked green beans from my Kentucky Wonder vines that started regrowing. My next-door neighbor still has gladiola flowers blooming.
The latest first frost record is November 7, set quite recently in 2016. It broke the record of October 30, set in 1973. We won’t be breaking any records this year. It looks like, if the forecast is correct, there will definitely be frost by Friday or Saturday. What a relief that will be. I can really start putting the garden to bed. The leaves from the trees, which have been slow to turn color, might actually begin falling. We can winter-proof the chicken coop and run. But most of all, I can finally rest. Not that there has been much to do in the garden anyway, but not having to continue thinking about the things that need doing will be welcome.
I might actually be able to get back to my weaving and finish those kitchen towels. And hot chocolate. I have been longing for a cup of hot chocolate. But it’s too darn warm out.
Winter squash season has arrived and James did roast me up a sweet meat squash and I made some delicious squash pudding. I just discovered squash pudding last year. I have no idea how I hadn’t discovered it sooner. Basically it’s pureed winter squash and then you go to town adding whatever floats your boat. I added in cinnamon and ginger, raisins, pepitas, a bit of chia, a teaspoon of peanut butter, some rolled rye flakes, and soy milk kefir. Nom nom nom. I’m looking forward to cranberries and pomegranate.
I saved seeds from a sweet meat squash last year and planted a couple in the garden. I got a vigorous vine and a couple squash. But of course, the squirrels got to the squash first. The only winter squash I was able to harvest from the garden was a very small pie pumpkin. I think this winter I will work on figuring out something besides pepper spray to keep the squirrels from ravaging the winter squash. I must think like a squirrel and find a solution.
Expecting frost next weekend, I decided it would be ok to plant the garlic this afternoon. I got seed garlic from Fedco Seeds this year, a hardneck porcelain variety called Georgian Fire. Doesn’t that sound delightfully spicy? I also planted some cloves from the garlic I harvested from this year’s garden, a hardneck rocambole called Spanish roja. And I planted a bunch of bulbils from garlic I let go to seed—Spanish roja and Music.
I planted Bulbils last year too and they came up strong in the spring and I was so very excited. But it got hot so fast and they were still small, and they all got fried. When spring comes next year I will be sure to provide them a little sun protection should it get suddenly hot before they have grown enough.
I planted all the garlic in the area the zucchini grew in this year. While there were still lots of tiny zucchinis on the vines, only one was big enough to be edible and the rest went in the compost bin with the plants. Now the leaves on the trees need to fall so I can mulch the garlic with them. Then I can cut this year’s nettle down and lay them out on top of the leaves to winter ret, and then I can cover it all with some plastic mesh to keep chickens and squirrels from digging.
I also planted ten species tulips in the front garden. The squirrels always eat the regular tulip flowers but never bother the species tulips. Plus, the species tulips tend to naturalize, so I decided to add a few more. They are a variety mix so I have no idea what colors they will be.
We met a friend for breakfast this morning and afterwords went to Mother Earth Gardens and bought two bales of straw to keep the chickens’ feet warm in the run over winter. I hauled them home on the e-cargo bike. They were not the heaviest load I have ever carried, but they were the most awkward, and it took me a few frightful wobbly seconds to get my balance. Once I did, it was no problem, as you can see in the stealth video that James took. Sorry it’s so large, I can’t seem to figure out how to size it smaller.
- Book: Of Time and Turtles by Sy Montgomery. I love turtles and tortoises, always have. When I was a kid, one of my aunts had some box turtles and a desert tortoise and she let me take them to school once for show and tell. I had a turtle of my own for twenty years, a red-eared slider named Touché. She is buried in the garden by the climbing rose. The book is about two years Montgomery spent working with a few turtle rescue groups in New England. I learned so much about snapping turtles. Did you know they can live to be 150 year old? There is an illegal global market in turtles that is devastating the global turtle population. If you like turtles, you will definitely want to read Montgomery’s book.
- Book: The Forest Brims Over by Maru Ayase, translated from Japanese by Haydn Trowell. Rui is married to the respected novelist Tetsuya, who uses Rui as his muse. He writes so intimately about her in his books that people think they know all about Rui’s sex life and other things. One day Rui is tired of being used, eats some seeds given to Tetsuya by a neighbor, and begins to sprout. Instead of worrying about his wife, Tetsuya buys a large terrarium and plants her in their bedroom, then proceeds to write about about her transformation in a new novel that becomes a masterpiece. Meanwhile, Rui keeps growing and turns into a forest. Though I found the ending got a little didactic, as though the author felt like she had to spell out the gender and relationship issues in case we’d missed them, I very much enjoyed the book. This is something like the 20th novel the author has written and the only one to be translated into English. Hopefully more of her work will be translated. You can read more about the book in an interview with Ayase at Words Without Borders.
- Podcast: For the Wild: Jacqueline Suskin of the Poetry of Seasons. Poetry and seasons and Suskin’s new book, A Year in Practice, a practical guide and inspiration for connecting with, and finding meaning in, the seasons.
- Series: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. This ran from 2018 – 2020 and I never saw it. We’ve been picking away it, an episode here and there. We have two episodes left in the first season. I have quibbles, but it is overall enjoyable.
I live in a very small house, but my windows look out on a very large world.Confucious
James’s Kitchen Wizardry
Everything bagels! Our natural food co-op now offers everything bagel spice in the bulk spice bins so we had to get some. So nice to be able to make homemade.