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.

James’s Kitchen Wizardry
Homemade everything bagels

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.

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24 thoughts on “City Folk Move to the Country

  1. I’m sure others have said it, but you know the answer. YOU write such a book. You already have, in essence, here on the blog. Just (just – ha!) turn it into a book. You could start a whole new sub-genre. You have learnt so much, and you have so much to give and teach. And you have a lovely writing style.

    1. Aw, thank you Whispering Gums! You are ever so kind. I’m thinking about it, looking around to see what is out there currently and how it was done, gathering information. We’ll see what happens in my copious amount of spare time! 😉

    1. Thanks for the booklist link Elizabeth! I was surprised to find I had most of them saved already on my library wishlist. But I added a few I didn’t know about. Maybe I should get around to borrowing them this winter 😀

  2. I know what you mean, these aren’t the kinds of stories that appeal to me either, but I’m also thinking that they do encourage some readers to try elements of “homesteading” (to employ a sloppy catch-all term) in their own lives that might lead to some interesting places and changing perspectives. If you are overwhelmed at the thought of writing something booklength, what about collecting a series of diary entries over the course of a single year about your backyard experiences, and pitching the idea to an online magazine as a counter to the kind of memoir that’s irking you?

    Also a book friend shared this artist’s site with me over a conversation about Sy Montgomery’s new book…beautiful stuff. https://www.mpattersonart.com/shop

    1. True Marcie, I have learned a lot from the “homesteading” books over the years, and I don’t disparage them, they got me started and I hope inspire others as well!

      Thank you for your writing suggestions! I will add them to my list of things to think about 🙂

      Oh yes, Matt Patterson is in Montgomery’s book, the pair worked together and he did art for her book. And I am planning on getting myself a World Turtle print eventually. All his art is gorgeous!

  3. Though I see I’m not the only person suggesting this, but with such a paucity of books about the struggles of urban gardeners, it looks like you might just have a new project this winter along with the weaving and fortified with plenty of hot chocolate. It seems as though there’s a real need for such books especially with the challenges climate change is bringing. The books I’m aware of are of the how-to variety for gardeners in our yes, fairly mild climate. I wonder what my mother’s Midwestern farming family would have made of the city folk who decide to dabble in farming and then write books.

    Goodness, do I miss freshly made New York bagels! The Sunday arts section of the NYT, strong coffee, and still-warm bagels…

    1. You are so kind Julé! Y’all are giving me something to think about while I weave and enjoy hot chocolate 🙂 Your mother’s family would either be appalled by the city folk books, or find them hilarious, I’d love to sit in a corner and hear them talk about it!

      1. The farming ended with my grandfather’s generation I’m afraid, but making a wild guess at reactions it might have been incomprehension and a few polite snorts at least. Then knowing looks after a few months.

        1. My paternal grandparents farmed in Minnesota Julé and moved to California when my dad was 17. They and my dad kept a garden, it is how I learned to garden, but farming for them in northern Minnesota was a hard life that required they also work off the farm, so when my grandpa had the chance to take a good union job at a factory in San Diego, they never looked back. They never talked much about farming and my dad never once came to visit me after I moved to Minnesota. Still, I wish they were all around so I could try to get them to talk about things, even though when they were still alive they made it clear they didn’t want to talk.

  4. I agree! Who are these people?! Did you read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? I found it deeply annoying. On another note, I love species tulips too, and they have naturalized in my front yard beautifully. I want more! And, I love that you brought bales home on your bike! Go, you! We loved Sabrina until it got a little goofy at the very end of the series, but worth watching regardless. Have you seen Our Flag Means Death? Hilarious! Our new favorite. I did a lot of garden tidying over the weekend — my goal next year is to OVERplant — too much open space between plants for the weeds to thrive. I’m going to experiment with a deeper leaf cover this year to smother weeds and enrich the soil. I’ve mulched leaves in the past but they just seem to melt away into my thick clay soil. A local friend uses whole leaves and then just turns them over a few times in the spring. We’ll see. Next year will be our 6th spring in this house and, after a few years of rehabbing and another few years of experimenting, I finally have a good list of what works and what doesn’t. I’m working on a plan for a healthier garden/yard next year!

    1. I know everyone loves Barbara Kingsolver, but the only book of hers that I’ve read is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and I hate it. And let me tell you, I read this book with a book club that met at the library in the middle of a weekday, and all these lovely women were in their late 70’s-80’s. They HATED Barbara Kingsolver’s book even more than I did because they had actually worked on farms before modern faming equipment, and it was miserable.

      On a happy note, Stefanie, I would recommend Chicken Scratch by Kelly Chripczuk. If you Google that, you will see she sells it on Amazon (self-published). The family has very little money, never had much to begin with, and was a deeply touching book about chickens and motherhood. I’m not a mom and I enjoyed it.

      1. I have not read that Kingsolver book Melanie because I have heard from people who grow food how much they hated it. Thanks for the Chicken Scratch recommendation!

        1. You’re so welcome! Kelly’s book is self-published, but it’s truly polished and thoughtful, so if you get your hands on it, you’re supporting a DIY-er, planet-saver like yourself.

    2. I have not read the Kingsolver book because I have heard too many food growers say how bad it is.

      So glad you like species tulips too! I never see them in anyone’s yard because everyone goes for the big fancy ones. I started watching Our Flag Means Death last year and then for some reason stopped. I think we got distracted. But will have to get back to it sometime because it was funny!

      Oh, I am going to try over planting next year too because I have had the same experience as you. Good luck with your plan for next year! I can’t wait to hear how it goes.

  5. Yep, like everyone has already commented: “write the book you want to read” !! And for the squirrels… a dog?! You can find a dog that would love the chickens in a proper affectionate way – I’ve seen it.

    1. Thanks sweet Care! A dog would help with the squirrels, kind of, but would not fit well with a backyard that is all veg. I don’t think I’d enjoy eating a zucchini the dog may have peed on 😀

  6. I think YOU should write the book about YOU (& James) and people who make their yards into gardens. That’s the answer.

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