Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Balancing Act

Do you guys read Julie's blog? Well, if you don't, you should. Because from time to time, when she isn't too busy farming and raising her little long-haired boy dude and hanging out with her husband, she writes these pieces that are like golden eggs, laid by some magical goose. Not only are they shiny and pretty, beautiful images and evocative words, but inside there's the rich and nourishing wisdom.The girl can write out a moral, emotional, or physical dilemma like only a few can. She doesn't necessarily offer the answers, but rather poses the questions that yield them.

In recent months, I have thoroughly enjoyed her thoughts on slaughtering one's own animalsmaking your path even as you change, on people's insensitivity to boys with long, lovely locks and today, on patience, learning and frustration and farming.

Her posts always evoke dormant thoughts in me, or resonate on a deep level. It's not often that something comes along on your mundane journeys through the internet, from email, to news, to facebook, that actually alters your perception, or wanders down some unused pathway in your brain.

It struck me, as I read her latest post, that this discussion of balance, of patience and urgency, is the perfect topic for this season, the moment when day and night are equally long and summer hangs in the balance, ready to charge down the hill; arms open, warm, smelling of wet earth and blossoms, her yellow skirts swaying.

It's the season of planting and calving, of chicks and kids and babying along fragile plant starts. It's Growing Season, delight to farmers, homesteaders and gardeners.

Unlike Julie, I've never wanted to be a bona fide farmer. I've always known that my dreams for living off the land were small, manageable, not wild and ambitious and juggernauting. Having known small-scale farmers most of my life, I never had the dream of being one, because I've seen what it takes and I don't have it in me. One needs a real passion to want to be a farmer. I don't have it, not for that pursuit.

However, like Julie, I am a really impatient person. One that wishes to know already, to be good, not to practice, or cram, or wait. And like Julie, I often project this impatience to my experiences, counting that which I do not know and have not mastered and forgetting to account for all the things I have learned, all the things I am good at, or all the things that I, god forbid, am still learning.

And of course, for a while now, I've been interested in growing some of our own food, trying to be a little more self-sufficient.

In her latest post, she also talks about their accomplishments, about the eggs their fowls have laid, the Kombucha they've brewed, the bread they've baked. Lessons learned, sometimes, in spite of the impatience to master all of it already.

In that spirit I thought I would list the many things I've learned since we started this homesteading adventure, most of them, it bears noting, through trial and error, countless mistakes, messes, hard work wasted, or so it seemed at the time. Compounded though, those mistakes make up the bulk of my knowledge about growing a little bit of your own food. And those mishaps are what makes the triumphs seem that much more glorious.

-Grow what you eat. Basics first. Don't try to grow everything. Grow what you eat.
-Save yourself some heart brake, grow brassicas and peas and green beans and zucchini. They are forgiving and you'll end up with something to eat.
-But also grow flowers. I've never regretted flowers, but I have regretted not having them. Be practical, but fanciful.
-Grow herbs. They're expensive in the dry goods isle and cheap and easy in the garden.
-Fermenting is more fun than canning, but canning has its place. There's nothing like opening a can of homemade tomato sauce in midwinter. Nothing.
-Screw jam. Freeze it, or do one days worth, but sweating in the kitchen over a stove in August for a week is not worth some sugary stuffs.
-Mend your fences. When you see they need mending. Not the day after the deer eat everything in your garden.
-Everything dies. In a long enough timeline the survival rate of every fowl turns to zero (the Tyler Durden school of animal husbandry). In my experience this timeline is anywhere from birth to three years. Do your best, mourn your losses and learn from your mistakes.
-What you can't grow, buy, or trade. Strawberries for preserving, tomatoes for canning, cucumbers for pickling, there's a farmer out there who has these in abundance.
-I can learn anything. No really. The idea of chickens, or bees, or kicking cows, may seem like a wild, impossible idea, especially from a city apartment, but it's not. You do it, you f*** up and it becomes second nature.
-The novelty of making/ growing/ preserving your own never gets old.

Oh and plant your favas with the "eye" down. Every spring, I have to look that up again.

Happy Equinox Folks! 

Care to share some lessons you've learned?

ps. This is not traditional gardening garb. I noticed I needed to toss some more favas into the ground and I didn't feel like changing. My friend Candace gave me this perfect Equinox cardigan, it's like spring in a garment.


  1. Thanks for introducing Julie's blog. It's funny you mention these things, because we are those farmers :) The last few weeks/months have been challenging here as we readied for our Spring plantings (here we plant a few months earlier). Farming is no joke, and like you I have known for quite some time that I do not have it in me. D. on the other hand does, and I can only admire his passion and incredible work ethic in the garden. I've been hesitant to even talk about the farm, mostly because it requires so much of our time, that I just don't ever have the time to sit and write about it. Other times, I think I'm waiting it out... fearful that our hopes and goals for the farm might squash the productivity we've got going at the moment. One epic fail of late was my sauerkraut... I tried the recipe from Wild Fermentation, and it all molded over. I then tried the recipe from Nourishing Traditions and it was under fermented. Am I rambling about kraut? Why yes, I guess I am. Anywho, its nice to not feel alone out there in the homesteading boat.

  2. Happy Equinox :) Thanks for your words of wisdom. I'm what I call a "random gardener" and basically if something is growing somewhere and seems to like it---I let it be. So, I have tons of feverfew, lemon balm, mint, and calendula, plants that I use all the time and that have staked out their own space in the garden. I don't usually move them, I plant around them.

    Gonna try brassicas this year!

    Also gonna try freezer jam, like you say. Never tried it before :)

  3. loved your nest post and this one. i've been quiet on the comments lately, and i will have to check out julie's blog.

  4. I had my first ever garden last year, which could have gone better, but it wasn't within reach of the hose and it was incredibly hot and everything went under-watered and undernourished. There's nothing like eating a sun-warm grape tomato off the plant though, and having that sharp tomato smell on your hands. And even after a long hot day working in the bakery, I always had the energy to go pull up a few weeds, encourage my little sprouting plants with sweet talk and look around for what new form of life had decided my garden was home - be it snakes in my compost or toads nestled beneath the strawberries.

    My biggest struggle with learning though, is learning to fail, and learning at accepting imperfection! I'm impatient and a perfectionist and it drives me absolutely mad when I don't get something absolutely right the first time, or the tenth. Now so long as there's nobody to witness the failure, I say to hell with it and give almost anything a go!

  5. Nice post Milla! Very encouraging words; life is all about trial and big lesson!

  6. I have to say, though - nothing is as magical as opening a jar of sweet, summery blackberry jam in the middle of a dreary winter. ;)


  7. Hi. This is the first time I am commenting on your blog. I have been reading through your archives for the past two days and I think I have been even dreaming of your life, so immersed I have been in your mind (the part of it that you share on the blog, obviously). I think I reached here from Sadie's blog. Anyway, although I am usually a very quiet reader of blogs, I don't want to keep quiet on yours. I feel that I am getting so much from it that I absolutely must give back. It's been a real inspiration for me. Just the right thing at the right time, I guess, making me feel so alive and with purpose. Thank you for that.

    I like the "be practical but fanciful" advice. It's the way to go. I need to go buy some flower seeds now. Never had much luck with food gardening (thanks to a large family of woodchucks in our back yard), but the flowers always gave me so much joy. I especially like those mixes that are a source of wonderful surprises all summer.

  8. Flowers are a new thing for me, but you're right. They're worth it. I enjoyed last year's nasturtiums and zinnias.

    And eyes down for fava beans? Gotta write that one down...

  9. i will definitely check out julie's blog--seems like such a worthwhile read.
    you are so spot-on about flowers. the years i didn't bother with them were the years i deeply regretted. flowers are always a good idea.
    "the Tyler Durden school of animal husbandry"--THIS. i love your brain, that you would think of that. the way you write sucks me in to the very last word. xo

  10. You are so kind! Thank you, friend. It really means a lot to hear such nice things from you- you who has given me pause to think so many times!

    The list of successes is important- so much so that I wonder if I should keep a handwritten version somewhere for reference. In homesteading/farming I've found that as the desired impossible becomes possible there are always new desires, new impossibles that crop up and shroud even the most recent successes. But we can't forget! Progress has been made!

    YES to the easy growers and yes, yes, yes to the flowers. Our garden was a graveyard last year but so many days I was able to shrug it off with a cup full of fresh flowers- even when they were wild and completely unrelated to my own efforts.

    Happy belated equinox to you as all, my friend! Fava eyes down and human eyes up- it's spring!

  11. So happy to be reading your blog again! I LOVE this advice. My garden goals this year are to keep growing through November (I usually wimp out in October) and to preserve more food for the winter. My husband and I drank the last of our dried sage tea while planting our beets, kale, collards, and broccoli last weekend. And we do it from a city apartment on our patio in whatever we can find that will hold dirt, ha! I'm just grateful to have any outdoor space in a city, but I look forward to the day when we'll have more room to play and experiment. In the spirit of patience, practice, and projects, this reminds me of my favorite yoga sutra: "practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness." I truly believe you can learn anything, all it takes is practice and earnest effort.