Sunday, November 30, 2014

HenHouse 2.0

I have often viewed my life as a spiral, growing larger with every turn of the year's great wheel.  Even when it appears I am going back, or repeating something I've already done, that really isn't the case.  There are always differences, even if it's simply where I'm at in my life.  Time streams only forward and it is impossible to return to any past moment.

So here I am, building a chicken house once again as part of this winter's preparation for next spring's return to urban homesteading.  The old henhouse, a recycled doghouse on a frame with a nest box, was big enough for 3 hens maximum.  It tended to leak and the nest box would get wet.  Since I have chickens and not ducks... this just wasn't ideal.  An upgrade is definitely in order.

View from the Back.
The new chicken house is made from a few 2x4's left over from the goat shed and free pallets.  It will have two levels - 3 if you count the roost bars- and a nest box that's accessible from outside the house itself via a door in the side.  There should be ample space for at least 6 hens.  It will also be wired for electricity with a light at the top, complete with timer and outlet.  Very high tech....

Other improvements will be putting corrugated roofing under the deck so it won't get wet and muddy in the pen.  Rainwater will be collected by a gutter and can be used for plants or animals.  A board will be added along the bottom edges to stabilize the wire and a thick layer of straw will be put down.  This is called the deep litter method and keeps everything clean and smelling fresh.  The door has already been moved so it opens to the outside to allow for the extra depth of the straw.

I can't help being excited.... should I start saving egg cartons now??

The old henhouse

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Quiet Growth

The season has grown old.  Bare trees reach for the pale blue sky with grey twisted fingers, their feet sprinkled with the now dull remnants of their Autumn glory.  The air is cold and sharp with the spicy scent of decaying leaves.  Here and there a tree still glows crimson, all the brighter among her naked kin.  Yet even she will soon join the others in somber winter hue.

It is the waiting season, a time when growth takes place quietly below the surface.  This is true both in nature and my own life. My impatient ego chafes at the stillness and silence.  I want to see progress.  To calm this urge, I find it helpful to look back on the growth the past year has brought to me.  It has the effect of making me thankful for what I have experienced and allows me to see what may be silently sprouting now.

Winter last year brought the life shattering end of an 18 year marriage.  I was grateful for the quiet of that dark season as I fought to heal and regain a sense of myself without the person I'd thought to spend my life with.  Everything came to a halt for a time.  Yet the healing came, and I began searching for who I am alone.  I found her. That girl long fettered by the chains of adulthood broke free full of passion, energy, joy, and love.  I tasted life in all its sweet and bitter flavors, tested myself and those who would share my finite time in this world, and sifted the golden wheat from the glittering, but worthless chaff.  I know who I am, where I want to be, and who is worthy to share my life.

Rather than healing, this winter will again be one of quiet growth.  My plans have just begun to sprout and are pushing pallid roots deep into the soil of my existence.  So I shall be patient and look forward to seeing them spring forth when the light half of the year returns once again


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Autumn's Promise

Autumn has come to the Ozarks.  The trees are donning their bright garb for one last riotous party before the long quiet sleep of winter overtakes them.  Hints of scarlet, bronze, and gold are peppered among the summer green leaves and each day brings a bit more color.  Their annual cousins take up the buff brown of old age, as their time here comes to an end.  The crisp, cool morning air is often overtaken by a lazy afternoon heat, yet there are also cold rainy days that hint of the winter to come.

Hidden among this most flamboyant of going away parties, an unobserved promise is being made.  Seeds are quietly ripening.  Tiny, large, round, mere slivers, hairy, smooth, each carrying with it the assurance that bright Spring will come.  Some, like those of the wildlings in my back yard, cling tenaciously to anything that happens to brush against them.  Others float lightly through the air on shimmering gossamer balloons.  Yet others are brightly cased in food for various animals, ourselves included, a tasty reward for spreading their seeds far and wide.

A Ripe Lemon Cucumber and Seeds
It may seem strange that someone who is less than enthusiastic about gardening would have such a fascination with seeds.  Yet I find myself collecting them as though they were precious gems.  Or perhaps better than gems, for these tiny parcels of life can offer many more of themselves with time and care.  I think it is the potential that I find so attractive.  From a tiny something so apparently dry and lifeless, a whole plant bursts forth with all the determination of life.  It grows, matures, and dies, always leaving behind it's own promises to Spring.

What shall I leave behind?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Perks of Being Lazy

I discovered something wondrous this afternoon while watering the plants.  My Goji berries are blooming!!! I'm sure it's much too late for the berries to actually ripen, but these lovely little purple flowers brought a merry smile to my face.

As part of my edible perennial garden, I planted Goji berries this Spring.  These are a native fruit, high in all kinds of wonderful nutrients (just check out how much the dried ones cost at the health food store), and supposedly pest and disease free.  Well..... the plants looked awful all summer!  While they did grow a bit, they were attacked by aphids and other critters and at one point lost almost all their leaves.   I had decided to pull them out and plant something else in the containers.... but just hadn't gotten around to it.   That little bit of laziness has paid off.

Although not generally considered a virtue, I'm finding that there are definite benefits to being just a little bit lazy in my life.  For so many years I felt as though I must be busy all the time.  There seemed to be so many things that "had" to be done.  In my rush to accomplish this or that task, I never stopped to think about how I was spending the most precious possession I have, the only thing that is truly mine, my Time.

It has often been my experience that painful or stressful times in my life have always brought me the most profound lessons.  These are lessons I would never have chosen to learn on my own, but I value them all the more for that.  This last year has taught me to truly treasure each moment I have.  Many tasks I once considered essential, or at least required, have been dropped.  I have opened up time in my life to just sit and daydream, to watch the clouds, to read, and to listen to the whimsical music of my wind chimes.

I'm not sure if this slowing down is the reason that my memories of this year are so clear.  I have had so many wonderful experiences, met amazing people, and stretched my perceptions of who I am and who I want to be.  None of these things likely would have happened if I had insisted on keeping to the pattern that had me constantly moving, rushing from one task to the next and focused on everything but what I was experiencing at the time.

 I was numb to my life and didn't even know it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Making Space

Spices anyone?  Okay, I freely admit I'm a bit of a spice junkie.  Pungent, sweet, savory, brightly colored or demurely earth toned, I just love shelves full of neatly labeled little jars of goodness! But where to put them? WeeHavyn has a tiny kitchen that desperately needs remodeled.  There is barely cupboard space for a few cans of tomatoes and counter space is even more restricted.  This is definitely a kitchen designed for the "heat it in the microwave" type.  Yet the kitchen is by far the most expensive room to remodel and other projects have taken priority.

I've been considering filling the remains of the doorway to the bathroom with shelves for a while.  The door basically made the kitchen a hallway into the bathroom so it was removed almost as soon as WeeHavyn became a part of my life.  While it's just the depth of a 2x4, that's plenty of space for small jars.  So...with some scrap lumber, inexpensive brackets, and a few tools, I've built a lovely set of shelves for my spices and baking needs.  It's wonderful not to have to dig through the overfull cupboard to get to the baking soda when I need it and now my mortar and pestle collection has a home.  

I love how these little shelves have opened up my kitchen and am planning on building a niche in that spot for them and perhaps another next to it during the actual remodel.

Look how many more spices I could have!!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Harvest in the Shade

As much as I love WeeHaven, she, like her mistress, isn't exactly well suited to conventional gardening.  Her challenges include: steep slopes, little soil, and shade from several large trees, the most notable being the large Oak that spreads his protective branches over the entire lot where I built the goat pen.  Now, a very determined gardener, which anyone who has read this blog knows I am not, may put in a series of raised beds and trim selective branches to shed more light on the ground.  I prefer to put whatever container is at hand wherever it fits and see what happens.  Sometimes, if I remember to water regularly, I even have a successful harvest.

Since I decided that goats at WeeHavyn would wait another year, the goat pen sits empty.  The bare gate was just too much to see and I had a 16 foot piece of cattle panel that I had cut up for a different project. A little muscle, a few fencing staples, and some 5 gallon buckets with holes drilled in the bottom have made a lovely cucumber trellis.  I believe if I continue the 1"x1" wire all the way to the top of the fence, I can even grow them when the goats join us, since I am getting miniature goats that won't be able to reach over the fencing.  As this spot is very well shaded by the Oak, I wasn't sure I would get any fruit at all.  However; the determined vines have climbed all the way to the top of the trellis, where I ruthlessly clipped off the growing ends, and is happily beginning to produce.  I probably don't get the harvest I would in a sunny space, but the leafy trellis is a beautiful sight and I have fresh crispy cucumbers every day. 

These are heirloom Lemon Cucumbers.  They are very crisp and never have even a hit of bitterness no matter how old they get, although the seeds get tough when they start to turn really yellow.  I can also now recommend them for producing in the shade.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Losing the Lawn

The world has finally put on her spring clothes!!  She is painted with a million shades of green from the delicate yellow greens of the oak flowers and new leaves, to the deep blue greens of the violet leaves.  Even on the inevitable grey days that spring showers bring, everything seems to glow with inner life.

All this wanton growth means my lawn needs mowed... always.  Even just the day after I mow it, the dandelions send their airy heads skyward, giving the lawn a ragged, half-wild look.  WeeHavyn's rocky slope makes the work hard and quickly ruins a blade, even on the highest setting.  Bare patches abound and there are more weeds than grass in some spots.

I'm well aware that with a lot of work and money, I could have a yard of perfectly manicured grass, helped along by copious amounts of fertilizer, water, and pesticides.  Of course that wouldn't solve the problem of having to mow... but I guess I could hire someone to do that.  Somehow the prospect of all that isn't the least bit appealing to me.  I can't get past the fact that all those resources are going toward something that offers nothing back and is potentially harmful to WeeHavyn and her family.

What if I could use that space to grow food?  Well, a vegetable garden isn't really an option.  The steeply sloped soil is rocky and everything is partially shaded.  Annual plants need deep, rich soil and lots of sunshine to be able to gather the energy they need to produce in just one growing season.  Yet the common vegetable garden isn't the only way to produce food and it certainly isn't the easiest, especially in less than ideal conditions.Using perennials allows one to baby new plants for a year or two and then just maintain and harvest after that.

Hardy Kiwi, Blueberry, and Goji Berry plants.
Enter the concept of a food forest.  This method of gardening centers on perennial plants and a technique called layering which mimics the way a forest grows.  The top layer are the large trees, which WeeHavyn already has in place.  The next layer are the shorter trees, in this case dwarf fruit trees such as cherry, plum, and apricot which aren't bothered by the black walnut tree in the hedgerow.  Next are shrubs, such as gooseberries, hazelnuts, blueberries, etc.  There are so many rare and interesting fruiting shrubs that I have a very hard time choosing.  Then come the vines such as kiwi, passionfruit, and grape.  Ground cover plants such as strawberries and wintergreen happily nestle at the feet of the rest of the layers.  Finally there are the root plants such as sweet potato, Jerusalem artichoke, and oca, which are basically annuals that leave tubers to grow back the next year.  All of these plants have their place and can be planted in such a way as to make WeeHaven more beautiful than she already is.... without mowing.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Here I Go Again!!

Last fall, my life fell to pieces.  The very foundation of the life I had known for 18 years crumbled away in the span of a few days and I questioned everything about who I was and what I was doing.  I wasn't sure which dreams were "mine" and which were "ours".  So I stripped my life of everything but the bare minimum and spent the dark winter trying to find some answers.

This is Paulina, my new Nigerian Dwarf
The beautiful weather and burgeoning life all around me have worked their magic this Spring.  The doubts I had about the direction WeeHavyn was taking are clearing away.  The goat and chicken pens seem empty and forlorn.  I miss making cheese and the all the fun having animals afforded me.  I even miss the steady rhythm of doing chores.

And here is her sister, Perdita!
Yet not everything is the same.  Life unwinds for us in a spiral and we never end up in the exact place we left.  I did enjoy the freedom to just drop everything and go.   I have reconsidered the type of goats I want as well as the breed of chicken.  I still haven't decided if I want rabbits again and I'm seriously considering a couple of hives of honeybees to pollinate the perennial food forest I'm starting on. 

One thing has not changed. I still have the tendency to plunge wholeheartedly into a project once I've made the decision to do it.  I've already purchased two Nigerian Dwarf doelings.  They will be coming to WeeHavyn in May.

Onward and upward!

Monday, April 14, 2014

An Unusual Strawberry

Spring is in full swing in the Ozarks.  Redbuds are covered with magenta cloaks and the chaste white petals of Bradford pears shower down and waft in the breeze like a delicate bridal veil.  Birds trill and call to one another in a melodious conversation. The crocuses and narcissus have faded away, their beauty early and short, but so very welcome as a bright signal that winter's grip has finally loosened. 

One of the most important lessons WeeHavyn has to teach me is to keep nothing in my life that is not useful or beautiful.  In fact, I strive to only keep those things that are both.  So I decided to plant strawberries in this year's porch planters.  After all, what could be more beautiful that a sparkling red berry and more useful than strawberry topped cheesecake?

Well, how about strawberry plants with lovely pink flowers?  This spring, I discovered the Tristan strawberry.  They are an everbearing type strawberry so I should get berries most of the year.  They are practically runnerless and have the most beautiful pink flowers followed by elongated ruby berries. 

A perfect combination of useful and beautiful....

I had an issue with the cats using my porch boxes as beds last summer and smothering my plants.  I guess the cool, moist soil was just too much to resist.  Pressing sticks in the soil helped some, but they weren't sharp enough and could be pushed over.  So this year I put a U shaped piece of 1"x1" wire in each box with the cut ends sticking up.  It seems to be working so far.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring Relapse

Spring has FINALLY sprung in the Ozarks!!  This has been an unusually long, cold winter.  A winter of icy roads and sky-high utility bills.  But the grass is greening, my tiny yellow narcissus dots the lawn, and the birds send trills of ecstasy from among the swelling buds on the branches....perfect conditions for a raging case of Spring Fever.

As I have confessed several times, I am not a particularly talented gardener.  I eagerly plunge in during the gentle Spring with her new green, fresh sunshine, and cool temperatures.  I buy all kinds of seeds, start plants, buy plants, and avidly plan where everything is going to go.  But inevitably, my enthusiasm wanes as the heat, weeds, and bugs of Summer take over and my little slice of heaven becomes withered and overtaken by weeds. 

This year is proving no different.  Here I go... buying seeds, plants, and potting soil.  I just can't seem to resist those beautiful paper packets with the promise of bounty so perfectly pictured on the front, or the tender green plants begging to be gently tucked into the soil.

So I will ignore my shortcomings and joyfully revel in the cycle of this glorious Spring.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Power of Fear

"I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past me I will turn to see fears path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing......Only I will remain." 
Frank Herbert

Wisdom can come to you from anywhere, it is simply your job to see it.  As a hopeless nerd growing up, I read extensively and science fiction was by far my favorite genre.  The "Dune" series by Frank Herbert was an amazing combination of fantasy and philosophy and the above quote stayed with me and has shaped my life.  Just like everyone else, I have fears.  Yet I have also found that the fear itself is often much, much bigger than the thing I'm afraid of and if I truly face it, there is actually nothing there to be afraid of.

There is so much fear around us.  It seems the media is always whipping up some new frenzy about something.  Global Warming, E. Coli, H1N1, Peak Oil, Toxic Plastics from China, Food Recalls, and the list goes on and on.  A person might feel as though they should just stay indoors where it's safe..... wait, don't forget about the toxic out-gassing from most household construction materials... or deadly radon!

It is so tempting to give in.  There is so much to absorb and I am just one person!!  I can't even make a dent in any of these problems.  I am powerless!  Well...yes.  But only because I have given my power away through fear.  By really looking at these problems, seeing the true risks, and doing what I can - no matter how small it seems, I take back my power.

What if we all did the same?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Spring's Promise

Spring has been in the air this week.  The crocuses have burst forth, bringing the first splashes of color in a dull cold world.  The stiff bare branches of the trees have suddenly grown supple and alive.  Buds are swelling and the barest hint of the scent of blossoms wafts thought the air, as though the trees are dreaming of the glory soon to come.

I have always loved the rhythmic procession of the seasons.  Each one has its own challenges and rewards.  I have always found the dark winter, with it's slow hidden growth, the hardest to bear.  Yet this season often offers the most powerful gifts.  This year the seasonal progression has been especially poignant.  My old life died last autumn, not gently with leaves coloring and then wafting to the ground one by one, but in span of a single night with an early black frost that left everything withered and dying in the light of the next morning. 

I was as naked to the cold winds of fate as the branches of the mighty oak that shelters WeeHavyn,  Yet slowly and silently, the roots of my life continued to grow amid the roar of emotional storms and the frigid loneliness of the nights.  Now as the days begin to lengthen, I feel a quickening within me.  New energy and ideas burst forth from deep within, ready to blossom and bear fruit in the warm sun.  I am filled with gratitude for all the wonderful gifts this new life offers.

I would never have chosen this long cold winter, yet I am grateful for the growth it has given me.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Looking Forward

When I decided on the title for this post I realized that it really does represent how I feel about the coming year.  I am actually looking forward to the challenges and changes I see for myself this year.  I am standing in a new world.  My children are grown and my husband is gone.  I am alone for the first time in over 20 years.  I’ll admit I’m scared, but it is the fear one feels just as the roller coaster creeps slowly to the top of the track.  My stomach tightens, my heart pounds, I grip tightly with both hands and get ready for a thrilling ride!  I don’t know what twists, turns, and loops this year will bring to me. 

But I can’t wait to find out!