Homestead Update

We’ve started harvesting and drying the lemon balm. You need to make sure that you pick the leaves off the stems if you are going with the paper bag method, since the stems will hold onto moisture more than the leaves. And that will lead to molding eventually. The lemon balm we planted was a transplant from a local store, and it was the only herb that made it this year. It’s in the mint family, so that might explain why it did so well. Its huge and bushy, and I’m sure it’s probably perennial by now. Mint is notorious for coming back and taking over. In any case we’ve been adding it teas, brewing it in the coffee pot sometimes or just right in a 2liter of sparkling water. The smell is incredible. I can’t wait to see if it intensifies when it dries. I put the lemon balm leaves into paper lunch bags, rolled them up, and tied them with some yarn and hung it from the ceiling to dry. Them is still a lot more to harvest.

We had a minor mystery, in that we had about 8 or so small butternuts on the vine last time we checked but when we went to harvest them, we could not find any. Almost no wild animals will eat squash, so we were really confused. We look through all the overgrowth trying to find, but there were no mature squashes. There are more baby squashes and flowers, but only one that was ready to eat. 7 or so butternuts had just disappeared, and it didn’t make any sense. We were even wondering if a person had snuck into our garden and stolen our food. We didn’t figure out what had happened until a few days later. I’ve been a little laxer with making the dogs stay on the tie-outs, because they know now that if they misbehave I will tie them up. They listen better now and are under better voice command. They were city dogs that went a little crazy when we first moved out here. So at night I just let the dogs out to do their business, and I stand in the doorway to call them back. Well a few days later I realized that when Thor was supposed to be pooping in the tall grass, he was actually out in the squash patch, eating the butternuts!! God he is such a rascal. He was homeless before he was picked up by the humane society and we adopted him, and probably survived by scavenging from garbage bins and the like. Now I wonder if he pilfered from people’s gardens, too. Loki loves butternuts cooked, but won’t touch a raw squash. That didn’t bother Thor!

Two raised beds were built from treated wood. I broke the sod up underneath them with a pickax first, so the roots of the plants will have an easier time going through the soil. It also helped we get the bigger rocks out of the way (I’m piling those rocks near the house because I’m going to use them to build an herb spiral at some point). The pickax I used is actually almost 100 years old, it was given to me by a friend whose parents used to have a farm in Michigan. They are both passed on now, and my friend is not living an agrarian lifestyle, but she saved all her parents tools out of sentimentality. Those old tools were built to last forever, not like things are made today. If you can get old tools, either from someone you know or at a yard sale, estate sale, or antique store, believe me, its worth it. When my brother and I left the Indiana/Michigan area to begin our homesteading life, our friend let us pick some of the tools that were in the best condition and would be of the most use to us. This is doubly awesome, since this friend is someone that I basically consider my adopted mother. I never met her father before he passed away, but I did know her mother. And now whenever I work my land with these tools, in a way its keeping alive their own farm, even though their land and their farm is gone. Its a great great connection. They are, in a strange way, my own ancestors. Carol, their daughter, is the closest thing I have to real mother. It felt good to use those tools to make a raised bed that will be feeding us soon.

After the sod was broken and the raised bed in place, I lined the inside with cardboard, which will decompose and attract worms. I may need to buy worms, because their are not nearly as many out here as there were in Indiana, and worm castings are very, very good for the soil. I direct composted some crushed eggshells, coffee grounds, and the old tomato plants right under the soil at the bottom of the bed. I’m still working on filling them with soil, they were a little taller than I expected, and it’s too hot to do this kind of work in the middle of the day. So I try to wake up early in the morning, and I do a couple of wheelbarrows full then and a couple in the evening. My muscles are aching, but its a good ache. I know I’m getting healthier each time. I despite useless exercise; you’ll never find me on a treadmill. Back in the day people kept in shape while maintaining their food supply. That’ll be me as well. I can feel the burn in my calves, my hamstrings, my back, my upper arms. I am getting quite a workout, but its truly satisfying because I am doing something, not running in place or using up energy or no reason. Its enjoyable.

To save money we are also going to see if we can build some raised beds from old pallet wood. We’ve been able to get lots of old pallets that were thrown away at the compost facility. And they can be used for a lot of building projects, they are pretty awesome. Plus free is always awesome. The palletwood is not treated, so these raised beds will only last a couple of seasons before they rot completely. But that’s okay, for a couple of reasons. It’ll help us to get a larger garden and a larger harvest next year than we might not be able to otherwise. And when they do rot away, its not a waste at all, its just more compost that goes into the soil and therefore into the next year’s food.

And speaking of the next years food, the catalogs we signed up for are beginning to arrive. Seed catalogs and hatchery catalogs. One writer I read described these as “farmer porn”, and it’s so, so true. Going over the magazines with Alex and making lists is relaxing, exciting, and anxiety-inducing, all at once.

If it was up to me, I’d have one of everything. But that’s just not possible. At some point you have to stop, realizing that you don’t have the time or space yet for thirty varieties of tomato, no matter how mouth-watering the glossy pictures look! The real trick, of course, will be to pick vegetables and fruits that ripen all points of the year, so there is always something to harvest, always something to eat.

So, that’s all for now. A lot of planning and working and scrimping and saving and more planning.

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