Friday, June 19, 2015

So Your Kid Wants to Be a Farmer

Me: So, Ming, what do you want to be when you grow up?

Ming (my oldest, and no, Ming is not her name): I want to be a farmer, a teacher, and a veterinarian.

Me: Hmmm. Um, all three?

Ming: Yep. I can be a farmer and a vet and then teach people about farming and taking care of animals.

Me, after a short pause, eyes filling with proud tears: Be still my heart!!


I wanted to be a vet once. Yep. Even went to school for it for a couple of years until I joined the Army. Side Note: Contrary to what any recruiter will tell you, the Army does not allow you to just walk in off the street and be a service dog caretaker...

I had the opportunity to see fully-operational dairy farms, cattle ranches, hog farms, and poultry farms. I was able to bear witness to the educational entryway for anyone looking to become a vet through a large brick-and-mortar university. I gotta tell ya, it scared me a little bit....even then. Even then, back when I loved McDonalds, before I watched Food Inc., before I started ranting about how traditional meat production is literally poisoning our country.

I remember standing in animal science lab, staring at the vast number of bovine stomachs set out on display on the tables in front of me, thinking back to the heifer I'd just witnessed, the one with the huge (painless) hole cut into her stomach so we could study the devastating effects of corn on a ruminant's stomach, and I realized right then and there that I wasn't learning how to save animals. I was learning how to extend the life of animals so humans could make more money. Not animal welfare....human welfare. And not even welfare....profits. Money. Something I grew up without and never wanted to focus on ever again. It made me, the naive little college dreamer with a moral compass untouched by the harsh reality of profit-driven behaviors, sick to my stomach.

Not long after (because let's face it, I'm obviously only a few years older than that youthful college girl...) I swore off traditional agriculture, period. Seemed to be a lot of "feed the world" mottos covering up massive biochemical contamination and dollar-conscious ecological irresponsibility.

But see here's the catch ... the hiccup in my steadfast mission to change agriculture forever, at least in this home...

Many of the farmers I know and love farm exclusively using traditional practices, like monocropping (one or two crops over acres and acres of land, normally corn and/or soybean, all genetically modified so they can withstand heavy amounts of pesticide, some plants actually produced with the pesticide already inside their DNA, which we then of course ingest and feed to our kids). These farmers still operate cattle ranches with huge troughs overflowing with the corn I described above. They still raise chickens for heavy producers like Perdue, who shamelessly "believe in a better chicken" yet single-handedly monopolize the market, force farmers into poverty, and operate the nation's worst, most disgusting living environments for these "better chickens." PS, ever notice how f-you and Perdue rhyme? Neat, huh? 


But these farmers are my friends, you see. This is how farmers can make money in America, so this is how farmers operate. We've got biochemical terrorists like Monsanto on one end of the spectrum, consumers like me on the other, and the majority of Americans and farmers stuck right snack dab in the middle, just doing what they've always done because that's the way it's done and it's too hard and too expensive to do it any other way.

And my baby, my precious, naive little 4th grader, wants to jump right into the thick of it.

She quit Girl Scouts to join 4H. When asked who she'd like to meet if she could meet anybody, dead or alive, she told me she'd meet Joel Salatin. She stands next to me as I cook so she can write the recipes down into her little pink notebook. She wants in on the food movement and I'm just not sure how to feel about it. It's like a thrill ride....terrifying and glorious all at the same time.

What do I tell her? Do I expose all the deep dark secrets of the traditional educational model for agriculture? Do I enter her into the very testy conflict between traditional farmers and more forward-thinking minds, like Joel? Do I allow her to skip a brick-and-mortar college degree so she can apprentice with some of the best permaculture groups in the world? Do I say nothing and allow her to figure everything out on her own?


I wonder how long this farmer-in-training mentality is going to last (so far we're going on 3 years). She's not exactly the world's most motivated kid, I can tell you that right now. She doesn't even remember to take the compost out. Nothing like good ol' Ree Drummond's kids, who seem to always be working and working and working and smiling and working. So maybe my kid will change her mind. Maybe I say nothing, and she figures out how hard it is on her own, and hates it so much she walks away from it.

.....but hang on.....is that really what I want? Is that really what we need? More young minds turning away from agriculture because they see this impermeable wall of hardship and greed in front of them?

My job is to raise someone who can contribute to society and understand what it means to be content. So I think instead of passing this off as a MingMing oddity, or falling back on the whole "she'll change her mind," principles, I am going to nurture this little seed of hope. I'm going to share what I'm learning with her and...

  • Take her out gardening with me. 
  • Introduce her to my homesteading handbook. 
  • Teach her how to respect our farmers regardless of growing practices. 
  • Let her care for the chickens. 
  • Show her why I choose to buy my seeds from heirloom suppliers. 
  • Teach her how to articulately debate. 
  • Explain how I came to choose companion planting over traditional garden rows. 
  • Show her how to instruct others. 
  • Teach her how to install hardware cloth over raised beds so the chickens can't eat all of her future cauliflower. 


Because that's all any of us can do, right? Grow within ourselves, respect others, and then share our knowledge with our kiddos? I gotta tell you, I think that's what parenting is all about.

And who knows, maybe I'll get a little homesteading partner out of the whole deal ;)

Any of you have a good story about what you wanted to be when you grew up? How many of you have kiddos that want to be farmers? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)

Jen




Friday, June 12, 2015

I Love Summer Break (and Might Be Nuts)

As I type this, my two kids are fighting. One stole something from the other (a fuzzy from her pants?) and the other is passively-aggressively retaliating in the hopes I won't realize what she is doing. This morning they argued about cereal. Later, the smaller one got kicked in the face by the older one who was "just dancing, mom!"

This is the way it is with those two girls. It just goes on...and on....and on....each time they are together and I can't regulate their interactions, arguments quite often ensue.

So you'd think the thought of spending an entire summer with both kids at home all day would make me want to invent a Mom Ship capable of blasting me into the next universe and replacing myself with a robot that sings and can cook dinner.

But that's not the case. I am so, so excited for my big girl to be home from school. I am honestly ecstatic about this summer. Yep. I might be nuts. But hear me out.

Older Kid Help
My big girl is 9. She washes things, can carry things, clean things, read things, make things, replace things, feed things, entertain things, and pretty much care for herself. She is an immense help. I don't get this kinda help when she's in school all day. No, during the school year I get a tired kid at the end of the day with piles of homework and not enough time in the day to complete her schoolwork and chores. It's exhausting to her and to me. Having her home frees up her time so she spends only a little bit of time working and the rest of the time being a kid. It's glorious. I get my help and she gets her relaxation. Win-win. Her help allows me to find the time to do stuff like this with my lawn mower:

Education
Oh yeah, I'm going there. I get school. I love school. I feel blessed to have the educational resources we have in this country. But some stuff, some stuff I truly value, isn't taught in school. I am an art-biology-music person. School these days is a bit more math-and-technology focused. I get it. I support it. But you know what I'd support more? A school that allowed my kid to take some time at the end of her long school day to be focused on home, family, and freedom. She is gone from 8:20AM to 4:00PM Monday through Friday. When she gets home she's obligated to complete at least another hour's worth of homework. In 3rd grade.

So what does that mean for me? It means I can't have her learn how to cook during the school year because she needs that hour after school before dinner to do more schoolwork. It means I can't show her how to cage up the chickens at the end of the night because she's in the shower early so she can get up early and head back to school. It means I choose not to give her as much responsibility because I'd rather she take the 60 minutes leftover between dinner and shower time to go outside and .... I dunno.... play.

Now again, I am thankful for her public school. But I am also thankful for the opportunity each summer to teach her how to plant her own food.


I am thankful for the opportunity to teach her how to wash dishes, do the laundry, make a meal, clean the chicken coop, identify edible weeds, and learn more about actual living.

Excuses
I love summer because I finally have the excuse to go to museums, the library, botanical gardens, arboretums, and any freakin festival I want.


I don't need to feel like I'm breaking routine, or worry about getting home in time for the bus, or freak out if I serve dinner late. It's all good - no school tomorrow. Might as well stay at the museum a little longer - no school tomorrow. Might as well let them stay up a little later - no school tomorrow. It's great to have the excuse to be childish and semi-irresponsible for a couple months.

My First Time
This is the very first summer I've personally been able to experience my two kiddos without work or school. Don't get me wrong, I am still working at night, on the weekends, and for 11-12 hours a day 3 days a week, but those other 2 days of the week? Glorious. I look forward to them with the brilliance of a thousand suns. I am gloriously happy to have those 2 days each week to love on my kids. I'm overwhelmingly grateful to even have the chance to experience them like this.


Book and Movie Days
It rains a lot here in the early summer. Nothing is better than waking up to two sleepy-eyed kids who want nothing more than to stay under blankets all day to read books and watch movies. It's a dream come true, people...especially for those of us who write for a living. Best of both worlds - happy kids and the ability to work? Fantastic.

Endless Possibility
I thrive on my imagination. For a while there, when things got truly rough for me, I went on AirBnB and just scanned thousands upon thousands of places I could potentially someday go. It's calming for me to think of the future, dream of the possibilities. I wake up each day with this huge sense of "maybe"....as in, maybe we'll go to the park today...or maybe we'll have an adventure in a new town....or maybe today will be the day I get an email from someone who wants to give me a book deal to write things like this (I'm tellin' ya, imagination rules).

These thoughts are lovely and comforting and help me realize there is more to life than just sitting around, doing the same thing every day. There is more to life than a job that keeps you from the things that in life that really matter to you. There is more to life than worrying about your kids arguments for the nineteenth time today. There is more to life...and since I'm in charge of my life, I can make this life whatever the hell I please. The freedom is exhilarating and motivating....even if nothing actually changes because of these early-morning summer thoughts. It's a beautiful way to start the day nonetheless.


So yes, the arguing sucks. The vast amount of yard work sucks. The bored whining sucks. The fact that the best weather days never seem to happen on the weekends sucks. But there are many more amazing things about summer break that can transform it into a time of renewal and learning for you and yours.

And what about you guys? Do you love summer break? Hate it? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below! Thank you very much for reading and I hope you each have an amazing weekend :)
Jen


Friday, June 5, 2015

Celebrating with What You Have: An Inexpensive Birthday Experience

My youngest turned 3 last week. How it's possible for a little baby to grow so incredibly fast, I have no idea. She's my last one - my last hurrah - my last chance to get it right (cuz that happens, right?). She, like my oldest, means everything to me.

And I want to celebrate the day of her birth with all the pomp and circumstance befitting such a joyous moment in my heart. I can recall the moment she came into the world with crystal clarity. My heart was so full. It continues to be full...overflowing, even. Sometimes overwhelmingly so.

How do you capture that joy each year? How can you recreate and display your deep, rushing feelings to her and those around her on that one special day, a day designed to celebrate her, celebrate the graciousness of having her in your life for another year, celebrate those who love her too and support her with their time, love, and energy?

Well Pinterest tells me to go all out, of course. Make it pretty. Make it special. Try these tricks and those snacks and that game and this theme. Special invites. Special cake. Special decorations. Because she is special. And those who love her are special. And it's time to show everyone exactly how special they are to you....right?

Right......but....

...what if instead of gorgeous table displays I have broken steps?

...what if instead of a picture-perfect sunset I have a thunderstorm?

...what if I don't have much money to spend?

...what if I'm truly too tired and beat up to hand-make decorations and food and invites and favors...?

What if my vision of "special" can't be realized? How can I recreate my joy without falling victim to the cultural trap I find myself in each and every year....buy....buy....BUY! Make....make....MAKE! Do it BIGGER! Do it PRETTIER! Look, we found another super-easy way to be super-simple and super-chic and super-relaxed and super-put-together and still host 50 people at your house!

I had to redefine how to express my joy. How to celebrate my child. How to capture happiness. And you know what? It worked.

Now before I reveal what I did, let me explain this is not the first time I've gone cheap and easy with a birthday party. My oldest daughter gets a cheap and easy party each year - and her birthday is in the winter, too! The post I wrote about her Frozen birthday party is my most-read post to date. If you're looking for some easy winter party ideas, check it out.

But my second baby's birthday is in May. Right around Memorial Day weekend. That's outdoor party season. And prime storm time up here in the northern midwest. I like to live on the edge. How did I pull it all off?


Co-host.
I had two beautiful friends co-host with me. One has a son who shares a birthday around the same time, the other is married to a May birthday man. Find someone who has something to celebrate around the same time as your kid and ask if you want to combine parties. It splits responsibilities and makes the entire party much easier to handle.

Host Outside.
This meant no decorations, no intense cleaning inside my house, no space issues or seating arrangements necessary. Our decor included trees and grass and pretty May flowers. Some people like to string lights and hang balloons and all that....but I have chickens. They kinda check all the entertainment boxes.

Make a Backup Plan.
The day of the party it poured and rained and rained and poured. We made good use of my garage. I'd moved all the cars out. And emptied out some of the crap in there. And swept the whole place out. It provided a really nice, dry place for us to put the food and the adults.

Simple Games and Fun.
Do you have any idea just how much kids love to play in the rain? We had a mudpie kitchen along one side of the fence. Bugcatchers. A swing. The chickens. Balls and frisbees and a teeny little slide. A scavenger hunt I printed from Google. I made this truck tent by nailing a tarp to the ledge above my garage door.



As I'm sure you can see, nothing fancy. Just some rain, mud, and plenty of room to run. And boy did the kids run. My kid, the birthday girl, had mud all over her face, hands, and legs throughout the entire party. Kids went barefoot. I found a lone, small sock in my garage the next day. A little kid sock. A little reminder that it doesn't take much to keep people happy...especially miniature people.

Food Instead of Presents.
We had a lot of food. I provided drinks - beer and "moonshine" for the adults, water and apple juice for the kids. We set up a hot dog bar. Another awesome friend of mine brought an ice cream bar. We stuck candles into plastic bowls of ice cream and sang happy birthday.

The party was fun. Kids were wet and dirty and tired. Food and drink were consumed mercilessly. I didn't break the bank. I didn't break myself. It was good.

And on the day of her actual birthday, in the middle of the week, I took her to a local candy store and let her go nuts. It cost me $8.


We followed it up with a long reading session at the library.

I remember sitting with her, looking over her shoulder at the book she picked out, realizing that in just a few years she might not fit on my lap. She might not get the same excitement from dancing in the rain, or picking out her favorite piece of candy from a candy store. But dammit all if I'm not going to try and instill those simple joys into her heart, one birthday at a time.

Anyone have their own birthday party stories to share? What is your favorite tradition? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)

Jen

Friday, May 29, 2015

Two Whole Years of Semi-Regular Blogging! What Now?

You guys. My blog is two years old.

Two years of reading my hilarious prose. Two years of absorbing my magnificent, melodic composition. Two years of sopping up whatever jacked-up issues I'm dealing with, whatever jerk projects I've got going on, and whatever flaw-filled lessons I've learned.

Thank you.

Last year, I evaluated how well I was doing with my blogging goals. This year I've added a couple new goals. Why blog? Why keep this thing going? Well let's get down and dirty with it, shall we?

Write to feel better
Jen Grade: A
I absolutely love writing this blog. Seeing my words in print, cemented out there for anyone to see, gives me a huge adrenaline boost. It's awesome. And the topics help me stay focused. I write myself through my issues. Sometimes these blog posts are quite literally my first moment of clarity during a tricky situation. Other times these posts are intended to help me remember....you did this, Jen. This is something you accomplished. It's awesome. Totally makes me feel better.

Write to practice
Jen Grade: B
When I look at posts I created back in 2013, and compare them to posts I'm writing today, I definitely see a difference in my sentence structure. My clarity. A reduction of verbosity. Not to mention, I started a novel last year. I've been editing it since January. I'm practicing, all right. Not all the time. I skip days. I've skipped book editing for a while now. But I keep something coming, no matter how rough stuff gets. I am still practicing. And for the first time, I'm seeing improvement.

Stay away from monetizing
Jen Grade: A
Still not making a penny from this blog. Not one cent. Sometimes I second guess this goal. Maybe I'm being a total idiot. Maybe making money here would allow me to feel more free in other areas. But maybe making money here would make me feel less free here. No tellin' what could happen, which is why I stay pretty stagnant in this area.

Stay positive
Jen Grade: B
I've gotten better with this goal this year. Despite the numerous things I sometimes want to whine about online, I am sticking to things that are primarily informational, funny, positive, or useful. It keeps me positive, ya digg?

Don't be scared
Jen Grade: A
Again, I'm getting way better with this. I care less and less what my friends, family, and general public think about what I write....and maybe that's because I'm finally coming up with things people actually enjoy reading! I've received some really lovely feedback this year from a number of readers and I can't tell you how happy that makes me. I'm less afraid now than I have been in many, many years.

Now for some of those new goals...

Expand my reading and my audience
Jen Grade: F-
I'd like to have some new blogs to check in with each week. Have any blog friends you'd like to share? I'm talking the real friends - people who you love to read and who love to read you. I'd love to check them out! I've done nothing to help myself along with this goal. I've pretty much abandoned my blogging groups (they are so huge and overwhelming sometimes!) and spend my free time checking in with my regular blog loves. It's time to branch out a little more!

Revamp my blog site
Jen Grade: F--
I've had the same standard blogger template for the past two years. I've tweaked stuff in the sidebar, but what I'd really like to do is hire someone to create a beautiful blog site for me. I'm fine with keeping the .blogspot in my name....but I'd love a new look. Again, if you have any whimsical blog design friends, let me know! I'm in the market!

Head on back and watermark those old pics
Jen Grade: F
Man I am not nailing these new goals at all. I have some older posts with pics that need watermarks. I have some old posts with pics that need to be resized. I'd love to take the time sometime in the next 12 months to get that shizza cleaned up. Pro-style!

Create a separate page or section on my blog to discuss my homesteading adventures
Jen Grade: F
I really love talking about all the sweet new stuff I'm learning and the adventures I'm heading into these days.....enough to maybe make it a separate space on my blog. The crunchy life can be twisted to sorta match, but isn't exactly inline with my original theme (stories and lessons about my flaws, forgiven). I just can't stop writing about my little nature lessons, though, because I love it...so maybe a separate section is where it's at. What do you guys think?

And of course, no anniversary post would be complete without a blast from the past! Here are some of my favorite posts (in order from oldest to most recent....can you tell a difference??):

Video Games for Hott Chicks, Working Women, and Moms

Grass Fed Beef 101

Crazy Hooker to Crazy...Homemaker?

10 Surprising Facts about Working from Home

Is the Crunchy Life Worth it?

8 Things I Learned in 8 Years of Marriage

7 Truths I Want My Kids to Understand

Any other goals you'd add up there? How do you feel about changing things up around here? If you blog, what are some of your goals for the season? Tell me all about it in the comments down below! This wouldn't be nearly as fun without you guys. I thank you for reading, for your comments, for pulling me aside and telling me that you read my blog because honestly that makes my heart explode with happiness more than anything else in the world
Jen

Friday, May 15, 2015

How Homesteading Saves You

I get it. You've already read about the benefits of homesteading. Financial freedom. Independence. Healthy living. Community involvement. Connecting to nature. Going back to your roots. Instilling values in your kids. Becoming stronger.

What I've never read about...what we rarely see publicized....is how homesteading, or hobby farming, or urban gardening, can save you.

I should know. You see, it's saving me right now.

It started a little over a month ago. 8 years of arguing had finally taken its toll on my husband and he decided it was time to head on out, take some time to think, decide what it is he wants. Can't say I blame him too much....things have never been easy for us. Sometimes, on my bad days, I think our struggles are some sort of divine punishment for me being somewhat of a hooker when we met. Most of the time, though, I just figure this is part of life. Nobody's perfect. No relationship is flawless. This is a flaw-filled world. You need to work to find happiness. It doesn't fall into anyone's lap....you need to actually seek it out, make it real, mold it into your life with passionate resolve.

And so I supported him. It's kicking my ass, but I support him still. I want happiness with him, very much. I learned in counseling that just because something doesn't happen the way I would do it, it doesn't mean it's wrong....but you can still feel the sting of incomprehension, though. Ever had someone say they are happier when you're not around? It burns. Makes you doubt yourself. Takes a lot of energy to push those negative thoughts about yourself away. And if there's one thing you don't have when trying to run a household by yourself, it's energy.

So what I most want to do is throw in the towel. Not just on my marriage, but on all of it. I want to take off, hide out, write books to pay for my eco-shed in the woods and just grow old in the comfort of quilts and dried flowers.

But I can't do that. I have kids to take care of. Family and friends who need me. Seedlings that need to be hardened off. Chickens that need feeding.


And that brings us full circle. When home breaks apart at the seams, when stability is threatened, when life as you know it begins to slip away, what are you really left with? Eat, drink, work, love, sleep, repeat. Strip away objects, possessions, impressions, and riches, and you're left with your true needs. Life, simplified.

Homesteading, gardening, hobby farming, whatever you want to call it - it is a basic, elementary, bare-bones version of life. You dig into the soil you came from. You plant and forage for your food. You pray for rain and rejoice in sunshine. Alarms become sunrises. Bedtimes, sunsets. Responsibilities transform into direct functions of life.

I'm forced to replace doubt with books. Swap uncertainty for certainty. I do not know where my life is heading, but I do know if I plant this seed, water it, and give it sun, it will grow. A truth that can be realized with my own two hands.


There's reliability in work. Homesteading never stops. It's like being a parent - you can't take a sick day. No time for heartbreak. No waiting until life fixes itself. You've gotta get out there and clean the coop. Track the rainfall. Figure out which days will be warm enough to plant. Straightforward and reliable. Impossible to ignore.

There's calm in simplicity. Chickens lay eggs. Strawberries need light to grow. Attract birds to eat bugs, bees and butterflies to spread pollen. Rain means no watering. Frost means no planting. Dead plants mean you need to try the next trick. Feed the plants. Feed the kids. Feed the chickens. Feed your day with the tasks that mean the most to life. Simplicity.

There's perspective in raising animals. Life is short when you're a chicken. They live to eat, drink, love, and sleep. Period. Three years, five years later, it's over for them. Then they add to our years.

There's comfort in routine. Wake up. Tea. Kids. Chickens. Watering. Exercise. Work. Cook. Bathe. Bed. Do it over again tomorrow...not necessarily because you want to, but because it needs to be done. Life does not stop needing you because you're hurting.

There's peace and tranquility in contribution. I've given life, provided comfort, made room for growth, and killed off predators. I may not have it all together, but at the end of the day I can say I put food on the table, in the coop, in the dirt. I've fed someone other than myself. I've contributed to the life of something else. Gratification.


Now I don't know about you, but some pretty strong antidotes for pain include reliability, calm, comfort, peace, tranquility, and gratification. You could even say these things, these positive, self-inflicted actions, can save you from your sorrows. They sure help me.

So yes. Homesteading isn't for everyone....and those who do enjoy it often tout the health, freedom, and financial benefits. But I'd like to take it one step further and use myself as living proof that even a flaw-filled life can be forgiven with just a few minutes of sinking your hands into the dirt. Courage restored. Confidence renewed. Faith replenished. Saved.


Any of you experienced freeing simplicity at any point in your lives? How did it change your thoughts? How has it impacted you today? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so very much for reading. 

Jen

Friday, May 8, 2015

Homesteading Like a Jerk: Herb Spirals for Free!

I took some time this winter to learn about gardening without working. I am aiming for a fully-functional, high-producing food yard that I don't need to put any effort into.

So it's almost like divine intervention that I stumbled upon something that can actually give me what I want. I learned one of the great, magical, fundamental principles behind a low-maintenance garden is permaculture. Yep. Permaculture is the creation of your own little mini ecosystem, right in your own backyard. You use permaculture techniques to create self-sufficient zones on your property...zones that care for each other and provide each others' biological needs so I, the jerk homesteader, don't need to. 

I'm obviously over the moon about this. 

My first permaculture project was the creation of an herb spiral. 

What's an herb spiral, you might ask? Well that's a great question. It's not just a fairy-looking fun thing like I originally thought. Herb spirals are specially designed to hold your herbs in a particular order so they may naturally receive their water and light needs without any outside assistance. 

Now as awesome as the idea of an herb spiral was, I didn't want to go spending a ton of money on anything. The great thing about herb spirals is they can be built out of anything you want. I had a ton of old bricks left by the previous owners on the side of my shed, so I went with those. I've seen people use rocks, pavers, wood, buckets, glass bottles, whatever you've got. Just stack 'em and go. I also had some of that awesome half-price, sun-damaged weed barrier left over from two springs ago and I laid that down over my lawn to try and keep my soil medium fresh and clean. 


If there's one thing I hate, it's buying dirt. I'm going to need to bite the bullet here and get a little, but before I do, I'm building up a nice layer of other soil-building components. I want to buy as little dirt as possible, you see.

So unbeknownst to most people, mulch can be found for free through local townships and road departments. My township was giving the stuff away and all I needed to do was shovel it into my *new* truck and haul it home. 


Got the first part done.


Check out that sweet back-up job. 


My helper :)


Only a few more trips to go. 

This mulch isn't the best mulch in the world. I found some plastic in it, prolly the most carcinogenic kind. But it was free, and for the most part I just need this stuff to hold space and decompose, so I put it on the very bottom of the spiral and covered it with some peat moss. Jerks like to cover things up. 

Next came some poop-filled bedding from my chicken coop and some compost. Last but not least, I'll top it off with some store-bought dirt. So maybe this herb spiral is not completely free. Maybe that was just a jerk move to lure you in. Worked, didn't it?

In just a few short weeks I will plant my herbs...once that pesky threat of frost has disappeared.  

My spiral planting order from top - down:
Lavender
Thyme
Oregano
Basil
Cilantro
Chamomile 
Lemon balm
Water lillies

**violets and marigolds are gonna get planted throughout - these are good companions for herbs -  they play well together...guess you could say they are in love....like I am with permaculture....**

Check out some of these key design features:

1. The direction the spiral goes matters ~! Water in my hemisphere runs clockwise, so my herb spiral was built with the spiral running clockwise to facilitate natural runoff.

2. The top of the spiral is hot, gets a lot of light, and has well-drained soil. Your sun-loving, well-drained soil plants will like this area.

3. The sides and bottom of the spiral is cooler, with more shade and damp soil. Your shade-loving, wet-soil plants will enjoy these areas.

4. Herbs planted with other herbs helps facilitate better herbs. Feel me? Companion planting at it's best.

5. That little tin at the bottom will collect water runoff during rainstorms. I hope to plant water lilies here. Lily pads are rad.

Not too shabby, huh? I'm excited to see how it works. Next year I'm going to shoot for a tree guild. Yea. That's right. A freaking tree guild. It's a thing. Until then, I'm going to kinda sit back and enjoy my very first permaculture project. Nothin' better than looking at chicken butts after a hard day's work. 

Any of you experiment with permaculture or specialized gardening techniques? Any of you think I'll attract a plethora of fairies to my garden with this thing? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you for reading :)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Homesteading like a Jerk: Spending Money You Don't Have

Yahoo has an endless supply of finance-focused articles aimed at teaching folks how to spend less, save more. Grow your own food, they say. Do the work yourself, they say. Spend time, not money. It will save you bundles. And for the most part, I agree.

But one thing they rarely talk about is exactly how much it costs to start your own garden, or own your own flock of hens, or find materials to build a DIY furniture set. Contrary to popular belief, I've rarely, if ever, received my gardening supplies for free. Now, you uber-awesome folks who upcycle everything and have insane scouting and dumpster-diving skills, I salute you. And you should probably stop reading because chances are, you'll see this post as one huge bunch of excuses. Real jerk behavior.

And you'd kinda be right.

You see, I wanted to avoid purchasing the cinder blocks for my raised beds this year. I know there are millions of cinder blocks just sitting out there, alone in the world, just waiting for someone to come transform them into something useful. But I couldn't find 'em. Craigslist? Nothin. Local Facebook group for homesteading supplies? No go. Random drive-bys in my run-down Toyota Echo when it looks like there's a construction project going on? Nada. Zilch. Nothing. And even if I did find them, how would I haul them home? My car has quite the trunk storage, but only four, teeny, wore-out tires holding up all that weight. Not cool.

So I bought the cinder blocks. I spent money on cinder blocks...a material the non-jerks out there could likely find for free in a matter of minutes.

But ah - ha, never fear, readers. I came up with a mighty good solution for the next time I need cinder blocks.....or pallets for my dream patio furniture......or a really nice set of hay bales.....

A truck. I bought myself a truck. That's right. I spent more money.

Feast your eyes upon the glory of all glories...the champion of all mighty steeds...the white knight of the highest throne...my beautiful, strong, pallet-picking chariot of goodness....


That baby put me back a couple thou.....and where, you might ask, did I get this couple thou? Good question, because as you may have figured out by now, this post is all about spending money I don't have. And my goddess roller was no exception. I took tax refund money we'd earmarked for a well-water filtration system and I spent it on the truck instead. All of it. Poof. 

Just look at her, all parked and gorgeous in the Farm n' Barn parking lot.


So we'll have yellow stains on all our white bowls and appliances and cups and clothes for the next year....but I've got a truck. I can pick up stuff. I can dumpster dive with no regard for my interior vehicle upholstery. I can lay out a sleeping bag and sleep like a real cowboy if I wanted to. This truck has taken me to a new level, let me tell you.

I'm starting to realize real quick that this whole homesteading thing isn't all sunshine and recyclables. It takes some serious, knee-jerk financial investing to build something like a raised bed, or a chicken coop (especially if you want one painted all cute-like), or a hoop house, or a self-reliant food system in your own backyard. Did you know I spent close to $100 on seeds this year? That doesn't even include the seed starting medium, the little pots I ended up buying when my "upcycled toilet paper seed starters" fell apart and ruined my life, or the lights I bought to keep the seeds alive, or the rack I bought to hold the seed trays that hold the seed pots that hold the seeds that will someday, hopefully, turn into food I can eat.


Now, I get it, I'm a newbie. I'm still learning. I will probably try those dang toilet paper seed pots again next year and maybe they'll work for me. I'll get better at recycling, repurposing, all that jive...and I've even got my Pallet Picker to help me with the big stuff....but that doesn't negate the spending I've done thus far to get this whole endeavor up and running. Yahoo doesn't tell you about how a recycled raised bed made out of old fence pickets actually needs some sort of dirt inside of it, and unless you live on hilly, fertile land, you gotta get that dirt from somewhere else...normally in exchange for money.

But (and this is a huge but)..


I keep thinking that maybe, just maybe, once this startup phase is over, I might start seeing a return on my investment. Maybe these beautiful girls will be worth their weight in gold (plus some for all the eggs they'll lay). 



I keep thinking that someday, maybe, I'll master the art of breadmaking and won't waste so much dang money on epic Pinterest fails. 


I mean, after all, I spent money on tulip bulbs last fall instead of a couple extra bags of Halloween candy....and that turned out great.


Any of you ever invested in something way more than you ever expected to? How did you make it work? What did you take from to support your project? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading! Happy May, all!