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  • Writer's pictureJanetJoanouWeiner

Homestead Heaven

I didn't set out to garden, tend chickens, and all the rest. It grew on me slowly (haha! pun unintended!) We're blessed with land, and have long thought of cultivating food and more. Visitors over the years have gifted us with books on sustainability, including companion planting, growing more vegetables, and chickens. In the last few years, we've been able to turn our attention towards all these projects. So much joy to be found working the land!

We've moved gently in this direction, starting small and taking on more as time and energy allow. My first vegetable garden two summers ago contained tomatoes, zucchini, radishes, and lettuce. Thankfully, the weather was optimal that year with a nice amount of rain, followed by warming sunshine. Everything grew in abundance, building my confidence. Besides enjoying the unequaled deliciousness of veggies straight from the garden, I had enough to share. Joy!

This past summer, I expanded my plantings. Growing seedlings in the greenhouse added a connection to the process. Seeds are truly miraculous little things. Whether they grow into monstrous squash vines taking over the garden, or sprout small crunchy radishes, or pods of haricots verts––the best green beans ever––they are amazing. The life in each tiny seed astounds me, ready to grow into a plant bearing much fruit. And then each fruit contains a multitude of seeds, ready to reproduce in abundance.

A "Jack in the Beanstalk" moment with my visiting grandchildren. We planted green bean seeds together, and two days later, voilà! So exciting!

As the heat blazed on, watering became prohibited, unless you have rain catchment tanks, which we do. I'm grateful for our water "towers" to store water from the ferocious storms for year round use, and especially during the sweltering hot months. Many have worked hard on this system, from building the tanks, to cleaning out an ancient cistern, and running underground lines down to the raised beds and into the greenhouse. Whew! It all paid off this past summer and for many to come.

Despite having our own water, we lost much of this year's harvest. It was the hottest summer on record in 100 years, so there's that factor. We learned late about adding shade. Once I set up a bamboo screen, the green beans took off. Did I mention how good they tasted?

These eggplants also grew late and were absolutely delicious. I've saved their seeds to repeat the experience.

My daughter brought me a pack of loofah seeds. We watched the beautiful vine grow, and yellow flowers blossom into fruit that would eventually become a gourd. Once mature, you strip off the husk to reveal the "sponge" inside. And of course, more seeds to replant for the next year. Delayed by the extreme heat, they approached maturity in October. Then, bam, a FROST! Gone, mushy, no good. Big sigh. We'll try again next year.

Even though I didn't end up with the imagined loofah sponges (I'd pictured gifting them in baskets of homemade goodies) I learned something valuable through the process. Growing something unusual like this, just for fun, brought a great deal of pleasure. And it certainly incited curiosity and interest from visitors.

One of the biggest joys of all comes from my "girls." Chickens are brand new to me. With every aspect of their care to discover, they have been (mostly) a constant source of delight. We've lost two of them for unknown reasons, but the remaining six are thriving. Daily fresh eggs are an incredible treat. I love letting them out of their inside coop in the morning. The sound of them thumping down from their perch to the wood floor warms my heart, reminding me of my children descending from bunk beds.

"Lucy" often has a lot to say...

Giving the chickens our kitchen scraps is extremely gratifying. Less waste and gives new meaning to "recycling."For the same reason, I don't even mind cleaning after them as this most natural fertilizer goes right into garden beds, nourishing the soil.

It's hilarious to watch them tussle over the best scraps, often running into a corner or under the inside coop to hide away with their treasure. Cheese rinds, tomatoes, fruit and onions are their favorites. A couple of them are particularly fast and often steal a choice morsel away while another tries to peck it into smaller bits.

Speaking of "recycling," our across-the-street neighbor has an immense field, filled at one time with grapevines. Originally, it belonged to our Château de Planque, but that's another story (which appears in my first book and has an even bigger role in the work-in-progress book #2.)

A few months ago, the neighbor allowed us to fill our trailer with manure from the horses that graze in her field. With two colleagues, we shoveled away. Under the bright blue sky, the mountain backdrop, and with occasional visits from the shy white horses, it all added up to a spectacular day. Even the earthy scent of the material we gathered from horses who eat only grass and hay was not unpleasant. Knowing it would replenish the soil in our raised beds and upper fields made us value this "black gold."

One of my favorite days of the year, usually late November, early December, depending on the weather, is the olive harvest. We place tarps under the trees and shake shake shake, hard enough to cause the olives to fall, but not break the branches. Next, we scramble to pick up the colorful fruit. A certain number cling stubbornly to the branches, requiring us to pick them by hand.

This year we had a record 53 kilos, despite the unusual weather. A local olive mill presses it for us and voilà, our own delicious olive oil. It's deeply satisfying to use it on homegrown greens or our colleagues delicious sourdough bread. So thankful!

So those ginormous squash vines took over a section of the greenhouse (never again!) and a good portion of the outside beds. This year they go straight into the ground, with some compost, to grow as wild as they wish. After all that, and many, many baby squash that didn't make it, we ended up with two large ones. This variety, "Musquée de Provence," makes an absolutely delicious soup––and lots of it!

Since we have a greenhouse, I'm growing a small amount of winter vegetables to see how it goes. So far, so good! Spicy, aromatic arugula loves it in there and we happily consume it daily. We can literally feel the health benefits. Vitamins for body and soul.

Along with mache and spinach, I've got cabbage and leeks in process. Another blessing––growing food in winter. Entering the somewhat temperate greenhouse, breathing the air full of green growth, full of life, is a definite spirit lifter for any gray day.

And now on to planning mode for this year's garden. I saved many seeds from our vegetables and purchased some more from a specialty store here that sells nongenetically modified seeds, so they're all reproducible. Those little packets will provide food for some time to come.

Here's a glimpse of projects to come:

Next on my husband's list: install the evacuation tube for our wood-burning stove/oven. I can't wait to enjoy the natural heat and learn how to use it for cooking and baking. Good thing we still have our conventional stove and oven, as I'm sure there will be quite a few burnt meals along the way.

And, the generous gift of a "Flow" hive means we'll become beekeepers this spring. More to learn, more enjoyment ahead.

Reading all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books on repeat throughout my youth instilled a love for pioneer living. This incredible blessing of developing the land, sowing and reaping, satisfies something deep in our souls. Life abounds, even through mistakes, trials and errors, and the aspects out of our control. Yet, overall, working closely with soil, food, and animals brings us closer to the giver of all excellent gifts, the Creator of Life.

La vie est belle!

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