The First Twelve Months: Month Five ~ Transitions

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Month five was our first month working together full time on the homestead, preparing for the spring growing and market season. It was a month of extremely hard work and a few adjustments.

One of my favorite photos of our home.

One of my favorite photos of our home.

Major events included:

*The arrival of two dump truck loads of dirt.

Once we made the decision to begin our small business, we decided to cut back on any and every expense that wasn’t absolutely necessary. Not only in the home, but in the garden as well which meant making a great effort to make do with the soil at hand.

Our deepest desire is to have something along the lines of a Back to Eden scenario, or as much as one can expect in a severe Oklahoma climate. But any of you who are familiar with the process know that it takes time.

We tried.

Last summer we tilled just a little bit to break up the sod, layered newspaper, cardboard, and whatever else we could find, and then added the wood chips and grass clippings.

It didn’t decompose fast enough.

So we had some dirt on another part of the property that we hauled to the garden site, shoveled through a sieve to make it friable, pulled back the mulch, and added to the beds to create berms. In these we planted our first seeds that we had hoped to take to market: spinach, red romaine, and black seeded simpson lettuce.

They sprouted, and grew, but not fast and healthy enough for our satisfaction.

The spinach on the left was grown in the soil we tried to amend.  The soil on the right was grown in a healthier soil purchased last fall for our raised beds.  Note the difference...

The spinach on the left was grown in the soil we tried to amend. The spinach on the right was grown in a healthier soil purchased last fall for our raised beds. Note the difference…

After stressing about it, discussing it, and stressing about it some more we decided to break down and buy what I refer to as our million dollar dirt.

The black gold is imported in from about fifty miles away and created just for vegetable gardening. We purchased a small amount last year to use for our raised beds set aside for our much smaller, personal kitchen garden.

It has a lovely friable texture like cake mix and is enriched with all sorts of composty good stuff. It arrived on a very wet morning in two dump trucks, one of which promptly became stuck in the mud. He eventually worked his way out, but we have a beautiful set of deep tire marks lacing the edge of the garden as a memory of that morning.

Never drive heavy vehicles through the mud.  Just don't.

Never drive heavy vehicles through the mud. Just don’t.

We immediately got to work, hauled the dirt and shoveled it into the beds, and then planted what was left of our cool weather crop seeds: some more lettuce, kale, radishes, beets, and baby pak choy. We’re hoping for the best.

Planting seeds.  We use the little pink flags to help mark the rows.

Planting seeds. We use the little pink flags to help mark the rows.

We had also hoped to somehow be able to still salvage what was in the other beds, namely some spinach, so that we wouldn’t suffer a complete loss. But after our struggles with the wind, the unpredictable spring weather that has been cold and wet, and our struggles with the soil itself, the stuff is looking rather scruffy at the moment.

Our local co-op client has been asking for stuff since the first of March, and as much as we really wanted to make a good impression, we’re not sure we can sell it with confidence. At the moment, we don’t have anything except for the prospect of some lettuce late spring.

We’re hoping and praying this won’t have a negative impact on the relationship, but all the same, we’re formulating a plan B: hit the Farmer’s Markets as hard as we can.

Major adjustments have included:

Husbie and I have learned that living with your spouse isn’t quite the same as working with your spouse.

When we had our computer consulting business he operated out of a home office, so we had lived together 24/7 quite successfully.

But we’d never worked together.

And that is different.

I did a few office management type things here and there, but he handled all of the consulting. Being a computer analyst, he is very technical and mechanically minded.

I’m more artsy. The nitty gritty stuff of getting things to grow, soil composition, temperature, etc. isn’t my strong point. I’m better at telling you what will look pretty on a plate.

I also think very fast, and I tend to think out loud. Husbie is learning that very often I will express myself in ideas that I haven’t fully formulated. My mouth doesn’t often work as fast as my brain, so I’ll be spitting ideas out there, while my mind has usually left that verbalized thought and started to go elsewhere.The result is a confusing jargon of abstract ideas, peppered with such articulate words and phrases as “thingie”, “stick it there”.

He’s also much more focused (and rightfully so) on doing what it takes to get it to grow even if it requires a garden littered with row covers and pvc pipe. I, on the other hand, am stressing about how we can make it pretty so we can be featured in an upscale magazine and everyone will come from miles around to see our stuff.

Our garden with all it has taken thus far to protect it: silt fencing, pvc pipe, plastic, and floating row covers.  That's me way back in the back, with my hands on my hips.

Our garden with all it has taken thus far to protect it: silt fencing, pvc pipe, plastic, and floating row covers. That’s me way back in the back, with my hands on my hips.

Also, as we’ve tackled this business together, we’ve had to take on more of an “all hands on deck” mentality. We previously had very traditional roles in our marriage: he did the majority of the work while I handled the home.

Now, we’re both working so we both handle the housework. I’ve been teaching him how to do the laundry and how to quick cook a pan of beans if you forget to soak them over night. He will frequently get up and fix breakfast while I spend an hour and a half on the blog every morning before hitting chores and the gardening.

It has been a good stretch for both of us and for our relationship. We’re learning to communicate and work together in new ways than before.  We love sitting around the dinner table at night, recuperating from a hard day’s work and evaluating what we’ve learned.

We’ve learned:

*Risk taking was never meant to be easy.

*Laying in bed at night, looking at the stars, and fearing spinach that won’t grow doesn’t mean that you are not exactly where you should be.

*Perhaps an investment in high tunnel green houses for next spring might be worthwhile.

If you’d like to learn more about our desire to homestead, I shared this guest post yesterday on Back to the Basics called Returning to our Roots.

Farm Girl Friday Favorite

Find this post and others like it linked to: Farm Girl Blog Fest,  Simply Natural Saturdays, The Homestead Barn Hop, Homemade Mondays,  The Backyard Farming Connection, Frugal Days Sustainable Ways, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday, The HomeAcre Hop

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The First Twelve Months: Month Five ~ Transitions — 44 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your journey. It’s an ambitious project you’re tackling, but it’s great to be able to share the load with a partner! Looking forward (with you) to seeing those beds filled with green! Your story should remind all your readers that there’s a lot that goes into growing a salad that’s behind the scenes.

    • Meredith Marco and I keep reminding ourselves that it is just March. It is still very early in the season. I think they will green up, and this first year is mostly going to be a major learning experience. We’re both perfectionists to the hilt who like to see results right away. :/

  2. I so appreciate hearing about your journey…the good, the bad and the ugly. My husband and I have wanted to do the same thing but have not gotten there yet, with still putting our last two sons through college. I started gardening for the first time three years ago and have learned a lot along the way. This year adding a composter and rain barrel. I am gleaning as much information as I can from your experiences to help us when we start a similar journey. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    • Thank you Denise. It has definitely been a journey and we’re just getting started. In spite of some rough patches however, it has been worth it and we wouldn’t trade it for anything. We added some rain barrels too, when we built our property. So far they have been a wonderful asset.

  3. Both of you should pat each other on the back. You have not failed. You are succeeding. It is not like frying an egg. There is a process, which takes time and layers of trial and error. But I have a SERIOUS tip for the two of you, regarding your soil and your beds.

    Rabbits in standard, homemade hutches, using straw or pine shavings. Rabbit manure is the only manure you can administer directly onto veggie beds. Each time you clean cages, dump and disperse.

    It is very easy to set up a small area for growing various grains and grasses together, that they will love. Alfalfa pellets, salt mineral tabs… the investment really is not that much. They will repay you 10-fold the following year… some of that compensation coming in the first year.

    Within a year – you can turn sand into soil. I did just that… in Manteca, CA… smack in the middle of the Valley in San Joaquin, CA. My neighbors were heartbroken when I moved.

    • Thank you so much for your encouraging words! I appreciate what you have said about the layers of trial and error. :) We will look into rabbits. We’ve talked about it off and on, I knew that their manure was great for the garden. I think that is something we can do, we definitely have the space for it.

  4. Hi Jenny!
    Wow! I think your garden is already pretty :) Love the row covers! I’m a sucker for black dirt…go figure :)

    Quick suggestion about your previous soil issues. When you mix in wood chips and other biodegradable matter, it ties up nitrogen as it rots down. One symptom of a nitrogen shortage is yellowish leaves. You could still green up your spinach with applications of organic nitrogen in kelp meal or foliar drenches of compost tea or fish emulsion.

    You’re doing a great job! Gotta go check out the guest post :)

    • Thank you Lisa. :) It is pretty in its own right and that is something I tell myself frequently. I think when it hits full stride (hopefully) this June, and things have grown up, it will be lovely.

      I have heard about a foliar tea, I know a fellow gardener who had great results with it. We’ve talked about it actually and we do have a gallon of Fish emulsion fertilizer. We may have to give that a try.

  5. I am new to reading your blog and I am really enjoying it. Today I went back through some of your previous months posts and then ventured into the article about your town. I had to laugh as we moved 2 1/2 years ago from a town of about 135,000 to less that 600 residents. Talk about culture shock! We have to go 45 miles to Bishop, CA to shop at the Von’s market and Kmart and 90 miles to get to a WalMart or Home Depot in Ridgecrest. Planning is everything! But, like yourselves, we are VERY HAPPY. Our dream is to have 2-5 acres, so we are now cutting out teeth on 1/4 acre. It is our micro-mini farm. We have 13 chickens, a garden (trying square foot style this year) and are building some solar panels. We are working on our food stores and outfitting our small basement. My natural gas dryer has had a conversion kit that was miss-placed and now recovered, but I really have enjoyed hanging the clothes out on the line instead. Your trials and struggles are near and dear to our hearts and we will enjoy learning from you. Our kids are all grown and on their own. So this is OUR mid-life crisis. They think that we are NUTS. But they are enjoying the corporate grind and we are “living life”. Thank you for your wonderful information. Happy Homesteading!

    • Hi Merle! It is so nice to meet you. We had a busy holiday weekend so I am sorry that I did not get back here to respond sooner. I never would have thought that simply moving to a smaller town would cause culture shock but it did. It sounds like you all are in a much smaller area even than we are. Even the switch from natural gas to propane has been an adjustment. We were fortunate to get our dryer fixed right away, but I was without an oven for about a week or so after we moved here. I do though look forward to using a clothes line as soon as we can get one built and installed. Thank you so much for “dropping” in and very best wishes on your homestead. Please stay in touch! :)

  6. From what I’ve seen of all my North American blogs that I follow, in fact all my northern hemisphere ones, you’ve had a long and lingering winter. Much the same as our summer which has only JUST eased off! And as you say, learning curve! We’re in a similar position in many ways although we’re not economically reliant on producing a good crop. There are challenges to overcome though and I think half the fun is figuring them out, formulating a plan of action, implementing it and conquering. :) Keep up the inspiration! :D

    • Yes we have. I didn’t really think of it as “winter” since we had so little snow but we have had several nights just these past few weeks of temps below freezing. I’m hoping, hoping that we’ve turned that corner and we’re on to warmer weather soon. On our little almost daily tour through the garden beds Saturday night, everything looked a little better.

  7. You should know we’re all out here rooting for your success! I know what it’s like working with a husband. I’ve always thought it was like dancing – your marriage might be like a waltz (which you can do in your sleep), but working together might be the Texas Two Step. Still a dance, but it requires a bit of learning and a lot of patience!

    • Thank you Joan! I really appreciate it. We hope to get some warmer weather this week and that should really help. :)

  8. Hang in there Jenny…this past month or 2 of weather ups and downs has been a challenge. We are working on building our high tunnel and trying to squeeze in a few plants in the garden. If everything I have read and heard is true on high tunnels/low tunnels…they should make market gardening MUCH easier. We are logging pictures and hope to blog the high tunnel construction soon…and hopefully we can share what we learn on high tunnels. So far I would say in our crazy late winter/early spring weather the last few years that tunnels should be a great improvement to get fresh greens earlier and in much better quality. Hopefully we will be able to share our journey soon.

    • Sarah, did you all purchase a kit for your tunnel? or are you building it “from scratch”. I will be really anxious to see how you all do it. We have plenty of space for it, and have sort of selected the site, just not sure how to go about it and our make shift tunnels from last fall didn’t do as well as we had hoped. We had a meeting last Saturday for the local Farmer’s Market. They aren’t going to open for another six weeks yet ~ everyone seems to be in the same boat as far as a slow start so that made me feel much better. I will look for your post!

      • We are constructing a high tunnel…zimmerman tunnel from Morgan County. We received this thru a grant in the county. It is a great tunnel for what we know on tunnels and have seen. The only thing is the instructions are very poor. So we are trying to keep records to maybe share with Morgan County …to hopefully help others in the future. We are thinking of more tunnels in the future …and those we will problem create ourselves. It really wouldn’t be that tough. It is simply knowing what you need to purchase and go for it. :-)

        As My hubby mentioned farther down NRCS is a great one to look into as well.

        • I saw your photos on FB and they look great! Your property looks very similar to ours. I forwarded that info on to my husband and he is going to look it over. Thank you so much Sarah, your input has been so helpful. :)

  9. It sounds like you have a great start. Hey, teaching hubby how to do the household stuff might be the most challenging task!
    If you’re working with people who understand farming, they know that crops are unpredictable. Not to worry. You are right where you need to be.

    • Thank you Daisy. We attended a Farmer’s Market meeting the other night and everyone seemed to be facing the same kind of problem so I felt a lot better. I love the name of your farm!

    • Oh great! We’d heard something somewhere about that and I was wondering. I’ll take a look at this and pass it on to my husband. Thank you. :)

  10. Ha! I do the same thing with the talking out loud. The big difference between my hubby and I, though, is that he just wants whatever we’re building to be serviceable and DONE. I want to talk it to death first, make sure we’ve accounted for all “what ifs”, and ultimately want it done right so I don’t have to do it again later. :) There’s been more than one “hands thrown in the air” moment over me wanting something to be perfectly square. Lol.

    Just discovered your blog. Looking forward to following your homestead progress!

    • Hi Rae, it is so nice to meet you! I’ve added your blog to my bloglovin’ feed and I look forward to staying in touch. Love your ducks! We’ve talked about getting muscovies too. Thanks for dropping by. :)

  11. Hi Jenny,
    I followed you back on Pinterest and clicked on a pic from one of your boards. Nice to meet you! I think I saw your link at Dolly’s new party. Dolly lives a few miles from me. My husband and I are retired and we started a garden about 4 years ago. We had enough veggies the first year that we sold some of our produce at a stand in our yard, and we didn’t even know what we were doing! I will start following your blog and I’m looking forward to reading more of your gardening posts.

    • Yes! I saw your link at Dolly’s shop hop and I absolutely loved your blog and the beautiful things you had in your shop. I also liked your “set up” there and how your shop was directly linked to your blog. Best wishes on your garden this year ~ that is wonderful that you had enough to sell from a produce stand. We’re hoping to sell at the Farmer’s Market coming up in a few weeks. Thank you for dropping by. :)

  12. Looks GREAT so far. I live AND work with my spouse and it is definitely not easy. Between our Chiropractic office AND the seed business it gets a little crazy. Just like your husband, mine is the technical one. He uses a spreadsheet for the Lip Balm recipes. Drives me crazy but tht’s how the come out perfect every time!
    Hang in there! Thanks for sharing!

    • Wow! You all have so much going on, but you guys are doing a great job. :) Yes, we have lots of spread sheets. We’ve just been going over them this morning.

  13. It is a frightening prospect to take sod and turn it into friable garden beds that will grow something besides weeds…I congratulate you on following your dreams and cheer you on as you continue to make your dreams come true! It takes a long time to build the soil and unfortunately, sometimes it also takes money…. Green manure crops and nitrogen fixing plants are fairly cheap and will work wonders on the soil. The sod will also help if you strip it and stack it roots up to compost. We lived in Costa Rica for awhile, in an area that had unreal winds, especially when the prevailing winds shifted from the Pacific to the Atlantic, 50 to 80 kph winds (30-50 mph) were a daily thing to contend with Jan-Mar. That was also the best time for planting since it is dry season and the torrential rains won’t wash the crops away… But the winds would twist plants off at the ground in no time. The way that the locals (they call themselves Ticos), contend with the winds is to establish “paddocks”, areas of land cleared in the middle for growing, but along the windward side of the paddock they would plant two or three rows of low growing fruit trees, this would break the wind and produce fruit at the same time. It worked very well. I hope that your growing season proves fruitful and that you are able to make some progress with your soil condition! Take care, Elle
    http://www.aviewfromthecottage.blogspot.com

    • Thank you Elle. :) We have I don’t know how many pounds of fava beans for a green manure crop as well as black eyed peas. I did not know that about the sod ~ good to know. I cannot imagine dealing with wind like that on a daily basis; my word! Very interesting about the fruit trees. I am wanting to do something like that and we may do some experimenting with apple trees. Fruit doesn’t grow very well here because we will usually have very early warm weather followed by a hard frost. Most fruit trees will start to bloom and then the blossoms are lost. I’m still willing and wanting to try. Thank you again for your input. :D I really appreciate it.

  14. Pingback: Farm Girl Blog Fest #27 ~ The Adventure Bite

  15. Good to hear there’s other folks out there figuring out how to work together as a couple. We’re in year 2 of our farm and we’re still trying to figure out the right balance! We’re trying to do more farm meetings where we have a set agenda and try to talk through our projects, budgets, delegation of duties ahead of time. I’ll let you know how that goes!

    • I would love to hear more about it Megan. I took a peek at your fascinating site. I look forward to staying in touch! :) Thank you for stopping by.

  16. We moved to our farmstead 4 years ago, (& yes to a tiny tiny Texas town) but are just now being serious with the garden…after trying to garden the last 2 summers and running into hard-rock clay soil and lack of summer water we needed a better way. We’re attempting to do the Back to Eden this summer, just putting down all the paper, cardboard, leftover hay (this is what we have free available on our farm), then wood chips. We’re not attempting to plant this year. We are laying things on thickly to kill the pasture grass, but I sure hope it will do it’s thing. My question is in your experience w/ trying this, do you think this will break down enough to plant next year? You said yours didn’t compost fast enough…but don’t know how soon you were trying to plant. Thanks for your blog – all the info., honesty, laughs and heartaches.

    • I would think by a year or so that would be broken down enough. We tried to plant the following season which was way too soon. We have heavy clay soil too and ended up purchasing a small amount of high quality gardening soil for a few of the beds, laying that, and the wood chips on top of the cardboard and planting in that. We’re doing ok. Now we’re battling weeds and bermuda grass that wants to take over. :/ Good luck with yours!

      • Thanks for the reply! Just a thought if you have other grassy areas still to convert to garden. We started this method first (before Back to Eden) and it works very well, just more expensive than we’d like. We buy a roll of contractor grade of black plastic at Lowe’s (approx. 10′ x 100′ for $40) and lay that down on top of the grass, secured with whatever you’ve got. In our windy area, t-posts (bent & rusted work well) and extra pallets hold down the plastic. Takes about 6 months – the longer the better (if have heat then it works faster) but it will kill the grass underneath. If you are very careful, you can re-use the plastic. With children working and dogs getting out frequently, ours got holes. After we pulled up the plastic, then we put the Back to Eden stuff on. I’m hoping these will be our quickest beds to get to plant in. Just beware that fire ants are attracted to the black plastic, and I’ve been told Black Widow spiders are too.

        • I’ll have to look for black plastic then. We’ve talked about doing that and we were hoping to also put our chickens to work tilling and fertilizing our garden. I wonder if that plastic would work in my raised beds. I’ve got bermuda that crept in there as well. Awful stuff.

          • I’m not sure if you’re thinking of doing it permanently, or just over a season in a dormant bed. I’m sure you know there are 3 things you’ve gotta do to kill any grass or weed – #1 no light, #2 no water, #3 keep it covered to smother. Yes, I agree bermuda has to be the hardest. Another gardener friend of mine is convinved she is still dealing with bermuda after years in her garden b/c they tilled at the beginning and she is of the belief that just causes it to be tilled deep and it grows back instead of killing it. Keep us posted on your progress!

          • Yeah I heard that about bermuda, and that the more you rip it out, the faster it grows back. Why can’t tomatoes grow invasive like that??