Anticipation of Fall

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In the midst of summer, under July heat and between berry-picking and trips to the lake, my mind always begins to move to fall. On chilly mornings, or when a breeze picks up and thrashes the plants out front, I feel it coming, though its arrival is still months off yet.

It’s always been at this time of year that I start knitting. Crafting for cold weather lets me channel the euphoria and creativity that the first chill and yellowing trees light in me. As I work I imagine the smell of rain and fallen leaves and pumpkin and roast chicken, and my soul leaps with excitement.

Now that we’re back in the Pacific Northwest I am overjoyed for the promise of cooler weather and rain.  The season will be rung in by my daughter’s second birthday. We’ll return to cooking inside and lighting the wood stove.

I’m not knitting my way through this summer– partly for lack of time; partly because my daughter would object– but instead I’ll be thinking ahead as I dig and plant our fall garden. I’ll be stacking firewood, storing potatoes, picking hazelnuts, and nailing siding up on the hay barn.

As always, there is more to do than there are hours in the day or energy in my body. But we’re moving forward, chipping away, and I’m feeling blissfully inspired.

Cucumber Salad with Corn, Feta and Herbs

At the height of summer, on long days of working and playing outside, nothing is better than a refreshing garden-fresh salad. The lemon cucumbers that have been ripening back-to-back on our vines are deserving of better than a humble supporting role. We’ve enjoyed plenty sliced with a pinch of salt.

As a basis of a more substantial dish, perfect for al fresco lunch, I mix the beautiful slices with corn, fresh herbs, feta, and succulent wild greens. Dressed only lightly with extra virgin olive oil, the flavors balance and compliment one another wonderfully– salt from the feta, sweetness from the corn, and light citrus from the purslane.

I’ve used mint and basil together since enjoying the best-ever caprese salad in a restaurant, and now my tomatoes are paired more often with mint than the latter. We also use the abundant herb in myriad savory dishes that I would have once thought strange, since mint always meant “sweet” to me– an association I suspect an unfortunately large population of Americans share. I only urge you to branch out! Zucchini and mint are a match made in heaven. And there’s always mint wine.

Here I use grapefruit mint, my favorite variety. It has the power and aroma to turn a cold glass of water into a refreshing summer mocktail with a simple muddled leaf.

As for the purslane and oxeye daisies: both are exceptionally common, easily identified wild plants, though of course I encourage research before foraging for food. Both are used medicinally and are delicious greens.

While the beautiful seas of daisies have dried on Northwest hillsides, lush basal leaves continue to sprout everywhere. (Check your garden!) Their flavor is pleasantly herbal and mild. Baby arugula would make a stronger-flavored domesticated stand-in, and wild amaranth leaves would be nice as well.

Purslane especially likes inhospitable cracks in the sidewalk and gravel driveways, so just look down. It’s an unassuming succulent with a cucumber-citrus flavor. More on this lovely wild snack from Grow a Good LifeAttainable Sustainable, and Little Big Harvest. Sliced lemon verbena or lemon mint might stand in adequately, though without the cool crispness than purslane offers.

Cucumber Salad with Corn, Feta and Herbs

Quantities are notably omitted. Use a handful of each ingredient as you prefer.

Cucumbers, preferably lemon variety, sliced 1/4-inch thick

Steamed corn, cut from the cob

Feta cheese, crumbled

Purslane, tips and leaves

Oxeye daisy, basal leaves

Basil leaves, thinly sliced

Mint leaves, such varieties as grapefruit, apple, or spearmint, thinly sliced

Extra virgin olive oil (very little)

Salt (very little)

Black pepper (very little)

For garnish: basil or mint sprigs, oxeye daisy flowers, borage flowers, or nasturtium.

Toss all ingredients together, then arrange in shallow salad bowls and add garnishes, all of which above are edible and delicious.

One Month On The Homestead

We’ve been here one month, now. It’s all sinking in– the reality, the permanence. It’s spectacular. And while the work is hard and plentiful, I remind myself of how much we’ve accomplished. With a toddler at foot (or on my back), here’s what the first month has yielded on the new homestead:

  • We’ve installed and repaired hundreds of feet of fencing. Some will be replaced with wood posts once the auger is here, but the animals are contained and the garden protected.
  • The Chibbit House is complete and working perfectly. The chickens are cooped full-time at the moment, but we plan to let them out during the day once the garden gate is mounted. The rabbits were bred a few weeks ago, though I’m not certain whether it was successful.
  • Sheep were sheared.
  • The geese are fattening up on pasture.
  • Everything on the property has been pruned, mowed, and tidied to a reasonable degree. Wildflowers, lilies, roses, rhododendron, and lamb’s ear are all blooming, now excavated from the brambles.
  • The vegetable garden is fully planted, mulched, and growing– and a complete update on that is to-come. Many plants were late for the season, but we’ll just see what happens. The first row of potatoes, which we planted on one of our trips up months ago, is about ready to be harvested.
  • I’ve thoroughly acquainted myself with the local flora, and we’ve enjoyed foraged food with almost every dinner so far. Yesterday we picked wild strawberries, cherries, and blackberries, but few made it back to the kitchen.

  • We’ve filled our new home with wonderful meals– fresh pasta from our hen’s eggs, half a dozen loaves of delicious bread, smoked ribs, sauteed morels.
  • I’ve fermented a gallon of pineapple weed wine, in the same style as my mint wine.
  • We’ve steeped ourselves in the beauty of this place and begun to know the area better. We’re only a few miles from gorgeous lakes with a comfortable little beach for relaxing and letting our toddler play. In the heat of the afternoon we plod down to our own creek to dip our feet in.

We’ve settled into somewhat of a routine, which is an immense relief to me. I thrive on regularity. I’ve made list after list of projects large and small, and checking each item off has pushed me on to the next and made it all feel possible.

There is plenty I have not done, and an endless amount yet to do. But so far, so good.

The May Garden

As May concludes, here finally is an update on the garden. We’ve been here two weeks, and it’s finally starting to feel real. The garden project is one of my most gratifying, although much of it seems to be two steps forward; one step back.

I’m continuing to plant, in the interest of a passing season, yet the fence has yet to be completed. (I won’t mention the oversight of the deer or roaming cows, lest I jinx myself, but…) The chickens have been persistently destructive, just as they were at our last place, so I will be attempting to wrangle and coop them. Meanwhile, for as long as the hose and grass occupy my toddler, I’ve been hanging wire one post at a time.

What have been spared so far by the villainous poultry are a row of peas; a pell-mell patch of radishes and leaf lettuce; a dozen heirloom tomatoes; and small plots of beets, kale, basil, cilantro, squash, cucumbers, and melons. Until the fence is up and the chicken issue is resolved, I’m trying not to get too attached as I continue planting.

Two rows of fingerling, gold, and purple potatoes are thriving. The first row we planted in a trench months ago has been mounded with layers of mulch and soil to about a foot over ground-level; the other has spud leaves just emerging from the trench.

Beside the potatoes surrounded by nasturtium is the compost heap, onto which I layer kitchen waste, manure, and grass clippings with immense satisfaction.

Our wonderful next-door neighbors shared runners from their bountiful raspberry patch, most of which have taken to their new plot perfectly. The raspberries neighbor the two blueberry plants, which are too straggly to be called bushes. Evidently I should have pinched off this year’s berries to encourage plant growth, but now they are so close to ripeness, I can’t bear to do so, nor am I sure it would help at this point.

Two of the four apple trees we planted last month have apples; the other two do not. I’m not terribly surprised given the time of their planting, and I have plenty of hope for future years. Also, the old apple tree I cut from a tomb of blackberry brambles and ivy earlier in the year is thriving. Someone said it was a crabapple, but I was pretty sure its fruit were previously hindered by the tree’s neglect. That appears to be true, and I look forward to finding out what type of apples it yields.

The concord grape arbor I pruned for its first time in what must have been decades has likewise come to glorious life. Soon we’ll have the Adirondack chairs or a new bench beneath to enjoy on these warm, breezy spring afternoons. The beauty here is boundless and, thankfully, energizing.

Moving 50 Animals 600 Miles

We made it! We are officially here permanently. I can’t say that it feels so final in my mind– rather, the days are rushing by as if again approaching the long return trip to California. Without a set routine and with such a seemingly insurmountable to-do list, the past week has been a blur.

The process of packing and loading, of corralling the animals and worrying about how in the world we’d be able to move them all at once, is still haunting my dreams.

The two sheep, two goats, three rabbits, four geese, and dozens of chickens all rode in one trailer, neatly packed into cages and a makeshift livestock area. As stressful and challenging as the experience was, the actual trip was successful and undoubtedly quite the amusing scene for passers-by. We did try to track down a professional livestock mover or at least rent a proper trailer, for the record, but in the end, this was it. And it worked!

The animals seemed to travel quite comfortably, and their release onto acres of lush mixed grass was a happy one. The goats have managed to clear most of the blackberry brambles from under the hay barn. As soon as it’s cleaned out we can fence the area off to contain the sheep for shearing next week.

Between the numerous projects and good hard work, I’ve been voraciously foraging and experimenting with preserving the wild harvests. Posts and recipes will follow this week, along with an update on the beautifully expanding garden.

Home sweet home!

Taking Time

Thanks to social media today, we have the luxury of presenting to the world carefully selected parts of our lives. Naturally these are more often than not the rosy bits: grinning children, plump homegrown tomatoes, our sources of pride and joy.

These joys are contagious, and sharing them has helped grow an important movement: to regenerate a culture of creativity and self-reliance. To spurn convenience spending, materialism, and unquestioning dependence on the greater systems. Social media has spread the revelation that, “Hey, I can do that!” And you can. We all can.

But none of us can do it all. And that’s the part of the story that our digital personas don’t often tell.

I could never have truly prepared for the magnitude of this move back from California to Oregon. The incremental nature has enabled the planning, organization, and sheer effort to be infiltrated by doubt and a sense of impossibility. Not all the time, of course. Not in the busy, just-get-it-done moments. It’s when an hour opens up—an hour in which I would normally write a blog post, take some photos, work on a chapter in my book. Replant some herbs or finish a project in the kitchen. An hour suddenly spoken for, beckoned for, by so many forces that I become frozen.

My goals for the coming week include making prepared mustard from the wild seed I recently threshed and winnowed; tying up loose ends at a job I’ve adored for four years; moving 50 animals 600 miles; fencing 1,800 square-feet of garden and continuing to plant; and most optimistically, putting pen to paper on my book.

I’ll share about all of that, to be sure. But as you can imagine, there are many moving parts behind these scenes, and for each project we do manage to accomplish there are inevitably a dozen more that we do not. At least not yet.

So in the interest in devoting my regrettably finite creative energy and time to this last push of the move and to settling our family into a new home and new life, I will be taking 10 days off from blogging. I ought to say “10 more days” but these will be guilt-free. I’ve got work to do.

I will leave you with a few words for Mother’s Day, so check back this weekend. I’ll also be checking in on Facebook, so feel free to follow me there.

And for anyone who might feel at times, at I have, that they just can’t keep up while so many others seems to “do it all,” here are a few reminders from other bloggers that there’s more to every story, and every day requires certain compromises.

Saying No To Saying Yes from SchneiderPeeps

I Don’t Do It All from Homespun Seasonal Living

Why We Do Not Do It All from Just Plain Marie

I Can’t Do It All from The Elliott Homestead

Cheers, and be back soon!

Planting Fruit Trees

We’re back from a longer-than-planned trip to the new place– the last visit, perhaps, that is merely a visit. The anxiety for change is mounting, as is the excitement, as is the stress, as is the sense of accomplishment for all that we managed to do in the past two weeks.

While we finally had the Internet connected after Week One, I couldn’t find more than a single moment to devote to any writing whatsoever, which does leave a vacant place in my heart that I’ll be working to fill in the next few weeks and in the new routine I will be developing.

Albeit a tad late, we planted four apple trees: a Gravenstein (deeply endeared to me in my upbringing in Sonoma County), a Cox’s Orange Pippin, a semi-dwarf Yellow Delicious, and an heirloom English variety of which I cannot recall the name (but I have tagged). We also planted a hardy Chicago fig, two blueberry bushes, rhubarb, and a long row of Russian Fingerling potatoes.

Getting the fruit trees was critical if we were to have any in this year. The soil is wonderfully soft and fairly loose, so digging is a piece of cake compared to the arid, compacted clay of the Valley. We amended the holes with lots of compost and mulched around the slight trunks with plenty of dried field grass. Our toddler enjoyed helping– and “helping.”

Two major threats to our garden and orchard frequent the land: deer, of course, and a notorious neighbor’s herd of ever-roaming cattle. The only solution, it seems, is to fence our entire acreage. In the mean time, though, particularly while we are away, each plant needs its own stronghold. We planned simple circles of field wire around the trees, upheld with a few posts. The wire was too flimsy un-stretched, however, so the construction took far longer than planned. They didn’t come out perfect, but more than satisfactory to me.

Best of all, we have met several neighbors who are more than a wealth of information: they are avid homesteaders and gardeners, active in the community, and as welcoming and generous as I could imagine asking for in new neighbors. For all of this I am boundlessly grateful.