It has been quite a long time since I have felt up to writing a blog. Working a full-time, demanding job in academia, homeschooling both my kids, doing as much homesteading as possible, and living through a devastating global pandemic while also in the midst of all of the historical socio-political and cultural touchstone moments of 2020-2021 has been as tiring as it sounds. I’m certain you all can relate. ❤ 🙂
While I have been tired–I think the term being thrown around most these days is “burnt-out”–that doesn’t mean I haven’t been content and even joyful at times. In truth, it’s a Sunday morning at 6:30am right now. The rest of the Hull’s are asleep still, having stayed-up late sitting around a campfire at the edge of the forest.
I’m on the back patio, tucked next to the raised bed garden, sipping my coffee, listening to the diverse and eloquent range of birds surrounding me and watching my two cats roll and stretch in delight. I’m looking at all the weeds I need to pull, the few new flowers I treated myself to for the perennial garden, and wondering where in the world I’m going to fit the additional herbs I have sitting in a flat on the ground.
Today will be a busy, but good day in the gardens. We’ve been systematically planting-out seedlings from the greenhouse in the raised bed garden. We’re a few weeks later this year due to some late snows and frosts, but we have a bed of cilantro, italian parsley, and Asian greens, another bed of head lettuce, broccolini and basil, and then more basil and what will be four tomato plants (different varieties), in addition to the Mediterranean herb bed (which is why I can’t stick the other herbs there–different soil needs). I’m still trying to sneak in beets, radishes, kale, spinach, and more where there’s room, and a variety of potatoes are happily buried in their soft-sided potato barrels. The tea garden has three kinds of mint, bergamot, echinacea, and lavender, among all the other herbs like sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, catnip, tarragon, and marjoram. Borage, sage blossoms, chives, and lavender blossoms are all cutely tied and hanging upside down on a wire in my kitchen, drying. We inoculated some silver maple logs with shiitake mushroom plugs and set them beside the raised bed garden.
The more heat-loving seedlings that go in the main garden, things like tomatoes, peppers, squashes, and beans we have left safely tucked away in the greenhouse, but I think we’ll plant them out today. It’s been lovely outside.
The forest is coming alive, first with the wildflowers: hyacinth, anemones, and trout lillies followed closely by some of the first wild foragings: wild garlic, dandelions, wild violets, bitter lettuces, stinging nettles, and then, yes, morels. This year we found a reliable patch and were able to return three times for picking. I made a simple cream sauce to accompany a splurge-dinner of steak, which we ate around a fire rather than inside.
Last year we labored over building more infrastructure: the greenhouse, the raised bed/perennial garden, and expanding the main garden, and this year it’s been amazing to take advantage of it. We’ve been in this home and on this land for 10 years as of a few weeks ago (we signed closing documents on my birthday and it was the best gift I’ve ever gotten). We immediately dug a garden where the main garden now sits, though much smaller, and we have been lovingly
fighting with it tending it ever since, battling weeds and shifting shade from the forest that surrounds it. We’ve made it work, though, little by little. Each year we add more infrastructure, more planning, more deliberation as we gain knowledge and experience growing things. There is a consistency to having put our fingers in the same patch of earth year after year for 10 years, watching it develop, nurturing it with compost and green goodies; and in return, it gives us delicious and nutritious food.
This year we added infrastructure inside our home. Brian built-us a grow station after he watched me drool all over the page of a particularly aesthetic premade one in one of my favorite gardening magazines. It was $800. We were never going to spend that on a grow station. A few hundred dollars in an eye-pleasing a durable sheet wood and some grow lights, plus a weekend of hard work, and we have a safe, warm, and light-filled place to start all of our seeds for the summer garden. But, even more so, a place that I can grow greens indoors year-round, right in the kitchen. Right now I can open a can of preserved fruit, or grab a frozen pepper from my freezer, always breaking the seal and smelling. It smells like sunshine and summer. But I can’t grow fresh food in the winter right now. I’m so excited to be able to simply reach over and harvest a handful of greens in the dead of winter, one step closer to growing more of our food year-round.
Most people understand homesteading as a self-sufficiency movement. As with a lot of families during the pandemic, we have been watching more television than we used to. Burn-out and TV is easy. Lately, we’ve been avidly watching “Homestead Rescue” with the Raney family from Alaska on Discovery +. Marty Raney, the father, reminds us of Brian with his intensity but big heart. We laugh together at some of their shared behaviors and imagine that Brian will be even more like him when he’s older. We also just really like seeing all the homesteading, in all its variances across the country. In each episode, though, the goal is that buzzword: self-sufficiency. It’s not a bad buzzword at all, but I think like so many other commonly used words in our vocabulary, it gets imbued with ideals and attached to people, places, behaviors, and activities, becoming a narrative about what homesteading is and isn’t, and by proxy, then, who’s doing it, and who’s an impostor or hypocrite. It creates hard lines rather than allowing for bridges in between, which, I think, is why so many homesteaders need rescuing in the first place: it’s all or nothing.
We can’t be self-sustainable on this plot in the ways that the homesteaders on “Homestead Rescue” are attempting, so how can we call ourselves homesteaders? We don’t have acres. We have barely a half-acre. We do have resources in abundance around us, but the forest isn’t ours technically speaking. My professional home-field is rhetoric and composition, and more specifically cultural rhetorics (and writing center studies, but that’s not relevant to this paragraph). I read and think and write a lot about the rhetoric of community and about how community makes and shapes culture. Brian is a Maker. Makerspaces are also community spaces, where people gather to make and do together, strengthening one another. And before either of us were involved in those fields professionally, our vision for our homestead was always more “community garden,” than the romantic notion of an isolated homesteader, tucked away from society and civilization.
We are actively trying to reshape homesteading to be about doing as much as you can with what you have, wherever you have it. Use your resources wisely. Maximize what you can do. Constantly seek to grow and learn. And, mostly importantly, build and sustain a community around you so that whatever you don’t have in resources or can’t grow in food, you can connect with someone who does. All of us together can support one another and feed one another, making one another stronger, sharing the load, the bounty, and the lessons. They do this often in “Homestead Rescue,” whenever they seek a helping hand from a neighbor and even point-out the importance of knowing your neighbors while homesteading. There’s strength in numbers, strength in more collective knowledge, and strength in sharing together.
We do as much as we can here, where we are, which is all we could afford 10 years ago. Heck, it’s still all we can afford after the financial upheaval in our family the past few years. It isn’t all we want. We dream of acres and forests and running rivers, of places to build cabins for extended families, of an acre of food, of a sugar bush, and more livestock. of solar panels and hydroelectricity, of passive heating, beehives, and root cellars. We look at land all the time. Maybe one day we’ll be able to buy some. But for right now, we’ve found some stability, a small measure of sustainability, and each year, more and more community, and we’re clinging onto it.
We’re still learning at this homestead. We’re still growing. Each year we embark on new projects with different lessons and pieces of wisdom. We still have a little room to grow. And now that the kids’ schoool year is coming to a close, and vaccines are on the rise, and we all stretch and yawn and wake-up after what feels like a prolonged hibernation, I am–once again–excited to share it with you all.