It has been a number of years since J and I upset our lives and our goals in search of what we wanted. I think it an appropriate time to re-visit what birthed this blog, how far we have come, and where we now want to go.
Sometime in 2012 after the birth of little boy number 1, I lay in bed nursing said child while J was off in a studio class for his Masters degree in Landscape Architecture. I was nearing the end of ‘maternity leave’ (10 weeks of unpaid leave from the local Public Defenders office), and crying every time I thought of leaving my still very small and very helpless infant in the arms of someone else while I ran off to defend people in court for crimes they did and did not commit. I stumbled across the New York Times article described and linked in the ‘about’ page to this blog.
The perhaps too romanticized (or perhaps not) protagonists in the story were old people on the Greek island of Ikaria. Old because they managed to live long lives. And celebrated in the article because of their longevity. They woke up naturally, they gardened and climbed mountains (or steep hills) daily. They drank tea and ate vegetables from these mountains and gardens. They napped. They sat and drank wine and ate goat cheese and laughed with friends in the early evenings. They lived near family and their community was close.
This life struck me as beautiful, peaceful, natural, ideal. I shared it with J. And it got into our heads and under our skin. The courtroom and its hard wooden benches filled with people mired in a variety of problems ranging from the tragic to the annoying repelled me. The stress of J’s studio critiques and how much time they took away from our newborn dramatically decreased his zeal for his chosen path. We wanted another way. We wanted Ikaria.
And so we burned it all down, sold the house and moved North to the small beautiful town where I grew up. And here we are. He is building his landscaping business slowly. He spends his days cultivating beautiful gardens and witnessing their owners’ delight in them. On some days he works with a colleague whose company he enjoys, others he is solo. I get to be the primary caregiver for our two boys and have the luxury of being able to slowly build a legal practice that doesn’t suck my soul.
It is not all roses of course. Money is tight, we rely too much on credit cards. I get frustrated with my delayed career and my decidedly maid-like daily activities. J’s winter job is low paying and sometimes grueling. We are concerned about education quality and are anticipating a move when the boys need better schools.
However we are driving to the coast in a week, camping along the way as one last hurrah before camping season gives way to ski season. We didn’t have to ask for the time off and don’t need to worry about hotels and restaurants and airfare. (Our spring and summer was dedicated to building our ability to travel cheaply, lightly, and relatively comfortably by car). We have a lovely home that sits on land where the boys can stretch their legs. The mountains are in view and in easy reach. We enjoy beer with friends while children play in the grass at our local drinking hole. Our gardens are extensive if neglected. My dad is close by and the boys know and love him well. We have come close to our Ikaria.
- As the winter approaches, landscaping will give way to ski tuning and I will hopefully work more as J has more time to care for the boys. The dramatic Rocky Mountain seasons stave off ennui and as does a lifestyle dictated by them. We are pretty content. I wish everyone a beautiful fall and the ability to carve out an existence that serves their truest and most cherished priorities.
It has been a long time since I have posted about the greenhouse. It is mid- December with plenty of snow on the ground and things are growing beautifully inside. Our banana tree got hit by one of the cold nights, but I think it will make it and the lemon tree looks pretty good. My perennial herbs are happy as can be. We have some gargantuan Borage, my son likes to eat the sweet flowers. Lettuce, spinach, carrots, parsley, beats and chard are all as happy as can be. The grape vine has lost its leaves for the winter. And our strawberries are on their second round of production. I have onions scattered amongst the greens and herbs as an experiment. We are looking forward to some good winter harvests.
All the perennial seedlings that I started in the spring and summer have been up potted to 1 gallon pots, and will save us a ton of money on landscaping for our home come spring. There are also a bunch of orphans in there that my husband picked up from various landscaping jobs over the summer. We will have several wild roses to plant in the spring!
We have however, been battling various pests. I am sure that equilibrium will come in time, but we did build an oasis in the middle of a desert. It was bound to attract all sorts of hungry critters. We had a cricket infestation during the summer, but the cold has taken care of them. We have been releasing lady bugs into the greenhouse the last couple of days, and they are making short work of the aphids on our greens. My son loves watching them crawl around. As do I, actually. The only problem left is to figure out how to keep mice out. I plan on planting mint in great quantities in the spring and replacing the pecan shell floor with pea gravel. For the time being we are just setting mouse traps. We have hantavirus here in New Mexico, I do not mess around with mice.
All in all, the dome is living up to its promise of providing a growing space all year long and the whole family has enjoyed it. We haven’t quite gotten it to produce enough to feed us more than a bit here and there, but I am learning a ton and we are getting closer all the time. Next year we need a bigger fan and a misting system as the height of the summer was just too hot. We will also need to install a timed drip system off of the tank in order to be able to go camping without hiring a gardener to watch our house!
This is not likely to be of any interest to anyone, unless you happen to be experimenting with greenhouse growing in the height of summer. I am mostly just cataloging my progress for future reference.
It’s been a couple days over a month and our beds are mostly full. I’ve added cucumber, zucchini, scarlet pole beans, a banana tree, and kale. Also a rescued yarrow plant that has been coming back to life rapidly.
Many seeds are in trays including several woody perennials for landscaping. I also have some seeded lettuce, cilantro, basil, more tomatoes and carrots.
We have added fertilizer and microbial supplements and everything seems to be appreciating those efforts, especially since it has gotten quite hot. The strawberries and tomatoes are starting to bear fruit, the zucchini is flowering, and the watermelon is starting to make it’s way up the trellis. The kale is thriving. The peppers are growing surprisingly slow, I figured they would be thriving in the heat. Whereas the arugala plants are quite happy. The cilantro has all bolted and the nasturtium seedlings are struggling. All of the herbs are happy and the marigolds are producing many blooms with our consistent dead heading.
We have also added a couple of aquatic plants to the tank, those are thriving as well. The geraniums are not loving the heat, but have perked up with fertilizer. We have some potted ornamental grasses as well for purely aesthetic purposes. I need to get my hands on a lemon tree.
I have a large grapevine that I am trying to decide where to place. It may just go inside the greenhouse with an arbor or trellis. It is doing quite well outside though.
Outside the greenhouse: the lettuces are providing ample salad greens from their shaded spot under the fruit trees. The arugala and spinach have bolted, I need to seed the beds for the next round. The onions are looking like they are getting close to ready for harvest! The asparagus is doing well with the sunflowers and flax seedlings. The marigolds, nasturtiums, sunflowers, and hollyhocks are all growing with a range of success or lack thereof in various locations. I have also planted a bed of perennial flowers and lots of sweet alyssum. The hops are growing rapidly.
As for landscaping, we just put in three New Mexican privets to screen the future courtyard from the road. There will be some evergreens mixed in with these as well as some large grasses. In the back, the grasses/wildflower meadow is creeping along slowly but surely in the heat and lack of rain. We are also planning on planting some wild plum around the perimeters of our cultivated areas as well as perhaps more juniper or piñon. All of these should be quite drought tolerant after two to three years.
We are busy busy every day. I am in my third trimester now, so weeding has dropped off and things are looking messy! But, the fresh salads are delightful, and my son ate the first two cherry tomatoes with gusto. I have ordered a cookbook that focuses on herbs so I can take advantage of their success in the greenhouse. I need to do a lot of up-potting of my perennial flowers and continue on with the rest of it. Happy dog days of summer.
Oh, and baby goats.
I just have to express my pure elation at having a long held dream come true. I was about 11 when I planted my first pea plant and it was then that I started sending out for mail order seed catalogs. We had a sunroom attached to our home and I enjoyed a brief time of growing and planting and perusing as a child before we moved to the city. It was years until I had a garden again, not until college in Washington state where gardening was so very different. I watered four foot high lavender bushes and marveled at the zeal with which seedlings grew in the moist soil. It was again, a brief time and it would be another 4 or 5 years after that before I would have a garden again. The next time it was at our small house on a busy street in the punishing sun of Albuquerque. We cultivated the neglected dusty patch of land and enjoyed a couple summers of vegetables and started really exploring native and drought tolerant plants. It was a joy. Law school, several moves later, and a punishing work schedule meant that our dusty little plot fell once again into neglect.
Now, once again years later, I have just had the supreme pleasure of planting in my own newly built greenhouse. I have been waiting and planning for and dreaming of this perfectly mild evening with a quiet breeze and the sounds of crickets and the trickle of a water fountain for years. It is here and it is beautiful. My almost two year old son scampered around handing us seedlings and watering cans and running after the dogs. I have taught him that seedlings are ‘babies’ and that he has to be gentle with them, so he pets them lightly to demonstrate his understanding. Today was a good day. Here are pictures of the greenhouse on day 1.
We have planted:
Sugar baby watermelons
I also put some arugula in, though I believe it will be too warm before I can get much out of it.
To come: zucchini and cantaloupe and my cucumber seedlings.
We also need to get in some trees around the southern side to provide some summer shade and a wind break. I am also looking to plant some wild plum, New Mexican privet, and piñon to the north to block our view of the road and define a small courtyard filled with perennial herbs. The day dreaming never ceases.
I hope your spring days are bringing sweet breezes and warm sunsets.
My shipment of seeds has arrived. I have carefully laid out the packs, labeled my markers, and I am waiting for a couple of hours to get some starts going. (This can be challenging with my small toddler companion). I have chosen a number of perennial herbs to interplant with my veggies (see post ‘herbal companions), as well as to use for flower beds. A number of them are also very attractive to pollinators, I have to do my part, and many are drought tolerant as well. I have steered a little away from native species, though not completely. The idea is to create planting communities that serve multiple purposes, will survive without coddling in the harsh environment, and of course be beautiful.
Our greenhouse is nearly complete, and I am planning to do pretty large quantities of these seedlings- both because I have a lot of planting to do on our property and because I am curious to see if I’ll be able to provide starts for our landscaping clients.
Below is a list of my picks along with pictures. I hope to eventually add in plant heights and spacing as well as potential companions, but this is just the beginning to provide fodder for the imagination which is so very important when planting by seed.
(All photos from Pinterest, I will be taking my own as the season progresses)
Salvia officinalis (garden sage)
Daucus carota (queen anne’s lace)
Borago officinalis (borage)
Solidago canandensis (Goldenrod)
Centranthus ruber (Jupiter’s beard)
Sideritis syriaca (Greek mountain tea)
Anthemis tinctoria (chamomile)
Asclepias Speciosa (showy milkweed)
Greenhouse construction is finally underway. My husband and step brother have been working 8 hour days on it and we are getting closer. My windowsills are full of seedlings and I am running out of room waiting for our last frost. (It snowed this weekend, spring time comes slowly in the mountains).
The arugula and spinach is outside and thriving along with the onions. We have some hops just showing signs of green, and a few young asparagus plants weathering the cold. The tulips are in bloom and the lilacs are just showing some buds in spite of the recent freeze. The mint patch is looking good and I have some potted pansies on the patio to keep the promise of more flowers alive. The fruit trees are budding out and our sweet almond blooms have come and gone. I have also put out several plants of creeping thyme, while I lay some generously spaced flagstone. I am hoping to create a low maintenance space that will tolerate the dogs but still look attractive. Pea gravel may be in our future.
In the back, I am weeding weeding weeding. We have planted a beautiful weeping spruce to go with our three juniper trees and large ornamental grasses as a screen. We have seven Karl forester grasses, three giant sacatons and one miscanthus. I’m hoping that’ll do the trick while the junipers mature to screen the view of the houses down the hill. The ground is cleared for the small patch of cool season turf which will meet the wildflower meadow at two globe willows. The seed has been purchased for the meadow and I am busily preparing the ground while I wait for the danger of frost to pass. All in all pleasant if not erratic and sometimes windy weather.
My mind is full of flower bed plans to be installed in our first landscaping project for a client and I spend free moments scouring native seed catalogs and Pinterest for inspiration.
As far as business goes, we have one big project and one small maintenance contract. Not eating meat very often these days, but I’m hoping to get some ad space in the local paper shortly and gently pestering people hoping to get word of mouth going. Our website is up and looks good. I have a little blog going for it that is fun to work on and of course we have a small but growing Facebook presence. It’s a little scary, but my anxiety about bills and groceries is completely mixed up with my excitement at being able to spend my time and energy on something that I so love l, knowing that my husband feels the same way. We alternate in our panicking, so far one at least one of us is confident when such episodes arise. We do panic from time to time though. That is all the news that is fit to print for this little aspiring business.
Today I’m planning my vegetable beds with herbal companions in mind. Certain herbs can improve the taste or vigor of vegetables and repel harmful insects and attract beneficial ones. A few vegetables don’t like certain herbs, like dill and carrots; but valerian, thyme, and marjoram are generally beneficial throughout the garden. Mint and lavender repel mice, and hyssop improves the productivity of grapevines.
This is a wonderful reference for companion planting generally, including sections on herbs, vegetables, flowers, and trees:
It’s been a long winter and I haven’t written a post in months. I am 4 months pregnant (after suffering a miscarriage at 8 weeks) and had a rough go of it for a while with several illnesses. However it is April now, and though it is snowing, spring is just around the corner. We haven’t gotten the greenhouse up yet, the ground was too frozen and ski season too busy to get too much done. I have started all sorts of seedlings on windowsills and in our sun room though. The greenhouse construction will commence in the next couple of weeks. I can’t wait. The chicken coop is underway, I have managed to make some progress even with my toddler and pregnancy. Also we have begun clearing ground for the small grassy lawn that will be seeded shortly. I am currently trying to find a couple of dwarf nigerian goats to help me control some of the particularly difficult weeds. It is a large, windy and dusty plot of land that we are going to transform and the going is slow.
In the meantime, my husband has quit his job and is striking out on his own as a landscaper. It is frightening, especially with another child on the way, but also very exciting. The dream of being self employed is so tantalizing. What’s more, we both get excited when talking about projects and he is happiest doing hard work outside. He has an especially strange zeal for general maintenance, which is good. There are many promising leads, and we get to break ground at my father’s house to get us started. Starting this business is just one more crucial step we are taking to build the life that we want. It is something we both love (we have long spent our weekends at plant nurseries and digging in our dusty dirt). It won’t take too much work to keep us afloat financially, but it is a risk nonetheless. I also happen to be an attorney and pretty good some of the things that will be needed from the business end of this endeavor. Finally, it is something that we can do to make our living without sacrificing time with each other our boys (just found out about the one on his way).
I have also finally found a perfect side job. I work a few hours a week as an attorney, and it struck me today that the law is best practiced as a hobby! I spend just enough time on it to feel useful and solve problems. I’m able to get into the research and writing without it becoming drudgery. My boss has all the responsibility and stress (that’s why he makes the big bucks). I even dusted off my suit and made a court appearance. It was nice. I have shed some of the angst that came along with the monotony of being a full time housewife and found just enough out of home work to make me feel like a ‘real’ person. Whatever that means. All I can hope is that the small firm that employs me will be content with our unusual arrangement into perpetuity.
Still, money is tight and every so often, I get an itch to take a job at the DA’s office or for J to go back to working for his old boss. The steady pay check also has its draws. I have to smack myself and remind myself what we are looking for in life, and that is time and not money. We have already been given the time, but we squander it in service of acquisition of money. We have family, but we sacrifice being with them for security. We have things we enjoy doing, but forsake this enjoyment for work. We are trying to make work enjoyable and let it involve our family. Actually it can all be summed up by saying, we are trying to make it possible to spend our time doing what we want.
Finally, if we can get J’s landscaping business going, the next project will be figuring out a way to be able have enough money through the winters to spend plenty of time on the mountain skiing. This is no small feat, it is expensive and most of the seasonal jobs coming from the ski area are extremely time consuming. J has been working 13 hour days this winter and I never made it onto the mountain even once.
One scheme I have going is trying to grow hops on a couple of acres. That way, we could harvest in fall and keep that money for the winter. I have ordered a few rhizomes to test it out. There are a couple different people who are cultivating native strains to make them drinkable. Microbreweries are growing fast in this part of the country, and still most of the hops come from the northwest. Locally grown hops fit perfectly into this trend. The plan is also to raise sheep and let them help keep the hops clean and in check, plus I have a friend with a weaving shop who buys local wool. It’ll require a good deal of investment, but my sister is interested in doing so. I just have to get the growing nuts and bolts figured out. It’s an idea though. Plenty of hard work to do and all enjoyable.
So that is it. We have been here a full year now and are gradually making headway on our plan. Happy spring.
“APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers…”
TS Elliot, The Wasteland
Here are the books I am paging through while I get organized for early spring plantings:
We have to conserve natural resources, and permaculture is a great inspiration in multi-purpose planting. This is a good introduction, is easy to read, and provides lots of information.
Natural by Design
I haven’t received my copy yet, but I am a big fan of Judith Phillips and look forward to landscaping our dusty outdoors with this book as a guide.
The Edible Front Yard
We live in a ‘grow food not lawns’ time! With the exception of planting our native grasses meadow, we plan on focusing on edible landscaping this season.
Square Foot Gardening
This book got me started in earnest vegetable gardening. We got a hand-me-down from my husband’s former boss and will no doubt continue to use it for guidance. My family still makes our own ‘mel’s mix’.