A Green Affair: Repost

     (( This entry was originally posted to our family’s blog right before our move in November 2011.))

I have a love-hate relationship with seed catalogs. And gardening catalogs.

    And books on organic gardening, and all the other things sprout-related that so thoroughly fascinate and frustrate me.

    When we were still living in our apartment (2006-ish) I requested my first free seed catalog from Burpee’s. I’d been interested in gardening for a long time, and figured it would make interesting (albeit futile) reading. I ended up spending 3 hours slowly paging through it, circling all the things I would grow if I only had the space to do it. I held onto it for a long time afterwards, enjoying the occasional leaf-through and chance to rearrange my fantasy mind-garden. In preparation for the move to our first house in early summer 2007, I excitedly packed it… finally, my daydream garden could become a reality!

     After moving in and teaming up with like-minded neighbors, I threw myself headlong into the role of budding homesteader. In spring 2008 we brought home our first feed-store foundlings, six one-week-old pullet chicks (5 black australorp and 1 auracana) and a pair of khaki-campbell ducklings. While the babies rapidly outgrew the plastic recycling bins that served as their makeshift coop we drafted plans for a more permanent space, and started laying out a massive garden on what amounted to over a third of Justin and I’s property.

     Too excited to wait, I started seeds in January. By March my kitchen resembled a greenhouse, and before long the sun from our south-facing sliding glass patio door was almost blotted out by an especially ambitious Roma tomato plant that would lean menacingly over anyone sitting at its end of the kitchen table. Swarms of fruit flies started appearing, and my husband spoke wistfully of moving into the garage until he remembered that it too had been taken over by Little Wife on the Prairie’s poultry. Ever-supportive as he is (and anxious to reclaim his spot at the table from the tomato tough-guy that had started throwing vines over the curtain rod) he borrowed a gas-powered rototiller and went to work on the massive plot. After an afternoon of labor, the seedlings were ready for their new home.

       We planted. And planted, and planted. And planted. Then we watered, and watched and waited. One little problem became apparent pretty quickly after that… Colorado high-plains soil is about as fertile as the dark side of the moon. My pampered, much-loved plants began to die off in droves. Those that survived started resembling prairie weeds, tall and wiry and defoliated. We rejoiced over the small, tough, sour tomatoes a few of the plants produced and cheered for a single tiny eggplant like it was competing at the Nightshade Olympics. Justin shook his head, bit his tongue and helped out where he could. My small-town Michigan boy knew what they outcome of my little endeavor would be before I’d even started, but it was a lesson I was going to have to learn on my own.

      After losing that poor little eggplant to deer and the rest of the plants to the hard, inhospitable soil I called it a day and put the rest of the plants out of their misery. I spent that winter working on projects with much better outcomes- countless crocheted things, several quilts, our fourth child (and first son) Rikur Scott. The chickens continued to thrive, helping me save face a little bit. I pored over my books, looking for a cut-and-dry answer to what I did wrong.

      In the spring of 2009, I decided to take a different approach. Borrowing the tiller again, we dug up two 4-by-8ft plots and framed them by old landscaping timbers. With my girls playing in the weeds and my baby son in his bug screen equipped carseat I dug out as much of the clay-filled soil as I could, replacing it with bag after bag (after bag) of enriched topsoil. Then we planted, one plot for tomatoes and one for squash. The squash was my first gardening victory, overflowing the plot and spilling zucchini and crooknecks out into the waving prairie grass. The tomatoes didn’t fare as well, but I didn’t really mind. I was so high on the green-and-yellow mountain of success coming in daily from my squash vines.

     Spring of 2010 rolled around. Our cat had a litter of kittens, who became instant members of the family (even after they found new homes, which we all shed some tears over.)  After reading about container gardening all winter, I decided to add another grow-surface to our property and covered half our porch in pots. Various ‘container’ tomatoes, herbs, bell peppers and a dwarf jalapeno took up residence as well as two German Queen heirlooms in ‘topsy turvy’ planters hanging off the railing. I turned the decorative terrace in front of the house into a giant herb garden. The garden plots in the yard once again became home to squash and tomatoes, except I switched them… thinking this application of ‘crop rotation’ would foil the squash bugs that had started creeping in at the end of the previous season. I sat back and waited to be up to my neck in home-grown nutritious produce. In the end of June, my plants started bearing fruit. And just as I started to pride myself of my success, the fates decided my ego needed to come down a notch or two.

     On July 4th, it hailed. For hours. After those first few telltale pings sounded from above, I raced out with blankets to try to ‘tent’ my porch garden (sustaining 10+ hailstone hits to my face and back that actually left welts.) When the hail continued, I could only watch as the blankets became weighted down with rain and fell down to the yard below, exposing my precious plants to nature’s mutilation. I sat by the door and cried, nauseated at the sight but unable to leave my babies to suffer a horrific death alone. Justin worried aloud about our roof and our vehicles, while I cared only for my plants. Sadie and Ivy drew me pictures of robust, healthy tomato plants in an attempt to cheer me up. When the storm ended I went outside to survey the damage, and found my squash vines literally pitted to death with any zucchini on the vine cored out like canoes. My tomato plants were razed to pathetic green stumps standing 1-2 inches off the ground. I cried some more, decided I was done for the year and turned my attention to our upcoming trip to Michigan.

    I spent hours pulling weeds in my brother-in-law’s 1+ acre garden, marveling as he showed me each section and let me and the kids pull up some onions. I braved mosquitoes and heatstroke to wander through their raspberry and blackberry bushes with Rikur strapped to my back in his mei tei, the girls racing through the fields with their cousins and having the time of their lives. Their middle daughter showed me which peach trees had almost-ripe fruit and which apple trees had the most baby apples on them. We watched from the upstairs porch as battles raged, each side plotting to overthrow the group currently in possession of a rope swing hanging from a tree on the hill. My sister-in-law taught me the basics of canning, kick-starting a new obsession. After three weeks, none of us were ready to come home. I missed our house, the dog and cats, my parents and friends. But all the while, leaving was physically painful. Not only because Justin’s sister and her husband are definitely kindred spirits, because his family is absolutely awesome and has been great to us from the first time we met them… but because that place just fed something in our souls.

     Every time I’ve been there, I’m astounded by the total inner tranquility it inspires and endless possibilities. The forests, the mist in the early morning, the beaches on Lake Michigan. The huge rivers, the vines hanging from the trees, lightning bugs at dusk. Seeing my children run barefoot through thick green grass, no fire ants in sight. No more cracked lips and nosebleeds, Sadie’s eczema completely gone within three days of our arrival. Cailin’s asthma abated. Surrounded with green, with an underlying hum of growth. Of vitality. Of life. Someday, we promised. Someday.

     Cue spring of 2011. Justin went back to school online, working towards his bachelor’s degree and opening a whole new possibility of a job in the future that would offer better pay and lower chances of being shot/stabbed/maimed/ect. With Cailin on the verge of teenager-hood and Alarik due to be born in a few short months, we had to confront the reality that our house was growing smaller, it seemed, by the minute.  After much discussion and a lot of sleep lost to thought, we made a decision. We’re not getting any younger, our kids are getting more and more rooted here and the time is right financially. If our ‘someday’ is ever going to come, now is that time.

     Our decision didn’t come without cost. We’re moving away from my parents, sisters, brother-in-law and niece and nephew. We’re leaving a lot of great friends. We’re leaving the state the kids and I were born in and have lived our entire lives in. “Bittersweet” just isn’t a deep enough word, but neither is “necessary.” I worked as a hospice CNA for 2 years, I held so many wrinkled old hands and listened to so many regrets of dreams not pursued and opportunities let pass. As hard as this move is on all of us, I just can’t set myself up for what will undoubtedly be the biggest regret of my life if we don’t grab this chance and hold on tight. As sad as I am to stretch the distance with so many great people (especially my family) this is just something I have to do. The lifestyle we want for our family, for our children and for our own lives just can’t be had here.

       Yesterday, while drinking my requisite two cups of half-caff, I submitted my yearly seed catalog requests with enthusiasm equal to that for my very first Burpee catalog back in 2006… because this year, there’s potential. So many daydreams toed up to the very edge of fruition, watching and waiting for their time to shine. 

*Shared to the Heritage Homesteaders blog hop in February 2014!

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