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Homestead happenings: april

April 5, 2011

Winter is a little like slow dancing to Stairway to Heaven for five months. Everything is very slow and steady, and even if it’s not your favorite song, you get used to the pace and how your fleece-swaddled body shusshes as it moves. And then April hits and you get to the crazy part at the end of the song where everything speeds up and and soon all your linty fleece is tossed in a pile on the grass and the sun is scrabbling higher and higher and everything smells faintly of sweat, dirt and potential.

spinach babies

The whole episode of oral disasters has passed and it’s just like winter, how deeply mired you can feel, and then poof! everyone’s eating scratchy chips and kissing again. My friend Sue texted me last week, asking how Col and Rose were doing. Fucked, I texted back. Four days later I felt sort of silly when Sue called and the kids and I were rambling around the neighborhood, completely smitten over plump apricot buds, wild onions stitching up through oak leaves like green ribbon and our own good health.

apricot buds

I had to wonder if I’d been a little melodramatic during those weeks (of the double whammy: tonsillectomy and cold sore outbreak) where each mealtime, each toothbrushing felt like its own 20-minute catastrophe. But I think it’s just something about parenting, the way your life is braided so tightly with your children’s. Their moods and lives are so big and bright and magnetizing, it’s like sitting in the front row of an imax movie, or a mile away from a lightning strike. Sometimes when the strike passes, my mind is still filled with the shocking brightness for hours. And some of us, after living it, write about it.

Luckily it works the other way too. Just yesterday, from our living room windows, Dan and I were watching Col and Rose frolic through the backyard with some older neighborhood kids. “How cute! Look how Rose is sitting on Allie’s lap.” I pointed out to Dan. “Look how happy they are,” I sighed, as happy about their happiness as they were, or maybe more so.

Col’s still milking it a little. Apparently shredded carrots are too crunchy on his newly-recovered mouth, but yogurt-covered pretzels are just fine. Yesterday morning I poured water for the kids and Col said, “actually, I’m more attracted to juice.”

On the homestead:

:: We’ve been planting like crazy. Inside, outside, in pots, straight in the wild wooly earth. Big clunky pea seeds, wispy marigold seeds, tiny basil seed specks, scatterings of spiky lettuce seeds, and carrots all in a row. It’s been our medicine – tucking seeds into soil. Each seed sings out—as it gets dredged under soil—“every little thing’s gonna be all right.” I’ve been letting the kids dig through my seed stash, sowing the wild cards of the plant world. I’d let them plant their baby teeth as they popped out, if it made them smile.

:: Last weekend we planted carrots; I prepped the bed and the kids dropped seeds into the crooked rows.

Photos by Rose.

:: So, remember how we planted those plum tomatoes from Dan’s dad’s seed collection? Those seeds he gave us 13 years ago, 3 years before he died? I eventually gave up on them, because by the time all the new tomato seeds—which we planted at the same time—had their first set of true leaves, nothing had happened with “Hal’s plums.” I felt sad that I let the seeds sit for all those years, drying up their magic. And then one day, a Hal’s plum sprouted, and another, until they were all up.

So now, of course, I’m trying to germinate all of the tomato seeds Hal gave us, even the Purple Prudens, which I have no business growing. These mammoth, insanely sweet, magenta globes take more days of growing season than we have, but knowing Hal’s hands extracted and dried these seeds, I’m dedicated to saving another 13 years worth of seed. It’ll be Col’s high school graduation present. (If you have a longer growing season, ie: live south of Colorado or in California, and you want some Purple Prudens seeds, let me know).

:: Still life with cat, elk poop and emerging greenhouse lettuce. The FDA’s nightmare.

:: Meanwhile, the coldframe lettuce is getting me all crazed about extending the season. We’re eating salads in April.

:: Speaking of extending the season, my latest, wacko idea is covering the newly seeded-beds with blankets to keep the soil moist and warm, speeding up germination. I’ll let you know how it works.

:: Not only does Dan bring me elk poop fertilizer from his hikes, but he brings the kids skulls!

:: Oh, and one more thing. I got the fabric for the kids’ curtains, so as soon as taxes are over, you can ask me, gently, how the curtain project is coming along.

Isn't it pretty?

*  And one more: thank you all for your book suggestions. I love how many of us have read and loved the same books. I just finished The Dirty Life by Kristen Kimball, who is a NYC writer who falls in love with a farmer she’s been sent to interview. Seven years later they have a year-round, “whole diet” CSA with 100 members, providing meat, dairy, eggs, 40 different kinds of vegetables, maple syrup, grains, flours, fruit, beans. Her writing is so beautiful and rich and unsentimental. And the book is not just about farming, but about dedicating oneself to a partner, a community, a way of life, against some serious odds. I loved this book so much that even though I finished it, it’s still sitting on my bedside table, keeping me company like a friend.

With Love,


40 Comments leave one →
  1. April 6, 2011 9:01 am

    Ah, I am so glad to see that Spring has finally arrived for you, and the connection to Dan’s dad through those seeds is a pretty exciting thing as well!

    I had nothing to contribute to your book list swap because, and this hurts me to say, I have not read any actual, hard copy books that weren’t about birth or breastfeeding or parenting in over a year. Your last paragraph has reminded me how desperately I need some good fiction in my life again.

  2. April 6, 2011 9:05 am

    LoVe the curtain fabric. Looks like you’re speeding along with the garden! We need to get some type of coldframe. I’d be thrilled to have homegrown lettuce in April! ♥

  3. April 6, 2011 9:23 am


    How I wish I had a yard. And a garden. I very much did *not* fall in love with a farmer. (Let’s see, I think that my husband finally has a grasp on what a crocus is. What shall I teach him next?) Must read The Dirty Life!

    I’m glad that the (melo)drama is over! Hurrah!

  4. April 6, 2011 10:01 am

    Hooray for the 13 year old tomato seeds! So happy they sprouted. As for keeping seed beds moist, buy an inexpensive roll of burlap at the hardware store (or collect it from wherever you can find it). It works great for keeping things moist (I’ve been using it to get better carrot germination for years), but lets some heat/light through.

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      April 7, 2011 9:56 am

      Do you water right through the burlap? Do they seedlings ever get tangled in the fabric?

      • April 7, 2011 10:51 am

        I do water right through the fabric, sometimes twice a day when it is hot and dry. I remove the fabric once I start to see green coming up, before they get big enough to start growing through it. Works like a charm.

  5. April 6, 2011 10:25 am

    Glad your latest crisis has passed. Love the bird fabric–the curtains will be perfect. I can’t believe how much green grass you have there — and blossoms??? I’m jealous all over again.

  6. April 6, 2011 10:45 am

    Funny–I randomly thought about your kids’ curtains one day. I love the fabric. You’re doing better than I; my girls’ old-blanket-curtain only turned into real curtains because my parents came to visit and put some up!

    Col’s declaration of being “more attracted to juice” made me laugh out loud. And this…

    “’Look how happy they are,’ I sighed, as happy about their happiness as they were, or maybe more so.”

    …this is how I feel allllllll the time. Their joy is such a gift to us.

  7. April 6, 2011 11:34 am

    You’re killing me. We are in the super-extended remix Stairway to Heaven, the part where April is still slow dancing, except by now we’re all twitchy, knowing the rhythm should’ve changed by now and we’re all looking at each other in our egg-encrusted wool sweaters wondering if this is a bad dream.
    Or something like that.
    Love the material…care to divulge the source/designer? Bird-material fetish going strong over here.

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      April 10, 2011 1:02 pm

      Designer is The Alexander Henry Fabric Collection. It was bought in a store in Berkeley, CA. Dan is out buying me pins as I write this so I can start my first panel.

  8. April 6, 2011 11:54 am

    We also planted 30 tomato seeds (newly purchased this year, organic and heirloom) and have only ONE that has popped up yet. How long was it between when you planted your 13 yr olds and when they appeared?

  9. April 6, 2011 1:09 pm

    I loved “The Dirty Life” too. So good.

    When you are done making the curtains, feel free to make me a purse out of that same adorable material!

  10. April 6, 2011 1:45 pm

    I was just thinking about you yesterday, hoping that the oral crisis had passed. I’m so glad that it has, and that life is back to normal, with all your gardening. I have Rose’s “cornucopia” picture framed in our stairwell, and my daughters love calling her Rosie, as if they know her personally.

  11. Molly permalink
    April 6, 2011 1:45 pm

    Does Kristen Kimball know about you? She should.

  12. April 6, 2011 3:26 pm

    i love set!

    and you! ; ) so true about the lightning/emotions.

  13. April 6, 2011 4:12 pm

    Can’t tell you how absurdly happy the news about Hal’s seeds makes me! Wish I could grow me some magenta globes…

    And hello again, sweat. Here too. Only I’m in a tank top.

  14. April 6, 2011 5:45 pm

    1) Why does Dan always get to go on the hikes?
    2) I am so inspired by your non-FDA approved cold-frame. I am going to try attaching a greenhouse to the southside of our garage (maybe not this year…depends on time and $$$), and I am *convinced* that I can get early greens even though we get several feet of snow that stays until…well, hopefully it will be gone this month.
    3) Kids really are the front row of an Imax, so true.

  15. April 6, 2011 5:46 pm

    I will take some. I might not start them until next year, making them 14 year seeds, but hey, after this long, what’s one more?

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      April 8, 2011 11:54 am

      Becky, send me your address and I’ll send some out.

  16. April 6, 2011 7:21 pm

    woohoo!!!!!!!! so happy for you about hal’s plums. :) that is just such a great thing. wow.
    “I’ve been letting the kids dig through my seed stash, sowing the wild cards of the plant world.” this is me too. quinn beelines for the seed box as soon as we are in the house, every single time we leave and come back. he is SO into the little packets. he cannot wait to plant the beans, and i think he may just stop waiting regardless of what i might say about needing the ground to warm up. :)
    the FDA nightmare has me rofl.

  17. Ami permalink
    April 6, 2011 8:04 pm

    Great Post! I laughed out loud about the FDA’s nightmare! Good for you! :) And I am ELATED about Hal’s seeds. I was in the midst of a local organic gardening class when you first posted about them, and I mentioned them to the farmer. He smiled kindly and rolled his eyes a little. And I said “well, I’m sure they’ll sprout – if anything to ensure a that a grandson will reap the rewards of his grandfather’s seeds!” And they DID! Also, the blanket thing should TOTALLY work – although, are they wet? And if they are too thick, they might hamper the process at some point…??? Good luck – it’s WAAAY to cold and wet in Humboldt to get me starting seeds yet… even though it’s technically “time”…. :)

  18. Diane Petersen permalink
    April 6, 2011 9:50 pm

    I love sitting down to read your post after getting Kofi into bed and pretending to clean the kitchen. I really look forward to it and you always make me smile and laugh out loud and look around and see potential. You inspire me more than you have any idea. My little guy has health issues and, for now, that’s where my time and energy is spent, but I know we’ll get the garden going at some point and he’ll be able to plant his rows. I wish we were neighbors and I could come and learn a thing or two! Thank you!

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      April 7, 2011 9:56 am

      Diane, Thank you so much for taking to the time to share these sentiments. It means so much to me.

      XO, Rachel

  19. Dan permalink
    April 7, 2011 9:42 am

    What nice comments, you’ve created such a supportive community. And you crack me up Everytime I read your blog even when I’ve been through what you’re talking about; the way you spin it is like a salve! Love you, Dan

  20. April 7, 2011 10:21 am

    The curtain is darling, and I can’t wait to see the finished product. I’m glad to hear that everyone’s OK and yay to the tomato seeds. 13 years – wow!

    And oh kids sure know how to milk their 5-minutes don’t they? I loved Col’s response to water. It cracked me up.

    Exquisite post as usual. Your homestead is such a sweet escape for me.

  21. Chi-An permalink
    April 7, 2011 2:27 pm

    Oh Rachel, I wish that I lived closer to you- I would totally help you with making the curtains. That’s adorable fabric you picked out. I’ve made a lot of curtains in my time- they are quick and easy to make, the biggest problem is wrangling the large swathes of fabric. But it’s lovely to make something and then be able to see the product of your handiwork every day.

    I’m working on some quilted pillows for my daughter’s preschool auction, and doing class quilts with both kids’ classes. Working with the kids and getting to see their imagination and creativity firsthand is just amazing.



    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      April 8, 2011 11:58 am

      Thanks for the encouragement. Everyone keeps saying how easy curtains are, I think I’m just sort of scared to begin, like I’ll start and make some humongous mathematical blunder and ruin all my beautiful fabric.

  22. Melissa permalink
    April 7, 2011 3:01 pm

    dude, I am right there with you with the FDA nightmare–hilarious! I just asked someone about cat poop in the garden as I know for sure Simon will love to do his biz in there . . . even though all my goods have basically gone to seed, at least I know stuff will grow in there!

    like one of your commentors, sometimes I also pretend to clean the kitchen at night while I am checking blogs–I don’t know why I think Ihave to be all sneaky about it but sometimes Leeor teases me for my blog surfing, though there are only 3 I read (:

  23. April 7, 2011 10:00 pm

    you are really ahead in the back yard kind of way. I love it!
    I love Hal’s seeds and the life springing forth. These are the things in life that I just adore.

    it was good to see you today. seeing you is like seeing a rockstar, I want you to sign my copy of your column in the paper. the kids are darling—they really are BFF’s huh?

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      April 8, 2011 3:00 pm

      Aww, Bridge. You’re sweet. The kids really are BFF’s who occasionally need some hard core couples counseling.

  24. Jen permalink
    April 7, 2011 10:36 pm

    Re books, “Switching on the Moon – A very first book of Bedtime poems” (Jane Yolen/Andrew Fusek Peters) is magical. I read them over and over (sometimes all by myself). Beautiful pictures too. Here’s one of my faves:

    The Dream Keeper

    Bring me all of your dreams,
    You dreamers,
    Bring me all of your
    Heart melodies
    That I may wrap them
    In a blue cloud-cloth
    Away from the too-rough fingers
    Of the world
    – Langston Hughes

    I love your description of the smell of spring – perfect! Winter snow must be a prerequisite, though – here on the warm west coast, spring doesn’t quite achieve that same tang.

  25. April 8, 2011 9:56 pm

    “the way your life is braided so tightly with your children’s.” I LOVE this line. It perfectly articulates why I’ve felt such a rollercoaster ride. Because my children fall hard when it’s hard and they fly high when all is well. I’m right on their heels.

  26. April 8, 2011 10:00 pm

    The Dirty Life is on my weekend To-Find list! The amazon reviews and the first pages all have me wanting everything in the garden to be DONE so I can read it too. I love that Hal’s seeds are growing for you, shining his spirit on your homestead. So touched to read that you got ’em up!!

    It all looks so fabulous at your end, we’ve been outside more than in and it all feels back to normal. How do I make it through winter? Oh, yeah the slowdance…

    We have about 75 tomatoes up, all the basil is up, and the cape gooseberries, onions, leeks and shallots are thinking about it. The rest of the crops will be direct seeded in the next weeks…

    Now I have to find the tree frog living under my kitchen table in his critter-catcher-condo, and return him to the steps outdoors cause he’s so dang noisy! Happy weekending!

  27. April 9, 2011 5:28 pm

    1. love the fabric (even if it takes ten years to stitch up, as it does me)
    2. love the sweat, dirt and potential still more.
    3. but the reflections on parenting – our braided lives, the imax analogy – are the best bits i’ve read in weeks.

    do keep typing, even with monkeys on your back.

  28. April 10, 2011 10:42 am

    I’m so glad to hear you are doing better in your little family! It’s nice to come back from vacation and find your life zooming along, to see your green things up and sprouting. Guess I better get my garden growing, too!

  29. April 10, 2011 5:00 pm

    I love the FDA’s nightmare picture and comment. I’ve saved that book post for when I have more time to read…five more weeks!

  30. Growing Flowers permalink
    April 11, 2011 10:04 am

    Lovely post! We are sooooo behind on our growing this year and it is especially inspirational to see all your photos of planting and greens….. We’ve moved and well, lots fell by the wayside. Thanks for getting me going!!!

  31. April 13, 2011 3:48 pm

    Finally just coming up for air after the last crazy month or so. LOVED the still life and those cuties in princess garb. The Dirty Life sounds wonderful–thanks!!


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