• Donna

Urban Homestead Kind of Day

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

What a great day–full of kindness, conversation, manual labor, experimentation, and rewards. While I think farming as a career would stress me out, urban farming for fun is just, well, fun.


I woke up early to drop off Chispita, my foster dog, at the vet to have her teeth cleaned and three loose teeth removed. I got back to the house around 8:30 and got to work on my little urban farm. I put a handful of veggie scraps in the worm bin, then dug up a Brussels sprout plant and set it aside to process later. Then I moved on to my tomato plants. I pulled the suckers off to spur growth (a trick an HVAC guy showed me when he came to the house one day to talk about the heater), cut off some diseased limbs, and moved mulch away from the base of the plants to better expose the roots to the sun’s warmth. I had thought it important to keep mulch there, but just read recently that mature tomato plants prefer hot soil. Displacing the mulch revealed lots of slugs, which I collected and fed to the chickens, who went bat-shit crazy over them.


Next I pruned a pumpkin plant to remove leaves with powdery mildew. I think the sprinklers keep getting the leaves of the pumpkin and tomato plants wet and it’s making them a little unhappy. But the lawn is flourishing and takes precedence, as I’m too lazy to use a hose or install a drip irrigation system. I’ll just plant the tomatoes somewhere else next time and may not plant pumpkins again since they take up so much space without giving me much in return.


But my little patch of lawn brings me happiness. It makes me smile to look out the window and see a lush, dark green lawn framed by fruit trees and vegetable plants. A neighbor actually stopped his truck this morning to ask if I could give him advice about getting his grass green. He said “I’ve spent a fortune and if I forget to water for a couple weeks, it all dies. It’s so bad right now even weeds won’t grow.” I told him that’s the best place to start. And that my lawn is an experiment and I’m following the instructions in an organic lawn care book. Truly, I know very little. If I lost that book, I’d have to buy another copy so I’d know how to take care of my grass.


Next on the morning’s agenda: more pruning (rose bushes), weed pulling, and harvesting. I picked about 15 jalapeños, and as I began pulling up the nero tondo radishes, I heard the voice of another neighbor.


“What do we have growing today?” she asked.


I set my radishes aside, headed over to the sidewalk, and sat on the brick planter so we could chat.


We talked about what I was growing and her childhood in the south, where her mother planted pecan trees, beans, and corn, and made peach brandy from homegrown fruit. During our conversation, a teenage guy walked up and introduced himself, and we talked some more about the garden, and about dogs. The boy didn’t want any of the harvest, but the woman gladly left with a couple of radishes and jalapeños.


Next I picked four blueberries from the bushes out front. Two were edible and two had holes that looked like they were made by an insect, so the chickens got another treat. They adore blueberries!


I have horrible luck with herbs, so my next task was to pull out my third dead rosemary bush. I haven’t had much luck with my Brussels sprouts, either. They grow, but bugs infest most of the sprouts, so there’s very little usable stuff left. But I wanted to salvage something today, so I cut off enough leaves to fill a pot, then boiled them and gave them to the chickens. They did not like them. I don’t think I’ll be growing Brussels sprouts again.


There’s also an ick factor, as slugs and spiders tend to hang out on the plant, and sometimes egg casings are on the underside of the leaves. I even found two hammerhead worms for the first time today. To me, they look like human parasites. I had given Clark a couple of Brussels sprout leaves to play with (he likes tearing them apart and eating some leaf pieces) and after I found those worms, I took the leaves away from him. All the sudden I was like, oh shit, I just gave my dog worms! And I’m not gonna let the chickens eat this in case it gives them worms! And I threw the whole Brussels sprout plant away. I was about to pull out my two remaining plants and throw them away too, but decided to Google first. Thanks to the Internet, I learned these worms, which can get up to two feet long, aren’t harmful to humans or pets. They’re just gross.


After all the plants had been pruned, picked, or removed, I commenced doing what my lawn care book instructed for this month: applying compost. I tried doing it with a seed spreader but it immediately clogged. So I was left to haul a bag around and used an old, small pot to scoop out the compost and sprinkle it on all the planter beds and grass. I’m a simple woman and don’t want to follow a bunch of plant-specific protocols. So whatever the book tells me to do to the lawn, I do to my plants and trees. (Perhaps this is why I can’t grow herbs.) I even do the same thing to my houseplants. So my bonsai trees and aloe plant also got some compost today.


While I was performing this chore, a man who parked on the street in front of my house asked me what I was putting on the plants. “Compost,” I told him. “Oh, okay,” he said. “I’m just asking because everything looks so nice.”


Thank you neighborhood. As an East Coaster, I’m amazed at how many people stop and talk to me while I’m in my yard. It’s such a foreign concept. But I like it when people do. As an introvert, it helps me be social when people come directly to me; I don’t even have to leave the house!


It was around noon at this point, and I began deep-watering the trees. I don’t have a schedule for this. I do it whenever the thought occurs to me that perhaps the trees would appreciate it. I leave the hose at the base of each trunk for 15-20 minutes. No fuss no muss. I set the iPhone timer and get on with other things. During one of my short trips out to water, three other neighbors stopped by. We talked a little about the garden, the neighborhood, and what’s going on in their lives. A UPS truck pulled up as we were talking and delivered a box to me. A box, that contains a terrarium–a terrarium that will house my forthcoming ducklings (!) for the first few weeks of their lives.


My last urban farm task was a simple exercise I perform almost every day–collecting and washing an egg. I’m now eating two such eggs, mixed with a little cheese and pickled jalapeños, while Clark trots around the house and Chispita lies in her dog bed, hopped up on medicine, with seven fewer teeth than she had yesterday. Her trademark underbite is gone; all of her bottom chicklets were removed. She’ll be healthier now though, and probably happier.


My sense of community is very strong today, between the visiting neighbors, connection to the earth (as corny as that may sound), and my role in assisting Forte by fostering Chispita. It has been a long day, for everyone but slacker Clark, who likes to watch me work outside. Time to settle in, cuddle the pups, and give “Orange is the New Black” a try on Netflix.

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