gather and grow

Homestead skill-building and simple living

As I mentioned in a post this summer, learning about, crafting, and using herbal medicine is something I am slowly incorporating into the way we do things as a family. The more I learn about the amazing properties of the plants around us, the more it seems like a waste NOT to make use of them — not only in food and dyeing, but also in alleviating various ailments. As a child of two doctors, I am no stranger to conventional medicine and, in fact, for a long time harbored a bit of a suspicion towards natural treatments. But I’ve come to think that both approaches have their place. And something that herbal medicine has going for it that is quite a plus, especially in this country, is that it can be if not completely free, extremely low-cost.

This summer, I moved from salves and syrups to poultices and tinctures. Tinctures! I have to ask myself sometimes if I make them just for the health benefits, or perhaps because they are so easy to make… apothecary2

… or because of the jewel tones of the little jars as the tinctures are being steeped on a sunny windowsill…apothecary3

… or because all those little glass bottles are so darn cute all lined up together?


Introducing our home apothecary! My old little writing desk has occupied a corner of our dining room, somewhat forgotten and purposeless, ever since I got myself a bigger work desk. But now it has found its new purpose. I keep my salves, syrups, tinctures, essential oils and dried herbs for tea in the top compartment of the desk for easy access. The drawers below contain supplies for future medicine-making, such as beeswax, glycerin, aloe, oils, cheesecloth, and more of said darn cute bottles.

Basic instructions for making tinctures:

Chop the herbs fine and put them in a clean glass jar. Pour in either 80 to 100 proof alcohol, vinegar, or vegetable glycerin (which is what I used), enough to cover the herbs by a couple of inches. Put the jar in a sunny spot and let soak for 4-6 weeks, shaking daily. Strain and store in a clean bottle or jar. Take as directed either by the dropperful or diluted in tea or water. A tincture will keep for 1 year if you used vinegar, 2-3 years in case of glycerin, and several years with alcohol.

Good beginner’s herbs to make tinctures with: echinacea, cinnamon, tulsi, yarrrow, St. John’s wort, dandelion, burdock, valerian.

Needless to say, consult a reliable resource before either making or taking herbal medicine. My go-to sources are Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs, Herbal Healing for Women (also by Rosemary Gladstar) and Richo Cech’s Making Plant Medicine.

As I mentioned in my post a couple of weeks ago, one of this year’s projects on our urban homestead is perfecting our thermal composting method.

We’ve built some nice compost piles, hubs and I. And then there are those that we weren’t paying proper attention to, that we forgot to turn, that didn’t have the right proportions of woody and green materials, that never got quite hot enough. Yet as I learned in Elaine Ingham’s Soil Food Web course this summer, the right timing, the right temperatures, the right moisture are not tangential factors if you want to make good compost; they’re essential. And of course you want to make good compost if you’re going to do it. If you make bad compost — say, you let your compost go anaerobic — all you’re doing is creating an ideal habitat for the kinds of micro-organisms that make your plants sick. Properly made thermal compost really goes through all the right stages, making it a good habitat for the right kinds of soil life — the critters that, in turn, help your plants to grow.

So we’re going to do it right this time.

“Right” in the composting context means “right for the needs of your particular soil and what you want to grow.”

And so we need to learn to make two different kinds of compost, depending on our soil needs: fungal compost that encourages the growth of fungi in the soil, and bacterial compost that invites friendly bacteria. Some plants prefer more fungal-dominated soils, others prefer to have their roots surrounded by a bacterial-dominated environment. If you’re growing annual vegetables, or grass for grazing animals, you’ll want a more bacterial soil and therefore more bacterial-dominated compost. If you’re growing shrubs, vines, bushes, and trees — or plants like strawberries, whose natural ecosystem is a forest — you’ll want more fungi. Green = bacterial; woody = fungal. (You know how a pile of wood chips that’s been sitting for a while starts to develop those fine white strands of fungi? That’s a good rule of thumb: fungi love woody stuff.)

Therefore, to make a fungal compost, you simply put in more “woody” materials than “green” materials. Even though we’re using our compost for vegetables, many soil problems are due to not enough fungi in the soil. So the compost we built today is optimized for fungi.

Here’s my simple cheat sheet for the ratios for both kinds of compost. Feel free to print it, tape it to your composting bin, or save it to your handheld device if that’s what you’ll have in your back pocket when building compost!bacterial compost-1

A word on materials: when building a compost pile, you want to be able to make use of as many freely available, local materials as possible — the kinds of materials that might be labeled “waste” and thrown away, if you didn’t have your Golden Compost Goggles on. But you do, right? What a great opportunity to get to know your locale and start noticing streams of free resources! Keep your eyes peeled for things like cardboard boxes by the curb, piles of leaves that neighbors are throwing away, coffee grounds that your friendly Starbucks barista is going to just scoop for you for free. To give you some ideas, here’s what we built our latest pile with, with sources and costs:


  • woodchips (free: call your local arborist or city tree service — and you might just wake up to this sight on the right)
  • shredded cardboard (free: find anywhere)
  • dried leaves (free: from our yard)
  • straw (free since we already had it around for mulching)
  • shredded paper (free: from my office)


  • green grass clippings (free: from our yard, neighbor’s yard, and a vacant lot nearby)
  • kitchen scraps (free: from our kitchen)
  • coffee grounds (free: go to any Starbucks and just ask!)

High nitrogen materials:

  • horse manure ($ 10 for a trunkful from a local horse owner)
  • chicken manure (this time we paid $8 for a bag, but when we had chickens it was free)
  • alfalfa (about $18 per bale at the feed and seed store)


Here it is! All of this got piled into our Geobin compost bin according to the ratios of fungal compost above. I used masking tape to make little marks on the outside of the bin to guide us in keeping the right percentages — although it’s not necessary to be scientifically accurate about it. Just guesstimate and relax.

Now the fun begins: watching the compost thermometer closely for the next few days.

Composting dos and don’ts:

  • Monitor the temperature closely. Your pile temperature should go to 131 F/55 C for a full 3 days. When it has done so, it’s time to turn the pile. Then let it get hot again, and again turn the pile. Don’t let the temperature get higher than 155-160 F, or your beneficial organisms will be killed.
  • Make the pile at least 1 meter tall and 1,5 meters wide.
  • Bury your kitchen waste deep, otherwise you’ll have critter problems.
  • Aeration of the compost pile is critical! Make sure your composting container has some airflow. You don’t want your pile to go anaerobic!
  • Water the pile as you build it, and as you turn it. The moisture content should be such that the compost feels like a dry sponge.
  • Don’t let your compost pile get saturated with water. If it’s going to rain, cover it with a tarp, a sheet of cardboard, or something like that.
  • If your compost smells bad, it is bad. Do a troubleshoot.
  • The color of good compost should be deep, rich brown – not black!
  • Use manure from animals raised organically, otherwise it may contain pathogens.
  • The compost is ready when it reaches ambient temperature that no longer goes up when you turn the pile.


Our wood chip supplier is delayed and, as a result, so is our soil building project. In the meantime, I’ve gotten busy indoors instead — with cheese-making. After many years of making ricotta, feta and mozzarella at home, I have finally moved on to hard cheeses. These days, it’s cheddar, parmesan, and gorgonzola in progress at various stages around the kitchen: culturing, waiting, draining, being pressed, ripening.

Moving on to hard cheeses involves a bit of a commitment in terms of more specialized equipment that’s not necessary for soft cheeses. Two, in particular, may turn out to be big investments: a ripening refrigerator (unless you’re lucky enough to have a cellar with just the right temperature and humidity) and a cheese press. I wanted to see if I could manage to keep things low-cost; I want to be able to assure participants in my cheese-making classes that this does not have to be an expensive endeavor. For the refrigerator, I scored a small wine refrigerator off of Craigslist (yay! it’s beautiful) and keep a small bowl filled with water at the bottom for humidity. For the press, I researched all kinds of fancy pricey cheese presses available online, but when I realized that the basic idea is really very simple, I ended up making it myself — for a fraction of the cost.

For all of you aspiring cheese-makers out there, today I share with you my super-simple design for a cheese press. I sought inspiration from Home Dairy with Ashley English, as well as from here and here, but ended up doing something different from all of them. Above all, I would not suggest using PVC pipes as cheese molds or hoops! They, like anything else that comes into contact with your food, should be food-grade plastic (or metal).

Once you’ve assembled all the materials, you can put this press together in half an hour. Especially if you make sure that the holes you drill in the boards are well aligned (ahem).

DIY Cheese Press


  • 2 wooden boards, about 1 inch thick (mine are about 11 x 15 inches)
  • 2 18-inch galvanized pipes, 1/2 inch inside diameter
  • 2 galvanized floor flanges to fit the pipes
  • 1 aluminum pie pan (or a stainless steel drip pan from a cheese supply store)
  • Mason jar with lid (this will function as the pusher)
  • weight-lifting plates (a total of 50 lbs)
  • cheese molds or “hoops” and followers (from a cheese supply store)

Using a 7/8 inch drill bit, drill a hole for the pipe at each end of your first board, one inch from the edge and equidistant from the two other edges. Next, place the undrilled board underneath the drilled one and make a guide mark with your drill bit through the holes to make holes at the exact same spot. Attach the pipes to the flanges and slide them through the holes in the bottom board. Cut out a pouring spout in the aluminum pie pan.IMG_3058IMG_3060

When ready to press cheese curds, place the aluminum drip pan at the center of the bottom board. Place cheese mold holding the curds, with the follower on top of the curds, at the center of the drip pan. Place the mason jar on top of the follower. Then slowly slide the top board over the pipes to rest on top of the jar. Add the amount of weights specified in the recipe on top of the top board.

Cost breakdown:

  • wooden boards, mason jar: free
  • galvanized pipes and flanges, from the hardwood store: $ 28
  • weight plates (used on Craigslist): $ 22
  • pie pan: $ 2 for 3

Total: $ 52

(If you have some of these, such as weight-lifting plates, lying around the house, the cost will be even lower. You will also need cheese molds or hoops and followers, but I have not included them since I would have had to get them anyway.)

Over the summer, I fulfilled a long-time dream of mine: I completed the Soil Food Web course (affiliate link) with Dr. Elaine Ingham, a soil microbiologist and a leading authority on regenerative agriculture. She had been on my radar ever since I first heard about her during my Permaculture Design Course in 2011. I thought that taking her Soil Food Web intensive course would not be possible for me for a while, given that a) it would likely involve traveling to someplace far away and that b) I have a small baby. But then I found out that her Soil Food Web course was being offered ONLINE. I was able to access Elaine’s incredible knowledge of soil from the comfort of my home, with the baby sleeping in the next room while I watched the lecture videos and participated in the webinars.

I took this course because I really wanted to deepen my understanding of soil. As a gardener, as a permaculturist, I know that the soil is everything. If your soil is not healthy… well, good luck trying to grow healthy, abundant plants in it. And so far, to be perfectly honest, I haven’t been systematic or fully informed in my efforts to build soil fertility: it’s been a bit improvised and hit or miss. The same goes for my compost piles, some of which turn out better than others. Even though I’ve had successes in my garden, I can’t say it’s because I really knew what was going on underneath the soil surface.

The second reason goes beyond just my garden. I’ve come to realize what an enormous role soil — a vast carbon sink, actually — can play globally in mitigating climate change. Soil carbon sequestration is presenting itself as a promising avenue for sequestering atmospheric carbon for long, long periods of time — something we all know must happen soon. I wanted to understand this better as well. So even though the Soil Food Web course was a commitment in terms of time and money, I viewed it as a long-term investment that will hopefully bear fruit, quite literally, in my future work.soil-2

The Soil Food Web course is a self-paced, 10-week online course divided into six units. Each unit ended with a live Q&A webinar with Elaine. She is a hard-nosed scientist, but able to present the information in an accessible way that makes it relevant to a wide audience: backyard gardeners, permaculturists, cattle ranchers and farmers, non-profit workers, students, climate activists. In the course of the 10 weeks, we dug deep into the matter of life in the soil and how to balance the soil biology and get all the right critters that help our plants grow better. We learned

  • how to identify species and make sense of soil lab analyses
  • how to create good habitat for diverse critters
  • how to balance the (all-important, if you ask Elaine) bacteria-fungi ratio
  • how to deal with compacted soil
  • how to make three kinds of compost and compost teas
  • and more

Whew! it was an information-packed experience. Now I’m looking forward to un-packing what I’ve learned, and putting it into practice. Good thing I have lifetime access to all of the lecture videos!

In my next post, I’m going to share some of what I learned that should also be useful to any of you interested in building soil in your backyards. Or wherever, actually.

If anyone is reading this and wishing you had been able to take the course too, the good news is that it is being offered again! The next course starts on September 15th. Click on the banner below for more information. Even if you’re not sure that you want to take the course, you can access great free resources such as some of Elaine’s introductory videos. This stuff is important. Check it out.


SFW banner

I have an announcement I’m really psyched about: I’m going to be teaching homesteading classes in my home city of Columbia, SC this fall! I decided to make it happen and now it is happening.

As of now, I have four classes coming up:

  • Canning & Preserving — Sunday, 14 Sept, 6-9pmhomesteading classes
  • Home Dairy 101 – Monday, 6 Oct, 6-9pm
  • Ferment! – Monday, 27 Oct, 6-8pm
  • Introduction to Natural Dyeing – Sunday, November 16, 2-5pm

For full class descriptions and to sign up, click the new Classes tab on the menu bar.

The classes will take place in a home setting, much like the traditional setting for learning these skills would have been — a group of people talking and working together around a big kitchen table. That’s the format I myself really appreciated when I was learning canning and cheese-making with Ruby Blume at the Institute of Urban Homesteading in California.

I don’t know which of these classes I’m looking forward to the most. Those of you who are regular readers of Gather and Grow know how irresistibly fun, how profoundly transformative I’ve found the process of learning to make more and more of what I need myself. Homesteading to me means, to paraphrase Shannon Hayes,

making the home a place of production rather than merely consumption.

And that is really really exciting to me. And the best part is that anyone can learn these skills. It’s an exhilarating thought, isn’t it — that YOU can be a confident home canner, a cheesemeister, a sauerkraut connoisseur, a maker of artisan textiles. There’s so much room for creativity and exploration: that first jar of jam, that first ball of curds, is just the beginning.

My search for the perfect yogurt incubator is over.

wonderbag1Meet Wonderbag, a portable slow cooker. It made its puffy, boldly colorful appearance at our house after I saw it in action at a friend’s place. I love it. The Wonderbag is a heat-retention cooker: you can bring any slow-cook recipe to a boil on a stove, then pop it inside the bag where it continues to cook because of the bag’s foam insulation. No plugs or gas involved — in other words, less fossil fuel use per every meal! And because of the same insulating capacity, the bag can be used for any project that requires maintaining a steady temperature, such as yogurt, which needs to be kept at about 110 F for a few hours. I don’t have a gas oven with a pilot light I could use, so in the past, I’ve used a plastic camping cooler filled with hot water. But that’s a little bit of a hassle and splashing around in the kitchen, and heating the water for it and monitoring the temperature is yet another thing to think about while and after making the yogurt itself. But now, with the Wonderbag, I made my yogurt batch, stuck the jars inside the bag, and ta-da — a few hours later the yogurt was done.wonderbag2

Plus, the Wonderbag company is cool in more ways than one (and no, I don’t have any kind of an affiliation with them, I just think they are a pretty fantastic enterprise). For every Wonderbag purchased in the US, one is donated to a family in Africa. If saving water, fuel, and time is energy-efficient and time-efficient in my kitchen in the affluent US, you can imagine that it can be utterly life-changing in many a kitchen in Africa. Less firewood used means less deforestation and less time spent (usually by women and girls) walking long distances to haul firewood. That, in turn, means better chances for those girls to get an education instead, and less risk of assault or rape while foraging for wood. Lastly, the Wonderbag helps to reduce health risks related to coal ovens, smoke and fire. How’s that for a social, economic and ecological impact of a single product? No wonder that Wonderbag founder Sarah Collins was named a Top 10 finalist for “Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs” by Fortune Magazine.

I can’t wait to try the Wonderbag for other things — oatmeal, stews, vegetable stocks etc. If you end up getting one, let me know how you’re using it!

When I harvested elderberries back in July to make elderberry syrup,  I thought it would stay stored in the kitchen cabinet until the winter cold and flu season… Ha! Sure enough, just a couple of weeks later, all three of us were down with a fairly convincing cold that didn’t seem to waste time asking what season it was. So classic. So out comes that bottle of elderberry syrup. Am I glad that I spent that evening on the riverbank climbing trees and fighting with the birds over the juiciest, ripest berries!elderberry-2

Elderberry syrup is a potent natural remedy for sore throats and other cold and flu symptoms. The berries of the elder tree (Sambucus) have anti-viral, immune-boosting properties and are high in vitamins A, B, and C. The syrup is really easy to make and it’s one of the best-tasting herbal syrups out there. I followed, once again, Rosemary Gladstar’s recipe in Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, using fresh berries. But dried elderberries work as well. Simmered in water with ginger and cloves and steeped in honey, they turn into a luxuriously deep-red and sweet-tasting remedy. You can either take this syrup preventatively to ward off the cold or, if the sniffles and the cough already got you, to speed recovery.elderberry

Here are a few different recipes for elderberry syrup if you don’t have Rosemary’s book:

(Just to be clear, since I mentioned all three of us being sick: this syrup cannot be given to an infant under 1 year of age because it has honey in it. I’m hoping my baby gets some of the healing properties through breast milk… Or, in the very least, gets some of the benefit because her mama, who IS taking the syrup, is feeling a little less sick and therefore a little more energetic. Yes?)

For a few years now, I’ve been either harvesting dye plants from the wild, or ordering them online. But this year was the inaugural year of my own dye garden. I dedicated one raised bed to plants that yield blue color: woad and Japanese indigo. The woad, sadly, got overtaken by the neighboring, overenthusiastic ground cherries during the weeks when I was out of town… but the Japanese indigo grew very well, and I ended up with a good harvest of its leaves. I spent a late summer afternoon extracting the dye, holding my breath till I got to the last step of the process: would it work?

It totally did.


I must say that growing the dye yourself takes the incredible satisfaction of giving fibers magical new colors to a whole new level. To be able to look at that sweet blue color and say, “I grew that!” …

Dyeing with Japanese indigo (and woad, for which the process is quite similar) is also a relatively sustainable choice. The fibers don’t need to be mordanted, which means no potentially hazardous metals in waste water. Secondly, neither the plant material nor the fibers need to be boiled at high temperatures, so the process requires less fuel/energy than most other kinds of dyeing.

Japanese indigo seeds can be hard to find. I got mine here.japaneseindigo-8japaneseindigo-2japaneseindigo-3japaneseindigo-4japaneseindigo-6japaneseindigo-7

Here are the steps, in brief (I followed the recipes in Harvesting Color and The Dyer’s Garden):

1. Harvest Japanese indigo at the height of summer, when a leaf turns blue if bruised. Remove leaves and put them into large jars or other heatproof container with a lid. Cover the leaves with warm water and place inside of a larger pot, also filled with water, so that the water in the pot partially covers the jar. Heat water to 160-170 F and keep it at that temperature for 2-3 hours. Do not overheat!

2. Strain the dye liquid into a bowl and squeeze liquid out of the leaves as well. Discard the leaves. Pre-wet your fibers in the warm water that’s already in your pot.

3. Add baking soda (a tablespoon per a pound of Japanese indigo).

4. Pour dye liquid from one bowl to another to oxidize it for about 8-10 minutes. Then add a tablespoon of Spectralite and wait until the liquid turns yellowish green.

5. Carefully submerge your fibers for 10 minutes or longer.

6. Carefully remove the fibers and marvel as they turn from yellow-green to blue when they come into contact with air.




During this summer’s stay at the Finnish capital and my former home city, I decided to chart the terrain of organic and local food in Helsinki. I wanted to see how much the scene had evolved since the time when I lived there in 2004, when luomu (“organic food”) and lähiruoka (“local food”) were still fairly marginal concepts. Of course, the farmer’s markets were there — but they had always been, without making a thing out of the “local” in what they sold.

Ten years later, the visibility of organic and local — and what it signals, namely the interest in where one’s food comes from and how it is produced — is of a different order entirely (although still lagging behind some other European cities). New classy restaurants, cute neighborhood stores and artisanal ice cream shops that are popping up here and there increasingly highlight the ethics and values that guide their selection of products and ingredients. Particularly if you live in Helsinki  — or, if passing through, find other ways to access a kitchen such as booking a place to stay through Airbnb like we did — it’s pretty easy to eat a mostly organic and partially local diet; see the links here and here. But the following might be useful for a short-term visitor as well.


Restaurants and cafés


organichelsinki-2Silvoplee, with its bright green and orange decor, is my favorite among Helsinki’s vegetarian restaurants. The food is about 55% raw and 65% organic, and made with seasonal and local ingredients whenever possible. I’m not exactly a raw food fanatic, but Silvoplee’s plate is so flavorful and satisfying that it could feasibly turn me into one. The restaurant works on a buffet concept where you pay by weight, so you can get a plate for 10 euros or less — although chances are you’ll end up piling up more because everything looks so tasty! My favorites were the cashew pate and the buckwheat porridge with date sauce for dessert. Adjacent to the restaurant is a smoothie bar serving smoothies, green juices, and raw chocolate treats.

Toinen linja 7 (in Hakaniemi/Kallio)



Traditional Finnish food with a twist, drawing on organic and local ingredients when possible and favoring small farmers. Juuri means “root,” which signals both the restaurant’s rootedness in the soil and traditions of the region, and its use of many root vegetables – the traditional Finnish staple. Juuri’s specialties are sapas, or Finnish tapas — bite-sized dishes that allow you to sample various different chapters of Finnish culinary history in a single meal. The sapas menu includes things like trout sausage with roe and horseradish, egg cheese with lemon, thyme and birch sap, and cabbage pie with kohlrabi.

Korkeavuorenkatu 27



Innovative Finnish food made primarily with ingredients from Finnish producers. Pricier than the other two, so save this one for a special dinner — or skip it entirely if you’re traveling on a budget.

Vironkatu 8


Image source:

Image source:

Johan & Nyström

This is the Helsinki branch of the Swedish cafe & coffee roasters serving fair trade and “direct trade” coffee, working directly with specific coffee farmers. The coffee is roasted slowly by hand. They’re pretty serious about their tea as well, and the lovely location of the cafe by the water in the Katajanokka area makes the experience of sipping your chosen beverage all the more pleasant.

Kanavaranta 7 C





Ekolo sells organic and vegetarian foods, superfoods, non-toxic cosmetics and cleaning products and baby care products both online and at their store in Hakaniemi.

Porthaninkatu 1



Eat & Joy Maatilatori

The attractive store at Mannerheimintie has closed, but Eat & Joy still has two branches in the suburb of Kannelmäki and in the neighboring city of Vantaa. Check the website for details.


Anton & Anton

A different kind of a neighborhood grocery store, with three locations in downtown Helsinki. Anton & Anton’s goal has been to offer an alternative to soul-less supermarkets, bringing local and seasonal food, good customer service, and a sense of community back into the city. In their own words, Anton & Anton “sells fresh seasonal food whose origin we know. Food that we can keep on our shelves and offer onto your table with a good conscience and for a good reason. We value and support the important work of farm producers and believe that the production chain of food should be transparent.”

Kapteeninkatu 26; Mariankatu 18; Museokatu 19


Outdoor farmers’ markets

 The two biggest farmers’ markets are Kauppatori by the harbor and Hakaniementori in Hakaniemi (both open Monday through Saturday). This is where the farmers from the surrounding countryside were selling their produce long before local food was hip. You’ll also find artisans selling their wares, from basketry and leather work to yarns and souvenirs. Of the two, Kauppatori is more touristy.


Hakaniemi Indoor farmers’ market

Check out especially Satumarja, a store selling a wide variety of fresh organic food products, and Lentävä lehmä, a cheese store specializing in cheeses from small Finnish cheese producers.

Hakaniemi tram/metro stop


And for a sweet Fi(n)nish:

3 Kaverin Jäätelö Ice Cream

3 Kaveria (Three Buddies) make their ice cream based on traditional Italian recipes, but using Finnish cream and berries from Finland’s forests. Widely available at supermarkets. Flavors include dark and light coffee, blackcurrant and orange, and my favorite, blueberry cardamom.

I’m returning to these pages after a sweet baby-rocking, diaper-changing, road-tripping, berry-picking, ice cream eating, swimming and sauna-going kind of a summer. In honor of this new beginning (of sorts), I’ve done some sprucing up and re-organizing here on the blog. I hope you like the new look!

During this brief blogging sabbatical, I gathered ideas and inspiration into my metaphorical basket that I look forward to sharing with you in the weeks and months to come. And many new plans and projects are underway here on our southeastern urban homestead, which you will no doubt hear about as well.

My commitment to living the homesteading life in the context of a rented urban home — for the time being at least — has been renewed. Partially it’s the workshop at Paradise Lot in July that showed me how much can be grown within the constraints of a small urban lot. And partially it’s witnessing some other very cool folks choosing to embrace the small rental home setting and making the most of it. Whereas many of us dream of getting out of the suburbs to the ideal farm somewhere in the countryside, Nick and Kirsten of Milkwood did the opposite: they moved from the amazing permaculture farm they’ve been developing in very rural Australia to a rental home near Sydney. But they had their reasons for it, and I’m excited to see what they go on to do with their new space. What do they have to say about establishing food gardens when the landlord may or may not be on board? “Asking forgiveness trumps asking permission. Every time.”  That’s the spirit, I say!

I agree with them: the homesteading life is about skills. While our stay at our current place may be transitory, Dan and I are building homesteading skills as if we had already arrived on the homestead of our dreams. More on that later.

And now, some of the highlights of this summer:

summer-6Harvest from the garden after a six-week absence! Thank you, drip irrigation system! Thank you, helpful neighbors!

summer-4Taking dips in cool lake waters in some of the places I love most.

summer-3A meal entirely from the land: chanterelles from the forest, potatoes and salad from the garden, berries from the forest and the garden, water from the spring. Instead of a 100-mile diet, it’s a quarter mile diet!

summer-2Every night is a sauna night at my family’s summer place.

generationsGenerations together.


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