Suburban Jungle

Reuben and Veggie Beds

Gardening

Poppy

Garden

Daisy

Planting

We spent a lot of the weekend in the garden, building two more veggie beds, planting a couple of citrus trees, pruning and pottering. Though our garden isn’t producing much now, it feels good to be building something for the future. From little things big things grow.

I must admit, when Reubs and I moved into this house I was a bit worried about going overboard in the garden. Our block is very small and awkwardly shaped and I seriously doubted that we’d ever be able to make it particularly productive. Reubs was keen to make the most of our limited space and cram it full of edibles. He immediately wanted to rip out all the lawn and replace it with a giant veggie patch, and was adamant that we had enough space for a number of fruit trees, but I was reluctant. It seems crazy to me now but I didn’t like the idea of not having any lawn and I was scared that if we planted too much our yard would look messy and unattractive. (What would the neighbours think?!) So we started small with two little veggie beds, a couple of fruit trees and two chickens, and bit by bit we’ve added more and more. We now have four large veggie beds, ten fruit trees, two passionfruit vines, a couple of berry plants, two elderflower bushes (for making cordial) and hopps (for making beer) which we plan to plant next to the car port so it can climb. We are also hoping to turn a whole corner of our yard into a large chicken coop, so we can keep a bigger flock of chooks. Slowly, I’ve come to realise just how much can be done with a small space (we still have room for so much more!) and I now have a completely different kind of vision for our garden. Not a tidy lawn, tidy veggie beds, tidy trees and small tidy chicken coop, but a rambling patch overflowing with homegrown fruit, veggies, flowers and chickens.

I recently bought Backyard Self Sufficiency by Jackie French (which I highly recommend) and today I was having a read when I stumbled across a quote that so perfectly summed up what I’ve been thinking and feeling, that I had to share it with you. Jackie says:

“I have two images of suburban life today.

The first is of a neat house set in a mown lawn with trimmed shrubs and a sandpit; a clean kitchen with yesterday’s takeaway containers in the sink; and the latest DVDs to fill your life after dinner.

The second is of a suburban jungle: a maze of tangled apple trees and grapevines, carpets of strawberries, and kids with mulberry-stained faces who don’t come inside till dark. You trip over a box of apples in the laundry and the kitchen smells of summer tomatoes and of the basil on the windowsill.

The kitchen shelves are full, so are the lives of the inhabitants.

The richness of our lives depends on our surroundings and what we fill them with.”

I know which one I’d prefer. Bring on the jungle.

Katie xx

PS Just in case you are wondering what our “chicken tractor” is doing in our new veg beds – we were using the girls’ scratching skills to get a headstart on digging up the grass.
PPS My cute apron and trowel are from lovely Brenda‘s wonderful new shop.

Comments { 22 }

My Simple Life: Julie Letowski

Our next guest in the My Simple Life series is lovely Julie, who blogs over at Cinnamon Girl. I first stumbled across Julie’s beautiful little corner of the internet last year, just as she and her family were about to move onto their very own farm, and I have loved following their journey into homesteading and living their dream ever since. I was so thrilled when Julie agreed to share a little of her story here on House of Humble!

IMG_2007

IMG_0160

Tell us a little about yourself.

Hello! I’m Julie. I live in the mid coast region of Maine and, alongside my husband and son, I’m in the midst of bringing an old farm back to life. I teach piano, sometimes act as a doula, and am trying with all my might to carve out a living that doesn’t include off farm work. You can find me (very sporadically during these summer days) writing at Cinnamon Girl and @homesweethomestead on Instagram.

Last year you moved to your very own homestead in Maine. Can you tell us a bit about your journey to buying a farm? What were you doing before you moved to the homestead? Did you have any farming experience?

Before we moved to Maine and our farm, we did a lot of moving. We lived in Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, Nashville, Boston again, and then finally Maine. I was either in college, pregnant, being a mama, or training to become a doula for most of that time. My farming experience was limited to a lot of horribly neglected home gardens, and many documentaries and books!

The explanation for how we came to be people that wanted to buy a farm is really short and sweet. We started shopping at farmers’ markets and the deal was almost instantly sealed. Not only did we personally want access to healthier, safer, and more varied food, we also wanted to give that same opportunity to people in our community. As for the actual journey from point A of wanting a farm to point B of having a farm, well that’s a little longer.

In the beginning it was really fun to look for a farm. There was a lot of daydreaming and just general surface-y thinking about the whole thing- oh I can just imagine my pies cooling in that window! But as the reality of what was really available at the time hit, the fun began to temper itself and we were left feeling desperate, frustrated, and hopeless at times. If I’m being completely honest, buying a farm was a long and difficult process. There were so many places that we found that were totally right… except for one really big thing we couldn’t get past. For instance, my dream farmhouse had gaping holes in the ceiling and a “view” in the bathroom wall clean through to outside, among other things, and in the end we had to walk away. It seemed the places we could afford were so run down that we couldn’t afford all the repairs necessary after handing over our down payment or if the place was in decent shape, the asking price really reflected that.

Ultimately we made a lot of big leaps. When the sale of a farm in Maine fell through two weeks before we had to be out of our apartment in Boston, we just decided to move to Maine anyway and figure it out from there. We rented a house sight unseen and jumped! Over the next four months we looked and we looked. We widened our net, we changed our list of must haves… And eventually I found our dream farm, the farm we’re happily calling our own today! But we had to leap again- it was much further north than we had planned and until my husband could find a different job, he would have to commute an hour and a half to work every single day. It was a hard transition and a rocky first year but I can say without reservation that we are where we’re supposed to be.

IMG_2476

IMG_1819

What did it feel like that first morning you woke up on your own land?

It was good to wake up in our place that first day after working so hard to get there but there was also a little fear. There was so much unknown! And the place still very much felt like it belonged to the previous owners, despite having signed the papers and handed over the money! Honestly, the feeling that you would expect to have that first morning is way more a part of my life in our second year here than it was in that first year. Now that I’ve really started to settle in and this place feels like my own, I’m regularly blown away by it all. We did it! We made it! And to here of all places! We are incredibly lucky to have found a solidly built old and quirky house on just enough beautiful land to let us try our hands at a little bit of anything we want. It’s so unbelievable and rocks me daily.

IMG_4375

IMG_4834

IMG_8309

What do you grow/raise/produce on your farm?

Currently we’re in two farmers’ markets selling our baked goods made with organic and locally sourced ingredients, our herbal teas made from foraged or homegrown herbs and flowers, and we also brew locally roasted coffee on a homemade pour over coffee bar. Recently I’ve started making granola and muesli with Maine grown oats and Maine maple syrup and it’s been a really great experience. We’re hoping to get into a few of the food co-ops!

Right now we’re still in the figuring out exactly what we want to do phase so we’ve tried a lot, been successful at some, and crossed plenty of things off our list of interests. Since this past summer we’ve been raising two heifers who we hope will become milk cows next spring. This past January we home processed the two pigs we had been raising the previous summer and fall. We raised enough Thanksgiving turkey to feed ourselves and friends, and three other families. We also began raising meat rabbits on pasture this past fall with the intention of filling a void of pastured rabbit meat for restaurants in Maine. And of course we have chickens and ducks! If money and time were no object, I would have a huge flock of sheep right now and a natural dye garden that was bursting! Longterm I see myself getting in dyeing and spinning yarn. Five year plan!

IMG_3016

IMG_4316

Tell us about a typical day on the homestead.

It really depends on the day! There are the standard jobs of feeding and watering and ensuring good health and well-being of all of the animals every day and that’s about all that is consistent. That and our 4-5 am wake up call from a very persistent, wildly energetic almost 4 year old! I take the chickens and the ducks and the child. My husband takes the cows and rabbits. Then we address whatever is most in need of our attention in the the few hours before my husband heads off to his full time off farm job. Tuesdays and Fridays are my baking days, Wednesdays and Saturdays are my market days, Mondays and Thursdays are days to really focus in on my son as he gets Not Now-ed and Later-ed way too much on baking and market days, and Sundays we’re all together from sun up to sun down racing the clock to move things forward on the homestead. This year we are incredibly focused on securing a food supply for winter. It isn’t cheap to stay warm in Maine in the winter and I’m doing everything I can to cut our wintertime food bill.

4-5 a.m.: Begrudgingly leave bed.
5-6 a.m.: Feed the masses!
6-8:30 a.m.: Weed, plant, haul, clean!
9 a.m.: Husband off to work, The child and I continue our work- but at a much slower pace.
10-2 p.m.: Avoid that sun! Indoors baking, brewing herbal teas, planning, feeding, canning, working on the business end of market and farm.
2-4 p.m.: Sleeping child, working double time mama. This is when I do all the things that are too delicate for a little helper- like transplanting fragile plants – or I do the things that just won’t hold my son’s attention long enough- like weeding.
4-7:30 p.m.: More outside work, trips the library, shop for the market, make some dinner- hopefully with help from the garden!, and put the child to bed.
7:30 p.m.-dark (sometimes later with a head lamp): My husband is home again and we’re doing whatever we can in the last few hours of the day, hoping we’ll feel less behind in the morning when we wake up!

And of course this is when things are ideal and say there isn’t a cow running down the road or a pen of young rabbits loose in the field or a completely uncooperative 4 year old. You would think from the schedule above that my garden is immaculately weeded- it is not. Oh, well! Also, despite having a to-do list that is never completed I find it incredibly important that I take time to do things like read or knit. If I’m constantly doing just the things that must get done life begins to feel too heavy. So, you can find me during nap time at least a few times a week sitting down doing something quietly, doing something that I don’t have to be doing but instead that I just want to do.

IMG_6215

IMG_7372

How has life change for your family since you moved to your farm?

Our biggest change was also our biggest goal- we’re far more self-reliant now than we have ever been before. Of course there is still progress to to be made but we are getting there. It feels so good! There’s also the huge change of going from urban to rural- we have far less just at our fingertips nowadays. I can’t just decide to take a class in anything I want, there aren’t big box stores that offer anything I might need, and in some ways it’s harder to create a community. But, in regards to the last one, we’re getting there. It’s just going to take time. The changes that we’ve experienced I must say – even when they have felt negative – are ultimately positive. More than anything the move we’ve made has caused us to really get a clear look at what we actually need in life to survive and to be happy.

IMG_1567

IMG_8454

IMG_9456

What do you love about your lifestyle? What do you find challenging?

I both love and am challenged by the solitude we experience, particularly in winter and in regards to my son. I think it’s all fine and well for me to become a hermit but I do have my reservations about what that experience will do to my son. I love our quirky house and our land- we’ve got a small spot of 10 acres but it’s beautiful and really feels like the find of a lifetime. I love the companionship of our animals. My heart belongs to one of our cows- Luella. She is my heart outside of my body in the animal world! Knowing she’ll be a mama cow next year (if all goes to plan) just totally rocks my world. I love the responsibility we take for ourselves here- I feel the weight of my own needs every day by trying to provide for them and it keeps me honest, keeps me good. The hardest part of it all though- and Katie can attest to this and my lack of timely response with this interview- is that my time is not my own in the way that it used to be. In our past life I could schedule myself in a way that most things got done. I could get caught up. I could be there for friends and family- physically and emotionally. But now, my birthday presents and thank you notes arrive late, if at all. I’m unable to attend weddings or meet new babies for people that are big parts of my heart, and the worst part is that oftentimes people aren’t able to understand. Most of our family and friends still live in that old world of ours where things can be managed and scheduled. They’ve never had to find someone competent enough and willing to care for 50+ animals there are integral to their livelihood or their survival. It’s just hard to bridge the gap sometimes.

IMG_8060

IMG_0224

What advice would you give someone considering a similar path?

Do it! Jump! Take all the chances! This life is good. Hard but so good. And start today, even if you’re in the city or the suburbs still. This life is so full of mistakes and learning the hard way and you might as well get as much of that out of the way now as you can. Grow in your windowsills, put chickens in your suburban backyard, volunteer at farms, sign up for a community garden plot, read, watch documentaries, become a farm intern, shop local, eat local, befriend the people that grow your food- just immerse yourself in the community. Also- and I think most importantly- go easy on yourself. Farming, homesteading, or even gardening is a process. You don’t wake up one day and have it all under control. We spent our first summer overextending ourselves and feeling horrible for our failures- so much so that we didn’t enjoy our life and our land and the opportunities we had nearly as much as we should have. So, learn, forgive yourself, and enjoy your life at every single stage of the journey!

Katie xx

Comments { 13 }

Little Things

Flowers

Chickens

Lunch

Do Small Things

Beach

Daisies

Clover

Florist

Joining in the weekly stills over at The Beetle Shack.

1. Little pot plants in the winter sunshine. How is it that kraft paper and string make everything cuter?!
2. We’ve spent a lot of time over at my mum’s farm in the last couple of weeks. I took this picture one day while we were cleaning out these tiny chicks’ cage. A bucket of cuteness!
3. We had an amazing lunch with friends at Mr Beebe’s in Bendigo yesterday.
4. I’ve been having lots of fun making pretty things with paper.
5. My mum and I spent a couple of nights in Kiama last week (while Reubs minded things back on the farm). My family was gathered to honour the memory of my gradparents, who lived by the beach there for many years.
6. We scattered daisies in the ocean.
7. Little Clover, looking cute as a button in her winter coat!
8. The last week has been full of flowers…

Wishing you all a gorgeous week ahead!

Katie xx

Comments { 9 }

Five Favourite Things (With Kate of Foxs Lane)

Today’s guest for Five Favourite Things is gorgeous Kate of Foxs Lane. Kate’s amazing blog and her family’s beautiful life on their organic farm in Daylesford have been such an inspiration to Reuben and I in the last couple of years. We were so excited when we got to meet Kate (and Bren) in real life at the Voices awards last December. So, here’s a little about some of Kate’s favourite things!

14539786912_29132f3ef6_b

What’s your favourite thing about where you live?

The privacy of living inside the forest surrounded by trees with no neighbours. Also living on an organic farm growing delicious fruit and vegetables is pretty wonderful too.

14262161620_7f58e7fb5c_b

What’s your favourite knitting pattern?

Fave beanie – Little-Scallops by Maria Carlander
Fave cardi – Gidday Baby by Tikki
Fave shawl – Mara by Madelinetosh

14393532672_bcb4b12efc_b

What’s your favourite season?

Summer!! For sure. I live my best life in the heat.

14256190106_b7c6519528_b

What’s your favourite thing to bake?

Anything that shows off the produce we have just harvested. Right now it’s spinach, kale and potato pie and rhubarb cake.

14425644636_99254ddca0_b

What’s your favourite smell?

I have hundreds. It’s almost impossible to narrow it down. But often it’s the firsts of the season – the first coriander, the first basil, the first mandarin…. but then I also love the smell of fresh coffee, clean laundry, my children deep in sleep.

How about you?! Fancy sharing your favourite thing about where you live? Do you have a favourite knitting pattern? What’s your favourite season? Or your favourite thing to bake? How about your favourite smell? I want to know!!

Katie x

Comments { 16 }

My Writing Process (A Blog Tour)

When my sweet friend Sophie asked me if I would like to take part in a blog tour where participants share a little bit about their writing process, I thought “What a lovely idea!” While writing is something very dear to my heart I’ve never spoken much about that here, so it sounded like a great conversation to have. I find people’s creative processes fascinating and often wonder what it is that drives others to share their stories through blogging. I loved reading Sophie’s post about how and why she writes the beautiful words published on her blog. So here I go…

Banana Bread

What am I working on?

Aside from blogging here as usual and putting together our new Five Favourite Things and My Simple Life features, right now I’m finishing up my last couple of pieces for Kidspot. In the last few months I’ve had so much fun putting together a series of blog posts over there. Once that’s done I’m hoping to start working on some new creative wordy projects. They are just blurry snippets of ideas right now but hopefully, once I have the time and space to think about them properly, they will grow into something wonderful.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don’t really think I have a genre. I suppose this blog would be placed in the “lifestyle” category but that’s not something we’ve intentionally cultivated. When it comes to blogging, I just write about whatever feels right in that moment. When I was a teenager I wrote a lot of angsty, emotional poems and short stories full of heartache. Later, I worked in publishing and most of my energy went into writing for work, which was very impersonal editorial style stuff. Now, here on the blog, my writing is somewhere in between those two styles. I try to write from the heart, and be authentic, honest, and real, without getting too self-involved or stuck in my own head. I probably don’t always get the balance right, but I try.

8
Why do I write what I do?

I have always written. My favourite teacher in primary school was a big believer in encouraging kids to use their initiative, so she used to give us half an hour each day where we could chose to do whatever we wanted. We had to do something productive (meaning we couldn’t just take a nap or play with toys) but we could read, work on art projects, do maths problems, or whatever else we pleased. I always, always wrote. When I got a bit older I imagined that being a writer for a magazine would allow me to indulge in my passion for words (and be very glamorous) so that became my dream. At uni I majored in journalism and minored in creative writing. I was lucky enough to get a job in magazine publishing straight out of uni, so we moved to Sydney for my new role as editorial assistant. It was while we were living in Sydney that Reubs and I began blogging, which opened up a whole new style of writing to me. Since I’ve never been good at keeping journals, I love that the words I record on our blog become like a little virtual time capsule. I don’t often look back at old posts because honestly, they make me a bit cringey, but I like just knowing they are there.

I can’t really explain why I’ve always felt the urge to write, I just know that I have. Writing helps me quieten some of the noise in my busy brain and allows me to get my scrambled thoughts in order. I also find the act of writing deeply cathartic. Sometimes I think I am better at expressing myself with words on a page than words spoken.

Baking

How does your writing process work?

Honestly, my writing process is rather chaotic and often accompanied by (self-inflicted) stress. I am a terrible procrastinator and tend to work best under pressure anyway, so I often leave things until the last minute and find myself scrambling come deadline time. Once I get into the zone I don’t like to be interrupted, so I generally write pieces all in one sitting. Instead of starting at the beginning and writing til the end, I usually start out by jotting down ideas in point form, then slowly build on them, edit and refine them, rearrange them into something cohesive and linear, and edit the whole thing again. I write in much the same way as I read magazines, flicking all over the place and a pausing to expand on whatever catches my fancy. Often I’ll be writing one point when I’ll randomly think of something connected to another point so I’ll jump forwards or backwards. If I don’t jot a thought down as soon as it pops into my head I’ll lose it, so I’ve learnt to just go with the chaos. Sooner or later it all comes together.

This Brown Wren

Photo by This Brown Wren.

I’m passing the blog tour torch on to lovely Steph of This Brown Wren. Steph’s gorgeous blog and the beautiful words she shares there never cease to inspire me, so I can’t wait to hear about her writing process when she shares her post next week.

Maybe you’d like to share a little about how and why you write too?

Katie xx

Comments { 12 }