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I’ve now read more books than I can count on the topics of gardening, permaculture, orchardry err fruit-growing (see, no clue), and general homesteading. And I still fly by the seat of my pants when it comes to just about everything around here.

I bounce around garden areas, watering, fertigating, thinning, side-dressing with comfrey, and saying things like “We really should prune those fruit trees this winter” and “We could grow a ton of this stuff to feed goats!” As if I know anything about any of that stuff.

We’re in the on-the-job training program around here, and one of the educators we’ve had is a collection of books on sustainability. Every time I crack open the pages to a new book on gardening, sustainability, permaculture, or land management; I think it’ll just be the same-old, same-old. But I am happy to continue to be proved wrong with books like Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist.

I think this books is great for folks like me who need someone to simplify the basics of permaculture with doable small steps.

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It’s eight o’clock at night and bright as can be. The baby is asleep, it’s still over 90 degrees, and when my littlest man asks if I want to go on a garden walk, I say yes. I could be washing dishes. There’s always laundry to tend to. But I grab a couple of little hands and we head down paths well-worn.

I’m not that mom who celebrates saying yes. Much of the time I say no – not because I want to, but because I have to – and I don’t usually feel guilty about it. There are a lot of chores to do on our little homestead, and many of them can’t wait. These boys pitch in a lot – laundry, dishes, spreading mulch, pulling weeds, making beds, fetching tools for Daddy, learning to milk goats – and that sharing of the burden binds us in a way. They’re in better shape than I ever was – who has a six pack at five years old?! – and know how to do things at 6 & 8 that I’m still learning at 31.

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Something is happening out there on these two acres of ours. It looks simple enough, those patches of deep green beans, tomatoes and strawberries that are happily, slowly giving of their fruit day-by-day, Kazakh melons spreading their flowering tendrils, sweet potatoes and squash standing resolute on the 95 degree days, and cowpeas shooting towards the searing July sun as they prepare to flower.

Yes, it looks simple enough, but, as usual, the journey to that something has been complicated.

Part of it is the rain we’ve had this spring, part of it is the catching of the rain via passive irrigation techniques. Part of it is the woodchip mulch we’ve been using, part of it is the fertigating with manure and urine that we learned about from Gardening When It Counts.

Part of it seems to be the type of crops that are growing (calorie crops via The Resilient Gardener) and part of it seems to be the varieties of those crops we are trying (shorter season via Growing Food In a Hotter Drier Land). Part of it is crop spacing (Gardening When It Counts) and part of it is always increasing diversity that thrives in your specific geography (Sowing Seeds in the Desert).

It’s cumulative, you see.


Stewart goes out one morning to build a pallet trellis for boysenberries or climbing beans. I start sweet potato slips after I’ve got my dishes done; a month later we’ve got 1-2 dozen slips for planting. He picks up a few more perennial herbs when he’s in town and I take the boys out to plant beans when it looks like rain is coming. The boys operate as perennial weeders. He’s out making a nettles fertilizer when I announce breakfast, so I thin the okra while we chat.

I think it was Elliot Coleman in The New Organic Grower who talked about these “one percenters”. A little tending here, a few changes in methods there, and suddenly things are moving in the right direction. All of these little bits of shading and soil improvement and just old fashioned paying attention – the ones that take just an hour or two of your time every day – have become a part of everyday life around here. And they are adding up.

To be clear, we’re not exactly starting a farmer’s market here, or even eating much more than bits and bobs from the garden these days for that matter. But we are encouraged… and grateful.

Remember that year we completely failed at homesteading? I had such high hopes then… hopes of big gardens and living off the land and seeing all of these seeds become the fabric for which we build our meals, our days, and our children’s memories. But I wonder now… what was that hope in?


Then, we were homesteaders. Now, we are tenders.

Tending not because you deserve a crop for all of your hard work, but because it is your job is an incredibly freeing paradigm shift. I no longer think in terms of we need x, so we must perform y. Instead, there is an increasing fluidity about this process of homesteading. Just keep planting. Just keep amending. Just keep working. Just keep tending.

Whatever comes of it, it’s all His anyway. We just happen to be benefiting greatly from the process.