Wide Earth Smallholding

Wide Earth Smallholding

And Allaah has made for you the earth a wide expanse.(Qur'aan- 71:19)

Some Success, Some Failures

One of the things that made leaving Yemen just a little bit easier was the thought that we would be able to follow another of our dreams, that of homesteading. Even before we left we were talking about what we would like to start out growing, if we had a place to garden at all.

Part of the yard behind our suburban house

Our situation here is not ideal. For one thing, we are living in someone else’s house, and so have to comply with the limits and boundaries that are placed upon us. For example, they planted decorative bulbs in many areas of the lawn- places we would have used for vegetables, herbs, and more useful flowers such as those that would attract beneficial insects, or which could be eaten. At first we understood that we would have pretty much the whole area to utilize, but later it became clear that we actually had a few small spaces, those that they had not planted flowers in last year. This was a bit of a setback, as we had planned for more space and had started our seedlings accordingly.

Getting started!

We started our seedlings on February 11, almost two months before our last frost date here in Columbia of April 1. I used the empty, rectangular peat flats with some organic topsoil mixture, as well as a flat of the small round peat pots that one expands with water. I hadn’t used the latter before, and wasn’t sure what to expect.

The girls and I planted thyme, oregano, sage, lemon balm, catnip, chives, basil, mint, sugar baby watermelon, baby bear pumpkin, Kellog’s Breakfast Tomatoes, Matt’s Wild Cherry Tomatoes, as well as mixes of hot and sweet peppers. Knowing that our space was somewhat limited, and that we hadn’t gardened on this scale for quite some time, we ordered our seeds from Pinetree and so were able to order small packets of a wide variety of vegetables and herbs. We didn’t plant everything we had, of course. Many things will be seeded directly outside once we know exactly where we can plant in the yard. So, we saturated the soil and peat pots, planted the seeds, and covered them with plastic lids. We placed them in front of the only available window, which is located in the dining room. It doesn’t get a lot of sun, but we were hoping it would be enough.

A couple of days later the oregano was up, and one after the other other plants popped up as well. I noticed, though, that the plants in the little round peat pots didn’t do as well as the ones in the regular flats. Right about the time we planted them we also had a cold spell, and some of the plants were a bit straggly and weak because of that. Now they seem to be doing, on the whole, better, although the chives are pitiful. I would not use the expandable peat pots again, that’s for sure. We did eventually move one of the the cardboard boxes that the flats were on so that it was over the heating vent, and that seemed to help. So, notes for us for next time: no little peat pots, more sun, more heat. Oh, and keep baby Asmaa’ away from the little seedlings, as she likes to pat them and has even pulled a couple out.

Early morning, the seedlings are just waking up!

So now we have our seedlings and our seeds waiting to be planted outside. We have a few plants for direct seeding, including more chives, pumpkin, and watermelon as well as chamomile, mesclun mix, mixed summer lettuces (and, for later, a winter blend), peas, beans, cucumbers, and Bright Lights chard.

We still don’t know where we’ll be able to plant, exactly, but we came up with the idea of making some of the beds out of the topsoil bags we purchased, so we can put them in places that have not been previously planted. I’m not sure how this will work, as we haven’t done it before. We are using Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens as a guide, as well as some other gardening books. I hope to plant different things in a variety of different places so we can see how well they grow in different conditions. Some of the seedlings are ready to transplant, and are suffering a bit as we wait to find out where we can transplant them to.

Some of the containers we hope to use

In another direction, we are taking the Urban Farm Handbook Challenge (as you see in the banner below). The challenge for March was soil building, so we worked on that. We got our (very) low tech compost container started, and mixed up some pretty good soil for the containers we plan to use. We had a compost container in Ma’bar, in Yemen- it was hilarious to think about what people thought of us, carefully saving all of our vegetable and fruit refuse, diligently making dirt. This is something that is pretty much not done there- though that is starting to change, as Permaculture is beginning to be taught there in workshops and demonstrations. It is incredibly important for the future of Yemen that the farmers begin to utilize some different soil building and water use methodologies, as much of the soil is depleted from chemical fertilizers and misuse, and the water is due to run out in a decade or so. We have decided what we have to do to make the soil better in different areas of the yard for growing. The soil is a heavy clay, and has been used for growing grass for ages. The drainage is pretty bad in most areas, which is a challenge for us because we can’t change the landscape at all, due to this not being our property.

This month the challenge involves all things dairy. We are already planning to make some cheese in the next week, using a recipe they provided. We used to see the women making cheeses and yogurt in Yemen, patiently shaking large goatskin bags suspended on wooden frames. The girls and I are excited about trying our hand at our own cheese, as well.

So, a month of successes and failures…but the failures are not really all that bad, because we are paying attention, documenting everything, and doing our best not to make the same mistakes again.

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    1. I think it would work just fine. I have read that some people cook the pumpkin down a bit before pureeing, but I never have, and I haven’t had any problems. Pumpkin tea bread?? Mmmmmmm….

  1. Pumpkin banana bread with apples

    Total time: 60 minutes


    4 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft, room temperature
    1 cup regular white sugar
    2 eggs
    2 very ripe bananas, mashed
    1/2 cup Greek yogurt
    1/2 cup pumpkin puree
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    2 cups sliced apple chunks, or about 2 medium size apples (cored), or 1 large size apple (cored)

    Use a 9×5 inch loaf pan or a 8×4 inch loaf pan (plus 3 muffin cups) – see note below

    1) Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. In a medium bowl, using electric mixer, beat 4 tablespoons of butter and 1 cup of white sugar on high speed for 1 minute until well-combined. You will get coarse looking mixture (not creamy).

    2) Add 2 eggs to the butter-sugar mixture and continue beating for another minute until very creamy and very smooth.

    3) Add mashed bananas, Greek yogurt, pumpkin puree, and vanilla extract to the butter-sugar-eggs mixture, and continue beating, using electric mixer, until well combined – for about another minute.

    4) In a separate medium bowl, combine sifted flour (do not overpack the flour, when measuring it using measuring cups!), baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Mix until well combined.

    5) Add dry ingredients into wet ingredients, and mix, using large spoon, just until combined. DO NOT OVERMIX. If there are lumps – they will work themselves out during baking. Fold in apple chunks.

    6) Butter a 9×5 inch loaf pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, butter the parchment paper too. Note: lining the bottom of the pan with parchment paper ensures that the bottom of the bread will not get stuck. Pour the batter in the pan. Bake for 1 hour. Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to serve.

    From http://juliasalbum.com/2013/10/pumpkin-banana-bread-with-apples/

  2. Pumpkin 7 Layer Bars

    1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
    1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
    1 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
    1/2 cup cream cheese, softened
    1/4 – 1/2 cup whole cane sugar
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    1 cup chocolate chips
    1/2 cup chopped pecans
    1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
    1/2 – 1 cup sweetened condensed milk

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small saucepan, melt the butter.
    In a large plastic bag place several graham crackers, remove all the air possible, and seal the bag. Roll a rolling pin over the crackers until they form finely ground graham cracker crumbs. Measure out and add the crumbs to the melted butter, stirring to combine well.
    Pour the graham cracker crumb mixture into the bottom of a large baking dish or 9×13 pan. Press the crumbs down to form a packed crust. Bake until fragrant and golden brown, about 10-12 minutes.
    In the meantime, put the pumpkin puree, cream cheese, sugar, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl and beat with the hand mixer until smooth and fluffy. When you take the baked crust out of the oven, spoon this pumpkin mixture over the crust and smooth out in an even layer.
    Sprinkle the chocolate chips, pecans, and coconut in order over the pumpkin mixture. Drizzle with sweetened condensed milk. Bake until the coconut is fragrant and lightly toasted, about 35-45 minutes.
    Remove from the oven and let cool for about 30 minutes before cutting. Preferably, let them cool completely and then cut.


  3. Maashaa Allah, we don’t find pumpkins that are small and sweet here, but we love them! Here, we almost always have butternut squash instead.

    I, too, love it cubed in soups, stews, sauteed with onion, garlic, and herbs mixed with pasta, and even pumpkin curry. I often saute it with other vegetables like cauliflower and spinach for a colorful lunch when everyone else is chewing meat, LOL. A sister told me a fast way to “roast” the seeds, which I did once…basically taking them after the cleaning prep and doing them on the stovetop in a pan with a bit of butter and a sprinkling of salt. Yummy if you want to eat them straight away.

    Here’s a recipe that I am planning to make, using honey or date syrup because I find stevia has an aftertaste. Of course, it will have to be a butternut squash cheesecake as long as I’m here, but I can live with that. Pumpkins will come, bi idhn Illah, with another year and some water and sunshine.

    Pumpkin Cheesecake
    20mins prep, 1 hour cooking
    serves 6-8 (so triple it when we come, LOL!)


    About 1 cup of almonds, pecans or hazelnuts, finely powdered in blender or food processor
    2 Tablespoons of coconut oil or butter
    1 egg
    cinnamon to taste
    honey or stevia to taste

    12 ounces pumpkin puree (about 1.5 cups of homemade or about 1 can store bought)
    2 Tablespoons of coconut oil
    2 (8 ounce) packages of cream cheese at room temperature
    3 eggs
    1 tsp pumpkin pie spices (to taste) or 1 tsp cinnamon and a sprinkle each of nutmeg and cloves
    1 tsp vanilla (optional)
    stevia or honey to taste (I used 2 tsp of powdered stevia leaf from the garden)
    [Note: The above recipe can be doubled to fit in a 9×13 baking dish]

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
    Finely powder the almonds or pecans in food processor or blender.
    Mix with cinnamon, stevia, egg and coconut oil and use hands to press into bottom of pie pan.
    Put in heating oven for 10-15 minutes until crust is slightly toasted.
    In the meantime, mix the pumpkin puree, cream cheese, spices, coconut oil, eggs, vanilla, and sweetener with a mixer or immersion blender (or just throw in a blender).
    When crust has started to toast, remove from oven and pour filling into pan.
    Return to oven and cook for 35-45 minutes or until top doesn’t wiggle in center and starts to slightly crack on sides.
    Remove and let cool.
    Chill at least 2 hours or overnight before serving.


    1. YUM! Mash’Allaah, we have to try this too. Insh’Allaah we will make when you are making it, and we can compare notes! You are right, stevia does have an aftertaste, almost like artificial sweeteners. I use it in teas sometimes, but it isn’t very good for baking in my opinion.

  4. Sad, but true, I’m lactose intolerant and I love dairy. If it’s milky, creamy, buttery, or cheesy then I’m already wishing it was in front of me. I’m sure if a little more cornstarch was added to this and it was chilled, it would be smooth pumpkin pudding….and if it was frozen, pumpkin pudding pops. “This looks yummy!” says Mai as she reaches for the whole box of Lactaid tablets, LOL.

    Warm Pumpkin Custard Drink

    3 cups whole milk
    4 egg yolks
    1/3 cup real maple syrup
    1 cup canned or pureed pumpkin
    2 Tablespoon arrowroot powder or corn starch
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract

    In a medium saucepan, whisk together milk, egg yolks, maple syrup, pumpkin, arrowroot powder, and spices. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly (I use a whisk) until mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Stir until creamy. Pour into mugs and serve warm.


  5. I apologize for commenting again, but I guess I can be a big mouth when it is something strongly attached to my heart. I love pumpkin even more because our Prophet, Muhammad sall Allahu alayhi wa sallam, loved it. It follows that everything loved by the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam is good and beneficial to us, al hamdul’Illah. It is all part and parcel of my wanting every bit of the Sunnah in my life and to be attached to the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam in as many ways as possible. In fact, when my husband asked me to make him pumpkin soup shortly after we were married, because he read the hadith about the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam loving it and chasing the pieces around in the bowl, it made me love my husband even more, maashaa Allah.

    Okay, I’ll shut up now and look for somewhere to put all that “Sunnah emotion” brimming in me!

    1. Yes, alhamdulillah. When I was writing this article the children were talking about that hadeeth, mash’Allaah. It is interesting because there is some discussion as to whether it was pumpkin or another type of squash, so that it why I didn’t add it into the post. You know how I am about exactness of speech, mash’Allaah.

      1. Yes, caution is a blessed quality maashaa Allah…and I love that about you, along with everything else, Barak Allahu feeki! Indeed, that is why I’m so happy with the different squashes…and feel good eating ALL of them, al hamdul’Illah.

        1. I find that especially butternut and acorn are interchangeable with each other and with pumpkin. I also think they are all so PRETTY mash’Allaah! And they keep for ages, which is always good.

  6. As Salamualaikum! Everything sounds so good! Mashaallah sis mai posted some yummy recipes! I have never really had much pumpkin and I am in the midwest (ohio) where there are tons of pumpkin fests and sales throughout the fall!so I’ll have to try these in sha’Allah I do love pumpkin flavor in my coffee though. I was wandering, how do you think pumpkin would taste in bone broth? I am trying to get a more nutritious and balanced diet and bone broth seems to keep my interest!

    Pumpkin seeds are also a big hit in egypt! When I lived there, the Egyptians were always chewing on pumpkin seeds, and you’d see the shells all over the ground lol ma sha’allah.

    barakaallahu feekum for the recipes!!


    1. Wa Aleikum Assalam wa Rahmatullah! Pumpkin flavored coffee sounds pretty good, mash’Allaah. I have seen tea as well, but never tried it. I think it would be worth trying in the bone broth, although I have never tried it myself. In Yemen pumpkin seeds were popular, as was another smaller seed- I don’t know the name in English, actually. The Yemenis were very adept at getting the shells off when the seeds were in their mouths, something I never mastered. For pumpkin seeds, we eat the whole shebang, mash’Allaah. Feekee BarakAllaah!

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