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. Maashaa Allah, we love the moderate seasons, so autumn always brings smiles of appreciation. Yes, it is funny to hear people refer to “quality time,” but it is, I believe, the result of everyone being wrapped up in their own business and making it exclusively theirs. We, too, are together throughout our days, from eating meals and homeschooling, to doing laundry and Islamic studies. All the while, the children are learning from examples, have an open channel to ask questions and explore topics as they come up, and are course corrected immediately when the need arises. Every outing or special event/activity involves the whole family, so their relationship with their father is extremely strong and his role as the guardian and head of the household is firmly established. It is a sad day when he cannot, for some reason, eat dinner with us.

    Autumn is rather different here in Madinah, as there is no change in the daily sunshine but simply a slight drop in temperature that makes the morning and evening air pleasant. Opposite to conventional planting, this is the time when we can plant seeds and have some hope of them growing during the milder weather – in effect, like late spring/early summer.

    The girls loved reading the poems, maashaa Allah! BarakAllahufeekunna!

    1. Yes, Mai, you are so right. The interaction between myself and my children is vastly different from what I see from most of the people around me. It seems as though so often children seem to think their parents are boring or backward or don’t understand them, and that’s just ridiculous, mash’Allaah. The core and foundation of society is the individual, and then the family. I don’t agree with the “we’re all best friends” model of parenting either- there has to be a balance and an understanding of roles, responsibilities, and rights, mash’Allaah.
      Fall is my favorite season, alhamdulillah, especially because of my difficulty with the heat and sun of summer, mash’Allaah. It always makes my childhood feel more immediate, and I realize that much of who I was then, I am still now, and the flow continues, alhamdulillah.
      Have your girls write some, insh’Allaah, and share them back with us!

  2. Bismillaahi ar Rahmaani Ar Raheem
    Assalaamu alaikoum wa rahmatullaah wa barakatuh
    Jazakallahu khayran for sharing your precious ‘quality time’ and work. Since I started ‘Guide at the Crossroads’ I find you a most inspiring family Allahummah barik may Allaah bless you and give you even more ameen. Reading you is like going back on track, like returning to a world of common sense and peace….alhamdulillaah. My summer has been filled with a mixture of feelings here in Tunisia and I will leave all of them behind during this season, just as the falling leaves… (sorry I am not a poetic person at all, just trying lol)
    I keep thinking of ‘it is not about quantity , it is about quality’. Having quality time with my daughters, especially with my eldest, is one of the things that keeps me ‘alive’. I love doing scrap books with her. We did one about our time here in Tunisia because I wanted her to practice her ‘describing events’ skills. However, I ‘ve realised that it is not only that, it is also a way to keep our quality time alive, a book to help us remember all what we did together, our experiences, meeting with different people, our bonding …
    Alhamdulillah, it is Allaah who makes all this possible, our creator, our protector
    Keep sharing please and take lots of care, may Allaah be with you always ameen

    1. Wa Aleikum Assalam wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu
      Alhamdulillah, Ameen to you du’a. Yes, the time spent with the children is rejuvenating, isn’t it? It is truly a treasure, and it is sad that so many people don’t recognize it and squander it like it was nothing. Scrapbooking is something we have thought about doing! After reading how you look at it and what it means to you, I think, insh’Allaah, we will have to see what we can do to try it. We will have to get creative to do it without the pictures, but I think, alhamdulilah, we are up to the task, insh’Allaah!
      BarakAllaahufeekee, and I look forward to “seeing” you in class, insh’Allaah.

    2. wa feeki barak Allaah, may Allaah bless you in everything you do ameeen. I find scrapbooking very flexible and versatile. I even use my daughter’s scrap books as a way of giving dawah to people. For example, my Yasmeen loves showing her ‘Aquida Scrap book to everyone : family members, guests, neighbours… I don’t use unlawful pictures alhamdulillaah , just drawings, hadith and ayas from the Qur’an written in bold on colorful paper and pasted on the scrapbook, hands shapes,finger prints,pictures of other work she has done, trea leaves…You can also involve another people. For example, we were doing the pillars of Islaam and for the First Pillar, Shahadatain, we asked our neighbours to fingerprint their index finger while saying the shahada in the scrapbook and in the Tunisia’ scrapbook the neighbours drawed their houses on it. I also want her Quran teacher to write a nasiha for Yasmin in there…I love involving other people on them… May Allaah bless you ,fi amanillaah

      1. This sounds like a lot of fun, mash’Allaah, a lot to think about! I think we will have to put our heads together here and see what we can come up with. I am thinking, too, that the high school Islamic Studies class I teach might enjoy doing something with this…hmmmm….

  3. As-Salaamu ‘Alaykum,

    May Allah bless you. I am not married yet, nor do I have any children…but I loved, loved their poetry, Allaahumma baarik. It was inspiring to see what the proper cultivation can produce.

    May Allah reward you, and protect them all from evil. x

  4. Allahumma barik Aameen, it was beautiful to read those poems and even more beautiful that they were written by children of such a tender age may Allaah increase them in khayr. Allahuma Aameen. I don’t have children but in sha Allaah if Allaah blesses me with them I’d love to educate and nurture them at home. I cannot tell you Akhwaati how the schools these days and respectively both western and eastern have an effect on the minds of young children. What I was able to understand from reading the poems wasn’t just that the children have their own thoughts and opinions about things but they are able to distinctly express and illustrate them (very eloquently at that). Allahuma Baarik again. This I truly believe stems from the personal interest you have taken in their lives and cultivating them. In the west we find parents often shouting at their children and the relationship is for each child to go to their room with these unknown gadgets, very individualistic and very dangerous in my opinion. Parents often don’t know their child and this is where the problem stems from, it is sad. It is almost inescapable in the West with the rush of daily life taking off and the dunya becoming the primary goal of most people’s lives. I ask Allaah to protect all of us from chasing the dunya. Aameen

    It is my dear sister truly inspiring to read this it shows me, it can exist in this world. You can make your home your sanctuary and build its foundations on the Quran and Sunnah and with such a foundation what a strong home can one achieve.

    AhsaanAllahu alaykum wa BarakaAllahu feeki

    1. Alhamdulillah, BarakAllaahufeekee for your thoughtful response. I have been deeply troubled by much of what you mentioned. Parents are poisoning their children, drop by drop, and are oblivious or simply don’t care that they are doing so. Mash’Allaah, people have said to us more than once that our children are “different” from other children, as if they just popped out that way. They ignore the work that goes into raising the children, which is, to be honest, incredibly beautiful, actually fun, and often difficult. Insh’Allaah I will be teaching a parenting class soon, and I ask that Allaah makes my intention pure and put His blessing in the endeavor, as the success is only through Allaah.

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