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.
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.
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.
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.
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.