Some Thoughts About Writing, Living, and the Night Sky

I have a confession to make: This has gotten harder.

This constant reflection, soul searching, and reporting on my daily life is harder. At first it was effortless. For a person who had never been able to keep a journal, I discovered with some astonishment that I actually had a lot to say about my life, that it was actually worthy of comment, and that writing it all down felt good.

But something happened recently – perhaps the doldrums of hot sleepless nights, or maybe it’s the whisper of autumn that has followed. My birthday maybe? Or the sudden calm after the storm of the big summer party? Maybe it’s the fact that my savings are once again dwindling and I am anxious about getting through the winter.

Whatever it is, something inside me got a little unraveled. That’s the best way I can put it. After a nearly a year of diligent stitching, the orderly patterns of projects, work, and documentation that have made up my life at the Ranch so far have started to come apart at the seams.

Weeds grow up in the bee garden I worked so hard to set up this summer. I look at them everyday, spreading chaos over my careful design. I  have been allowing them to overtake me, I feel powerless to stop them. They are parasitic, vampiric, but they don’t realize I am already bone dry. I don’t want to write about it.

Daily I must encounter the unfinished-ness of tasks. The gate to the chicken run, unbuilt, held up by baling string, is an ugly, temporary solution that mocks me and my seeming inability to replace it with permanence. I don’t want to talk about it.

Why have the hens stopped laying? Why won’t the doe go into heat? The tomato plants are withering. The dry landscape aches. There is no momentum, no fertility, no flow. I can’t write about this nothingness.

It was in the midst of this that I looked up at the night sky. I had missed the Perseids weeks before, my favorite late-summer event, in what can only be described as a subconscious confirmation of my blockage. Did I really forget to stay up to watch them, or did I deny myself that showering of energy because I feared what it might do (or not do) to my intransigence?

As I chastised myself for my laziness, a shooting star, just a little bright flash, almost so tiny it could have been dismissed as a wish or a phantom, showed itself to me. Two days later I found myself bathed in a shower of sparks, the effervescence of another person, with a mind full of sweet dreams and flying machines, who showed himself to me.

Let’s build this gate, he said.

Let’s pull these weeds.

This place is alive, he said. I can feel it. Can’t you?

That evening there was a warm brown egg waiting for me in the nest. A blood-red dragonfly hovered over the chapped, yellow earth, and I suddenly found my words again.

And the Winner Is…

Palaminoblue is the winner! It’s a tiny melon, called an Armenian Tiger. It dropped off the vine yesterday so I had bring it in, even though it was so tiny. It was ripe, and smelled heavenly, but not terribly tasty. Perhaps it would have been better had it grown bigger.  Super cute though!

My Brain is Full of Maggots and Worms

Image borrowed from The Sustainability Library

Yes, I have maggots and worms on the brain. And no, I’m not hiding out from daylight reading Naked Lunch and sniffing bath salts.

Okay, well, I have been hiding from the sun. Did I mention it’s been in the 100s for days now? Well, it cooled off to a pleasant 97 degrees on Sunday. Still not exactly sweater weather.

But I haven’t been reading any dark surrealist fiction or rotting out my brain with chemicals. Actually, I’ve been thinking about maggots and worms lately because I am noodling away about how to harness their potential on my homestead.

The magical composting ability of worms is well-known, of course.  Getting into worms has been next on my to-do list for a while now, and I even went to a little workshop on worm bin composting a couple weeks ago at the fair to get into a wormy frame of mind.  I want to get a worm bin going, but I also want to try a slightly larger scale worm project in one of my compost piles outside. I have a little more studying to do about that.

“Okay, Sara, worms I get, but maggots?”

Yeah, I know. Super gross, but let me explain.  I was already thinking a lot about worms and how beneficial those slimy, wiggly little guys can be, when I went to the dump with the trash from the Ranch Party last week.  In the super hot weather, the garbage had gotten nice and ripe in the week it sat around after the party (as an aside, we recycled and composted like crazy during the party – and after 5 days with 20+ house guests, we only had one more can of trash than normal. Not bad!). Needless to say, there were maggots in there. And when I say maggots, I mean SO MANY MAGGOTS! One can had probably 1 to 2 inches of solid maggots in the bottom. Brutal. I was in gag-city.

But then another part of me – the part that wasn’t dry-heaving – recalled a particular conundrum I’ve been pondering lately, having to do with chickens.  Basically, my chickens just can’t be a real free-range flock. There are tons of predators around my place, I have no rooster to keep these ditzy ladies organized, and, although they produced the most delicious eggs ever when I was letting them free-range earlier this summer, about half the time they were laying their eggs while they were out and about rather than going back to the nest boxes.  What’s the good of delicious free-ranged eggs if you can’t find them?

So I’d been thinking about ways to provide my girls with some extra proteins and fats while still keeping them safe inside their run and close to the nest boxes.  I hate giving them that nasty soylent-gray chicken crumble that I fear is actually made out of chickens.  Ideally I want them eating grain, calcium supplement, greens, and bugs and get rid of the crumble altogether (as it is now, they hardly eat any crumble, but I feel obligated to provide it to make sure they’re getting everything they need).  As I stared down at the repulsive wriggling mass at the bottom of the garbage can it hit me: I can feed them maggots!

Turns out I’m not the first person to think of this either. In fact, there’s tons of stuff online about how to harvest maggots safely and with limited smell. Specifically, you can grow Black Soldier Fly larvae by avoiding meat products as your maggot food, and just sticking with regular kitchen compost.  By keeping the food source vegetarian, you protect yourself and your girls from exposure to nasty bacteria like botulism that can develop when using meat or offal.  It also produces far less stench, which is key. Finally, it’s a good steady source of protein for your birds that is FREE. I have more studying to do on this subject as well, but the basic design for a maggot feeder seems pretty simple.

So there you have it: maggots and worms. Eating compost and helping out. So far they’re all just in my head, but soon they’ll be coming to a Domestead near you. Beware of disgusting photos to come!

Quick Homestead Update

Image

Tomatillos!

It’s still way too hot outside, but things are doing okay. I discovered last night that my sprinklers in the vegetable garden are not working properly, which explains why things have been looking peaked despite getting more fertilizer and lots of sun. Sometimes it’s the simplest things. Oh well, at least I know now.

Amazingly, all of the plants that were ravaged by deer are coming back for another round – even the Roma tomato, which, because it’s a determinate, I had assumed would not produce any new fruit at this point. But believe it or not, there are new flowers and little green maters all over the plant. What a little trooper!

The Fresno jalapeno was the worst hit and it’s almost fully recovered. Incredible! I’m glad because my mom just clued me in to a great way to use all those super spicy peppers – make chipotles! Hello?! Why hadn’t I thought of that? I was trying to eat them all fresh and was just burning my face off all the time. They will still be hot as chipotles, but I can store them for much longer and use small amounts in all kinds of sauces this winter.

And, as you can see, the tomatillos are coming in now. I just harvested about a pound or so. I wish there was more so I could cook a bigger batch, but I’ll go ahead and make a simple salsa verde this weekend and freeze it. Hopefully I’ll be able to add another pound or so to it before the season is through, and then we’ll have some chili verde once the weather is actually cool enough to enjoy it!

The bees are thrilled to be getting syrup again. I feel validated after seeing feeder covers on the hives of a nearby commercial beekeeper, and the fact that it seems like the bees just doubled their numbers in the last two weeks! Definitely the right decision. What a relief to know we’ll be going into winter with a big strong colony.

The three chicken pullets who still haven’t been named are doing great. Pretty sure they’re all hens, which is good. I am thinkin’ we’ll get an egg or two out of them before winter comes. They’re almost as big as my old girls now.

The goats are just super cute and awesome as always. Peaches hasn’t had a regular heat yet, so she hasn’t been bred. We are still weighing our options as far as the new kidding shed is concerned. It might end up being a pretty large barn – well, larger than the one we have now.  Money is tight, but we want to build the right thing the first time rather than cutting corners, and we definitely need more hay storage as it is.

So that about does it. I haven’t been riding since the heatwave started. I miss the saddle, and I felt like Hammer and I were making some progress in the arena as well, but riding in this heat would be cruel to him and me! We’ll just have to wait until fall to really get into a good routine.

Okay, I guess I’ve officially exhausted all avenues of procrastination. Time to load up the truck and go to the dump. YUCK!

Turn, Turn, Turn

I have been especially mindful of the passage of time lately. Nothing about this is surprising: Although California is choking under a major heat wave at the moment (more than a week in the 100s and no AC makes Sara a very listless girl) it is clear that the seasons are turning. The days are shorter. The oak leaves are looking tired. Ranch Party is in the rear view mirror.

There’s more. I turn 38 tomorrow. Not exactly a milestone, not 40. But still not awesome. The not-married, no-kids, no-retirement plan part of me sees 38 as a very bad number.  Don’t get me wrong, I am very proud of the last year. I don’t feel like I’m sitting in the waiting room of my life anymore. I own this experience, and I am happy.

I am. I promise.

Come on, I know I’m not the only one who gets gloomy around her birthday. So what if I literally never got up from the couch yesterday except to feed the animals and water the garden and instead spent the entire day smelling my own armpits and rewatching 40 Year Old Virgin? It’s 100 degrees and I’m turning 38.  These big numbers warrant a little couch sitting.

And then there was another big number this week. My 20th high school reunion. What kind of wack ass person has a 20th high school reunion to go to? An old one is what kind. I didn’t go to the 10 year reunion. It was too soon for me to revisit an experience that I was still trying to pretend never happened understand. I heard from others it was kinda weird and I’m glad I didn’t go. This one was actually super fun and it was great to see people – all but 3 of whom I had not seen once since I went screaming from this town like Luke getting out of Cloud City via the garbage chute.

If you know what I mean.

So to recap: 38 years old, 20th high school reunion, 100 degrees. These numbers are dizzying. How can a person be so melancholy over the passing of time and simultaneously so ready for summer to be over? I love summer. It’s my favorite thing ever. But right now I love it the way you love watermelon after eating a whole one for dinner because you refuse to go to the grocery store because it would require you to take a shower and act like a normal person.

For example.

I guess since there’s no stopping time, I might as well enjoy the ride. I mean no duh, right? But give me a break, I’m old, I forget things.