Humble Garden

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Archive for the ‘planning’ Category

New Year’s Manifesto

Posted by Nika On January - 4 - 2012

This is an extremely powerful video and Andrew Faust absolutely speaks for me

OCCUPY THE ECONOMY : Andrew Faust – Permaculture – OWS from TerraVisus on Vimeo.

Andrew Faust Permaculture Designer:
Costa Boutsikaris Filmmaker:

Urban Homestead day of action

Posted by Nika On February - 21 - 2011


I am blogging in support of an effort to reclaim the right of the public to use the term “Urban Homestead” as well as other related terms, a right ostensibly taken by a family in California by filing for and obtaining a trademark on these terms. Not only this, they have chosen, ill advisedly, to send out letters that amount to “cease and desist” to bloggers, radio stations, public libraries, and authors who have used the term “Urban Homestead” even well before this family received trademark protection.

(You can learn more about and join this effort at this facebook page Take Back Urban Home-steading(s))

successional lettuce - 2

Some Background

If you have ever googled urban and homestead you likely got many many results relating to the very long tradition of homesteading here in the United States, both rural and urban. You likely also got hits for a broad range of books covering topics germane to urban homestead practices.

Along the way, you likely would have run across links to a suburban homestead project in Pasadena, California by the Dervaes family, a group of 3 young adults and their father.

On a small pad of cement, something like 1/8th of an acre when you subtract the footprint of the house, this family built a business out of growing salad greens and other vegetables for local restaurants.

As with other gardeners of a certain stripe, the Dervaes have recorded exactly what they get out of their raised beds and other horticultural methods. They have blogged about these efforts, including the biomass accounting. They have shared their use of chickens, ducks and dwarf goats in their suburban setting.

Over the years, the Dervaes have received a lot of media and have been identified with homesteading; they have become de facto spokespeople for homesteading even though they represent one family out of a huge number of homesteading families/couples/people.

Permaculture: How to use this wheelbarrow


There has been a spontaneous backlash across the web to these actions amounting to widespread bad will against the Dervaes in light of their regressive efforts to enforce their dubious trademark claims.

Urban Homesteading, by its very nature, is anti-authoritarian because it requires breaking the long established or implied rules/mores of the modern urban landscape. People have long been disenfranchised from their urban environment by city practices that have excluded human-scale interaction. Some cities have allowed allotments or community gardens for decades and that works for those people who are fortunate enough to participate.

To break that structure, so as to have a few chickens, a compost heap, a garden, radicalizes or requires a radicalized mindset. That mindset can be part of a larger set of ideals that often fits within a progressive frame that values relocalization of food and economic activity, powering down, building personal and community resilience in the face of collapsing societal structures, good old fashioned frugality and simplicity.

The very act of obtaining a trademark and then the further ideological violence of enforcing the trademark on others in this nascent community of urban homesteaders is anathema to those progressive values.

I think it is this regressive practice that has shocked, awoken, and spurred to action a range of homesteaders on the web to stand up and say “no” to what the Dervaes have done, even as many of us have a whole lot of respect for what they have done before this bru-hah-ha.

The actions over the past couple of weeks have done tremendous damage to the respect people held for the Dervaes. We are in the midst of this scandal so it is hard to say how it will end. The Dervaes seem to be in seclusion, something I think it a good idea because their recent statements have only damaged their case further.

Humble Garden 2010: sad day but necessary

The Hard Way Forward?

If they were to ask me what to do, my advice would be: publicly commit the marks to the public domain, get a real lawyer and not a puppy-mill trademark lawyer in far off Florida, get a PR firm and DO WHAT THEY SAY, do some homework and understand your audience and customers, finally – apologize, lots. If you simply want to decamp to the 600 acre religious community built around rural homesteading, now might not be a bad time to do that – that is if you want to leave this wound undressed and festering.

2011 garden seed buy

Posted by Nika On February - 20 - 2011


Later winter and early spring around here are exciting times as we enter kidding season and begin to start seeds for this summer’s garden!

We have 10 goats that are likely all to deliver kids in the next few weeks. One goat had to be taken from the herd and is now in our basement (with natural light) because the herd had rejected her and were brutalizing her. They would have certainly killed her by now and if not, would have killed her kids when they were delivered. We think this is because of the very deep snow this year.

I thought I would share with you all a listing of the seeds I have bought so far. I try to support small ethical GMO free seed companies with my purchases. I hope you will too. Note that I also have many seed packed left over from the past couple of years and have also saved some of my seeds from last year so the list below doesnt equal all that will grow in our garden this summer.


Comstock, Ferre & Co.

Comstock, Ferré & Co., located in Wethersfield, Connecticut, has a colorful agricultural history, and despite being in the cross-hairs for demolition, it has risen again as a vibrant seed house offering heirloom varieties to New England and to all of North America. It began as Wethersfield Seed Gardens with an advertisement for Joseph Belden’s seeds published in the Hartford Courant in 1811. This is the earliest known record of a seed business in Wethersfield.

The Birth of Comstock, Ferré & Co.—In 1834, a fire burned Belden’s barns and seed houses, but the business survived. In 1838, he sold it to Judge Franklin Comstock and his son William. Many young men in Wethersfield, known as “travelers,” hitched up their wagons loaded with Comstock’s seed boxes and traveled various routes throughout New England and as far west as the Mississippi River delivering our seed boxes to country stores, collecting money that was due on last year’s box and returning the old boxes to Wethersfield. In 1845, William Comstock took on Henry Ferré from Massachusetts as his partner, and their business flourished. It was incorporated in 1853 under the name of Comstock, Ferré & Co

2011 seeds
Bean, Contender
Broccoli Rabe
Cucumber, Long Island Improved
Cabbage, Copenhagen Market
Cabbage, Danish Ballhead
Melon, Queen Anne’s Pocket Melon
Eggplant, Small Persian
Radish, Black Spanish
Spinach, Bloomsdale Long Standing
Squash, Blue Hubbard
Squash, Golden Hubbard
Squash, Mammoth Red E’tamps
Tomato, Yellow Pear
Tomato, Golden Midget
Sage Broad-leaf


Victory Seeds

The primary reason for our existence as an organization is to help protect open-pollinated and heirloom seed varieties during a time when the diversity of plant life on our planet is quickly shrinking.

As we witness the elimination of old varieties from other company’s offerings, the emphasis of commercial unstable hybrids, and the proliferation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), we feel an urgency in our mission.

We have therefore dedicated our efforts to preserving and promoting the use of open-pollinated varieties — old commercial releases as well as family heirlooms — and working towards the protection of our genetically diverse horticultural heritage. We truly believe in teaching these principals to all who have ears to learn.

2011 seeds
Chamomile, Roman
Round Zucchini Summer Squash
Early Prolific Straightneck Summer Squash
Benning’s Green Tint Scallop Summer Squash
New Zealand Spinach
Laxton’s Progress Number 9 Pea
Salad Bowl, Green – Leaf Lettuce
Iceberg Head Lettuce
Buttercrunch Bibb Lettuce
Russian Red Kale
Marketmore 76 Cucumber
Lemon Apple Cucumber
Colossus Cowpea
Red Strawberry Popcorn
Blue Hopi Corn


Totally Tomatoes

2011 seeds
Box Car Willie Tomato
Soldacki Tomato
Amana Orange Tomato
Original Tangerine Beefsteak Tomato
Italian Giant Beefsteak Tomato

Do you have any seed recommendations? Anything new and unusual?

Year end wrapup

Posted by Nika On December - 30 - 2010


(Notice that the only plants with holes above are the weeds that have grown into the collard greens and nasturtiums)

I wish you all a wonderful and productive New Year!

My next podcast has been delayed due to lack of quiet space to record due to winter vacation and kid chaos. I should be recording again next Monday and hopefully will post the same day.

I dont know about you all but I am feeling very strongly compelled to read my seed catalogues and my gardening books and am dreaming dreams of my summer garden.

Right now it lays frozen under feet of snow which is where it should be this time of year.

I am going to put a few photos in this post of things going on around here the past few months.

I saved some seeds (tomatoes, garlic chives).

Humble Garden: Saving Seeds - red currants

Humble Garden: Saving Seeds - gold medal

Humble Garden: Saving Seeds - on to rot

Humble Garden 2010: bee & garlic chives

Humble Garden 2010: garlic chive seeds being harvested

Humble Garden 2010: garlic chive seeds being harvested

Humble Garden 2010: garlic chive seeds being harvested

Humble Garden 2010: garlic chive seeds being harvested

We harvested organic potatoes which I grew under peas all summer long.

Humble Garden 2010: potato harvest

Humble Garden 2010: potato harvest

My paw paw trees, started from seeds I nibbled on and saved, continue to grow.

Humble Garden 2010: paw paw starts

Humble Garden 2010: paw paw starts

Our mushroom logs flushed shiitakes

Humble Garden 2010: Homegrown shiitake!

Humble Garden 2010: Homegrown shiitake!

Humble Garden 2010: Homegrown shiitake!

Cleaning out the goat sheds, changing their set up and reaping great yields for next year’s fertility.

Humble Garden 2010: goat muck

Humble Garden 2010: goat muck

Humble Garden 2010: mucking out

Mucking Out: goat shed gets shoveled out

Mucking Out: goat shed gets shoveled out

Mucking Out: goat shed gets shoveled out

Making chickens angry with hen-sulation fashion (meant to help a molting chicken but has not been adopted gracefully by the poultry in question)

Humble Garden 2010: hen-sulation 2.0

Humble Garden 2010: hen-sulation 2.0

Happy New Year!

Hopi Prophecy and Transition Towns

Posted by Nika On November - 30 - 2008

Young Hopi Girl (NOT MINE)

(Young Hopi girl SOURCE)

Even though it has been a week since the Transition Town conference I went to in Cambridge, MA I am still integrating its message. I will write more, I promise, but I wanted to share something that resonated for me.

At the end of this intense 2 day experience one of our moderators told us this touching story of the Hopi Prophecy. Our moderator said that the Hopi say that the time of the “Lone Wolf” is at an end and that there is this fast rushing river of change that is running through our lives, whether we wish to see it or not.

There are many Hopi and other native prophesies that are floating about, especially relating to end times (tho they thought it as a Transition time from one distinct age to another, very different than modern day strip-mall variety Rapture Lore).

He gave us the nugget but I will share the whole thing here:

“You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
Now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour.
And there are things to be considered:
Where are you living? What are you doing?
What are your relationships? Are you in right relation?
Where is your water? Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.
They will try to hold on to the shore.
They will feel they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.
Know the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of
the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
See who is in there with you and celebrate.
At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally.
Least of all, ourselves.
For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a
halt. The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

–The Elders, Oraibi, Arizona Hopi Nation

Uncertain Edens

Posted by Nika On March - 14 - 2008

Tea 6

Those of you who have read this blog previously may have picked up on my Zen Buddhist worldview. I view garden tending time as quiet reflective walking meditation although I am not perfect at it by any means. I am an imperfect seeker who begins journeys but I do not necessarily follow the path to the very end because I am not end-motivated but rather journey-motivated. Gardening from this perspective makes for a more harmonious experience because I am not pining for the end of the plant life cycle but am admiring the whole process of growing.

But I also garden for what is a much darker nefarious reason; one that I fear makes me look like a nut instead of a level headed scientist who is on a zen path.

What could that possibly be?

Tea 5

Its something which I have great attachment to (in the zen sense), something which has me at the visceral level, the deepest seated of my fears.

I fear that I am not preparing my children for their future well enough to help them survive the tough times we are in for. It’s the boogey man that haunts my fitful dreams and skitters into dark corners when I wake in a start.

We Americans are taught that we get schooled to be competitive so that we can make money. Some of us learn that making money in itself is the goal. I wasn’t taught that. I was taught that I had to make money to survive (but not in love of money).

I have a sense that we are living in times where we can not teach our kids the same thing. They will not be able to compete in a world where the structures and institutions that we compete in now (companies, universities, etc) will be crumbling as the country crumbles under the weight of post-peak oil and economic collapse.

Which is the more humane and rational path?

– nudge your child down the educational path I took that ended in a PhD in science which is severely inhibited due to malignant neglect by the government .. this path most criminally requires the student to incur massive debt at a time when the student is least likely to be able to afford the burden.

– not nudge your child into higher education (and skip the MASSIVE DEBT that is built into the college experience now) but opting out of that immoral boondoggle and find some other solution that gets the child an education (for humanity’s sake) but still allows the child to develop skills that actually support her survival.

I am pretty sure I do not want my kids to suffer my fate and my school loan experiences – that’s just an inhumane thing to do to anyone.

I do not know really what to do at this point. Do I get the kids trained up in self-sufficiency skills (like the garden and my older child’s chicken husbandry) or plumbing? (Plumbers surely get better pay that your average scientist and have at least 1000% more job security).

Should they learn how to plant feed crops for our chickens and goats and other future subsistence animals or do we teach them some internet based skill that can bring in some money (cant fathom what that is for now).

I am leaning toward a “both” answer. I need my children to become educated but it doesn’t require traditional means (obviously, otherwise we would not be homeschooling) but I also need them to be prepared to live self-sufficiently. My ideal would be for them to become important contributors to solving some of the intermediate problems (anything from becoming a climate change scientist to becoming an activist that helps others become self-sufficient to other visionary activities). I also want them to be building on what we are starting with our own little post-modern homestead that still needs a lot of work to be self-sufficient.

medium format snapshots - after

So many considerations.

The problem is that NO ONE is talking about how the educational paradigm we have right now with respect to undergraduate schooling has become an obscene credit-scheme and not about the kids learning anything that they can really use to put food on the table.

NO ONE is talking about how we as parents of young kids are not prepared for training our kids to survive, just how to compete in the status quo.

I wonder if I sound like a nut to you?! I hope not and I can assure you that we are not theist isolationists putting up barbed wire and loading up the guns.

I am just fretting and planting the seeds of our future and uncertain Garden of Eden in a post-oil world. Just wish I didn’t feel so alone.

A garden is like a cat (or 5) …

Posted by Nika On February - 15 - 2008

Garden Project: KD romping in the garden

Recently, I had a car accident (a rather scary close call) that has put me much more into a metaphysical state of mind versus practicalities.

Gardening generally is very practical and I love it for that. The garden is somewhat like a cat in that it doesn’t scream for attention except for when it really needs it. It doesn’t hurt and it does help to pet it on a daily basis though. I am much more of a cat person. If my garden were more like a dog, needing to be walked (weeded) with a 100% certainty several times a day, the joy of it would fly away.


I LIKE to weed because I choose to do it (as in, it’s a part of the gardening flow) and I approach it with a sense of wonder and investigation.

I knew I liked it too much when I found myself asking for a book of weeds and how to identify them (the store keeper was surprised for the question and then more so when she realized no such book existed in her store). I have not googled much for it so there may very well be many well established books on the identification of weeds in the Northeastern states of the US.

All I do know is that I can identify a weed as it sprouts but I have no names for them.. there are no names except for the expletives that escape on occasion. The ones that came late in the season (wind borne?) that I hate with a serious passion? The painful tricky prickly evil stinging weed that affected every bed. One mission of mine this year is to track those down the moment they rear their evil little seedling heads. They are much harder to see though because they take refuge under more mature plants (they like shade). My secret weapon, for many different reasons, will be red and black polymer mulching and row covers.

Because we humans tend to build templates from past experience to frame our expectations, I find that I experience my garden within the whole motherhood-spectrum.

Early spring is a time for “trying to conceive”. If you have ever had problems conceiving you would know what it feels like – anticipation, excitement, concern, disappointment, sadness, and then cycling through that again and again.

Thankfully, with gardening, the conception can be controlled a bit more, the early development can be troubleshot much better, and the numbers of offspring are much higher so success can mitigate some of the losses.

I am sure you can extend that metaphor yourself.


As an experienced mom, I know that right now, before we get our seedlings growing indoors, I am going through the thought-conception process where I am recognizing and acknowledging the transformative process of gardening (motherhood).

It fits in or is augmented right now by the metaphysical sort of mood brought on by the near death experience. Some might prefer to not linger on such thoughts but it is my way, always have been. It will build important feelings and investment in my garden later, as I watch growth and participate in the transformation.

As a mother, it will always be a bittersweet experience and not a rote exercise. I am glad for that.

Bad Boy Leo - HFF!

Like my garden, things have been sort of dormant around here and I apologize for that. I am hoping to even things out more in years to come so that there is content all year long. Like gardening, this blog is a long term project because things, people, thoughts, take time to grow.

Janus Planning: looking back and forward

Posted by Nika On December - 28 - 2007

Blizzard 2007: 3:10 (12/13/07)

It is December 28th and our garden is buried under winter’s snow. Its quite a change from this last summer, huh?

Garden Project: abundance

Our chicken family has had it’s first tragedy with the death of a beloved silkie bantam, making my daughter Q very sad. We buried Snowball the silkie bantam with a ceremony of appreciation for her loving ways and the burning of dried sage. We were shin-deep in snow so the ceremony was a quick one.

Blizzard 2007: 5:12 - checking on the chickens and still snowing

We have been experiencing a good amount of snow and some interesting ice species. We had hoarfrost here last week, very interesting stuff.

Weird Frost Spikes

Now that the fall holidays are out of the way, I am feeling a very strong urge to start the planning for our next growing season. We need to be efficient with our time and resources as we set up to start some plants indoors and also set up some heavy duty row covers out of doors for when the sun warms us a bit.

What I learned last summer with respect to our intensive raised bed growing:

  • No corn in our planters
  • No squash of ANY kind
  • No delicate and overgrowing cherry tomatoes
  • Grow all vine crops in designated non-bed growing area (more about this later)
  • No snow peas
  • Respect rigorously the projected height of plants and plant accordingly
  • Get companions in early
  • Use row covers on delicate crops for bugs from day one
  • Grow for immediate use and not for storage (this is our family’s way and I dont see it changing fast)
  • Plant a kid garden to allow younger kids to grow and futz with their own
  • Plant chicken feed cover crops to fill in between grow seasons and also between crops and companions
  • Plant many more marigolds
  • Get those marigolds started as early as possible
  • Grow tomatillos as pollinator attraction but not IN the beds
  • Grow tomatoes in lower beds, not main beds
  • Grow lots of pick-again crops like lettuces (this is what this family likes the best)
  • Grow cucumbers in non-bed areas
  • Grow more pollinator-attractive flowers in and around main beds
  • Animal predators were not a problem at all!

Thats just a few of my lessons! I can tell you that organic gardening is the ONLY way for me because I can not feed my kids veggies made toxic by chemicals, just can’t. Although I am a scientist (or perhaps because of it?) I find the thought of figuring out the right pesticide and how much etc etc tedious and makes me anxious of overdose (as well the potential for a child or pet to eat the stuff by accident).

lemon cucumber

In terms of what we will grow this year, think delicate leaves, plump tomatoes, crispy radishes, ponderous pumpkins, squashes and cucumbers, delicious green beans, tasty herbs.

Our raised beds will be bursting with mescluns and other greens, peppers, carrots, beets, beans, chickpeas, onions, eggplants, broccolis, rabes, bok choys, and more.

I am hungry just thinking about it all!.

7 beds, all in a row

Posted by Nika On June - 15 - 2007

Oh my goodness! Ed and crew are FINALLY done with the seven raised beds (with internal radiant heating system). You can see them in the photo above.

Now we turn to the chicken house. I will share that process as it comes along.

I am also now going to start seeding the three brand new beds.

I have brainstormed on the placement of the first aquaculture tank and I will share some of that planning as soon as I have it mocked up in a document.

The Way Forward

Posted by Nika On June - 11 - 2007

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am mapping out where and how each seed is planted in the beds. This may seem to be overwrought but I do not think so. The reason I am doing this is so that I can know what each seedling is as it grows so that I can watch it’s morphology change, be alert to the different types of insect predators, see which seeds do not like this soil, see which are thriving, which like being next to the other, etc. I think it is worth the time to know what I have planted, where and when so that this sort of analysis is easier.

I am also planting in the vein of “Square Foot Gardening” (though with some pretty big differences) by Mel Bartholomew which means that I am planting intensively. I am also seeding in companion crops to bolster the health of the micro-ecosystems I am creating.

The four maps below are for the beds we have completed and seeded. I have also put a link to the flickr page for each if you would like to look at the images closer up. There are two more 8×16 beds and then a 8×8 bed. We are also finishing off the 4×8 bed for the asparagus (companion planted with tomatoes? perhaps though I am still thinking about it)

Bed 2

Flickr link

Bed 3

Flickr link

Bed 4

Flickr link

Bed 5

Flickr link

More to come!

Related Posts:

About Me

We are a family of 5, including Nika, Ed, Q (14), KD (7), and Baby Oh (4). We garden 1024 square feet of raised beds plus assorted permacultural plantings. We also have 13 LaMancha dairy goats, 40 chickens, and one guard llama.



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