Make Children Essential

The biggest thing to happen around here this week to my children is wood chips. 

This is the time of year when my garden begins to look sad, tired, and dried out. Last year I learned that when this happens, this is the time to cut back. Literally, cut the plants back, keep on watering, don’t give up and, here in California, we will be rewarded with another flush of growth when the temperatures cool ever so slightly in the fall.

California perennial garden in summer

The past two years were focused on the growth of a cut flower garden, flower stand building and bouquet arranging for roadside sales. This year, writing took precedence and the focus of the flowers transitioned to cultivating the landscape and the pleasure of the place in which we live. 

Monty Don and his book, “The Complete Gardener” are my inspiration. As is @blossomandbranchfarm on Instagram and her regenerative growing practices. 

As I pull an endless series of wild grasses from my garden beds, I think of the lessons I’ve learned. The soil is poor. The wind blows away the topsoil. I rant at the land left fallow because of water restrictions and erosion it causes. The soil must be improved around my home. 

I posted the question on a local moms’ group requesting recommendations on how to get wood chips. Chipdrop.com, one mother responded. I went online and filled out the form. The next day I had a truckload of wood chips. 

“Let it sit a couple of days,” Andrew from The Tree Guys, Inc., explained, “to kill the bugs or any seeds that might be in there.” That was Friday. 

On Tuesday it was time.

I prepped my husband and my children. Wear your farm clothes, all shirts should already be stained, gather your work gloves, and get some buckets. This is a family project.

Therein lies the focus. A family project means it is for the whole family, it will be taxing, and focused, and there will be treats after. 

The plan must accommodate different age levels. Some parties will push wheelbarrows, some will fill buckets, and others will empty buckets in garden spots where wheelbarrows cannot go. One child will make a special request to our neighbor to borrow his wheelbarrow so we can maximize the time of the man shoveling woodchips. 

My husband said, “I feel like the sugar bowl in ‘The Sword and the Stone’” as he tossed shovelful after shovelful in a rotating series of wheelbarrows.

Energy waned.

We took water breaks. Slowly but surely we finished off the third garden bed. Time to stop for the day.

The kids were sent inside to shower, eat snacks and then finish a movie they asked after each day. It is hard, especially in a world where it’s easy not to ask too much of children. How far away the days of “Little House on the Prairie” seem when, as the family or farm grew larger, children were essential to running a household and farm. It builds muscle, character and a strong work ethic. For our home, the most important part is to tell our children, “we need you.”

Flower Girl Zinnias in a cut flower garden. The children dumped buckets of woodchips around the base of the plants.

And so they learn to step up.

When we finished the last wheelbarrow load, we chatted with the UPS driver, whose delivery drop-spot is conveniently located near the wood chip pile. He asked the kids questions about the garden and as he climbed back into his truck said, “listen to your parents, kids, they know what’s up.”

Cafe au Lait dahlias in a cut flower garden with wood chips set out by my children

It was a little moment of affirmation that I needed to hear. Not every adult supports the idea of children working hard. As a child, I most definitely did not work hard, as my parents will attest. 

I want our children to know the value of it all. I hope that they grow up being able to look back and say, “Things weren’t always easy. It was hard, but they needed us.”

I hope they grow up and understand that we are a family. We are here for each other. We need each other. We cannot do it without them.

They are irreplaceable.

Marionberry milkshake dahlia

Three Years on the Farm

We are a small-scale farm, very amateur operation, and learning as we go. Our primary lesson is patience. After that first lesson, we learn about flowers, animals, and the soil that sustains them both. This is where we stand, at the beginning of our third year, here on the farm.

When we moved here

wild geranium and sting nettle filled the yards to the brim. Chain-link fencing, irrigation pipe, and black widows occupied the barns. The walls of the workshop brimmed over with mold. Pesticides laid the field low. Yet, the house waited for us. This house, so well-known to the community, seemed ready for us and we were ready for it.

The roof needed replacing. The windows were falling shut. The driveway flooded, waters flowing up into the workshop, higher and higher.

Little by little, we mowed and tilled.

We planted a fruit grove towards the back of the field, imagining the day when all the produce we needed would be right here, and a day much later, when our lives are quieter and we have more than we need, able to bless others with that abundance, as others bless us now. Blossoms punctuate the fruit grove. I sent the children to make scientific observations on the differences between fruit trees and I wonder if we perhaps pruned the trees too hard this last winter.

I see the blackberries and raspberries coming back to life and remember we need to string additional wire to support them.

The chicken coop and our little flock of chickens came next, hauled over with my father’s tractor. The chicken yard expanded as these three years marched on, as did the flock. We replaced the feeder and nesting boxes with products from DuncansFarmStore on Etsy. What a difference it made. That plus the patience of waiting for chicks to age, we now collect an average of 10 eggs a day for the six eaters in the house.

eggs from the farm

In December, a friend offered me two lambs to test our budding interest in raising sheep. Sheep milk can be used for consumption, yogurt and cheese production, all products my children consume in bulk. Each morning I rose at 6:30 a.m. to mix their formula. My three eldest children went out in the wee hours to feed their lambs. The lambs grew, challenging our construction skills until they were ready for the wide-open world. My husband set up their pasture, or lamb yard, as we call it. Now their baaing drives him crazy whenever he is outdoors. They knew where their food comes from.

Inside the yard

the wild geranium and nettle made way for a perennial flower garden, a cut flower garden, a dahlia garden and a fairy garden. I am determined to let the fairy garden’s flowers bloom at their own pace and never cut them. This one shall be for the delight of our eyes. All the rest for my fingers to pick and arrange and share with the town through the little flower stand I began last year.

New rose bushes arrived this year, complementing the collection we inherited from past tenants. After the removal of two problematic trees, I must reassess the water need of the plants facing the road.

The interior of the home became ours quickly with coats of paints, art and antiques, a quick change in one bathroom from a bulky vanity to wall mount cast iron sink from Miss Potts Attic. The second bathroom had its remodel when we replaced our kitchen countertops. A new counter and new tiles make the room, preserving the old we can keep and replacing with new when called for.

It comes step by step.

We made mistakes in these past three years, but understand them as lessons rather than errors.

Better than all of it is the sight of my barefoot children, my son’s vitamin D levels, my two-year-old swinging herself as she sings, my daughter’s iris garden on the brink of blooming, my child’s treasure map, and the holes the bunch of them are digging to China. It is a golden childhood, and we are so grateful to give it to them.

We are but tenants ourselves.

panting of our little farm house

If we steward our resources well, this house will live on past us, to receive the patter of little feet and nurture little souls.

Step by step, little by little, and with lots of patience.