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On Paying Off My Mortgage

On Paying Off My Mortgage

Livingsmall Goal # 1 Done! House is paid off!

On Friday, I wired the last payment on my house.

I own my own house. No one can make me move, ever again, if I don’t want to. For someone who went to six grammar schools and moved pretty much every 2 years until I was 35, this is huge.

This has been the primary goal of LivingSmall since day one. I moved to Montana because it’s beautiful of course, but primarily I moved here because I could buy an inexpensive house. A house I could afford to pay off.

I did my masters degree at UC Davis, where I applied in large part to study with Gary Snyder. I’m not a poet, but I figured if Gary was there, something cool must be going on. Gary’s biggest advice to us budding writers was not about poetry, or even about writing. “Find a cheap house,” he said. “Someplace you can pay off. If it’s cheap and you want to live there, there’s probably also other artists there.” That’s what he did all those decades ago on the Yuba Ridge, and what I was looking for in Livingston was something similar.

So that’s what I did. I came up here in 2002, seeking a cheap house, and a found one in a town full of artists, and writers, and musicians, and fishing guides, and electricians and carpenters and schoolteachers.

I built a garden, and fixed things up bit by bit. I paid cash for everything I did on the house and while I’ll need a new roof next year, and I have to repaint some things, and while there are always things I want to do in the garden, I own my house, free and clear.

In the process I built a life. A life that as some of you who have followed me a long time know, was nearly derailed entirely the first year I was here. As I tell people when the story comes up, if you’re going to have a disaster, have it in Livingston. Everyone came. My kitchen filled up with people that first night, and they’re all still here. I’m still here. We are all here together. We’ve seen one another through other disasters. We’ve all brought food to the Elks club for funeral parties, but we’ve celebrated kids birthdays, and book launches, and year after year of rodeo parades.

It was not a mistake, my project of living small. There’s more big news to come, but for now, I’m going to take a moment in my back garden, where the beans are shooting above the trellis, where the sunflowers and hollyhocks are blooming great shoots of color into the sky, where the chickens I just deloused are clucking around in their coop while I wait for Himself to come home for dinner and a Red Sox game on TV. It is not the life I thought I wanted, but it is a better life than I ever could have envisioned.

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The tomato and pepper seeds I planted last week are starting to sprout down there under the lights, and the hoop houses are really working too — I’ve got spinach, Komatsuna, broccoli rabe, pak choi, arugula, and endive all coming up. I also have a lot of weeds. I think my not-entirely-composted chicken poop/straw is going to be a tiny bit problematic, but at this point, when I”m having to thin seedlings anyhow, it’s not that much more work to whack out the weed seedlings.

Mostly though I’m just thrilled and relieved that spring is coming. The sun has come back, and although nothing is really budding out yet (except my allergies), you can just feel the earth turning on its axis. There will be more snow, and as tempting as it is to get started early, one must remember that our last frost historically doesn’t occur until May 17.

But things are sprouting! And in a couple of weeks I’ll have fresh greens. I can’t wait. I am beyond tired of eating store produce.

Garden Fencing

Garden Fencing

Ever since last fall’s episode of food poisoning, I’ve been meaning to finish enclosing the garden. However, I had to wait for the ground to thaw, and well, the freelance life means that finances have been just tight enough that I didn’t want to go out and buy copper pipe. But this weekend, I finally got it done. I tried to come up with some solution other than more expensive copper, but since I’d done the rest of the trellis/fences that way when I built the garden (this is summer number eight — how did that happen?), well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of two beds edged in pvc when the rest uses copper. So I sucked it up and spent the money.

The trellis/fencing is 1/2 inch copper plumbing pipe, and because I don’t know how to weld, I used duct tape for the joints. It was really easy to put together, and with the pipes jammed a foot or two into the ground inside the raised beds, and lashed to one another with zip ties, they withstand the wind nicely. So this weekend I enclosed the last two beds on the end of the garden, and strung them with nylon trellis. Unfortunately the trellis openings are large enough for chickens to get through, so I then stretched bird netting around the outside of the beds. I’ll need some help from the Sweetheart as far as gates go. Right now I’ve got an old piece of screening leaned up against the front opening, and that seems to be working — but once there are delicious greens inside the garden, I think I’m going to need something a little bit more formal to keep those chickens out.

But it looks nice, and I kind of like working inside the enclosed space. When I first built it I didn’t want to demark it from the rest of the yard so much, but now that it’s all enclosed, I’m finding it has a nice “secret garden” kind of vibe. And because the “fences” are just pipe and trellis, you can still see right through it.

Now if only real spring would come. And some rain would be nice. It’s so dry I’m having to water already.

Planting Peas

Planting Peas

spinach_seedlingsI took Easter Monday off from work, which was lovely for many reasons, among them that I got the early crops planted. I put in peas (Garden Knight and Telephone from Seeds of Italy), fava beans, arugula, broccoli rabe, a Japanese mustard green that I don’t have the packet in front of me and can’t remember the name, beets (chiogga and early wonder) and chard.

And then it snowed all week.

Nice wet spring snow, which was good for all those little seeds, but which did leave one wondering if winter is ever going to end.

Despite the snow, the spinach seedlings are poking their little heads above the dirt, as are the radishes, and I might have seen an arugula seedling out there this morning.

This morning, the sun is trying to peek through the clouds, who knows? Maybe it’ll get warm enough to put the tomatoes and peppers out in the cold frame for the day …

Chickens in the Shed

Chickens in the Shed

pb260023 This is Raymond, staring at the shed door, because on the far side of that door are four baby chicks in a cardboard box tucked into a dog crate all kept warm by an infrared light.

There were six chicks, but I erred and thought they were too hot under the light, and so two of them caught a chill and gave up their tiny little ghosts. They’re resting peacefully in the compost pile.

pb250026 Here’s the little peepers. Saturday morning I called Murdochs, our local ranch store to see if the chicks had come in (they’ve had a shortage this year, one of their hatcheries cancelled on them). They’d just unpacked an order, so I jumped in the car at 7:30 to get there before the small children of Bozeman had mauled the poor little things to death.

They only had two varieties — Rhode Island Reds and Red Star Sex Link — so I got three of each. They cheeped all the way home in their tiny cardboard box. So loud for little tiny things — they’re none of them any bigger than a ping pong ball, with downy little proto-feathers.

pb250032I wound up putting them in an old cardboard box with nice high sides to keep the draft out, inside the dog crate to protect them from critters, and then covered it all with a tarp to keep them warm. I don’t have electricity out in the shed, so there’s a very long extension cord strung across the yard (Patrick left me several 100 foot outdoor extension cords — the benefit of relatives in the party tent industry).

Last night it snowed, and the temps dropped down into the high twenties, and I’m happy to report that the four survivors seem pretty perky out there. I took a couple of old towels to drape over the tarp to try to keep them a little warmer, poor things. But they’re in there, cheeping away — I’ll have to clean the cage when I get home from dog walking.

And so a new adventure begins. Chickens! I’ve wanted chickens forever, but kept telling myself that I couldn’t have chickens because I have dogs. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to stop telling myself  that things I want are impossible — to taks a shot at it. And so, chickens. Chickens!

Tomatoes in the Basement

Tomatoes in the Basement

pb190024 This weekend I started seeds — tomatoes and leeks right now. I’ve blogged before about my seed starting setup, and nothing’s changed since last spring, so I’ll simply send you to this older post if you want to know the mechanics of how I get things rolling every year.

This year I’m going to give leeks a shot. I love leeks, and they’re so expensive in the store. I tried them once by direct sowing and they didn’t take, so I thought I’d give it one more shot. For the leeks, I simply filled one tray with seed starting mix, then made several trenches in it with a ruler, and sowed the leeks. I bought one of those fancy onion/leek seed starting trays at the garden store the other day, the kind that instead of having cells has long narrow slots, but the slots weren’t very deep, and it looked like I was going to have to transplant them earlier than I’d like to, so I went with direct sowing in a tray. I think I’m going to start the lettuces this way as well. (And next time I’m in Bozeman, I’ll just return the unused tray.)

I started many tomatoes this year, in part because I’m planning to sell seedlings at the Farmer’s Market. Here’s hoping that people will want Siberian and Heirloom varieties instead of boring old Early Girl. I planted 12 cells each of the folowing:

  • Mountain Princess from High Mowing Seeds
    This is a new variety for me. I picked up the seed packet at the local food co-op last summer.
  • Marmande from Seeds of Italy I love this tomato. It’s a slightly flat, delicious French heirloom.
  • Grushovka Siberian from High Altitude Gardens I’ve had good luck with the Siberian tomatoes in the past — they come in at 3-4 ounces, nice red, round fruits and are adapted for short seasons.
  • Olga’s Yellow Chicken from High Altitude Gardens (which they no longer carry so I’d better save seed this year.) This is a nice yellow tomato that I grow as much for the name as for anything else.
  • Galina Siberian from High Altitude Gardens A fabulous yellow cherry tomato. Huge indeterminate vines that will grow up and over anything (they’d be terrific in an arbor) and delicious fruit.
  • Black Cherry from John Scheepers Kitchen Garden SeedsThis was a nicely-flavored black cherry tomato that I grew for the first time last year. I wish it had come in a little earlier than it did, but once it started producing it was prolific.
  • Marglobe from Seeds of Italy Another Italian heirloom — great flavor in a compact round fruit.
  • Principe Borghese from Seeds of Italy The perfect canning or drying tomato. Ripens in clusters like grapes.
  • Jaune Flamee from Shepherd’s Garden Seeds  (originally, this year I started seeds I saved myself, which is good because they don’t seem to be carrying them anymore.) This is a delicious orange tomato that also grows in clusters. I had great luck with this one last year and I’m so glad I saved seed!
  • Perestroika Siberian from High Altitude Gardens My goal this year is to take better notes on the Siberian tomatoes — I can never remember which ones were better than the others.
  • Prairie Fire from High Altitude Gardens This was my earliest tomato last year — produced a good three weeks before any of the other non-cherry varieties. A Montana native with compact and delicious fruits.

It’ll be about a week or so before anything much happens downstairs on that bench. I’m hoping that things will thaw out enough that I can get the rest of my beds turned over (and cleared of the wheat growing from last summer’s straw mulch). I’d like to start some spinach and onions — I’m growing weary of eating last year’s frozen greens and would love something new and fresh …