Fruitless Pursuits And Rootless Gains…

fruitless pursuits

After it became clear to me exactly where I did not want to spend the next year of my life (away from my family at school) a discussion ensued as to what the next year might look like for us.  It was mostly relating to the garden and our desired family business, but they are so connected to how we live as a family unit, each decision affects all.

As so often happens, the further away from a situation one gets, the clearer it becomes.  I believe my wanting, getting, and declining school was not all for nothing.  Not so distant to have figured it all out, but far enough to come to some definite conclusions.

We (meaning me) are forever planning, listing, goal setting and looking waaaayyy ahead.  But with all this hard mental (and physical) work being done, why are we not achieving success?  Instead, not quite hitting the mark, we reside to simply try again.

We want to provide the majority of our families food for a full year, every year.  Not each single item for twelve months straight, but a variety of continuous supply.  Whether that be frozen, fermented, stored, picked fresh from the garden, or harvested from the island.  Just not bought from the shop, out of season, shipped from Monoveggieville or Poorlytreatedanimaland.

This is entirely possible.  After all, we are not inventing the veg.  And it is already being done by tens of thousands throughout the world (guestimation).  We own the tunnel, the books, the tools, and are surrounded by other great gardeners, fertile soil, and plenty of land for grazing our animals.  And we’re smart, hardworking people.  So what’s the problem then?  What’s holding us back?

Then it hit me.  Standing there in the veg section holding a cucumber wrapped in a plastic sleeve, it hit me. Not the cucumber, but the light bulb moment.  Perhaps it’s proper motivation we lack.  Maybe this needs to be a matter of necessity, not a choice with a produce aisle safety net attached to it.  I put the cucumber down, ignored the packaged tomatoes on the to get list, and returned the chicken to the cooler where it belonged.  I was not going to buy them anymore.  Out of season, non organic, lacking taste, and often thrown out because of premature spoilage.  We are done with it.  I will add it is the veg and not the shop.  Our shop offers so much for our small island and the owners will order in anything I request.  So grateful. 

Johnny was fine with the decision and the children seemed surprisingly excited by the thought.  It wasn’t the reaction I would’ve predicted.  Margaret Maeve immediately got thinking about lunch alternatives. The question was raised that if we eat less sandwiches, could I start making our bread again; I just couldn’t keep up with the demand.  My youngest boy Tadhg’s (pronounced Tíge) only concern was whether we would still be eating spaghetti or not (we will).

It already has created more kitchen work for me.  Quiche takes much more time to make than a few cheese and tomato sandwiches.  But I like cooking and I’m okay with that.  We will still buy some fruit for now and get planting more.  And we’ll need to pick and freeze triple the amount of already available berries and apples than we did this past year. The extra garden work this creates can’t be ignored either–collecting the free manure throughout the summer a couple times a week instead of every fortnight.  Gathering more seaweed, more sowing, weeding, watering, feeding, fishing, harvesting, storing.  Storage space alone is a logistical challenge.  Currently we overwinter bicycles in a corner of our tunnel.  Figuring out which chickens are still laying and which are ready for the table can’t really be ignored any longer.  How does one even do that?   This one small decision is a huge step for us.

It won’t be easy to start. Meals will be made using less variety as there is much we will have to go without until seeds are sown and have matured, but we still have some of our own veg available in the freezer, pantry, and garden.  Eggs and meat are plentiful, though there is extra work added there as well.  It’s all doable, that is with proper planning and commitment.  We will try to keep focus on achieving small successes rather than the end product–experience says this is how we were left feeling very overwhelmed in past years and disappointed at lack of progress.

We came to other conclusions about what the next year holds for us, a mixture of fun, challenge, and necessity.  This is the first one to get put into motion. We’ll be tested for sure when we’d rather spend mornings in bed and days in a row at the beach this summer.  Someone please tell me that you’re doing it successfully and that the rewards are worth the efforts.

While blurred vision is a large factor in our not accomplishing this goal, there is another reason that cannot be overlooked–the realities of having a family, dependents.  Young children take up a lot of time, are very distracting, and require loads of hands on parenting.  Please God, this is the year that there is some balance with this and they are working aside us more and pulling us away less.  They are well able to understand our decision and accept that it’s just the way it is.  They know that our family is better off because of it.  They join in on our family business conversations regularly, envisioning their roles.  The older ones have great influence on their younger siblings and this will work to our advantage. They all get that when we work cooperatively, playing together is more enjoyable because Mum and Dad are more relaxed and present.

I do believe I am beginning to ramble on, so I shall go walk the dog, think about my Haiku and 52 Weeks of Photos Challenge, and take all this one beautiful day at a time.

Any advice, suggestions, and personal experiences are forever appreciated.  Xx

*photo credit ‘summer sunset from the kitchen window’ goes to my hubs, Johnny

38 Comments

  1. mudpilewood says:

    I look forward to reading more of your thoughts as I garden on the east coast of Ireland (county Meath) and have discovered that some of my attempts at gardening were not great mainly because I chose the wrong crops to plant, but it is a constant learning process. Regarding the fruit, don’t forget the jam making season. Look forward to hearing more from you and thank you for checking out out site.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Do you have a good jam recipe? I would love to use little to no sugar. Last year I added in dried apples, their sweetness seems so concentrated. It was good, but the consistency not great, no added pectin used. Still lots of kinks to work out on the jam making.
      I am compiling my notes from a couple excellent Irish gardening authors and my past personal experience to post regarding that very topic of what to grow when. I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating…living on a small island country presents unique challenges in the garden that most gardening books don’t address. I am very grateful for the expertise of experienced Irish gardeners. One thing I’ve learned is that most seed packages sow dates are much too early for us here. So much to learn yet…

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      • Roz Hill says:

        Hi Melissa, I am beginning to see how you have different challenges on Aran . While Phil is making beds digging recycled compost into our clay, you are on rocky ground where your soil will wash away when not in a bed! We are on high ground where we get windy days and keeps the wind turbine turning but your wind blows your plants away above the walls. Connecting with Irish gardeners is the way forward…. you are on track , gardening is something you can do with kids around you, but still have its challenging moments.
        I have to admit, I use far too much sugar in my jam , but I buy large tubs of yogurt and flavour it with the jam. My sister in NZ uses Easyo powder yogurt, I’ve used it lots,but it works out quite expensive here. Now the challenge would be to make it using a starter as I did when my kids were little. More on this…bfn 💜Roz

        Liked by 1 person

        • I have made yogurt in my crock pot oodles of times and it is just divine but that is only possible when there is a glut of milk for us. Otherwise it is not cost efficient to make when there is really good plain yogurt available to buy. I buy St. Dalfour jam. It is naturally sweetened & only contains fruit, unsweetened juice concentrate and pectin. It is possible but I have just not made a genuine effort to make my own. Maybe a sugar free and pectin recipe is too much to expect. Apples are high in pectin and when dried, are super sweet, so with this in mind I made a couple jars of blackberry jam last year using dried apples. It was ok, everyone enjoyed it but it was not a winning recipe. That is my only jam making experience. I will try to dry more apples this year and make earlier attempts at the jam making….add it to the list!!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. ebonierika says:

    Love It and it is beyond awesome you all are willing to try. I’m currently not there any longer, God willing soon but the light bulb moment is on point! That is precisely what it takes. Eat what you grow/grew. All menus revolve around that!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Love the picture and the haiku – still digesting the rest. What can I say, I tried similar challenges, I got burnt out, but I did not have the support you have. Remember the Permaculture Principles, especially ‘start small and work out from well-managed areas’. If you are thinking of growing, improve the soil, create shelter belts and water retaining systems. Look at zones and how they interact – observe the way you and your family move around your area, work with that not against it. Make it as easy as you can for yourself and factor in rest and play – they are not luxuries they are essential!!! oops – I seemed to say a lot in the end! Ha!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeepers Sandra, check out this from freedomfarmtv blog when you get a minute (or 12 minutes 🙂 )– http://freedomfarmtv.com/2015/02/25/permaculture-basics-zone-and-sector-analysis/

      They have so many interesting and informative posts about permaculture and today’s was just what you mentioned here. Thanks for such great feedback. Between your thoughts and freedomfarmtv’s post I am feeling happy that we have so much blank canvas (all which I had been discouraged was not developed yet). Hmmm, everything in it’s own time couldn’t be a truer statement.
      Great big hug! Melissa

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yay!!! There you go! Bill Mollison, the Daddy of Permaculture made sure he had plenty of seats in beautiful spots around his plot for rest and observation – observation is the first thing to do, then design. Good luck!!!

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        • That is important to us as well after viewing other’s gardens from different angled seats. We have made a few, though there is scant much to stare at from them 😛 . Roz’s willow seat is an idea that I would love to do, maybe a bench? No clue how, but time to learn. I also like the idea of having a door (to no where) at the back of some part of the garden. I just googled Bill M and loads to watch on youtube and read. Thanks again for the guidance. Xx

          Liked by 1 person

  4. elliwest2014 says:

    *Monoveggieville or Poorlytreatedanimaland* I Love it!

    We managed to grow a years worth of tomato and tomatillos sauce last summer. Like you we are looking at meat production for next year and methods of storage (I want a little freezer, since we already can and ferment)

    Time with family can’t be replaced with education or work. You are making the right choice and your children will be more prepared for life because of your example. Be well, good luck and may all the blessings of the universe fit inside your house 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • We grew tomatillos for the first time last year. Aren’t they productive? We made loads of fermented salsa (not enough, duh). This year I have seeds for purple, green and yellow. Should make some pretty salsas. In the end of season we were eating them like cucumatos. Ya, I made that up, but you know what I mean, raw, crunchy and not so sweet.

      We put a goat in the freezer today. I don’t write about that much because I don’t want to bother anyone, besides, it’s Johnny not me so he can write about it if he wants on his own blog, when he gets a blog, which will be never. Have you had goat? The best mincemeat in the world.

      On a serious note, I am so relieved to not be at school. Funny, everyone knew but me it seems about what a mistake it would have been to go. Thanks for those wonderful blessings and the same to you and yours.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I am glad that cuke didn’t hit you in the head. How old are your kids? Mine always surprise me in that they are capable of so much more than I think they are, if I only let them. And most of the time they love being able to contribute. Good luck and God Bless on your renewed efforts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a pretty mushy cuke so it would have felt the pain more than me 😛 The real tragedy would have been my obligation to purchase it after appearing to damage it. 😉

      My children are aged 4, 6, 7, 9, and just turned 11 years old. I remember before having any thinking they were pretty much helpless until around school age. Never imagined a two year old could have and so clearly express original thoughts.

      I’m with you in the “if I only let them” department. Though I am slowly getting away from that as my oldest now bakes independently and it didn’t take much supervised teaching for her to reach that stage. It is sooo helpful.

      Thank you for mentioning this. I will ask them what they would like to sow and care for when the seeds come in. And we’ll see where it goes from there. I have done this before but didn’t really follow through into the season because it was just easier not to. Thank you for the blessings also and I send the same to you, your family, and your homestead.

      I see you in my Reader earlier with a cast iron pizza recipe I must go check out. Love cooking in cast iron and could use a good pizza recipe. Delighted.

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  6. stephpep56 says:

    Mellisa,If you have time don’t forget the value of foraging. kids love to do it too. Keep an eye out in the next month for young nettles the tips of which make great soups and teas and can be mashed with milk and spuds to make nettle colcannon a dish my Mom used to make regularly at this time of the year. goosegrass (cleavers) are delicious steamed, seaweed,(dulsk carrigeen, sea lettuce) young dandelions to be added to salads, (once I was in france in early spring and met women walking the lanes with baskets and a sharp knife, they told me they were collecting pissenlits(dandelions) for salads). and there is lots more. Maybe try this wonderful book called food for free.http://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780007438471/food-for-free I took it as a reference for one of my ‘wild atlantic way’ cycles back in the early eighties when it helped me forage and fish from donegal to kerry. Good luck with your wonderful venture for a self sufficient life. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • That book sounds like a good investment. We forage for some things– berries, wild garlic, elderflower, limpits, clams, seaweed–but have yet to delve into those things once considered ‘weeds’. That colcannon would be a hit for sure. I have Prannie Rhatigan’s Irish Seaweed book. A real clunker to tote to the shore, but I am a bit more familiar with some of the seaweeds now.

      Have you cycled the entire WW? What an adventure any stretch of it would be.

      Thank you Steph for guiding me to that book. I am going to discuss it with Johnny and I think he will agree it would be a great addition to our library. Talk soon. Xx

      Liked by 1 person

      • stephpep56 says:

        Morning Melissa, Sounds like you are ‘auld hat’ at the foraging thing (ooops sorry to have preached about it) but I will continue to wax lyrical , Nature has it to a T. in that it provides fresh greens at a time when are gardens are a bit bare. its different now as one can have a tunnel or freeze stuff but if you don’t or don’t have a huge perpetual cabbage tree going then you can get a bit stuck and nature fills that gap. I love nettles, their uses are amazing, I cannot praise them enough.If I picked nothing else I would be content with just them. long ago they used to boil them with meal to feed the hens (extra iron in the eggs) that is why you will often find clumps of them around derelict cottages. They are also easy to dry for winter tisanes. I wrote a post about foraging in my blog. I’ll dig it out (pardon the pun) and send you the link. Yes I cycled the wild atlantic way two years in a row. on a black raleigh single speed with a wee trailer for my tent . that was about 1979 or 80 and the following year. I didnt know it was 2,400kms at the time. but it was such a great experience. I camped and fished and foraged and swam. I had no time limit and it took me four months. sometimes I’d stay a few days if a place was glorious. I wrote one blog piece ‘ stones in the hem of my dress’ Its somewhere in their. Anyway enough about me (blah blah blah) I love your blog, and how you live and wish you lots of love and hope for a good spring and summer.xx

        Liked by 2 people

        • Ha, ha, we’re hardly seasoned at it. Most of the foraging we have only just begun in the last couple years. Before that it was a rare moment looking up from being pregnant and nursing while Johnny was refurbishing our home. Last year we got mushrooms for the first time and dried them. It was quite thrilling!

          I am amazed by your observations on how nature provides. Makes perfect sense. My children were gifted a book called ‘Don’t Worry About Tomorrow’ by Melody Carlson. It is a family favorite about a young girls experience learning about God providing through the eyes of the birds and flowers. It is written in rhyming verse based on Matthew 6:25-32 (from the cover, I wouldn’t know bible verse by heart 🙂 )

          I didn’t know about the iron in nettles. I have been feeding them the chickweed, but I may just leave it lying after reading this post yesterday https://vegetablurb.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/chickweed-is-my-friend/#comment-735
          Your journey sounds magnificent! Sometimes it is better not to know the details of distance, etc as they can be daunting, toying with confidence. Though I think perhaps you’d relish at the challenges the knowledge presents 😉 Maybe someday me and my blue bike will make the trip. I would absolutely love every minute of it. I will have to dig through you archives someday soon.

          Have an amazing morning–cold, but sunny. A good day for a walk. But now off to the school bus. Melissa Xx

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        • Most definitely interested! And perfect timing. I was just speaking to Johnny nonstop about permaculture, foraging, self-seeding crops and we were discussing the garden layout, etc. Poor fella just walked in the door after being on mainland all day to ms. motor mouth. I purged the pantry and cleaned it…have a list of 17 items to use up sooner than later (all inspired by a fridge empty of shop veg). I am looking through Gaby Weiland’s ‘Neantog’ Cookbook for some inspiration. And on and on and on… So, yes, I shall go have a look see and then my intention is to leave the computer behind and crawl into bed with a stack of books, notebooks and ideas! Okay then, off I go. Sleep well and talk soon. And thanks for listening and absolutely everything. Xx

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  7. Murtagh's Meadow says:

    I admire your planning. I’m not good at planning – I just tend to plod! Last year we tried hard to become just self sufficient in vegetables. We’ve done pretty well but for last few weeks have been supplementing what we have left with bought carrots (organic) and a few heads of broccoli. I am not sure it is possible to get the 365 days – but we’ll try again this year. But we are only feeding ourselves and two kids and you have a couple more – and have you noticed their appetites seems to grow each year! We get meat from our neighbours and have our own eggs (an a couple in a borrowed incubator now) – but I don’t think I will ever get to a stage where I won’t be visiting a shop. But we’ll try our best and do what we can – I think that is all you can ask of yourself. I did a haff sugar jam recipe last year – which i was pleased with – check it out at my rather ignored site – https://recipesmurtaghsmeadow.wordpress.com/2014/09/12/raspberry-jam/

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess our small goal is really a big goal, but why not aim high, eh?! We end up buying organic carrots every year also. Frustrated because I know we wouldn’t run out if I didn’t skip the last sowing or two, same with lettuce. We have a tunnel and mini tunnels for our sixteen foot raised beds. No excuse really. Just get a bit busy/lazy, don’t prioritize, and have the ole shop to fall back on. We won’t do without the shop either, but would love to just not buy crap veg anymore.

      One year we don’t run out of carrots, but do with potatoes. Next year we have enough potatoes, but not carrots or blackberries, and so on. Yes, this year we vow to give it our best. If we don’t succeed we won’t be hanging our heads low knowing we gave it our best effort. They definitely do eat more from year to year, it is quite remarkable. What meat do you get from your neighbors?

      Oh, and I followed that other blog of yours, not to put the pressure on or anything 😉 lol! I could never keep up with two blogs! Kudos to those who do.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Murtagh's Meadow says:

        My later sowings of carrots never seem to thrive – don’t know why?! We get lamb mainly, and sometimes venison. I’ll buy beef from local butcher, but it’s always local meat.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Mmmm, venison. One of my favorites (my mom and dad both hunters). Lamb is nice also. I haven’t eaten it much since we have our own goats but just love it also. We have sown carrots late (Oct, is that late?) under cover and then pretty much ignore them, removing the poly during rain on occasion. They do well for us. Maybe they thrive on neglect?! This year we didn’t put enough down and ate our last ones yesterday! Ugh!

          Liked by 2 people

  8. Hi Melissa, Great post and such good work and intention lies ahead. We have been living a self sustainable life for many years, we raise about 80-85% of our own food including the meat we eat..chicken, pork, lamb. We milked a cow up until a year ago. Some things I’ve learned. it’s a process. Even when you feel like you’ve got things down pat, a tomato blight or humidity in your storage areas changes the overall effort. It’s life. We try and never lose sight of the intention and good effort, realizing that the cycle of life is always changing, and hardly ever predictable. We have less eaters in our household now, being on the other end of child rearing, so we are learning to grow less not more. A life of sustainability took years of practice and doing, of failed attempts, of reorganizing and record keeping, of looking at each season and each year with the promise and hope to provide as much and enough for the year. I think it is so important to keep your sights on that goal, but even more importantly to always be mindful of why we’re choosing to do this in the first place ( oh, boy that’s a long list of reasons!), this mindfulness really serves as the encouragement to act. And, there are always upsets, always crop failures, after 20 years of growing our own food…once in awhile we still run short on onions . Too many people eating onions? Too many dishes with onions in them? Who knows. We adjust. We try and plan for a little more the next season, ultimately we try and raise all we can to be less dependent on outside food sources. When we do need to search outside the home for specific foods, we try and source them locally and almost always try and barter for them. Garlic for onions. Winter squash for beans. It keeps our circle tight. Do you have a CSA near you? I think your great energy and intention will serve you and your family well, Ireland should be so proud and happy to have a hardy Maine gal to further the efforts in sustainability. Sounds like you have a wonderful family and husband on board to help. Terrific! Best to you and the very fine work you are doing!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Denise and Rick, I just had the most delightful time looking in depth at your blog and firstly I would like to say thank you for your detailed reply to me because clearly, you are very busy doing some amazing things on your own farm, garden, and nursery.

      Bartering is a great idea which we have done and really should do much more, it should be a first thought really shouldn’t it. I barter sewing mostly but goat meat usually gets us more than we ever really get in return, that speaks of how good and difficult it is to get really.

      Just googled CSA, had no idea. There isn’t one locally but there are a couple in Ireland. I will read more about it and perhaps it is in our future? I would have no problem spearheading it if there was interest. There are logistical issues always because we are on an island, but that’s just a consideration not a roadblock. Must research more.

      We have had setbacks of nature and find them frustrating but unavoidable for the most part. It is the setbacks that could be avoided–not doing what we know we must do when we should do it–those are the ones that I am reacting to. My not buying the cucumber, tomatoes, and chicken was me making a statement to stop that behaviour. Realistically, I know we will, with many exceptions, purchase a few certain things (like organic carrots) when our supply runs out.
      And lastly, it really resonates with me your point being ‘mindful of why we’re choosing to do this in the first place’. Something worth sitting down as a family and talking out, putting on paper, and referring when moments like the aforementioned happen again, just to remind why we chose this life. With much appreciation, Melissa Xx

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much. As so often happens, one decision has ripples that aren’t always foreseeable. We are really enjoying this journey, working together we will succeed no doubt. I hope your seeds sown not so long ago are doing well. You must be so much warmer there in Texas than here in Ireland. I am anxious, but must hang onto those seed packets a little longer before starting much more than lettuce! Have a blessed weekend and thanks for stopping by. Melissa Xx

      Liked by 1 person

      • canaf says:

        Thanks. Our weather has really been up and down. Today it snowed most of the day and was only in the twenties all day. We have a day forecast of 70 later in the week. Our seeds are doing well :-). Hope you have a great weekend.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow Melissa I wish you lots and lots of success in this lovely adventure , you have the most important ingredient and that is the co operation of your lovely family bless them . It was very brave of you to put that chicken back fair play to you , I just know you will enjoy lovely meals together without that purchase , I had to laugh when your children immediately thought about what they were going to have for lunches , I really hope you put all this in a book as you write so well and make it all seem so much like a very big adventure to undertake , we will all be looking forward to your updates , enjoy this wonderful time it is indeed magical. Lots of good wishes to you and your loved ones from Kathy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Kathy, This is my book, ha ha, my scrapbook! That chicken isn’t missing me and we aren’t missing it either. It was proper motivation to get another goat in our freezer and if the weather cooperates we will get on some fishing also. I am experimenting with neglected pantry items and it is bringing out the best in all of us. As creative as I thought I was in the kitchen, this decision has really tested all our taste buds and so far, so good. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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