New Life, and the Doldrums

Pomegranate flowers. On a windy day, they look like flamenco dancers . Someday soon I’ll dance (only in my living room!) again.

The decision to keep our goat herd came readily–and quickly. Within days, I was looking for new does (female goats) to start over again: good, ADGA registered goats with good pedigrees. After watching a goat suffer because she wasn’t structurally sound, the importance of breeding for sound, healthy bodies had never been more apparent to me.
What I found was better than I could have hoped for: Three doelings (baby girls) from Heritage Song Nubians, a highly reputable breeder out of Kansas, and a friend of my mom’s. These girls’ grandmother was a permanent Grand Champion, and her mother was also an award-winning goat. And because of the friendship, she offered them to me at a cpst way below what they were worth. This was beyond my wildest hopes.
So, a month before my achilles tendon tear, my daughter and I did a whirlwind trip to Kansas to pick them up. They would end up being weaned just before my injury, thank God.
Y’all, they are just beautiful, don’t you think? And Sheba, my oldest doe, has never been happier.

From left to right: Desert Rain, Desert Rose, and Desert Nomad.

Ten ducklings hatched out in the spring, followed by TWENTY-ONE more! We hardly knew what to do with ourselves. We were eventually able to sell all but six of them, bringing our total now up to ten, and I cannot decide who to get rid of. Ten ducks is five too many, but I love them all.

The first ten, a day old

After the injury, the doldrums set in. Serious depression. Everyone was doing everything for me; I was completely disconnected from the farm. I’d have moments of inspiration followed by complete despondency–so, half-done projects were lying around that made me feel even worse. The gardens were dying. Any hope of harvesting anything was gone. Plants and seeds I’d paid good money for were useless. Instead, we were buying that same produce from the store. It was just stupid, stupid, stupid.
I joined a support group on Facebook, all achilles tendon people. It helped a lot. A neighbor brought over figs from his tree–lots of them–and I sat at my sink and bagged some for freezing to make jam when the weather cooled, sliced some for sun drying, and stuffed myself full, knowing I’d regret it later and not caring. I felt back in the action, if only just a little. Community connection, local food…connecting to my passion.

Fresh figs, sliced and ready to go outside to be dried.

And when I finally went out to inspect my gardens, I found a few surprises: Although in one garden only the rosemary and potted sugarcane survived, the other, a 17×18 foot space, was completely taken over by exuberant sweet potato vines! Hopefully they will yield a beautiful harvest this fall. I need to think about where and how to grow them in the future, since they don’t really play well with other plants.

Sweet potatoes, joyful and free, soon ready to be harvested.

At the edge of this garden a melon plant managed to survive, growing one melon on the fence where I could reach it. Still not sure what type it is. But it added evidence to a theory I’ve been working on. Squash bugs are the bane of a gardener’s existence. They come in and destroy full grown plants in the “cucurbit” family: squash, melons, cucumbers. I’ve noticed that I tend to lose plants after I’ve cleared some other spring crops out of the path of the growing squash or melon vines, so my theory has been that they are confused when there are a lot of OTHER thriving plants mixed in with them. So, confused by the mixed smells, they fly away and find some other garden to destroy. And sure enough, these vines are untouched by squash bugs, even this late in the season. Although this doesn’t prove anything for sure, it is good news, and something I’m going to work into my garden plans in the future.

Mystery melon. Wish me luck, figuring out when to pick it. Hopefully I’ll figure it out before the birds do.

There’s more, deeper stuff: I’ve learned to sit more. I’ve watched my family step in and shoulder the load, and I’ve learned to accept help–something I’m just terrible at. I’ve seen once again how rock solid my marriage is. I think I’m sorta taking steps at learning to be graceful in weakness. I’ve learned that the world won’t end if my plans don’t get implemented my way, and that my husband still loves me when I get angry over a few stupid feet of fencing and the many other ridiculous things I got upset about in those terrible early weeks. I learned to make the community garden about…you know… community, because, finally, I had to. And it thrived all summer, just fine, without me. Because….community.
This has been a coming-of-age event for my youngest son. He’s the only one still being homeschooled, and he has shouldered the bulk of the daily load, taking care of morning chores, lifting and moving heavy things, chasing down escaped animals, and more than that, caring. Caring about the farm, caring about me, and learning to care about the world that we are leaving to him.
I’m excited to slowly ease into this new chapter. October is our “spring” here in the low desert, and it’s time to start again.

A bushel of basil, and my youngest son. (He’s much bigger now.) You can never grow enough basil.

A Forced Re-boot

The cleanup crew

This is supposed to be a garden–one of three in my back yard. As you can see, it’s overgrown with weeds and Bermuda grass. I’d had high hopes for it this past summer: I was going to plant my first monsoon garden (more on monsoon gardens soon) in early July, and I was very excited about it.

And then, on June 19th, while jumping over the side of our pickup truck, my Achilles tendon tore from my heel bone. I was completely off that foot for four weeks, in a boot for ten, and will be in physical therapy for many months to come. A crushing blow.
My very busy family had some tough decisions to make: How much could we keep, and what must we let go, to preserve a high maintenance urban farm for the months to come? Was it time to entirely call it quits?
The animals would get to stay, we decided; the family could do the morning and evening chores. We set up a system so that I could still milk, and having only one goat to milk suddenly seemed like a blessing rather than a curse. With our bi-monthly flood irrigation, the fruit trees would be ok. But the gardens would have to go. I took a leave of absence from managing our nearby community garden. I grieved every day, and am still grieving.

Overwhelming, thinking about digging out all that Bermuda grass

But that wasn’t the only setback:

This past winter, my beloved goat Hattie stopped walking on her two front feet and began crawling around on her knees instead. I’d always had trouble trimming her hooves, but I tried again, looking for infection as I went. (There was none.) Even with trimmed hooves, she didn’t walk. She was awfully fat; she’d been dry and unable to get pregnant for three years, and an inactive goat that isn’t producing babies or milk will gain weight. I brought in the vet and got the hard news: She had a structural problem with her legs and feet. She was in pain, and would never get better. Worse, it was genetic. Somehow, despite her excellent pedigree, some old gene had popped up in her; and her daughter, whom we also owned, was likely carrying the gene, although she seemed to have no problem with her feet. The compassionate, responsible thing to do was to put Hattie down humanely, and then give her super friendly daughter away as an unregistered pet; thereby taking them both out of the gene pool. I was now left with only one female goat, and I was crushed. Sobbing, many days in a row. Not just for me, but for Sheba, who would now lose her only two companions. Again the question: Are we done?

Goodbye, sweet Hattie

This is one of the scariest parts of any kind of farming: A major injury can be the death of a dream, the death of an income. Living things won’t wait: They and their environment must be cared for every day, no exceptions. We are fortunate that Jeff works an outside job; this is the survival plan of so many farming couples. But when one partner breaks down, the other is left to shoulder the whole load, and it’s just impossible to keep up. It took us some time to find the silver lining in this heavy cloud, but it did eventually begin to shine.

Next up: New Life, and the Doldrums