There is a difference between being poor and being broke. It is a difference of which I am keenly aware. I consider my life to be incredibly abundant—just not usually with money. Over the last decade or so, being broke is something which I’ve begrudgingly come to be thankful for—-it has taught me a lot of lessons about what is truly important in my life, lessons I might not have learned otherwise—like how little I actually need, and what things I actually want (not just think I want), where I find my happiness, and what truly makes me joyful. It has made me appreciate the generosity of others, and it has, in turn, made me more generous. This has been a process, though. There was a time when if i wanted something, I’d just run out and buy it. Later, there was also a time when I viewed my inability to do that as a really bad thing. I don’t feel that way anymore. Sure I’d like to not ever have to worry about money—-so would 99% of the rest of the world. We’re all rowing the same boat, and manning this oar has changed my perspective. Now I see wealth as not owing anybody a dime. Having my hands tied as a consumer has made me rethink my role and my power as a consumer; it has made me rethink what I consider to be resources. This is a gift. This is useful. I now see the myriad ways in which things can be re-purposed; I can see the resources that we have all around us if we just look hard enough.
I am a functionalistic artist, my medium is serendipity. Today’s reflection is on good-luck gardening.
A couple years ago, I decided to build a low retaining wall around one of the flower beds which runs along side the house. When we bought the house 7 years ago, the bed just had some concrete pavers leaning up against it at an angle to hold in the soil. Needless to say, it didn’t work very well, and it was a ridiculous mess. We also decided to build a raised bed garden on a strip of the backyard that refused to grow grass. Combined, these two projects needed about 100 linear feet of building material.
Where I grew up in the country, such a building project would merely require going to the creek or field and picking all the rock you could carry. That’s one thing you can count on having in the Ozarks—rock. I know, because that’s how half the house I lived in was built. Good thing my parents had so many kids to haul all that limestone, lol. But as I looked out into my seemingly resource-free urban backyard, my spirits plummeted. In the city, people buy rocks. That wasn’t going to happen. So I mulled it over for a while. Then I remembered Freecycle.
Serendipity: Someone less than 2 miles from my house decided to rebuild all of their flowerbeds and their patio with shiny, new interlocking pavers—-and they wanted somebody to haul away all the old brick from their yard. 200 bricks for the cost of heaving them to my car? Yes, please!
So we bricked a little cottagey wall on the east bed of the house:
East bed built from FREE bricks. Yes this was my first time working with mortar.
We even have enough bricks left over to brick in the west bed, too! I’ll get to that side of the house sometime soon… So, the east bed was fixed. Garden soil held firmly in place by a rustic little brick wall. It was on to the raised bed.
In looking for ideas for raised bed designs, I stumbled across this awesome article on building with urbanite. How cool is that? Very. Do you know why? When we moved into the house and started working on the yard, one of the first projects we tackled was to bust up a concrete pad and a weird broken sidewalk that we found half buried in the backyard. Sledgehammer: I have one.
The sledgehammer is my friend.
Serendipity: All of that concrete was piled up by the side of our garage while we waited until such a time as when we could have it hauled off. It never occurred to me to look at it as a building material. Silly me. Now I know better. So for the price of a couple bags of mortar, we had a raised bed.
Urbanite raised bed just after construction
You know what the problem with raised beds is? You have to fill them with dirt. Well, we’ve got a pretty awesome compost pile going, but that wasn’t going to cut it. The first two years, I just kind of…. fluffed up the dirt to help it fill in the bed. It worked ok, but the soil in this city yard has seen better days. Last year’s garden faltered miserably despite all my attempts at watering and fertilizing. It just wasn’t happy. It didn’t help that half the summer was over 100 degrees. :/ Even my cilantro died. This good Puerto Rican has never not been able to grow cilantro. That is not right! This past fall, I dug all the leaves I raked up from the yard into the garden—this being a good bit of advice from the classic homesteading book Ten Acres Enough. Even still, as of last week, I’d pretty much given up the ghost on putting a garden in. The bed needed more soil. A lot more soil. Good soil. And it just wasn’t in the works to buy any. Geez, good dirt is expensive in the city!
But one night last week after work, I had to run to the grocery store to pick up stuff for the kids’ lunches the next day. I thought about my choices for stores open at that hour that would have the gluten-free alternatives that we need, and on a whim, I went to a grocery store that I almost never shop at.
Serendipity: There was a great big sign on the remains of their summer gardening section that said, “Garden Topsoil: 10 for 10”. That’s right. They were selling off all their dirt for $1 a bag—that’s how much they wanted to get rid of that display. For the grand total of $16, I bought enough dirt to (mostly) fill up my raised bed. Together with the compost I added, we have a chance at gardening success this year!
Sweet topsoil SCORE!
More serendipity: And since I’d saved all my seeds and the seeds my sister-in-law gave me last year, I planted out my garden for free. The tomato plants were a gift from one of my mother-in-laws co-workers who just moved out of state, the parsley, thyme, chives, rosemary, and oregano came back from last year, and the black-eyed susans are volunteers to keep it all cheerful. There’s also a rogue radish that I couldn’t bring myself to pull after it flowered so prettily last year. It overwintered, staying totally green, and is now in full bloom again. The only thing I bought this year to help in the planting was a box of popsicle sticks. I am horrible about remembering what, where, and when I planted anything. This year I got all militant on the garden and I marked EVERY SINGLE SEED. LMAO. Now there will be no guesswork as to whether or not that thing sprouting up is weed or a beet. I’ve got it down.
Little placemarkers to help me remember my rows
And, AND! In other areas of the garden…
I decided ages ago that the best way to attract and help out the birds in my yard (without making messes and spending a bajillion dollars) is to give them water instead of food. But how could I do this without tromping to some garden center to spend money on a birdbath?
Serendipity: I had all kinds of dish-shaped things laying around! I just had to look at them with the new purpose in mind. I found some large planter bottoms that were in storage in the garage, and I turned them into my makeshift birdbaths. It actually works really well. I put a larger, deeper one on the bottom—it also serves as the outdoor dog water bowl—and then i set a smaller dish on top of a brick inside of that so that the little birds can bathe and drink, too. But my birdbath needed to be made into it’s own pretty little space. I received a beautiful yarrow plant from my Gran for my birthday. This was the first planting in the birdbath garden. And I ran to a local nursery and found 3 Russian sage plants on sale for $6 a piece—-which i mention only because with tax, it came out to the exact amount of money I had on me. I always think that’s funny.
It’s not super-fantastic now, but when it all grows and fills in, this is going to be a lovely little birdbath garden. The birds already love it. They use the birdbath at all hours of the day. Oh, and the mulch! Lol. Found two bags of hardwood mulch, a bag of lime and a bottle of organic fertilizer that I totally forgot I had stashed in a corner of the garage. I’d curse my memory, but it was like Christmas when I found it, so I can only be happy about it.
The dictionary defines serendipity as the aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident. It is happily a common thread in my life—one that I am astoundingly thankful for. I like to think that between serendipity on one hand and financial exigency on the other, I have discovered my homesteading spirit in the most unlikely place. I would have expected that to happen on the Farm, and certainly life in the country laid the foundation. But that experience, while creating wonderful memories and providing a lot of useful knowledge, is not what did it. It has been my experience in the city that has helped me distill this understanding—in part because my yearning to return to the country has made me read voraciously about farm life, but also because figuring out how to be an urban homesteader without the resources I took for granted before has made me creative by necessity. Lessons learned. Lessons that I am now ready to take back to a farm of my own. Any time now…