The JARR Farmhouse

The JARR Farmhouse comes to us from “a house of four women who are completely unqualified farmers” but post regularly on Instagram anyway, sharing inspiration and creative tips for container gardening and other homestead adventures direct from the southern California quarantine.

If you’re looking for a breath of fresh air to take your mind off the kinda-spooky-never-ending rain, the longer-than-humanly-possible house arrest, and the you-don’t-know-who-coughed-on-that produce aisle, look no further.

Whether you have a jar of dirt or an acre of land, you too can grow fresh produce with a little ingenuity and patience. The way these ladies figure it, if they can do it, so can you. The idea behind this style of gardening is to keep pests to a minimum and the planters movable.

Here are today’s tips for tomorrow’s harvest.

Cinderblock containment.

Cinderblocks make fast, easy garden boxes. Plant flowers (marigold, chrysanthemum) and herbs (rosemary, lavender) that repel pests in the holes and fill the center with your soil and root plants like potatoes, ginger, and onions. Using cedar wood shavings as mulch is also a natural pest deterrent. If gophers are a problem in your area, lay down a sheet of welded wire first, then edge with blocks and fill with soil. If you need to add a cage to keep the deer, rabbits, birds, or raccoons out, the cinderblock is a sturdy base for your tent poles and chicken wire.

Cinderblock and planks.

Green goodness.

Add a few planks to the cinderblock and take your planting vertical. In the base is your watermelon and pumpkins (they will grow out beyond the base) and layered on the benches are a variety of containers. A smaller version of this idea is placing the containers in your sunny kitchen windows. Most pests have a hard time reaching anything up high like this. Leafy salad greens don’t require a lot of root space and can be planted in more shallow containers. Root crops like carrots, radishes, and beets need more soil to grow in, so choose deeper pots. The ladies plan a trip to the second hand shop as soon as it opens to scout for fun containers. Personally, I like teapots and old work boots as planters. You do you.

Climbers need a grip.

Any of your climbing viney crops, like peas, cucumbers, and runner beans are planted next to anything that will hold their weight when they produce. It can be a simple as this twine lattice or as sturdy as a chain link fence you have along your yard. You can repurpose everything from an old ladder to a pallet for your climbing garden.

Wheelbarrow berries.

Nobody loves strawberries more than slugs and snails. An elevated planter, without obvious paths to the prize is a genius solution. Strawberries are also happy in hanging containers and don’t need much room. Keep your delicacies safe from tell tale holes and eat the berries yourself!

Sprouting jars.

Chia, barley, and wheatgrass seeds lend themselves to making sprouts in jars. They make a great salad topping and green smoothie goodness. For tips on sprouting, see my blog here.

Mobile munchies.

Some plants demand containers. Really. If you are unsure of your eco zone, especially if you are chasing the sun as the seasons turn, putting your tree in a pot makes sense. This is a dwarf nectarine. Move the pot to meet the sunshine or avoid a heavy frost. Most varieties of berries and mint are downright invasive if not kept in a pot. You were warned.

Coming soon…!

No way am I leaving without showing you this little fluff. In a future blog, we will devote ourselves to chickens and other critters, the other fun parts of The JARR Farmhouse as it evolves. Have yourself a happy little garden, even if it’s a pansy in the window. Be sure to follow @the_jarr_farmhouse on Instagram to watch the crops come in.

Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. Genesis 1:11

Herb-A-Vore

We were sitting at the Cheesecake Factory celebrating a girlfriend’s birthday.

The usual girly gifts were handed over and, of course (insert eye roll), mine had to be different.

I got her a Little Stripper.

Not candles or lotion or earrings. Something practical.

Something that will encourage her to get her groove on.

Her gardening groove, that is.

She’d asked me recently about putting her spring garden together and I certainly want to support all things green and beguiling. The Stripper is for harvesting tiny leaves off herbs for her meal.

It will definitely up her game in the kitchen when she takes food from garden to table. There is absolutely nothing sweeter than a home-grown tomato except maybe a home-grown ear of corn. I think she was starting with squash and melons, but if she wants the fastest, easiest bang for her buck, herbs are the clear winners.

I keep fat garden pots on the front porch and my two favorites are finally sprouting up in them.

Crisp fresh basil is a salad to itself. Layer slices of creamy mozzarella, juicy garden tomatoes, and whole basil leaves on a platter and drizzle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

This is the flavor of long lazy sunshine days and hot nights full of fireworks.

If there’s pasta of any kind on the table, toss fresh basil at it.

The basic diet of beans, rice and tortillas sings to my childhood heart. I prefer my Mexican food freshened up instead of heated with jalepenos, so I take a pair of scissors to a fistful of cilantro and sprinkle over all possible combinations of Mex meals.

I would add a lime wedge too, but you’ll have to take it out of the beer bottle.

Not many things are sadder than girlfriends who ended up moving north, east, or across the globe, where Mexican food is a dim memory found in the back of grocery store freezers.

Sometimes, I’ll send a photo of a plate of fish tacos or maybe chile rellenos to a girlfriend in food exile.

Just trying to be friendly.

I put in two rosemary plants because I use it every other week on chicken, but the poor things don’t get enough sunshine. When I have time, I’m going to plant cuttings in the ‘badlands’ of our backyard. Rosemary can become a mighty hedge if you abuse it with hot sun and scant water.

The lemon thyme stays pretty constant. That gets thrown on chicken, too, with lemon pepper and garlic powder. And a couple of lemon slices from our lemon tree if I get real fancy about it.

The mint pot holds both peppermint and spearmint. I routinely rip the stuff out and throw it away, so it knows it’s loved. It will take over the universe if it escapes the pot and we both know it. I don’t currently use the mint for anything but a room freshener, but this summer I can garnish your lemonade, juleps, and iced tea with it.

I added two new herbs this year: lemon verbena and tarragon.

I have no idea what to do with them but they seem happy enough to join the party.

Don’t let your meals go topless. Grow herbs and use them lavishly.

Your rambunctious guests will appreciate the shameless seductive smells luring them into the dining room.

Happy birthday, girlfriend.

You’re welcome.

Gopher, the Other White Meat

When we bought our first home, we were young and reckless.

The only property we could afford was a tiny rock-roofed crumbling stucco 1950s home sitting on a quarter acre of tumbleweeds. There was orange shag carpet covered in pet debris in every tiny room and an O’Keefe and Merritt stove in a kitchen that hadn’t been cleaned since the Eisenhower administration.

It was perfect.

It came with newly retired couples on either side of the chain link fences running the length of our yard.

They tried to digest the fact that twelve year olds had just bought the property.

I was wearing braces at the time. I can’t blame them.

The elderlys welcomed us to the neighborhood, told us about every single resident on the street, and then sat back to watch the show…for the next twenty years.

They were always leaning over the fence, watching.

We went up in their esteem when they saw us clearing the land.

They both gardened and had plenty of advice for where my tomatoes should go and how many corn stalks to a hill and when and which variety of fruit trees to put in.

I took their advice with a smile and a nod and did just as I pleased.

The one thing they agreed on was that gophers are pariahs.

And they must die.

“You can’t drown em out, you know,” began one, “those tunnels go all over the neighborhood. I have a spare smoke bomb in the shed you can use, but sometimes, I just plug all the holes in the yard and snake a hose in there connected to my truck’s tail pipe. It’s cheaper.”

“Poison,” insisted the other, “you gotta stick this stuff into a fresh hole and cover it up. They’ll go back to their dens and die.”

“Costco,” said Hubby, “Costco carries hollow vibrating underground tubes that scare the vermin away.”

“Plant garlic, dear,” said the lady across the street, “onions, marigold, and hot peppers all around your borders.”

I smiled and nodded. But none of those ideas ever worked.

Then came the summer of an epic, Egypt-worthy gopher plague.

It would have toppled a pyramid.

Our huge above-ground pool liner was ridged in the bottom from collapsed tunnels.

It’s stupid when you can trip in a swimming pool.

One morning I looked out the kitchen window and noticed the baby fig tree that we had just planted was shorter than yesterday. Staring harder, I realized the tree was moving. It gave a gentle shake, like a breeze was moving it, then dropped another three inches.

The slender boughs were being yanked down the gopher hole when I ran up to it. I gave them a hard tug, and the last of my sweet baby tree rested in my palm.

I don’t often enter wars, but when I do, victory is the only option.

There was no hope, none at all, for these enemy rodents.

I looked up and the neighbors were watching.

They admired the gleam in my eye.

We formed an alliance on the spot.

The Gopher Wars began.

I, delicate female and advocate of peace on earth, became a hunter the likes of Nimrod.

I grew skilled in the use of the box trap. These same hands that rocked the baby to sleep a half hour ago donned gloves covered in soil to disguise my scent and laid a precision ambush baited with sweet grass.

I, the mother who would not allow her son to have a toy gun, wielded the death blow to the tree murdering garden destroying vermin once they had wandered into my quagmire.

On either side of the fence, my neighbors did the same. Each afternoon we compared numbers. Each time we caught one, we carved a victory notch in our wooden shovel handles.

We buried the little rodents in their own tunnels, as a warning to other riffraff who might travel that way.

That summer, I caught 15 gophers, a personal record.

And this is how I ended up doing the Haka at sunset over a burial mound in my backyard.