The JARR Farmhouse Revisited


What a difference three months can make! For everyone considering, attempting, or winning at urban homesteading, here are some things to consider from “a house of four women who are completely unqualified farmers” but are having a go anyway, sharing inspiration and creative tips for container gardening and other homestead adventures direct from the southern California quarantine.

In April, the planter beds and containers were set up, the soil prepared, and the sowing commenced. See the previous post for our “before” photos. A lot of new skills came into play during May, June, and July, and now it’s time for the summer harvest. Let’s see how the ladies managed.

  1. Remember this lil chick? She was a dude. Four hens came home. One was an imposter and crows now.

    Are we planting flowers or fowls?

    Claudius Maximus Caesar is a lavender orpington. Attitude sold separately.

    Pika is a pheasant cochin, Mochi is a blue leghorn, and Boo is a blue plymouth. They trade manure and eggs for leftover garden produce and bugs. Win, win.

  2. Chickens here require a coop built like a maximum detention facility. Suburbia is no barrier to critters like coons, possums, snakes, weasels, bobcats, coyotes, hawks, skunks, and toddlers, all of whom love to ruin months of hard work in a single night. Build it, and they will come. Search my blog for other stories on chickens.

    Extra points for cuteness. This went inside a larger, chain-link enclosure.

  3. Speaking of extra, the watermelon patch has taken over most of the yard. The first five seeds were planted in April. Nothing happened. They planted another five seeds in May. Nothing sprouted. They bought watermelon seedlings and then it rained. Fifteen watermelon plants later, they could open a corner farm stand and sell melons if they wanted to. For now, they are making friends and influencing people with them. Smart business ladies.

    Summer picnic time!

  4. That one rain is a good reminder about SoCal: we have to water our yards and gardens. We live in a desert. But we are in denial. The spring months were unseasonably cool but by the end of July, the hot spells rolled in. Either way…we have to get out there and water the garden or lose everything. Here you can see the block planter with herbs gone to seed, the shelf planter with greens gone to bunnies (they jump? who knew?) and only part of the rioting watermelon patch.

    Planter mosh pit.

  5. Rows of corn planted along a fence grew to different heights, based precisely on how much sun vs shade they received during the day. Lesson: more sun = taller corn. Taller corn = more ears.

    Growing gold.

  6. The pumpkins fared well, although we are nowhere close to Halloween. Lesson: plant them in the summer for a fall harvest. Also: chunk them into the InstantPot and make homegrown pumpkin pies now because yum.

    Smallish but tasty.

  7. The rest of the garden grew nicely. The cucumbers and peppers are ready. Fresh salad greens came through quickly around the end of May and were afterward left to the bunnies. Late July is when tomatoes are bursting. The butternut squash were delicious.

    Chili pepper poppers, anyone?

    Little cuke cuties!

    Cheery cherry tomatoes!

  8. Last, but not least, we had a peek at the fruit trees in pots. I was a bit skeptical, but here’s proof that you don’t need a yard to harvest trees. These would fit on an apartment balcony.

    Meyer lemon tree. Harvest in winter.

    Mission figs. They will turn a glorious purple later.

Wherein Mistakes Were Made

It was a rough week. Mistakes were made.

I made a big one at work, wherein the people involved were very nice about it.

I made a small one at home, wherein the people involved were very not nice about it.

But here’s one nobody knows about, and as three mistakes in one week are quite enough, thank you, I will tell it and be done.

I was so happy.

After a long day at work, I was finally out in the sunshine, walking between rows of potted plants and trees in a small, local nursery.

It has been years since I’ve had a reason to wander a nursery. My old house had riots of asparagus, corn, zucchini, voluptuous fresh tomatoes. My new house doesn’t even have soil.

It’s built on clay, decomposed granite, and ant hills. It’s surrounded by poison oak, cactus, and gophers. What grows here was planted deeply into a hole in the bucket it was purchased in and requires ridiculous amounts of water, fertilizer, and prayer.

House plants are my consolation prize.

Hm. This place wasn’t as amazing as I remembered it.

There were obvious gaps in the merchandise.

A lone man sat on a bench with his cell phone. He looked up briefly when I walked through the gates and asked in Spanish if I were looking for someone.

“No,” I answered with a big smile, “just looking around for some succulents, thanks.”

Maybe if he got to work instead of being on his phone, this place would look better.

I wandered up the slope, enjoying the fresh air, seeking inspiration.

Another man approached me, “Are you looking for something?” he asked.

“Well, I actually just need a couple of five gallon planter buckets, but I’m also looking for something really different for my house.”

He gestured to the far corner of the nursery, “There are lots of buckets we aren’t using back there,” he suggested. I think. My spanglish isn’t what it used to be.

I cheerfully trudged further into the wild, tromping through the hummus in my work shoes, remembering days of shovels and pitchforks and the smell of earth. Discreetly, I was looking for price tags but there were none. Maybe they were on the bottom of the pots?


In a clearing, next to a ramshackle chicken coop, was a mountain of discarded planter buckets. On the other side was a rubbish pile. A rat ran past it and into a rusty can.

Slowly I turned and peered into a tattered plastic green house, withered vines slumped in the doorway.

There was no breeze, but I felt a chill.

It occurred to me that there were no other people in the whole place besides me and the two quietly observant men. Taking in the overall state of decay, my smile faltered a little.

Grabbing the two nearest buckets, still marked from whatever they had held in a prior existence, I squared my shoulders and marched up to the men.

“These will do,” I said, (regardless of the bugs or plant disease they held), “Where do I pay?”

I looked around for the sweet little shed I remembered from my murky past, the place where I once bought 2,000 ladybugs. The place with a cash register. I saw only a picnic table covered in debris and a tightly closed up shed surrounded with pots.

They really let this place go.

He indicated that the buckets were free and I assured him with large smiles that I would come back when I had a better idea of what I was looking for.

Like fighting cocks. Or maybe some medical marijuana.

My disappointment was deep when I told my mom about it.

“That’s so sad,” she said, “It sounds like they are going out of business. That nursery has always been there.”

And it wasn’t until 2am that it occurred to my brain that perhaps I had made a mistake.

The next day after work, I took another drive across town.

I drove slowly past the empty, shadowed nursery. It just didn’t make sense.

Clarity, however, was waiting around the corner.

There in blazing color, buzzing with customers and bursting with greenery was…The Nursery.

The street, the entrance, the parking area, the shed, the fence, and the gates were identical to the one around the curve. Same large trees, benches, and pots everywhere.

I got out and walked around, admiring flowers. Passing the cashier shed, wind chimes called out to me softly. I camouflaged my blush in the bougainvillea.

I had walked into someone’s backyard and acted like it was all for sale.

And being good neighbors, they were willing to take my money.