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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Off the Grid: Thwarted homesteading daydreams

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

Right around now, I start perusing seed catalogs. Hoodwinked by their cunning advertising and false optimism, I invest embarrassing amounts of money in heirloom seeds and empty hope. Then I basically hold a family board meeting during which I present my case for The Best Gardening Year with a color-coded planting schedule and map.

They humor me with nods and sometimes even pick out some wacky tomato we ought to attempt. When I leave the room with my row plans and tiny sketches of beets and kohlrabi, I know they turn to each other and have a different conversation about stocking up on Kleenex and sympathy for the inevitable catastrophes that will strike.

I think I get a little smarter every year, but the varmints seem to intellectually evolve just a little faster. One year the ground squirrels will ruin me, the next it’s the aphids, and then it’s some hot weeks and my poor time investment.

It starts with the 800 or so seedlings I put in my greenhouse. Only my greenhouse is like a Dutch oven and it stunts their growth or scorches them in a matter of minutes. Those that have survived my overwatering or underwatering rhythm will then be faced with the challenge of transplantation. This is where only the most robust varieties of evolutionary stubbornness prevail. And radishes, of course.

This year, I figured I’d save myself some heartache and a solid work week by simply purchasing some starts from people who know what they are doing. I do this every year, only sometime in June after Mother Nature, free-loading wildlife and poor gardening acumen have killed off everything but the bracken. This ought to reduce my budget significantly.

I also need to learn how to reduce the number of things I do, particularly the failures. Mostly so I can do more things. There is a certain level of things I must always be maintaining. God forbid I ever had a moment when I was not oppressed and overwhelmed by my to-do list. I may end up napping.

Like many things in life, I have approached my oversized garden with oversized goals and dreamy fantasies of hallelujah vegetables, not to mention the omnipotence of self-sustenance. By now, we know that I couldn’t survive a month without coffee bean imports and those grease-stained bags of whole-roasted chickens. I might as well just embrace it.

By getting chickens, of course.

Every time I concoct some genius idea that is going to relieve me of pressure and simplify my life, or at least reduce my sense of defeat, I am compelled to fill that open space with a new challenge. Thankfully, my husband knows this and has mastered the art of what I call “supportive discouragement.”

It goes something like this:

“I think we should get chickens. And fainting goats.”

“I like eggs. How are you going to build the coop?” husband asks.

Obviously, I thought the whole reason I had a husband was to answer all those questions for me. Confused and disoriented, I respond.

“I could totally build a coop. Out of a barrel! I saw it in Mother Earth News!”

“Yes, honey, you can do anything you put your mind to.”

His ability to avoid putting his mind to my grand schemes is impressive if not downright cunning. Also, he never forgets to buy eggs when he is grocery shopping, because he knows if he did, I’d drive to the co-op and solve the problem with a dozen chicks.

And the owls and coyotes would probably eat them before they ever laid a single egg.

Like childbirth, I forget the misery and these things never seem to deter me from trying again or trying differently. Gardening and homesteading require a kind of inherent resilience (and naivete) that I most certainly possess. My hope is that these qualities will eventually prevail and I may someday at least get to enjoy a zucchini that cost me 40 hours of work and $40 of starts.

The dream of celebrating that meal is what keeps me going. I know I’ll proudly present it on the kitchen counter with a smug grin.

“How’s that dinner tasting?” I’ll ask my husband. Before he can even answer, I’ll be trying to convince him to let me raise bison.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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