The Intersection between Writer and Smallholding

Smallholding is a word I learned in the UK.  It denotes a little farm, such as mine. It usually means it’s a subsistence farm for a family, with few or no cash crops.

I have 14 acres near Roy, Washington. Technically, it’s all ours but mMost of it is actually owned by the Nisqually River when it is in flood stage.  Some day, the river may decided to shift in my direction and keep that land for a few years. I don’t argue with the river. I let the trees grow and I walk on it, but do little more with it than that. There is enough high and dry tillable land for potatoes and beans and such, and there is a pond for my ducks.  The road past my house is a lot busier than it used to be, but it’s still pretty quiet out here.  It’s a good place to write.

With a smallholding comes work. If I were to ignore the land, the broom, the tansy ragwort and the himalayan blackberries and the other invasive species would quickly claim all the pasture.  Currently, I don’t have a grazing animal, so we must keep it cut. That’s a lot of mowing with the Kubota or the lawn tractor.

Then there is our vegetable garden. There is a time to plant, and a time to reap, and if I miss those times, I’ve missed my  harvest. Carrots early in the spring, beans when the soil is warmer, squash and melons when the sun bakes us.  Often I have a conflict between my farm and my writing.  I come home from a book tour or a convention to find the raspberries have ripened, and birds (or grandchildren) have harvested them all before I could even pick one.  A hot spell while I’m gone can mean the radishes and spinach have ‘bolted’ or abruptly gone to seed, leaving the radish roots hard as wood and the spinach leaves small and chewy.  Even when I’m at home, a deadline can mean that I don’t do my garden chores.  Miss a morning watering, and if the day gets really hot, the plants wilt flat.  When there’s a writing deadline versus a harvest deadline, I know I have to play farmer by day and writer by night.

Today I am making strawberry jam.  Strawberries ripen in June, and June is rapidly coming to a close.  I will leave for Denver on Thursday, so by the time I get back, strawberry season will be over..  I grow strawberries, but the grandchildren were here, so today I purchased, for $46, two large flats of strawberries from Spooner Farms.  I’m doing all my prep.  I have a big pot of water on the boil for the boiling water bath, I am sanitizing my jars in the dishwasher, I have lids and rings, I’ve measured my sugar and I’ve measured crushed strawberries for the first batch. I think I have enough berries for four batches of jam, once I’ve allowed for the random nibblings of passing family members..  Any left over by this evening will have to go in the freezer. Fresh berries spoil very quickly. And these are fresh, fragrant farm grown berries.  Red all the way through, and dripping juice if you bruise them. They are nothing like those green-shouldered, white in the middle, no fragrance sour things that are sold in grocery stores.  These are real strawberries.

 

I’m late getting to my jam making, so this is my last opportunity to make strawberry jam for 2017,  as tomorrow I depart for Denver Comic Con.

I’m not packed yet.  And my fingernails have the look of someone who has been gardening all week. I’ve got some yellow paint still on my wrists where I painted the picnic table.  I’ve got some repair work to do before I introduce myself to Denver as Robin Hobb.

And it’s not just work on me. There’s a list of writing work that needs doing.

I  need to complete the questions for my interview with the Greek fantasy site, Will o’wisps  I have several book reviews I want to put up on Goodreads.  I’ve two outlines that I’m working on for possible stories.  I have a bank deposit to do, a lot of email to answer, and a Denver Comic Con schedule to print out.   I need to charge the tablet, and replace a faulty computer mouse.  I need to find my spare phone batteries.  And I’d like to go on Twitter, oh, and I should do a Facebook post. I need to load pens, bookplates,the phone charger, and some business cards into my briefcase. Remember to take my pocketknife out of my purse, and be sure my passport is in there to keep airport security happy.  Lots to do.

But for this moment, making the strawberry jam trumps all that, because if I don’t do it today, we will have a winter with no home made strawberry jam.  Perhaps not a disaster, but surely a disappointment.

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