Springtime Projects on the Farmette

Author: Meera, March 29, 2018

After weeks of rain, Mother Nature has put on a robe of splendor.  Warm weather has arrived. Already, my beekeeper neighbor has had his honeybee hives send out three swarms.


April 13, 2016 bee swarm on Henny Penny Farmette

Previous bee swarm on Henny Penny Farmette


My own bee population seems to be swelling. I’ve fished out my swarm catcher, primed it with scented lemon oil, and placed in among the blossoms in a nearby apricot tree. I may be blessed with a swarm as well.



Our grapes are Thompson Seedless and Merlot

Our grapes are Thompson Seedless, Merlot, and golden Italian muscat



There are plenty of other springtime projects to attend to here on my farmette. I’ve got to reassemble my temporary grape arbor. Each year, I think we’ll build a permanent structure, but there never seems to be enough time.



My cell flats have organic plants up now and ready for placing in my garden or raised beds. I’d like to add some more chicken manure to the strawberries since they are rapidly growing and producing small fruit.



strawberries lg em



Other plants need a spring feeding–the citrus, apples, and apricots, for example. I usually do the feeding before the trees break bud, so I’m a little late.




This candy-stripe rose was a gift from a friend--a cutting from her rose that became a large bush in my care

This candy-stripe rose was a gift from a friend–a cutting from her rose that became a large bush in my care




I will be turning the compost pile and mulching all my rose bushes (which have already leafed out and are setting buds). Finally, I’d like to put up a couple more bird houses (mating is already in the air) and fill my hummingbird feeders.



These six-month-old hens love treats like greens from the garden

This–my original flock–was massacred by a wild predator, fox or coyote,  last year



I need to purchase baby chicks from the feedstore to start my new flock. Hubby and I will build a new, reinforced chicken run and expand the existing hen house.



Then, there’s the side walkway that needs pavers. Painting of the fences. Building a new porch. Widening the patio…the projects are seemingly endless, but that’s fine. We’ll have a lovely six months (maybe an occasional storm). The dry season is upon us.


And I’m ready for the Adirondack chair…oh, that’s right…we have to build it first!



Classic Adirondack Adirondack chair, surely created for the enjoyment of a a garden

Classic Adirondack Adirondack chair, for the enjoyment of a a garden







If you enjoy reading about farming topics and you love a good cozy mystery, check out my  novels from Kensington Publishing–A BEELINE TO MURDER, THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE, and A HIVE OF HOMICIDES. All are available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and other online retailers as well as in bookstores everywhere.




My debut novel Sept. 2015

The debut novel for the Henny Penny Farmette series









The second book in the Henny Penny Farmette series

The second book in the Henny Penny Farmette series






COMING Sept. 2017

The second book in the Henny Penny Farmette series

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How My Real Life Informs My Art

Author: Meera, November 29, 2014

Every story needs a setting, a world in which something happens. For my cozy mysteries, I didn’t set out to create a new world for my coterie of characters, I just appropriated details of the life I am living as a farmette dweller.




Spring beekeeping involves rescuing swarms

Spring beekeeping involves rescuing swarms, which can be quite dramatic



Daily chores on our Henny Penny Farmette provide plenty of fodder for my fictional stories. Our daily activities include chicken care, garden and orchard work, beekeeping, cooking and preservation of vegetables and fruits, renovating the antiquated farm house, fixing sheds, and building fences and retaining walls.



Stories need a sense of verisimilitude for readers to suspend disbelief and join the fictional journey. Drawing upon my real-life experiences, I can easily integrate my adventures in my books. And not only my activities, but also experiences of my architect husband who is ever-occupied with making our old house more liveable.




Henny Penny Farmette house in 1953

In this 1953 photo, our little house sat in a great, big field with not much around it; the dwelling faced Mount Diablo (still does) and the Delta and great central valley lie to the northeast



The tax assessor told me that our dwelling might have been a mining shack in the late 1940s (we live near Mt. Diablo and Lime Ridge where mining and rock quarrying were once important industries). We’ve also been told that our little house might have later served as a farm home (we live less than two miles from designated agricultural farmland). The structure desperately needed updating when we found it almost five years ago. But as settings go, the house and farmette work great.




Creating a pattern for insertion

Creating a pattern for the kitchen counter back splash



We have since used recycled and reclaimed materials, sale items at big box DIY stores, and gifts (like lumber, stone, and windows/doors) from friends who do demolition on estates. We’ve visited companies that sell granite and asked for permission to take broken stone from their dumpsters. Thus, we’ve created a lovely bathroom floor with found materials that we’ve cut and sanded.




Light from a crystal chandelieradds drama to such a small space

Light from a crystal chandelier dances off the new granite counter, but the floors were not yet installed when this photo was taken



Of course, the exact details of our daily activities may not make their way into my stories, but versions of them sometimes do. At the very least, such activities inform my storytelling. I daresay the chickens and bees serve important roles in my mysteries. And each new day brings new adventures, from foxes showing up to skunks and raccoons raiding our fruit and nut trees.



Lately, a new chicken showed up on our property (a heritage chicken that had the ability to fly over my neighbor’s fence). She’s been staying here ever since. Wild turkeys often take a path through the property and once or twice a gorgeous stallion named Romeo and its owner ride by and say hello. Such events can add textural details to the setting of a story.



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Henny Penny Farmette house in 1953

Henny Penny Farmette house in 1953



I met with the tax assessor last month and he gave me a picture of our small farmette house from 1953. At that time, the house was only six months old. Over the ensuing years, many changes were made, rendering the tiny miner’s shack or bunkhouse (that appears to have been a single room) into a  2-bedroom, 2 bath house of roughly 1,000 square feet. We continue to renovate but limited resources slows everything. Eventually, we’ll have a small finished house in a lovely environment.



When we found the property in 2009, it was in foreclosure and looked like a dump. That’s because it had been used as one. Broken pieces of granite and cabinetry wood had been piled along its aging, rotting fences, too weak and weary to remain upright. Inside, the hardwood floors had been ripped off and everything that could be “harvested” from the house by others had been taken. The only appliance was an old refrigerator sitting a weed-field that served as the back yard.



But we saw land all around. Rising up  to the north in back of our farmette are hills (emerald green in the rainy season) that separate the inland valley where our farmette is located from the great Central Valley of California. Seeming as near as our front yard, the blue-green peaks of Mount Diablo tower over the landscape in the east and southeast (we now see these from our living room couch and front porch). From the northwest in summer, the breezes off the San Francisco Bay where it becomes the Straits of Carquinez blow toward Mount Diablo around 4:00 P.M. every day to cool the area.



Our sweat equity is paying off--our backyard no longer is a weed field

Sweat equity has paid off with a backyard instead of a weed field



After pulling out the  weeds that at one point towered over our heads, we envisioned re-engineering everything. We constructed a new landscape that included fruit, citrus, and nut trees, beds for roses and other flowers, an heirloom herb and vegetable garden, and a designated area for bees and chickens.



We've planted roses everywhere

We planted roses everywhere



Without a huge budget, we believed the renovation of the house would be ongoing (and it has been). This is our fourth winter. When we are not working outside, we are working on the renovation inside. For example, recently we installed window trim in the living room. Today, I’ll caulk, spackle, and sand in preparation for painting later this week.



The art deco stained glass door and trim enhance the entry to the house

We’ve added an Art Deco entry door, molding, and trim




Previously the entry into the house was through a side door and bathroom. The first impression wasn’t good. My husband created a welcoming entrance with exterior moldings around the windows and door. I talked him into a screen door and a porch (as yet unfinished) with a trellis to support purple wisteria.




A flagstone path lined with roses and citrus leads to the new door at the front

A flagstone path lined with roses and citrus trees  leads to the new front door but the porch is yet to be finished



Since unseasonably warm temperatures have been forecast for the week, we have begun work on a flagstone walkway leading to the porch. I love when Carlos gets out string, stakes, and the can of marking spray and begins putting down boundaries for fences, walkways, stone paths, and garden gates. The tax assessor didn’t ask about those markings. But we expect the property value to be listed higher next year because of the renovation we’ve already done.








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