We’ve been doing a lot of soul searching lately. A little over a year ago Farmer Dickie left his corporate job to start his own business (technically our business, although he does all the work), and a little less than a year ago our precious baby Quill joined the family. With these two changes we saw our time allocations shift drastically. Gardening with two children is even more challenging than with one child. As is the morning chore routine. Add in very long hours on Farmer Dickie’s part and the need for me to assist in the family business whenever possible, and we realized some things needed to be simplified around here.
I mentioned in our 2015 homestead goals that we wanted to make things more efficient, and there’s no time like the present to get serious about implementing these changes. The first step in becoming more efficient is clearly defining our goals as “homesteaders.” Here they are.
- Raise and hunt all of our own meat. This is the most important goal to me. In the past we’ve raised meat chickens (Freedom Rangers and Cornish Cross) and heritage pigs, and Farmer Dickie hunts deer and wild turkeys each year. We plan to continue to raise at least one batch of meat chickens per year, and pigs every year or two to keep ourselves in chicken and pork. We’ll also continue to take deer season seriously and fill the freezer for the year. This year we’re slaughtering our first home-raised cow as well. Producing our own meat is a priority for us for several reasons: quality of the meat, quality of the animals’ lives, and simply learning the skills needed to do so.
- Have our own source of eggs. Despite the inconvenient realization that we need to stop attempting to let our chickens free range (or bite the bullet and get a livestock guardian dog…), we still really want to have our own eggs. The new plan to keep them safe involves the fenced garden plot turning into a large, fenced run reinforced with hardware cloth, covered with some sort of netting to keep hawks out, and surrounded by electric poultry netting that we actually turn on.
- Year round gardening. I have been interested in Eliot Coleman’s books on year round gardening for a long time now, but I’ve always been so exhausted after maintaining and preserving the giant summer garden that I’ve never had the energy to deal with a fall or winter garden. This year’s garden is small and heavily mulched, and thus requires less maintenance. I’m hoping scaling back on our summer garden (along with the little break we’re getting from not having animals for a few months) will give us the energy to work on fall and winter gardening projects.
- Convenient garden locations. Year round gardening brings me to our next goal- accessibility. In the past our gardens have been in the largest flat areas we could find on the property, regardless of where those flat areas were located. But now that the chickens need a fenced run, we’ve decided to give our primary garden bed- which is pretty far from the house- to the [future] laying flock. And so the gardens are moving closer to the house, conveniently right next to the greenhouse. This should work out wonderfully for my winter gardening experiment.
- Establish perennials and fruits/nuts/berries. We rent, so for a long time we resisted establishing long term crops like fruit trees, berries, etc. We’ve now been here five years, plenty long enough to justify long term crops in my opinion. And so we’re going for it. So far we’ve put in raspberries, but I can’t wait to plant blueberries and start looking into other fruits and nuts we can plant. Not to mention a perennial veggie garden. Yes please.
One thing you’ll notice did not make our priority list- a dairy cow. As you know, we’re selling our cows. The fact is we’re lucky to go through a gallon of milk per week right now. While I do still want to have our own source of dairy (specifically butter, if I’m honest), I am happy to wait for a time- possibly when the children are older and drinking more milk- when I feel our need justifies the time and effort. Moving the cows out also opens a lot of space closer to the house for more convenient garden locations.
Another thing I’m letting go this year is the goal of preserving as much food as we’ve preserved in the past. Don’t get me wrong, I want to preserve things this year, but I don’t have 100 tomato plants like we’ve had in the past… it’s more like 30 this year. And I only have six (!) pepper plants. I would love to get some sweet relish and pickles made, but really that’s all I’m shooting for.
When I look through my goals, they seem so similar to the goals we’ve always had. But when I think about all we’ve learned over the past five years, I have a much greater understanding of what we’re getting into. And hopefully we can use that knowledge to save ourselves some time and energy.
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