Friday, February 25, 2011

Homestead Baby Steps

I started a list yesterday of things we need to do around the cabin to help it become more of a homestead. To help me remain accountable, I will post updates, hopefully daily or every few days, as we accomplish things on our list.

I have accomplished one thing on yesterday's list. I began planting cool weather seeds again. I just planted a 4X4 foot bed of lettuce and today will plant one with spinach seeds. I will take picture if/ when things start growing. Also, I have come up with a relatively inexpensive plan for the compost bins. Only time will tell if this actually works, but I am hopeful. In addition, since the hens are laying better again, we have begun sharing our eggs with our neighbors again. I am so excited to be able to to this again, as our neighbors are so wonderful and have been so generous in sharing their time and their garden surplus with us in the past.

But, as I complete things on the list, I find that there are many things to add to the list. I'm afraid that it will soon be much longer :) It will be important for me to focus on the baby steps if I am going to keep from becoming so overwhelmed that I just give up.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Sense of Urgency

Four years ago, when I began seeking to explore local food supplies and self sufficiency, one of my goals was to acquire land and begin growing/ raising our own food in a more deliberate way. Country living had always been on my heart, but at that point it began to be more about sustenance and less about scenery. Last year, we saw that dream begin to become reality when we moved to our little cabin in the woods. We love our little cabin, and in many ways it is meeting our food growing/ raising needs, but in other ways, it is falling very short.

Our cabin is a hunter's paradise. Too bad, we are just beginning hunters - experience would surely help us to have more success. It is also a nice place to raise some livestock. Our chickens are doing well and I could see adding a few more things such as ducks and fish (we have a pond) and maybe goats (lots of scrub), but anything requiring pasture, such as cattle, sheep and turkeys, is probably out.

The other problem we have with growing our own is lack of sunlight. We are literally IN the woods, so we get no sunlight from mid March to mid October. Fall/ Winter crops grow fine here, and once we have better fencing, I think we will have success in those seasons, but unless we can find a way to increase our sunlight, spring/ summer crops will fail here.

I am beginning to feel a sense of urgency in becoming more self sufficient. The world seems to be changing very quickly and it has me nervous. It could just be post pregnancy hormones or something, but I am becoming increasingly concerned about being able to feed my family. Food and gas prices seem to be rising daily and I am beginning to see empty shelves in the grocery store. We had been, as a family, transitioning away from the grocery store for a few years and over to farmer's markets and raising our own, that is, until last year when I became pregnant and spent those months so sick and so exhausted. Now that our little man is here, it is time to get serious about building our homestead. Here is a list of the things we are going to be working on in the coming weeks.

1. Repair/ renovate the chicken coop and run. The cold, rain and ice were really hard on the chickens' home. Much of the safety netting is torn and needs to be replaced. We also want to add a pitched roof to the run so that when we cover it next winter, rain does not pool in the tarp and tear the netting. First on the agenda with the coop, after replacing the torn netting, is to make the laying boxes accessible from the outside. The roosters are becoming increasingly aggressive with my husband and the boys and I think it would be safer as well as simpler to be able to get to the eggs from outside the chicken run. This would also be safer for the chickens, since there is a chance of them getting out every time we open the door. In fact, last week, two of them got out and we were not able to catch them or coax them back into the run, and the neighborhood dogs got them both.

2. Build a stronger fence around the garden. I am afraid we will need cattle fencing around the garden in order to keep the dogs out. For some reason, the neighborhood dogs enjoy digging up some of my plants and sitting on and crushing the rest of them. A stronger fence may keep them out.

3. Plant some fruiting trees and bushes. We have a small area on our property near the road that gets sunlight. We will be planting some fruit trees and berry bushes along the tree line in the coming weeks.

4. Repair the compost bins. The dogs destroyed the compost bins and scattered the compost all over the woods. I think we will have to make the bins out of wood and hope they survive the canine assault.

5. Remove some of the smaller trees on the property. Many of the shade producing trees are huge and much to big for us to remove ourselves. Since tree removal is expensive, we will only be removing the two that are near the house and that I feel are in danger of falling in the next few years. I do feel confident in removing the smaller trees, though. In fact, the boys and I removed many of them last year and cut them up for firewood. We plan to continue doing that this year.

6. Investigate indoor growing. We grew micro-greens indoors last year with some success. I would like to do that again. We also have everything we would need to grow sprout, except the seeds. I need to find a source for seeds. Anyone have a suggestion?

7. Get something into the ground outside. I plan to get some seeds into the ground, even before the new fencing is up. Lettuce and snow peas, as well as carrots and spinach are on my list right now. I hope we will see these last till harvest.

How about you? Are you feeling a sense of urgency about things lately? What are you doing around your home in terms of growing or raising food? Have you made any changes to your shopping habits?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Feels Like Spring - Little Cabin Update

This past week we experienced many days of warm sun on our faces. What a joy after an unusually cold, snowy, wet winter. After such a dry summer (not a drop of rain for 9 weeks), we certainly welcomed the rain, but its continued presence for 3 months insured that we spent the winter caked in either mud or icy mud. Last week, it thawed, then dried up. Grass is beginning to grow around the little cabin, as are boys, both big and small.

The winter adaptations we made to the chicken coop worked well to keep the chickens warm. In fact, they seemed unaffected by the cold, even when it was in the 20's for days, even weeks at a time. The problem we had was that we simply draped tarps over a flat "roof" which did not shed rain, but instead allowed it to pool, causing our netting over the top of the coop to break. We will have to repair that before we can remove the tarp completely, in order to keep our flock safe. We are planning some modifications to the coop/ run in the coming weeks, including adding a pitched roof and outside access to the egg boxes, and their food/ water.

Our fall/ winter garden was destroyed by the neighborhood dogs (including our own, who love to "run with the pack"), as was our compost box. We are currently investigating some stronger option for fencing for the garden and stronger materials we might use to remake the compost. I am trying not to let these setbacks discourage me too much, though it does sometimes seem like between our animals, the neighbors animals and too much shade, I am destined to fail at gardening. You see, even with strong fencing, we still would not have a lot of success with a summer garden because of the trees that surround our house and cover almost every inch of our property. I am currently investigating options.

Things are slowly returning to normal since the baby arrived. My big boys are such a tremendous help, as is my wonderful husband. I have recovered well from the c-section, and feel great. The baby has a laid back personality and is pretty easy going, which helps, as well. We took a week off from school when he was born, then had a modified (just the basics) schedule for 4 weeks, plus co-op. Last week, we jumped back in full force and I think everyone was glad to get back to normal ( we all missed history and science). This week, I am trying to add menu planning and more cooking, as well as some additional work outside, on the property. I am also hoping to blog more, as I find that keeps me accountable. Even if no one else reads it, I still feel like if I commit here, I have to follow through.

And now, I'll wrap up with a picture of our littlest cutie. This is his default "serious" expression. He is extremely curious and spends most of his waking time looking around, taking in all of the sights and sounds of our little cabin.