Monday, March 18, 2013

Figuring out ways to maximize our place's homesteading potential

 With another snowstorm currently dropping snow at a rapid pace we aren't ready to do any work in the garden or any other outdoor homestead projects but that doesn't mean we haven't been thinking about them! In our current world situation it just seems to make a lot of sense to us to learn how to provide for as many of our needs as we can be ourselves (or find somebody local to buy from or barter with). So with that in mind we have been thinking about the ways that we could maximize the use of the 1.1 acres that we own.

   We have a lot less land then many homesteads and a lot more land than many urban homesteaders or people that would like to be homesteaders. In this post I thought it would be fun to share briefly some of the things that we have done to try to help us "live off the land" and some things that we realize we could do (and for the most part would like to do soon) and I also hope to encourage anybody, even if they are apartment dwellers, to maximize their homestead.

Food Production
So far on our place we have a large fenced in veggie garden (we have a lot of deer in the area so the fence is rather necessary), 2 apple trees, 2 cherry trees, 2 plum trees, a strawberry patch, 2 bee hives (honey), some wild foods that we eat, a small raspberry patch, a rhubarb plant, a grape vine and an herb garden.

Here are some of the things that we would love to add:
  • Laying Hens. We are really hoping to get everything figured out for raising laying hens this year. Generally my parents have kept us supplied with eggs but they have others that they could help out in that way instead and sometimes we have had to buy some to have enough so we would like to try raising our own. We are also planning on getting chickens to butcher but after discussing things with my Dad we decided it would make more sense for them to live at their place as they have more space and that is where we want to butcher them at anyway.
  • Turkeys. We are hoping to try just raising a couple of them this year in hopes of having a completely homegrown Thanksgiving meal.  :-)
  • More fruit trees. This year we are going to try to add an additional 10 apple trees and I am also hoping to find an elderberry. To keep things economical I am planning on buying hardy crab apple rootstock and then my Dad who has a large orchard will graft on some of the yummy varieties that he is raising. Eventually I may figure out how to add some other fruit trees too but we are having to think creatively concerning fitting in the trees with what we already have here while still having a large open yard for our family to play in.
  • More Raspberries. My parents have a huge patch (that I helped to plant when I was a kid) and so we can get free starts from there. Another year I would like to try adding blueberry plants to our place again (my first try several years back was not successful - I believe because I didn't prepare the soil good enough and maybe not enough water).
  • More rhubarb. I would like to get more of that started here at our place.
  • Maximizing garden production through enriching our soil with compost and manure, weeding well and mulching well. I do already use the wide row planting method which allows me to get more "bang for my buck" are far as garden size is concerned.
  • Adding edible plants to additional places around our property. I have already started to do that some - adding in some cabbages to the flower bed, planting a few things in pots on the deck, etc. but I am hoping to do that even more this year and continue to make progress in that direction.
  • I would like to add Hardy Kiwis to our property as well as more grape vines. Again we should be able to get starts from my parents so we won't have to spend money to do that.
  • Keep working on learning how to grow things inside - currently we have tomato, peppers and lettuce growing slowly inside, I know it is possible to grow those things year round inside with production. I hope to get to that point in the near future. We are also growing a miniature banana tree inside and I plan to figure out how to best take care of it so that it will actually produce.
  • This year I did try overwintering a bee hive, I am not sure if they are alive or not as it has been to cold to check them. If they are still alive I am considering still buying 2 nucs of bees which would then cause me to go up to having three bee hives. This should up my production enough that I would better be able to share and still have plenty to take care of nearly all our sweetening needs and maybe also have enough to be able to barter a bit.
  • We also are really hoping to up our usage of edible wild foods this year. Mara has really been studying up on the subject and I have been doing some reading as well and hopefully with both of us working together we can have wild foods frequently.
  • This year we are planning on upping or amount of drying corn that we grow (that was a successful venture last year and so now we have our own corn to grind rather than needing to buy any) and we also bought seeds for dry beans something that I have never grown before.
That is what we are hoping to do, but how about if you have an even smaller are than we do to work with? Here are some suggestions for still raising food in small areas:
  • Grow sprouts to eat. You just need the extra space for a jar! They are easy and yummy and it is fun.
  • Grow plants in pots - either inside, on a patio or in your yard. My brother who travels around the country in a camper still grew tomato plants. He had them in 5 gallon buckets and moved them from place to place.
  • Landscape with edible foods. My sister who lives in the middle of a big city on a very small lot still grows a fair amount of food. She has mixed tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli, herbs, green beans and the like in with her bushes all around their house and though it isn't enough to live on completely they still have fresh homegrown veggies to eat. They also in the middle of the big city have found wild blackberries to pick that grow in a woods near the train track.
  • Raise rabbits for meat. They don't take much space and are very quiet.
  • Raise bees. They don't take much space and help to improve your garden production and also provide honey. Some cities don't allow this but many do. I have seen set-ups where the hives are kept up high like on a shed roof to better utilize space.
For more inspiration of what people can do on a small amount of land visit the Urban Homesteader. They harvest 6,000 lbs. annually from 1/10 of an acre.
Daylilies are pretty in the flowerbed and you can also eat their buds or dead flowers.

Other Homestead Goals to help us Buy Less

I think a major homesteading goal for many of us is to majorly reduce the stuff that we need to buy. We would rather grow it or make it ourselves if possible. This is something we have done for many years with things like from scratch cooking including breads, some cheese, yogurt, pickles and such, a lot of making over/repurposing of clothes and other things, quilt making, rag rug making, line drying of clothes (which makes it so we don't have to buy as much electricity), lotion bars, lip balm, candles and much more but here are a few new things that we hope to embark on this year:

  • Soap making. I have made plenty of laundry detergent by mixing together various ingredients I have purchased but so far I have never made soap in a kettle from oil and lye. I have all the ingredients on hand now however (I have tallow from our beef and I did buy lye this time though I want to learn to make my own!) and so soap making is a project planned for this Spring. I want to make it outside to avoid any possible fume problems.
  • Building things with wood. Ken has done some of this and I have helped a little but I would like to do more and the boys would like to join me in that. My dream is to make quite a lot of things using pallets. My brother that works at a lumberyard locally is able to get me as many pallets as I can use and so we have some big dreams in this area. First up is flooring in the boy's room. We shall see how that goes! :-)
  • Spinning yarn. I don't know if this will happen this year or not but it is a dream for sometime. I do know some people with sheep and I think that I could quite likely barter for some wool. I have a drop spindle that I would like to get good at and then eventually I would love to get a spinning wheel. Another dream is to eventually get angora rabbits so we could raise our own fibers. We do also have flax growing and I would love to grow more of it (as it is beautiful) and I think it would be fun to experiment with turning it into yarn but I believe it might be pretty challenging.
Some other homesteading things that we have been thinking about or working towards are:
  •  Digging an additional shallow well on our property this year. I purchased everything we need (a hand pump and pipes and such) so as soon as the snow melts and the ground thaws we will be ready to go. I want to have water available without the use of electricity. We do have our own well already and I thought about buying a hand pump that can go on an existing well but our pipe wasn't large enough. The method of simply digging a new well (by hand) is cheaper  for us anyway. We did also buy a Berkey Water Filter as well so we can purify snow water or rain water if needed and also if our shallow well water ends up not quite pure.
  • Finding ways to earn more money while working at home. The kids and I have been working towards opening an Etsy shop and also selling various hand made items locally.
  • Getting an emergency back up wood stove and stacking up some wood to burn as well. Ken (my insurance agent husband) doesn't want to actually install it currently but wouldn't mind having it on hand just in case we should need it for long term heat without spending money. We are also looking into a generator for short term emergencies.
There are many ways that people at any location or station in life can learn more to help them live a homesteading lifestyle. Find various skills to learn and start doing it!

   For me the homesteading lifestyle isn't simply being prepared for emergencies but also just the joy we get from living a life where we know where our food comes from, we know the sources of many of the things we use. I doubt that this life is for everyone but personally I love it!

What does your family do to maximize the potential of your homestead? I would love to hear about what you are doing. Advice and tips are always appreciated and if you have any questions feel free to leave those as well!

I am linking this up with the Homestead Barn Hop


Rachel E. said...

You sure have some big plans. That's great. There really is a lot to think about and a lot we can do to make it more cost effective to live. I also think the more we grow and make ourselves, the healthier we will be in the end. :)

Clint Baker said...

Sounds like a great start!

Greg and Donna said...

We have laying hens in our suburban backyard. The fresh eggs are great. They really don't take alot of work ~ and mine love my kitchen vegie scraps and flowering weeds from the yard! I've got 6 blueberry bushes that are alive and produce some berries but not nearly what we want. They get plenty of sun and water, so I am not sure what the problem is ~ oh, and we have 2-3 different varieties because they need the different ones to produce berries! I will be interest to see how you plans work out. Have you ever grown Stevia? Thats in my plans this year.

Abbi said...

Greg and Donna,
Thanks for the encouragement on the chickens. I am looking forward to being able to share kitchen scraps and weeds with them. Do you have enough acid in the soil where your blueberries are? I think that was part of the problem with the ones that I tried to grow. I did try going stevia last year and though a lot of my seeds didn't germinate some did but the plant only got around 2 inches high and then wouldn't do anything else and eventually died. Obviously something wasn't right but I am not sure what. I hope you have better success than I!


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