Friday, February 28, 2014

The Long Winter

I positioned my desk so that it sits in front of a window so that I could peer outside and enjoy nature as I work.  I find myself having to close the blind on a regular basis as I only see projects that need to be planned and completed.

As far as recent winters go, this one has been particularly brutal.  I can't remember a winter where we had so many consecutive days of negative temperatures.  Snow has been on the ground for weeks, and looking out at the farm has been more depressing than exciting.  On the upside, butchering this year was much easier than last year when the temperatures were hovering above 40 degrees.  Smoking took longer during the freeze as it was hard to keep the pork thawed so that it took the cool smoke, but I'd rather deal with that than warm temperatures any day.

During this slow period we can take stock in what we have, and begin to plan for the busy season coming up in a few weeks.  When we moved last summer we downsized quite a bit, and thanks to a family of racoons what we didn't eat, they did - with a vengeance.  We lost 20 chickens and about 30 quail.  This means we have no breeding stock to ramp back up.  We didn't grow anything last year since we would have missed the harvest so we have no seeds stockpiled.  Looks like we are about at square one, which I think is a good thing.

The Survivors
On the flip side we do have quite a bit of equipment to get started.  We have everything a person could want to hatch chicken and quail eggs.  I have the makings of a great butcher shop for poultry, swine, goats, lamb and deer.  We have many garden tools, and a 29hp tractor.  There is an electric fencer, fence tools and some wire buried in the shop somewhere.

Lori and I decided we wanted to invest in as many heirloom crops and heritage livestock as possible.  These great strains have survived in some cases for centuries, and for good reason.  Heirloom plants are important for many reasons, but for us it comes down to taste, nutrition, and ability to save seeds for the following year.  I've been looking around for a good supplier of heirloom seeds, so if you know of any please comment!  It's important that we find heirloom seeds that are specific to our region here as it is believed they are more resistant to issues that hybrids might face including diseases and pests.

Our blue-sky wishlist for this year:
  • Plant a large garden for day-to-day use and for canning or other winter storage.
  • Plant several smaller "landscape" gardens or raised beds to extend growth.
  • Raise heritage meat birds in two groups for early summer and fall butchering.  Birds will include chicken, quail, and turkey.
  • Plant a food plot for deer and turkey.  The deer use our property to bed down only.  This makes it very difficult to hunt as they return after dark and leave before first light.  A food plot should help this.
  • Figure out how to get the grape arbor to produce enough grapes for wine and jelly, if not this year, then the next.  Grapes are a new experience for us so we'll need to read up on this.
  • Plant a small orchard for peaches, pears, plums and apples.  Again, we have no experience with fruit trees, diseases, pruning and care.
  • Fence in a pasture for small animals such as goats and sheep.  We would like to use goats for milk, meat and reclaiming overgrown areas.
  • Figure out drainage issues on lower property.  This includes clearing out the creek for better flow, creating a rain garden or pond, and maybe even getting a civil engineer involved.
  • Honey bees!
While I sit and stare out the window over a muddy, snow covered field, it's nice to know that in just a few weeks we can begin our dream.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

And so it begins... Again!

Becoming more sustainable has been a goal of my wife and I since about 2007. I was working 80 hour weeks at a government tech job and never seeing my kids. What little time I didn't spend working, I was spending traveling to or from work. Something was missing for our family, and it was me. Providing a bit of food via hobby farming was a way for us to reconnect with each other and do something that made a difference for us in the long run.

Our only attempts at self-sufficiency before this point was a small garden and our once a year hog purchase and butchering. Surprisingly, I enjoyed butchering. Seeing how an animal goes from a living being into prime cuts of meat really struck a chord with me, and the health and cost benefits were a huge plus for my wife. Our small garden provided enough tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers to last a few months, and we really enjoyed canning and cooking with fresh veggies that we had grown on our own land. At the time we were living on 2/3 of an acre across the road from a 5000 home subdivision. Starting to become self-sufficient was definitely a goal, bit what could we do where we were?

First Chicken in 2009
Well, we decided that instead of asking permission, we would instead beg for forgiveness from the neighbors - who turned out to be surprisingly supportive.  In 2009 we purchased a few eggs and hatched them and our adventure began. Those first 3 chickens were a turning point in our lives. Since then we have grown chickens for eggs and meat (up to 100 at a time). We raised turkeys, quails, and guineas all on our land. We raised hogs on an adjacent property our neighbor was nice enough to let us use - in exchange for providing fencing and taking care of a few horses. I sold my Lincoln and bought an old pickup. I quit my job and started working from home. We read lots of material on hobby farming and gardening, and decided we needed to be able to do more. A simple idea we had together had blossomed into a lifestyle we wanted to pursue.  Best of all, we wanted to pursue this together.

Hot Pickles
Recently, we purchased 18 acres of land and uprooted our family to move back closer to our extended family and start providing whatever food and goods we could on our own. It isn't going to be easy, but I can guarantee it will be fun. This is our first winter on the new farm and spring is right around the corner. This blog will allow you to follow along in our learning experiences as we turn this raw land into our dream!