Bigger Picture

New Year’s Resolutions, 1
By: Jessica Louque

For most people, January instills the need to make resolutions of some sort that are supposed to make something better about your life. A lot of people use this as an impetus to diet/lose weight/exercise. The few times I’ve done this, it’s ended by February. In the last few years, I’ve tried a different tactic, and it seems to be working a little bit better. I’m proposing that everyone try to add something to the start of their new year that makes them live a little more self-sufficiently in the future. For me, that means adding a defined amount of fruit trees to the property, growing a certain amount of vegetables or expanding the garden, creating something with our produce, or just general additions to the farm. I’m hoping my list will help inspire at least some of you to try the same thing each year, starting in 2015.

I know that some of these are not going to be relevant or possible for some people, and some of them are beyond our capabilities at the moment – that isn’t to say we won’t try to implement them in the future. Some things can be cost or time prohibitive, or take up too much space. It’s up to you to do some additional research on the topics that interest you and figure out what can fit into your life. These things don’t have to be held into a specific time frame except for initiation during the year. If I get a project started in the year of the resolution, I consider it a success. Here are some of my past, present, and future ideas to help spark some of your own. I’ve tried to give some annotations about cost, time, and space in relation to the size of my project to help with the decision-making process: $-$$$$ for cost, #-#### for time, and @-@@@@ for space.

2011: Chickens
I had not really been exposed to chickens before, but I love to cook and I love eggs so I thought it would be a good idea. I am sometimes on the bandwagon of buying things premade rather than building from scratch. In this case, I bought a pre-fab chicken coop that was basically a small storage building converted for chickens. The fence was a painstaking labor that seems to be an ongoing project even to this day with repairs and rebuilding. The chickens are awesome and I still love having them, but it is daily work, and it can be painful at times to lose a favorite chicken to a predator. Bobby’s favorite rooster, Dom, who was mentioned in an earlier article of mine, died from a raccoon fight protecting one of his ladies. After killing the raccoon (he couldn’t figure out how to get back out of the chicken pen as he had snuck in a hole in the hawk net), we blew it up with tannerite as a revenge of sorts for Dom. The chickens all came out and watched, and none seemed to be bothered by the explosion. I wouldn’t trade them for anything but they are never going to pay for the cost of raising them without charging $5.00 per carton of eggs (We charge $2.00).

Cost: $$$$ Time: ### Space: @@

2012: Hive expansion
My resolution for 2012 was to expand my colonies to more than 40 hives by the end of the summer. I started with around 12 for the year. It took a lot of work, but I ended up with around 46 hives by the time I took off my last supers for honey. I was extremely pleased with the outcome, but I realized by the end of the year that my work schedule was too demanding to continue with this level of intensity in my beekeeping. It also took a lot more space for storing equipment than I was expecting.

Cost: $$$ Time: ### Space: @@@

OK, so we had too many tomatoes…

2012: Fruit tree additions
In continuing the homesteading adventure, I wanted to add a lot more fruit trees to the property. This resolution was advanced by my mother, who contributed more than half of the trees that I was requesting to complete this task (15 total planted by the end of the year). I ended up with two nectarine trees, two apricot trees, two peach trees, two pomegranate trees, two cherry trees, another plum tree, six apple trees, another persimmon tree, three pawpaw trees, and an additional fig tree. The downside of this was that a lot of the apple trees were heirloom varieties that did not survive due to disease (and some negligence). Some of the trees were planted at the beginning of the year and some were planted in the Fall, and the Spring trees took a lot of watering and care. In the end, the persimmon trees died, the fig tree died, half of one cherry tree died, and many of the other trees took a pretty hard hit over the late frosts and ice storms. All of the trees were purchased under the guise of being tolerant to the local Winter conditions. They were from the farmers’ market, the local garden store, the big chain garden store, the small scale nursery down the road – all different places and all had varying degrees of success.

Cost: $$$ Time: ##-### (depending on spring or fall planting) Space: @@@

2013: Rabbits
I had the expectation to build a chicken tractor that housed rabbits so that they were constantly on the ground but safe from predators with a built-in hutch for nesting. I was going for the meat rabbits, and had set up to buy a breeding pair. In the end, I had so many changes during 2013 that I lost track of this particular project and after the house damage, loss of electricity, and the Great Chicken Massacre of 2013, it was probably a good idea that this was tabled for the time being. I do intend on bringing this back up at a later time.

Cost: $$ Time: ### Space: @@

2014: Garden Expansion
This year, the plan was to implement a much larger garden space and be able to utilize at least some of the produce. Unfortunately, we went way overboard. I just can’t seem to stop myself with tomatoes, and ended up with hundreds of pounds of tomatoes that went to waste. We had a lot of marinara sauce that was absolutely delicious, but I will be a little more discerning about choosing my varieties in the future. We had amazing corn, more tomatoes than we could pick, zucchini and squash until we couldn’t eat any more, eggplants in multiple colors, peppers everywhere, and okra stalks as tall as my head. The time restraints for a garden this size are too much for us during that time of year when work is the busiest, so we wasted a lot more food than I care to admit, although we had a good time growing it. We will try to reconsider our methods next year and hone in on what the kids will eat and what we use the most. Considering what we grew, it really didn’t take up that much space.

Cost: $$ Time: #### Space: @@

2015: Ebola Goats
With the panic of Ebola setting in around the country, the idea of self-sustainability has made us much more aware of our limitations. If this were truly a threat in the U.S., would we be able to survive in isolation out here? The answer of course, is no. We need a natural water source, and more available food. To me, this was the perfect excuse to get goats. Not because I think we’re all going to die of Ebola, but because it opened my eyes to the dependence we have on stores for most of our food. If we have some dairy goats running around, we will have about a quart of milk a day (more than we drink now) and can make butter and cheese. I don’t know where I think the time is going to magically appear to milk goats twice a day plus make butter and cheese, but I think we’ll give it a whirl. The only thing standing in the way of this is our work schedule. If we get positioned to travel any more during 2015, we may have to postpone the Ebola goats for a bit longer.

Cost: $$$ Time: #### Space: @@

…but the bees are doing OK. There’s just too many of them.

Alternate Ideas/Future Plans
If you want to go smaller, you can always work with vermicomposting, which is inexpensive and low on time and space. Or, make a resolution to can a certain amount of food for yourself and family. You could try making meals in a jar for a week’s worth of food, and then use it to eat later in the year just to see what it’s like. For us, we will hopefully be moving to a larger farm in the next two years. With this upcoming change, I am hoping to:

  • install solar panels on the house we build
  • use a wood furnace to heat our water and the house
  • use radiant heat in the floors
  • have a larger garden
  • raise pigs, goats, and rabbits with the chickens
  • buy a tractor
  • have an easily accessible water source
  • produce 15% of our income on things we raise/grow

These are not going to be cheap or easy, and some of them may not come to fruition. I am hoping that we can end up with at least half of these in place in the next four years, and that we will be able to keep them going. Best wishes to everyone in the new year, and good luck on your resolution endeavors to lead a more self-sustaining lifestyle!