Wednesday, December 12, 2012

13 in 13

There are no secrets to success. 

It is the result of preparation, 

hard work, and learning from failure. 

-Colin Powell      

While there's a lot of buzz and jokes going around about the end of the world as we know it coming up soon (someone pass me that tinfoil hat over there!), homesteading and all the things that go with it are essentially hopeful practices, which is why I will be participating in the 13 in 13 challenge.

Let me explain.  Homesteaders, makers, survivalists, preppers, permaculturists... all these people believe in their heart of hearts that the world will go on.  They believe that no matter what the world or society looks like that they find themselves in, they will do their utmost to have a good life in that reality.  They - or more accurately - WE believe in living in a sustainable way, apart from the dependence on others or giant, faceless, fragile systems for the most basic ingredients for our survival.  We believe that fortunes change and that sometimes you're flush and sometimes you're bust and that you have to do things that mitigate the risk inherent in just being alive.  If you've been really paying attention to what goes down in a time of crisis or reduced supply of anything important (Katrina, Sandy, Haiti, the drought in the US right now), it's hard to say that a government or even your family, friends, or neighbors will be able to be there for you.  Therefore, it seems logical that you would take that security into your own hands to whatever extent that you can.  That said, there is a certain joy in giving someone a holiday gift that you've made with your own hands.  There's more life and flavor in food you've raised yourself.  There's a level of satisfaction in knowing that you will have a minimum amount of comfort and security as long as there is a beautiful blue planet to live on.  How do you put a value on the entertainment you get from watching a chicken's antics?  Can your heart really be in anything that doesn't directly support this kind of lifestyle?

December 21 is the shortest, darkest day of the year.  Otherwise know as the winter solstice, it is also - to my thinking - the true solar new year.  From this day forward, the days grow longer and the promise of a brighter future is fulfilled. For me, this time has always been about "coming out the other side."  That's why I tend to make my resolutions at this time instead of at the Gregorian new year.  The patterns in nature have always made more sense to me I guess.  So on the 21st this year, I will not be waiting for a bunch of Mayans to jump out of their graves or for the wyrm living in the center of the Earth to hatch and devour us all.  Nope.  I will do as I do every year and set new goals for myself.

This year will be a little different though.  A wise man once said, "the more you know, the less you need."  This should be a homesteader's mantra.  If a tool breaks, could I fix it?  Could I keep myself and my loved ones warm in the cold, fed in a famine, and safe in a disaster?  While I continue to save money to buy a little slice of the planet for my very own, there are a lot of skills I could develop to make this transition smoother.  And once I learn them, I will need practice.  The knowledge part is easy for me.  I read like a starving man eats at a banquet.  The practice of this knowledge has always been harder for me though.  I am ashamed to admit that I find myself a little bit of the "teacup generation" mindset.  I was validated a lot as a child - told I was beautiful, smart, etc. and while that has given me a lot of self esteem, I feel such a need to be successful at everything the first time that I often just don't try it at all.  This has been at the heart of the majority of the failures in my life and I intend to fix that.  As another wise person once said, "anything worth doing is worth doing badly at first."

So rather than the standard weight loss and going to the gym types of goals, this year, I will learn AND practice thirteen new skills.  The inspiration for this effort comes from the site  This site lists skill categories that particularly appeal to people with this self-reliant streak.  On this blog, I will commit to updating my progress for anyone interested and I'd recommend that any like-minded independence loving folks out there join us in our efforts to preserve skills so vital to our existence  but which seem to be disappearing quickly in our modern drive-through, instant-gratification-centric age.

Here are my 13 goals for 2013:
Fermenting: make something tasty that uses natural fermentation methods.
Pickling:  Make something pickled that my hubby will eat
Canning:  Put up at least 10 cans of veggies using hot water bath method
Hunting:  Kill and eat something
Woodworking:  make something useful out of wood and get the tools to do it right
Sewing:  Make something that someone wouldn't be ashamed to wear.
Dehydrating:  make biltong
Alternative Energy:  Make a battery backup system (solar or otherwise).
Camping:  Figure out how to get sleep while camping.
Curing Meats:  make jerky
Gardening:  Double the food I get out of my garden this year from last.
Dairy:  Make a batch of cheese
Bonus fun one:  Make a batch of mead

If you'd like to follow my progress on the 13Skills website directly, here is a link to my profile.

Join up or just help out by rooting me on!  :)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Progress is slow, but it's still progress.

We are still waiting on funding to enable us to buy homestead land.  That said, I've learned a lot in the last 6-9 months.  I've made some mistakes, had some victories and made some plans.

First, the victories.  Strawberries.  I turned one bed into a strawberry patch and nothing worked out nearly as well as they did, which is awesome since they're one of my very favorite things!  I did manage to have a garden this year.  My brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc.) were wiped out by flea beetles   You'll know then if you see them because while they're ravenously devouring your veggies, they do look and behave exactly like fleas, including the jumping.  From this lesson, I found that the brassicas that I planted directly had a much easier time of surviving the onslaught than the ones I transplanted.  I think this has something to do with the vulnerability of a naturally weaker plant.  I've heard this theory, but now I've proved it to myself.  Also, I think I may have planted them when it was too hot for them because I was feeling greedy for them.  The brassica family is my favorite veg to eat.  :)  Anyway, planting things in their season is dreadfully important and I'm not sure I understood that completely.  Secondly, Colorado's growing season is probably too short for tomatoes.  This makes me sad, but not despondent because I have some pots.  I put some of the cherry tomatoes in pots and brought them in before the first frost.  These guys are now providing a lovely bounty right when I want them most - when its starting to get cold.  I will probably start tomatoes in pots early this year and leave them in the pots, toting them outside when it gets warm enough.  Problem solved!  Speaking of pots, I had great success with salad greens in stackable pots.  That's definitely something I'll do again.  I also had some great victories with peas, which, as it turns out, are amazingly delicious right out of the garden!  They're so sweet, they're almost like candy.  I'll be doing a lot more of those next year for sure.

The mistakes... ok, I've already covered most of those, but beyond that, I don't like growing corn.  It's a pain and takes up too much room for what you get.  I'm done with that unless I end up somewhere with a ton more space. I'd also like to address my landscaping.  I live in suburbia.  I am therefore pretty much obligated (if I don't want to be chased out of town with pitchforks and torches) to have a front lawn.  Lawns suck.  They take up a lot of water and don't really produce much of anything useful except for deer habitat.  Now, I don't mind our local herd, because they eat up the fallen apples, reducing the likelihood of pests the next year, but that's about all they do for me besides increase the cute factor of my neighborhood.  The back yard, however, has a 6 foot privacy fence around it. The lady that owned the house before me was an awesome gardener.  I, however, do not have the time or patience to futz with cutesy little paths and the hours of weeding that this yard would take every week.  So I think we need a re-design.

That leads me to the plans for next year.  Tom has agreed to make the old dog run in the back yard into a chicken run for me.  My mother is putting together a coop for me for Christmas.  We're going to take out the decorative, wild flower infested beds and replace them with raised veggie beds instead.  We'll have some little decorative fencing to provide some play space for the chickens as well.  I'm targeting spring to get three little pullets.  Probably barred rocks.  Also, I am determined to swipe back my square foot gardening book from my mother and really put it to use.  I think that would have been helpful to have read already, but hindsight is 20/20.

Anyway, it hasn't been a horrible first year.  I'll try to post some before and after pictures as we complete these projects.  My husband even has a clever plan for heating the chicken water with solar heat... but more on that later.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Step 1 and 2

Step 1: Practice practice practice.
I have turned a bed in my backyard into my first ever veggie patch. I'm hoping to make some mistakes on a small scale before I get my hands on some real land. Which leads me to...
Step 2: Find the land
Mom found 80-some acres that looks pretty good. It's only 40 minutes from work (a 20 minute commute savings each way), has a year-round pond, and is on good paved roads with some south-facing potential build sites. It's mostly grass-land with some swaling done, but it looks old and may not be really on contour. I'm absolutely crazy about the pond and would love to build my house on the south-facing hill overlooking it. That would be awesome.
I think I need to figure out how much water I would need to be in there in order to support an actual fish population. I also need to learn more about micro climates, so I can plan out where to put which crops, animals, trees, and outbuildings.
Now all I need is the funding to buy said land. We are so close to having the money to pull the trigger, I can taste it. So at this point, I will default to step 1. So far I've learned about damping off, fungus gnats and possible ways to water house plants when not at home. I've had exactly one win out of the above list of experiments. :)
I chalk each win up to something I won't have to learn when I do it on a larger scale, and hopefully I'll end up with some sort of food crop this season. Every time I look at my little salad green planters, my heart does a little happy-dance. I just will have to have faith that each time I try, it will get a little bit better.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Self-Watering Systems

I'm leaving for a bit and need to figure out how to water my plants while I'm away. Here is my first video on a few different methods I'm going to try out. Stand by for results:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Making Contact?

I found a great blog out there and I will post a permanent link to it soon, but while its not terribly great reading, the raw information is really exciting.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Home Home on the Range

Dear cyberneighbors,

It's an odd thing to be called to a less than conventional lifestyle. Sometimes it seems all-consuming. It's instinctual. Otherwise, you might not do it and it would turn out to be just another daydream. It must be what its like to realize that you're really a human, having been raised by wolves. One day you just stand up on two legs and start cooking your food and everything makes sense in this new context. That's what has happened to me over the last few years. I can't say that there was any one thing that decided me on trying to move toward a more substantial and sustainable lifestyle. Maybe it just takes a while for the meanings in your experiences to crystallize into a defining path forward. Maybe the signals from the universe only comes in fits and starts - or maybe our attention span does. My point is that my path forward is clear and I will try to document that path for you as I travel it. I know I have found similar contributions from the pioneers that have gone before invaluable so far, so I hope that this blog is useful to someone who stands up on two legs suddenly some time in the future.

If not, I'll have myself a pretty nifty journal of my adventures.

Let me start by saying that I'm not really into conspiracy theories or doomsday prophecies. I think mother nature will give generously most of the time and then have an unholy shit fit now and then just to remind us that we are actually quite tiny and helpless. We ourselves seem hell-bent on our own destruction, which has been demonstrated more often than any of us care to admit. Then there are those threats that loom out there that many people feel are somewhere on the periphery that we may not even understand fully yet. The problem is that preparing for anything in the future is desperately difficult and painful to think about, because before we can prepare, we must admit that we are mortal and that there really is very little between ourselves and annihilation.

That said, the odds of any of us dying because an asteroid hits our planet is pretty remote. Also, there's nothing you could do about it anyway, so why worry about such things? Frankly, life gives us a more than adequate supply of smaller disasters and surprises that can have varying degrees of effect on your life depending on the severity of the event and the preparedness level of yourself and those around you.

Here's the good news: Preparing for the small personal tragedies that happen in life will inevitably prepare you for the bigger ones, so getting your hands around the most likely (indeed, inevitable) situations will help you weather that 100 year blizzard or a tornado that takes out a whole town.

In advance, I'd like to give credit and appreciation to three groups of people. The first is my local Urban Homesteader Meetup group. These people are invaluable. They communicate amazing amounts of information incredibly rapidly and effectively and are an awful lot of fun to boot. Many of us are learning as we go and benefit greatly from each others' experiences and if you can find a group like this in your area, you would probably be much benefited from associating yourself with them. The second group is The Survival Podcast community. Jack Spirko and the TSP folks are constantly sharing ideas, support and community and are, again, an awful lot of fun. I have been listening to the podcast now for a while, but only recently started to post in the forums, which is where there's an awful lot of valuable information. I plan on becoming a member when funds allow. I'll be posting links to both sites soon. Community building is incredibly important. In our day and age, it has become increasingly difficult to have that sense of belonging and support as our society moves faster and faster and we have less time to lean over our neighbor's fence to ask about how her chickens are doing.

Which brings me to the most important group on my list - the one I hope to have on the other side of my fence soon: my family. I'm lucky to have been raised by two wonderful parents. My father taught me how to reason and to question everything, which has served me well in all facets of my life. My mother is the embodiment of nature herself. She's alternately covered in muck in her painting sweats and a beat up ball cap and an hour later, elegant and statuesque in a dramatic velvet gown ready to attend the theater. My husband has a hero's heart and loves me with a ferocity that scares me some times. He is kind, gentle and helpful, and while he doesn't always understand what it is that's got a hold of me on this topic, he is supportive and shows me he loves me every day with his willingness to follow this compass that he can't even fully see. This is rich soil, indeed, to grow the kind of life that will be beneficial to myself, my family, my friends, my community and the planet. Maybe someday even to kids of my own.

I've only just begun to learn and to plan, but isn't that always the best place to start? At the beginning?