How We Got Started With Homesteading

Sharon, a neighbor who does biodynamic gardening asked me about my gardening experiences on her email list. Here’s my response…

I live out side of town limits (in Wicomico County, on the MD side) on almost 2 acres.  We moved here about five years ago and our first spring we planted several blueberry bushes, thorn-less blackberries, an apple tree and grapes. We also tried to turn our crab grass back yard into a huge garden with the help of  another family,  but boy did we bite off more than we could chew! We really had no clue what we were doing, but I’m very glad we got those perennials in the ground that first year. I did love the fresh zucchini! It was the only thing that grew well. We decided we didn’t know what we were doing and needed a better plan.  We were rather discouraged watching the bugs eat our veggies, but we knew we didn’t want to use any pesticides on them.

About two years ago we tried “Square Foot Gardening” which worked better, but not great. We didn’t have very good compost and our “Mell’s Mix” wasn’t right, but it was smaller and better planned. We learned all about Tomato Horn Worms.  One problem I ran into is that I just didn’t know how to prepare and cook fresh veggies! We started composting more, and we did put in a descent herb garden. We talked about raising rabbits for meat, and worm composting. We bought more books and read online, and subscribed to Mother Earth News!

Julian arrived in July of 08, and we decided my stay at home mom project would be chickens, not rabbits. We converted a dog pen that came with the house to a coop, and made plans to build better one next to it, where they could share the run. We bought some extra chickens from a vegetarian friend, mostly speckled sussexes: 7 roosters and 2 hens. Well, when the roosters started harassing the hens way too much, we thought we should eat them. That first kill was the hardest. Paul tried to break the neck by hand but, it didn’t go so well,  we didn’t know really what we were doing. We didn’t scald that first one, and the plucking was slow!  I was reading directions out of the book for Paul. We felt really bad about the botched kill, and opted to just use a hatchet next time, and to scald the birds. We did two at a time for next couple of weekends. After that we raised some leghorns, and butchered those roosters, this time I bought an orange traffic cone  for a killing cone, and that worked much better. I didn’t drop them in the bucket of blood this time.  And that was the last time we butchered any chickens. At the moment we only have two roosters and the rest are layers. We hope to raise some more to eat this spring. Also in 08, I was gifted some red wriggler worms  and got started with my “lazy no turning” worm composting. The black berries started to produce well, and I cooked several “Blackberry Buckles”..MMM!

In December 08 we planted 12 dwarf fruit trees and some more blueberries.  We ordered the dwarf trees from the Arbor Day Society.  The advantage of dwarf trees is that they don’t need a high ladder to pick, and you can plant more trees closer together. I’ve read that they will produce 2-3 bushels of fruit when they mature, which won’t be for several years.

So in 09 we decided to join Provident Organic Farms  CSA .  Paul still wanted to do a garden, but this time we used “How to Grow More Vegetables” by John Jeavons. I also got a great cook book from the CSA! . Paul double dug a bed, and we got some seed from our local farm store. I didn’t know anything about GMOs then, or seed saving. The first thing I learned is that sprouting seeds takes up a lot of space, which we don’t have. I hope to fix that this year, if it would ever stop snowing!  So we had the best luck with potatoes, and bush beans, but we had several pumpkins grow, a few cucumbers and the compost pile outside grew a lovely butter nut squash that I still have some squash from.  Those black berries that planted that first year were plentiful.   We were gifted some raspberries, a hops, and a fig too.   This past summer my mom taught me to can, we made grape jelly from our grapes, and some apple butter.

This year we need to put up a green house and build a chicken tractor. We might also be tearing down our deck and putting up a sun room with a wood stove. We are just a little too dependent on electricity for heat in an emergency for my comfort. I also bought a hand push reel mower. We have a riding mower, but needed something smaller for doing detail work around the trees and garden, and I thought a hand push mower would be perfect.  I also plan on making blackberry jam, which is my favorite.  I hope we get a few blueberries,  just enough for a taste.

Looking back, we were very discouraged after that first garden, but we stopped putting money and time into gardening for a few years, and bought books instead.  My mom bought me a copy of “Storey’s Guide to Basic  Country Skills” which is a great resource! If you have “Barnheart” this is the book you should start with! We also picked up the “Storey” book on chickens.  The CSA cookbook is called “Simply in Season” and it has really taught me how to use what’s coming out of the garden. I’d be lost without it! Every year we learn something new and get better at it. Finding the local organic community to help us has been the best blessing ever!  Thanks Sharon and Lisa!

QH

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