Monday, September 8, 2008

Getting ready

I have given a lot of thought into making a lifestyle change. My husband and I are in general agreement on being more self sufficient and not depending so much on how much money is in the bank. I have spent the better part of a year doing research on how to make this happen.

The first thing we have to do is find a place where we can have a couple of acres, but not really more than 10, to have a bigger garden and a place for some livestock. While this is possible to do in town, we really don't want to have neighbors complaining about our chickens or cows. Ideally, we would have enough house to have weekend guests without having to blow up air mattresses or have 3 or 4 kids to a bed. I would like a 4 bedroom, 2 bath house with a big kitchen, wood burning fireplace or wood stove, at least a small basement to use as a root cellar and/or game room, and a workshop of some sort.

The first thing I would work up would be a garden spot. It takes at least a year to get a garden spot worked up so that it will grow a good variety of food. I am actually thinking that a lot of smaller raised beds and multi-layer gardening is the way I want to go. I can grow more in less space and not have to spend so much time weeding and amending the soil. I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about all of this. I think this way, I can have a good variety of vegetables and still not kill myself trying to work it. I will also have some small fruit plants like raspberries and blueberries, grapes, a couple of fruit trees like peaches, apples, pears, and maybe apricots. Strawberries are another possibility. They do take a little bit more room so we will have to see about that. I really want an asparagus bed. We really love the stuff and it is just so expensive to buy retail. But it takes a lot of time to mature, at least 2 years, but after that, it can keep producing for up to 20 years. If you let it go to seed every now and then, it will reseed itself and you will have a constant supply for the rest of your life.

I have thought about keeping a hive or 2 of bees, for polination and for honey. The problem there is that I am allergic. Not dangerously so, but enough to swell up and itch like crazy. Not really sure my hubby would be up for the bees, but they would definately be useful. Maybe we could just keep them for the pollination and only rob the hives when I can talk him into it.

But anyway, the extra produce we could sell for a little spending money. I wouldn't really want to make a business out of it, but I just can't see us letting it go to waste. And any little bit of extra cash will be welcome.

The chickens will also provide a possible bit of extra income. Eggs always sell well and by free ranging the chickens, the eggs will taste better and be healtier than store bought. Even if I start my flock with only 10 hens and a couple of roosters, and allow at least 1 hen to brood and hatch a nest of eggs each year, I can double the size of the flock every year. If I want to use them as meat as well, I can start with 25 or so and after 4 to 6 months, take one or two a week for the freezer. It is really easy to raise chickens, as long as you can keep the coop clean and the predators out. And since we wouldn't use more than maybe 1/2 dozen eggs a week, and no more than a dozen a week, we would have eggs to spare. If a neighbor has a milk cow, we might could trade eggs for fresh milk.

A pig would also be nice to have around. A pig is a perfect converter of kitchen scraps to high quality fertilizer. And they grow relatively fast so any little piglets would be ready for the freezer in less than a year. If you have enough room to change pastures every year, you can have the pigs work your garden areas for you. They will loosen up the soil for you, fertilize it, and remove most or all of the roots and grasses to make it ready to plant. And after all of that, you will get a Christmas and Easter Ham, close to 20 pounds of bacon, several roasts, a big pile of chops and some really great ribs. And that isn't counting the sausage and sausage products. Since we do not eat the organ meats, they can be used as fish bait for even more variety in your meals.

A small amount of feed grains could be helpful if there is space for it. Feed corn, for one, could be used for more than just feed the critters. It can be used to make corn meal and hominy, or coursely chopped for the chickens and pigs. Wheat and oats would also be good for the livestock or the pantry. The problem with growing grains for feed is that it just isn't really cost effective for a small 5 to 10 acre farm to try and grow the grain and still have enough room for pasturage. But the corn could be grown simply as a suppliment to the forage instead of a main staple and it wouldn't take up too much space.

I hope to be able to convince my husband to hunt, at least some. Some venison, wild boar, turkey, doves and ducks would be a nice change occasionally. And except for the cost of the hunting lisence, the meat would be basically free.

Since I have a smoker, meat grinder, slicer, heavy duty mixer, and a good knowledge of herbs and an inexpensive source for casings, I can make our own sausages. Breakfast sausage and salami are VERY easy to make, and from those basics, I can also make bratworst, smoked sausages, and snack sticks.

My dehydrator can be used to dry onions, peppers, fruit, other veggies, and make jerky and fruit leathers. I can dry fresh herbs for both the kitchen and medicinal uses. I could even make yogurt and raise bread in it.

I can make butter from cream, I can preserve food by canning, freezing, smoking, and drying, I can cook over an open fire as well as on a wood, gas, or electric stove, I can make breads of all kinds, I can cure and smoke ham and bacon, I can sew and crochet, and if I had to, I could build a shelter and live in the woods. I can live well without electricity. I have done it before for a week or so at a time when the power was out, so I have no real problem doing it again. I can make my own soap and laundry detergent, and I have washed clothes on a washboard before, and could do it again if I had to. It wouldn't be fun, but I could do it.

Granted, I don't want to live at the subsistance level in a one roon shack, but living without the need for a grocery store or Wal-mart handy is a good feeling. And not having to spend a lot of money for food every week would allow us to live a much less stressful life.

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