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April snow showers bring May food


The snow that came down today was a beautiful sight. It also provided me the perfect opportunity to replace the seals and gaskets on the pond aerator that I have been dreading. 

Our pump was a refurbished unit I found on eBay two and a half years ago and the whole set up cost us about a third or half of what one costs on a commercial pond website. But last fall, it wasn’t working very well so when the weather cooled off, I went ahead and began looking into the problem. Eventually I determined the problem was in the pump itself so I purchased a gasket repair kit. It cost about $30 (for about $2 worth of rubber and metal). 

I found a few YouTube instructional videos which showed it was about a 10-15 minute job. Four hours laters, I finished the job. Ha ha. In reality, the father-in-law had to help me loosen many of the screws that had been loc-tite’d in place and once that was done, the job wasn’t too bad at all. 

On the food production front, I’m happy to report all of our honeyberry plants are showing new sprouts. Hopefully in a few weeks we will be trying our first honeyberries!  

I think we also figured out the atrium growing problem too. As a back story, we have been trying to grow spinach and greens in the atrium this winter. They would shoot up just fine, but then they would start to whither and then die off. Well, we are pretty sure that it’s because the night time temps would drop pretty low in the room. 

Wifey has started a ton of bell peppers, tomatoes, watermelon, herbs and who knows what else.   She started beets, carrots and onions as direct sews into one of our raised beds (and our fall garlic plantings are coming along quite nicely as well). 

Mom and dad are arriving on Wednesday for their relocation move to the area from Florida. Hopefully the weather will allow me to do some more garden preparations as I’m needing to build a rasied bed for the strawberries we ordered. We also want to expand our main terraced garden as well. So there’s still much to do, but getting the aerator fixed and ready for installation is a big relief and now we can get down to the business of growing a bunch of our food. 

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Early Spring update

Just a short update. Mom and dad have decided to sell their place in Florida and move close to us. They told us a couple weeks ago, flew up last weekend to look at houses and have already sold their place and purchased a house here about 20 minutes away in a small town. 

It’s happened so fast I’m kind of in shock, but it’s awfully exciting. When we decided to move to this area it was because we wanted to kids to grow up near family. Never did I imagine that would include both sets of grandparents. How lucky are our kids?  I’m still in blissful shock about it all. 

I’m backtracking slightly on the prospect of raising hogs this year. As I said before, wifey is undergoing chemo and will wrap that up in April. Then we have to see about radiation. We have a long ways to go in our fruit and veggie production until we are producing all our needs there and I don’t know how much or how quickly wifey will be able to spend sufficient time in the garden this year. 

We started our seeds this weekend…well, she started our seeds, but I can see how happy it makes her to get them started so I just need to think it over some more to see if I’ll have time to do hogs on top of my increased work load in the fruit and veggie part of our homestead. 

On top of that, my father-in-law said the orchard owner said the peach variety on my in-laws land (that used to be owner by the orchard owner) may be the only peaches they produce this year. My in-laws allow the orchard owner to take peaches when he wants some since the orchard folks still maintain the trees for my in-laws. Last year, the other peaches the orchard folks own produced bountifully so we got as many of my in-laws peaches as we wanted. This year, it looks like that might not be the case. It makes me that much more eager to plant a few peach pits this year and start growing some of our own. 

As I’ve mentioned before, we had a pretty good drought last summer and fall. Fortunately we’ve had a few good rains this spring so the river and ground water are both up again. But with respect to our plantings, I wanted plants that could survive on their own so I didn’t really do much watering last year. I am antsy to see how many of our plants survived, but I did notice buds on one of the honey berry plants this weekend so that was a huge relief. 

I have high hopes for our honeyberries, and I even ordered a few more this year without ever having tasted a honeyberry!  If those little first year plants could survive that drought, then they’re keepers in my book. We also ordered some strawberries, a few grape Vines, goji plants and I’ll get some more hazelnuts at some point.

I have been clearing different parts of our woods over the winter. We have a ton of invasive honeysuckle and Chinese something-or-others that are a shrubby undergrowth. I have been cutting them down by hand and I know it won’t kill the plants, but I’ve managed to clear most of the plants from most of our property. There are still pockets of them and I’m sure some smaller ones were over-looking, but I know we will have a healthier woods as a result of my work. 

This weekend, I finally got around to cutting a big Willow tree that had cracked and partially fell into the pond. I left a few branches that hang high over the water, but they are in no danger of falling in. While I was over there, I’ve been clearing out more undergrowth so we have more shoreline to fish and we can otherwise access more of our property.   I still have plenty of black locust trees to cut down (if you don’t have them near you, be thankful). It’s alot of piddly work, but I feel like each time I cut some of this stuff down, I’m returning our property to it’s more natural status.

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but it seems that we have more wildlife now. I see more birds, pheasants, turkey and deer on our property than I have in the past. And even though we let our dog and kids our often, rabbits and squirrels seem to be everywhere. 

That’s it for now I suppose. Just felt like I needed to write and update. Spring is almost here and what a glorious season it is. 

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A crossroad

Remember when social media was where you’d see photos and updates from friends and family?  Yeah, good times. 

I don’t have any of my previous friends that live near me (grade school, college, etc) so it’s nice to see how they’re doing through social media because I don’t call or write many of them. 

But I’m getting social media burnout. I have seen and heard others express similar thoughts for various reasons, but I’m there. 

I used to be a lobbyist. It was a similar feeling. Over time, I just got burned out. I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing and I eventually decided to stop and go in a different direction. I had a drop in income, but I was much happier. 

When something is an emotional drag on us, why do we allow it to continue?  Even as I write this, I am feeling better about my decision to stop. 

What caused this revelation?  Division. Us versus them. I’m right, you’re wrong. 

When you and your friends or family get together, you may discuss a hot topic of the day and have different opinions about it, but when you’re done discussing it, you move on. Social media is like being in room full of people and they are all talking at once. It isn’t social. It’s anti-social. It’s not real interaction or friendship. 

I was listening to talk radio on my drive into work. The topic was generally about what traditions we have lost or are losing as a country. An old-timer called in and said people don’t know or care about their neighbors in places. 

That kinda hit it on the head for me. Social media is selfish not social. 

It isn’t used to check on friends generally.  It’s used to post causes and opinions more and more. And that’s all self-affirming. 

If I were to write a Facebook post about a spring homestead project I’m working on, those that share my interests will applaud it. Those that don’t share our goal of self-sufficiency will scroll past it with maybe a cursory “like” to be polite.   So why would I post it?  

Because of selfish pride. I want people to look at a new garden plot we set up and say “wow, that’s awesome, I wish we would do that”. I want people to look at my life and say how great I’m doing. 

Does that actually accomplish anything?  Of course not. 

So I’m done with it. It isn’t bringing me any joy and eliminating it does. 

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Action

We did it!  Well, wifey will find out at a later date, but I’m getting things in place for us to raise a few heritage breed hogs this year. 

So we are in year three of our new homesteading adventure and each year we find more ways to increase our food indpendence and confirm our thoughts on how much we abhor buying our food from the grocery store. 

This is where I’ll take a moment and say that we will probably always buy stuff from a grocery store and I absolutely love our employee-owned store of choice…but the more I know about food and the more I have to pay to buy the kinds of things I want our family to eat, the more I want to produce on our own.  Oh, sure, I still have a weakness for plenty…including things that won’t grow here, but I estimate we should eventually be able to produce 75-80% of what we eat on our own. 

So to this point, we have been expanding our fruit, veggies and nut production. We still have a tremendously long way to go in many areas, but we are getting the fruit and nut trees going (with more planted each year) and we are continuing to set up gardens. But the biggest missing piece has been our meats. 

My wife is a vegetarian and makes me take insects outside rather than killing them. She is the most gentle soul on the planet, but she has agreed to let me raise pigs to ensure the meat the rest of us consume is the healthiest it can be. This is a big step for her, but it’s important for me too. 

Growing up, we didn’t ever produce much food. As I’ve mentioned, I remember having gardens, but they were generally a few fruits or veggies and we never raised our own meat. I’m nervous as hell. But I’m also excited as hell. 

I want to learn how to raise animals. I want to experience the pain/challenge of feeding them one last time before processing. I’m not one to take an animal’s life flippantly. And I can already feel an appreciation and respect for them as we will raise them to feed our family. 

We are going to get two, but likely three Tamworth hogs this spring. I’ve found a local supplier who will sell us some weaned piglets which we will then raise until fall harvesting. 

That’s a big part of the attraction hogs have for me. Right now, I don’t want to breed them and have them year round. I want to spend six months giving them a good life, then have a freezer full of pork for my family. 

In the long run, I do think I’d like to maybe raise them year round, but that’s quite a bit down the road and maybe I’ll discover I am a horrible pig farmer. 

Pigs just make sense to me. We will put them in a training pen for a few weeks while they learn what the electric fence is and that my bringing a bucket means dinner. Eventually we will move them down into the woods and set up sections in the woods for them to forage/clean up. 

I’ve been researching them for a year or so and get more and more excited as I continue to learn. I spoke with a local family who runs a growing CSA operation and they raise heritage pigs in their woods. The best part is, they said the pigs will go through and root up the invasive honeysuckle we have all over our woods. So not only will we be getting tasty meat, we will have a healthier, more natural property as an awesome by-product!  

As a final bonus, I spoke with a local brewery who is willing to let us have some of their spent grains as a part of the feed we will provide. My intent is to encourage as much foraging as possible, but I will also provide these grains as well as other local proteins and goodies when in season. 

I’m just excited to learn.  I know there will be failures. And I hope my ignorance doesn’t do any lasting harm to the pigs or our property, but just as we have found with our gardens, I believe the satisfaction of producing our own will make it all worth while. 

Well, I’ve got lots to research in the next two to three months. Anyone else out there raise hogs?  The folks from the CSA are going to come out and help us design our pens and a million other things (water, location of final paddock for loading on to trailer, etc).  

It’s another step in our journey and each one brings new fears and excitement!

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The efficient lifestyle

I may have touched on this in the past, but living life efficiently seems to be what is driving me more and more as I grow older and am continuing on the homesteading transformation. 

Transformation…that’s really what this has been. I went from playing video games, owning a boat and pretty much buying whatever whim caught my fancy, to a homesteader intent on trying to break free from outside spending pressures to focus on being efficiently independent. 

The need to break free from the typical suburban lifestyle has been gradual. A few things happened around the same time to cause this “awakening” of sorts. I had been reading a blog (mrmoneymustache.com) which encourages, in short, to work towards an early retirement. 

Then we moved into our homestead around that same time frame. It all kinda started to blend together into wanting to build our property into a self-suffiecient operation. 

So I’m basically going into our second full year of homesteading (it took a few month after we moved in for things to click). Wifey and I are comparing gardening notes, seeing what seeds we need, I’m planning what fruit and nut trees we want and what other items we can do to improve our financial efficiency. 

I saw a story on the news the other day about tomato prices going up this winter. I didn’t read the article or give it much more thought other than to think that I’m glad we have a ton of tomatoes canned and frozen from our garden this year. Frankly, other than the little cherry tomatoes, I think the ones in the grocery store look rather bland. 

On the other hand, when wifey and the kids are constantly asking for Bell peppers when I go to the store, I cringe at paying between $1-2.50 per pepper each time I buy some. This is where my homesteader hairs stand up on the back of my neck knowing we could’ve and should’ve grown alot more ourselves this year…and we plan on doing just that next year. 

I have a few guns I want to buy. But I also know there are several things that need to be done to the homestead one of these years (roof, windows, cistern?, etc) so my thought process is what is an efficient use of our precious and limited excess dollars?  

A gun or two would be nice, but doesn’t directly do anything to help improve our efficiency. A cistern would. New windows would. A new roof could even be somewhat helpful. My thinking is evolving. 

If I put in a cistern, I’m helping reduce our water waste each year. Sure it’ll cost a few thousand dollars, but everytime we pour water from a tank into our well in the ground, some of that is going to waste. It just seems so inefficient and wasteful to pour water into the ground.  (On a side note, if anyone knows any good rain dances, let me know…we’d better have a very wet spring or we are going to have another rough year paying for water.)

We have been buying organic blueberries from Costco by the boatload this fall/winter. Our blueberry plants are doing well and didn’t produce much this year. So I need to try and plant some others in new locations and buy them in bulk from our local orchard folks when they are in season (as in 100+ lbs of them)…the boys in particular eat them like crazy. I also tried to plant a couple of honey berry plants last year to see if those might be a decent alternative so I don’t keep buying blueberries and blueberry plants that don’t produce much. Eventually the goal will be to produce enough on our own so that we don’t have to spend any money on blueberries.  That’s obviously going to be a few years, but that’s the thought process: I notice that we are spending money on this item that we can produce ourselves…can we produce it ourselves or is it better to pay someone else to do it for us. In the case of most fruits and veggies, I think we can, eventually at least, produce most everything ourselves that he grown in our climate. 

Meat is an area we are moving towards. We still have so much farther to go in our fruit and veggie production that I’m not sure if we are ready to make the meat leap yet or not. The boys are still small so I feel like we probably have another 5 years before self-producing pork and chicken/eggs will quickly move up the urgency list for us. Right now I can buy meat from a local grocery store (which processes local meats) for bargain prices if we buy in bulk when they have sales…and we will likely try purchasing a whole hog from a local farmer as well).

I feel like every dollar we don’t spend at the grocery store will mean we can pay off the house that much quicker or putting it towards something else to further improve our efficiency. 

This is an ongoing thing for me. I know I’ve touched on this plenty of times before, but it remains our primary motivation for what we are doing (we also happen to think growing your own food is much healthier as well.). 

So that’s it. Anyone else think of homesteading as living more efficiently?  Are there things you do with the goal being to operate more edfixnerly?

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The long journey

Where to begin?  Well, our indoor planters are actually doing fairly well. At least we have green shoots in the planters and the boys haven’t taken them over for a dinosaur or truck playground.   We will see in a few more weeks if we will be eating any homegrown winter veggies. 

Speaking of winter…brrrrrr. It’s been below zero or single digits for way too long. And perfect timing being what it is,we converted our fireplace back to a wood burning fireplace right before Christmas (after having chimney sweep inspect it).

Dummy-in-chief here had given most of our firewood to the in-laws to burn in their garage woodstove where we all collectively spend many winter’s evenings. Then I figure out it will be nice to have a fire in our fireplace from time to time…I go out and cut a few logs and add them to small Rick of wood we have.

Then we actually started burning said wood in our fireplace. Fast-forward one week and the wood I had stored is almost gone and the weather forecast says it’s gonna get cold…like don’t be outside for long or you’ll die cold.

Hmmm…lightbulb goes off. “Wifey and kids will be home all day…having a fire will help keep them toasty, perhaps you should get more wood”. Let me tell you, chainsaws and daddy’s don’t like to be out cutting wood when it’s that cold.

Needless to say, after a good couple days of cutting, stacking and finding new bodily aches and pains, the wood is piled and momma and the kids are toasty. (editors note: the on-going training of momma to keep the fireplace going by adding new logs while Dad is at work seems to be somewhat successful…somewhat).

So I check the well on Friday and call our water delivery guy and ask if he can bring us a load before New Year’s…he said no, but will Tuesday (the day after New year’s. “ok. No problem”. Me to family: “water won’t be here until Tuesday so let’s go light on usage until then”.

I call water delivery guy today just to confirm. He says “no can do. When it’s this cold, everything will freeze. Hopefully I can get out before the end of the week”. Me: “ohhhhhh fuuuuuudge”…yes, just like in a Christmas story.

I go check the well at lunch time. We have about a day, maybe two of water left. I go fill up several of our jugs, buy a bunch of bottled water (because it was super cheap) and tell wifey no laundry until water delivered. Switch to paper plates and plastic silverware. Don’t flush unless it’s brown, etc.  The dynamic duo (our 1 1/2 and 3 1/2 year old boys don’t always follow said household rules).

So there you have it. It’s ridiculously cold out. We basically can’t take baths or showers, I’m praying for decent weather soon so I can go cut more wood to keep everyone toasty.  I had mostly focused on our food stores for winter…helpful, but not the totality of what you need for cold weather preparation.

In reality, it’s not all that bad. The water is an inconvenience, but we will manage fine. The firewood can be done when I need to so we will get through this winter ok. But what it does remind me is that you can never be over-prepared. I should’ve had alot more water stored. I should’ve had alot more wood stored.

It’s a good lesson for me. Don’t get cocky. Don’t get too comfortable. There is much more to be done before I will go into another winter season fully relaxed.

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Attempting winter growing

We have an atrium in the middle of our house. It doesn’t get much direct sunlight in the fall and winter, but it’s a great space to try and grow something. 

We have a few inherited trees in there and a few plants that require little or no direct light. But this year especially since wifey is undergoing chemo, we wanted to try and use the space to grow some winter veggies. 

I built a couple large planter boxes this spring. We brought them inside and are now getting ready to plant them. The in-laws had a couple spare shop lights so I purchased some full-spectrum lights for them and we are gonna plant several different edibles to see what grows and what does well in those circumstances. 

We are going to do some hanging planters in front of a south facing window as well, but the atrium grow lights is exciting. Of course, we will have to try and keep the dynamic duo (seen here playing in the dirt of one of our inherited trees) from making a giant mess. Fortunately the sliding glass doors to the atrium have two locks that we can use if needed. 

Does anyone have any experience growing under lights in winter?  Any tips or plant suggestions?