Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I Am Thankful

I just read a blog about a women who is suffering through an illness.  It causes me to remember my own year of illness and surgeries.  I always knew there was something that GOD was trying to teach me.  I think we are all on our own paths and learning comes easier to some.  I don't know what God's plan for me is.  I am just trusting that I am now on the right path.

I never dreamed of being a farmer in my former life.  Never imagined a life where we worked to be self sufficient.  However, after spending a year in bed, I knew I never wanted to go back to that.  I wanted to take care of myself and my children.  I couldn't afford organic food on our one income family.  I struggled with the need to feed my family REAL good food.  I knew there was a better way.
I read a book or two by Joel Salatin and was hooked.  Specifically how to raise chickens and make $25,000 a year.  Sounded good!  However, that didn't translate to actual $$ for us.  Our main hurdle?  We lived in a sub-division! No Land!  So we leased land- two acres to begin with and eventually 20 acres.  We started with 150 Cornish Cross Chickens and ended with upwards of 1100 heritage chickens when we moved.  Did we make money? NO, but we were starting to get close.

I also found that I love working with our customers- I wanted them to know us, and see how we raised our animals.  I craved their reactions, I needed their accolades on the quality of our chicken and eggs ( and pork too).  I discovered I need words of affirmation- that is my language of love.  I love being a Mom, but you don't get too many words of affirmation from this job. 

I started working for an online farmers market, and working with other farmers.  I loved it!! I enjoyed my time with the customers and the farmers- and I learned so much.  Those farmers taught me so much about integrity and diligence.  They showed up every week, with the best they had to offer.  They apologized when they screwed up and worked doubly hard to make sure they didn't again.  They often woke up before the sun and went to bed long after the sun went down. If they were dairy farmers they worked twice as hard as the rest of us, for often little or no profit.  All of them (and me too), were full of hope for a brighter food world. 

So to sum up my post here.  I did get so off topic.  I am thankful for that year.  I did learn so much about myself.  My kids are better people for it, and I love them for their service to me and our family.
When life throws terrible things at you always always look for the lesson.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Goals and Clearing

Yesterday we spent the day cutting down trees on the side lot by the front of our farm.  Our goal is to get this area completely fenced by the end of December.  There is still plenty of grass over in this area and it would go a long way to keeping our sheep fed for the winter.  It may only be an acre total, however it is long and narrow, and will cost more to fence it than a regular 1 acre lot.  An acre is about 209 ft squared.  This strip of land is more like 700 by 100 by 700 by 40 ft.  It is going to take a bunch more fence.  With this being done and a gate put in place on our driveway, we will have cut off access from the road for any stray dogs attacking our animals.

As you can see we have a lot more to do. All of the fence lines are for cattle- meaning that they are just 3 strands of barbed wire.  Our sheep, chickens and dogs will need 2x4 welded wire fencing to keep them in and the coyotes, foxes and bobcats out.  The darker yellow is what we have done so far, and the lighter is what still needs to be done.  Everything is overgrown and needs clearing before we can put fencing in.  It is more work that we can get done in one year and so we are trying to take it in steps.  Here is the before of the side we are working on right now:

We took down 4 trees yesterday- learning the whole time- how to take the trees down safely.  I helped Hubby take down the trees, the kids stacked wood and took branches out to our burn pile.

There is still so much to do- Including
Clear Land
Fence paddocks closest to house
Figure out how to get water to the back of property
Sound overwhelming?  It is, but I am excited to to get this property in shape and in working order.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Plant Zones and First Frosts

I am researching my plant zones and first and last frost dates today.  Did you know that in 2012 most of the United States underwent a change in plant zones?  That's right, most of us got moved 1 to 2 zones warmer.  Hmmm.... but global warming is a non-issue right? 
I am in zone 7a, but just barely.  You can check your zone here: http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/InteractiveMap.aspx
I then went and checked when I could plant here:
Here are my dates:

CropStart Seeds IndoorsMoon-favorable DatesStart Seeds in the GroundMoon-favorable Dates
BeansApr 13-27Apr 13-25
BeetsMar 23-May 4Mar 28-Apr 9
BroccoliFeb 15-Mar 1Feb 15-25Mar 23-30Mar 23-27
Brussels sproutsFeb 15-Mar 1Feb 15-25
CabbageFeb 15-Mar 1Feb 15-25Apr 6-20Apr 10-20
CarrotsMar 8-23Mar 8- 9
CauliflowerFeb 15-Mar 1Feb 15-25Apr 6-20Apr 10-20
CeleryFeb 15-Mar 1Feb 15-25
CornApr 27-May 4
CucumbersMar 16-30Mar 16-27Apr 20-27Apr 20-25
LettuceMar 1-16Mar 11-16Apr 6-27Apr 10-25
MelonsMar 16-30Mar 16-27Apr 27-May 4
Onion setsMar 16-23
ParsnipsMar 23-Apr 13Mar 28-Apr 9
PeasMar 1-16Mar 11-16
PeppersFeb 15-Mar 1Feb 15-25
Potato tubersApr 13-27Apr 26-27
PumpkinsMar 16-30Mar 16-27Apr 20-27Apr 20-25
RadishesApr 6-20Apr 6- 9
SpinachMar 1-16Mar 11-16
Squash, summerMar 16-30Mar 16-27Apr 20-27Apr 20-25
Squash, winterMar 16-30Mar 16-27Apr 20-27Apr 20-25
TomatoesFeb 15-Mar 1
Feb 15-25
I don't think I can wait until March 23rd  to plant beets. I say that now, but I bet you those dates creep right up on me and I am scrambling to get things in on time. 
We are leaving our animals on our garden area over the winter in hopes that they will fertilize the land.  Maybe we won't have to add as much compost to the area. 
These are my favorite sites for seeds-
All time fav is : http://www.seedsavers.org/- they are trying to do it right, and draw from a huge number of members that have old time favorites.
http://www.johnnyseeds.com/  has a lot of information on the plants themselves.  I really appreciate the extra information.
http://www.territorialseed.com/   another great site for good quality seeds
You need to watch carefully to make sure you are not getting GMO seeds.  I am choosing not to grow corn this year, because I live in the middle  of corn fields and I do not want cross pollination between GMO seeds and mine. 

Another thing we are considering is how to keep pests from eating on our plants, and what kind of fertilizers we can choose that will benefit the plants but keep harmful chemicals from our plates.
The kids have suggested we get guinea keets to help keep the bugs at bay. I think this might be a good solution but they also make a bunch of noise all day long.  Think of them as the burglar alarm for your farm.  They let you know if anything is out of place! 
Do you have any great seed places you buy from each year? 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What Do You Really Eat In A Year?

This has been a very confusing question for me-  I am doing a lot of guess work here.  We are trying to eat 90% of our meals at home, both for the health benefits and the tight budget .  I find it hard to feed a family of 5 on our current budget of $800 a month.  This includes everything, dry goods, toilet paper, etc....  With all of our kids in their teens now and two of the three being boys, the money never seems enough.  I am used to having our own eggs, meat, and vegies, but with our moving so late in the year we did not have a chance to grow our own anything.  We are waiting on our 20 hens to start laying eggs still.   I am motivated that in 2013 we will try and be more self sufficient with our food production.  In an effort to figure out how much seed to purchase and how many animals we need to have on hand I developed a list of what I THINK  we will need in 2013-2014.  Figuring that our growing season may not start until May 2013 our full year might be May 2013 to May 2014. 

So here is what I have come up with:

100 chickens- with 1/2 being in parts and 1/2 in whole chickens
2 pigs- seems like we go through one every 6 months
1 cow- should last all year long
1 Lamb per year
15 turkeys- one for every month and a few extra to make into ground turkey

Herbs- Hannah will likely add to this list, but I want to have fresh or frozen herbs this coming year
Mint, Basil, Thyme, Lemon Balm, Rosemary, Cilantro, Parsley, Dill, Lavender, Oregeno,  Pyretheam
Sage, Stevia

Fruits- we will not have our own orchards yet- it will take them a few years to come into fruit so we will have to look around for orchards to pick from
Blueberries- 50-100 lbs frozen
Apples- 30+ lbs for applesauce, pies, butter and frozen  to add to dishes later
Peaches- 20+ lbs for jam making, and to freeze for later use
Plums- 15+ lbs for jam making and to freeze or dehydrate for later use.

Mushrooms-  I am hoping that Eric will take on the task of growing mushrooms for our family and maybe extra to take to markets in the summer
Button, oyster and shiitake

Vegies-  I plan on canning, freezing and storing most of the harvest while still eating what is in season
Beets-  50 jars with 10 beets per jar= 500 beets
Beans- 50lbs with 1/2 produced from bush beans and 1/2 produced from pole beans = 100 bean plants
Broccoli-  100 lbs with 2lbs per plant = 50 broccoli plants
Cabbage- eaten seasonally = 5-10 plants
Carrots- 100 lbs = 200-300 carrots
Cauliflower- 40 lbs = 20 cauliflower
Cucumbers- 25 jars of pickles= 10 plants
Eggplant- 20 lbs to freeze and eat at harvest time = 10 plants
Garlic- 100 bulbs a year- we use at least 2 a week
Kale- eaten seasonally = 5-10 plants
Lettuce- eaten seasonally I want to try and always have some planted
Melons- to eat seasonally and freeze for later use = 20 plants
Onions- 100 to 150 lbs = 200 to 300 planted
Peas-  100 lbs a year = 100 plants ??
Peppers- to eat seasonally = 5-10 plants
Potatoes-  200lbs  1/2 in sweet and 1/2 in regular
Pumpkins- 20-30 in several varieties- I bake and freeze most of my pumpkin
Spinach- 50-100 plants to eat seasonally and freeze for the rest
Summer Squash- 20 plants to freeze and eat seasonally
Swish Chard- One of my favorites- to eat seasonally 10 plants
Tomatoes-  This is a big one- We eat a lot of diced tomatoes.  500lbs of tomatoes = 100 plants  We need diced, stewed and sauce tomatoes
Watermelon- to eat seasonally 20-30 plants
Winter Squash-  Most of these hold well over winter in storage
Butternut, Acorn, Spaghetti  10-20 plants each

Here is the real question- Can we really grow all of this food ourselves?  Of course there are things missing- I don't want to tackle grains yet, so you don't see corn, wheat, or oats YET.
It would be fun to have honey bees too, but that is in our future and only if one of the kiddos or husband wants to take that on.
I think we have maple trees on the property too, but that too is a few years out.  But a fun thought!!
So much to do before we can even contemplate getting our garden going or trees planted.  We keep pushing forward.
What do you think of our food plan?  Do you have one of your own? 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Homesteading for Reals

With our move to Kentucky, we have found that our regular supply of LOCAL food is non-existent.  No one grows through the winters here which makes me wonder why not?  Are folks really good at preserving their summer harvest, or are they so disconnected from their food that grocery store produce is "good enough"?  How can they not miss fresh broccoli, kale, beets, and carrots?  I long for Swiss Chard, in it's beautiful range of rainbow colors.  I can find it at my grocery, but it is wilted and from a far off place- Yuck! 
We have been considering how to plant our own garden this spring.  The only flat place to put our garden is in front of the house.  Where the trees are!  Most of them are in bad shape, from an ice storm several years ago that decimated many of the trees in the area.  So how do we get them out?

We could use a chainsaw and take them down to the stumps and garden around the stumps for now. This is the cheaper route and may work for a time.


Picture Courtesy of Country Life Experiment

We could use a tractor and push them down. Probably the quickest way to go about it- but probably not cheap when you don't own a tractor (YET). 

I am thinking that we may have to cut trees down to a level to where, when we get a tractor, we can then push them over and get the roots out.
Or Maybe, I can use digging stumps out as a discipline for my kiddos when they get out of line.  Child Abuse??

There is a lot of work to be done before we can put in a garden.

*  Get the trees out- biggest step and the one I worry about most
*  Amend the soil with lots of compost, cow manure, chicken litter, and whatever else I can get my hands on to "bring on" the good soil.
*  Till in all the amendments
*  Plant cover crops to set and add more nutrients to the soil
*  Plan, Plan, Plan
*  Order Seeds
*  Make our rows
*  Plant
*  Water
*  Be Patient
*  Build a Root Cellar-  That is a whole other issue I have no idea how to do
I have already started thinking/planning out what we need to plant.  Thinking about how many vegetables we use in a year.  What are we going to can, freeze or store for use. 
We are faced with supplying our family with food for a whole year- there are no other options here in Kentucky for us. 
I will post our list tomorrow of what I think we will need to get through a full year of producing our own food. 
If we can produce that remains to be seen, but we are going to try.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Things I Want to Remember

I want this blog to be about our family and our accomplishments.  My hope is that others can learn from our mistakes and successes, but even if no one reads this, I want to be able to look back and have a record/history of what our family has done. 
We are a family of 5, although most days it is just the kids and I that run the farm and household.  Hubby works for the Army and is often busy from sun up to sun down with those duties.  We get the most accomplished when he is home on the weekends and can lend his muscle to the jobs I cannot get done without him. 
We have been working on fencing our front two + or - acres, to afford our sheep and chickens with forages throughout the winter.  We had fenced before, but never with an eye on never having to do it again.  Making it last the next 50 years or so would be great.  We are stretching woven wire over t-posts with a new (not to us- we bought it at a garage sale) ratchet - pulley - come-along thingy.  I don't know what it's technical name is but it is wonderful.  We have been hooking it to the hitch of the truck, but it can also be hooked to posts. 
When we all five work on this it goes super fast.  We can fence about an acre a weekend- Is that fast?  I don't know, but it seems so for me.  An acre is 209 ft squared- I guess that is not bad.  Anyway- back to our jobs.  It is my job to decide where the fence is going to go, lay out the string for straight lines (which is a joke on hilly land), and give direction where to dig posts in.  Oldest son (18yo now) drives the t-posts and digs the corner posts in.  Hubby cements the posts in, carries and unrolls fencing.  I get the fun part of ratcheting the fencing tight- and straightening it - and ratcheting some more.  It is kind of exciting to see it all come together.  Meanwhile while I am tightening youngest son and daughter are working on getting fence ties in place.  Really a team work job ! 
So far all we have fenced is maybe 2 acres..... maybe!  We have a lot more to do!!  Ugh!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Attempting Again

So- It has been a long, long time since I posted.  I am going to attempt this again, even though I really question my grammar and writing skills.  I am going to try and not let those things get in my way.
Here we are at the end of 2012 and I have been a farmer for almost 3 years now.  I love it..... my heart craves it.... it is who I am.  Not sure how I would describe myself anymore without the word farmer in it.
We have moved to Kentucky now, after spending a few months in limbo between two homes. Husband had to leave Georgia and report to his new duty station in Kentucky at the beginning of July. The kids and I spent our summer in Minnesota at the family cabin and lake.

We are now at our home in Kentucky, and we have been busy working on pulling out carpets, replacing subfloors, painting and moving all our stuff into place.  Hard work, but we are hoping that this is our forever home now.  We have 50 acres here and it is almost completely land locked which we love.  Our animals will be behind the house, and nobody will hear or know that they are there.

  Our gardens and orchards will be in the front closer to the water supply.  It is such a difference for me to live on our farm- to be able to look out the window (albeit, dirty) and see our animals grazing.  To leave my window open at night to be able to hear the dogs barking and keeping predators at bay.

I will post more on specifics in the future- maybe not everyday, but more frequently than once every two years.