The versatility of homesteading

AbbyMacStarred Page By AbbyMac, 17th Jul 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Rural Living

A perspective on a gentler way of living--self-sufficiency and eco-friendly.

The Hobby Farm in Action

Armed with a copy of the classic "Five Acres and Independence" and a recently purchased small fixer-upper farm property, my husband and I prepared for our break from civilization. Our dream was to become as self-sufficient as possible.

Our new home, a late 1600s Pennsylvania Dutch built fieldstone farmhouse, required extensive renovation. We had the opportunity to learn new skills involving plumbing, heating and electric wiring. We bought sheep, chickens, rabbits, and tilled up half an acre for a vegetable garden. The goal was to produce all of the meat and most of the vegetables our family consumed.

We started with a dual-purpose breed of sheep to be used for wool and meat production. The fleeces we sold to hand-spinners. Some we gave away in exchange for blankets, scarves, hats and sweaters made from our own animals. Lamb filled our freezer, a humanely, organically grown meat.

Our chickens were also dual-purpose, kept for meat and eggs. The egg quality of farm-fresh free range hens is superior to the supermarket variety. We supplied ourselves, family and neighbors with eggs and still had more to sell straight off the farm. The market for these eggs far exceeded what we could supply as shown by our waiting list of customers. The egg sales covered our costs for the chickens plus we had all the fresh eggs we could eat. The extra roosters were slaughtered and put in the freezer as fryers or roasters.

Several times a week my husband goes to a neighboring homestead to help them milk their Jersey cow and we are permitted to keep all that he can milk! I enjoy making butter and occasionally fresh whipped cream. My next aspiration in life is to learn cheese-making. We are also currently researching goat husbandry for their milk producing qualities.

Our initial vegetable garden was half an acre. We grew the early cool spring crops of lettuce, spinach, asparagus and sugar-snap peas, sun-drenched summer crops of tomatoes, peppers and beans, early fall crops of melons, squash and pumpkins, and finally, the root crops for winter storage to include onions and potatoes. All of this produce we canned, froze, dried or lodged in the root cellar.

We planted a variety of fruit trees that began to bear within three to four years. We grew apple, peach, plum and pear trees. Our pride and joy is a very old quince tree that is heavy laden every spring with fruit. An elderly woman comes to our farm each year to collect the fruit and then returns in a few weeks overloaded with jelly for us made with the pectin from the quince. Our fruit patch includes strawberry plants, grape vines and blueberry bushes. And finally I have an herb garden with the usual fare but also includes my mints: orange, chocolate, spearmint, lemon balm and catnip.

We rent out an extra ten acres of our land to a farmer who puts it in a rotation of crops including corn and soybeans. We chose not to do large-scale crop farming ourselves because of the cost of the equipment. We have another five acres for animal pasture that my husband has fenced himself. We follow good rotation practices on this land so the animals do not over-graze any part of it. Another choice we made was to not grow our own hay. The animals require this through the winter. Instead, my husband helps another man with harvesting his hay crop in exchange for a greatly reduced cost to us for the hay.

We found a way to recycle 100% of our trash. Everything we were ready to dispose of was recycled, re-used or composted. Kitchen left-overs were offered to my husband, the dogs, and the chickens, in that order! It kept us on our toes coming up with multiple uses for everything and being careful in what we purchased in the first place.

Homesteading requires an ability to do a huge variety of tasks. My husband and I started out knowing nothing about country life but with a desire to become more self-sufficient and a willingness to learn new skills we were able to gain the versatility necessary on the homestead. We loved the whole system of bartering with others, our abundance traded for theirs.

Lessons Learned

We learned a different kind of versatility also. There were some down sides to our experience. We took this to be just as valuable a learning tool. When my first child was born it took me two diaper changes to realize I wanted the super-absorbent disposable environmentally-unfriendly kind- these cloth ones were for the birds. So eventually we did need to subscribe to a trash service but we still recycle and re-use as much as possible.

With my young family growing I found a half-acre garden impossible to maintain. The weeds got out of control and I could not keep up with the canning, freezing and drying that its abundance required. Our current vegetable garden has been dramatically down-sized but is usually kept weed-free!

Adjustments were made. The hard lesson we learned about homesteading was that it is possible to take on too much. I can now look back over our 15 years of experience since we first fell in love with that dilapidated farm and see what worked well and what did not. The key is to simply keep what works and pass on the rest.

Homesteading is versatile and personal. It can be adapted to different sizes and locations of properties and the varying needs of a family as it grows or changes through time. There may be a season in a person's life when he can handle a heavier load and another time when homesteading can only be an occasional hobby. One homestead could go completely off the grid producing its own power and having total independence from society. Another may focus on raising a few organic chickens for a healthier diet. The choice is individual, reflecting what is practical and that is the beauty of its versatility.

New skills can always be tried and old routines adjusted. No two homesteads would ever look alike. They will be as unique as the homesteaders working them.

Tags

Eco-Friendly, Gardening, Green, Hobby Farming, Homestead

Meet the author

author avatar AbbyMac
I am a mother of two teenage girls, living on a farm where we raise award-winning Corriedale Sheep. I have homeschooled for 11 years and currently own a homeschool curriculum store. I enjoy writing about homeschooling, animals and mysteries of the ...(more)

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Comments

author avatar Retired
18th Jul 2010 (#)

Abby, how wonderful you describe everything. Tommy and I could take lessons from you! BTW, I liked cloth diaper, myself, so there! ;-)

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
18th Jul 2010 (#)

My wife and I also homestead.. well sort of.. we got the 10 acres, and the critters, but we cannot kill or eat them, instead we get the eggs from the hens and raise exotic sheep for people to use as lawnmowers..

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author avatar AbbyMac
18th Jul 2010 (#)

Mark, homesteading of any variety is great, I think. What kind of sheep do you raise?

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author avatar Denise O
5th Dec 2010 (#)

Abby, you're my hero.
I just love your story and love what you and your husband are doing. Great job.
Thank you for sharing.:)

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author avatar Denise O
5th Dec 2010 (#)

Congrats on the star page, it is well deserved! :)

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author avatar R. A. Kukkee
8th Jan 2011 (#)

Excellent article, "Abby", and how true! You have clearly "been there, done that!" Great advice!

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author avatar AbbyMac
8th Jan 2011 (#)

Hi Denise and Sir Raymond! Thanks for stopping by and reading!

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