There are two types of homesteaders: the getting-it-done-no-matter-what homesteaders and what I call the “YouTube homesteaders”. The first type doesn’t let excuses get in the way of his or her dreams. The latter watches every homesteading YouTube channel there is with passion while dreaming of how amazing life would be and they can’t wait! They are ready to go as soon as they have the money to buy some land. Or find the perfect piece of land. Or find others to get in on their dream and then they can do it together. Or, … you get the point. But for some reason or another, it never goes beyond dreaming and talking about it.
As any real homesteader will tell you, at some point, you just have to start to doing rather than just dreaming. Homesteading is all about doing: canning produce bought from the farmers market, helping a friend or neighbor out, growing herbs on your balcony… Start doing something.
But when you are in it, chipping away every single week, it is sometimes hard to see the difference. It astonishes me that everyone who comes onto our homestead makes the same comment: “Wow, you have done so much! You can really see a difference!” Oftentimes, all we can see is the never-ending work ahead of us and don’t appreciate the work we have done already. So today, I want to take inventory of all that we have accomplished — not to brag (because there is nothing to brag about) but in the hopes of inspiring you to start doing (while still dreaming). Also, for anyone who is just starting out, this list might give you an idea of what two out-of-shape people can accomplish while working full-time from home and parenting two kids.
The Steepest Learning Curve Of My Life
I have a computer science/economics double degree and finished 6 months ahead of my classmates because I thrive on learning, but this is nothing compared to the steep learning curve I went through in 2019!
First and foremost, I completed my Permaculture Certification course with Geoff Lawton which meant 4-6 hours of studying every weekend for 12 months. I also started Matt Powers’ Advanced Permaculture Student Online (APSO) Certification course, which I hope to finish in 2020. While I grew up growing my own food in East Germany, these two courses gave me a solid foundation to build our homestead on.
In addition to my Permaculture certifications, we also learned a ton by renovating our house and working on cleaning up/implementing Permaculture principles on our land. I learned how to wire an electrical outlet, tile a floor and a backsplash, lay a floating floor, hang drywall, install kitchen cabinets, replace corroded copper plumbing with PEX, and much more. We have completely redone our kitchen and both bathrooms and installed 1,000 sq. ft. of flooring.
We learned how to work a generator, different types of power saws including chainsaws, wood chipper, log splitter, and even an Alaskan sawmill. We also built an 8 x 14 ft shed, 2 Joel Salatin style chicken tractors, a larger turkey tractor, and a cattle panel greenhouse. We also made some adjustments to the ChickShaw and started on our passive solar greenhouse. We learned how to safely make hot and cold compost, brew Effective Microorganisms, and much more.
As a result, I also incorporated my new venture, Catskills Permaculture. I am planning lots of exciting workshops and hands-on learning experiences for 2020 — so stay tuned.
Moving on to what we physically accomplished.
Growing/Making Our Own Food Biggest Accomplishments in 2019
- We haven’t bought eggs since December 1st, 2018, because we have consistently gotten 10-12 eggs every day. We were able to share our abundance with friends, family, our UPS guy, and even 12 dozens with the local food pantry!
- We have successfully raised 76 chickens (64 heritage as well as rangers for meat, 12 as egg layers), 6 ducks, and 8 turkeys. We haven’t bought any commercial chicken or turkey meat since June 2019.
- In the spring, we built a raised garden and planted a food forest (more below). In addition to pounds and pounds of vegetables, we were able to grow enough tomatoes to feed us for 4.5 months, plus we still have a bunch of pint jars of tomato sauce in the freezer.
- I built a herb spiral for myself on Mother’s Day (I love building rock walls) and it brought us such joy and delicious meals.
- We tapped maples for the first time. Today, we finished our precious syrup! I can’t wait to tap again in a few months.
- Thanks to the Prairie Homestead Canning Course, we learned how to pressure can. As a result, we canned a total of 36 quarts of chicken and turkey stock.
- Speaking of the Prairie Homestead: I also finally learned how to make delicious sourdough bread that everyone loves! Jill’s no-fuss Homestead Sourdough Bread recipe is a life changer — literally.
Our 2019 Goal: Raising 50 Meat Chickens
One of the things I am most proud of and that I have enjoyed the most was raising meat chickens. They are a quick turn-around, absolutely delicious, and worth every bit of effort you put into them. In total, we raised:
- 12 White Rocks (butchered at 16 weeks, between 3-4 lbs dressed weight, easy to raise, very healthy, started crowing at 12 weeks)
- 12 New Hampshire Reds (butchered 4 roosters and 2 hens at 16 weeks, gave 3 hens to someone who needed them more than we did and kept 3 laying hens)
- 25 Meyer’s Hatchery Rangers (13 Grey Rangers & 12 Rainbow Rangers): super fast-growing compared to the “heritage” breeds, between 5-6lbs. dressed weight, raised in a Joel Salatin-style 4×8 ft. chicken tractor 12 chickens each, butchered roosters at 10 weeks and the hens at 11 weeks, very healthy but must be moved very often as they eat like crazy and therefore produce manure just as much.
- 6 Tractor Supply Barred Rocks, butchered 4, kept 2 as egg layers
- 8 Bourbon Red Turkeys
Raising 50+ chickens meant having to learn how to slaughter and butcher. We keep kosher and Jeremy learned shehita (how to slaughter the kosher way) with Yadiya from the Kosher Cut. I was scared I wouldn’t be able to handle it emotionally, but while butchering day is still a bittersweet day, now I feel proud. Our chickens have a wonderful life — with a few bad seconds at the end of it. 50 chickens later and we have become very efficient: the two of us can process 14-16 chickens a day. And at the end of it, I know each and every single one of them had the most humane death possible, they were healthy animals, and they lived a life full of sunshine, grass, and bugs.
Our Biggest Garden Accomplishments
In 2018, I started 27 tomato plants from seed. I did not get a single tomato. I tried growing kale, lettuce, strawberries, and a few other veggies, but they all got eaten in their seeding stage by slugs.
In 2019, on our new property, I was determined to grow as much as possible. Over the winter, Jeremy and I took down hundreds of dead pines (mostly smallish trees that got shaded out, but also dozens of 12+ inch diameter trees) and created about a dozen raised garden beds. Most are oriented on contour, but we had an awkward space and massive boulders to work around, so they aren’t your textbook raised beds.
- Tomatoes: We bought cherry tomatoes (grew like weeds), beefsteak tomatoes (great harvest), and plum tomatoes (nah, didn’t take very well) from commercially started plants after my heirloom seedlings all died after I forgot to water them for a few days. I tried tomato cages for the first time, but they feel every storm because of the rocky soil. Next year, I will string them onto cattle panels or similar.
- Cucumbers: We grew English cucumbers, also from commercial seedlings and harvested at the baby stage for pickling or let grow for salads. From 4 plants we had enough for our family of 4.
- Potatoes: I planted about 20 potatoes in three different locations. I became too impatient to get my fall crops in, so I dug them up early and the harvest was lots of tiny potatoes. Note to self: Buy proper seed potatoes, the little potatoes I had kept from last year didn’t produce as much as bought seed potatoes.
- Calendula: Traumeel is hard to come by and it is expensive (like $8-18 a pop), so I grew lots and lots of calendula flowers to dry the petals for soaps, infused oils, and healing creams. They also gave the garden a lovely pop of color, attracted insects, and even gave solitary bees a bed for the night.
- Onions and garlic: the ducklings got out and waddled in a straight line over the baby onion plants and they never recovered. Garlic was a complete bust, too — Definitely something I want to work on in 2020.
- Beans: In 2020, I will absolutely do more pole beans and snap peas! They produced so well and kept on growing if picked regularly.
- Beets: For the first time ever, I grew beets! I was amazed that they flourished so nicely after I had to move them a bunch of times.
The biggest task is to build soil. When we bought the house and land, we had the soil tested and the results didn’t surprise us: very acidic and very little organic matter. The “lawn” was a sad patch of moss with a few hog peanuts and wild strawberries. We added First Saturday Lime as well as some compost and let the chickens scratch it in. Then, we seeded organic pasture seeds and moved the chickens over it. Unfortunately, the pasture was not established enough and we probably have to start over again, but the fertility and PH levels have definitely improved.
What Lays Ahead In 2020
For 2020, we have big goals:
- Finish a Permaculture Design for our property and start implementing it
- Extend the food forest and build more diversity into guilds
- Fire-proof our property as much as possible, including digging a small pond and adding a swale
- Raise and harvest 100 meat chickens (including American Bresse and McMurray’s new Delaware Broilers) and 10 turkeys
- Grow most of our fruits and vegetables from June to October plus a large bumper crop for canning (e.g., tomatoes)
- Research and finish business plan for a huge project I am planning (more details to come after I have done further initial feasibility research
- Finish house renovations
What are your biggest accomplishments last year and what are you planning for next year? I would love to hear it. Please leave it in the comments below and hopefully, we can encourage others to make the jump from watching videos to real homesteading.