Let’s Talk Chicken

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Specifically, let’s talk about the chickens we plan to eat. Meat chickens. This has been a huge topic of discussion in our household lately as we plan for spring chicks and the raising of chickens that will ultimately end up on our dinner table. We read some books from the library, we reviewed all our hatchery catalogs, we read the blogs of other homesteaders and we did lots of online research. This topic is so much more complicated than you may think and we are still working out our plan.

So, sure, we already have a flock of chickens that are happy and healthy. Clearly we already know something about raising chickens, Right? Why all the extra research? Why not just eat the chickens we have? Good questions and I will respond to both. Yes, we know how to raise up some nice backyard chickens that are now finally laying eggs and providing us some great nutrition that almost makes up for the cost of feeding them. (Not really, but someday it might). Our current flock was raised for laying. They are breeds that take a long time to mature and will lay consistently, be good mothers should they hatch out any eggs, are hardy enough for a harsh winter, and when they are no longer laying they will make fine stew meat. For good meat birds you want a young (tender) bird. If we put this flock in the freezer, they would be too tough for most anything other than soup/stew and we would have to replace them with spring chicks that would take up to six months to reach mature egg laying ability. All around not a good idea.
Well, what makes a good “meat” bird? The answer to that question is where it all gets pretty complicated. It’s where you start to see a conflict between economics and ethics. It’s a pretty intense battle to be sure. But before I go there…..let me just dispel a HUGE myth. Brace yourself. Now, what imagine comes to mind when you think of free-range, all natural, organic, pastured chickens? Is it something like this?

imageA beautiful flock of full grown colorful chickens leisurely pecking about in an open field? Makes sense, however, it’s simply not true. Even if you are going to a local farm and buying your specialty organic chickens for premium prices….I can all but guarantee the chickens you see roaming around are nothing like the chickens they sell you to place in your freezer. Why can I say this with such an absolute certainty? Well, here’s the facts…..

1.) A chicken raised for meat needs to be processed at a young age. Depending on the breed, this can be as young as 6 weeks.
2.) A young chicken is not safe in an open field. Too many predators.
3.) A chicken raised on a 100% free range diet will most certainly not reach a good processing weight in an efficient time frame.
4.) The most common breed to be raised for meat is a Cornish Cross. It is a terrible forager.

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Back to point number four. Have you ever given any thought to the breed of chicken you eat? If your like most folks, the answer is probably not. I know I certainly never gave it a second thought. I just bought my chicken at the store and assumed chicken is chicken. The only thing I kind of knew, was that I was likely eating a rooster. But even on that point I was wrong. A rooster is a mature male chicken. They don’t sell mature birds in the store. What they actually sell are cockerels (young male chickens) and pullets(young female chickens). A technicality, but an important distinction. I also knew that most chickens were raised in factories not on farms. imageI accepted this as harsh but purely economic reality and since I knew I couldn’t afford alternative options, I ate the chickens I could afford. That’s a nice segue into the ethics part of our discussion,
but before we broach the subject of ethics, let’s discuss economics. Because let’s face it, buying food is an economic decision.

Here’s an equation for you. The cost of a chicken is as follows…
Cost of baby chick+cost of feed. Seems simple enough. It doesn’t account for labor and processing, or cost of housing and supplies, or any medications (if necessary), but it keeps that math simple for our purposes. The cost of feed is directly dependent on duration. How long must you feed the bird? Or more specifically, how long does it take for the bird to reach the desired weight for slaughter. Obviously, it also matters what you feed your chickens. Even 100% pasture raised chickens will require some feed. If you’re going all non-GMO and organic, that feed can be quite expensive. So duration becomes extremely important. The longer it takes for your baby chick to reach a good slaughter weight, the more costly it is to raise that bird. For that fact, (and another that I will refer to shortly), most poultry farms raise the Cornish Cross. This bird is a hybrid. It has been bred to grow meat fast. Not feathers, not bone, but meat. In as little as six weeks they reach a live weight of 5-6 pounds. They are also an inexpensive chick because they are typically ordered in such large quantities. For pure economics, this is the bird to raise for meat.
The other reason poultry producers choose Cornish Cross hybrid is because this is the chicken you are familiar with, even if you’ve never seen one alive. This chicken has a large broad breast, short legs, an ample meaty body, and lightweight bones. The feathers are white, they pluck easy, and the ones that don’t pluck are damn near invisible. This is not just your grocery store chicken, but it is the most common choice for small and organic farms as well. Sounds like the perfect bird, right? From a purely economic stand point, it really is. But what about the ethics?image

So, back to the myth. You probably won’t ever see these short legged, young, white chickens roaming around an open field. You will most likely never see an adult version of these birds. They are simply not hardy enough for that life. If allowed to grow to adulthood, they have a very small chance of survival. If they do lay eggs and hatch them out, their offspring will not resemble the parent bird because it is a hybrid. Their legs are fragile and not sturdy enough for their stout bodies. They are prone to genetic abnormalities that cause deformities in their legs and bone structure. They have weak hearts and do not tolerate stress well. They have a thin coating of feathers and can not withstand any extremes in temperatures. They are lazy and not good foragers. In fact, they do best when raised in fairly tight quarters so that they have a shorter distance to reach their feed and their water. They are white and therefore easy targets for predators. You can raise them on a pasture, but it most be in a moveable and predator proof pen such as a chicken tractor. I recently read “Pastured Poultry for Profit” by Joel Salatin. He swears by this breed and this method, and raises thousands of birds this way every year, moving the chicken tractor everyday. He also suggests putting about 100 birds in each structure and making sure food and water are placed in multiple locations to ensure they have easy access without having to walk more than a few feet. imageMost folks, however, raise the Cornish Cross in a stationary pen with some good shelter from the weather. In any pen situation they will grab and eat after bugs that happen along their path, and they will eat some fresh grass and greens, but their own laziness prevents them from getting any substantial nutrition this way. They must have feed, and a lot of it. They are growing fast and they are hungry. They are also dumb. The dumbest chickens ever. In fact, at a certain stage in their grow-out cycle you must restrict their access to food or they will quite literally eat themselves to death. I also just read an article (while writing this blog) where a farmer told the story if how he went out one hot afternoon to check on his birds. Over 20% were dead and the rest were lethargic. They had plenty of shade and water available but were so lazy they refused to walk the few feet to get to shelter and instead stayed out in the hot sun and perished. They are really dumb lazy birds.image

So, I ask you again, have you ever given much thought to what breed of chicken you eat? Because now that I am slightly more knowledgeable about these meat birds, I’m conflicted. Ethics or economics? I stopped buying grocery store chicken awhile back. Pretty much as soon as we had rabbit available as a sustainable and satisfactory substitute. But I love chicken and I definitely want chicken on my dinner table. I just want the chicken I eat to have a great and happy life, up until the end, just like our rabbits do. Much of the reason we homestead is because we want that deeper connection to our food. Grow it, know it, love it, and eat it….guilt free.

Of course there are alternatives to raising the Cornish Cross. Most hatcheries sell a production bird to be raised for meat, that will reach ideal slaughter weight at about 10-12 weeks. It’s still a hybrid, so you wouldn’t want to keep any around for raising offspring, but they do have fewer health concerns and their bodies look a little bit more like backyard chickens. Cleaned and dressed though, they won’t look much like a grocery store chicken. That’s ok with me, but if I’m gonna do that that I might as well just raise a nice dual purpose heritage breed chicken. A dual purpose bird is one that is large enough to be raised for meat, but will also do a great job at laying eggs. A heritage breed is a non-hybrid. These are the chickens your grandparents raised. They are colorful and hardy and there are literally hundreds of breeds to choose from. Now, go back to that myth again…..beautiful full grown chickens lazily pecking about In a field. Those are your heritage birds. Most are also dual purpose. imageYou raise them from chicks and cull only the males for meat. The females can be raised as layers. They can also hatch out their own eggs, having offspring that is just like the parent chickens, making them a sustainable option. Each year you can allow your hens to hatch out offspring, then you start again. Cockerels to the freezer, pullets become laying hens. Many are excellent foragers and although they take much longer to reach slaughter weight (12 weeks or longer depending on the breed), they can be allowed to pasture or free range and will do a great job of supplementing their own feed costs. The additional exercise they get foraging however, does slow the growth rate some. The downside of raising a heritage breed as your meat bird is worth mentioning. They will have a much smaller breast, a less meaty body, more bone to meat ratio, and will likely look very different from any chicken you ever put on your dinner table before. I can only assume they would still be delicious, as I’ve never eaten one.

There’s more to discuss here related to the ethics of chicken raising. I could go into great detail explaining the difference between pasture raised, free range, cage-free, organic, etc. But seriously, none of those really mean a lick to me. Most of them are complete bullshit and don’t mean what you think at all. Remember the myth. They are catch phrases that have now been turned into specific USDA labeling definitions and the great majority of poultry producers meet the bare minimum requirements to get the stupid label. If you didn’t actually see your chicken and how it was raised, just assume the worst. That may sound pessimistic, but there’s economics involved and if you’re ┬áplanning to sell chickens you have to make an affordable product that will also create profits. When profit is the name of the game, economics wins out over ethics….every time.

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So, if I do what I want to do….raise heritage breed chickens for meat, allow them to forage during the day when I am home and they can be supervised, provide them a quality feed, process them at a healthy age, and charge enough to cover my cost, they will absolutely not be affordable. In fact, I’m pretty sure they would be really freaking expensive and I can’t guarantee they will taste any better. However, they will be guilt free chickens for my dinner table and that’s what I want. And if by chance I have friends and family that are willing to pay for guilt free chicken, all the better. I didn’t become a homesteader so I could choose easy, or economical. I choose ethics, but you make your own choice. I don’t judge. Ever.

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Poop: the crappy truth of homestead life

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imageI’ve been slacking on my blog writing responsibilities. I don’t know why because honestly it’s one of my favorite things to do. I blame the Candy Crush. So I’ve set the silly game aside so I can deliver on my promise of a blog about poop.

Everyday we deal with poop. Our poop, rabbit poop, chicken poop, dog poop, guinea poop, and the most noxious of all…duck poop. I think about this a lot and wonder what is the maximum poop capacity of our single acre before we have problems with the poop infiltrating and contaminating our well and water supply? We haven’t gotten sick yet, so for now I think we’re good, but that’s in part to our responsible poop management. If your going to live a life with lots of animals, and no modern plumbing, you definitely need a good poop management plan. Here’s how we do it.

When we moved down here last March we were on the larger family farm across the road. The animal poop at the old cabin was less of a concern. The dogs had huge wide open fields, far away from the cabin, where they would truck on out to do their business. As for the rabbits, ducks, and chickens their numbers were still small so they weren’t really an issue, as long as you’re willing to except that going outside meant stepping in duck poop and there’s a strong likelihood of chicken poop on the patio table and chairs. They all wash, no big deal. The problem was the people poop. Our cabin didn’t have plumbing, but we did have an outhouse. (Actually it as a porta-potty and the distinction will become relevant in a moment). The outhouse had the usual disadvantages, exposure to weather, bugs and spiders, and they smell bad. The fact that it was actually a porta-potty meant one more disadvantage, emptying and cleaning. I always imagined that one of the crappiest (See what I did there?) jobs you could ever have to do would be the guy that had to empty and clean all those road crew porta-potties. Pretty sure I was right with one exception….that guy had good equipment and a power hose. We had neither. What we had was a beat-up RV toilet clean out hose (it had leaks) and buckets of water we gathered from the hand pump well. Twice we did this dirty job and that was enough. When the weather turned warm, then hot, the outhouse reeked to high heaven. The flies and maggots took over despite all efforts to keep it clean sanitary. One morning I felt a maggot on the back of my thigh….no more porta-potty for me! I get the hee-be-jeebies just thinking about it. Ugh! Anyway, we were fortunate enough that by the time we’d given up on the porta-potty, the outdoor camp bathroom (with shower and flushing toilet) were in working order for the summer. We had to drive up the hill to get there, but it was worth it. That morning poop just had to be well timed and planned out.
When we moved across the road in September, onto our own little acre, we got a larger cabin and a little more space for what we intended originally….a compost toilet. There’s actually an unfinished bathroom we hope will one day at least provide for an occasional hot shower. For now, the room is unheated and mostly storage, except for “the shitter”. The grand throne is actually nothing more than a “granny toilet” with a bucket underneath. We place newspaper in the bottom of the bucket and use untreated fine pine shavings to cover each “deposit”. You may be shocked, but there is no odor. None. (Well, maybe immediately after one or both us have had an unusually stinky BM…it lingers in the air a bit, but not for long). The actual bucket does not smell. We try not to pee in it too much (choosing to pee outside in the grass whenever possible) because urine makes it wet and heavy. Plus it’s the moisture that actually causes odor to permeate the air. (That’s why modern toilets with water stink to high hell if they aren’t flushed immediately). Reduce the moisture, eliminate the smell. Simple enough, but what do we do with those buckets of pine shavings and human doody? We compost them of course. Duh. Everything must have a purpose around here. We have a special compost bin for the people poo. It’s located away from the cabin and the well, so as not to contaminate our water supply. That would be bad. The bucket gets dumped every couple of days, and when the compost bin is full (soon actually), we will start a new one and cover the old with dried leaves and let it decomp for a year. Human waste is actually safe to use in your garden if it composts for at least a year. We don’t plan to use it in the veggie garden, but I bet roses and lilies will thrive. There you have it, our poop will come out smelling like roses…eventually.
The animal poop is a whole ‘nother story. Now that we are surrounded by only an acre of land there is some sort of poop pretty much everywhere. Our rabbits are caged and we place straw underneath the cage to help reduce odor and “catch” their lovely little pebbles, which can be shoveled up and dumped directly onto the garden. Rabbit pellets make fantastic fertilizer without any need to compost first. The dogs, ugh….what can I say, they’re dogs and they poop where they want. The old dogs prefer to poop near the road which is perfectly fine by me. Hank, however, is still young and hasn’t learned the necessity of pooping further away from where you sleep and eat. Occasionally we have to scoop his up and dump it in the woods, usually by way of the bottom of our boots….having just stepped In a big load. The chickens and guineas just poop wherever, when they are out and about free ranging. Often this is on our porch, porch railings, outside table, chairs…you get the idea. It requires the occasional rinse off the porch before company comes and wipe off the table if you plan to eat on it. Inside their coop, we are using a deep litter method for the winter. Instead of mucking and cleaning out the house, you just pile in more clean bedding on top of the dirty stuff. We use straw, which has it’s advantages and disadvantages, but mostly it’s cheap and the chickens like it. The bottom, dirty layers of straw, create a crusty and impenetrable barrier against the cold rising up from the ground, combined with the heat of the composting poo, the deep litter method helps keep our chickens warm in the winter. Even on the coldest days, the coop is generally 10-20 degrees warmer than the outside air without the benefit or dangers of an electric heat source or artificial lighting. When Spring rolls around, and it’s time to muck it out and freshen it up, we will have a nice composted mixture if chicken poop and straw to feed our garden. The garden must be fed….
I save duck poop for the end because ducks have mastered the art of pooping. They relieve themselves approximately every 7 minutes, sometimes more. I love to snuggle my ducks, but the clock is always ticking. How long until she drops a noxious load on my lap? We have large breed ducks, muscovies, pekins, and a rouen. Their poop piles are about the size of a half dollar, and they are wet, green, and slimy. There is duck poop on the ground, on our truck, and pretty much everywhere since our muscovies can fly. There is likely quite a bit on our roof, where they love to hang out. It is not at all uncommon to find duck poo on my shoes, my clothes, or some part of my body, and often it’s only noticed after I’m out in public somewhere. Over the summer, during flip flop season, my feet were stained an unsightly shade of duck-poo green. It’s the price we pay for loving our ducks, and their duck eggs, which by the way, are also usually covered in green slime. Don’t worry, we wash them before we eat them. The duck house and duck run are by far the dirtiest, stickiest, muddiest, nastiest places in the yard. In addition to their poo, they splash water, dump their food, and dig in the mud they create. Unless the temps are below freezing, the duck house and run must be cleaned every week or so. We do this by completely emptying the dirty straw out of the house, rinsing the floor (which we very smartly lined with vinyl linoleum), and placing all fresh straw. The dirty straw is thrown behind the duck house where the chickens and ducks forage for worms, maggots, and whatever other goodies grow in the composting heap. This compost pile is pretty good size and will take awhile to decompose, especially with all that straw. I’m considering making an intentional worm bed back there. I’m open for suggestions. As for the duck run, they dig in it so much that all we can really do is keep adding new layers of straw. One day we will probably have to move the house and run. When we do, we will have some excellent soil just waiting to become another garden spot.
In reality, all poop can be repurposed in some way and doesn’t have to be a problem as long as it’s managed. Our system isn’t perfect. It has flaws, but so far it’s working out nicely. Our friends always want to know when we are getting a flushing toilet, but to be honest, I really don’t see the point. If the system we have works, why would I chose to pollute the water of the world with my poop? If there’s one thing I’ve learned out here, it’s the value of water…oh and also…the value of poop.

For your entertainment only….
TYPES OF POOP FOUND IN OUR LIL ACRE:

People poop
Dog poop
Rabbit poop
Duck poop
Chicken poop
Guinea poop
Frozen poop (aka poopsicles)
Green poop
Runny poop
Hard poop
Soft poop
Dirty poop
Sticky poop
Car-windshield poop
Bottom of your shoe poop
Hidden under a leaf pile poop
Long poop
Pellet poop
Milk dud poop
Hershey squirt poop
Porch railing poop
Invisible (you can smell it, but can’t find it) poop
Cat poop
Donkey poop
Duck water poop
Thank god we don’t have…cow poop

 

But my favorites are…
The dreaded…OMG! I’m not gonna make it poop
The air (really just a fart, but smells like poop) poop
And it’s ugly sister….the Sneaky (I thought I only had to fart) poop
The slippery (if you step on this you’ll fall on your ass) poop
And finally…
The corn (I know what you had for dinner last night) poop

Now, just for fun, use the comments section to tell us about the types of poop we may find in your neck of the woods.

imageUntil next time. Happy pooping!

Learning as we go: Part 3 Throwing it All Away

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imageWhen we lived in the city we had the luxury of a huge dumpster behind our house that was emptied twice a week. We also had special dumpsters specifically for yard waste and yet others for commingled recyclables. This was actually a complimentary service in the city where we lived, paid through property taxes, which I realize is fairly unusual. It’s easy to take trash service for granted when it’s free. We felt pretty good about ourselves and our half-assed efforts to sort out our glass, plastic, aluminum, and even cardboard and then walk it the extra 50 ft to the “special dumpster”. We were probably like most folks in the city and didn’t really think too much about our trash. It went away, that’s what counted. We tried to reuse jars and other items when we could, but we still made lots and lots of trash. We were not being very good citizens of the earth and we knew it. We also knew our trash habits were not congruent with our desires to live in balance with the land and her creatures on the homestead, so we developed a plan for trash. We didn’t really have to work hard to devise a plan. There’s already a perfectly acceptable model for reducing your carbon imprint: reduce, reuse, recycle.
We do not have trash service on the farm so every piece of trash must be considered even before it becomes trash. So we start at the beginning with our purchases. If you really want to reduce your trash waste, this is the key. The grocery store is just filled with items that are over-packaged and wasteful. To be honest, we don’t buy much packaged food so this step is a no-brainer for us. We make a very concerted effort to avoid buying items that come in containers we can not either reuse or burn. On some occasions we even make purchases with the end use in mind. Large jars, for example, always come in handy especially when you have to seal pretty much everything airtight to avoid bugs and such. Our pantry is a hodge-podge of random containers that no longer contain their original contents. We try hard not to buy items packaged in styrofoam or plastic containers that can not be reused. But now I’m stepping into step-two, reuse.

We reuse almost everything. Cardboard is used to line the garden and help with weed control but also helps start the fire in the burn barrel or the wood stove (in the winter). Toilet paper and paper towel holders become seed starting pots. We try not to buy too many items that come in plastics tubs, like butter and sour cream, but when we do these are also reused for food storage. Plastics beverage bottles are simply reused for for water, tea, and juice storage, but we also keep at least a dozen large bottles of water in the deep freeze at anytime. These are used to keep food cold in our cooler, placed in with the animals during excessive heat, and as emergency water stores in case of an issue with the well. We also use plastics bottles as waterers for the critters. Just add a little drip nozzle and done. Jars, both glass and plastic, have endless uses for food storage, or other odds and ends like nails or buttons. My favorite reuse project is in our kitchen. We mounted coffee cans to the wall with hanging hardware wire and use the containers to store our most used utensils next to the stove. It’s practical and adorable.

Organic matter, that is anything that will biodegrade naturally is composted and will one day be used as fertilizer for the garden. We did have a big plastic compost bin, but we found it to be too small and flimsy. Instead, Jen used a couple old wooden pallets (free at the building supply) and built a really nice sized outdoor compost bin. The compost gets a heavy dose of yard waste, and poopy straw from the chicken coop and duck house, and it gets all the food waste too. Good kitchen scraps are usually fed to the chickens, ducks, and rabbits, but somethings are just no good for them. So, we keep a large coffee can in the kitchen for disposal of kitchen scraps that we’d prefer not to feed to the critters. When the container is full, it gets dumped into our outside compost bin. To get good fertilizer in record time, you should really turn your compost regularly. We slack at this job and will instead just wait patiently for nature to run her course. Eventually all the nasty decomposed goodies will be suitable for fertilizer and get returned to the earth where they can help us grown more food. Yay! The circle of decomp and life.

I know lots of folks will throw just about anything into their burn barrel, but we will not. It’s for paper and wood products only. Burning trash alone does not make it all go away. You still end up with quite a bit of ash and your trash won’t burn if your ash is getting full. Just think about your barbecue pit, you have to get all that ash out or it just won’t burn. Same thing. We take our ash and put it in with the compost. Ash is great for the garden and helps aid in the decomp in the compost bin. We also dump our barbecue ash in the compost bin. Since this is all being returned to the earth eventually, it’s very important to us that it be free of unnatural contaminants. So, no styrofoam, no plastic, and no lighter fluid in the barbecue pit. (Side note: we start all of our fires, wether they be outside or in, with paper only, no fuel).

In a perfect world we could do all the things above and have zero trash remaining, but sadly it’s just not a perfect world and we are definitely not perfect people. There are still things left that we must deal with in other ways. Aluminum cans and anything made of metal is pretty easy. We can just take it all by the truckload and get actual cash at a recycling center. I think we have about 8 trash bags full of cans at this point, plus a lot of random scrap metal. Just waiting until we have a truckload though, otherwise the cost of gas (an hour trip each way) makes it pointless. Even with all that effort and thought put into our reduce, reuse, and recycle, we still end up with some things we just have no choice but to send to a landfill. For example, we buy bug spray in aerosol cans mostly because it works and there are lots of bugs, plus deodorant in a plastic stick roll on, and then there’s all that darned plastic packaging that is wrapped around almost everything….what are we supposed to do with all that crap? That’s where we just give up and throw the items away in a plastic bag that is then driven into town where it meets it’s demise at a gas station trash can. We’re not proud of it, but that’s what we do. In all fairness it is usually only about two small grocery bags full a week. I’m calling it success, even though sometimes it feels like failure. You just can’t beat yourself up about things out here in the middle of nowhere. We’re doing what we can to be conscious of all our choices and how they will effect our land, our critters, and the world around us.

PS: I’m still thinking the poop blog through in my head. I hope you are all anxiously sitting on pins and needles waiting for some good clean poop humor because this trash-talkin’ blog was a bit dirty for my taste. (See what I did there?)

Learning As We Go: Part two

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This is the monster living in the door of the camp bathroom.

This is the monster living in the door of the camp bathroom.

I think Jen and I will both readily admit we were very confident when we embarked on this adventure. We felt we knew what we were getting into and any down sides would be significantly outweighed by the ups. We expected to have bad days and we expected to fail at a few things. We knew there would be a lot of “learning as we go” and there has been. I think we were both surprised, however, at which things ended up giving us the most grief in our first six months. For example, we knew there would be bugs….but holy freaking cow, sometimes the insect issues are of biblical proportion.

So about bugs: Let me just say that I am using the term “bug” here in the loosest, most unacceptable to any entomologist type of way, because let’s face it, no one really cares that daddy long legs aren’t spiders, and that spiders aren’t bugs. They are all freaking creepy, especially when they’re the size of a dinner plate.
If I start back at the beginning, when we first started coming to work on the cabin late last fall, the biggest problem then was wasps. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, every size, shape, and color, and they had been making their home here for years. Ok, I’ll admit it…I sprayed the fuck out of those bastards. We would never have been able to even enter the premises if I hadn’t. There were so many we were vacuuming them off the floor and out of window sills for months. Then it got cold, no wasps. In fact, no bugs of any kind (except spiders) until early Spring. Then came the lady bugs. You think they are adorable little red beetles with cute white spots, until you find yourself completely infested. They gathered on the walls, ceilings, and window sills by the thousands. Once again the vacuum went into hyper-drive. Twice a day I’d suck up those little beasts from all over the houses and then take the canister out to the field and empty it. This went on for about a month, just long enough for me to begin to lose my mind. I know they are beneficial to the garden, so I didn’t want to annihilate them, but I was considering putting them in the deep freeze and saving them until I had an aphid emergency. Unfortunately everything I read said they could get really stinky, so I just kept vacuuming and eventually they were gone. I’ve been told to expect them back in the fall. Yippee. Can’t wait.
As it goes, you get through one crisis and three more are waiting to inflict more hell upon your existence. For us, that would be the ticks, Mosquitos, and the return of the wasps. All three hit us hard, at the same time. By this point we had our beekeeping plans in place and a garden in the works. We didn’t want to use ANY type of insect killing spray and contaminate our food or kill our bees. So when the queen wasp came home to build her nest, and landed on our front porch (all 2 inches of her), we screamed and ran. But seriously, she was HUGE! We had no idea what to do but we knew we could not allow her to build her nest in our rafters. We filled a squirt bottle with bleach and dish soap and tried to squirt her every time she showed up. She was not amused. In fact, she was pissed. Your gonna think I’m paranoid for saying this, but I’m pretty sure that bitch stalked me for about two weeks. I’d be sitting quietly at the table outside and then BUZZZZZ. There she’d be, circling, casing me, sizing me up. (I should note: bug issues fall primarily into my purview. Jen does not abide wasps, spiders, and most bugs. She hides while I deal). Anyway, I shot that big demon wasp with the squirt bottle enough times that she stopped coming around, finally.
Ok, so then there were ticks and mosquitos. It was spring, it was getting warm, these things were to be expected to a degree. Key words: to a degree. Nothing, could have prepared us for the onslaught of blood suckers that ravaged our bodies daily. We did use some OFF and we wore protective clothing, but the blood thirsty bane of my existence wouldn’t have been thwarted even with enough garlic to ward off the Dark Prince himself. So we kept tweezers just for tick removal on all the tables: outside, in the living room, and next to the bed. Each night we would have the super romantic job of checking each other…thoroughly, for hidden creatures that didn’t belong. I may jinx myself, but so far we haven’t found any ticks in our most delicate locations, but damn they got scary close. Some nights we pulled off one after another. Those itchy infested bites, mixed with the never ending mosquito and chigger bite welts, led to lots of wakeful-scratchy-complainy-restless nights. My legs and arms still have purple scars all up and down. The good news is the tick problem pretty much ended when our ducks and chickens were finally old enough to free range. The mosquitos we’ll just have to accept.
So spiders. Most folks don’t much care for spiders especially in their living space, but they are somewhat of a necessary evil. They do a great job of killing other nuisance bugs, like wood roaches and moths, which can really get big and creepy. I really don’t like to kill spiders, but sometimes they just have to go. Since we’ve been here we have seen some monster size, I’m talking Stephen King “IT” size spiders. There were two ginormous wolf spiders in the outside camp bathroom the first time we went up to take a hot shower. Showering with a spider as big as my face is simply not an option, so broom in hand, I encouraged them to relocate. One of them departed without incident. The other went on the offensive and charged after me…and it was running so fast. The ensuing spectacle was witnessed by Jen as she stayed a safe distance outside the bathroom. All she saw was me backing out of the bathroom, banging a broom against the floor, screaming a slur of expletives. Needless to say, it was me or the spider and I chose to live dammit. She had to die. There are spiders everywhere, it’ll be ok. They really are everywhere. I learned the hard way not to leave my clothes on the floor at night, then put them on in the morning, after suffering from a spider bite on my thigh that swelled up big red and hot for several days. We saw the creepiest spider ever in the garden one day, huge, and covered in thousands on tiny little moving baby spiders. There’s some sort of black, enormous, creep the hell out of me monster, living in the door to the camp bathroom right now. Needless to say, we’re just gonna shower outside. She wins.
Then there’s the creepy bugs that we just look at and ask ourselves WTF are you? Seriously, a big moth or cricket sucks when it’s in your house, but those mystery bugs can really freak you out. Bright colors, sometimes they have wings, or worse pinchers. Ohhh and that disgusting horned tomato worm we had to smoosh. Four inches of green slimy going goosh under your shoe is very unpleasant. The other day we saw something flying around that was pretty near to the size of a hummingbird. It landed on the tree above where we were sitting and we quickly identified it as one of the biggest praying mantis we’ve ever seen. Transfixed, we stared as it made its way up the tree and disappeared into some leaves.
The last bug I’ll mention is the one that actually causes us the greatest grief of all….the fly. There are actually a great variety if flies out here, deer flies, horse flies, fruit flies, and houseflies to name a few. However, the ordinary housefly is probably the most annoying creature existing on earth. They’re everywhere and the buzzing alone is enough to drive a person insane, but it’s the landing that’s the real problem. They have the most uncanny habit of landing on the same place on your body over and over and over again. The slightest hint of rain and they don’t just land, they bite, and sometimes even draw blood. They can ruin a perfectly good outdoor meal, create a restless nights sleep, and just all around make you think you might lose your mind. I have gone on many a violent fly killing rampage since living down here, but it’s a hopelessly losing battle. Theres just too much good stuff around here that flies enjoy, you know, like poop. We tried fly traps, fly sprays, and even the pennies in a bag trick, but unless everything can stop pooping we are just stuck with flies. (Although I do have to say, we have a couple ziplocks of pennies in water hanging in the chicken coop and it does appear to help). The most effective way though, is to just swat them…kersplat! In fact a few have been bothering me while I write this blog, and the fly swatter is within reach….so let the killing begin.

Coming up next: learning as we go, part 3. Waste not, want not: everything we’ve learned about reducing waste. (Yes, I will be talking about poop too).

Learning as We go: the first few months, part one

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Getting into trouble. Eating from the container garden.

Getting into trouble. Eating from the container garden.

Momma Priscilla and her babies

It’s almost August, I really can’t believe it, but we’ve been here for almost five months now. Our cabin is all set up and we’ve gotten into a fairly regular daily routine. We have a decent sized garden planted and some container gardens around the yard. It’s not exactly as BIG as we hoped, but it’s a helluva lot bigger than the 100 sq ft garden we had in the city. It’s doing alright so far, but it’s not really prospering. Between the lack of rain and the wildlife, I’m shocked we have anything at all. We now have most of the crItters we planned on, except goats (a couple pigs are in the longer range goals). At current count we have 10 ducks, 4 chickens, 12 bunnies, 6 guinea fowl, 3 dogs, and one hive (colony) of bees. We’re planning to buy a few more chickens this weekend. We set a goal for the end of summer to be able to have a complete meal from only food we raised, and we could actually do that today. That’s a success. Some things have been failures, but a few bumps and bruises were to be expected. I mentioned before that we did our research before we moved, but some things ya just gotta learn as ya go, and some things you just can’t prepare for. Anyway, in the interest of anyone else that may feel inclined to begin a crazy adventure such as ours, we thought we’d share a few things. For those of you that “swear” you’re gonna live in the city forever…you can just be amused.

On Learning from the Internet: I have to say, I really wanted ducks. Ducks were one of the first things I researched. What do they need in terms of food, shelter? What type of breed should we get to have good layers and good meat? How fast do they grow? I read everything I could find and began following folks on facebook that were raising ducks. Chicken eggs (especially store bought) don’t always agree with my belly, but I can tolerate duck eggs just fine and they’re delicious. The chef in Jen, was drawn to potential meals, the smoke duck, roast duck, duck breast, etc. One of the things I read over and over, was how wonderful ducks are to have around the garden. They love to eat weeds and bugs and they NEVER eat your flowers or veggies. What? You mean I can get these adorable creatures, let them go in my garden and they will actually help out? Sweet! I wanted a dozen. We started with four. We planted a side garden in early spring with flowers, lillies, some berries and herbs. It was going gangbusters for awhile, and then we let the baby ducks out to free range during the day. They ate EVERYTHING! Within a couple weeks all of our hard work was lost. Not a single flower ever had the chance to bloom. Those little four week old ducklings really enjoyed the garden we apparently planted just for them. Note to self: don’t believe everything you read on the internet. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This was for sure the case regarding those treacherous liars that convinced me ducks wouldn’t eat my garden. I noticed yesterday some stubborn parsley coming through, but I think that’s only because the ducks have been busy mowing down the hostas we put in the front yard. They are starting to learn the word “No!”, but they are awful sneaky and will go after the goodies when my back is turned. Thank goodness, we really love our ducks and the more delicious stuff they eat, the more delicious their eggs and meat will be. Next Spring we will plan to plant them their own garden. Meanwhile, it’s a good thing our BIG garden is beyond where they feel safe to graze. On a side note…our tick problem has definitely improved.

On Raising Babies (not the human kind): As I stated, our first babies were ducklings. We bought them as a couple day old hatchlings and it was still March and very cold so they lived in our kitchen/living room for awhile. They were pretty high maintenance, messy, loud, voracious eaters, waking us up at all hours of the night, needing water, needing attention, just being needy. They all lived, but in our inexperience, I have no idea how. Future purchases of baby ducklings, baby chicks, and even baby turkeys has taught us one thing for sure: buy more than you think you need or want. This is actually a pretty easy task to accomplish as anyone that has ever raised baby chicks can tell you….they are very addicting. However, some will die. It’s just a sad truth. Every single one of our baby turkeys died. (Probably won’t ever try to raise them again.) Even if you get them through the hard part, the first couple weeks when they are fragile and need to be kept warm, you will probably lose some to other factors, such as predators. Ours all free range (we very much want our animals to live the life they were intended) so they face much greater risks. We had a problem with one of our own dogs. It was terrible. We lost quite a few young chicks before we realized the predator was the one supposed to be keeping them safe. (He was VERY sneaky!) Point is, with all the work and energy we put into raising the babies, I wish we had gotten twice as many every single time. As long as your gonna have babies brooding in your house, or on your porch, stinking up the place, and demanding attention, you might as well get a shit-ton. Our mistake was only getting a few at a time. Then there’s the fact that you’ll probably end up with more males than females, might as well just get twice as many as you think you need. That’s our plan for our next go around.

On Sexing Baby Animals: I never really thought about it until after we were down here and started doing our thing, but animal husbandry has gotta be the ultimate act of feminism. Everything from rabbits to bees requires a whole lot of females and as few males as possible. In fact, the males are generally considered a nuisance and really only necessary for one thing: fertilization. Perfect for lesbians. That said, the earlier you can identify the gender the better. We have been tricked more than once now. First it was with our original four ducklings. They were our very first critters (other than the dogs we moved with) and when they started getting bigger we were anxious to know who will give eggs and who goes in the freezer. Of course we hoped for more layers, and our initial assessment based almost entirely on their voices (females have a much bigger quack) left us believing we had 3 females and only one drake (male). PERFECT! No one to the freezer. One of our pekins did have a drake feather, so we were sure he was male, and keeping one male in the flock seemed like a good plan. We had two khaki Campbell’s in the mix and they were actually very quiet, but that’s typical of the breed, and their coloring just wasn’t indicative of males, nor did they have a curly drake feather. Then at about 3 months old, almost overnight, the khakis molted and got hormonal. Our plain and gentle khakis developed new colorful plumage with the tell-tale drake feathers on their butts, and my sweet girls turned into obnoxious bully drakes…which are currently in the deep freeze. We have researched how to sex the ducks many times and once ran across a comment on a site that suggested you just ‘turn them over and push on their assholes’ (direct quote!) to see if they have a penis. Have you ever tried to hold a full grown duck on its back? I don’t recommend it. I also don’t recommend pushing on their anus. They crap an average of once every seven minutes and it’s noxious.
We were tricked again with a rabbit we bought from an animal swap meet.
Baby bunnies are very difficult to sex also, so with our first purchases we relied on the experts: people already raising rabbits. The lady at the swap meet sold us two bunnies, unrelated, one male (buck) and one female (doe). The doe was quite a beauty with long lashes and a sweetness about her. We were anxious to mate her with a gentle buck we already had. Several attempts failed, with our buck mounting her every which way but Sunday and our doe not allowing him access to the goods. We assumed he was just young and inexperienced so we waited a few weeks before another attempt. Meanwhile our other doe was definitely expecting a litter, so we weren’t in a huge rush. Then one day we were out checking on the bunnies and there they were, plain as day….testicles on our long lashed princess. The doe was a buck. Along the way I’ve gotten pretty decent at sexing bunnies, but I never even checked that one, I just assumed the expert was correct. Lesson learned. Sigh. She/he will probably find his way to the freezer soon as well.

On Water: If you turn on a faucet and water comes out and goes down a drain to god knows where, you will find the way we live exceptionally unfamiliar. We draw water from a hand pump well outside our cabin. We do have access to a hose with unlimited water, but it’s up the hill at my dad’s house and we try not to violate his space. It’s also very important to us that we try our best to manage with what we have. So, pumping water happens several times a day. The well is shallow and will provide somewhere between 12-25 gallons every two hours, dependent upon rainfall. This means we must plan our water usage very carefully. We have two 7 gallon tanks for use inside the house. This goes pretty quick if we do dishes, make tea, or wash our hair. The duck pool requires 15 gallons to fill and they usually have it filthy within the hour. We try to give them a fresh pool about every other day. The dogs, bunnies, chickens, and guineas all need fresh water daily, on a hot day they may need it more than once. Each morning we pump about ten gallons for watering the animals. When we change out the dirty water dishes from the critters, the mucky water is poured on all the container gardens. In the evening we pump water for ourselves, filling our drinking water containers, and making sure we have plenty in the house for morning coffee. We use about 6 gallons to shower, and that’s for both of us. I checked, the average 10 minute shower utilizes about 20 gallons of water…a bath could be up to 50. That’s well beyond the capacity if our well. So we have adapted. (Side note: we do have access to an outside camp style bathroom that has a working shower with hot water. We have used this on occasion, but our preference is to live within our own means and shower outside.) Our used shower water and the grey water from the “dump bucket” under the sink is also dumped into container gardens or over the compost. Not a single drop is ever wasted. As an added bonus, pumping water is quite a work out. We used to get tired just filling one of our seven gallon tanks, now we can drain that well without even switching arms. That added upper body strength comes in handy when your carrying 50 lb bags of feed on a regular basis.

On Weather: Farmers always have a bunch of sayings and tricks regarding predicting the weather. Makes sense. When your livelihood is seriously dependent on Mother Nature, you start paying a little bit more attention. We check the news for weather predictions almost daily, but I honestly have no idea why we even bother. At 30 miles from the nearest town, there’s no meteorologist that’s gonna be able to forecast what’s happening in our neck of the woods. They say rain, we get sun. They say sun, we get clouds. They say prepare for a big storm, we watch as it blows by just to the south of us. Never fails. Today is super cloudy and we’re in desperate need of rain. We’re “supposed” to get storms tonight. Here’s the way it’s gonna go down….it’ll start raining (only lightly) just as we pull into the drive. Effectively preventing us from mowing, which really needs to happen. Then, the storms will blow right past us….until tomorrow when we’ve left for the day and forgotten to close the windows. Yes my friends, Murphy lives here too.

I have so much more I want to share. I even jotted down a few more topics to cover, but this blog has gotten a bit long so you will just have to come back for part two later…

Upcoming blogs will cover: trash, repurposing and building, insects, gardening, beekeeping, time and money, poop, equipment, and income earning. You know you’re curious about what I’ll have to say about poop.

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Homesteading Dreams: How we got here

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Our decision to leave the city, move out to the middle of nowhere, and start growing our own food, didn’t happen overnight. It took time, careful deliberation, research, and planning. It also took some serious hootzpah.
After all, homesteading meant giving up our current jobs and the townhouse we loved, moving away from friends and family, and doing something most people thought was completely certifiable. It also meant downsizing a lifetime of accumulated personal belongings and only taking the most essential of items. We gave away so much stuff, and some things were just heartbreaking to part with, but it had to happen, so we did it. Our 350 sq ft cabin doesn’t hold much. We kept only the most sentimental and useful items. The rule was this: will we use it all the time or is it so beautiful/sentimental that your life will be incomplete without it? We brought what we had to have and we have what we need: a bedroom, a couple comfy chairs, a counter space, a sink (we bring water to), lots of shelves, and each other. We don’t have indoor plumbing, heat, or air conditioning. In fact, we really only have enough electricity to run one small appliance at a time (which currently is a small box fan that we unplug to run the toaster! We also have a mini-fridge) This may seem foreign to a LOT of people, but this is the life we chose and we are enjoying every minute.

The “how we got here process” basically had five phases. First, there was an “ah-ha moment” (thanks Oprah for that phrase) when we started talking about quality of life. Having both worked jobs with long hours and few rewards for years on end, time was something that just seemed so valuable. Time is precious and life is short and we were nearing our middle point for years lived. With the other half of our lives in front us, we knew exactly what we wanted: as much quality time together as possible. We were also newlyweds, who had suffered great heartbreaks in the past, and finding a deep and lasting loving relationship meant something different to us. Coming home late from work everyday, often bringing work home, and then having little time to indulge in anything other than a late night cocktail and a long conversation before bed, was just simply not the life we imagined. I once gave a commencement address where I quoted Walden and urged my graduating class to “live the life they always imagined.” It was time to take my own advice.

Around this same time, Jen was having a severe allergic reaction on her hands and I was having some pretty significant digestive issues. Jen’s hands were swollen, red, and itchy and she ended up having to get steroids several times to relieve her suffering, but for a couple months she was miserable. Her reaction was related to the food handling she did at work, and came and went depending on what she was exposed to working in a kitchen. For my digestive issues, I went to the doctor and the term “gluten intolerance” was thrown at me. It turned out to be a bullshit diagnosis, but I learned a lot about food, intolerance, and true allergies during my 9 month abstention from gluten. We had many a late night discussion about food, where it comes from, and what causes all these weird allergies. I won’t bore you with details about our food allergy and intolerance theories, but it will tell you where the discussion landed. It landed at this, if you aren’t growing your own food, then you really have no idea what it has been contaminated with before it reaches your plate. Example: Jen has a severe fish allergy. If it lives it water, it might as well be poison. So why does she react badly to the handling of raw produce? Easy answer: fish emulsion is a common fertilizer even in organic gardening. Therefore, handling raw produce causes a reaction. Not as significant as handling raw fish, but bad nonetheless. The ending to this little side story is simple, grow your own food and then you can ensure it is safe to consume. The importance of food in our lives can not be understated. We both love to cook and eat quality fresh homemade food, so why shouldn’t we grow all our own stuff? Maybe we should become organic farmers?

Then there was the “that would be cool as shit” phase. During our earliest thinking and discussing, there were a lot of long late night (often drunken) ramble-on sessions where we psyched ourselves up and followed most rants with a solid declaration of “we’re bad-ass bitches, we could do that”. I remember many specific nights where we had ourselves convinced we could build a straw-bale house, go off grid, and become the coolest lesbians around. We dreamed of rocket stoves, solar power, farm fresh eggs, and huge vegetable harvests. We usually ended up laughing hysterically at the thought of ourselves living in a small town, which we thought could never happen. Conversations usually ended with, “The country is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t wanna live there.” The “talk” continued though and progressively got more serious, although the focus on this point was on “somewhere down the road” or even ideas for how to homestead within the city limits. I still think it would be pretty fantastic to build an urban homesteader haven inside an old warehouse. All that great rooftop space for gardening, all those giant windows for starting seedlings….so many ideas. Like minded people sharing a solitary vision. If anyone wants to fund this adventure, we should talk. But I digress, back to the story.

One morning I read an article about a man and wife who had their own epiphany and left their big salaries and big mortgage behind on their journey to be self-sustaining. The article was short and sweet, but inspiring nonetheless. If I can find it again, I’ll share it with you someday. Essentially, they were searching for the same thing we wanted: quality time with each other, and they found it. On their path, they started off with big goals and plans, but ended up finding a way to raise the income they needed through bread-baking. They grew their own grains, ground them at home, made their own sourdough start, baked on an outdoor cob oven, and then people started requesting to buy it. It wasn’t how they intended to get by financially, but it worked out. I’m hoping our story takes a turn in that direction….someday.

As time went on we entered the, “let’s just fucking do it” phase and started the actual planning. We usually refer to this phase as the R&D (research and development) phase because that’s what we spent every second doing. We read everything we could about planting techniques, animal husbandry, and cool tips for off the grid success. We made a list of our minimum property needs and hunted online for hours at a time hoping to find our new dream home. We created a binder of ideas printed from various web pages and became facebook friends with people we found doing the cool ass shit we wanted to do. We visited a farmer that was selling his organic farm near Eureka Springs, AK and although it was more money that we could afford, we took away some valuable knowledge. On his 4 acres, he managed to gross over $60,000 annual and of course we thought, “We’re bad-ass bitches, We could do that!” Oh the confidence. We started actually telling our friends and family of our plans and although most thought we had completely lost our grip on reality, some were very supportive. In fact, both Jen’s parents and mine offered up property where we could begin to see our dream becoming reality.

We went back and forth for awhile trying to decide what would be the best fit for our needs and ended up taking my dads offer. His 160 acre property would give us access to as much land to grow food on as we were able to till. (Tilling ended up being the biggest issue, but we’ll get to that later in another blog post). The offer also included an old farmers cabin that hadn’t been occupied in at least 50 years, but had potential (if you were truly visionary) to be a tiny little home. I can’t tell you how grateful we are to his generosity. He and Jen’s parents have been so amazingly helpful, I don’t know what we would have done without them all. (A blog for another day: what I’ve learned about needing family).

We gratefully accepted the offer and entered into the next phase, “holy shit we are really gonna do this!” We measured the cabin, all 350 sq ft, and started drawing out plans for what our tiny house would look like. It was late fall when we actually started visiting the property regularly, so we set a target goal of April 1st for our big move. That allowed us the entire winter to clean out the cabin and give it a slight overhaul. It also gave us time to get our affairs in order at home. At first we only came down for the day, usually a Sunday since Jen still had to work most Saturday nights. By February however, we had the bedroom completed and were able to spend a couple weekends getting work down by day then sleeping on an air mattress on the floor at night. Keep in mind, there was no heat or running water. We brought firewood down and stayed warm (barely) with the use of a wood stove. There’s a hand pump well outside where we were able to get water, as long as it wasn’t frozen solid (usually it was). It was an exceptionally cold and bitter long winter with frequent ice and snow storms. Fortunately we only got snowed in once, and although we didn’t prepare with enough firewood, the old cabin furniture burned up just fine. By end of February, we were ready to move in. Exciting, terrifying, and bold. We moved during an ice storm the first weekend in March. We pulled both vehicles down the drive and made it almost to the cabin before the icy drive refused to let us go any further. No problem, we had our whole lifetime ahead of us to unpack and settle in. We started a fire and had celebratory cocktails. The unpacking waited. Nearly six months later, some things are still unpacked.

Now I said there were five phases and there are indeed. The final phase is where we are now. It’s the “stop feeling sorry for us, we did this shit on purpose phase.” We’ve been here six months come August and every time I tell someone we don’t have television they immediately wanna come to our rescue and donate their old clunker tv. This is immediately followed by a “without a TV, what do you do all day?” Seriously?!? We have plenty to do. Plenty! And as for your old clunker TV, thanks, but no thanks. I had 4 televisions before we moved down here and I gave away every single one. If we wanted T V, we’d have TV. Same goes for your microwaves, and extra furniture. Look around, there’s simply no room. If you wanna donate tools, lumber or farming machinery, I’m all ears. Anyway, my point is this, we are here and we love it every single day. Save your pity, you should be jealous. We have hard days, like the one last week when we lost one of our ducks and I cried uncontrollably for hours. Those days suck, but they are inevitable…and still worth it. Our garden isn’t prospering, nor is it 4 acres, and it is definitely not going to generate $60,000, but it might generate $60 if we’re smart about it. Sixty bucks buys a month worth of feed for our critters and I’ll call that a success. What our garden will do is this: put food on our table. Food that is rich in organic matter, free of chemicals, and came from our own blood sweat and tears. Food that does not have any unknown contaminants. That, my friends, is priceless. We also have ducks and chickens and rabbits and guineas…and we love them all. The animals provide more food security (I hate that term by the way—but I’ll save my Dept of Agriculture rant for another day). The critters provide countless hours of entertainment, and they connect us to the land in a way I can’t even explain. We know what our animals eat and therefore we know they are safe to consume. We still get our water from a hand pump well, but our understanding of water and it’s value as a scarce resource can’t be quantified. We use our water carefully and with planned intent. Not a single trickle ever goes to waste. If it’s remotely warm we shower outside. It’s invigorating. Don’t pity our lack of ability to stand under a hot shower and get clean. We love our outdoor showers and if you’ve never done it…do it now. We spend most of our time outdoors and usually head inside only after the chickens have gone to roost, near dark. Much of our time is spent together, doing chores, running errands, preparing meals, working in the garden, or just sitting outside enjoying the view. We share the responsibility of our household and when we are together we don’t watch tv, or stare at computer screens, we do the unheard of, we actually talk. I’ll say it again, you should be jealous.

I hope by now you understand this was a planned choice. We didn’t get fired, lose everything, and become destitute to live in a tiny cabin in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t leave the city because we hated it, we love the city. We didn’t move to get away from the crime, we are actually much more afraid of the bad stuff that can happen to you in the middle of nowhere. We aren’t running away from anything, we are running towards something, a dream. We did this shit on purpose. We wanted a better quality of life and we found it. We went searching for the life we always imagined, and “That’s how we got here.”

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The Full Bounty (pun intented)

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The Full Bounty (pun intented)

We absolutely love this picture. A single day harvest in September of 2013 and a day of great pride for both of us. Our tiny garden was less than 100 sq ft and we used every single inch. Some plants were actually choked out, but the ones that prospered took over and went buck wild. The pumpkins (on the left) actually grew into our front yard and made mowing a nightmare, but we harvested four pumpkins and I’m calling that a success. We made pumpkin bread for everyone and there is still mashed pumpkin in our freezer. We had over ten varietals of tomatoes in our garden and you can see from the picture, it was like tasting a rainbow. Each one so special, so delicious. We saved tons of seeds and cant wait to grow them again on our farm. We had several peppers varieties as well, which we put to great use (with the tomatoes) in our canned salsa. One thing is for certain, no matter how great the bounty we never let anything go to waste. Canning, jamming, sharing, baking, even dehydrating. It kept us busy all summer and fall, even while working full time. For 2014 this will be our full time jobs and we couldn’t be more excited!!