Archive for the ‘Homesteading’ Category

So I finally have material for this blog! The bad news is that I barely have the time to write about it! For example, today I headed to work at 7:30, got home at 6, worked in the garden till 8, made and ate dinner. Now it’s 9:10 and I feel thoroughly ready for bed.

This place, our new home, is almost paradise to me. We sit on the north end of our big valley and no matter which way I turn, my eyes meet mountains on the horizon. The views are wide open and this time of year, with everything so intensely green, they are nothing short of breathtaking. Our neighbors are all a respectable distance away. If I cut my finger and cuss, I don’t have to feel embarrassed that someone may have heard me. But they are there to wave at and talk to and get to know. One neighbor plowed up a garden plot for me and he will show us how to run our hand irrigation lines when our alfalfa field needs it next! How’s that for a good neighbor?!

The only reason I say “almost paradise” is the mosquitoes that were harassing me today. I suppose they will be gone by the end of the month or sometime next month, though.

This weekend, we worked all day long both days, building fences, preparing the garden, planning and laying out the garden and beginning to plant. EZ was all around handyman working on his mile-long list of chores. We had fun, but the days were long and exhausting.

In contrast, this afternoon, the work seemed easy. We only had a few hours available, after all. I was able to get in a row of various Brassicas I had started and planted another row of squash. The real excitement, however, is that EZ started to get our drip irrigation going. I am so excited about this drip irrigation for the garden! When he laid out a few rows of line and started up the system, I was jumping for joy watching the water drip out along its way. After a couple of days of trying to haul a hose around my 1300 sq. ft of garden, I realize what a time and sanity saver this will be. Plus, it’s drip irrigation! How cool is that?

Well, I am happy and tired and ready to float off to sleep, savoring the deliciousness of this life we have chosen and worked for, but are so very blessed to have.

My view says ‘hi’:


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Sound advice

Through his job, EZ has the privilege of working with and getting to know many ranchers and farmers all over the state. There is one in particular, who runs sheep, with whom he has made friends. Last week, EZ went to do some field work at his place and as they worked, the rancher gave him advice regarding our new ventures. I thought it was all great advice, so I wanted to pass it along.

You have plenty of time. You’re young; you have our whole lives in front of you to attain our goals. You don’t have do it all at once. If you overwhelm ourselves from the start, you run the risk of burning ourselves out. So only add a thing at a time. Once you can handle that easily, think about adding the next thing.

Be 100% ready for the animals before you get them. You should have VERY good fences already built, good quarters for the animals established, and have your research done before you bring anything home.

Start with chickens. See if we really like caring for animals before we dive in.

Don’t get goats. They’re a pain in the ass, he says. I sense a bias here, but what do I know?

Don’t get exotic breeds of sheep. Get Rambouillet or Targhee. He says that these breeds have better flocking instincts and thus try to escape less, tend to be docile, and do well in Western Climates. I had been wanting to get an endangered breed to help protect genetic diversity, but perhaps we should start with easy breeds first, at least.

Don’t overfeed your sheep. He said that that’s the primary reason sheep get sick. He said sheep are very hardy animals if they are fed appropriately.

Don’t rush. You’re young. You have lots of time. Did he already say that?

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  • EZ and I were up near Flathead Lake a few weeks ago. While there, we bought 26 lbs of Flathead Cherries and 5 lbs of Ranier Cherries. We ate a lot of them. Gave away some. Froze 10+ lbs. The rest became my first experience in canning. Honestly, it was scarier than it was difficult. When I was reading up on it, I was afraid that I’d give my husband botulism or something (ok, so that’s still a possibility… we haven’t eaten any yet). It was actually fairly simple. I used “Canning and Preserving for Dummies” from my library and it was all pretty straightforward. Phew… I can’t wait to open up a can this winter!

Canned cherries

  • A bunch of my tomatoes got blossom end rot. EZ picked off all the affected tomatoes because we didn’t know what it was at first. Once we learned that it was a drought-stress and calcium deficiency problem, we limed the soil and started watering more. All our tomatoes have been OK since.
  • This morning for lunch, we had freshly picked tomatoes and basil with mozzarella, pepper and basalmic vinegar. And because we were feeling European/like drunks, we each had a glass of wine to go along. I didn’t learn anything from this, except that that’s worth doing every now and then!
  • We picked up our German Shorthaired Pointer, Stanley, from his 2 months of training this weekend. He’s now an impressive upland bird hunter. I’m so happy to have him home. Stan’s quite the character, I will have to post about him sometime. The trainer confirmed that he is very headstrong and driven, a double-edged sword in bird hunting. Watching him chase down and catch a bird that we never even took a shot at is an amazing sight. Mostly, though, he’s the best little cuddler you ever did meet (assuming he’s in the mood to cuddle)!


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So, one thing about this whole homestead plan… The reason our plans are so squishy and undefined: we know next-to-nothing about all this homesteady-type-stuff. There, I said it. I’m a little afraid I’ll be lambasted as naive or fickle or whatnot (right when somebody actually reads this stuff!), just as we’re all a little afraid to have our dreams criticized. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read everything I can get my hands on. I know how I want to build my chicken house and what I think I can reasonably grow in my relatively cool climate. But my hands-on experience amounts to a few days helping out around a friend’s ranch. And hands-on experience is where it’s at. I won’t claim to know how to do anything until I’ve actually done it.

All that is a long way to say that this year I planted my first vegetable garden. Also, that I’d love to get advice and tips if anything makes you wince.

We don’t have much room in our yard. The dogs have domain over the backyard and our town’s resident deer rule the front yard, so we can’t plant anything they’d like up there. So EZ built me 2 raised beds in an enclosure in the back yard. We filled them with soil bought in bulk from a local nursery. Since then, my biggest problem is the plants’ rampant growth.

 The Little Garden that could

The tomatoes are have grows right out the top of their 4′ cages. I think they love that red wall and all the heat it gives off for them.

Tomatoes coming to get you!!!

They are heavy with tomatoes though and we just got the first ripe one. He was little, but tasty! (And I grew that lettuce, too! It just keeps on coming!)

Rawr! Giant hand squash tiny tomato!

The squash are busy trying to shade out the onions (and everything really). I took this picture yesterday and 3 of those squash will be ready to pick tomorrow!


The mint. Oy, the mint. How the hell will I ever use that much mint?! I’ll have to take up heavy Mint Julep and Mint Tea consumption. I’ll be perpetually drunk and full-bladdered.

May I offer you a nice mint julep?

Now for the problem children. I used to just love the snap beans. They thrust themselves out of the ground so enthusiastically. What lust for life! But they got bored with life pretty quickly, I guess, and now they look like this:

Bah, humbug!

They are curly and short and not even pretending they’re going to produce anything. I’m going to just yank them out of the garden soon, I think. Any other suggestions?

Then there are the snap peas. They have grown tall and are beginning to produce pods, but they just look so damn sad. Now what do I do about them?


I keep meaning to get up to the areas of the National Forest that are frequented by horses to grab some leftover weed-free straw to use as mulch, but I haven’t yet. However, the weeds seem pretty easy to control if I just spend an extra two minutes pulling them in the morning when I water. I guess I wouldn’t have to water so much if I got some, though.

Anyhow, welcome to my teeny tiny garden. I adore it and love spending time there.

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Why Homestead?

That’s the obvious question: why the hell would you want to do something like homestead? Indeed. Why would we? Everything I could produce is right at the local grocery store. It will limit our possibilities in life to some extent (can’t leave the house for too long with a bunch of animals that want to be fed). It’s a heck of a lot of work. Look at all we’ll be giving up!

Well, first off, I guess I should let you in on how this might happen and what homesteading might look like for us. We’re not necessarily planning to quit our jobs, move somewhere with no plumbing or electricity, take up banjo and harrass innocent river runners. We see this all as a project, a lifestyle, with a very flexible endpoint. We’ve got our big dreams, but we’re being reasonable about the fact that we may not pull it all off.

The goal is to be more or less self-reliant. A big garden, some chickens… maybe sheep? Goats? A cow? We’ll try to can and freeze and dry enough fruits and veggies to get us through the winter, but there’s been no crime committed if we pick up some potatoes at the store. There will always be some stuff we just can’t or don’t want to come up with ourselves. Perhaps at some point I’ll go part time at work or quit entirely. Maybe EZ will. Maybe not. There’s going to be a lot to figure out as we go along.

So, why?

1) Food production is a serious mess in this country (and all over the world as well). I think I’ll limit my political commentary (no promises there), but it makes me kinda sick. The plight of the small farmer. Massive monocultures. Dousing our food in chemicals. I’m not comfortable with any of it and I want out. The only food I eat that I truly trust anymore is the stuff my husband or I hunted or grew ourselves and the beef we buy from a rancher we know (see the first listing on this page)  about a 100 miles from here. If you’ve read The Omnivore’s Dillema, you know that of which I speak.

2) Self-reliance is a big deal to me. I go to my job, where I count on a paycheck, to a grocery, where I expect the products I want, and so on. I start to feel like I’m counting on a whole lot of people to give me what I want, when and how I want it. This all involves my complicity in the behaviors of the corporations I depend on to feed me, clothe me, and entertain me. I have a strong desire to figure out what I can provide for myself and my family and do it.

3) I guess one of the biggies is that I want a simpler life. I want to do work that is close to the earth. I want to provide for my husband and my Someday Children in an honest and substantive way. I want to remove myself from the downward spiral of consumerism and eliminate the desire for more, more, more stuff from my system (which I’ll admit is a struggle).

4) Most of all, the natural world and its health are of great importance to me. I want to live as close to it and as in-step with it as I can. I hope to leave a small footprint on the world. I don’t intend to do this with carbon indulgences, excuse me, carbon credits and designer organic bric-a-brac. I want to work toward a life that is in cooperation, rather than opposition with the Earth. I want to make my little piece of the earth better for my having been there. Mostly, I would just much rather be dependent on nature to sustain me than on a suite of corporations.

Honestly though, my husband and I are no extremists and not as high-minded as I just made us sound. We’re not total hippies and nor are we survivalist Libertarians. We’re stuck somewhere in the middle of all that. Armed hippies. Bleeding-heart Libertarians. Or something like that. We have come up with what we feel is the simplest solution to problems that bear down on many of us that most simply accept as the facts of life. 

For the most part, however, it’s just something we want to do. No big let’s-save-the-world reason. We just wanna. ‘Cuz we do. It’s similar (though obviously not as biologically rooted) as the desire to have children. There a million reasons to have them. And a million and one reasons not to. In the end, it comes down to ‘we really, really wanted to.’

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