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5 Essential Farmsteading skills you can learn now!

Okay, calling it a Farmstead is a stretch when you are really not self-sufficient and rely far too much on the outside for basic goods, BUT every journey begins with the first step!  So, in that spirit, I thought I’d share a few steps that you could take RIGHT NOW to help get you to your destination.

#1 Composting

Your gardening success is based on the quality of your soil…period. You have to have good soil.  My entire garden depends on it.  Our soil is a very heavy clay that gets soggy when wet and is hard as concrete when dry.  It is nearly impossible to till and is a real nightmare to weed.  Incidentally, weeds seem to thrive in this mess and set roots that will throw a shoulder out while weeding.

I know we could have had a couple of truckloads of soil delivered, but that just wasn’t in the budget.  We don’t own a truck and the delivery cost alone was astronomical. (Note to self: get a truck!)

So, I began composting all of our non-meat food scraps and small paper waste, (which helps eliminate the need for garbage pick-up …see ways to save money on the farm). We keep an old coffee container near our chopping board and fill it with potato peels and carrot tops and anything else that doesn’t quite make it into the stew.  My daily coffee grounds also go in here.

All of this goes directly to a small bottomless bin made from chicken wire that I keep in the garden.  (I used to use keyhole gardening methods, but I was unable to get a bed raised high enough to do that this year). Any grass clippings that are collected also go into this bin as well as the goat and chicken poo and bedding. (During winter, I collect the wood ash too.)  The rest is easy…. wait.

Because the bin is made of wire, it is very light weight and can be emptied rather easily. I lift and take what I need and set it back to start over.  This is a good source of lightweight soil and worm castings to start your seeds indoors.  I also mix it into holes when planting directly into the ground.

As long as you keep meat out of your bin and keep good mix of brown and green materials you should have no problems with pests.  For more information on composting go here and here:

UPDATE:  We have begun using our abundant source of Alpaca Poo in the garden with tremendous success!!

#2- Start a garden –

Obviously, composting won’t feed your family.  You have to plant and tend that garden. I started with a few veggies and a couple of fruit trees.  There are so many resources online, but I find your local county extension will give you the most reliable information for your area.  My local chapter even has a Master Gardener program that I really want to join, when time permits.

I tend to get anxious and want to start tomatoes around January. The warm, southern climate really is deceiving. My M.O. is to start too early and find disappointment just as soon as the last frost comes around to mock my enthusiasm.  Still, I will probably not change.  My need to get my hands in dirt is strong.

This year I set aside a growing station on our sleeping porch.  Just an old, diaper changing cart with a couple of grow lights installed. My seedlings got an early start and I was able to tend to something without risking frost.

The other success I had was straw bale gardening….not for the typical reasons though.  I initially bought three bales to try the gardening with.  I am impatient, like I said, so I couldn’t wait the time required to season the bales.  I threw an old mushroom experiment on them and harvested oyster mushrooms until I thought I couldn’t eat another.  With no help from me, the mushrooms have returned to those bales with the returning rains and cooler weather. Win.

I try not to get too disappointed when my garden is overgrown or not producing as well as I would like. I focus instead on every cucumber, tomato and pumpkin that has provided us with a nutritious meal.

Even if you only grew a basil plant, it’s a start in the right direction.

#3 Chickens-

Chickens are very easy to keep and provide hours of entertainment in addition to nutritious eggs and meat. We got our first laying hens when we still lived in a city subdivision and were not in compliance with the HOA rules.  My dearest friend was the “deed restrictions lady” and I feared she would come by for a visit and see my sweet hens in our backyard.  It was stressful and I am glad to be out of that closet and let me chickens run free here on our little plot of heaven.

Sadly, we lost most of the original hens to foxes and coyotes when we first moved to the country.  It was one of many hard lessons we would learn.

The first October, I decided to place an order online for our next bunch of hens. I decided I would start with half a dozen and see how they did. I figured that we would feed them throughout the winter and they would be mature just in time for Spring eggs.

The hatchery we ordered from was kind enough to use a special packing material to keep our chicks warm.  I got an early morning call from my post office to tell us that our birds had arrived.  I couldn’t get there soon enough.  The sounds of chirping in this little crate was all the years of dreaming finally coming true!  To say I was excited is an understatement…I was downright emotional!  This was really happening.

Well, I opened the box and saw a note detailing the care instructions for our layers, and to the side of that, on a post it note, almost as an afterthought, was a note stating that the special packing materials were Rock Barred Roosters.

They all snuggled in together and used the same brooder until it was apparent that we needed a new plan.  I had Jim build a very simple chicken tractor and we set the roosters out near the garden.  They tilled and fertilized the garden plots and I planted directly behind them as we moved the tractor from one location to another.  This was a great help, since I didn’t have to withstand the winter chill preparing beds.

All went according to plan, until the Spring when I heard the first of many early morning alarms.  We knew the day would come, but I wasn’t prepared for the ridiculous chorus that would be the bane of my existence for the weeks it took to finally muster the courage to KILL a bird.

I will leave the details of the slaughter to another day, but I urge you to get some chickens. Easy care, delicious eggs, and fresh meat.

If you are not ready for chickens you might consider quail. We have hatched and raised Quail but found them less interesting (or filling). You can see our homemade incubator here.

#4 Homemade Cooking and Crafting

Because we live a long way from any grocery stores and we don’t have that much access to entertainment, we have filled our free time with activities that we both enjoy and that are helping us grow our skills.

Home cooking is something I really enjoy now. When a recipe calls for an ingredient that we don’t have, I don’t run to the store, I have to make do.  This means I have had to learn to make my own spaghetti noodles and sauces.  Making cheese is surprisingly easy and fast. The best part is, it generally tastes better than store bought. Bread is a little more time consuming, but I premix the dry ingredients and add the rest as needed. This allows me to make a smaller batch for just the two of us.  Ordering a pizza is out of the question, but we can make our own in less time than delivery used to take when we had that option.

Sewing and other crafts have been great pass-times and produce very useful items on the farmstead. I learned to knit house slippers because I had a pair made for me when I was a little girl and couldn’t find anything like them anywhere.  Now, my knitting is more of an obsession.

I learned to knit before YouTube.  Now, if you are not sure where to start, a quick internet search will generally yield a variety of results to get you started. You may also be tempted to just watch video after video, so you should establish a research and development time frame and get started as soon as you have a working knowledge of the basics.

Rather than a night out, I tend to knit and weave while binge watching a show on Netflix. Jim is usually working on leather projects or making knives.  There is really no reason not to learn a new craft.  This can be very rewarding and you might find that your talents can help with #5 below.

#5 Side Hustle

I can’t stress the importance of this skill.  Having a way to make extra cash is always useful on the homestead.

For us, the side hustle was obvious.  Jim happens to be a very talented musician. For fun, he competed in and won a Karaoke contest and took the $10 thousand dollar prize.  This was a great opportunity for us to take that money and reinvest it into the equipment we needed to start our own Karaoke gig.  We play regularly at a lounge in town.  The pay is regular and the tips help to buy materials for fences and feed.

Maybe music isn’t your thing.  Maybe you like to bake and can rake in extra cash in time for the holidays. Do you take great pictures?  Maybe taking family portraits is your side hustle.  Your side hustle can be anything.  Just start.  I think our tendency is to doubt our abilities when they are attached to monetary value.  We tend to think we couldn’t or shouldn’t charge.  Change your mind about that and you will see that your side hustle may bring you more joy, and in many cases, more money that your daily grind.  In the end, that is the kind of self-sufficiency we are talking about.S

Well, there you have it folks.  Just a Top 5 to get you started. What do you think?  Which will you be trying today? Do you have a side hustle in mind?  Is there another essential you would add?  Please share your thoughts with us.  We’d love to hear from you!

 

 

 

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