Sunday, March 31, 2013

Do I Really Need to Bother Making a Budget?

Do I really need to bother making a budget? Boy do I get asked that question a lot! Next question ....What are your budget percentages, I can just follow them, right? Oh brother!

In my life on my homestead, I wouldn't survive without a budget. Small homestead farms don't normally make an abundance of money. So watching every penny and the cash flow is a must.  And after talking with many other small farmers, I have come to understand that each family has different budget requirements. There is no such thing as one person's budget fitting another person's life situation.

I have found that fiscal advisors breakdown budgets into the following categories, more or less:
   Housing : 25-35% of your income
   Utilities: 5-10 %
   Food : 5-15 %
   Transportation : 10-15 %
   Clothing : 2-7 %
   Personal: 5-10 %
   Savings: 5-10 %
   Debt : 5-10 %
   Medical: 5-10 %
   Entertainment : 2-10 %

If my husband and I were to survive here in Hawaii on our homestead, we couldn't even come close to following those percentages. There just isn't enough income. So in order to survive, we came up with our own budget. And by learning to be frugal, be creative, and changing our lifestyle, we can allot more money to some categories than others.

A little inside information about our budget....
   Housing: our % is very low because we own our place, we do our own maintenance and repairs in most circumstances, and our taxes are very low.
   Utilities: Our electric cost was paid upfront when we installed our solar system. We carefully maintain the system ourselves. We budget a small amount each month to cover future replacement costs. Our propane use is dropping each year as we learn to cook and heat more and more with wood. Our phones are pay-as-you-go and we only use them when we must. No idle chatting! So our % is significantly lower.
   Food: We grow, gather, or trade for much of our food. Since we are not financially strapped, we do purchase some foods. Plus we eat out 2-3 times a week. Even with eating out, our % is lower. And if we got tight on the money, we could eliminate most the store bought stuff and restaurant meals. So we have some wiggle room here.
   Transportation: since we have older cars with no debt, we can stay within that suggested %. There is a little wiggle room here for us, so we use it by stashing away some money for future use, to buy replacement vehicles. We accept that there will be no flashy new cars.
   Clothing: Almost all clothing is purchased at the thrift store, rummage sales, or garage sales. So our % is way lower. 
  Personal: this suggested % is a little high for us. 
   Savings: The amount the we can save fluctuates wildly. Some years are better than others, but the past three years have been bad. I think a lot of people can understand this. But we are not saving for our retirement. We are already there, maybe wishing we had saved better in our younger years. But oh well, too late now so we live with it. But we try to save something for future expenses. Now obsessive/compulsives would advise us to cut out the restaurant meals and save that money. Sorry guys, the answer is no. One needs to enjoy life, not just live it like a battle to be won...in our opinion, So to each their own. 
   Debt: our % is zero. No debt. Debt just makes money for someone else, from my point of view. I was raised to live with debt. But as I got older I realized that I was paying a helluva lot more for things when I bought them on credit. Instead of waiting and planning, I bought on credit. So I paid through the nose. Especially on a mortgage! So no more debt for us, if we can help it. 
   Medical: Now, here's the killer. Our medical % is a whopper! If I were to allot 10% to medical, we would have to have an income of $120,000. Yikes! For real! Our annual medical insurance, deductible, co-pays, and non-covered expenses comes to around $12,000. And we try to avoid going to the doctor. Sadly most small farmers and homesteaders go without medical insurance. They just can't afford it. At our age, we are afraid to be without. I see our non-insured friends getting really, really poor medical care when something goes wrong. I could tell you true tales that would make you cry, rage, and be disgusted. So half the year we slave just to give money to the big medical infrastructure. 
   Entertainment: Here's another area where our % is lower. We gradually switched over to free and cheap sources of entertainment. We still spend a little each year to go the the local theatre, so that could be eliminated if we had to. 

All in all, you just have to look at a budget as a personal thing. That's my take on it. Figure out something that works for you, then adjust it as you go along. But by making a budget in the first place it made us aware of where our money was going. It prompted us to think about how we wanted to spend our cash.  It also gave us targets as to how much income we need to earn. 

Depending upon what's happening, our budget changes from year to year. We just adapt. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Unrealistic Approach to Solar

This week I participated in helping a family to work on completing their solar system. After watching and not really having anything to do, I saw this as a potentially doomed effort. These people are ill prepared for a life of solar electric. If I were in their situation, I would sell the equipment and use the money to hook into the grid.

So here's the story. Pre-retirement couple who have lived in large cities left their jobs and moved to Hawaii. Bought a house, with a mortgage. Although they have some money, they are not well especially well off. While on the mainland they attended a large solar show, where they purchased a rather pricy, high end solar system. That was one year ago. Since then the husband suffered some medical issues and can no longer think well enough to figure out how to  finish installing the system himself. Due to financial concerns, they are very reluctant to hire someone, especially since there are no permits in place. The house wiring is complete. The inverter, controller, and batteries are in place. The solar panels are mounted on a ground frame, but quite a distance from the house. They are not wired together yet and no wiring going to the house. I'm not sure why they were installed so far away.  No combiner boxes yet. And no wiring system to tie a generator into the system to charge the batteries.

Luckily they still have the complete manuals for the system. The other volunteers are reading them, working to figure it out. Since no one's willing to trust the husband's work to date, all the wiring will have to be inspected and traced.

So here's the gig......husband can no longer deal with a solar system. He can't figure it out. Has no previous experience. Never had solar before. And won't be able to deal with any problems the occur. Wife has no interest in stepping up to the plate. Has stated that she doesn't intend to learn. Plus she fully expects that once the system is up and running, it will be just like being on the grid but without monthly bills. She can't believe us that the system could fail or go offline for any number of reasons. She fully expects a house that will operate like it were on the grid, running all her appliances whenever she wishes...and including a four person spa! The system is big, but it is going to need to be monitored. And she doesn't understand the concept of system maintenance. All she knows that she wants is "to be green"!

I see a family that has too little knowledge about solar and either can't or is not willing to learn. They are not willing to give up any of their usage or dependency on electrical appliances. They currently are running things off of the generator, but not using this time to learn to live with less. They are eagerly looking forward to using more!

Once the volunteers get the system functional, I don't know how long it will keep going without maintenance. I wish them luck. They will need it, plus a miracle.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Off Farm Income

Most small farmers are part-timers, relying on income other than their farming. From what I've read, that's the norm. But there are circumstances where you can get around that, but these surely won't apply to most people. In my area of Hawaii, there are many mini and small farmers that are surviving. Maybe not with a lifestyle that would appeal to you, but they manage to live.

This first thing that usually comes to mind when I talk about off farm income is getting a job in town, something that is really scarce around here. But that's not the only means. Some people take the occasional temp job when they come available....helping putting up fencing, weedwacking someone else's property, picking up macnuts, doing minor house repairs, house sitting (called caretaking here), caring for livestock when the owner is away, etc. Some people actively seek handyman jobs to fill in between farm chores. Others develop a small side business, such as small engine repair, to fill in the income gap. Mini-farmers are often eligible for SNAP benefits (food stamps), which can add a monthly "income" that really helps. If of retirement age, Social Security or pension benefits can make the difference between surviving or having to quit.

The small and mini farmers around here tend to have two things in common. One, they work long hours, far more than 40 a week. Two, they live a more minimalistic lifestyle than most people. By government definition, they are in the poverty class. Never hungry, never without shelter or clothes, but certainly lacking. All own their farms and have no major debts. Most cannot afford health insurance. Medical expenses (insurance, deductibles, co-pays, costs not covered) can easily be $10,000-$12,000 a year for a husband/wife here. That could be a mini-farmer's entire yearly income! And most cannot afford homeowners insurance let alone farm liability insurance. So most "fly naked". So those who want insurance need to have off farm income for sure.

A small farmer not far from me just started offering group retreats. He supplies the venue, the housing and meals, and picks participants up at the airport. A friend of his conducts the retreat and they share the income.

A mini-farmer set aside a wooded acre for individuals retreats, set up with funky tropical settings, meditation spots, workout areas, platforms with vistas. Popular with mainlanders who need a spot to get away for a week and be catered to.

Another mini-farmer conducts tours. He does car and ATV tours plus hiking tours.

I have seen many people in the last ten years try to be small farmers and fail. They needed more money than they could generate. Some were not interested in working so many hours. Some seemed to lack the passion needed. All were not willing to adjust to a more minimum lifestyle. They decided that the life of being a poor farmer was not for them. I don't know of any rich small farmers here. Many are comfortable, some are less comfortable than others. Most struggle to some degree or other.

So why be a mini-farmer or small farmer? For me it's a lifelong passion being fulfilled. For a friend of mine, it's the need to be independent and have some control on what he does each day. Another friend told me that it's for the freedom. Yet another said its for the peace.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Farm Income Ideas

While my adventure is a hometead style farm vs a commercial enterprise, it still needs to bring in enough money to support our family. I've kicked around a number of ideas, trying some of  them. Some work. Some did not.  Unlike a commercial farm, I am diversified. Very diversified. And I try to remain really flexible.

Ideas: (I'm not going to get involved with the legal issues here. The government has all sorts of regulations when it comes to selling and trading farm products.) 

Coffee. Trees grow very well in my area. I can use my shady, wooded areas for coffee. This is a nice crop for a homestead farm for a number of reasons. The picking extends over months and the timing isn't super critical.  So it's easy to fit into one's work schedule. Coffee can be sold to other producers in the cherry, parchment, or green bean stage. Or you could roast it then sell it retail at framers markets or via the Internet. Even a small grower can find someone to buy their coffee, assuming you did it right and have nice coffee. And as a bonus, you have grown your own! No need to buy it. And you have coffee you can use for trading,

Macnuts. Trees grow great in my area, but take several years before they produce. But why wait? Get to know other people who have trees but don't harvest the nuts. I've found plenty, more than I have time to pick. I use to hand process nuts in a very simple but time consuming way. Now that I have a small husker/cracker, I can process a lot faster. Good quality, fresh, dehydrated macnuts sell easily. Same for macnut oil.

Fruit. All sorts of fruits grow here. Selling it is a bit of a challenge because lots of other people also grow it. The sales are there but you need to identify your customers and cater to them. Some fruits sell good as dehydrated pieces, such as pineapple, coconut, and banana. Some sell as juice.

Veggies. Chemical free veggies sell here quite well. So growing chem-free is something to consider doing. Plus veggies are good for trading.

Eggs. This is easy to do on a homestead farm. If you need two hens for your family, then feeding a few more isn't a burden. Those extra eggs are good for selling or trading.

Honey. Up until recently, honey was an easy enterprise and an easy seller. But the world has changed here. Keeping bees now takes a lot of attention. There are many failures. Honey still sells good, but it will cost you a lot more time and money to get it.

Milk. I don't have enough milk to consider selling or trading it, but it's an idea to explore. There are plenty of people here who are willing to go halfies with you on a goat. Plus you could always try your hand at cheese. Non-homogenized milk is in demand, once you identify the interested parties. Milk is an underground product, courtesy of our government. But then, so is much of the stuff sold by small producers (eggs, meat, honey, fruit juice,  etc).

Meat. There is a good market here for local meats...chicken, rabbit, lamb, and beef.

Livestock. Though not a strong market, one can usually sell excess livestock. I bottle feed my lambs, making them far easier to sell.

Plants. Certain trees are fairly easy to grow and have some resale value. This takes a bit of researching.  A few people bring banana trees and fruit tree seedlings to the local farmers market. I've also seen various palm trees for sale. Seedlings of veggies and flowering plants are another option. With the increased interest in gardening, they tend to sell.

Crafts. This is a wide open field. Lots of products from the farm can be used in crafting. Some sales will target locals, others will target tourists. Things I've seen include gourd art, wood carvings, jewelry, cups and bowls, interior decorations, picture frames, tables and other furniture, wall hooks, woven hats and bowls, leis, flower arrangements, garden decorations, fences and trellises. The list is as long as people's imagination.

Compost. Gardeners eagerly buy good compost. Other options are wood ash, bonemeal,  manures, worms.

Firewood. Yes, there is a market for firewood in Hawaii.

Logs. Ohio logs of building size are marketable. Big timber is normally beyond the scope of the homestead farm.


Roughing It , a.k.a- building our own house

Now that we've gotten to meet a lot of people, I'm truely surprised to hear so many stories of how people "roughed it" when they first moved here. And it is quite amazing to see that many of these folks were in their 50's and 60's when they did it! These people were successful in making the transition here. Because they were pioneer types? Because they were willing to sacrifice and work for it? Because they lived within their financial means? Because they were dedicated?

These people came from all walks of life, and not what I expected. Some already had skills in the construction trade, but the vast majority did not. Backgrounds include : teacher, librarian, flower shop owner, auto machanic, medical researcher, college professor, registered nurse, national museum technician, dentist, plumber, office clerk, waste management engineer, truck driver, agricultural worker, electrician, telephone lineman, bank worker, store manager, and a doctor!

They mostly moved to rough, vacant land. Some already had a small shed to use, but most did not. They opted to make temporary shelters while they built their own houses. Shelters consisted of tents, portable carports, storage sheds, used cargo containers, used RV campers, converted old school bus. Many talk of sleeping under the stars the first few nights. Taking cold showers. Cooking over a campfire. Using a mirror nailed to a tree.

They all eventually built their own homes. Some are permitted, some are unpermitted.  Some are conventional type, three bedroom homes. Others are funky, personalized retreats. Some took a year to complete. Others tooks many years. They are all amazing, considering their stories.

These people attained their goals, or else they lowered their expectations. I'm not sure which. A few have told me that they greatly changed the vision of their ultimate house, settling on a comfortable but less conventional building. Some skipped finishing the building (converting it to a barn instead), opting instead for an easy to assemble yurt. But others finished their dream home, even though it was large and grandiose. But they all stuck. That is, they all made the transition to living here.

I'm sure not everyone who tried this approach made it. I never get to talk to the people who failed and moved back to the mainland. It would be very educational to hear from them, to learn from them, and maybe to encourage them to try again.

We had it soft by comparison. We already had a rough, weather proof structure to move into. Of course this means that we spent a little more money upfront. But it was the land that we had our eyes on. We would have bought it as vacant land, and then had tales to tell of living it rough, too.

We did indeed rough it, from our soft mainland point of view. But we were wusses compared to some folks. But other than not living really rough, we did (and are still doing) what they have done....building our own house. We are taking the slow approach and learning skills as we need them. We make mistakes, but back up and fix them. Two days a week are dedicated to working on the house. We're about 7/8's done now.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Very Useful Small Equipment

A friend came by and caught me on my ATV. 


On a small homestead farm, I have found that certain pieces of small equipment makes life not only easier, but makes my farming style successful. Without them I would not get the amount of work done that I need to. Not all my equipment needs gasoline to power them. Some are actually hand operated.

Now, by small I don't mean a small tractor. Although a small tractor or a skid steer would be quite useable, I see them as being too expensive for a small homestead farm. Unless I would find myself being suddenly wildly successful, I don't see how I could justify such an expense. I swore I would never, never allow myself to go into debt again, so big purchases are basically out. The only big purchase I have allowed myself has been a pickup truck. And that truck works hard and helps earn every penny I make!

I keep in mind that if I had a job that could be better done by a piece of big equipment, I could always hire the job out, or rent the equipment. Far cheaper than buying and maintaining an expensive piece of machinery.

So, what would you see on my homestead?

Rototiller. This is my main workhorse. Without it I could not do this farm. I actually have two. One for serious soil preparation, such as breaking new ground( a Troybilt). One lightweight one for cultivating and tilling established beds (a Mantis). The Mantis gets used practically every day.

Lawnmower. Not used on lawns! Ha. But it harvests clippings to use in making compost, feed chickens, or use as mulch. I don't have any lawns. But I have one mower modified so that it sits up higher, cutting vegetation at about 6-7 inches. I use this for cutting the pasture after the livestock has eaten it off. This helps keep weeds and unpalatable grasses from taking over. I have another mower that is a standard bagger. I mow along the street, my neighbors' grassy areas, and sometimes the grass in a local macnut farm. This gives me all the clippings that I need. I'm not fussy about my brand of lawnmower as long as it is a bagger and is self propelled.

Chainsaw. Very handy for cutting up fallen tree limbs and trees, making fence posts, making trellises. With 20 acres, there always seems to be a need for a chainsaw.

Chipper/shredder. Great for making compost and "soil". I also use it for making wood chips. I found that running reject macnuts through it makes great chicken food. What's leftover becomes garden mulch. The machine is an Mighty Mac, by MacKissic.

Weedwacker. Initially used to reclaim overgrown land, it is now used for maintenance. Mine is used every week. Without it, this farm would not be kept up. A very important tool around here. Using this I do not need to spray Round-up. Both my original and my current weedwackers are Shindawa.

Now, I also have an assortment of standard construction type tools, like a sawsall, chop saw, circular saw, drill, etc. Nothing fancy or complicated, but all quite useful.

Sugar cane press, hand operated. This processes my cane crop. It took a year's sales of cane juice to justify its purchase. But I believe it was worth it. Besides, it's fun!

Oil expeller, hand operated. I use this to produce my oils....macnut, kukui, sunflower. It paid for itself the first month I used it.

Macnut husker/cracker, hand operated. Very useful for processing macnuts. In one hour I can now do in what use to take me days. Since I can sell all my macnuts at a good price, it was easy to justify this purchase.

I use to have a large coffee roaster, but I couldn't justify it's cost. The sales just weren't there. So the roaster is history, for now at least.

ATV. I guess this should be included because its main job is on the farm. I get around on it. I haul rocks, soil, wood, and supplies with it. I only added an ATV two years ago. What a luxury! I now use it every day. The one I have is a Recon by Honda.

Pickup truck. A real necessity. It gets used not just for transportation, but also hauling a trailer, moving livestock, pulling rocks and logs, tightening fence. My current one is a Ford 150 4 x 4 with a towing package and off road plates underneath.

Trailer. I don't own one yet, but it's in my future. Right now I borrow a trailer when I need one. But that's getting "old". Tis about time I consider getting my own trailer.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Homemade Trellises

Old storage shed frames made into trellises. (community garden location)

Trellises come in real handy in my garden. Lots of stuff can use them....beans, peas, malabar spinach, pipinola, squash, pumpkins, gourds, jicama, tomatoes, winged beans. Most of my pea varieties use short, simple fence trellises. But the gourds and pipinola need big, stout supports.

Keeping with the note of self-reliant, low impact, re-use/re-purpose lifestyle, I make my own trellises. I never buy the parts. Never. As a result, some of the trellises are rather unique, so say the least. Funky. Weird. But they work.

Guava poles + portable shed framing (community garden)
Guava poles are great for trellises. They last and don't tend to break. And landowners welcome me to remove guava. Free! Good price.

Old fencing works good. The vog here tends to rust fencing quickly, so livestock owners often need to replace it. Finding old but serviceable fencing is easy. Too rusty to hold cattle in, but fine for holding up vines.

Fishing nets. It's sad to see the amount of fishing net that washes up along the coast. Really sad, and bad. Most of it is tangled and torn beyond use, but with a few hours of searching, I can often come up with a pickup truck load of useable netting.

Portable shed poles and instant pop-up canopy frames. The framework is metal and can be reconfigured into interesting trellises. Though not as easy to come by as the other materials, I can often find some down at the dump after a windstorm. Some of our heavy tradewinds are not so kind to portable structures.

With the help of a hammer, nails, twine, and tape, I've managed to make jut about any type of trellis that I need.

Note: the photos are of trellises built at the community garden. Eventually I'll post some from my farm garden too,

Friday, March 22, 2013

Firewood

In our situation, at our elevation, we don't need logs to use as firewood. In New Jersey and England, logs were the mainstay. Without them, you'd be cold. But here in Hawaii at 2300 feet, it gets chilly but no where near freezing. The coldest night temperature in the past ten years was 46 degrees, and that was for just one night. We have had about a half dozen nights go to 49 degrees.  Usual winter nights go between 55 and 59. Summer mornings are at 61.

Now, before you start hurting yourself laughing, keep this in mind. If it is 55 degrees outside, it is also 55 degrees inside. You see, Hawaii style housing has no insulation and is designed to have air move through it. Higher elevation houses (3000 feet and above) are built like mainland houses, but not the houses in warmer elevations. Those homeowners who built their lower elevation house in the style of the mainland house they were use to, later regretted it. The house gets hot during the day and had a hard time cooling off in the evening.

So, do you keep your house at 55 degrees? Or 46 degrees? I bet not. I bet you have heat. Well, so do we.

Locating firewood is easy. First of all, I have 20 acres. Second, the neighbors love to have people come clear out dead wood and weedy trees. There is plenty of dead wind blown branches. And abundant guava and eucalyptus trees to be harvested. Macnut farms like to have scavengers haul away their tree trimmings.

Twigs and small branches make up the majority of my firewood. Small, quick fires is what I need most of the time. I reserve thicker branches for when I need longer lasting fires.

In my previous life, a big chainsaw, wedges, peaveys, maul, and log splitter were tools of my wood burning life. But here I use a small chainsaw (infrequently), good quality tree loper, and a chop saw. And the truck. It's main function when it comes to firewood is to run over the twiggy branches that fall from the ohia trees. Lay them in the driveway where they will get run over. Pick up the broken up twigs for kindling and fire. Easy.

I also burn "junk" macnuts and kukui nuts, when I can get them. And occasionally coconut husks.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Living on Solar




panel pointing to the morning sun

panels for midday sun

We live totally off grid.....by choice. When I tell my friends on the mainland that we live with solar, they often console me, have pity for me. No way! We're quite happy being off grid. No need to feel sorry for us at all.

So many people think that if you are on solar, it means that you can only have dim lights, no modern conveniences, can't have saws, TV, a freezer. Not true. Sometimes people think that we have to run a generator at night. Again, not true. Our house runs like a normal house, just with a few differences. One big difference involves a lifestyle change. It means, no wasting electricity. It means weaning yourself away from all those electrical gadgets that nibble current 24 hours a day. It means becoming aware of what items are energy hogs, then doing something about it.

Our house is wired for AC, like any other house that is on the grid. The only thing that  is wired DC is our water pump. It's a marine pump, thus DC. Situated out near the solar equipment, it is simple to have it wired directly to the DC system.

Our refrigerator and our freezer are Steca chest units. They are DC units, but being located in the house too far away from the solar array, they get their electric power via an AC to DC plug-in inverter. We could have them set up with their own solar panel and batteries, but we find the small plug-in inverter works just fine. Simple. Whisper quiet. Some day we might change this set-up, but for now it's ok. We used to have a propane refrigerator but it was so expensive to run. We upgraded to a small regular electric frig. But I wanted to have a chest freezer. Looking around we discovered the Steca and fell in love. I'm very pleased with them. The two units combined use less electric power than the small refrigerator did. Far less.

Our range is propane, non-electric. Finding a non-electric range is difficult nowadays! Ours is a Premier range.

All our light bulbs are compact fluorescents. No night lights. No outdoor floodlights. And that's by choice. We've progressed to the point that we dislike wasting power.

Clothes washer is a normal, small electric model with no bells 'n whistles. No clothes dryer. If I wanted one, it would be propane model, but I have no need for it. I use an outdoor clothes line.

House appliances are normal: microwave, vacumn cleaner, iron, blender, toaster, etc.  I just have to be aware not to have two energy hogs running at the same time. So if the microwave is running, I need to wait before using the toaster. Not a big deal. If that was an issue, our system could be expanded. But we don't need to at this stage.

We use iPads or a laptop for our computer needs. We have an old desk top the we use for watching movies. No TV, by choice. Anyway, they don't use much electric, so the system could handle a TV easily.

We've learned not to waste power. Lights are turned off when you leave a room. Appliances are unplugged when not in use, especially microwave, phone chargers, tool chargers, etc. We do not use electric clocks. Computers and printers are unplugged. Nothing that uses "ghost" power.

We have learned to use high energy users on a sunny day so that the system has time to recharge. Clothes are washed in the morning. Vacuuming done before noon. Power tools, like the saws, run before lunch.

Our hottub is heated by a submersible wood burner. What little heat we need for the house comes from a wood burning stove in the living area. Most cooking is done on a small wood burning cookstove on the lanai (roofed porch). We prefer using wood. It has nothing to do with being on solar, but it surely benefits the system. 

Hot water is supplied by a Paloma....propane fired. 

We find that living on solar has some good benefits. We still have power even when the grid goes down! Our neighbors are in the dark, but not us. We also like the idea of not giving our money to the electric company each month. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Growing Seeds

Purple Teepee Beans
I'm growing these for the seeds. 


I've just started getting serious about producing my own seeds and starts. Every year I've been buying them from the mainland, mostly. But as part of my efforts to being self-reliant, I'm learning to produce more of my own. I've successfully experimented with some veggies, the easy ones. So for now on, certain veggies will now be 100% homestead produced.

So you ask, which veggies?
...beans
...peas
...potatoes
...sweet potatoes
...tomatoes
...lettuce
...yacon
...taro
...dill
...summer savory
...chives
...basils
...winged beans
...jicama
...pipinola
...sugar cane
...coffee
...hibiscus
...strawberries
These are the ones that I know I can do successfully and easily.

I've also learned to do gourds. Since I can do gourds successfully, that means the I could do cucumbers, melons, squash, and pumkpins if I want to.  I haven't yet, but I will eventually.

Certain veggies don't go to flower here. At least I haven't seen them do it yet. I wonder if I could some how trick them into it. I have chard and parsley plants that are six years old. They have never bolted. So it looks like I won't be able to produce seed for these.

I've discovered that kale, some collards, and some broccoli can be produced vegetatively. I've taken stem cuttings and rooted them. Tomatoes also grow from tip cuttings quite easily. I'm still experimenting to see what grows. Will the stem suckers root from chard and parsley? What about eggplant and peppers? Might they grow from cuttings? I haven't tried them yet. Will onions flower here? How about beets?

I still have a lot to learn!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Sheep Mama

Little Stacy taking the bottle

Bummer lambs. A fact of life for any sheep farmer. What's a bummer lamb? It's one that no longer has a mom caring for it. Most of the time it is because the ewe rejected the lamb. Other times it's because the ewe is sick, injured, or has died. Most farmers  around here just kill the bummer or let nature take its course, letting it die. Some of us don't do that.......enter stage right......Sheep-Mama!

Yes, I'm once again a sheep-mama. The lamb this time is not one of my own, but from a local farmer. And man-o-man, it is sooooo cute! I just melt when seeing a day old lamb.

Meet Stacy, the lamb. A grade hair sheep, that means a mixed breed short fleeced sheep whose fleece has a lot of coarse short hairs mixed in. In my area, all the sheep are hair sheep. Stacy was just a few days old when I got her and she took to the bottle within 24 hours. Pretty fast. She's healthy, active, and cute as h....

Caring for a bummer can be fun, but also a dang nuisense. You're tied to a lamb for two months, feeding it three times a day. But if you stick it out, you're a very friendly sheep that is easy to handle for the rest of its life. I really prefer of flock of hand reared sheep! It's just a big time investment. And of course, about $100 worth of milk replacer. So it's not cheap to raise a bummer lamb, another reason why most farmers won't bother.

Homestead Dogs

Helen, a companion and enforcer of the farm rules. 

In our case, dogs are an integral part of the homestead farm. They serve as companions, teach one to take life as it comes, help keep us grounded in reality, plus earn their keep as active workers.

Collie Wobbles, our working Border Collie
What sort of working dogs are used in Hawaii? Well that depends upon the job needing to be done.  Many farmers and ranchers use watch-guard dogs. Cattle working dogs are common. Sheep herding dogs are also common. And hunting dogs are seen everywhere.

Our farm uses dogs for watch-guard duty. With the advent of the drug "ice", theft became a real concern. Dogs deter theft, for real! Another job the these dogs perform is keeping feral pigs off the farm. Pigs can ruin your garden in one night. So keeping pigs away is real important to us. Willie, our German Shepherd, also alerts us to wondering livestock. Many a time he has told us about cattle that have escaped neighboring pastures.

A Border Collie is a good farm dog for us, too. Our collie is now elderly but is still capable of holding the sheep. Many a time she helped move sheep to new pasture and helped return wayward sheep to the farm. I'm going to be really sad when she finally goes. Replacing her will be difficult because it takes a lot of time to train a new dog. But a sheep working dog is important to our homestead, so we will always have one.

So in our situation, dogs are really useful on the farm. We actually have more than two.....a bunch of freeloaders that needed homes. They were good dogs that didn't deserve to die, so since we had the room, we allowed them to join the farm family. A bunch of reject hunting dogs. Happy go lucky freeloaders!

Hunting for the Table


Hunting to supply meat for the table is common here and totally acceptable. Well, the animal rights folks and the vegans don't approve. Neither do the transplants from the mainland cities. But hunting is a long established tradition and is a very, very important source of nutrition for many families. 

While my husband and I do not actively hunt ourselves we take advantage of hunters. I've set up a bartering network with several hunters, trading my excess vegetables and eggs for their meat or fish. 

So what does one hunt in Hawaii? You'd be surprised. We have plenty of wild pigs, mouflon, and feral goats & cows. Turkeys, pheasants, and doves abound. There are so many that they are a nuisense to the non-hunters. Many property owners invite hunters and trappers to clear out their property from time to time. And of course, we have good fishing waters. Fishermen often have fresh caught ahi, ono, and opelu for sale. 

It is not uncommon to see mouflon and feral goats near our farm. And wild pigs actively live in the area, as do turkeys, pheasants, and doves. No problem finding game. In fact I currently have a wild sow living on the back of our 20 acres. Whenever her latest litter of piglets reach 8 weeks of age, we set up traps to capture them. It's a challenge since the sow is smart and avoids any trap that has caught her in the past. But for the past four years we've managed to outsmart her. I can't guarantee we'll continue to be successful. But we keep her bribed with culled fruit, roadkill, and moldy bread year around. So she tends to drop her guard. 

A number of my friends are hunters. So in the past few years I've eaten just about everything there is to hunt. I've been on hunts and althought I haven't been the one that makes the kill, I could if I had to. The thought of hunting turns some people off, I know, but if your family needs protein and can't afford to buy it, then hunting becomes a serious option. Plus in my area, if hunters don't take the game, then the Feds come in with helicopters and sharpshooters. They shoot the animals and just leave them to rot....and those are the lucky ones. Most are not killed outright, but linger to die a slow, painful, cruel death. I'd rather see local hunters take them. 

Homestead Livestock


Over the past years I've tried all sorts of livestock before finally settling down with what I believe are the easiest ones for the small homestead farm. Chickens. Muscovy ducks. Sheep. Rabbits. Pigs.

Rejected from my personal choices are:
   Cattle.....Difficult to contain when they have a mind to travel. Eat a lot of food. Big enough to hurt you easily. Laborious for home slaughter.
   Goats.....Hard to keep fenced in with just routine fencing. Climb on everything. Destroy things.
   Horses..... Require a lot more work to maintain. Eat a lot of food. Big enough to hurt you easily.
   Turkey....Disease susceptible. Die readily from just about anything.
   Ducks .... Noisy. Filth up a pond in a hurry.
Now, just because I've written them off my list doesn't mean that other homesteaders wouldn't be successful with them. And funny to say, just because they are on my "no" list doesn't mean that I don't have them! Yes, I confess. I own a horse and a goat. I own a horse simply because it gives me pleasure seeing her there and tending to her. Sure, the manure benefits the garden too. The goat is a daily reminder to enjoy life. Try new things. The goat is a challenge and it's hard keeping one step ahead of him, but he makes me laugh and reminds me not to take life too seriously.

Chickens are good suppliers of eggs and meat. Depending upon how I house them, I also get manure and pen litter for the compost. My little banties do bug control for me. Since I grow or gather much  of their food, it costs me little to keep them.

The Muscovy ducks are easy to keep. No pond or swimming water required. Not noisy. Good producers for meat....plus some eggs. I allow them to produce ducklings. Selling the excess is never a problem for me. They self-browse much of their food from the pasture.

Sheep are easy to handle without injuring myself. I grass feed mine and use grain only as a training incentive, so my feed costs are low. Since I have hair breeds, I don't have to sheer them, a big plus. They are easy for the homesteader to home slaughter.

Rabbits are simple to house, feed, and slaughter. They are a good source of delicious meat. And for those so inclined, their pelts can be home tanned.

Pigs are for me the most challenging on my list, simply because they can be strong rooters and can be fairly weighty when time for slaughter. But I have taken advantage of that strong rooting instinct, using a pig to help root out unwanted trees and tree stumps. And although other homesteaders find a 200-250 lb pig ideal, I would opt for 100-125 lbs. The smaller size is easier to handle for me. 

Fish. If one has the right set up available, raising tilapia or catfish might be a good option. I haven't tried it yet, but I am on the verge of plunging into tilapia raising. Since I haven't tried it yet, I don't know just how well they would work for the small homesteader. 

Some of the more exotic livestock is a real risk, as far as basic homesteading goes, especially for beginners. Most are expensive. Most people don't know enough about them to keep them alive and healthy. Most local veterinarians know little about them. In this group I'd include emus, ostriches, rheas, llamas, alpacas, and other exotics. I don't know about you, but I bet I could kill all mine in the space of a month or two, just out of plain ignorance. 

I chat with other homesteaders who have been successful with some really weird livestock. How about raising guinea pigs for pets and FOOD? I'm told that they eat a lot of food for a small amount of meat, but they produce really cute babies. Then there is Stan who raises iguanas for meat. And Bill who raises snakes for food. Well, to each heir own. 

Food Foraging


Hunting/gathering is not an extinct art in my part of Hawaii. And it a skill I'd recommend for others wishing to become more self-reliant. But for a person raised in "proper society" like my husband, the thought of foraging....or even allowing his wife to forage, was unthinkable! Poor hubby had to make some serious changes in his outlook on life, because wifey decided to forage like so many of the locals do here. Over time he has at least resigned himself to the idea.

Fruits are the main target in my area. Many landowners ignore their fruit trees. It turns out that most are happy to have someone come weekly and  clean up their yard. But there is a bit of etiquette involved. Plus getting permission to forage is sometimes a challenge. Simply going over and picking up fruit is not a good approach. I find that respectfully approaching the house and introducing myself is the first step. From there I explain what I do and why. I then offer a benefit to the landowner (keeping their lawn cleaned up, or returning some of the fruit in the form of jam, syrup, etc). I then set up a specific day and time that I will be by, say for example, every Weenesday at 2 pm. What's really important is that I adhere to that schedule for a few weeks before I make any deviations. Usually  I have little problem gaining the lndowner's approval. Oh, I have some failures. You just can't win them all. But some places where I had been rejected initially I was later invited back. Guess they heard good things bout me from their neighbors or friends,

Today I get more requests to gather fruit than I have time for. Tis a pity. I try to get to every location regularly but some I can only visit twice a month. Thus much of the fruit goes bad. But in order to keep good relations with those landowners, I remove all the fruit, good or bad. I just use the bad fruit to either feed the chickens or the compost pile. This keeps the landowners happy.

Fruits that I grow on my own farm include guava, banana, strawberry, lemon, orange, and pineapple. Fruits that I forage include guava, banana, mango, loquat, mountain apple, papaya, lime, orange, tangerine, grapefruit, pomelo, tangelo, lemon, avocado, soursop, sapote, cherimoya, and occasionally pineapple. I also forage macadamia nuts, malabar chestnuts, kukui nuts, and sugar cane. Not a bad take, eh? 

Catchment Water

Our water storage tanks

Before moving to Hawaii, we never gave our water much thought. You just turn on the faucet, and presto...water! I've lived where water was supplied by the town. It came via an unseen pipe in the ground and had enough pressure to blow you away. I've also lived where we had our own well and pump, where the pressure wasn't as strong but still could run a lawn sprinkler with no hassle. Now I live where we catch rainwater off our house roof for general use and haul drinking water in from the county tap for drinking and cooking. And the water pressure is barely passable. Big differences!

Ok now, why do we have catchment? When we arrived here from the mainland, it wasn't our first choice. What, catchment? No way, we said. Dirty rainwater? No way. Well folks, we eventually changed our tune, but it took while. We live a mile from the nearest county water supply. That would mean running a mile of our own pipe. Digging and building a county approved trench for the pipe would have bankrupted us. Top that off with the fact that the county is not issuing permits for water hook ups for the past several years, it made our choice of looking into catchment water a suitable option.

The only two water options we had were catchment or water delivery. With water delivery, the water is county water, thus safe to drink as long as the homeowner takes care to protect the water. With catchment, the water needs to be treated with a fairly expensive water treatment system that needs to be maintained. Of course, water delivery costs money while catchment water is supplied by Mother Nature.

We had to look at our water usage and determine just how much "safe" water we needed. Turned out that it really wasn't much. That meant that if we went with safe delivered water, almost all of it would be used to flush the toilet, take showers, mop floors, wash clothes, water livestock, etc. Very little would go for drinking and cooking. Add to these facts that the county water tap was only a five minute drive away and that we passed by it normally ten times a week, picking up our drinking water would not be all that much of an inconvenience.

The cost of a catchment water system is mostly upfront-- putting in the holding tank and running the gutters to collect rain. For around $3000 we put in a decent system for household use. No fancy water treatment system at the moment. Maybe in the future, though I doubt it.

Going with catchment water fits nicely into our vision of self-reliancy. Oh, there's maintenance  involved, but it isn't costly and we do the work ourselves. Monthly I  check the chlorine level, adding chlorine as needed. I also check the pH level and adjust if needed. Rain gutters are hosed out to remove debris and that water is diverted away from the tank. About once a year we siphon water off the bottom of the catchment tank to remove volcanic ash that slowly collects. By keeping the tank well covered we don't have a problem with mosquitos.

What about our drinking water, you say? I have a dozen glass gallon jugs that I store drinking water in. It is kept in the kitchen in a dark closet. It's handy, easy to use. I thought about making an overhead storage tank so that the water could be gravity fed through a dedicated faucet, but I never carried through on the idea. The glass jugs just worked out fine. If they become a nuisense in the future, then maybe I'll come up with a better solution.

Solar Electric vs The Grid


Our homestead is off grid with our electricity needs being satisfied via a solar system and back up generator. That's our final solution, though initially we had planned to go with the grid. There are lots of pros and cons involved, but it came down to personal choice.

Let me tell you the story......

When we moved onto our future farm, the house had a very basic, simplistic solar set up. Two L-11 batteries were being charged by a solar panel. There was the cheapest available charge controller hooked in. This set up ran three DC light bulbs and the water pump. The caretaker before us had allowed the batteries to run down repeatedly, so this poor abused system was barely functional. Often our choice was having one lightbulb on versus saving power to flush the toilet at night. We had to use Coleman lanterns for light at night just so we could take a very quick shower once a day. Something needed to be done.

Our first move was to look into hooking into the grid. Since our house was not permitted, the electric company refused to allow a hookup, even just a temporary pole for construction purposes. Therefore we ran a generator when we needed power. It didn't take long before the noise was bothersome and the rapidly consumed gasoline appalling. But our mindset was to hook into the grid so that's the steps we took. #1step- get a building permit. Not easy and quite expensive. It took us 11 months, really, to get a building permit! Egads! And all that time we're living with almost no power.

With new building permit in hand, we again approached the electric company. Ending up with a sheet full of calculations (number of poles, pole installation, SSPP--our "share" of the cost of the company's infrastructure on our road--, the electrician, the temporary service pole) the estimated cost the hook into temporary power was an incredible $30,000!!!!! We left their office in shock. By now we had been living here for over a year and our mindset was changing. We decided to ditch the grid.

Now we changed our plans and started thinking solar system. In the past year we had learned a lot about solar, especially what not to do. We learned to live on less, a lot less. In hindsight, living a year with an abysmal set up taught us how to use power wisely and not waste a "drop". A great lesson that we appreciate to this day.

Cut to the end of the story...... We spent $20,000 for a decent solar system. We have everything we want except for a jacuzzi. Yes, I even have a nice freezer! So when people ask us when we started saving money using a solar system, we honestly tell them we started the moment we turned it on. We saved over $10,000 on the very first day.

Our homesteading philosophy has evolved in the direction of self-sufficiency, self-reliancy (is there such a word yet?) We choose to live off grid. We choose to use less electricity.

Don't Bleed to Death Financially


This is a real tough subject. When we first started this endeavor, I watched in horror as I saw money flowing out of our bank account. At first I didn't notice. True! We were spending just like we had always done before we moved here. Problem was, we weren't earning money. So we were bleeding to death, financially. True, we had made some good decisions before making the move-- eliminating debt and stashing away as much as we could. But changing spending habits were really hard especially since we were dealing with the stress of a big move, an unexpected health problem with hubby, and a parent who suffered a stroke and needed daily assistance. The burdens masked our money habits until it became a serious concern.

So what steps did we take? Lots! Like in, no money out unless absolutely necessary. For people who were use to buying and spending, this acually was painful. I look back and say, " Of course! How silly to buy and spend." But at the time it wasn't so easy.

I had to change my mindset. Go minimalist...buy used...eat at home...no new toys...make your own...be creative...no binge spending. No more "keeping up with the Joneses". No more worrying about what other people might think. Explore ways to be frugal. Attach priorities as to where we would spend money. Create new ways to have fun for entertainment. For us, this was a major lifestyle change. But if we didn't change, we were going to fail. At the time we didn't know it, but about half the people moving to Hawaii fail and return to the mainland.

The first three years were real tough. Changing our lifestyle and mindset wasn't easy! And after ten years we are still working at it. Still finding ways to be frugal. Still finding ways to be self reliant. Still making decisions about where the money will be spent or not spent.

Some people can make big changes in one step, going cold turkey so to speak. Not us. Too painful. Too hard to accept and keep it up. Too hard to make the change permanent. So we changed by lots and lots of "baby steps". Since we changed by taking baby steps, I'll tell you about our steps a little at a time as this blog goes along. 

Clearing the Land


We made all sorts of poor choices in the beginning of our land clearing efforts. Our land had, at one time, been treed pasture. But a previous owner had moved away, leaving the land to over grow and become brushy. Weedy young trees sprouted up and grasses grew over six feet tall!We had no experience with this sort of thing, but we didn't want a bulldozer involved that would result in soil compacting. Plus being newcomers, outsiders, the neighbors were not all that willing to offer advice. We were such "newbies" and totally ignorant about Hawaii that we made plenty of bad decisions.

In hindsight, we should have brought in a bulldozer to push the land. It would have been faster, far cheaper, and would not have caused the compaction that we feared. But being stupid, we tackled it by hand. The only benefit is that the job physically whipped me into shape and knocked forty pounds off my flabby body.

The first item we purchased was a "billy goat" string weedwacker. Totally wrong for the job. It was difficult to maneuver, constantly got jammed, and was a disaster among the California and guinea grass. We tried driving the truck around on the shorter (three foot tall) grass then used a lawnmower on it. Worked but was difficult on the lawnmower, but gave us mountains of clippings that we used to make much needed compost. We stopped doing this when the truck ran over and into a few large lava rocks and narrowly missed plunging into a truck sized, unseen hole.  Next, on the tough grasses we tried a hedge trimmer. It wasn't strong enough to cut the thick stems. So out came the chainsaw. It cut everything fine, but the grasses jammed it up really fast. On top of that, lava rocks dotted the land. Hitting one with the chainsaw instantly killed the chain. By now we had struck up a bit of a neighbor relationship with the people next door. They suggested the strongest weedwacker we could afford to buy. Well, after wasting our money on the billy goat trimmer, hedge trimmer, chainsaw, and several lawnmowers, we just shrugged and bought the best weedwacker available. Finally! Something that worked. Yes, the bulldozer would have been better, but we hadn't smartened up yet. 

It took two years of working an average of 15 hours a week. Whew!  See? The bulldozer would have done the entire land in one week! In those two years I got the basics done. For the next eight years I've been fine tuning the landscape, still clearing a bit here and there.

But there were benefits of doing it by hand. I acquired tons of compost.  I was able to improve the soil in an acre for successful gardening. I became fit. I got to know our land intimately. I carefully thinned out the trees, saving wood for future poles, trellises, and crafting wood. I piled rocks and set them aside. They eventually were incorporated into a lovely rock wall. Most importantly, I have the deep satisfaction of knowing that "I" accomplished that.

Recently we purchased an acre of raw land down the road from our farm. This time around I hired a bulldozer to push it. Afterward I keep it under control using a weedwacker. I use this land to produce seed, but if I didn't I would run sheep on it to keep the grass down for me.

I was 55 years old when we started the homestead project here in Hawaii. I was still young enough the take the physical beating. Funny thing, but I feel younger now than I did back then. But I can no longer take that sort of physical beating. I've replaced the giant weedwacker with a mid-sized model. Easier for me to handle and it handles the maintenance work just fine.

Our Land (and a cane toad pic)


This is a cane toad. We find a number of them on our property. Although they are good insect eaters, they can also be toxic, capable of killing our dogs. Therefore I remove these toads and relocate them to the community garden, which welcomes them.
We currently have two locations. #1 is 20 acres and located in an area that gets a decent amount of rain (60-80 inches a year). #2 is an acre located about five miles away where it is warmer and drier. Both locations have their advantages and disadvantages. And it turns out that they complement each other well, making homesteading easier.

The 20 acres is the main farm. This is where we live, have our livestock, grow most of our food, produce our mulch and compost, gather our catchment water, and derive most of our fuel for the woodstoves. The one acre produces food that needs a warmer, drier location, plus most importantly, produces are seed stock and houses our bees.

The main farm has fairly good growing weather year round. It's best asset is that it has REAL soil! Soil is a hard commodity to find in this area. Of course you need to understand that the soil is between the rocks. No plows or rototillers here unless you put the effort into de-rocking. But gathered up rocks make fine rock walls!

About three acres were already cleared when we bought the place. The rest is treed, though I wouldn't call it a forest. The land had been used for grazing for decades then abandoned for around ten years. Lots of weedy trees grew up between the large shade trees, killing much of  the grass. Dense stands of ferns replaced the pasture grass. A mess that needed reclaiming if it were to become a farm again.

The previous owners had started building a small house, but after a year lost interest. Too wet, too rainy, they said. They preferred desert. So we bought this basic structure, happy to have rainproof walls and roof even though there wasn't much more. A very, very minimal solar sytem. A small water catchment system. No heat. A Paloma for hot water. Very basic and unfinished, but liveable. Yeah, it had a indoor bathroom, though rough.

The previous owners had also erected a large water catchment down in the open three acres. It proved to be very, very handy for the garden project.

The one acre parcel has very little soil....very little. Not enough to be productive except or growing grass. The previous owner had bulldozed the brush off in anticipation of building a house, but never filfuled their dream. But not having soil meant the we had to create growing beds. A challenge, but not all that difficult. The lack of water is the main drawback to the land. We currently truck our own water there and are working on a better solution.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Homestead Cats

Crookshank

Poison Ivy

Rikki Tikki and Poison Ivy as kittens

We've always liked and had cats, so coming to terms with having homestead cats wasn't an issue. Here in Hawaii, rats are a constant battle. They are everywhere. Lots of them. They run on your roof, contaminating your catchment water. They get into your buildings and homes. They eat your garden veggies, tree fruits, and nuts. They live in your car engines. They chew your solar system wiring. They are a real problem. 

We opted not to use poison baits. We have working dogs and feared they would get to the poison. And we did not want to contribute to the deaths of the endangered Hawaiian owls and hawks who could very well eat the

poisoned rodents. Snap traps work so-so,
because the rats learn to void them. And again, I didn't want to hurt the dogs. The best traps we've used were the electric shock ones. After a few zaps, the dogs avoid them. And although the cats now control 100% of the rats around the house, we still use the zap traps in the tool sheds and greenhouse. 

When we moved here, we instantly had three cats-- one we brought with us and two half grown kittens we adopted. The adult was a half hearted hunter, and the kittens were too young. So we put traps everywhere and had rats galore. Even as the kittens grew into adulthood, they never became accomplished ratters for years. The rats drove us crazy, and we caught dozens and dozens. Solution? Get more cats. 

We added a new kitten and at first she seemed promising. And though full of interest, she never honed her hunting kills enough to be a ratter. A year later we were cornered into adopting five more kittens from various litters. As they grew up, we finally had a working solution. Alas, no more rat problem! We're now glad that we were forced into adopting those  kittens. 

Rats never make it into the house anymore. Most are intercepted immediately. It is not uncommon to hear the cats running on the roof as they hunt down a new intruder. 

The cats are nice companions, good company. They are easy to maintain. We find that the cost of feeding them worth the value of being rat free. 

Now one could argue that getting a ratter dog would be a good solution. I agree. But  I  think the cats are a far better solution for Hawaii in that the rats here are roof rats. Cats have access to the roof while a dog does not.

Growing Your Own Food


A mini-savoy cabbage ready for picking. 

My first thought about homesteading was to be able to grow our own food. I had too little experience to realize what a challenge and big job that would be. So like most newbies, I started out ordering way too many seeds, tried planting way too many varieties, and tried to cram too much into too small of a space. On top of that, instead of taking a year to prepare the soil, I plunged in immediately. Needless to say, the first year wasn't my best!

Luckily I didn't get discouraged easily. After some thoughtful analysis, I slowed down and started out again, slower this time. But again I made mistakes, falling for the lure of the exotic veggies, trying to grow one of everything. Boy, it took me a couple of years to get my seed catalog addiction under control! I still eagerly await the spring catalogs, creating my fantasy garden on paper. My fantasy garden is gigantic and fabulous, while my real-life garden is much saner and smaller.

Trying to figure out what to actually grow wasn't all that easy. I wanted to grow yellow, white, striped, purple, cherry, plum, grape, beefsteak tomatoes...though reality proved the we seldom ate tomatoes. So only one grape tomato plant and once sauce type was all that we needed. How disappointing. Some veggies I could really grow good, such as kale, chard, green beans, but my husband didn't particularly like them, and surely not on a daily basis. I finally wrote down everything we ate during the week then figured out if I could grow that. What an eye opener! Turns out that we were really habituated onto commercially prepared food. We actually ate very little fresh vegetables. Whoa, something had to change if we were going to be self-reliant. And that "something" was going to have to be us.

It took years to switch our diet over to homegrown. We're not totally there yet, but close. If stores were to stop selling food tomorrow, we would survive just fine without too much deprivation.

Learning to grow our own food was a far bigger step than I had envisioned. The effort and time was more than I had expected. And I came to realize that growing extra for trading with neighbors and friends was just as important. I concluded that you can't grow everything yourself. So in order to have a varied and interesting diet, trading is the way to go. I now trade for a significant percentage of our food stock. To me it's still part of growing your own food. It's just the I magically convert my excess eggs, lamb, and vegetables into fish, milk, fruits, and beef.

Eggs for the Homestead Farm


One of my young pullets taking a dust bath. 
Producing eggs is an excellent task for a homesteader. Two hens is really all my husband and I would need for our own eggs, but extra hens means extra eggs for bartering or selling. Local, fresh eggs are a hot commodity! I have no trouble getting rid of the excess.

How many chickens? Well, I keep as many as I have food for. That equates to a core of laying hens = 25. Assorted birds for the pot = 25. Because I process my own food for them, 50-60 birds is all I can handle. Over that, then I have to buy commercial feed. One of my goals is to be as self-reliant as feasible. So I try not to get addicted to buying livestock feed. Besides, at $28 a 50 lb bag for layer pellets, it gets really expensive.


My layers I buy as day old chicks from McMurray. Once a year I order 50, selling the excess. Each year I buy a different breed so that I can easily tell the age of the hens. One year it will be red sex links, then black sexlinks, then pearl leghorns, then Araucanas.

My pot chickens are the old laying hens, plus birds that are given to me. People around here are often trying to give away excess roosters, feral hens, and older birds. So I usually have an assortment of pot birds out there.

Feeding the birds is a bit of a challenge that I enjoy taking. A great part of their food comes from garden and kitchen waste. Just about everything gets ground up and mixed together. I also gather abandoned fruits -- avocados, citrus, bananas, pineapples, guavas, mangos, noni, etc. Lots out there that people let rot on the ground. Waste from the supermarket is always interesting, as is restaurant waste. I never know what will end up in the collection buckets. My egg buyers also bring kitchen waste and food leftovers. Plus they get a trashcanful or two of fresh grass clippings every day.

Meat/protein is the most difficult thing to get. I get a bucket of butcher waste every week, but it's not enough. So I let the local hunters know the I would appreciate their meat waste. I have a number of hunters now who trade their scrap for some taro, sweet potatoes, or other veggies. The meat scrap gets cooked on an old wood burning stove down by the barn. Far easier than trying to grind it up. If I get a whole leg of a sheep or goat, I will nail it to a 2 foot long piece of 2x6 that I have in the pen. That way it gives the chickens something to do, pecking away at the raw meat. And by nailing it to the woodblock, the meat stays clean instead of getting covered in the litter. 

Boy, I was really surprised to see how much chickens can eat. Lots! I bring them food twice a day. First thing in the morning they are ravenous. 5 gallons of ground up mix just about disappears, in a hurry. Then they get their grass clippings. I gather eggs right after lunch and give them another couple of gallons of ground feed. I've gotten a feel as to how much feed to give them in the afternoon. From now to October they will eat lots. Sometime in October they slow down on what they will clean up until early January, when the major hungries hits them again.

Keeping chickens is great. An easy way to produce a nice source of protein on the homestead.