Posts Tagged ‘urban homesteading’

Independence Day

I am not a locavore. I love Italian olive oil and cheese, Belgian chocolate, South American coffee, Spanish ham, Alaskan salmon,and wine from all over the place. I am not an extremist about anything, and I think that cutting oneself off from the rest of the world makes less than no sense at all.
That said, it’s a lovely feeling to be able to produce a lot of what you need yourself, with the imports as luxury add-ons for variety. I value the concept of food independence and intelligent localism, and Independence Day weekend is a great time to take stock of how we’re doing at meeting our own needs, and celebrate with a local feast.
My current inventory looks pretty good. I’ve grown vegetables for years, but in my new location I’ve greatly expanded my vegetable garden and added laying hens and a dairy goat. I’m raising a batch of chicks for meat, and I have good local sources of grass-fed beef and humanely raised pork. So far this year, the only vegetables I’ve bought were potatoes and avocados, and not many of them. I can get flour from upstate New Mexico and southern Colorado. Not bad for a desert.
So, my 4th of July will start with a brunch of “yard salad,”homemade bread or cornbread, and eggs from our hens. Dinner is likely to include a grass-fed steak, more salad, and homemade egg pasta made from Sangre de Christo flour and backyard eggs. Midafternoon, we might snack on goat cheese from Magnolia, our “yard goat.” We’ll drink my own homebrewed mead, and drink a toast to our beautiful country and our own joy at being part of it.
This year I’ll ask my readers to consider having a local Independence Day feast, or as close to it as works for you. There are farmers’ markets this weekend, and some time to plan, so please leave a comment about how you plan to celebrate our local abundance.

It’s a doe!

My goat Magnolia delivered a doe kid this morning. Seeing her try to stand as soon as she was born, try to walk within 15 minutes of being born, and a little later, with dry fur and a full belly, start checking out her new world is pretty awesome. So welcome to the world, Cocoa, and may it be a good place for you.

Books Worth Reading: Homesteading then and now

Urban homesteading and homesteading generally are enjoying 15 minutes of fame right now (this seems to happen every 30 years) and so there are a plethora of books about homesteading, many of them written by people who got their information from other books about homesteading. Occasionally a book turns up that was written by people who have actually walked the walk, not for a year or two but for decades, and this is such a book. It is much more about rural homesteading and small farming than about urban/suburban issues, but there are urban-oriented sidebars that have some useful information. The section on choosing a property is exceptional, and I strongly recommend that anybody who is thinking about buying a rural property read it carefully. Alas, it is packed with exactly the sort of useful advice that most of us don’t take when the time comes. Instead, we fall in love with a property, buy it, and then learn what the problems are and spend years and dollars sorting them out. But if you read this first, you will at least have your eyes opened about where the problems might lie before they actually smack you in the face. The section on vegetable gardening has good information about how to calculate realistically how much of each veggie you might actually use, as well as a lot of practical growing information. The sections on keeping animals deserve a careful and attentive reading BEFORE you actually purchase any animals. The material on maintaining animals in a healthy condition is excellent. If you are planning to raise meat animals, be aware that there is a good sidebar about going from sustainable/humane fantasy to blood-spattered reality, but there is little information about how to do that, so if you are planning to do your own butchering you will need other sources of information about the process. There is also a good piece of advice about discussing your self-sufficient fantasies with your partner, in detail, before embarking, because one person’s rural idyll can be the other person’s isolated nightmare. Sometimes even full disclosure doesn’t help. I can say from personal experience that my very truthful husband told me in a straightforward way, before we moved to a bigger property, that he didn’t want to do any garden or yard work, and it turned out that what he meant was this: he didn’t want to do any garden or yard work. I had the nerve to act surprised when I realized this. Now I arrange things so that I can manage the garden myself, and we’re both happy with the arrangement.
Writing about a new homesteading book makes me think of old homesteading books, and some of them are too good to be forgotten. The Complete Manual of practical Homesteading by John Vivian stands out. I first read it when I was 17, and when in my twenties I acquired an actual working farm, I used a lot of his information. I don’t agree with some of it, but I am very grateful that he started me on the path to thinking about how to do farm tasks as well as possible. I don’t think it’s in print any longer, but used copies turn up here and there, and it’s worth a read for anyone who has a larger or rural property. And if anybody knows where John Vivian is these days, let me know so that I can thank him. By scrupulously writing about only what he knew for himself and had done himself, he saved me a lot of time that I would otherwise have spent sorting out real information from the second-hand kind.

Meet Magnolia

One of the biggest steps in making an urban homestead is adding animals. Chickens are the easiest, and you can get Brett Markham’s book Mini Farming for info about how he integrates layers and meat chickens into a small operation. I have wanted for a while to add a dairy animal, and based on my past experiences with goats here are the pros and cons:
Pro: goats are small and easy to handle compared to a cow. They tend to be hardy. They will eat brush (they love Siberian elms.) They are intelligent and affectionate. They produce a lot of milk relative to body size, and the milk is easy to digest.
Con:they are unbelievable escape artists and require excellent fencing. They will eat all your shrubs and trees unless well fenced. You need to know their health and nutrition needs. Contrary to popular belief, they won’t “eat anything;” they are actually picky eaters who need very specific kinds of food. They need to be bred, and I do not recommend keeping a buck in a suburban area, so you will need to take them somewhere to be bred. If bred or in milk, they need supplemental food and it can get expensive. You need to have a plan for how to handle the milk and what to do with it, keeping in mind that unless you pasteurize it you may not be able to sell it legally (check your local ordinances, but it is illegal in many areas to sell raw milk.)
Get a good book on dairy goat raising and actually read it before deciding to get a goat. That said, they are lovely animals and I’m very happy to have one again. Magnolia is a yearling doe, purportedly bred. We’ll see. Meanwhile, she participates in homestead life by standing on top of her goat-house commenting on all yard activity and eating all the siberian elm cutting I bring her.