Thursday, December 11, 2008

reality check - investment small scale farming

i consider myself a small scale farmer.

i live in a small texas town located 33 mile southeast of big town austin texas. i garden, i raise a laying flock of chickens and i have recently begun raising chickens intended for eating. i envision each and every step as an investment towards my future, my health and my happiness. i see each of these investments serving benefit to myself and to my ability to help others be it helping through the teaching of others or in the motivating of others to try sustainable practices themselves or in the sharing of my harvest with others; all of which are happening presently.

aha, one more detail. i live on a plot of land just short of a 1/4 acre and that includes the area that the house sits on. i don't let the smallness stop me. it's been tricky sometimes thinking towards long term growth, the natural and necessary consideration of neighbors, keeping things looking nice, etc. it's tougher when it's not wide open space. on the other hand it keeps you honest, forces you to think things through and helps you to (i hope) make better choices. i guess you could place me as one of the those not so fancy pants urban homesteaders but i would rather not. this is not a fad for me, this is my lifestyle and i am in this for the long run.

i have a natural need to connect with land. i enjoy hard labor. i am a blue collar, rough handed, get out, get dirty, figure it out yourself kind of woman. in short, (ha ha i am that too, under 5' 2") i am of stubborn german stock. my folks say that the grandparents would be proud. i hope so but if they have the ability to see the good then they are also witness to all the mistakes i'm making along my way of which there have been many. but a mistake, i tell myself, is a learning tool. some days i believe myself more than others. i'm no expert but i try not to make the same mistake twice.

i research everything. i read most everything i can get my hands on. i talk to folk doing what i hope to achieve. i stop by the feed store and chat with the older than heck fellow at the counter and sometimes i go with my gut and hope for the best. i observe my own doings which is really important but most important, i never stop the study. i just keep going and going and going. if there is one thing i am sure of, i have a supply of endurance and tenacity that will last me my whole life. i have yet to find someone to share this good time i'm having with me and i think about that sometimes but maybe there is some other plan out there for my efforts, don't quite know. all i know is the now and that i'll keep going solo or otherwise.

ok so onward to the discussion of investment -

on first thought, i wanted to start off by stating that my biggest investment to date is my home but it's not. my biggest investment to date is my time and my commitment to my efforts. my time and my efforts i believe are the places that i save big bucks and gain big knowledge. as long as i can keep my body healthy enough to keep working then i can continue my path towards sustainable happiness.

now when it comes to dollars, i can truthfully state that my biggest investment to date is my home. i bought the house i live in 3 1/2 years ago. it would never have happened without huge support from my family and my adventures into professorship. i teach at the biggest university in austintown. not too hard to guess which one that is - here's a hint - go horns! the adventures into professorship provided me for the first time monthly benefits and monthly income. prior, i was purely freelance which as many of you know runs warm to cold on an unpredictable schedule. lucky for me the professorship allows me to keep freelancing as a part of my life, the trick is how to balance the two. that for another day.

i began hippychick's adventure to sustainable happiness the very first day i moved into the house. i planned the garden, i built the first garden beds and began composting in month one and by the end of year one, i had three garden beds producing, planted fruit trees and set up a small scale rain collection system. year two brought a further expansion of the garden, further investigation into the secret world of composting, the making of my own compost tea and a great deal of landscaping in the surrounding yard which included further plantings of fruit trees, citrus, beneficial bug attracting flowers and flowering shrubs. year three is the year of the chicken with my first three coveted layers arriving in the spring of 2oo8 and as recently blogged my first meat chickens, thirtyone in total, arriving in november of 2oo8. year four will be the year of the honey bee. there are two bee hives ready and waiting for the arrival of fresh texas bee stock in the spring. i imagine year four will continue the adventure of the meatie chicken, include additional plantings of fruit and berries, a new layout of the organic veggie garden and an expansion of the rainwater harvesting system.

each and every step on this adventure has involved a commitment to invest both time and money. getting started has not been cheap though as time passes, i have learned ways in which to transform goods either found free on the side of the road or collected from folks looking to rid themselves of stuffs toward better use. i now know more about when to make a purchase and when to keep an eye out for transformable goods. many folks will praise the passion for a good wood pallet. in fact i'll be searching out good pallets myself in the next few weeks. i've got a secret plan for a chicken run - ohhhhhh. the moral of this bit -work hard, resource hard, keep a keen eye, an empty spot in the back of your car and/or truck and study up.

hey anybody out there want to gift me with an old farmer style truck? the real old farmer joe type of thing? let me know. if it's diesel even better. that way i can work on converting it to run on veggie oil. hey cannot hurt for asking right?

to cut to the chase a bit, here are some of the items i have invested dollars in
  1. lumber - varied sizes, lots of it for raised beds, chicken housing, rabbit housing, garden supports
  2. bamboo - varied sizes primarily for long lasting garden supports and structures
  3. chicken wire and hardware cloth - for livestock housing, garden support, compost bins, you name it, this is a fantastic stock to have on hand
  4. dirt, manure, compost - to date about 30 yards, some in bag form, mostly delivered in bulk - i've used this to amend the yard which was in bad shape upon my arrival and to continually amend garden and planting areas. i now produce a good deal of my own compost which will cut down costs.
  5. chicken goods - feeders, waterer, lamps, galvanized tubs, screws, latches, hay, feed, scratch, grit, oyster shell, buckets and the goods for my livestock medicine chest. all the above add up - quickly i might add.
  6. the shed - this is the shed currently housing the meaties. this is a long term investment which over time will pay for itself. note - it will not pay for itself this year. this is a loss year but sometimes you have to think long term.
  7. the bee hives - two of which may pay for themselves in a year depending on how well my home harvest goes. i've already got neighbors lining up for goods and the bees don't even arrive until spring.
  8. compost tea aerator - this baby is a god send. i can brew 50 gallons at a time. feed your garden, trees and soil well and they in turn will feed you back.
  9. good bug blend - this is a mix of seeds that i spread on the lawn each fall and spring - they attract good bugs, smell great when mowed and improve the soil. i hope to curb my will to mow a bit this spring in order to allow some of the blend to got to seed so that i might harvest a bit for the next round.
  10. rain barrels - plants love rain water, water is our next big earth challenge, enough said
  11. seeds, chicks, starter plants, pullets, trees, flowers - babies that grow and produce over time
  12. tools - slow and steady, buy it when i need it if i can afford it. note i'm still cutting all of my lumber by hand. a chop saw would be nice someday but i am holding out for a good one that can handle wide boards. my favorite and most valued tool is my screw gun. oh how i love my screw gun.
  13. more galvanized tubs - to carry things in, grow things in, store things in, stand on for reaching things too high, to collect water in, the list goes on... they last a long time, good good goods.
  14. soaker hoses, sprinklers - around here, you have to invest a small fortune in soaker hoses because it gets so darn hot. i use sprinklers in the yard primarily in the winter and fall as they can be some of our driest months. i'm now investigating a larger rainwater collection idea that might re-configure the way in which i water the gardens - stay tuned for that.
  15. homesteading books, manuals and magazines - long term research investment from those who know. i subscribe to countryside magazine and check out other mags online.
  16. hay - i use it for all of the creature chickens and creature wabbits. it's also a quick source of mulch.
  17. glass canning jars - ask my mom, i've got a few. great for those like myself that put up food. don't have a pressure cooker yet - i'm still working with the boil method.
  18. string, rope, wire, coated wire - i use this stuff everywhere. coated wire for the laundry line. string in the garden, the livestock sheds, around the house for daily goods, hanging holiday decor, prettying up a home made gift...
  19. pecan sheller - got pecan trees? you need pecan sheller
  20. saw horses - i've got a few of the plastic sort, others made from 2x4, very useful
  21. cinder blocks, various sizes that i use everywhere - several in the chicken coops to prop up the waterers, others propping up the compost tea aerator, the wabbit home, several used for a quick raised bed, you name it, cinder blocks rock! yeah yeah concrete ok.
  22. natural untreated burlap - i buy this stuff in large rolls whenever i can find it. great in the garden, great for sopping up water where you don't want it, great for padding, great for dragging piles of leaves around and great for fun creative holiday decor. the cats like sleeping on it too.
  23. plastic sheeting, tarps and tufbell rowcover - use this stuff i the garden, for the livestock and to cover my bails of hay. easy barriers to keep things warm and dry.
  24. garden tools - digging and planting things - mvp's of my garden world
  25. rubber boots - love the rubber boots, covet the rubber boots, get yourself some rubber boots.
that is where i will stop for now. but i'll be back. i'm not through yet. i hope it is beginning to come clear that things cost you somewhere and somehow. the questions you have to ask yourself are
  • what are your end goals?
  • what are you willing to give up to get there?
  • how long are you willing to wait?
  • what are you willing to do yourself?
  • can you afford it now, later, a lot later?
  • are you willing to ask for help?
you can do anything. maybe not right away and maybe not all at once but if you plan you can take steps forward. i have grown to appreciate the idea of baby steps because before you know it they begin to look more like giant leaps.


morgan said...

You are my hero!!! I REALLY hope I can follow in your footsteps!!!


shellywoman said...

not a hero, just a determined soul.

Holly said...

I really appreciate what you are doing. You've become a mentor to me on the path of urban homesteading!

Thank you!