Although we have been practicing preparedness for several years now with an eye towards becoming more resilient in our every day lives overall, 2013 has proven to be a quite an interesting year around the homestead. Even though we have long been the outdoor types that enjoy all that this old world has to offer, when the year started one of our new year’s resolutions was to spend even more time outside. We quickly decided to take that notion one step further figuring that if we were going to outside more anyway, we may as well spend that time in various productive pursuits. The following are a few of the projects we’ve upgraded or completed over the last twelve months.
Growing Our Own Food
Full disclosure, we started our vegetable garden back in the spring of 2011, but if you know anything about gardening at all you understand that you never have the same garden from year to year whether you’re responsible for changing anything or not. Climate, pests, the size of your garden, what you choose to grow, your garden’s soil and any number of other things can and most likely will impact your gardening experience from year to year. With that said, we chose to expand the size of our backyard garden plot by making it about eight feet wider and six foot deeper with the final size measuring 28 feet x 24 feet. In addition to growing in size, we also decided to try several new crops this year including both red and sweet potatoes as well as experimenting with raised garden beds and container gardening for the first time. We also really ramped up our understanding and development of the composting process and have seen some decent results. Overall, our three years have been very successful and we are learning more each time we break the ground.
Rain Water Catchment System
Living in Georgia, we are no strangers to long hot summers and varying levels of drought. So, once we had the garden in place we decided to build our own rain water catchment system to employ as our main source of irrigation. I found a good deal on a couple of 250 gallon food grade containers with ball valves and after a quick visit to our local big box home improvement store, we had rigged up a very efficient and effective method to capture and hold up to 500 gallons of fresh rain water. My wife Alice built a gravity fed watering system that runs from the holding containers to the vegetable plot and we use that system daily to water the garden. This set up also adds resilience to our household in that it can serve as a source of fresh water for drinking, cooking and hygiene should the need ever arise.
Once we saw how much success we were having growing our own food (more than the two of us can eat in most cases), we decided to add to that by turning some of our previously unused space beyond the original fence line into a mini-orchard of fruit trees. We invested the labor and sweat equity ourselves, felling trees and clearing brush, and cleared a space measuring 66 feet by 25 feet. We now have six fruit trees, three apple and three peach in dwarf varieties and we hope to add a cherry tree or two this year if possible. Another happy byproduct of our efforts was a large supply of wood that we cut up into workable pieces that was divided into firewood and lumber that we are going to use to build a Cold Frame to protect our small plants like a mini-greenhouse, as well as more raised garden beds.
More Fruity Goodness
Around this time, we had a friend offer us several small blueberry bushes that they had harvested from their older plants. Seeing no reason to not continue to maximize our space by planting delicious eats, we moved back inside what was the back fence line and planted a long row of blueberry bushes from one side of the yard to the other. They all seem to be doing rather well and we look forward to seeing if they really “jump” this spring.
As I mentioned before, we have been very successful with our vegetable garden since we started it three years ago. The very happy result of that success has been an abundance of fresh produce, so we decided to meet this scrumptious challenge and get up to speed on all the various ways to preserve our harvests through canning and pickling. We have learned a lot, gotten a good handle the basics and are trying new things all the time. Our various pepper jellies have even become the stuff of local legend and rather high demand around these parts. :o) We also have plans to build a solar dehydrator in the next month or so to begin drying more of our garden goodies.
About the time we were finishing up the orchard project, we finally made up our minds that the time was right to get ourselves some chickens and crank up the egg production. We settled on five hens…a White Rock, two Easter Eggers, a Rhode Island Red and a Golden Buff.
Now if we were going to do this thing, we certainly weren’t going to be boring about it. We had been thinking about making this move for some time and had given it a lot of thought, so we had a really vivid image of what we wanted the coop to look like. This would be no run of the mill coop with some basic unstained lumber and a little chicken wire. We intended to build a really strong and attractive coop that would look more like a backyard play set or clubhouse than a chicken coop. Once we got our hens and we began to see their personalities develop and get an idea of what they might look like as they grew older, we decided to name them. We’re huge music fans, the Blues in particular, and that proved to be our inspiration when it came time to name our ladies. That process shook out as follows…Meg, the White Rock, because…Meg White…I mean, come on; Aretha (Franklin) and Koko (Taylor) are the two Easter Eggers; Bonnie, the Rhode Island Red, in honor of Bonnie Raitt; and Pink, the Golden Buff, after her namesake’s brilliantly bleached golden-white locks.
The next evolution of ideas in this process led us back to the coop. If it was going to house such a group of rock stars, it would have to be fitting of such guests both in appearance and style. So, we proceeded to build what we have come to affectionately call The Rock and Roll Hen Palace. It comes complete with designer window shutters, a gravity fed nipple watering system, a drawstring controlled door to the hutch and even a dance floor!
We believe that happy chickens are healthier, lay more often and produce very tasty eggs. Our ladies are free range, we let them out of the coop every morning and close them in every night once they go to roost, and they get only the best when it comes to feed. Even though we named our hens after rock stars, they are actually living up to the title and have been fantastic egg producers for us. We have come to REALLY enjoy and care about our ladies and we cannot see a future in which we do not have chickens and fresh eggs on the counter.
Another challenge I have long considered taking up that finally made its way off my board and onto the grind stone this year is making my own bread. “Hello. My name is Mr. Powers and I’m a carb-o-holic.” They say admitting you have a problem is the first step, you know. Well, I have no intentions of giving up this addiction. This summer I jumped into bread making with a no-knead option that turned out extremely well and I’m just getting started. I am really looking forward to trying all sorts of new breads going forward.
So, there you have it. This past year has proven to be extremely productive for us and we’ve certainly gotten a lot accomplished, learned a ton and have had a blast along the way. The best part is that everything we have done was not done just for the sake of doing. Relentlessly practical in their own right…food, water, fitness (both physical and mental), skill building…each project we improved on or completed in 2013 was based in our desire to become more resilient in all facets of our daily lives. We are aggressively turning the land we have from some thing that we just make payments on and trim up to keep the neighbors happy into a living, breathing asset that is working for us, 24 hours a day to help provide for our most essential needs. What’s more, the positive psychological impacts of our efforts are immeasurable. The entire process has been extremely rewarding for us both and we look forward to bigger and better things going forward. We believe that we have developed a solid foundation in our resilience infrastructure that will serve us very well in the future, even as it continues to grow and expand with each new challenge we decide to accept.