We live in a world that functions by many systems and our homesteads are no different. Watering, feeding, cleaning, pruning, weeding and a whole array of other chores keeps bowed-up busy each day. And with all there is to do we sometimes (more often than I care to admit) neglect family, friends and even personal time. The day-to-day time commitment the homestead requires makes taking a trip away from the homestead only a dream to be wished for.
We are in the dead of summer right now and it’s been hot…and I mean HOT! Our temperatures here in Southwestern Idaho have been 100° for days and will be 100° or more for days to come. Here’s a question: If you were to neglect your daily homestead chores for one day what would happen to your homestead? It’d be okay, right? What if you were to leave for more than a week?
I have toiled over the idea of creating a self-sufficient homestead for years. What is a self-sufficient homestead? Friend, I have concluded that it does not exist. There is no such thing. Every homestead requires some sort of input. But, isn’t that why we do it? A homestead is not something to create, complete and then wish for the next big thing in life. A homestead is like a never ending piece of pie to be savored season after season. Nonetheless, it requires an input from you and the support of your efforts. Without the sweat from your brow and attention to detail, your homestead would dry up and die. Our goal with “self-sufficiency” in mind is to create a landscape that provides all, most or even much of our basic human needs with as little input from the outside world as possible. This way we can have our pie and eat it too.
5 Steps to Take to Avoid Becoming a Prisoner on your own Homestead
1) Automate Ever System Possible
The sun rises, “moves” across the sky from east to west and sets. This system is automated. That may seem like a no-brainer, but think about it for a moment. What if we had to do something to “light” our plants? Thankfully God has set this automatic system up for us. But unlike sunlight that is a (almost) guarantee, the rest of the homestead’s needs have to be obtained and the systems established by using the resources available to us.
On our homestead, we receive our water from a well and from our water rights (irrigation district). For a while I was moving water hoses all about the homestead and watering the many, many potted perennials waiting for their forever spot on the homestead. We also had plants in their spots and needed a daily drink as they began to settle in. I am ashamed to say, but sometimes I’d be so dog-tired at the end of the day and there’d be a few dry, potted plants that needed a drink. I’d say, “Tomorrow. I’ll get you watered tomorrow.” I’d be too tired and it’d be too late for even one more chore. In contrast, there was this one evening where I set the water on at 6pm and forgot about it. I woke up from the sound of a running well pump at one in the morning. This didn’t happen at first. Watering became an issue after the population of plants exploded. And, we’ll only be getting more (and more and more).
Automating the water was a HUGE accomplishment. Everything that needs water (plants) gets water at set times I have predetermine. From the existing water line, I tapped into the pipe and have set up a timer that controls 6 valves (2 are still free). Each morning at 5am, the watering starts and carries on until the whole of the homestead (that exists currently) is hydrated. Later, I will move to an every other day pattern when these 100s let up. The initial investment for the watering system was about $400. I still need to buy and burry Polypipe and other hardwares but, eventually the time savings will be HUGE compared to the time it took to earn the 600-800 dollars that will become the final cost for the watering system.
I used the watering system as an example. But what about feeding and watering the animals? Chickens are pretty easy. We set up an automatic watering system and feeding system for them and they are happy birds (I’ll write about the system specifics another day).
We left for a quick trip (4 days) to Oregon and returned to a well fed and hydrated homestead and did not have to ask anyone for help in the feeding and watering departments.
2) Soil and Mulch
Watering systems are wonderful. Now, after returning from Oregon my mornings are much more enjoyable. II get up, let the chickens out and enjoy coffee as I watch the watering start and end automatically. But, what if I didn’t have water? What I mean is: what if the water was suddenly turned off? Or, what if I left the homestead and something failed with my watering system? What then? Answer: I’d feel pretty confident that my plants would be A-OK (for a day or two). Why? Because I have prepared the soil to be a sponge and have mulched the heck out of my garden beds.
Before planting, I amended the soil with compost, peat and other organic materials. Then I added near a half foot of mulch. My soil is never dry. If you prepare your garden beds just right, you will hold onto thousands of gallons of water just in your soil. If your soil holds the water, you may make it through a tight spot if you were unable to water or if you watering system failed.
3) Know Your Neighbors
An automatic chicken coop door opener: $250. Good relations with good neighbors: Priceless. We have chickens and rabbits here on the homestead. After a friendly request with the neighbor to let the chickens out each morning and put them to roost in the evening, the “automatic” system was set and the chickens were good to go. Regarding the rabbits, a call to a friend who is the proud father of 4 little girls resulted in a 4-day bunny play date that every bunny dreams of (I don’t think they were ready to come home (though I think the friend was very ready)).
We have met all of our neighbors on our little cul-de-sac and know them by name. They are all good people, each with their own eccentricities, but good people nonetheless. All of us have a bit of idiocentrism (some more than others) but we try to create a homestead with allocentrism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allocentrism) in mind. Allocentrism… that’s a fun word. No, allocentrism is not 100% the mission here, but is a good part when we consider things like esthetics and other less-than-appreciated factors that tend to “spill” out into our little community. Things like smells, clutter and sounds all affect others. You may be doing what you want to do on your own property, but if you live around other folks, what you do may affect their enjoyment of their property. Creating it image of an allocentric homestead when designing and also sharing the bounty of the homestead goes a long way to being self-sufficient. Trust me; you don’t want to be known as the Clampetts of the neighborhood.
Creating a homestead with the “wow!” factor goes a long way to helping set your homestead up for self-sufficiency. Asking your happy neighbor for help while you leave on a short vacation is much easier when they feel you have taken their property in consideration when designing your homestead. Not to mention how hard it is to say “no” to a friendly neighbor bearing gifts such as jellies, jams and a dozen eggs while making the help request (hey…bribery is always an option).
4) Keeping It Simple
Simple is easy. Difficult is hard…and no one likes it hard. Seems like a simple statement (when taken in context). If you have systems that require more than 2-3 minutes explaining to another person, your system is too hard. The best system is one that is either very complicated to set up but is now 100% turn-key or one that is so simple that the only explanation needed is to show the neighbor or friend where the system is located. Trust me, having to “jiggle the door to get the board loose then move the rock to get the board to stay in place” is your system, you may find the door broken when you get back.
It’s not that you should spend loads of money on your systems; you should make sure they are functional and easy to manage by someone who has never seen it before. Not to mention the freedom that your functional system will give you day-to-day. If you earn $15 dollars an hour and you spend $150 dollars that saves you 100 hours of time and labor during the growing season, you’ve invested your money very well. That same 100 hours at work and earning overtime would result in $2100 earned extra income that season.
5) Let it Go or Get Rid of It.
We had 6 bunnies on our homestead up to about a month ago. Now we have 2. Our garage was full of flies and the bunnies were in a constant waiting pattern waiting for their hutches and an area to dig around in. But, day-after-day they just remained in the garage all cooped up and bored. We’d feed and water and clean and try to get out to spend time with them offering affection and back rubs. The whole thing was a mess. So, we found one family with 2 little girls to take two and a nice millennial couple who want to be permaculturist to take 2 others. We have 2 left in the garage and have room for bigger, more roomier cages. Everyone is MUCH happier.
The point is, look at you projects, systems and other aspects of your homestead. What is sucking the time away from getting things done? What project do you have with no end in sight? What part of your homestead makes you late for dinner? The summer is a wonderful time of the year. We’ve dreamed of this for many, many cold months and now it’s here. But after the “itch” of the spring planting is cured and the plants are growing and just beginning to produce, wouldn’t it be nice to get away for a weekend before the harvest comes? After all, there’s very little automation on a homestead at harvest time, it’s elbows and and “you-know-what-oh’s” as the glass jars start getting filled with the very goods that you’ve labored for all season.