Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.


Farm Life Inspiration: Learning to Surrender

Sleeping Goat Kid On Lap 

If the calendar is correct, it’s spring. But, morning chats in the Port Clyde General Store over hot coffee, grumblings of passersby with heads down in the wind, folks bundled up in sweaters and jackets at farmers markets tell us that it’s a cold one.

In my 10 years living on the coast of Maine, I don’t remember winter taking on such a long, cold hold. Before Halloween, we were blanketed in snow. Then the ice set in. Now, mornings are still hovering in the 30s with occasional frost covering the pasture. Memorial Day is next week.

Here on the coast, water temps are hanging in the 40s. Last week, lobstermen reported it dropping again. When you spend the day on the water and end with one crate of lobsters, it’s a costly day. Some are going farther south to look for slots on other boats till it warms up. Banks don’t care about the weather. Boat payments and mortgages still have to be paid.

In the barn, deep beds have been cleared and replaced with fresh shavings. The girls pick their own hay to nest in. I’ve been less diligent about weekly deep cleanings as those hay nests are still providing warmth under heavy pregnant Moms. By now, barn doors are usually flung open with gentle breezes passing through. This year, barn doors are shut to conserve warmth for newly born goat kids. Buckets are still steaming filling up with the morning milk. I’m still wearing red, flannel-lined jeans.

With the woodpile down to a few logs, the hay loft empty, and my Grandmother’s heavy winter blankets still on the bed, I take comfort in the warmth of a newborn babe on my lap. My alarm clock is two yellow, fuzzy ducklings in a box on the dining room floor, squeaking for their breakfast.

The gardens will get planted, eventually. The grass will get mowed, eventually. The farm stand will get stocked, eventually. Spring will come, eventually.

Wet Yellow Duckling After Bath

I’ve been using this extra time to focus on the My Maine Farm Girl site. Fiber is headed to the mill for spinning. I’ll post as soon as it’s ready. They’ll be lots of soft new colors. Milk is flowing, so I’m experimenting with new soaps. Orange Nougat is driving people crazy, because it really does look good enough to eat. Cheeses will be soon be available in the farm stand and at other locations TBA. And caramels, also available in the farm stand, soon on the website and possibly at a store near you.

People ask me all the time for advice about running a farm, particularly single-handedly. I don’t give advice, but I do remember a good friend telling me once, “you know when God laughs? When he hears your plans.”

That pretty much sums up a day on a farm — a day in a life — no matter what you’re doing. Be it weather or animals or growing things, we are not in charge. We can make a plan, as long as we know, plans change. My advice is: Surrender to that.

I’ve learned to focus more on what’s happening under my nose rather than across the days or weeks or months. Keep friends close, work hard, play harder. Spring will come, in spite of all our grousing. Warmth will come. Then we’ll be complaining it’s too hot! Aren’t we all just a bunch of funny ducks?

 Photos by Dyan Redick

Dyan Redick is an artisan cheesemaker, writer, and fiber artist is coastal Maine where she operates Bittersweet Heritage Farm, a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farmstand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat’s milk soap, lavender, woolens, and whatever else strikes her fancy. Follow Dyan on My Maine Farm Girl and Instagram.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

We Made Some Mistakes Along the Way: A Beginning Homesteader’s Journey

Woman With Chickens In Yard

I found MOTHER EARTH NEWS for the first time in the checkout aisle of Whole Foods. It was one of the special edition magazines that had all these great stories from people who had started or built their own homestead. I had never read anything like it before. The scope of my magazine knowledge prior to this had been gossip and beauty magazines. I soaked it up, and started dreaming.

Quietly at first. Then, I started talking to my husband about it. It turns out that he had picked up my copy and liked it, too. We discovered that we would both like to “do more for ourselves” and try our hands at growing things. So, we started a garden. It was about 6 feet by 12 feet. Not bad for a little sub/urban property just outside of Trenton, New Jersey.

First Tomatoes

It thrived. I had the best year I have ever had for tomatoes. I had so many tomatoes I threw a tomato party. We had tomato-and-mozzarella appetizers, fried green and red tomatoes, homemade salsa and chips, pasta and homemade tomato sauce, and baked green tomato pie for dessert. It was marvelous.

Then, as years passed and my tomatoes never did as well, my husband confessed that he used Miracle Gro on our garden that summer. Yup, it was a blow to my ego. But I took it in stride (though I still argue that we had the best growing conditions that season). Now dedicated MOTHER readers, we dove deeper.

Then Chickens

In 2010, around Easter, my husband mentioned that maybe we should get some chickens. This seemed like a good idea but I’d never had chickens before, and it seemed like a big undertaking. As I mulled it over, he showed up with chickens. Twelve of them, three days old. Turns out, a farmer (two hours) down the road just happened to be selling some. Who knew?

“Honey, we don’t have a coop,” I said. “I’ll build one,” he said.

“I don’t know how to take care of chickens,” I said. “I had chickens when I was a kid. It’s easy,” he said.

And there it was. Just like anything else, I guess. One day life changes, and you learn and adapt. I loved our chickens. We named all of them. There was Meringue, Magoo, Chips, Scaredy Cat, Fat Bottom, “my buddy” — it was a hard lesson that as they got older, we would lose most of them. To predators, disease, a huge battle-scarred feral cat, our own dog.

We knew we had some training to do with our 6-year-old pit bull mix, Liddie, whose claim to fame was chasing down a porcupine and wearing quills like “Pinhead.” But we were not prepared that it would happen so fast. Once the coop and run were built, I thought we’d free-range them in the yard for a bit, and then bring Liddie out on a leash. Well, Liddie had other ideas and got out on her own with no leash. I didn’t catch her before she caught a chicken. It was awful.

Did I mention our chickens were contagious? Our neighbor thought it was such a cool idea she got a few of her own, sans coop. The very next day, I was cooking dinner when I got a frantic knock on my front door. There was my neighbor, waving her arms and screaming hysterically in Polish. I don’t speak a word of Polish. Finally, she calms down enough to say “Chicken! Chicken! Dog! Your dog!”

I run to the backyard. And there is Liddie, my beloved dog, killing her chicken. It was awful. What do you say? “Sorry.” About 1,000 times. And that it wouldn’t happen again. And, God bless that dog, it didn’t. She picked up on how upset we were, and responded so well to training that she actually became our flock’s protector. I know this, because early one morning, Liddie started barking like crazy to get out — thinking a leaf had just gone astray, I let her out and went about my business getting ready for work. Then I heard a crash, and a huge scuffle outside.

I went to look and all I could make out in the dark was this huge black lump that sounded like a freight train. I was calling Liddie, but she was acting funny, like she didn’t want to move past it. Finally, after what seemed like forever, she did and the thing jumped up with whatever strength it had left and disappeared over the fence. It turned out to be a cat, and he died shortly after. Liddie had some scratches, but she was fine.

I went over to the coop, and two of our chickens were dead. Turns out, that cat had been a menace in the neighborhood and animal control had been trying to catch him for months. He had even killed some of our neighbors’ cats. A part of me felt bad for the cat, but I felt more proud of Liddie for protecting her home and our girls.

Pitbull Farm Dog On Porch

A Homesteader’s Deepening Respect for Life

This was really my introduction to being fully aware of the Circle of Life, and the complexity of living within it. Living on a farm or homestead is being immersed in the cycles of life. At the time, I had been a vegetarian for 15 years and didn’t believe in killing animals, unless it was absolutely necessary for survival. Now I had a dog that killed, but that I absolutely still loved. I had animals that were killed but that I was tasked to protect.

I didn’t view wild animals passively anymore. If I saw a hawk, I thought “you better stay away from my chickens”. But, here’s the thing. I know that hawk is still beautiful. It’s not her fault she needs to eat. She didn’t design herself that way. It’s just the way it is, and none of us get to choose. And so, I really began to explore the complex nature of life, death and forgiveness.

Some of our chickens from that first flock survived many years. My husband even chased down a fox to pull Fat Bottom out of his mouth, unscathed. But we have also had coop massacres where a raccoon found its way in, and other macabre early morning surprises.

We still have Scaredy Cat, but just lost my favorite chicken, Meringue, to natural causes. She was my gardening buddy and intrepid adventurer. Always the first out the gate to free range, she would follow me around to snatch up any worm or grub she saw as I would dig. It was fun. I would dig, she would wait and peck. When I collected Japanese beetles off my fruit trees, she would be the first to come running to eat up all those beetles. And there is nothing more fun than seeing a chicken running at full steam. It was as gratifying as it was efficient. We haven’t had a Japanese beetle problem for the last two years, and I think Meringue was a big part of that. Thanks, girl.

Gray And Black Speckled Chicken

Camaraderie in Homestead Mishaps

So, I guess chickens turned out to be a good idea. They certainly have sparked many discussions and we have learned many life lessons from them. We have often looked at them as a “gateway” animal — opening the door to other fun animals like goats, llamas, ducks, miniature pigs. But so far, these discussions have not led to my husband showing up with new livestock. Yet. Hopefully he will not read this and take it as a challenge. No more animals, honey!

We still learn from and enjoy MOTHER EARTH NEWS – our “gateway” resource, leading us into this lifestyle of hands-on, self-reliant living with all of our foibles and mistakes along the way.

In the spirit of camaraderie and mutual support, I would like to let you know more about our mistakes. I always felt inspired by MOTHER’s articles, but at the same time, alone in my incompetence. And I figured, I can’t be the only one. I hope sharing our mishaps and mistakes just might make you feel better about your own. Because we all make them, and truthfully, we will all keep making them.

Jennifer Dickinson is a nurse, gardener and chicken-keeping Mom in New Jersey who discovered her affinity for self-sufficient living in her late 20s after reading an issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. You can now find her tending her fruit trees and gardens, digging for pillbugs and worms with the kids, and hatching spring chickens on her homestead in the rolling hills of the Garden State. Connect with Jennifer on Instagram and Facebook, camp with her here and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

5 Homestead Uses for the Coffee Can

coffee can with feed 

Using the can for feed storage.

Growing up, I remember scooping goat feed from the barrel with a tall plastic container, which once served to hold supplements for the horses. We would often wash out these durable containers, and give them use all over the farm. Fast forward to our own homestead today, and we are big time coffee drinkers. Some of you may know the feeling of taking your first sip of hot coffee in the morning, waking up with the sun and getting your chores started. Whether you've got the coffee pot plugged in, or the percolator bubbling on your wood stove, there's a few good uses for your leftover coffee can when it's emptied out.

Firstly, there are two types of cans I recommend saving- metal, and plastic. You'll want a durable container that can stand up to whatever project you'll assign it to. Depending on what you'll use it for, keep in mind that metal cans will eventually rust. Give the can a good washing after you've emptied it out, and make sure they're dry before using. I've included some personal use ideas from around our homestead, but with a bit of ingenuity there are so many great ways to re-purpose those cans.

Feed

Over time, we've reduced our flock numbers to only having a handful of chickens and ducks. Considering we don't go through as much feed, we use our cans to scoop feed and disperse it for our feathered friends. In the past, it was important to always save the lid when carrying grain to our goats, as putting the lid back on helped to make sure they wouldn't nudge the container and spill the pellet everywhere while going through the gate! For anyone who has experienced mice chewing through your feed bags, this is a good way to keep small portions safe from being nibbled on. It's also a great way to transport a pet kibble when traveling.

Water

water in can for plant

Watering our tomato plants.

This is an instance where I would not recommend using a metal coffee can, because water is quick to rust them. Whether you're carrying water to your plants on the porch, or refilling the chicken's waterer, these are handy containers for getting the job done. Again, the lid is valuable in preventing the water from splashing you if you have a bit of a walk while carrying the full can.

Craft Materials and Knick-Knacks

deer hooves and buckskin

Deer hooves and scrap buckskin saved for future projects.

We have a lot of scrap twine, buckskin, feathers, craft wire, and such that I use to make crafts with that help support the homestead. Often times, I cut a little too much twine or have a few deer hooves around, and I keep them in these containers to help organize them and keep them away from those mischievous mice. If you have random items laying around that you'd like to reorganize, here's a simple way to do it.

Nails, Screws, and Drill Bits

screws in plastic can

Keeping screws organized in this coffee can at the workshop.

Have you ever picked up a box of nails at the hardware store, only to later pick it up and have the entire bottom fall out? Are you having a hard time keeping up with your drill bits in the workshop? Here's a great solution, similar to how we mentioned organizing your random household items. I've started to move smaller tools and necessities in our outbuilding to coffee cans and label them accordingly.

Tanning Supplies

salt in can

Keeping salt for hide tanning in coffee cans.

This one is a bit more of a narrow category, but for anyone who may tan animal hides, I recommend saving plastic coffee cans. I have found that each can allows us to hold five pounds of salt for use in the tanning and preserving process- it makes for a great way to keep your salt portioned out and measured. If you buy your salt at the grocery store, a big issue with leaving your salt in individual containers is moisture. Too many times I've forgotten to put the salt into a container, and had the entire thing absorb moisture and harden into a block. The salt will rust out a metal can, so this is again why I recommend plastic.

While these may be just a few simple ideas to put those old coffee cans, there are many different ways to use them outside of just storage or feed and water. Folks who enjoy backyard birding can make a simple house for their feathered friends, or you can roll up your leather belts inside of them for easy storage. You can turn them into miniature planters, or let your children decorate them for a pencil holder. Are there any interesting storage or crafting projects you've made with your coffee cans? With a little homestead creativity, you're bound to find a use for them!

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. Read all of Fala's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

What Does it Take to Live Off-Grid? Join Us to Find out!

Ron Melchiore's 3rd Homestead

If you are a homesteader or someone who is curious about self-sufficient living, you have probably wondered what it is like to live completely "off-grid."  Maybe you've wondered if there are small or big changes you could make to head toward that lifestyle, and maybe you're not sure how to get started.

Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness is Ron Melchiore's story of the ups, downs, adventures, challenges, and rewards of off-grid living.  This book is the selected read for the Summer 2019 Homesteaders' Book Club, a virtual book club for folks interested in self-sufficiency and the homesteading lifestyle.

Off Grid and Free

Why Read This Book?

Off Grid and Free offers a  combination of useful homestead and off-grid lessons, combined with humorous and honest storytelling.  Ron shares the adventures that led him to this lifestyle as well as what it was like to get started.  You'll relate to some parts, be amazed by others, but generally feel like you're getting to know Ron in the process. You’ll probably also start a list of questions and ideas to explore, which is why it’s a great book to read with others.

How to Join the Homesteaders’ Book Club

The Homesteaders’ Book Club is hosted through a Facebook Group that is open to anyone who is interested in self-sufficient living or homesteading – whether you are living that life already or just thinking about heading in that direction.  To join, you must have a Facebook account (though you can create one just for this purposes if you don’t use Facebook already) and click on the “join” link on the Homesteaders’ Book Group Page.

Then, click on the announcement for a link to the book and follow along as we add discussion posts, and information from the author!

Ron, and the book club host, Carrie Williams Howe, are both bloggers for Mother Earth News and are looking forward to a fun and interactive discussion this summer!  We'll post discussion questions, and Ron will try to answer any questions that readers have about his 39 years of homesteading and off-grid living.  The reading this summer will be very flexible.  While we’ll offer a guideline on which sections we’ll discuss, we will invite readers to join at their leisure and read at their own pace. 

Join us to explore what it would be like to not just visit the wilderness, but live in it.  We'd love to have you!

Carrie Williams Howe is a blogger at The Happy Hive HomesteadShe is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston,Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about learning collaboratively. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Keeping Chickens Safe

 

Keeping chickens on your farm or in your backyard is an amazing experience. Unfortunately, this amazing experience also attracts unwanted predators. You may find that predators such as raccoons, foxes and hawks think your chickens are pretty amazing, too. They just have a different reason for thinking that they are amazing!

Predators Love Chickens

It's no secret that chickens aren't the smartest of the livestock animals. They tend to fall on the less-intelligent end of the spectrum. Because of that, they are an easy meal for predators. If predators find out that you have chickens (and they will), then you'll want to make sure that your flock is safe and secure. 

Raccoons will try to catch your birds at night while they are roosting. Raccoons are nocturnal and will do most of their hunting and scavenging overnight. Chickens that are roosting don't move and rarely try to flee or fight if they are grabbed. Putting roosting chickens and hungry night-time predators together and you're in for disaster. Raccoons will take 1-2 chickens per night and drag them back home.

During the day, you'll need to make sure that foxes and hawks don't get your chickens. These predators are bolder and will come out in all hours of the day to get to your chickens. Foxes are wary of humans and you may not see them taking your chickens. They are fast and intelligent and will take numerous birds in a day and you might not even realize it. Hawks will try to take birds even if you're out with your chickens. Hawks are more likely to take smaller birds but don't be surprised if they try to take chickens that are bigger than them. They will fly off with any birds that they can.

Opossums and skunks are less likely to come after your chickens. These predators are usually more interested in the eggs inside of the coop than the birds themselves. Snakes can also be found in the chicken coop trying to make an easy meal of chicken eggs. So how do you make sure that your chickens are safe?

If You Have Chickens, You Need a Coop

There isn't a better way to take care of your chickens than to provide them with a coop. 

The ideal coop can be completely closed off and secured so that the birds inside of the coop are safe from predators. Your coop needs to provide them with sturdy walls, a sturdy floor and a roof. You should be able to shut your chickens up in the coop at night to prevent predators from getting to them.

The run that is attached to the coop should also be sturdy and predator-proof. Make sure that the run has a solid roof. A tin or shingled roof works great to weather-proof the run and keep predators at bay. The sides of the run can be put together with chicken wire. Make sure that the wire is tight and free of holes. Even the smallest tear in the fencing can provide predators the chance they need to get into the coop. Make sure that the walls go completely from the ground to the roof. Don't leave open gaps where something could squeeze in. You may want to bury the walls of the coop into the ground to prevent animals from digging under the walls and breaking into the run under the ground.

You don't have to keep your chickens up 24/7, but be aware of your chickens throughout the day. If you notice a fox or a hawk stalking your chickens, put them in the coop until the predator is dealt with. Always put your chickens up at night to ensure they are safe from nocturnal predators.

Shelby DeVore is an agricultural enthusiast that enjoys writing about gardening, raising livestock and simple living. Read her most recent posts or follow Farminence on Pinterest and Twitter.

The ABCs of Homesteading: R is for Responsibility

Abundant Homestead Landscape 

There's a debate raging these days about whether individuals have responsibility to take action regarding climate change or if we should push for sweeping policy change. The argument goes something like this.

Our individual actions are a drop in the bucket. Also, our world is designed in such a way that many of us have a hard time navigating toward a more climate-friendly lifestyle because the purse and policy string holders have made it near impossible for us to escape the fossil fuel trap. So, rather than make individual changes now, we should push for changes at the top.

Homesteaders Have Power!

Clearly, this debate is not directed at homesteaders. Because we absolutely have the power to make our contributions mean more than a drop in the bucket on multiple fronts.

We can stop using unnecessary resources.

We can shorten the supply chain between us and meeting our needs.

We can make our homesteads and lives more resilient in the face of climate change.

We can restore decimated landscapes and create natural sanctuaries while encouraging biodiversity and meeting many of our basic needs.

We can also advocate for change.

The Problem with Self-Sufficiency

If you are a long-time homesteader you probably already know what I am about to tell you. But if you are new to homesteading and just trying to get your head around all this stuff, I want to save you a bunch of time.

Self-sufficiency is a huge myth. The truth is, the more capable you become of providing for your basic needs, the more you realize that you are totally dependent on nature.

For example, to imagine that I grow my food is laughable to me now. Soil, water, weather, sun, strong seeds – these things grow my food. Yes, I make compost. I weed. I decide what to plant and when. I save seeds. I help solve pest problems, use crop rotations, catch and apply rain water, and more to ensure good food production.

Still, all of these things would be useless if not for the underlying foundation that nature has provided.

How About Hydroponics

Even when you grow hydroponically, under lights, using synthetic fertilizer, and hybrid or GMO seeds – every bit of knowledge and every ingredient used in that process is dependent on nature. In fact, if you want to get a really big headache, take out a pen and a giant pile of paper and try to think about all the natural resources that go into all the things required so you can grow hydroponically at home.

Between making, transporting, and running a hydroponic system, the natural resource list is staggering. Now, my point in writing this isn't to pick on hydroponics. I suspect even when you trace all the energy inputs in that process, hydroponics still comes out ahead of some other agricultural practices.

What I want to point out, though, is that as homesteaders the simplest way to take responsibility for our climate impacts is to trade our dependence on impossible to trace supply chains for more direct dependence on nature. The closer your homestead processes are to direct dependence on the natural world and your own ingenuity, the easier it is to make environmentally sound choices.

Now, in case you do want to take personal responsibility for your actions and be more than helpless drop in the bucket, here are some ideas to consider.

Stop Using

The easiest way to make a giant dent in your carbon footprint instantly is to stop doing unnecessary things. Some of the ideas that follow might seem like hardships at first. Truthfully though, once you acclimate to the changes you often become healthier, have more free time, and enjoy a better life as a result.

Stop automatically using climate control in your house. Our bodies are built to tolerate a pretty wide variance of temperatures. By dressing appropriately, being more active or more inactive in relation to the temperature, and using natural temperature control techniques such as opening windows or planting trees to shade our homes in summer, we can keep comfortable longer. Save your HVAC for when you absolutely need it rather than using it as a comfort crutch.

Stop shopping for entertainment. Yes, you need stuff. Yes, there are splurges we're going to buy at times simply because we want them. But, shopping to fill time or some emotional void is crazy. Spend more time homesteading for free instead.

Stop wasting. Food waste of any kind is absurd when you can compost and bokashi. Packaging waste is crazy too! Buy things without packages or buy used if you can to avoid packaging altogether. Excessive internet use for meaningless, brain and soul draining activities is not only a huge waste of climate change increasing energy, it's likely impacting your mental health. Use the internet responsibly.

Stop flushing. Make humanure to improve your soil. Use diluted urine as a nitrogen source in the garden. These things are not gross, they are basic, honest ways to deal with our own crap!

Stop traveling. You have (or are making) a beautiful homestead. You don't need to leave town for a vacation. You also don't need to hop in the car to run to the store for some missing ingredient to make a recipe or some part to fix something around the homestead. Homesteaders can find creative ways to cook, fix, make, or do things without spending half of our lives running errands.

Shorten the Supply Chain

Garden

Homesteaders have a natural advantage when it comes to shortening our supply chains. We are already working toward greater self and nature reliance. You are probably already doing most of the things in this section. But if not, start now!

Grow food. If you stop wasting and flushing, and instead start making compost and diluting urine, you'll have great sources of fertility for your garden. Even if you don't have a lot of room, by growing things like baby lettuce, you can cut out all those plastic boxes you used to get at the grocery and save money.

Eat locally grown food. Depending on where you live, locally grown stuff might cost a bit more. But, since you aren't going to waste and will also grow some of your own, you are creating the bandwidth in your budget to spend in support of your local community. Instead of relying on things from who knows where, made in who knows what exploitative working conditions, you can be proud of your purchases.

Reduce your meat consumption. I am not a vegetarian. But, I don't buy commercially produced meat. Period. The environmental costs are simply too high. Instead, we raise and kill what we eat. Facing the real price of meat by doing the work ourselves, naturally reduces the amount of meat you can consume. Quality of life for those animals also skyrockets when individuals handle each step of the process.

Go money-less. Money itself is a frighteningly complex environmental problem. So, if you can get what you need without spending money, you can eliminate a whole stream of unintended consequences. You've got friends and family. Borrow, swap, trade, barter, practice gift economics or whatever else you want to call it.

Go solar. I'm not talking about solar panels, I am talking about using the sun as a direct resource. Live by the light when you can. Sit near windows for natural light. Sleep at dark, wake with the sun. Use sun to grow plants by planting directly outside or in cold frames instead of indoors under lights. Watch sunsets and spend time more under the stars instead of under artificial lights for entertainment.

Build Climate Resilience

We had 84 inches of rain last year. We normally get about 42. It sucked. There were challenges. But, we came through it just fine. That's because we were ready. You can be too.

Use permaculture principles. I have never taken a permaculture design class (PDC), but I've studied the greats like Bill Mollison, David Holmgren, Sepp Holzer, and many others. I've used their teachings to evaluate and design our homestead to effectively catch, store, sink, and move water around our landscape.

Permaculture practices can help you create a more resilient landscape too. If you can take a PDC great. But if not, self-study works fine too.

Bank on soil. There is one thing I do happily spend money on. Every spare dollar I have goes toward improving our soil organically. We started with a piece of land that was severely eroded, ran like a river when it rained, and wouldn't grow anything but broom straw.

Now, we can grow just about anything and have far fewer plant losses from weather extremes than others in our area. Building good soil as quickly as you can will help ensure the health of your plants and wildlife. Rich, fertile soil is like money in the bank since it provides more food security and better climate change resilience.

Create microclimates. As things get hotter, protecting your important perennials by using microclimates becomes more important. For example, I make frog ponds with kiddie pools and use low grape arbor tunnels to keep the roots of my fruit trees cool in our Southern heat.

I grow grapes over my rhubarb to extend production. I use taller plants to shade shorter plants for parts of the day to keep soil temperatures cool. We don't just need to think about cold hardiness any more, but heat tolerance and protection.

No bare soil. We grow what we love in dedicated spaces. But we also grow as much easy to grow stuff as we can to keep our soil from being bare and maintaining biodiversity on our landscape.

Amaranth (wild and cultivated), curly dock, common and narrow plantain, mullein, red perilla, lemon balm, comfrey, multiple clovers, lambsquarters, sunchokes, cardoon, oregano, anise hyssop, coreopsis, various wild grasses, Joe Pye weed, goldenrod, sumac, sourwood, black locust, tulip poplars, hazel, native hazelnut, black berries (wild and cultivated), cardinal flower, willow, all kinds of fruit trees, and several hundred other kinds of plants are growing in every nook and cranny of our homestead.

Restore Decimated Landscapes

Historically, we've been careless with our planet. So now, we have to make amends and not just reduce what we use. The good news is, nature is our ally in this. There are simple things you can do to make big impacts now.

Grow “weeds.” Things that a lot of other people consider weeds are actually good for your land. For example, lemon balm is often considered an invasive plant by many gardeners. But I love to grow it I grow it around my fruit trees. Because of the high limonene content, it helps discourage some insect pests. Plus, I use it like comfrey and mow it down with my scythe about 5 times a year as a living mulch and green manure.

Create habitat. I use that grape arbor kiddie pool combo I just mentioned in lots of ways around my landscape. I have multiple small and larger ponds with shade zones and lots of plants to offer habitat for wildlife and watering holes for pollinators. Add a few rocks and a mix of annual and perennial plants and you've got yourself a wildlife habitat.

Pests are pollinators. I know no one wants pests in the garden. But, you can't have pollinators without pests. And you can't get good food production without pollinators. Pollinators like butterflies and moths are usually leaf eaters in their larval form. That means the same good guys that pollinate your plants might be the very bad guys that eat your crops.

Losing a few plants a season to pests is normal and necessary in a natural,organic garden. Plant extra for your pollinators.

Note: Losing all of your plants to pests means you've gone really wrong on your organic management. Don't blame pests for excessive losses, instead check your practices.

Return the favor. We've over-borrowed from nature for a really long time. So, now we have to start balancing the scales. That means you need to dedicate as much of land for payback as you can. Planting trees, lots of perennials, self-seeding annuals, and more are good ways to start to settle our debts.

Use natives if your climate is still suitable for growing them. Don't grow a lawn, grow a meadow. Taller, perennial grasses grow deeper roots which helps soil hold more moisture and support more soil life.

Accept human nature. Humans are part of nature. Some of us may like to pretend otherwise. But, we really do need to spend time in nature to understand ourselves and our role in the cosmos. Create comfortable, nature appreciation spaces on your homestead and spend time interacting with and admiring the incredible complexity and intelligence of the nature we are part of.

Advocate for Change

My partner in life and homesteading, Matt Miles, recently wrote an incredible piece on personal responsibility for the Garrison Institute called A Matter of Time. He highlighted some environmental movements, such as those associated with teenager Greta Thunberg and Extension Rebellion (a small, but effective civil disobedience organization), that are having real impacts on political institutions and every day citizens.

The success of those movements makes me realize that we can change things through effective action. Truth be told, though, I'm a homesteader and a homebody. I don't want to go out and lead anyone anywhere. But I still have reach in my local community, through writing, and in a host of other ways.

Each of us, no matter what we do for a living, where we live, or how we live has the ability to reach others – even if we stay within our comfort zones. Your family, church, school, neighbors, social media groups, volunteer groups, places you shop at, companies you work with, every time you spend money, and more all potential ways for you to go beyond personal responsibility and advocate for change.

This is not my planet, or your planet, or rich people's or poor people's planets. It's a shared planet – home to every single living thing that exists. We must all participate if we are going to responsibly answer the environmental challenges ahead.

Thankfully, homesteaders don't need to wait for someone else to tell us the right thing to do. We can act now.

Tasha Greer spent several years homesteading and gardening in a suburban home in Maryland before moving to a nearly 10-acre rural paradise in North Carolina in 2014. Together with her partner Matt Miles, she raises goats, poultry, worms, and maintains an extensive edible landscape. For an up to date list of Tasha's current works visit her here.


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Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

 

When I first got Miss Allie, my first border collie, I had no intention of raising puppies out of her, when I first got her.  She was not spayed and she was registered, so even though I didn't intend on raising pups at first, that option was available for me.  As a former horse breeder, I appreciate good animals and those good animals are usually worth breeding, at some point in their life.  Miss Allie, although she is often considered a pet and family; to me, she was a working animal that had potential.  I could not see buying another dog, if she was a great working dog, I could raise a pup out of her and sell the rest.  After a year of working together, people started asking when I was going to raise a litter out of her.  It took two years of constant pestering to make the decision and then I started looking for a male, took another year.

I raised two litters out of Allie and I have two litters our of her daughter, Joy.  This second litter was planned and then a car accident changed not only my plans but my life.  My business associate took over the whelping of the litter and plans were, she would sell them and keep two pups.  I had not anticipated EIGHT puppies from this litter and as life throws more changes, we still have seven pups at four months of age!  I ended up getting five of those pups back and am now tasked with training and marketing young working dogs, an expense I had not anticipated either.

I have one pup ready to ship but the buyer has yet to pay for her, so I am stuck with her until that sale goes through or the buyer backs out of the deal.  One pup I will keep for a year and train as I promised a neighbor a pup that is started.  I have three males pups with a lot of drive I have to get obedience training on or they won't sell.  This  whole mess will cost me more than I will make on each dog. In the past, I usually have all the pups sold before they are 12 weeks old and by 16 weeks, the pups are usually in that stage of development where they are lanky and out of control.  Which makes them more difficult to handle and sell.

While my plans were initially laid out right, life happens and now, I pay the piper, raising pups and starting them on obedience training and on top of everything else( taking care of my mother, grazing business, lawyers and doctors appointments) I now am overwhelmed.  However, I will get the pups trained and sold to ranch/farm homes, I just have to work harder to get this done.

Breeding dogs seems like a good idea to a lot of people and there is money to be made.  However, many folks run into troubles like I have and the first thing they do is dump the pups at a rescue or dump them off on a road in the country and expect them to be found by an understanding farmer or rancher.  Raising border collies is a lifetime commitment and sometimes you can bite off more than you can chew, if you don't know much about the breed.  I am fortunate that I have many contacts in the border collie world and with my year old pup, Fly going off to the trainer for official working dog training, this will allow me time with the younger pups.

My advice to folks wanting a working border collie; don't breed them, buy them.  Will I raise another litter of pups?  Yes, but not anytime soon.  I only breed for replacements and right now, I have Jinx age 8, Joy age 6, and Fly age 1.  In about 4  years, I'll need the next generation, to continue the work on my goat ranch. Until then, I am getting to know these pups and instead of training one or two, I have five to work with and practice training.   I am also going to working dog clinics, which I highly recommend to anyone who wants to get a border collie.  It is better to understand how these dogs work, BEFORE you get one.  After you understand how to work them, you can get the maximum potential from them.


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