Counting Blessings is Central to Home-Scale Resilience

Reader Contribution by Jo Devries
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Once dense brush; this woodland garden is taking shape.
Photo by Jo deVries

Whether things are going OK or not often depends more on our perspective than the actual facts. Inner peace amidst a storm is evidence that the core of hope is, in fact, bigger than the storm that completely engulfs it — the size of the storm is no longer relevant. Due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, we have been forced to re-examine our priorities, analyze our surroundings through new eyes, and recognize the many non-essentials in our lives. There are always positive outcomes from a negative situation; after a storm, there is a rainbow.

Many of those living in the country feel blessed with stay-at-home orders, but the workload of living off the land has not lessened. Barns and fences still need to be built but the price of materials has skyrocketed, and common items are now harder to find. There’s a shortage of competent labourers, and people trained in the trades. In addition to the changes in our lives due to the pandemic, the usual challenges that come with gardening and farming continue.

Adapting to Water Stress

In my area of Ontario, Canada, we have now endured three years of drought. And although it hasn’t been to a devastating extent, everything needing water has been affected. The farmers and market gardeners without irrigation systems sleep less soundly; each day their work is tougher while the harvest and profits dwindle. It’s hard not to be discouraged.

We must keep in mind that there are many people in the world who deal with water shortages on a daily basis. Millions are facing serious water concerns in the near future as populations, pollution, and global temperatures increase. We are dependent on water. It would be prudent to spend our time and money on wells, water collection, irrigation, recycling and filtration systems.

I will soon be moving my pigs to a newly fenced area 100-feet farther away from the creek where I haul their water from — it’s already a 100-foot hike. This has given me incentive to look at other possibilities. I’ve decided to install a system to collect the water from the north side of the chicken coop roof, and pipe it the pigs through an 80-foot (recycled) hose, hidden in the evergreen trees. There is at least a 5-foot drop in elevation from the coop eave to the pig trough; perfect.

And if it doesn’t rain, I’ve still got the creek as a solid backup. I’m glad I stuck to my guns when searching for property. It had to have a water source that wouldn’t dry up. You might have to go farther out in the bush to afford it, but you’ll never regret having a spring, creek or dug well.

Herbs temporarily grow alongside a spent, pink lady-slipper.
Photo by Jo deVries

Adapting to Pest Invasions

This is also the third year of a huge caterpillar infestation. Everything that sits under a tree is covered in caterpillar poop. My van shows evidence that there are some incredibly large caterpillars out there.

Some trees were completely stripped of their leaves, making it look more like November. My young apple trees and weeping mulberry lost all their leaves in only a couple of days. I have a large oak tree that stands on top of my little mountain. Early this spring, I took a paint brush and covered a 6-inch strip around the trunk with vegetable oil. Perhaps another oil would be better — I need to do more research — but that oak is the only tree with leaves on it at the moment. I hope to treat the other oaks next spring; who knows how much more damage the trees can endure?

Using Time Wisely Means Vigilantly Watching for Lessons Learned

Round One of life is full of tests. Mother Nature continues to test our knowledge and resilience. Do we understand that Nature is as surprising, cruel, and destructive as she is beautiful, dependable, and life-giving? Are we doing our best to take care of her? Have we learned how to use natural antidotes, patience and understanding to resolve natural problems? We were warned by our predecessors of the hardships that may come our way. Have we listened, and prepared our homes and larders accordingly? Are we prepared for fire, flood and famine?

Although I will have owned my property for 25 years on July 31, I often hoped to have been much further along this road. Illness, writing a book, and well, life have distracted me from this project. When feeling overwhelmed, looking at old photographs help affirm just how far I’ve come. Before-and-after shots are always worth taking.

This year, I’m happy to say, things are progressing at a surprising pace, despite arthritis flare-ups, vertigo symptoms, and spraining my ankle, twice. I haven’t worked this hard in 10 years, and feel all the better for it!

Food Self-Sufficiency Does Not Need to Wait

The biggest thing my homestead has been lacking is a permanent vegetable garden. I’ve made a few attempts but couldn’t commit to the labour required to maintain them, and they were soon buried in weeds. My two pigs are presently clearing land for a new vegetable garden and orchard and cleaning up the overgrown elderberry grove. Half of the new steel fencing was put in place last month, and the other half is happening this month.

Waiting for gardening space has proven unbearable. I couldn’t help but pick up a few seed packs and starter plants when I cruised the nurseries for my weekly gardening fix. I was determined this year to put effort into food production as soon as possible, even if all the elements weren’t yet in place. I decided to temporarily home my veggies and herbs in my newly developed, woodland flower garden. Perennial green onions of various types, garlic, lemon-thyme, coriander, chocolate mint, tomatoes, squash, and a cultivated blueberry bush are growing amongst lady slippers, trilliums, lilies and iris. I’m already enjoying a harvest, tiny as it is, on almost a daily basis.

We will be blessed if we have taken responsibility for the things that are in our control.  I’ve witnessed many miracles along this road to a simpler life; the quick healing of my ankle was just two of them.

Having the opportunity to work towards living a sustainable life is something I’m incredibly grateful for. I hope my work would make my grandparents proud. They left The Netherlands on an incredible voyage, with many children in tow, and only faith that they were making the right decision. They worked hard until they couldn’t, and provided opportunities for their descendants as a result of their years of sweat and tears.

I’m thankful that the land they immigrated to is so rich in natural resources, wide open, and relatively undeveloped. I look forward each day to fulfilling the task we have all been assigned to: being stewards as heirs of this awesome planet and its inhabitants. Conditions are often far from ideal, but the trials make us a tougher lot. Let’s continue to share the challenges and the solutions. We’re all in this together.

Jo deVries(Jo of the Woods) designed and helped build her off-grid Ontario home, where she and her son have enjoyed a pioneer-type life-style without electricity. She is the author ofDoes Your House Know Where South Is?and generously shares what she has learned during her on-going journey of turning a piece of bush land in to a self-sufficient homestead. Connect withJo of the Woodsand read all of Jo’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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