As our family grew I became aware of the pesticides, growth hormones, and the rising costs of the food I was feeding them. We decided to transition from our suburban home into a rural property so that we could provide our children with natural food, a connection to nature, and room to run free. We took our time finding the perfect property for our skill set, and budget. Although we had seen many families on popular television shows live completely off the grid, we took a more practical approach. We called it modern homesteading.
After a year of searching we found a one acre property that suited our style, and our family size in South West Washington. The next month we refinanced our upside down mortgage in the city, and turned our first home into a profitable rental. The new property did not have everything on our list, but we knew that we could add what it lacked as time went on. On the list of things to add were a garden area, fruit trees, a fenced yard, and backyard chickens.
The very first thing we did was fully fence our entire acre. This gave us security for our children, protection from hungry deer, and allowed us to see exactly what we had to work with. Our main goal was to grow as much food as we could, given our single acre limitations. My husband made some raised garden beds the first year, and we planted two plum and two apple trees to get us started.
That first year’s garden was all grown from seed, and gave us an abundance of food to eat. The problem was that we got so much of three or four things at a time, and we couldn’t possibly eat it all. We ended up giving away so much, and then found ourselves buying that same produce from the supermarket just a month later. I realized that it was time to learn how to preserve our harvest.
The following year I took up canning, proper freezing techniques, and dehydrating all kinds of garden produce. The plan was to eat organic homegrown foods all year long, not just during the growing season. Year two was more successful than the first year as far as making the abundance last, but we quickly realized that our raised beds were not going to fit everything that we wanted to grow. We laid woodchips throughout our property to maintain moisture, and create healthy rich soil everywhere, not just in our garden beds so that we could grow food all around our property.
Our third year gardening we learned so much about how to space, prune, and when to replant. We discovered that when working with non G.M.O. organic bulk seed the sow rate is not as high as the altered seed. We now plant twice as many seeds as we anticipate needing. This way even if we only have a 50% sow rate we are still in good shape.
We start all of our spring seeds in a cold frame my husband made out of an old window, because it was cost efficient, and we have not built our greenhouse yet. The peas, corn, radishes, beets, and beans we sow directly into the ground at the beginning of May. Mother’s Day is when I transfer all of my seedlings into the ground. We are now planting in three large areas instead of just one. We are able to grow larger plants that had previously taken up to much room in the garden beds like squash, cabbage, and corn.
We realized that the chard and kale that we planted lasted for months, but the lettuce and spinach was quick to bolt in the summer heat. By replanting a single row of lettuce and spinach seeds every two weeks we are able to enjoy fresh salads into October. When a row bolted we simply fed it to the chickens, and replanted that row. The seeds planted three weeks earlier were then ready to harvest.
The first two years we replanted beans, peas, carrots, squash, cabbage, and cucumbers once the spring harvest died off, and we had room in the garden. We didn’t get our fall seeds sown until August, and it was to late for many of them to reach maturity before we got a freeze. We wanted to make sure our fall garden had a great start, so although our garden was full we started all our fall seeds in seed planters in early to mid July where they could get a month start. We put our fall crops in the ground in mid August, but at that point they had already grown into starter plants. Now our fall garden is full grown, and has plenty of time to fruit before the first freeze.
Over the past few years we added laying hens, rabbits, our plum trees are now fruiting, and we have added blueberries, strawberries and raspberries around the flower beds. The hens and rabbits provide us with hormone free eggs, clean meat, and the best organic compost we’ve ever had.
My children and I now can over 100 jars of wild blackberry, strawberry, blueberry jelly, tomatoes, salsa, pears, applesauce, baking apples, plum sauce, pasta sauce, dilly beans, pickles, and carrots. I froze a chest freezer full of all freezable vegetable and fruits as well. What we can eat fresh we do, and other items that don’t preserve well like cucumbers, and leafy greens we trade with the neighbors for things that we do not grow like pears. We have added espalier fruit trees along the fence lines as well.
My number one rule is that nothing gets wasted. Inevitably I end the summer with many green tomatoes that did not have time to ripen. I never throw those away, but instead make green salsa or fried green tomatoes. If I get a bumper crop of zucchini then I shred and freeze it in two cup servings so that I can make zucchini bread or add it to sauces all year long. There are ways of preserving everything that grows in the garden. When our plants are finished producing they become chicken food. This saves us on feed costs, and provides our hens with healthy organic food which in turn provides us with healthy organic compost.
We have learned to preserve enough produce to last us until next garden season, and we know that our four children are not eating GMO laced and pesticide covered produce. We use to buy about $100 a year in bulk organic seed, but now we have learned to save our own from our best plants. Next year we plan to expand our garden areas even more.
It’s been an amazing adventure to turn our little landscaped acre turn into an organic micro farm. We didn’t try to do it all the first year, and really took the time to talk with farmers, visit their properties, and watch their videos. There is a wealth of knowledge out there for those willing to get a little dirt under their nails. No matter the size property one has, there are always ways to build towards self-sufficiency.
Melissa Souza lives on a 1-acre, organically managed homestead property in rural Washington State where she raises backyard chickens and meat rabbits and grows fruits, berries, and all the produce her family needs. She loves to inspire other families to save money, be together, and take steps toward self-reliance no matter where they live. Connect with her on Facebook.
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