It’s no coincidence that I’ve been AWOL between Labour Day weekend and the first week of December this year. Can you say “School semester?!” Sadly, this was one of those semesters that just didn’t leave me 2 hours free to put a post together. I’ve considered dropping the blog altogether, but that doesn’t feel right either. So my goal is to post once a month or so and see where that takes me.
The fact is, there’s been lots going on around here, and I want to share it. It’s been a busy and productive fall, and all the reading and grappling with the transitions underway have had some transformative impacts on our lives. There are also still many things that I remain unsettled and anxious about. I continue to swing regularly between despair and acceptance about what’s happening in the world, and my homestead work calms me to some degree. But I also recognize that the real work needs to happen at the community level, and I’m reflecting on how I want to participate in that broader picture.
In the meantime, I thought I should report a bit on what we accomplished this fall! One of my goals after last summer’s chicken-ravaging of my winter garden was to do a better job of extending our garden’s production for as long as possible. About halfway through the season, I also got serious about preserving and stocking up the pantry, even if that meant buying some local produce from off the property. The results have been so heartening–and a giant leap forward!
This fall, we are looking at a pantry with
- 48 pints of thick tomato sauce, plus some stewed tomatoes and salsa
- almost 100 lbs of potatoes stored–enough to get us to spring, if I can keep them from sprouting!
- umpteen jars of assorted pickles: cucumber, zucchini, beets
- canned cherries and peaches, frozen berries, and umpteen jars of jam
- a decent supply of onions, as well as a garden full of leeks, some garlic
- a garden bed full of huge rutabagas and parsnips
- a successful patch of cabbage and (hopefully!) brussel sprouts–enough cabbage til May
- 40 lbs of winter squash
- a few lbs of stored dry pinto and fava beans
- a covered bed of salad greens that we should be able to eat from for another month or so
- a solid patch of healthy chard also covered to pull from for another month or two
- a decent bed of winter kale
- a freezer full of corn, green beans, chicken (ours and some heritage roosters bartered with a friend)
- eggs and…a half-side of pork raised by a farming colleague!
And…from a half-dozen espaliered and dwarf apple trees: 450 lbs of apples!!
These have been taken off to the local u-brew to make cider (we don’t yet have a press/grinder), frozen for deserts, and made into apple sauce. We’re still working our way through the last of the processing; I’d also like to try drying some slices by the wood stove.
In other words, we’ve got enough of our home-produced food to keep us going for a number of months yet, supplemented by a few basic grocery staples: rice, oats, pasta, bread, milk, cheese, etc. I have accepted that our homestead (for now!) will not produce grains and dairy. But I’m so impressed that we’ve produced so much else, and very curious to see how long it lasts!
As the December break rolls around, I’m setting new garden goals and getting ready to order seeds. I want to improve my carrot and beet production, and continue to clear brush and ornamentals to make room for more food. I got an expanded strawberry patch and an asparagus bed set up last year, but I killed off most of the blueberry starts . And I’m planning next year to make a concerted effort to save seeds. We managed a few beans and sunflower seeds this year, but I want to start settling on my favourite varieties of my crops and starting to strategically and systematically save seeds from those where viable. Right now we just save a few once the plants are done and the harvest over, but that isn’t actually selecting for the best traits!
Beyond the garden, we’re also starting to think more strategically about our overall homestead and its sustainability and resilience. We continue to count our woodstove as one of our biggest blessings, and with its help, we’re trying to reduce our energy use even more. The Skipper has decided that using the dishwasher–though a high efficiency model–can’t possibly be as energy-efficient as heating water on the woodstove to handwash dishes. We’ve bought some cast-iron enameled pots to experiment with cooking on the woodstove. In BC, we have a two-tiered billing system for our electricity, and the Skipper has set us the challenge of trying to get our consumption down to the first tier: about 22 kwhrs per day. We bought a bigger freezer to accommodate the food storage, and with a new energy-star model, we got rid of an older extra fridge and the small freezer and are now using less energy with more space. Win!
Also on the priority list is some rainwater catchment. We’re on a good well here, but resilience is about redundancy, and at the moment we are completely reliant on our well and it’s electric pump. There are manual pumps available, and we might also look into one, but rainwater storage makes a lot more sense as low-hanging fruit. I’ve been angling for this for months now, but the push came last night, when the Skipper said a colleague of his is stuck at the moment because his pump went, and it’s (of course) thousands of dollars and a huge hassle to have someone come with a machine to pull out the pump (!), repair or replace it and put it back in. That’s the kind of personal emergency that Sharon Astyk reminds us about. I don’t know how we would pay for that kind of problem at the moment, and of course, while all of that decision-making and work is in progress, you have no water!! There’s a strong case for a back-up plan!
There’s lots more to share, but I’ll stop there for now. Hope you are also looking forward to a winter with a full woodshed, a warm fire, and tasty food shared with good company.