Here it is the end of another year on the homestead and time to do a bit of looking back and reflecting. These columns are a great resource for me as I’ve been able to see what was uppermost on my mind each month as I wrote them (month referred to). So with that in mind, here’s my retrospective.
Photovoltaic system (Feb); our 5 Kw system has been functional since March producing more than enough power for our use plus adding to our “savings account” each month.
Continue improving our garden and pasture soil (March); this is an ongoing project. I know that our many years of growing in permanent beds, relying on no-till methods and employing heavy mulch had created great soil from forest floor and subsoil. Now, working with nutrient density soil concepts has taken us a leap forward. Our use of cover crops (June) has continued. We’ve increased the number of beds cover cropped by using early, late and full-season plantings of oats & field peas, Sudan grass and buckwheat. This has not only increased soil health but also been great for beneficial insect habitat (pollinator and honey bee heaven). Both the cover cropping and mulching helped to even out moisture levels, so we never had soggy or dry soil. My 2014 goal is to do some fine-tuning of soil structure by tweaking the mineral content to increase fungal and microbial activity thus increasing the bioavailability of nutrients to the plants.
Insect protection (May); I think increasing our soil health is paying off as we had very little insect or disease impact this year, except for the infestation of the newly arrived variety of fruit flies in the raspberries. I did take precautionary measures; use of lightweight insect barrier on two beds, which I’m not sure, I needed. I tried to forgo planting winter or summer squash to lessen stink bug and squash bug habitat. I planted my winter squash in the community garden but couldn’t help myself, and planted 2 summer squash here at home but kept them under the insect barrier until they flowered. After that they were able to withstand the few bugs that showed up. I also, decided to grow fewer beans, both green and shell to decrease Mexican bean beetle pressure. All of the beans did great and I only saw one beetle all summer. Totally amazing, I could have filled the garden with beans though, I’m glad I didn’t as I got more produce than I usually do in less than half the space!
Hoop house (March); well I didn’t get around to putting the plastic up. However, it did grow several great cover crops and now it is home to our 2014 garlic crop. Hopefully, after the garlic is harvested, we’ll get the end walls built and the plastic cover up for next fall’s planting.
Downsizing with sheep (July/Aug); Well, we did raise 3 lambs for three months. They are amazing creatures and taught us much while grazing, improving our pasture fertility, giving great joy and frustration. The journey from vegan to vegetarian, to poultry and fish eaters and now to “lambavores” has been long and thoughtful. Changes came about both due to health issues and to sustainability concerns. Having soil fertility based more on homestead rather than off land inputs has been a challenge. Adding animal manure, especially ruminant has been an important part of this decision. The pasture has been evolving and we can easily observe the changes- the legumes, grasses and broad leaf forbes are lush and a rich green color where there have been animals grazing. Keeping up with moving the fences for rotational grazing was a big challenge; one we are trying to resolve for next year.
As we had hoped, the sheep grazing decreased the amount of mowing needed to keep the forage at a good height for poultry. However, we still had to mow a fence line before moving the electronet. We are looking into the possibility of more permanent paddock fencing if we decide to continue this experiment. On the whole, after we and the lambies learned how to rotate, things went smoother. Imagine our first couple of times: lambs on-the-lamb out running and out maneuvering two crazy women. As a homestead animal, sheep are great as they eat only forage, give good manure, require no off-land inputs except salt and have a good market value.
Preservation (Sept) Scavenging/gleaning (Oct); the larder is full with a multitude of scrumptious items. Besides feeding us, giving us a hit of summer sunshine and vitamins, it also supplies all of our gift giving needs.
Another major focus in 2013 was to continue and increase the homestead’s educational component (March/August); we taught a workshop every month and did some consulting for which we received much positive feedback. For 2014 we are developing some “intensives”; topical workshops conducted over time. For example- From Seed to Garden: starting, multiple transplanting’s, and planting out. Our NOFA Summer Conference Homestead Tour was a huge success with over 45 attendees. Our website was launched, but keeping it updated was often lost to the realities of life. Hopefully, 2014 will see improvement on that front. We did finish rehabbing our cabin and finished the compost toilet, but have yet to find our yearlong intern with whom to share our homestead, skills and experience.
As you can see, on the whole with a few exceptions, we were able to fulfill our 2013goals. May 2014 bring all of our dreams to fruition! I’ll close with a quote from March 2013, “I guess my final commitment today, is that I will not only roll with the punches but also be open to new possibilities. Change is life/ life is change. Harmony and balance to all of you in your life and choices.” Happy New Year! See you at the Winter Conference!