New Farm Year Resolutions

There are a million things I would love to do with the farm. Given unlimited resources, this place would resemble Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate. Beautiful large barns, sprawling acres of gardens and a distillery. My first year here, I tried to accomplish far more than I should have. At the end of the year, I found financial resources in the red and dozens of projects only half way completed. I was overwhelmed and exhausted. I had to realize that farming was a journey, not a race.
Now, I start each year with a plan. During the year, I add things I would like accomplished to a list. And on this day, the last of the year, I sit down and go through the list. I weigh things out based on priorities and a preset budget. I consider logistics and long term returns. Here is my list for 2016.
Animals
I am shedding a breeding sow this year. She is amazing, but my Polish Chinese are old enough to breed now. I can’t justify five sows having babies at one time. My girls each have over ten healthy piglets per litter. 100-150 piglets a year is not something that I would be able to provide feed and resources for. Those Chinese Polish need a registered boyfriend though. So in May, I will make the 2 day trip to Kentucky to bring them home a boar from a farm that specializes in the breed.
Three goats are on the purchase books also. Despite Dixie’s attitude that makes her think she is Queen, the Saanen breed has left a lasting impression on me. She is tame, kind and will nurse everything from her own babies to my Pug dogs. Adding more to my herd is a top priority. Again, logistics puts the breeders eight hours away. Unfortunately in a direction opposite of the pig breeder. But I want stock that has no local relation and great lineage.
The biggest purchase this farm makes this year will be heifers. I have someone coming to brush hog one more time. The hay barn has had a “vet” stall put in and I have been fixing fence for a year. It’s time to bring in some cattle. Based on pasture size and quality, 15 is the long term goal. But two will be joining us this year and they will be AI’d this fall.
We have Flemish Giants now and I may get a couple more. I am adding more Easter Eggers, ten ducks and probably two more female geese. I never stop looking for Guinea keets either. They are amazing and tend to have a higher than usual death rate. Maybe when I have a flock of 100, there will be enough.
Buildings
The old barn has to go. Chunks of the roof have been falling in and the foundation is slipping off the blocks the previous owner attempted to salvage the building with. But first, a new shelter has to be made. So this weekend, and every weekend between now and completion, a 20 by 10 pig barn is getting put up. I have decided a concrete floor is an absolute necessity. My back can’t handle the pitchfork and dirt combination for twenty pigs anymore. I have been doing my research and watching my friends pour theirs. I am hoping all the prep work will make a building that will stand for at least twenty years. I am putting gutters up to save the rain water off the roof too. This will eliminate the 150 feet of garden hose spread across my yard! Two small solar panels will provide enough electricity to power whatever lights and energy needs that might arise on that side of the farm.
Garden and Plants
Last year, 80% of the food for my family came from right here on the farm. It is absolutely a blessing to be able to know where our food comes from. I am adding 16 more raised beds this year. Instead of the 8×8 beds, I am doing 8×4. The others are so wide that space gets wasted and it’s hard to weed and work the middle without destroying plants on the outside. I won’t be putting the corner posts into the ground either. I have gone and toured several local gardens and they have had equal success with both methods. If I don’t have to dig holes, I am not going to!
We added 25 fruit trees last year and 10 blueberry plants. During a hospital stay, a very sweet friend mowed and cleaned up the garden for us. It took me a few weeks to realize that the blueberry plants, being unmarked and small, didn’t make it. So the area is prepped and now fenced for more blueberry plants. I will add another 10-15 fruit trees, depending on the sales I find. The plant addition we are the most excited for? Strawberries and Blackberries! I have a strawberry pyramid being made and I am also hanging gutters on the fence to grow them. I hope to have 300 plants this year. It may seem like a lot. However, my kids and I ate 75 pounds of strawberries this year. I put another 3 bushels up in pie filling and jam. It’s already gone! I ordered some hardwood trees from the Arkansas Department of Conservation and the Arbor Society. Beyond that, I am building two cold frames so we can have greens all winter long.
Writing it all down makes it seem like there is a ton to be accomplished this year. And there always is. But I am avoiding house expansions this year and several other things, like my grape arbor, in lieu of getting some things that will have long term returns. Having a plan will keep me on task and focused. Here is to hoping all the goals get accomplished this year!

Happy New Year from our farm to yours. May all you farm plans in 2016 come true!
Visit us in 2016 https://www.facebook.com/reinventingthepasthomestead/

Spring Dreaming

Seed Catalogs
Seed Catalogs

Record flooding hit the farm this week. We were fortunate and only had minor loss and damage. As soon as the rain cleared, the cold hit. I went from nursing a sunburn on Christmas Day, to nursing hot cocoa two days later. The weather in the Ozarks is truly like no other in the world.

I am not a huge fan of the cold. There is always a million things outside to be done! However, when the weather chases me inside, the work doesn’t end. There are a million things to organize and plan. And the long cold nights are honestly the only time I have to get it done!

And guess what came on the last mail day? My first two seed catalogs of the season! Yay!

After my first year, which was a disaster, I started putting a lot more thought and work into the planning process. I no longer pick up some cool looking seeds and throw them in the ground. First, I started by determining my exact zone. Use the USDA chart to find yours. When making a list of possible seeds to buy, I first note the zone. I also try a quick google search to make sure there hasn’t been some known regional problems. For example, several types of cucumber are hardy for my zone. But a few varieties are known to swelter and give out early in our region. Seeds can be expensive and I like to minimize failures where possible. When I narrow down my varieties to match my budget, I then search for the least expensive carrier. Seed prices can vary greatly and so can the amount of seeds you receive. Factor in shipping prices and also make sure not to miss any active coupon codes.

I am nearing a collection of over 600 varieties of seeds. This requires a spreadsheet. I added fields for success and yield, as well as supplier. I plant two or three varieties a year and this helps me know where to come back to when I want some more.

It also requires that I use the full spectrum of each season, from mid February to December. That’s right, I only go without planting for about six weeks! I planted garlic two weeks ago to harvest in early to mid spring. I will start my greens again on Valentine’s day. I do have a single cold frame, which is currently protecting tomorrow night’s greens and sprouts. All the rest are sown in ground or started in the cabin. Mother Earth News has an excellent planner that is free.

Finally, I do a mockup of my garden. I draw it up and determine which plants need to go where. I consider crop rotation and companion planting. I keep these from year to year so I have a general idea of where things should go.

Planning my garden takes a few weeks. It is a wonderful way to spend those icy nights. My production ratios have improved dramatically and I have certainly seen far less failures. I still love to have a wild variety, but the research and planning goes a long way to ensure that the garden is fruitful. I hope this helps you all while we dream of Spring!

It’s the Season

The holidays have arrived at the tiny house in a rush that apparently happened when I was sleeping. I never seem to get enough sleep lately, so no one is more confused by this than myself. Plus, it’s been 70 here this week. 70! When people want to know why I live in the Ozarks, this is my primary reason. I am still pulling fresh greens and all the animals are happily on pasture. No wonder Jingle Bells seem foreign.

I managed to finish the shopping and the menu is set. It’s a small celebration, in alignment with our lives. We focus on our blessings, like not spending this December in the hospital. The kids are healthy. I am healthy. The farm prospers. It’s simply the biggest gift we could ever have.

So we are decorating the Evergreen in the yard and volunteering at the soup kitchen.

I hope wherever you are, this holiday season finds you are yours healthy and happy!

Fall in a Tiny House

Thanksgiving

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

We had our first Tiny Thanksgiving last week! This one was an extra blessing. It is the second time in eight years where Thanksgiving was not spent in a hospital! So we are truly grateful for the health of Zoe. Oh and pie. I made all gluten free desserts this year, even an Angel Food Cake! It was delicious!

Pie

The weather held just long enough for us to set up outside and eat under threatening skies. My backup plan? Eating in the hay barn! I am super happy because there are currently several pigs also in the hay barn! It really was a blessed day.

The next day, we tackled a couple small projects. In under 250 square feet, every single inch counts. It is critical to be organized and have very high functioning space. But like all homes, we have a couple spaces that are impossible to control. One of these is the dreaded Sock Bag. Every sock that doesn’t have a mate gets tucked in the bag until it’s sole mate is found. (Get it?) In a perfect world, the sock bag would be sorted weekly, even daily. It doesn’t happen.

Sock BagIt’s hard to believe how many spare socks we have when we are each only allowed 10 pairs. But we watched some Wallace and Grommit and now the sock bag is history. Until next week anyway.

And here we are in December. Onward and upwards!

So It Begins

pig

The rabbit water was frozen solid this morning. Even though I knew it was coming, it still leaves me a little sad. Winter on the homestead is often dreary. Chores take twice as long. There is frozen water to thaw. Animals need more hay and bedding to doled out. My garden, a source of relief and comfort, is now barren. The green is gone, replaced by dull browns and greys.

Granted, my winter list is long this year. We are adding fencing and clearing brush. I have a hog palace to build and solar to install. There are 30 lbs of assorted berries hiding in a freezer of a friend that need to be canned. I have wool to dye and spin. I also tend to do more writing in the winter months. Not that my poor blog can attest. I did concur Nano this year. I turned out roughly 60k in edited manuscript in just under 30 days. That’s really a feat considering all that goes on in this crazy house. Luckily, it was cold and by far the rainiest I have ever seen here. And the physical therapy on my arm continues as well. So heavy work is out for a while longer.

I won’t lie, I am wistful for spring to return.

But until then, I will be busy. And even though winter slows things down on the outside, they don’t stop. I have planted bulbs and root vegetables that will be ready as early as February. Despite my best fencing attempts, Blue still managed to get in with girls. So while St. Nick is visiting, I will be delivering roughly 30 piglets myself. The barn is already prepared, stuffed with hay and ready for babies. We have 11 bred goats that will begin their birthing the first week of March. Rabbits are scheduled to begin birthing in late February and I already have a wait list for eggs. …

The more I write about it, maybe having a few weeks of “rest” isn’t so bad after all!

You Live Where?

Living somewhere new has given me endless opportunity to meet people. Between the various farmers swaps, play dates and sports activities, we try to stay social. Sometimes, we even invite a few kindred souls out for bonfires and playdates. I always feel like I need to offer a disclosure with the invitation.

Here is how 99% of the last 30 invites have gone.

“Sure, Little Johnny can come over and have a campout this weekend. Turn on our road, go three miles, past the gate, up the drive, and through the woods until you get the cabin.”

“Oh, I always wanted a nice big cabin in the woods!” (Victim Visitor)

“It is wonderful and we love it. But “big” isn’t the right word.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, it’s about 250 square feet.”

Often, I learn that some folks have no idea concept on square footage. They often comment that they also have a very small house. How they downsized to just three bedrooms now that they only have one kid. Or that they have a double wide instead of the house they will build some day. So I find something of relative size and show them. 17 steps one way, 8 the other.

This conversation is always followed by the Grand Canyon pause and rapid blinking. Then the person nearly always blurts out something to cover the silence like “You must be crazy!” or “I would go insane living like that!” We then laugh and go about our plans. It never, ever sinks in until they get to the farm. Then the real fun begins.

“Does it have a bathroom?”

“Are you trying to get on tv?”

“I bet the kids hate it, don’t they hate it?”

And of course, always, some random comment about my sanity.

The truth is, I totally get their line of thought. My last Master bedroom was 20×15 and had a full bathroom with a jacuzzi tub next to a huge walk in closet on top of those measurements. The outside measurement of my current home is 20×12. The inside is insulated and drywalled, given it interior dimensions of under 235 square feet. There is one adult and three children (ages 12, 8 and 4) living here. There is a full bathroom, a kitchen with everything but a dishwasher and table. It even has a stacked full size washer and dryer.

I rarely let people inside. After all, the first thing you see is my bed and everything else is exposed since we decided cabinets were both expensive and would make the space feel smaller. But I love their faces. They are always shocked and most quickly become amazed and even delighted. More productive questions start to flow about privacy, electric bills, and long term plans about additions. I have even been “referred” to their friends and family who talk about downsizing. Only twice have I gotten very negative feedback and they were from family members. After all, not everyone can accept a minimalist lifestyle.

I do love our home. I love knowing exactly where everything is, including my children. It is easy to put away laundry when everyone’s things are in one place. Cleaning has to happen daily, because even a small amount of clutter is overwhelming in this place. It takes 15 minutes a day and an hour of deep cleaning and reorganizing on Sunday evening. The tiny electric bill has allowed me to pay down some debts and it has never been an issue to pay it. I can spend time on my true passions; my children, my farm and my work. I never have to choose.

Yes, my bed becomes the couch at movie time, desks during homework time and seats to eat dinner. And yes, privacy must be found in the bathroom or elsewhere on the farm. But they are small sacrifices for the security and peace that this tiny house has provided us. So even if a few folks think I am crazy, I still love living a tiny home lifestyle.