Showing posts with label homesteading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label homesteading. Show all posts

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Butter Production on the Farmstead

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Often times the only thought of dairy products on people's minds is fluid milk, and with a weight conscious society, butter is frequently overlooked.  I happen to think though, that good fat is what's missing in many people's diets.  Enter the family cow, a real workhorse for the farmstead if you have adequate land and pasture to support a bovine.  Milk, cream, butter, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream are all delicious and are necessary items for the home kitchen.

If you're reading this blog I am probably preaching to the choir, so I'll just run through my butter making scheme to give you a general idea of what is possible for stocking the home larder with butter.

Jane is raising her calf in addition to providing enough milk for the house.  A purebred Guernsey, she is currently giving about 6 gallons of milk each day.  Two plus for the calf, and four gallons for the house.  As the calf grows larger it will drink more to support its growth and we will take less. 

I milk twice a day, and strain the milk into wide mouth gallon jars with the idea in mind that I will be skimming the cream for butter.  It takes about 24 hours for the cream to rise completely, so I skim the cream from the milk after that time, and when I am going to make butter.  The real method to my madness (and it is madness this time of year) is to make as much butter with early lactation cream as I can and store it for later.  I freeze my butter, but you could also make ghee if you don't want to use electricity to store your butter.  Why early lactation you ask?  Because I am a lazy churner, and during the early lactation period the fat globules are larger and it churns faster.  Of course, Mother Nature designed this to benefit the calf, but anytime I can hop aboard the lazy train and make hand churned butter in 7 - 10 minutes I do it!  So I churn to beat the band in the first three months and about the time I have a good amount of butter stocked up, and the calf is needing more milk, the fat globules are getting smaller and the butter takes longer to come.  Sure, I could buy an electric churn and who would care how long it took to get butter, but also the urgency to stockpile is part of our genetic make-up and I am harvesting sunlight after all.  That means I have to behave in a seasonal manner and stock up on the bounty when there is truly a bounty, not a faux bounty that the store bought mentality has given us.

Fitting butter churning into an already busy farm schedule takes some planning, and is dictated by the amount of milk in the fridge.  I can only store so much milk, and I only have so much time.  It doesn't take any longer to churn two pounds of butter than it does one, so I go with my two gallon churn and churn every other day, rather than use a smaller churn and make butter every day.  That works out the best for me.  It's half the cleanup too, which is where the largest portion of my time is spent when I say I spend and hour and a half a day "milking" the cow.  The actual milking, "pails" in comparison time-wise to the milk handling and processing. 

I skim the cream into squatty wide mouth half gallon jars that I have just for cream.  With hand skimming, it takes about 4 gallons of milk to yield a half gallon of cream, mileage may vary depending on the cow, stage of lactation and your hand skimming skill.  To keep from exposing the milk to bacteria over and over, I wait until a few hours before I am going to churn to skim, and I skim all the jars at the same time.  The cream needs to be at about 60 degrees F to churn fast, much colder it becomes grainy  - much warmer and it is greasy.  I know that sounds funny, but butter has lots of similarities to dough and all its quirks, once you see and feel these subtle differences you'll know what I mean.  After skimming, I leave the milk to reach room temperature or 60 degrees and then I have a little leeway to do other chores or fit in churning while fixing dinner.

After churning the butter needs to be washed and worked thoroughly to get out all the buttermilk, this is very important for longer storage.  Adding salt at this time is a personal preference, I have never found that it makes much difference in the keeping quality.

To figure out how much butter I need for the year, I use my loose 52 week plan I keep in mind when I am canning.  How much butter do you use per week?  One pound, three pounds?  Multiply that figure by 52 and see what you get. We fall somewhere in between that number, and luckily that works out to be an attainable goal for the resident butter maker.  At this point I am getting about a pound a day, so if I can keep up that pace, in four months time and when the sunlight is starting to fade I can have 120 pounds of butter stored up, maybe. 

So there you have it, from 4 gallons of milk, you get 1/2 gallon of cream, which magically turns into a pound of butter and a 1/2 gallon of buttermilk.  Plus you still have almost the 4 gallons of milk that is perfect for cheese of some sort, or clabbering for hens and hogs.  And after all that there is gallons of whey too.  The family cow, the true workhorse of the farmstead :)

Jane Butterfield

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Farmstead Checklist for February

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Moulin Rouge sunflower

My checklist for February may be different than many of my readers due to weather conditions but I hope you can find something of use here for your like season.

Check garlic and other overwintering alliums for growth and mulch as needed for weed control.

Take hardwood cuttings of small fruits such as: grape, kiwi, currant, and gooseberry.

Harvest scionwood of fruit trees such as apple and pear for grafting.

Divide perennials such as rhubarb, hops and horseradish, & raspberries.

Order seeds if you haven't already.

Start seeds of slow growers like celery root, and herbs.

Take a freezer/pantry inventory now that winter is waning and see if you really need so much of whatever is left. Adjust seed order and garden plan accordingly.

Inventory food preservation supplies, stock up on lids etc.

Order chicks.

Check chick equipment and repair or replace as needed.

That is just a few things we've been working on, I've had a two year hiatus in the dairy department so I will be dusting off my milking supplies, ordering fresh minerals for my heifer, and getting prepared for the big event in May.

How does your list differ from mine? Are the differences weather or season related?

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Winter Checklist

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Sweet Meat Winter Squash.

Just a quick winter checklist from the farmstead:

1) Check stored vegetables and fruits for signs of spoilage, use up blemished specimens first. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.

2) Check home canned foodstuffs for bad seals. Discard any spoiled food safely.

3) Make a mental note of what home preserved foods you are really using up and which are not too popular. This information will be helpful when planning your next garden.

3) Stock up on winter emergency kit supplies, such as stored water, first aid supplies, batteries, flashlights, lanterns etc.

4) If you have livestock, try to keep at least two months of feed on hand. In extreme cold weather animals can easily eat twice as much. Count salt as feed too, adequate salt intake along with water really helps an animal regulate their body temperature.

Stay warm and have a great holiday!!

Friday, 4 November 2011

keeping warmer

by Francesca @ FuoriBorgo


One problem with living in an ancient stone house built directly above a chill, humid wine cellar is that, though it's wonderfully cool in summer, heating it in the cold season is hard.  To keep heating costs down (while not freezing to death), we've found some simple and efficient ways to stay warm - which I wrote about on FuoriBorgo last year (I've linked the relevant posts below).

hot water bottle

-    Hot water bottles - a time-tested and yet vastly underestimated method of keeping warmer.
-    Felted blanket curtain - we added a thick layer of insulation to our largest double-glazed window.
-    Warm slippers - yes, warm feet do make a huge difference!

How do you keep warm in your wintry house?

Friday, 26 August 2011

Lime wash

Francesca @ FuoriBorgo

This past week, we've been busy doing some necessary maintenance around our ancient house, which includes giving a fresh coat of paint to the walls and ceilings (here). Some of our walls are colored, and for those I buy eco-friendly paints, which are pricey but something we don't skimp on, for our family and the environment alike. For our ceilings and white walls, instead, we use lime, which is natural and solvent-free, and inexpensive. Also, lime is particularly suited to the thick, centuries-old stone walls of our farmhouse (but it also works on timber and brick). The walls are built of stone, sand, clay and water, and soak up lots of humidity in the cold season; thanks to its porousness and anti-bacterial properties, lime tends to prevent the formation of mold. All this almost for free.


For the ceilings, we use lime putty, which is the easiest lime preparation to handle for painting: I dilute it with water and then apply with a brush. For walls, instead, we make our own inexpensive lime wash: I get a couple of kilos of slaked lime at the building supply store (which the shop clerks usually scoop out of 25 kilo bags and just give me for free), slowly mix it with water, let it sit overnight, and apply the next day. Over a day or two, the lime wash cures to a hard, opaque white layer with a rough texture that I personally really like.

So this is how we use lime and make lime wash. However, I did a little research on lime washing, and found differing opinions on the subject, especially as to whether additives (salt and glue) should be added to the mixture to make it more durable, and whether it's suitable for interiors. Should you want to give lime wash a try, you might read up on it first. Here are some starting points:

All you need to know about lime wash - points out to the importance of using good-quality lime wash and a suitable substrate.
Fias Co Farm white wash recipe - has some safety warnings about handling lime, and is of the opinion that lime wash should not be used for interiors (which is contrary to our experience - see above for information about properly preparing and applying lime wash)

Have you ever used lime on your interior walls?

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Celebrate the Future

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Practically all holidays celebrate the past, commemorating historical events or people. However, there is one holiday that looks to the future. Arbor Day, originating here in the United States in 1872, celebrates the planting of trees. While your local date may vary, according to climate zones and planting seasons, here in the U.S. most Arbor Day celebrations are held the last Friday in April.

Planting a tree, that will take decades to mature, is an ultimate act of faith in the future. You probably enjoy trees around your home or neighborhood planted by folks long gone. You might want to repay that favor by planting a tree to be enjoyed by those that will follow you.

Since you want your tree to endure to bless the lives of future generations, a bit of research is necessary before planting. Check with area tree services, nurseries, universities, or local publications to find out what trees do well in your climate, and also the best time to plant. Then, look at your planting site. What varieties will do best in the available sunlight, both as a young sapling and later at full size? Is there sufficient room for the expected mature size? While a young tree may look cute three feet from your front door, the pruning necessary to keep your front walk passable in later years may be detrimental to the health and looks of the tree - perhaps even leading to an untimely demise.

What kind of tree do you want? If you're planting a fruit tree, research the necessary hours of winter chill required for blossoms to form, plus its low temperature hardiness, then compare to your climate. Some fruit and nut trees require a different-variety pollinator. Unless you have room for two trees or there's a different one in the yard next door, you might have to search out a self-pollinating variety.

Think about underground: have your local utilities locate any lines or pipes before starting to dig. You don't want to put a water-sucking tree with invasive roots over the pipe leading to your septic tank - that's just asking for expensive plumbing problems. Plan ahead too - tree roots generally spread as far as the mature extent of the canopy above. The best street trees are ones with root systems that won't lift concrete sidewalks into an impassable jumble; that can withstand the weight of traffic and possible road-use chemicals in your area.

Look up, too. There's nothing so sad as a line of trees butchered because they grew too high for their site and the power company trimmed them. Investigate utility easements, too. There might not be an electrical line or television cable there now, but they might have the right to put one in later. And your tree will pay the price.

Landscaping can add thousands to the value of a home. Trees not only add to the beauty of a home, properly sited they can help reduce heating and cooling costs. Windbreak trees can cut cold winter winds; deciduous trees can provide cooling shade in the summer and warming sunlight in the winter.

When you've done your research, and selected a variety, it's time to purchase your young tree. Check for damage to the bark or broken branches. Although I sometimes transplant suckers or volunteer seedlings from my own property, please, do NOT go out to dig up a young tree in the wild. The damage to the entire forest ecosystem goes way beyond just the displaced dirt. Besides, the tree most certainly will not survive, or if it does its growth can be set back for years. Trees sold by nurseries have undergone a season or two of root pruning that concentrates the roots into a ball. If obtained when dormant, bare-root trees can be a less-expensive option than paying to transport a lot of dirt too.

When digging a planting hole, go wide instead of deep. Tree roots spread out, so you want a hole three times the width but only as deep as the root ball. Remove any wire, plastic or burlap wrapping completely. Pick your tree up by the root ball, not the trunk. When you have your tree placed in the hole, check for correct depth using the handle of your shovel across the top edges of the hole, tipping the tree over to add or remove dirt as necessary. If you look at the base of a tree, it will flare out a bit where it transitions from trunk to roots. That little bit of flare needs to be just at ground level. If you see a tree that goes straight up from the ground, it's been planted too deep. Backfill with half the dirt and use water, not stomping, to get soil into any air pockets before adding the rest of the dirt.

If you absolutely need to stake the tree, align two stakes, one on either side of the tree, perpendicular to the prevailing winds, placed outside the planting hole. Use stretchy tie material around the trunk and back to the stake. Remove the stakes the following year, sooner if possible. If you're adding mulch, keep it at least a couple of inches away from the trunk. In temperate climates, young trees need an inch of water weekly, which you'll have to provide if Mother Nature doesn't. Tree roots extend as far as the branches above do, called the dripline. So you'll need to move or add to your irrigation as the tree grows to deliver water further from the trunk. With care taken now, your tree should be a blessing for decades to come.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Sweetest Time

Here at Chiot's Run the first warmup in the spring signals the start of sugaring season. Early last week we had a day that warmed above freezing so we went out and put taps in all of our maple trees (about 25 taps total). Our predictions were correct and the sap started flowing in some of the trees immediately.
A Little Valentine's SweetnessA Little Valentine's Sweetness
Tapping your maple trees is a wonderful way to get back outside in the spring weather. The season starts before you can do much of anything else in the garden. It really helps cure my cabin fever. Many people think that you can only tap sugar maples, but that is not the case. Most types of maples can be tapped. You'll get a little less syrup as the sap has a little less sugar in it. None of our trees are sugar maples, and our final syrup is fantastic! Of course you have to live in an area with the right climate and you have to have days above freezing and nights below freezing.
A Little Valentine's Sweetness
If you're interested in sugaring your maples I'd recommend it. It's really not that difficult, basically you collect sap from maple trees, boil it down, finish to a certain temperature, strain and enjoy. I'd highly recommend getting a book like Backyard Sugarin' to read through before you begin. I'd also highly recomend reading the book Sugartime: The Hidden Pleasures of Making Maple Syrup, it only the how to of making maple syrup, but some history and an explanation of the beauty of the process. OSU has a great article about hobby maple syrup production that is very in depth if you want to get started right away and don't want to get a book (and it's FREE).
A Little Valentine's Sweetness
You can purchase supplies at on-line, if you don't need tons of supplies Tap My Trees is a great place. I go my local Lehman's store to purchase what I need, you may also be able to find a local store if you check around. There are a bunch of places on-line so search around, I'm guessing if you live in an area where you can tap your trees you'll be able to find supplies locally.
Finishing Off Maple Syrup
We already collected 25 gallons of sap, then the weather turned cold and the sap stopped flowing. It will start again when it warms and we'll keep collecting sap until the trees bud out. Last year we were able to get over a gallon of syrup from our 10-15 trees, hopefully this year we'll get more if the season is longer!

Do you or have you considered tapping your maple trees?

I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Not Dabbling in Normal, and you can follow me on Twitter.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

My big, homemade pot rack

This pot rack is roughly 4 feet by 2 feet and made of galvanized piping.
by Amy of My Suburban Homestead

My dear husband made me this big pot rack for Christmas this year. 

Our house was built in the 70′s and has very low ceilings. I’ve attempted to put up a potrack before, but the pots hung way too low and had to take it down. And our house is very small–only 1,100 square feet, and hardly has any storage space, so we’ve had to be pretty creative with our storage.
A decent potrack is so expensive, and a few days ago my husband decided that he could make a big potrack out of galvanized piping from Home Depot. In all, he told me he spent around $100.
For the hooks, we’re using a couple different types of shower curtain rings, also available at Home Depot.Here is a link to his blog, which lists more about his construction and a list of the materials he used.  I think its a keeper, what do you think?
He purchased the pre-threaded pipe, but said you can cut the pipe to any size you want and have it threaded at Home Depot.
If  you have a small  house, what ways have you found to save space? 

Monday, 29 November 2010

Preparedness in the barnyard

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Most conversations about preparedness center around the household. All well and good. But in our modern homesteading world many times we stock our pantries very well, but the barn cupboard may be a little bare. It's pretty easy to run to the feedstore and pick up a bale or two, a bag of scratch or alfalfa pellets. We are an on-demand society of consumers, but to be more self-reliant we need to scale back our on-demand ways a little in regards to our livestock that help us produce food, fiber etc., for our table.

In our area that normally doesn't really experience any long-lasting winter storms, when one does hit, it's not unusual to see people unprepared for the cold, and wintry weather, so I won't write about water and feeding systems for areas that always experience months of freezing weather, rather I will dwell on having flexible systems and supplies on hand just in case, for more moderate climes that experience short duration storms. Consider this a drill for a real emergency. Winter is a good time to assess your stock keeping capabilities. Do you have enough storage for feed, adequate water, enough money to keep your stock all winter? Can you get more feed, if needed? Do you have like animals in groups, or pairs so they can keep warm and commiserate? Nothing worse than a lonely pig... . And a huge one - do you have enough time to do extra care taking during the cold weather if need be?

Keeping stock hydrated goes a long way towards helping them cope with cold temperatures. We like these tough, Rubbermaid water troughs. We sometimes have to chop a little ice, but you can save yourself some trouble by only putting out the water the stock actually needs for a day. The 50 gallon trough in this photo is for my daughter's horse. She only puts in what he will drink for the day, and she dumps it at night. Less water, less ice. She places his trough within reach of a hose, and when she is done, she drains the hose and puts it away. Nothing worse than having a frozen hose full of ice.

The cows only drink once a day also in this cold weather. I feed them, they tank up on hay, and then come and drink. When we fed outside all winter, and they went to the canyon for water, they would all trail to water once a day, and according to rank, drink their fill and then trail back to bed down and ruminate. Anthropomorphizing makes us think the animals need all the comforts we have, like running water at all times, and feed all the time. But they really can be comfortable with the basics. Don't go overboard - especially during stressful times during storms. You have to take care of yourself too.

Being prepared by having extra feed on hand can be a life saver. Plus, livestock need to eat more during cold weather in order to stay warm, it's amazing how fast a growing pig will go through feed in a cold snap. One thing that helps is to have a higher protein feed source available for cold snaps. Feed your best hay, bump your chickens up to grower ration, throw a little extra something to the pigs. It all helps.

And there is something to be said for only taking the bare necessities of stock through the winter, and keeping a seasonal schedule. On our farm, we don't want any young stock that couldn't be weaned if a catastrophe arose, and we time breeding for no babies being born this time of year. Sure, it makes for good dramatic blog entries to be risking life and limb to save a piglet or calf from the cold. But in reality, it is kind of cruel to animals and their tenders alike and is just another unintended consequence of our on-demand society. There is no seasonal differences in the grocery store - just one big ol' homogenized food storage area. If you want to grow your own food, grow it, and grow it in season.

Back to the subject of water, these small indestructible tubs are great too, for small stock. We use a gravity flow bell waterer for the chickens, but despite being placed on the south side of the greenhouse for thawing, that assumes we get sun. That doesn't always happen. To keep chickens laying eggs in the winter, it is imperative they have water during the day. Usually a tub like this suffices until the thaw. Just a stop gap measure, but it does work and is easy to clean when it gets soiled. These also work good for pigs for a short spell, it's just that pigs like to play, and inevitably that water tub will end up in the pig toilet area, with smirking pigs looking on while you retrieve it for them. I have yet to see hens do that...

This past cold spell brought a few house fires due to heat lamps being used for urban flocks. Chickens are incredibly hardy when fully feathered. Which is another reason to not have babies during winter. If your chickens have a dry, secure place to bed down at night and have been properly fed and hydrated during the day, they DO NOT need heat lamps or lights to keep them warm, and adding a light at night can throw off the egg laying schedule too.

So, to make things go easier during the inclement weather, stock up as much as finances allow on:
Feed - hay, grain, milk replacers, etc.
Bedding material
Livestock medical supplies
Auxiliary species appropriate watering supplies

And hopefully take some time to enjoy the beauty of a winter storm.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Respite Weekend

by Abby of Love Made the Radish Grow

Things have been terribly busy around our farm this year, so much so, we haven't gotten too much respite. Last week my husband took off from work, the beginning half of which we took care of some bigger projects around the farm and about halfway through we hitched up and headed out of town. My sister stayed at our place to keep an eye on things while we enjoyed a much earned, and needed, break. I think it is easy to get so caught up with all the to-do's that we forget to stop and replenish. Living the simple life is hardly "simple". There is often more work when you are keeping an active homestead, complete with a large garden in full harvest mode, a bevy of animals, winterizing to do as well as the usual day to day. We need rest, though, lest we get burnt out. We took our weekend at this time, intentionally, as there was a swap meet the husband wanted to attend for classic car parts, and the kids and I hit many rummage sales, stocking up on the next size in clothes and shoes for the kids and fun items for me, like enameled mugs, vintage childrens' books and crochet hooks. We fished, we grilled, we knitted (okay, I knitted, and a dear friend who camped a night with us knitted) and we relaxed.
What do you do to get away from it every once a while? We only need it occasionally, but we always come back refreshed and ready to work harder than when we left, full of ideas and ambition.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

It's a State of Mind, A Way of Doing Things

Working with the idea posted here earlier about family work weekends, I wanted to give a glimpse of our set up. We have our share of friends and family who are also homesteading on acreages, and then we also have some who live in town and urban homestead. Due to limited space/light/laws we end up sharing our space with them, so they can expand on what they do there. In exchange they help us keep up with what we do. Recently we added a new goat, already in milk to our herd, a sweet Toggenberg named Ginger. We weren't really planning on doing any milking until next spring, but Ginger came from a family who needed to find a good home for many in their herd, and we were itching to be able to supply our own dairy products. This lead to a scurry of gathering parts and pieces we were going to need, including (but certainly not limited to!) a milking stand. The home we adopted Ginger from had a wooden milking stand, which they had advised against, as they were having issues with mildew. After searching numerous pages of terribly-expensive-on-a-homesteader's-budget stands made of wood, pvc or metal, I decided that we would chance the wood. The cost of the stands available through catalogs and such were in the area of $175-$200 plus shipping which was generally around $65. The cost of materials for our homemade one: $30. No comparison.
This stand was also built by two terribly talented ladies, myself and one of my closest friends and partner in crime, er, homesteading (she's my urban counterpart, so to speak). It went together easily; we used the directions for a stand from Fias Co. Farm, which is also where we get our animal health products like the herbal wormer we use. I love Molly's site-she is very thorough in her explanations of how and why she does what she does with her goats. The stand works wonderfully, and has already served another purpose as I sheared our Border Cheviot sheep, Chrysanthemum yesterday. It is lightweight and sealed with oil. I wipe down with the same soapy solution I clean the milking dishes with each milking, and dry it to avoid any growth issues.
All of this is not to push Fias Co. farm's site (though I do love them!) or to brag or just chat about how I spend my weeknights, but rather to talk about how many resources (including this blog :)  ) are available to the simply, frugally, green minded individual out there that makes it easier for them to live the way they do. The internet has made it so easy to find others who have been through the same trenches we have been or are in. It is easy to order or follow the insight of the first site hits google brings up, but I find that there is great value in taking time to look at all your options and seek what fits you best. I respect the opinion of the fine farm family we bought Ginger from, and I agree they have an issue with the stand they use. I also know our situation and what we can make work. I took time (though I was on a deadline) and figured out what would fit our budget and time. That wouldn't have worked, though, without the help of our friends, either. I am not a craftsman when it comes to wood working, but by combining talents (every Thursday night, at that) we are able to achieve more, and work towards our goals for more self-sufficiency and frugality. And it was fun. I think too often we see work rather than opportunities for gathering. I actually enjoy working-I know it sounds crazy to some, but the feeling of accomplishing something is far more gratifying than the click of a button in ordering it from some distant company. All in the homesteader's day to day, and I wouldn't change any of it.

Friday, 23 April 2010

A Homestead in Progress: Year Four

by Kate
Living The Frugal Life

I'm well into the heavy spring workload in pursuit of making our 2/3 acre residential lot a functioning homestead.  This is also the beginning of the fourth year of this pursuit overall.  It's been a lot of work over the last three years, and I have to remind myself that as much as there is left on my list of things to do, we've also made progress.  On the other hand, I'm quite conscious these days that this property will never be something Martha Stewart would be proud of.  This is working land, not a showpiece.  I'm often painfully aware of the mistakes we've made, the refinements that have been necessary, and the incremental quality of our progress.  We didn't have a master plan when we started changing things.  And if we had, it wouldn't have been a very good one.  Often we could only see one step that made good sense at a given time.  We've had to try things with imperfect knowledge, watch, get results, go back to the drawing board, and put in more work the next year to revise what we'd done.  Frankly, we just didn't really know what we were doing sometimes.

I want to share some of our progress, some of the things we've done wrong, and some of the refinements we've made over the last three years.  I'm sure some of you are just starting out on this path, or even still thinking of beginning to homestead.  You might be tempted to take on too much all at once, or hold impossibly high standards for what you will achieve in the next 12 months.  Or, you might be the type that tells yourself it will be too much work to even try, that it will take too much money or too many years to return any benefit.  I hope that I can provide an example that will help those of you in either camp.  We haven't made perfect choices, but they've still paid off.

Garden design - I think this year we may finally have a good layout for the large garden bed that holds most of our annual crop plants.  It's always been my call how the garden was laid out, and I chose bad designs the last three years.  Basically, we now have an off-center main path with long rows to one side, short rows to the other, and perennial herbs or self-seeding flowers at the border-end of each path and bed.  We lasagna mulched the perimeter to get a handle on the weeds that cropped up right at the fence line year after year, and will lasagna mulch each pathway for the same purpose.  We resolved that this would be the last year we tilled the soil, so the paths and beds we arranged this year will be permanent.  And we're finally getting serious about amending our clay soil with plenty of compost.  My tip to beginning gardeners is: don't put comfrey in the corners of your garden until you know for sure that your garden won't eventually expand beyond those corners.  The challenge for me this year is to use the garden space we've cleared more effectively and work on better season extension to increase the amount of food we produce for ourselves.

Bees - We just started with bees this year, and it's been a fiasco so far.  I did a lot of work, a lot of learning, and spent a good deal of money for this project.  It's not at all clear we'll see much success with it.  I just want to throw this out there, because we can do all the right things sometimes, and nature shows her hand last. We're dealing with this right now.  Or you can make one mistake and watch all your efforts fizzle.  It doesn't happen often, but that's homesteading.  We may succeed with the bees or we may not.  Don't ever think you're the only one that tries something and fails at it.  Try, try again, or move on to another area that holds more promise.

Perennial edibles - This is one area where I wish we'd gotten our act together sooner, because it would mean that we'd be harvesting that much sooner.  A few years of intensive annual gardening more than suffices to show the merits of perennials, which you need plant only once and then harvest for many years.  The drawback is that most trees and berries need some time to mature before giving a good crop.   If you're new to the idea of homesteading, think long term as early as you possibly can.  Start planting your perennials sooner rather than later.  Just think the locations through carefully, keeping in mind that bushes and trees will get bigger over time.  Don't situate them such that they shade important areas needed for annual crops as they grow.  If your space is limited, focus on dwarf fruit trees and container gardening in areas where the soil has been paved or built over.  Some perennial fruits trees, such as figs, do fine in large containers.

Chickens - Chickens have been called the "gateway livestock" because they lead to harder stuff.  I'd say that's accurate.  Chickens are easy-peasy animals to maintain, and they give you a return on your efforts very quickly, especially laying hens.  We've used the deep litter method to keep hens in our shed over the winter months, which creates an excellent material for amending the soil.  Most of the year our tiny laying flock of just four hens is kept in a rotational grazing system.  I move them daily to give them fresh forage, and no part of our property is damaged by an excessive build-up of manure.  On the contrary, their manure is spread around the outside of the garden, lightly fertilizing the soil about once per month.  The hens also make me see value (as feed) in weeds and insect pests, and help me control both.  I would highly recommend chickens to any aspiring homesteader.  They're easier than you think and have many benefits.  We didn't get everything perfectly right when we built our mobile coop and pen.  But it worked well enough to keep the hens happy, healthy, and safe from predators, and we've made small tweaks with the design over the last two years.

Worm bins - This is the livestock for those who can't really have livestock.  While they are admittedly less charming than chickens, less fascinating than bees, and don't yield anything as impressive as meat, dairy, eggs or honey, compost worms nonetheless provide a valuable product and help close some resource-waste loops.  Worm castings and worm bin "tea" are about the best plant foods on the planet.  Having that sort of resource at your disposal is invaluable when you plan to raise your own food, especially if you live in an area where the soil was never prime farmland.  Compost worms can also thrive on neglect for weeks at a time, a very handy attribute for homesteaders busy with a thousand other projects.

Edible landscaping - With less than an acre to work with, we need to use every square inch of space to the best effect.  We're in the process of eradicating more and more of our lawn this year.  And it's been a challenge to figure out what to do in the deep shade of the trees that shade our house in summer.  Even after three years of work and a mere 2/3 acre to work with, we still haven't made use of all the space available to us.  We've ripped out forsythia and replaced it with elderberry bushes.  We've cut down ornamental trees and replaced them with pears and blueberries.  We're looking at training our pole beans up the fence that encloses our yard this year.  We're attempting a permaculture guild under the mature apple tree this year to include blackcurrants and medicinal herbs.  Edible landscaping is definitely a state of mind and a work in progress.  My advice, again, is to make haste slowly.  Do the things that are obvious first, and mull the more difficult areas until you see what can be done.

Infrastructure - I count some of our big projects in this category; the sort that take extra effort above and beyond the annual routine of dealing with the garden and food preservation.  And yes, that extra effort is always a struggle; though the results so far have been worth it.  We've built a rocket stove for low-energy, off-grid cooking.  Just a few months ago we finished a root cellar, which we think will allow us to cure meats all through the summer, and definitely will allow for low-energy preservation of whole foods through the fall and winter months.  But I also consider the fruit trees, the laying hens, and all the perennial edibles to fall into the "infrastructure" category too.  These are the physical "tools" that will help us to live well in a low-energy and/or low-income future.  Of course, some infrastructure is as easy to acquire as plunking down your hard-earned money.  Our garden tools, many reference books, and pressure canner fall into the infrastructure category too.

Skills - I don't think it would present a fair picture of homesteading if I didn't mention the acquisition of skills.  I doubt that any two homesteaders end up with exactly the same skill set, but learning to do things, make things, repair things and taking the initiative to come up with solutions to problems is part and parcel with a homesteading way of life.  With a background in professional cooking, I was already a good home cook, and quite accustomed to cooking most of our meals from scratch before I ever dreamt of homesteading.  It was therefore a natural extension of my enjoyment of cooking to figure out bread baking, and various methods of food preservation.  Sewing, on the other hand, is a monumental ordeal for me.  Organization and record keeping aren't my strong suits, but they are necessary when storing a lot of food in canning jars or the chest freezer. They also come in very handy in gardening.  Some skills have been a pleasure for me, and others I've had to force myself to learn and practice.  It helps enormously to have a partner with a very different set of preferences and intellectual strengths.  My husband is an engineer, and that makes him a natural at figuring out and repairing mechanical things, or building things that are going to last more than one season.

We were able to harvest 600 pounds (272 kg) of food for ourselves, and a lot of feed for our laying hens last year, in our third year of homesteading.  2009 was a really bad gardening year in my area, and we got no harvest at all from most of our immature perennials.  We didn't use the garden space we had last year nearly as well as we could have, nor did we do much about season extension.  In other words, 600 pounds is not a remarkable yield from a sub-acre residential lot and it doesn't reflect the benefit of having put in perennials several years back.  So I expect to see a better annual harvest tally this year. 

I hope these examples will serve to encourage those of you who are struggling through the first challenging years of making a major life transition to homesteading or smallholding.  The early years are full of work, there's no denying it.  But the rewards are there too, and they don't take all that many years to increase dramatically.  If the idea of homesteading seems out of reach because you don't have acres of land, or because the payoff seems so far away, take heart.  We have limitations to deal with too.  Neither my husband nor I are what you'd consider young, and we'll probably never be able to raise pigs in our backyard. But we're doing what we can and seeing more possibilities year by year.