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So we’ve just finished out first month (month and a half, really) and I wanted to share what we’ve done, and haven’t been able to do in our first month.
For those of you who haven’t been following our blog, however, a little background first:
My husband and I grew up in a small farming town in Northern Virginia — yes, there were small farming towns here 20 years ago — and enjoyed childhoods of chasing fireflies, riding our bikes on dirt roads, and generally getting into good, wholesome trouble. We both feel “at home” and “ourselves” when we’re outside – regardless of the weather.
But we weren’t ready for each other, yet. Life intervened. He joined the marine corps, I went off to college and we both traipsed around the world for a few years. Finally, the timing was right and we found each other again.
We both shared a love of the outdoors, a desire to live simply, and to be as self-sufficient as possible – but we thought, with his career, we’d be at least one tour overseas before that was possible.
Life intervened again. A new position became available to him that would (more than likely) keep us here until his retirement. Finally we were actually in a position to put down roots!
We’d been “homesteading in place” or “urban homesteading” ever since we got together. I grew what I could in raised beds and rented houses, taught myself how to can and preserve. He learned how to home-brew, and…well…he’s always been extremely handy and hard-working. So homesteading for him didn’t require a lot of learning.
Long-story-short(ish), we now find ourselves our 18 acres – some wooded, some cleared, and can finally start our official homestead. Ideally I would have loved to build our own house or cabin, and live completely off-grid, however that’s just not feasible at our current stage in life. We both work full time, his job has him traveling often, and we have a little one that simply complicates matters.
We closed on this farm in July and officially have a full month under our belts. So what have we done?
The listing for the farm said “small orchard”, but that kind of became a running joke because we could only see one badly covered apple tree. Once we moved in, we were able to take a closer look at the orchard. There are half a dozen fruit trees, both apples and pears, but they’re completely covered in pricker bushes, poison ivy and pine and oak saplings. I’m not sure of a timeline, but I would guess it’s been abandoned for 10 years at least.
The trees are still producing, but very minimally. My hope is that with a little extra TLC, we’ll be able to bring them back to health and they’re produce more next year. We also have several pear trees I started from seed from an ancient (talking over 100 years) pear tree from my mother’s house that we’ll add to the orchard once it’s cleared.
In this first month, we’ve begun clearing away a lot of what we can, but it’s hard slow work that honestly, has taken a bit of a back seat. There’s also a TON of trash in the orchard that we’re taking to the dump truckload-by-truckload.
One of my most pressing projects was to put in a Fall vegetable garden. I had tomato and cucumber plants my father had given me in pots that I wanted to get in the ground. Unfortunately, we’ve had a cool Fall so the tomatoes haven’t produced anything, but we have gotten two cucumbers.
Starting a new garden from scratch is HARD, though. I wrote about the process in my blog post here: How to Start a Garden From Scratch. Basically, we moved all of the grass and roots with a pickax, bought topsoil/compost mix and spread it and then put in a fence. The fencing is only small t-posts and livestock wire because it’s going to be temporary. In the Spring we’ll expand it even more and install a permanent fence.
So a tractor was our first big purchase. About 7 acres are open field that we plan to keep that way to put in a hop yard and potentially other crops next year. Even the area around the house is maybe an acre or two of yard…enough that a riding lawn mower wasn’t enough.
Hubby spent a weekend shopping around before deciding on a Kubota. 0% financing for 60 months, warranty, and they deliver it. Can’t beat that! Luckily neither one of us have car payments, so taking on a tractor payment wasn’t that painful!
The farm itself already had huge brush piles from when, I’m assuming, they were cleaning it up to get it ready to sell. That, on top of what we were clearing out from the orchard, combined with my desire to do some Back to Eden gardening, meant that a wood chipper was high on our priority list.
I found a good-sized one, used, on Facebook and went over to buy it while my husband was on trip. Thing started up on the first pull. It was beautiful. However, when we got it home it wouldn’t start. We tried every combination of primer and clutch and pulling…it simply wouldn’t start. Luckily, hubby is handy and found that the glow plug was stuck open – which was an easy fix.
However, after less than an hour of running, we hear this horrendous metal clanging and turn it off. The previous owner had jimmy-rigged the plastic hopper to the chipper with giant metal washers that can undone with the vibration. These shot through the chipping part and came out the other end completely mangled. Luckily there was no lasting damage and we purchased a new hopper.
So we didn’t get the official chicken coop until September, but the situation with the chicken coop forced us to switch gears. We weren’t planning on getting chickens until the Spring, but a good friend of mine texted me that she was separating from her husband and was looking to lighten her chore-load. And offered to sell me her entire flock at a steal. So that upped our timeline quite a bit.
There was an old shed in the woods on the property that was full of trash that we were planning on cleaning out and dragging closer to the house to use as a coop. It would’ve taken some word to build a run, windows, and nesting boxes, but I would have preferred to use something already on the property. It would have been less expensive and it would have re-purposed something. A win-win.
However, it didn’t make it. There was so much termite damage that the back wall just gave out when we tried to move it. (I think hubby was secretly hoping this would be the case because he enjoyed knocking it down a little TOO much!)
So the shed will be going to the dump over the next couple of weekends, and we bit the bullet and bought a coop from Tractor Supply. I would have liked to build one ourselves, but the timeline didn’t allow it.
Looking back on it, I’m amazed at how much we’ve accomplished in just a month. There were a lot of other little things too, like trimming trees, refinishing the deck, refinishing the fireplace…it’s been a whirlwind of a Summer! We have a lot to do still before the Winter comes (Winter is coming)…but I can say I’m proud of how much we’ve already accomplished!
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Now it’s your turn! Where are you in your homesteading journey? How do you define homesteading? I’ve written a post before on what I think homesteading really means. What do you think?