Creating a Life of Plenty

What Can We Do? A Report Card

reportcard

Last January I wrote a blog about really setting some homesteading, sustainability and other goals for our household.  With the state of the world, our broken industrial systems as well as our environment, it seemed like a good idea to really learn some additional skills and commit to a set of principles to live our life by.  A year has gone by and that set of principles still holds true, but I wanted to share how we did.  I graded each segment of our plan based on how successful we were in each area.  It is a bit subjective, but I think it is a fair assessment of our first year of real homesteading.

 

The first area is food production

Food & Beverage Grade Comments
Increase food production on our own plot to meet 70%+/- of our fruit and vegetable consumption each year (this is an annual average as each season will have varying percentages and we currently have a finite growing space).  2015-2017 B Not bad at all.  85% of our produce and vegetables and 70% of our fruit during the summer months.  This did not begin until May so the first part of the year was shop bought.  We continue to eat out of the garden into December but with about a 60% reliance on the stores.  With the addition of our small greenhouse, it will allow us to start more of our food from seed, earlier and allow for better propagation for the community garden plot.
Increase growing space by co-opting (gardening a friend or neighbor’s yard in exchange for a portion of the harvest), participating in a community garden (applying for and leasing a plot from a community organization or local government) or purchasing an empty lot for cash to garden on (there are a lot of empty lots in cities that may be available for little cost).  This goal is probably the vaguest since we have not looked at every option, nor have we reached a maximum production point on our own lot. 2017 and beyond A We took on a 12X12′ community garden plot and managed a decent harvest of sweet corn and beans.  Next year we will request a larger plot to diversify what we can grow there.
Make all of our own bread and bread products. (Learn and perfect three bread recipes, traditional French white bread, whole wheat loaf, sourdough) along with rolls, pizza crust, etc. C I made a lot of our own bread during the dark of winter, but as the weather warmed, I spent more time working and working in the yard.  Recipes experimented, but not perfected
Vinegar Production (Specialty vinegar such as red wine, white wine and apple cider) B Made two kinds of vinegar; white wine and apple cider.  Not bad results, but would have enjoyed a brighter tasting white wine vinegar.
Wine and Other Fermented Beverage Production – 2016 NA This is a 2016 goal, but may be pushed while we increase our skills at growing food
Cheese production (small scale).  Learn and perfect six cheese varieties (farmers, camembert, cheddar, mozzarella, comte, parmesan,) C Learned how to make two types of cheeses, but really didn’t put them into consistent production.
Add bees to our backyard space to provide pollination, and hive products (honey, pollen, wax) D We did so well with our bees over the last winter, our colony swelled too much in the early spring that the colony swarmed and left no queen in the hive so the balance of the bees scattered to the wind.  We will be adding a new colony of bees this spring
 Add chickens to our backyard space for small scale egg production and to add as part waste recycling. 2017 B Circumstances with our Bee Colony and the warm winter so far have conspired to give us space, time and opportunity to move up the timeline of chickens to late Spring 2016
Decentralize and localize acquisition of balance of food and food products:  This means NOT going to the grocery store for everything else.  This will include local, organic U-pick farms, farmers markets and local meat and some local grain production. C We were more involved in picking our own fruit, but not vegetables.  Time and schedules did not allow for diversification, although we did go to a less expensive grocery store without sacrificing quality
Increase the number of perennial fruit, vegetables, edibles (rhubarb, apples, peaches, bush cherries, raspberries, currants, blueberries, goji berries, sorrel, bunching onions, Good King Henry) 2015-2017 A Added rhubarb, Korean bush cherries as well as a black and red currant bushes to the garden.  We will be harvesting these goodies in the coming seasons.
Plan two vegetarian days each week.  This is not only a healthier option, but reduces the load on the meat production system (local, organic or not) and is subsequently environmentally sensitive. B We have consistently had one vegetarian day each week.  Still working on incorporating two.

 

 

Next up is energy conservation

Energy (Electrical/Gas) Grade Comments
Reduce Phantom Electrical Loads and transfer items needing charged to solar. B Have put most of the electrical appliances on power strips that we can turn off at night.
Technology Free Days (one day a week, two week, month) where we utilize as little modern technology as possible (grill or fireplace cooking, no television, no computer or internet, little or no electric light) C I have managed one tech free day a month.  My partner is not terribly excited by these days.
Small Scale Solar for net new items (alternative cooking methods, chicken coop, pond, etc.) A We added a pond this year.  The water filtration and waterfall as well as the pond lighting is completely solar.  We will be adding solar to both our new greenhouse as well as the pending chicken coop. The first solar kit is purchased and will be installed for the greenhouse as soon as the weather breaks in spring.
Transfer Essential items to solar back up (refrigeration, water heating) NA  We really need to understand how solar works (I know that sounds stupid, but it is more complex than just putting up a panel) before we attempt to tie in any solar project with the main electrical of the house.
Replace and insulate household water heater (consider tankless).  Tankless is not an option for us. A Not really planned, but a flooded basement over the summer finally did in our 1983 water heater and it was replaced with a high efficiency new heater.
Improve household insulation B We built new storm windows for our sun porch.  Next year we will replace and or augment the attic insulation.
Household Solar (transferring to a grid tied solar energy system for the entire house) NA

 

 

Now our grades on water usage and conservation

Water Grade Comments
Rain collection for garden utilization- increase collection to cover 100% of garden water utilization (weather permitting). To include one additional rain barrel on the front of the house and an IBC installed on the west side of the garage. 2015-2016 A 100 percent of our at home garden water came from our rain barrels.  However, we still rely on municipal sources for watering our community garden plot, we will seek alternatives for that area too.
“First water” collection – Look for or develop cost effective methods of “catching” , storing and utilizing the first water that comes out of the tap either to make it cold or hot.  This can represent hundreds if not thousands of gallons of water per year.  We have considered storing and using this to water indoor plants, to filter and refrigerate for our own utilization, use to reduce the amount of water involved in flushing the toilet.  We have not settled 100% of how we will use this water. D Still have not come up with a convenient way of doing this that works for us.
Adding ballast to the toilet tanks to reduce water usage A Added filled plastic water bottles to both tanks

 

 

Next, our results in waste management and environmental impact

Waste/ Environmental Grade Comments
Look to secondary market first before buying/ordering:  This serves double duty and will be included in the financial section.  Utilizing secondary markets (craigslist, ebay, thrift stores and yard sales), not only saves money but it reduces demand for new products and therefore reduces waste (in my opinion). B We have done ok in this area, we utilize thrift stores and try to “use what we have” for things before buying.  However, neither of our carpentry and other mechanical skills allow us to make everything we need at this time so we are still purchasing infrastructure items.
Upcycle – the use of something we already have for a secondary use.  I have a particular aesthetic so it has to be beautiful and functional and not look “junky”.  Shabby chic is ok for some folks, but I am not really one of them. B Not bad, we have reused building material and some recycled pallets for composting and other projects
Close the organic waste loop – Other than human waste, all other organic waste (including garden, yard, vegetable and other food, paper and cardboard) will be recycled for our use.  Vehicles will include chickens, a vermiculture system (worm bin) and an expanded composting area. A We have reduced our “to the curb” trash to one bag per week.  We do, however send a lot to municipal recycling.  We expanded our compost so now nearly all food waste (except meat and citrus) goes to the compost bin as well as most of the yard waste (except what shouldn’t be composted at home).
Homemade medicine – this goal really spans many of the categories, but caring for minor medical and health issues holistically and naturally with homemade products reduces waste and is a better utilization of natural resources.  Plus it is better for us and our budgets. B I have added a few new tinctures and cures to our repertoire, but I have not spent a huge amount of time on it.  I began a master’s program in herbal medicine in the late autumn to increase my knowledge and move more toward natural medicine.
Homemade cleaning products – This is an environmental and a financial goal.  By converting to as much homemade cleaning products as possible, we reduce waste, help the environment and reduce expenditures.  99% of cleaning products can be made with 5-8 simple ingredients; it reduces plastic and cardboard waste as we will re-use existing packaging and reduces our toxic load. D Some of our experiments (spray cleaners, carpet powders, etc.) have been great successes.  My laundry detergent isn’t a success.  It does not get the body soil or grime of everyday life out of the fabric and our clothing and towels suffered until we went back to commercial detergent.  We may have to rely on organic, but still commercially sourced products for the time being until I can experiment further.
Homemade Personal Care Products – I am an herbalist, most personal care products are easy to make.  By eliminating the few that we currently buy and move to homemade, natural products (recycling containers, etc.) achieves the same as homemade cleaning products in terms of environmental impact, toxic load, waste and financial goals. B Lotions, salves, soaps have all been made and are being used in place of commercial products.  We will add more to our repertoire as time goes on.

 

Finally, the results of our financial goals for the year

Financial Grade Comments
Live at 85% or less of our means. A Consistently at or below 85% of our net income, leaving more for savings and debt reduction
Look to secondary market first before buying/ordering:  Utilizing secondary markets (craigslist, ebay, libraries, thrift stores and yard sales). This doesn’t mean for every purchase, but to look at this as a resource before going to a primary market. B We have done ok in this area, we utilize thrift stores and try to “use what we have” for things before buying.  However, neither of our carpentry and other mechanical skills allow us to make everything we need at this time so we are still purchasing infrastructure items.
Add no unnecessary consumer debt and then add no more consumer debt.  We are working on our finances to reduce any and all consumer debt.  The first step in reducing is not to add any additional debt unless absolutely necessary.  We both have minimal emergency funds so a new car or something large would have to be financed, but eventually, if we increase our funds, major emergencies become minor inconveniences.  In addition, we will evaluate any debt purchase that will help us achieve any of our other goals individually for merit. B I did have to purchase a new car this year.  However, since I had saved a significant amount for the down payment along with my trade, I got a terrific interest rate, low payment and a brief repayment period.
Homestead “in place” – the decision not to seek a new property and stay where we are.  The mortgage is low enough to be affordable in the long term and we have already made headway on paying it off.  Finally, our home really only needs maintenance and minor projects as most of the remodeling was completed over the last 10 years. A We have made the decision to stay in place and we have worked to make the home into a homestead

 

 

We are on our way…we have much further to go!  I will say that setting up the infrastructure has been a little expensive (and continues to be), although we have saved for it and used cash as much as absolutely possible, it has still been expensive.  Some of the more significant homesteading fundamentals may not be in everyone’s financial ability all at once, but taken slowly, they can be accomplished.  Also, we have learned to prepare ourselves for a lot of learning and hard work.  This isn’t a life of convenience, but it is definitely rewarding!

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