2017 was a big homesteading year for us. Most notably, it was our first year to raise pastured poultry from start to finish. What an adventure!
There were triumphs (chickens) and defeats (broccoli). We learned a lot and worked our tails off, and have spent the winter recuperating and gathering ideas and energy for year 2018 on the homestead.
One thing’s for sure: we’ve been bitten by the self-sufficient bug! We’re not entirely sure how “all in” we want to go with our homesteading efforts, but we definitely want to continue taking steps towards becoming even more self-sufficient.
Update, April 2018: We bought a farm! We’re upgrading from the 3-acre homestead to a 20-acre farm in order to raise more livestock and grow more veggies. Stay tuned as we make the transition…
Pssst: If you’re interested in becoming more self-sufficient, growing some of your own food, homesteading, or even farming, here are a few books you should read.
For our family, becoming more self-sufficient means growing as much of our own food as possible. Want to see a 100% homegrown meal we enjoyed during the summer? That’s carrots, chicken, green beans, beets, and zucchini, all raised right on our homestead. Yum!
We’re off to a good start with chickens, eggs, and a vegetable garden, but we’re not satisfied with that. I hope to share our goals for 2018 soon… In the meantime, here’s a peek into what went well and not so well on our little homestead in 2017.
2017 Homesteading Year in Review
Here’s a quick list for those who just want the highlights. Want more details? Keep reading…
- Pastured Poultry
- Livestock Guardian Dog
- Expanded Veggie Garden
- Herb Box
- Rain Barrels
- Canning (No-Sugar)
This was a major milestone! We raised two batches of meat birds, one in the spring and another one in the fall. The first batch was an experiment. Those birds went into our own freezer. The second round of birds went to local friends. We sold every last bird! I’ll be sharing a post with more details soon…
We never once ran out of eggs this year, which is an improvement over previous years. We even sold dozens of eggs to friends who purchased our pastured poultry.
Livestock Guardian Dog
If you followed me on Instagram one year ago, you might recall that Mudge, our Anatolian Shepherd puppy, gave us a real run for our money. “Difficult to train” is an understatement, and there was a period of time when we were pretty sure we’d made a huge mistake.
One year later, after consulting with a dog trainer and borrowing a shock collar from a generous friend, Mudge is pretty awesome. He now weighs over 130 pounds and lives outside 24/7 as the official guardian of our chickens. We had zero predators this year. Woot!
Existing Raised Beds
The existing raised beds did awesome. We grew lettuce, spinach, onions, green onions, radishes, carrots, beets, celery, parsnips, rutabagas and green beans. There’s a bunch of garlic planted out there right now.
Mr. Native Texan rigged up posts and chicken wire around each bed so the chickens could still access the walkways between the beds without damaging the veggies. It was mostly successful. Except for that one time I accidentally forgot to close the chicken wire for TEN MINUTES. Yep, the chickens totally annihilated about half the raised bed. It was not a happy time. I haven’t forgotten to close the chicken wire since…
It’s a trek from the house out to the garden, which is kind of a pain when I need a few herbs for cooking. So Mr. Native Texan built me an awesome little herb box to keep next to the patio, right outside the back door. I love it!
We really hoped to plant more edible landscaping this year, but I’m celebrating the fact that we got one elderberry bush in the ground. The cool part is that after struggling to decide where to place it, we got the brilliant idea to sink the elderberry bush into a decaying stump. The rotting wood will feed and protect the elderberry, and as the bush grows, it will cover the unsightly stump. Perfect!
Mr. Native Texan and the boys installed gutters on our outbuilding, the “shop”. This allows us to direct rain water into two new rain barrels. It also keeps ice from forming on the driveway below the shop roof, which used to be a real safety issue in the winter.
It’s been on my radar for years, but I never quite had the bandwidth to take on another ongoing project. After discovering that 4 out of 5 Hendersons love the stuff, Older Bro (age 11) agreed to serve as our official Kombucha Brew Master. He’s done a great job! And I’m thrilled that most of us are reaping the benefits of all those enzymes and probiotics. Now if we could just get Middle Bro (age 7) to drink it…
Update: How to Make Kombucha.
I finally got a dehydrator! I’ve wanted one for years, but couldn’t figure out where to put it. Then I realized it would fit nicely on top of our refrigerator. Not totally ideal, but it works! I just have to stand on a step stool to load and unload it and to turn it on and off. I don’t think I could have survived the extra garden produce this year without the dehydrator. We used it like crazy all summer, and continue to use it to make crackers and fruit chips and to crisp our nuts.
Pictured below are apples, radishes, bananas, and parsnips.
Check out all the things we dehydrated from our garden:
- beet greens
- herbs (parsley, basil)
- green onions
- sweet potatoes
Check out this beautiful dried parsley from our garden…
We also made apple chips from (so many!) apples picked at a local orchard. And we’ve enjoyed dehydrated sliced strawberries, sliced bananas, and whole blueberries.
Another big victory this year was the discovery of Marisa McClellan’s book Naturally Sweet Food In Jars. I also bought her first book, and between the two, tackled all kinds of new recipes for jams and pickles.
Here’s a list of all the no-sugar things I canned this year:
- tomato sauce
- tomato soup
- tomato jam
- hot pepper jam
- honey pickled radishes
- pickles (cucumbers)
- blueberry jam
- strawberry jam
- blackberry jam
- vanilla peach jam
- peach salsa
- green beans
Room for Improvement
And now for a quick list of things that went “not so well” this year. Read on for more details…
- Broccoli & Cauliflower
- New Garden Beds
- More Carrots
- Perennial Beds
- Lawn Mower
Broccoli & Cauliflower
Friends, it was so, so sad. We are terrible broccoli farmers. The worms and caterpillars were awful, like a plague. We picked them by hand and even enlisted the help of Mystery, one of our newest hens who is super gentle on the garden plants. Alas, it was all to no avail. We had to yank every last broccoli and cauliflower plant.
New Garden Beds
We added a large new bed to our garden this year, and the plants in that bed just didn’t do great. We did get tons of tomatoes, but the plants looked terrible. We got some zucchini, and then lost the plants. Green beans did great, along with herbs, a few watermelons, and bell and jalapeño peppers. Everything else was pretty dismal: zucchini, squash, pumpkins, lettuce. Boo.
So we planted rye in that space over the winter, planning to turn it into the soil in the spring. We also plan to turn the chickens loose in that area before planting, since we’re pretty confident their bug hunting skills make a big impact on the pest population in the soil.
Here we are, weeding in the new garden bed…
We usually have a bumper crop of zucchini, but not this year. There was one good harvest, and then we lost all the plants. We’re pretty sure the location was the culprit (new soil + resulting pests). Again, we’ve planted rye in that space over the winter and plan to use chicken power as soon as the weather warms up a bit.
We planted so many carrots, y’all. Like, wave after wave of carrots. Like, we prepared a root cellar and dreamed about eating homegrown carrots all year long. But oh my word, we must eat way more carrots than I ever envisioned. Although we did not have to buy carrots for months, which was awesome, we ate up every last carrot before the weather turned even remotely cold. We’re still scratching our heads about that one, and planning to up the carrot production even more this year. Stay tuned…
I am so over my flower beds. They are lots of work, and we can’t eat them! I will always need some beautiful flowers to enjoy, but am determined to replace much of the existing flowers and shrubs with edible landscaping.
Several years ago, Mr. Native Texan purchased a new-to-us Scag zero turn mower. He assured me it would drastically reduce mowing time, like from 3 hours to 1 hour. That mower has been nothing but trouble. It mows unevenly, leaves large clumps of grass in the yard, and this past summer it refused to work. We even had it serviced and tuned up in early spring, ready for the mowing season. But the first time he tried to mow, it broke down. We were so swamped with garden work and meat birds that we decided to pay a hard working college kid to do the mowing for the rest of the summer. So much for that dumb mower…
I’m excited to share more details soon from our 2017 homesteading year and also hope to announce our goals for 2018. Stay tuned!
Kathleen Henderson is the yankee behind the homestead. Follow along as we grow real food and three boys while renovating a 20-acre farm in northern Virginia. Do you love homegrown food, Paleo-ish recipes, and natural living? You’re in good company! Let’s grow together…