Friday, December 11, 2009

2009 - A Year In Review

Much of the time it feels to me like we're not making any progress on our goals. I don't know why this should be, because in fact we've made a lot of progress this year. Maybe it's because my task list is just so damned long that as soon as one project is done, another one immediately takes its place at the top of the priority list. Reading my favorite blogs does nothing to help shorten this list, by the way.

But that baseless feeling of not making any headway is crazy-making - for me, and for anyone around me. (*Cough* Sorry, Honey.) That's part of the reason I decided to participate (sporadically) in Sharon's Independence Days Challenge. But lately I've been feeling the need to remind myself of the bigger things we've accomplished this year to move towards our goal of financial independence and food sovereignty.

For the year as a whole we reduced the principle owed on our mortgage by $35,355, and my husband managed to remain employed despite the recession. We also harvested (so far) just shy of 600 pounds of produce from our backyard garden, worked mostly by myself alone. This doesn't include food that passed from hand to mouth without ever making it inside, nor garden vegetables deemed unfit for the table but good enough for the chickens. Given that it was an execrable year for tomatoes and apples, and a not so great one for potatoes, this harvest tally makes me pretty proud. And there's more out there to keep harvesting. I preserved a great deal of these homegrown and some gleaned foods - with varying degrees of success - by smoking, dehydrating, canning, curing, lacto-fermentation, and freezing.

So here's a month-by-month recounting of the deeds...

January: Can't remember much. I think I hibernated most of the month. Got the seed and rootstock orders in, grouping them with friends to save on shipping costs.

February: I made some worm bins and got our vermicompost system going, bartering for the worms. Attended the PASA conference where I learned a lot and met some local gardening folks who are becoming friends of ours.

March: We expanded the tilled area of our large garden from around 1700 square feet to about 2000 square feet. Removed ornamental trees to make room for fruit trees and berries. Dealt with the debris. Husband ripped out large patch of forsythia to make room for more perennial edibles.

April: We had an energy audit done on our home. Built permanent raised beds for asparagus root stock, making use of a narrow space behind the shed. Planted many perennial food plants, including cherry and pear trees, asparagus, raspberries, blueberries, elderberries, and grapes. Renovated and improved our mobile chicken pen and coop. Started numerous seedlings inside.

May: Added a significant quantity of free compost and mulch to our annual garden bed. Got much of the annual garden planted. I added several perennial herbs for culinary and medicinal uses. Baked and froze enough bread to supply us through the hot months of the year.

June: We built a rocket stove and continued planting, despite the horrific rainfall.

July: Following up the energy audit, my husband added some insulation to the attic. I worked on air sealing with silicone caulking around window frames. Learned how to slaughter our old laying hens. Built and used a homemade chicken plucker to help speed the processing.

August: Learned how to salvage potatoes when the plants got the blight. Built our first cold frame with salvaged materials and planted it. Set up our first rain barrel. Added a gutter to the back of the garage, (well, had one added) where roof run-off had made for a very damp patch of yard.

September: Finally made a token effort towards learning how to sew. Eradicated new portion of the lawn and lasagna mulched in preparation for garlic planting. My husband made substantial progress on turning a corner of our basement into a root cellar. Got our so-designated "perennial swath" substantially cleared and sown with cover crop. Finally had some of the black cherry wood cut down last year milled into lumber. Began harvesting acorns to supplement purchased chook feed.

October: Slaughtered our second batch of low-producing laying hens. Harvested potatoes and some apples. Had our basement walls insulated and the house air sealed. Had conduit installed for a future passive solar thermal and possible photovoltaic arrays. Planted garlic, including a new softneck variety and four hardnecks from our own seed stock.

November: Lasagna mulched several new areas for spring planting. Put the garden (mostly) to bed for the winter. Harvested and pressed apples into cider. Organized much of our stored food on shelves in the newly insulated basement. Arranged to teach an introductory homesteading class in the spring. Attended an introductory beekeeping class, as well as a meeting of our local beekeeping association; became members of that beekeeping association. Did some tree trimming of branches which shade a significant part of the garden in summer. Made (a little) more progress on the sewing competence front. Had our radiant heating system extended to our kitchen in preparation for converting to passive solar heating. Started building winter housing in the shed for the hens (and possible future meat rabbits), including a timer on the fluorescent lights. Used homegrown fruits and vegetables for every dish we contributed to the Thanksgiving feast. Began curing pasture-raised pork jowls as guanciale, a sort of Italian bacon.

December: Put the finishing touches on winter quarters for the hens and moved them into a converted corner of shed. Sourced a local, grassfed prime rib roast for our Christmas dinner. Do self-sufficiency crimbo gifts also count? I asked for beekeeping equipment for Christmas. Working on a roster of self-sufficiency skills and projects for 2010. (Post on that topic coming soon.) Inevitably, I'm already feeling the pull of planning mode for next year's garden.

Wow! Writing it all out like that really forces me to acknowledge that we did accomplish a lot this year. We have made progress. No wonder I'm tired! I don't mean to brag here, nor to make anyone feel that I'm some sort of uber-green super-achiever. Far from it. It's just that sometimes I have an overwhelming sense of urgency that makes me feel like we're way behind the curve. For my own sanity and domestic tranquility, I need to remind myself of these milestones occasionally.

I would love to hear about the milestones you passed this year. Please consider posting about them on your own blog and leaving a link in the comments here. If you have no blog, then please share the accomplishments of this year in a comment.


el said...

I dunno, Kate, looks like you accomplished a lot to me!!!

I'm not one for looking back, frankly. I realize this much about myself: if I am antsy, I haven't been making headway into whatever it is I'm doing. And this is a BAD time of year to be antsy, mainly because it's so cold out.

I do like the turn of the year because new goals and horizons are opened. Life is fresh, and there are no weeds in the garden!

NMPatricia said...

I know this isn't quite what you asked for, but am working on my own garden - first for me. I planted my very first vegetable garden in raised beds my husband built from some wood we had from another project. I planted some rhubarb because it is perenial. I would like a post on other possibilities of perenial vegetables (probablyl rhubarb doesn't come into this category).

My consciousness about frugality has expoentially grown. I am now cooking all our food from scratch and am working on making nearly all our food first order food. I made all of our Christmas presents, and have learned to thrift shop.

It has been an interesting year in learning to live green, sustainabilty, and frugally. They can overlap so much.

Tree Huggin Momma said...

I think with your to do list you should keep a list of accomplishments, because you accomplished a lot. $35 in principal reductions is huge (well it is to me since its my whole mortgage balance). Sometimes when our todo list never shrinks we feel like we haven't accomplished anything. You had a great year.

It's me ...Mavis said...

I agree... 35k is HUGE... way to go! We grew a little over 1,000lbs of vegetables this year along with reducing all our electric/water bills and canceled our garbage service. Also this year I am either re-gifting or making most of my Christmas gifts...I think the key is to start small and keep going from there :)

Kate said...

El, I get the antsy feeling thing too sometimes. But this is probably the first time I've had it this time of year. I'm still a bit antsy, but also feeling the usual end of year burnout - a bad combination. I'm feeling completely conflicted about whether or not to start poring over the seed catalogs. Want to and don't want to. After the New Year I'll have no such conflict, I suspect.

Patricia, actually that's exactly the kind of thing I'd like to hear about. I think I find it more encouraging to hear about what other people are doing than to do some of this stuff myself. I don't want to be the only one on this journey! Half the reason I blog is because I feel like I get so much from other bloggers, and I want to give as good as I get. Anyway, perennial vegetables are *great*. I recommend asparagus if you like it. It loves a deeply worked and well mulched bed.

THM, thanks. That's pretty much why I need to keep a list of what we've accomplished. The never ending to do list would just drive me bonkers after a while. I just wish it didn't take a clear-eyed assessment to make me realize how far we've come. I wish I *felt* that progress more from moment to moment. Maybe it'll come someday.

Mavis, well a thousand pounds of produce is HUGE to me! I think we'll get there eventually as our perennial edibles "come online." But I doubt we'll get there next year. In three years, probably; definitely in five. I think it's awesome that you're regifting or making your Christmas presents. And I agree that small steps all the way is what it takes.

Rebecca said...

This is my first year moving towards sustainable's been a long but exciting year! Had a few tomato and corn plants, big improvement for a "black thumb" like me. Have reduced our energy and water bill, and have started crafting-blankets, hats, decorative-for my home and gifts. Next year? Knitting classes and improving my sewing skills. Can't wait to see your list for 2010 Kate, it's inspiration for this starter.

Den said...

Hi Kate. So glad to have found your blog. You have inspired me to write my own review...
I'm a mere beginner compared to you, but we all have to start somewhere right?
As well as enjoying this post I've also learnt about lasagna mulching (never heard the term before, but turns out I'm kinda doing it anyway!) and bounced on to Fast grow the weeds - another lovely blog. Thanks so much! Will visit again soon... Den (A Full Monte Life)

Kate said...

Rebecca, I'm glad to hear of your new journey. It is a journey and not a race, and I'm glad it's been exciting for you. It's pretty exciting for me too. I'll have a list for next year up in the next week or so.

Den, welcome! I'm a beginner too, or an advanced beginner at best. We all start from wherever we happen to be. This is something I've only been really working at for the last couple of years. As I became better aware of what was possible, my goals have shifted, and I think the same is true for many people. Glad this post inspired you to write up your own list too.

Leigh said...

I can very much relate to what you are saying. Sometimes it all seems so overwhelming. Still, in looking at your month by month year in review, I see hope in the progress you've made.

I will have to do such as post too, maybe more toward the end of the month. We've only been here 8 months, but it seems like we've already put a lifetime of work into it.

Good job on paying down your mortgage. That is one of our goals too (to pay it off) but our progress is so much slower than yours.

susan said so said...


I mentioned you in my blog post today (my 100th post!) - I hope you don't mind, and that you'll stop by and visit:


Susan @ Dreams Underfoot

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world." ~ Mahatma Ghandi

Kate said...

Leigh, I see the progress too, but only when I step back from it like this and really look at it. Otherwise I just feel how much more there is to do. I really hope you write up your own achievements for the year. I always feel reassured and inspired when reading what other people are up to.

Susan, that's very sweet of you! I'll spend some time soon checking out the other blogs you mentioned. Oh, and I love that Gandhi quote too!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to be providing inspiration, believe me, the feeling is mutual! I have learned quite a lot from your blog, and been inspired myself. Now on my list: worm bins, rocket stove, tomato smoker....

As for milestones, well, I need to think some more on that...

Kate said...

Ali, you do provide inspiration. I love seeing following what you do with the hoophouse. I always feel a bit soft when I read about what gardeners in the colder climes achieve. My hat is off to you! And I hope after some thought you will post your milestones at Henbogle. I'll be watching for them!