Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Self-Sufficiency: How Far Have We Come?

It's been a few years since I started down the road to self-sufficiency, and started checking out of the pervasive corporate-culture that dominates the average US lifestyle.  It's a road I never expect to reach the end of, because I know that complete self-sufficiency is not really possible.  I don't see this as a negative thing.  There are endless shades and degrees of self-sufficiency, and building real community is the other side of the self-sufficiency coin.  Today I want to talk about a few key areas where we have - seemingly - achieved self-sufficiency, and explore the reality in those cases.

Garlic - This is one product in which we come very, very close to genuine self-sufficiency.  I bought garlic seed stock in 2007 and have not paid for any more since then.  Garlic grows well in our area, and I managed to salvage a decent crop, including viable seed stock even during our incredibly wet year of 2009.  Potentially, I could go on indefinitely saving seed from each year's harvest, with no need to purchase garlic ever again.  The fly in the ointment has been that so far I have not really managed to keep us in fresh garlic 12 months out of the year.  I'm working on bridging the garlic gap with green garlic, garlic chives, and garlic scapes.  And we can use the garlic I dehydrate when the last of the harvest begins to go off, though that requires electricity we don't generate ourselves.  It's fair to say that garlic is a core product in our lives.  We eat a lot of it; I don't really know how to cook without it; and we deeply resent having to pay for it.  So self-sufficiency in this food would mean a lot to us.  I'd say that we're 70-80% of the way there, and there's a good chance that we can narrow that gap further.

Eggs - On the face of it, we're self-sufficient in eggs.  With a backyard flock of just four layers, we have more than all the eggs we can eat.  But the devil is in the details.  We buy most of the feed for the girls.  True, it's milled locally, so potentially we could continue to obtain that input even if TSHTF.  It's a long drive though.  And the thornier issue is that we don't keep a rooster.  Even if we did, our girls are production birds, with all the broodiness selected out of their ancestors.  Laying hens are very productive for a good two to three years, but then their output tapers off.  With no chicks from our flock, we'll need to buy more birds.  I've taken several steps to supply more of the girls' feed from our own resources, and it's my plan to increase these efforts this year and next.  Less-than-prime garden produce, our kitchen scraps, weeds, Japanese beetles, and acorns are all part of the girls' diet, free for the taking from our own 2/3 acre homestead.  But if I'm honest I have to say these all add up to less than half of what the girls need to lay productively.  And without the ability to produce a new generation of hens, we'll never be truly self-sufficient in eggs.  I'd say that we're only about 40% self-sufficient in eggs, despite the fact that we never buy them.

Potatoes - We now grow all the potatoes that we eat.  When we don't have potatoes from our own harvest, we eat other things.  Although it's potentially possible to save seed from one harvest to begin the next year's planting, there are significant limitations to that practice.  The major obstacles are late blight and, to a lesser extent, viruses that can carry over from one year into the next in the seed potato.  Late blight can destroy a crop of potatoes outright, while the viruses can damage a lineage of potatoes progressively over time, so that yields slowly dwindle year by year.  It's certainly possible to save a few potatoes for seed from one year to the next. I've done that.  But since we had late blight last year, none of our potatoes can be used for seed this year, and any potato plants that crop up in the garden will need to be destroyed.  Late blight makes the whole prospect of self-sufficiency in potatoes kinda dodgy.  We could go for years without another outbreak.  We could decide to grow only blight resistant varieties, and take our chances with saving seed even in years we know the blight was prevalent.  So far, we haven't done that.  I've bought seed potatoes every year.  Even if blight were taken out of the picture, there are the less obvious viruses that simply reduce yield over time.  Given these challenges to genuine self-sufficiency with this crop, I'd say we're only 50% self-sufficient in potatoes.  Our prospects for achieving real self-sufficiency over the long term seem low here.

Bread - I can't say that I never, ever buy bread.  There's a special loaf made by a local baker who turns up at my farming friend's monthly on-farm markets over the winter months.  I buy some of her bread from time to time.  But that's about it.  All the other bread we eat is made by me, and my baking skills are good enough that we would turn our noses up at the sort of bread supermarkets in our area sell.  However, we don't grow wheat, nor even grind our own flour.  It's all bought in bulk.  Even if I wanted to grow our own wheat, the high-protein "hard" wheat needed for producing good bread does not grow in my region; it requires an entirely different climate.  And even if that weren't an issue, we don't have near enough space to grow the amount of wheat we go through in a year.  It's true I bake some breads that do not require hard wheat, and potentially those could be made from wheat grown nearby.  In other words, we're a long, long way from self-sufficiency with bread.  The little bread we buy is hardly an issue.  We could give that up without any hardship at all.  I also know how to begin and keep a sourdough starter, and have done so in the past.  So if I couldn't buy yeast, it wouldn't be the end of bread for us.  We even have a rarely used manual grain mill, meaning we could grind our own flour if we had the grain. But we will likely always be dependent on purchased flour or at least purchased grain.  And then there's the whole issue of how the bread gets baked.  Right now we use an electric oven tied to the grid.  We generate no electricity of our own, and even if we did, running an electric oven is extremely costly in terms of energy consumed.  Potentially we could build a wood-fired outdoor oven, and that's certainly feasible for the long term.  Right now I'd say we're only 25% self-sufficient in bread, despite the fact that I bake virtually all we eat.  Having that outdoor oven might add 10-20% efficiency, and a sourdough starter maybe another 5-10%, in my estimation.

Fruits and Other Vegetables - It's hard to be precise about this, but I think it's fair to say that we grow more than 50% of all the fruits and vegetables we eat.  There's room for improvement, certainly, and we're working on that.  Some of the perennial plants we put in over the last few years are nowhere near their maximum productivity.  In fact some have yet to produce at all.  We don't need to do much else but prune and tend them for those plants to displace purchased food in future years.  So at this point we can "coast" to a greater degree of self-sufficiency in fresh fruit and veg over the next few years.  A good portion of the fresh produce we still do buy comes from local producers, especially fruit in season and greenhouse salad greens over the winter.  But I still buy a lot of onions, herbs during winter time, and the occasional citrus fruit or avocado at the grocery store.  We now have both a lemon and lime tree, though neither has produced a crop yet.  We have mostly weaned ourselves off fruits and vegetables that just don't grow in our area.  Bananas were dropped without fanfare some time ago, and avocados are treated like the treats they are.  At this point I think we've done most of the work we can do, both on our mental/dietary habits and the infrastructure needed to be really self-sufficient in produce.  There are two concerns over the long-term. Seeds and rootstock.  I need to learn more about saving seed and then put it into practice.  And learning to graft scion wood onto rootstock would mean more real self-sufficiency over the long haul.  The second concern is that right now we have the luxury of supplementing what we grow with lots of purchased carbohydrates, meat, and dairy.  In the future our diet might have to rely more heavily on the fruits and vegetables we can grow here.  What counts for 30% of our diet right now might have to be 50% or more of our diet in the future. I'll give us 50% self-sufficiency in fresh produce, with an additional 20-30% already in the pipeline.  The remaining 20-30% could be covered by a combination of buying from local growers, a few more of our own cold frames, and more skill development on my part.

Heat/energy - We are in the (agonizingly slow) process of having a passive solar thermal heating system installed for our home.  This will make us independent of oil so far as heating goes, and it may at some point give us hot water out of the tap.  We don't live in the harshest area of the US so far as winters go, but getting through a Pennsylvania winter without heat would be no joke at all.  Our zone 6b means the average low wintertime temperature is -5 F, or -21C.  We heat our house intermittently from as early as mid-October through mid-December, steadily from at least mid-December through mid-March, and again intermittently from mid-March through at least late April and possibly into May.  And our thermostat is never set above 64 F/18 C.  So really, there are only about five or six months out of the year when lack of heating would be no big deal for us.  Despite the fact that our heat will now be generated "for free," (and the cost of the passive solar system is nothing to sneeze at) we're still completely dependent on the electrical grid.  If we lost power, we'd also lose our heat when the pumps no longer moved warm water through our radiant floors.  Can we remedy this?  Possibly.  We're weighing the decision to install PV panels that would supply enough power to run the systems we consider really critical to our lives.  Having enough electricity from a grid-independent system to keep the chest freezer and a few pumps running would make me feel pretty secure.  Enough homegrown power to run some lights and our computers would be gravy.  This is entirely possible - in theory - but the expense would be significant.  Right now I'd say we'll be 40% self-sufficient with heating.  We've already done plenty of work to improve the energy efficiency of our home.  So most of the remaining 60% could only be achieved if we were to shell out for a PV system.  Then of course, in the long-term there's the thorny issue of replacing components of either the passive solar or PV systems in a low-energy world.

I could probably carry on further with this sort of evaluation of my life, but I'm sure you get it, and it's probably already gotten a bit tedious.  My intention was to explore the real issues of a self-sufficient lifestyle, and to encourage you, dear reader, to think about what challenges you might face on the road to self-sufficiency.  So what about you?  I know the challenges and resources differ enormously among the readership here.  I think it would add a lot to the discussion if you posted about this topic on your own blog, or if you add a comment to this post.  I'd be especially interested to see anyone report on other areas they've tackled, such as health care, education, transportation, dairy, etc.  Let me know if you do post something along these lines on your blog, and I'll be happy to add a link here.  Some general issues you might want to wrestle with:
  • How much does our own skill/labor "count" for in terms of self-sufficiency if we must purchase inputs?
  • How do you factor in dependence on a locally produced good versus dependence on something produced very far from where you live?  Are we more self-sufficient if we can get something from our neighbor, or make a bicycle trip to obtain something locally produced?  Why, or why not?
  • If you depend upon "infrastructure" (e.g. fruit trees, livestock, PV panels, etc.) that you own, but that will eventually die or wear out, how do you gauge your level of self-sufficiency?


Konnie said...

Although self-suffinciency is a relatively new goal of mine. I would say if I wasn't sick last summer and grew and put up the amount of fruits and vegs. I normally do, my eggs situation would be the same as yours. I have 3 ladies who get a lot of scraps but I do buy feed for them. But arn't their eggs wonderful!

Rachel said...

I have the same goal of self sufficiency. We've only been in our home for a year and a handful of months so we're nowhere near as close as you are. This would definitely make a good Saturday entry for me to explore where we are and where we are going.

Anne said...

Excellent post. I am going to have to look at my progress in the same way. I think I might be surprised. I think that garlic is elusive, because as soon as you get used to having enough, you think of new places to use it. :o)


Tree Huggin Momma said...

Can you point me in the directions of passive solar heating? Please and thank you, I would love to read up on what is involved.

Wendy said...

I will need to devote a lot more thought to this discussion, and I'll come up with a blog post on it in the near future ... hopefully.

But for now, I do have to report that we are happily self-sufficient when it comes to heat. We don't provide our own wood, but the wood we do get is free (usually from trees that are knocked down during winter or spring storms), and my husband splits it by hand using a maul and some wedges. Doing without heat during a Maine winter would be no joke, either, and so this is a pretty significant thing for us.

We still have a very long way to go with other aspects of our lives. We may never be completely self-sufficient, unless we have a total collapse scenario and we just have no choice, but we do hope to become independent from the "grid" enough so that having an income is a bonus and not a necessity.

Kimberly said...

My family has made much progress in the past couple of years...when we began this journey. We have chickens, grow a garden, and make most of our food from scratch. We just recently had propane heat put in our home, but only because in our home (a double-wide modular home), wood heating is not allowed by our insurance company. Ugh!!! We still have so far to go. Thank you for such a wonderful blog.


Leigh said...

Interesting post. I deal with this topic on my own blog from time to time, with an amazingly varied response from my readers!

We've only had our place for going on a year now, so we are no where near being self-sufficient. Like you said though, whether or not we truly reach the goal is not more important than the journey toward it. Last fall we planted fruit trees, we got chickens this spring, and are in the process of planting our largest garden ever. I am satisfied with our progress there.

The other key to food self-sufficiency is diet change, and we're working slowly toward that too. I'm aware of things we like but can't grow for ourselves, and figure we either need substitutes, learn to do without, or as in the case of chocolate, buy it anyway :).

We want to grow our own animal feed and grain, but there will be a learning curve for that.

Energy is less promising. We had a very cold winter with lots of rain and two months with no sun. That makes us question solar energy. We've had quite a bit of wind lately, but our part of the country isn't considered conducive for wind energy. It's just more to consider and work on.

Nice to read the comments here too. Nice to know that more folks are tending toward self-sufficiency and that none of us is alone in the endeavor.

Michelle, Queen Behind the Lens! said...

The question we're struggling with right now is what to do with hens whose productive years have come and gone. We have 7 hens, but are only getting 2-3 eggs per day... and two of those are from the two newest hens, I'm sure. And we ended up with a rooster by accident-- useless creature that he is. Self-sufficiency is a noble goal... but even pioneers bought huge sacks of flour, sugar & coffee!

Jennifer Montero said...

Interesting post and great to hear about your impressive progress! I bet you didn't start your new lifestyle with all the requisite knowledge, so I think you should add that to your self-sufficiency list.

I often think about my time in terms of cost. It's usually the determining factor on whether to buy or produce. But the actitivites involved with being self-sufficient - growing food, tending livestock, procuring wild meat and wood - aren't like "work" per se. I enjoy them, it's what constitutes my life. I can't quantify it in the way I did when I worked for someone else, behind a desk, for an hourly wage. This new work has a quality of life aspect my traditional job didn't have.

Another thing that adds to my quality of life, which is hard to justify is the internet. I live in an isolated area and being able to download books and podcasts on my ipod helps me feel connected to the wider world. And helps pass the time with more repetitive chores.

Also as I'm getting older I'm slower and not as fit, I wonder how that's going to impact on our ability to continue with our lifestyle in the long run.

Kate said...

KJ, Rachel, self-sufficiency is a relatively new goal for me too. It sort of is a formal goal, and it sort of isn't. It's always clear in my mind that I'm moving towards something I can never hope to reach. Sometimes I hesitate to even say I want to be self-sufficient, because it just invites the obvious observation that self-sufficiency is impossible. But it's still useful to discuss among like minded folk. We all journey on the road at our own pace. Please let me know if you do post on this topic.

Jules and Bud, garlic is indeed everywhere in our diet. I rub it on my toast before buttering it. We put it in just about everything. I'm encouraged by how much better this year's crop has lasted, even though we didn't get it into the root cellar until the beginning of January. We'll see how much better we do with this crop between a softneck variety (new to us) and putting the crop in the root cellar right after curing.

THM, I don't really have a link for passive solar thermal technology. In a nutshell, it's a system of panels that heats liquid instead of generating electricity. Then a heat exchanger is used to have that heated liquid heat the water that flows through the heating system of our house. It requires a big tank, lots of piping, some trenching and of course, the panels. Have a look on google for "passive solar thermal" and see what you come up with.

Wendy, I'd love to hear your thoughts on these sorts of topics. I'll be happy to link to any post you manage.

Autumn Living, I feel we've made pretty good progress too. It's just that there's so much I still want to do. We didn't go for wood heat because we don't have easy access to a steady supply of wood. We'd soon be buying wood just the same as we've been buying oil.

Leigh, you're right. Some things there just aren't any substitute for. I like my chocolate, but I can be happy with it in very small and very occasional doses. Tea and olive oil are the things I use daily or weekly that I really would not want to give up. I rationalize that tea was traded very long distances in the sailing ship days. Maybe we'll get back to that someday. - Good job on getting your fruit trees in early. I wish I'd done that right off the bat.

Michelle, my personal resolution was that the hens had to be productive. I give them a very good life, and when they're no longer giving me a steady supply of eggs, they become stock and meat for canning. I have cats as pets, but no room for other "passengers." Livestock has to produce on the tiny amount of space I've got to work with. But that's just me.

Jennifer, you raise some great points. I am extremely conscious of the amount of physical work that goes into doing what we're doing. And I feel my age more and more each year. That brings a sense of urgency about getting much of the heavy lifting done ASAP. Knowledge is critical, certainly, but so is muscle power. Ideally, we'd have systems in place that allow lighter work going forward. The fruit trees and asparagus hold out this sort of promise. And I'm working on getting the annual garden beds into a no-till rotation.

Also, I think what you say about quality of life and "work" is very important. Dolly Freed raised the question: if I enjoy what I'm doing and want to do it, is it work or recreation? As I get older, my body does know it's work. But like you I truly enjoy it. It's definitely not like working for a boss!

pelenaka said...

How do I gauge my level of self-sufficiency ? That depends on what & when I am measuring and just how truthful I am. Putting the numbers down on paper is a real help in decision making especially when space is a huge factor.
Of all the homesteading activities that we do I would have to say that gleaning produce such as Wild Black Raspberries is the closest. Tops 100% when don't use fossil fuel to travel to our berry picking spot. Next would be our two Peach trees which after this season will have paid for themselves. Last year scored a free Cherry sapling - Cherries in oh 2016! If I had planted that twig in 1999 when I moved in ... that is the single most important self sufficiency lesson - plan ahead. Think decades into the future.

Unknown said...
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Joel said...

Do the Amish live in a similar climate to yours? What sorts of staple crops do they rely on, and how do they deal with issues like late blight and gluten content?

I've read that formerly in England, it was common to use slaked lime or alum to stabilize the gluten from soft wheat, before they were able to import enough American hard wheat to support their bread demands. Alum is really bad for people in that sort of quantity, but slaked lime might be worth looking into.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Like you, I've struggled with the the hows of self-sufficiency. The more fundamental question for me, though, is why? We're never going to be entirely self-sufficient -- nobody ever has been, since barter was invented at the very dawn of mankind.

So why do we want it in the first place? I'm doing a lot of the same things you are (only with less skill and attention to detail!), but I can't say my goal is to stop depending -- or even to depend less -- on my fellow man. Like Jennifer, I do it because I enjoy it, and because it seems like a prudent, constructive, and healthy way to spend my time and feed my family.

What is it about self-sufficiency that drives you?

Joel said...

>nobody ever has been, since barter was invented at the very dawn of mankind.

I think it goes back to before barter, to the rise of extended family groups. Orangutans are self-sufficient, for example, but bonobos aren't.

But even if we as a species need to support each other, there's a whole spectrum of dependency, from invalids and people with learned helplessness at the one extreme, to snipers and mountain hermits on the other. I think it's best for each person to have some agency in positioning themself along that spectrum.

It sounds like it makes sense for Kate to depend on people nearby who have more land and specialize in growing grains and/or seed potatoes. But I'd say it doesn't make sense for anyone to bet their life that oil will remain less than $100/bbl.

Kate said...

Pelenaka, I think a lot of us can relate to the regret of not getting our fruit trees, bushes and canes in the ground a few years earlier. One of my pear trees has bloomed this spring, but I'll probably pinch off all but a few of the fruit buds so as not to overtax a very young tree that still needs to work on growth. We'll get there yet...

Joel, interesting points you raise. We do live in relative proximity to large Amish communities. But I don't think the Amish have the explicit goal of self-sufficiency in food production, nor even community inter-dependence to meet all needs. They certainly buy in plenty of raw materials, and I'm sure bread flour is among them for Amish living in Pennsylvania. Probably seed potatoes as well, at least occasionally. I'm sure many of them had blight last year too; it was widespread in this area. I like what you said about agency in positioning ourselves along the dependence/independence spectrum

Tamar, it's very clear to my why I work on self-sufficiency, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say a lesser degree of dependence. I think we'll be better off for it in the future. I'm extremely aware of the implications of peak oil and how that will affect food supply and the economy as a whole. The more I can provide for myself, my family, and my immediate neighbors, the better I'll be positioned to cushion that blow.

Aside from that, even if peak oil is a total mirage, I'm a foodie. Plus, I'm cheap and an environmentalist too. I love good food and I know the very best food that I could possibly obtain will always come from my own backyard. And yeah, I'm speaking in terms of flavor, nutrition, satisfaction, and food miles/ethics.

Tara said...

We keep production-type laying hens as well, and like you say, they're not the least bit broody. About a year ago we traded a rabbit for a little banty hen - some sort of game cross, renowned for her motherly tendencies. It was a great decision. She doesn't lay worth a flip, but she's broody ALL THE TIME, so she'll set our other hens' eggs just about anytime we need her to. Everyone gets what they want! You might look into that. You'd still need a rooster, of course. :)

Alison said...

What a thought-provoking post! Also, congratulations on how far you've come in your journey.

I responded to your question, "How do you factor in dependence on a locally produced good versus dependence on something produced very far from where you live? Are we more self-sufficient if we can get something from our neighbor, or make a bicycle trip to obtain something locally produced? Why, or why not?" on my wordpress blog, this is the link:

Anonymous said...

I know I'm never going to achieve anywhere near self-sufficiency in my current situation- aside from the issues you highlighted, we just don't have the space. We have a 40 x 50 foot garden, plus an allotment we pay £10 pa for, which is smaller than that, but is solely for food production. We are unwilling to move out of the area for several reasons, and land is just too expensive around here to buy more.
We also have 3 children, which means needing to grow more food (and boy, can the eldest 2 eat...) It sounds like we grew more potatoes than you last year, but we're on our 2nd sack of bought spuds now.
It also means, that although they are well aware of the meat food chain, the chickens and ducks that lay are eggs are 10 feet from the kitchen door and have names, and are effectively pets that lay eggs. We can't eat them. With a bit more space we could have livestock without the sentimentality- I am working on a neighbour with land to do some kind of share- preferably in goats. I'm sure lots of people are reading this and thinking they'd still eat the garden ducks and hens, but it's all about compromises. This is what works for my family.
No, I'm not where I'd like to be, but I've re focused my goal as independence. I may have to buy a lot more stuff than I'd like, but I'm still becoming less reliant on industries to provide for me. As another reader said- knowledge counts for a lot. I know how to make and preserve food. I know which local plants are edible and we eat them. (I find it incredible that those 2 things are almost lost knowledge...) I use the verges near our home to supplement the birds diet- we pick greens for them daily from the lanes around our village.
We probably won't get as far along the road as you, but we'll get as far as we can. And my children will learn something on the way.
Hazel, UK

Kate said...

Tara, I'll keep the broody banty trick in mind if I ever want to hatch out some eggs of our own. I'd much rather have a mother hen than go through the hassle of incubation and rearing the chicks myself.

Alison, thanks! I'll catch up with your post later today when I have a bit more time.

Hazel, your comment would be a good blog post! Not that that's any criticism. Do you have a blog of your own? We all make the journey in our own way. Dairy goats or a goat share would be awesome. I'm jealous.

Muppet said...

An incubator, for me, is just a necessary evil. I choose to keep an elderly widow in fresh eggs and occasionally meat, so I need some way to continually plan my hatches!

I look at my animals as my vices. My horses are just pleasure. My new cows provide meat and rugs through their offspring. Eventually, Layla will be the Judas cow... :)

I garden. However, I'm in medical school. I know my OMT skills as well as medical skills will be in demand and thus, barterable. So I work on providing a little for myself and friends, and working my butt off foe the future.

Anonymous said...

Kate, no I save myself for comments on other peoples blogs :0)
Sorry, brevity was never a strong point!

Kate said...

M, I do believe you're right about medical skills being quite barterable in the future. Always good skills to have.

Hazel, ;)

Spenser said...

Great write-up.

We've taken giant steps self-sufficiency recently. It's important to (as you do) keep a realistic measurement of what is truly self-sufficient (like you did in your egg example).

Chris and his Oregano said...

Great thoughts! I've fantasized about self sufficiency a lot. It's not even a goal yet, but your experience is certainly encouraging. Since I just have a small home, I think the logical starting point for me would be self sufficiency in terms of herbs and vegetables.

Kate said...

Spenser, thanks. Keeping track of this stuff, and figuring out the relationship of self-sufficiency and hidden dependencies is rather tricky once you start examining it. I guess that's what makes it a journey without an arrival point.

Chris, I really encourage you to start towards self-sufficiency in whatever area makes the most sense. Herbs are great since many of them are perennial, and supermarket prices are outrageous. A single seedling for a perennial plant like this is pretty cheap. And fresh herbs are a treasure in the kitchen. Believe me, a lot can be done with a small space if you put your mind to it. Good luck!

Jen said...

Two things on garlic. We have had it last until May in about 50-55 degree area. If we have a lot left and it starts to sprout, we roast it and it stays good in the fridge for months. So, extending the season of our own garlic provided we plant enough.
Thank you for posting this, nice to compare with what we are doing (though I'm afraid I haven't posted similar progress for our own homestead anywhere). We grow our fruit and veg, buy meat and dairy locally and sustainably (at least in summer), still working on grain that can be threshed by hand. Same problem with eggs as you (i,e, buying food), though we live in the country so have a rooster and plan to let one of our all-too-many broody hens hatch some eggs for us. As for other stuff, we pretty much buy all our clothes - I can sew but have little time and the fabric I can buy locally is inferior to the fabric in the clothes I buy for the most part. So, still plenty of room for improvement.

Kate said...

Jen, thanks for the suggestion on the roasted garlic. We didn't have our root cellar ready to go last year when our harvest came in. So I don't yet know what sort of temperatures we'll see in the root cellar over the summer. I may try storing ice in there next winter, just to see how long it lasts and what it does to the temperatures.

I'm not a seamstress, but I suspect that we have pretty good quality cloth in our area. A lot of Mennonites in this region make their own clothes, and I don't think they'd bother with poorly made fabrics. There's a fabric store near us that's Mennonite owned and a quilting acquaintance says their fabrics pass muster. Apparently the prices reflect the quality though.

Chris tries Mulching said...

Hi! I think after I've gotten my favorite herbs lined up, I'll start planting vegetables in my back yard too. ;-)

Kate said...

Chris, I encourage you to do so. I love having herbs in the garden! They're a lot less work than most vegetables.

Chris and his Garlic said...

Hi Kate! I'm finding that herbs don't really like the rainy season. I think I'm seeing some root rot in a couple of them.

Anyway, I tried planting garlic and lettuce. The garlic's doing okay, but the lettuce isn't germinating at all! I'll keep trying though.

Kate said...

Chris, sorry to hear about your soggy herbs. Sometimes to keep trying is all we gardeners can do. It's definitely an iterative process, gardening, and we learn from hard mistakes sometimes.

Chris and his Sweet Basil said...

Isn't that the truth? I just try not to get attached to my plants. As soon as I see something dying, I put some other seeds or cuttings in the pot. That way, all my pots are always utilized.

Dima said...

Great post me and my family are also moving towards becoming self-sufficient it's a long process.

Unknown said...


Minor point of correction on your solar heating system: what you have I believe is an active system, using panels, pump, piping and storage. A passive system is one in which the sun and the design do all the work....such as a greenhouse with large thermal mass that heats in the daytime, and releases the heat at night.

As I said, minor point, and congrats for putting in what you did !

We've gone the electricity production route with an 8.5kw PV system, as we heat with wood.

Will post more later on our self sufficiency journey, which has been 30 years long so far.