Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: A Year in Review

It's that time again when I look back and assess progress made over the past year. Before getting in to any details, I'm happy to report that this year things seemed different somehow.  At this time last year, I really felt that despite all the work we'd done, it didn't amount to much.  It felt like I couldn't get much traction on the sorts of progress I was trying to make.  Not this year.  I feel good about where we're at, and where we're going.  I can't really explain this, since I didn't work any harder or smarter, or get more done this year as compared with last year.  It might come down to the work of past years beginning to literally bear fruit in 2010.

While I had my official list of goals for the year, and dutifully tackled some of them, there were a whole slew of other projects that were never on the list, but were completed nonetheless.  Like laying out permanent beds and pathways in our garden, and amending the beds with copious amounts of compost from our township, and building a mobile poultry pen to fit precisely over those new beds.  That project was a lot of work, and it will make a significant difference for our garden and our ability to use it more efficiently in future years.  Seems like I should be able to cross that off the list with pride.  Except that it wasn't on the list in the first place.  I won't detail the goals unmet this year.  If you're curious, a quick look at the sidebar shows (at least for the next few days) what didn't get done.  Nothing left undone was absolutely critical, and only a couple of those goals are going to be priorities for the coming year.

Anyway, on to what did get done this year.

Overall:  We decreased our dependence on the industrial food system by producing more of our own food, and also by buying more of our food from local sources, including fruits I turned into jam.  Our passive solar thermal heating system substantially reduced our dependence on fossil fuels.  This was also the year we began harnessing volunteer muscle to help with the work load, which has turned out to be a huge help in many different ways. My husband remained employed this year, and is even reasonably assured of continued employment for another year, for which we are very grateful, given the continued state of recession (whatever the talking heads may say about that).  We saw the first modest harvests from several of the perennial food plants we established in previous years.  Asparagus, pears, cherries, grapes, elderflowers and elderberries!  It's unutterably gratifying to see what we hope are just hints of the harvests to come from these crops.

Harvest tally - This year we brought 757.2 pounds (343.5 kg) of food in from our backyard, including about 11 pounds of home-harvested meat.  This figure doesn't include any of the produce we picked and ate outside, nor any sub-par stuff sent directly to the chickens.  Also, we haven't yet gotten around to shucking this year's popcorn, so that hasn't been included in the tally.  Our four hens gave us about 1143 eggs this year.

Mortgage reduction - I'm not going to give an exact figure, but we made substantial progress towards our goal of paying off our mortgage.  We're currently 16 years ahead of schedule in repaying our principal.  If we do as well in the coming year, we'll be extremely close to paying it off entirely.

January - Finished the root cellar. Researched honeybees and methods of keeping them. Placed orders for two packages of honeybees. Placed seed and rootstock orders. Began second introductory beekeeping class. Reseeded the coldframe with arugula.

February - Attended the PASA conference, a one-day seminar for beginning beekeepers, a one-day seminar on alternative agricultural strategies, and a three-day class on agricultural soils. Got our personal seed vault squared away. Two cats joined our household. Seed starting commenced.

March - Got the fruit trees pruned. Work began on our passive solar heating system. I improved my knowledge of curing meats by working with a few local grass-based farmers during their big curing day. Prepped the beekeeping equipment. Prepped large self-watering containers for fig trees and hazelbert bushes.

April - Planted 3 fig trees and 2 hazelbert bushes in large self-watering containers. Bees arrived and we installed them in their hives, beginning the drama. Started experiment #2 with potatoes grown in buckets.  Began creation of a permaculture-style guild around our old apple tree, using the deep litter that the hens had been on through the winter months, as well as saved corrugated cardboard and paper bags from bulk purchases for lasagna mulching. Picked up truck loads of cheap compost and mulch from the township four weekends out of four.  Dug wild elderberries and stinging nettle from a friend's property; transplanted them around our home along with ramps given to me by a relative. Renovated the chicken coop and pen. Put the hens back into rotational grazing on the lawn. Seed starting continued. Tilled and laid out permanent beds in the garden.

May - Started experimenting with lacto-fermentation.  Picked up more loads of cheap compost and mulch from the township four weekends out of four. Hosted a work weekend which allowed me to get ahead of the weeds in the garden.  Planted the bulk of the annual crops, including our first three sisters planting. Made my first ever successful batch of jam.  Killed our first garden rabbit and ate it with satisfaction.

June - Hit a huge, community-wide yard sale and snagged a lot of canning jars, plus a stovetop wok for use with the rocket stove, on the cheap.  Built a colorful mailbox hand tool depot in the garden, and a plastic bag drip-dry station in the kitchen, which together constituted my birthday gift projects.  Took in a disabled heritage turkey poult, intended for Thanksgiving.  Built pea trellises.  Arranged to host a WWOOFer for a week, informally.  Cleaned out the wreck room to make a place for the WWOOF volunteer. Made raspberry jam from local organic fruit I picked myself, and elderflower cordial from the first blooms of the elders we planted in 2009.

July  - The month started out well when I managed to keep most of the garden alive through a crazy heat wave that started in June.  With help from our WWOOFer, we built a very lightweight and mobile poultry pen sized to fit our garden beds, used it as temporary housing for the growing turkey poult, and caught up on a lot weeding and lasagna mulching.  Then I got hit with the double whammy of a massive infection in my foot and the sudden death of a relative.  Together these things kept me from the garden for more than ten days, leading to a squash crop failure.

August - A big month.  Mustered the will to get back out in the garden to keep battling the weeds, salvage some parched plants, and to succession plant for fall crops.  Canned tomatoes like nobody's business, finishing the month with 28 quarts of roasted tomato sauce.  Cured seven more pork jowls and smoked them, turning out 12 pounds of finished guanciale.  Dealt with first harvests of elderberries and our wine varietal grapes.  Experimented with summer-sowing parsnip seeds as they mature.  (Results on that to come in the spring.) Took delivery of custom ordered ceramic weights for improvised lacto-fermentation crocks, and started experimenting with garden produce.  Welcomed our first official WWOOF volunteer, who helped with a great deal of lasagna mulching and canning.  Got one cold frame built.  Finally figured out a good method for making smoked chili powder from homegrown chilies and wood chips from our own apple tree.

September - Planted both new and old cold frames with varieties of cold-tolerant crops (spinach, carrots, lettuce, scallions) that tested well last winter.  Painted our living/dining room, making it bit less stark and a bit nicer for having company over.  Harvested the potato buckets to disappointing results.  Harvested and dried first crop of hops.  Welcomed a third WWOOF volunteer.  Did a bit of refurbishment on the mobile chicken pen and used all the leftover paint samples to make it all piebald.

October -   Hosted another WWOOF volunteer.  Built a crate from scavenged wooden pallets to hold bottles of ice in the root cellar.  Used the poultry schooner to let the chickens do much of my garden cleanup and prep for winter.  Cut down the hemlock tree in the back yard to make room for another apple tree to be planted next year.  Copied Tamar and Kevin's ingenious instant greenhouse for the in-ground rosemary plant out in the garden.

November - Winterized the beehive in hopes of keeping our struggling colony alive until spring.  Started loading up the root cellar. Reconstructed winter quarters for the girls and got them back onto deep litter bedding.  Lasagna mulched large swaths of garden beds, and two spots on the lawn in preparation for transplanting our hazelnut bushes in early 2012.  Got on the waiting list for two nucs from Champlain Valley Bees.  Pressed our apple cider and turned some of it into hard cider.  Hosted Thanksgiving for the extended family without having a nervous breakdown.  Bought a shotgun and got a gun club membership so we'll have a place to practice shooting once we've completed our gun safety classes.

December -  Made my first batch of duck confit from locally farmed ducks, and started another batch of guanciale with free/workshare jowls from farming friend's pastured hogs.  Attended a workshop on leasing farmland in an attempt to figure out what to do with our parcel of agriculturally conserved land.  Based on advice from one of our WWOOF volunteers with EMT experience, assembled first aid kits for the house and both vehicles.  Slaughtered our turkey fosterling, and plan to eat it for New Year's Eve dinner.  Started early on the construction of a Biopod knockoff, officially a goal for 2011.

It feels fantastic to end the year with a sense of satisfaction for things accomplished, instead of my customary nonsensical feeling that we got nowhere.  Primarily because it allows me the freedom to be fairly slothful for a while during the winter.  I expect next year to be just as busy, and that the busy-ness will start up again quite soon.  I can only hope we make as much progress in the new year, and that I feel as good about it in twelve months' time.

What accomplishments made you proud this year?


cottage garden farmer said...

Well you certainly acheived a lot during this year. You must be very organized, I feel inspired to make organization and planning part of my New Years Resolution. Well done!

Paula said...

Oh man- you make me jealous with everything that you got done this year! I think it's because you're already ahead of me by a year or so- I'm definitely headed in the same direction.

Happy New Year and a peaceful, productive, and prosperous 2011!

Anonymous said...

Good job on the mortgage. If you might still need a few years to finish paying it, look into having the interest payments recast. It could save you significantly when you're this far ahead.

Hazel said...

Wow. I feel rather inadequate reading all you've accomplished.

Well done, you should feel really pleased with your achievements. It's nice when you can see the benefit of previous years' hard work paying off.

Here's to a a happy and healthy New Year and a large asparagus harvest!

Kate said...

CGF, I don't think anyone would describe me as particularly organized. Driven, perhaps at times, but not really organized. But I'm all for you feeling inspired to get more organized. It definitely has its merits, as I can see during those brief spells when I orchestrate some organization.

Paula, you'll get there. The first few years of homesteading I really felt like I was getting no traction at all. So many things to do, never enough time/energy/money to do them all. But incremental progress does add up. I had to take that on faith for a good while. A happy, peaceful, productive, and prosperous new year to you as well!

jimmy, I am aware of mortgage recasts, and have even written a post about them. It doesn't remotely make sense for us so long as we have an income stream, but it's a good thing to know about, in case our circumstances change.

Hazel, two things. 1) I'm sure you would have a fairly impressive list yourself if you were to write one out. 2) Having a list of my goals on the blog helps, as does a place to record my achievements as they're made. I composed this post over the course of the year, adding what got done month by month. It's a great help psychologically to do that, and maybe that's why I feel better about our progress this year. Happy New Year to you, and I hope you have a productive asparagus patch yourself!

Unknown said...

Wow. I'm jealous. :) You've had an awesome year. Here's to another great one in 2011.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

By god that's impressive. Not only did you do it all, you managed to keep track of it to boot!

Congratulations on a fine, fine year.

Anonymous said...

I think that you should add to your list of accomplishments providing mental oomph and encouragement (sustenance may be a better word) to those of us who are a couple of years behind you... but struggling to work toward a more independent and sustainable existence. I've been reading your blog for some time now. I don't have words to tell you how much I have learned from you and your successes and your challenges.
To a new year and new efforts - for all of us!

Kate said...

Tamar, try this: start a draft blog this month and begin recording all the significant stuff that you get done or that happens month by month through the year. I'm betting that at the end of the year you'll easily have a list this impressive. And though it runs the risk of looking like we're bragging, it's worth it to me because it provides both motivation during the year ("What can I say got done this month?") and a sense of accomplishment at the end of the year. That sense of making headway is worth a lot to me; 'cause I know how much it sucks to not feel like I'm getting anywhere.

Anonymous, I'm very touched by your kind and thoughtful comment, and glad that my fumbling efforts are providing some guidance or inspiration to others who want to pursue this lifestyle. May 2011 bring fruition to your efforts!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Very well done. It does, indeed, sound like you found some traction this year...glad it feels like you're making progress. It's hard with these long-term's always so much more motivating when you can see the results.

And I second your suggestion to folks to write down what they've done. It's amazing what you can forget! You inspired me to go look back at this year's accomplishments (as recorded in my blog) and I had forgotten that I built a root cellar this year! All I remembered was feeling burned out at the end of the summer.


Anonymous said...

I read your past post at

I am not talking about recasting your mortgage for the benefit of a smaller monthly payment. In fact, it seems I used the wrong term when I used that word.

I am talking about re-amortizing your interest table.

If your loan was amortized, for example, to have a $1,000 payment, each month's interest was "set in stone" for the payment schedule ahead of time.

The first month you were paying $950 towards interest and $50 towards principle. The 240th month you would be paying $50 towards interest and $950 towards principle. Payments #2 through #239 were declinging amounts of interest from $948 down to $52. Those amounts were put into the computer ahead of time.

However, if you get WAY ahead on paying the principle, the bank does NOT refigure the amount they expect you to owe them for interest in any given month (unless you have a really progressive bank).

You could be $10,000 ahead in paying down the principle, but the official schedule still says you owe $892 in interest in month XX. If you ask them to re-amortize the interest schedule to reflect the new lower principle balance, you could be saving a significant amount each month.

Dmarie said...

a most impressive list of accomplishments for one year. look forward to seeing all you do in 2011. And love it that you post your goals on the sidebar...great way to stay focused & for me to follow along. thx

Kate said...

Jimmy, I guess we have a really progressive lender then. I've watched the interest/principle ratios change over time, via the online amortization schedule they offer, as we've paid ahead more and more. We haven't ever had to ask for this, so I was unaware that some lenders don't automatically do so.

Dmarie, thanks. Posting the goals on the sidebar does keep me focused. I had no idea how many readers follow along, but now I know at least one does!

Kate said...

Emily - sorry I overlooked your comment. I'm glad this post inspired you to take stock of what you got done this year. It was nice to read about your accomplishments too. You did well!