About Me & the Ole Homestead

Why I blog, and read blogs
Like many bloggers, it's taken me some time to find the real core of my own blog.  I started Living The Frugal Life as a way to share information on frugality and to encourage those who feel out of control about their money.  I still feel that frugality and self-restraint are critically important qualities for adults, especially as we move forward in this time of economic crisis and into a future marked by much scarcer energy than previous generations have been accustomed to.  However, I've come to realize that bone-deep thrift is only one component in the life I'm trying to live.  As I continued blogging, I found myself writing more and more often about the garden, the hens, the meals I cook based on homegrown food, about self-sufficiency, and re-skilling for a future we're poorly prepared for.

I'm not here to argue about what the future will look like, or when peak oil is going to/did happen.  I'm not into doom, though I probably agree with 90% of what the average doomer believes. Given my grave concerns about what we are doing to our planet, I don't deny the occasional descent into fatalism.  I'm convinced that the future will be quite different from what I was raised to expect.  But I don't see the need to spread the fear that grips me in my worst moments  I'd rather roll up my sleeves and DO something than expatiate upon how screwed we are.  I call what we're doing about it thrivalism.  Because mere survival isn't something I aspire to.  I need to work towards a life that is manifestly worth living.

Offline I can be rather pedantic and a bore, nattering on about things that are apparently of interest to few others.  (Shocking, I know!)  I take pleasure in conveying information and ideas that excite me.  Blogging, which leaves the choice to take it or leave it entirely up to the reader, seemed like a natural choice.  No one has to feign polite interest in the blogosphere.  I read blogs to glean nitty-gritty advice about topics that interest me.  I want hard information, details, instruction in useful skills, experimental methods and results, and sometimes just some plain old inspiration to pursue a more self-sufficient, socially just, lower-energy, and happier life.  The blogs I read, mostly by ordinary, otherwise unpublished people, often provide me with more of this stuff than I can find in books or mainstream media. If you're here reading, I guess that's the sort of thing you want too.  Welcome!


Our homestead
Fairly regularly I get questions about how big my property is and what I'm doing with it. Here are some of the details.

My husband and I live on 2/3 acre in a semi-rural corner of southeastern Pennsylvania.  We bought our  130-year-old home in very late 2006 and have more or less been working on it ever since to make it into a functional homestead, doing our best to work within the restrictions of a property zoned only for residential use.  There is still SO much more that I would like to do.  We have made strides too, though I frequently have to remind myself of them. In terms of livestock we currently keep four six laying hens, a box of composting worms, honeybees, and we unexpectedly raised a turkey poult in 2010.   We're in hardiness zone 6b. Our main garden bed is about 2000 square feet (186 square meters) including pathways, with other growing areas making up about another 800 square feet.  We're gradually turning more and more of our lawn to productive use, though some will always remain so that we can keep our chickens in a rotational grazing system.  Aside from the annual garden, here's what we've got in terms of productive plants:
  • 1 mature apple tree - came with the property, harvests exceptionally late and makes great eating or cider, unknown variety, but we suspect Stayman winesap
  •  1 Ashmead's Kernel apple tree, planted 2011, not yet producing
  • 2 pear trees - planted 2009, 1 produced lightly in 2010-11
  • 2 cherry trees - planted 2009, 1 produced lightly in 2010-11
  • 18 asparagus plants in raised beds - planted 2009, now in full production, +25 more planted 2011
  • 7 blueberry bushes - planted 2009-2010, some produced lightly in 2011
  • 6 golden raspberry bushes - planted in 2011
  • 10 black raspberry bushes - planted 2010-2011
  • numerous volunteer wineberries, always moderately productive
  • 4 grape vines - wine varietals - planted 2009,  began producing in 2010
  • three small patch of ramps - planted 2008-2011, not yet enough to harvest 
  • 1 lime tree, in container, kept indoors in winter, not yet producing
  • 2 Meyer lemon trees, in containers, kept indoors in winter, 1 may produce in 2011
  • 2 elder bushes - planted 2009, began producing in 2010
  • 2 blackcurrant bushes, planted 2010-2011, 1 produced lightly in 2011
  • 3 fig trees, in containers, kept indoors in winter, produced lightly in 2011
  • 4 hazel bushes, in containers, to be transplanted in 2012-13, not yet producing
  • 1 Siberian peashrub, in container, to be transplanted in 2012, fodder crop for poultry

How much food do we produce here?

In 2009, the first year I kept good records, I produced just over 600 pounds of food for us, plus a good bit of food for the hens, which I didn't record, except for the acorns.  I wasn't maniacal about record keeping, so anything we ate hand-to-mouth in the garden went uncounted.  Three hens gave us 458 eggs during the 8-9 months we had them. 2009 was a cold and wet gardening year, and most of our perennial plants were too young to bear.

2010 brought the opposite extreme of weather: unusually hot and dry.  We produced 760 pounds of food and over 1100 eggs from four hens, with only tiny harvests from our perennial fruits.  We also had a squash crop failure and a poor yield in potatoes.  I expect we will easily increase our harvest tally each year over the next several years as more and more perennials really begin to produce.

It's still early in 2011, but the harvest tally is already well ahead of previous years.  I expect to harvest something in the neighborhood of 950 pounds of fruit and vegetables this year.  We'll see what the growing season brings.  So long as I'm blogging, I plan to keep a running tally of each year's harvest on the sidebar of my blog.  You can check in there on my progress for this year.


Other infrastructure
Aside from the perennial food plants and livestock, here are some other things that we've put into place that allow us to do many of the things we do, and which provide a measure of security for a low-energy future:
  • honey bees - 1 hive of Italian bees in 2011
  • root cellar
  • rocket stove
  • solar oven, and a solar cooking station 
  • mobile chicken coop and pen
  • passive solar thermal heating (currently being installed)
  • one cats for rodent control (and superb companionship)
  • canning equipment
  • a dehydrator
  • manual oil press
  • manual grain mill
  • rain barrel, eventually to be a larger barrel catchment & irrigation system
  • indoor lines for drying laundry year-round, rain or shine
  • plenty of garden, kitchen, and DIY tools 
  • beater pickup truck used for hauling compost, mulch, straw, and dumpster dive finds

Abstract assets - a few things that I can't take a picture of that nonetheless help us enormously
  • knowing local farmers who produce food in a sustainable, ethical way
  • a try-anything-once attitude
  • a clear understanding of what we consider ethical, and unethical
  • certainty that money and material goods are not the keys to happiness
  • our health
  • extremely low exposure to advertising (no TV, few magazine subscriptions, Adblocker, etc.)
  • unflagging curiosity about the natural world and a wide interest in many skills
  • nearby and supportive family
  • irregular but enormously useful help from WWOOF volunteers
    To see a list of the next few things we plan to tackle, look at the sidebar, or check out my most recent list of goals for this year.


    This page is a work in progress.  Anything else you think should be here?  Let me know in the comments.

    Last update: 11/16/11

    32 comments:

    Rachel said...

    Hello!

    I’ve been following your blog and would love to feature you in one of my articles about thrifty bloggers. I’ve been looking for bloggers who write about frugal living and practical skills—generally speaking, ways to thrive—and I’m very interested in the topics that you’re writing about.

    I’m part of a group that has recently created the website, Thrift Culture Now. For years, we’ve been researching to find the best ways for households to cut their monthly bills, reduce consumer consumption, and truly thrive. We started to publish this research in the form of ‘Thrifty Tips’ a few months ago. On our site (www.ThriftCultureNow.com), Monday to Friday, we give our readers a new idea for how they can cut their gas, cleaning, food, water, electricity, and health care bills. This is a free service, and those who sign-up can receive the new tip in their email in-box each day.

    We feel that practical skills play a crucial role when anyone tries to lower their expenses. Unfortunately, much of today’s population has no knowledge of the types of skills that people possessed just 50 years ago. Even a basic understanding of cooking from scratch, growing a backyard vegetable garden, or doing small household repairs, can save people thousands of dollars a year—and these are just a few of the hundreds of different practical skills that exist. We hope to put people back in touch with self-sustainability, even in the smallest way.

    We are, therefore, launching a new section of our website entitled, Thrifty Bloggers, where we’ll feature individuals who write about thrifty living and practical skills. We want to give people information that they can actually learn from, and we think that your knowledge and experience could really be of benefit to readers.
    If you’re willing, we would love to interview you briefly and talk to you about your blog and what you write about. We would feature this interview, with a link (either text or banner) to your blog, in our Thrifty Bloggers section.

    We invite you to peruse our site (www.ThriftCultureNow.com) and please let us know if you’re interested in being a part of this exciting, and mutually beneficial, endeavour.

    We look forward to hearing from you!

    Best regards,

    Rachel Grier (on behalf of Thrift Culture Now)

    keith "g-force' nahdee said...

    About Me and my Ole Homestead

    Hello y'all, I am a native american who lives for this type of living. Why would anyone care to buy pesticide laced vegetables is beyond me, when you can grow your own? I very rarely water my garden because the earth here on the rezervation is quite literally BLACK GOLD and needs literally compost, I just dig and plant. I use a shovel to turn earth, shave off the top layer of weeds/roots and till the living s--- out of it. There are NO helpers and I do all the work myself but, hot damn, it's great exercise for a 47 year old hottie like me, I love it. I live on the Walpole Island indian reservation in southern ontario, canada. A.K.A., Bkegwanong First Nation (where the waters divide). I plant anything and last year I started planting maples that pop up in our yard yearly. I have plenty of free land to work and by the time I'm dead, this place will look like an oasis on 'the rez', nobody else does what I do here and it should look cool in the future. I plant grapes, strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions,rose bushes, lilacs, green peppers, yellow/green beans, and these all grow great here. I also started some tobacco this year, 'first attempt' and hope to smoke my first batch this year. I checked tobacco seed prices and they are basically $ 10.00 for 200, what a rip off, I had a couple of plants that grew wild where I threw my cigarette butts and the tobacco grew 'wild'. I shook the top of these plants and thousands of seeds fell off the dried tops. I would have been pissed off, had I bought these because one tiny pinch of these would have cost me. Other than that I would also like to get into raising cornish hens for sale, $ 8.00 bucks apiece in the supermarket seems outrageous for these little birds which should grow fast. Other than thatlife is 'just peachy'.

    Extraordinary Ordinary Life said...

    What kind of manual grain mill do you have? I am wanting to buy one and would love some advice.

    Kate said...

    EOL, I have what Lehman's sells as the "German-Made" grain mill, with the complete set of attachments. I've only used it a bit so far, but baking season is ramping up. It performs well from what I've seen, but I plan to put all the attachments through their paces and then post a review on it at some point.

    Paula said...

    Hi Kate- After reading your about me, I realize that we have the same ideas (especially the pessimistic view of the future, although I think it's more pragmatic than pessimistic and I'd rather roll up my sleeves and do what I can to secure our future than just whine about it) and much of the same goals; we're debt free except for the mortgage, too, and have plans to pay it off early (which reminds me that I need to go pay extra on the principal, now that we're past the first of the month). You seem to be about a year or two ahead of me in what you've accomplished. We're saving for a metal roof so that we can install a rain catchment system (although I haven't figured our where I'm going to put the cisterns), among other goals. At any rate, it's good to see what you're doing, and I'm adding you to my follow list.

    Good luck with everything you do!
    Paula

    Vera said...

    Just found you Kate. I'm in SW France, and we are into our third year of building a smallholding. Love your blog. Glad to have found you. Your ideas are inspiring. Nice to have found a kindred spirit.

    Kate said...

    Hi Paula, nice to hear from a kindred mind and spirit. We've only been at this a few years ourselves, and it's amazing when I stop and look back, to see how much we've done and how much it's changed who we are and how we think. Tough work, but I wouldn't give it up for anything. Our house roof is slate, so theoretically we could collect rain water directly off of it. But I also wonder about the asphalt shingle roof on the garage. It's been there ten years, so how much is it really shedding at this point. And the runoff went straight into the backyard, where the garden is, until two years ago, so...? Anyway, keep plugging away at your projects and good luck with them.

    Vera, welcome. From a quick perusal of your blog, I'm impressed. When you say you're building a smallholding, you mean it. I'm not sure I could summon the wherewithal to do what you're doing. My hat's off to you!

    No1Plantlady said...

    Hi Kate,
    I stumbled on your blog when I was searching for some tips on planting garlic. It's not just the fact that you are pursuing a sustainable lifestyle, but that you take the time to blog about it and inform and inspire others which is AWESOME!! Your site has just become my new favorite!

    Lauren

    Kate said...

    Hi Lauren, and a belated welcome. Nice to have you here. I've got some new tips on garlic harvesting, but they'll have to wait six months until it's harvest time again. If you're still reading in June-July next year, I hope they'll be of use to you.

    Rick and Pat said...

    Hi.
    Just found this blog and I love it... I find it hard to find people who truly understand 'how things are going' and you seem like us to understand...
    Ihave so much catch up reading to do here...
    Ive added you to me 'friends' links too
    Patricia www.livingthedreamportugal.com

    Kate said...

    Welcome, Patricia, and thanks for the link. I hope you find useful stuff here.

    Matriarchy said...

    I saw a comment from you on a thread in Sharon Astyk's blog, and you mentioned being in SE PA. I am a long-time Sharon-follower, and I am also in SE PA (Berks). I just wanted to wave "hi" to a fellow PA "prepper".

    Kate said...

    Well, hello, Matriarchy! Nice to hear from a neighbor and fellow prepper. Sounds like we're close to one another. Would you like to meet in person? We could probably arrange it if that appeals...

    Anonymous said...

    Kate,

    I have been a lurker here for a couple of years...and am encouraged by what you do - THANK YOU.

    I too am in Southeast PA (West Chester Area).

    Any chance of an update on your solar heating project? I know winter is far from over but I would love to hear how it is going.

    Mag said...

    Hello

    I've just been dipping in to your blog for the first time and I'm hooked! Not only am I impressed by your commitment to all things frugal but also by the excellent documentation of your experiences in this friendly and helpful learning place.

    Thank you!

    Kate said...

    Anon, sorry to delay my reply to your question about our solar heat. The truth is that this is rather a sore point with us at the moment. Our contractor has not completed the job, and they system is not operating as it should at the moment. It's frustrating as anything, and generally I try not to think about it at this point. As and when it's completed and my frustration subsides, I'll probably be more inclined to write about it. Stay tuned.

    Hi Mag, and welcome! I'm glad you find this a useful place of learning. That's what I aim for, so thanks for confirming for me.

    L-A said...

    Thank you so much for the advice about the freezer! My husband and I just bought an upright freezer and were wondering what to do to fill it; I typed in "what should I fill my freezer with?" (which isn't grammatically correct, but worked) and found your great tips. I live in the Lehigh Valley in PA, in a condo with a three foot by twelve foot sunny area in which I'd like to grow something this summer. I will follow your blog eagerly to see what you plant and when, and how. . . good writing, very interesting. Thank you!
    L-A

    Matriarchy said...

    Sorry I missed the follow-up to my Jan 20th comment. Yes, I would love to meet up at some point! With so many friends scattered all over the internet, it's nice to think of someone nearby. And I want to build a brick rocket stove like yours! I don't know how to actually contact you to chat about it. You can email me through the email address I use to post here: matriarchy at gmail

    Jessica said...

    Hello from Ohio, We live on a small farm with milk goats and chickens. I recently started blogging and found your blog through looking for homestead/thrifty living searches. We also homes school our six children,etc. Anyhow your blog is neat. Thanks for posting!

    Rick said...

    Hello Kate, have been following your blog for awhile now so thought I would jump in and say Hi. We live in snowy Upper Michigan and grow veggies, with chickens (layers and broilers), Shetland sheep and a few yearly hogs. You Blog is one of the best, keep up the great work.

    Rick

    Kate said...

    L-A, welcome! You're not very far afield from me then. If you'd care to leave contact info here in this post, it won't be published, and maybe we could be in contact for homestead-related efforts.

    Matriarchy, email sent!

    Hi, Jess, and welcome. I'd love to have some milk goats someday. I'll check your blog to see what I can learn there.

    Rick, thanks for de-lurking and for the kind comments. It's always encouraging to me to hear from folks producing food in tougher climates than my own. My hat is off to you in snowy Michigan! If you ever decide to blog about your activities, please let me know!

    elle.mental said...

    I'm glad I found your blog! It sounds like you're off to a good start on your homestead. I have lived the last 20 years on a little homestead that started out in the country and is now surrounded by suburbia. We have an acre and have over the years planted 10 kinds of perennial fruits ranging from red raspberries to Granny smith apple trees. We grow most of our produce fro 3 seasons, and have in the past had chickens, goats, and rabbits. We are focusing on edible landscaping but try to make sure that beauty is taken into consideration as well. It is nice to see that others are striving for self reliance on small acreage. I look forward to hearing more about your adventures! Elle
    www.aviewfromthecottage.blogspot.com

    Anonymous said...

    Just starting following your blog, which I'm enjoying immensely. We're doing many of the same things, although we're severely limited with a 6000 sf lot (with the house and shed on it too), so aside from the gardens in the back and side yard, we've started to squeeze some edibles into the front yard and are contemplating a couple fruit trees for the front yard. We're having a great time while we prepare for what we HOPE won't happen. By the way, we're in Walla Walla, Washington.

    David Nash said...

    Your site is awesome

    Dorothy said...

    Hi! I just stumbled upon your blog today and have delayed my kids' bedtimes so I can read and read and read! I'm in metro-Detroit (5b/6a) and just started getting very serious about my hobby garden in the past 2 years. I can and track my harvest, too. I only wish we were allowed to have chickens!!! I love your attention to detail and the photos =)

    Erica said...

    Hi, just found your blog through a comment you left on Crunchy Chicken. Looking forward to following your adventures. --Erica

    Heidianne said...

    Wow. Your blog is inspiring. I know it's all about frugality,but how do you make a living to pay your bills, mortgage etc? Iam self employed, in the trades, and like many trades have been hit hard financially. One of the reasons I strive to learn how to grow enough food, preserve it and such is to sustain us, and be more self reliant. Love your blog! It's wonderful, and so many others on here are inspiring to me too.

    Kate said...

    Welcome to all newcomers and thanks for saying hello!

    Heidianne, at the moment my husband has a good paying job. So that covers our bills. But we're pretty sure he'll lose his job early next year, so we're going to figure out just how well our frugal lifestyle holds up with the trickle of income I make from various small jobs. We've long since cut expenses that many people regard as "normal" and we're racing to get the mortgage paid off and a few expensive house repairs taken care of this year. Next year will be the real test for us though.

    Beth said...

    Hi Kate,

    I just found your site, and after reading this page, I think we have a lot in common. Seems like you're further ahead on the path, and I hope I can learn from you. I'm in San Diego and we only have 1/10 acre, so we're limited on space, but we have the advantage of being able to grow pretty much year-round.

    On our little space we're now growing... almonds, hops, papaya, limes, bananas, figs, loquats, peaches, plums, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, and apples along with the annuals in the veggie garden.

    I also keep a little test plot next to the neighbor's driveway. Over the years that's been home to sunflowers, wheat, corn, edamame, and now sesame.

    Enjoy your adventure.
    -Beth

    sgtgriffsgirl said...

    Hey! My name is Jessica. hubby and I have 5 acres in Union Bridge MD (close to Gettysburg). We are working on becoming as self sufficient as possible. Our property is more woods than pasture. We have goats, a sheep, turkeys, chickens, ducks, bees, pigs as well as a veggie garden and fruit orchard. I knit, spin, bake and cook among other things. Hubby loves to hunt and build things outdoors. Like you, we aim to be self sufficient. We have no consumer debt (other than the mortgage). We have no cable, but we use the tv to watch occasional movies. We are interested in learning "heritage" traits. I always say I was born in the wrong era! We just bought our house last year, so we have a long ways to go. Keep up the good blogging work! I write about our place at http://victorygardenfarm.blogspot.com/. I look forward to following your blog!

    Kate said...

    Beth, it's impressive what you're doing with a little space. I'm always so amazed to hear about the "exotic" crops that some people can grow. Many that you mention are not possible for us here, but I think it's great that you have them in San Diego. Enjoy your adventure too.

    Jessica, hi and welcome! Five acres is awesome. Having worked with less than an acre I'm pretty sure now that we could be self-sufficient on five. Keep at the project; the early years seem so daunting, but it does get better and easier. Will check out your blog as time allows.

    S said...

    Dear Kate,

    Hello all the way from Florida!

    I've just recently become aware of the energy crisis that surrounds us today, and came across your blog entirely by accident, but I am so glad that I did! I've already learned so much, and am eager to learn more.

    I am also terrified because I can't believe I just didn't know so much. And I've got a little baby girl now whose future I've got to fight for.

    I'm curious to know -- how did you get into homesteading?

    I also have some beginner's questions I haven't been able to find answers to on the blog. They may be there, I just may be missing direction. If you wouldn't mind entertaining them (no more than 5 questions, promise!) please email me at dealsham at gmail.

    Thanks much for your blog and all the help.

    Best,
    Ayana