Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New Year's Resolutions & the 2009 Wishlist

I never made New Year's resolutions when I was younger. It always seemed like a set up for backsliding, guilt, and disappointment. But a few years ago, I started looking at New Year's resolutions differently. Instead of promising to lose 15 pounds, exercise more often, or start flossing my teeth, I decided that I would begin to learn new skills, or add something to my homesteading ways.

Two years ago for New Year's I decided to learn how to bake bread. Now we eat nothing but homemade bread, and bread baking is part of my monthly routine that I take for granted. Last year I resolved that I would keep laying hens. Having four hens this past year was a great learning experience, and I never want to have a garden again without also having hens. I also learned to can this past summer, though that wasn't a formal New Year's resolution.

This coming year there are several skills or features I would like to add to my repertoire and mini-homestead. All of them have something to do with moving us towards greater self-sufficiency and will ultimately allow us to live a more frugal life. Anything fairly specific that I can do which will insulate us from the vagaries of the economic turmoil seems like a great idea these days.

I've already talked about adding another species to our budding homestead. I think what I've settled on is to add a worm bin, because it's a no-brainer, and also to work on adding rabbits for meat. That will involve building a tractor to keep them on our "pasture," and doing enough reading up over the next few months to prepare myself for the new additions. I'll also need to prepare myself for slaughtering them and processing them. I would like for us to have bees, too. But that will either have to wait another year, or my husband will have to make that his own project. I can only take on so many new critters at a time. Perhaps an item for 2010's resolution list.

It's also, finally, the year to put in an asparagus bed. I've waited years and years to do this. I had a cat for 17 years who loved, simply loved, asparagus. Had I started an asparagus bed, he would have found a way to kill it in the first tender year when nothing should be harvested. Dear creature that he was, we had to put him down this past April. He is missed, but we'll look forward to asparagus in his absence. We have a small but ideal space to put two or three raised asparagus beds, just behind our shed. Several other vegetables are to be given trial runs in my 2009 garden as well, including okra, Jerusalem artichokes, two types of eggplant, Brussels sprouts and some berries under and around our white pine tree.

So far these two tasks that I've set for myself are things I am eager to do. They will take effort, but not much self-discipline to put into practice. But there is one thing I've set myself to learn that I don't particularly relish. Sewing. I recognize that this skill is a useful one, but it's just not something I'm eager to learn or naturally inclined toward. But I'm taking up Sharon's competence project challenge, and I'm resolved to give it a go. Probably it will be best to get started on this very soon, while the weather is cold and I don't have outdoor tasks as ready made distractions. I even found a worthy frugal sewing project to get me started. I would really like to find a sewing mentor who can help me learn to use the sewing machine I have on semi-permanent loan.

We'll also be putting in a few fruit trees this spring in the locations where we chopped down nonproductive ornamentals this fall. We plan on two cherry trees and a dwarf apple tree, but we may yet cut down a spruce tree that is getting rather large and replace it with either a nut tree or a self-polinating pear tree. We still need to have the stumps of the old trees ground out before we plant. If we get around to it, we may also dynamite the forsythia out and replace it with some black raspberries. (I'm kidding about the dynamite, but that stuff will be damn difficult to remove.)

In general, I would like to try to do more bartering this coming year. So far I've done very little true bartering. More often I've given thank-you gifts to neighbors who have done us a good turn. My bread is good enough that I wouldn't be ashamed to sell it. I have an agreement in principle to barter some homemade bread for the pruning of our apple tree in the new year. I know enough about cooking to teach classes regularly. So maybe there's an exchange possible there somehow. And we'll have eggs from our laying hens again in the spring. Surely I could find ways to barter for some other services we will need.

One thing I would like to do but am unsure about is to participate in the Master Gardener's program in my region this coming year. I'm unsure about it because I don't even know if it's happening next year. There was no program in 2008 due to a glut of Master Gardeners. Even if there is a program, I don't know that I would be selected. There is a screening process, evidently. And it would be an ongoing time commitment, even after the classes are over and done with. The student Master Gardeners "pay" for their instruction with a agreement to volunteer for the counties that run the program. I think the number of volunteer hours is pretty reasonable, but I would need to double check what I'm committing myself to before I sign on the dotted line. My main reason for wanting to become a Master Gardener is to learn about pruning fruit trees, and to tap knowledge that is highly specific to gardening in my immediate area.

Ever participated in your county's Master Gardener program? I'd love to hear from you if you have!

So much for the at least somewhat realistic goals. On the wishlist is a greenhouse of some sort. It's unlikely to happen in 2009. We'll have a lot of other things on our plate, and there isn't much space to devote to a greenhouse on our modest lot. One of these years though, I would love to try a mobile greenhouse a la Eliot Coleman. I'll probably be thrilled if we manage to build a few modestly sized coldframes for winter salad greens.

So to sum up the resolutions list:

Meat rabbits on pasture
Asparagus beds
New vegetable trials in main garden, berries under white pine tree
Sewing (ugh!)
Fruit/nut trees
Do more bartering
Coldframes for winter greens
Master Gardener program?

-Wow. That turned out to be a much longer list than I thought it would be. Fortunately, several of these items are mostly once-and-done efforts. I'll use this blog to hold myself to these goals in the coming year.

What are your goals, hopes, dreams, plans for the coming year? What's the long-term vision that you want to serve with your goals?


resolutionista said...

Kate -
Surfing and ran across your list. I love it! I blog about my resolutions too. Stop by sometime. Good Luck :)
Kim Simpson

Anonymous said...

I am so inspired by your achievements in self sufficiency. I can only hope to be like you one day. I look forward in the upcoming year to teach my children how important it is to be more independent in all areas. Everytime I read your blog I get excited and can't wait for the warmer months. Good luck with all your new endeavors. You can do it!

The Country Experience said...

I just found your blog and love it! My h and I just moved and are anticipating planting our first garden in the spring, with all the produce that will hopefully result. Reading about your experiences has been educational and pointed out some things I hadn't fully thought out yet.

One thing I am curious about that I didn't find in your blog(it is possible I missed it): how do you get around needing a food saver device? A number of people I know say we shouldn't try to not getting one, but it's not a cheap purchase. But if I've gone to all the work of preparing something, I do want to preserve it....

Anonymous said...

Now now, sewing isn't so bad. I even manage to subsidize my habit by getting paid to hem other people's pants.

My list for next year also includes rabbits (building the rabbit ark now - very slowly), and I really need to learn pressure canning for low-acid produce. Keep posting!

Doyu Shonin said...

If it's any help, trees love to eat dead trees. I cut stumps down to the ground and if they are not regenerative like ash or maple or willow -- Douglas fir, for example, is nonregenerative -- then I plant the fruit tree right by the stump. Over the years, that's a good fruit tree as it has a long-lasting supply of dead roots to snuggle up to and draw sustenance from.

I also like to give prunings back to the trees they cam from, for the sanme reason. Snipped short, added to the mulch. If you're in frequent snow area, keep them back so that mice don't nest there and then gnaw on the tree when they get hungry; otherwise, they're fine right where they are.

kateS said...

Goodmorning Kate--

I've read your blog every few days now for the past couple of weeks, and just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy it! In the years I've been doing computer-stuff, blogs are something I've not had much dealing with. I came across yours in the process of a search -- I can't even remember what I was searching for, now. So many of the things you talk about are things that interest me.....I'm quite amazed....are you my sister?:) (And I'm also a Kate...) Anyways--thank you for the work and time you put into sharing your life, I really enjoy reading about you.


Kate said...

Okay, everyone, I am definitely feeling the love here. I'm touched that my ramblings have found any audience whatsoever. The chance to connect with people of similar interests is what draws me to blogs and to blogging. So thank you, all of you, for letting me know you're reading!

Country Experience, I'm not really sure what you mean by a "food saver device." I use several methods for preserving things I grow, including canning, dehydrating, and freezing. A few vegetables can simply stay in the ground too, even into early winter. I would like to have some sort of root cellar eventually, as that would provide a very low energy, low effort means of preserving the harvest. Please do follow up and clarify your question. I'm happy to help or offer whatever advice I can.

Jessica, thanks for the encouragement with sewing. I am steeling myself to start a little project. I'm just very inexperienced, not naturally talented with such things, and not terribly patient with my own mistakes. Not good traits for someone who wants to learn sewing.

Risa, thank you for the tips on tree planting. Unfortunately, our space is so limited that we need to plant the fruit trees at least *exactly* where the other trees were cut down. And I know some that we cut down are in fact regenerative. But I will keep what you say in mind for future plantings. Nice blog you've got too, by the by. The hydraulic jack felling was pretty impressive.

Kate, I wish I had a sister. As a child I probably wouldn't have chosen to share the same name as a sibling. But as an adult, I really wouldn't mind. Thanks for stopping by.

The Country Experience said...

Kate, our forays into freezing have not fared well and some friends & co-workers say they love and frequently use their Food Saver vacuum sealers. I really don't want to have to buy another piece of equipment(much less have to store it or waste precious counterspace on it) but, compared to losing the majority of what we freeze due to freezer burn, I am open to the possibility.

To answer the questions in your post, my household goals for the coming year would center around food:
-plant & harvest a food garden
-practice food preservation and utilization (learn how to can, dehydrate, prepare foods, iffy on the freezing),
-begin a small fruit orchard (plant a few trees & various berries this year, more next year, etc),
-possibly try raising chickens for their eggs
-learn how to make loaf bread that is so good we will eat it before it can go stale due to lack of preservatives (I tried a recipe that tasted good but dried out after only 2 days. )

There is room for improvement (a lot of improvement, IMHO) on our grocery bill so I want to address that and figure out how to keep my husband from feeling deprived. (He has the appetite and metabolism of a teenager so he constantly eats.)

We're just getting started so there is so much to learn. This is also our first year here so there are plenty of projects we want to do to better utilize the space for our purposes. Hmm, I see another list in my immediate future, lol. Maybe I should have chosen that as a name, Queen of Lists, lol.

Kate said...

C.E. I have a chest freezer, so freezer burn is much less of an issue for me. I think chest freezers can be a valuable tool for the frugal lifestyle. I've written several posts on the issues around chest freezers. If you don't want to invest in a chest freezer, I still wouldn't recommend a special storage appliance. I would suggest you look at other storage methods such as those you mentioned. Canning, dehydrating/smoking, and cold storage in a root cellar are all great methods.

A man named Eliot Coleman also pioneered a method for eating foods fresh from the garden year round, using unheated an greenhouse in Maine. So he doesn't use any storage method other than root cellaring. Granted, it's a big investment to get a greenhouse and a root cellar up and running. But it's definitely something to aim for.

We're only headed into our third year in our home, so I can definitely relate to the overwhelmed feeling of being in a new space. Take it slow but steady. That's the best way. And good luck!

Megancita said...

Master Gardener programs are often full. This is a different concept entirely, but just as rewarding: check to see if your state has a Master Naturalist program. With this program you learn all about the natural wildlife of your area -- bird, tree, plant, animal identification, etc...

The Country Experience said...

Thanks for your response, Kate. It isn't that we don't want to invest in a chest freezer--it is on the list. We're planning on buying one in January if we find the right sale.

Eliot Coleman--any reason to have a greenhouse is a good one, lol. Add the food factor and it's a very worthy investment. Now that I've read about root cellars, I know what the humps I've seen in some people's yards are!

Anonymous said...

Hey Kate: just getting around to posting; entirely too busy here for my own good but I wanted to give you a thumb's up on your list. Bravo.

I have a FoodSaver and I use it primarily for our meat birds as it really does keep any frost out. You have to freeze the birds first in the unsealed bags. It's a bit of a pain as I do hate paying for the bags but they'll keep maybe 3 months longer that way.

My list?'s a long one as usual, taking on entirely more than I have time for, but let's just say it involves four-legged creatures.

Lolly said...

I absolutely love your list! Mine is along the same lines. We had a small garden this past year that I want to be better prepared for this year. I also want to add some chickens and some goats. My biggest challenge will be to get the garden ready for planting. I have been reading the book "Barnyard in Your Backyard". It has some great information.

Anonymous said...

I am also starting an asparagus bed! I am so excited, and hopeful that my dog that is always looking for a comfortable place to nap doesn't disturb it. This new year, I and a friend are going to learn how to knit.

Your window quilt sewing project is definitely a good place to start. Basic curtains and tablecloths are the easiest things to create. Before you know it, you'll be making collared shirts!

Kate said...

Megan, I'd never even heard of a Master Naturalist program. It doesn't quite sound like what I'm after, but thanks for the information and the suggestion.

El, thanks. I look forward to reading about your further projects in the new year.

Mommy Mia, I've heard of that book, but only in a neutral way. I hope you'll post some thoughts on it, good or bad, when you've read it. Sounds like you'll have an exciting year next year. And yes, breaking new ground for a garden is heavy work! Fortunately, you should only need to do it once for each patch of ground.

Grey, I'm thinking that I may need to protect my asparagus bed a little bit too. Chicken wire would probably do the trick. There's a slight risk that the deer might get to it. If they did, they'd wipe it out, I'm sure. All part of the process I suppose.

Amy W. said...

I'm a Master Gardener for my county, and, while I have learned quite a bit, the program here has a definite education---as in we teach the general public about gardening---mission. I have loved being part of the program, and have been lucky to be able to contribute a lot of knowledge about vegetable gardening through a Plant A Row for the Hungry garden. I've also worked hard!

In addition, I've learned about working in a greenhouse and about aesthetic pruning of Japanese Maples. I haven't worked yet on pruning fruit trees, but every county is unique in its goals and focus. That may still happen for me.

I think my county is going to expand its food-gardening work this year, since so many first-time gardeners ahve already called in to the office for help. Another thing we get to do as Master Gardeners is answer the Horticulture "Hot Line" (not what the Extension agent calls it) and answer people's questions. That is often a real learning experience for me and always fun.

Kate said...

agwh, thanks for your comments. It sounds like you had a good experience with the program. I hope if I get in that I'll be able to learn at least a few specific things that I'm interested in. It's great that your county is focusing more on food-gardening this year. I think it's going to be crucial for more and more people. So what does the extension agent call the hot line?

Mistyeyed said...

Hi, Kate:

I just wanted to let you know that we used one of your quotes in our Blog, My Sweet Viscape. Check it out here:

Misty Faucheux
Social Media/Community Relations Manager

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

I have to smile, because we, too, had an asparagus-lovin' kitty. She would steal stalks off our plates, if we ever were distracted. Quite the stealthy hunter! No asparagus were safe!

Kate said...

Lisa/Rob, I know! If we showed a stalk of asparagus to our cat he would literally claw his way up our leg to get it. He would eat them raw, though he preferred them lightly steamed. Don't we all? I once heard of a cat who felt the same way about cantaloupe...

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

This may make you smile. My mango eating cat! How a barn cat from Central New York developed a taste for mango is quite a mystery.