Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New Year's Resolutions & the 2010 Wishlist

Setting an explicit list of goals for myself seemed to work well for 2009. I didn't accomplish absolutely everything on my list. But it certainly kept me a little more motivated than I otherwise might have been. I'm also delighted with how much we got done that was never on the 2009 list in the first place. Since the list worked so well this year, I'm trying it again for next year. Here's a list of projects and some skills I want to work on in 2010.

Start a Meyer lemon & a few fig trees in containers - I've come across a number of good tricks for growing fruit trees that can't normally survive winters in my zone. This generally involves planting in containers and bringing the trees indoors in winter, even if that means into an unheated garage. I especially like the tip about wrapping a lemon tree in Christmas lights for the nights when it gets particularly cold. Over the next few months I'll monitor the temperature in my detached and unheated garage so that I'll have a sense of just how cold it will get in there around this time next year.

Make better use of shaded areas around the property - Soon I'll order ostrich ferns for planting next year. These are the ferns that are edible as fiddleheads when they first emerge. I'll also continue to propagate the ramps that are growing well in at least one shady spot on our property. There are several other shaded areas where they will probably do well. Both fiddleheads and ramps are early crops that will come up in the spring before much else will. Natural season extension. We're mulling the possibility of adding a blackcurrant bush under the large trees that shade our house or at the drip line of the apple tree. The shade might be too deep to see good production from a blackcurrant. Though if we thinned the canopy it might work. Much to think on for this goal, and I'd love to hear your suggestions.

Plant more culinary and medicinal herbs - Since switching into serious gardening mode, I've come to appreciate the value of perennials more and more. In terms of self-sufficiency I've also begun to move beyond the low hanging fruit of food production and into the more challenging area of medicine. Herbs fit both categories. So this year I'll be adding several herbs to the mini homestead, including garlic chives, valerian, uva-ursi (bearberry), sweet cicely, evening primrose, St. John's wort, yarrow, and peppermint - in a container of course. I'm especially interested in perennial herbs that can tolerate some shade, in connection with the previous goal.

Better fruit tree pruning this year - Last year I did only minor pruning on our old apple tree that should really have had major pruning. Like many spring chores, this is one that gets by us too easily.

Add honeybees to the homestead and find a beekeeping mentor - 2010 is definitely the year for it. My only requested gift for the coming holiday season is beekeeping equipment. Though we may not harvest any honey in the first year, we should see improved pollination of our apple tree and garden plants. This should be an adventure and a serious challenge. Having an experienced beekeeping mentor is supposed to help enormously, so we'll seek one within the beekeepers association we recently joined.

Load up on soil amendments in April and May - Every Saturday morning in April and May our township sells a front-loader scoop of either compost or high-quality mulch for a mere $5 to any township resident. The scoop is big enough to nearly fill the bed of our beater pickup truck. That's an incredible deal, which we took advantage of a few times this year. For next year, I'm making it a goal to be there for every one of those eight weekends for a $5 load. That means I'll need to stay on top of unloading the truck and spreading the soil amendments each week, but it'll all benefit my garden for a very low price.

Create a master plan for the "perennial swath". This is an under-used (read: heretofore mostly ignored) area on the south edge of our property. We waded in far enough this past spring to plant two cherry trees and a few perennial herbs. The rocket stove was also built right on one edge of it and the blueberry bushes are on the other end. It got a major clearing out late this summer by my husband, who seeded it heavily with cover crops. I took one look at that big, newly opened swath and though "winter squash for 2010." But we need a master plan and a real weed suppression system here, preferably to involve perennials that will not require too much attention throughout the year. I've envisioned this as a quasi-forest garden area. But I haven't put in the time to think about it in detail. That needs to get done in 2010, even if we don't implement the plan until subsequent years.

Add one or two Herbert blueberry bushes to my blueberry patch, and arrange deer/bird protection for the entire blueberry patch - 'Nuff said.

Cook more with our solar oven and rocket stove - It took a weekend to build our rocket stove this year, and I'm ashamed to admit that it has been used only a handful of times for cooking. It did come in handy for scalding when slaughtering our laying hens. But I want to become practiced in using this super-efficient stove and our solar oven next year. As an easy target goal, I will say I'd like to prepare a meal using the rocket stove at least once per month, and using the solar oven once per week during the temperate months of the year - from May to October. That's at least 24 meals prepared with sustainable energy. This shouldn't be too onerous, but it will require us to become more organized. One thing that's held me back is the limitations of the one-burner and very-high-heat nature of the rocket stove. I'm now seeking recipes for one-skillet dishes, and preferably dinner-ish things, that can be prepared entirely over hot flame. If you have any of these, please share them. Also, I would be far more likely to use the solar oven on a suitable day if I had a space outside set up to keep it level. So...

Build a working space for the solar oven - A level, waist-high surface in a sunny area would make it much easier to use the oven, which is ideally turned a few times during the day to track the sun across the sky. Additionally I would also like a little bit of working space around my solar oven. This would let me take something out of the oven, set it down, and then quickly close up the oven again if there are other things still in there cooking. A "countertop" would also allow us to serve up right outside if we wanted to.

Add more barrels to our rain catchment system and have the roof runoff tested - In an average year, we enjoy a generous amount of rainfall. So much so that I rarely water the garden once my plants are established. But droughts can happen here just as much as any place, and climate change is a wild card. I would also like a supply of water even if the electricity goes out, or if our ground water is ever contaminated. (We have our own well.) Setting up a rain barrel collection system just makes sense for so many reasons. The asphalt shingle roof on the garage is sufficiently old that I doubt there are any toxins coming from it now which we need to worry about. But testing makes good sense nonetheless.

Get a hand pump installed for our old well - As an emergency water supply, this just makes sense.

Eradicate more of our lawn - I hate mowing the lawn. It's one of those maintenance chores that gets me nowhere, but simply has to be done over and over again to no purpose. I don't see us ever getting out of cutting our lawn entirely, because it does provide for the hens most of the year, who in turn add nutrients to the soil. Rotating the girls over the grass means that they deal a blow to the turf every few weeks or so, which slows down its growth. If we add meat rabbits in the future, that will be another "legitimate" use for the grass. But I want less lawn over all, and more of it turned to productive use. We did eliminate one difficult-to-mow patch of lawn in late summer, and put the garlic in there. This naturally suggests that we...

Create at least one permaculture guild around our fruit trees - We have a huge old apple tree and newer pear trees which could become part of the lawn eradication project. This is going to require some wintertime research on my part to be ready for spring planting. It's also going to involve a helluva lot of lasagna mulching.

Dig a swale in the back yard to handle overflow from the rain barrel system; if possible integrate it with part of an apple tree permaculture guild. This should help create an area suitable for cultivating things that like moist soil. Perhaps celery. Or perhaps there's a perennial herb that likes wet feet. (Do you know of one?)

Build more cold frames and do more about season extension - My first (modest) success with a cold frame has left me very covetous of more cold frame space. We have more windows from old storm doors to use, and we have a good location to put them in. We just need to build boxes to fit them. We also need to put some thought into building a hoop house at some point. We could certainly be more diligent about season extension with just the row cover material we already have.

Improve on 2009's total harvest tally - I'm not aiming for any specific number in terms of poundage. I just think that as our perennial crops mature and our experience grows, we should see some increase in the amount of food we harvest and glean. Since our tomato crop was nearly wiped out by blight this year, we lost out on at least 75 pounds of harvest weight which we should be able to count on in a better year.

Take a more serious approach to gleaning acorns - The acorns from the oak tree that straddles our property line have proven to be a great favorite of our laying hens. I crush and feed a few handfuls to the girls every other day, and we are rapidly depleting the 25 pounds and change that I was able to collect from that one tree. I know of several oak trees in public parks and along pathways near the creek, and that's without having really scouted for them. I'm going to make it a priority to collect acorns from areas off our property next fall. At more than 1700 calories per pound, the feed value of this free natural resource is incredibly high. Not only will gleaned acorns reduce my feed costs, but it will help alleviate the fact that I'm feeding grains to my hens that could otherwise go to feed human beings. I won't set any harvest weight goal for acorns, but I'm going to try hard to make it a good haul.

Figure out how to squeeze a couple "hazelbert" bushes in somewhere - Hazelbert - that's a hybrid of filbert and hazelnut, apparently more resistant to eastern filbert blight. We'd need at least two bushes for pollination and they get pretty large, so sufficient space is an issue. This may not be feasible unless we're willing to sacrifice one of the last few mature trees left in our backyard (a maple or a hemlock). Also, we'd have to fight the squirrels and jays for the nuts. But they're my favorite nuts and in due time they would be an excellent source of fat and protein. A perennial, low-maintenance, high-calorie crop is nothing to dismiss lightly.

Take a first aid course and stock a first aid kit - On to our few non-food related tasks for 2010. I'm going to try to get this done very early in the year, before spring begins the round of gardening tasks all over again.

Take a gun safety course, buy a gun or two, possibly get hunting licenses - My husband has been itching to buy a gun for a while now. I told him no dice until both of us had gone through a safety course and identified a range where we could practice shooting on at least a quarterly basis. Fortunately, as an engineer, he can't argue with the sensibility of these preconditions. But he's been too busy to make this happen so far. We have no children, which lessens my concern about guns in the home. On the other hand, I am home alone whenever he travels. So having a self-defense weapon that I actually feel comfortable with wouldn't bother me. That's the key though - I don't want a weapon of such power in our home until I feel completely confident that we both know exactly how to use it safely. Another item to cross off our list as early in the year as possible.

Seriously consider buying an electric-assist bicycle - These are expensive, so we will need to see how our finances look by early summer before making any decision. I rode a bicycle as my primary means of transportation for 14 years. I did it, but didn't much care for it, since I had little choice but to ride in all weather, good or bad. Biking is not a form of recreation for me. Though we could bike to several of our most frequent errand destinations, the distances are not what I was formerly accustomed to, and the terrain here is quite hilly - also not what I was accustomed to at a younger age. An electric-assist bicycle would make longer distances, bigger hills, and heavier loads far less daunting to me. But I know this is a purchase that only makes sense if we really commit to using the bike instead of the car for a lot of trips. We need to give that as well as the finances some serious thought.

Build an arbor for trellising edible vines - Of all these goals, this one's lowest on the list of priorities, since it falls, admittedly, more into the aesthetic side of things rather than the utilitarian. We'd like an arbor that will support both some table grapes and my husband's hops vines. I envision a couple of Adirondack chairs under a breezy, green-shaded arbor with a gin and tonic resting on the arm of each one. This is a long shot frankly, but that's why it's called a wishlist.

Weelllll...I had hoped that all that we accomplished in 2009 would somehow make our workload lighter in 2010. But looking at this list I've compiled indicates it ain't going to be so. How does this happen? I think over this list though, and I delude myself into thinking that if all - or even most - of this got done, surely there would be few new projects to tackle in 2011. Right? Why are you laughing?

What are your goals, resolutions, plans, dreams, aspirations, or wishes for 2010?


Ivy Mae said...

Loved this post! It really boosted my flagging creativity and planning energy this morning. I'm in the process of blogging about it right now, in fact! Thanks for sharing.

Hickchick said...

That is an impressive list-love it! I think you have me motivated too, we are in a little different place though-starting with a 20 acre field next spring and building a homestead. I am gleaning all kinds of ideas right now. Kris

Sarah Head said...

Shade tolerant herbs include lemon balm, elecampane, valerian, sweet woodruff,solomons seal, wood sage and all those who grow in wooded areas. Give yourself time to get to know your valerian - people react differently to fresh and dried root extracts and you may be one of the unfortunate ones who go hyper instead of being sedated! If you're going to keep bees, think about quince and meddler trees for early blossom, they go mad over marjoram and mint flowers and michaelmass daisies, ivy flowers in the autumn. Good luck with all your plans - remember grape leaves and hops can both be used medicinally!

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

Good Post! I'm all for digging up more of the lawn for growing edibles...and bee keeping sounds like an adventure in itself... consider yourself brave... Also, I had no idea that chickens eat acorns... I'll have to be on the lookout for those.

Tree Huggin Momma said...

This is an admirable list. I too would like to grow Meyers and Figs which also means bringing them indoors. I too would like to do solar cooking, so my daughters and I will hopefully build a solar oven, after doing some fun reseach at the libraries. I have a shorter list of Goal, but I know if I put to much on it I will be overwhelmed. For me its baby steps.

Anonymous said...

in 2010 I am finally, finally getting chickens. That's as far as I've gotten with planning.

Unknown said...

That is some list! I agree that making a list gets you closer to the end goal than if you didn't make a plan at all.

My heart skipped a beat when you mentioned the lemon tree. I've wanted to do this for years! I think I'll make this a goal for 2010.

We have River Rock Cottage up for sale in order to downsize our house, but gain more useable acreage since what we have is mostly mountainside. It will make it hard to do any homesteading and setting of goals, but I probably will try. By the way, I started researching and purchasing bee stuff last year and one great suggestion was to do two or more hives in case one fails. Hope it's a success for you!

Anonymous said...

Hey, Kate I have some good info from a chemist I work with on rainwater/roof runoff I can e-mail you if you want. You can reach me at

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ria said...

Seeing this post has made me want to make a blog post of my own about my goals for the coming year. I'm rather new to taking this big step to living more sustainably and frugally, and don't have the resources that many bloggers do, but I think that making a list will help me take stock of the resources I do have and will help remind me to keep up with those goals.

debbie bailey said...

I love making Wish Lists! Yours is quite impressive. Do you have another Wish List for things other than gardening?

Siegfried said...

nice list!
you guys should try to build wind turbine (VAWT version) - check it on youtube, it's not very complicated.

jake said...

That is a VERY impressive list! I will have to come up with one of my own. Th problem is... my list is probably endless :) I do want to continue buying non-GMO / non-Monsanto seeds and drink more raw milk. Less processed food, more homegrown food.

In regards to guns. Smart idea. I too wihs to do something about it. Have you heard of Front Sight?

I've heard about them before on the radio. Pretty good deal. I think I read $1200 for a 5 day training course on how to use a gun. Its a down to earth training place, not a boot camp mentality and they treat you with great respect. From grannies to military people go there for training.

After training, you get a free handgun (a .40 or .45 cal), some free junk like hats and shirts as well as a 30 state concealed hand gun permit. Sounds like a good deal and one that I'll do with my wife if we ever do a training course.

Tammy said...

You might enjoy following along the one herb a week herd study at the Down to Earth Forum in 2010. They will post about one herb a week taking information from the community about is growth habits, uses and care to build a file on it.

Kate said...

Ivy, thanks. I liked your post too. It's so encouraging to me to see others on similar journeys.

Hickchick, 20 acres is huge compared to what I'm working with. I would like a little more room, but honestly I'm not sure I'd trade my 2/3 acre for that much more space. Even if I hadn't already put in so much effort on this little lot. There's something to be said for small-scale. Though limited, it also feels like an amount of space I can really manage effectively.

Sarah, thank you for the suggestions on the herbs. Elecampane sounds especially suited for our space. Unfortunately we don't have the space for a quince or medlar at the moment, but I'll see about some other early bloomers for the bees.

Mavis, I usually think of myself as more foolhardy than brave. (As El would say, "How hard could *that* be?") But thanks for the vote of confidence! And yeah, scout out the oak trees for your chickies!

THM, I kept my list short for this year, but then found that I'd mostly blown through it by the time summer was in full swing. So I thought I'd give myself more to do this year throughout the seasons. We'll see how it goes...

Ghost, congratulations! Chickens are the gateway livestock, as Novella says. It's true. They're remarkably easy to care for, and sure to lead to more species.

Amy, lemon starts are very small. So you could get one and move it if you need to while it's still pretty manageable. As for multiple hives, yes, we found the same advice. So we plan to start with two and see how it goes. I don't think I'll ever want much more than that, though who knows how addictive beekeeping can become?

Thanks, Ali.

Ria, I'm glad to provide a nudge. I agree that it's baby steps all the way. We all have to start where we are and work with what we've got.

Debbie, well, there are a few things on this list that aren't directly about gardening. But food production and debt reduction are my main points of focus. So, no, I wouldn't say that I have some other wishlist aside from this one. Unless it's just paying off the mortgage entirely.

Siegfried, interesting suggestion, thank you. I'll look into that, though we're not really in an area with good wind resources.

Dave, I had not heard of Front Sight. It's probably not for us since we can get free training from an NRA certified instructor - my uncle. He teaches basic gun safety as well as concealed carry classes. So it would be foolish not to take advantage of that free training. He's also a great source of advice on firearms in general, of course.

Tammy, thanks for the suggestion. I'll check that out!

Mike said...

Sounds like you're going to have a very busy year. You know if you're thinking of setting up a rain water collection system Rain Barrels are really easy to make yourself from recycled plastic barrels. I made two myself and if you like you can download eBook about how I did it.

Nick Stuart said...

Purchasing a firearm for personal protection at home. Consider a short barrelled, 5-shot .357 revolver.

Good knockdown
Mechanically simpler than a semi-automatic.
When it's loaded, it's ready
Takes .357 and .38 ammo

You'll get many shades of opinion on this.

Kate said...

Mike, yes, my husband made our first rain barrel from a food grade plastic barrel. I expect we'll continue with them for the larger system when. Thanks for the suggested link.

Nick, you said: "You'll get many shades of opinion on this." Of that I have no doubt at all. But I thank you for the suggestion nonetheless.

Jen said...

There is a book called "Perennial Vegetables" by Eric Toensmeier (2007, Chelsea Green Publishing Co, VT) that suggests many options for edible plants that grow in wet and/or shady areas, as well as other conditions. Many are not hardy to my zone 4 but would be great options further south. He also has lots of tips for the kind of care that harvested perennial plants need, as well as polyculture ideas. He offers some really great ideas for turning a small space into an edible ecosystem.
Your blog is always an uplifting read.

Chiot's Run said...

Good luck to your husband and his desire to get into hunting. I'd suggest trying to find someone locally that's into it. I come from a long line of hunters (I got my license when I was in 7th grade). My husband just got his and went hunting with my dad this year for the first time. He really loved it and is now hooked.

It's not bad to have guns around children, it's really good for them to be taught proper gun safety. We always had guns in the house growing up, and my dad always make sure we knew how to handle them safely. Because of that we would have never played with one as a toy. We learned proper respect for them. He taught us to shoot them at a young age so we knew the damage that they could do and the power that they had.

Good luck on all your goals!

Kate said...

Jen, thanks very much. I too found that many of the plants in that book would not work in my zone. But it's certainly worthwhile to peruse the possibilities. Toensmeier co-authored the big books on Forest Gardening with Jacke, if I'm not mistaken.

Chiot, thank you for the good wishes. I have nothing at all against hunting for food. I would be willing to learn, provided it doesn't involve too much suffering in the cold, and also provided it didn't interfere too much with my other priorities. Frankly, what I'd really like is for Mr. Frugal to learn to hunt well, and then take me along from time to time whenever I have some spare time.

Dmarie said...

looking forward to seeing your 2011 Resolutions!!

Kate said...

Dmarie, welcome! My list for next year will be up in another month or so.