Friday, December 17, 2010

Goals for 2011

Time for another foolhardy and overly ambitious list of goals for the new year.  Publicly posting my list both spurs me to get more done each year, and also hangs over my head like lead-clad obligation.  Part of the process of assembling a list of goals is not just prioritizing among all the things I'd like to achieve, but also trying to figure out which out of all of those are most likely to see the light of day.  I haven't proven too accurate with this.  I end up doing things I didn't think I'd get to, while neglecting others that I thought would rank higher in priority.  If only I'd been clever enough to put the task I was going to do on the official roster, I'd have one more item to scratch proudly off the list.

Since this is also the time honored season for reflection, I do have some self-analysis to burden you with.  Early this year, facing another overloaded spring schedule, I experienced a sort of homesteader's burnout.  Although I thought I'd been taking projects a few at a time, it all just seemed too much.  Since beginning the homesteading venture in 2007, I've kept hoping, with each new year, that we'd get past most of the heavy lifting jobs, and reach a point where only the day-in, day-out routine and the changing work of each season needed to be done.  I dangled the excuse that all the extra projects that needed doing were once-and-done things.  But that rationalization wears thin when every new year brings an equal number of major projects.  I face each spring a year older, and lately I feel each and every year of my age.  So what I've resolved from now on is to do away with the psychological carrot - the idea that if I can just get this or that big project done, it'll be nothing but coasting from then on.  Clearly that's not going to be achieved in the coming year, so I may as well stop kidding myself.  Today all I can honestly tell myself is that at this moment, I feel up to another year of very hard work.  It may be the last year of what sometimes feels like Herculean effort.  Or, more likely, not. All I can do is take it from here and see how it goes.

Already the roster of projects to tackle this coming spring is a little daunting.  This spring needs to include the pruning of fruit trees, putting in more asparagus crowns (more below), planting one more apple tree, starting about 20' of hedgerow with new plantings, and all that goes into starting up the annual garden.  Seed starting alone is a pretty big task that stretches out over weeks.  Everything else will have to fit into the docket during the rest of the year.

One thing I'm not committing myself to for next year is a new species for the homestead.  After all, this year I violated my own one species per year rule.  We'll try again with honey bees, and hope to do better by them in 2011.  I have, however, been toying with the idea of keeping quail for some time.  While I emphatically do not want to put myself on the hook for figuring out how to house and productively keep a new species, neither am I ruling out the possibility by resolving not to try a new species next year.  Novel idea: leave myself some breathing room.  If late spring rolls around and I feel like I've got all my major projects under control, I can revisit this issue.

So, without further ado, here's what I'm going to be working on over the next twelve months:

Plant a second apple tree - We cut down our hemlock tree in the backyard this year, and even lasagna mulched a spot nearby in hopes of making the digging go a bit easier.  The intention is to replace the hemlock with an heirloom apple tree and at some point to graft some scion wood from our old apple tree onto it.  Currently our venerable apple tree is a consistent producer of fine apples for eating and cider.  But it won't last forever and the variety is unknown.  So all we can do is, in effect, clone it by adding some of it to a new tree. We'll put in an Ashmead's kernel apple tree near where the hemlock stood.  This variety is practically a legend of unparalleled flavor, and is known for its excellent keeping qualities.  It will need a few years of growth before it either bears any fruit or is ready to take a graft from another tree.  In the meantime, we'll need to find someone who knows grafting.

Start a hedgerow where part of our fence blew down - I plan to start with a few hazels and perhaps a medlar.  These plants will need some time in the ground before we plant anything else with them.  The hazels put all their early efforts into root development, showing top growth only after a few years.  We'll give them those few years as a head start and then add faster growing plants.  In the meantime, I can work on improving the soil quality along that fenceline, and on propagating seedlings of hedgerow candidates from the plants we already have on the property.  It's going to be a slow moving project.

Convert half of one long garden row to asparagus plantings - It became apparent to me this year that we don't have nearly enough asparagus plants.  Since the layout I chose for the garden this year is permanent, we can simply make one of the beds a perennial area.  Yes, this is a fairly major spring project, since asparagus likes to be planted deeply.  But spring is when asparagus needs to be planted.  If an additional 25 crowns still doesn't meet our asparagus needs, we can think about adding another 25 plants in a couple of years.  We do love our asparagus, and those lovely spears pop up when precious little else is available from the garden.

Continue to load up on soil amendments from our township - Each weekend in April and May our township will dump a frontloader scoop of mulch or compost into the bed of one's pickup truck for $10.  We got at least one load every weekend the service was available this year, and I'd like to do it again in 2011.  The addition of that much organic matter has made a big difference for our garden.  One more year of this treatment ought to pimp our garden out beautifully.

Try starting new figs and other plants from cuttings - I've never started anything from a cutting before, but the figs must be pruned, and we'll need a lot of plants to populate the hedgerow I envision.  So I'm going to try using the willow rooting hormone solution in spring.  It might even work. 

Improve over 2010's harvest tally - Okay, so 750+ pounds of harvest from the backyard seems pretty good, given the crop failure of the heavyweight winter squashes, and a kinda sucky year for potatoes.  But we should be on a steady ascent path as the perennials come into production.  Barring any weather disasters or plagues of locusts, our maturing pears, cherries, blueberries, figs, elderberries, grapes and asparagus should all produce better than they did in 2010.

Build a better apple grinder from a used in-sink garbage disposal.  This is something I read about a few years ago, though I can't say where.  So far it's never been a high enough priority to make it onto a formal list of goals.  But this fall I got an object demonstration of the difference in yields between a commercial press and the old-fashioned grinding and pressing we do.  It's profound.  Given that apple pressing is a lot of work for a fairly small yield, it only makes sense to do a one-time project that will lead to less work and higher yields in the future.

Get serious about using the rocket stove and solar oven - Basically my goal of more sustainable cooking was a a bust this year.  I managed to prepare just a few meals with these two alternate means of cooking.  The late completion of our passive solar array severely delayed my ambitions to build a cooking station for the solar oven, since the plan was to use the framework for the array as part of the station.  I didn't want to get in the way of the contractor while he was still working out there.  I have less of an excuse for the rocket stove, but it didn't get done.  I need to make it more convenient to use these alternative means of cooking in 2011 - and then use them.

Hoop house - Here's next year's burnout bait.  This is the biggest, most labor-intensive project that I'm committing to this year.  It doesn't have to be done in the spring, but it ought to be in place by late summer for season extension.  The idea is to situate it where the shunt for our passive solar thermal system dissipates excess heat into the ground during the warm months of the year.  Should be both a challenge and deeply satisfying to tackle such a project.  Then I hope to house our hens in it during the winter months, allowing them plenty of light and relieving us of the work of rebuilding their winter quarters each year.

Rig drip irrigation from the rain barrel(s) for the main garden bed and the three sisters bed.  We were able to salvage some drip hose a while back.  It would have been great to have this irrigation in place this year when it was so dry.  Of course, Murphy's law states that if we get organized with our rain water-fed, drip irrigation system, we'll have another sodden year like 2009.  Still, it ought to be done.

Continue gleaning for the hens - We did pretty well with provisioning our hens via acorn gleaning in this mast year.  Next year I'd like to match our 75 lb. haul on acorns, though I'm willing to make up that weight with hickories or perhaps even black walnuts if that many acorns just can't be found next year. 

Build at least one more cold frame and get them all planted on time - I seeded the cold frames a bit too late this year, and the plants definitely look undersized at the moment.  I know they'll resume their growth in just a few short weeks to give us early produce.  But it would have been nice to have them available sooner.  I think I need to aim for August sowing; it's just so counter-intuitive to plant in the hottest stretch of summer.  I may need to strategize some way to cool the cold frame beds when it's that hot.  My sense is that we'll be building one new cold frame each year until the oldest one wears out, at which point we'll switch to rebuilding the rotted ones. 

Learn more about medicinal herbs - I've added quite a few culinary and medicinal herbs to our property over the last couple years.  So far I've made a few salves and used lemon balm as a calming tea.  I know what to do with the culinary herbs, but not much about using them medicinally.  The easy excuse this year was that the plants were not sufficiently well established to harvest much from them.  That won't fly next year, and the reality is that I simply haven't found the time to apply myself to any rigorous study of a rather vast discipline.  I suppose it's better to have put the plants in and waited to figure out what to do with them, rather than studying up and only later getting around to planting things.  By the end of 2011, I want to know more about how to use valerian, feverfew, self heal, yarrow, comfrey, chamomile, lungwort, skullcap, sweet woodruff, lavender, stinging nettles, elder, and the culinary stuff too: garlic, sage, mint, anise hyssop, thyme, oregano, rosemary and lovage.  If you have any recommendations for books, videos, or online resources for learning about medicinal herbs, I'd welcome them.

Work on feeding the flock from our own resources - In lieu of committing to another species for the homestead, I'd like to retrench on the livestock we've already got.  I want to devote some serious thinking, planning, tinkering, and experimentation to feeding our chickens from resources internal to our homestead.  There are several specific areas I want to explore, including black soldier fly larvae "cultivated" in a homemade Biopod knockoff.  So building one of those is an official goal. Beyond that, I think it's time to expand our vermicompost bins into something larger and more productive.  At this point we should be getting some chicken feed from the worm bins, and I'd like to step up the scale by at least an order of magnitude.  There's a good chance a larger vermicompost bed can be incorporated into the design of the hoop house, so we'll see how that goes.

Finally, a couple of non-specific goals:

Continue to host volunteer muscle - The WWOOF program has been a godsend for us in the latter half of 2010.  It both pushed me and allowed me to get more things done around the homestead, without completely burning myself out.  Aside from that obvious benefit, it has given me an outlet for my pedagogical tendencies while also taking the pressure off my husband to be my second set of hands for innumerable tasks.  He does, after all, have a day job.  There's not much I can do directly to recruit more volunteers, other than being registered as a host.  But I'll do my best to work with the schedule of anyone who asks to come.  Having willing and able help has been a tremendous resource.

Improve chest freezer management - This is a token housekeeping item for my list.  It's not all that easy to quantify, but there's simply too much food hanging around too long in the chest freezer.  This year when it was time to press our apple cider, we still had a few liters of last year's cider in there.  Right now the freezer is completely full and we have a rather stupendous amount of frozen meat that we postponed eating for months because we had so much produce coming in from the garden that needed to be eaten up.  Somehow I've got to manage our frozen stores better.  I suppose a good first step is to stop buying anything that I'd need to store by freezing.

Continue to pay down the mortgage as aggressively as possible - This one is pretty self-explanatory.  Our mortgage is the only debt we carry month to month.  And it's a liability I would dearly, dearly love to be out from under.  Given that 2011 may very well be the last year my husband holds on to his job, we need to keep a tight control over our spending, and make the best headway we can against the principle.

I think that about wraps up my ambitions for the new year. Once again, the list of tasks is no shorter, despite all that we've accomplished thus far.  I could rattle off a dozen other projects I'd love to see done in 2011, including building a sauna, an outdoor bread oven, and starting miniature dairy goats.  But those, I trust, will be projects for another year.  What I've listed above, plus all the things that come along even though they aren't on this list, will more than suffice to test my mettle.

What's on your list of goals for 2011?


tansy said...

sounds like a great list of goals!

i can help a bit with the herbal medicine might be interested in a project i'm starting in january, herbal ally. basically, you pick 1 herb to study for the entire year, to get to know intimately. you can read more about the project here:
and here:

i'll be posting more about it once i get caught up on getting the next issue of herbal roots zine finished...

Dea-chan said...

As a thought, I'm always looking for ways to get my hands dirty in the day-to-day of homesteading (currently living in Boston, which isn't so homestead friendly, nor is my fiance totally on board :-P). If at any point you want to have a big work weekend or some such, I'd be willing to go out and help.

louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife said...

I haven't finalised my list yet but I've got a few goals in mind that are similar to yours - for example, after our try-everything-in-our-new-garden policy this year, I definitely want to see our harvest tally raised considerably next year. I haven't decided how to calculate the output though - weight is fine for many things but we grow a lot of salad leaves and herbs, which are worth far more to us than they weigh!

I also want to learn how to take & propagate cuttings from every suitable perennial in our home & garden - I've just found a convenient willow tree that I can use to try your root hormone method.

I'd like to make cold frames too and a portable chicken run so the hens can weed/de-slug my beds for me, without me having to keep a constant eye on them. I'm also with you on becoming more self-reliant when it comes to chicken food - there are plenty of acorns for the taking around here but I only collected a few lbs this year; ditto edible greens.

Can't wait to get started in the garden again!

meemsnyc said...

This is a fantastic list of goals. We have an ever growing list also, which includes building a garden shed / greenhouse, a hoophouse, and planting more fruit trees. Good luck on your goals! I'm sure you'll accomplish them.

Wendy said...

Wow! That's quite a list.

My big to-do project this coming year ... well, there are two of them.

The first is to (finally!) build the outdoor cooking area I keep talking about. It would just be so much better for us, given the maple syruping season and all.

The second is to build a pergola/trellis system in the front yard over the leach field and use it to hang a bucket garden. Underneath will be the picnic table or some sort of seating area, which will make a really nice place to hang out during the summer and fall ;). Depending on how big we make it, it could give us significantly more planting space. We already have all of the materials we need for the project, and there are just no excuses not to.

Dmarie said...

oooh, I need to get serious about using my SunOven too! thanks for sharing an awe-inspiring list.

Bev said...

Your list is very much like mine would be if I could ever get it together enough to actually write it down!

Regarding the asparagus, I've had great success with planting asparagus seed directly in the garden following instructions in "Gardening when it Counts" by Steve Solomon. It really is less work and surprisingly, doesn't really take longer to get harvestable spears.

Jen said...

Thanks for the inspiration. I hear you about those one-time-only projects that come up every year, no telling what this coming year will bring but I'm sure we'll be up to our ears in it.
my goals for the coming year:
- work on better cold storage - our house is so well insulated, basement included, we have struggled to store things like carrots & apples. Next year we intend to use our bulkhead space, which should be cooler than the basement but hopefully not below freezing.
- correlate how much of each thing we grow with how much we eat - doing better on this, but need fewer green beans, more dry beans.
- match diet to what we can grow - we still use a lot of wheat and oats, need to figure out how to eat more of what we can grow (flint corn, popcorn, potatoes). Fermented foods too - easy to make and store, I just need to work them into the family menu.

Bellen said...

Boy am I impressed. I usually spend the week between Christmas and New Year's making my written list of goals. I've tried to end each month with 'goods and bads' and then compile it but so much has changed this year - a terrible year medically and a big apartment complex being built behind us - that I'm going to have to rethink the whole thing.

Anyway - good luck with yours, you are well on your way.

Joel said...

I had a wild idea about asparagus, that I might not be able to test for a while. If it seems to have merit, it might be worth a shot.

My idea is to plant a lot more densely than recommended, maybe up to double, and to interplant green and purple. In a given patch, let one color of asparagus spring up and grow for the first half of the warm season, while you're harvesting the other color. Then, halfway through the season, cut down the foliage that has been growing, and let the other color of plant start recovering its energy while you harvest any new shoots from the color of plant that was just cut down.

That way, most of the sunlight can be used, all through the season.

This would probably be a bad idea where water is a limiting factor, but I get the general impression that water is abundant in your case.

Jennifer Montero said...

Your list sounds epic, but you've got the experience and maturity to know that it's going to be hard. And the skills to do it, if it's humanly possible!

I put my foot down on any more new species too. My main goal this year it to streamline my work, so I'm working smarter not harder. New systems (eg rain gathering), and potentially a new barn with hard standing. I'm also considering growing a hectare of barley to produce my own animal feed.

I can feel myself getting older too so I need to get machinery for the heavy lifting (which never goes away) or staff to help.

I didn't manage to dig out and take down a polytunnel frame I bought before the freeze set in here, so nature's put the kibosh on that project for now. And spring greens with it.

I hope keeping the blog is on your list - I learn great tips from checking in with you!

Kate said...

Tansy, thanks for the invitation. It sounds like a good place to start.

Dea-chan, how sweet! We definitely have big work weekends in the spring, and at other times of the year too. How should I reach you?

Louisa, I have a scale that measures down to a tenth of a gram. I use it for all my herbs and greens, which are often harvested in tiny quantities, weight-wise. If you were so motivated, you could weigh your harvests and then calculate their value and record that way. MOFGA over here in the States offers a running average through the growing season, for organic prices on various produce at farmer's markets. A bit cumbersome, perhaps with a dollar-pound conversion, and also perhaps not entirely reflective of the prices *you* would be paying. Maybe there's something similar in the UK?

meemsnyc, good luck on your list too. Sounds like you'll have a busy year.

Wendy, yeah, I know. Probably overambitious. A pergola for grapes is sort of on our list too. Just not officially, of course. Good luck with your projects in the new year!

Dmarie, yeah, we all need to be better practiced with such things if we've got the equipment.

Bev, I may well try that this year. Glad to hear it works, and thanks for endorsing the method.

Jen, finding the ideal storage space can be tricky. And as I found out this year, when one depends on spaces cooled by nature, one has to wait on nature to cool them. Our root cellar didn't really cool down until very late November this year. Good luck on your goals. They sound like good ones.

Bellen, a monthly check-in with yourself sounds like a good practice. I find the end of the year is about the only time I really take stock though. Just too busy during spring and summer!

Joel, it's an interesting idea. I'm no expert with asparagus at all, but I would be reluctant to curtail their energy-storage season. Winters here are tough, so the plants need a good run of months in which to photosynthesize and make those stores. But I'd be most curious to see a long-term study if you every undertake such an experiment. I believe you're in a more forgiving climate than I am.

Jennifer, you give me far too much credit for knowing what the hell I'm doing, or my own limits. Working smarter but not harder has been on my agenda for a while now, but evidently I'm not smart enough to work smarter. I can't seem to figure out how to make that one happen. Please -please- fill me in if you figure it out. I will recommend WWOOF to you though, that's the only thing I've stumbled on to so far that really makes a big difference. Good luck on your goals for the year. I look forward to reading about how they progress.

Meghan Finch said...

Perhaps this is the Apple Cider Grinder and Press you've seen?

I've never built it, but it's always looked like a great idea!

Margaret Yoder said...

I don't think you really need to plant asparagus so deep - Here's a quote from the Ohio State University Extension website: "Dig a furrow no deeper than 5 to 6 inches. Research has shown that the deeper asparagus crowns are planted, the more the total yield is reduced," although he doesn't list his sources. Here is the website:

Anonymous said...

Holy cow, Kate - I just finished writing a long post about burning out and how I need to avoid that...and I come over here to catch up on my blog reading and find you've been pondering the very same thing! If you get it figured out before I do, let me know, ok? :)

I hear you on the "just one more big project" thing, and also managing the freezer. I think that learning to manage established systems is a big project in itself. I know what it takes to set up new lasagna beds - but I actually don't know what it takes to keep them going after a couple years. I think this year, I find that out...

On your cold frames - here's a tip I picked up that might save you yearly rebuilding. Tack a "sacrificial" 1x2 on the bottom of each board of the cold frame. When it starts to rot, replace the 1x2s...but the rest of the frame should still be in great shape.


Diane said...

The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses by Deni Brown (Herb Society of America) is the one I check every time I use a medicinal herb. It has more up-to-date scientific information than most. A lot of books still recommend herbs based on the very old "doctrine of signatures" which is total nonsense. If you want to learn about it get a copy of Culpepper, an early proponent. It will warn you what to look for in bad herbal medicine! It's pretty interesting too as an historical document. Dr. Duke also has lots of information on scientific analysis of herbs but his information can be difficult to apply.

Kate said...

Meghan, I don't think it was Herrick's design that I saw originally. But thanks for the reference; lots of good ideas from him.

Margaret, thanks for the tip and the reference. State Extension offices do some good research.

Emily, yeah, I hear you too. Each year I think it's going to have to be about refining and just maintaining what we've got. But every winter I assess what we've got, check in with my own sense of urgency, and all the things I hope to put in place before TSHTF. It's that sense that our time is very short that pushes me so hard. I always end up deciding that being a little burnt out is better than leaving things until it's too late. But yeah, the personal cost is significant.

Diane, thank you for the recommendation. I'll see if I can peruse the book via the library before buying it. I appreciate a rigorous, science-based approach to herbal medicine. While I recognize that plants are more than the sum of their discrete components, and that science is all too often reductionist to the point of missing dynamic effects, my personal style favors hard, concrete facts.

mary said...

I'm wondering if I'm the only person who read your goals and thought maybe you don't really want to do any of them?

Kate said...

Mary, could be. I've already started on one of them.

Paula Adams Perez said...

A really cool company out here in the West is Mountain Rose Herbs.

Their website has a list of herbal education links all over the USA, plus their YouTube classes are awesome. I found them originally as a great source of reasonably-priced raw organic coconut oil.

Kate said...

Paula, thanks for pointing me to Mountain Rose Herbs. I'm really surprised to learn they have videos. I've ordered from them but somehow totally missed their youtube clips. Thank you!

cgfluid said...

Great idea rigging a drip irrigation system from rain water barrels. Most yards require a little more than rain can provide though. Best way to save yourself some money is to install an actual drip irrigation system by a professional and see how great the benefits can be. Check out Orbit's website to get the specifics:

Andy Anderson said...

These books really were a blessing in understanding and using herbs for medicine.

The green pharmacy: new discoveries in herbal remedies for common diseases and conditions from the world's foremost authority on healing herbs
James A. Duke

Herbs For Health And Healing: A Drug-Free Guide to Prevention and Cure
Kathi Keville, Peter Korn

Encyclopedia of natural medicine
Michael T. Murray, Joseph E. Pizzorno

Kate said...

Andy & Cheryl, many thanks for the book recommendations. I'll have a look for them.