This article describes how we began our self-reliance path, and where we are now.
I am a retired career public safety employee with a secondary career of teaching disaster preparedness. My husband is in sales and has a past career in carpentry. We are both in our 60s and have four grown children. We were raised and still reside in Ohio.
The Move to the Farm
When our children were still pre-adolescent we moved from a small city (50,000) to our present location. There was something within us that preferred a country setting even though we weren’t exactly living in downtown Los Angeles. So we purchased a home with just over 10 acres with an average sized house and lots of space outdoors.
Our land is mainly meadow/pasture with some wooded areas. It was because of this “pasture land” that caused us to consider (and eventually purchase) livestock. The land is beautiful but the soil composition is far from acceptable, mainly clay and shale. This makes gardening a challenge, but not an impossibility!
As I stated earlier we live in rural Ohio, only 40 miles from a large metropolis. On different occasions I have perused SurvivalRealty.com with thoughts of relocating to the American Redoubt. But then I realized that what I needed was not a change of scenery, it was a change of attitude!
Our “true neighbors” are friendly but non-intrusive, gardeners and gun owners. But our closest neighbors are actually in a home on our property. Several years after we moved to our farm, we invited my parents to build on a corner of our land. This was extremely beneficial for all involved. As my parents aged and needed assistance, we were only 100 steps away. And our children received the blessing of growing up with grandparent involvement.
This residence is now rented by a friend who is like minded in the area of preparedness/self-sufficiency. This is more of a blessing than you can imagine. His area of expertise is security (more on this later) where as mine is food and medical. He is a wonderful addition to our farm.
Lessons learned from our property
- It’s easier to keep the land cleared than to play catch-up.
- Start small.
I would describe myself as a modern day house wife of the 1950’s. I have not ventured far from the way in which I was raised. I enjoy cooking from scratch, sewing and repairing clothing, cleaning house, gardening, and preserving food.
My handyman husband is in sales but has a background as a carpenter. He can build or fix anything if it’s made of wood. He also handles electrical and mechanical with ease and competency.
We consider ourselves blessed beyond measure but in reality we are your basic middle class family trying to live within our means. Our lifestyle is thought to be miserly by some but we are frugal due to our “low debt tolerance”. We have learned throughout the years that “new” is not always better, and that “best” isn’t always needed. The last brand new vehicle we purchased was in 1986! But you would be wrong to think we are scrooges or that every dime we earn goes toward prepping. We take vacations, have family gatherings, live comfortably, and have been happily married for almost 35 years.
Lessons learned from our family/marriage:
- Be on the same page- whether it is parenting, financially, spiritually, and goals.
- If you are not on the same page with your spouse/significant other, actively work towards it.
Our Prepping Awakening
We have always had extra food in the pantry and the freezer as well as being prepared for just about any emergency whether at home or away. But our journey into “hardcore” prepping began when I met a man through my second career as a disaster preparedness educator. He would ask me “what if…” questions and we would discuss different disaster scenarios. Then he mentioned the novel by William Forstchen, One Second After. I devoured the book.
It was as if my eyes were opened to the friviolousness of my previous prepping. I felt like a preschooler talking science with a professor from MIT. Looking back, we had unknowingly done what the professionals call a hazard risk analysis- we had prepped for the most likely of disasters, those being tornadoes and power outages. We were on the right path for disaster preparedness, just shortsighted in our planning. We needed to consider and plan for the possibility of long term grid down. Things were going to change.
I began with gardening. Remember how I said the soil was not suitable for growing vegetables? The past land owner had a spot where dirt had been brought in for a garden. I began growing vegetables. Some years I did well; some years the weeds won out. I realized that because of the location of the garden (it was over the hill and out of sight from the backyard) that I would often forget about it until the weeds were taller than the plants and the vegetables were nowhere to be found.
This problem was corrected by building some raised beds right outside of the back porch. Every year I add to their number and to the variety of vegetables I grow. The raised beds also seem less overwhelming when it comes to weeding. An author I read while researching raised beds suggested that you consider building your raised beds in the fall because you may be too busy in the spring. I found this to be true for us.
As the years passed, I began composting, building my own barrel composters from 55 gallon food grade drums. I still use the composting drums but sometimes I just throw the food scraps directly on the garden during the off season.
Several years ago I decided to buy a small (6×8’) greenhouse kit. My husband and daughter braved a cold April day to assemble it for me. Much to my embarrassment I haven’t used it to its full potential. It is more of a place of storage rather than a place of growth. I am trying to correct that this fall!
Lessons learned from our garden:
- Build raised beds in the fall when you will have more time.
- Start small. Increase gradually. Yes, I realize that I said this in regards to our lifestyle, but it fits here also.
- Grow what you will eat.
Preserving the Food
The next logical step was to begin preserving food- either by canning (both water bath and pressure canning), dehydrating, vacuum sealing for the freezer(s), and/or buying in bulk.
I set up some shelves in the basement laundry area which became my extended pantry. I purchased how-to books on preserving food and equipment for the process. Most of the equipment was used- purchased from Craigslist or at auctions. When a friend heard I was learning how to dehydrate food and using a small plastic dehydrator, he gave me an extra Excalibur dehydrator that has a temperature gauge and lots of room. What a gift!
When I have extra cash I make a trip to purchase foods in bulk, generally at a nearby bulk food store. The foods I get here are things like flour, sugar (brown, white, and powdered), and pancake mixes. I had read that most people cannot grow enough wheat to provide the amount of flour their family will need. For this reason I buy flour in 50# bags. Before sealing the flour in food saver bags, I store the flour in the freezer for at least a week to kill any bugs that may be lurking. I was given an electric grain grinder and I purchased #10 cans of wheat berries for long term prepping. These have a 30 year shelf life.
Another valuable source for bulk, long-term storage foods is the LDS (Latter Day Saints) Bishop Storehouses that are located throughout the United States. You don’t have to belong to their church to purchase from their storehouses. Most of their items come in #10 cans and have a 25-30 year shelf life. And they are reasonably priced. Check them out here: www.providentliving.churchofjesuschrist.org/food-storage/home-storage-center-locations
I also watch for sales on seasonal foods- but this may entail other purchases. For example this year when Idaho cherries were on sale, I purchased lots and then had to purchase a cherry pitter!
Some of the more helpful books are listed below. (And no, I don’t get compensation for mentioning them, but SurvivalBlog should earn a sales commission):
- Preserving By the Pint – Marisa McClellan
- Store This Not That – Crystal Godfrey and Debbie Kent
- Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Livestock on our Farm
About the time I started gardening we thought about making good use of the back field by turning it into pasture for potential livestock. Three sides were already fenced in so our initial costs were relatively low. I have a close friend who raises beef cattle and we held many discussions about raising our own beef. Soon we had purchased two jersey bull calves, each a week old. They cost us $75 each but that was in 2006. (I have seen the cost fluctuate between $75 and $650 per calf.)
Our initial supply purchases included milk replacer, bottles, penicillin (just in case), castration equipment, and dehorning paste. The greatest asset was our friend/mentor who saved the life of more than one calf just by a phone call! He also allowed us use of his calf hutches, stock trailer and truck when we were first starting out. Since then we have made our own hutches from leaking IBP plastic water containers. We also found a great deal on a farm truck (a beater with a heater) and a gently used small stock trailer. But these larger purchases were made eight years or so after our original calf purchases.
Chickens as “Layers”
I have read that most people start with small livestock such as chickens but my husband had bad memories of stinky chicken coops and gory processing from his childhood, so he was against getting chickens. But as I proved myself a worthy keeper of cattle, he finally relented and allowed me to raise chickens for eggs. We were careful with the placement of the coop (for the smell) as well as ease of egg collection. On the first day I brought the hens home, I was thrilled to actually get eggs! To this day, I still get a feeling of satisfaction eating fresh eggs from my “ladies”.
We also have four Pekin ducks that seemed like a good idea at the time we purchased them. Because we don’t have any body of water on our property a bathtub was placed in their pen. During the spring, summer, and fall they provide us with 2-3 eggs a day. These eggs I trade with a friend for his honey.
Because we only have 2-4 beef cows at a time, the pasture wasn’t getting eaten down like it should. So when a neighbor with Suffock sheep was moving away and looking for a buyer of their five ewes, we stepped up and bought them. They have done an excellent job eating not only grass but also poison ivy, bittersweet, and grape vines.
Just recently we decided to change breeds of sheep. Instead of Suffock which have wool that need to be sheared every year, we purchased Katahdin ewes that have hair and shed every spring. Both came bred so we will increase our Katahdin flock and hopefully sell off our Suffock flock next spring.
I also started a few years ago raising meat chickens. This decision was made when a friend offered to teach me how to process them. I started small- with only 6 chicks and I lost 3 of them before their time. But not to be deterred, I bought another 10 and was able to process them 8 weeks later. Now I raise 20 meat chickens twice a year and am pleased knowing where and how my meat was raised. And yes, I process my own chickens.
Because of my sweet tooth, I thought it would be a good idea to raise bees. My success has been limited but I am going to try at least another year… I was told early on that there is a steep learning curve when raising bees. I guess I just didn’t understand this comment. What this translates to is this: Keeping bees is expensive to begin and there is no guarantee that you will be successful. I attended day-long bee school, read “Bee Keeping for Dummies” by Howland Blackiston, and attended a weekly training session during the past two summers. But I haven’t harvested any honey. This is very frustrating due to the time, effort, and money that I have invested in this adventure. But because of this investment, I will try another year.
My last addition to the farm were meat rabbits. I purchased a pregnant New Zealand doe. Within 3 weeks she delivered 4 healthy babies. Only 3 months into this adventure, I now have several pregnant does, a buck, and 4 growing babies that will be processed in another few weeks. I plan on processing these here on our farm.
No Dairy Animals
The one area in which we have a great void is the dairy livestock. Because we are not able to commit to milking even once daily, we have chosen to not have either dairy cows or goats. To address this void, we have purchased powdered milk from the grocery store and long term powdered milk from the LDS Storehouse. Although this will only last so long, hopefully it will keep us going until we can barter for a dairy animal should things take a turn for the worse.
And no farm would be complete without the family dogs. They sleep inside but enjoy being outside when the weather permits. Besides their loyal companionship, they do an excellent job alerting us to visitors and shooing the stray livestock back into the pasture.
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)