Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Doing it ourselves.....

It really doesn’t matter how you word it - being self-sufficient, self-reliant, a homesteader or a prepper – it all means the same thing to me.  In general it means doing what we can as an individual or a family unit to support ourselves now and in the future.  

Will I ever be what I would consider 100% self-sufficient?  Nope.  My goal is to do the best I can.  If tomorrow was TEOTWAWKI (a prepper acronym for The End Of The World As We Know It) would I survive? Sure, but probably not my full life span.  Would I live comfortably?  Yes, for a while. 

Where to begin in deciding what level of self-sustainability I have or can attain?  First I want to take a quick look back 20 years ago when I was in my child bearing years.  I never would have been ready back then.  Then I may have known what a midwife was, but never thought “real” people would use one!!  Now, 20 years later, I actually have FB friends who are a Midwife and a studied Doula.  Okay would using a midwife or a doula be considered self-sufficiency?  I guess here (as in MANY areas of back to basics living) is where lines blur.  I don’t think there is nor has there ever really been an era where individuals had to do absolutely everything alone.  Oh sure towns may have been days apart, but there was a system of bartering and money even in the Wild West days.  So with all that rambling said I will move on to how I feel we are doing on our journey into self-sufficiency and living a back to basics lifestyle. 

I’m not sure when to begin so this won’t be in any special order.

Clothing:  I can sew with a machine and by hand.  I can make a quilt and repair clothing.  I can crochet, but not knit.  I am learning to spin processed animal fibers.   I need to learn to process animal fibers from “scratch” and would like to learn how to process a few plant fibers.  I want to learn to felt.  I will probably never learn to weave, but would like to if I ever have the money, room and time!

Household:  I don’t do many back to basic things in my house at the moment.  I do have plans to begin goat milk soap making.  Maybe someday I will move on to lotions, creams and balms.  Homemade shampoos? Probably not.  Homemade laundry products?  Yeah, I’ll try that.   I love essential oils and although I will never begin distilling my own I have begun using them for pest repellants, air fresheners and a myriad of other things.   I can cook on a woodstove, or better yet over an open fire.  I prefer the use of our cast iron pans, griddles and pots and know they will live on long past my natural lifetime. 

Entertainment (and knowledge):  I love the internet with the almost endless choices of things to study, learn and explore.  And of course don’t get me started on social media…. Yeah Facebook!!  With that said, can I live without it all? Of course.  I own a large cache of informational books and books for entertainment purposes. I have many decks of cards, board games and I can only dream of the day I might be able to force my husband to play cribbage with me because there is nothing else to do!  There can be much more to entertainment than games or books, wood working with hand tools in one.  I don’t have experience in that, but own the tools and may one day dabble some in it.

Pets:  Not much back to basics to go into here.  I will however say that by-products of our food (meat specifically) production fills a great niche in allowing us to feed our dogs and cats a raw diet on a small scale.  Flea prevention can be accomplished with just a few essential oils or even diatomaceous earth.

Transportation:  We have cars; we can maintain our cars….end of story? Not quite.  We own horses and are knowledgeable in the care and training of them.  We even own some horse drawn equipment that we could use with some training on our horses.  If however in the event of TEOTWAWKI eventually we would have to find a way to replace our horses since we have never bred horses and we don’t own breeding stock.  Oh, and of course we have our feet, snowshoes and skis.

Food (and the medicine cabinet): This is a huge category so I will try and break it down just a bit.  Meats are pretty much covered by livestock and vegetables I will cover under the gardening header.   I have books upon books about wild foraging.  I would like to try cattail tubers and flour someday.  I have tried some things such as milkweed (fried and pickled) that in a dire emergency I could choke down but won’t bother again for any other reason.  I’ve eaten fiddleheads and they are not a bad early spring treat.  Now leeks, morels and wild berries are high on my list of good eats to gather and preserve.  Speaking of preserving, I have much to learn about canning and preserving meats, but have been canning pickles, jams and jellies for many years.  Drying foods and herbs is newer to me, but has been easy to pick up.  Eventually I would like to build a solar dehydrator and get a nice big fancy Excalibur electric dehydrator.  Herbs fill a huge hole in the overall picture of self- sustainability.  Herbs can be used to flavor foods of course, but did you know they can be used for healing too?   I grow a couple of very large comfrey patches.  These don’t necessarily fit into the food category for humans, but fit very well into the medications section.  We use comfrey here for all types of skin ailments, bumps, bruises and cuts.  It has even been used on the goats, dogs and cats.  We aren’t really drinkers, but I LOVE to make homemade blackberry wine.  We have never added yeast to wines made from wild blackberries.  There is natural wild yeast on the blackberries so all you really need is sugar, berries and water.  It does lend a bit of a surprise to each batch due to the differences in yeasts in different areas.   I have to admit one thing though; I am still a boxed food junkie….. I like the ease of boxed potatoes and boxed macaroni and cheese.  But I AM learning to wean myself off of these conveniences, I no longer buy boxed brownies and I’m starting to make my own soup mixes.

Livestock:  We are traversing along our knowledge journey of breeding and raising livestock.   We are working on breeding pigs, rabbits, chickens and goats.  Could we maintain our breeding programs without outside stock?  For a period of a few years easily, but eventually we would end up with severe inbreeding of our pigs and rabbits.  The goats and chickens would last a few more years past the pigs and rabbits as we have a slightly larger gene pool to dip our bucket into.  We can care for many of our animals using mainly organic methods.  I have never tried herbal wormers, opting instead for the infrequent use of chemical wormers as needed.  We try and determine need by doing our own fecals and using the Famacha scale.  The livestock provide us with meat, eggs, dairy and fiber.  Learning to make cheese has been fun, but learning to make yogurt has been frustrating.  I’m sure I’ll get better someday.  (I hope so anyway.)  My husband is a long time hunter and is very handy when it comes to the butchering of our livestock.  Both hunting and butchering are skills worth knowing.   I don’t fish, but I love to EAT fish.  My husband has also found a love of ice fishing and brought home a dozen or so delicious meals (some of which are in the freezer for a later date.)  We have also begun working on curing our own meats.  Can we make a bacon as good as Thornapple Valley?  Nope, not even close.  But we will get there I’m hoping with a bit more practice.  Our hams are different than a Smithfield for sure, but they are tasty and we made them ourselves!!  I do plan on learning more about preserving and working with animal hides.  I would just love to have a handmade hat lined with some soft warm bunny fur…OH and a pair of mittens to match!  Now to go backwards just a little bit, from what we get from our animals to what we give to our animals. We make our own hay, although not all comes from our land.  Our animals are also grained and although I have grown corn and I can grow both oats and soybeans if I try, I seriously don’t have the place to do so on the scale that I currently need to support our animals.  As mentioned earlier, I raise some large patches of comfrey and I use lots of it as feed for the animals.  It is a great winter fodder (once dried) for the chickens, rabbits and pigs.  I don’t know if these count as livestock, but someday we WILL be adding honeybees to the farmstead.  An on the farm source of sweetener and antibiotic salve what could be better?

Gardening:  Compost, compost, compost!! That is just the place to start for sure.  All that livestock mentioned above gives us lots and lots of compost fodder.   Heck we usually even have manure to spare.  The comfrey is even a wonderful addition to the compost pile (Do you see a pattern here with the comfrey?  It is a VERY useful plant on the homestead.) We make manure tea for our plants and seedlings.   We have gotten away from buying commercial seedlings and instead have opted to grow as many heirloom varieties as we can.  We also maintain seeds from these heirloom varieties and have had great success there.  It would be nice to envision us being able to save seeds entirely from our own garden, but we haven’t the room to separate varieties that aren’t self –pollinated.  We have had good luck with tomatoes, beans, peas and peppers.  Seeds were saved from the bird house gourds last season so we will see how those turn out.  It’s kind of fun seeing what comes out of gourd seeds anyway as they seem to cross-pollinate readily and give have some odd “offspring”.  We collect rain water in rain barrels to water our garden with. Currently we have (3) 55 gallon barrels, but hope to double that this summer.  We can, freeze and dry many of our vegetables.  Another method of preserving our harvest?  Fermentation!!  I made a small test crock of Kimchi with our cabbage last year and I found it to superb.  Definitely a try-again recipe! 

Other:  Here I will list a myriad of things that I just don’t know how to categorize.  Bartering can play a key role for back to basics living and although it seems a paradox – self-sufficient living as well.  Barter a dozen chickens for a pound of fresh organic butter or a trailer load of manure for a few loaves of homemade bread or a raw mohair fleece for a well- made drop spindle.  The possibilities are really endless.  Recycling (or up-cycling) can be a lifesaver.  As mentioned earlier, we currently buy all our grain.  With the amount of animals we have – that really leaves us with a plethora of grain bags.  We use them for garbage bags in the barns, to seal out cold winter drafts and as door flaps in the animal sheds, and as tea-bags for our manure tea.   We recycle pallets as barn dividers and gates.  We have bartered other used building materials for around the farm.  I have heard that many items make great soap molds.  I save old peanut butter and mayonnaise containers to safely haul shots and other medication doses to the animal barns (full syringes fit beautifully in them without worry that the plunger will accidently get depressed).   Milk jugs work great for hauling water to the critters in the winter.   Buy the good stuff:  Okay I wasn’t sure how to title this little section but there is one thing that I would like to emphasize for when there are items you just HAVE to purchase because you can’t make them yourself (i.e. tractors, boots, etc.).  Buy the best you can possibly afford.  In many things you do get what you pay for.  For instance, I LOVE my Muck chore boots, they are priceless in the spring, summer, fall and winter.   My first set of boots lasted me around 12 years.  I tried a “knock-off” pair and they ended up costing me about triple (on a per year average) than the more expensive Muck.  I now have another pair of Mucks going strong. 

Some of the skills we are pretty good at:  Sewing, crocheting, cooking, canning, dehydrating, animal husbandry, herbal lore, butchering, meat curing, gardening, composting, hunting, fishing,  haymaking,  recycling, bartering, construction,  wild foraging, animal training, metal working, seed saving, water collection,

Some of the skills we are working on (or will be working on soon):  Spinning fibers, harvesting fibers, tanning pelts, wood working, soap making, cheese making, bee keeping, candle making,

Skills we should learn or get better at (and someday really hope to): first aid, knot – tying, how to start a fire (the “hard way”), trapping, gunsmithing, weather forecasting.  I own books on all the previous “skills” in this section and while they may come in handy someday there is nothing better than actually putting things into practice BEFORE you need them. 

Okay so just a quick summary.  Could we survive indefinitely if the rest of the world ceased to exist?   Probably not.  No man is an island and we are no exception, we couldn’t maintain every aspect that we would need to survive without being able to interact with at least a few other individuals (or groups) with skills complimentary to our own.  Do we have skills to sustain ourselves if we needed to long term? Yes we would most likely stay warm, fed, clothed, entertained and healthy for a good long time.   

Thanks for reading to the end of this one!!! 

Until next time……

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