So, we bought this land in December of 2015, and started to make trips out here right away. We didn’t move here permanently until March 2016. So we have not spent a full year on the property yet. I think it’s important to not make major decisions about the land until we have been through a full year’s cycle here. The property is 5 acres, but the main part that we live on is only about a quarter to one-half of an acre. Every month or so we walk around our property to see how it’s changed in the season. Most of our land is heavily wooded, and some parts are currently so overgrown that it’s almost impassible. Changes to the heavily overgrown parts will be easier to make in winter, when much of the greenery and brambles die back. The easier way to get rid of all the overgrowth would be to fence in the entire property and to let a small herd of goats or sheep, or both, go to town on it all. But fencing in the entire property is going to be expensive and will probably not happen all at once. If all goes well, by February or so, we’ll have a few paddocks of movable electronetting. We need to get a few goats, most likely meat breeds to start with, like Boers, to help clear everything else. The reason you don’t use a milking breed to clear land is that those big udders are too likely to get injured by brambles and sticks and overgrowth, and if they get an infection that will adversely affect future milk production, even if they pull out if okay. So we won’t get milking goats til the land is cleared. And then we just keep moving the electronet fencing whenever they eat up all the greenery.
In traditional agriculture, only about 10% of the work is planning, and the rest of the 90% is actual hard, physical work. In permaculture, the opposite is true. It’s a “work smarter, not harder” type of ethic. To a lot of people it might look like my brother and I aren’t doing much this year. That’s because we are in the “observe and plan” stage. In permaculture it also is important to let the land tell you what it wants to be. If you have a low-lying area that tends to fill with rain water, why fight that by trying to drain it and plant dry plants there? Go with it, dig a little deeper so it can become a pond, or a rice paddy, or whatever. But how do you know where those areas are until you spend a full year on your land, through all four seasons? The main goal of permaculture is to work WITH your land, not AGAINST it. While there is still an element of taming the wild involved, the mindset of a war against nature (MAN VS WILD!) is instead changed to instead one of cooperation with nature.
It is important to truly to get to know your land before you make any permanent decisions. Changing our minds afterwards will not be easy if we make a big mistake.
We want to pick the breeds very carefully. Besides meat goats, we are going to get rabbits and poultry next year. I don’t want to jump into too many types of species at once, since its better to learn all about caring for one or two types and give those animals excellent care. But financial considerations are part of this, the price of food is raising quickly. Rabbits are the most efficient meat-producers for feed inputs, they breed quickly and require little space. The goats are for other reasons I already talked about; clearing land first. Milk and meat will be later considerations. We will be getting chickens for eggs and meat, and because they eat bugs. Several breeding pairs of guinea fowl will be released into the woods, because in the spring and summer there are a LOT of ticks and chiggers here. And guinea fowl can eat up to 5,000 ticks a day. A large group of guinea fowl will even gang up on snakes and kill them. Eating ticks will be their only job.
Eventually I want to breed heritage breed animals and contribute to their survival. Thanks to industrialization, many once-common breeds of domestic animals are nearly extinct. Breeds like White Leghorn Chickens, which are used for industrialized egg production, are terrible for small farm purposes. One difference is that old-style farm chickens were good foragers, meaning you don’t have to feed them as much because they are skilled at finding their own food. Most industrialized breeds are bred to tolerate being kept in tiny cages, and many lines no longer have the instinct to forage or to mother their young naturally. Another difference is that many heritage breeds, of many species, are dual purpose, meaning that you can get meat and eggs from the chickens. But in industrialized breeds, an egg breed is really too skinny to produce meat, and a meat breed doesn’t lay many eggs. A dual purpose goat would be for milk and meat, while a sheep can actually be triple-purpose, for wool, meat, and milk.
I’m not going to jump into breeding heritage breeds until I get some experience with breeding ones that have more numbers. Basically because their genetics are more expendable so its okay if make the wrong choice. When I’ll be working with a heritage breed that is one on the edge of extinction (there are several different levels of endangerment), then the genetics of each and every individual will be so precious that I’ll need to make the best breeding choices to strengthen the breed as a whole, not just for my own purposes. And in this case, it obviously means that I will not be slaughtering and eating all of the offspring, although I can eat some of them. We are talking about livestock after all. But since the point is make the breed stronger, I’ll need to sell the offspring to spread them around. I’ll be strengthening the breed and gaining another source of income for the homestead. But that’s several years down the road, maybe as much as as much a five years or a decade. I want to be absolutely sure I have good, solid breeding experience first.
What we are doing right now is setting up a couple more of the raised beds for winter greens. In fact we just made the trip to Lowe’s to pick up the treated boards, so that the planks would last more than a season or two. I’m really, really looking forward to eating more spinach and kale. My brother wants to move to more of a Paleo-type diet, but it’s almost impossible on our current budget. Buying greens is insanely expensive when your most steady income is SSI. But spinach and kale is very easy to grow. Back in Indiana, spinach was one of our most successful crops, besides tomatoes. The best thing about leafy salad greens is their cut-and-come-again nature. A good head of lettuce you can just chop off what you need and it’ll grow right back. And nothing compares to fresh greens just picked. My mouth is watering right now, just thinking about it.
The cucumber plants are almost dead. That’s okay, they have just about run their course. At the beginning of September or so I’ll pull up what’s left and put the leaves in the compost bin. The bed will be re-planted with garlic, which will grow under the soil over the winter and be ready to harvest in the spring.
In any case, we will continue to work on the homestead, to make small changes, to observe and to plan the bigger changes, and see what the land and the Gods have in store for us. I’m happy out here, happier than I’ve ever been. It hasn’t been easy financially, but guess what? My life has never been easy financially. I just decided if I was going to struggle anywhere, I’d rather do it on my own land, in the woods, than in the city. And I know I made the right decision.