What would I do different if I could or would start over again?Start over doing what exactly? Some people think I am a prepper, to which I laugh and reply “If I was I would not last much longer than anyone else.” I’d like to think I have more knowledge than the average suburban dweller, but I am hardly prepared. Others think I am a farmer, which makes me smile. Sadly I am not a farmer, but rather a guy who’s hobby is backyard farming.
Lately I’d like to think of myself as a micro-farmer. I do a lot of things that I consider are much the same as a real farm, but just on a smaller scale. The goal is to learn as much as possible, and with a scalable plan, one day make the whole concept larger. Perhaps that will be the leap into modern homesteading.
How some friends think I live or at least how I must be prepared.
So, what would I do differently? In a word, go bigger. In nearly all respects I have expanded, with the only exception being the worm bin. I suppose I was initially concerned with both time and labor to manage it all, but in the end going bigger with the coop, garden, and greenhouse doesn’t add more to my chores, not significantly anyway. The only challenge would have been gathering the resources (materials, cash, etc.) and getting the time to build it all. Remember, chickens are a gateway drug, er animal!
Before I began this journey, I just started with a small garden in a less than ideal location, the north side of wooded edge where Japanese knotweed thrived in a soupy clay soil. This was my second garden attempt. The first one was in a great location in terms of sun, but was on the other side of the property, and thus out of sight and out of mind. Far too often I neglected the chores of watering, weeding , and harvesting and the whole venture just didn’t work. The present location is straight off the back door about 65 feet away. I see it every day and so my thought was I would neglect it less, which was true. But the location was really lousy.
The clay soil was easy to overcome. With a few bags of good dirt, compost, and time, the soil was the least of the issues. The shade from the woods was not ideal, but I did manage to grow a few things in three raised beds. Certainly did not have the bountiful harvests I imagined. The worst part was my extreme lack of understanding just how resilient Japanese knotweed can be. Fighting this evil back consumed a lot of my time and resources plus tempted me with all sorts of chemicals in order to remove it. It took about two years of pulling, choking, and smothering to get rid of it, and yet it still pops up here and there.
Knotweed isn’t all bad. In the spring the young shoots can be prepared much like rhubarb, in the summer the chickens and goats like eating the leaves. In the fall it flowers which provides a great food source for the bees and a great flavor to the honey. But thinking I could pull it out and plant a garden in the same spot, let’s just say I felt like such a fool.
Since my 2nd small garden I have expanded to about an area 30 x 70 or so with raised beds (without framing on most). I have plans to expand further toward better light. Slowly I am taking over the lawn and replacing it with garden. I would rather garden then cut the grass any day. What would I do different? I would find a better location initially that is naturally more conducive to a garden versus trying to undo what nature has already done. I would make the garden much larger even if I wasn’t going to use or work it all right away. I don’t look forward to pulling the metal t-posts.
I started with three chickens, and no coop. It was an impulse buy, a way to force me to start something I’ve wanted to do for years, keep animals. I had to scramble to make an enclosure and run which was simply a large dog crate and dog kennel. I then spent the summer building the 4×8 chicken condo, it became a race to get it finished before the hens got too big for their dog crate and before winter set it. I would not recommend this method as the stress of time and resources was less than ideal. I planned for 8 hens but I now have 14. Chickens are addictive, like crack addictive. Build a bigger coop and run. Even if you never get more chickens, it will just be a one-time build. I studied countless plans and viewed hundreds of videos on how others do it. I have since learned chickens, for the most part, love being outside, with the exception being heavy or fresh snow which they cannot understand. Their indoor space is really only used to sleep, and if you integrate next boxes, to lay eggs. Chickens are simple so just keep it dry, well ventilated, and big enough for all the hens. I do a deep litter method which really is the only way to go in my opinion. I would also recommend a deep litter method for the run or their outside enclosure. Chickens turn just about any confined space into the lunar surface if you give it enough time. A stinky lunar surface if it is exposed to moisture. I’d cover it more for rain and snow protection and make the ground deep with straw. Chickens love a good scratch. Why not let them make compost in addition to eggs. It will do wonders for your poor native soil. So, I would make a bigger coop, a larger covered run, and add a lot of straw to their run area to give them plenty of scratch and in the end gives me great soil.
I also raise goats. Nigerian Dwarf goats. They are the right size for the property. This year I decided to put them to work clearing brush and browse in the woods versus keep them confined and on feed I had to pay and store. I do this with portable electric netting fencing, which is awesome. It does not do that great in really heavy wind or snow, but for the summer months it helps provide rotational paddocks and free food. Next time I would fence off a larger area to make this a bit easier. I would provide a larger covered area that is still outside. Goats detest moisture. They run for cover if it even mists. Mud and goats are not friends. If you have mud, consider pigs, not goats. I would make my feed storage close to the hay feeder. I would run water to their housing area as for now I use a garden hose in summer and haul 5 gallon buckets in winter. I would start with does, period. While I have a couple wethers and a doe, one wether just doesn’t accept he isn’t a buck. And bucks can be a challenge. He is rude, loud, sometimes a bully, and an overall stinky prick, but yes at times very sweet and protective of his girlfriend – any goat nearby seems to do. So I would not get a buck, and since my wether thinks he’s a buck, I would just get does.
Apiary. I am also a beekeeper. An apiarist. Recently I found my bees all died. I think the early cold snap caught them not quite ready for winter. I chose a spot that was less than ideal, much like the garden idea. I chose a spot I could see and was away from neighbors, but it was in part shade along the north side of the wood line. After a couple years with bees they proved to be good neighbors. They are less than 60 feet from the house, less than 30 feet from the pool, and they are unnoticeable. We rejected the best location due to proximity to other humans. Next year I will be moving the apiary or bee yard to the BEST sunny location. Bees like to be warm. And the warmer they are the more productive they can be. Where they are currently they would not get sun until 10:30 or so and be in part sun to shade the rest of the day. Bees that wake early and return home late are just more productive. The winter sun would help them manage in the winter. Right now they have no good wind break. Next year they will get full sun and have a great windbreak of tall pines.
What would I do differently? I would save some resources before I jumped in. This includes materials and cash. It would be less stressful and I would have what I need when I needed it. I would go bigger. Not huge, but bigger than I initially thought, maybe by at least a third to a half. Bigger coop, bigger run, bigger goat cover, bigger gargen, bigger greenhouse. If you have the space, go bigger. If not, can you go vertical?
ah, when they were innocent and adorable, vs. stinky and bullish…but they still have their moments
I would centralize resources better, mostly structures. Can I keep chickens on one side, goats on the other, garden on another, and store their stuff on yet another? Can I plumb it? Can I run electric to it? Right now I have a great closed system, but it does need tweaking (and walking around fencing). My hay feed and straw move from the greenhouse storage to the goat house and hay feeder. The goats soil the straw and waste a bunch of hay they drop to the ground. This waste gets mucked out and moved to the chicken yard. Some I use for litter, but mostly I use it for scratch. The chickens love to scratch any loose material. They will pick out any bugs and turn it all over nicely. Once they have broken it down, the chicken yard gets raked out and moved to the compost pile. The scraps the worms don’t get (due to supply or current feeding), go into the compost heap, along with any other yard waste. In the fall and spring I use this compost to build the garden beds. The soil is amazing. I built five beds this way and the harvest proved it works.
So in conclusion, it’s ok to just jump right in, but it will have some consequences. It’s ok to plan and analyze forever, but the reality will be different, trust me. Take time to observe. Observe animals you are interested. Observe the weather in your yard. Observe the sun. Don’t be afraid to slap stuff together, the animals never mind. Shelter from wind, rain, sun, and snow is all they ask. Fresh feed and fresh water will eliminate most health issues. Fresh bedding with some DE goes a long way to mitigate bugs. It’s ok if you have to redo something. You are learning, which is great. Wisdom is making plenty of mistakes and doing your best not to repeat them.