Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dreaming and Scheming

When your garden looks like this, it's hard to get in the mood to order seeds for the coming year. I love looking through seed catalogs, but I'm having a hard time getting myself to actually place an order.

I've been spending the past week at least daydreaming.

***WARNING- The following post is long and there are not very many pictures. Read at your own risk! ***

I'm constantly thinking of what I'll do differently this year than last. I'd like to be much more productive this year, which won't be hard to do because last year was so busy! We moved in the first weekend in May, and got married on May 23rd, so needless to say we were a little busy when it was time to plant the garden. We also managed to build the chicken coop, put up a sheep fence, and do various other projects on the house and property. Our little place has really changed over the past 9 months!

David and I would really love to be able to buy more land, ideally around 30 acres probably, but since that's not possibly any time in the near future, we're working with what we have. Don't get me wrong, I love our house and our acre, I'd just love to expand.

We are hoping to be able to produce a good majority of our food right here on our acre. We're getting there, but this year I really hope to be more productive. Last year we had a relatively good sized garden, we raised layers for eggs, and we raised 25 meat chickens. This year, I hope to plan our garden so we get much more out of it. Last year things were planted hastily just so we'd have something growing. This year I want to select varieties of plants based on things we want, not just pick out whatever seeds the local feed store has. I want to cut out things we don't eat much of (like I don't need a whole long row of swiss chard if I'm the only one who eats it), and plant more of things we like. Last year I sold excess veggies on a little roadside self-serve stand. It was actually pretty successful, so this year I'd like to grow more of things that sold well last year.

I'd like to expand my layer flock and sell more eggs. I sell about 8 dozen eggs per month, but I'd like to increase that by a good bit. I'm almost at the point where the egg sales pay for the feed, but not quite there. I'll have to increase the flock, but I'm not sure what the best way to do that is right now. Chicks are cheap, but take 20 weeks to lay. I haven't been able to find any started pullets or hens for less than $10-$15. It would take a good while before I made my money back if I spent that much per hen. I will have at least 4-5 new layers in April thanks to the Thanksgiving chick hatch.

Since we don't have the space for a cow, we have to stick with smaller animals for our meat sources. I'm really hoping we can raise 200 broilers this year. I think we can do it if we stick to batches of 25 chicks at a time. I've been working out a rotation in my head. If we order 25 chicks, they'll be in the brooder for 4 weeks, then they'll go out on grass. When they go out, we can get another 25 chicks for the brooder. When the first batch is 8 weeks, they should be big enough to process. Then the second batch of chicks will be old enough to go out on grass and we can get a third batch for the brooder. I'm hoping thinking that this will work. It at least works on paper.

My sheep should provide lambs for the freezer, and the goat will provide milk for the family (and we can use the milk to make cheeses, yogurt, soap, etc). I'd love to be able to lease some land for more sheep/goats, but we haven't asked anyone to lease any land. The acre next to us is back on the market, so I'm not sure the owner will want animals on it. There's a large farm next to/behind us, so that's also a possibility.

I've really been thinking of what else we can raise for meat. I thought about pigs, but I'm just not sure we have the space available right now. I'd hate to get 2 pigs and have them stuck in a small muddy pen all summer, and I'm not sure I want to sacrifice what little space we have to be rutted up and muddied up by pigs. My new idea is meat rabbits. They're small so they don't need much space, their feed can be supplemented with garden "waste" like old/extra vegetables, they reproduce quickly, and their meat is supposed to be very good. I've never had it, which might be a problem, but it's all white meat and very good for you. Rabbit is higher in protein than any other meat, lower in cholesterol, and has the fewest calories per pound than any other domestic meat. I'm thinking we can start with one buck and two does and have a good amount of meat for us and possibly some to sell.

I have dreams of canning and freezing an abundance of produce from the garden, stocking the freezer with fresh lamb, chicken, and rabbit meat, having fresh eggs all year, plus raw goat milk to drink. Sounds nice, right? We'll be busy, but I really think it will be worth it. I hate that our money goes to big food corporations that don't really care about our health or safety. It is a shame that it costs more to eat healthy than it does to eat junk in this country. I won't go much more into it, but if you want to know more you can watch Food, Inc. or read books like Omnivore's Dilemma or In Defense of Food. It's really important to me that we try to be as self sufficient as possible, well, without giving up our modern conveniences that is.

Ok, enough rambling for one post. I went out to the garden yesterday and remembered I had turnips out there. I haven't stepped foot in the garden for at least a month. I noticed a difference in the turnip varieties.

These white salad type turnips had been eaten by rabbits. Almost every turnip had some nibbles on them.

The standard purple top turnips were un-eaten. Maybe they're more starchy and not as sweet? Not sure. I harvested these three big ones and made turnip fries out of them. They were so-so. Not my favorite. I need to find a better recipe, or maybe I'll mash them and mix them half and half with potatoes. Even though they're not my favorite veggie, it's still nice to have fresh produce when the ground is frozen and everything is dead and brown. These turnips haven't been at all harmed with the snow, ice, or frozen ground.

The kale is hanging in there. They've been eaten down, but it looks like there's some new growth on the plants. Hopefully I'll be able to harvest a little when it warms up a bit. The darn rabbits got to it this fall before I could even harvest one leaf!

So, what plans do you all have for the year?


Jennifer said...

Get to ordering them seeds girl, lol You'll be so happy you did when they come it! I cant wait to start garden season... I'm a garden, canning, freezing freak, lol. I was just thinking yesterday after going to the groceries how in the world would we do it without our garden and all the stuff I can and freeze, we have 6 people in the household (2 adults and 4 teens) I stay at home so we really count on your gardens. My husband loves turnips, I think they are ok... turnip fries sound interesting.

gz said...

I've done an hour's hoeing this afternoon- I feel much better for it!!
Join online forum- lots of good friendly advice there
Have a look at Squash Blossom Farm- on facebook and blog
Enjoy, and don't try to do too much at once!!

Anonymous said...

... it's really hard to get excited when 3 ft of snow covers everything....and it's 0' today ... keep dreaming, it keeps you sane. marie

Joanne said...

I had rabbit sometimes when I was growing up. It was tasty, but we had to pick buckshot out of it. Don't know if it would be easy to sell...


Becky said...

I wrote a long comment yesterday but for some reason it didn't post :(
Our dreams are so similar! This is the time of year for dreaming those big dreams. I can't wait to see what you're able to coax out of your acre. You guys have done so much with your land in just the short time that you've had it! Those turnips are so pretty! You should trap and eat those wild bunnies that are eating your turnips! :)

Deb said...

I love reading your post Katie, with all your thoughts and dreams of what you'd like to accomplish. I am so proud of your desire for more self sufficiency. You are a hard worker my girl and have always found a way to accomplish your dreams! Isn't it great to be able to start making most of them come true? I love your home and farm! Good luck with your planning! Love you, Momma

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