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Archive for November, 2013

We talked about how to set up your land according to permaculture zones a little while ago.  But how do you go about setting up your zones?  They will pretty much set up themselves if you take a good look at your land and all the outside factors that affect it.  The very first thing to consider is topography.  Here is my pathetic attempt at drawing the topo map of my lot on the computer:

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I haven’t figured the computer out all the way so I can’t make this pic any bigger, sorry.  To the right is the main road access to the property and to the left is the stream and the trail access to the property.  If you aren’t familiar with topo maps, each line represents a drop in elevation, in this picture it is about 10 feet per line.  The black dot I added is what I think is the perfect spot for the house.  Here it is built into the hillside, midway down the hill.  That way it isn’t terribly windy or sitting in a big wet area.  There really couldn’t be a better spot for the house.  Does this make sense that when you look at the lot it sort of lays itself out?  From the house location, you just start laying the zones where they fit in.

There are plenty of other factors to consider when you are laying out your land.  Water is another big one.  I happen to have the stream on the lot, but that is not going to work as a source of water for us.  You need to be sure that when you pick the spot for your house that you have reasonably close water access.  We are going to do rainwater collection for our house.  This can be set up pretty much anywhere, but we want to take advantage of gravity to reduce pumping costs.  This just means that there has to be somewhere of higher elevation near the house to set up the cistern and collection area.  Where we chose to put our house has the perfect spot for this cistern right above the house.  Not too close just in case the cistern leaks or something crazy like that.  The other side of the water is that you definitely don’t want to put your house too close to a very wet area.  Flooding is not an issue you want to have.

If you plan on using passive solar heating, you also need to be aware of sun patterns.  The most direct sunlight comes from the south.  Our house will be south facing.  You don’t want too many trees blocking the winter sun, but you might want some trees blocking the summer sun.  You can also set up your house to collect and block the right amount of sun by knowing the different angles of the sun according to the time of year.  A nifty little tool I found for this is at this website and this one.  There is a lot to learn about using the sun to its fullest.

There are more things to look at on the land, but they get more specific depending on what you are trying to place.  I plan on planting a woodlot at some point.  I don’t want to have to drag cut trees uphill so I will try to put the woodlot on a higher elevation.  Just think about the needs of everything you set up before you put in too much effort.  I am doing my best to figure things out from far away, but chances are good that I will have to put at least one thing in a place different than I thought I could.  I have a big drawing of the lot taped to my wall with movable representations of everything I want on the lot.  That way I can look at it often and change things as I feel I need to.  I have been doing tons of moving for sure!  Be sure to spend lots of time on this step, it is really important.

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Seed Shopping

The first seed catalogue of the year showed up today.  Always an exciting time for me.  I spend way too much time reading through the books trying to decide what I want to plant and which variety of everything.  A little of everything is pretty much what I decide on.  Always more than I will ever find the time to plant and take care of.  Well I have a new strategy this year.  I will plant only five kinds of vegetables in my garden.  I’m not counting my perennial garden, orchard, flower garden or herb garden by the way.  Although I will likely start small with those as well.  With only five kinds of plants in the garden, I will be more able to focus on learning about the five and not get overwhelmed.  I won’t have a lot of time for gardening really this year anyway.  There will be tons of work on the new lot and all.  I also won’t have much cleared land in the spring when I will need to plant.  But limiting myself to only five is a tough choice to make.  I decided to go with storage quality, ease of growing, least attention needed, what I grow fairly well now, and I let the man pick one.  I will be growing kale, winter squash/pumpkins/gourds (I had to sneak extra in somehow), cabbage, beans, and corn.  I will likely change my mind, but for now this is my simple list.  Hopefully this will prove to be a strategy and I can add a few each year.  Maybe even be an expert at a few!

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Ducks or Chickens

DSC_0433I have been debating over chickens or ducks for eggs for a little while now.  It seems that there are many reasons for ducks over chickens, but I was scared about the taste.  I tend to be a little on the picky side with my foods.  Duck eggs aren’t the easiest thing to find, but the co-op we shop at just started carrying them.  They are delicious!  So now that it’s settled, here are all the reasons I found why I’m choosing ducks:

The eggs are much better in many ways.  They are more nutritious than chicken eggs.  Check out this nutrition comparison chart I found.  The eggs are bigger and tastier. The shells are thicker which allows them to store longer and be less fragile.  Ducks also lay more eggs than chickens.  I found a couple sites that said they can lay almost twice as much and through the winter.

Ducks are easier to keep for a few reasons.  They are heartier in heat and cold than chickens.  They have an extra layer of fat to keep warm, waterproofing on their feathers to keep dry, and they just go swimming to keep cool.  Swimming also helps to keep them healthier because it keeps mites off of them.  In addition to this mite proofing, ducks have a heartier immune system than chickens.  Heartier immune system means healthier, happier ducks and less visits.  Ducks are also said to be less aggressive towards other ducks.  They are more welcoming to new companions.

The reason I first became interested in ducks was for pest control.  Ducks are excellent for running around your garden eating slugs and other bugs that are lurking in the shadows just waiting for the moment to emerge and eat your beautiful veggies.   Ducks like to hunt and will go after mice and snakes too.  This also means that they can better forage for themselves and need to be handed less food.  Chickens will eat bugs, but are picky about it.  They are also much harder on your lawn and garden while they are eating the bugs.  Ducks will do some trampling and eating  of your plants, but chickens will peck and scratch until nothing remains.

The problem that I have found with ducks seems to be that they need a pond.  Not just a bucket of water, but a decent sized pond.  Luckily, I want a pond anyway, so this won’t be a problem for me.  I would like to raise some sort of fish in the pond, so I will have to do more research in this area.  I don’t see why ducks and fish couldn’t share a pond like they would naturally, but I’ll have to investigate anyway.  Either way, I will be getting myself some ducks as soon as I can!

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First Snow

It is snowing out.  The first snow of the winter on 11-12-13.  I have lived in New England my whole life, and I am still not a big fan of the stuff.  And we just bought our homestead site further north than we are now.  That means likely even more snow.  I keep telling myself that as long as I have a nice, cozy fire to come inside to, I will be perfectly happy to be out in the snow.

Now that we are past that part, what is there fun to do in the snow?  The kids are obviously going to be getting a lot of snow time, so now I just need to figure out what we can do this year to get them really excited.  They are both under 3.  We can do the obvious things like sledding, snow men, snow ball “fights,” or making igloos.  I am looking for something different to do too.  After some looking around, I found these ideas:  snow picnics, water color snow paint, making animal tracks, ice sun catchers, birdseed mosaics, or have a bonfire and roast hot dogs.

Any other different ideas for me?  Until we get a little more snow, we will just have to wait patiently…

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The most expensive monthly bill we have is the rent/mortgage.  We haven’t wiped that out yet, but we have the plan in action.  Come summer, we should be totally rent free.  No reason to wait to cut down on the next biggest expense: groceries.  This can be broken down into parts itself, so the first thing I want to work on is meat.  We try to buy meat that is local, grass fed, hormone free and antibiotic free.  This is not cheap at all.  However, the cheap way to get meat that is still healthy is to raise it yourself.  Living in town where I am now, there isn’t much option for raising meat though.  I toyed with the idea of raising rabbits, but that would be a lot to set up just to move it in a few months.

DSC_0167The next best option is to find a local grower that raises grass fed beef with no hormones or antibiotics.  A grower that also offers a bulk option.  I got lucky and happened to walk into work one day and see a sign offering just the thing.  The husband of one of my coworkers raises beef cattle with a bulk buying option.  I got 50 pounds brought right to me at work.  It doesn’t always work out to be this easy, but I’ll take it when I can.  After we filled our freezer with delicious steaks, and ate one of them of course, we crunched some numbers.  Our grocery bill went from $220 to about $160 without beef.  That’s around $60 a week.  $240 a month.  That really is huge.  All you need is a big freezer and a local beef farm.  We’re going to have to find another local farm that does chicken and pork too.  This really is a great way to cut your grocery bill down.  And it’s easy enough for anyone to try.  If you don’t have a huge freezer, then just split the meat with someone else.  Happy eating!

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“The Dirty Life”

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Here is another book I read this weekend, actually I finally finished the last chapter this weekend.  It’s a woman’s story of leaving her life behind and becoming a farmer.  I really should be spending my “free” time reading and learning rather then reading stories, but this was a great read for me.  It helps to hear about people turning their lives upside down and succeeding.  All the hardships they endure along the way are a kind of preparation for the things that will inevitably go wrong for us.  How going back to the land is really hard work, but she stayed there for the love of it.  And all about the love of her husband, of course.  It makes me feel good to know that we are not the only “crazy” ones out there.  It seems as though everyone they knew looked at them the way everyone we know looks at us.  The look of “what are you thinking?”  I have come to embrace that look these days.  I just know we will be very happy in life, just like the family in this story, regardless of anyone else’s opinion.

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I just finished reading this book by Ken Kern.  I found this book when it was mentioned in another book by the same author that I had started reading.  It was a book about owner-built homes.  This is what we plan on doing, but I think I may have been a step ahead of myself then.  You need the homestead plan before you can go out and put a house on it, so I figured I would switch over to this book.

I found that a lot of the lessons that this book taught were very similar to all the things I had learned reading permaculture books.  The only difference is that they didn’t call it that.  It was just how they did things.  There were numerous moments when it was hugely obvious that the book had been written in the 1970’s, but nothing too far off either way.  I have many pages folded over marking specific details of things that I’m sure I will need to know eventually.  Things that hours of surfing the web would never have found.  Or maybe I’m just better with books than computers and someone skilled would never had needed the book.  I’m alright with that though.  I greatly enjoy my folded pages.  Either way, this book is loaded with good information and I’m glad I took the time to read it.

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