Self-Sufficiency, or the Lack Thereof

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All of a sudden, spring finally arrived at Sithean.  The cold nights have gone away, the days hover near 70, everything is so very green, and the lilacs are finally starting to bloom, weeks late.  The asparagus bed is producing almost more than we can keep up with, meaning we’ll be making some well-received donations in the coming days.   The chickens get to roam most days, with leaf cover protecting them from hawks and it being time for them to do their job of bug-eating.

For us, as we see states reopening and infection rates and deaths continue to grow, we’re slowly formulating our plans.  It seems likely that I won’t be traveling for work until fall, at least, and our social schedule isn’t going to resume anytime soon.   Everyone is still working, at least right now, and I don’t see that changing either, thankfully.   The economy gets worse every week as well.

So budget and sustainability are top of mind, and we definitely are not alone in that.

On our rocky, tree covered acre and a quarter, complete self-sufficiency isn’t a likely option, even if we turned the entire front yard into food-producing crops or grazing land.  And for me, what that equals to is exhaustion and a zero-enjoyment life.   At least right now, radical food production isn’t on the table.  What is?

Taking the long view and making the investments a little at a time.   Investing in the things that we believe to be the most financially rewarding as well.  And re-looking at our budget for more radical cost-cutting.  I call it the ‘go easy’ method.

How does that work?  Every year, as time and budget allow, we add.  Sometimes it works out, sometimes not.  Baby fruit trees, even with protective cover, don’t always survive the winter.   Last winter we lost one of the apricots, the fig, and an old apple tree that finally died.  We put in 3 apple trees and 2 cold-hardy cherries this year, and we’re going to replace the fig and apricot next season.  One more older apple tree looks to be dying as well, and I want to add at least one more peach tree, as well as more asparagus crowns.  But that’s next spring.

Last fall, when gardening supplies went on sale, I bought 6 tomato cages, and I’ll get a few more gratis from my neighbor.  I have 2 metal cucumber trellises as well, and we’ll build some bean supports.  Other than the additional bricks we need to finish garden beds, and some compost and grass seed, our investment in the garden is complete for the year.

I have plenty of seeds, and other than onion seeds and a few other things, most seeds last more than one season, so I’ll need fewer next year.  I’m also, 4 gardening seasons in, starting to learn what works for us and what doesn’t in conjuction with our CSA, although I may have to rethink it a little, depending on how CSA pickup works this year.  And we have our Misfits Market box every couple weeks, but we’ll put that on hold most of the summer.   Our chickens are likely self-sustaining at this point, and at some point we’ll let them raise a batch of babies.  I don’t expect to have to buy any eggs for many years to come.   I think this year we’ll can enough salsa and pasta sauce to get us through the winter, along with pickles to give away.  And those fruit trees – we already get apples, and this year I’m going to manage to protect at least a few peaches from the squirrels.

We have infinity raspberries, and hopefully at least a few strawberries this year.  I don’t buy asparagus ever, because the stuff from the store is tasteless compared to the fresh-picked spears from my garden, so it’s become a seasonal thing, although hopefully we will have enough to freeze for a couple of winter meals.  In short, I don’t have everything planted, but we do continue to grow our repertoire so there may come a day in a couple years when buying fruit is a rare thing for us.

What I’ve learned over the years is if I try to do it all, we fail.  There’s simply not enough of us to go around.  So our planning involves a cadence of expenditures of both money and time.  We paint and patch around one room a year.  When we renovate, we’ll do a lot at once, but trying to do it all at once sends both our budget and our time completely off kilter.  We want to be as self-sufficient as possible, but we also recognize that our limited family time is precious.  Life is often about what you choose not to do as well as what you choose to.

Is this a lot of work still? Sure.  But these are investments, and in the long haul, they will pay off.  Instead of paying someone to cut the lawn, this year we spent $3600 on a really good lawn tractor and another $200 on a string trimmer and we will do it ourselves.  In 2 years, they will pay for themselves because we are no longer spending money on a service, and after that, it’s money in the bank.  So too is it with fruit trees and raspberries and seeds.

So self-sufficiency homesteading – is it in the cards?  In total, no.  But carefully chosen elimination of dependencies on the outside world is.

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