The Newbie Homesteader and What I’ve learned Along the Way…

greenhouse

Today we present another article for this round in our non-fiction writing contest – by Happy Camper

Moving off grid has been one of the best decisions that I’ve made, I have lived on my 110 acres for eight months now and for anyone who is reserved about leaving suburbia behind my best advice to you is to do what you can to enable the change to living the life that is waiting for you, because no one else is going to make it happen for you.

My initial ambition to be as self-sufficient as I could manage before the end of this year is NOT going to happen. But I am ok with that, basically what I’ve learned from my failures is that I need to take a step back and learn a lot more, from others that have succeeded where I have failed.   Basically I thought that I could run before I could walk.  Gardening and maintaining land this size is a totally different game to the burbs.
Probably every attempt at food production I have made has failed, however what I gained in knowledge holds far more value.

The hugelkulture garden bed is doing well.  I have been adding to the length of the mound with more garden waste, ashes, manure and leaf litter.  The initial seeds in this garden sprouted and grew beautifully! Until my resident family of Peacocks feasted on salad and veg.  They have kindly left me with about 40 corn plants, which im waiting for in anticipation.
I have recently started growing potatoes in grow bags and cages, but it is too early to know if they will do OK.  I have planted the Sebago variety of potatoes as this is what the local produce store stocks in organic seed potatoes.

water tanks

The rainwater fills the tank that is next to the house, then the three (dark green) tanks seen between the two sheds are filled by pumping the water up to them from the house run off tank. The water then gravity feeds back down to the house.

The turkeys, chickens and ducks were thriving and growing, the ducks were providing me with daily large delicious eggs and I had a great small enclosure built for them (which I now know is not near big enough and has the wrong sized wire on it).
I have since lost all the poultry when a snake got into the hen house and ate 9 baby turkeys, then the remaining 8 turkeys drowned in the kiddy wading pool I had set up for the ducks.  The chickens all got a little confident in their adventures and were all taken out by foxes.  The three ducks moved onto the big swimming pool for a few days and then waddled off down the paddock never to be seen again (except for one carcass of a duck that I suspect was taken out by foxes). The poultry that thrived and seemed bullet proof were of course two roosters.

As an experiment, after being woken up at 4am, one too many times, the roosters lost their heads. This allowed me better sleep and the opportunity to experiment cooking them, my initial thoughts was that rooster meat would be a great free hardy resource to obtain (everyone gives away their roosters).  The outcome of my experiment is, simply, don’t eat a rooster they taste horrible.
So my initial $500 investment on birds, a hen house, wire, poles and a gate… well im left with a empty chook pen and ive learned what not to do.

The mass of fruit trees that I have, have produced a mass of produce, pears, apples, kiwi fruit, avocados, grapes, figs- delicious looking and organic fruit.  All of the fruit was enjoyed by the local population of Flying Foxes (Bats), they ate everything in one night.  Great effort I thought as there is approx 80 trees that were dripping with almost ripe fruit.  It seems as though the Flying Foxes were watching their progress just like me.

When I first purchased this property, the green house was something I was really looking forward to getting into.  In fact I did, I spent hours grooming the ground and preparing the soil resulting in five lovely neat looking rows that in time were impressive with ten different varieties of tomatoes.  Juicy, plump, red tomatoes that I had big plans for canning up to sustain me for 12 months.  The pressure canner was ready, jars sterilised and secretly I was very excited to bulk harvest and preserve (first try at pressure canning).

5kw system solar panels- note the panels are offset to the left in case I want to add more panels to boost the amount of power going into the batteries in the future.

5kw system solar panels- note the panels are offset to the left in case I want to add more panels to boost the amount of power going into the batteries in the future.

I arrived at the greenhouse with a couple of large baskets, only to find that the door of the greenhouse had been overtaken by several webs of reproducing Red Back Spiders, the mummy and daddy spiders were happily housed on the door handle and the hundreds of babies were off playing on the tomato bushes.  No chance was I asking nicely for them to share the loot. I fumigated the greenhouse but there was no way I could have eaten the tomatoes without the feeling I was crunching spiders.  Give me a snake any day over sneaky poisonous spiders.

It is winter time now here in Australia, winter time obviously means that there is less sun.  Less sun when my house runs on solar power means cut backs on power use must be made.
I have a 5kw stand alone system that runs the house nicely- when there is sun.  After three overcast days, the charge in the house batteries becomes too low to use power in the house without potentially damaging the batteries.  When the sun shines again, it will then take about three days for the batteries to fully recover and charge enough that the house can be run as ‘normal’.  The adjustment to living on limited electricity took some lifestyle changes, but there has been no problem that a simple solution doesn’t exist for.  During these low sun times the appliances that are not able to be used are, the kettle to boil water, microwave, electric hot water service, plasma screen TV and the clothes washing machine.  The compromise has been cooking and heating water on the wood stove and using the small 12v TV and washing items by hand.
I am fortunate enough that I can power the electric hot water service from a large generator that came with the property.  At the present time I am running the generator for about an hour a day to keep the water warm enough to bathe with, it’s a great generator and seems to use about one or two litres an hour to run (it’s a 12 kva Lister diesel motor, it is running the hws at about 2500w so the load is low)

This previous owners of this house were reliant on liquid petroleum gas (propane) for cooking, water heating, winter heating and the fridge was run on gas.  Resulting in a gas usage of a 45kg bottle being used every 18-21 days at a cost of $145 per bottle.  The house electricity was supplied by a 4 kva Honda generator using about 3-4 litres a day, costing about $6 a day.
All of this added up to approx. $350 a month and then there was also the need to cart all of the fuel to the property which is too hard for me.
The cost of installing the stand alone solar power system, was $38,000- so the system will pay for itself in fuel savings alone over 9 years.  I have been advised that the system will likely need to be upgraded in about 15-17 years.

This is the battery bank, inverter and controller for the 5kw stand alone system. Thats the electric hot water system on the left. This is under the house.

This is the battery bank, inverter and controller for the 5kw stand alone system. Thats the electric hot water system on the left. This is under the house.

The biggest stress and frustration to me is when visitors have caused issues or damage and they don’t rectify the problem or advise me.  I have had to stop my children’s friends from staying here sadly due to the lack of respect shown.  There has been the wrong fuel put into the diesel generator, fuel supplies have been drained, tools have been stolen or moved, debris left in the paddocks for me to hit on the mower, damage to property by reckless driving and the house firewood has all been used on an outside bonfire.

My dream initially was to create a community place that could be utilised by my childrens peers for their own aspirations of growing food crops for income, bushcrafts and learning about living off grid.  However the extra work and cost of repairs from their childish behaviour has left me disappointed in my own children and their friend’s attitudes.  I am very selective about anyone being allowed on my property as a result.  The persons involved are all in their late teens and early twenties.
I think in general, this behaviour could be typical in any similar situation.  However in a SHTF situation this behaviour would likely be devastating as it would not be a simple matter of having the generator repaired or replacing lawn mower parts.

The last few days, I have been spending the bulk of the day weed spraying about  20 acres around the house as the bindis and dandelions are taking over the grass, I have also been salvaging and burning out an old firewood pile that has been left in the weather and has started rotting and getting termites.  And ive spent a small amount of time on the ride on mower.

My practice on keeping the grass and gardens maintained is that I put in ‘a couple of hours every couple of days’ and this theory seems to be working nicely, however with the onset of winter and the grass has stopped growing fast, I have been putting some of that ‘couple of hours’ into collecting firewood.

My goal in the next month is to have a bulk amount of potatoes and corn planted, and transplant some grass in needed areas around the house when the bindis and dandelions die off.
I will have to transplant clumps of grass rather than use grass seen, the resident peacocks will eat all the seed and ‘free is better than cheap’.

My goal by the end of this year is to have built appropriate housing for another try at farming poultry and maybe rabbits.  And I would like to start selling some crafts at local markets.
My goal by mid next year is to be providing my house with vegetables, herbs, fruit and eggs.

But all in all, in the last twelve months I have been through a divorce, major health issues, moved and renovated. What I have achieved is that I have survived all of that and I am now living my dream life and have learned so much more than I thought possible and I encourage everyone to live the dream today.

Prizes for this round (ends July 10 2015 ) in our non fiction writing contest include…

  1. First place winner will receive –  A case of Yoder’s Canned Bacon (12 cans, $169.95), a case of Future Essentials Canned Green Coffee Beans (12 cans, $143.30 value), and a case of our Future Essentials Canned Breakfast/Cold Cereal Variety with Milk (12 cans; a can each of Raisin Bran, Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, Apple O’s, Whole Grain Frosted Wheat’s, Cocoa Rice Krispies, Honey & Nut O’s, Fruity O’s and Frosted Flakes, as well as three (3) Cans of Powdered Milk Substitute (18 oz. each) – (a value of $62.90) all courtesy MRE Depot and a  WonderMix Bread Mixer courtesy of FoodPrepper.com a $300 value. Total first place prize value over$674.
  2. Second Place Winner will receive – A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $283 value) and an autographed copy of 31 Days to Survival
  3. Third place winner will receive –  A gift certificate for $150 off of Hornady Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner Ammo.

Comments

  1. JP in MT says:

    Nice write up! Thanks.

    I take it your children are adults. I too am unimpressed with today’s young adults and their respect of other people’s property.

    They also don’t seem to know/understand how things work. Electricity comes from the ozone (or somewhere). Water is always available with a turn of the tap. That sort of thing. In their lives its an unending resource.

    The missing/stolen tool issue is another sign. When we are with our grandchildren, we have spent the time getting them trained about putting things back and that if it is not yours, you need permission to use it, and it must be returned in as good or better condition than when you borrowed it. I grew up that way, but most people didn’t or “forgot”. If you break it you bought it – it was ever so.

    Thanks again.

    • Happy Camper says:

      Hi JP, I dread to think how badly todays youth will cope in a real SHTF situation. Ive worked hard at giving my kids life skills and always taken them camping etc, so mine have a better understanding than most kids they associate with.
      My kids are 19 and 21, so not really ‘kids’, this generation seem to have different expectations and rely more on being looked after. My 19 yo lives out of home and works full time, my 21 yo lives between home with me and doing long haul fishing trips. But most of their friends are just lazy sods who get pampered by their parents still.
      I believe in giving my kids a lot of time but also knowing when to let them fail and pick themselves up.
      A friend told me last week “life will be so much easier when the baby can walk”, my brother complained to me “I just cant wait until the kids can get in and out of the car on their own”, another friend told me that they are looking forward to their children being old enough to leave at home alone… Me, im 40 and love being able to call my parents to chat or get advise and my parents, well they buried their parents many years ago.
      Stages for ages. Lol. Best wishes

  2. Momturtle says:

    Roosters can be tasty. They must be kept refrigerated for at least 4 days. That allows the rigor to pass which means the meat is more tender. Unless they are very young, they are NOT ftying or roasting chickens, they are chicken stew chickens and are just wonderful for that. Even quite old roosters adapt very well to a stew pot environment and can add a great meal to the list! Don’t give up on them yet.

    • JungleMan says:

      Back Home we have a Sanchocho de pollo.. essentially chicken stew, where to make it properly u need that old tough rooster and stew for Hours. We used to make it when we went on our paseos, or outings, to the river. Mom would get a good fire going in the river rocks, and put the pot to boil. By the time we were starving, it had been stewing for hours and just an amazing meal.

    • Happy Camper says:

      Thanks Momturtle, that was the exact problem with the roosters, it was like eating a stringy shoe. I will look into it better next time.

      • mountaingypsy says:

        Happy Camper, Great story, and happy for you at your new place! It looks beautiful. Sad about the birds demise. I am afraid they would be pets to me.
        My favorite part of the story, was about the roosters, hilarious! I never thought whether anyone ate them! I guess the term ‘tough old bird’ meant roosters! At least now, we all know what to do with one. But in my rural neighborhood, we can not have any food animals/birds, nor collect any roof runoff. We had a huge storm today, and IF we had the water barrels, we could have had enough water saved, for years!! Also some hail to keep it cool. lol

        • Encourager says:

          At one point, we had too many roosters. We gave away a few but not enough. When two of them attacked my toddler…I called an elderly neighbor and asked if she wanted them. She walked into the run, grabbed each one by the neck, twirled them around in the air wringing their necks and walked off. I stood there with my mouth hanging open. Later she told me she cleaned them, put them aside in the fridge for a few days, then cooked them in the oven in water covering them with root veggies, at 250° all night long. She said they were the best tasting roos she had eaten in many years and did I have any more to get rid of?

  3. Darlene says:

    The “resident Peacocks” would have to go if it were me!!! I don’t share my garden with critters and will hunt them down if need be. Last year I took my .22 rifle with me morning and evening when I made my rounds….shot several rabbits that were in my garden. I’ve taken out raccoon, and gators in and around our stocked fishing pond. Gator tail is pretty good eating! I just can’t tolerate the competition for food. Also, those squirrels you have eating your fruit do make a tasty meal. If they are young, you can fry them like chicken. I imagine the older ones would need to be pressure cooked, just like an old yard bird or rooster.

    Homesteading ain’t no walk in the park. Most people today don’t even care to do a walk in the park, let alone chop wood, pull weeds, or shovel chicken crap. Me? I’m 56 years young and hope to die a long time from now…with a hoe in my hand out in my garden.

    • Happy Camper says:

      Thanks Darleen but the Peacocks are family to me, they are amazing to watch and whilst they can be bold theives im happy to share my loot with them, my mistake has been not netting in the garden beds.
      Im in Australia (Northern NSW) so theres no squirrels here, the Flying Foxes are like Bats, I would never harm one but I need to look into how to keep them off my fruit trees.
      Id also like to go out of this worldly body whilst enjoying the lords sunshine and blessings, great wsy to go 🙂

      • messenger says:

        If the peacocks are family to you…well I’ll just go on to bed without commenting. Happy Tailfeathers!

  4. mom of three says:

    Yikes, I need to go take a nap after reading about what has happened in your life. I also agree with the lack of respect from kid’s today both dad and I, have to stay on our kid’s to make them understand why I say no, and to take care of what we have. Keep it up it sounds wonderful, except the spider’s yucky!

  5. This article is OK but would have been better if the author had described the solutions to his/her failures, rather than just describing & listing the various failures.

    • Happy Camper says:

      I have learned what not to do, I have learned how hard moving off grid is. The problems experienced havent been resolved as in fixed and done again.
      What I hope for others to gain from my story is that your life can be changed totally, we keep learning by having to adapt from how we think things should be – or perhaps the vision of how things should be, to the reality of how things play out.
      Life would be most boring if we didnt have failures through learning and im still learning !

      • Mother Earth says:

        Happy Camper, I think it’s great that you didn’t give up, continuing trying different ways to learn what works and what doesn’t. It’s about enjoying the journey and knowing you are already ahead of most people. I continue to try different things in the garden too.

        Two of my children have been to Australia and absolutely loved the country and the people. I have to admit…your spiders scare the bejesus out of me!

      • mountaingypsy says:

        Happy Camper, Referring to the above comment, about your story, you could write another, offering solutions! I suspect you could have a wonderful book! The story would be too long for here! It sounds like you are doing great, and figuring out things! I wish I was your age, with your spirit! That makes for a proper prepper or homesteader, using common sense, specially without any help. We can learn a lot from you, as you are really living THE life off grid.
        My dad’s mom homesteaded with her sister in the early 1900’s! (there was No grid, to be off of!) They were both single teens, no men to help. They acquired the family farm in Kansas of a section of land! I was too young to ask questions or hear stories of that adventure! One lived to be 99, the other 87. Dad was not a story teller. 🙁 The place was 7 miles down dirt roads from the tiny town. I so wish I knew who was a good shot, what animals they had, how they made a sod home (no trees), what they gardened or ate, if they had problems with snakes or wild animals…..

        • Happy Camper says:

          I wrote my Grandmothers life story with her before she died at 98. She was born in 1908 and her father use to press and dry cheese in a tree stump, they made their own soap (hence why i am a soapmaker) they birthed the babies and buried their own dead.
          Old people are fascinating.

  6. Congratulations for being so resilient! It is easy for people to criticize what they have never tried to do themselves. Neighbors, family, kids, perfect strangers – you name it, they all have advice. Happy Camper, you are there, you are trying and you have my respect.

    I grew up on a farm and have been at this “moving towards self sufficiency” thing for more than 20 years. This year alone, I started seeds for the garden at least 3 times, bought bedding plants to replace the ones I lost to frost/dogs/kids/neglect at least twice and am never convinced that my efforts will actually result in nutrition for the family until we’ve actually swallowed the produce. Depending on the current state of affairs on the farm, I tell curious onlookers/skeptics I continue to do this because it is cheaper, healthier, better for the planet or the exercise and fresh air are good for me. I just choose one depending on what makes the most sense at the moment. In reality, I am desperately trying to build up a set of skills for myself and teach my children so that they have a decent chance at survival.

    It’s a journey

    B

  7. “I have since lost all the poultry”

    That so sucks Happy Camper. It sounds like you have a very nice size plot of land….and a LOT of work.

    I don’t know if I could remain civilized if I had kids damaging my property/possessions. The youth today totally amaze me with their lack of regard for other people’s things.

    I sure hope your next flock of chicks last longer. It sounds like you are to a good start though….at least in the trial and error department.

    • mountaingypsy says:

      Izzy, Happy’s story was great! I am jealous! At least she is young enough to do a lot, and is a fast learner, and has plenty of land! I hate she lost her birds. I told her she should write a book about her adventure. I hope Australia will not start the restrictions that are happening here. I did not know CO was so controlled, even rurally, till too late. We had a huge storm today, but can not save water runoff! There would have been enough for years, it seemed. No food animals at all are allowed. If one buys huge acreage in some counties, very rural, then less or no rules. The BLM and some other agencies are sneaking in, to remove rural people to cities, per Agenda 21.

      I can’t stand how rude kids are now. It is the parents lack of rules or parenting. Sending them to the mall or buying stuff when they whine, is what they do. I have a niece, running the show. I am too far away, to get bossy. I would have been “killed” for less than what they do now. I was first, so all parenting experiments were practiced on me! The others were not raised so strict! I learned skills, cooking, canning, and think I could do off grid, like my grandma homesteading. So many great stories, here, like mini novels….

      • Happy Camper says:

        Theres really no restrictions here, there is of course strict building regulations for safety. New built homes here must be eco rated with rain tanks, insulation, double glazed mindows etc.
        Theres no restrictions on having food gardens or food animals- on most streets in the suburbs there seems to be one ot two houses with hens and maybe a quarter or houses seem to have a food garden, a few herbs growing or a lemon tree.
        There is big incentives to put grid feed solar on suburban houses in the way of discounted electrical bills.

        • mountaingypsy says:

          Happy Camper, I had heard your country is more restrictive about some things. It is annoying people here that want to go rural. Some states are still lax, but building codes are strict. Perhaps you have read, that there are cities, in the US that are restricting people from being off the grid, and must be hooked up to electric and city water/sewer!!? Solar is allowed. But they are ‘trying’ to get rural people to move out, and take over for forest or land management or environment (lie), as it is a part of Agenda 21. There were 2 families that hit the news, that were off grid, in a town, that had water and waste taken care of. One was an Iraq vet! They were told they could NOT be off grid, against the law! Others are in trouble for ponds on their property, that the govt. wants to own (any water source)! Several strange things here. In CO, I can not rain catch or use my own well, for a garden, but must BUY water and have it hauled! I have 2 pathetic tomato plants on my deck. It hailed and rained so hard, I had to bring them in the house! I water them by hand from inside the house, not a hose. I could have caught GALLONS of water yesterday.
          It was great you got your grandmas stories! Mine was old when I was born, then ill later. They were not story tellers. I was about 12 or 13 when she died. Two sisters, alone on the prairie, and I know nothing! 🙁 I just feel I have the settler or prepper gene!
          I enjoy your stories, in your country! Keep writing them!

          • mountain gypsy,
            one man put in a big above ground swimming pool. that is not for swimming but for watering the garden.
            fix a system that takes water off the roof and feeds into tanks in the garage where it can’t be seen. when the tanks, barrels are full a ‘valve’ flops and the rest goes out in the downspouts.

  8. austinelaine says:

    Really enjoyed reading your story. Thanks for sharing. Wishing you success in the future!

  9. Fenland Prepper says:

    Happy Camper
    That was a great read. It is important to know that going off grid is not as easy as it may look. We hear stories that suggest it is far from hard and we should all do it, just buy some land and off you go.
    Your story lets people know that they can expect the odd failure before they get it right, but also not to get down hearted by this.
    Keep it up!

  10. Antizombie says:

    Well done. I too have lived on my 80 acre piece of heaven for 10 years now. I am forever amazed at the amount of work that needs to be done on a farm. My place still isn’t where I want it to be and I have worked hard to get it to that point. Part of the problem is that I work an hour and a half away during the week and only have the weekends to catch up.

    I have been through countless chickens. Am raising cattle, (only 5 heifers so far), and have had a garden for 7 of the 10 years. I still would hate to have to live on what my place produces. I still haven’t figured out the electricity problem yet but I have neared completion on the fireplace and should be able to keep warm.

    Owning a farm is one of the hardest jobs that you will ever know. Subsisting off of it takes years of hard work. If you have never done it, you can’t imagine how much work it takes to maintain a property that size. Throw in COPD, and Type 2 diabetes and approach 60 and you will certainly feel the full amount of the work. That having been said, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Good luck on your plan.

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