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Designing the Mini-Homestead for healthy eating  RSS feed

 
Tina Paxton
Posts: 283
Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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Hi Carl Legge, thanks for joining us this week!

I wanted to get your thoughts on priorities for a "mini-homestead" of 1/2 acre (forgive the American measurements). The aim is feed two residents and guests a healthy omnivore diet with as much being from the homestead or foraged as possible. I live on the southeast coast of North Carolina, USA which roughly zone 8A but I can plant some zone 9 items in an area that has a white fence to create a microclimate.

Currently, I have meat rabbits, muscovy ducks for meat, and laying hens for eggs. I plan to add egg-layer ducks this year. I have mature pecan trees, oak trees, and immature mulberry and plum trees. I am trying to establish a pomegranate but it is not sure it wants to live or die. Roses and hibiscus seem to do very well as do blackberries and elderberries. I also have a couple of volunteer Wild Cherry trees (Prunus serotina).

Being near the coast and near freshwater rivers, fishing and clamming are both foraging activities I hope to develop.

 
D. Logan
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Location: Soutwest Ohio
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The question wasn't directed at me, but my understanding has been that even if you are amazing at stacking functions and production you'll probably not manage to feed that many people on the property without outside inputs. The key here seems to be your ability to forage. Fresh fish, clams and wild veggies. If you can bulk out your production with a lot of that when it is plentiful and then maybe fill in a few gaps at a farmer's market, I suspect you'll be able to eat almost entirely by the sweat of your own brow most of the year. I'd say your best bet is going to be to find out about when the local glut of production happens for various wild forage along with when things are legally 'in season' and fair game to gather. Once you know roughly when these times are, pick your plants based on harvest times when the wild forage is in decline. Foods that overwinter and produce in early spring are great for example. If you don't already have a structure in place, adding one that has a growable roof could increase your growing space by stacking those functions as well as possibly lower heating bills. Vining crops might be a good way to increase your growing space some as well.
 
Carl Legge
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Location: UK
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Hi Tina, thanks for the question.

Your objective is similar to ours here in Wales. Half an acre (I can speak acres and square metres ) is a good sized plot and you can do a lot with it. I think with the right crops you could achieve 70-80% of your fruit and veg needs once things are mature. You can easily be self sufficient in eggs and the extent that you'll meet your meat needs depends on how much you eat and whether you fancy eating other stuff from time to time.

I'll concentrate on your question of priorities rather than specific crops or animals. I also concur with D Logan's comments.

First thing is to have an efficient way to recycle animal & veg waste to ensure that the keep the soil in good heart. We use a huge compost tumbler to help us produce compost quicker than in bins. Also look to see what resources you have on the plot and which you can forage (eg seaweed) to help supplement what you produce yourselves.

Secondly, I'd say that some form of winter protection for some crops is essential. This will help you keep some crops over winter and also grow some summer crops that may be marginal outdoors. We have two polytunnels and I'd happily have more. They're also great for bringing on seedlings etc. Make sure you can easily irrigate them, we have a leaky hose irrigation system in ours which means we don't have to spend hours in the summer with hose in hand.

Thirdly, you need to think carefully about how you use your time. We've made mistakes here trying to develop growing spaces and then found that we've spread our time resource too thinly. Be kind to yourself and take things in steps and consolidate those steps. Also important is to think about how you design the space to make it easy to maintain. We found it a nightmare trying to maintain annual veg beds in grass/pasture for example. We now have hard edged raised beds that don't have the need to weed/cut encroaching herbage. And linked with this, pay attention to your zoning and keep things that need the most attention close to the house if that's possible. I also find that detailed planting & sowing plans and schedules are a huge help in cutting down wasted time thinking 'what to do'. They're not immutable and get flexed according to weather and circumstance.

Forthly, set time aside in your plans to process and preserve your hard won harvests. At the height of summer this can be a full time job. You'll need to have the equipment to do this. In addition to the 'normal' preserves, we ferment a lot of things and I also use a canner (bought from the USA!).

Fifthly, I strongly advocate growing lots of perennial veg. Martin Crawford's book is an excellent resource (as is his Forest Gardening book). They are tasty and you'll spend much less time sowing, planting and maintaining them than you will equivalent annual veg. Linked with this, be content to let annuals self seed in places, they'll find where they're happy and save you time and energy.

Lastly, if you haven't already got it, make a space (or spaces) for you to relax and enjoy your plot and and its products. Make time to enjoy it

Hope that is some help, you have an exciting journey ahead



 
Tina Paxton
Posts: 283
Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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Thanks D. Logan and Carl Legge for your wonderfully helpful responses!

It is true, D., that a half acre is insufficient under the best, most intensive, practices to achieve full independence even for two people. Being able to achieve 70-80% (as suggested by Carl) would be wonderful especially if part of that can be used in trade for items that I am unable to produce. For example, I like will not have a dairy animal as long as I work off the homestead. Thus, it would be great if I could arrange to trade eggs for milk. Another trade I’d like to set up is rabbit meat for venison or honey for venison as I know I will never be in a position or shape to go deer hunting myself. But, being able to trade what I can produce for what I can not will be valuable for achieving a higher percentage of “self”-sufficiency.

The wild foraging is an area I need to learn more about. I know there are edibles that I’m not tapping into and many that I’m not even aware of. I recall that the scientists at Fort Fisher Aquarium used to teach foraging classes – a review of their website only shows a class in surf fishing which I think I will sign up for…perhaps later they will have classes in clamming and foraging. I just found this pdf which is a great resource for seafood availability: http://www.nccatch.org/files/nc_seafood_availability_10-09.pdf. Much to explore in that direction.

D., living structure is already in place so no option for the living roof idea. I am looking at putting some trellis close to but not attached to the roof edges as both a vertical growing space and passive cooling of the house in summer. I don’t want the trellis attached to the house as it will allow for animal access we’d rather than have.

Carl, I’ll go point by point as you have so much good stuff in your response:

1. I am trying to keep in mind the stacking of functions to make use of the “wastes” of each element moving through the system to get maximum usage because often the “waste” of one will serve as food for another. I don’t have them system completely fleshed out but that is the goal….with everything ending up back in the soil to feed the soil and start the cycle all over again.
2. A greenhouse is on my wishlist. As I am planning my raised beds (for annuals) I am going to incorporate the ability to cover them as mini-polytunnels. We have a pretty long growing season here with some crops (brassicas especially) surviving much of the winter but some polytunnel ability would extend the options for winter fresh foods for sure.
3. Time management is a huge issue! I am very guilty of spreading my efforts too thin – trying to do too much and find myself spinning my wheels, so to speak. I learned the same lesson you speak of—that trying to grow annual veggies in weedy/grassy areas result in a frustrating mess. This year – raised beds near the back door for the more labor intensive annual veggies. I’m learning (but still make lots of mistakes) to plan and budget time and effort. I still struggle with way too many ideas running around in my head and not nearly enough time and muscle-power to get it all done.
4. food preservation: this is definitely an important link in the chain. I like the idea of fermenting foods and am working on developing those skills. Canning is something my elderly mother helps with when she is able. I also want to build a smoker and smoker foods. Dehydrating can be a problem with the high humidity leading to mold. Do you favor a particular method of fermenting (lacto-fermentation for example)?
5. Perennial veggies: I am working toward that for sure – both true perennials and self-seeders. My first effort was with Sunchokes but I’ve not been as lucky with those as most people seem to be. Not sure why. I like the idea of “plant now, harvest forever”.
6. How very true that is! And, how easy it is to forget in the bustle of “get’er done”…
 
Carl Legge
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Location: UK
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Tina Paxton wrote:
4. Food Preservation: this is definitely an important link in the chain. I like the idea of fermenting foods and am working on developing those skills. Canning is something my elderly mother helps with when she is able. I also want to build a smoker and smoker foods. Dehydrating can be a problem with the high humidity leading to mold. Do you favor a particular method of fermenting (lacto-fermentation for example)?


Hi Tina

Living on the wet west coast of Britain in an old (18th Century) stone built cottage I sympathise with your high humidity & mold concerns. I do use a dehydrator and then vac pac or use jars with silica packets in or pop in the freezer until I need to use. Many things that my friend in Rome can store just in the kitchen have to go in the fridge here.

Lacto-fermentation is fab. Sandor Katz's books are the standard works. There's a recipe or two on my blog as well. And I have two recently published books that I also recommend:

Leda Scheintaub's Cultured Foods for Your Kitchen: 100 Recipes Featuring the Bold Flavors of Fermentation

Kirsten & Christopher Shockey's Fermented Vegetables

Also very good generally on preserving is Alys Fowler's Abundance I have a recipe and some honourable mentions in this, so I should declare an interest

I have a smoker too and love the produce from it. If you are building your own make sure you can use it for cold and hot smoking and incorporate a thermometer so you can monitor temps for cold smoking. There's some pictures on my blog of my set up.

My very best wishes for fun and success
 
Tina Paxton
Posts: 283
Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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More books for my wishlist! Thanks for the info!

(Now, if only I'll win a copy of your book...hint hint Cassie! )
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