Why Homestead? One Woman’s Journey—Part II

Reader Contribution by Carla Scharber
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We had moved from suburbia to the country with a dream of homesteading, but had no definitive plan or funds for moving forward with that venture.  When our toddler was diagnosed with asthma, I immediately became somewhat obsessed with environmental toxins.  The only way we could afford organically grown foods and natural cleansers was to produce them ourselves.  The fire was lit and I turned my attention to addressing the first item on my homesteading agenda.  I needed to increase our income so I could purchase plants, seeds and eventually poultry.  I began by selling my mother-in-law’s stash of my husband’s childhood toys on eBay.  From there, we spent weekends at garage sales and auctions looking for inventory to sell online.   My husband thoroughly enjoyed the hunt which sometimes meant that more money was going out then was coming in.  This did jeopardize our household budget from time to time… so beware.

I purchased organic, heirlooms seeds for a large garden which I carefully planted and watered.  Plants appeared as expected in the newly rototilled soil and I was ecstatic.  Time passed, and while I was busy with toddlers and selling online the weeds thrived.  I did not realize how quickly weeds can overtake a garden or the amount of time necessary to properly weed a large garden.  Some plants produced, but many withered away.  I continued to read and learn.  In the following years, I tried moon cycle planting calendars, companion planting systems, etc.  However, I believe my greatest error was failing to consider our soil and the importance of soil health.  We have sandy soil on which there had been a potato farm for many years prior to the land being subdivided into a housing development.  The soil was tired, overworked and lacked nutrients.

Photo Credit: Mia Scharber

There were immediate options of course: straw bale gardening, raised beds, using horse or cow manure to improve the soil, etc.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have any connections when it came to sourcing any of the above.  Funds were low with nothing leftover to purchase soil amendments, materials for raised beds or enough straw bales to meet our garden needs.  I resigned myself to slow, but hopefully effective, improvements.  We built a compost bin for our coffee grounds, food scraps and other compostable materials.   Instead of planting fruits and vegetables for one season, we planted green manures: buckwheat and hairy vetch.  Although both green crops grew, they never looked as strong and healthy as the picture posted.  We also planted legumes and practiced rotation cropping.   All our efforts helped, but ultimately, it was the purchase of laying hens that made the greatest impact on the productivity of our soil.  We had to wait an entire season to utilize the black gold, chicken manure being too nitrogen rich for immediate use), but we were pleased with the improvement of our soil and increased crop production.

Photo Credit:  Mia Scharber

Although we now had enough produce to meet our summer needs, berries for jams and jellies to sell at the local farmer’s market, and eggs to sell to family and neighbors, we were far from achieving my dream of a sustainable homestead. In the Fall of 2017, our youngest went off to college.  After years of the endless comings and goings of teenagers and friends, the house felt too empty, too quiet.  Initially, I had wanted to go “back to work” to connect with others and to increase my earnings to help with education costs.  I made a few unsatisfactory attempts to rejoin the 9 to 5 workforce but  I found the workplace too constricting and less rewarding than I remembered.  Ironically, the very lifestyle that I once perceived as unrelenting work, has enticed me back.    

Now empty nesters in our 50’s, I have come to the realization that our tiny 1.67 acres could, with some thoughtful planning, be developed into a productive, sustainable micro farm.  I consider myself a lifetime learner and there is still so much to learn, many ideas to pursue and more improvements to be made.  I’m still a novice homesteader, but I’m happy to say the adventure continues. 

Photo Credit:  Mia Scharber

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