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There was a time, not too terribly long ago, when it would have been usual for someone to not grow or forage the bulk of their food or obtain it from a neighbor through a trade or barter situation. A lot of time, sweat and sometimes even tears went into procuring food. Then the rail roads came and transporting food became much easier. One no longer had to grow locally everything that was eaten.
At the end of World War II 40% of the food consumed in America came from back yard gardens. 40% is still a huge amount of food!
In today’s world our food is as close as the corner market or super market strip mall. Many people don’t give much thought to food beyond the day or week. We don’t think about how much food we actually eat in a month or a year.
Last week, on a different blog, I posted an article on how much food a pioneer family raised in a summer to get them through the winter. I shared an excerpt from a book of actual letters written by a homesteader. The sheer amount of food was staggering. Two tons of potatoes, half a ton of carrots, 100 heads of cabbage plus much more.
My husband, Joe, and I have been talking a lot about what it would take for us to provide the bulk of our own foods. At this point in time we do provide some things ourselves but no where near what would be need to make it through a winter.
Most of the food we are able to provide for ourselves is animal products. We raise chickens and ducks for eggs and meat. However, we do not grow our own food for our poultry so we aren’t truly providing for ourselves. We do also put a fair amount of meat in the freezer through hunting and fishing. The only other meat we have is beef from a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and the occasional extra beef purchase made through a local farmer. We also get all of our milk from a local farmer through a herdshare arrangement. We actually own three and a half ‘shares’ of a dairy cow which provides us with 3 and a half gallons of fresh milk each week. We try to garden each year but have yet to grow more than potatoes and lettuce. We purchase all of our grains, beans and most of our produce through a co-op or the local market.
In our quest for freedom from dependence providing the bulk of our food is important. But I will admit the thought of that is completely overwhelming!
Joe and I decided that even though the idea of growing, raising or foraging the bulk of our food sounds impossible for us now we would like to start keeping track of what we are able to provide. The reality is that we won’t be able to do it all on our own. There will be a lot of intermediary steps to get us where we want to be in the end.
Could we provide 40% of our food like the the Victory Gardens did?
Could we eliminate the need for darkening the doors of the local grocery store by shopping alternative sources such as farms, farmers markets, co-ops, etc?
Would it ever be possible for us to provide the bulk of our food and get the few things we couldn’t raise ourselves from local farmers and ranchers?
Here are the things we are attempting this year to help us with our goals.
This has been a challenge. We have put in a small garden each year but haven’t had much success. We have been able to grow potatoes quite well and lettuce okay. Here is one row of potatoes it is about 25 feet long. They need to be covered which is on my list of things to do this evening. We have another section with potatoes and another will go in this weekend.
We had been doing raised boxes but decided to take out some of them and just grow in the ground. We are thinking the boxes and the wind are not a good combination with keeping the plants watered. We also have put up a wind barrier on the one side of the garden to help cut down on the wind beating the plants up. And we decided to expand the garden and put more long term things in the new area. The part on the right surrounded by pallets is the original garden that was in place when we moved here. The pallets look awful but help with cutting down the wind and keeping the neighbor’s goats out. On the left we added new fencing last weekend. There are still some old posts in the middle that we couldn’t get out so they’ll stay for now and we’ll plant around them. The tires are protecting a new grape vine.
My next door neighbor has had success with putting fruit trees in their garden area. We are going to copy them in the new section plus add in a couple of grape vines. I found a nursery in town that specializes in hardy plants that will grow here. The manager helped me pick out things specifically for my high wind area. I picked up two grape vines (I think they are Valiant) that he said would do well where we live. They have been in the ground about a week and still look good. One of them is inside two tires and the other in a bucket that we took the bottom out of to help protect them from the wind until they are established.
I also got some raspberry starts from another friend the other day. We put those along the fence in the original garden section. While I was there for the berries she gave me a tour of her garden. I got some great ideas that I’m hoping will help us be successful. I was super impressed with how much she is growing on her 2.5 acres. Here is a picture showing a couple of the raspberry plants. I think we have about a 15 foot row of them. Most are looking pretty good but I don’t think all of them will make it. My friend told me I could go get more if needed.
It is still very early in the gardening season. We’re hopeful that we’ll be more successful this year with our garden. So far though not much is up. We did have some radishes coming up nicely until one of the chickens got in and thinned them for us (wasn’t that nice of her?) and then we found a sparrow or something in there too. I guess the birds like our garden.
We currently raise chickens and ducks for meat and eggs. We usually raise extra chickens during the summer to put in the freezer. Previously we’ve ordered these chickens from a hatchery and either pick Cornish Cross or something like White Rocks (a very nice dual purpose bird). My husband like the Cornish Cross since they are what he is used to (big breast, short legs, great for making fried chicken). I prefer the dual purpose birds since they seem to have more flavor. We compromise by getting both or alternating year by year. The picture above is of the two chicken tractors that my husband put together three years ago. The lid on one of them is in need of replacing and the frames need to be tightened up but they are still in pretty good shape. This year we are not going to order any hatchery chicks. Right now we have a mama setting on eggs.
We’ll also incubate eggs. My neighbor has two little incubators that we used last year and worked well. My girl that just graduated from high school will be in charge of incubating (she loves to do it). The young hens will be kept for egg production and the cockerels will be for meat. We won’t incubate or add any ducks this year even though we did have a duck that went broody. We let her set for about 2 weeks but nothing developed. Below is the duck that went broody. Her name is Little Boy. Our son named her. When we found out Little Boy was actually a Little Girl we suggested changing the name but he said nope. Her name is Little Boy.
We currently have 18 ducks but a few are last years drakes that need to go to freezer camp. They are not meat ducks so do not have much meat on them but work well for stewing. Our old hens will probably also be culled for stewing hens this fall. Culling the hens is hard for me.
Up until recently the chickens and ducks have had full access to our two acres (except the fenced garden which is supposed to keep them out). However, they all decided two acres wasn’t enough and started sneaking off. I caught the chickens across the fence a few times recently and the ducks were crossing the road to go lay eggs in an empty field. So we put up a fence. The new poultry yard took just under 300 feet of fencing so they do have a fair amount of space. I had a hard time getting a picture of the entire area but this one shows the fence on the south side going to the north.
Pretty much everything we do around here has been done on the cheap. You may have noticed that many of the posts in the poultry yard are cherry landscape ties. They were on sale for $1.97 each and while they may warp a little over time they tend to be fairly sturdy for fencing. We did add in a metal posts also. Our main chicken coop is made out of pallets and covered with cheap particle board. The coop doesn’t have a floor but does have about 8 inches of bedding built up (a combination of wood shavings, straw, junk hay and shredded paper). The roof is metal that was given to us. We attached an old dog run to the coop. The run now opens to the new poultry yard. While it will never win any beauty contests it works quite well.
Below is another example of our cheap housing. This is the duck house made out of cinder blocks that came with our house, a metal roof (the roofing was given to us) and a fancy door made out of two posts that were found on the property and a pallet. The ducks sleep in there at night. Chickens and ducks hang out in there during the day. To the left is a small little shelter for them to also hang out and some of the chickens lay their eggs in there. That shelter was made out of leftovers. The cinder blocks and scrap boards actually serve a purpose. One cinder block holds the duck door shut at night. The others get moved around every few days. Under the blocks and boards are often worms and other things that the chickens and ducks think are a wonderful treat.
Even though the chickens and ducks have plenty of space in their new digs they don’t agree. As soon as they see me they all come running over to the gate begging to be let out. Right now, I’m still letting them out to roam for a few hours before dark thinking they can’t get in too much trouble. But soon we are going to be planting new grass so they won’t be able to go out until that comes in. I’m sure they think they are abused.
Separate from the poultry yard we have two more little coops. The one on the right is what we use as a brooder. It is made out of pallets like the big coop but smaller (about 4 foot by 8 foot) and has a floor in it. We added the outdoor pen to it last year. Right now it holds a new rooster that we are trying to add to the flock. So far it hasn’t went well. He and our old roo fight through the fencing. The little coop on the left is our original coop. We originally only planned to have six chickens so made a small little coop for them to stay in at night and they would free range during the day. This little coop is where the setting mama is right now.
While we only have chickens and ducks right now we are discussing adding meat rabbits this year. Also, we would love to have a couple of dairy goats. However, we have some issues with the neighborhood that have made things challenging. We are hoping that those issues are resolving and dairy goats are in our near future.
Hunting is one of our main sources for meat. My husband and daughter hunt antelope and deer here in Wyoming. This year he may also add in elk.
We’re also attempting to learn about foraging plants. I have to admit when we look around this area (High Plains of Wyoming) we don’t see a lot of food but I suspect there is more than we know. We did recently buy a book on foraging but it is more of a general book then one specific for our area. I also got this great Kindle book on cooking with dandelions. We don’t actually have many dandelions which is apparently NOT a good thing. Apparently dandelions are evidence of fertile soil. I guess our sand dune doesn’t qualify as fertile.
We do have a fair amount of cactus so I have been researching ways to harvest and use cactus. I think my first cactus project will be jelly.
Are you growing, raising or foraging your own food?
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