What is a Transition Homestead?

“The government can’t do it and the corporations won’t do it…we need to look at ourselves.”  
-Jules Dervaes

A loosely woven movement is emerging.  Homesteaders, gardeners, and urban farmers are gaining numbers, in response to a society filled with overconsumption and imbalance.  There are endless variations to this lifestyle and my family is a living example.

Our story began a few years ago when we watched a 10 minute video, Homegrown Revolution.  We accepted that we needed to live the solutions we wanted to see.  Similar to people who live in transition towns, we have dedicated our home and lifestyle choices to ‘transitioning’ to a post-peak existence in the retrofitted suburbs with the following aims:

* Sustainable food production

* Relocalizing our economy

* Living in deep relationship with the natural world

Soil Solutions: Hugelkultur Beds

Baseline Soil Condition:  No soil🌱

Soil solutions 4

In 2015 we built a Hugelkultur bed out of old logs found around the property and topped the bed with an 9-12 inch layer of wood chips. We drenched the bed daily for a week to kickstart the composting process.

After the bed settled for a month, we planted our favorite nitrogen fixing cover crop right into the wood chips (no soil).  In late spring 2016 we planted out a berry garden:

* Blackberries
* Blueberries
* Raspberries
* Strawberries

All our plants had added soil cover at their roots. No other soil was added. By spring 2017, we had a thriving plot of food production. 🍓🌸🍓

Soil Solutions: Edge Ecosystems

Baseline Soil Condition: Very limited growth

before and after Meme 2

To promote ‘edge ecosystems’ we built a perimeter around one of our planned food forrest areas with straw bale beds (on 2 of 4 edges) and Hugelkultur beds on the other 2 edges. These boundaries increase water retention, as well as promote the ‘edge effect’.

The edge effect is the increased bio-dynamics and diversity at the overlapping lines between 2 adjacent ecosystems.

Soil Solutions: Building New Soil

Baseline Soil Condition:  End of summer last year, we had a rocky patch of land that nothing seemed to grow on.

before and After meme 1

Instead of continuing to dig down, we decided to build the condition of the soil on top in hopes to restore a healthy soil web…

* We laid down bulbs (right on top of the rocky soil)
* Heavily mulched with straw
* Covered with over 180 lbs. of free coffee grounds from a neighborhood coffee shop
* Scattered our ‘go to’ nitrogen fixing cover crop (Austrian Winter Pea & Red Clover)

Today we have a beautiful, soil building, garden for our bees and humans alike to enjoy! 🌼🍃🌷🍃🌸

Soil Solutions: Woodchip Gardening

Baseline Soil Condition:  Dry clay soil with zero growth

before and after 3 Meme

We promoted healing by…

* Back to Eden woodchip gardening (2 truckloads)
* Free range chicken disturbance all growing season 2015
* Nitrogen fixing cover crop in late 2015 and through 2016
* Perennials planted out 2016 (Raspberries, Rhubarb, Aster, Sun chokes, Egyptian walking onions, and Asparagus)
* Annuals planted out 2017 (Winter squash varieties, Pumpkins, Pea varieties, Zucchini, and Cucumbers)

Going Vertical

Since we are limited right now to 0.33 acres, this year we are starting to experiment with vertical gardening.  This is an installation we built 2 weekends ago and the straw bales are almost fully conditioned and ready to plant peas & squash.  Standing just above 6 feet at the peak, and 16 ft. long, this vertical vining garden was actually pretty easy to build for right around $200!

We used 4 Cattle Panels ($20/each) & 18 Straw Bales ($7/each) = $206 plus tax

Each cattle panel is 4 ft X 20 ft.

*  With wire cutters we cut along all the 4 ft. boarder-lines to create 4 inch spikes to anchor the cattle panels into the ground and used the bend of the 20 ft. length to create the arch.

*  On the outer perimeter we lined up straw bales lengthwise (2 bales deep) to provide anchor support and a nutrient rich medium to plant our garden.

*  The tunnel is 16 ft. long (4 cattle panels). After the structure was in place, we zip-tied the cattle panels together, as well as zip-tied the cattle panels to the straw bales twine.

What is Fruit Hill Farm?

Where are you located?  

We live on 1/3rd acre lot in Millwood.  Resting on the banks of the Spokane River, Millwood is small town in center of the Spokane Valley.

What do you do specifically?

After watching Homegrown Revolution, among other influences, we felt called to start living differently.  In 2015 we committed our property to food production, resilience, and living in a regenerative relationship with the natural world.  This year we are also leasing 10 plots at Pumpkin Patch Community Garden.  We built infrastructure on our leased plots to extend our growing season to yearlong, mild winters permitting.

We are actively looking to purchase 2+ acres in the Millwood/Spokane Valley area to start a nursery.

plots 3

Do you give tours?

If you are interested in increasing the productivity of your home, we would love to meet you.  Lunch at our place, us visiting your property, or a quick coffee meeting are all ways we would love to connect with you!

If you have a:
*  youth group
*  garden club
*  civic group
…and want to host a workshop we have would love to plan something with you.

*  A developing perennial food forest  *  Chickens  *  Bunnies  *  Bee Hives  *  Multiple  soil building projects  *  Cut flowers *  Berries galore *

bunnies 2

Are you a real farm?

We produce food in excess to what our family consumes.  However, our excesses are often gifted to neighbors and other community members.

We have also been known to set up and manage chicken coops and bunny hutches for our neighbors who are interested in incorporating elements of suburban farming on their properties but don’t know how to start.  We believe the more families in our neighborhood that are engaged in this work, the more resilient our neighborhood is for everyone!

What will you be selling at the Millwood Farmer’s Market this year?

We will be selling surpluses from our property.

This includes:
*  Eggs
*  Honey
*  Microgreen
*  Greens & edible flowers
*  Dehydrated soup & stew mixes
*  Baked goods

We will also have books, specifically copies of books that helped us along our journey.  Mostly we will be at the Millwood Farmer’s Market because we love our community.  We want to share ideas with our neighbors about becoming a more resilient Millwood!

How do you make money?

We have jobs!

We do have future plans to set up a commercial nursery, but until that happens we are enthusiasts first.  Also, we are developing a network of other passionate homesteaders & farmers who want to engage their communities the same way we have engaged ours.

The Business of Spring

No doubt spring is the busiest time of the year.  By this time next weekend we will be in full blow production mode with the installation of the 2018 apiary, the micro-greens grow room will be at full capacity, and we still have infrastructure to build on our 10 plots at the community garden.

And then there are our ‘real’ jobs that pay the bills…

Chicks

It’s a time of a lot of work, but it is also an energizing time.  New life abounds in spring!  Flowers break through, bees hives hum anew, and baby animals are everywhere.

This is the most treasured time of year.

 

Simple Peace

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.  (Jeremiah 29:5)

When I was coming of age I wanted to move to the woods and ‘live off the fat of the land’.  One of my most treasured birthday gifts for my 18th birthday was, Old Fashion Recipe Book: An Encyclopedia of Country Living.

At 18 years old I didn’t have enough money for land, so instead I went to school and the next thing I knew I was 40 years old.

Praise God that my 40’s ushered in a new phase of my life.  My new life is a simple one.  I’ll admit that sometimes I envy others who make different choices, but mostly I am just so thankful.  Thankful for my relationships with God, my husband, my son, and my community.  I thank God that for the last 4 years, through God, I have lived in simple peace.

How Many Acres?

At Fruit Hill Farm we are looking to expand our footprint ‘under cultivation’ and that has sparked conversations around the dinner table.

“How many acres should we be aiming to get?”

It is a question every traditional homesteading family asks.  Not enough acres and we will not be able to meet the goals of our family’s homestead.  Too many acres and we may be ‘trapped’ under a list of projects that are too ambitious.

Our challenge is compounded since we are not a traditional homestead.  We chose to ‘grow where we were planted’.  We didn’t move to a rural area to live our homesteading dream.  Modeling ourselves after inspirations such as the Dervaes family, we are homesteading in the suburbs.

Our goal is to purchase enough small parcels within walking/biking distance of our home to cultivate.  Ideal plots will be greater than a half acre and not have any buildings on it.  So beyond being limited by what we can afford, how do we determine how many acres?

What are we trying to achieve?

There are 2 primary desires for why we want to farm land:

*  Heal our land (sequester carbon, establish mycelium network, restore biodiversity)

*  Food security

In regards to healing our land, that desire does not provide us helpful guidance.  In our hearts, every acre on earth should be restored back to Eden.

Food security is a better guide for us.  With our 1/3rd acre lot we already have enough land to provide for enough food for our family.  That is we could survive off our current land base, but it would be a diet unlike that of even the strictest American plant-based diet.  We can grow starch with potatoes, sweet potatoes, and sun chokes.  However, we don’t have enough land to grow enough grains for our family.  We are experimenting this next growing season with growing grains like oats and sorghum, but how much land that will take is still to be determined.

During our most ambitious conversations we ask ourselves, ‘Is Millwood capable of growing it’s own food base?’ 

Millwood Statistics

*  ~2000 citizens

*  2 lbs/day plant based diet per person to sustain

–  1,460,000 lbs. of crops/year to feed Millwood at sustaining levels

–  If we use the Dervaes family’s yield as the upper limit of yield (6000 lbs/yr on 0.1 acre) = 60,000 lbs./acre max.

–  24.33 acres at optimal yields (which is dependent of quality of land and skill-sets we do not yet have)

Next Level Considerations

Keep in mind the above thought experiment is just to sustain.  There is no dairy and few grains in a diet that can be provided on 25 acres for 2000 people.  However, if individual households would also integrate their yards into the food security plan, the diet could also provide for meat (primarily fowl and rabbit).

If we include ducks, it would significantly increase cooking possibilities as duck have excess oils.  Also, female fowl can provide eggs to the diet.

Homesteading Rules of Thumb (results vary based on breed and skill level of homesteader)

*  A milking goat provides on average 457 gallons/yr. (1.5 gallons * 305 lactation days; goats cannot be raised in solitude)

*  A chicken can produce up to 250 eggs/yr.

*  A duck can produce on average 1.5 cups of rendered oil

*  1 rabbit buck and 3 rabbit does can provide as much meat/yr. as a cow (and will consume half the feed)

*  A beehive can yield up to 0.5-1.5 gallons of honey (our yield has been closer to 0.5 gallons/hive)