A loosely woven movement is emerging. Within it are homesteaders, gardeners, and urban farmers. We are gaining in numbers in response to a society filled with overconsumption and imbalance.
My family uses the label of transition homesteading to describe how we live. We are sharing our story of how we came to accept that we needed to start living solutions to the problems we saw on the world. Similar to people who live in transition towns we have dedicated our home in our lifestyle choices to transitioning to life of less.
One of the major differences between us and others who are part of the movement, we started to transition where we were already living, in the suburbs…
Even though we fell in love with the idea of buying acreage off in the woods somewhere, every time we explored the option in earnest we knew it wasn’t the path for us. This was partly due to the fact we were passionate about becoming debt-free, but it was also to prove it could be done wherever you find yourself. As the world experiences the pinch of a contracting economy and resources become more scarce, not everyone will be able to just move into the woods somewhere. Inspired by the works have David Holmgren and the Dervaes family we wanted to determine if our household could be retrofitted in the suburbs to be self sufficient. And if our household could, we wanted to discover how our entire neighborhood be transformed into a self-sufficient village?
As we started to live our journey three key principles revealed themselves in which a self-sufficient village could be built. The three principles are:
* Sustainable food production
* Relocalization of the economy
* Neighborhood community building
This year my husband wanted to expand our chicken operation. Unfortunately, we are only allowed to have four adult female fowl in our city. Our solution is we have become chicken concierges. No, we don’t really call ourselves that 😉
There are people in our neighborhood that are interested in raising chickens but cautious about going it alone. For those we set up the coop, provide the chickens, and even make daily visits to feed and water the chickens. Neighbors love getting their half of the farm fresh eggs that were harvested from their own backyard.
Why do we do it?
The more homes in our neighborhood that have gardens, orchards, chickens, bunnies, and beehives the more resilient our entire neighborhood becomes. It also normalizes homesteading activities for not only the house we have the chickens at, but for all their neighbors too. As we are out and about taking care of these chickens we have the opportunity to chat with neighbors and share our passion. Perhaps next, we will start offering to manage rabbit hutches for our neighbors too.
Baseline Soil Condition: Very limited growth
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.
Baseline Soil Condition: End of summer last year, we had a rocky patch of land that nothing seemed to grow on.
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)
Baseline Soil Condition: Dry clay soil with zero growth
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)
Since we are limited right now to 0.34 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.
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…
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.
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.
Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. (James 5:7)
Last Sunday our pastor shared a parable about a woman entering a store that is run by Jesus. She was invited to travel the aisles, filling the shopping cart with her heart’s desire. Packages with labels such as ‘end starvation and poverty’, ‘resolve wars’, ‘strengthen families’, and ‘heal the natural world’. Jesus rang her up and handed her seed packets.
Jesus said. “This is a catalog store…this is a place of dreams. You come and see what it looks like, and I give you the seeds. You go home and plant the seeds. You water them, nurture them, help them to grow, and someday someone else reaps the benefits.” (Gail Duba, 12/17/17)
As we wait for our Savior’s return, will we plant and nurture the seeds of His Kingdom?