52 Homesteading Skills in One Year Projects 35 – 52
We did it!
And we didn’t do it.
We did manage to learn 52 homesteading skills in one year, but I didn’t write about each one. I waaaaaaaaay underestimated how much time it takes to write, take pictures, deal with technical issues, post, send emails… It’s a lot of work. Fun and rewarding work, but still time consuming.
Hats off to those who do this every week. You are amazing! I, on the other hand, am not. So you are going to have to settle for pictures and a brief description of the remaining skills we learned.
35. Learning to milk a goat
This is so much fun. No, really. You need to try milking a goat. Magic. Pure magic. Unfortunately, I wasn’t that great at it. I think it might take me about five hours to milk one goat. But like I told Jérémie, I’m sure I’ll get better at it with practice, right? The fact is I’m not sure he is as convinced as I am that we need to have goats on our farm. But we really do because after I tasted a glass of fresh-from-the-goat milk, there is no going back. And just think of the delicious goat cheese you could make. I really need to go out and get a goat TODAY.
I would like to say a big thank you to Thornehill Farm in Allison, NB for showing me around their farm and watching very patiently as I slowly and very badly milked their goats. Thank you! If you haven’t been to Thornehill Farm before, you must go check it out. You must! They have the nicest farm stand around with all sorts of local and organic vegetables, fruits, eggs and meat – most of which is raised and grown on their farm. However, their specialty is all natural, handmade goat’s milk soaps and products, which smell divine. If you’re lucky, you’ll also get to have a peek at their farm animals including their awesome, friendly goats. Go check it out!
36. Collecting and eating wild edibles found on our farm
Let’s face it. Gardening is a lot of work so if you can find free organic food in your yard that you didn’t have to plant or weed yourself, you can save time and money. Sign me up for that!
This spring and summer I discovered all kinds of interesting and sometimes delicious morsels growing wild on the farm from plantain, lamb’s quarters and chickweed to wild mint, purslane clover and sorrel.
There is a good chance that you too have food growing in your lawn or around your home that you didn’t plant and that you probably didn’t even know was there. Except for the dandelions. You probably spotted those.
37. Learning to compost
We were going to build a compost bin with the wood you see in the above photo. As you can see the kids got to it first and our compost bin is now a fort. Sigh. (See skill #49 Learning to homestead with kids.)
So I have been using the above plastic barrels that were gifted to us from Jérémie’s uncle and aunt. Thanks guys! We’ve put them to good use. I’ve been filling them up. We’ll see how the compost eventually turns out.
38. Learning to prune
Remember my raspberry bush? I needed to learn this skill. So with a “how to” pruning book in one hand and a pair of shears in another, I did my best to prune our fruit trees. This fall I used tape to mark off where I will prune the trees once they go dormant in the winter.
39. Putting together a bee hive
I thought this would be easy, but just like everything else about beekeeping, it can be complicated and every beekeeper will likely have a slightly different set up. For example, I use a screened bottom board with a slatted rack, all medium, 8 frame boxes for both brood and honey, wooden frames with a Rite-Cell foundation and a gabled ventilated roof over a quilt box for moisture control. Have I confused you yet?
My favourite online beekeeper, Rusty from HoneyBeeSuite.com, once said that if she ever writes a book on beekeeping she’s going to call it – “If You Thought Advanced Differential Equations were Confusing, Wait Till You try Beekeeping.” I think she has it just about right.
40. Learning to inspect a beehive
Normally I don’t wear gloves when I’m inspecting my hives because my bees are gentle and I am too clumsy with gloves. But today they were defensive. Perhaps because the weather is changing and they have a full box of honey to protect.
41. Learning to use a smoker
Just like the gloves, I rarely use a smoker because my bees are so cooperative on hive inspections. But when you need the bees to get out of the way, ignore what you are doing or simply get them to calm down when they are having a bad day (Yup, bees have those too), smokers are an awesome beekeeping tool. I still remember my mentor telling me during my first hive inspection (without a smoker) that he only brings out the smoker when the bees are “rowdy”. I had no idea what he was talking about. I do now. I can also spot…
42. How to extract honey
Most first year beekeepers do not get any honey as the bees usually aren’t strong enough to make an excess amount. They need every drop just to make it through the winter. My hives were no exception. But my mentor, George Wheatley, from Doré Honey in Upper Coverdale, let me tag along at his apiary for an afternoon of removing honey supers and later I was able to watch him extract the honey from the frames. Now that is a homesteading skill I could do all day long.
43. Feeding bees
This sounds so easy it shouldn’t even be a skill. Right? Wrong! There is a correct and incorrect way to do this. There’s also a when, if, should you, how much and what kind. Basically, it’s complicated and I’m not really sure I’ve figured it all out.
As long as the sugar water can stay at a temperature of 10°C (below that you have to feed fondant or hard candy), I prefer a pail that is set upside down over a hole in the inner cover as pictured above. But this is the best article I’ve found describing the different feeders and the pros and cons of each.
44. Rotating crops
I have talked about, said I was going to, mapped out a plan, but this is the first year I’ve actually rotated my crops. Crop rotation is simply planting a different family of vegetables in a new spot from year to year. Why go to this trouble? If you don’t, you’ll eventually deplete your soil of certain nutrients. There are also many other benefits, which you can read about here. Tip: Mother Earth News has a great online Vegetable Garden Planner that not only allows you to easily design your garden, but keep track of where you’ve planted crops making rotation that much easier.
45. Learning the art of weeding
This is a skill I learned thanks to a friend who put the time and effort into creating the garden you see in this picture. She was an expert weeder and when I took the garden over I promised myself I would keep it as tidy and productive as she did.
I don’t think anyone really believed me when I said this. Friends and family members love to refer to my garden as “where only the fittest survive”. But look at my garden now baby! Woohoo!
PS. Make no mistake. There is a skill to weeding, which you can read about here.
46. Gardening like “Back to Eden”
The Old Walsh Farm is going “Back to Eden”. If you haven’t heard of this gardening technique, check out the video here. Basically, it is a method for gardening that follows nature’s example.
So over the last couple of weeks I have started covering my garden with wood chips (actually my duck’s bedding materials) to help improve, protect and keep moisture in the soil. My hope is that the wood chips will have a chance to break down before the spring planting season and that I’ll have the best garden ever. We’ll see…
47. Storing food for the winter
I have to admit that I didn’t do such a stellar job with this skill. All my tomatoes were killed in the last frost before I had a chance to harvest them. My squash was a failure this year. I have four. I can eat four in one week! Sigh. But I did manage to grow lots of beans that I can dry as well as carrots, beets and rutabaga. I also grew and dried garlic for the first time. It will be so fun to see how long these foods will last in storage. Yes, I understand this is not everybody’s idea of fun.
48. Learn to use a scythe
Did you know you can harvest an acre of hay or grain in just one day using nothing but a muscle powered scythe? For a homesteader on a small acreage, a scythe can be an invaluable implement saving big money on unnecessary machines. No, it’s not easy to wield, but once you get the hang of it, you may find it is the perfect cutting tool or that you really need to buy a tractor.
49. Homesteading with kids
This is the toughest skill of all and deserves a post of its own because I hate to tell you but, it’s difficult. Like pull your hair out and scream kind of difficult. Like you wonder why you started these homesteading projects in the first place kind of difficult. But you do it. Because they are your most precious crop on the farm and the reason you wanted to do this homesteading thing in the first place.
50. Getting out and staying out of debt
This is hard. There are so many times this year that I have been tempted to buy something or other that we really couldn’t afford – yet. Like goats. Like sheep. Like turkeys. Some people make debt and homesteading work. And that’s great. But I think we would have already failed as homesteaders if we had to pay debt on top of everything else. So we are starting small and adding slowly to our growing homestead.
The best thing I can say about this is…Starting a farm requires you to make an investment and the returns are slow to come. Take chickens, for example. Sure, chicks are cheap. But setting up a coop isn’t. And then you will likely buy feeders, waterers, food, etc. and it is going to be months before you even taste your first egg. If you can, eliminate your debt before you go off into the sunset and make your homesteading dreams a reality.
51. Homemade cough syrup
I have a small medicinal garden, but up until now I have done nothing with it except watch it grow. It is not making any of us healthier. So this fall I decided to remedy this and make some cough syrup using a recipe from Reformation Acres. Instead of storing it in the fridge, I froze it in cubes. Now I will easily be able to defrost what I need when the cold season inevitably strikes.
52. Learning to spin wool
Actually, I haven’t done this one yet because the only course I could find takes place this October 20 to 22 at KnitEast in St. Andrews. And I’m going – two weeks too late, but the tickets are bought and the hotel booked so I’ve decided to count this as my 52 homesteading skill. Stay tuned for details.
So, now what? Is this the end of the Old Walsh Farm?
Well, it’s certainly not the end of the farm. Next spring we hope to add turkeys, goats and sheep. We would also like to plant a one acre berry u-pick, a field of lavender and a “giving garden” to donate to the Food Bank.
As for the blog, that’s up to you. What do you think? Do you enjoy reading these posts? Would you like to hear more about what we’re up to on the farm? Please let me know!
Finally, I would like to thank YOU for following along. There is no way I would have followed through and actually accomplished and tried all the new things I did this year if I didn’t have this blog and you to read them.
I would also like to say a special thank you to all those who shared and commented on my posts – it meant more to me than you know.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I really can’t say this enough.