Saturday, July 26, 2008

Me? A Conservationist?

Conservationist is a term that use to make me shudder when I would hear people refer to me as one. It is a term that some use to describe "tree huggers" or some of the more radical groups. It has taken some time for me to feel comfortable with the term. Now, I readily admit that I am a conservationist. To be a homesteader, you must have a certain level of conservationist attitude. Let me explain.

We are working towards what the world would refer to as self-reliance on our homestead. Joe works off the homestead at a business in town to earn an income. At home, we are slowly adding to our livestock as money permits. We currently have Hampshire sheep, a ewe and ram, to start off with. Next spring we will be adding another ewe that will increase the breeding options. Next spring will see many changes in the amount of livestock that we have. Hopefully, we will have our first lamb born in the early spring. We are also going to be introducing Alpine goats to the homestead to raise for their milk.

Over the summer, we are going to be building a poultry coop with a detachable chicken tractor in preparation of buying new poultry in the spring. The chickens, guineas, and turkeys we had last summer were killed by cats and wildlife by late fall. This time around, we will have them more secure at night to prevent a repeat of last year's losses.

Gardening is another area where we are working towards producing our own food. Each year as we go through the challenges of heavy spring rains and intense summer heat, we are learning more about what gardening tips works and what ones do not. With each season, our garden is becoming more successful through the lessons learned.

One of Joe's co-workers lives off-grid using a wind/solar combination system that he built himself. The system is far less expensive than the ones you buy. Joe is talking to him about helping him to build a similar system for our homestead. We plan to remain on-grid. First, it will provide us a back-up system in case we don't produce enough due to weather conditions. Secondly, during the times when we are producing more than we need, the electric company will then pay us for the surplus energy we produced. Once we have learned how to build the system, we will be able to add onto it to increase the amount of electricity produced, which could lead to extra income for the homestead.

On our homestead, we have a large percentage of the land that is wooded. Among the trees are pecan, wild plum, pears, persimmons, apples, along with many non-fruit or nut bearing trees. These trees provide shade and protection to the livestock as well as our family from storms. They also provide our wood stoves with the fuel we need to heat the home and to cook on our wood cookstove. If we were to allow the trees to all be cleared to make more grazing or planting areas, we would lose a precious resource for heating & cooking. We conserve our wood resources through being smart about how we get our firewood needs met. One way being to only cut down the trees tha are dead or have been badly damaged in a storm. There are always neighbors around who have downed trees or tree limbs after major storms, or who are in need of a treeline being cleared to make room for fencing. They are also a great resource for getting firewood without exhausting our woods.

There are many other examples of resources we have on the homestead that we have to carefully plan the use of. Livestock breeding must be carefully managed so that we will never be short on meat supply while still not over-breeding the females. We will be raising 2 types of chickens. One will be our egg layers and the other will be a larger fast growing breed raised for meat. Both breeds will have a set number of hens allowed to nest and hatch out young each spring to keep the flock numbers built up. Turkeys will also be raised for meat with at least 1 tom and 4-5 hens to provide not only our meat, but new hatchlings in the spring. The guineas are strictlly for insect control and will be allowed to nest as often as their nature dictates. Our garden area has to be carefully maintained throughout the year. The crops even in a home garden need to be rotated each year to help insure that the soil is not depleted of vital nutrients. Compost must be produced and the pile maintained to get the most benefit from it.

A resource many don't consider in their conservation attitude is the family income. We have a single income supporting our family. This is in part one of the reasons why it takes up abit longer to get the homestead fully functioning as it should. We are doing it without using any credit of any kind. The income that we make through Joe's job or through any sales that I make from home has to be carefully utilized so that all the basic needs are met. One way that I conserve the income is to cook completely from scratch. By eliminating the store bought convenience & packaged foods, I have greatly reduced our grocery bill each month. We base any purchase on whether it is a "need" or a "want." Through recycling fabrics and other resources, I make clothing, quilts, and other items that we need. Joe's old t-shirts, for example, that may be in great shape other than a hole in the fabric can be turned into cloth diapers, cut down and resewn to make a smaller shirt for one of the little ones, or a quilt. An old white bed sheet that is worn in an area or torn can be made into a slip, apron, bloomers for our daughter, or smaller squares can be used for a quilt. Anything made of fabric that is in our home has the potential to be recycled and made into something else that we need once it's original purpose has been met. I love looking at what we have to see how it can be recycled into something else.

Am I a tree hugger as many seem to think conservationists are? Not by a long shot. I am however, a conservationist of the homestead resources. I am so grateful that as a child I was taught how to use the old fashioned ways of doing things to have what you need. I remember a plaque in a friend's home that read: "Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, Or do without." It was a phrase commonly known back in the days of the Great Depression. My Grandma and my father both continued to live according to thiat verse even 40 years after the depression was over. For them, it was a way of life. As a child, they passed it on to me and for this I thank them. Through their instructions and example of how to conserve your resources, I was taught the homesteading skills that are benefitting my family today.