Thank you Facebook. For if it weren’t for all your awesomeness I might not be writing here once again today.
I recently got a message on Facebook from an old high school friend who had come across my page and noticed what has changed for me since we last saw each other 9 years ago… I garden, a lot, and I’m super amped about it.
Her message to me was as follows: So are you like a total homesteader; beekeeping, growing food and all that? If so, I would love to get some tips from you! And just hear about your vision/projects! One of my eventual goals is to have a sustainable homestead situation, but I am so far from that at the moment. I’m excited about the idea, but a little overwhelmed thinking about learning all the necessary skills and finding the initial capital for even a small bit of land, etc etc. Anyway, I know this is a bit out of the blue, but I would love to hear your story of how you got into this stuff, what you are working on, how you’re making it work, if you had training of any kind, etc! If you have time, please do hit me up with your story!
Here’s what I wrote back, and in turn made me want to blog again:
It’s awesome to hear that you’re getting into homesteading, it’s such a fulling way to use your time. I feel that way so much so that when the time is right, I’d love to stop working for other people and start making a living through my homesteading life… a lot of thought needs to go into that before I can just drop my current income though, of course. But in the mean time, I spend as much time as I possibly can reading about the most specific things I want to know, and then- go do it. Just like with anything else, you can read about it all you want but when it comes down to it, it’s your trial and error that helps you learn the most! And it’s the funnest part too.
I would say that I first fell in love with small scale gardening. Literally, it was on my 4ft x 5ft balcony. Where my yard got no sun the balcony had it all so that was the decision. It consisted of an old chest that I found on the side of the road which I filled with soil and herbs, as well as a couple of super small planters for some sugar snap peas and flowers. I fell in love with this garden because of how small it was (and how easy it was to make very colorful and full of personality). I started with seedlings and that was a disaster because I didn’t know what I was doing. Soon after I realized I’d be more successful as a novice gardener if I started with stater plants from the nursery. Good people to make friends with, they have a lot of information for us newbies.
I’ve had three very successful gardens since then that produce so much harvest that my girlfriend Whitney and I can never ever seem to get through it all.
That is when I discovered the second reason I love gardening… For me, it is by far the best feeling to grow organic produce and flowers and be able to share my harvest with my friends, family, and neighbors. It’s a feeling that I have yet to get from anything else in life.
Obviously you can only spend so much time out in the garden: watering, pruning, harvesting… so in order to fill my desires in other ways I started taking a lot of photos, and it turns out that I love to take photos of my garden/homestead projects as much as I love to garden itself. My photos were a way for me to watch and review my progress, and share my new found love with anyone who gives two shits.
This is also when I started slowly picking up books on the subject. I started with a basic book called The Edible Garden, then moved on to amazing books like Edible Landscaping and The Urban Homestead, Farm Anatomy, and The Backyard Beekeeper… all of which I recommend.
It wasn’t until summer of 2012 that I realized that I felt a huge pull to be outdoors working with the land to make an income. I’ve only ever worked in the restaurant industry, and at this point, I would give anything to be able to drop that and put all of my energy into working from home to make a fucking sweet homestead. But alas, I need to make rent.
I was fortunate enough to get to work in Santa Cruz with an amazing farm called North Coast Farms. It was me and 3 other farmers and we produced food for a group of engineers that live on the property. Through the farm I split my time caring for the garden and apprenticing with their personal chef. It was my time with this chef that gave me more of the homesteading experience. I had the chance to string and dry our hot peppers and turn them into ground pepper and hot sauces, blanch and can hundreds of pounds of tomatoes, fire roast Ancho peppers for dinners, pick 200 lbs. of apples for our homemade hard cider, and extract honey from our twelve bee hives.
But by far the craziest, coolest experience I had on the farm was killing a rooster. I read aloud a thanksgiving prayer, walked over to the rooster and calmed him with some nice head strokes, we looked each other in the eyes, I slit his throat and let him bleed out. Then I cried.
It was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had and I’m so proud I did it.
Honestly, I think that led me to my next phase of desiring the homesteading life. I knew I wanted challenges, and to start something for real from scratch, and live off of MY OWN LAND.
My girlfriend knows all this very well about me so I think for a long time without me knowing she was searching for this “land” for me, for us.
In January, she came across a Craigslist add for a sweet home on about a quarter of an acre not far from where we were currently located. We fell in love instantly; reconfigured our budget, brought the landlady a great big jar of local honey, and she liked us enough to cancel her other showings of the house. We found out that night that we would get to move in not more than a week later.
We’re now located in a small town called Aptos, in Santa Cruz county. We’re on the top of a mountain at the edge of a ridge. There’s more trees than the eye can see, ocean views, wild rabbits, deer, quail, turkeys, and birds of all kinds. It’s a serious natural habitat and it’s the coolest place I’ve ever been period. I love it here, and it’s because every single day I’m inspired to do what I love to do. Care for mother nature.
With this move came the calling for beekeeping. I’ve been studying on my own time for 7 months now and have slowly become pretty obsessed. I know how beneficial keeping bees will be for my garden for one, but I also knew I was ready for my next challenge. Everything with homesteading takes time, patience, experience, and knowing that you will fail at some things and you will succeed at others. Our successes will only be as great as our care for the matter.
So I suggest finding the one thing that interests you the most: starting seeds, soil composition, composting, canning, whatever, and read about it, a lot about it. Search it online, and find out how you can do that thing physically today. Touch the soil, can a tomato, buy a pack of seeds and plant them.
I’m on a huge kick of ‘just do it’.
So my friend, just do it, and it will happen!