Posted on Apr 15, 2013

Reflections On Discovering My Passion: Homesteading

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.

balcony garden

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.

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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.

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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!

Happy Homesteading,

Cait Scott

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Posted on May 3, 2011

Finished Harbor Cafe’s Garden

Harbor Garden Sign

Have you been to Harbor Cafe yet?

If you answered no, stop reading. Go to 535 7th Ave. Santa Cruz, Ca and order the fish tacos and 2 Bloody Marys (or, go on Fridays and get bottomless mimosas!), then come back and finish reading why it’s my favorite restaurant.

Well, I could spend an entire post writing about how much I love their food and the fun loving atmosphere, but instead I’m just going to tell you how excited I am that Whitney and I were asked to plant a vegetable garden for their restaurant!

Whitney and I go to Harbor Cafe often… very often, and we’ve been lucky enough to strike up some quality friendships with the staff and owners. The opportunity to design and construct the restaurants garden came about from tippys talk with one of our favorite servers. The three of us were looking at their raised bed (of sorts) filled with: palm trees, ferns, a huge jade bush, wild lilies, weedy grasses, and a ton of deteriorating boating equipment and surfboards. After a couple conversations we all agreed that change was necessary and it was time for that little plot of land to become an edible landscape for all to enjoy. Here’s what it looked like before we did anything to it.

Harbor Garden Before
Whitney and I started off by educating ourselves on a couple of things.

1) What to grow: We already knew Harbor’s menu extensively so it wasn’t hard to come up with a huge list of edibles for the cooks to use, however, with our limited space we knew we would have to narrow it down to just a few plants.

2) Companion planting: Once we had a pretty good grasp of what we wanted to grow, we had to find out if they would grow well next to each other, liked the same soil, preferred sun or shade, ect. ect. We really didn’t want to kill all of the plants just because we plopped them in the wrong spot and next to the wrong neighbor.

3) Design techniques: This is our first time designing a garden and we wanted it to reflect the informal atmosphere of the restaurant; so we chose to reuse a lot of their old boating and beach equipment for aesthetics. We also kept track of our color scheme making sure there was an attractive flow of colors to lead the eye through the garden.

After some research we got to the fun part, gettin’ dirty. We were ready and eager to get the project started so we plowed right into removing the old junk, cleaning up the years of trash build up, digging deep into the earth and ripping out old roots. Then, we gathered our homegrown seed starts, bought the other plants we decided on, and started planting!

Here’s the list of veggies and herbs we decided on for Harbor Cafe’s Garden: snap peas, cilantro, basil, celery, jalapeno peppers, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, and lavender. And here’s how the garden turned out!

Harbor Garden After

Harbor Cafe is a respected restaurant in Santa Cruz and hundreds of people are flowing through their patio doors daily. The addition of a vegetable garden is a small yet progressive change that many people will see, and it’s a great step towards larger changes to add to their eco-friendly contributions. The list of benefits could go on and on for what a quality vegetable garden would provide and save a restaurant; and if they’ll have me I would be privileged to continue the expansion of this project so it could be of even more use to their kitchen.

But for now, if we can all find a voice representing the importance of being served fresh, local food when we go out to eat, then perhaps many more restaurants will hop on the garden wagon and start gettin’ dirty.

What restaurants have you been to that grow some of their own produce? And what do you think the benefits would be if I tried to expand the Harbor Cafe garden?

Here’s my favorite photo of the gardeners: (left to right) Jasmine aka Jam, Whitney, Cait (me).

Harbor gardeners

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