We’re 18 months into our homesteading adventure. I can’t believe it’s been that long, and at the same time, it’s flown by. Some days I still come home and just stare at our little house and everything we’ve managed to accomplish. This journey has been fun, difficult, scary and exciting, but I can’t imagine being anywhere else.
There have been some really amazing things that we’ve done, and also some mistakes. It’s harder to write and post about the mistakes, though that’s something I want to become better at doing. I love the little community we have begun to build, and want you all to be a part of everything. Not just the good stuff. So I thought I would write this post about how our first 18 months has gone. Talk about all the wonderful things we managed but also talk about some hardships and mistakes. And of course, I want to share some of our dreams for the future.
Let’s start with the obvious; we bought a house!
I realize that seems silly, but it’s still one of the most exciting and challenging things we’ve done in our lives. Many people our age will never own property, and we are distinctly aware and humbled by our luck in being able to do so. Moving into a little house that was all our own had us thrilled and terrified like we’ve never been. It’s ours. We have to fix it, and care for it, and we get to make it truly look the way we want. Mike was and is still thrilled that he can open up the walls and add automation wherever and whenever he wants! And I am slowly building the cozy little homestead of my dreams.
Next super obvious thing; We started this website!
Again, duh. I know. But still, wow! I have wanted to start a website like this for years. Many things held me back but mostly, I think I wasn’t quite ready yet. I mean personally. My mind wasn’t in the right space, I still needed to learn a couple more things (and obviously don’t know everything and will continue to learn for the rest of my life!) and most of all I was scared.
I was scared that I would seem like a fraud or that I wouldn’t have the drive to share my thoughts. I have lived in tiny apartments since my early twenties, and never felt that I was allowed to share any kind of knowledge that I had. And now I have started to build this little community of amazing people, while sharing our little life. Seriously, thank you to everyone who likes posts, or shares comments, you make it all so much more fun. What’s a homestead without a community, right?
Okay, some less obvious stuff! We Built a Huge Tortoise Enclosure!
If this seems odd to you, perhaps jump over to our About page and check out a cute picture of our lovely tortoise, Murphy. Murphy is a Colombian Red Footed tortoise that I bought from a breeder in Toronto about 7 years ago. He is lovely and sweet, and will live for a very long time. Tortoises also require a lot of space! They are grazing animals and spend a lot of time wandering large territories and munching on plants. Because of the aforementioned tiny apartments, Murphy had an enclosure that had become too small for him over the last few years before our move. So one of the very first things we did in the new house was build his new home. It’s much, much larger, has live plants, and tons of humidity. And if I do say so myself, he is one happy tortoise these days.
Chickens Joined Our Life
The next big project we undertook was building the chicken coop. I don’t have a post up about this yet, because I want to renovate the coop a bit. But the original coop that we built is a tractor. Meaning it’s mobile. For the first summer and fall of living in the house our chickens mostly stayed in their coop and run, while we moved the coop around the lawn everyday. They now freerange almost all the time, but for the first few months, I wanted to get a sense of the wildlife in the area. In Ontario we have a lot of chicken predators, and without a LGD I wanted to play it safe.
Adding chickens to our lives was something that i wanted to do almost immediately. I had owned some years ago, and missed having them in my life. Building their little coop took about a week of evenings and one extremely hot Canada Day weekend. Then an incredibly kind friend sold me a few of his birds from his slightly over crowded flock, and we were chickening! Which leads me to our next big new experience…
Slaughtering Our First Bird
As it can sometimes happen with birds bought from friends, one of our ladies turned out to be a gent. In our partially urban area, we are allowed hens but not roosters. Selling roosters is a tricky thing to do unless they are very fancy breeds. And slaughtering animals is a fact of life. So this was an experience I thought I would get under my belt, since it’s something I know we’ll be doing as our little homestead grows. And it was something I did quite early on in our first 18 months.
An important part of living sustainably, growing your own food, and being more connected with the food process is understanding and respecting the death of an animal. I was more prepared than I expected, possibly because I’ve been a bystander on hunting trips or maybe I just braced myself well.In the end it was an experience I’m grateful to have had, and it made me even more conscious of our food.
Sickness and Natural Animal Death
Unfortunately, another tough situation we dealt with in our first year and a half was a hen becoming ill and dying. This again, is something that happens on homesteads and farms, and it’s important to deal with it at some point. One of our hens ended up getting bumblefoot, that went unnoticed for too long, turned into a staph infection and she died. During this process I learned big lessons about chicken health, and routine health checks. Now everyone in the coop gets regular checks. Thanks to this, we now also have a small chicken first aid kit, for treating minor things, and to keep items separate from our human first aid kit.
This past autumn we also dealt with a respiratory infection in the flock. We got a new bird and (again because learning, and mistakes) we didn’t quarantine her! She was sneezing and coughing and soon enough so was everyone. Thankfully we got antibiotics and though it’s a slow process, everyone is on the mend. The chickens are something I am most thankful for, and 1 illness in 18 months is by no means a failure. I am constantly learning, and making mistakes, but our livelihood and food supply doesn’t depend fully on them. When we eventually get larger livestock and depend more heavily on them for food, these experiences will be vital.
We Made Cider from Scratch
This was a super fun experience. Just less than 18 months ago, in our first autumn in the house we picked nearly 300lbs of apples from a friends property and brewed three batches of hard cider, completely from scratch. We had made cider in the past, but had started with pre pressed juice. This time we crushed and juiced the apples ourselves. We also experimented with different yeasts and sweeteners. I would like cider making to become something we do annually, but maybe not 300lbs at a time! That was a lot of bottles. If you want to check out our full process check out this post here.
Built a Cheese Press and Made Hard Cheese
Until living in the house I had only ever made soft, or fresh cheeses, like brie, camembert and chevre. This was a project I had been dreaming about for about 2 years, so finally building a cheese press was super exciting. Making hard pressed cheeses is very fun. Some are more tricky than others, but all in all it’s one of my favourite new tools and honestly one of the cooler bits of homestead science that I get to do.
The Big One: We Built the Garden!
Oh the garden! Gardening is an endless source of fun, relaxation and education. 18 months ago when we moved in, we had 4 boxes that we brought from our last apartment. To build our garden we built 15 Raised Beds, built a fence, and Mike designed an irrigation system to keep everything watered. I also got to utilize a great new Tomato Trellis system and built a squash trellis that arched over a bed (which is one of those weird little things I’ve always wanted to do). But of course a garden means dealing with pests, and ugh, let me tell you how much a dislike caterpillars and slugs. Like, so much. This past autumn and most of January, I have been chatting with other gardeners, and reading all kinds of blogs, and I am not putting up with those buggers this year! I want lettuce dammit!
Yet, despite the dumb slugs, caterpillars, the occasional earwig and potato beetle, we had a good harvest. Every single time I brought something in from the garden I was beaming. We ended up getting carrots, corn, pumpkins, zukes, cukes, onions, leeks, shallots, garlic, 4 types of tomatoes, 6(!) types of peppers, 3 types of beans, 2 types of potatoes, chamomile, calendula, so many herbs, and a tiny bit of late rhubarb. And I am already chomping at the bit to start it all again this year.
And finally, A big Expensive Reno
During our first autumn, I opened our glass sliding door, only to have the glass pane fall in on me. (I was fine, I’m a toughie). We had a look at the frame and it seemed to be sunk down a little on the bottom. We put in a few shims, but as we had just bought a house, and winter was coming, we sealed up the door, and crossed out fingers until the spring. Evidently finger crossing doesn’t always do the trick.
Once we were able to remove the door entirely in the spring, it turned out that no actual frame of wood had been built, nor had any part of it been weather proofed. Ugh. So naturally as we pulled the wall open more, and more, water had gotten in throughout however many years since the door had been installed. And the wall was completed rotted. We learned about framing. We learned about jack posts. We learned about weatherproofing. We learned about siding. We learned that friendships are something you should never take for granted, seriously, we would have been in a lot of trouble without the love and support of our friends. That whole experience was a good one, but made our spring pretty darn hard. We survived though, and now have a lovely and very well supported new glass sliding door!
Future Planning for the next 18 Months
I say planning, it’s about 50% planning, 50% dreaming. There are so many things that I want to do in our future. My trouble is being patient and not trying to take on too much at once. Some of these may happen within the next 18 months, some won’t, and that’s okay!
Some simple plans include:
- Expanding the garden to include more flower beds surrounding the fence, to attract pollinators.
- Building a few raised beds on our deck. It gets fantastic full day sun and would be perfect for some of the more heat loving plants that aren’t super happy in our big garden.
- Expanding the compost pile. At the moment the compost pile is one pile, and it would be better to have two or three side by side so that I can rotate and flip the pile into the one beside it. Currently, I empty the entire pile strategically onto the grass and then re pile it in reverse. A good work out, but time consuming.
- Rebuiling the chicken coop. I want the coop itself to be a bit larger, and we’d like it raised off the ground. It would be great to have a rain barrel attached to it, and also to be able to walk into the run.
Some other plans/hopes/ideas/dreams:
- Learn and get into soap making. Because I’ve always wanted to!
- Increase our cheese production. Finding a better source of milk than the grocery store would be great of course.
- Build a root cellar style room in the back corner of our basement. This one isn’t super hard and I’ve planted the seed in Mikes brain. So this one actually could happen sooner rather than later!
- Learn about beekeeping and eventually get bees. This is a serious dream of mine. To produce our own honey would probably make me briefly lose my mind in excitement.
- Do some vermicompost over the winter. Keeping a compost pile active and hot in the winter in Canada is pretty darn difficult, so vermicompost has always struck me as a great idea. I’ve just never gotten around to it.
These first 18 months have been a dream come true. I genuinely can’t thank our whole community enough. The support, advice, and love in the homestead and gardening world rekindles my faith in the kindness of others every day. I know so many of us search out this life to feel more connected with the world, and try to do our part in working towards a better planet. And I’m so humbled to be part of that, and to be accepted into this community.
I hope the next 18 months will be as full and educational as the last. Please stay with us, and I hope we can continue to share and grow with you.