Well… It’s finally happened. It’s hard to call yourself the Homesteading Hippy without a homestead, especially while living in an apartment or a friend’s spare bedroom. It’s hard, even when you rent enough space to make a garden, when you move every other year. Last fall, my wife and I made the step into homeownership, buying a place of our own. Now, I can finally get homesteading for real! All my practice runs, which some of you have followed over the years, can finally be put to proper use. Let me give you a tour.
This is the house. It’s a sturdy little double-wide in near Tampa Bay, Florida. That’s USDA zone 9b, for the gardeners. It sits on a few acres of tupelo and live oak, with a good amount of grassy lawn. The previous owner obviously cared for it very much, and with a little paint job and new curtains it quickly became home.
Our primary consideration when we were searching the market, besides the commute, was lot size. We wanted something large enough to grow into, to provide food and fuel, and still have space left over for us. Of course, the first thing I did was to take out a 30 foot square of lawn to put in a vegetable garden, which is very different here in Florida in that we have a reversed growing season with mild winters and summers hot enough to kill most vegetables. I’ll write more about the garden soon, but here’s a picture of what we’ve got going on so far. Since I wasn’t able to plant until December, I only planted half of what I intend to be my future crop, and focused mostly on greens.
This is our chicken coop. We have chickens! Everything I’ve read says that chickens are well worth it, so we decided to give it a shot. We ordered 20 Barred Plymouth Rock chicks, and ended up with 21 unsexed chicks (they sent a few spares, although we lost one early on). At this point, I can pretty well see which ones are going to be roosters. The plan is to butcher all but one or two of the males, and keep the hens for eggs. They have a 90-square-foot coop that I built into one of the sheds, and a 160-square-foot run built onto the outside of that shed. The plan, when they get old enough, is to free-range on the weekends, when I am home to keep an eye on them, but I want to make sure they have enough outdoor space to run while we’re at work. More on chickens coming soon.
There are a fair number of banana plants around the property, but we are also putting in a small orchard in the back field. Currently, besides two little bananas that were already there, we’ve added a mango, a kaffir lime (since we cook a lot of Thai food), and two kumquat trees. They are growing slowly for now, since we’re in the dry season, but I hope they’ll pick up when the rains start in June/July.
We also have a few other fruit trees here and there. There are a few wild calamondin, a fertile cross between a mandarin and a kumquat, and some other wild citrus that I won’t be able to identify until they fruit. The previous owner also had a dwarf pomegranate and a small loquat tree, and we’ve planted a carambola (starfruit) by the front porch, that we’d been keeping in a pot until we moved.
One thing I’m doing differently this time is that I’m keeping meticulous records of what I am spending on homesteading projects, and what I’m getting back. I really want to try to reach some level of self-sufficiency, and that’s not going to happen if I don’t get back more than I put in. I fully expect to come out in the red for the first year or two while I build myself up, but my goal is to offset our grocery bill eventually. At this point, I have cost and yield spreadsheets for the vegetable garden, the chickens, and the fruit trees. I am not tracking our herb garden, since it would be a pain to weigh every pinch of thyme when I’m in the middle of cooking.
The herb garden is new, we just put it in two weeks ago. The local extension office was nice enough to give us a free microirrigation system for going to one of their water conservation workshops, and since I had plenty of experience with irrigation in Tucson, I was able to put all of our herbs on a micro system. In the morning, when I feed the chickens, I set the watering timer for 15 minutes, and the plants are watered without any effort on my part. We’ve got rosemary, oregano, thyme, two types of lavender, three types of basil, stevia, and citronella.
Anyways, I’ve rambled long enough. This is supposed to be part one of a short series. I’m working on future posts to go into more detail about these projects, so keep an eye out!
~The Homesteading Hippy