A self-sustaining homestead means a high level of food growing. When we set out to make this drastic lifestyle change, we made investments intended to pay us a living wage. Additionally, we hoped they would supply the capital we needed to develop our property for both our comfort and sustenance. Sadly, one year into the experiment, those investments failed. While our focus is still on homesteading, we now need to earn at least enough to pay the bills and to build up a reserve. Since we have to grow most of our own food anyway, why not grow a little extra and see what income that can generate?
Even though our profit goals are much more modest than those of most market gardeners, producing for market is still something we will pursue. Hence, we call our comparatively small farming operation a “farmlet.” Some might call it a mini-farm or a micro-farm. We like the term “farmlet” because it’s kind of ridiculous. Like us!
Favorite Day Farmlet was born shortly after we moved to our homestead in July of 2016, when we built our first three raised beds (totaling 160 sq ft.) Our property is 2.5 acres, with about 0.5 acres in woods. The remainder was open space, clear-cut from the forest no more recently than about 60 years ago. Today, we have a little less than 900 sq ft of intensively planted, no-till, raised beds (about 700 sq ft, built in 2017), with plenty of room for expansion, if needed. We employ a mulch-based gardening system, and are trying to move away from using any fertilizer. Additionally, our intent is to forego any pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. It will be interesting to see how potential pest/disease problems might impact our goals of growing for market. But from what we’ve read and seen so far, building soil, employing mulch, growing stronger plants, crop rotation, companion planting, and encouraging beneficial insects will ultimately help us succeed in this approach.
In 2018 we hope to plant our natural orchard based on the principles and philosophy of natural farming as developed by Masanobu Fukuoka. It’s an “orchardlet” to compliment our farmlet, covering approximately 1/2 acre and featuring a dozen or so apple trees. Why so few apples in an orchard? These trees will actually be the border elements in a network of small fields used for growing green manures to provide mulch and nutrients for the raised bed garden, as well as for growing grain to expand our self-sustaining capability. Surplus from the orchard, as with that from the raised bed garden, we intend to sell at our future farm stand and/or taken to market.
This is all an experiment, so our goal is to document these unconventional methods and their results here in the near future. Here are the topics we’ve written about so far:
- Natural Farming (Inspired by Fukuoka and, you know, Nature)
- Composting (Getting your poop in a group.)
- All Things Chicken (All hail our chicken overlords!)
More to come so stay tuned! Some planned upcoming topics are:
- Intensive Planting Methods (Operation Crowd Out Weeds)
- Soil Management (The dirt on dirt!)
- Orchard & Fields (You’re doing what now?!)
- Crop Planning (Data entry made fun!)
- Seed Starting (And pleading, and cajoling…)
- Gardening Structures (Who knew a cloche wasn’t just a jaunty chapeau?)
We had no real experience gardening before 2016. Dani started seeds for the first time in February of that year in Boise, Idaho, where we were living. The seeds were started long before we ever knew we would live in Maine! During the early part of that year, we searched in earnest for an affordable, viable homestead site. Our quest took us all over northern California, western Oregon, and into southern Washington for four months before we finally decided to move to Maine. When we moved the seedlings came with and were tended in containers for two months as we continued to search for our future homestead.
In early July of 2016, we finally closed on our chosen property and at last put down roots – literally! Building a few raised beds for those veggies was one of the first orders of business. Once transplanted, they actually gave us a good yield considering the duress they were under and the relative ignorance of the gardeners. The season closed with the planting of garlic and mulching the beds for winter, as well as a naive self-assurance that we would do even better with a full season of growing now that we were settled.
2017 kicked off with a few months of research and planning while the garden beds remained buried under snow and ice. We developed the plans to build the remaining beds, as well as outlined crop plan, ordered seeds, created a seed starting and planting schedule, and designed the garden infrastructure (mainly irrigation, trellises, and fencing.) We also finished our chicken research (an ongoing project from a year prior), planned the chicken infrastructure, did the detail design, outfitted a brooder setup, and ordered the chicks.
By the first part of May, we had built the additional 700 sq ft (ish) of raised beds with the help of friends and family, got our chicks, begun planting the garden, and even did an emergency re-roofing project on the house. The remainder of the year saw the building of all the chicken and gardening infrastructure, tending of the garden, and the occasional visit from brave souls who wanted to see what we were up to here. Unfortunately, all but sterile soil, multiple setbacks, over-commitment of our time, inexperience, and the inevitable fact that everything we did took at least twice as long as we thought it would, yielded a disheartening harvest.
However, subsequent research has taught us a lot and we now have working hypotheses about how to do better this season and beyond. As soon as the snow is off the raised beds, we will take soil samples and conduct tests to help inform our way forward on this monumental undertaking. Regardless of what happens, we won’t repeat the same mistakes.
Luck, love, and light to us all!
Questions? Comments? Let us know by contacting us here!