I really want to get some hens next year. Definitely for the eggs of course, but they should also make a dent in the grasshopper population should we have a plague again next year. I think I’ll probably get about ten unsexed birds to start, and butcher all the boys at around fifteen weeks. Ideally, I only want three or four hens, but you just don’t know what kind of mix you’ll get when they aren’t sexed.
This year’s garden has been so wonderful. I found the 500 square feet to still be extremely manageable—I probably average ten or twenty minutes in the garden per day—and with that I’m able to deal with watering, weeding, fertilizing and bug stomping, as well as harvesting, as necessary. These 500 square feet really produce quite a lot even considering all the losses this year due to grasshoppers and hailstorms. Raising all of my food seems quite a reasonable endeavor. I, of course, am not saying that just these 500 square feet would be enough to live off of—no, of course not. And I don’t have enough space here to grow everything I would want to--the grains are the killer. But I’m getting a good sense of what I can produce and how much space is required.
If I get hens and rabbits and a beehive and expand the garden to a thousand square feet, I think I could reduce our grocery bill to $50 per month or less. If only I could have a dairy goat here that would reduce it to about $15 per month. And if I was able to grow all of my wheat then all I would need to buy would be spices and exotic things I couldn’t grow myself—plus maybe some other types of meat for variety.
So, when I get back to Pennsylvania, even if I’m only able to buy an acre or two, I feel confident that I could easily disengage from the system.
Next year I might try devoting 100 square feet to oats (the hulless variety) just so I can get a little experience growing grain. I forget what John Jeavons says is the expected yield per 100 square feet for oats, but I’m thinking it’s about 10lbs. (I could be wrong—it might only be about 4lbs). At any rate, that would provide enough for the year, I think. We don’t currently go through a whole lot of oats. The nice thing is that it would also provide me with some free straw, which I use for mulch and I’ll need for chicken bedding. I’ll need to get a grain roller though, but that’s okay because it’s on the master list.
Next year I want to go vertical much more--picking pole beans instead of bush beans and climbing varieties of the cucurbits. Growing potatoes in a bin or a couple of bins, getting pole peas. Building a good tall climbing structure for my indeterminate tomatoes. I’m already using space quite efficiently with the bio-intensive beds, but I could do even better. The three 100 square foot beds I put in this year beside the house are such a hoot—it’s just one massive wall of vegetation right now. A jungle out there! I love it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about land lately—how I’m going to afford to buy a piece of land in five years. If I give up on the idea of Pennsylvania (where land seems to be fairly pricey) I open up for myself many more possibilities. I noticed on the web that many five acre plots in the San Luis valley of Colorado sell for $5,000. Sure some of them are on the valley floor (i.e. the treeless desert) but other parcels are up in the hills. It’s not exactly the climate or place I’d ideally want to be, but if it could be had for $5,000 and I could raise all of my own food there it might not be a bad idea. Property taxes for a plot that size are about $75 per year and building codes are unenforced.
Think about it. Five thousand dollars would put me on a piece of land. I could erect a small temporary shack right away with a wood stove, a composting toilet and I could haul in my water to start. As I was able I could have a well drilled, start improving the land’s fertility, putting in the gardens, building the animal pens, eventually building the main house. It seems quite attainable.