Homesteading is Self-Care

Self care is a term I took from my nursing background. It’s one of many concepts taught in nursing school. And it is relevant to what we do in garden farming, homesteading, or subsistence living (which ever term you prefer) because self-care is an important and often neglected aspect of our society.

In general, it refers to what type of nutrition do we provide for ourselves? And how do we provide physical and mental fitness for ourselves? So many people these days neglect these issues while prescribing to the fast paced lifestyle of today. “Gosh,” they say, “It’s late. I don’t have time to cook. I think I’ll just swing by McDonald’s on the way home.”

I’ll admit, I’ve been guilty of doing the same. And I am honestly glad that we do have that option. The problem comes when our lifestyles dictate that we depend on ‘eating out’ as our main form of nourishment. And in general, if we do not have time to cook, we are not having time to exercise either. The result is the kind of poor health within our society that I see on a daily basis in the emergency room where I work.

What prompted me to think of this was a recent conversation I had with some of my healthcare coworkers. We were talking about physical fitness and what we should be doing for exercise. Some of the older ones expressed a great love of the weight watchers program and a regimen of daily walking. One of the younger women declared that what works best for her is joining a gym and using it religiously. She even goes to the extent of hiring a personal trainer and buying all the health food supplements available today.

These are all active healthy people who are providing self-care through routine maintenance. And I’ll admit there was a time in my life when I did many of these things as well. I’ve had gym memberships and I’ve bought health food. I’ve rolled out of bed religiously at 5:30 am to exercise before going to work. Of course those were in the days when I was either single or married without children.

These days, my routine is different. I’m not nearly in the same physical shape I was 20 years ago. But I’m healthy and recognizing the real benefits of subsistence farming. It offers regular outdoor exercise–even in the winter time I can find projects that need to be completed around the home. And it is a stress reliever, an opportunity to relax and spend time with my wife and children away from the pressures of work. And I think that is where this method of self-care really shines. It involves the family, and allows us to spend time together, sharing in the experiences of planting gardens, picking berries, and caring for animals.

So in short, homesteading, subsistence farming, garden farming or whatever you choose to call it, is an excellent form of self-care. Kudos to all of you who are making self-care a part of your lives!


Whisky, Pumpkins, and Groundhogs

ducksA favorite memory of my youth, is of listening to my grandfather and his brothers talk about growing up on the farm in the 1920’s and 1930’s. They talked about things like plowing with a team of mules, burning coal for heat, cutting firewood with a cross cut saw and rural living in general.

The stories I think of today as I cultivate my corn patch are of the pumpkin patch. The area now is grown up in yellow poplar now. From an overlooking bank it’s easy to get an impression of the area’s size. I suspect it must have been about an acre, an acre that was the source of lots of entertainment, most of which centered around groundhogs. The vermin were a real nuisance to the growing pumpkins. Grandpa and his brothers made sport of running them down and catching them by hand (Ammunition was expensive and used sparingly).

As to the technique of catching groundhogs by hand, well, that’s rather a bit of hill country wisdom. Or rather hill country persistence. You see, there is no great mystery to this, though I have never attempted it my self. You simply get yourself between the groundhog and his hole, and when he makes a dash for cover you grab him up by the tail and in grandpa’s words, “Warp’m again the ground a few times.”

I expect the episodes of groundhog catching to be much like the Droopy cartoons!

And since most of the stories revolved around catching groundhogs, and not much about pumpkins, I of course had to ask the obvious, “What did you use the pumpkins for?”

“Oh, well. we used them to feed the chickens and pigs. And of course we made a few pies from them,” he had said.

It wasn’t until some years later, after he had passed, that I realized there was a larger question looming. If they were using pumpkins to feed live stock. pumpkins they grew on an acre of ground. What did they do with the rest of the property, 140 acres worth. I mostly knew the answer from listening to stories. Some was pasture and some grew hay. Some of it also grew corn though. And since corn is what I came to understand as animal fodder, I had to wonder what they did with the corn they grew.

Fortunately for me, Grandpa’s youngest brother was still living. So the first chance I got, I asked him about the corn. He grinned and said, “We didn’t feed it much. Dad grew that mostly for whisky!”

So the question I’m left with is; are pumpkins and other squashes better feed than corn? I can’t answer that directly, but I’m determined to see if I can feed my flock of fifty birds on a mixture of both along with some good pasture.


Shaving Grass

ScytheI can’t imagine what ever made the world want to shift away from such a simple well designed tool as the scythe. Today they are no more than a simple curiosity, a relic or antique to be purchased at auctions and local antique stores. If you want to purchase a new one, you have to search out a specialty shop on the web.

The blade itself is an elegant sweeping design that when guided tip first slices through the grass, collecting it into a neat windrow to the left. It’s not a chopping motion, but rather an easy sweeping motion that strikes the grass from the face of the earth in much the same manor that a razor clears the stubble from my chin.

Why the string trimmer came into being is beyond me. The tip of the scythe can be slipped so easily along a foundation, it’s razor edge shearing away any debris, and so quickly that I can see little reason to own a machine that leaves my hands tingling for hours afterwords.

Completed Lasagna Bed

Completed Lasagna Bed

But can a scythe be used for more than trimming around buildings or mowing hay and wheat? Can it be used for gardening. Turns out it can.

My wife was the first to tell me about lasagna gardens. At first I thought she was wanting to grow lots of bell peppers, garlic, and tomatoes. But now I understand that by lasagna, she was referring to a style of garden bed.

So to start our lasagna gardening project, I shaved some grass. About a quarter acre of the stuff that I had let grow to knee high. We layed down a six inch layer as a kill mulch and then a second layer of wood mulch about six inches thick. We then repeated the process and topped it off with a four inch layer of compost made last year by our flock of chickens. And wa-la, we have a lasagna bed.

Of course we have a lot of beds to make if we are going to complete a garden in this manor. But I have plenty of grass and a scythe.

Here’s one of the most informative videos I’ve found on youtube describing how to use a scythe: