Shortly after moving in to our new home in Colorado, we began several projects that would enable us to take advantage of this property and begin making it into a homestead. We were excited to be in a more rural setting, but granted this is only a step above living in a townhome under an aristocratic HOA. We moved into this house knowing that it would be a stepping stone, so we needed to start making preparations so that we can lay the foundation and gain the knowledge transitioning this home and apply that towards our dream homestead, which will be a truly unrestricted and off-grid rural property. With the falling economy, political chaos, loss of freedoms and liberties, and the million other things that keep us on the edge or fearing our government, we are preparing for whatever may happen while learning valuable skills. We are going to make the biggest impact we can in transitioning this suburban home into a homestead and help it to become a producer instead of a consumer.
My goal is that we will one day return to the land and learn the lessons that our forefathers leveraged daily to carve out a living for themselves and their families; that we will be able to remove our dependencies on those entities that are determined to profit through total devastation of our land and resources; provide a map for others to follow that will restore the land, feed our families; and live a connected humble life with our environment.
The current area will be our backyard, which is roughly 50ft by 52ft and is protected by a 6ft privacy fence. There is a long area on the west side of our house that is currently being used for storage. The western corner is where we are composting, and across the back fence is the rabbit hutch and chicken coop. There are several big spruce trees on the back of the property, which create shade and micro-climates. The drawing depicts a baseline of the area we have and the trees we are keeping. Several trees that are not on the drawing are slated for removal, and are not shown.
We are planning to divert rainwater into a retention system, to allow maximum absorption by the soil and to divert run off into a small backyard pond for watering the trees, shrubs, and garden. Additionally, we are researching the best way to capture our grey water and divert this into a holding tank for later use during the dry season here in Colorado, which is typically mid to late summer and early fall.
We are currently composting with a 3 container system using 40 gallon trash cans, and we also have a compost heap stored in a bin made from recycled shipping pallets. We just started vermicomposting, and will be expanding this to produce worm castings to begin making worm juice/tea for an advanced fertilizer. We also have purchased about 50 bags of topsoil mix, and 10 bags of compost and manure to further enrich our soil.
We have already purchased a few trees, but will need to design and plant accordingly, to optimize space and not shade out our garden beds and shrub rows. We already have several large pine trees, standing dead aspen, and several small aspen saplings that we will be keeping, but there are several other small aspens that we will be removing to allow for the varieties of fruit trees we want to plan.
The edge along the fence line may prove to be the best and most efficient use of space and time to plant each of the berry shrubs. This will expand the edge and utilize these long stretches to begin to build diversity, as we can then plant herbs and perennials into these areas, as well, along with other vine/climbing plants, such as grapes, of which we have several. This area may prove useful in mushroom cultivation, and we intend to further analyze the micro-climates to make this determination.
The shrub line will provide a good area to begin diversifying annuals and perennials into the mix. Along with the edges of the garden beds and, in some cases, in the beds themselves, depending on the goal for that garden bed.
We love to grow vegetables, but are having a difficult time discerning what may do well in the short growing season here in Colorado. We have taken the initiative to begin starting some of the longer term growing seeds like sunflowers, beans, squash, peppers (multiple varieties), and tomatoes. Some seeds will need to be planted later, after the last freeze of the spring, and hopefully these will have enough time to mature before the first freeze of fall. Annuals will provide our diversification, but we are hoping perennials will provide the most return over the years to come.
The edges of the garden beds and along the shrub line, as well as in the shade of some of our larger trees, should provide an adequate micro-climate to support a wealth of herbs and other small flowering plants. I would like to also provide additional supplement for the chickens that will be free ranging throughout our backyard and some garden areas. Additionally, some herbs will simply do better indoors, so we will continue to accommodate as necessary.
We have selected a variety of vegetables; such as carrots, turnips, radishes, sweet potatoes, and other root crops, to plant in this layer. We intend to plant these in our raised beds and along the shrub line, as well as under the canopy, and wherever opportunity and the climate is adequate for proper growth and development. Additionally, I have a growing interest to cultivate mushrooms into this system and am hopeful to produce king straphoria, oyster, and perhaps button mushrooms.
Ponds and Water Management
I am working on laying out the areas and direction for a few “micro” swales to allow the run off water maximum penetration into the soil. The pond will serve as an overflow catchment initially and then grow into a more stable environment to have fish and vegetation. I am looking at a simple backyard or garden pond in the lowest area of the yard, which is the furthest west corner by the compost bins. I have noticed this is the most fertile soil in the area, and currently supports a small natural worm population. From this pond, we should be able to supply water to the garden beds and shrub line, along with the trees. Another feature we want to include is a small hugel bed, but the area is still being negotiated. The hugel bed will help us retain run off water and build soil that will provide another garden bed for annuals and perennials.
We currently have a breeding pair of California rabbits, and are raising baby chicks. Our rabbits are producing quite a bit of cold compost for us to use during plantings, and have put on quite a bit of weight in the few short weeks they’ve been here. We are excited to have this resource and will begin breeding around July of this year, and continue through the winter and coming years. Their intent was primarily for meat production, but we also will be selling some of the juvenile rabbits to recoup the cost of feed and ongoing breeding. The real return is in the meat, fur, and cold compost contributions to the system.
Chickens will be the real bread-winner, as we are growing excited to have fresh eggs again. Additionally, chickens will provide a rich source of nitrogen that will boost our composting efforts, and should help loosen the soil, and keep pests at a minimum, as they will be allowed to free-range throughout the backyard. Currently they are 4 weeks old and are already producing quite a stink with our two small dogs that love playing mother hen to them. We have 6 black sex-linked chickens and will probably cut that back to 4 when they reach maturity and begin laying eggs. Though it might be nice to keep all of them so we can generate a surplus of eggs.
The whole system is being designed so that it uses the least amount of grid tied electricity and water as possible. Though we are seeing that there may be a considerable investment to be able to harvest our grey water for use on our homestead. We will continue to research this and are looking into alternative methods, such as beginning with a composting outhouse and wash bins. We will leverage gravity to move the water through the system and, if we need to, rely on pumps or other electrical devices; we are considering installing a small solar array into the system to alleviate that overhead. This will provide a light in the chicken coop and perhaps a water pump in the pond to accommodate our winterizing efforts.
We are anticipating quite a bounty from our first year’s efforts and are hopeful that we will be able to store as much of our harvest as we will need, and perhaps sell or give away our over-burden to family and friends. We are quite familiar with canning and freeze packing fruits and vegetables, but there are a couple other options we are exploring. First, vacuum sealing, and dry curing can provide a means for us store additional dried ingredients and meats. This year, we will be attempting to preserve meat by canning, which is something that we have not done before.
One thing I am interested in researching is to be able to provide cold storage outside during the winter months. The challenge is that I am uncertain if I should direct my efforts to a root cellar, use the garage (where the temp is usually at or below refrigeration for most of the winter), or build a couple outdoor cold boxes to store food. Additionally, I am planning to make a few shelving units or pantries to store the dried and canned items over winter. I am hopeful that we will be able to preserve most everything we harvested, and drastically reduce our needs for purchasing fruits and vegetables over winter, and hopefully into spring.
Propagation and Succession Plantings
As we are headed into gardening season, I have been purchasing seeds to help us establish a baseline for perennials and annuals that we want to continually plant in our gardens and on our homestead. The idea is that, if we start with high quality seeds, root-stock, and cuttings, that we will be able to quickly establish our homestead and become prosperous. We understand that this is not an exact science and the success observed in one area will not cascade to every situation. In our efforts, we have managed to experiment with collecting seeds from store-bought fruits and vegetables. This may prove to be advantageous, and through learning which vegetables prove to be most successful will aid us in determining which ones to use in the future.
This first year, we plan to propagate as many varieties as we can afford, in the hopes of recouping some of the costs associated with purchasing seeds, plants, shrubs, and trees. If this proves to be a viable option, we may continue to do this in future years to provide this service for our local friends and community. This gives us another outlet for any return of surplus that we do not plan to consume or develop for ourselves.
This is a big list, and I am hopeful that our largest projects for this year are mostly behind us. I may not have optimized the order of some of the permaculture projects that I have planned, but I am hopeful that they will work out, and not have adverse affects going into the future. To be more specific, I have been able to provide shelter for the livestock, such as a coop and hutch, and have begun composting, but have not prioritized water management. I want to incorporate swales, hugel beds, and a pond, but I’m not sure I will tackle these in the first year. We had some interior projects that required our resources, and made it difficult address this first year. Better planning and management are the priority for next year.
This year also seemed to have overwhelmed us with so many things that needed to be done right away. I am hopeful that we have addressed the critical projects and will be able to see a moderate level of success this first year.
With the foundation being laid, I would like to share some of our current and future projects that will help establish this homestead, and allow us to pursue and grow our personal activities/hobbies.
Composting: We have set up a compost bin made from recycled pallets, have a 3 barrel composting system, and have a 5 tray vermicomposting system, as well. Future composting plans are to build an outhouse that utilizes a composting toilet and urinal that we can use to collect and distribute nitrogen back to the system. This is not a requirement but more of a learning venture, to see how it can be done as it pertains to our future goals of living off-grid.
Alternative Energy: We currently have a 45 watt system that we want to install and plans to expand this to a 200 watt system that we can channel into the house and help us reduce our utilities bill. Additionally, we want to create a mobile battery system to have in one of our vehicles for emergencies, and camping.
Gardening: We have several more raised beds that we want to create, as well as designate an area and create a hugel bed into the system. We are still hashing out the overall homestead design, where to place each raised bed, the swales, water storage tanks, cold storage boxes, outhouse, pond, hugel beds, and other plantings.
Livestock: We want to begin a sprouting system that will help us to supplement feeding our rabbits and chickens. Additionally, we want to find a low-cost ground cover crop to aid in free-ranging our chickens in the colder months.
Organizing our Garage/Workshop: One of the projects we needed to get done over last winter was to install a sub panel to provide additional power for our workshop. Currently this is set up in a portion of the garage, and is now fully operational, though we need to provide additional shelving to open more space so we can actually complete projects.
I would also like to create a small blacksmith shop in the backyard, but the reality is that it will need to live within my workshop until the backyard design is complete. So I will concede to creating a mobile forge and a stand for my anvil to live in the workshop, for the time being.
Being a fly fishing enthusiast, I have amassed a collection of tools and materials and am wanting to create an area within the workshop for tying flies, and for storing fly tying equipment, and possibly fishing gear.
We also need to finish arranging the workshop to be able to accommodate several products that we had previously been able to sell for a small profit. We need to establish several small areas for painting, sanding, finishing, and assembly. This will allow us to spin up one of our businesses and help to bring in additional income making etched glass decor, bushcraft knives, outdoor furniture, and other miscellaneous items.
This project list is sure to grow as we become more productive and figure out where we can provide products or services and/or optimize our space and efficiency. It is our long-term goal to be able to establish a baseline so that, wherever we decide to buy rural property and do this on a grander scale, we will have all the essentials to improve our chances for success.
We have very much enjoyed our progress in the midst of settling into a new home, and implementing the early stages of establishing a homestead. There are many challenges ahead of us and, though we may be challenged with a small urban lot, a restrictive HOA, and teenagers and careers pulling us in every direction, we are passionate about making this attainable dream a reality. We hope that you come along for the ride and share your views, comments, suggestions and lessons with us, as we venture forward.
–The Ant Homesteader