27 June, 2012

Andrea’s Top Tips for being a Crippled Homesteader

A lot of the homesteading movement is geared toward people who are not just non-disabled but, well, pretty active. I do OK some days, other days (like today) I spend 6 hours asleep in the middle of the day while waiting for the painkillers to kick in. Exciting. So anyway, I thought I’d share the ways I cope, and if there’s any other crippled homesteaders out there who want to chime in, feel free! It’s not like I’ve figured EVERYTHING out.

1) Know your limits.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially if you’re like me and your limits vary from day to day. Some days I get around with no mobility aid, other days I only get around courtesy of vicodin and a wheelchair. But you need to know, basically, what you can regularly do so that you can scale your homesteading efforts appropriately. Two goats are easier to care for than many goats; a trio of bantam Leghorn hens will be easier to care for than a flock of ten standard-sized egg layers; a garden needs intensive heavy physical labor maybe twice a year and the rest of the time it’s pretty light. Perennial vegetables like asparagus and long-lived things like fruit trees and hazelnut bushes can take much of the heavy work out of getting food from your own space if you have the time to wait for them to be productive and are willing to lose some to the birds and animals every year.

2) Know what’s really important to you.
For me, it’s about minimizing suffering while still enjoying ice cream and pudding and tasty, tasty tomatoes. So we’ve kind of gone whole-hog (or at least whole-goat and whole-chicken and whole-garden). But I’m lucky in a big way which we will discuss momentarily, and maybe you’re depending on your own variable resources. So my suggestion is say “Fuck that” to the people who act like your efforts are worthless if you haven’t gone totally off-grid, and pick one thing that’s really important to you and do that. If you want to stop supporting industrial egg production, go for a little PVC chicken tractor and a trio of bantam egg-layers, or even a pair of big egg layers. If you have the land and want to take a swing at the dairy industry, a pair of Nigerian Dwarf goats may be just the thing. If you are seriously into amazing tomatoes and hate the labor conditions on commercial tomato farms, you could go nuts with container-gardening tomatoes.

3) Enlist help.
As I mentioned above, I’m lucky — because I have a big muscly husband who likes gardens. This means that I can have my organic garden because I have someone around who will dig over the beds as needed. Once established, the garden beds do not necessarily need digging-over, but our native soil is crap. As in, there is no nitrogen in it whatsoever. As in, yes, we tested the soil and the nitrogen reactant? Did not react. That means that if we want to grow things, copious amounts of compost must be added to the dirt, and that requires much digging.

You may not have a big muscly husband who can be persuaded to dig you some garden beds on-demand, but! Do you have a neighbor with a roto-tiller? A friend who will help out setting up your container garden? Someone who will carry 50lb bags of feed from your car to your storage area in return for eggs from the chickens who will eat the feed? It is kind of amazing, I have discovered, what people will do for fresh eggs. They will do even more for fresh goat cheese, if you are inclined to have goats and make cheese.

4) Be willing to not be perfect.
Doing everything you need to do to have a self-sustaining organic farm that provides all your needs? Requires that you be able-bodied and have a shit-ton of time on your hands, let me tell you. Also you will need to be independently wealthy. Let go of the idea that your agricultural efforts must be perfect. Your garden does not have to be pretty as well as productive. It does not even have to be maximally productive, if what you want from it and what you are able to do mean that you will not be working your plot of ground intensively. That’s OK. No, seriously, it is.