Looking Forward, Looking Back

Our first full year of homesteading has taught us a lot and challenged us for this new year. Last year, we

  • Birthed our first lambs,
  • Tripled our garden,
  • Planted fruit and nut trees,
  • Raised our first pig,
  • Got our first horses,
  • Slaughtered our first steer, and
  • Entered animals at the county fair.

Raising organic, free-range meat on the homestead

We have a freezer full of hormone-free, grass-fed beef. We bought a dairy steer two springs ago just after weaning. We raised on him on the property until slaughtering him about a month ago. Thanks to two helpful neighbors, we got through this process quite simply (but it was work).

Our other little freezer is bursting with deer meat from three bucks we got this season. We have also slaughtered a few lambs this past year, but eat it up about as fast as we get it.

We are definitely happy with the way our meat production has gone. Beef is the easiest thing to raise. Turkeys are the worst, but we plan to try again this year.

The lambs are great, but we messed up the schedule with our ewes. We tried to crank out an extra lamb crop and ended up with false pregnancies. They will probably lamb a little late this year, in May.

Raising organic produce with the best results

We tried an experiment that failed last year (that is one way to get an education). My wife and I have always agreed, we would rather have 20 years experience than one year’s experience 20 times over.

We tried to raise squash in an old pasture. We tilled up the clay soil about 4” and spread leaves and manure. However, you have to till the soil deeper than this and mix in more organic compounds like humus, leaves, mulch piles, and manure. The hard clay soil stunted the growth of these vegetables. The hot summer then killed them faster than we could water.

What did work really well, however, was spreading think piles of manure. We spread composted horse manure about 8” thick. The squash went crazy in it! This set up gave the squash all the moisture, nutrients, and depth it needed to survive. The heat still took its toll, but we got more out of about 200 linear feet of manure heaps than we did out of the acre of clay soil.

Winter gardening for summer bumper crop

Winter gardening is an indoor sport: open the seed catalogs and dream! We know we can do well with broccoli, romaine lettuce, bush beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, winter squash, garlic, herbs, and onions.

We are gardening right now, too—well, sort of. We haul in pickup loads of manure from a horse farm, as often as we can. If we waited until spring, the rain would make the ground too soft to do this.

We are experimenting with growing squash across a trellis this year. Last year we noticed the winter squash growing up the fences and putting on fruit with no problem.

We set up cattle panels in an arch shape about six feet tall. We laid down a matte of leaves and then covered it with turkey manure on either side. Come May, this will all be well-composted but will be thick enough to snuff out most weeds. We will then drill down and plant winter squash seeds in it.

For your info, a bumper crop is a gardening success so great that you have to sell the excess off your bumper on the side of the highway (at least that is what I think it means).

Happy New Year!

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