Striving for Self-Sufficiency

Klara picking her strawberry snack

What do we need to live? How can we become self-sufficient? Our first glimpse into this life was through John Seymour and his inspiring encyclopedia of self-sufficiency. Now we are trying our best to make our farm as self-sufficient as possible – but still with many comforts.

The basics

Today, our 8 acres of land give us all of our water, firewood, eggs, pork and summer vegetables (unfortunately, we like fish too much for it to cover meat, and we need to improve our vegetable growing/storage instead of doing only herbs!). There was a lot of wood and waste left on the land that we’ve also upcycled to create animal housing, pig fencing and in other projects. Soon we hope to add soil, dairy products and a profitable business to the self-sufficiency list.

One of the two wells on our property. The second belongs to our neighbor.

Water

We are fortunate to live along the Slocan River and to have quite a bit of riverfront space. This also allows us to have a shallow well of fresh spring water located on the land that gives us all the water we need. We pump the water up to the house and garden. Water in the house is treated with a UV light and our drinking water is additionally treated with a second ceramic filter (not really needed actually). We have a rainwater capture system setup on our greenhouse but not our house since the house does not have gutters yet.

Rob cutting down his first dead tree for firewood. A tree similar to this one, located beside it out of the picture, fell down by itself last fall apparently. We’ve heard 2 falling nearby since living here 8 months.

Firewood

Most of the 8 acres is grass, swamp or garden but we do have forested land. Some of the dead trees on the land and neighboring areas just fall without warning so cutting them down serves to keep us and visitors safe as much as they serve for firewood. Right now our house has two wood burning ovens (a second in the basement that we’ve never lit) and we heat with electricity to supplement on cold mornings.

Vegetables & Equipment

So far we have a great veggie garden at the front of the house. When we moved in there was a huge lawn and only 1/3 was reserved for vegetables. There was a very small greenhouse and the shell of a hoop house too. First thing we did was finish the hoop house, make 2 raised beds and plant what we could in the vegetable garden. The soil was terrible and hardly anything grew in the garden the first summer, only the raised beds fed us. For our second year, we have collected manure from a neighbor’s alpacas and horse, composted tons and plan to build 6 additional raised beds using soil dug up from the foundations of the greenhose. During the purchase of the farm we negotiated to keep their tiller, sit on lawnmower, small lawnmower, snowplow and weed eater (weed lawnmower), so that has helped a bit. We still needed to purchase a chainsaw, pole chainsaw, weed wacker, multiple tools, second small lawnmower as the first was broken, wood chipper, to fix the sit on lawnmower, and to fix the weed eater (unforeseen costs!). We wood chipped all the branches that we cut and the wood chips have been used as mulch between beds.

Eggs & Meat

We started with 8 chickens, 4 one-year old and 4 two-year old. Five were killed by our playful/murderous puppy while she tried to play with them so we had to get an additional 6 chickens. We get 6-8 eggs a day (even in winter, with the addition of a heat lamp in the chicken house illuminated 4 hours a day in the evening). The chickens were free range initially but obviously that didn’t work with the dog, now they have a 2000 m2 fenced in area on a forested slope where we can’t grow anything.

We got two dogs: one to stay by the house and “protect” the chickens and warn of animals (a half German shepherd/half border collie), the other to stay with the goats & sheep when we eventually get them in the fields (a great Pyrenees). For now both live beside the house.

As for meat, we had 2 pigs our first year. We got 45 kg from each pig (in total 56 pork chops, 11 packs of bacon, etc). We gave a lot away but the rest we eat and will last in the deep freeze for a year. We estimated that the pork meat cost the same amount to raise as to buy (however, bad quality meat). Next year we’ll only take pigs if we can find a source of food from a restaurant/grocery store. They did an awesome job of digging up a large area we need to plant perennials, however, they were a headache at the beginning (see blog!). We also got some rabbits given to us and hopefully we’ll trade some pork for other meat.

Our compost, salvaged from the scrap pile of wood in the parking lot of Canadian Tire

The extras

Fruit trees

Oh yummy fruit! We were looking for a place with fruit trees and currently have three apple trees, two peach trees, a plum tree and a Saskatoon berry tree. Since arriving we’ve planted a cherry (but it is not doing well) and a pear. The apples we pressed into 11 boxes of juice for the winter, we also use them in herbal teas, but the rest of the fruit is for canning and eating!

Berries

The family living here before actually sold strawberries at the market so we are very lucky to have a large organic strawberry patch. We decided to not sell them this year and made syrup, jam and froze them. We also gave a lot away.

We planted blueberries and raspberries in the front garden to accompany the blackberries and Saskatoon berries. We also have a large vine that gave us tons of grapes. Around the property we also have tons of elderberry trees and thimble berry – oh, and hawthorn.

Flowers

While Isabelle loves flowers, having worked in a flower shop for 4 years, we both realized flowers were an extravagance that we did not want to invest in. Luckily, the family living here before us did that for us. We arrived to tulips, lilacs, lavender, lilies, peonies and irises. We’ve decided that even though some take up veggie garden space it does look beautiful and we might find a use for the flowers later.

The complete opposite of self-sufficiency: a pool

Yes, we have an above-ground swimming pool. If we had known the chemicals, electricity and general headache a pool was we probably wouldn’t have bought a place with a pool. We bought the pool for the kids. It is surrounded by pine trees so the needles fall in the pool and mean we have to add more chemicals and clean and filter weekly/daily. It’s for the kids but when they get older or it breaks I don’t think we will keep it.

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