Our first 3 steps to improve self sufficiency

The first challenge in becoming more self sufficient was knowing where to start. Everyone has to start somewhere, right? Well, there’s no manual, but after 2 years we’ve well and truly past the starting point. So these are the things we did to start on the path towards what we call ‘city sufficiency’.

1 – Started gardening

Nearly all this space is garden now!

This was always something we knew we’d do, and we’d successfully grown food to some extent at each of our last two rental properties. We started modestly and prioritised, as the time and effort required to grow even a small portion of our own food was a challenge – especially while also holding down a day job.

The first thing we started doing was putting in fruit trees. Fruit trees typically take 2-5 years to begin fully producing, so in the first few months we planted (either in pots or in the ground) the trees we wanted most.

Then we started our vegetable garden. Initially we focused on an amount of garden which we thought was easily manageable – a space about 3 metres by 1 metre. This meant we could begin getting our hands dirty, while figuring out what might grow where over the longer term.

We started by planting mostly feed crops for our rabbits and chickens, with vegetables for us being a secondary concern. As we gain experience and confidence this balance is changing, with our summer garden this year focusing about half and half on animal and human food.

2 – Began raising chickens

Chicken

With our 4 Brown Shavers and 3 Rhode Island Reds being part of our fur family, we were never going to be raising animals for meat. However we are more than happy to keep chickens for their eggs, as this neither hurts the chickens nor us. Not only have the chickens made us self sufficient in eggs, but they serve a greater purpose, as the health and welfare responsibilities that come with owning animals reminds us each day about what we are doing to be more self sufficient.

Of course, chickens might not be your thing – especially if you have little to no outdoor space, and particularly if you live in an apartment. Lots of people recommend quail (which can be kept in a very small space and provide meat and/or eggs) or meat rabbits as indoor-friendly alternatives.

3 – Examined our ‘stuff’

This is actually a process we started long before buying our home, and one which will continue (I often do the 25 item challenge in weekends). Preparing to move house is an ideal time to take another look at all the things you have – though there’s really no bad time.

There are lots of different methods and guides (from Marie Kondo’s ‘life changing magic’ to J D Rockefeller’s ‘how to’) that can help declutter your possessions, but we just took the approach of looking at each item we have and working out whether we used it – and if not, whether we were attached to it and really wanted to keep it anyway. For anything that isn’t going to stay, we always consider whether we can recycle or donate it, before turning to the landfill option.

In conclusion…

Over the last two years I’ve written about lots of things we’ve done, but the three steps here are where we started our journey. They won’t work as a starting place for everyone, and that’s fine – but they were logical for us. The important thing if you want to make a change is that you start somewhere, some time – and there is no time like the present.

The Dine-a-Chook

As well as various forms of protein, occasional oyster grit and greens from our garden, we feed our chickens layer pellets. When we first got the girls, we simply threw the pellets on the ground, but found a large amount was getting hoovered up by our voracious local sparrows, instead of being converted into tasty, nutritious eggs.

To combat this, we got a treadle feeder. It’s an excellent idea – chickens stand in front of it (on a treadle) to open a flap which lets them access their pellets. Because the treadle needs a certain weight to operate it, this has almost eliminated food loss.

However, since the start of winter we’ve been having problems with the treadle feeder. Our coop is muddy, and a treadle clogged with mud won’t open properly. The result is under-nourished birds – something we’re desperately keen to avoid!

So we ordered a Dine-a-Chook 4.7L feeder on TradeMe, and it quickly arrived. We set it up yesterday, which was as easy as screwing two brackets to a fence post and hooking the feeder on.

The Dine-a-Chook is an evolution of the drainpipe feeders, and seems easier to keep cleaned and stocked. It promises almost no food wastage, though I’ve seen one review questioning that (perhaps with an older model, though).

At least one of our Rhode Island Reds has already figured it out, and I’m sure the others will pick it up quickly. For the price of about $55 (including delivery), it’s great peace of mind to have a feeder that’s up off the ground, and will provide another option for our girls if they don’t want to (or can’t) use the treadle feeder.

Three things

Thinking back now, three things have dominated the week.

First, Babs – one of our chickens – died. There were no obvious signs of illness or injuries, so we suspect natural causes. Babs was only about 3 years old – around halfway through her expected lifespan – but she’s one of two girls who haven’t been laying since about April, and had noticeably slipped down the pecking order in the coop.

It’s sad, and we’ll miss her.

The second thing is that Jon Snow – our big bunny – is sick. J noticed he’d lost a lot of weight, and his breathing was fast and laboured. A couple of vet visits later, we’d ruled out a heart problem (thankfully) and have medication for a lung infection. He seems to be putting a bit of weight back on already, which is great.

Thirdly, I’ve managed to pick up the cold that’s been going around. I tried hard to avoid it, but here we are – wrapped up, medicated and feeling mostly miserable.

Despite all those, however, we’ve managed to get a few small jobs done around the house, and it’s not all as depressing and dismal as it might sound. A bit of pottering around while not feeling 100 percent all adds up to something quite helpful – and in just a few more weeks I’ll have more certainty about what the future holds, and the start of summer to enjoy.

-G

Settling down

I don’t know if we found 25 things to donate/recycle/dispose of last weekend. In fact, we haven’t made the trip to donate what we did decide we could do without, so technically we’re still at zero.

However, it does feel a lot more organised and nicer around here. I’m not completely sure why – we’ve rearranged bookshelves and cupboards so things work better, and maybe that’s enough for now. I appreciate how long it takes to really settle into a place – it requires much more than unpacking the moving boxes for a house to become an established home. I think we’re still working through some of that, as we slowly realize the potential we saw when we bought this place.

The days are officially getting longer again, and maybe knowing the seasons are changing is also having an effect on me. Whatever it is, I won’t argue!

I hope we actually get enough of a break from rain (and wind) soon for me to copper spray the fruit trees. Copper is a harsh treatment, but it’s supposed to stop leaf curl (although we still had a bit of it last year), and it’s better than inorganic alternatives.

We’re feeding the chickens lots of protein at the moment, getting them ready to go back into lay as the daylight hours increase. We’re getting between one and three eggs a day at the moment, and I’m looking forward to when the Rhode Island Reds who hatched at new year start producing.

Anyway, it feels like things are settling down a little – no doubt not for long (because change is a constant and I hate to stand still), but right now, it’s quite nice.

-G

Short and sweet

A short update this week – no update at all really. It’s been cold here, and until yesterday I hadn’t seen the house or garden in daylight all week. It’s the time of year when all I want to do is hibernate, but I know there are plenty of things I need to be getting on with.

Today I should transplant some bok choi around the main garden, as we have a bunch of plants all growing much too closely together to be healthy. We’ve been having more problems with our chicken feeder as well, and I need to keep an eye out to see if the girls are using it.

We haven’t quite finished sorting through everything we took out of our bedroom before the walls and ceiling got re-done, and as a result the room (and particularly the closet) look amazingly uncluttered. The reverse is true in our spare room, though. Some things will almost certainly end up at op-shops, but looking through it all is something we’ve been putting off.

Anyway, there are a few things I can do from the comfort of our living room – where I have coffee brewing and the heat pump running – so I might get on with it.

-G

Easter eggs

Moulting chicken

Widgey shows her bum mid-moult.

One thing I enjoy is getting to know our property’s seasonal routine. After 4 weeks of getting few (and occasionally no) eggs, our chickens seem to have finished their moult and come back into lay – just in time for Easter.

We knew the moult was coming, and we had some idea when. This also means it’s been about a year since our girls came to live with us.

We aren’t big on decorating eggs, sending Easter cards, and all that stuff – for us, this long weekend is a chance to have a few quiet days and get back on top of things around the house. As part of that, it’s nice to be able to bake a few treats, now we have a steadier supply of what has been a precious resource.

The traditional iconography of eggs and rabbits reflects that Easter is also a time for new beginnings. This week a builder should be starting work in our bedroom, tidying up the walls and ceiling so it can all get fresh paint. Eventually we’d like to do this right through the house, but we’re taking it one room at a time, and the bedroom is the first and last room we see each day.

That will make for a fresh beginning, and a very happy Easter indeed.

-G

Winter is coming

We hardly had any summer to speak of this year. Our tomatoes rotted away before they had a chance to ripen, and several of our lettuces have been similarly undone by the rain. The media termed it a “bummer summer”, and now we’re officially well into autumn.

Curly kale

The early curly kale has flourished, and needs thinning!

The telltale signs of a changing season are in evidence around the garden, and we’ve started preparing for a switch to winter crops. Our new season’s kale has sprouted and is doing well, while cauliflower and bok choi seeds are in the ground.

Yesterday I mowed the front and back lawns, possibly for the last time in a while. We only needed to mow once or twice last winter, which was fortunate, since there weren’t many days when the ground was dry.

Hopefully today I’ll  clean out the chicken coop, and remove the decomposing loose organic matter that in winter will turn into problematic mud. We also need to clean out the treadle feeder to stop it from clogging up – a piece of maintenance we have to undertake more often.

It’s also time to harvest some of our ample herbs, and either use or preserve them. We’ve got a particularly lush bed of chives, which I’ll mix with butter and freeze, a combination perfect for adding into scrambled eggs.

Our usually reliable supply of eggs, however, have become more of a precious commodity this week. The girls gave us two eggs yesterday, and just one in each of the two days before that. This is a logical moulting/slowdown time for the chickens, so we’re not too concerned, but as we move into the season for comfort food, we also don’t want to run out!

-G

Chicken dealing

Today I feel like a chicken dealer. We’ve had 6 chickens arrive from J’s parents (the last of their flock) and 5 of them have departed again, heading first to a friend’s house, then the Big Coop in the Sky.

We’ve kept one chick from J’s parents, who hatched around the same time as ours, and is definitely a hen. She’ll help take over laying duties from some of our older girls eventually.

One of our original Brown Shaver girlsIt’s also about time for our chicks to graduate from eating chick crumble to pullet food (the intermediate step before they’re ready to start laying, and go on the high-protein mix that gives them extra nutrition). After a week of almost summer conditions, the weather has gotten pretty unpleasant though, so cleaning everything out and switching them over might need to wait another day or two…

-G

Keeping track

In my travels around Pinterest, Facebook and the other blogs I follow, I see quite a lot of ways that people keep track of what they’re planting, harvesting, buying, spending and using.

It seems like a great idea – particularly recording things like when we plant, what we plant, where we put it and how that turns out. Or even simple details like how many eggs our girls lay each day, so we can track and maybe predict their less productive weeks.

But keeping track requires a kind of daily routine I haven’t developed yet.

I’m not sure why I find it so hard, because I’m an almost fanatical list-maker. Shopping, housework, my day job, upcoming house projects – I have lists for everything, and I mark off what’s achieved and what’s yet to be done.

But do I keep track of things outside? Nope.

This blog is one attempt to maintain a record of what we’ve done, what worked and what didn’t. I think it’s mostly successful – and yes, writing for this blog is on a list of things I work through every weekend.

I’m going to take the next step by printing off some forms to keep track of how many eggs we get. Having a physical piece of paper in the cupboard where we store the eggs would be a handy reminder to note down the number of our yolky delights.

If that fails, I guess this post will be my reminder that lists don’t always work.

-G

Allegedly summer

This summer is one of the strangest I can remember. The average temperature has definitely risen, but we’ve had a lot of rain, and almost completely missed the reliably hot, dry days that mark our normal summer season.

At least we haven’t had to water the garden nearly as much – and we’re still getting enough vegetables and strawberries to play a big part in our (admittedly not great) diet. One night this week we picked our first lettuce, and there are plenty more still at various stages, which will be ready over the days and weeks ahead.

In fact, our harvest from that day is worth a photo.

A day's harvest - lettuce, carrots, strawberries and eggs.

We have lots of good looking carrots, though some need to be thinned again. We’re only picking what we want to use, at the time we want to use them.

We’ve followed the same strategy with our potatoes, though we’ll have to harvest the rest soon, so they don’t start rotting or sprouting.

Sadly, another one of our baby chicks has succumbed to weak legs – it looks like it could have been something that went wrong in incubation, or in their genetics. Hopefully the remaining two can stay healthy long enough for their legs to develop the strength they need, and then they should be alright.

In the meantime, it’s another wet day here – another day to spend (mostly) inside. Hopefully, it’s a day to do some tiding up, cleaning, sorting and preparing for the weeks ahead.

Maybe those weeks will even bring some reliable summer sunshine.

-G