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The Call To Self-Sufficiency
May is my favourite month. Fresh starts. New beginnings. Renewal. Dandelions blooming. Wild strawberries showing their tiny white flowers. Seedlings growing nicely by the kitchen window, with the sunflowers and cosmos my boys planted at Beavers. My breakfast or lunch, and sometimes dinner, includes eggs from my chickens, in some form. The sound of the pig snuffling out back during the day, while her snores lend percussion to the symphony of spring peepers at night. This is why I’m here, living off the land as a modern day hippie. Welcome to my world!
Foraging and gardening is very important to me. I can finally make foraging a more significant part of my family’s diet, but I’ve had access to a good garden most of my life. During the two summers and falls we’ve been here, we discovered several wild edibles on our property.
There are raspberries and blueberries to munch on, and sometimes even enough to have with cream and sugar for a nice dessert, or the lone jar of plum jam I made our first year from the 14-plum harvest from the plum tree out front, syrup from our own maples and chokecherry and black cherry jam for the year. (And even some chokecherry mead from a friend!)
I’m looking forward to trying cattails (once I finally figure out when to harvest before the bugs get them, or they pop and it’s too late), and foraging for fiddleheads, which I love. We arrived too late to enjoy much of the foraging season, our first year, and we didn’t find all the things we tried for last year, but I’m looking forward to this year! More forest hikes and exploration. More searching in all the right areas, especially for fiddleheads that seem fairly elusive on my property. Maybe the ancient-looking apple trees will finally give us something to harvest this year.
As for the gardening, while I plant lots of the usual, like peppers, tomatoes and herbs, many of them are heritage seeds, mostly from the Cottage Gardener in Ontario, but a couple species I’m looking forward to trying. Thanks to my mead–making friend, last year I experimented with Valencia peanuts and Dyer’s Woad from Annapolis Seeds right here in Nova Scotia. The same friend gave me some sun choke (or Jerusalem artichoke) tubers, which I was very excited about. These plants did not do as well as I’d hoped, but I will try again. I would love to be making my own peanut butter, and eventually using that Dyer’s Woad for dying hand spun yarn, not to mention roasted Jerusalem artichokes. Yum!
This past summer, I was able to get some strawberry, rhubarb and mint plants through friends. The perennial aspects of my garden are increasing. Pies in June! I can’t wait, and the boys will be happy, as well. Now, to find myself some asparagus! I didn’t plan last year’s growing season very well, but I need to get started with my seedlings soon so they are ready for planting time, and so I don’t need to worry too much once the sap starts flowing. The need to be using my gardening and foraging journal is apparent.
The food on our property is not limited to fruits and vegetables. I still have a bit of pork raised here (sister to the snorer), and while I believe I’ve run out of the delicious locally smoked bacon and hams, I still have some chops and possibly a roast. There are some chevon (goat meat) steaks from the buck born our first summer here. It’s not my favourite meat, so I will not have more.
I bought twenty-six Rhode Island Red chicks last year, whose sweet fluff turned to feathers all too quickly, and whose endearing peeps gave way to clucks and crows. I am behind on deciding which will stay with the layers to become the lucky few to rule the roost. More than half of the fully grown chicks will join the pig and buck in the freezer. Our meat supply needs replenishing. The young hens (pullets) will provide more eggs, the few remaining roos allowing for more chickens. Will I get an incubator next year?
Passive work is also possible when nature has its way, and when I plan things properly. Bees and other insects pollinate wild and cultivated plants. I would like to work toward having my own bees who will contribute to that work, and even provide honey. For this work, I would like to take a course and read books, as well as join a mentor, who would show me proper hive care. Equipment can be pricey, so the investment is a plan for the future, but bees would help greatly in my gardening and foraging efforts, as well as provide us with their lovely golden sweetener.
My brother bought me some milkweed seeds for Christmas, so I will plant those to encourage the Monarch butterfly population. Monarchs are great pollinators, as well as being totally beautiful, but endangered. They need our active support. Occasionally, I will have to control pollination to prevent unwanted hybrids, but I’ll save that topic for another time.
Tilling can be another form of passive work, accomplished nicely by pigs and chickens as part of their search for food. Eventually my chickens will help turning and fertilizing the soil, but last year, the pigs broke and turned the soil rather nicely. The soil here is not fertile enough for a good garden, and rather dense, but with the chicken and pig fertilizer, and some other additions including compost, we should be good. The pigs did a good job of turning the soil, but they made it very muddy and dense. It needed some black earth and more straw to lighten it up for a proper garden. It could use a lot more too. We did need to use a rototiller, but the pigs sure made a great start, and ate most of the roots and plants, in addition to bringing out big rocks with their perfect foraging snouts.
My lovely orange Tamworth-Berkshire crossed gilt (young female pig of breeding age) had a nice big pen until I moved her for planting. Miss Apricot Piggles had a smaller pen for the rest of the summer and is now inside for the winter. She and her sister started the garden off nicely. From the kitchen scraps we fed them, they even planted some cucumber and tomato seeds for us. I had so many lovely garden tomatoes. Those were my most productive plants this past summer. The cucumbers didn’t do as well.
The does the buck left behind have gone to a new home, along with the twin doelings and singleton buck that were born to them last summer. I have realized goat meat and milk are not to my taste, so there was no need to keep them. I found a couple who make goat milk soap, so the goats are living happily south of Halifax. They even took a couple of the extra roosters. I can concentrate on aspects of the lifestyle that make more sense for our family, plugging along, as usual.
And when I sit down to a meal of bacon and eggs from my animals, with pancakes smothered in maple syrup, or jam from wild cherries we picked and I processed late into the night, a gratifying feeling of pride, productivity and oneness with the land reminds me that my work is worth continuing. The memory of the goat kids frolicking with my own kids, the pig following me around for a back rub if she gets out, and the clucks and crows of the hens and roosters followed by dark star-flecked skies at night strengthen my dedication. Here’s to those new beginnings and following the calling to self-sufficiency. In the snow-covered cold, I think of May.