This is Part 2 in a 3 part series, detailing how we started on the crazy path we’re on! The learning curve was pretty sharp!
When the soon-to-be husband and I agreed to start changing our lifestyle to a more self-sustainable one, the work really began. As I mentioned in Part 1, I was still in college and was able to do incredible amounts of research in a short period of time. What I failed to realize was just how much information was out there and how hard it would be to sift through the fluff and get to the solid information. I am sure some of you can relate to this.
I came across a post that talked about the three areas of self-sufficiency (and also in ‘prepping’) which is “Beans, bullets, and band aids.” I decided to focus more on the ‘beans’ aspect of things; growing and preserving food, smoking fish, making jerky, and cooking with absolute basic ingredients. The Mister would focus more on the ‘manly’ things such as reloading, building what we needed and together we would work on the band aids area. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy shooting and whatnot but I prefer to be in the garden. That is where my heart truly wants to be. Dirt therapy, ha!
So began the insane amounts of research on what ‘zone’ I was in and what grew well here, when it should be planted and harvested, etc. The ‘proper soil conditions’ for each plant was incredibly overwhelming. I admit that in certain areas, I just kind of winged it. Thankfully, most of it worked.
To break it all down into manageable chunks, I decided I only wanted to grow food and I focused on the vegetables that we regularly eat – green beans, carrots, lettuce and greens, onions, etc. Then I looked up the varieties that were rated for my USDA Hardiness Zone (7a, in case you were interested). I knew my area gets an average of 13 feet (yes, feet) of rain per year and that I had to have covered areas. That meant a greenhouse but I am horribly impatient so went looking for other options. When I started reading about cold frames, I knew I was on to something perfect for my area and could easily construct one.
I began with an old window frame for the lid and used 2 x 12’s to make the main box. Add dirt and seeds (lettuce was first because it is newbie friendly and grows quickly) and you are off! I knew I needed a greenhouse but the cold frame gave me almost immediate satisfaction and the feeling of actually doing something.
While I was putting efforts into the gardening side of things, I also really wanted to learn about preserving the food. In another article, I will talk about what I call my ‘3 Layers of Food Preservation.’ Suffice it to say that I was particularly interested in canning and dehydrating due to those methods requiring zero refrigeration after processing. Some of the tricks I have learned along the way such as shopping meat sales and canning it up has saved us hundreds of dollars at the least. The more I started playing and experimenting, the more I really got into it.
In the last year I have:
- Learned how to make jams and jellies
- Canned chicken, pork, and beef
- Make vegetable stock from veggie scraps
- Learned how incredibly easy it is to pickle! So far I have done dill pickles (cucumbers from my garden) and garlic.
- Made applesauce and tomato sauce from scratch
- Pressure can or water bath can all of the above items, depending on the proper method
- Grow food from seeds and starts successfully
- Make jerky using a dehydrator
- Dehydrate vegetables, fruit slices, herbs, and other spices
- Fillet and smoke fish. I already knew how to catch ’em 😉
- Make crackers and tortillas from scratch
- And much more…
All of the things listed are ones I have actually done-not just read about. Some of it was easier than I could have imagined and others were a complete flop, at first. I found myself enjoying the times when things did not come easily and I had to figure out how to fix it and figure out what I did wrong in the first place. The challenge of having to improvise by pulling on previous experiences is satisfying–particularly when you nail it!
In my next installment of My Story, I will share what I am doing differently this year compared to last in the garden. There are many things I hope to learn and accomplish this year not only in the garden, but in other skills I will need when we are able to buy land. Stay tuned!
Follow along to My Story – Part 3: The Lessons Learned and Changes Made