Stone By Stone

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Increasingly, I am encountering people who are interested in taking the leap into self-sufficient living.

With only myself to look after, I reckon I could go close. But with a family to consider it is not so easy. So I do what I can with the time I have.

Whenever someone asks me how to start with growing vegetables, I always have the same answer. Start with a few different vegies that you like to eat, start with just a small patch of each, see how it goes and revise for the next year. If your peas and carrots go great guns in the first season, try a few staggered plantings the following year. Maybe add tomatoes and broccoli next time.

This approach extends into general food production. Start with a few commercial layers for eggs. Maybe expand into a self-sustaining heritage breed or try ducks as well.

I started with one little milking doe and now I have a herd of 14 purebred goats. I started just drinking the milk and now I make four kinds of cheese, butter, cream, ice-cream, kefir, soap and yogurt.

I have kept a few meat sheep, and tomorrow I am going to learn about small-scale beef production. With less horses here now, there is a lot of grazing going to waste. A few little cows could turn that into the variety of meat that we consume the most of.

I started out playing around with a second-hand breadmaker, now I make enough sourdough for the family and we no longer buy bread.

I started out making strawberry jam and now I have a fridge full of jars of salsa, jam, chilli sauce and sweet pickles.

I started out with a bucket turned into a fermenter and a failed seven litre batch of cider, now we make a great cider, non-alcoholic berry soda and a couple of different beers.

I started out with a tiny vegie patch and a bumper crop of broccoli, now I grow loads of fruit and vegetables throughout the year.

You can grow it as much or as little as you like. I have added stone fruit and citrus to my apple and pear trees. I have a greenhouse to extend the season of my summer crops.

You  might be content with a few herbs in a window box, or a couple of containers with lettuce and strawberries. Or you might add more and more little projects until your life is completely transformed.

The scale you adopt is completely up to you. If you try something and it doesn’t work, either try again or try something different. I went through several varieties of standard, dual-purpose chickens before settling on the Rhode Island Reds. I have tried to grow blueberries a few times, in different situations, with no success. Time to admit defeat on those, I think. By contrast, my strawberries are doing much better in their new location.

Follow your heart and your gut. Enjoy what you do and learn from it. Read and ask questions, because that will get you there quicker than pure trial and error.

There will be times when you will be unsuccessful, but keep going. It doesn’t take long to change your whole approach to food and the environment and the possibilities available.

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