When most people think about homesteading, they have a very different reality from their vision. This story is all about how I didn’t count the cost, and how I learned along the way what was REALLY important.
I once had this dream, this lofty goal. My dream was to produce all our food that my family would need, in the space we had. I would grow a huge garden, and raise meat chickens, layer chickens, turkeys, and even fiber rabbits.
Our meat birds would feed us, the eggs would supply another source of protein, and our garden would give us all the fresh fruits and veggies we could ever eat in a year’s time.
Our greenhouse would give us another source of fresh food in the cold winters, AND our aquaponic system would supply fresh fish.
Our milking goats would give us fresh milk, cheese, and all the dairy we could ever want or need. We would have more than enough, not only for our family BUT for our neighbors as well.
I would spend my days milling grain to make our own breads. Sourdough, of course.
My family would forage for herbs, mushrooms, and other things we couldn’t grow ourselves. This would provide not only quality time, but additional food sources.
AND, I would come back here to blog about it on a regular basis, making you all want to do the same things. I would show you how to make the most of your space and give you all the tools YOU needed to be as productive as I was.
Oh, foolish girl I was. Very naive. Very fanciful.
However, life isn’t always as good as you see it on the blog. Most of us bloggers, especially the homesteading ones, ONLY show you the good and prosperous of our lives. Very few show you the bad and ugly side of our lives.
The bad and ugly happen a lot, we just don’t like to showcase it. Are you ready for some truth? Some, real, raw, life in all its failures?
Welcome to my real life.
Our dreams of homesteading began in June 2006. We purchased a small starter home in a rural town and planted our first garden. I read up on square foot gardening and just “knew” I had it all together as to how it would work.
After planting over 200 seeds in a 16 square foot bed, I realized that not only was the soil terrible, but that was WAY too many plants to try and grow in that little area. I only got about 15 green beans from that garden bed that first year.
Truth be told, looking back, I am amazing I got anything at all. Go ahead, laugh. I am now, even as I write this. I had so much to learn about gardening, plants, and spacing. Not to mention soil amendments.
You can read about composting bins here.
That year was also my first foray into canning. I had never canned anything before in my life before 2006. We took our kids, then ages 2, 6, and 8 to the local apple orchard and picked apples for a couple of hours.
We came home with nearly a bushel of apples for all our efforts, as well as a happy memory of the day. I took it upon myself to make and can applesauce, with no real proper equipment to speak of.
I had one 16 quart aluminum pot that I cooked apples in for 30 minutes, then transferred them to the blender. The sauce was then poured into a bowl. Once the apples were cooked, the pot was washed out, filled with water and quart jars added. It held a whopping 4 quart jars, actually.
See how to properly can applesauce here.
I then poured the hot applesauce into the jars and canned them in the stock pot.
At least I had the common sense to add a towel to the bottom of the pot to keep the jars from touching the pot directly. It took me nearly 6 hours to can 12 quarts of applesauce, and another 12 hours to clean the sticky mess from all over the kitchen.
12 quarts of applesauce that cost me over $6 a quart when it was all said and done. 12 quarts that my kids ate in less than a week’s time, I will add. Hey, at least I could say I canned something.
How we got started with chickens is nearly as comical. I was driving on a country road one day, when I saw a sign, “FREE chickens”. Of course, since I was also a couponer at the time, the word FREE made me stop my van immediately.
The nice lady showed me two Rhode Island Red hens who were pretty old, but still laying. She wanted them to go to a good home. I promised to give them a good home and promptly loaded them up in the cat carrier she provided me.
Imagine my hubby’s surprise when he came home and there were 2 chickens in our dog kennel in the laundry room!
At least the kids had a good time watching them scratch and peck around the first couple of days while we built a chicken coop in a hurry. It WAS nice to be able to say, “No watching the chickens until your chores are done.”
That worked for nearly 3 full weeks and it was magical. Chores were done lickety split and the kids spent their time in nature. My dream was coming true!
See how to get ready for chicks here.
All good things must come to an end, right? Yup. Encouraging chores to be done before watching the chickens soon became “watching chickens is bore-ring”.
We built a chicken coop and even added 12 more chicks to the flock. It was nice, until one of those chicks grew into a noisy rooster. What I knew about chickens could fit into a thimble and have plenty of room left for water to drink. That did not deter me at all, by the way.
My family and I kept going in the self-destructive direction we were headed in. “Take chances, get messy, make mistakes” was the motto that we learned from Magic School Bus and figured we would apply it to every area of our lives.
The next year, we signed our oldest child up for 4H. She entered dog club, and poultry club. We had to learn more about chickens and dog training, and figured that was a good way to get some knowledge.
That also meant added in meat birds, because why not? Our entire summer was spent at weekly dog club meetings, monthly poultry club meetings, and 10 straight days of fair going and project showing.
My children’s childhoods would be spent with busyness, and not traveling or having fun like we originally planned when they were born.
Auctioning off the meat birds at the end yielded my daughter $200 that year, so it enticed her brother to join the next year.
Our 4H lives were now set. The next 6 years would be spent raising meat birds, turkeys, rabbits and dog training for the fair.
This also meant NEVER getting a summer vacation, or having any fun at the fair, since we spent the majority of the time in shows, or taking care of the remaining animals in the extreme heat.
See how to butcher your own meat birds here.
It took 3 years, but we finally got our garden growing well. The compost was added, improving soil and I was canning all summer long, between 4H times.
My kids were in tae-kwon-do 4 days a week as well, and there were tournaments every quarter. We also home-schooled our kids, so trips to the library happened weekly, too. I once envisioned putting in a couple cots and a fridge in the van since we seemed to be in it more than we were in our home.
Overall, though, I was living the dream. I blogged the good things we did, and my blog seemed to grow.
Yes, I am getting to the point of this story. Eventually. After all, I AM part Jewish so I like to take forever to tell a story. 🙂
One day, I blinked. Maybe it was too long of a blink, I don’t really know. My daughter went from playing with Barbie dolls to looking like one. After years of “ew, boys are gross”, she suddenly became interested in them.
My oldest son was now taller than I am and had a mind of his own. He also had a bit of a stubborn streak. (he gets that from his mother).
It wasn’t long and I was teaching teenagers to drive. Then, moving my van so they could park their own cars to get in and out easily to head to jobs, dates, and time with friends.
I also was honored to get a book contract, AND a canning DVD filming contract. Late winter 2017 was full of promise of all my dreams coming true.
I blinked again, and it was the Spring of 2017. It was the season my dream started falling apart. This is where it gets real, folks.
I had graduated my two oldest children from our home school. My kids were now 19, 17, and almost 13. In April that year, my daughter brought home a young man we all fell in love with, and she was wearing a ring on her finger.
My baby girl was engaged to get married. The next few weeks were a rush of joy, tears, and emotions as we started planning her wedding. They were to be married in August, and we had a LOT to do before then.
We had already ordered chicks and had our garden well underway when the engagement happened. I could hold it all together, I was SURE of it. Until Mother’s Day, that is.
My oldest son had been dealing with some things on his own, and had been drawing away from us more and more.
That night, (on Mother’s Day!) he choose to leave home. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say it involved the police, runaway reports, a trip to the hospital psychologist, and lots of tears.
My heart wasn’t broken, it was shattered. My 17 year old son, my baby boy, had decided that he would rather live anywhere else on the planet than with his family. We had to let him go, to save his life, and our peace.
The next few weeks I spent crying, researching the book, blogging and trying to keep busy. I still had my daughter’s wedding to look forward to, and a trip to Utah to film the DVD.
Sure, inside I was a hot mess, but as long as I didn’t admit it, I would be okay, right? Family and individual counseling began and things from the past that I thought were buried became unraveled. I still tried to keep it all together by staying super busy.
You can read more about raising fiber rabbits here.
My hubby couldn’t stay on that path with me, however, and the decision was made to reduce our flock and garden size.
It was just too much to keep up with, even though I wasn’t ready to admit it. We gave away all but 6 of our chickens and let the garden go to weeds.
Our goat had a stroke, and we had to put her down. Her daughter became too lonely, so she was given to a therapy farm to be with other goats.
Our bees died, and replacing them would cost more than we could afford. The last of our rabbit herd finally succumbed to an illness that the vet still can’t identify. It took our entire herd in less than a year.
You can read more about raising bees here.
Our attention was needed elsewhere.
In August, our daughter got married. It was a lovely wedding, and she made a GORGEOUS bride. I may be prejudiced a bit, but it’s still the truth.
She moved in with her husband, and I had to deal with “losing” 2 children in the span of 3 months. I still had my 13 year old at home, but empty nest syndrome started hitting me hard.
Life had taken so many twists and turns in a such a short time that I couldn’t keep up with it all.
I tried to keep my head above water, but it was all I could do to just take a short breath before going back under. That short breath was merciful that it kept me going, but it never seemed like enough.
Our homestead began dying that summer. The DVD was done, but it didn’t sell like I had hoped it would. Then, the book contract got canceled… for reasons I still don’t understand, but had to deal with.
After a long winter of counseling, family prayers and hanging on to that mustard seed size of faith, we were able to re-establish contact with our son. It wasn’t pretty, but at least we knew he was alive, and eat
ng. I thought that things were looking up enough to go back to our homestead busyness. Hubby felt otherwise.
Arguments ensued of course as two people’s wills began to clash. Two people who were broken, hurting, and fighting for emotional survival on a very different level. Could our marriage handle the stress?
More counseling, more tears, and more dreams taking a different form had to happen.
My homestead dreams of living off the land had to come to a close, even if only for a short time. I hadn’t counted the cost before, but I sure was now.
All the busyness, all the time spent dealing with gardening, raising chickens, 4H, tae-kwon-do, canning, and trying to live “the dream” meant we missed out on fun times with the family.
We didn’t have any other family near us that could watch our animals even for a weekend, so trips to amusement parks, the beach, or even museums didn’t happen.
All the stress from dealing with past pain, the present pain and the years of staying over busy has also caught up with my health.
As of June, I am in full blown severe adrenal fatigue. I have days where I am too tired to get out of bed, let alone function properly.
Laundry and dishes pile up more often as I try and get the much needed rest my body needs. As you can guess, there is no garden this year, no bees to replace the ones that didn’t survive the winter, and no new chicks were added.
See how to hang clothes up to dry inside here.
I have taken a different approach to life lately. Instead of “taking chances, getting messy, and making mistakes” I am more focusing on the moment.
Living in the moment instead of just taking lots of pictures for later. Being more grateful for what I have, instead of constantly trying to “out homestead” the next blogger. (yes, that’s a thing for some of us!)
The good news? Currently it’s working.
Our oldest son is becoming part of our family again, even at a different level. He is working on becoming an auto mechanic and trying to decide if he should enlist in the military or not.
His father and I have worked through enough of our own issues that our son can see the changes in us. We are no longer the stressed out perfectionists that we once were.
Well, not to the level we used to carry anyway. Hubby and I are more willing to admit our mistakes, accept them, and really try and do the right thing again. Our son has appreciated this and is more open to us because of that.
Our daughter is happy with her husband, whom we absolutely adore. They have their own lives about 30 minutes from where we live, but we still get to see them at least weekly.
They have adopted a kitten who is spoiled beyond belief and someday will make excellent parents.
Yes, I look forward to being a Grandma completely. To see my daughter in HER baby is the most anticipated event I can think of for the near future.
Our youngest son will still be home schooled this fall, entering high school. I am taking a different approach to HIS schooling, and not allowing him to be so busy.
As a matter of fact, we have dropped most of the outside activities like 4H, tae-kwon-do and even trips to the library.
More time is spent on actually enjoying our son and teaching him life skills instead of just book skills. Yes, book knowledge is important, but so is knowing HOW to apply it.
My health is on the line, still. BUT, I am taking the appropriate steps to revive it. I no longer will take good health for granted. I just can’t anymore. My marriage is improving daily, and hubby and I are seeing great strides in overcoming past hurts and brokenness.
What does that mean for this blog?
I am soooo glad you asked that. I will continue to share with you all the things I do on our homestead. I’ll share the chickens, the ducks and what gardening we do.
Currently, we only have 1 tomato plant that volunteered, but at least it’s something. I’ll continue to share the good things. I’ll continue to write about canning, goats, quail, and more. I still have all that experience to share with you.
BUT, I am also going to share the downs of homesteading. The things that do NOT work, or that may cost more than you realize at first, including monetary, time, and relationships.
I am so glad you stuck with me to read all of this. Hopefully, you’ll see that I am also a human being with thoughts, feelings, joys and sorrows.
I also pray you will see how I overcome the sorrows and know that YOU can do that as well. I promise you this: I will NEVER sugarcoat homesteading to the point of not being real again.
I love the homesteading life, and the dream will always be there to live 100% off the land, but I have a greater understanding of what it takes to do that now.
I hope to help you make the right choices along the way as to what is REALLY important, and what is just fluff you can toss.
Pin this for later, and be encouraged!
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Heather’s homesteading journey started in 2006, with baby steps: first, she got a few raised beds, some chickens, and rabbits. Over the years, she amassed a wealth of homesteading knowledge, knowledge that you can find in the articles of this blog.