2020 is our year of learning the basic skills we need to homestead and inch closer to food independence as we can in the future. You can learn more about our long term homesteading goals here. Disclaimer: We are learning and know basically nothing. If you are reading this to learn how to grow food or homestead you are in the wrong place. There are countless amazing people on youtube and bloggers to follow if you are trying to learn. Some of our favorites are Roots and Refuge Farms MLGardnerWhispering Willow Farms
These people know their shit; we don’t.
What we started with
We started this project late, late June and July is when we really started getting serious about learning to grow our own food. We had been interested for years, but always put it off for whatever reason was convenient at the time (usually our environment which is pretty harsh for plants – 8,000’ elevation and 6-7 months of winter)
3 raised bed – 3’x6’
Fence planting space
1 – build it yourself greenhouse (nothing planted currently)
A few misc beds and planting spaces we picked up from craigslist/FB marketplace
1 indoor grow room with a seed starting LED light, HED grow light, Ebb & Flow hydroponic setup and a full set of nutrients to grow fruit/veg producing plants
No knowledge of how to grow plants for food
So far our small scale production has been pretty fruitful for a first year that started late. Our tomato plants haven’t been mega producers but every plant has produced edible and delicious fruit. The same with our strawberries which actually have 3 ripe fruits! We planted 6 berry bushes along our fence line hoping they will just take over in future years. This was just one of the plants we put in hoping it would yield in later years. The same goes for the rhubarb, asparagus, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries we planted.
As we started to watch Youtube videos on homesteaders 100% of my favorite vloggers have said they wished they would have planted more perennials (I learned this means comes back each year on its own!) early on. They all also pointed out that the plants that take 3 years or so to mature and produce fruit are especially rewarding in the long term. Given that our plan has always been how to make this project scalable to multiple acres rather than our backyard we felt it was important to plant those now even if we don’t see the fruit the knowledge of how to keep them alive and healthy is reward enough.
Here are the highlights we have learned so far:
Tomato plants do not respond well to watering the leaves, you gotta water the base. Any step you take to keep water/rain off the leaves will yield a healthier plant.
Dead and dying leaves can go, pruning keeps the plant healthy. A tomato plant that looks healthy bushy is likely not. Airflow is important.
On any vining plant you want to keep leaves off the soil (especially tomatoes) if you can. We got a fungus from this. Google saved the day here.
Berry bushes are awesome. They are easy, resilient and thrive. I’ve heard people complain about berry bushes before since they can be hard to get rid of. I can’t imagine wanting to get rid of a beautiful plant that produces amazing tasting fruit. The people who bitch about an invasive raspberry plant are the same people paying $6 a pint at Whole Foods. Next year I’m seriously considering planting our entire fence line with berry bushes.
Tomatoes should be picked before a watering. If it’s going to rain today then spend the late morning picking any ripe tomatoes. The water goes straight to the fruit. Did you ever wonder why tomatoes at the store are huge and flavorless? Excess water is a main culprit.
Salad greens are the easiest shit in the world to grow. Seriously, go buy a kiddie pool and plant salad greens from seeds. It is truly amazing how fast they grow and how little effort is needed. From everything I’ve seen if we ever get to the point of participating in farmers markets then greens HAS to be where the money is.
Hydroponics is a lot of science. If you are into that sort of thing then it’s a lot of fun. If you are bored by a discussion about the parts per million of nutrient solutions, the best performing PH water, and fixing a browning of leaves with adding calcium to your nutrient mix then it’s not for you. Lucky for the family Firedad is a major science nerd finds this to be awesome.
It’s going to be years before we know if the hydroponics system pays off. I did a non-firedad thing when buying this setup. I didn’t go cheap since I tried hydroponic tomatoes about 10 years ago and failed miserably. This time I went to an indoor grow shop and bought what they told me to. Total cost was about $700, but could have been $70 with a DIY approach. My first DIY approach failed; I learned my lesson and went to the pros.
Modern technology makes hydroponics a shit ton easier. A few basic products have made maintaining the exact environment a breeze. Here is what I’ve bought, tested and my opinion:
Smart Plugs & Devices – $9.25 a piece – This is not the first or last time I recommend a Smart Home setup. These things have 100s of uses to improve your quality of life. When it comes to hydroponics I have the following things running on Smart Plugs
Exhaust fan – can turn on and off based on temperature readings
Intake fan – same reason
Wifi Temperature & Humidity – this thing reports to an app every 15 minutes with exact readouts of the room. I even have it set to send me an alert of the temp goes over 80 or under 55.
Humidifier – It automatically keeps the room at the desired humidity based on the Wifi temp and humidity reader. (If humidity drops below 35% then the smart system turns this plug to “ON”.)
Grow lights – set a simple timer – currently they run for 18 hours a day. The plug controls that automatically.
Nutrient pump – I can schedule it to run whenever I want for any length of time that I want or I can simply control it remotely.
The most fun I am having is figuring out how to automate as much of the hydroponic process as possible. This has been a really rewarding thing to work out and I am still very much a beginner.
It’s very enjoyable to be a true beginner at something. It’s been a long time since FireDad & Mom have tried something so incredibly new to us and it’s extremely rewarding. The initial progress when you are brand new to something, fix a mistake, apply a new technique has such high returns when you are brand new.
Food you grow yourself tastes a million times better than bought food. Every, single, time.
That’s the update on learning to grow our own food. It’s been a pretty fun experience and just makes us want to go full scale as quick as we can. We still have at least a couple years of this place until we can make the full jump to being full time homesteaders, but these years should arm us with all the skills necessary to make sure that life change is successful and fun.