Become More Self-Sufficient
Take note – this is not about becoming self-sufficient. This is a list of tips to help you become more self-sufficient. There aren’t many of us in this world who are truly self-sufficient. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment. Do what you can as you can and make the best of it. Enjoy the process and usually the work, and be proud of what you can do for yourself. Did you know most grocery stores carry less than a week’s worth of food? Less than a week. It’s a good feeling to know we can feed ourselves all year.
These ideas are a small start. There’s a lot more you can do. Please (please!) feel free to add your ideas in the comments. If you’ve blogged about this you’re welcome to leave a link to it in the comments.
Fresh herbs can be expensive to buy. They’re easy to grow and can take up little space. You can grow herbs from seed, from pieces cut from plants (try the produce department), and buy them in the garden department of stores. I keep pots of perennial herbs like rosemary, lavender, oregano and thyme and annuals like basil and lemongrass in the house for winter use. The pots go out to the back porch in the spring and come back in by early fall.
You don’t need a rototiller or big tools if you container garden. Growing herbs in pots is container gardening. You can grow tomatoes and peppers in five gallon buckets. Cucumbers do well in large hanging pots. Pole beans can be grown in large containers by giving them something to grow up, like a trellis or twine. You can weed by hand or use something like my favorite weeding tool. A watering can works well and you probably won’t need 50 feet of hose.
Rent space in a community garden. Grow what you know how to grow and learn how to grow more from your garden neighbors. If your neighborhood doesn’t have a community garden you might consider asking a neighbor if she has extra space you could rent.
Have room? Grow a garden in your backyard. Start small and add as you learn. Once you’re comfortable with “regular” gardening you can learn how to extend the season with floating row cover, low tunnels, planting earlier than you knew you can, and harvesting later than expected. Your cooperative extension probably has master gardeners who’ll help you, and don’t forget the friendly gardening neighbors who’ll lend advice.
I disagree with a lot of what’s said about poultry contributing to self-sufficiency. If you have land and weather that allows the birds to be outside foraging for their own food most of the time (we do) the feed bill for poultry can be small. If you’re buying food you’re losing a great degree of self-sufficiency. It’s nice to have the manure for compost but you might be paying a big price.
Our chickens and ducks keep us in eggs, the ducks can provide meat when we eat the drakes, and we have room for them to find their own food. We do buy some food when they have to be kept penned up and from late fall to early spring when the ground is frozen and/or snow covered. Their coop was free for the taking, the straw for bedding is recycled in the compost pile or as mulch in the garden, and lights in winter are a small cost.
We wild harvest meat (deer, bear, partridge, turkey, fish), berries and apples, mushrooms and plants. It’s time consuming but we enjoy it. It’s a way to have foods we wouldn’t have otherwise because of cost ($26/pound mushrooms wouldn’t be in our budget often) or availability (you can’t buy wild game in Maine).
Putting Food Up
Eat what you can when it’s fresh and put the rest up for later. Your cooperative extension either has food preservation classes and information or can point you in the right direction. Learn to do it properly. Aunt Sally might have escaped botulism when she canned her beans with two inches of head space but that doesn’t mean you will. When we know better we do better, and we know now that there are safer methods than those that worked just fine…until they didn’t…fifty years ago. Putting food up changed over the years.
We heat 99.99% with firewood. Once or twice a year I’ll turn on the propane furnace to take the chill out of the house (it doesn’t last long, the furnace isn’t well-placed so there are issues) and make sure it’s running. We heat with firewood we cut on our land and more we barter for. The woodstove keeps us warm and allows us to cook in a power outage, though cooking is something we can always do because we have a propane stove/oven. It’s more fun to cook on the woodstove. This is a big step. There’s a learning curve to heating with wood but once you get going it will help you become more self-sufficient. If you can’t supply your wood you’ll contribute to creating paying work for someone.
We don’t throw food in the trash. Raw food scraps (no animal products) are pulverized and fed to the red wiggler worms. Their castings (such a nice word for worm poop) are used as a fertilizer and soil amendment. I use a Worm Factory 360 with excellent results. I’ve had it for years and easily recovered the expense. Cooking everything from scratch creates a lot of food scraps, enough for poultry and wiggly worms. When the worms are on the verge of over populating in winter I feed a handful of them to the chickens and ducks.
Composting is simple, isn’t stinky as long as you do it right, and is environmentally friendly. It’s probably one of the first things that come to mind when you think about how to become more self-sufficient. You usually don’t have to send food to the water system (garbage disposal…into the water system so it has to be cleaned out of the water? wth?) or landfill. If your pile is small you won’t want to compost animal products. If it’s large enough – do it. We burn bones most of the hear, bury them for calcium in the garden when we aren’t having a fire in the woods stove. You might have to throw animal products away. If I don’t have a pile going (seldom) I dig a hole in the garden, put the food scraps in and cover them with soil. Learn about sheet and trench composting. They might work for you. You can put food scraps, grass clippings, leaves from the lawn and other plant material to work for you with a little bit of effort.
Our clothes dryer was born in 1989. It’s going to live pretty well near forever. We use the clotheslines outside when possible (great for sun bleaching whites, did you know that?) and the clothes rack by the woodstove. There’s a clothesline on the sun porch for backup. Hanging laundry up to dry saves us a lot on the light bill. Did you know you can soften clothes by either cutting back on detergent so it doesn’t build up in the fibers, or with vinegar to break up the build up? Your clothes won’t smell like vinegar. A quarter to half cup in the rinse cycle should be plenty. This is one of the easiest ways to become more self-sufficient.
Invest in Gear
Have you thought of giving up a gym membership and spending the money on outdoors gear to become more self-sufficient? Snowshoes will work up a sweat, give you a good cardio workout, build muscle and get your outdoors in the fresh air. Hiking boots will take you to beautiful scenery, give you a workout, and a good pair lasts for years. How about a bicycle? I’m all about the outdoors, as you know. Bad weather? We have a treadmill, a rowing machine and an elliptical, purchased over the years. You don’t have to spend a fortune on new clothing and gear. Visit pawn shops and if they don’t have what you need, ask them to let you know when something comes in. Thrift stores are great. Ask friends.
What do you do to become more self-sufficient? I’m interested in learning from you and so are other readers!