Sunday, September 04, 2011

Mini Farming and Mike's Craziness

I posted this on my family's (mostly dormant) blog and asked Adrianne if you all would think I was crazy based on what I wrote. She suggested you would, but also mentioned that you might find the post interesting...

I just finished reading the book Mini Farming, Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre by Brett L. Markham. I've enjoyed the book. It's an introduction to a lot of the things involved in growing your own food. It's pretty light on the details needed to actually do a lot of the stuff he discusses, but I think he's done a sufficient job of helping me know whether or not I'll pursue certain activities, and he's provided a (limited) bibliography at the end of his book for further reading. I've already read one of the books in his bibliography and I own another (it's next on my list after the one I'm reading right now).

For those of you who haven't heard, I've been living my life for the past few years with two fairly opposed views of the future. The first is the one that most of you know--I'll save and invest for retirement so that I will be relatively wealthy by the time I'm done working. Because of that view, I've maximized my Roth IRA contributions every year since I've had a job until this past year when we stopped to save money for the house. The other view is that I don't really believe the country will survive the next twenty years without some major (and likely painful) changes--probably including some sort of restructuring of our economy and government. I've envisioned things ranging from a minor disruption of services to catastrophic upheavals possibly including the entire collapse of the government and society. Something recently brought these two contradictory views of the future into my mind at the same time and I wondered why I was investing so much of my resources into a system that I have little confidence will exist when I need it.

That question worked on me for a while and I decided that I ought to put a portion of that money into something that would actually be valuable to me if the country fell into anarchy. Just to help you think about what that means, imagine that the population ceased conforming to the law (for whatever reason). There would quickly be no food or fuel and money would be worthless and traveling would be dangerous. So, what would be of value at that point?

As I've thought about it, the first and obvious thing is food. I have been feeling for a couple of years now that my family needs to get at least a year's worth of food storage. We've been working on it an we will continue. But, I'm not convinced that everything will be resolved and back to normal within a year. It seemed like the next most important thing to own would be productive land that would enable me to produce my own food. Unfortunately, with my current employment, this is not a realistic option for me. Sure, I could buy some land, but I couldn't improve it and make it productive because I won't be near it for more than 3 years.

My mom and dad suggested that I ought to buy tools that I'd need in the situation I'm envisioning. I think that's a great idea, and I have begun a list of tools that I will acquire over the next while. However, the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that the first thing I need is the skills that would be required to live on our own.

So, with that in mind, I have purchased a number of books (from which I am generating my list of tools), and I will read them and put into practice what I can of what they describe. This book on mini farming was a good introduction. I also have books on composting, trapping, butchering live stock and game, preserving meats, and a couple other generic books on homesteading/traditional skills. I'm currently reading a book on fruit trees to help me out with the trees I planted.

I hope I'm just being crazy and that this will all be a waste of my time (at least I think it's fun and interesting for now), but it certainly seems like something worth doing to prepare. If nothing else, some of these skills will reduce our expenses. The gardening skills will certainly help with the grocery budget.

Once I get done with these books, I'll look into skills and equipment needed for "going off the grid". While I'm preparing to (temporarily) live a life without electricity, I'd like to be able to provide my own and not depend on a power company. Right now my plan is that when we retire from the air force, I will buy some land and have a passive house built on it. A passive house is one that is very well insulated and energy efficient in general. It requires little to no heating or cooling to stay at reasonable temperatures all year round. I'll install some power producing equipment (wind turbine and solar panels), a well, and a septic tank. I'll have a big garden, some fruit and nut trees, and some animals, and I'll hope I've wasted my time and money doing all of this, but I'll be prepared in case I haven't.

Now, as most of you know, I like to get obsessed with things, so it could just be that I'm suddenly obsessed with this idea. What worries me a little is that other people whom I respect have told me they've been feeling the same things for a while. For example, I mentioned this to my former bishop and he said his brother-in-law, a real-estate agent, has been watching for land for them for the very same reason.

Any way, that's what I've been thinking about recently. I'll report on the other books I read and I'll share my list of tools if any of you are interested, once I get it done...or at least further along.

It's okay if you think I'm nuts.


Lokodi said...

Madness and genius are often indistinguishable - so go on and go crazy! I agree 100% with your vision of the importance of self-sufficiency and view the likelihood of utter anarchy as a very small probability but a real one. While I still use extra money after taking care of preparedness for investing in carefully selected stocks and mutual funds, I like the relaxation, comfort and reward of using a garden to at least partially self-sustain. Along with the feeling of independence I also like the smaller impact of passive homes, the idea that I'm using the momentum of nature in my favor instead of pushing against it. Going back to the martial arts analogy used in an earlier post, it is more like Aikido- when you're opponent pushes, you pull, instead of pushing back. That's what they do here in Germany - No AC, and we haven't melted yet.

Mike and Adrianne said...

I remember our house in Germany was mostly constructed of cinder blocks. While I remember the walls being cold in the winter, they worked very well in the summer. During the day they were cool from the night-time cold. The sunlight warmed them up and then during the evening, they released their accumulated heat, and kept the house a little warmer.

From what I have read so far, building a passive house costs, on average, about 20% more than a traditional home. It's very difficult to effectively "upgrade" a home to passive, so building new seems to be the best option.

Lokodi said...

Obviously that Lokodi comment was from Hans, not me. I am melting. I told him to speak for himself about not melting without A/C. I do find it interesting how all the houses here are built with cinder blocks. They just seem so much more permanent structures that are meant to last longer and are build much stronger than our stick houses in the states. I guess we Americans never learned the story of the three little pigs.


The Duke said...

I do not think you are crazy. We talked about this for while.
Today I bottled 16 pints of beautiful peaches. Saturday I bottled 8 pints of tomoato juice. I have raspberries coming on thick and fast now. I will bottle some and freeze some -- and of course eat lots of fresh berries.
I don't particularly like to bottle/can food, but it's so beautiful when it's done sitting on those shelves. It always gives me a sense of accomplishment when it's done. (And it's not hard at all - just time consuming.)
If you read the D&C concerning the last days, I believe (Chris 1:1) that something will happen economically to push the church members more fully into the law of consecration beyond what we do now with fast offerings. People will flee to Zion because they will feel safe there - where that is I don't know (probably within our own stakes), but something is going to happen to heat things up as we build and prepre for Zion.
I think we should all at least learn how to be as self sufficient as we can be so we'll be ready if anything catastrophic happens.

Papa Doc said...

I am not sure that Mom loved me getting peaches in Willard the other day, but she did them and they are wonderful.

Raspberries are her favorite food and this year I got them fertilized just right and they are fantastic.

We cut up and froze about ten of the largest green peppers you ever saw a couple of days ago.

My four tomatoe plants are now bearing profusly. I juiced a bunch the other day and Chris bottled the juice.

Today I cleaned some of my years supply of onions. They did quite well this year.

So we are working on it.

Love you all and Think that Mike should dig up the back yard and get it ready for spring. Talk is cheap, doing it is sometimes hard. A tiller is very valuable, but very expensive. A shovel works, but it takes alot of effort. I have a friend who tills for me each fall.

I have a 401 k too, but it is small since we did not start it long ago due to such limited income and lots of mouths to feed. We do not put lots into it now, but it is at least there.

Dad Clark

Mike said...

I built a 4'x4' raised bed on Saturday to start my "intensive agriculture"--I'll be following the square-foot garden method. We haven't decided what we are going to grow yet, but it will have to be something that doesn't get too tall--I made the bed on stilts and it sits about 3 1/2 feet tall. This should prevent the boys and the dog from running through it as well as keeping safe from rabbits. I'm not sure if rabbits come in our yard, but I've seen them not too far from our house. The height should also make it easier to work in and the portability should make it more versatile. I'll have to report in the future on how well it works. We'll spend this fall and early winter deciding what to grow, getting the seeds, and starting them as appropriate.

Has anyone ever grown leaks? I like to eat them, but have never grown them. I understand they take a little more effort than some other plants.

Jess and Jen said...

Our square foot gardens were only a foot tall, but between the three beds we build, we had 54 square feet. We didn't use them all this year but still planted carrots, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, cantaloupe, leaf lettuce, and corn. We have had decent success but know we didn't water them enough so our yield perhaps a bit lower than expected and later than anticipated.

I love the idea of self sustainability. I am the nerd, after all, who owns two rainwater collection barrels (although I didn't put them up this year...). I would love to retrofit my house with solar panels to at least heat my water, but I need to focus on windows and a new roof, first. -Jess

chelsey said...

Mike, you and I have already talked about this on the phone, so you know what we think.
For the reasons you stated in your post, we are living in our current home. This home we just bought isn't the "dream home" I was looking for, yet it's the best option for our future. We can be self sufficient here. Brent and I felt that was more important than having the perfect floor plan or crown molding, etc. Now we just need you to come work your magic on all these fruit trees we have! And I wish canning was more fun than it is. Truthfully, I can't stand doing it, but I understand it's importance.

Mike said...

Adrianne and I have never canned--that's something we'll learn to do here in the near future, I think. I've read a few different things about it, and it mostly seems time consuming. It looks like it could be a little messy, too. Maybe Adrianne will have to do it. :)

Jason said...

This is all stuff that Michelle and I have talked about. We felt strongly enough about having a garden that we cut down three trees in our back yard in order to have enough sun to grow anything. This year we had peas, spinich, asparagus, peppers, and tons of tomatoes (yuck!). We have a major rabbit problem so I built a raised bed garden and further enclosed it with an additonal 2 feet of fencing.

I would love to get solar shingles but they are just too expensive. I think the thing that worries me most is water. Although we seem to think we have an inexhaustible supply, the supply of potable water is very finite. Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Las Vegas shouldn't exist and actually didn't until we began diverting water from other sources (read the book "Cadillac Desert").

chelsey said...

Jason, we actually thought about the water problem yesterday on our drive home from CA. We passed the LA water viaduct and said a sad goodbye to all of our fresh UT mountain water being sent on downstream...

Jess and Jen said...

I own Cadillac Desert. It was required reading in my "Water issues in the West" seminar I took in grad school. -Jess