The Ranch

Our ranch has changed. A lot has changed. While we still reside in a relatively similar location, we moved this past Memorial Day. Gone are the 24 acres of pasture and woods. Gone is the rustic Redwood barn. In exchange, now 20 acres, no pasture, all woods. Our rustic (albeit virtually unusable) barn was traded for a more functional shop as well as an additional storage building to help keep the shop in shape. The home is slightly bigger and far more efficient in layout. It doesn’t hurt that it has soaring vaulted ceilings with a stone fireplace in the center of the great room. great.room

You can see our little Bug curled up on the couch on moving day. It was a long process. Somehow we ended up with so much stuff. I just don’t know how that happens. Makes me really realize how much I NEVER want to move again.

This homestead was purchased off the estate of the original owner/builder. It was built in the 70s and essentially hasn’t been touched since then. There are many aspects which are amazing, and some that make us scratch our heads a little.

A huge factor in us trading in the previous address for this new, was that we saw the opportunity to lower our monthly outgo. In this day, when that chance arises, then one takes it. Additionally, we came to terms with the fact that we are just not meant to be ranchers or farmers in the traditional sense. We (mostly me) couldn’t handle the heartbreak associated with animals on the farm. I found I grew far too attached to them to be able to separate myself when they met their end. Some I knew were coming, such as the cows and pigs, but some were a surprise – such as when our pregnant Nigerian Dwarf goat went into labor and we lost both the baby and the mama. I was very upset.

However, we love the lifestyle. I can still support it. Buy local beef or pork, support farmers at the markets or roadside stands. I will grow my own things as well, however, we want to travel too. My strength is stocking up and stockpiling. And that’s the direction this blog will take. Stocking up and resurrecting this ranch to the glory it once was.

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Grow what you eat

I am the first to admit I am not a great vegetable eater. I have yet to meet a fruit I don’t like (and tomatoes don’t count because really, they eat more like a vegetable), however my body would prefer I up my veggie intake. Part of the theory of growing our own food is that I will get the satisfaction of seeing what I am eating first hand, as well as watching it grown and prosper.

In my last post (Resurrecting A Dream) I mentioned that the first step in the #yearwithoutagrocerystore challenge was to come up with a master list of the produce I would like our little homestead to eventually produce for us. Not including nuts, which I’m still learning about, here’s my list so far:
Apples (many varieties)
Apricots
Artichoke
Asian Pear
Asparagus
Avocado (yes! The nursery tells me we have about a 75% chance of success!!)
Basil
Beets
Bell Peppers
Blueberries
Boysenberries
Broccoli
Cabbage (many varieties)
Cantaloupe
Carrots
Cauliflower
Cherries (sweet, tart)
Chives
Cilantro
Cucumber (eating, pickling)
Dill
Garlic
Gourds
Grapefruit
Green Beans
Lettuce (head, leaf)
Lemons
Limes
Mandarins
Marjoram
Mint
Onion (green, white, yellow, red)
Oranges
Oregano
Parsley
Peas (snap, shelling)
Peaches
Pears
Plums
Potatoes (many varieties)
Pumpkin (eating, jack o’lantern)
Raspberries
Rosemary
Spinach
Strawberries
Sweet Corn
Sweet Potatoes
Tarragon
Thyme
Tomatillos
Tomatoes (many varieties)
Watermelon
Zucchini

Feels like a pretty healthy (huge!) list. Of course, this won’t all get planted first year. I began working on my master list to figure out how much of each we eat. For example, I mentioned that I don’t like tomatoes. I do not eat them fresh, and really only one or two of my family members like them that way. However, I love tomato sauce, salsa, ketchup and BBQ sauce, therefore, many tomatoes and many varieties will be essential to our garden.

Lastly, most of my fruit needs to be planted immediately as they are trees or bushes which take many years to be prosperous. Currently, we have an Asian Pear, Arkansas Spur Apple, Pluerry (not to be confused with a Cherry Plum), Eureka Lemon, Meyer Lemon, and Clementine trees. They are all very small. We have decided when we buy more trees, we will bite the bullet and buy slightly older (read: larger) trees with the hopes of getting production sooner.

DH and I are working on the plan for the garden next year. I have found that it takes at least a year of planning to just get started. We have to finalize what type of planter boxes we want. Originally, we intended to grow directly in the ground, however our garden spot is incredibly rocky, and after this season, we learned the soil isn’t what it should be. Not to mention, the weeds are kicking my butt!

What are your planter boxes made of? Do you use wood? Cement blocks? We have several “decorative” boxes that line the edge of our garden to help make a fence. DH made them from corrugated roofing and redwood. They are beautiful. Unfortunately, we can’t afford to have the whole garden made from them. but boy are they beautiful! 935131_683681225490_1766348883_n

Until then….

Happy Homesteading

Resurrecting a dream

We took a little time off. Intentional and unintentional. Red Tractor Ranch expanded by another little one in October of 2013, and since, our life has drastically changed.

That being said, the one thing that hasn’t changed is our desire to attain self-sufficiency. If anything, that desire is all the more prevalent as we raise this new child. The importance of that simple yet rewarding life are ever more ingrained in what we want to do.

Frustration abounds when one can see the end goal, but can’t quite understand (or appreciate) the baby steps it takes to get there. That is where I am right now. I feel as though we are light-years away from our goal, yet I know we are making progress. Each failed experiment is a learning process.

My most recent project is to work on determining exactly what we consume on a weekly/monthly/yearly basis. I am trying to work towards the challenge of going a year without a grocery store (seen here: http://ayearwithoutgroceries.blogspot.com/ ). That challenge is far from attainable in our current status, though the legwork needs to be done. I know our life isn’t conducive to being 100% self-reliant, but 90% would be great!

My first order of business was to create a list of the produce we eat regularly. The whole adage “plant what you eat” is of the utmost importance in a situation like this. No reason to plant a row of cauliflower when only 1 out of our 5 like to eat it!

Being in zone 9 means we are fortunate to have an exceptionally long growing season. We are further lucky in that we can also produce citrus and on rare occasions, even avocados (this CA girl would be lost without avocado). With no real “harsh winters” to work with, our biggest concern is the heat of the summer. We rely on our local irrigation district for water (and pay for it), so regular water is generally not an issue either.

As mentioned before, our house came with a few established fruit trees. We are working on creating a garden plan. We want to not only have a designated garden, but to also disperse various fruits and veggies around the whole fenced in yard (blueberries along the inside of our fence, citrus trees along the house, etc).

So, the goal this week? Make a master list of what we eat. Determine how many times per week we would eat them (1/2 cup servings) and calculate how many cups are needed to sustain us for the year. From there, I need to do some math and find out how many pounds are in the various cups.

Sounds like I need some graph paper.

Happy Homesteading!

Rebuilding and Refreshing

This weekend marks one year since we moved into this house. Last night on the porch swing, Chad and I were reminiscing about how much has changed in that time. I would like to think that we have started to bring this home back to life. While we are long way from finished, the progress is impressive for me. We have limited funds and time, both of which make home improvements particularly challenging. The house itself hasn’t changed all that much. Sure, I have added “feminine touches” here and there (for example, in the built in shelves in the living room, I backed them with turquoise and white damask fabric so as to make them “pop”), however our greatest achievement is the land.

Not only have we added the fence and gates along the road, this past winter/early spring, we re-fenced the surrounding “yard” that separates personal space from pasture. We added 4 foot field fencing with two strands of barbed wire and a string of electric fence. Additionally, we added a line of barbed wire along the bottom of the fence to deter digging underneath. Now uniform and clean, our fence is dog proof and much easier on the eyes.

Our neighbor likes to run his cows on our property and part of our exchange was that he help us clear some of the blackberries that had started to overtake the pasture. While this is a several year project, year one is done and already an improvement is evident. With the cows on the land, our pasture is staying greener as they not only eat it down, but fertilize as they go. The constant and consistent irrigating helps in maintaining a more “lived in” look.

We have cleared dead trees, started removing overgrown shrubs and cut back plants that had been forgotten. We have added four new fruit trees (Pluerry, Cherry, Apple, Pear) as well as revived the existing trees (2 Apple, 2 ancient Apricot, Asian Pear and Plum). We have worked to get the well established grapes back in order and started a few starts of our own. Our garden is far from being where we want it, but baby steps are necessary. Two beds are what we could do this year and that is a starting place.

Our project list seems endless, but that’s the way we like it. Without goals, what is the purpose? Our next few project will focus on the house and living space more as we are expanding our family by one this October. As always, we keep busy and we wouldn’t have it any other way. When we look back on our two year anniversary in this house, I hope we see the same progress.

A Homestead is Born

A little over a year ago, Chad and I began our search for that “perfect property”. We had envisioned pasture, woods, maybe a creek; Picturesque! We spoke of quiet country living, getting back to the basics. Nothing fancy. Nothing extravagant. A simple farmhouse would do. A place to allow our boys to roam free and explore and learn. Somewhere that our unborn children would grow up and create fond memories. An idyllic vision I suppose. However, it was not such a far-fetched idea.

We spent hours upon hours dreaming and visualizing and dreaming some more. Something that makes us so strong is this shared vision of the life we want to create together. As most people can attest, our resources did not match our vision and we were forced to look even further. We had seen the house that was to become our home several times. We were both drawn to it immediately, but some of the negatives threw us for a loop. First, the house was not very large (which for me was fine. Chad thought it would be an issue for me down the road). Second, the location of the house on the property is less than ideal as it is near the road. At the time the home was built, our road was nothing more than a dirt pathway for tractors and occasional trucks. The proximity was of no concern as the road was not a major transportation road. Over time, the rural community has somewhat grown and the road became a paved and well traveled route. While it’s still far from the business of the city, it does not have the FULL privacy we were looking for. The third negative was that the property, while boasting a gorgeous rustic 3200 square foot barn, was lacking in any type of shop or even garage for Chad to store his tools and trucks.

Upon further reflection, we realized the positives completely outweighed the negatives. Shops can be built. Houses can be updated. Trees and shrubs can be planted for privacy. What couldn’t be changed was the amount and quality of the acreage. And that was the selling point. Once a very loved and cherished home, the owners had fallen ill and consequently the property had begun the process of Mother Nature taking over once again. We had our work cut out for us.

Prior to moving in, we had to fix and add a fence that separated the “living acreage” from the road, primarily so our dogs were safe. Once that was finished, we moved on down the hill, working nearly every weekend until winter trying to clean up and properly take care of this country homestead.

We were ecstatic to learn that our lawn had sprinklers installed. While looking through the cabinets in the kitchen, we came across a letter from the previous owner (who had moved into a nursing home) addressed to the new owners. In it she described the great joy she felt living in that home and expressed that she hoped we would feel the same. Within the envelope was a crudely hand drawn map of the yard with sprinklers dotted throughout. With great excitement, we headed outside to turn on our water for our sincerely parched grass. Fifteen minutes passed. Then thirty. Soon, we had been out there for an hour still using her map trying to locate the valve but none was to be found. Frustrated and irritated we walked away from it. Minutes later, one of our boys found it. It was 1 1/2 feet into the gravel driveway. How was this possible? Then it occurred to us that driveway had “settled”, moving away from it’s original spot. At the time of the drawing, it was incredibly accurate, but as years of rain and driving continued, the driveway no longer stood where it had originally been erected.

Our first year in this home has proven to be quite challenging and always an adventure. The lawn sprinklers were just the beginning of us learning how to “use” our property. This blog is meant to chronicle our journey as we make and learn from our mistakes as we continue on our adventure to self-sufficiency.