in Washington State by Wanda Lynch
Ten years ago we moved to our "homestead" in the country. To be honest, I have to say that I wasn't too thrilled about the idea at the time! My husband couldn't stand living in town even though we lived in a small town. He was determined to move to the country where he was born and raised and so here we are! When we lived in town, I was frugal and even had a small garden but things were definitely different once we moved out here.
We have 40 acres with plenty of trees and completely fenced. Our property is a corner property so we only have a neighbor on one side of us, about 1/8 of a mile away. Across the road from us is several hundred acres of state land so we don't have to worry about people moving in over there! But hunting season can pose its own set of problems! Wildlife is abundant out here...cougars, wild turkey, bear, bald eagles, deer, elk, grouse, moose, etc. so it is very popular with hunters! We also have to be very careful when we are out in the woods. Our nearest neighbor behind us is about a mile away. So we have plenty of privacy. When we first moved here, the place needed a lot of cleanup. We spent the first year just hauling off garbage and fixing the garden fence. We live in a mobile home that has an addition built on. My husband has a large shop that he works in and there is a small barn area behind it. He has a metal machine shop business that he runs from his shop , but he also drives school bus for extra income. We have a decent sized pump house that has shelves built most of the way around it that I store my canned goods on and empty canning jars. Life is good here!
I would never have really thought of us as "homesteaders" but several people have started saying that we are just that! Maybe we are modern homesteaders instead. We have electricity but try to use as little as possible. I have a dryer but choose to use the clothesline in the spring, summer, and fall and use two drying racks in the winter. Our only source of heat is our wood stove in both the house and shop. We cut wood off our property and if there isn't enough, we barter with a neighbor who has his own logging business. We have a very large garden, 80'x100' completely fenced, that we grow all our vegetables and some fruit. I spend most of the summer and fall taking care of the garden and canning food to fill the pump house with. I can several hundred jars of food. I love filling the pump house for the winter! Our cook stove is propane and that comes in handy when the power goes out...which happens once in a while out here! I make all of our meals from scratch and buy groceries mostly in bulk and by the case when they are on sale. I do a lot of different crafts and make the majority of gifts that we give. In a lot of ways I am very old fashioned and sometimes feel like I am the only one who tries to keep the old ways alive!
We have had several different projects that we have worked on over the years and some were good and others failed. The first major thing we did when we moved out here was to buy horses. Everyone buys horses who lives in the country right?! Well, they were good lawnmowers but it got to the point where no one was riding them and then hay started getting a little expensive. So two of the horses were sold but husband kept his for a few more years. Living in the country requires a lot of work and there doesn't seem to be enough time to get everything done and riding horses wasn't a high priority for us. So that didn't work out too good for us.
Our next project was raising chickens. That was a wise move for us but we still had some bloopers! Husband built a really nice hen house and the run is completely covered with chicken wire so that predators cannot get into the house or the run. I spent hours reading all the books I could find on chickens and asking people who had raised them since I had never raised them before. When I was a kid my dad raised chickens but the only thing I remembered about them was having to help butcher. Not a fun thing ! Anyhow, we bought 25 Rhode Island Red chickens, complete with a rooster or three! Mistake number one! Husband named the biggest rooster Cogburn (named after John Wayne of course!) and so we kept him and butchered the other roosters. Mistake number two! He was the meanest rooster I have ever had the displeasure of being around! He attacked every chance he got, even through the fence. we had to carry a garbage can lid with us to feed and one time I knocked him down the hill with a flat nosed shovel when he attacked me. He just got up and came at me again!! Even husband started getting tired of being attacked and we finally gave him away to our friends. He died of lead poisoning shortly after that when he attacked their kids. So we never bought roosters again. Now we pay a little more and get them sexed. We tried butchering our own chickens last year but it was a bit too much for us. So we heard about an Amish woman who butchers them for cheap and we took them up to her. That was the way to go for us. It took us all day to butcher, clean, and cut up 12 meat birds. She can do it in just a few hours! Next year we will buy more meat birds!
When we first moved out here, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do but as time goes by I find new projects and ideas. Last year husband built me an 8'x16' green house so I can start my plants in them instead of under grow lights. He built shelves all the way around it and even built in a sink for me to mix soil in. It is full of tomato and green pepper plants that are planted in buckets and containers. I order seeds and then plant my own starts. It's cheaper that way, and I can use non-hybrid seeds for the most part. I was interested in seed saving but never got around to doing it. There are so many things I would like to do but sometimes reality needs to kick in and make you realize that you can't do everything. At least I can't!!
We also raise pigs for a couple of years and that was interesting! Our first two pigs I purchased at a yard sale. I'm always looking for a good deal!!! Then husband decided that he wanted to raise them so we got two sows and a boar. That was a mistake for us because we weren't set up for that many pigs. One thing we learned about pigs is that you need good strong fences and hot wire. They are big, powerful animals and it's no fun trying to round up two 700 pound sows and an 800 pound boar! The sows would have their litters about the same time and at one time we had over 30 pigs here! We got too big, too fast with our pig business. We had more people wanting to buy fresh pork than we had pigs for! Husband did most of the butchering for us and he got pretty good at it. He also did the castrations and that's what finally put us out of the pig business. He tore a muscle trying to catch over 15 wiener pigs one day and then rounding them up a week later for sale. But we did enjoy raising them. They are very intelligent animals and have tons of personality. We will probably raise them again but on a smaller scale!
I also had big dreams of having a milk cow, complete with fresh milk and butter. Our neighbors gave us a cow that had severe mastitis in hopes that she would heal and we could use her. So husband spent many hours taking care of her and trying to put medicine in her blown bag. I had bought a milking machine in hopes of fresh milk too! But it wasn't meant to be and unfortunately she passed away. Husband informed me that we were NOT getting another cow. I didn't realize how much work it was to have one!
We live in a snow belt in our northwest home, and we have learned to be ready for cold, hard winters. We have had several times when we weren't able to go into town due to heavy drifted snow or downed trees and power lines. I keep a couple five gallon jugs full of drinking water in the pump house because it is well insulated and usually doesn't freeze (we also have a heater in it that I set to 34 degrees). We have a small generator but it isn't large enough to keep our well going. We use it to keep the two freezers from thawing and to run the fridge in the house. Last year we had over five feet of snow and lost our power for five days. Our neighbors were out for ten! We spent most of the time thawing snow for dish water, etc. and hauling water. I make sure that we have plenty of flashlight batteries, candles, and oil and wicks for our oil lamps. Living out here requires being prepared for anything! We fare better than some of our neighbors due to the fact that we have wood heat and propane cooking. We have three 25 gallon propane tanks that we make sure are full in the late fall. They will last for at least six months. When our power was out for five days, I realized that we needed to have a phone that wasn't computerized...they don't work when the power is out!
Getting to know your neighbors is very important because in times of trouble, they are your closest help. We have no police protection out here to speak of and depend largely on ourselves and our neighbors. Police response time is three to four hours! It's a case of we are on our own!! We are the last place that a fire department will respond to...everyone past us is protected by Department of Natural Resources. They will only protect the trees, not the structures. We have already had one wild fire out here and a lot of the neighbors showed up to help put it out. It took two days to put it out, and DNR finally showed up when we had it under control! Homeowners insurance is very expensive out here!
The weather has also been changing in the past couple years which is making gardening very difficult. We get our last frost usually the end of May or first part of June and then it freezes again in August! We haven't had corn for three years now! So one thing I have learned about living out here is that learning is never finished! It's hard to garden with less than 80 days growing season so now I am back to trying different things. I have been gardening for over 20 years and this is quite the challenge for me!
We like the fact that we take care of ourselves and do most things ourselves. We like being independent! We don't live like most people do and don't want to. We don't buy a lot of "things" and most of our stuff is purchased second hand or hand made. Husband is good at repairs and all things are repaired until they are beyond repair! I make crafts and sell them on consignment at a health food store in the nearest town. We live on less a month than most people make in a week. But our place is paid for, and we don't owe on anything. It took us seven years to pay for our place, and we were lucky to have trees that we could log. But it was important to us to have the security of owning our own home. Husband hunts to help supplement the meat and with our garden we don't spend a lot on groceries. It's hard work living out here and the work never seems to be done. Sometimes it gets discouraging and other times not. It takes dedication and sweat but that's the way we choose to live! I have had some medical problems with my back which has made gardening and taking care of things very hard this year. I am currently rethinking the way I garden! But I wouldn't want to live anywhere else and hope to live out my days on our little piece of property that we call home.