Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Homesteading Lessons Little By Little

The house that we rented was part of a big farm, and it was originally about 475 acres. It included a big old fashioned farmhouse, a big old fashioned red cow barn, a metal barn, our house (a two bedroom ranch house), a one room cabin with a covered outdoor patio on a beautiful pond with a boat dock and a windmill (to keep the water moving), deep woods, waterfalls and many cornfields and pastures and orchards. It was an awesome place to live.

When I found this house to rent in the paper, my husband was out driving a regional tractor trailer. He wasn't too keene on renting and wanted to keep staying with my parents till we had a down payment for our property. But I talked him into at least taking a peek. It turned out the owner was interviewing several couples before renting it to any. They had 4 little girls and was concerned about who they rented it to. So we thought for sure, they would turn us down as we did not have any children at home (ours were all grown and on their own). Wrong! That turned out to be in our favor. So did the fact that we wanted to be homesteaders. They liked that.

After we started living there awhile, the landlord asked me if I would take a hike with him and his two daughters. At the time, his wife was pregnant with the last one and the two year old was too young for the hike. I found out later, he wanted to see how the girls reacted to me, if they liked me and all that. Then a few days later he asked if I would be interested in babysitting in exchange for rent. So most of the time we lived there, I babysat those little girls instead of paying rent. It was great.

We grew our first garden there. We installed a woodstove and my husband taught me how to operate it and how to build fires and how to keep them going. Now I can build a fire anywhere and keep it going. Some people just can't get the hang of it. We also started using kerosene lamps in the evenings. I started canning. My father taught me to can grape jelly and grape juice the first year. I progessed from there to many other things. It is now my favorite thing to do! Our garden there was so beautiful! All the people that came to my landlord's house could not get over it. My husband plowed up an area with a wheel hoe (like a manual rototiller - uses people power instead) and we used no fertilizer or pesticides.

We were so busy. I was gardening, harvesting, and canning. Babysitting the little girls, had a job as a home health aide for a lady in the little town, plus we were both doing a wild west show that my brother had every week end. It was a busy schedule. I finally had to quit the wild west show. My son had moved to the little town near us so he could be closer to us. My mother was bedridden and I started going there a couple times a week to wash her hair and bathe her. I loved it being involved with our family and homesteading too.

Then we even got our first puppy, Nikita! To say she was a handful is a understatement. It was a very happy time for us though. We were baking bread, bought our wood cookstove and was doing most of our cooking on that, canning everything we could get our hands on. My husband even started canning using his grandmother's pressure canner. He did about 48 quarts of creamed corn, 40 of regular corn, 44 quarts of green beans and we both canned tons of pickles and I did about as much of tomatoes. I am blessed to have a man who liked to do it all.

There were deep woods surrounding our whole area. So we used to hike up into the woods almost daily. My husband bought a chainsaw and was able to cut all the wood he wanted. For exercise, I have always done what is called race-walking, and there was a huge hay field behind our yard and I would walk that every day. Coyotes would sit on the hill and watch me. They were all over and would come out even in the day time as no hunting was allowed there. This is where I saw my only bear and he was a big one. He sat down and looked at us, as everyone was trying to take his picture! He was wondering what we were up to.....then turned around and went back into the woods.

I stored about 40 gallons of water in the cellar of my house when I read a article Jackie Clay (an author in Backwoods Home Magazine) wrote about storing it for emergencies. Then we had a horrible snow storm and the landlord plus all the people around us had to go stay with friends and relatives, but we did not. We had woodstoves for heat and cooking, water for drinking and to pour into our toilet to flush it, and wasn't afraid to survive it on our own. None of the neighbors could believe that we stayed there and just went on as usual. To tell the truth, it was an adventure and we loved it. Even my brother in-law wanted to know how I knew to store the water! Just smart I guess!
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