We’ve been quite busy over the last three and a half months. I had hoped to blog more but with the country’s response (for good and bad) to the current events, we felt the need to speed up our plans and reprioritize what we were doing. It’s amazing how clear we can become if we’re motivated enough.
Dom and I have always been on the path to being more sustainable and self-reliant. Not in the sense, however, of us being an island unto ourselves and living like hermits somewhere out in the wilderness. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have chosen the area we’re living in as a place to set down roots.
We believe in community and helping where we can. We want to be productive and provide products and services that can help stabilize our local economy. As we’ve watched our nation and the world go through extremes, we’ve seen the impact it has on us personally.
Having taken care of animals and grown our food in the past, it has become crystal clear that we need to get our asses in gear now. I believe that hyperinflation is inching closer and that things are about to get extremely ugly (they are already ugly) with regards to food security. One thing is appallingly clear…we are NOT prepared!
I hate to sound like a cliche, but I thought we would have more time. We knew this was going to happen. Well, not that there would be a lockdown and all our rights being taken over 38,000 deaths in the United States, but we knew there was going to be a great shaking. It’s one of the reasons we began growing food and caring for animals in the first place.
It feels surreal to watch everything unfold in the world. Worse yet, we are feeling somewhat powerless, marginalized, and unable to help those who are suffering in any meaningful way.
Our goals were to start getting animals and have a little extra to sell. To have a few large gardens and have some produce to sell. But in this season of change, I’m setting my sights much larger.
It’ll start with the chickens…
Originally we planned on having about 75 chickens which would include Brahmas and Croad Langshans as our meat birds, and Cream Legars, Welsummers, Marans, Faverolles, and a few other egg layers. But I’ve chosen to increase the number to between 175-200 birds. The area we’ve been preparing for them is large enough to handle such a large number of birds.
I will also start a breeding program for each kind of bird. I’ll be crossing the Brahma and Langshans eventually to create a new table meat bird.
Our birds will be raised on organic feed and have one of the most important jobs on the farm…making compost for us. No one can turn a compost pile faster and with more efficiency than a mob of chickens.
This system of animal production will be intensive and highly productive. Each section will be multifaceted. For example, the chicken composting yard will have fruit trees, meat rabbit housing (yellow rectangle) and under the meat rabbits will be worm bins. Behind the rabbit row will be an enclosed area for berry bushes.
The fenced-in chicken composting yard will also have an enclosed turkey run with more berry bushes on three sides, and a round turkey coop (green circle). Why a round turkey coop? Because turkeys LOVE round things. They are fascinated by round objects and love round spaces. At least that’s what we’ve observed in keeping turkeys in the past.
There will be an area for ducks. We won’t have as many ducks as we do chickens, but we’ll have at least 30 for egg production as well as meat. Even though I really wanted to get Dutch Hookbills for this area, we have so much land that I decided that I’ll have them in another area. In the duck area we’ll be adding Cayugas, Silver Apple Yards, Pekins, and a few geese.
In the market garden, there is an overlap between the duck area and the garden. This overlap is because of where the large trees are. We won’t be removing the trees. Instead, the duck housing will be on the market garden side. There is an old large water trough that was for cattle. It will be turned into their pond. A spigot will be added to it, and the duck poop water will be used to water the market garden.
The market garden…
Currently, we have rows dug. They can be seen in the plot below. We don’t have the greatest water pressure coming from our well, and in order to save water, we decided to completely rework the market garden.
We’ll be creating inground wicking beds. The wicking beds will allow us to drain the duck pond water directly under each garden row. Think of it like bottom watering your plants. Freshwater will be used once a week to topwater, but the duck pond water is the real workhorse, nourishing all the plants and fruit trees that will be planted there.
Around the perimeter of the market garden we’ll be adding tall posts and electric to keep out the deer.
Last year we started building our little chicken composting run in the market garden. It’s the little green rectangle. This is intended to be our Silkie chicken nursery. Silkies are good mothers and will happily hatch out eggs. They can also be bullied by other chickens, so they get their very own area. We won’t have more than 10 Silkies. They’ll also be making compost in their area.
The outdoor kitchen and meat processing area (turquoise square)…
Last year we had an overgrown HUGE patch of wild grapevines. I cleared it out and burned the area so that they wouldn’t grow back. We have so many wild grapes on the property, that it wasn’t a big sacrifice. Now that the patch is gone, we can build our outdoor kitchen. We will harvest our small animals in the outdoor kitchen. It will also serve as the farm kitchen when we start holding events.
I told you we were busy! Haha
As our plans continue to morph, I will be tucking things into each system. Two things that aren’t on the plans are the post-harvest washing station and the greenhouse. The post-harvest station will be located on the north side of the market garden. In the upper right-hand corner above the market garden is where our tents used to be. That will be the location of our greenhouse.
Everything will be in close proximity to each other. This creates fewer steps. At the center of everything is the water supply. Farms should be run efficiently with as few steps as needed. We’ve worked on farms that weren’t planned out very well. Water that would need to be hauled great distances, needing to walk 10 minutes to a field way out in the middle of nowhere to harvest lettuce, only to turn around and walk another 10 minutes in the opposite direction to collect eggs and yet another 20 minutes to go feed pigs. This is extremely time-consuming. Our systems will not be done that way. There’s no need for it.
To the right of the market garden is the entrance to the pasture. We will be keeping dairy sheep and horses there. More on that another day!
Here are some photos of things that were accomplished from the end of January until this week:
Our little teeny tiny bathroom is nearing completion. Pallet walls are an ingenious way to rooms but if they aren’t sealed up with walls and insulation, animals feel free to make themselves at home in our spaces. That is a big fat NOPE! The walls were finished with drywall and an opening for windows was put in. We found the windows under one of the rigs on the property. They were partially buried in the dirt. I cleaned them up, painted, and reglazed them.
The toilet and bathtub were installed, and we got the cutest little antique Italian Florentine chest of drawers to convert into a sink. We need to purchase a wall-mounted faucet and hopefully, in the next few weeks, the sink will be functional.
We still have shelves, a mirror, and a few other things to add, but it is looking great! It feels glorious to take a long hot bath too.
I love watching him work and get creative. I love how he makes our lives so much better every day!
My girl continues to grow into this stunningly beautiful young woman. She turns 13 next month.
Some cedars and pine were taken out of the chicken compost yard. When completely cleared of dead or dying trees (we had both in that area) fruit trees will be added. The straight branches that were still in good condition will be used to build the chicken coop.
Our supply area is filling up fast. The pallets will be used to build a storage shed for all our things that are currently being stored in the roastery. We have many projects going on all at once. Behind the pallets are a LOT of glass panels. Those are for the greenhouse.
This is the next section of the chicken yard that needs to be cleared. This whole area is one large tree that fell but never died. It is connected at the root by about two feet of tree. It must have fallen at least 5 years ago but refused to die. This is the area where the large chicken coop will go.
We have two entrances to our property. One is on Mineral Creek seen in the photo above, and the other is on a back road when the creek is flowing.
This year we had so much rain that we couldn’t get across. The creek cuts into the banks creating a steep drop off. We need to have heavy equipment come in to fix this each year. What we really need is a bridge!
Once the water subsides the creek bed is a hot mess! We had it leveled on Friday and we can finally cross again.
Much better! There’s only a small amount of water flowing now, and within the next few months, it should be dried up completely until next winter.
The other project I’m currently working on is updating and changing our website. Firelight Farm will still have the blog, but it will be a magazine-style layout and include lots of different sections. Instead of having one blog where I write everything, there will be categories like animal shelters, animal husbandry, growing a garden, building structures, how to lacto-ferment, and more. We want our website to be more informative. I also want to start producing videos again. We started to a few years back, but when we sold our last farm, there was no reason to continue making videos.
My aim is to have the new site launched by the end of May. It’s pretty exciting and it’s all coming together.
This truly is the season of change!
We did it. Finally, at long last, we are getting settled on our land. There were a few things that changed prior to moving onto the land and it worked out really well, but we needed to shift our plans. Originally we were planning on building our coffee company’s business hub along with our bathroom and outdoor kitchen. However, our friends who would have lived right next door to us decided to move and made their three RVs and workshop available to us. This was a godsend. I was under the gun (Dom was too!) to get Buffalo Mountain up and running as soon as possible which would have meant that our coffee company would operate from inside one of our bell tents until the building was finished. But now we will be rehabbing the main RV, it will become the business hub until we build our roastery and commercial kitchen.
The RV was a large Winnabego and four rooms were added onto the RV to give them a bit more space. This was their landing pad for when they build their dream home…but their plans changed. I can relate for sure. I can’t tell you how many times our plans have changed within just a week or two. Anyway, we are super thrilled to have the opportunity to transition our coffee company fairly quickly. One room will be used for my art studio, the second room will be used as our office, the third room was created to make the bathroom much bigger, and the fourth room which is located in the front of the RV will be used for handling coffee, bagging up products.
The way we were operating Buffalo Mountain before was extremely tight. We had only one room to use for EVERYTHING. If I needed to put together coffee wedding favors for 100 guests, the room needed to be cleared out so that I could work on the art for the front of the favors. The largest wedding I’ve done had 200 guests and I needed to get everything done in a room that only fit a 3×6′ table.
I’m also a hardcore introvert, so having two extroverts bopping around (one who is with me 24/7) and only having a small space to work was challenging to say the least.
But we made it work.
And now I have a room for each important part of our coffee company. I no longer need to have my office in our bedroom or trying to teach Simmi a new lesson since I homeschool her at the table that I need to work at. She now has her very own special nook for her art projects, beads, and her little tv.
The front of the hub, pictured above, will be painted and finished. They were in the process of building the rooms which were ingeniously created from pallets. The inside is still unfinished, so we’ll be finishing the rooms and painting everything in the next few weeks.
We have been sleeping in our tent but didn’t get much set up down in camp. We turned our attention to getting the hub ready for all the equipment, supplies, and inventory.
Today we brought down our chairs and rug for our tent. We’ve been living like hobos for the last week. We let Simmi sleep with us while she got used to living in tents. It’s a big change for her…for all of us. Tonight she’ll sleep in her own bed in our tent and tomorrow she’ll be moved to her own tent. All her things were moved into her new space. We need to build low profile shelves for her clothes.
Even though our tents are four-season tents, we decided that because it is already spring, not to bother hooking up the woodstoves. The nights have been chilly, but our blankets and comforters are super warm. Simmi has a habit of sleeping with 6 blankets, even in the summertime. There is no way that this child of ours could be cold! The first night we were here the temperature got down to 22 degrees. Since that first night, it’s gotten much warmer at night.
We have our kitchen tent set up, but we haven’t moved our kitchen supplies in yet. We need to purchase a hose to run to our camp so we can create our kitchen sink. We have an on-demand camp water heater that hooks up to propane. Once we have our sink set up, we’ll be ready to live down there most of the day. For now, we’re cooking in the RV, and catching up with laundry.
Simmi did well going back and forth every few days with more of our boxes of things. She wasn’t happy about being crammed into one seat (she likes to sprawl) but she was a trooper.
The horses are doing well. They’re antsy to get out on pasture. Dom made some strides getting more posts up for them and now they are spending a few hours each day out there. Hopefully, in the next few weeks, we can get the rest of the posts up and the tape going for them.
I love seeing them every morning and throughout the day. They have such a beautiful presence about them.
Our kitchen tent. It’s more for eating and hanging out. We’ll be setting up a separate smaller area for our camp stove and sink.
The photo above was from our time living in Maine. It was the first time we had an outdoor kitchen and it helped to prepare us for living outside again.
Mineral Creek has been flowing. We usually cross the creek to get to our camp, but now we have to take a back road from Mogollon.
We live in such a beautiful part of Catron County.
We’ve been watching a few of our friend’s dogs and Simmi is obsessed with feeding them. They’re fatties, but for some reason, she is always concerned with their nutrition.
Our special guests until May. Puna and Bohdi. These fatties are always ready to attack with lots of love and slobbery kisses.
The round pen is up in the pasture.
There’s a swing in front of the hub and Simmi is on it at least 3 times a day.
One of the things I love so much about the land are all the sprawling scrub oak trees.
In the back of the hub is a shade garden with cactus, scrub oak and juniper.
This photo was taken at midday. The shade is a welcome addition in the heat of the day.
Another structure built with pallets. We’ll work on finishing this building too.
Inside the workshop.
This week we’ll also be working on creating a new coop for the chickens.
This past week my new bible arrived. I’m not kidding you! This book is a treasure trove of amazing ideas. Author Anna Edey created many different systems for managing graywater and blackwater from toilets. The one system I was most interested in was a composting flush toilet where worms are at the heart of the system. I’ve known about her composting flush toilet for a long time, but just ordered her book two weeks ago.
Our bathroom at our camp, along with our graywater will be created using the Solviva method. Eventually we want to convert the business hub over to this system as well.
Things are going well and we’re making great strides.
Our search continues for some land or even a house that we can settle down into, but as life would have it, we need to stay closer than 40 minutes to doctors and therapists. Our grand daughter Simone was just diagnosed with Apraxia of Speech and she will need to have intensive speech therapy everyday. If we are way out in the middle of nowhere, even if it is only 40 minutes from a proper medical facility or a center to get her speech therapy, how much time and effort will that take up in our day? She is well worth the effort, so we are going to need to search for a house with land that will be much closer to the different facilities.
Permaculture principles encompass more than just growing food. Designing our homestead must take into account not only the needs of our family at home, but outside the home as well. We’ve found a few houses that have potential, but in order to keep costs low, we have needed to look at fairly rundown houses. Its not easy finding a home in the city that has land, but I know we will find something. We want our home to be centrally located to both medical facilities as well as the Parajito Mesa.
The picture in the upper left hand corner is a house we went to see. It is a 2,900 square foot, 4-5 bedroom, two story pueblo on a half acre of land. The property sits just three miles from the Parajito Mesa and would be an awesome home once completed. The neighborhood where the house is located is mainly equestrian…lots of beautiful horses and upscale homes. The property is being offered at an extremely low price since the rehab of the house halted and the owner wanted out. The photo on the right is of the front of the house where some of the exterior was improved. A lot of time and energy went into fixing the house and it shows. As I looked at the interior, I saw something that I don’t always see…construction done right. I think that is what I liked most about this house. The house must have had some problems with a busted pipe inside, as well as roof drainage problems, but from what we saw, these things were addressed right away. The house offers us a blank slate so we can design the house in a way that would suit our needs. But alas, there are many offers on the house, and it will be scooped up very soon. We aren’t ready to put an offer on any house until we have seen all our options. Here are a few more pictures I took of the land:
This weekend we’ll be going to see another home, which I’m a little freaked out about. Its an old house, and I’m highly allergic to mold. Typically New Mexico and the southwest is very dry, but when there is an old home and the plumbing hasn’t been maintained, or roof leaks were allowed to persist, mold can develop. Add to that a swamp cooler and humidity levels rise, activating the mold spores already present. I’m not saying that there is mold in this particular house we are going to see, but it is old and unoccupied right now. The house is almost 3,000 square feet, partial adobe with six bedrooms and three bathrooms. It sits on 3/4 of an acre and backs up to the Rio Grande. Even though I haven’t walked the land yet, I am fairly excited to walk the Riparian Zone which is just behind the property.
Here is a few aerial screen shots of the house backing up to the Rio Grand:
Will urban homesteading be our destiny? It may! We are adjusting and scaling down the vision we had for a homestead in a rural area. We can still accomplish our goals, it will just be on a much smaller scale. Part of that vision was to have heritage cows, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, alpacas, and donkeys, and now we’ll only be including some angora goats and rabbits, a small pig or two, heritage chickens, ducks and geese to support the system we set up. If the property we buy has less than a 1/2 acre, then we will need to further scale down the types of animals we want to include in the system.
There are a number of things we are interested in doing on the homestead. All of them will take time to develop, and none will be implemented right away, here is our partial list…things will be added or omitted when we finally purchase:
- Tropical green house on the back of the house so we can grow our own coffee and other exotic fruits and plants
- Growing gourmet mushrooms
- Vermiculture- selling worms, beautiful composted soil and worm tea
- Silk production- this is for our own use and would not be for sale
- Angora rabbit fibers
- Angora goat fibers
- Eggs- Definitely would be for sale since we can’t eat or cook them in the house due to Simone’s egg allergy
- Food forest if our land backs up to an open field or riparian buffer
There is more that we want to do and I’ll add to that list as we move forward.