One Year In Our one year anniversary of living our reLuxe Ranch dream passed quietly on March 29, 2015. Matt and I talked about doing something to commemorate the day… then we got caught up in working on projects. But in truth, that was probably the most appropriate way for us to celebrate our first year here.

We didn’t buy a working farm. We bought a dream - an ideal plot of land (for us) with a few functional structures (a house and four sheds) to use to get started. We knew we were in for lots of projects and work and we welcomed the adventure of learning how to set-up new systems of providing food, water, and energy. Year one delivered. We goofed up (a lot). We wasted time and money (mostly I did - Tasha) trying things that ultimately did not work. We also made progress.

We managed to:

  1. put up a greenhouse
  2. make suitable shelter for and start raising ducks, chickens, and goats,
  3. grow and expand our garden,
  4. improve our soil,
  5. solve some of our erosion problems from wind and water,
  6. plant an orchard and a vineyard, and got some perennial plants growing,
  7. establish an irrigation/swimming pond,
  8. create some relaxation spots (porch, terrace, hot tub), and
  9. learn a lot of new skills from our broader community.

Over our next year here, we want to make the leap to providing most of our own food (including meat and beverages) and to start to make some “income” from our farm products (income can be barter, goodwill, or money for us). We want to live and buy locally, and radically limit the financial support we give to culturally and environmentally destructive corporate entities. We also plan to focus on our sustainable systems - e.g., water management, large-scale soil regeneration (composting and other methods), and managing our energy creation and usage. We’ll have fewer big projects and more fine-tuning and a whole lot of intensive planting this year. We’ll also shift our emphasis to making the best use of our resources instead of rushing to get infrastructure in place.

As we start our second year, we want to say a big thank you to our friends and family for all of your support and encouragement of our craziness! With any luck, on our second anniversary, we’ll be able to invite you over to celebrate with some fine-tuned peach wine! (Matt is also supposed to learn to play the Banjo this year, so we may have live music too!)

On the Subject of Projects… This week the goats’ enjoyed their last days of total, free-range freedom, on the farm.

We have now enclosed them in a dedicated goat pasture. Since goats eat grass more as a garnish, their pasture is a big, wonderful mess of wild blackberry bramble, burgeoning tulip trees, small-to-mid-sized black locust, weeds of every flavor, non-poisonous sumac, and other goodies they love.

They will share segments of the pasture with our newest additions - four little piggies.

Matt built a piggy palace at the center of the pasture. We put a portable electric fence around a section of the pasture to limit the area they have to snout around in.

Over about a month, the pigs will dig around and tear up most of the soil in the fenced section searching for root crops. Then we’ll move their fence to a new section and plant goat pasture seed (high-sugar and protein perennial grains) in the soil they turned up for us. In theory, after four months of moving the pigs, we’ll have tilled and planted our pasture with very little work and lots of extra fertilization in the form of pig poop. We’ll have also cut down on pig feed costs since the pigs will forage a bit of their own food while tilling.

Our main garden fence is a success (so far). Goats, chickens, and even the ducks put on the pressure. We had a few weak points, but we resolved those quickly and since then the garden has been a fortress. So far we have 24 of our 79 garden beds planted. Each bed is roughly 30 square feet of growing space, for a total garden bed area of 2,370 square feet inside the fence. Our heaviest planting will be in early May, after threat of frost. By June, with any luck, it will be a produce paradise.

Matt recently doubled our asparagus patch. He picked us a few shoots from the two year crowns we planted last year. We sauteed them lightly in butter, garlic, and a douse of sparkling wine. They were delicious.

Matt’s beautiful top bar hives are now home to tens of thousands of bees, busy doing the work of pollinating our fruit trees. By necessity, we had to install our four new bee packages on an absurdly cold and windy day, and unfortunately, one of the hives failed to start. The queen went missing after we put her in the hive (probably killed by the frozen workers). After that, the workers got drunk on sugar water and lounged around doing nothing - literally laying around the bottom of the hive in a huddle. We tried to re-queen, but it didn’t work out. So, we’ve got one empty hive that we’ll hopefully use to divide our hive from last year, or maybe we’ll get lucky and catch a swarm…

As a hiatus from our projects, Matt and I took a drive to Asheville for the Mother Earth News Fair. We met up with some good friends, Miriam and Ed, who are also on the homesteading path. We came away with some good leads for building more sustainable food growing and energy supplying systems.