Our first 3 steps to improve self sufficiency

The first challenge in becoming more self sufficient was knowing where to start. Everyone has to start somewhere, right? Well, there’s no manual, but after 2 years we’ve well and truly past the starting point. So these are the things we did to start on the path towards what we call ‘city sufficiency’.

1 – Started gardening

Nearly all this space is garden now!

This was always something we knew we’d do, and we’d successfully grown food to some extent at each of our last two rental properties. We started modestly and prioritised, as the time and effort required to grow even a small portion of our own food was a challenge – especially while also holding down a day job.

The first thing we started doing was putting in fruit trees. Fruit trees typically take 2-5 years to begin fully producing, so in the first few months we planted (either in pots or in the ground) the trees we wanted most.

Then we started our vegetable garden. Initially we focused on an amount of garden which we thought was easily manageable – a space about 3 metres by 1 metre. This meant we could begin getting our hands dirty, while figuring out what might grow where over the longer term.

We started by planting mostly feed crops for our rabbits and chickens, with vegetables for us being a secondary concern. As we gain experience and confidence this balance is changing, with our summer garden this year focusing about half and half on animal and human food.

2 – Began raising chickens

Chicken

With our 4 Brown Shavers and 3 Rhode Island Reds being part of our fur family, we were never going to be raising animals for meat. However we are more than happy to keep chickens for their eggs, as this neither hurts the chickens nor us. Not only have the chickens made us self sufficient in eggs, but they serve a greater purpose, as the health and welfare responsibilities that come with owning animals reminds us each day about what we are doing to be more self sufficient.

Of course, chickens might not be your thing – especially if you have little to no outdoor space, and particularly if you live in an apartment. Lots of people recommend quail (which can be kept in a very small space and provide meat and/or eggs) or meat rabbits as indoor-friendly alternatives.

3 – Examined our ‘stuff’

This is actually a process we started long before buying our home, and one which will continue (I often do the 25 item challenge in weekends). Preparing to move house is an ideal time to take another look at all the things you have – though there’s really no bad time.

There are lots of different methods and guides (from Marie Kondo’s ‘life changing magic’ to J D Rockefeller’s ‘how to’) that can help declutter your possessions, but we just took the approach of looking at each item we have and working out whether we used it – and if not, whether we were attached to it and really wanted to keep it anyway. For anything that isn’t going to stay, we always consider whether we can recycle or donate it, before turning to the landfill option.

In conclusion…

Over the last two years I’ve written about lots of things we’ve done, but the three steps here are where we started our journey. They won’t work as a starting place for everyone, and that’s fine – but they were logical for us. The important thing if you want to make a change is that you start somewhere, some time – and there is no time like the present.

What’s on my ‘weekend to do’ list?

'To do' listI make a lot of lists. I have shopping lists, lists of things to do before taking holidays, lists of what I want to do when I’m on holiday, lists of things we like to eat – a list for most things. I’ve even considered making a list of lists, so I can keep track of them all!

But one of my most important lists is the ‘weekend to do’ list. This makes sure I cover off all the essential jobs each week, and let me make incremental progress on some longer-term goals. So what’s currently on my ‘weekend to do’ list?

The core list (which seldom changes):

  • Ironing – this is my least favourite job, so it’s at the top of the list to encourage me to do it. Then once it’s done, I get the satisfaction of seeing it ticked off for the rest of the weekend
  • J’s cleaning job – J does some weekend cleaning work, I go with him (and usually lend a hand). Having it on my list makes sure we remember to do it
  • Vacuum – we have 3 long-haired cats, so regular vacuuming is essential…
  • Mow the lawns – I don’t do this every week, particularly during winter, but it’s a good reminder to at least see whether it’s necessary, and check if the weather will play ball
  • Wash the car – as with mowing the lawns, this isn’t something I need to do every week
  • Clean kitchen benches and stove
  • Mop the bathroom floor
  • Clean the bathroom sink and mirror
  • Clean the toilet
  • Wash clothes – I do what I can during the week, but there’s usually one or two loads to go through our washing machine each weekend
  • Work reading – there’s usually some work-related reading I don’t get through in the week
  • Hand wash dishes – almost everything goes in the dishwasher, but once a week I try and tidy up anything else
  • Clean the animal enclosures – the chicken coop, rabbit enclosure and rat cages all need regular cleaning. We often do this during the week, but having it on my list means I check on everyone at least once in the weekend
  • Sort recycling
  • Empty the kitchen compost bin
  • Post to the blog
  • Clean out the car – sort out any rubbish, water bottles, etc that might have been left behind
  • Refill water bottles – we drink a lot of water, and refill/reuse the bottles
  • Lie down and do nothing – this is actually the most important thing on this list, as it gives me license to actually take a break!

The additional list (one-off or more occasional jobs):

  • Watch [whatever tv series I’m behind on – currently Vikings and Mr Robot]
  • Prepare the blueberry garden
  • Weed the vegetable garden
  • Decluttering
  • Sort clothes drawers – this falls somewhere between decluttering, and reviewing what we have that’s suitable for summer
  • Baking – I haven’t baked much for a long time, it’s definitely time to put that right
  • Book pickup of our green waste bin – we compost most things, but nightshade, thistles and any noxious weeds go into a green waste bin
  • Plant our new dwarf nectarine – this will probably get mentioned in another blog post soon!

That all keeps me fairly busy, but does mean things are reset and ready to go for each new week. What else would be on your ‘weekend to do’ list?

Settling down

I don’t know if we found 25 things to donate/recycle/dispose of last weekend. In fact, we haven’t made the trip to donate what we did decide we could do without, so technically we’re still at zero.

However, it does feel a lot more organised and nicer around here. I’m not completely sure why – we’ve rearranged bookshelves and cupboards so things work better, and maybe that’s enough for now. I appreciate how long it takes to really settle into a place – it requires much more than unpacking the moving boxes for a house to become an established home. I think we’re still working through some of that, as we slowly realize the potential we saw when we bought this place.

The days are officially getting longer again, and maybe knowing the seasons are changing is also having an effect on me. Whatever it is, I won’t argue!

I hope we actually get enough of a break from rain (and wind) soon for me to copper spray the fruit trees. Copper is a harsh treatment, but it’s supposed to stop leaf curl (although we still had a bit of it last year), and it’s better than inorganic alternatives.

We’re feeding the chickens lots of protein at the moment, getting them ready to go back into lay as the daylight hours increase. We’re getting between one and three eggs a day at the moment, and I’m looking forward to when the Rhode Island Reds who hatched at new year start producing.

Anyway, it feels like things are settling down a little – no doubt not for long (because change is a constant and I hate to stand still), but right now, it’s quite nice.

-G

Busy today, busy tomorrows

It’s been another productive weekend so far, with most of the housework done, and garlic planted in one of the raised beds. Last week I wrote about planting garlic in the main garden, but all the bok choi I transplanted seems to have taken well, so space is starting to be at a premium.

I even dreamed about starting seedlings last night, a clear sign of what’s on my mind.

With the weather decidedly wintry this weekend, there’s not likely to be much extra time to spend in the garden today (we were lucky to plant the garlic between downpours). Hopefully I can do another round of “25 Things” instead – there must be opportunities to free up a little more space by taking a second look at some of the stuff we’ve accumulated.

J and I have spent a lot of time this winter looking at what we’d like to do with the house over the next few years, and developing a list of priorities. Hopefully over the next couple of months we’ll be able to start putting concrete plans in place for some of the most important things – but the full list will keep us busy for a while yet!

-G

Short and sweet

A short update this week – no update at all really. It’s been cold here, and until yesterday I hadn’t seen the house or garden in daylight all week. It’s the time of year when all I want to do is hibernate, but I know there are plenty of things I need to be getting on with.

Today I should transplant some bok choi around the main garden, as we have a bunch of plants all growing much too closely together to be healthy. We’ve been having more problems with our chicken feeder as well, and I need to keep an eye out to see if the girls are using it.

We haven’t quite finished sorting through everything we took out of our bedroom before the walls and ceiling got re-done, and as a result the room (and particularly the closet) look amazingly uncluttered. The reverse is true in our spare room, though. Some things will almost certainly end up at op-shops, but looking through it all is something we’ve been putting off.

Anyway, there are a few things I can do from the comfort of our living room – where I have coffee brewing and the heat pump running – so I might get on with it.

-G

Bedroom (almost) complete and turning into a pumpkin

Plastering and painting in our bedroom was completed this week, and we’ve moved back in. The electrician still has to finish fitting our new power points, but it’s such a great feeling to have at least one room which is practically perfect.

Finished!

Outside in the garden, we’ve been considering what to do with our pumpkins. The vine has died off, but the seeds we planted – despite being saved from a Crown pumpkin – have given us fruit that look distinctly like buttercup squash.

It’s quite likely they could be Crowns that simply haven’t had the sun or the warmth to mature – and cutting one open, they don’t have the well developed seedy centre, which gives this possibility extra weight. However, I also wonder whether they could be a cross-bred variety that’s reverted.

Either way, we’ll roast some up and see. We’ve only got five pumpkins of small to medium size, but considering the seed was free and they were so easy to grow, that’s an acceptable haul.

It’s been a cold week, and while we haven’t actually had a frost yet, our mint is dying back (it really doesn’t like the cold). We’ve invested in some frost cloth for the citrus trees, and hopefully can get that on today.

-G

Mini-makeover, kitchen edition

The saying goes that “good things come in threes” – but two is enough for me. We can’t be greedy, after all.

Maybe it’s inspiration leaking out as our bedroom is plastered and painted, or perhaps it’s just that we got sick of the salmon colour, but we’ve repainted the walls in our kitchen.

The difference was immediate. In fact, even the coat of primer looked better than the original.

Before (right) and after (left).

Colour difference – Before (right) and after (left).

We haven’t done the ceiling, trim or the drawers/cupboard doors yet, but that will happen soon. At the moment, it’s just the walls. And they’re glorious.

We’ve used leftover paint from the living room and big bedroom – the spaces we painted before moving in. It’s Dulux “Half St Clair”, and we’ll probably do the trim in our leftover Dulux “Okarito”, but spray paint the drawers and cabinets in something new and bright.

The quality of our painting isn’t as good as a professional job (not even a half-professional job, really), but it’s not meant to last forever. Our plan – in a few years’ time – is to replace the kitchen entirely, including making some structural changes, so this is just to hold us over until then.

One of two top coats - much lighter and brighter!

With one of two top coats on, it was already lighter and brighter. Still to do – the ceiling, trim and drawers/cabinets!

Today we should look at installing the magnetic knife blocks we got from Ikea, and hanging some nice colourful artwork. Even now, though, it’s a much lighter, more pleasant space to be in.

-G

Getting plastered

When we moved into this house, the wallpaper in our bedroom was patchy and damaged – there was even a section where it had been ripped off. The walls had some minor damage, and the ceiling was also showing its age. As the first and last room we see each day, it really acted as a constant reminder of the work we still had to do.

A few weeks ago we removed the wallpaper, and at the start of this week our bedroom was all bare gib. Since Tuesday, our builder has been transforming it, and now we have a beautiful smooth surface, with bedding compound and plaster, while our ceiling is sanded, plastered and sealed ready to repaint.

Having the walls stripped and tidied up also presented an ideal opportunity to get a couple of extra powerpoints installed – not something we’d originally planned, but a sensible (and inexpensive) addition.

So we’ve been living in a bit of a building site this week – drop sheets, tools and a couple of nights with the heat pump on high to dry plaster ready for the following day. It’s definitely going to be worth it, though.

Next week the walls will be sealed (to help prevent moisture damaging the gib) and the builder might get to start painting (assuming we choose colours between now and then). We’re not going to be back sleeping in the room until the following week, but it’s going to be wonderful having a bedroom that’s as good as new.

-G

Easter eggs

Moulting chicken

Widgey shows her bum mid-moult.

One thing I enjoy is getting to know our property’s seasonal routine. After 4 weeks of getting few (and occasionally no) eggs, our chickens seem to have finished their moult and come back into lay – just in time for Easter.

We knew the moult was coming, and we had some idea when. This also means it’s been about a year since our girls came to live with us.

We aren’t big on decorating eggs, sending Easter cards, and all that stuff – for us, this long weekend is a chance to have a few quiet days and get back on top of things around the house. As part of that, it’s nice to be able to bake a few treats, now we have a steadier supply of what has been a precious resource.

The traditional iconography of eggs and rabbits reflects that Easter is also a time for new beginnings. This week a builder should be starting work in our bedroom, tidying up the walls and ceiling so it can all get fresh paint. Eventually we’d like to do this right through the house, but we’re taking it one room at a time, and the bedroom is the first and last room we see each day.

That will make for a fresh beginning, and a very happy Easter indeed.

-G

25 Things

I almost got bored this morning, which never happens (there’s always something I can/should be doing). So I set myself a challenge.

Recently I’ve been feeling stressed about the amount of stuff we’ve been building up, so I challenged myself to find 25 things I could donate, recycle or throw away (preferably in that order).

I’ve found more than 40. They include:

  • 2 trenchcoats that don’t fit me (and coming into winter, I’m sure someone else would really appreciate these)
  • 3 business shirts I won’t ever wear (for varying reasons of fit/ugliness/damage)
  • 3 jumpers I also won’t wear
  • 18ish DVDs and blu-rays we won’t watch again (and if we did, I also have digital copies of most of them)
  • 2 books, one of which we have two copies of, while the other is damaged beyond readability
  • 2 salt and pepper shaker sets we don’t and won’t use
  • 6ish kitchen utensils we have multiple of and/or won’t use
  • 4 CDs I never play – and I don’t even remember what’s on them
  • 2 bus/train timetables which are out of date and never used
  • 6 other random one-off things we don’t need

They’re each small things, but they make a good difference.

– G