My mother-in-law brought over a photo collage for my birthday last week featuring old photos from our homestead – before it was a homestead. Bare grass and gently rolling terrain was all there was to see. It was quite a reminder about how much things have changed around here. I thought you all might enjoy a little peek into how things have changed over the years. Our place will never be quite like grandma's homestead, but we've made a pretty nice oasis of growing things here.
Our Homestead – Then and Now
The land we found for our homestead was 35 acres of farmland that was being sold separately from the original farm. 25 acres was in production, being farmed by another neighbor, with 10 acres of abandoned pasture that was landlocked behind the original farmstead. We swapped a strip of land with the neighbor who bought the original farmstead so we could put a driveway in.
The first path to the house was cut through the overgrown pasture but the neighbor who agreed to swap the land. He's a hard working young man. He bought the old farmstead not long before we bought the raw land, before he turned 21. To get our driveway in, he had to pull and move the line of fence posts he had only recently put in. As it turns out, the swap worked well for him long term, too, because he used the land that we swapped him to put in a large machine shed. We also agreed to a variance for his shed because it was fairly close to the lot line. Good neighbors are worth their weight in gold.
The original access path, circa 2004, with our van parked out on the road.
The driveway circa July 2017. We had the contractor put a loop in so we could turn around larger vehicles and heavy equipment, and it's worked out well. Over the years I've tried planting flowers in the center of the driveway, but only the strong survive. (It's a high wind spot.) There's a big garden bed to the left of the photo, north of the house. You can see the white and purple lilac trees at left center of the photo, which were a gift from another neighbor.
To the south of the house, away from the road, the biggest transformation has taken place. Since most of the windows face that direction because of the passive solar aspect of the house, we wanted a nice view. It's also more protected there, by the house, and the treeline, the outbuilding placement and now the pond.
Facing due south, roughly in the area of the house, circa 2004. Not much to see except grass.
View from our south facing deck, circa 2017. There's the main wheel garden, plus seven rectangular garden beds. At left center, there's asparagus and peonies, then a patch of red raspberries, and finally sunchokes and strawberries. To the right rear of the photo, there's a small orchard/nuttery that is still quite young, with apples, pawpaws, bush cherries, a butternut, chestnuts, rugosa roses and autumnberries. Between the gardens and the pond, there's a kiwi trellis with boy and girl hardy kiwi plants.
At the upper left of the photo, you can see the new pond, which will help moderate the temperature in the immediate area. We left the back hill to grow up with autumnberry shrubs, and have added some maple and birch trees just this year. It's tough to get new plants established because of the deer. A friend told me that mark Shepard of Restoration Agriculture uses willow corridors to funnel the deer away from his orchard, so after the final pond work is done, willows are next on the planting list. Unfortunately there was a miscalculation by the pond builder and the pond is not as deep as it needs to be to support panfish, so we're working on finding a solution.
Obviously we didn't have any outbuildings to start, but we identified the area to the west of the main gardens as a good spot to build. It was close enough to the house that we'd have ready access, but not directly upwind in case the critters get messy. Most of our winds come out of the west, so it also protects the main gardens.
We added the greenhouse in 2015, and the connected coop/garden shed in 2016-2017. The building was all done by family and friends, mostly on weekends, so it took a while.
We had to cut into the hillside a fair amount to get the space needed for the foundation and proper drainage away from the building. A retaining wall is in the plans for this fall where the raw dirt is at the corner of the building. The yellow raspberry patch is between the building and the treeline. There's a shade cloth over the greenhouse to keep it from overheating. The baby chicks and ducklings are hanging out at the near end of the building, which is the coop. They're be ready to graduate outside soon. The first evergreen trees we planted over 15 feet tall. This year we put in another 25 trees to extend the windbreak farther south. A different neighbor is farming the field, a dairy farmer with Organic Valley.
Our Homestead – The House
The house looked pretty raw and rough when primary construction officially wrapped up – no deck, no greenhouse, no slab, no retaining walls near the front door. Some things we finished ourselves, like the deck. Others we contracted out, like the concrete work.
Now it's a whole lot greener and a whole lot busier. At right, although it's hidden behind the pole beans, the attached greenhouse is finished. There are also two retaining walls to keep the hill in place. We have a stash of wood under the deck. The deck itself runs the whole length of the house, with stairs at each end and wrap around access from the front door. Just out of frame to the left are the solar water heating panels.
The front door looks a bit more welcoming.
Our Homestead – Where We're Headed
Our homestead, like our needs and dreams, is always evolving. Long term we're looking at teaching classes and diversified income from value added specialty products. Maybe northern kiwi jam will turn out to be a hit, or seaberry sauce, or organic Siberian pea shrub chicken feed? (There are other planting areas around the homestead that I didn't cover in this post. You can see a full site overview in the post The Homestead Permaculture Project.
We're not sure if the boys will stay on site, or other friends or family will join us. The only thing I know for sure is that there will always be plenty to keep us busy, and I hope to keep sharing snippets of our projects online for many years to come.
How have your homestead and homesteading dreams changed over the years? Leave a comment and share your story.
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