I really admire people who carefully research their ideas and plans of action before they go ahead. I bet they experience little waste and a high rate of success. Josh and I are not those people. We’re the people who jump in and then learn how to swim. It’s a useful strategy for us, because we keep moving forward and are constantly learning new things (often under duress). But it’s a strategy that often results in expensive mistakes.
Some mistakes cost more than others. And when you’re homesteading, it seems like the costs are so much higher. For example. In March we seeded flats of seeds in our 4-tier pop-up greenhouse. It was a cold March, with nights in the upper 20s and some blustery days. Knowing this, we tied the greenhouse to the south-facing wall of our barn to secure it. But we didn’t expect any BIG windstorms with 70 mph gusts, which is what happened in early April, when we came home from work on a Friday evening to find our greenhouse had ripped away from the flimsy tie-downs, and the flats of newly sprouted seedlings scattered across the driveway. The greenhouse itself had blown 20 feet before getting stuck on the power mast for our septic tank. We had spent hours pouring over seed catalogs in January, selecting specific varieties for taste, flavor, and climate. It was a crushing disappointment to lose so much all at once, and by early April it was too late to reseed some plants, like tomatoes and peppers (which are best started in early February in our climate).
And speaking of the septic mast, some mistakes go remarkably and miraculously unpunished. Back in January, during yet another fierce windstorm (it was a rough winter), we neglected to stake down the mobile chicken tractor with T-posts, even though the former owners had cautioned us that it had been known to blow over in big storms. We’d experienced several big storms with fierce winds throughout the winter, and it had never even wobbled, so their warning had dimmed a bit in our memory, until we came out one Tuesday morning before work to feed the chickens and found the 300 lb chicken tractor 30 feet away and turned 90 degrees from where we left it the night before. And here’s the miraculous part: 1. There were no chickens in it at the time, and 2. It had landed with the open chicken run part squarely on top of the septic mast.
It must have blown up in the air, pivoted, and dropped back down on top of the septic tank. I shudder to think of the damage that might have happened if the coop had knocked over that electric panel. And yet nothing at all was broken, not even the terra cotta planter just 6 inches away from where the corner of the tractor landed. It was a near miss and a costly mistake very narrowly avoided.
Failing to adequately prepare for nature is just one way that our best homesteading intentions have been thwarted in the past year. But some screw-ups we can only blame on ourselves. Last fall, we raised some chickens in true Gwen-and-Josh style, which is to say that we did not draw up a plan or a budget. We just did it then regrouped when it was over to discuss what worked and what didn’t. What didn’t work was that the chickens didn’t grow nearly as big as we expected. We also lost a lot of money. We were unable to raise them for the (fairly high) price we had set for them at the outset.
With lessons learned, we made plans to do things differently this spring. We found cheaper sources of quality organic feed. We found a closer hatchery, which saved costs both on the chicks and on shipping. We decided to ferment feed, which increases feed conversion and drastically reduces waste. If I did my math right, we were poised do a little better than break even on chicken sales this spring…we might even make a profit of tens of dollars!
When we got our first batch of chicks in early April it was still freezing at night, and the barn offers no warmth aside from a windbreak. The chick brooder wasn’t getting warm enough with two heat lamps, so I suggested bringing in a little space heater, which we then ran 24/7 for about 4 weeks.
I got our electric bill last week. That little space heater cost us $100 to run, an expense that completely erased our thin profit margin. It was a stupid mistake. In hindsight I can think of ways we could have kept the brooder warm with just heat lamps and a temporary roof to reflect the heat, but it would have required some effort and creativity. At the time I was tired and overtaxed, and the space heater was an obvious at-hand solution. In this case, a failure of imagination cost real collars.
But all of those missteps were a prelude to our biggest homesteading error yet: underestimating the determination of a bored pig.
To be continued…