DIY

Happy New Year! How This Weekend Homesteader Has Already Started Planning Her Spring Garden

It's time to plan the garden, and this year Ed and I are taking an extra step.

I'm not generally one for New Year's resolutions — I like to tackle goals on a rolling basis throughout the year — but the further I get from being in school, the more I understand how this time of year can feel like hitting the reset button. It used to be that late August and early September got me all jazzed for new projects, but now I'm equally excited to finally bust out my new planner with all clean pages.

There's so much potential.

The start of 2015 feels especially hopeful here because the summer was so hard; mental health issues dragged me down and got in the way of a lot of stuff that I wanted to accomplish but, honestly, even before that some things started to slide —like our garden.

Man, we did a lot of gardening for a little while there, all in containers. We had an abundance of vegetables — and even a couple of flowers grown from seeds to liven things up. It might even be said that we had an overabundance of tomatoes; there are so many varieties, and growing all of them makes for a very pretty salad.

(Or for very delicious oven-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil and then used for all sorts of tasty things.)

But hey, new year and new opportunity, right? In Florida, at least in Central and South Florida, January isn't too early for planning your spring garden, so I've already begun considering what we're going to grow. This is the year we get some lettuces going, I swear — it's usually too hot by the time I remember I want to try to grow them.

This year we're going to go an extra step; while Ed and I were shopping at a local bookstore (because we have a tiny local bookstore and I'm trying to support them), we found a book that we're going to try to work through as the year goes on. It's called "The Weekend Homesteader: A Twelve-Month Guide to Self-Sufficiency."

Now, I have some issues with the "return" to homestead concept/movement. The short version of that is how some people involved have turned homesteading (which has also become kind of a coded way of referring to some old-school poor skills) into a commercialized endeavor that has jacked up prices to the point that the folks who preserved those skills in the first place have a hard time affording what they need. And there's a lot of privilege inherent in being able to "choose" to live more simply in the first place — the whole thing can reek a little too much of Eat, Pray, Love for my taste.

But I do think people can benefit from principles of homesteading, too. I agree that fresh, locally grown foods are probably of the highest quality (though food access and eating competence mean I don't really buy "good food/bad food" as a thing). I think it's important to support local businesses wherever we are able. I think we throw a lot of stuff away when we could fix it back up and revitalize it. So, you know, your mileage is going to vary according to how important that stuff is to you.

So we're going to give this book a try and see what comes of it. The book is separated into months (as suggested by the title) and each month is divided into four projects. I've found January (which is toward the back of the book), and we're doing our homework.

The first exercise is a soil test. This is important because you'll be growing your food in that soil and you want it to be nutrient-rich, but also because the quality of your soil influences the problems you have with pests. If you're raising animals, poor soil can make them sick as well.

We have not yet done a soil test because we still mostly plan on raising food in containers. But there's stuff we'll put in the ground even though we rent, so I'm planning to call our local Extension Office (find yours here) to get details on what sort of soil samples they want.

The second exercise is learning to bake bread. We've done that before — Ed makes great bread, in fact. But since he isn't supposed to be eating gluten, we're taking this as an opportunity to experiment with recipes for homemade gluten-free bread. We're using this flour-blend recipe from King Arthur Flour that involves brown rice flour, tapioca flour, and potato starch. So far, the results are kind of dense (our bread actually shrank in the oven after rising before baking!) — but the bread is tasty, so we're on track with that project.

Exercise three is a reflection on media consumption. That's an ongoing effort — we watch a heck of a lot of Netflix and I think it's getting in the way of some other stuff we could be accomplishing. It's always SUPPOSED to be background noise, but then I get all fascinated by whatever the Pioneer Woman is cooking or the Property Brothers are selling.

The fourth and final project for January is to work on building the habit of turning trash into treasure. Since most of our house is furnished with rehabbed curb finds, I kind of feel like we've got this one already.

So maybe January is going to be an easy month — I've looked ahead and we've got a ton of work ahead of us in some of the upcoming months, so I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Soon enough we'll be planting berry brambles, okay?

What I will do, though, is invite y'all to work through these projects with me if you're interested — or at least to consider the exercises if you aren't up for committing to a garden at this point. Honestly, I know there's stuff we aren't going to manage (I have my doubts about raising mushrooms on logs in our backyard), but it's exciting to think about what we WILL accomplish.

And in the meantime, I'm totally dreaming of basil plants again and of making our own homemade pesto. It's going to be great.