Homestead Roots Newsletter – 3/14/2024

The beautiful string of days continues here in Wisconsin. With a serious lack of snow this winter and a couple of drought years we could use some rain. Hopefully, a wetter period is on the horizon. We had a busy few days on the homestead knocking out projects before things really heat up with our market garden. In this weeks newsletter we share an update from the homestead, talk about budgeting and detail what COVID was like for our farm business. If you have specific questions or want us to talk about anything in particular feel free to reply to this email!

Pruning, Cutting Firewood, Rendering Lard

Pruning is complete in the orchard.

A big dead ash tree down.

I was happy to check pruning the fruit trees off my list for the spring. Those of you with orchard trees can probably attest to the challenges. Pruning is definitely more of an art than anything else, you can’t just look up the “rules” online and then go do it. There are some principals but every tree is different and at some point you just need to go for it.

We had several trees that were getting too tall, so we had to do some bigger cuts to try and get them under control. Then it is just about clearing out any dead wood, conflicting branches and continuing to guide the trees structure in the right direction. There is one YouTube channel that I recommend on this, you can find it HERE. He was really helpful to me to figure out tree structure and I follow his methods pretty closely.

We also continue to take down dead and dying ash trees. I was able to get a few cleaned up that I had previously cut down and cut down 3 more big trees. I have only smaller trees left but hope to keep cutting this weekend. This has been a big project and I think I am only about half done. Next step is figuring out what to do with the area where we are removing the trees. If we do nothing it will quickly be taken over by nasty stuff like buckthorn, so we are working on a plan. If you have ideas I am all ears!

Lastly, I will mention that Ingrid and the kids did a great job rendering down a bunch of lard from last years pigs. She’s got a pretty good process down these days. The lard is shelf stable and will hang out in our pantry in the basement until we are in need of it. We’ve managed to replace all vegetable oil use in our house with lard. The research coming to light on seed oils is pretty damaging. Lard (rendered pork fat) and tallow (rendered beef fat) have been around for many years and are proving to be the better option.

I will say that it is quite amazing how much better you get at doing things over time. So many of the projects we take on seasonally used to be so intimidating. Ingrid and I didn’t grow up doing any farming or homesteading and have learned a lot of it through online research and trial and error. It definitely requires both research and trial and error, I am amazed at the bad information on the internet! Time and repetition are our ally. Don’t be afraid to try things and don’t be afraid to fail. Learn from mistakes and just keep doing it. It does get better!

Is Budgeting Important?

Our family is a pretty focused family when it comes to finances. We work to manage things wisely and work hard to spend well and save well. I will admit though… we have never really built a detailed budget. There have been times where I have considered it but we’ve never pulled the trigger. As you will see below we do have a broad monthly spending goal, but not a detailed budget. For those of you that do budget I say bravo. I think it is a super smart thing to do.

So what do we do instead? We have worked hard to become good money managers and to really eliminate extra spending. We live with such a frugal mindset that a budget is really not necessary. When we do spend we are only buying the essentials. And if there is something we need to go out and purchase we have a discussion, do research to try and find the right price and purchase it when the time is right. I will say that while we don’t do a monthly budget I do track our expenses fairly closely. We do that in an automated way using online tools. I’ve used Mint for a super long time but now they are shutting it down so we will be transitioning to a tool called Empower. This just allows us to have some checks on our spending and to set some simple goals. We have a monthly target for spending each month, for us that is $5000 per month. That total includes everything from mortgage and insurance to groceries. If we have a couple months where we exceed that budgeted amount, then we will make a concerted effort to cut back during the next couple of months to get back on track.

For us this is a system that works! It may not work for everyone. If you are working out of debt or have some severe saving goals a line item budget is probably a really good idea. Likewise if you have trouble managing your spending then you definitely need a budget. The one thing I will chime in and say is sometimes budgets can lead to unnecessary spending. For instance, you give yourself an eating out bucket of money, and it comes to the end of the month and you haven’t spent that money. You might be tempted to “balance the budget” and have an unplanned meal out. This in my mind goes against the principal of having the budget in the first place!

A New Garden Business During COVID in 2020

Our collapsed tunnel from 2019 is reborn.

Our stand table in July of 2020.

Like everyone else the COVID time period was really strange for us. We were just starting to plant seeds when everything came crashing down in the spring of 2020. With so many unknowns we just kept planting and planning for our garden season. The way things turned out that was a really good call!

The outcome for us was an explosion of business. With many people preferring not to go to the grocery store we were found by many new customers. Thankfully we had really ramped up our production that year. But it still wasn’t enough. We ended up buying in veggies from two other producers in our area. These other farms were a God send for us and helped us keep up with the demand. I checked our financials and we nearly tripled our earnings in 2020 from 2019. WILD!

Other notable things from 2020. We rebuilt the collapsed tunnel from 2019 by rebending the poles and that become our second tunnel. This was also the year our homestead got involved in goats by purchasing our first two nubian does. We still have one of those does today. We love goat milk and have really enjoyed the goats!

With everything that was going on in the world in 2020 having our farm, and the food that we were growing was such a beautiful reminder why we do what we do. It was a blessing to be able to provide food for many new people at the stand and to allow ourselves to hunker down on our farm and eat what we grew. Having the assurances that when all else fails we have our skills and our seeds and our animals and we are going to be OK. This is one my favorite things about homesteading. Our goal over time is to continue to get more and more self sufficient, and it is because of events like what we experienced in 2020. Keep learning skills, keep practicing homesteading and keep working hard, because nobody knows when the next crisis will occur.

Thank you as always for reading and for following along on this journey. As always I would love to hear from you. If you have questions or suggestions just reply to this email and I will be in touch.