A Family Learning to Grow Together
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The Road To Self-Sufficiency: Growing Our Skills

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but a new year still gives us time to rest, relax, and make plans for the future.  This year one of the big things that we will be doing is to work on growing and refining our skills.  There are so many things we could be doing, but what we really need to do is continue to work on what we’ve already learned, find ways to get better at them, and still, find new things to try.

In reality, this is not a one-year goal, I think most homesteaders or self-sufficient minded people are continually working at this.  There is always something to learn, something that we could do better, or something we’ve never tried that we want to at least experiment with.  And truthfully, you can’t ever be self-sufficient if you don’t have a vast array of skills.

To that same trail of thought, I have a friend who was expressing once how she feels a bit nervous at the thought of “what if disaster would strike?”  She said she had no skills to offer and barely knew how to garden.  She used to be a nurse, and I pointed out to her that a nurse has skills that not all of the average citizen has.  Being able to use that to barter with people could be quite valuable.  Not only that, but you can’t worry quite so much about whether or not disaster could strike tomorrow, and at least find something new you can learn today.  Pick something you’ve always wanted to learn more about and work on it.

There is a lot we are going to be working on this year, but the thing that comes to mind first is our food preservation skills.  In 2016, we used a water bath canner, freezer, dehydrator, vacuum sealer, dry storage, and we are in the midst of a bit of a “root cellar” experiment.  All of these things are still relatively new to us, and will most definitely be things we continue to expand upon and improve.  To those skills, I would like to add pressure canning, possibly (but not definitely) meat smoking, waxing cheese, and if I get brave enough or have the time and money, some salt preservation.

Outside, there is a lot we can improve on.  Our garden will be expanding significantly, and that means we will need to be better about maintenance and harvesting.  Scott will possibly (probably) be plowing more this year, something we never did prior to last year, so there is room for improvement there.  He’s working on pruning our trees and getting them to be as healthy as possible, and as an added skill, he is learning how to graft trees and is hoping to begin working on that in spring.  Personally, I would like to get better at dividing and propagating our perennial crops and flowers so that we can expand what we have without having to spend any money to do so.

As far as chickens go, it’s easy enough to raise them, but we still need to find a better rhythm with ours, and we want to work on other ways to feed them even more affordably.  At some point in time we would like to try to hatch our own as well, and to that point, we need to be more diligent about stopping hens from being broody when we don’t want them to be.  Really, the whole coop set up and maintenance could use some work, but we’ll get there.  The coop will require some building and repair skills, as will lots of other things around here…things we are decent enough at, but could still use improvement on.

We (Scott) will be having honey bees for the first time this year in a joint endeavor with my sister-in-law.  This is a neat skill to have because it doesn’t require a lot of time throughout the year.  That’s not to say it doesn’t take any time, but it’s not like chickens where they need daily care.  The new skills I would like to learn this year are solar cooking, soap making, and archery.  I wanted to do all of these last year, but for one reason or another, we never got around to them.  I have most of what I need to build a solar oven, so time would be the crucial element there.  As for soap making, I would need to work on gathering supplies.  With archery, we have what I need to learn, the biggest thing we need is time for Scott to teach me.  If I am only able to one of the three, I would really like to learn archery.

In the home, there is much that we could work on.  In general, my overall food preparation lacks something to be desired.  I am getting better at it a little at a time, but I’m not exactly great at it.  Having as much of our own food put up as possible will force me to “shop” from our own pantry, and I can guarantee that leads to healthier meals and more variety in our diet.  The past couple of years, I’ve been scouring the internet and cookbooks for recipes that will help us to use up the ingredients that we have.  We tried beet ravioli one year which really, only Scott enjoyed, but we tried something different because we had beets to use up.  I learned how to make chicken enchiladas because we had an abundance of tomatillos and made lots of salsa verde.  We just need to keep working on expanding.

Again, this is related to food, but at the old house I had a small “garden” on our window sill.  I grew lots of little things, and wanted to keep that up, but after we moved, I couldn’t figure out a good place to put that.   It only took a good year+, but I finally figured out where I can put a little “garden like that in the house without it blocking light or being in the way.  In addition to that, last winter we figured out a place to have grow lights and a set up for starter plants in the basement, but in the midst of all we had going on, it just wasn’t in the cards.  I managed to get some starts going, but most of them didn’t take off.  This year we want to get that area of the basement set up, and we want to become better at growing our own starts.  If we are able to, I’d really like to get it set up as more of a mini greenhouse so that I can at least try growing a few things indoors throughout the colder months.

The last two skills that we really need to work on as a family are financial management and time management.  We did better last year in terms of financial planning and management than ever before, but there is still room for improvement and adjustments to be made.  Time management is definitely a skill I am lacking, and as a family, we really need to step up our game.  I have a hard time prioritizing, and I get overwhelmed (mentally) very easily, and as a result, I end up frozen because I don’t know where to begin.  Scott has expressed frustration with the same issue, his time awake at home is limited, and between kids and interruptions and meals, it feels impossible to get anything done most days.

This year (like every other) will be a year of growth and improvement for us.  We will work towards finding ways to do things more efficiently and effectively for a lower cost, and we’ll add a few new skills to the mix.  Who knows what the year after will hold for us, but I certainly know that there will still be more to improve, more to learn, and new things to try.

What skills will you be working on this year?  What big changes does this year have in store for you?  Don’t forget to leave your comments and like below, and as always feel free to share 🙂

This is the third in a series about our journey to self-sufficiency and all the important lessons I have been learning along the way. To read more, click here and here.





  • debtfreearnolds

    I loved this post, it sounded so similar to my own thoughts (although we’re years behind you in being so organised and growing things!) For this year I really want to learn other ways of preserving food. I rely far too much on my freezer. Do you have any methods you prefer/ found most effective?

  • debtfreearnolds

    (I typed out a comment for this before but it doesn’t seem to have posted) I loved this post, it sounded just like what goes on in my head although we’re way behind you in skills and growing! For this year I’d love to learn different ways to preserve our produce. I rely far too much on my freezer. Any preferred/recommended method that you’ve used?

    • Spring Lake Homestead

      I have to approve comments, so that may be why. ( I see your first comment.)
      I am only a couple of years into any of this, so don’t feel discouraged. You can probably catch up and surpass me in a single year 🙂 The biggest thing you can do is to read a LOT and just experiment. The water bath canner was my biggest freezer-space saver, and dry/root cellar storage my second (though that all takes up shelf space). After this past year though, I think I’d say that if you want to use your freezer as little as possible, invest in a pressure canner. I can’t recommend one because we don’t have one yet (we will be getting one though). A pressure canner lets you can meat and vegetables, neither of which you can do with a water bath canner, so that will be crucial in the long run for being less dependent on the freezer. Hope that helps, and let me know if you have any more questions!

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