As some have asked me what I’ve learned about starting a small scale farm in my own backyard, here are 15 things that I have learned since starting this crazy, wonderful journey into farming and self-reliance.
1.People will think you are crazy.
No lie, they will think you have lost every cell of logic in your body.
Why are you growing your own food when the supermarket is 5 minutes down the road? Your keeping animals (GASP!) but they are dirty, smelly, and… and… and… animals! You can’t be serious! You eat those eggs, but they just came out of that chicken and how can you know they are safe to eat?
I get these questions all the time, and so will you if you decide to start farming (on any scale) out of the blue. Sometimes people just cannot comprehend that you actually like working for your food, that it makes you feel more accomplished and that you are actively working at something that gives you a great deal more in return. They often don’t realize that they are being insensitive – even if they do, they just can’t picture themselves doing something like that, and that scares them. Know that it is perfectly okay to take risks and do something that may not be widely done or seem logical. And I trust my animals to know how to produce the items that will become food, in a natural healthy way – as they have been doing since forever – without someone injecting anything into the eggs or feeding the animals chemicals and medications to keep them healthy.
So yes, I might be slightly crazy, but aren’t all the best people?
2. Life isn’t as glamorous as you thought it would be.
So maybe I went into this thinking that it wouldn’t be such hard work or so demanding, but I certainly see now how hard farm life can be. You will get dirt and poop on you. It has become a fact of life now. If you come in at the end of the day in the garden, or from the “quick” visit out to see the animals without having any dirt or poop on you – I am sorry to say, but you are doing something wrong.
You learn real quick which shoes are the ones you will dedicate to going out to the animals in, as they will inherently get mucky by walking around and doing daily chores, but that just means they are well loved.
3. Pulling weeds isn’t fun.
So you want to start a garden, huh? Alrighty then, but remember with every good intention of having the absolute loveliest gardens around that your dreams may not actually come true unless you intend to be picking weeds every day the moment they sprout – which isn’t really my thing. I have recently discovered the magic of mulch and will definitely share that knowledge on to you, my little grasshopper.
The idea is that everywhere you can see dirt open to the elements is an open invitation for something to grow in it – and unfortunately, that includes those pesky weeds. So, in theory, as soon as you cover that open dirt, the open invitation becomes an exclusive one only for the plants you want to grow. You can use anything you want as mulch, but the easiest to source for us was dried grass clippings from mowing our lawn. Add a nice and thick layer over the dirt but make sure it gives the plants you want some space around the stems as you don’t want to encourage rot.
And there you have it, no or at least a greatly reduced number of weeds to pick when you go to check on your lovely little sprouts!
4. You will baby your animals.
And I know you might firmly deny you having any attachment to these aforementioned smelly, dirty creatures – I will admit I too once believed such things. But when you raise a chick from four days old and this fragile little fluff ball eventually develops into a beautiful hen that is happy to see you bring cantaloupe treats and lays lots of happy healthy eggs, you will be hooked. I cannot stop myself from baby talking to my lovely girls every time I go to fill up their food and water. You will not be able to help it. Trust me, I have tried. I now limit my socially degrading baby talk to my chickens when no one else is with me – the looks, man. The looks.
5. Disappointment is a fact of life.
So this may not be the happiest thing I have learned by far, but I think it is an important one regardless. Disappointment has a way of swelling up on you quietly and then hitting you like a tonne of bricks. Ever heard the expression “It’s the straw that breaks the camels back”, this is what I mean.
You have been doing so many amazing things that you are unbelievably proud of and never in a million years thought you would accomplish, when someone makes a rude comment or talks about your lack of ever becoming a “real” farmer and you just feel so defeated. You know they mean well (most of the time) and they might think you need a “reality check” (some of the time) but to you it just feels like everything you have built up from nothing is fruitless and was a huge waste of time.
When you get to times like these, take a deep breath, think of every little thing you accomplished and worked hard on and how far you have come, and keep pushing forward. It hurts more when the ones who doubt you are family or friends – trust me, I know the feeling, I’ve been there – but you just have to move on from their opinions and do what is best for you. So maybe you got a little to wrapped up in the fact that chickens are the greatest things on the planet, so what? If they can’t appreciate something that you love or that makes you feel important, determined, and accomplished, try your hardest to not let their words get you down. I know it’s hard, but try your best! I believe in you!
6. Growing your own food is absolutely liberating.
Now, this may go without saying, but planting a little seed that looks all but a dead little pebble into the ground and watching as it grows up and pops it little green head above the ground and then grows into something you can actually eat and enjoy, it is incredibly satisfying and liberating. You feel powerful and delighted and a hundred other wonderful emotions because you took charge, you planted that seed, you watered it, you made sure it had the best chance possible to germinate and grow, and you harvested the food from this lovely little plant. You did all of that. You did. And that sense of amazement and wonder is exactly what all the other gardeners of the world feel every time something that they grew turns into something that they, their families, or even their communities can enjoy.
Keep growing, my friend. Keep growing!
7. Animals poop. A lot.
So here’s the thing folks, there is an amazing amount of love and happiness a farm animal (heck, any animal) can give you, but they also give you something that may smell a bit or gets caught in the grooves of your shoes. Poop is a natural thing, and just know the bigger the animal, the bigger the poop. I am quite happy with my little chickens, but man, can they poop.
I must say on the bright side it is super awesome that they poop so much because now my gardens have superb fertilizer and my compost bins are fantastic and turn into usable compost much quicker. Either way you look at it, whatever grass is left when the chickens are done pecking it and scratching it up will be immensely fertilized!
8. Coming up with new plans and ideas becomes a regular thing.
Sooner or later, your makeshift fence will stop working or looking appealing to you, and you will be inspired to head back to the drawing board and think up something that is more efficient. It could be about anything, and when that little fixer-up-er bug bites you, you feel the need to tweak things and make them the best they can be for you and your animals. Reach out to other farming friends to see what they think our ask them the best way to do things, I am sure they would be more than willing to help you out!
9. Space management is key.
If you are like me any you are working with a very limited amount of space – whether it be your backyard or even just a portion of it – you have to think of how much space you have and how much you will need. Wonderful, crazy, huge ideas are great in theory, but trying to make them in reality and have your space not look junky or overcrowded is a completely other thing. You may have to become an engineer for a moment or two while you draw up your plans for the best chicken coop ever, or figure out how to fence in your garden so no little rabbits or wayward chickens munch all the food you’ve worked so hard to grow.
The biggest thing I can stress here is that if you do something that works in the moment, that’s totally fine. It doesn’t have to be beautiful or spectacular right at first. You are learning, remember that. You might think you have a great idea that turns out to be a not so good one, but at least you tried it and learned. Always look for improvements that can be made, that way you will always have the best management of your available space.
10. Other farming friends are your new best friends.
I think this may go without saying, but having someone who has been in the same shoes as you is an incredible resource. If you ever have questions they are the people to go to who have the answers.
Now you’ll ask me, wait – what if I don’t have any farming friends – and to that I say to you, talk to the employees at your local farming stores. Take TSC for example, they sell all things farm there, so there is a good chance if you ask around their staff, someone may know how to help you.
11. Many other people are taking small steps to be self-sufficient too.
When you start researching small scale farming, you will be totally flabbergasted at the crazy wonderful ideas others have who are doing the exact same thing as you! Check out Pinterest, YouTube, and of course the super handy-dandy Google! You will be amazed at the ideas that you get and the things you are able to do by just searching a question you have.
12. The world wasn’t built in a day.
This one goes hand in hand with the Space Management point above, but you have to know going in that you will not have everything perfect on the first try. It was immensely frustrating to me that things weren’t exactly how I wanted it right off the bat, and now I have to remind myself that there is always room for continuous improvement. It will not be the best at the beginning. Looking back, I laugh at some of my crazy ideas that seemed superb in the moment. It’s okay not be be the best, how will you learn if it is perfect all the time?
Research your ideas and work out what works best for you now. Then write down some improvements that could be made in the future and you will be set for when you have the time, finances, and mindset to improve your projects.
13. Death on the farm is never an easy thing.
This is something that is very hard to learn before hand or brace yourself for. You will tell yourself that you won’t get attached but sometimes they worm their way into your heart and seeing them ill or if they pass away, it is shocking and really upsetting. You just have to pick your head up and keep moving, don’t let a fact of life keep you discouraged from continuing on making your farm. You can do it!
14. You have to stick to your guns.
People will doubt you and make you question yourself. Don’t let them win. You have to stick to your guns about starting a small scale farm. Just because they don’t understand why you want to do this, or they can’t see themselves doing something like this doesn’t make it wrong. I have had people continually tell me that I am wasting my potential by wanting to be a farmer. It is your life to live, live it how you want and do whatever makes you happy.
15. Everyday is a new day and there is so much more to learn!
I will never be finished learning the wonders that come from farm life, even if it is just on a smaller scale than the average farm. Every day is a new adventure and I can’t wait to learn some more!