We have had a garden for 28 years, chickens most of that time, some goats and pigs from time to time. Over 90% of our heat comes from wood I cut and split. We get probably 30% of our food from our backyard – more than 70% during the summer months. I live less than 2 miles from the Northway, Exit 8. I don’t feel comfortable with the term Suburban Homesteader because we have five acres and only a couple of neighbors. We often debated whether we have a garden or a farm, so I guess homestead is a good name. My name is Andy Looker and most of you know me as the best Chimney Sweep in the region, counting my brother Peter the Activist
I want to introduce you to the other part of my life, my hobby and passion. My wife Jill and I have been homesteading here in Clifton Park since we bought our house in 1983. I have always had a garden, but here the garden is fully developed with fruit trees and annuals and a full cast of perennials. We garden an extended season, setting early plants that are chill tolerant early in April and feasting on hardy late growers through November and sometimes into December. While we do have a fence around most of the garden, we have a natural approach to gardening and use no insecticides or chemical fertilizers. We do a great deal of composting and soil enrichment. This year we planted and harvested food from over 50 varieties of plants.
We currently have 36 laying hens and produce enough eggs for ourselves and others. A friend of mine and I have just started a brood of 50 broilers. Over the years I have built the chicken quarters, a rather spacious and comfortable habitat for the birds that keeps them safe from predators – yes there are many.
We also have two Gloucester Old Spot pigs. Pigs are the most intelligent farm animal. You can look in their eyes and know they are thinking. I’ve always been amazed by how smart they are.
We heat our house and water with firewood I mostly collect for free - wood of opportunity.
Another project I’m in the midst of is building a root cellar. I’m always looking for ways to increase our garden yield and duration without spending a lot of money, and it seems a root cellar should help quite a bit without burning any fossil fuels!
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot. Old timers have shared tips and procedures. I’ve gone to many fairs and farm shows. I read a lot. And of course there is trial and error. More error it seems, but all the same we learn and improve. From “time to time” I plan to share some of the neat things I’ve learned and tell you about some of my projects – past and present. Homesteading is something everyone can and should do. You don’t need five acres, just a hundred square feet or a couple of buckets of dirt will do for a start. The important thing is to get started. It is a great opportunity for kids to learn where food comes from and it is a great way to save money and eat more nutritious food at the same time.
Andy Looker operates Clifton Park Chimney Maintenance. He can be reached by commenting to this blog or by calling his business.