I spent yesterday going over my goal-setting mind map from last January.

This time last year, I had no garden, no greenhouse, an old, decrepit woodshed, an overgrown brush pile where the pasture now stands, no blueberry patch (tiny though it is) and no website! Amazing how much you can get done if you actually write down your goals… not to mention having handy people around who help with building and clearing and putting things together. Oh, and some incredible mentors to kick your butt to get things done. But that’s a whole other post…

Goal setting is a critical exercise if you’re wanting to live a more self-sufficient life.

It’s difficult to get emergency food put away, a food garden planted, harvested and stored, buildings built and livestock ‘installed’ without setting some concrete goals. All of these things take considerable planning and preparation.  I’ve always been a ‘goal setter’, and looking back, have actually been fairly successful at accomplishing a lot of them… it just takes me a REALLY long time! And I have to admit, I find it so much easier if I have proven, time-saving tools to help. And this is where I’ve made some great finds this past year.

Time-Saving Tools for the
Modern Homesteader

  • Mindmeister and MindJet Mind Manager: These are mind mapping tools that allow you to easily organize your ideas and goals into a format that WORKS! I started out the year with Mindmeister, who have a free subscription for up to three mind maps – more than adequate for my purposes last year – or $59 a year for unlimited mind maps. Check it out – it’s actually kind of fun to play with. And just this week, I discovered (thanks to another mentor) MindManager by MindJet.  I’m now using this one.  Why change?  With a new business just getting off the ground and a lot going on in my life in the volunteer realm, I needed more features such as flow-charts and event planning templates for business planning and working with clients.  The additional features offered by MindManager make sense for me.  If you tend to get bogged down with the process of brainstorming or planning, this is very useful tool.
  • The GrowVeg Garden Planner: This is a really handy-dandy little veggie garden planner for those of us who don’t have a mind for garden planning.  I’m all about any tool that will make the process easier for newbies, and I’m finding this one really helpful.  You can add planting reminders and frost dates, succession planting details, plans for next year’s garden, and notes for recordings successes and failures.  And it sends you emails when it’s time to plant your next crop!  Now those who find food gardening old hat will probably think this is silly, but for those of us who are still fairly new to planning plantings for year-round food production, it’s like having a garden planning consultant at your beck and call.  Unless you lose power for an extended period… but you can always print out the plans and store them in a planning binder so they’re always available.  Try the GrowVeg Garden Planner on a free 30 day trial and see how you like it!  At $25 a year, I think it’s a bargain.  Worried about figuring out how to use it?  Don’t you worry – they’ve got lots of detailed instructional videos to get you started.  I’ll be doing some video tutorials on this in a couple of weeks that I’ll share with you on the blog.  It IS gardening planning time, after all!
  • Live Interior 3D Architectural Design Software: We’re planning a new addition of two bedrooms, storage and a sauna onto our old heritage cabin, and I spent many, many hours looking for a software package that would allow me to design my own building without a huge outlay of cash.  Then I found Live Interior 3D from BeLight software and am so happy I did.  I haven’t finished the design yet (so can’t show you anything – soon!), but am finding the software fairly easy to use and quite powerful.  There’s a bit of a learning curve, but it’s well worth the time investment.  The software not only allows you to design buildings from outhouses to full homes, but offers a large number of templates to get you started, a gazillion different finishing options AND spits out an itemized materials list for you based on your design!  2D floor plans, 3D layouts, furnishing graphics – so much fun!  And practical too.  You can find out more at BeLight software.  Pricing starts at $49.95, which is pretty reasonable in my books.

All three of these tools have taken what could have been cumbersome and expensive (not to mention time consuming) processes into tasks that are actually rather enjoyable (and dare I say, ‘fun’?).  For a newbie to be able to plan a food garden a year in advance, right down to each square foot of garden bed, AND design an entire addition to a cabin is quite miraculous in my opinion.  And if not miraculous, then at least pretty darned handy.

Our Homesteading Projects for 2011

So what’s on the books for this year on our little homestead in the woods?  You can see my mind map from MindManager at right, but here’s the list:

The Cabin Homestead Planning for 2011

My homestead planning mindmap via MindManager.

  • Build 2-bedroom addition – I love our little 650 square foot cabin, but if we’re going to stay here for awhile, we need some storage space and a bit more breathing room.   I’m really excited about having a guest room… and a sauna!
  • Install two cold frames – One of my big goals is to be able to grow food here all year round, or at least most of the year.  The big cold frames will help that process along tremendously.  Now to find a design that utilizes recycled materials and also looks great.
  • Build chicken coop and get 10 to 12 chickens to start – This is a ‘must’ for this year as well.  It’s a bit difficult to be self-sufficient as an omnivore without them, plus they provide so many other benefits (fertilizer, soil turning, and heck, they’re just fun to watch).
  • Order bees and beehive – This is probably a priority 2 item for us, but it’s definitely on the longer term list.
  • Plant 20 blueberry bushes – I planted six bushes in four different varieties this year just to see how they’d do in our rather shaded plot.  Three varieties did extremely well for their first year and three, not so much.  We’ll be planting more of the happier shrubs.
  • Plant 10 new fruit trees – I’m still working this one out – apples?  Pears?  Not sure yet…
  • Plant 20 raspberry canes – Raspberries do really well in one of few sunny plots, so I’ll be adding another row or two to the patch.
  • Optimize greenhouse growing space – Our little 6′ x 10′ greenhouse grew a few lovely tomatoes this year, but we had a late start (me being too busy).  So this year, I’ll be install proper shelving and optimizing both the vertical and horizontal space, as well as installing an automated vent opener and a timed irrigation system – one day without water in the height of summer and the plants in the greenhouse are pretty much toast.  Lesson learned!
  • Install irrigation for raised beds – If I learned anything this year, it was that watering raised beds by hand takes a lot of time and energy for someone busy with a zillion other things.  So in the spirit of making self-sufficiency simple, I’m going to test a couple of different irrigation systems attached to my water storage and see how they work out.  You’ll be sure to see the results in a future blog post.
  • Build root cellar – This is a project I wanted to complete last year, but we built the woodshed/storage shed instead.  But for anyone serious about long-term food storage and putting up food from your harvest (and the harvests of local farmers around you), a cold room or root cellar is pretty much a necessity.  Can’t wait to get started – should be a fun project.
  • Install alternative power source – Here’s where things get a little more technical and far beyond my scope of knowledge, but should the power grid go down at some point in the near future like many people seem to think it might, or we just have an extended outage (not so uncommon around here), it will be nice to have a back-up system.  Not to mention lower hydro bills over the long term, as the payback periods get shorter and shorter as the technologies get less expensive.
  • Rebuild the outhouse – Our cabin actually used to have an outhouse, crescent moon cut into the door and everything, but it was removed a few years before we moved in.  As an alternative for the times the power is out for extended periods (without power, we currently have no water pump), it seems like it would be a good investment.
  • Plant an herb spiral – In the spirit of good culinary planning, and emergency medicine supplies, I want to plant a full herb spiral containing all the main medicinal and culinary herbs.  Not only will it smell great and attract pollinating insects, but it will be pretty tasty too!
  • Build two more large raised beds – I’ve determined that in order for us to live off of our garden year-round, we need a bit more space dedicated to growing food.  So this year, it will be two more 4′ x 10′ x 24″ beds.
  • Order 3 months of emergency food rations – I’m not the doom and gloom type (at all), but I also know that there’s a good possibility that we’re in for some goofy times in the next few years, and that it can’t hurt to have some food put away in case we have a long-term power outage or other disruption of our industrial food system.  In fact, I think I’d be irresponsible if I didn’t.  Not to mention the fact that we live in an active earthquake zone and are ‘due’ for an 8 or 9 level shaker.  That alone is reason to be prepared to look after ourselves for a few weeks.  And if the worst case scenario doesn’t unfold, at least we’ll have some camping eats!

Looks like it’s going to be a busy year.  I think I’m ready, though, considering all the new tools in my ‘homesteading toolkit’.   Now if I could only get my goals list prioritized…

What’s on YOUR List?

Have you made your list of goals for becoming a little more self-sufficient in 2011?  If not, what are you waiting for?  The time has never been better, and the tools above will help make the job a whole lot easier.  Even one small step towards self-reliance will make a big difference should any big interruption to our food supply ever occur.  And if it never does, you’ll have delicious, nutritious, home grown organic produce to grace your family’s table.

Now what could be better than that?