A couple of weeks ago I was at a family reunion and my very own uncle was surprised to hear that I still work full time and travel extensively for work. My husband and I own a retail travel agency and we each are elite travelers with American who traveled at least 75,000 miles in a calendar year. I am on the road a lot.
He thought I all do was play with my bees, my chicken and my garden. I suppose that’s what my life looks like to him via social media. I immediately set him straight. Some of the other people at the reunion were asking how I work so much and still do what I do outside of work.
Here are some tips to consider if you want to dabble in the various aspects of urban homesteading and maintain a very busy life.
Regular watering is time consuming and really must be done regularly to avoid stressing plants and impacting your crops. This is also a fairly easy thing to automate which frees you up for other activities or to be gone altogether. You can use drip hoses and timers, or you can install a fancy drip irrigation system. Either way, free yourself up from daily watering.
Mulch Mulch Mulch
Mulch is your friend that helps you three ways. To start with, mulch helps supress weeds. This saves time weeding. Also, it preserves moisture which saves time watering. (Or, if you have automated your watering, it at least saves water.) Finally, as it breaks down on top of the soil it provides nutrition to the soil. One of my favorite mulches is grass clippings. Grass clippings are a fantastic mulch and, best of all, FREE!
Let your standards go (a little).
I always want my garden beds to be weed and grass free. I want my chicken coop not to smell. I want to be on top of everything. The fact is, though, during seasons when I am out of town a lot something has to give. For instance, I was out of town starting August 3rd till the 12th. I cleaned the coop the day before I left and today is August 14th and I haven’t been able to clean it since I got home because it’s been raining. It is messier than usual, but I think most chickens live in much less clean environments. I’m not suggesting neglecting them on a long term basis, but missing one cleaning probably won’t hurt anything.
The same thing translates to other parts of your urban homestead. Your bees will probably survive if you don’t open up the hive every single week (although you may think YOU will die not checking on them!). Your garden will live (as long as your irrigation system is watering it) if you don’t pull the grass and weeds out for a week or so.
So, allow yourself to relax and live other parts of your life when you need to.
My spoiled hens really prefer when I bring them freshly chopped herbs and flower petals from my yard to mix with their dried mealworms and chicken feed. However, the fact is that they are chickens and can certainly eat plain chicken feed. To that end, I do have a large poultry feeder underneath the coop in the run (protected from rain). If they have to, the girls have several days of feed available to them. Also, I have a five gallon waterer and now that the weather is cooling off that is an option also.
Likewise, I have several different sizes of syrup feeders for the bees. I’m not needing to use them at the moment since my bees got honeybound from me feeding them too much!
You probably have friends and/or neighbors who want to garden / homestead like you do. Let them try it temporarily while you’re gone! I have a dear sweet friend who has been lovingly taking care of my hens when I’ve been gone. I have also established the daughter of a friend who is in FFA (Future Farmers of America) who is experienced with livestock available to take care of the girls in the event my friend isn’t available. You may have a family member who can be trusted to do basic tasks that can’t wait for your return. Look for help.
Timing / Planning
In a perfect world, I would have planted things like broccoli and brussels sprouts a couple of weeks ago. But, I was about to be gone for most of that two weeks, so I made the decision not to put in new plants or start seeds when I was about to be gone. Yes I sacrificed two weeks of growing time, but I knew I wasn’t going to be able to take care of them like they would need.
It’s all about planning and knowing what you can do. (And what you can’t)
Accept that you won’t produce as much as if you were home all the time.
To everything there is a season. If you are in a phase of life when you are working a lot, or traveling a lot, it’s just a fact that your endeavors won’t be like they would be if you could devote all of your time to them. Your garden may not look like the photos in Mother Earth News and that’s just going to have to be okay. You do what you can, when you can.
Remember the goal
I assume you are gardening, or keeping chickens or bees, or whatever, because you enjoy it. It’s supposed to be fun. You probably live near a grocery store and you won’t starve if you don’t grow enough food. Remember, gardening is fun.
Don’t over plant
Northaven Gardens is my favorite local garden store. Usually when I go there, I’m there for something specific. It isn’t very close to my house, so I’m there for a specific purpose. But, I can’t help wandering around and seeing everything. To guard against overbuying, I always start out not getting a cart. So far, every time I have ended up getting a cart. Do as I say here though, and not as I do. If all you have time and space for are 6 broccoli plants, don’t buy 20. Remember you’re going to have to find time not only to get those plants in the ground, but also water, fertilize and harvest.
Go with nature.
There are things that grow well in your area. There are things that don’t. With lots of time and intervention, you may be able to coax other things into producing but if you are short on time, go with the sure things.
Basically, you have finite resources. Just like in all other areas of life, success with gardening within a busy life is a matter of planning and intentionality. You can do it!