Growing Our Own Food – Update September 2020

Learning to grow food – update September 2020

2020 is our year of learning the basic skills we need to homestead and inch closer to food independence as we can in the future. You can learn more about our long term homesteading goals here. Disclaimer: We are learning and know basically nothing. If you are reading this to learn how to grow food or homestead you are in the wrong place. There are countless amazing people on youtube and bloggers to follow if you are trying to learn. Some of our favorites are Roots and Refuge Farms MLGardner    Whispering Willow Farms

These people know their shit; we don’t.

What we started with

  • We started this project late, late June and July is when we really started getting serious about learning to grow our own food. We had been interested for years, but always put it off for whatever reason was convenient at the time (usually our environment which is pretty harsh for plants – 8,000’ elevation and 6-7 months of winter) 
  • 3 raised bed – 3’x6’
  • Fence planting space
  • 1 – build it yourself greenhouse (nothing planted currently)
  • A few misc beds and planting spaces we picked up from craigslist/FB marketplace
  • 1 indoor grow room with a seed starting LED light, HED grow light, Ebb & Flow hydroponic setup and a full set of nutrients to grow fruit/veg producing plants
  • No knowledge of how to grow plants for food

So far our small scale production has been pretty fruitful for a first year that started late. Our tomato plants haven’t been mega producers but every plant has produced edible and delicious fruit. The same with our strawberries which actually have 3 ripe fruits! We planted 6 berry bushes along our fence line hoping they will just take over in future years. This was just one of the plants we put in hoping it would yield in later years. The same goes for the rhubarb, asparagus, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries we planted.

 As we started to watch Youtube videos on homesteaders 100% of my favorite vloggers have said they wished they would have planted more perennials (I learned this means comes back each year on its own!) early on. They all also pointed out that the plants that take 3 years or so to mature and produce fruit are especially rewarding in the long term. Given that our plan has always been how to make this project scalable to multiple acres rather than our backyard we felt it was important to plant those now even if we don’t see the fruit the knowledge of how to keep them alive and healthy is reward enough.

Here are the highlights we have learned so far:

  • Tomato plants do not respond well to watering the leaves, you gotta water the base. Any step you take to keep water/rain off the leaves will yield a healthier plant.
  • Dead and dying leaves can go, pruning keeps the plant healthy. A tomato plant that looks healthy bushy is likely not. Airflow is important.
  • On any vining plant you want to keep leaves off the soil (especially tomatoes) if you can. We got a fungus from this. Google saved the day here.
  • Berry bushes are awesome. They are easy, resilient and thrive. I’ve heard people complain about berry bushes before since they can be hard to get rid of. I can’t imagine wanting to get rid of a beautiful plant that produces amazing tasting fruit. The people who bitch about an invasive raspberry plant are the same people paying $6 a pint at Whole Foods. Next year I’m seriously considering planting our entire fence line with berry bushes.
  • Tomatoes should be picked before a watering. If it’s going to rain today then spend the late morning picking any ripe tomatoes. The water goes straight to the fruit. Did you ever wonder why tomatoes at the store are huge and flavorless? Excess water is a main culprit.
  • Salad greens are the easiest shit in the world to grow. Seriously, go buy a kiddie pool and plant salad greens from seeds. It is truly amazing how fast they grow and how little effort is needed. From everything I’ve seen if we ever get to the point of participating in farmers markets then greens HAS to be where the money is.






  • Hydroponics is a lot of science. If you are into that sort of thing then it’s a lot of fun. If you are bored by a discussion about the parts per million of nutrient solutions, the best performing PH water, and fixing a browning of leaves with adding calcium to your nutrient mix then it’s not for you. Lucky for the family Firedad is a major science nerd finds this to be awesome.
  • It’s going to be years before we know if the hydroponics system pays off. I did a non-firedad thing when buying this setup. I didn’t go cheap since I tried hydroponic tomatoes about 10 years ago and failed miserably. This time I went to an indoor grow shop and bought what they told me to. Total cost was about $700, but could have been $70 with a DIY approach. My first DIY approach failed; I learned my lesson and went to the pros.
  • Modern technology makes hydroponics a shit ton easier. A few basic products have made maintaining the exact environment a breeze. Here is what I’ve bought, tested and my opinion:
    • Smart Plugs & Devices – $9.25 a piece – This is not the first or last time I recommend a Smart Home setup. These things have 100s of uses to improve your quality of life. When it comes to hydroponics I have the following things running on Smart Plugs
      • Exhaust fan – can turn on and off based on temperature readings
      • Intake fan – same reason
      • Wifi Temperature & Humidity – this thing reports to an app every 15 minutes with exact readouts of the room. I even have it set to send me an alert of the temp goes over 80 or under 55. 
      • Humidifier – It automatically keeps the room at the desired humidity based on the Wifi temp and humidity reader. (If humidity drops below 35% then the smart system turns this plug to “ON”.)
      • Grow lights – set a simple timer – currently they run for 18 hours a day. The plug controls that automatically.
      • Nutrient pump – I can schedule it to run whenever I want for any length of time that I want or I can simply control it remotely.
    • The most fun I am having is figuring out how to automate as much of the hydroponic process as possible. This has been a really rewarding thing to work out and I am still very much a beginner. 
  • It’s very enjoyable to be a true beginner at something. It’s been a long time since FireDad & Mom have tried something so incredibly new to us and it’s extremely rewarding. The initial progress when you are brand new to something, fix a mistake, apply a new technique has such high returns when you are brand new.
  • Food you grow yourself tastes a million times better than bought food. Every, single, time.

That’s the update on learning to grow our own food. It’s been a pretty fun experience and just makes us want to go full scale as quick as we can. We still have at least a couple years of this place until we can make the full jump to being full time homesteaders, but these years should arm us with all the skills necessary to make sure that life change is successful and fun.

Baby clothes – on the cheap

This week my lovely wife is 22 weeks pregnant. There have been a lot of projects and things going on in the house and we are slowly converting rooms into baby appropriate spaces. Along with this has been a list of items we need to get before FIREbaby pops out. These are purchases that the baby industrial complex will hound you and prey on the unsuspecting adult in unforeseen ways.

The bombardment of things you “need” to buy to keep your baby safe is overwhelming and can be about 5 posts. Today we are just going to talk about the approach we are taking to getting clothing from 0-12 months old.

We live pretty remote from normal civilization. It’s about an hour drive from a city that has places to shop. With that in mind I had some items we needed to take to the thrift store and I also knew I could combine those trips into a baby clothes trip.

I ended up going to three different thrift stores and buying pieces that looked in like new or new condition (some still had the tags). We ended up spending $86.50 across two different stores (one store didn’t have anything worthwhile) We are not finding out the gender of our baby so I was somewhat limited. While I strongly hold the belief that a baby doesn’t care what it wears I still wouldn’t want to put my potential son in a Broncos cheerleader outfit or my potential daughter in a “I’m daddy’s little man” shirt. I stuck to the tried and true, cute animal prints.

For my $86.50 I got:

NB pants – 1
NB onesie – 9
0-3mo onesie – 10
baby sock – 1
3mo onesie – 6
3-6mo onesie – 12
3-6mo pants – 4
3-6mo top – 2
6-12mo onesie – 3
12mo onesie – 1
12mo top – 1
A total of 50 new or like new items of baby clothing for an average cost of $1.73.

50 baby clothing items – $1.73 average cost

Nothing was damaged, nothing was worse than a onesie you see at Target, GAP or any other store. I used those two specifically because in that pile there are items from GAP and Target that had the original tags on them.

In everything in life I’m finding that the sustainable method is usually the most affordable in the long term as well as the best for our planet. Babies don’t care what they wear and these clothes are pretty cute. It’s not like your baby is going to be upset it’s not wearing designer clothing so why are you buying it?

The best part is that when we are done we can either donate these items back to the thrift store or we can sell them in a yard sale for at least what we paid. My goal is for the cost of our babies first year of clothing to be as close to $0 as possible. I think with garage sales (once this COVID shit is over) and thrift stores are going to allow me to do it. Everyone has told us that kids are super expensive and if everyone says something there is a good chance it’s wrong.

Optimization

If there was a single word to describe my entire philosophy in life it would be Optimization. I’m at the point where I work a full-time job as a CFO, in my events company I am the lead consultant and run the org as President, I own and manage a retail speciality running store, I own and rent out ½ of the duplex we live in, I own another rental property and at this time have built an indoor grow room to learn hydroponics to start a produce business. There is really only one way I got to this point where I can keep track of everything on this list and that’s optimization.

Even our FIRE dream of homesteading is built on a foundation of optimization and the most affordable way to live a sustainable life.

My work life is really where this started as I just found myself bored quickly in my first office jobs. Those early jobs in accounting had such old school approaches that when I took over from Joe Boomer who was retiring who took 45 hours a week to do a job that only takes 20 with a computer and the ability to type with more than two fingers. Still, I was stuck there in this office with 20 hours a week to do nothing. At first I browsed the internet and read articles, because I was so committed to being available I didn’t want anything I couldn’t instantly shift focus from. As time went on I learned the value of turn based card games like Hearthstone. If this sounds like the perfect job to you then I promise you it’s not what it seems. At a certain point, no matter what freedom you have, being forced to sit at a desk for 20 hours a week with absolutely nothing to do or accomplish is soul sucking.

After 6 months I took the approach to do my job the best I could and that meant to come up with the most efficient and accurate way for everything. Over the next few months I tediously and relentlessly went about automating every task I had. I was the only accountant for a K-8 private school. Here is an example of what I would do:

There was this super complicated report that I prepared for my Board of Directors monthly. I learned how to make a plug in that allowed me to export from my accounting system into a series of excel spreadsheets that all compiled everything into a pretty template. Took me about 2 weeks to learn how to do all the steps I needed to get what I wanted. My predecessor would spend almost 2 days making these reports, I had it down to about 2 hours a month, then I built a program that made it 2 minutes.

I applied this approach to nearly every single task I could. By the time I left this job I had my core duties down to 8-15 hours a week. The other advantage was the quality of my work was better. I got really good at solving problems because building the structure of how to make my job efficient gave me really good problem solving skills.

Once the free time really started piling up but still having to sit in my office I had to get creative. This led to me starting companies while I worked a “full-time” job. From there it’s a series of different full time jobs with me starting and running more and more businesses “on the side.”

Over the last 15 years my approach has evolved and I expect it will continue to evolve. After I recently hit LeanFIRE my priorities shifted away from ruthlessly pursuing money towards more fun ideas and tasks.

Here are a few of the things I do:

Payments, utilities, communications, filings, investments, and even shopping should be automated at the maximum level you can. Use a bag of dog food every 4 weeks? Sign up for an auto-delivery and you will never spend a thought on it again.

Everything in your life that happens regularly that you need to be involved in gets a calendar reminder – always. For an accountant this is tax filings, budget work, planning, payroll, check runs, etc. Anything that you actually have to be actively involved in at any regular interval gets one.

Your calendar reminders should be set for a realistic time on a day that you have time. When they pop up you should always complete the task or the moment you hit a wall you then stop and make another calendar reminder. 

When you are working on a joint task that has a lot of back and forth you want to always 100% finish what you can and then pass it back. I typically check my email 4-6 times a day, with notifications turned off because they are distractions from whatever I’m currently working on. During those email times I delete all the junk, then work my way from the oldest email through to my newest and do one of three things:

  • Fully complete whatever task the email is asking of me
  • Set a reminder to complete the task at a later, but specific date
  • Delegate the email to a subordinate

When email time is over because something else comes up or my inbox is 100% empty I then can move on.  

When I’m working on a task I’m hyper focused and don’t let much distract me. What I’ve found, in the white collar world at least, is that most people tend to do the opposite. They let little distractions pepper their day and let the work pile up. They float in and out of tasks over a 10  hour work day, but never seem to accomplish much. Now I’ve read books that would call those people lazy. The truth is that I’m the lazy one. I value my free time so much that whenever works needs to be done I want it done and over with so I can focus on either my own businesses more, my leisure time or my family. Procrastinating is the enemy of the lazy person.

Optimization is the lazy man’s best friend as it’s the best way to maximize the amount of time you get to do whatever you want.

So go on, be lazy like me and optimize every single thing you can.