Seattle Homestead Goals for Year 1

We have a huge list of things we’d like to accomplish here at the homestead, but to keep things in perspective I’m creating a list of project goals for 2011.

Take Care of Zone Zero – I’m going to have more information on the permaculture concept of zones soon, but for now a quick link to zones on wikipedia will do.  We just moved into our home in April and taking care of zone zero (the house and everything inside of it) is a big priority for us.  Because we spent the first 14 days painting just about every wall in the house, we still have a lot of work to do in terms of household repairs, cleaning, organizing, and decorating our living space.  Luckily, after finishing all of the interior painting, Kristina plans to set me loose upon the garden while she takes care of much of the organizing and decorating, enabling me to catch up with my garden daydreams from the past 4 months.

Raised Beds & Garden – My long term plans for the entire yard include a border of decorative concrete raised beds about 24 to 36 inches in height.  But, that’s a lot of work, and a ton of soil.  This year’s priority for raised beds involves removing sod / lawn from a large square area on the East side of the house (probably about 300 to 400 square feet initially), and building up that bed to at least 12 inches in height. My plan, in order to use as much free resources as possible for this temporary raised bed, is to dig out 12 inch wide strips of grass from the bed area, and lay them down on the edge of the bed to build a 12 inch high sod wall around the bed.

The remainder of the project will involve heavy composting of grass clippings, twigs and branches from the yard, some food scraps and rabbit poop donations from friends nearby, and whatever other free materials I can find in the area.  I’ll likely end up bringing in a few yards of ready-to-go compost & top soil to cover over all of the composted items, as well as some mulch on top of that.  After the bed is built up, hopefully by the end of May, we should be able to plant seeds & seedlings that were started in early May.  You can see the plans for the raised bed in the photo below.  The red/orange area is where the beds will go.  The yellow is the fenceline of the property.  Click for larger photo.

Raised Beds for Year One

Build a Chicken Tractor and Raise Hens – We went back and forth on whether to keep chickens for a few months.  In the end, we’ve decided to get some chicks in the next couple weeks for a couple reasons. (1) Chickens are very productive, and we’d love to have the eggs not only for our own use, but to sell and barter and gift as well.  Another chicken yield that I look forward to is plenty of manure, which will be needed for soil building in the next couple of years. (2) I have a ton of free salvaged lumber on hand, and big wheels from a broken lawn mower, and extra hinges, etc.  Basically all I need to purchase for the tractor I plan to build (more on that later) is 3 pressure treated board for the base, and 1/4″ metal hardware cloth (since chicken wire ironically is not suitable for protecting chickens). (3) We’re excited just to have them.  Not much to be said here, they’re great creatures to have around an urban homestead.

Here’s a photo from the Country Living Expo of a chicken tractor that was being raffled off.  The chicken tractor will be 4 ft wide by 10 ft long, 8 feet tall at the peak of the roof, and will have 40 square feet of grass space and 12 square feet of coop space, plus vertical space as well.  I think that the tractor will be able to comfortably accommodate 4 hens, and a maximum of 6 hens based upon the square footage limitations that I’m comfortable with.

chicken tractor
Plant Fruit – While my budget doesn’t currently allow me to go on a $600 shopping spree at Raintree Nursery like I’d like to, I still want to get some basic fruit trees, bushes, and vines started.  Specifically I’d like to have a couple dwarf apple trees, a few blueberry bushes, some grape and kiwi vines, and possibly some more exotic species. We already have unidentified cane berries of some sort blackberries growing on one side of the property, so I’m holding off on those at the moment.  Some of these I still might try to get planted during spring, but there will also be an opportunity to plant some items in the fall after we’ve settled in.

  • Fruit Update 1: According to the neighbor I just met, we also have a very old plum tree in one corner of the property.  Apparently the fruit isn’t very good, but there’s a chance the tree could be improved through pruning until the fruit was good enough to can or brew.  Plum wine, anyone?
  • Fruit Update 2: Here’s our fruit order for year 1.


The Fence – This is the biggest priority wild card in the projects for the year.  Currently the homestead has a metal chain-link fence around 90% of the yard.  However, we live on a fairly busy arterial street and the fence does nothing to keep out noise from cars.  Also, we’re located on a corner with a bus stop, which is great if we want to head downtown, but it also means we can occasionally hear those loud bus brakes throughout the day.  The solution? A new fence wall. My rough fence plan is to have a 1 to 3 ft high concrete wall around the North and East perimeters of the yard, which will double in function as the back of our raised beds in the future.  On top of the concrete wall I plan to have a cedar fence connected to the cement via post anchors of some sort.  This is the largest project I’d like to tackle this year and I don’t have experience in pouring concrete for walls, only for footings, so there will be plenty of discussion about the fence in coming months.  Update Fall 2011: This project has become more focused since I wrote this post originally. At this point, we’re looking to make this a cob wall, which will be much more effective at blocking noise than the wood fence. More information soon.

Improve Home(stead) Efficiency – As the summer winds down and the heaters start to come back on in the home, it will be time to start tackling some home efficiency projects.  Seattle City Light (the city electric company for those of you outside the area) offers discounted home energy audits to customers, so this will likely be one of our first steps.  They have a number of other assistance options available as well, for things like appliances and larger home improvements, so we’ll likely be looking into each one of those as well.  Our home has some other efficiency-related projects as well, including insulating the crawl space and installing some water-saving devices in the bathroom and kitchen.  Our home is 100% electric, so I’m motivated to get some of these things done before we attempt to keep the house fully heated with baseboard heaters.

Update 5/2: Mushroom Logs – Can’t believe I nearly forgot to mention mushroom logs…  In a shady & moist environment like Seattle, Mushrooms can be an amazing way to boost the productivity of full shade areas that most gardeners typically give up on.  I’d like to get these going early, because the first flush (another word for each harvest of mushrooms) can take 6 to 12 months or longer depending on the mushroom strain and the conditions they’re grown under.  I plan to start out with a few of the more common strains, like Oyster &  Shitake.

There’s plenty more things that I’d like to get done this year, including a patio & firepit area using some salvaged bricks, but we’ve got plenty on our plate for the year already, so writing these primary goals down is the first step towards getting them all completed.