Where to start?

                Many people use the saying “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”. Yeah yeah, yeah, we all have heard that. Then a few things that happen recently made me stop and think about it, and where I am at today, where I was five years ago, and where I want to be in another five years. I thought; how to help people when it seems so overwhelming once you get the self sufficiency, permaculture, or general wake up bug.

One day at one of the tours at our suburban property someone asked, how do I do it all, and where did I start? A day or so ago I was praising someone for sharing so much of their knowledge with me, and one of the online forums we both belong to (TSP). Another member pointed out that her posts should be a wakeup call to all those that are not doing as much. This was in reference to just general homesteading tasks, but I took it as a whole and really could be doing much more on a daily basis. Same forum someone asked a really vague and general question. “Where did everyone get started and what are your best resources for permaculture”.

You start one day at a time, one project, and one idea at a time. So you have never grown anything in your life let alone for food, and worse, have to depend on that food you grow.  Start small, a houseplant over the winter in a window. It gives a sense of accomplishment, and bonus helps filter your air in your home. There are lots Aloe in my front windowof hardy plants that can be grown inside. Start out with an aloe plant. It is hardy enough if you forget to water for a few weeks, sometimes months it can still survive. The “leaves” will tell you what is going on. If they wilt, add some water, start turning brown, too much water, too cold, or maybe needs more sun. It has many beneficial food and medicinal properties as stated on an earlier post. After a few months and a large enough pot, you will see “baby” aloe plants. Separate and now you have more. Share with someone, sell them, or give them away.

So now you successfully raise an aloe plant, now what? Try a tomato, or lettuce in a pot or bucket. While tomatoes, at least here in the Midwest will need to wait until spring or

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summer, you can grow lettuce the same way as you did your aloe plant over winter. Buy romaine, rather than iceberg lettuce next time you go to the store. When you use it down to the heart, plant it in the same window you had the aloe. It should regrow. It will need more frequent watering, but it is a start. Romaine is healthier than iceberg, and I never get the bagged stuff. It is not as fresh, and will not last as long. If you eat regular salads plant each heart, soon you will have several plants going. After a while you can collect a salad or two a week from your recycled romaine plants. You are now growing your own food.

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Here are some other plants you can regrow after you harvest from the store.

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Try some other plants, on a balcony, in a window, on a deck. You do not need to jump right into turning your yard into a garden. Often people feel overwhelmed by trying to do EVERYTHIGN they read about all at once. Remember one step at a time. Build on each new skill you learn.

Here is another quick win. Do you shred your junk mail and other documents you get in the mail before putting them in the garbage? If not you should. Buy a micro shredder. It is harder for crooks to put your information back together from the garbage. OK, ok, what does this have to do with permaculture. Great tip but what gives? Shred your paper waste, no glossy materials i.e. magazines, and some inserts and flyers. Use the shreds to start a worm composter. What? Don’t they smell? Not at all if done right. The paper acts as bedding to the worms, and they will eventually eat it too as it starts to break down. Get a bucket, tub, trashcan, anything that will hold soil and the worms. It could be as small as a 1 gal ice cream bucket (plastic) to 55 gal barrel or bigger. If you must have a lid on your bin add air holes in the top. Add compost material to your bin, (no dairy, meat, or fats this makes it smell) along with a little soil, some red wiggler worms, then cover with the shredded paper and walk away. It needs to have a little moisture, think damp not wet. In a few weeks the worms turn your food and junk mail waste into rich compost. You can add this black gold back to your lettuce garden. It will give back added nutrients and boost your soil for the plants. If you cook pasta or steam vegetables, water your lettuce with the water once it has cooled. No need to send it down the drain. That is some great fertilizer for plants. Looking for where to get worms locally? Keith at Castaway Compost where I got mine to start. Don’t look now; you have just become an organic gardener. Seems small right? But small steps can complete a marathon.

We use something like this. We paid a little bit extra to get one that would handle 8+ sheets at a time. $60. We also shred all cardboard, paperboard, newspaper, office paper etc.

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Here is one of our bins

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Pull back the paper, and black gold with tons of worms.

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Feeling accomplished? Try an aquaponics basic indoor system. It really is pretty simple, and can be accomplished for under $50. In just a few months you have gone from never growing anything to an organic gardener producing at least some of your own food. Let’s call this post Step One. Step Two, grow a salad with cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, carrots and spinach then top it off with homemade croutons and homemade dressing.  No yard, no problem. If you are on Step One, or going to start Step One, do it over the winter. Most people hibernate here in the Midwest anyway, might as well pick up a new skill. January is the time to start Step Two. Do what? It is the middle of winter in the Midwest. Stay tuned and I will fill you in.

Do you know someone who wants to get started but doesn’t know where to start? Share this post with them.

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