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It’s been a while since I’ve updated my blog. We’ve had quite the whirlwind spring so far. First, I’ll let you know what’s going on with the greenhouse. The greenhouse and five acres it sits on are going for $399,000. I applied for a commercial loan through our bank, and they worked so diligently with me to get all of the paperwork filled out correctly. I spent dozens of hours poring over seed and plug catalogs, making elaborate spreadsheets, talking to dealers and the owners, and figuring out every expense we could account for. I submitted the paperwork, but it was at that point that we hit a snag. For a traditional commercial loan, they need a 20% down payment. That’s $80,000. We don’t have $80,000 laying around. So I looked into a small business loan through the SBA. They require a 10% down payment. That’s $40,000. Again… we don’t have $40,000 laying around. We spent weeks selling everything we could, but to no avail. We were only able to raise about $5000 in such a short time.
We were denied a commercial loan because we couldn’t afford the down payment. I talked to the loan officer and she reassured me that as soon as we can come up with $40,000 she would gladly allow me to reapply for consideration.
But where are we going to get $40,000?
We heard of one option that was a bit out there, but workable. We could set up a C-Corp, set up stocks for our personal business, and move moneys from my husband’s 401k over to our own stocks. It sounded too good to be true! He has enough in his 401k, though just barely. After all, we’re only 30 years old. But… as you can probably guess… there is a hitch. It would cost us $5500 to set up the C-Corp and get everything going. Then there would be another $1400 in additional expense, followed by an $1100 annual fee to keep the stocks and paperwork going.
We don’t even have the $8000 we’d need to do that. And even if we did, after discussing it in depth, neither my husband nor I are willing to risk his entire 401k, even to make our dream come true. We need another option.
Back to square one.
I don’t know when or if we’ll be able to come up with $40,000 for a down payment. I know I can turn a good profit and make a good life for our family if we get this greenhouse operation. I know I can do it. I’ve run the numbers several ways. Even after paying for start-up materials, signage, maintenance, the monthly commercial loan payments, advertising, worker wages, taxes, propane, utilities, etc… we’d still make more than what my husband currently makes in a year. And that was on the conservative side. That was only selling half of the stock I could fill the three main greenhouses with in the first year. By the second year, I’d have all 9 greenhouses on line.
But I don’t know where the initial money is going to come from.
It’s true, that old saying about the rich getting richer. Starting a business costs money. If we had just $40,000 for the down payment, I’d already be in the greenhouse getting it cleaned up, putting on new plastic, and preparing it for next spring’s sales. Heck, I might even start earlier and do poinsettias and Christmas wreaths.
What about our house? Our dream house. The one we spent a decade saving up and planning for. Well, we’d love to be able to hang onto it. We could turn it into a rental and retire up here. Or we could sell it. *sigh* I know. It makes me sad to even think about selling something we put so much work into. We looked into it. We’ve had multiple realtors out to assess the value and give us options. We even thought we could come up with the down payment by selling our house and land. The realtors popped that bubble. The sale of our house might give us a tiny profit ($8-10,000), but it wouldn’t be enough. If we could sell our house for the $40k profit, we’d probably do it in a heartbeat and begin a new dream for a new house after the greenhouse was up and running.
So here we are, floating adrift, continuing on with our lives as if the greenhouse operation isn’t going to happen. I had high hopes for a while. I am still hanging onto them in the back of my mind. That greenhouse would mean financial independence. If something were to happen to my husband, I’d still have a way to make a living. It would mean stability – no more moving to follow work opportunities, no more yanking the kids out of their schools and away from their friends. It would be doing something I love every day.
Our last hope now is to keep scrimping and saving. My husband is doing everything he can to see this greenhouse vision through, and I really hope it’s not too little too late. The greenhouse has been on the market 5 years already. Will it stay on the market another year if that’s how long it takes us to come up with the money? I don’t know. My husband has given up the job he loves here, close to home, and has re-enlisted with the company he was previously with. He will be leaving for Afghanistan, to be a contractor in a war zone, within the next few weeks.
I feel sick that he’s making such a sacrifice. He doesn’t have to, but he will. Because he wants a better life for us. He wants financial security. He wants us to have this greenhouse… and this is the only option we seem to have left.
He’s going to be gone for a year. It’s a sure bet that we’ll be able to save up for the down payment in a year of him working over there, but I worry he won’t come back. He’s been over to the Middle East twice before now. We used the money from the previous stints overseas to pay off our debts and buy land, never even thinking we’d have an opportunity like the greenhouse. I was so proud to tell people he’d never have to go back there, back to being awakened in the night by mortars, living apart from everything he knows and loves. I was so glad to have him back. And now… he’s leaving again. For us. For our future. I wish there was another way.
Well, now that I’m damn near close to tears just thinking about him leaving, how about I move onto a more cheerful subject? The garden. I’ve been working hard up until I got sick a couple days ago. It’s all planted, and I’ve been able to keep up with the weeds so far. Once I’m over this sinus infection and chest cold, I’ll get back to work out there again. It’s a big area to keep weeded. In case you don’t remember, our garden is about 7500 square feet, or 8 times the size of our house. Maybe big is an understatement.
That’s the garden so far. Everything is small because way up north we don’t have a long growing season. It’ll shoot up and amaze me, I hope. Keep checking back for updates! I’ll try to be better about it this summer. Things get pretty hectic with kids home all summer and the homestead needing all sorts of work to stay in order. Maybe my next post will show you how big the orchard is getting. We might actually get some cherries and plums this year! Yahoo!
If you are a gardener, and you’d like to share your blog, please leave a link in the comment. I’d love to see what you’re planting and hear about your experiences playing in the dirt. My garden isn’t enough to sate my addiction – I need more! If I like your blog, I might even add it to my blogroll so I can stalk it. 🙂
As I look back on the last four years of this blog, I realize how far we’ve managed to come. We have realized so many of our dreams! We have paid off our debt. We have bought land. We have built a house. We have chickens. We have one HUGE garden in full swing. We have an orchard. We have wood aplenty to heat our home with. We have learned skills like building, baking bread, sewing, hunting, canning, home maintenance, and pantry rotation. We have accumulated many of the tools and supplies necessary to a homesteading lifestyle: a lawn tractor, a dehydrator, a grain mill, a full wood working shop, a pressure canner and waterbath canner, tons of canning supplies, every garden tool I could think of, a rototiller, a snow thrower, an enormous trailer, a woodstove… and so much more!
So what is left? What more could we possible want?
Yes, the house is nearly finished, but we already have expansion plans that we hope to put into effect next spring. My husband searched high and low for inspiration, and ended up finding this gem. We love everything about it, but instead of a plain old fireplace we’d do a baker’s oven, maybe with elements of a rocket mass heater thrown in. A heated bench would be lovely on crisp fall days. I’d also like to do an outdoor kitchen on the porch – just a small strip of cabinets with a stove-top on the counter. Canning inside in the middle of summer heat sucks. It sucks hard. Canning on a screened-in porch outside? Sign me up!
Of course there will be a bigger garden in our future. I am pretty set on turning most of our south-facing hill into an earth-bermed green house, if not this year then next. My husband found a source for patio door glass at $3 a sheet. Score! He’s also drawn up plans and priced out all of the materials. We can afford it, but I’m not so sure we can afford the time to finish it before winter hits with everything else we’re working on. In case you’re curious what it will look like, I just drew up this quick sketch in Paint.
When the greenhouse is in, I’ll build raised beds in front of it to house a small herb and flower garden. At the bottom of the hill is where I eventually plan on raising our own grains like wheat, rye, and oats. The bottom of the hill is super fertile. Crazy fertile. The grass down there grows twice as tall and thick as it does anywhere else on our land. It should be a great place to grow grains.
Our orchard might grow by a few trees, but not too many. We are at 21 trees now, since four (two peaches, two cherries) have perished. I would eventually like to fence in the orchard to run geese. At the bottom of the east side of the hill is a low, soggy spot. If we could clear it out, it would probably make a decent small pond. This year when we start cutting wood I hope to take down the birch that are growing in this soggy area.
We have been discussing getting back into raising bees again, this time with our own equipment. We’ll order the pieces for two hives this winter and get those put together. Next spring, we’ll get some bees to fill them. A homestead isn’t complete without those buzzy girls roaming all over the place.
We also talked about raising rabbits for meat and fur. No concrete plans there yet. Pigs and some sort of dairy livestock are also on our wish list, but we need to work on fencing in some pasture first.
Our neighbors in Michigan have the Cottage Foods laws that allow them to sell any baked goods made in their home kitchen, but we folks in Wisconsin need to have an annual license and all food items must be produced in a commercial kitchen. Here is a pdf file that shows the hoops we have to jump through in order to create a commercial kitchen that will pass inspection. My husband and I have talked about this a few times. I think I am a pretty good baker. I know for a fact that my cookies, muffins, and bread would sell because we have friends, family, and neighbors request these items from me. Maybe if we build a large pole building someday, we can dedicate one corner of it to a small commercial kitchen for my baking. I already have a name picked out for it. 🙂
If we build the pole building, a kitchen isn’t the only thing we’ve talked about. My husband had a lot of fun creating things on a plasma cutting table when he was overseas. Giving him a workshop is high on the list, especially since it would mean our basement space could be used for storage or another bedroom instead of a workshop.
When I was in college I really got into ceramics. I would love a little shed with a wheel, shelves, and small kiln so I could make pottery again. I got to where I could make a complete mug in about seven minutes back then. I bet I could get back into it and be even faster, more productive. I have yet to meet anyone local who putters around with clay – yet another niche that I could use to my advantage. I still have no idea where I would get the clay from. Probably order it online. We have some on our land, but not enough to go through the trouble of digging all the way down for it and spending all the time to process it.
Other projects that are in the back of our minds include building a rain-catchment system with a cistern and mulch pits around the trees in our orchard. My husband drools at the thought of having our house off of the electrical grid, but I’m not so sure we could afford the start-up costs any time soon for solar. The acre pond out back desperately needs to be re-dug. It was last cleared in the ’60’s. It’s completely choked with cattails, weeds, and cottonwood saplings. I don’t think it will be deep enough to raise fish in unless we provided a heat and aeration system, but digging it out would at least give wildlife and our future livestock a clean water source. And I might be able to raise rice and water chestnuts without having to build a permanent paddy up by the gardens.
Oh! I haven’t showed you my little temporary paddy yet. I got it all set up and filled. The rice is planted, and several fish are swimming around in it to keep the mosquito larvae down. A frog has even taken up residence in it. My next post will have to be a pictorial update. In the next couple of days. I’m busy weeding and mulching to get it all looking good for some company we’ll be having this coming weekend.
Today was my fourth time selling at the local farmer’s market. I continue to make the same amount of money every week no matter how low I make my prices, so I’m thinking that I must be doing something right. Every week I meet more people who are into gardening, canning, or something else related to a country life. It’s so refreshing! Seeing them walk off with bags full of my plants and a smile on their face is priceless. It makes me very happy to be able to provide a bigger, better selection of heirloom plants than other local stores. And because I ask so little for my plants, they are able to buy more plants and a wider variety of them than if they had gone to a store.
Yep. It makes me happy. But it also makes some people really… really… REALLY upset. A man and woman who just started selling plants at this market took it in turns to each come up to me several times today to harass me for outselling them. My plants are superior to theirs and I was undercutting their prices by a large margin. Between that and my bubbly personality, I grated on their nerves enough that they felt it necessary to repeatedly come up and yell at me. Yes. Yell. They yelled whether or not I had customers standing nearby. They yelled in front of other vendors, who sat there looking appalled at first and began standing up for me near the end of the day. They went to the couple in charge of running the market and complained, for all the good it did them – the woman who runs it came over to have a chat with me and we both rolled our eyes, chuckled a bit about sour grapes, then had a good conversation about cows and chickens. They complained to other vendors, and even tried saying that the other vendors were mad at me too. Then the other vendors came up and had good conversations with me and walked away smiling. No one else seemed mad. They were all really nice.
I knew I was going to have a problem with these people before the market even started. You see, this is the same man who came up to me two sales ago upset that I was selling for so low. This man has a very hard time keeping his tongue civil and making new friends. I kind of feel bad for the guy. I’ve been nothing but friendly to him and the woman with him. I tried to engage them each in pleasant conversation. I haven’t once raised my voice or argued with them. Yet they persisted. I shrug them off when other vendors bring them up. I have no dog in the fight that is this man’s life. Why should I let his unhappiness unsettle mine? At one point, I even offered to sell my entire stock to him so that he could turn around and mark it up to his prices. He stalked off and came right back a half hour later with more vitriol. His loss. I have nice plants. People want them. I sold more than half of my table today, with barely time between customers to take a breather.
I don’t know what to do about these people except to continue on as my happy-go-lucky, bubbly self and hope they get over it. I’m not raising my prices. I still have this insane belief that gardening should be available to everyone, regardless of financial circumstances. Hell, if someone told me they really wanted to garden but couldn’t afford plants, I’d GIVE them the plants. Free. I have enough to spare. I have already given away several flats of plants to friends and family because gardening is fun and I like to see other people getting involved in growing their own food. I refuse to feel guilty for the happiness I get from growing, selling, and giving plants to others. It’s a great hobby. It’s rewarding. I’m not going to stop doing something I enjoy so much because it twists some people’s panties. In fact – I’m stubborn enough to use that as a reason to be even more wonderful to other people. I mean, with people like those fuddy duddies in the world, a little extra kindness can really go a long way. Right?
I want to make an anonymous shout-out to the other vendors who were just as appalled as I was by this man and woman today. Thank you to the ones who stood up for me against them.Your actions meant a lot to me. You’ll probably never be rid of me after this, because y’all are pretty great. I might even make a business out of this in the future, since apparently I have a green thumb AND good enough financial sense to bring my product to the market at a quarter the price of other vendors and still be able to make a profit. As a matter of fact, we had our excavator friend out today to give us a quote for digging out a walipini greenhouse in our southern hill. My husband is busy finalizing the drawings for it. In the morning we’re going out to pace it out and drive some stakes. Next spring I might have a lot more plants to sell, and I’ll have low prices again because we won’t be paying as much for electricity! I’m excited to have so much space. I think my husband is excited about getting all these plants out of the house. Hehe.
Cheers to new friends, and to the sour grapes that make new friends all the sweeter!
We are a family that strongly believes in trying to do as much as we can without incurring debt. I wrote about this before, in Better Than I Deserve, which remains one of my most popular posts to this day. Our original plans with the new house were to build as we go with cash, but unfortunately, even the best laid plans go awry. Thankfully, however, we have been able to continue on our journey to being debt free in other areas. Today I was able to finally pay off the last student loan I incurred getting my BA. Also today, we are paying off the last of the extraneous debt we incurred during this house build (finishing materials on credit and a small loan to finish the plumbing). After today, we will be for all intents and purposes debt free.
The mortgage is still there, but seeing as I’m not even 30 yet, I think we’re still pretty far ahead of the curve. The mortgage will be gone in time.
This is a good day.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately on my garden and pantry. I’m excited to be able to grow as much as I can handle, but I don’t want to go overboard and end up with more than I can eat in a year. I once planted several zucchini plants naively thinking that I would only get a couple fruit from each plant. Haha! Yeah, anyone who has ever grown zucchini knows that I had the damn things coming out my ears that year! I’ve done the same with green beans, cucumbers, and peas. I’m pretty good at over-doing the garden. This year I want to be smarter about it, so I’ve started calculating out what we go through in a year.
Some are much easier to calculate than others. Like carrots, for instance. We go through about a half pound of fresh carrots a week, but I can see us going through up to twice that if I have them on hand. A half pound times 52 weeks means about 26 pounds of carrots a year. I’ve only ever grown about 10 pounds at a time, so I’ll be planting at least three times as many seeds as I have in the past.
Tomatoes are my biggest hangup right now. I need them to can up diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, ketchup, salsa, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, whole tomatoes, and chili. I’d also like to have an abundance of dried tomatoes for various recipes and snacking. It seems like no matter how many tomatoes I grow it won’t be enough. We eat a lot of tomatoes! As I have my list right now, I’ll have 72 plants. A few are new varieties, a few were free, and a few are tried and true. Of the 72, 32 are the tried and true. I’m grappling with whether I should even bother with the new and free ones this year. I could always sell or give away the extra fruits, I suppose. I’m so torn! I hate not planting perfectly good seeds. I guess for now I’ll plant them anyway (in a few weeks). I can sell extra plants along the way.
Thinking about food for a year got me going on the things I can’t grow, like sugar and flour and rice. Yes, I will be growing tiny plots of rice and wheat, but nothing on a grand scale yet. This year is going to be an experiment to see how much I can get from how many square feet. Anyway, this summer I’d really like to get a jump start on the next year’s groceries. It’s so nice not having to run to the store multiple times a week, and to have that food security would be a wonderful gift. I’m anxious about my husband coming home because we don’t know where he’ll work or what he’ll make when he comes back. We have been in rough patches before, and I want to mitigate the risk of that happening again. I have many reasons for thinking about stocking up on food, and those are only a few.
I started thinking about simple things that I make, like bread. I’ve had a few months of a break from making my own bread due to not having the time or space to do it, but I’ll be getting back into the swing of it in the next week or two. Once I do, I’ll be baking at least three loaves a week. Each batch takes about 2 pounds of flour, so over the course of a year I’ll need 104 pounds of wheat to keep us in bread. Each batch takes a half ounce of yeast, so I need 26 ounces of yeast for a year. Each batch takes 3-7 ounces of sugar or honey, so I need about 23 pounds to last a year. That’s all for bread alone! I also make biscuits, rolls, tortillas, pizza dough, breadsticks, pies, cookies, cakes, and muffins. I think I could easily breeze through 400 pounds of wheat in a year if I baked all of our own goods, which I plan to.
Sugar is another big one. I need a bit for breads and baked goods, but it’s also a main ingredient in jellies/jams, preserves, ketchup, sweet pickles, and many other recipes. If we do get started on bees this summer, we’ll need to stock up on powdered sugar for keeping track of the mite population in our hives.
While I was making all of these calculations, I came across a great chart with conversion rates for basic baking ingredients. It has been very handy for calculating how much I’ll need of certain ingredients for each recipe. I’m going to put it here on my blog so I can come back to it in the future.
All-Purpose Flour: 1 cup = 4.5 oz
Bread Flour: 1 cup = 4.8 oz
Cake Flour: 1 cup = 3.9 oz
Pastry Flour: 1 cup = 4.25 oz
Whole Wheat Flour: 1 cup = 4.25
Cornmeal, coarse: 1 cup = 4.85 oz
Cornmeal, fine: 1 cup = 6.3 oz
Oats, rolled: 1 cup = 3 oz
Walnuts, chopped: 1 cup = 4.3 oz
Walnut/pecan halves: 1 cup = 3.5 oz
Coconut, dry shredded: 1 cup = 2.5 oz
Chocolate Chips: 1 cup = 5.35 oz
Eggs and Dairy
Egg: one large egg = 1.7 oz
Egg Yolk: one egg yolk = .7 oz
Butter: 1 cup = 8 oz
Milk: 1 cup = 8 oz.
Heavy Cream: 1 cup = 8.4 oz
Cream Cheese: 1 cup = 8.2 oz
Sour Cream/Yogurt: 1 cup = 8.6 oz
Sugars, Syrups and Oils
Granulated Sugar: 1 cup = 7.1 oz
Brown Sugar, packed: 1 cup = 7.75 oz
Powdered Sugar, sifted: 1 cup = 3.6 oz
Powdered Sugar, unsifted: 1 cup = 4.4
Corn Syrup: 1 cup = 11.5 oz
Honey: 1 cup = 12 oz
Molasses: 1 cup = 11.6 oz
Vegetable Oil: 1 cup = 7.7 oz
Solid Shortening: 1 cup =7.25 oz
I know I’ll still have to run to the store for the occasional things even if I am able to store up flour, sugar, rice, beans, canned/dried fruits/veggies, etc. There are perishable things like dairy products, exotic fruits (bananas and citrus), meat, and whatnot that I will need to replenish on a weekly basis at the very least. We’ll have chickens for eggs and meat in the start. That should help. We’ll be able to hunt deer and turkey on our own land, too. If I didn’t have so much on my plate already with the house and garden, I’d probably be pestering my husband for a dairy animal like a cow or goat, or some more meat animals like rabbits. For now, the best I can do is try to hit sales and stock up for what is likely to be a low-income year. Plan ahead. Maybe in a few years we’ll work our way up to being self-sufficient for our meat and dairy.
Whew! Meant this to be a quick post to keep those conversion rates handy. Rambling over. Hope y’all are enjoying this beautiful winter day! I know I am, because we finally get to see something green sprouting…