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Recently I was reading up on integrating permaculture theory into existing homesteading practices. One author mentioned that it takes a minimum of five years to really get to know your land—to begin to understand the interaction of the land with the climate and to have had enough time to experiment with what will grow well and what won’t. This resonated strongly with me as I realized it’s been just over five years since we planted our first fruit trees and sowed our first garden.

Here in our neck of West Africa, we have about three more months of very dry weather. The first rains usually find us in April. I typically use the height of the dry season when the ground is hard as a rock and dry as a bone (pardon the clichés) to concentrate on building projects or to catch up on maintenance around the property. It’s also the season for beekeeping and digging a new well if need be.

I’m currently analyzing the biological systems at our disposal in an attempt to see how we can 1) synthesize systems so as to encourage natural symbiotic relationships, and 2) wean ourselves as much as possible off of dependency upon outside resources. The latter is always an ultimate goal of homesteading, while the former, in my understanding, is a primary aim of permaculture.

A simple example of symbiosis is utilizing to its fullest potential all the manure that accumulates from our livestock (chickens, rabbits, goats, sheep and a cow), composting it, and seeking to bring life back to the soil around our property that has been depleted of nearly all it essential nutrients. But this too touches on sustainability. I’d really like to get away from reliance on any outside-sourced fertilizers that we’ve heretofore used. This is a process that begins now, in the dry season, and culminates with the coming rains.

Another thing I’m currently studying upon is treating and tanning hides. A regular meat source for us is rabbits. They breed…well, like rabbits, and we’ve gotten to where we can easily eat a couple a week and still stay ahead of the curve. This means we end up with a lot of pelts. I hate to see them go to waste. Yet I’m woefully ignorant as to how to properly treat them. I’m especially interested in using the brain of the animal in question as the tanning agent.

Anyhow, these are just a few thoughts I’m having concerning the near future of my homesteading efforts. I will, as much as internet access allows, try to keep you posted on the progress!

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