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What a year!

Hey friends! I'm just reflecting on the past year and realizing, despite a corona virus pandemic, just how much was accomplished around the farmstead. Those of you who know me probably know that I have a hard time staying put in one location for too long. The initial lockdown this spring gave me a reason and a guilt-free excuse to hunker down at home here in Ohio and to make some big strides towards my goals of becoming a homesteader and fresh food producer and to see if I could eke a living out of this land that I'm blessed to care for. Here's a little recap of 2020 from Fruitdale Farm.

The year started off as usual...with maple sugaring season. This was my third year making maple syrup and I tapped 8 trees (up from 4 in previous years). My aim has been to collect just enough sap to produce syrup for my personal use through the year. This year I made enough to share with friends and family and even to sell a couple dozen bottles. The syrup was a hit, so now I need to up my game in 2021!

My hive of bees survived another winter! I also received a swarm from a friend, and then my own hive swarmed and I was able to catch it, so I had three hives buzzing in 2020.

In January, I was the luckiest girl in the world as I received a river permit to organize a noncommercial rafting trip through the Grand Canyon! A dream team assembled and we set out for our three week river adventure on March 5th (when the first few COVID-19 cases had been diagnosed in the US). We had the time of our friggin' lives down in that canyon! Little did we know that the coronavirus was taking off out there in the world above us. We got off the river on March 25th and reluctantly made our way back into civilization and a crazy new world, holding tight to any toilet paper and hand sanitizer leftover from the trip. As we neared the canyon rim, our phones came to life in an explosion of dings and buzzes. Hotel reservations and flights had been canceled for many of us but we all, somehow, managed to make it to our respectable homes across 7 states and two countries. I made it back to Fruitdale, the cats and the chickens on March 28th. Let the two-week mandatory quarantine begin. I am pretty content in my own company and with my quaint little life out here in the woods, so I welcomed it. A friend from the river trip joined me and we made the most of times.

Out of work for the foreseeable future, I decided that 2020 would be the year to establish a substantial vegetable garden. I accepted a couple of long term farm volunteers through WWOOF and together we broke new ground, established raised beds, sowed seeds and nurtured the plants to maturity. It was a learning year for me in the garden, working with clay-heavy soils and a lack of irrigation. We ended up taking our harvests to the summer farmer's market in Chillicothe, which was another wonderful learning experience. I also started an online ordering form for farm fresh produce and even built a little roadside farm stand. Lots of lessons learned on this front and I couldn't have done it without the help of a few amazing guys (Joe, Nick and Kevin... y'all are the greatest!).

I was able to complete the nature trail system and tackle some building projects, too! We built a little greenhouse, erected a timber frame cabin and then finished the interior of the sugar shack cabin and added a porch! We definitely worked very hard this summer, but we played just as hard! Daily pond swims and games of beersbee, sunset dinners by the pond, campfires and live music, new friends, disc golfing, kayaking and hikes. It's a blessed life, I tell ya.

2020 was a trying year as a chicken keeper... I had never had such a problem with raccoons as this year. They were just relentless. Every day, a new discovery of raccoon destruction.... they intimidated campers and ate their hot dog buns, ceaselessly got into the garbage and rolled the cans down into the ravine, ripped open my truck bed cover and had a feast of chicken feed, nightly marauded the gazebo kitchen and even opened jars of peanut butter, and... the last straw... murdered all of my chickens, except for one poor, traumatized gal who earned the name Aretha. I learned to kill, and suffered a brief stint of PTSD as a result. But the raccoons seem to have gotten the message, finally. I started over again by ordering 10 baby chicks in August... which just started laying eggs by the end of the year.

2020 was a fantastic year for my primitive campsites, which are listed on Hipcamp! It seems that everyone was going a bit stir crazy and needed a safe getaway into nature... so my campsites were booked up all summer and fall. I even added a 5th campsite. This supplemental income became my primary income for the year and I am so grateful for this opportunity. Not sure how I would have survived without it, honestly. I hosted hundreds of awesome campers and received so many wonderful reviews this year! I was even voted #1 Hipcamp in Ohio!

Another exciting thing that came to fruition in 2020 was being accepted into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) with NRCS. I'm learning that working with the government isn't really all that bad! I will actually receive financial incentives for the work I'm already doing to remove invasive plants and to plant more native species on my land. I now have a 10-year forestry management plan and have gotten started on removing the dying ash trees in my wooded areas and stocking up on firewood for upcoming years. Through this program, I will also be receiving some assistance to build a high tunnel to extend the growing season for my fresh veggies!

It has been one heck of a year! It has been a struggle for so many, I know.... I am just one that prefers to look on the bright side. Now, I'm so ready to get on with 2021 and, hopefully, see an end to the coronavirus pandemic. Feeling optimistic on so many levels. Stay safe and be kind out there!

*** click on the pics for a little slide show :)


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