When you think of homesteading, most people think of vast farms with huge tracts of land and oceans of grain or corn growing in the fields. But a homestead isn’t defined by how much land you have or by how much produce you grow. Homesteading is truly a mindset, a lifestyle, with a foundation in loving and preserving the earth and all its abundant resources. It is a way of living sustainably by using what is right there around you. One such person who epitomizes the homesteading lifestyle and mindset is Karen Smith. She is an active member of the South Hall, GA Chapter of LHG.
Almost everything Karen does has an air of conservation and an organic flair. She has learned a lot through trial and error. As an involved member of our LHG community, Karen openly shares her experience and knowledge, as well as her plants, seeds, and homesteading techniques with the South Hall Chapter.
Karen was an Agriculture Major focusing on Plant Sciences from the University of Connecticut. Karen grew up in Connecticut. Her interest in plant sciences stemmed from dabbling in gardening tomatoes, squash and raspberry bushes.
After college she met her husband, Steven, and they moved to Buford, GA. They were able to buy enough acres to have a few cows, plant fruit bushes and trees, raise chickens and a garden. She began composting and experimenting with soil and earthworms. As she learned more about organic gardening, she decided to stop tilling the soil, a practice which kills many of the micro-organisms that provide key plant nutrients.
"After giving homemade jelly to one of my boys' teachers, she asked me if I was from the country. I said, no, I am just an old hippie." ~ Karen Smith
Karen possesses a unique talent for reusing and repurposing old items on her homestead and has taught our Chapter many useful things about conservation. Last year, there was a serious drought in the southeast with 30 consecutive days without rain, a record in Georgia. This caused the loss of plants, as well as low food production, and severely impacted the native bee population.
To be more drought ready, Karen decided to make a rain gauge to determine if her plants were receiving enough rain. By using an old plastic peanut butter jar with the top removed, she attached a long metal gutter spike with a washer adhered with epoxy. The gutter spike was then stuck into the ground and leveled to hold the rain. From these homemade rain gauges, Karen could determine how much additional water the plants might need by keeping a record of the rainfall.
Then, with the help of her husband, she created a watering system for her blueberry bushes and tomatoes from five gallon buckets and a stiff old watering hose. By positioning the buckets atop poles, this created enough gravity to pull the water down through the hoses which had been punctured with nails to allow the water to slowly seep into the ground around her plants. As needed, they could simply fill the buckets and let gravity do the work.
Some of her water comes from the reuse of an assortment of food-grade plastic barrels she uses to catch rain water off of her shed. She attached an old washing machine hose to the lower part of the barrel and a valve to allow the release of the water. It’s an ingenious way to save water whether you have a well or are connected to the county water supply. (Check with your county or city to be sure it is acceptable to collect rainwater in your area.)
To help the bees, Karen attended a workshop on how to make nests for Orchard Mason bees and other solitary bees by using an open faced wren’s box or by reusing large baked beans cans. Either can be mounted, south-facing, on trees or other structures, out of the drip line. Then she inserted small rolls of newspaper, about the size of your finger bunched together, as the nesting for the bees. By creating a habitat for bees, Karen is helping the species flourish while also attracting pollinators for her plants.
Her efforts to deal with drought creatively by reusing and repurposing old items is an excellent example of homesteading know-how and perseverance. These qualities have enabled her to be successful and to endure life’s little curve balls. We are thankful for Karen and her willingness to share her homesteading journey, its challenges and solutions, with us. We continue to learn from her as well as from each other. That is, after all, what Ladies Homestead Gathering is all about, sharing and growing together.
If you have a special member, like Karen, tell us about her in the comments section. How does she demonstrate the qualities of community? What is her extraordinary talent? We love hearing from you.
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