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Designing a Wild Home

Improve Your Production During Winter

Megan WildWinter is a trying time for homesteaders and farmers, especially those who are new to the lifestyle. Not only do the severe weather and cold temperatures prevent you from planting and harvesting crops, but wintery conditions could damage your home or property.

Despite the pitfalls of the off-season, motivated and proactive farmers can still keep themselves busy. It might take a little bit of creativity and ingenuity, but there are ways to maintain productivity — and even increase it — during the winter.

Urban Farming & Gardening

Indoor farms and gardens are quickly gaining in popularity due to their low cost, compact nature, accessibility and aesthetic appeal. Considering that homeowners have been growing houseplants and even limited crops indoors for years, it only makes sense that this trend would catch on amongst homesteaders.

Growing crops indoors is also a viable option for those who have limited property to work with. Would-be farmers and homesteaders trapped within the confines of city life can try their hand at the trade before making a commitment and relocating into the countryside. And those who simply can't afford to move their families are still able to enjoy the hobby of gardening.

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Source: Pixabay

Taking Care of Your Livestock

Most of us bring our cats and dogs indoors when winter weather becomes too harsh. Unfortunately, this isn't a viable option when your farm includes pigs, cows, horses and other livestock. While you certainly can't bring them inside, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure they're comfortable during this time.

Start by inspecting the indoor livestock facilities you do have. Barns and other structures should be equipped with heating and proper ventilation as well as the correct feeding equipment to maintain the health of your animals during the winter. You can also take advantage of breaks in the weather to perform any necessary upgrades or large repairs to these structures.

Investing in Modern Equipment and Technology

The winter is a great time for capitalizing on the hard work put in during the spring, summer and fall. By investing in modern equipment and technology, you can ensure your readiness once the weather clears.

It's important to know exactly what you're looking for when you're perusing the market of modern equipment. Thankfully, the additional amount of time you spend indoors when it's cold can be put to good use by researching your equipment options, contacting local dealerships, and furthering your knowledge of technology in general.

Heavy-duty backhoes and excavators will get the job done, but their added size and expense might not be necessary when a smaller vehicle will do just fine. A skid steer loader, for example, is less expensive but also has multiple applications. Not only will it save some of your hard-earned dollars, but its versatility makes it a real workhorse all around the farm or homestead.

Performing Maintenance on Your Equipment

Many farmers take advantage of the winter to clean and maintain their fleet of farm implements. Some even take the time to design and build a full-scale workshop on their property, but old pole barns, sheds and garages can be used just as effectively. In either case, this ensures your equipment is ready to go as soon as the snow melts.

There are some key areas to inspect when maintaining your farm equipment. Changing the oil and any other fluids is essential to the long-term health of the vehicle's engine, which should also be examined closely for any excess wear or damage. Taking care of these responsibilities during the winter could potentially eliminate downtime during the prime farming season.

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Source: Pixabay

Planning Logistics for the Upcoming Season

Winter is also great for planning the logistics of your upcoming season. Livestock farmers in Australia, for example, have access to a number of IT tools that help them optimize shipments, determine delivery routes and even locate cattle. All of these strategies are meant to improve the overall healthiness and efficiency of the beef industry as a whole.

You can also take this time to layout schedules and timelines for the planting and harvesting of crops. Taking care of details like this during the off-season works wonders when trying to maintain your productivity year-round.

Following Mother Nature's Lead

Just like generations past, it's important that modern farmers and homesteaders heed the suggestions and warnings of Mother Nature. What seems like dull, idle downtime can actually be turned into a worthwhile and productive opportunity for future growth.

Preparing for A Year of Low Rain

Megan WildDroughts are a worsening concern for large areas of the United States and many other places around the world. Both California and huge swaths of Australia suffered record-breaking droughts last year. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like this year is going to be much better.

It may be difficult to make certain plans months ahead as far as weather is concerned, but it’s still best to know what to do. In this case, if you live in an area where you’re at a high risk for drought, then it’s best to start planning now.

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Source: Unsplash

Regulate Water Supply

If you use a well, you should start to be aware of how much water you use on a daily basis. This is especially true during the winter, when you aren’t watering plants outside.

Keep track of how much water you use; then you can start to make small changes to conserve it. Take shorter showers, check for and fix any leaks, and harvest all the rainwater you can. You can store it in barrels, and if you’re using it on the plants and not for consumption, you don’t have to worry about treating it.

Harvesting and storing rainwater is actually a pretty simple but useful task. If you set it up, all you have to do is move the barrels when it rains and replace them with new ones. Then the full barrels simply wait until they’re needed, and you have a backup supply of water! To do this, simply get an appropriate barrel. You can buy them specifically for this, or you can make your own. Either way, make sure it’s clean, has a lid and a spigot, and is opaque. Not allowing light in helps reduce the risk of algae growth and keeps your water cleaner. Then, simply adjust your gutters to flow into the barrel, and remove it when it’s full.

If you want to be extra cautious, add a mosquito-egg repellant to the water, but be aware that this makes it very unsafe for human consumption!

Have a Backup Plan

When you know that you’re likely to face a hardship, despite all the planning you can do, it’s still best to have a backup plan. There are things that happen that you simply don’t have any control over. If your life and livelihood depend on getting enough water to your homestead, you don’t want to be stuck without a backup.

If you need to, have a plan to get water delivered. A water truck delivery is a cost-effective, durable, and reliable way to transport water, and a great way to get it to your homestead.

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Source: Unsplash

Prepare Decent Soil

Hopefully, if you’re homesteading, your soil is already in good shape. However, you may need to make some alterations in order to prepare it for a lack of rainfall. You can do this in part by changing how you plant. Using techniques like companion planting and cover crops can help expand your soil’s ability to retain water.

Companion planting is where you plant items together that do well in close proximity. This can be for a variety of reasons — either they need different nutrients from the soil, their roots hit different depths, or they might repel bugs that are attracted to others nearby. Typically, you can plant in a way that combines these effects and allows the plants to grow to their fullest potential without any additional work from you.

Combine this with cover plants, which are usually a low-growing, shallow root plant, and you can also suppress weeds and add nutrients to the soil. Less competition from weeds helps to make sure your plants get enough water, and when the ground cover dies off, it acts as a natural fertilizer.

Preparing your soil this way can improve its ability to retain water, making the most use of the rainfall and your watering practices.

Improve Irrigation Practices

If you’re used to spraying water on your crops, you can quickly and easily improve your efficiency by changing to drip or micro irrigation. Drip irrigation does involve a bit of a purchase. You need a drip hose, which you then run through the plants. It delivers water straight to the soil as opposed to having it run off the leaves or evaporate under the sun.

It can be done with low-pressure water systems, too, so even if your well gets low, you can still get your plants watered. The most important aspect is that it delivers water directly to the roots of the plant. Low-flow irrigation is incredibly effective and allows you to save a ton of water. You can combine it with companion planting and cover crops and double the water conservation!

While global warming is an increasing concern, you can do a lot to prepare yourself for the effects. Learning how to make the most of your water is a vital skill for anyone, and it’s getting more and more effective.

6 Water Management Tips for Farming

Megan WildThere is no shame in hopping on the sustainability train when it comes to your farming. Running a farm takes time, effort, and is no easy day job. It’s a lifestyle. That’s why you want to make sure your farm is up to the best standards, especially when it comes to water management.

Water is essential to life, and without it you wouldn’t have a farm or any irrigation. Here are six ways you can better manage water on your farm:

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Source: Pexels

1. Rainwater Harvesting

It’s no surprise that farmers have great knowledge about how to harvest their crops, but do you as a farmer know how to harvest rain? Harvesting rainwater is a simple way to capture and store natural water. You can collect rainwater in various containers — such as barrels or tanks — that sit below a catchment area where the rain runs off and into the container.

Rainwater can easily be recycled and used for irrigation on your farm or as water for your animals. It can even be used to shower and bathe in your home. Not only does it have environmental benefits, like reducing the threat of flooding on your landscape, but the economic benefit of lower utility bills can also help you save each year.

2. Grade Control Systems

Farmers have to put in hard work to make sure their fields and land are elevated properly and will drain well so that the fields don’t flood. Grade control systems are automated pieces of equipment that connect to the machine farmers use for this process. These systems can help farmers improve productivity and accuracy by up to 50 percent, which is a win for the environment and for your pocketbook.

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Source: Pexels

3. Organic Farming

To ensure that crops pass a certain standard, farmers have to spray their crops with chemicals and pesticides. This type of farming is actually dangerous for water sources due to polluting the water supply. Irrigation channels water to the crops and into the soil, and this can contaminate water when pesticides are used on a farm.

Organic farming supports the environment and makes a huge impact on water conservation. If farmers can cease using pesticides, the risk of polluted waters is reduced, which means the water supply remains clean.

4. Mother Nature’s Course

Weather can certainly be a tricky thing, and you can’t always trust what the weather report says. However, there are apps farmers can use to efficiently manage their water usage. One app can even predict, down to the minute, whether it’s going to rain.

If more farmers followed the weather closely and allowed Mother Nature to naturally bring water to their farm, there would be better water conservation in the farming industry as a whole. Following things such as precipitation, soil moisture, and temperature is an important factor of running a farm efficiently without wasting water.

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Source: Pexels

5. Proper Rotation

When crops grow, they require certain amounts of nutrients and soil quality which then decrease from the soil. For the soil to retain the quality it needs, crops must be rotated. It not only keeps the soil healthy, but proper crop rotation conserves water in the process. During the rotation, farmers should be mindful to play water-absorbing plants during a rainy season and dry crops during a dry season.

Another rotation vital to water management on a farm is the rotation of grazing animals, which can benefit farming in a few ways. As animals graze, they are minimizing weeds and promoting regrowth of grass. They can also help the pasture become drought-resistant due to proper water runoff and ensure the soil doesn’t absorb too much water.

6. Buffers for Conservation

Buffers work a few ways on farms; they are small pieces of land that protect the environment from pollutants and allow farmers to control soil erosion with water. Conservation buffers are available through USDA programs that can help farmers pass regulations or requirements for their farm.

Buffers have many benefits, including the reduction of flooding and the conservation of energy. While they are great for the environment, they are also great for  animals and farmers. They provide livestock with safety from harsh weather. They also increase productivity for farmers, because they help manage the land that the farm is on. Without buffers, farmers would have to put in more energy and work into their land and water management.

Increased water efficiency on your farm will change many things. It will have a better impact on the environment and can reduce your carbon footprint. It can also allow for more flexibility with the finances on your farm. And last, but certainly not least, it will help you manage the water in better ways to maximize efficiency and productivity on your farm.

6 Popular Rustic Décor Trends This Year

Megan WildThere’s something about rustic, vintage décor inside your home that gives you that Southern-comfort feeling. People fall in love with antique styles and accents that help give their home a fresh, farm look. As trends come and go, there are a few you’re sure to see this year when it comes to farm décor:

Gallery Walls

It’s just not chic to have one or two picture frames on a wall anymore. Gallery walls are in, and they include more than just picture frames. Any unique and antique treasure you find can be incorporated on your gallery wall.

The key is to keep the theme simple and the colors similar. The wall should be filled with minimal space between each hanging. This look creates a vintage vibe, but it makes your wall look like a beautiful, large, focal point in a home.

It’s easy to add sentimental items to the wall as well. A monogram, for instance, is a great piece to include. You can also find vintage signs, printed quotes, or even black-and-white profile silhouettes to give your wall that farm feel.

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Source: Pexels

Exposed Brick Fireplace

When remodeling a house, people often think to get rid of the brick. However, exposed brick is making a comeback. People want that rustic red look, and it looks amazing when it’s around a fireplace. Staying home is the new going out, so why not sit around a brick fireplace?

It’s the perfect way to spend time with friends and family. Having a brick fireplace and a cozy-looking mantel can make anyone feel comfortable inside your home. For a trendy look, try putting a television above the mantel and pairing it with vases, books, or other vintage treasures.

Classic Storage Ottomans

Having enough seating in a home isn’t always easy, and it often takes up a lot of space. Then, if you have blankets, magazines, or craft supplies, they need a place to go. Storage ottomans pull double-duty, providing an extra place to sit as well as to put things in.

Storage ottomans also come in a wide variety, so you’re sure to find the right size and color for your space. They’re a classic way to add a modern item and a timeless look in your home.

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Source: Pexels

Reclaimed Barn Wood

The best thing about reclaimed wood is that there are so many ways you can use it to decorate. Whether it’s an entire wall of barn wood, the side panels of your kitchen island, or even around a fireplace, reclaimed wood is a simple addition.

Barn wood is the best way to reclaim actual, farm-found treasure, but you don’t have to decorate with barn wood specifically. If you can’t find affordable barn wood, pallets are the best way to go. Pallets can give you a similar look with the same rustic feel. They’re easy to reclaim, and they aren’t costly!

White-Washed Shiplap

Joanna Gaines from the well-known “Fixer Upper” television show is the queen of farmhouse décor. She is the epitome of goals when it comes to a well-designed interior — especially shiplap — and America has fallen in love with it. The popular look of shiplap is white, but you can also leave it as its natural color. On the show, shiplap is found in Texas homes, but it’s easy to recreate. You may not be able to have the authentic version, but you can definitely install shiplap look-a-like walls in your home.

Let your inner Joanna Gaines run wild, and get your shiplap on.

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Source: Pexels

Mason Jar Succulents

Mason jars are the stereotypical, easy, Southern decoration that anyone can use in their home. Another easy item would be succulents, and when it comes to farm décor, they pair with mason jars quite nicely.

You can use antique blue, green, or clear mason jars — or whichever color suits your style best. Succulents are easy to plant inside the mason jar, and they’re even easier to keep alive. The plants give your home an outdoorsy, fresh look.

Farmhouse décor is a popular look inside homes. Natural lighting can make a room look great, but the decorations that fill the room can make it look even better. Antique and vintage keepsakes have been the inspiration behind any room that has a farm feel to it. People simply can’t get enough of a rustic look for their home, and it’s easy to see why.

6 Tips to Transition From Garden Plot to Homestead

Megan WildIf you already love gardening, then upgrading your passion to a homestead is a great way to live a more sustainable lifestyle and turn your hobby into a potential moneymaker. Whether you’re dying to start a small, farm-stand business or you just want to raise your own food and lower your carbon footprint a bit, make sure you’re prepared to make the leap.

Here’s how to begin turning your garden into a large-scale homestead:

Go Slow

There’s no rule that says you need to get out there and turn acres and acres of land into arable fields in just one season. First, consider how much time you put into your current garden chores on a weekly basis and decide how much additional time you care to spend on these activities. If you can double your time, go ahead and double your planting area. If you can only spend 25 percent more time outdoors, then only increase your planting area by 25 percent. Biting off more than you can chew will only frustrate you.

Set Your Goals

What is it that you hope to gain from your homestead? If you’re planning a cash crop to take to farmers markets, spend some time researching your local market scene so you know what niches need to be filled. If you prefer subsistence farming, calculate what your family needs for a year of good eating to plan your year’s crops.

Be clear about your financial priorities before you start to build your homestead, as your monetary goals — and current financial reality — will inform your plans to expand.

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Source: Unsplash

Add Animals

The main difference between a suburban garden plot and a bona fide homestead is livestock. Animals have many uses on the homestead, including providing food, clothing, and labor. If you have no experience raising farm animals, it’s best to start with chickens, which are easy to care for, take up little room, and don’t require butchering skills if you raise them only for eggs.

Other small animals to consider include:

• Ducks
• Turkeys
• Rabbits
• Honeybees

As you gain confidence in your animal husbandry skills — and if you have sufficient acreage — you can consider adding larger animals that require more care. Bear in mind that the following animals will require more dedication to your homestead. For example, dairy animals need daily milking.

• Goats
• Sheep
• Llamas and alpacas
• Pigs
• Cows

You may also enjoy keeping working animals like horses, sheepdogs, and barn cats on your property. Just remember that each animal you take on requires additional care and feeding.

Invest in Equipment

As the size of your homestead grows, so too will your need for tools, equipment, and machinery to care for it all. Unless you plan to use a draft horse and an old-fashioned plow for your fieldwork, you’ll need to invest in several pieces of equipment including mowers, reapers, and spreaders.

Big farm equipment can be overwhelming if you’ve never used it before, so shop for equipment like this spreader first, which is great for small applications, like on a homestead. You can always trade in your equipment for even bigger pieces as you expand, but it’s a good idea not to overspend on these machines, which also require upkeep and storage on your property.

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Source: Unsplash

Consider the Land

Once you’ve begun to expand your garden into a bigger homestead and know it’s the right lifestyle for you, you may find yourself running out of room — or bumping up against local zoning restrictions that limit your farming activities. If you want to expand, shop for land that has existing access roads, sufficient fresh water sources, and the zoning you need for your homesteading activities.

An existing farm that needs some updating can be a great bargain, but be sure to calculate your expenses for renovating first. If you’re willing to move and to put in sweat equity to refinish an old house or reinvigorate the land, you’ll be in a position to live the homesteading dream in the long term.

Be Ready for Surprises

Even the best-laid plans don’t always turn out the way you expect, and this is doubly true on a homestead where you’ll be at the mercy of the weather and local conditions. There will be times when plants die and animals are lost to local predators, no matter how much preparation you put into your irrigation and fencing.

Homesteading requires flexibility and the willingness to try again in the face of failure, so make sure you have the personality for this all-consuming and unpredictable lifestyle before you expand.

Few things are as satisfying as growing your own food and living a self-sufficient life. If the idea of learning new skills appeals to you, and you want to do your part to live more sustainably for the good of the planet, expanding that lush garden plot into a homestead filled with life can be an incredibly rewarding path to take.

Prevent Equipment Accidents During the Winter

Megan WildAll across the country, folks are embracing the "farm to table" concept when dining out, which has restaurants sourcing local farms. It’s a boost for those farms and helps the consumer feel good about supporting their community's economy.

But the phrase "farm to table" implies a certain amount of freshness that patrons appreciate, and it doesn't hurt to know where your food comes from. What those satisfied diners might not know is the risk associated with getting that food onto the table. Farming remains one of the "most dangerous occupations" in the country, and as the operator of a farm, you need to take extra precautions every time you step out of the house.

Here are some tips to keep in mind that can help prevent farm equipment accidents:

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Source: Pexels

Don't Rush

Farmers often play a version of "beat the clock" when it comes to protecting crops and livestock from a quick-moving weather system. Even getting the animals back into the barn in a small rainstorm can lead to farmers rushing to get the job done.

If you feel like you're rushing, then stop and slow down. This applies to working with equipment, too. Suppose you're in a hurry to bring a crop in, and your thrasher gets jammed. The "fast fix" is to reach your hand in to pull out the debris. Instead, stop and take the time to use a stick or other tool to clear that machine. It just takes a few seconds, and it could literally save your hand. Maybe you should consider carrying a big stick!

Practice Preventative Maintenance

Wouldn't it be great if your tractor could tell you when it’s breaking down? Unfortunately, not every piece of farm equipment comes with a version of a "check engine" light. That’s why you need to remain vigilant. At the beginning and end of farming season is a good time to check your equipment.

Remember: Preventative maintenance inspections prevent major failure. It's all about staying ahead of the potential trouble.

Look Out for Blind Spots

The moment you climb onto a piece of heavy equipment, you’re strapping into a massive blind spot. It’s often a challenge to see areas to the side of or behind the machine.

This is why you need to take precautions and know exactly where other workers are standing. You need to make visitors aware of those blind spots so that they don't step into them. This is something that you also need to teach your children from an early age.

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Source: Pexels

Install Machine Guarding

One of the most accident-prone pieces of equipment on a farm is also the most frequently used — a tractor. The older the tractor, the more likely it is that there could be trouble with a rollover. That’s because the older models don't have machine guarding add-ons, like a rollover bar. Even a seatbelt will go a long way towards protecting you in the event of a rollover. These machine guarding add-ons can also be adapted to many other pieces of farm equipment.

Only Store Dry Grain

If you're storing grain in a silo, it’s important that the grain is dry. This ensures that it can flow freely without clumping. When it does clump, the inclination is to climb in to free the flow. That’s when entrapment accidents occur. This can be a major problem for someone who’s working alone on the farm.

Deploy Flashers/Emblems While on the Road

Not every accident involving farm equipment actually happens on the farm. Sometimes you might be required to ride your equipment down the road. The moment you turn onto a public road, you should hit the flashers. You also want to make sure your equipment displays a Slow Moving Vehicle emblem.

There might be some drivers who aren't happy about getting stuck behind a slow-moving tractor. That’s really their problem and not yours. You should never try to speed up or pull over on a dangerous shoulder just to accommodate them. They'll get to where they need to go soon enough.

As a final note on farm accident prevention, remember that it could also help to make sure you have a solid evacuation plan in case of severe weather, such as a hurricane or tornado. Everyone working on the farm should be aware of that plan, and be briefed in advance of any expectations you have for them.

A few extra steps go a long way toward keeping everyone on the farm safe.

Removing Rust From Outdoor Décor

With outdoor living areas remaining a hot trend for the foreseeable future, many people are turning their patios and decks into living spaces that they use for most of the year — not just for a few summer barbecues. Even in northern climates you can outfit your patio with a fire pit or propane heaters and enjoy a cup of cocoa outside well past Thanksgiving, if you like.

With all that extra time out in the elements, though, your patio furniture and décor is much more likely to rust. To keep your space clean and inviting, it’s a good idea to spend some time sprucing up those metal surfaces. Luckily, removing rust is a DIY job that just about anybody can handle. Here’s how to do it:

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Source: Pexels

The Non-Toxic Rust Removers

It’s always best to start with the gentlest methods and work up from there if needed. Choosing a natural solution will be safer for people and pets in the area, and it’s cheaper, too. In general, most rust removal methods require an acid to break down the rust and an abrasive to scrub it away. Try one or more of the following methods with things you have around the house, first:

Vinegar: Soak smaller items overnight, or use a rag to wipe vinegar over large swaths of furniture and allow to set for 24 hours. Light rust will dissolve and simply rinse away when you hose it off. Just be sure to do so in the grass to avoid staining your walkways.

Citrus and salt: To add a little oomph, make a paste of salt and lemon or lime juice to cover rusty patches. Allow to set for several hours, and then use the citrus rind as a scrubbing tool to brush away the rust. Rinse thoroughly.

Baking soda: You can also try a paste of baking soda and water. Apply to rusty areas and allow to set for a few hours, then scrub away the rust with a toothbrush or wad of aluminum foil. Rinse well.

Chemical Rust Removers

If your rust problems are too severe for the natural methods above, or if they’re just too large to scrub away at with kitchen ingredients, you can purchase a chemical rust remover to do the job. These solutions typically contain phosphoric or hydrochloric acid and emit pretty noxious fumes, so you’ll definitely want to use them outdoors for good ventilation. You’ll also need protective gloves to protect your skin.

Always follow the directions of the label, but most of these solutions are simply applied to the rust and allowed to set and break down the rust. You may need to scrape away the rust with a wire brush afterwards, and sometimes pockmarks are left behind. It’s a good idea to do a test application in an inconspicuous spot to see how the chemical will react with any finish on your metal first.

Mechanical Rust Removers

In some situations, it’s better or more efficient to avoid the chemicals and use abrasive methods instead. Think of this as a large-scale version of using your toothbrush to scrub away small spots of rust. For big jobs, special machinery can grind or sandblast rust away in a fraction of the time it would take you to do it with elbow grease alone.

In severe situations, a job shop can complete this task of removing rust from outdoor furniture with excellent results; you might not recognize your shiny new pieces when you bring them home from their trip to the metal works spa! If you love your furniture and don’t feel you can replace it with a replica or in a cost-effective way, professional rust removal may be perfect for you.

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Source: Unsplash

Closing Thoughts

No matter what method of rust removal ultimately gets the job done for you, having clean, rust-free, outdoor furniture and décor will make your patio living area more inviting. With a place to sit and relax, you’ll enjoy many hours of good times and great conversations with family and friends.