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Living Life Green

How to Start a Homestead Orchard

Bobbi Peterson 

Fruit trees can add beauty and produce food for your homestead.

Living on a homestead means you are trying to be self-sufficient and produce your own food. One way to do this is to create an orchard that will give you fruit or nuts to enjoy year after year. However, when deciding to develop an orchard on your homestead, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure its success.

1. Decide Where to Put the Orchard

The success of your orchard will depend on how much space you can dedicate to developing it. Examine your property and figure out where you would like to put your trees and/or bushes that will give them optimal sunlight, soil, and water. As you decide where to put your orchard, remember that, as the trees mature, their crowns and roots will get larger and spread.

Place them in an area where you don’t mind that they will be covered in shadow, and the branches can’t damage buildings and aren’t near power lines or underground pipes, like sewer or water pipes, that the roots can damage.

You’ll also need to make sure the soil in this area can sustain and nurture your orchard. There are ways to test the soil to ensure it has the proper nutrients, and, if not, there are rehabilitation techniques to get the ground in shape to support the trees.

2. Decide What Type of Trees You’d Like to Plant

Once you’ve decided where you’d like to place your orchard, decide what kinds of trees you’d like to plant. At this point, you can have as much fun with the process as you’d like. Talk to your family about what kinds of fruit they would like to grow, then add them to your list.

3. Figure out Which Trees Will Be the Most Successful in Your Area

Once you have a list of trees you’d like to plant, figure out which ones will be the most successful in your area. Knowing what your gardening zone is and what plant hardiness zone you are in will help you figure out which trees will work best. Talking to local greenhouses or county extension offices will help you discover which plants will thrive in your area and which won’t.

There are a variety of different trees that you can get at this point, including full-sized trees, dwarf trees, and trees that you can keep in pots — all of which might be incredibly successful at producing fruit. To decide which tree is right for your property, you’ll need to keep in mind how much space you have for your orchard and how you want the orchard to impact your property.

4. Know Which Trees Are Self-Pollinating

This is important because, for trees that need to be pollinated, they won’t produce fruit unless there are at least two trees on the property to allow for cross pollination. This could affect how much space you’ll need for your orchard and the types of trees you get. For pollinating trees to be successful, you’ll need two different varieties that bloom at the same time.

For trees that self-pollinate, you don’t have to worry about getting a second tree because the tree will flower, pollinate, and produce fruit by itself.

5. Keep in Mind the Amount of Fruit Your Orchard Will Produce

Having a homestead orchard is a great way to grow your own fruit, but you’ll need to keep in mind that the different sizes of trees you have on your property will produce various amounts of fruit — some of which can be quite a lot. This will be something you’ll need to keep in mind when deciding how much fruit your family will need and if you plan on selling/giving away the excess.

Your homestead orchard can be a wonderful addition to your property, adding aesthetic value and fruit production. Deciding which types of trees you want and which ones will thrive in your growing area will ensure your orchard is successful and fruitful.

orchard
Photo by Adobe Stock/ma510na

4 Ways to Prevent Lawn Erosion

Bobbi PetersonAccording to Daniel Defoe, "Things as certain as death and taxes can be more firmly believed." However, there's at least one other experience we have in common: soil erosion.

The bane of gardeners and lawn enthusiasts alike, erosion is caused when rain, wind, or snowmelt wears away the soil from a slope. This uncovers more vulnerable soil, exposes tree roots, and forms swampy patches. What are those of us with green thumbs supposed to do? How can you protect your lawn and keep your hard work from going to waste? Read on for four ways to combat erosion in your yard.

1. Construct Some Edging

That puddling, swampy effect that signals erosion is due to over-saturated soil. Basically, the other areas of your lawn can't hold any more water, causing it to run and pool in lower-lying areas and taking soil with it. Fortunately, there are several ways to mitigate this.

The first option is to build a retaining wall around plant beds. Installing these walls a few inches deep in the soil physically prevents the water from migrating to other areas. Additionally, they'll keep the water closer to the bed, letting your plants gradually use it up.

The second option is to terrace the troublesome slope. To do this, you'll level off sections in the hill and create an incline that resembles stairs. The flat parts will allow the water to absorb into the soil rather than flowing away. You should put plants in those areas to increase the absorption.

2. Hydroseeding

If you're not too keen on the construction needed for edging and terracing, hydroseeding may just be the option for you. Hydroseeding works by spraying troublesome areas with a mixture of moisture retention polymers, fertilizer, biostimulants, and other ingredients. This slurry helps control erosion and establishes plant life.

Because the slurry contains moisture retention agents, it will help absorb excess water for some time after it's applied. This water will then nourish the seeds contained within the slurry, promoting rapid growth. While most plants offer protection against erosion, some work better than others, so be sure to choose the best variety for you.

3. Plants for Erosion Control

If you'd prefer a more organic method, using small or large plants to hold soil in place is highly effective. Cover crops — plants that enrich the soil when tilled in — are great options. This category covers rye, clover, vetch, and other such plants. These types have net-like roots, which hold soil and prevent weeds.

You can also use ground cover plants for erosion control. The more ornamental varieties include ivy, periwinkle, creeping juniper, and weeping forsythia. If you prefer plain old grass, try timothy grass, foxtail, or smooth brome.

For extra effectiveness, you may want to sow your chosen ground cover using hydroseeding, to ensure the seeds aren't washed away in the next rain.

4. Rain Gardens

A rain garden requires a good bit of planning and hard work, but it's yet another natural way to take alleviate erosion. You'll want to place the garden in a low-lying area to maximize absorption.

Start by digging your garden 4 to 8 inches deep and enrich the soil with compost. At this point, you can add in some edging for extra retention. Populate your garden, preferably with deep-rooted native species, and cover with mulch. It's recommended that you use large wood chips, which absorb more water and prevent weeds. With the proper maintenance, your rain garden will provide natural drainage for years to come.

Follow these four tips, and erosion will become a thing of the past in your garden. Though you’ll still have to deal with taxes, you’ll soon see the benefit erosion control brings to your life.

Terraced garden slope
Photo by Adobe Stock/victor217

Buying vs. Leasing Solar Panels

Bobbi PetersonAdding solar panels to your house or business is a wonderful way to go green and reduce dependence on grid power. But you still have some tough decisions ahead of you. One of the most important ones is whether you should buy or lease the solar panels themselves. Each method has pros and cons that require careful consideration.

Leasing Your Panels

When you lease your solar panels, you don’t have to deal with the responsibility that comes with ownership. Typically, the solar company will install them for you, and they’ll be responsible for maintenance. Although you’ll have to pay them a monthly fee as part of this agreement, on the surface it seems like a better option than paying for panels outright.

This isn’t to say that you won’t save money. You most certainly will, though it won’t be all that much. When you lease your panels, the company gets any tax benefits you would have received. On top of that, they very well could raise your rates after an initial period.

One thing you’ll have to be extremely careful about is the length of the lease versus the time you plan to spend in your current home. If you want to move, you’ll either have to buy out your lease at a price set by the company, or the new buyers will have to agree to take it over. Although solar is attractive to hopeful homeowners, the loss of control through the lease is a highly off-putting factor.

Buying Your Panels

When you buy your solar panels outright, you have to pay the costs upfront plus figure out who will do the installation and maintenance. However, you get to keep all the federal and state incentives that would have gone to the leasing company. This includes the government’s 30 percent purchase cover and whatever state and local grants, rebates, and subsidies you qualify for.

Depending on where you live, you may even be able to generate some additional cash through the panels. In some areas, you can get Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) through the EPA. You get one SREC for every megawatt-hour of electricity you generate. You can then sell this certificate, helping to mitigate the cost of the panels and generating a profit after you’ve fully paid for them.

Most solar panels last around 25 years. Over the course of those years, a careful homeowner can easily recoup their costs. Even factoring in maintenance and potential insurance costs, the savings are substantial. On top of that, they’ll enjoy energy independence and little to no dues to the power company — though leasers will see some of these benefits, too.

One hidden benefit of buying your panels is that you have total control over where they’re placed. A solar leasing company will want to get the most profits they can. This means they may insist on putting panels less than aesthetic places — like the street-facing side of your roof. By buying your own panels and working closely with the installation company, you can strike a balance between placement and effectiveness.

Enjoy the Savings of Solar

Although the cost of solar panels has gone down in recent years, investing in green energy is still a big step for many homeowners. No matter what options you choose — buying or leasing — you’ll be one step closer to energy independence.

Though buying offers longer time financial gain, leasing still means energy savings and a lower carbon footprint. What matters most is that you choose the option that’s best for you. Just make sure you’re confident in your decision before committing to and installing your panels.

Solar panels on house
Photo by Adobe Stock/Smileus

Upcycle Old Windows Into a New Greenhouse

Bobbi PetersonThere are many advantages to owning your own greenhouse, such as expanding your growing season and isolating your plants from damage caused by insects, rodents, and other pests, but building a greenhouse can be quite expensive.

The average cost to build a greenhouse in the United States is 13,893 dollars, but the amount can vary widely, from 5,000 all the way up to 25,300 dollars. One way you can keep costs down and make your greenhouse truly green is by upcycling old windows for at least part of your project.

How Much Room Do You Really Need?

If you want to build a greenhouse completely out of old windows, imagine how much space you need. Do you simply want somewhere to grow seedlings until the weather is warm enough to plant them in the ground? Do you want to grow specific foods for your family?

Unless you’re selling produce or plants, you likely don’t need the largest greenhouse and can get by with a smaller setup. For example, you can build a playhouse-sized structure out of differing window frame sizes. Even if the glass is broken out of some of them, you can replace and caulk around the edges to create a cozy, warm spot for your plants.

To build a simple structure, fit the windows together almost like a puzzle and add a simple metal roof to keep the rain out.

Steps to Take

Once you’ve decided on the size, there are some specific steps you’ll take to create your upcycled greenhouse. Check your local area about building permits before starting.

1. Gather equal sized windows for all sides of your greenhouse. If you want a greenhouse that is nine feet tall, you’ll need enough windows to equal that height. The windows can have different looks to them, but the sizing should be similar for parallel sides.

2. Create a squared frame out of 2x4s. These will hold the windows, so you want to make sure your frame is as sturdy as possible. Start by placing 4x4s in each of the four corners. To make the greenhouse even sturdier, place the corner posts in concrete and at least a foot down into the ground. Then add the 2x4s.

3. Brace the walls while you stabilize the foundation. This might include pouring concrete or adding cinder blocks.

4. Use heavy duty screws to secure the windows to the frame. Remember to use similar sized windows on opposite sides. You are essentially putting a puzzle together, so each project will vary widely. As the old saying goes, "measure twice and cut once," or in this case, measure twice and screw in place once.

5. Add flooring. Rocks work well, as they drain when you water your plants. They will help store additional heat, keeping your greenhouse at the perfect temperature.

6. Add a roof out of lightweight material or additional windows. You’ll need to build a frame to do this, and be very careful as you don’t want windows falling down on you. Make sure the roof is at a pitch so rain will run off the sides.

7. Caulk any cracks so the greenhouse is airtight.

Get Creative

Building a greenhouse out of old materials requires a lot of creativity. You may need to adjust the size and shape of your greenhouse to match the materials you can get cheaply or for free. With a little planning, you can build your own greenhouse for a fraction of the cost of buying a commercial one.

Greenhouse with open windows
Photo by Adobe Stock/biker3

Farm Caretakers, Renters, and WWOOFers

Bobbi PetersonAs a farmer, there are a lot of ways to make a little extra money or get a little extra help around the farm. Whatever your reasons for looking at alternative options, there are plenty to choose from. Hiring caretakers, taking on renters, and offering volunteer opportunities are all good ways to bring in some additional income.

Farm Caretakers

Owning a farm is a great job. You learn new things practically every day, meet new people, and even learn some basic veterinary care. Despite the numerous benefits, there are often reasons that you may need to leave your farm.

When you do need to leave, someone still needs to be there to care for it. The upkeep of the land, animals, and buildings will still be your responsibility. However, you can get someone to stay, keep an eye on things, and fix small problems in your absence. While you’re gone, this person should update the farm’s records as well, so make sure you determine your caretaker’s record-keeping abilities.

The good news is that if you do need to leave, you can hire someone for this job and spend the time doing whatever it is that you need to focus on. Depending on the position, you may also need to provide the caretaker with a basic income, although it should small since they already get to live there.

This is a great opportunity for someone who likes farm work, understands it, and is willing and able to work on their own. The downside, of course, is that you have to leave your farm with a relative stranger. If it’s a big farm, it might be too much for one person. In the best situations you would stay relatively close-by in order to help in case of an emergency. However, many caretakers would expect to take over the daily tasks for a season or a few months. That could be a great place to start.

Renting a Room

Renting out your room can be a bit of a gamble. You’re taking a risk bringing someone into your home, but it’s important to remember that most people are good and decent. A bit of vetting before letting someone move into your home can go a long way toward keeping out people you won’t be able to get along with.

Before anyone moves in, make sure you have an idea of what you expect from the arrangement. Having to share all the communal areas can be awkward at first, but you can ease that by agreeing on expected duties and chores ahead of time. Plan for who cooks when, grocery shopping, cleaning, and all the other daily chores that have to get done. Just because someone is paying to live there doesn’t mean you’re their maid.

Just like any other rental agreement, make sure you get everything in writing. In some states verbal agreements are considered binding, but having something on paper prevents more mishaps. Most of the information can be gathered by simply having potential renters fill out a rental application form. With this you can get references, learn basic living habits like whether or not they smoke, find out if they have any pets, and establish a basic rental fee.

WWOOFers

Of the options here, this is the least heard of. WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or Willing Workers on Organic Farms) is a relatively new organization; it came about as a startup to promote organic farming and ecotourism at the same time. Essentially, the idea is to connect people who want to live and work on organic farms with farms that are looking for help.

The WWOOFer volunteer will work on the organic farm, presumably yours. In return, the hosts offer a place to live, food, and learning opportunities. The coolest thing about this is that they deal with organic farms all over the world. If a potential volunteer can get there, they can live and work there. No matter where you are, you can use this organization to find volunteers. As the host, you would provide food, accommodations, and learning opportunities.

These are three very different ways to bring in additional income or extra help, but they all come with benefits, including meeting new friends and offering learning opportunities. Each requires a slightly different skill set and knowledge base, so make sure you choose the option that suits you best. Once you do, you can embark on a new adventure!

Farm workers with livestock
Photo by Adobe Stock/caftor

Bring Sustainability to Your Farm

Bobbi PetersonIs a sustainable farm the same as an organic farm? Though these two terms are often co-mingled under the umbrella of "green" farming, they mean different things. Here's the breakdown: Organic means growing food without chemical additives, like pesticides or hormones. Sustainable means using the land in such a way that growth can continue, leaving the environment unharmed for future growth. 

Another way of looking at it is to think of organic as "clean" and sustainability as a "loop." Successful sustainability comes down to careful planning.

Here are some ways to bring sustainability to your farm:

1. Eliminate Waste

How is that possible? You're always throwing away trash, right? The key is where you throw it. Let's assume you're recycling all your paper, plastic, aluminum, and glass products in a weekly recycle pickup. If your municipality doesn't provide for that kind of pickup, set up your own recycle bins and do a drop off at a center when they're full.

Then, consider all the food scraps you're "throwing" away. Some of those scraps could end up as feed for your farm animals. Most of the rest can go into a compost bin. With the help of some friendly composting worms, your food scraps become organic fertilizer used to grow even more — the loop of sustainability.

2. Rotate Crops

To understand how to rotate crops properly, you need to understand the monoculture vs. polyculture debate. Monoculture will have you growing one crop on the same plot of land every season. The crop you plant, however, is going to pull out all the rich nutrients from the soil. That means you'll have to replace them with additives. That's not very sustainable.

Polyculture means replenishing those nutrients as you go by planting different crops on the same plot of land. Soybeans and legumes are great for that purpose. This doesn't mean you're switching out crops every year, though. For instance, you could grow four years of corn before making the swap to legumes. Farming is a long game.

3. Plant Cover Crops

Once the harvest has come in, get out there and plant some more. A cover crop is a great option — it will help with erosion, weeds, and pests. Cover crops can be a big boost to your farm. You shouldn't leave a field barren when you could be growing things like clover or oats.

4. Pick Multi-Purpose Plants and Animals

Every seed you plant and animal you house will have a ripple effect around the farm, so look for plants and animals that do double-duty. For instance, basil acts as a natural insecticide. It’s perfect to grow around your other crops. Guinea fowl eats ticks — keeping them around helps protect your other animals and kids! Chickens eat veggie scraps. What they don't eat, they step into a kind of mulch. Bats in the barn are a good way to keep your insect and rodent population under control. Additionally, your livestock's manure can fertilize crops. The same crops you can feed your livestock. Say it again, "the loop."

5. Buy in Bulk

All this planting is going to require a lot of seed. Buying in bulk makes sense not only for your budget but also for accessibility. Seeds won't go bad if you store them properly, and you don't need a grain silo for every seed group. FIBC bulk bags are great for storage and easy to move around.

6. Plant Trees

Planting trees around your farm invites birds to nest. Those birds go after insects that are going after your crops. Trees also help with soil erosion in a big way and act as natural windbreaks. If you don't have trees on your property already, start planting. It's going to take a while for those trees to mature.

All this sustainable work will pay off as you promote your farm business. A sustainable label is every bit as effective as an organic label. You can also get the word out by opening your farm up for tours with schools. Set up a co-op that has locals coming out to pick their own veggies — it will get them involved and dirty! Keep that loop going.

Compost Bin
Ellen Levy Finch [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

8 Ways to Reduce Household Toxins

Bobbi PetersonYour house is a sanctuary. It’s your safe place to go, and it’s where you call home. The scary thing about homes is that they’re filled with toxins that can be harmful to you and your family. If you want to reduce the toxins in your home, you can do so by making a few simple changes.

Air Fresheners and Aerosol Spray

The fragrant sprays that make your house smell oh-so good are oh-so bad for you and the environment. Aerosol sprays can create various health and respiratory issues when inhaled due to the chemicals and toxins. Air fresheners also release chemicals that you don’t want circulating in the air of your home.

Consider organic or soy candles to give your air a nice fragrance. You can also find recipes with natural ingredients you can boil on the stove to purify your air.

Green Bathroom Products

The reality of toxins lurking in your bathroom can make you feel pretty dirty where you want to feel clean. Check your personal care and bathroom products for toxic ingredients. If your products contain ingredients such as DEA, Triclosan, or BHA/BHT, you might want to reconsider having those products in your home.

Use organic cleaners on the surfaces of your bathroom, and shower with products that contain natural ingredients.

Go BPA Free

BPA stands for Bisphenol-A, which is found in the lining of canned foods, water bottles, plastic containers, and other items. BPA has been linked to various health issues, such as breast cancer or infertility.

To eliminate BPA in your home, plan meals that are made from fresh foods rather than packaged items. You can also purchase BPA-free water bottles and refill them with tap water. Another suggestion is to store leftover food items in glass containers rather than plastic.

Your Own Body

One of the biggest things carrying toxins around in your home is your own body. If you feel sluggish, irritable, or unmotivated, your body may need a detox. Your body releases toxins that can drag you down. You can give your body a natural detox to gain a healthier lifestyle.

Make sure you drink plenty of water to naturally flush out toxins. Get enough sleep so your body doesn’t release extra toxins. Exercise is another way to get rid of toxins by sweating them out. You will feel so much better in your own body and home after you give yourself a natural cleanse.

Natural Household Cleaners

The products you use to clean the surfaces of your house are most likely filled with chemicals and toxins. Instead of cleaning with store-bought items, you can make a homemade cleaner out of tea tree oil. Tea tree oil is a great natural remedy to get rid of mold in your home. Essential oils like this are great for your body and also have other benefits, such as natural cleaning products.

Before you go cleaning every corner of your home, make sure your cleaning products are nontoxic. If you can’t afford nontoxic cleaners, make your own out of natural ingredients.

Eat GMO-Free

GMO stands for genetically modified organisms that contain toxins. GMOs are found in a lot of food and can cause major health risks, as well as a harmful environmental impact. Making a little change in your meals can have a major beneficial impact on the health of everyone in your home.

To keep these toxins out of your home and your body, look for labels of GMO-free products. Shop for certified organic foods or fresh fruits and vegetables.

Beauty and Cosmetics

What you put on your body is absorbed through the skin and released into your bloodstream. Makeup and beauty products might be essential to your daily routine, but they are also filled with chemicals and toxins.

Check out natural and nontoxic beauty products to replace the products you use that contain toxins. If you’re feeling crafty, you can even find recipes for homemade natural beauty products, scrubs, and soaps to use in your bathroom.

Nonstick Cookware

Maybe you’re in love with your nonstick cookware because it’s easy to use and easy to clean. Unfortunately, nonstick cookware contains chemical components that lead to various types of cancer and other health issues. The nonstick cookware also releases toxic fumes when you heat it.

You don’t have to ditch pots and pans altogether, though. Simply upgrade your nonstick items to cast iron or stainless steel for a healthier, toxic-free cooking zone in your kitchen.

Toxins are a scary thing to have lurking throughout your home. If you are conscious of the choices you make and the products you use, you can reduce the amount you're exposed to.

Cleaning products

Photo by Fotolia/luckybusiness