Farm Estate Update

How to Polish Your Homestead for Summer Weddings

Holly WellesHomesteaders have a lot of ways to make extra money with our land, and an increasingly popular way to do this is to open up our outdoor spaces for summer weddings. It's the perfect time of year for a celebration that embraces natural charm and beauty.

If you're getting ready for a summer wedding season, however, you do have to figure out how to prepare your outdoor space for such a gathering. To make that task more manageable — and ultimately successful — here are five tips for getting your homestead's exterior and landscaping just right.

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1. Clean the Hard Surfaces

After a winter of snow, sleet and salt, your outdoor surfaces might look a bit dingy. You'll want any picturesque barns and patios to shine in your clients' photos, so it's time for some spring cleaning.

You might be able to clean up on your own by grabbing the hose, turning the head to its hardest-hitting setting and washing away dirt and debris. If you find you can't clean your homestead up with the supplies you have, hire a powerwasher to come over and rinse everything before the celebration.

2. Landscape

It's not all about the grass in your backyard, although you should work to keep it trim and healthy Creative landscaping can add that finishing touch to your outdoor wedding venue. There are plenty of ways to accomplish this, no matter your style.

Try optimizing gardens to create bright blooms and lovely smells. Planting lavender or herbs can add a new element to a summer wedding. Colorful flowers can create a unique visual aesthetic. You can also add elements like a gazebo or trellis to create more opportunities for photo opps.

If this sounds like a lot of work, try keeping things low-maintenance. Your homestead can incorporate natural elements that fit into your local environment and still add plenty of charm to any summer events. Consider adding or pruning your trees to create lovely shaded areas, and plant drought-resistant grass to reduce your landscape's ecological impact.

3. Choose Your Mood Lighting

Floodlights outdoors make it easier for guests to see, but the bright bulbs don't quite set the mood for a party. Plus, the glow will undoubtedly attract bugs — you can do better than that with mood lighting.

Your best bet is to try torches and candles, both of which you can assign to double duty. Finding a flame that contains citronella will keep bugs at bay while providing your customers with the perfect level of mood lighting.

Hosting Summer Celebrations

By taking these steps, you will ensure your homestead looks its best pre-summer wedding season. And, once you've completed the checklist, you get to focus on the business — taking photos, listing your venue and meeting potential customers. Your hard work will have made it all possible.

Letting Go: When to Hire Professionals for Projects

Holly WellesA self-sufficient lifestyle is appealing. When you don't need another person's assistance, and you can manage your property on your own, that sense of independence is a source of strength. It's a freedom you've earned through hard work — a special kind of satisfaction you can't find elsewhere.

At the same time, a self-sufficient attitude can compromise your operation if you're not careful. You're a competent, capable homesteader, of course, but it's smart to ask for outside help when a project exceeds your abilities. Knowing when to hire professionals will keep you from making any costly mistakes.

With this in mind, when is it best to delegate the work to someone with more experience? When should you entrust a project to someone else? Here are three situations that demand expertise.


Photo by Getty Images/welcomia.

1. Electrical Work

It's often best to leave electrical work to electricians. When you work with wiring, you're putting yourself at risk of electrocution, but that's not all. You're also creating a fire hazard that could spread throughout your homestead and cause larger problems. These are essential issues to consider if you want to take a DIY approach. 

More than that, certain projects with electrical work require permits and inspections. An electrician can handle the approval/disapproval process and save you the frustration. When you have a homestead or farm to operate, you have better things to do than deal with paperwork, which is an unattractive prospect for anyone.

In short, it's a smart idea to bring in an electrician instead of taking out your toolkit. Even though they're admittedly expensive, you can mitigate the cost. Something simple like mapping out your circuits correctly can save a professional from having to do it for you, and by extension, save money.

2. Renovations

If you have plans to renovate your homestead, you're likely enthusiastic about starting the process. You have your tools; it wouldn't take much to find the supplies and, depending on the scale of the project, you might even finish it in a weekend. Before you start, though, you should pause to reconsider.

Even if you're confident you can complete the project yourself, time is money when it comes to remodeling. You don't want to stop halfway through because of an unexpected setback you hadn't prepared for. It could cost you far more than what you were expecting — or what you had in your budget.

With an experienced contractor, you can attend to other responsibilities around your property while trusting a professional to manage the work for you. As long as you ask them the right questions and contact a few of their former clients, you'll feel far better about the success of your project.

3. Mold Removal

Mold removal doesn't always require professional help, but it's important to acknowledge when the problem is outside your skillset. If the patch of mold exceeds more than 10 square feet in size, you should seek assistance from someone with experience in the area. Otherwise, your safety is at risk.

When you're attempting to contain the problem yourself, you could run into unforeseen issues. It helps to have someone with you who understands the complexities of mold and how it spreads. As an example, contamination in an HVAC system can distribute mold throughout an entire building, with the occupants unaware.

Consulting a contractor or other service professional can prove beneficial in more ways as well. They can identify the source of the mold and provide actionable advice on how to account for it in the future. Their expertise will keep you and those who live with you safe from harm.

Everyone Has Limitations

A self-sufficient lifestyle is appealing, but everyone has limitations. It's important to recognize them and know when to hire professionals if you need outside help. When that happens, don't hesitate — reach out to someone in your area who can lend a hand.

How to Find the Perfect Spot for a Home Build

Holly WellesThe location of your home is just as important as the home itself. Before you move into the initial stages of your build, you'll need to choose a plot of land which supports your vision. It isn't always quick, and it isn't always easy, but when you find the perfect spot, you'll see the time and effort were well worth it.

So what's involved in the process, both before and after acquiring your plot of land? How do you select the ideal location for your build, and once you have, what comes next? We'll walk you through everything you need to know and more, making the homebuilding process simple and straightforward.

building on a plot of land
Photo by Pexels.

1. Calculate Your Budget

Before you can begin your search, you'll need to calculate your budget. It's the foundation of your future decisions, creating structure so you don't overspend. You have a lot to cover, including the cost of the land, local taxes and fees, design and engineering costs, as well as the construction of the home itself.

Beyond these expenses, it's also smart to have a contingency fund between 10 to 20 percent of your expected costs. Start with a spreadsheet and organize your budget with separate columns for each expense. You can reference this sheet as you continue, updating and modifying it when necessary.

2. Choose Affordable Land

Among your range of options, you have to consider the issue of price. Even if you find an attractive plot which appears perfect for your plans, you don't want to begin your build with debt. You might have to compromise, but in the end, you'll see just how crucial this simple suggestion is to your success later on.

As you browse your areas of interest, look into foreclosures, "for sale by owner" properties, and opportunities for free land. You'll likely locate an attractive property that doesn't fall outside the limits of your budget. With a little looking, you'll come across something great at an affordable price.

3. Determine the Distance

You might take pride and satisfaction in your self-sufficiency, but you don't want to purchase a plot too far from a local town. After all, you'll have to drive to the markets in your area if you intend to sell your homesteading goods. Distance will only make it more difficult to make that type of trip.

Then again, this suggestion may or may not seem relevant depending on your goals. In some situations, your distance from the general population won't matter as much. Even so, you should think carefully about the inconvenience of living far from a town or city and some of the complications it could cause.

4. Learn the Area's Details

Once you've narrowed down your choices, you'll need to see if they accommodate your lifestyle. Answer these three questions as you continue your search.


  • Does the property have access to a source of water from a nearby city, creek or well?
  • Does the property have access to a state-maintained or privately owned road?
  • Does the property have access to utilities such as electricity, or is it off the grid?

Your quality of life will depend on the availability of clean drinking water, safe routes of transportation, and certain utilities. You'll also need to research the area's zoning laws and learn if they permit agriculture. Accounting for these essential details will keep you from making any costly mistakes.

5. Select the Best Builder

You're investing a substantial sum of money in your build, and you should only entrust it to experienced professionals. When assembling your team, search for a builder with a long history of helping people like you. Reach out to their past clients and ask them about their experience.

As you interview your potential builder, ask them about the subcontractors they work with. Their expertise is just as important as the builder's expertise, and you don't want to bring them into your project if they lack the right qualifications. Background checks are crucial.

6. Manage the Paperwork

In most situations, your builder will reach out to your local municipality to ensure you have the proper permits before starting a build. Obtaining the necessary permits is absolutely critical, and you can't begin unless you have them. After you've secured these permits, you'll need to acquire insurance.

General liability insurance and workman's compensation insurance are both necessary, protecting both you and the builder throughout the project. Should any workplace injuries take place on your jobsite, you aren't responsible, which will save you a significant amount of money in court fees. 

7. Finalize Your New Build

You'll have to make many decisions throughout your build ranging from the building materials you'd like for your homestead to the location of outlets. Other considerations include landscaping and final cleanup.

With all of these responsibilities and obligations competing for your time, it may feel a little overwhelming. As long as you approach your build with care and attention to detail, you can feel confident in your decisions as you move closer to completion. Just take things step by step.


How to Maintain a More Natural Landscape

Holly WellesMost North American neighborhoods don't deviate much in their landscaping. In suburbs across the country, you'll find well-manicured lawns, trimmed shrubbery, inoffensive trees, and perfectly spaced flowers. It's an admittedly attractive layout, but its effect on the environment isn't so pretty.

Roughly 90 million lawnmowers, leaf blowers, weed trimmers, and other small-engine tools in the United States contribute about 5 percent of the country's air pollution. With this in mind, it's easy to understand why homeowners have shown increasing interest in a more natural landscape. 

If you're ready to commit to eco-friendly landscaping, we'll walk you through everything you need to know about making your yard a little more green. Most of these changes are straightforward, and even if you don't spend much time in your garden, you'll find them simple to implement.

native plants landscape
Photo by Pexels.

1. Pick Wildlife-Supporting Plants

Most homeowners choose plants and flowers for their aesthetic value, searching for species which complement their space and lend it color or depth. Fortunately for them, they don't have to compromise the beauty of their landscaping to make a home for wildlife in their area. They can serve both themselves and nature.

When you choose wildlife-supporting plants like hedges, you're structuring your space while creating a natural habitat for a whole host of animals. Birds, hedgehogs, and other small mammals are attracted to hedgerows for their food and shelter. While the property belongs to you, sharing it is still vital.

2. Reduce Your Fertilizer Use

While fertilizer accelerates the growth of your plants, excessive use has consequences for your expenditure. When you layer too much fertilizer on your lawn, it'll grow too quickly, and as it grows, you'll need more water to sustain its health. You'll also need to spend more time using your lawnmower, increasing your emissions.

In truth, you only need to fertilize your landscaping twice a year. As long as you fertilize once in the spring and once in the fall, you shouldn't run into any issues later on. As for the type of fertilizer you should use, organic products are best, providing your plants all the micro- and macro-nutrients they need.

3. Raise Your Mower Deck

You want your landscape to look natural, of course, but waist-high grass isn't attractive. Fortunately, it's easy to maintain the appearance of your yard and remain on good terms with neighbors, all while using fewer resources. As long as you cut only the top third of the blade, you'll limit growth and reduce your workload.

Raising your mower deck to keep your grass tall has other benefits beyond slowing its growth. Your lawn won't require as much water or produce nearly as many weeds. When your turf is lush and dense, it crowds out any weed seeds which would otherwise take advantage of a stressed space with less shade.

4. Choose Native Species

As you browse your local greenhouse for seeds to add to your inventory, look for native species which will work well within your garden. You might feel tempted to purchase big, bright flowers with visual appeal, but if they're non-native, you'll find you're doing more work for upkeep. Naturally, this leads to higher expenditure.

Native, noninvasive plants are ideal for your landscaping because they're able to establish a balance with other plants more easily. When searching for these native species, you don't have to go to a greenhouse — a trip to your local farmers' market will suffice. Vendors will be happy to guide you in the right direction.

5. Collect Water With Barrels

Your methods of maintenance are just as essential to natural landscaping as the species of plants you choose. You can always find new ways to reduce your resource consumption, and, with a little creativity, enhance your garden's appearance as well. Consider the use of barrels for water collection

When you attach a wooden barrel to your downspout, it'll fill with water, which is both eco-friendly and attractive given the right setting. Beyond a barrel's functionality, it'll bring a rustic charm to your landscaping — something modest and straightforward that will make your garden feel friendlier.

An Opportunity for Growth

As you design your lawn's layout, remember, you don't have to conform to the dominant aesthetic. A natural landscape is an easy alternative which is just as visually appealing, and far more beneficial for the environment. Homeowners like yourself have made the changes on this list to incredible effect.

While you review your options, consider wildlife-supporting plants, native species and strategies for conserving resources. You'll find these aren't limitations, but an opportunity for growth.

Tips on Snow Management From an Upstate New Yorker


Holly WellesI've seen more than my fair share of snow living in upstate New York, and year after year, I use the same strategies to manage my property. These tried-and-true, time-tested methods have worked for me in the past — if you're expecting a blizzard, you should take notes. There's a lot to do after a storm passes through, and it's best to work smart, not hard, as they say.

While heavy lifting is inevitable, you can alleviate some of the burden if you plan ahead and stockpile the right supplies. With a little preparation, you don't have to spend half your day clearing your paths and driveway. No forecast will intimidate you, as long as you employ your leaf blower, cover your car with canvas and follow some of the other eight suggestions below.


1. Check Your Pantry for De-Icers pickle-jar

You don't need store-bought chemicals to melt ice on your car windshields. A lot of items you'll find around your homestead will work just as well, like table salt, pickle juice and vodka. If you fill a sock with table salt and rub it against your windows, you'll prevent frost from forming, and pickle juice and vodka work as a spray.

2. Shovel Decks With Caution

If your homestead has a deck, you'll likely want to shovel it of snow to avoid moisture from seeping into the boards. Without waterproofing, this is a possibility, but most modern builds account for winter weather. Regardless, as you're clearing a path, use a plastic shovel to remove snow without damaging your decking materials.

3. Shelter Your Plants

When temperatures drop and the weather takes a turn, you can preserve your plants with the proper precautions. Among other techniques for protecting your homestead, these are relatively simple, and you can handle the task in an hour. Just   bring in container plants, add mulch and cover any saplings susceptible to fros

4. Cover Your Car With Canvas

There's a quick and easy way to deal with snow and ice on your car — don't let it pile up on your car in the first place. Drape a canvas drop cloth or plastic tarp across your vehicle overnight when you're expecting a storm to pass through. In the morning, pull it off and deposit the snow in your yard — simple as that.

5. Keep Roof Care in Mind

Protecting your roof is a top priority during the colder months, as snow accumulation can cause damage to your roofing materials and compromise the structural integrity of your homestead. My family has always used snow guards on our own property, which catch sheets of snow and ice when they slide down my roof.

6. Remove Weak Branches

You likely have no shortage of trees on the extensive acreage of your property, and maintaining their health is essential. A snowstorm could burden their branches with heavy snow and ice, and breakage has the potential to harm you if you're in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Always take care to remove weak limbs.

7. Employ Your Leaf Blower

Your leaf blower can double as a useful tool for removing light snow. While it isn't effective for clearing away wet, heavy accumulation, you'll find it's a quick way to manage your steps, walkways and cars after powdery precipitation. Other equipment you might own like a wet/dry vac will work for snow removal, as well.


8. Use Safe Shoveling Techniques

For some, shoveling your property might pose a risk to your health. I hear horror stories every winter about someone in my area hurting themselves when out shoveling, whether its a slipped disk or a different injury. Remember the following points before you begin your work:

  • Warm up by stretching your lower back and hamstrings
  • Bend with your hips and knees, not your lower back
  • Never twist your back, but pivot your entire body instead

I can't stress these points enough. You should review other articles on the subject and make sure you're watching your motions while you're clearing your paths or driveway. While it's important to take care of your property, taking care of yourself should be your priority.

Start Preparing Today

When a blizzard is in the forecast, you can feel confident your property is safe from the dangers of snow and ice. As long as you take my advice and follow some of the suggestions above, you'll manage winter weather without trouble. Just remember a proactive approach is best, and gather supplies in advance of a storm.

While snow is often inevitable, you don't have to wait for it to harm your homestead. Start preparing today.

Guarding Your Homestead Against Pet Damage


Holly WellesYou adore your furry four-legged buddy. However, you don't love hairy furniture, ripped up rugs or yellow stains all over your green lawn. How can you enjoy the love and companionship of your pet without the headache and expense of paying for costly home repairs?

Keeping a clean house when you have Fluffy and Fido running through constantly presents quite a challenge. Thankfully, you don't need to throw up your hands in despair and resign yourself to a home that's less than fresh.

By taking a few simple preventive measures, you can keep a tidy homestead while still enjoying your best friends' company.

Protect Doors From Scratching

Does your dog beg to use the outdoor facilities by scratching up your entryway? Dog scratches look unsightly and also create a dirty appearance.

To protect your doors, simply invest in a bit of clear plastic to cover the area where your dog scratches. You can easily make a door guard yourself by picking up clear plastic at a hardware store or special order one from a pet store.

Alternately, those with fenced lawns or plenty of acreage between their home and the nearest roadway may elect to install a pet door so your canine companion can let himself out with no human intervention needed.


Easily Clean Furniture

If your shedding white Samoyed leaves your couch looking like a blizzard hit it, take a tip from the This Will Change Your Life files. Take an ordinary pair of plastic dishwashing gloves and dampen them. Then, run your gloved hands over sofas and end chairs to rid them of the extra fluff. Voila!

After de-furring your couch, drop the gloves in a dishpan full of water and wait for the fur to float. To avoid clogging your septic tank, scoop the fur out and toss it in the trash. In the case of super hairy cold-weather breeds like huskies and malamutes, knit yourself a new sweater.

Select Damage-Resistant Flooring Materials

Even if you keep your dog or kitty's toenails neatly pedicured, the hardscrabble of little pet feet means an unsightly scratched-up mess of a floor. When remodeling time rolls around, choose your flooring wisely, with durability and scratch resistance in mind.

Carpet can be comfortable. However, it often traps stains and odors. If you must go plush, invest in a quality carpet shampooer or spot cleaner for the inevitable pet accident.


Tile floors look elegant and resist scratching, but can also send your furry pal flying. While this can lead to raucous laughter, it can also result in a costly trip to the vet. Consider opting for textured stone tiles that offer at least some traction.

Toilet Paper isn't a Toy

Do your kitty's paws fly over the toilet tissue roll faster than Usain Bolt runs? As much as you may fall solidly into the "over, not under" crowd, consider hanging your tissue under to dissuade Fifi from amusing herself with a full train of TP.


Alternately, you may opt for a small clip to hold your toilet tissue in place and fancy it up by folding it at the tip hotel-style.

Landscaping Tricks for Dogs

Both dogs and cats can damage lawns, but the greater size of most dogs coupled with their love of digging to China can quickly turn your grass into a nightmare. In addition, dog urine leaves unsightly dead spots everywhere!

If you dream of a lawn as green as a verdant summer field, opt for a clover carpet. Clover doesn't stain the way grass does when exposed to dog urine. If your dog's digging creates ankle-twisting craters in your lawn, consider adding a bit of brick or stone to favorite digging spots to stop Rover in his tracks.


For a training-based solution to urine control, lead your pooch to a spot on your property where lawn damage doesn't matter and give him a treat each time he uses the potty there.

Before long, your beloved companion will learn to confine their business to that one spot instead of around your prized begonias.

Preventing Pet Damage on the Homestead

Now that you know how to cat- and dog-proof your home, you can sleep well at night, hopefully with your beloved buddy by your side. With a little time and effort, people and pets can live in harmony — and cleanliness.

How to Properly Insure Your Farm Equipment

Holly WellesFarm equipment is a significant investment, even if you purchase used and stick to the bare minimum needed to run your small homestead farm. It's essential to properly insure that equipment in case of an emergency, but insurance is costly as well.

There are some ways you can save money on farm insurance and also make sure you have enough coverage if a catastrophe strikes. The cost of insurance varies by location and the natural disaster risks in your area. For example, in Iowa, the cost to insure farm equipment is between $4 and $6 per $1,000 of value.

Here are some things to consider when choosing insurance for your small farm.

1. Add on to Homeowner's

If you only own one piece of farm equipment, such as a small tractor, you may be able to add a rider onto your current homeowner's insurance. A rider is a provision on your current policy that covers a specific scenario. The cost to add one may be considerably lower than taking out a separate policy. Talk to your insurance agent about the best options.

Ask for a breakdown comparison, so you have a clear picture of what each policy does and doesn't cover, as well as the cost of various policies.


2. Take Out an Umbrella

Many homesteaders make their small farms profitable by hosting groups on their property, teaching classes or selling the products they grow and make. If you participate in any of these activities, talk to your insurance agent about the best way to protect yourself. For example, if someone gets hurt on your property while taking a tour, what does your insurance cover?

You have to make sure you have enough coverage in case of a severe injury as well. An umbrella policy may be your best bet to keep your assets safe and cover medical costs if someone gets hurt. You never know when an accident might happen, even if you take every precaution imaginable. It's unfortunate, but there are also people who will file false claims to get a few bucks.

Experts recommend you have at least $1 million in farm insurance.

3. Reduce Your Coverage

While you want to make sure you have enough to cover you in case someone gets hurt and decides to sue you — even if you didn't permit them to be on your property — you also don't want to overinsure. For example, if you rent your farm equipment, the company you rent from may have some provisions in place to reduce what you'll owe in case of a catastrophe. Ask about their rental protection plans and loss-damage waivers, which help cover the costs of damage to equipment.

You'll still need coverage of your own, but this may reduce the amount you have to get. Also, if your house would only cost $200,000 to rebuild and you have insurance for $500,000 on the structure, you're paying too much. You could easily reduce that by half and still have enough to rebuild, even with rising costs. Of course, you'll want to revisit the amounts every year or two, as the costs of materials and construction tend to increase with inflation.

Farm Equipment

4. Insure Your Livestock Separately

If you own livestock, you'll need to make sure to get a policy that covers them. If a tornado comes through and sweeps up all your cows, the cost of replacing them isn't minor. Livestock insurance is a bit like crop insurance, and the USDA partially funds it. If your animals are of high value, such as a horse you stud out for high fees, you may want to cover those animals on individual policies. However, you can also lump them into your blanket coverage for the farm as a whole if they are typical value animals.

One of the advantages of insuring animals or even farm equipment individually is that you can set a declared value. Make sure you have enough to cover replacement costs for the equipment if it gets destroyed in a fire, or for animals in case a natural disaster takes their lives.

5. Be Aware of What the Policy Doesn't Include

Insurance doesn't necessarily cover everything on your property. Be aware of this, and question your insurance agent about what your policy will and will not cover.

For example, farm insurance rarely covers fences, so if a tornado takes them out, you won't get replacement costs on them. If your policy doesn't cover fencing and you want it to, ask for a policy extension that takes care of it.

The policy may also not cover outbuildings that aren't explicitly mentioned. There are also standards about access to a water source you'll need to consider. Just because there's a pond on your property doesn't mean fire trucks can readily get to it to put out a fire.

Insurance also doesn't cover malfunctioning equipment, in most cases.

Balance Cost and Risk

Since many homesteaders live on limited budgets, you have to look at the risk of carrying less insurance versus the costs of insurance. Never go without insurance on something you can't afford to lose or don't have the money to replace. Talk to your insurance company about what your options are, and be upfront about your budget. Most companies will be willing to work with you to try to reduce costs without risking your livelihood.

Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

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