Living Life Green

What to Know Before Purchasing a Generator for Your Homestead

Bobbi PetersonIf you’re reading this, you’ve already seriously considered generator purchase. Good. Because as a homesteader, you know better than anyone else that a) there’s no accounting for Mother Nature, b) sometimes survival depends on Plan B, and c) it never hurts to also have a Plan C.

Don’t worry, buying a generator can be just as straightforward. Here’s what you need to know.

Wattage

Determine which vital electric appliances your homestead may need in an emergency. Does your well pump need backup so you can feed the animals? Do you anticipate possible use of power tools for storm repair? How much wattage does your refrigerator use daily? What if you turned it on and off intermittently?

Estimate the approximate wattage of each item. Your total will determine what size generator best suits your needs. On average, a 5,500-watt generator can adequately run a refrigerator and well pump, plus a few lights or tools.

Features

Based on the degree of your homesteading commitment over time, you may choose a permanently installed generator, as opposed to a portable one. Depending on the fuel type, installation may be costly and require a qualified specialist. Of course, this expenditure is a one-time, up-front investment, and may end up saving you money in the long run.

An additional factor to consider is noise. Presumably, your homestead is not flanked by close-quarters neighbors. But if you or your animals find persistently loud, continuous sound stressful, consider a generator that runs quietly.

Climate Restrictions

Factor in your homestead’s physical location, and identify significant climate restrictions. Will it be important for your generator to run smoothly in cold temperatures? How will it function in a chronically wet environment?

Do you live and operate in extreme heat? Should your generator have enough wattage to run fans as a matter of status quo?

Fuel Source

Gas-powered generators are most common, and are available in a variety of portable sizes. However, they produce high emissions and require careful fuel maintenance. Keep a backup supply of 5-gallon tanks at the ready in a safe location. You cannot store the gas for more than 12 months without needing to replace it, and gas-powered generators are notorious for being difficult to start in cold weather.

Generators that run on diesel work much better in extreme cold and boast a significantly less flammable fuel source. Though stored diesel also requires routine replacement, it can last in storage up to 24 months. Known for sketchy performance in wet environments, diesel generators offer few portable options.

Propane generators burn clean and efficiently. They come in many portable types and start well in the cold. Because of propane’s high flammability and the inherent complexity of its generation system, installation requires a licensed professional.

Natural gas is another option. Gas generators hook directly up to existing fuel lines, so there’s no need for fuel storage. Natural gas burns with little waste, and units tend to be quiet and fully functional in the cold. Installation is expensive, and dangerous leaks are a possibility.

Perhaps most symbiotic with homesteading is biogas generation. Biogas is mainly made up of methane, produced when organic materials such as food scraps, livestock manure and field clippings decompose. You can construct a biogas generator as a DIY project. However, due to methane’s highly flammable content, you must take extreme care when establishing a safe location and maintaining fireproof storage.

Poison Prevention

Running any generator, no matter what type, goes hand-in-hand with a significant potential risk of carbon monoxide — CO — poisoning. A natural off-gas from burning fuel, CO builds up without telltale odor or visible fumes in poorly ventilated, enclosed spaces. Merely breathing CO can elicit marked health symptoms, including vomiting, chest pain and weakness. CO poisoning is responsible for more than 400 accidental U.S. deaths per year.

The good news is, dangerous CO exposure is preventable. Simply follow these guidelines:

• Make sure to inspect fuel-burning appliances every year.
• Strictly adhere to all maintenance instructions.
• Don’t run any gasoline engines, including a car, in enclosed spaces.
• Keep an eye on vents that may carry CO throughout the home.
• Install a battery-powered CO detector. Maintain a backup battery system.
• Change detector batteries every fall before heating season begins.
• Don’t ignore problematic health symptoms, especially if other household members exhibit the same problems. Consult a health professional immediately.

Homestead generators offer peace of mind and keep your place running smoothly, despite Mother Nature’s whims. Adherence to a few safety precautions and maintenance requirements is all it takes to assure your well-considered purchase remains cost- and health-efficient.

generator
Photo by Getty Images/JodiJacobson

How to Start a Homestead on a Small Budget

Bobbi Peterson

 So you’ve decided to start homesteading, excellent! It’s a great lifestyle for self-governance and sustainability, and in the long term, you’ll reap the great health and environmental benefits. But first you have to get started and, like any other new endeavor, the beginning requires a certain amount of financial sacrifice and budgeting.

While homesteading in itself returns its practitioners to a more natural way of life, there are certain materials needed to get the most out of your land. If you don’t have the money to go all out and purchase heavy machinery or top-of-the-line tools, here are a few tips to help get you started without breaking your wallet.

1. Start Small & Simple

Getting into the rhythm of the seasons will be harder than you think, mainly because you’ve either never grown your own food before, or because you’ve never worked land on a consistent basis until now. The research will help you avoid planting summer crops in the fall and winter crops in the spring, but mistakes will still be made. Don’t try to cultivate acres and acres of land all at once during your first years, rather pick out a small section and start there. Learn to anticipate the changing seasons; start to acclimate to the scheduling a farm and livestock requires. Don’t try to fill a barn full of animals, start with one group of livestock and go from there. For instance, chickens are a great starter animal for beginner homesteaders because they provide multiple resources — eggs and meat — with minimal effort.

2. Renovation & Construction

Remember, you’re off-grid now. Spending hundreds of dollars on a contractor or craftsman every time something breaks won’t be a viable option. The point: learn to repair and construct what you need. While the experts have years of training under their belts, anyone can learn basic maintenance skills, it just takes practice and patience. Try to learn where you can find local resources for cheap, either through recycling or sourcing options, and make sure you use quality materials.

Preservation and longevity will be valuable elements in everything you use from now on. No more discount department store furniture! Quality wood furniture will last for years, so protect it from imminent damage and normal wear-and-tear with wood protector and a lasting finish. The same goes for any and all textiles in your house; not just clothing, but bedding and furniture fabrics as well! You’ll want to make sure the couch in your living room, the sheets on your bed, and your clothes are not ruined by wine or coffee spills, blood stains, or paint marks of any kind.

3. Preparation & Prevention

Before you start your farm, collect your tools and manage your budget. Homesteading requires land, so make sure purchasing your starting acres won’t place you in the red. But it doesn’t end there. Being self-sustainable places you at the whim of the elements, making extreme weather events a true potential disaster for you and your family. Ensure you have resources and supplies set aside for a “rainy day,” so when catastrophe strikes you’re not ruined or in dire need. These events can end up costing you huge in repairs and the effect on the land will be even worse. Preparing for these eventualities — setting aside seeds and crops, extra tools and fuel — can and will save you huge amounts of money in the future and are just as valuable as the car or home insurance.

Whatever the reason for you going off-the-grid, whether it’s to improve the quality of your food, or to benefit the environment, or both, will require finances. But don’t let these costs discourage you and don’t waste money on frivolous expenses. Stay in control of your spending by following these tips and others available to the beginner homesteader.

chickens
Photo by Getty Images/borchee

How to Transition from Hobby Farming to Business Farming

Bobbi PetersonYou’ve already spent time growing your own food and raising animals. You did it in your spare time, perhaps when you got home from a full-time job at the office, but it’s something you enjoy and are good at.

Now, you’ve grown enough food to sustain you and your family, and you’re getting to the point where you have enough that you’re more than happy to give some away to friends and extended family. Heck, it’s possible you even have enough produce to sell at a local farmers market.

Congratulations — you’ve crossed the threshold of hobby farming and into the agricultural field and can now make a profit from your hard work. This small accomplishment might mean you’re ready to grow your farm into a full business. If so, you’ll need to be aware of a few things before taking the plunge.

Be Aware of Costs

When you were farming as a hobby, you had your full-time job to fall back on and cover the cost of supplies and equipment. If you’re going to become a farmer, you need to realize that the work you do on the farm will have to cover all your expenses.

The costs to operate your farm or ranch can get pricey, but it’s possible to cut some costs by buying used farm equipment instead of purchasing equipment that’s new.

Know What You’re Getting Into

Running your own business can be an incredibly stressful prospect, especially if it's supporting your family. There was no pressure when running a hobby farm because it was something you did in your spare time for fun. Before transitioning from hobby farming into business farming, educate yourself on the skills you’ll need to run a successful farm and what you’ll need to do for your taxes.

See if there are any farming organizations or university outreach programs in your area that can teach you what to expect as an entrepreneurial business farmer. You might also look for a mentor who’s a farmer to whom you can ask questions. They could be an invaluable resource in helping you transition into business farming.

Change Your Focus

Up to this point, you’ve looked at your farm as something relaxing to do when you had the time. But if you want it to be a successful business, you need to look at it as a business. You’ll have to make decisions about your farm based on whether they’re best for it instead of if the choice is right for you and your family.

Develop a Business Plan

Before making the transition from hobby farming to business farming, develop a plan on paper. A plan will give you the opportunity to see what you’ll need and how much time and money it will take to make your farm successful and profitable. Developing a business plan forces you to think realistically, unemotionally, and objectively about transitioning to a new career.

Your business plan will be your road map for running your farm. It’ll help you analyze what you need to do for marketing, sales, manufacturing, and all the other aspects of your ranch so that you can be successful. There are benefits to creating a business plan, and it’s well worth your time to develop one.

Figure Out the Market

When hobby farming, you can grow anything that makes you happy because you are growing it for you and your family. When you transition to business farming, you’ll find more success when you know what the market wants to buy instead of growing what you want and looking for a market to sell it in.

Take it Slow

Transitioning to business farming is a significant step, and shouldn’t be rushed into. Instead, take your time. Most successful businesses didn’t crop up overnight but were built slowly over weeks, months, and years.

Do a little at a time, then test the market and get feedback. Incorporate that information into the next steps, then recheck the market again and get more feedback. Repeating this process will help you learn the best farming practices so that you can achieve your goals.

Transitioning from hobby farming to business farming is a monumental step, but it also comes with risks and pitfalls. Having a clear business plan and goals, along with education and skills, will ensure that you are successful in your endeavor.

produce at farmers market
Photo by Adobe Stock/WavebreakMediaMicro

What to Know Before Purchasing Cows

Bobbi PetersonOwning and running a farm or homestead can be a fulfilling and productive lifestyle. It gives you the independence to grow your own food, so you know exactly where it comes from and how it was treated, and the ability to make a living selling the excess.

Farm life can be difficult, but if you’re up for the challenge, the results are incredibly rewarding. When it comes to deciding what type of crops to plant on your property, you have to consider what plants are suited to your climate and soil type. When it comes to deciding what type of animals to have on your farm, other factors have to be taken into consideration.

There are many benefits to having cows on your property, but you need to consider whether or not they are right for the size of your land. Below are a few things to consider before purchasing cows.

1. What Kind of Cow Do You Want?

There are two types of cows you can have on your property: beef cattle and dairy cattle. Beef cattle are raised to become food, so they have different requirements than dairy cattle, which are kept to supply your family with milk.

However, no matter which cow you decide to buy, there are a few things you will need to consider:

  • What breed of cow do you want?
  • How much are you willing to spend on it?
  • Where will you get your cattle from?
  • Are you willing to inspect the animals before purchase?

All these items are important in determining if you are getting the right cow. Knowing where your cattle come from and what type they are will help you determine how hearty the breed is and if it will thrive in your environment. If there is a great distance between your farm and where you purchase your cattle, keep in mind that the transportation may have an impact on your cow’s health — another thing to consider when deciding where to get your cow.

2. Do You Have Enough Acreage for a Cow?

On average, it is recommended that you have at least two acres per cow, so if you have a small farm, you may only be able to have one cow. If you have a larger property, you can have more cows. However, the amount of acreage per cow can be reduced if you plan on feeding your cows hay throughout the year.  

3. What Are You Going to Feed Your Cow?

Knowing what to feed your cow will depend on what type of cow you have. While both cows will probably thrive grazing in grass pastures, you might need to supplement dairy cows with more nutrition. In addition, during the winter months when grass is dormant, you’ll need to supplement both beef cattle and dairy cows with hay.

The size of your cattle will also determine how much they eat. Determining how much it will cost to feed your cow is an involved process, but an important one. You don’t want to go broke maintaining a healthy animal. Knowing how much feed costs will also ensure you get a return on your investment from the cow’s purchase.

4. How Experienced Are You With Cows?

You don’t have to be an expert when it comes to owning cattle, but it helps to realize these are living, breathing creatures with minds of their own. Like people, cows have a variety of dispositions and personalities, so if you’re new to the cattle game, you might consider finding a breed that is more gentle and relaxed. Certain breeds are also known to have issues when it comes to calving, so if you don’t have a lot of experience birthing cattle, you might consider one of the breeds that has less-complicated births.

A cow can be a great addition to your homestead or farm. Dairy cows will give you the opportunity to have fresh milk, and beef cattle ensure you will have meat in your freezer. Being educated and informed on what type and how many cows your property can support will ensure your success in raising healthy animals.

cows
Photo by Adobe Stock/AF

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