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Living Life Green

How to Supply Water to an Off-Grid Homestead

Bobbi Peterson 

While it’s not a concern that many people consider, a steady and reliable water supply for your home can become an issue if you live an off-grid lifestyle. The abundant access to sewage services and freshwater in the 21st century has made water a utility that gets taken for granted, with farmers and homesteaders the concern becomes very real and more urgent. A completely self-sustainable lifestyle does not after all include the city utility department.

Going Off-Grid

Also known as dry cabins, homes aiming for full self-sufficiency are built without any indoor plumbing system, but can get reconfigured if the owners decide to tap into the local utility company or a generator. This change does not necessarily make you less environmentally friendly, but for the purposes of our topic here we’ll focus on homesteaders that choose to remain disconnected.

Off-grid homes and buildings will often generate their electricity from solar, wind and rain elements — which factors into the method of water production. This type of lifestyle, while difficult in the beginning has significant benefits. For yourself and your family, you reduce the financial burden of public utility costs as well as a greater control over your physical health. Environmentally, this lifestyle leans heavily on natural, green energy — helping you reduce your carbon footprint.

Finding Your Very Own Water Supply

Whether you’re building your dry cabin from the ground up or working with what you have available, you’ll need to identify where you get your water and make sure there’s enough to work with. If you have a nearby river you can divert a portion of the flow to your area of land, if you live in a rainy climate region then rain catchers may be a better option. It really all depends on the area you live in and the dependability of the resources around you.

River Water Source

Rivers are valuable to off-grid homesteaders because it usually takes a serious drought to affect the water supply. If you build a waterwheel or install a water pump in the area then you can divert as much water as needed for both personal use and irrigation for your fields. Meanwhile, if you construct a weir across the river you’ll head off any problems pertaining to fluctuating water levels.

Water Purification Needs

Before going any further, let’s address the necessity of protecting your health while living off-grid. It’s important that we address water purification because it can become a serious problem if left unaddressed. You need to make sure that your method of purification can handle the multitude of impurities that can surface in your water, no matter the source method, as there are multiple dangers that can surface.

From heavy metals and microorganisms to contamination via human activity, your water purifier will be a necessary and valuable appliance towards your off-grid life. Whether in the form of a smaller, easily portable device or a more natural process such as solar water disinfection, it’s all about choosing the process that meets as many long-term needs as possible.

Digging a Water Well

A water well can serve as another reliable water source. If you have the time, preferably before you transition completely off-grid, a land survey and visit to your state geological department can help you decide how deep you need to dig, help you estimate the layers of earth you’ll encounter, and whether the underground water’s even worth tapping into. After deciding to create your water well you need to choose how to breach the earth.

A water well can come from drilling, driving, bored or the traditionally dug methods. All versions will produce the same result for your homestead — a functional water source for both your residential use as well as your crop fields. Additionally, if constructed correctly your well and the irrigation system attached will revitalize or further fertilize your local landscape. As long as you properly line the walls of the wells interior, contamination and salinization issues will not become a problem.

Final Tips & Suggestions

Rainwater barrels are very effective for wet climates but you’ll need to account for freezing temperatures as well as evaporation. Because of this, water storage plays a significant role in your off-grid water supply and you’ll need either a water tower, reservoir or some other collection item nearby. If you have water flowing freely into your land, you’ll want to construct some sort of covering to protect the water from contamination. Either that or install a filter in the water’s path that you check and clean on a regular basis.

rain barrel
Photo by Getty Images/schulzie

5 Home Projects to Do Before Winter

Bobbi Peterson 

The days are growing shorter and the nights colder. You’ve harvested most of your fall garden and stocked up on feed for the animals. Heavy wool blankets air out on the line, and your family’s winter boots stand in the front hall alongside a drawer full of insulated work gloves.

When the ground freezes and your plants go into dormancy, it’s the perfect time to catch up on home and property repairs. Here are five projects that not only will prepare you for winter’s cold months, but also the busy spring to come.

1. Heat It Up

Now is the time for annual service to your home heating system. If you have a furnace or boiler, make sure they are inspected and checked. Clean your chimney and stock up on all fuels necessary to maintain steady heat, including backup generation.

2. Up on Top

Whether you’ve noticed just a few shingles blown off or know for sure that at least some — if not all — of your roof will need replacing, it’s time to evaluate short-term need and long-term value. The first consideration should always be safety. Which roof repair project best protects your family’s health and well-being, especially in terms of approaching winter?

If at least 30 percent of your roof has sustained damage, including random missing shingles, you’re most likely looking at a full roof replacement. Search for contractors willing to offer off-season rates, and study material guides carefully. If done right, your new roof should last another quarter century or more.

3, Keep It In

It’s a good idea to reseal your home and outbuildings against the cold. Caulk around windows, and line blankets or towels under doorways to protect against drafts. Insulate plumbing pipes that are hot to the touch. If you will be relying on heat lamps in outbuildings, double check electrical outlets and circuit breakers.

4. Break It Down

Composting habitually slows during cold weather. Take advantage of this natural rhythm both to prepare your plants for winter and get a leg up on spring. Spread mulch liberally along flower and vegetable beds. Pack it tight around tree and shrub trunks, and cover your garden. Not only will root systems remain warm, but nutrients from your compost will also fall into the soil, preparing plants for springtime germination.

Try to use all your compost so you can clean the bins thoroughly and start a fresh batch. Otherwise, place remaining mulch in a separate airtight container. Because compost breaks down more slowly in the winter, it helps if you cut kitchen scraps into small pieces, tear thin strips of newspaper and mow dead leaves finely.

Beware of turning compost too much. If you expose decomposing matter to the cold air, even for a moment, it will slow the process further. Alter your mixing schedule to reflect a more relaxed timetable.

5. Put It in Its Place

You’ll never know precisely how much productive time is lost when you can’t find a tool you need. Add up all those search and rescue missions, and you’ve got a large percentage of work hours spent in frustration and annoyance. Organize your tools and supplies now, so wintertime chores run smoothly.

While you’re putting everything in its rightful place, make sure you have a rag, bucket of soapy water, and sandpaper or steel wool handy. It’s a great idea to store your tools clean. If you encounter hard-to-handle rust, consider adding oxalic acid to the soap mixture. Set aside dull-bladed pieces for sharpening, and fix any loose handles.

Now that you’ve repaired and winterized your home, put your garden to bed and gotten it together in the organization department, maybe it’s time to take a simple cue from the root systems of your dormant plants. Pull those blankets off the line, get cozy and hunker down for awhile!

Photo by Getty Images/AGrigorjeva

3 Things to Know Before Getting a Homestead Dog

Bobbi Peterson 

They’re known as man’s best friend for a reason. Faithful, loyal, and fiercely dedicated, dogs have a natural gift for protection and their use in agriculture spans over 10,000 years of human history. Whether you have a small backyard farm or a large homestead that’s fully self-sufficient, adding the right four-legged partner to the roster can only improve your overall operation.

1. Picking a Homestead Dog

There are a number of factors to consider when you choose a homestead dog. While training will ensure your furry companion behaves as you intend, certain types of canines are simply hardwired for farm and ranch work based on their ancestral leanings. There are also informative aspects to canine care and well-being that you should know in order to ensure a productive, healthy, and happy life for your canine partner.

If the dog’s a new addition to the homestead or gardens, the first thing you need to consider will be what the dog’s job will be. What responsibilities will the dog have? Guard dog? Herding livestock? Or are you simply looking for a pet who you know will love the open space and activity of your lifestyle? Each category has a canine match to fit and each need requires different forms of training and experience.

Guard Dogs

Unlike their city dog counterparts, guarding dogs on the farm and the ranch focus more on the welfare and safety of your livestock. That’s not to say you cannot also have a guard dog for your family, but generally, this post requires your dog to view your farm livestock as members of its pack. In order to ensure this connection, puppies are raised with the other farm animals, growing alongside the pigs, sheep, cattle and chickens. This instills a familial bond from a young age and ferments a deep protective instinct.

Some breeds to consider for the guardian role include but are not limited to Scottish terriers, Airedales, and standard poodles. These types of dogs are able to pick up on unusual activity and are naturally territorial. There are other options, such as mixed breeds, that you can train into good watchdogs but try to avoid using less-reactive breeds such as bloodhounds or Newfoundland dogs.

Herd Dogs

The most commonly known type of homestead dog, the herding dog will position itself as an alpha among your farm animals. Due to its training, a herding dog will see your livestock as prey, but rather than attacking them for food the dog will use aggression and dominance to bunch and guide the animals like a supervisor or enforcer. Dogs under this category can also fulfill the role of house pet, while guardian dogs will usually remain in the fields with the animals.

With such a specific balance of dominance and obedience required for herding dogs, you’ll need to ensure you choose the breed wisely. Collies, border collies, Australian shepherds, Welsh corgi’s, bouviers of Flanders, the Queensland blue heeler or Australian heeler are just some of the breeds that you can use to herd your livestock. You should do further research into each type as some breeds work with some animals better than others, but they all share behavioral traits that make them perfect for the job.

Herding dogs are able to enact eye prey, stalk, and grip and heel skills at maturity while repressing the attack, bite and kill predator traits that would make them too dangerous to utilize in the country.

2. Feeding Your Homestead Dog

As your dog will work alongside you on your homestead its activity level will be different than city dogs. This requires an altered diet of food and treats that fill nutritional needs but also energize the metabolism. Some homesteaders opt to make their own dog food rather than purchase food from a store, while others simply take a closer look at their purchases rather than use their own crops and produce. Other owners simply make their own dog treats which are handed out less frequently but greatly appreciated by dogs.

You’ll want to make sure that you research the proper foods and treats your homestead dog requires in order to maintain their health and energy. While certain health defects and diseases can cause unforeseen problems, a healthy and hearty diet will keep your homestead dog happy and working for years, long after they pass their prime.

3. Health Care & Aid

While a good diet can positively benefit your homestead dog on a daily basis, you’ll need to ensure your dog has quality medical and first-aid care at all times. Remember that you’re using your dog for protection and farm work, jobs that demand risk to life and limb.

Your homestead dog can and most likely will sustain injuries of all kinds and an untreated wound or break can become life-threatening faster than you realize. Make sure you either have access to on-sight round the clock veterinary care or knowledge of the closest pet hospital to your property.

livestock guardian dog
Photo by Getty Images/SolStock

Six Ways to Turn Your Black Thumb Into a Green Thumb

Bobbi Peterson 

Do plants wither and die on the vine if they’re in your garden? Do you have the dreaded black thumb, the kiss of death to even the hardiest plants?

Fear not. No one really has a black thumb. You’re doing something wrong if your plants are dying. The good news? You simply have to change it up to do things right. Here are six simple ways to accomplish that.

1. Browse Information on Plants

Let’s get first things out of the way. While it might be tempting to choose your garden by color and shape, what your neighbors are doing or what you want to eat, you can’t make decisions about your garden based on those factors alone. You have to read up on your choices before placing them in the earth.

Seed packets, the web, and your local state college’s agricultural extension program are all excellent sources of information on what every plant needs. Plants vary with respect to the amount of sun, water, soil and drainage they require. They also vary according to when they can be planted. You need to read the instructions and follow them. Changing your black thumb to green may be as simple as that.

2. Research Your Plant Zone

Your plants may be dying because they don’t suit your climate. If September and early October nights get very cool where you are, it may be too cold for the plants you have. Conversely, the heat of July may simply be too much for the plants you’ve chosen. There’s no substitute for knowing which plants will do well in your climate, and which simply can’t make it. A cactus is unlikely to make it outdoors in Alaska in October.

Nicely enough, the United States Department of Agriculture provides a Plant Hardiness Zone Map, searchable by zip code, to help you along.

3. Try an Indoor Container Garden

Indoor container gardens can be among the simplest to start with. You choose a nice container with holes in the bottom for drainage. Fill with the type of soil your plant needs. Place inside. Herbs such as basil are simple to start with, and they will enliven meals from tomato soup to pasta. Green plants such as ivy are also hardy and easy to grow.

Remember that plants are unlikely to thrive unless your indoor areas are warm. If you live in an area with cold winters, invest in material to keep the room where your plants are at an optimal temperature. Insulated drapes, heaters and weather-stripping around the windows will do wonders for your plant’s life.

4. Don’t Overwater

Whether your plants are indoors or outdoors, overwatering is one of the deadly sins of gardeners. Plants will drown if they are overwatered. They can also develop root rot, which, as the name implies, eats away at the roots. Without healthy roots, plants perish. Don’t assume outside plants can’t rot or drown, either. If moisture isn’t absorbed quickly enough, or there’s too much of it, your plants can die.

How much is enough? Look at and feel the soil. Never water if the soil is damp. You can tell a plant is thirsty if the water disappears quickly. After watering, touch the soil every day. If it gets dry, water again.

Symptoms of overwatering can include yellowing, losing leaves and drooping.

5. Make Sure It Gets Appropriate Sunlight

Know your plant’s sun requirements. Some, like daffodils, sunflowers and roses, need lots of full sun. Others, like ferns, will die if they receive full sun. They prefer shade or partial sun.  

Then, adhere to the requirements. Nothing will kill a plant quicker than no sun if it needs it or full sun if it would rather not. Indoor plants that need a lot of sun will likely do best with a southern exposure.

If your outdoor plants are in areas where sun is blocked by trees, shrubs or houses, you will have to prune so they receive light. You could also move them to an area where the light is better.  

6. Inspect for Pests

Aphids, ants and weevils are just a partial list of the pests that can infect your plants. Frequent inspection for the pests or signs of them attacking your garden is a must.

If you see signs of insect pests, an insecticide is a good idea. For ants, a bit of honey or jam near the plants will have the ants forming a line, so you can trace back where their colony is. Killing one or two won’t work. You’ll have to attack the colony with insecticide.

No one is born with a black thumb. Following these six tips will allow your plants to live, grow and delight you and your family. They are all steps on the road to becoming a bona fide green-thumb gardener.

planting beans
Photo by Getty Images/cjp

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.

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.

Photo by Adobe Stock/AF