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Should You Build Your Own Homestead?

Bobbi Peterson 

Have you ever wanted to escape reality entirely, head off to an exclusive enclave somewhere and hope it will solve all your problems? Most of us have, but also realize running away doesn’t solve much!

Homesteading can be equally enticing at first glance, and while it does prove to be an idyllic existence for those so inclined to that lifestyle, the road there is not an easy one.

If you have been toying with the idea of building a homestead, you could be scratching the surface of something fantastic, or something not so suited to you. Let’s take a look at what you should know before making such a significant decision.

1) What’s Your Goal?

Homesteading is indeed a liberating concept, but take a step back and assess your longer-term goals before committing yourself and your nearest and dearest to the unknown.

Ask yourself, “Do I just want to improve the sustainability of my current lifestyle, or go fully ‘off the grid?’”

Homesteading has been known to involve the purchase of a 30-acre plot of land and a brood of rescue hens. However, perhaps you can satiate your hankering for pursuing simplicity with less extreme decisions. Switching to renewable energy, for example, can be one step toward achieving more sustainability, or perhaps modernizing your kitchen for improved energy efficiency. Do your research and understand the full spectrum of what setting up a homestead entails. Ideally, talk to someone who already has a homestead.

If there are more pressing motivators behind your interest in homesteading, such as financial goals, do whatever you can to take the pressure off. That way, you can make your decision with a clear head, as opposed to out of necessity.

2) Are You Ready to Work? And Then Work Some More?

Homestead living is hard work. Seriously hard work. Even life on a smaller homestead involves long and tiring days. Depending on the degree of your homesteading ambition, you can expect to find yourself immersed in many, if not all, of the following:

• Planting and maintaining your garden, harvesting fruits and vegetables and learning crop rotation methods

• Canning your fresh produce or finding other methods to preserve it

• Building a chicken coop and raising and tending to farm animals 24 hours a day, seven days a week

• Making dairy products

• Beekeeping

• Learning how to make your own clothes

Homesteading is a full-time job and then some — you are, of course, working to survive, but it’s not exactly a desk job. But it could be the most satisfying job you’ll ever have: Homesteaders report a massive sense of accomplishment from this way of life, and incredible satisfaction from managing their own destiny, learning new skills and being truly free in a libertarian sense.

3) The Million-Dollar Question

Home is where we are happiest, but naturally, the rat race of city life and the constant pursuit of material goods can take its toll — in more ways than one. Financial relief is one of the main attractions for many homesteaders.   

While homesteading can save money in the long run, it is not a cheap option at the outset. Furthermore, if you are going it alone, or don’t have all the skills and tools required for upcoming projects, you will need to spend money regularly on outside help.

Homesteading could be the answer to your dissatisfaction with your current lifestyle, but it could also just be a romantic notion. Ensure you take pressures away and do all the research you can before making the decision!

homestead
Photo by Getty Images/JamesBrey

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!

snow
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

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







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