The road to a more self-reliant lifestyle is a journey and if you are like me, you feel that although you may never reach 100% self-sufficiency, you will strive to become more so each day, month and year. Here are some suggestions for things to help you along to becoming a more self-sufficient person and family.
Pressure and Water Bath Canner
First, you probably know that you should plant a garden and are most likely working on that each year. But how are you preserving your food? While freezing can be a good choice with reliable power or a backup generator, you also must consider space and whether it’s user friendly when it comes time to cooking your meals. Perhaps a better option is canning your foods.
While canning requires a learning curve, and you should diligently read your manual, I will say with all certainty that my pressure canner is one of my favorite kitchen tools. I actually love canning, and the foods we put up this way are so versatile and shelf-stable. Then they can be stored so many places as long as its dry and temperatures remain above freezing. Plus, the majority of your prep work is done, so usually its dump and serve or super simple to add to dishes (a great example is canned meat).
Modern canners are very safe, and though some people still pass around canner horror stories, they’re not very reliable. In my experience, when you will follow directions carefully and take your time, you will do just fine on canning — regardless Great Aunt Martha blew up a canner back in 1939.
There are so many wonderful foods that can be safely canned, but a few of my favorites are meat (deer, turkey, chicken), jams and syrups, tomatoes (in a ton of different forms), relishes, soups and dry beans. You can’t beat home-canned foods and if your power goes out its no trouble to heat and serve.
I currently use a Presto canner, which holds 7 quarts and 14 pints. I actually do my water bath canning in this one also, so I don’t have to store another large kettle. Last year, we also purchased an All American Canner, which is built like a tank. However, since I have a glass-top stove, we have to use it outside on our gas stove stand. It holds a massive number of jars and is a big time saver. However, since you do have to keep a constant eye on canners, make sure you have that time to always be watchful (especially with children around).
Another item you should really add is a clothesline. This one is both practical, eco-friendly and a huge money saver! My dryer is old and uses between $15 to $20 each month of our electric bill so in the long run, line drying is quite a money saver. Plus, I love how sunshine-dried clothes smell.
It’s easy to make a clothesline, and you can do a super simple or elaborate one. If you have a front porch with posts, you can run clothesline wire between the posts, but be sure to double wrap the wire so it doesn’t sag too much. Or you can dig post holes and pour concrete for 4-by-4s or 6-by-6s. Just make sure you know where you want your clothesline pretty permanently.
A few considerations are to not put it under trees where sap or roosting birds can ruin your clean laundry. Try to put it in a more open area where the breezes hit it best. Do make sure to use clothesline wire, because it can be wiped clean and doesn’t leave a nasty residue on your clothing. The last thing you want to do is redo laundry.
One more option for clotheslines is to make a pulley system. This is actually what we are going to make this time. You just attach pulleys to a porch and to a further tree or post. Then double your clothesline wire and you can hang your clothes, and move the line from one location. The clothes can then be taken off in the same way. This is a wonderful way to make use of unlevel ground and for individuals with limited mobility or small children.
For small families you can also use the pre-made clothesline stands. One last option is a drying rack for indoors or porch drying.
The third item on my list is a compost bin. This is not only important if you’re growing your own fruits and vegetables, but it also helps reduce the amount of trash you have to get rid of. We made our compost bins out of recycled pallets. What vegetable scraps the bunny doesn’t get go into the bin, along with used coffee grounds and filters, crushed eggshells, used tea bags, leaves and cow or bunny manure. We don’t put food leftovers like meat, dairy, fats or anything that animals would dig out. We also don’t put dog waste because those can make you sick!
Compost bins are very easy to make. We use a simple one made from five pallets and some metal posts to hold the pallets upright. You don’t even have to build a structure to hold your compost but it is easier to contain and looks nicer also. Layering your composting materials is a good idea as is watering during dry spells. I will be adding worms to mine to help decompose the materials even better.
Photo by Jenny Underwood
Berry Bushes and Fruit Trees
My last two items to add to your self-reliant homestead now are berry bushes and fruit trees. The great thing about both of these is they produce for years and years from just one planting. The only downside is you will have to wait awhile before you harvest, which is why it’s important to plant these now and not next year.
We currently have two producing trees and just planted four more. My goal is to plant between five to 10 every year until I reach my goal. The same goes for berry bushes.
Where we live, it used to be the norm to pick gallons of wild blackberries each year, but unfortunately, that is no longer the case. So, each year we are planting more blackberries until we can preserve all our own berry needs from our own bushes. Both fruit trees and bushes are rather easy to maintain and don’t generally require babying.
Make certain to buy from a reputable nursery who offers guarantees and replacements. Also be sure to only get varieties approved for your area or you’re throwing money in the hole. Pick up a good orchard book and learn how to prune, fertilize and stake your plants and you’re on your way to producing the majority or all of your own fruit.
There are many more things you can add as the years go by but these are all cost-effective, practical and help you live a more self-reliant lifestyle on your homestead for years to come.
Jenny Underwood is a homeschooling mom of four who lives on a fifth-generation homestead in the Missouri Ozarks, where she gardens, forages, hunts and preserves food for her family. Connect with Jenny at Our Inconvenient Family.
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