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Beginner’s Guide to Prepping – Should You Prepare?

The cold wind howled with a chill we hadn’t felt since last winter. We bundled up and threw a couple of extra logs on the fire. It all seemed pretty normal for a late fall day in Idaho. But the temps kept dropping and then everything went dark. The house was cozy, but I knew that without power to keep the furnace running, the outlying rooms would start to get cold. I gathered the kids and their bedding close to the wood stove, and we hunkered down for the night.

 

wood heat

 

Are you prepared if the power goes out? What if there is a storm and you can’t go to the grocery store? Our story could have panned out much differently had we not been prepared.

Maybe you don’t face the threat of harsh winter storms or hurricanes but chances are you rely on the income from your job. What if you were to lose that without notice? Would your family go hungry?

No Pay!

Several years ago when the government was busy arguing over the federal budget our family went through two periods of no pay. During those times we had food to eat and money to make our payment. It was scary because our lives were in someone else’s hands but we didn’t fear whether we could feed the family. Our family ate like kings as co-workers applied for unemployment benefits.

 

home-cooked meal

 

Through all of these experiences, we have learned how important it is to be prepared. Does that mean that you need to build a bunker and stock it with two years of freeze dried meals? No. You can prep without being a doomsday prepper.

You want to stock up on some essentials – where do you start?

 

Scenarios to consider Cooking during disaster

  • Your climate – What are the extremes in your area? If you lost power during one of those extremes what do you need on hand?
  • Power outages – Can you still cook? What discomforts will you suffer? Will your animals have water?
  • Economic distress – What if computer networks fail and you cannot use your debit card?
  • Job loss – Can you feed your family for the next three months as you find work and wait for the first paycheck?
  • Natural disaster – Flood, hurricane, tornado, earthquake, wild fire, extreme heat, extreme cold. Every year part of the US is hit with a natural disaster. If one hit your city would you be prepared to weather that storm?

 

After considering different scenarios choose which ones you feel you need to be prepared for. Now decide how you can insulate your family from the effects of those situations.

 

 

Job loss is a risk everyone faces, even if you are self-employed. Does your family have provisions to get you through a hard time? I have heard people talk about losing work and going home to bare cupboards. How do you choose what to spend that last paycheck on? Will you get work fast enough to continue paying your bills?

How much do I really need?

dry goods storage

I like to keep at least three months of food on hand at all times. Six months or more is even better! That way if the car blows the transmission you will have a lot of breathing room. Of course, a savings account goes hand in hand with all that we are talking about.

Having food storage is like a dedicated savings account that is set aside just for feeding your family. If you are buying food and preserving it while it is in season, you will have a great return on investment!

Keep these items on hand
Food

  • Cooking supplies
  • Water
  • First aid supplies
  • Medication
  • Toiletries
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Diapers
  • Gasoline
  • Propane
  • Flashlights
  • Batteries
  • Fire wood
  • Clothes line or drying rack
  • Bushcraft knife
  • Tools to make repairs

 

Your Turn!

  • What preps will you start building up today?
  • What gaps do you have in your preps?

What You Should Know About Prepping and Homesteading

Scenes of ramshackle cabins in the secluded woods flash on your screen featuring characters that remind you of Grizzly Adams. He hunts and forages all of his food and cooks it over the campfire while muttering about living off of the land.

Next on your watch list is Survivor Bob. He has preps stashed in the forest, a carefully curated survival kit on his back and lives in a missile silo. He can lock his doors and not resurface for two years if an asteroid hits Washington and the government collapses.

off-grid living

Both prepping and homesteading have been popular on television lately and have gained a lot of attention from the media; but what is prepping? What is homesteading? What are the pros and cons of each?

Homesteading starts as a mindset that says “I can produce that!” rather than feeding the machine of consumerism. It is a movement of self-reliance. It includes everyone from the apartment dweller who cans produce purchased from the farmer’s market to the off-grid, self-sustaining farmer.

Prepping is also based on self-reliance. But rather than the lifestyle of a producer, their focus is one that prepares for one or more catastrophic events that propel them into a survival scenario.

survival

There are positives to each way of thinking, and the line between them is often blurred.

Many homesteaders are motivated by perceived changes and threats in the world and want to be prepared to live without the commercial supply line. More and more, peppers are realizing that stockpiling two years of MREs is not sustainable and have begun learning traditional homestead skills.

What can we learn from homesteaders?

Fall gardening

  • How to grow your own food
  • Self-reliance rather than an entitlement mentality
  • How to be frugal and make the most of our resources
  • A can-do-attitude and a desire to gather and learn new skills
  • Simple living

What can we learn from preppers?

  • Being well equipped for an emergency.
  • How to stock up on first aid supplies.
  • Have a plan if you are forced to leave home in a survival situation.
  • Survival is often a mental game. Peppers have played out scenarios in their mind so that they can quickly and accurately react.
  • You can prep no matter where you live.

 

There are pros and cons to every decision we make in life. Carefully weighing them out is vital. The debate about whether prepping or homesteading is superior is foolish and divisive and needs to end!

Learning lessons from each other is essential to life; no two people are alike. Think of this as a spectrum rather than two separate lifestyles. Find where you fit and make the most of it!

I fall more in the category of a homesteader than a prepper but find myself inspired to keep more emergency supplies on hand when I talk to my prepping friends. We face the possibility of significant winter storms that could have us holed up in the house for a couple of weeks at a time. If we aren’t prepared for that, it could be a dangerous scenario.

 

What are the pitfalls of homesteading?

  • Very labor intensive.
  • Not sustainable in poor health.
  • What if an emergency forced you to leave your homestead?

How does prepping fall short?

  • Can become too focused on prepping to enjoy the simple pleasures of daily living.
  • What happens when the preps run out?
  • Eating MREs for two years is less than satisfying.

Are you Grizzly Adams, living off-grid, or are you Survivor Bob, ready for a major catastrophe? Be inspired by both. Stop and smell the fresh herbs on your window sill and then take a hard look at what you can learn from your prepping or homesteading friends.

Your Turn!

  • Are you a prepper or a homesteader?
  • What skills or preps do you want to add to your current lifestyle?

5 Things Most People Get Wrong About Being A Homesteader

You envision this perfect homestead, chock full of adorable animals, lush gardens and delicious meals at the end of a long day on the farmstead.  It’s human to think the grass is greener on the other side, to think that the simple way of life is the ticket to a happy life, but experience has shown that people get many things wrong about homesteading.  Here is my list of 5 things most people get wrong:

Growing all your own food

garden beds

You hear this time and time again, “I’m going to grow all my own food!”  The tough pill to swallow for many first time homesteaders is that you simply can’t do it all.  Talk to any seasoned homesteader and they’ll tell you they can meet many of their needs, but not all of them.  Common things are items that can’t be grown in your climate, or that require special equipment to process or things that aren’t cost effective.

cost to grow wheat flourSome examples:  For me in my climate, North Carolina, its very difficult to grow good citrus without a lot of headache. Another example, is flour. Flour is possible for you to grow and process with about 2,000 square feet per person for a year’s worth of flour. But, I can buy the same amount of flour for much less.  I took a look at my local big box, and a name brand organic flour costs $1.22 a pound!

The truth is you will never be able to learn the intricacies of every plant, animal and farm. Good, and even great, farmers have bad crop years.  You can grow a sense of community by growing and trading a crop that you’re good at.

Homesteading isn’t an inexpensive way of living

While some cost savings can be had, I attribute most of the cost savings to a mental shift in how you use money.  A lot of homesteaders keep deep pantries to take advantage of sales when they buy. Most homesteaders are DIYers when it comes to fixing things, they buy used, and other cost-saving behaviors.  The truth is, you can adopt these habits now, in the city, and save big.  When it comes to homesteading, the cost savings is negligible because you need land, equipment, materials and feed.

An example:  University of Wyoming did a study on raising your own beef vs buying retail. The difference?  You save $235 dollars on that meat per cow.  But if you factor in time and say you, on average, spent 5 minutes tending that cow per day (very low if we are realistic), average time to butchering is around 2 years, that’s 60.8 hours of time ($3.86 per hour). The average hourly wage in the US is around $24 per hour, that means I could work a side gig for a week and eclipse that: 10 hours vs 2 years of work and not able to take a vacation.

It’s a lot harder than you think

You may have dabbled with things here and there, but until you take the leap you don’t understand what its truly like.  I remember the first year I went from two 4×8 beds to 1/3 acre; from 64 square feet to 14,500 square feet.  With the growth I added a few labor saving items: timer drip irrigation, a standup broad fork and push precision seeder.

That summer was one of the hardest gardening years of my life.  Everything was brought to another level of labor and when something went wrong, it went wrong in a big way.  Even the good things were tough.  I remember one day harvesting 350 lbs of produce in July. It was 95 degrees and so humid the air felt thick.  I got it all harvested, washed, processed and stored, then collapsed on my couch and didn’t wake up until the next morning.

You’ll probably still need a job off the homestead

There are a lot of costs that you can offset by running a homestead. You can barter, trade, and earn money from your wares, but its very difficult to go cold turkey from a steady paycheck.  This isn’t to say it’s not possible, but its very, very difficult.  Take it from me, someone who made the leap from full time traditional to self employment, it’s hard. It took me about 5 years to fully make the leap.

One of the biggest advantages to homesteading with a job is health insurance and a retirement plan.  I’m going to avoid the politics on this, but right now for just me at the cheapest health plan available ($7,500 deductible), I pay $5,400 a year as a young healthy guy with no medications.   My self-employed friends with families are paying around $23,000 a year for the same plan that I have.

So, if you have two adults in your household, there are advantages to having at least one of them working a traditional job.

You think independence will be great – you’re wrong, it’s awesome!

I have had conversations with friends who live what most would call a “typical” life, and they try to understand what it’s like to live outside the norm.  You try to explain it and you try to share what it’s really like and how clear it has become to you. The movie The Matrix tries to explain it with the blue pill or red pill metaphor, but until you actually take that blue pill and your eyes are opened, you cannot possibly grasp the gravity of your old life.  It’s absolutely true.

desing your life

I don’t even know how to put it into words, how profoundly different my life is now that I’ve taken that leap. I’ve become self-employed, live in a tiny house and living a life on my terms!

 

Your Turn!

  • What surprises have you found in your own journey?
  • What appeals to you about homesteading?

Fall Gardening: Planning for a Longer Growing Season

No matter how early I start or how big my garden is I always want my growing season to last longer! With a little planning, you can extend your growing season by planting cold-hardy plants that will be ready to harvest as the first frosts are beginning. While frost kills tender summer veggies, it will sweeten many of the autumn root crops and will prepare them for long-term storage.

brassicas

The timing of your fall garden will be determined by what region you live in and if you have light or hard frosts in early fall. Here in the northern states where the growing seasons are short, and our first frosts are hard, many of our fall vegetables are planted at the same time as our spring and summer crops. The latest I can plant fast-growing, cold-hardy greens is early July. However, If you live in the south, it may be hard to grow through the heat of the summer. You will most likely plant your fall garden in September for a harvest in December and January.

When do I plant?

There are two important dates you need to figure out – the first day of frost and your planting date. Asking neighboring gardeners or local nurseries is the best way to pinpoint what is typical for your area. There are also some great frost calculators on the internet. The ones I checked were very close to the dates we use for our garden.

The date you plant into your garden will vary based on the plants and their rate of maturation (how fast they mature). You will count backward from your first day of frost to calculate when your fall garden needs to be started. If your vegetables need 75 days to maturation, then plant at least 75 days before your first frost.

Do I plant directly into the ground?

Many of the plants you will be growing in your fall garden will not tolerate the heat of the summer so they need to be started indoors, just like you would start seedings during winter for your spring garden. Brassicas (the cabbage family – broccoli, cabbage, kale…) all take a while to mature so you would start them indoors and then plant into the garden when they are 4-6 weeks old.

fall garden

Tender leafy greens can be sown directly into the garden. One way to make sure they don’t bolt before you have a chance to enjoy them is to plant them under the shade of your summer plants. I was able to extend my peas last year by planting them under sunflowers. It worked great and looked beautiful.

What if my summer garden isn’t finished when it is time to plant?

You do not need to completely clean out your garden before you can begin planting your fall garden. Planting fall crops as you harvest and pull out summer veggies is a great way to keep your garden growing. When your tender seedlings are ready for the garden, they will thank you for planting them in the partial shade of your summer veggies. Not sure what to grow? This is how I prioritize and plan my space.

Here is a list of popular fall garden plants:Fall gardening

  • peas
  • brussel sprouts
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • kale
  • collards
  • cabbage
  • kohlrabi
  • lettuce
  • arugula
  • spinach
  • cilantro
  • parsley
  • carrots
  • parsnips
  • rutabaga
  • turnips
  • potatoes

Your Turn!

  • What are your favorite fall garden vegetables?
  • What are you going to grow in your fall garden this year?

Urban Homesteading: Growing in the City

Urban homesteading holds a special place in my heart because that is where my homestead journey began, in the city. So many people look at the homestead movement from the outside, thinking there is not a place for them because they don’t have a vast spread of land or plans to move to the country. Homesteading is a mindset before anything else. A mindset that says I can produce that!

Creativity and ingenuity are usually realized when there is a challenge to overcome. I love seeing people that are harvesting rainwater and growing their own food in the heart of major cities. They are not hampered by their circumstances but use them to come up with new ways of doing things. Here are some fun ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

Learn how to preserve food

My homestead journey began in the kitchen when I learned how to can. A change in our diet many years ago opened my eyes to buying foods while they are in season and then preserving them to eat later. I would buy cases of whatever I could find on sale and then take a few days to learn how to can or dehydrate it.

food preservation

 

As my food storage began to build, my dependence on weekly trips to the grocery store began to diminish. It was so empowering not to be tethered to the grocery store. The next step was looking for alternative ways to procure the food I wanted to can.

Buy from local producers

I started buying grass-fed meat at the local farmer’s market. I often found a case of tomatoes or apples I could bring home and can as well – another way to disconnect from the grocery store and gain independence. Then I found out that many of the vendors at the farmer’s market will sell direct from their farms. The joy of driving out and seeing where your food comes from is hard to describe.

beef in butcher paper

In buying directly from the farmers, I developed relationships with people in my community. We were making a difference in the world. My dollars were meaningful to them, and the food they produced was more than just something to fill our plates. It is ok to be homesteader without producing everything you need to sustain your family.

Learn how to grow plants

Very few people have a truly green thumb. Tenacity and not being afraid to try are much more important if you want to become good at growing food. Don’t limit your thinking to rows in the ground. Grow in raised beds, grow in pots, grow vertically in rain gutters or create an edible landscape. There are so many ways to be a successful gardener.

Compost

Composting is a miraculous process of turning waste into nutrient-rich soil to feed your plants. Here again, there are so many ways to make it happen. My favorite method is keeping deep bedding in the chicken run and just throwing our scraps out for them to pick and scratch through. Anything they don’t eat breaks down with the manure and the bedding. There is no turning or watering involved; the chickens do the work for me.

deep bedding for chickens

 

Even if you live in an apartment, you can create compost. Worm bins are perfect for an urban homesteader. With only a few week’s time, a little water, kitchen scraps and some high carbon material (like newspaper) your worms will create nutritious plant food. You will be growing 7’ tomatoes on your balcony before you know it,

You can homestead no matter where you live! Don’t let someone else’s version of homesteading hold you back from carving out your own. Be creative with your space and start with something you love.

Your Turn!

  • What have you begun producing?
  • How have you been creative with your space?
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