Yearly archive for 2018

Your Complete Guide to Dehydrating Food

Your Complete Guide to Dehydrating Food

I wanted to do a post about dehydrating food—a topic several readers have asked about regarding food preservation and storage—but one problem, I’ve never dehydrated food before!

Undaunted, I decided the best way to teach was to learn about it myself. So I interviewed my pal Jennifer who’s an expert at the process of food dehydration and made this great video to share. Unfortunately, when I got home, I discovered the video was garbled, so instead, I went through my notes and created a step-by-step guide and getting started video for you guys. (Check out my video on food dehydrating below…)

 

Dehydrating food is a great way to preserve food and enjoy it for weeks and even months. To dehydrate foods, they’re simply heated at a low temperature with plenty of air circulation. Using a professional dehydrator is an easier method but you can also dry food in the oven, as I’ll explain.

When it comes to food preservation, I think a lot of people immediately bring up canning. I’ll break down and compare the two methods below, but when you weigh the equipment and cost, dehydrating is a cheaper, easier way, especially for those starting out.

Are you ready to get started? Here’s what you need to know about dehydrating food!

Dehydrating vs. Canning

The aspect of dehydrating that appeals to most homesteaders is the simplicity. Both canning and dehydrating have their strengths, but when it comes to dehydrating, less equipment is required (and it’s a simpler process.) Canning, as you will learn from our video is often a more involved process. While canning gives you a longer shelf-life (1-2 years), there’s a greater risk of serious issues like botulism.

For beginners, here’s the breakdown.

Cost

A food dehydrator is hardly pricier than the initial investment of canning. Most food basic dehydrators start at $40 and some are priced much higher. For fruits and veggies, a simple model should work. You can also dehydrate in your oven but it’s a less exacting process. (Some people even dehydrate food in their car—but let’s leave that to the pros!) In an oven it also takes a long time, during which you’re stuck at home. A food dehydrator requires less supervision.

bannana chips low cost

For newbies using a dehydrator is often the way to go. It does require electricity, so if you’re off the grid, that’s also a consideration. Fortunately most dehydrators don’t require a lot of energy. For a breakdown on dehydrator electricity usage check out this chart. Aside from your food dehydrator, you need knife and a cutting board.

Canning on the other hand requires more gear (depending on your method). If you use the water bath method, you’re looking at an investment in the pot, the jars, lids and tongs. A pressure canner on the other hand costs between $60-$300. So canning ends up being almost the same, if not higher cost than dehydration.

Food Safety

Again, canning and food dehydration are both safe methods of preservation if done correctly. With dehydration you’re removing 90-95% of the water content of food, making it an unwelcoming environment for bacteria and mold. With canning, food is heated to a bacteria-killing temperature and the sterile food is sealed in jars using heat and pressure.

With both processes, you need to follow proper procedures and use common sense. The benefit of canning is you know a jar is sealed by listening for the telltale “pop.” That said, when canning goes bad, it goes really bad (like food poisoning bad). Yes, everyone has a story of their grandparents eating canned food over a decade old, but don’t risk it. Canned food is good for 1-2 years, but you must use an exact, proper method.

food saver bags holding dehydrated fruit

With food dehydration, you check for doneness simply by testing the food. With most fruits and vegetables, they will feel completely dry to the touch. When your food feels dry it’s ready to store for a few weeks or for months in a FoodSaver bag or container. If you’re making jerky on the other hand, you don’t want to play around. That’s when it’s important to test for correct temperatures and follow dehydration procedures.

Taste & Ease of Cooking

Again, people love the taste of dehydrated food and the variety of possibilities. You can make cookies, fruit leather and even bread and crackers with a dehydrator! Many foods like vegetables and fruits are regularly enjoyed in their dehydrated form. Other foods are rehydrated by soaking in water or boiling.

With canning, the contents of the jar are completely cooked. Anyone who’s eaten cold beans out of can knows while they aren’t delicious, they’re certainly edible even without heating. Because of the chemical requirements of safe canning, you need to balance the salt and acid content in the food. This means certain foods are a little saltier or sweeter than your preference. Canned food also has a distinctive texture and taste some people don’t like.

Nutrition

Proponents of dehydrating foods often cite the nutritional benefits of raw food. When food is dehydrated it isn’t cooked. The dehydrating happens at a very low temperature, which means it’s an appealing solution for those who follow a raw food diet.

sun dried tomatoes taste amazing

With canning the food is cooked. However, it is often preserved right from the garden—much fresher than if it had to travel miles from harvest to processing plant. Food preserved in it’s peak state, whether dehydrated or canned often has the same or better nutrition than food stored in the fridge for a while. In both methods of preservation, plenty of good nutrition remains.

Canning or Dehydration: Which Method Wins?

So, which is best? Canning or dehydration? It really depends on the food. Both methods are excellent and serve a purpose.

For storage in a small space, however, dehydration certainly has benefits. After all, when food has been dehydrated, it’s often smaller and “shrunken down” from the original state (think of a raisin versus a grape). Dehydrated food can also be stored in vacuum seal bags or airtight containers—boxes or even reused jars. Canned food is stored in well, cans (or Mason jars) which take up a fair amount of space.

Your dehydrator also requires storage, which is a consideration before you invest. But many dehydrators are fairly compact. Again, the dehydration process also works in your oven (and yes, even in the sun).

What Can be Dehydrated?

You can dehydrate all kinds of different foods. The most common of course are fruits and vegetables and people often think of jerky as well.

Did you know you can also dehydrate breads and baked goods? Make crackers, naan and flatbreads right in your food dehydrator. It’s not difficult, but most require you “flip” them part way through the process to dry both sides. Many people love making cookies and bars in their food dehydrator. You can create fruit leather and even yogurt in some dehydrators.

Most foods need to be cut into small chunks to dehydrate properly. Here are the typical drying times and process to get you started.

Fruits

To start dehydrating fruits, it’s best to begin with the simple basics. Sliced apples, pineapple, apricots and mangos are all great dried fruit for first-time dehydrators.  Banana chips are another common dehydrator-friendly food. Slice the fruit into bite-sized pieces, 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick.

fruit leather

Fruit puree results in easy, delicious and portable fruit leather. Puree three cups of cooked fruit (frozen or fresh) and add water as needed so it’s spreadable. Pour it 1/8-inch-thick into parchment lined trays of your dehydrator or a lined baking sheet. Dehydrate fruit or fruit leather at 140 for 6-12 hours. Test for tackiness as you go. Use honey or syrup to sweeten.

Vegetables

With vegetables, you’ll want to blanch or steam the vegetable first (particularly if it’s a veggie you’d eat cooked normally like green beans). Mushrooms, onions and other “raw-friendly” vegetables don’t need pre-cooking. As with fruit, slice the vegetables into bite-sized pieces, 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick.

The method for drying vegetables is very similar to fruit. The drying often concentrates the natural sweetness in the vegetables and with a little salt and seasoning they turn into great chips. Try tomatoes and peppers for a chewier snack too. Depending on the moisture content in the food, it will take anywhere from 6-12 hours.

dried corn for cooking

Once dried, store your dehydrated food in airtight containers, jars or FoodSaver-type vacuum seal bags. Once opened or exposed to air, the food should be enjoyed within two-weeks. The shelf-stability will depend on the amount of moisture left in the food, so use common sense. Obviously, if you see signs of mold or spoiling, discard the food.

Meats

To make jerky in a dehydrator, you’ll need to heat it higher. Meat needs to be cooked to a temperature of at least 160 degrees, so preheat your oven or dehydrator first for at least thirty minutes, before you start. Marinate meat ahead of time, using your favorite flavoring.

The internal temperature of the meat must reach 160 during the cooking process to remain food safe. You can do this by either drying your jerky for 4-6 hours in the dehydrator and then cooking for 10 minutes in a 275-degree oven OR steam or roast the meat to an internal temperature of 160 degrees before dehydrating for 4-6 hours.

When it comes to meat, remember you aren’t limited to just beef jerky either. Try pre-sliced ham, beef or turkey for a great, different flavor (following the same method). You can also dry fish, such as salmon!

Methods for Dehydrating

There are several methods for dehydrating foods. The oven is probably the most convenient (since most people own an oven), but if you enjoy dehydrating often and like the convenience of “setting and forgetting it,” a dehydrator is a worthwhile investment.

Oven

Using the oven to dehydrate your food is easy. Simply preheat your oven to 145 degrees for fruits and vegetables and 160 degrees for meat (following the jerky process outlined above). Using a wire rack on a cookie sheet will help air circulate, but food dries well on a silicone baking sheet also. You may want to use parchment too. Parchment works especially for fruit leather– easily peel, cut and roll the leather before you enjoy.

Smoking/Salting

preserve food with salt

If you want to cure and preserve meat the old-fashioned way, smoking and salting are tried and true methods. Because the objective is to remove all moisture from the food before preserving these methods work well and add great flavor. There are a number of food safety guidelines to follow if you decide to cure, smoke or salt your own food. For the best guidelines I recommend visiting the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s site on Smoking and Curing.  The internal temperature and sanitation guidelines are critical especially when working with raw meat.

Dehydrator

You can purchase a basic food dehydrator for $60 on up to deluxe models costing in the thousands. If you frequently preserve food, investing in a dehydrator may be worth it. This is especially helpful for hunters, gardeners or those who rely on food storage during the winter months (or if you simply enjoy dehydrated and dried foods). Dehydrating is a great way to extend your food storage capacity and safely prepare food to enjoy later.

food dehydrator excalibur

The Nesco and the Excalibur brand food dehydrators are the most popular and well-reviewed. There are also models from Presto, NutriChef and Cuisinart. For simple, small space dehydrators Nesco offers both a small square dehydrator and small round version for well under $100. Watch second-hand stores or Craigslist to score a dehydrator on the cheap.

If you’re interested in preserving food for storage or simply for delicious snacks, food dehydration is a great way to go. It’s easy and fun. You’ll end up with plenty of delicious foods to enjoy for months. After talking to Jennifer about dehydrating, I’ve definitely decided to give it a shot. Even if you’re a beginner, dehydrating is a great way to preserve food!

Setting Up Your Land To Start A Homestead

When you’re just starting out and setting up your homestead there are a lot of things that you need to think about.  We all have big aspirations of what we want to do on our land, but there is a lot of work that needs to go into it all before we can really do anything.

land to homestead

In some cases we are coming into a piece of property, or our property that we already live on has certain elements, layouts or assets that we need to work with or around.  While I am always looking to capitalize on what I already have in place, I’m also not afraid to make changes or remove something if it doesn’t work in the way I need it to.

Get A Plan In Place

When it comes to setting up your land, I always ask myself a few key questions:

  • What is the land telling me?
  • What are the very specific things I want to do on the land?
  • What are the workflows that are going to happen on the land?
  • How can I reduce effort, improve ergonomics, and make it more efficient?
  • How can I design it to be flexible?

These are some really important questions to ask yourself because if we are just starting out, we can nail these few considerations and make our lives easier, our design will work for us, we will have less frustrations, and we can prevent burnout or injuries.

What Is The Land Telling Me?

take time to listen to the landWhen it comes to setting up land or starting on a new piece of property we need to make some observations before we begin.  If you have the chance, try to live on the land for a year before committing a lot of time or money.  It also gives us time to take a bunch of soil samples and get them analyzed.  That isn’t always possible, but if you can manage it, it’s well worth your time.

By taking the time to see how each season works with the land you’ll understand it’s character.  You’ll learn where the warm sunny spots are and where cold air settles in low spots. You’ll learn where water pools in the rainy season, where it soaks into the ground well and other areas that it just seems to sit on the surface for a long time.  All these things tell you how the land naturally behaves and it’s our job to work with that, not against it.

Two things I’ll do on a new property is in the cooler months, go walking in shorts despite the cold.  This let’s me sense with my legs what parts are warmer or colder than others.  If it starts to rain a whole lot, I’ll put on a rain jacket and go out walking; looking for how the water flows on the land, where it pools, where it gets boggy.  All these things are helpful in your planning.

What Are You Going To Do On The Land?

writing in notebookBefore we even begin to plan what our homestead is going to be like, we need to know what we are going to do on that land.  We can’t figure out a direction to walk if we don’t even know where we are going!  Take the time to be honest about you and your life.  If you’re going to homestead and work a full time job, what can you honestly dedicate to your farmstead when you’re pulling 40 or 50 hours a week?

Plan for your worst day, not your best day.  When you’re tired from work, it’s raining out and very cold in January, what do you want your life on that land to be like on that day where you want to do nothing?  If you plan for that, every other day will be a pleasure and it will make it viable for the long term.

When I was planning my future homestead I realized that a lot of what I thought I wanted to do just didn’t fit with my lifestyle.  I wanted to travel some, not have to wake up at the crack of dawn, and have a place that I could easily keep up so I could relax sometimes.  This meant certain things were ruled out and other things became more realistic.  What life do you want to lead on that land?

What Are The Workflows?

If we are planning to homestead, we are the kinds of people that don’t shy away from hard work, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be smart about our work either.  I started out with a list of everything I wanted to do on my homestead and then broke each one down into that activities and actions that needed to take place for those things to happen.

feeding chickens

We want to be super efficient and be smart about everything we do, because there is never enough time in the day and a little planning up front will pay off big on the back end.  So come up with your list and then start to envision in your mind how you’re going to do everything.  What are you doing, what do you need to do those things, where are you lifting, moving, pulling, pushing.  Play out these things in your mind to figure out how you’re going to do work on your stead.

Reduce Effort, Improve Ergonomics, and Make it More Efficient

We want to be smart about how we get things done on the farm. A really great primer to this way of thinking is 2 second lean principles, which we did a post on.  On our farm, we want to always be looking for ways to be better, work smart and reduce possibility of injury.

An example would be chickens.  Let’s say you want 5 birds in a chicken tractor, in my mind I’d play out a day in the life of taking care of them. I wake up at my normal time and get ready.  I walk out to the tractor, it’s raining outside so the ground is wet. I go to a bin in the garage to get their feed and fill their feeder which is clogged so I have to climb into the tractor, and I drag the hose across the yard to top of the waterer.  I reach into the nesting boxes to get any eggs and I move the tractor a few feet to fresh grass.

improvement on the land

So from this example I’d analyze what work happened and how I might make it better.  Starting out with it’s raining and the grass is wet (remember plan for your worst day) it would be really good if I had some farm boots to wear out to the coop so I don’t get my professional job shoes dirty and wet.  I needed to get some feed, where did that feed come from? Is there a way that I could back my truck right up to where I need to unload it?  Do I have to bend or lift things, is there a way I could reduce it or prevent injuries/strains?

Is there a way to locate the feed and water closer to the chickens?  I might consider if a mobile coop is worth it, or would a fixed coop allow me to run a water line to it and have a little storage area right there to keep feed in and back my truck bed right up to it?  If I have to get in the coop, maybe it’s better to make it 6 feet tall so I don’t have to stoop inside, and how can I set it up so I don’t have to go inside often and cleaning is a breeze?

golden comet chicken

Think through all these things, look for places where a tweak can save your from extra work, walking back and forth, repetitive tasks, or not having things right where you need them.  If we are starting from scratch, let’s make our lives easier!

A Flexible Design

When we are starting, out we are operating under a lot of assumptions and even with careful planning and experience, we may find that our plans need to change.  Being flexible is a huge part of being able to solve problems and as homesteaders at our core, we are good problem solvers.

If I’m spending time to build something, paying money to install something or other big decisions, I ask myself what if I had to move this, change it or expand it? If we ask these things we can think about the future and bring flexibility into our design.

be flexible with your plans

A real good example is running water lines for spigots.  When I ran mine I had the trencher rented for a day. That meant I could keep trenching to add more hydrants.  At that point adding 100 feet more of water line and putting in three more hydrants was very easy and pretty cheap.  Hydrants are $70 each and I can buy a 100 foot roll of pex for $40.  So I ran my water lines where I needed them, then added one in the back corner, one near where I could build another garden bed in the future, and one next to my driveway to wash my car.

Think about if you had to change things, move things and what happens if my plans don’t work.

Access Is Key

There are a few things I always look for when considering land and access is critical. The first step to getting the land to the point where you can live on it is simply being able to access it. This comes in the form of roads, driveways, turnarounds and parking pads.

Before you even think about laying down the road, you must first clear the way, remove trees, level the dirt and make your path to your new home. You have a couple of options: gravel, cement, and asphalt. Gravel is the most economical and I’ve found if you know how to build a gravel drive properly it can last for a long time.

road access to land is important

Always go bigger than you think you need. You want to make sure that you can easily fit a dump truck, cement truck or trailer and have good places to park and turn around for the bigger vehicles and trailers.  I would also clear 4 to 5 feet on either side of the driveway and grade it somewhat. When you open up the woods you’ll find that trees start to push into the opening as they make a bid for sunlight, this will give you a buffer so you don’t instantly need to start cutting it back.  I give myself this buffer so I can just run a bush hog down either side and make quick work of it.

If you can get your water, sewer, internet, phone and power installed before you put down your final grade of gravel, you’ll save yourself a lot of work in many cases.  I’ve had it where the power company came in and said they would put in the line for free, but they needed to trench right down the middle of the drive.  If you allow 4-5 feet on either side, you can give yourself room to trench utilities into the property without tearing up your road and make it easier when repairs are needed.  I always try to put my sewer on one side of the road and drinking water on the other. For power lines if buried, I try to put power on one side of the road and data/phone on the other so there is no EM interference.

Here is a video of the installation of my road, turnaround and parking pad. Note I had a much easier time because there used to be an old dirt road in this location, so it was simply a matter of cleaning it up and leveling it out. The whole process took about 6 hours of hard work.

Infrastructure

There are a few things that are critical to actually making a piece of land or a home viable, this all comes down to installing critical infrastructure right off the bat and doing it the right way.  This is one of those things that doing it half measured is not going to cut it.  The saying is “buy one, cry once” and when it comes to getting your infrastructure in, this couldn’t be truer.

Water

No matter what you’re going to do or how you’re doing it, you need to have a very reliable, high quality water source that brings it right to where you need it.  I have seen people who tried to save a few bucks, had a water truck deliver water to them, do water catchment, try something alternative or temporary and it never works out.  If you can get tied into a municipal water line or have a good well dug for you, I’d save up for it or skip that land.  Water is life and you can’t compromise on it, you’ll just end up frustrated, broke, and doing it the right way like you should have the first time.

water connection

For water I am connected to the city water. The meter and installation cost me $2,200 (city sets price), but that is only from the water main to the closest edge of your property. You then need to connect it from there to your house, which, for me, was $700 for materials, $800 for ditch witch rental, and $1500 for a plumber to do all the connections, fittings and other tasks.  For running water lines; once you have your main connections you can do most of the work yourself and it isn’t too difficult if you’re willing to work hard.  I used PEX water line and ring crimps, buried below the frost line and frost proof hydrants for hose connections.

While you have your trencher, go ahead and future proof your system, put in a few extra connections, make sure you bury everything below the frost line and I’d recommend not using PVC or Poly Tube; go with PEX, it’s much more durable and cheap too!

Power

Having power is another major consideration you need to make.  In some cases getting tied into grid power can be expensive. Other times they will run the power line for free.  This is one of those things that I’d save up for and do it right the first time.  I currently live off the grid with my power, getting it only from my solar panels, but there are times where a grid connection would be nice.

tiny house solar panels

Heating (air, stove/oven, water heater)  and cooling take around 60%-80% of a home’s power consumption, the rest is all pretty easy.  If you’re going more off grid, starting out smaller is better and making sure your system can scale.  Check out my post on how I set up solar for my home here.

Since we are on a homestead consider if you need certain special hook ups like a 220 volt outlet for a welder, a 50 amp plug for a tiny house or camper, or running power to different parts of the yard where you need it.  Again, when you’re trenching it’s often just a little extra work and a few hundred dollars to add extra hook ups.  When I trench for power I try to put it on the edges and go a little deeper so I don’t have to worry about hitting the line with a tiller.

Places to consider to run power are: to your outbuildings or workshops for tools, finding things in storage or for those late nights of work.  I’ll also make sure I have lighting to illuminate areas I have animals really well; in case a predator is lurking I can flip on some really bright lights to spot them quickly.  In some cases it’s good to have power near the pens and paddocks so you can power a waterer to stop from freezing, a power washer for cleaning or corded tools for repairs.

I’ll also light areas for my infrastructure: a well, septic pumps, driveways, and other areas that if something breaks down I can flip on a good light to see what I’m doing while I fix it. Additionally consider some motion detection lights so that if someone wanders on to your property it will light them up and keep thieves at bay.

All these things can be done more easily ahead of time with some planning and for a cheaper cost since you already have trenchers or trades people on site.

Sewage

There are a few ways to handle this, it mainly depends on your local laws, so be sure to check with your township on what the rules are.  For many it will either be a septic or city connection.  In some cases you may be using a composting toilet or even an outhouse; these are often subject to local laws so make sure you know what you can and cannot do.

Internet/Phone

internet on the homesteadWhile this may not be at the top of musts for most people I like to include it here because often when you’re setting up everything else, it’s a good time to get this setup as well.  Having a connection to the outside world will allow you to set up security cameras to keep an eye on things while you’re away, or may allow you to work from home or remotely for better job opportunities.  Your homestead may start selling things and online order, customer emails/call and website stuff are easier when you have a connection.  Finally in many rural areas cell phone signal isn’t great, so being able to watch a YouTube video or call for help is a consideration.

Outbuildings, Animal Shelters And Storage

With any property you’ll need a place to put things, store things, or covered areas to work on things that you don’t want inside your house.  For me I have a place to keep all my tools, gardening supplies, lumber and things I need to work the land.  If you have animals, they’ll need housing appropriate to them. You’ll need storage for feed and hay, and other things to raise those animals.

If you have equipment like lawn mowers, tractors, generators etc you want to make sure those can be kept out of the elements. These expensive pieces of equipment can be made to last a lot longer if they aren’t subjected to the rain or snow.

Fencing

One major cost that people don’t anticipate is fencing.  If you have a large property a good fence around the perimeter is a large cost even if you do it yourself.  I try to get my fencing setup so I can run a bush hog or mower on either side of it while still being on my property.  This will make maintenance easier, define your property line, and allow you to walk or ride along it regularly to make sure no breaks have happened.

fencing your land

So those are some things you need to consider when it comes to setting up your land for a farm, a homestead, or a tiny house.  Keep our basic tenants of learning from the land, having a solid plan, focusing on work flow and staying flexible and you’ll have a great piece of land that will work for you.

Your Turn!

  • What are you plans for starting a garden, farm, or homestead on some land?
  • What have you learned at tips and trick when setting up your land?

10 Ways To Make The Most Of A Wood Stove On Your Homestead

If you’ve ever considered starting up a homestead of your own or just want to live off grid, many people consider a woods stove for their home. They not only provide a link to a simpler time, they also save you money on your fuel bills every month.

use wood stoveA wood stove can come in many forms and can burn many kinds of fuel, but they all provide a wide range of benefits. Some are common sense, like cooking our food and heating your homestead. Some are not so obvious like dehydrating foodstuffs for long term storage or, believe it or not, generating electricity. But more on that later on.  Let’s take a look at some of the ways that you can maximize the value from your wood burning stove.

 

1: It cooks your food

Well, this one is a no-brainer, but anything you can cook on your gas or electric fired stove or oven you can cook on a wood burning stove. Place your pots or pans on the top of the stove, and cook just like you normally would.

A pot belly or Franklin style stove only have enough space for two or maybe three items. A wider kitchen style stove, like the one your grandmother may have used in her younger days, will be as wide as a conventional stove and will have room for three or four cooking vessels.

Some models come with just a flat surface for cooking, while those designed for use in the kitchen will have a flat cooking surface and an oven built in as well. If you don’t want the bigger kitchen style stove you can still bake using a cast iron or aluminum dutch oven on the stove top.

2: It dries your clothes

Your wood stove is a giant heat generator and you can string a clothes line around three sides, keeping it a few feet away to avoid burning your clothes, and let the heat from the stove provide the same results of an electric clothes dryer without the power bill. Boots can be dried the same way on the floor, just remember to keep them a foot or so away from the stove.

3: It dehydrates your food

Build drying trays with narrow slats to let the warm air get to the food you want to dehydrate. They should be as wide as your stove top to take advantage of all the heat rising up.

home made dehydrator over wood stove

Many homesteaders dehydrate their food for long term storage. You don’t need to buy a dehydrator at the store when you can make your own racks and hang them over your wood stove.

Mount them on the wall or around the stove pipe a few feet above the top of the stove. Make sure to keep them well above any cooking vessels you might be using. The heat rising off of the stove will provide the gentle, slow heat needed to dry out whatever you want to dehydrate.

4: It heats your house

Another no brainer is that it will heat your house. At a minimum it will heat the room that it is located in, but there are ways to transfer that heat into other areas of your home. If you have a chimney attached to it, the hot air will running through the chimney will provide some heat to the other rooms it runs through.

heat smaller room wood stove

Wood stoves come in all sizes so if you have a room that isn’t heated from your main wood stove, you can put a smaller one in the room that needs it.

You can also surround the stove with a wall of bricks, stone, or other masonry materials to serve as a heat sink that will serve as a radiator to warm the room after the stove has burned out.

If you have a fireplace, and the duct work in place to circulate the warm air into other rooms a wood stove in the form of a fireplace insert is another option for you to consider.

5: It keeps you in shape

 

If you haven’t heard that wood is the only fuel that warms you twice, you will understand it if you choose to use an axe to cut and process your wood into stove sized pieces. You get warm the first time just processing the wood, the wood stove is where you get warm the second time.

6: It humidifies your air

humidify moisture in air pot of water

Without central air conditioning the air in any home can get very dry. That is one reason many people prefer gas heat over electric heat, because a byproduct of burning the natural gas is water vapor which helps to humidify the air.

You can achieve the same thing by placing a pot of water on top of your wood stove and keeping a fire going in it. Even a small fire will be enough to help the water in the pot turn to vapor and release it into the air.

7: It dehumidifies your air

Conversely, on humid days, the dry heat from your wood stove can help to turn a muggy day into a comfortable day. Leaving the fire door on the front of the wood stove open for a while can speed up the process.

8: It heats your bed on cold winter nights

Well, it can heat your bed warmers so they can do you some good on those cold winter nights. You can buy bed warmers or make them yourself. In colonial days they were enclosed pots with long handles that you filled with hot coals from the fire or stones that were warmed in the fire. They were placed in the bed to warm it up before retiring for the night, moving it around like an iron to warm all parts of the bed.

coals pre heat your bed

You can achieve the same effect by putting fire bricks on top of your wood stove so that they can get nice and hot and store lots of heat. Bricks that are wide and just a couple of inches thick will work the best to store energy and still have a good amount of surface area to transfer it to the bed.

Once heated, wrap them in a blanket and place them in the bed before going to sleep, or put them at the bottom of your bed to keep your feet warm, just like you would with a hot water bottle. Warm feet will go a long way to keeping the rest of your body warm too.

9: It gives you ashes and char wood

wood ash char wood icy walkways

Wood ash and char wood have many uses. In winter they provide a cheap and biodegradable way to melt snow and ice. They also provide more traction on slippery walkways.

Ash, the gray powdery material left in the bottom of your wood stove when everything has burned is actually quite useful around the homestead. It is very alkaline, so you can use it in a slurry of water and ash to help tan animal hides. You can also put a bit in the hole where you are putting plants that like an alkaline soil like tomatoes, garlic, onions, and asparagus.

You can mix it with fat and water to make soap. It can also be used as a mild abrasive for cleaning your hands or pots and pans.

Its alkaline nature also makes a natural ice melting product, so you can sprinkle it along icy roads or walkways. Add in the smaller chunks of charred wood from the bottom of the stove and you can also add some traction to those slippery surfaces.

10: It generates electricity for you

Biolite camp stove

A Biolite camp stove that cooks your food and also converts the heat from the fire into electricity with the orange box on the side of the stove.

Thermo electric generators, or TEG devices for short, are deceptively simple devices that convert heat into electricity that you can store in a battery. They are based on a phenomenon called the Seebeck Effect where the difference in heat between two pieces of metal, like steel and aluminum, can be used to generate an electrical current.

If you want to channel your inner engineer and learn more about the technology you can check out the TEGPOWER website and then go to the TEGMART site to buy the components you need to build your own custom system. A builder and homesteader in British Columbia tried his hand at it to build a thermo electric generator that is attached to the wood stove.

A few companies, the most well-known being BioLite, make small wood burning stoves that have TEGs built into them. They all work by using the heat in the metal container or from the boiling liquid to generate electrical energy.

Put it where it will do the most good

The placement of your wood stove has much to do with how well it meets your needs and serves its purpose. The first consideration is what you will use it for. If cooking is one of its intended uses then you will want to place it in or near your kitchen.

If the stoves purpose is mainly to provide warmth in the house, then placing it in the room where you spend the majority of your time will serve you well. If you have a central room with other rooms off of it then the stove can radiate its heat into those rooms as well. Just remember that heat radiates in straight lines so if there are corners to go around you might want to use additional stoves to heat those rooms.

wood fire place in house

Placement in a central room, especially one on the interior of the home where it is better insulated, will allow your wood stove to serve multiple purposes in one location; heating, cooking, and drying clothes. This consideration is especially important in the event of an emergency where it is the only source of heat in the house, such as during a natural disaster where your normal source of energy is not available.

The owners of a repurposed school bus decided to place their wood stove between where the kitchen area ended and the living space began. In this way one stove provided a cook top for kitchen and heating for the living area.

Buy the Right Kind of Wood Stove

Another key decision you need to make is what kind of stove you want, and what material should it be made of.
Do you plan to cook with it? Will you be doing any baking? Is its only purpose to keep the house warm? Will you be heating water with it? How large are the rooms you need to heat? These questions all feed into what kind of wood stove to get.

pot belly wood stoveIf baking is even a slight possibility, then you should definitely give thought to buying a stove with a flat top for cooking and an oven for baking. There are ovens that you can put on top of a flat top stove, but they are less efficient than one that is built in.

Pot belly stoves, or Franklin stoves, are good for heating rooms and for heating or cooking a few things at a time due to their smaller flat top surface. If you want a general purpose stove, then this style is a good choice. It requires less fuel than the larger stoves designed for use in the kitchen. They also normally cost less than the larger kitchen stove designs.

The materials the stove is made from is also an important consideration. Steel stoves may be more durable but they do not store heat well. So, when the fire dies out they will lose their heat quickly. Stoves with a cast iron construction hold heat longer, they will even provide enough heat to continue cooking once the fire has gone out. They also continue to radiate heat into the room longer.

Another option, especially if you do not want to build a wall of masonry or similar materials around the stove to serve as a thermal battery, is to look into a soapstone lined stove or one with an insert that will hold the heat.

…and finally, think about size

In addition to the variety of materials used to make wood burning stoves, they also come in a variety of sizes. There is enough variety to find the right size for your own unique needs. The table below provides some good guidelines on what size stove to get.

Size Area to heat Firebox size
Small 600-1000 square feet Less than 2 cubic feet
Medium 800-2000 square feet 2-3 cubic feet
Large 1500 – 3000 square feet More than 3 cubic feet

 

Your Turn

  • What kind of wood stove would best meet your needs?
  • In what ways do you make the most of your wood stove?

The Ultimate Guide To Finding Land for Your Tiny House or Homestead

It could be to build your tiny house on or to start a homestead, many of us want a little place to call our own.  Finding and buying land is a tricky thing, but there are some things we can do to help making finding land a little easier.

finding land

Before we start looking it’s really important to understand what we actually are looking for and to that we need to understand what we actually need our land to do. Many of us dream of a 100 beautiful acres with a nice river, great views and easy access, but the reality of managing that much land would be too much for most people.

Determining Your Needs

writing in notebook

In my own search for land I thought I wanted 20-30 acres, but after some careful examination all I really needs was 3 really good acres, anything beyond that was bonus in my mind.  It can be hard to figure out what we really figure out exactly how much you need, so start with understanding that an acre is a square that is 209 feet long and 209 feet wide.  That really helped me grasp the true size of an acre.

From there I sat down and listed all the things I wanted to do on that land.  For me it was the following:

  • 1 small home
  • 1 big workshop/outbuilding
  • 10 chickens
  • 2 pigs
  • 2 bee hives
  • 10 fruit trees
  • 1000 square feet of garden

It took me a while to really nail down what I wanted to do now and in the future, but those things were critical to do on the land I want to buy.  From there I was able to estimate how many square feet I need for each and any spacing requirements (like I wanted the shop and pigs to be hidden from the house).  From that I concluded I needed  three main areas: the house (1 acre), the animals/garden section (half acre) and the shop area (1 acre).  Adding in some buffer space I came up with my 3 acre target if all the land was totally usable.

gardening on land

The important part here is to figure out what you are actually going to do. Being realistic, too often people dream of a place with lots of cows, horses, and other animals or a little house miles away from their neighbors.  Be honest with yourself and realize that you most likely don’t need massive swaths of land unless you have a very specific need which you already have experience with (ie: you’ve raised cattle before and want your own ranch).

Determine the area

When it comes to land we all know the saying: “location, location, location”.  For me it all comes down to two main factors: proximity to employment and my willingness to drive a certain length of time on a daily basis.  For other people there will be other factors, but all I really care about is if I need a job, can I find one and how long do I want to be in car.

location location location

Don’t get caught up in the trendy areas or close to the city center because those places often have more rules, higher prices and more buyer competition.  Being open to more areas and being flexible will improve your likelihood of finding a great spot.

Figure Out Your Budget

Before you get into the search figure out how much you can afford and agree on a upper limit.   This may be the time you get pre-approved for a mortgage or land loan if you’re going that route.  If you don’t have much money, check out our post on how to buy land with no money.

Use Online Tools

At the time of writing this post, Zillow.com is my favorite tool to find land.  I’ve setup several saved searches that automatically find and highlight properties that meet my criteria.  The one major downside to this tool is there is no option to filter properties without restrictions or HOAs, that was a big one for me and will be for many of you.  Since I did my homework on what I wanted I knew that what I wanted to do on the land wasn’t going to be allowed in a community with restrictions.

Some people have had luck with Land Watch or Craigslist, I personally haven’t found much luck there and the usability of their sites is a deal breaker for me.

Check this video out below about how I search for land and evaluate listings.  I’ll dig into the tools, plus some awesome tricks.

Drive Around

rent to own signThere comes a point where you just need to get out there and driving around the area you want to be in can give you some good leads.  You’ll find “for sale by owner” signs which most likely aren’t listed online anywhere. You’ll see a property that you like that you could approach the owners about if they own a large parcel and you want to buy a part of it.  There is a lot to be gained by driving around even if you don’t find any leads, you learn more about the area you’re thinking of buying in.

Work Your Networks

People always discount the opportunities that might be sitting right in front of them the whole time.  Get clear on what you’re looking for, what you can afford and the areas you’re looking in and create a digital flyer.  Take that flyer and post it on all your social networks, email your friends asking them if they have any leads and if you know any old timers or farmers, reach out to them too.  All these people know other people and by getting the word out there, you might find some great options.

Use A Realtor

searching for landA Realtor is some that you can use to find land if you’re ready to buy.  Since you’re the buyer, there is no fee to use one since the seller will pay all the commissions.

It took me about a month to find someone that I liked working with, that was helpful, communicated well and we clicked pretty well.  I found that there are a lot of realtors that will just try to get a quick sale or only kind of listen, I weeded those out quickly if they kept bringing me poor listings.

Once you do find a good realtor, understand they are investing their time to help you find your land and they don’t get paid unless they close.  If you go this route, make sure you’re ready to buy and respect their time.  It is fine to end a working relationship if they aren’t delivering what you need, but if they’re doing a good job make sure you close with them as your agent so they can get their commission.

I found mine through doing inquiries through Zillow; there was one agent that stood out from the rest for me and I stuck with him.

Go Old School

If you’re in smaller towns, looking for farm land, or if you’re really scrapping for leads check out the newspaper or local print listings.  These are often a lot of older listings, duplicates of online, but you may be able to find some new leads.

Check out local shops and community centers for bulletin boards. While your at it, leave your flyer you made earlier to see if you stir up any new leads.  Again, we may not find a lot of options, but if you do get a call the person might be willing to strike a deal or know someone who is selling land.

Talk With Farmers

Land is a tool of the trade for farmers and they usually have more of it than most people.  I find that they are also very practical people, so if you’re a younger person with dreams of building a homestead or small farm, they might be willing to do owner financing.  In some cases you can also rent land for a while until you do find the right property.

talking with farmers

Farming folks are also really great to have as friends. They’re handy, they have a lot of local connections and they have equipment that they might be willing to lend you.  You might even hit it off with some of them and offer to help out on their farms for free at times to learn some particular skill.  I remember weeding strawberry beds with one farmer and while we were working I’d ask a bunch of questions.

Take A Break

Sometimes things just aren’t working for you or the market is over-valued.  It’s better to buy during low periods because you can find more options and better deals.  If we buy at the height of a market, we might end up paying too much for that property and will have to wait a long time, if ever, to get out from under a property we paid too much for.

So those are some of my suggestions on how to find land to purchase for your tiny house or homestead.  Let me know in the comments what you’ve learned in your own search!

Your Turn!

  • What tricks and tips have you learned to find land?

5 Easiest Vegetables To Grow For Beginner Gardeners

I’ve been there, the seed catalogues come in January and you get all excited about what to grow this year in your garden.  It can be hard to figure out where to start, so I thought I’d share my recommendations on five easy vegetables to grow in your garden in your first year.  The biggest mistake new gardeners make is not starting small:  They have too big of a garden, they try to grow too many things, and in the end they get burnt out.

what to grow for begginers gardening

My advice after teaching people how to start gardening for years is to only start with a few things.  Three to five types of vegetables in a single variety of each.  This will give you a really good foundation to start your gardening journey.

Grow What You Eat

grow the vegies that you like to eat basketA very common this that I see newbie gardeners do is get excited by what they could grow, but they may not really like things or they try new stuff before they find out if they really like them.  If you were to look in your kitchen right now, what vegetables are you purchasing from the store?  Many of those could be good contenders for your first year’s short list.

There will be some things that you buy that aren’t in season or are more complicated to grow, but many of what most people like will be on our list below.  So consider what you eat, choose the easier ones to grow and let’s stack the deck in our favor!

Get Your Garden Prepared

It’s important to not just think about the vegetables that you’re going to grow, but to also think about growing good soil.  Have good soil is really what makes a garden go from okay to amazing, so don’t skimp on this step.  If you have never gardened before, check out our post on how to prepare your soil for a vegetable garden.

From Seeds Or From Seedlings

There are some things that do really well from seeds and some things that starting with a seedling is the way to go for first time gardeners.  Seedlings are simply very young plants that have been started ahead of time indoors, that you later transfer outdoors into your garden.

seedlingsIt can be tempting in your first year or two to in addition of starting a garden to also raising seedlings indoors, but my advice is to avoid this.  Your first few years to learn gardening is a lot, to add learning to start seeds into seedlings is too much and you’ll just burn out.

 

Below I’ll mention which ones I’d start from seed and which ones I’d start from seedlings.

What Plants To Start With?

Here are a few of my favorite plants to start with.  These are pretty easy, widely available and you can find lots of knowledge from local people and online. Start with three to five of these in a single variety.  It will be tempting to choose a bunch of types of vegitables and a few varieties of each, but doing so will bring complexity, stress and a greater chance of failure.  We don’t want that!

Zucchini

zucchnis from gardenThere is an old joke that I like to tell.  In the city people lock their doors so people don’t steal their stuff, in the country they lock their cars so someone doesn’t leave them a bag of zucchini and squash in their front seat.  What is really great about this plant is that it grows really fast, its very simple and it produces a ton of vegetables.

I’d suggest starting out with three plants of zucchini if you have a family.  There will come a point where you can’t eat anymore (trust me), at that point I usually just pull the plants out of my garden and compost them. For your first year I’d start these from seedlings, they’re easy to find, cheap and makes it easy to start.

One piece of advice that I give is I’ve found that there comes a point when I start to see squash bugs on my plants.  When I see more than 2 or 3 of them on a plant, I pull that plant right then and there.  New gardeners will often be hesitant to prune or pull out plants, you can’t be afraid to.  Squash bugs are very difficult to combat, every trick I’ve read online doesn’t do anything for my garden.  So I plant a few extra than I need and then just pull the plants as soon as I see the bugs and am content with whatever squash I got to that point, usually I’m sick of it by then anyways!

Tomatoes

These are a favorite for most people and a garden tomato can’t be beat.  I would absolutely use seedlings for tomatoes.  The two varieties I suggest are “Early Girls” or “Roma”.  If you have short growing season I’d suggest Early Girls because they produce pretty quickly and earlier than most tomatoes.

tomatoes just picked

A few notes about tomatoes:  If you find that you are getting a lot of flowers, but they’re not really translating into tomatoes it’s often because they aren’t pollinating well enough.  This could be because they’re aren’t enough natural pollinators like bees or Humidity is binding up the pollen.  Tomatoes will often stop fruiting when it gets really hot, then start back up when summer temperatures start to wind down.

If you live in a very hot and humid area and Early Girls aren’t working for you, consider the variety “Pink Brandywine”.  They produce great tomatoes that are huge and tend to fair a bit better in higher heat.

Finally know that you will need to support the tomatoes in some manner.  This could be a cage, it could be a be a steak or string.  My favorite way to stake these is get a 6 foot pole that is durable metal coated in plastic and then use the rolls of twist ties you can buy at the store.  I find other options just don’t hold up over the years or are too cumbersome.

Radishes

I’ll be the first to say these aren’t my personal favorite, but they are super easy to grow and they open up the soil some as they grow.  I’ll plant these for the chickens to peck out of the dirt and for friends who like them.  Radishes take between 14 and 21 days to grow full which is very fast and they are a cooler weather crop so early spring or fall is a great time for these.

radishes from garden

These are very easy to grow from seeds and they’re very cheap to buy a lot of seeds.  The seeds are very small, so what I will do is prep my bed nice and even, then just scratch the surface a little bit with the back of a garden rake.  The rule of thumb for seed depth is 3 times the length of the longest dimension of the seed.

In the case of radishes this means you barley cover them if at all, just make sure you keep them nice and moist with a fine mist (not a spray).  It can be easy for these to dry out, but since we plant in the cooler parts of the year it’s a little easier.  For spacing I follow the same approach I use with lettuce, so read below to find out how I do it.

Lettuce

There are a million varieties of lettuce so it can get overwhelming.  Ask around locally to see if people have favorites that do well in your area.  I often just get a lettuce seed mix which is several kinds all mixed together.   You loosely broadcast the seeds over a smoothed and prepared bed and lightly water.

leafy greens

Since we are starting from seeds, we need to know how to space them so they’re not so close that they crowd the others, but not too far that we allow for weeds or wasted space.  For lettuce I typically just shake the seeds out over the entire bed as evenly as I can, then when they start to grow up to about 2 inches, I go in and pluck out some of them to make enough space.  I typically go for about four inches apart from other plants, but I also try to choose the strongest ones.  It doesn’t have to be perfect!

Lettuce is grown in cooler weather, so spring or fall, the heat of the summer is often too much for most varieties, but there are some options for those who live in hot climates.  From seeding to harvest is about 3 weeks and you often can cut the leaves right above the soil about an inch and the lettuce will grow back another two times or so.

Beans

green beansThe two main types are “bush” or “pole” beans, the only difference really is that the pole beans need something to climb.  I often just stick with bush beans because it’s less poles and structures I have to deal with. These are a great plant to start out with in your first garden.

Beans are easily started from seed and are a larger seed.  Because we know the rule of thumb: plant three times the longest part of the seed, they typically get buried about an inch or so below the soil.  I usually take my rake and with the handle side make a little divot, drop the seeds about 6 inches apart and then lightly brush the soil of the trough back over the seeds.  Again, we don’t need to get out our ruler here!

So those are my recommendations on how to start a garden the easy way, to stack the deck in your favor and keep it all fun.  In the comments let me know what you’re going to try.

Your Turn!

  • What’s on your list to plant this year?
  • What tips do you have for first time gardeners?

 

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