Archive for the Homesteading Category

Simple Greywater Systems For Your Home

Simple Greywater Systems For Your Home

What are grey water systems and how can you set up a system for your home?  Most people living in the average American household have no reason to contemplate disposal of the water that enters and leaves their homes, but more and more people are looking for a simple way to do a greywater system for their home.

simple grey water system for your home

What Is A Greywater System Used For?

A greywater system is used to take water that has already been used from places like your laundry, shower and sink and divert it to use in another purpose like watering gardens or landscaping instead of flushing it down into the sewer. Greywater is different from blackwater (aka sewage) because while it may have some residuals like dirt, hair, grease, etc from it’s first use, they aren’t toxic to the environment and the water can be reused in some applications.

what is grey water and how to recycle water

With greywater systems you are careful about what you put down your drain when diverting it to your garden or flower beds, but I’ve found that after your figure out some cleaning products that work for you, it’s quite simple.

How Do Grey Water Systems Work?

The concept is simple in principal: you want capture all the water from your sinks, showers and other drains into one place called a “surge tank” which is a fancy way of saying a tank that can take a lot of water at once and then slow down the flow. From there you want to allow the water to slow down just enough so any solids can settle out to the bottom and then let the cleaner water move on.

Grey Water System Diagram

In the below diagram you can see the basics of a system. You’ll see how the washer can be switched with a branched valve to either go to the sewer or the outside irrigation. The water then travels outside, into the garden and finally into drip points above mulch beds.

system diagram of a grey water system

Our Simple Greywater Setup For Our Tiny House

I certainly had never considered such things until Cedric and I went volunteering on organic farms. In the south of Spain a small olive farm where water is scarce and they were watering their flower garden with the water from their sinks and showers. It was the first time I’d ever seen a greywater system in action. As aquifers run dry and water becomes a scarcer resource, I see the proper recycling of it essential to transitioning our treatment of water to a more sustainable system and tiny house dwellers are on the front lines of this transition.

grey water in my garden

Living in a tiny house we have had to face the challenge of disposing our water safely since we weren’t hooked up to the city’s system. Our initial introduction at that farm inspired us to try a simple, DIY system that would use our greywater to irrigate a small garden.

We took 1 1/2″ pvc pipe, attached it to the plumbing of the house and buried it in the garden. Since we didn’t put in a filter we did not put any solids of any kind down the drain. We also carefully chose our bath soaps, used homemade shampoos and biodegradable dish soap so as not to damage the soil, plants or watershed. The PVC pipe was placed in a 2 foot deep ditch that had been lined with gravel and landscape fabric. Along the pipe we drilled many little holes to allow the water to escape. This technique is very similar to a french drain.

Are Grey Water Systems Legal?

is greywater legal

Depending on your city, county and state you’ll have different rules that govern the use of greywater systems. Building codes, zoning laws and the public health department all come into play here, so develop a rough idea of what kind of greywater system you want to build and then have a conversation with your local city hall. Alternatively you can do this under the radar, but understand you assume all risk.

In some cases you’ll need to install a branched drain system so you can turn the greywater on and off based on what your use is.

How Much Does A Greywater System Cost To Install?

grey water system install cost

Installing a greywater system depends on your needs, how your plumping is setup in your house and how much of the work you’re going to do yourself. For a rough estimate you can plan on spending $500 to $2,500 to install a greywater system in your home. Most of the cost will be labor as the materials are cheap, but the labor can be expensive. Often it requires a plumber which can run between $50-$150 per hour and then someone to run ditches to your beds which can cost between $20-$75 per hour.

Common materials are PVC pipes, gravel, landscape fabric, a capture tank and plumbing fittings.

How To Design Your Grey Water System

grey water system design

Here are some of the key steps to consider for your grey water system design:

  1. Locate all your main drain points and plan how you will tap into each
  2. Determine where you’re going to drain your system to
  3. Check that your drains are at least 5 feet higher than your destination
  4. Mark where you are going to bury your drain lines with spray paint
  5. Install a valve at each drain sources or at the main drain pipe
  6. Pipe from valves to exterior of home
  7. Dig ditches below your frost line
  8. Fill bottom with 6 inches of loose gravel
  9. Place your drain lines and perforated lines and check all connections
  10. Cover pipes with another 4 inches of loose gravel
  11. Cover gravel with landscape fabric to prevent dirt clogging lines.
  12. Replace dirt or carry the gravel all the way to surface (best method)

Best Filtering Options For Grey Water

grey water filter options

In some cases people will put a basic filter to screen out particles like food or hair mainly to prevent clogs in the rest of the system.Once the water is free of most of the larger debris, you can then pipe it underground to where you want to deposit it, making sure you spread out the volume of water over a large enough area to allow the soil to soak up the water quickly enough that it doesn’t get water logged.

You have a filter options:

  • Filter bag before it enters into surge tank
  • In line water filter
  • Settling tank
  • Constructed wetland or reed bed
  • Setting pond or bog

Here are my two favorite ways to filter out grey water

filter options for a grey water system

Tips For Your DIY Grey Water System

diy grey water systems

The biggest challenge people have when making their own system is getting your drain pipes clogged with food particles and hair from your drains. To combat that you want to employ two features in your system: a surge tank to settle out particles and a simple filter.

When the water from your drains comes from your house it’s carrying a lot of stuff like dirt, hair, skin cells, food particles and it’s moving pretty fast. We want to slow that water down and allow those things to settle out before moving on in the process. We don’t want that water to sit too long, no more than 24 hrs, but it’s a critical step.

From there we want to use a basic filter to grab any left over things that might be floating along. These don’t need to be a high grade filter that cleans the water, just enough to catch the particles big enough to clog things down the line.

The last tip I’ll give is make sure you consider how your drain lines will work in the winter. Freezing pipes can lead to major problems, so make sure your lines are draining to pipes buried below the frost line. You can consider putting in a valve at your branched piping inside so you can turn off this during the winter.

Grey Water Systems For Off Grid Living

grey water system for a off grid cabin

Grey water is the perfect solution for dealing with waste water at your off grid home, cabin or tiny house. I use this on my off grid tiny home into a modified french drain system since I don’t produce much water waste to begin with. Don’t forget to pair your system with a rain catchment system to collect more water for your garden.

The biggest tips I can give you is to make sure your soil drains well, you can do this by doing a simple perk test (a water infiltration test) on your soil. If you soil drains well, figure out about how many gallons of grey water you will produce in a given day and design the system to handle that plus a 25% margin.

Make sure you plan it so your drain lines are down hill from your point of use, digging ditches deeper and deeper if you need to get a steep slope for proper drainage. Having the water move away from your house is critical, so make plans to drain at least 30 feet away to avoid moisture issues.

I wouldn’t spend time trying to figure out how to treat the grey water or how to make it drinkable, it’s better to use it effciently at the source, then repurpose it into your gardens for food production.

My Favorite Grey Water Friendly Products

When you make the switch to grey water, you’ll need to control what goes down your drain and that includes things like soaps, shampoo, cleaners and more. Anything that goes down the drain needs to be environmentally safe when it hits your garden.

Aubrey Men’s Stock Shampoo

grey water shampoo

This was the hardest item to find for me, a lot of shampoos that are grey water friendly don’t clean that well. Many shampoos left my hair looking greasy, but this one cleaned well and didn’t smell too “earthy”. The smell is pretty neutral, a minty smell that could easily be used by men or women. It’s a little pricey, but it’s the only thing that I found that actually works.

Amazon is the only place I’ve been able to find this Aubrey Men’s Stock Shampoo.

 

Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap

Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Liquid Soap

This is an obvious and very popular option for those who want soap that is easy on the environment and just works well. Dr. Bronners is great for washing your hands, doing dishes, cleaning around the house, etc.

You can even bath with it and I found it to be good for body wash, but as I noted above, while it works for hair, it left my hair looking greasy. A lot of people use it as shampoo and it works well for them, so it’s worth a try. It’s also not terribly expensive and a little goes a long way.

This is where I get mine, click here.

Final Thoughts On Grey Water Systems

The majority of folks don’t think twice about these things and it’s wonderfully convenient to not have to. However, I’ve learned a lot about sustainable water practices by living with this system and I prefer it to sending this precious resource to a facility with black water where it becomes much more polluted and takes a lot of energy to introduce safely back in to the water cycle. It’s also a major plus for dry environments that see little rainfall and who at times must rely on their aquifers for water, as we experienced in Spain.

grey water system installed

To sustain and maintain these deep fonts of water we need to replenish them. Allowing greywater to be filtered by plants back in to the ground recharges the aquifers and keeps them from drying out. The beauty of greywater systems is they can be incredible simple to construct, use and maintain. The collaborative group Greywater Action For A Sustainable Water Culture is an incredible resource not only for learning to construct and maint these systems, they also have a wealth of information on composting toilets, rainwater catchment and pedal-powered washing machines!

As we prepare to move La Casita once again, we plan to build a more elaborate system that can withstand the Vermont winters. The Greywater Action website also has great reviews of projects and useful tips for winterizing these systems. In the South it was much easier to manage it and although it will be more of a challenge it is another opportunity to learn and create a regenerative system. I’ll be posting details of our next greywater project so check-in with the tiny life over the next few weeks to see the details of construction!

Your Turn!

  • Have any tips on water disposal in a tiny house?
  • How do you feel about the current disposal and treatment of water?
  • Do you think greywater systems are viable project towards changing how we think about water disposal?

3 Year Review On The Luggable Loo

3 Year Review On The Luggable Loo

When I was growing up I could never imagine that I’d be sitting here writing an in depth review on a toilet, but here we are!  This is a review of my experience with a 5 gallon bucket composting toilet with the Luggable Loo toilet seat.

luggable loo review

I want to qualify this review before we get started.  I’m a very particular person, my house is kept very clean and tidy, I have germaphobe tendencies and I work in a white collar work environment where good hygiene is a must.  I say this only to give people an understanding of where I’m coming from because when I was reading reviews I couldn’t find others with similar lifestyles or standards.  When I first started, I was concerned how making the shift to living tiny might impact my corporate job at the time.

Where To Buy The Luggable Loo

You can find the seat in a few different places in the stores, Walmart, Dicks, and REI all carry them from time to time.  The problem is that it’s pretty hit or miss, they don’t carry many of them on the shelves.  So going online is the best option and I’ve found also happens to be the best price.

Shopping List To Use The Loo

Using A Luggable Loo For My Tiny House

With that out of the way, when I first sat down to plan my tiny house a flush toilet was a very important thing for me to have.  I was dead set on having a traditional toilet.  Then the real world happened.  The city I live in prohibits septic systems unless you have an extenuating circumstance (read: it ain’t happening).  For me to get a sewer line ran to my tiny house, permits, connection fees and labor it was close to $50,000!  I was shocked.

So I started looking into options: Nature’s Head, Envirolet Systems, Sun-Mar, Incinolet and many others.  The one thing that stood out to me is that they were all big, complicated and expensive.  I hadn’t made a decision because whenever I’d talk to friends who actually used them in real life, they all weren’t super happy with them and many didn’t like it.

While I was trying to decide what I was going to do, I had to move into my tiny house and just needed something.  So I swung by my local big box and grabbed a 5 gallon bucket ($5) and a Luggable Loo ($13) and some hamster pine wood chips ($3.50) and a roll of 13 gallon trash bags ($4).  A Complete kit for $25.50, much cheaper than a $600 composting toilet or $50k for a sewer line.

The setup was simple.  Take a five gallon bucket, place a trash bag in the unit with the edges hanging over the edge, put on toilet seat (which firmly clips onto the lip of the bucket) and then toss in some wood chips.  The lid will keep the bag in place so you don’t have to worry about an edge falling in.

how to setup composting toilet

Luggable Loo Review Over 3 Years

Like I said, at the time I viewed this as a stop gap, something that I was begrudgingly going to use until I could make a decision.  Then something interesting happened… I really liked it!

I will be the first to admit that there was an initial ick factor to get over, but that goes with all composting toilets.  But after a few weeks I realized it’s seriously no big deal.  If you’ve ever had a kid and changed diapers, that’s way worse.  With this setup I pop the seat off, pull the trash bag draw strings, tie it off, and drop it in the trash bin at the street.  You only have to touch the draw strings.

Urine Diverting Composting Toilet Setup

pee diverterOne caveat that I do want to make here is that, as a male, since I keep my toilet outside, I just pee straight forward on the ground, I keep the liquids out of the bucket for the most part.  I don’t have a diverter of any kind and if a female needs to use it, I just toss in a bit more of the wood chips for a little extra absorption and not worry about it.

Keeping your solids and liquids separate is very important in terms of ease of use, but also reducing smell.

If I had a live in girlfriend I may look into more complicated setups such as this urine diverter insert, which you the only place I could find online (or anywhere really) was here on Amazon.  There are some other options where you use a funnel, but honestly I like this molded plastic insert, it’s totally worth it.

Luggable Loo Tips Learned Over Time

luggable loo tips and tricks

I’ve been using this setup now for over 3 years and that means I’ve had a lot of experience in different weather, temperatures, rain, snow, etc.  Here are some experiments and lessons learned:

Skip The Wood Chips

Since I’m a guy I don’t have much liquids coming into the mix, so I thought I’d try not using wood chips at all.  That was over a year ago and now I don’t use them at all unless I have company.  Wood chips absorb liquids – some what – (I want to do a test with peat moss) so in reality it’s only to cover up what you leave behind and keep it out of sight.  If I was using it with someone I might switch back to chips or opt for a his and her throne.

Double Doodie Bags Review: Nice, but not required

double doodie bag review

These bags are very popular with the Luggable Loo, mainly because Reliance (company that makes them) is the same maker.  In many cases they’re sold together or have a coupon, which is how I tried them out.  While the bags work really well, I found that as a guy, I just would pee separately.

 

Summer Vs. Winter

summer vs winter on a composting toilet

I like the toilet setup much better in the winter.  Since I keep my toilet outside, the weather is a factor.  With cooler weather means less bugs, which means less flies and gnats.  To mitigate the bugs in the summer I just empty it once a week and I never have to worry.

There may be a few flies inside, but I give the bucket a kick and they fly away.  If you wait a few weeks in the summer you’ll run into flies laying eggs, which leads to larvae, which are gross.  Emptying it once a week means you’ll never have that happen.  In truth you can get away with a few weeks, but why chance it.

In the winter I usually empty it once a month.  There are no bugs to speak of in the winter and the cold of Fall and Winter make everything a breeze.

The Smell

smell of composting toilet

This is a very common question and here’s the truth: there is a smell.  This is really why I started using this outside.  Now that said, there is a smell, but it’s never worse than if you just went.

I have considered adding two little fans to the cover to bring in fresh air and draw smells out.  With those fans, there never would be any smell.  For those of you who are skeptical, consider that I’m a very clean person and the smell has been so little of a concern I felt adding a simple fan wasn’t worth my time.

Keeping The Toilet Outdoors

keeping toilet outside

I don’t really know anyone else that does this, but I am a major proponent of this.  I have considered building a little enclosed area to keep it in, but living on 32 acres, I don’t really have to worry about privacy, plus the view is much better!

My recommendation would be build a little outhouse, throw a little solar panel on the top and have a tiny fan always running.  If you’re camping you can get one of these pop up toilet tents which are great.

Many people ask me about rain and snow, but honestly it has never been an issue.  Every time it has rain I just put it under a base of a tree and the leaves shelter me pretty well.  There was one time when I got very sick and needed to use the facilities very often, it also poured for several days.

I just put it on my tiny house porch and it was totally fine.  In the snow, which it doesn’t snow a lot here in NC, it wasn’t a big deal either.  Even in wind, no big deal.  I have been surprised at how little it matters when it rains, is windy or is snowing.

Going To The Bathroom Outside Is Awesome

There is something really pleasant about taking care of business when you have a really nice view or just enjoy the peace and quite of nature.  If you’ve ever gone backpacking and use a toilet with a great view, it’s very enjoyable.

The Seat Of The Luggable Loo

luggable loo toilet seat review

I am very impressed how comfortable this seat is, for $13 it’s totally worth the money.  The lid for me broke off after about a year and I like it better because the lid kind of hugged a tad too close in the back.  The lid still works, I just set it on top and it has a pretty good fit.

The other thing I really like about the Luggable Loo is how well it snaps onto the 5 gallon bucket.  It has a very positive snap on the lip of the bucket, but still leave room for you to put a trash back and lock it in place.  It’s holding power on the bag is very important because it means the bag is kept in place and your business goes where it’s supposed to and stays here.

Worst Case Scenario

luggable loo horror story

The setup has worked really well for me, but there was one thing I’ve always dreaded: if it tipped over.  One day I came out and it was apparent that some animal had come up to it, knocked the lid off, then flipped the whole thing seat down.  This mean that the “contents” literally were on the ground.

This was very unfortunate, but I figure out that I could grab my shovel, slide it under the leave on the ground, using the leaves as a barrier layer, and in one motion, flip it right side up.  In the end not one bit fell out and I just bagged it and it was all good.

So far, knock on wood, I haven’t ever had a bag leak.  Even if I did, I keep a few extra pails on hand and a few lids.  This means if I ever have a catastrophic failure I just put a lid on the bucket and seal it all in, then toss it.  Pail and a lid are super durable and at only a few bucks, you don’t care if you have to toss one.

 

So that’s my review and experience with the Luggable Loo 5 gallon bucket composting toilet.

Your Turn!

  • What are you planning on using for your toilet?

What is Homesteading?

What is Homesteading?

The image that usually comes to mind is a self-sufficient farm, full of animals, jars of home-canned food on the shelf, and a loaf of homemade bread in the oven. While all of that can certainly fall under the umbrella of homesteading there are many other interpretations of the homesteading lifestyle as well.  Over the years we have figured out what homesteading means to our family, but here’s some of the basics.

what is homesteading

 What is the Homestead Act of 1862?

The origin of homesteading comes from the homestead act of 1862 where land was given to families in an effort to encourage western migration. Those families had to stay and work the land for five years before it was given to them. It sounds like a dream but it was often very difficult for the families settling the west.

 

The Modern Homesteading Movement

modern homesteading

Homesteading today is a mindset before anything else. It is a can-do attitude. Homesteading starts as a little spark when you look at something you just purchased and realize you could produce it on your own or the realization that our modern, consumer-driven society is not a sustainable model. Next thing you know, you are shopping for seeds and weighing the cost of backyard chickens.

Right now our family is on 1 1/2 acres of rented land, in a small city. We are making our dream come true while we search for our forever home. But this is not where it all started. Our story began in a town in southern Arizona. We were learning about the health benefits of organic food but struggled with the cost. That’s when we got the bug to begin producing our own food.

Chickens for egg production

While the Homesteaders of 1862 were pioneers off in the wilderness, today it’s all about becoming self sufficient and building skills to grow your own food.  Many people take advantage of off the grid systems like solar power, wind turbines and other energy methods.  A variety of animals can be raised on your homestead including chickens, ducks, quail, bees, goats, and pigs.  Some people even branch out into larger animals such as cows or horses.

Homesteading For Beginners

start a homestead

We started with chickens, the gateway animal as we like to call them, 25 of them filled our little suburban backyard. Next thing you know turkeys and quail were added to the menagerie. I would have put a cow back there too if I could have figured out how to do it!

We quickly realized that we had been bitten by the homesteading bug. That set us on a mission to grow as much of our food as we possibly could. We now have a big garden that feeds us through the summer and into the winter. Our Family have learned to can, dehydrate and freeze any surplus. We are raising our own chicken and beef too.

Starting Small Is Important

Time and time again I see new homesteaders wanting to do it all, only to get discouraged and burned out.  Our family did the same thing and boy did we learn this lesson the hard way.  Start with one or two homesteading skills and spend your first year focusing on those before adding anything new.  Starting small is also budget friendly, so take your time and do it right.

Define Your Homesteading Goals And Your Ideal Life

homesteading goals

before you jump head first, take a few minutes to consider what you want to achieve with your homestead.  Think about your life and what you want it to be.  Make sure that anything you do on your homestead is getting you closer to your goals and supports your ideal life.  Too often people think homesteading has to be done a certain way, but it’s a very personal thing.

I’ve seen many people get all the homesteading items (gardens, tractor, cows, etc) only to realize they couldn’t ever leave their farm because they have to milk the cows twice a day!  Make sure you consider how different paths will impact your life and if that’s something you want in the first place.

Get Started Homesteading:

  1. Walk around your property and take an inventory
  2. Look at current needs, brainstorm how you could meet those needs
  3. Make a list of homesteading projects and order them in priority
  4. Choose the top 1 to 2 items and spend 30 minutes researching each
  5. Set a small baby step goal to do this week towards that larger goal

Beginner Homestead Resources:

Building A Homestead From Scratch

Homesteading is not a list of boxes that need to be checked off until you become a homesteader. It is the way you look at and interact with the world around you. Our dream is the big land, where we can live off-grid and be as self-sufficient as possible. But we have learned that homesteading can happen anywhere.

Garden produce

Plan Out Your Homestead

A little planning can go a long way, make sure you plan out your property and all the locations of your little farm.  Consider how you’ll bring in materials, the daily tasks you need to do, what tools will be needed most often etc.  Put the things that need the most tending closest to your back door, while things that don’t need as much attention can go back further from the house.

Don’t Skimp Infrastructure

building a homestead

I’ve seen even some of the more senior homesteaders not spend enough time on their infrastructure.  While you want to stay flexible, having a solid foundation is important.  What things make up your homestead’s infrastructure?

  • Water lines – have water right where you need it, buried lines below the frost line
  • Access – A solid path or driveway for wheel barrows, tractors and dump trucks
  • Storage – good storage is critical.  Keep equipment out of the rain
  • Power – Solar or grid, get these lines in the ground to where you need it now
  • Fences – one of the larger expenses, but a good fence is critical
  • Workshop – A place to fix and build things
  • Compost Bins – Every homestead makes waste, have bins to make great soil
  • Garden Beds – Spend the time and money to build quality beds that will last

Homesteading Is A Progression

It is something you can do in an urban apartment or on a sprawling farm. It usually starts small. Maybe you buy a couple of herb plants and realize the joy of growing your own food. Something that costs several dollars for a meal or two you can sustainably produce on your windowsill for pennies.

Not only is the cost difference convincing but the fact that it grows and continues to produce is inspiring. Soon you have a tomato plant in a pot on the patio and a couple of lettuces in another pot.

What about all of the food scraps you throw out? Couldn’t those be put to good use too? Now you are deciding between a compost pile, worm bin or a small flock of chickens. I am sure you are seeing the progression.

Farm fresh eggs

It can take you as far as you want to go. You might end up at an off grid farm out in the country where you raise animals for meat and have a market garden. With enough to feed your family, put up food for winter and take the rest to the farmer’s market.

Maybe you are more of an urban homesteader who wants to bring change to the community around you. You have solar power, gray water, and rain catchment systems and are producing more food than most people think possible by utilizing vertical growing and permaculture.

Homesteading Skills – Back To Basics

A good homesteader learns to be more of a producer and less of a consumer you realize the joy that can be found in the simple things. Learning to heat your house with wood, growing your own food, cooking from scratch, herbal remedies, caring for animals, the list goes on and on.

Canning apples

You develop a new way of seeing the world. Instead of being concerned about having the career, the house, the car that society thinks you need, you realize that none of that brings lasting joy. However, when you take a bite out of that sweet, crunchy carrot that is the fruit of your own labor, you experience a joy you can’t find at the grocery store.

Homesteader Skill Ideas:

It is a joy that only comes from laboring with your hands, being patient, nurturing, and producing something most people take for granted. Learning these skills is liberating as you realize you don’t have to rely on someone else for your most basic needs.

As exciting as it all sounds, it can be daunting. If you are looking to start your homestead journey, here is a guide to starting today in five easy steps.

Your Turn!

  • How did your homestead journey begin?
  • Are you a country, farm homesteader or an urban homesteader?

Getting Ready For Winter On The Homestead

Getting Ready For Winter On The Homestead

It’s the start of Fall now, even though it’s still hot here in North Carolina, so it’s time to start getting ready for winter on the homestead.  Winter is a slow time for most homesteaders, with the garden being cleared out and animals taking it easy, it’s time for you to do the same!

getting ready for the winter on the homestead

I love settling in for winter, its a quiet time to spend with family, the holidays keep us busy and while there is always something to do on a farm, it’s a great time to relax and get ahead.  Here is a list of some things to make sure you get ready for the winter on the homestead.

1. Clear Out The Garden

Clearing out the garden in the fall

Get a good start on next year’s garden by clearing out everything that you don’t want.  I always pull my plants in my garden and then let the chickens loose in the fenced in area for a few weeks.  They find all the things you missed, they scratch at the soil, find weed seeds and bugs, plus fertilize as they go along.  It’s a great way to really clean up things.  Don’t forget that just because it’s cooling off, you still can garden in the fall and early winter.

2. Mulch All Your Garden Beds

mulching garden bed

After you’ve cleaned up your gardens, make sure they stay weed free! First I’ll turn my beds a little bit, then top dress the bed with compost.  From there I’ll add my mulch layer, putting it on really thick. Whatever your mulching material of choice is, get a really good layer of it on all your beds.  This will keep the weeds at bay when spring comes back, giving you time to plant without much hassle.

3. Get Your Compost Piles In Order

Clean up your compost bins

At the end of the season you have a lot of organic matter you can put onto your pile.  Get your piles built up the right way, making sure you have the proper mix of carbon and nitrogen in the pile to get things cooking.  You want to make sure your piles start off right so they can build up heat and kill unwanted critters, weed seeds, and fungus.  I’ll often add a microbial inoculate right after the heat of the pile starts to taper off to make sure we have a great microbe profile in my soils for later years.

4. Fix Irrigation And Drain Water Lines

fixing broken irrigation in the garden

Over the season things break and irrigation lines are sometimes hard to keep up with when they’re covered in a mess of plants.  I try to take this time to figure out what worked and what didn’t and make repairs for the next year.  Since water can freeze in the line I also make sure all my water lines are totally drained and then blow them out with an air compressor.  Hoses I bring inside, but since we have pretty mild I leave most of the infrastructure in place.

5. Clean Up Your Perennials

cleaning up your perennials in the garden

You most likely have some perennials in your garden, for me I always keep a basic set of herbs and blueberry bushes.  Mint is one of those things that can get out of hand, so I make sure to cut it back some.  I’ll also trim up other things that have gotten unruly.  You don’t want to do too heavy of a pruning because the stress of a major trim plus the onset of cold can kill a plant, but tidying is totally worth it.

6. Fix What Bothered You On Your Homestead

Fixing things on the farm

A homestead is an ever-changing machine.  We try new things: how to better grow a vegetable, a new way to water our chickens, a way to handle post-harvest produce if we sell at market.  The experiments we run never end and we are always looking to improve things.  Think about things that you love about your homestead, then think about what things you don’t like.  How could you make those things better?  What little things bother you on a daily basis during the busy season?  What things are a total pain, constantly breaking, or just don’t work?

When you think about these problems on your homestead, how can you fix them?  Now’s the time to get them on your to-do list and get them done.

7. Improve Your Workflows On The Farm

Improve workflows on the farm

One thing that I see too often is people not considering their workflows on the farm or homestead.  What are the paths in and out of your farmstead?  You bring in a dump truck of compost to add to garden beds, diesel fuel for your tractor gets trucked in, and you buy lumber to build things.  Once on your land, you have to do various things: you spread mulch, fuel up the tractor, and you work on things in your shop, etc.  From there you grow things and harvest them which requires an area to do post harvest cleaning and packaging.  You might bring them to a farmers market, you might can them for your own pantry, or you store things in your root cellar.  Think about all these flows!

All of these things take up time, occupy space in storage sheds, and you have to lift and move materials here and there.  Think about how you can make work easier, how you can reduce the number of times you move something or the ergonomics of lifting things etc.  This will let you get things done faster, it lets people who might not be “farm strong” help you since it’s optimized and you spend less time laid up because of less risk of injury.

8. Fix Your Fences

fixing fences on the homestead

An old farmer once told me the easiest way to collect firewood is to put up a fence and watch all the trees that fall down on it.  It’s funny, but also seems to be some unwritten law of the universe, trees seem to always fall on my fencing or across my driveway.  All. The. Time.

Take time this winter to get your fencing back into tip-top shape and consider upgrading or expanding if you need to.  In some places, the ground will be too hard to use a post hole digger, but in many places, you can do this most any time during the winter.  I also like to take this time to cut back the vegetation near my fences so that I can run a bush hog along my fences easily.  I’ll help dying trees fall away from my fence and prune branches.

While many don’t like to spray, the fence is one area I’ll use a spray at the base of it to clear the ground totally right where the fence meets the ground.  This let’s me easily see areas where predators might be be crawling under your fence, where water route out a ditch that life stock can slip through, or weaken a post’s purchase.

9. Winter Homesteading Activities And Crafts

homtest crafts and hobbies

Making soap for the coming year and gifts during the holiday.  Melting down wax for salves, wood finishes and candle making is the perfect time for this.  Mending clothing, knitting a sweater or scarf, or other needle crafting.  Whatever you love doing, take this time of year to get them done and enjoy your time.  Explore other great hobbies you can do, even in a small space!

10. Split And Stack Your Firewood… For Next Year

stacking and splitting firewood

It can be tough to keep up with all the wood you need if you have a wood stove or fireplace, but if you really want to be on the ball, you need to be splitting and stacking wood for 2 years away. Living off the grid isn’t easy and a solid plan for heating is really important.  Firewood needs to dry out and become “seasoned” so that it burns better in your wood stove, burns hotter, and doesn’t build up as much creosote.  You should always split your wood and then allow it to dry out at least one year before you burn it.  A hydraulic wood splitter is a great investment for this task on your homestead.

If you buy your wood, go ahead and buy a double order this year so that you can have one pile sit for a year and dry out.  I’ve seen too many people get told that the wood is dry and come to find its basically green and freshly cut.  If you bite the bullet this year, you’ll never have to worry about it.

11. Take A Vacation From Your Homestead!

during the winter take a vacation from the homestead

This is the perfect time to take a vacation.  You can enjoy the winter weather or escape to somewhere sunny.  With things winding down you can take a week or two away from the farm or have someone watch your homestead when things aren’t as complicated.  You’ve worked hard all year long, so take this time to recoup, relax and enjoy time with your family.

Read Also:

Your Turn!

  • What would you add to my list?
  • What’s your favorite part of fall and winter on the homestead?

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Solar Oven Guide & Reviews

Solar Oven Guide & Reviews

Solar Oven Review and Guide

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Moving into my tiny house took many adjustments at first. Not only did I downsize, but I also went off the grid. Off-the-grid living presents quite a few challenges—and one of the biggest was how to cook food without electricity. When you rely on solar power, you can only store so much energy in your battery reserve, so I needed to cook food in a low-powered way. My quest led me to explore how to cook using solar ovens and solar cookers: appliances that capture and concentrate the sun’s heat in a box, to cook up delicious dishes—no grid required!

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