Archive for the Homesteading Category

5 Things Most People Get Wrong About Being A Homesteader

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

Growing all your own food

garden beds

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

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

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

Homesteading isn’t an inexpensive way of living

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

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

It’s a lot harder than you think

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

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

You’ll probably still need a job off the homestead

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

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

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

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

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

desing your life

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

 

Your Turn!

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

Fall Gardening: Planning for a Longer Growing Season

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

brassicas

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

When do I plant?

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

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

Do I plant directly into the ground?

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

fall garden

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

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

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

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

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

Your Turn!

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

Urban Homesteading: Growing in the City

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

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

Learn how to preserve food

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

food preservation

 

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

Buy from local producers

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

beef in butcher paper

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

Learn how to grow plants

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

Compost

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

deep bedding for chickens

 

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

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

Your Turn!

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

How to Start Homesteading Today with Baby Steps

Many homestead beginners jump the gun and take on more than they can handle, leading to burn out and sometimes failure. If you want to meet your goal of self-sufficiency it is important to take things one step at a time.

One of my strengths, and often one of my weaknesses, is jumping headlong into a new project. When my husband and I first started to dabble in the world of homesteading I was so excited about all of the possibilities our acre and a half afforded us.

Egg laying hens

When I first started, I talked to farmers in the area about goats, dreamed about what chicken breeds I would get first (you know buying chickens is a lot like buying pretty shoes, right?). Wait, there are ducks in the chicken catalog too; and it is even cheaper if you buy some geese to go with the ducks.

Can you see the snowball happening here?

Not only had I never raised any kind of bird, we didn’t have even one coop or fenced in yard to keep them in. Let alone places for three different kinds of birds. We ended up with birds in the garage and birds in the bath tub. It was crazy! We muddled through it all but it caused a lot of unnecessary work and stress for both my husband and myself.

We operate a lot different now. As much as I want to charge ahead and have all of the animals and every color of bean and tomato in my garden, I know that I can’t learn everything at once. Being able to devote your full attention to one skill at a time gives you a much greater margin of success and will save you from burn out. Not to mention, time to really enjoy each new skill.

There are so many skills and activities that fall under the title of homesteading. How do you know where to start?


Step 1: Know your goals

Do you want to be a homesteader in the country with acreage or are you an urban homesteader? Will you focus on fruits and vegetables or meat production? Knowing what the end goal is, will determine what skills you need to hone in on.

Step 2: Start today

There is no reason to delay your homestead journey. Learn to can, start a backyard flock of chickens, grow a container garden. There are so many things you can do in the place you live right now. Some of the most amazing homesteads have grown out of what appeared to be an impossible location. Once you get started you will see all of the possibilities.

 

Step 3: Do what you love

I love chickens! I love the eggs, their ability to turn organic matter into compost, and the way they can clear the weeds and get rid of bugs. Even more than that, I love watching them and interacting with them. Bringing them kitchen scraps and taking care of the mundane chores is so much easier when you are taking care of something that you love. Wanna learn more about chickens? I will help you pick out the right breed in this post.

Step 4: Pause

Don’t add anything new until you are comfortable with the skills you have already taken on. It is so easy to get excited and expand the garden beyond what you can take care of or add another animal before you truly understand and appreciate the daily commitment it takes to keep it up.

Step 5: Add a complimentary skill

Let’s say you started with a small garden. A natural progression would be composting. Maybe you grew a bumper crop of apples. Learn to can or dehydrate! Complimentary skills are like bunny trails – there are almost limitless possibilities. Allow yourself time to learn these skills one at a time. Biting off more than you can chew quickly leads to burnout.

By tempering my stride I have gained new skills every year. Remember the building blocks we played with as kids? Lay down one block at a time and soon you have built a homestead.

Your Turn!

  • Are you a feet first, all-in starter, or a baby-stepper?
  • Have you ever bit off more than you can chew?

 

Guide to Raising Chicks and How to Set Up a Brooder

You can’t stop looking at pictures of chickens, the sound of their cluck melts your heart, and you catch yourself daydreaming about cooking breakfast with freshly-gathered, blue and brown eggs. It is time for you to get some chickens! How do you get started? Do they sell chickens at the pet store?

I suggest starting with chicks. They grow up quickly and are such a joy to raise. You need to start by setting up a chick nursery called a brooder. My favorite brooder set up is a big, clear-plastic storage bin. The sides are nice and tall and it is easy to clean out.

chick brooder set-up

Setting up a Brooder

  • Storage Bin: Start with a clear plastic storage bin. Make sure the sides are tall. If you are getting several chicks then get the biggest one you can find. You will be surprised by how fast they grow.
  • Bedding: It is very important that chicks are kept dry and warm. I like to lay down several layers of newspaper with a good thick layer of wood chips on top of that. You can use shredded paper or sand as well. Just make sure that whatever you lay down stays dry.
  • Heat source: Chicks are very easily raised on their own, but without a mother hen to keep them warm they need a heat source. You can hang a heat lamp above the bin or buy an electric chick warmer to place down in the brooder.
  • Feed: Chicks grow very fast so they need a good, high-protein chick starter feed. Adding in some dry sand is also important. Chickens don’t chew their food. They need some grit or sand in their gizzard to help “chew” their food.
  • Water: Chicks love to scratch and peck right from day one but can be so messy. Placing a few small bricks (not taller than a couple inches) under the water will help keep their water clean. Make sure to watch them all get up and get water before you walk away. If they can’t get up on the bricks then place on the floor of your brooder until they are a few days old.

chick waterer raised

Now you need chicks

Chicks can be purchased locally at the feed store or ordered from a hatchery and come to you by mail. I prefer to buy locally because the feed store will only have breeds that do well in your climate. If you have a specific breed in mind then ordering from a hatchery is a great way to go.

Keep them warm

When chicks are comfortable they have a sweet little peep that is soft and pleasant. If they are noisy then something is not right. Usually they are cold or their bedding is wet. Keeping a thermometer in the brooder is an easy way to help regulate the temperature. You are aiming for 85-90 degrees under the lamp.

Another way to “read” the temperature is to watch their behavior. If they are all huddled under the lamp and not scratching and pecking then it is too cold. Lowering the heat lamp usually is all it takes to solve that problem. If they are all on the opposite side of the brooder and no one is under the heat lamp then the temperature is too warm. Raise the heat lamp a little. What you are looking to accomplish is the chicks milling around happily, some under the light and some not.

chick brooder set-up

Keep them clean

Aside from keeping chicks warm and dry with plenty of good food and clean water there is not much else a chick needs. In the first couple days you do need to watch out for pasty butt. That is where their poop is runny and sticks to their feathers instead of well formed droppings. If left uncared for it can build up and block their vent which can make them ill.

The good news is that it is super easy to take care of. Just make sure they are kept clean. Use a nice, soft cloth to clean the poop from their feathers. Be very careful to not pull the poop off. Pasty butt is only a problem in the first couple days and can be almost completely eliminated by making sure that they have grit available.

chicks outside

Move them to their coop

As the chicks grow you can slowly raise the lamp. Just watch their behavior and don’t let them get cold. When the chicks can handle 70 degree temps without being cold or crying then they are ready to be moved to their coop. Use common sense at this point. If it is February and 30 degrees outside then it is too cold outside for the chicks.

Eggs!farm fresh eggs

Now just love on those chicks and in five months you will be gifted beautiful, fresh, home grown eggs. When your hens are five months old that is when you will switch their feed from starter/grower feed to layer feed. Starter/grower feed has high protein to support growth and the layer feed has the calcium they need when they have started to lay eggs.

Chickens are one of the easiest farm animals to raise. Keep them warm, fed and watered and they will reward you with constant entertainment and fresh eggs. If I was allowed only one animal I would pick chickens every day of the week.

Your Turn!

  • What most excites you about backyard chickens?
  • Which baby animals have you raised?