Archive for the Self Sufficiency Category

How To Setup A Rainwater Catchment System

Rain catchment, rain harvesting, or rain barrels are a favorite project of many gardeners and homesteaders.  The truth is that water is the basis of all life on our homesteads and gardens, so it makes sense that we look to take advantage of the rain that is already falling on our home.  Catching water to use is a great way to reduce our water bills.

rainwater catchement

For each square foot of catchment we create we capture .6 gallons per inch of rain.  Where I live in North Carolina it rains an average of 42 inches per year, if we consider the average size a home in the US (2,400 square feet) that means that if we were to catch all the rain that fell on that roof in a year, we would capture over 60,000 gallons!  That’s a lot of water!

Parts You Need To Catch Rain Water

Regardless of the size and scale of your system you’ll need a few basic parts to put it all together.  Below this section I dig into some of the details you also want to consider, but at it’s basics you’ll need the following.

Catchment Surface

This can be any flat surface where water lands and is channeled where we want to store it.  In many cases people look to their roofs because it’s a large surface that already has gutters which will collect and channel the water into a few points where we can collect.  This could be any surface so get creative.  It could be the roof of our chicken coop, the roof of a barn, it could even be a parking lot that is graded to drain the water into a settlement pond or swale.

stand alone water catchment surface

The material of this surface can be almost anything, but do consider what that surface introduces into the water.  If for instance you have a shingle roof, there are a lot of chemicals in them which prevent biological growth and hold up in the sun for years.  These can transfer to your water if you’re not careful.  In general the best roof surface is is a metal roof, because it is less likely to impart any bad chemicals into your water and is pretty easy to clean if it gets real dirty.

First Flush Diverter

As with anything outside, things can get dirty.  In the case of roofs and large open surfaces, we find that dust, dirt, and pollen settle onto roofs.  Additionally you’ll have birds pooping on it, bugs dying onto it and other things making your roof a dirty place.  We obviously don’t want any of these things in our water, and while we can’t prevent it, we can use a first flush diverter to try to avoid the bulk of this going into our storage tanks.

A first flush diverter is a mechanical device that lets us wash of the roof with all the gunk in it, then divert the now cleaner water to our tanks.  This can be done a few different ways, a whole bunch of options can be found online both for purchase and DIY.  The video below shows you one way you can do this.

Storage Tank

catchment tanksLater on I’ll go into how to calculate how much storage you need, but suffice to say you’ll need a good bit of storage to really cover your needs.  There are a lot of DIY options out there with 55 gallon drums or 120 gallon totes, but in past experience I’ve found these to be to be a lot of extra hassle and in the end you don’t save as much because you’ll need a bunch of them, each time adding in connections that can fail.  Typically you can find barrels for around $20 a piece, but then you’ll spend $10 or more in PVC parts to interconnect them.

A 500 gallon water tank can be purchased for around $300 if you’re able to go pick it up, shipping is the tough part.  With a tank that size you’re going to want to pour a pad to set it on for stability and safety, so you should factor that into the cost.

Is Rain Water Safe?

Yes and no.  According to Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. of Biomedical Sciences rain water is generally pretty safe to drink or use on your garden.  It’s always recommended to filter and purify if you’re not sure about the source.  When we are talking about ingesting something we need to do our research and consult experts (I’m not one).

Where I think most people will run into trouble is in the catchment and storage of the water.  The water as it falls from the sky is pretty clean, but once it lands on a surface and is move into a tank, you can run into issues with less than desirable things being introduced.  Even with water from the sky, there may be some pollution, dust or other biological elements in the water.  So always filter and purify.

How Much Water Do You Need?

I found that water catchment is only actually useful if you go big, small rain barrels are a fun project, but gardens require a lot of water and most can’t keep up in any significant way.  A general rule is you need about 0.8 gallons of water per square feet per week for your garden.  This will vary based on your climate, soil and crops, but it’s a good place to start.

So figure out how many square feet of garden you have, times that by 0.8 gallons to figure out your total weekly needs.  Example: 1000 square feet of garden will need 800 gallons per week.  It’s also important to consider the averages for the month in your growing season.  A quick google search for “monthly rainfall in…” will give you a chart, for me I get 3 inches per month or more all year round, so I need to consider that when sizing my system.

If I had a house that was 1,500 square feet of roof times .6 gallons per sq/ft times 3 inches of rain in the month, I can collect a maximum of 2,700 gallons per month.  This would support a maximum of 843 square feet of garden (2700 divided by 4 weeks divided by .8 gallons = max garden size).  So you can see that you need a pretty big area to collect, to store and the infrastructure to move it from one place to another.

Storing Water

Keeping water stored up is no small task, mainly because of the quantity we need and how heavy it is.  At 8.5 lbs per gallon, if we take the above example that means we need support over 11 tons!  The tank would need to be 8 feet across and 9 feet tall, which typically costs $1500-$2500.  These are all very big numbers obviously and even at their scale, it’s only supporting a smallish garden.

water barell

Tanks this size are a lot to transport, to move and to install.  If you’re going to go above 100 gallons I strongly suggest getting a cement footing poured so that you know the surface below can safely handle the weight, plus you’re going to want at least a little elevation so that you can fit a bucket under the bottom drain or have working room for pipe connections.  Because of the size, the weight of the water will provide pressure to push the water out the bottom pretty well.

When you’re storing water in bulk you need to make sure that you prevent foreign bodies from getting introduced, like a mouse climbing in and drowning, or bugs falling in and algae forming. We can do this through various methods using hardware cloth, opaque containers and in some cases chemical controls.

Low Pressure System

One advantage of municipal or well water systems is they are pressurized, typically to around 40 PSI (pounds per square inch).  When we capture water we don’t always have that much pressure so we can do a few things to overcome it.

drip tape irrigation

First is we can get the water into an elevated position.  If you’re able to capture the water in a high spot and put your garden or home in a lower spot, we can use that elevation change to our advantage.  For every foot elevation we can get our water, we will gain about .4 PSI.  So if we are able to raise the water to 100 feet above where we need it, say on top of a hill, we could get 40 psi at our spigot down the hill.

Most people don’t have that drastic of a change in their topography, so instead we can use low pressure irrigation to overcome any limitations.  To meet this need there are now several drip tape solutions that are designed with low pressure in mind.  In some cases you’ll only need around 10 psi  (25 feet of elevation) to get your garden watered.

Filtration & Purification

Depending on your setup and your use you might want to consider filtration and/or purification in line somewhere. The difference between these two processes is important to understand.  Simply put, the main difference lies in the level of protection they provide. Generally speaking, a water filter is designed to remove waterborne protozoa and bacteria, but not viruses. A water purifier is designed to combat all three classes of microbes, including viruses.

dirty water

If you want to go this route, a commercial system can be had for not too much money and there are a lot of good options.  Since we need to remove things measured in microns, our ability to come up with DIY solutions are just not possible here.

So that’s some of the basics of catching water for use in your garden and potentially as water in the home if you’re off grid.  Make sure you read up, do your home work here because there are some finer points to get right.

Your Turn!

  • What are your plans to for water catchment?
  • What tips can you share if you’ve made your own system?

Getting Started With Chickens

Chickens are, as I like to put it, the gateway animal.  You start out with chickens and then all a sudden you have your eye on a few goals, a couple pigs and maybe even a mini Dexter cow.  I have had chickens several times through out my life and always loved having them around. Even years ago when I got my first chickens I made a lot of success very quickly and the entire process was a lot of fun.

starting with chickens

The nice thing about keeping chickens is they are quite easy to take care of, requires a few minutes a day to tend, in a pinch can be left for a long weekend and if you travel you can teach someone to take care of them quickly.  Of course as with any animal, owning chickens you need to take it seriously and make sure you understand that their welfare is your responsibility, so make sure to consider it carefully.

Know Your Local Laws

The first thing you need to do before you do anything is make sure that keeping chickens is allowed.  You’ll need to check with the local authorities, see if you have any rules in your home owners association or deed restrictions and then also consider your neighbors.

golden comet chicken In my city I’m allowed to have up to 50 birds per acre, the coop must be offset from any property line by 15 feet and obtain a permit for $10 a year.  Your city or town may be different, so make sure you do your homework!

Learn All You Can

Obviously if you’re reading this post, you want to learn about starting a chicken farm and it may even be because you’re thinking about getting chickens of your own (go for it!).  Use this post as a jumping off point to learn as much as you can about the various aspects of chickens.  You’re going to make mistakes and that is okay, we are learning, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re doing your best to care for these animals.

Get Setup Ahead Of Time

Once you’ve researched your local laws you want to get setup with some basic infrastructure.  You’re going to need a few things so you can be ready for your chickens.  You should consider the following


If you’re going to raise chickens from freshly hatched babies (chicks) you will need what is called a brooder.  A brooder is like a nursery for the chicks where we protect them a little bit more, give them some added heat and let them grow a bit before you let them out into the real world.  I typically do this in a large Rubbermaid tub with a heat lamp and some bedding.

We have a whole post on how to set up a brooder and raise chicks. Below is a video I have of some baby quail I raised a few years ago from eggs. Their setup was a bit simpler, but you get the idea.

Build A Coop

A coop is just what we call the house we keep our chickens in at night.  During the day we will let them free range (go were ever they want) or let them into a run (a fenced area that provides some protection).  The coop needs to be about 2 square feet for each chicken you have.  Much more than 2-3 feet per bird assuming they have more room to range during the day doesn’t do much because they all like to pile on a roost and cuddle up with each other anyway.

chicken on roost in coopA roost is just a bar that chickens like to sit on, usually about a foot or so off the floor of the coop or ground.  I’ve had chickens that all piled onto a single bar leaving several empty and then I’ve had others that didn’t use them at all.  I usually add them because it seems like most chickens like to roost because it makes them feel a little safer.  The top most roost is often taken up by the alpha hen and the rooster if you have one, but some flocks don’t get too tied up in pecking order.

You want to make sure that there is at least some ventilation, but make sure it hardware cloth over it so predators can’t get in. The rule of thumb is around 1 square foot of ventilation per 10 square feet of coop.

The last parts of a coop are your nesting boxes for the chickens to lay their eggs in (usually one box per 3-4 birds) and some sort of bedding to catch droppings from.  Chickens put out a lot of droppings and they tend to concentrate under the roost bars.  However you plan to handle droppings, make it bomb proof because it can get messy quickly and if you build your coop to easily clean out, you can make your life a lot easier.  More on coops coming soon.

Chicken Tractors And Chicken Runs

Many people who want to get into raising chickens want to try a mobile chicken tractor, which is basically a coop with no bottom that you move to fresh grass every few days.  I’ve done both a fixed coop and chicken tractors and I think chicken tractors are my favorite because it cuts down on the cleaning (no floors, the chickens just poop on the grass) and it reduces the amount of feed I need to buy.

Here is my old chicken tractor:

chicken tractor

There are a few things you need to consider if you decide to go the chicken tractor.  Whatever coop you design it should be able to be moved easily by the smallest person in your household, it makes it difficult if only some of the people can actually move it each day.

Finally make sure you have enough room, if you have more than a few chickens you’ll need to move that coop most days so that the chickens do remove all the vegetation in that one spot to the point that it can’t bounce back.  You want the grass to get roughed up a bit, but no more.  This will let the grass bounce back and grow stronger.  Having enough space is easier in the summer months because things grow so quickly, but in the winter you may find that a spot where the chickens were takes 30-60 days to heal.

Life And Death On The Farmstead

With any animals it’s great to have animals around your yard, it can bring a lot of good energy, fun and happiness.  The other side of the coin is that with life comes the end of if.  Sometimes chickens get sick, sometimes a predator circumvents our fences, or they might just grow old and die.

hens and a rooster

For good caretakers these days are few and far between, but it is a reality of this lifestyle.  When I bought my first chicks I ended up with several roosters despite me trying to avoid it.  As they grew they began to struggle for dominance as the alpha rooster.  It was at that point I had tried giving them away, but couldn’t find anyone that would take them even for free.  As they fought I knew the only outcome was that there would be only one alpha and the rest would suffer injuries or death from the skirmishes that were taking place.

It was then I realized they would end up being pecked to death by the alpha rooster.  I wasn’t comfortable with a prolonged and painful death, so I made the decision to process them for meat.  It was a difficult and somber affair as I did the deed, and while I was resolved in my mind, it didn’t make it any easier as I placed them in the kill cone and nicked their artery with a knife.

Just understand that it’s mostly good, but there are a few bad days too.

Self Sufficiency

Not only is keeping chickens pretty easy and a lot of fun, but the eggs and potentially meat are a solid first step into self sufficiency.  If you think about it, we grow a lot of things in out garden and while they are loaded with nutrients, vitamins and minerals, they are often very low in calories or protein.  It’s great to eat healthy, but if we want to make our way to self sufficiency, we need to figure a way to cover our caloric and protein needs too and eggs help in that goal.

nutrition in a farm eggAs you can see an egg has some good calories and a fair bit of protein and you get an egg per chicken each day in many cases.  Compare that to a tomato which can take 90 days to grow and only has 22 calories.

Having a few eggs a day for breakfast or a quiche for lunch or dinner is a great way to start making up some of the calories that we need, which means we don’t have to rely on the grocery store as much.  Eggs can even be a way to make a few bucks to cover the cost of feed and if you ever need a chicken sitter, them keeping the eggs is often compensation enough.

Letting Chickens Work For You

my chickens in my gardenNot only are chickens a great source of food, but they can be helpful in reducing your work load.  Chickens by their nature scratch at the dirt, root for bugs and grubs, and till up the first inch of soil.  We can utilizing their natural tendencies to get things done in our gardens. Setting chickens loose on compost piles will be like letting a child loose in a candy shop.  They’ll turn the compost, peck out any grubs and bugs (breaking the pest life cycle) and add their manure to the pile all in one fell swoop.

I’ll often move my chickens to my garden area before I begin to prep the garden for a new season.  Since my garden area is fenced in for deer, I set them up there for a month and let them take everything to bare dirt.  If there are any perennial plants or plants I want to keep, I’ll just fence them off so the chickens can get to them.  After a few weeks the ground is often removed of weeds, bugs and a fair bit of manure has been scratched into the soil.

Chickens are a really great first step into bringing animals into the mix on your land and they have a lot of upsides.   So if you are thinking about chickens, check out some of the other post here on the site and let us know in the comments what your plans are!

Your Turn!

  • What seems like the biggest challenge for you when it comes to chickens?
  • What are your chicken plans?


How to Homestead: Tackling the Challenges of Going Off-Grid

Living off the land, growing your own food and taking life back to simpler times—for many this sounds like the ultimate dream. In the hustle-bustle craziness of modern life, it’s no wonder people are ready to forget their commute, stop shopping, turn off their TV and learn how to homestead.

living off grid

Homesteading takes us back to simpler times. The idea of self-sufficiency, independence and forging your own way? Well, that’s the very fabric of the American dream. But the reality of homesteading—living off the grid, growing your own food supply, being self-reliant—is a lot to take on, especially all at once. Before you quit your day job and buy a brood of chickens, you’ll want to be certain you’ve planned for the many challenges of going off-grid.

If you’re hoping to learn the logistics of how to homestead, these are the challenges you’ll need to tackle.

1. Setup

The biggest conundrum when going off-grid is the cost. Living truly off-grid is romanticized and when you combine it with setting up a homestead, expectations may further exceed reality. I’ll be honest, with enough money anything’s possible of course, but realistically I would say choose one or the other to start.

inverter, charge controller, panel

I hear from off-grid newbies (grid muggles, as I like to call them) they think they’re going to go into the woods, build a cabin and live off the land. For most of us, it’s not so simple. To feed a family of four, you’d need at least two acres of land for food. You would also need roughly 25 average-sized solar panels to sustain enough electricity for four people, possibly more (you can read about my solar panel setup here). That’s not even considering the additional concerns of water, sewer, shelter, animal husbandry, gardening, food storage and more.

After living off the grid for the last few years, I can say there are quite a few considerations without growing my own food. The best method for living out your homesteading dreams is to take your setup in steps and plan on a decent upfront investment.

2. Electricity

Solar electricity is the biggest component of going off the grid. After all, that’s literally what the “grid” refers to. Homesteaders and anyone who plans to live off the grid will need to research exactly what sort of electric wiring and solar panel system you’ll require for your particular situation. I have a great guide: Shockingly Simple Electric if you’re looking for a resource to get started.
solar panels for homestead

I have 15 solar panels installed, which is enough to run everything I need in my place. My setup cost around $20,000. However, if you plan to run an electric water heater, a microwave, washer or other large appliance—or if you have a larger home—you’re going to need more than just a basic solar panel system. Forget those systems you see at home improvement stores—these small solar panel systems offer only enough power to charge your phone and laptop.

As I said above, for a family of four, expect at least 25 solar panels. You’ll also need a generator or two if you expect less than 8 hours per day of southern sun. This is especially important in the winter. Calculate your electricity needs based on the times when you get the least amount of sun. In the summer, you may generate more electricity than you require, but in the winter, you’ll be prepared.

3. Finding Land

Back in the day, true homesteading involved laying your claim to land by setting up a sustainable farm plot. In 1976, the federal government ended homesteading in the continental United States. Homesteading continued in Alaska for ten more years—but since 1986, if you want to live on a plot of land, you’ll need to purchase it.

The biggest challenge of homesteading involves the initial cost of land and setting it up, but there are also costs to maintain your homestead. Even with the smallest home possible, there are plenty of expenses involved. How will you access the land, install your well and septic, and clear land or setting up planting beds?

Minimally, if you plan to house livestock such as chickens or goats, you’ll have several things to consider.  They will need a shelter for to protect them from the elements, a place to store feed and bedding, as well as fencing to keep them in and predators out.

For your garden you’ll also need seeds, seedlings and basic gardening supplies. The easiest route is to purchase land and set up your small house. Slowly adjust to off-the-grid living and take baby steps as you start to get into homesteading.

4. Legality

I’ve written before about the laws involved with living off the grid. The habitable structure definitions included in most municipal ordinances will exclude several factors of off-the-grid living. Many tiny house dwellers skirt this issue by putting their house on a trailer, but this only gets you out of some of the legal requirements. When you involve livestock, you’re also looking at additional legal concerns.

tiny house planning

Again, my big disclaimer is to do your research before you start. Look into all the laws involved and restrictions in your living area. (You can check Municode here for a guide for most but not all municipal coding and government sites.) Going against the rules may result in fines or worse, so make your choices wisely. This is again where baby-steps come into play (you may be sensing a theme here). Thinking you’ll build an off-the-grid hobby farm tomorrow just isn’t realistic.

However, most of us can start a garden on our plot of land, grow a few vegetables and possibly keep chickens. Bite off what you can chew and always study local restrictions first. Don’t underestimate the power of a friendly appeal to your zoning board and code enforcement. You may also need the expertise of a contractor as well as a lawyer.

5. Shelter

cabin in woodsIf your plot of land already contains a shelter, taking it off-grid may be a matter of adapting by installing solar, heating and on-site water solutions. Honestly, it’s often easier to get around the legal issues if your plot already has a dwelling on-site. Many ordinances require an on-site dwelling of a certain size. So, in theory you could turn an existing structure into a barn or storage, while heating and powering a smaller, more sustainable house on the same plot of land.

If you have a family to consider, you may need more space than I (a single guy) requires. Then again, the extra help with your homestead may be welcome. If you plan to raise animals, you’ll also need shelter considerations for your livestock.

The shelter requirements are obviously very different depending on your climate. A desert yurt in California may not require a heat source like a cabin in Montana. If you plan to homestead, the climate is a huge factor as well. Growing seasons and weather are vital factors for producing enough food.

6. Water & Sewer

catchment tanksMany grid muggles think living off the grid applies to power. Throw up a few solar panels and you’re set, right? Living off the grid also applies to water and sewer as well. When it comes to the issue of water, this is one of the other big logistical challenges.

If you live near a water source, you may be able to carry in enough water for daily use. But you need to realize that water is 8.5 lbs. per gallon, so huffing buckets of water will get old really fast.  My suggestion is always spend the money to build out a high quality water system– one that brings clean drinking water to your home and the other areas of your farmstead. If you’re also hoping to grow your own food, water is more of a concern. For hundreds of years, farmers have worked with well water and irrigation systems. After the initial cost of setup, these are viable options and fairly easy to maintain.  Water is one thing not to skimp on.

Your shower and sink drains can be made to be “grey water”, but it requires the use of sustainable soaps that won’t harm crops or the land with runoff. Your sewerage or “black water” may require a more in-depth system (like septic). There’s also the possibility of incineration or using humanure but there are many restrictions, so certainly explore what’s allowed in your area. While you can conserve your water usage, chances are you’ll need a system and longer-term plan, especially for a homestead.

7. Heat

wood stovePart of the homesteading mystique is the idea you’ll chop enough wood to heat your home. If this is your plan, be sure you really, REALLY enjoy chopping wood, because you’re about to spend a large portion of your day doing it. You should also plan on having a fairly endless supply of forest.

Alternatively, you could do what I do, which is rely on some propane for heating. Let me tell you, although it may seem like “cheating,” investing in propane and gas is well worth your time. You can use propane for your stove and water heater as well which will save you a lot of money.

Unless you have an extra $50,000 to invest in solar panels or a robust hydropower turbine (flowing water and a drop on your land), you’re going to need to rely on fossil fuels. Fortunately, propane is relatively inexpensive.

8. Food

When people dream of making the leap to homesteading, they’re most likely referring to food and farming. This is an area where homesteading is fun, satisfying and really shines. If you’re on the grid and in a temperate climate, growing some of your fruits and vegetables for the year is a realistic endeavor.

If you’re off the grid or live in a less-temperate climate, then you’ll probably need to supplement some of your food supply with trade or purchase. Using storage solutions such as a root cellar (much cheaper than refrigeration), canning and preservation will make sure your family eats healthy and saves money in the process.

Growing a garden requires less land and fewer resources than livestock, so carefully measure your costs and expectations. For example, to raise chickens, your coop may require an initial investment of $500-$1,000 and around $15/month to feed. So, measure it against the cost and your need for eggs before you jump in.

9. Health

A homesteader I know lives about four hours away from town in Montana. While working on clearing her property, she dropped a rock on her hand, slicing off a finger. After weighing her driving distance from the hospital, she realized she wouldn’t make it in time to save her digit and now lives with nine fingers.

first aid medical kit

This story isn’t to scare you off from homesteading, but just a reminder, the further off-grid you go, the less access you will have to necessities in case of an emergency. Because I still live relatively close to the city, I can get what I need any time. This may not be the case in rural areas.

Homesteaders benefit from basic first-aid training and from stocking up on medical supplies. While you don’t need a whole pharmacy on-hand, be prepared to deal with stings, scrapes, burns, cuts and contusions. When you live far off from the city, an ambulance might be hours away, so think worst-case scenario and take precautions.

10. Neighbors

As homesteaders we need to consider our neighbors, because not everyone thinks this life is as great as we do.  In the country we may have enough land that we don’t have to worry much, but if we are homesteading on an urban or suburban lot, we need to consider the people around us.

Obviously, making sure you’re respectful and adhering to your zoning laws and ordinances will help you keep the peace. Not every neighbor is thrilled when a beekeeper moves in next door, smoke from your wood stove drifts over to their yard, or your loud generator is running at 3am.

neighbors meeting

A benefit of living in a small home or relying on your land to grow your own food is that your life is simplified. No longer are you tied to the social constraints and obligations of society. You may choose to live in a rural area where you’re more isolated from others. As long as you’re happy with solace, this setup works great. However, there’s no shooting the breeze with your buddy across the fence or knocking on the door for a cup of sugar. Self-sufficiency has positives and drawbacks.

Ultimately, if your sights are set on homesteading, it’s certainly possible. Be realistic about your expectations when you begin. The first step is planning, doing your research and setting a realistic budget. I’ve found it best to take the homesteading setup process one step at a time. Before you know it, you’ll be living the life you dream of!

Your Turn!

  • What do you see as your biggest challenge?

Beginner’s Guide to Prepping – Should You Prepare?

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


wood heat


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

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

No Pay!

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


home-cooked meal


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

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


Scenarios to consider Cooking during disaster

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


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



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

How much do I really need?

dry goods storage

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

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

Keep these items on hand

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


Your Turn!

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

Tiny House Preppers & Prepping

It is interesting to see the different types of people that are drawn to tiny houses, they come from all walks of life, all political leanings, religions and nationalities.  We are read in over 160 countries so we get quite the mix.  Over the past few years we have seen a lot of interest coming from the prepper community, the survivalist community and from the homesteaders.  While each unique groups in their own right, they all have a good bit of overlap.

fdgfdgI’ve come to know people from these groups and while it’s true I get the occasional “the sky is falling, put on your tin foil hat” email or phone call; by in large these folks are very normal people that have a practical way about them.  I don’t particularly subscribe to prepping mentalities, but I thought I might share some of what I have learned over the years from talking with them.  I do spend time on various prepping, homesteading and survivalist websites because they typically are the best source of information on things like off grid living, practical solutions to modern day problems and other useful skills.  There is a strong overlap between between my interest in permaculture and tiny house living, and these schools of thought, so its an interesting topic to me regardless.

Preparing for what might come, whatever it is, seems to be a balancing act; everything in moderation right?  I like what Jack Spirko says about preparing “everything you do to prepare should help you today, not just in a disaster”.    So whatever you do, should improve your life and situation now.  Along with this, is enjoy the life you live now, don’t spend it worrying about what could happen later.

Another lesson I learned from studying permaculture and the Transition Town Movement is that there are simply too many possible things that can go wrong and while you can make educated guesses, even those are just guesses and how they actually play out will vary wildly.  Take the email I got recently that sparked the idea for this post.  The person that emailed me was worried about hurricanes threatening the coastal town where she lived.  It is true that a hurricane could rock their world, it’s happened plenty of times before, but how the aftermath plays out could vary.

So the take away that I gleaned was that there are any number of things that could happen and each of them could have a wide array of outcomes, meaning an almost infinite possibilities; including the possibility that nothing will happen at all.   So how does one prepare for that many events?  The simple answer is that you don’t.

32366bb40d9ae2b8fdac1c506156b3f7Preparing for all those things isn’t practical, so the only thing we can do is to become resilient to changes that will come at us.  Resiliency is the ability to react to changes in our system, adjust our environment, behaviors and systems to then rebound from that.  Our ability to recover from the shock to the system is key, the faster we can recover, the better we will be.  We start with being resilient as an individual and then grow it to our neighborhood, our town and beyond.  We can achieve this by generating our own power, growing our own food, building community and other proactive steps.

So how does this all tie into tiny houses?

Tiny houses present an unique set of hurdles because of the space that we live in is so small.  While many peppers focus on gathering and storing things that they might need in an event, this doesn’t work well with limited square footage.  So how does a prepper manage this?

The likely hood that of a long term event is generally pretty small and most of them will be localized.  Most events will disrupt things for only a few weeks at most and if we are in good financial shape, we can recover quite well even if we loose everything.  The likely hood of a long term event that is wide spread is significantly less likely to happen.  Equipped with a few tools, a knowledge base and a plan, we can be pretty resilient to most things.  So if we can prepare for a 3 months disruption we can either last the event or move to an area that was effected and since we have our ducks in a row, we can start a new life.

That isn’t to say there aren’t considerations to be made for longer term events that are wide spread, take the great depression, it affected millions and lasted over a decade.  The point is, plan for the most likely events first.

The one big thing that we have to our advantage with a tiny house is that it is mobile.  If the SHTF we can pack up and move on, maybe even before the event with enough warning.  The only flaw to this is if roads become blocked and/or lawlessness spreads; but these are things we can plan for and develop contingencies for.

Another obvious thing is that most people opt for off the grid solutions for their tiny houses, so this is naturally a happy coincidence when it comes to prepping.  The one thing to consider is how you move these capabilities if you need to bug out.


A good portion of people also look to the famed “bug out bag” or “go bag” which is simply a bag that is all set to go at a moments notice that contains most of what you need to immediately leave.  Most of these bags are setup to only last short time frames, they are self contained kits to keep you alive if all else fails.  Its a great place to start and I know of several tiny house dwellers that have them in their tiny houses.

Another thing that a lot of tiny house dwellers do is garden.  The ability to grow and store your own food has a ton of benefits right now for your budget and health, but with the added benefit of you being able to keep yourself alive if food becomes in short supply.  While I have seen a ton of people store a lot of food, the truth is that you need to be grow your own because it could be lost and will always run out.

Now growing food is one thing that I know very well, in fact I do it professionally.  I am literally a sustainable urban agriculture professional/farmer.  Here is a sobering truth, even though I do this almost every day of my life, even though I have grown literally tons of food in a given year, if things got really bad for a long time, I’d most likely starve.  This will improve dramatically when I shift to a perennial food forest, but even then it will be tricky.  It’s because growing enough calories for a person, which is expending a lot of energy farming,  365 days a year is a really hard thing. Don’t forget that if food is in short supply, so is gas, materials, seeds, amendments etc. There are many people out there that can grow a few things really well, but can they grow a full diet of crops without any machines or amendments?


My experience focuses on sustainable agricultural systems, meaning I grow a diversified group of perennial crops organically with on site nutrient sources in a way that cycles through the system.  The problem is that sometimes you don’t have a good crop, sometimes you need something that is from an off site location.  It can be tough to produce enough calories  The point is in a survival situation there is no store to go to and if you can’t grow enough because of a disease or bug, you’ll starve.

So when it comes to food production, start now because it will take a lifetime to get good at it and focus on perennial organic crops.  Taking lessons from permaculture will go a long way to meeting this need.

Finally the greatest asset you can have outside of a few basics, is knowledge.  Knowledge can’t be lost or stolen, it doesn’t way anything or take up space,  it is always with you and it can be shared or traded.  Skills that you have can be practical for everyday life such as food preservation, bartering, fixing things, growing and gathering food, etc.

The one parting thing I will say is that in my opinion, whatever that is worth, is that the ability to take care of one’s self is a powerful thing.  It is why many of use come to tiny houses, because it enables us to live lives that are more practical, purposeful and to live the life we want to lead.  I also feel like your ability to help yourself and your neighbors in tough times is more than just a moral obligation, but should be seen as a civic duty, one that is generally missing from our society today.  Not only does it help to do some of these things in the good times, but it will help in the tough times; even if nothing happens saving money, eating good food, and connecting with neighbors are all things we can benefit from.

Your Turn!

  • What are things can you do that improves your life now, but also increases your resiliency?
  • How do you handle prepping in small spaces?