Posts Tagged Green And Eco Friendly

Living In A Yurt As An Affordable Way To Live Tiny

Living In A Yurt As An Affordable Way To Live Tiny

living in a yurt

Image Source – The Yurt Life

Before I moved into my tiny house, I was really interested in living in a yurt. I almost closed on some land and moved for grad school. I could have set up a yurt on the land for the same amount I would have spent on just a few months of college housing. Living in a yurt was a very affordable option.

I’ve always found the modern versions of Mongolian yurts interesting. They offer a way to set up a structure quickly on a plot of land that is more than just a tent, but isn’t a permeant as a building. They’re an excellent solution for shelter as you’re building a tiny house or setting up a homestead. Most of the time, when homesteaders buy land, they need to get on it immediately; living in a yurt presents a nice, quick option.

If you’re considering the merits of living in a yurt, here’s why living in a yurt is an excellent choice for a temporary tiny home.


NAVIGATION


What Is A Yurt?

what is a yurt

A yurt or a “Mongolian yurt” sounds exotic and different if you haven’t heard the term. You may be wondering, what is a yurt anyway?

mongolian yurtThe short answer is that a yurt is essentially a round tent. These structures were native to Mongolia and were used by the nomadic groups across Mongolia and Turkey. The translation of the Turkish word “yurt” means “home,” and that’s precisely what a yurt is—a simple home.

Traditional yurts were created out of wood, with a wool outer covering. These are portable homes that nomadic tribes would take with them as they herded sheep, goats, and yaks. The entire structure could be folded down and carried on a camel. It’s similar to the Native American tipi.

Mongolian yurts could be quite large and include different rooms, a cooking space, and more. They were often decorated with beautiful patterns, some of which aligned with Buddhist philosophy.

Today’s yurts aren’t covered in wool anymore. They’re usually made out of strong tent fabric. These yurts will withstand quite a bit of use, and there are many permanent yurt-like structures throughout the United States. Many national and state parks offer permanent yurt dwellings for campers to use when visiting. Yurts are also popular across Europe in many different camp settings.

There are several types of yurts, and when someone refers to living in a yurt, they could be discussing any of the following:

Types Of Yurts

Types Of Yurts

mongolian yurt

Mongolian Yurt

The original type of traditional yurt. If you find an authentic “Mongolian yurt,” it will likely be historical reconstruction (similar to a tipi).


Modern Fabric Yurt

This describes most modern yurts—a lattice structure with a fabric overlay. You can buy yurt home kits online.


wooden yurt

Wooden Yurts

These are made entirely out of wood and are essentially a round, home structure. There’s also the “hexayurt,” which is a hexagonal, six-sided yurt (making it a little easier to construct than a rounded yurt).


No matter the type of yurt you find is best for you, it offers a fun and affordable living option. Some hexayurt kits are available for use as indoor-friendly and backyard yurts as well. These structures are made of lightweight material and could be used as classrooms, meeting spaces, or even a studio.

yurt interiorWhat has always drawn me to the idea of living in a yurt was the affordability. They make great temporary houses that could last years if needed. When I was looking at using a yurt home kit as a housing option, I calculated that for less than $10,000, I could set up a nice place to live. If the land cost around $5,000, a quality yurt home kit would only cost another $3,000, making it cheaper than a few months in most other housing options.

Ultimately, I didn’t end up living in a yurt, but I’ve stayed in them many times, and I find many of the traditional yurts beautiful. With a wide range of yurt home kits available, you can set up a yurt with very little assistance. It only takes two or three people to get it set up and can come together fast.

By and large, yurts are better as temporary structures. Living in a permanent yurt is an option in climates that are very temperate all year long, but a modern fabric yurt (from a yurt home kit) will degrade in 5-10 years. The fabric molds and mildews eventually.

You can think of a yurt as a step up from a tent—a “glamping” option with more space than an RV. It’s more affordable than most RVs too, but living in a yurt forever probably isn’t a realistic option. If you’re looking for a long-term home, a tiny house is a much more viable choice.

The Anatomy of A Yurt

anatomy of a yurt

Yurts are essentially round tent-like structures. They can be enormous, with multiple rooms and spaces just like a typical home. Yurts are circular, which can be challenging from a design and decorating perspective, but they’re also very sturdy and practical as temporary or semi-permanent yurt homes.

If you’re planning to build a yurt, it’s essential to understand the structure so you know exactly what to expect. Even if you’re living in it for a short time, you’ll want a yurt to be well-built and structurally sound.

The Base Of The Yurt

The Base Of The Yurt
Traditional yurts were homes for nomads, who built the base of the house right on the ground. Today’s yurt owners usually set up a pre-made wooden base for their homes. Companies sell pre-made insulated bases consisting of SIPs (structurally insulated panels).

base of a yurtConstructing the base of a yurt is the most challenging part of building. The base must be level, which requires some intense labor. It’s also surprisingly more complex to build a circular base. Some folks opt for a big square and then build up a smaller circular base on top.

The base fabric of the yurt will need to tie into a circular base to ensure that it’s air-tight and free of bugs and pests (like a round peg in a square hole—a square base will leave gaps). Pre-made SIP yurt bases are typically the way to go. They’re insulated, and you can get the right size for what you need.

The Lattice Walls Of The Yurt

The Lattice Walls Of The Yurt
Once you’ve established a solid, insulated base, you’ll need to construct the wooden lattice walls. Some yurt builders prefer to work with bamboo, and either construction works well. It depends on where you live and what you prefer.

yurt lattice wallsMany yurt kits include space for windows that zip closed and have a mesh screen. These are nice for ventilation and a cross-breeze in your yurt. Most yurts feature a traditional wooden front door too. You can use electric in your yurt (see my guide on setting up electric) just like a tiny house, so an air conditioner is also possible.

Should you buy a pre-made lattice for your yurt? Yes! While there are plans out there to show you how to build your own lattice, it’s very time-consuming (even if you’re a capable woodworker). Look at the value of your time. Even if you can do the construction yourself, you could earn quite a bit more by working with that time and buying your lattice walls from a yurt manufacturing company.

The Yurt Rafters And Ceiling

The Yurt Rafters And Ceiling
yurt raftersRafters usually come along with the lattice in a wood yurt kit. Companies like Pacific Yurts sell well-made yurt home kits that help you through the building process. You could go through the build yourself, but unlike a tiny house, it’s usually much less expensive to invest in a wooden yurt kit and save yourself time and effort.

Yurt rafters come in a pair. There’s a wire that weaves between every other top part of the lattice, and then the rafters have a notch, which you place over the wire. The top usually doesn’t come together but hooks into a metal piece that forms an operable skylight (compression ring).

The Top Of The Yurt: The Compression Ring

The Top Of The Yurt The Compression Ring
yurt ceiling compression ringAt the center of the top of the yurt, the compression ring holds the yurt together. Usually, this center ring is covered by a domed skylight. The yurt’s compression ring will also be included in most yurt home kits, and it’s an essential component.

It would take you too long to build the bones of the yurt yourself, not to mention the engineering required and the cost of materials. Lumber is at an all-time high price and buying the lattice, rafters, and compression ring from a manufacturer is the best choice.

The Cover of the Yurt

The Cover of the Yurt
yurt coverUnlike Mongolian yurts of old, most of the covers are made of waterproof vinyl or canvas backed with felt or foil insulation instead of the traditional yurt cover of wool. If you’re having any questions about buying the extra layers of insulation, you should go for it.

Even if you don’t live in the coldest climate, any insulation will help keep the weather out (heat and cool). The cover has some insulation similar to bubble wrap with foil on either side. Most of the time, it’s rated at an R3 or 5, which is about 20% of the code. It’s well worth the price to increase your comfort with extra insulation.
design and build collection

Building A Yurt Platform and Setting Up A Kit

Building A Yurt Platform and Setting Up A Kit

If you’re ready to try living in a yurt, the first step will likely be to select a yurt kit and decide where you’d like to set up your yurt on your property. Look for a flat area of land that’s large enough to accommodate a yurt. There is a range of sizes, up to a 50-foot yurt and beyond. So like a tiny house, select the size that meets your needs (especially if it’s a long-term temporary dwelling).

You can build the platform yourself. It’s very similar to building a deck like you’d set up on the side of a house. Eventually, you could even use this platform as a spot to set up a deck area for your tiny house. If you’d like a semi-permanent structure, it’s worth it to hire a deck company. Most will come to any field and build you one.

Setting Up A Yurt Kit

Setting Up A Yurt Kit
The easy thing about a yurt home kit is that it usually comes with detailed steps and instructions. Keep in mind that you probably won’t be able to set up a yurt fully by yourself. It will take around 2-3 days once the base is built and requires several people. It’s more involved than setting up even an elaborate tent.

If you go the DIY route, there are many DIY yurt guides online to help. My advice would be to consider the time and effort you’re going to put into a temporary home. Building a yurt from a kit isn’t terribly expensive and is a much better investment of your time and money.

Even with a kit, you will need to plan out several days and several helping hands. However, you won’t need a whole bunch of tools outside of a drill, screwdrivers, a level, post-hole digger, shovel, and string. Remember that nomadic farmers who built Mongolian yurts needed to set up a dwelling without much effort or many tools.

The Basic Steps Of Setting Up A Yurt Home Kit

The Basic Steps Of Setting Up A Yurt Home Kit

yurt decking icon
Start with the base – The base is one of the biggest challenges of setting up a yurt kit because it must be dead flat. As I explained above, most yurt dwellers prefer to set up a deck-type platform, then a round flooring base on top to ensure the yurt is completely secure. You may want to put down a moisture barrier on the ground to keep the floor extra dry. Skirting and a drip edge are also a good idea for the floor.

lattice
Set up the door and the lattice walls – You will nail the lattice walls into the base to form a sturdy structure. This is one part of the yurt building where you’ll need multiple people—at least one person to hold and one person to nail. The tension cable will go around the top of the lattice walls.

rafters
Set up the rafters – You will secure the rafters to the tension ring in the center. You will need a platform to hold up the tension ring until all the rafters are completely in place. Brace each rafter against the ring as the yurt is constructed.

wall framing
Set up the walls with additional support structures, if preferred – The walls may require additional support beams to ensure that the yurt stays steady and strong. The bones of the yurt can last for many years (beyond the fabric outside), so solid construction is essential, especially if it’s a semi-permanent or permanent yurt.

insulation
Set up the insulation layer – The insulation layer goes on next, which typically starts by covering the roof and then moving down the sidewalls. Again, it depends on your planned use, climate, and the yurt kit you purchase, but you may also insulate the walls.

fabric
Put up the outer fabric walls – The outer fabric walls go around the yurt to form the walls of your new yurt home. The window vents will let in a nice breeze, and your yurt should be fully livable at this point.

interior walls
Frame interior walls as preferred – Depending on how detailed you want to get with your interior construction, you can frame in the walls, include a bathroom, install lighting, countertops, storage, and more. If your yurt is your home for a few years, it may be worth it to go ahead with the framing and interior build-out. If you’re using it as a temporary dwelling, then bare bones may be the way to go.

Here’s a great example of setting up a yurt kit (with an elaborate interior design).


The Challenges Of Living In A Yurt

The Challenges Of Living In A Yurt

Whether you build a yurt yourself or buy a yurt kit, there are advantages and disadvantages to living in a yurt. Here are a few challenges of yurt living to consider before you commit.

Code Enforcement

Code Enforcement
cracking the codeI recommend always having the installation manual from your yurt home kit handy to help you navigate code enforcement. If local building code enforcement should question the structure, you’ll be able to show them how you plan to affix the yurt to your platform or how it will perform in high winds or storms. The manual is a great backup. Choose your words carefully; rather than saying, “I want to live in this,” explain that it’s a temporary house.

Buying a kit will allow you to check everything out before you build. If your code enforcement isn’t okay with the yurt structure, you’ll know before you’ve spent hundreds of hours constructing a platform, creating a lattice, and setting up your yurt. Learn more about yurt building codes here.

Yurt Insulation

Yurt Insulation
Another challenge of living in a yurt is insulation. You’ll only be able to get up to an insulation rating of 5, which is basically the same as a sturdy tent. If you live in a climate with a lot of rain or humidity, you’re going to battle dampness and moisture continuously. So living in a yurt in a rainy climate like the pacific northwest could be a challenge.

If you live in a very cold climate, the insulation will not offer much protection from the weather, either. The insulation isn’t nearly as strong as a house, and even with a heater, it will get very cold. Similarly, hot weather can be a challenge too. Although, if you go ahead and wire the yurt for electricity, a fan or small air conditioner can keep you pretty cool. Yurts are well-ventilated, so warmer climates are your best option.

Security

Security
Yurts aren’t secure. Period. It’s a piece of fabric on a wood lattice, so it’s not an extremely sound structure against outside forces. A hexayurt made of wood may offer some additional security, but not much.

If you live in an area where hurricanes or tornados are prevalent, then a yurt is probably not a safe or practical option. While it’s safer than a tent and will keep out some basic natural forces, it’s not going to be as secure as a house.

Kits Are Heavy

Kits Are Heavy
The wood yurt kits are very heavy and impossible to move on your own. It’s not wise to attempt to build a yurt by yourself (even from a kit). When you order the yurt kit, you’ll need to plan on appropriate delivery transportation. You may receive the kit via freight, but you may need to rent a lift gate or mini forklift to move the kit.

If you’re a homesteader, a tractor may also be an option for moving the yurt kit. Sometimes land can be inaccessible to delivery drivers, too, so it’s essential to have a plan of how you’ll get your kit to your foundation.

tiny house tools

Fabric Doesn’t Last Forever

Fabric Does not Last Forever
Yurt fabrics have a shelf-life of about 5-10 years. At that point, you’ll need to invest in a new cover. While the shells are affordable, they’ll degrade over time, and you’ll need to replace them and perform upkeep and repairs.

If you build your yurt carefully, with a strong structure, then it can last a very long time. But keep in mind, you’ll probably need to continue to replace the fabric roof, walls, and possibly the insulation layer regularly.

Curved Walls Present A Challenge

Curved Walls Present A Challenge
From a decorating and design perspective, the yurt’s curved walls are tricky. You can’t put a couch against a curved wall. You can’t hang things from latticework or the fabric. You also shouldn’t have anything flush against the wall because it’s a tent—you’ll want ventilation for drying should the walls get wet.

The workaround with a yurt is to either opt for a hexayurt with wooden, flat walls (basically a hexagonal tiny house) or to build a nice, sturdy interior structure with walls as partitions. I’ve seen some elaborate layouts, and I’ve listed several ideas for yurt layouts here.

How Much Is A Yurt Kit?

How Much Is A Yurt Kit

Assuming you go with a yurt home kit to build your yurt, you’ll look at a kit price range between $4,000 and $13,000. It will depend on the size of your kit, the materials, and what’s included with the kit.

Yurt kits generally range from about 12-foot yurts to 30-foot yurts. Some larger kits will even build a 50-foot yurt, so there’s quite a large selection. Keep in mind that the price of the kit is usually just for the lattice, roof, tension ring, and outer fabric. The extras for your yurt will usually cost more.

Most kits don’t include the base or foundation, so you’ll need to figure in the price of building a deck and platform. They won’t have heating or HVAC, water, a power hookup, or any amenities for building out and furnishing the inside.

Still, for around $10,000 (especially if you already own the land), a yurt offers an ideal temporary home for months or even years as you work on building a tiny house or setting up a homestead.

Yurt Layout Design Ideas

Yurt Layout Design Ideas

I’ve created some layout design ideas to help you brainstorm the ways to set up your yurt. Because the structures are pretty versatile, you can set up space for one or two people to simply sleep or an extensive more permanent yurt home.

12 foot yurt

12-Foot Yurt Layout

A 12-foot yurt home is a cozy but comfortable room for a single person or could be set up for two people as a temporary weekend camp. A small yurt will make a lovely guest dwelling if you’re looking for a way to host people at your tiny house.


14 foot yurt

14-Foot Yurt Layout

A slightly larger 14-foot yurt has room for a bed, a sink, small table, or chair for lounging. The 14-foot sized yurt is a better option for couples who would like a little more room in their yurt.


16 foot yurt

16-Foot Yurt Layout

A 16-foot yurt layout is roomy enough for a bathroom and a bedroom. With a partition wall, you could split up space into a studio-like living area. A 16-foot yurt is an ample option for a single person but room enough for a couple to use as a weekend getaway.


20 foot yurt

20-Foot Yurt Layout

A 20-foot yurt is roomy and comfortable enough for even a small family to make as a temporary home. As you can see from this layout, there’s room for a kitchen, a bathroom, and a small lounge area. With a futon or foldout couch, you could sleep up to four in this yurt.


24 foot yurt

24-Foot Yurt Layout

A 24-foot yurt offers a really good amount of space for a family to use as a semi-permanent yurt home. Using inner walls to create partitions, you could divide the space into several rooms with some storage, lounge areas, and a spacious bathroom.


30 foot yurt

30-Foot Yurt Layout

A 30-foot or even a 50-foot yurt kit offers a significant amount of living space. You could easily have enough room for a small family for several months or a couple as a long-term or permanent yurt. If you build out the deck beyond the boundaries of the yurt walls, you could use the extra porch area for cooking and entertaining.


desiging your tiny house

Designing A Great Yurt Interior

Designing A Great Yurt Interior

yurt interior with kitchen and loftThe interior needs of a yurt are pretty similar to those of a tiny house. If you have a bathroom or kitchen in your yurt, you will want to have access to hookups just like you would in your tiny home. The big difference is that with the fabric walls, your utilities will need to run on the interior.

Many yurt owners put interior walls in the kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom to set up outlets and run utilities through there. As far as bathroom plumbing, composting toilets are a very popular option amongst yurt owners.

Besides being inexpensive, fun, and easy to build, the other big draw of a yurt is that it’s easy to build a yurt off-grid. For homesteaders and those looking for a temporary dwelling while they finish building their dream tiny home, a yurt is very appealing.

Here are a few examples of yurt interior design to inspire you.

yurt interior partition walls

Yurt Interior Partition Walls

The walls that break up the interior of your yurt are more like room dividers. Most leave some space between the top of the wall and the ceiling. You can use the interior walls for electric and as a spot to hang storage and even décor.


wood stoves for yurts

Wood Stoves for Yurts

Wood stoves are practical for off-grid living and many folks like them for yurts. Not only do they offer heat, but there are some beautiful choices too. You’ll need to consider how you plan to run the flue pipe through the canvas exterior. Some yurt kits come with a flue pipe option.


kitchen

Yurt Kitchens

The most common choices for yurt kitchen design are L-shaped or galley kitchens. Typically, you’ll want to put your kitchen up against an interior partition wall since your utilities will be on the interior. Otherwise, a yurt kitchen is similar to other tiny house kitchens.


windows and doors

Yurt Windows

There are several options for yurt windows—you can have clear vinyl sewn into the outer fabric shell, you can use the screened windows that are part of the outer shell, or you can build in an actual window. Real windows are beautiful, efficient, and functional, but they’re more costly to install.


tiny houe kitchens

Yurt Home Kit Brands

Yurt Home Kit Brands

Ready to try a yurt home for yourself? Here are the best yurt home kit brands to choose from. I highly recommend investing in a yurt kit to make building a yurt much simpler and faster. For the cost, it’s well worth it.

Best Brands for Yurt Home Kits

Best Brands for Yurt Home Kits

pacific yurts
Pacific Yurts
Pacific Yurts is one of the most popular yurt home kit brands in business since 1978.

freedom yurt cabins
Freedom Yurt Cabins
Freedom Yurt Cabins offer customizable yurt home kit choices with features like real windows.

colorado yurt company
Colorado Yurt Company
The Colorado Yurt Company sells yurt home kits, tipis, and tents and offers many resources and guides.

rainier outdoor company
Rainier Outdoor
Rainier Outdoor Company has been in business since the 1800s and offers an array of yurts and tipis.

smiling woods yurts
Smiling Woods Yurts
Smiling Woods Yurts offers wood yurts and hexayurt kits to help you build a permanent yurt home.

chelter designs yurts
Shelter Designs
Shelter Designs started building yurts back in 1999. There core designs include generous standard features in the base cost of every yurt kit.

designing your tiny home

If you’re ready to try yurt living, there are plenty of yurt home kit sellers to help you build a beautiful, spacious, and comfortable place to stay.

Your Turn!

  • What size yurt most appeals to you?
  • Would you feel comfortable living in a yurt?

5 Easiest Vegetables To Grow For Beginner Gardeners

5 Easiest Vegetables To Grow For Beginner Gardeners

5 Vegetables To Grow For First Time Gardeners

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

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

Grow What You Eat

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

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

Get Your Garden Prepared

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

From Seeds Or From Seedlings

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

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

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

gardening 101

Garden

Like A Pro

Learn How With Our

Beginner Gardeners Guide


What Plants To Start With?

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

Zucchini

zuchinni

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

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

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

Tomatoes

tomatoes

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

tomatoes just picked

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

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

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

Radishes

radishes

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

radishes from garden

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

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

Lettuce

lettuce

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

leafy greens

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

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

Beans

beans

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

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

 

what to grow for begginers gardening

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

Your Turn!

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

 

Cob Houses: A Simple Guide To Building A Cob House

Cob Houses: A Simple Guide To Building A Cob House

cob houses

NAVIGATION

Even though I am busy building my own tiny house, I still find myself thinking about building a cob house… is that cheating on my tiny house?

I have been coming back to cob houses again and again because I love the curves of cob walls, the organic feeling that the cob mix brings and the price is also very attractive.  I have thought about building a cob house if in the future I decide I need more space if I get married or just want more space.

What Is Cob?

what is a cob house

Cob is basically clay, sand and usually straw mixed together to be used as a building material, kinda like bricks, but the advantage is that most of the materials can be sourced on site or purchased cheaply.  Having the right ratio of these three ingredients will let you create a study mix.  It’s basically like mud castles for adults, that is a building technique that’s been used for over 10,000 years!

Why A Cob House?

why choose a cob house

A Cob House is natural building material that has lots of beneficial properties that lend itself to a very comfortable home.  With the thick walls of the cob house, you have a lot of thermal regulation happening.  So in the heat of summer, the walls keep things cooler.  In the cold of winter, the walls can carry heat late into the nights.

Cob Lasts A Long Time

Cob is also very durable if it is properly sheltered from the rain.  A good roof will protect the walls and last for hundreds of years.  Even when the house has started to weather, you can actually re-apply a new layer of cob on to the outside to make it brand new!

simple cob house with lots of natural light

Cob Housing Is Affordable

Cob is also very affordable, in many cases all the materials can be found on your own land or can be obtained in large quantities for quite cheap.  You’ll need to do a soil test on your own dirt to see if it’s suitable for cob building, but in general most sites have some usable soil.

Cob Houses Are Pretty Fire Resistant

Because it’s mainly clay and sand, you don’t have much for forest fires to burn up.  Cob is a popular choice for areas that prone to wild fires or other extreme weather.

cob house with arched roof

Cob Houses Are Healthy

Creating a cob house often creates a very healthy home for air quality.  The one area you’ll need to spend some attention on is moisture levels.  Once you make your cob, it will need to dry out full and that can take months to years.  The bulk of the moisture will dry out of the walls in the first year, but will not fully cure for 1-2 years past that.

interior cob walls of house

Once you build the house and add a roof, you should allow it to breath for many months before moving into it. Then I’d do your internal sealing process. When you do move in, a dehumidifier will be important to draw the large amount of moisture out of the air.

Curved Walls And Round Cob Houses

The thing I love most about cob houses is the curves of the walls.  There is something so cozy, so appealing, so comforting about the curves in a cob house.  You can have these organic forms that allow elements just flow into each other.  It is hard to put your finger on exactly what it is about cob houses, but they have this magical quality that seems to resonate with some part of our brain.  I love it

How Do You Mix Cob?

how to mix cob the right way

The important part of cob is getting the mix right, you want roughly between 2 parts clay, 1 part sand, sprinkling of straw and a little water.  To mix these together the favorite method is with your bare feet!  I love the feeling of the cob squishing between your toes, so much fun!  You want the ingredients to be very well mixed, moist, but not wet and the straw well worked in.

The mix should hold its form solidly and not look like its melting or slump.  Make a test set of brick and allow them to dry.

Building A Cob House

Building A Cob House

A cob home has a lot of benefits, the one down side is that it’s very labor intensive and takes a good while.  Unlike traditional houses which can got up very quickly, cob is a slow process, so be prepared.

Set The Foundation For Your Cob House

No house is any good without a solid foundation to build upon and that goes doubly for cob.  Because your cob walls are so thick, around 24 inches thick, we are talking about a lot of weight.  Literally thousands of pounds of weight from the walls alone.  We want to have a good clear site to build the house.

cob house foundation

Start by clearing the top layers of soil to get to the solid base layer soil.  You want to dig down to below your frost line which can be 2-3 feet in some areas.  From there build your base with quality materials and tamp down with a powered tamper as you build your way up.

Consider water flow, so that water will be channeled away from the house site and any water that does come to the house can drain away quickly.  Use french drains and swales to handle this water.

Build Your Cob Walls

The walls in a cob house are super thick, which is what gives it’s strength.  Your walls will be thicker at the base and get thinner as they rise.  At the top, your walls might be around 18 inches, but your cob wall at the base will be 24 inches.  As you build, poke holes int the top of the wall to allow you to integrate the next layer into the bottom layer.

layer of cob mix to create a cob wall for the house

In general you can only build your wall 2-3 feet vertically at a time before you’re going to want to let it set and dry some.  This is an important step and is what takes so much time with cob.  Allowing it to dry will make sure the wall doesn’t slump over.

Windows And Doors In A Cob House

You can absolutely have windows and doors in a cob house.  The main approach here is to have a solid timber act as the header for the span of the top of the window or door.  Basically have a big beefy piece of wood at least 6 inches thick and go for as wide as the wall.

install of windows into a cob house

You want the header to cross the gap of the opening and then extend at least one foot on either side so it rests firmly on the top of the wall, transferring weight onto the wall.  The larger the span, the larger you need to extend your header to be supported by the wall.

Built In Cob Shelves, Stairs, Etc

Because you’re making the walls out of cob, you can form steps into the floor, you can have the cob flow so it has places to put books and other storage spaces.  You are also able to have wood stoves, fire places and other cooking surfaces part of the actual cob structure.

This is where your creative side comes out and you can work in beautiful curves, artistic elements and anything else you can come up with.

Sealing Cob Walls

plastering cob walls

There are a large number of natural ways to seal the walls of your cob house.  Various plasters, finished mud layers and white washes can all be used in the final stages of the walls.  This helps seal the walls and keep them lasting a long time.  It also lets you color the walls in artful ways.

Seal Your Floors

My favorite way is to do several finish layers of finishing mud and plaster.  From there, 5-10 coats of linseed oil applied directly to the dirt floor.  Finally come in and polish the floor with bees wax.

bees wax sealed cob floors

This approach brings a reasonably durable floor that is healthy from an air quality perspective, but also beautiful.  There is something so satisfying as that finished waxed floor rests under your bare feet.

What Can Cob Be Used For?

Cob is a great multi purpose building material.  Basically, most of what you’d normally build into a house, you can also build out of cob.  Cob has been used for thousands of years, so we have learned a few things about how it can be used in various way.  Here are a few of the big ones:

Cob Structures

Obviously cob can be used to build a house out of, but it’s also good to make other elements.  In the distant past, this was the building material of choice, so barns, well houses, out buildings, animal pens and storage buildings were all made out of Cob.

Cob Ovens

My favorite use of cob is building cob pizza ovens… because, pizza.  A cob oven can get to 800 degrees and is key to making a really good pizza.  It’s also really good for baking breads.  The oven is able to have a very consistent heat that also has some moisture to it.  This is way better than your home oven that has wild heat swings.

me building cob oven

Typically what I’ll do is get the oven heated up full, then put a little door on the front to let the heat fully soak into the mass of the oven.  From there I’ll stoke this a bit, then clean the bottom floor with a wet rag, making sure the coal bed is pushed to the back of the oven.

From there I’ll cook my pizzas which can fully cook in as little as 30 seconds!  I’ve been able to raise my small cob ovens up to 800 degrees for really fast cooking times that make delicious thin crust pizza.

After pizzas, I’ll toss in a few loafs of break to bake as the heat starts to tapper off.  I don’t add any wood, just let the heat bleed off, which it will still be around 500 degrees at this point.

Finally I pull the bread and slide in whole chicken, a beef roast or other large meat with vegetables.

Rocket Mass Heaters

A rocket mass heater is just a high efficiency wood fire that the heat is piped through a large mass of cob and sometime rocks.  The cob will heat up and the larger the mass of the cob, the better.  This is usually done as a cob bench, which allows you to have a useful large mass in your house.

bench in a cob house with a rocket mass heater through it

Cob House Tours

cob house tours

Here is a collection of some of the best cob house tours I’ve seen.  Take a look at these video tours:


Cob Design Inspirations

cob house inspirations

One of the wonderful things about cob homes is the ability to have a lot of artistic flair to them.  The natural curves of the house are one of the best features of cob homes.  Here are some photos for you to get some design ideas for your own cob house.

Cob house interior

Cob houses can be big and 2 stories

cozy bedroom in cob house

use a rocket mass heater to heat your cob house

organic shapes for handmade cob house

natural curved cob stairs

Cob house interior with wooden beams and stone floor

cob house exterior

The Basics of Homestead Gardens (For Non-Gardeners)

The Basics of Homestead Gardens (For Non-Gardeners)

the basics of homestead gardens

Some of us were born with a natural green thumb. Others of us…well, we aren’t so lucky. That said, one of the draws of homesteading and tiny house living is learning to live off the land. To grow your own food supply, it’s necessary to first learn the basic requirements of planting homestead gardens.

As with most suggestions on this blog, I’m a big advocate of baby steps. Learn to cultivate a small garden the first year, don’t stress too much about it and see what happens. Then the next year you might want to tackle a bigger project. Don’t expect to live off your garden right away, especially if you’re a novice, even experienced gardeners have bad years.

Lean the basics of planning a garden, setting up your plot and growing a few veggies. Research what plants work best in your area. Understand the soil you’re working with and which plants compliment each other (as I’ll explain).

So, if you’re interested in starting to grow your own food this year, here are the basics of homestead gardening for beginners.

1. Research the Requirements of Homestead Gardens

There are several factors to consider when you plan your garden set up and it goes beyond which vegetables you like to eat. Most of us know plants require the basics:

  • Water
  • Oxygen
  • Sunlight
  • Nutrients

It sounds rudimentary, but many first-time gardeners make mistakes by forgetting these simple four requirements. I’ve seen new gardeners attempt to grow plants in the wrong climate or in a shady spot, so plants don’t get their preferred amount of hot/cold or sunlight. Or first-time gardeners don’t know that plants require good soil, assuming they can plant in any patch of dirt. Planting seeds too close together can cause plants to fight for enough sun. There are also plants with competing nutrient requirements that steal from each other if planted together in a smaller space or container (more on companion planting under #4).

Raised garden bed with plants and herbs in soil.

If all this sounds complex, yes, it can be. Ask any farmer and chances are he or she will tell you hours are spent planning for their gardens. To yield enough food for even one person’s needs requires a lot of foresight and effort. Hobby gardeners generally plant their favorite crops to enjoy and for the pleasure of gardening itself, rather than survival. Homestead gardens that serve as a food supply, will require more learning and effort. Again, start small and remember: this is a journey, not a destination. You want to start by planning a garden you can keep up with.

Of course, it’s certainly possible to plant a big garden that will give you many vegetables to enjoy. Start with vegetables recommended for your particular region. Take into consideration the days to maturity and compare it to your growing season. There are many growth charts, like this one from Iowa State University to show you the length of time required for each plant.  Also look up your local “extension” which is a government office that helps people start gardens or farms. They can assist you with troubleshooting issues, conducting soil tests and understanding some common challenges in your area. Extension offices are in each state, in most mid-to-large sized cities and their services are often free to the public.

Compare the growing dates to the plant hardiness zone maps and heat zone maps for your homestead. This will tell you exactly what you should expect in terms of the growing season and which plants will thrive. It will also help you know when to plant each variety of vegetables you hope to grow.

seeds for the garden

It’s hard to say how many plants you should plan for. Generally, beginning gardeners may want to experiment with a variety of seeds and seedlings to see what flourishes and what struggles in your garden plot. As you identify which plants do well, focus on growing those in the future (although it may vary from year to year).  Check out my post on the top 5 vegetables for beginning gardeners, for great ideas to start.

gardening 101

Garden

Like A Pro

Learn How With Our

Beginner Gardeners Guide


2. Move Beyond Container Gardening (If Possible)

Container gardening seems to go hand-in-hand with small spaces, but from my experience container gardening is challenging because the plants end up pot-bound and their growth is limited. Of course, if container gardening is your only option, it’s better than nothing. But my recommendation is to plant in the ground or raised bed whenever possible.

aquaponics small space gardening

There are many alternatives to container gardening like vertical gardens and hydroponic setups that still work in a small space or if you don’t have much planting space on your land, but I find these to be more trouble than they’re worth. My best recommendation for people with limited space is to join a community garden. These shared-spaces give people a chance to contribute to a garden even if they don’t have room on their property, you get the benefit of more space as well as advice and help from experienced gardeners. Best of all, community gardens are often very affordable.

New gardeners may want to start with seedlings rather than seeds. Eventually, if you prefer to use heirloom varietals you can start saving up your own seeds, but when you’re beginning it helps to have a head start. Seedlings are easily transferred from peat pots right into the ground (or your larger container).

Transplanting plants from container to ground with seeds.

If you wish to start your own seeds indoors, you need to harden off the sprouts first before planting them. This gives them a chance to get used to life outdoors, no matter what type of container (or plot) they ultimately end up in.  My suggestion is to wait at least a few years before you add in trying to start your own plants indoors as seedlings. Growing from seed is an art form; keep it simple at first and buy seedlings.

3. Set Up Your Soil for Success

A big factor in the success of your homestead garden is the soil. No matter how large the container, raised bed, or piece of land, the mix of soil is critical for your plants. In short, your soil should have three components: vermiculite, compost, and peat moss. These items are easily purchased at a big box store or in truckloads from a local supplier.

in bed composting

Additionally, you may wish to add in compost from your own food and yard scraps. If you own a composter, you may be surprised at how quickly organic matter breaks down as compost. This nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium-rich compound feeds your plants and helps them grow. I also suggest you include a fertilizer such as bone meal or blood meal. If you prefer to avoid animal sourced fertilizer, use seaweed meal.

If you start with good soil, a soil test isn’t always necessary, but it’s always best practice. After the first year or two, if you feel your plants are lacking in size or failing to thrive in the soil combination you’ve selected, get the soil tested. Soil tests are usually obtained through your state university’s cooperation extension service (CSREES) and are typically inexpensive. You can also purchase a soil testing kit at a home improvement store, but the CSREES test is more comprehensive.

4. Use Companion Planting to Your Advantage

Companion planting is an age-old practice of planting certain vegetables together that support and complement each other. Larger plants might provide shade for shorter plants, which prefer partial sun. Tall plants can be used a trellis for vining plants. Low groundcover plants will block weeds from coming in. Some plants even draw nutrients from deep in the soil to make them available to other plants with shallow roots. These companion plants may attract beneficial insects, add nitrogen to the soil and even give off scents to detract predators.

hornworms on tomatoes in garden

Tomatoes, for example, don’t play well with brassica vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli. They also attract pests who love eggplants and peppers, so avoid planting those nightshades together. Surrounding your tomato plants with marigolds, garlic or basil repels parasitic nematodes and hornworms.

Companion planting is somewhat nuanced, but there are many companion vegetable chats and guides available to help you understand crop rotation and learn which plants complement each other. As you’re planning your garden, take advantage of companion planting to really help your plants flourish.

5. Choose High-Yield Plants

Select plants that give a high-yield crop. I’ve found herbs and lettuce are continuously harvested all season and offer a lot of bang for your buck. On the other hand, if you have a small space, one pea plant probably won’t give you more than a serving of peas (if that).

Zucchini and summer squash are two types of squash to grow in a garden

Zucchini and summer squash are two notoriously high-yield plants great for beginning homestead gardeners who want enough vegetables to harvest and enjoy for the season. Lettuce and leafy greens are also great starters. Tomatoes and pepper plants may result in a high yield too, depending on your area.

Other plants called perennials come back year after year, like berry bushes and asparagus, take time to establish and may not yield much if anything for the first few years. If you want these plants as part of your garden in the long-term, plan ahead and plant a few each year, but give yourself plenty of payoff plants to help you stay motivated. Find out what plants really thrive in your particular region and focus your efforts there.

6. Plan Your Watering and Irrigation System

Watering and irrigation is a high concern in certain areas. I always try to have a setup because life gets busy, so having your system on a timer keep plants alive and makes life easier. Even small container gardens dry out quickly during dry spells. Fortunately, plants do quite well with recycled grey water (as long as it doesn’t contain soap). Save your extra water from showering and household use, to keep your garden hydrated.

Rain barrel with plants and a hose attachment.

Investing in or making a rain barrel will give you a nice supply of water if a water hook up and a hose isn’t possible. Pour your extra household greywater in your barrel as well if the water gets low. Many rain barrels feature a hose attachment, making it simple to water your garden. Some water municipalities even offer rain barrels at a discounted rate to promote water conservation.

No matter what, be frugal in your water usage—soaker hoses or drip tape help you target only the plants (and not the surrounding dirt). Remember you only need to water the roots of your plants. Water on the leaves of plants will even damage younger plants and cause them to become susceptible to fungus and mildew. Keep the water at the root.

Mulching is key when it comes to maintaining a garden with less water. Mulch holds moisture in the soil and helps keep the water from evaporating. You can create inexpensive (or free) mulch from wood chips, hay, grass clippings and leaves.

7. Weed & Maintain Your Garden Regularly

Homestead gardens require plenty of maintenance, just like any other type of garden. Regular weeding is important. Weeds will steal nutrients from your vegetables, stunt growth, crowd them out and create shade. So, while you may feel there’s no aesthetic reason to pull weeds, it still needs to be done.

If you choose to garden organically, it means avoiding pesticides and other chemicals. Use natural remedies and hand removal of slugs, bugs, and pests. Plucking them off into soapy water is one method. Beer traps and eggshells also work well for slugs and worms.

Chickens roaming in garden and tall grasses.

Of course, some organic gardeners choose to rely on bigger predators to control smaller pests. Chickens, ducks and even garter snakes will help you control the slug and worm population. Attracting beneficial insects such as hoverflies, ladybeetles and praying mantis help control aphids and pests. Certain beneficial insects are also available for order and through garden suppliers.

As for larger pests, fencing and even chicken wire will keep digging, burrowing and stealing to a minimum. Keep brush, stone and wood piles cleaned up so their natural habitat is nowhere to be found. Rabbits and voles are also averse to garlic and hot pepper, so spraying plants with these organic deterrents may also help.

8. Note What Grew (and What Didn’t)

When your garden is finished for the season, it’s important to note what took off and what didn’t. Homestead gardens require careful planning over the course of several years. There’s a lot of trial and error involved, so keeping notes will help you remember what to change from one year to the next.

There are certain crops that succeed in a specific garden patch one year and then fail the next. Often this is because they drain the soil of nutrients (broccoli is a common offender), so changing the planting location and rows in your garden will help you avoid issues down the road. Draw a map of where each item was planted and keep any other notes like pests you saw, drainage or sunlight issues, mildew or disease.

take notes about what worked in your garden

Once you’ve got a year or two of gardening under your belt, you’ll feel more and more confident to plant new plants and expand. If there’s a crop you love to grow, or one that does particularly well on your land, that veggie may even become a source of side income or trade.

Talk to other gardeners in your area and farmers. Learn what common problems they face with crops, what disease and concerns are prevalent in your area and what treatment they recommend. As you become more comfortable with maintaining your homestead garden, you may even wish to volunteer at a local organic farm. This will give you a chance to learn from agricultural experts and see how to garden on a larger scale.

I must admit, gardening becomes addictive. Once you experience success with your first harvest you’ll be well on your way to an entire farm. Take steps today to start your own homestead garden and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Your turn:

  • What are your favorite tips for gardening success?
  • What are you going to grow this year?

 

Setting Up Your Land To Start A Homestead

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

land to homestead

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

Get A Plan In Place

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

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

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

What Is The Land Telling Me?

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

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

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

What Are You Going To Do On The Land?

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

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

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

What Are The Workflows?

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

feeding chickens

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

Reduce Effort, Improve Ergonomics, and Make it More Efficient

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

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

improvement on the land

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

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

golden comet chicken

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

A Flexible Design

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

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

be flexible with your plans

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

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

Access Is Key

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

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

road access to land is important

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

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

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

Infrastructure

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

Water

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

water connection

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

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

Power

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

tiny house solar panels

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

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

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

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

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

Sewage

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

Internet/Phone

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

Outbuildings, Animal Shelters And Storage

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

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

Fencing

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

fencing your land

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

Your Turn!

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