Showing posts with label Homesteading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Homesteading. Show all posts

Aug 12, 2016

Waste Not...

It's been an interesting week on the homestead. We began by celebrating the return of water, but shortly after sighed because the washing machine began spurting water all over the floor. Then the propane oven leaked gas (my fault for accidentally - again! - turning on one of the knobs when reaching for a high shelf above the stove). Then the baskets of apples I'd picked began rotting.

We first noticed it after an evening out. We walked into the house and BAM! rotten apple smell. I sorted through the apples right then and there and was happy to only have a handful for the compost bin. But the next day, I imposed upon my mom-in-law (for her stove, her jars, her kitchen) to make applesauce. Today, I'm making apple pie filling for the freezer. Where I will put that apple pie filling, I don't know, because my freezer is full of yellow plums. Even after making jars and jars and jars of (delicious) plum jam, plus canned plums, plum pie filling, and dehydrated plums.

In the meantime, the prunes (and maybe more apples) need harvesting, the dehydrator never stops, and the wild berries are begging to be picked.

It's a little overwhelming, all this abundance. This morning, though, my husband comforted me: "Honey, there's no way you can preserve every piece of fruit on this homestead."

Yes, I knew that in my head, but my heart felt relieved to hear it spoken aloud. Because it's true; when you have nine apple trees and eleven plum trees and no animals (yet!) to help you consume them, there's going to be some "waste," no matter how much you give away or preserve.

I put "waste" in quotes for a reason, though. Because fruit that falls to the ground or stays on the trees or vines feeds the wild critters. Once we have our homestead animals, they will enjoy fruit that's less than perfect, too. And there's always the compost bin, where "waste" turns into a valuable resource for building up the soil.

So, I take another deep breathe (usually taking in the amazing smell of apples and cinnamon combining) and thank God for this gorgeous place and the longish journey, full of miracles, it took to get here.



* Title image courtesy of Valdemar Fishmen.

Aug 9, 2016

Ditch Fillers

We aren't ditch diggers. We are ditch fillers.

It saved us thousands of dollars to connect the new and old wells ourselves. And by "ourselves" I mean my husband and dad-in-law. They rented a trencher and installed the pipe last weekend. But then my hubby started fretting that it might rain before he could fill the trenches back up. Right now, the soil from the trenches is light and sandy. But after a rain, it would be compacted and the job of filling in the trenches considerably more difficult.

So, I offered to fill the trenches while he was at work.

I've always been willing and able to work hard, but after a couple of hours of filling those trenches, I was ready to quit. And only half the job was done. So today, I enlisted the help of the kids. ("There will be ice cream when we're done!")

They cheerfully helped me fill in the rest of the trench (at least the part my husband was ready to have filled in), and even though we were largely working in the toughest area - where the berry brambles were seriously in our way - they didn't complain.

Something I've learned about kids: Generally, they are eager and willing to help if they feel their job is useful and helps the family as a whole. Picking up toys, on the other hand, well - good luck with that!

As you can imagine, I'm now catching up on laundry and other cleaning chores that were difficult to do with the small amount of rainwater and the tiny amount of well water the old well was producing. And oh, the new well water! It's abundant and crystal clear! I really feel the well running dry was a blessing, because the new well is just plain better.


"So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

Matthew 6: 31-33

Aug 3, 2016

How to Know When Fruit is Ready to Pick (The Twist Test & More)

Q: "Can you tell me how to know when my apples and peaches are ripe and ready to pick?"

This is a question I receive almost every day. First, here are the simple steps to learn if fruit is ready for harvesting.

1. If it's fruit that's supposed to be a little soft when ripe (like plums or peaches), give it a gentle squeeze. If it's rock hard, it's not ripe yet. If it seems slightly soft, move on to the next step.

2.  Smell the fruit. Fruit ripened on the tree should generally smell sweet.

3. Put your hand under the fruit, barely touching it. If the fruit falls off, it's probably over-ripe.

4. Hold the fruit in one hand and twist your wrist. If the fruit comes off the tree, it's almost certainly ripe. If it resists, it's not ripe yet. To see how this works, be sure to check out my video on this "twist test," below:


5. Taste the fruit.


More Tips:

* As you become familiar with the fruit tree, you can also use color to help determine when it's time to test for ripeness. For example, our yellow plums are a yellow-green when unripe, but turn golden yellow when fully ripe (and almost orange when over-ripe).

Courtesy of Michael Palmer and Wikimedia Commons.
* Another good hint that fruit might be ripe is when it drops to the ground. There are many reasons this happens; some fruit drops because the it's growing too close together; sometimes fruit drops because of wind or disease; but sometimes it falls to the ground when it's ripe. Tasting windfall fruit is a smart way to learn if the fruit on the tree is ready for harvesting.

* Similarly, when wildlife starts taking an interest in your fruit trees, the fruit is either ripe or nearly so.

* Note that some fruits will continue to ripen once picked. For example, many experts advise picking pears when they easily twist off the tree, but then letting them sit for a week or more until they are softer. Peaches, apples, apricots, nectarines, and plums also continue to ripen once picked. Cherries do not ripen off the tree. However, with the exception of most pears and all avocados, the fruit will taste best if ripened on the tree.

* Typically fruit ripens on the outside of the tree first, and if a limb gets more sun than the others, the fruit on that limb will ripen first. In addition, limbs receiving southern exposure usually ripen first.


* Title image courtesy of General Sisi and Wikimedia Commons.

Jul 25, 2016

Sorting the Fruit Harvest - An Easy, Practical Method to Avoid Waste

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

When you buy fruit, even in bulk, the sorting has already been done for you. You just pick the fruit
that looks freshest, pay, and you're done. But when you have even one fruit tree, you'll soon discover you need to put a little more thought into gathering fruit. The method doesn't have to be complicated or terribly time consuming, but if you sort your fruit, you'll waste a lot less of it, and preserving it through freezing, dehydrating, canning, or cold storage will be much easier. Here's how I go about sorting our fruit.

Step 1: Windfall

When I gather the harvest, I always look for windfall fruit first; this prevents me from stepping on it and making it inedible. ("Windfall" just means fruit that has fallen to the ground due to wind or ripeness.) Some windfall fruit is too rotten or squashed to do anything with; I leave that on the ground for the critters and the soil. If you prefer, you can compost it. But if you gather windfall fruit every day, you'll find much of it is still useful. Don't worry if it has some bruised spots, bird "bites", or other less than pretty parts. You will cut those parts away later. I like to put all the windfall fruit into a separate bucket or bowl. (And, by the way, collecting windfall fruit is an excellent job for kids!)

Step 2: Harvest the Tree

Next, I like to gather everything I can reach by hand, then use our fruit picker for the rest. If you want, you can try to sort the fruit as you pick, putting the very ripe (its-gonna-be-bad-tomorrow) fruit in one bucket and the rest of the ripe fruit in another. I prefer to get all the picking done without sorting, so I put all the picked fruit into one bucket (or more, as the size of the harvest dictates).

Step 3: Check the Ground Again

Often as I pick fruit, more fruit falls from the tree, so after harvesting the tree, I look around on the ground again for good fruit and place it in my harvesting bucket(s).
Sorting a plum harvest.

Step 4. Final Sort

When I bring the fruit indoors, I put the windfall fruit aside and separate the fruit that's super ripe (its-gonna-be-bad-tomorrow) from the rest of the ripe fruit.


Ta-da! I'm done sorting!






What to Do With Sorted Fruit

Super ripe (its-gonna-be-bad-tomorrow) fruit: Eat it within hours; or prepare it that day in a dish (like cobbler or pie); or preserve it. Super ripe fruit is, in my opinion, best preserved by making jam or maybe pie filling. However, I usually freeze the fruit whole and make jam or filling when I'm not so overwhelmed with preserving the rest of the harvest.

Windfall fruit: This type of fruit often has bruising, so it's also good for jam, pie filling, or (in the case of apples) applesauce. Or, eat it within hours of picking off the ground.

Ripe fruit: Eat fresh, whenever possible. I recommend sorting through the ripe fruit every day, to look for fruit that is getting super ripe. Always eat this fruit first, or freeze it, or preserve it in some other way so it doesn't get wasted. Ripe fruit is also excellent for dehydrating; canning whole, halves, or in slices; or freezing in slices.

A Note About Harvest Abundance 

Recently, a reader commented that I should give much of my fruit to charity. We do give away some of our harvest, but we also think long term about our family's needs. Many Americans think only about the food needed for today or tomorrow - or maybe for the next two weeks. But homesteading philosophy dictates we think ahead at least a year. So yes, we have too much fruit for our family today, but we don't have too much fruit if we think in terms of the year. The reason I preserve so much while the harvest is ripe in the summer is that this food will be our fruit when fruit is no longer in season. This way, we aren't encouraging the modern idea that food should be shipped or trucked thousands of miles to us, and we know we can always have healthy fruit that hasn't been sprayed with chemicals or canned with unwholesome ingredients.

Jul 18, 2016

When Your Well Runs Dry

The title of this post might make you think I'm going to blog about when your mommy well runs dry, or your wife well, or your Christian well. (Actually, these are all connected wells, aren't they.) But no. I'm actually writing about a literal water well.

Our new homestead's well has been wonderful. After a short time using it, our skin is less dry, my hair is shinier and softer - and frankly, the water tastes better than any city water we've ever drunk. But within a week of taking possession of our new homestead, I turned on the bathroom faucet...and nothing came out.

It was a Thursday night, so we called the best well company in the area first thing Friday morning. They were so busy working on other people's wells, we didn't hear back from them until Saturday. In the meantime, my 7 year old son, who eats fresh plums like they will soon be extinct, looked like he literally lived in a barn. Sticky hands and arms quickly become covered in dirt. We all needed a shower. The dishes were piled up in the sink. And we were lugging rain water into the house in order to flush the toilet.

Saturday night, the well guy came out. I really thought he'd say there was a problem with our pump, or something simple like that. But no. "Your well is dry," he said.

I confess, my first reaction was to ask God, "Why? Why, why, why???!!!" Our beautiful homestead no longer felt like any type of blessing.


You see, our state forbids drilling deeper into established wells to find additional water. So we have to drill for a new well. The trouble with that is, even though they can witch for water*, there is no guarantee that when they drill they'll find enough water for a decent well. But they charge you for the time it took to drill that well, of course. Oh, and the state now requires steel wells. Steel?? Steel rusts, which means your well will need expensive work when it rusts through. Sigh.

When I heard that our well was dry, my first thought was that we'd been duped by the previous owners. But after talking to them, we felt we couldn't prove anything at this time. They'd warned us the well wasn't as wet in summer, but by no means was it unusable. In fact, they attributed this drop in water to our state's supposed "drought." We aren't really in drought in our area, though; the previous owners didn't realize these were instead symptoms of a well going dry.

So while I was feeling upset with God, my dear husband had the right attitude and soon set my heart straight. He said, "You know, I was beginning to wonder if we were on God's path, because everything was going so smoothly." I've typed before about his wonderful - and spot on - attitude about difficulties in life. Basically it boils down to this: If you're doing what God wants you to do, Satan has a keen interest it making it as hard for you as possible.

Then my hubby also reminded me of what is kind of his family's motto: "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28) All things. Not just some things.

So now I'm feeling more peaceful about our well. We are still waiting on an estimate for the cost of installing a new one, but the well guy already has a spot he thinks is suitable for drilling. And, praise God, we have rainwater collection tanks that are pretty full, and we've been able to transfer water from them into the dry well's holding tank, so we can flush the toilets and run the dishwasher. And, praise God again, my in-laws are just down the road, so we can do laundry and showers at their place.

My prayer now is that somehow this problem will be a blessing for us. I pray the new drilling spot will have abundant water. 

And I think we realize now, even more than before, that we need a back up plan for water. In fact, YOU do, too. Even if you live in the suburbs or city, your water could disappear or become undrinkable at any time. And if you rely on running to the store to grab water only after your city water is unavailable, chances are you won't be able to buy enough because everybody else will be out buying water, too. 

Did you know the Federal government recommends that all citizens "should store at least one gallon of water per person for three days?" And that doesn't include water for flushing toilets, doing dishes, washing laundry, or even taking showers.

One way everyone can prepare for loss of water is to keep commercially bottled water on hand. If you don't open those bottles, and you keep them in a cool, dark location, they will last at least until the expiration date on the bottle.

Some people like to reuse the bottles water come in; you can do that, but there's a little higher risk of the bottle leaking or the water inside the bottle becoming contaminated with bacteria. Always thoroughly wash re-used bottles in hot water and soap, then sanitize with bleach. For those of you who can, another idea is to use canning jars. As your jars become empty, sanitize them and add tap water and a lid. Store in a cool, dark location for up to three months.

For more detailed information on storing water, or if you want to know how to store water when you have a well, visit Ready.gov and read The American Red Cross' .PDF "Food and Water in an Emergency."



* Well witching (sometimes called "water dowsing") is considered nonsense by some, but I've seen it work splendidly many times. In fact, not only do many well drillers use this technique, but so do many city water and maintence workers. You can read more about water witching here.





Jul 12, 2016

Tour Our New Homestead

A few nights ago, as hubby and I enjoyed the view from our master bedroom, windows wide open,
rain sending in cool, refreshing air, I turned to him and said, "There's no doubt God gave us this homestead. That said, though...We did it! Yay for us!"

Getting here has taken a lot of hard, hard work, so it's good to relax a little and enjoy the fruit of our efforts - and the gift from our Father. However, there's also no doubt there's a lot of hard, hard work ahead of us. The difference, though, is that this is the sort of work that's fun to dream about; it's work that's more satisfying, too, because it's about building our dream, not prepping something for a future buyer (who will mow down all the amazing flowers you've tended for 15 years...but that's another story).

I'm sure I'll be sharing a lot of our projects on our Piece of Heaven Homestead, so you may as well see what the homestead looks like now. But first, I'd like to preface things by saying that the people we purchased this property from really build this land up from nothing but God's creation. When they moved onto this place, there was nothing but one apple tree and an old, uninsulated building to live in. Little by little, they worked hard to build a home - first just a small building, then building an addition, then a second story - plus outbuildings, an orchard, and so on. Though our homestead needs work, I by no means belittle all the amazing work they put into this place. And they'd be the first to acknowledge that the work needs to continue.

So let's start with the house. As I said, it was built piecemeal - and it's not yet finished. Hence all the quirks. When you walk in, you see the kitchen and dining area, and the living room. All are small. The kitchen is really just makeshift; the original owners always intended to expand and put in a proper kitchen. For now, it's serviceable, but once I'm preserving and cook more from scratch, it's gonna drive me crazy.

Most of the "counter space" is really little moveable carts (including one intended for a mechanic). The only two cabinets are so high up, I can't get into them without a stepping stool. And they have no doors. The real counter is orange Formica and is higher than average. The gas stove is pretty nice. But they left the whole kitchen really, really dirty, so I spent all of the first day in the house cleaning it...and it still isn't spotless.


The living room is small and narrow. By the way, all the furniture and whatnot that you see in these photos was left by the original owners.

From the living room, you walk through a closet into the one bathroom, which is oddly laid out and not quite finished.

Just off the living room is this wide hallway. They used it as a den. I'm thinking maybe the piano and bookshelves go here. By the way, throughout is newer laminate flooring.


I'll leave off showing the bedrooms, but this unfinished staircase (love the orange glow paint on the bottom step?) leads to the upstairs, which is all master bedroom. It's very large, but needs mudding, texturing, flooring...There is no bathroom upstairs. Oh, and the master came with a pool table. (A nice one, actually.)

There's a ton to do inside this house. Every wall needs paint, many surfaces need finishing. And, yes, I need a better kitchen. But any time I start to feel overwhelmed by the inside, I just look outside. And then I feel super duper happy.

Outdoors, the original owners put in a couple of pole barns and miscellaneous smaller structures. Over the years, they had chickens, ducks, turkey, sheep, goats, rabbits...and probably other livestock I don't know about. It's fun exploring, because every once in a while you bump into some little structure you didn't realize was there before, like this old chicken coup, half hidden in the brush.

And tubs. Lots of old tubs. Like this one.
My favorite outbuilding, though, is the hot house. It's not much to look at from the outside...

But I love, love, love the inside.
The original owners grew tomatoes here, well into December. They also had succulents and sunflowers in here, and left a few for us. The plants in the ground are some tomatoes I planted a few days ago. I'm about a month late getting them in, but I think they'll still produce well. The soil here - and in the main garden - is really bad. It's sandy, wormless, and looks totally dead. I need to add tons of organic matter to it. In the meantime, a little bit of good potting soil added to the stuff in the ground helps.

And lookee here. Outside, the hothouse has a huge rainwater collection tank next to it that feeds this little container with irrigation water. There are a number of rainwater collection tanks on the property. I love that this is already done for us!


Figs! I honestly had never eaten one (except in Fig Newtons). But there are four fig trees here, so I'm going to be experimenting a lot with figs, I expect! We tasted our first figs a few days ago; happily, we really liked them!

There are also lots of apple trees - I haven't counted how many yet - and their fruit is yummy. (I ate some when we came to view the property last year.) There's even at least one tree that bears winter apples. In addition, there are two mature cherry trees, a bunch of mature plum trees, bearing blueberries, and a young pear and apricot tree. I may add an additional pear tree and a peach tree this fall. I've been told peaches don't do well here, but our micro climate is warmer than much of the surrounding area, so I might get away with it. There's also a grape vine, but it's awfully shaded and doesn't bear much.


There are also berries everywhere. Most are wild..but there are also these domesticated blackberries that are huge.

This is the original home. It was also used as a schoolhouse at some point. It was here the people we bought from lived - with small children! - while they slowly built the house we now live in. I actually love how rustic and old it looks, but for the sake of it not rotting, we will be painting and probably shingling it. The top story has the washer and dryer - plus a sink, tub, and wood stove. Once we clean it up, I hope it will become a really awesome canning kitchen.

Like all the outbuildings, it's full of stuff. Some of it is kind of neat.


Like this cool vintage sink. The bottom story of the same building has been used as a sort of workshop and storage area. There are some neat things here, too, like these vintage trunks.

And this loom. (Which my husband and dad-in-law are awfully excited about, but which makes me think, "I'm not sure I'm that hard core.")

There are so many odd ball items down here. It seems like I could do something Pinteresty with these for the garden:
And that concludes the tour. There's tons I didn't share, of course. We have 15 acres of forest, for example! But now you know the basics.

I confess I'm loving this place - even the quirky house - more every day. And I keep thinking back to what the original owner told me (tears in her eyes) the day she and her family moved out: "But who better to leave this place to? It's like we worked and prepared this place just for your family!" I think there's a lot of truth to that. It's just like something God would do :)


Jul 6, 2016

Surprise! We Bought a Homestead

There's been something I've been dying to tell you. It's been in the works since last fall, but my
husband asked me not to blog about it until it was a done deal. Because, frankly, it seemed almost too good to be true.

The fact is, we won't be in our tiny house motor home for much longer. Because we bought a house.

Don't worry. It's still a little house in the big woods. It's still the foundation for our homesteading dreams. But God made it possible for us to live those dreams without struggling to live in a tiny house motor home. (Hallelujah!) Here's how it happened.

Back in 2014, I was looking at rural properties in our area. We knew it would be tough for us to afford something in our county, but were completely willing to sacrifice a nice house if we could get some land. But as I was doing this, unbeknownst to me, my husband was thinking. Thinking of a way to get us out of our expensive, more restrictive county, closer to family, and onto rural land where we didn't feel closed in by neighbors and could have animals, an orchard, and so on. His idea was for us to move into a motor coach on some rural land his parents were willing to give us.

The view from our coach.
You can read about my initial reaction to this plan here. That was were I started - with the thought that he was craaaaaazy. How were we going to live in a motor coach as a family of four? How would I be able to stand the close quarters, especially since one of our children has behavior problems? As I prayed about it, though, peace settled onto me. You can read about that here. In the end, I realized that many people in the world have far less than a motor coach for a house. We would be okay.

Then we started thinking about how we'd create a more permanent home on our new homestead. Initially, hubby thought we could build, or maybe put a manufactured home on the land. As we researched more, however, we realized permitting alone would cost us our savings, and there was no way to get a manufactured home, or even a trailer, onto our land without cutting a road right through my in-law's yard. Um, yeah, not happening. I also confess that the idea of starting completely from scratch was exhausting to me. In my 20s or 30s it would have been no big deal, but today, in my 40s and with two autoimmune diseases dragging me down, it seemed like too much. I just wasn't sure I was up for it.

Nevertheless, we figured God would find a way, and we prayerfully plodded onward, because we felt this was the path God wanted us to take.

The view from the house's kitchen window.
Trouble was, my husband wasn't exactly jumping on getting the house fixed up. It took a long time to find a shipping container to use as our storage container, and then...well, nothing was happening; I was frustrated.

Then, last fall, we learned a certain property my husband was familiar with was rumored to be going on the market. My husband was instantly excited because he'd been neighbors and friends with the sellers and loved the property so much he once told them, "If you ever sell this place, come to me first. I want it!"

Honestly, we didn't think we could ever afford this property, but my husband went ahead and called the owners anyway.

There are wildflowers everywhere.
Most people who live in a rural areas like their privacy, and it turned out the owners (I'll call them the Jones') had recently asked a real estate agent over to give them the market value of their home and land...only to discover the agent told potential buyers about the property, who were now driving up the Jones' private road and driveway. The idea of selling without having to put their property on the market and have strangers tromping through was of keen interest to the Jones'. Plus, having been neighbors with my hubby for years, they liked him a lot, and loved the idea of a young family taking over their land. We set a date to come see the place.

I remember that day both vividly and vaguely. We'd returned from an out of state trip to see my Dad only the day before, so I was pretty exhausted. (Later that day, we also learned my Dad-in-law was in the hospital with a deadly serious but unknown disease.) We drove up the gravel road and saw a rather plain saltbox style house. Then we walked in...into the kitchen, as it turns out - and my memory from there gets pretty vague. That's because there was virtually no kitchen - just two tiny counter tops in the corner. I was in a sort of shock because the one thing I really wanted was a good farmhouse kitchen. I never imagined this house would have virtually no kitchen.

I hardly remembered the rest of the house, but it was certainly big enough for us - though it had it's quirks. The upstairs was unfinished, but it boasted an amazing view. Downstairs, you had to walk through a closet to get to the bathroom, and the living room was way too tiny for entertaining, let alone for our family to hang out together...but then there was the outside.

The mature orchard, with tons of apples, plus cherries, plums, apricots, pears, fig trees, blueberries, and more. The little hothouse, where the Jones' grew tomatoes even through winter. The rainwater catchment system, with three huge tanks already set up. And acres upon acres of forest with lovely views everywhere. And the price? Way more affordable that what we thought it would be.

I was willing, and my hubby couldn't wait to buy the place - but I was concerned about how we could afford it. So we sat down and made a list of our current bills. Then we crossed off the ones we'd no longer have (like a water/sewer bill), and added additional expenses (like the fuel for my hubby to commute an hour and half to work every day). We thought it was do-able.

So we agreed to buy it. Amazingly, the Jones' said they would wait for us to make an official offer until our house was on the market. Really, a miracle, since we were months out from doing that.

We immediately set to work fixing up our suburban home and getting it on the market. It took longer than expected, but we did it. Our house sold...then the sale fell through...then we sold it again and had many delays...until finally we had funds from our house to give to the owners of what is now our place!

Because the Jones' needed more time to wrap things up before they moved out of state, we moved out motor coach and parked it at my in-laws. Then, once the new property was officially ours, we moved to the coach there, a bit away from the house. We've stayed here for about seven days, trying to give the original owners some space to get their moving done, but also getting tours of the various trails on the property, walking the property lines, and so on.
Our parking spot on our new property.
of our suburban home into our

Every day, when I walk out of the motor coach, I felt amazed - at peace, and so relaxed. This place is gorgeous. Better than I remembered. It's private, and lovely, and warmer than I anticipated. It feels miraculous. It is miraculous!

And let me tell you, a few weeks in our motor coach has only made me more appreciative. As the weeks passed and we came closer to living full time in the tiny house motor home, I found myself praying a lot about how I was going to keep my sanity in that little bus. God's answer wasn't what I expected. I didn't expect a house. And later, I didn't expect our house sale to fall through. (If it hadn't, it would have meant months of living in the coach.) But as my in-laws frequently say, "God's timing is perfect." And he loves to give good gifts to his children.

In fact, the story of how we got to this property is full of miracles and gifts. It all began with an inheritance from my brother; this allowed us to fix up our in-bad-shape suburban home and make it more valuable. It also allowed us to buy the coach - which in itself was a gift, since my husband was able to buy it for a low price. Another gift: Our newest suburban neighbor turned out to be a contractor who loved bartering; he did the work on our home in the suburbs that my husband and I couldn't do ourselves. (In exchange, my husband worked on his vehicles.) It was also something of a miracle that we had enough money left over from the suburban fixer-up that I could hire someone to paint the exterior of our home. By that time, I was utterly and completely exhausted from doing all the packing and much of the fixing up; I was also coming down with a virus - yet we needed to finish the house and get it on the market, or we feared we wouldn't sell the house in time to buy our new one. Then we sold the house within three days of listing it - definitely a miracle. It's true that sale fell through, but until then, the sale gave us peace in our hearts. Also, the sale falling through gave us far less time in the motor coach, for which I'm grateful.

Then we sold the house again, within two days. It was never a smooth sale; I told my hubby that was Satan trying to discourage us. But the house did sell, finally, and at the top of it's value. And let's not forget the fact that my hubby knew the Jones' - because if he hadn't, chances are we would never have had the opportunity to buy this property at all. And the price? That's definitely a miracle. If we'd try to buy this place in our old county, it would have been $200,000 or more than our sales price. Even in the county we now reside in, I feel we got an amazing deal. There is no doubt in our minds that this place is a gift from God. And we are thankful.

Feb 4, 2016

Prioritizing Your Homestead: A Few Tips

Currently, I am working sooooo very hard to get our suburban house cleaned and painted and on the market. Truly, I don't think I could do it at all if my naturopath hadn't started me on a constitutional homeopathic remedy last summer; I just wouldn't have had the health and energy to complete the task. Even now, it's hard. I have no help (including no babysitters), I homeschool, I work from home, and I still have basic housekeeping chores and cooking to do. But...what keeps me going are thoughts of our new homestead. The wild elk in the clear cut forest next door; plenty of room for the kids to play outside; the possibility of an orchard; a huge garden; lots of critters...


Yet as much as we'd love to get the garden, the orchard, the egg chickens, the meat chickens, the goats, the pigs, and possibly other things going all at once, that is not practical. Homesteading requires a lot of time, energy, money, and planning. To succeed, we shouldn't take on too much at once. Setting up homesteading projects tends to take more time and money than maintaining them.

The question is, how does one decide which projects to do - and in which order? This is very much a matter of personal preference, but I do have some thoughts on the matter.

Start Here

Read everything you can get your hands on concerning homesteading and specific homesteading projects.

Now read that last sentence again, because it is of utmost importance.

I can't tell you how many times novice homesteaders have asked me really basic questions about projects they are smack in the middle of. The worst is when it's about animals - and involves their suffering. (After you butcher your first chicken is not the time to ask questions about how to do it humanely, folks.)

Homesteaders need a lot of different skills. Skills take time to learn. Sure, YouTube videos and conversations with other homesteaders are helpful, but nothing (in my opinion) really takes the place of getting your fundamentals from reading.

Wants vs. Needs
In our society, wants often take precedence, but if you truly want to live a more self sufficient life, needs must take priority. Keep this firmly in mind as you carefully plan your homestead.

Get out of Debt
This must come before buying new land or beginning building projects. If you're always trying to earn money to pay off debts, you won't have the time or energy to homestead. Debt is about consumption. Homesteading is about production. Debt is about slavery. Homesteading is about freedom. Plus, from personal experience I can tell you that being out of debt and having a great credit rating will make buying your dream homestead much easier, even if you plan to do it with cash.

Courtesy  C. E. Price and Wikipedia Commons.

Land
Few of us can afford acres and acres of ideal homesteading land. (And, in truth, there's virtually no ideal homesteading land, anyway.) So it's important to wipe that ideal out of your head and look at things more realistically. First, consider how you can save money for your homestead, even if you're only putting aside a small amount each month. Then consider: Should you put off your homestead dreams until you can buy acreage? Or should you start homesteading now, where you are. I always think the latter is best. First, homesteading requires skills and skills take time to learn. Start learning and practicing those skills now and you'll be much better off later. Second, there's no reason to wait. Why spend a fortune on organic and grass fed food when you could be saving a lot of money by growing as much of your own food as possible? And the money you save can go into your homestead land fund, if you wish. This is how my family - and so many, many others - began their homesteading journey.

Also think about how you can make land that is considered less desirable (and is therefore less expensive) work for you. Anna Hess, author and well known homesteading blogger, bought land that's hard to get to in the winter; it was a disadvantage she was willing to deal with in order to afford homesteading in a rural area. My family and I are moving into a wooded area. Turns out, you don't need to knock down all the trees in order to homestead in the woods. (You just need a clearing for a dwelling and for your garden.) If money for land is a concern, consider that you may have to move where others don't want to live. Set some realistic priorities (within so many miles of town, a year round creek, etc.) but be flexible, too. Think and plan carefully. Roads and driveways should go in first; then utilities (including wells and septic systems). Remember that permitting can be way more expensive than you think. Actually, it will probably all cost more than you think.

Housing
A place for you to live must come before most other projects, but that doesn't necessarily mean you need to buy or build a traditional house. Many homesteaders start off in a tiny house motor home, mobile home, or used manufactured home. (New manufactured homes often cost as much as modest stick built homes, especially if you use a construction company that offers a limited number of home models to choose from.) For some, these "temporary" dwellings will become permanent housing. For others, they are a place to live while they build something else.

Courtesy of Spedona and Wikipedia Commons.
Begin with a Garden
I always recommend homesteaders start by growing food. Don't make the garden huge if you've never gardened before, or you have experience only with a small garden - because you'll quickly become overwhelmed. If you're in the city or suburbs, start by growing edibles in among the ornamentals. Then try a small edible garden. Later, if you have room, you can expand a little each year.

If you have the space (and it doesn't necessarily take much), plant some fruit trees and shrubs as soon as possible. They will take a few years to start producing much food, so it's important to get them planted now. (There's an old saying that fruit trees are best planted 10 years ago.) However, do pay attention to the needs of the plants and the quirks of your particular property before you spend a bunch of money on trees. If you plant them in the wrong place, you'll delay their food-producing years - and might even kill them.

Learn to Preserve
Begin learning how to preserve food as soon as possible. It doesn't make much sense to have a huge garden or animals for eggs, milk, and meat unless you know what to do with all that food. At the very least, homesteaders should know how to freeze, can (including pressure can), and dehydrate foods.

Start with Small Livestock
Chickens are excellent starter livestock. They are cheap to buy, easy to care for, don't require a ton of your time, and will give you healthier, cheaper eggs than store bought. Once we are moved, one of the first things we'll do is re-establish our egg-laying flock.

Once you feel comfortable with chickens, consider what other animals you might want to add to your homestead. Meat chickens are a natural second critter; their care isn't exactly the same as egg layers because they have different feed requirements and (unless you raise a heritage breed) are so dumb they will drown in a bowl of water. But they certainly aren't overwhelming if you're used to caring for a laying flock.

After that, it's really up to you to decide what additional animals you want on your homestead, perhaps adding a new type each year until you have all your want.

For us, goats are a priority because we'll need them as brush eaters. And while we eventually want dairy goats, I don't think I'll attempt them right away because my research shows they are pretty labor intensive compared to other homestead animals. Pigs are another high priority for us. My husband loves pork, and it's impossible to find store bought pork that's raised in a healthy way. Pigs are pretty easy to raise if you buy piglets from someone else, but it still takes time and money to build them appropriate housing and fencing - and like so many homestead animals, you can usually only buy babies in the spring or fall. Eventually, we will probably add meat rabbits to our repertoire, and possibly some turkeys. A dog to keep cougars away and at least one cat to help with woodsy rodent populations obviously have to come early on, too. Whenever we add a critter, though, we will first consider how much more time and money it will take us to do so...and we'll always have our property prepared (housing, food, water sources) before bringing them home.
Courtesy wfmillar and Wikipedia Commons.

Off Grid Options
Many homesteaders long to live off grid. I don't necessarily have that desire, but I do believe that if we use less stuff that needs electricity or other energy sources, we'll save money and be better able to live the life we want. If you have off grid dreams, start small. Hang your laundry to dry. Do dishes by hand. Use a wood stove. Then, if you desire, gradually work toward more expensive projects. Just make sure they make sense for where you live. For example, we live where it's overcast much of the time; it wouldn't make sense to spend a lot of money on a solar energy project (although our tiny house motor home is already equipped this way). On the other hand, we have quite a bit of wind, so we might consider harnessing some wind energy.



Really, all this advice comes down to a handful of things:

1. Do your research.
2. Plan carefully and as financially accurately as possible.
3. Take on one project at a time.

I hope this helps you prioritize your homesteading journey!


Jan 19, 2016

Backyard Homestead Kitchen Know-How: A Book Review

Backyard Homestead Kitchen Know How a Book ReviewWhen I first saw Andrea Chesman's The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How, I was skeptical. Was this really a book I'd find useful? After all, I regularly cook from scratch using backyard fresh ingredients, and I'm well versed in food preservation. Happily, however, Chesman's book completely exceeds my expectations.

The first three-quarters of this book were what I found the most useful. Here, Chesman gives tips on outfitting the homestead kitchen for "field-to-table" cooking; gives basic (though excellent) guidelines on how best to harvest, store, and cook fresh vegetables and vegetables; gives advice on dealing with a dried bean or grain harvest; looks at a few ways to make your own sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, and apple cider syrup); discusses how best to deal with eggs, various homestead birds, and rabbits; explains how to handle fresh milk; and explores the hands on aspects of  other homestead meats (beef, lamb, goat, and pig).

I love the author's advice on explaining to a butcher what cuts of meat you want; this is a process that can be completely overwhelming if you've never done it before. Chesman also offers interesting details on how to make boiled cider and cider syrup - something I'd never even heard of, but which is a viable alternative to syrup and molasses for those with apple trees. She also answered some of my questions about fertilized chicken eggs: Are they edible? Are they gross? And her information on handling a bird carcass in the kitchen, including how to freeze it (she favors the spatchcock method) and what to do with other edible parts (like hearts and livers, not to mention feet), is excellent. I also appreciate the details on how to properly render lard and tallow. And why is it I never thought to render chicken fat? Chesman claims it's a wonderful for cooking.

The author also covers preservation techniques, including dehydration, pickling and fermenting, cold storage (cellar or fridge), freezing (which she seems to favor), and canning. Oddly, Chesman admits she doesn't do much pressure canning; she prefers frozen vegetables and can't imagine what to do with canned meat. In fact, she claims the USDA recommends boiling canned meat before using it - something I've never read in any canning book or reliable canning site (like The National Center for Home Food Preservation). She does, however, put to rest botulism fears. (As long as you follow the basic rules, you are fine.)

There's also a section on what to make with homestead milk. Here, the author focuses on some of the easier items, like butter and creme fraiche, yogurt, ricotta, and mozzarella. Next is a section on charcuterie - or processing meats like bacon at home. I think she offers an excellent beginner's guide here, making homemade corned beef, ham, and sausage seem totally do-able.

The last quarter of the book is all recipes. I find this the least helpful section of the book, since most of the recipes I'm really attracted to (from scratch cream-of-anything soup, sourdough starter, no knead bread, making whipped cream from fresh milk, kimchi, homemade liquid pectin, etc.) are found in other sections of the book. In addition, I found some of the recipe choices odd. For example, the author mentions repeatedly that lard is a fantastic choice for pie crusts - yet there is no recipe for one anywhere in the book. Instead, she chooses to include a butter-based crust recipe.

Yet while there are some things I wish the author had mentioned (growing stevia or sugar beets, for example) or gone into more depth about (what are the best ways to use rendered fats?), the fact is, an author can only cover so much in a single volume. Yes, Chesman is opinionated (in her mind carrots are great for grilling but parsnips aren't), but I don't mind this. Her opinions come from years of experience cooking on the homestead. I may not agree with every little point she makes - but the fact is, they are just little points. Overall, Kitchen Know-How is an excellent reference and one I recommend for every homesteader or field-to-table cook.

Related Posts:
The Backyard Homestead book review
The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals book review


Dec 22, 2015

Best Homesteading Posts of 2015

People talk a lot about the negative side of the Internet - and certainly it has one. But there's one huge positive side to the web: The enormous amount of information available at the click of a mouse. I remember having to call a reference librarian to look up specialized information for me...and sometimes they turned up with little or nothing. I remember asking my parents questions and having to be satisfied with, "I don't know. Try looking it up in the encyclopedia." And then not being able to find the answer. But today, if my children or I have any question, we can easily and quickly look up the answer in about one minute!

Well, one area where the Internet is currently excelling is in proving information for homesteaders (and wanna be homesteaders). Never before have people been able to exchange ideas, failures, and successes in homesteading as they can today. And with that in mind, I want to share with you some of my favorite homesteading articles of 2015. Show these homesteaders some love! Click on the links and check out their excellent posts and blogs!

1.  How to Train a Rooster to Be Nice (Farm Girl Inspirations)

2. The 5 Stages to the 100% Self-Sustaining Flock (Abundant Permaculture)

3. How to Milk Once a Day (The Elliott Homestead)

4. Laundry on Our Off-Grid Homestead (Homestead Honey)

5. Tips for Starting a Food Forest (The Walden Effect)

6. 6 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying Goats (Common Sense Homesteading)

7. How to Keep Goats Fenced In (Farm Fit Living)

8. Make an Outdoor Produce Washing Station (Homespun Seasonal Living)

9. 11 Tips for Using a Clothesline (104 Homestead)

10.  How to Create a Homestead on Wooded Land (Return to Simplicity)


Got a favorite homesteading article published in 2015? Please leave a link in the comments!