Showing posts with label homestead. Show all posts
Showing posts with label homestead. Show all posts

Sunday, August 12, 2018

This Kind of Life Is Not Cute or Kitschy...It's A Lot of Work


This weekend has been busy. I am getting ready to post several pictures on Instagram about what I got done this week and I am still struck by how much work gets done around here every weekend. What strikes me, even more, is how much work there is to do everyday and weekend.

I choose this life. I wasn't delusional about what it would entail. Being a prepper is work. Being a homesteader is work. Being self-reliant is work. Being frugal is more work. All four of those together means the work never lets up. I know people who can't handle it and I don't blame them. There are days I can barely handle it.

Some of you probably think that all I do is run a blog and hang out here at home. That couldn't be further from the truth. I work as an office manager Monday through Friday, 7:30 am - 4:30 pm. I run an eBay store that I have been adding more and more inventory too. I have two very active teenagers at home and two young adults who live with their husband or boyfriend. I have two grandchildren. And I blog and write for other sites.

I am not asking or seeking sympathy. Like I said before, I choose this life.

What gets me though is the people who think this kind of life is cute or kitschy. What we do to thrive or survive is trendy. Like raising chickens is adorable. Like raising a garden is so good for my health and the environment. Like everything I do to save money in a day is so consumer conscious.

Spare me the trendy terms and the idealistic attitude. That is not why I do it.

I raise my own food because, quite frankly, I save myself a lot of money and I know where some of my food comes from. I enjoy raising my own food, but some days it is a lot of work. The weeding never ends. Sometimes I have more food to preserve than I have time to do. There are times I take a vacation day or two from work just to can tomatoes. I get frustrated because my chickens and the other wildlife ate my berries before I got to pick them. I wish the chickens would figure out that I really don't want them on the front porch.

I raise my own laying chickens because the eggs are really that much better than store-bought eggs. They help fertilize the yard which means I (meaning mostly the teenagers) get to mow more often. They like to eat bugs which is why they get to free range. Besides that, free-ranging chickens eat less feed which means I save money and get better tasting eggs.  However, reference the front porch comment and berry comment again.

I prepare because I truly believe everyone should. I think you should be prepared because that is the responsible thing to do. I prepare because I don't want to be in a situation of begging for handouts if I can help it. I want to have plenty of food and water on hand so my kids do not go thirsty or hungry. I want to be able to survive a power outage and more. I want to be prepared for natural disasters and economic downturns. However, preparedness can be work. I garden and raise my own food in order to be better prepared and less reliant on the system. I can and preserve to have more food on hand. I buy the supplies and learn the skills so I know how to take care of my family and myself.

I can and preserve my own food because, again, I like knowing where my food comes and I take a great satisfaction in knowing I produce it. I like being less reliant on a food system that takes pleasure in hiding chemicals and harmful additives to food. I make a lot of my own food and make a lot of food from scratch because I know what is in the food. I have a daughter who is lactose-intolerant and there is a lot of dairy hidden in food using names that I cannot pronounce and are not even natural. By preserving our own food, we can all be healthier and more conscious of what is in our food.

I like saving money and making money. I will not even be ashamed of either of those things. I am a borderline workaholic which makes this life even remotely possible. I juggle a lot of balls every day. I think a lot of people who are in my shoes would say that. There is a lot of people who do this without an outside income to rely on. There is a lot of people who barely scrape by every day and would think I am wasteful when I have a lot of weeks where I barely scrape by. There is a lot of people who live this life and do not think this life is cute or kitschy either.

I hear a lot of people who "crave" the simple life. I might have that phrase in my byline, but I would not be sure that I could accurately say that I live it either. Simple is not running from one place to another and trying to get more accomplished in a day than there are hours in a day. Simple is not trying to balance kids with work, with home life, with keeping a house, with keeping animals, and with trying to raise my own food. Some of that is simple, but not all combined together. While most people live in the rat race, chasing the "American Dream", and being in debt to their ears, this life I live is not always simple. It just looks better than those people.

Again, I choose this life and everything in it. If you wish you could do all the things I do, then do more than wish for it. That is what I did. Wishing does not make things happen. Wishing does not do anything, but make you keep wishing. If you want to be a homesteader or a prepper, then do what you can to make that happen. Just be aware that this life is a lot of work, but the results are rewarding.

I won't delude you either. I would not be where I am at without some help. I have a guy in my life who does what he can every day to get stuff done. My kids do chores, clean the chicken coop, and mow. I live on an acreage rent-free, but I pay all the bills except property taxes and pay for almost all of the upkeep. I have a lot of people who support me and live this life as well so they can commiserate with me. I do get out of the house and have fun periodically because I need to relax.

Another thing about this life - it comes with great disappointment sometimes. Your garden doesn't turn out well or your cucumber plants become victims of the wildlife. Your entire flock of laying hens is killed by a mink. Your only vehicle has to go into the shop for very expensive repairs. Your kids or you become ill resulting in unexpected medical bills. You lose your job and have to rely on your food storage to get you through.

This life is a learning experience. You will witness some great miracles and some devastating losses. You will feel as though you are walking alone in it or, worse yet, feeling like you let your loved ones down. You will feel a great joy every time you bring home a flock of baby chickens or watch a calf or a piglet being born. You will go to bed bone tired but satisfied that you put in a full day's worth of work. You will be awake at night wondering how you are going to fix a car or a tractor or how you are going to pay that bill. You will watch your kids grow up learning these skills and you will know that they will be able to survive on their own.

Does this life get any easier? Yes and no. Yes, because you learn what to do, you learn skills, and you start to have systems in place. No, because you will always have more work than time, you will be short of money when you need it most, and you will be thrown curveballs when you never expected them.

Like I said before, I choose this life. I want this life. I want more for myself and my family. I can't see the appeal of a consumer-driven life with keeping up appearances and being in debt. I truly think everyone should live the life I am living. Honest labor never hurt anyone and you become more appreciative of what you have.

However, it is not cute or kitschy. It is not trendy. It is and always will be a lot of work.

Thanks for reading,
Erica


Sunday, July 29, 2018

10 Ways to Battle The Biting Insects and Mosquitoes No Matter Where You Live


Insects can be so beneficial and so annoying. They can help with insect control and eat mites. They can also bite you in places you never thought they could get to. Where I live we deal with the biting flies, the no see ums (sandflies), and mosquitoes. Usually, we need to have unusually wet weather to see a lot of bugs, but not always. When they decide to hatch and feed, they become atrocious!

How should you deal with biting insects? You should deal with them with everything you have and then some. They can make working on the homestead very difficult. They can make having a picnic almost impossible. Even though you are moving along a decent speed on a mower or a tractor, they still manage to land and bite you! What a nuisance!

So what measures should you take to fight the biting insect fight? You can do this one of two ways: naturally and chemically. The choice is yours. We are usually driven to the chemicals because they cover a wider area.

1. Bug Repellent. You can use a repellent with DEET or a repellent with no DEET. Some people find they have a sensitivity or an allergy to DEET. You can buy store brand or make your own bug repellent.

Here are some links to some homemade bug repellent:

All-Natural Homemade Bug Spray Recipes That Work! by Wellness Mama
Natural Homemade Mosquito/Insect/Bug Spray by DIY Natural
5 Homemade Mosquito Repellents by Survival at Home

I am not saying that making your own repellent is the best thing, but if you have the ingredients, I would definitely try it. However, there is no shame in buying some bug repellent either!

2. Fly Strips. These are so simple and so effective. I used them in the chicken coop for the first time this year and one was full before the day was over. Just crazy! I have had to use them over the sink in the kitchen too when I had a fruit fly problem. They are easy to use and will definitely attract the biting flies.

3. Bug Bombs (Total Release Foggers). These are again are pretty effective in a shop or a garage. You can use them in a house, but make sure all the food is put away and you clean the surfaces again before using them. You also need to set them off away from ignition sources. You set off the bug bombs and leave the area for at least four hours. You need to make sure they are for killing the insects you want to be killed. These are very chemically laden and most have neurotoxins in them. You should only use them for extreme infestations.

4. Citronella candles and torches. These are good for keeping insects away from areas when you are outside. You can use them in or on picnic tables, around fire pits, on outdoor decks, and other areas where you may gather. You can also make your own citronella candles if you wish, but they are usually pretty cheap to purchase.

5. Mosquito Repellent Bracelets. They are pretty effective for repelling mosquitoes and would be kid friendly to use (as long as they understood not to chew on them). Most brands of these bracelets sold do not contain DEET making them a good substitute for those sensitive to DEET. These are also eco-friendly which would be another great reason to use them.

6. Bug Zappers. These can be a good addition to your porches and decks to kill bugs and mosquitoes. They may be a little noisy, but they can be an effective way to kill bugs without having to use chemicals. Most of them also have a light which attracts the bugs and can be another source of light outdoors. Most can be used indoors too. You usually have to plug them, but there are solar options on the market for bug zappers. 

7. Ultrasonic Bug Repellent. These are useful in the house to keep the mosquitoes and biting flies at bay. They do need to plug in which is why they would go in the house or in a shop. However, they would be a good idea to have when you don't want to use chemicals. There are portable outdoor versions of the ultrasonic bug repellent, but they would need to be charged by solar power or USB.

8. Outdoor Foggers. These are good in a small outdoor area to repel flies and mosquitoes. You could use this in a picnic area, on a porch or deck, or a patio. You need to read the instructions on the can before spraying. This should only be sprayed on a still day and only once a day. It will kill mosquitoes on contact.

9. Yard Insecticide. If you are just infested with mosquitoes and biting flies, you may need to use a whole yard insecticide such as Demon, Tempo, Permethrin or Malathion. You can find yard insecticides that need to be mixed with water in a sprayer or you can attach to your garden hose to spray. You will need to put away any animals or pets until this has dried on the grass. Most of these yard insecticides only last 21-30 days which is better than spraying a fogger or yourself all the time. This is what we usually need to use on our acreage because the mosquitoes and biting flies are so bad in June and July.

10. Mosquitopaq Pouch. These are really neat as they can be used inside or outside, last 30 days, and use no chemicals. You simply hang them twenty feet away from where you want them to work and they will start repelling mosquitoes right away. You just have to follow the instructions to activate the ingredients inside the pouch and you are ready to go!

The bonus to most of these methods is that they will take care of the sandflies and ticks also. Ticks are a big worry due to their bites and Lyme disease. If you are worried about ticks, I would look for products that will take care of both ticks, mosquitoes, and biting flies.

I know there are other methods of repelling mosquitoes and bugs such as special soaps, Avon's Skin So Soft baby oil, and Vick's Vapor Rub. What are your favorite ways to repel those mean biting insects?

Thanks for reading,
Erica


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

20 Must-Have Items For Vehicle Maintenance and Repairs


Learning how to maintain and perform simple repairs is a critical skill to learn. Most people at this time do not know how to do this. Unless you take a shop class in a high school geared towards vehicle care and repair, it is not a skill that is taught. Fathers used to teach it to their sons and daughters in order for them to know what to do, but that is becoming a lost skill too.

Now, you need to teach yourselves. Lucky for us, there is a plethora of videos and websites that show us how to do this. If you are fortunate enough to find someone who knows how to maintain and repair a vehicle, please ask them to teach you. While I used to be able to do a lot of my own repairs and maintenance, I find that my skills are getting rusty. I need to learn how to do this again too.

Some of you have new or newer vehicles that you may not be able to work on due to the computer or how much has changed in cars and trucks. I would look for a Haynes Repair Manual specific to your vehicle. I would recommend you pick one up no matter what year your vehicle is. However, newer vehicles can be difficult to repair, but you should still learn to maintain them to the best of your abilities.

This list of must-have items can look different for everyone. It can be difficult to have and keep all these things, but I have learned from others that they are very important to have on hand. Once you acquire these things, please learn how to use them. They can save you a lot of money in labor costs from the mechanic. You may also need to repair your car on the road and will need to know how to use these things.

20 Must-Have Items For Vehicle Maintenance and Repairs

1. Oil Filter Wrench

2. Oil and Filters

3. Antifreeze

4. Air Filter

5. Power Steering Fluid and Transmission Fluid

6. Wipers

7. Wiper Fluid

8. Tools like a screwdriver set and a metric and standard socket set

9. Fuses

10. Battery tester and charger

11. Tire Pressure Gauge

12. Tire Repair Kit

13. Brake Fluid

14. Oil Drain Pan to catch oil and other fluids

15. Code Reader (make sure it works for your year of vehicle)

16. Full-Size Spare Tire

17. Tire Iron and Jack (usually comes with most vehicles)

18. Air Compressor and Chuck

19. Replacement Bulbs for Headlights, Taillights, and Blinkers

20. Battery Jumper Cables

Another thing I would recommend getting is a Vehicle Emergency Kit. If you are broken down on the side of the road, these kits can be invaluable. There are two different kinds of kits - one is for roadside emergencies and the other is for when you are stuck in your vehicle. Both are good things to have in your vehicle.

What else would you add to the list? What items do you find crucial to have for your vehicles?

Thanks for reading,
Erica


Thursday, May 31, 2018

Think Long Term With Perennials When Planting Your Garden and Yard


Gardening can be a lot of fun especially when you start reaping the benefits from all that work. Some of the hardest work, but greatest reward when planting your garden is planting perennials. Perennials come in several forms, but what you are looking for are plants, bushes, and trees that will produce food every year.

From a prepping standpoint, you want a constant food source. Most perennials are not easy to kill or hard to establish. However, if you are thinking long-term, you want to start these perennials now to get them established. There are perennials can take 1-3 years to produce food. Trees can take even longer to produce food. You want to get them in the ground this summer and fall.

From a homesteading standpoint, growing your food is always a delight. There is always a satisfaction in providing your food and reducing your independence on the grocery store. Planting perennials are always rewarding in that you reap what you sow every year.

From a frugal living standpoint, growing your food means less money you spend on groceries. Win-win! Shopping from your garden is always better than shopping at the store.

Now, I have nothing against annuals. You will see a lot of annuals in my garden. However, I want to know I have a constant source of food every year. It will not be enough to sustain us but will be enough to add to a meal. I can also expand my perennials and plant more using cutting from the original plants. A lot of perennials will do their own spreading of roots and start new plants on their own.

What perennials should you be planting?

1. Raspberries. They are some of the easiest perennials to grow. Their root system will cause them to start new plants and can double or triple within a year of planting. They are easy to maintain and easy to transplant. You should have fruit in 1-2 years.

2. Rhubarb. Again, very easy to grow in most areas. They do like a lot of sunshine so find a good sunny spot for them. Every couple of years, I like to feed my plants with composted manure in the fall to keep producing well. They will spread a little so give them some space. You can start harvesting them in the second year, but it is best to wait until the third year to harvest.

3. Blackberries. Pretty easy to grow. Keep them trimmed back to three feet so they become bushy and will produce better fruit. You should have fruit in 1-2 years.

4. Blueberries. These can be difficult to establish. You will want to make sure you have acidic soil or that you mend your soil to be acidic when you plant them. If you know you want to plant them next Spring, I would work on that blueberry bed now so the soil is good for them. They will need some pruning as they get bigger. They will fruit in 2-3 years.

5. Elderberries, strawberries, and other berry plants. There are many different kinds of berry plants and I encourage you to look into them. They are all delicious! Most of them will take 1-3 years to get establish and start producing fruit.

6. Asparagus. These plants will need a little work to start growing, but they are worth it! They come as crowns that you will need to plant 8-12 inches deep. I would also add a good layer of compost in the hole before you plant them. You will be able to harvest asparagus in the third year. Asparagus can last as long as 20-30 years in one spot.

7. Herbs like lovage, sorrel, mint, thyme, sage, and more. Most perennial herbs will come back every year if they are cut back in the fall. Herbs are so multi-dimensional that you do not want to be without them. Some herbs can be difficult to start from seed so investing a plant or getting a transplant may be worth your while. Check your gardening zone to see what herbs will grow best in your area.

8. Garlic and walking onions. Both plants produce bulbs that you can plant again in the fall for a crop next summer. Both are easy to grow and need very little tending besides a good layer of mulch in the fall to protect them from winter.

9. Fruit trees. These will take a few years to grow and produce. Realistically you will not see any production from fruit trees for at least three years, but more than likely it will be 5-7 years before any fruit falls. Like any other planted tree, you will need to water the trees well for the first year to get them established. You may also need to protect them in the winter from the elements, deer, and rabbits.

10. Nut trees. These are similar to fruit trees. They will take a few years to grow and produce. You will need to water them well in the first year to establish them. And you will need to protect them.

11. Greens like kale, radicchio, watercress, and stinging nettles. Many people think that greens are just an annual, but there are varieties that are actually perennials. I know from experience that kale will come back a second year if you forget to pull the plants in the fall. I was still harvesting kale in December that year!

12. Dandelions. Okay, I realize 99% of you will never have to plant dandelions because they grow rampant around you. However, they are overlooked for their benefits. The greens are good in a salad. The flowers make jelly, wine, teas, and salves.

This is a general list, but there are many other perennials you can plant. Some people are able to plant artichokes which can be a perennial, but artichokes in northern Iowa do not always work out. Look up your gardening zone and figure out what would be best for you to grow! Growing perennials helps you to be more self-sufficient, save money, and gives you a continual food source. What is not to love about perennials?

Thanks for reading,
Erica


Sunday, May 27, 2018

Have You Considered Spare Parts for Your Preps?


One of the most overlooked parts of most people's preparations is spare parts for the equipment they plan to use in an emergency or a crisis. We all like to think we are covered when we have the actual items in our possession, but what if they break? What if the power source runs out? When you know you could have fixed the problem with a simple spare part, you will get pretty frustrated pretty fast.

What spare parts should you have on hand? That depends on your equipment and what you plan to use it for. Your list could look different from mine because we might have different items. The items mentioned in this post are general items. Most of these things are basic items and would be able to fix or repair your broken-down item. I am also thinking about needing to recharge or refuel items because your generator or camp stove will be worthless if you run out of fuel. 

Batteries are always a must. While having hand-cranked flashlights and radios are great, most emergency equipment works better and faster with batteries. I would keep a lot of batteries in sorts of sizes. Most battery powered objects take either AA, AAA, C, D, and 9-volt batteries. I keep mine in a storage container similar to this. You could keep multiples of these storage containers in the house, garage, shop, and wherever you may need to use them. If you need specialty batteries, I would make a list of those and pick those batteries up the next time shopping. For specialty batteries, I would keep them near the object that takes them so you aren't hunting them down in an emergency. 

With so much technology and solar power these days, chargers and charging cords have become a must. I personally do not get rid of an old charger or charging cords until I absolutely know it will not work for a device in the home. A lot of charging cords work for multiple items. I would test the cords periodically and dispose of the ones that do not work or cannot be fixed.

Extra fuel cans are a must to have on hand. Some may not consider them a spare part, but you will regret not having enough fuel on hand when a situation happens. I would keep your fuel cans full and rotate the fuel every 3-6 months. I would also keep a fuel stabilizer either in the fuel or have it on hand to keep the fuel from going stale. I would also keep extra propane cylinders on hand and full in one-pound and twenty-pound cylinders. Propane does not go bad. If you have kerosene heaters or cookers, keep some kerosene on hand too. Likewise, if you have a propane or butane torch, you will need extra cylinders on hand.

Other items to keep on hand:

Like I said before, you might consider other spare parts essential for your preps. You might want to keep spare parts for:
  • Your vehicle (bug-out or daily driver)
  • Generator(s)
  • Camper, ATVs, and boats
  • Tractor or Semi (if you have one or more)
  • Guns, Bows, and other weapons
  • Water filtering systems
  • Tillers, Snowblowers, Lawn Mowers, and other such equipment
  • Log Splitters, Wood Chippers, Chainsaws, and Trimmers
  • Wood stoves, Cookstoves, Grills, and other cookers
  • Any other equipment you have that is not listed

Without sounding dire, these items could be the difference between life and death. If you have these spare parts on hand, you could be living a much easier life than if you did not. However, having spare parts on hand will not do you a lot of good if you don't know how to fix or repair something in the first place. So you should be working on your skills and learning how to repair your own equipment.

What else would you add to this list?

Thanks for reading,
Erica




Thursday, May 17, 2018

Grow and Raise Your Own Food Now So You Can Learn From Loss and Failure Now Rather Than Later


Growing your own food is not easy. Raising your own food is not easy. Many people think they can just put some seeds in the ground and they will have food. Many more people are easily intimidated by raising animals for meat. However, they think they could do it if they had to when an SHTF happens.

The fact is that the truth is very, very different.

I have been gardening for many years. For a lot of those years, I was a lazy gardener. I didn't want to do the work of improving my soil, providing critter control, or even weed the garden. My garden couldn't have sustained us for more than a few meals, much less preserve any of it.

It wasn't until I got into a preparedness, self-reliant state of mind that I started to take gardening more seriously. I started weeding it more religiously. I planted perennials that would provide food year after year. I started raising layer hens and put their used bedding and fertilizer on my garden. Talk about a huge improvement to my soil!

When we had critters eating my plants, we put up a fence. We moved plants around for a better layout in the garden. We learned about companion planting. Gardening was a lot more work than I planned on it being, but I enjoyed the fruits of our labor. Some things I was scared to try ended up working for the garden.

My garden started growing like crazy! Now I can eat, preserve what we don't eat, and still have enough to give away to friends and family. Do we still know everything about gardening? Oh no. Every year I learn something new. Some plants fail. Seeds don't come up (zucchini last year). Mistakes are made. Surprises happen.

I didn't pick broccoli at the right time last year and it bolted (and tasted awful!). We thought a plant that had come up was a summer squash, but it ended up being a weird pumpkin hybrid dropped by birds. That same plant took over my garden just like the pumpkins did the year before. My peas did not fill out the pods very well. The fall planting of the peas did not go well either - they were bitter tasting. I had my first decent crop of bell peppers last year after trying for years to get more than two peppers from six plants!

Gardening and raising livestock are skills. You need to learn how to do these things in order to learn these skills. Like learning any other skill, there is always a learning curve. You will think you know it all, but find out you have a lot more to learn. You can't expect to read all about gardening and raising livestock and be able to do it when you are desperate for food.

You have to learn to deal with loss. The very first batch of chicks I had, I lost nine chicks in the first three days because they needed a heat lamp. Since I had them inside the house, I thought I had the room warm enough. That wasn't good enough. After I replaced them, I kept a heat lamp on them for five weeks.

We had fifteen laying hens and lost them all to a mink getting in the chicken coop. In a different time, we would have been devastated to lose a vital protein source. We were sad to lose good eggs and the small income from selling them. We were devastated to lose chickens to a senseless killing because minks like to kill for the fun of it. We had lost a couple of hens to hawks before, but nothing like this.

Did we learn something new? Yes, we did. While I knew minks existed, I had no idea the damage they could cause. I didn't know what they looked like or how small they were. We are now changing the fencing in the outdoor area of the coop to prevent this from happening again. We are now waiting for fifteen chicks to grow up and start laying. Since this is a new breed of laying hens for us, we are learning about them.

So gardening and raising chickens (and other livestock) is not as easy as it sounds. If this is part of your plan for preparedness, you need to practice these skills now. I have been practicing these skills for years and am still learning new things. Most gardeners will tell you that their gardens are not the same from year to year. Chickens are susceptible to predators and human mistakes. One year is not the same as another. Every batch of chicks I get is different from the last one. I am always learning something new.

If you are planning for your garden to provide all your food needs, you need to be gardening now and making that garden big enough to provide for all your food needs. You will learn by trial and error how much you need to plant, how big your garden needs to be, and what you need to plant for this garden to provide your food for a year or longer. Most people do not have enough area to plant this much so you also need to learn how to garden using trellises and poles. Again, this is something that should not be learned when you are in an emergency situation. It needs to be learned now.

If you are planning on raising chickens, ducks, pigs, goats, and more, you need to learn now. Raising livestock is never easy. You have to deal with loss and injuries. You have to deal with butchering your own livestock. You have to learn how to raise animals from babies to adults. If this is part of your prepping plans, you need to be working on this now. If you live in town, see if you can have these animals in town. Otherwise, befriend a local farmer and ask if you can have some livestock at their place. If you live on an acreage, get started! These are skills to be learned now, not later.

As with any other skill, the time to learn them is now, not when a crisis hits. With gardening and raising livestock, you could be facing starvation before you have any food if you didn't know how to raise it before. Having a stockpile of seeds is great, but learn how to grow those seeds now, not later. Learn how to raise your own food now, not later.

Thanks for reading,
Erica


Monday, April 9, 2018

Improving Soil with Chicken Litter


(In March, I wrote an article for the Rootsy Network where I am a guest contributor. I love what they are doing over there! If you are into homesteading, self-reliance, and do-it-yourself, you must check them out!)


Most homesteaders struggle to find ways to dispose of all the waste that livestock can produce. One of the easiest ways to dispose of the waste is to add it to the garden. Gardening is fun, but gardening is a lot less fun when you are fighting your soil to grow a decent crop. Most gardens need soil amendments. Used bedding from your chickens and other livestock is a great way to amend your soil.
Where I live, we have heavy black clay soil. It doesn’t till well, hold a lot of moisture in the spring and early summer dries out during the summer into a hard brick and can be impossible to weed unless it is wet. On top of that, this soil doesn’t seem to grow good produce because root crops are fighting for space in the soil and plants struggle to establish good roots. The garden needs a good dose of fertilizer every year. I also find this kind of soil needs some acidity to balance the alkaline although the alkaline doesn’t seem to affect the growth of most plants.
Thanks for reading,
Erica


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The 12 Hand Tools You Need To Have In Your Tool Box


Everyone should have a good selection of tools on hand to be able to fix almost anything. Whether you are a prepper or a homesteader, you will rely on these tools to build and fix most things. If you are into frugal living, you want these tools to help you extend the life of your items and be able to fix them.

This is a basic list that we came up with. These are the tools we cannot live without because we use them so much. You will see them in our house and shop toolboxes. Yes, that's right. We have two separate tool boxes and we keep multiples of these tools. That is how important they are to us!

With this list of tools, you should be able to fix almost anything:

1. Hammer for pounding nails, removing nails, to pry things apart, and to "gently" coax something in or out of place.

2. Set of screwdrivers - Phillips and standard to loosen or unloosen screws.

3. Socket Set - standard and metric sockets for working on household projects and vehicle maintenance.

4. Wrenches - standard and metric. Also, a set of crescent (adjustable) wrenches for working on household projects and vehicle maintenance.

5. Pliers - regular, needle nose, and side cutters for holding things in place while you work on them, for twisting things into or out of place, and to cut wires or zip ties.

6. Visegrips (locking) pliers for clamping things in place or to get a better grip to loosen up items that seem to be stuck.

7. Hand Saw for cutting boards. A Hack Saw is also very handy to have to cut styrofoam, to shorten screws. and to cut some plastics like hose or PVC.

8. Utility Knife for making straight cuts, to cut something off, to scrape away caulk or glue, and can be used in place of scissors.

9. Tape Measure to measure items and rooms as well as where to cut a board.

10. Carpenter L Square for measuring accurate corners for cutting and to make certain your corners/walls are square.

11. Level to make sure you are attaching something to the wall right and level. You also use this for making walls, stairs, and much more to make sure everything is straight.

12.Carpenters Pencil and/or a Permanent Marker for making the mark to know where to attach something or screw something in as well as knowing where to cut.

You need to get yourself a good toolbox to store these in. The number of tools may be too much to store in a portable toolbox, but these standalone toolboxes are great for storage and organization.

We know some of you will argue that if the grid goes down, you will need more including a hand drill. We get it. However, this is a basic 'everyone should have these tools' kind of list. You should have these tools on hand whether you live in a van, apartment, or house, single or married, college student or older, and urban or rural dweller. 

Fixing your own things will save you so much money. Nowadays, if you don't know how to fix something, there is probably a video online that will teach you! The Family Handyman website is also a great source of do it yourself and fix it yourself information!

Thanks for reading,
Erica and Rob


Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Reality of Selling Eggs From Your Homestead


(In December, I wrote an article for the Rootsy Network where I am a guest contributor. I love what they are doing over there! If you are into homesteading, self-reliance, and do-it-yourself, you must check them out!)

When I started homesteading, I did not decide to homestead because I wanted to make money. I homesteaded because I wanted to live a simpler life and provide for myself by producing my own food. After trying to unsuccessfully garden for a few years, I figured out what I was doing wrong. With the garden going strong, I wanted to continue on the homesteading journey.

To me, the next logical step was to get egg-laying chickens. Being a rookie chicken owner, I ordered fifteen brown egg laying chicks in a variety of breeds. They came in the mail, I picked them up as soon as the post office called, and we got them set up in their place. We lost about five of them within a week. I went to the local feed store and purchased six more chicks.

For the rest of this article, head over to The Rootsy Network and check it out! 

Thanks,
Erica



Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Yes, You Can Live Without A Clothes Dryer!


There are some modern conveniences I would not want to live without: running water and a washing machine for starters. There are some modern conveniences that are not really necessary, but they make life easier. I lived without a microwave for over four months until someone took mercy on my children and bought one. I was fine without it.

Another appliance I lived without is a clothes dryer. I lived for over two years without a clothes dryer and I really didn't miss it! The clothes dryer would no longer dry the clothes. I didn't want to hire an appliance repair person to come out to my place. I knew it was a minimum $85 for them to come out, plus parts, and any additional labor. I don't like spending my money like that because sometimes I am cheap (not frugal).

I didn't fix the clothes dryer myself because I was slightly baffled by my clothes dryer. I don't always have faith in myself when it comes to fixing things. So I lived without it while having four kids (two in sports and dance) in the house. How?

1. Get yourself a large clothes drying rack. I know this is an investment and I had mine long before my clothes dryer broke. I hang up a lot of clothes anyway to keep clothes lasting longer. I suggest getting a heavy-duty, wooden clothes drying rack. Buying a cheap, small, flimsy clothes drying rack is not going to serve you well. I broke two of them before getting this one. One of these large ones typically holds 1-2 loads of laundry.

2. Find a way to hang clothes outside. You can have a clothesline or an umbrella drying rack. There are so many options for clothesline outside! I have an old-fashioned one that was rebuilt two years. I love it! However, you can get one that pulls out from the house and attaches to a post. You can use a pulley system. Also, invest in some good quality clothespins.


3. Be creative. I strung up lines in my business to hang even more clothes, but I wish I would have known about this pull-out clothesline! I used hangers to hang shirts. I used back of chairs for other items. If you have an outdoor balcony, use that to lay clothes over (clean it first)!

4. Create a system for laundry. I was already in the habit of washing 1-2 loads every day which is perfect for living without a clothes dryer. I could wash and hang a load before I went to work every day or at night before I went to bed. In the summer, hanging clothes outside means they dried very quickly unless the humidity was high. Then I didn't bother. In the winter, clothes dried fairly quickly in the house because the air was dry and sucked away the moisture. Also, I am one of those people who like to wash, dry, and fold the clothes in one day so this system was actually perfect for me.

5. What do you do about crunchy clothes? You can cut back a little on laundry detergent. You do not need as much as the manufacturer says. You can add vinegar to the rinse cycle on the washer to help with this. You can add liquid fabric softener. Or you can just deal with it. Crunchy clothes and towels did not honestly bother me. I would give them a good shake after taking them off the line to loosen them up. In the summer, pick a windy day to hang jeans and towels. They won't be crunchy!

After a little over two years, we decided the clothes dryer needed to be fixed for various reasons. I started doing some research on the internet and YouTube. I found out the two biggest reasons my clothes dryer wasn't probably working. I ordered two parts for a grand total of $13.00. One of those parts was a thermal fuse which solved the problem. Crazy, right?

Fixing the clothes dryer wasn't bad at all. The worst part was getting the dryer moved away from the wall enough to take the back panel off. While we had it off, we cleaned the dryer and replaced the dryer hose and vent.

Still, I enjoyed living without the clothes dryer and never really considered it an inconvenience. The clothes lasted longer, didn't shrink, and didn't fade. The only time I went to the laundromat was when I washed quilts and large comforters. Truth be told, they didn't really fit in my washer or dryer so this was going to happen anyway.

What modern convenience could you live without?

Thanks for reading,
Erica


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Start Planning and Prepping Your Garden Now For A Successful Garden This Summer (And Years After!)


Gardening is a wondrous thing. You just go to the gardening center and buy whatever looks good. You put seeds in the ground and plant some plants. Voila! You have growing things and eventually, some produce to eat. Gardening just seems that easy, doesn't it?

Reality check! You spent all that money on seeds and plants. You watered. But your garden isn't growing very well. Some of your plants have died. Whole rows of seeds didn't come up. Rabbits ate your tomato plants. Your garden is starting to look like a disaster!

Most people have this idea that you can just stick some plants and seeds in the ground and you have a garden. I read about a lot of people who plan to garden after some disaster, but never have gardened before in their life. I read about how they used to garden with their grandma 30-40 years ago and they think they still remember how to do it. Most people do not understand that gardening is more than planting.

You need to start planning and prepping your garden now if you want a successful garden later on. You can do things now that will ensure success this summer and will yield a better producing garden for years to come.

How do you start planning and prepping your garden now? There is still snow on the ground and winter is still here! Trust me, there is a lot you can do now!

1. What planting zone do you live in? You need to figure that out. That will make a difference in when you start plants, when you can put certain plants in the ground, and what you can plant. Not all planting zones are equal. Some plants do great in zones 7-9, but won't even work in zones 3-5 without a greenhouse and a lot of coddling. You may be able to start planting some cooler crops in  April in zone 5, but wouldn't even consider it in zone 3. Check out your planting zone here!

2. What do you want to plant? Look at what you eat. You might want to try all these cool vegetables you find in the gardening centers. However if you or your family won't eat them, then you just wasted time, space, and money. Do you eat a lot of salads? Plant lettuce mixes, spinach, radishes, cherry tomatoes, etc. Do you use pizza sauce, pasta sauce, and salsa? Plant tomatoes, peppers, oregano, onions, etc. Look at what you eat.

However, don't be afraid to try 2-3 new things just to see what they are like - just don't go crazy and plant several rows. A couple of plants each will do just fine for experimentation!

3. When should those plants and seeds go in the ground? Make a schedule of when you should be starting plants in the house and when plants and seeds should be planted outside. If you don't want to start your own plants, that is fine. It is a skill you should learn but can be intimidating for a beginning gardener. However, make a plan for when you should be planting in your garden. Find out when your frost date is for your planning zone and make a plan from there. Some plants can handle being nipped by the frost, but a lot of plants can not!

4. Plan out your garden on paper. You know what you want to plant, now how do you want to plant them? I would recommend getting the book Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening. Some plants should not be planted beside other plants because they will not grow well together. You also need to research how much room your plants need to grow. Sometimes you can plant closer together, but squash, pumpkin, and cucumber plants will need room to spread out.

5. Are you considering edible perennials? Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, asparagus, and more are great additions to any garden. You might want to consider planting these outside of the garden, but definitely, include them in your gardening plans. Any plant that can produce year after year with some minimal maintenance is a great idea.

6. Do you currently have a garden? If you currently have a garden, you need to add to your soil. Compost, manure/used bedding, and peat moss will help get your soil into a growing state of mind. If you are not sure what your soil needs, take a sample of dirt to your local extension office to get it tested. Most soils will need some kind of fertilizer whether it is organic or non-organic. You can add compost or manure to your garden now by just laying it on top. You can always till it when the ground thaws.

7. Do you need to dig a garden bed? Are you considering raised beds? If you are starting a new garden or building raised beds, map out where you are putting them in your yard. Do some research on your soil and what you may need to add to it. If you are starting raised beds, you will need good black soil, compost or manure, and maybe a little sand to keep the soil from compacting. Make sure your new beds are big enough for what you want to plant or you may need to amend your planting plans.

8. Do you need a tiller or do you need to find one to rent/borrow? I firmly believe in tilling the garden every spring to loosen up the dirt and break up the first weeds trying to grow. I have heavy black clay soil so it needs to be broken up every year. If you don't have a tiller, you need to find one to use. A lot of rental centers have them available for a couple of hours or half days. However, you might be able to find someone to till your garden for you which is great! They might want some compensation, but would be cheaper than buying or renting one.

9. How do you plan to manage weeds in your garden? You do this in a few ways. You can weed the garden yourself which can be great therapy. You can lay mulch down, but research what plants like to have as mulch. You can lay plastic or cardboard down between the rows to block out weeds. Figure out what works for you and how much time you have on hand to weed the garden.

10. How do you want to water the garden? As much as it would be nice to have a gentle rain soak the garden a few times a week all summer, that is not going to happen. Last year, we had one wet month followed by one and half very dry months. We ran hoses and sprinklers to the garden to water. You need to have a plan for watering the garden. How will you do it? Do you have an outside water source or will you be hauling buckets of water? Can you add an outside water source (faucet, rain barrels, etc.)? Some people use a drip system or soaker hoses to water their garden which would be worth looking into?

This covers the basics of gardening and getting your garden started. The goal of gardening is to produce vegetables and fruits. From someone who has been gardening for awhile and learned the hard way more than once, you will have successes and failures. Your first-year garden may not be the best garden, but there are things you can do to ensure good results.

Thanks for reading,
Erica


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Top Ten Posts for 2017

Monday, January 1, 2018

10 Homesteading Goals You Should Be Setting This Year


Homesteading is one of those things that just does not work if you don't have a plan. Part of that plan is setting goals. What do you want to accomplish on your homestead and what do you envision your homestead to be? The possibilities are endless, but you need goals and a plan!

10 Homesteading Goals You Should Be Setting This Year

1. Expand the garden. While you should always grow what you eat, consider expanding your garden to cover more of your personal food needs. I like making my own sauces so that is what I have been focusing on. However, I need to think of vegetables that will winter well in a root cellar too to provide more food over the winter.

2. Plant more fruit and nut trees. Part of homesteading is providing your own food needs and having more food-based trees helps do that. I know we need to add more pear and apple trees to our homestead as well as more elderberry bushes. We already have plenty of walnut trees, but I would like to look at other nut trees.

3. Consider expanding your livestock. If you have chicken layers, the next step might be meat chicks. Turkeys, geese, and ducks would also help add to your meat needs while being fairly low maintenance birds to have on the homestead. Maybe you are ready to take the next step for pigs or goats. Maybe the next step is a feeder steer or a dairy cow. On a homestead, the idea is to raise your meat and eggs. How can you do that?


4.  Raise produce and livestock for profit. While running a homestead is great, cash flow to keep running the homestead helps with the stress. Whether you are selling eggs, selling produce at a farmers market, or raising meat for other people, that cash flow will help cover the cost of feed and other implements needed for the homestead.

5. What part of homesteading do you want to make simpler? Homesteading is about having a simpler life away from the modern consumerism of society. However, homesteading can be anything but simple. You should figure out ways to make your homesteading journey a little simpler and easier for you.

6. Learn new skills. What skills do you want to learn this next year? Butchering animals? Soap making? Canning? Dehydrating? Making lard or tallow? Sewing? The list of skills to learn can be endless, but find three that you want to learn and devote some time to it. Watch videos, read books and buy the supplies so you can practice and learn. The only way to fail at learning skills is to not start.

7. What would make homesteading easier? Is there a tool or a vehicle you want to purchase to make homesteading easier? Come up with a purchase plan or figure out a way to rent/borrow what you need to make your homesteading life easier. Backbreaking work is only fun for so long and then you lose interest. Personally, a four-wheeler with a trailer would be divine for our homestead this Spring!


8. Do you need to relocate? Are you an urban homesteader that wants to be a rural homesteader? Do you want to live in a different area? What would you need to do to make that happen? Some goals are meant for you to dream big and set a plan in action. If you are not happy where you are at, what do you need to do to give yourself the homestead of your dreams?

9. What projects do you need to tackle this year? Do you need to put up buildings? Build fence? Enlarge or fence in the garden? Fix or maintain buildings? The list of things to do can be endless on a homestead, but guess what? That list is a list of goals for you to attain and cross off!


10. Gather knowledge. While homesteading is a lot of learning by experience, being knowledgeable about what you are doing helps greatly. Whether you are watching videos, reading books, or talking to/working with more experienced homesteaders, you should be constantly learning.

What homesteading goals do you want to set this coming year?

Thanks for reading,
Erica


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

9 Ways You Can Light Up Your Home When The Power Is Out


The power has gone out! Now what?

The power going out can be scary and discomforting especially if you have kids. You need to have some ways to light up whatever you are doing. You need to provide some light to give comfort and make the time go by faster. 

Some lights have better uses than other lights. Some lights will be just for lighting up the room enough to walk around in. Some lights will help you see what you are doing or reading. All these options will be great for camping or being outside after dark. Every light listed below will have a purpose and a place in your preps.

Here is the thing about having non-electric lights. You need to have a very good supply of batteries on hand at all times. Most of these options will probably take batteries.

9 Ways You Can Light Up Your Home When The Power Is Out

1. Flashlights. These are just handy to have all the time. You can buy some of the cheap ones and some expensive ones. We keep the cheap little ones in almost every room of our house including the bedrooms. You should always have a flashlight in a night table drawer or beside the bed.

You can buy different kinds of flashlights too. You can buy the battery powered ones and I recommend that. You can also buy hand-cranked and/or solar powered flashlights. I have a few of these and they can be useful, but they take a fair amount of cranking and their time of use is limited. However, they are rechargeable.

2. Headlamps. Headlamps are handy to have. They make working on anything in the dark a bit easier. If you are trying to read or sew in the dark, they work well for that too. I would have one of these for every member of the family too.

3. Booklights. These are great to have on hand to read. I would give these to kids to read, color, draw, or anything else that will keep them occupied during a power outage.

4. LED and Battery Powered Lanterns. These are very handy to have. They are a favorite of my kids to use because the light is pretty bright. You can read and do a fair amount with the light they give off. If you are looking for something to hang from a ceiling or a hook, these lanterns will work for that and be safe to use. I would also check out these hanging camping lights for the same purpose.

5. Oil Lanterns. These are nice to have on hand. I would use the LED Lanterns if you are moving around much, but the oil lanterns are good to use in a room that needs light to move around in. As always, be careful using these around children. If you use oil lanterns, be sure to keep a supply of lamp wicks and fuel to keep these lanterns going. The oil lanterns have a lot of different choices including glass, metal, lamp oil, kerosene, and much more. This is my preferred lantern, but you should choose what works best for you.

6. Candles. Candles are great for lighting up an area and keeping the dark out. Candles can be reassuring to those who are afraid of the dark. While candles that smell are good to burn, you really want long lasting, odorless candles. Plus. smelly candles can be overwhelming after awhile. I would stock up on plain white tapered candles, emergency candles, and these 100+ hour emergency candles.

7. Propane Lanterns. Propane lanterns are good to have in an emergency situation. I would not use these indoors unless you have excellent ventilation. However, these are very good to have working outside or to have to be in a tent for any length of time.

8. Battery Powered String Lights. These will be like candles. They will provide a nice glow for a room and will make the power outage less scary especially for kids. These may not seem important, but I would keep a few on hand to help light a bedroom or a bathroom.

9. Solar Powered Lights. Whether you use indoor or outdoor solar powered lights, I would keep a good stock of these on hand. The power of the solar lights will vary, but they are rechargeable which is ideal in a situation with no power. As long as you are getting some light during the day, you can run these at night until everyone goes to bed. Just make sure you are charging these outside or by a southern exposed window to get the best charge during the day.

With any kind of light, you need to use some common sense. Battery or solar powered lights would be your best choice for emergency situations. They will not be dangerous to use most of the time and would be a brighter light to use. They are generally rechargeable or will just need new batteries.

If you do use candles, oil lanterns, or propane lanterns, you need to have good ventilation, exercise caution and be careful where you use them. You need to keep children away from these things until they can understand the dangers involved with using gas and fire. You need to make sure nothing gets smoky. Fuel containers need to be free from damage and in appropriate containers.

I realize some of you have generators and your lighting options would be better. Most plug-in lights take minimal wattage and would not drain a generator. However, I would still want to use non-electric lighting instead of wasting the fuel from a generator on lights. That is your choice though.

What is your lighting preference when the power is out?

Thanks for reading,
Erica


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