Anyone can homestead – today!

We get it.. we’ve been there… longing for better days ahead when we might have more land, more time, more space, more dollars… The future is always so elusive and discouraging at times! Hope often seems to disappoint us, doesn’t it?

One of the worst mindsets to fall into for someone striving for hoped-upon future – whether that being grid-independence, homesteading, self-employment, or anything – is thinking it all has to happen right now. Impatience can prevent you from taking any steps towards your goals.

Regardless of your situation today, there are things you can do TODAY to prepare you for your future homestead:

Develop your library

You’re going to need to know a lot to live a homestead lifestyle, especially if off-grid or off-grid capable (“OGC”). Sure, you can learn a lot on YouTube, but do you really want to rely on a service that could be there one day and gone the next? Invest in real, paper-based, low-tech books about subjects you want and need to know about. Energy, plumbing, building, gardening,

Learn skills that you can put into practice now

Some skills that you’ll need can be pursued in almost any environment.

  • Food preservation is one such skill.
    • Learn to home can food
    • Learn to dehydrate food
    • Learn to make preserves
    • Learn to pickle
    • Learn to make fermented food and drinks
  • Learn to knit
  • Learn to sew
  • Learn about electricity
  • Learn about plumbing
  • Learn first-aid and CPR (hopefully, you’ll not need the latter!)

Get to know others around you who are homesteading and, off-grid or off-grid-capable

Ask around to find out who in your area or community is already living these kinds of lives. Who is it that raises their own food, produces their own energy, etc? Make an effort to get to know these people and learn how they live. Most, after getting over the initial awkwardness of wondering who you are, will probably be inclined to share their knowledge and insights with you. Bring cookies¬† – it will help! Or canning jars ūüėÄ

Volunteer to help those already doing it

Once you find people living the lifestyle you hope to live, offer your time to help – even if it’s not much. Firstly, if you don’t have time to help now, you definitely won’t have time to live this lifestyle! Secondly, there is a lot of hard-work and time involved in living a homestead or off-grid/capable life. Helping those already doing it would be appreciated and you’ll gain first-hand knowledge and experience that could serve you well for decades. Consider it mentoring! You’ll also see first-hand what it is really like and know for yourself what you might be getting into. Many could save themselves great expense and hardship doing a “try before you buy” run at homesteading.

Look for classes about related subjects

Many municipalities offer classes to their citizens. The land-grant university system resulted in most counties having an Extension Office. These Extension Offices often teach many useful classes on gardening, composting, and other useful skills. They’ll also put you in touch with like-minded people. Learn how to garden. Learn how to weld. Learn how to shoot a firearm.

Get to know senior citizens

Most senior citizens alive today grew up in a time when many of the skills necessary for living these lifestyles were commonplace. Get to know them, ask questions. They’ll likely be delighted to share their stories and knowledge with you and you’ll be honoring their experience and life by providing them the company.

Consider your energy consumption, then lower it

Many people are absolutely in the dark (pun not intended) about the ability to maintain their energy consumption habits in an off-grid or off-grid-capable context. For example,  the solar power necessary to support a home of several thousand square feet with all the modern amenities could cost $100k.

Living off-grid full-time or part-time requires changes to consumption habits, usage patterns, and also realistic expectations. No need to wait until later to start these. Begin today to set goals for reducing your energy consumption by a percentage. Once you achieve that, go to the next level and so forth. Doing so will be good training and also allow one to understand how much energy would be required to live off-grid.

 

Eight Essential attributes of an off-grid-capable ‘homesteader’

Homesteader? What is this about homesteading and off-grid-capable?

Living an off-grid-capable life, in many ways, could be fairly said to be a¬†form of homesteading. For some, that word might conjure up images of venturing out west on a covered-wagon train, eating meals of cornbread and beans, and hand-clearing a hundred acres of raw wilderness with an ax and saw. While that is indeed a form of homesteading, that isn’t what most are looking to do.

Dictionary.com defines homestead (in its verb form) as:

to acquire or settle on (land) as a homestead:

On the other hand, Mother Earth News (a magazine that is essentially the “Sports Illustrated” of self-sufficient living) defines homesteading as:

Today the word homesteading is more apt to refer to a lifestyle that promotes greater self sufficiency.

More: http://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/what-is-the-happy-homesteader.aspx

There are as many definitions of homesteading as there are homesteaders. From our experience, seeking to live an OGC life puts one mostly in the same boat as homesteaders – or makes you similar enough that it is easier to refer to those that do as such. Besides, “Off-grid-capable..ers” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

There are a few attributes found among homesteaders and those seeking to live the OGC lifestyle worth noting as essential:

1. Free thinking

For us, this journey began first by taking ownership of our thoughts, challenging our ideas, the ideas of others, and rejecting group-think.¬†Rather than merely accepting the status quo, we set out to learn and decide for ourselves what we believe (or don’t believe) to be true. We’re generally ‘told’ that food comes from the grocery store, power from the electric company, and approval comes from our peers. One cannot begin to disconnect their dependency on systems¬†without first challenging such dependencies in their thinking.

2. Self-reliance

Free-thinking can and should lead to new forms of self-reliance. At its core, self-reliance is self-responsibility. It is allowing the ownership of your mind to begin to move you toward taking ownership of specific areas of your life. As with thinking freely, this is an intentional decision to take ownership of aspects of your life rather than willfully or ignorantly delegating them to another party.

Self-reliance begins first with the conclusion that you are responsible for you. Certainly, there are times to make exceptions to this idea. For example, it wouldn’t be recommended to perform self-reliant open-heart surgery. They key is being self-reliant where possible, rational, and reasonable to do so.¬†It is not someone else’s responsibility to feed, clothe, provide and protect you – unless you are a minor, or mentally incapacitated in which case that responsibility resides with your parents or guardian.

As the one responsible for you and your family, you’ll¬†be required to learn, understand, and execute many things that will be essential to you and your family. This entails much learning, much hard work, and a considerable investment of your resources.

3. Community-reliance

Community-reliance is not often talked about in homesteading circles but should be.¬†Some may choose to try to do everything one’s self, but we feel this is a recipe for failure, if not fatigue and sadness.

Part of self-reliance is knowing when you’re not adequately able to handle some aspects of life on your own, and when it is in your own best interest to work together with others to that end.

Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts.  For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.  Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm?   And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken. РEcc. 4:9-12

4. Determination

Becoming responsible for yourself can be a daunting task. You may learn first-hand many hard lessons. You will be fatigued, discouraged, and disheartened. You will want to quit or go back to an easier life.

‚ÄúNothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race‚ÄĚ – Calvin Coolidge

5. Courage

Heading in a different direction that most are not is daunting. Taking ownership and responsibility for areas of your life that have always belonged to someone else is equally daunting! Courage is a necessary attribute for those wishing to sever their dependence on the grid.

Courage is a necessary attribute for those wishing to sever their dependence on “the grid” because now, that weight is on your own shoulders! “Is this the right thing to do?”, “Have I made a wise decision?”, “Will this work when I need it to?”, “Have I prepared this food in a way that won’t poison my children?”, “Are these solar panels wired properly so I won’t burn my home to the ground?”… the OGC life is filled with opportunities to doubt that will¬†require courage to overcome.

‚ÄúSuccess is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.‚ÄĚ – Winston Churchill

6. Optimism

I once heard that an optimist knows there’s always a light at the end of a tunnel, and just prays it isn’t a train!

Seriously… optimism is the willful choice (free thinking!) to keep hoping and believing in a good outcome. An optimist isn’t ignorant of the risks and challenges before them¬†but decides to steer their mind toward belief in a positive outcome despite these.

7. Desire to learn

An OGC lifestyle requires a lot of learning. Fortunately, learning is a lot of fun! When one decides to break their dependence on “the grid”, even if not going “off-grid”, they are agreeing to take responsibility of what would otherwise be handled by a much larger institution. One must become a subject matter expert, or at least proficient, in many areas: electricity, plumbing, heating, cooling, refrigeration and/or food preservation, gardening, farming, animal husbandry, weather, communications, security, et al. There is never an end to the learning involved in leaving the grid!

8. Hard work

When one is responsible for more of their life, more work results. Families who rely on the grocery store will spend little time obtaining their food. Being off-grid-capable and growing a portion of your own food requires a lot of hard work! Turning on a light switch is easy… monthly battery maintenance, cleaning solar panels, changing the oil in a generator, and tweaking your electric usage to stay within the capabilities of your energy – that is work!

Raised beds with pressure treated lumber?!

Pressure Treated?!

If you’ve ever looked into raised beds, you’ve likely looked for the materials to build them out of and, if wood, probably come across mixed advice when those discussions center around using pressure-treated (PT) wood.

Out of the abundance of caution, we’ve always steered clear of pressure treated wood – that is until recently. We decided we’d do our best to safeguard against what some worry about and see how it goes. We can’t help but believe that fresh produce grown in pressure-treated beds is any worse than most of the contexts where food comes from commercially. Furthermore, gardens near populations where pollution is a problem likely pose a higher risk of causing health issues.

To be clear, we’re NOT recommending you do this. We just decided to give it a shot and describe here how we built our beds. These instructions would be just as useful for non-treated lumber – they’d just last a lot longer.

Materials:

We started with these nifty raised bed blocks from Home Depot:

Next, we purchased our pressure-treated lumber. We were aiming to make long beds that were as wide as possible but still allow adults to reach the center of the bed from the edges. We ended up making beds that were approximately 5′ x 15′ and about 16.5″ deep (three courses of lumber) followed by another 1.5″ cap layer, so 18″.

Each bed required:

  • Beds
    • (12) corner blocks
    • (2) 1/2″ by 10′ rebar cut into 4 x 36″ pieces.
      • This leaves about 18″ of support in the ground.
    • (8) pressure treated 2″ x 6″ x 16′
      • 3 for each of the long sides
      • 2 for the long sides of the top frame
    • (4) pressure treated 2″ x 6″ x 10′
      • 3 cut at about half to form the short sides
      • 1 cut at about half to form the short sides of the top frame
    • Misc scrap wood for supports and accouterments
    • Screws
    • A dozen or so standard poly feed bags (scraps from animal feed).
    • Staples
    • Wood chips
    • Soil
  • Waterers:
    • (3) 10′ lengths of 4″ solid drain pipe (with flared ends)
    • (3) 90¬į drain pipe or schedule 40 PVC elbows
    • (2) 4″ PVC caps
    • PVC glue (primer probably not necessary here)

Tools needed

  • Circular saw
  • Small sledgehammer
  • Digging tools for leveling
  • Cordless driver (for screws)
  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Tri-square
  • Stapler
  • Tractor (filling 15′ x 5′ beds without a tractor is no fun!)

The process

We live on a mountain. Nothing is easy when you live on a mountain, except falling down the mountain or finding runoff water where it ought not be! Garden on a mountain long enough and you’re likely to have one leg grow longer than the other ūüėČ

Our first step in building the beds was to excavate flat areas for our beds. Oh, what fun. We used a combination of a backhoe, shovels, and many curse words.

Once excavated, we placed¬†the corner blocks, leveled and plumbed them to one another, then drove rebar into the ground through the first block of each corner, leaving ample rebar for the two additional courses. You don’t pound that all the way in until the bed is complete and ready for the top “frame”.

We then proceeded to place the lumber into the “grooves” of the blocks. They just sit in there in slots – no screws or nails. We added three “courses” to get the depth we desired. We used scrap wood to cut braces to screw vertically to the long sides to keep them tightly together (see two in the picture below).

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We used the scraps cut off of the top layer (45 degree cuts) to make side supports as seen on the end here. We fastened it all together with screws.

Now, we still have our concerns about pressure-treated lumber and want to minimize exposure as much as we can…

We have a massive amount of used feed bags so we decided to line the bed with them to keep the soil from having any direct contact with the pressure-treated wood.

Unfortunately, we got the idea for that after we put the top frame of the beds on, so we took the top frame off, stapled them to the top edge of the last course of the bed, and also to the bottom of the sides, making it nice and tight. We did it this way to keep the feed bags firmly attached and to avoid ugly fraying bag edges. Once the top frame goes on (with screws), it makes a nice clamp for the bags. The bed material holds the bags up against the wood.

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Here you can see the feed bags lining the bed. Only the brick edges have contact with the soil

Watering

We had prior experience with copious watering chores and decided to borrow some concepts from H√ľgelkultr for our raised beds. We did so first by adding about 1-2″ of wood chips to the bottom of the bed. This does a few things…. first, it helps to wick water up into the bed when it does rain, and then it holds it there quite well since there isn’t any easy opportunity for evaporation.

To be double sure that we would have drought-tolerant beds, we also added custom waterers made from 4″ PVC drain pipe. We drilled 1/32″ holes every few inches along each side of the pipe. If you were to look down the pipe so that the opening appeared as a circle, we drilled holes at about the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions, and about every 6 inches down the length of the pipe.

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The pipe is capped at one end and then has a small stack that extends out of the bed and is loosely capped for filling. Then the whole waterer pipe gets buried with wood chips.  We added wood chips to about the top of the pipe.

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Note: We added horizontal braces (made of cedar) to add support across the bed and prevent the sides from bowing under the weight of the soil. These also pin the waterer down firmly.

This approach results in about 6″ of woodchips in the bottom of the bed and an expedited way to get water into them. This left us with a remaining 12″ or so of planting depth.

The idea is to saturate the woodchips so that they retain moisture and cause deep rooting of plants. It is also to prevent water loss. For what it’s worth, just from our common rainfall, we did not do any watering on these beds this year and had pretty nice results. We used these waterers in other beds with the same result – NO watering.

Most people¬†water the surface of their garden beds, which requires a substantial volume to soak the root zone of the plants. It’s a waste of water and time in our experience. It also discourages deep rooting. This approach soaks all the rainfall UP into the bed as well as down from the surface and saturates the wood chips. From there it maintains an even moisture level that is almost impervious to evaporation through heat and wind. It is a huge time saver even without the watering pipes. We just used those so that if ever there is a long drought, we can maximize our watering efforts.

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Finally, we add a mix of mushroom soil, topsoil, and rabbit manure to the beds, followed by another thin layer of wood chips (to prevent evaporation and for mulch). All that was left was to plant them.

Note: We’ve had plenty of armchair gardeners critique using woodchips like this, but we can’t argue with our success. Forests don’t demand only composted leaf litter and debris take residence on the forest floor so demanding only heavily composted wood chips in garden beds is erroneous. We aren’t using as a soil amendment but as a soil cover. Even a cover of newspapers would be better than nothing! I’d rather have a cover of plastic than no cover. There is a word for uncovered landscapes – “desert”.

Lastly, we stained the outside exposed wood using Cabot Australian Timber Oil (“Carribean Walnut”). We love that stuff!

Summary

If we die of cancer, you the reader can point to this post and proclaim where we went wrong. If we don’t, we can at least enjoy these beds for a a decade or more and the fruits that we grow in them.

Please feel free to ask questions or share your experiences with pressure treated garden beds in the comments below.

“If anything happens, we’re coming to your place!” – reality check

Homesteaders are often naturally prepared people and as such, have more infrastructure available to them than your average North American household.

Prepared people hear expressions like the above on a routine basis. Here are some other derivatives:

“If the [ SHTF ] [ Apocalypse ] [ world ends] [ WWIII ], I/we are coming to your place!”

“If the [ SHTF ] [ Apocalypse ] [ world ends] [ WWIII ], I/we know where to go place!”

“I/We aren’t worried, we know where to go!”

If we had a dollar for every person who visits our homestead and says such things, we could probably finance another entire homestead!

A lot of people must be expecting terrible times ahead because a huge number of people say such things! Let’s hope those days never come! Nevertheless, if they do, we need to examine some (harsh) realities, shall we? Some of these realities might be harsh.

Reality: If you’re saying these things… you might be a narcissist!

Most homesteaders we’ve met are generous and giving people, and quite willing to help others. Nevertheless, most aren’t spending their time, energy and funds to secure yourself or your family in some future times of trouble. Did you really think they were?

Sure, some (us too) might have their wider family in-mind should such a need arise. Most of us are investing in our homesteads to offer our own families a certain quality of life in the present, and if necessary, the future as well.

Obtaining and maintaining a homestead is tremendously involved and expensive. While many homeowners struggle to provide for the mortgage and utilities, insurance, etc – homesteaders are doing all of those things along with financing and building entire infrastructures to produce food, energy, and more.

Many assume that you just throw up a solar panel in ten minutes and boom! Power! They also assume that growing food is “easy” – you just plant seeds and water them, right? When you seek your own energy and food (among other things), you’re becoming your own grocery store and power company. If you’re also homeschooling or self-employed, you’re also your own educational institution and employer.

If you think your electric and grocery bill is high, try building your own electric company and grocery store, library, and school!

Homesteading is very knowledge, labor and equipment intensive. Many homesteaders have forgone luxuries like vacations, entertainment, rest and relaxation in order to establish and maintain their homesteading lifestyle.

If you are assuming that you should profit from those efforts and sacrifices – having never participated in them – you’ve probably got some narcissistic characteristics!

 

Reality: If you’re saying these things… you stand a very high chance of meeting your demise if such calamities occur.

By saying these kinds of expressions, you’re confessing your own lack of preparation for an uncertain future. That should be reason enough to make changes. Would you tell your neighbors “if our house burns down, we’re hoping your homeowner’s insurance covers it!”.¬† Try that sometime! How are they going to feel about such?

If you’re not prepared, like or not,¬† you’re hoping to benefit from the preparation of others – either the government or the good graces of family, friends, and neighbors. Hopefully, people always make an effort to help others, but relying upon that is unwise and irresponsible. It’s a big country. The government can’t possibly meet the demands of everyone at once.

If you’re counting on the blood, sweat, and resources of everyone else to see you through hardship, you’re not only foolish but dangerously ill-equipped for the realities that such hard times would bring. You’d be making some woefully ignorant assumptions:

  1. That you’ll have the opportunity, means, and freedom to move to such places during a time of hardship.
  2. That such places will be present, operational, and willing to receive you in times of trouble.
  3. That such places won’t be overwhelmed by other unprepared people such as yourself, thus having very little to offer you.
  4. That resources alone are enough and that the knowledge, wisdom, and experience to go with them will just magically descend upon you when you arrive.
  5. That prepared people aren’t going to expect something of you that you might not have.
  6. That someone will embrace the burden of someone who has contributed nothing and at the expense of others they love and value.

A “plan” to go where others have done all the thinking and preparing for you is not a plan for your well-being. It’s a plan for your near-certain demise.

Two scriptures come to mind for those inclined to receive them:

A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences. – Proverbs 22:3 (NLT)

and

Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (NLT)

Reality: Most homesteaders aren’t entirely self-reliant.

Self-sufficiency/reliance – a goal of most homesteaders, is considerably difficult to achieve compared to most modern living. Most we know who are working towards such wouldn’t say they’ve reached it yet. Even the oft-referenced Amish who many assume to be totally resilient and who we relate to frequently aren’t self-reliant.

If the people trying daily – and some for generations – if they aren’t yet self-reliant, how far do you expect to get expecting those people to also care for the copious masses of ill-prepared persons like you should the need arise?

Reality: Some are unable to help themselves, but most can do so

Certainly, some are simply unable to do much for themselves to secure their own futures. The elderly and infirm might be an example. Though, most elderly folks we know are wise enough to be better prepared than most younger than them. What then is your excuse?

Nearly anyone can work towards making their lives more resilient. It is most often a matter of values.

We all tend to invest our resources into what we value. Many invest in their own pleasure while others invest in their own well-being. Why should you benefit from how your homesteading or prepared family or friends have invested?

If you have three months of savings in the bank but not three months of food in your cupboard – you simply value one above the other – and possibly to your own peril. You can’t eat your savings and you’re banking (no pun intended) that you’ll be able to retrieve your savings and use it in exchange for your material needs. History is replete with examples where that didn’t work out so well.

The logical person to best suited to look after your future well-being is…. drum roll… YOU! If it’s not important enough to you to look after your self and family, why on earth should it be important to others where you would plan on going in times of trouble?

Reality: Your best bet for receiving help from prepared people is now, not in the future.

The best help a prepared person can give the unprepared is encouragement, knowledge, and advice on how to be prepared before the need arises for such.

If you aren’t willing to receive that kind of assistance today, and won’t invest in such, it’s unrealistic and unjust to expect assistance later, once the train has left the station. Your opportunity is now. Take it or leave it.

Reality: You can have your cake and eat it too (sorta)!

Most basic needs boil down to this: calories, Watts, and BTUs¬† – all of which require much effort to produce or obtain. These aren’t any less expensive for prepared people than they would be for you.

We realize that not everyone can have a homestead, nor be a homesteader, nor would even want to be. We aren’t suggesting otherwise.

However, if you want to benefit from places where others have invested so that life would be easier or more comfortable in times of trouble, and you don’t wish to create such yourself, you can at least contribute to what others are doing. You can help a homesteader with their ongoing needs in producing those calories, Watts, and BTUs.

Rather than expecting you can just show up in a future time of trouble and consume, how about showing up now and pitching in? There are many ways you can help the homesteader and yourself form a more resilient future for one another:

  • Regularly visit your homesteading friends and inquire about what you see.
  • Offer to learn how things work, how chores are done.
  • Offer to homestead sit so friends can go out, get a break, or visit folks out of town.
  • Lend your time and labor to projects.
  • Build your own library and acquire knowledge useful to a homesteading operation.
  • Board your own animals on a homestead, go there and do the chores.
  • Join a CSA where people grow their own food and where you can participate in the labor. Learn how and where food is produced.
  • Where possible, purchase and stage your own provisions (ie: food, batteries, equipment) at such places. This way, if you need to go there in an uncertain time, your burden on such places is lighter and your contribution valuable.
  • Contribute your own resources toward things that help create infrastructure in places you might wish to go in times of trouble. This can be in the form of material goods, or your labor in helping things get established.
  • Procure resources and keep them at the ready that you could take with you to such places in times of trouble.

Certainly, someone who is well-stocked and/or has contributed toward the ongoing development and well-being of a homestead will be a welcome visitor if they arrive at the gate during a hard time. Those who haven’t would be at a great disadvantage.

Someone arriving with their own means of taking care of themselves or contributing to the greater good is going to be better off than someone with nothing to offer and no skin in the game.

Summary

Our intent here isn’t to scold anyone for making these statements or to express any lack of welcome or willingness to help others if the need arises. We’re quite willing to help others, as we are sure most homesteaders are.

However, since the majority of the population we encounter says things like this, it has occured to us how unrealistic and impossible it would be to help everyone who would need it. Truthfully, we ourselves are alarmed at how many people are inadequately prepared to meet their own needs and wrongfully expect that someone else will do so.

Bottom line: Take ownership in the responsibility for yourself and family, and at a minimum, contribute towards the lives and well-being of those you might wish to partner with during a difficult time.

Tractor tire types and their pros and cons for homesteading

Those new to tractors or considering a tractor for their homestead might be somewhat confused about the tire options available and the pros and cons of each. Here we aim to simplify the concepts for those considering such things.

Rear tire types

Turf Tires (R-3)

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R-3 Turf Tire

Turf tires are designed for just that – turf – as in grass. Turf tires are designed to operate on yards and grassy terrain without leaving behind tracks. Turf tires are the same kind of tire found on most riding lawn mowers.

Pros

  • Smoothest ride
  • Won’t leave tracks behind on well-drained lawns.
    • They can still tear up a yard that is muddy)
  • Usually the least expensive

Cons

  • Inferior traction compared to other tires.
  • Poor winter and wet weather performance.
    • This can be helped somewhat with wheel weights

Ideal uses

  • Tractors used for paved or well-graded driveway tasks.
  • Tractors used for lawn care on gentle sloping and flat yards.
  • Lawn or driveway maintenance.

Industrial Tires (R-4)

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R-4 Industrial Tire

R4 tires are sometimes called ‘industrial’ tires and share a common composition and tread pattern as tires used on industrial equipment such as skid steers and some fork lifts. The tread on R4 tires¬†has a barred pattern like an agricultural tire, but are more subdued. They are an all purpose tire that has more aggressive¬†tread than a turf tire but less so than an ag tire. If the tractor operator is careful, an R4 tire will not tear up dry lawns and surfaces and distributes the weight a bit more evenly than an ag tire.

Pros

  • Useful in a wide variety of uses and conditions.
  • Durable.
  • Better traction than a turf tire.
  • Causes minimal to no damage on lawns with careful operation.
  • Considered by many as a good all-purpose tire.

Cons

  • Rougher ride than a turf tire.
  • Slightly less traction than an ag tire.
  • Does not shed snow and mud quite as well as an ag tire.
  • Less aggressive tread than ag tires
  • The more aggressive the tread, the faster the wear in dry conditions or hard surfaces.

Ideal uses

  • General purpose homesteading where the tractor is used on a variety of surfaces, both hard and soft, or where some use on turf is likely.

Ag Tires (R-1/R-1W/R2)

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R-1 Ag Tire

Ag tires are primarily used for agricultural use where the equipment will be used for navigating across and through the uneven and rough terrain of farms, fields, etc. They have a very aggressive tread that sheds snow and mud superbly. Most common are R-1 and for those in wet mucky conditions, R-1W. R2 are more common in areas that are extremely wet such as rice paddies or cranberry bogs and not a likely choice for homesteading.

 

 

 

 

 

Pros

  • Aggressive, deep tire tread supplies superior traction and shedding of snow and mud – particularly R1W.
  • Best tire for not getting stuck
  • Excellent traction.

Cons

  • Larger tread equals more wear and possibly higher cost.
  • Very hard on lawns/turf
    • Leaves large ruts on soft ground.
  • Heavy tread also equates to a rougher ride on hard ground.

Ideal uses

  • Uses where the majority of the use is not on hard or established surfaces but on rough terrain.
  • Operation in mud and snow.
  • Operation in wetter conditions.

To Fill or Not to Fill

Tires are often filled with additional (usually liquids such as antifreeze or beat juice) material to add additional weight to the tractor. The weight of the tractor is very important to its function – perhaps even more important than the horsepower! The additional weight in the tires adds weight, and more importantly – ballast – to the tractor. In our opinion, the added ballast is essential when using a tractor a with front-end loader (“FEL”) since the loader will load the front of the tractor with heavy loads. Some account for this with weights added to the back frame of the tractor, however, this can be cumbersome to add and remove, or inhibit the use of some rear attachments.

Filling tires can make all the difference for traction and should be considered by those using their tractors for general purpose homesteading. It can be expensive (plan on a few hundred dollars for the pair of back tires) but is worthwhile for the added traction and safety.

For us, using weighted/filled tires made substantial improvements to the tractor and allowed us to use the tractor to work in places we were not able to use it prior to filled tires.

What about front tires?

Front tire selections are usually made from the same choices above, with a few additional options for one or more “ribs” on the tire that provide additional support.

Summary

The type of tires chosen for a homesteading tractor depends on how your tractor will be used. Each person and scenario are different. Some tractor owners mix the types placing one kind on the back of the tractor and another on the front. Before deciding, spend some time determining how your tractor will be used and the proportion of time it will be used in each scenario.

If you are worried about your lawn, but most of your tractor use is elsewhere, consider buying a dedicated mower and getting R4 or Ag tires on your tractor since there is no single “one-size-fits-all’ tire.

Consider scouting out places like Craigslist and auctions for potential extra tires for use in different scenarios. For some, it is worthwhile to maintain separate sets.

 

Building a Rainwater chicken waterer

We have built a LOT of chicken waterers in our years of chicken wrangling. They break, clog, or otherwise just become a pain to deal with. No matter the size, filling it is always irritating.

With that experience in mind, we set out to build an easy, affordable and quick to put together rain water chicken waterer.

The supplies

Note: that might not sound inexpensive to some – but bear in mind it has all be eliminated all water hauling for the chickens for about 9 months of the year and has eliminated the need to use well water for the same duration.

The process

Once the materials arrived, we simply laid out eight holes about 2″ up from the bottom of the barrel and drilled them (the drill bit size recommended comes with the packaging for the drinker cups).

Next, we screwed the cups in the filled the water up several inches above the cups to and let it sit a while to ensure there were no leaks.

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We then drilled a hole for the fill hose adapter that came with the rain barrel diverter and screwed in the adapter.

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We then took the waterer down to the coop where we installed the rain barrel diverter into the gutters of the coop. Per the directions, we installed this just a little bit above level with the rain barrel input hose. If it is too high, the overflow won’t easily flow back into the diverter. Too low and you won’t get any rain in your barrel. Installation was easy. Just make a cut in your gutter, slide the diverter on (requires some finagling) then trim down the excess gutter, insert

Installation was easy. Just make a cut in your gutter, slide the diverter on (requires some finagling) then trim down the excess gutter, insert it into the bottom of the diverter and re-attach all to the wall. Note: we found that this all worked best with some silicone caulk around the inside. Fiskars should really have designed this to slide INTO the gutter, not over it. Physics – duh!

 

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Easy diverter installation

 

Once all that was done, we simply trimmed down the hose to our desired length put the diverter into the ‘divert’ mode and waited for rain. What does that mean you ask? The inside flips over to direct all water down the spouting (ie. in the winter) or flipped the other way directs water first into the barrel. When the barrel is full, the back pressure of the water causes it to flow back into the diverter where it exits via the gutter.

The first mild rain filled the bucket half way. We’ve not watered our chickens by hand since the installation! We used our fingers to allow enough water to flow into each cup. From there the chickens figured it out quite quickly.

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Lessons learned

  • The Fiskars diverter works okay, but required caulking and some tweaking of the positioning to get the water flowing properly.
  • Take time to observe the water flowing into (hopefully) the barrel during a rain.
  • This won’t work when it begins to freeze, but sure saves labor and time until then!

Pastured Pork Pros and Cons

We’ve had a few seasons of raising pastured pork and are starting to understand the pros and cons. We aim to share them here for those who really want to understand some of the potential blessings and hardships associated with raising pastured pork.

We love Joel Salatin. It was largely his videos on pigs raised in the forest that got our feeble minds thinking we could do this. Nevertheless, an hour or two of his videos don’t adequately portray the months of experiences one will have raising pigs in a forest, meadow, field, or pasture.¬†Joel Salatin makes it look easy! It isn’t super hard, but it’s not super easy either.

First, the pros…

If you have a good docile breed, your pigs will be very happy in a pasture or woods vs a concrete slab (a common approach). Pigs are intelligent animals that enjoy exploration, space, community, and movement. Pastured pigs enjoy these in abundance.

If you plan on eating these pigs, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing they lived a very happy life (except one day).

Your pigs will taste better than the average pig (assuming you feed them good food). Remember, you are what you eat and you are what you eat eats!

They’ll clear your land of more or less all vegetation minus large trees.

They’ll fertilize your land and any land downstream from your land

If you intend to sell them, there is a potential market for pasture-raised pork.

Your pigs will taste better than any pork you could purchase at the store.

Pigs -especially piglets- are fun to watch and be around.

Pigs don’t require much infrastructure. If you get them young enough to train to an electric wire/fence, you can house them for very little. This is a huge plus compared to other homestead/farm animals. Only rabbits are simpler.

Pigs will make good use of your quality garden and kitchen waste. More of the calories you purchase or grow will end up feeding you if you have pigs.

Example. When we buy bushels of peaches to can, we skin them, can the fruit, then run the skins through a juicer. This gives us peach juice to freeze, can, or use in smoothies, and then some skin pulp and pits. The pigs will eat the skin pulp and the pits, leaving us with zero waste!

Now, the cons…

If you raise pigs in a field, forest, meadow, or pasture, that is where they’ll most likely be when you go to round them up for slaughter. This is NOT an easy task in many cases. Many YouTubers, movies, and bloggers have idyllic¬†photos and videos of homesteaders and farmers frolicking with their pigs. That may be true for about 5 minutes, or on days when you and they have nowhere special to be. As soon as you roll up with a trailer and they see you salivating at the thought of eating them as ham and bacon – you’ll soon find out how belligerent a pig can be!
A pig is a like an impetuous¬†300lb bodybuilding two-year-old. Catching them requires work and ingenuity. It might also take some nerves. A caught pig makes a lot of unsettling noise. If you have to deliver a live¬†animal to the butcher, it’s going to take some effort. On average, it takes us 70 minutes per pig to gather and place in a trailer. Oh, and that is for 4-5 strong and fit men (over the age of 16)!Pigs can feel intimidating, even if nice. They make noises that can be unnerving to some. When they do this while swarming you, especially when over 200lbs each, this can make a gal or fella a bit uneasy. They probably won’t hurt you, and are likely just wondering what goodies you might have brought to the party. Nevertheless, this can be a scary experience for new pig owners.Pigs create mud out of thin air. Seriously. You can have a nice dry patch of woods and inside of a few weeks, it will look like a scene from a National Geographic¬†report on catastrophic mud slides. Pigs create muck and in copious supply! Walking in said muck is tough. Add rain to that muck and it is very easy to be in mud up to mid-calf. In our very wet mountainside, this is discouraging at times. Your “pasture”, unless quite large, will likely be mostly a mud lot when the pigs are through with it.

Pigs can feel intimidating, even if nice. They make noises that can be unnerving to some. When they do this while swarming you, especially when over 200lbs each, this can make a gal or fella a bit uneasy. They probably won’t hurt you and are likely just wondering what goodies you might have brought to the party. Nevertheless, this can be a scary experience for new pig owners.

Pigs create mud out of thin air. Seriously. You can have a nice dry patch of woods and inside of a few weeks, it will look like a scene from a National Geographic¬†report on catastrophic mud slides. Pigs create muck and in copious supply! Walking in said muck is tough. Add rain to that muck and it is very easy to be in mud up to mid-calf. In our very wet mountainside, this is discouraging at times. Your “pasture”, unless quite large, will likely be mostly a mud lot when the pigs are through with it.

Pastured pigs take longer to raise (potentially). You can’t go by books written for commercial or economical pig-raising. Pigs raised on a 16′ square of concrete who cannot forage or root are going to fatten up much faster than a very fit and active pig galavanting throughout the forested glen or meadow.

Pigs that are being raised in the cold will dedicate some of their calories for staying warm rather than growing larger. This means it takes more feed. If you’re raising pastured pigs, you’re most-likely using quality feed, which means you will need MORE of it. All around, this makes for a more expensive pig. That’s okay! Just be realistic about it.

Pigs we start in October are ready in May. Pigs we start in July are ready in late Fed/March. This is a slower approach than most approaches geared toward solely economics. If you’re buying pastured pork, keep this in mind and don’t haggle with your farmer over the price. Pastured pork is more resource-intensive to raise to maturity

The majority of people who might want to buy your pork are used to grocery store prices. Most of those people will not¬†understand and therefore purchase your more expensive pork. All most consumers will think is that the sale paper pork is way less than yours. Ah, but you say you can raise them cheap! ¬†If your feed is entirely free – maybe.Pigs might eat anything/everything, but it doesn’t mean they should or that eating a pig that has eaten everything/anything is a good idea! Don’t get pigs thinking you’ll feed them the scraps from your town or community. Yes, they will eat it and get fat doing so – but you will be eating them and therefore eating the same scraps. Feed pigs quality feed and they’ll give you quality meat.

Pigs might eat anything/everything, but it doesn’t mean they should or that eating a pig that has eaten everything/anything is a good idea! Don’t get pigs thinking you’ll feed them the scraps from your town or community. Yes, they will eat it and get fat doing so – but you will be eating them and therefore eating the same scraps. Feed pigs quality feed and they’ll give you quality meat.

Pigs cannot always be butchered when you need them to be. Butchers have busy schedules and many butchers have seasons they do and don’t butcher pigs. Getting your butchering done when you and the pigs are ready might prove challenging. Select your butcher and understand their schedule before bringing home your pigs.

All in all, raising pigs has been a great experience – one that we intend to keep doing. However, it’s not without its challenges and knowing these beforehand can be helpful. Have a question or comment about raising pigs? Chime in below!