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.

 

TIO&OIN – it’s not just for Navy Seals

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This expression has come to be a mantra in our family. In fact, recently one of my youngsters was snacking on some freshly made cookies and asked me for another…

“After all”, she said, “two is one and one is none!” ¬†

Of course, she knew what we really mean when we say that, but her clever use of this common phrase gave me a smile. A real proud father moment!¬† She got the cookie for her efforts and – because I’m a sucker.

The real concept this term represents is about redundancy, and in my view, specifically redundant capability.

What’s the difference?

If you were to buy two cheap kitchen knives that turn out to have the same defective design flaw – congratulations – you’ll soon have two broken defective knives! You’re not in a better place for having two because of the common weakness the knives share. Had you bought two different kitchen knives, your chances of having a working kitchen knife would have been much greater.

TIO&OIN is about much more than having duplicates, it’s about having multiple means to accomplish the same thing, but in different ways and often with different resources.

On a homestead that can look like a lot of things…

  • Raising multiple kinds of animals for food.
  • Raising multiple varieties of chickens so that their strengths and weaknesses don’t result in any period of lack.
  • Raising ducks and chickens for eggs in order to get more consistent eggs supply.
  • Keeping more than one generator, and/or more than one fuel source.
  • Planting vegetables and fruits in different spots and different plantings.
  • Having a backup heat source for your home.
  • Having mozzarella¬†and parmesan cheese ūüėČ

The reality is… things go wrong in life. Plan on it! Tailor your life and resources to have multiple, diverse redundancies in place. This mindset, when permitted to permeate your life, adds good things to your life. Imagine adding these concepts to your finances, health, knowledge and more?

Careful though… one area this doesn’t work well is romantic relationships. In that case, the abbreviated cousin expression applies here:

“two is none”.

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!

The $2, 20-minute neck-breaking prevention for icy homesteads

Where we live in northern Pennsylvania, winter is some combination of snow, rain, muck and ice. We occasionally see some sunshine in there too!

Mud and ice make for miserable homesteading conditions. Whether it’s navigating steep and slick terrain to cut firewood, or taking care of livestock on icy mornings, opportunities abound for slipping and injury.

We’ve tried shoe spikes that we pull on and pull off, but they are clunky, expensive, and prone to jettisoning off our boots when we’re not looking, and I’ve got better things to do than search 25 acres of woods for a missing shoe spike, especially if that means hopping on the remaining spiked foot!

At our house, Muck Boots¬†(what I like to call “homesteader flip-flops”) can be found in abundance. Since they cost so much, we hate to throw them out when we get a new pair.

Since we don’t need serious traction all the time, we’ve opted to turn our old much boots into Mad Max-styled, all-traction homesteading boots – and we’ve done so for very little investment. These things have some wicked-good traction!

The solution is simple and requires about 20 minutes, a bag of 1/2″ hex-head sheet metal screws, a screwdriver, and some old footwear (unless you don’t mind taking the screws out at winter’s end). Some slick surfaces for testing might also help.

We’ve found that hex heads work the best¬†because there is a tiny lip around the edges that provides the bulk of the traction.

 

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We use about a 1/2″ to 5/8″ sheet metal screw with a hex head.

 

 

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Notice the hex heads have a lip around the outside. This seems to make all the difference for traction. They’re like mini ice spike.

 

The process is simple. Using an appropriate screwdriver, just press slightly into the rubber sole of your boots and begin to turn the screwdriver. It will begin to bite into the rubber sole and once it does, just screw it in until the head of the screw comes to rest on the sole of the boot. There is no need to over-tighten. You’ll need to routinely replace an occasional screw as it is.

 

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The effort is pretty minimal to get these to go into muck boot soles. Upon removing them, the holes are hardly noticeable.

 

Pick whatever pattern you want. This is how I have mine:

 

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The pattern I use

 

These things are the bomb! We could run a sprint across a sheet of ice and not even think about slipping! Perfect for the icy days we encounter, and really helpful in most of the mud and muck we get as well!

You might be wondering… “will these poke through and stab my foot?” Well, we’ve not encountered that so far, even with kids boots. If you’re uncertain, start out by putting one or two in the heel and test it out. Proceed with a few more at a time, testing them along the way and see how they feel.

You might also be wondering… “will the holes let the water and muck into the boots?”. We’ve not encountered this yet. It doesn’t appear that the holes are deep enough for such, which is also why they probably cannot be felt.

You might consider adding in a glue of sorts of you’re super-concerned about water infiltration, or screws coming out. We’ve not felt the need but could see where it might be helpful.