Inexpensive plant edging

We were growing tired of trying to keep the grass encroaching on our blueberries, so we decided we needed to surround them with some sort of barrier. Unfortunately, most of the barriers sold at big box stores were over-priced and not the most fun to install.

In our neck of the woods, barrels like the one below can be purchased for about $8 used.

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Photo from bascousa.com 

We had the idea of taking a barrel, cutting off the top and bottom, and then cutting the barrel into slices horizontally. Doing so, we were able to get about 6-8  slices, leaving us planting rings that were roughly 3-4″ tall and about 24″ in diameter. The size was just right for surrounding our blueberries.

We then lightly tapped these into the ground and mulched only within the planter ring. The rest of the patch we filled with left-over decorative gravel from our kitchen garden bed project.

The results looked like this:

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Here is a slightly better angle:

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Potential pitfalls of hyper-frugality

Frugality often seems to go hand-in-hand with the homesteading crowd. People naturally inclined to do things for themselves that others rely upon others to do results in such, or maybe it’s the other way around?

Frugality is great… but can one get carried away with it? This is what I would call “hyper-frugality” – being frugal to the point of working against yourself.

Has anyone ever said on their deathbed “it’s been a good life…I’ve saved all sorts of money!”? I doubt it. Saving money for saving it sake is kinda pointless. Frugality should lead to freedom from need, not delaying real needs to “save”. The latter doesn’t really accomplish anything and just robs from the present with some hope of future benefit that may or may not ever come.

So consider this, even if it feels controversial to do so:  Some things should not be waited upon until they are, or feel affordable. If you do so, oftentimes you’re not taking advantage of that thing when you need it the most! Here are a few examples:

The kitchen:

On our homestead, the kitchen is command central. Like many, we’ve used odds and ends for kitchen gear. Frugality has prevented us from investing in the nicer things we’ve really enjoyed. That is, until recently it occurred to us… if ever there were a time to have the best kitchen stuff, it would be now, at the time in life when we use it the most! When the kids are grown and on their own, we might be more able to afford those things but will have far less occasion for their use. That just doesn’t make sense! So, we’ve been investing in higher-quality kitchen items that hopefully will make the next twenty years of meal preparation, canning, and freezing much much better. That isn’t to say that quality cannot be obtained inexpensively, it sure can, but that is the exception more than the rule in our experience.

The workshop:

I grew up in a home we always had what I’d call “Big Lots tools” – the kind of tools that one finds in the checkout line at the drugstore. You know, ratchets that freely spin no matter what direction you attempt and hammers with handles the size of your pinky. We never had good tools!

While I’m on that subject… As a newlywed back in the day, it bugged me that people threw wedding showers for the ladies and showed them with every manner of implement for their new home, yet few men did this for the fellas. It would have been awesome to have a tool shower as a newlywed man. A time and place to give a guy the stuff he’ll need to look after some of the DIY needs he’ll encounter. Let’s start a new tradition of showering new families with all sorts of stuff they’ll need!

A while back, it also occurred to us… homesteading is a very tool-intensive, and resource-intensive endeavor. There is almost always something to fix or build. What sense does it make to choose frugality over quality when it comes to equipping your homestead with the best tools for those jobs? This is one of those cases, where hyper-frugality can work against your homestead. If you aim to be homesteading a long time, buy the absolute best tools you can manage and as many of the tools you’ll need as you can manage. Same goes for a good work area. We regretfully didn’t build a good workshop until four plus years into our endeavor. I’ve since kicked myself for making those four years exceedingly cumbersome when a work area would have really made that time much more efficient.

In summary, don’t be afraid to invest, even heavily, into the core operations of your home and homestead. It might feel really scary to plunk down some serious money on such things, but it will reap dividends.

Ten Reflections of a seasoned chicken wrangler

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We’ve been keeping chickens for nearly a decade (9 years actually) – certainly a lot less than some, but enough to be ‘seasoned’ in the same sense that a cast iron skillet could be considered so after as much time.

We’ve had a lot of failures and frustrations along the way, but enough enjoyment, fresh eggs, pasture-raised meat, and joy to offset the negative times.

Below are just some observations and reflections from our experiences.

Chickens don’t smell so nice.

I love Joel Salatin, but he must have some secret sauce up his sleeve, or just really dull olfactory senses. We’ve given our chickens premium food, premium space, good housing and more, and you know what? They wreak!  In fact, aside from their closest competitors for stink – rabbits, chickens are just about the smelliest of farm animals we’ve owned.

Meat chickens even more so and among meat chickens,  Cornish-X meat chickens are the worst for offensive odors. I am sure that some have figured out how to reduce this, but it must require entirely free-ranging chickens.

Roosters can be an enjoyable part of your flock.

Operative expression: “can be”. A rooster with a nice disposition will help create a pretty calm and healthy flock. Hens seem to enjoy having them around, and their ‘shepherding’ skills can be very helpful and healthy for the flock. We enjoy the crowing and quite honestly, don’t get why people don’t.

It is hard to have too many hens, but very easy to have too many roosters!

Though we enjoy roosters, you can have too many, and when you do – it’s like an MMA cage fight to the death – only over time. Roosters will edge out the weaker roosters after a protracted period of rooster gang wars. It can be brutal to behold.

Chickens die, get used to it.

I don’t mean that chickens die more often that other animals, but they aren’t immortal. While we like to keep healthy animals, sometimes a chicken just isn’t long for this world. As a homesteader, I don’t want weak chickens in my flock. If they survive illness, great – that’s a good trait to have, but if they don’t and perish, it’s best to just move on (assuming you’re not seeing huge mortality rates). Chickens are not the hardiest of creatures, though some more so than others. When a chicken appears to be on death’s door, it probably is. Decide if you’ll hasten the process, or spend your time trying to nurse it back to health.

Hens spend their lives providing you eggs, don’t turn them into soup.

Old hens are hardly tasty and in our opinion, not worth the effort to cull for food. They spend their lives providing eggs for our family, the least we could do is allow them to live out their days in peace. Yes, they will consume food. Yes, it might not be economical. For us, it feels like the right thing to do. They don’t generally stop laying eggs entirely, they just slow down some. They’re can still contribute, they’re just beyond their prime. We wouldn’t support killing the senior citizens among us because they stop working, why hens?

Low egg production is ok!

We don’t light our coops during the colder darker months. Give the chickens a break. Get more of them to increase production. Again, not economical, but also allows chickens to have the break their creator designed them to have.

Happy chickens = more eggs.

We notice that when we withhold table scraps to the chickens, we get less egg production, despite the layers have plenty of high-quality feed and water. They just enjoy table scraps! When we have pigs, they often get the bulk of table scraps, and the chickens protest by providing less eggs.

Meat chickens are worth the hassle.

Despite being a messy and stinky job, raising meat chickens has been worth. We’ve done from 50-100 a year for our family and the results have been great. It’s a very economical means to get high-quality meat for the freezer or canning.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small investment that yields big results.

Give chickens animal protein occasionally.

Chickens enjoy meat. If you can manage to give them some to eat, they’ll be happier. Don’t worry, they won’t turn into aggressive attack chickens. If you raise other meat, you probably have the opportunity to feed them some of the byproducts of doing so. Ofal (heart, lungs, livers, insides, etc) can be a real treat for chickens, and make use out of something many have few other uses for.

Chickens need air.

Duh, all animals need air, right? Yeah, but chickens need more flowing air than most animals and may seem counter-intuitive to new chicken owners. Chickens don’t have the most robust of respiratory systems (one reason they get sick relatively easy). Don’t build an airtight coop believing your little chickies are gonna be nice and snug – you’ll just be subjecting them to harsher conditions. Allow for some airflow, particularly at or above their head level where they’re roosting.

A simple, strong materials rack for the workshop

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I like to keep my materials up and outta the way, mostly because I am a procrastinator and don’t get to things right away (I’ve been thinking about changing, but…. I haven’t gotten to it yet).

I wanted something simple and durable. So I just picked up a few 3/4″ pipe flanges, a few sections of 3/4″ x 12″ pipe, and a few caps. I didn’t want to wait until I could get some pipe insulation because in addition to being a procrastinator, I’m also impatient (which means I can’t wait to stop procrastinating), so I opted to repurpose a pool noodle with a coordinating color for the purpose.

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I just cut this to lenght with my pocket knife, cut a slit down the middle, then secured each pipe flange to a stud using one 3-1/2″ exterior grade screw and one 4 1/2″ lag screws (that I already had). I wouldn’t try to hoist an engine off of these, but they seem plenty strong for holding misc materials.

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One note: I would recommend cleaning the pipes off with a good degreaser prior to use, it will make for much less mess and grime.

 

Talenti – The best gelato for your home workshop

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Yeah, you read that right! Gelato for the workshop! Well… sorta anyway.

We are big suckers for a good gelato, and especially for our favorite brand of gelato,  Talenti Gelato. (Twitter: )

Aside from having some of the creamiest, tastiest, most awesome and pleasure-inducing gelato around, you get a pretty nifty and surprisingly durable and useful container that is perfect for your workshop (or sewing nook, barn, garage, etc)

They’re excellent for small parts, screws, nicknacks, and those pesky other random things you can’t usually find a home for.

So do yourself and the ones you love (and your workshop) a favor and go get some. You’ll enjoy eating it and have a useful storage container when you’re through!

 

 

Don’t forget beauty on your homestead

One thing that has often bugged us with many homesteading approaches is what we would call a hyper-practical approach that many employ. We sometimes refer to this as ‘pallet homesteading’ because of the widespread practice among this crowd of fashioning damn-near everything out of pallets. Pallet buildings, fencing, furniture, etc. Now before you flame us as being anti-pallet, realize that we DO use them!

Here is a pallet chicken coop (before we finished it) on our own property…

 

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Our pallet chicken coop

 

Like many homesteaders, we enjoy resourcefulness, upcycling, etc. – however… we’re not into a homestead that looks straight out of the Great Depression, especially so we can feel like some sort of hero for having saved $10. If we were living during such a time, and that is the best we could do, fine, but for the moment, thankfully we aren’t. Look for a separate post or two from us regarding our thoughts on hyper-frugality.

One of our favorite authors, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms writes that farming and the production of food should be aesthetic pleasing, aromatic, sensual and even romantic pleasure. We would agree! We would summarize all those things as “beauty” and where possible aim to make our homestead as beautiful as possible. To some this is vain, for us, it’s about joy. We are here all the time and want to enjoy where we live. Investing in your home and property – even in what feels superficial, can be a very good and noble thing to do.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so for some, that may result in pallet homesteading, old tires for garden beds, and the like. If that’s your thing, go for it. Our point isn’t to discourage frugality or resourcefulness. Rather, our encouragement is: don’t forget beauty in the process of homesteading.

Hopefully, you’re going to be homesteading for a long time and live where you live for a long time. Someone will inherit your space after you. Don’t be stingy, invest in the beautiful on your homestead, even if it doesn’t directly result in food in the pantry or freezer. For many, this will be hard and may require revolutionizing your worldview, especially if you gravitate towards being stingy. In our experience, this can be harder for men than women. Men might want to give their gals a new casserole dish for a special occasion when their gal would much rather have flowers or an updated garden bed. Beauty is important!

Let us encourage you with this… beauty feeds the soul, first and foremost, the souls living on your homestead – including your own! Secondly, it will feed the souls of those who will visit your homestead. Beauty creates warm, welcoming, and hospitable places to welcome the weary, including yourself. A beautiful homestead delights your soul and brings health to your bones. It’s nice to look with pleasure on your land after a long hard day of working in the garden or orchard. Invest in it!

 

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.