10
Jun

You Just Bought a House! Don’t Go Broke Making Improvements

by Tiffany in The Homestead

So you just bought a house. Congrats! A place of your very own, you are adulting for real now. You are probably itching to make the place the your own and who can blame you?

Tap the breaks just a wee bit though. Buying a new home can actually end up being way more expensive than you bargained for when you start decorating or begin a series of renovations. Now is the time to practice contentment and to track every penny in your budget because new home fever can set in and it can get ugly. Here are some tried and true tips to keep costs down and keep yourself in check.

  • While the rooms are empty, make a floor plan to scale of the house and yard, and perhaps get a new home notebook for plans, design ideas, and inspiration photos. Add receipts as you make purchases and do renovations so you know exactly how much you are spending. If you plan to sell at some point make sure your changes add value.
  • In this book or another, write out a timeline for improvements to help  you prioritize. This helps when you get an itch and you want things “right now”. You can afford anything, but not everything (yet). Stick to a plan.
  • Paint is pretty cheap. In fact it may be one of the cheapest ways to make a home new and fresh, so it is a good place to start. Once you have crisp, freshly painted walls, in a color (or colors) you love, you will be much more content.
  • Make sure all the bulbs in the house are energy efficient LEDs.
  • Call your local energy company to get a free or low cost energy audit. This will help you winterize and make your home more efficient.
  • Even if your inspection turned up no significant issues make sure to have a generous emergency fund for unexpected surprises.
  • After moving in look for “money sucks” in heating, cooling, and plumbing. These are not glamorous things to upgrade but if you fix them first you will have more money for the glamorous stuff later.
  • Check out Habitat for Humanity for things like ceiling fans, lighting, switch plates, windows, doors, cabinets, tiles, paint, and even furniture. There is no need to buy new if you don’t have to!
  • Down become consumed with filling empty spaces and rooms. Let that guest room remain empty, let the box springs sit on the floor, and get used to sparse furniture in a formal living room. Wait until you can afford to furnish these rooms with pieces you really love. It is worth the wait. When you try to fill them right away you almost always go for cheaper pieces you don’t actually love but you can afford OR you go into debt to get the stuff you want.
  • Plant trees, especially fruit trees. It is a small expense but one that few homeowners will regret. In a few years you will have lovely trees and/or fresh fruit. Don’t be that homeowner that waits a few years and wonders why in the heck they put it off.
  • If you need tools and equipment for fixes or improvements see about renting them or borrowing them. Don’t spend a fortune buying things you will use once!

Do you have any tips or wisdom to share for new home buyers?

Recommended: Love the Home You Have: Simple Ways to…Embrace Your Style *Get Organized *Delight in Where You Are

31
Mar

Living and Working Off the Grid

by Tiffany in The Homestead

Living and Working Off the GridYou’ve seen the old movies where there’s a cabin out in the middle of nowhere and the people utilize their talents to live off the land rather than work a 9 to 5 job.  If this appeals to you, even in the modern world this is still possible. You will have to do without some of the conveniences you take for granted, but if you’re tired of wasting your life away and want to enjoy more time doing things for you, this might be something to pursue. 

Purchase a piece of land

Before cutting strings with society and the modern conveniences make sure that you have a clear plan in place and stick to it. First, you’ll need to purchase a piece of land. Shop around for a farmer who may want to sell off a portion of his estate or an estate that the children don’t need or want. You should also take into consideration that you’ll need a private water supply and enough land to build a home, a shop, and grow vegetables.

How to heat your home

Once you have your land secured, you will need to decide how you want to heat your home and cook your meals. The good news is there are several options. You could install a wood stove, use propane, a solar inverter or wind or hydro power. Check out your options carefully and weigh the pluses and minuses. You can always change to something else at a later date but absorbing the cost a second time may not be in your budget.

Building a home

Living off the grid without mandated power supplies and electric wiring gives you a world of freedom with your design. If you have carpenter skills you could build a small cabin to start with and expand as time moves on. If, however, you don’t possess these skills, solicit a family member or friend to assist with the process. You’ll need a sound, well-insulated structure to retain the heat and keep you cool in the summer months.

Establishing a reliable food source

If you want to truly escape the hustle and bustle you’ll need to have a large garden that produces enough food to feed you for the year. Farming is a great way to significantly reduce your monthly food bill. You can also raise chickens for eggs and cows for milk if you have the land to accommodate them and the skills to care for them as well. Otherwise, you could simply plan a trip into town once every couple of weeks for the essentials you can’t produce on your own.

Employment

The nice thing about living off the grid is that your bills virtually disappear. There’s no heating, electric, cable, gas or water bill. Since your overhead is low, you no longer have to make a large salary to support you and your family. Instead, use your skills and talents to earn income to cover your costs. You can paint, sculpt, build, write, or sell your fruits and vegetables.

Living off the grid is not a lifestyle for everyone. If you enjoy having access to 200 channels and want cellular service at your fingertips, this may not be your cup of tea. However, if you want the freedom to spend quality time with loved ones and travel as you wish and you don’t mind a few compromises to achieve it, this could be something you enjoy. If you want a sure way to see if you are cut out for this lifestyle rent a cabin out in the woods for a month or two and see how you feel after. If you find it’s not your cup of tea there are still ways to join in on a smaller scale, even in more urbanized areas.

17
Feb

Raising Sheep and Goats: A Source For Natural Products

by Tiffany in The Homestead

Raising Sheep and Goats HomesteadThe search for safe, reliable products can be very difficult at times. We can’t always get enough information to know whether the things we buy for our families will satisfy our standards for purity and quality.

The natural response many of us have had is to produce these things ourselves, and many of us have started with fruits and vegetables. Creating home gardens and orchards to feed our families keeps us from buying products that may have been contaminated with pesticides or bacteria, and the quality is higher too.

But it doesn’t have to end there. We still have other food and fiber needs to meet, and we need to explore the possibilities of raising additional products ourselves.

If you want to become more self-sufficient and get more of your clothing and food needs at home, you may want to consider raising sheep and goats. These animals are versatile producers of milk and wool, and they are reasonably easy to raise without a big farming operation. Much of what they eat is grass, and they will grow well with lawn seed types. No need to buy special varieties.

You should always check local zoning laws regarding livestock, since many cities, towns, counties, and even states have particular restrictions about the presence of animals in certain areas. There may also be limits on how many animals you may have per acre of land. But if you clear that hurdle, start planning what your flock can give to you.

Pure, Healthful Products

As we noted earlier, there’s no better way to be sure of what you are eating than to raise it yourself. Producing your own milk and potentially cheese from goats or sheep on your own property is a great way to avoid many of the common concerns about food.

Milk produced elsewhere on a farm is handled many different times by different people. It’s hauled hundreds of miles, processed at a plant, and handled by retail staff. At any of those points, there could be a breakdown in safe handling. That’s to say nothing of the risk of a contamination with antibiotics before the milk is even taken from the cow.

Ethical Care

Of course, your high standards pertain to more than just the products. You’re also in tune with the welfare of the animal, because the animal belongs to you.

Most farmers are very good stewards of their livestock, but the issue here is not what they are doing so much as that you don’t know what they are doing. If only one farmer in 1,000 is unethical, you don’t know if that’s where your food came from or not.

By raising livestock yourself, you can be sure that the animals receive proper food, water, shelter, and medical care, and that the products are harvested humanely and safely.

Recycling

Let’s just be blunt. Milk and wool aren’t the only things your livestock will produce. They’ll generate waste, and you may be distressed at just how much of there will be.

The key is to have a good management strategy from the very beginning. Areas where they animals congregate to eat or drink will need to be properly surfaced with a material that can be easily cleared of animal waste. But the great thing about it is what you can do with that waste after you clean it up.

Livestock manure is excellent fertilizer. If you compost it properly, it will generate high temperatures that will kill weed seeds and reduce the odor, making a very rich product that will help your lawn, flowers, and vegetables reach their peak production.

Raising sheep and goats is an exciting challenge that can give you great rewards. They’ll produce milk, cheese, fiber, and even fertilizer for your family. But perhaps most important is the peace of mind you’ll get from knowing you’re providing things in a sustainable, environmentally-friendly way.

28
Aug

Hutches and Cages for Homestead Rabbits

by Tiffany in The Homestead

Hutches Cages for RabbitsSo you’ve decided to bring home a few rabbits and add them to your homestead. By now you should have decided how you will house them…cage or colony. There are advantages and disadvantages for each but if you are now reading this article you have perhaps decided on cages. Their cage or hutch will be the place for your rabbit’s food, water, and sleep. If it’s outdoors, it will also provide protection from harmful weather and from predators that would like to harm them.

How big of a cage or hutch should you buy? This depends on how big the rabbit is and how much space you can accommodate. Typically, it should be at least four times the length of the rabbit to estimate the minimum size of the hutch. It should also be high enough so the rabbit can stand on its hind legs if it chooses. I believe in giving them sufficient room to live and play.

The door should be wide enough to accommodate the rabbit, and so you can be able to put food, water, accessories and any other necessities inside easily. It should also be wide enough for you to reach in and remove the rabbits easily when needed.

There are various types of styles and models for hutches. Many people opt to buy a chicken coop and use it for rabbits. Others just cover metal cages with a metal roof and plastic tarp for sides. There are also ready made rabbit clutches made of wood you can buy. It all depends on the size of the hutch and whether you want an indoor or outdoor unit. They can be made from bamboo, wood, metal and plastic.

Solid floors feel nicer to your rabbit’s feet, but it is also more difficult to clean. To accommodate both types, you can have a wire floor with a solid mat in placed inside somewhere so your rabbit has a place to rest. You can used cardboard for mats but they will eventually chew them up and they will need to be replaced. The other type of hutches would be a bamboo or wooden floor which has spaces about every other inch for waste removal. The waste removal part is very important to consider because it is unhealthy for rabbits to live constantly in their own waste. Don’t choose a solid metal floor thinking you will clean the cage every day only to decide its too much work later on.

Once you’ve picked the type you’d like, look closely at how they’re made. Even though a certain hutch or cage may be expensive at first, it will last longer in the long run. Make sure all exposed wood is covered with metal. Yes, that means a solid wood hutch needs to be lined inside with hardware cloth because rabbits will chew anything wood they have access too. If you use a metal mesh for the door, it should be attached to the inside of the wooden frame. The roof should be at a slope so the water can run off of them.

Underneath the cages or hutch it is handy to have a tray that catches waste. You can use wood shavings in the trays to absorb urine (and keep smell down). The trays can then be emptied every couple of days into a compost bin. Rabbit poop makes some of the best compost available! You can even sell it on Craigslist if you are so inclined. The tray system also makes it possible to stack cages and not worry about the rabbits on the bottom getting peed on.

If you decide to keep your rabbits outside, they can enjoy the fresh air and its surroundings. However, there are some dangers for being outdoors. Inclimate weather, pests, and predators are of foremost concern. Ensure that you have reinforced your hutch/cage well.

Some hutches have a run that allows the rabbits be able to hop around on the grass but they should still have some sort of shelter from the elements. A separate area in the form of a more sheltered hutch that they can go to especially at night is useful. You may also need to line the bottom with wire so that the rabbits cannot dig out and predators cannot dig in. Door fasteners should be easy to open for you, but for predators or the rabbits themselves.

I suggest starting as minimally as you can and then finding the cage or hutch that works best for you. You can always improve later. Enjoy!

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23
Aug

5 Ways To Preserve and Store Produce

by Tiffany in The Homestead

Preserve Store FoodPreserving and storing food is becoming a bit of a lost art and it’s a shame. Our grandmothers and great grandmothers all saw the inherent economic and practical value in learning to preserve food and teaching their daughters to do the same. Some may say that this skill is not as important in this day and age but I think self sufficiency is always important.

What do you do when you come across a great deal at the grocery store or the farmers market? What do you do when you’re offered a deal on a bushel of produce that you can’t pass up? What do you do when you have a bumper crop of green beans, squash or tomatoes? There’s only so much of any one food you can eat before you lose a taste for it or it begins to go bad. If you know how to preserve it, you can put it up and use it throughout the year. It is a common sense skill we need to utilize.

Freeze It

A great place to start is by freezing food. It is so easy anyone can do it. Just cook up your harvest in some of your favorite freezer friendly foods, or clean and blanch them before tossing them in the freezer. Blanching veggies is important because it stops enzymatic action (preserving flavor, color, texture) and it removes bacteria.

Freezing is also a great way to store fruits like berries and peaches that don’t last long once they are ripe. The only real disadvantage to freezing food is that you’re limited by the amount of room you have in your freezer. Be sure to get in the habit of labelling frozen food well (with dates) so you know what it is before you pull it out to thaw and how long you have had it.

canning bookCan It

Canning is one of the most versatile ways to preserve food. You can make and can anything from jelly and pie filling to chili and green beans. Canning is perhaps most awesome because it does not require any space in your fridge or freezer. You can store your canned goods in the pantry, in a root cellar, on shelves in the kitchen, or in your basement. Heck, you can keep canned goods under the spare bed if your are running out of room! Properly canned food stores a lot longer than any other method and that is a great way to preserve your harvest and feed your family all year long.

Dehydrate It

If you don’t have a lot of space, consider dehydrating food. You can start by using your oven on the lowest setting. Try dehydrating some apple slices, or any type of food to use in baking and cereal throughout the year. Then explore further and come up with fun snacks like kale chips, fruit leather, and even dried veggies that you can use in soup.

picklingPickle It

Another favorite old-fashioned way to preserve food is to pickle it. Pickling involves submerging the produce in a brine made of salt, sugar, water, and various pickling spices. The most common pickled item is of course pickles and it’s a great place to start. But don’t stop there. You can pickle peppers, okra, cabbage, carrots, and a wide variety of other veggies and even fruits. Play with it and see what you like. Pickled veggies make a great addition to sandwiches and salads throughout the year. Once you start pickling you might just decide you need to try fermentation on a grander scale. It’s a slippery slope, you have been warned.

Cold Store It

Last but not least let’s talk about the simplest way to store food. Things like root vegetables, apples, and cabbages store well in a dry, cool, and dark place. This used to the reason most houses had a root cellars. Today your pantry might be a good place to store this type of food. If you’re lucky enough to have a basement, you can set up some shelves to keep a lot of produce for months to come.

Take steps towards self sufficiency and economic freedom by learning to preserve food during the harvest months and make it last long into the winter.