Farmgirl School; Homesteading 101 (back to basics for an enchanting, simple life)

Homestead 101 Cover

My book is out!  I sold several copies over the weekend.  It is filled with articles about pursuing your dreams, living a simpler life with less bills (so less work), and breathing in every day, along with everything you need to know about creating your own grocery store (preserving), gardening, soap making, candle making, medicine making, gift making, starting a farm, getting farm animals, and SO much more.  It is a hoot to see it in print.

There are some things I learned while compiling articles from the last two and a half years of blogging and editing the final book.  I was horrified to find that there is at least one typo in every post.  I shall not be so hard on writers while reading books any longer.

I also learned that I have repeated myself often over the years and at times contradicted myself….or maybe just changed my mind….or maybe found a way to do it better!

I learned that we have learned so much in such a relatively short amount of time and that it is never too late to chase that dream and learn new skills.

The universe always conspires to make dreams and goals come to fruition.

We have had a great time practice farming and look forward to being full time farmers and teachers now.  If you are interested in receiving my book, just send $22 plus $6 shipping to Katie Sanders, 7080 Calhan Road South, house 2, Calhan, CO, 80808.  I am so excited to share with you all that we have learned.  I can’t wait to see what we learn this year!

 

What Is A Homestead and Why Is It So Important To Be Self Reliant?

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“What is a homestead?” my friend asked.  The question threw me off guard, cause, geez, everyone knows what a homestead is.  It’s uh….you know…a place where…I decided to consult the dictionary.

homestead

[hohm-sted, -stid] /ˈhoʊm stɛd, -stɪd/   
noun
1.

a dwelling with its land and buildings, occupied by the owner as a home and exempted by a homestead law from seizure or sale for debt.
2.

any dwelling with its land and buildings where a family makes its home.
3.

a tract of land acquired under the Homestead Act.
4.

a house in an urban area acquired under a homesteading program.
verb (used with object)
5.

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

Pioneers homesteaded the valley.
verb (used without object)
6.

to acquire or settle on a homestead:

They homesteaded many years ago.
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And that, my friends, did not help me either because, frankly, I don’t own anything.  I do not get to keep this land no matter how much I work it (unless I come into a vast amount of money!) and the second definition pretty well means any house in the suburbs is a homestead!  So, what really is a homestead?  What is homesteading?
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The best way to answer this is to look at the general consensus.  I have many friends who are what we would consider homesteaders.  A homestead is a place where one tries to become more self sufficient.  I wonder why that it is not in the dictionary.  Still rather vague.  Can an apartment with a balcony of vegetables be considered a homestead?  Can a house in the city with a few chickens and a garden be considered a homestead?  Certainly a place in the country with a large garden, goats, chickens, sheep, and cows is considered a homestead, right?  I suppose everyone would answer this question differently.  So, here is homesteading to me.
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A homestead is a respite, a home with land to be able to succeed at becoming more self-sufficient.  This place can be rented or bought.  This place provides a basis for producing what one needs to live.  So, homesteading is the verb here where one works to become less reliant on modern society and more secure in their own home as opposed to spending more time working outside the home and relying on utility providers, grocery stores, et cetera for their needs.  It is possible that this could take a lifetime.  But it is worth the effort.
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I often hear the argument that it is impossible to be self-sufficient.  I suppose that depends on your definition.  Would you consider the Ingalls from “Little House on the Prairie” self-sufficient?  I bet you would.  They did go to the general store at times to pick up flour, and cornmeal, sugar, and a bit of candy plus some fabric.  The question would be, if the store was not available, would they be alright?  The answer would be yes.  They would be alright, at least for a time.  Would you consider the Amish self-reliant?  I bet you would say yes.  The home I visited of an Amish family last year was very simple.  They had food stored in a makeshift root cellar (like mine), shelves of beautifully colored jars of produce (like mine), enough wood to get through winter (like us), and propane to light their house, run their stove, refrigerator, and sewing machine.  That is what threw me off!  We use propane to help offset the heat and to run the refrigerator.  It is very expensive and is getting quite nerve-rackingly low.  Are we self reliant?  Not yet, in my book.
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Why is it important?  I mean, really, what is the big deal?  A lot of folks are not really ready to give up their luxuries.  Our bathroom was 35 degrees this morning.  This is not for the faint of heart.  My bottom is still cold.  But, it’s important to me to become self reliant for two reasons.
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One: working for other people is too uncertain.  We make our own business, our own crafts, our own classes, and yes we have to have faith that folks will buy or sign up, but we control our destiny and our mornings.  The more we have to be away from the house working for someone else, the less we can do here, so the less self reliant we are.  We must make our living off of our homestead.  Our living is a lot different than what it was ten years ago.  To us a living was over $55,000 with a mortgage, car payments, utilities, food prices, gas prices, and all the other things we “needed”.  Now our living is around $24,000 if we want to be comfortable with wood, homegrown food, fish, necessary items for our business, gas, rent, and animal feed.  That is the first thing folks that want to homestead must realize.  Be prepared to live on less.  There is much to be done at the house.  Canning, home business, chopping wood, year round growing of plants, animal care,  But there is nothing sweeter than not worrying about where your next meal will come from and never sitting in a cubicle again.
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The second reason it is so important to me to become self reliant is because I need to be able to take care of us and our children if necessary in an emergency.  This could be a wide spread power outage or blizzard, or I often have dreams that there will be a war here.  As much as that scares the heck out of me, I would rather have a house full of necessities and not be wondering how I would get to the grocery store or if we were going to freeze to death.  I do not know if folks realize the folly in relying on large companies for your necessities.  If it all came down to the wire, they don’t give a hoot about your family and it would be quite wise to have a way to access water, heat, food, clothing, and protection.
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Each year we do a homestead checklist and see what we need to do to become more self reliant.  Realize that I do not think that solar panels and their non-decomposing batteries, or wind power with its bird and bat killing capabilities are the answer.  Living with less reliance on oil and gas is our goal.
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  • We have a wood cooktop/propane oven.  A homesteader’s dream?  Yes.  But, I do not want to rely on propane and the small wood compartment does not do much to heat this house.  44 degrees in the living room is just a bit too freaking cold for me.  Our stove can be cooked on, heat a small portion of the house, could heat water if necessary, and is great, however, this year we will secure (somehow) a real wood cook stove that will sit in the living room that I can bake and cook on plus heat the rest of the house.

 

  • Since we stopped eating meat I was able to clear out an entire freezer.  The remaining refrigerator/freezer holds milk, fish, cheese, condiments, and vegetables.  Can one can fish?  Can I can all the vegetables/fruits next year?  How would we keep the milk cold?  Particularly when milking starts again.  I need an ice house.  The back bedroom would seriously serve as a fridge right now though!  We really need that other wood stove.

 

  • We have several wells on the property.  We have a tiny bit of water saved in canning jars, but is there a way to access the wells without electricity?  We are also incorporating a water harvest system this year.

 

  • I have a hand washing unit for laundry and a great clothes line plus a huge drying rack for inside if the electricity went out.  (We haven’t used in a dryer in seven years.) We could live without the television and internet if he had too.

 

  • I grew about a third of the items we preserved this year.  I would like to grow sixty percent this year and plant several fruit and nut trees and berry bushes.  I would also like to try my hand at growing mushrooms.  I will incorporate container gardening, cold frames, and our garden plot to grow everything we love to eat.  I would like to get a green house as well.  That would really boost our production.

 

  • I am kicking myself, y’all, for selling my spinning wheel!  I would like to get sheep and work on spinning again.  I would like to learn to knit this year and make us some fabulous sweaters and socks.  There is so much discarded fabric out there. I have tons myself.  I would like to increase my sewing skills so that I can make more of our clothes.

 

  • We would like to make the fences more secure this year so that we can let the animals graze on the ten acres.  That would cut down on how much hay they need.

 

  • I need to find a way to advertise and promote my classes so that we can pay for things like gas and car insurance, grains, animal feed, things like that.

 

  • We will start cutting our own wood and collecting wood this year instead of paying so much to have cords delivered.

land

Well, I am sure there is more, but that is a good start and each year we get closer and closer to being self reliant.  Maybe that is the answer.  Maybe self-sufficient and self-reliant are two different things.  Either way, there is a great feeling of accomplishment and inner peace while performing simple tasks and caring for those you love on your own homestead.

Wishing you a prosperous and peaceful homestead this coming year!

Our New Homestead

I have been stalking Craigslist.  It is exhausting.  The rents in our county have nearly doubled.  Mention eight cats (let alone a dog, chickens, ducks, and goats…and self employment and bad credit) and it’s amazing how quickly someone else gets the house!  Doug and I talked about what we wanted.  Do we want to give up our farm animals and move closer to town?  No.  Do we want to pick up extra work so we can afford something more?  No.  So we started looking at towns 30-45 minutes away from where we are now.  Really just a shot down a dirt road from here but they are not familiar to us so they felt very far.  Even there, dilapidated trailers or houses in town that didn’t allow animals was all we could find.

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I walked by the desk and quickly typed in the computer-memorized web address for Craigslist to take a quick look to see if there was anything new.  A brief post had been listed an hour prior.  It didn’t give very much information, nor did it mention animals, but I did not dilly dally by emailing, I called straight away.  We hopped in the car and went to see it fifteen minutes later.

Even though I had not given the landlords a clear answer yet, they had turned down potential seekers after we came to see the place.  The couple used to run cattle and there are pens and chicken coops on the property.  They like honey bees.  There is a large garden already fenced.  There is a clothes line.  There is a well.  Hold onto your hats folks, there is a wood cook stove attached to a propane one in the kitchen!  There is everything we could desire.

It is  few miles due south of the sleepy town of Calhan.  Not very far, about forty minutes from where we are now.  I can still pick up the baby to watch her.  I can afford the extra gas money because the rent is cheaper than the townhome I rented some sixteen years ago.  Blessingly low rent.  This could be a place that could stand out in the minds of our children and grandchildren as “Grammie and Papa’s house”.  A fun retreat in the country.  A place we can stay for a long time.  I am so relieved (as Doug is) to set ourselves into a place and stay.

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The owners of the property have their house on the land as well.  His grandfather bought the old house we will be renting many years ago and the house itself whispers stories of its past and of joyous events.  It sits on ten acres where on a clear day one can see from New Mexico to Denver.  The mountains majestically framing the view.  Mature trees surround the homestead.  It is a peaceful place.

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We are putting a bit of work into the house before we move in as the last tenants did not love it like I already do.  Yesterday our interns, Ethan and Stephanie, went and helped us remove the carpet.  Beneath it we found two layers of linoleum and beneath that lay in secret the original wood floor.  I  nearly cried.  I will be painting the main rooms a creamy antique white with a slight gold undertone.  This house longs for bright colors and exposed windows.  There are seventeen feet of windows in the living room alone!  I will share before and after photos as we go, but come along with me as I give you the initial tour!

The house was built in 1905.

The house was built in 1905.

This is the living room looking out the front door.  The houses faces east to embrace the sunrise each morning.

This is the living room looking out the front door. The house faces east to embrace the sunrise each morning.

The rest of the living room. The house itself is tiny, 850 sq ft, but it is well laid out.

The rest of the living room. The house itself is tiny, 850 sq ft, but it is well laid out.

The "dining room" is a part of the living room.  The sixties era linoleum didn't want to come up so it will lend its own charm!

The “dining room” is connected to the living room. The sixties era linoleum didn’t want to come up so it will lend its own charm!

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Our bedroom faces east with lovely windows and two closets!

Our bedroom faces east with lovely windows and two closets!

There is a second bedroom but it is so dark with the wood paneling and the small window I could not get a good shot of it.  It will be brightened up and turned into a guest bedroom and will hold all of our apothecary items.

Now come into the warmest part of the house…

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The wood cookstove

The wood cookstove

A long shelved pantry off the kitchen to store canned goods.

A long shelved pantry off the kitchen to store canned goods.

The small laundry/utility room and back door.

The small laundry/utility room and back door.

Now come see the yard…

Water from the well (no more water bill)

Water from the well (no more water bill)

The clothesline (I am taking out the dryer)

The clothesline (I am taking out the dryer)

A dusk view of the garden.  It is about 600 sq ft.

A dusk view of the garden. It is about 600 sq ft.

One view of the ten acres

One view of the ten acres

The sign we saw on our way back home.  A positive sign indeed.

The sign we saw on our way back home. A positive sign indeed.

The Great Corn Experiment

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I have alternated playing American Indian and pioneer since I was a child.  I suppose I am still playing.  I have rows of the best corn I have ever grown.  Anyway, they look pretty.  We have had some issues with knowing what to do now.  Doug pulled a nice big ear off one of the stalks.  Now, mind you, you only get two ears on each stalk, so this stuff is precious commodity.

“Yuck, it’s not done.”

He went to throw it to the chickens.  I was horrified.

“Oh no, mister, you eat it.  You picked it, you eat it!”

He threw it to the chickens.

So, I asked my friend who has a very large farm how to know when the corn is ready for picking.  When the corn is full and the silks turn brown.

“Can I open it to peek?”

“Sure.”

A few days ago, my friend, Rich, pulled up to visit while I was watering outside.  He said that he had grown up on a farm and left when he was fourteen.  He hadn’t been in a corn field for many, many years.  My cute little corn field of three long rows suited him just fine though, standing there like a mesmerized eight year old.  I went to peek at an ear of corn.

“You never open the corn!”  He boomed.  “You’ll ruin it!  See,” he says, “It will start to bend off of the plant.  Then it is ready to pick.”

I merrily skipped through my corn field yesterday picking all the leaning ears.  Half were done.

smoke signals (This picture is from the seed catalogue.  They apparently know when to harvest.)

I planted three different varieties of heirloom corn.  Two of which are Indian corn.  Smoke signals is a lovely multi-colored stalk of rainbow colors.  I plan to see if I can dry it and make popcorn.  The other is called Black Aztec and is an exciting smoky color.  I plan to dry it and use as corn meal.  The third is an old variety of sweet corn.  Not as sweet as Peaches and Cream, that’s for darn sure, but tasty in its own way.  I have some ears that I am ready to dry.  I am going to place them in a wire basket in the basement “root cellar” and see if they will dry and not mold.  Am I doing this right?

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Doug and I visit old pioneer houses that have been made into museums everywhere we travel (we think of decorating ideas and what we need on our homestead while there!) and one of these places held corn on a rake-like contraption hung from the ceiling.  I suppose I could hang a regular rake from the ceiling, but I am rather tall, and likely will hit my head.  Down in the dungeon it goes in hopes of drying properly.  Then off the cobb, through my handy dandy grain grinder and into cornmeal.  Or into the pan for some sweet, old time popcorn!

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This is our practice farm, remember, so we are experimenting with different types of corn and how to be more self sufficient.  We both love corn, and corn meal, and popcorn, so we best know how to grow it (and when to harvest it!) and preserve it so that on our next homestead we will be sitting pretty with our bowls of popcorn, “real” corn field, and dried corn….maybe hanging from the ceiling.