Since The Beard and I have moved to our one acre mini homestead, we’ve learned A LOT. There are skills you already have, skills that need to be sharpened, skills that need to be learned, skills that need to be forced upon us, and skills that happen unexpectedly.
If you’re anything like me, you have this grand idea of how your homestead will function. You have a lovely garden, your root cellar will always be full, your entire home will run from alternate power sources, all of your animals will have adequate shelter and be happy 100% of the time, your prairie children will have their daily chores, and you won’t have to rely on anyone else.
These are all great ideas and things I want for us when we move to our dreamstead. Don’t get me wrong — we’ve come a long way. But in reality, we have a long journey ahead of us. I realized, even if we spent millions of dollars on our dream place, it wouldn’t come with everything we eventually would need.
So I thought I would share a few things we’ve learned along the way and some skills we still need to learn or practice.
Skills we’ve learned
How to cook from scratch.
Truth be told, I’ve been doing this one for years by now. I act like I’ve been doing it for decades. But let’s be real and admit that I have only known how to cook good food for 4 years. Five years ago, when I moved in with The Beard, my gourmet menu consisted of cooking noodles and heating up canned spaghetti sauce (all taking an hour and a half with one pot).
Since then, The Beard has stuck with me when I handed him plate after plate of completely overcooked — cardboard chicken breasts. By the end of our first year living together, I had mastered the chicken and pretty much everything else but soup. It was my mortal enemy in the kitchen. I just made vegetable soup taste like dirty water and The Beard would have to ride in on his chariot and save it.
Now, after four years, I have managed to make a few soups actually taste good. However, I normally let The Beard make the soup because it’s kind of his jam. Since I kind of spoiled him with made-from-scratch meals three times a day (to be fair The Beard also does quite a bit of cooking — like the sandwich pictured above), we can’t really stand going out to eat. Usually the food is way over priced, the portions are being cut (in a good way, but don’t raise the prices too!), the selection isn’t great, and the food just really isn’t that well prepared. I mean really, a salad consisting of iceberg lettuce, two cucumber slices, and a halved cherry tomato? Wow, my dog could have made shit better than that.
But then again when you have a gluten free gal and 80% vegans in the home, it’s like finding Waldo when it comes to a good restaurant.
And this is one of the single most things helping us hold on to our money.
When we want something really special — we splurge and buy $3 bottles of wine from Aldi and some Busch Light with some gourmet cheeses and crackers under a candle lit night while having philosophical talks in the living room. I know we’re cool like that. We’re Aristotles in the making.
We’ve flipped a couple houses before so we had some experience with building. But we also had to learn a lot. Like how to frame walls, how to level the foundation (yes it is way harder than it seems — a level will not make it level, you make it level), how to seal the holes and gaps, and most importantly how to make it look pretty on a super little budget because we’re frugal homesteaders. Everything from pig pens to nesting boxes to outhouses and large barns will probably need to be constructed on your homestead at some point. Resale shops and Craigslist are your best bet for reclaimed windows, doors, and wood. OMG! These old tobacco warehouse windows I found at the Habitat Restore are to die for. If I had another building to erect — I would be snatching those babies up!
And never again will you turn your nose up at a pile of wood someone has left on the side of the road.
Get to know the building codes and requirements for your land. Because honestly, every city, county, and state is different. Do you want to live in a place with more or less building codes?
Start out small with something like a chicken coop and go from there. Just because the building may get bigger, doesn’t mean it always gets harder.
We already knew how to take care of cats and dogs, but moving to a homestead typically means more animals. And usually they are outside animals so different seasons can add another challenge to providing for and protecting your livestock.
We would definitely recommend getting new livestock in the spring (when everyone else is) because it gives you more time to adjust your homestead for your animals. Learn what they need, where you want them, and how you are going to care for them in extreme temperatures.
In the last six months, we’ve learned a lot about rabbits; how to groom them, shave them, feed them, bottle train them, breed them, sell them, and hold them. Funny thing is — we didn’t even want our first rabbit (until I started to name her ‘Barbie’). And then we had this free spirit 1960’s hippie thing going on and thought she needed to be free range. Animal Power! That was until The Beard heard an unworldly scream in the middle of the night and we experienced our first casualty on the homestead.
Life and death are both parts of the homestead. It can be hard sometimes, but taking steps to protect and understand animals will lessen the likelihood of more unexpected catastrophes.
Recently, we just started raising chickens. When The Beard brought home 5 chickens from his uncle for my birthday, I was a happy, happy girl! Homesteading goals were finally starting to come through. Now, if only I could find a way to house some Nigerian Dwarfs. Hmmmm. We’ll get there.
But since, those 5 chickens we’re bestowed upon our homestead (only weeks ago), we’ve bought 13 baby chicks. And my Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks are like sunshine in a galvanized bucket every morning!
Skills We Are Learning
You guys! I am so excited about this one. I had been begging The Beard to let me pick this one up for awhile now. A couple months ago, I convinced him to buy me a $20 old Sears sewing machine at a garage sale. Needless to say, the thing was rusted out and broken, costing more to fix than it was worth.
The Beard’s aunt used to be a homesteader and knew how to sew clothing, so naturally I started to beg her to teach me how to sew. She even made her kids’ clothing when they were little. My dream goal! I wanted a simple project to start because we don’t start out running when we can’t even crawl. Even though we really want to.
Anyways, she made these adorable, reusable Christmas bags every year for her presents. So, I thought that would be a good first project — and 20 bags later, I’m still loving it.
I’ve made some really sad stockings for The Beard and I. Bread bags/wine bottle bags came next (but let’s be honest, they are pretty much the same as the gift bags. I have just found other uses for them because well, they’re adorable.)
Reusable snack bags, yep. And of course, I can’t sew anything that doesn’t have straight lines so clearly I have a long way to go if I picture our future children wearing clothes that I have made myself.
So yes, I know I put this in ‘skills we have learned’ but I’m also putting it here. When you have a homestead, animals are constantly getting added to the farm. Or maybe I just have an animal hoarding problem. And though we may have figured out how to raise rabbits, other animals are still a mystery.
Like goats. Man I want goats so damn bad. But do you seriously have to milk a goat every day? Even multiple times a day? Do meat goats need milked? How do you assist in a goat birth? When are they weaned?
Every animal we add to our homestead, gives levels of uncertainty when they are new. Does their poop look right? Are they drinking enough water? Do they have protection from predators? Clipping hooves — I can use scissors for that, right? WRONG! And sometimes we need people who have experience with these animals first hand to show us a few tricks.
Let’s see the list of animals I eventually want to have in the back 40: miniatures cows or Highland Cattle (though I have never seen either in real life), a donkey or mule, GOATSSSSSSS everywhere! Sheep, guinea fowl, ducks, and the list goes on.
Obviously, we have little to no experience with these animals. And since we technically live in the city, we can’t even have some of these where we currently live. But adding one new breed at a time will hopefully make the learning curve more manageable.
They say the first year is the biggest learning curve and I ain’t gonna argue with that. If there was a ‘Worst Gardener of the Year’ award — I would have taken home that golden shovel trophy.
Our garden lacked so many things, water, nutrients, sun. Everything was all wrong. When we moved here in spring, the trees weren’t filled in. So our initial placing of the garden was heavily shaded by dense trees when the end of spring rolled around. Here’s to learning your property before investing your time and money.
This house has no outside spigot, so naturally it was a hassle to unhook the washer and attach a 150 ft garden hose to run out the door all the way to the garden. Needless to say, our seedlings were so parched from a lack of watering and rain. They died before even flowering or growing more than 6 inches. So, ya I was feeling less than adequate.
This next year, we have made some garden boxes (and I’m working on making a billion more) because our soil is so rocky from fill dirt since we live on a huge bluff and our gravel driveway. I have also positioned them in the only location where we get full sun. I can’t justify cutting down 5-10 trees just to get more sunlight so I’m working with what we got.
The bins are also right outside our door so hopefully the watering is more manageable. And we are purchasing seedling because since I’m still learning, I would rather spend a little more in hopes of having higher productivity than starting from seed where I know little about caring for it.
All I have to say is learn your property before you start spending money and investing all your time into big projects that need to be changed or moved because conditions aren’t ideal like you thought. Sun really does matter when it comes to animals or gardens.
Skills We Know Nothing About
So yes, I have a mechanical engineer brother and he may be able to help me (and maybe I’m living through him acting like his accomplishments are my own, possibly boasting about his smarts) but here on the homestead we use all our assets. So maybe he would be the person to ask.
But, solar and wind power are beyond us. We barely even know how to write on this blog, let alone monetize it, code formats, etc. at this point I’m just throwing out big words so you think I know what I’m talking about. We are so behind the technology curve — it isn’t even funny. Our phone has just been upgraded last December to our first smartphone, and even then it’s an iPhone 5 or something like that. Honestly, we aren’t even sure what it is. Just know it’s an iPhone.
Back to the homestead. Our dream place requires no grid, no city water, sewer, gas. Part of what our homestead goals are, is self-sufficiency. The less we need to rely on other people and services, the better. The more we can provide for ourselves, the more successful our homestead will be. In our eyes, at least.
But how am I supposed to freeze fruits and vegetables, use an oven, turn the lights on, heat up water, pump water, and blog if we don’t have any power? This is obviously an end goal for us. And we don’t want to just pay someone to install a system (because that goes against everything about being self-sufficient).
I heard a saying one time that was along the lines of, “You will pay people to do things you still won’t know how to do when all the money is gone.”
And I really think that is so true. Instead of just paying people and paying way more than it’s worth, we want to figure it out for ourselves. So, ya when we get to this point. It may not be exactly right, but if the lights turn on and the water is hot — we’ll call it success.
Lye. What is it? If it’s so dangerous to work with, why are we putting it in soap to use on our bodies? I still don’t understand this one and some call for beeswax but even that stuff is so expensive.
I know soap is supposed to be really easy and cheap to make yourself, but that’s after you have all the necessary tools and setup.
Well, animal set ups, buildings, gardening tools and supplies, all cost money too. Just one more thing to add to the list of things to buy.
We aren’t really to this point yet and I would also just barter with someone else who makes their own soap because really, we don’t ALL have to make our own soap. Just like not everyone needs to milk their own animals.
But I really would like to start making our own soap because I would know what was going into it and I want to make our bars of soap look Pinterest worthy. Obvi! And because The Beard loves oatmeal soap for it’s exfoliating power. He thinks it makes him feel clean. But most of the oatmeal soap bars grind up the oats so they don’t exfoliate like he would like them to. So, just add this to the list of things I would like to learn.
If you’re going to be a homesteader, there is a cardinal rule you must learn —
You must always continue to learn.
You can never learn enough. There will be things you want to explore. Things you want to add or revamp to your homestead. Cooking, cleaning, butchering, gardening, wood working, sewing, etc. These are all beneficial skills on the home front.
And sometimes, I am overwhelmed by how much I need/want to learn. Am I going to be a good enough caretaker of our chickens and rabbits? Do you really think I can raise a goat? Will we ever be able to purify our own water? Can we heat our water?
There are always so many questions, so many unknowns, but it’s for us to figure out ourselves. If we want to be self-sufficient, the biggest tool we have is knowledge. And knowledge is power, right?
What skills benefit your homestead the most? Or what skill do you want to learn for your homestead?