Spring has finally hailed down from the gods and it’s time we talk about being self-sufficient.
Not like self-sufficiency doesn’t happen in winter, but if you’re new to this thing like we are (just beginning year 2) — you need a spring and summer to prepare you for the winter. Because winter can totally suck, especially in March.
I thought I would share a few ways new homesteaders that are looking to become self-sufficient can succeed. A lot of other blogs write about solar power, self-built septic tanks, and well drilling. We’re keeping things simple here. Baby steps.
Don’t underestimate self-sufficiency though. It comes with a steep learning curve and can be a real bitch sometimes. Give it time and hard work and eventually you’ll get there.
We’re still on our journey to self sufficiency so we aren’t the wisest, smartest, or most inventive people (though The Beard could give any inventor a run for their money) when it comes to that goal. But one day, we’ll get there with a big ass badge of honor!
So here are 11 things we’re doing this year to work towards our goal of self-sustainability. And they don’t all take land to do them.
Start a garden
Even if it’s on your apartment patio or in your driveway. I’m seriously considering removing over hand of our driveway and putting like 6 more garden boxes over top of it.
This is honestly the biggest hurdle you will have to jump when starting towards self-sufficiency. Neither the Beard or I have any background in gardening. Everything is new to us. We aren’t third generation gardeners that can bring black succulents back from the dead.
Our first year’s garden was a total bust but we learned so much from it failing. Sounds like a total cliche, but it is. I swear. I know that really sucks ass when you work so hard carrying all those buckets of water out to the garden and expect great things to happen and all that happens is your seedlings shrivel up and start their slow descend toward death. Are you noticing a common theme with our first year’s garden?
It’s even worse when you keep the plant green but then it doesn’t produce a single fruit/vegetable. Get through that first year. Learn where the sun is optimal. Make sure you have a water source to keep your garden from quenching of thirst. Improve the soil quality any way you can. Rabbit poop, kitchen scraps, and compost are all good ideas. If your soil is really bad like ours (rocky fill dirt), then think about raised garden beds and purchasing topsoil from your local compost facility.
The more you can learn about your garden, the more produce you can provide for yourself and your family. Meaning less trips to the grocery store — which is always a bonus in my eyes.
If you’re a third generation homesteader, then I’m sure a garden won’t be an issue for you. But the Beard and I are going at this for the first time ever. We’ve never grown anything from seed, except for beans in grade school. We haven’t been raised out in the gardens. Everything is brand new for us. If you’re in the same boat as us but long for abundant fruits and vegetables to arrive in your backyard or on your patio to provide your family with food, then start as soon as you can.
Install a wood burning stove
If you don’t already have a wood burner, I’m just going to tell you that you need to buy one NOW! I know the cold weather has hopefully stopped by you, but spring clearance is the best way to afford a wood burner. I made that yellow tag by bitch.
We just bought a $300 wood burning stove with 2-burners that will heat our entire house (granted our house is less than 600 sq ft) for $100!!! I didn’t care if the Beard wasn’t ready to buy it. We we’re purchasing that baby! The woman of the house was going to win that war, if there ever was one. Thankfully, The Beard was totally on board. We would eventually need it and why pay 3x as much for the exact same product.
This wood burner has a two-in-one self-sufficiency skills built in. It will heat our house and we can cook on it or warm water and coffee up, if we choose.
We will still have our furnace as back up but we are hoping to use the wood burner as our primary heat source.
Chop your own firewood
This goes hand-in-hand with the wood burner. I know it’s super easy to pay for that already kiln-dried and chopped firewood. All you have to do is stack and haul it. But if you have trees on your property, you can have plenty of firewood for FREE. It just takes a bit more work. And I know all us homesteaders are always looking for ways to do things for free and save money. Or maybe it’s just us who are a couple tight asses that like to hold on to every penny that enters our wallets. (Unless I’m at a thrift store — all be damned!)
And if you don’t have access to trees, Craigslist and Facebook always have posts about people giving away free firewood because they just got a tree chopped down and they don’t want to deal with it. Or they don’t have a chainsaw. Look for these ads before you go about your way buying any firewood.
Make meals from scratch
The Beard has seriously been on this homemade bagel kick — hassling me every day he goes without a freshly baked bagel to make him more as I sit here dying of starvation. JK — kind of.
My favorite and my least favorite at times. I’m gonna be honest and tell you — there will always be dishes. And there may be so many dishes, the only place left to put them is in your living room and if the cups overflow to your bedroom, that’s okay too. I cook every meal from scratch daily. And I do over 3 sink fulls of dishes, by hand, and my sink is never empty. And don’t think a dishwasher would solve my problems. I’m one of those control freaks that has to pre-wash all the dishes before they even go into the dishwasher.
One time, I joked with the Beard and asked him if he thought it was possible for my sink to stay empty for 10 minutes. He was making dinner so he just piled up the dishes on the counter so my sink could stay clean for that 10 minutes HAHAHA!
Seriously, there will be dishes. But I can’t stress how important it is to make all your meals from scratch. Not only will it save you a shit load of money. But the quality of food you will be eating will be so much better for you. Even if it isn’t from your garden. Incorporate as many fruits and vegetables you can into your diet.
If you aren’t used to cooking, it will take some time to learn how to cook. And not only cook but learn how to make enough for your family. And if you make more — you better learn to LOVE leftovers like we do.
When the Beard used to work outside of our furniture business and I was in school, we always ate out. It’s sickening to us how much money we spent on shitty food. Granted, we thought it tasted pretty good until we really started cooking our own food all the time. And one of the biggest parts was those damn dirty dishes.
I know they totally suck and your hands will always be dry and cracking but it’s so worth it to make your own food. And if you are really struggling with finances. This is the number one way to cut your spending.
Line dry your clothes
We haven’t owned a dryer for over 2 years. I know it doesn’t sound like a long time, but I don’t plan on ever using a dryer. In fact, since the Beard and I have lived together, we’ve only owned a dryer for 1 year.
Those big heavy dryers are so expensive, they break all the time (from cheaply made appliances so you’re forced to buy a new one), and they are energy hogs. I don’t like utility bills and the higher they are, the more they stress me out.
We have a 3 line clothes line outside and in our basement we have lines running everywhere. I use the basement lines for winter and spring when it’s either really cold or really wet outside. And in the summer, my outside clothes line dries towels in like 2 hours which is quite amazing. Not as fast as a dryer — but when it usually takes a couple days for a towel to dry in the basement (we need a dehumidifier down there) that’s pretty amazing!
And not only are dryers super expensive to fix or replace but the stress involved with transporting a new one and moving it into your house is not something I recommend, especially for the blessed souls who have more hotheadness than chill vibes.
I know some of you are saying well we have kids and way too much laundry, but you’ll get used to it. And we have two dogs that like to create a lot of unnecessary laundry for us. There will never be enough clothes line space. But it’s something I always have to stay on top of and make sure I have space to hang clothing before I start another load. In the winter, don’t expect to do 10 loads of laundry all in one day and have space for everything to hang up.
We’re going to be working really hard on this one, this year. Last year, I canned 4 jars of applesauce just to make sure I could do it. The Beard made fun of me because I ate all 4 jars in one week (by myself — and I wasn’t ashamed one bit). I just did the water bath method and I think that’s totally fine to start. I don’t plan on pressure canning any time soon and I heard it’s a pretty expensive upfront cost and can be a little dangerous.
We are one of those couples that tries to make do with things we already have for as long as possible before we spend anymore money. Especially if we are talking about big monetary donations to big box stores.
But this year I am totally going to invest in a dehydrator. I’m so excited to dehydrate anything and everything! Strawberries. OH EM GEEE! Strawberries! And probably all kinds of other things but I’m so excited about strawberries.
And blanching and freezing are going to probably be our biggest preservation method. We are going to purchase a chest freezer for down in our basement so we can preserve as much of our garden as possible.
Preserving our food also saves us tons of money since we don’t have to buy it at the grocery store and we aren’t driving 40 miles round trip just to make it to the grocery store. Have I mentioned how I started dreading going to the grocery store?
I used to love going to the grocery store and buying fresh produce and being excited to make new meals for the week. Now, I just dread driving all that way and spending so much money on produce that really isn’t that fresh. We’re 80% vegan so 90% of our cart consists of ‘fresh’ fruits and vegetables. I just keep thinking if I can replace all of this from our garden — we’ll be saving so much money and the quality will be top notch (all creds go to the rabbits).
Harvest your own meat
So we’re mostly vegan, but The Beard likes his meat occasionally. And so do I. I just can’t eat as much as I used to be able to. But honestly, I only want to be eating meat that we raised. We know where it came from, what it was eating, and how it was raised.
When we were over in Ireland, we noticed that all their meat had more of a ‘gamey’ taste to it than we were used to. We figured out that it was because they were eating luscious green grass like they were supposed to. I just picture sheep frolicking in the grasslands, rolling around on their backs. They weren’t confined in mud and shit pits. They were fed HGH and corn. They were able to feed on their natural diets and roam the land freely.
Yes, it takes a little getting used to when the meat has a stronger flavor and possibly doesn’t always taste the same based on what the animals are eating that time of year. But they are so much healthier for you if you choose to eat meat.
This year we are planning to raise meat quail and possibly some meat chickens. Our chickens will be a heritage breed so they won’t be like the Cornish crosses that were bred to produce as much meat as possible within weeks of life.
Harvesting your own meat is a highly debated decision, but if you choose to eat meat — I encourage you to raised and butcher your own. It will also save you major bucks if you typically buy grass-fed beef or organic chicken.
So we have this little secret orchard just up the road from us that we can collect the most amazing pears from. And they also have apples that we can make applesauce out of. We’re definitely planning to do that this year. However, we think the land was sold so we’re hoping we can still tread through waist high grass and pick those amazing pears. If you have wood access, you may be able to find Morel mushrooms, wild berries, or edible flowers that you can eat.
Foraging helps cut down on food costs and you also didn’t have to work so hard in the garden, sweating under the summer sun to produce this extra food.
Just make sure you know what you’re doing before you start picking hallucinogenic mushrooms or poisonous berries. This is not for the inexperienced.
Have some laying hens
We’re always raising young chicks to sell so it’s hard to keep laying hens in the yard. But we’ve promised to keep Big Booty Judy because she is like the mother hen of the run and keeps all the chicks in line. She teaches them how to roost at night and where to get food and water.
This is pretty critical since we are always raising new chicks and they need to be shown where to find necessities or how to protect themselves when hawks are flying overhead ( granted our run has wiring on the top so they are almost totally safe — you can never be too sure). Speaking of which, we just bought 20 more chicks today.
Judy isn’t a big layer, but we aren’t big animal product eaters so her 2-4 eggs a week works pretty good for us. I also recommend going with heritage breeds for even your egg layers. They won’t pop out fresh breakfast every morning like the Red Stars pictured above will, but they won’t be GMO either (we sold those ones pretty quickly).
Do your own home improvements
I say this with caution. Some things are left better to the experts. For instance, two things come to mind. Gas and electricity. If you aren’t familiar with them, please pay the big bucks and let a qualified professional deal with them.
But for the most part, construction and home renos can be pretty straight forward. You can find tons of information online. YouTube videos can be a big help. And rely on your friends and family.
Some of this stuff is so easy, but they scare you into thinking you don’t know what you’re doing so you end up paying someone to change out a light fixture or fix a leaky sink faucet.
We’ve updated one house and completely renovated another. This summer we are planning to take our house down to the studs and start all over, from insulation to new flooring. I’m so excited! This house hasn’t been kept clean for so long from the previous owners, it feels like when I clean the house — it doesn’t even look like I did anything because the grease is stuck on 4 layers thick and the super shady kitchen tile is starting to crumble.
Honestly, a lot of home improvement is just trial and error. With that being said, if it’s your first time — don’t bite off more than you can chew. That may just cause issues in the household. And make sure you can afford these improvements. Don’t finance them.
If you don’t have the money now, wait until you can pay cash for them. Unless it’s like an immediate need. The shower pipes are leaking in the walls or a window pane fell out because it was so old. I understand those things need immediate attention and you should definitely fix that shit ASAP.
But making sure you have the money and doing the work yourself can save you thousands of dollars.
Build outbuildings and animals shelters w/ reclaimed material
This is very similar to home improvement projects. And I’d honestly say, start with building outhouses and animal shelters where the construction doesn’t have to be exactly on point. The chickens won’t care of the walls meet at different angles or you need an extra piece of wood to fill a gap. The goats won’t mind if their roof isn’t pitched at the most optimal angle.
Build your skills with these projects before moving into your living quarters where things need to be more precise and you need a little more patience to figure things out.