Homesteading for Beginners

Homesteading is about making small steps towards self-sufficiency until you have the life you want. You do not have to give up all modern luxuries and move to a big isolated hunk of land to become a homesteader. Instead, you can start where you’re at. Even people living in a tiny apartment in the middle of the big city can become more self-sufficient by simply planting some herbs in a container. In fact, that is exactly how my homesteading journey began. Here are some simple skills I would encourage a want-to-be homesteader to practice:

Start Composting

Seedling emerging from composted soil

Composting is a great step for someone that has some space and wants to begin gardening within the next year or so. Without good compost, your crops can experience nutritional deficiencies. Composting will help you get connected to your soil and it will provide essential nutrients for your future plants. To learn how we started our composting method click here.

Learn how to Preserve Food

Knife slicing a fresh tomato

Knowing how to preserve food is an important skill to have when your backyard is bursting with vegetables. This also comes in handy when your favorite fruits and vegetables go on sale or when something is about to spoil in your refrigerator. Food preservation can include:

  • Drying
  • Salting
  • Canning
  • Pickling/Fermenting
  • Freezing

Food preservation takes practice, so don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work out the first (or second time.)

Get Familiar with Wood

Man finishing wooden butcher block

Woodworking is an important skill to have on the homestead. This skill will save you loads of cash and will allow you to build important things like gardening boxes, animal hutches, and furniture. Prior to trying out your building skills, start getting familiar with wood. Learn where to buy it, what qualities you need to look for, and what tools or skills you will need if your plan is to reuse free wood. Getting familiar with wood will save you a lot of headaches once you are ready to begin woodworking.

Investigate Protein Sources

Child standing in Free Range Rabbit Tractor

Raising some type of meat or protein is often when people begin identifying as homesteaders. While you don’t need a backyard to start raising a protein source, I do recommend you take at least 6 months to learn the ins-and-outs of your specific protein prior to purchasing. Join groups on Facebook, learn about the different breeders and suppliers in your area, head to the library and read up on their needs and common illnesses. Here is a list of “alternative” protein sources to get you started:

Infographic of livestock options for people living in apartments, HOA's, & cities

If you are just beginning your homesteading journey, know that all of these skills take time and dedication to master. Failure is part of the homesteading process. Don’t let that stop you from achieving your self-sufficient dreams!

What’s Wrong with My Tomatoes?

It is easy to see there is a problem with this tomato plant, but it may be difficult to know how to help it. This plant is lacking Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K). I would err on the side of caution and encourage the owner to treat it as though it has Tomato Mosaic Virus until the tomato plant looks healthy again.

Tomato plant displaying nitrogen deficiency through yellow mature leaves

Nitrogen Deficiency in Tomato Plant
We can see the nitrogen (N) deficiency in the very yellow older leaves. As this deficiency continues the plant will become short, spindly and will wilt under mild water stress. Luckily, this deficiency can be remedied within days of applying nitrogen.

Adding Nitrogen to Soil

There are many ways to add nitrogen back to your soil and prevent it from happening in future crops. Nitrogen is a common fertilizer that can be purchased. If you prefer to naturally add nitrogen to your soil simply add composted manure or coffee grounds to your garden. You can also add nitrogen to the soil via companion planting or cover crops. Green manure crops (like Borage) or nitrogen fixing plants (such as peas or beans) work great for this.

Tomato Plant Showing signs of Phosphorous Deficiency via purple underside of leaves
Signs of Phosphorous Deficiency in Tomato Plants
We can see the Phosphorous (P) deficiency in the purplish undersides of the leaves. If this plant does not receive Phosphorous, the older leaves will develop a brown netted veining. Plants with a Phosphorous deficiency tend to look like young unstressed plants because their growth is stunted.

Adding Phosphorus to Soil

Adding phosphorus to your soil will improve the quality of your crops, root growth, stalk strength, and will allow your crops to mature earlier. Ground bone has been added to soil to replace Phosphorus for hundreds of years. Today it is common to add phosphorus to your soil by applying bone meal or rock phosphate.

Signs of Potassium Deficiency in Tomato Plants
The Potassium (K) deficiency is a little more difficult to spot because it can easily be confused for tomato mosaic virus. We can tell that this plant has a Potassium deficiency because of the tip burn on the leaves, dry tan scorch on the matured leaves, curling or the green leaves and the blotchy fruit.

Adding Potassium to your soil

Potassium helps plant fight diseases, grow faster, use water better, and take in other nutrients. There are many ways to naturally add Potassium to your soil. Simply add:

  • Composted fruit and vegetable waste
  • Ground up citrus rinds
  • Banana peals
  • Kelp meal or seaweed
  • Wood ash
  • Greensand
  • Granite Meal

Signs of Tomato Mosaic Virus in Tomato Plants
This plant could possibly have Tomato Mosaic Virus, and I would treat it as though it does until the plant looks healthy. My primary reason for suspecting TMV is the necrotic spots in the fruit of the tomato. I would take precautions because TMV is highly contagious, has no cure, stays in the soil for up to 50 years, and can infect tomatoes, tobacco, beans, cucumbers, squash, roses, potatoes and peppers. You can control the possible spread of this disease by:

  • Not smoking when transplanting
  • Changing into clean gloves after you’ve had contact with the plant
  • Boiling any tools that have come into contact with the plant for 5 minutes then washing with detergent
  • Swiping your tools with bleach is NOT enough to kill this virus
  • Make sure your other plants are healthy and free of nutrient deficiencies

If the tomatoes on this plant continue to exhibit blotchy fruit with necrotic spots after being treated with nutrients, I would assume it has contracted Tomato Mosaic Virus and take the following precautions:

  • Burn all parts of the plant
  • Clean the entire area
  • Do not plant any plants that are susceptive to TMV in the area
    • Tomatoes
    • Tobacco
    • Beans
    • Cucumbers
    • Squash
    • Roses
    • Potatoes
    • Peppers

Do you have a question about your vegetables? Email me a picture at info@modernhomestead.co and I might feature you on the blog.

Quick and Easy Father’s Day Craft for Children

Father’s day is coming! As far as gift giving, this feels like such a tricky holiday for me. I struggle to find child-friendly crafts that are sentimental without being cheesy. Last week my daughter’s teacher asked if we could squeeze in a Father’s Day craft before the end of the year. I needed a craft that could be assembled quickly with a large group of 3 to 6-year-olds and could translate for many different types of parents. That left me with limited options! Grill sets wouldn’t work. Ties were out. Intricate Origami was definitely not going to happen.

I hoped to stick to the Montessori values. I wanted to utilize natural materials like we find throughout their classroom. I wanted something that little hands could create with limited guidance. Most importantly, I wanted something that would trigger both father & child to feel special. I stumbled upon a simple little bracelet called a “wish bracelet” and I knew I had found my Father’s Day craft.

The idea behind wish bracelets is that you make a wish when you tie the bracelet on. Eventually, the bracelet will break and then your wish will be release and come true. The beauty of wish bracelets is that they are so easy to customize. You can change the color and fibers of the string, you can braid or create intricate beadwork work or even go without a bead at all. This craft is full of possibilities!

I decided on hemp string because it is an easy to find, inexpensive, natural material that looks great! My daughter and I decided assorted wooden beads were the best option for this class. We had each child make two matching bracelets. One was for Dad and one was for the child. We then taped the bracelets to a little card that you can find at the end of this blog.

Before you see the video, I should mention we cut bracelets to be 11 inches long. If Dad has a bigger wrist, or if you are using more beads, I highly recommend you create a bigger bracelet. You can always cut off the ends once it is tied on.

Here is a video to show you how we made the bracelets:

Download your free Father’s Day wish bracelet card here

Father's Day Wish Bracelet Poem

Does Organic Mean Pesticide Free?

Do you buy Organic food? If so, why? Are you hoping to avoid pesticides?

The U.S. organic industry is booming! In 2015, organic food in the U.S. made over $43 billion in annual sales and it’s continuing to trend upwards. Avoiding pesticides is the number one reason people shop organic. But here is the thing, organic farmers do use pesticides and fungicides to treat their crops. In fact, there are many chemicals that are approved by the US Department of Agriculture for use in certified organic agriculture.

So what is the difference between the pesticides used in organic and conventionally grown food? It is the origin of the pesticide. Most organic pesticides must come from a natural source, as opposed to synthetic pesticides that are common in conventional agriculture. But does naturally derived pesticides mean that they are better for the environment or less carcinogenic? Scientific American writes, “It has been assumed for years that pesticides that occur naturally (in certain plants, for example) are somehow better for us and the environment than those that have been created by man. As more research is done into their toxicity, however, this simply isn’t true, either. Many natural pesticides have been found to be potential – or serious – health risks.”

Organic Farmers Use Pesticides Salad on Fork

And while certified organic farmers may be using primarily naturally occurring pesticides, the U.S. Department of Agriculture does allow,”some synthetic substances are listed as exceptions to the basic rule and are allowed for use in organic agriculture.” For instance, farmers may use specific synthetically derived pheromones or animal vaccinations and continue to receive their organic certification.

There are several critics of the Organic Certification process. Michael Pollan (you may know him from his many books or the Netflix series COOKED) tells Organic Gardening Magazine many organic farmers are “organic by the letter, not organic in spirit… if most organic consumers went to those places, they would feel they were getting ripped off.”

Which brings up these questions, what is stopping us from knowing what is happening to our food? What if instead of purchasing our certified organic produce at triple the cost, we went beyond organic? What if we traveled to our backyard and pulled our own tomatoes that we grew ourselves? Or we made a visit to a local farmer and supported them? What if we looked beyond the marketing and started a food revolution? I have a feeling we’d find what we are looking for in our produce: more biodiversity for our environment, less disease for ourselves, and a more stable local economy. Who is ready to start a revolution?

Helping Your Child Paint without Interfering

My daughter has loved to paint since the first time she got her little 7 or 8-month-old hands on a paintbrush! In the years I’ve spent watching and helping with her artistic creations, I’ve learned how to help without interfering with her art. Here are some of my top tips for helping your creative kids unleash their inner artist without having to micromanage them:

Set the Space

Child painting with natural materials

Setting the space during art projects is marking off where your child (and their messy materials & body) can be. Once your child gets used to this boundary they can create under limited supervision without destroying your floors and belongings. Setting the space can be achieved by using a large sheet of vinyl, paper, or an old tablecloth to mark the space your child can create in. If you like your child to have more freedom and space to create, you can always set up space outdoors that doesn’t require the constraints of fabric.

Mix your own Colors

Child learning to mix secondary paint colors with hands

Instead of buying tubes of green, purple, or orange paints mix them yourself! Not only will this save you money, it will also help your child create more detailed, exciting and cohesive paintings. Not sure how to create secondary colors or want to have your child mix themselves? Use a color wheel!

To make your own secondary and tertiary colors start by buying white, red, yellow, & blue because these colors cannot be created by mixing colors. You can mix these primary colors together to form a variety of greens, oranges, and violets. You can even make your own blacks and grays by simply mixing the two colors on opposite sides of the color wheel.

Limit the Palette

Abstract art on canvas using limited color pallet in blue created by preschool aged child

Some days my daughter wants to play with all of the paint colors, and some days she wants to work with a few colors at a time. Here are some of our favorite combinations to add to my daughter’s paint palette:

  • Blue + White / Blue + Yellow + White / Blue + Red / Plain White
  • Red + White / Red + Yellow + White / Red + Yellow
  • Yellow + White / Yellow + Blue / Yellow + Red + White

Don’t Forget Water

Four year old child pouring a mix of gold acrylic paint and water on canvas

Adding water to your paint may not work on paper but it is great when painting on canvas! This process creates movement and interest in paintings.

Be Patient: Paint in Layers

Abstract art on large canvas created by four year old

Painting in layers creates interest and depth because individual colors are allowed to shine. In our experience, this technique doesn’t work well with watercolors but it works great with acrylics!

Can you believe a 4-year-old was able to paint this canvas?! We’d love to see what you create with these tips! Tag us on Facebook or Instagram @modernhomestead.co

DIY Composting using a Three Bin System

Google “How To Start A Composting” and you will find a myriad of unnecessary equipment, green to brown ratios, and other unrelatable advice that can make you feel… lost. Composting is simple. It’s just as much about getting rid of your food scraps as it is about nourishing your plants. Our composting system happened on accident, which is proof that you can turn your food waste into black gold just by paying attention to the materials around you. Composting shouldn’t cost you a lot of labor or money. We use a 3 bin system because it allows us to make compost in about 8 weeks instead of 8 months. 

Items Needed:

3 Large Areas that are capable of draining water**

Green Material (aka food scraps)

Brown Material (aka stuff that is brown)

Shovel

Time

**We use 3 large tree planters for our system. These are often available for free in the back of your local Home Supply Store. You can use anything that water can drain from, or you can just make dividers from something like wood or concrete blocks. Look around. Get crafty. Composting shouldn’t be an expense for your homestead. Ideally, you want a 3ft x 3 ft x 3 ft compost pile. 

Large black plastic tubs with drainage holes for composting

 

Green Materials

Green materials provide the compost with nitrogen, which feeds the compost microbes and speeds up decomposition. Green Materials Include:

  • food waste
  • grass clippings
  • leftover coffee grounds
  • manure
  • spent plants from the garden

Brown Material

Brown material provides carbon to your compost. This includes:

  • dry leaves
  • wood ash
  • hay
  • straw
  • sawdust
  • newspaper
  • junk mail
  • paper napkins
  • those peat-moss containers you start seeds in.

The System:

Three composting areas created using pallets

No matter how you define your composting space, ideally our composting system is 3 areas next to one another. From left to right we will call these areas Area 1, Area 2, and Area 3. Area 1 is the only space you will ever add new materials too.  While this doesn’t have to be an exact science, in Area 1 we add about 2 parts brown material to 1 part green material. This gives our compost enough bulk and nutrients to produce that black gold we are looking for. On our homestead, we achieve this by covering the bottom of Area 1 with a mix of hay and rabbit poo, then we throw in a few days (or weeks depending on how busy I get) of food scraps. When I remember, I cover the scraps with hay-poo again and the cycle continues. Again, Area 1 is the only bin that new materials will ever be added to.

Once Area 1 is full, it is shoveled into Area 2. The process of shoveling adds Oxygen to the compost so that the bacteria and microbes can further break down the materials. Area 2 just sits and decomposes while we refill Area 1. Once Area 1 is full again, we shovel everything in Area 2 over to Area 3 where it goes into the final decomposition stage. Everything in Area 1 is shoveled over to Area 2 and we begin refilling Area 1. By the time we have filled up Area 1 three times, the compost in Area 3 should be ready to go out into the garden. If your final bin is not ready to go into the garden, you could modify this system by creating a larger area or by adding an Area 4 to your system.

Some additional notes on composting:

Your compost should be moist like a wrung-out sponge. If it is too wet, start adding more brown material. If it is too dry, water it with a watering hose.

While many people suggest using a lid, it is not necessary. If you are getting too much rain you can always just throw a tarp over it or add additional drainage holes

If your compost is too smelly, you probably aren’t adding enough brown material. Try covering all of your green material with brown material every day.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below. Happy composting, y’all!

Reasons You Shouldn’t Raise Rabbits

Typically this is the part of the blog post where I’m supposed to introduce you to reasons you shouldn’t be raising rabbits, but we don’t have time for that. There are plenty of normal humans just wandering around the internet, falling in love with the idea of having their own sustainable meat right in their backyard, and I need to help those poor lost souls before they get in so deep they cannot be rescued.

Reasons You Shouldn't Raise Rabbits with graphic of gray rabbit

Perfectly good meat appears in the back of grocery stores that doesn’t require an animal being murdered.

Have you ever seen a pork or a beef out in the wild? No, you haven’t. Because they don’t exist. It’s not science. It’s magic.

Knowing what food your meal has eaten is just plain wrong. 

Why feed your animal organic plants from your garden when it could instead be eating phytoestrogens and genetically modified organisms? That old saying, “you are what you eat” doesn’t apply to food because scientists created a filtration system from styrofoam wrappers and ignorance to just pull away all of the bad stuff. I’m really concerned about how you will filter your meat if you have neither styrofoam nor ignorance.

An angel loses its wings every time you pay less than $0.50 for “free-range,” “organic,” or “grass-fed” meat.

Don’t you dare get me started on those that eat gourmet meals for free because they grow their rabbit’s food. I may not know what the angel loses at that point, but I do know one thing, there will be severe consequences for those types of actions.

No one should love something they will one day consume.

Honestly, I’m ashamed that you would even consider caring about something you will one day eat. And praying or thanking the soul before it is harvested? What are you? A monster? Be a decent human and grow your meals in pens where they cannot turn around and get to stand in their own poo for their entire life. That is the very least you could do for an animal that will one day sacrifice it’s life for you.

You should only consume ugly animals. 

adorable photo of baby animals traditionally raised as livestock

I’m sure you heathen rabbit raisers and homesteaders can give our readers a few more reasons why you shouldn’t be raising rabbits. Go on. Don’t be shy. Tell them.

Hello

Graphic of Adele in Hello Music Video

Hello, it’s me
I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet
To go over homesteading
They say that time’s supposed to teach ya
But I know you want something else to read

Hello, can you hear me
I’m in North Carolina  dreaming about what this blog will be
To those newer and free
from all the animals we care for and need to go feed

There’s such a difference between us
And a million miles

Hello from the east side
I’m looking for modern homesteaders to write
To tell others of the
success or failures they’ve had
Hopefully, it’s funny
because we all like to laugh.

Ooooohh, anyone
Ooooohh, anyone
Ooooohh, anyone
Anyone?

Silly gif of cow with wig

Without further Adele adieu, we are looking for modern homesteaders that would like to share their stories. This is a volunteer position.

Please send your writing samples along with a little information about yourself, your family, and your homestead to write@modernhomestead.co.