When I first started thinking about beekeeping, my knowledge of bee hives went something like this: stack some white boxes against a fence or tree line and bees will make honey. Ok, maybe I wasn't quite that far off base but I had no understanding of how to begin. Most of the hives I saw appeared to lean precariously, ready to fall over in the slightest breeze. I did not know these boxes had names or why they looked so haphazard.
There is a learning curve with any new hobby. My mission is to help new beekeepers by describing some of these basic facts so you can avoid some of the early frustration I experienced. This post will walk you through setting up a hive that honeybees will want to live in.
The most common hive style in use is the Langstroth design. Patented by Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth in 1852, the hive consists of stackable boxes with movable frames. The boxes have no top or bottom. This structure provides shelter for honeybees plus a system that allows the beekeeper to monitor the activity and health of the colony.
The Hive Stand
A hive can not sit directly on the ground. Ground moisture will seep through the wood and into the floor of the hive. Wet basements are not good for bees. Your base does not need to be fancy. A wooden pallet or concrete blocks will do. Some beekeepers will nail together a small wooden pad to support the hive. There are stands available for order that are made specifically for this purpose if you are inclined to go that route. As long as the hive is raised off the ground and not in direct contact with the soil, any type of stand is acceptable. Understand that if using wood you will need to replace it every few years as the wood deteriorates. The height of the stand is personal preference. Since I am on the rather short side of stature, an old pallet works for me.
The floor of the hive may be solid wood or a screened board. Either are referred to as the bottom board. With the increase in varroa mite infestations, many beekeepers are using a screened bottom board as part of their mite control system. The bottom board has a ledge around three sides that supports the box above it. The open side is the entrance to the hive. A block of wood called an entrance reducer is used during cold weather and when establishing a new hive to close down part of the entrance.
A typical hive will have two brood boxes containing ten frames each. These boxes may also be referred to as hive body boxes and are exactly what it sounds like: where the brood is raised. The queen lays eggs in an semicircle on each side of the frames. Honey and pollen for the use of the colony are also stored in these frames around the brood area. Brood boxes are 9 5/8" deep.
The term "super" was the most difficult for me to understand when first learning about beekeeping. Things finally clicked for me when someone explained that these more shallow boxes are called "supers" due to their position of being "super imposed" on the hive. Supers are where the bees store excess honey that the beekeeper removes and harvests. In a good year, you may see three or four supers on each hive. A typical set up will have one or two. A strong colony with good nectar flow fills 2 or 3 of these supers per year in my area.
Supers come in different sizes according to the expectation of the finished product. If the product is to have liquid honey the typical sized super is a medium or Illinois super. This box will be 6 5/8". If the end product is comb honey a shallow super ( 5 11/16") is used.
Both brood boxes and supers have inserts called frames. These are where the bees fill hexagon shaped cells with eggs for larvae, pollen, nectar and honey. At Five Feline Farm we use a plastic foundation stamped with the shape of honeycomb. This is coated with beeswax to encourage the bees to build on or "draw out" these cells for use. The exception to using a plastic base is when comb honey is desired, then a pure beeswax sheet is used. Frames are sized according to the box they will be used in. Brood boxes have 10 frames. Although supers can fit 10 frames, 9 are usually evenly spaced in the box. Bees will draw out the cells a little deeper and each cell will contain a bit more honey. The deeper cell is a benefit when de-capping the cells.
There are two lids to the hive: the inner cover and outer cover. The inner cover is rather flat with an oval cut out of the middle. This gives some insulation and ventilation space for the bees. The outer cover telescopes over the inner cover and provides a weather proof covering for the hive.It is typically weighted down with rocks or bricks to keep it secure in wind.So now you have a brief reference to get you started. And that haphazard looking tilt? Position your hives so there is a slight angle for drainage. Any condensation or other moisture that might collect in the hive will drain out and not pool in the bottom. The higher the stack of boxes, the more obvious the tilt.
Julia is the co-owner of Five Feline Farm where honeybees are part of the effort to return to a sustainable, more simple way of life. Visit our website: www.FiveFelineFarm.com and like us on Facebook.
Baby it's cold out there! Even though it's March and temperatures should be on the rise, the kidding season will need extra precautions this year; because practically the whole country is facing this same dilemma. I thought I would touch on a few points on how to deal with this never ending frigid condition.
Creating a little “warm house” for the kids will be well worth your effort. If you can get your hands on a couple of those blue plastic 55 gallon barrels, you can make a really warm, cuddle spot for your babies. Make sure the barrel is open on both ends, that way it can be placed on the hay so when the kids poop and pee, it will fall into the hay and not on the bottom of the barrel for them to be lying in!
Next, cut a little door in the side near the bottom, making sure that it's large enough for baby, but too small for momma to get in it! Of course, momma will love to stick her head in to get a little warmth herself.
Lastly, hang a heat lamp over the top of it so that it warms the barrel, keeping the babies free from the extreme cold and chilly drafts.
Hint: With heat lamps, please make sure they are securely fastened. A good idea is to use two means of support.
Probably the most important way to keep babies warm and dry is getting them that way immediately at birth. We keep an inexpensive blow dryer in our kidding bag which also contains six bath towels. Helping the mom get the babies dried off right at birth is the fastest and easiest way to assure nice, healthy kids. The biggest problem areas are ears, hoofs, tails, and of course, the testicles on little boys.
If you raise goats with pendulous ears such as Nubian's and Boer's, these ears are the most susceptible to frostbite. And, those adorable little hoofies can harbor goop that will freeze faster than the speed of lightning, so make sure you clean between the cloves really well. Most folks remember the ears and hoofs but forget all about that cute little tail and those tiny testicles. You can turn a potentially gorgeous breeding buck into a wether by neglecting this important step.
After drying off these areas as best as you can, it's time to take out the blow dryer and make sure the whole baby is warm and dry. The sound of the blow dryer can sometimes startle the mom, so keep that in mind. There are some does that just love the warm, blowing heat from the dryer and will hog all that drying breeze!
After the kids are all cleaned and warmed up, it's time to attend to mom. I always check her teats by milking just a squirt or two to make sure the waxy plug has been removed. Most of the time, the babies can just nurse the plug out, but every now and then, especially in fiber goats, the plug can be a little more difficult, so a little intervention will not only prevent a hungry baby, but a build up in the udder that can eventually cause mastitis!
Once all these steps have been completed, we always mix up a gallon of warm water (warm to the touch) mixed with ¼ cup of molasses and offer this to the doe. Usually the mother will drink this down so fast you won't believe it! She is thirsty from giving birth, first of all, and secondly, she will love the sweetness of this “tea”. The little boost of iron from the molasses certainly doesn't hurt either!
For ten years, well over 1,000 people from all over the United States, Canada, and other foreign countries have made a bi-annual trek to our small central Maine farm. The reason for this pilgrimage? To learn how to raise goats.
They come from all over to learn the basics of goat husbandry. They come to learn breeding, kidding, goat health, and nutrition as well as how to handle goat emergencies. They come to learn how to harvest fiber, raise goats for meat, and turn milk from dairy goats into cheese and soap!
Interested in learning more?? Our in depth goat husbandry program, “Goat School®” will be held in May! Memorial Day weekend ,Saturday, May 24th, and Sunday, May 25th are the dates, with a Goat Milk Soap and Goat Cheese Making Class on Monday, May 26th . Our Soap and Cheese Making Class is limited due to space requirements, and we already have some folks signed up for it, so if you are interested, please get your registrations in soon! Click here for Spring Goat School® registration form. Can't come in May? Then Columbus Day weekend in October (Oct. 11th, 12th with the Soap and Cheese class on Oct. 13th) might fit your schedule better! Click here for the fall Goat School® registration!
Check out our web site at www.GoatSchool.com Don't forget to click on the Goat School Shop and take a look at our Goat School® Manual.
Several years ago when my first son was starting to eat solid foods I became much more thoughtful about food in general and my definition of “eating healthy” underwent a massive makeover. It was and is important to me to provide my family with the very best nourishment possible. Bread is practically synonymous with nourishment but the breads that fill the shelves of the grocery stores bear little resemblance to the bread of our ancestors. I always bought “healthy, whole grain bread” (you know, the more expensive kind) and felt pretty good about it but then one day I looked at the ingredients and was shocked. High fructose corn syrup in a product I had felt great about eating for years (not to mention a whole host of other ingredients I couldn’t even pronounce). I felt like that company had really pulled the wool over my eyes so I looked at the ingredient list of another brand and another only to find one single brand in an entire aisle that did not have high fructose corn syrup. This is when I realized that bread as I knew it is not real bread and if I want my family to continue to enjoy it I should learn to bake it.
I started baking bread using organic, all purpose flour and commercial yeast but then thought that it would be better to use organic, whole wheat flour so I switched. I felt great about sending my son to school knowing that his sandwich was on homemade bread. It wasn’t long though before I started wondering how bread had been made before the (fairly recent) invention of packaged yeast; that’s when I discovered sourdough, and then spelt. After my second son was born and had a sensitivity to many foods a good friend told me about einkorn. Once I tried baking with einkorn there was no turning back. My research has led me to believe that using einkorn to bake sourdough bread is as nutritious and easily digestible as it gets and my taste buds prefer it to spelt, kamut or whole wheat. It is absolutely delicious.
Einkorn Wheat Nutrition
Einkorn is the first form of wheat cultivated by man about 12,000 years ago. To put that into perspective, spelt was first planted roughly 5,000 years ago and quinoa roughly 4,000 years ago. All you need to do to see just how far modern wheat is removed from einkorn is to look at a kernel of each side by side. Compared with modern wheat einkorn has:
30 percent more protein (the same amount as quinoa), 20 percent more zinc, 10 percent more iron, 200 more lutein, 150 percent more tocotrienols and significantly higher levels of B vitamins
15 percent less total starch
Twice the ORAC value (antioxidant value of foods)
A deep buttery color due to the higher levels of carotenoids
Recipes and Coupon Code
Chances are you won’t find einkorn in your local supermarket but you can buy it online at JovialFoods.com. They’re currently offering a discount of 15 % off of your entire order at the Jovial Foods Store plus free shipping for Mother Earth News readers! The code is: EINK14. There you will also find a treasure trove of information on einkorn and tried and true recipes. I buy the einkorn wheat berries and grind them finely in my own grain mill and have had great luck following the recipes below. The only thing I’ve had to change is adding a bit more liquid. Here are a two recipes adapted from jovial foods that are simple and delicious:
Sourdough Einkorn Buns Recipe
I have to say that these are awesome buns for hamburgers but also for any kind of sandwich or with just a little bit of butter and honey. You can also freeze them and reheat in an oven at a low temperature for using later.
For this recipe, you will make a pre-ferment the night before baking. Mix the starter in warm water until it dissolves, then beat in the flour with a fork until well-incorporated. Let stand in a covered glass bowl in a dark place for 12 hours.
2 tbsp (25g) sourdough starter (click here for a link to sourdough starter recipe)
1/2 cup (118g) warm water
1 cup (120g) einkorn flour
Now, you will make the dough using the pre-ferment, which will speed up the proofing on the day of baking.
5 cups (600g) einkorn flour
¼ cup (50g) sugar
2 tsp (10g) sea salt
pre-ferment water oil and eggs
¾ cup (177g) warm water (up to 1 cup if your milling the einkorn yourself)
4 heaping tbsp. (60g) of olive oil
2 medium eggs
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar and sea salt.
In a small mixing bowl, add water, oil and eggs to pre-ferment and whisk well with a fork.
Pour liquid mixture into the flour, then mix with a wooden spoon as much as possible. Finish kneading with your hands.
Cover the mixing bowl with a plate or plastic wrap and let stand in a dark place for 2-5 hours, depending on the strength of your starter and the temperature in your kitchen.
Scrape the dough out of the bowl with your hands and place on a floured work surface.
Add a sprinkling of flour and knead until smooth, then divide the dough into 12 pieces.
Using extra flour, roll each piece of dough into a firm and smooth ball.Line a large baking tray with parchment paper and place each ball on the tray, leaving 3 inches of space around each roll.
Press down on each roll to flatten. Cover the tray with a damp cloth.
Let proof for 1 hour.
Preheat the over to 390 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the rolls for 12 minutes
Here are some helpful tips to consider when making this recipe.
The pre-ferment is ready when it has very large bubbles. If you decide not to bake after making the pre-ferment, it can be refrigerated and used when you are ready, within a few days. You will not have to leave it out again to proof, you can use it directly from the refrigerator.
Einkorn absorbs water slowly, so the dough will be rather wet at first. A wetter dough will yield a softer bread with einkorn. In fact, your dough will be very sticky at first, but as the flour absorbs water during proofing, the dough will stiffen and become more manageable.
You must deflate the balls of dough to form the rolls because they will lift up in the oven during baking. Leave enough space around each roll to allow for even baking. Even if the sourdough rolls do not double in size
before baking, they will rise quickly in the oven.
Super Soft Einkorn Sandwich Bread Recipe
Scroll to the bottom of this recipe for a sourdough version. I prefer it in sourdough form but if you’re not a fan of sourdough or are new to baking bread, this turns out a super yummy loaf either way. I have also found that by having a rimmed baking sheet preheated in the oven and pouring a cup of hot water on it when you put your loaf in, it helps to give you a nice moist loaf with a soft crust and eliminates the need for aluminum foil.
4 cups (480g) einkorn flour + extra for dusting
2 tbsp (32g) sugar
1¼ tsp (9g) sea salt
2 tsp (8g) dry active yeast (not needed if you’re making the sourdough version)
¾ cup (195g) of milk, warmed
¼ cup (58g) of water, warmed (up to ½ cup if you’re milling the einkorn yourself)
3 tbsp (45g) butter, melted
1 tbsp (15g) extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp (4g) lemon juice
Combine milk, water and sugar in a small bowl.Add yeast, stir to dissolve and let stand for 5 minutes; then add butter, olive oil and lemon juice.
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and salt. Add wet ingredients and mix until the flour is absorbed by the liquid. The dough will be very wet and very sticky, but it takes time for einkorn flour to absorb liquids. Let stand for 30 minutes.
Dust the dough with 2 tbsp of flour, turn out on a clean work surface and knead briefly until the dough becomes smooth. The dough will still be a bit sticky and wet, but much more manageable. A wetter einkorn dough will give you a softer loaf. Let rest for 45 minutes.
Even if you do not see much of a rise, form the loaf using another bit of flour, only if needed. Butter an 8″ x 4″ loaf pan and add the loaf, pressing down to spread to the corners of the loaf pan. In order to get a soft crust, you don’t want the surface to harden, so tightly cover the pan with plastic wrap and let rest for 45 minutes, then preheat the oven for 15 minutes at 400°F.
Now, the trick to a great loaf of einkorn bread when baking with yeast is to be careful not to let the dough rise too much. This is not important when using sourdough starter. The gluten in einkorn is very weak and when it rises too much or too quickly with yeast, it loses elasticity and strength and therefore cannot maintain the structure of the rise during baking. This will cause sinking in the middle of the loaf. Therefore, don’t follow the rule of letting the dough double in size. Try the proofing times we suggest here and then adjust them according to the results you get in your kitchen.
The rise of the loaf will happen in the oven during baking, so it is important to score the top of the loaf with a sharp knife or razor to allow expansion while avoiding an uneven shape. The loaf will also stay firmer so you will be able to get nice slices without having them fall apart.
Bake at 400°F for 20 minutes, rotate the loaf pan, then lower to 375 degrees for 15 minutes more. If you think the crust is browning too much, cover the bread with aluminum foil after the first 20 minutes.
Turn out on a cooling rack. Now, place a lightly dampened, clean dish cloth on top of the loaf while it cools. This will soften the crust nicely. Let cool completely before slicing.
If you cannot eat dairy, you can easily exchange a grain beverage like rice milk for the milk and vegetable spread or oil for the butter and the results will be pretty close.
We also made this recipe with a sourdough preferment with fabulous results. Learn how to make your own starter and pre-ferment here. To make this recipe with 17g of pre-ferment, reduce the amount of milk to ½ cup (110g). The proofing times will be longer. We recommend 3-4 hours for the first rise and then 1-2 hours before baking.
These recipes have been adapted from Jovialfoods.com
Photo by Lindsay Williamson
Over the weekend, unexpectedly, I took a ropes course. Not in the way you’re probably thinking; the “ropes course” consisted of me winning a war against a yucca leaf. A friend of mine who is a Girl Scout taught me how to make yucca ropes.
Making rope out of grass, bamboo or yucca is, as you can imagine, a much older and more environmentally friendly practice than making rope from synthetic materials, and the finished product is much more attractive. Nor is it any weaker than commercial rope: I once met a woman in Historical Jamestown who told me her husband had used grass rope to tow a car.
The friend who taught me to make yucca rope has a yucca plant in her yard, its pale green leaves spiking up into the air like swords. We needed to remove some of those leaves for use in our ropes. Unfortunately for us, yucca leaves, despite their many other virtues, are so rough they can give you splinters if you rub them the wrong way, and are hardly dented no matter how viciously you clamp down with pliers. Once we’d finally separated two leaves from the plant, we set them on a flat surface in the shade and started work.
I expected us to cut the leaves into strips, but it turns out you use the fibers inside of the leaf for yucca rope. We scratched the outsides of our leaves away with metal rulers. It was difficult work at first because of the crease of the leaf, but not too hard to get the hang of. As we worked, juice ran out of the leaves, letting off a powerfully green scent.
Since my friend had gotten a head start on the scraping and was better at it than I, she moved on to the next step of the process first. Her spear-sharp leaf had been replaced by a handful of off-white threads. She dipped them in a pitcher of water and held them under to the count of thirty, then attacked them with the ruler again. Wet, the fibers cooperated better, turning so white so fast they made their appearance before soaking look dark. The substance being scraped off now resembled basil pesto.
When she was satisfied with the whiteness of her fibers, we went inside, she to twist her fibers into rope, me to finish my leaf. While my friend worked on her rope, I got so frustrated with my leaf that she took pity on me and helped with the scraping for a while. At last my leaf came apart into a group of pale strands, rather like cooked spaghetti, except greener. I soaked and scraped them until they were white, and started braiding them into rope.
I had made a grass rope before and was no stranger to the technique, although I wasn’t astoundingly skilled. Mine ended up a bit uneven because I’d twisted the fibers rather loosely, but my friend’s had the smooth, almost acrylic look that I’d seen from other masters of the technique. In spite of my poorer execution, though, both ropes looked interesting.
We let our ropes dry, then began the next-to-last step: burning loose fibers off our ropes. I watched in fascination as my friend held her rope up to a lit candle and touched a loose end to the flame. A golden spark traveled along the thread until the rope extinguished it.
When we had both finished that step, we embarked on the last step of the procedure: coating the ropes with beeswax to prevent mold. This entailed dipping the end of an unlit candle in the flame of the lit candle and rubbing the wax onto the rope.
Once our ropes were finished, we made them into jewelry; she made an anklet, I a necklace.
Given the faint green that my rope had settled into, and the white seashell I had chosen to thread onto it, I felt rather like Ariel wearing it, but I didn’t mind. It was very satisfying to have finished it, and I was proud of what I had created. It still smelled sweet, that unique beeswax aroma. It was a bit scratchy, but I could ignore it, and it left no marks on my neck at the end of the day. The colors worked with just about everything. Best of all, it was completely natural, unless there was synthetic coloring in the beeswax.
You don’t need to be a Girl Scout to make yucca rope. It’s versatile, as are its cousins grass and bamboo rope, and can be used in anything from making jewelry to towing cars. It’s easy to make, taking no more than two or three hours, and won’t hurt the earth at all.
Cut a yucca leaf and remove its outer layer, soaking the fibers this process will produce as necessary. Separate your fibers into two parts. Twist the parts together at one end (not both). Form a loop with the twisted part. Twist the next centimeter or so down and cross them. Repeat as necessary until you have, basically, a rope braid. Working very carefully with a lit candle, burn off any loose ends your rope may have. (They’ll look like stray hairs.) Slightly melt some beeswax and rub the melted part on your rope until it is entirely coated. The result makes good jewelry.
Take a piece of grass 1-2 feet long. Cut it into very thin strips. Separate the strips into halves. Twist the parts together at one end (not both). Form a loop with the twisted part. Twist the next centimeter or so down and cross them. Repeat as necessary until you have, basically, a rope braid. Tie a knot at the end. Let dry. When made correctly and in large enough quantities, the result is often usable for rope ladders and in towing cars.
I have no experience with bamboo rope. Ask a Girl Scout.
Photos courtesy of Evie S.
Soot smudged on our hands, perspiration from cutting wood, the dirt of living, working, being for a few days or more between baths ... once we’re dirty, we’re ready to get clean. Without a faucet, the process of a warm bath in winter takes some planning, so it’s not something we do each day. But oh my how refreshing that makes it!
It starts outside, of all places, with the shovel and a big pot. Be it fresh powder or icy snowballs, as much snow as possible is condensed into our largest pot. This is carried inside, and placed atop the hot woodstove. Time and heat turn the snow into water; as regular guests to this most basic of alchemy, Ryan and I await the transformation while reading, writing, splitting kindling, carrying in wood, talking, sharing a meal - whatever task or hobby is on the docket at the moment.
In due time the pot once chock full of snow begins to rock back and forth on its warped bottom, now holding a few inches of water. We test it until it’s just right - not scalding, not lukewarm.
Towel, soap, wash cloth, clean clothes...everything is laid out alongside the wash basin while we stand beside the stove. There’s nothing like a crackling fire to keep off the chill of a winter washing. Depending on the goal, the set-up is a little different. When washing my long hair, I prefer dunking my head into the pot of water, akin to an aggressive game of bobbing-for-apples. Otherwise, hot water is poured into our ceramic wash basin. From there, a proper sponge bath gets us squeaky clean, at least for a little while.
Clean clothes are donned, and our towel and wash cloth are hung on the ladder to the loft to dry. The wash basin or pot, depending on which was used, is scrubbed, rinsed, and dried. We carry and dump all bath water outdoors; a divot in the snowdrifts is the clue to where our rock sump pit is located.
We relish the smoothness of our skin, the invigorating feeling of clean pores and fresh layers of long johns. Ryan and I insist to each other that a few days of work and grime is the ideal means to appreciating cleanliness! What is the value of “clean?” To a certain degree, we relish dirt as evidence that we value physical labor and the implication that we are hard workers who meet our work willingly. Without the opportunity to feel a little dirt on our skin, might not the routine of creating a bath change from refreshing to tedious? I suppose many would suggest that’s an unnecessary exaggeration, but we don’t. It is our own personal yin and yang: the ability to get grimy warrants and gives purpose to the process of becoming clean. Without one, what is the other?
March is here, which means time to prune your fruit trees, berry bushes, and ornamental shrubs. Contact Beth via firstname.lastname@example.org for pruning work or garden designs.
What a few months this has been! Sometime last year, before the leaves started falling and the frost arrived and the Polar Vortex descended, we began homestead hunting. I decided to start the search early, many months before our prospective move date, which revolved around what most things in my household do: a teen girl. We moved school districts almost two years ago, and I really didn’t want to move her again, let alone in her junior or senior year of high school. That seems like cruel and unusual punishment during some already punishing years.
My boyfriend and I sat down and wrote The List: what we want in a home and what we need. Here are the basics: three, or preferably four bedrooms; two bathrooms for sure (reference teen girl above); room for two large pit bull rescue pups (one half lab, the other half mastiff); parking for multiple pickup trucks; trailer parking; RV parking; a large kitchen in which to prepare homemade meals and teach classes; a yard with adequate space and sun for a three-season garden; and room for a goat shelter, a chicken coop, and, eventually, a horse paddock. For goodness sake, is this too much to ask?!
Maybe. But here are some tools to use and topics to consider when choosing a homestead:
I’ve used several websites to scout listings, mainly realtor.com
, because they allow me to filter properties by acreage and school district.
Great Schools allows you to see school districts’ ratings, test scores, and reviews.
You’ll want to look into the zoning and animal restrictions for a given area, as well, since that might rule some places out right away. For instance, I initially chose a nearby community, assuming they were animal friendly, but it turned out they heavily restrict animals on anything less than three acres. You can’t even have one chicken unless you have three acres. In fact, that town is suing a woman for keeping chickens! Needless to say, I crossed that community off the list. Your township building or city hall is an excellent first stop; they should keep a copy of the guidelines and ordinances on hand or on their websites.
When considering a property, carefully inspect the lay of the land. Several we’ve seen have been on sloping lots, which will wash my garden nutrients right down the hill unless I build leveling raised beds. A sloping lot will also make the animal shelters challenging to build. Consider whether that’s the sort of work you’ll want to tackle and, if so, if your timeline will let you get it done. Will you miss too many growing seasons and blow your budget?
I also use Google Earth’s tool for tracking sunlight at every time of the day, which is helpful if a home is surrounded by woods. Once you’ve downloaded Google Earth, you simply type in the address of the prospective property and use the slide tool to change the time of day. While the results aren’t always super conclusive, the tool gives you an idea of what to expect. If there are surrounding trees that wouldn’t be on my property and thus couldn’t be taken down to let sunlight in, I couldn’t grow a garden.
It doesn’t cover all of the country, but Redfin allows you to pull up all kinds of info on a home and also to see its property line. This is important especially with irregular lots and unusual layouts.
Begin to consider the logistics of your move: Will you hire a mover? How and when can you transplant your favorite plants? Is it time to plan a yard sale? Will you move your chicken coop and, if so, how? Shed movers are an excellent resource for this; Google “shed movers” and your area for local services. If you give them the dimensions of your coop and the mileage of the move, they should be able to give you an estimate. You can also find shed movers on Craigslist, but make sure to request references and ask whether they’re insured.
Make a plan for transporting your animals, including chickens. Read up on stress-reducing transportation tips, especially since changes of environment can result in changes of behavior and egg-laying patterns. Will you need to find them a temporary shelter while you rebuild a run?
You’ll also need to clean out and dispose of the bedding in your coop, and you’ll need to replace it quickly once the coop arrives at the next location. Order or purchase your bedding ahead of time, as well as materials to rebuild a run if needed, and have those ready to go ASAP at the new place.
Since the property we eventually land on will be our “forever” homestead (we hope!), I’m much more careful in choosing it than I have been with rentals and past moves. I know my pickiness baffles my friends and family—especially my unwillingness to decrease our acreage in order to be closer to everyone. (We’ll still be within an hour.) While I would love to stay right in my town, finding a large, affordable lot has been nearly impossible. I’ve had to open up my search radius and keep an open mind.
In my own search, I’ve found two things to be the most important. First, find a realtor who understands your lifestyle. Many people looking for a home ask for things like hardwood floors, stainless appliances, and a beautiful center-hall colonial for hosting dinner parties. That’s not us. We’re asking for chicken- and goat-friendly neighborhoods, a house with character, and adequate space to can preserves and make cheese and teach others to do so. Out of the ordinary, perhaps, but pivotally important to folks like us. We needed a realtor who understood that passion.
Second, try not to make the decision overly personal. It should remain business. Many months ago, we found the perfect homestead. It was close to everyone, had adequate acreage, lovely flat ground for gardens, and a beautiful farmhouse with possibilities. It also had a painfully awful seller. But as the negotiations dragged on, the deal deteriorated, and in the end, he demanded $20,000 more than we’d agreed upon. (The mortgage was contingent on him making some repairs.)
In the end, we walked away. We had been pushed past our budget and were no longer able to the trust the seller to do the right thing. While it was difficult to walk, it would have been more difficult to pay a mortgage that was outside of our parameters—and to use all of our savings to make that happen. Finding a balance has been challenging at moments, but I’ve decided that I will keep certain things personal (buying a house that’s our style, versus one that simply works) and other things purely business (like the budget).
Sit down and make a list of your deal breakers and makers and stick to it. That way, you never question your decision or get in over your head. If you’re buying with your other half, make sure your list is clear and approved by both of you. Hold one another to it firmly but kindly. It’s much easier to defuse a heated discussion when you have a written list to refer to as your original goals.
I do believe you’ll know your home when you find it. You’ll imagine yourself cooking at the stove or you’ll picture your kids doing chores in the lawn. It’s worth the struggle and the devotion to have a place you’re in love with, year after year. After all, there’s no place like home!
This post originally appeared on HOMEGROWN.org.
Although she’s something of a newbie homesteader herself, Michelle comes from serious pioneer stock: Her great-grandmother literally wrote the book. It’s this legacy, in part, that led Michelle to trade in her high-stress life for a home on the grounds of a Pennsylvania CSA farm. You can read her monthly posts on beginner homesteading with kids and more here in HOMEGROWN Life, and sometimes you can find her popping up in The Stew, HOMEGROWN’s member blog.
Here are some of our more radical money saving, life changing, planet-improving tips. Not only do we save money but we also save resources and live lives that are more connected to nature and our community.
Live electricity-free. Not only do we have no electric bill but we also don't have all the gizmos that go along with electricity. No buying, replacing, or fixing of i-phones, laptops, appliances, flat screen TV's, cable, internet...Without electricity we have started playing instruments, play board games with our family, make, use, and sell beeswax candles, get lots of great sleep (especially in the winter), and get up with the sun. We also spend lots of time outdoors, whatever the season. Our kids spend lot of time creating games, building things, drawing, helping with chores, running around outside, and generally using their imaginations and bodies. Without a TV and computer in the house we also avoid the bombardment of ads telling us what to buy and what to crave.
Live car-free (and fossil-fuel free at home). Again, no bills for lots of things like insurance (yuk!), gas, repairs, payments, oil changes...We bike for most of our needs thus getting exercise and seeing our neighborhood and city more closely at a slower speed. This also causes us to slow down in general since we can't just zip around here and there burning gas buying stuff we don't need made in sweatshops in China.
Scavenge! We tap into the waste streams of society. We use recycled materials for a huge portion of our building projects. We glean from schools, farms and markets, and food pantries ("expired food") for animal feed. Clothing dishes, and the like are second hand or thrift. We also glean fruit for ourselves for cider, jams and preserves from city trees and nearby old orchards.
Unjob. We have given up careers and work piece-meal as we need money. This frees us up to garden, raise animals, get to know neighbors, bike for travel, play with friends, hike, make and share meals in our neighborhood community, do service. It also reduces our costs for job-related expenses like travel to and from work, work clothes, and beer at the end of the week so we can decompress. We also have less stress and are healthier. Unjobbing was essential to transforming our lives.
Create. We make a lot of what we need from natural materials - cob and earthen plasters for home improvements - and from what we harvest, grow, and collect. We buy no meat but raise rabbits and pigs. We create classes and workshops with great teachers for our community and ourselves furthering our growth as people and deepening community ties. We make low-tech (affordable and appropriate) systems for hot water, waste, heat (masonry heaters and solar wall heaters, for example), cooking (our stoven), growing through the winter with cold-frames and greenhouses, etc. We often build toys with our kids (they last wanted wooden battleships and crossbows!) and also make and sing music.
Share. We ask friends and neighbors to borrow tools, books, materials, cars or a pick-up truck when needed, to help with labor and so on. We also give what we have from seedlings to eggs to labor and expertise, to classes offered on the gift economy ... to keep the loop intact. (six and a half): Cultivate Satisfaction with Having Less Stuff: We have put a fair amount of time in for reflection on the meaning of life. On spiritual pursuits. On knowing ourselves and what truly makes us happy. With this knowledge has comes some wisdom and some strength to pursue a more authentic path.
Our family of four on a half-acre in Reno, NV, lives abundantly on about $6,500 a year. With this lifestyle comes time for hobbies and interests, time for being with our children and time with my wife, time for play and rest, great health and great food, time to do lots of service, and deeper connection to nature and to our friends and neighbors. It's been a great journey so far.