Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

8 Homesteading Winter Prep Tips You Should Absolutely Start in October


Homesteading allows individuals and families to live a greener and healthier lifestyle. A self-sustainable lifestyle helps heal and replenish natural resources while providing a positive impact on the environment, but it also requires constant attention and preparation. As the summer months end and the fall weather begins to roll in, winter preparation is necessary for the future of your garden, pasture or ranch. Here are eight winter prep tips homesteaders should complete by the end of autumn:

1. Leaves

You can add the leaves you rake up during autumn to your compost pile. You can also shred the leaves and layer your field or garden beds.

2. Mulching

Speaking of leaves and biological detritus, mulching has a great effect on your soil and moisture retention because it keeps morning dew and water from escaping.

Mulching will also reduce the amount of weed maintenance you may end up doing after winter ends, while the process of mulching allows you to make use of perennial and evergreen plants you cannot harvest for food or fodder.

Make sure you use the proper equipment to make the best use of your time and resources. Some machinery and equipment will let you add mulching attachments that can handle branches up to 8 inches long.

3. Organization

One significant thing about the winter months will be the allotted resting time for your land and tools. Make sure you collect all the equipment and tools you will not, or cannot, use in the snow or rain.

During the fall and winter, you can sharpen, polish or replace work blades, attachments and other items in order to maximize their effectiveness during the planting and harvest seasons.

4. Preparing the Ground

Before the ground freezes over or hardens due to cold weather, use the time to till and turn your soil. If you have raised garden beds, you can use wood chips and other natural coverings as mulch and soil builders to preserve the soil's fertility for spring.

When the cold sets in or the wet weather strikes, the turned soil gets preserved via ice or further moisturized from the rain.

 5. Farm Animal Organization

Historically, landowners would have their shepherds or ranchers kill a certain amount of livestock at the coming of winter because there was not enough food for both the people and the animals. This practice was named culling, and is still practiced in some farms and cultures today.

These days, our ability to preserve food longer and in greater quantities has improved with technology, so culling no longer serves such an immediate purpose. Instead of diminishing your number of livestock, you can use them in different ways.

For instance, while the number of eggs you harvest from your chicken coop will diminish during winter, the animal detritus and waste can serve as fertilizer material.

6. Crafting Work

If your homestead includes a bee farm addition or you want to make use of the ash from your wood-burning heat sources, you can use these elements to make products. Wood ash, honey, herbs and other materials from your homestead can be utilized to create useful products like soap, candles and home remedies.

7. Gathering and Planning

Use the downtime winter days and nights force on you and your homestead to plan the upcoming season. Maybe you want to introduce a new crop rotation, or maybe you want your livestock to graze a new area in order to prepare it for tilling and planting. Shop around for new seeds and bulbs to expand your holdings. Perhaps one crop did not work out the way you wanted. If that’s the case, use winter to find a replacement.

8. House Prep

Overall, your land holdings will enter into a state of preservation during the winter months. Your house, on the other hand, requires a different type of preparation for the incoming elements of nature. Whether it’s rain, snow or ice, you want your home sealed, insulated and secured against the elements. Make sure your pipes are prepped against freezing, your home’s protected against drafts or mold, and your fuel sources are full and accessible.

With proper planning and execution, the winter months will be just as productive and rewarding for your fields as the springtime. Working on these various projects, or others you may find, will break the tedium of those slow winter days.

Photo Credit: Image by Pixabay

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Pennsylvania Mother Earth News Fair in Photos

If you’ve never been to a Mother Earth News Fair, perhaps these random photos from my visit to the Pennsylvania fair in Seven Springs last week will give you an idea of what you might expect. If you have attended one of these awesome events, maybe you can relive some of your favorite fair moments by perusing the pictures below.

view of the fair

The Natural Building venue attracted lots of folks who wanted to try their hands at building with mud and straw. Photo by Ron Wynn

kirsten shockey fermenting

Kirsten Shockey discusses fermenting condiments and more.

books in bookstore

A few of the many books available at the fair's Mother Earth News Bookstore

barbara pleasant cuts fruit

Mother Earth News contributing editor Barbara Pleasant prepares slices of disease-resistant apples for audience taste-testing.

Zach Loeks permaculture

Zach Loeks brings permaculture gardening and design concepts to life with his unique, entertaining style.

straw bale gardening

Workshop participants try their skill at building a strawbale garden. Photo by Ron Wynn

grit venue overflows

Even with more than 150 workshops to choose from, it's not unusual for workshops to be filled to overflowing. Photo by Ron Wynn

salves for arthritis

Claire Orner was one busy lady during the fair, leading four workshops as well as tending her exhibit booth along with husband Rusty.

southern exposure seed exchange

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange's booth is always popular. Fair goers can sample a wide variety of tomatoes, learn about growing garlic, and purchase heirloom seeds and garlic bulbs for fall planting.

guinea fowl talk

Animal-related workshops included guinea fowl, rabbits, chickens, horses, pigs, goats, cows, and alpacas. Photo by Ron Wynn

Workshops I attended but for some reason have no photographs from include a fascinating talk by fermenting maven Sandor Katz, a Jessi Bloom workshop on gardening wisdom for resiliency, and two workshops by the ever-effervescent Shawna Coronado (one on gardening hacks and another on how to garden successfully with arthritis).

You have one more chance to catch a Mother Earth News Fair event this calendar year. The next fair venue is the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, KS, October 21-22, 2017. If you can’t make that one, don’t worry—next year’s fair season begins in February with the Belton, TX, fair, followed by the Asheville, NC, fair in April and back to Seven Springs, PA, next September. Maybe I'll see you there.

Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts by following this link. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Bee Tips


It’s beekeeping; it is never a perfectly oiled machine. Just when you think you’re getting pretty good at it, the girls knock you down a peg. I’ve had days when I came into the house in tears crying to my husband that my bees hated me and other days where it seemed like the girls would hoist me on their tiny shoulders, if they were able. I’ve made a ton of mistakes along the way and done more than a few stupid things. I wanted to list a few of the lessons I have learned thru the years and share some of my ignorance in the hopes that it may spare some of you the sharp side of the stinger.

Never drop a frame full of bees; you will answer to winged fury from below.

Never bend over in front of an angry hive; they will find just the right spot to sting.

Never use black duct tape to mend a suit; bees really hate dark colors, it’s true, trust me.

Never use a flashlight for a night inspection; better yet, never conduct a night inspection, if you absolutely have to, use a red light.

Never open a hive that’s being robbed; you’ll just cause chaos in the bee yard.

If you have multiple hives open make sure you place the correct box on the correct hive; otherwise you’ll have a mess of bees fighting and angry.

Check every frame in the hive when inspecting; the swarm cell is always on the last frame.

Keep your smoker lit; nothing is worse that being knee deep in angry bees with an unlit smoker.

If a hive seems agitated before you open them up; believe them, check them another day.

Never place an unchecked hive tool under your arm in the bee yard; that is the most delicate of skin to receive a sting.

Have the tools you need before you go to your bee yard; not having what you need is flustering and can cause much exercise running back and forth.

If you get a bee in your ear, don’t panic; this would be a great time to recommend you check your suit for tears, holes and openings often!

Lastly, remember:

Small hive beetles will always outsmart you.

Wax moths will always find a way to ruin stored foundation.

Never go to the bee yard angry.

You will make stupid mistakes, you will make the girls angry, and you will feel like a terrible beekeeper sometimes. More often that not, you will be an amazing beekeeper, so don’t let the small defeats get you down. Learn from the mistakes you make and don’t feel bad if you have to make them several times before you finally get it. At the end of the day the girls are more forgiving than you think. 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Recover from a Fire on a Homestead

fire on the homestead

Smokey Bear did his best to teach everyone how to prevent forest fires, yet you too can experience a house fire.

No matter what type of house you have, it’s your job to protect it, your loved ones and the treasured memories built within. Here’s what you can do to keep your  house safe, and in the case of a fire, stay alive and recover:

Create a Fire Escape Plan

To create a fire escape plan, you’ll need to draw a basic floor plan of your house, outlining each floor and its escape routes. Ideally, each room should have two escape options. Place a copy in each child’s room, at their eye level. You may also want to teach your child how to break glass safely. For rooms on upper levels, invest in a fire ladder for a safe exit.

Plan a meetup location, such as a tourist area, church or school. Everyone should know how to use text messaging, which can get through network disturbances, and should have a primary family member designated as an emergency contact.


Proper Fire Equipment

Keep proper fire equipment to ensure family and home safety. In addition to checking your dual-sensor smoke detectors every six months, it’s handy to have a fire extinguisher nearby on all levels. Everyone in the family should know how to use a fire extinguisher, using the mnemonic device PASS:

P — Pull the pin.
A — Always aim at the base of the fire.
S — Squeeze the handle.
S — Sweep from side to side.

The best types of fire extinguishers to have are ABC multipurpose types, with Class A for fabric, plastic, rubber, wood and paper, Class B for grease, oil, paints, cleaning solvents and gasoline and Class C working on electrical equipment.

When thinking about fire safety, many homeowners overlook fire masks. Many people believe the myth that gas masks protect you from both carbon monoxide and smoke, but smoke can clog a gas mask. Additionally, gas masks may melt if exposed to fire. To prevent smoke inhalation, a fire mask is a wise investment.

Create a Fire and First-Aid Kit

While many families have first-aid kits on hand, they may forget to add in burn ointments and fire safety. Families should know how to treat burns as part of first-aid preparedness. Remove jewelry from the burned area. If possible, place the burn under cool running water for at least 10 minutes before applying antibiotic or burn ointment.

Wool fire blankets are another necessary addition to a first-aid safety kit, as they naturally protect from the flames and comfort shock victims. Keep additional blankets along planned escape routes.

Pay Special Attention to Fire Hazards

Be alert to potential fire hazards in your home, such as improper fuel storage.

Color-coding gasoline, kerosene and diesel containers will help keep everyone safe, preventing the hazard of mixing gases. Keep gases away from their ignition sources, such as keeping wood piles separate from propane, and at least 20 to 30 feet away from your home.

Everyone loves a good barbecue in the summer, but you need to clean your grill clean after every use. Grease fires are common, and a grill brush will help prevent buildup. Prevent drippings from getting near the gas hose, and periodically check for gas leaks and blockages.

Fireplace safety is super-important in the home, especially since there are an average 14,000 house fires every year due to improper fireplace care. Your best defense is a sturdy and secure fireplace screen made of glass or metal. When the fire has burned itself out, be sure you have a safe place to dispose of the ashes.

Use forest service fire suppression tools, such as a shovel and Pulaski axe, to minimize fire risk and to clean up dry brush around your home. Experts recommend maintaining a 100-foot fire line around the home to keep away brush fires.

On Recovery, Assessing Damage and Reimbursing Costs

It takes a team effort to recover after a house fire. It’s not safe nor in your best interest to restore your property by yourself.

Your homeowner’s insurance company will evaluate the damage, but it’s important to keep your receipts for any hotel and meal costs, as these expenses may be reimbursed.

Aside from calling your insurance company, you’ll need to contact your landlord, if you have one, and organizations such as the American Red Cross if you need emergency assistance with shelter, clothing or food. Many people don’t know partially burnt paper money may be replaced by your local federal reserve bank. Ideally, your most important documents should have been protected in a fireproof safe, but if not, they are replaceable.

You’ll need to document any damage to your property, including the land in case of a wildfire or fire having spread. Take photos and check for water damage, in case professionals need to be brought in for repair. Many companies specialize in restoring property after fire damage, and your insurance company or local fire service may provide leads.

Recovering from a house fire often poses an unexpected tragedy, even when you think you’re prepared with an evacuation plan. Remember, there’s no such thing as being overly prepared for a worst-case scenario. Take all methods of fire prevention to heart, and keep proper fire equipment, including fire masks, multipurpose extinguishers and blankets. Prevent home fires by mitigating brush fire risks and keeping grills and fireplaces clean. Add burn treatment supplies to your first-aid kit.

When a fire does occur, recovery will go much more smoothly if you contact professionals and reach out for help from local and national relief services. Document everything and store your receipts so your insurance company can help you navigate through assessing the damage and recovery process and restoring your home.

Photo by Raquel Raclette

Bobbi Peterson is an environmental blogger who started the blog Living Life GreenFollow Bobbi on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

I'm at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Fair!

My husband and I haven’t missed a single year of the Mother Earth News Fair since we first discovered the phenomenon four years ago. Our first M.E.N. fair experience was at its original venue, Seven Springs, PA, not far from Pittsburgh. Since then, we’ve been going to the much closer Asheville, NC, fair, but this year, we decided to return to the mother of them all. (The fair is currently held in six locations from Vermont to Texas to Oregon.)

waiting for the fair

Eager fair goers wait for the gates to open.

Why the Pennsylvania Fair?

First of all, it was here where we were first introduced to these extraordinary fairs that encourage a more sustainable lifestyle. Then there’s the beautiful drive that for us follows the Appalachian mountain chain through beautiful rolling hills and pastoral countryside. But the main reason we wanted to come back to Pennsylvania is because this version of the fair gives you an extra half day of workshops for the same low price as the two-day events elsewhere. Hard to resist.

My first day was a full one.

Our first stop at the fair was the Mother Earth News bookstore. It’s chock full of how-to and diy books on all sorts of topics: alternative energy, tiny houses, food preservation, animal husbandry, organic gardening—the list goes on. And a coupon for 25% off bookstore purchases comes with every ticket. The books go fast. We left with a big armful (as usual.)

Mother Earth News Fair bookstore

 Bookstore at the Mother Earth News Fair

Then it was on to the workshops. We usually split up so we get twice as much information. In the evenings, we share notes and debrief. My day’s workshops started with Herbal Salve-Making with Claire Orner. Claire was generous with her salve-making recipes. I left knowing how to make salves for arthritis, headaches, inflammation, memory, and more. I can’t wait to start making my own.

Then it was off to a workshop led by Victor Zaderej of Happy Leaf LED. Victor showed us a quick, easy, ad space-saving way to grow vegetables hydroponically indoors using mason jars, clay pellets, and water. The key to this quick results method is to use LED grow lights. Intriguing.

In just a few minutes Kirsten Shockey whipped up a pepper ferment all the while demonstrating a few hacks and extolling the many virtues of this ancient food preservation form. I thought I knew a fair amount about fermentation, but I didn’t know ferments don’t have to be salty. And I’d never thought about fermenting herbs (they keep their fresh flavor) or condiments. Kirsten made me want to rush home so I can try a mustard ferment.

I spent the day’s last workshop period learning about backyard foraging from Ellen Zachos. Did you know you can sauté early spring hosta shoots? Or make a spice from from sumac berries? Ellen’s show and tell covered twenty-five common plants that might be found in your front yard as well as in the wild. I love the idea of foraging. As Ellen pointed out, foraging gets you out in nature, gives you exercise, and provides you with free food. Besides, finding food you can’t buy for any amount of money is just a fun thing to do.

how to forage

Ellen's book on backyard foraging

Whew! That was a lot to pack into an afternoon I didn’t have much time to check out the two hundred plus vendors. But that’s what tomorrow’s for.

Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts by following this link. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Security Considerations for Remote Homesteads


It isn’t a secret that living remotely exposes one to a certain risk; in fact, there are thieves and burglars specializing in remote homesteads and farms. However, in Israel it is more than this. Because of the regional conflicts and tensions in our country, if you live in a remote place and hear intruders in the middle of the night, you can never know whether they are after stealing sheep or murdering innocent people, so one has to practice double vigilance.

A famous local case was that of Shai Dromi, a farmer from southern Israel who shot and killed an intruder in 2007. There was an uproar of left-wing activists who objected to shooting someone who “only” sneaked onto private land to steal some property. The problem is, when you spot an intruder, you can’t very well ask, “excuse me, are you a terrorist or only a thief? Because if it’s the first, I’ll have to shoot you, but if it’s the second I can afford to wait for the police.” It’s absurd and puts the life of innocents at risk. Dromi was eventually acquitted, and Jewish farmers and homesteaders finally got some much needed legal backup.

Nevertheless, living remotely can get scary without the proper precautions:


A good solid fence (electric or not) can greatly increase one’s feeling of personal security, but fencing can be hard to do on rambling, uneven or very rocky terrain. If it isn’t practical to fence off the entire property, I would suggest erecting a fence at least around the house itself.

Guard Dogs

When we first moved into our old house – which was located on the fringes of a tiny settlement, with no neighbors in sight – I was a little apprehensive. I grew even more apprehensive when my husband announced that we will have to keep a dog for safety purposes. I’ve never had a dog; never felt comfortable around dogs, and never thought I’d find myself taking care of one. Still, I had to admit that my husband has a point, as nothing deters intruders so effectively as a large, alert and protective dog.

Our dog was a German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois cross and, while she was a wonderful and intelligent dog, ultimately she didn’t prove to be a wise choice for us. She was way too energetic for me to handle (especially close to the end of our residence in that place, when I was pregnant with my son), and she didn’t really get along with other livestock. OK, that is a euphemism: she tore some of my favorite chickens to shreds. I still shudder when I recall the trauma. We were looking for another home for her when we sadly and unexpectedly lost her to the bite of a venomous snake. It really was quite tragic and heartbreaking – she was a great dog, just not for us.

At our current home we have no real need of a guard dog, as we are surrounded by neighbors, but if we ever keep a dog again, it will probably be one of the Livestock Guardian breeds that do well around other livestock.

Security Cameras

A visible network of security cameras surrounding a house can be very off-putting and will hopefully make intruders chicken out. These can be interspersed with some hidden cameras, which can provide valuable records to present to the police in case the criminals neutralize those cameras they can see.

We are lucky enough to have some connections in security, and my husband was able to install our cameras himself. In general, there are many options, more or less affordable, to suit pretty much any budget.

Motion Detectors

For a brief period we had motion detectors at work around our house, but we soon had to disconnect them because any rambling wild boar or stray dog would send us into alarm mode. If you don’t normally have large animals prowling around your house, motion detectors can be a good choice.


Many of our neighbors keep guns for self-protection and even sleep next to their guns, especially during times like Sukkot (feast of the Tabernacles) when Orthodox Jews sleep in makeshift buildings outside the house. I realize that the issue of guns may be controversial, but guns carried by citizens have saved lives in the face of terrorist attacks. 

This was an excerpt from Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living

 Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Tree Felling: Safety First


Safety reminders can come at unexpected times. We have lived in the mountains of S. Colorado full time in our small cabin for over twenty years. During that time I have cut many dead trees for firewood. The longer we do certain tasks the more familiar we become with the procedure and the more confident we become. Recently I went to cut a dead aspen tree that was about 40’ high, dead and straight and tall. This particular tree had a clear area to fall into except for a small 15’ pine tree in its falling path. A pine tree this size should easily push aside or break off; therefore I did not pay it that much attention. That turned out to be a serious mistake and my wrong assumption cost me dearly.

There are several ways to fell trees and the most common is cutting a notch on the side it is to fall and then cutting from the opposite side of the tree to the notch hinge. I usually reserve that technique for larger trees and on smaller trees like the aspen I cut on a downward angle and almost through the tree and then use wedges to force the tree to fall where I want it to. (not a recommended method). That is the technique I chose to use with this tree. (see photo)

Everything went as planned and the tree proceeded to fall right where designated. I had plenty of time to step back out of the way putting myself a safe distance from the base of the tree. Suddenly things went very wrong. The aspen tree fell with precision into the smaller pine tree and the pine bent over holding and supporting the middle of the aspen tree. The base of the aspen shot up about 15’ into the air and then the pine tree sprung back throwing the aspen like a spear back toward me but above me. The base of the aspen hit another rather larger pine behind me and then started to roll down the limbs of the large pine tree toward where I assumed I was safe. I reacted by ducking under the falling tree to the opposite side but I did not quite make the preventive move fully.

I ended up on the opposite side of the falling tree lying parallel to it and on the ground. I have a serious bruise on my hip to show for my wrong assumption. I had made a common mistake by wrongfully assuming that this aspen tree was large enough to strip branches from the small pine tree or break it off on its way down. That mistake came very close to being fatal and I’m more aware now of not making assumptions but instead apply more calculated evaluations. I’m thankful for being able to write this blog which I am hoping will benefit others from making a similar mistake.

Look First

On any homestead it is easy to fall into routines when in reality we should spend a few moments and look more carefully at the task at hand. While 99 trees would fall exactly where we would want them to fall that doesn’t mean that number 100 will do the same. I once cut a large aspen that was dead and appeared to be solid. I cut into the tree 2” and the tree started to fall. The entire inside was rotten and I cut the only part of the tree that was holding the 18”  diameter tree up. I was able to move out of the way in that case but the shock of a large tree uncontrollably  falling was a rude wake up call.

I am normally far more cautious plus I use safety measures to perform tasks with any risk of harm. On any questionable tree I use a rope or long steel cable and a hand winch to pull the tree over safely. I also use a hard hat and safety glasses that give me more protection from falling limbs. I did not do that in this instance and a falling limb knocked my ball cap off my head and it landed several feet away. The tree itself fell approximately 12’ behind the stump which is usually a very safe zone when falling trees. I usually carry a walkie talkie with me so I have communication with Carol at the house in case of any emergency situation. I did not do that this time and therefore had to limp back to where I parked the tractor in order to get home. In short one small miscalculation can easily compound matters drastically.

There is a moral to this story and it is this: On a homestead when something that carries risk seems routine do not assume it will turn out routine. Look at it as an individual challenge and if in doubt don’t assume but instead take precautions that will insure your safety. I share this embarrassing event to hopefully help others to think the matter through before engaging in a ‘routine’ task for your own safety. I believe I am a very careful person but in this case I made two mistakes. I went ill prepared and assumed the tree was like all the others and would fall easily. Instead it became a several hundred pound projectile that could have killed or seriously injured me.

We heat our cabin with a wood stove and because of our long and cold winters we burn about 9-12 cords of firewood each year. I have been cutting down standing dead and fallen trees for over twenty years to fill this firewood need. It only takes one miscalculation to end in injury or death and I am now far more aware not to take cutting down trees for granted.

Sometimes we men seem to take things for granted and assume when we should really be evaluating the situation more carefully. When dealing with dangerous tasks that can have very serious consequences we sometimes need to give more thought to it before we jump right in. If my experience and mistake helps someone else it will have been worth the effort to write this blog and I’m just glad to be here to write it.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their experiences and sometimes mis-adventures visit their blog site

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.