4 Essential Homestead Living Skills

homestead living skillsI have to admit, when I first started thinking of writing this particular homestead living skills piece, Napoleon Dynamite came to mind. "You know, like nunchuck skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills..." I don't have any of those (yet), but I suppose one can dream. No, the idea here was to discuss the practical side of living on an off grid homestead and what talents come into play on a daily basis.

Between Wendie and myself, we bring a lot to the table. From small business management to gardening, our lives are constructs of our talents. When we're looking down the throat of a three-day snow storm you can bet that we're prepared for the worst, but expect only the best. This is simply because we have confidence in our homestead living skills and know when something is outside of our wheelhouse. When in doubt, we have no issue in seeking an expert's advice.

Homestead Living Skills

Perhaps the most fundamental and critical element of our abilities is our willingness to be open minded and flexible. That's not to say that when the kids say they really don't feel like having a roast for dinner we zip-lock that sucker and throw it back in the freezer. We made that meal for them, so you bet they're going to eat it. Rather, we take each task to heart and one step at a time, prepared to stop and think about what we're doing. When the six of us start going in a hundred directions all at once just to get a couple things accomplished, it's time to have everyone take a break and remind them, 'One thing at a time. Just one thing.' The focus is concentrated and we get it done. Homestead living skills start with a mindfulness to slow down, think and appreciate the task at hand.

homestead living skills
For those looking to join the party and begin a life of homesteading for themselves, our advice is to not only know what you can accomplish on your own, but what you cannot without help. Installing a shower head in the bathroom is a great skill, but that doesn't make any of us a plumber. If your dreams include self-sufficiency, be prepared to ask for help.

For us, the old urban backyard garden prompted us to educate ourselves in food storage and canning. Aside from the Ball canning website, the USDA was a boon for not only tips and tricks, but recipes as well. Off grid for some means no internet connection but for us, we embrace it and use it to our advantage. In addition to speaking with others in our situation, a great deal of information comes from online sources. In fact, we're knee-deep in binging the Vino Farm bee keeping channel on YouTube.

As for the chickens, we use various sources to learn how to keep them healthy and productive. There were times when we erred on the side of caution and our own misinformed opinions, like the time we hung a red heat lamp in the coop all winter, replacing it every time the birds hopped up and pecked it out. We did have a few below zero nights, but even on the 20 and 30 degree nights we thought it would be needed. Though it kept us in eggs, we would soon learn how chickens regulate adequate warmth when conditions are right. A good flock with full bellies can produce enough heat to melt the snow on the roof of their coop. Now, it has to be pretty bitter for us to worry.

Frugal Living

frugal livingAside from the technical aspects of gardening and livestock raising, we also took a serious look at how consumed. How we used groceries, our money and our time. You might say we were more intermediate with our frugal living before on the urban homestead, but now we're comfortable saying we've approached the graduate level. Each new meal has to have at least two more uses. With a roast chicken, we plan on sandwiches, a pot pie and soup stock. A roast is the same. We can stretch a salad out for three days without adding in new veggies, and any meal consisting of fish becomes fish cakes and chowder at the minimum. With food, it's being conscious of our leftovers.

Grocery shopping is generally my responsibility, though I love it when Wendie joins me or decides she wants a turn to herself. I'll bring the kids when I can as well, teaching them not to look at the initial price, but the price per weight or volume. We have discussions about the stigma of store brands and how they are most times different in packaging only. We also talk about brands that we won't buy based on their business practices and why. Frugal living through the lens of grocery shopping isn't about buying cheap, but rather getting the full value of whatever we happen to choose. It's smart shopping, and a medium-load grocery store trip can easily cross into the 90 minute to 2 hour time frame. With that much invested, it better be enjoyable.

Homestead DIY

homestead diyNot only do we save money by building and repairing with our own hands around the homestead, we increase our emotional investment. This is our forever home, so it's not about adding equity to flip at some later time. No, for us, the more we put into it the more it becomes home. Before the bedrooms saw their first boxes unpacked, I had the wood shop up and running, doing little repair jobs about the house. In the basement office, we put in a wall to wall, floor to ceiling bookcase to house our library and used the project to teach the kids about the importance of homestead DIY.

The wood shop is a significant aspect of our homestead DIY approach, not only because of the work we can do on the property but how it is also an income stream. From picking up handyman jobs to crafting chess cabinets and assorted items for sale on Etsy.com, the shop brings in money. The shop is run through one of our businesses and half of all profits go back into new equipment and supplies. The other half helps pay what few bills we have.

Modern Homesteading Ideas

modern homesteading ideasOne thing we are very aware of is that we aren't experts in anything. We definitely bring a certain set of homestead living skills to the table, but we can't afford to become complacent in our projects. Moving the garden to a square foot plan was revolutionary for us, as was integrating the seasonal meat bird flock with our egg layers. Investing in our tractor was a smart move in the sense of not having to hire others to come in an tackle our driveway grading or snow removal. This means being open to modern homesteading ideas.

Our next addition to the homestead will be the integration of bees, of which we'll start writing about in more detail soon. As much as we have done to educate ourselves, it's a new part of our lives we will have to learn to incorporate properly. The final layout of the garden is yet to be determined, and having a full-sun plot for the first time means adjusting our shade gardening practices. This means being careful not to get comfortable with presumptions of what we know about gardening. A full-sun growing space is a world's difference from our comfort zone.

Modern homesteading ideas lean towards the past, rather than the future. Instead of relying on technology and the latest in organic fertilizer solutions, there is a serious movement to sustenance farming techniques practiced by settlers of the west. Soil conditioning, pest control and crop rotation in the garden. For livestock, it's remembering that these animals have the heritage ability to care for themselves more than we give them credit for. That doesn't mean hands-off, but rather being selective in what we do for management. For example, chickens are more than capable of brooding and hatching their own chicks, removing our need for specialty warmers and turners and chick nurseries in the basement.

Living Off the Land

living off the land
As much as we put stock in our homestead living skills, we do our best not to get buried in what we can accomplish in the here and now. There will always be something that needs to be done, whether it's repairing the brood door on the summer coop or dragging out fallen branches from the woods to add to the burn pile. Taking time and appreciating our little slice of heaven means enjoying a breath of fresh air when we want and taking a walk through the woods. We may not be living off the land by hunting or trapping, but we will hunt for deer sheds or good-looking saplings to use for carved walking sticks.

We've started tagging maple trees, though it might be a little premature to say that syrup is in our near future. We pay attention to where animal tracks are coming from and going towards, and always keep an eye out for our resident mating pair of bald eagles. Wild turkeys have started to wander through the farm curious to check out the chickens. It has us thinking of getting an education in turkey hunting for the freezer.

The point is, going into a project as large as an off-grid homestead means bringing some level of experience along for the ride. You don't have to know everything to start a successful small farm, but the more know, well, the more your grow.

Sorry for that tired old pun.

We love sharing our experiences with you all, and would love to hear what you consider essential homestead living skills. Share your frugal living and modern homesteading ideas with us by adding to the conversation using the comments section below.