Internet on the Homestead

My satellite internet dish by my garden

Access to fast internet is becoming an important factor when buying a rural property. Some need fast internet for working from home while others would like to still watch Netflix or YouTube in some evenings.

The best case scenario is to have access to fiber from your home. This is pretty rare for rural areas, but it does not hurt to research and inquire. Ask your neighbors or google ISPs in your area and ask them if they offer fiber or at least some type of broadband internet.

Some ISPs use point to point microwave antennas to give several mbps speeds. This is not the best for HD video streaming, but it should work for at least SD streaming.

Some areas have cell service. Most companies have personal hotspot capability. As long as you do not use a ton of data, this may be your best option. Some of my neighbors use their cell carrier for their home internet with sides even streaming video. If you have 5G in your area, all the faster!

If there are no options for your area, do not give up hope yet. You can always get satellite internet. It is much better than it used to be, but for their cheapest plans, you might not be able to stream video in the evenings when many others are online. We pay $60 a month for our service and are throttled for all but one day of the month. We are fine with this, however, as we can’t afforda big enough plan to avoid throttling. The throttle speeds are still fast enough to stream video or FaceTime/Zoom during the day. Just some evenings (or most during a time like the pandemic) the speeds are sore enough that only YouTube works and even that on its lowest quality.

Downside to satellite internet are the high cost, throttling, latency (slight delay when in a video or audio call, but still usable), and the weather can sometimes affect the service. When it snows, I have to brush off the dish with a broom, and rain can sometimes stall the connection for a bit. Overall it is fairly usable though still not ideal.

SpaceX is releasing a new type of satellite internet that uses the near orbit. They advertise fiber speeds and low latency for anywhere in North America. This is supposed to come out fall of 2020. This could be a game changer if it lives up to their promises. No longer will rural areas have any slower connections than the big cities or 5G.

Best of luck finding a good ISP in your area. Though the internet is convenient and necessary for employment for some, remember that even if you cannot stream much in the evenings, you can always download from services like Netflix or Prime Video or find other activities as a family like reading a book. 🙂

Making an Income from the Homestead

Firewood Pile

Though we may dream of simply living off the land and paying no bills, in reality, unless we want to join an offgrid community like the Amish, most of us have to pay for property taxes, fuel for travel, goods that require too much effort to be worth making ourselves, medical care, and many other needs or wants to maintain modern lifestyles. There are many ways to make a living still without having to commute off of your homestead.

If you currently have an employer in a suitable industry, ask them if you can telecommute from home. More and more business allow this as they can cut costs maintaining an office and many studies show working from home to be more productive in a lot of cases. The internet has opened the doors to work from home for so many industries. We can do what would be unimaginable just a couple decades ago.

Perhaps you enjoy gardening, woodworking, making crafts, or something else so much you would like to sell goods you make or grow at home. Simply increase your planting or production for some cash. Farmers markets, restaurants, or other local businesses might be great local customers.

Many are not aware that you can make money blogging. This blog is an example. Post regular quality content, and set up advertisements, paid content, affiliate links and reviews for products you use anyway. It does not take many followers to even make as much as $5,000+ a month from a blog. For more information on how to make a living from a blog, see this page.

If you can diversify your income through a few different methods, this can help you get through times when one income stream drops. Also save up an emergency fund if you can to keep paying the bills during income deficient times.

Once you have an income stream, see what hours work best for you. Can you work half time and still have enough income to get by? Or must you work full time or more?

Cut unnecessary costs so you can get by making less. Make a list of expenses and decide what can and cannot go. Sometimes something unnecessary is still not too expensive and makes a big difference in the quality of your life. Like our homemade espresso. Making it at home everyday and roasting our own coffee beans saves quite a bit of money. If you have more time and little money, you can usually save by stuff like cooking from scratch, not hiring out anything you can learn yourself, scavenge craigslist or classifieds for used tools/supplies, and grow the majority of your own food. All of this cuts expenses allowing you to stretch your income further. This is especially important if your income stream is not constant or guaranteed.

Find something you enjoy (or at least do not mind) and find out how to make money from it. The quality of life is so much better when you can pick your own hours, avoid commuting, and getting the fresh air on your own property. I stay 6 days a week at my home but have enough projects and family nearby that I do not feel isolated at all. Being home to raise kids is also such a blessing.

Sometimes income streams can take time to develop. Maybe you have to still commute for now, but if you can get your side hustle going, this may allow you to retire from your regular job. Be patient and enjoy the process as best as you can. Count your blessings and save your income.

Best of success to you and your homestead!

Chicory Lattes — A coffee substitute from lawn to cup

You may have a coffee substitute growing in your yard already. We already wrote about Cleavers, a more time consuming plant to harvest from but a relative of coffee.

Chicory is in the dandelion family and its root is roasted and used like coffee.

Historically whenever coffee gets scarce or expensive, chicory is a popular alternative. This dates back hundreds of years to France.

In the summer, you will recognize chicory by its blue or purple flowers. The greens are indistinguishable from dandelion greens to me and taste similar. The roots are East to break like carrots, so take care when digging them up to not break too much off. I had so much chicory growing in my lawn, I have not even scratched the surface of my supply with a week or two’s worth of drinks.

Once you dig them up, wash them thoroughly with a scrub brush. Them cut them into 1” long chunks. Any slimy or rotten looking ones you can toss.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spread out the pieces on a cookie sheet. Place in the oven for an hour and a half. You can check every fifteen minutes towards the end to make sure they do not get burnt. The white center on the pieces should darken a bit. Waiting until it is somewhat golden brown is ideal. Remove them from the oven and let them cool until you can pick them up just fine. As they are without much moisture content, this is faster than you would think.

Chicory cuttings after cooking

Grab a handful or two and grind them in your blender until they match the consistency of your ideal coffee grounds. Since we make espresso, this was pretty fine. I did sift out the larger chunks to keep it extra fine.

Brew however you normally do coffee. You can also mix it with actual coffee to complement the flavor of coffee.

Ground chicory in an espresso portafilter

Chicory tastes more nutty than coffee. We made chicory lattes and they tasted more similar to coffee than we expected. You can tell the difference, but with flavoring, you might not notice much. In some parts of the world such as India, they regularly use chicory coffee blends. Experiment with blending it with coffee or as a substitute and see which you prefer.

Since chicory does not have caffeine, it should not affect your sleep. There are also many health benefits to chicory you can read about. One note is it is not recommended for pregnant women.

Chicory double shot espresso

It is neat knowing that even if coffee gets scarce or too expensive, we can make a decent substitute of our favorite beverage.

Double shot Chicory Latte

Zero Waste and Frugal Homesteading

People homestead for a variety of reasons. Zero waste and homesteading go hand in hand. This not only helps the environment but saves a good amount of money over your lifetime.

Chickens enjoying food scraps

Using kitchen scraps for compost or chicken feed results in zero food waste. Yes, even meat is fine to feed chickens. Though rotten food can potentially get a chicken sick, as long as they have access to other food, they avoid anything that is too spoiled for safety. between a dog and chickens, we have zero food waste. Even what the chickens do not East gets mixed in with their manure which I collect for great garden fertilizer.

Electric tools take less maintenance and are catching up to some gas powered tools in power (though we are not quite their for the more powerful ones). Look into electric lawn mowers, weed trimmers, and chainsaws instead of their gas counterparts to avoid having to pick up ethanol free gas regularly and maintainthe more complicated engines. Ideally you can pick one company and use just a few of the batteries interchangeably to keep costs down.

Instead of ziplock bags, use glass containersand silicone stretch lids over bowls or silicone reusable bags (especially dishwasher safe ones). They even make aluminum can lids you can wash in your dishwasher.

For guys, when you shave, use an electric trimmer or old fashioned razors instead of disposable blades.

It might sound weird, but instead of toilet paper, look into a bidet. Works better and only uses water. Even the cold water versions are really not uncomfortable and are very inexpensive ($20). I have enjoyed mine for a year or more and would never go back. I only use toilet paper for a runny nose now (and even then, you can use cloth handkerchiefs).

Girls have the option to use silicone menstrual cups instead of disposable feminine products.

Reusable metal straws are the best. We use ours almost daily. We just rinse them out when done then run them through the dishwasher later and have no buildup of food or need to use a small brush.

If you use coffee pods, by a reusable pod and buy coffee beans or grounds to refill it. We use an espresso machine and roast our own beans for it. We try to use the coffee grounds in our compost/chicken bin so they end up feeding our garden eventually too.

Instead of to go cups, use a vacuum sealed — look for a dishwasher safe version for easy cleaning.

Paper towels are handy, but most of the time a towel will suffice. They also make washable “paper“ towels that look and feel like a paper towel with good absorbency but are washable. Just make sure everyone knows not to throw it out. 😉

When on the go, consider using metal silverware instead of plastic and wash it when you get home.

Reuse your amazon boxes or newspaper spread out on top of your soil in your garden to get rid of weeds. Put some compost on top then mulch to avoid weeds for months or years!

Punch holes in the bottom of aluminum cans or plastic containers and use them as starting pots for seedlings. You can also use these containers for storing small objects like nails and screws in your garage.

Most lumber or furniture that is not rotten can be repurposed for other projects. Think outside the box. We used some old window sills as open shelves in our master bedroom and an old kitchen sink is going in our greenhouse. Sometimes furniture that is outdated just needs to be sanded down and stained or painted a different color. Old windows make great cold frames (mini greenhouses for growing plants in the cold seasons).

Five gallon buckets make great planters with some holes drilled in them. I have also made chicken feeders and waterers from them. You can’t have too many five gallon buckets for hauling tools and water on a homestead.

Pallets can be built into raised beds and all sorts of furniture.

Replace your lawn with a bigger garden to avoid having to mow and let your land actually produce resources rather than expend them.

Donate old clothes and toys to a thrift store. Embrace minimalism and avoid making unnecessary purchases. Focus on buying quality and practical items rather than the alternative on a whim. Take a day or two before buying anything unnecessary and ask yourself if you really need or can use this item. Most of the time the answer is, “No.”

Purchase rechargeable versions of your most used batteries such as AA or AAA.

Use a water flosser instead of dental floss.

Minimalism, frugality, homesteading, and zero waste have quite a bit of overlap. Whatever your motives, some of these tips can help the environment and your wallet at the same time.

Is Solar Worth It Yet? (2020)

Though the media and politicians push hard for more environmentally friendly options for power production, is solar ready for most homesteaders to jump on board?

Of course, the answer to this question is, “it depends.”

Are your motivations to reduce your carbon footprint? Or a backup to save tons of headaches in outages or emergencies? Do costs matter much?

Solar panel costs have come down a ton in the last several years. Take your monthly power bill that you currently have and look for your monthly and daily usage in KWH (Kilawatt Hours). Also take note of your power usage in the most energy intensive part of the year (probably summer with AC or winter with heating). Now determine what you can live without to cut down your usage. Are you currently heating your house with electricity? Can you switch to wood heat? Are you using incandescent lightbulbs still? Time to switch to LED. Is your refrigerator fairly old? Switching to a modern fridge will save electricity in no time. Heating your water with electricity? Look into a hybrid (heat pump) water heater or tankless water heaters (a hybrid is cheaper and uses less electricity if you have the requirements). Propane water heaters are also an option.

Once you come up with your estimated electricity usage for the worst part of the year, calculate how many panels you will need. If your house is on Google’s Project Sunroof, that is a simple way to calculate this. Otherwise, you can use the app Lumos to calculate how much sun you can get depending upon your tree placement and whether you should have a ground or roof mounted system.

Do you get a ton of wind regularly (such as at the coast or in a prairie)? Look into wind turbines as well. Have a year round creek on your place and water rights? Hydropower is the most economical and reliable of all home energy. Once you figure out if your property can have solar (if you would have to take out trees or get enough sun to make it worth it), you then must decide what type of solar system you wish to have: Off Grid, Grid Interactive, or Grid Tied.

Off Grid

Are you buying land without power connection yet? Is power a half a mile or more away? You can get a quote from your power company, but in this instance, if it costs more than several thousand dollars, you likely are better off with an off grid solar system financially. Being off the grid comes with pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Not at all dependent upon the power company to have electricity
  • No power bill ever again

Cons:

  • More expensive
  • Batteries may need maintenance depending upon battery type
  • If something goes wrong or you do not get enough sun in the winter, you need a gas or diesel generator to keep electricity

Grid Tied:

Already have power from the power company and do not care about occasional outages? A Grid Tied solar system is the most popular installation these days with solar being back fed to the power grid to offset your electrical bill. Many grid tied inverters have a backup receptacle for offgrid use if the grid goes down. Make sure to look into this if you care about keeping your refrigerator or other small devices powered in an outage.

Pros:

  • Least Expensive
  • Keep the simplicity of staying on the grid and do not worry about not getting enough sun for your electrical usage
  • No more power bill if your power company supports net metering and you have enough solar

Cons:

  • No electricity in a power blackout (unless limited power is supported during the daytime by your inverter via an offgrid receptacle).
  • If no net metering, this provides little benefit financially.

Grid Interactive

This is the best of both Grid Tied and Off Grid except the upfront cost. This system allows you to still use the grid but be independent of power outages. Your batteries do not have to be as big as offgrid use if you are willing to live without some appliances when the grid is down.

Pros:

  • Keep the reliability of the grid (no longer worry about no sun or electrical usage)
  • No power bill if net metering is an option and enough solar
  • Stay independent from power outages still with an inverter that turns off backfeeding to the grid but still powers the house during an outage (Most self sufficient of the three options)
  • If net metering is available but ever is dropped by your power company, you can easily switch to off grid usage should you no longer wish to pay a power bill.

Cons:

  • More expensive than Grid Tied and off grid
  • If no net metering is available, you still have to pay at least some of a power bill

Conclusion

Figure out your priorities.

Reducing carbon footprint or minimal cost? Grid Tied is the way to go. Get a secure power option and maybe some usb power packs for a limited backup to charge phones and lighting.

Backup for power outages but not off grid? Grid interactive. Or grid Tied with secure power backup and a generator if finances are limited.

Complete independence from the power company? Off Grid

Doing the research and installing solar yourself can save you a ton of money but does take extensive research and time. Look up diy companies like Wholesale Solar who can give you basic diy info and can help support you through the installation if you order from them.

I bought my solar panels from someone on Craigslist and tested each before purchasing. Doing this saved me quite a bit of money but does come with risks of its own (probably does not include a warranty from the solar manufacturers). I got my panels for around $0.30 a watt which was around a third of retail price at the time.

More grid tied inverters are adding backup options while the sun is shining. Some SunnyBoy, Solar Edge, and soon Enphase IQ8 inverters will have these capabilities even without expensive batteries. But do your research and find what works for you.

Solar is getting more affordable every year. Get quotes from multiple sources and do the math to see if it makes sense for you.

How to prepare for a power outage

With how reliant we all are on electricity, losing electricity can be pretty serious and costly. Be it a natural disaster such as a hurricane or snow storm or a planned outage such as PG&E’s scheduled blackouts for fire prevention, many are realizing they need to have a backup plan for their power needs.

Generator

The most obvious backup is a gas or propane generator. This can power your fridge all the way up to your whole house depending upon the model. The most efficient generators are called inverter generators which use less gas if you are not maxing out the usage. Some generators can power a fridge and freezer for a whole day on just a couple gallons of gas. Inverter generators can be several hundred dollars more than a regular generator. How often you foresee using it or how much fuel you can store without expiring can help you decide if it is worth it.

Non-Electric Solutions

Need to keep your house warm? Look into getting a wood stove. This can also work as a cooking stove in a pinch. A camp stove or barbecue oven can also be helpful. Propane is another option for warming a house, powering a range, water heater, and even some fridges and freezers. This requires filling a tank periodically or having a tank refilled by a delivery truck. A root cellar or basement can keep many groceries cool enough to not need a fridge. You can get a hand pump as a backup to your well pump.

Water

If you have a well pump, Ideally you can store several gallons of water to use for drinking, washing, and cooking. We use a camping 5 gallon water dispenser for this and it works great. Fill up your bath tubs if you have them with water if you have warning. Keep some five gallon buckets handy to pour into your toilet bowl. This will flush it when your water supply is not working. If you have a creek, rainwater, or access to melting snow, you can use this water for flushing toilets. You can purchase a water filter straw for $10-20 that allows you to drink water from most any source without viruses. It filters out the bacteria and parasites from even creek water. Showers might have to wait. Maybe you can use your bathwater and heat up a pot on a wood stove, but moderating the temperature can be tricky.

Solar

Most people do not realize most people with solar panels cannot use their power off grid or while the power is down. This is to prevent linemen from getting electrocuted from back-feeding onto the grid. If you have solar panels, you will have to have an offgrid or grid interactive system to power your whole house or critical loads (such as fridge, freezer, lights, water pump). They also make grid tied (grid connected like normal) solar inverters that have backup options while the sun is out such as SunnyBoy or SolarEdge’s Secure Power enabled inverters. These have a 15 or 20 amp outlet you can use to power a fridge or charge a cell phone as needed. These work best in conjunction with a small battery to avoid unexpected outages whenever a cloud shades the panels.

You can get small batteries for cell phones for as little as $20 up to larger batteries for hundreds of dollars that can power your internet or even fridge. Find out how much power you need to run your desired loads in Watt Hours and find a battery that fits your needs. Some batteries have USB connections or built in inverters to convert DC to AC so you can use your normal appliances with ease. Do you need internet for your job? Do you need lights? You can even get inexpensive solar panels that fit in a backpack that can at least charge your phone each day.

Do not get overwhelmed with all these options. Just start saving up for a few backup solutions at a time and you will make your power-less life much easier and less stressful. Also take time to think through what are needs and what are wants. Five gallon buckets and water filter straw might serve you just fine instead of needing a whole generator to run your water pump. But if you have the money, the latter will be easier.

How to Get Rid or Ants without Chemicals

We have dealt with multiple any infestations over the years. And we are talking hundreds and hundreds of ants.
We have tried several chemicals in the past and some of them made it worse.

So how do you exterminate ants ideally without toxic chemicals that could harm your kids or pets if they get into them?

TL;DR: Vacuum and then apply Diatomaceous Earth

As soon as you spot the ants, take note of how they are getting in. This is important to check for before dealing with the ants as they scatter all over and make this difficult otherwise. Now go get a vacuum with a hose such as a shop vac and some Diatomaceous Earth.

Now starting with the farthest point from where they are coming in, start vacuuming up the ants. This way the ones closest to the opening do not scatter yet throughout your house.

Once you have sucked up all the ants you can, grab a small handful of Diatomaceous Earth and scatter it at their entrance so they cannot get in the house without walking through it. You can even throw it against a wall if they are getting in from a vertical surface and it will stick somewhat.

Diatomaceous Earth looks like flour to us, but it works like magic against ants. When they crawl over it, it gets between their exoskeleton plates and stabs them microscopically to death.

If you can find where the ants are getting into your house, scatter diatomaceous earth along their path in outside also. Come back in an hour or so and verify the ants are gone. Scatter more earth if necessary.

We have had ants nests in plant pots that we brought inside before, so if you suddenly see ants after bringing in a plant, that is a possibility.

If getting rid of ants in your garden, scatter the earth around your plants.

You can smash or vacuum up any additional ants that you find remaining. Now empty your vacuum outside. If you really want to, you can dump some Diatomaceous Earth on top of them all within the vacuum. Or you can dump then into a bucket of water and spray some on top. Simply relocating can do too if you prefer.

Other methods: we have also had success using a chemical called home defense which is supposed to be non toxic after it dries. The Taro poison strips did not work well with the amount of ants we had. In fact, it seemed to invite more in and their dead just piled up for weeks. Bleach got them to stay away for a while when diluting it in water and spraying. Home defense and diatomaceous earth had the best results. Home defense leaves a sticky coating on the floor which easily comes off with water while diatomaceous earth can be vacuumed up a day or so after the ants quit coming.

Ants coming through our tile and ant bodies piling up from poison and cannibalism when we tried chemicals
Diatomaceous earth the next day on a former ant trail

How to Repurpose Your Christmas Tree

RIP Christmas Tree

Yes, sadly Christmas is over. That beautiful (or interesting looking) Christmas tree has now dried up and become a fire hazard. Instead of throwing out or burning your Christmas tree though, why not repurpose it?

Mulch or Hugelkultur

Use your tree as mulch! Bring your Christmas tree into your garden or raised bed. Using loppers, cut off all the branches. This does not take as long as it sounds. Chop them off and lay them spread out as mulch for your perennials or for where you will plant your annuals later this year. The smaller the pieces, the faster they will decompose. If you do not get regular rain in the winter, try spraying the branches every several days to help with the decomposition. The needles will fertilize the soil (and no, it will not make it too acidic). The twigs will make great textured soil. Once they decompose, this is a mini version of Hugelkultur (normally hugelkultur is buried with soil on top, so if decomposition ASAP instead of mulch is your goal, add soil on top).

Firewood

If you cannot use the trunk as mulch or do not wish to bury it to decompose and create great soil, at least burn it to heat your house in a woodstove. Use the trunk as firewood. Cut it up into rounds and if not small enough, cut into pieces with a splitting maul.

Mulching your branches is a great way to repurpose your tree and build up your garden soil to be better each year. While you are at it, why not rake some of the leaves that are killing your lawn and place them in your garden too?

Grow Your Own Tea

Stevia Houseplant
Stevia Houseplant

Instead of buying old tea bags or loose leaf tea from a store, why not grow your own? With Stevia, you can even grow your own sweetener if you do not mind the unique flavor.

Peppermint

This is my favorite tea. Mint is a great crop to grow in containers as they send out root runners that can take over a garden otherwise. Mint grows and can be harvested a good part of the year depending upon the climate. In cooler climates, you can always dry your own loose leaf tea to still have access in the wintertime. 

Stevia

Though not a tea flavor in itself, this can be grown as your sweetener. Stevia can be propagated and can grow as an annual outside or brought inside in the winter for year round sweetener. Stevia is a sweetener that does not increase your glucose levels in your bloodstream, so this may be a good sugar alternative for those watching their sugar intake.

Blackberry or Raspberry Leaf

Though these do not have a lot of flavor, they are frequently used for medicinal purposes. Many pregnant moms have drunk this for Uterus health. Do your research and contact a doctor as always for any medicinal health advice. If you like the flavor, raspberries and blackberries are super easy to grow to the point of taking over fields if you let them.

Dandelion Root

Most places in America have Dandelions. Dandelions are perfectly edible. Why not use this weed instead of killing it? The leaves taste best in the springtime before hot sunshine. The roots can be used pulled up and dried at any point. This is a tea you are probably already growing.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon the spice is the bark of a tree. If you cannot grow Cinnamon itself in your climate, you can at least grow a small version inside and harvest a bit for consumption. Who does not enjoy the strong scent of cinnamon around Christmastime?

Pine Needles (Avoid certain pine species)

Do your research on which pine needles to avoid as a few can be toxic, but many enjoy a good pine needle tea. These grow year round in many areas.

Tea Leaves

You can grow many types of actual tea (Camellia sinensis) as houseplants as well if you prefer this type of tea.

Next time you enjoy a cup of tea, I hope it can be a cup of tea you have grown. Yes, you can grow 100% of your tea ingredients and have greater satisfaction in fresher ingredients.

What To Do With All Your Apples — Real Apple Products

Apple Sauce – Use your favorite apple sauce recipe with our without cinnamon. Freeze it for eating throughout the year. 

Cider or juice – Make apple cider or apple juice.

Pie – Everyone enjoys apple pie.

Freeze Pie Filling – Make just the pie filling and freeze this.

Eat Them – maybe with Peanut Butter or Nutella

Refrigerate – Keep some for the coming Winter Months

Dehydrate – Make dried apples either chewy or apple chips

Can – You can either can them as straight apples or can apple pie filling.

Feed to Chickens and Livestock – Any worm filled apples or ones that go bad, your livestock or pets will still enjoy.

Compost Extra – If you do not have any livestock or pets, you can still use worm filled or overripe apples as compost to boost the soil in your garden.

Give Away – If you still have more than you can use, many of your friends or family would likely be happy to be given spare apples.