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Mess Free Chicken Waterer

2020 update: After nearly two years (originally posted August 2018), this waterer is still working great, conserving water and countless cleaning and refilling trips. I have since made a second one of these for my chicken tractor as the ground being uneven there frequently drained my other waterer. Now I have less to worry about when I am out of town too! 😊

Five gallon bucket with chicken waterer nipples

Tired of refilling and cleaning chicken water all the time? So was I, so I made a mess free waterer that conserves water well.

You can buy the specific chicken waterer nipples I got on Amazon. They recommend around 1 per 5 chickens. You cannot have too many though.

What you will need:

  • 5 gallon food grade bucket with lid
  • Drill with 11/32″ bit
  • Horizontal chicken waterer nipples
  • Concrete block or something to set the bucket upon
Simply drill through the bucket and screw in the chicken waterer nipples

They recommend an 11/32″ drill bit. I did not have one, but 3/8″ worked fine still without leaks. Drill about one inch from the bottom of the 5 gallon bucket and screw in the chicken waterer nipple. Screw it in until the cup part is on the bottom to help hold a tiny bit of water. Fill the bucket with water and make sure there are no leaks (I had none).

Installed chicken waterer nipples

Place the waterer on your concrete block or other pedestal. Try to get the water nipples a bit under chicken head height for ease of use.  Set it in with the chickens with an alternate waterer for starters and keep an eye on them to make sure they figure it out. All of mine picked up on the waterer within a few days. You could also try pushing each chicken’s beak against it to help them along. 

Main pen waterer
My chicken tractor waterer

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

Cleavers — a Coffee Plant Relative Probably Growing Near You

You probably have this weed growing in your raised bed or around your yard. We even have it growing in our gravel driveway. But did you know that cleavers (aka goose grass our Velcro plant) is related to the coffee tree? You can even make a coffee substitute with their “fruit.”

Let them grow to be around a foot tall and they will put on tiny seeds with burrs on them. Collecting these seeds is time consuming. I would recommend gathering handfuls of them then pulling them through your fist over newspaper to catch the seeds rather than picking each one by hand.

Look for the spooky seeds on this matures and now dead plant

Once gathered, roast them very shortly in an open pan on your cook stove without burning them then run them in your coffee grinder or food processor. It should smell somewhat like coffee. Make your home grown coffee and enjoy. Some have said it is mild, so ideally make it strong by adding extra cleavers grounds if you have enough or use a coffee percolator running it a while or French press and let it sit longer than usual to get all the flavor you can.

A bag of seeds for making cleaver coffee

I have not gathered enough to brew a drink yet, but I plan to late this summer once my new patch goes to seed. Wish me luck. 😁

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.

January Garden 2020

Growing lights

Growing lights

After two years of growing lights in the living space of our house, I have finally been able to move them to the basement. I am hoping they still grow despite it being around 46 degrees down there. They should at least stay alive and grow slowly as it is not quite down to freezing. Once the greenhouse is finished being built, I will move everything over there. For now though, I am growing tomatoes, avocado, lemon, and grapefruit trees under lights. Once I germinate some more seeds in the warmth, I will start moving them down there as well.

I have been topping off my wood chips in areas that moles have turned the soil over allowing weeds to grow. In some areas I added cardboard below the wood chips like I should have done to begin with. Better late than never though. 🙂

I planted another seven pounds of seed potatoes as we only had enough potatoes in our garden to last us six months. I might buy a few more pounds to get us through next year. We tend to eat potatoes at least once a week as hash browns. I am adding more wood chips over all my potatoes as I hardly have any covering for them as is. This will also help rid my potato field of some weeds that have been able to grow through the thin layer of mulch. For some reason my potatoes put on greens even in December and January. Must not be too cold for them even in winter.

I also got eight more purple asparagus root cuttings. We originally planted six which is not much at all. I planted these along the current row.

I bought more sweet and yellow onion bulbs for this year. I gave up on the potato onions as they never thrived andmost ended up rotting with our wet winters. I may try shallots some more as they are cheaper and easier to find. I have around one hundred bulbs I am planting as they take some time to get to size.

I shoveled a whole wagon full of chicken manure from under their coop. I spread this all over my garden. This is my fertilizer for the year. I added extra manure to where my nitrogen loving plants grew to feed the soil back what they took. Every year my soil should get richer in nutrients with the wood chips and leaves breaking down, and the manure added. Hopefully my garden is more productive each year because of it.

I also dug and set fence posts for one side of the garden. The old ones were rotted out and falling over from the last ten years. I set these ones in concrete so they last longer than a decade. In the next year or two I will put in posts for the rest of the garden.

I also put up a fence for the front of the property to discourage trespassers and any deer that come from the road. This combined with our driveway gate should prevent all but the desperate thieves from trespassing. Then they will have to deal with my dog and other layers of defense. Property security became more of a priority after a couple strangers knocked on my door at odd hours and my neighbor has had trail cams stolen.

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 Keep Animals From Eating Your Garden and Livestock

Finding your hard work in your garden eaten up by animals can be discouraging and frustrating. A small snack for a deer can wipe out your strawberries for a year or more. Or bears snacking on apples can tear apart your tree and be too close to the house for comfort. Let’s find some ideas to mitigate animals eating up your hard work.

6-8′ field fencing is your best solution for keeping large animals out of your garden. If that is too expensive or you have an abundance of bears, you can use 5-8 rows of electric wires on T posts with an energizer.

Motion detecting sprinklers can be effective too. No one likes to get soaked while trying to enjoy a meal. These can be as inexpensive as $30-60. If you cannot afford a fence, this might be your least expensive alternative to try. You can find these on Amazon and stores with a gardening section.

A good guard dog can help prevent animal visitors. For valuable livestock, it may be worth getting a dog specifically for guarding animals. They can help with theft and trespassing too. Family dogs often sleep near the house, so they should not be your only line of defense against animals, but they can be a big help.

Predator scents can discourage animals such as deer. So coyote, dog, or even human urine can be applied near your garden or livestock perimeter. This may or may not be effective with larger or very hungry animals though.

Scarecrows and reflective or noisy pest deterrents may be effective. Motion activated lights may also work, but motion activated sprinklers will probably be more effective.

Setup traps for small animals if they devastate your harvest. Raccoons, squirrels, and opossums are easily caught in cages and can be relocated or disposed of as necessary. Mousetraps catch voles. Bird netting can protect your strawberries or small fruit trees.

Protect the trunk of your fruit trees with a couple feet of hardware cloth or drain piping starting a few inches underground. Keep in mind any snow on the ground should have the hardware cloth extend at least a couple feet above the highest level to prevent voles or other rodents still eating the bark off your trees. Beavers can be even taller than this, so keep that in mind if you have them in your area.

Planting strong scented plants such as marigolds or mint (in several containers to avoid it taking over) can help hide the delicious scent of your fruit and veggies.

Try a few of these deterrents and see what works for you.

Winter 2019 Projects on the Evergreen Homestead

Though we are not growing much other than winter crops this time of year, we are still staying plenty busy with projects.

We are fencing in the front of our property and wiring up an automated gate. This is to discourage trespassing as we have had questionable characters visit our house a couple times since we moved here. It also helps keep our dog out of the road. We are cementing treated 4″ fence posts and adding field fencing.

I have finished painting over half of our exterior of our house. Winter is an odd time to paint due to cold weather and rain, but as long as you take these into account, we still have plenty of paint friendly days around here.

I am filling in areas of the garden that need wood chips. Raking and using leaves and needles as mulch is perfect for this time of year. I planted winter wheat a couple months back and am watching this grow.

I have dozens of carrots due to a new method of germination I used. Beets, kale, and chard are coming up too. Chickens are molting, so we have next to no eggs this time of year. I setup heated waterers for them and plan to clean the henhouse out one of these days.

To be able to grow more in the wintertime, we are building a pit/sunken greenhouse (also known as a Walapini). This should need minimal or no heating due to the ground temperature being constant year round. We are building it 7′ x 25′ to have lots of room for tomatoes and potted, small fruit trees. We are also building a shop to store our animal feed and garden tools. We plan to add some solar panels to this once it is up. We will probably take another several months to a year to finish these projects.

Wondering what else you can do during the winter? Get some ideas here.