Category Archives: Homesteading

You can do hard things

I’ve always been one to gladly accept a challenge.  And I don’t mind getting way in over my head, either.  Becoming submerged on a project forces one to learn because you get outside of your comfort zone.  In the end, you end up gaining knowledge, proficiency and confidence.  And of course, you’ll save some cash too, by fixing things yourself rather than calling a repairman.  I encourage this for everyone.

Here’s a few examples of things I fixed during the last year:

  • repaired oil leak and replaced the high pressure oil pump on my Ford truck’s 7.3 liter powerstroke diesel engine
  • replaced the axle in our Honda Odyssey minivan
  • rewired our Whirlpool electric clothes dryer
  • fixed the Kenmore freezer when it died
  • replaced the Frigidaire dishwasher heating element
  • replaced several old windows in the house

To people that have done this before, these things sound easy, because they’ve been there and done that.  However, I can recall my own apprehension before each of these projects.  I wondered if I was going to get in there and cause more damage than was already present.  I wondered if I could even fix it.  I knew it could more expensive for a repairman to finish a half done project than it was to do it from the beginning.

How do you do it?  First, start small. If you have no automotive aptitude, then start by doing the easy stuff like changing oil and rotating tires. You will slowly gain familiarity with how stuff works and where things are located.  Slowly amass your own tool collection.  Use resources like a Haynes manual or the internet.  For my truck, I use a lot and for the van  If we’re talking appliances, I use

It does help to talk through things with someone else.  I have a friend locally that I talk to about stuff.  I also call my uncle Dave.  He knows that if his phone is ringing, I’m knee deep in something bad and need some advice.  Feel free to reach out to me via the blog.  I definitely don’t have all the answers but I may be able to point you in the right direction.

And the other answer to “how do you do it?”  Jump!  You just have to try it.  I often learn more from my failures than from my successes.  Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.

axle pic

Here I am after replacing the van axle.  While that may sound like a great accomplishment, it took less than an hour.  Once disassembled, it pops into place with minimal effort. 

Thanks, Robert.

Become a Weather Spotter

I love weather and always have.  Courtney found out that our local National Weather Service office holds Spotter Training classes, and so I attended one last April.  After a couple hours of lecture and slide shows, you can become a certified storm spotter, too.

Especially useful for those in tornado prone areas, you’ll learn about the important characteristics of a storm that has the potential to generate a tornado.  This is helpful to identify danger, and just as useful in knowing when not to be concerned.  Much anxiety can be eliminated with this knowledge.  This information is important to the homesteader not only for  personal safety but also for your plants and animals.  Knowing conditions are ripe for hail, you can cover sensitive plants and ensure animals have a roof to get under.

Here’s the link to my local NWS spotter training schedule:

With my training, I was able to identify and report a wall cloud with a rotating updraft last spring.  I couldn’t quite call it a funnel cloud, but I called the local NWS office anyways.  As a spotter, you are provided with a direct line to the meteorologist desk.  They issued a tornado warning as a result of my call.  The cloud never did worsen or touch down, thankfully.

I highly recommend this free class to anyone with an interest in the weather.  Navigate to the National Weather Service webpage for your local area to see if they offer these classes, too.

Are you a spotter, too?  Or do you have a great story?  Leave a comment, I’d love to hear it.

Thanks, Robert.



A Fall update

Life has been busy here this summer.  We’ve barely kept our house clean or our children for that matter.  Our primary focus was our garden and our animals.  Here’s what we did this summer.

Picked zucchini and then cooked it 101 different ways

Fretted over our failed tomato crops

Listened to my son scream with excitement every time I pulled up a potato plant to expose all those hidden potatoes

Marveled at how fast a cute piglet can turn into a huge hog

Discovered ‘lemon cucumbers’ to be the only worthwhile cucumber to grow

Harvested 15 meat birds and several roosters in our backyard and still have the feathers around to prove it.

Watched our sweet baby girl turn into a toddler

Picked some more zucchini

Truly understood why it’s an insult to say “you eat like a pig”

Finally got our first egg and I no longer have to protect the hens from Robert’s hungry stares

Pleased that our daughter’s first animal sound was a turkey “gobble, gobble, gobble”

Burned through one pair of ‘Lightning McQueen’ rubber boots

Witnessed a fox kill our turkey then watched Robert kill the fox

Saw it rain…once

Helped save a beautiful and endangered breed of American turkeys, the blue slates

Thanks, Courtney.

Understanding Solar Flare Terminology

Back in the 1990’s my father and I were getting into amateur astronomy.  We had a pretty cool telescope (Meade LX200) and would spend evenings finding all sorts of galaxies and nebulae.  It was a ton of fun, and we were nerds about it too, forcing everyone in the house to keep the lights off so our night-vision wasn’t ruined.  Also, if we needed to run inside the house to get something, we’d wear two pairs of sunglasses.

Since that time I’ve been on the email list (sign up here) where you are kept abreast of the current happenings in outer space, such as comets, near earth asteroids, meteor showers, and solar flares. Another great email alert system comes from the Australian government (sign up here).

This is a timely article because we are entering another peak in solar activity, which follows a very predictable 11 year cycle.  More frequent alerts are coming and they are sometimes difficult to understand, so I wanted to share some information and resources.

The flares are measured as soon as they occur and are given a strength-based label , C, M or X.  Class C and Class M flares are frequent and don’t really cause much noticeable interference, unless you are a ham radio operator working on the very high frequencies.  X Class flares are much more rare and depending on their size and direction, they could cause a lot of damage.

What does this have to do with homesteading?  Well, let me just tell you by sharing an example of the extreme so that you can make sure you understand this terminology and be prepared.  The largest solar event in recent history was in 1859 and has been termed the Carrington Event.  See this wikipedia article for the full scoop, but for now just know that it was a solar flare that caused telegraph lines to become charged to the point where operators were shocked and some stations even burned down.  The interconnected telegraph lines acted like a giant antenna and focused this inbound energy from the sun.  In our hyper-technological age, the effects of a storm of that magnitude would be devastating to our vastly larger and increasingly interconnected power grid.  The result could be short or long term power outages, depending on the level of severity.

Here are just a handful of recent examples:

2003 – The Halloween Storms – a series of flares send CME’s towards our planet creating heavy disturbances in high frequency radio transmissions.  Also, the Wide Area Augmentation System used by the FAA to provide navigation information to aircraft was put out of commission.  Flares measuring X10, X17 and X28 were recorded.  The X28 was not earth directed, though.  The damage was caused by the X10 and X17.

2000 – The Bastille Day event – X5 class flare launched a CME towards Earth causing a large geomagnetic storm.  No damage reported.

1989 – On March 6 an X15 class flare occurred, resulting in a CME that hit our planet on March 9.  This was strong enough and direct enough that the power grid in Quebec collapsed for 9 hours.

I use the above as a reference when reading the alert emails I receive.  Knowing that we only need be concerned about X class eruptions rules out most of the notifications.

What can we do about it?  Be informed –  Subscribe to the above alert systems.  When a large flare produces an earthbound CME, unplug sensitive electronics.  Reduce grid dependency – heat your home and cook with a wood stove, that kind of stuff.  You never know what may happen in the future, and knowing how to perform basic homesteading tasks could serve you well.  This answers one of the ‘why’ questions on why we try to learn the old ways of doing things.  Its not only fun, but does serve as a backup plan for the unknown, no matter how small the risk.

Thanks, Robert.

Fleas in the homestead

Fleas!  Yup we’ve got ’em.  We discovered about a week after moving in that one of the rooms in our house had a flea problem.  And it wasn’t from our dogs, they seem fine and they aren’t allowed in the bedrooms.  I gave them each a good bath though, just to be safe.

So what do you do, especially if you ‘re a hippie like us and refuse to use those highly effective but dangerous aerosol flea bombs?  For the record, a friend who spent some time working at the CDC told us the flea bombs are very dangerous and that young children have died from being exposed to the powder that comes from them.

There are a few ways of dealing with this naturally.

Vacuuming – Courtney read that fleas are activated and hatch when they sense heat and vibrations.  Since we moved in, we’ve kept the thermostat higher than it was while the house was vacant, and simply being in those rooms probably causes enough vibration to bring the fleas out of their eggs.  A vacuum cleaner causes plenty of vibration.  Running that baby today will cause a large hatch over the next few days.  So the idea is to vacuum every day for 21 to 30 days or so and you will capture the entire life cycle of the fleas and then be flea free.

That seemed like a lot of work to us.

Then we learned about borax.  Sprinkling borax around the edges of your room(s) will kill the fleas in any stage of life.  Let it sit for a day and then vacuum it up and you should be rid of them.  We did that and let it sit for four days.

Diatomaceous earth is another chemical free option, but it must be combined with vacuuming and be reapplied after each vacuum session.  The diatomaceous earth is a powder with very sharp edges and cuts the fleas as they move past it and then they die.  It would be the equivalent to us humans of taking a bunch of broken glass and spreading it all over the floor and having to walk barefoot.  I also spread diatomaceous earth everywhere along with the borax.

We’ve done the final vacuuming and moved the furniture back into that room.  Neither Courtney nor I have seen any signs of fleas in the past week, so we count this treatment as a success and give it our highest recommendation.

Thanks, Robert.

News Alert: We’ve got our homestead!

Time for a big announcement: we’re northern Colorado landowners!  We’ve been very patient and been praying for our own little place and we’ve found it.  This cute little 1946 home comes with a little over one acre of flat land out in the country in a prime agricultural area.

Our blog won’t be as active for the next week or so as we get settled in, but we’ll be back to share more of our adventure with you.

Thanks, Robert.

Escape to River Cottage… Again

Courtney and I loved the DVD’s we watched last February so much that we wanted to watch them again.  We wrote about it a year ago.  The DVD’s were from Courtney’s uncle and a number of them were scratched so we missed several episodes and parts of episodes.  This week, we’ve discovered the entire collection on on YouTube!  Each evening after things calm down, we sit and watch an episode or two.

You can watch them too if you search for the person’s profile who posted them “zodiacza1”.   Zodiacza1 even put together a sequence for each season where it will automatically load the next episode in line when you finish the previous episode.  They are high quality too.  I know we’ve all seen those YouTube videos where someone obviously used their camcorder and taped their television and the posted it on YouTube.

These videos are inspiring and we encourage everyone to check them out.

Thanks, Robert.

Here’s an update from me, Courtney.  It’s helpful to know the order that the series was aired because each series has a different name.  The first series is Escape to River Cottage and you can find the complete list here on wikipedia.

Deciding on a Grain Mill

We are in the market for a grain mill.  We can’t wait to join the thousands hundreds dozens of other folks who spent countless hours preparing their own flour.  Now you know us, we don’t want just any ol’  electric mill that you can buy at Walmart and that will grind your flour in mere seconds.  We want one that you have to crank yourself.  And we want one that won’t break.  That appears to be a tall order.

So we’ve done some internet searching and consulted our favorite bloggers.  At least those who like to do things the slow way old fashioned way.  I think we have settled on a Country Living Grain Mill.  Everywhere we look, we only find satisfied customers.  We were also considering the Wonder Junior Deluxe mill, but the reviews were mixed.  One reviewer said it took her 1 1/2 hours to grind wheat fine enough to use for bread, which required double grinding.  That seems like a really long time to me.  The cost is about half that of the Country Living mill so we are tempted to try it.

And talk about getting the horse before the wagon, we’ve already purchased a supply of wheat, corn and oatmeal.

Thanks, Courtney.

Ricotta with my Home Ec Club

We made ricotta a few weeks ago.  We, as in my friends from church, and ricotta, as in the cheese.  That’s right folks you heard correct, I made cheese.  Even though I really just watched, I still consider it a personal accomplishment.  I’ve tried 3 times in the past to make mozzarella and 3 times it ended in tears.  (It was all the milk’s fault; it was UHT milk, not at all the right thing)

Now about the Home Ec Club, that’s what we’ve coined it, a group of ladies from church, all with an interest in seeing how cheese was made, got together and did it.  Just like that.  Everyone brought different talents to the party, we had two dairy farmers, one woman who pasteurizes goat milk, one experienced cheese maker, one food scientist who can’t make cheese to save her life (that’s me), one mom who was happy to leave her kids at home with dad, one mom who was just happy to get out of the house and one mom with four kids who love cheese, and cartoons.

We started out our lovely cheese making adventure by enjoying a cup of coffee, or two, or three and chatting.  An hour later we watched a pasterization demo, chatted, watched two far more talented ladies than myself make the cheese, chatted some more and then ate lunch.

It was so much fun.  I encourage you to start asking your friends if they would like to learn how to make cheese too.  You may end up making new friends as well as cheese.

Oh and I was sent home with a wedge of fresh ricotta.  It was delicious.

Thanks,  Courtney

Top 10 Reasons Why I Love Dehydrated Fruits and Veggies

While pregnant this summer, I said no thank you to canning.  Not because I don’t love puttin’ up stuff, but because I couldn’t stand to see my ankles get any more swollen.  So we resorted to drying, and by we, I mean Robert.  He dried  everything.   Sometimes fruit and vegetables that I was planning on using for dinner would disappear out of the crisper.  I would march into Robert’s office, sniff the air, see his guilty look and know instantly that in the dehydrator hiding under his desk was my bell pepper and the last of the strawberries.  At the time I thought he was really going overboard.  But I owe him an apology (don’t tell him)  because I use them constantly.

And here’s the top 10 reasons why I love dehydrated fruits and veggies:

10.  They take up less room than the fresh or canned

9.  I get to make cute jar labels (post coming soon)

8.  Zombies probably would prefer fresh fruit so we’re safe in the event of…

7.  Another use for Tattler reusable lids

6.  Every soup I make gets a handful of zucchini = healthy

5.  I don’t have to send Robert to the store for one jalapeno

4.  Technically I am still eating local and in season

3.  Way cheaper to use a dried tomato than to buy one in the dead of winter

2.  Even after being dried and rehydrated organic, CSA-grown tomatoes still taste better than any tomato you can buy at the store, winter or summer

1.  Robert did all the work

Thanks, Courtney