Maple syrup is one of the forest’s gifts to the world, and with more than 80% of global supply coming from Canada – the land of the maple leaf –we’ve earned our sweet reputation. What’s far less known is how much effort goes into making the syrup that graces tables everywhere, and the kind of commitment and risks shouldered by the hardworking people who make maple syrup happen. It’s a story worth telling because no one else in the world can tell it like us Canadians.
Young people today are having less success becoming homeowners and self-supporting adults than their parents or grandparents did. It’s simply a statistical fact. High student debt loads, low-paying jobs and expensive housing is reducing the rate of homeownership among young people, and this is one reason there’s a growing interest in modern homesteading. This is also an option that makes especially good sense in the North America of today.
Root cellars are cool, subterranean spaces ideal for storing vegetables, fruits, nuts and other foods, but at first glance they should be something you only see in museums. Yet somehow, despite the proliferation of convenience foods, the habit of eating out more often than in, and the steady decline in cooking skills, the old fashion idea of a root cellar is not only still with us, but it’s on the rise.
In the spring of 2014, something good happened in our quiet corner of rural Canada. It’s something I’ve been hoping would happen for a long time and it’s taught me things you might find interesting and useful.
Three Amish families moved onto two old and forgotten farms near our place while winter was still lingering last year, and these are the first Amish ever to come to our area. I’ve long admired the Amish faith and way of life – at least from a distance – and over the years I’ve learned all I can about Amish life from books. Now that I’ve gotten to know my new neighbours first-hand, they’ve reminded me of five important things. They’re worth thinking about, regardless of where you live.
Every homesteader needs tools, and that’s why I pay attention to new homesteading tools that might help people like us boost our self-reliance and success. Every year major power tool companies invite people from the media to come and see what’s arriving on the market, and I was in on the latest unveiling from the people who make DEWALT, Stanley, Black&Decker and other tool brands. Click below for a video glimpse of a cool tool event called the “New Product Avalanche”. It happened at a ski resort at Blue Mountain, Ontario on January 30th, 2015. Not exactly a place of homestead simplicity, but interesting just the same.
It was a bad day when fire destroyed the 60-year-old heirloom cottage of Mike and Alice Ogden, a bad day indeed. But from the ashes of this disaster grew roses of success. On the same lakeside site today you’ll find a compact, classically shaped structure that’s as energy efficient as it is eye catching. And how the Ogdens got from smoldering ruins to where they are today offers four pivotal strategies that can help anyone interested in building elegantly and efficiently with minimal environmental impact.
Homestead houses provide shelter, but the best are also expressions of the people who live in them. And while many folks dream of creating a homestead house that’s an expression of themselves, few attempt it. Fewer still manage to hang on to their creative convictions all the way through a long, challenging, hands-on homebuilding campaign. Chuc and Linda Willson are two people who’ve made it to the finish line, and their story proves that vision, a frugal building budget and a practical floor plan can come together and create a beautiful, one-of-a-kind home, even for those who’ve never done it before.
Homesteaders aren’t supposed to like the electrical grid, but I do. I never used to like it, but 30 years of real homestead life has taught me otherwise. Sure, there are problems with grid power, and I certainly don’t rely on it exclusively. That said, it’s hard to beat the grid when you want power for the workshop, food preservation or frost protection. Whether you like living off the grid or consider grid power a homestead heresy, you might enjoy seeing how we installed an electrical service connection on our homestead property that didn’t have enough soil for safe coverage of the cables. Click and watch the installation in action from start to finish.
Homesteading is at least as much about using tools as it is about growing things and raising animals. The ability to building and repair your homestead house and outbuildings is key to success. Watch Steve’s quick tour of a 12-volt cordless reciprocating saw that he’s been using lately. It’s one of many smaller, lighter and more powerful cordless tools that are revolutionizing the DIY world
At our place, homesteading extends beyond just the basics. It’s also about living well in many ways, including the flavours of what we eat. Watch and see how we harvest herbs and how to dry herbs here on our Manitoulin Island homestead. The whole process is a great way to connect with the land in a timeless, hands-on way.
Many homesteaders live in old, cold farm houses that are hard to heat. This is why an under-used insulation upgrade technique is worth knowing about. I got to see it in action back in January 2013, in the home you see above. It’s not exactly a typical homestead house, but it does have the same problems that many old farm houses have – insufficient insulation in hollow wood frame walls.
Here where I live on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada, plenty of old-fashioned traditions remain alive. The annual apple pie bee is one of them. Watch how four camera-shy country ladies take some organic apples from heirloom trees on the Maxwell farm and turn them into some of the best homestead apple pies anywhere.
What About Building My Cabin?
Daniel: I’d also like to erect a smaller cabin where paying guests could come and stay during the year. What do you think?
Here’s the second part of the email Q&A I’ve been having with Daniel, a young man from South Africa with aspirations for homesteading. Read part 1 of the conversation here.
Daniel: I wanted to ask you some questions that I haven’t been able to find answers to yet and I was really hoping that you could give me some insight . . . You mention that you were young (23) when you first moved out to your land. It’s something that I have often thought about but taking that mental leap has not happened to me yet. I still have fear that I would be isolating myself too much and I’d get lonely – did you have those same feelings and how did you overcome them?
Last week I got a great email from a 24-year-old man in South Africa. That’s him on the left. HIs name is Daniel and he’s got a heart for homesteading and some serious plans. My posts on this site prompted questions from him, and here’s the first of three parts of the Q&A exchange we’ve started . Read on to see our full conversation.
Most people have at least one hammer, axe, hatchet or other striking tool with a wooden handle, and sooner or later all handles like these need to be replaced. Learn how with my free downloadable report and you’ll be a pro at the job in no time.
If this report looks useful to you, there’s lots more where this good stuff came from. Sign up for my newsletter at the form top right and I’ll keep you posted on new content as I publish it. After all, replacing wooden tool handles is only one part of rural self-reliance.Download
The transition between winter and summer has been especially quick this year on Manitoulin Island, and the cattle grazing season has begun again. Cattle are being trucked and walked to pastures everywhere on the Island, including the 45 acres of fenced fields we have at our homestead. We’ve been grazing this land for more than 25 years, but something unprecedented happened this past week with cattle – something that got me thinking about how people sometimes behave.
Large, fresh garden carrots in May? Yes, that’s what we’ve got at our place as I roto-till the soil, despite that fact that it’s been 8 months since anything could grow in our garden. It’s been a really long winter on Manitoulin, and the spring is the wettest in a couple of decades. But the land has dried out enough to allow a little tilling between rains, and to allow an unusual kind of carrot harvest. Watch the video and see for yourself. Continue reading
Seasonal water systems must have their intake lines filled with water in a process called priming. This is often a hassle because it’s difficult to get all that water into the pipe in the usual way through a small hole in the top of the pump. That’s why I created an easier option that’s simple and works every time. Once you’ve tried this method of water system priming, you’ll wonder why you struggled so long without it. Watch my screencast to see.
Of all the ways to use electricity, drying clothes has to be the most wasteful. The average dryer uses as much electricity as 35 to 55 one hundred watt light bulbs burning brightly, even though clothes dry just fine electricity-free. All you need is a good homesteading clothesline. I built my first outdoor line 25 years ago, and it worked well, even with all the laundry generated by a couple of kids reared on cloth diapers. But during that time I also noticed things about the design that could have been better. What you see here is clothesline version 2.0.
I’ve always found that the more I can do directly for myself and my family, the happier and better off I am. This goes for everything from growing a garden to building a house, and success eventually comes down to tools. I especially like what I call “foundational tools”. These are things that let you take raw materials and turn them into finished products, and a woodworking router table is a classic example . . .
Manitoulin is an island of diversity. There are farms and forests and limestone plains and sections of deep, rich soil. There are also most than 100 clean lakes right on the island itself, plus different kinds of forests. The island is blessed with pockets of good maple stands, and for more than a century people have been making maple syrup here each spring. Most operations are small and simple, but there are some larger, more higher-tech installations and a new one just opened this spring. Watch the video I shot this past Saturday at Maple Ridge Farm, the work of Brian Bainborough. He’s got a brand new maple syrup facility and it also happens to be certified organic.