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.
A good homesteader needs to know at least something about working with wood in whatever situation arises, and keeping a wooden handle in good shape is one of those situations. Hammers, axes, hatchets and other striking tools all have handles that wear out and break sooner or later. Making them new again is what you’ll learn how to do here.
As life’s milestones go, becoming a grandfather is one of the biggest. Perhaps not as big as becoming a dad, but certainly right up there. And any day now Mary and I will move into the category of grandparents. Our bags our packed for the pivotal phone call to travel to Katherine’s house for her home-based, water birth, and sitting in a limbo state like this is just the thing to get me thinking.
Katherine married her high school sweetheart, Paul, last July (2013) in a small-town stone church, and we’ve just enjoyed our last weekend visit with them before she gives birth. Katherine is 19 now, and while it’s a pretty radical thing to get married, start a family and devote one’s life to being a stay-at-home mother and homemaker at such a young age, it wasn’t always so. Human biology and eons of human experience see nothing strange about Katherine’s choice, as out of step as it is with 21st century North America. Perhaps I’m imagining things, but is the pendulum swing back towards this sort of thing? I think it might be, at least among homestead types like us . . .
Most deck finishes on the market fail in 12 to 18 months. Some don’t even last that long. That’s why so many distressed homeowners email me for help understanding why their deck finishes never seem to last. In fact, deck finishes gone bad are the single largest issue I help homeowners deal with. In every case the solution begins with using the right kind of deck finish in the right way. That’s what my free downloadable Deck Finishing Product list is all about.
I designed and built the crates you see here back in the mid-1990s, and they continue to work really well. You can load them up in the garden, then carry them to the root cellar and stack them up to four-high. Crates like these work much better than permanently installed root cellar bins, and you can use them for other jobs, too. Click “Continue reading” for free downloadable plans and building instructions.
I get to test and report on lots of tools, and Milwaukee’s 18V LED worklight is the latest. I’m running an endurance test on it now to see how long the battery lasts at full illumination, but in the mean time, check out this video to see how the light works . . .