Sometimes with our Homesteading , crazy things get in the way and slow you down. Over the past couple of months we have experienced just that! Our goal has been to continue our dream of having our own little private place to call home in the mountains of Tennessee. We gave you the lowdown on our progress to get our land cleared and the septic tank installed. I had hoped (before now) to give you the latest on our water line and electric install, but, crazy things just get in the way. Continue reading And, The Big Sky Saga continues…..Our Latest Homestead Adventure
My wife and I began our beekeeping adventure after a day at work turned into a honeybee rescue of sorts. One of the tenants at the Condominium complex where I was working noticed a large swarm of bees in the soffit of a building stairwell. I decided to go and investigate and indeed found a large swarm of honeybees. Of course, the owners were determined they wanted it removed.
After noticing they were indeed honeybees, I knew that spraying would not be an option in getting rid of them. Bees are just too important to our way of life and the environment. Without any prior experience with beekeeping I realized that bees pollinate a third of everything we eat and play a vital role in sustaining the planet’s ecosystems. Some 84% of the crops grown for human consumption – around 400 different types of plants – need bees and other insects to pollinate them to increase their yields and quality. These include most fruits and vegetables, many nuts, and plants such as rapeseed and sunflowers that are turned into oil, as well as cocoa beans, coffee and tea. I not only learned that bees are essential for our food crops, but are essential in cotton crops.
Bees are some of the hardest working you can find. Bees depend on plants for food, just as much as plants depend on bees for pollination and reproduction. This much I understood but had no clue about raising honeybees or where to start. I still have much to learn about them and how to keep our hives healthy.
After about an hour of deciding how to move forward, we decided we would call a professional beekeeper to come and remove them. I knew they would have a good home and will be taken care of. My wife and I had previously talked about beekeeping and raising bees and this was a chance to talk with her about possibly bringing the bees home. She readily agreed that we could give it a try. First, we needed to buy a hive and all of the equipment we would need to be good beekeepers—even if we were amateurs.
It took a day or so for the professional beekeeper to come out and start the removal process. Decked out in their suits and veils they began the tedious process of the hive and bee removal. The one thing we found with beekeeping is everything is slow and deliberate. There is a reason for that – Bees can be delicate to handle and one can easily destroy the combs they build which produce honey and provide brood for new bees to produce.
With a hive tool or a knife they began the task of removing the combs from the building and placing them in the new hive frames that we purchased. The beekeeper gave me a sample of a piece of the comb that he removed to taste the honey. It was awesome!! Most of the neighborhood is overgrown with Brazilian Pepper bushes which gave the honey a sweet yet spicy taste. The entire process took about an hour to complete.
When the combs are removed and placed in the new hive frames the bees will have a tendency to follow along. For those that don’t, the beekeepers have a special vacuum that is used to gather the remainder of the bees. Don’t worry, these vacuums don’t hurt the bees. I will say that in the process, you will lose some bees but not many. Most strong hives will contain around 40-50,000 bees in them. Losing some is inevitable but you shouldn’t notice a difference in the losses.
After the beekeepers were finished they immediately drove them to our house for their new home. We gathered some important pointers from the professionals and started our new beekeeping adventures. We purchased the hive and frames from the beekeeper and found a local hive builder for the smoker and tools we would need.
Being new to beekeeping we depended on the beekeeper to give us advice and guidance to make sure that our bees would be stable and continue building out the hive. If you are inexperienced in beekeeping, I suggest you do this to be sure the hive will survive and allow them to monitor the hive, making sure the hive still has a queen bee and no diseases. Without a queen, it wont last.
In Part 2, I will highlight our experiences with beekeeping at home and give you some suggestions on purchasing hives and equipment.
Your typical Pitcher Pump
I know I have often thought about drilling a well or simply being satisfied with a public water system on our property. Many times the costs are less when connecting to a public water supply, but the water isn’t always the best! After all, water just isn’t something you can do without, right? In this instance, I will give you some ways to have supplemental water sources for your garden or watering your lawn!
If your property has soft, sandy soil or loose gravel on top of a shallow water table, here are three cost-effective ways of drilling your own backyard water well. On the other hand, if the water table is 150 to 300 feet below the surface, use a portable drilling rig, or hire a contractor for the project. Well Drilling Contractors can be a good source for telling you if your area is suitable or possible for a well. Deep well water is usually potable — provided it passes certain tests performed by an approved laboratory. If not, your deep well should produce enough water for a sophisticated irrigation system.
Check your Zoning Laws and the Water Table
- Check your local suburban zoning laws before planning a well or purchasing equipment — some cities do not allow private water wells. On the other hand, if your local ordinance allows backyard wells, apply for the relevant permits and ask for the location of municipal utility cables and pipes on your property before proceeding. Once this is done, establish the approximate depth to water table by either checking the depth of nearby wells or hiring a hydrologist to perform a survey of your immediate area.
Driving a Wellpoint
- A wellpoint is a perforated pipe fitted with a hardened point that is driven into the ground by hand. The openings in the pipe are large enough to allow water to enter but small enough to keep water-bearing gravel out of the pipe. Wellpoints vary in diameter from 1 1/4 to 2 inches, with lengths between 18 and 60 inches. After the initial drive point is hammered into the ground, subsequent pipes are attached to the ends with specially designed drive point couplings. Pipes are added until the perforated end penetrates the water table by 2 to 6 feet. Wellpoint extraction only works when driven into a high water table, 10 to 15 feet below the ground. Once installed, about 5 or 6 gallons per minute can be pumped out using a pitcher pump or a shallow well pump.
Air Pump-Assisted Drill Bit
- An air pump-assisted drill bit can drill your backyard water well to a depth of up to 100 feet. The unit consists of a small but powerful air-driven drill bit capable of cutting through hardened clay and densely packed soil. The bit is attached to the end of a tubular expansion chamber containing the inlet pipe from the air pump, with holes in the lower part for water to flow into the system. A 100-foot length of 2-inch PVC pipe is attached to the outlet port of the expansion chamber. The well is constantly filled with water from a garden hose until the drill bit penetrates the water table. Exhaust air from the drill bit is ejected up the expansion chamber and into the 2-inch PVC pipe, forming a vacuum and sucking water and slurry out during drilling operation. A well liner, foot strainer and pump is installed on a concrete slab to complete the project.
Jetting or Washboring
- Jetting or washboring is suitable for producing a shallow well where the distance to the water table is 25 feet or less. In basic terms, serrated teeth are cut into the end of a schedule 40 PVC pipe with a hacksaw. A drill head with two 3/4-inch threaded fittings is attached to the top of the pipe with a threaded pipe coupling. Hose pipes are connected to the threaded fittings to supply a constant flow of water into the Schedule 40 pipe. A wide wooden handle is attached to the pipe with hose clamps to provide leverage. The operator stands on an open pickup truck tailgate, places the serrated end of the pipe on the ground and has a helper turn on the hose pipes. He then twists wooden handle back and forth to allow the teeth on the end of the pipe to cut into the soil with the help of jetting water. Extra lengths of pipe are added until the required depth is reached. A well liner, foot strainer and pitcher pump or a shallow well pump is installed on a concrete slab to complete the project.
Micro Drill Rig
- Use a one-man diesel-powered micro drill rig to drill a well up to 300 feet through clay and rock formations. These rigs are equipped with hydraulic power for easy handling and for added pressure on the drill bit. A powerful mud pump is used to pump drilling mud directly to the drill bit to speed up drilling action, and manual setup and positioning is straightforward. Since these micro-rigs cost over $20,000, you may be able to rent one through a heavy equipment rental outlet. If not, you could always recover costs over time by renting the machine out to your neighbors — or you could establish your own micro-drilling company as an added source of income.
A Place to Call Home….How to find it?
Many people look for that perfect place to find and call it home. I hope to help you along the way in finding that perfect spot just for you. My wife and I spent quite a bit of time looking for property and deciding where our homestead would be. We insisted on a place where we could end up with some peace and serenity, yet be able to build our homestead where it would be functional, yet affordable.
We decided that we wanted to purchase where the land was affordable, the costs were less, and we could spend that extra money on our homestead and cabin and not worry about giving most of it to Uncle Sam.
We wanted to have the freedom to roam our property, decide what we wanted to do and not worry with overburdening regulations. We wanted something quite different from the daily traffic grind, neighbors on top of each other, HOA’s, mounting urban regulations, and increasing property taxes.
We decided to try our luck with the mountains of Tennessee. Everyone has their choice of where they would prefer to be and that’s okay. Perhaps you want to be near family again or that a certain area appeals to you. For us, we chose the high ground of Tennessee to start our search. Why? It came down to the desire for mountain property, the experience of a change of seasons, the land was affordable, and taxes were much less than surrounding states.
We began by taking a short vacation to the Volunteer State and the Great Smoky Mountains. We rented a great little cabin for two days near Greeneville Tennessee, while we had made arrangements to meet with a Land Specialist later in the week to look at property. After looking at several pieces of property in the Cumberland Plateau, we decided to continue to explore this great state and enjoy the family vacation.
After our return home, we decided to evaluate our options and decide what we wanted to do. Do we decide on a purchase or don’t we? Where would we be happy at! We eventually decided on purchasing five acres near Crawford Tennessee. We could spend time clearing the property ourselves and decide where each little piece had to go. We spent over a year deciding and making plans, as well as making payments on the property. After a year of planning we purchased our new camper and decided to head back to the property and “get to work”. Well, that was short lived!
In the interest of getting to the good stuff with helping you find your way and get started, I’ll just ask you to visit my wife’s blog at www.cheriannjones.com and find out what happened! She will also appreciate the visit!
Finding Your Property-
Whether you want one half acre or 100 acres, first decide where and why you want to live there. There are many choices in finding property. Perhaps a family member or an acquaintance has property they will let you settle your homestead on. Many properties can be expensive and many can be affordable. Finding a realtor is an option, but remember, the idea is to save money and spend less. Realtors are in the business to make money, and some have high commission fees. Very few of them deal in rural homesteading property. We decided to search for property using alternative methods like internet searches and Craigslist Ads for private owner financing property for sale. Be careful while using this method since the property may be affordable and the size you want, however sometimes the land is just not usable for building or homesteading. To give you an example, the first property we found we contacted the owner, and decided while In Tennessee we would go look at it. The price was right, the size and the location were good, but the property was straight uphill, and We mean uphill. You can’t farm it much less build anything on it.
We finally found a Land Specialty Company located in Tennessee. They have a no thrills website, yet told you enough to get you interested. They are owner financing, and have useable property in most size and price ranges. The great thing is they finance with a low down payment, military and veterans discount, and reasonable monthly payments. If for some reason you aren’t satisfied with your purchase, you can return the property to them or trade for another. Best of all, if you purchase from them, and make a referral, and they purchase, the company will waive one of your monthly payments. No bank will do that for you!
Here is the link in case you are interested! www.countryplacesinc.com
Once you have found your land-
A good place to start is the county or city tax collectors office. You can easily research online to find most information about any parcel of land. The people selling you the property can also be valuable in providing this information, but don’t always rely on that either. Double check the information on your own just to be sure. Most tax collectors offices can tell you how much taxes you will be paying annually on the property and whether a title search has been done. Title searches can tell you whether the property is free and clear of any liens or other issues. Most of the local government sites have an online database to search for property or parcel information. If you can’t find it online, call them. Many times you will only need a physical address and an owner name.
You can also contact the city or county government and obtain the contact information for the local utility companies serving that area. You will need that information before you purchase to know whether that property has available water, sewer, and electric service. While purchasing our first piece of property we took our realtors word for it that all of these services were readily available and close to the property. We found out different, and I don’t want you to make that mistake too. Double check everything!
We easily had electric at the corner of the property, however, we found much later that the nearest water line was about a half mile away. We didn’t want the added expense to run that much water line to the property. Well water would have been another option but that can get expensive in drilling and pumps. And, there’s no guarantee the company drilling will find water. If you want to try your hand at well water, be sure to check with any neighbors who have been there for along time. Most of the “old timers” can tell you whether it’s worth it or not! Who knows! If you happen to find property in the mountains, a spring fed water source can be valuable if one is on the property.
While we are at it, be sure to look closely at the property boundaries on a survey map. Any property being sold will have a map drawn by a licensed surveyor. Pay careful attention to the boundaries. During our search we found that the neighbors property line included a roadway adjacent to our property, which we had initially planned to use for driveway access. This can make a big difference in right of way access or not. That owner was not willing to grant a right of way along this route, and we found access at the main road was not possible without additional expense because it washes out during heavy rains. This was the deciding factor, for us, in trading the property for another. The Land Company was more than willing to do that for us. Many people, like us, search for land that we want to eventually use for gardening, raising poultry or livestock, or replacing our honeybee hive. We wanted a “homestead” with as few restrictions as possible. Many areas have dwelling size restrictions, requirements on connecting to water and sewer, and keeping or having farm animals. That was one of our requirements in searching for property to have some minimum restrictions. In our case, the final property we purchased only required a minimum square footage of 650 square feet of living space. There were very few restrictions on domestic farm animals, only that we can’t engage in commercial operations. That was not an issue for us as our only interest was for personal use and consumption. You can find many codes here at www.municode.com
The three most important things in choosing your future homesteading property is to (1) Walk the boundaries and get a layout of the land. The boundaries, especially if mapped by a surveyor, will be clearly marked. (2) Do your research on utilities and access to the property before making a commitment to purchase (3) decide if you can afford it and that the property is adequate enough to do what you want to do with it. Most areas have some type of building codes and restrictions to deal with. The areas we chose in Tennessee, especially the rural areas, have very few restrictions except for electric and sanitary waste disposal. These are safety issues and expected almost everywhere requiring permits and inspection. You really don’t want someone else’s waste seeping into your ground water do you?
Disposing of Waste-
Many people choose homesteading for the freedom to live as you want to live without any restrictions or interference. You have choices almost anywhere when deciding how you want to dispose of waste, especially human waste. I wrote about composting toilets in a previous blog and how they work. Many states and locales allow composting toilets with certain requirements. In our case, they are allowed as long as the toilet is certified by the manufacturer as meeting certain standards, and the property has running water, meaning, a public water system. In our case, we are choosing an in-ground approved septic system. Our process was fairly easy from the percolation test to finding a licensed contractor. The first step after deciding on our property was to have it “ perc” tested, or Percolation test. In Tennessee, in urban areas you are required to obtain a permit through the County or City health department. In rural areas, permits are obtained from the State of Tennessee. Once we submitted the application and paid the required fees, the Inspector came out and conducted the on-site test. It took about 30 minutes. The “perc test” simply tests the soil for absorption of liquids into the ground from the septic system drain field. Most of the solids remain in the main tank and need to be pumped out by a licensed disposal contractor who disposes of the solids properly.
If you are required to have an approved septic system, it is worth the minimal investment. Some will not want to spend the money and self dispose of their waste, but, that’s something I wouldn’t recommend over long periods of time. Many areas obtain their drinking water from underground aquifers and these contaminants seep into the ground into those water sources. We chose a 1000 gallon lowboy septic tank which is more efficient and the installation is less work for the contractor, especially if the ground has rock. Removing rock is an added expense. Be sure to check with your local health department to learn what is required and the process. It can get very expensive if not followed properly. Disposal of waste is a safety issue for everyone!
Electric or Solar-
While many homesteaders would prefer to go off-grid and get their electricity from solar power, it can get quite expensive. While the solar panels get their energy from the sun, that energy needs to be stored somewhere for use, and that’s usually in the form of batteries. What you use the energy for can determine how large your system needs to be. Some areas give tax credits for solar installation while some utilities even buy the energy from you. Honestly, the return they can give you isn’t all that great but it’s better than nothing I suppose!
We would probably use solar at some point as a backup in the event the power went out or use it to power other low demand sources for our homestead. For now we will use the local power company. When choosing the local power company, or in our case, the only choice was a local Electric Membership Co-Op. Personally, I would prefer them, because customers are voting members and have a say in the direction and operation of the company. Many times they are cheaper with their rates and service. Not everyone will have that ability and will be stuck with some of the major power providers. One of the Engineers with the local Co-Op met us and gave us some good information about what needed to be done to get power to our property. It was a positive experience and they seemed happy to work with us to make that happen.
We did find that we needed to contact the adjacent property owner to get permission to trim some limbs on their property to run the power lines to ours. The neighbors agreed! The only cost to us will be around $100 .00 to have the limbs trimmed. Not a bad expense at all!
Stay Tuned! In my next Blog post I will provide you with creative ways to help pay for your Homestead!