Tag Archives: homesteading

And, The Big Sky Saga continues…..Our Latest Homestead Adventure

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

Our Adventure is about to begin…..

The Road leading to our Property

 

In a couple of weeks we will make our annual trek to our property in the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee.  For many of you following my Blog, Cheri and I will finally begin the process of clearing our property for our future homestead, and installing the necessary utilities that we will most certainly need.

It’s been close to a two year process in getting this far and we aren’t about to stop now.  In my previous Blog Post about our plans Here , I provided my insights in what we needed to do next.  With many ups and downs, and obstacles to overcome we are finally ready to get started.

During our few days there I will share with you our step by step process of how its coming along and hopefully have some pictures or videos to share.  We will see how good the internet speed really is in those mountains –

Please feel free to follow Cheri’s Blog for updates on our adventure at cheriannjones

She would love to have you follow along with her latest updates on our project and plans.

Beekeeping 101: A Personal Guide Part 1

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.

Inspecting and Deciding how to remove it

 

 

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.

A sample of the great tasting honey

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.

Large Comb removal
Placing the combs in the new hive

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.

Now for their new home!

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.

 

 

Making Your Homestead Affordable!

I was recently doing some research for my next Blog post and came across an article about these great Tiny Homes for retirees.  In my infinite curiosity I decided to take a look at what this was all about and what they were promoting.

They were all great Tiny Homes, but the price tags?  To me, this simply defeats the concept of becoming minimal, living small, and the idea of affordability without a mortgage. We all want to retire someday and live comfortably, and  in the way that we choose. Many of us aren’t looking for a super large house with new cars and a boat in the driveway. Well, maybe some, but not everyone!  It’s not something that my wife and I are looking for or wanting in life . I  also found that according to a 2015 survey by a Tiny Home website that 30% of Retirees living Tiny are between the ages of 51 and 70.

Our focus begins with reducing our clutter and the material things that we don’t want or need.  My wife Cheri addresses much of that in her Blog. We definitely do not need a large house where we end up only adding things to it along with a huge mortgage.  We also aren’t interested in a small or Tiny House that we cant reasonably afford with those bells and whistles attached to it.  There is nothing wrong with those who want that, but its just not for us! Many retirees may have the extra cash or savings to sink money into these houses and indeed end up with no mortgage at all.  What about the ones that don’t have cash available or a hefty retirement package?  I hope to give you some ideas about how to do that and not having a  never ending mortgage.

The average cost to build your own can start around $23,000 or less. It really depends on what materials you use, your skill level, and the things you want in it. If you have someone build it for you, the prices can begin at around $45,000 and up.  My wife and I began our journey by looking at THOW’s ( Tiny Houses on Wheels).  The builders that we met are great people and great builders doing quality work. We changed our minds because we were not interested in anything on wheels and the PRICE TAGS!  Almost all builders want full payment for the Tiny House they build for you. Nothing wrong with being in business and making a profit, however, many people don’t have that kind of spare change laying around. It can also be difficult to find a bank to finance one.  That’s problem #2!

We decided that we wanted to create our own and in a style that we liked.  During our searches we found some Mennonite built buildings that are mostly designed for storage or backyard kids playhouses. No, Not that small!  We all know that the Mennonite and Amish have the construction quality and techniques that we look for in a building.

Take a look at what we found Here.  You can find a simple storage building or a Lofted or Un-lofted Playhouse barns as large as 14 feet wide and 40 feet long with delivery and setup within a certain radius of the nearest dealer.  They all come with a choice of doors, windows, metal or shingled roof, siding and paint or stain colors.  The benefit in being affordable is the fact that  you can purchase them outright or rent to own over a three year period. We chose the 14 x 40 Deluxe Lofted Playhouse with full porch and metal roof when the time comes for us to purchase and have it moved.  We really don’t have much of a desire to climb stairs so we will probably opt to use the lofts for storage space.

This was a much better option for us because it gives us the option of finishing the inside ourselves with a floor plan that we choose.  We also want a vintage look inside the cabin which can allow us to use recycled materials where we want.  Of course, because of safety reasons and permitting, we will need to have a licensed electrician for the electrical hookup. You can see the examples in the photos below.

Exterior View of Unfinished Cabin Photo Credit : Cheri Jones
Unfinished Interior with Loft Photo Credit : Cheri Jones

Due to the proximity of our property in Tennessee we have chosen a local dealer to buy our cabin from and have it moved and setup.  With some steady work and a little elbow grease we could very well have our cabin in the woods livable within two to three weeks. If all goes well, we shouldn’t have a mortgage or much of one anyway!  We can spend that extra cash adding chicken coops and gardens and enjoying our life at the top of our mountain!

 

What About Composting Toilets?

With the new and popular trend about owning and living small, every Homestead owner must consider how to deal with using a toilet and living with less.  This should explain how a Composting Toilet works, the different types available, and how to maintain it and get the best  efficiency  from its use.

Composting Toilets are a dry toilet that treats human waste by using an aerobic process with no water or very small volumes of water for “composting” or managed decomposition. We find them in our  national parks and hiking trails.

 

Composting toilet systems normally mix human waste with raw sawdust, coconut coir, or organic peat moss which support aerobic processing, absorbs liquids, and mitigate odors from the toilet. Aerobic processing is simply the availability of oxygen to speed the decomposition process. Anaerobic is a lack of oxygen and slower decomposition found in wet  sewage treatment systems such as septic tanks.  This method is widely used by Tiny House dwellers, unless they have opted for conventional plumbing.

Slow composting or “ moldering” toilets are used  in moderate or seasonal use areas. “Moldering”  is  achieved by low temperatures, humidity, in which the temperatures aren’t high enough  to destroy bacteria and pathogens. This method is also known as “cold composting” which rely on long retention times for reduction of the waste.  Combining  with readily available Red Wiggler worms have been found to speed up the decomposition process known as Vermicomposting.

Manufactured Systems-

Many manufactured self contained systems on the market may contain chambers to separate human waste.  Some are equipped with fans for aeration and optional features such as heating elements.This helps in speeding up the decomposition process and maintain temperature. Heat speeds up decomposition, which is why many composting toilets should be placed inside. Generally, composting or decomposition work faster when temperatures are 55 degrees and above. Many systems on the market also use additives, or what is known as “bulking agents”.  They are absorbent carbon materials to absorb liquid, create air pockets between layers for better processing, and to create an odor barrier.

 

Maintaining your toilet-

Many brands on the market today provide different provisions for emptying the finished or composted product.  This usually depends on the speed of the decomposition process and the capacity of the composting toilet.  These can range from a few months (hot composting) or a few years (cold composting).   Many units separate the solids from the liquid waste, however, you shouldn’t  allow  “bulking” agents to become too wet.  Simply add more peat moss, raw sawdust, or coconut coir, to thicken it up.  It is highly recommended not to use Miracle Gro  Peat moss in your composting toilet since it contains additives. It is best to use organic as much as possible.

Properly managed units which produce 10 percent of composted material is suitable for soil amendments for agriculture, however, be sure to check with your local health departments as some localities have strict regulations on doing this.

Finally, when cleaning your composting toilet a simple environmentally friendly solution of water and vinegar will clean it up nicely.

 

 

 

 

A Place To Call Home!

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!

 

Happy Hunting!