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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why Homestead

Isn't that a lovely picture? I wish it was mine.  This picture was taken in 2006 at Steve's mother's cousin Karl's house in Kaiserslautern, Germany.  That well you see in the center of the path was hewn from a single piece of stone.  Here's another picture, this time from within the kitchen garden portion of their yard:

Someday, I hope that we'll have as good a set up or better.  But why homestead at all?

The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed applicants freehold title to 160 acres for the taking if they filed an application, improved the land, and filed for deed of title.  Freeholders then scratched out a living off their land, making do without, or making whatever they needed themselves, or saving up and buying what they couldn't produce with money earned from what they could produce themselves.  It was a hardscrabble way of life.

Homesteading, particularly urban homesteading, is a movement gaining momentum.  For most folks, it involves trying to grow most of their food on their little urban or suburban plots or allotments, and making efforts to reduce their reliance on modern conveniences like cars, cable TV, etc.  They want to know where their food is grown and what goes into it, and do the fine, upstanding thing that reducing one's carbon footprint is. I'm doing it because I'm reading the signs and I think life is going to become pretty difficult in the future, and I want to make sure that Steve and I don't have to choose between eating and getting our meds when we're old. 

So what are we doing?

Well, aside from our garden aspirations (okay- my garden aspirations - Steve is not a gardener), we've already replaced all the windows in the house with new double paned, thermal insulated windows.  Two of them were enormous sliding glass doors- one six-footer, and one eight-footer.  The eight-footer replaced a large picture window that was in the living room.  The idea behind this was to take advantage of the solar gain we get from our southern exposure.  This wasn't so wonderful last year as we had a giant incense cedar at the back of our yard whose shadow pretty much ensured that we wouldn't have any solar gain, but we had that removed last spring.  Now the living room gets nice and toasty on a sunny day, and seems to warm up appreciably on cloudy ones.  On sunny days so far, I can only build a small fire because once the sun hits the window, it really starts to warm up fast, sometimes getting too warm.  It will be interesting to see how this will all work this winter when the temps really start to fall.

We have the wood stove now, which helps.  I'm planning  a coppice to supplement purchased firewood. Since we only have a quarter acre total, I'm not going to get much wood, but I'm going to try. I was going to plant a few Black Locusts, because they are suitable for coppicing, grow really fast, have a high BTU content, and make great bee fodder (their flowers are supposed to be lovely), in addition to being so hard that their wood is supposed to last 70 years in the ground, which is why they're used for fence posts.  But then I found out that they sucker horribly, and since the coppice is supposed to go along the back fence, I didn't want to do that to my neighbors.  So I'm still trying to figure out what to plant back there.

Small electrical appliances are being replaced one-by-one with hand-powered versions as they die.  We now have a cast-iron stove top waffle iron and an old-fashioned eggbeater.  I think the old-fashioned eggbeater actually cost more than the electric hand-mixer it replaced, but at least it will never have to go into a landfill.

You saw our laundry set-up.  We also have an HE front-loading washer.  We replaced the two toilets in the house with a couple of Toto dual-flush toilets, and practice water saving with them, if you know what I mean.  Steve works from home.  I commuted by public transportation, back when I worked. I'm now looking for work closer to home so that the commute is not such a bear.

The other goal of homesteading is to simplify our lives.  Granted, homesteading means a lot more work- I'm not kidding myself.  But the idea is to be able to live with fewer and fewer outside inputs.  When we first moved here, I thought we may have made a mistake because the normal places we do our shopping are so far away now.  But after reading Better Off, by Eric Brende (which was an interesting read, by the way, and recommended) I realized that we're perfectly situated to hardly need the car at all, if I can get most of our food from the yard.  In one direction, our bank is about a mile away.  In the opposite direction, a nice grocery store, the post office and the library are two miles away.  All we need are bicycles.

I'm learning how to can, so we can reduce the number of cans we have to recycle.  I purchased a pressure canner this summer, so that part is done.  Steve already makes our bread, and learned how to brew beer this autumn.  Hard cider is next- several of the trees I ordered are cider apples.  I'm planning a wooden work table-island thingy for the kitchen, to which I'll affix our pasta machine so that I can make all our pasta from scratch.  We're planning cold storage in the garage, so that we can keep vegetables out there during the winter, and so Steve will have a better thermally-regulated place for his fermenter.

Since we don't have any debt outside our mortgage, and we live well beneath our means, the next trick is to pay off the mortgage early.  Then I think we can scale back and really simplify.  Someday, we'd like to replace our asphalt roof with a metal one so that we can install a rainwater harvesting system.  I think a solar water heater is also in our future.  I doubt we'll do solar panels because I don't think we have enough life left in us to get them to pay for themselves.  Maybe if the economy of scale kicks in and they get a whole lot cheaper we could consider t it, but not at this writing.  We may add chickens (we're still just thinking about it- they are a commitment after all); I'm definitely getting bees- maybe as soon as next spring.

So little bit by little bit, we're trying to simplify our lives by homesteading, such as we can.

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