Thursday, May 1, 2014

Is Earthing just a craze or a real health benefit?

So I'll start this out by admitting something, I'm a little bit hillbilly. I'm 36 but grew up very old fashioned for my age and just a hair on the hillbilly side. Now, I'm not ashamed of that and I certainly don't think my childhood has in anyway hurt whom I have become. I would like to think I am a fairly cultured and well read and yes, a little hillbilly. 

I say that because I was told that a lot as a child. I went without wearing shoes every chance I could. I hated wearing them and I am still that way today. If I did wear something on my feet I preferred the moccasins I made or maybe some flip flops. To this day I get poked at for doing yard and garden work barefoot. It's hard to explain why I am this way. I just love the feel of the earth. I love the smell of the grass and dirt, and the feeling of the dirt between my toes as I walk on it. I joke that my feet are just another of my senses. I'm smelling the dirt with my feet. 

It's really no big deal I'm this way. A lot of people walk around barefoot so maybe that's why I've become a little amazed and humored at this new "craze" of walking around without shoes and that it even has a name, earthing. Now before I get the hate mail coming in I'm not hating on earthing or people walking around barefoot. I think everyone should do it. I just find it a little comical that it now has a such an eloquent name. I guess it's just because it was so natural for me growing up and now there is sort of a fad with it. But pushing that aside let's talk about it and see if there really is any benefit to it. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

My Top 10 Book List on Self Sufficiency

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and assume that the majority of those in the sustainability community that might have a thing for books. I'm not sure why but it just seems they go hand in hand. So as a fellow bibliophile I want to share with you my favorite reading list on the subject of self-reliant homesteading. This certainly isn't a complete list, I'm sure many of you would have several to add to this list but I wanted to make a sort of top 10 books that I have felt gave me a better insight or maybe inspired me in the subject of permaculture. 

These are listed in no particular order. I have provided links to Amazon for each of these but I am making no money if you choose to buy from them thanks to a recent law passed in my state. Hope you enjoy. 

1. Back to Basics: A Complete Guide to Traditional Skills, Third Edition. This is a widely well known book and was originally published as a Readers Digest book. This covers a wide variety of subjects regarding family homestead life and even though it doesn't delve deep into each I highly recommend this one. I'm pretty sure this is the book that sparked the self-sufficient fire in me. This one is also recommended by several of my friends. 

2. Country Wisdom & Know How. This book has been around about a decade but is already a classic. It's actually part of a series of books on the subject and covers over 200 topics. This is a great book and series for your library. 

3. One Acre & Security: How to Live Off the Earth Without Ruining It. This book was originally printed about 40 years ago by a then well know survivalist and back to earth proponent. This is really a great book for those looking for ideas on living self-sufficiently but yet not primitive survival. The author covers a lot including what to look for in that secluded property that's still not too far from the city. 

4. The Self-Reliant Homestead: A Book of Country Skills. This is one I wouldn't want to be without. It's detailed and yet easy to read much like a text book. This book really covers a lot of info and I highly recommend this one. 

5. The Encyclopedia of Country Living: An Old Fashioned Recipe Book. Many consider this the homesteaders bible. This is one of the first books I purchased on the subject. The author updates and comes out with news editions ever few years. There is so much information in this book, I learn something new every time I pick it up. This is a great reference book to have around the house to quickly look up the answer to that homesteading question. 

6. Five Acres and Independence: A Handbook for Small Farm Management. This book was originally published in 1935 and has been revised several times but don't be dismayed on the age, there is a reason it is still being published. This book is a pretty low cost but important addition to your library. It's interesting because of the age it does give some insight into the old ways of doing things. 

7. Self Sufficiency for the 21st Century. Another great book and with some modern insight. There is a lot of information here and it is good whether you are living in the country of finding your self sufficiency in the city. A great addition to your library. 

8. Homesteading: A Backyard Guide to Growing Your Own Food, Canning, Keeping Chickens, Generating Your Own Energy, Crafting, Herbal Medicine, and More. From the author of Back to Basics this is a more in depth guide in the same series. Great full color illustrations and very practical information. Great for beginners or the experienced. 

9. The Modern Homestead Manual. This was written by a husband and wife team that has many years of experience in building a homestead from scratch. There is a lot of good advice here even how to build relationships with neighbors. A very easy to read writing style. I believe it was published in small numbers so it may be difficult to come by a copy but it's worth it. 

10. Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why. This one comes recommended by my friend Jessie. It talks more about the mentality of survival and sustainability and comes highly recommended by her. 

Well that's my top ten book list. I also want to list some magazines I would recommend if you are into subscriptions. There are a growing number out there and many are good but I want to highlight three that I feel are the best. 

1. Countryside & Small Stock Journal. This magazine has been around almost a century and before the advent of the internet it was the best way to communicate and network with others living the country life. This still is probably my favorite. All of the articles are from the readers and unlike a lot of magazines it's mostly articles and not a lot of advertising. I love reading these over and over again. 

2. Mother Earth News. By far the most popular magazine on this subject but still it is one of the best. Lots of beautiful pictures and great, helpful articles. They also put out several special editions every year with tons of great information. 

3. Back Woods Home Magazine. A lesser know publication but a very good one. This is for the serious homesteader. A lot of great information on just about every aspect of living off the land. I love every issue. 

Well that wraps up my lists. I hope they were helpful and maybe a good starting place for you to begin filling up your self-sufficient living library. Let me know what your favorites are. 

How to make enough money to keep you self-sufficient.

So you've embraced permaculture, sustainable living, off-grid life, modern homesteading or whatever label you want to put on it. You long for the simplicity and self-reliance this life can bring. You dream of gardening, natural houses, solar power and strong likeminded communities. You believe what you are doing will help create a better tomorrow because you know how it has changed you for the better. You've planned it all out, you've read anything you can get your hands on to help you learn more and you've saved all you can to begin this life. There's only one problem. How to make enough money to be able to sustain this life?

Sure one option is just to keep working at your mundane, never going anywhere, non-fulfillment job but there's so much life and work you miss out on at your dream home. I mean why work to achieve this to only spend all your time off in your cubical. Many do this. They try and make some semblance of a sustainable life but keep working their normal job to pay for it and all the other amenities they haven't given up. If this is your plan let me warn you it's not usually a successful one. It will wear you down trying to work to keep up two lifestyles. This may be ok for a short time but in the long run many can't keep it up and end up reinserting themselves back into the matrix. 

Another option is to live so primitive that well, you just don't need money. All that you need to live off of is found in the wild. While this is possible it is not the life for most and usually isn't what most dream of, at least not in a practical sense. Sure I've read stories of people living without money in some kind of a hobbit hole but most of those stories are single people or maybe two adults. So what is your option if you have a family? 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Free Education and Building Sustainable Communities

So a free education, sounds nice doesn't it? We've all heard to term used. Some may embrace it, others feel it's a right while other cringe at the term but learning for free just might be a good thing. Now before I go further I have to come clean. In not talking about the kind of education you get in a brick building or on a maze filled campus. I'm not talking about devoting years of your life for a piece of paper that gives you a slight chance for a little higher wage, maybe. I'm talking about something different, very different and yet kind of the same. I'm talking about a community of learning and sharing knowledge. I'm talking about a Free School or as some call it, Free Skool. 

I have written about this in the past and if you've read much of anything I've written you know I talk a lot about building strong communities. Some of those communities can be your neighbors, those living geographically close and those across the world but are friends of the same mindset. Strong communities are vital to sustainable independence. Having others to help, share, enjoy and learn from is a very important aspect of sustainable living sometimes forgotten about. Strong communities of devoted people with a common goal will help each individual gain more independence and further a sustainable lifestyle. So how do free skools fit in? They are the hubs for these communities. They are where we come together to learn, share and build together. 

So what is a free skool? Well there are many different definitions and many people do them differently with different goals and agendas but in my mind they are really a community calendar of events and classes where we come together and share our lives, our knowledge, our wisdom and our experiences. A free skool event can be many different things, maybe a class or a lecture, a group workday, volunteer day, social gathering or many other things that a group might do together. Most, usually have a monthly calendar and people in the group volunteer to teach, coordinate or host an event or class which is open to the public. We are all students and we are all teachers. I tell my children all of the time that learning doesn't stop when you graduate. I believe continually learning and growing is our purpose as a species. 

So if you want to build a strong community. If you want to bring people together that desire a sustainable and even self-sufficient life one of the best ways to get that started is to be involved in a free skool. It spans all religious, political and philosophical lines. It brings people together to simply learn and share. Free skools help you learn from the more experienced and share your wisdom with others. 

They are easy to start, just begin by putting the word out in your community. Maybe gather a few friends. Pick a place, date and subject and start letting everyone you know about it. Social networks are great for spreading the word. Libraries work good for classrooms. As you grow encourage others to be involved to talk about what they know. Soon you'll have a calendar filled with gardening class, kombucha for beginners, kitchen DIY, mechanics, book clubs, philosophy hour, basic plumbing, natural building construction, hooping, yoga, solar cooking and much, much more.

 Be open to what ever someone might have knowledge about. The possibilities are endless. Then one day you'll look around at the many people involved and see so much diversity and yet a strong community of friends. You see a sustainable community isn't just a city block of like minded people or a commune in the countryside. A sustainable community is people coming together, working together and learning together to build a better, more harmonious tomorrow. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Small Budget Gardening Tips for Beginners

With Spring in full force across most of the country the gardening bug is spreading and probably already infecting you. For those experienced gardeners you probably already have some of your garden in the ground or have at least prepared for your planting. But what about those beginners that haven't yet started. What about those that want to get a garden started but aren't sure you know how or maybe you just can't afford to get it started. Well you need not worry because it's still not too late to get it going and I want to give you some ideas on how to have fun gardening and stay on a tiny budget. For those on a very limited income it can seem a little daunting to get the garden going even if you know it will be an investment with a great payoff. 

Of course your first decision is where to plant your garden. Deciding where it will grow and how to prepare the soil is the most difficult and costly part. If you have yard space to plant in first pick a spot that gets lots of sun. Pick a sunny day and take note of where the sun shines on your yard and where it is shaded. The best sun is from about 10am-4pm so try and find a place that gets the most sunlight during those hours. If you don't have a lawn, say maybe an apartment hold tight because a little later we will talk about gardening out of potted plants. 

Once you have decided upon the area to plant you now must begin to prepare it. Sure it's best to have done this last fall or earlier in the spring but it's still not too late. You'll need to decide if you're going to have a raised bed garden or plant directly in the ground. Raised beds are usually considered the best. The soil is generally better quality and drains better and it's also easier to control weeds. Planting directly in the ground requires less money and resources but it is usually more labor intensive. 

Raised beds: 
Keep in mind that we are doing this on a budget and realize that a raised bed doesn't have to be as esthetic as you see in a magazine. All you need is something to hold the dirt in. You can be creative, it's amazing what I've seen people come up with. Check curb alerts on sites like
Craigslist or yard sales and of course asking around can sometimes help you find what you need for little to no cost. Repurposed lumber that's at least 6" wide, hay or straw bales, concrete blocks, large rocks, bricks and cut up pallets are just a few ideas. I've even seen old metal barn siding or fiber cement siding used. You never know, look around your own house to see what is available. Raised bed plants don't need as much space and traditional gardens so you won't need as much square footage. If you're inexperienced in building things ask around, put a call out to your Facebook friends or check with a local gardening club to see if they would have any volunteers to help. 

Next is the dirt. Please stay away from trying to fill up you're raised beds with bags of dirt from the local big box store. Even if it is cheap it will take far too many bags of dirt than you will expect, trust me. Check Craigslist or go to your local farm and feed store and look for bulletin boards. If you live near cattle farms you could stop by a couple and ask if they sell garden soil that is ready to use or maybe ask at your local nursery. A pickup truck size load shouldn't run much more than $40-50 for a local delivery. If you don't have a truck or small trailer don't be afraid to ask around for some help getting your dirt. Make sure you know what you're getting. You don't want fill dirt or something with a lot of clay or manure that's fresh. The manure needs to be at least a year old or it will be too hot to grow food. For most beginners without a truck this can be your biggest expense. Once you get your dirt in you're ready to plant!

Planting directly in the ground: 
For some this might be your only option. If you're confident you have good top soil with a low amount of rocks this option, although is more labor intensive, is the cheaper option. Depending on the quality of your yard this could be as simple as scraping the sod off with a spade and using a hoe to break up the ground. In my area soil that easy to break up is unheard of. If you live in a subdivision your yard is probably rocky fill dirt with maybe 3" of top soil. You'll need at least 6"-8" of loose soil to plant. You may have to till that garden space. Depending on your situation and knowledge you can either rent a tiller or have your area tilled by a local lawn care business. In my experience a tiller usually rents for about $40 for 6-12 hrs and having it done by someone else should run $40-70 depending on the size you want and the distance they would have to travel. Put in the time after it's tilled to remove as many rocks as you can. Once done you are ready to plant!

Choosing your plants: 
Since this article is for the beginner I would recommend for your first garden to stay with easier, common plants. Things like tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, squash, beans and onions are common in gardens because they are easy to grow. Now you need to choose between buying plants or seeds. Again check with Craigslist for plants or ask any experienced gardening friends to see if they have extras for less than what you would pay at the nursery. A lot of experienced gardeners start their plants out from seeds and many times end up with too many starts than they have garden space. Another way to save a few pennies on plants is to check with the nurseries towards the end of planting season. Many times they will mark down what they have left. It's been picked over so you'll likely be getting some sad looking plants but with a little care you can almost always bring them back and grow them into healthy, producing plants. If you're using seeds it won't hurt to make little mini green houses until they get going good. One and two liter clear plastic soda bottles with the
bottoms cut off and the cap removed for air will work great at covering the plants. Once your garden starts sprouting using your lawn clippings between the rows of plants can help cut down on weed growth. 

Planting without a lawn: 
Apartment living? Landlord won't allow gardens? Maybe a disability prevents you from planting a garden. Well no worries because you can still enjoy fresh veggies from your own toil.  Just because you may be surrounded by concrete and asphalt doesn't mean you cannot become a master gardener. Gardening in pots or boxes can produce some really great food. This can also be very cheaply done too. Pots and boxes can be found very cheap and even free. Again start checking classified ads, asking around and check out second hand stores. If you're not too concerned with the looks also ask at your local nurseries if they would sell you their used pots. Flower boxes can easily be made or repurposed from old dresser or desk drawers or from many other kinds of wood, plastic or metal boxes. Since you won't need as much dirt, buying cheap top soil by the bag or by filling up buckets should do the trick. Use the bigger pots for the tomatoes and squash, cucumbers and beans will do well hanging and little boxes will be perfect for lettuce, onions and radishes. I have seen small apartments produce quite a bit of food this way. An average healthy tomato plant should produce up to 10 pounds of juicy red fruit a season!  Here's another trick I learned from a friend. If you live in an apartment don't be afraid to ask the apartment manager if you can turn some of the landscaping into garden space. You'll need to keep it looking good and be willing to turn it back into landscaping when you're done but this is something I've seen work well. It's also an opportunity to create a community garden with your neighbors.

Healthy growing tips: 
Now that everything is planted what's next? Well my first advice is to commit to keeping your hard work organic, meaning no chemicals. Don't worry, even though you may hear it just won't produce enough growing organic remember we've been gardening long before pesticides so there are ways to protect your hard work. Pesticides are not only harmful for you and who ever eats out of your garden but they kill all bugs and there are some good ones you want to keep around. Lady bugs, Lacewings and Preying Mantis are just a few good ones you'll want to keep in your garden. 

Diatomaceous earth is a natural powdery substance that can be purchased at just about any nursery. Food grade diatomaceous earth is just ground up skeletal remains of microscopic creatures. To us it's powder but to little slugs is it like little razors. Just be careful not to breath it in and try to keep it dry. Wood ashes work well too if you have that available. I used to keep all of my ashes from my wood stove in a trash can just for this during growing season. There are also several different homemade spray recipes. Here's one to try. 

Grind 1 garlic bulb and 1 small onion. 
Add 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper to 1 quart of water and steep it all for 1 hour. 
Pour through cheesecloth or coffee filter.  
Add 1 tablespoon of dawn dish soap and mix well but not sudsy. 
Then pour into labeled spray bottle and keep for up to a week while using. 

Keep your garden weeded and watered and then wait for the fun to begin. Look for garden tools at second hand and thrift shops, yard sales and classified ads or better yet search for a possible community tool lending group. As an alternative you might also try is to play soft music or sing to your plants. Some may think this is kooky but there is some hard science behind the positive affects of certain music and plants. Above all have fun! Gardening is addictive and empowering. Even on a very small budget it can be done, just be creative. Learn from the experience and learn love the earth between your toes! 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Vegan Homesteading

When thinking about living a self-sufficient lifestyle one has to also consider sustainability, the sustainability of your home, your life and really the entire planet. I usually talk about the two as if they were the same thing and that's because to me they really are. Being self-sufficient isn't just being able to go buy your own hamburger at the drive through every day. Being self-sufficient is knowing that the fate of your existence is resting in your hands. It is having the ability to provide for ones self and to be able to do so without the need of the corporate farm, big box discount store and the drive through some-what-a-burger. It is really how most people lived 150 years ago. The beauty of the era that we live in now is that we can live this way and not be forced to live primitively. With a balanced mix of modern advances and natural balance we can live a sufficient lifestyle and still enjoy a life filled with modern conveniences. So how does sustainability fit in this? It's really simple, the best way to be self-sufficient is to also live a sustaining life. A life where you live in balance with the earth. A life where you are not just a consumer but a balanced part of the eco system. This line of thinking played a big role in my decision to take on a vegan lifestyle. Becoming sustainable and leaving a more balanced footprint started making more sense to me when I made the decision to not live dependent upon other animals on my life. 

At this point I would say a good portion of my readers are beginning to roll their eyes and are expecting me to began preaching veganism and telling you how cruel you are of a person to eat meat. Well you are wrong. That is not my intent and that is not the kind of vegan I am. I want to talk a little about my journey becoming vegan and how it can play a big role in making life a little easier on your homestead, whether rural or urban. 

My journey really began, well, about as far back as I can remember. I never was a big meat eater, especially red meat. I always loved my veggies and even as a child I would usually choose them over meat. I can remember going to buffets and not getting any meat at all. People would sometimes make comments but I would still devour my veggies. I can never remember not having a garden growing up which is probably why it's still one of my favorite places to be, playing in that dirt so eating my veggies just came naturally. I began considering going full vegan a few years back and did a lot of research but just kept telling myself I just couldn't do it. Meat wasn't my hurdle. It was milk and cheese. I just couldn't imagine living without it. Of course at the time I was totally unaware of all the plant based options there were out there. It wasn't until February of last year that I finally decided to make a lifestyle change. My 10 year old son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes after nearly going into a comma. It was an awakening and life changing experience for him and all of us. It broke my heart to see how my sons life was going to be forever changed.  Diet changes and getting stuck with needles 8 or more times a day is hard for anyone and especially a child. It was then that I decided to do this for him. I thought that of my little boy could handle going through this for the rest of his life then surely I could muster the courage to change mine to a healthier more sustainable life. 

So my original intent on becoming vegan may have been different than others but still I share and understand why others come to the same decision. I am not militant and it's not some kind of religion for me and if you want to farm animals humanly then that is your choice not mine and I'll respect it. It's funny though since then how many times I've been told how I just won't get enough of the nutrition I need but over a year later and I'm still here and still could loose some weight so I must be getting enough to keep me going. Now I know going vegan isn't for everyone and I'm not here to try to convince you of that but I do want to try and get you to think about meat production and consumption on you little modern homestead. If your goal is to achieve some level of self-sufficiency then reducing or eliminating animal from your equation can actually be beneficial to your sustainability. 

Let me just point out a few facts. Farm animals, whether large or small production, account for the largest drain on resources and labor on your homestead. Although this isn't a negative just by itself, it is true that they are expensive to care for and take a lot of time and effort. They require more land. Most would probably be surprised at just how little land it would take to live off of if you stuck to just a plant based diet. There is also an emotional attachment to deal with if you are raising animals for meat. On a small farm it's easy to become attached to the animals, especially for children. We are told it's a circle of life and so we accept it but does it really have to be? Having a plant based diet on your modern homestead can simply make you more sustainable. If you are depending so much on meat production, then it can limit just how sustainable you can be. I know there will be many to disagree with this but how much more sustainable can you be just eating what you grow from the ground. Although this kind of sustainability wasn't what pushed me to finally take on a plant based diet it has definitely become a major part of it now. 

Having a mostly or all plant based diet can have so many benefits especially when it comes to living a sustainable lifestyle so much so that it should be something you consider. It's healthy, it's green and brings only life to the homestead. If more people lived this way this plant would look very different. In fact there are a lot of models showing that the only way for future sustainability of this planet is to switch to a plant based diet. A vastly greater amount of food can be grown on the same amount of land that meat is produced on. So even though a complete change in eating habit may not happen for you, if you truly seek sustainability at least consider how much animal is in your diet and how little you actually need. 

In the end regardless of your choice I want to encourage you to daily try to walk a little lighter on the planet, it's the only one we have and to do a little research into the foods you eat especially the meat and ask yourself if what you eat and how it is produced is really the most sustainable option for you. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Choosing the Best Home for your Self-Sufficient Journey pt. 2

In part one of this article I talked briefly about the pros and cons of living self-sufficient in the city verses the country. We went over some of the he reasons people may choose either option and some ways to help you make that decision. In part two I want to touch on some specific styles of homes that are out there and talk briefly about those different options. Of course I couldn't cover all the styles and options because truthfully when it comes to creating your own home the options are really about as endless as your imagination will allow. In the past when talking about sustainable and self-sufficient living I've said to think outside of the box and to not allow yourself to be conformed to what society might deem "normal". In my mind this lifestyle is almost an abstract way of living. Allow yourself to be creative. Even when confined to the restrictions of the city and it's regulations there are still many ways to change your living habits so that you are becoming more one with the natural flow of nature. I believe this is really a key point to the success of this life. Regardless of the reasons that have driven you to this journey we must stop living as if we are a parasite on this planet, only devouring to suit our needs without any consciousness of consequences of our actions. 

Understanding how nature works and learning to live in that system will enable us to thrive and not just survive. Although it may not seem so, this is really a great principle to take with you when creating your sustainable home. 

If your path leads you to urban sustainable living then, as I have previously stated, your options are more limited on the style of house to choose from. But that is usually where the limitations end. Whether in a house or an apartment you can still make a major impact in your self-sufficient life just by making certain changes. Think of this as a challenge to build a small eco-system on your city lot. For most, it is still possible to use solar power or at least supplement your usage with it. Solar can also be used to cook with (solar ovens) and heat with (solar heaters). Even just supplementing your usage can have a great impact. I read about a family in California that added 4 solar panels and changed how they used their power and was able to drop their electric bill from about $300 a month to under $20. Rain collection is also something to do to use to water your garden. This can be done very cheaply and limit your water connection to only household use. 
Food production is usually very important to living sustainably and this can easily be done in the city. Many may have heard about the Dervaes family and their urban homestead. They live almost completely off their land and that is only a small 1/8th acre lot in Southern California. They have learned the importance of utilizing every square inch of their property. In fact they produce so much they have a good business selling their produce locally. One option for urban homesteaders is to look for vacant lots that can be turned into community gardens with the owners permission. This has become very popular and is bringing the knowledge of self-sufficiency to even our inner most cities. Growing food does not have to be just a rural thing. Plant your urban gardens and watch how it opens the door to strengthening your community. Greenhouses, walipini's and hydroponics are also ways to increase your food production amongst the brick and mortar life.

One of the benefits to city life is the ease in building close nit communities. The ability to barter and help each other becomes very convenient when your neighbor is only a few feet away. Because of this and because of the obvious disadvantages of living in the city it is really a must to build these connections with your urban neighbors.

One other thing easily possible in the city is to cooperatively buy or rent out a place with other like minded friends. In many towns it's much more affordable to purchase a large older home in some of the older historic areas of town and as a group create your self sustaining oasis. 

In the rural areas where there are less restrictions and the ability to build more it allows more options. Of course there are many existing farm houses and for the sake of this article they can be treated much the same way as a house in the city. By adding better insulation, utilizing solar energy and harvesting rain water you can take an old farm house and turn it into and thriving sustainable homestead. 

But what about those that want to actually build their home? Lets briefly go over a few of the options for those willing to take on this task. 

Traditional Log Cabin: Nothing says living off the land as the log cabin. For just about anyone living in North America this is what they think of when they envision living off the land. Over all this style of home can be a good option. They can be economical, long lasting and good comfort and warmth. Depending on what style you build they can also be something someone with moderate knowledge can handle. They are labor intensive to build and don't be fooled by some Hollywood movie showing a few people erecting a log cabin in a matter of days. Even for the experienced builder they can take a minimum of two months to build. If the site your building on has enough natural resources to supply the build they can be very economical. It is also possible to buy them as a kit where the logs are already cut and numbered so putting them together is like a really big Lincoln Log set. These are beautiful natural homes but the reality is they usually aren't that efficient so there are some negatives on the sustainability aspect. 

Cord Wood Home: This is really just a simpler version of a log home. Instead of long logs stacked on top of each other you are using short pieces, about the length for burning, as bricks with some type of mortar in between them. They are much easier to build with a lot less heavy labor in them. They have their own unique beauty and are about as efficient as a log home. They can be considered more eco-friendly since you can use a variety of types of cordwood from just about anywhere you live. 

Earthships: This is rapidly becoming a popular style of sustainable housing. It is one of my personal favorites. When built properly they encompass all the energy, water and even food needs into the construction of the home. This style of home was developed by architect and designer Michael Reynolds. He has spent the last 40 years perfecting this design. They encompass thermal energy heating, passive convection cooling, rain water collection for all the homes water needs and a built in greenhouse for year round growing. They offer their own unique beauty, some comparing their style to something from Star Wars. and much of the supplies needed for building them literally come from the trash. There are really very few negatives to this style of structure other than the big one and that is cost. Since the only one building this home is Mr. Reynolds and each one is a unique design the cost for a home can easily reach over $180,000 and that's not including the land. It is possible to learn how to build your own earthship through his academies he hosts on how to build your own home but the systems in the home to make it work are quite advanced so this would definitely be for the advanced builder. 

Cob or Straw Bale Homes: As far as simplicity this style may be the best fit for the novice. These two styles are very similar, cob is simply a mud or clay covering over some natural or recycled inner walls. Straw bale is just that, bales of straw covered in mud, clay or some type of stucco. This style is probably the cheapest and one of the easiest to build. Once a foundation is built, usually a poured concrete, the walls are as easy as stacking bales of straw, bags of sand or earth, earth pounded tires or several other recycled items. Generally these houses are naturally fire retardant and depending on the design are easy to incorporate thermal energy heating. I find the love or hate of the look of these homes usually splits down the middle. They have a much more primitive look with usually a hint of southwest styling but this does not have to be standard. One of the biggest advantages in this style is to possibility to incorporate a lot of artistic styling in the home. Rounded walls, colored bottle walls, circular windows and enclosed courtyards are just a few of the possibilities in this style. Using the roof to collect rain water or to grow a living roof can either make the roof practical or add natural beauty. 

Yurts: Although not seen as much anymore a yurt can still be a good option for a temporary or even permanent home. Traditionally a yurt is simply a circular tent structure held up by a type of foldable lattice wood infrastructure. These have been used for centuries by nomadic people because of their ease in building and the ability to transport the home when you move. Yurts can also be permanent and there are companies that sell permanent kits that are easily built. They can have simple canvas walls or cob, metal or many other materials. Generally they are simply one big circular room but can be broken up with curtains or even solid built walls. Depending on the materials, these can be very easy to build and fairly economical. They generally aren't able to utilize thermal heating and the canvas models aren't as strong in areas of high winds and tornados. 

Metal Storage Containers/Silo Homes: These aren't technically a natural home but are very eco-friendly since a good majority of the materials used to build the home are recycled. It is as simple as buying a used storage containers, the kind you see on flatbed train cars or ocean freight ships and setting them together or buying an old grain silo and having it cut down to live in. As odd as these types of homes may sound they offer a very strong and sustainable home. Both storage containers and silos are made from thick strong steel meant to last a very long time. They do have an industrial look but for many that is a plus. Storage containers can be set side by side or on top of each other, welded together and doorways cut in them. They are easy to build since the roof, walls and floors are already built. All that needs to be done to them is simply finish the interior and run your utilities through the house. They are pretty economical, usually running $800-2000 a container depending on size and condition and once the heavy work of setting and connecting them is done the interior can be as simple or elaborate as you like. Silos are very similar. They are usually cut in half and set side by side with either a doorway or breezeway connecting the two. These usually range from 18' to 36' in diameter and can easily have two or three levels. This is not the cheapest style of home because of the cost of moving and erecting the silo and making reading to finish the interior but the silos themselves can be purchased fairly cheaply. If this industrial look is for you these types of homes can offer a strong, long lasting home that is built very green. 

All of the above styles can easily have solar, rain collection, composting toilets and certain types of natural heating built in them. This by far is not a comprehensive list but it does give you some variety when considering a natural or eco-friendly home. Each one has their own unique beauty and benefits so thorough research needs to be done before one is decided upon. 

Whether an apartment, mobile home or Earthship finding the home that fits your needs and especially your budget will help make your journey to a self-sufficient life easier and so much more enjoyable. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Choosing the Best Home for your Self-Sufficient Journey pt.1

Possibly one of the most important pieces in living sustainably and self-reliant is the home you live in. It is usually the biggest investment one will make and this is even more true when it comes to living sustainably. It is not just where you find shelter and comfort but it is where you share the wonderful experiences of this journey with your family and friends. It is where you will cook, store and maybe even grow your food. It is where you and your family will learn and where you will relax. Deciding on where you will live and what kind of place you will live in is as important as any decision you will make. 

Before I go any further I want to make it clear that I am no expert. I am not an architect or a master builder. I have worked in the construction field in the past and that included some log homes and simple log cabins. I also have a lot of knowledge from many years of studying this subject so what I have to say is just an opinion. Always research and find for yourself the truth before you just take someone's word for it. 

One of the first things a person must decide is whether you will make this journey in the city or embark on it in the countryside. There are advantages and disadvantages to both so don't discount one over the other just yet. Although city dwelling may not be for some it does offer some benefits. There is the closeness of the community and the ease of getting the supplies you may need. Many urban areas are seeing a big influx in the amount of people living sustainably so it is very possible to find a community already developed and filled with like minded people you can connect with. It's easily possible to grow large gardens and many cities allow chickens and other small farm animals to be raised with certain restrictions. Community gardens are very popular and even in the most inner of cities farmers markets are becoming common place. 

Self-Sufficiency Can Be Our Common Ground to Independence

As the growing desire for simple independence and the increased awareness of the instability of our system, the lack of health in manufactured foods and the freedom in simple self-reliant communities more and more people are beginning to turn to doing more things themselves, insuring their own survival and guarantying themselves more fulfillment in their daily lives. People desiring this type of life are all around us and they are beginning to form little communities, some of these communities are people that literally live close and some of these communities are born on the web bringing like minded people together though they maybe many miles apart. I find it somewhat funny and yet exciting at how people from so many walks of life, that on the surface may have starkly different ideologies and beliefs, can come together on this one subject and share a unified desire to provide a life for themselves and their families. A life that is healthier, more stable that they themselves hold their own responsibility and not some far off company or bureaucracy. 
Everyone from the right-wing prepper to the hippie communes can come together on this one subject and find common ground.