Essential Homesteading Skills Survey

Since we came from the city to our microstead on the Sunshine Coast, we had to make some big changes. We thought we were fairly practical people but we’ve been surprised by just how much work it takes to keep a garden and house running smoothly. If we want to reach our goal of sustainable growing, we need to know what we need to know!

Enter Google and a quick survey of the top six results from searching “essential homesteading skills.” You might be surprised at some of the results.

Top Seven Essential Homesteading Skills Every Homesteader Needs

  1. Keeping and raising chickens
  2. Growing vegetables
  3. Growing medicinal herbs and teas
  4. Composting
  5. Canning
  6. Making Bread
  7. Making butter and cheese

All seven of these were listed as essential skills in either all six, or at least five of the six lists we surveyed.

In addition the following skills (which we sorted into five categories), appeared at lease more than twice and up to four times on the six lists.

Cooking

  • Cooking from Scratch
  • Making yogurt
  • Homebrewing
  • Distilling

Preserving Food

  • Drying meats
  • Drying herbs
  • Dehydrating fruit and vegetables
  • Rendering tallow or lard
  • Making vinegar

Household

  • Making soap
  • Making detergents and cleaners
  • Making salves

Practical Skills

  • Building and basic woodworking
  • Cooking without electricity/outdoors
  • Hunting
  • Fishing
  • Foraging
  • Butchering
  • Bee keeping
  • Fence fixing

Planning for the Future

  • Harvesting rainwater
  • Seed saving
  • Planting perennial foods
  • Firewood management
  • Encouraging pollinators

Having felt slightly overwhelmed at times by the amount of work we have to do, and the projects on our list, our survey helped us to prioritize and focus. We will be producing content associated with each of the categories which you can find on our Instagram and YouTube in the coming weeks and months. We will also be sharing the recipes we make!

Are there things missing from our list? We’re going to add salt harvesting since we live near the ocean, and we welcome your comments and suggestions. Stay tuned, and thanks for journeying along!

5 Up-cycled Crafts to do with Your Kids

Going crazy at home? Trying to keep your kids occupied while making sure they don’t interact with other people? Yeah that’s fun….said no parent ever! While you’re self isolating thanks to COVID-19, don’t worry, you won’t even have to leave the house. Get your kids to dig out all their paints, pens glues etc while you pillage the recycle bin.

Toilet Rolls

Let’s begin small and simple. The humble toilet roll.

Egg Cartons

Plastic Bottle

Box Fort

photo of boys sitting on box
Photo by Eileen lamb on Pexels.com

If you were a child of the 80s like me, chances are you spent some time in a box fort. I once one a prize at a Christmas party for going at a giant Christmas present. It was a washing machine box that had been a box fort that was converted into a giant present. Thanks Mom.

The box fort is versatile, easy to fold down and put away and you can go as simple or as complex as you like. Forts, rockets, spaceships, boats, cars, the possibilities are endless and the kids can draw all over it, inside and out. You’re welcome!

 

Tin Can Stilts This is a good one if you have some outdoor space. Simple get a couple of cans (bigger is better for stability), Roma Tomato cans or coffee cans can work. You know how much your kids weigh and if its safe, so use your judgement.

can stilts

 I’m not a parenting expert, I’m simply recalling toys I made as a kid. Completely remove the lid if it’s still attached and using a piece of sand paper or wire wool, carefully buff away any sharp edges. 

Turn the cans upside down and pierce each one with something sharp. A bottle opener or screwdriver will do the trick. Now you need to attach the rope. If you’re short on rope, I seem to remember us having used spare bootlaces.

Thread them though and tie in a large knot on the inside. You can also anchor them in with a peg or button in the inside. It stops the string popping out. If you really can’t find rope, try platting plastic bags. This is a fun way for the kits to take part.

Once everything is secured they can be decorated or left plain, but they’re ready to go!

Photo courtesy of Pinterest

 

3 Post Christmas Up-Cycling Hacks

If like me you’ve tried to take your recycling down and found it overflowing this year, you might want to try something new for next year to reduce waste and reuse what you’ve got.

  1. Old Christmas Cards

When you take your cards down, instead of putting them straight into the recycling, use them as gift tags next year! Simply select the part of the design that you want for your tag, cut it up, add a hole punch for string (optional), and you’ve got yourself a whole host of tags ready for next year!

Tip for next year: avoid cards with glitter and plastic in the designs, they’re bad for the environment and many can’t be recycled in the mixed paper bin. Buy bulk packets to avoid excess packaging, or even better, buy from a local maker or craftsperson. You’ll be saving the planet and supporting a small business!

2. Re-use paper bags and Amazon wrappings

It may sound obvious but for many people it’s not. All those paper gift bags can easily be reused, and many are good for other occasions throughout the year. In addition, Amazon often sends gift wrapped items in these nylon pull string bags that can’t be recycled, but can be reused for years!

Tip for next year: Want to go a step further with saving on packaging, you could make cotton pull string bags if you’re crafty that get used every year, try giving them as gifts to friends and family and they’ll use less paper too!

3. My packaging is all torn up!

Not to worry, if like us you have some in your family who are a little excitable and open their gifts with such gusto that shredded paper goes everywhere, fear not! You can make screwed up small bundles of paper and use them as starter for the fire either inside or while camping. We’ve had success stuffing toilet rolls with torn paper and using them as mini starter logs.

Take care not to burn papers that have plastic coatings as they smell bad and give off nasty fumes. The easiest way to avoid this is not to buy it yourself and get a paper “tape” to seal your parcels up with. You can find it at places like Net Zero Company who produce sustainable items for around the house.

And there you have it, three simple post Christmas upcycling hacks. What do you do? I’d love to hear your ideas. Comment below.

10 New Years Resolutions Everyone Should Make

If you’re staring down the barrel of a weight loss resolution you know you will fail at in a matter of weeks, try pledging to do better by the planet this year with these 10 easy New Year’s resolutions.

1. Compost

Photo by Edward Howell via Unsplash

Yes you read that right. Compost. Even if you live in an apartment building and don’t have a garden, you should be composting so that kitchen waste and food scraps don’t end up in the land fill.

We have a garburator at home and nothing is easier than shoving egg shells, carrot tops and left overs down the drain, but composting improves the planet’s soil condition, helps ensure nutrients for plants and will make you more aware of what you’re wasting. When you know what you throw away because its all in one place you are less likely to overspend at the grocery store and more likely to cook your fresh produce instead of saying good bye to it. Find out more about why soil health is so important in this documentary.

Most apartment buildings in Canada have a composting bin, so there’s no excuse. If you live somewhere that doesn’t have a composting program, contact the building management or your local council about getting one. There may be a community garden near by that would be happy to take your compost. Ask around!

We use Bokashi Composting at home. Find out more here.

2. Recycle your electronics

Photo by Frank Wang via Unsplash

With Christmas behind us there are a whole host of obsolete electronics in our homes, full of useful components and metals that can be recycled. Some companies, like apple will take there old products and recycle them themselves, but there are stores like Staples that have recycling programs for printers, computers, phones, TV’s you name it and they’ll take it. It’s free and more recycled materials reclaimed from old electronics, equals less being mined from the earth, which has already been plundered.

3. Recycle Light Bulbs and Batteries

These items are super poisonous to the earth and each year tons of them end up in the land fill despite other options being available.

You can recycle batteries and lightbulbs easily at most hardware stores and may recycle depots now take them as well. Just because you can’t put these things in the recycling where you live, doesn’t mean they can’t be recycled, it simply takes a bit of effort.

4. Stop buying plastic

When you’re in the grocery store, think about the packaging on the goods you buy.

Photo by Devi Puspita Amartha Yahya via Unsplash

Unfortunately most companies won’t change unless it hits them in the pocket, so to effect change you have to vote with your purchases.

Take reusable produce bags to avoid plastic there. Make better choices. For example, when you go to buy mushrooms there are usually two options, the ones that are loose that you put in a paper bag, and the ones in a plastic or styrofoam box that are wrapped with cling wrap for convenience. Choose the former. If enough people did, supermarkets would stop packaging mushrooms in plastic!

Does this mean that sometimes you won’t find a non plastic option? Yes. Maybe it means you have to go to a farmers market or purchase your rice or flour from a bulk bin store, or maybe it means that you don’t get to eat fresh strawberries year round. The upside is that you will discover things that you don’t normally eat!

4. Count your air miles

Not all of us can grow our own food and depending on where you live it can be difficult to eat food grown locally, but we can still reduce environmental impact.

Where did those apples come from? If you have the choice between apples from where you live or a neighbouring country or a place on the other side of the world, choose closer. Foods that are flown from somewhere you’ve never been to and can’t find on the map, were probably harvested early and ripened on their journey across the oceans or through the skies where tons of fuels were burnt up, and seas polluted in the process.

5. Use your scissors

If you buy beer and it comes in one of those plastic ring holders, cut them up before you get rid of them. The same goes for anything netted or looped. Even disposable masks! Sea life and birds get caught and die in these items and you can save them by currying the loops.

Photo from the Missouri Department of Conservation

Ideally, you want to purchase things that don’t have loops or extra plastic but if you can’t and you really want that six pack from your favourite brewery, do the right thing and cut up the loops.

6. Turn off the lights

Pledge to turn off the lights when you leave the room and unplug electronics.

Photo by Josh Calabrese via Unsplash

Don’t leave appliances on standby, they are still drawing electricity and contributing to heating up the planet by burning the energy they use.

In your home, your TV and cable box are probably the biggest drain! You’ll save yourself some money at the same time as caring for the planet.

7. Get Thrifty

Photo by Nick de Partee via Unsplash

Shop second hand when you can. I made the decision to stop buying new clothes last year and since then have been thrifting. I’ve managed to easily find what I need clothing wise at two thrift stores near where I live. I’ve also gotten rid of old clothes there which has freed up more closet space!

8. Give Stuff Away, someone will use it!

We dispose of things all the time that still have plenty of life left in them. Everything from clothes to pottery goes in the bin, because we decided we want a change, or were gifted something new.

Join or start a Buy Nothing Group on Facebook. The idea is that when you have something you no longer want you take a picture and post the details in the group. People express their interest and you give it away. Most groups have rules in place about how to select who gets the item when multiple people are interested.

It feels great to get rid of your clutter, and knowing that it’s going to someone who will use and enjoy it will fill you with good vibes!

9. Go Paperless

Stop receiving mail that you look at once and throw away. Bills and other documents are almost always available via email or as digital copies. Storing things like this on the cloud or in your computer reduces paper waste, and the energy expended to print, and deliver your letters. Plus if you need to reference something quickly, you can just check on your phone or computer and have it instantly.

In stores, you can often get email receipts or get your receipt by text, you won’t lose it, so if you need to make a return you’ll have everything you need.

10. Say no to single use

Photo by Jasmin Sessler via Unsplash

Stop using single use everything. Plastic bags, coffee cups, straws, cutlery, food sachets etc.

It is always going to be more convenient to grab what you need on the go, but if you start being intentional about not using single use items, over time you will be more prepared with things like your morning coffee, or grocery bags. It takes practice, like anything, but it’s worth it.

There are compostable alternatives to straws and cutlery, reusable items are available in lots of high street stores and you know you can carry a reusable cup for coffee or water.

Take on all 10, pick a few, or choose just one, but commit to your resolutions and you will be on your way to becoming an earth warrior! Plus it will make you sound way more interesting when people ask what your New Year’s resolutions are, than saying “join a gym…” Good luck, and Happy New Year!

3 films for the planet that you need to see this holiday season

Aside from all the usual holiday, girl meets boy, comedy ensues, they fall in love etc. Movies you may get dragged into, perhaps this holiday season is the time for something more meaty! (stay with me vegetarians)!

2020 has given us time to reflect, if you’re thinking has brought you to a place where you want to evaluate your impact on the planet, and you’re looking for New Years resolutions for 2021 that don’t involve joining a gym, look no further.

These three movies will make you think seriously about the environment, and your kids can enjoy them too. What would you be willing to do it you know there were only 60 years or harvests left?

2018 documentary directed by John Chester

1. The Biggest Little Farm

I watched this on a plane a couple of years ago, when I got home I sat down with Tara and see insisted she it too.

Based on a true story, the movie drew me in with a story about a couple who adopt a dog called Todd. He was easy to buy into being black with bright blue eyes. Todd accelerated this couples plans for leaving the city, for the country life in California. The move involved buying a farm where The soil was barely soil.

Dry barren land, that seemed as though it was hopeless. in fact the past few owners had failed to successfully the land work The story follows Todd and his humans along their journey into permaculture farming, showing the pitfalls and triumphs along the way.I challenge anyone to watch this film and not came away feeling inspired about how working with nature can yield transformations in more than just the soil.
Available on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video

Want more on transforming soil?

2020 documentary directed by Rebecca Harrell Tickell and Josh Tickell

2. Kiss the Ground

Narrated by woody Harrelson, the film leads the viewer by the hand, demonstrating that a solution for getting the carbon from the atmosphere back the soil where it’s needed is both simple amd possible. The process reduces global warming, produces oxygen, and reduces carbon dioxide in a massive way.

I confess, this movie blew my mind. I sat there thinking, “why aren’t we doing this? It’s not a spoiler to say it boils down to money and a splash of “this is how we’ve always done it,” but infact this isn’t how we’ve always done it, we just have to look back far enough.

If you have children this is a must see.
Food security is the issue of our time, but those of us living in wealthy nations like Canada who are w(for the most part) not impacted on the daily. I’m not talking about food bank line ups here, I’m talking about not being able to grow enough to stock supermarkets or food banks!
Available on Netflix

Need a scientist to lead you on your way? Number 3 is for you.

2020 documentary, directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes and Keith Scholey.

3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet

His “witness statement” for our planet.

Well known for nature programs an a voice that will lull you to peaceful sleep, Attenborough guides us through his 60 year career as as a naturalist, demonstrating the decline in the health of our planet and its inhabitants over time.

Attenborough shares his vision for how things could be, and calls us to action, with a plan for how to stop the destruction and get back to how things should be, if this, our island home is to survive.

Available on Netflix

I hope these documentaries will leave you with New Years resolutions that are not just good for you, but also good for the planet.

10 Uses for Mason Jars You Need to Know!

We’ve all seen Mason Jars adapted in to wedding centre pieces, lunch boxes and candles but here’s the ultimate hipster guide to using these versatile jars in ever aspect of life! We’ve collated the top 10 uses for Mason Jars that we hadn’t seen before, no chalk paint or glitter here!

  1. Mason Jar Bird Feeder

Perhaps you’re a bit starved of company right now or looking for things to do with the kids while you self isolate. If you have a mason jar handy you can make a bird feeder in under 10 minutes!

You will need a mason jar with a handle, a dowel rod or straight stick, some wire or strong string and bird seed.

Effortless Mason Jar Bird Feeder

Here’s what the finished article could look like. This version is from DIY Idea Centre and you can find all the instructions here!

2. Mason Jar Mini Green House

Our Sprouts!

Want to eat something fresh? Make your Large jar into a green house and sprout micro-greens at home. We use a handy mesh lid that we found at a garden centre to have Alfa Alfa and Red Clover sprouts on demand for sandwiches, avocado on toast, in salads, you name it! It’s fun to watch and the sprout are growing by day two, making us feel like we are supreme homesteading gardeners!

3. Mason Jar Mug

Adapters for Mason jars create the ultimate reusable mug. It’s basically a sippy cup with zero capacity for keeping your drink either warm or cold, however, you will look exceptionally cool.

Picture courtesy of Amazon

4. Mason Jar Soap Dispenser

As you may know, we’re big fans of the refillable soap dispensaries and the mason jar now has an attachment that you can order to convert your jars into a soap pump. The great thing about this is that when you want to refill, you just put a regular lid on the jar and head out to your favourite dispensary for a fill. If you’re looking for hand sanitizer at the moment, some of B.C.’s distilleries have begun making it, and will fill your container for you affordably or in some cases for free. The soap dispenser pump works either way!

How to make your own Mason Jar Soap Dispensers - Awesome tutorial with lots of photos! at LoveGrowsWild.com #diy #masonjar

How to tutorial for up-cycling existing soap pump! Thank you to Loves Grows Wild.

5. Mason Jar Sewing Kit

Feeling crafty? You can purchase an adapter pin cushion or make your own and keep your sewing kit safe in one place. If you have a sewing kit, you can probably make this easily.

Here’s a free tutorial from “It all Started With Paint.”

image

6. Mason Jar Money Box

The lids are available to buy, but I wold recommend making one yourself. After all, we are talking about cutting a small slit in the top of an existing jar lid. It’s not rocket science, but you’ll want some sand paper to file down the rough edges after you cut the hole. Beer fund? Holiday Fund? Kid’s piggy bank? the possibilities are endless!

7. Mason Jar Fermenter

Easy Fermenter Wide Mouth Lid Kit: Simplified Fermenting in Jars Not Crock Pots! Make Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Pickles Or Any Fermented Probiotic Foods. 3 Lids, Extractor Pump & Recipe eBook - Mold Free

This is a new one for me. I like making home made ginger beer but that’s about the only thing that ferments on my menu. Apparently you can make your own kimchi in one of these, we’re going to give sauerkraut a try! Apparently people who eat a fermented food as part of their diet are healthier and live longer! Our goddaughters parents use this one which they got as a Christmas gift. We’re not affiliated with this brand but our fiends had success with it. It’s available on Amazon.ca

8. Mason Jar Toothbrush Holder

Picture courtesy of Amazon

Again you can buy and adapted lid or make one yourself. It’s basically a lid with holes in it for toothbrushes to hang out in. Imagine how cool this will look next to the soap dispenser in your bathroom. OMG, chills….

9. Mason Jar Matchbox

I love this one for the fireplace or the camper van. Get the tutorial from The Burlap Bag!

10. Individual Bake Dish

Let them eat cake…or bread…or other baked treats!

Picture from Simple Bites

Since Mason Jars have long been used for canning, they can stand the temperatures in ovens! you can bake breads and cakes in them and then decide wither to use them straight away or can pressure can them for later. We’ve done both and they turn out great! Here’s a bread recipe from Simple Bites and if you’re interested in canning cake or bread, check out one of our favourite YouTube Channels “Simple Living Alaska.” Eric and Ariel make zucchini bread for canning and we found it works a treat!

So there you have it, 10 Ways you can be even more hipster by making use of Mason Jars! Have fun and stay safe! Happy Hipstering!

Zero Waste Grocery Shopping

On average, Canada generates 720 kg of waste per capita (see the average by province).

Yikes!

The grocery store is one place you can quickly reduce that number by making some simple changes.

grocery cart with item
Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

Re-usable bags have been a staple in Vancouver Grocery stores for a long time, but you can still choose to buy a plastic bag for 5c. if you need one. In Canada, the town of Leaf Rapids, Manitoba banned plastic bags in 2007…countries like Italy, China, and Bangladesh have done the same (Read more), but Canada wide it hasn’t happened yet.

Here in Vancouver, I’ve found that reusable bags at the grocery store cost between $1.00-$5.00. You can buy fancy ones from lots of places now, garden centres, farmers markets, even our local library has them (generally more expensive)!

thomas-le-pRJhn4MbsMM-unsplashPhoto by Thomas Le on Unsplash

For fresh produce you can choose net bags. They are sometimes on sale in the produce section. We use a cheaper version: small laundry bags for separating delicate items. They are made of nylon usually, which is obviously a plastic but you can reuse them for years if you’re careful.

The completely plastic free option is to use paper bags. When you’re at the store, the mushrooms often have paper bags with them for packaging to stop them going soggy. I’ll grab a couple of these and write the bin number of bulk foods on the side to avoid the plastic bags. The checkout assistant has yet to complain.

Tea bags are no longer compostable in many cases! I know! I didn’t know either! To make the bags more durable and to stop them splitting, many companies have incorporated plastic into the fine mesh of the bags! You can check with the manufacturer of your favourite blend or try loose leaf teas.

nathan-dumlao-tCddc_YOGRQ-unsplashPhoto by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Coffee can also be bought at bulk stores, you can also visit smaller chain coffee shops like Bean around the World or independents and many of them will refill your coffee bag and give you a discount for doing so! This is also a great way to check that you’re buying free trade ethically sourced coffee.

Change your habits

This is a big part of it, the COVID-19 pandemic has given me plenty of time to reflect on this. We all want convenience, but it’s not difficult to make a few small changes.

If it’s bagged in the fresh produce area, don’t buy it. This may require a change in your shopping habits, but the truth is, there are plenty of smaller grocers (independent and family run) that sell their produce unpackaged. Coleslaw mix is convenient, but you’ll save money and get better flavour if you by the carrots and cabbage and shred them at home yourself.

Boycott Styrofoam – mushrooms and meats seem to be the main offenders here. If you go to a local butcher or the butchers counter in the supermarket you can get your meat hand selected and wrapped in paper if you ask.

Bagged frozen fruit and veggies: instead by fresh and freeze them at home yourself. Buying bulk dried beans and peas will save cash and save on plastic. They keep longer and you won’t get freezer burn!

In the cosmetics aisle avoid scrubs and washes with plastic beads in. They get washed out to sea are contaminating oysters, clams and other sea life, limiting their ability to reproduce (Read report here).

Cleaning products, this is a tough one. We’ve yet to find a toilet cleaner at the bulk store, but you can buy laundry detergent at places like The Soap Dispensary (Vancouver), or try making your own (see post).

You can also select shampoo bars instead of bottles. Looking for more tips? Take this quick inventory at home.