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  • Writer's pictureColleen

Self-Sufficient Homes, Can I do it Too?

What is a self-sustaining home?

If you want to put hard lines down around a self-sustaining home then it would be completely off grid. No government involvement of any kind, no public utilities or facilities, everything is produced by the land. You source your own water, heat, and maybe electricity if you have any, home school your children, dispose of your waste, quit your jobs, and work the land, raise all your food, eat with the wooden forks you whittled by hand... it can get as intense as you allow it to.

Personally, I like to look at it as a journey. I think that putting hard lines on what it means limits people from ever trying. When my husband and I first started our journey all we had was a garden; but that's what gave us the goal of getting even where we are today, and we haven't reached the end yet. A self-sustaining off grid homestead may be the goal for some, but if you think you have fallen short because you haven't reached the end goal and maybe you have to take lots of time and many steps to get there, then I would like to invite you to include yourself in this group. Your journey to self-sufficiency is going to be your own, finding what works for you and what does not and how to make your goals attainable to you. PS That's how I became a part of the group; I just declared it. 

So self-sufficient homes are homes and their inhabitants doing their best to live producing as little outside influence as possible.

Why would you want a self-sustaining home?

There are so many reasons to create a self-sustaining home. 

Want the government to stay out of your home? Make it self-sustaining.

Want food security? Make it self-sustaining.

Want to lower your bills? Make it self-sustaining.

Want to create less waste/ pollution? Make it self-sustaining. 

Want to lower your carbon footprint? Make it self-sustaining.

Honestly, I can't think of anyone who would not benefit from having their home be even one degree more self-sustained. You’re reducing your bills, saving the planet, and helping your health. 

How to make your home more self-sustaining?

Depending on your situation here are options to add to your existing home:

Compost kitchen food scraps, dryer lint, wood ash, hair from your brush. This can become so beneficial for many future self-sustaining endeavors, but for now it's totally fine to just turn it back into dirt.

Plant some cooking or tea herbs like basil, thyme, parsley, rosemary, cilantro, chives, green onions, chamomile, peppermint by a window in your home. Having a small window garden is something that most of us can do regardless of where we live even if you only grow one thing, many studies have shown that both having something to care for and having plants closer to you in proximity can help improve your overall health.

Save bacon grease for your cast iron. First you should get some cast iron, but yes cook with animal fat and cast iron.

Buy from local farmers. Especially when you first start out, you won’t be able to produce everything yourself, so partner with local farmers and learn to trade with your friends too. We have a friend who trades us 1/2 a deer of ground venison every year for eggs, and some of our ground beef.

Ditch the dryer for a clothesline. Any time you can remove electricity do it. While we use our dryer in the winter to help humidify the house, we use a clothesline in the summer.

Save Rainwater. Save your rainwater in rain barrels to water your plants or animals.

Grow a garden of a few potted veggies. Small potted gardens are one way to dip your toes into gardening without investing too much, just remember to keep it manageable. Try a few of these vegetables to start: tomatoes, herbs, peppers, peas, lettuce, celery, and don’t forget to add your favorite vegetables as well.

Grow a garden of edible or medicinal flowers. People often forget that flowers are very useful for flavorful teas and medicine. Try some of these flowers: chamomile, lavender, echinacea, roses. I love keeping a potted garden of herbs and flowers on my back patio. Peppermint is great for groundcover in these edible gardens.

Forage. Foraging is a great way to get nutrition for free.  Remember that if you have treated your property with any weed killers, foraging will become more difficult, also if you spray your lawn with bug killers or anything else, your lawn is toxic to eat. Violets, Chick weed, smart weed, lams quarters, chicken of the woods, pine needles, nettles, honeysuckle, sumac, and dandelion are all very popularly foraged items in Chester County. Don't eat it unless you know what it is. Learn about foraging before harming yourself.

Plant a berry bush. If you are growing from seed this option is a very low cost one, raspberries and black berries are a favorite of mine because of how quickly they grow, but they grow in more of a thicket. Elderberry, blueberry, and beauty berry are more of a bush. So just plan a few things out before jumping in like how big the bush will grow, how the bush will grow, access, berry flavor, if you want variety- how to space them out and keep them separate... just a little research and planning. We currently have a raspberry thicket, and a black berry thicket that have been growing for about 6 years. 2 years ago, I planted a beauty berry from seed and an elderberry from a cutting and they are both in our food garden now, with many clones to fill in our front fence line.

Start baking sourdough. Not only can you cut out more of that grocery bill by baking sourdough, but it’s also so very beneficial for you. Like this is how you eat bread all the time and it heals you. I'm not kidding, look it up.

Trade the nonstick for cast iron or steel pots and pans. Again, if you haven't already get rid of all your nonstick pots and pans and get you some cast iron. If you can find some old school smooth ones at a flea market, garage sale, grandma’s house, grab those, but otherwise they have some newer ones available as well.

Plant a fruit or nut tree. If you have the time to grow from seed and you want to do this virtually for free, then you can, but if you don't remember the smaller tree costs less but will take more time to produce anything. Research what tree you are getting and the typical age of production, then buy it 2 years younger. This is how I keep costs low. I also buy 2-3 every year and keep going until I have a small grove or orchard. Currently we have an apple orchard of 4 Honeycrisp trees, and 1 granny smith tree for us, and 3 crabapples trees for pollination and for the chickens and compost. We also have a 3-tree peach grove, and 2 Bing cherry trees.

Get Chickens. I've heard that the number is 2 chickens per person to always have eggs. Weve always had more, and we save some and sell some. Honestly anywhere between 1-10 egg laying chickens and/or 10-20 meat birds is a good place to start. Here's where compost can be used to help feed your birds and cut back on the price of raising chickens (it’s not free)

Get 1-3 bunnies. Bunnies are a great first livestock choice as well since they are so adorable and their poop is such amazing fertilizer, plus the cabbage and lettuce they eat is so easy to grow year-round. 

Get 1-3 ducks. Ducks pose the problem of needing water, so if you don't have a pond on your property you will have to add one to accommodate these guys, but if you have one, already get you some ducks, the eggs are so much bigger than those of the chickens, and it takes the pressure off the chickens all the time.

Get a honeybee hive. Who doesn't want honey. If you have never had honeycomb, go try it and then you'll see why you want your own hive. Not only that but they are great pollinators for your trees, bushes, and garden. Plus, honey from your back yard is going to treat allergies better than honey from anywhere else. Honey is also great for sore throats and helps with taking most homemade medicines.

Get a goat. You will never have to mow the lawn ever again. Seriously, do I need to say anything else. They mow everything. Plus, you can milk it and either keep the milk for yourself or you can sell it and make an income. You could even learn to make artisanal goat cheeses.

Put in a wood burning stove. No more heating bill. Plus, wood ash is great for your garden soil, or adding to your compost. 

Make a kitchen garden and production garden. So, there are kitchen gardens also known as vegetable gardens, and there are production gardens where you grow large amounts of one crop, like feed corn, or sweet corn, wheat, barley, oats. If you have the room to try to make your own production garden to grow something that local farmers aren't already growing so you can trade, or something that you and your family use a lot of.

Add solar panels. If you want to still have electricity in your self-sufficient home, then you need to produce it yourself. You can set solar panels in a field if you have the room, or on your roof. If you only have one or 2 things you use electricity for, consider finding an alternative solar powered one with its own panels. All our outdoor lights are solar powered.

Add septic. Check city ordinances to see if you can add sceptic and what kind you can add and if you have the room to before you commit to this. This is not a 100% self-sufficient option since even with a septic field you still need to clear its every 3-5 years, but your other option is a compost outhouse, and not everyone is ready to jump to that option right off the bat. I know we were not, and I don't think we ever will go that far. It’s important to remember that whatever modern conveniences you want to incorporate you can, it’s a journey remember.

Get a milk cow. Dairy cows are a huge time commitment, if you aren't ready to milk her often, don't make this investment. You can also get some cows to butcher either for you, or to trade with local farmers, or sell to your community. We normally get 1/4 of a cow per year as a 4-person family.

What to look for if you move

A well. A well is a great way to cut out your water bill. Make sure you have the property checked for an underground water source that is deep enough to not disturb your foundation. Also check if you are zoned for a well and if you have the room for it. If you are doing septic as well, they should be a certain distance from each other. Wells typically need a water filtration system.

Running water and hydroelectric opportunities. Running water gives you the opportunity for so much, like ready water for livestock and gardening. This water could also be used for dishes, laundry, and if filtered for drinking and bathing. Have your water tested before using it to drink, cook or bathe.

Septic tank with a field or an outhouse.

Room for a kitchen garden, production garden orchard and livestock. Whatever you plan on adding, make sure you have the room for it. You don't need to have everything, maybe one or 2 things. Just make sure that you have a plan so that you know how much land you are looking for.

Space for a solar field. If you want solar, I would highly suggest a solar field over putting the panels on your roof. So, if you can get the land, go for it, otherwise, do what you can with what you have a stick them where you've got the space.

A wood burning stove. If your home can come with a wood burning stove or some sort of self-sufficient heat source that is even better. You can have your hot water pipes pass by your heat source and create hot water for yourself as well. So many options.

My suggestion if you really want to go all out is to look for land, raw land, look for 50 or more acres, get 2-3 more families to join you. Build a self-sufficient community together and raise your food, your families, your health, and your spirits together. But until you find that land or that tribe, start working on the home you have now with one step at a time.

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