Tuesday, September 6, 2016

7 Homesteading Mistakes I Made So You Don't Have To

You know you've thought about it - you see pictures of these gorgeous, sun-dappled country properties, with barefoot, white-organic-cotton-clad children dancing through fields of flowers, holding baskets of fresh eggs, and you're like,

"Yes.  I can do that.  It will be all sunsets and harvests, I know it!  Very little manure or sweat.  NO spiders."

Well, you're not alone.  It seems that homesteading is the Millenial generation's version of the American Dream.  Everywhere I look, people under 30 are getting dirt under their fingernails, making compost bins, and hightailing it to their own little patch of heaven outside of town.

Maybe we're interested in providing fresh, organic food for our children.  Maybe we're fed up with a long commute and sitting in traffic.  Or maybe we are just super enticed by the gorgeous pictures on Pinterest of all things made with reclaimed barn wood (guilty!).

I mean, look at it: is this not the place to raise a family?

 Well, I have a confession to make: I'm a suburb kid.  I grew up in a neighborhood with paved sidewalks, dogs on leashes, and a 7-Eleven within walking distance.  When we moved to the country and started our little homestead, I had NOT a FREAKING CLUE about what it took to make it out here.

I have a feeling I'm not the only one from my generation who thought that homestead would be a little easier, a little cushier, and a little rosier than it really turned out to be.

So I started making mistakes quickly, and trust me, the axiom that Failure is the Best Teacher is 100% true.

So here are a few of the things I learned those first few years, when the learning curve was steepest.  I'd love for you to learn from my mistakes!

1. If you don't know how old your eggs are, crack them into a separate bowl first.

 Homegrown food is an adventure all by itself, isn't it?  Most of us grew up having the luxury of a produce manager inspecting our apples and an assembly-line worker candling our eggs, but this is not the case when you grow your own!

I finally understood where the idea for Easter egg hunts came from the first year we let our chickens free-range...they laid in the strangest, most hidden places, and sometimes we'd find a huge cache of eggs that had been out in the weather for several weeks!  There's nothing worse than making an omelette and realizing that the egg you've just added to the pan has been sitting out in the rain for days and is totally bad.

This tip could also include: Check your peach pits for earwigs.  Check your apples for worms.  Check your babies for ticks.  And always, always check your feet before you walk in the front door (right??  I know, gross!).

2. If you leave the hose trickling all night, on well water, in the dry season, there won't be water for showers in the morning.

On city water, the worst this would do is spike your water bill for the month.  Sure, that's a pain.  But when it's only 6 a.m., the dishes are in the sink, there are no clean diapers left, and the well's already run dry?  This is not a recipe for a happy day.

3. The outside will come indoors if you don't have a place to leave it.

This was a huge, HUGE struggle for me!  I grew up in a fairly pristine home that we cleaned, top to bottom, once a week.  As soon as I moved to the country, I realized that once a week cleaning would NEVER cut it if people (ahem, husband!) tracked their muddy work boots around the house!

Having a mud room or a big, washable rug with a bench nearby or a covered front porch is your First Line of Defense to keep all things dirty, stinky, and oozy from making it into your home.  There are no sidewalks here.  Dog paws can be toweled, shoes can be kicked off, and jackets can be corralled immediately upon entering, and if they aren't, you will pay later!

4. The fox will come on the night you forget to close up the chicken coop.

It's true.  It happens, and it sucks.  But living with many little beings (plant or animal) under your care provides so, so many opportunities for small heartbreaks.  There is no "I'll get to it tomorrow" when a helpless creature is depending on you.

That may mean you're going to be bringing baby chicks into the bathroom at 11:30 at night to clean up their pasty-butt (by the way, warm running water is the way to go, followed by a quick dry-off with a hair dryer).  Or it might mean you're slogging out in the pouring rain to fix a fence, close a gate, or drag a water tank when you'd SO much rather cozy up by the fire.

But the standard we live by is this: We must provide our animals with a BETTER life than they would have in the wild.

5. Growing food doesn't do you any good if you don't eat what you grow.

Is there anything sadder than a beautiful, home-grown tomato getting chucked in the compost because you didn't have time to eat it before it went bad?

My first year of gardening, the only thing that grew well for me was radishes.  Seriously, that's it.  And I hate radishes.  So I figured out a way to make them palatable, and we chowed down, sometimes for breakfast, sometimes for lunch, and sometimes for dinner!

It's so much easier to just run to Costco and buy all the familiar things to make all the comfortable meals that everybody definitely likes.

But that's not what we signed up for; we signed up to change our own little corners of the world.

That means being creative, finding ways to help your kids  (or husband) actually like veggies.

It means eating weird assortments and combinations of things at times, things that you would NOT find in a fancy restaurant or on the pages of your favorite food magazine.

It means getting used to cutting up itty bitty potatoes or weird-shaped carrots or super bitter lettuce, and just making do and making it work!

It means not caring if the other kids get a fruit-roll-up and a Go-gurt while your kids are eating dehydrated apple slices and homemade muffins, because you are committing to helping your kids appreciate the way they eat instead of coveting their neighbors' snacks!

Yeah, I'm still looking, but I have yet to find the Goldfish Cracker seeds at the feed store...

6. Running into town for take-out is no longer an option.

I was so used to a life of convenient food that it took me a while to realize that, well, that's not the way it works in the country.

Wasting all your gas money to dash in to Taco Bell or the quick mart makes zero sense...wouldn't you rather spend that money on a new perennial?

You've got to have a plan.  It might not mean every single meal is scheduled on a color-coded calendar, but it means you have to know what is in your pantry, what you can make with it, and what you need to get when you're in town anyway.

And really, isn't it kind of fun finding creative ways to use up, make do, and improvise in the kitchen?

7. There will always be a "next year."

I think this was my hardest lesson.  I learned it when the fox came, when I didn't water and all my seedlings died, when my dog dug up the garden (again!), and most recently (and most tragically), when I forgot to take the cap off the chicken waterer, and I lost 3 new hens on one horrible hot day.

We are taught in our culture to avoid failure, to aim for perfection, and to limit our room for error, and all of those sentiments can come in useful on a homestead.

But there has to be a huge, huge reserve of grace and self-forgiveness if you're going to stick with this kind of lifestyle.  That day when I took a bowl of table scraps down to the chicken coop and spotted 3 of my 4 new chicks laying dead in the grass, then realized that my own dumb mistake had caused their deaths was a giving up kind of day.

I cried.  I blamed myself and my flighty, distracted brain.  I was pretty sure I should throw in the towel and hang up my boots, because I clearly wasn't responsible enough, compassionate enough, or clear-minded enough to care for small, helpless creatures.

But that's not what we do on a homestead.

We are tough.  We are brave.  We dry our tears, get down in the mud and mess, set things straight, and try again.

We know why we're out here, and we know why it's worth it.  There is no promise of success, but there is always the promise that tomorrow, the sun will rise, and we will work hard at work worth doing.

We're old school and love blog link-ups.  This post has appeared at Giving Up On PerfectThe Charm of Home, and Mitten State Sheep and Wool.  


  1. The Homestead is a more "learn by doing" enviroment isn't it? I grew up on a farm adn I remember the lessons my Grandfather who ran the farm talked of. He always kept a journal and worte in it everday. The other thing her did was wear out his bible, mnay times over. I loved to hear him teach Sunday School and talk about it. Great post on homesteading. Thanks for sharing at Home Sweet Home!

    1. So true! And here I thought I knew everything I needed to know from reading Little House on the Prairie. ;) What a blessing to remember his godly example!

  2. Hello Danielle: You didn't tell me you were blogging again! Love, your mother!

  3. We'll see how well it correlates with my overall life goals. It doesn't work so well when I'm like, "go away kids, I'm blogging."


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