Top Money Savers

Above: growing some of your own food is excellent, but one must give it time

For those just venturing out into the field of frugality and a more self-sustainable lifestyle, here are some of the things I find most helpful:

1. Cooking from scratch. This really is a no-brainer. As a rule (though there might be exceptions), ingredients cost less than food. Flour is cheaper than bread, vegetables are cheaper (not to mention healthier!) than pre-packaged soup, and whole chickens are usually cheaper than chicken parts (and you can use the carcass for making rich soups and stocks). Dry beans are cheaper than canned ones. Oh and of course you get an even better return of your investment if you grow your own.

2. Making your own cleaning products. Apart from making and using my own soap, I also clean with a mixture of vinegar and water, and the windows, mirrors and taps come out squeaky clean. I will probably look into homemade replacements for fabric softener once my stock runs out.

3. Buying the best quality you can afford. This can be a double-edged sword, because it’s easy to get carried away. Recently, a neighbour of ours wanted to get “the best” antenna for his internet connection. Well, he got something that could probably transmit a signal from Mars. It was ridiculously expensive. We, on the other hand, did a careful evaluation and bought something adequate that does the job. On the other hand, it doesn’t pay off to buy something cheap and of low quality that will soon fall into disrepair.

4. Growing a vegetable garden and raising your own livestock. To this I would add gathering wild foods, or taking advantage of abandoned fruit trees. We do that every year.

A warning about raising livestock – it might take a lot of investment in time and money before these ventures begin to pay off, especially if you run into unexpected trouble. All the chicken owners we know have had their flock demolished by a fox, a mysterious disease or a stray dog at least once. Most goat owners lost does and/or kids because of a kidding that didn’t go as it should have, or else had to pay a large vet bill. These things are heart-wrenching and highly discouraging, apart from the cost.

5. Thrift shops and op shops. A very good idea and there isn’t much to add. There are enough people who have more clothes and things than they can ever need, want or use – and some of that inevitably trickles into thrift shops. I know, because I used to be one of those people! One of my favorite things to wear for yard work a sturdy denim skirt which was priced at a second-hand store at 3 shekels (less than a dollar). I have worn it at least 3 times a week these past two winters, and it’s perfect for working around the house and yard.

There are of course many other great ideas, such as stockpiling, mending and repairing things, revising your internet and phone bills (you might find out you’re actually paying for something you aren’t using, or paying full price when you are entitled to a discount), but time is too short to expand on each of those right now.

It seems to me this often boils down to a difference in attitude – would you rather do it yourself, or pay for the convenience of having someone else do it for you? There isn’t a right and wrong or black and white in this, it’s all a matter of priority in every specific area of your life.

What are your top money savers?

Coping with chicken loss

 

There are few things more painful to me as a chicken owner than the untimely loss of one of the flock. Our chickens are all lovingly hand-raised, and it’s enough to drive one mad when a sneaky predator gets past one’s defenses, or when a disease you can do little about makes its rounds in the coop.

Still, I guess that this knowledge, this acceptance of the fact that there will be some losses, is what enables us to bounce back and keep raising chickens.

From my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Losing animals is an inevitable part of raising them. No matter how careful and diligent you are, at some point you will have to deal with saying goodbye – and not just due to old age, either – to some members of your flock or herd. This is heartbreaking even if your animals were meant to end up as dinner at some point. So much more if you treat your livestock somewhat like pets. I remember one time years ago, crying and telling my husband I’d rather give it all up and never keep anything living but plants again.”

Chickens: predators and prey

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Above: garden bed fenced against digging chickens.

Chickens are both predators and prey: you have to protect them from ending up in the belly of a fox, but you also have to protect your garden from your chickens eating whatever is in their sight, or just turning your lovingly made flower bed into a dust bath.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“We free range, which of course exacerbates the losses to predators, but the overall pros of free ranging are so evident that I truly believe it’s the only practical way for us to keep chickens. Not only do we save a bundle on feed as our chickens forage and find their own food, but we get the benefit of a pest free yard and can get away with a smaller coop – it’s OK for chickens to be a little crowded some of the time if they mostly have the whole yard to themselves.”

Building Mistakes

Image result for building mistakes

Read my latest Mother Earth News post about the lessons we learned while building our cabin:

“Mistakes are an integral part of a learning process and can be expected if you are an amateur builder, but it might also be very frustrating, since this isn’t just a practical lesson – it’s a real dwelling you are trying to raise and make livable and comfortable, often under great constraints of time and money. It would be wise to mentally prepare for making mistakes and fixing them as you go.”

Also, this will probably be my last post before Pesach, so happy Pesach to all my Jewish readers, and a happy spring to everyone else!

 

Dairy goats: breeding, kidding and milking

goat

Read my latest Mother Earth News post on dairy goats, focusing on breeding, kidding and milking:

“Most dairy goat breeds have a clearly defined breeding season and will go into heat during the fall and early winter, generally from August to December-January. Gestation period lasts around 20 weeks, so kids will be born in late winter and early spring. If you have several goats, you can schedule breeding so that, for example, some of your does are bred in August-September and some in December-January. This way the milk production of your herd will be a lot more consistent and you’ll have milk practically year-round.”

Also, Dana (better known as Mama Zed) made my day with her awesome review of my book, Your Own Hands:

“Your Own Hands – Self-Reliant Projects for Independent Living” would be what I consider to be an absolute fantastic book for new homesteaders. The book covers a wide range of topics rather than written to cover one topic in great depth. These topics include gardening, home building and maintenance and even “artisan crafts” such as soap making!

And now I had better roll up my sleeves and jump right back into the midst of Pesach cleaning. Happy spring, everyone!

Butter, eggs and food security

Last week my husband went grocery shopping and, though butter was on the list (as it always is) he came home without it. Upon my inquiry he told that plain simple unsalted butter was simply missing from the shelves, and there was nothing to be found but the fancy imported spreadable brands. This has lasted for some days now; butter, an important staple in our daily menu, is missing from the dairy aisle.

Of course, when there’s an overall abundance of food, it might not seem so very important. We can have toast with cream cheese instead of butter for breakfast. Butter can be replaced by coconut oil in baking. But in our culture, so used to affluence and to store shelves groaning under the weight of any food imaginable, it seems almost incredible that one might step out to get butter (or anything else, really) and find out that it’s not to be had.

I was born in a country where food deficit was the daily reality. There was no hunger, but it was common to walk into a store and find half its shelves empty, and make do with whatever was available. People stockpiled canned and dry goods and non-perishables; it was plain common sense.

Above: whole grains and pulses, stored in a tightly closed container, will remain in good condition for years and make a compact, useful, cheap and readily available food source. 

We might not like to hear it or even think of it, but a time may come – and not in the very distant future, either – when food is not as readily and abundantly available as it is today. Some products may become less common than they are now, on a temporary or permanent basis. Others may simply become more expensive. Either way, people who are opting to learn food security skills today will be the gainers.

Stockpiling is one valuable practice to be learned. It makes very good sense to have a nice stash of products that can be stored for a long time, rotating them every few months or so. Canned food, rice, beans and grain of all kinds, flour, yeast, salt, non-perishables such as soap and toilet paper, and much else, can make a nice safety cushion for emergencies or simply for lean times. We have lived largely off our pantry for months on end during several periods.

Growing your own wholesome, fresh food is the next big step. A productive vegetable garden and a chicken coop, even a very little one, contribute a lot toward the goal of food security. Even just having plenty of veggies and eggs can provide one with a variety of delicious meals. A couple of goats or a cow will further enrich the family’s diet. If we had a dairy animal now, we wouldn’t care if there is any butter at the store or not! I remember an egg deficit time a couple of years ago – we were lucky to have eggs from our chickens and so didn’t feel it at all. It might not happen soon, but I’m aiming to have a larger, more consistently productive vegetable garden, more chickens (and maybe other poultry), and dairy goats again.

Another thing to do would be to learn about foraging and which sources of wild-growing food are commonly available in your area. It can be berries, fruit, herbs, mushrooms, and much else. Always play safe and only consume what you know for sureto be edible.

If you are just beginning to learn about food security, I heartily recommend perusing the writings of Jackie Clay, a homesteader with many years of experience under her belt, and a real powerhouse of optimism, cheerfulness, resourcefulness and determination. You can start by looking up Jackie’s articles on the Backwoods Home Magazine archive, reading through the Ask Jackie archive, and visiting her blog.

Dreaming of chicken coops

Image result for chicken coops

Ideally, the chicken coop I’d like to see in my yard looks something like this.

In practice, we have the below:

coop

This is the fifth chicken coop we have built, having moved several times during our married life so far, and we scrimped on a lot of things knowing we’re probably going to move again in a couple of years (not very conductive to homesteading, I know). Our coop is way too drafty (we only get away with this because we live in a warm climate and choose hardy breeds), only partially roofed, has a dirt floor, gaps here and there through which very small chicks can escape, and other inconveniences. We don’t have a run, our roosts need sanding down to keep splinters away, and I could go on and on.

I do hope that someday, we get settled in a more permanent place and build a good, sturdy, convenient, secure and pretty chicken house.

Read more about our chicken housing experiences here:

“A reliable chicken coop is a must if you don’t want your chickens to end up as the dinner of some fox, stray dog or whatever local predator you have in the area. Do yourself a favor and make an initial investment in a chicken house, a real sturdy shed you wouldn’t mind taking shelter in for the night. As we’ve moved house several times, we’ve had to make do with some makeshift coops that caused us a lot of alarm and frustration. We lost a lot of chickens to predators, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t learn from our experience.”