Category Archives: Do It Yourself

Installing Our Homestead Septic System

Again we made our annual trip to our property in Tennessee although this time it would be different for us.  It was time to clear the property and install the septic system. We needed to be there to decide what areas we wanted cleared of underbrush,many small saplings, and a couple of dead trees.

After arriving on a rainy Monday afternoon  in Livingston we had lunch at a local downtown diner. It was a great little spot with an adjoining antique shop. You can find more about that on  Cheri’s Blog.

Early Tuesday morning we met with our Contractor, Benton Tucker with Tucker Farms LLC and his associate Jason Huggins at another local diner for breakfast. These guys made us feel welcomed and happy to do business with them.  During breakfast and between a few laughs we explained what we were looking for and decided to head out to the property and create a plan for tomorrows work.  We needed to decide where to clear for the septic system according to the Inspectors permit we had received. The permits will usually give you some idea of where the Inspector conducted the percolation test on the property and where the tank and drain field would need to be.  It was also important in knowing where we would be able to place our future home, placing utilities, driveways, gardens and other outbuildings we may have later. We walked the property with Benton and Jason while they provided some expertise and valuable insights of things we could consider. At the end of our walk we knew we would have a much better idea and vision once their equipment was on-site and the clearing began.

On Wednesday morning, after a short delay due to a flat tire on one of their trailers they arrived and began work immediately. Jason began work with the Forestry Mulcher clearing some of the property. This would allow us to get in much easier beyond the underbrush and briars. It would also help in clearing for the septic system.

Excavator digging Hole for Septic Tank after property is cleared

We were fortunate enough that Benton had already contacted the State Inspector to come out and inspect the installation and hopefully give us a completion permit.  The Inspector arrived much earlier than planned and decided to hang out with us for awhile while the digging and measuring continued and wait for the septic tank to arrive.

We had purchased a 1000 gallon Low Boy concrete septic tank for the system with a gravel- less drain field system approved by the State Environmental Health Inspector. These tanks need to be buried on site at least 6 feet in depth and level. That is normally the depth of these tanks. It will provide that the tank is level and will drain properly. For accuracy, our Contractor used a transit to measure the depths while being dug by the excavator. The top of the tank being close to ground level also provides easy access to the tank when its time to pump it out to remove waste. The Inspector informed me that our tank would more than likely only need to be pumped out once every 10 years or so. Much of that depends on use.

Now the septic tank is ready to lower into the ground..

Around noon the truck with the septic system arrived on-site and the work began to lower it into place and make sure it was level.  Once the tank was in place it was now time for the excavator operated by Cody ( another Tucker Farms Equipment Operator) to dig another trench for the drain field piping and gravel-less pipe. The permit called for 110 feet of gravel-less pipe which would stretch across the front of the property. This will allow any liquids accumulated in the septic tank to flow through the pipe to the drain field and be absorbed into the ground.  The piping and the ground will filter the liquids and pretty well render it harmless. In the below photograph you can see the gravel- less pipe in the foreground. It is nothing more than flexible perforated piping wrapped in a mesh sleeve and then outer wrapped in black plastic. Gravel-less pipe replaces the need to haul in gravel to put in the trench for the absorption process in waste treatment.  It seems to be much quicker and less expensive than a several hundred dollar truck load of gravel.

Installing Tank

Once the tank was installed in the ground they began digging the trench for the drain field piping.  In our case the trench needed to be 110 feet long and a few feet deep.  This would eventually tie into the septic tank by a section of PVC pipe to the drain field. This allows the liquids to reach the drain field for absorption. Many times the drain fields are commonly called leech fields.

Drain field trenching begins
Up close view of the trench

Once the trench is completely dug the tree roots will be removed to make installing the piping easier and clear of debris. They removed those with a cordless sawzall. Some prefer to simply remove them with a pair of loppers.

Once the system is in the ground you will need a local Health Department Inspector to come out and inspect the installation to make sure it meets code and will work properly. After it is inspected and passes, the Contractors will then cover it up. The Inspector would then give us a Certificate of Completion for our records and it meets code. We will also need this Certificate for the Electrical Permit.

 

The installation is complete!

Now that our septic system is installed it is important to remember that in many locales it is required to have septic systems installed by a Licensed Contractor in your particular state. Many of these same locations require you to have an approved method of disposing of waste, especially human waste.   The reason is simply that disposing of waste improperly allows the ground water ( aquifers)to be contaminated with human waste. Many aquifers are our main source of drinking water who use wells for water sources. Home made septic systems don’t always purify our drinking water. Many locales also allow approved composting toilets for disposal as long as running water is available to you.

You can be sure that if you are ever found in violation with a home made system you can face heavy fines and penalties.  Please do the right thing and install an approved septic system. Our health depends on it!

  • Check your local codes or with your local Health Department to find out what is approved and not approved in your area.

 

By the way, our water meter was installed this past week much to our surprise!

Utility Company installing our water meter

Be sure to visit Cheri’s Blog to read her take on our complete trip to our Homestead and things we did on our down time.

 

 

 

How To – Do you test for lead in your Homestead?

3M Lead test kit found in most big box home improvement stores

On our recent visit to our property in Tennessee earlier this month, we decided to grab a bite to eat downtown while waiting for our check-in at our rented apartment. We will get to the apartment accommodations ( they were outstanding) in a later post.

We found this quaint little restaurant tucked away inside a shared antique store ( Antique Market) with many vintage items to choose from including this great deal pictured.  It’s called the Apple Dish Restaurant located at 114 N. Court Square in downtown Livingston, Tennessee.  They have a small Facebook presence but no website. We wish they did!  It’s definitely a DO NOT MISS for a reasonably priced and great lunch and antiques.

Why Test for Lead?

Lead can be in many items in your homestead from piping, insulation, drywall and many plastic items, believe it or not.  It can also contaminate many cooking items, especially cast iron and metal. We found this gem ( pictured above) that my wife purchased as an early birthday gift for me.  After checking with my cast iron cooking resource we discovered by the appearance and Gate mark on the piece  that it was a pre-1900 cast iron bean pot.

As old as it is, it’s usually a good idea to check for lead before using it. Since the early days many homesteaders and gun enthusiasts used these to melt lead for ammunition and other items. Ammunition was and is the most popular. If you are like many of us, you don’t want lead in your food.

As an added gift, My wife picked up this lead test kit from our local Lowes Home Improvement store.  I decided immediately to give it a try.

How to Test for Lead–

These kits cost around $10.00 and come with two small vials of the test chemicals in each packet.  The kits includes instructions for testing many items including plastic, painted items, metals and alloys, copper pipe and drywall. You will need to scrape and clean an area to be tested. Its okay to leave some dust as the test will detect lead in the dust also.

The instructions tell you to remove a test vial, crush each end marked A and B. This will release the test chemicals in each side of the tube and combine them for the testing. Shake the tube twice to mix the chemicals. The contents will turn yellow.  Squeeze the tube until the cotton swab on the end turns yellow.

Once this step is completed rub the swab on the area to be tested for about 30 seconds. If the end of the cotton swab turns RED OR PINK their is Lead present.  I chose to test the bottom inside of the pot as this would be the area most likely to have any lead residue. Fortunately, my test did not turn red or pink, which was great news!

The kit will also include a small cardboard panel with circles on it. Each of these circles contain lead. After completing the lead test on the items tested, place the swab in one of the circles and move it around inside the circle. If the circle doesn’t turn red or pink, this indicates that your test was performed correctly and no presence of lead.

It is a relatively easy test to perform and give you some peace of mind about ingesting any lead.

Be sure to follow along as i am still working on our Blog post from our recent Homestead visit and the work completed.

 

Our Adventure is about to begin…..

The Road leading to our Property

 

In a couple of weeks we will make our annual trek to our property in the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee.  For many of you following my Blog, Cheri and I will finally begin the process of clearing our property for our future homestead, and installing the necessary utilities that we will most certainly need.

It’s been close to a two year process in getting this far and we aren’t about to stop now.  In my previous Blog Post about our plans Here , I provided my insights in what we needed to do next.  With many ups and downs, and obstacles to overcome we are finally ready to get started.

During our few days there I will share with you our step by step process of how its coming along and hopefully have some pictures or videos to share.  We will see how good the internet speed really is in those mountains –

Please feel free to follow Cheri’s Blog for updates on our adventure at cheriannjones

She would love to have you follow along with her latest updates on our project and plans.

Beekeeping 101: A Personal Guide Part 1

My wife and I began our beekeeping adventure after a day at work turned into a honeybee rescue of sorts. One of the tenants at the Condominium complex where I was working noticed a large swarm of bees in the soffit of a building stairwell. I decided to go and investigate and indeed found a large swarm of honeybees. Of course, the owners were determined they wanted it removed.

After noticing they were indeed honeybees, I knew that spraying would not be an option in getting rid of them. Bees are just too important to our way of life and the environment. Without any prior experience with beekeeping I realized that bees pollinate a third of everything we eat and play a vital role in sustaining the planet’s ecosystems. Some 84% of the crops grown for human consumption – around 400 different types of plants – need bees and other insects to pollinate them to increase their yields and quality. These include most fruits and vegetables, many nuts, and plants such as rapeseed and sunflowers that are turned into oil, as well as cocoa beans, coffee and tea. I not only learned that bees are essential for our food crops, but are essential in cotton crops.

Bees are some of the hardest working you can find.  Bees depend on plants for food, just as much as plants depend on bees for pollination and reproduction.  This much I  understood but had no clue about raising honeybees or where to start. I still have much to learn about them and how to keep our hives healthy.

After about an hour of deciding how to move forward, we decided we would call a professional beekeeper to come and remove them. I knew they would have a good home and will be taken care of.  My wife and I had previously talked about beekeeping and raising bees and this was a chance to talk with her about possibly bringing the bees home. She readily agreed that we could give it a try.  First, we needed to buy a hive and all of the equipment we would need to be good beekeepers—even if we were amateurs.

It took a day or so for the professional beekeeper to come out and start the removal process. Decked out in their suits and veils they began the tedious process of the hive and bee removal. The one thing we found with beekeeping is everything is slow and deliberate. There is a reason for that – Bees can be delicate to handle and one can easily destroy the combs they build which produce honey and provide brood for new bees to produce.

Inspecting and Deciding how to remove it

 

 

With a hive tool or a knife they began the task of removing the combs from the building and placing them in the new hive frames that we purchased.  The beekeeper gave me a sample of a piece  of the comb that he removed to taste the honey. It was awesome!!  Most of the neighborhood is overgrown with Brazilian Pepper bushes which gave the honey a sweet yet spicy taste. The entire process took about an hour to complete.

A sample of the great tasting honey

When the combs are removed and placed in the new hive frames the bees will have a tendency to follow along. For those that don’t, the beekeepers have a special vacuum that is used to gather the remainder of the bees. Don’t worry, these vacuums don’t hurt the bees. I will say that in the process, you will lose some bees but not many. Most strong hives will contain around 40-50,000 bees in them. Losing some is inevitable but you shouldn’t notice a difference in the losses.

Large Comb removal
Placing the combs in the new hive

After the beekeepers were finished they immediately drove them to our house for their new home. We gathered some important pointers from the professionals and started our new beekeeping adventures. We purchased the hive and frames from the beekeeper and found a local hive builder for the smoker and tools we would need.

Now for their new home!

Being new to beekeeping we depended on the beekeeper to give us advice and guidance to make sure that our bees would be stable and continue building out the hive. If you are inexperienced in beekeeping, I suggest you do this to be sure the hive will survive and allow them to monitor the hive, making sure the hive still has a queen bee and no diseases. Without a queen, it wont last.

In Part 2, I will highlight our experiences with beekeeping at home and give you some suggestions on purchasing hives and equipment.

 

 

How To: Digging a well on your property

 

Your typical Pitcher Pump

 

I know I have often thought about drilling a well or simply being satisfied with a public water system on our property.  Many times the costs are less when connecting to a public water supply, but the water isn’t always the best! After all, water just isn’t something you can do without, right?  In this instance, I will give you some ways to have supplemental water sources for your garden or watering your lawn!

If your property has soft, sandy soil or loose gravel on top of a shallow water table, here are three cost-effective ways of drilling your own backyard water well. On the other hand, if the water table is 150 to 300 feet below the surface, use a portable drilling rig, or hire a contractor for the project.  Well Drilling Contractors can be a good source for telling you if your area is suitable or possible for a well. Deep well water is usually potable — provided it passes certain tests performed by an approved laboratory. If not, your deep well should produce enough water for a sophisticated irrigation system.

Check your Zoning Laws and the Water Table

  • Check your local suburban zoning laws before planning a well or purchasing equipment — some cities do not allow private water wells. On the other hand, if your local ordinance allows backyard wells, apply for the relevant permits and ask for the location of municipal utility cables and pipes on your property before proceeding. Once this is done, establish the approximate depth to water table by either checking the depth of nearby wells or hiring a hydrologist to perform a survey of your immediate area.

Driving a Wellpoint

  • A wellpoint is a perforated pipe fitted with a hardened point that is driven into the ground by hand. The openings in the pipe are large enough to allow water to enter but small enough to keep water-bearing gravel out of the pipe. Wellpoints vary in diameter from 1 1/4 to 2 inches, with lengths between 18 and 60 inches. After the initial drive point is hammered into the ground, subsequent pipes are attached to the ends with specially designed drive point couplings. Pipes are added until the perforated end penetrates the water table by 2 to 6 feet. Wellpoint extraction only works when driven into a high water table, 10 to 15 feet below the ground. Once installed, about 5 or 6 gallons per minute can be pumped out using a pitcher pump or a shallow well pump.

Air Pump-Assisted Drill Bit

  • An air pump-assisted drill bit can drill your backyard water well to a depth of up to 100 feet. The unit consists of a small but powerful air-driven drill bit capable of cutting through hardened clay and densely packed soil. The bit is attached to the end of a tubular expansion chamber containing the inlet pipe from the air pump, with holes in the lower part for water to flow into the system. A 100-foot length of 2-inch PVC pipe is attached to the outlet port of the expansion chamber. The well is constantly filled with water from a garden hose until the drill bit penetrates the water table. Exhaust air from the drill bit is ejected up the expansion chamber and into the 2-inch PVC pipe, forming a vacuum and sucking water and slurry out during drilling operation. A well liner, foot strainer and pump is installed on a concrete slab to complete the project.

Jetting or Washboring

  • Jetting or washboring is suitable for producing a shallow well where the distance to the water table is 25 feet or less. In basic terms, serrated teeth are cut into the end of a schedule 40 PVC pipe with a hacksaw. A drill head with two 3/4-inch threaded fittings is attached to the top of the pipe with a threaded pipe coupling. Hose pipes are connected to the threaded fittings to supply a constant flow of water into the Schedule 40 pipe. A wide wooden handle is attached to the pipe with hose clamps to provide leverage. The operator stands on an open pickup truck tailgate, places the serrated end of the pipe on the ground and has a helper turn on the hose pipes. He then twists wooden handle back and forth to allow the teeth on the end of the pipe to cut into the soil with the help of jetting water. Extra lengths of pipe are added until the required depth is reached. A well liner, foot strainer and pitcher pump or a shallow well pump is installed on a concrete slab to complete the project.

Micro Drill Rig

  • Use a one-man diesel-powered micro drill rig to drill a well up to 300 feet through clay and rock formations. These rigs are equipped with hydraulic power for easy handling and for added pressure on the drill bit. A powerful mud pump is used to pump drilling mud directly to the drill bit to speed up drilling action, and manual setup and positioning is straightforward. Since these micro-rigs cost over $20,000, you may be able to rent one through a heavy equipment rental outlet. If not, you could always recover costs over time by renting the machine out to your neighbors — or you could establish your own micro-drilling company as an added source of income.

Land Preparation- Is your Land Ready for your Homestead?

 

 

My wife and I decided that we wanted to find the perfect place we could call home and be certain that the land was sufficient for the things we wanted to do with it. We needed to focus on land preparation. We began that journey more than a year ago as I posted in a previous Blog Post. Without some basic research, we ended up with a property we couldn’t do anything with. You can read about it here –>>https://www.homesteadinghowto.com/a-place-to-call-home/

We found another piece of land that was a little smaller and decided to venture back to Tennessee and meet with the Land Specialist to look at it. A few days earlier we decided to do as much research on this property and learn as much as we could. After all, we didn’t want to end up in that same boat we had been in before. We quickly found the contacts for the utilities and if a title search was needed on the property. Title searches can show you any discrepancies with the property and any obstacles over ownership or deeds. After talking with the Register of Deeds Office in that particular County we found that the property was free and clear of any potential heartaches. That was a good sign!

The Road to Our Homestead:

When we arrived in Tennessee, we checked into our hotel in preparation for our trip the next morning to look at the land we were interested in. Traveling those mountain roads is a lot of fun and we ended up on a gravel road which led us several miles, it seemed, up the mountain to our future homestead. We passed old farmhouses that appeared to have been there for many years. The gravel road lead us under tree canopies, past small farms and cattle, and an occasional old tractor or pickup truck. In some areas the edge of the road appeared to be washed out from the rainfall, however, the road was still passable and well maintained. Once at the top of the mountain we saw a wooden sign appropriately named ” Big Sky Acres”. Our future land would be at the end of the road. We were told that the area was once supposed to be an exclusive development with an airstrip. The road in front of our future property was part of the old airstrip runway. The development, in all its expected glory, never materialized. The area has cabins and homes in the area with a few neighbors scattered here and there. The property is mostly wooded and underbrush with a bluff in the back of the property overlooking a portion of the Obey River below. We can’t wait to see the view in the winter months when the leaves are fallen!

Utilities:

Many people do prefer the “off grid living lifestyle” and that’s fine. At this point in our lives, it’s just not for us, particularly when we will be new to the area and we aren’t that young anymore!

It didn’t take long to find the local electric co-op for that particular area the property is located in. After speaking to the Engineer and later meeting with him, we found that electric service was much easier than we thought. A service pole is within 375 feet of the property boundary and they would install a pole if needed, adjacent to or on the property at little or no cost to us. A little tree limb adjustment on the neighbor’s property would be needed to run the lines at very little cost to us.

In subsequent phone calls, I located the water utility company for that particular area. That was a little more difficult since the utility companies in that area have different boundaries for service. You will find that a lot in rural areas. Once we connected with the right company we quickly found that a water main runs directly in front of and ends at the property. This was also a good sign! The manager was very helpful and knowledgeable about the water in that area and informed me that he used to own the water system and could happily tell me all about it. A water tap will cost us a few hundred dollars to have water for our homestead.

Land Clearing:

We knew once we walked the land, asked the right questions beforehand, and we came prepared with some needed answers before we arrived, we felt we could do something with this. It was about a week later we decided to purchase it. We realize that we would have to have the land cleared somewhat before we could decide where to put the cabin, driveway, and the things to make it livable. I found a local contractor who gladly went and looked at the property and gave us an estimate on clearing and installing a septic system. We had thought once before that we would try to clear the land ourselves to save some money. We made a decision that in the interest of time, we would have the contractor clear those areas that we needed for the cabin and access, and do the rest ourselves, at the pace we wanted. His price was also affordable and could be completed in about a day!

The contractor we are hiring has various pieces of equipment to complete many tasks, but we asked him to clear ours with a forestry mulcher. If you haven’t seen one in action, they are quite impressive! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXyEOX1srf4

These Mulchers will clear the brush and small trees and provide a mulch for the ground on our property. It helps the environment and saves us from disposing of unwanted underbrush and limbs. We will use the larger trees that need to be removed as firewood for our small farm. We also plan to leave the road frontage untouched to provide a buffer for privacy. If you live or have property in the area, feel free to give him a call with your needs! He is very knowledgeable and great to talk with!

You can find him here —->http://www.tuckerfarms.farm/

If you prefer to go the old-fashioned way with a lot of elbow grease and hard work then you will need the right tools to do it with. I recommend a good quality chainsaw that will last! I chose the Stihl 170 chainsaw for the work I want to do! You also need a good wood splitting ax to chop or split wood. You can also rent equipment to clear land or dig holes, but keep in mind, if you break it you will more than likely be responsible for repairing it.

Building or Setting up a Cabin:

My wife and I decided to purchase a 14x 40 Pre-Built cabin to live in. Once it is ordered and delivered it will be set up on concrete blocks or pillars. We want it a little higher off the ground to be able to easily install plumbing and drain lines underneath for easy access. Our ground is suitable for that since we previously had a percolation test to determine the absorption rate of the land. If you have soft and sandy ground I would recommend a foundation support under it. It can be in the form of concrete footings in the ground that go below the freezing level or concrete pillars. You can find the pictures of our future cabin in an earlier blog post.

Organic or Non-Organic Garden Preparation:

When we are settled on our Homestead we plan to start an organic garden, meanwhile finding out what we can grow, and cannot, in our new surroundings. The land should be ripe for growing as a result of the mulching that will be done to clear the property. Regardless of where we are, we have found that different areas of the country have different growing seasons for different plants and vegetables. A good resource, if you are just beginning, is to contact your county Agriculture Extension Service. They have a wealth of knowledgeable people who can guide you along the way and they are free. They can also put you in touch with the right people for soil testing. Organic farming can be a little more tricky and time-consuming since you are trying to keep away all the pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. There may be farmers in your area you can contact for advice.

We plan to use as many natural protectors as possible in our garden for the food we eat. We also plan to install a small greenhouse to provide us with food during the winter months. Planting cover crops and plants on your property also help with garden growth and pollination and will provide some food for our renewed bee hives! Look for what grows best in your area and start there!

Making Your Homestead Affordable!

I was recently doing some research for my next Blog post and came across an article about these great Tiny Homes for retirees.  In my infinite curiosity I decided to take a look at what this was all about and what they were promoting.

They were all great Tiny Homes, but the price tags?  To me, this simply defeats the concept of becoming minimal, living small, and the idea of affordability without a mortgage. We all want to retire someday and live comfortably, and  in the way that we choose. Many of us aren’t looking for a super large house with new cars and a boat in the driveway. Well, maybe some, but not everyone!  It’s not something that my wife and I are looking for or wanting in life . I  also found that according to a 2015 survey by a Tiny Home website that 30% of Retirees living Tiny are between the ages of 51 and 70.

Our focus begins with reducing our clutter and the material things that we don’t want or need.  My wife Cheri addresses much of that in her Blog. We definitely do not need a large house where we end up only adding things to it along with a huge mortgage.  We also aren’t interested in a small or Tiny House that we cant reasonably afford with those bells and whistles attached to it.  There is nothing wrong with those who want that, but its just not for us! Many retirees may have the extra cash or savings to sink money into these houses and indeed end up with no mortgage at all.  What about the ones that don’t have cash available or a hefty retirement package?  I hope to give you some ideas about how to do that and not having a  never ending mortgage.

The average cost to build your own can start around $23,000 or less. It really depends on what materials you use, your skill level, and the things you want in it. If you have someone build it for you, the prices can begin at around $45,000 and up.  My wife and I began our journey by looking at THOW’s ( Tiny Houses on Wheels).  The builders that we met are great people and great builders doing quality work. We changed our minds because we were not interested in anything on wheels and the PRICE TAGS!  Almost all builders want full payment for the Tiny House they build for you. Nothing wrong with being in business and making a profit, however, many people don’t have that kind of spare change laying around. It can also be difficult to find a bank to finance one.  That’s problem #2!

We decided that we wanted to create our own and in a style that we liked.  During our searches we found some Mennonite built buildings that are mostly designed for storage or backyard kids playhouses. No, Not that small!  We all know that the Mennonite and Amish have the construction quality and techniques that we look for in a building.

Take a look at what we found Here.  You can find a simple storage building or a Lofted or Un-lofted Playhouse barns as large as 14 feet wide and 40 feet long with delivery and setup within a certain radius of the nearest dealer.  They all come with a choice of doors, windows, metal or shingled roof, siding and paint or stain colors.  The benefit in being affordable is the fact that  you can purchase them outright or rent to own over a three year period. We chose the 14 x 40 Deluxe Lofted Playhouse with full porch and metal roof when the time comes for us to purchase and have it moved.  We really don’t have much of a desire to climb stairs so we will probably opt to use the lofts for storage space.

This was a much better option for us because it gives us the option of finishing the inside ourselves with a floor plan that we choose.  We also want a vintage look inside the cabin which can allow us to use recycled materials where we want.  Of course, because of safety reasons and permitting, we will need to have a licensed electrician for the electrical hookup. You can see the examples in the photos below.

Exterior View of Unfinished Cabin Photo Credit : Cheri Jones
Unfinished Interior with Loft Photo Credit : Cheri Jones

Due to the proximity of our property in Tennessee we have chosen a local dealer to buy our cabin from and have it moved and setup.  With some steady work and a little elbow grease we could very well have our cabin in the woods livable within two to three weeks. If all goes well, we shouldn’t have a mortgage or much of one anyway!  We can spend that extra cash adding chicken coops and gardens and enjoying our life at the top of our mountain!

 

What About Composting Toilets?

With the new and popular trend about owning and living small, every Homestead owner must consider how to deal with using a toilet and living with less.  This should explain how a Composting Toilet works, the different types available, and how to maintain it and get the best  efficiency  from its use.

Composting Toilets are a dry toilet that treats human waste by using an aerobic process with no water or very small volumes of water for “composting” or managed decomposition. We find them in our  national parks and hiking trails.

 

Composting toilet systems normally mix human waste with raw sawdust, coconut coir, or organic peat moss which support aerobic processing, absorbs liquids, and mitigate odors from the toilet. Aerobic processing is simply the availability of oxygen to speed the decomposition process. Anaerobic is a lack of oxygen and slower decomposition found in wet  sewage treatment systems such as septic tanks.  This method is widely used by Tiny House dwellers, unless they have opted for conventional plumbing.

Slow composting or “ moldering” toilets are used  in moderate or seasonal use areas. “Moldering”  is  achieved by low temperatures, humidity, in which the temperatures aren’t high enough  to destroy bacteria and pathogens. This method is also known as “cold composting” which rely on long retention times for reduction of the waste.  Combining  with readily available Red Wiggler worms have been found to speed up the decomposition process known as Vermicomposting.

Manufactured Systems-

Many manufactured self contained systems on the market may contain chambers to separate human waste.  Some are equipped with fans for aeration and optional features such as heating elements.This helps in speeding up the decomposition process and maintain temperature. Heat speeds up decomposition, which is why many composting toilets should be placed inside. Generally, composting or decomposition work faster when temperatures are 55 degrees and above. Many systems on the market also use additives, or what is known as “bulking agents”.  They are absorbent carbon materials to absorb liquid, create air pockets between layers for better processing, and to create an odor barrier.

 

Maintaining your toilet-

Many brands on the market today provide different provisions for emptying the finished or composted product.  This usually depends on the speed of the decomposition process and the capacity of the composting toilet.  These can range from a few months (hot composting) or a few years (cold composting).   Many units separate the solids from the liquid waste, however, you shouldn’t  allow  “bulking” agents to become too wet.  Simply add more peat moss, raw sawdust, or coconut coir, to thicken it up.  It is highly recommended not to use Miracle Gro  Peat moss in your composting toilet since it contains additives. It is best to use organic as much as possible.

Properly managed units which produce 10 percent of composted material is suitable for soil amendments for agriculture, however, be sure to check with your local health departments as some localities have strict regulations on doing this.

Finally, when cleaning your composting toilet a simple environmentally friendly solution of water and vinegar will clean it up nicely.

 

 

 

 

A Guide to Help You Pay for your Homestead

In this post,I hope to provide you with some guidance in how to pay for that homestead you have dreamed of owning. You may be one of the lucky ones with a wealthy relative or you just happened to win the lottery. Like many of us, you are looking for those alternative ways to pay for it and make your homesteading work. The goal of my wife and I are to pay for what we will need to make it a reality by saving money and paying cash. We will indeed have some monthly payments involved, however, we want to keep those at a minimum. It really defeats the purpose of giving all of your hard earned money to corporate interests. Who really wants to have a never ending mortgage or high interest rates.

You always have the option of going to a Commercial lender and borrowing the money. That will only result in up to a thirty year mortgage, with most of your payments being interest. The downfall in commercial lending is that never-ending mortgage, high down payment requirements, mandatory insurance and property taxes. I am certainly no financial expert in these matters, but I can certainly see the writing on the wall and want more for my homestead while spending less to get there.

The Rural Housing Loan Options-

Your first option is always paying for everything in cash by saving. If you cant quite get there and your homestead is rural, try a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Housing loan. They have two loan programs available depending on where you live. The first is the Single Family Direct Housing Loan, also known as a Section 502 Direct Loan. These are loans directly from the Department of Agriculture and you deal directly with them, and loans are based on your income level and ability to repay. They also require either a low or no down payment and the interest rate is much lower than a commercial lender. Another positive is that you do not need a perfect credit rating or credit score. First, you will need to submit a pre qualification form to determine if you qualify.

They also have the USDA Guaranteed Housing Loan which are loans through a participating lender that are guaranteed by the USDA. In these you may see a higher down payment requirement and the credit score may be higher. Each area will have different income requirements. The link below will also give you a search function to learn if the programs are available in the area you may be interested in. Without repeating the nuts and bolts of their programs, here is a link to their site and offerings.

http://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services

Earn While you Homestead-

Perhaps you have a desire to have your homestead pay for itself. Ideally,we would all be able to make our homesteads pay for themselves right away, but it doesn’t always work like that. I will list for you several ways to get started in paying for your homestead.

1. Get out of debt and stay out of debt……

Pay off all those credit cards and other bills as fast as you can. As with us, even if you have a small mortgage on the property itself, you can pay extra each month without a prepayment penalty and pay it off sooner rather than later. If you stick with it, you can pay it off in 15 years instead of 30 years.

2. Buy Used….

This goes along with the whole idea out of staying and being debt free. As much as possible, pay only cash for things you buy, especially equipment. You may end up buying an old truck or tractor and spend some time making minor repairs or upgrades on them. In the end, you don’t have an enormous payment or any glamour. It can make it worthwhile in the end. I will stress not to compromise safety in the interest of buying used. It’s not a wise idea to purchase used electrical panels, wiring, or receptacles for your home or shop. Most applications will require an electrical permit if you are a Do It Yourselfer. Think about the safety of you and your family!

The concept of buying things second-hand goes beyond just vehicles– Some are yard sale fanatics and purchase a large number of clothes, household items, and kitchen stuff that way. If you are just beginning, yard sales are a great way to find items that you may need. Its also a great way to sell many items you want to get rid of.

3. Become a DIYer….

I am fortunate that I was able to learn many skills to be able to do things myself. Some were learned from others and many I learned myself, by doing them myself. I have been able to complete electrical, plumbing, woodworking, carpentry, landscaping, and welding. These skills will become invaluable when building our homestead. Sometimes local laws require hiring professional contractors to complete tasks like electrical installation, and its unavoidable. You too can learn these skills and complete many of the same tasks. For a nominal fee many local Community Colleges offer courses and certifications in these areas. It may cost you in the beginning, however, in the long term you will have the knowledge that will last much longer.

4. Barter When You Can….

Whenever you can, barter for goods and services. You may have skills that someone else may be in need of, and they may have something you really need for your homestead. Many people will be happy barter with you to save some money. I have known people who traded electrical work for tractor work. Some will happily trade farm animals for other animals. People will always barter food and produce. Much of this also depends on your location and whats available. Check local advertisements through websites, newspapers, and social media sites.

5. Be Creative with Small Income Streams…

Like many, I eventually hope to have a small income from this blog alone. Many others are creative and find ways to make money on sites like Ebay and Craigslist. Ebay mostly consists of buying, selling, and shipping. Craigslist provides the same opportunity but keeps what you are buying and selling more local. Income can be made but use caution with Craigslist and meeting people in person. Handmade items,if you are artsy and creative, are great ways to make some extra money!

If you want to use your homestead to make money, many grow vegetables for their own consumption, while some sell their excess at a local farmers market. My wife and I plan to grow our own organic vegetables and start raising our honeybees again once things are settled on our homestead. Raising chickens and selling eggs are an additional source of income for your homestead.

You can find through most ads people wanting some type of service or work done. If you lack the expertise in some areas, consider getting the training that you need. You can always write off the expense of the training on your taxes, along with the investment in equipment and supplies. Remember that some areas like electrical, plumbing, and heating and air require a license to operate as a business.

There are many other ways to generate income and pay for your homestead and its up to your creative imagination to get there! Happy Homesteading!

 

 

 

A Place To Call Home!

A Place to Call Home….How to find it?

Many people look for that perfect place to find and call it home. I hope to help you along the way in finding that perfect spot just for you. My wife and I spent quite a bit of time looking for property and deciding where our homestead would be. We insisted on a place where we could end up with some peace and serenity, yet be able to build our homestead where it would be functional, yet affordable.

We decided that we wanted to purchase where the land was affordable, the costs were less, and we could spend that extra money on our homestead and cabin and not worry about giving most of it to Uncle Sam.

We wanted to have the freedom to roam our property, decide what we wanted to do and not worry with overburdening regulations. We wanted something quite different from the daily traffic grind, neighbors on top of each other, HOA’s, mounting urban regulations, and increasing property taxes.

We decided to try our luck with the mountains of Tennessee.  Everyone has their choice of where they would prefer to be and that’s okay. Perhaps you want to be near family again or that a certain area appeals to you. For us, we chose the high ground of Tennessee to start our search. Why? It came down to the desire for mountain property, the experience of a change of seasons, the land was affordable, and taxes were much less than surrounding states.

We began by taking a short vacation to the Volunteer State and the Great Smoky Mountains. We rented a great little cabin for two days near Greeneville Tennessee, while we had made arrangements to meet with a Land Specialist later in the week to look at property. After looking at several pieces of property in the Cumberland Plateau, we decided to continue to explore this great state and enjoy the family vacation.

After our return home, we decided to evaluate our options and decide what we wanted to do. Do we decide on a purchase or don’t we?  Where would we be happy at!  We eventually decided on purchasing five acres near Crawford Tennessee. We could spend time clearing the property ourselves and decide where each little piece had to go. We spent over a year deciding and making plans, as well as making payments on the property. After a year of planning we purchased our new camper and decided to head back to the property and “get to work”. Well, that was short lived!

In the interest of getting to the good stuff with helping you find your way and get started, I’ll just ask you to visit my wife’s blog at www.cheriannjones.com and find out what happened!  She will also appreciate the visit!

Finding Your Property-

Whether you want one half acre or 100 acres, first decide where and why you want to live there. There are many choices in finding property. Perhaps a family member or an acquaintance has property they will let you settle your homestead on. Many properties can be expensive and many can be affordable. Finding a realtor is an option, but remember, the idea is to save money and spend less. Realtors are in the business to make money, and some have high commission fees. Very few of them deal in rural homesteading property. We decided to search for property using alternative methods like internet searches and Craigslist Ads for private owner financing property for sale. Be careful while using this method since the property may be affordable and the size you want, however sometimes the land is just not usable for building or homesteading. To give you an example, the first property we found we contacted the owner, and decided while In Tennessee we would go look at it. The price was right, the size and the location were good, but the property was straight uphill, and We mean uphill.  You can’t farm it much less build anything on it.

We finally found a Land Specialty Company located in Tennessee. They have a no thrills website, yet told you enough to get you interested. They are owner financing, and have useable property in most size and price ranges. The great thing is they finance with a low down payment, military and veterans discount, and reasonable monthly payments. If for some reason you aren’t satisfied with your purchase, you can return the property to them or trade for another. Best of all, if you purchase from them, and make a referral, and they purchase, the company will waive one of your monthly payments. No bank will do that for you!

Here is the link in case you are interested!   www.countryplacesinc.com

Once you have found your land-

A good place to start is the county or city tax collectors office. You can easily research online to find most information about any parcel of land. The people selling you the property can also be valuable in providing this information, but don’t always rely on that either.  Double check the information on your own just to be sure. Most tax collectors offices can tell you how much taxes you will be paying annually on the property and whether a title search has been done. Title searches can tell you whether the property is free and clear of any liens or other issues. Most of the local government sites have an online database to search for property or parcel information. If you can’t find it online, call them. Many times you will only need a physical address and an owner name.

You can also contact the city or county government and obtain the contact information for the local utility companies serving that area. You will need that information before you purchase to know whether that property has available water, sewer, and electric service. While purchasing our first piece of property we took our realtors word for it that all of these services were readily available and close to the property. We found out different, and I don’t want you to make that mistake too. Double check everything!

We easily had electric at the corner of the property, however, we found much later that the nearest water line was about a half mile away.  We didn’t want the added expense to run that much water line to the property. Well water would have been another option but that can get expensive in drilling and pumps. And, there’s no guarantee the company drilling will find water. If you want to try your hand at well water, be sure to check with any neighbors who have been there for along time.  Most of the “old timers” can tell you whether it’s worth it or not! Who knows!  If you happen to find property in the mountains, a spring fed water source can be valuable if one is on the property.

While we are at it, be sure to look closely at the property boundaries on a survey map. Any property being sold will have a map drawn by a licensed surveyor. Pay  careful attention to the boundaries.  During our search we found that the neighbors property line included a roadway adjacent to our property, which we had initially planned to use for driveway access. This can make a big difference in right of way access or not. That owner was not willing to grant a right of way along this route, and we found access at the main road was not possible without additional expense because it washes out during heavy rains. This was the deciding factor, for us, in trading the property for another. The Land Company was more than willing to do that for us. Many people, like us, search for land that we want to eventually use for gardening, raising poultry or livestock, or replacing our honeybee hive. We wanted a “homestead” with as few restrictions as possible. Many areas have dwelling size restrictions, requirements on connecting to water and sewer, and keeping or having farm animals. That was one of our requirements in searching for property to have some minimum restrictions. In our case, the final property we purchased only required a minimum square footage of 650 square feet of living space. There were very few restrictions on domestic farm animals, only that we can’t engage in commercial operations.  That was not an issue for us as our only interest was for personal use and consumption. You can find many codes here at www.municode.com

The three most important things in choosing your future homesteading property is to (1) Walk the boundaries and get a layout of the land. The boundaries, especially if mapped by a surveyor, will be clearly marked. (2) Do your research on utilities and access to the property before making a commitment to purchase (3) decide if you can afford it and that the property is adequate enough to do what you want to do with it. Most areas have some type of building codes and restrictions to deal with.  The areas we chose in Tennessee, especially the rural areas, have very few restrictions except for electric and sanitary waste disposal. These are safety issues and expected almost everywhere requiring permits and inspection. You really don’t want someone else’s waste seeping into your ground water do you?

Disposing of Waste-

Many people choose homesteading for the freedom to live as you want to live without any restrictions or interference.  You have choices almost anywhere when deciding how you want to dispose of waste, especially human waste. I wrote about composting toilets in a previous blog and how they work. Many states and locales allow composting toilets with certain requirements. In our case, they are allowed as long as the toilet is certified by the manufacturer as meeting certain standards, and the property has running water, meaning, a public water system.  In our case, we are choosing an in-ground approved septic system. Our process was fairly easy from the percolation test to finding a licensed contractor. The first step after deciding on our property was to have it “ perc” tested, or Percolation test. In Tennessee, in urban areas you are required to obtain a permit through the County or City health department. In rural areas, permits are obtained from the State of Tennessee. Once we submitted the application and paid the required fees, the Inspector came out and conducted the on-site test. It took about 30 minutes.  The “perc test” simply tests the soil for absorption of liquids into the ground from the septic system drain field. Most of the solids remain in the main tank and need to be pumped out by a licensed disposal contractor who disposes of the solids properly.

If you are required to have an approved septic system, it is worth the minimal investment. Some will not want to spend the money and self dispose of their waste, but, that’s something I wouldn’t recommend over long periods of time. Many areas obtain their drinking water from underground aquifers and these contaminants seep into the ground into those water sources. We chose a 1000 gallon lowboy septic tank which is more efficient and the installation is less work for the contractor, especially if the ground has rock. Removing rock is an added expense. Be sure to check with your local health department to learn what is required and the process.  It can get very expensive if not followed properly. Disposal of waste is a safety issue for everyone!

Electric or Solar-

While many homesteaders would prefer to go off-grid and get their electricity from solar power, it can get quite expensive. While the solar panels get their energy from the sun, that energy needs to be stored somewhere for use, and that’s usually in the form of batteries. What you use the energy for can determine how large your system needs to be. Some areas give tax credits for solar installation while some utilities even buy the energy from you. Honestly, the return they can give you isn’t all that great but it’s better than nothing I suppose!

We would probably use solar at some point as a backup in the event the power went out or use it to power other low demand sources for our homestead. For now we will use the local power company.  When choosing the local power company, or in our case, the only choice was a local Electric Membership Co-Op. Personally, I would prefer them, because customers are voting members and have a say in the direction and operation of the company. Many times they are cheaper with their rates and service.  Not everyone will have that ability and will be stuck with some of the major power providers.  One of the Engineers with the local Co-Op met us and gave us some good information about what needed to be done to get power to our property. It was a positive experience and they seemed happy to work with us to make that happen.

We did find that we needed to contact the adjacent property owner to get permission to trim some limbs on their property to run the power lines to ours. The neighbors agreed!  The only cost to us will be around $100 .00 to have the limbs trimmed. Not a bad expense at all!

Stay Tuned!  In my next Blog post I will provide you with creative ways to help pay for your Homestead!

 

Happy Hunting!