The basics of an autonomous Homestead
Chicken coop. I built about five makeshift coops and lost quite a few hens to predators before deciding to construct a proper coop. We poured a concrete slab, put up conventional walls, and protected the yard with aviary wire, which we sank about 18 inches into the ground all the way around. The new coop has successfully kept out hawks, rats and digging critters, such as raccoons. It also has a living roof.
Greenhouse. Its north wall is made of stabilized adobe bricks (1 part cement to 12 parts soil). The other three walls are recycled windows that were free. With the greenhouse roofing, trial and error prevailed. The first roof was made of corrugated vinyl sheets from Home Depot, and after a few years, they became discolored — horrible stuff. I replaced them with greenhouse-grade fiberglass, and within six years, it too had become discolored from road dust and lichen, causing the plants inside to grow too leggy. The greenhouse’s present roof is twin-walled polycarbonate, a wonderful (though expensive) glazing material (from Farm Tek) with a 10-year guarantee. We also installed a solar-powered fan for cooling.
Raid-proof garden beds. Gophers are a problem in our area, so Lesley laid quarter-inch wire mesh on the ground where we wanted each garden bed, and then dry-stacked two layers of concrete blocks on top around the edges of the wire. We then filled the bed and blocks with soil and — voilà! — we had gopher-proof vegetable beds.
Compost system. We’ve found that keeping two compost buckets works well — a 1-gallon bucket by the sink for food scraps we’ll feed to our chickens, and a 3-gallon bucket with a foot-operated lid for the rest of our food scraps, such as orange peels and coffee grounds. In the garden, I built three 5-by-5-foot bins, each about 5 feet high, with sliding boards in front that I can adjust according to the pile’s height. We mix in food scraps from the foot-operated bin, grass cuttings, seaweed, topsoil, and manure and bedding straw from the chicken coop, and keep adding, mixing and moving the compost from bin to bin until it has matured.
Tin roofs for outdoor storage. Our entire property is fenced to keep out deer and dogs. On many sections of fence, I’ve formed roofs out of recycled, heavy-gauge corrugated metal sheets to create covered areas for tool storage, firewood and more.
Lumber racks. To compensate for limited storage space, I’ve built racks so I can stack lumber five tiers high.
Hearthstone wood burning stove. This 35-year-old wood stove is our only source of heat (though we also rely on the age-old principle of layering clothing). I get wood from trees that topple on or alongside nearby roads, and once a year I rent a log splitter to split them into firewood.
Honorable mentions: wheelbarrow for innumerable garden tasks; Northern Industrial Tools yard cart for hauling.
Most Useful Tools in the Kitchen
WonderMill 110-volt electric grain mill. This mill grinds grain quickly and efficiently. We use it to grind wheat and rye for our sourdough bread, make our own cream of rice, and grind oat groats into flour for pancakes and waffles.
KitchenAid Professional 600 Series mixer. This machine is reliable and unbeatable for kneading dough.
AccuSharp 001 knife sharpener. This inexpensive little tool lets you swiftly and effectively sharpen knives.
Marga Mulino grain flaker. This small, hand-powered Italian roller turns oat groats into rolled oats, and can be set for finer grinds as well.
Fermenting crock. Using a ceramic vessel to ferment foods is so simple. To make sauerkraut, for example, you just shred cabbage, add salt and let the mixture sit for a few weeks. Our favorite pot, made in Poland, features a water seal.
Rheem hot water heater. I installed a 5-gallon electric hot water heater under the kitchen sink. It uses minimal electricity and provides hot water right at the source.
Dishwashing system. In place of a dishwasher, we use Rubbermaid 4-gallon dishpans to wash dishes in, and we place the dishes in a custom-built rack for drying and storage.
Honorable mentions: Chef’s Choice cordless tea kettle for coffee, tea and hot water needs; Component Design Northwest meat thermometer for an accurate temperature read when cooking meat; Pure Water water distiller for drinking water; Messermeister poultry shears for cutting up poultry; Weber Genesis liquid-propane gas grill for cooking meat, poultry and fish outdoors.
Mighty Mac 12P hammermill chipper-shredder. Ours has lasted more than 30 years. The side-feeding chipper is powerful enough to chip a 2-by-4. We use it to grind up branches and garden trimmings for the compost pile. Never push branches down into the hopper with your hands; use a 2-by-4 instead.
Makita variable-speed impact driver with a lithium-ion battery. This driver has been a game changer for me. It uses both rotation and concussive blows to drive screws, and it’s two to three times as powerful as the familiar driller-driver. The trigger controls the speed.
Protective gear. If you operate a chainsaw, please wear protective gear, such as the Husqvarna Pro Forest helmet and face shield system.
Saws. Lots of saws. I have a 40-year-old Delta radial arm saw that’s still going strong, a vintage Delta 10-inch table saw, an old, reconditioned Makita miter saw, a Porter-Cable circular saw, a Makita 4350 FCT top handle jigsaw, and a Stihl 24-inch MS 270 chainsaw. For a handsaw, I now wield a Japanese SharkSaw Pullsaw in place of my old U.S.-made push saws. The Pullsaw is faster and more accurate.
Lehman’s froe. I make wooden shakes with a froe . You can make shakes if you have access to tight-grained lumber, such as redwood or cedar.
Honorable mentions: Gorilla Glue adhesive products; Honda 2,800-watt portable inverter generator to keep our appliances running in case of power outages; Norton Arkansas oilstone for sharpening knives and chisels; Roselli hatchet for woodcarving; Victorinox Swiss Army Centurion knife for garden and maintenance work.