Archive for the ‘Urban Homesteading’ Category


Do any of you recall that chapter in Little Town on the Prairie when Laura had to write an essay on “Ambition”?  Remember how she had to look up the meaning in the dictionary and then she got a nearly perfect score? 

Anyhow, I was thinking of that tonight as I read my new issue of Mother Earth News (MEN).  I know, I know…no one but me (and Melinda) thinks like that.  Well, ambitious would describe how I am feeling these days.

As fall and winter are upon us, I have already begun to think ahead to spring and all my plans.  Last spring I spent much of the time indoors, and since I planned for an early summer baby that didn’t arrive till late summer…and since then having been preoccupied with said baby, I have been extremely disconnected from my normal backyard pursuits this year.  It is very strange actually, because since I didn’t take part in the early stages of things this year, I have been utterly uninspired to so so the whole rest of the season.  I have completely avoided and even let go all the normal outside duties that I normally enjoy.  Due to this, I have been having an unusually early and fervent desire to plan ahead for next spring and summer. 

Some of the things I am looking into include but are not limited to:

  • becoming a top bar beekeeper
  • putting in a patio in the backyard
  • putting in extra front yard beds
  • cutting down a few trees
  • putting in a new fire pit and doing away with the old one entirely
  • painting my fence and garage
  • fixing up a water faucet inside the chicken area
  • building a shelving unit on the back porch
  • buying a grill

Pretty ambitious wouldn’t you say?  I am most interested in the beekeeping, but rather intimidated by it.  For those who don’t know, I have been researching and thinking about the bees for about a year or so.  I have a couple local friends who do it, so I think I can get some help.  I am thinking that Breslin and I will build the hive box in the basement this winter.  I feel like there is so much mystery to the bees, but I am also starting to think that the only way for me to solve some of the mystery is to just jump into it with both feet. 

A lot of my plans involve improvements to our backyards.  This backyard has been a long slow road to improvement, but it is getting there.  I want it to be kid friendly, but also useful and a sanctuary for the whole family.  Some of the obstacles are the large shade trees which frankly are too many and too big. Also, leaving enough free space un-landscaped for the kids to play in is a challenge in a small urban yard.  I think I have convinced them that we should do away with the  trampoline, however.  They don’t use it much, and I told them that we could construct a teepee or tree house in its place.  Some of my other ambitions are meant to make the yard more chore-friendly, such as putting water out in the chicken coop.

In the meantime I am trying to finish up some projects inside the house.  This past weekend Hazel helped me refinish the solarium door.  It was painted on one side only, so we sanded and scraped and painted both sides and then rehung it.  It now looks like a finished door instead of another unfinished project.  I am sincerely planning to tie up other similar loose ends throughout the house all winter, so that when summer rolls around I can devote myself to the outdoors! 

Hazel Helping primer the door

Yes, I realize that this might be hard with a small baby and three homeschoolers to take care of, but I think if I plan out my moves and work on them in small manageable chunks, I can succeed.  Now if I could only apply that strategy to losing weight I’d be looking great!


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SL forums have done it again!  Today I found a thread about making powdered soap for the dishwasher.  I tried it out immediately with sparkling results! 

The Recipe:


Baking Soda


In a wide mouth container, mix equal parts Borax and Baking Soda and blend well.  Use a scoop to measure into your machine when you are about to wash a load, and pour 1/3-1/2 cup white vinegar into the bottom of the machine as a rinse aid.  You may also (in addition) fill the rinse aid compartment with vinegar.  Run your machine as usual. 

What could be easier?  Oh, and cheaper?  I already keep a bulk size bag of Baking Soda (got it at Sam’s Club) on hand because I use it to clean about everything in my house.  And of course I always have Borax for making my laundry detergent.  So it was a no brainer for me to whip up this stuff. 

I haven’t figured out what the total cost savings would be compared to using other dish detergents, but I can tell you that every time I buy dishwasher soap, I cringe at the price….not to mention the chemicals.  And the main thing is effectiveness of course…..it works….so how can you go wrong?  For a family of five, soon the be six, we do a lot of laundry and a lot of dishwashing.  It is not unusual for me to run my dishwasher up to 3 times per day!  So to be able to have a savings of approximately 85% or greater on the soaps and household cleaners is really worthwhile!

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My very first rhubarb harvest…after waiting for two years…here they are….big and beautiful.  I got about 2 cups chopped….might be good stewed over ice cream, or on oatmeal…..

I have three more plants that will be ready next year and I bought six more today that I can eat in 2011…….well worth the wait!

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Steve and the kids measure the tree circumference to determine how many taps we need

Steve and the kids measure the tree circumference to determine how many taps we need


I drill the first hol into our largest tree.  We had a total of ten taps in the yard

I drill the first hol into our largest tree. We had a total of ten taps in the yard


A clear drop of sap-we used freecycled 3 and 5 gallon buckets for collecting and they hung from our taps

A clear drop of sap-we used freecycled 3 and 5 gallon buckets for collecting and they hung from our taps


Papaw uses his garage as the setting for his propane powered evaporater

Papaw uses his garage as the setting for his propane powered evaporater


DSC_0430  And the result was some awfully yummy syrup on Daddy’s famous whole grain pancakes!

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After being asked at holiday parties about “the” laundry soap, I decided it would be easiest to post the information and then direct all inquires to the blog. 

I started making this soap from a recipe I found on the forums at Sonlight, and I have not tweaked it any.  However, I am sure if you researched online you could find lots of interesting ways to do this. 

I have encountered a lot of skepticism and scoffing about this process of making one’s own laundry soap, yet I cannot for the life of me figure out why.  I have “converted” about a dozen people and they are all very happily saving money with this method, and wearing clean clothes to boot!  I have a hunch that people either feel that it is too much of a hassle or that they just don’t believe it cleans your clothes.  Let me tell you, friends, that if you have seen me or my family wearing clean clothes in the last 18 months, it is thanks to this recipe.  As for it being a hassle, let me share this:  I can make 4 gallons of soap in less than 17 minutes (without hurrying at all) for less than 50 cents  per gallon.  If I drove to the grocery store, walked to the detergent aisle and picked up four gallons of generic detergent and went straight to the checkout and then drove straight home, it would take much longer than 17 minutes and be much more costly, even if I bought the cheapest, most generic brand. 

The recipe is simple.  If you convert the dry amounts to one cup measurements, you can quickly make four gallons.  Please feel free to e mail me with questions.

Laundry Soap

1/4 Cup of Borax

1/4 Cup of Washing Soda

1/4 Cup grated bar soap such as Ivory or Fels Naptha


In a large non-reactive pot heat 4 cups of water.  Pour 4 cups of hot tap water into a 1 gallon milk container.  Add grated soap to pot on stove and mix till soap is melted, but do not boil.  Remove from heat and add Borax and Washing Soda and mix well. Pour soap mix into gallon jug and then slowly fill the jug till almost full with hot tap water.  Leave some room at the top so you can shake the mixture.  Put the cap on the jug and shake till well mixed.  Take the cap off and leave it sit till cooled before replacing cap to store.  What could be easier? 

Using a small funnel is very helpful so you don’t make a huge mess.  I always use all my regular kitchen utensils for soap making and have no problems.  They wash right up and there is no funny taste or residue.  I save my old milk jugs, but I will also save juice jugs, vinegar jugs, etc. 

The soap will be gloppy.  It will have solid glops and watery parts.  This is normal and okay.  Just measure out a normal amount with some water and some glops.  I do not measure or care about this, and my laundry is fine.  Adding more borax will thicken it.  If you have hard water, a bit more borax added will also help.  I use pure white vinegar as laundry softener, as well. 

I have a Kenmore HE front loader washer and this is the ONLY detergent I have ever used in it and have no issues.  I use about 1/2 cup per load, but I don’t really measure.  I fill the fabric softener compartment with the vinegar.  The thing about this soap is it isn’t very delicate and frothy, so the HE washers have no issues with it. 

Happy Soapmaking!

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Chix Pix


Not to be confused with Chex mix, these are pictures of our girls in their backyard boudoir. 

Our hens keeping warm in their coop

Our hens keeping warm in their coop

I really love my hens.  They are fantastic animals to have around.  We find them entertaining and beautiful, quiet and full of purpose.  It is a rewarding thing to keep chickens in an urban setting.  We have 6 hens- two Aracauna, two red bantams (not sure about the breed), a Rhode Island Red and one Golden Laced Wyandotte.  We have an outdoor run, mostly shady and on a slope, for them, about 10×20 feet, and a large indoor coop lined with straw and housing roosts and nesting boxes and their food.  It is a sort of basement potting shed underneath our garage.  It stays quite warm in winter because it is built into the slope on three sides.  It is about 5×12 feet and about 4.5 feet high.  In the spring I am hoping to get a few more hens and enlarge the outdoor run to about double its current size.

Green and blue Aracauna eggs and brown eggs

Green and blue Aracauna eggs and brown eggs

We started getting eggs in late September.  The two Aracauna’s laid first, with their green and blue eggs.  Then the Wyandotte and the Rhode Island Red came to live with us already ovulating, so now we are getting four eggs a day and waiting on two more to start laying.  The banties are several months younger than the rest, so they will hopefully begin laying in another month or two.  Their eggs are smaller, but still worth having!  We are getting approximately 2 dozen eggs a week right now, so with the production of the other two later on we should be up to about just over 3 dozen per week, which perfectly suits our needs.  We would like to get more in the spring to perpetuate the years of the flock as well as give us enough for sharing! 

The girls definitely have obvious personalities as well as their own pecking order.  The ruler of the roost is Hickory, the darker Aracauna.  dscn0446

Peckish Hilda

Peckish Hilda

She has recently been challenged by the arrival of Hilda, the Rhode Island Red, however, and I have noticed that Hickory has mellowed down a bit since Hilda’s arrival.






Pretty Patty

Pretty Patty

If Patty and Sunshine (the golden Aracauna and the Wyandotte) were human, they would be your typical 1950’s housewife types.  They are meek, motherly, overachieving layers who are yes-men to the others. 



The other two, the “chicks”, as my kids call them because they are the youngest, really do act like unruly but basically good teenagers.  Not unlike Steve and I once were!

Sarah, one of the "chicks"

Bantie Sarah


Bantie Blackbeard

Bantie Blackbeard

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Urban Homesteading is a new term to me, but it makes perfect sense and I love it.  For me it has the ability to combine the two things I have the most difficulty separating:  my desire to live in and have all the benefits of the Urban Lifestyle with my desire to actually BE Laura Ingalls Wilder. 

For us, it means several things.  It means ripping out flowers and hostas and lawn space to raise vegetables and herbs and have compost.  It means a backyard chicken flock. It means being environmentally concious.  I would love for it to mean bee-keeping and rainwater conservation.  I am hoping that it means education and lifeskills and environmental appreciation for my children.  Urban homesteading can also include other things that we follow that are off the beaten path…the path that leads to savings, better health and a cleaner world.  Things such as making homemade laundry soap, milling wheat for home baking, using cloth diapers, walking rather than driving, making the most of the outdoors all year long, recycling and repurposing household goods, shopping and eating locally. 

Recently, someone I know wanted to buy a piece of property big enough to live self sufficiently, but not much larger than that.  It is a good question…how much?  Only 75 years ago, a couple acres or less even, could offer a lot, if you managed it properly.  Now, those same acreages are lawns, with sprinklers and flower beds.  What concerns me most is peoples’ lack of knowledge anymore about what it means to take care of yourself, and the skills to do it.  I am no expert, but I could manage so that my family would not starve. Our lot is 50×180, and largely shaded, and I would far rather have it grown up in veggies and chickens than in grass.

Suggested Reading:

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology, Eric Brende

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver

Square Foot Gardening, Mel Bartholomew

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