Category Archives: Homesteading

Moving to the Urban Homestead

urban homestead

I moved in with my 83-year-old dad at the beginning of this year to help him stay independent in his home for as long as possible. Hopefully to live out his life here.

Although we are in the middle of the big city in Southern California, I am trying to homestead it as much as possible. In a multigenerational household, this is tricky, as 3 out of 5 of us are very convenience and disposable oriented.

This is a 50 something-year-old home, so much of the infrastructure has broken down and had to be replaced in the last several years. New water and sewer lines each cost about what we paid for the house, to begin with. A new roof wasn’t cheap, either. There are a few other large projects waiting, but hopefully, nothing that will be a disaster before we get to it.

Some of the little changes I have been making:

Bathroom

handheld shower head

  • Shower chair

  • Homemade all natural bar soap/shampoo bar

  • Homemade lotion –still working out the bugs with the liquid formula

  • Low flush/power flush toilets

Cooling

  • Using ceiling fans and room fans before turning on a/c

ceiling fan

  • Keeping windows and doors open during cooler hours so we can keep the a/c off for longer (trying to keep it off til noon)

  • Turning off a/c as soon as air cools outside (around 7 pm)

Kitchen

  • Using the outdoor grill as much as possible to avoid heating up the house

outdoor kitchen

  • Using the crock pot outside to avoid heating up the house

  • Hand washing dishes, as it takes several days to fill the dishwasher for a load, and they don’t get clean unless they go in clean (doesn’t make sense, does it?)

  • Decluttering cabinets and getting rid of broken, unused, and excess stuff

  • Cooking most meals at home

Pool

pool and drain barrel

  • Drain barrels to hold excess water from pool vacuuming, for treating and using to clean patio and water garden.

  • This is still in the experimental stage. Theoretically, the chlorine breaks down and evaporates in a few days. We have a salt water system, so I am not sure if the salt electrolyzed into chlorine breaks down, or stays salty to harm the plants.

Garden

  • Some successes and some failures.

  • Constant battles with slugs and mites.

  • Not as much food as I had hoped, but taking care of the boy, the dad, and the grands take priority and I get pretty tuckered out.

Projects I’m working on or that are on the list:

  • Gray water system for laundry, showers, and kitchen, leading to lawn and garden

  • Solar power for pool pump and trailer

  • Improve rain guttering and add rain barrels, leading to lawn and garden

  • Thermal draperies and curtains

  • Improve garden

  • Heating

  • – Firewood

  • – More efficient fireplace insert

Sadly, I am not using a clothes line to dry clothes, as my housemates frown upon that. Happily, our gas bill (we have a gas dryer) is very low, so I guess our dryer is pretty efficient. My share of the laundry is minimal, anyway.

The gray water system and the two small solar units are priorities, as these 2 utilities have been directly affected by the extra watering of the lawn and garden and the running of the pool pump, respectively. The only reason the gray water is taking so long is that I keep putting off looking under the house to figure out the best way to do the showers. The kitchen and laundry systems I have figured out, it is just a matter of taking the time to get the materials and set them up. Keeping in mind that my housemates want everything to look nice. Definitely not the country bumpkin I am.

My laundry routine is pretty well settled in, so I may put up a discreet clothes line that can be taken down before everybody’s home from work.

So that is how we’re adjusting to homesteading in the big city. I hope to have updates on these projects soon. But next on the list is a trip dad wants to take to the old farmstead, next month, so we’ll be getting ready for that.

 

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How to use a Soap Cozy

soap bags

How to use a soap cozy

What is a soap cozy? Simply, it is a little bag to put your bar of soap in. It can be used for:

  • soap storage

  • as a washcloth, without even having to remove the soap

  • put your soap ends in it and tie it shut, to use them up

  • use the tied up soap to scrub your sink or shower. What removes soap scum the best? Soap. Just make sure you rinse it off well.

soap cozy

Soap cozies can vary in size. At 4″x6″, 4″x5″, 5″x6″, they make great gift bags for small items. Also a nice pouch for carrying your cell phone or spare change and lip balm. Mrs. D’s soap cozies are made with cotton or cotton blend fabric and have long 10-12″ ribbon ties.

You can sew up a dozen of these in about an hour if you’re so inclined. Any scraps of the appropriate size (you are welcome to make them larger or smaller) will work. Trim them to a large rectangle or two smaller rectangles. I make mine about 4″x6″ give or take, or fold an 8″x6″ piece in half.

First, sew the top hems. Fold the fabric down about 1/4″ at the top and iron. Fold and iron again. This is the top of your bag. Now stitch away to hold the hem in place. I use a built-in decorative stitch for this. I do not cut the thread on each piece, I just pull it out a bit and start the next one. Then I cut all the threads when I’m done.

Next, make your bags. With right sides together and top hems together, stitch one side and bottom seam (or just one seam if you are folding). Trim threads if you are sewing several bags at once like I do.

Now for the ribbon ties. You can use the bags without them, but I like to add them because I use them to close the tops. Cut 2 12″ pieces of ribbon for each bag. Hold or pin them about 1″ down from the top of the bag, with the long ends inside the bag and coming out the top. You are leaving a tiny bit on what will be the inside of the bag to hold it there. Stitch the last side of the bag. Trim all threads.

Finally, clip corners and trim seams if necessary. Turn bags right side out and poke corners with a ruler, chopstick, pen, or another corner turner. Iron if desired.

Use and enjoy your soap cozy. Give as gifts. Or sell them at your next craft fair!

 

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How to use Bar Soap

The humble bar of soap.

Sometimes it seems like everyone has forgotten how to use bar soap. Since most people I know use liquid soap in tidy pump dispensers now. Yet bar soap is gentler, more economical, and does a better job of cleaning. Bar soap is truly a multi-purpose cleaner.

In order to make myself clear, when I speak of bar soap, I  am speaking of handmade soap. Rather like the kind I make, with all natural ingredients you can actually recognize. Like coconut, palm, and olive oils, milk, water, and essential oils, herbs, etc.

Sodium hydroxide (lye) causes a chemical change in the liquids and oils that soap is made with. This saponification neutralizes the lye and, as a result produces the familiar, sudsy soap that washes away grease and grime. Grease that washes away grease.

 

First of all, let me debunk the antibacterial myth:

Friction kills bacteria.

That’s right. Not soap, not hot water. Friction. Rubbing your hands together when you wash them creates the friction that kills the bacteria. Soap loosens foreign particles and oils from your skin, and water washes them away. But friction kills bacteria.

 

Now let’s move on to the truth about bar soap:

  • lasts a long time as long as you keep it dry in between uses. (use a handy soap saver)

  • does not harbor bacteria and grunge as long as you keep it dry between uses. (don’t let it sit in a puddle of water)

  • can be made with ingredients you recognize and with none you don’t.

 

Finally, what are the advantages of bar soap?

  • lasts a long time as long as you keep it dry in between uses.

  • can also be used to wash your hair.

  • makes a great pet shampoo.

  • is an all purpose cleaner. What removes soap scum best? Soap.

  • makes a great laundry soap. In this case, it needs to be grated very fine and mixed with some other ingredients, but that is a whole nuther post.

  • is a gentle soap for hand washables.

 

How do you use bar soap?

Same as liquid soap, use bar soap for washing your hands. Keep a bar of soap next to your sink in a soap dish or saucer. It is best to elevate it a little to keep it dry. Many soap savers are available for this purpose.

First, wet hands and soap with water. Then rub soap between hands and replace on soap saver. Finally, rub hands together, spreading soap as desired. Continue rubbing hands together as you rinse the soap off with water.

That’s it! Now go out and support your local soap maker or make your own!

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Easy Potato Soup

easy potato soup

Cooking from scratch is easy! Throw this Easy Potato Soup in the crock pot in the morning and it’s ready for dinner when you get home from work. Or whatever.

easy potato soup me

When we filmed The Potato Soup Movie for YouTube, it seemed to only make sense to put it here in writing, as well. I am including a number of things here that clarify and add to the info in the video. Proportions are for a 6 quart crock pot.

chopping potatoes

Easy Potato Soup

8 large (about 5 pounds) potatoes, any variety

1 large onion

5 large cloves garlic

2 quarts bone broth or chicken stock

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter or fat from bone broth

water to cover ingredients

milk, heavy cream, or half and half (enough to thin blended soup to desired consistency)

chopping onions

Dice potatoes into bite-sized pieces and put them in the crock pot. I leave the skins on but you can peel them if desired. Add bone broth, set crock pot to high. Peel and slice the onion very thin or dice. Peel and coarsely chop garlic. Saute onion and garlic in butter until translucent. It is okay for it to be slightly browned or caramelized. Add to crock pot. Add water to cover all ingredients. Cook on high for 6 hours or low for 8-10 hours.

sauteed onions

 

When potatoes are soft, turn off the crock pot. Soup will stay very hot for at least an hour.

potato soup in the pot

You can eat the soup just as it is or make it creamy.

making cream soup

 

To cream the soup, ladle or spoon potatoes and a bit of broth into blender container. Fill about half way. Be careful, as you don’t want to shock a cold container and have it crack or shatter. Let the potatoes cool a minute or so and slowly add about a cup of milk or cream. Place lid on blender container and blend at high speed about 30-60 seconds, until creamy. Return mixture to crock pot and repeat until soup is as creamy as you like. If you run out of milk or do not like dairy, chicken broth or water can be used. Use less milk if soup is not thick enough. Stir well and serve.

grandpa approved

One important thing I left out of the video: add-ins. Some of these could even be added into the soup while it is cooking. Sour cream, chives, and bacon make a particularly nice “Loaded Baked Potato Soup”. Put some of these on the side for people to choose from.

Add-ins:

  • Sour Cream

  • Chopped, cooked bacon

  • Chopped green onions

  • Shredded cheese

  • Salsa

  • Chopped tomatoes

Eat fresh and stay healthy.

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How to Make a Portable Trailer Skirt

portable trailer skirt

Over the past year, I have improved upon my trailer skirting. I knew I wanted it to be inexpensive, easy-on, easy-off, and compact enough to be easily portable. I think I have finally hit on a working combination. Here is how I made my current Portable Trailer Skirt.

insulation
minimal foam board skirting

When we got the Minnie, we started off with foam board and heat lamps. This necessitated being hooked up to electricity to run the heat lamps. My new skirt keeps the salt-water charged waste tanks thawed down to zero. Then it’s time for some supplemental heat down there. Or preferably a move to warmer temps.

trailer skirt supplies

Materials for the Portable Trailer Skirt:

Putting it together:

cutting tarp in snow

1. Cutting the tarp down to size.

My trailer measures 8’ x 26’ plus the tongue, which holds the house battery and 2 propane tanks. I figured I might want the tarps to wrap around those as well, so I estimated a
length of 80 feet, just to have some wiggle room. I cut the tarp into 5 strips measuring 3’ x 20’. To do this, I had to open it up outside. There was snow on the ground at the
time, so the tarp stayed fairly clean. I had my son stand on it to help hold it down and help fold up each piece as we went. We also used rocks to help hold the tarp down as I
cut.

tarp on sewing machine

2. Sewing on the bubble wrap.

The bubble wrap was only 12” wide, so I had to sew 3 tiers onto each strip of tarp. This was the most tedious part of the project. I was also concerned that it would be hard on
my sewing machine, but it did fine. I had to clean the tarp dust out frequently and had to be careful not to catch the presser foot on the bubble wrap, but otherwise, it was
straight seams and easing the bulk through the machine.

3. Black paint.
After sewing on all the bubble wrap, the next step was to paint the outside of the skirting black. This is to absorb more sun and help retain the heat around the trailer. It is very
windy where we usually are, so I had to wait for a still day to get the paint to stick to the tarps instead of floating away.

 applying reflectix trailer skirt

We first tried attaching the tarp with velcro, but the wind made short work of that. We also found the addition of Reflectix insulation to be a major factor in keeping the temps under the trailer more stable. First, we stand the Reflectix around the perimeter of the trailer. Over that goes the portable trailer skirt.

back of trailer skirt

I looked at what other people were doing with trailer skirts and liked the idea of attaching it with turn buttons. Amazon had them listed so I ordered 2 dozen and my son-in-law helped me to install them. I put the grommets on my tarp and attached it to the trailer turn buttons. It stayed on perfectly, but I now discovered that I needed to seal up the loose ends. This was a much better use of the velcro and keeps the wind from whipping the skirt up and blowing the Reflectix away.

Finally, around all this, we place our heavy tent weights, our extra sewer tank, and propane tank just for extra insurance in case the wind blows. If the temps dip below zero or stay below 30F for several days we still have to break out the heat lamps, but the skirting is doing its job and helping us stay warm and cozy.

And the best part about the Portable Trailer Skirt is that it comes off easy, rolls right up (both the skirt and the Reflectix), and stows away in the back of the truck or in the basement when it’s not needed.

 

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