We try to learn two new skills each year. There are some skills that are imperative to the survival of a homesteader. Actually, not just for homesteaders, anyone who is trying to live as simply and on as few funds as possibly (less work for a paycheck=more freedom to live life how you want). It is nice to have more than one person living on a homestead (doesn’t have to be a spouse) because generally what one person can’t do, or doesn’t care to do, the other can. And for the things that neither are very good at, bartering with someone that has that skill set is invaluable. Here is a rough list of important skills to learn to be a homesteader.
1. Cooking- I have been cooking since I was quite small and Doug was a bachelor for some time before we got married so we both know how to cook. That doesn’t mean that restaurants weren’t our worst vice! We haven’t sworn off restaurants completely and we do go out more than our other homesteading friends. I do, however, cook the vast majority of our meals. And if I am too tired to cook in the morning Doug will fry up a delicious hash (fried potatoes, onions, garlic, eggs, and any vegetables or fish we have).
Cooking is not only obviously important to the modest budget required in a homestead, but it is better for you as well. You need to stay strong while doing farm chores! It is also much more ecologically friendly. You can decide how many pesticides to put in your body, how many miles your food travelled, and how many boxes you put in the landfill.
We rarely buy anything in a box. We use whole ingredients and in bulk if possible. Grains, fresh vegetables fruits, or the ones we canned or froze, fish, legumes, eggs, milk, and cheese, make up our various meals along with a lot of great spices and flavor. It is easy to put together meals with so much selection. And because they weren’t in boxes, but rather larger bags or serve yourself, they were cheaper too. I can add my own flavorings without all the additives.
2. Gardening- Being able to grow your own food is a wondrous thing. The cost of seeds is much less than the cost of groceries with the added benefit of being in the sunshine, knowing where your food came from, having all the nutrients still available, and helping out the bees.
One can successfully garden in a plot, the front yard, in five gallon buckets on the porch, anywhere really! I combine all of these to get enough space!
3. Canning- After World War II, women wanted a different life. Canning, cleaning, country living, many normal ways of life were shunned in favor of city living, jobs, packaged food, cleaning ladies, and the earlier ways of living were thought of as mundane and peasant, if you will.
Canning is a great way to survive on a fixed income. By putting up all the produce the summer brings (even if that means buying a bushel from a nearby farm) we don’t let all that glorious produce go to waste and come winter we scarcely ever need to go to the grocery store! Just look in the pantry!
Canning is enjoyable as well. It is a great sound when those jars click shut. It is particularly fun with margaritas and other women to help!
4. Fencing- This was one of the first things Doug had to learn and quick. Come two squirrely, runaway goat kids, we had to learn to reinforce and put up good fencing on the cheap. We have found that T-posts and pasture fencing are affordable options and moveable if necessary. We will easily be able to fence in a large area off of the current goat pen for the goats and new arrivals.
5. Building and Fixing- I grew up in a home where my mom taught us girls how to do every domestic chore. I am grateful for that. I have never pushed a lawn mower or changed my own oil though. My dad built their house by hand. He can fix anything, my brother can too, but I was not taught these things. Doug grew up in a house where if something broke, they called someone in. So, when we first got together and something would break, I’d say, “Aren’t you going to fix that?” and he would look at me like I was crazy. We spent a lot of money on hiring people over the years and we needed to learn how to build and fix things. This is a skill we will work on more this year. This is one that we barter classes or computer support for. I traded a class for a fabulous cold frame. We would like a better milking shed too. Neither of us even know where to start! That is where knowing how to barter comes in handy. But we also need to learn for ourselves.
6. Animal Care- Animals are an important part of a homestead. For many they are a source of meat, but for this vegetarian farm, they are a source of food, fiber, and comedy shows. We love our chickens and their eggs. We love our goats, their milk, and the dairy products that we make from the milk. We can sell their kids and milk shares to help cover costs of feed. We are looking forward to our new sheep and their fleece as well as the new alpaca, Buddy the Cotton-headed-ninny-muggins.
We have needed to learn how to trim their feet, and how to know when they are sick, and what to give them. How to put an animal out of its misery (still working on that one, we are getting a revolver this year), and how to house and feed them. In my opinion, animals make the homestead. Sharing your life with other creatures makes things more complete.
7. Fire starting- We heat our house with wood and a propane heater. We got the bill for the propane. Next month we are putting in another wood stove that our friend found us so no more propane! We have a lot of wood stacked up and Doug learned to wield an axe. It keeps him in shape, helps him blow off steam, and keeps us in wood. But it took us a bit to figure out how to get the fire started easily! We weren’t scouts and we never needed to do much else but throw one of those ready to burn logs into an outdoor fireplace at a party. We learned quick!
8. Sewing- Being able to mend old clothes or turn too old of clothes into quilts and projects saves you from having to purchase it at the store. Remember, anything we currently purchase at the store we want to learn to do ourselves! I can make the baby dresses, sew a semi-decent quilt, and mend but I would like to learn this year how to sew more elaborate clothing, like men’s shirts and dresses for myself.
9. Fiber Arts- Being able to knit a pair of warm socks is high on my list of skills I would like to master this year. Along with animal shearing, carding, spinning, and dying yarn.
10. Learning to Entertain Oneself- Being able to not be bored easily. To be able to rest and entertain oneself is high in importance. We can’t very well run off to see a stage production downtown anymore or away for a week in New Mexico. We also don’t have a big cable package or media entertainment. We read, write, draw, walk, have folks over, visit others, play with the baby, and sit outside in the sun.
Being a homesteader doesn’t mean that one does less work. Nay, you might end up doing doubled! All of these skills take time. Time is what you will have and it is much nicer to be doing what you would like on your own time and schedule wherever you please. It is all good, pleasant work. And learning to rest and play is important as well. This is a great lifestyle. I highly recommend it if you are thinking of living this way! A good skill set makes it all the easier.