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Read this list before buying a sewing machine

Whether you sew all of your own clothes, use it to make curtains, or just keep it on hand for mending, the sewing machine is one tool no homestead should be without. However, with the myriad of choices available today on the market ranging from antique to vintage; from used to brand new; how do you choose the best fit for your lifestyle all the while staying within the homestead mentality of “keeping it simple?” Once you have decided what to look for where to you find one at a reasonable price?

First there are two things you should consider:

1. What are you going to use it for?

Are you planning to sew a bridal gown? Do you need draperies for that west window in the bedroom? Do you just want to sew a patch on that pair of overalls with a hole at the knee? In most of these situations a very basic machine will suffice, one that will perform an excellent straight stitch, a nice zigzag, a decent buttonhole; and one that includes a zipper foot that can be easily installed. On the other hand, if you want to machine to quilt or appliqué you may need something that will provide you with additional features and functions. Think it through carefully. You may not need something with all the bells and whistles.

2. Do keep it simple.

The first sewing machine that was completely my own did nearly everything but make the bed. Apart from adjusting the thread tension at the touch of a button, it came complete with a vast library of embroidery stitches including the alphabet in three different fonts. However, after about fifteen years of repeated use it started to give out. When I took it to the repair shop, I was told that the computerized parts were obsolete. My expensive, amazing machine could not be repaired.

It has since been replaced with a 1960’s vintage Sears Kenmore. Embroidery stitches are not in her repertoire.  She only performs the basics, but she does them very well. She has run steady for the past 50 years and with a consistent maintenance schedule should continue to do so.

With that in mind then, it’s time to go shopping! There are a number of different resources for a sewing machine but these are those you would most likely find in your community:

A sewing machine store

Typically these specialty stores will offer several models of just one or two brands.  The advantages of shopping here are a knowledgeable staff that will readily be able to answer any questions you might have. Often times the store will offer classes on how to use your machine and be available later on down the line for repairs and service.

The disadvantage is cost. While most stores will offer used models, you will be paying more, and you may be paying for special features that, while they look fun in the store, will rarely be used at home. My vast library of embroidery stitches? It was hardly used. The latest model may not be the best purchase.

A sewing machine repair shop

Often times these little jewels will sell used machines in excellent condition or in some cases may be able to secure a new model. The advantage of a repair shop is a knowledgeable individual who knows machines and will be able to direct you to one with the features that best suit you. They usually offer a wide variety and aren’t typically limited to any one brand, therefore they can give you solid advice on a good purchase. Another advantage is cost. Usually you will pay less at a repair shop than you would at a sewing machine store. One disadvantage however, is that while the store will help guide you in your purchase and be available for maintenance and repairs, they won’t offer the back-up service by way of additional classes. You’ll need to have some knowledge of operating your machine on your own.

eBay

My  Sears Kenmore was purchased through a reputable used machine dealer on eBay. The advantage was a great machine at a good price delivered right to my front door. The disadvantage here, obviously is the risk. You are purchasing something you haven’t seen. Before you hit the purchase button, make sure you have contacted the seller with any questions you have, checked to see if there is a return policy, and checked the seller’s history.

Craigslist, estate sales, garage sales

The advantage of situations like these is going to be a machine at a very low cost.  The disadvantage obviously is that you may not always be in a situation where you can try out the machine before purchase and the machine may need to be repaired or serviced before it can be used. Unless it is a great bargain or your are experienced enough to know exactly what you are looking at this may or may not be a good choice.

Regardless of where or how you purchase your machine you will want to test the following:

  • The straight stitch, adjusting the length several times, and the zigzag stitch. Test them both for a good thread tension as well as the overall feel of the machine.
  • The buttonhole stitch.  The buttonhole stitch of some machines may be manual, or it may be as simple as pushing a button. Make sure that you are comfortable with how it operates. Make a few buttonholes on a scrap piece of fabric and slash them.  Are you happy with the end result? Does it look professional?
  • Any additional stitches or features the machine offers.

And finally:

Don’t underestimate the power of the old fashioned treadle machine

Although these machines typically only perform one function they perform it well.  The lack of buttonholes and other fancy stitches will force you to improve your hand sewing skills. What could be more enjoyable than an afternoon on the back porch swing sewing a hem or a series of buttonholes by hand? The rhythm of the pedal is a bit like learning how to ride a bike, but once mastered the experience is therapeutic,  not to mention the fact that you are free from the need of electricity making this a great option for one who is wanting to be completely self sufficient.

Read more: Discover the joys of spinning your own yarn

Warm chickens without burning your coop down

chicken-coop

It’s cold weather time, and that means a lot of chicken keepers are worried about keeping their birds from freezing on their roosts.

During this time of year, there’s always a few fires in chicken coops where well-meaning owners put space heaters or heat lamps to keep their animals toasty.

But, it doesn’t take a fire marshall to explain the issues with putting heating elements in a small space made of dry wood, lined with straw and filled with flapping, unpredictable animals.

There’s not a lot of officials safety information regarding chicken coops, but these common sense tips, along with barn fire safety tips from the USDA will go along way toward keeping your lovelies safe this winter.

No smoking in or around the coop

Sure it’s a no brainer, but it still needs to be said. If you’re smoking around a coop, an errant spark or hot ash can send all that dried straw and feathers up in a flash. An ember can smolder for hours too, so even if you’re careful and check around the coop often, that ember may sit for hours unnoticed, only to flare up in the middle of the night.

Inspect your electrical systems often

Lights and extension cords in a coop can lead to frayed wires and electrical sparks inside a coop, especiallay considering all the rough edges. Sparks lead to fires. So make sure any electrical wiring or outlets in and around your coop are well insulated and secure. A quick visual inspection can save a lot of time and heartache down the road.

Secure your heat sources

If you just have to use a heater in your coop — we suggest you don’t, see alternative heating methods below — then make sure it’s secure. Bolt it in place and make sure your animals can’t get to it. It’s a good idea to have a designated area for any heat source fenced off to keep your birds from flinging straw or wood shavings on the heating elements.

Alternative methods for keeping your birds warm

Perhaps the easiest way to prevent fires is to avoid electricity all together. No electric heat, no electric lights means no source of electrical sparks. But you may be worried that your feather babies won’t be able to survive a cold winter’s night.

But, chances are, your chickens will do better in the cold that you think. Most breeds can survive temps down to 0 degrees Farenheit (-17C). But, there are some parts of the world that get even colder.

How do you minimize electric heat in those situations?

Insulation

Insulating your chicken coop when you build it is a great idea. Even after it’s done, however, you can still use foam panels, reflective foil barriers and straw or wood shavings on the floor. This lets the heat the birds produce via body heat stay inside the coop. Just make sure you don’t give up ventilation for insulation. It may seem like sealing a coop up is a good idea, but even in the winter, your birds need fresh air more than ever.

Deep litter heating

You can also use the deep litter method for heating a coop. The idea is simple: Put straw or wood chips down as normal, but instead of cleaning it out when it gets soiled, add more clean straw or wood chips over the top. This material composts in the floor of the coop and the heat produced during the composting process helps keeps the birds warm. Fair warning: When the Spring comes, you’re going to have a bad time cleaning that mess out.

Compost heating

You can also use compost piles to heat chicken coops. This method is almost identical to using the deep litter method, but it involves using a mobile coop placed over a compost pile to produce heat. This method has something over the deep litter method, since there’s no cleaning at the end. But, if you don’t have a mobile coop then this one is going to be hard to pull off.

Build a solar collector

A solar collector can be built cheaply and easily. Essentially, it uses the sun to heat air in a glass encased chute that rises into the coop. Coupled with good insulation and maybe a thermal mass (see below) that warm air will be enough to keep your birds from turning into chickensicles. Check out this link to find out more about solar collectors and heaters.

Thermal mass

A thermal mass is a material used in construction to absorb heat during the day and radiate it at night. Usually made of brick, concrete or rock, these A thermal mass can be built into your chicken coop during construction, but if not, then there are other options. You can spray paint milk jugs black and fill them with water and put them in windows (or in front of your solar collector). At night they’ll radiate the stored heat into the coop, just like any thermal mass would. If your coop is small enough, this is an easy way to keep the temperature of your coop just high enough to prevent frostbite.

If you just take a little time, you’ll be able to baby your birds through the winter without incident. And there’s a bonus. Warm birds eat less. So if you do any one of these tricks, you’ll wind up with a cheaper feed bill at the end of the season.

Links:

Using compost to warm chickens

Barn safety tips from the Humane Society

What’s a thermal mass?

Ideal Indoor Grow Room Conditions: Grow Room Temperature and Humidity

Having a grow room is what every farmer should think of. It is one of the best things to have. A grow room comes with several advantages as compared to cultivating in an open field. You get to control pest infestation, odors, make use of a small space, and have total control over your crops. Since it is an enclosed area, you will need to manually control the climate inside the grow room. Unlike an open area where the environment controls how the plants grow, this entirely depends on you.

A grow room needs ideal indoor conditions for your crops to survive. Actually, it is not just a matter of surviving but getting the most yields out of them. There are two main weather conditions that are very paramount for crops growing inside a grow room or tent. Let’s find out what they are.

marijuana

1. Grow room temperature

Temperature is very crucial for growth and development of plants. Each type of plant has its own favorable temperature at which it thrives best. However, photosynthesis takes place nicely at 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Any temperature higher than that can affect the process badly.

Else ways, some plants can withstand heat a little higher than the normal level. Summer comes with very high temperatures which may sometimes be difficult to control. Plants like cacti, Aloe Vera, succulents, Devil’s ivy, and Ponytail Palm can withstand a lot of heat. They have enough water to sustain them through drought. They also have mechanisms that prevent excessive transpiration. However, other plants need a controlled environment in order to blossom.

The temperature required depends on the stage at which the plant is. For example, in the vegetative stage, 70-78 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and around 10-15 cooler at night are standard for growth. The flowering stage requires a temperature of 68-75 degrees Fahrenheit during daytime and about 10-15 cooler at night.

For conditioning the air inside your grow room, we have the best ac for grow tent. It is not every conditioner you find on the market that can serve you to your satisfaction. Our company supplies high quality, durable, eco-friendly, and reliable air conditioners. This is what you need to control the temperature inside your grow room.

You can find a programmable ac which automatically switch depending on the environmental temperature. For instance, when the heat goes too low for plants’ survival, the heater turns on until the optimum temperature is attained. When the heat is too high, a cooler is turned on. A fan helps in circulating the conditioned air inside the grow room.

If you may need to move your conditioner to different places, consider buying a portable ac grow room. We have it in stock at a very affordable price. A portable air conditioner gives you an easy time in case you want to relocate your plants to a different grow room, or even use it for conditioning your house. It is easy to carry around and operate.

Depending on your budget, you can find an air conditioner of your preference. All sizes and designs are available. You do not want a big ac for just a small tent. This will be as good as wasting electricity. In addition, you can find one that uses gasoline or even solar. Think about what will serve you well and go for it.

2. Grow room humidity

Humidity can affect growth of indoor plants depending on its level. It is very crucial to keep it at the recommended level to ensure your plants bloom. Plants need different quantities of humidity depending on the growth stage. For example, seedlings need a strict range or humidity, unlike grown plants which can resist a wider range.

For plants in the vegetative stage, 45% to 55% of humidity is ideal for growth. In the flowering stage, plants need a range of 35% to 45%. You can even lower it to 30%. Plants can survive between 3-55% of humidity. However, the ideal range is between 40% and 45%.

To monitor the amount of humidity in your grow room, you need a hygrometer. In addition, a humidifier will help you regulate the level of moisture in the room. Too high levels of humidity may cause growth of molds, rotting of buds, and Powdery Mildew. On the other hand, too low humidity may affect the capability of transpiration. This causes stunted growth in plants as photosynthesis is highly affected.

We supply the best humidifier for grow room to help you regulate the amount of vapor in it. You can find any design and size from our store depending on your preference. The humidifier has sensors which detect the level of humidity in the atmosphere before automatically switching to the appropriate action. Good ventilation can also play a big role in controlling the humidity inside your grow room or grow tent.

Using a buyer’s guide, you can choose the best humidifier available in our store. You can choose one depending on the speed of humidification, temperature of the moisture, source of power, convenience, and portability. You can find any type of humidifier grow room at your own budget.

Apart from the two weather conditions, there are more requirements for crops in growing rooms to survive. For instance, oxygen, carbon IV oxide, light, water, soil type, mineral nutrients, and support are other necessities for growth. Good ventilation will ensure most of the requirements reach the plants. Nonetheless, there are a few plants that can grow very well without sunlight. They can survive on indirect light. Such plants include Dracaena, bromeliads, Maidenhair Fern, Parlor Palm, Umbrella papyrus, snake plant, and creeping fig among others. These are some of the plants you can grow indoors.

It is the joy of every cultivator to reap maximum yield. With no pests in the picture, it is very possible to harvest well as long as you keep the weather conditions in your grow room ideal. A grow room saves you the tussle of fighting pests, weeds, and worrying about bad weather. You can grow any type of plant during any season. You don’t have to think about the weather outside. Your cops will still thrive because all the power lies in your hands.

Raising chickens: The Basics

March 19 is National Poultry Day. It’s a day set aside to honor the myriad of poultry that we benefit from: Chickens, ducks, turkeys, quail, peafowl, pheasant — even pigeons!

In honor of this great day, we give you a breakdown on how to raise chickens, the gateway drug of homesteading.

Check it out and leave us your tips on raising fowl in the comments below!

Raising chickens is fun and easy, but not for the faint of heart. Before starting out, you must know chickens prime egg laying years are in the first three of adulthood. So, if you want to raise them for eggs, then you’ll need to be aware that chickens live for 8-10 year — sometimes longer — so you’ll get diminishing returns as time goes by.

Many chicken keepers deal with this by eating their birds. Others, like ourselves, grow a bit to attached to the animals, and keep them around for as long as possible. The choice is yours, but be aware, raising chickens can get expensive.

First: Buy your chicks

Find a reputable hatchery, or a local chicken keeper whom you trust, and buy chicks from them. While you can buy adult, laying hens, I find it better to raise the birds from just a day or two old. It’s more expensive to feed them for the first bit, but you’ll get to know the birds better. If you buy your chicks from a hatchery, pay the extra cash to get them sexed. You don’t want to raise too many roosters, as they get aggressive with the hens when there are too many roosters to compete with. A rooster isn’t required to produce eggs.

If you get your chicks locally, take the time to visit the farm where they’re hatched. Look around. Make sure the place is clean and organized. Make sure the adult birds are healthy. Look for bright-eyed, curious animals that are calm and active. If the birds are listless, or stressed, it could be indicative of health problems that you don’t want to deal with.

Second: Brood your chicks

For the first weeks of life, chicks will need to live in a brooder. You can purchase one or you can build your own. Either way, make sure the birds stay warm. The chicks aren’t big enough to generate enough body heat to keep themselves warm. The brooder ensures they have enough heat and light to grow up big and strong. Make sure the brooder stays clean. Young chickens are voracious eaters and they’ll make huge messes in the bottom of their brooder. Make sure you clean it regularly (for us, once a day was just enough).

Third: Feed your chicks

At the early stages of life, chicks need to be fed starter feed, for at least 8 weeks. After the eight week mark, switch them over to grower feed until they turn about 20 weeks old. Then finally, layer feed. You can buy all of these things at your local feed store or, if you’d prefer non-GMO feed (we do!) then you can buy it all here.

Most chicken starter is medicated to prevent coccidiosis — a parasite that can kill young chickens. However, many chicken keepers prefer to avoid medicated feed, as it can increase the parasite’s resistance to drugs over time. And if you’re going for organic certification, you’ll may have to use non-medicated feed. If you do decide to go with all natural feed, which is what we use, then you’ll have to do a little more research. Add diatomaceous earth to your feed and organic apple cider vinegar to the chick’s water. It’ll boost their immune systems, fight the parasites and the DE will help kill the parasites. Make sure they have plenty of clean, fresh water available at all times. (check out Corid (Amprolium) for Chickens)

Fourth/Third: Get your chicken coop ready

Chicken coop designs are as varied as people. Everyone has their own way of doing it.

Basically, you’ll need a place for your chickens to sleep, stay out of the wind, rain and cold. If you want to build your own, here’s some designs on Pinterest.

Make sure your coop is big enough for the number of chicks you have. A good rule of thumb is you’ll need 2 square feet for each bird. Bigger is mostly better, as long as your coop is warm and dry. If you chickens aren’t free range, then you’ll need a run — basically a place for the darlings to run around, socialize and get some exercise. Make sure the run is open to the air, covered to prevent predation from hawks, has shade and grit. (you can check out: best chicken coops here)

Grit is a product that allows birds to digest food. It also supplements their diet with calcium. You can buy it at feed stores, or online. Again, make sure your chickens have free access to water and food. It’ll keep them happier. Happy chickens produce more eggs.

Fifth?: Enjoy your chickens

While you can get tons of eggs from your chickens (average laying rate is two eggs for every three chickens daily), you’ll also get tons of joy from the little darlings. You’ll have to feed and water your chickens every day, but after the novelty wears off, it’s easy to forget to take a little time to just sit and watch them. So whenever you have a free minute, I advise you to go and grab a bucket or foldable chair and just sit and watch your birds. They’re surprising complex animals with a sophisticated social structure (the proverbial pecking order). Bring some treats! Enjoy.

Tips:

Make a fodder system: A fodder system, either purchased or made, can provide supplementary nutrition for your birds. And it gives you a chance to know everything about what your chickens eat.

Here’s a video:

Insulate your coop: If you build your coop, insulate it. The extra effort and expense will keep your birds more comfortable. Comfortable chickens are happy chickens. Happy chickens make more eggs.

Close your flock: Once you get the number of chickens you’re comfortable with, don’t get any more! This is called “closing your flock.” By not introducing new birds into your flock, you prevent disease and infection from coming into your coop. New birds can bring parasites and disease into your flock. If you just have to buy new birds, make sure you quarantine them for at least a few weeks before introducing them into your flock. It goes a long way into keeping your birds healthy. (you can read Backyard Chicken Books for Beginners)

Hugelkultur: Funny word, great idea

Editor’s note: This story and photos are by Cassie Langstraat and a version originally appeared in the latest issue of From Scratch.

Chances are if you are involved in the modern homesteading world, you have heard the term permaculturefloating around. Chances are if youve heard that word, youve heard of hugelkulturas well. Besides being a ridiculously funny word to try to pronounce, the term hugelkultur holds world-changing importance to modern gardeners.

So, whats so darn great about it then? I think it comes down to one thing: water. With a hugelkultur bed, you can eliminate the need for any irrigation or watering system. Boom. Yeah, I said it. Sounds pretty crazy right? But its completely true. Well, after the first year, but still! Give them hugels some credit!

So I guess I should probably tell you what the heck it actually is, eh? Prepare yourself. Its really realllly complex. Psyche! It is literally just buried wood in soil. Thats all it is! So, not only can you save tons and tons of water by setting up one of these hugelkultur beds, but you get to use up any old rotted wood you have lying around, even unwanted twigs and branches.

Before we get into the details on how to build one of these bad boys, I want to give you a little background on hugelkultur. Its a German word. Its been practiced in Eastern European cultures for hundreds of years and its been recently further developed by permaculture gurus, Sepp Holzer and Paul Wheaton. There. When I said little, I meant it.

Now, onto the fun stuff. First, I want to explain how it actually works. Its pretty cool. Basically the hugelkultur beds mimic the natural decaying cycle of the forest floor. As the wood decomposes underneath the soil, its porosity increases so it becomes almost like a sponge. So, it soaks tons of water up, and then slowly releases it back to the plants in the hugel bed over time. Also, because the wood shrinks when it decays, it frees up little air pouches in the soil which enables a little self-tilling situation! How neat?

During the first year or two you will definitely need to water it a bit, but after that it should be completely independent of water. Oh! Another nifty benefit — because everything will be doing its little composting business in the first few years — you will probably get a longer growing season because the soil will be warmed up. In general, the rotted wood will make for a raised garden bed that is incredibly rich with organic material and huge amounts of nutrients.

Speaking of nutrients, lets talk wood. Paul Wheaton makes a really good point in his article, “Hugelkultur: the ultimate raised garden bed. Wood is high on the olcarbon scale. Meaning it will want lots of nitrogen to do its composting business. This could take away from the plants you have in the bed. However, if the wood is already well-rotted, it shouldnt be a problem. So yes, you can definitely use fresh wood you just chopped, even if it isnt rotted, but it could take away from your plants for a while.

While we are on the topic of wood, its pretty important to choose the right type. For example, Black Locust takes ages and ages to rot, so it wouldnt be the best choice. Also black walnut and cherry can be quite toxic so its best to avoid those as well. Good options are alders, apple, cottonwood, poplar, willow, and birch!

hugelkultur

Finally, how do we build one? The cool thing is, a large part of the design and size is entirely up to you. Some people build them on top of sod. Some people dig up a few feet of soil and build them in that. Some build them really tall. Some people build them shorter. Tomato. Tomahhto.

Id say most people that Ive seen build them around 3-4 feet tall and about 3-4 feet wide. Length varies tremendously. However, Paul advocates in his article that the taller the better. He says it holds moisture much longer that way, and you dont have to bend over to plant or harvest.

Bonus! He recommends building it 7 feet tall because it will shrink about a foot.

So, first things first. Lay down the wood. Big logs. Small logs. Twigs. Branches. All of it. If you want, you can add soil in between the layers of wood, it will probably make it much more sturdy that way. Water each layer.

After layering the wood, add the soil on top! Voila, you have a garden!

Finally, it is best to let the hugelkultur bed settle in for a few months before planting. After those few months, plant and mulch your bed!

There can be a lot of variation with these and still, they will be successful. When it comes down to it, yes, they are much more work to set up than just your regular square flat garden bed. But the amount of work it eliminates over the years 1000% makes up for it. Not only for yourself, but for the entire world. Think of how much water we could save if each of us traded our water-hogging flat beds for one of these. Think of how much time and energy we could save with no tilling, and no back-breaking planting and harvesting! Oh did I mention less water makes all of your food taste way better? There really are just no reasons not to jump on the hugelkultur train so get to building one (or 5) right now so you can plant in the spring!