Homestead Roots Newsletter - 2/8/2024

Homestead Roots Newsletter - 2/8/2024

Welcome to our 4th edition of this newsletter. I hope you are finding value and enjoying the content. As always if you have specific questions please don't hesitate to reach out! I feel a bit like a broken record but I just can't get over the weather. Here we are with another string of days in the 50s... in February... in Wisconsin! Just wild. We did tap a few of our maple trees (more below), the sap has been running pretty slow despite the good conditions. We will have enough to do one boil and then hopefully we get another round of sap running in March!

Tapping Maples and Cutting Down Ash

Tapping a few maples

Cutting down the dying ash trees

The big story on the homestead this past week was tapping trees in early February. We only tapped 3 trees in our back yard. Kind of a half hearted effort to be honest. We usually run around 20 taps. As I said above I am hopeful that we will see another cool spell and a string of good sap days in March where we can get everything tapped and have a nice run. The ideal sap running weather is below freezing temps overnight and above freezing during the day. We will see what we get from this early run, so far it has been pretty slow. Our sap cooking setup isn't permanent so it takes some effort to get everything set up, thus the hesitancy to get into things so early!

In other tree related news. I have continued my work clearing out our dying ash trees. It is really transforming the land as we had a lot of them on my parents property between the upper part and the lower part of the property. While it is a bummer to lose the trees we will do our best to take advantage of the wood by saving it for firewood. I also hope to do something productive with the space we are clearing. Maybe some pollinator habitat and in another area I would like to plant some sugar maples for our future generations. The cool thing about this transformation is we have some old photos of the land and it is starting to look like it looked 40-50 years ago. Kind of cool.

Homestead Infrastructure

The start of our barn

Barn progress!

Simple 3 sided carport for storage

The chickens inside their high tunnel.

When we bought our homestead it was a blank canvas. We had a house, a detached garage and the only farm infrastructure was a chicken coop built from pallets. No barn, no pastures, no fencing. For us the location was everything so we were moving on it no matter what but... we have learned a lot in our 10 years here. The clearing of woods and brush and the building of infrastructure has been a huge job for us these past 10 years. If you are in the dreaming/planning phase you definitely need to consider this. Having some buildings, fences and pastures on your property is going to be a huge shortcut to getting your homestead up and running. With that said let's look at some affordable ways to get structure on your homestead.

In the early years of our homestead we made that old coop made from pallets work when we brought home our first chickens. We built the jankiest of fences to keep the birds contained. We were learning as we went. Overtime as our flock grew we knew they needed more space. We experimented with a cattle panel greenhouse set up that worked OK but was still too small. Our work in market gardening opened our eyes to the possibilities of using plastic covered structures. They are cheap, easy to DIY and movable. We now keep our flock in a 14x50 high tunnel that works great. It keeps the wind and weather off the birds and warms up nicely in the winter with sunshine. You can find tunnels pretty affordably online, you can also buy a hoop bender and make your own. I will warn that if you live in a high wind area tunnels need to be built really well to work. We are pretty protected so get away with a lot!

We currently house our ducks in one of those garage logic vinyl covered carports. Someone local listed the frame for 100 bucks. The vinyl was destroyed and he wanted it gone. The boys did most of the work getting the frame up. We then purchased heavy duty vinyl from a local place, built endwalls and it has worked awesome. Total cost for this structure was maybe $300. The vinyl is nice because unlike the greenhouse plastic it doesn't heat up in the summer. So we don't have to vent it so aggressively.

The last building I will mention is the metal carport. We actually have two of these on our property. One is open ended and used for storing our boat and camper, it could easily be converted for animal shelter. I believe we paid about $2500. We then took it a step further when we were planning to have goats and built a barn. This is another metal framed structure. We purchased the structure and roof and then did the end walls and sides ourselves. In hindsight I probably would have paid the extra money to have them finish the structure although it turned out pretty good and we are happy with it! This barn maybe cost us $5500-$6000 dollars. The kicker to these metal structures is that the purchase cost includes them building it. You buy the building and they show up with a crew and build it for you. I have heard a few horror stories on bad craftsmanship but we were very pleased with our builders.

These are some really good and affordable ways to start your homestead. None of the structures on our property are permanent. They are anchored down but not permanent meaning if we wanted to change our plans drastically we have that option. Pole buildings can also be affordable and are a great option. To finish this I would just be prepared for ALL the costs that come with starting a homestead. Raw land gives tons of potential and lots of freedom to build what you want but it also really expensive, time consuming and challenging. You should include all these factors as you make your plans for the future.

Is Earning More the Only Way to Grow Wealth?


When I talk about wealth here I want you to know that I recognize that as a broad term. Some of you when you see that word may have visions of super yachts and mansions. For me that word is simply a reference to having financial independence and good security. As in, not living paycheck to paycheck.

So with that said how do we grow wealth? How do we find ourselves in a position where we have more coming in than going out, and enough to stash some away each month. There are really two main ways to do this, you either need to earn more or you need to spend less. Many of us immediately focus on the earning more... and this can be a great way to build wealth. There are countless ways you can earn more including, side hustles, asking for a raise, getting a new job, working harder, etc. For many people the thought of earning more is completely overwhelming, I get that. As a dad of young kids the idea of putting in more hours or sacrificing stability is hard. So if you want to do the earn more path I would recommend you not sacrifice the well being of your family to make it happen. With all of that said... the challenges around earning more shouldn't shut down the conversation to growing wealth, because there is an alternate path.

Spending less is WAYYYYY easier than earning more.🙂 Not only is it easier it comes with a mountain of side benefits. Here are a few items that most people spend money on... eating out, grocery store processed foods, soda, coffee shop coffee, vacations, stuff we don't need, TOYS, do any of those ring a bell for you? I am here to say almost all of those items actual make our life worse and not better (except maybe vacations). And I am not talking about just from a financial perspective. I am speaking from a quality of life perspective. Bad food, excess sugar, excess clutter. We live in a world of excess, it is killing us and keeping us poor, for the sake of convenience and saving time. I have to think we all recognize this to some degree. Finding a simpler rhythm to your life is the true answer to these questions. The real answer to building wealth and financial security is getting ahold of your spending, getting out of and staying out of debt, and building up your savings and investments with the money you save. 

As a quick example, our family of 5 spent on average $277 per month on groceries in 2023. I budgeted $400 per month for us so we were well under budget. I looked up average grocery spending for a family of 5 in 2023. They listed "thrifty" at $922 per month and "liberal" at $1488 per month. To you maybe this isn't so shocking but I was stunned! The secret is we don't buy any processed foods. Nothing in boxes. Basically no cereal, no snacks, no beverages. I bet 60% of our food budget goes to cheese.🙂 We buy some fruit, we buy milk when our goats aren't in milk, we buy some ice cream for a guilty pleasure, we buy salad in the winter. We do have a cheat and that is raising our own veggies, meat, eggs and dairy for most of the year. That is our way of life. We do have to feed the animals so I should probably factor that in! Bottom line, it is possible to survive without all the stuff in the center of the grocery. Stick to the veggies, the protein and the good healthy carbs and save money and your health!

The Importance of Having a Plan and Succession Planting

Spring salad growing in our high tunnel

Summer tomatoes in the tunnel

We are still working on our garden plan for this next year. The nice weather has us both wanting to be outside and not working and also feeling immense pressure to get our plan done! When building out a garden that you hope to profit from it is so important to have a good plan. Taking the time to create a solid plan means that you don't waste time and energy every day of the summer trying to figure out what’s next. You simply consult your plan and take the next step. It saves a ton of decision fatigue.

A huge part of our planting process is planning succession planting. Almost all of the beds in our garden will have multiple things planted in them over the course of a season. In many cases there will be 3-4 crops going through 1 bed. That is really the only way to make it work on our small scale and it helps us make the most of all our beds. As an example, we might plant radishes in early April for a harvest in early May, we then follow that with salad mix planting that we will harvest in June, after the salad we might do some head lettuce for a harvest in August and then a bed of spinach for harvesting in late September or October. We try to keep beds as full as we can for as long as we can.

This is also an important factor for the home gardener. Many home gardeners do one planting around mother's day and call it good. To build a garden that truly feeds you you should be planting all summer. The lifecycle of salad is short. You need to keep planting it so you can keep eating it! As you make your home garden plan this year think about how you can get more value from your growing space.

Starting to Sell our Veggies

Selling our first tomatoes. September 2013

When we moved back to Wisconsin we knew we wanted to have a garden. My parents had a garden space that we had dabbled in while I was growing up. The space had been a garden long before we moved there. In fact we are still harvesting asparagus that was planted before we moved to the property in 1994. There is no telling how old it is! My parents were happy to let us grow there and we went to work planting, I don't know what we planted to be honest but I know we got a ton of tomatoes! So many that we didn't know what to do with them all. So we set up a table at the end of the driveway and put a sign out on the road. And this was the start of Barlow Roots Market. We would continue selling random leftovers from our garden for 4-5 years before starting to take things more seriously around 2018. The market garden has been a huge driver in our life. It has funded much of the growth in our homestead and helped our family in a number of ways. More on that in the next newsletter.

Thank you for being here! Before I let you go, I did want to briefly address  why money talk is sneaking into this newsletter about homesteading.🙂 When I look at the big picture of self sufficiency, homesteading, quality of life and being well prepared, I have a hard time ignoring the financial side of that. Money whether we like it or not makes the world go round. Did you know that money is mentioned over 2,000 times in the Bible? As a Christian it is my stance that I want to be in control my money and not let my money control me. Having good financial literacy is a huge piece of that puzzle. Having a healthy homestead, farm business, market garden and life here on earth requires us to know what we are doing with our money, hopefully you find value in the details I share.

I hope you enjoyed this weeks newsletter! Don't forget to share us with your friends!