Building a Simple Homestead by Hand

The little guest house on our new homestead where we currently live.

My intentions of keeping up with the blog following our move to South America have fallen flat! Now at the end of 2018, I am attempting to give you a peek into our very eventful year and a half since my last post.

In February (2018), we moved onto our new homestead at the base of the mountains in the Amazon Jungle. We were weary of commuting from town to the country every day. Although lots of infrastructure was not yet established, it was a pleasure to start living on our little piece of paradise!

A scene from our homestead which is blessed with many graceful acai palms.

After purchasing our 24 hectare (60 acres) property in May of 2016, then clearing jungle for a chaco (plot of ground for growing food, usually by hand) and living area, planting many fruit trees, building pasture fence, and setting up our greenhouse, we got really focused on building our little guest house so we could move onto the property. Many visitors from the States (including my parents who visited twice) blessed us by helping, as well as the local community of Believers who often band together for construction projects, and our national friends who sometimes work for us.

Our chaco has grown up and is producing lots of food.

Our lane winds through the pasture at the front of our property, which now has a few acres planted in hard corn and dry-land rice.

A hand-drawn blueprint of our little house.

Our little house in the jungle has two rooms side-by-side, 10’x15’ each, which both open onto an 8’x20’ screened front porch. We cut a tiny composting-toilet bathroom out of one room, and built lofts over both rooms. The biggest room (without the bathroom) serves as our living room, and the loft overhead is our “master bedroom.” The smaller room serves as closet, study, and storage room, and the larger loft overhead is the children’s bedroom. The front porch contains our makeshift kitchen and dining room. As mentioned in my last post, nearly all the lumber used for its construction was cut by hand with a chainsaw from trees on our property.

Altogether, this house is 460 square feet with additional 217 square feet of loft. A temporary open lean-to on one side of the house creates a little more space for laundry and an outdoor shower and second composting toilet. Eight of us crowd the space a bit at times, considering the youngest is almost a teenager! However, our tiny house in Florida unquestionably helped prepare us for this chapter of our lives; by respecting each other’s space and keeping everything tidy (a constant job!), we make out fine.

Same room from the opposite direction.

The living room (rm #1), facing the porch.

The same room facing in from the porch.

A peek into the loft above the living room(the railing is not yet installed).

Our bedroom in the loft.

The closet/storage room (rm #2).

The loft ladder (same room).

The top of the ladder, into the other part of the loft which is the children’s bedroom (yes, there are six twin beds/bunks up there!).

The bed beside the loft railing, with a pull-out bed beneath it.,

The tiny bathroom with the composting toilet.

We are currently building a chicken coop to house more free-ranging laying hens.

Moving into our tiny house meant roughing it for a season with no indoor running water, and without battens to close all the cracks. This is a temporary arrangement until we complete other basic structures such as the shop, barn, and chicken coop. There is too much to do to accomplish all at once, but living on-site speeds up the process. Next year we hope to build our bigger house, which will be around 1,100 square feet with a wrap-around porch. Although still not considered large by US standards, it will be a mansion compared to what we have become accustomed to. This little house will turn into guest quarters.

This is our future house site with the unfinished barn/shop nearby. The room above the shop is a guest room we’ve dubbed “The Upper Room,” and the roof holds the solar panels for our off-grid system.

A glimpse into the “Upper Room.”

Living in this country enables us to realize our desire to live simply, sustainably, and as a family team. We always dreamed of Silver Oak working at home instead of the family splitting up for work and school. Before the Industrial Revolution, which took families away from their small farms and men and women from their families to work away from home, it was normal for families to work together all day, every day, living off the land. In this modern era, we give it little thought when family members go separate directions for work, school, and church activities. However, it was not always that way. Once, life was simpler, not as materialistic, and less of a rat race. That simpler lifestyle is one aspect we really appreciate here.

In spite of this, we see, even in our small town, trends moving toward the “good life.” Many campesinos (small farmers) have moved to town for their children’s education. There is electricity and clean running water in town. That yields pros and cons: life is easier with lights, refrigeration, and good water, but along with them come evils of television and materialism. Children learn to read and write, but lose valuable skills their grandparents took for granted. They trade nutritional homegrown food for pre-packaged empty calories, and children become programmed for entertainment, video games and electrical devices rather than playing and working with their families.

We are trying to use more free fuel (scrap lumber) to save on propane for cooking. Here Blossom grills butternut squash and cooks a delicious soup.

Nevertheless, in the midst of this trend there remains a wealth of knowledge of the old ways and the pace of life is slower and saner than that of Western culture. New skills we are learning produce satisfaction and a stronger sense of preparedness for living sustainably. We rub shoulders regularly with people who do not know the luxury of owning an automobile, using a refrigerator, sleeping on a soft mattress, feeling air conditioning, or enjoying hot showers. This naturally gives us a broader perspective of what “normal” life is like for much of the world.

Our children’s sense of stewardship with time and money has changed since moving here. Most of them would not consider spending money or wasting time on frivolous ventures that do not have lasting value, do not bring a good return, or will not help someone else. In this economy, hard-working employees earn around $20 US a day, so our children think twice before spending. Genuine needs constantly surround us, so they cannot spend lightly. I smile sometimes when their mouths drop open in disbelief at how folks often spend time and money in the States. I am happy to see their concern for others and a willingness to live with less.

Earlier this year Evensong spent a week in the Tabo family’s community, building relationships and getting a better grip on Spanish.

As we grow more food and learn sustainable skills, we naturally spend less money on groceries. It is fun to eat a delicious meal together and realize everything came from our homestead except the salt, garlic and sugar! It is satisfying to eat food we worked hard to grow, or made ourselves. We now grow rice, beans, and hard corn, which provide basic staples. Plantains, a relative of bananas, and yuca (cassava), a starchy tuber used like potatoes, are also basic staple foods that we grow and eat nearly every day. Squash, cucuzzi gourds, green onions, peppers, okra, avocados and tomatoes add creative options to meals. We make ketchup, pasta sauce, vinegars, relishes, corn and/or yuca starch, and jams. Perennial vegetables like chaya, Malabar spinach, cranberry hibiscus, moringa, katuk and purslane provide spinach greens and salads.

Digging yuca and preparing a spot to plant sesame in the chaco.

Little Bird stands neck-high in the dry-land rice which we will begin harvesting next week.

Our three dairy cows provide sufficient milk to raise their young calves and to make yogurt, kefir, sour cream, butter, buttermilk, cream cheese, soft cheese, hard cheese, ricotta, pudding, and sometimes ice cream. Guests love our chocolate cake made with cocoa powder from our cacao (chocolate) trees. We make coconut oil and shred coconut for various desserts. Bananas are plentiful in our chaco, so we eat plenty of them, and share them with the cows, chickens, and even our dogs, who love them! We eat lots of papaya, mangoes, star fruit, pineapple, palm fruits, lemons and other citrus from our homestead or neighboring ones. Our chickens provide eggs and meat, and we frequently butcher a young calf or cow to make charque (thinly sliced meat, salted and sun-dried, similar to jerky) or fill our tiny freezer with hamburger.

Farmer Boy opens cacao pods to make chocolate.

Huge hangers of bananas we harvested from our chaco this week.

When butchering beef, we are learning how to cut it thinly, salt it, and dry it in the sun to make delicious charque (similar to jerky).

We feel rich in wholesome, healthy foods, and are often able to give the surplus of our harvest to others with less, or sell it in town. We still sparingly buy wheat, flour, oats, baking powder, popcorn, coffee, black tea (for kombucha), onions and occasionally pasta, but will soon harvest our very own coffee and small crop of popcorn. We regularly buy sugar, salt, and garlic. Boxed or prepackaged foods have become foreign to us.

We do almost everything on our homestead by hand: clearing, hoeing, planting, harvesting, weeding, digging ponds, and cutting lumber. We use small power tools like chainsaws, circular saws, drills, and a weed-eater, along with machetes, hoes, pruners, and shovels. Our motocar hauls gravel from the riverbed, lumber from the jungle, or loads of bananas to town. We avoid using tractors and large equipment, maintaining lifestyle habits attainable by our neighbors. Expensive equipment unaffordable by the locals would quickly discredit our demonstrations to help them become more sustainable.

Our friend Juan is an expert at cutting lumber with a chainsaw.

The Tabo family who initially helped to clear our living area and our chaco also helped us dig two fish ponds this year.

They used the dirt to complete various other projects, including to build these raised beds and to improve our long lane.

The Tabos also helped to clear another section of jungle to expand our pasture, which we then hoed and hand planted our current crop of rice and corn. This photo was taken a few months ago when they were just coming up.

This motocar is our family vehicle, in this case used to move our belongings out to our new homestead.

We have even learned to wash laundry by hand in the nearby river during dry season when we didn’t get enough water to fill our storage tanks. Washing in this clear sparkling current makes the clothes cleaner and fresher smelling than our automatic washer ever does!

Working together daily as a family is a blessing, but not an automatic ticket to a wonderful life. Rubbing shoulders every day easily brings out the worst in each of us. We need God’s grace regularly, and often working on relationships is as tough as physical work to run a homestead.

Our goal is to use simple and sustainable living to improve the lives of others as a way of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection has made possible the reconciliation of all things (the earth, our bodies, relationships with each other, relationship with Christ, etc) as mentioned in Colossians 1:10. God has led us to pursue and encourage sustainability, and moving to South America has been a huge step in that journey for us. Though we cannot see God’s entire picture, we are content where He has us right now.

A gathering of the extended Tabo family at our house, which of course included a time of singing hymns together. Papa Bartolome stands near the center. We all greatly miss Mama Nancy who passed away earlier this year.

We have enjoyed connecting with some families in nearby Indian villages, in this case admiring a new well drilled by friends of ours.

We still meet for hymn sings, but now in other homes because our little house is just too small.

My family is encouraging me to get back to blogging, so I hope to start posting again, and enjoy hearing from some of you whom I have not connected with for a long time.

A recent shot of our family.

May God bless you with a Happy New Year!

Rose Petal

Note: Our second daughter, Blossom, has been developing her artistic talents and has a few wood-burned pieces and oil paintings available.

If you are interested in knowing more about them, contact me and I will give you more information.

Linked w/ Homestead Blog Hop, Homemaking, and Simple Homestead Blog Hop.

5 thoughts on “Building a Simple Homestead by Hand

  1. Your home and homestead look amazing! I am eager to keep reading about your journey and what life is like in the jungle! Thanks for sharing on the Homestead Blog Hop!


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