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.

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Turning Jungle Into a Homestead

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Our fenced in garden and milk cows in the pasture at SIFAT Internado where we presently live.

Before moving to South America over a year and a half ago, we spent time at ECHO in Florida for training and hands-on experience, preparing for life in this new country. One bit of counsel from several missionaries and development workers was to spend the first year doing mostly nothing but learning to know the people and their ways. It is tempting to start with big plans and ideas, trying to do something great right away, often ending in failure and poor relationships. We tried to follow this advice and spent the first year visiting many people and learning how they do things, from agriculture to cooking, from building houses to making a living, and many other things.

We hoped to buy property for our new homestead within several months of arriving, but God had different plans. Nothing worked out, no matter how hard we tried to find a place suitable and in our budget. We temporarily gave up and determined to focus our attention on people and helping to maintain and improve the grounds here at SIFAT’s boarding house where we are still living.

One day last year we had a local national family over for lunch, and out of the blue the father mentioned a property his friend was trying to sell. His friend needed money for a debt, so he was asking for the actual land value rather than an inflated price, as many were doing. The title was free and clear, an impossible hurdle with many properties.

When we looked at the property it felt like home, similar to when we bought our central Florida property several years ago. A few trusted friends scouted out with us the 24 hectares (60 acres) and found lots of useable lumber, and a few creeks and springs. It was mostly thick jungle backing up to a huge national reserve and mountain range, sloping gradually down to the road, and about 20 minutes from town by motorcycle. Near the front were a few acres already cleared with established pasture. The location seemed perfect, and soon the purchase was made and we owned land!

A sampling of some of the huge trees on our property. Notice Silver Oak standing in front of them.

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This beautiful flower grows along the edge of the established pasture area.

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This brilliantly colored toucan eyed us suspiciously one day as we entered the pasture.

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This lovely creek meanders through the jungle about a third of the way back on our property.

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Many beautiful palms fill our little piece of jungle. Many produce nutrient dense fruit or nuts.

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One day we met this sloth near the front of our property.

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These red and blue macaws sometimes like to come “sing” in a huge tree towering over us while we work.

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We see mountains and beautiful scenery every time we drive to our property.

Looking back we are so glad we could not buy property right away because our perspective of where we wanted to live really changed within that first year. We would have made some big mistakes if we had jumped in and gotten started too soon.

Since the price of the land was about half of what we had budgeted, we used the remaining money to hire help in clearing the land. Someone introduced us to the Tabo family who was looking for work. Bartolome and Nancy have 10 grown children, mostly married with families. Their extended family lost everything in a fire resulting from a land war on the frontier over a year ago. They since moved to our town to start over again. Most of them are followers of Jesus like we are, and they are so grateful for any work we give them and have become good friends. About seven of the men came with machetes and by hand cleared all the underbrush on five hectares (12 acres) of thick jungle. That enabled us to go in and plan our new homestead.

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The underbrushing was done by hand with machetes. Notice the difference between the dense uncleared part and the part that was just cleared. All that remained were trees over 3″ in diameter.

After underbrushing, there were many trees to cut down to clear sites for the house, barn, greenhouse, and most of all, our chaco. A chaco is a small field cleared to grow crops, usually by hand. Our first chaco is about one acre in size, with plans to expand it in future years. Since there are good lumber trees on our property we decided to use them as much as possible rather than buying lumber. Juan and Sandro are two men from the Tabo family who have hand cut most of our lumber by hand with chainsaws.

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Some trees were cut because at 150-200′ tall they would threaten the safety of our future house.

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Lots of trees had to be cut to make our chaco.

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One felled tree being cut into lumber.

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Each section of a lumber tree is split in half.

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Then the section of log is methodically cut into useable lumber using only a chainsaw.

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This is the same tree all cut into boards and stacked to dry under sheets of metal that will eventually be used for the roof of our barn.

We spent many hours working hard to clear land and stack cut lumber before the rainy season started in December. In November we started planting fruit trees and other food crops in earnest to take advantage of the wet months to get them off to a good start.

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We stacked lumber…

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…and more lumber.

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Parts of our jungle were transformed into a lumber yard.

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It all had to be stacked with space around each piece so it could dry correctly, then kept under metal roofing or a canopy like this one that we brought from the States in our container. In this picture you can also see the first metal trusses of our greenhouse when it was being built.

In August and September we kept our promise to go back to the States to visit family and friends that we had not seen for a year. It was encouraging to connect with everyone again, and to make a little money to defray travel expenses. Returning to our little town here, we felt like we had come home; a confirmation we are where God wants us right now.

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Last August this area was cleared for our chaco.

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After visiting the States and returning a few months later, the debris had dried and there was a beautiful blanket of dead leaves and organic matter covering the chaco soil.

On our return we entered a new phase of life here. Our first year was filled with every social event possible, even making some of our own so we could connect with people. We established good friendships and got a decent handle on how things work and how to communicate with those around us. Now we have less time and energy for social life, which has been an adjustment. We have two cows to milk every day and our focus is on developing our new property and some streams of income.

There are some activities that we have kept priority. One is the bi-monthly hymn sings we host at our house, and another is an outreach night at the town plaza twice each month, where we gather with other Believers to pray, pass out Scripture booklets, and sing or play hymns, then often share a Gospel message. Our Sunday trips out to the little country church are less frequent, partly because during rainy season the road is worse and harder to travel, and partly because some local Believers asked to start holding house fellowship meetings a few times each month in our home. We still rub shoulders with lots of people on a daily basis, but spending time away from home or our property has lessened.

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A recent Sunday evening hymn sing in our living room.

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Live instrumental music is rare, so folks love when our children play for hymn sings.

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Gathering with friends from various denominations and cultures to sing hymns in the town plaza. Several people have decided to follow Jesus following our time of singing and sharing.

The past seven months have been full of hard work on our new homestead; building fence around the future pasture, digging swales and making our lane useable, and planting many fruit trees such as cacao (chocolate), citrus, papaya, mango, banana, plantain, starfruit, coffee, coconut, açaí, and other more exotic fruits. We set up the greenhouse that we shipped in our container, the same one we had on our Florida homestead. We stacked and covered lots of lumber that the men cut so it could dry properly, waiting for future construction. We made fodder beds and planted many of the same nutrient dense edible perennials we had in Florida, including chaya, moringa, katuk, mulberry, cranberry hibiscus, okra, and nacidero.

We want our new homestead to reflect the heart of God and His design, as a way to point others to Him and to honor Him as the Creator. Therefore we try to avoid destructive practices that destroy or tear down His creation, but as stewards we prefer methods that preserve and improve what He has entrusted to us. Contrary to popular practice, we have purposed to never use slash and burn methods to clear our chaco, or to till regularly or use chemicals unnecessarily.

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Setting up fodder beds last December.

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Those beds are now producing large amounts of chaya greens and other perennials.

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We put up the same hoop building greenhouse that we had in FL.

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The Lord protected our 20′ shipping container on the ocean, over steep mountain roads, and through delays in customs. There was almost no damage to its contents, which were basic essentials needed to set up a homestead, and of course, our pianos.

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It became an instant secure and stormproof storage shed on our new property.

Numerous well-meaning friends have told us emphatically that we must burn our chaco before planting, or it will be full of weeds and bugs, and plant growth will be stunted. It is common belief that burning increases crop yields and is the only way to effectively clear the land. While burning does kill bugs and weeds and is a relatively easy way to clear land, it also interrupts healthy microbes and balances in the soil, and actually encourages many weed seeds to germinate. It destroys the natural decaying ground cover that regulates soil moisture, temperature, and erosion. Burning often yields a good crop the first year, then less and less over the next few years, forcing campesinos (small-scale farmers) to cut down more trees to clear more land about every three years for a new chaco so they can start over again.

Thankfully development workers around the world have demonstrated that there are better alternatives to slash and burn. So we are quietly growing our chaco “sin fuego,” without fire. It means doing more hard work up front, but adding green mulches will encourage an increase in productivity each year with a gradual decrease in maintenance. The cleared jungle debris and logs were placed in huge piles to burn a little at a time, or to make into future hugelkulture beds (garden beds built with rotting wood).

The lovely blanket of dried decaying jungle leaves and debris in our chaco smothers weeds and keeps the soil moist and cool in the baking hot sun. This decaying matter protects the soil from erosion in heavy downpours, and is slowly building the soil. We can’t imagine how bare, hot, and dry our chaco soil would be with that natural blanket burned off.

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This is our new chaco soon after clearing the jungle last August. Notice the tall tree to the right.

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The same tall tree is in the right corner of this photo, taken eight months later, after the land was given time to rest, and our newly planted trees had five months of growth. No burning was done, leaving a nice blanket of leaves and organic matter as a covering.

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Again, see the same tree on a recent photo, eight months after planting our tiny young trees.

Thanks to teaching from ECHO and other permaculture proponents, we are inter-planting various green mulches and manures with our fruit trees, such as velvet beans, lab lab beans, cow peas, pigeon peas, jack beans, and perennial peanut. These are nitrogen fixing legumes that build the soil nutrients and deter weeds with their thick vines. They also provide food and fodder for our family and animals.

Interestingly enough, God has blessed our trees and perennial plants, which have grown very rapidly the past seven months. Although we spend time once a month or so pulling weeds that sneak up, weeds and bugs have not been a major problem yet. We recently visited a friend who cleared and planted a new chaco last year using the slash and burn method, about the same time we cleared and planted ours. We noticed his trees were smaller than ours, and his weeds much thicker and higher. Other burned chacos we have visited were chock full of weeds too. So far the only benefit we’ve seen to burning is the ease and speed of initial clearing of land. But in the long run, it doesn’t seem worth it.

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Banana trees, pigeon peas, yard-long beans, cowpeas, papaya, sweet potato, and yucca (cassava) are visible in this February photo of our unburned chaco.

One crop we spent lots of time planting in the beginning is yucca, known in many countries as cassava. It is a starchy tuber used as a basic staple here, in addition to rice and plantains (large green or yellow bananas). We planted many rows of starts between our banana and other fruit trees back in November. Sure enough, soon there were rows of little green yucca shoots coming up all over our chaco. In our busyness we failed to notice that gradually the little shoots were disappearing, till suddenly we realized too late that something had gone very wrong. Asking several local campesinos for advice, we were told that they may have been eaten by leaf cutter ants, which is a big problem here. There was also evidence that small deer were rooting around and cleaned out some of it. Since we are not yet living on our property, it is difficult to determine the culprit.

Leaf cutter ants have attacked some of our citrus trees and taken a special liking to cranberry hibiscus, carrying off whole bushes full of leaves overnight. To deter them we learned from our Tabo friends to cut the tops and bottoms off two liter bottles and slip the center plastic part around the base of each small tree or bush, making it more difficult for the ants to reach the leaves. We are experimenting with other methods as well, but as long as we don’t live nearby it could be a losing battle.

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Leaf cutter ants in action, carrying pieces of leaves back to their colony.

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One of the many citrus trees we planted in our chaco, with a plastic bottle around the base to deter leaf cutters and other pests.

We are tired of traveling back and forth from town to our property and not being present to protect our chaco. In April we started seriously building our little guest house to live in temporarily while building our bigger house and the rest of the homestead. This little cabin is at the edge of the jungle, near our chaco and a quick walk from the greenhouse and our future house and barn. It is a simple 15’ x 20’ two-room cabin with a tiny bathroom and a front porch. Each room has a loft, useful for storage and additional sleeping quarters. It will be a challenging adventure for our family of eight to live in this tiny house for a time, but we look forward to progressing more quickly on the rest of the homestead as soon as we can make this move.

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All lumber used, with the exception of the foundation posts and beams, were hand cut with a simple chainsaw from trees growing on our homestead.

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The foundation posts are cuchi which is termite proof, lasting over 100 years in the ground.

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Contrasting with lumber in the States, these 2x4s and 2x6s are cut to actual size.

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This shows the unfinished porch and front of the house, while working on the siding. We’ve been blessed by several groups of friends from the States and locally helping out from time to time.

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The back corner of the little house, with framing for the front porch just begun.

I do hope to be back sooner than last time to share progress with the construction of this little guest house and other homestead projects.

To make sure you receive future posts about life in the Southern Hemisphere on our new site click here, or sign up in the column on the right. If you already receive email notices about our blogposts, you will continue to receive them and do NOT need to sign up again.

Blessings,

Rose Petal

Note: My appreciation to Silver Oak for editing and critiquing this post.

Linked w/The Art of Homemaking, Homestead Blog Hop, Homemaking, Simple Homestead Blog Hop, and Simple Saturdays.

Tropics and Mountains

The second story of this building is our "house."

We arrived at this little tropical town in the Amazon Basin jungle on October 20, exactly four years to the day after moving onto our Florida off-grid homestead in 2011. Little did we know then the Lord would be moving us so soon. Living off the grid in a tiny house, growing sugarcane and perennial vegetables, making soap and meals from seasonal produce, learning to thrive with less…all were preparing us for this season of life. So far the adjustment to this new country has been relatively smooth.

We are temporarily living in the second story of an old boarding school, owned by SIFAT, the faith-based organization we are partnering with to set up a demonstration sustainable homestead. We’re helping maintain the grounds and improve fencing and places for guests to stay. SIFAT owns another property of 50 hectares (125 acres) in the country where we hope to help demonstrate rotational grazing of cattle. We are looking to purchase land for our own homestead to be available for teaching sustainable agriculture techniques.

We live at the far end of this lane.

Our neighbor's house on the other side of the lane.

Grass grows fast in the rainy season, requiring hours of weed-eating each week.

Silver Oak and Farmer Boy install new gates on the SIFAT property.

This river runs through the jungle on the SIFAT property.

The language difference is diminishing as we learn to communicate in Spanish and get around on our own, making necessary purchases and arrangements. A room below us is rented out for sewing classes, bringing interesting people to us. We trust a growing number of merchants and small shops in town to give us fair prices on groceries and other items. In our search for land we meet other campesinos (small farmers) with experience living off the land. The small country church we attend has preaching and singing in Spanish, attended by a mixture of nationals and Gringos (white folks like us) who have lived here many years.

These sewing class girls came back to practice painting and English with Blossom and Evensong.

Exchanging English and Spanish lessons with Rossmary, a teacher who lives at SIFAT.

Silver Oak and Farmer Boy help with a house raising; all lumber used was from the land cut free-hand with a chainsaw.

Since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, we celebrated at the little country church with other Gringos. This building is also made with hand-cut lumber.

Playing volleyball after church and the fellowship meal on Sunday.

We’ve started plants to prepare for our homestead, as well to provide food for us now, or that will benefit the compound here. We planted a small herb garden, and are clearing an old garden space to plant annual vegetables. The chicks we purchased are growing and should start laying eggs in about two months.

Clearing an abandoned and overgrown garden plot created by a former ECHO intern at SIFAT.

Hoeing the beds in the same plot to prepare to plant veggies that will grow during the rainy season.

The young herb garden we planted around the front steps leading up to our house.

Finding good soil near the front gate to prepare pots for young moringa and mulberry trees.

A new hedge of chaya we planted from cuttings; soon to be animal fodder and nutrient dense spinach substitute for us.

Our flock of young fancy criollo chickens who will hopefully soon be providing us with eggs.

Pods from the cacao trees on this property.

Friends with dairy cows come into town every week and deliver raw milk, cheese, cream, and butter to our door. We feel pretty spoiled about that, but realize soon we will once again have our own dairy goats and possibly a cow. Eggs are delivered weekly by old colony Mennonite friends an hour away. We also enjoy mangos, limes, figs, bananas, coconuts and lots of star fruit growing here on this property. Blossom has been experimenting with making chocolate from cacao beans, as well as our own coconut oil.

Our grocery list is really simple, hopefully getting shorter and shorter as we grow our own. Here is the typical weekly list:

Tomatoes
Cucumbers
Cabbage
Plantains (big green bananas)
Yucca (cassava root)
Bananas (if we don’t have any)
Carrots
Onions
Garlic
Squash
Flour (till our grain mill arrives in our container)
Cornmeal
Popcorn
Lentils
Raw sugar
Salt
Occasionally we buy a whole chicken (including feet and head) from local farmers. It’s amazing the delicious meals coming from such a basic list. We buy rice in larger quantities and eat lots of it. Numerous friends grow their own, which we hope to do once we get land.

This beautiful farm is owned by friends we buy butter from.

These girls from the other end of our lane sold us cane juice from sugarcane grown on their land out in the country.

Their family lives in this house in town so they can go to school. Notice the cacao beans drying in the sun.

Transportation has been an adjustment, although not difficult. With our vehicle budget we purchased three motorcycles, and a family sized three-wheeled motocar. At first we borrowed a pick-up truck, and soon learned that the rough roads are very hard on vehicles, and it is slow going. The townspeople use mostly motorcycles (called motos), and for good reason. It’s common to see whole families on one moto, with three or four little children stuck in between and in front of their mama and daddy. Our motocar is useful for the farm, to sell produce in town, and offer rides to others going where we are. Distance travel is much more cost effective in a low cost taxi or bus. The hardest thing about motorcycles was teaching this middle-aged woman to ride, proving quite nerve racking at first. Now I’m actually enjoying it.

Our family vehicle, a red three wheeled motocar.

Silver Oak added a roof for rainy season.

We encountered a tree across the road one Sunday on our way home from church after a windy rain. This time we were prepared with an ax...

...because the first time it happened Silver Oak had to saw the tree with his Leatherman Wave.

Another time it happened with a huge tree way out in the country and we borrowed a chain saw from a nearby friend. A taxi load of guys helped remove the debris so we could all pass through.

With the motocar we helped deliver five huge bags of rice to town for our friend Ramon on our way home from church one evening. He grew it in his rice chaco (field).

Silver Oak and I went three hours to the next big town on his moto one day. We had to cross this river on a ferry.

Here's an example of a family of four on one moto.

And here's a family of five...the mother is holding a baby on her other arm. Could you call this "moto-pooling?" At any rate, the fuel emmissions rate per person is rather low around here.

The worst thing here is chiggers! They make awful itchy bites, in most perturbing places! We had them in Florida till we got guinea fowl who ate them up. Eight young guineas are ordered from a neighboring farmer as soon as they are old enough. We hope to rid ourselves of this malady soon! We’ve learned to manage with rubbing alcohol and ionic silver, greatly easing the bites when used daily. Mosquitoes are not as bad as in Florida, especially closer to the mountains. There are calm bug-eating tarantulas, not dangerous as we grew up believing. Cockroaches are the same as in Florida, but more sluggish. There is a huge creepy type of roach which I loathe, fairly easy to kill and not as common.

The weather is warm, but the nearby mountains usually bring coolness at night and even chilly air with rain, even in the middle of summer, which is the current season here. When we first arrived it was the end of dry season, and terribly hot and dusty for a few weeks. Since then it has been much more pleasant than Florida summers, for which we are thankful.

Mountains on our way to church.

Near the SIFAT land.

The winding road through the jungle.

Besides the new friends who’ve made us feel so welcome here, I love most the breathtaking scenery of the jungle and mountains, clear rocky rivers and streams, bright blue sky, huge butterflies, large colorful birds, and the vivid green meadows. So far it feels like home!

This rocky mountain stream runs through a friend's property.

Before snapping this picture a flock of bright red and blue macaws flew noisily from one far tall tree to another.

A winding country creek.

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Blessings,

A Week at ECHO

Note: My appreciation to Silver Oak for editing and critiquing this post.

PS. Enjoy the following scenes captured locally, as well as from a recent trip to the big city in the mountains.

Linked w/The Art of Homemaking, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, From the Farm Blog Hop, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.

Enjoying the creek in Ms. Fannie's yard.

Ms. Fannie's quaint little cottage.

Another friend's gate

Mountains and river

Traveling through the mountains at dusk

A steep mountain road with a river in the canyon far below

Mountains and blue, blue sky

A Week at ECHO

Evensong carefully hoes around the tiny moringa seedlings at ECHO

Finding solutions for sustainable living to benefit people around the world to bring glory to Christ; that is what ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) is all about. Our whole family was privileged to spend a week of independent study at their global farm and training center in Fort Myers a few weeks ago, as preparation for our upcoming move to South America. We’d already learned so much from them that we have tried to implement here on our off grid homestead. The week spent there was such a boost!

We came to appreciate the wealth of information and resources in ECHO’s library.  One could spend weeks or months in that building alone! But much of our time there was spent hands-on.  The first afternoon we joined the interns for a workshop about making and using a biogas digester to produce methane gas from manure.  This process captures the methane gas produced by the breakdown of the manure, so it can be used as fuel rather than be released into the atmosphere.  We enjoyed chai tea made on a burner fueled by methane they had produced from cow manure. The residue will become fertilizer, so nothing is wasted. We are hoping to try this in South America as an alternative to propane.

The biogas digester is made of 55 gallon barrels; an inner-tube indicates the volume of gas.

Making tea on the methane-burning stove.

We helped with various work projects on the ECHO farm. Dr. Motis set up a test plot for moringa, experimenting with various companion plants to determine the best results. The tiny moringa seedlings were only a few inches high, and so were the weeds that had sprung up. We gently weeded the plot with hoes, careful to not trample or hoe the tender seedlings. It took us parts of two days, but it was satisfying to make a difference. We eagerly await the test results to apply on our new homestead in South America.

Weeding the moringa patch. Next time we visit we hope to see a small forest of moringa trees.

A tiny moringa seedling.

Sometimes we split up and helped the 10 interns with various jobs. Silver Oak helped repair some irrigation, some of us did more weeding or watering, others helped plant sweet potatoes and banana trees and harvest black sapote (a delicious tropical fruit tasting like chocolate pudding) and tropical lettuce seeds. There was always plenty to do, and we enjoyed learning to know the interns and staff we worked with. Most of them have already lived in a foreign country, or are planning to use their skills somewhere abroad in the near future.

Butterfly helps clean water bowls for the ducks by the duck and talapia pond

Farmer Boy and Silver Oak help remove dry vetiver grass mulch before leveling the beds in the lowlands area

Little Bird and Evensong help harvest black sapote on the "mountain."

Honey Bun removes seed heads from tropical lettuce for the seed bank.

Later, after a winnowing process, Farmer Boy and Blossom help sort the seeds for packaging.

One highlight was participating in the sugarcane harvest. It was interesting to see the variations in the process differing from how we have done ours. They have a different variety of cane, which drops most of its leaves before harvest, saving the step of stripping the canes. However, the bare canes were mildewed, so they were pressure washed and dried before squeezing the juice, which is a step we have never done. Their old-fashioned press is designed to be mule-powered, but in the absence of a mule it was powered by interns and volunteers.

Pressure washing and drying the canes.

The people-powered cane press

Evensong and Blossom help feed canes into the press.

Cooking the cane juice to make syrup

Another highlight that day was preparing lunch for the crew. We thought it would be fun to make a meal using things growing on the farm, so we gathered leafy greens and edible perennials, eggplant, squash, and a few edible weeds and flowers for the event. The interns had to slaughter a few ducks to lower the male population on their pond, so we added duck to the pot, which was delicious! On the menu was a tossed salad, veggie (and duck) topping over brown rice, sour dough bread, corn bread, cane syrup (for the breads), kefir kraut, and apple crisp for desert. We also made lemonade with freshly picked lemons, and ice tea made from lemongrass, spearmint, and ginger leaves, sweetened with raw sugar and cane syrup. We had a great time preparing and eating it, and learning to know the interns a bit better.

Picking malabar spinach for the special meal.

Slaughtering the ducks.

The whole family helped prepare various greens for the salad and rice topping.

Intern ladies go through the food line.

Farmer Boy displays his plate of food.

Ingredients from the farm.

After lunch the syrup was bottled.

The result of all the hard work. Yum!

It was a huge blessing to consult with staff about the work in South America. Tim and Brad gave tons of good advice about planning the infrastructure of a sustainable farm, and various ways to have mutually benefiting relationships with interns and others who help. Holly helped us determine how to best transport seeds, and the process we must go through. Craig instructed and answered many questions about cooking with rocket stoves and ovens, as well as solar dehydrators. There is so much to learn!

ECHO's example of a terraced hillside which we may need to implement in South America.

Posing with our new friends the last day.

Now we continue preparing to move, and wait to finalize a contract with a neighboring organization for the sale of our property. We appreciate your prayers for wisdom and timing.

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Blessings,

Off Grid Homestead For Sale!

Note:  My appreciation to Silver Oak for editing and critiquing this post.

Linked w/The Art of Homemaking, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, From the Farm Blog Hop, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.

Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Evensong samples a bit of cane freshly harvested from our own sugarcane patch!

It started as a thought several years ago, as we visited various historical museums in Florida and occasionally tasted the sweet syrup of sugarcane.  If it grows easily in Florida, and can be processed with fairly simple techniques, could we grow it on our little off grid homestead and make our own cane syrup?  Producing this nutrient rich sweetener would be one more step toward becoming sustainable, and something we could use to bless others.  Maybe, in time, it could become a stream of income to further accomplish Silver Oak’s goal of working fulltime with the family.  But how do you start something you know nothing about?  When an idea comes from the Lord, He works out details if we faithfully do our part.  “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Prov. 3:6

Here is the story as it has unfolded so far…

We watched cane juice being cooked down into syrup and asked lots of questions at the Sugarcane Festival at Crowley Museum. This is when Farmer Boy was six and Little Bird was seven (they are now eight and ten).

The old fashioned cane press at Crowley, usually powered by a horse or mule.

A horse is pulling the beam here, partially hidden behind the cracker cows.

Sometimes people can power the press instead of a horse, like some of our kiddos had the privilege of doing for a short time at a museum almost three years ago.

Then they sampled the sweet watery liquid that had just been pressed.

Here is a similar cane press we saw at the historic Dudley Farm near Gainesville.

This is Dudley’s huge old kettle to boil the cane juice down into syrup. A fire is built underneath to heat it. That is seriously off the grid.

Dudley’s processing shed where the syrup was bottled.

One year my Grandpa (98 yrs old) accompanied us to Crowley, and again we watched sugarcane processing. By the way, Grandpa went to be with the Lord this year only two weeks before his 100th birthday, and we miss running things past him about the old days.

Two years ago we were at Crowley Museum for their Sugarcane Harvest Festival and met the kindly gentleman in charge of the cane syrup demonstration.  Mr. H let us sample his cane syrup, which is sweet like maple syrup but with a bit of a molasses flavor. He seemed glad to see a family from a younger generation genuinely interested in the process. We gratefully listened to his explanations about growing and processing cane the old fashioned way, and purchased a bottle of his syrup.  We were amazed to discover that he and his wife live only about ten minutes from us!

After visiting the many other artisans and re-enactors at the event, we prepared to leave for home at the end of the day and again met Mr. H.  He had about a dozen potted sugarcane plants he hadn’t sold and didn’t want to take back home, and wondered if we would take them.  We were more than happy to take them off his hands. It felt like more than just a chance meeting.

These are the cane plants Mr. H gave us…the beginning of sugarcane at our homestead.

At Mr. H’s instruction we cut the mature canes out of each pot, and divided them into pieces to propagate more cane plants.

We cut between the joints, making each piece around 18″ long.

We filled more pots with sand and composted soil, and the younger kiddos pushed the canes into the soil. Each joint in the soil can grow roots, starting a new plant! How easy is that?

Mr. H’s generous gift of 12 potted plants was immediately multiplied. Those plants grew in the pots all winter and spring until May when we finally put them into the ground (a little late, but it still worked).

One rainy Saturday afternoon while the big girls were cleaning and cooking, Silver Oak and I separated each rooted cane and planted around 85 sugarcane plants in two long rows with a trench between for irrigation. In a matter of months, with a little effort, the plants had multiplied times seven!

We finally got all those baby sugarcane plants in the ground.

Farmer Boy enjoyed being the official sugarcane waterer because it meant he got to drive our little John Deere mower pulling the trailer with the tank of water out to irrigate the plants.

Sugarcane grows in warm weather and the sugar in the canes turns sweet in the cooler months.  If there is a hard freeze, the canes will freeze and their sugars will sour if not harvested and pressed immediately.  We harvested our small plot of cane in December of last year (2013) in time to join Mr. H for his first cane pressing of the year, which is a traditional social event for the old-time Floridians.  The cane was all pressed and cooked for hours in his huge boiler.  While we waited for the syrup to be ready, we ate lunch provided by sweet Mrs. H, and enjoyed learning to know more true Southerners at the event.

When the first hard freeze was predicted earlier than expected, Mr. H called for emergency assistance with the second half of his harvest.  Silver Oak and the older girls dropped everything and went to help.

Mr. H expected to lose part of his crop because of lack of time.  But everyone worked like mad and got all the cane cut before nightfall, saving the entire harvest!  The next day it had to be pressed and boiled down.  It was a privilege to be a part of this effort, working together in community.  We are getting free education in sugarcane production and gaining new friends, and they are getting help when needed.

Mr. H has a newer cane press that is geared to be engine-powered. His dad’s old hunting truck is parked nearby to power it.

Here’s another picture of the old gray “beast” that runs it.

Mr. H (right) chats with Evensong and Silver Oak while the cane juice is boiled down into syrup in his 60 gallon cast iron pot with a propane burner underneath.

Sixty gallons of freshly squeezed cane juice will yield 6-8 gallons of cane syrup. Near the end of the process it starts rising and falling, then for about ten minutes large bubbles rise to the surface and pop as it thickens. Then it is ready to be bottled and kept without refrigeration.

This is the extent of our first year’s harvest, with the old leaves and green tops still on the canes.

Mr. H demonstrates how to cut the dead leaves off before harvesting, which is quicker and easier, so we would know for next time.

Mr. H’s homemade tool he uses to “clean” the leaves off the standing cane.

Honey Bun feeds one of our canes into Mr. H’s smaller cane press, which is the kind used with horse power. This one is mounted on an old wagon and powered by a gas motor.

A closer look…cane syrup runs out into a large pot.

Farmer Boy feeds in a cane.

Our small first harvest (2013) resulted in less than two gallons of cane juice, which we decided to drink raw for its great health benefits rather than make it into a tiny amount of syrup.

Meanwhile, the big pot of syrup was finished and we watched them strain it through cheesecloth before bottling.

And then sampled the taffy left on the sides of the empty pot.

Farmer Boy displays the green tops that were cut off our first harvest before pressing.

We planted all the tops in pots just as we had the year before, but this time it was tops from plants we grew.

By mid-April this year (2014) they were ready to be taken out to plant in the field, expanding our sugarcane patch.

This time we planted them with lots of horse manure, and by October it was thick and towered way over our heads.

Mr. H’s first harvest this season was December 5, so after Silver Oak and some of the children helped with his harvest, they came home and harvested ours.

First, Silver Oak cleans the cane (whacks off dead leaves by sliding his machete downward along each stalk)…

…then Farmer Boy cuts off the stalk (cane) at the ground.

Evensong picks up the cut canes.

Blossom finishes cleaning the canes and chops off the green tops.

Little Bird brings more canes for the big girls to process.

The cleaned canes are loaded into the truck bed to haul to Mr. H’s the next day.

They’re bad to the bone!

Totally bad! But next time maybe he’ll make a lighter wooden cane cleaner like Mr. H’s, because when the long harvesting day was over his wrist was swollen from swinging that heavy machete so long and hard.

The next morning we hauled the nearly full bed of canes and two tanks of propane to Mr. H’s for the cane grinding. Cheyenne went along to visit the place of her birth, because we got her as a pup from Mr. H earlier this year.

The motor for the smaller cane press wouldn’t cooperate this time, so we got to use the big press after Mr. H’s cane was done.

This year we pressed about 16 gallons of juice from our cane, up from less than two gallons last year! It was enough to make our own little batch of cane syrup!

While Mr. H boiled his cane juice in his huge 60 gallon pot, we boiled ours in his smaller pot over a homemade propane burner.

The thing to do while it’s boiling for hours and hours is chew on some cane, as well as listen to Mr. H’s buddies tell wild stories of their growin’ up years. Of course there was another great pot-luck lunch, true Southern style.

Even Cheyenne chewed on cane.

Our syrup is almost ready!

Our syrup is strained through cheesecloth.

Back home Silver Oak proudly bottles the cooled syrup he has been dreaming of.

Almost eight quarts of syrup!

Blossom can’t help but pose proudly with the fruit of her labors.

From the farm to the table…on some of Blossom’s delicious whole grain sourdough bread!

On Monday it was back at it, cutting the green leaves off the tops for fodder for the goats.

Little Bird and Farmer Boy push the tops into potted soil to start more new plants…the multiplication process begins again!

Sixty pots of new plants will grow in the greenhouse till spring when we plant them out, once again expanding the size of our sugarcane patch. How big will next year’s harvest be?

The Lord gives seemingly insignificant gifts as part of our lives every day.  What have we been given that He desires to generously multiply and bless us with, if we are faithful to do our small part?  The sugarcane example is a picture of the nature and character of our loving Heavenly Father.  May we be alert and faithful to “small things” He want us to do right now that will reap an abundant future harvest, either here on earth or in eternity.

Oooooh…It’s fine!

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Blessings,

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt V

Silver Oak and Farmer Boy lay up new brick housing for our pitcher pump

This fifth in a series explains a few more reasons why our lifestyle has been a dream in the making…a dream all eight of us embrace and love. Sometimes we tire of it, like when it is mercilessly hot and muggy and we’re dressing up to go somewhere “civilized,” or there is not enough room in our comfy tiny house for many guests at once. But those whiny thoughts usually don’t last long, especially when we visit town and see the alternatives. And our lifestyle is built on something that goes much deeper than preferences and interests.

Mission and Ministry

Wherever Jesus went, He relieved suffering, healed sickness, and met genuine needs. This drew many people to Him, with ears that were eager to hear. He did not go around trying to convince people, working hard to convert them, or do entertaining shows to attract them, but He compassionately served and cared for them. Many readily opened their hearts and followed Him, hungry to know Him.  He did not ignore their physical and emotional needs, or tell them to think only of their eternal destiny.

Jesus’ example really challenges us. He spoke through words AND deeds. How has He called our family to meet needs that will show Jesus to others? We are still trying to fully grasp that idea, asking the Lord to clarify His calling. We are perhaps a little slow in getting this, but we have had a sense of Him calling to do what we’re doing on our off-grid homestead, not always totally understanding why. Why would He want us to spend so much time on “temporal” things like growing our own food, living more simply, and learning practical skills? What is His eternal plan for us living this off-grid lifestyle?  Is it the same reason He spent so much time on earth meeting physical needs, especially of the poor?

As we sweated to clear the driveway back to our home site three years ago, doing lots of hard work by hand, we wondered if God was preparing us for something else in the unseen future. What did He really have in mind for us as we built this homestead?

Our winding driveway through the woods that we cleared three years ago

We have felt a burden and desire to encourage and challenge Believers, and shine the light of Christ to unbelievers. Those are some of the main purposes for this blog, as well as to record our journey for our children’s sakes. It is an attempt to call others to examine accepted American ways of thinking, to discern what is profitable and what is not.

One of Silver Oak’s portable chicken houses sits in the shadow of our trusty windmill which keeps the tanks on our roof filled with water from our well

Our children are being prepared to serve wherever God calls them. They are not scared at the prospect of not always having hot showers or running water. And although we desire to have our children always around us, we know God may call them elsewhere. We want them to be prepared for the work God has for them, to be His witnesses. The whole point of having and raising children is to glorify God and make Him known.

Meanwhile our family’s desire is to be missionaries wherever we are. How can we meet needs and relieve suffering for the sake of making Christ known? In the US many suffer from ignorance of what commercial “fake” foods are doing to their bodies. In other countries physical suffering may be caused by poverty or other hardships. Here in America, with all our material abundance, the breakdown of the family unit causes much emotional and spiritual suffering. Families in other countries are torn apart by poverty, oppression, sickness and disease. Here and abroad there are physical and emotional needs that can be met in the Name of Jesus to bring glory to Him, although folks in our prosperous country tend to be less open.

The front of our tiny house and red shed, fenced in with young perennial and annual garden beds

ECHO is a Christ-honoring organization with a vision for relieving suffering by providing agricultural and appropriate technology training (using available resources) to Christian development workers in many countries.  We have been very blessed by all we have learned on their global farm in Ft Myers, FL.  In November we look forward to attending their International Agricultural Conference to learn more.

Evensong’s rabbit hutches and greens grown for the rabbits to eat, including spanish needle, garlic chives, cranberry hibiscus, moringa, perennial peanut, papaya, and cassava.

SIFAT (Servants in Faith and Technology) is a mission organization with a similar vision. The founder of ECHO helped them establish a training center in Alabama that prepares Believers to share Jesus through meeting basic needs around the world. We’ve been greatly challenged by the journey of the Corson family, founders of SIFAT, who moved to the jungles of Bolivia years ago, and realized the people in their village needed more than spiritual nourishment.  We’ve read their experiences of sharing Christ through living simply with the people, using appropriate technologies to help alleviate suffering. Their books, Risking Everything and Glimpses of God in the Lives of the Poor, are inspirational reads for the whole family! They can be purchased here.

Intensive food forest gardening and sustainable agriculture can be powerful tools to make Christ known, here in America or elsewhere, if done by the leading of the Holy Spirit. An intact family working together, demonstrating the basic arts of growing and preserving, living abundantly within our means, practicing skills that in a crisis could bless those dependent on “the system”…all can be part of the work of Christ.

A small food forest featuring fig, lemon grass, sweet potato, edible hibiscus, cranberry hibiscus, and roselle

The back of our bioshelter which is being set up for intensive gardening with edible perennials and annuals

Several days ago we were dripping with sweat (yes, it was still hot here) as we all unloaded a few tons of mulch on our fodder beds. It was miserable and we were exhausted when we remembered why we were doing it: not just to nourish our own fodder beds, but to help someone else learn to grow fodder for their livestock to provide needed nutrition…and share the love of Jesus!

A freshly mulched fodder bed with roselle, chaya, and perennial peanut

A newer fodder bed with young katuk plants and some sweet potato

When we see our lifestyle in this light, it gives a much richer meaning to what we are doing. It is our prayer that our focus would be first and foremost on God’s eternal purpose for leading us into this off-grid life…that it will make a difference for eternity.

Join us next time for the final post in this series.  (Click here for previous posts: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.)

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Blessings,

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt IV

Photo credit:  A friend of ours (MW) was visiting and very kindly took many of the pictures on this post to help me out.  Thanks!  🙂

Note:  Credit must be given to Silver Oak for editing, critiquing, commenting on, and offering Scripture for what is written.  This is his vision (shared by me), and he blesses me for taking time to write it down, freeing him to answer the many projects calling his name “out there.”

Linked w/Natural Living Mama, Barn Hop, The Art of Homemaking, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, From the Farm Blog Hop, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt IV

Luffa gourd growing on our north fence

Our faith in Jesus Christ and His Word is foundational to all we do.  It has resulted in our choice of this lifestyle, influenced by early impressions shaping our world view, our decision to live debt-free, and protecting family values. Another draw for us is appreciating and desiring to learn long-lost basic skills our ancestors grew up taking for granted.  These reasons are only meaningful to us because of personally knowing Jesus and living out the dreams and visions He gives us.

Simple Living and Sustainable Life Skills

How many young (and not-so-young) people today are experts in social media and computer games, but clueless about the origin of eggs in an omelet (the Easter bunny, the store, a rooster)? Most live in a fake world with imitation foods and flavors (carcinogens rather than nutrition), polyester clothes, and silk flowers; synthetic leather, wood, stone, brick, precious metals and gems; imaginary money, manufactured entertainment, fake hair and skin tones, lots of fairytales (the media), and revisionist history; a false sense of security (“life will always be like this”) and good health (drugs masking symptoms), and no idea where they are going or where they really came from (monkeys?). Totally sheltered from real life, they are clueless about many simple things that used to be common knowledge.  This fake “reality” can negatively affect our understanding of God and how we make decisions.

When the USSR came apart 23 years ago, Cuba, a trading partner, was suddenly cut off from fuel, medicine, and machine parts. Like most nations, Cuba had sacrificed local food production for commercial agriculture, depending on systems that have proven to be very vulnerable to such shifts in politics. Lowly gardeners and landscapers suddenly became sought after and highly valued. Those dependent on modern systems were in for desperate times. Most remembered too late that the basics are essential to survival.

Assorted greens picked from our edible landscaping beds for the evening dinner salad

Farmer Boy enjoys his flock of laying hens

One thing we have noticed about basic sustainable skills…children LOVE them. They get excited about animal husbandry, gardening, blacksmithing, basket weaving, herbal remedies, knitting, cooking from scratch (especially if they grew the ingredients), preserving food, building, sewing, and soap making. Especially when we do it with them!

How many younger children talk about the soap in their shower? Ours do. They think our soap is really cool because they had a part in making it. They love drinking kefir for breakfast made with raw milk from our own cow or goats. They take pride in wearing scarves or caps they made themselves, or healing an infection or soothing a wasp sting with medicinal plants in our yard.

A new batch of tallow soap just cut into bars

Evensong makes her first herbal liver cleanse tincture

Blossom loves knitting and crocheting beautiful caps, scarves, and other practical items

This can all be practiced living ON the grid as well as off. Nevertheless, being off the grid may better fit the mindset and discourages dependency. We are not against modern conveniences, but resist being dependent on them. And of course tinkering with our off-grid systems and home-crafted goods takes time, which we prefer spending at home with the family over being absent to pay for more costly systems or store-bought goods that don’t have to be tinkered with.

About 65% of what Evensong’s rabbits eat is grown here on the homestead

Living Close to the Land

Another driving influence in our lifestyle is living close to the land. Someone once said something like, “The farther a man lives from the land, the less rationally he thinks.” I’ve probably misquoted them, but the general meaning remains (if you know who said that, please share).   We think folks in Washington would benefit us all by taking that idea to heart.  🙂  Furthermore, is it safe to say that the closer a man lives to the land, the more rationally he thinks, or the easier he can understand the ways of God?

There is something therapeutic (and down to earth, ha, ha!) about working in the soil; planting, weeding, cultivating, and harvesting. It is real LIFE. It draws attention to God’s infinite wisdom, diverse creativity, and His solutions to life’s problems.  Working with God’s creation lifts the spirits, calms the nerves, clears the mind, and satisfies the soul. It’s no wonder counseling and rehab centers include gardening and working with animals in their programs. We prefer it as preventative treatment, encouraging a focus on Jesus.

Honey Bun prepares a hole to plant a young olive tree

Little Bird plants a bed of onions

Butterfly waters her young pea plants

I never thought I would enjoy plants and gardening. Once immersed in it you cannot help but enjoy it, especially edible landscape gardening (my opinion). To me it’s a practical way to worship and honor God in daily life.   Gardening grows REAL food, and brings an awareness of our Heavenly Father’s caring provision of nutrients, remedies, and materials growing all around us.  We have yet to learn of a plant He has created with absolutely no practical benefits.

It’s been said that food digests easier when you have a working “relationship” with it.  And growing your own food means less GMO’s, drugs and chemicals (except the unavoidable ones in our country’s air and water), no prematurely harvested fruits, and real in-season local foods. That means fully developed, high-density nutrition…better than any expensive supplement…the way God made it, with humans managing as He directed (Genesis 2:8, 9, 15).

For over 30 years I was dependent on whole food supplements for energy and strength…but no more! We use no regular supplements anymore…don’t need them! One less major expense. And we haven’t used our medical sharing plan (health insurance) since the last baby was born (over eight years ago). Thank the Lord!  Understanding and following God’s design brings many benefits, which glorifies Him.

The herb garden in front of our “house” includes moringa trees, whose edible leaves are a nutrient-packed superfood

I will not expound on the exercise gained working with the soil, digging, hoeing, weeding, scraping and pushing around loads of organic matter. Not to mention strong fingers from milking a cow (and calf muscles from kicking ornery goats eating each others’ feed…just kidding!) And many hands-on lessons in plant and animal biology, weather patterns, moon phases, sustainable cooking, and God’s design that naturally come with it.

Cycles of life are observed regularly, such as this swallowtail butterfly freshly emerged from its chrysalis…

…then pollinating our plants

A young tomato seedling ready to be potted

The desire to be close to the land and grow our own food is one reason we live off the grid, and in a tiny house. It may not be God’s plan for everyone, and again, you can grow your own food on the grid, but since borrowing is not an option for us, we chose this homesteading dream over more expensive options. We would not choose connection to the grid if it meant dying to that dream, without the Lord directing us to. Our children wouldn’t either. So, off the grid in a tiny house it is, at least for now!

The Lord has graciously fulfilled a longstanding dream after many years. We can identify with Chris Dalziel at Joybilee Farm…“We forget sometimes, in our daily grind of gardening, cleaning,…and gathering eggs, that we are ‘land owners.’  How empowering that is. To own land – any land – no matter how dirt poor – is to have hope, to own the means of production, to have a future beyond indenture.”

Dreams inspired and fulfilled by the Lord are designed to bring glory and honor to Jesus.  It is our prayer and intent that our homestead does just that, as it is otherwise meaningless.

More next time!

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Blessings,

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Note:  Credit must be given to Silver Oak for editing, critiquing, commenting on, and offering Scripture for what is written.  This is his vision (shared by me), and he blesses me for taking time to write it down, freeing him to answer the many projects calling his name “out there.”

Linked w/Natural Living Mama, Barn Hop, The Art of Homemaking, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, From the Farm Blog Hop, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.