I have long fantasised about living off the grid and being fully self-sufficient. You know, a log cabin in the mountains, just me, my dogs, a horse, nature, long flowing skirts, longer hot baths under the stars. Then, I remember I love my creature comforts and the finer things in life. And, of course, there would be the challenge of a composting toilet. This just isn’t something I am ready for yet.
Instead, I have worked toward reducing my footprint and looking at what I can do to become more self-sufficient while maintaining my current lifestyle. And access to a flush toilet. And a mobile phone. So, if like me, you have these kind of dreams but know the reality would be a whole different story, keep reading for some easy tips on making your home and your life more self-sufficient.
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1. Grow your own food
“But I live in an apartment!” you say. Surprise! You don’t have to own acreage to grow your own food. Sure, it helps if you want to produce everything you eat, but even apartment dwellers can successfully grow some green. A logical place to start is with a kitchen herb garden. You can easily grow herbs like mint, chives, parsley, basil, and thyme in containers on your windowsill. Just remember they need: sunlight, water, humidity, and a quality growing medium.
Keen to venture beyond herbs? Try a planter garden, or if you have a little more space, a raised wicking bed. These guys basically look after themselves and produce incredible quantities given their size. Check out this Gardening Australia video for a demonstration on how to make a wicking bed from a recycled IBC
If growing greens in your own home isn’t an option, you could join the edible cities revolution through a local community garden. Look up the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network for a garden near you.
2. Preserve your own food
Now that you have totally nailed growing your own food, you will be faced with the inevitability of excess produce. What to do with the 7 kilograms of cherry tomatoes you have just picked off your vine? Eat until you’re sick? Throw them at passers-by? Give them to your cat to play with? How about preserving instead. The most common methods are freezing, canning, and dehydrating.
I am all about freezing. I bought a 400L freezer last year thinking it would be more than enough for my needs. It is full to overflowing. However, I do live 40km from the nearest supermarket. And I raw feed my dogs. And I use a lot – A LOT – of frozen fruit and vegetables in smoothies. Yes vegetables. In smoothies. My favourites are chopped zucchini/courgette, cauliflower, and pureed pumpkin or sweet potato. Unless you have a kick arse blender though, take it from me and chop into small chunks before you freeze.
I am also fond of freezing fresh herbs when they are readily available from my garden or the shop so I can use them year round. Ziplock bags are great, or freeze into ice cube trays. I haven’t got as far as learning how to can and my kitchen does not have the space for a dehydrator, but there is no reason why you shouldn’t give these techniques a go.
Composting is a great way to use reuse kitchen scraps. I have tried a few different approaches over the years and had an almost equal number of failures. Rodents and creepy crawlies. anyone?!. Now I use a tumbler and I consider myself a composting Queen. If you are a novice, have limited space, or like me are just really hopeless at composting, I recommend a tumbler. They are pretty near foolproof.
If your composting space is non-existent, then consider a Bokashi One composter for apartments. These innovative, compact composting systems can fit on your countertop.
Whichever option you choose, make sure you do your research. Compost needs care and with some systems, you need to be pretty careful about what you feed them to avoid unpleasant smells and even more unpleasant visitors.
4. Learn to ferment
If you have a countertop, a kettle, and a fridge, you can ferment. This is probably one of the most accessible tips on this list is home fermenting, though some ferments are easier than others.
Sauerkraut, kombucha, water kefir, milk kefir, kimchi, cheese, yoghurt, pickled vegetables, fermented tomato sauce, sourdough, drinking vinegars — take your pick! Fermentation has been enjoying a renaissance in recent years, although it is one of the oldest known forms of food preservation. Eating fermented foods helps maintain your gut flora through beneficial bacteria, or probiotics. And with 70% of our immune system residing in our gut, it makes sense to take care of your gut by incorporating fermented foods into your diet.
I ferment kombucha, sauerkraut, vegetables, water kefir, and milk kefir. The latter two are by far the easiest home ferments. Buy some kefir grains (it does matter which type of grains you buy — there is no one size fits all, and whether they are dried or fresh), grab some milk or sugar water, and start making your kefir. From milk kefir, you can produce labne cheese and whey, or you can consume as is and in smoothies. Water kefir is a super healthy alternative to soft drink, and you can get creative with secondary ferment flavours. My current drinks du jour are raspberry and coffee/date, plus I have found it makes a nice base for chia puddings, and a sneaky gin or vodka mixer.
5. Raise chickens
Not possible in many urban areas, but if you have the space, you should totally consider chickens. I adore my girls Mussolini, No Tail, and Number Three. They have such endearing personalities and are always interested in what I am doing in the garden. Or what my partner is doing in the workshop. They happily co-exist with my dogs and keep us in a ready supply of eggs.
You will need a solid secure house for them at night, ideally some space for them to free range and forage, a night perch, clean plentiful water supply, and a quality diet, which can be supplemented by kitchen scraps. And leftover dog food as it turns out.
Another bonus with chickens is their gardening skills. They are a handy addition when I want to prepare a garden bed for planting, turning over the soil and generally ‘freshening’ things up. Just don’t let them near seedlings or plants they find tasty and you want to keep intact, because they can shred your plants in seconds.
6. Keep bees
Without bees we wouldn’t be here. As the primary pollinators of so many fruits, vegetables, nuts, flowers, and other plants, bees play an essential role in our food chain. But the global bee population in serious decline. Consider then doing a good deed for the environment and for bees by getting a hive for your own back yard. In addition to pollinating your garden, honeybees have the added bonus of producing fresh honey, and I don’t think there is anything better than locally produced honey on a bowl of warming winter oats.
If the idea of handling these gals and their stings is a bit overwhelming, then consider Australian native stingless bees. I bought my mum a native beehive from City Chicks a few years ago and she absolutely dotes on it. They only produce a small quantity of honey each year, and it is quite different from the honey you buy from the store. Again, do you research before committing to keeping native bees, as many species are suited only to their native climate. A good place to start your research is on the Aussie Bee website. They also provide tips on how to find out if your local council allows urban bee keeping.
Simple. Consider what common single or limited use products you can begin to reuse. For example, ziplock bags. If I have only used them to store frozen fruit or vegetables, I will rinse, dry and reuse.
Another one us takeaway containers. Again they are great for freezing leftovers, for keeping a supply of bliss balls on hand, or for getting your refrigerator organised.
Also, Clothing. I never throw out clothes. Everything is donated to charity or reused. ‘Good’ items that are damaged are relegated to gardening or playing-with-dogs-wear. Unless, of course, it is a party dress, because I am not so much into gardening in party dresses. Those go to charity or the niece’ and nephews’ dress-up chests. And when the gardening-wear is retired it heads into the workshop for my partner to use as rags. My clothes have seriously long and varied lives.
I have also been experimenting with dying lately. Helpful tip, if you have a partner who works outdoors or in a workshop, do not buy pale bed linen. As much as I would love love love full white linen, it would be futile. To freshen up bed linens that start to look a bit tired. I have been machine dying them using Rit dyes. I feel like I have a whole suite of new bedding to suit my current charcoal grey décor obsession. The Rit website has a huge range of tips and inspiration for mixing and matching to create new colours, different dying techniques (Shibori anyone?), and how to dye without ruining your washing machine.
8. Make your own
Okay, so this one covers off on a few different ways you can become more self-sufficient at home. Nearly anything can be made at home if you take the time to learn. Heck, before the industrial age (and maybe even online shopping), that’s what people had to do. Sewing, mending, home maintenance and repairs, homemade cleaning products, DIY skincare, cooking from scratch, soap, beeswax food wraps, dryer balls, dog treats, playdough, essential oils, candles.
I love Pinterest as a source of inspiration for DIY/MYO, especially some of the American homesteading accounts. Some of them are so wholesome they make me feel virtuous and wholesome by association. This weeken, I am going to have a go at making Matcha Bath Bombs. I have had a packed of expired Matcha powder I have been wanting to use up and cannot bring myself to throw out (there is only so many Matcha bliss balls a gal can eat).
This article originally appeared on A Girl in Progress.
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