Greetings, friends and family! I’m so excited to share this post with you today as this topic has been not only fascinating to me, but a dream so dear to my heart and soul. Recently, my husband and I have been talking about self-sustainability and homesteading and our thoughts of moving toward this way of life but the conversations don’t come without questions - lots of them. For this reason, I decided to reach out to the lovely mama and homemaker, Kay Haupt, of Under a Tin Roof to ask her some questions about getting started on the path to self-sustainability and creating a homestead, big or small.
Here’s what she has to say!
Hi Kay, thanks for the taking the time out of your busy life to answer some questions for myself and readers about what it means to sustain yourself and your family, to live life simply while also working hard, about what homesteading means for you, and about making what I believe you coined a slow, handmade home.
Have you always known that this was the path for you? If not, would you mind elaborating on how you got to the point you are now?
Not at all! Out of high school, I was hoping to live in the city and become a film director and/or an English teacher. Writing and working with something in the theatre are things I am still really passionate about, but I never thought that a country life would be what I would end up doing! In truth, I always thought that maybe I would have Meryl Streep's job in The Devil Wears Prada. Somehow I would wander down that path as a writer and photographer throughout college. I never did end up going to college, but I always had the need and desire to write and learn; gardening just happened to be the path I wandered down. Growing up, I definitely had an affinity for magical things like fairies or elves; I loved spending time outside imagining where they lived and trying to find a fairy hiding underneath a flower. But I never held a deep appreciation for plants as a child or as a young adult; it's been a rebirth in ways for me, and I appreciate learning about them so much more now. I think you can become passionate about any subject if you spend enough time researching it.
What would be the first thing a first-time homesteader, or someone seriously contemplating this path should consider in terms of getting started? For example, would it be first looking for land/property, or would it be more along the lines of acquiring certain skills?
Er, you definitely need both, but I don't think you necessarily need either one to become a homesteader. Skills are important; I am definitely the type of person that has a general rule of success upon trying new things. I know that there are many people who do not experience this success when they try growing plants for the first time, and I am still in the process of learning how to teach someone else to make it happen. But yeah, you can be a homesteader without much land just by taking up practice of skills that homesteaders use, like preserving food, composting, using natural cleaners and home remedies, basically just doing things yourself without falling into the manhole of consumerism! I think that homesteading is roughly becoming a way to say, "I bake my own bread and grow vegetables on the porch; I let my clothes hang out to dry and am learning how to better care for my family." It's the practice of stepping back and doing those things yourself. I don't think that you need a lot of land to make it happen. There are people who grow food, keep bees, and raise chickens on a city rooftops. You can do these things anywhere!
What crops/plants would you recommend getting started with and why?
There are definitely easier crops to the grow than others. As a general rule, you want to look for things that grow well in your area. We live in a cooler climate, up north, so we probably wouldn't grow citrus fruits and hot peppers well, though I am sure there are other people who have had success. In general, fruiting plants like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash are great to begin with. Any type of lettuce, spinach, and kale is fun! Greens grow so quickly, you always feel very proud when they are ready to clip. If you are into root vegetables, you'll probably find that radishes are the most rewarding and carrots too; they grow so quickly, and you feel very accomplished in a short amount of time!
Your greenhouse is amazing, how long did it take to build and what resources would you recommend for someone wanting to build their own?
Thank you! It was a big dream of mine to have it, and I am so lucky to have a father with a background in construction and architecture. My dad actually designed the entire building himself and built it himself with minimal help from my mom and myself. It took him about two months to build, and all of the windows included in the structure are reclaimed. As far as building resources, I don't have many! We found a majority of the windows at our local ReStore. They have great prices there if you are near one! The others were gifted to us from friends. I apologize for not having more information on how to build one, but we are hoping to share some generic building plans in the future, mostly because we have a lot of unique widows going on in ours! I just don't have enough knowledge personally about building to share!!
We’ve been dreaming of having chickens for a long time, can you describe the process of getting started?
Sure! Chickens are so fun. This is my first year having them, so I am definitely not an expert! To get started, I would always suggest doing your research. What is your family life like? Do you have kids? Do you work a lot? How big is your yard and do your city ordinances allow you to have chickens in the backyard? Can you have a rooster? There are a lot of little things to figure out. There is a nearby city to us that had to have their ordinances rewritten to allow backyard chickens, but you cannot have a rooster (neither can I, at least not living in town) and you must take a chicken keeping class. Now, I did not have to take a class where I live, which I am thankful for! But it would probably be wise if you don't care to take the time to research things yourself, you know? If you have kids, figure out which breeds are the most kid-friendly since little hands like to grab and pull. If you work a lot and aren't home very often to let the chickens out to free range, then you may want to look into breeds who do well in confinement. I do believe that absolutely anyone can own chickens, you just have to figure out which breed works best for your lifestyle!
In one of your blog posts you talked about your journey toward a minimalist/capsule wardrobe. Did you start this before or after your homesteading journey?
I started minimizing my wardrobe before we became homesteaders. It was definitely my first step in heading towards a more sustainable and waste-free lifestyle. It's still something that I am actually working on! I just got finished pulling clothes out from my "hoarder closet" under the stairs and ended up filling three trash bags full to donate. It's been a long five-year process, but I feel so much better about it and my personal style. Capsuling and creating a uniform-type wardrobe is its own form of therapy and rewriting your internal workings.
Can you briefly describe a “day in the life” of a homesteader? From sun up to sun down, what would be a typical daily or weekly routine?
Oh dear, it's all so different each day as the seasons change! For the most part, I wake up and let our chickens out. That's at around 6:30-7:00 AM. I briefly check the chickens for anything strange, like an illness or injury. Their food will need checking and a possible water change. Chickens need fresh water just like we do. If the coop is particularly dirty, I'll make a mental note to clean out later in the evening. I'll walk around in the garden to see what's ready to harvest or if any damage happened overnight. My son is rarely still asleep at this point, so I head back inside to make breakfast and figure out our schedule for the day. Depending on the season, it may be a day to make bread or can some preserves from the garden. The middle of day is usually up for grabs for us! We'll spend some time outside foraging or running errands, I try to get some work done during nap time, and then we head back out again to play. In the evenings, once the sun hangs a bit lower, I'll work on the garden. Our garden is shaded by a tree in the evenings, so I try to work then as not to get too hot. I'll gather, plant, and weed. The chickens are let out at that time, too, since we have close neighbors who probably don't want unattended chickens in their yards. If the coop is dirty, I'll clean it. If the compost needs turning, I'll do that. It's just basic chores that happen everyday and the occasional change that depends upon the garden harvest!
Merging modern technology with getting back to a simpler way of life: How do you reconcile the need for modern technology yet wanting to escape many of the stresses of the modern world and culture?
This one is a bit difficult to answer because I feel it can become so bashed online, yet we are there still becoming involved with it everyday. It's one of those things that I'll never understand: why we preach about hating the internet and sharing our stories, yet there we are, on the internet complaining about it! Ha! But I try my hardest to not be on social media when my son is around or needing my attention. Of course, I fail at this all of the time, and I try to not make myself feel lesser about it. It's just how life is now. As far as living a simpler life, I think that how "simple" you want to be is up to your own interpretation. For us, we still watch movies and television shows (we just have streaming networks, no cable), I still am on the internet to make my business work, and I still use social media to share my everyday happenings. For me, it's a way to connect with other people who share a similar taste of life that I do. It's also a way for me to make a living as a single parent. I have a passion for helping a movement blossom, and I love being able to further this backyard homesteading lifestyle in some small way, to help someone realize they can do these things themselves. I am kind of in the boat that simplifying life is to remove consumerism that our society clings to, to remove the items that we purchase just to throw away. I don't think that social sharing is something that can be thrown away; it's a resource to write my message out for others to read and hopefully to grasp. And if it were to disappear, well that'd be okay, too. I'd just write a book!
Your son, Tad, looks like such a sweet little boy! How do you feel this lifestyle will benefit him in the future vs a contemporary suburban upbringing?
Thank you so much! He's 2.5, so we have our good days and bad days - ha! You know, I am not really sure. If he is anything like I was as a teen, he'll be rebellious and act like he hates what I do. I used to tell my mother that I would never be an artist like her, and that ended up with opposite results. As for a contemporary suburban upbringing as you call it, I lived in a major city suburb for a few years before having him, and I absolutely hated it. Such conformity and consumerism happening over there! Where we live now has a lack of anything commercial to purchase, even our shopping mall is about 6 months behind everywhere else in the states, and I am grateful for that. We just purchase what we need and spend as much time outside as possible. I hope that he learns more about nature and plants than I did as a child, like the names of the trees and which wild plants are edible or dangerous. It's something that I wish I had known at a younger age - then it would have stuck better in my mind!
For a family that likes to travel as much as possible, how does homesteading affect your plans of taking vacations? When you do, what would be the longest amount of time you’d be comfortable leaving, assuming you had no one else to tend to your home?
Yes, traveling can be an issue when you own animals, even a garden. If there were no one to tend to my homestead, then I would probably say three days at the most. We just welcomed a couple of kittens to our homestead, which is nice since cats can kind of fend for themselves days at a time. As for the chickens, I am not sure they would last on anymore than three days on a single fill of feed and water, and they need to be let outside or they'll start to peck at each other. If you do want to try homesteading and love to travel for weeks at a time, I'd probably reconsider what exactly you want to do on your homestead and/or find a close friend or relative to take care of things while you are away!
What has been your greatest sacrifice and your greatest gain in this journey?
My greatest gain has been happiness, health, and knowledge. We've lost a lot of money investing in this new journey, but it's not something that we regret at all. Starting up a homestead at any scale can be pricey! The nice thing is that if you overproduce, you can always sell at a farmer's market. I don't feel like I've had to sacrifice much of anything this year! I still have time to meet with friends and share stories, I can still enjoy time alone, and I can still be a present mother to my young son. Money doesn't really mean much to me; I am happy with or without it!
I am so happy with the way this interview turned out and I hope you all find some inspiration within this post! Kay is, in my mind, a superwoman.
Kay, thank you so much for sharing! Friends, be sure to head on over to the blog! Below are a series of photos with links to some of my favorite blog posts.
[All photos within this post are courtesy of Kay Haupt and Under a Tin Roof.]
Be sure to click on each photo for some of my favorite Under a Tin Roof blog posts!