Pathways For Your Homestead Potager

When you see past the pretty flowers and profuse plantings, you’ll discover that every garden has bones and secrets buried beneath. A garden’s design and its underlying infrastructure dictate how well it works and how much work it takes to maintain that garden.

The Beaten Path

For example, when I visit a garden that has large pathways that have been mowed practically to the ground, I see more work than I would ever want to do.

I see a lawnmower that has to be maintained with regular oil changes, blade sharpening, spark plug replacements, and cans of gas stinking up my car when I haul them. I see the necessity of a large storage area to hide and protect that unsightly and overly loud machine.

Those wide, shorn walkways also tell me weeds must be rampant because the soil is compacted from constant mowing. The operator of the machine must mow often to maintain the illusion of uniformity with weeds erupting at erratic rates.  Either that, or they are spraying weed killers that poison the soil.

Paths like that also imply precarious health for the plants that grow along the edges. Those poor path-bound plants can only expand their root system away from the paths and not into them. That means, the garden beds themselves are the only source of moisture and fertility to support plant growth. That inevitably leads to more work caring for the plants.

Yes, I also see an orderliness that does seem attractive at first glance. But the deeper you look, the more you realize those paths aren’t just well-maintained. They are tamed and tortured. They are beaten into submission for an aesthetic ideal that undermines the health of the rest of the garden.

Paths like that, and the kind of thinking that underlies them, are the crux of our current climate crisis and our poor preparation for ever-increasing extreme weather events. Those paths aim to subdue nature, not cooperate with it.

The Simple Path

If you want to grow a simple garden, that produces abundant, nourishing food and beauty, you need to leave those beaten paths out of your design. Instead, you want paths that nourish your soil, connect spaces, discourage soil compaction, and invite life into the garden.

Now, this is your garden and you can have whatever kinds of paths you want. So, if you have your heart set on low cut grass and broad aisles, that is entirely your prerogative. The point of this website, though, is to offer you solutions that help you create a simple homestead that will get better with each simple step you take.

If you want to take the simple approach and use your paths to improve the natural health of  your garden over time, I suggest these options.

Option 1: Nutrient Swales

Nutrient Swales for Garden Paths

A swale is basically an indention in the soil that causes water to flow into it. Most of the time, you make these “on contour”.  On contour simply means that you create them in such a way as to catch and keep water in place, rather than directing downward like a water slide. The opposite of on contour swales are gullies that cause water to rush downhill.

On contour swales are kind of like long thin ponds. However, unlike a pond the goal of this kind of swale is to help water percolate into the ground. You don’t want to actually have standing water in your swales for more than a short period of time.

In the garden, we can use this idea of an on contour swale to make our paths. In dry areas, those swales will collect water and send them into the soil to be saved for later use. In wet areas, those swales offer a place for water to drain off the beds and be moved below the level of the more tender plant roots.

In our gardens though, we don’t want to be walking through pools of water or mud to get to our beds. So we need to use a slightly modified version of the on contour swale. I call these nutrient swales.

Here’s how I make them.

Step 1: Make the Swale

Dig the Swales.JPG

You start by digging out the top soil from your paths and putting it on your garden bed.  Dig across slopes so swales become like bowls to catch the downward flowing rain.

This process increases the amount of soil you have in your beds. But it also creates that indentation to catch water. The beds get higher and that paths are a few inches (or more) below the level of the bed. That creates the water catchment zone.

Note: If your paths aren’t quite on contour, e.g. not quite level, you can fix that by how you dig your swale. In areas where water might start to run like a water slide, dig the uphill side deeper. Then leave soil in place where the water would normally start to run faster. That creates  a bit of a speed bump in the swale that holds the flow in the deeper area.

Step 2: Fill with Uncomposted Organic Matter

Fill with non composted organic matter

Next, backfill the paths with uncomposted organic matter. If you have a lot of topsoil and your paths are deep (e.g. at least 8-12 inches),  you can start by backfilling with all your kitchen scraps and whatever you have been saving in your compost bucket.  This essentially becomes a compost trench and is one of the easiest ways to make compost and improve soil quickly.

If you don’t have a lot of food scrap waste, and you need to fill deep swales, you can also use branches and decaying woody material. Then you can cover this with the other compost materials you have. It works as a kind of in ground hugelkultur, breaking down over time and feeding the soil for a few years.

Wood to Fill Swale

For the top six inches, backfill with whatever greens and browns you are able to source in large quantities. Old hay or straw, mulched yard leaves, grass clippings, newspaper, shredded office paper, cardboard, paper bags, and more all work well.

If you already have livestock, dirty litter works perfect filling in your paths. In my case, I use the litter from my goat barn because it has a mix of hay, straw, goat poop, and urine that cover my paths and nourish neighboring beds as they compost.

If you don’t have livestock, some farmers are happy to have you clean out their barns for them and let you take all that organic matter. Some cities or civic organizations also offer free leaf litter or municipal compost at certain times of the year.

Worst case scenario, you may have to buy some inexpensive filler such as straw bales and composted cow manure.  This is an absolutely worthwhile investment in a new garden.

Step 3: Cover the Organic Matter

After I have filled the swales back up to level with all that good organic matter, I wait a few days until the materials settle.  Then, I top the paths of with some kind of wood mulch.

The mulch you can get free when the electric company cuts trees in your area is awesome for paths. Shredded hardwood, bark, wood chips, and more all work well for this.

If you don’t have access to free or inexpensive wood mulch, you can use pine shavings, bark, or needles. Saw dust is another possible option. Even old carpets turned upside down and cut to the size of your path will work.

You just need to create a permeable surface that will slow down weed growth and be comfortable and safe for you to walk on. Ideally this material will last at least a year before it decays into compost.

Maintenance: Top off Your Paths

As needed you can top off your paths with new organic matter to bring them back up to level with the beds. I tend to fill mine annually in late-winter before I start preparing my beds for planting.  This has the added benefit of increasing the temperature of the soil if the paths start to heat up from composting activity.  

Benefits of Nutrient Swale Paths

These paths promote good drainage. They feed the soil in your garden beds because soil inhabitants move between the paths and the beds transporting nutrients into the beds. They store water and offer your plants additional room to expand during drought or if soil nutrients in the beds are lacking.

They do require a bit of work up front. However as long as you go heavy on the organic matter and covering, they offer wonderful weed control and reduce the need for watering your beds. They also give you an easy way to compost large quantities of materials without having to build or turn a pile.

Overall, this method saves tons of time on gardening throughout the year while improving your soil. I use it in all of my gardens.

Also note: For things you bokashi, your deeper garden path swales make a great place to bury those bokashied items too!

Option 2: Permeable Rock Paths

Permeable Rock Paths

For some of my wider paths that I can’t source enough organic matter to fill, I still dig out the topsoil and use it on beds. Then I cover those beds with rocks that I dig out or collect from other areas of the property.

Rocks, contrary to popular belief, do not reduce weed pressure. Those rocks are a perfect hiding place for soil life and weed seeds. Each time it rains, any dust or soil that has accumulated on the rocks, gets washed into the crevices where soil inhabitants turn those bits of dirt into gummy, growth-promoting goodness.

In fact, in areas with too little soil to dig, I love to cover those places with rocks to build soil.  Then a few years later, I move the rocks somewhere else and plant cover crops where the rocks were.

The thing rocks are really good for is making weeds stand out.  If you see them and pull them early, before the deep tap roots get established, you can reduce work.  Also, since the rocks help hold moisture in the soil, those weeds are easier to pull than in dry, compacted soil.

Those rocks warm and dry faster. They also shed water and promote drainage.  So, they melt snow and become walkable sooner than grass does.

I never put weed mat under my rocks any more. Weed mat simply gives aggressive weeds something easy to anchor to. It creates more work than it’s worth.

Also, if you don’t have rocks, things like oyster shells gleaned from seafood restaurants and corks from wineries also make for interesting permeable paths.  The oyster shells stink at first, but that dissipates quickly.

Option 3: Weed to Meadow Paths

Yep, you read that right. I also like to use weeds in my paths. If you steal the topsoil from your paths to put on your beds, weeds will eventually come. They will grow quickly to help heal that disturbed land.

I let them grow, but I mow them with a push mower weekly to keep them from flowering. I do pull out any of the branching grasses, like crabgrass, since those can quickly become more work than they are worth in terms of healing your soil.

If weeds start to get too aggressive in any particular area I cover them with a piece of old carpet, the leg of a pair of jeans weighted with rocks, or plastic bags (careful plastic can be slippery). That keeps the weeds from seeding into the garden beds and creating more work long term.

Once you get a bit of topsoil back in those rows (thanks to the weeds doing their healing work), you can plant lawn clover as your grass substitute. When you get a bit more soil back from the clover,  plant meadow grasses.  Try to find perennial grasses that are native to your area or that grow well in your climate.

Keep your paths narrow to reduce maintenance. If using a push mower, paths should be as wide as your mower so you only need to make one pass on each row.  If using a weed trimmer or hand scythe, then make paths only as wide as you need them to walk and squat comfortably for gardening.

Also, except as necessary to prevent weeds from flowering and seeding out, do not mow your paths lower than 4 inches tall. Taller top growth, and less frequent mowing, promotes deeper roots. Deeper roots allow water to percolate into the soil and promote better drainage.

This option is lowest on my list because it does take a bit more work on a regular basis than the other two. Yet, its still a lot more simple than trying to maintain lush lawns using chemicals, motorized mowers, and more as you see in more conventional gardens.

Homework and Your Next Simple Step

Take some time to think about the kind of paths you want in your homestead potager. Determine if they support the overall health of your garden. Consider the materials you have available or can free or cheaply source near you.

Hang on to that information and those ideas for the next post on garden beds. Beds and paths must work together to create a cohesive environment for plants to thrive. So, in our next post, we’ll cover some bed designs that work well for a simple homestead potager garden.

Then, in the post right after that, we’ll finalize our design so we can get to work building a potager garden!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Simple Vermicomposting

All organic gardens start with compost. That’s why, in our last post, we started saving materials to make compost in a 5 gallon bucket. In this post, we’ll take a few more simple steps in the compost-making process.

There are many different ways of making compost ranging from easy to elaborate. I am going to explain a few simple options in this series. But, regardless of which methods you ultimately end up using, I recommend that all new gardeners start by making vermicompost!

Vermicomposting makes great humus which is magical stuff that helps everything in your garden grow better. Plus it also makes “plant perfect” fertilizer that you can start using almost immediately.

What is Vermicompost?

worm-castings.png

Vermicompost is made primarily by red wriggler worms. Red wrigglers are very small worms that can eat half their body weight, each day, of all those fresh materials you’ve been saving in your 5 gallon bucket.

In reality, you’ll get a lot of ebb and flow in compost production depending on what you’ve got in your bucket. Still, with very minimal work, you can accumulate quite a bit of the highest quality, least work compost possible using these amazing worms.

Also, if you plan to keep other livestock later, your ability to take care of these worms is both good practice and an excellent test of your readiness for more complex life forms (e.g. chickens).

How Do You Care For Worms?

To take care of your worms, you’ll need to provide them proper shelter and bedding, nutritious food and sufficient water, occasionally clean their living area, and make adjustments in their care as required for their continued good health. (Incidentally, that’s also what you need to do for all other livestock.)

– Shelter and Bedding

For your first round of worms, their shelter will be a plastic container.  Their bedding will be compost or top soil.

– Food and Water

Their food will be the materials you have been saving in your 5-gallon bucket, plus some loose brown matter that I’ll tell you about in a minute. Generally the food materials from your bucket will have sufficient water to hydrate your worms. Although, you may occasionally need to moisten your feed materials if they start to dry out.

Like us, worms don’t want to open the metaphorical fridge and find that the only thing to eat is ketchup. So, make sure to feed them before they run out of food. That way they can pick and choose what to eat and don’t end up living on nothing but onions and coffee grounds for a month.

Similar to making compost, some people say you shouldn’t give worms certain things. Well, smells and insects can be a problem in indoor worm bins.  So I recommend you do one of two things.

  1. Use the “limited list” compost approach to collecting in your bucket.  This excludes things like meat, dairy, and cooked foods.
  2. If you prefer to compost everything indoors, then you’ll need to ferment your compost materials before you feed them to your worms.  This is done by a very simple process called bokashi. (I will tell you more about that in our next post).

People also say you should chop things up small — not give whole egg shells or wash them first, avoid citrus, limit onions — etc. etc. etc. Personally, I ignore all those special rules. Whatever the worms don’t eat, goes into the garden with the worm castings. There, other life forms end up eating them eventually.

– Cleaning

As far as cleaning goes, I recommend that you make at least two worm bins. When one bucket fills up you can scrape the majority of the worms from the top of your full bucket and transfer them to a new bucket.  Then all you need to do is spread the compost from your first bucket on your garden.  Once your second bucket is full, repeat the same process.

You will also need to empty the liquid, called leachate,  that drains from your worm bin into your second container, regularly. Dilute this liquid to a ratio of 10 parts water to 1 part leachate. Use it to water the roots of your more mature plants. (Don’t use this on seedlings, sometimes it can be too strong.)

– Care

Worm care is very simple. Still, I can’t tell you how many people have managed to kill their worms. One lady left them shut up in her greenhouse on a hot day.  A man put them in his garage which was well below freezing, so his worms froze to death. Most people just fail to feed them and those poor, trapped worms die of starvation.

Worms like the same basic climate conditions as we do for best performance. Well, except that they live in a plastic box – which amplifies conditions like sunlight, heat, and cold. Basically, though, if you keep them at the house temperatures you feel comfortable in, out of direct sunlight, and away from vents that will cause them to become too dry, they’ll be happy.

Feed them before they get hungry. Transfer them to a new bin before they run out of space. And remember to treat them like they are living beings, doing amazing work for you, then you’ll do just fine!

Now, that you are primed on the basic needs of worms, here’s what you need to do to start using them at home.

1. Prepare Your Browns

You’ve already started gathering your worm food in your 5 gallon buckets. But now, it’s time to start saving up some separate “browns” to go help create a hospitable environment for worms. Used computer paper, newspaper, junk mail with the plastic windows torn out, paper towels, cardboard, paper egg cartons, tissues boxes, toilet paper rolls, etc. are all good options. Crushed, but not composted, fall leaves are also a good option when the season is right.

Shred your paper items if you can. But if you don’t have access to a shredder, you can also do this manually. If you watch any TV or movies, tearing large paper-based materials into small pieces by hand while you watch is relaxing and redeeming. (Personally, I don’t feel guilty about my TV time if I am also doing some homesteading “work” while I watch).

2. Make Your Worm Bin

Extra large cat litter boxes or 5 gallon sized food grade buckets make great worm bins. Ideally you’ll want two containers of the same size that you can nest together.

If you don’t have any containers from your own purchases, ask friends and family to collect these for you. Or check with your favorite restaurants to see if they can save you their large food grade buckets.

– Make Drainage Holes For The Worm Compost Leachate

Drill a few holes in the bottom of one container for drainage. Put some weight on the bucket using your foot to keep it steady. Then hold the drill with two hands to drill the holes.  (Keep your foot away from the drill, though for safety).

Drill a Few Holes

Note: Those cat litter pails have ridged bottoms. Make sure you drill the part that is flush with the bottom — not the inverted ridges — because liquid needs to flow to the low point in the container. This is where your worm compost tea will drain out thanks to gravity.

Look! This is so easy, you can even get your cat involved!

– Make a Vent for Fresh Air

If your container has a lid, you can use a sharp utility knife to make an air vent.  Cut out a small section. Cover it with a few coffee filters, folded to size, and held in place with duct tape. Paper towels also work if you are not a coffee drinker.

 

Note: Some people worry that the worms might eat through the coffee filters. I have never had it happen. I suspect that’s because there are better food options in the body of the bucket. But, if you are worried about this, you can use a piece of metal screen like you use for your screen door or over windows to keep flies out instead.

– No Lid? No Problem

If you only managed to scavenge containers but no lids, then just cover the whole top with a towel and secure it with a rope or bungee cord. You will be getting in and out of this bucket from time to time. So make sure you secure your towel using something you can untie easily.

No lid no problem

Again, if you are concerned about worms escaping by eating the towel, then use some screen cut to size instead of a towel.

– Add Your Compost Leachate Catcher

Nest your bucket with holes inside your other container that doesn’t have holes.

Nested Worm Bin

With the cat litter boxes, you can even lean the drilled side forward a bit to help the liquid drain faster.  This doesn’t work with round buckets, but it will still drain fine (just a bit more slowly).

3. Prepare Worm Habitat

Fill the Bin

There are all sorts of formulas out there for what to put in your worm bins. Personally,  after years of raising worms in bins, in beds, and direct in the garden, I have decided that nature knows best.

I add 3 inches of top soil or finished compost to the bottom of my worm bin since this is what the worms live in when they free range. This also helps maintain the moisture in the bin in while acting as a bio-filter for the liquid that drains out the bottom.

Moisten your compost or soil so that it is like a full — but not soppy — sponge.

Side Note For Garden Preparation

You are going to need to get some already-made compost for your garden very soon. So, go ahead and start buying a couple of bags a week in preparation for starting your beds. If you grab a few bags each time you do your normal shopping, it’s not such a hit to your budget or so much heavy lifting for your back! Then you can use some of this in your worm bin too.

You’ll need about 3 cubic feet of well-aged compost for every 10 square feet of garden space you’ve earned based on your estimated compost making ability.  Normally bagged compost is about 1 cubic foot per bag. Double check the label to be sure, though. (Organic compost can sometimes be in smaller bags to make the price seem more similar to the non-organic variety).

4. Move Your Worms into their New Home

You can buy worms online from specialized suppliers. They sell them by the pound or piece count.  A pound of worms is about 1000 worms, and that’s about what you need to get started. Some suppliers only ship in good weather for worm safety. Others charge a lot for shipping because they use foam coolers and insulation to ship year round.

You can often get a batch of worms from other gardeners (if you ask nicely and maybe barter a bit). Bait and tackle shops often carry red wrigglers for fishermen to use as well.

If you have seen red wrigglers in your soil, then you can also just put a couple inches of your compost materials on your soil and wait until the worms crawl up to eat it.  Then you can pick out worms and put them in your bin.  You’ll need to repeat this a few times to get a sufficient population for your bin. But, it saves you up to $40 on the price of worms.

Once you have your worms, spread them out on top of the compost in your new worm bin.  Introduce yourself.  Let them know you’ll be taking care of them. And wish them well in their new home!

Need to Buy Worms?

If you do need to buy worms, by clicking on the image below to place your order, I’ll get a percentage of your your purchase (at no additional cost to you). This is how I support this website. 

This product contains about 1200 red wriggler worms and costs a little less than $40, including shipping. The worms are also guaranteed to arrive alive. Note: If you can get worms for free, or more affordably elsewhere, I encourage you to do that!

 5. Feed Your New Livestock

Now, add about 3 inches of loose compost materials from your 5 gallon bucket to this new worm bin to get them started. Do not pack this in. You don’t want those worms to suffocate or get crushed!

Cover the fresh materials with about 2 inches of the loose brown matter from step 1 above. The brown stuff will cut down on smells and irritating gnat flies.

If you haven’t collected enough browns yet, then you can also sprinkle just enough of your bagged compost to cover the fresh materials.

6. Get to Know Your Worms

Red Wrigglers

Like any new livestock, you’ll want to spend a lot of time with your worms at first to get to know as much as you can about them. Move aside your browns every day or two and see how much your worms have eaten. Check to see if your materials are still moist. Pay attention to how much black, gummy goodness (a.k.a. worm poop) your power eaters have made.

Each time you visit your worms, add in more fresh food and browns, as needed, to replace what’s missing. Also, give your worms a banana peel now and then. That’s their favorite food!

Actually it’s the potassium in the peels that they are attracted. Potassium can be hard to come by in other forms of organic matter. When you add a banana peel or two to each batch of vermicompost, you also increase the potassium content that will be in the vermicompost and leachate that you feed to your plants.

Conclusion

When you have accomplished the above, you can add “vermicompost manager” to your homesteading resume. You have not only started to make your own compost for the garden. but you have also added your first kind of  livestock to your homestead line-up!

These simple steps, have led to huge progress. This one skill can feed your garden and your family for years to come. And, if you take great care of your worms, they will live long and propagate so you never have to buy them again.

Continue your simple homesteading journey with our next post.

The Importance of Observation

How did we figure things out before the internet? Did we learn at school?

In the US, children weren’t required to attend school until about 100 years ago. As such, schools have only been a source of learning for large populations in recent times.

Did we learn from books? Books have been around for thousands of years. For most of that history, though, books were not widely available. It wasn’t really until about the 18th century, during the enlightenment, that books became available to all of us ordinary folks.

Did we learn from our parents and our community? Certainly, for most of human history, a good deal of learning came by way of other people. But, then how did we increase our knowledge? Did we just go out meet new people and ask them to give us their knowledge? Likely we did.

Yet how did those who taught others first learn? How did humans first determine what was safe and healthy to eat, what and where to drink, how to live?

There’s a lot of speculation on the subject of how early humans figured out what was safe to eat and how to create and use tools. We may not have fully unraveled those mysteries. However I know one thing for certain.

Before all these other methods of learning evolved, nature was our teacher. We are designed to learn directly from nature.

Many of us have forgotten how to learn from nature because we are so accustomed to learning by other methods. As a homesteader though, I promise you, nature is still a better teacher than any others you will have.

Predicting the Weather

Most of us can get weather predictions from a website or app  in just a click or two. But can you walk outside and know what kind of day it’s going to be?

I can.

Quite frankly, I am much more accurate at it than the meteorologists who report predictions for my area. I can literally feel if rain is coming, or snow, or warm, or wind – even hours to days before it happens.

I can also predict long-term trends accurately. I can tell whether winter will be exceptionally cold or not in August or September. I can come within a week of knowing our last frost day three months before it happens.

You can do all of this too if you put your mind to it.

How to Know What Nature Knows

I didn’t start out with this ability to predict the weather. I used to be as dependent on weather reports with limited accuracy as everyone else. But after years of carefully observing and recording the weather, my body and brain simply know what’s coming. 

I didn’t have to take a class on how to read the different cloud types. I didn’t have to attend a nature course to learn how to recognize the natural patterns around me.

All I did was start paying attention to the weather every day. I kept a notebook to record the date and the weather conditions. I also recorded anything that stood out related to the weather or the time of year.  Here are some examples of what I wrote down.

Peepers

I marked the first date I heard the peepers (singing tree frogs). Then, I marked when the peepers singing increased, when it stopped, the nights when it was so loud it almost broke my ear drums, and the nights they failed to sing.

Weeds

I recorded when new weeds appeared, when they started to look stressed, and when they disappeared from the landscape. If I didn’t know the name of the weed, I gave them one as a placeholder. Later, when I had time, I looked them up and learned as much as I could about them.

Blooms and Pollinators

I noted when flowers and weeds bloomed and what insects visited those plants. Again, if  didn’t know the exact name, I made up my own. As time allowed, I used online databases to identify them. I kept track of populations based on my perception.

Personal Physical Changes

I also noted physical changes in me. My body seemed to know things my brain didn’t. For example, even though we keep our house thermostat set to the same temperature most of the time, my toes are always cold on mornings when it’s cold and damp outside.

I have ringing in my ears before big, windy storms. My hair and fingernails start to grow noticeably faster a few weeks before our last frost each year.

The Expansion Effect

How to tell the weather is just the beginning of what you can learn from nature. Once you begin to make observation a habit, you quickly develop accurate, intuitive instincts for almost anything you do regularly.  For example, you begin to understand:

  • How to grow things well
  • How much liquid to add to anything (batter, soil, concrete) to get the right consistence
  • Whether something will fit in location or space
  • Whether or not a recipe, instruction set, or idea will work
  • How much things weigh without a scale
  • When to be cautious
  • When to charge ahead

Now, this doesn’t mean you will automatically listen to yourself on these subject. We’ve become accustomed to relying on external resources for our knowledge. So it can take a while before you truly trust your own natural expertise.

It can also take a while before your instincts begin to be right most of the time. A healthy dose of self-skepticism, at the outset, is not necessarily a bad thing.

Observation Triggers Intuition

Still, I know with certainty that the more time you spend observing the natural world, the more spillover you have into all the facets of your homesteading life.

I don’t know exactly why this is true. But I believe that once we begin using our powers of observation acutely for one thing, then they just keep working in everything else we do. Observation is like a muscle, the more you build it, the better it works.

Eventually, we simply become attuned to all the different forces at work in our various activities. We notice signals we missed before. We become better able to feel the answers.

Why Weather Observation

I am going to offer you some basic ideas on how to use weather observation as a gateway to expanding your observation skills. I chose weather because it is something we all already have around us. That makes it an equal opportunity tool for any new homesteader regardless of where or how you live.

Knowing your weather patterns is also critical to so much of your homestead planning and decision-making. Even if you are skeptical about the benefits of weather observations on something like baking a cake, knowing your weather patterns in general is still a key homesteading skill.

Though, please believe me, weather also makes a huge difference when making a cake. It also impacts ripening, harvesting, cheese-making, bread production, fruit and vegetable fermentation, seed germination, livestock behavior and so much more.

Useful Tools

You do not need to buy anything for this exercise. However, having access to a few tools will enhance the experience.

Notebook

It will be easier if you record your observations in a bound notebook so you can carry it with you and find all your observations in one place. But, if you don’t have one, you can also write them on scrap paper and then collect them in a grocery bag.

I know you may be tempted to record this in a text file or spreadsheet. That can be awesome for long-term data collection.  However, we have a tendency to forget data we store electronically since we know we can find it easily when we need it. Recording this information using a pen and a paper is like a signal to your body that this information needs to be integrated into your brain.

Trust me, writing it down is important. But you can also record it in an electronic file too if you want to use it later.

Gauges

Ideally you will want some way to confirm your own observations on the temperature, humidity, quantity of rain, and strength and direction of the wind.  You can use formal gauges for this like thermometers, barometers, rain gauges, and wind vanes.

If you don’t have the budget for these things, though, you can simply use the reported data from your closest weather station. Weather services like Weather Underground allow you access to the data from Personal Weather Stations (PWS) that might be much closer to you than the regional airports that may not accurately represent your conditions.

How to Start Observing the Weather

Now that you have chosen your tools, it’s time to start observing.  Personally, I recommend doing this three times a day to start.  When you wake up, mid-day, and evening.

  1. Step outside or open a window. If you can’t (e.g. you live in a high-rise or are stuck in an office), put your hand on a window and look outside.
  2. Look around you for clues as to the weather conditions.
    • Are leaves rustling? Is trash blowing? How fast, how hard? From which direction?
    • Is there frost, snow, rain, moisture, dryness? Does it seem hot, cold, in between?
    • What are people wearing?  What are animals doing?
    • What sounds do you hear? Do they seem louder than usual or more distant?
    • Does anything stand out to you outside or inside?
    • How does your body feel?
  3. Guess what the conditions are based on your observations.
    • Estimate the temperature
    • Estimate the wind speed and direction
    • Estimate the humidity level
    • Guess at how much rain or snow a given storm system will drop or whether rain or snow is likely
  4. Check your gauges or the reported conditions at your nearest weather station.
  5. Contemplate the similarities and differences between what you noticed and what was confirmed by the gauges or weather station.

Your observations may be way off base when you first start paying attention to the weather. Or, you may be a natural at this. For now, it doesn’t really matter how accurate or inaccurate you are. The real benefit comes simply from making observation a habit.

At some point in the future, you will become a walking weather station. It could take months or years depending on where you live, your background, and how consistently and completely you do this exercise each day.

Don’t worry about your performance, just keep at it as often as you can. Even if you can’t do it three times a day, or even every day, just do it as much as you can. The more often you do a thing, the better you get. However, even a little learning here and there can start to add up.

Purchases to Consider

As I promised early, you do not need to buy anything to develop  your powers of observation and become a walking weather station. However, if you do plan to make some purchases, I have a few recommendations listed below.

I am an Amazon affiliate. So I do receive a small commission if you click on the link below to purchase your homesteading tools. This is how I support this website. However, I also understand if you prefer to buy from other vendors or make your own.

All-in-One Weather Station

This is a complete weather station that costs about $110. It’s a big purchase on a homesteader’s budget. I personally would only spend this much money if there were no personal weather station locations reporting conditions similar to mine. But if you aren’t able to get local data online, then it is worthwhile to have.

AcuRite 01512 Wireless Weather Station with 5-in-1 Weather Sensor: Temperature and Humidity Gauge, Rainfall, Wind Speed and Wind Direction

Individual Weather Tools

You can save money buying individual tools instead of a weather station. You won’t get all the data in one easy to read panel. But you might pick up more natural clues if you have to go out and stand in the wind to get a reading or go to your potential garden area to check your rain gauge.

The tool belowl tells you the temperature and humidity indoors and outdoors.  It’s usually under $20.

ThermoPro TP-60S Digital Hygrometer Indoor Outdoor Thermometer Humidity Monitor, with Temperature Gauge Meter, Wireless, 200ft/60m Range, White

Next is a manual rain gauge that you can locate around your property to track specific rain fall. It measures to 6 inches and must be manually emptied. It is also under $20 and stands up well to prolonged exposure to sun or bad weather.

OUTWEST TRADING Professional Outdoor Rain Gauge for Yard, Heavy Duty.

Last is a wind gauge for around $25 and gives wind speed and windchill data each time you take readings. You’ll need to observe the direction of the wind using other markers (like the leaves of trees). This handheld option is an economical choice that can be used anywhere.

HOLDPEAK 866B Digital Anemometer Handheld Wind Speed Meter for Measuring Wind Speed, Temperature and Wind Chill with Backlight and Max/Min

Inspiration

This book is under $20 and is basically like a crash course in awakening your natural observation skills.

Tomorrow, continue your simple homesteading journey with Recognizing Resources.