Justin Tadlock

Looking to the past with an eye on the future

I’ve gotten a few emails and Twitter messages over the past couple of months all asking the same question: “Are you still alive and kickin’?” I know I’ve been a bit absent on this blog and Twitter lately but for good reasons. I apologize if I haven’t responded to some of you lately.

The first reason is that I was a bit burnt out, which happens once in a while. It’s good to take a step back and regroup every so often. It’s actually part of my creative process. Within two days of getting back into the swing of things, I wrote this cool media grabber for WordPress themes. It helps to come at things with a fresh mind.

The second reason is that I’ve been hashing out some plans for a project that I’ve been working toward for the last couple of years. This is actually an offline project (for the most part) that is about a few things I’m passionate about and is, ultimately, why I’m writing this post.

Homesteading

For those that have been following this blog over the past year or so, you’ve been introduced to my gardening and food interests. And, those that have been following longer know that I was born a country boy, became a big-city boy, and eventually made my way back home.

What I haven’t said much about is how I plan to eventually run my own homestead.

This is the major goal that I’ve had since about mid-2011. The first step toward this goal was moving back to a rural area where I could re-learn how to garden, something that I hadn’t done much of since I was a kid.

In the spring of last year, I found a great place to start putting theory into practice. My uncle has been kind enough to let me keep up one of his homes on about 2 acres of land fairly cheaply. With cheap rent, this has allowed me to invest in things like a new tiller and other tools that I’ll need.

I’m still a long ways away from running my own homestead, but it’s a one-step-at-a-time process. This is something you can’t dive into head first. You have to take the time to learn each new skill.

Now, it’s about time to begin my own homestead on my own property.

Self-sufficiency

Yes, self-sufficiency and homesteading go hand-in-hand, but I’m more of a fan of modern approaches in some regards. One of my passions is playing my part in solving economical, food, water, and energy needs. While I can only play a small role, I hope it at least allows me to help others during my journey.

One of the great things about the Internet is the wealth of information available. We’re now at a time in history where we can look back at how some things in the past were simpler or better, but we can now easily apply newer, more modern approaches to them. The Internet allows us to access this information, for the most part, freely.

Growing food

Over the last three months, I’ve spent less than $150 on groceries. In the U.S., that’s almost unheard of. I’ve managed to grow enough food to feed myself, minus a few things. Granted, I’ve been eating a lot of potatoes, which are starting to get a bit old at the moment.

I still have a lot to learn about gardening. This year has been a real learning experience because we’ve had two straight months of rain at my home, which is not a good thing. Too much water can be as detrimental as not enough water for many plants.

The bad thing about living on someone else’s land is that I can’t start planting my own fruit trees. The place I’m staying at now has pear, peach, and plum trees, but I want to grow a much larger variety of fruit and nut trees on my own land. These things take years to get going good.

Preserving food

My family has practiced preserving food all my life. Where most people grab a can of diced tomatoes off a supermarket shelf, this is something I rarely do. My grandmother literally has 300+ pints of tomatoes preserved in her kitchen/pantry at this moment. If I didn’t can tomatoes myself, it’d be nothing to grab a few jars from her free of charge.

Food preservation is a centuries-old skill. Here, the Internet comes to the rescue: there are thousands of how-to guides on preserving food around the Net. Not to mention, I have dozens of people in my family that can answer just about any question I have on the subject.

Raising livestock

So, I have chickens. Chickens are easy. Give them food and/or let them forage for food. Get eggs. Get fertilizer (i.e., chicken manure). Repeat.

Anyone who wants to start their own homestead starts with chickens. They’re about as low-maintenance as a cat, probably more so if you have a cat who wants to be constantly petted like one of mine.

Unfortunately, I can’t start raising other animals without my own property. Well, I probably could, but it’s not the best investment for me financially (building fences and so on). When I do have my own piece of land, the next animal I get will most likely be a dairy cow or goat.

Also, as many of you know, I’m a vegetarian, so I don’t plan to raise animals to eat.

Water and energy

These are the things that excite me the most, but they are also the things that I have the least amount of practical experience with. I’ve been educating myself via books, articles, and videos on these subjects over the past couple of years. However, nothing will beat actually putting that knowledge into practice.

The ultimate goal is to be off the grid. The only on-the-grid service I want to pay for is Internet and cell phone (by the way, Verizon, I’ll happily cancel my Internet service if you’ll switch back to unlimited data).

Two great things about living in Alabama are:

  • Rainfall. We get plenty enough rain each year to gather our own water and put it to use. Even in times of drought, with proper preparation and re-use of water, there’s plenty to sustain us for what we need.
  • Sunshine. We have 9 months of summer and 3 months of winter. At least that’s what it feels like most of the time. Solar panels are a great option here for creating energy and what I plan to use to supply much of my energy needs.

This is why I say it’s a great time in history to be living. We’re at a time when common man can create his own energy and get his own, clean water without relying completely on someone else. This service can also be as good as, if not better, than the everyone else’s.

I’m far from a Luddite and cherish every technological advancement that humans make (yes, I own an iPhone, iPad, laptop, and all kinds of other cool things). The technological advancements we’ve made in recent years has made homesteading without going back to oil lamps and candles a lot more realistic. It’s a marriage of the old and new — the modern homestead.

The financial aspect

The thing about homesteading is that most of the cost is up-front cost. In the long term, if done right, it can be a huge money saver and a money maker. I know some homesteading families of four, five, or six people that make only $20,000 per year and don’t even spend half that. And, those families live comfortable lives.

For me, it means having a little more financial freedom. It means giving myself the opportunity to pursue some of the riskier ideas (both online and offline) I have without worry.

All those financial self-help books have one thing in common, right? It’s the ultimate question: What would you do with your life if money wasn’t a factor?

Well, I’d become wiser and write self-help books that focused on my journey to being wise. :)

Really, I think most people would want to get to a place where they truly feel wealthy (not financial wealth, necessarily). Then, they’d share that wealth with others. We are social creatures. We ultimately want to help our fellow man.

I’m an optimist about the human condition.

That’s what I’d do though. I’d help others in any way I can. I’ve said it before — I’m pretty sure I was born to teach. It’s one of the things I’m most passionate about. So, I’d teach others about the things I’ve learned.

What does all this mean?

Are you wondering if I’m starting a homestead tomorrow? Or, what?

As I said at the beginning of this post, I’ve been hashing out some plans. This has been a long process and is still ongoing. I’ve just gotten to the point where I’m getting into some of the more detailed aspects of the plan. First, it was a dream. Now, I’m mapping the actual plan.

So, yes, I’ll be starting a homestead at some point. Whether that’s a year from now or five years from now is the next topic. And, it’s something that I’ll be asking your help with, dear reader. So, please stay tuned.

Just because the question will inevitably come up: No, this won’t change anything about my WordPress work. If anything, I hope it will give me more freedom to pursue the myriad of ideas I have.