These items certainly apply to this beginning Homesteader, and 6 years into the work I’m still a beginner and they still apply. I’ve noticed though that as we’ve gone along, sometimes an item, let’s take the 5 Gallon Bucket, simply takes on new forms; a bigger bucket, say a 30 gallon barrel or a 275 gallon IBC tote, or a bigger mechanized bucket, say on the front of a tractor. The point is that the mulitple functions of the bucket are required, and so it goes with most of the other items on the “Can’t Have Too Many” list. These are not necessarily in order of value to the Homesteading effort, but I’ll number them regardless.
In the early years, 2014 and 2015 we collected the sap and hauled it to the Sugar House in 5 Gallon Buckets. In ’17 above left, we still collected in 5 Gallon Buckets, as we do today, but brought it back to the Sugar House in 30 gallon barrels using the Polaris. In ’20 and ’21 we brought the sap back to the Sugar House in 275 gallon IBC totes behind draft horses. Same concept, a Bucket, just bigger.
Foundational Principles for Can’t Have Too Many
Which is to say, a thing should serve more than one purpose if possible. The best example is the Swiss Army Knife; basically, “Swiss Army Knife” is synonymous with multiple functions. MacGyver carried one, what more do you need to know?! My choice is the Victorinox Explorer; I think I bought an Explorer II, but it’s not on the manufacturers website anymore; it has a ball point pen and a eyeglass screwdriver that the Explorer doesn’t have. A similar product is the Evolution 23. I’ve called a farm tractor with front-end loader “the the Swiss Army Knife of homesteading.” I can maintain the driveway with the box blade, plow the driveway with the back blade and bucket, move pallets with the pallet forks, move brush and logs with the grapple, and mow with the brush hog. And thats just scratching the surface; there are many, many 3-point and PTO-driven attachments that provide for many, many functions; next on my list is the wood chipper.
Two is One and One is None
Generally applied; this means that if you have one of a thing, a 5 Gallon Bucket let’s say, when you are most in need of its service it will have developed a crack in the bottom. Have two, at least.
Three is Two and Two is One
As applied on the Homestead for water, heat, and electricity (the Achilles Heal of modern societies). So for example, water; we have 1) an electric submersible pump in the well, 2) we back up electrical power to that pump with a generator, 3) in the case of submersible pump failure or long term power outage we have a hand pump in the Well House, and should that fail, 4) we can haul water from the Lake in 5 Gallon Buckets. Similarly for heat, 1) is the Outdoor Wood Boiler, 2) is a propane fired furnace, 3) is generator back-up electricity to both of those, and 4) is a 77,000 BTU fireplace insert requiring no electricity. If living in a situation becomes untenable through the loss of a thing, like water or heat, you need to have multiple back-ups for providing that thing.
I’ve literally spent the last five years applying these principles to our Homestead, and specifically the last two principles with respect to Water (see posts here and here) and Heat (see posts here and here); I’ve done some work on Electricity, but there is a lot more to do in that regard. It’s a journey, not a destination.
1) Can’t Have Too Many 5 Gallon Buckets
If the 5 Gallon Bucket isn’t somewhere to be found on every Homesteading Top 10 List I’d be surprised. On a Homestead you will be needing to carry and store “stuff.” Stuff includes water and feed for the animals, human foods and water (from the lake), Sugar Maple sap in the case of our Pure Maple Syrup operations, salt for keeping walkways clear of ice, tools and supplies, and so on.
Above L-R; 5 Gallon Bucket as chicken water, to store layer feed, and to collect ashes (cold ashes please) from the evaporator arch. A 5 gallon bucket can also be used as a stool, or to protect outdoor connections between extension cords, and to collect fluids that are leaking from this or that, etc. How about using a 5 gallon bucket to make lye from wood ashes? A 5 gallon bucket can even be used as a composting toilet, and though using the same bucket is not recommended, accessories are available to turn a 5 gallon bucket into a filtering device for honey. Let’s just say that the list of possible uses for the ubiquitous 5 gallon bucket is practically endless!
2) Can’t Have Too Many Pallets
According to the wiki entry, “A pallet (also called a skid) is a flat transport structure, which supports goods in a stable fashion while being lifted by a forklift, a pallet jack, a front loader, a jacking device, or an erect crane.” True enough, but pallets have many, many uses, and they can be had cheaply if not for free.
Keeping your “stuff” out of ground contact can be quite beneficial. For example, we store roughly six cords of firewood for the Pure Maple Syrup operation on pallets, and we use pallets to keep hay off the concrete floor in the barn (concrete wicks moisture) and the High Tunnel. Also, in the Sugar House we sometime use pallets to keep boxes of new-empty or full bottles of Pure Maple Syrup off of the floor. And, think about using pallets to keep construction materials off of the ground until they’ve been used on the project.
Pallets can also be used directly in building low-cost structures, like shelters for animals, or compost piles. The wood used in most pallet construction is, for pallets that are not of the “throw-away” variety, hardwoods; folks often use the lumber from these pallets for furniture building, paneling, and the like. When a pallet reaches its end of useful life as a pallet, it can be torn down and used for firewood. As a side note, you might not want to use these in a fireplace or even a firepit, because they may off-gas; again according to the wiki, “Discarded wooden pallets should not be used for firewood or crafts unless it has been determined that the wood in these pallets has not been treated with wood preservatives, fungicides and/or pesticides.” I consider our Outdoor Wood Boiler to be safe with respect to the burning of pallet wood; because it is outdoors, and because it employs wood gasification burn technology.
3) Can’t Have Too Many T-Posts
You’ve seen T-posts and Pallets in combination to form compost piles; here are T-posts in their intended application, fencing for the garden-pig pen.
Of course the T-post is intended for use in fence construction, but as with many items on this list, in keeping with the “Multiple Functions” principle the T-post can serve many other needs. And in the images I’m sharing you may be starting to see a theme; combinations of the Homesteading Top 10 Can’t Have Too Many items in various applications (T-Posts in combination with Ratchet Straps and Pallets, Tarps in combination with Ratchet Straps, etc.)
4) Can’t Have Too Many Extension Cords
What can I say, when you really need an outlet, it’s 50 feet away, or 75 feet, or 150 feet; in other words it’s just not where you need it to be. And you want the better extension cords, especially cords that are water resistent and remain flexible in cold weather, because of course when you really need the cord the weather sucks. It’s Murphy’s Law, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong,” and I’d add that all of it will go wrong at the same time. I prefer the cords that are 50 feet long, designed for outdoor use, and have three outlets; here is one such popular and highly rated cord from Amazon. I will also include power strips under this heading; I have five power strips in the Sugar House alone, since even when a built-in outlet is nearby, we never seem to have as many outlets as we have cords. The power strips we use are in all cases indoors.
5) Can’t Have Too Many Concrete Blocks
Okay I’ll admit it, there’s nothing sexy about Concrete Blocks. I’m speaking of the 8″ x 8″ x 16″ standard block, although bricks are handy, too. Intended for construction of course, Concrete Blocks have many other uses. Together with 2 ft by 2 ft pavers I used Concrete Blocks to form the foundations for the Chicken Coop and the Solar Kiln; perhaps not their intended use, but close. But, we also use them to “build” steps up to the Coop door, and up to the 787 Gallon Sap Storage Tank. They are used to put additional weight down on Air Drying and Kiln Drying stacks of lumber. Like Pallets they can be used to keep equipment and materials out of ground contact; they can be used to anchor Tarps in creating temporary shelters. Your imagination is the only limitation.
6) Can’t Have Too Many Tarps
There is never, ever enough covered storage area on a Homestead. It’s a rule. According to Merriam-Webster, “a piece of material (such as durable plastic or waterproofed canvas) used especially for protecting exposed objects or areas.” Perfect. And certainly we use it as defined, covering all manner of equipment and material that would otherwise be exposed to the weather, but again, that’s just the beginning.
When I’m making a trip to the dump for example, which when you are renovating and building is often, I’ll use a combination of a Tarp and Ratchet Straps to secure the load. Let’s say I’m having to get under the truck for maintenance; since we don’t garage our vehicles I’m on the ground, which can be wet, snowy, muddy, or in the spring, all three. Enter the Tarp, which I use as a ground cover. We made our first Pure Maple Syrup under a Tarp. Your roof is damaged, a Tarp can come to the rescue.
7) Can’t Have Too Many Ratchet Straps
So far I’ve mentioned Ratchet Straps in combination with Tarps, and with T-posts, but that’s just the beginning. If there’s anything on the utility trailer, or anything on the truck’s roof rack, there are multiple Ratchet Straps in use. In a pinch you could use a Ratchet Strap for towing. I have six Ratchet Straps in the F-150 at all times, two of the 1 inch variety, two at 1.5 inches wide, and two in the 2 inch width. Breaking strength is roughly proportional to width, with the 2 inch straps at about 5,000 lbs. As for length, I prefer no shorter than 15 feet, and as long as 25 feet. You’ll see below that I cut down some 1 inch by 10 foot Straps to secure the fuel safety cans in the back of the F-150. Of course you can find Ratchet Straps at any hardware store, and naturally Amazon lists a wide variety. By the way, you’ll see those safety cans on a Homesteading Top 10 list at some point.
In case you missed it there’s another 5 Gallon Bucket (#1) in the bed of the truck.
8) Can’t Have Too Many Lights, or Lamps
Lights, or lamps, take your pick, this is a broad category, so I think I’ll break it down. Let’s see…
- Lights as personal equipment, for example flashlights and headlamps
- Lights, or lamps, for use during a power outage
- Lights for illuminating a work area
That should about cover it.
8a) Personal Lights
There are a few items every man should have on his person at all times, and a light is one of them. My current Every Day Carry (EDC) light is a Surefire EDCL1-T; bulletproof and resistent to Kryptonite. You get what you pay for. The only other category I’ll mention is the headlamp. Because I’m usually wearing a hat I don’t use headlamps a lot, but, I keep one in my 72 hour bag, one in the truck, and there’s one hanging next to the front door. The real benefit of the headlamp is that it frees up your hands for work, which is why I have them where I have them. I use the Foxelli, it’s relatively inexpensive and runs on AAA batteries. Arguably Petzl is the class of the field, it’s up to you; name brands like Energizer can also be found on-line or at your local hardware store.
8b) Power Outage Lights
We experience relatively frequent power outages; it’s simply a function of living in the woods with the power coming in on poles. Lamps that use kerosene or lamp oil as fuel are everywhere in our house, and we use them both during power outages and otherwise. My go-to kerosene lamp is the Dietz Air Pilot, you can also see other options from Dietz at Amazon. Works fine lasts a long time. We have many other kerosene lamps that have been gifted to us over the years, and they all see use.
Recently we purchased a 6V lamp at an antiques fair which has performed admirably. As I said in my Newsletter, “sometimes newer and better just isn’t.” If you can find one of these that still functions, get it; I don’t see anything like it online. I also use it when collecting eggs, because I can set the lamp down and put the light where I need it to be.
8c) Work Area Lights
By “work lights” I guess I need to be more specific; I’m talking about on both sides of the Sugar House. We have two work bench areas on the North side, but illuminated with your standard 4ft hanging flourescent light fixture, nothing special. For wider areas though, Geri set me up with a 50 foot LED light string, 5 lights per string, which I have found to be very useful. I like several things about it, 1) lots of light, 2) I can move it from here to there and back as required, and 3) very little power consumption, which means that I can power several of them with a car battery through and inverter. In fact, when Red was giving birth to Snowdrop we set up a light string in the barn and did just that. In the picture above 2 of the 5 light string are above the maple syrup evaporator, the other three are above the filtering and bottling areas.
For spot illumination that is not on the workbench, again it’s LEDs, but in this case on stands. With extension cords or a car battery and inverter I can set these lights up anywhere. You can probably find this at your local hardware store, certainly at any of the big box hardware stores, and at Amazon.
9) Can’t Have Too Many Pairs of Work Gloves
I’ve been here, there and everywhere when it comes to Work Gloves, and I’ve learned a few things about myself and the gloves. First, I lose things, it’s always been so, and probably always will be, just ask my Mom. (When I was in grade school I don’t think it was unusual for me to come home with four or five hats on my head the last day of school.) Therefore, keeping the cost low is important. Secondly, I like to be able to wash my Work Gloves, repeatedly. Leather hasn’t worked for me, and it’s hard to hold onto small pieces of hardware with bulky leather gloves. The Mechanix-type of Work Glove is nice, very nice, but they’re just too costly for me. I’ve settled on cheap but effective Work Gloves, less than $1/pair, like the Wells Lamont Nitrile-type of Work Glove. They work in at least three seasons, winter being the exception, and when I inevitable lose a glove or a pair I don’t lose any sleep.
Work Gloves are safety equipment in my opinion, I can’t afford to lose the use of a hand, or a foot, my eyes or my ears; there’s simply too much riding on my health in general, and my physical abilities in particular. So on the subject of safety equipment I want to address Hearing and Eye Protection; when I’m running the sawmill, or a chainsaw for example, I need both. Muffs over Safety Glasses is uncomfortable after hours of wear, so I need an Ear Plugs and Safety Glasses combination for the mill; for the chainsaw I use a Husqvarna “Forest Helmet.” For plugs and glasses I’ve recently found what works best for me, 3M Corded Reusable Earplugs and 3M Safety Glasses, Virtua CCS, ANSI Z87, Anti-Fog, Clear Lens, Blue Frame, Corded Ear Plug Control, Removable Foam Gasket. I will say up front, if you are working hard enough there is no such thing as fog-proof. Your mileage may vary, but for me these two 3M products in combination are safe and effective.
10) Can’t Have Too Many Books
As Thomas Jefferson said, “Books constitute capital. A library book lasts as long as a house, for hundreds of years. It is not, then, an article of mere consumption but fairly of capital, and often in the case of professional men, setting out in life, it is their only capital.” It’s true. Sure, the internet is nice, and convenient, and I use it a lot, but for ready reference I want books around me. Whatever the subject is, I enjoy the long-form treatment of the subject; 140 characters of a Twitter post (now increased to a maximum of 280) just doesn’t get it done for me. I’ve read a lot of books on Homesteading and related subjects, but in this space I’m only going to list those which have been most valuable to me.
Of course there are many, many other books, videos and the like, that have directly or tangentially informed why we are doing what we are doing, and how, but these books are more directly on point to the what and how.
None of the things I’ve listed are particularly expensive, with the exception of my EDC Surefire flashlight, and you can make due with a less expensive option that fits your budget. If you are already Homesteading I’m willing to bet that you already have most of these items around you; if you are just now beginning you will probably see the need to acquire most of these things sooner rather than later.
This is just the beginning of my Homesteading Top 10 lists, plural. So far I have listed 17 categories or major individual items to be addressed, the “Can’t Have Too Many” was Number 11 of those 17. At some point I will publish the entire parent list as an index of sorts, while at the same time writing on each of the “children.” I hope you’ve found this informative and a bit fun!