Rookie Mistakes We Made As Beginning Homesteaders

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I’ll be the first to admit that when we first started our homesteading journey, we made a lot of rookie mistakes. We spent to much on things we didn’t need. Then we turned around and didn’t buy things we really should have. We skipped around when adding animals, buildings and tools. That is, until we learned to prioritize better. We have learned a lot of lessons the hard way. Starting a homestead from scratch, and building all our own infrastructure, is much harder than I had ever imagined it could be. Hopefully writing this all down will help you avoid a few of the mistakes we made!

Rookie Mistakes We Made As Beginning Homesteaders - Sled Dog Slow

Our biggest rookie mistake was not planning anything.

Sure we had ideas for what we wanted to do, and we wrote things down, but we never really had a set plan. There was no “house goes here, chickens go here, garden goes here” kind of plan. Not until we had already put the chickens too close to the house. So as we expanded we just threw things where it was convenient right then, rather than were we knew we wanted them permanently. If we had planned better we could have saved ourselves from a lot of the other mistakes. A homestead planning binder is necessary to keep everything organized.

Another mistake we made was jumping in to new things without preparing.

We’d get an idea and go for it. More chickens? Heck yeah. Pigs? Lets do it! Greenhouse and garden? Check! And then the inevitable fail. We wanted everything to work and be productive right away. Kyle was so disappointed to find out our chickens wouldn’t lay until the spring after we purchased them. At least we were able to push our pig order back to this summer, and have learned enough to hold off on beehives and other animals until next year.

We didn’t understand the weather in our new area well either.

Personally, coming from a desert area, I didn’t truly understand what living in a rainforest meant until we were hit by our first rainy season here. A little drowned garden and a lot of mud later, know I know how wet it can be! It also helps to know where the low spots collect so we can avoid building there. We also thought we were prepared for long winters, but they are much longer and darker than I could have imagined!

Also, we made the mistake of not budgeting from the beginning.

We have spent so much money on materials for our homestead, when we should have just invested in a saw mill from the beginning. Small purchases can add up really quickly. We should have figured out sooner that just because something is new doesn’t make it better. At least we have a few places we know to go for cheap homestead goods now!

The biggest lesson we’ve learned in starting our homestead from scratch is that it’s okay to go slow.

There is no reason to push to the point of injury to get everything done in one day. Pacing yourself in the endless work (it is endless) of beginning a homestead is extremely important. There should always be a realistic timeline for goals to be completed. This will save so much frustration down the line.

All things aside, we are still learning on our homestead journey. I’m sure there will be many more mistakes and lessons for us in the future!

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5 Risks When Living Life By The Tides

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5 Risks When Living Life By The Tides - Sled Dog Slow

One of the biggest challenges of where we live is our access. We live off road, and how we get to our home changes by the season. During the fall freeze and spring break up we are stuck on our property. During winter there is a 4 wheeler trail that, depending on the weather, can be driven on with a truck, wheeler, or snow machine. And during the summer, well, during the summer we live life by the tides.

Living life by the tides brings with it certain risks, and a lot of adventure!

Risk Number One: The possibility of getting stuck mid-beach with tide coming in.

We live about 15 miles from the end of the road. This means 15 miles of beach driving that has to be timed just right. The tide also goes right up to the cliff face, and there only two spots between our place and the road that you can get off the beach. There have been several times where we have left our wheeler on the beach and walked home. Either due to break downs or not being able to drive around a rocky point without flooding the engine, missing tide is never fun. There is even the possibility of sitting as far up the cliff as is manageable for several hours to wait out tide if the timing is wrong.

Risk Number Two: Getting Out In Case Of A Medical Emergency

On our beach there are two high tides and two low tides each day. During high tide there is no land access to our property, which means for roughly 8-10 hours a day there is no way to go anywhere. I’ve had one major accident out here already, when I fractured my teeth on the wheeler. Luckily that happened at low tide so I was able to drive right to the hospital. By the time the three hour drive to get there was over, my adrenaline was gone and I was starting to hurt. Having to wait for tide before leaving would have been even worse. Any serious emergency during high tide would require being medevaced out via helicopter. That’s not something I ever want to experience!

Risk Number Three: Damage To Vehicles

Ever seen a completely rusted out vehicle in a junkyard? Salt water does that, and really fast. Driving a car, truck or wheeler on the beach means rinsing it every trip (if possible). Even if the vehicle is rinsed, driving on the beach does serious damage to electrical and metal frames. Beach rigs don’t last half as long as road rigs, but this is the only way to get to our place for half the year!

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Risk Number Four: Beach Changes

The beach changes every tide, and I really mean every tide. Rocks are moved, driftwood gets pushed around, and the occasional net (or whale) shows up.  The places that were solid last tide are suddenly soft now. Driving on the beach requires 110% concentration, or you end up with risk number five.

Risk Number Five: Loosing A Vehicle Entirely

We got to experience this one yesterday. There is an interesting combination of water/mud/clay on this beach that basically makes quick sand. There are several trashed vehicles on the beach from people getting stuck in this stuff. We got our new (to us) vehicle stuck, and where unable to pull it out with our come along, winch, and two wheelers. At this point we have to leave it until someone else risks a vehicle on the beach, then we will ask for some help getting it towed back to the road. I don’t have my fingers crossed or anything, but there is always the slight possibility that it may run after having all the fluids flushed. Provided the ocean doesn’t take it completely first.

Even with all the risks that our beach brings, and the heartache it’s caused, we are still enjoying every minute of living out here!

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Emergency Preparedness

Emergency Preparedness - SledDogSlow.com
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Emergency preparedness is huge when you live as far from town, and the road, as we do. We ended up snowed in for nearly a month after bringing the truck back. Unfortunately when we bring the truck back our 4 wheeler stays at our parking spot, so we’ve been without a vehicle this whole time. We prepared for the possibility of being stuck this winter before the snow came. These are the things we considered:

1. Food

We bought everything in bulk when we last went shopping, stocking up on staple items as well as animal feed. We also have enough dehydrated emergency food kits to last us 3 months if we need it.

2. Water

We haul water to the homestead from a creek roughly a half mile away. We can bring 20 gallons at a time, either on the 4 wheeler or by pulling it on a sled. Then we put it through our homemade gravity water filter (instructions to make your own here), so we always have water. If anything happened to our water filter we also have life straws as a back up.

3. Shelter/Warmth

We heat our cabin with a wood stove. Luckily we had lots of wood stacked up before we got snowed in. It was a good thing since we can’t haul wood easily without the 4 wheeler! We also have a heater big enough to heat our cabin if we ever needed to use it, and a lot of dead standing trees within walking distance of the cabin.

4. Energy

We have 30 gallons of gas that we keep out here. That will last us 2 months if we use the generator every day, and use the 4 wheeler and chainsaw. We also use our generator to charge our battery bank while we use it, then we use that during the day. Our solar panels are getting more sun every day now, but they still don’t give us a full charge yet. We also have a back up generator, just in case something happens to this one, along with extra oil to maintain it (because maintenance matters, see why here).

5. Knowledge

We’ve done a lot of research on surviving, and thriving, out here. Both for everyday things we should know like understanding weather conditions, and emergency things, like finding water depth from plants. We also have lots of books with good survival knowledge in them (see my post on the books we have here). Between our books and cell phone booster, we should be able to look up anything we might need to know.

A photo posted by Katie Sarvela (@sleddogslow) on


It’s important to be prepared for any situations that may come out way out here. We’ve been caught unprepared before (post here), and I never want to do that again! How do you prepare for emergencies?

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Chaga – The King Of Mushrooms

Chaga - The King Of The Mushrooms - SledDogSlow.com
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Have you ever heard of Chaga? I hadn’t until I moved to this area. Chaga, also known as the King of Mushrooms, is a type of parasitic fungi that is found primarily in birch trees. Luckily we are surrounded by birch here on our property. Chaga is well known folk remedy for many illnesses including cancers, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. People also swear by it as the reason behind their longevity. And it helps that it doesn’t taste bad either, as its slightly vanilla flavored. There are several hospitals now conducting studies on this mushroom and how it affects the human body. We were told about it by our friends, and they took Kyle and I hunting for it so we would be able to identify it ourselves.

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Chaga is an interesting looking fungi that could easily be confused with a burl on a tree. It looks like a spot where the tree has been injured and burned. The outer shell is hard, rough and black, while the inner portion is also hard, it is more of a burnt orange color.

chaga

It is easy to miss when until you find a few pieces, then it seems like it’s everywhere, at least around here anyway! Chaga is best harvested in the fall and winter when it has stored the most nutrients from its host tree. It must be cut carefully away from the tree. Birch trees can actually “bleed” to death, so damage to the tree must be avoided. Leaving a small piece of Chaga attached to the tree will also allow it to grow back, where it can be harvested again in several years. Pieces smaller than a baseball should be left to grow another year before harvesting. While Chaga is a parasite and will eventually kill it’s host tree, it takes years to do so.

To use Chaga most people make a tea out of it. It shouldn’t be heated to boiling as this will produce a burnt flavor. Chaga can be ground up or simply broken into chunks and steeped in hot water. Chaga tea also tastes good when it is cooled or refrigerated. Kyle and I both tried it and liked it. We plan on harvesting more from our property this fall and winter, and will put some up for sale in our Etsy shop, AlaskanWildArts, as we harvest it!

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Searching For Spirit Stones

Searching For Spirit Stones - SledDogSlow.com
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One of the really cool things that we were surprised to find moving to this area are a special type of rock called Spirit Stones. One of our new friends here actually discovered these stones after he moved out here, and he has a coffee table book on some of the cool specimens he’s found that can be purchased here. Spirit Stones, or Fairy Stones as they are called in some parts of the world, are actually mineral concretions. No one is quite sure how the ones found here are formed, but they certainly come in some interesting patterns!

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As cool as these stones are, they are rare and not exactly safe to go searching for. They are found in the mud flats of the Cook Inlet at low tide, and the mud flats are dangerous. The clay mud is akin to quick sand and it’s impossible to know if an area is stable before stepping on it. There have been several drowning deaths due to persons getting stuck in the mud and rescue personnel being unable to dig them out before the tide came in. This is the same type of mud that we got our truck stuck in the first time we drove the beach, it was so lucky that we were rescued!

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Sometimes Spirit Stones get pushed up to shore, but usually you need to go out at the lowest tides to find them. That means tromping through roughly 4 football fields of mud, and making sure to always pay attention to the tide so you can beat it back to shore. The tides here come in so fast its possible to actually see them rolling in, and its scary to look up and see there is suddenly water pooled in a low spot between you and shore. Searching for these stones is definitely a two person task for safety. Personally, I have been stuck up to the top of my muck boots (top of my calves) and been unable to work myself free. Kyle had to slowly work his way over to were I was and help pull me out one leg at a time. I can see how easy it would be to sink farther if I had panicked and tried to get myself out. Knowing how dangerous the mud was I stopped as soon as I sank farther than expected, and this prevented me from getting more stuck. If I had been alone I would have tried crawling to disperse my weight and hopefully that would have worked.

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And at the end of all that dangerous mud there is no guarantee that there is even a Spirit Stone around to be found. Kyle and I have gone searching and come back empty handed several times. Most commonly what we do find are these little single bubbles, hence another nickname for these stones – mud bubbles.

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Another really cool aspect of these stones it that whatever they are made of they actually polish up really well. Kyle and I have hand sanded and polished a few. It takes quite a while, but the end result is interesting colors and visible layers of stone. Some of them polish to an almost mirror quality, catching reflections really well.

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If you’d like to have a spirit stone of your own, Captain Cook State Park in Alaska is an area that Spirit Stones are sometimes washed up to shore and found in. Or you can purchase one from Kyle and I’s new Etsy Store, AlaskanWildArts. We’ll be adding stones as we find and clean them up, along with other crafts and such that we make out here.

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