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From the Ground Up

How to Install a Water Storage Tank

Photo by Unsplash/Luis Tosta

For the average homeowner who’s looking to cut down on their water expenses, a water storage tank may be just the thing.

Perhaps the most obvious application is rainwater harvesting: You’d be surprised by how much water you can collect during the rainy seasons, which can provide you with just about all the water you’d need for gardening and lawn watering.

Pool owners and farmers can also benefit from water storage tanks — by collecting and storing water, you can ensure a continual supply for your pool as well as a reliable source of drinking water for your livestock.

But no matter how you plan on using your tank, you’ll want to be sure you take the time to install it properly for years of reliable use. Here’s a quick guide to help you get it right the first time.

Step 1: Prepare a Base for Your New Tank

As with most home improvement projects, getting a strong foundation is most important. To begin with, choose a location that’s conveniently situated near your garden, pool, or any other area that you plan on irrigating using your stored water.

Once you’ve chosen your location, tamp down the soil thoroughly and remove any rocks or other foreign matter that could interfere with the base of the tank.

Add about three inches of crusher (or road base) to finish your preparations, and tamp it down again. If the ground looks level and stable when you finish, you’re ready to proceed.

Step 2: Pour Your Concrete Foundation

Your next step is to pour a three-inch reinforced concrete slab in the location you’ve chosen for your storage tank. The slab should be flat and level in both dimensions, and it should be larger than the tank itself.

You can purchase concrete mix at any of your local hardware stores or home improvement warehouses — just make sure you don’t start mixing it until you’ve finished the preparations outlined in step one.

Note that your foundation should be about twenty four inches larger than the water tank itself — this will ensure stability. You should also build a retaining wall around the concrete base. Over time, washout and even vermin can cause erosion in the area, but a retainer will help keep small environmental changes from interfering with your tank.

Step 3: Install the Overflow Drainage Pipe

Depending on where you purchased your water storage tank, it may already be fitted with an overflow drainage pipe. Regardless, properly installing and positioning this pipe will ensure excess water runoff won’t compromise the stability of your concrete base over time.

If you have a storm water drainage system nearby, you can use it as a receptacle for your storage tank’s piping. If your property doesn’t have storm drainage, you can simply use a length of piping to redirect excess water from your storage tank to an area of the yard that’s away from your home and won’t be adversely affected by the excess runoff.

Step 4: Install Fill Pipes From the Roof

Finally, to complete your new setup, you’ll need to install fill pipes to complete the water’s path from your roof to your storage tank.

The most common types of fill piping connect either directly to your gutter or act as an outlet for an individual downspout. In either case, think carefully about how this water is most likely to be used.

If, for example, you intend to use it for human consumption, follow any manufacturer-provided instructions that concern the installation of a water filter. If you plan to use your captured water for irrigation purposes, you can skip that step.

You’re Ready to Go!

As a final note, an abundance of resources are available online from rainwater harvesting enthusiasts. They can provide you with some great ideas and help you with any troubleshooting should the need arise.

As you can see, investing just one afternoon of moderate-to-hard work can provide you with a water storage solution that will last you for many years to come — and net you some great savings. So what are you waiting for?

 Photo by Enduraplas.

How to Clean your Hot Melt Equipment

James Whitehot melt

You might not be familiar with the name, but if you know basic crafting tools then you know what a hot melt machine is: an industrial version of your favorite handheld hot-glue gun.

Hot melt adhesives are fantastic for low and moderate temperature applications because they bond to just about anything, dry or cure quickly, and are extremely versatile.

The hot melt machine is fantastic for filling large gaps in a project, and can be easily stored for long periods of time without the need for any special environmental considerations. For many projects, hot melt is the perfect adhesive solution.

Reasons to Clean

Unlike your household hot glue gun, a hot melt machine must be regularly cleaned and maintained to stay in top working condition. Why is cleaning your hot melt equipment so important?

1. Safety

There’s nothing worse than having your hot melt equipment break down when you’re in the middle of using it. Not only does it negatively affect your productivity, it can lead to dangerous repair attempts while the machine is still filled with hot melted adhesive. Normal cleaning and preventative maintenance can help to prevent unscheduled shutdowns and emergency repair calls.

2. Longevity

Normal wear and tear will eventually wear your hot melt equipment to the point at which it no longer efficiently creates adhesive bonds. By performing cleaning and preventative maintenance, you can help to increase the machine’s lifespan exponentially. This maintenance also helps to reduce the occurrence of normal equipment failures, such as clogs and char.

Photo by Pixabay

3. Reduced Char

In hot-melt systems, char in the adhesive pots is often caused by external contaminants like dust or wood shavings, depending on where the machine is being used. Cleaning your hot melt machine can prevent this char from clogging your adhesive lines. If left unchecked, char can cause hoses and nozzles to fail permanently, resulting in costly replacements.

4. An Improved Bottom Line

For many businesses, monetary saving is the most important reason to clean these versatile hot-melt machines. Clogged lines or dirty machines cost money to repair or replace — money that a startup company may not have to spare. The cost of a cleaning solvent or kit is minimal when compared to the cost of replacing an entire hot melt unit.

How should you go about cleaning your hot melt equipment to make sure it lasts as long as possible? Keep in mind that these are basic guidelines, and you should always follow your individual unit’s cleaning instructions to ensure that the equipment isn’t damaged.

How to Clean

  • Start by shutting the machine off and removing as much adhesive as possible. Most cleaning solvents will break up the remaining adhesive in the machine, but you don’t want to stick your hands into a tank that’s still full of hot melted glue if you can avoid it.
  • Next, add your cleaner and turn the pressure pump back on. This will flush the cleaner through the system and remove any remaining adhesive that you may not have been able to reach.
  • Finally, drain the cleaner out of your hot melt system, add new adhesive and — as soon as that has reached the right temperature — you can get back to work!

Clean your equipment periodically (depending on how often you use it) and it will last as long as you have projects that require the use of hot-melt adhesive.

Preparing Your Homestead for Winter

James WhiteAlthough it’s hard to believe right now, winter will be here before you know it. There’s a lot to do to prepare your homestead for winter, and you don’t want to be caught off-guard by a freak snowstorm or early frost. Stay organized with this helpful, month-by-month planner, and you can be sure that your livestock, harvest and machinery will be safe and snug for the winter.

Prepare your homestead for Winter by month

Technically, winter begins around Dec. 21, the day of the year with the least amount of sunlight. This is by no means the coldest part of winter – it’s only the beginning. Consider this your deadline.

Winter campaign | Leeroy/Life of Pix 

The following tips are assuming a USDA Zone 5 or 6 climate, which cuts through the center of the country from California to New Jersey. It also assumes a first frost in mid-October. If you live in a colder region, research your zone and frost dates to adjust your schedule accordingly.

September preparations

  • Attend to your harvest. Now is the time of year when you need to stay on top of picking fruits from the orchard, veggies from the garden and grain from the fields. To catch produce at the peak of freshness, you need to pick at least two to three times per week.

  • Process and preserve your harvest. As food comes in, your other main task this month is to preserve it. Whether you are canning, dehydrating or freezing your produce, you must take care that you process your harvest without delay to maintain proper food safety.

  • Stock up on firewood. Whether you order wood from a local supplier or manage your own wood lot, splitting and stacking seasoned logs now will save you a lot of effort when the snow flies.

October preparations

  • Inspect and repair outbuildings. Before it gets too cold, check the exterior of all your buildings – barn, chicken coop, greenhouse, etc. – for damage. Replace any missing shingles, re-caulk around windows and seal any air leaks with spray foam. Check roofs as well – they’ll be much easier to fix now, not after the snow flies.

  • Protect the orchard. Mice are notorious for snacking on the bark of fruit trees, and the damage they cause can be severe. Protect trees by painting the trunks with white latex paint or wrapping them with hardware cloth. You should also rake up and dispose of all dropped leaves and fruit to minimize risk for disease.

  • Mulch plants for overwintering. Cover plants like strawberries, rhubarb, garlic and asparagus with a layer of clean straw to protect them from the cold weather to come. Root vegetables that you haven’t yet harvested can also be protected this way to delay a hard freeze, which will give you more time to enjoy them fresh before the serious cold sets in.

  • Clean up the garden. After the killing frost, pull out dead and dying annual fruits and vegetables. Compost all disease-free waste and rake soil flat. Consider adding a layer of finished compost and turning it into the beds to prefertilize the soil for next spring.

November preparations

  • Inspect and repair machinery. With most harvesting now complete, take time to inspect large machinery. Fix tire pressure and patch any paint as needed. This is also a great time to have a professional tuneup done on farm equipment before you store it for winter.

  • Clean and organize tools. Hand tools take a beating during the growing season, so take the time to clean and dry them thoroughly. Sharpen the edges of spades, hoes and knives and coat metal edges with petroleum jelly to prevent rust.

  • Inspect livestock. Before bedding animals down for the winter, inspect your flocks. Any animal that looks sickly should be seen by a vet before disease has a chance to spread in the close quarters of the winter barn. If you plan to cull unproductive poultry, now is the time.

December preparations

  • Erect a windbreak for beehives. Though insulating a beehive can inadvertently cause high levels of moisture and mold in the hive, building a windbreak is an easy way to give your bees some cold protection. Try setting up a short line of fencing in the path of the prevailing winds to stop snowdrifts.

  • Organize and order seeds for spring. Label any seeds you gathered from the garden and organize into envelopes in a box or file folder. If you have room, consider storing your seeds in the refrigerator to increase shelf life. Make a list of seeds you need for spring and spend the next month browsing seed catalogs at you leisure. Ordering early mean you’ll have first pick of all your favorite varieties.

Once you’ve battened down the hatches and prepared your homestead for winter, you may not be sure exactly what to do with the extra time on your hands. Try picking up a good book or learning a new hobby. If you just can’t stop thinking about the homestead, winter is the perfect time to lay out your plans for spring planting and improvements.

Fall Garden Cleanup Checklist

James WhiteWith cooler weather approaching, most of us are done with our blood-sweat-and-tears gardening for the year, but that doesn’t mean we put away our tools just yet. A little fall prepping will get you off to a great start in spring.

Disease Cleanup

Had a bout of late blight this season? Removing all traces of infected plants is crucial to a healthy garden next year.

  • Remove all plant parts and leafy material, pieces of tomatoes or undug potatoes.
  • Unless you know you can assure a temperature of 130-140 degrees through composting, double bag the debris and toss it in the trash – your compost won’t get hot enough to destroy the disease.
  • Rotate crops to reduce chance of this problem again next year.
  • Disinfect any tools used during this process so disease isn’t spread to other plants or areas of the garden.
  • Weed and clean up foliage around plants and flowers that may carry disease.

cleaning out the garden | Fotolia/alisonhancock

Photo: Fotolia/alisonhancock

Soil Test

The end of the season can be the perfect time to get a soil test and see how your soil is faring, what it needs and how you can get it ready for spring planting.

  • While a pH test is a good idea, there’s also several soil tests you can do at home without any test kits, such as checking for organisms in the soil, assessing the soil structure and tilth and soil compaction.


  • Tilling in the fall not only destroys a lot of pesky bugs that would normally overwinter there, but also gives your soil a good head start on breaking down nutrients to feed your spring crops.
  • Add a layer of compost if you feel like it.

If you know your soil needs nutrients or is imbalanced, take this time to add whatever it needs so it’s ready for planting in the spring.


  • Not only can this choke out weeds that already exist, but a good thick layer of mulch is also the perfect way to prevent new weed seeds from germinating in the first place.
  • The mulch you want to use in your garden will depend on your needs, but for those of us who opt for solarized hay, you’ll need to use a forklift to bust out the bales. As your garden grows over the years, so do your needs and eventually moving everything by hand just doesn’t cut it.
  • Newspaper covered with another layer of mulch is another great choice, and this option encourages earthworms in your soil. The earthworms will aerate the soil and fertilize the area with castings.

Clean and Store Tools

Your tools are an investment; taking care of them means you get more out of that investment.

  • Disinfect all tools that may have come in contact with diseased plants, including pruning shears and trowels. Soak in a mixture of cleaning liquid, or bleach and water. Then rinse and dry, leaving no moisture on the tools.
  • Lightly oil the tools so they don’t rust in cool weather and store in a safe, dry location.
  • Drain and store garden hoses
  • Drain the fuel tanks on your lawn mower and any other large equipment; check owners’ manuals for other winter care instructions.

garden tools | Fotolia/Melinda Fawver

Photo: Fotolia/Melinda Fawver

A little extra work in the fall will get your spring season off with a bang and have your garden growing tall and green in no time at all. While this is by no means a comprehensive list, it’s a great place to start toward a happier and healthier spring garden. Fall doesn’t mean gardening season is over by any means – it’s just the cycle starting all over again.

22 Natural Remedies for Everyday Ailments

James WhiteYou don’t have to pop a pill for everything. Some people aren’t big fans of taking conventional medicine, and there’s no reason to for minor issues. If you’re looking for some home remedies, check out these ideas for common complaints you can cure naturally.

1. Use Eucalyptus to Clear a Stuffy Nose

A few drops of eucalyptus oil in a humidifier will help clear a stuffy nose. The minty essential oil helps loosen up mucus and reduce swelling.

2. Honey for a Sore Throat

A spoonful of raw honey will instantly help ease a sore throat. As an added bonus, it will also help quell coughing fits. Mix a tablespoon of honey with a squeeze of lemon in a warm cup of water for a soothing drink.

3. Basil for Bug Bites

A bit of crushed basil on a mosquito bite will help relive the itchiness. Plus, it smells much better than anything from a bottle.

4. Coconut Oil Aftershave

If you have sensitive skin, using coconut oil as an aftershave lotion can help immensely. Dull hair can also be revived with an oil soak. Mix coconut oil with any essential oil of your choice and smooth it through your hair. Let it sit for a least half an hour, then wash it out thoroughly. This is best for fine hair, although it can be used on all hair types. Just make sure to investigate the best way to use oil for your hair!

5. Apple Cider Vinegar for Bloating, Diabetes, and Heartburn

Organic apple cider vinegar has a host of benefits, from relieving bloating to preventing diabetes to helping those with heartburn. Learn more about the benefits of apple cider vinegar here.

6. Calm Nausea With Ginger

An upset stomach can be helped with ginger. Ginger can also help with sea-sickness. You can buy an all-natural tea with ginger, or keep a piece of fresh ginger in your fridge (or freezer to make it last longer), and then just shave off a few pieces to add to hot water. Steep for 5 to 15 minutes before drinking.

7. Lesson Heartburn With Baking Soda

A touch of baking soda in a glass of water will clear late-night heartburn up in no time. Just be sure not to use too much, or you’ll be up burping instead!

8. Keep Bugs Away With Peppermint

You don’t have to pile on a chemical bug spray to keep annoying pests away. Place a few drops of peppermint essential oil into witch hazel or water and spray when needed. Just make sure to avoid your eyes!

9. Chamomile for Sleeplessness

Chamomile is great for promoting relaxation and preparing you for sleep. A cup of chamomile tea is a great way to get ready for bed.

10. Baking Soda for Bee Stings

If you or a child is stung by a bee, make a paste with baking soda and water, and rub it on the sting. The pain will stop instantly!

11. Peppermint for Headaches

In either tea or as an essential oil, peppermint is a great way to relive a tension headache. The cooling effect can be very effective at giving you a bit of stress relief, too.

12. Lavender for Restless Leg Syndrome

Do your legs and feet start to bug you at night? Rub a few drops of lavender essential oil on the areas of your legs that hurt (such as the ankle). Lavender is also known to help relieve anxiety, so it’s a great way to get your mind ready for a calm, restful sleep.

13. Marshmallow Root for Irritation and Sore Throats

Marshmallow root has been used for more than 2,000 years to calm irritation and help with sore throats. It helps moisten and reduce swelling in mucus membranes throughout the body, and reduces irritation as a result.

14. Witch Hazel for Your Face

Witch hazel is best known as a natural astringent. It’s a wonderful agent to help balance your skin after washing and helps shrink pores. If that’s what you’re after, then this is what you need in your skin care routine.

15. Green Tea for the Jitters

Green tea is known to help relive anxiety and lower blood sugar, especially when drunk regularly. However, it does have caffeine in it, so try drinking it before noon.

16. CoQ10 and Magnesium for Heart Palpitations

For many people, heart palpitations are caused by anxiety. A great way to keep your cortisol levels in check and stop palpitations is by taking CoQ10 and magnesium on a daily basis. (Consult with your doctor to make sure you don’t have any other serious heart issues.)

17. Use Witch Hazel for Hemorrhoids

The astringent properties of witch hazel can help with hemorrhoids. The alcohol causes the blood vessels to contract, reducing swelling and tenderness.

18. Honey for Minor Scratches

Honey is a natural antibiotic. Applying it to minor wounds can help prevent infection and help a wound heal faster.

19. Reduce a Fever with Linden Flower Tea

A cup of tea can help calm a low-grade fever and give everyone the rest they need. Be sure to go to your doctor if the fever gets too high!

20. Tea Tree Oil for Minor Infections

For minor skin infections, try combining one drop tea tree essential oil (often called Melaleuca) into five drops of coconut oil. Rub together and apply to infected spot twice a day. Most skin infections will clear up, but if the infection gets worse, go see a doctor.

21. Thyme for Snoring

While thyme has many antibacterial health benefits, a drop mixed with a few drops of coconut oil can be a quick remedy for someone who snores. Lightly rub some of the mixed oil to the bottom of your big toe before you go to bed. Or you can diffuse thyme in your bedroom a half-hour before you go to sleep.

22. Turmeric, Willow Bark, or Cat’s Claw for Arthritis

Turmeric, willow bark, and cat’s claw are known for helping calm inflammation. Instead of taking aspirin, use one of these natural remedies to help arthiritis.

As with all natural remedies, it’s important to consult your doctor before using. Also if you’re not sure if you are allergic to the new herb, try it in a small dose to see if you have a negative reaction before using it regularly.

This is hardly an exhaustive list of natural remedies for common ailments. Any issue you might have has a potential cure out there. It can’t hurt to look around!

Photo from GraphicStock

What You Should Know Before Planting Fruit Trees

James White

Growing your own food is a fulfilling and delicious process. Having fruit trees means that you have the opportunity to enjoy fresh, sweet fruit during harvest time and then throughout the year, assuming you can or jelly your fruits for later.

Planting fruit trees can be a relatively simple process as long as you are informed and educated about the trees that grow best in your area. Below are a few things to know before planting fruit trees so that you can successfully grow and harvest fruit.

1. Decide What Types of Fruit You Want to Plant

One of the best things about deciding to plant fruit trees is that you get to choose what types of fruit you want to grow. Make a list of your favorites, then ask your family what their favorites are. Once you have a list, figure out which trees you can plant in your area.

2. Pick the Right Trees for Your Area

Different fruit trees thrive in different areas, so picking the right type of fruit tree will ensure a bountiful harvest. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map gives you the information you’ll need to pick the right trees for your area.

apple tree orchard

3. Decide Where to Plant Your Orchard

After you’ve decided what fruit trees you’re going to plant, then it’s time to decide where you’re going to plant them. Fruit trees require a minimum amount space, usually an area that is 25 feet by 25 feet, so make sure you have enough room for your tree. If you’re planning on planting more than one tree, make sure you have enough space for each tree you need to plant. When deciding how many trees to plant, keep in mind how much fruit each tree yields.

If you decide to plant dwarf fruit trees, you won’t need as much space for your orchard, but you will need a spot with the right type of soil and plenty of sunshine. Talking to a local extension office, a greenhouse, or other farmers in your area can help you determine if your soil is fit for fruit trees.

4. Your Fruit Trees and Pollination

Certain fruit trees won’t bear fruit unless they are near another compatible tree for pollination. Ask your nursery or extension office which trees work the best side by side to bear fruit. You’ll also need to keep this in mind when planning your orchard so that you have enough room for your trees.

5. Know When to Plant Your Orchard

Depending on where you live and what types of trees you are planting, when you plant is important. If you’re unsure about the optimum time to plant your tree, talk to a greenhouse, the extension office, or other farmers in your area.

6. Know How to Plant Your Orchard

Are you growing a tree from seed or getting a bare-root fruit tree? Both require different care and nurturing, so be prepared and informed so you can take care of your tree. A bare-root tree will probably bear fruit sooner than a tree grown from seed, and knowing how to plant bare root-fruit trees will ensure your success.

7. Watering Your Trees

Make sure your new orchard is getting all the water it needs by digging a trough around the tree. This will help water get to the roots where it is needed most. If you live in a rainy area, you can leave it to Mother Nature to water your fruit trees. If your climate is a little dryer, make sure your tree is soaked once a week to ensure it stays hydrated.

Growing fruit trees can be an incredibly bountiful and gratifying experience. Most of the time, growing an orchard isn’t difficult, but to ensure your success, make sure you select trees that bear fruit you enjoy and that thrive in your area.  

Top 7 Tools for a Growing Homestead

James WhiteBy now you've bought the farm or a little plot of land to call your own and you’re digging into the soil. That also means you've begun a list of equipment you didn't realize was essential. You didn't wait to buy a tractor, did you?

While you're taking stock of your homestead equipment, consider the following top tools for growing your homestead.

Rear-Tined Rotary Tiller

While you have an option of hitching a plow to a tractor or maybe even a plow horse, a rear-tined tiller is easy to work on and gets the job done. Organic gardening isn't difficult, but it is different, and a strong tiller will make your work easier.

Look for a tiller meant for small-plot farmers, made with cast-iron parts. The advantage with heavier machines like this is they'll break apart sod more easily and will also help to mix your compost into the soil.

Just keep in mind that you'll have to make sure the machine doesn't get clogged with cornstalks or wrapped in vines. If you allow the engine to get bogged down, it'll end up overheating.


All tractors are not created equal, but all tractors are meant for multiple tasks. The most important tool in your repertoire, an engine-powered machine like a commercial-grade tractor is the modern replacement for work horses. In fairness, I'd prefer the horses, but the maintenance costs for a team of horses — not to mention the purchase of said horses — goes outside the bounds of a standard homestead startup.

Your tractor will be one of your largest purchases, but remember you'll be using it as everything from a backhoe or plow to a forklift.

If you absolutely can't afford to buy a modern tractor, look into an antique with a solid track record. They're not quite as reliable, but they're easier to work on yourself.

Come-Along and Wire Fence Mandrel

Fencing sounds simple — keep the good in and the bad out. But rabbits, foxes and other creatures have a habit of going exactly where they aren't supposed to be regardless of a fence. Of course, that means you'll be repairing fences more often than you'd like. That's where the come-along and wire fence mandrel come in handy.

A come-along is a handheld winch and ratchet tool used to pull cables taught between fence posts. Repairing fencing without one is a waste of time. The mandrel is used to keep the loop of cable from the fencepost in place.


When you first start gardening, a hand-harvesting tool is probably all you'll need, but as your homestead begins to grow you'll need to consider the purchase of a harvester, also known as combines. These machines will reap, thresh and winnow your spreading crops and speed up your harvesting time.


Yes, this is your standard, ideal spade. You want a shovel with a thick, flat blade. Also, it will be useful to learn how to sharpen the edge. Make sure you purchase a spade with a flat edge where the handle meets the spade itself, so you have a place to step down on to increase the force of the blade.

Mechanic's Hand Tools

No homestead can survive without a set of hand tools. You'll need a set with pliers, screwdrivers wrenches, ratchet handles and extensions in all shapes and sizes, with a few extras of your most used sizes.

Don't be tempted by sale signs or discount tools. Unlike hand tools for an apartment owner, these will be used every single day on demanding projects. I promise, you don't want to break a wrench when you need to fix your tractor.


My grandfather always told me you were only as good as your pocketknife. As a homesteader, that couldn't be more true, but you'll need more than a pocketknife to run your farm.

A complete knife collection is an essential. Besides the on-the-go use of a pocketknife, you'll have animals to butcher for yourself and for selling. A butcher knife without a razor sharp edge will cost you time and money.

Remember, a kitchen is the heart of any home. A streamlined kitchen will have sharp knives. You just have to make the decision on what type of knife is best for you, and there is no perfect knife. You'll always have to sharpen them and occasionally something will break.

There isn't a way to make homesteading easy, but we can help you make it easier. Practice routine care and maintenance on all of your equipment, and your tools will help your homestead achieve a bountiful season.

working at sunset | Fotolia/zannal

Working at sunset. Photo: Fotolia/zannal

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