Of all the names people call homesteaders—come on, you know we are easy to talk about— there is one that really gets my goat: old-fashioned. It doesn’t bother me when it is used in place of quaint. In fact it makes me laugh when I hear how quaint and old-fashioned our laundry-hanging, scrap-composting, food-growing lifestyle is. That old-fashioned behavior is now cutting edge! I don’t like it when old-fashioned is used for out of touch. You will never find me shaking my fist in the air, yelling, “Get off my lawn you darn kids!” I’m not that lady. I’m cool, hip, cutting edge. And yet, I have been reluctant to merge technology with homesteading. I decided to find out what all the fuss was about. Through research and trial and error I have discovered many great resources for the homesteader.
Let’s start with the basics. What is an app? An app (application) is just a software program designed to be used either online or on a mobile device in order to fulfill a specific purpose. What can an app do for me? I’m glad you asked. You can find an app to help you do almost anything, from having fun to mapping your fields. Read on to learn more about some free apps that are available to help with planning, feeding, planting, harvesting, identifying wild foods, homeschooling, and record-keeping. If you have been resisting technology in your homesteading venture, I urge you to stick a toe in. Choose just one or two of these apps to get started and, like any new homestead project, just do it.
First I am going to talk about, Homesteadapps.com, which is designed to be used on your computer rather than your mobile device. It is an excellent resource for the unending record-keeping essential for a successful business. When you go to this site you will notice there are two software applications available for purchase. They are terrific programs but the free apps they have are equally valuable. They have animal record-keeping forms for poultry, dairy, rabbit, sheep, and miscellaneous. These forms allow you to track the daily feed, bedding, and production of your animals. You can also tally the daily amounts into a monthly total. In addition to the animal forms, they have an app which is used to calculate a simple feed mix with the desired percentage of protein.
For mobile apps, I am going to start with a basic but widely recommended one called Homesteading Today. Because I saw it recommended everywhere I looked, I was eager to try it. The description for the app reads: “Homesteading Today is a homesteading, agriculture, sustainable, self-sufficient forums mobile application. Forums and magazine articles for animals, farming, soap making, pigs, chickens, goats, rabbits, dairy, sewing, fiber arts, crafting.” And it is true, but these topics are covered in a general way. I was disappointed because they didn’t offer anything I couldn’t find on Google or at my local library.
I had a completely different experience when I looked at an app called E Farm Manager. This app is wonderful for serious farmers. It allows you to record the life cycle of your crops, from seeding to harvesting. If you use any type of chemical or fertilizer you can track the type, rate, and date of each application. Not only can you keep track of crops, but also your livestock. They track ear-tag numbers, bloodlines, breeds, and the year they were born. You can record the maintenance of your equipment and link photos to your data. This is just a glimpse at what you can do ; they have many more resources available on this free app.
Because homesteaders take responsibility for the education of their children, often by homeschooling, I researched some learning apps for children of all ages:
Skyview Free – Explore the Universe: This astronomy app is fun for all ages. All you need to do is point your device at the sky. It helps you identify galaxies, stars, constellations, and even the satellites passing over your location. Another great feature offered is the ability to set reminders for celestial events. Don’t sleep through the next meteor shower!
Brain Quest: Yes, this is the same Brain Quest I played with a deck of cards. Though the hand-held deck version is still great and readily available, this app has 65% new material and a fun beat-the-clock game. You can play competitively, tracking individual scores, or cooperatively, joining forces with up to two other people and playing together. This app is recommended for up to fifth grade but it is a great review when older children (or parents) play with younger kids.
Motion Math: This is a great multiplication app because it is not just memorization of multiplication tables. They include many different ways of understanding what multiplication means. There are games to play and flashcards for quizzing yourself or others. And it is not just for children. There are ten levels of difficulty ranging from preschoolers to adults.
Countries of the World: This app has four game quizzes and a handbook of the countries of the world which covers flags, population, currency, languages, and government. The information is accurate but general. I thought there were a lot of opportunities it could go deeper. This would be adequate for a beginning World Geography unit for elementary-aged children.
Talking Kids Math: I thought this might be a good place to start teaching small children early-math skills, but the repeated grammar mistakes were too terrible to overlook, therefore, I don’t recommended it.
4H: This app could be used for FFA as well as 4H. It tracks livestock-project animals and you can record their weight, feed, and health. You can track participation in 4H events. You can also create financial statements by recording project income and expenses. It’s easy to use and very useful for the record-keeping that comes with these programs.
Another aspect of homesteading is, of course, the wildlife. My favorite animal husbandry app is from Homesteadapps.com but I am including some others that I looked at.
BeesMe: The description advertises this app to those wanting to learn interesting facts about bees or to those wanting to become beekeepers. I found plenty of interesting facts, but not very much that could help me become a beekeeper.
BeeTight: This is a better app for beekeepers. You can record the details of hive inspections, manipulations, treatments, and feedings. You can track hive temperament and record honey harvests. You can view each of your hive locations on a map with the current weather conditions at each site. They include smart hive-labels which allow you to pull up hive records instantly by scanning the label barcode.
Goat Spot: This app is mainly just a forum where you can ask and answer any and all goat related questions. Because animals can be tricky at times, I would recommend this app if you do not know anyone in your area raising goats just to have people to bounce ideas off of. It would definitely be useful in addition to the animal record-keeping forms found on homesteadapps.com.
Egg Vestment: How much should you be charging for your eggs? This app allows you to figure out the actual cost for each egg by tracking all chicken-related expenses, such as feed and housing. You can update daily or once a month.
Whether growing enough to feed your family or enough to sell, gardening is a huge project for every homesteader I know. To be honest, I was disappointed in most of the gardening apps I reviewed because they were either too general or they were just a list of common-sense suggestions. The following were the three best I found.
Garden Compass: Garden Compass is a plant identification app. It lets you take a picture of a plant or an insect and upload it for instant identification. If you need more than basic information, they also provide in-depth information and care instructions for the particular plant. Do you have trouble remembering when to water, prune, or fertilize? You can set up reminders in your plant care calendar.
Garden Time Planner: This is a really good app by Burpee. It is invaluable when you are planning your gardens because it lets you know when to sow, transplant, and harvest vegetables and herbs specific to your region. Garden Time Planner creates a task list and notifies you when the next sow or transplant date arrives. This app is really easy to use.
Vegetable Garden Calculator: It is difficult to determine how much you should plant to get enough—but not too much—fresh produce. With over ninety vegetables and herbs in their database, Vegetable Garden Calculator will tell you the average number of plants needed to feed your family.
Foraging is a valuable skill but many people shy away from it because they are afraid they will make a terrible mistake—a deadly mistake. It is wise to be cautious. Finding an experienced forager to learn from is best, but these apps are another good option.
Wild Edibles Lite: This app has twenty plants in the database. Considering the amount of wild edibles out there, this is a very low number. Of course, they will let you upgrade (pay) for access to more plants. The information they do have is accurate and the app is easy to use. In addition to plant identification they have medicinal information, harvesting, preparation methods, and recipes.
Boskoi: Boskoi had a great idea but not a very successful implementation. It is a guide to urban wild-food sources. The idea was to combine foraging with open-source media. The map apps do not work. I don’t recommend it, but it is such a good idea, I would recommend doing it the old-fashioned way. Keep a local map and pen with you and note the areas you find wild-food sources. It’s easy to think you will remember when you find a great spot but it is very easy to forget.
Fungitron: Fungitron has seventy mushrooms with expert-verified photos. This app is very easy to use. The information is accurate and they have good customer service. The upgrade will give you access to more mushrooms. Because there are so many different types of mushrooms, many of them inedible, it is important to use at least two references when foraging.
Mycofree: Mycofree has fifty mushrooms available. Each of the mushrooms has a detailed photo with a zoomable image. This app is very well organized and it has terrific resources to use. You can store your localities with GPS position and take a picture of the mushroom and surroundings so you will be able to find the place again. For each find, you can store the location, date, time, photo, and comment. This free version is for trial usage. If you upgrade you have access to 250 mushrooms.
There are thousands of apps—an app for anything you can think of. I can’t possibly list all of them but I will give you two fun apps as an example of what is out there.
Perfect Hydroponics: Hydroponics is a fun and efficient gardening method. This app is very user-friendly and it is specifically designed for indoor hydroponics. You can document your garden from start to finish and save your information for comparison and improvements.
IFIXIT: Repair Manual: Being able to do your own repairs is a huge part of being self-sufficient. This app is billed as the world’s largest repair manual that anyone can access and edit. It has thousands of step-by-step guides with great images.
As homesteaders we are used to being the ones who promote new or different paths. I wasn’t willing to listen to others who were telling me how great apps could be. I was being old-fashioned, and not the quaint, cutting-edge old-fashioned. I am glad I realized I could take a look and change my mind. I hope you will take a look at one or two of the apps in this article, or do your own search for the perfect app to help with your next big project.