Starting a Homestead; Top 5 Considerations
When you think of Homesteading, the first thing that comes to my mind is lots of acres in the secluded country miles away from civilization. But, homesteading doesn’t always mean seclusion and 100% autonomy from civilization. In fact, civilization, police, fire, doctors, and on and on, are all essential for today’s society. However, preparation and knowledge are a strength in the event of some catastrophic event like a hurricane, earthquake, government shutdown, etc. I’ve come up with a top 5 list to consider when you are ready to start a homestead. All the items on this list apply both to a large remote homestead as well as a suburban homestead. There is a myriad of other considerations you must ponder prior to starting your homestead. I will add more detailed checklists in later posts.
1. Location. According to Merriam-Webster, a homestead is “a home and adjoining land occupied by a family”. But, today homesteading has come to describe a self-sufficient way of life; not just a home and land. As I contemplated the start of my homestead, I decided that I had 4 core criteria: 1. Water. 2. Garden. 3. Animals. 4. Handiness. Location, on the other hand, wasn’t a high priority for me except that I needed a home and sufficient land to create a self-sufficient and independent lifestyle with minimal need for electricity, city water, and all the conveniences that come with society.
2. Water. The availability of water independent of city water is critical to the management of your homestead. Without access to water, plants and animals perish. It’s that simple. Here are a couple of sources of water ideas that may interest you:
We have a deep well at about 250 feet. This is very common and convenient, not to mention expensive to dig. The biggest drawback to the well is that the pump runs on 220V. In a power outage, it’s useless. I have considered the use of solar power during a prolonged power outage and a backup generator to supplement power during a short outage. These are projects I’m planning in the near future.
We have a 2-acre pond on our property. It’s great for snakes and alligators. The pond is also abundant with fish. Pond water can be used to irrigate your crops directly and support your animals in a pinch. The greatest challenge to pond water is the need to purify the water for human consumption. We will talk about water filtration later.
If you’re lucky enough to live near a stream or river, they are a great source of clean fresh water; however, you will need to take the same filtering precautions as a stagnant pond.
Another great idea to not only conserve water but to store and use as well is to collect water runoff from your roof. I have a project in progress to collect all the water that runs off my roof and redirect the water to my garden, and if necessary my animals as well.
3. Garden. One of my biggest challenges is the ability to create a productive garden. I started my garden in hand-built raised beds using the square foot gardening method. I have only had mediocre success. Mostly, I suspect because of my inattention to weeds and watering, and consideration of placement of plants. I would like to automate and simplify the watering process. I’m uncomfortable with just putting sprayers over the garden and sprinkling away. It is very wasteful. I am working on a means to use soakers. I have also planted a small orchard of fruit and nut trees that have survived very well. They are not yet producing a lot of fruit and nuts because they were only planted in the last year or two. But I’m optimistic. They’re alive!
4. Animals. Animals basically provide food for the family. On our homestead, we keep horses, hogs, chickens, ducks, guinea fowl, goats, and rabbits.
Our horses are largely pets, but I justify having them for pleasure and, if necessary, draft animals.
Chickens produce eggs and meat. We chose Rhode Island Reds and Buff Orpingtons because they are good dual-purpose chickens. They are both good egg producers (200-300 eggs per year for each hen) and are good meat chickens (large chickens with good meat).
We keep a flock of free range guinea fowl for two reasons. They eat bugs and snakes and they protect my chickens from critters. They are excellent watch chickens; they squawk loudly when danger is near. They are attracted to small creatures of every kind.
My daughters also brought home a few duck chicks. We have a small flock of a variety of ducks that do nothing but add variety to our flock. Eventually, we would like to use duck eggs in everyday cooking. Plus, large duck eggs are good for baking.
We raise 2-3 hogs every year for meat. Mmm, who doesn’t like bacon. We don’t breed them. We buy them young and raise them for 4-6 months and then bring them to the butcher for freezer meat. We share the hogs among family. One hog each year is sufficient to feed my family alone, but since I have space, my adult sons and daughters also share in the raising and processing of the hogs.
We also raise rabbits for meat. I chose Silver Fox rabbits because they are large and good meat rabbits. And I have no problem breeding them. As the saying goes, they breed like rabbits.
Finally, goats round-out our animal kingdom. We eventually want to use our goats for milk and cheese. That’s another project for another time, but in the meanwhile, we’re learning how to raise goats.
5. Handiness. This is my favorite topic. I used to think of myself as “handy”. Handy has taken on a whole new meaning now. Carpentry skills are necessary. Building animal shelters, benches, boxes, tools, jigs, etc. Carpentry skills are a definite plus. Mechanical skills are also useful. Particularly small engine repair, for example, chainsaw and lawnmower maintenance. Diesel Mechanics and hydraulics are other skills that are nice to have if you have a tractor. In no time, I had a small shop to repair just about anything. I can’t emphasize enough how important handiness is; especially when repurposing materials.
These are the ideas I had before actually starting my homestead. Much of what I started can be used in the country on acres, or in your own backyard. For preparation, I found there was an abundance of books on various subjects about homesteading and all the tasks involved. A final thought was that when I purchased reading materials to prepare for my homesteading transition, I bought paper books rather than electronic books. What happens if I lost electricity? Well, I’m prepared to read by candle light.