There is a lot to consider when planning your homestead. I thought I would go over a few of the ideas that we batted around when looking for land during our journey. There is so much to talk about on this topic. I’m only going to give a very rough overview of some ideas. Perhaps enough to get you started and on the road to tackling the learning curve. I’m also going to leave out some details on purpose. You don’t want to get too burdened in the beginning. Take your time. Think it through. You will come up with concerns I haven’t addressed here as you play out the scenario you envision. It will be unique to you.
I want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. I appreciate you all so much. I’m so excited to share with you what’s going on at the farm this week.
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
Let me give you an update on all the happenings around the homestead.
I finally got everything planted in the garden. The last two beds have cilantro, parsley, oregano and basil. I have another herb bed that has rosemary and thyme. Many of these will be transplanted in the fall to a more permanent location, or at the very least, into a pot. They are perennials in our USDA planting zone and will survive the winter. Rosemary, thyme and oregano fall into this category. I also have some mint that I planted along the edges. Because the garden is made of concrete blocks, there are holes along the edge behind the sunflowers. That’s where the mint is planted. Mint can be invasive and I’m hoping that planting them in those smaller, contained spaces will keep them under control. We shall see.
I use the mint in lots of my lamb dishes.
Cows and Calves
Claire came into heat so the first artificial insemination did not take. We had Yancy out on Friday and he gave it another go, this time with different semen. I don’t know if I mentioned before, but the sexed semen we purchased was not really very active. It was not expected it to work very well at all.
We purchased another round, this time unsexed semen from a different bull. When we looked at it under the microscope it looked great, very active. I expect it to take this time. Cloud also had a second go around, but with the same semen as before. Butter may need another go as well. If so, she will get the newer semen. And since Buttercup finally gave birth, she will be able to be bred in a few weeks as well. We look forward to a great calving season next spring. All is well in the cow and calf arena.
Goats, Sheep and Donkeys
The goats are staying up in the woods most of the time. Occasionally, they come down and get some loose minerals to supplement their diet.
The sheep stay with the donkeys most of the time. Except when the donkeys come up to the milking shed, which is quite often. The sheep stay down in the creek bottom or up on the travel lane.
A few days ago, we had a lamb adventure. One of the new lambs got on the other side of the fence and couldn’t find her way back. The opening that was clearly visible from the inside of the pasture was nearly impossible to see from the outside.
After chasing her back and forth and up and down the fence line, we decided to try another tactic. She was far to old and spry to be simply caught with out some help. Earlier in the lambing season, I had to catch one and return her to her mom and the way I accomplished that was driving her into a corner and then grabbing her. We decided to try that once again. Scott created a small corner by tying a loose piece of fence to the existing fence at a right angle. I stood at the end of the spare fence and held it up, ready to close in once she got stuck in the corner. That’s all it took. She ran into the corner and Scott caught her up even before I closed the gap. He gently lifted her up and back over the fence. Mom and lamb were joyfully reunited a few minutes later.
I put a new batch of quail eggs into the incubator today. There are 84 eggs in there this time. We shall see how it goes. Some time during the week of collecting eggs it occurred to me that these hens and roosters are very young. Sure, the hens are laying eggs. But are they fertile? Sure, the roosters are giving it their best shot. But are they fertile? We will find out in about 17 days.
I’m loving the small cheese cave. Scott turns the older cheeses once a week. I go in there every day and turn the new cheeses. And I must admit, I go in there just to look at the cave and the cheese. The humidity is staying steady around 80% and that works well so far.
The roof is progressing well. I can hear Scott hammering as I speak. Once he completes the plywood decking, the felt goes on and then the metal roofing will go on the part he is currently working on as well as the previous part where the cheese will be made and stored.
I love going into that building every day. What a huge project it is and so beautifully done.
Ok, I’m ready to talk about planning your homestead.
Planning Your Homestead – the Land
While the term “homestead” is broadly defined and can mean anything from a quarter acre in the suburbs to remote living off-grid miles from any other human. One thing most will agree on is that there is a deep desire for self-sufficient living.
There’s something deeply empowering in knowing you can care for yourself and your family no matter what happens. In this day and age it is unlikely that you will ever be completely on your own. We still want our phones and internet. Creating your own paper products is a bit too complex. And the building and repair materials you will need will likely be purchased from Lowes or Home Depot or similar enterprise. No, we will never be completely on our own. But we can certainly make ourselves food secure. That’s what I’m going to focus on today.
How Much Land Do You Need?
You can become quite efficient at growing vegetables in a small backyard or even in containers on your apartment balcony and supplement what you buy from the store. But if you want to take complete control over your food choices, you will need some land.
How much land it takes to homestead will vary according to what you envision as your ideal situation as well as the size of your family. It is possible to completely sustain a small family on a few acres. Of course, larger acreages provide greater flexibility and ease in creating sustainability. We started with 20 acres. That would have easily supported the two of us as a simple homestead. However, we had always dreamed of creating a small business to generate income. That is truly not necessary. When you grow and raise most of your food, your need for lots of dollars becomes minimal – as long as you remain debt free. It is true you will need some income. Just not as much as the rest of the world around you.
That brings up the next topic.
How Remote Do You Want to Be?
When planning your homestead, considering how isolated you and your family really want to be is a topic of consideration? Today, many people are developing self-sufficient (relatively speaking) homesteads in cities and towns as well as in more the rural locations. If you are remote, what kind of access to power, phone, water, internet, and emergency services will be available?
Here are some other considerations regarding location.
Being located near other small farms and homesteads will bring friends with shared interests, opportunities for bartering, resources, knowledge and support.
Planning a Family?
You can provide for their education by home-schooling, but as they grow your children might want friends.
Distance from Nearest Neighbor
Independence is great, but our neighbors are wonderful. I don’t know what we would have done without them. And by neighbors, I mean they are within a 10 to 15 mile radius.
Distance from Hospital, Medical Care
No explanation necessary here. What are you comfortable with regarding length of time to reach decent medical care? We are 30 minutes from a small hospital and an hour from some of the best medical care in the country. There are some homesteaders that are so remote that it is difficult for them to reach their property much less an emergency vehicle. We all make choices.
Access to Phone Lines, Broadband
You might be planning on creating a little income from YouTube or some other social media where you need really good internet service. In this day and age, it’s a great way to make that little bit of extra income you need. My favorite YouTubers do not have access to enough internet speed to live stream. They have to record everything and upload. That’s so 2010s. But they make it work. You can too.
Landline phone service is available to nearly everyone. But cell phone coverage is another story. I have a cell phone but only use it at the farmer’s market. We do not get a cell signal at home. What about internet service? When we first arrived on the scene here in 2005, we had 28800 dial-up modem service. It wasn’t such a big deal as we weren’t here all that much back then. Over the years, internet service has improved. We now have access the very high-speed internet. It’s great. The internet is your best resource for gathering information, learning new skills, and certainly for education as well as making an income.
Mineral and Water Rights
Be aware of mineral and/or water rights. This is especially important in the western and southwestern areas of the US. Is there any of contamination from toxic runoffs?
What about the possibility of other natural disasters such as fires, tornadoes, or hurricanes? All of this depends on the area of the country you choose. What about flooding?
Specific Land Characteristics
Do you want four seasons? Are you a mountain or an ocean person? These are pretty important questions. Obviously, we are of the mountain person variety.
Are there restrictions or covenants on the land? We have an easement on our land. That means our neighbor has permanent access across our land. We were restricted in where we could put up a fence. He had to have clear access to his property via our property. We worked it into our plan and it works for us as well as our neighbor.
What are the zoning regulations? This is not usually a problem in very rural areas, but keep it in mind if you are looking for a couple of acres in the burbs. A rooster or even lots of clucking hens can make neighbors into enemies.
Is there a level – or at the very least – gently sloping space for gardening? The garden will need a minimum of 5 hours of direct sunlight per day. How much space will you need for what you plan on growing? This part may take some greater reading, study and research.
Crops like squash, potatoes, and corn can require more space than you think when planning for storage and year-round access.
Poor soil and inadequate water supply is a recipe for disaster. You can improve a small plot of poor soil with proper management. It just takes time. Your gardens will become more prolific over time.
Availability of Water
Access to a year-round supply of clean water is essential to homesteading. Is water served from a municipal service, creek, lake, well, or will you create catchment system?
If there is a creek or stream, does it run year-round? Well-water in the mountains can be an issue. It might be a long way down to a water table. Check with the neighbors to see what they had to do to make it work.
Can the Land Support Livestock?
If livestock are in your plans, the land needs enough ground for grazing. This is another education piece. Researching how much grass a cow eats, or goat or sheep. This varies according to where you are in the country. Western localities such as Texas and Oklahoma require nearly 10 times as much grazing area as in the southeastern United States. The land is also cheaper out west so it’s easier to get larger quantities of land. It all works out, right?
Do you have access to winter feed? I’m talking hay here. Either you grow it or buy it from someone else? If you grow it, will you harvest it or hire that out? Personally, I recommend hiring it out unless you plan on getting into the haying business. Let someone else have the headaches of keeping up that equipment. Give them half the hay and you are good to go.
Will You Have an Orchard?
The space does not need to be large. Even a ½ acre can provide plenty of ground for fruit trees to fulfill your needs.
Will You Heat with Wood?
You will want easy access to a steady supply of firewood. Will you be using the trees on your land for buildings? Take a general inventory of standing timber on a property. You will want some trees. In our area in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, the problem was finding the flat land without trees for the garden and pastures. Your mileage will vary.
Is there a house on the property? If no house is there a well, septic tank and power? If not, how easy is it to get them in place?
Again, this was as very brief idea of some of the topics we discussed when looking for land. It’s a good idea to make a list of what is absolutely non-negotiable and where you are willing to compromise when it comes to the ideal piece of land. And give yourself some time to find the perfect place. Presumably you will be there for a very long time. You will invest lots of time and energy into creating the perfect homestead. Make sure you have the essential building blocks and go from there.
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Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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