If I could go back in time to before we put our house on this piece of land, back to when our raw lot was a dense forest of young pines, if I only knew what we would be doing on our property when we first acquired it, we would have planned a little differently.
You see, when my dad gave us a small piece of his land five years ago, we had no idea we’d be homesteading. And although it didn’t take us long to find our purpose here, we definitely made costly decisions in the beginning.
Perhaps if I share some of the mistakes we made those first two years, I can help some of you to avoid doing the same. If only somebody would have been there to help us make the right choices as we were starting fresh, we wouldn’t have taken so many steps back in the process.
Power, Water & Waste
From the beginning we knew we didn’t want power lines running across our property, so we had the electric company bury lines from the road to our house, over the stream and through the woods. But if we could go back and do it again, we would have opted for solar or hydro instead. Now we find ourselves desperate to detach from the grid, but even when we accomplish that we will have wasted tons of money having those power lines brought out here that first year.
We also should have put more thought into installing solar panels on our well, with a hand pump for backup. You’ll want a well on your land, but you’ll also need a source of fresh, running water, such as a creek or stream in case the well ever dries up. You know the saying: Two is one, one is none. Have more than one option for water available.
If we’d been able to start off completely off-grid, we wouldn’t have wasted money putting in a septic tank. While a composting toilet would take some getting used to, it would have saved quite a bit of money up front and in the long term.
Also, when planning your own self-sufficient home, think about how you will heat your house in the winter. A wood stove is a great way to heat a home without electricity, so consider building to accommodate one if you have the opportunity to start from scratch.
Assuming you’ll be trying to grow a good amount of food, you need to have a plan for storing that food from the get-go. One of my biggest regrets is not having dug a basement under our home for underground food storage. We would like to have a root cellar eventually, but it would have been so much better had we just done that in the very beginning.
Perennial Plants First
To anyone starting fresh on a piece of land, I would highly recommend that you spend your first year or two working on getting perennial edibles established. It takes several years for many of these plants to begin producing enough to harvest, so the earlier they get in the ground the better off you’ll be.
Some perennials you should consider planting right away:
- Fruit trees
- Berry bushes
- Herbs (culinary and medicinal)
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Prickly pear cactus
Do this before you do anything else on your property. And make sure you plant all but the herbs somewhere where they will get at least 6 hours of good light. Most herbs can tolerate partial shade.
Also consider landscaping with edible perennials, such as Daylilies, Cannas, Roses, Cacti, Hibiscus, Camellia Sinensis (tea plant), Tulips, etc. There are so many to choose from, why not use every inch of your planting area for something beautiful and edible?
Know Before You Grow
I’ve done many things in the garden that have been a total waste of time and money. Like my first year planting anything, when I just stuck some seeds in our poor red clay soil and waited to see what would happen. I learned that seeds require more than just soil, water, and sun. They also require nutrients from organic material such as compost and manure, they require mulch to retain moisture in the soil and to block weeds, and they require protection from pests.
Jumping right in without much research is an expensive way to learn. Do yourself a favor and learn all you can about the plants you want to grow before putting the first seed in the ground.
- How much light they need (full sun, partial shade)?
- What part of your yard will suit them best?
- How do they grow (do they bush, vine, or grow as a root)?
- Do they require a trellis or stake?
- How many days to harvest?
- Cool weather or warm weather crop?
- Are they frost tolerant? Heat tolerant? Drought tolerant?
- What pests/diseases should you prepare for?
- What type of soil do they prefer?
- What zone do they grow in (and know your growing zone)?
- What companion plants can you put in next to your crop?
- Which plants should you NOT plant near your crop?
Learn these basics before you get started, so that all of your efforts aren’t lost due to poor planning.
Plant What You Eat
Start by planting the foods you typically eat. I know this sounds like common sense, but it can be extremely tempting to buy the fun, exotic varieties of foods you’ve never tried before. If you don’t normally eat Kohlrabi or Fennel, don’t plant them in your first garden. It stinks to find out that you don’t like something after all of the time and effort spent growing it. If you’re just starting out, you can’t afford such luxury. Just plant what you are familiar with and know you’ll enjoy.
Preparing For Animals
If you’re looking to homestead or live off the land, you’re likely to want to get a few animals. At least some chickens, maybe a milk goat or cow. Before you run out and grab a critter on a whim, do your research. There’s no need in adding more stress to your life. And believe me, animals escaping, destroying your garden or dying, is incredibly stressful and frustrating. Do a little planning and minimize these problems from the start.
Understand what your animal needs:
- What do they eat? Can you grow it yourself?
- What type of housing do they need?
- What diseases/illnesses do you need to prevent? And how do you treat them?
- What type of fencing do they require to keep them secure?
- What are their natural predators?
- What type of care do they require in the winter? In the heat of the summer?
- How will you deal with traveling away from home? Do you have anyone to feed/water your animals?
- How much room do they require? Do you have enough land?
- What type of habitat do they prefer? Would they be better off in the woods, or out in an open field?
Get everything ready before you bring your animals home so there won’t be any last minute scrambling, then you can just sit back and enjoy.
Starting Off Right
Living on a homestead means a virtually endless amount of things that need to be done. Wood to be chopped, crops to be planted and harvested, food to preserve, animals to be tended to, laundry to be washed and hung, soap to be made… It’s a fulfilling life, but a busy one as well. Mistakes can be extremely costly. Do your research before you jump into anything new, and get your homestead off to the best start possible!