Homestead Series III—What to Do First


Last time, I talked about land and the characteristics you might be looking for, how to purchase, how to narrow down the possibilities, and the importance of knowing why and for what reasons you want to homestead. I spoke briefly about housing, and noted that we put in over 3,600 even before we moved to our farm.

Now, you have to have a plan. A detailed one. And here’s how to start:

First, you need to write down your purpose. Is there a specific crop you want to grow and sell? Do you intend to be self-sufficient? How will you protect your property? Are you going to raise livestock?

Once you answer these questions, you need to make sure you know how to accomplish the things you want to do, so there are more questions to answer: what do you know about crops and/or gardening? What items and skills do you have and which ones do you need to be self-sufficient? Do you know how to run a fence line or shoot? What do you know about cows/goats/pigs/horses?

If, of course, you intend to sell products or services, you need to find customers and gauge your market, and eventually advertise and run your homestead like a business—because it is. Businesses, depending on your state, add more issues, problems, and questions, so do your homework just as you would for any business, virtual or brick-and-mortar.

Once you have your stated purpose, and know what you need to learn or acquire, the next step is security. While claim-jumping is almost unheard of in modern times, it does happen; or perhaps your land has been vacant for some time and there is a deer stand on your property or someone has been cutting a little firewood here and there. This is, after all, YOUR property, so you need to secure and protect it. I’m not advising walking around with guns blazing, but a good perimeter fence should be your first step. It’s not fun and it won’t make you feel like you’re accomplishing much, but once it’s done, you have a lot less to worry about. You can more safely store supplies and tools if you’re not yet living on site, and until you get to know your neighbors, you’ll feel a lot more secure until you get used to being out in the woods or wherever.

As for the “guns blazing,” it wouldn’t hurt to learn how to shoot a gun or a bow or throw a knife—or all of these. And no, not for trespassers necessarily, but in case you encounter a wild critter or, at any other time, need to defend yourself. The good news is that you can set up your own target range. And remember, if you aren’t “into” all that, 911 is probably going to be at least thirty minutes away.

One more point for perimeter fencing: if you have livestock, and they escape their pens or corrals or pastures, there’s one more boundary before they go trotting off down the county road…

Purpose, land, infrastructure, decisions, questions, skills, knowledge. After you’ve covered all these things, we’re going to have to make some assumptions: you’ve purchased your land, you’ve done your perimeter fencing, and you’re either getting ready to move or have already done so. Let’s talk about shelter—your home.

As I mentioned previously, your home is, of course, whatever you want it to be, but on a homestead, you might not be spending as much time indoors as you do now. You might not have as many people living with you, or maybe you do. Only you know what you need and what you want, but here are a few things to think about:

You need to pick a location on your property—this will determine the location of everything else, barns, sheds, well, lagoon or septic, even electric poles. These last three may already be in place, which will limit your choices. Remember, too, that by its very definition, a homestead is about the land and not usually the house. Homesteading has to do with sustainability and cutting waste. Think of your home décor—do you really want to spend time dusting all that? I cut back a lot before we moved, and am considering cutting down even more. I don’t have a dishwasher—people are usually shocked at that! Why would I? There are two of us, and handwashing is much easier, quicker, and yes, uses less water; who tells you it uses more? The dishwasher manufacturers… No garbage disposal either—I compost and burn. Simple.

Also, when considering the location of your home, think about heating and cooling. How are you going to do those things? Many homesteaders use wood heat. If you do, you’ll need space for a wood furnace or stove or fireplace, and space near the house for a woodlot—that’s where you’ll cut, split, and stack wood with easy access to that furnace, etc. And you’ll need a lot of wood; we use a stack of split wood about two feet high by two feet wide, daily, about five or so months out of the year. We also supplement with an electric fireplace and a space heater, to take off the chill in the morning before the furnace kicks on—you’ll learn very quickly that it’s not just a matter of flipping a switch.

Some folks use propane to heat, which means you’ll need to have a large tank near the house and access for a propane truck to fill it on a regular basis. Electricity is generally cheaper in the country than in urban areas, but if you’re heating your house with it, it’s still going to be a pricier than wood or propane—another thing to think about when designing the size of your house or cabin.

Keeping cool is another issue. Most of us are so used to A/C that we can’t imagine being without it. We use a window unit—cheaper than central air, both initially and to run it, and very effective for our small house. We generally have a fan on the bedroom side, and ceiling fans as well.

The best way to keep both warm and cool, however, is home and window placement. Find out which way the prevailing winds blow in your area. Ours come from the south, which is the way the house faces; we have six windows across the front. When the sun hits in the summer, we close the insulated drapes up front; in the winter, they’re wide open until the temperature starts to drop. We’re also sheltered by mature trees, which give plenty of shade and provide a windbreak.

You’ll want your compost pile and burn barrel near your house as well. It might not matter much in the summer, but in the winter, you aren’t going to want to take a quarter-mile hike to burn your trash. And your well and septic should be close; much cheaper to run water and sewer lines. Check with your state requirements as to distance from each other and the house, and be sure to bury them below the frost line. Very, very important, unless you plan to spend a lot of time trying to thaw underground pipes and hauling water.

So, you’ve planned, purchased, perimetered, and have a place to live. Now you’ll need fine-tune all of those things, while learning to live on your homestead and make it productive. Next in the series will cover living on your homestead, while simultaneously making it productive.

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