You planned, purchased, built, and are living on your homestead. What’s next?
Homesteading can be summed up in one word: self-sufficiency. Decide what you need to become self-sufficient. Shelter—you’re living in it; water—done, as you have your infrastructure in place; and food.
Food falls into two categories, what you grow and what you raise, and you need certain things for each of those categories before you begin to produce.
Your garden should be on a well-drained section with plenty of sun, fairly close to your house—you’ll be walking back and forth a lot, eventually carrying all those vegetables. You’ll need access to water during the summer months, but even a hose (or three) coming from a hydrant will do the trick; of course, you can also install a fancy watering system, or even not-so-fancy using PVC pipe—but that can get in the way as you work the dirt. And speaking of dirt, it’s not a bad idea to buy an inexpensive soil testing kit so you’ll know what your dirt needs—or not. Our ancestors didn’t use them, after all.
First, you need to determine what size garden you need, and what type: traditional, raised beds, hoop house, greenhouse, or what not. Any state extension website can usually tell you how much to plant per person—and it’s a lot more than you’d think. For the record, I use a traditional layout and a greenhouse for seedlings and over-wintering herbs and flowering plants. During the winter, even in southern Missouri, I use two heat lamps—that means you might also need electric at your garden; ours is a plug on a pole and an extension cord, simple and cheap.
Second, you’ll need to plow or till and fertilize, if that’s the route you’re using; we happen to have plenty of horse manure. Break up the sod, rake and smooth, and pick up all the rocks—don’t worry, if you live in the Ozarks, plenty more will surface over the years. Might be our best crop.
Third, and I can’t stress this enough, you need a deer fence. That’s a 7.5-foot fence, at least, and if you skip this step, the deer around your place will be very well fed and you will not. Additionally, we put chicken wire all around the bottom to keep out the rabbits, and held that down with a ton of those rocks we pulled out of the garden area. Now that I mention it, almost everything on our homestead is surrounded by rocks, either for decoration or practical purposes. Use what you have, after all.
And finally, you’re ready to plant. Plant what you like to eat—eventually, as you get better at gardening, you can plant cash crops or even more of what you like to give away or sell. Don’t get carried away, because this garden is just getting started.
Throughout the next six months, you’ll be tilling, weeding, watering, trimming, picking, and processing, over and over. You might be hoping the darn plants will just die, because you’re so sick and tired of all this, like I did this year with never-ending jalapenos…but if you’re homesteading, you need to look at the big picture. What if this was the ONLY food for your family?
Before you invest in livestock, whether it’s cows, horses, goats, pigs, sheep, rabbits, or whatever, you need to A) know what you’re doing, B) have a place for them to shelter, and C) be able to feed them.
That means more fencing, shelters, access to water, pasture, feed and feed storage. Depending on the critters, you may need more. You may already know how to take care of these animals, or you may need to learn about them. Do all these things BEFORE you purchase and bring them home.
And always remember, the nearest vet is probably not 15 minutes away, and the animal in need of medical care may not fit in your SUV. Fortunately, most vets out in the country make farm calls, and it’s not very expensive. In fact, we generally have ours come out once a year for the horses, and while they’re here they also take care of the cats and dogs. Barring any unforeseen illness or accident that we can’t handle ourselves, that’s it. And yes, you should know basic first aid and how to give a vaccination for any of your critters. Self-sufficiency covers all aspects of homesteading.
Another fun fact about raising livestock is that their care and feeding continues 24/7, 365 days out of the year. You don’t get to leave for the day or the weekend or take a vacation unless you have someone come out to feed twice a day, keep an eye on things, and who is prepared to chase/corral them if they get out.
Let me put it this way: you generally eat three meals a day; how would you feel if you had to skip dinner one night, and breakfast the next morning? Or if your next meal was delayed by hours? Sometimes, when you’re homesteading, this can happen, but you’re a human and can reason the why of it. Animals cannot. Animals are dependent on their human caretakers to keep them safe and well.
Homesteading isn’t all day, every day, all year long—but it’s darn close. Because if you aren’t gardening or taking care of animals, you might be mowing, trimming, cleaning, gathering, hunting, cutting firewood, fixing fence or tools.
Check back next time for tips and tricks and guidance on managing your time—and money—on a homestead.