How NOT to Start Homesteading

Do NOT purchase only two acres. That’s 300 feet by 300 feet. You can do some things with that size acreage, but not much.

Do NOT purchase land in an HOA or community. Your neighbor’s house could potentially be within yards of your own.

Do NOT think you can move onto your land with no income, no savings, no money, and be successful.

Do NOT think you can homestead if you are physically unable to work.

Do NOT collect livestock willy-nilly. Each animal you add should have a purpose and a plan for its use.

Do NOT include animals on your homestead until you have feed, shelter, and water for them, as well as fencing.

Do NOT go overboard on the number of animals. Each animal needs to be fed and watered, twice a day, every day, no matter the season. They also need to be vetted and cared for.

Do NOT think that a small garden is enough to sustain you. Depending on how you plant, you might need up to an acre to feed your family.

Do NOT go crazy canning everything. Can enough to be used within the next year, until the next harvest, and can only things you actually like to eat. Plus a little more, just in case. Take the time to figure out how much you need.

Do NOT use scraps for all your building projects. Some things require sturdy foundations and walls and roofs.

Do NOT skimp on fencing materials. Perimeter, livestock, and garden all need good fencing. No, your squash won’t escape, but that’s only because, if you have no fence, the deer and rabbits will eat it all.

Do NOT think you’re going to get a vacation unless it’s in the dead of winter and you have someone reliable to take care of your animals.

Do NOT think you’ll have time to run to town every day. That’s probably at least an hour of driving time, plus wherever you think you need to go, and you can’t spare that every day.

Do NOT plan to sleep in, ever, unless you have a partner who’s willing to take up the slack. Do NOT expect to go out to dinner every weekend. Actually, we usually do lunch for special occasions, or just occasionally—it’s cheaper, and it doesn’t interfere with livestock feeding.

And finally, do NOT be discouraged when your Fitbit says you “only” took 7K steps today. You were likely working every one of those steps, and Fitbit doesn’t have a “homestead” category!




Reality TV and Homesteading

Let’s talk about homesteading shows on TV and YouTube. Now, I rarely watch the latter, because I don’t have a lot of patience with boring or amateurish productions; reminds me of when I was a little girl just learning to jump rope and I kept telling the grown-ups to “wait,” while I continued my attempts. Family joke now, but wow, I imagine they were all rolling their eyes at the performance!

I do, however, catch a few homesteading shows, usually the Raneys from up in Alaska. I love a good rescue scenario, like Bar Rescue, and I’ll admit sometimes I do make fun of the subjects. A lot of stuff seems pretty obvious to me, like don’t build your house next to a drainage ditch in a low area.

And every one of them has to have someone who cries on cue. I mean, come on, homesteaders are supposed to be pretty tough. Even if you do cry a lot, pride would keep you from doing that on television, right?

Remember when Doomsday Preppers started airing? It made preppers look like a bunch of crazy people, running around in their ghillie suits and burying food and ammo all over the place. Yes, there are people like that—I have this cousin…well, enough said. But, yes, he did that. He also lived in his basement.

But the majority of us are just that—prepared. I hate to give out my address, but in this day and age anyone can find you, so that’s not really something I can prevent. We have four security systems, lines of sight, detailed plans, and supplies for six months or longer. We do a lot of DIY, even medical and dental.

Note: we do not bury things and we do not own ghillie suits. Although it might be fun to scare the neighbors…

So back to these homesteading shows. The best ones keep you entertained while they’re educating you. Many people like to have someone tell and show them how to do things; me, I prefer to read the directions, or at least make the attempt and then read those directions. Sometimes I’ll hit on a better way to do something. Mostly, I learn by doing and failing and then making improvements.

A lot of homesteaders have their own YouTube channels, where they record and post about building their homesteads, various projects, and so forth. We don’t do that, because when we’re working, we’re working. We don’t have the time (or inclination) to record everything we do, and I know for myself, at least, I’d be too self-conscious about the camera or my voice to focus on the job.

There are a lot of jobs on a homestead, whether you’re building or maintaining, and I can’t quite grasp how one can film the process and still do the job right. Plus, some things are just boring. I mean, if you don’t realize that livestock need to be fed twice a day, homesteading might not be for you.

On a typical day, since we’re in the maintenance phase, I’ll feed the animals, hang out some laundry, cook dinner, water the garden and greenhouse, fill up the wood box—who wants to watch me do that?

While we were in the building phase (okay, we still do projects, just not the imperative ones like food, water, shelter, etc.) I guess you could have seen us remodeling the house, laying tile, breaking sod in the garden area. Again, boring stuff.

Side note: Tile is what makes me cry.

Side note two: Bob Vila is a liar and I DID watch a tiling video. It WAS boring, and Bob Vila is full of it.

I have watched a few YouTubers on homesteading. There’s a guy who’s quite personable, speaks well, and gets on with it, so to speak, who introduced his cows. He knows what he’s doing, and seems competent, and I watched for about five minutes or so. Made me want to run out and buy a cow. But then, lots of things make me want to do that. (Honey, are you paying attention?)

I have two basic issues with amateur homesteading videos: the majority are folks just learning, and they make mistakes or just don’t know how to keep my attention. The other part is probably generational. I just don’t feel the need to record my every move, or, for instance, take pictures of my food before I eat it.

Homestead Rescue is very entertaining, and I just love Marty Raney. That man is fearless, along with being very charismatic. He’s a hard worker and he’ll get the job done.

At the same time, it’s reality TV and we all know that isn’t very real at all. Maybe this show is different; I like to think it is. I’d like it better if he visited more homesteaders to give advice and maybe some assistance with particular projects, but it wouldn’t have the drama and entertainment value.

Not everyone on this show is a complete basket case, but there are plenty of them even so. A single mom with two teens, one of whom wants the homesteading life, and one who doesn’t; a disabled couple with a married daughter and a couple of small children; a young couple from the city who’s completely new to living in the country.

It’s true, anyone can homestead. But “anyone” can’t homestead successfully. There. I said it.

Homesteading has been heavily romanticized in the last decade or so. The whole back-to-the-prairie imagery, living in the mountains completely alone, carving a home out of nothing with no help. Pardon me, but all that is bullshit.

When we bought our property in 2015, it had a house, a well, electricity, and a shop. And a lot of junk and layers upon layers of dead leaves all over the place. It took three of us four days to clean out all the junk in the house, and actually clean it, before we knew what we had to work with. It took two full days and eight people to clean up the yard, driveway, and shop. And ever since, we’re still doing maintenance on the house, the woods, and all the improvements.

Funny story, when we bought the place, my stepson was surprised we were using power tools. See—romanticized. He thought homesteading was using Gramps’ tools and a horse-drawn plow. Don’t get me wrong here, when SHTF, we’ll be able to do those things. But right now, and then, we don’t have to do that. Sure, it’d have been fun to try, but it would have taken at least ten times as long. At least.

But back to Homestead Rescue…

If you can’t do physical labor, you’ll need someone who can, whether you pay them, feed them and toss out a few beers, or have Marty Raney stop by. The first two are most likely, so you’re going to need some money. If you don’t have any money, you’re going to have to 1) have marketable skills and 2) find people who need those skills to trade for whatever you need, or for money.

Stop and think about this a minute. If you are disabled, and can’t work, it’s most likely—but not always—a physical thing. So, let’s say you get $1000 a month from the government. That’s not going to go very far until you’re established. It’s not enough to build a homestead. You’ll most likely need to pay a mortgage of some sort, and build a house or make repairs, and feed your family, and pay for gas and a generator or pay the electric company. You might need the internet and a phone.

The Raneys spend a fair amount of time helping people find and utilize a source of income, but this is not the kind of income that magically appears just because you know how to, say, build beehives. You have to advertise, you have to market, you have to work at this just like a regular job. Most people aren’t going to do this, because they don’t realize or they can’t or won’t. Sure, every dollar helps, but you have to manage your time too. Your homestead will be slow going until that source pays off—just like having a garden or greenhouse isn’t going to make vegetables magically appear. Planting and growing vegetables takes at least two months to maturity, often twice that.

Some people swear by foraging, and you often see pictures of a pickup bed full of walnuts or buckets of mushrooms. You can’t live off either one, and you can’t sell that amount once a year and have it pay for much of anything.

This is not the 1800s, no matter how much you want it to be.

Even simple things, like building a livestock shelter out of pallets, is going to cost you time and probably money. You have to locate the pallets, pick them up, maybe repair them, and attach them. Yes, it’s cheaper than building a traditional shelter out of lumber and metal, or paying someone to do it or purchasing one, but it still takes time and money and effort.

I watched a Homestead Rescue episode the other day where they build a greenhouse for someone. I can tell you straight up that that greenhouse is not going to produce in the winter without a heat source. And of course, the shows are a brief glimpse into a homestead, and so they don’t cover all the details. But I often wonder how some of these folks are faring months or a year later—and sometimes, yes, they do show a homestead after a period of time, but I’m willing to bet those are the ones who still have something to show.

Remember that show where Ty Whatshisname would “move that bus?” A lot of those folks lost their homes after the show because they couldn’t pay their taxes or utilities. Same goes for homesteading. If you can’t work, you have no money, you will likely fail—and those are just the basic reasons, there are many, many others. In spite of the Raneys.

Homesteading is hard work, all the time while you’re getting established. But it doesn’t stop after that either. It’s a lifestyle, not a TV show or a YouTube video that can be helpful, but still isn’t reality.