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How much land is ideal?  RSS feed

 
Fil Keller
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I'm a suburban tech worker with limited gardening experience (strawberries, tomatoes). I love the idea of food forests, and buying a large plot of land to experiment with different plants. The challenge I have is figuring out how much land is enough, assuming a person looks at farming not as food production but as an endless series of science experiments.

Sepp Holzer for example has 45 hectares (111 acres), so maybe that's the upper bound? I'm assuming that half the land will be used for forest, and the other half for pasture or annuals. How much can one person realistically manage assuming 4 hour days?
 
S Bengi
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+3 acre for house+lawn+garden+food forest orchard+ chicken + honey + 1/2 acre fish pond
+4 acres for each cow (animal unit), so +40 acre for 10 cows/animal unit.
+3 acres for each kid assuming you want to give it to them to start a family/rent out to collect money/leave it as an inheritance(cabin in the wood) so +9acres for 3kids
subtotal 52acres.

What type of experiments do you have in mind. Are we talking running a 1000acre corn farm? or re-greening the desert? Are you in humid USDA zone 10 or super short zone 3 or maybe dry desert where all of those would need a 10x multiplier. Personally I could use 1sq mile (640acres)
 
Mike Jay
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I typed out a vague big response but then just realized the answer is...  It depends.  Until you know the scope of your planned experiments we can't tell you how much land to get.  Until you know the things you want to try we can't tell you how much time they'll consume and if you can do it in 4 hours per day.  Even if you tell us those things, it will further depend on your climate and a host of other factors.
 
James Landreth
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This is something that I said in response to a similar question on here recently (https://permies.com/t/101708/Selecting-Land)

"I'm one of the few people who would advocate for more, rather than less, land depending on what your goals are. Are you trying to grow food just for yourself, your family (if so, how many?), community, etc? Around here it took 5 acres during the early 20th century to grow enough food and wood for a family of four, approximately. But those 5 acres were managed carefully and often produced all or most of the family's animal feed. That sounds crazy to some, but when you look at growing your own starch, oils, animal feed, etc the footprint grows significantly. Not that most people, even permaculturists, take on all that, but still, it's something to keep in mind.

I was told that the nearly seven acres I'm on would be more than enough. Well, it isn't. I'm always finding new trees (fruit, nut, medicinal, native, good for pollinators, etc) that I want to plant in order to preserve the genetics for the local area and the bigger ecosystem. I will probably run out of space in the next year or so. I'd originally thought to leave half the field for cows, but later decided it was more valuable as food forest.

I'm just saying, if you buy more land the worst case scenario is that you'll end up leaving a chunk of it as zone 5. You could also plant it into things like standard fruit and nut trees that could be for wildlife, and if times get hard the food could be sold, traded, or given away."


Gail Gardner also wrote:
"You're not the only one. What many don't realize is that 5 acres, 20 acres, 80 acres and 160 acres can all cost pretty much the same because the smaller the acreage the higher the cost per acre. When I realized that, I bought 117 acres instead of 20 or 40.

The joy of living on really large acreages is that you can plant whatever you want.  After finding out in a thread here that peaches were the original invasive species in north-east America, I decided to start planting peach pits wherever little trees pop up just at the drip lines of established trees.

Will they be true to their origins? Probably not, but I don't care. They're basically free and I've read in the forums here that trees planted in the soil rather than transplanted are stronger, healthier. If they grow peaches I will use them. If they're not sweet enough, I'll can them or bake pies or freeze them for pies all winter or make jams and jellies.

I have a theory I want to test. What if we acquired mixed wild edibles seeds and plant them in random locations. See what grows in each area and let the wild plants take over that area. Free survival food for many AND you can tell how the soil in that area is (ph, deficiencies) based on what grows and doesn't grow.

If you want livestock of any kind, you need a lot of land for pasture. Or, like others have found, they eliminate livestock because food forests are more valuable on small acreages. You can still have chickens, ducks, goats, rabbits - but not cattle, bison, horses, etc."
 
Dillon Nichols
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When I started land shopping 10+ years ago I wanted 5 acres bare minimum, hopefully more like 10. I grew up on a weirdly shaped 3.5 acre property that later grew to a ~8 acre property, and I could easily picture how I would allocate space on a property in this size range. I wanted to make sure I had enough room for privacy and firewood production as well as orchard, garden, and infrastructure.

Well, my minimum kept increasing as I looked.

I kept finding properties that were nice, except for whatever was next door. Gravel pit. Highway. Dit bike track. Housing tract. Pollution of all sorts. Drift from spraying on agricultural land. Noise.

And, my ambition and confidence increased. I wanted to do more things with the land, on a larger scale. I wanted to produce my own timber as well as firewood, I wanted much larger scale animal systems, and I hoped to have room for other people to live and work on my land.

I tried to buy a 40+ acre parcel and got outbid. Then I agonized over a 60ish acre parcel, and had an accepted offer... and bailed just in time as I found a better property.

So now I have 220ish acres... if I had the money, I'd have bought all 3 lots and had about 700... and I bet I'd still wish for a bit more. 1000 acres has a nice ring to it...

(Maybe ask Travis how much of his land he would like to give up!)


What do you want to do now... and what might you want to do in 20 years?

I think it's really important for properties to be big enough  for a genuine zone 5, an area rarely touched by people... Ideally set up to connect with other wild or lightly used areas to allow for wildlife corridors.
 
Travis Johnson
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I am not really sure. For me it is based mostly on the cost of property taxes. I have a chance to buy more land right now, 115 acres and I am going to hold out on it, for the moment at least, for the same reason the owner wants to sell it...the property taxes in that particular town is just too high. My taxes have dropped the last two years (I own land in four towns and two states), but within the last five years they doubled. Our new Governor just presented a 11% increase in the state budget, so I suspect property taxes will go up again which is concerning in terms of property taxes.

I have never calculated any land as just for running experiments, but when a person is farming for profit, everything is a risk and experiment, if not, a farmer will not be farming long.

A good market garden could make more money with 3 acres then a person could make with 100 having a sheep farm, but in terms of self-sufficiency, my Grandparents were the only ones that I ever knew who fully were self-sufficient, and they had around 600 acres. With the cost of property taxes today, around $20 an acre...it starts becoming a catch22. A person needs more land to farm to make income to pay those taxes, but then the land itself costs more in property taxes, so really more land is needed...

A few years ago forestry land here was at the point where yearly growth, and the value of that growth, was almost exceeded by property taxes. Myself, and many, many of my neighbors started converting forest to field since crops and livestock can net a person far more money than trees ever could. The cost of conversion is high, around $201 per acre, but I do not see that trend stopping anytime soon, because once a forest is a field, the value of the crops over forest products is just so much higher that it just makes sense.


 
 
Greg Martin
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Travis, when you say forest products do you just mean lumber and firewood, which seem to be the lowest value products possible?  The folks doing maple syrup and mushrooms seem to do pretty well and they get to protect the precious forests.
 
Travis Johnson
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Greg Martin wrote:Travis, when you say forest products do you just mean lumber and firewood, which seem to be the lowest value products possible?  The folks doing maple syrup and mushrooms seem to do pretty well and they get to protect the precious forests.



That is ultimately the problem, when a person has no land they think, 'if I only had land then I could do x, y and z". However they then realize their is costs to that land and have to make the land pay for itself, and now they are competing against everyone else that owns land.

Then a landowner begins to realize that the land they had has limitations, and a lot of the things they do cannot be done. Suddenly the land they see elsewhere looks a lot more charming then the land they got, that just a few years ago, looked perfect. So they move, and then realize, 'crap; this new land has limitations too.' Worse yet, all the work they dumped into their old land is now all for not.

And so it goes.

I see things from a different perspective because I knew at age 4 I was going to get this land; I was told that all growing up. It has some really good attributes (best soil in the state of Maine), but also has limitations (short growing season).  But there is nothing easy about land ownership, it is a heavy responsibility, and it is even harder to get 100% production out of land. Some say sell the land and coil back to just what can be managed, but that is a fallacy; taking the easy way out is seldom the response a person should take. Why give up land that someone else might conventionally farm and use pesticides and herbicides...right next door to where a person lives? The real answer is to do the best you can, with what you have.

It is amazing what can be done on a farm when someone cares, and since 2008, I have made a huge amount of changes to this farm. I have a long ways to go to make in 100% productive, but I am always kicking the ball down the field to that endeavor.

RIGHT NOW it would be wrong to buy that 115 acres of land that is available, but someday I might.


 
Jess Dee
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One thing to keep in mind, especially if you are buying a larger place, is that cleared land, left to its own devices, will often degrade to a state where it is not 'natural' but is also not really useful to humans.  My place had been cleared at some point (from forest), then left for a decade or so with nobody mowing most of it.  What I have now is a scrubby tangle of invasive introduced bushes that may provide some food and habitat for various species, but that are also extremely difficult to get rid of, pose a fire hazard, and basically mean that most of my potential space is actually unusable without investing a huge amount of backbreaking work and/or money to hire equipment in clearing it.  

The upshot of this:  if you are getting a large amount of land that has been cleared, you need a plan for how to manage the acreage you are not using right away, to make sure it remains in some sort of useful state for when you get around to it.  That might mean leasing it out for grazing, or getting a tractor and mowing it for hay, or something, but don't think you can just 'get to it' some years later without it changing a lot in the meantime.  

That said, I have ten acres, and wish I had at least 160.  In my climate, ten acres is not enough to manage livestock on without buying hay, even if it weren't mostly scrubby.  Land is pricey here, though, and we have a lot invested in this particular bit of land now, so we're probably stuck with what we've got.  
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Fil Keller wrote:I'm a suburban tech worker with limited gardening experience (strawberries, tomatoes). I love the idea of food forests, and buying a large plot of land to experiment with different plants. The challenge I have is figuring out how much land is enough, assuming a person looks at farming not as food production but as an endless series of science experiments.

Sepp Holzer for example has 45 hectares (111 acres), so maybe that's the upper bound? I'm assuming that half the land will be used for forest, and the other half for pasture or annuals. How much can one person realistically manage assuming 4 hour days?



Several have already said this but, first decide your long term goals for what you want or may want to do with the land. This will help you determine a minimum number of acres you would need.
If you find that you might, in the future decide to make a living from your land (market garden all the way up to full blown Agro tourist attraction) then you are going to want at least 100 acres.
If, as you have already mentioned, you just want to do experimenting then calculate a minimum of 1 acre per experiment so you will also be able to grow most of your own food as well as have dedicated experiment areas.

On Buzzard's roost we grow most of our own vegetables, grow mushrooms, have an expanding orchard and vineyard, raise chickens and hogs and I have 15 - 1/4 acre experimental zones (that can be subdivided if need be), We do this on 15 acres but can buy another 140 should we want to expand.
I also have 3 acres of pasture.

One of the other things that is important to keep in mind when determining the amount of land is whether or not you plan on growing old on this parcel and how much  machinery will you have or acquire.
Machinery can take up a full acre if you are going to have several tractors and pull behind equipment and one combine/harvester.
Really thinking things through now will save you many headaches later on, write down all the things you think you might like to do on your land, that way you not only have documentation for calculating land needed but you also have a "business plan" start should you end up needing one years from now.

As others have mentioned, it is less expensive to buy large than it is to buy "small", and don't forget to look into tax delinquent land sales and farm auctions, they can be really good financially but only if you can find what you want and need land type wise.

Redhawk
 
Tyler Ludens
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I have found 20 acres to be ideal for my purposes here.  This is more land than I can manage very well but it is the minimum to give me a sense of privacy.  
 
Dillon Nichols
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As far as property taxes go, these vary hugely.

In BC, you pay a much reduced rate on properties that have farm status. Farm status means you must make a certain dollar value of farm products available and advertised for sale. They want you to actually make this amount of money, but that is not the letter of the law.

If your property is in the agricultural land reserve, it cannot be subdivided, and you can't build more than one house on it.

But, being in the ALR means you get farm status for the whole property even if you are only farming on a tiny portion of it. As long as you hit your dollar amount. Outside the ALR this is much less simple.

The dollar amount is based on the value of the property in agricultural terms. Ie, with most of my property brush my dollar target is lower than if it was fields, and much lower than if it was orchard.

If your property is small the dollar target goes up a bunch, relative to the size of the property.

As long as you have farm status, your property taxes are assessed at the agricultural value; in my case this is about 1/7th of the market value.

In conclusion, complicated bullshit..
 
Andrew Mayflower
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The land required will, as mentioned, depend a lot on your goals.  But it will also depend on the location.  20 acres outside Columbus, Ohio is very different from 20 acres outside of Phoenix.  That land in Ohio might be able to support an NFL team with food.  The land in Arizona probably wouldn't keep a family of 4 from starving without massive irrigation (which is not exactly permie friendly in that location).  

Also, think long and hard about how much time you really can afford to spend working on the land.  It takes more time and effort than you might think.  The ability to buy and/or rent machinery can dramatically affect this calculation.  Money is really tight for us right now, so when we put in a water line to the chicken coop we dug the trench by hand.  What would have taken about half an hour with a properly sized Ditch Witch took over a week (because with kids, homeschooling, job, weather issues, early sunset this far north, etc we could only work maybe an hour a day on it).  Cleaning up our side yard of blackberries, and debris from felling trees has been a herculean task to do by hand.  If I could afford a mini-excavator or similar piece of equipment I could easily accomplish on a Saturday what I struggle to accomplish in a month without any machinery.  
 
Andrew Mayflower
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Further to my location comment, you may well find that one 20 acre parcel is sufficient to your needs, while another immediately adjacent might be wholly inadequate.  So while macro environmental effects of locations matter a lot, extremely local variations can also make or break a given property, depending on your goals.
 
Mike Homest
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As others already pointed out in various answers, it highly depends on what you want to do. You need little space for vegetables and alike, fruit-trees need some more space and many ages to give a substantial harvest. Animals, if you intend to grow their food, need even more space. Chickens are great to begin with, very easy and highly efficient.

If you indent to heat/hot water with wood you need lots of forest to allow it to regrow. The amount of firewood needed is mostly underestimated, if you are used to central heating and only pay for oil/gas/etc. I just cut today a few hundred kg, hopefully enough for the rest of the month. Since I still have not fixed this old walking tractor, I normally use with its trailer for this (you sit on - so with it mounted it isn't anymore a walking tractor. I had to use a wheelbarrow, 6-7 loads. which is no real fun.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Mike Homest wrote:
If you indent to heat/hot water with wood you need lots of forest to allow it to regrow.



Or you could have a rocket mass heater and need 1/10 the amount of space for trees, which could be coppiced to provide wood of the exact right size for the heater.
 
Mike Homest
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

Mike Homest wrote:
If you indent to heat/hot water with wood you need lots of forest to allow it to regrow.



Or you could have a rocket mass heater and need 1/10 the amount of space for trees, which could be coppiced to provide wood of the exact right size for the heater.



Sounds to good to be true. If we look at the physics, 1 kg of say oak (dry) has about 4.2 (iirc) kWh if burned, so if my cheapo crap wood-stove has 60% efficiency, I get 2.4 kWh heat out of it, the rest heats directly the atmosphere, or/and partially depending on the chimney location/build heats the building, so you get maybe a total off 70% efficiency. So your rmh might might be as efficient as some Jotul stove:ยด. Friends once replaced some "good" old Godin* stove with a Jotul and needed half of the firewood the Godin used.

*Iirc the manual says 400 C exhaust temperature! It literally eats firewood.

So your rmh might use as less as the Jotul, but 1/10?
 
Mike Jay
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Hi Mike, welcome to RMH's!  Here's a thread Paul put together showing how much more efficient RMH's are than wood stoves. Heat a Montana home all winter with a half a cord of wood
 
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