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Overwork and poverty?

 
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Hello

I have been considering starting a homestead, I have basic experience and funds but I am worried that I will end up overworking and under eating...

So I am wondering what peoples realistic opinions on modern homesteading are, what is the minimum amount of hours per day one would have to work to produce enough calories and comfort for a small family. Your advice would be much appreciated!

cheers!

Vince
 
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Kind of person dependent here imo. I spend about.....20 minutes a day on all of my livestock. How? Well I just go out with a bucket full of pig food. I throw it all out on the ground and all the pigs and poultry eat the same thing. While they are eating I wander over to the spigot and knock the ice out of the rubber water containers. Then I turn the spigot on and fill them back up. Then I grab eggs. Then I'm done. That's it. I only go in in the morning.

Spring-Fall I go out and open the gate and let all of them out to find their own food. We have a pond for watering during those times so as long as it's full I don't have to water them either.

There are days with more work. Days when I take a few hours to move all the hay bedding from the barn to the garden. Days when you have to process things. Days when you're fixing a fence or something.

The garden isn't a whole lot of work now that I bought drip irrigation. I mulch so don't normally weed. I can spend an hour a day out there just...enjoying it. Could probably do way less.

But that's me. I'm not real particular. I don't have fancy feeders for my animals. I don't milk anything. Milking would increase all of that by a lot.
 
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I think the amount of time one spends homesteading depends on a lot of factors. Here's some that come to mind:

  • The more established the homestead, the less time/effort one must put into it
  • The less hospitable the climate/soil, the more time/effort one must put into it
  • The more money one has to buy supplies and feed, the less time/effort one must put into the homestead
  • The more planned out the homestead, the less time/effort one must put into it


  • I found, for my homestead, that it took me 4 years (while pregnant and wrangling kids) to start really producing much of anything. In the beginning, your soil won't be very suitable for growing and will need to be imporoved. Garden beds would need to be made or growing area cleared of grass/weeds. Trees need to be planted and purchased (or grown from seed, which takes more time). I personally advice people not to leave their "day job" until they've got two or three years put into making garden beds/planting trees/building systems, unless they've done all that in the past.

    I mean, Tracy Wandling knows how she likes to garden, and was able to build a garden quite quick (https://permies.com/t/106070/permaculture-projects/garden), and Dale also knows how he likes to garden, and formed a garden in just three days (https://permies.com/t/80/27910/permaculture-projects/Dale-Day-Garden). Experience and access to resources (like mulch and compost) really help with forming a garden fast. If you don't have those, though, you might stumble around a lot like I did, and you'll spend a lot more time getting not-enough done.

    I'd say, expect to be putting in at least 4 hours per day into a homestead during the first year. Put a lot of thought into how you want to work your systems so they take less effort and they do more of their own work for you. CHickens can till. Ducks can eat slugs. Goats can clear brush. But, if you don't set up your system well, their tilling/bug-eating/brush-clearing won't be as helpful. Put as much thought into your systems as you can, and keep thinking as you build them. Allow yourself a learning curve (get one animal at a time, and learn how to care for it, before getting another, etc).

    After a few years, you might be like Elle and only spending a few minutes per day. But, at the beginning, you'll probably be spending multiple hours. I know I was!
     
    Posts: 182
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    True self sufficiency? Growing enough calories isn’t a big deal if you are happy eating banana squash. Maybe go all three sisters and add beans and corn. All easy to store. But who stops there? I’ve spent most of my time crawling in and out of rabbit holes. A long line of hair brained schemes. You can most definitely work yourself to death. Or you can brainwash yourself out of all the things western civilization tells you you need. I gave up most meat and dairy. Quit most processed food. I gave up canning as a waste of time. I’m glad I learned it, but freezing is so much better. Choices? The problem is I grew and changed so much, most things became unimportant. I just got so tired of watching animals die. I can made six different kinds of unpalatable goat cheese. I am one of the few who can not get rabbits to reproduce. I could not get the goats to stop reproducing, let along keep them out of the neighbors yard. Trust me there are a lot more things that can kill you while homesteading than lack of food or over work. My new favorite is picking wild mushrooms. I’m not dead yet!
     
    master pollinator
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    Dennis Mitchell wrote:True self sufficiency? Growing enough calories isn’t a big deal if you are happy eating banana squash.



    It's almost impossible to get enough calories by eating squash.  Even eating potatoes, which are higher in calories than squash, requires one to eat several pounds of them per day.  The book One Circle by David Duhon is a good starting point for designing a homegrown vegan diet that doesn't require a lot of space to grow.  I don't advocate a vegan diet; I think it is probably easier to get good nutrition if one includes small animals such as chickens and especially fish.  Raising fish and other water creatures for calories and protein is the most efficient use of land, if they are grown in a natural pond (aquaponics is not energy efficient and can be expensive to start with).

    In a good climate one can raise all the food one needs on less than an acre.  The Biointensive method claims the minimum amount of land for one person is about 4000 square feet in a good climate, but Biointensive is a somewhat challenging and labor-intensive method of growing (I use a modified "lazy" version of it myself).

    If you want to raise larger animals such as goats or cattle, you need to know the carrying capacity of the land per acre and not overstock.  In my region the carrying capacity is claimed to be one AU (animal unit equivalent to a cow and her nursing calf) per 20 - 25 acres but in many cases this is optimistic.  Our land is mostly woodland and degraded from decades of poor grazing management so our carrying capacity is much lower. We have 20 acres, which from my experience trying to raise sheep here, might support two or three goats or sheep as-is, but fencing adequately would be very expensive.  We never were able to fence the place appropriately so the sheep were rather expensive pets for whom we had to buy feed.  During a period when we were struggling financially I tried cutting and carrying tree branches for them each day and it was exhausting.  

    Chart of some animal unit equivalents:  https://globalrangelands.org/inventorymonitoring/unitequivalents

    As the chart page mentions, the animal unit concept is flawed because it doesn't account properly for dietary preferences of different animals.

    Not sure if any of this helps.  I agree with Nicole's assessment that it may take 4 hours per day or more during the start-up period.  A good design can shorten this period considerably.  I started with a poor design (no design, really) and have had to start over a few times, which is wasteful and can be expensive.  I'm a slow learner and finally getting a better design after several years.  Don't be like me - learn permaculture design before you start!
     
    pollinator
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    I'm not going to give any time estimates.

    The main thing is to make sure to not waste your time on projects that do not come to fruition. Make your first buildings small and your first gardens small, so that you are able to begin a project and finish it.

    If your limiting factor is time, plan around that, and if its water, then there's no point in starting a huge amount of things in the spring that you will not be able to carry through to harvest.

    As a child, I watched my mother begin a huge garden every year, and without fail, it became completely overrun with weeds and didn't see adequate water in August. I grew a much smaller one that was looked after well. My stuff was much better. I put my time into mulching and harvesting. Mom and the other kids put their time into struggling with weeds.

    I see a similar thing going on with people who build their own house. Some build something of modest size that they are able to complete. Others start a giant project that they have neither time nor money to complete, so they live in a state of constant renovation for a generation.
     
    Dennis Mitchell
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    It's almost impossible to get enough calories by eating squash.  Even eating potatoes, which are higher in calories than squash, requires one to eat several pounds of them per day.  

    200 calorie a cup, eight cups to reach a minimum 1600 calorie diet, is almost impossible only in the monotony. I can eat eight cups for breakfast, but have no desire to eat that much squash. I’m much healthier following a plant based diet. I’m not vegan, but it works for many people.
     
    master pollinator
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    I have always kept track of my hours, and averaged out over 10 years time, it was around 900-1100 hours per year.

    At first it was tough, but soon it eased off. For instance, my first years were spent constantly moving sheep fence until I got my pastures fenced off with good wire. Now, my sheep take care of themselves from April to November. But after the fence was up I could work on bigger projects, so the hours stayed the same

    It took me 8 years, but I went from having a Hobby Farm with an off-farm job, to full-time farming.
     
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    I agree with Nicole that it can take quite a long time, with a lot of effort, to get things going properly. I agree with you that you will likely undereat and overwork if you go in with high expectations of the homestead providing your food and general needs.

    Don't plan on eating from your farm in the first couple of years. Do ask what people around you are having success growing, and see how many calories you could produce/would actually enjoy eating/how much time it takes to grow that particular item. Then repeat for another food. For example, we can grow potatoes really well without irrigation, so it takes perhaps 2-3 hours laying on compost earlier in the year, then 4-8 hours work to plant, then maybe a few minutes of weeding where necessary, then 4-8 hours to harvest-- for a really significant number of calories. BUT if we relied completely on those calories it would be incredibly stressful because there was that year when a mole rat ate all the potatoes (apparently raw potatoes are just fine for him, or maybe he just destroyed the plants and then chuckled evilly in his tunnel full of potatoes), and then there was a year when our neighbour's piglet got loose...

    Another example: I figured out would take about 26 well-producing granadilla/passionfruit vines for give us enough calories to feed one person entirely on granadillas, and I focused in on that goal as something tangible. (we're all eating a lot of granadillas now, but they're more like 1/7 of our diet given that there are 7 of us). These vines don't take any work now that they're established, but for every plant that got established, 4 died as our conditions are very harsh-- I got really good at propagation. So it took 3 years before we had success, with the side benefit that I now sell propagate and sell vines as a side income. Then there's tamarillo: I have planted 10 trees and have just one that is doing fantastically and giving lots of fruit... but then I found I don't like the fruit very much (thankfully have one son who does) and there's only so much jam one needs. But again, I learned I can grow tamarillo very well from seed and sell plenty of trees (and feel pretty relaxed about planting more of them because i know I can grow them more or less free, with little time input). We have a lot of guavas, but otherwise most of our fruit trees have yet to produce. I tried to make olive oil with our olives and it was a disaster. We do grow a lot of vegetables, but they are fairly time-intensive, and if something unexpected happens we can lose a crop very quickly.

    If I did it again, I could [maybe] spend more time planning and not consider myself somehow above burn-out. We had our third baby, built 2 small houses (one for my nuclear family, then 2 years later, 1 for my parents), planted 100s of trees/shrubs, put of a lot of fencing and started a vegetable garden on our 1 acre plot-- all in the past 3.5 years. And it was very exhausting. Not just the actual food production, which is only a small part of the whole picture, but the food production together with the child-rearing (children do not emerge from the womb loving farming, in my experience-- if they sense it takes time away from them, they may even hate it), the finding time to work, the various projects (the realization that some projects inevitably fail, and have to be redone).

    We're starting to produce a lot more food, with a lot less effort, in the past 12 months (year 3 or 4)-- probably now it is about 1-2 hours a day of work for this food. But it would have been largely impossible without the hard, fruitless (literally) labour that preceded it.

    One challenge for me is that we put in so much effort into setting up our farm that I cannot imagine ever having to do it again-- yet many of the additions have no monetary value in our urban environment. So I'd recommend, if you're in a space that is constantly changing/uncertain (like ours in Cape Town), go slowly and remember that we cannot control all the factors that allow us to stay in one place indefinitely. That is, don't invest everything in one idea- it's too much pressure. And do keep at least one day job in the homestead unit, on the one hand it adds stress because I don't have enough time, but on the other hand, not having financial stress, and not having debt, was really helpful for us.
     
    pollinator
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    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=9MpRw4NQU1c


    I don’t recall whether she speaks as to the time involved, but in this presentation Marjory Wildcraft shares how to produce half your calories within a small space, I think 100 square feet. It seemed highly relevant, which is why I shared it here.
     
    gardener
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    Dale Hodgins wrote:

    Make your first buildings small and your first gardens small, so that you are able to begin a project and finish it.

    I'll back that up in spades! I'm trying *really* hard to choose the "project of the week" and try to actually finish it. I live with someone who's *really* prone to stalling on the last 10% and often it's the last 10% that takes a project from "taking up space" to useful.

    Jo Hunter's comment about only one person liking a food they're growing is also key. If you've got animals, sometimes they will turn food the humans don't want to eat into food they do, but I'm having to grow things that aren't as easy in my climate strictly because I know that they will actually be eaten. Not only will my family not eat 8 cups of squash/day, they will only eat any squash if it's pumpkin turned into pie!

    I am trying a small 3-sisters bed for the first time this year. I'm not sure it will get enough sun where I had to plant it, but so far the corn is growing and the bean seeds are in dirt. I'm going to start pumpkins next, but that at the ratio recommended partly because of space issues.
     
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    yea, the minimum hours per day is going to drastically change based on the location and methods.  

    I'll guess I put in 3-6 hours a day, 3-5 days a week, like 3-6 months out of the year, for 3 years, let's say I put in a massive amount of work to get potatoes and squash and fruit putting out about 500 hundred pounds at year 4, in a soil that was mostly quite poor to start with on a high and dry hillside.  And that's with an input of like 8 yards of compost, and just about all my waste.  

    A person could have done something similar to this in a weekend, with like a 5000 dollar input of a bunch of heavy equipment operating and petrol and like 3 dump trucks full of good compost.  That much compost will grow a lot more than 500 pounds of caloric produce if it all goes to soil that grows squash and potatoes and fruit which aren't eaten by other animals, I'm just guessing that's about how much 'earth darkening fertility' I otherwise managed diluted over a larger area, with a significant amount of it being used by plants I don't eat or trees which are not yet fruiting and nutting.  

    Then even without inputs, on the valley floor not more than a few miles away from my location, on mostly flat land which is already mostly cleared of trees and already has mostly dark earth, a person will get something like 10-50 times more calories for a given amount of work.  Like all they have to do on the richer soil that is already not being grazed by deer is some forking and planting and culling, meanwhile another person is putting in hundreds of hours of work arriving at this other condition, by moving earth and felling and processing conifers that are most of a meter across at the base into hugelkultures, with a chainsaw and a shovel, a preliminary step that will not put out much in terms of calories for years in poor soil.   The difference here can hardly be overstated.

    After the condition of the soil a person is starting with, the next most important condition for homesteading food is probably proximity to wild crafting resources.   Like if a homesteader is working slowly and patiently with the part about building and maintaining fences and trying to garden calories, and instead manages to scissor-deadfall trap game in the area (in the name of self defense; it was coming straight for my garden and I was going to starve to death if it ate my plants!) and so is instead spending their time butchering and preserving venison instead of building fences/gardening soil that currently will hardly support a potato, a homesteading experience could be downright fattening.  However, harvesting wild game is a skill which generally fails in first efforts, can have legality issues, and an area might not have western Oregon's deer problem...

    So yea, if a person is moving to site which has little in terms of dark earth and water and is going to try to homestead by growing most of their food immediately, overwork and poverty is the likely fate.  However, if the plan is something completely different, or the plan is to be growing only most of their calories at a point 5 years in the future, seeing the land so change at your hand can have nothing to do with overwork and poverty, but be a downright awesome experience instead.  Highly recommended!
     
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    Thanks for posting this info. I just want to let you know that I just check out your site and I find it very interesting and informative.
     
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