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clearing land (from forest to flat)

 
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So i'm finally at the earliest stage of seriously researching the homesteading future, and the most basic question is whether to buy already cleared land (usually farmland) or something forested trying to clear it (or get it cleared) myself.

The price difference per acre is obviously pretty huge when something treed might be $1000-and-something and something farmed seems like $7000-and-something (not specific numbers) plus I like the idea of being able to choose WHERE things are cleared out and NOT just having land that's like an open field, clearcut, without privacy, and even if it was farmland probably already sprayed with toxic pesticides within an inch of it's life.  Starting "from scratch" has it's advantages for many reasons.

My originally planned goal was to look for about 11 acres "or more", mostly because my generic research into qualifying for agricultural property tax seemed to indicate it's only an option above 10 acres in Minnesota (where I want to buy), below that it just qualifies as a house.  Even though I planned to primarily do greenhousing and even 3 acres under a greenhouse is a pretty good sized greenhouse!  My beginning needs would be pretty minimal - buy and sit on the land, doze out just enough of a driveway to park some vehicles and temporary housing trailers, then wait at least a year building up savings before dozing more for a barn and smaller starting greenhouse. (more of a 'learning greenhouse'/i'm not producing commercial quantities to start but rather being sure that i'm up to growing plants first!)

Seeking minimal up front cost (because the land would probably have to be bought mostly all at once and not financed out for decades) "bootstrapping" as I go (fine with the idea of clearing the tiniest bit for a Tiny House up front then clearing more later when ready to build a greenhouse a year later, etc) and can afford to do things.  Keeping expenses low and financing nearly nonexistant is important since if plans fail i'd rather they fail small than big in some leveraged purchase I can't hold onto.

I'm assuming a bulldozer is probably the only way and aren't sure what the rule of thumb costs of having that done might be.  I'm very interested in a project https://wiki.opensourceecology.org/wiki/Bulldozer_Specification that i'm not even sure has been built yet, just like i'm interested in their LifeTrac tractor (of which not many have been built that I know of, but i'm very fascinated by the idea) - maybe in 2 years (my horizon for possibly buying land I figure is summer 2022 at earliest, hopefully by summer 2023 for a rule of thumb) it will be further along.  Even if their dozer does exist by that time i'm curious how that would affect "land buying strategies" since i'm sure that would remove trees up to ( x) size, and no larger of course...


Suggestions for further research or factoids and insights to share?  
 
pollinator
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You have a few points to consider;
CLEARING
- Land clearing is very expensive and time consuming
- then the land has to be levelled somewhat.
- This all takes time
- There is a case to argue that clearing land today might be unwise when so much cleared land is available.
CLEARED
- Cleared land may not be poisoned
- You can start plating trees as soon as you buy a cleared block.
- many cleared blocks have some trees and shelter
- water sources will not be compromised by loose soil
 
author & gardener
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Brian, I like how you're reasoning this through. I like how you're thinking in the long term and considering options to reach your goals. Here are a few more thoughts to add to your considerations.

Land prices. There's something to be said for paying the lowest price possible because it leaves more capitol for making one's plans a reality. I strongly agree about paying for it outright and not financing. Of course, there's always the age old time versus money debate. The advantage of starting from scratch is that you can create exactly what you want. You mention living on the land for awhile, which is such an excellent idea. A lot of useful information can be gleaned by just observing an area over the course of a year.

Trees. Trees are a valuable resource. If you bought the forested land and harvested your own trees, there are a lot of possibilities of what you could do with them: log cabin, pole barn, fence posts, etc. Do you have an idea of what kind of trees you'd be dealing with? Hardwoods? Conifers? Mixed? Do you need a wood lot? Do you plan to heat with wood? My husband used a skid loader to do some clearing in an area where he wanted to be selective about which trees he took out. It enabled him to work around the ones he wanted to leave. Of course, you can always plant your trees later, but they are slow to grow.

Agricultural land. That 10 acre rule seems to be common, but sometimes it can be based on how much money is made from agricultural usage. Not sure if that's true in Minnesota, but it might be worth looking in to. Or even if you can't get an agricultural designation, it could help in filing income taxes.

 
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Sounds as though you have a plan for forcing your plan upon the site. I can't offer much in that regard as my approach is to design for the site, rather than impose a design despite the site's character. My wife and I bought 20 acres of undeveloped woodlands. We're clearing enough to put in our house and a small kitchen/market garden. Using timber we're clearing to build our home, designing our homestead to utilize what is here and integrate our developments into that. We hired a contractor to put in the driveway and the septic system. Another to drill the well. But as far as "clearing" goes, that's been me, with a chainsaw, winches, pickup and a shovel. We got on the land in May 2017 and poured the house foundation 8/12/2020.
If you're set on razing the place for greenhouses, buy the land where it's been done. Between the time and the monetary costs of clearing it, you'll come out ahead, even at the higher purchase price. That price reflects the costs of getting to that condition.
 
pollinator
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Like they say, "debt is cancer". Get what you can actually afford and do the work bit by bit. That's my advice. Just be EXTREMELY honest about what you can realistically do. That's my big problem, I started out hot and now my arm is all (expletive deleted). Definitely put a damper on things...

Clearing land is hard work but it's spectacularly satisfying to see the difference a few hundred square feet at a time. Plus free heat and rough building supplies forever!
 
pollinator
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Hi Brian,

I'm writing this reply only because this is a permaculture forum. If this was solely a homesteading forum, or a prepper place I would have passed.

An important thing central to permaculture is that it can be a good method to restore abused land, or at minimum to prevent more functional ecosystems from being destroyed for human activity. A forest is a functional ecosystem. Clearing forests is therefore not really a permaculture idea. What is a good idea according to permaculture, is to take on a wasteland and bring it back to life and productivity. If you can do that, you're adding to the growing amount of people who prove permaculture works. Somehow and somewhere we have to stop the destruction of the natural world.

I know the hurdles in that. We ourselves bought a totally ruined and abused piece of land in a harsh wet-dry tropical climate. It took us years to figure out how to create a better habitat and to see what works here and what doesn't. Or just to help repare the destruction brought to this place in the past. People now at least say that our land looks way greener than theirs in the dry season...

If costs are an issue then buying a piece of wasteland is also a good idea because nobody really wants it (huge amount of permies in deserts or dry climates for example). But time might be an issue... Or convenience...

In my experience going the permaculture way is at first the hard way... But after some years as your understanding grows, it turns into the more relaxed way. You don't panic anymore when a drought hits, because you made your place resilient in so many ways. You don't even waste half of what you did before anymore...
 
pollinator
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I have to agree with Rene. It seems like everybody here have admirable intentions, and I hate to say what’s “not Permaculture”, but Bill Mollison was explicit in saying that clearing a forest to garden in its place is not what he intended. That being said, some woodlands are not the native polycultures they could be, and that could warrant utilizing the harvest of trees for infrastructure while simultaneously performing ecosystem restoration. Many areas over seeded with dog hair Doug for around here come to mind. I agree with the posts above encouraging working within the context of the site, and finding one with potential in line with your goals will be key to success. I also agree with the encouragement to underestimate the work you want to have to do to make it work for you. Don’t chain yourself to a property, when the right one can instead set you free. Best of luck.
 
John C Daley
pollinator
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GOOD DEBT AND BAD DEBT
There is a strong case for GOOD types of debt.
Good debt is borrowing to purchase an item you will use for a long time, it will reduce your living expenses{ IE no rent] grow to be an asset and is affordable.
Good debt may be of the order of 1 or 2 years income, paid back over say, 5 or 6.
If the repayments are less than rent you may pay, you are no worse off.
Good debt is purchasing some equipment that will earn far more than the repayments over time, thus creating income and repayable at an affordable rate.

Bad Debt is borrowing for a flash holiday and spending years paying it back with no benefit other than memory.
Or borrowing 10 years income and taking 30 years to pay it back at a rate 3 times rent value.

Many people muddle them up.

Over 50 years of working I have only had good debt and at times I have borrowed eye watering amounts.
I have never been bankrupt, I have paid all my debts and I have had great experiences.

Today I am financially comfortable, but I am still careful with money. And I am still creating work for myself with modest income to preserve cash.
 
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