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What's one thing you wish you knew before starting your homestead?

 
pollinator
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Hello all,

I'm still what I would consider a beginner to permaculture and homesteading (started last year after covid lockdowns first began...) so I'm looking for your 'one thing' you wish you knew when you started.

And for some extra fun (if you want), tell me your "Ahah!" moment where you realized you wanted to pursue this lifestyle.

Please consider contributing; I greatly value your opinion as a more experienced homesteader! :)
 
Posts: 383
Location: On the plateau in crab orchard, TN
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ID favorite tool to work with on yard and garden.
 
master gardener
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Location: southern Illinois.
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The importance of good neighbors.  I am not referring to permaculture practices, politics, religion, or potential friends.  Rather I mean people with a responsible live-and-let-live attitude.
 
Posts: 155
Location: mid Ohio, 40.318626 -83.766931
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I wish i knew what i don't know.

For example my new aquaponics endeavor. I didn't know that water Ph was so important to fish. I knew it was for plants.
so i had to find out about water testing. i bought a multi water tester and I have high Ph levels by what the meter is reading at the moment.
But before i make any changes i need to make sure that the unit is calibrated correctly. so i Have to get certain chemicals' of specific Ph values to do the calibration.
i know i can reduce the Ph value in the pond by adding different elements. but which ones, are some better than others, will some effect the fish adversely or the plants?

i'm also trying to use solar to heat the water. the water i'm using is untreated well water which comes out the hose in the low 50's. so to get the water temp up i'm trying to figure out the best way to warm the water.
i built a frame backed with a sheet of ply and some insulation. 100 foot black hose and a bi-wall poly carbonate sheet. but i don't know if i should paint the inside of the frame black, keep the insulation shiny ( it has a reflective covering)
leave the poly carbonate transparent, Paint it black for better heat absorption. ?
(Picture below)

the problem is experimentation cost money. so does getting it wrong.

being unemployed at the moment doesn't help as it limits resources i can throw at the problems


All fun and games and a good learning experience.
20210321_114746-(1).jpg
[Thumbnail for 20210321_114746-(1).jpg]
 
author & gardener
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I wish I had understood that the soil is an ecosystem, not simply a planting medium. If I had understood about soil micro-organisms and how to nurture and feed them when we first got started, we would be so much further along! We pretty much started with conventional knowledge, but tried to do everything with natural inputs rather then chemicals. So, we got that right. What I didn't understand was that the focus should be on feeding the soil, not feeding the plants. I know that sounds like the same thing, but I've come to understand that it's not. That concept has changed the way we do almost everything on our homestead.
 
master pollinator
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That I would need to build in vacation time away from a place that casual visitors consider a perfect vacation spot.

Sometimes I hit a phase where all I can see is the work that needs to be done, and it drags me down. After three or four days camping and walking in high mountains, I come home meditated and motivated and fresh, and can see the big picture again.
 
John F Dean
master gardener
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Hi Douglas

You make a great point.  While homesteading is fun, there are times when one needs a break.  Even a 24 hour escape can do wonders. I was fortunate enough to find a part-time job that allowed to to travel on my schedule.
 
pollinator
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Wish I knew how fluid my plans would need to be! I spent too long listing off all the things that needed done, only to have urgency pop up in ways I didn't expect. But it all has worked out for the best. For example, I thought we'd do a retaining wall re-build in the first year. Well a ton of other things ended up taking priority and in the meantime our retaining wall design needs changed entirely.
So loose long term goals, but do what needs done in front of you. And learn to pick at big projects a little at a time or else you'll get burned out and not want to do anything!
 
John F Dean
master gardener
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Hi Matt

You sound normal.   I just spent two days chasing escaped goats ( goat chasing is not a planned activity).  No matter how I tightened the fencing, they got out.  Finally, I watched in amazement as all laws of physics were suspended and one walked through a solid fence.   I walked to the spot and could not see a problem.  Then I touched the fence and it separated.  It seems, when I was installing the fence, I had butted two ends together and forgot to fasten them.  Amazingly, the two ends did not curl and stayed touching.  Even more amazing, it took two years for the goats to discover this.
 
Rebecca Blake
pollinator
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John F Dean wrote:Hi Matt

You sound normal.   I just spent two days chasing escaped goats ( goat chasing is not a planned activity).  No matter how I tightened the fencing, they got out.  Finally, I watched in amazement as all laws of physics were suspended and one walked through a solid fence.   I walked to the spot and could not see a problem.  Then I touched the fence and it separated.  It seems, when I was installing the fence, I had butted two ends together and forgot to fasten them.  Amazingly, the two ends did not curl and stayed touching.  Even more amazing, it took two years for the goats to discover this.



That is definitely a happenstance I would laugh at myself over!

Lesson learned: always double check your work. An important lesson I’ll need to keep in mind as we build our house here shortly... how much harm can a missing screw do anyway? Lol
 
pollinator
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I really hope this one doesn't apply to you, but...

I wish I had known how frequently my father would sabotage me while pretending to help.

 
Rebecca Blake
pollinator
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Thank you for all the great replies!

John, thank you for mentioning the part on neighbors. For the most part I have confidence we'll be alright, but only time will tell. I'm most excited to get to know the neighbor who already has cows, chickens, and bees.

Thanks for the heads up Phil, on the topic of not knowing what you don't know. I'm a big researcher so really my biggest fear will be over researching and never implementing anything... so maybe jumping in without all the knowledge can be an asset in some cases.

Leigh, do you have one good resource I could turn to on how to feed my soil ecosytem? I already have an intellectual understanding of this but don't know how to carry it out in practice...I'm guessing my soil needs some help since my onions seem to be taking eons to grow... or is that normal for onions?

I found your comment on building in vacation time enlightening. Our parcel we purchased is in a tourist area so I could easily see myself falling into the trap of never getting away. Especially considering I'm not a big vacationer anyway. But how do you leave a homestead with livestock that needs care while you're gone?!

Matt, lesson learned from you is to make plans to begin with! Hah, I'm terrible at plan making. I know you're discussing fluidity in plans here but you've actually inspired me to write down a timeline for my plans for fear of procrastinating too long on it... our first big plan is to build our house and with the inflation of building materials right now we really ought to get it done ASAP before we're priced out of our own home. I'll have to adopt the idea of fluidity for my plans of what I want to do to the land, which may be good since I'm not sure what's the most important project to start with on that one.

Elllendra, sorry to hear about your parental sabotage... I've felt that kind of sabotage from friends but I can only imagine how it feels coming from a parent. I'll definitely keep your experience in mind, though. We purchased the land as a joint effort with my parents so I'm sure there will be plenty of opportunities for us to sabotage each other... yuck. Thus far everything has been very collaborative, I'll be making a greater effort to keep it that way since you brought this to my attention!

Again, thank you all for your replies! They're all very insightful.
 
Posts: 44
Location: Ontario - Someday Nova Scotia
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Hey Rebecca, Im also new to permaculture, like yourself I started out just after covid struck. I'm sure there are actually many of us who put the pieces of the puzzle together right around the same time, in fact. I don't have anything of worth to add, just wanted to say hi, and let you know that there are likely quite a few of us starting out on this journey right now. In fact, I think I'll post a topic, pointing back to this one... :)
 
John F Dean
master gardener
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Hi Rebecca,

The answer to homestead sitting can come in several approaches.  My first choice is responsible children from a nearby homestead/ farm.  Be sure to get the parents permission and pay well.  
I am assuming a morning check on food and water.  

My second choice is the local FFA or 4H to identify someone.

I have learned to trust responsible children more than I trust adults.  Twice I have had adults fail without damage.....because I got a bad feeling and cut my trip short.  I have never had a young teen fail me. Oh the adults?  The first one showed up but left because she was afraid of my cat.   The second one, after promising me he would check daily , never showed ....but he was thinking about it.  In both cases I had left ample amounts of water and food just in case.
 
Leigh Tate
author & gardener
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Rebecca Blake wrote:Leigh, do you have one good resource I could turn to on how to feed my soil ecosytem? I already have an intellectual understanding of this but don't know how to carry it out in practice...


Yes! A Soil Owner's Manual by Jon Stika. That link will take you to the book's Permies page. It's the book that put all the puzzle pieces together for me. I could finally see the big picture, plus it gave me a plan to work toward better soil. It's an excellent book and you won't be disappointed!
 
Rebecca Blake
pollinator
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Tonya Hunte wrote:Hey Rebecca, Im also new to permaculture, like yourself I started out just after covid struck. I'm sure there are actually many of us who put the pieces of the puzzle together right around the same time, in fact. I don't have anything of worth to add, just wanted to say hi, and let you know that there are likely quite a few of us starting out on this journey right now. In fact, I think I'll post a topic, pointing back to this one... :)



Tonya, nice to meet you! Food flying off the shelves in a split second sure has a way of making one rethink how they live, doesn’t it?
 
Rebecca Blake
pollinator
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John F Dean wrote:Hi Rebecca,

The answer to homestead sitting can come in several approaches.  My first choice is responsible children from a nearby homestead/ farm.  Be sure to get the parents permission and pay well.  
I am assuming a morning check on food and water.  

My second choice is the local FFA or 4H to identify someone.

I have learned to trust responsible children more than I trust adults.  Twice I have had adults fail without damage.....because I got a bad feeling and cut my trip short.  I have never had a young teen fail me. Oh the adults?  The first one showed up but left because she was afraid of my cat.   The second one, after promising me he would check daily , never showed ....but he was thinking about it.  In both cases I had left ample amounts of water and food just in case.



And most people think teenagers are irresponsible and good for nothing. Hmm...
Perhaps a part of it is their youth and they haven’t quite gotten a big head of ‘I’m too good for that kind of work’. And they may just want money and they don’t care where it comes from!

Thanks for the heads up. My church has a few other homesteading families so I’ll have to keep their kiddos in mind for when the day comes!
 
Rebecca Blake
pollinator
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Leigh Tate wrote:
Yes! A Soil Owner's Manual by Jon Stika. That link will take you to the book's Permies page. It's the book that put all the puzzle pieces together for me. I could finally see the big picture, plus it gave me a plan to work toward better soil. It's an excellent book and you won't be disappointed!



Awesome! Thank you thank you!

I was just perusing RedHawk’s soil thread and it made me realize I really suck at making compost and may need to pick up my game. I thought compost was easy and self explanatory but apparently I need help lol
 
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**GROW YOUR HOMESTEAD SLOWLY.**

Don't overload yourself with so many projects that you burn out. Do NOT convince yourself that you're going to buy property, build a yurt to live in, get chickens, get ducks, get milking goats, plant a garden, plant fruit trees, install water catchment, etc etc etc all in the first year or two. Even if you already have badass food growing skills, don't plan on growing/raising/canning/storing more than about half your calories in the first year or two.
 
Faren Leader
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Rebecca Blake: regarding your onions, are you sure you're growing a variety suited to your latitude? There are short day, intermediate day, and long day varieties. Here's a map showing which you should grow based on where you live in the US (if you're not in the US, let me know and I can probably find a similar map for other places).

https://www.dixondalefarms.com/onion_plant_daylengths
 
Rebecca Blake
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Faren Leader wrote:**GROW YOUR HOMESTEAD SLOWLY.**

Don't overload yourself with so many projects that you burn out. Do NOT convince yourself that you're going to buy property, build a yurt to live in, get chickens, get ducks, get milking goats, plant a garden, plant fruit trees, install water catchment, etc etc etc all in the first year or two. Even if you already have badass food growing skills, don't plan on growing/raising/canning/storing more than about half your calories in the first year or two.



I don’t have badass food growing skills so I wasn’t hoping to do much early! A house would be nice to start lol. I’m thinking I may start some terracing and clearing yucky trees if I have time- without stressing over it too much.

On the onions... I knew I needed to get a certain type for my climate but I apparently still ordered the wrong kind. Oops! Thanks for pointing that out to me.
Any guidance on what to do with my long day onions if I live in a short day climate? (Texas) lol
I planted them in the Fall so they’ve just been sitting there all this time. They’re finally growing layers so I guess I’ll see how big they get before it’s too hot.
 
Faren Leader
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If you keep them watered, and maybe give them a little shot of nitrogen (I favor diluted fish emulsion, or diluted urine) soon, you'll get big beautiful scallions that might bulb out a little bit at the bottom in May. Nothing wrong with that! Maybe plant something tall next to them soon (corn, tomatoes, whatever) in a direction that will give the onions some afternoon shade into June and July, and you can slowly harvest the onions as you need them.
 
Rebecca Blake
pollinator
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Faren Leader wrote:If you keep them watered, and maybe give them a little shot of nitrogen (I favor diluted fish emulsion, or diluted urine) soon, you'll get big beautiful scallions that might bulb out a little bit at the bottom in May. Nothing wrong with that! Maybe plant something tall next to them soon (corn, tomatoes, whatever) in a direction that will give the onions some afternoon shade into June and July, and you can slowly harvest the onions as you need them.



Go figure, the ones that are big scallions now are the ones that had a urine test :)
I’m a bit sheepish to use that when other people are home- which is almost always. But I’ll try to remember it when I’m alone. Or I’ll get fish emulsion. Thanks!
 
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Nature really doesn’t like to cooperate with your plans. My revelation today is that the invasive grass and weeds, gophers, hungry deer, weather and other natural things that get in your way and waste massive amounts of time and energy don’t care that you’re trying to do things right. Nature is just a free-for-all of everybody battling for survival, and the toughest things merrily reproduce and do their things while ruining all the nice stuff you’ve planted.
Also, there’s a reason permacultures almost universally look like shit. Because nature is messy, and unless you have a LOT of time, money and help, or you start off with a neatly groomed yard in a suburb with no invasive weeds or “critters” anywhere in the area and create your garden by taking out one small piece of turf at a time. Oh, and it helps tremendously if you live in a place with good soil, regular rain, sunlight that’s not too harsh and at least several useful and edible native species that would love to grow in your soil and climate. You can use those as an easy foundation for your planting while you fill in with things that are more difficult to grow. Otherwise, everything is tough to grow, which is why you so rarely hear about successful permaculture in areas like where I live (north edge of the Great Basin), where there has never been year-round human habitation. There’s almost nothing useful or edible that grows her naturally.
I’ve been at this for four long years, and ready to throw in the towel. Unless you have an entire village of people or army of groundskeepers like Martha Stewart, you’re likely to end up with something that looks and functions really half-assed. Somehow the perma gurus get huge native trees to grow from tiny seedlings in the desert with nothing more than a couple of applications of cow poop and watering once a week. Entire ecosystems are miraculously rejuvenated from dead hillsides with nothing but some free seedlings, saved seed, a bit of manure, some rocks and a bit of elbow grease. I have yet to see any permaculturists discuss what to do when the weeds and non-native grasses, destructive rodents and other pests invade, when the soil is too crappy and sandy to grow anything useful unless it’s amended year after year after year with fantastic quantities of compost, or when veggies bolt and go to seed too quickly to be eaten but scatter all over and come up everywhere in subsequent years. Apparently these are problems unique to me as nobody else ever seems to mention themI’m trying to create a compromise between an overgrown, out-of-control foraging free-for-all that most permacultures are, and something nice enough that you can feel proud when the gardening club comes over. I’m seeing that it takes a LONG time and a LOT more work than one person can do, at least when starting from scratch.My advice? Plant a conventional lawn, and remove it piece by piece as you install your perma plants. Keep your design really simple and focus on small areas each season. Also, think carefully about placement of things (like, I got a piece of equipment INTO this space, but can I get it OUT again when it needs repair? I’ve read a lot of permit blogs and watched a lot of backyard permaculture videos and the design mistakes many people make leave me cringing (like, planting a jujube tree near the foundation of a home 😖). So, there’s a LOT of bad advice out there! Good luck with your pursuits, though, and just know that when you hear people bragging about how fantastic and cheap and easy their perma came together, “other people’s results may not be the same as performance for YOU”!
 
pollinator
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Instead of 6 strand high tensile for sheep and goats, I would have used sheep and goat sized woven wire with a strand of barbwire on the ground under the fence, offset hot wires on the inside, outside, and one at the top.  Expensive, but dogs and/or coyotes have really set me back. With the woven wire, I could have gotten by with a less expensive charger, as they have been killed by lightening half a dozen times.  I'd also spend less time on maintenance, as right now, I keep the fence spotless to keep the voltage at max.
 
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Rebecca,

This is a great thread you started and I am loving the answers.  I actually have 2 things I wish I knew:  one is a very Permies principle, one slightly so.

First off I will echo what Leigh already said about soil being an ecosystem.  I am afraid that I started my garden beds by roto tilling.  I added in huge amounts of leaves and other organic matter but it just seemed to disappear into the clay soil.  Eventually I sold the tiller, found Permies and got hooked on mushroom compost.  I never really understood how soil is an ecosystem until I saw my Wine Cap hyphae wrapped around the roots of my tomatoes and I could see with my own eyes that they were feeding each other.

The second thing I wished I had (actually I always knew this would be a good idea) was having a tractor right at the beginning of owning the land.  They are just so useful and save the back so much ache and pain.

Also, neighbors can be absolutely golden.  Most of mine have.

My 2 cents,

Eric
 
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I wish my sense of esthetics and appreciation for "weeds" hadn't taken so long to evolve.  I was just outside watching my ducks eat the florida betony, spiderworts, wild lettuce and grass and thinking how all that would have been mowed over by now in past years.  I had just been thinking that betony was getting a little too shaggy and time for a trim, but they are just starting to bloom and the bees like them at that stage. Besides, those root tubers are pretty good for snacking on.
 
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