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Advise on Florida

 
Matthew Garner
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Ok so I'm from Florida and I own rental property there. I'm talking northwest florida like okaloosa county area. I'm currently stationed in valdosta ga. When I get out of the military in 4 more years the wife and I want to homestead. It would be nice to go back home but I know the heat can be hard to deal with. I wouldn't mind going into Alabama but I'm not a fan of GA property taxes are too high for no reason in GA. Can anyone help me with the pros aNd cons of Florida or going up a little north. Oh and by the way Hi! Since this is my first post!

I guess I should add some details about my concern of Florida. Heat! I alway had trouble with late frosts and early heat killing my plants back home. But I did enjoy growING about year round. Also soil is sometimes and issue with it being all sand you know. And all the 15 plus acre plots seem to have some amount of wet lands.
 
Chadwick Holmes
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Location: Volant, PA
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Florida us very hard to build soil in, the sand, rain, high water table, and heat devour organic matter at a very high rate.

The heat also can limit your fruits, depending on your taste, some fruit trees need a cold dormancy.

On the good side lots of annuals act as perennials in the heat, and you can get more bang for your seed buck.

Everything has to be built to IBC 2012 hurricane codes now, so that is an expense.
 
Matthew Garner
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Yes true on the fruit trees I've had tons of success with blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, grapes and lime/lemon. But too far north for the good bananas, oranges and too far south for apples and cherry trees.

Edit and the building code really only adds the hurricane straps and a few other little things. I think it's worth conforming to the code so you don't lose your house to a storm anyways haha. I ran into this issue when we built a smoke house in 2013 they dinged us on not having the straps on the roof so I had to go back and add them.
 
Chadwick Holmes
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Yeah, if comparing 2012 standard to 2012 hurricane its straps and a new shingle nail pattern etc. I was comparing a stick built floor to the monolithic foundation needed there.....if you go up north you could still do a footer and crawl space rather than a slab/footer and get away from the need to cut open the slab to dig up broken pipes...trust me I had many a pile of dirt in the living room floor while I was there!

Really the comparison is no codes/2006 vs 2012 codes plus hurricane addendums.

 
Matthew Garner
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Good info on the building code I was unaware that mono slab is now mandatory but I've never worked construction just build minor projects here and there. Any other pros anyone can think of other than year round growing and good hours for solar panels? Property taxes are better in FL than GA. Just a heads up the other 2 states that I like for no real logical purpose are Tennessee and south Carolina. FL is where all our family lives plus we one 1 house already. We don't plan to move back in our house the rent income is nice.
 
mick dipiano
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I think it depends on what you like to eat and want to grow. I can't grow a avacado or lime here in NJ and peppers in season only . However my broccoli and kale will taste better.
 
Matthew Garner
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Hmm good point. So things we agree we want; goats, pigs chickens and a few cows (2 to 4) for livestock.

Grains wheat and barley.

Trees: olive, pecans, citrus, fig, cherry if I can find one or live in an area it can grow. Grape vines.

Other fruit I like to grow: watermelon, cucumber, cantaloupe (never got to eat one I grew) tomatoes.

Veggies: hmm to many to list but I will try growing everything atleast once!

I'd love to have a pond of sorts with some fish on the property but I don't want to force it on the land.
 
Chadwick Holmes
pollinator
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Location: Volant, PA
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Looks like you have the taste for things that grow there! I don't see much northern only things there.....water troughs algae up faster there, but that's an easy one to solve...
 
Matthew Garner
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Thanks for the advice I am willing to hear anything out. I guess I've been trying to convince myself florida won't work because you don't hear about many people doing a farmstead in fl. By the way yall are probably going to here a lot from me the next 3 months because I'm currently deployed and have lots of time to think.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Here is a good nursery for Southern fruit trees: http://www.johnsonnursery.com/ I think most of North Florida is zone 9 or cooler, so you should be able to grow most kinds of temperate fruit and with protection some subtropicals. Personally I love North Florida (my husband is from Jacksonville) and if I were to move, I would want to go there. There is a lot of cattle-raising in north Florida; I think it might be the main farming activity there.
 
Steven Kovacs
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Location: Western Massachusetts (USDA zone 5a, heating zone 5, 40"+)
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Is sea-level-caused salt infiltration of groundwater an issue everywhere in Florida, or just some places? That (along with the heat, and storms, and probably tropical diseases) will likely increase in time.

On the other hand, if you already have your family and friends in one spot, that's a strong argument for staying in FL.
 
Matthew Garner
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Yes cattle are huge in the pan handle where I grew up. Mostly because it's easy to not have to feed hay if you manage your land right. We also had a few of the mass chicken farms nothing free range that I remember. Most of the "farms" only did cotton, corn, hay and sod from what I remember.

Salt I think is only an issue in south fl. Never had an issue in Noth fl but that's just me.
 
Miranda Converse
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Hello! Just wanted to chime in since I am currently homesteading in the Panhandle (Zone . Not sure I can provide much info since I have only been at my current property for about 1.5 years and in FL for 3.5 and I absolutely do not have a green thumb, but here is what I have found since I started;

Around here (anywhere that has any land) there are so many pine trees so a lot of the soil is acidic. Good for blueberries and acid loving plants. The ground also gets pretty waterlogged at time so good for plants that like a lot of water. From what I have heard, the soil is a hell of a lot better just an hour inland (I am right on the coast).

The only thing I have successfully grown is cucumbers. Even with my terrible gardening skills and the wrath of my chickens, they did awesome. I grew some baseball sized watermelon, but I think it's too hot here for them to get much bigger. Haven't tried a whole lot of other things. There were grapes already growing here when I got here. They do pretty well but I can never get them ripe before the birds steal them...

The winters are inconsistent, some years there is enough cooling hours and I have seen a ton of people with citrus trees covered in fruit. This year I don't think it has gotten in the 40s for more than 3 days total so far...

The bugs are insane. It's December and I'm covered in mosquito bites right now. Also, fire ants are everywhere.

I have goats, and a lot of people do around here, but they are not well suited to this environment. The wet grounds and heat are perfect breeding grounds for parasites. You can keep them, but you just have to have a great parasite control program.

I also have chickens, ducks, and peacocks who all free range. There is a ton of stuff for them to eat year round. They are pretty easy but predators are always a concern. We lost quite a few birds at first but the peacocks have actually been great livestock guardians for us. They chase anything that isn't supposed to be in the yard away. Since they have been totally free ranged, we have only lost small birds to hawks, not much we can do about them but they seem to leave the adult birds alone...

Oh and the heat! It get's pretty miserable in the summer but the way we deal with it is to actually keep our AC at a higher temperature than most. I find that around 78 feels awesome when you have been working outside all day and it makes it easier to transition to the hot temperatures outside. I know a lot of people keep there AC closer to 70 but they have a much harder time with the heat. And lots of water helps too...When it's really hot, it's hard to work for more than a couple hours outside but the winters are so mild that you can get so much outside work done in the winter that you wouldn't be able to do a couple hours north of here.

Anyway, probably more than you wanted to know, just wanted to share what I've experienced. I lived in NJ and MA prior to here and they both were miserable in the winter. Despite the bugs and summer heat, I really love it here and I think there is a lot of homesteading stuff you can do here that wouldn't be nearly as easy/possible any further north...



 
Matthew Garner
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Not more than I wanted to know that's great info! Where on the panhandle are you anyways if you don't mind me asking. Land we are looking at is mostly land near the Florida Alabama border. Growing up on the beach all my life I want some change. Plus I know all about the nightmares of the soil near the gulf. One of my bigger concerns are wet lands. I really don't want a lot of wetlands on the property because I don't know what all to grow in wet lands plus they are protected in Florida and require a permit to do anything to if you wanted to change anything about or drain them.
 
Alder Burns
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Location: northern California
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On the sandy lands, seriously consider biochar. This will lock up organic matter in a form much more stable and you can build up a soil that way. Otherwise you will be applying endless quantities of mulch, manure, compost, whatever and if you leave it for a few months there will just be white sand! It's simply amazing how much organic matter those sandy lands can go through! More and more people are making it in various parts of the state and it will be easy to find resources about several different methods. And it's a great use for the large amounts of woody debris, brush, prunings, and any and all parts of pine trees (and this will neutralize their acid qualities as well), and even paper products.....all of which can accumulate on homesteads in climates where wood-burning for heat isn't nearly as much as further north.
 
Matthew Garner
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A great resource we had in Fort Walton was that the tree cutting services offered free mulch to anyone who would take the whole truck load. By truck I mean dump truck. It wasn't like landscape mulch it was just the wood chips from a tree they would cut down. That would be great to get a few truck loads for burning or even composting. To bad they would not deliver more than 15 minutes out of town! But yes brochure sounds like a great idea I never tried it in my garden when I lived on Sandy land but that probably would have saved a lot of work. I will have to read more about brochure and learn about it better
 
Miranda Converse
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I live just outside Panama City. It's only a couple hours from here to AL and there is a lot of (cheap) land between here and there. And if the mood does ever strike you to do some beach stuff, you could easily do it in a day trip.

Yea, there are quite a bit of wetlands but there are a ton of properties that are already established as agricultural. We even considered a few blueberry orchards but they were sold before we decided. Plus a bit far from where I work. Speaking of work, not sure what you plan to do but there are quite a few jobs for retired military/veterans at the Navy base and Tyndall AFB. I actually work at Tyndall now. Hopefully someday I can homestead full time though...
 
Matthew Garner
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We have found tons of cheap land where my wife was raised in Caryville and bonifay. We are looking at stuff closer to Tallahassee since my wife loves to do her doula stuff and larger populationscreen help with that job. We still own property in Fort Walton so it's not a bad drive. I really want to convert man made timberland of pine back into something with biodiversity probably also make 5 to 8 acres of pastures but slowly and over time. Let the goats and pigs do a lot of the work for me! Haha. I don't want to deforest anything naturally growing but I don't mind converting man made stuff into something else. Plus the land is cheaper. The goal is not to work off the farmstead but during the transition I do plan to find a part time job off the land but something very minor.

We already have a steady income from our renter. My wife's mother is also leaving us another piece of land 2 acres with a trailer, septic and well. The trailer is basically a tare down so we don't know of if we are going sell the land or put a new/used mobile home to rent out on it. It's in Caryville by the way. She is going to pass very soon from her cancer. Very hard time for the wife because I'm not home to help her throughout this tough time.

The goal for me financially is to all ways make even with the farm and use rental income so I don't have to work other than management of the rentals and the homestead. Well the ultimate goal is for the homestead to basically be profitable and the rental to be profitable. We also plan to buy our land flat out so we don't owe anyone anything.
 
Diana Duckett
Posts: 4
Location: NW Florida
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Hey Matt,
There are loads of us homesteading in NW Florida! You're right that our location is a bit of a challenge, but it just takes a little thinking to pull it off. Our family farm is now in Milton, and my husband works in Westville, but we have lived and worked all over the panhandle and in lower AL & GA (& I've taken my garden and critters with me each time) The biggest challenge you will have is sandy soil, and it can be different for each piece of property. Those wetlands you're dreading are actually an awesome feature for Florida! Tupelo honey comes from native trees in the marsh swamps around Carryville, & even if you don't plan to have bees, there will be happy native ones to help your garden. NW FL is also full of wild hogs, thats lots of free bacon running around those marshes. & As far as fruit trees go, there are some limitations. You won't be able to grow a lot of the more common apple, peach, & pear varieties, but there are a ton of low chill breeds of tree that do great! My neighbor has a 30 ft crabapple tree that gives her all the jelly & juice apples you could want! Another neighbor has pears that are round, and I have FL Princess peaches in my front yard. But I'm also far enough south to have oranges, limes, & lemons! & Don't get me started on the blueberries, scuppernon grapes, & persimmons that are everywhere just growing wild.
There is a lot of NW FL that is cattle country, there's a large dairy in Bonifay and a huge shipping yard in Westville. This is because it's warm enough in winter to grow fodder crops and pasture, instead of trying to winter them over on hay and grain. Again, you won't be able to grow some of the more common grains like spring wheat, and sometimes the corn doesn't make it. But you can grow rye through the winter, and barley, millet, oats, & amaranth in the spring. You just have to adjust your growing seasons. I grow short season veggies in raised beds & containers Feb to June, started indoors, last frost is always done by March. Then I start again in Sept, and grow veggies until December, when we usually get our first hard cold (40 degrees). However most of cool season crops will keep growing through the light frosts until it gets too warm in April, (collards, broccoli, kale, spinach, mustard, tatsoi, cabbage, turnips, radishes, carrots, & I've got a few sugar snap peas hanging on right now) I try not to grow anything outside in July or August, my peppers and okra are the only things that really appreciate 100+ degree heat. But the main cash crops of cotton, peanuts & soybeans seem to handle it too.
Gardening isn't the only great part about NW FL, though. One of main reasons we were drawn back to our place was the fishing. When the summer heat hits, there are thousands of fresh and brackish water fishing holes, or you can head to the coast for bigger catches. There is also a growing movement here with fish farming & aquaponics. Something worth checking into to provide income for your homestead.
About the only downside to homesteading here would be the pests. Rats, fire ants, mosquitoes, fleas, flies, FL leaf footed stink bugs, and tomato horn worms are not your friends and will happily devour your homestead. It makes it much harder to be organic, but it is doable. Definitely invest in a good cat.
Sorry if it seems like a lot to take in, I really hadn't planned to write so much, but we love living here in NW FL and I get excited that more homesteaders might want to join us here, too!
 
Diana Duckett
Posts: 4
Location: NW Florida
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I also wanted to add that construction opportunities vary from county to county. Your local zoning board has a lot to do with how "out of the box" you can get. Here in Santa Rosa county there are earth berm homes, modified mobile homes, log homes, stilt homes, and even a few dome homes on the beach. It's much easier to get approval when there's an example of what you want to do that's already passed.
 
Matthew Garner
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We might be going with the family farm in wewa. It was the family farm many years ago but 40 years ago they planted timber pines so its time to harvest.y father owns 65 acres and my aunt owns the 70 acres next door. I though my father sold it I did not know it was still in the family. And it's in tupalo city haha.I definitely want to do some bees but I will have to learn all about them.

Edit by the way, my wife is from the Caryville/Bonifay area! That's tons of great info.
 
Scott Strough
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Location: Oklahoma
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I was born in Florida, even though I am in Oklahoma now. That area you are talking about ranges from almost ideal to very poor. It's all dependant on the soil which varies a huge huge amount from area to area, plot to plot. You can in some cases go from some of the worst soil, practically not much more than sand dunes, to some of the richest best soil ever seen in under 1 mile. So before you do anything, you'll need to go look at the property and take some deep soil samples. Even looking at the vegetation can help. Do you see gnarly 15 foot tall scrub oak? Or towering 80 feet tall live oaks? Something in between? Lots of wild rosemary bushes? Those types of things will give you an idea of what the short term potential of that land is. Of course permaculture can repair the function on almost any land, but just finding the right land could save you decades of work. Since most land in Florida is priced due to other factors than soil quality, you could sometimes even need to pay more for lower quality land and vice versa. It pays to go see yourself.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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Location: Graham, Washington [Zone 7b, 47.041 Latitude] 41inches average annual rainfall, cool summer drought
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Up to you where you want to be. The far southeast just seems like a miserable climate to me though.

You'd never catch me further south than Tennessee/North Carolina personally.
 
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