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homesteaders / hobby farmers / all of yous: am we getting in over our heads?  RSS feed

 
m hoffman
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So, my wife and I and two young boys are looking at buying a new house. We're currently in suburbs in North Carolina (USA), and we need some advice from folks who have done the homesteading thing in earnest.

One of the houses that recently popped up on the market in the area we're looking at has a nice house that ticks all the boxes for us .... and it's on 7 acres of pasture.  We haven't visited it yet, but it looks nice on paper.  What I'm wondering is – is that getting in way over our heads?  As soon as I saw it, I started thinking "I could plant an orchard! And I really don't want to mow that kind of grass, so I'd just get some goats. And ducks. And a couple dogs, and...."   But I clearly don't know the first thing about what it's *really* like to take care of these kinds of things, so worried that I'll fall for the romantic notion of "just get a couple goats and ... " and end up with a second full-time job taking care of it all.

To give you a sense of where we're coming from: we currently live on a quarter-acre lot in a pretty laid-back neighborhood, and have a couple fig trees and had a pretty nice ~60 sq ft garden. But there is an HOA in the neighborhood, and after several years some crazy people took over and forced us to take it out ("no vegetables visible from the street"). That has us looking at moving somewhere where that isn't an issue.

We don't have ambitions of being entirely off the grid, but we do have romantic notions about having a few chickens (or ducks...I really want Muscovy ducks for some reason) and a nice vegetable garden, and that kind of thing.


So, for folks that really do hobby farming, or homesteading, or just live on some land... any advice?

Also, maybe you can help me dream: what would you do with 7 acres of land, if you also had a full-time job and two boys under 5 to take care of?  Does that sound more exciting or daunting to you? 


Thanks for any advice or ideas you can offer!
 
Todd Parr
pollinator
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Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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I'll tell you what I wish someone had told me.  Start at your house and work outwards.  Slowly.  Get the area immediately around your house the way you want it, get a small garden started.  Don't get any animals the first year or two.  Don't start a second project before you finish the first.  Put in one small fruit tree guild and add free or nearly free plants to the area around the fruit tree as you go.  Enjoy the process as much as the result, because you will never be "done".  In case I wasn't clear enough, start slowly.  It's very easy to get caught up in the excitement, want to do everything at once, and soon realize the life you were so looking forward to is now just a chore that you HAVE to do.  You can always add more.  It's hard to take on less.  And once you do it, I bet you will never want to go back to your HOA
 
Jarret Hynd
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Location: Sask, Canada - Zone 3b
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Todd Parr wrote:I'll tell you what I wish someone had told me.  Start at your house and work outwards.  Slowly.  Get the area immediately around your house the way you want it, get a small garden started.  Don't get any animals the first year or two.  Don't start a second project before you finish the first.  Put in one small fruit tree guild and add free or nearly free plants to the area around the fruit tree as you go.  Enjoy the process as much as the result, because you will never be "done".  In case I wasn't clear enough, start slowly.  It's very easy to get caught up in the excitement, want to do everything at once, and soon realize the life you were so looking forward to is now just a chore that you HAVE to do.  You can always add more.  It's hard to take on less.  And once you do it, I bet you will never want to go back to your HOA


Very much agree with this.

I almost rented 10 acres this year for a market garden(unlimited clean water+sandy loam soil), until I went out and walked it and said "what the hell am I thinking. There is no way I can manage that" and so I settled on 1 acre for now which will eat up almost all my free time next year.

If you are used to suburb life M Hoffman, then homesteading is likely going to be very challenging at first and you don't want to overburden yourself which would taint an otherwise really cool experience. The nice thing about most rural areas though, is that the taxes are really low, meaning that the only major expenses you would incur are a result of your own decisions to have those expenses. If you don't have ducks, goats, an orchard, machinery etc, then nothing is really going to be eating up your time or $ except yard work, but if it's an older house and yard, you'll probably want to clean it up a bit anyways. It's also probably not wise to plan to plant new trees and shrubs when your soil is likely not developed and you haven't walked the land yet

Generally when you homestead, you want to be as self-sufficient as possible first, and then move on to bigger things like an orchard. 

HOA's sound very displeasing to me, I'll think twice before complaining about the useless letters I get about "grass can only be 0.2M high". At least I can grow my own food on any part of my property.
 
Jane Southall
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Location: Limestone, TN
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I fully agree.  Start small and start around house.  We only have acre.  And have been here two years and feel guilty everyday about how little I get done.  Yet, I remind myself...so much is observation, thinking, planning, replanning and replanning again.  After two years, I finally feel like I know this acre well enough to pull off an inexpensive plan for maybe half of it.  All is new to me, as well.  Good luck!
 
James Freyr
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I will also agree with Todd and Jarret. Start small with one thing, like a garden. I've always gardened to some degree for the past 25 years, but when my wife and I (girlfriend at the time) bought our house 8 years ago, we had a small garden. And we enjoyed it, so we expanded it a little the following year. And the next year it grew a little more. The garden has grown each year. And in 2014 we got some chickens. And the next year we got more chickens, after loss to predation and desiring a slightly larger quantity of steady eggs. And then we added some fruit trees and blueberry bushes. We like what we're doing, we enjoy it, and we want to do more, it's what we want to do with our lives. Next week we close on 58 acres to move to next year to really pursue our dream of homesteading the rest of our lives. There's currently nothing on this land, so I'm starting from scratch, but I know how much garden I can handle. So next year we'll move out there, I'll build the garden larger than what we currently have, and plant some fruit trees and berry bushes. The following year we'll add one more responsibility. We're not sure what that is now, but it could be honeybees, or goats, or a couple dual purpose cows, or pigs, but not all at once. We'll only add one new thing per year. Trying to take on and do too much all at once is the repeating story I read about on blogs and forums of why folks quit. When you're overwhelmed, it's not fun anymore, and when it's not fun anymore it feels like a chore, then it can become a burden and then you're not happy.

Looking back, if I had a garden of my current size and chickens to check on daily when we first moved here, along with all my other responsibilities, I would have felt overwhelmed and been miserable and felt like I couldn't do it. But because we added a little each year, we're acclimated to the "work", it's our new normal. I say work in quotes because it's not really work for us when it's fun and enjoyable. But yes, we spend many many hours per week gardening and preserving in the frost free months, and much less time with cold weather crops during cold months.

If you have interest in the homesteading lifestyle, I highly recommend it. Give it a try, it's fun! Grow a small garden, can some tomatoes in the summer. If you like it, add on a little. The nice thing with the 7 acres you mentioned is room to grow and do things, plus no HOA nazis breathing down your neck prohibiting you from growing food. You'll only get in over your heads if take on too much at once. If you did move to this nice place on 7 acres and decided you don't want the lifestyle, you still have a nice place on 7 acres. Hope this helps!
 
John Weiland
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Agreeing pretty much with the others here.  Wife and I both grew up in the city, but had exposure to rural family.  We both knew how to garden, so started there.  The 17 acre property we bought had a house, outbuildings, and was about 10% riveredge/riparian, 10% yard and 80% under the plow.  That 80% went fallow or was planted with some prairie grass, whatever we could afford with the meager income at the time.  The weeds that followed were ugly, but there was no HOA telling us what we could or could not do, so we just mowed when we could and accepted that is was not going to be photographed for 'Sunset Magazine' any time soon.  With garden experience already, we just started there.....growing a bigger garden than normal and stashing produce in chest freezers and learning to preserve and dry food along the way.  Some chickens and other critters came along slowly later on a needs and capability basis.  At the same time, trees were being put in as we got more of a "feel" for the land, soil, and properties of the location.  Now nearing retirement, there will be a lot to do.....and a LOT more time over which to do it.
 
m hoffman
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Thanks everyone!  Super helpful.
Sounds like pretty much everyone agrees, then, which is great:  It won't be getting in over our heads if we just don't try to do something with all of that land from the start.

Which makes perfect sense...most of the houses I've been looking at are more like .5 acres or so, which is as much as I really expected to use. Enough for a kitchen garden and a few fruit trees, and maybe some berry bushes eventually.  But who knows... with more than a half acre, there'd be a lot of room to grow.

It looks like the current owners have been mowing the whole thing, regularly. Which I honestly can't imagine doing -- that's a whole lot of grass to mow!  So, I assume it'd be ok if I just mowed as much as I wanted for a garden and a yard for the kids, and let nature take its course on the rest of it until I wanted to do something with it?


I'm getting kind of excited about this idea...
 
m hoffman
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John Weiland wrote:That 80% went fallow or was planted with some prairie grass, whatever we could afford with the meager income at the time.  The weeds that followed were ugly, but there was no HOA telling us what we could or could not do, so we just mowed when we could and accepted that is was not going to be photographed for 'Sunset Magazine' any time soon.


Oh thanks John, you answered my question about letting it go fallow as I was writing it.
 
Bernard Welm
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If the 7 acres are fenced think about finding a local beef farmer to borrow some cows from. They will enjoy the grass and make life easier for you.

The first year on my 10 acres the weeds were a nightmare now we still can't get to it all but the cows make it easier and help with the firtillity
 
Mike Jay
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When we stopped mowing the pasture that came with our place it came alive with flowers.  This time of year it just looks like 2' high grass but at times the flowers poke above the grass and look nifty.  So you may be surprised what shows up when you stop mowing.
 
John Weiland
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Mike Jay wrote:When we stopped mowing the pasture that came with our place it came alive with flowers.  This time of year it just looks like 2' high grass but at times the flowers poke above the grass and look nifty.  So you may be surprised what shows up when you stop mowing.


Agreed, with one exception.  As many in the upper midwest, we are surrounded by the elm/ash/box elder mix that will populate your open spaces in a hurry with saplings.  We let some of that happen and have been using natural succession to let some of the open space turn slowly into woodland.  The area that we wanted left open for pasture/grassland either would need herbicide treatment to keep down broadleaves/trees (not an option for our desired lifestyle), burning--which is the prescribed approach for open prairie in this region (but not really desired for other reasons), and mowing.  So the mowing occurs either once or twice per year....in the fall and sometimes in the spring.  It keeps the saplings down, but not out.....and we may have to get more aggressive if we really want that pasture to be free of trees. (Nothing is grazing it just now....open grass/wildflower mix for the time being.)
 
Crt Jakhel
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Mike Jay wrote:When we stopped mowing the pasture that came with our place it came alive with flowers.  This time of year it just looks like 2' high grass but at times the flowers poke above the grass and look nifty.  So you may be surprised what shows up when you stop mowing.


And get some bees to take advantage of your new flowering meadow.
 
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