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We have a small property near town, but I’ve always dreamed of having more land. We can’t afford much nearby, but there are some affordable acreages (5-10 acres) about 2 hours away. Some have small houses on them, some are just land. I’m wondering if it might be an idea to purchase this land for the future. We could start by using it on some weekends and growing fruit trees, then retire out there. We are just 30 now so would have lots of time to get something going by then.

Is this something people do? Are there things we can grow without having to water regularly? I was thinking I could plant a bunch of berries. We live in Alberta, Canada, so the growing season is only about 4 months and it is not super dry or hot. Thanks for any advice. It’s just kind of a pipe dream,
 
pollinator
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Danille Bkack wrote:We have a small property near town, but I’ve always dreamed of having more land. We can’t afford much nearby, but there are some affordable acreages (5-10 acres) about 2 hours away. Some have small houses on them, some are just land. I’m wondering if it might be an idea to purchase this land for the future. We could start by using it on some weekends and growing fruit trees, then retire out there. We are just 30 now so would have lots of time to get something going by then.

Is this something people do? Are there things we can grow without having to water regularly? I was thinking I could plant a bunch of berries. We live in Alberta, Canada, so the growing season is only about 4 months and it is not super dry or hot. Thanks for any advice. It’s just kind of a pipe dream,



I can give you one perspective on it, but your situation may be much different.  My brother and his wife did something similar, but his land had an older cabin on it.  They bought it more as a place to get away on weekends and just to get out of the city-ish area they live in.  They worked really hard on the place almost every weekend.  It quickly got to the point where they felt guilty that they weren't working on it and did something else on the weekend because they had so much they thought they needed to get done there.  It was like they thought since they invested money in it, it was a waste if they didn't use it.  Two hours is about how far they have to go to get there, and that adds up pretty quickly.  It's much different than if you have land 15 minutes away.  You have to plan it more, you have to pack the things you will need if you stay overnight there and 4 hours of driving in one day is a lot if you are working hard at something for hours in the middle of it.  All that is considering they had a dry, comfortable place to sleep while they were there.  They spent more than a year at it to the point where they were just burnt out and now they rarely go there and are planning to sell it.

None of that is said to dissuade you from doing it, and it may work out really well for you, especially if you aren't in any kind of a hurry.  Most of the work they had to do was on the cabin and you won't have that do deal with.  I just think it's important to go in with your eyes open.  Best of luck to you whatever you decide.
 
pollinator
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Hi Danielle,

Todd has raised some valid concerns. The fact that it is an investment in time can't be ignored. It may colour how you feel about it over time, if it's not a lifestyle that actually suits you, or engender a feeling of obligation.

That said, I am looking at a similar situation. I work in Mississauga, living in Toronto, and my better half spends time working for week-long intervals two hours and change east of my work, traffic allowing. When we buy land, I would like between 10 and 50 acres, and it will be out around where she works. I will have weekends, and I have the flexibility to take holiday hours to make four day weekends when the season requires, but the property will be without my direct intervention for days at a time.

I am planning on looking at the land first off. Ideally, it will be a gently sloping piece shaped like a giant sun scoop, facing south. I will look to what resources I have on the land, and knowing where I plan to look, it will likely be abandoned farmers' field and overgrown woodlot, more likely the latter if there's any real slope.

I plan on using fallen woody debris to make on-contour sediment traps, whatever else I do after, and seed them with a pioneer soil-building pasture guild suitable for the land in question. That will stop erosion, start accumulation and water infiltration, and put a soil-building pasture guild on the land to improve it over time.

I am also planning on thinking quite early on about growing a shelter belt on the north-western perimeter consisting of white pine and temperate transitional hardwood species, and encouraging a culinary mushroom guild to grow out of it. Sheltering the land more will further decrease moisture loss through wind dessication, and will cut down on dry-weather soil erosion. The benefits of an established patchwork of a variety of edible mushroom species growing in the soil can't be stressed enough, and a food forest could be developed to work within the bounds of the wind break.

I may be able to call on my neighbours, should I work on my relationships, or perhaps employ some local youth to check my livestock, should I have livestock, but that would require some really idiot-proof infrastructure to work well, and a level of trust you don't just find anywhere; should that not be an option, I will have to make other plans.

I am positive that I can design and build a chicken tractor system that is predator-safe and moves itself to new grazing daily, or more often. I think I could even do a chicken/rabbit tractor combo. More than that would realistically require a person to check in twice daily, a guardian animal, probably llama, along with two or three LGDs, and a night corral, enclosure, or shelter.

Not that you can't do it otherwise. I would definitely trust a herd of bison to their own devices on land with suitable infrastructure, along with any cattle not bred for industrial farming. I would do the same for, say, ostrich. But it's always a risk. Even if the webcam feed or app tells you right away that your herd is in trouble, unless you have someone on call, on-site, what are you going to do two hours away?

Bees, though, can easily be kept, if methods that stress a lack of human intervention are used. Soil-building is effectively catering to the livestock of the soil, which are going to be the basis for anything that you grow on it, and the hardest workers on your land.

Paying close attention to what water does on your property and doing what you can to keep it for as long as possible as close to the spot it falls will do wonders.

I want a two-pond system, if my land is large enough, with one at or near the highest point on the land, and one near the bottom. I want a trout (or salmon) system featuring feeder fish and organisms, and catfish and filter-feeders to clean it up. This will then run across each terrace I create, irrigating everything and adding fertility to the system, and growing water-based feed for my chickens and rabbits.

Because I don't want everything to die should I have to pack up the animals for a year for whatever reason, I would eventually turn those on-contour sediment traps into hugelbeet-based food hedges, grown from the understory up using natives or native analogues. In my case, this would be strawberries, currants, blueberries of both types, raspberries, blackberries, mulberry trees, assorted stonefruit, apple, and pear trees, hazelnut trees, and probably an overstory nut tree like chestnut.

These would leave alleys of pasture between on-contour hugelbeet food forest strips, which my earlier efforts would have enriched.

If you prepare pasture and don't run anything on it, no doubt any local fauna will take advantage. If you hunt, this could be a great thing. You don't have to keep meat chickens if you have to shoot turkeys just to get to the fruit trees.

This is just an illustration, but yes, you can start a piece of land a couple of hours away, and make meaningful changes just by walking the property and placing on-contour sediment traps and making minor changes to the hydrology. You can take it as slowly as you have to, or as quickly as you can manage. If you plan it out properly, you can move modularly, such that your individual actions support and reinforce each other.

But it isn't for everyone.

-CK
 
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hau Danille,

Todd and Chris have brought up both negatives and positives.

Wolf and I did start out like you would be doing, we bought our land and then spent weekends camping on it while we recovered the previously cleared portion of the property.
after a few weekends in a tent, we went ahead and moved our travel trailer onto the land for better living quarters while we were there.
We spent just at a year this way before our in town situation made it more feasible to go ahead and move onto the property.
Our drive time to work is now 1 hour each way and that means we still have mostly weekends to get major work done.

In your part of the world I would go with first laying out on paper how you want the property to look in the future. This will allow you to really work towards the end goal with less re-working once you move there permanently.
Once you have an on paper plan things are a lot easier to envision and that means you can move, step by step until you are ready for garden plots.
It also allows you to future plan, for when your body starts to age.

We started our planting with fruit trees, grape vines, berries and pastures. These can be done easier when you are only there for a couple of days at a time.
Once we knew where the pastures for animals were going, we were able to start putting up fences as we could afford it. We even put up fencing for a back yard since we knew where the house would sit eventually.
We went with raised garden beds and straw bale garden beds because they are lots easier on you as you get older.
I think that can be one of the main reasons to plan ahead, so that as your body starts to get in your way, you are all set up to keep on going strong.

Redhawk
 
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Once I'd found a place I liked, I'd investigate the property. How long has the previous owner owned it. What have they done with it. By that I mean does it appear that they've let it go. Any house, the fields, plantings. If it looks like they've lost interest I'd think about why. I'd want to know about water and or mineral rights. I'd want to know how long it's been for sale. All this is important because you want a feel for how interested they are in selling, or really how much they'd negotiate. And what'll happen when I want/need to sell it myself.
 
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I'm two years into doing something like this. I have a large piece of land out in the forest, about an hour's drive from a house in town where I spend most of my time. I will say there is a whole spectrum of possibilities with something like this. This is definitely something a lot of people do — specifically a lot of people growing… medicinal plants… in the national forests, perhaps not so legally. But I'll ignore that for now and just give  you a few anecdotes that I have experienced.

The land I purchased had several buildings already on it. A very old log cabin, a couple of hunting-cabin style mini cabins, a woodshed, an outhouse, and a large barn. There was a gravity-fed water system in place, sourced from a freshwater spring up the hill. This probably saved me years of effort. It took me an entire year to get everything cleaned up and the water system working again. Lots and lots of digging to find broken pipes. But once that was done, I had a warm, dry place to sleep with a constant source of water. Once this was done, it honestly doubled the amount of time I could spend improving the property. I got better sleep, could stay out there comfortably for longer, and didn't need to ration my water while doing the dishes.

One of the biggest time sinks in remote properties is not so much traveling to and from your house, but to and from the hardware store. It helps to be able to spend extra money on tools, screws, pipe fittings, etc that you might not need. Sure, you could buy that one compression fitting to fix the current leak. Or you could buy 10 because it turns out there were 3 leaks and you didn't notice the other two before you went to the hardware store. The same could be said for equipment. It is much nicer to own equipment than to rent it if you are in a remote property. If it's a two hour drive to town, that's eight hours needed to transport a rented piece of equipment to your property and back to the rental area. My point here is that it has been very valuable spending more money on tools in a remote property. Projects tend to take a lot longer to complete since it's more productive to quit when you don't have the right tool/part and move onto another project you may not finish that day.

Remote land is… remote. Having secure spaces to store your equipment and tools is extremely important. In an urban setting, a padlock on a shed is probably fine. In remote areas, you'll need to have inside-locking  window battens and security doors. My battens are 1" plywood covered in metal sheeting with bolts welded onto hinges such that the batten closes on one side, the hinge on the other with the bolt going through the batten and secured from the inside with a nut. Still, people have broken into them in the past. People have time and resources in remote properties. Dirt bikes, snowmobiles, and ATVs can get around any gate. Also: definitely have gates! People usually aren't breaking in to steal stuff, just to screw around. Make it difficult for them to do so.

I thought I'd be able to have a productive garden by now, or at least a good start on a lot of perennials. But I dramatically underestimated the effort required to get infrastructure up and running to the point where I could work on the garden. That's alright though. I don't have a schedule. Last year I was able to make it out there about once a week, staying for a little over 24hrs and then a dozen or so weekends. This year, I'm hoping to spend an entire month out there (plus infrequent trips other times). The thing is, you don't really want to be spending all of your weekends working, especially if it's a beautiful place. For me, building the infrastructure necessary to enjoy being out there comfortably made me feel a lot better about working out there. Taking days off at the property is super important. It can seem easy to say "I'll camp out there and work every Saturday & Sunday" but that will drain you quick. No one wants to spend their weekends exhausting themselves building fences and sleeping on the ground in their sleeping bag, then going right back to their job the next morning in the city.

Watering things has been a challenge for me. My cover crop establishment has been dismal, but that's because I laid the seed down in the spring. This year I seeded in the winter, and am hoping for better results. If I can get things to develop past the seedling stage, it's no problem. Transplants are massively helpful when you can't be there to water. So are fall-planted things like bulbs, berries, and fruit trees. I was worried the fruit trees would need more water, but they were actually fine. We have a short growing season here, and the ground does not ever really dry out past 12" or so. My dead blueberries tell a different story. Speaking of which: fences! Wildlife has proved to be more of a struggle for me than watering.

I will say, the first two years kinda kicked my butt. When I first saw the property all I could dream about were all the things I wanted to grow. I did not dream about cleaning up barbed wire strewn about or digging up 200' of water pipe to find the leak. But I'm super excited for this year. I feel a bit like I've put in the hard work and finally get to get around to actual improvements this summer. I think any type of property takes a few years to really get into the swing of, but remote properties can be a bit harder. Everything takes more time when you can't live there full  time, so it's important to take that into consideration.
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Metal lined security door
 
Danille Bkack
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Todd Parr wrote:

I can give you one perspective on it, but your situation may be much different.  My brother and his wife did something similar, but his land had an older cabin on it.  They bought it more as a place to get away on weekends and just to get out of the city-ish area they live in.  They worked really hard on the place almost every weekend.  It quickly got to the point where they felt guilty that they weren't working on it and did something else on the weekend because they had so much they thought they needed to get done there.  It was like they thought since they invested money in it, it was a waste if they didn't use it.  Two hours is about how far they have to go to get there, and that adds up pretty quickly.  It's much different than if you have land 15 minutes away.  You have to plan it more, you have to pack the things you will need if you stay overnight there and 4 hours of driving in one day is a lot if you are working hard at something for hours in the middle of it.  All that is considering they had a dry, comfortable place to sleep while they were there.  They spent more than a year at it to the point where they were just burnt out and now they rarely go there and are planning to sell it.

None of that is said to dissuade you from doing it, and it may work out really well for you, especially if you aren't in any kind of a hurry.  Most of the work they had to do was on the cabin and you won't have that do deal with.  I just think it's important to go in with your eyes open.  Best of luck to you whatever you decide.



Thank you Todd. This is a very helpful perspective. In some ways it seems easier to buy land with a small property already there but I can see it becoming lots of work. We already have our home that needs a lot of work as well. Might make more sense to just use it as land to camp on.
 
Danille Bkack
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Chris Kott wrote:Hi Danielle,

Todd has raised some valid concerns. The fact that it is an investment in time can't be ignored. It may colour how you feel about it over time, if it's not a lifestyle that actually suits you, or engender a feeling of obligation...,,




Thank you so much Chris for such a helpful answer. I would love to keep bees. Chickens, rabbits goats and donkeys are the long term plan but I agree with your points around livestock. I’ve saved your tips for when we start our planning.
 
pollinator
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I don’t think I’d try to raise chickens and rabbits that far away. Even a great neighbor isn’t likely to be able to give them the care they need.

With larger animals, escapes would be a worry. Even healthy trees can fall on fences. Minor flooding can wash out a post.  Feeding them in bad weather like snow storms could be a problem.

I’d start with improving the land and planting trees and berries. Fish ponds are great. You could get into livestock after you know the land better and have a better idea of what problems can come up.

As far away from retirement as you are, buying less land closer to where you live could be more enjoyable. Even a vacant lot could be very productive, if there aren’t any codes keeping you from having a huge garden, rabbits, and chickens.

Can you raise anything where you live now?  I live in town and have a couple gardens, four chickens, and many fruit and nut trees but they’re all still pretty young. I have some land ten miles away that I’m planting trees on. It has a fish pond, and I raise bees there.
 
pollinator
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I have a lot of family in northern Alberta so I'm pretty familiar with the "acreage culture" that many Albertans enjoy.  The outer ring around Edmonton and Calgary is composed of thousands of these 1, 2, 3 or larger acre homes/lots.  Its not uncommon for people to buy something 45 minutes outside of town and then spend years working on the house and land, weekends and summers, until one day they move out there for good.  I don't know where you live in Alberta, but I've got family who did this from Edmonton, and then later moving out to Millet, Spruce Grove, Ft. Sask., and Ardrossen.  At the time (the 70's and 80's), those towns were "WAY" out there.  Now, with new highways, they are close-in suburbs.  A new wave of "settlers" is pushing even further out and buying land 10 miles further, and then developing a little home outside the city.

Culturally, some of this is a heritage brought over from the old country: Germans, Russians, Ukrainians . . . all have this culture of having a country home or dacha outside the city where they would spend the long summer days tending gardens and getting sunburned, only to return to the city when the days grew colder and school or work beckoned.  Albertans have perfected it.  People work in Calgary, Edmonton or Red Deer, and then escape to the country to shoot gophers, cook steaks, swat mosquitoes, and in the winter, zip around on a snow machine.  People buy a small place and then spend the next 20 years fixing it up.  What's not to love about that?

But 2 hours  . . . that's quite a trek.  In two hours, you can drive all the way from Edmonton to Calgary, or from Edmonton to Whitecourt.  Unless you are looking at a place on a lake or some kind of amazing natural site, I think you'd grow to resent that drive.  I wouldn't feel comfortable keeping horses or even expensive machinery like quads or snow machines if my place was 2 hours away.  People break into acreages all the time.  Unless you really knew your neighbors and they could keep an eye on your place, you might find your little slice of paradise turns into a constant hell when your tools get stolen or your windows shot out.  My uncle spent thousands on big fancy gates and fencing in Millet, and yet people still broke into their place repeatedly.  Would you plant a big garden out there?  Then you'll want to be there to tend it.  In the two hours it took you to drive out there, a muskrat just ate all your cucumbers and cabbages.

In my life, I've learned the wisdom of "buy it once, buy it right, and forever be happy with your purchase".  If it were me, I'd hunker-down and save as much money as I possibly could so that I could buy a piece of land much much closer to your current home and job.  I wouldn't want to drive any further than 30 or at most 45 minutes.  OK - 50  minutes if you count the stop at the Tim Hortons drive-thru for coffee on the way out of town.  Get a big map and a red marker and draw a ring around your current home—a red line that you will not cross no further than 45 minutes from home.  Concentrate your attention on what might be available much closer.  

I'd do all I could to save more now so that you can do this right in a few years.  The next time the oil economy goes into the crapper, there will be someone looking to unload their acreage.  With Trump in office, America is going to pump oil and fossil fuels out of the ground like there is no tomorrow, which in turn will cause the cost of oil to drop.  When oil sneezes, Alberta catches a cold.  Once the NDP is voted out of office, the Alberta economy is going to start popping again, but that will actually drive the cost of oil down which may depress the cost of land a bit.  That's when you jump in --- when everyone else is pulling back.  

But that's just my take.





 
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I love the idea of buying some land two hours away that already has a building. Fix up the building as your escape cabin. Then you could rent the building out as a rustic cabin. You could get one of those endless youthful enthusiasts begging for a space to practice permaculture to fix up the land for you! Lots of possibilities. As my dad has said regarding real estate, "There's only so much land on the planet. Makes sense to own some."
 
pollinator
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My personal experience is kind of two-fold.  I have land and rental properties that are thousands of miles away.  Stuff happens and plans change.   The land is raw and has nothing on it.  I pay property taxes on it and that's it.  I look at it as an investment.  

You may not make money holding land but you are guaranteed it's not going to be vaporized in the next crash.   This sounds kind of nutty but the re-insurance companies are actually figuring into their risk management the amount of money the U.S. government is going to pay for the next bailout.   Cash in a bank or stocks could just disappear.  It's a global economy now.

Long distance rental properties are a pain in the rear.   If you aren't close enough to do the work yourself you have to pay someone to do it.  Last year I had an AC unit go out, a garage door replacement and woodpecker damage.   Throw in property taxes and late rents, well you get the idea.  Make sure you can cover the nut if something goes south.     I was making repair decisions based on photos or word of mouth from the tenant, not a great position to be in.

Property taxes are a pain.  HOA's are a pain etc.  If I purchased land two hours away I would make sure it's pretty primitive and low maintenance, unless you have someone looking after it.  I personally would not purchase land with structures I would have to worry about or do heavy maintenance on.  A barn with power would be great but a nice cabin that requires constant upkeep, Nah.  Things like winterizing and etc. take time. If you forget or miss a step you have burst pipes and water damage.  

I would purchase land.  I see it as a no-brainer if you can afford it without major debt.  I would probably build a little one-room shack with heat so you have a place to crash.     I like the ideas mentioned of planting fruit trees, nut trees, hugels, cover cropping and selective cutting and forestry.    You could do a lot to improve your land that doesn't take much maintenance.  

Make sure you can easily handle the cost of ownership.  That may just be property taxes or it could include HOA type fees for things like expanding power lines, a shared well, road maintenance and etc.  I think raw land with maybe a primitive structure would be fun but land with a nice A-frame cabin would lead to burnout.

If you can swing purchasing land without hardship I would do it.  Make sure you know what you are getting into.  Lastly,  if you purchase land and you can't afford the payment or if something changes and you need the money out of the investment, it can take years to sell a piece of raw land.

Just my two cents.

Regards, Scott
 
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