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How much land do we need?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 7
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My family and I are looking for land in western Montana.  We would like to create a home where we can eventually produce all our own food (and everything else).

I'm currently interning on a farm that's less than an acre, and it seems like it's enough to support one family.  I know soil quality, light, and climate all affect the amount of land needed to produce food, but are there other factors that I should look out for?  And how much land do you think we might need?  Any opinions are helpful.

Here are some of the components that I imagine our homestead would have:

Able to support a maximum of 15 people.
Up to 5 households.  Each would inhabit a small cob house, or something similar
A "community center" with a larger capacity kitchen for family meals
Produce all of our own food
- herbs & vegetables (emphasis on native varieties)
- berries and fruit trees
- chickens, geese, turkeys for eggs
- grains
- goats milk for cheese, milk, yogurt, kefir, other dairy products
- indoor fish farming (tilapia?) with greywater cleansing system?
Bees
Energy/heating/cooking
- lanterns, torches, sconces, candles for light
- wood stove, stone oven, solar ovens, rocket mass heater?
- small windmill and/or watermill
Wool-Producer
Hunting/foraging

Thanks in advance!
 
Posts: 700
Location: rainier OR
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in Montana its not acreage that is gonna cost you its access to a good road and electric/telephone lines if you need that sort of thing. water too I know some folks out that way who still have to truck in water, so consider all that.
 
pollinator
Posts: 10118
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Water is the most important consideration, in my opinion.  Either you need a large enough parcel that you can construct enough earthworks to collect sufficient water for your needs or you need a parcel with live water.  Live water is either a spring or creek which runs year round - not just in the wet season!  In addition to water, you'll probably want a parcel with a variety of sun exposures, not flat land, but rolling land with slopes facing in various directions.  This will enable building passive solar structures plus giving more opportunities to grow different kinds of plants.  Timber for building and firewood is also something to consider, so  look for trees as well as open pasture land.

Under the most ideal conditions, Biointensive gardening (not permaculture) can produce an entire vegan diet for a person on 4000 square feet.  This means a long growing season and plenty of irrigation water.  You'd probably want to at least double that for Montana conditions. That is land needed for gardens plus extra land for growing mulch or compost ingredients. 

For grazing animals you need to find out the animal unit carrying capacity for the location you're looking at (can find out from ag extension service).  As a point of comparison, my location in Central Texas has a carrying capacity of one animal unit per 20 acres.  One animal unit is a mature cow.  A goats is .17 or .15 AU (depending on which calculator you use).   So if you need 10 goats you multiply the number of goats with their animal unit equivalency to get the total animal units in goats - .15 x 10 = 1.5 or one and a half animal units.  Here in my locale that would mean I need 30 acres just for the goats. It's better to slightly understock than overstock, so even though you can graze a couple different kinds of animals on the same land, you don't want to pile more animals on there than the land can handle.  Rotational grazing can enable you to eventually stock more animals but it may take a few years to bring the land up to good condition.  Best to start conservatively.

This is based on my opinion and personal experience.  I wish I had known about permaculture, holistic management, and Biointensive gardening before we bought our place and built our house, etc.

As far as starting a community, I can't urge strongly enough that you read "Creating a Life Together" by Diana Leafe Christian, which discusses why intentional communities fail and how to make them succeed. 



Some references that might help:

http://growbiointensive.org/

http://msuextension.org/ 

http://66.173.241.168/nmp/calculator.cfm

extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/NR_RM_​04.pdf

http://www.holisticmanagement.org/

 
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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When you say "food and everything else", you are painting a huge canvas.  Medicinal herbs, fuel/firewood, straw for your livestock, and and and.  Montana has harsh winters, and a short growing season, which limit what crops you can grow year after year with reliability.

There are also going to be some expenses like property taxes, utilities, fuel to/from town, and things that cannot be raised locally (coffee, bananas, citrus, etc). So, some income will need to be generated in order to cover those expenses.  Land is generally cheaper the further you get from "civilization", but you are also further from a marketing source for your cash crops.

I have many friends from Montana, and they all are telling me that few of the original homestead families are still there.  Even the aboriginal tribes there were migratory, needing to follow the food.  I believe that in most areas (especially those with reasonable land prices), it would take a substantial land holding to become totally self-sufficient.
 
pollinator
Posts: 4437
Location: North Central Michigan
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almost moved to Montana but chose to stay  in Michigan. I agree with the things that were said above, first of all fruit trees and nut trees take a while to grow and bear, so you won't be producing much from them the first few years, also remember that some animals take a while to grow as does firewood.

15 people in 5 houses, are these all relatives of you? Will they be contributing? I would think you would need about 25 acres, at least 5 acres per house, or more and as was said you'll need some water on the property.

if you plan to get a lot of your food from hunting you need to either have the animals avail on your land or land avail nearby to hunt, we have them avail on our land, wild turkey, deer, bear, rabbits, etc..but that might not be the case in some areas..

the idea of winter doesn't bother me cause I've been here for so long a lot of things are mature and provide well, but early on most everything was bought for food and energy.
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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If you are thinking "commune", you should also factor in that the average life-span of a commune in the States is approximately 2 years..  It would probably be a large turnover until the trees began carrying their weight.
 
Posts: 505
Location: Eastern Kansas
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Length of growing season.

In California you can raise 3 crops a year in places: in Montana you will have just one. Also, with a shorter growing season you get a smaller yield for tomatos and such, because the plants have a shorter life.

When you figure the yields, factor in the length of growing season.

I envy you your internship! That is an amazing start in Market Gardening!
 
                                
Posts: 98
Location: Eastern Colorado, USA
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How much land?  How long is a piece of string?

It really depends... on everything.  Knowing what you need in a climate means having the experience to know what you're looking at.


H Ludi Tyler wrote:
Under the most ideal conditions, Biointensive gardening (not permaculture) can produce an entire vegan diet for a person on 4000 square feet.  This means a long growing season and plenty of irrigation water.  You'd probably want to at least double that for Montana conditions.



I would imagine you could do that near the equator (where food falls from trees year round), but vegan diets get less and less possible the farther you get from the equatorial regions. 

In Montana, it's just folly to think you can produce a vegan diet (that is, one that has all the necessary nutrition, if indeed there is such a thing) on a homestead, with a roughly 80-day growing season.

 
steward
Posts: 979
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
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Here in Costa Rica (year round growing season) it is figured you can easily raise everything on five acres, and a little money besides, if the soil is good.

It has to be the right five acres though, good water, good soil, etc.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 10118
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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TheDirtSurgeon wrote:


I would imagine you could do that near the equator (where food falls from trees year round), but vegan diets get less and less possible the farther you get from the equatorial regions. 



Yes, even though the diet is temperate crops, it depends on being able to get 2 full crops per year, which you sure as heck can't do where there's a short growing season.  Here in hot dry Texas, growing without irrigation is limited to possibly only a few months per year even though theoretically we can grow year-round.    I often think it would make more sense for us to be meatatarians eating mostly wild or free-range animals, which requires large amounts of land.

 
Posts: 1113
Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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I would study the water rights and mineral rights very carefully on any parcels you consider. Out west these get separated off from the land so you can end up high and dry with no water for your crops, animals or you. Even the rain is stolen away from you.

That said...

I figure that out east here in the mountains of Vermont that I can comfortably homestead raising all the food for our family plus firewood on four acres (be efficient). Ten acres would be even better. At ten acres you have enough land to do more animals and can sell enough to bring in some cash. I have a lot more than this and we farm for a living. Water and mineral rights are not an issue here but I still checked that out before.

Another thing to watch out for is zoning, building codes and other regulations. Bureaucrats and nosey neighbors like to control everyone. Go in with open eyes. Don't try and buy land somewhere and then change the system afterwards. Bucking is no fun. My brother did that. Waste of time. I carefully picked where there was no zoning and the like as I don't want someone hanging over my shoulder telling me where to pound every nail.

Also be wary of doing the group thing. My brother made that mistake too and it hurt him. It's a great idea and really hard to manage. Divorce rate with just two people is greater than 50%. Now raise that to the power of N.

Be realistic.
 
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read also
How Much Land Does a Man Need? (by Tolstoy)
 
Posts: 149
Location: sw pa zone 5
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Here in SW Pa I knew several familys that lived quite well on around 10 acres of land.  They raised fruit,  veggies,  chickens and a cow for milk or maybe even some beef.  We get alot of rain here and the soil is pretty good. They did not raise fire wood on the farms, it was all used for growing things.  A 10 arce wood lot properly managed,  will provide ALL of the needs of a family forever.  This includes housing,  furniture,  fire wood etc.  Again that number is for back here in the East where rain is not a problem.  So 20 acres per family would be enough for everything that you are talking about back here with good soil,  plenty of rain and an already established wood lot.  Out west with limited rain and a much shorter growing season you may need as much as 100 times that number.  Here 3 acres per cow is ok,  in some parts of the west it is 100 acres per cow.  Check with your local agg people to see what area you need per animal and how fast trees grow in that area.  You do not need to re-invent the wheel,  people have been studing such things for years.  The wide open spaces out west are there for a reason,  you need sections not acres to raise much live stock.  Planning ahead is going to be key for you.  Good Luck. 
 
Posts: 76
Location: St. Ignatius, Montana, zone 5b
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Hi Eliza,

We are in Western Montana as well, and pretty much doing the same thing regarding preparing our move off the grid and onto a homestead. I am a native Montanan, born and raised, so I have seen the situation with land here for quite sometime and have known and worked with many a rancher and farmer as a youth. The thing we find the most important, though acreage is important, is location, location, location. As you well know, just because there's 40 acres for sale for $39,900, the fact that it's an old mining camp sitting at 7,000 ft makes it inaccessible in the winter (and possibly summer too!) for you or inaccessible to anyone trying to come out to see you - you would definately be snowed in! And all those folks there with ya, well, they can start to drive ya nuts!

After access comes soil. and water. As you probably know, here in Western Montana from southern Ravalli county all the way up to Glacier, we have what I call an Ice-Age retreat geology. As the Ice retreated to the North while the Ice Age was ending, it took a lot of the soil with and left behind a lot of rocks and some beautiful lakes. In Missoula, I dug a 2 foot square, 6 inch deep hole in my back yard to plant a few things and ended up with a milk crate full of rocks. When all was said and done, and the dirt left over put back in the hole (which was very nice soil; by the way), it wasover 4 inches deep! So I would forget the size of the place for now. It can be 50 acres of rocks and worthless for sustainging anyone. Raised beds become one solution to that though. But for true sustenance, you need good soil and a dependable source of water. Regarding water, well I'm praying for a spring and or year-round surface water, and wells are usually no problem on this side of the state, from 40' to 300' on average (at about $12 a foot to drill), so not too bad. But if I can't afford that land with the creek or spring (which comes at a premium here in Montana) then you can harvest your snow load. It takes about 10 inches of snow to get one inch of water if it were spread out over the same surface, but as you calculate the square meters or yards, you will soon find out - that's a heck of a lot of water!! Melting tanks etc (basically a big watertank painted black and sitting in the sun) works great. You can put it up and a metal "stand" and use a SMALL fire under it to help it melt. Shovel the snow in or create a hand driven escalator, and you are good to go. P.S. Snow is distilled water by the way, but still filter it due to air pollution etc. Then store enough for each person for the summer in case you are in drought or dry conditions,and if the creek dries up etc. Safety first!

So how much land? I ask that question to the land I am standing on when we go see the place. I dig my hands down and see if there is only 1" or a half decent 8-10 inches of top soil (if it's raw land that has never been farmed), is there water, lumber?, is it sloping?, flat? and is that mountain gonna block the sun? etc. Also, what's the average snow load in the area, is there ACCESS? So 5 acres of good soil and dependable water is far better than 40 acres of dry land, or land you can't get too, or that is sloping so bad you have to build the house on stilts and hanging over a cliff (then you don't WANT a snow load!), or is so dangerous to get to that you rarely leave and no one comes out to see you. Homesteading is one thing, isolation is another.

Good luck and God Speed!
Nettie
 
Danette Cross
Posts: 76
Location: St. Ignatius, Montana, zone 5b
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Also, regarding your bees, check the elevation - it can affect their production. They depend on the sun for a lot of things, direction and as a timing mechanism are a couple, and in the high elevations, it's different than down in a valley: Here's an article on it preparing your high-elevation bees for winter - they need A LOT of food to hold them over the long winter: Prepare-High-Altitude-Bees

The production season is short so don't harvest too much of their honey for yourself.

Nettie
 
steward
Posts: 4400
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Howdy Danette, welcome to permies and thanks for the informative posts!
 
Danette Cross
Posts: 76
Location: St. Ignatius, Montana, zone 5b
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Brice Moss wrote:in Montana its not acreage that is gonna cost you its access to a good road and electric/telephone lines if you need that sort of thing. water too I know some folks out that way who still have to truck in water, so consider all that.



But the land is connected to that water and access and therefor the price for the "land" goes way up! I can buy 40 acres today for $25,000, but I would have to CHOPPER IN!

My daughter told me of a couple out in NM who moved out 10 years ago and still don't have dependable water, and none coming to the house. That fella didn't think this thing through and they are paying a hard price for it.

Nettie
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Water rights are an extremely important issue in most western states.

Water rights usually do not belong to the land. They belong to a person. The current owner may have water rights, but that does not mean that if you buy the land, you will receive those rights. He may plan to sell the property for $x, and sell those water rights to a 3rd party. Or, maybe sell them to you for an additional fee, or just pass them to his grand kids...some day, they might be worth 10X what the property is worth now.

Some states will not even allow you to collect rainwater from your roof.

Most states will allow a well (under qualifying conditions), which may be used for 'domestic use' (household use...which may include watering a garden, but not crop irrigation). In CO, you may not drill a well if your property is served by public, or private water companies.

Before investing property in any of the western states, you should look carefully at both current and past laws. By comparing the past laws to the present laws, you will see a trend in how they are moving, which may give you an idea of what to expect in the future.

Due diligence now is worth a million "if-I'd-ofs" later.
 
Danette Cross
Posts: 76
Location: St. Ignatius, Montana, zone 5b
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John Polk wrote:Water rights are an extremely important issue in most western states.

Water rights usually do not belong to the land. They belong to a person. The current owner may have water rights, but that does not mean that if you buy the land, you will receive those rights. He may plan to sell the property for $x, and sell those water rights to a 3rd party. Or, maybe sell them to you for an additional fee, or just pass them to his grand kids...some day, they might be worth 10X what the property is worth now.

Some states will not even allow you to collect rainwater from your roof.

Most states will allow a well (under qualifying conditions), which may be used for 'domestic use' (household use...which may include watering a garden, but not crop irrigation). In CO, you may not drill a well if your property is served by public, or private water companies.

Before investing property in any of the western states, you should look carefully at both current and past laws. By comparing the past laws to the present laws, you will see a trend in how they are moving, which may give you an idea of what to expect in the future.

Due diligence now is worth a million "if-I'd-ofs" later.



Look for the words "Covenants" and "Restrictions", and if you are wanting to have wind turbine etc., "No Zoning". Covenants is just as John is saying, they can have it in the deed "Th right to use or distribute the water resources from this land is not allowed" or a restriction can be "No subdivision or mobile homes". So you can't split the land up and move a bunch of trailers on it. No zoning is different in every state I think. But if you're not in an area that has caught up with off-grid living, they can still hassle you. Talk to the people around you and let them know what you are planning, especially if you're wanting to plant a 45' tower for a 750W wind turbine 5' from their fence! be nice, it pays off - oh, and pies, bake lots of pies!!

Uh, if you live in a state that won't let you collect rain water from your roof - one word: "move". You are in a Socialist Republic pretending to be a state and should escape as soon as possible. (joking)

Nettie
 
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