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Top 3 things for new homesteaders to focus on?  RSS feed

 
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What are the top 3 things we should focus on in the first year of being on our homestead?!?
 
Posts: 213
Location: Stone Garden Farm Richfield Twp., Ohio
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Planting fruit and shade trees. Planting grapes. Preparing a garden plot. ~~There are many other things you will find that are immediate and super important and "must be done right now". But, houses get built. Ponds get dug. Earth ovens are made. They can be done fairly quickly. But, trees and plants take time. And if you put them off for a year or two because you had something more important to do, you will never get back the years of growth that did not happen.
 
master steward
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My top three would be:

  • Plant fruit trees! Like Jim said, those take time to grow to get to production, and you'll thank yourself in a few years if you get them planted now
  • Try to grow some annuals. You might find your soil is poor/deficient. Just getting the garden growing will improve soil and help you figure out what you need to do to actually grow a bunch of food. Don't expect to grow a bunch the first year (I sure didn't!)
  • Spend time outside just looking and observing and thinking. Preferably do a bunch of this before planting the trees, in case the place you chose to plant them isn't the best place!


  • If your place needs earthworks, get that done before planting the trees! (Especially if the trees are some of the things that need earthworks!)
     
    gardener
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    Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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    I've always thought there's solid reasoning behind the idea that you spend the first year doing a lot of observation. At the very least, watch how water acts during a major rain event. If you need to do any earthworks to capture rain water or divert flood water it's better not to have a tree planted right in the way.

    Every homestead is different, though. With more information about what you're starting with and your eventual goals then people can give more targeted instructions.

    Are you looking to be self sufficient for your family or maybe add a business selling what you can produce to raise money for what you can't?

    What is your region like?

    Climate: What temperatures, rainfall patterns, soils ect. are where you live?

    Government: Different areas work with different sets of regulations.

    Community: Do you have a relationship with your neighbors? Do you want to?.


    Getting answers to these kinds of questions is also part of the observation process. I think it's very much a case of the more you know, the better you can make your decisions. The more we know the better we can find suggestions that apply to your circumstances.
     
    pollinator
    Posts: 10274
    Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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    From my own painfully hard-earned experience:

    1.  Observation!

    2. Water harvesting earthworks near the house - it is very difficult to install these later if you have a bunch of trees planted in the way.  The entire homestead needn't have earthworks installed, but those closest to the house should be completed before trees are planted.  https://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

    3. Kitchen garden - close to the house and incorporating some composting techniques.  Could also have an adjacent little chicken coop and run for a small number of laying hens.
     
    pollinator
    Posts: 2068
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    My number one is hydrology, usually entailing earthworks.

    Many people will say you shouldn't do anything until you can observe for a full season. I call bunk on that. That's a season wasted, and a season where any bad hydrological conditions can exacerbate themselves.

    I would walk the land and look for signs of erosion due to rainfall and accumulation. I would look to implement a plan that addresses the erosion issues, and preferably puts in place a method to increase the amount of sediment deposited on the land, either in water or from the air, such that you can harness normal erosive patterns to build soil and shape your land.

    After the earthworks, it is crucial to make sure that all exposed earth gets covered in root mats, again to cut down on erosion, and to provide a system by which sediment and particulates passing either by water or breeze can be caught and turned to soil.

    Throughout this time, I would have been observing and thinking, and deciding where I wanted to plant my perennials. If the money's there to do it all at once, I would get the bones in first, nitrogen fixers, dynamic accumulators, and mulch trees, and the whole gamut of fruit trees and shrubs that would comprise my food forest.

    The order in which to do this is a little up in the air, and depends on your personal situation. If, for instance, you are sleeping in a tent, as soon as you ascertain that the first rainstorm won't wash you out to the neighbour's back forty, you might want to prioritise shelter.

    So if I were to order these, I think I would go something like this:

    1) Hydrology and earthworks, not done until all bare earth is seeded with something to hold it in place

    2) Plan, probably build primary longterm shelter

    3) Plant perennials.

    The unspoken multitasking going on here is the observation. You begin to observe the moment you find the property, all the way through the aquisition process, through planning, digging, planting, digging, building, digging, and digging.

    As Tyler has mentioned, working outward from your zone 00 has a lot of merit, especially if, say, keeping chickens and a kitchen garden are going to save you trips to the grocery.

    -CK
     
    pollinator
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    I would only do one big task, and then really observe.

    I planned 10 months before I reintroduced sheep to my farm and was really glad I did. I spent that time really researching sheep, and when I finally did get them, I was well positioned for them. It was not a rush to get this done or that done when I already had sheep to care for. I had time to really think things through, and turned down a lot of flocks of sheep until I finally got just the right breed and flock. Since then, I noticed every time I went astray from my original plan, things always went south, but sticking with the plan, things went well. That was 10 years ago.

    I generally agree with Earthworks being done first. What is the sense to plant fruit trees and kill your investment via draught or flooding them with water?

    I would start with securing water first, then gravitate towards shelter, or improving it. Even then I would plan to do 1 big project per year, then maybe a few little ones. The number of abandonded homestead sites scattered around the country half-finished is a testiment to the thought that overwhelming yourself with overzealous ambition the first few years is a poor idea. I have seen so many homesteaders burn themselves out. That often results in ruined relationships and families. Yet in contrast, I can attest myself thatdoing 1 big project for ten years now has rsulted in staggering change on my farm.

    How does a Mainer eat a Moose? One bite at a time, not three. Food for thought.
     
    pollinator
    Posts: 1210
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    Speaking from experience in regard to starting my own homestead farm....

    #1- Positive ----- observe and take notes. I noted which way the sun came up and set, what the angles were during the various months, how long and at what hours the sun typically was out full. I recorded the amount and days of rain, plus the daily highs and lows. I watched the wind ... direction, speed, frequency, time of day. I recorded humidity. I noted when I saw dew. I observed how all these factors interacted. I walked the land, checking the ground conditions, the soil, the types of plants, the types of insects and wildlife.

    #2- Positive ------ I wrote down a fundamental farm plan. I debated with myself all sorts of pros and cons, played all sorts of scenarios in my mind, and eventually deciding where to place the barn, run the driveway, put the pastures, place the main production gardens. The fine tuning and smaller additions came later.

    #3- Negative ------ I put off planting the fruit and nut trees for 3 years while I did other things. Looking back, I should have made developing the orchard a first year priority. As a note here since it has been mentioned in previous posts, I did not need to develop a hydrology plan. My land does not create rain runoff and the only water issue I had was a small area where I previous owner had purposely compacted a small spot for a barn foundation. A simple drain trench took care of that. The only place where rain water runs off is the compacted driveway, and that water was easily directed to banana patches planted atop hugelpits.

    My first year was spent observing and developing a plan, building a house, installing an acceptable electric and household water system, and clearing the massive overgrowth of grass and saplings.
     
    pollinator
    Posts: 516
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    My first year I planted a mini-orchard, tons of perennials and made some raised garden beds away from the house.  I chipped all over.  I should have concentrated my initial chipping in a specific area and not gotten too spread out.

    I totally agree with observing your land to see what's going on.  Just don't get paralyzed by analysis.

    If I did it again,  I would plant more fruit trees and black locust.  (I need wood to make things like trellises in the garden)    Do a lot of research on what fruit trees to plant and go for hardy stock.  There is cedar apple rust in my area and I knew nothing about it.   Big mistake.  I'm now going back with different types of trees.  
    Bush Cherries, blueberries, raspberries, alpine strawberries, and blackberries do well here and they pump out the fruit much sooner than the long-term fruit trees.  

     I would put in an annual garden/mini nursery close to my back porch or close to the house. This is more about the psychology of it.   The little garden has brought immense pleasure to my household.   I built boxes that I can easily put poly-tunnels over for winter starts.  I did it this year and it's just fantastic.  

    This little annual bed has been a great spot to get stuff done at the end of the day or when I'm worn out from digging holes.    I did two, 4x6 boxes which are totally manageable.

    Start a big compost operation.  I'm just putting in four compost bins made from crates.  What has really slowed me down is not having enough strained compost to start seeds, start garden beds etc.    If you are doing any clearing  I would get some beds piled up and hugels built.    

    One last thing, I would start a mini nursery and keep everything in one place for easy watering, weeding and etc.  You don't have to know where you are going to plant stuff, it's enough to know that you are planting it somewhere.

    That's my two cents.

    Cheers, Scott
     
    pollinator
    Posts: 2106
    Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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    1
    Observe the site and make a comprehensive plan for the entire site, or hire someone with s PDC/etc.

    2
    Slow water with earthworks/swale, ditch, basins, etc

    3
    Increase soil mineral availability with woodchip, bio char, rockdust, etc
    Increase soil life diversity by importing some good fungi/bacteria slurries, worm tea, worm composting, etc
    Increase soil life with compost, covercrop, chop and drop, dutch clover/legume, woodchip

    4
    Buy and plant all your fruit and nut trees/shrubs/vines
    Delegate the vegetable garden to someone else if possible.

     
    Tamara Koz
    Posts: 10
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    Great suggestions. Thanks everyone!

    Only been here 4 months. And have kids so helping them adjust has been main focus so far.

    Been enjoying the perennials that are already here (thankful for that)...rhubarb, apples, blueberries, and mulberries. Meeting our neighbors who are all lovely. That has come with lots of eggs, beans, and salad greens so far!! Yum yum.

    Lots of observing going on with the water movement especially. Doing soil samples. Going to plant trees as soon as our berms/swales/hugels are in place to capture/store/harvest water.

    Got guineas right away because, ticks. They're gettin the job done fabulously.

    Trying to figure out what will grow well here (northern Wisconsin) and aim to buy hardy/heirloom trees from local farms.

    Might do goats eventually to help with the overgrowth and to reforest those areas but also to provide fuel for rocket mass heater. Luckily we have some areas already pretty well set up for orchards. Just need to deal with water issue first.

    Love the nursery idea. Might convert old barn to a passive solar/geothermal greenhouse.

    If I think about it too much I'm easily overwhelmed so trying not to go down to many rabbit holes. Planted some purple cone and sunflowers just for fun but cannot.wait. to get our garden going next year.
     
    gardener
    Posts: 5084
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    Observation and note taking should always be first on any list for a new to you property, without it you might find you get to re-do most of what you already did later on.
    Second is to layout your water control design and get it installed, water tends to go where it wants to if you don't guide it so it helps you instead of hinders you.
    Third is where you get to plant things, I like to start with some vegetables and start the long term orchard, that way you get food now and you are building for the future as well.
    Fourth thing is to get going on building your soil health, this takes time to do right so getting started sooner is always better than starting later.

    Redhawk
     
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    I'm a little late to the party here...I've been lurking for about a year now, learning and gathering ideas. We're almost to the end of our first year on our farmstead in north central Florida...best advice I was never given:

    don't try to do too much at once.

    Observe, plan a project, do that project, observe. See how that project changes the environment and build your next project from that.

    1: As others said, water is of utmost importance. Take it from someone who is dragging hoses around to pigs, cows and poultry because her husband wants to wait until all pasture is cross fenced before putting in an Ag well. Luckily, the previous owner did run water out to his garden area, which I have been turning into the start of a food forest. I've done some small earthworks (mini hugelkultur beds) in the garden to help retain water, but with our sandy dirt and flat topography, swales and berms would be a waste of time - there is no runoff, it all soaks in straight down.

    2: long-term food production plans. It takes a few years for new food plants to produce. I've planted numerous fruits and nuts, but they're all babies - I won't see a decent harvest for at least a few years. (However, there are 4 mature peach trees that have us an abundance this year) It will also take a few years for larger scale meat production. We bought a bred sow last year - kept one baby for eventual breeding, and one for eventual eating. He is scheduled to go to freezer camp in November, when he will be one year old. We aren't expecting calves until next spring, and they will take a couple years to be ready to butcher after they are born. Chickens and rabbits are good short-term protein suppliers (but we've decided against rabbits because we don't care for the taste, texture and tiny bones) Bottom line, you have to figure out how to feed yourself while your long term plans are coming online.

    3: make connections! As new farmers/homesteaders, we would have failed quickly without the help and support of our neighbors. We made a conscious effort to meet the neighbors when we moved here. They'll stop by to visit and end up helping with something or at least helping us talk it through. They'll also call us if they need a hand with something. One neighbor has their roping steers on our empty pasture. They're getting rid of the cactus in exchange for the free forage. Another neighbor traded us a lgd for 2 piglets. He's also going to help us learn beekeeping. Yet another neighbor saved the day when we screwed up castrating piglets for the first time. We share/exchange produce, plant starts and extra food with everyone we've met so far. Take the time to get out in your community, you can learn a lot and make some really good friends. (When I say neighbor, I'm talking about a 5 or 10 mile radius - although we've made friends with farmers an hour or so away, too)

    And I'm adding a number 4: Take your time. Don't burn yourself out. We've been going full-tilt for 13 months, 2 of which were spent with my dh traveling back and forth for a week at a time to get things ready for the move. We're going sun up to sun down, plus I have a part time job in town. I'm tired. But it's so worth it. We're making this dream a reality, especially now that I'm making a conscious effort to slow us down from the frenzied pace we were keeping.
     
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    If you are unsure of the productivity of your garden soil or not sure where you want to place it, I would suggest doing a straw bale garden the first year. You can find instructions on the internet and they work well. A straw bale garden can last for two years and that gives you time to get some of the other things taken care of before you have to worry about a permanent garden spot and the old bales make good mulch. With a straw bale garden you only have to weed between the rows and if you mulch good that is a minimal task.  I forgot to add:  You can grow a straw bale garden just about anywhere. You can even grow one on a concrete patio.  
     
    gardener
    Posts: 2474
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    Hi Tamara, welcome to Northern WI and Permies

    We've been lightly discussing trees for northern WI in This Thread.  Hopefully that will give you some tree hardiness ideas.

    Depending on your terrain I'd say earthworks first but then get the longer lived trees going as soon as possible.  Rain is usually pretty consistent here (except this year) so I've just lived with the slopes I have and it's been fine.

    Protecting trees and veggies from deer is important as well.  

    Good luck!
     
    Posts: 41
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    The wife and I have been looking for property here in NW MT for about a year now.  When we do find it, we should have our plans in place for what to do first.

    I already told the wife that fruit trees go in before building the home.

    Then a small garden, maybe a couple raised beds while building, gotta eat, ya know?

    Next will be infrastructure for the animals we will need.  Slow and easy, don't want to get overwhelmed by it.

    I didn't mention that I am of social security age and when we find the property we will probably retire to work on it.  Current house will sell for quite a bit so will $$ to buy land and build home.  Going to downsize home to probably 1000 sq ft.  We have 5 children, four of them sons that are all builders.  They figure 2 weeks to weather in a home for us.  Glad we didn't get something this spring because turns out they are all pretty busy right now.  One moved to ST Croix, USVI to help rebuild, another just had a daughter, (5 granddaughters and no grandsons, yet), then another is moving back into Montana from Wyoming and the other one is building his own home right now.

    Ramble, ramble, ramble.

    But yes, a plan  is shaping up and the 3 first things would be:

    Fruit trees

    Garden

    Infrastructure
     
    pollinator
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    I think the part of observing, getting to know things like soil, sun, wind, water, etc. should be done before starting the homestead. Before deciding to buy or rent a certain piece of land. But I am not experienced in this. I already rented the place for some years, and had plenty of time to observe it, before I decided to apply permaculture principles in my life, a.o. producing edibles in the garden and starting a compost heap.
     
    pollinator
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    I have been on this property for almost three years, so kinda new. Already was a house/barn here, so nothing to do there. I am not trying to recreate the Kramaterhof, this is my little 10 acre plan on pretty flat ground.

    If I had to prioritize again, it would be-
    1) Make friends (can be before you move there! Get connected)
    2) Learn from those friends so you don't make rookie mistakes in your climate/terroir. Visit if they will let you, ask tons of questions about what works and doesn't.
    3) Figure out what your circle of friends has for resources, and let them know what you are bringing to the table.
    4) Then you can figure out what your time and money budget will allow. Be realistic!
    5) I'm with Chris Kott, I don't think blanket observation for a year is smart, you lose a whole year, and weather changes much from year to year. But I also think going with a "development plan" is foolish, because the property will change (hopefully) as you implement. So do some experiments with different small (even shovel-dug) earthworks. See how they behave with your infiltration and rain/snow patterns (maybe you already know some of this from step 2!)  Observe the changes from your experiments. Zone 1 development, with understanding you will almost always change those areas. I've done it differently every year! I got a development plan at the beginning and it could not look more different.
    6) Start propagating plants ASAP, save big bucks. Cheap methods on Edible Acres for most softwood/hardwood. Dude's great! Trade with your friends!
    7) Then figure out what needs the most planning: roads, structures or pasture (RSP) layout. For me it is all #3, most others are going to be different. Then figure out what earthworks will work to your advantage, and maybe revise the RSP layout. Kick it around and this is a good time to walk around and observe- hold water here and it gets soggy there but not over here kinda stuff. Ask friends from step 2 for input.
    8) Physical plant implementation. Hopefully your friends are awesome. This is just critical. These are real-deal hard to move things. Having to fix a derelict backhoe as a worktrade right now, but I have a backhoe available!
    9) Then work your way into your plan. House out or however it works for you. I think this is the Travis Factor, don't try to Seppify your place in a year. Pick a project and finish it (nothing is ever done, but close enough). Bask in the satisfaction. Pick another when your wind is back or do one with your friends and learn stuff.
     
    Posts: 128
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    Hi Tamara, if you haven't met them already you ought to visit the Water's Edge nursery at The Draw, near Bayfield, WI. The owners are friendly, always ready to share knowledge, and have a well-established permaculture homestead. Their nursery plants are the best. Water's Edge & The Draw

    Jerry
     
    Posts: 147
    Location: NE ARIZONA, Zone 5B, 7K feet, 24" rain
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    I've had my place for four years now.  I still don't have my fruit trees in... in fact, I've moved to a nearby country lot in the city.  My point being there are many things to prioritize before you move to a new place... and I would add much to learn about in choosing a property you can live with long term.  I added a few swales, made a few hoop houses, a raised bed, learned to raise earthworms in my compost, put in water catchment, but fought the wind, hail, drought, predators, allergies, mud, controlling the torrential rain, distance to Home Depot/Jobs/Groceries, and ultimately the distance from my future wife.  So, I would suggest people think about the:
    Top 3 Priorities in Choosing a Permaculture Site.  

    I would think this would be beneficial for longevity's sake.  Looking back it's easy to see why one would want to consider all the Geoff Lawton-type priorities of choosing a site based on drinking water, rainwater and drainage, both location of the site, and site layout, soil health, future location of trees, pens, pasture, gardens, type of people living near you (crime), and so many others...  I would start early to figure out what types and quantities of trees you would plant, how to protect your garden plot, and property.  

    I kept a constant list of things I would like to do to  my property and slowly moved things up  to the top depending on available money, materials, and need.  It's good to know that Permaculture can work on any property, anywhere, with enough persistence, but take a good hard look at your reality (health, constitution, ability to work, benefits to you, and your family, your ability to get to town/doctors/work, etc.)  There are many preparations one can do in advance and I encourage people interested in Permaculture to support the notion by buying up books, DVD's and getting smart before you choose your site.
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