Long story short: I'm 22, live in Southwestern PA, happily married. I'm also an (obsessive) traditionalist amateur cook who loves animals and the outdoors. I have a large, close, extended family including at least one set of nieces and nephews plus their parents who would be ideal for moving into a semi-rural fixer-upper on HomeReady (new low-income residential mortgages designed for millennial demand) and HomeStyle (renovations) Fannie Mae loans. They would love this. We want to live on the same lot as family. They wouldn't work the farm and it would be fenced off to them so that no animals escape, etc. But we want them as neighbors and co-borrowers which makes starting off with a property a lot more accessible. We are also flexible enough to do it alone. My wife is going for her RN which will provide health insurance for us. I'm a Lyft driver learning web development and media editing, which means I have a lot of flexibility to take a 3 month hiatus and get the property up and running. Once the metaphorical (but not literal) barn-raising is complete, I'll spend 20-40 hours every week maintaining it. I want to control my hours of day and turn upkeep work into leisurely, self-propelling activities via the discipline that controlling your house (instead of renting) and life (instead of working for a hamster wheel pittance wage) can provide.
My wife and I want to live in a DIY custom-built house the size of a maritime shipping container- whether or not I build that out of shou sugi ban wood material or buy an actual shipping container is entirely flexible. Flexibility is key. I want to plan this venture so that food production is simple hobbyism– worse case scenario, I don't get homegrown fingerlings and hog-heart tomatoes but I do get a cozy, fiscally viable home that I love. And I had fun failing and can try again.
I want a move in date in 2019. Property TBD but we browse listings every week and have an idea what's out there. I'm content with my life as it is today and there's no need to rush anything on any given month, but I want this to be my medium-term future. I'll have 10k for a down payment on a home mortgage and renovation loan with savings left over for what HomeStyle doesn't cover. I pay 750/mo rent right now, so financially, I'll be downsizing cost of living expenses.
Sorry for all this personal background information but I think my plans (below) may be very intriguing. A meticulous planning, research, and training stage is the key to success.
Our house will be a space efficient "additional dwelling unit" (ADU) to the main house my extended family will live in, far away enough for privacy but still benefiting from their utility lines. I can provide rough floor plans if anyone's interested. I'll build a "gazebo" glazed sunroof/rain catchment system at an incline to bear snowload as a separate structure over my house. A glazed sunroof and ventilation in my house itself to reduce windows (expensive). The "gazebo" will direct runoff to the sunken greenhouse behind my ADU. In front of my house/gazebo, a towering cup-shaped hugelkultur for wind resistance with cover crops that are especially ornament, think marigolds, sunflowers, lavender.
My target is to produce almost all of our own food and then surpluses which would be provided to family at a fair investment price before each harvest. I want to do this all in an approx 800 square feet mega-walipini, which I'll put as much construction time and resources as our house. The contractor we use to renovate the main house can provide electrician, plumbing, etc as well as excavation, etc, but I will be doing most of the labor myself. I will also routinely build earthwork sheds for utility and storage spaces, coops, etc.
Every edible plant will be in the greenhouse. I will have 100-150 stalks of corn for nixtamal/masa, with climbing legumes and pumpkins for pepitas and pies, companion-growing in the Meso-American tradition. Distribution will be on the wide side so that in between the stalks will be tomatoes, tomatillos, chayote, cucumbers, and chiles. I think this will come to about 200 square feet. I'm prepared to carefully squeeze between dense stack-systems.
That's the milpa. Next: several hugelkulturs for micro-climate promotion, soil formation, thermal mass, and hydration which would be integrated in a polyculture of herbs, cabbage, potatoes, sweet potatoes, jicama, ginger, turmeric, galangal, cassava, carrots, beets, maca, ashwagnandha, peanuts, spinach, collard greens, garlic, shallots, and onions, taking care to respect companion pairings and also crops that should not be adjacent to each other. Haven't researched every candidate listed above; only a rough plan. For this intensive-stacked polyculture, my estimate is 150 square feet.
My plant based dietary staples will be maiz nixtamalizado products (ask me for info, most of the tortilla pictures on this forum are tragic– I mean this sympathetically!). And potatoes.
About five to fifteen 10-30 gallon tanks growing freshwater kelp, duckweed, watercress, and spirulina, distributed throughout the floor. In the center, a larger body of water, perhaps 75 square feet four foot tall, growing same plants. This hypothesis is to provide thermal mass, humidity and dew, plus a future habitat for small fish farming (a while after settling all the fundamentals), and a self-contained and aerating aquatic ecosystem that tadpoles will be essential volunteer pioneers for. Not to mention: fertilizer and livestock feed. The mini-tanks will be "starters" for me to experiment with water properties and I'll use them to feed into the main body for pH corrections, etc. Ladybugs and frogs/toads for pest control. Frog traps for population control, release outside. Approx sq ft for water stuff including starter tanks: 100 sq ft.
A rotational 200 square foot micro-"field" for hot composting (to be regulated with the seasons) and teff. The teff for, if I'm extra lucky, injera, which I already make from bought flour.
Dwarf trees, undetermined. A dream is avocados and citrus, maybe even tamarind and cacao. I want to distribute the humidity-hungry crops around the pond with a philosophy to create focused micro-zone radial layers. A rot-resistant work desk and comfortable chairs since this will be our "vacation spot". I will be here on a daily basis for upkeep. Instead of marking "sweet potatoes here", I will mark by square feet coordinates, maybe every three feet. While I garden, I will record data on each coordinate by pen and pad and enter it into computer during downtime to keep a map with detailed notes.
I'll spend a lot of prep time getting the soil right for everything from water distribution to nutrition to stability. Once it's planted I'll use home-fermented fertilizer sprays, Korean style, titrated for moisture provision. One propane or wood burning heating system as a backup measure. I want the mega-walipini to be dug deep enough and have enough thermal mass and passive solar design to maintain warm growing temperatures during winter. Maybe earth tubes. Lots of closeable ventilation on top. A DIY beekeeping hive built into the structure so that pollinators can freely access the interior but also roam outside.
Now for the outside. I'll have something like a fitbit to track my bi-daily excursions and map my ecosystem. I want 4-6 acres to myself, of which 1 acre will be set aside for additional structures near my house and prospective expansion greenhouses, all enclosed by an imposing deerfence to ward off strange fauna and humans and contain my animals. I'll carry a handgun because the downside is that if a predator does get in, they'll stay in. Let me start with the work animals. I will get a piglet, two LGD puppies, a donkey foal, and a couple kittens and they will be quartered together outside in an earthworks shelter near my dwelling. They'll be bonded outdoor pets for me and work animals. I won't be raising pigs for meat, because unless they are companions, management will be difficult esp small scale. I'll buy an ATV to travel the acreage on a main path... not that I won't be doing a lot of footwork. I want to walk every square meter of the property every two weeks. I don't want a dead cat sitting out in the open attracting disease.
As soon as the contractor gets the fencing up, I'll put a couple fixed grown barn cats in for rodent control. I'm also going to use Sepp Holzer's bone-death-solution to treat the fence. I'll build bat shelters for pest control. I'd love to know how to trap possums to introduce inside. I'll get 10-20 goats, half of them dwarf milk breeds, half meat, for livestock but also to raze the land. 3-5 sheep on wife's request . 20-40 laying hens, some roaming roosters I'll throw in the hen pens periodically for hatchings. Guinea fowl for an alarm system and pest control, and for meat when population needs culled. I want to ecologically eradicate mosquitoes and tics, but I will be wearing neem oil for a couple months at least. A large swale for a micro-wetland and I hope ducks. The chickens will be divided into 2-3 groups and I'll construct earthwork coops liberally enclosed with mobile fencing. DIY beehives for honey. Besides chicken pens, all the animals will be free to roam.
Instead of a chicken tractor, every time I move the hens to a new pen, I will build a new coop and eventually circle back around. They will be DIY and extremely cheap. Cheaper and easier than any other workaround. Then I'll unfence the old pen and let the grazers move in. Fortunately I love shovels and I love digging.
I will build cheap earthwork storm shelters and habitat centers for the rabbits, ducks, guinea fowl, and goats, but not barns. They can all handle winter. I'll feed the goats treats at the same time morning and evening at same spot to make the milk come to me.
Here's an idea you might hate: rabbits or hares for wild high-yield (breeding rates) meat enclosed in the tall, bone-smelling fence that will close off the property. I'll set humane, low-stress traps for meat and population control, releasing anyone who doesn't need a population cull. My goat and chicken numbers are low enough per acre to tolerate this variable.
I have butchered goats and chickens before on an Amish farm where state regulations didn't seem like they got a lot of attention. I'll actually put the killing shed in the extended family's backyard near their hose, and to their joy.
I can introduce rabbits because the entire land will be for grazing. I'll clear the land with the animals and I'll build hugelkulturs for pioneer cover crops. I don't want to bore anyone with a list, but there will be a lot of them. Mosquito repellents, nitrogen fixers, soil stabilizers, mulch crops, compost crops... and feed, feed, and feed. A lot of shrubs too. Peach trees. Running bamboo, black locust trees, etc for firewood. I like axes. I want to remake the ecosystem. North America's biosphere was f---ed as soon as the earthworms and conquistadors and everyone else hopped the Atlantic. I hate Lyme's disease. I want control.
Another meat source: crickets, a lower input system inspired by chapulines. In a double door earthwork miniature herbal growhouse with a sunroof. Nutritious for us and all the animals. Walk in, scoop into container, seal, go home, put in freezer. Feed to animals or cook in pan.
To recap, I'll have 800 sq ft of stacked year-long garden space to maintain meticulously, even lovingly. Once I get cover crops and animals going, my land management labor requirements will be that of a park ranger and a small-scale milk goat and hen keeper. I have one or two close friends interested in this who might want to move in and provide labor enough to upscale. My extended family will never run out of demand for surplus foodstuffs. I'm designing this as a hobby that I'm deeply passionate about and want to spend the rest of my life cultivating, to be paired with a move by me and my wife to achieve minimal cost of livings. I believe the parts around Ohio, Southwestern PA, maybe Kentucky will be a climate change refuge without New England or upstate NY snowfall. I want to get a permanent home and dig in. As much elbow grease as this will require, it will actually give a better life balance than what I have working for a wage, and I'll have more time to devote to professional development and freelance work. If you've read this far you've done me a huge favor and might give important feedback! I hope some of this might also give you ideas. It's the culmination of a lot of lurking and surfing. Thanks!
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